Friday, October 30, 2009

Good News

 In the 2009 Trinity Foundation Essay contest on Gordon Clark's God's Hammer, I tied for third, meaning I will receive $500 and 5 books. You can read my essay as well as the 1st, 2nd, and other 3rd place winner(s) here. I hope to evaluate the other essays, but I will always maintain that if I had more than two months to write the essay, I could have won. Sour grapes. May be a blessing in disguise, however, as the rules state that 1st place winners cannot reenter into future contests. That should give me another opportunity to redeem myself!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shoulda was a good dog

Morality is a problem for non-morally-nihilistic, secular philosophies. Example: Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, wrote therein:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

In the midst of his rhetoric, notice the claim God is "unjust." While I have dealt with such an issue here and here, one wonders upon what ground Dawkins alleges God is unjust and, furthermore, why - even if we concede his vitriolic caricatures accurately depict God's character - he should give two hoots. Is there a particular reason Dawkins or any other atheist should find God morally repulsive? Such an answer requires a logical account of one's own moral perception. But this is an insoluble problem for Dawkins, for, as Hume notes in his A Treatise of Human Nature:

"In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is and is not , I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it."

Dawkins must answer in what manner one may come to believe a given action should or should not be committed. The problem Dawkins faces is that if his secular world-view is correct, he cannot traverse from "is" to "ought" logically.

A common Darwinian reply to the question "from whence did moral perceptions derive?" is that historically, some group of people learned that through altruism or reciprocity, they acheived a certain, desireable goal: e.g. survival. This is an is answer. One person's (or, by extrapolation, muliple people's) likes and dislikes, however, does not constitute as a logical reason for the universalizing of those likes and dislikes. That one person enjoys his life does not suffice as a logical  reason that all people should live. In fact, why should an individual himself do what he desires? It becomes quickly evident that the historical, Darwinian is answer, even if it were true, fails to account for how moral perceptions are rational. And this is generalizable for other secular philosophies as well.

Providentially, as Scripture is the ground of knowledge, Christians are equipped with an answer to the is-ought dilemma. Because the Bible is true, the should statements found in the Bible are also true. It is quite logical, then, for a Christian to affirm shoulds, and it is quite logical, without putting forth any further effort, to require men like Dawkins to furnish the proof with which they are burdened when they make such absurd statements as seen above.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I hardly knew ye

Marcus writes: 

"I've decided not to respond for numerous reasons. The greatest being that both bloggers are strangers that I have no reason to debate."

He's encountered strangers on the internet! Certainly a strange phenomenon. One wonders if Marcus would add this type of "reasoning" to the following list of fallacies and excuses he generously advises one should avoid:

"Oh, a few tips for comments, personal attacks, emotional appeals and circular reasoning are not advised. Along with the pessimistic "you'll never listen anyway..." All that says to me is that you can't answer my questions."


Sadly, Marcus doesn't realize that he's simply exchanged one form of close-mindedness for another.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where's your head at?

Marcus has felt it necessary to get some help from his buddies here. His gem of a reply:

"Well, I can pretend I didn't see them, or waste precious time telling them why they are retarded. None of them actually addressed my points without going on rabbit trails. This is annoying."

Rimshot! To be fair, the replies he has garnerned are hardly better. Example:

"So there goes any notion of God being "good"."

Here again we see a plain attempt to smuggle in non-Christian assumptions into a Christian context. If the Christian God does not harmonize with the atheist's arbitrary and subjective moral perception, why is that supposed to be a problem? Also, has this atheist ever read the dialouge between Euphythro and Socrates? His response would indicate he has not. He continues:

"Who cares if he has a purpose known only to himself?"

No one said God's purpose for ordaining evil is known only to Himself. Obviously, this atheist did not read Romans 9:22-23. Finally, in response to my query as to whom God is responsible, he replied:

"To himself. To keep his word and his promises, which he does not."

Of course, no substantiation is offered, and as the rest of the response was so poor, I'm not inclined to give any credence to it.

More of the same is found in the rest of the replies: one cites Job (yes, Job) as an example of unfair suffering... perhaps he would care to read chapters 38-42 in the same book. Another assumes moral responsibility is grounded in free will, which is nonsense - moral responsibility presupposes divine sovereignty (cf. Vincent Cheung's answer to the Problem of Evil). Still another wonders why God still allows evil to occur even after Christ died, an argument from silence (also, see 2 Peter 3:9). Another denies original sin as a Christian concept. And one final hero asks why an omnipotent God cannot perform the logically impossible... yeah, I don't know how that's relevant to the subject at hand either, but a simple reference to virtually any definition of omnipotence will leave one confused as to the point of the question.

FYI, Marcus: when you can't reply with anything more than ad hominem - behind the backs of those replying to you, no less - you haven't "hit the big time," you're "getting hit big time."

The Problem of Laziness

The "problem of evil" is one of the more puzzling objections to Christianity. It rests on solely on emotions, and yet for some reason, it is usually one of the first tricks atheists try to pull when justifyng their disbelief. Take this atheist, Marcus. Despite his youth and seeming lack of knowledge regarding a sound, Christian retort to the "problem," he apparently regards it as death knell to Christianity, or at least one reason why he is an apostate. He states the "problem" as follows:

"The amount of human suffering in the natural world is incompatible with a kind, caring, omnipotent father/creator God."

Marcus obviously has the inside scoop. If only he would have shared how he could possibly know such a thing, perhaps he might have made a point. Surely as an "ex-Christian" he knows full well that his sin deserves no mercy or grace, and surely he understands - if not agrees with - the concepts of discipline and justice. As it is, the argument is just a string of smuggled assumptions. Just one more example:

"The Bible says flat out that Yahweh made evil in the first place!"

So what? I would say determinism is the solution to the problem of evil, as it implies God has a purpose in causing it. As for the "contradictions" Marcus goes on to tick off, several questions should be asked:

Would determinism imply God has broken His law? Which law? If not, how can one ascribe evil to God's character? Is the discussion not assuming the truth of all Christian doctrines and definitions, including morality (cf. 1 John 3:4)?

Also, to whom is God allegedly responsible for His actions? Has he ever read Romans 9:19-23?

Until Marcus or any other atheist can answer these questions, the "problem of evil" rather appears to be a problem of intellectual laziness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Speculations Hammered: The Word of Truth, Asserted and Vindicated

The following is an essay I submitted to the Trinity Foundation about Gordon Clark's book, God's Hammer:

It is the ground of knowledge rather than the instrumental cause of justification that the modern evangelical community must seek to defend against a post-modern world. This new enemy to the faith is no more threat to epistemic truth than were the religious sophists of the Reformation; rather, its philosophical appeal to atheistic and theistic society alike stems from egoistic seduction. Whether one is an empiricist, rationalist, or existentialist, the popularity of postmodernism lies in its common pledge to the individual: namely, the authority to “[erect] an independent criterion of what is worthy of worship” (Clark 190). Having recognized that the god of this world is focalizing his attacks upon that alone which “cannot be broken” (John 10:35), Gordon Clark compiled a series of articles to safeguard Christendom’s assurance in the inspiration, infallibility, sufficiency, perspicuous and authority of Scriptural revelation.

