Rejoinder to Plucking the Tulip

Robert Arakaki has since given a fuller reply to my initial critique of his “Plucking the TULIP.”  I will try to clarify some initial points and note instances where he advanced the argument.   My initial contentions were he did not actually argue a position, since an argument includes premisses and conclusions, whereas he simply asserted x and y.  The problem with predestination is, as R. Scott Clark winsomely notes, that it is “not enough” (Clark, 2008, 343-345)

He writes,

“Double predestination is one particular doctrine taught by Calvin among others, but it cannot be denied that it was significant and integral to his theology.”

Yes, it can be denied.  Outside of the neo-Orthodox camp, few scholars would dare argue a “central theme” in Calvin (and if they did today, they would argue union with Christ, not predestination).   For what its worth, based on my reading of both the Institutes and sermons/commentaries (which in many ways are far more authoritative), the central theme would be the duplex cognito Dei.

“Further, I would assert that for many adherents of Reformed Christianity the doctrine of double predestination is central to their theology because it arises from their understanding of divine sovereignty. “

That’s true more of Calvinistic Baptists than it is of the classic Reformed.

“ But the working premise of my blog posting was that for many Reformed Christians TULIP = Calvinism.”

Now we are getting somewhere.   Change many to some and I agree 100%.

Questions I am supposed to answer

He asks, “One, is it not a fact that for many adherents to Reformed Christianity the doctrine of double predestination is an integral and indispensable doctrine?”

Answer:  I haven’t done a head count, so I really don’t know.  I hesitate  to answer this question because I don’t agree with the premise, namely that one orients a theology around a central dogma.   Yes, it is an important doctrine and I think indispensable, but I don’t make it a central focus.   Another hesitation I have is that when we speak of predestination, few take the time to work through the decrees of God and how they are distinguished, with the result that a lot of important points are not raised.

He asks, “Two, are you saying that double predestination falls into the category of adiaphora, that one can be Reformed without holding to double predestination?”


He asks, “Three, if so what is the distinctive core doctrine(s) to Reformed theology?”

I reject the premise behind the question.   As J. Gresham Machen pointed out to the Fundamentalists in the 1920s, we don’t defend doctrines per se, but a system of doctrine.

Confessional Authorities

He wrote, “It should be noted that I did not assert that there was no binding confessional authority in the Reformed tradition; what I asserted was that there was no confessional authority similar to the normative stature of the Formula of Concord among Lutherans. To refute my footnote about the Lutheran Formula of Concord, all Mr. Aitken needs to do is demonstrate that there is one confessional statement binding on all Reformed churches or at least comparable in stature to the Formula of Concord”

I was very specific:  the Westminster Standards for Anglo-American Reformed and the 3 Forms of Unity for Continental Reformed.   He wants one example binding on all.    That is not necessary.  I agree with the theology and piety of the 3 Forms of Unity, they are not ecclesiastically binding on me.  I am not Dutch or German.  Further, I noted how the Westminster Standards and the SL & C were politically binding as well.  I don’t know what else to say.

He says, “I took care to supplement my quotes from the Canons of Dort with that from the Westminster Confession and other Anglo Reformed confessions”

I don’t remember his quoting the Belgic Confession or the Heidleberg Catechism.  The Canons only address a specific aspect of Reformed theology in response to a specific situation.

Mr. Aitken has unwittingly called into question the scholarship of the widely respected Yale professor of Christian history and author of the magisterial five volume: The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

I like Pelikan as much as the next guy, and I have read every word in all five volumes, but scholarship has come a long way in the past 20-35 years.  Further, Pelikan didn’t write from a neutral, serene transcendental base.  He had his own dogs in the fight.    Further, read volume 2 and see the acute problems Pelikan raises for Chalcedonian Christology.

He writes,

The largest Reformed body is the World Communion of Reformed Churches which represents about 80 million believers. That world body recognizes 3 confessions: the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Confession. So there isn’t “a” single confession representing the Reformed Church, but rather three.

This is straining at gnats.  The 3 Forms of unity are considered a single piece.   And for what it is worth, the World Communion of Reformed Churches is composed of apostate bodies like the PCUSA.

He writes,

All that Mr. Aitken has to show us is a quote from Richard Muller: “We believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice, which is a more accurate rendering than “free will.” I challenge him to provide an excerpt from an official action by a Reformed body–past or present–that endorses Muller’s position on liberum arbitrium”

When the divines wrote these documents, they merely summarized the findings of at least one hundred years (and in many cases back to the medieval scholastics) of theology. Anyway, to answer his question:  the Confession’s use of the concepts of secondary causality, see particularly WCF 5.2.  The language of secondary causality is Muller’s position. This is also known by the scholastics as the doctrine of concurrence.  People who read and know the Confession know it wasn’t written in a vacuum, like any document (this is why the Federal Vision is so wrong).

Total Depravity

He writes, “But even if “defaced” means “marred,” what are we to make of the fact that the adverb “utterly” preceded “defaced”?”

Probably by what the word “radically” originally meant in Latin, radix, going to the root.  It means that sin touches every aspect of man’s being.

He writes, “If human nature was utterly marred as a result of the Fall, wouldn’t that lead us to think that it means the eradication of the divine image from human nature?”

If it were completely eradicated, then there is nothing there to mar.

He writes, “Further, Mr. Aitken makes two questionable quotations, one from the nineteenth Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, and the other from the Lutheran Formula of Concord. While the two sources make statements that neatly and logically bolster Aitken’s position, their relevance has yet to be established.”

