Zero-Sum Glory

Robin Phillips has written a facebook article seeking to note the connections between philosophical nominalism and Reformed Eucharistic thought.  I plan to address that in due time.   One argument he makes there, which Arakaki picks up on here, is that Reformed (and Lutheran) theology reduces to a “zero sum theology.”  If we get glory, God gets none and vice-versa.  Arakaki writes (p.13),

What we see here is what Robin Phillips calls a zero-sum theology. The term comes from game theory. In a zero-sum game there is a fixed amount of points which means that one player’s gain can only come from the other player’s loss. Similarly, in a zero-sum theology for any human to possess the capacity to freely love and have faith steals glory from God. Phi llips wrote: A zero- sum mentality towards grace assumes that God can only be properly honored at the expense of the creation, and where this orientation is operational it feels compelled to limit or deny altogether the important role of instrumental causation in the outworking of Providence. The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means, and prefers to emphasize the type of “immediate dependence” upon God that bypasses as much human instrumentality as possible.
When I first read this I was thinking of the verse in Isaiah 42:8. “I am the LORD, that is my name.  My glory I give to no other.”  I don’t know if the prophet Isaiah wrote this with game-theory in mind.  I find it odd that Reformed folk get accused of this, but Isaiah gets a free pass.  But what prompted Arakaki to make such a statement?   We need to look at an earlier statement in his article.  He quotes Phillip Schaff as saying,
Augustin and Calvin were intensely religious, controlled by a sense of absolute dependence on God, and wholly absorbed in the contemplation of his majesty and glory. To them God was everything; man a mere shadow (1910:539)
I somewhat suspect Schaff is using poetic license.  Even so, I don’t find anything problematic in what he said, provided we can qualify it.  In any case, I would be hesitant to make a blanket statement about the Reformed faith covering 500 years and various philosophical backgrounds on three continents (Afrikaaners in South Africa) using one line from a church historian.
All of this is in the context of Arakaki noting the synergism of the Eastern church contrasted with the monergism of the Reformed Church.   I have already demonstrated that the Reformed faith allows for liberum arbitrium, so Arakaki’s statement that we are strictly monergistic is factually wrong.  True, the Reformed faith does teach that salvation is mongergistic with respect to regeneration, but synergistic with respect to conversion.    With the Anchorite only seeing the process terminating with regeneration, he can’t help but assert that the Reformed faith is monergistic.  I suppose, strictly speaking, that one could make an argument that the Reformed faith contains an element of monergism vis-a-vis the dyothelite controversy, but we are a far cry from the standard “Reformed are monothelites” accusation.   The issue, though, is deeper than this.
Instrumental Salvation
As leading Maximus scholar Demetrios Bathrellos (The Byzantine Christ)  noted the monothelites usually affirmed two wills in Christ, but merely asserted that the human will is passive.   On the surface this sounds a lot like Reformed theology.  So this means Calvinists are monothelites, correct?  Maybe not.   The simple reason is that the Reformed deny that we are merely passive in salvation.  First of all, salvation is not synonymous with regeneration (or justification).   Using instrumental causality models, we can say that we are active via faith as an instrument.    We are instrumentally causally active in salvation.
This is in stark contrast with Arakaki’s view (and that of the Eastern church).  Arakaki notes, accurately I think,
The alternative approach is Orthodoxy’s synergism, the belief that salvation is the result of human will cooperating or working with divine grace (syn = with, ergos = energy, effort, cause). Thus, where Orthodoxy’s synergism allows for human free will or choice in salvation, Calvinism’s monergism excludes it (Arakaki, 14).
Is he saying that the human will on his gloss is an efficient cause in salvation?  I don’t see how to avoid the conclusion.   If this is the case, then how can he not boast in his own glory?  If man is an effecient cause in his own salvation, then he has reason to boast (glory).    But Paul says, “What of boasting then?  It is excluded” (Rm. 3:27).   Further, if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:2).     Paul ends elsewhere by saying, “May I never boast save in the cross of Christ” (Gal. 6:14).    Is the Reformed theologian forbidding any such glorying?  Of course not.   We glory in the cross et al.   We do not glory in our own doings.   It is somewhat shocking that people suggest we do.
Phillips made an interesting statement,
The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means, and prefers to emphasize the type of “immediate dependence” upon God that bypasses as much human instrumentality as possible. (emphasis added)
This floored me when I read it.   All I could think was what the Confession said,
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (WCF III.2)
II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;[8] yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (V.2)
And yet Phillips/Arakaki suggests that we are “uncomfortable” with the language of secondary causes?   I don’t know what to make of that.   I had my suspicions in an earlier post that these guys really weren’t familiar with Reformed theology outside a few popular presentations of TULIP.  Now I have proof right here.   But here are more Reformed resources on the topic

