Sunday, February 28, 2010

Modern Philosophy 7

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about select passages in Leibniz's Letters to Arnauld and his Primary Truths. The following is my submission:

Leibniz wrote Primary Truths as a brief explanation of the foundation and reasons for his philosophical beliefs. Beginning with the idea that truth is a proposition whose predicate is contained in the subject, Leibniz inferred that nothing is without reason – not even eternal truths – as nothing can be validly resolved apart from the law of identity or non-contradiction.

Leibniz used the idea that predicates are contained in a subject to support his definitions of man’s essence and [compatibilistic] free will. Man is his predicates, said Leibniz, insomuch as all predicates are contained in the subject (man). Leibniz, who was a determinist, also believed that nothing corporeal could necessitate a metaphysical action on man’s will; man, then, is said to be free insofar as his actions pertain to intrinsic reasoning or desires. These are certainly determined, however, by God, who chose to create particular men from an infinitely many possible men. Moreover, as man’s essence or substance would be indeterminate if only regarded as a finite conglomeration of [past or present] predicates – for one could conceptualize infinitely many future counterfactual situations in which such men make different choices – man’s substance must contain all future predicates. Essence, then, is unchanging.

This in turn led Leibniz to affirm that all things correspond perfectly, since all relations between substances are determined by the essence of said substances. Each substance expresses in varying manner the cause of them all: God. Leibniz appeals to this cohesion to substantiate his qualification of Occasionalism in concert with his affirmation of concomitance. Leibniz believed that a true union exists between the soul and body such that when, for example, the body becomes afflicted, the soul naturally experiences pain or grief. The mind, on the other hand, can move the body as a real cause, but only so far as God created the mind with such a capacity and certainly determined that the mind would act in such a manner. In this latter sense, Occasionalism is true. Leibniz uses this qualification to purport miracles as acts of God in which God moves a substance to do more than the capacity with which God bestowed upon it in its first state.

A final important point Leibniz makes is that all corporeal bodies can be divided. Leibniz uses a block of marble as a simple example of his meaning: the block may actually be considered only a mass of stones, and these mass of stones only a mass of atoms, ad infinitum, such that any substance is actually a collection of many substances. This bears relevance to the way in which we perceive bodies as substances and seems to validate Leibniz’s claim that “with the exception of men there is nothing substantial in the visible world.” Any such designation would arbitrary.

This argument seems to be incompatible with Leibniz’s insistence that bodies may be true causes. If any body is composed of infinitely many subdivisions, for one body to affect another body, infinitely many reactions must occur in time, which is impossible. Another possible criticism of Leibniz’s philosophy is that his understanding of man’s essence is such that man cannot comprehend himself. Man does not know his future predicates, so God literally knows us better than we know ourselves. It does seem that Leibniz attempts to explain we can have an apprehensive knowledge of ourselves such that we can rationally hypothesize how we would act in any given circumstance, but such hypothesizing could not possibly account for the infinite number of possible variables which could affect the way in which we perceive ourselves. Leibniz may bite the proverbial bullet and maintain the cohesion of his affirmations, however.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Supralapsarianism Explained

A rational mind formulates a plan by determining the envisioned end of the plan and considering in turn the proximate means necessary to reach said end. Such a plan is executed in reverse the order of its formulation, the ends following the means. If the logical arrangement of God's thought is such that the decree to create men is logically prior to the decree that man should Fall, then the very purpose of the decree to create is hinged upon the decree that man should Fall. This, however, means the logically prior decree is arbitrary: if the meaning of any decree is determined by a logically posterior decree, then any counter-factual decree could conceivably give meaning to a logically prior decree.

For instance: is the creation of man accomplished by means of man’s Fall, or man’s Fall by means of creation? Surely the latter is the case. For the fall of mankind to be possible, it was necessary – not arbitrary – for God to create man. Parallel (in reverse proportion) to the execution of the decrees, the decrees themselves are necessary insofar as they stem from God’s righteous character. To manifest His glory, it was necessary that He decree the redemption of elect sinners in Christ and the condemnation of reprobate sinners. Likewise, to redeem elect sinners and damn condemned sinners, it was necessary that such persons exist; hence, the decree to create was necessary. While in the historical execution of God’s plan it may be that creation precedes God’s glory manifested to creation, in the formulation of God’s plan to – ultimately – manifest His glory, we know that the intent of creation is to show “that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10).

God didn't begin to build a house without having any logical conception of what the house would look like. If that were the case, the building would be an arbitrary construction. Rather, God had an image of the house, analyzed what pieces He needed to construct it, and decreed that such be effected. For God's glory to be fully manifested (the house, the first decree), God needed to exhibit His power, wrath, mercy, wisdom, compassion, grace, &c., so He decreed that circumstances be such that He could exhibit those attributes. Those attributes were best exhibited by the redemption of elect sinners in Christ and reprobation of the rest. Hence, Christ needed to sacrifice Himself so that He could redeem the elect sinners. But there must be sinners in order for Christ's sacrifice to mean anything, so the Fall was decreed. And, of course, men must exist for any of this to be sensible, so the decree to create was the final, analyzed piece of God's design for the house, after which He could begin construction by the historical execution of said decrees in reverse order by taking the analyzed pieces and building one upon the other.

The supra-lapsarian posits that the "logical order of God’s decrees" is, simplistically, as follows:

1. God's glory manifested.
2. The manifestation of wisdom, power, wrath, compassion, love, mercy, &c.
3. The election of some sinners to salvation in Christ and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind.
4. The application of the redemptive work of Christ to the elect sinners.
5. The redemption of the elect sinners by the work of Christ.
6. The fall of man.
7. The creation of the world and man.

Finally, a point that I think is under-emphasized is that while all of God’s actions stem from His desire to manifest His glory (cf. Ephesians 3:8-10, 20-21, Romans 9:23, 11:36, &c.), this decree is in no wise arbitrary because it is not predicated upon another decree. Rather, it is necessary as well, for it is predicated upon God’s holy character. As was alluded to previously, God’s righteousness itself implies that God must give Himself the most glory; that is, a different possible world, conceived counter-factually, could not more greatly manifest God’s glory. Romans 9:15 (among other passages) functions as an argument for this, for the righteousness of God is justified precisely because God’s unconditioned distribution of mercy and compassion manifest His glory, honor, and name (cf. Exodus 33:18-19). All things – including sin, without which we could not fully know God’s excellence (His holy wrath, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, power, wisdom &c.) and give Him His due praise – are decreed because God is who He is: incapable of denying His righteousness, i.e. unswervingly allegiant in upholding that which is infinitely worthy – His glory.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, Second Rebuttal

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

 Second Rebuttal

Side note

The image to which Robert linked purports that the conception of the “ordo salutis” within Calvinism includes the idea that reprobation is conditioned upon man’s will. While this is certainly within the realm of Reformed orthodoxy, I believe that God reprobative decree is unconditional. To draw a simple analogy: in the same way Calvinists believe that election is an unconditional decree unto the condition (faith) by which one is justified, I similarly believe that reprobation is an unconditional decree unto the condition (sin) by which one is condemned. However, as this is beyond the realm of this discussion, I will leave it at that.

