5 Points Part Two

I am not going to go into much detail on the fifth point of Covenantalism.   I am interested to see how the 5 Points of Covenantalism match up with the horribly-named 5 Points of Calvinism.   This is important because too many people, both friend and critic, reduce all of Reformed theology to the TULIP.   Orthodox Bridge is terrible about this from a critical standpoint, and Together4Gospel is bad about it from a friendly standpoint.  I’ve already given ample reasons why Reformed thought should not be identified with TULIP (however much I may agree with the individual propositions in TULIP).   This post will explore how the Covenant Model maintains the essence of TULIP but does so in a more concrete and biblical-historical way.

Transcendence    OR   Total Depravity?

The two terms aren’t synonymous, which makes a 1:1 switch problematic.   God’s transcendence doesn’t change either before or after the Fall.    I think “Total Depravity” might be one of the worst terms of theology ever invented.  I challenged Orthodox Bridge guys on this point.   My comments still haven’t been approved.  I have no problem with Total Depravity, but this isn’t the best model to begin theology with.

Hierarchy or Unconditional Election?

This one is easier.    We are elected in Christ.   Christ is mediator.  There is no such thing as election in the abstract Godhead.   God establishes intermediaries, but because of the rich, earthy Hebraism these mediators aren’t seen in a chain of being continuum.

Ethical Law or Limited Atonement

Despite surface appearances, this is easy too.   Christ fulfilled the law and died the covenantal death.  You get the same thing as limited atonement but it is seen in a more concrete way.   You get the same thing if you add point two of the covenantal model.

Sanctions or Irresistible Grace?

Irresistible grace is about as bad as any on the term (for we all know people who’ve resisted the grace of God).   Effectual calling is superior.   But I think “Covenantal Sanctions” is even better.  Covenantal sanctions deal with blessings and cursings, which call to mind “oaths and witnesses.”   Someone is a Christian because God marks him out as one.  We don’t “make” ourselves Christian.  This means that any talk of calling must be done in the context of the covenant. Granted, we need to flesh this out more, but I think it has promise.  I think this is better than irresistible language.

Continuity or Perseverance?

This one is easy.  These two are almost synonymous.


More on TU”L”IP, falsely so-called

Steven Wedgeworth has done helpful work on the atonement in Dort’s theology.   It summarizes what I have been saying about TULIP: once you move outside the English language “TULIP” doesn’t even make sense.  Therefore, how can one seriously reduce all of Reformed theology to a controversy at one specific time, whose authors were merely responding to several loci of theology, furthermore the very wording of the appellation doesn’t even work outside the English language?!?

The Canons of Dort do not follow the order of TULIP. In fact, the acronym TULIP only even works in English!…

Dort does not use the language of Christ simply dying “for” one group, but not “for” another. Instead, it treats his death as being “the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”…

This type of explanation is important because it does not limit Christ’s own value or worth. He being divine, his merit was necessarily infinite.

A Post-Western View of the Trinity

In Robert Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip,” while the majority of the piece dealt with “calvinism,” he did make some comments on why the Eastern view of the Trinity is more preferable than the Western view (and with what the Filioque entails).

In this piece I evaluate the shortcomings of Augustinianism and the inadequacy of the Eastern essence/energy distinctions.  I conclude with some suggestions on moving past the impasse.

This is the final part both of Arakaki’s “Plucking the Tulip” and my response to it.  The response was delayed because I actually thought this part of his critique was very good.  I have demonstrated my own reasons why I find his critique of TULIP to be unconvincing.  I had to wrestle and think through these issues much more than on soteriology.   Indeed, when I was looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, it was the Trinitarian issues that had the most “pull.”   Western theologians today, at least in the Evangelical world, have done a terrible job in presenting a Western view of the Trinity that understands the East’s concerns (or presenting any view of the Filioque, period.  It is a mark of deep and deserved shame on American Evangelicalism that Karl Barth has the most thorough, recent defense of the Filioque).   This is one of the areas where new thought is actually possible.

   I must begin by repeating the now-common refrain that there really isn’t as big as gap between East and West on the Trinity as once was thought.   This is undoubtedly true in the earlier Patristic eras with greater differences coming to light as the first millennium ended.  Certainly, there is a marked divide between later figures like Aquinas and Palamas.

Arakaki begins by noting Calvin’s Western roots.  He writes, “Unlike Eastern Orthodoxy which draws on a wide range of Church Fathers,Western Christianity in both its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms depends heavily on Augustine of Hippo” (Arakaki 12).

Mr Arakaki tries to connect predestination with the Western view of the Trinity.  He writes, “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (14).   Mr Arakaki is correct to note that double predestination is not unique to Calvin.  As the former Orthodox theologian Joseph P. Farrell has noted, double predestination is an inference from absolute divine simplicity (Farrell, 332 passim.), and almost all medieval Western theologians held to this model of simplicity. Further, Arakaki’s claim that God’s nature is related to God’s economy is absolutely correct.    He notes that his Eastern view is the Cappadocian one, grounding the monarchy of God in the hypostasis of the Father.   Following Metr. Zizioulas he states that such a position emphasizes the person over the nature.  God exists through his mutual love.   To borrow Zizioulas’s famous title, “Being is Communion.”   There is a certainly a truth to this.