The Evangelical Theological Society was formed to specifically combat the rising assault on the doctrine of infallibility. The principle statement of the society is as follows: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Some professing Christians and even entire denominations (cf. the United Presbyterian church) have departed from this confession, citing that it is either false or an unnecessary constriction. The society and those who agree with Scriptural infallibility should not compromise the doctrine for the sake of feigned unity, but critiques should receive careful attention. If the Bible is contradictory to truth – archaeological, literary, theological, apologetic, or otherwise – it cannot be God’s word, because the Bible claims that God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

All epistemological systems are founded on various first principles; the creed of the Evangelical Theological Society is the first principle of Christendom. The purpose of a first principle is to enounce the means by which one purports to derive knowledge. This poses a unique problem: “…if two people do not accept the same axioms, they will not be convinced by the same proof” (Clark 15); hence, to censure one first principle because it contradicts another first principle would be fallacious. One must, therefore, utilize elenctic argumentation in order to invalidate a first principle. As beneficial as elenctic argumentation may be in, say, evidencing atheism as incompatible with moral justice, there are infinitely many first principles one could presume. So, to conclude that one’s first principle is true on the basis that others’ are false would be a committal of the fallacy of induction. This led Clark to deduce that “to show the Bible’s logical consistency is… the best method of defending inspiration” (Clark 15). Given the hostility to Christian fundamentalism, such a demonstration would, perhaps, be as persuasive a testimony as an evangelist could provide.

For one whose first principle is essentially that of the Evangelical Theological Society, the authors of the Bible must claim their written word to be inspired, infallible, sufficient, perspicuous, and authoritative, or else one must acknowledge the first principle is not internally consistent. This, Clark shows, is trivial. Only one who has not carefully studied Scripture could believe otherwise, for the Bible is full of instances which claim the whole canon to have been breathed out by God through the prophets and apostles: Exodus 4:11-12 “The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Peter 1:3; 20-21 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness… no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

If common axioms such as empiricism and rationalism are not that by which the Christian contends to receive knowledge, the question is begged: how is information accumulated from Scripture? As a theory of language or communication cannot be isolated from epistemology, a Christian must turn to Scripture for this as well: John 3:27 “…a man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 “…what do you have that you did not receive?” Matthew 16:17 “And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Language is predicated on logic, which is to say that words are symbols people use to convey thoughts. That man is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) equips Christians with a simple answer as to how men can communicate: God is rational, so men are too. This immediately refutes one who supposes verbal inspiration is inadequate due to an inherent inability for man to understand divine revelation. Men understand God’s words because the divinely appointed purpose of language was so that men can understand God’s words. He who believes otherwise must explain by what means he knows communication with the divine is impossible. In fact, he must also explain how communication between men is possible, and this is to demand that he present a full epistemological foundation.

Scripturalistic occasionalism, on the other hand, easily synthesizes the soteriology of Calvinism with fallen man’s repugnance to spiritual truth. Historically, God created man and revealed Himself to man in the garden. Even before sin corrupted mankind, Adam needed God to guide Him; general revelation was insufficient, as it could, at best, only provide apprehensive knowledge about God. Because man fell, the Father made a covenant with man, and had His prophets write it down so that His Spirit would have an object of revelation to which He could witness and to which the elect could, upon regeneration, believe. Christ came and fulfilled the covenant, and so it is written “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Christ’s apostles were likewise instructed to corroborate this fulfillment through written word. Because men are dead in sin until the Spirit regenerates them (cf. 1 John 5:1), men know what is true but suppress it (Romans 1:18-32); hence, until or unless they acknowledge Scripture as authoritative, they cannot justify what they know.

All Christians believe Scripture is authoritative. Some [professing] Christians, however, disregard the need for Scriptural infallibility as it pertains to information perceived to be unrelated to theology. For what reason do these individuals believe Scripture is authoritative if not because it is infallible? One can only assume that in the absence of any attempt to support their belief, their reasons are, like the various arguments they purport against the infallibility of Scripture, founded on emotions and unsound thinking. Allegation of contradictions within Scripture, denial that textual criticism furnishes one with a competent rebuttal to the vituperative conception that one cannot exercise historical-grammatical exegesis without the original autographs of Scripture, arguments from silence (for instance, present lack of archaeological support for a particular biblical passage) – these and other [indirect] attacks upon the doctrine of infallibility serve only to undermine an alleged belief in the authoritativeness of Scripture.

One can even make these criticisms under the guise that Christian doctrine should be taken from Scripture. Dr. James Mays is one such example. Ignoring what is written in Scripture respecting its own inspiration, infallibility, and sufficiency, Dr. Mays, who is not a Eastern or Roman Catholic, fairly represents the community of “Christian” liberalism when he attacks the perspicuity of Scripture on the grounds that it a lacks an extant, infallible interpreter. Would Dr. Mays suggest that the reason “Scripture cannot be broken” (cf. John 10:35) is because men cannot be certain what is the meaning of the content of Scripture? Has Dr. Mays read Psalm 119? Furthermore, arguing on such grounds implies that the necessity of prior, infallible interpreters extends ad infinitum. If this be the case, it is inescapably irrational for him to write any sort of objection to the doctrine of perspicuity which could [apparently] be misunderstood – for one would assume Dr. Mays thinks of his writing as no more perspicuous than that which he claims to be authoritative – as support for the doctrine of perspicuity. Or, if at some point Dr. Mays might explain what he believes is requisite for a source to be self-evidently clear, as well as his reasons for believing such, only then can one examine what justification he has in claiming Scripture needs an infallible interpreter.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mays does not follow his premises to the logical conclusion, and it is unnecessary to speculate further when the witness of the Holy Spirit and the self-attestation of Scripture grant insuperable security to the believer. What statements we can derive from Scripture about the nature of Scripture should be considered doctrinal; as all Scripture is said to God-breathed, and as God cannot lie, the perception that Scriptural information can be unrelated to theology is fallacious. Clark concludes that the authority of the Bible is necessarily predicated on whether or not it is infallible: “If the Bible is mistaken on geography, which ought to have been easy for the writers to put down correctly, it might very well be mistaken on theology, which is much more difficult than geography” (Clark, 121). Of course, one could insert any field of study for “geography” and the point would be the same. The Bible is God’s revealed word, or it is a sham. No middle ground exists.

Those who deny Bible is the word of God yet maintain it contains word of God must not regard the Bible as authoritative, for the real authority would become whatever criterion they would use to discern what is and is not God’s word. If one does not trust that He who cannot swear by anything higher (Hebrews 6:13) is capable of competently articulating His thoughts to men, what “knowledge” one does claim to derive from His word is not necessarily divine revelation. To suppose that man through reason can with more clarity understand God than God’s own self-revelation defeats the purpose of revelation. Thus, those who do not believe Scripture is infallible yet claim to accept all other orthodox doctrines are suspect. Why should other doctrines not be doubted? Again, what is the criterion by which such a person has judged which doctrines to be true and which to be false? The simple answer is: subjectivism.

One attempt to supplant infallibility with a new criterion by which we know what is true was made by a former member of the Evangelical Theological Society: whatever “spiritual need” is most pressing should be given priority (Clark 61). In that case, what could be “true” for one could be false for another. Religion becomes subjective. The decree to evangelize becomes subjective. One could live in sin and dismiss rebuke as equally viable alternative interpretations of Scripture. For what sinner knows what he spiritually needs except through conviction by a trustworthy source? Uncertainty cannot yield certainty. The skeptic, left without an infallible source for the justification of knowledge, must reason autonomously. Sadly, such subterfuge is present in the “apologetic” of many professing Christians.

Several objections to the doctrine of verbal inspiration yet remain currently in favor amongst subjectivists. For instance, in his book, The Inspiration of Scripture, Dr. Beegle criticizes the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration on the ground it doesn’t rely on the scientific method. Notwithstanding the test of internal consistency which Dr. Beegle seems to overlook, it would seem he subjugates God’s word to an empiricist's first principle. As no attempt is made to justify empiricism, however, it is baffling for one to consider what reasons Dr. Beegle might have had for making such a statement.

