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.
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;
yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
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;
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