15 comments on “Zero-Sum Glory

  1. Canadian says:

    But you and the confession refuse any real free personal causation to anyone but God. This secondary causes argument is just avoidance, as far as I can tell. For you, the pedophile has no other option available to him except to perpetrate his act for the glory of God because of the decree. You try to pass this off that his sinful state allows him to always and only choose sin, albeit freely, but really for the Reformed, God has ordained and not just permitted every detail for the purpose of him committing his act on 8/11/2013 at 9:46PM. He cannot but commit it, not because of his state but because of the decree.

    • First of all, if you had read Phillips/Arakaki’s claim, you would note that they said that the Reformed reject secondary causation. I merely provided evidence to the contrary. Secondly, I make a distinction between the necessity of the consequence and the necessity of the consequent thing.

      Ultimately, my view comes down to this: does God know the future with certainty? If so, does x event happen?

      Explaining beyond this requires exploring models that both medieval Catholics and Reformed Scholastics engaged with. If Arakaki is going to “refute” Calvinism (whatever that word means), he needs to engage with better arguments.

      • Canadian says:

        But the Reformed claim to secondary causation is completely hollow. You find the same hollow echo in WCF 18 where the divines stumble all over themselves trying to have infallible assurance because of the monergistic salvation of God on one hand, but knowing damn well that there is absolutely no infallible assurance because of the decree. They admit that folks can be deceived about salvation and that assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Hilariously, they then command the poor Christian to synergistically struggle to aquire this assurance!

      • I never made such an historically false claim! I never said “Reformed theology is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means…” I never said that and you won’t find it anywhere in all my writings. I would never have said that because it is false. I attended a reformed church for 5 years and have read Calvin, so I know that within their paradigm if God wills an end He also wills the means (secondary causation) to the end. Let’s review what I actually said, “The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means…”

  2. Canadian says:

    By the way, where’s your buddy Drake now? You going to follow him all the way?

    • You can ask him. I don’t follow men qua men. Why would I follow him all the way?

      • Canadian says:

        I told him that his path was leading to exhaustion, confusion, despair. Now he seems to be off to Sabbellian Judaizers. I knew he would not rest with Scottish Covenanters because he was trying to foist ancient Trinitarian and Incarnational stuff on them which they will never accept. I remember pounding away at his NC Sunday Sabbath, now he is going to try 7th day Sabbath Keeping. Yet NO group keeps the Sabbath day as it is in scripture, they gut it and only keep a Sabbath principle. I hope he finds rest, but converting to a group that denies the Trinity is not the place to find it.

  3. Well, be that as it may, that can be y’all’s conversation. I am content with the ARP church and my own theological praxis is Reformed high scholasticism. It has been for a while. That’s put me at odds with many of his conclusions for the greater part of a year.

  4. As for your claim on “ringing hollow,” it doesn’t ring hollow to me and you haven’t offered a good reason why my model of synchronic contingency doesn’t hold. Assurance is a different category right now. Even if what you say about assurance is true, and I find no reason to see why it is (since John said something like we can know we are the children of God), it in no way follows that the necessity of the consequent/consequence distinction is flawed.

    • Canadian says:

      Oh no, it is not mere assurance we are talking about, but as the WCF is straining to claim, Infallible assurance! Orthodox Christians can have great assurance of Christ’s promises, his presence, and joy of sonship while participating in Him, much of which comes from affirming that the sacraments are true. But we would never claim infallible individual assurance of final salvation.

      The Reformed run into the same problems when defending sola scriptura…..desiring to have something objectively infallible while denying the ability to participate in infallibility in order to aquire it.

  5. In the original article when Robin Phillips wrote “The zero- sum mentality is thus highly uncomfortable acknowledging that God’s decrees are outworked through secondary means, and prefers to emphasize the type of ‘immediate dependence’ upon God that bypasses as much human instrumentality as possible” he was referring to B.B. Warfield, not classical Calvinism. See

  6. You dispute the conclusions of my Facebook note about John Calvin and philosophical nominalism without actually sharing the arguments that led to my conclusions. Therefore I’d like to refer your readers to the note which can be read at

    You are right that the accusation that Calvinists = monothelites is no straight forward and it certainly needs to be fleshed out. I’d like to flesh it out a bit here.