Total Depravity

God is no respecter of persons – Robert and I superficially agree this is true, but we disagree, as will be shown, what it means to be a respecter of persons. Note that in the context of every passage Robert has cited, to be a “respecter of persons” is never linked with man’s will but is rather in reference to one whose judgment is biased by bribes or other such corruptions. Ironically, then, the fact that Calvinists believe election is unconditional automatically refutes the idea these passages imply that the unconditional election makes God a respecter of persons; in fact, as it is the Arminian who predicates election upon man’s faith, even if these passages were relevant to election – and they are not – it is the Arminian’s concept of election which is much more nearer to the idea God is a respecter of persons. As Robert offers no exegesis to substantiate this argument, his claims that “God graciously and lovingly enables [every] sinner to repent and believe” and references to “the autonomy of man” are without foundation.

Slavery and our sin nature – Robert’s first few paragraphs indicate a misunderstanding as to why one needs to be regenerated in order to respond to the gospel in a positive manner. For instance, while Strong’s explanation of the Arminian conception of fallen man’s will is helpful insofar as it reinforces that Arminians believe prevenient grace is sufficient to enable man to synergistically repent and believe, no explanation is provided as to how grace that leaves man’s nature hostile to the things of the spirit can enable man to produce fruit of the spirit (including faith).

Interestingly, Robert has agreed that “all men in Adam are fallen and thus inheritors of a nature incapable of submitting to God’s precepts” If this is the case, is it not self-evident that we need a new nature to submit to God’s precepts? And yet one is either a slave to God or to sin: there is no neutral ground. Robert also states that the idea an individual should be regenerated after faith “is a necessity because a spiritually dead person cannot respond...” I confess this baffles me completely. If anything, that shows regeneration must be logically prior to faith.

The examples Robert cites which allegedly show that fallen men can make righteous decisions are honestly woefully inadequate: Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13 do not say that the giving of the gift was good, but that the gifts given were themselves good (cf. James 1:17), Daniel 9:17-19 is a written prayer by one who is a regenerate, and Hebrews 12:9-10 simply says that we respect our fathers for disciplining us. Compliance with a commandment for a wrong reason (fear, selfishness, &c.) is sin, and for this reason only one who possesses faith can please God. The question becomes: is Robert contesting “without faith it is impossible to please God,” or is he saying one can displease God simultaneous to acting righteously? Either answer he gives is problematic.

One who has not been born of God belongs to the god of this world, unable to understand the necessity of the gospel (John 8:44-47).  They are by nature children of wrath, dead in sin and followers of the desires of the flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3). They do not seek God or do good (Romans 3:9-12). They cannot accept the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are hostile towards God, unable to please Him or submit to His law prior to indwellment (Romans 8:7-9). They cannot come to Christ unless they are first given to Christ by the Father through the drawing of the Spirit, in which case it is said that they necessarily come, indicating that such grace is effectual (John 6:37-44). How, then, can it be that faith is the precondition for regeneration? We are made alive while we were dead. Did Jesus, the prophets, or the apostles ask that we believe one possesses faith and – hence – the ability to please God, to seek, understand, and submit to Him and His word, do good... logically prior to regeneration? No. Rather, we are baptized into Christ (regenerated) and then raised with him through faith (cf. Ephesians 2:5-8 and Colossians 2:11-12).

I do not follow why Robert is confused as to why repentance, faith and perseverance would proceed from a change in “governing disposition.” That is natural, is it not? How could a regenerate nature lead one to “Luciferianism”? One’s fruits are borne in accordance to what sort of tree he is; because regeneration makes us a new tree such that our strongest desires tend towards the good, faith and other fruits of the Spirit flow from us. More disconcerting is why Robert is not similarly confused as to how an unregenerate nature can be led to Christianity.

Regeneration, adoption, and eternal life – Robert conflates several terms and functions. One such instance is Robert’s use of Titus 3:5-7. The passage itself clearly shows regeneration is unto justification (due to the fact regeneration effects saving faith) and justification is unto eternal life (cf. Romans 5:18). Regeneration, then, is the means of salvation (“He saved us…by…regeneration”). It is not salvation per se. The life to which rebirth refers is the new nature which makes a dead man alive, a deaf man hear, a blind man see, a hostile mind reconciled – in essence, a totally depraved individual able and willing to come to and follow Christ. Romans 1:16 is an allusion to justification, not regeneration, so I cannot understand why Robert brings it up in this context.

Another conflation Robert makes is that between regeneration and adoption. Paul Enns, who Robert uses as a source later, notes that adoption refers to the actual change in position one attains as a believer in Christ; it describes the rights and privileges one receives as well as the new position of the believer (Ephesians 1:6-7, Galatians 4:5-6). Adoption does not entail regeneration, as is evident when one compares the different functions of the different pneumatological actions. While adoption is logically posterior to faith and justification, this bears no relevance to whether or not regeneration is likewise posterior to faith and justification. John 1:12-13 says that believers were born of God and that believers are given the right to become children of God. A quick glance at the tense of each verb shows that adoption and regeneration cannot be synonymous. Furthermore, 1 John 5:1, which is syntactically parallel to 1 John 2:29, proves faith is logically dependent upon regeneration. As one does not practice righteousness prior to regeneration (although Robert may, to his own misfortune, contest this), so too one does not believe prior to rebirth. The whole of 1 John, in fact, is an excursus on the effects of regeneration (cf. 2:29, 3:6-9, 4:7, 5:1-4, 18).

Eisegesis – It is not my intention to come off as harsh, but I must note that Robert has sacrificed quality exegesis in favor of dubious proof texting. Examples:

- I would challenge Robert to exegete even one of the passages he claims indicate “it is God’s desirable will to save those that first come to him” (John 5:21, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, James 1:18). John 5:21 is a particularly questionable citation, given John writes Christ gives life to those whom He wishes.

- It is exasperating that, although regeneration and adoption are nowhere mentioned in the context of Romans 10:17, Robert cites it as a proof one “must believe in order to be regenerated.” Moreover, the very context of 1 Peter 1 is that regeneration is unto a hope which saves (1:3), not that faith is unto regeneration (faith is not even mentioned in 1:23).

- Galatians 3:26-27 says that those baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This is no different than Colossians 2:11-12, which I have noted above actually means that having crucified the old man in baptism (regeneration), we are raised with Christ through faith.

