Saturday, August 13, 2022

Contemporary Reformed Reading on Original Sin

In my last two posts, I've touched on original sin (link, link) and my desire to post more on the subject. One reason is that I think the Reformed tradition contains distinctive, right answers to questions this subject naturally raises. But another reason is that I think the contemporary Reformed understanding on the subject is a bit scattered. By that, I mean that there is still an intramural debate going on within the Reformed tradition. And while one of the views on original sin within the tradition appears sound, other views are not only unsound, I think that they are dangerous in that they give opponents to the Reformed tradition ammo in terms of what such views would imply about other theological subjects.

So the point of this post will be a sort of introduction on what direction I would recommend to those within the Reformed faith who are looking for where to begin in their reading on original sin.

George Hutchinson's book on "The Problem of Original Sin in American Presbyterian Theology" (link) is a great book that overviews different Presbyterian views of and discussions about original sin between roughly 1830 and 1960. This is where I learned of Samuel Baird and his works (link). His views are those with which I most closely align. At the same time, this book also covers other schools of thought so that the careful reader will have a fair grasp of and exposure to various lines of thought by the end of the book. It is an excellent introduction to the topic, although it is quite dense for 125 pages.

To expand on the above, Baird wrote "The Elohim Revealed," wherein he defended what Hutchinson calls a "realist" view of original sin. Baird's position, therefore, is similar to but distinct from that of W. G. T. Shedd. In my opinion, Baird has the more defensible view. Charles Hodge responded to this book by Baird with a review of it, and after Baird wrote a rejoinder to Hodge (see below), Hodge seemingly gave up further response.

Baird and other authors (like Robert Landis, link) pretty much level Hodge's position on original sin, which can be summarized by Hodge's statement that "Imputation does not imply a participation of the criminality of the sin imputed" (Hodge, Theology, Vol. II, p. 194). That is, Landis, Baird, etc. make a good case that the Reformed tradition held - until Hodge - that Adam's progeny participated in Adam's sin, on which account guilt is imputed to all who are fathered from Adam. Landis has a whole chapter in his book in which he quotes the Reformers on this point of participation.

However, that such is true is not intended to imply that everyone in the Reformed tradition falls into what Hutchinson calls the "Realist School" within Presbyterian views on original sin. That is, not everyone will explain what participation in Adam's sin involves in the same way a "realist" would. I can't be certain why this is, but there is a nominalist, voluntarist streak in some Reformed authors. See Calvin or Gordon Clark on ethics, for example. Or see the widespread rejection of traducianism (which, ironically, Clark ably defends).

At any rate, it is this nomalistic or voluntaristic way of thinking that I alluded to earlier as being dangerously tolerated within the Reformed tradition and which, I hope, is eventually rooted out. Instead, Baird's views on original sin (and, correspondingly, on our justification in Christ) provide a much more defensible and systematic expression of the biblical material. For example, in the rejoinder Baird wrote to Hodge's review of his book "The Elohim Revealed," Baird wrote:
According to our understanding of the Scriptures, it was provided in the eternal covenant that the elect should be actually ingrafted into Christ by his Spirit, and their acceptance and justification is by virtue of this their actual union to him… Thus, the sin of Adam, and the righteousness of Christ are severally imputed to their seed, by virtue of the union, constituted in the one case by the principle of natural generation, and in the other, by ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,’ the Holy Spirit, the principle of regeneration…

If the imputation of Christ’s righteousness be founded in a real inbeing in him, wrought by the uniting power of his Spirit in regeneration,—if it is thus that we are brought within the provisions of the covenant of grace to our justification, it follows, (we will venture the word,) incontestably, that the imputation to us of Adam’s sin, is founded in a real inbeing in him, by natural generation, by virtue of which we come under the provisions of the covenant of works, to our condemnation. But this, according to our reviewer, is “simply a physiological theory,” involving “a mysterious identity,” which he cannot admit. Hence the necessity of ignoring the doctrine, in its relation to justification. (link)
According to Baird (and contrary to Charles Hodge), we are not viewed by God merely as if we are righteous - Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox would have an argument against the Reformed position if such a legal fiction were really the case. Rather, we are and are viewed by the Father as really righteous - not because of anything we have done or earned - but because the Spirit has really united us to Christ's person and work. As Paul says, "he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Just so, people are born in real unity with the first Adam just as believers are born again in real unity with the last Adam. Following Baird, I think a Reformed anthropology should be worked out along these lines. However, the ontology of our synthetic identity as being persons in Christ after regeneration and conversion is, within the Reformed tradition, either underdeveloped or a discussion of which I am ignorant. I expect that this is due, in part, to the failure of a pervasive acceptance of a realist view of original sin.

Now, with all this being said, another person Hutchinson mentions in his book is Henry Thornwell, a theologian Hutchinson also puts in the "Realist School" (which includes Shedd and Baird). Interestingly, Thornwell wrote a critique of Baird's realism and, perhaps, Thornwell's own former views (link). That is, Hutchinson essentially claims, in his book, that Thornwell started his life by critiquing Baird but "in the end was driven to the Realistic explanation... more in the direction of Baird than of Shedd" (pgs. 62-63 of Hutchinson's book). I, on the other hand, am suggesting the opposite is the case. I think Thornwell held views that had some alignment with the Realist School but then came to criticize Baird when he saw where some of the perceived implications led. I could be wrong about this - it has been a while since I read on the subject - but pages 531-534 here seem to make this case.