    The Monothelites had asserted that while Christ possessed two natures, He only had one will. The Monoenergists, on the other hand, maintained that Christ was animated by only one “energy.” Concerned that both these positions undermined Chalcedonian Christology by implying Monophysitism (the belief that Christ only has a divine nature and not a human nature, being a species of Docetism), the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681) condemned both positions. Drawing on the theology of St. Maxmimus the Confessor, the council provided a framework for understanding the relationship between the human and the divine, and by extension the spiritual and the material. Against the Monoenergists, the orthodox Christians affirmed that Jesus acted through two energies: the divine and the human. Against the Monothelitistis, the church maintained that if Christ is truly man and truly God, then He must have two wills: a human will and a divine will. The two wills work together synergistically, even as we are called to co-operate our human will with the energies of God. Thus, the doctrine affirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council was known as Dyoenergism, meaning “two energies.”

    My wife and I started thinking about the implications of the Sixth Ecumenical Council while we were still attending our Calvinist church, and we began to realize that the Monergism of Calvinism seemed to be driven by many of the same concerns that animated the ancient Monoenergists, for both tended to treat the divine and the human as if they are two sides in a zero-sum transaction. Soteriological Monergism, no less than the heresy of Monoenergism, sees the divine and the human competing for the same space, and both want to give the divine all the pieces of the pie (again it’s the zero-sum problem).

    We realized that the question we needed to face was whether Christ’s human will was predestined to obey, or whether His human will is exempt from the divine predestination that apparently controls the rest of the human race. If we say that Christ’s human will was exempt from divine predestination, then there must have been true non-monergistic synergy and co-operation between Christ’s divine and human wills. But if so, then it is hard to see why it would be problematic to assert a similar non-monergistic synergy and co-operation between the divine and the human wills when dealing with other subjects, especially if Christ typifies the appropriate relation between humanity and divinity. At a minimum, the fact of Christ being exempt from divine predestination would seem to suggest, at least by implication, that some version of libertarian freedom is not an intrinsically incoherent concept, as Calvinists will often claim.

    The Calvinists I have spoken to about this problem have been happy to acknowledge that Christ had both a human will and a divine will. However, they will stress that the relationship between Christ’s human will and His divine will runs parallel to the relationship between our will and the divine will. They will thus answer the question I posed earlier by saying that Christ’s human will is indeed subject to divine predestination in the same way as we are. That is, the divine will “irresistibly” moves the human will, so that there is only one true energy operative. As Augustine put it, “The most illustrious light of predestination and grace is the Saviour Himself…” Augustine was echoed by Anselm who wrote, “the righteous will which He had was not from His human nature but from His Divine Nature.” All righteous acts performed by the human will (whether our human will or Christ’s human will) are only possible through the human will being subsumed into, overcome by, subordinated to, or predetermined by, the divine will. Christ thus becomes the ultimate type of predestination.

    But notice what follows. If the human will of Christ is dominated by the divine will of Christ, then human nature becomes simply a passive tool used by God. This is precisely another species of the Monoenergist heresy and it means that our nature cannot be fully healed because a divine person did not take on full humanity.

    Interestingly, the notion that the humanity of Christ was simply a passive tool surfaces now and again in reformed polemics like a mad wife who refuses to stay locked in the attack. R.C. Sproul recently urged that “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross” because “The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ.” The problem is that human nature, in the abstract cannot suffer! To be totally consistent, Sproul would also have to say that Mary was not really the God-bearer, but simply gave birth to a human nature that was used by the divine person.

    The notion that Christ’s human nature was a kind of passive tool used by God was a position taken by many of the monothelites, such as Theodore of Pharan in the seventh-century. Like R.C. Sproul, the seventh-century monothelites fell into the trap of overemphasizing the hegemony of the divine over the human in Christ. As Demetrios Bathrellos summarized Theodore’s position, “the energy of Christ is one…his divinity and his humanity had one energy…. Christ had only one will, the divine…” (The Byzantine Christ, pp. 69-70) Theodore reached this position from premises that many contemporary Calvinists take as axiomatic, namely “Emphasis on the divine initiative, on the complete subordination of the human to the divine…” In concert with many other Monothelites of the seventh-century, Theodore of Pharan “attributes every initiative to the divine energy or power of the Logos, and conceives of Christ’s humanity as a mere vehicle through which the acts are accomplished.” For Theodore, the humanity of Christ is a more or less passive instrument of his divinity.” Theodore thus urged what Bathrellos rightly terms “an over-asymmetrical emphasis on redemption as exclusively the work of God. …the one will of Jesus Christ is identical with the divine will.” (Bathrellos, p. 71)

