A kinder, gentler supralasparianism

The lapsarian debate has produced what Kant calls “an antimony:”  two seemingly true positions which cancel out each other.   The supralapsarian is correct in that what is first in intention is last in execution. I don’t know if this is a universal maxim, but I suspect it is. There is no getting around that.  The infralapsarian is correct that when God’s decree seems to follow his creating the “one for dishonor, the other for honor, from the same lump” (Romans 9, so Hodge and Turretin).

I think supralapsarianism has the edge, but not in the way the discussion usually goes.  On anyone’s doctrine of God, God is simple and his eternal knowledge is immediate and non-discursive.  God doesn’t decide to do this and then do that.  While the infra is correct that Paul has God using a lump of clay prior to the decree to save/damn, I wonder if Paul is merely using that as an illustration and nothing more.

I have not seen most Reformed people synthesize their correct understanding of God’s knowledge with election and incarnation.   The result, when done, is something like this:  If God’s knowledge is immediate and non-discursive, which all but Eastern Orthodox and Jesuits will acknowledge, then we may not say that God first decides to create and then decides to elect, or vice-versa.  Reformed people know this, but they are not as aware that this failure creates a metaphysical “gap” in the being of God.  As McCormack notes,

So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19)

If God has always decided to be God-in-Christ, then he must have always been God-in-Christ-for-his-people.  This is the heart of supralapsarianism.

Of course, there are some problems due to the anthropomorphizing in any language, but I think it holds up.  However, I am not saying that the incarnation is eternal nor am I saying that Christ would have come regardless of Adam’s fall (I believe the opposite, actually). Theologians make a distinction between God’s decree and the historical outworking of God’s decree, without an imputing temporality into the eternal Godhead, and so that is how I would say that I don’t believe in an eternal incarnation.


The Offensive God

Taking my cue from Robert Jenson’s “The Offense of God’s Actuality,” America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards. (I am not actually summarizing Jenson’s points, just taking my cue from him)

The debate on predestination versus my efficient causing of my salvation (synergism) needs to be looked at in a different light.  It seems mean that God would create people having never given them a chance for salvation, which it seems the Reformed position is saying. It is a hard draught.  However, granting that point and even considering the semi-Pelagian alternative, is it really any better?  We get to choose to save ourselves now.  Fair enough.  Is it likely that everybody will exercise his free will to save himself?  Not likely.  And even granting free will, we still have the problem of the MauMau and Hottentot who is worshiping jungle idols.  While he has the chance to exercise his free will, the likelihood of his doing that unto salvation is remote.

So what’s the problem?  Even on the Arminian gloss, we still have a god creating a universe in which most people, while having the option of saving themselves, probably will never get around to it (they never hear the gospel, or whatever).  To make it even worse, God knowingly created a world where the majority goes to hell.  How exactly is this preferable to the Calvinist option?  It’s worse, actually.  The Calvinist god might be mean, but this one is derelict at duty.

But let’s leave all that aside.  It is too metaphysical a speculation.    Let’s get down to the point: the “offense” of God is that he chose to act without our permission.

Turretin Review, vol. 1, part 2

Decrees of God

God’s Foreknowledge of Future Contingencies:

Middle Knowledge: God’s foreknowledge about future contingent events whose truth depend not on God’s free decree (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). As Turretin clarifies, Whether besides the natural knowledge of God (which is only of things possible) there is in God a middle knowledge of men and angels where he knows what they may without a special decree preceding (I: 214).

Turretin responds: things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now, conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will; for example, the Sidonians would have repented if the powers had been supplied to them, for they would have been indifferently disposed in their nature to repend or not repent, those powers being given. ..No effect can be understood as future without the divine decree, so no future conditional can be knowable before the decree.
Again, knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain…
A thing may be contingent in two ways:
• by depending on God as first cause (as all of creation is thus contingent, since God didn’t have to create)
• by depending on prior second causes (which produce or not produce their effects).
Turretin is speaking of these contingents.