Regardless, why I mention this is that if I had to point to one resource that seems to face up to Baird and the implications of his realism as expressed in "The Elohim Revealed" or in his rejoinder to Hodge, it would probably be Thornwell's critique. A healthy dose of perspective is needed to conscientiously affirm a given position. I am not writing this post attempting to hide challenges. That said, I myself still lean towards Baird's view and believe modifications can be made to them to avoid some of Thornwell's criticisms (some of which seem just, others of which perhaps can be responded to on Baird's own grounds). What is needed is frank conversation.

Thus, I'm trying to make some headway towards this development, albeit in a slow and methodical way. To say a little more about this, in addition to the above material I've already mentioned, Oliver Crisp has written a book (link) in which he engages W. G. T. Shedd's thoughts (link). I've been directed to a book in which five views of original sin are debated (link). I'm also reading a book on original sin by Ian McFarland (link) which explains Augustinian views on original sin and in what way such differs, say, from Maximus the Confessor.

As I've been reading on Eastern Orthodoxy anyways (with their heavy reliance on Maximus), I realize how little engagement with them I've seen from a Reformed perspective, which is why I mentioned original sin in my most recent post (link). For all the attention Roman Catholic apologists have received from the Reformed tradition, I think Eastern Orthodox apologists will soon warrant more needed attention and corrective, which requires those in the Reformed faith (like myself) to be more prepared for this possibility. On this note, I highly recommend Steve Hays' stuff on Triablogue, particularly any of his posts responding to Eastern Orthodox apologists like Perry Robinson, Daniel Jones, Jay Dyer, etc.

Finally, one person I have corresponded with about many of these issues regarding original sin is Ken Hamrick, who has commented here and there on this blog and used to have a website. I mention him only because he is as knowledgeable on this subject - especially in terms of historical theology - as I've had the pleasure to talk to (e.g. link, link, link), and he has pointed me in the right direction on many of the points I mention above and elsewhere (see, for example, this recent discussion on Puritanboard).

Saturday, August 6, 2022

A Critical Evaluation of Eastern Orthodoxy

I have been reading about Eastern Orthodoxy, and while I was recently visiting Emory's theological library, on a whim, I picked up a journal from 2011 called Greek Orthodox Theological Review. One article in the publication is by Eduard Borysov and entitled, "The Doctrine of Deification in the Works of Pavel Florensky and John Meyendorff: A Critical Examination" (link). In it, he outlines a few 20th century Eastern Orthodox theologians and their understanding of how "mystical union between the transcendent God and creatures" is possible.

While the bulk of the article is expository in nature, the final section ("Critical Evaluation") is one of the more incisive critiques of Eastern Orthodoxy I've read. So I thought to reproduce this section here for any who are interested:

In light of the presented views, the tension between indirect participation in God through his energies that are, at the same time, God himself remains unresolved. There are ambiguities in these ideas on several levels. 

The first ambiguity relates to the issue of the definition of the divine energies and their distinction from essence. How can immanent, known energies of God manifest his unknown transcendent essence? If God is wholly present in his energies, in what way are those energies different from his essence? In other words, if the uncreated energies of God are God himself, how one can equate and at the same time distinguish manifestations of the nature with the nature itself? It is still unclear whether the deified person assumes two natures after union with Christ, that is, the deified human nature and the divine nature by grace. If so, what does it mean to be God by grace, and how is that different from being God by nature? Is it not true that complete participation in God implies the fact that he is no longer unknown to the participant and is not transcendent? If communication between God and man occurs at the level of the external manifestations of their natures, how does this happen? Since deification is an experience of God beyond human reason, emotions, or will, in what way can one claim that he has participated in God and not in some other sort of ecstatic or psychological phenomenon?

If a living essence cannot avoid manifesting itself through energies, they are inseparable. However, the problem of identifying energies with essence is that, in the doctrine of salvation, synergy would not only mean a divine-human energies partnership in salvific activity, but also a union of the natures involved in such synergistic salvation, namely, God and man. One should also take into account the notion of "symbol," which Florensky defined as essence, whose energy is mingled with the energy of the other, higher essence, so that symbol is a reality that is greater than itself." If we apply this analogy to deification, we would have to conclude that the energies of man are mingled with the divine energies. And since we cannot discern God from his energies, because energies are inseparable from the divine essence, then both human and divine essences are mingled as well, and thus are indiscernible. Even if Florensky would say that they are not mingled, they are still indiscernible, which brings in a problem for our understanding of the nature of God. 

The second ambiguity is connected to the language used to define and describe deification. It seems that Florensky follows Maximus the Confessor closely, being at some points very ambiguous about the limitations of theosis. He is not afraid to be misunderstood when he talks about the patristic prohibition against participation in or contemplation of the divine nature. He scarcely mentions the traditional patristic teaching that the deified participates only in the divine energies and never in the divine nature. Another example of ambiguity in Florensky's terminology is the idea of synergy between two essences. He says that the synergy of two essences by means of energies produces something "new" to both participants. That sounds like Eutychianism. 