Mr Arakaki contrasts this with the Augustinian view.  His summary of Augustine is by and large correct, and I won’t belabor the point with more quotations.  He quotes sources on Augustine to the effect that Augustine emphasized the nature over the person.  Arakaki then notes difficulties with the West’s view:  “the Father is God, the Son is God,the Holy Spirit is God; but the Son is not the Father, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; but there is not three gods but only one God” (16).  Obviously, such a view is unsatisfying.  It is not surprising that one infers the Filioque from such a construction.  Indeed, if the above is problematic, then it appears that the Filioque is also problematic.

A High-Church Reformed Response

It must be first noted that Western theologians do in fact have a response to Mr. Arakaki.   How can one claim that “The Father is God/The Son is God/The Spirit is God/There is one God”?   Western theologians could make this claim work by positing a “relations of oppositions.”   I am not going to take that route.  I have my own questions about such a model.  I only mention it to say that there are cogent, rational alternatives to his presentation.

Mr Arakaki has certainly placed his finger upon the Western problem.  Indeed, it is a pressure point.   In fact, even more problems could be adduced.   We shan’t mention them here.   In order to respond to Mr Arakaki, I will flesh out the Eastern view a little more, drawing upon perhaps its most forming theologian, Gregory Palamas (as interpreted by Vladimir Lossky).  According to Lossky, “The Father is the sole monarchy of the Godhead,” but this isn’t subordinationist because “terms such as procession and origin are but inappropriate expressions for a reality alien to all becoming, all process, all beginning” (Lossky, A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu, 78, quoted in Jenson, 152). This point shouldn’t be passed over.   This is in line with the Eastern emphasis on apophatic theology:   we have knowledge of God by negation.  At its most basic it denies any knowledge of the divine nature.  Rather, we know God by his energies.  (Much more could be mentioned and Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw’s outstanding work, Aristotle East and West, will fill in any lacunae in my narrative).

Palamas on the Essence/Energies

Not only does Palamas see that God has an ousia (I understand the fine nuances between ousia, substance, and essence; in the following I will use ousia as roughly synonymous with essence), but “God also possesses that which is not substance” (Palamas, Chapters 135, quoted in Sinkewizcs, 241).  Yet Gregory is clear that this is also not an accident, of which one does not admit in God.  Palamas calls this entity which is neither substance nor accident an “energy.”  Elsewhere he calls it the “arche of deity” (Triads 3.1.29).  This is crucial for his view of the spiritual life.

In one of Palamas’ more brilliant moves, he notes the Western view of divine simplicity (God’s essence is absolutely simple, admitting of no distinctions) and how impossible it is for deification:  If God’s essence is absolutely and immutable, how exactly can the saint participate in it?  If the saint participates in the essence, then the saint is absorbed into the essence.   If the saint participates in “created grace,” then he is participating in a created medium and not in God.  Admittedly, it’s a brilliant move.

One should keep in mind that Gregory likely holds to something similar to divine simplicity.  He is careful to note that God is “according to the ousia beyond ousia” (ibid).  What he likely means is something like Plato’s beyond being or hyperousia (Republic 549b).  If this is in fact what Palamas means, and I think it is, then he is not as far removed from the West as one might think.  The only difference, it seems, is that he adds a tertium quid to the equation:  the divine energies.

Lossky’s problem points back to Gregory Palamas. Palamas employs the Cappadocians, but with a subtle difference. The saints, for Palamas, participate in the divine energies, but not in the divine ousia, deity sheerly as such. The problem, though, is that the Cappadocians were a lot more flexible than Palamas in their use of terms. Their use of the term ousia (Basil probably excepted) does not suggest anything other than the divine life. As Catherine Lacugna says, whom Mr Arakaki quotes elsewhere with approval, “God’s ousia exists as Father, Son, Spirit.  The three persons do not have a common ousia; they are the divine ousia…Further, as Rowan Williams points out, the doctrine of the Trinity means the identification of ousia with energeiai” (LaCugna, 192, quoted in Letham 249ff).  Here is the problem for Palamas: “It is one thing to say that abstract deity is itself always the same quality, as the Cappadocians did; it is quite another to say that deity taken as God himself is a static essence. Ironically, Orthodoxy is here driven to a bluntly modalist doctrine: God himself is above the biblical narrative, which applies only to his energies (Jenson 153).  Jenson’s comment needs to be fleshed out:  we can only identify God by his self-identifying in the biblical narrative–the persons arising out of the narrative.  But on Palamas’s gloss what can we even know of the Persons?  He seems to intimate that this “energy(ies)” is above the gospel narrative itself (Triads 3.1.10-13; 3.1.16-19; 3.3.26-27).   Perhaps most disastrously, Orthodoxy has a tendency to “reify the energies, the moments of the divine life, and at least in the case of the Spirit, the energies replace the person in the historical actuality of salvation” (Jenson 157).