Unconditional Election

Christian determinism is indeed incompatible with fatalism as well as human autonomy. It seems Robert agrees with this, but I am unsure. In my opening post, I anticipated any objection to determinism on the ground that it is incompatible with the fact men are responsible, choose, and possess wills, so I will not cover that until it is addressed. To answer Robert’s questions, however – “Suppose I do not eat? Then I will die. Would that be the day God planned that I should die?” – I will note that I do not know the future. My responsibility is to follow God’s precepts, one of which is to take care of myself. As a man thinks, so he is, and whatever is not of faith is sin. If you act contrary to your beliefs with regards to whether or not you are taking care of your body, you are sinning. If you believe you will survive by not eating, fine. Let it not be said that I judge my brother. But I will say that I doubt you believe that, and I certainly don’t believe that.

In my first rebuttal, I demonstrated several problem with conditioning God’s knowledge on man’s will in general (such would falsify the idea God is eternally omniscient) and conditioning election on faith in particular (election and predestination are unto God’s call, so to elect upon a “foreseen” faith implies God would have to foresee a faith produced by man apart from God’s call; this is impossible). I will be very interested to see Robert’s response to this as well as whether or not he will, after rereading Proverbs 16:4 in light of Romans 9:18-23, adjust his interpretations accordingly. As I believe that my remarks in my first rebuttal satisfactorily prove determinism and unconditional election, the remainder of my response will be clarification.

The Scriptural usage of “foreknowledge” is not synonymous with “prescience” but choice (cf. Amos 3:2, Acts 2:23, Romans 11:2, &c.). To say God predestines “those whom He [foresees]” implies universalism, as God “foresees” all persons. Then again, to say those whom God foresees are those who will believe is without contextual foundation, rather like Robert’s citation of Mark 9:36-37 as a passage relevant to the topic. It is not.

I thought that the charge that “if determinism is true, God is the author of sin” might surface, which is why I spent most of my free space in my opening post as ground upon which I could build a more comprehensive rebuttal of this. Firstly, I agree that God hates sin and does not sin. Neither implies that God cannot use secondary causes to effect sin (e.g. 1 Kings 22:19-23), as the result of sin is a world in which God’s glory is maximally exhibited (e.g. Genesis 50:20). Secondly, God is not the immediate cause of sin – we are. This is, in part, why God is not responsible (we might also note that God cannot be responsible to anyone and that His commands to us are not necessarily applicable to Himself). God is the author of sin in the same sense He is the author of Scripture or author of life: it is not as though He physically wrote Scripture or actually lives our life. He is the ultimate cause. Finally, I must disagree that Scripture is silent as to the origin of sin. Robert left out that the word in Isaiah 45:7 translated as “evil” can be and is (some 50 times, according to Gordon Clark) translated as “wickedness” (e.g. Genesis 6:5). Surely Robert would not contest that God creates moral peace; why would he arbitrarily disallow the parallel Isaiah is obviously constructing?

While it may be beyond the purpose of this debate, I feel that I should explain why God predestines sin should occur. All of God’s actions stem from His desire to manifest His glory (cf. Ephesians 3:8-10, 20-21, Romans 9:23, &c.). Romans 9:15 functions as an argument for the righteousness of God because God’s unconditioned distribution of mercy and compassion manifest His glory, honor, and name (cf. Exodus 33:18-19). Without sin, we could not fully know God’s excellence (His holy wrath, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, power, wisdom &c.), so God’s glory could not be maximally manifested. Sin, then, is not decreed arbitrarily. It is decreed because God is who He is: righteous, unswervingly allegiant in upholding that which is infinitely worthy – His glory. This provides an answer to Robert’s later question, paraphrased as follows: “why did Christ elect me rather than Joe reprobate?” The answer is simply that God has decreed all things to His glory. Robert can contend – but not substantiate – that a counter-factual world would more greatly manifest God’s glory.

Limited Atonement

When MacArthur writes “any believer who does not believe in universal salvation,” he is simply saying that both Arminians and Calvinists recognize the atonement is limited in application. Neither MacArthur nor I assert that Arminians are universalists. The difference is that Arminians limit the power of the atonement while Calvinists limit the scope or intention of the atonement. Despite what Mr. Schniewind writes, if Christ’s sacrifice does not effect faith by grace, then salvation hinges on man’s will, and God’s power is necessarily limited.

Robert writes that Christ did not fail on the cross, yet believes that God intends to save all men without exception. If Christ did not achieve what the Father desires to achieve – if universalism is false – in what sense did Christ not fail to accomplish the will of the Father (John 6:38)? In this sense, the logical extension of Arminianism is universalism. God gets what He wants. If God wants to save all men without exception, all men without salvation will be saved. This was covered in my first rebuttal as well as 1 John 2:2, so I will move on to other arguments.

Robert writes that one must believe to be saved. This is true, if by this Robert means justification is logically dependent upon faith. I do not see the relevance to the disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians, however. I also do not find relevant the fact that elect persons are referred to as lost prior to faith. Moreover, I have not used the argument that Ephesians 5 and John 10 prove that because a particular group of people are referenced as beneficiaries of Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice must be particular. That is fallacious reasoning.

Robert again abuses the meaning of “respecter of persons” when he writes: “Christ died for [sin], not for particular persons because God is not a respecter of persons!” Christ didn’t die for particular persons? That is certainly not the message in Romans 8:32, Matthew 1:21, and Galatians 2:20. Robert further misunderstands MacArthur’s explanation that Christ’s atonement is without distinction. MacArthur means that Christ has redeemed men from every tribe, tongue, nation, people. &c. (Revelation 5:9). Christ didn’t only die for a single group of men – He died for men without distinction. Such does not imply He died for all men without exception.

God’s intention is not to save all men without exception, however, because if it were, all men would be saved. This is something I have covered several times and, I imagine, I will probably have to repeat several more times. Christ indeed died for all – that is not the question. The question is: to whom does all refer? Did Christ die for all [men without exception] or all [those whom God has elected]? Robert says 2 Corinthians 5:15 teaches the former. Well, let’s look at the context and compare 2 Corinthians 5:14 with Romans 6:8. Everyone for whom Christ died themselves died with Christ, and as such will be raised with Him. This cannot refer to reprobates, and this is evidence that the “everyone” for whom Christ died are elect. The other passages Robert cites have semantic domains which Robert similarly neglects. In John 1:29, Robert assumes “world” means all men without exception. Try to replace “world” with “all men without exception” in 6:33, for example, and Robert would be left with universalism. John 12:32 is a reference to both Jews and Greeks (cf. 12:20-22). 1 Timothy 2:6 would imply universalism if “all” meant “all without exception” rather than “all without distinction” (also see 2:1-2). Hebrew 2:9 refers to those who have been adopted by God (cf. 2:10-14), and this passage would also imply universalism if “everyone” meant “everyone without exception” rather than “everyone God has elected.” A point Robert misses is that we should preach the gospel to all because we don’t know who God has chosen to save. Evangelism is not mutually exclusive with TULIP. That is the point of Romans 10 (which, one should note, follows the ever-relevant Romans 9). The relevance of 1 Timothy 1:16 and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 are not immediately apparent. That all without exception are commanded to believe (as in Proverbs 1:22-23) does not imply God wills all without exception actually believe. This is a conflation of God’s precepts and His will.