A future contingent implies both certainty of event and mode of production. As future it is certain, but as contingent in its mode of production. It has the former from the decree of the First Cause, the latter from the constitution of the second cause. The mode of production is clarified by the Westminster Confession of Faith V.2: It identifies God as the First Cause, corresponding with the first point made by Turretin, but notes that the First Cause orders the events to happen in three modes: freely, necessarily, or contingently.
An event can be both infallibly certain yet contingent. Thus, all things take place by the necessity of consequence, not the necessity of the consequent. Turretin notes that man’s actions can be free because they are spontaneous and follow rational judgment, but necessary because of God’s decree (I: 211).

Free Will

(Turretin, I: 502). God does not compel rational creatures to act by a physical necessity, he only effects this–that they act both consistently with themselves and with their own natures (508). This necessity is one of consequence–it secures the action and result of a cause. It is necessary according to the eternal premotion of God, but it is spontaneous according to the mode of acting (509). The premotion does not take away the mode proper to the nature of things.
For example, the harp player is the cause of music, but not of the dissonance plucked from the strings. Quoting Alvarez, “It does not follow that God is the cause of sin because he determines to the act; because the deformity follows the act, not as in the genus of nature, but as it is in the genus of morals and as it is caused by the free will (510). Relating the concourse of God and the free will of man 1. The concourse of providence and the human will is not of collateral and equal causes, but of unequal and subordinate (512). This follows on anyone’s gloss since God is by definition the First Cause.

2. God moves secondary causes according to their nature and mode. Thus, it is necessary according to the source (as coming from the First Cause), but free as to the mode. 3. Absolute liberty belongs to God; dependent liberty belongs to the creature. “The subject of free will is neither the intellect, nor the will, but both faculties conjointly” (I: 660). Here Turretin examines the Scholastic problem of the priority between intellect and will. Viewed in different lights either one can work. Practically speaking, people do not separate these two in their actings so we can speak of them together.

Turretin gives his famous discussion concerning the “necessity of necessity.” Non-Reformed positions, while prating long about free will, rarely interact with the hard questions it raises. Only the Reformed position does justice to both necessity and liberty. “Choice” belongs to the intellect; …

The will is determined by God with respect to decree but only in a concursive sense (God determines the actions but leaves the modes of acting free). We deny indifference of will but affirm rational spontaneity (665). Concourse and concurrence: When God and man’s will overlap. The question is how may we best explain man having liberty while being under the control of God’s providence? Turretin follows Aquinas: second causes are predetermined by God; When the free will moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from whom it receives the very power to move itself (ST, 1, Q. 83, Art. 1)
1. God gives second causes the strength and faculty to act
2. God keeps and sustains them in being and vigor.
3. He excites and applies second causes to acting
4. He determines them to acting
5. he rules them to accomplish the ends.

Anthropology and Sin

Original Sin: Those who deny original sin have to explain why death is prevalent even among infants and imbeciles. Romans says the wages of sin is death. If the curse of death is universal, it necessarily follows that the wages of sin is universal. Yet, how can they be held accountable for sin before the giving of the law (Romans 5:12-13)? Only something like the Covenant of Works can really answer this question. Yes, the curse of death is imputed to us (as our Eastern friends tell us). Yes, death is the enemy. But as Paul makes clear, how can there be death without the wages of sin?

Rome and the Superadditum

Rome, pace Bellarmine (“De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29, quoted in Turretin, I:471), viewed in natural man a contest between flesh and spirit, and God’s superadded gift is like a “golden bridle” to reign in the flesh. By contrast, Turretin notes that if original righteousness were an added gift, then man’s nature would have been inherently lacking. Rome places concupiscence before the fall; Protestants place it after the fall. At this point Rome cannot escape the age-old stereotype that it views matter as “not quite bad.” If concupiscence is natural to man’s created state before the fall, then ultimately man’s problem isn’t sin but finitude. The inevitable conclusion is that God made man’s very matter one of disorder (472). Protestants do believe in concupiscence, though. We see it as an inclination to sin after the fall. Still, we reject a positive principal of sin in the human nature. This rejection, plain and simple, precludes any possibility of a so-called Manicheanism.