The dictation theory charges that the doctrine implies God mechanically imposed His will onto men such that they became mere mediums through which His word was proclaimed. This functions as a facade to substantiate a general, underlying incrimination; to wit, that a determinative world-view is incompatible with the doctrine of the will of man. Of course, Christians reject the accusation that organic and dynamic composition of Scripture is incompatible with verbal inspiration, for verbal inspiration must itself be understood within the context of the rest of Scripture. God is sovereign: He made each and every author of Scripture and ordained circumstances such that each author acquired different styles of writing. The idea that a parallel exists between God and His prophets and a boss and his stenographer does no justice to God’s sovereignty. The former is unique in that “an inner union, an identity of purpose, [and] a cooperation of will” inheres in the relationship between God and His appointed (Clark 44).

Another accusation leveled against the doctrine of verbal inspiration essentially declares [religious] language to be entirely metaphorical. Some, such as Mr. Hamilton, believe words are originated mythically despite Scripture rejection of such a concept. Because Hamilton does not substantiate this proposition, one need not bother to respond to his conclusion, that communication between men and God is unintelligible. Most of those who believe in linguistic relativism are existentialists who wish to relieve themselves of the “burden” of defending the doctrine of Scriptural infallibility while yet avowing Scriptural authority. What actually happens is that Scripture is stripped of objective meaning and in place God is said to communicate through metaphor, image, and myth. Curiously, some such relativists think it matters which religion one chooses to follow. But, as Clark notes, “if neither myth is true literally, if both are equally symbolic, is not the one as satisfactory as the other?” (Clark 47) Religious subjectivists have ostensibly believed one myth arbitrarily, or, if based upon religious experience, cannot disallow one from choosing to be a Muslim or Mormon due to a respectively subjective religious experience. A more direct discreditation, however, is observable when one asks what the religious symbolism symbolizes. Let us suppose the crucifix symbolizes the crucifixion. But if there is no literal truth in the crucifixion, what does the crucifixion represent? The argument is self-evidently mired in an infinite regression fallacy.

A final, more radical objection to the doctrine of verbal inspiration is the positivistic idea all abstract metaphysical concepts are arbitrary. Some refer to “human logic” so as to distinguish it, somehow, from “divine logic.” Such a theory is easily defeated, as it cannot support itself without exercising the law of contradiction. To assert “the law of contradiction is arbitrary” is to presuppose the law of contradiction, or else another could consistently construe the assertion to mean “the law of contradiction is not arbitrary.” Interestingly, as it relates to language, this view is rather similar to Van Til’s concoction, analogical knowledge, which suggests that there is no rational basis for communication between God and men. Those who subscribe to the theory of analogical knowledge argue that men and God cannot know the same thing, because men’s thoughts are conditioned on He who has no conditions. This does not follow; that God’s thoughts are higher than our own such that He knows the whole plan and purpose of His will is not synonymous with a rejection of univocal knowledge. If knowledge is analogous rather than univocal, what does it mean for God or man to “know”? Does God not know all things? Why would God ordain to reveal Himself via inept means? Is He not omnipotent, capable of creating creatures who can think after His thoughts in a rational manner (cf. John 1:1-9)? At best, the theory of analogical knowledge is a gateway to subjectivism, as one could justify false conceptualizations by petitioning said concept as representative of biblical truth. Who and how could one refute such a postulation? Analogical knowledge necessarily leads to skepticism, and skepticism, which cannot account for how one knows that one cannot know, is a self-refuting first principle. Thankfully, the Bible nowhere states truth is inexpressible.

In the final article of his book, Clark distinguishes between twin biblical concepts, “time and eternity,” in order to provide a tangible example that one who rejects the infallibility and authority of Scripture is left with a world-view which cannot provide a justification for knowledge. This is a disquisition which, in keeping with Clark’s uncompromising address, requires one to define relevant terms with clarity.

It is of the utmost importance that one recognizes an answer to this obligation cannot be evaded on the ground that man cannot know God or that God cannot know what we experience, for both objections are unbiblical; the first mocks the purpose of revelation, and the second denies God’s omniscience. These objections must resultantly be predicated on reasoning which cannot account for all possible contingencies. One might wonder whether “man cannot know God” is a proposition contingent on the veracity of the proposition “ducks can swim” or “the Protestant canon is fallible.” There are infinitely many such propositions one could posit, of course, meaning that if one is to know that man cannot know God, one must be infinitely knowledgeable. Ironically, man must be God if he is to validly assert that man cannot know God or that God cannot know man. While each false epistemology is self-refuting in its own right – empiricists affirm the consequent, intuit no unknown variables have biased data, etc. – this sole argument destroys natural theology, empiricism, rationalism, existentialism, and any other first principle which shares the commonality of dependency upon man’s capabilities.

Therefore, not only must one must seek to make plain the concepts of “time” and “eternity,” but he must also do so within a context that affords him the assurance that said concepts are accurate depictions of reality. For this reason, Clark chastises scientists who purport to be able to give a definition of time apart from divine revelation. Aristotle, for example, postulated that time is a quantification of a body’s movement from point A to point B. This begs several questions: what is movement, how can movement be measured, and can we know that a given measurement is accurate? Only one who is able to account for all possible variables in an experiment can know that his perception of the results is veridical. To know that which bears influence in an experiment, one must know that which does not. As has been demonstrated, however, one must be infinitely knowledgeable to know that even one alleged fact is true. Such questions, then, are sufficiently representative to display the numerous difficulties empiricists – Aristotle, in particular – face. To this end, the reason secular scientists have not come to an agreement about the nature of time is ultimately due to the misplacement of authority.

Christendom’s failure to unambiguously communicate the concept of time as provided in Scripture is not a point devoid of interest. Clark notes that theologians such as Charles Hodge and Oscar Cullman are just two of many who in part depend upon Aristotle or other extra-biblical sources when attempting to formalize a biblical explanation of time. Providentially, repulsion to this synthesis does exist within Christendom. Augustine was one of the earliest Christians to express the biblical concept of time when he wrote: “It is in thee, my mind, that I measure times” (Confessions). Essentially, time is the changing of ideas. For instance: a second would represent an arbitrary unit measure of the interval between one’s present thought and a thought in one’s past. Because they would have been able to recall the length of a day from memory, the Israelites could have known that the sun stayed up for about a day in their victory over the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-13). God, on the other hand, experiences no temporal succession of thoughts, for God is eternal. His thoughts are immutable.

One can conclude from this the pragmatic fact that a seemingly inconspicuous doctrine can, in fact, contribute much to Christian faith. For example, the clarification in the distinction between time and eternity is such that a doctrine such as eternal progressionism is revealed to be a contradiction in terms. Mormonism is thereby refuted. Another application would be that for God to elect individuals in Christ on the basis of a foreseen faith would require one to believe that God elects in time. Such a conditional election would necessitate a succession of thoughts in the mind of God, as God's knowledge would, in this context, be contingent on the wills of contingent creatures. Additional truths could be extrapolated from this, but one is instead compelled to imagine that Clark’s intention was to show much more information can be drawn from Scripture than one might guess at first glance. For his intelligent eschewal of the idle speculations of the world and for so clearly vindicating the word of truth, Gordon Clark deserves the commendation and thanks of all those who are still running the race.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

God... author of sin?

Knee jerk reaction - what was yours? If you feel in any way similar to how I did several months ago, you're probably thinking that I'd be a radical "Christian" for even suggesting it as possible (let alone asserting it as fact). But before we go there, let's at least define our terms and take as a working definition "the ultimate cause of sin."

We must consider what would be a valid and sound objection to God being the author of sin. Only an objection grounded in a sound epistemology can even attempt answer whether or not God is the author of sin. For the purposes of this discussion, I will bypass the tangential topic [for example: obviously, the objection cannot be grounded in subjective intuition, as in doing so you implicitly admit I may do the same; one of us is intuiting via our sinful nature - i.e. illogically - and intuition in no way resolves this dilemma] of epistemology (although I do at some point hope to address this) and assume that the people who are reading this note are the people I have consistently spoken to about the subject matter of this note, i.e. people who affirm Sola Scriptura.