The mistakes Robert makes are too numerous to be given further credence. I am content to see what Robert has to say in reply to this and the positive evidence provided in my first rebuttal.

Irresistible Grace

Is salvation synergistic or monergistic? That is the essential difference between Arminianism and Calvinism, and the doctrine of “Effectual or Irresistible Grace” best exemplifies this disagreement. Are our desires determined or autonomous? Robert and I agree that the gospel should be preached to all men without exception (due to the fact that only God knows the identity of the elect), that grace must be received, that grace is not obligated, that we are saved by grace apart from works, and that any grace bestowed upon mankind stems from Christ’s work on the cross. This is all encouraging. We differ, however, on the scope and accomplishment of the inner call and the means by which grace is received. Effectual grace, like the most of TULIP, implies the truth of the other doctrines: if God’s grace is indeed effectual, then, as universalism is false, the scope of God’s grace is necessarily limited. This is relevant to both election and the atonement. The reason grace must be effectual and the purpose of this grace is respectively relevant to total depravity and perseverance. The importance of this doctrine in this debate cannot be overstated.

Revelation 3:2 and 3:20 (I believe Robert meant to cite the latter) are both addressed to churches, not all men without exception. I find it surprising that Robert only cites this passage against effectual grace, but perhaps this is due to space constraints. After all, while I believe the comments I made regarding John 6:37-45 are sufficient in way of positive evidence of the doctrine, I didn’t feel that I would be able to do justice to any further citations. I will add several others now.

It has already been shown that God does as He pleases (e.g. Psalm 115:3). If God is pleased to save men, He will do so. No one can thwart God’s will (Isaiah 14:27) or resist it (Romans 9:19). When it is said that God desires all men without exception to be saved but that universalism is false, the obvious contradiction is the result of a faulty premise. The absurdity of believing this is further compounded by the idea God kills wicked men He allegedly desires to save, for this suggests God acts such that His desires cannot be fulfilled, a suggestion which is the opposed to the whole of Scripture. God is not schizophrenic.

Romans 8:32 indicates those for whom Christ died will be freely given all things. Would this not include gracing us with a sufficient desire to believe according to which we actually would believe? In John 10, Jesus says that He will call His sheep and they will follow Him rather than strangers (in anticipation of the objection that “one is a sheep by faith,” note that Jesus says the opposite in 10:26: the protesting Jews, for instance, did not believe because they were not sheep, not vice versa). Finally, there are a multitude of passages in which it is impossible to believe the call of God refers to an inward working of the Spirit which is possible to be rejected: the “golden chain of redemption” is broken if, in Romans 8:29-30, God’s calling is not effectual. 1 Corinthians 1:24 states that Christ is the power of salvation for the called, which is nonsensical is everyone is called. One can only conclude, then, that God’s salvific grace is particular to those whom He is pleased to save.

Perseverance of the Saints

Robert, citing Paul Enns, includes two passages in his explanation of perseverance from the Arminians point of view: Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:20-22. I will examine each of these passages in some depth and then offer positive evidence of my own in addition to that contained in my first rebuttal.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – for some time now, I have been at a loss to understand why so many find this passage to be an insurmountable objection to “perseverance of the saints.” If anything, it is quite the opposite! I will, for convenience sake, reproduce what I believe the passage states in my own words: “It is impossible for those who have been regenerated, if they temporarily fall away, to again be brought back to initial repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Firstly, it is an unwarranted assumption that “falling away” denotes a forfeiture of salvation (cf. Matthew 26:31). Secondly, a motif throughout Hebrews is that Christ's sacrifice was once and for all. It is never repeated: “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:14), having “obtained eternal redemption” (9:12). The problem in Hebrews 6:4-6 is that some people think that they can sin so much or so badly that, having fallen away, they believe that they must repeat the conversion process unto the application of Christ’s sacrifice which had brought them to salvation in the first place. The author chastises those who believe this, as such would imply the first application of Christ's sacrifice did not cover some sins. The reality, that Christ’s one sacrifice is ever sufficient, means that when one tries to repeat the conversion process, they are in essence crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. No matter how badly we sin, then, Christ's sacrifice covers it. That's precisely why we're eternally secure (cf. 6:13-19), and that’s why the only thing left to do is press on to the mature things; continually worrying about past sins can only mire us in despair and sin.

A more interesting thought is that if Robert’s interpretation is true, a Christian who apostatizes must not have the capacity to come to be saved anymore. Does this mean apostates do not possess free will?

2 Peter 2:20-22 – Unfortunately, as Robert provided no exegesis of either of these passages, I must guess as to his reasons for believing they imply perseverance of the saints is a false doctrine. I will explain what I believe this passage means, and if Robert believes I have left out an important detail, I hope he will ask during the cross-examination.

In 2 Peter 2:20-22, Peter writes that false prophets have escaped some temporal corruptions but return to it, inevitably, because theirs is a faith which fails the test. They are like the rocky soil who believe superficially, but have no real root in Christ (Mark 4:16-17). Surrounding themselves with good things, they are blessed with knowledge and can even avoid some sins (note that Calvinists do not believe fallen men are “utterly” depraved). Eventually, however, their true nature shows itself, and they no more see fit to acknowledge God in any sense (Romans 1:28-32); their washing was outward, not inward. It is for Robert to show that these false prophets were true believers (a contradiction in terms).

The following is the rest of the paragraph Paul Enns writes which Robert omits: “The clear emphasis of Scripture, however, is that the believer has eternal life as a present possession (John 3:16; 1 John 5:11-13) and is kept secure by Christ (John 10:28) because of what He has done (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).” When Christ says His sheep will never perish and that His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger, what more is there to say? Of course, this is not to say antinomianism is true; rather, perseverance is the evidence one is saved (Hebrews 3:6, 14). It must be the case that those who leave us were never really of us (1 John 2:18-19). God will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate us from the love of God, as He who gave His own Son for us will obviously give us all things, including grace which is sufficient for us to will to persevere (Romans 8:32-39). Our inheritance, then, is truly one which cannot perish, be defiled, or fade away (1 Peter 1:4).

Let us be thankful for the gospel, the good news that salvation is truly of the Lord.