If Reformed seminaries are not teaching through this book, then their students will not be prepared to face challenges from Rome and neo-Socinians.

Epistemology, Trinitarian Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are correctly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effect of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).

Again, I am amazed at how the Reformed orthodox interweave epistemology, (Christology), trinitarian distinctions, and predestination in one fell move.  If we begin with the Creator-creature distinction, then we necessarily have the archetypal-ectypal distinction.  If we have the ectypal distinction, then we realize that we can never give adequate and full accounts of how their can be distinctions in the divine essence.  Yet God has not left us in the dark.   We can see distinctions in God’s operations toward us in the world.   These are the outworking of God’s decree.  Yet, if there is an outworking of the decree, it logically follows that there is a divine decree.

Christological issues of the Supper aside, this is the second most reason I am Reformed:  ectypal theology.  People will ask, “Yeah, but how do you know you are elect?”  If we begin with the understanding of ectypal theology, then we can begin to answer this question (though I doubt any answer I give will satisfy the interlocutor)..  I can not “know” in the sense of having ultimate, archetypal knowledge (and to seek such is sinful).  I can know, however, based on the understanding of God’s providence and execution of the decree (and issues of Christ, the Supper, Church discipline).  The problem is that the interlocutor has presuppositionally denied any predestination by God, so dialogue is fruitless.

This is also another reason why I read Orthodoxy so sympathetically, yet ultimately rejected it.  I liked the way they rejected the Romanist reading of absolute divine simplicity and seeking the knowledge of God in his operations and energies.  Yet problems remained. I couldn’t find a satisfactory account of foreknowledge and predestination that did not lead to open theism.  And even the energies was problematic:  while it is true we know God by his outworkings to us (emininter and virtualiter) in the ad extra, this is not exactly the same thing that the Eastern Orthodox were claiming.  They were claiming that we know God by the peri ton theon and the logoi around God.  It’s hard to see how this isn’t any less speculative than Thomas’s beatific vision.

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.

Various Types of Theological Necessity

Turretin on different types of freedom

necessitas consequentiae (necessity of the consequences):  this is a hypothetical or non-absolute necessity.  It is brought about by a previous contingent act.  It refers to the necessity of the finite order.  There is no absolute necessity that God decree what he decrees, but since he has decreed so, he is bound to fulfill it.

necessitas consequentis (necessity of the consequent):  this is absolute necessity that refers to the opera ad intra.

Practical value of these distinctions:  it allows the theologian to intelligently and without confusion speak of both necessary and free acts.   Our acts are necessary in the sense that Providence is not subject to change.  But our acts are not absolutely necessary, since God was not bound to decree such.

The more I read of Richard Muller and other exponents of Reformed Scholasticism, the more I realize that the Reformation tradition had a rich and full understanding of freedom of choice.  The following is taken from Willem J. van Asselt’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.Contrary to Arminian and Catholic charges, the Reformed view of a “necessary” will is not incompatible with “freedom,” provided both terms are understood correctly. Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom: 1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God; 2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did], 3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree. 3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.” 4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one? 5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation. 6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.  This is an example of a necessity of the consequence.   It is not an absolute necessity.

In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).

Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence

The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:

(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).

In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.

Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.

Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).

Samuel Rutherford and Baptist Scholarship

John Coffey has filled in a woeful lacuna in Reformed historical scholarship:  the absence of a good, critical, and thorough biography of the Covenanter Samuel Rutherford.  In fact, Coffey goes on to say that there is not a decent biography of an Scot between John Knox and figures early in the 18th century.

Coffey, John.  Religion, Politics, and the British Revolution:  The Mind of Samuel Rutherford.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford Cover

In terms of scholarship the book is first-rate.  The bibliography alone is worth purchasing the book.  There is one problem, though:  Coffey is a baptist.  Now, I am not being mean or parochial in saying that.  Coffey himself admits it.  I bring that up because the Baptist worldview necessarily entails certain things about covenants, politics, and even how one views salvation.    Coffey himself admits this colors his conclusion somewhat (Coffey, xi).   At the end of the book Coffey will disagree with Rutherford’s worldview, but until then he does a wonderful job explaining it.   The book is divided into eight chapters, with six analyzing different aspects of Rutherford.