Further, it appears that Orthodoxy is in danger of what (ironically) Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart calls the “pleonastic fallacy.”  According to Hart, this fallacy claims “the fallacy that says that—since there is an infinite qualitative distance between the ultimate principle of all reality and the world of “unlikeness” here below—it is necessary to posit a certain number of intermediate principles or “hypostases” in the interval between the two in order to bridge that distance” (Hart).  While this fallacy was initially pointed out against neo-Platonists and Arians–and I have no intention of saying the Orthodox are the latter!–one cannot help but see certain similarities.  On such a gloss we see an apophatically unknown God who is made knowable–not by the persons, mind you, because Lossky says the terms for hypostatic differentiation are only “inappropriate expressions”–but by some other tertium quid, the energies of God.

Further, we can only have an indirect knowledge of God.  Granted, we aren’t knowing God through a created medium, pace Roman Catholicism, but it is still a medium nonetheless. We do not know God as he is but only through the energies.  If this knowledge is indirect knowledge, then how do we know God’s essence?   As Robert Letham remarks, “If the divine essence is unknowable, how does Gregory know it” (Letham 249)?

Given Orthodoxy’s commitment to a relational ontology, one must ask how this is even possible if we only relate via the energies and not the persons, as it appears Palamas says.  Further, we must note Arakaki’s earlier claim:  “This is because theology (the nature of God) and economy (how God relates to creation) are integrally related” (Arakaki, 14).  I agree, but if all we can know are God’s energies and not his ousia, as Basil says (Letter 234), then one wonders how such a claim is even possible.   If the ousia is hyper-ousia and beyond our knowing, which was Basil’s point against Eunomius, then we may be allowed to hope that that theologia and economia are integrally related, but that is only a guess.  By definition, we can’t know that.  As Robert Letham remarks on Palamas,For all of the problems of the Filioque, it at least attempts to say that what is true in ontology is true in economia: The Son is the giver of the Spirit in history because he is a giver of the spirit in ontology.

Putting the Filioque at the End

Let’s assume that my (and Jenson’s) critique of Palamism holds.  Even so, that does not prove the Filioque is true.  This is not a problem, though.  As of now, one can affirm what the Filioque is trying to get at (God is not dissimilar in ontology and economy; the economy reveals the ontology) while seeking to work past difficulties inherent in the project.

At the risk of horrifying everyone both East and West, I will expand (and correct)  Hegel’s “I-thou/Master-slave” analogy.  This does not mean I agree with all of what Hegel says.  I think he is more insightful than people realize, but he is also wrong on a number of points.  The present use of him is simply an analogy. I am not endorsing his ontology.

If you and I are to be free for one another, each of us must be both subject and object in our discourse. If I am present, I am a subject whom you have as my object. But if I am not an object for you as subject, if I somehow evade that, I enslave you. I am not reciprocally available to you (Jenson 155).

How then, can this mutual availability happen? How is an I-Thou relationship possible without becoming a struggle for power? (Jenson notes with humor that postmodernism carried out this program under a tutelage of horror!) Following Jenson, in perhaps a mildly Augustinian strain, we can note, “there is freely given love…a third party in the meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou. Thus, if you and I are to be free for one another, someone must be our liberator (okay, granted this isn’t the best term–JA)…If I am to be your object and you mine, so that we may be subjects for each other, there has to be one for whom we are both objects, and whose intention for us is our love for each other. The theological conclusion is obvious.

Still, it does not fully answer the Filioque debate, at least not here. We can tentatively  toward a Western answer. The debate over the Filioque is misplaced. If God is indeed the God of the future, and we see Cappadocian hints of an ever-forward moving futurity in God, then does it not make more sense to see the better question as “The Spirit is the End and Goal of all God’s ways”? East and West debate over the beginning Archimedean point when they should be discussing the divine goal as the Spirit’s Archimedean point” (157). Quoting Pannenberg again, “The fault of the Filioque is that the true Augustinian insight that the Spirit is the fellowship of the Son and Father ‘was formulated in terms of relations of origin’” (Pannenberg, I: 347, quoted in Jenson, 157 n. 67).  Seen from this light, the East-West debate is simply two sides of the same coin.  Neither side tries to rise above the problematic.

On What Can We Agree?

I certainly agree that Augustinian triadology is simply inadequate.  It solves many problems but at great costs.   While I think the Orthodox concept of the divine energies is problematic–and I’ve only touched on one aspects.  I think there are more damaging criticisms available which I won’t pursue here–to the degree that Orthodoxy talks about the “divine light” I can appreciate.  I realize that Orthodoxy sees the two terms as synonymous.  I do not.  My arguments challenge a concept of the divine energies but not the divine light.  There is no reason why on a post-Augustinian gloss that one cannot appropriate the divine light.   Protestant biographies abound with saints who experience the divine light–glory–of God.  The Covenanter John Walsh was known to be surrounded by light while he was praying.   Even the modern Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, recalls an instance when he was flooded by divine light in language quite similar to that of Eastern Orthodox stories (Pannenberg).

In conclusion I agree with what the Filioque is trying to say.  God is not dissimilar in mission as he is in ontology.  Further, while God is transcendent we must be careful in positing that God’s essence is so radically other that we have no consistent way of saying how we can know God.  But even granting Eastern criticisms, we must confess that the East is not the way we should go.  Their Trinitarianism, while consistent and occasionally beautiful, comes at too great a cost.  If pressed hard enough we are left with a frozen view of God (to borrow Jenson’s phrase) above the biblical narrative–and such a view tends toward agnosticism (since we can’t know God as he really is).     Even worse, and in line with some other Orthodox critiques of Palamism (Moss), it’s hard to see on an Orthodox gloss how we can even have a “personal” relationship with God if the persons, too, are hyperousia and our only manner of communion is through the “energies.”