(Word count: 4,298)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, First Rebuttal

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

First rebuttal

Prefatory Comments

Although I will take the opportunity to reference a multiplicity of passages – hopefully not at the expense of quality exegesis and necessary inference – I will concentrate on developing only one or two central arguments per relevant doctrine in the hope and expectation that any rejoinders must interact with the best I have to offer. If I miss any arguments Robert thinks are important, I am sure he will bring them to my attention in his rebuttal(s) or cross-examination. I plan to primarily focus – as I said in my opening statement – on Robert’s points most pertinent to the nature of man’s will in relation to God’s will.

Firstly, however, I wish to note three statements Robert makes with which I agree:

“[God] cannot **force** us to love Him…”
“God cannot do certain things!”
“[God is not] a respecter of persons.”

The context in which Robert made these statements imply that I disagree with them. Let me make it clear: I do agree with them and even anticipated the first in my opening statement. Robert will have to show that these statements are logical extensions of what I do believe if he wishes to object to Calvinism upon these grounds.

Fallen Man’s Nature

It appears Robert agrees with Arminius: fallen man’s will is such that, apart from prevenient grace, it is unable to do any good thing. If that is correct, the primary distinguishing factor between the Calvinist and Arminian becomes whether or not regeneration is logically prior or subsequent to faith. The Calvinist states the former is true, the Arminian typically states the latter.

Regeneration is the doctrine that through Christ’s death (Romans 8:32, 1 Peter 1:3), the Holy Spirit is sent to indwell the elect who, while unregenerate, cannot otherwise please God or submit to His law (Romans 8:7-9). We are thusly said to be spiritually born again by God’s will alone (John 1:13). The means of regeneration is the word of truth (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23), words to which we cannot submit unless we escape from sin’s power (Romans 3:9-12) – to which we are enslaved – by the [word of] truth [made flesh] (John 8:32-47). 

But doesn’t faith please God? Is faith not submission to gospel propositions? If man’s faith logically preceded his regeneration, Paul’s arguments are invalid. Our belief, then, should be that faith is inevitable and immediate product of regeneration, not the catalyst for it.

A secondary disagreement is whether or not the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his ancestors. Robert seems to think that one inherits a sin nature which, only after one is of such an age that he can “personally” disobey God’s law, is one guilty of sin. A brief refutation of this is found in Romans 5:18. Paul, drawing an analogy between those in Adam and those in Christ, argues that just as Adam – the federal head of mankind – brought condemnation to all men in him, so also Christ – the federal head of believers – brings justification to all men in Him. The analogy breaks down if we assume infants are not guilty for being in Adam. As this disagreement seems relatively minor, however, I digress.


It is not a little important that Robert agrees election is from eternity and that God cannot learn. Consider: for God to know a given proposition – say, “Robert is a believer” – is true apart from His own determination would necessitate a succession of thoughts in the mind of God, as God’s knowledge would be contingent on contingencies (viz. Robert’s will). Such would deny His eternal omniscience, as contingencies (like Robert’s will) are temporal; hence, God’s determination of all things is the only position consistent with His eternal omniscience. 

In fact, Scripture affirms that God causes all things according to His good pleasure (cf. Job 23:13-14; Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Isaiah 46:10-11; Lamentations 3:38; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11). While God can use instrumentalities or “second causes” to achieve His purposes as well as direct efficiency, the ultimate or first cause of all things – even these secondary causes – stems from God’s determinative purpose. The extent of God’s proactive determination is borne out in specific cases as well as general testimony (cf. Deuteronomy 2:30; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Psalm 105:25; Isaiah 10:5-15, 19:17; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). When Robert and Arminius state election is conditioned upon faith, then, they implicitly deny God is eternally omniscient. Whatever Robert’s reply may be, so long as he asserts the relation between God’s will and man is such that God knowledge is contingent upon our will (because we are allegedly “sovereign”), Robert will have to deal with this problem. Apropos, when Robert says God “lets evil people live only to be punished,” we should rather instead notice Proverbs 16:4 actually says God “made… the wicked for the day of evil.” We are all made to be as we are by God. This is an active, not passive, molding (Romans 9:18-23). While I could digress further into an explanation of how this framework answers the problem of evil and related questions, I will cross that bridge when (or if) we come to it.

Robert also argues that predestination is not unto faith, but rather subsequent spiritual blessings. In actuality, predestination is unto, not conditioned upon, [foreseen] faith. That we cannot be predestined unto anything according to a foreseen faith is proven by Romans 8:29-30. Paul rules out that very possibility in his depiction of the ordo salutis: foreknew -> predestine -> call… If God is foreseeing individuals come to faith, He must necessarily be foreseeing people respond positively to His call. But if God’s calling is logically dependent upon His foreknewledge and predestination, how can He foresee anyone come to faith? That is, if God’s call is conditioned upon predestination, how can predestination be conditioned upon a foreseen faith which is conditioned upon God’s call? The Arminian’s argument is circular.


An important qualification I wish to make before I proceed in my rebuttal is that I too believe “[Christ’s] blood is sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived” and noted as much in my opening statement. The difference between our positions is that Robert believes Christ died for all men without exception. Robert seems to believe Christ intended to save everyone but fails, an interpretation validated by the fact Arminius repeatedly says Christ’s sacrifice “might” do things – it is a mere possibility the cross is successful in fulfilling God’s purpose.

Is this what we find in Scripture? Did Matthew write that Christ would save His people from sins, or that he would possibly save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)? Did Paul not write that those for whom Christ died will freely be given all things (Romans 8:32)? Would “all things” not include the desire to come to and remain in Christ? If Christ died for all men, then, would Robert not have to purport the false doctrine of universalism? Indeed. There is no evidence God intends to save those who do not come to be saved.

But what of the texts Robert cites? 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 2:1 are texts often cited against the concept Christ’s intended to save a particular people. But here I feel I can do no better than to cite Dr. Gary Long’s response to the Arminian’s use of each:

Commenting on 2 Peter 2:1, Dr. Long writes:

“Concerning this second Greek word and the issue whether or not agorazõ is to be understood redemptively or non-redemptively, the following points should be made. First, in the Greek Septuagint agorazõ and its related noun forms are used some twenty times to translate three Hebrew words (sabar, qanhh, and laqah); yet it is never used to translate the two great redemptive words —— those translated “redeem” (gã’al) and “ransom” or “purchase” (pãdãh). Second, of its thirty occurrences in the New Testament, agorazõ is never used in a salvation context (unless II Peter 2:1 is the exception) without the technical term “price” (times — a technical term for the blood of Christ) or its equivalent being stated or made explicit in the context (see I Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rev. 5:9; 14:3-4). Third, in each of the latter five references the context clearly restricts the extent of agorazõ (regardless of what it means) to believers—never to non-believers. Fourth, a word study of agorazõ, in both the Greek Old and New Testaments, reveals that the word itself does not include the payment price. When it is translated with a meaning “to buy,” whether in a salvation or non-salvation context, a payment price is always stated or made explicit by the context. Fifth, in contexts where no payment price is stated or implied, agorazõ may often be better translated as “acquire” or “obtain”. Sixth, agorazõ is never used in Scripture in a hypothetical sense unless II Peter 2:1 be the exception. Rather it is always used in a context where the buying or acquiring actually takes place… The sovereign creation view interprets II Peter 2:1 non-redemptively as referring to the creation of the false teachers by Christ their sovereign Lord… First, this interpretation gives proper significance to both the Greek Old and New Testaments’ usage of “Lord” (despotes) and “bought” (agorazõ). Second, this view seeks to interpret this verse in the light of the context, historical background, and purpose of the epistle including Peter’s use of the Old Testament, especially Deuteronomy 32:5-6… Third, the sovereign creation view is supported by the context of II Peter 2 and its parallel in Jude 4-19 (see II Pet. 2:12; Jude 4)… That Peter is alluding to Deuteronomy 32:6 in II Peter 2:1 may be seen by observing the context of both passages. This is further supported by the fact that Peter alludes to Deuteronomy 32:5 in verse 13.”

With regards to 1 John 2:2, Dr. Long, citing Arthur Pink, notes that John signified that:

“Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the Gentile believers too, for… "the world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of I John 2:2 with John 11:51-52, which is a strictly parallel passage.”

For instance:

"He is the propitiation for our sins." 
"He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation." 

"And not for ours only." 
"And not for that nation only." 

"But also for the whole world" 
"He but also for the scattered children of God "

John, whose letters often contain the teaching that Christ died for all men without distinction, is here stating that Christ is the basis of propitiation for both the Jewish nation and the Gentile nation, as He is the indiscriminate Advocate for believers without distinction (1 John 2:1); that is, regardless of nation, tribe, tongue, or people (cf. Revelation 5:9). It is, as Augustine ironically observed:

“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.”

Prevenient Grace

Arminius’ quote provided in this sections offers a definition of “sufficient grace” not compatible with sola gratia. Grace is sufficient to its purposes – with which I agree – but God’s purpose is, in Arminianism, to merely allow the person to actualize one of two possible contraries: belief or disbelief. Here, the differentiae between Calvinism and Arminianism is sola gratia vs. synergism. Is prevenient [and regenerative] grace such that men will come, or only such that they may come if they “freely” will?

John 6:37-45 yields the answer: everyone (not “only some”) whom the Father gives to Christ will (not “might”) come to Him. That this unconditionally selected group of people the Father gives to Christ will actually all go to Christ practically needs no explanation. Moreover, did Jesus fail to do the will of the Father? That’s the scary conclusion one would have to affirm if one wants to deny that not all who are first given proceed to come. Jesus, whose ultimate purpose was to fulfill the Father’s will, would have failed in His mission if the Father’s will was that everyone should be save whom He intended to save, implying universalism.


Robert’s definition of conditional perseverance is a bit of a misnomer. All Calvinists believe that a man must possess faith in order to be justified, so one could say that Calvinists believe perseverance is conditioned on faith. The root difference between my position and Robert’s pertains to whether or not God fulfills the condition(s) of justification [for His elect]. If He does, then it is obvious one who believes will continue to believe precisely because God’s grace is a sufficient condition to sustain belief as well as cause it:

1 Corinthians 4:7, 15:10 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? By the grace of God I am what I am… not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Arminians, on the other hand, condition faith on a synergistic co-operation between God’s grace and man’s will – a rejection of the biblical expression of sola gratia – and thus believe a truly regenerate man can forfeit his justification. Robert, however, seems to be conflicted regarding whether or not a regenerate can forfeit his salvation. To be honest, I don’t know why. If Robert believes man is free such that he can choose to counter-factually disbelieve in God before justification, and if man retains his freedom after justification, is it not obvious that the logical end of such a belief is synergistic perseverance? Moreover, since one who is justified has been regenerated (Titus 3:5-7), Robert must then concede Arminians should believe regenerates can forfeit salvation.

Concluding Remarks

Notwithstanding my immediately preceding statements, it is more intellectually honest to reserve one’s judgment on a particular subject than to argue for a position which contains propositions one perceives to be contradictory or paradoxical. Of course, as long as there is potential to grow in grace and knowledge, every Christian can learn something new, but admitting this is a sign of humility rather than necessarily a concession that one doesn’t understand what he believes. The important difference lies in that fact that yielding to propositions without understanding is an insult to one’s conviction. It is a disservice to the faith – a sentiment I would hope Robert shares – when one insists on purporting as valid seemingly contradictory beliefs. I will close with this thought: while Robert is concerned that participants in debate should be open-minded, I am more concerned that if Robert and I are not convinced we is positing biblical theology, this debate will be a fruitless exercise.

Soli Deo Gloria

(Word count: 2,493 with quotes)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Modern Philosophy 6

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about select passages in Malebranche’s Search After Truth. The following is my submission:

Malebranche’s Search After Truth is an ostensive synthesis of Descartes’ philosophy, Augustinianism, Occasionalism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In his third book, Malebranche sought to explain the fact of and means by which an idea – viz. the affectation or modification of the soul due to perception of an object – is produced in the mind. Prefatorily, Malebranche criticized those who prejudiciously believe that an idea implies its referent materially exists. One may, for instance, experience spiritual externals apart from an intermediary. Implicit in his argumentation was the possibility of a Kantian distinction between that which is a noumenon and that which is a phenomenon. Malebranche’s central thesis upon which he elaborates was that it is only by recognizing the [Christian] God as epistemologically authoritative that what we can intelligibly justify what we believe, systematically deconstructing philosophies which hinge the origin of ideas upon something other than God’s efficient causation.

One such alternative philosophy proposed that physical objects imprint their likeness onto one’s senses. Malebranche dismissed this modernized Aristotelianism as assumptive, since objects would by definition be impenetrable. Another criticism he offered was that, given that there is no apparent point at which the likeness of two bodies should not meet, distinguishing between bodies would be impossible. This objection carries more force when one realizes that space is unobservable and yet alleged by many to be a body which is more active than most others.

Other contemporaries of Malebranche suggested the soul is independently capable of producing ideas. Contrarily, Malebranche argued that one cannot form an idea of an object prior to some understanding of the object itself. However, such would presuppose knowledge of the object, meaning it would be unnecessary for one to form the idea afresh. Our ideas, then, are only as perfect as the reflected or perceived referents. The primary fallacy in the reasoning of these people, said Malebranche, stems from the fact they are ignorant of or unduly prejudiced against the possibility an external cause of their ideas. Providing a brief foreshadowing of his own philosophy, Malebranche wrote that one should not confuse correlation with causation; rather, one should depict the interaction of objects whose motion subsequently changes as merely the occasion upon which God, the true cause of all things, executes His will.