The third ambiguity is based on the philosophical, mainly Platonic, dichotomy between a generic essence and a particular person. Rakestraw is correct when he points out the inappropriate "emphasis upon humanity, rather than human beings [;] being divinized seems to put the focus more on generic human nature rather than individual men and women." Since, according to Agiorgoussis's comment on Maximus, "will and energy do not belong to the person, but to the nature (essence)" by partaking in the divine energies, one shares in the divine nature, not in the divine person. However, the biblical language of participation and sharing belongs on the plane of persons, not natures. For Paul, Christians are transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, not into his deified human nature. Moreover, to what extent can one speak of essence-transforming in the experience of the deified? How would this person's divine nature be different from the divine nature of God? It is unreasonable to invent different kinds of divine nature, whereby God possesses a higher kind of divinity and man a lower kind. 

There is inconsistency in presenting energies as belonging to essence in the Christological context and also as belonging to persons in the Trinitarian context. Meyendorff says, "Repeatedly in the writings of St. Gregory Palamas one finds the expression that divine energies—or the uncreated light—are 'hypostatic' (ÚTroaxaxiKOv cpcoç) or 'en-hypostatic' (évuTióaxaiov)." Since essence does not in reality exist by itself without a hypostasis, it is logical for Meyendorff to conclude that energies belong to a person. However, this statement would contradict the decisions of the ecumenical councils, which claimed that the Trinity has one essence and thus the same energy shared by the three persons, while Christ has two natures and two energies that belong to one person. 

Finally, inconsistency is present in the ways deification is acquired. The Orthodox representatives are assured of the divine source of the union because the transformation of human nature can happen only as the result of God's gift of grace. At the same time, they agree that participation in the sacraments, virtues, and hesychastic prayer are essential in receiving that grace. Ultimately, synergy of the divine gift and human efforts results in a theoandric metamorphosis of the human partaker.

Borysov's comments stand on their own, but I want to make some follow-up observations. 

1. The article immediately reminded me of similar criticisms of Eastern Orthodoxy provided by Steve Hays (link, link, etc.). I encourage readers to read these and search for other articles by him.

2. Borysov writes the following in the main body of his article:

Palamas's theology of energies, according to Meyendorff, has no philosophical rationale behind it. However, one should not forget that the philosophical notions of hypostasis, nature, and energies played a key role in the Christological controversies and had become the basic principles for Palamas's theology proper as well as his soteriology. God is, by definition, unrelated to and above any essence, hence he is unknown by any essence. (Gregory Palamas, Gregory Palamas: The Triads, § 3.2.24, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1983), 95)

If God is unrelated to and above any essence, in what way can humans be images of God?

3. I'm going to highlight one of the more fascinating parts of Borysov's article:

Since essence does not in reality exist by itself without a hypostasis, it is logical for Meyendorff to conclude that energies belong to a person. However, this statement would contradict the decisions of the ecumenical councils, which claimed that the Trinity has one essence and thus the same energy shared by the three persons, while Christ has two natures and two energies that belong to one person.

I imagine Borysove is referring, for example, to the third council of Constantinople:

…as we confess the holy and inseparable Trinity, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to be of one deity, of one nature and substance or essence, so we will profess also that it has one natural will, power, operation, domination, majesty, potency, and glory…

Consequently, therefore, according to the rule of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, she also confesses and preaches that there are in him two natural wills and two natural operations. For if anybody should mean a personal will, when in the holy Trinity there are said to be three Persons, it would be necessary that there should be asserted three personal wills, and three personal operations (which is absurd and truly profane). Since, as the truth of the Christian faith holds, the will is natural, where the one nature of the holy and inseparable Trinity is spoken of, it must be consistently understood that there is one natural will, and one natural operation

…we confess God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; not three gods, but one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: not a subsistency of three names, but one substance of three subsistences; and of these persons one is the essence, or substance or nature, that is to say one is the godhead, one the eternity, one the power, one the kingdom, one the glory, one the adoration, one the essential will and operation of the same Holy and inseparable Trinity, which has created all things, has made disposition of them, and still contains them. (link)

To summarize, Borysov's initial point seems to be that the divine essence doesn't exist or subsist apart from the persons of the Trinity. Therefore, the persons of the Trinity are who will, think, choose, operate, etc., for "energies belong to a person." If I am understanding him correctly, this makes sense to me, for I myself have argued for a long time that the persons of the Trinity are not (contrary to, say, absolute divine simplicity) identical to their acts of will, thoughts, choices, operations, etc. To all appearances, such would lead to modal (and, seemingly, hypostatic) collapse.

Borysov's initial point also reminded me of the following comment by Joseph Farrell who, I recall, used to be cited as a go-to theologian by Eastern Orthodox apologists (I'm not sure if this is the case any more since he deconverted): "there must be in each case a unique enhypostatization of the will in the person, each free to do with the natural will and its objects of choice what he sees fit" (Free Choice in Maximus the Confessor, pg. 189, link).