Which Way the West?

It is often remarked that Protestantism is divorced from the early church, that it can’t look back to church history and find itself.  What does one make of this claim?  Admittedly, it’s hard to find the location of First Presbyterian Church, Jerusalem.  Certainly, Protestants must acknowledge the hard work of the ancient church(es) in working through canonical, Christological, and Trinitarian issues.  We stand upon the shoulders of giants.   However, since Protestantism does not claim an infallible tradition, nothing significant is sacrificed when Protestant theologians began to admit that their tradition erred in formulation et al in years passed.

Further, nothing is lost in admitting that previous models of metaphysics may not have been the best to work with.  This does not mean jettisoning the hard work of the early church(es).  It does require a critical receiving of texts and positions, asking what light can they shed on our current situations, and cautiously moving forward.  Rowan Williams has cogently suggested that we saw such a handling of philosophical issues in the Nicene crisis (Williams 2002).  According to Williams’ reading, Arius conservatively employed a number of respected (if pagan) philosophical traditions which compromised the biblical narrative of the Son’s being with the Father. It was to the Nicene Fathers, Athanasius and Hilary, to “deconstruct” the older metaphysics around a new terminology that was more faithful to the biblical narrative (Farrell 184; cf. Hilary, De Synodis 76).

When one reads the Filiioquist debates, especially between two competent debaters, one has to admit that both sides make good cases.  I think there is a reason for that:  both sides are operating off of the same problematic: the Person(s) as causing the origin of another Person(s).   Either side, as Sergei Bulgakov noted with great clarity, must inevitably result in some dyad:  either Father-Son + Spirit or Father + Son/Spirit.  The triad has been lost.

It is to the credit of some recent theologians like Pannenberg and Jenson that they can find models to speak of the Trinity in a way that does not inevitably reduce to some form of monad + dyad.  Indeed, Panneberg can speak of mutual reciprocity, “the divine consciousness existing in a threefold mode,” and “each of the persons relates to the others as others and distinguishes itself from them” (Pannenberg 1991, 317; contra Robert Letham, Pannenberg is not advocating, at least not here anyway, three centers of consciousness, which would fall prey to some form of social Trinitarianism.  Pannenberg’s language is very clear:  a consciousness existing in a threefold mode is still one consciousness, one subject).

My own essay does differ from traditional Protestant proposals.  I do not hide that fact.  I hope I have demonstrated the truths behind the Filioque and what it means for our knowledge of God, even if I demur from the confessional formulations of it. It must be admitted that Calvinism’s Trinitarianism (to the degree that such an entity exists) stands or falls independent of my own formulations (and vice-versa).  Calvin did not write much on the Trinity for the simple fact that he didn’t have to.   Roman Catholicism did not differ from him on that score, so there wasn’t a point.  Calvin’s later doctrine of autotheos per the Son did raise some concerns, but even Catholics like Robert Bellarmine conceded that Calvin was largely in the “Tradition” on this point (Bellarmine 307-310, quoted in Letham 256).  I depart from Calvin in terms of language but hope that my own conclusions are not too far removed from his.

Works Cited:

Arakaki, Robert. “Plucking the Tulip,” http://orthodoxbridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Plucking-the-TULIP4.pdf (accessed 6 January 2014).

Basil the Great.  Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol 8.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ.

Bellarmine, Robert.  “Secunda controversia generalis de Christo,” Disputationum de controversiis Christianae fidei adversus haereticos.  Rome, 1832.

Bradshaw, David.  Aristotle East and West:  Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.  Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Bulgakov, Sergei.  The Comforter.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005.

Farrell, Joseph. P.  God, History, and Dialectic:  The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes and their Cultural Consequences.   Seven Council Press, no date.

Hart.  David Bentley.  “The Lively God of Robert Jenson.”  First Things.  October 2005.  [Accessed 10 January 2014].

Hegel.  GWF.  Phenomenology of Spirit.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology vol 1.  Oxford University Press, 2001.

LaCugna, Catherine.  God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2004.

Lossky, Vladimir. A l’image et a la ressemblance de Dieu.  Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967.

Moss, Vladimir.  “Romanides on the Holy Trinity.”  http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/410/romanides-holy-trinity/ [accessed 13 January 2014].

Palamas, Gregory.  One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. ed. Sinkewicz, Robert.  Toronto:  Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988.

——————-.  Triads (Classics of Western Spirituality).  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart.  Systematiche Theologie.  Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988-1993.

—————-.  “God’s Presence in History.”  http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1710.  [accessed 10 January 2014].

—————-.  Systematic Theology.  Trans. G. W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Plato, The Great Dialogues.  trans. W. H. D. Rouse.  New York: Signet Classics, 2008.

Williams, Rowan.  “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,” Eastern Churches Review 9 (1977): 27-44D.