Before elaborating upon this, however, Malebranche considered the belief of those who say all ideas were innately as opposed to potentially created within us. Malebranche contended that, due to the limitations of the mind, one cannot conceive of, say, the infinite number of possible triangles, nor would one be able to explain the way in which one non-arbitrarily chose a single triangle as a representation of the concept. Malebranche added that it is not clear how this complete, innate knowledge harmonizes with a God who, in the interest of communicability, regularly works in the simplest of ways for the good of his creatures.

Because these systems are untenable, Malebranche concluded that the only remaining possibility is that man absolutely depends on God for all his thoughts; that is, as we are united to God and as God contains in Himself the ideas of all created things, in Him we live, move and have our being. Whatever we perceive, then, is what God has presented to our minds.

To substantiate this – at least in part – Malebranche utilized Descartes’ argument: certain abstract ideas and truths, such as infinitude and perfection, exceed and thus cannot have been produced by the mind. Only God can relate these to His own being, so only God can be argued to have impressed the apprehensions upon his mind. Because these ideas are presupposed, as one must, for instance, have some apprehension of infinity from which he is able to distinguish what is and is not finite, Malebranche claimed this argument was generalizable. Finally, Malebranche noted that the end or purpose of God’s actions pertains, necessarily, to God Himself: that Malebranche discerned these things to be true was natural, for God created with the purpose that certain men come to know Him by His works.

Summarizing his statements and the implications of book three, Malebranche wrote: it is only by God directly mediating thoughts to us that we can immediately perceive the corporeal (an argument which he seems to have derived from Augustine’s De Magistro, since Malebranche’s philosophy of language as it relates to one’s interaction with the physical world is similar), our soul is not corporeal, as one’s thoughts constitutes the essence of one’s soul, and one can as yet only conjecture as to the existence of other minds due to mortal limitations.

In book six, Malebranche laid out more clearly the philosophy of Occasionalism. Essentially, God is the only thing capable of directing or acting upon one’s soul in a causal manner. As God is omnipotent, and as omnipotence is, by definition, an non-transferable trait, what God wills necessarily happens according to His will. His will is thusly said to be the efficient, true cause of all things. An occasional cause, on the other hand, is simply the aforementioned correlation, that which God uses to effect what He wishes; the occasional cause is not to be regarded as the true cause, because it is not the condition upon which the fulfillment of any thing depends. Hence, Malebranche, agreeing with Augustine, believed even knowledge is contingent on God. Also, despite what the senses may imply, locomotion is caused by God. He cites as an example that although the movement of one’s arm may correlate to one’s will, it must be caused by God, for the soul cannot possibly conceive of the allegedly innumerable movements which must take place to effect the movement of the whole arm.

In his fifteenth elucidation, Malebranche briefly refuted objections purported against his philosophy. The first objection, that if secondary causes are not intrinsically efficacious, one could not differentiate between living and dead objects, Malebranche noted was question-begging, as the objector has not shown that something apart from themselves is alive, nor have they even explained clearly what it means to say something is alive. To the second objection, that if Occasionalism were true, it could be the case that fire could cool and water could burn, Malebranche simply replied that, because God is constant and orderly, what we see is normatively constant and orderly. The third objection leveled against Occasionalism was that it absolves one of responsibility, as God could put to naught man’s intentions. Malebranche retorted that God acts in the simplest ways and holds us responsible for how we act, so to try to excuse one’s actions on the grounds that God can will such that our efforts are for naught (insofar as our efforts pertain to our “own” intentions) is irrelevant and misses the fact God is orderly and constant. Furthermore, miracles are and abnormalities are by definition unusual and only produced when necessary to fulfill God’s will. Another accusation was that since God would cause his creatures to act contrarily, God is acting against Himself. Malebranche countered that the objection is spurious because creatures are the immediate actors by which God achieves whatever He wishes; if God wishes “bulls and lions” should fight, He causes them to fight. The final objection Malebranche answered in this section concerned how man can be free and how God can avoid the title of “author of sin” if Occasionalism is true. In accordance with the Westminster Confession and Augustine, Malebranche believed man’s will is free insofar as he wills according to his desires. This volition, however, is necessitated by the desires which God in turn effects according to His will, so our will is not the true cause of any thing: God is. God generally disposes minds toward the good, but Malebranche maintained that even natural impulses are from God. Regardless, one is responsible for his actions because sin implies the actualization of one’s will against God’s precepts, not the potential to choose contraries.

While his philosophy appears to be internally consistent, the primary problem with it is that Malebranche argues inductively, declaring that because the origin of ideas and perfection cannot be accounted for within specific philosophies, his philosophy must be true. One could, then, argue Malebranche was himself suspect of committing the fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Christian Epistemlogy and Metaphysics

Here is a succinct answer to a question I was asked about presuppositionalism and its relation to God's existence:

//Am I correct in thinking "presuppositional apologetics" begins on the foundation of God's being and doesn't give ground to those that would say "Let's suppose for a moment that God doesn't exist"?//

Presuppositional apologetics is simply an admission that apologetics is predicated upon the assumption of [a] first principle(s). If I ask you why you believe a proposition, you will probably give me a reason. What if I ask you why you believe that reason? You may give me another reason. Consider what would happen if I kept questioning your premises. We quickly see that there must be a proposition which is taken for granted, a proposition upon which all knowledge within a given epistemological system is deduced. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing anything, as I could ask you for external justification of your premises ad infinitum. 

Christian presuppositionalists sometimes confuse metaphysics with epistemology. Metaphysics deals with ontology, epistemology deals with knowledge. Obviously, we can't know what exists if we can't justify what we know, so epistemology should take precedence. Hence, when some Christian presuppositionalists begin with "God exists," too many questions are begged for which the first principle cannot answer: which God? By what means have we discerned this? How can we understand God? Etc.

Hence, I believe that Christian presuppositionalism begins, not with God, but with God's revelation: the Bible is the sole, extant source of knowledge. From Scripture, we deduce everything we know, including God's existence and character.

Related links: On Scripturalism, Brief differences between Scripturalism and other religionsOn the Self-Attestation of Scripturalism

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, Opening Post

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

Opening Statement

I’d like to open my statement with a thanks to Robert for accepting my invitation to formally debate whether or not the Calvinistic doctrines entailed in the “TULIP” acrostic are biblical. My intention throughout this debate will be to simply present a concise and accurate explanation of Calvinism as well as some helpful tips that may expedite discussion. In this opening post, I will simply lay out several relevant definitions and forewarn Robert against the general use of several common yet fallacious objections to Calvinism. So doing, I believe that this post will be mutually beneficial, if only because it should function as a clear ground upon which the rest of the debate can proceed.