So then, in order for one to validly and soundly object to God as the author of sin, he must demonstrate that it is inconsistent with what God Himself has revealed. This is what I intend to demonstrate is not only impossible, but also it is contradictory to the content of Scripture. Scripture is not simply silent on the issue: it decidedly affirms that God indeed authors sin.

Let's first set up some elementary, relevant definitions which I believe Scripture, our authority, establishes:

sin - a transgression of God's law
author - first [or ultimate] cause; source of origin

We know that sin is a transgression of the law since we know that it is by the law that knowledge of sin comes about (Romans 7, 3:9-23) as well as explicit testimony of Scripture (James 2:9, 1 John 3:4).

We know that author is the first [or ultimate] cause or source of origin by passages like Hebrews 12:2 and colloquial references to God as the "author of Scripture." When we say these things, it is not as though God has faith for us or God physically picked up a pen and wrote His Word; rather, He is the cause or origin of our:

- faith, in that it is only by His regenerating us through our preaching of His Word, His Spirit, and preserving us unto perseverance that we can come to and stay in faith.

- Scripture, in that He breathed out the speech and writing of the prophets and apostles.

So we see that firstly, the objection that God as author of sin ipso facto makes Him a sinner is false. Secondly, we see that as the author, God can use intermediate means (such as His creation) to accomplish His purpose. Romans 10 and the Great Commission make it quite clear preachers are the means by which God brings His people to faith. Using "secondary causes" does not mean God's will is any less divinely efficient, as it is His will which directly causes our inclinations to do good (Philippians 2:13) by preaching et. al. which lays the ground work for His application of redemption. Nonetheless, He is using secondary causes as the author of our faith; hence, an argument predicated on James 1:13-14 is either a straw man or misunderstanding of the relation between what the passage is, in context, speaking about, and what it means for God to be the author of sin.

What we can learn from this is that, dealing with the question at hand negatively (Why being the author of sin does not necessarily contradict Scripture), a valid and sound objection must demonstrate that in God's willing sin through means of secondary causes (creation, dispositions) is sinful, i.e. in willing sin through means of secondary causes, God transgresses His own law. I contend no one can do this.

I will go further, however, and address the question positively (why God is, in fact, the author of sin), not only because it's absurd to imply one can expect anyone to accept such a speculation (especially given the seeming controversial nature) on the basis of absence to the contrary but also because I do think that Scripture addresses the issue. To stay silent, then, is to deny God His full revelation.

Romans 9:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory

Some of you probably expected this passage. Oh well, I'll go over it anyways. Notice that the context of verse 18 (in which I had several people suggesting the hardening was rather passive) is verse 19-20, in which Paul props up an objector who asks God why He finds fault for Him **making** him a certain way. Regardless of how one wants to perceive verse 18, the fact is that a person is a sinner or is righteous by their determined actions (for which they are responsible due to the relationship between a pot and the Potter, the creation and the Creator). Paul doesn't evade the argument, he throws it back in the objectors face, putting him in his rightful place: one of submission to God and His purposes, whatever they may be. Paul even goes on to provide an explanation for God's purposing some pots to dishonor (wrath unto destruction): to make known the riches of His glory to the elect. Amazing!

Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD determines his steps.
Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way?
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

By a show of hands: who is willing to suggest that God controls only the steps that are good? How is man able to take "bad" steps apart from God anyways? I deal with this more fully below.

Lamentations 3:37 Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.’

Does peace only refer to "natural" peace over against "moral" peace? If not, then how shall we deny "calamity" a parallel meaning?

2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
2 Chronicles 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Referring to the same census, we read that Satan tempted David into taking a census... by what means? God's movement. Take the time to read 2 Samuel 24:10-14 and ask yourself: "is that how I am responding right now?"

Answers to questions and comments I've received:

"If God is the positive author of good and evil then good and evil are meaningless."

On the contrary, if God is NOT the author of good and evil, God is reactionary and consequently has NO purpose for either. Not only this, but it undermines the very sovereignty of God. How exactly does evil come about? Permission? Nonsense. As though our very being is not dependent upon God, let alone our inherent dispositions! What exactly does the objector purport is the object of God's "permitting," and how exactly has the occasion arisen apart from the will of God? Only when we recognize that it is God who has decreed evil for His purposes - to His praise and glory - can we understand why and how evil exists.

"Historic Calvinism explains that calamity and hardening come from God's negative positive attributes, like the absence of His blessing, NOT because the positive presence of His negative qualities like evil.

It is not to historic Calvinism that our pledge is due. Also, as historic Calvinism teaches that it is in fact God who has decreed the Fall of man such that everyone's nature is - and always will be, apart from grace and mercy - totally corrupted, what exactly does the objector believe he escapes from in suggesting that the hardening of one's heart is merely a withdrawal of the grace and mercy necessary to overcome the corrupt nature that God Himself decreed should be imputed to him???

"1 Kings 22:19-23 proves exactly the opposite of Cheung's point. Read it again, God allows an evil spirit to do the evil work. *nowhere* does it say that God directly caused the evil. God is only ever the permissive author of evil."

The passage in question reads:

19 Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left.
20 And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner.
21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’
22 The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the LORD said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
23 Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”

Where exactly does the word "allow" appear in the text? It is God who brings up the question as to who will persuade Ahab to go up THAT HE MAY FALL. Notice that there appears to be an unbiblical view of God's sovereignty smuggled into the answer, as though the spirit somehow self-determined (is autonomous, as it were) this solution. This of course raises a point I might have brought up above: how is God omniscient from eternity if He has to "permit" certain occasions to happen? That is, how have these occasions arisen in the mind of God apart from His causality? It smells like middle knowledge. In any case, none of this lessens the fact that God has not only permitted evil but given His full consent as to the secondary causes for the achieving thereof!

It is not as though this is the only passage in which God uses spirits to effect evil (cf. Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 18:10, 19:9). There are no such equivocations in these passages as to who is the one doing the decreeing (not mere permitting).

"I just dislike the terminology of calling God the author of sin"

Call it what you wish. God is the ultimate and efficient cause of sin. That which He purposes, He does. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. He has even, for His purposes, made the wicked for the day of destruction.

"I don't know if we have enough information to be able to define his relationship to evil in the sense of resolving the ontology and origin of evil. Specific calamities I am willing to grant..."

Of what are these "calamities" comprised? Might they include, say, the "predestining" of men to crucify Jesus? Surely sin is involved. Or Assyrian wars committed, perhaps, for sinful reasons? What about specific events, like individual murders and rapes?

It's not obviously not a topic people like to talk about. I get it. But if it's true, it's true. It's better to be up front about it and glory all the more in God's mercy and grace to ourselves.

" does this work epistemologically? How are we in any sense different from the atheist who calls Auschwitz bad, but in reality is (in his worldview) merely describing his preference. Does good and evil not have any objective basis, or are we stuck in a kind of monotheistic dualism - Allah, in a sense, who is so transcendent he transcends categories of good and evil? I don't disagree that God is sovereign over evil, but it seems to me to bring up more problems than it solves to define it so glibly as I feel Cheung has done. He 'proves' his point as far as semantics go, but I am left wondering how this translates into actually helping us conceive of God."

As I understand it, Cheung, a Clarkian, would use Clark's (and Calvin's; cf. link) argument, i.e.

//...the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found.//

Epistemologically (more so objectively than subjectively), we know this because it is what the Bible teaches: God swears by whom? Himself. There is no higher law.

Experientially (more so subjectively than objectively), God has proved it in Himself: Jesus.