—————.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Zizioulas, John.  Being as Communion. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

Planting the Tulip: Atonement

Things got a little heated in the last go around.  This one will be shorter.   The document can be accessed here.   This piece will try to appreciate what he is getting at, yet suggest that the EO model on the atonement does not fully address all biblical concerns.

RA notes:   ” Whereas the Canons of Dort is explicit in its affirmation of limited atonement, surprisingly a careful reading of Calvin’s Institutes does not yield any explicit mention of limited atonement (see Roger Nicole’s article).

This is mostly true.  Here is an interesting linguistic point:  The canons of Dordt do not teach limited atonement because atonement is an English term, not a Dutch one.  I refer you to my friend Steven Wedgeworth, who has done some clear thinking on the issue. (I am undecided on where I stand regarding some of the conclusions, but the historical analysis is very good)   One must ask, though, if absence of evidence is evidence of absence.  The debate on whether Calvin taught LA has gone back and forth.  The current scholarly view is “kind of.”  I think it is best to say that Calvin addressed both concerns depending on which perspective was in play (I’ll explain in a bit below).

RA then gives a list of quotes showing that Christ died for the “world.”  He then rebuts the common Reformed gloss on these texts:

The real challenge for those who appeal to the above passages lies in the semantic tactics used by Calvinists in which they argue that “all” and “the world” are not to be taken literally but as referring to only those predestined for salvation.
My thoughts on the semantic gloss are a bit different from most Reformed. I think the gloss is defensible and the denial of it entails problems for those who hold to unlimited atonement, but I also understand why most people are not satisfied with it.   While using this gloss isn’t my preferred tactic, I must say that he hasn’t fully given all of the semantic thrust that the Reformed use.  For example, when the Pharisees, speaking of Jesus’ popularity, say, “The whole world has gone after him.”  Did they really mean every individual on planet earth?  If not, then can we not at least grant that the Reformed are justified in glossing world to mean not necessarily every individual on planet Earth?
RA then points us to historical theology (I tried to do that last time and I was told to stick to Calvin and the Confessions).
This is where historical theology can help us assess the competing truth claims. The advantage of historical theology is two-fold: (1) it enables us to understand the historical and social forces that shaped Calvinists’ exegesis and (2) it enables us to determine the extent to which Calvin’s theology reflected the mainstream of historic Christianity or to what extent Calvin’s theology became deviant and heretical.
This isn’t a bad set up, but I had to read it several times to see where he was going with it.  I originally thought that he was going to use historical theology to assess Calvin’s view of the atonement, since this paragraph is included in the heading on the atonement, but I think he is actually meaning it to refer to the rest of his essay.  My argument and response can go with either.  He then gives us three quotes (Irenaus, John of the Ladder, and Chrysostom) to show God’s universal love towards humanity.  By doing that he (presumably) intends to show that the early church universal held to ????
This is where it gets kind of confusing.  I am not entirely persuaded that listing the views of three fathers warrants an inductive inference to the patrum consensus (including all the problems that the patrum consensus entails).   I do acknowledge, however, that most of the Fathers probably agree with his claim that God’s love is universal (however, I would point the reader to Gibbon’s comments on Tertullian; it’s funny.  Go find them.).  My difficulty in evaluating it is that it is not simply enough to say that God’s love is universal.  Other questions arise:  is his love the same in quality towards the objects of his love (Jacob have I loved; Esau I hated)?
Refocusing the Reformed View of Atonement
I was surprised that he did not mention Gustav Aulen’s Christus Victor model, since many Fathers held to it.  The Reformed simply ask this question, “Did Christ’s death do anything regarding the believer’s relation to sin and guilt?”   The Reformed simply point to the biblical evidence that Christ died for our sins, understanding sin to be a violation of God’s law.  This raises the next question:  if Christ died for everyone’s sin, isn’t everyone saved?
Calvin knew this. He might not have stated it in so many words, but it was common enough knowledge in the middle ages.   The scholastics distinguished between the sufficiency of the atonement and the efficiency of the atonement.  If the question before the house is whether Christ’s death was sufficient for the whole world, then who doesn’t believe in unlimited atonement?  If the question is whether Christ’s death is efficient for the whole world, then even the staunchest Arminian and revivalist semi-Pelagian believes it was limited.
The problem is that when people use the term “atonement” today, they usually mean expiation, in which case we all believe in an unlimited atonement.  If by atonement we mean propitiation, then we believe in an unlimited atonement.
People can complain about legal language all they want, but the fact of the matter is that the Bible is replete with it. “Wages of sin” (Rom. 6), “Certificate of debts” (Eph. 2).  We have no problem with language of Christ’s victory over death or our union with Christ, but I have yet to see an EO apologist incorporate imputation-language and legal-language into their own theories of the atonement.    If we do not have a robust view of legal language and categories, then we must own up to several questions:

The ambiguity with the term Calvinism

I’ve been accused of trying to weasel out of what Calvinists believed.   From my point of view, I don’t see why I am obligated to adhere to a term which Calvin himself rejected and which is anachronistic of most any Reformed thinker before the 18 century.   As to setting the context, it’s pretty obvious that people aren’t dealing with the sources.    But here goes again:

There were some misconceptions about my objections to Arakaki’s post on predestination.  I was not suggesting that we reread Reformed sources to mitigate the presence of predestination.   I argued, by contrast, that Arakaki had a surface level understanding of Reformed theology.  Some points of clarification are in order:

  1. I have no problem with his use of the Canons of Dordt.  I simply dispute that the Canons reduce to the issue of predestination, and then cover the entire Reformed faith with this reduction.