While it is true that, in context, Farrell is referring to human persons, insofar as there is an admitted analogy between Trinity, Christology, and anthropology, Farrell's above statement seems to agree with Borysov that "energies belong to a person," for then each person of the Trinity would have "a unique enhypostatization of the [divine] will in the person."

Now, I understand the argument against grounding "the will" in persons or hypostases, for that would either lead to either Monothelitism (Christ only has one will because He is one person) or Nestorianism (Christ has two wills because He is two persons). Both of these positions are false, so "the will" shouldn't be grounded in the individual or subject but rather his nature(s). The one Christ has two natures and, therefore, two wills.

We must be careful to strike a balance here, however, for to say the will is grounded in nature does not mean that people who have the same nature make the same choices. My actual choices are not your actual choices, for even though we have the same nature, "there must be in each case a unique enhypostatization of the will in the person," "energies belong to a person," etc. You and I are consubstantial, but the actual choices you and I make are particular to us as different persons or hypostases. In short, I think that to understand this is to understand the difference between numeric and generic unity which I have attempted to explain in several other places (linklink). 

[Parenthetical: it bears repeated emphasis that one really needs to be careful to strike a balance here. While Borysov does not mention original sin and I do not want to stray too far from the point I am attempting to make, what I have said above does not entail that the Reformed understanding of original sin is false. Nothing I have said implies that only actual choices are sinful, that one cannot participate in the sins of one's forefather[s] (even though actual choices are made by persons), etc. While such Reformed views would require a nuanced defense (e.g. of traducianism), Eastern Orthodox apologists are too hasty if and when they suggest the Reformed understanding of original sin implies on nominalism and so forth.

While I am on the subject of Eastern Orthodoxy and original sin, their own synods affirm that infants are subject to eternal punishment: 

We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord says, “Whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” {John 3:5} And, therefore, baptism is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord showed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Savior would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be regenerated.” And since infants are men, and as such need salvation, needing salvation they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved. So that even infants should, of necessity, be baptized. Moreover, infants are saved, as is said in Matthew; {Matthew 19:12} but he that is not baptized is not saved. And consequently even infants must of necessity be baptized. (The Confession of Dositheus, Decree 16)

Since Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the Reformed understanding of original sin, their apologists have a challenge in accounting for this.]

Returning to my former line of thought, this is one reason I am inclined toward the view, for example, that the Father, Son, and Spirit have distinct thoughts. If they are distinct hypostases or persons or subjects or individuals, then we would expect that each would refer to Himself using reflexive indexicals and would not do the same when referring to the other persons. And, indeed, this is what we see in Scripture (e.g. John 17, in which the Son prays to His Father using first person pronouns for Himself and second person pronouns for the distinct person of the Father to whom He is praying). 

Of course, I affirm each Trinitarian person is omniscient. The propositional knowledge they share is common, but the mode in which each person would affirm this knowledge (e.g. of the economic activity of the Trinity, although the same could be applied to their intra-Trinitarian relationships, such as they are) cannot seemingly be the same without collapsing the three persons into one. That is, only the Son can think, for example, "I became man." 

Analogously, each Trinitarian person would also seem to have a different mode of will. While this mode of will would not be what Eastern Orthodox refer to as "gnomic," nevertheless, only the Son could truly affirm (because it corresponds to the enhypostatized, willed reality), "I became man," whereas only the Father can truly affirm, with respect to the Son, that "I sent you" (because it corresponds to the enhypostatized, willed reality), etc. 

This also coheres well, for example, with the Reformed idea of a covenant of redemption. The Father and Son agree (which language already suggests "unique enhypostatization[s]" of the natural, divine will that each Trinitarian person has) about how to act to redeem the elect. The nature of the Trinitarian persons would entail that they necessarily and conjointly agree about what free choice[s] they make - for our creation, let alone our redemption, was not necessitated or obligated - but [their roles in] said choice[s] require distinction.

I will leave aside the question (as interesting as it is) about whether this has implications regarding historical councils. Rather, an ironic point I think Borysov underscores is that the above may be underemphasized in Eastern Orthodoxy, apologists of which make a big deal about absolute divine simplicity (as if Reformed theologians have universally affirmed this; they have not, link). 

That is, just as Eastern Orthodoxy argues against identification of the divine attributes, so too they ought to be careful to avoid identification of the modes of thought and will of each divine person. But this is a danger if Eastern Orthodoxy rejects (for whatever reason - adherence to historical councils or otherwise) "generic unity" by taking consubstantiality to mean that the Trinitarian persons share the "same energy" - as if such energy does not belong to persons, as if the divine will or nature is not enhypostatized a la Farrell, as if reflexive thoughts of members of the Trinity collapse into a singular referent, etc. 