Epistemologically, the atheist and Islamist has no ground upon which to base a definition of good/bad, because both of their epistemic foundations are flawed. Hence, while they might THINK they have experiential ground, they don't even have that. You'll find, especially with atheists, that moral relativism is a virtual necessity (by their own admission, I might add). Many have no problem accepting the logical consequence of their position, that good and evil in their world view cannot exist, even if they subsequently act inconsistently by trying to impose their subjective principles.

"Obviously God uses means, but in a sense by withholding blessing and protection he is still *authoring* evil because he intentionally withholds his blessing in order to achieve his intended end. Do you think that part of the problem might be a too-wide usage of the word 'evil'?"

I have for purposes of this discussion narrowed the definition to refer to moral evil (sin), so you'll have to let me know. I addressed the issue of God's hardening "passively" above.

One final note. Berkhof writes:

"By His decree God rendered the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will. This means that God does not positively work in man "both to will and to do," when man goes contrary to His revealed will. It should be carefully noted, however, that this permissive decree does not imply a passive permission of something which is not under the control of the divine will. It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination. Ps. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30."

I want to make it clear that I am not asserting God HIMSELF tempts us. Instead, He has decreed to use secondary causes. In what way? Sending evil spirits of delusion (2 Thess. 2:11), treachery (Judges 9:23), terror (1 Samuel 16:14), and deceit (1 Kings 22:19-23). Berkhof seems to regard efficiency in terms of God tempting, whereas I qualify God's being the author of sin by effecting the hardening of our hearts (and subsequent sin) through the aforementioned intermediate causes (among others, possibly).

I am also not suggesting our will is coerced - that is a contradiction in terms. I happen to agree with a) and b) above (if understood in a certain sense, which, unfortunately, I doubt is the sense which Berkhof means to convey). Instead, I affirm that we, of necessity, sin because God has decreed for us to sin (Acts 4:27-28). I reject the idea, however, of a "passive" decree, if by that Berkhof means to attempt to "extract" God from having effected sin by decreeing the secondary causes by which we come to desire sin. One wonders exactly how God is, from eternity, aware of the object of His "permission" if He is not the ultimate cause and, more importantly, how sinful desire ever arose in the first place with such an understanding of God's decree in relation to sin. I can only conclude that it is in this sense Berkhof intends to portray a "passive" decree, as he goes on to say God's relation to sin is an "insoluble mystery." Would he say this if he had an answer to my questions? I don't know. Berkhof's conciseness, though to be treasured in general, is unhelpful here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Augustine on Limited Atonement

Although it can hardly be surprising that Augustine did not dedicate any books to specifically addressing the nature of the atonement, by culling from his works those passages which do reference the redemption of mankind one may understand that Augustine did indeed believe in a particular doctrine of the atonement and that such a belief fit cohesively within the whole of his systematic theology.

Recall that the doctrine of limited atonement has been defined as the doctrine that “the intention of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to procure propitiation for the sins of the elect alone” or, in other words, that Christ died for the elect alone (howeverso the nature of the atonement may affect reprobates). When one purports Augustine as a supporter of limited atonement, a couple passages immediately seem to be cited:

"The Redeemer came and gave the price, shed His blood, and bought the world. Do you ask what He bought? See what He gave, and find what He bought. The blood of Christ is the price: what is of so great worth? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations?" (Exposition on the book of Psalms, Chapter 95)

“[God] saw that nigh the whole of human life on every side was ever bayed at by its sins, that all consciences were accused by their thoughts, that a clean heart trusting in its own righteousness could not be found.

But wherefore is there hope? “For there is propitiation with Thee” (ver. 4). And what is this propitiation, except sacrifice? And what is sacrifice, save that which hath been offered for us? The pouring forth of innocent blood blotted out all the sins of the guilty: so great a price paid down redeemed all captives from the hand of the enemy who captured them.” (Exposition on the book of Psalms, Chapter 130)

The passages are stated to disprove the concept Augustine believed in a limited atonement: the first, because those who hold to a limited atonement allegedly deny Christ died and bought the “world” or “all nations;” the second, because those who hold to a limited atonement deny that Christ blotted out all the sins of the guilty such that they are redeemed.

These passages actually pose a problem only if we assume that Augustine is implying that all men without exception are those being bought, redeemed, and expiated. This is not the case. Taking into consideration one passage at a time, the idea that Christ “came and gave the price, shed His blood, and bought [all men without exception]” is refuted when compared to Augustine’s exegesis of 1 John 2:2, which is as follows:

“The apostle prayeth for the people, the people prayeth for the apostle. We pray for you, brethren: but do ye also pray for us. Let all the members pray one for another; let the Head intercede for all. Therefore it is no marvel that he here goes on and shuts the mouths of them that divide the Church of God. For he that has said, “We have Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins:” having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, “Lo, here is Christ, lo, there;” and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he forthwith goes on to say, “Not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world.” What is this, brethren? Certainly “we have found it in the fields of the woods,” we have found the Church in all nations. Behold, Christ “is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.” Behold, thou hast the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be thou in that mountain which hath filled the whole earth: because “Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world,” which He hath bought with His blood.” (Homilies on the Epistle of First John, 1:1-2:11)

What is that mountain wherein Augustine exhorts us to remain? Is it not that Church which is found, not only in the local church, but in the whole world, in all nations? It is for this reason no one can divide the Church of God: because Christ intercedes for all his members, wherever they are. This is not an isolated incident. In his commentary on the gospel of John, after having commending love between brethren, Augustine writes:

“But alongside of this love we ought also patiently to endure the hatred of the world. For it must of necessity hate those whom it perceives recoiling from that which is loved by itself. But the Lord supplies us with special consolation from His own case, when, after saying, “These things I command you, that ye love one another,” He added, “If the world hate you, know that it hated me before [it hated] you.” Why then should the member exalt itself above the head? Thou refusest to be in the body if thou art unwilling to endure the hatred of the world along with the Head. “If ye were of the world,” He says, “the world would love its own.” He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” And this also: “The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And John says in his epistle: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world.” The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hateth the Church. The world therefore hateth the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.

But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled. For out of that mass, which has all perished in Adam, are formed the vessels of mercy, whereof that world of reconciliation is composed, that is hated by the world which belongeth to the vessels of wrath that are formed out of the same mass and fitted to destruction. Finally, after saying, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own,” He immediately added, “But because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And so these men were themselves also of that world, and, that they might no longer be of it, were chosen out of it, through no merit of their own, for no good works of theirs had preceded; and not by nature, which through free-will had become totally corrupted at its source: but gratuitously, that is, of actual grace. For He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose: for “there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace,” he adds, “then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 15:17-19)

2 Corinthians 5:19, John 3:17, and 1 John 2:1-2 are Scriptures Augustine explicitly argues refer to the church, dichotomizing the “hostile” from the “reconciled.” The import of these passages show what Augustine intended in his exposition of Psalm 95: Christ “came and gave the price, shed His blood, and bought [His elect],” not all men without exception.

But what of the other passage? Notwithstanding the fact that Augustine wrote in the same passage that Christ’s propitiation and sacrifice was offered for “us” – which contextually refers to the members of the church – let it be assumed for now that such phraseology was unrestrictive and that Augustine could have intended to extend the blotting out of the sins of all the guilty such that all redeemed by Christ’s blood to refer to all men without exception.

The very fact that Augustine equated expiation with salvation denotes the absurdity in such an interpretation. For Augustine to have believed all men without exception are redeemed would mean that he was a universalist. This is clearly not the case:

“Just as everyone redeemed by Christ's blood is a human being, but human beings are not all redeemed by Christ's blood, so too everything that is unlawful is not good, but things that are not good are not all unlawful.” (John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Adulterous Marriages, Part 1, Vol. 9, trans. Ray Kearney, O.P., Book One, 15, 16 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 153.)