  2. I have even more problems with his reduction of Reformed theology to TULIP.

  3. This raises the larger problem of whether we can even speak of the term “Calvinist.”  It might apply to soteriologically Calvinistic Baptists, but as an appellation of a specific church body, it is illegitimate.   It is even illegitimate in regards to individual theologians.  As Richard Muller observed, “Should a theologian almost a decade older than Calvin, trained in the Universities of Padua and Bologna, who subsequently taught in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Zürich, and who, for all his general agreement with Calvin did not speak of a double decree of predestination but rather identified predestination with election, who drew more positively on medieval scholastics (notably Thomas Aquinas and Gregory of Rimini) than Calvin, who did not view himself as a follower of Calvin, and whose abilities in Hebrew extended far beyond Calvin’s be called a Calvinist? The theologian in question is Peter Martyr Vermigli, whose work was quite influential in the development of post-Reformation Reformed theology” (Muller 5-6).

  4. I’ll add my own observation:  Should Martin Bucer, a generation older than Calvin, a man whom Calvin called the greatest exegete living, who was trained a Dominican and retained his Thomistic epistemology all his life, be considered a follower of Calvin?   Phrased in this way the question and problematic is not only wrong, it is silly.
  5. In perhaps the most thorough rebuttal to the idea of TULIP = Calvinism = Reformed theology, Muller notes, “It is really quite odd and a-historical to associate a particular document written in the Netherlands in 1618-19 with the whole of Calvinism and then to reduce its meaning to TULIP. Many of you here know that the word is actually “tulp.” “Tulip” isn’t Dutch — sometimes I wonder whether Arminius was just trying to correct someone’s spelling when he was accused of omitting that “i” for irresistible grace. More seriously, there is no historical association between the acrostic TULIP and the Canons of Dort. As far as we know, both the acrostic and the associated usage of  “five points of Calvinism” are of Anglo-American origin and do not date back before  the nineteenth century (Muller 8).

In conclusion it must be restated that we affirm the propositions listed in TULIP.  We heartily reject, however, any reduction of the Reformed faith to a cute acrostic.  Where in TULIP, might I inquire, is any mention of the finitum non capax infiniti, the duplex cognito Dei, the archetypal/ectypal distinction, or even the Covenant?  I feverishly hate everything about the Federal Vision, but at least they were perceptive in this regard (if erring in the opposite direction). In some respects I retract my former post.  Not because I think it is wrong, but because in answering it I gave credence to a flawed and problematic understanding of the Reformed faith and Reformed historical sources.

For documentation Muller lists See Ken Stewart, “The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect,” in Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology , 26/2 (2008), pp. 187-203. There are, of course, many early references to the “five points” or “five articles” in controversy between Reformed and Arminian: e.g., Peter Heylin, Historia quinqu-articularis: or, A declaration of the judgement of the Western Churches, and more particularly of the Church of England, in the five controverted points, reproched in these last times by the name of Arminianism  (London: E.C. for Thomas Johnson, 1660); and Daniel Whitby,  A Discourse concerning I. The true Import of the Words Election and Reprobation … II. The Extent of Christ’s Redemption. III. The Grace of God … IV. The Liberty of the Will … V. The Perseverance or Defectibility of the Saints . London, 1710; second edition, corrected, London: Aaron Ward, 1735), often referenced as “Whitby on the Five Points” or “Five Arminian Points”: note George Hill,  Heads of Lectures in Divinity (St. Andrews: at the University Press, 1796), p. 78. Occurrences of phrases like “five distinguishing points of Calvinism” also occur earlier, referencing the Canons of Dort without, however, specification of the points  themselves: see, e.g. Daniel Neal,  The History of the Puritans and Non-conformists … with an account  of their principles (London: for J. Buckland, et al., 1754), I, p. 502; Ferdinando Warner, The Ecclesiastical History of England, to the Eighteenth Century (London: s.n., 1756-57), II, p. 509; note also that the editor of Daniel Waterland’s sermons identified  justification by faith alone as one of the “five points of Calvinism”: see Waterland, Sermons on Several Important Subjects of Religion and Morality, preface by Joseph Clarke, 2 vols. (London: for W. Innys, 1742), p. xviii. 16.

Towards a proper use of Reformed sources (updating)

I gather folks weren’t expecting me to use Richard Muller as my base of operations.   It was even suggested that my use of him represented “novelty scholars.”   I was floored when I read that.  Muller is to the Reformed academic community what Thomas Kuhn was to the scientific elite:  he is the game changer.   It’s not to say that Muller says that everyone else was wrong.   No, he is noting two important things:

  1. After 1750 the intellectual worldview of everyone subtly shifted.   People, for better or worse, stopped using some of the older lines of approach.   This means key arguments of the scholastics were simply forgotten.
  2. In the 20th century the Barthian schools offered a new interpretation of Calvin.  Muller is simply debunking their interpretation.