In terms of actual biography, Coffey stays to the main tradition and simply updates older scholarship. Of interest is his suggestion that Rutherford fornicated in his youth (37).  Coffey admits there isn’t decisive evidence for it, but suggests he did anyway.  Myself, I’ll stick with the evidence and just say, “I don’t know.”  In explaining his life Coffey points out how various religious communities have approached Rutherford.  Evangelical pietists (likely Banner of Truth) have focused on Rutherford’s letters and its warm piety.   Theonomists and the Christian Right in America focused on Lex, Rex, claiming Rutherford anticipated Lockean ideas of liberal democracy.   Thankfully, Coffey buries the Christian Right myth by pointing out, contrary to Francis Schaeffer, that there is no evidence that Locke or Witherspoon ever read Rutherford (12).

The Scholar

The chapter on Rutherford the scholar examines his academic upbringing.  Of particular note is the various strands of post-Renaissance and Reformation secular learning that was employed at various universities.  Rutherford will later synthezie Thomism and biblical law and the beginnings of the former regarding Rutherford are found here.  Coffey’s discussion of Ramism is intruguing.

The Pastor

Continuing with the more biographical strand, Coffey recounts the various troubles Rutherford got into as a pastor.   I won’t say more since this information is readily available elsewhere.

The Reformed Theologian

This is where the money begins.  Despite much of Coffey’s antipathy towards Rutherford, Coffey does a fine job explicating Rutherford’s high Calvinism.  He begins by burying earlier Calvin vs. the Calvinists theses, showing that they reflect more of Barth’s disciples than they do of Calvin.   Therefore, Rutherford can be seen continuing Calvin’s high predestinarianism within the framework of a covenant and using a different grammar than Calvin, but all the while staying faithful to the Reformed tradition.    First, we must see Rutherford’s foil:  Arminianism.

Arminianism:  divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below).  Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes.  Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy.  True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

Divine Premotion: in responding to the Molinists, Rutherford fell back on an old Thomist idea–God acts on secondary causes to produce actual effects (125).   Rutherford’s other views led to a supralapsarianism with its strengths and weaknesses.

Covenant theology:  This will come into play later in the section on politics, but I will deal with it now to show that Coffey misunderstands Rutherford on one key point (more on that below).  Coffey correctly places Rutherford in the line of John Knox, not John Locke.   Rutherford’s covenant theology also functions as a prism by which he will launch his political theology.   Coffey will later charge Rutherford with trying to force “Reformed Christian” rules on an ungodly Scotland.  Further, Coffey argues that this is inconsistent:  how can one force the covenant of grace on those who do not necessarily have grace?   There are many lines of response, but my main thought is, “So what?”   Anyone who’s spent more than fifteen minutes reading ethics knows that is does not always correspond to ought.  For example, I know unregenerate people in America might want to commit murder–they’ll never change.   Should I then, as a magistrate, not pass a law against murder?

Natural Law:  Coffey suggests that Rutherford forged an uneasy connection between natural law and biblical law.  Lex, Rex was written to justify resistance to the king.  Contra Locke, Rutherford argued that the fundamental unit is not the individual, but the covenant community.  The making of a king, therefore, has two dimensions:  his immediate authorization from God, and the mediate authorization through the covenant community.  Civil society, Rutherford would argue, is natural in radice and voluntary in modo.