The more natural reading, then, is the correct one. The propitiation and sacrifice was offered for the elect alone, and so the guilty who are redeemed by His blood also refers to the elect alone. One might hope, however, that there are passages which more expressly delineate a designated particularity in the atonement or God’s desire that only some should be saved some.

“…if thou for seekest a Priest, there is One above the heavens; He intercedeth for thee, Who on earth died for thee. Therefore, the Lord our God is a great God: and a great King above all gods.” (Expositions on the Book of Psalms, Chapter 95)

“…by a real death in the flesh He died for us who now maketh intercession for us with thee.” (Confessions, Book 9, Chapter 4)

Augustine believed that Christ did not die on behalf of anyone for whom He does not now intercede, for as Augustine wrote elsewhere:

“No man’s will resists God when He wills to give salvation… For even concerning those who do what He wills not, He Himself does what He will.”(Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 43)

God does what He pleases. If Christ intercedes for all those for whom He died, that must be because God is pleased that is should be so, because there nothing occurs which God does not omnipotently desire, and all that He omnipotently desires He effects.

But note that Augustine also wrote that “even concerning those who do what He wills not, He Himself does what He will,” meaning that when we sin, we fulfill God’s omnipotent will over against God’s moral will. Should we understand this to mean that it is possible that God may morally desire the salvation of all men without exception even though He does not omnipotently desire them to be saved (a la Piper)? This leads to the clearest discussion of God’s will in perhaps the whole early church.


“…we must now inquire about the meaning of what was said most truly by the apostle concerning God, "Who willeth that all men should be saved." For since not all – not even a majority – are saved, it would indeed appear that the fact that what God willeth to happen does not happen is due to an embargo on God's will by the human will.

Now, when we ask for the reason why not all are saved, the customary answer is: "Because they themselves have not willed it." But this cannot be said of infants, who have not yet come to the power of willing or not willing. For, if we could attribute to their wills the infant squirmings they make at baptism, when they resist as hard as they can, we would then have to say that they were saved against their will. But the Lord's language is clearer when, in the Gospel, he reproveth the unrighteous city: "How often," he saith, "would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks, and you would not." This sounds as if God's will had been overcome by human wills and as if the weakest, by not willing, impeded the Most Powerful so that he could not do what he willed. And where is that omnipotence by which "whatsoever he willed in heaven and on earth, he has done," if he willed to gather the children of Jerusalem together, and did not do so? Or, is it not rather the case that, although Jerusalem did not will that her children be gathered together by him, yet, despite her unwillingness, God did indeed gather together those children of hers whom he would? It is not that "in heaven and on earth" he hath willed and done some things, and willed other things and not done them. Instead, "all things whatsoever he willed, he hath done."” (Chapter 97)

Augustine introduces the point in question: why, if God desires the salvation of all men without exception, does He not save all men without exception? He proceeds to provide what was then and is today the common, “Christian” answer: “man is free to contravene God’s will, or God enforces His plan to fit with our autonomy.” Augustine makes the point that infants cannot will, and as Augustine believed not all infants are saved, he concludes from that fact that such an answer is inadequate. The answer is moreover inadequate because God’s omnipotent will is never contravened. This prompts a small detour in the monologue, which was covered in the previous note, wherein Augustine expounds upon God’s freedom and justice in election as shown in Romans 9. Augustine summarizes how God’s will is done even when one sins:

“These are "the great works of the Lord, well-considered in all his acts of will" – and so wisely well-considered that when his angelic and human creation sinned (that is, did not do what he willed, but what it willed) he could still accomplish what he himself had willed and this through the same creaturely will by which the first act contrary to the Creator's will had been done. As the Supreme Good, he made good use of evil deeds, for the damnation of those whom he had justly predestined to punishment and for the salvation of those whom he had mercifully predestined to grace.

For, as far as they were concerned, they did what God did not will that they do, but as far as God's omnipotence is concerned, they were quite unable to achieve their purpose. In their very act of going against his will, his will was thereby accomplished. This is the meaning of the statement, "The works of the Lord are great, well-considered in all his acts of will" – that in a strange and ineffable fashion even that which is done against his will is not done without his will. For it would not be done without his allowing it – and surely his permission is not unwilling but willing – nor would he who is good allow the evil to be done, unless in his omnipotence he could bring good even out of evil.” (Chapter 100)

So Augustine repeats the point which brought up this discussion, that God can omnipotently will what He does not morally will. The former will is accomplished always, the latter whenever it is in accordance with His omnipotent will.

A key point is that God’s moral will relates to “permission.” God’s omnipotent will, on the other hand, is active (cf. Chapters 41-43 of On Grace and Free Will). This goes a long way in answering whether or not God morally wills the salvation of all men without exception, because permission denotes a relationship to a will outside one’s own, a will which, in this case, can sin. God’s moral will cannot be dissatisfied when God acts, for that would require God to have acted inconsistent with His nature. As salvation is wholly dependent upon God, for God to not fulfill a hypothetical desire to save all men without exception would be nonsensical.

Continuing to discuss various nuances in what was then a seemingly relatively unexplored subject amongst the early church, Augustine explains how a good will of man can be more in harmony when antecedently opposed to the plan of God than can a bad will of man who desires a given event that is a part God’s plan:

“Sometimes, however, a man of good will wills something that God doth not will, even though God's will is much more, and much more certainly, good – for under no circumstances can it ever be evil. For example, it is a good son's will that his father live, whereas it is God's good will that he should die. Or, again, it can happen that a man of evil will can will something that God also willeth with a good will – as, for example, a bad son wills that his father die and this is also God's will. Of course, the former wills what God doth not will, whereas the latter does will what God willeth. Yet the piety of the one, though he wills not what God willeth, is more consonant with God's will than is the impiety of the other, who wills the same thing that God willeth. There is a very great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God – and also between the ends to which a man directs his will – and this difference determines whether an act of will is to be approved or disapproved. Actually, God achieveth some of his purposes – which are, of course, all good – through the evil wills of bad men. For example, it was through the ill will of the Jews that, by the good will of the Father, Christ was slain for us – a deed so good that when the apostle Peter would have nullified it he was called "Satan" by him who had come in order to be slain. How good seemed the purposes of the pious faithful who were unwilling that the apostle Paul should go to Jerusalem, lest there he should suffer the things that the prophet Agabus had predicted! And yet God had willed that he should suffer these things for the sake of the preaching of Christ, and for the training of a martyr for Christ. And this good purpose of his he achieved, not through the good will of the Christians, but through the ill will of the Jews. Yet they were more fully his who did not will what he willed than were those who were willing instruments of his purpose—for while he and the latter did the very same thing, he worked through them with a good will, whereas they did his good will with their ill will.” (Chapter 101)

Augustine summarizes the discussion up to this point:

“But, however strong the wills either of angels or of men, whether good or evil, whether they will what God willeth or will something else, the will of the Omnipotent is always undefeated. And this will can never be evil, because even when it inflicts evils, it is still just; and obviously what is just is not evil. Therefore, whether through pity "he hath mercy on whom he willeth," or in justice "whom he willeth, he hardeneth," the omnipotent God never doth anything except what he doth will, and doth everything that he willeth.” (Chapter 102)

The question has not yet been answered, however, why, if God desires the salvation of all men without exception, he does not save all men without exception. The next and final chapter germane to the topic of limited atonement is the most important, as Augustine’s answer is to dispute the premise, that God does in any sense desire the salvation of all men without exception:

“Accordingly, when we hear and read in sacred Scripture that God "willeth that all men should be saved," although we know well enough that not all men are saved, we are not on that account to underrate the fully omnipotent will of God. Rather, we must understand the Scripture, "Who will have all men to be saved," as meaning that no man is saved unless God willeth his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he doth not will, but that no one is saved unless He willeth it. Moreover, his will should be sought in prayer, because if he willeth, then what he willeth must necessarily be. And, indeed, it was of prayer to God that the apostle was speaking when he made that statement. Thus, we are also to understand what is written in the Gospel about Him "who enlighteneth every man." This means that there is no man who is enlightened except by God.

