Friday, October 7, 2011

Behind the Curve

Early yesterday, I left a comment on this article:

Here are some edited comments by one of our members posted in our private discussion group concerning the Calvinist claim that the Arminian view of faith makes faith a work created by man:

When they make that charge, they conflate the faith/works debate and the free-will/determinism debate into a single issue. This approach has textual problems, because when the Bible discussion faith-vs-works, it does so in a specific context that is not obviously related to predestination [cf. Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9]. It also has a logic problem, because from a Calvinist perspective, we have to wonder what was the point of the faith/works distinction in the first place. In other words, if we cannot boast in our faith because it is predestined by God, then we also cannot boast in our works because they are predestined by God. But the Bible specifically says that salvation is by faith rather than works, lest any man should boast. Paul's explanation is not very meaningful if free-will, not works, is what gives us a reason to boast.

Some Calvinists try to resolve the issue by saying that neither faith nor works has anything at all to do with our salvation. But that also strips Paul's words of their meaningfulness. Why emphasize faith if we are to regard it as such a small thing?

But a straightforward reading avoids these questions. If we just set aside the obsessive free-will/predestination focus, the text makes sense. God has not given us a way to earn forgiveness; instead, he just calls us to trust in what Christ has done for us. That trust is important, but by definition it means relying on God instead of ourselves. Thus, we do not boast.

Here's the rub (allegedly): it is a common Calvinist argument that Arminians, among others, cannot consistently believe in salvation by grace alone, for if grace is an insufficient (albeit necessary) condition for salvation, then by definition grace alone cannot lead to one's salvation. For faith to be contingent on the exercise of one's supposedly libertarian free will would, in effect, make faith a work, for the application of redemption would hinge on man's cooperation in salvation contrary to Jonah 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:10, etc.. I, a Calvinist, have indeed used some form of this argument (cf. my third cross-ex question here).

Rather than reply to this argument, the Arminian in the above article seeks to go on the offensive. Essentially, the author points out that from a Calvinist's perspective, both faith and good works are predestined, yet the Calvinist does not believe that faith can be a ground for boasting; therefore, why should the Calvinist believe good works are a ground for boasting? After all, both are predestined. On the other hand, if the Calvinist should reply that good works would not be a ground for boasting, this would suggest that Paul is worried about nothing when writes that salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast.

That writing a blog is useful can be demonstrated after reading articles such as the above. There are few things I find as satisfying as having anticipated an argument. For example, in the last year, I wrote one post distinguishing between faith and good works (link; cf. here) and another post explaining why [predestined] good works are indeed praiseworthy (link). Briefly:

Intentions refer to why or for what reason we will or choose.

A necessary precondition for discerning whether or not a work is good hinges on an understanding of one’s intentions (1 Corinthians 10:31). E.g. one may refuse to steal, but if he refuses for some selfish reason or, generally, any reason other than that such refusal is right obedience to God’s authoritative law which thereby shows right respect for God’s glory, such an intention connotes a work which is sinful rather than good.

Contrarily, one cannot “intend” to understand or assent to a proposition as true; he either does or does not. Both understanding and assent, then, do not hinge on the exercise of one’s own will...

There seems, therefore, to be at least one way in which saving faith differs from a good work: both may be caused by God's grace, but only works proceed from our [determined] purposes.

A work is intentional or purposive. A work is praiseworthy if it is good. A work is good if done in submission to God for His glory. However, works are not that by which one is saved - not efficiently, instrumentally, or meritoriously. It is true that faith is the instrumental cause of justification, but faith as not a work, the Arminian's article misses the mark and fails to provide a counter-argument to the Calvinist's allegation that they cannot believe in salvation by grace alone.


Drake Shelton said...

I touch on this in my book on the covenant theology section. Of God's Covenant with Christ and Man. Turretin and Rutherford distinguished between a condition as a meritorious cause and condition as an instrument of application.

Ryan said...

Yea, I always thought that distinction was pretty basic and common sense, though I've seen a few Calvinists who don't even believe in eternal justification but deny faith is a condition for justification.

credulo said...

I think the problem is in 'salvation by grace alone'.

If salvation is by grace alone, there is no relevance if it is through faith - because God is not moral or ontologically bound to save anyone. Faith is not a 'completion of Christ's work' and also is not a 'currency exchange'.

Faith is not meritorious in Arminianism, because God is not obliged to save anyone - even the faithful one.

Ryan said...

"If salvation is by grace alone, there is no relevance if it is through faith - because God is not moral or ontologically bound to save anyone."

I would say God is not extrinsically obligated or bound to save anyone. But I don't think election is arbitrary.

In any case, I contest the position that salvation can be by grace alone on Arminianism. Grace is certainly a necessary condition for salvation, but it is not a sufficient condition.