Covenant and resistance:  The people (we will leave that term undefined for the moment) could resist an ungodly king if he broke the covenant.  Coffey suggests that Rutherford was embarrassed by the New Testament injunctions against rebellion.  I think Coffey is embarrassed.  True, the New Testament warns against lawless rebellion, but these ethical commands, like all ethical commands, have to be applied in day-to-day situations.  What about the numerous Old Testament commands to rebel against lawfully-ordained tyrants?  Did God change his moral standard?   Rutherford actually mentions these verses, but Coffey doesn’t deal with them

Coffey, however, is to be commended for calling to light some humorous comments from Rutherford.   One of the planks of natural law reasoning is the command to preserve our own life, other things being equal (interestingly, Jesus’ command to love others as ourselves is meaningless if the following premise is not granted).  Rutherford asks, “If an Irish criminal, who happens to be deputized by the king, is about to kill us, natural law requires us to unhorse him and then engage in reasoning.”  Rutherford does list a number of other situations where armed resistance is the only moral option:  if the deputy/king wants you to sodomize someone, violate a woman, etc., only a morally-diseased person will plead pacifism in that case.  That last line is from me, not Coffey.

Ecclesiastical Statesman: Coffey shows remarkable restraint on Rutherford’s presbyterianism.   There is not much to add to this chapter.

National Prophet:  This is where Coffey starts to get annoyed at Rutherford.  He suggests that Rutherford’s covenantal theology, which included the non-elect, was in tension with his ideas of a “purged and renewed Scotland.”  There is tension in how Rutherford applied it, and I think Rutherford can be justly criticized on those points, but I see no tension in the thesis itself.  Of interest is Rutherford’s exegesis of Isaiah 49, wherein he sees Scotland prophesied as one of “the isles.”  We may laugh at such exegesis, but I think there is something to it.  Rutherford’s point, though, is that Scotland had received and banqueted with Christ, and then her nobles forsook him.  Which leads Rutherford to his next point, judgment.

Apocalypticism.  Coffey has an interesting chapter on Rutherford’s apocalyptic language, but like all academics, he misses the larger point.  Not once does Coffey rightly identify this for what it is: historicist eschatology.  This is an old Protestant reading of Scripture and how Coffey, who has done thorough research on everything else, missed this point is beyond me.  Congruent with my own interests, though, is Rutherford’s awareness of that great champion of Protestantism, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (230, 239), whom Rutherford calls “a latter day Gideon.” (Coffey is somewhat smug in noting Rutherford’s dismay at Gustvus’ death, as though this disproved Rutherford’s eschatology.  I think there are answers here, but I won’t waste time responding to them).

Conclusion and Critique

In terms of thorough scholarship, this book is to be commended.  There are few modern (if any) biographies on Rutherford.  The price, unfortunately, will deter many from buying it.  The book has its imperfections, though.  Coffey criticizes Rutherford on the last page as pursuing the wrong causes.  He should have pursued an evangelical pietism instead (258).  This is ironic because Coffey earlier criticized pietistic readings of Rutherford.  We grant with Coffey that Rutherford faced a difficulty in applying the covenants to a largely unregenerate nation, but so what?  We must be faithful to the Lord regardless of what the situation looks like.  If the world and nation are dark and opposed to us, it is precisely at that moment that we press the Crown Rights.

The connection between God’s nature, will, and revelation

The issue of necessity poses a problem for all Christian thinkers.  Even those who do not go down the monergist route still have to face it, if only much later in the game.  One would of looking at the problem was simply to label everyone who held to a form of necessitarianism as being an Origenist.  For example, Origen held that creation was eternal (kind of).  God was thus eternally creator.  So, we are beginning to see a connection between God’s nature and his acts.

One of the Libertarian Free Will arguments was to say that holding to necessity means that there is necessity within God himself, which is a form of Origenism (though I highly doubt guys like Bill Craig realize that).   If man is necessarily determined (as I hold he is), and if man is created imago dei, then God is necessarily determined.  This is Origenism.

Before I affirm the latter implication–if I do–let’s look at the implications of not holding to some aspect of necessity in the Godhead.  If there is no necessary connection between God’s nature and his acts, then on what grounds will God act according to his promises pro me?  How do I know that God’s will is in accord with his nature?  John Coffey, in his exposition of Samuel Rutherford, succinctly explains the problem, “If God was not bound by necessity, then his will and actions did not necessarily reveal his nature.   God’s decree to punish sin and his decision to send Christ revealed only his will, not his being” (Coffey, 130).