In any case, the word concerning God, "who will have all men to be saved," does not mean that there is no one whose salvation he doth not will – he who was unwilling to work miracles among those who, he said, would have repented if he had wrought them – but by "all men" we are to understand the whole of mankind, in every single group into which it can be divided: kings and subjects; nobility and plebeians; the high and the low; the learned and unlearned; the healthy and the sick; the bright, the dull, and the stupid; the rich, the poor, and the middle class; males, females, infants, children, the adolescent, young adults and middle-aged and very old; of every tongue and fashion, of all the arts, of all professions, with the countless variety of wills and minds and all the other things that differentiate people. For from which of these groups doth not God will that some men from every nation should be saved through his only begotten Son our Lord? Therefore, he doth save them since the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever he willeth.
Now, the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be offered "for all men" and especially "for kings and all those of exalted station," whose worldly pomp and pride could be supposed to be a sufficient cause for them to despise the humility of the Christian faith. Then, continuing his argument, "for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" – that is, to pray even for such as these [kings] – the apostle, to remove any warrant for despair, added, "Who willeth that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Truly, then, God hath judged it good that through the prayers of the lowly he would deign to grant salvation to the exalted – a paradox we have already seen exemplified. Our Lord also useth the same manner of speech in the Gospel, where he saith to the Pharisees, "You tithe mint and rue and every herb." Obviously, the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the people of other lands. Therefore, just as we should interpret "every herb" to mean "every kind of herb," so also we can interpret "all men" to mean "all kinds of men." We could interpret it in any other fashion, as long as we are not compelled to believe that the Omnipotent hath willed anything to be done which was not done. "He hath done all things in heaven and earth, whatsoever he willed," as Truth sings of him, and surely he hath not willed to do anything that he hath not done. There must be no equivocation on this point.” (Chapter 103)

While it may be possible to interpret 1 Timothy 2:4 within a “two wills” paradigm – or any other paradigm, so long as, as Augustine says, “we are not compelled to believe that the Omnipotent hath willed anything to be done which was not done” – Augustine himself clearly does not. He even goes so far as to cite a specific example in which God does not desire the salvation of those that He could have counterfactually saved had He worked miracles. The foundational point which should not be missed is that Augustine classifies God’s desire to save men as a function of God’s omnipotent will rather than His moral will, per se. God desires to save from among all nations, but not to save all men within all nations. And so it is that Augustine remains consistent with the aforementioned works which relate his position on the limited intention and invincible effect of the atonement.


Augustine believed:
1. “the whole world… is the Church.”
2. “He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose.”
3. “[not all] human beings are… redeemed by Christ's blood.”
4. “[Christ] intercedeth for thee, Who on earth died for thee.”
5. “when we ask for the reason why not all are saved, the customary answer is: "Because they themselves have not willed it." But this cannot be said of infants, who have not yet come to the power of willing or not willing.”
6. “as far as [the depraved are] concerned, they did what God did not will that they do, but as far as God's omnipotence is concerned, they were quite unable to achieve their purpose. In their very act of going against his will, his will was thereby accomplished.”
7. “in a strange and ineffable fashion even that which is done against his will is not done without his will. For it would not be done without his allowing it – and surely his permission is not unwilling but willing – nor would he who is good allow the evil to be done, unless in his omnipotence he could bring good even out of evil.”
8. “the omnipotent God never doth anything except what he doth will, and doth everything that he willeth.”
9. “the word concerning God, "who will have all men to be saved," does not mean that there is no one whose salvation he doth not will – he who was unwilling to work miracles among those who, he said, would have repented if he had wrought them – but by "all men" we are to understand the whole of mankind, in every single group into which it can be divided: kings and subjects; nobility and plebeians; the high and the low; the learned and unlearned; the healthy and the sick; the bright, the dull, and the stupid; the rich, the poor, and the middle class; males, females, infants, children, the adolescent, young adults and middle-aged and very old; of every tongue and fashion, of all the arts, of all professions, with the countless variety of wills and minds and all the other things that differentiate people.”
10. “we could interpret [1 Timothy 2:4] in any other fashion, as long as we are not compelled to believe that the Omnipotent hath willed anything to be done which was not done.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Augustine on Unconditional Election, Part 3 of 3

The Gift of Perseverance

““It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” who both comes to the help of such infants as He will, although they neither will nor run, since He chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world as those to whom He intended to give His grace freely – that is, with no merits of theirs, either of faith or of works, preceding; and does not come to the help of those who are more mature, although He foresaw that they would believe His miracles if they should be done among them, because He wills not to come to their help, since in His predestination He, secretly indeed, but yet righteously, has otherwise determined concerning them.” (Chapter 25)

Several interesting points Augustine makes above are that infants are a great case for unconditional election, as their salvation cannot be contingent on their immature wills, that both man’s faith and his works would constitute as merits if either were a basis for God’s election, and that God will must alone be that on which election is predicated, for God counterfactually knew that some would believe if He had chosen to act miracles and yet He ordained that contrary events should occur, i.e. men’s belief is contingent on God’s will rather than vice versa.

Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians

In Book 2 of his Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Augustine makes many excellent points, especially relating to election. It contains one of my favorite passages, consisting of an exegesis of Romans 9:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 4:7.

“He makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, because what the justice of a punisher requires from the vessels of wrath, the grace of the Deliverer remits to the vessels of mercy. Nor would the kindness which is bestowed on some freely appear, unless to other equally guilty and from the same mass God showed what was really due to both, and condemned them with a righteous judgment. “For who maketh thee to differ?” says the same apostle to a man as it were boasting concerning himself and his own benefits. “For who maketh thee to differ” from the vessels of wrath; of course, from the mass of perdition which has sent all by one into damnation? “Who maketh thee to differ?” And as if he had answered, “My faith maketh me to differ – my purpose, my merit,” – he says, “For what hast thou which thou hast not received? But if thou hast received it, why dost thou boast as if thou receivedst it not?” – that is, as if that by which thou art made to differ were of thine own. Therefore He maketh thee to differ who bestows that whence thou art made to differ, by removing the penalty that is due, by conferring the grace which is not due.He maketh to differ, who, when the darkness was upon the face of the abyss, said, “Let there be light; and there was light, and divided” – that is, made to differ – “between the light and the darkness.” For when there was only darkness, He did not find what He should make to differ; but by making the light, He made to differ; so that it may be said to the justified wicked, “For ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” And thus he who glories must glory not in himself, but in the Lord. He makes to differ who – of those who are not yet born, and who have not yet done any good or evil, that His purpose, according to the election, might stand not of works, but of Himself that calleth – said, The older shall serve the younger, and commending that very purpose afterwards by the mouth of the prophet, said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Because he said “the election,” and in this God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find; just as it is written of the remnant of Israel: “There is made a remnant by the election of grace; but if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” On which account you are certainly foolish who, when the Truth declares, “Not of works, but of Him that calleth, it was said,” say that Jacob was loved on account of future works which God foreknew that he would do, and thus contradict the apostle when he says, “Not of works;” as if he could not have said, “Not of present, but of future works.” But he says, “Not of works,” that He might commend grace; “but if of grace, now is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” For grace, not due, but free, precedes, that by it good works may be done; but if good works should precede, grace should be repaid, as it were, to works, and thus grace should be no more grace.” (Chapter 15)

To have understood Romans 9 at so early a period of the church age shows how clear the doctrine of election really is. The comment that “in [the election] God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find” rebukes one who would condition election on anything other than God’s will. Augustine explicitly mentions faith and works, but in those two lines he also implicitly excludes any creaturely will or thing as having had any say in who God chooses to save.