Perhaps such dangers are not a necessary consequence of Eastern Orthodoxy (despite that Borysov seems to think so). Naturally, this discussion could beg a host of other questions, and I don't intend to address all of them (e.g. further nuances of the Eastern Orthodox view of an essence and energies distinction). The main point is that if or when I have said anything in the past about there being three wills or minds among the members of the Trinity, I have not meant to suggest that three wills or minds are suggestive of distinct natures or that "the will" is grounded in hypostases; rather, the language I have been trying to convey is of unique enhypostatizations of the same, generic nature (in which "the [divine] will" is located) by which we call the distinct persons consubstantial. This seems to be a more precise formulation.

I think (although I could be wrong) that this is also what Ian McFarland is getting at when he discusses Maximus the Confessor: of Maximus' chief arguments against the Monothelites was that their association of will with hypostasis led to the unacceptable conclusion that there were three wills in God. As one nature, God has one will. If follows that what God wills, God wills naturally. Maximus takes it as self-evident that such a conception of willing does not amount to a form of necessitarianism; moreover, it remains internally differentiated by virtue of its enactment in and through the three hypostases... (link)

See also footnote 68, wherein McFarland cites Maximus as writing, "For [Christ] came with the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit" (Opuscule 7). This language too implies that the energies of the persons are distinct precisely because, as has been said several times now, "energies belong to a person." The Trinitarian persons necessarily co-operate, for there is more than one person and, thus, more than one person's energy or energies in question.

Anyways, the point I am making about generic unity and distinction in choice, thought, etc. wouldn't, I think, be all that controversial when applied to men. To the degree one takes issue with a Trinitarian-Christological-anthropological analogy, then, he would have to explain what is relevantly different about the Trinitarian situation (i.e. something more than just pointing out that the consubstantiality of the Trinity entails that they necessarily work towards the same end; such a point does not address the examples of unique thoughts or choices each person has). This, though, I gather that this is precisely what an Eastern Orthodox apologist would wish to avoid.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

400th Post: An Indulgent Look Back

This will be the fourth post in this series of reflections (link, linklink). Perhaps I "cheated" a bit in these last 100 posts, since roughly two-thirds were publications of newly searchable content on Gordon Clark, several of which are not listed in the bibliography put together by Doug Douma. But I have, at least, felt less burnt out in writing, and I hope that continues as time allows.

As implied by the above, one of my intentions within the past year has been to make headway in a long-standing resolution I've had regarding material pertaining to Gordon Clark. I am attempting to 1) comprehensively chronologize his work (especially public work), 2) make the content of said work searchable online, 3) highlight statements within his thought which have made unique or important contribution to Christian thought, 4) systematize these thoughts, and 5) develop this thought (where necessary). 

That is, the ultimate aim is not simply to restate what Clark believed but rather to use his thought as a foil for a better understanding and defense of God's revealed word. In turn, by God's grace, this will hopefully convict more people of its truth (evangelistic with respect to unbelievers; assurance with respect to believers).

Various blog posts I've already written - even a decade ago now - have been written with this in mind. but my hope is that once I've organized each of these elements (God willing), people will be able to follow my reasoning to my conclusions more easily. 

To this end, I believe I have nearly, if not fully, exhausted what online research is possible that would help fill out the first goal (a chronologized bibliography). I have now transitioned to searching physical locations for copies of periodicals, publications, audio, etc. My recent visit to Emory's theological library enabled me to find and make available a Clark work that had not yet been put online, and I am hoping to check off the same with a visit to ABHS this week (which have physical copies of The Gordon Review). Eventual visits to Covenant College (physical copies of Bible Presbyterian Reporter), Columbia Seminary (The Calvin Forum, Reformed Presbyterian Advocate), and Asbury Seminary (The Home Evangelical), and long term goals of either visiting or corresponding with people who are near to Wheaton College (American Scientific Affiliation) or PCA, WTS, and SDCS archive locations would round out my initial intentions. 

Frankly, this feels mostly like double-checking Douma's work. There are, however, a significant number of items in his bibliography that are not available online (e.g. sermons), and if the content is out there, I would be interested in finding it. Personally, I would also be interested in reading more of Clark's letters, but I also understand sensitivity regarding such materials.

As I've been researching this past year, I've also attempted to engage with more criticisms of Clark. Of course, I've critiqued Clark as much as anyone in attempts to refine his apologetic, but I want to distinguish the right from the wrong. Other, unrelated areas I've posted about have especially involved biblical theology, divine knowledge (especially, in the context of the doctrine of God), and necessitarianism. I have a sincere respect for those who have pushed to deepen our understanding of these areas, and I am always learning just how much more there is to still learn. One truth I come to appreciate more and more is that the prospect of a never-ending life with God does not scare me (as if it could ever be boring or become stale, as I have heard) but rather excites me.

I have more thoughts I hope to post about in the future, such as on original sin, realism, Eastern Orthodoxy, necessitarianism (continued), sacramentology, and epistemology and ontology in general. I did manage to clear out a few posts I've had in draft limbo for a long time now - I only have 10 more at this point (but plenty more ideas for posts and other sources from which to draw content, including weekly sermon notes I've taken for a few years now). I hope to continue to post at the same relative frequency as this past year (not counting the transcriptions of Clark works), but that will largely depend on how my personal life progresses.