In other words, “I don’t have to listen to them.”

He writes, “ It seems to me that he is approaching the matter from the standpoint of ahistorical logic, whereas I am approaching the matter historically and ecclesially.”

I have yet to see an Orthodox apologist avoid the opportunity to take pot shots at logic.    It can “seem” to his understanding all he wants; that does not mean what I am saying is false.

Using the Fathers

He writes, “Two, I would note that neither did Mr. Aitken present a logical argument for preferring Augustine over Irenaeus. Since he is so concerned about logical argument it is incumbent on him to provide a logical argument for giving preference to Augustine over Irenaeus.”

I could offer a logical response, but would it do any good?  Would I not simply be told I am relying on Western logic too much?  That is what I am usually told.

He writes, “My response is that I am using the ancient theological method expressed in the Vincentian Canon which places emphasis on catholicity and apostolicity. “

The Messianic Jew “John” thoroughly challenged this a long time ago on Arakaki’s blog.  I really have nothing to add, save to restate the problem again.  How do we know the particular teaching of a Father is part of the Patrum Consensus?  You can’t say by comparing this father to other fathers, for that is assuming the thing you are trying to prove.

He challenges me accordinglY:  I issue a two-fold challenge to Mr. Aitken: (1) demonstrate the superior logic of medieval Scholasticism over the ancient patristic consensus method,”

I don’t remember saying we should use the medieval deductive model.  I simply noted that some of these models are quite helpful in clarifying terms.

He writes, “Christian theology is fundamentally evolutionary in nature.”

I never said it was, but I will ask where Palamas’ energies distinction is being taught in A.D. 80.

He gives me the following syllogism:

(1) Epistemological validity is commonly based on the finding of the majority. This is the method that forms the basis of scientific fact, democracy, and judicial opinion.

(2) Eastern Orthodoxy uses the consensus of the majority (Biblical, patristic, ecclesiastical, and lay) to inform its theology and practice.

(3) Therefore, Eastern Orthodoxy is epistemologically valid.

Premise 1 is clearly false.  For example, geocentrism was largely taught for much of human history; therefore, it is epistemologically valid.  Theologically the premise isn’t much better:  wasn’t much of the Empire Arian at one time?  Wasn’t Maximus the Confessor told that all of the other Patriarchs opposed his dyotheletism?

Premise 2 has some element of truth.  I have yet to see a good, non-circular argument on why Vincent of Lerins’ assertion (Commonitories 24.62)  that the church always taught inherited guilt is wrong but in the same book is prerequistes for the patrum consensus are right.   Regardless, without P1, P2 fails to establish epistemic validity.

As such, I reject the conclusion (C1).

Free Will

He writes, “What is striking is Mr. Aitken’s failure to quote from Calvin or the major Reformed confessions. “

I did.  See Wesminster Confession 5.2

He then gives a list of quotations from Reformed sources that deny that man can freely will salvation.  I agree.  What he is not realizing is that the Reformed (and their Romanist opponents) were both operating off a loosely Thomist-Aristotelian psychology.  The will is the faculty of choosing and it follows the intellect.   The will as such does not choose the good unto salvation because the intellect does not move towards the good unto salvation.


I am not trying to pick a fight with him.   I don’t always find the venue at his blog helpful for theological dialogue, but that’s mainly the way the server is set up (if the posting is too rapid by others, then it’s hard to keep track of who said what when).

He mentions his earlier response to my criticism of his use of the Vincentian Canon.  It’s been a while but has he responded to “John’s” contentions?   (see the quote at July 10, 2012.  My server has it listed at “4:08” PM) I find it hard to seriously affirm the Vincentian Canon in light of those criticisms.  I appreciate what the VC is trying to affirm, but the more specific it gets in its claims, the more problems it runs into.

Works Cited

Clark, R. Scott.  Recovering the Reformed Confession:  Our Theology, Piety, and Practice.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2008.


3 comments on “Rejoinder to Plucking the Tulip

  1. Justin says:

    Outside of the neo-Orthodox camp, few scholars would dare argue a “central theme” in Calvin and if they did today, they would argue union with Christ, not predestination

    I was reading a book on Rutherford last night (Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology ed. by Matthew Vogan) and this theme of union with Christ came up. It hadn’t hit me just how pronounced this was in Calvin’s teaching, though I agree that it would be very difficult to pin down a central “theme” in Calvin.

    As J. Gresham Machen pointed out to the Fundamentalists in the 1920s, we don’t defend doctrines per se, but a system of doctrine.

    This is well-put and helpful to me.

    I also had a problem with P1 in the syllogism, FWIW. It makes P2 irrelevant, IMO.

    Though I am not familiar with EO doctrine/thought, seeing this interaction is helpful to me. Thanks.

    • I hope I don’t come across as saying all EO thought is bad. That isn’t my intent. There are a lo tof good EO writers on patristic theology. I just think it is incomplete when it comes to the whole of biblical data.

      Union with Christ is huge in Calvin, but I don’t think it is a central dogma.

      • Justin says:

        You don’t come across that way to me. You’re interacting with specific thoughts and addressing them from a perspective I appreciate. You’re not negative, any more than making your case contra another.

        I’m likely sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong by commenting in this thread…


        I am completely new to EO, so seeing this Reformed Scholastic / Eastern Orthodox interaction is helpful to me. I appreciate your perspectives, and where you’ve been spiritually over the past few years. That’s why this interaction in particular is appreciated.

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