“T”otal Depravity: the doctrine that all men in Adam are fallen and thus inheritors of a nature incapable of submitting to God’s precepts. In order for one to have the capacity to come to God, then, he must first be given a new nature via regeneration.

“U”nconditional Election: the doctrine that God chose from eternity to save certain men from their sins irrespective of the will of man. God decreed all the means and thus secured all the conditions by which one comes to and remains in the Redeemer, Christ Jesus.

“L”imited Atonement: the doctrine that the intention of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to secure propitiation for the elect alone. While it is counter-factually true that “if the Father desired to save all men without exception, Christ’s sacrifice was such that all men without exception could have been saved,” it is in fact the case that the Father does not desire to save all men without exception; hence, the atonement is hypothetically sufficient for all, but actually efficient only for the elect.

“I”rresistible Grace: the doctrine that regeneration, gifted to God’s elect at a time of His choosing, immediately and effectually moves one to come to saving faith.

“P”erseverance of the Saints: the doctrine that those whom God has chosen to redeem will never forfeit their salvation.

Furthermore, as I anticipate that “sola gratia,” “free will,” and “God’s sovereignty” are phrases which will occur with some frequency, I will state the meaning I will associate to each concept.

Sola gratia: the doctrine that God’s grace is the sole, decisive factor which determines why one man believes in Christ and another does not.

Free will: the doctrine that man’s will is not externally determined; equivalently, man is said to be capable of actuating one of two or more possible courses of action.

God’s sovereignty: the doctrine that God determines all things in accordance with the good pleasure of His will.


For the reader’s consideration, I think it will be helpful to list various types of common fallacies for which he should look throughout the discussion: straw men, guilt-by-association, emotive argumentation, begging-the-question, false dichotomies, ad hominem fallacies, ad populum arguments, tu quoque fallacies, genetic fallacies, arguments from silence, red herrings, hasty generalizations, slippery slopes, false analogies, etymological fallacies, induction, correlative fallacies, and other non sequiturs.

Anticipated Objections

Space does not afford me the opportunity to address other likely objections one may have, but the following are sufficiently representative of the often shallow and a-contextual argumentation against Calvinism:

Puppet analogy: it is sometimes alleged that unless one possesses a free will, one is a puppet with God as his puppeteer. In rejoinder, Scripture teaches that men, in relation to God, are mere pots, axes, and other instruments God uses as He pleases. What, then, is the underlying objection? Mere emotion. Furthermore, the analogy breaks down in comparison to Calvinism. God is much more sovereign over mankind than a puppeteer is over his puppet. God controls everything we do, whereas a puppeteer is confined by strings and joints – ponder the fact that God made us as we are. Finally, puppets do not have minds, wills, emotions, intellects, feelings, &c. Calvinists are quick to point out that men are not “forced” to will; that is a contradiction in terms. Rather, insofar as man always chooses in accordance with his most strongest desire, and insofar as God determines our desires (directly or indirectly), our will is determined and yet voluntary. It is certainly we who choose, feel, think, and act – and yet it is all in accordance with God’s determinative purpose.

Responsibility presupposes freedom: A fallback objection I have sometimes faced is that “even if the above argument is invalid, man cannot be faulted for his choosing that which he was predetermined to choose.” This is an example of the fallacy of begging-the-question. There is no self-evident reason that one who has broken a law (i.e. sin, by definition; cf. 1 John 3:4) is excused from law-breaking because he was unable to do otherwise. In fact, Romans 9, in which Paul’s chief purpose is to vindicate God’s complete sovereignty, defends the contrary proposal: it is in fact God’s sovereignty which responsibility presupposes. The fact that we are subject to God’s law despite how He has made us should not be surprising, for it the fact that He made us for His own ends functions as the very means by which Paul substantiates his claim that God is sovereign and man is responsible.


Robert’s opening post and rebuttals will dictate the specific way in which I proceed, but here is an outline of the argument upon which I plan to elaborate and substantiate with logical argumentation and exegesis in coming posts:

P1. “TULIP,” “sola gratia,” and “God’s sovereignty” are biblical and logically cohesive.

P2. Free will is, as defined above, incompatible with these doctrines.

P3. Arminianistic theology hinges upon the doctrine of free will.

C. Arminianistic theology is unbiblical.

Obviously, this is simplistic, but even given the room for nuance within both Arminianism and Calvinism, I believe that the essence of the disagreement between the two parties lies in the nature of man’s will in relation to God’s will. Coinciding with my rebuttals to come, then, I plan to give this subject the highest emphasis and precedence.

(Word count: 1,000)

Friday, February 5, 2010

For the sake of argument

In a discussion with a friend in which I was attempting to explain the primacy of examining presuppositions, he noted that he likes to empirically establish the historicity of Scriptural events rather than delve into the philosophical. He asked for my thoughts, and I think that my response can serve as a specific example of a general point; namely, that accepting another’s presuppositions for the sake of argument in order to show that “Christianity is probable even within another person’s world-view” may be more trouble than its worth:

“Insofar as you are seemingly working within the framework of empiricism, while it may be useful to show that even within an unsound world-view Christianity is probable, your arguments will invariably be suspect to the same criticisms which stem from the unsound presuppositions of said world-view. One such criticism immediately comes to mine: what constitutes historical reliability? Unless you can answer this question, talk of "probability" is nonsensical, and yet trying to justify your criterion will beg more questions than you may want to answer.

Now, if you and a secular historian can come to an agreement on this and other similar questions, then your arguments will obviously have more force and, to that end, your method can be useful. But I would not be honest if I recommended it to you. Instead, I prefer a more direct method, one which avoids induction and the like, a method which, epistemologically speaking, gets to the root of the issue: presuppositions, axioms, or first principles. I would utilize your method as an "even if" scenario, e.g. "even if your presuppositions are sound, look at where the evidence points." More often than not, however, I think that this does more harm than good, as it may give another the false impression that a concession is being made regarding the soundness of said presuppositions.”

I could have added that an outsider looking in may enter into the conversation and fault both parties for relying on flawed presuppositions, causing a messy situation in which the Christian must explain that he is only accepting the presuppositions for the sake of argument. Things get confusing. To elaborate a little further on my preferred method, what I mean to say is that dialogue and dividing lines can be much more clear if we simply critique the internal consistency of another's presuppositions or first principles and discarding whichever yields contradictions (reductio ad absurdum). Or, as Gordon Clark wrote:

“The argument is ad hominem and elenctic. When finally the opponent is reduced to silence and we can get in a word edgewise, we present the word of God and pray that God cause him to believe.”