None of this is to suggest that the Reformed do not believe that predestination is a big deal.  It certainly is.  We simply reject that it is the central dogma around which the rest of theology is to be deduced.

I was then told that I needed to make my argument simply based on either Calvin or the Reformed confessions.  I reply, “Says who?”  Why should I accept those parameters?  That makes as much sense as my telling him that he can only use either Athanasius or the 5th Ecumenical Council.

So, I will put my cards on the table.  Here is where I am coming from.   The first four resources are free.  Even if you don’t like Reformed theology, you will appreciate Muller’s talks.  He is an engaging and thoughtful speaker.  You can be a hard-core semi-Pelagian who thinks, “I cause my own salvation.”  Fair enough, but at least listen to Muller.

Recovering the Past

Was Calvin a Calvinist

The Practical Syllogism

Rebutting Jonathan Edwards on Free Will

As to resources, the following are necessary for any real understanding of Reformed theology that seeks to go beyond debates on the five points.

Muller, Richard.  Dictionary of Greek and Latin Theological Terms.  This is the most important theological resource I own.   Ironically, it was an Eastern Orthodox apologist who urged me to get it.


Responding to Orthodox Bridge, part two (unconditional election)

His next section analyses the Reformed understanding of Unconditional Election. Much of it is simply a string of unobjectionable statements from Calvin.   He then notes where many Eastern fathers disagree with this position.  And that seems to be pretty much it.  This immediately gives rise to two other issues about the patrum consensus:

1) Simply saying a father asserted x does not equal a logical argument that said position is true.
2) At some point the question will come back to Scripture.   When I give logical exegesis from Romans 9, I’m told I am not reading Scripture correctly and that I need to read it in light of the fathers.  But then these guys will quote a verse to me and assume that I have the cognitive ability to understand what they are saying, patrum consensus or no patrum consensus.

He does gives us an interesting statement from Karl Barth.

Although the doctrine of total depravity is listed first, it is not the logical starting point of TULIP. The real starting point is in the second article, unconditional election.  God’s transcendent sovereignty is the true starting point of Calvin’s soteriology. Karl Barth argued that it is Calvin’s insistence on God’s absolute sovereignty which characterizes Calvin’s theology;  double predestination is but a logical outworking of this fundamental premise (Barth 1922:117-118)
We first note that Arakaki is operating off of the thoroughly discredited Calvin vs. Calvinist paradigm (cf. Muller, Christ and the Decree and Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists).  More interestingly, however, is Barth’s claim that predestination is a logical outworking of this decretal theology.  In an interview with R. Scott Clark, Richard Muller notes that the outworking of God’s decree may be causal in character, but it is not rigidly deductive.  Here is what he means.  We may speak of God as the First Cause (in a sense), but it was not necessary for God to create the world.  God’s decrees can be distinguished between those of the necessity of the consequent and the necessity of the consequence.   The former are strictly necessary, referring to the opera ad intra.  The latter are contingently necessary.  And the Reformers knew this, which is why many were hesitant to say x,y, and z will happen because of predestination.  That, of course, brings us back to my original contention:  Reformed theology is not simply nor primarily a doctrine of predestination (also, while I might be wrong, as I read Arakaki’s piece I didn’t see covenant theology dealt with at all).

Arakaki notes

The Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election is at odds with the Church Fathers who taught that predestination is based upon God’s foreknowledge.

Arakaki gives the standard Arminian and semi-Pelagian response to unconditional election:  God saw those who would believe and elected them based on their belief.  In other words, he makes faith to be the cause of election.  Our response will be brief and simple, taking our cue from Turretin (I: 355-362).

  1. Faith and obedience are the fruit of election, not its cause.   We reason such:  Romans 8:30 has God’s calling logically following his predestinating act.  Eph. 1:4 has our holiness following God’s choosing us.
  2. If election is from foreseen faith, then we must ask if it is an act of nature proceeding from us.  If this, then we elected ourselves (contrary to Paul, 1 Cor 4:7) and Pelagius gets the victory.
  3. If this Arminian gloss is true, then predestination actually becomes postdestination.
  4. If election is from foreseen faith, then the typical objections to election in Scripture do not make any sense (Rom 9).

On Romans 9

On p. 6 Arakaki notes,

To read the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination of individuals into Romans 9 constitutes a colossal misreading of what Paul was attempting to do.
Let’s work through this claim.  First of all, he gives us merely an assertion.  Does he offer any reason why the Calvinist gloss is wrong? No.  Does he offer his own exegesis of the passage?  No.  Does he engage with the strongest of Calvinist arguments on Romans 9?  No.  I’ll give my own arguments
The key text:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory
  1. If the semi-Pelagian gloss were true, then why does Paul’s imaginary interlocutor impugn God’s actions as “unfair?” (This also lends credence to the Protestant teaching of justification by grace through faith; if we are justified by cooperating with God’s grace, then why does Paul field objections that such teaching will lead to immoral lifestyles?).
  2. If Paul’s inference in v.18 (e.g., “So then…”) is that God first has mercy on whom he wills, then the second half of the verse must reason the same way: he hardens whom he wills.
  3. My gloss is the most natural reading of the text.