In the final four chapters of Book 2, Augustine expounds upon man’s depravity, efficacious grace, and election:

“…the “blessing of sweetness” is God’s grace, by which is caused in us that what He prescribes to us delights us, and we desire it – that is, we love it; in which if God does not precede us, not only is it not perfected, but it is not even begun, from us. For, if without Him we are able to do nothing actually, we are able neither to begin nor to perfect – because to begin, it is said “His mercy shall prevent me;” to finish, it is said, “His mercy shall follow me.”” (Chapter 21)

Obviously, God does not cause all men without exception to desire or love His grace. On what principle could He possibly choose one to grace one and not another, then, as it is the grace itself which is causative, if not His will alone? Augustine concludes that very thing in the next chapter, citing Romans 8:28-30, Matthew 22:14, Ephesians 1:4, Romans 9:13, 2 Timothy 1:9-10, and 2 Corinthians 8:16 as support for this interpretation:

“They think, perchance, that the apostle thus said, “For we know that He worketh all things for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to the purpose,” so as to wish the purpose of man to be understood, which purpose, as a good merit, the mercy of the God that calleth might follow; being ignorant that it is said, “Who are called according to the purpose,” so that there may be understood the purpose of God, not man, whereby those whom He foreknew and predestinated as conformed to the image of His Son, He elected before the foundation of the world. For not all the called are called according to purpose, since “many are called, few are chosen.” They, therefore, are called according to the purpose, who were elected before the foundation of the world. Of this purpose of God, that also was said which I have already mentioned concerning the twins Esau and Jacob, “That according to the election the purpose of God might remain, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said, that the elder shall serve the younger.” This purpose of God is also mentioned in that place where, writing to Timothy, he says, “Labour with the gospel according to the power of God, who saves us and calls us with this holy calling; not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the eternal ages, but is now made manifest by the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This, then, is the purpose of God, whereof it is said, “He worketh together all things for good for those who are called according to the purpose.” But subsequent grace indeed assists man’s good purpose, but the purpose would not itself exist if grace did not precede. The desire of man, also, which is called good, although in beginning to exist it is aided by grace, yet does not begin without grace, but is inspired by Him of whom the apostle says, “But thanks be to God, who has given the same desire for you in the heart of Titus.” If God gives desire that every one may have it for others, who else will give it that a man may have it for himself?” (Chapter 22)

On Grace and Free Will

As 1 Corinthians 4:7 is one of Augustine’s favorite passages – it is actually the testimony which“chiefly convinced… that in some small works, written before his episcopate, he was in error, as in that exposition [of Romans]” (The Predestination of the Saints) – so it comes as little surprise that he quotes it multiple times in his different letters:

“Lest, however, the carnal man in his foolish pride should, on hearing the question, “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” either in thought or in word answer and say: My faith, or my prayer, or my righteousness makes me to differ from other men, the apostle at once adds these words to the question, and so meets all such notions, saying, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou didst not receive it?” (First Letter)

Chapter 38.—We Would Not Love God Unless He First Loved Us. The Apostles Chose Christ Because They Were Chosen; They Were Not Chosen Because They Chose Christ.

“Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him. He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. “You have not chosen me,” He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). “But I,” says He, “have chosen you.” And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen. There could be no merit in men’s choice of Christ, if it were not that God’s grace was prevenient in His choosing them. Whence the Apostle Paul pronounces in the Thessalonians this benediction: “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men.” This benediction to love one another He gave us, who had also given us a law that we should love each other. Then, in another passage addressed to the same church, seeing that there now existed in some of its members the disposition which he had wished them to cultivate, he says, “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth.” This he said lest they should make a boast of the great good which they were enjoying from God, as if they had it of their own mere selves. Because, then, your faith has so great a growth (this is the purport of his words), and the love of every one of you all toward each other so greatly abounds, we ought to thank God concerning you, but not to praise you, as if you possessed these gifts of yourselves.”

In another clear argument against conditional election, Augustine argues that to suggest God chose men for any other reason than gratuity is to reject the propositions made in 1 John 4:19 and John 15:16, and he further uses that 2 Thessalonians 1:3 to show that God should be thanked for our faith and perseverance (!) because it is by God alone, apart from any merit of our own, that we have faith and persevere.

Rebuke and Grace

In Rebuke and Grace, several implications of the doctrine of unconditional election are extrapolated upon and affirmed. For instance:

“God is able, even when no man rebukes, to correct whom He will, and to lead him on to the wholesome mortification of repentance by the most hidden and mighty power of His medicine.” (Chapter 8)

Repentance as well as faith is effected by God’s will alone, so naturally, God is able to effect repentance apart from an instrumental cause (such as creaturely rebuke). God is unconditioned in matters related to sanctification just as He is in matters relating to election, as he again writes in Chapter 9:

“…for rebuke by the agency of man to avail, whether it be of love or not, depends only upon God.”

Also, that the elect are saved by grace alone should lead one to logically conclude that the elect are secure and will never perish, for election is unto an ends – namely, His kingdom. He also addresses what is today a common argument against unconditional election (Judas):

“Those, then, are elected, as has often been said, who are called according to the purpose, who also are predestinated and foreknown. If any one of these perishes, God is mistaken; but none of them perishes, because God is not mistaken. If any one of these perish, God is overcome by human sin; but none of them perishes, because God is overcome by nothing. Moreover, they are elected to reign with Christ, not as Judas was elected, to a work for which he was fitted. Because he was chosen by Him who well knew how to make use even of wicked men, so that even by his damnable deed that venerable work, for the sake of which He Himself had come, might be accomplished. When, therefore, we hear, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” we ought to understand that the rest were elected by mercy, but he by judgment; those to obtain His kingdom, he to shed His blood!” (Chapter 13)

Finally, as our will is contingent on God’s will, if the hypothesis that God’s will could ever be overcome by our will were true, theology would be nonsense. It is not that we attain grace through a free will, but rather a free will [to do right and “not fail”] through “a most free, strong, invincible, persevering” grace:

“Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that his faith should not fail, what was it that he asked for, but that in his faith he should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.”(Chapter 17)


Augustine believed:

1. “[God] chose [the elect] in Christ before the foundation of the world as those to whom He intended to give His grace freely – that is, with no merits of theirs, either of faith or of works, preceding…”

2. “…the kindness which is bestowed on some freely [would not] appear, unless to other equally guilty and from the same mass God showed what was really due to both, and condemned them with a righteous judgment.”

3. “…in [election] God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find.”

4. “…[some think] the apostle thus said, “For we know that He worketh all things for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to the purpose,” so as to wish the purpose of man to be understood, which purpose, as a good merit, the mercy of the God that calleth might follow; being ignorant that it is said, “Who are called according to the purpose,” so that there may be understood the purpose of God, not man, whereby those whom He foreknew and predestinated as conformed to the image of His Son, He elected before the foundation of the world."

5. “…[lest] the carnal man in his foolish pride should, on hearing the question, “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” either in thought or in word answer and say: My faith, or my prayer, or my righteousness makes me to differ from other men, the apostle at once adds these words to the question, and so meets all such notions, saying, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou didst not receive it?”

6. “…if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him… He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men.”

7. “… it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen... [for] there could be no merit in men’s choice of Christ, if it were not that God’s grace was prevenient in His choosing them.”

8. “…for rebuke by the agency of man to avail, whether it be of love or not, depends only upon God.”

9. “…none of [the elect] perishes, because God is overcome by nothing.”

10. “Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide…When, then, He prayed that his faith should not fail, what was it that he asked for, but that in his faith he should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will!”