This touches on a Western criticism of Eastern Triadology:  Given the East’s reticence to speak of God’s being (apophaticism, anyone?), attention is then turned to God’s will.   Will has triumphed over being, yet this is the very criticism with which people charge Calvinism:   voluntarism.   I am not the first to point this out.  In a discussion with David Bradshaw, John Milbank advanced a similar argument.

Retractare: John Piper and the Origenist Problematic

As hinted in an earlier piece, I’ve been a fairly sharp critic of John Piper for the past few years. I have since moved back to earlier theological convictions and realized my criticisms were entirely fair.  To be sure, Piper does have some problems–some of them substantial ones–and I would certainly caution a young ministerial student in making Piper (or even Jonathan Edwards) the staple of my theological diet.  Still, few critics of Piper actually realize the good he has done.

The title of my post represents an ancient problem in theology.  The early Christian writer Origen fashioned his theology around the idea of “dialectic.”   Something has a corresponding opposite.   This isn’t new with him, but it did become problematic when applied to God.  Criticism was then made of Piper that Piper’s construction of God’s sovereignty necessarily entailed sin, the fall, etc.

Addressing this criticism of Piper will allow me to say where that position (the Anchoretic one, for lack of a better term) made some correct observations, but in doing so failed to come to grips with SCripture.  Even worse, their criticisms of Piper must also apply to Scripture.  So, does Piper’s construction of God’s sovereignty entail a dialectical corollary?    It kind of does, but in the long run it isn’t that big a deal.  First, Piper isn’t the first major thinker to suggest this.  He’s simply offering a new take on the whole “would the incarnation have happened if there were no sin” problem.  I am not actually convinced that the problem is a good one, nor does one even need to give an answer.  That Piper is addressing, however, is not that unusual.   The neo-Palamites made a mountain out of a molehill.

There might be another way to salvage Piper’s reading.  Does the fact that God’s knowing future events make them certain?  It seems hard to affirm otherwise.  If God knows something will happen, then will it happen of a certainty?   It seems so.   So when Piper hints towards a necessary connection between God’s glory and sin, he is simply making explicit the above premise (though I think men like Bruce McCormack have done a better job dealing with the problem).  Now, the sharp Anchorite will say, “Ah, but what about Molinism and all those problems?”  Well, I am at the point in my life where I really don’t care.   There are about five Eastern Orthodox guys alive who really understand that issue (which is highly ironic, given that Orthodoxy usually charges everyone with “rationalism,” yet these arguments  are the most insanely technical I’ve encountered).  The truth is, few people who do not have a Master’s degree in Medieval philosophy will care about these arguments, let alone understand them.   My argument, underlined above, is quite easy to understand.

However, as Piper’s sermons on Romans 9 make clear, the problem still remains, eschewals of the dialectic notwithstanding.  Here is the hilarious thing:  these guys will attack John Piper for saying this, but when Paul says, “vessels of wrath prepared beforehand for destruction,” there is silence.  Further, Piper in that sermon gives seven incontestable reasons why the phrase “he hardens whom he will” means that God first hardens those who have not yet done anything.  And at the end Piper says, “I haven’t removed the mystery.  I’ve simply stated it.  To say ‘free will’ solves the mystery is in truth to say nothing at all.   Free will only makes the problem worse. Free will doesn’t explain anything at all.”

So, I formally retract my earlier criticism of John Piper as an Origenist.   If he is an Origenist on the dialectic, so is Paul.    This is why studying Romans 9 is so exhilarating.  One gets to bask in the sheer majesty and saving power of God.   And if someone sneers “nominalist,” so be it.  My argument is simple:  Give a refutation of my system that does not equally apply to Romans 9:22.

Just read Chrysostom on Romans 9.  His reading of it is literally the opposite of what the text said.  This is not merely “oh, just a nuance of interpretation.”  It is literally the difference between A and ~A.