And on that note, I will continue to thank God for His blessings and pray for His mercy and grace as I face obstacles - some times of my own making, some times not. As Christians, we ought to trust God's word in Romans 8:28. Let us keep the faith as we continue to run our race.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Puzzling on the Trinity

In a post from last year on Trinitarianism (link), I wrote, "in spite of my above reservations and thoughts, I am not as dogmatic about this as I used to be. The subject is complicated, to say the least! Before all else, I deny that the Father and Son are of different natures." 

Thinking about how monotheism and Trinitarianism are both true can sometimes feel like trying to complete the final piece of a puzzle while blindfolded. It might feel like just one, last piece would complete the puzzle, but there are several pieces within arms reach that could be tested to fit the final, missing space of the puzzle. 

Now, tangibly speaking, a blindfolded person can ascertain that there are certain things that can be known about the missing piece, such as the edges it should have. But suppose several pieces seem to fit the same space. I try one piece, and since it had the wrong edges, I discard it. I another piece, and it seems to fit the puzzle. How exciting! But then I try another, just to be safe... and it also seems to fit!

Perhaps some pieces ended up in the wrong puzzle box. These pieces don't match the picture of my puzzle at all, even if they may seem to fit. Since I am blindfolded, I can't see the puzzle to determine that each piece I try also matches the holistic art of the puzzle itself. But I do know that a puzzle isn't just about fitting in pieces into places. That is, a puzzle is about fitting pieces that should be able to form an intelligible picture which could be recognized if my blindfold was taken off.

Now, I think there must still be a way to determine which piece is correct. Let's imagine this puzzle being multi-layered in that every piece of the puzzle has bumps on it such that if I fit the correct piece into the missing spot, a blindfolded person such as myself could conceivably confirm the piece is correct by reading an intelligible message in Braille. The problem I face now is that I don't know how to read Braille, so I have to learn that first.

Cashing this analogy out, the picture of the puzzle box I am attempting  to construct is the reality, and my epistemic quest is to reconstruct this picture. That is, it may initially seem like there are multiple possible Trinitarian models coherent with biblical revelation. However, this can't be. 

Sure, there may be obvious respects in which models may be similar. And, to a certain point, all puzzlers or believers should have the same pieces or beliefs: the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons; these persons are consubstantial; there is one God. These puzzle pieces are fundamental to the construction of an intelligible puzzle.

But further attempt to harmonize these truths will appeal to a puzzle piece or belief that might have the same edges as the missing spot in the puzzle. Each seems to fit... in a tactile sense. At the moment - and I'll speak for myself - I can't see the whole picture well enough to determine which piece or model is correct. 

I do think, though, there must be a way to determine which model is correct (or if there might even be another similarly edged model I have not yet "grasped"). This is, I admit, just an intuition, perhaps based on that I think I have already grasped several pieces whose edges have seemed to fit the other pieces.

For those who sympathize with this metaphor, "Braille" might refer to any number of things. For my part, I think I need a better understanding of exegetical and metaphysical underpinnings of issues related to Trinitarian discussions. Before I declare a piece is correct, I want more evidence that the Braille message yielded by a given model is intelligible. That means I have to learn more about Braille before I can resolve the puzzle to my satisfaction. 

Another reason I use this illustration, though, is to caution against a rushed interpretation of any script one thinks has formed an intelligible message. Don't get me wrong: the puzzle-piecing process is a good thing. It sharpens our minds and orients us toward good things. In fact, I rather enjoy the puzzle piecing process. That's probably one reason God has set these questions before us as He has - albeit questions which command our caution, attention, and reverence. Conversation we have with other believers helps, as I think it's meant to. 

But we also ought to be faithful in piecing together what parts of the puzzle we can during the time in which we are given - carefully discarding false doctrine as it comes - rather than treating the process as a time-clock scenario in which our salvation depends on our having a completed puzzle. A piece with the wrong bumps is just as false as one with the wrong edges, and the former requires even more care. For while we may be blindfolded in this life, we shall see the truth more clearly in the next. 

The parable of the talents shows how sorry we will be if we are lazy and apathetic towards our Master. This scenario hopefully shows how sorry we will be if we are overzealous.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Necessitarianism and "Eternal Omniscience"

I still intend to give a fuller treatment of necessitarianism to which I have alluded in a couple other posts (link, link). But after recently finding another piece by Gordon Clark that had not yet been made available online (link), I am prompted to briefly mention two points on the subject:

Firstly, I believe the proposed timeline I constructed as to when Clark changed his mind on the issue of necessitarianism has been strengthened. I wrote:

Given the unqualified disparagement, I take the above to be an argument meant against necessitarianism in general as well as against the Stoics in particular. Then, further, the following was written in 1963, when I gather Clark still rejected necessitarianism...
Now, compare the above to later works in which Clark has - for reasons I again will address elsewhere - revised his view and come to accept necessitarianism. The first two citations are from Clark's books The Trinity (originally published in 1985) and The Atonement (originally published in 1987). Clark had finished both as early as 1977 and had hoped would be published as early as 1978 as parts of a larger book - a systematic theology (link). Some time in this timeframe between 1963 and 1977, it seems Clark's views changed.