    The theme of subordination is critical here, for Monothelitism and Monoenergism were far more than merely a denial of the natural will in Christ (which is why some Monothelitists were even happy to even acknowledge that Christ had two wills). Rather, it is clear from Saint Maximus’s The Disputation With Pyrrhus that their heresy involved the notion that EVEN IF Christ did possess both a divine and a human will, the human will was only a type of instrument that was used in a determining fashion. As Schonborn points out (quoted by Joseph Farrell in Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, p. 192), Monotheletism was “characterized by its incapacity to view the impeccability of Christ other than as a passive determination of the human nature by the divine nature…” Or as Thomas Aquinas said in Summa Contra Gentiles when describing the Monotheletist heresy, “they saw the human will in Christ ordered entirely beneath the divine will so that Christ willed nothing with his human will except that which the divine will disposed him to will.” As this suggests, Monotheletists believed there was only one activity or “energy” operative in Christ since the humanity of Christ was essentially a tool that was subordinated to, and determined by, the divine. Significantly, not even the Chalcedonian fathers who sometimes seem to espouse a purely verbal monothelitism went so far as to unambiguously teach that the human will is moved by the divine. (“…the view that the human is moved by the divine is not a distinct characteristic of Athanasius, Cyril, or Leotius of Jerusalem.” Bathrellos, p. 93)

    In the teaching of Saint Maximus the Confessor (the principal theological architect behind the
    Sixth Ecumenical Council’s vindication of Dyothelitism), Christ’s human will is not determined by the divine will but self-determined. To quote from Bathrellos: “If the Logos did not assume the self-determining power of the nature that he had created, ‘he either condemned his own creation as something that is not good…or he begrudged us the healing of our will, depriving us of complete salvation… Maximus repeatedly states his belief that the human soul is not moved by another, but is self-moving. Moreover, he elsewhere says that man has by nature a ‘self-moving and masterless power’. In addition, he repeatedly characterizes the human will as self-determining. As has been shown, for Maximus the human will is characterized so fundamentally by self-determination that it can be identified with it…. The incarnate Logos possesses a self-determining human will in virtue of which he is able to will as man in a self-determining way, and thus to actualize the self-determining power of his human will.” (p. 131 & 166-7 & 169)

    Suffice to say, the notion that the human will is determined by, or subordinated to, the divine, was as much a feature of Monotheletist Christology as the idea that Christ had only one will. Yet this heresy seems unavoidable once we have adopted a Calvinist anthropology in which the natural wills of the elect are subordinated to, and determined by, the divine. The only way out of this, without dispensing with a Calvinist anthropology altogether, is to posit a radical disconnect between us and Christ. But this is problematic since it ultimately implies that Christ did not possess a truly human nature. Christ’s obedience to the Father to the point of death becomes either a kind of fake dramatization or something attributed to His divine nature only (i.e., R.C. Sproul above) and not to Him as the Logos, the divine-human person. The soteriological consequences of this should be obvious, following Gregory of Nazianzus’ insight that what is unassumed is unhealed.

    Joseph Farrell’s book Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor is a must-read for anyone wishing to explore these issues further. Farrell shows that the Sixth Ecumenical Council was as much a confession of the necessary role of the human will in the scheme of salvation as it is anything else. “Indeed,” he writes, “one could say that in terms of the general principles of his [St. Maxmimus’] doctrine of free choice, a lack of synergism in theological anthropology or in soteriology…implies and presupposes a conception of Christ inherently monothelete in its dimensions.” If the orthodoxy of the council be fully embraced, then the reality of soteriological synergism cannot be avoided.

    • Okay, I may be mistaken, but I really thought I read those words. Maybe Arakaki said them and somebody got the quotation marks mixed up. I do plan on dealing with your facebook article, but since I was primarily dealing with Arakaki’s claim, not yours, I didn’t feel the need to explicate a lot of arguments that Arakaki never made.

      Re Farrell: I’ve read ALL of his theological works (GHD at least twice) and most of his space alien works, and I’ve listened to most of the Byte show interviews. I plan on dealing with Farrell’s claims later.

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