(Interestingly, the only decent non-Reformed interpretation is NT Wright’s:  Romans 9 is the recapitulation of the story of Israel.   Few non-Calvinists accept this reading, though.  Origen was the first to really deal with it in De Principiis.    Origen’s arguments haven’t really been improved upon by synergists in 1,900 years.  This is not surprising.  While I don’t agree with Wright’s interpretation, I know why synergists do not use it:  it does not exalt and magnify the free will of man.  Period).

Now, for some other thoughts on John Piper.

Pros of Piper:

  1. Like him or not, he is a dynamic speaker who impressed upon one the urgency of eternal things.   Few can match him as a preacher.
  2. He is probably one of the leading reasons in the revival of Jonathan Edwards among non-specialists.`
  3. His “Christian Hedonism,”while prone to problems and misunderstandings, very easily combine doctrine and application.
  4. His website made all of his lectures (and I think, books) free.   Few ministries truly understand this.  Piper does and he is light-years ahead of everyone in marketing techniques (which is ironic, since he is critical of the marketing ministry approach).
  5. I have normally sided with NT Wright over Piper, but I retract most of that.   Wright did make one good point, though:  few scholars accept Piper’s definition of God’s righteousness.   That’s true, but I now think Piper makes a good case.  If one takes corresponding passages between Exodus 33 and Romans 9, there is a clear connection between God’s righteousness, God’s glory, and God’s Name.
  6. I have always leaned towards continuationist views on prophecy; Piper’s arguments solidified those views.


  1. I hesitate to make Piper and Christian Hedonism the focal point of my theological diet.   Men need systems and all men have them.   Piper’s system is not coherent enough for someone who doesn’t have a strong background in church history, philosophy, and theology.   On the opposite side, those who do little else but chant “Westminster Confession” have a remarkably coherent system, but they do not always go further.
  2. I think Piper got sidetracked on the “racial equality” issue.  I admit that racial problems exist in America, but when someone mentions “racial equality,” what they usually mean is how bad whites treat blacks today.   I’m sure that happens somewhere, though I haven’t actually seen that phenomena in fifteen years, but what is never mentioned, aside from the regular Department of Justice report, is the overwhelming percentage of black-on-white (and for what it’s worth, black-on-black) crimes.   In fact, to even mention this is to commit the heinous sin of “racism” (which is a Marxist construct).  I probably agree with 90% of what he says on this, but I am deeply troubled about  what is usually not said.
  3. I don’t agree with him about  his usual baptist conclusions, obviously.  But I also don’t agree with the corollaries to this:  separation of church and state and the general Baptist take on politics.    These are problems with Independency in general.

Re-reading Bondage of the Will

In 2003 I read Luther’s Bondage of the Will.  It was an exciting time.  I had been introduced to Reformed theology, logic, and apologetics.  I was at a liberal Baptist university.  The battle lines were drawn.  As I am rereading it, I am looking at the notes I made in the margin.  I don’t know if I should cringe or chuckle.  I was a young apologist.   Truth be told, I doubt I remember much from it.

When I was reading the church fathers intensely from 2009-2012, I came across (and no doubt spouted) arguments that Luther’s view was Manicheanism, against the fathers, novel, etc.  Let’s pretend that charge is true for a moment.   A sharp opponent could then respond, “Okay, so what do you make of Romans 8:29 and 9:11ff?”  To which I would say, “Oh, the text can’t mean that.”  Why not?  Did God fashion my senses in such a way that the words don’t mean what the words mean?

And that was the problem I kept facing:  I might know all these sharp philosophical reductios, but old Aunt Flossy doesn’t give a damn about any of them.  99% of the world can’t follow that logic (which might be their fault).  This meant, that my fine anti-Luther, anti-Calvinist arguments were useless to anyone who hadn’t had a graduate course in medieval philosophy.  Here is what they did understand, though (even if they rejected it):  predestination matters.   Like it or not, people are asking questions about predestination and prayer, not about the monotheletic implications of manichean belief.

I understand the guys at OrthodoxBridge are currently working through this topic, but I won’t be commenting there.  It will end up being 15 vs 1 again, and when they start seeing s