For if one reads Clark's reply to Daane (whose thoughts, by the way, I am not intending to defend; while researching material on Clark, I stumbled across what I can only charitably describe as a haphazard, unhelpful "review" that Daane wrote against Clark's book on predestination), Clark appears to deny that divine freedom implies contingent truths. Leaving aside Daane's views in his book, note Clark's own position that he defends in the following quotes from his own 1977 book review of Daane:

Though it may at first be difficult to see what Daane meant by freedom, it soon becomes clear that he does not mean freedom from external control. No doubt God is free from external control, but for Daane this is by no means sufficient for the doctrine of God.

What is worse, or at least what is more obviously unscriptural, Daane argues: "In his freedom God decreed. As an unnecessary decree, as a decree that bears the pedigree of the historical, it might not have been" (p. 77). This means, does it not, that the truth, "Judas betrayed Christ," might never have become true? And though Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, historically Jesus might not have been crucified...

One must face the question, being the kind of God he is, could God have decided against Christ's being crucified before the foundation of the world? Presumably Daane says yes. But then Daane's God is not really the God whom the Bible presents. Omniscience makes Daane's God impossible.

On page 162 we read, "God's creation of the world as his free act is not contrary to rationality, but something other than his rationality requires." On the following page he continues: "Either alternative would accord with his nature." But this statement is something neither Daane nor anyone else can possibly know. Admittedly it seems very plausible to most people that God's nature does not require ten planets in the solar system rather than only six. So far as omnipotence is concerned God could have made this system with any number of planets. But though this is so plausible when omnipotence along is considered, the situation is different when we take omniscience into account. Since there is much that is not revealed in Scripture, our ignorance is such that we cannot know that "either alternative accords with his nature." Therefore, unless Daane can support his premise, there is no reason to accept his conclusion.

Clark intimates that because Christ was [decreed to be] slain from the foundation of the world, the eternal decree itself was or is necessitated (which does not follow). Clark then appeals to God's omniscience several times to support his view, as if Daane is on shaky ground for believing God's eternal decree is not necessitated - by anything external, of course, but also not by anything internal to God

For whatever else Daane may have written, I believe he is well supported by Reformed tradition for implicitly distinguishing between God's necessary/natural knowledge and God's free/decretal knowledge. Read, for example, Richard Muller's Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. III, pg. 412ff. It is Clark who needs to elaborate on why he thinks omniscience precludes divine "free knowledge." He may do so in other place, but he did not do so in this article.

The second point I want to mention in this post is about the very motivation for eternal omniscience on a necessitarian view - or rather, the lack thereof. To do that, I will first quote a recent argument I made against necessitarianism:

Consider what it would mean for God and creation to be ontologically distinct yet for the latter to be necessitated by the former. This would be analogous to a particular understanding of the doctrine of eternal generation - which, even if untrue, highlights the point. If the Father necessarily generates the Son, the Father and Son would be mutually dependent upon one another. Obviously, the Son would depend upon the Father, being necessitated by Him. In turn, however, the Father could be who He is ("Father") without a Son.

So, too, a necessitated creation would mean that the Creator and creature are mutually dependent such that God cannot be who He is ("Creator") without a creation. If necessitarianism is true, then God not only needs to create to be Creator, He needs to be Creator. Creation is no longer contingent, so God as Creator isn't a contingent predicate either. Indeed, it's essential or necessary that He be Creator. There is, then, a real dependence on creation in order for one to be able to refer to God as what He essentially and necessarily must be - Creator.

The point needn't be that the Father-Son relationship is exactly the same as the Creator-creature relationship. One could maintain (as I did and do) that the Father and Son are of the same nature, whereas God and creation are not. In both cases, however, necessitation entails mutual dependency, and this is what changed my mind.

[Side note: on a theistic-contingentarian position, God is still the Creator, but such is not essential to who He is. There is no mutual dependency, guarding divine sufficiency. On theistic-necessitarianism, on the other hand, there is no apparent reason why being "Creator" would be any less integral to the essence of God than any commonly regarded divine attribute. Indeed, perhaps this line of reasoning begins to show that Karofsky's reductive monism does follow from necessitarianism (and, hence, why Christians must disagree with Karofsky).]

In short, for a Christian, theistic-necessitarianism is caught on the horns of a dilemma: 1) a pantheistic concession (such as a theistic-Karofskyan necessitarian would make) would salvage the doctrine of divine sufficiency at the expense of the Creator-creature distinction; 2) on the other hand, a concession that there is a mutual dependency between an ontologically distinct Creator and creation would salvage the doctrine of the Creator-creature distinction at the expense of divine sufficiency.

In bold is one argument I would present against Clark's necessitarianism. Now, further notice that because necessitarianism precludes divine sufficiency, there is less motivation to believe God is eternally omniscient.

What I mean by that is this: one reason I reject libertarian accounts of free will would be that I think such accounts preclude divine sufficiency, for God['s knowledge] would then be contingent on His creation. In fact, this was instrumental to my personal attraction to Reformed theology. To protect divine sufficiency, I would argue God's knowledge must be eternal and not contingent on anything external to His own nature and will (i.e. what I call "eternal omniscience" for shorthand).