Responding to Orthodox Bridge, Part One

A few years ago the admin at Orthodox Bridge wrote a piece against Calvinism titled “Plucking the Tulip.”   I decided to respond to it.  This will be both an easy and hard endeavor.  It will be hard in the sense that it is time-consuming (I think the essay is about 20 pages).  It will be easy because the author offers almost no arguments whatsoever.  We’ll begin

Clarifying our Terms

The title of our paper begins our problems.  Arakaki identifies Calvinism with TULIP with Predestination.  In doing so he is operating off of the severely challenged “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” Paradigm.  This paradigm states in its various forms that Reformed theology is a decretal theology centered around the doctrine of Predestination.  The work of Richard A Muller has effectively buried this thesis (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vo. 1, Christ and the Decree).

Is there an official Reformed position?

Arakaki appears to go back and forth on this point.  He begins by saying, “The Canons of Dort represent the Dutch Reformed Church’s affirmation of predestination in the face of the Remonstrant movement” (1).  While he is correct in that the Canons of Dordt is an official document of Continental Reformed Churches, he is woefully in error in identifying predestination as the defining feature of Reformed theology.  However, in a footnote he says, “Unlike Lutheranism with its Formula of Concord, the Reformed tradition has no confessional statement with a similar normative stature (Pelikan 1984:236).”  I was stunned when I read this.  Does he not realize that the 3 Forms of Unity are ecclesiastically binding upon Dutch and German Reformed Churches?   He says above that the Canons of Dort represent the Church’s teaching.  Did he forget that he just said that?  Does he not realize that the Westminster Standards not only are binding upon Anglo-American Reformed Churches, but when interpreted in the light of the Solemn League and Covenant, are binding upon the kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland?  If he cannot get these most basic points established, what hope does the reader have that he will be able to seriously represent the intricacies of Reformed Theology?  I noted throughout this paper that he has an over-reliance on Pelikan.

Total Depravity

In one sense my rebuttal is already complete.  Arakaki thinks that the Reformed faith is predestination is TULIP.  By rebutting him along these lines I give credence to his flawed analysis, such that it is.  I suppose it can’t be helped.  He notes,

The Scots Confession took the extreme position that the Fall eradicated the divine image from human nature: “By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin.” (The Book of Confession 3.03; italics added)

I have two problems with this.   First, why is he quoting the Scots Confession instead of the Westminster Confession, since the latter is officially binding?  Second, he thinks that defaced = eradicated.  It does not.  It means “marred.”  Further, he gives no extended discussion from more thorough Reformed sources.   I will.  Charles Hodge, in glossing original sin and nature, writes, “Although original sin corrupts our whole nature, yet the essence or substance of the soul is one thing, and original sin another…Original sin is said to be an accidens quod non per se subsistit, sed in aliqua substantia est, et ab ea discerni potest (II: 229, 230, quoting the Formula of Concord).   The following page is a more or less accurate summary of what Calvin and others believed on the Fall of man.  He notes,

Another reading of Genesis can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons, widely regarded as the leading Church Father of the second century. Irenaeus believed Adam and Eve were not created as fully mature beings, but as infants or children who would grow into perfection (Against the Heretics 4.38.1-2; ANF Vol. I,p. 521)
One may legitimately ask, though, why Irenaeus’ reading is to be preferred to Augustine’s?  Irenaeus doesn’t offer anything resembling a logical argument, nor does Arakaki.  There is nothing here for me to rebut because there is no logical argument. Arakaki continues,
One of the key aspects of the doctrine of total depravity is the belief that the Fall deprived humanity of any capacity for free will rendering them incapable of desiring to do good or to believe in God.
Yet this is not what the Reformed believe.  We believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice, which is a more accurate rendering than “free will.”  As Richard Muller notes, “[T]he faculty of will (voluntas) is free and that the bondage into which humanity has fallen is not a bondage of the faculty of will as such” (Muller 1995, 176).  What has been lost, or rather limited, is the freedom of choice particularly to salvation.  Further, Will is distinct from intellect (intellectus) [330].  The intellect is that which knows objects, and the will is that which has a desire for them.  The next page in Arakaki’s paper is a litany of quotes from the Church fathers on free will.  Since I have already demonstrated the Reformed position on free will, and that Arakaki’s charges miss it, I see no point in responding to these patristic citations.
Arakaki continues,
Thus, Calvin’s belief in total depravity was based upon a narrow theological perspective. His failure to draw upon the patristic consensus and his almost exclusive reliance on Augustine resulted in a soteriology peculiar to Protestantism
I couldn’t help but chuckle at this since Orthodoxy has its own narrowness.  Lossky, anybody?  Arakaki mentions the “patristic consensus.”  This will figure later into his argument on Scripture, but I will cut it off at the ford.   The Eastern Orthodox have yet to give a coherent, non-circular definition of the patristic consensus. In any case, the most devastating analysis of the so-called patristic consensus can be seen here.
This will end the first part of my rebuttal.  I think I have demonstrated that the author has not read the Reformed sources, does not show an adequate understanding of official Reformed documents, and offers little in way of an actual analysis and critique.