But if divine sufficiency is denied (as a necessitarian must do to remain relatively consistent), then that is one less reason to believe eternal omniscience. Clark may argue for eternal omniscience on other bases, but significant portions of his book Predestination would have to be revised, such as:

In contrast with Calvinism the Arminian theory of the will may be called the theory of contingency. Or it may be described as the liberty of indifference: That is to say, no motives determine the will. It can choose the weaker motive over the stronger, or, what is more to the point, it can choose without any motive at all. This ability is frequently called the power of contrary choice. Given a set of antecedents, not only external but also internal, the will’s decision could have been the reverse of what it was. A contingent event is one which may or may not happen. It is devoid of certainty, and therefore cannot be foreknown or predicted. Thus the doctrine of free will is a denial of omniscience. (Predestination, Appendix on "Predestination in the Old Testament")

If necessitarianism allows that God necessarily depends on there being a creation to Himself be [Creator], then God is not divinely sufficient, and Clark's above argument is itself insufficient against Arminianism on this point. And while Clark does, in other parts of the book, certainly supports "eternal omniscience" exegetically, if we stop and think about it, rather than it being the case that the traditional Reformed view on divine free knowledge undermines "eternal omniscience," Clark's view undermines it. 

For if God depends on creation to be [Creator], there can be no a priori reason for supposing it is wrong that God's knowledge also depends on creation. Indeed, it would seem that on necessitarianism, God's knowledge "I am Creator" does depend on creation. Thus, it doesn't appear that theistic necessitarianism can be consistent with eternal omniscience. On theistic necessitarianism, divine eternity and divine sufficiency are undermined.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Gordon Clark: James Daane’s The Freedom of God: A Review (Presbyterion)

1977. James Daane’s The Freedom of God: A Review. Presbyterion, 3(1), 37–45.

* Dr. Clark is professor of philosophy, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. He is also an ordained minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

In his book, The Freedom of God, James Daane sets out to discover the reason for so little preaching on election even in Reformed churches. He wonders "whether the pulpit or the doctrine is at fault" (p. 6). His preliminary conclusion is that (1) Reformed theologians have differed among themselves "profoundly and deeply"; Therefore, they have stopped preaching it for the sake of peace. And (2) as the doctrine was more and more refined, "election became unpreachable."

Since Daane begins and ends his book on the theme of preachability, and since through the middle of the book the same theme frequently reappears, it is wise to consider from the outset what the criteria of preachability are. Are the criteria that Daane uses derive from the Scriptures, or are they his own invention, or does he give any criteria at all? Surely if one is going to distinguish doctrines on the basis of preachability, one ought to know what preachability is.

It is immediately clear, however, in the Introduction that Daane considers Turretin, whom he dislikes throughout the book, to have so refined the doctrine of election as to have made it all encompassing but "as bearing no particular relationship to what Paul designates as God's intent." This is rather suspicious for an introduction.

Since the first chapter is entitled "The Sum and Substance of the Gospel," one may expect a statement that includes the main ideas of election. An author writing on a given subject is not bound to list every element of the gospel, but must he not give a fair account of that part of the gospel he has chosen to discuss through the book? This chapter then is taken as a fairly complete account of what Daane means by election. The subject of Peter's sermon at Pentecost, Daane begins, and the burden of all the mockery as Christ hung on the cross was God's election of Jesus. The Jews at the cross "rejected Jesus' claim to divine election." Repeated references to God's election of Jesus follow, for example, "The resurrection was God's elective act, the act that constituted his election of the man, Jesus of Nazareth.... God made him to be both Lord and Christ. This occurred at the resurrection. The election of Jesus is no abstract, timeless, non-historical truth, which the resurrection simply revealed as an eternal truth heretofore concealed. Jesus had to become God's elect (pp. 10, 11). 

Peculiarities emerge in this first chapter. Doubtless in some sense the Father elected or chose the second Person of the Trinity in the covenant of redemption; this was in eternity and was not historical at all. Yet there seems to be nothing in the Bible that speaks of this as election. The Biblical doctrine of election has to do with God's choice of a certain set of people whom he gave to his Son that he might save them. The resurrection was not God's elective act. Jesus had been chosen to be the Messiah long before the crucifixion or the resurrection; he had been chosen before the foundation of the world. Jesus did not become Lord and Christ at the resurrection. He might have become the Messiah at his birth, but he had always been Lord from eternity. The resurrection did precisely what Daane says it did not do, namely, it declared or made clear that Jesus was indeed the Son of God with power.

By substituting the election of Jesus for the election of certain group of sinners, Daane fails to give the sum and substance of the gospel in "The Sum and Substance of the Gospel."

Presumably Daane thinks that his doctrine of election is preachable but that the doctrine of election as regularly held by the Reformed churches is not preachable. In chapter four, "The Gap Between Election and Preaching," he writes: "Election indeed lends itself to lectures and theological reflection; but it appears impossible to preach - except to those identified as elect by some method that preaching itself does not possess.... The Bible does not teach and the pulpit cannot preach an irreversible judgment as an article of faith" (pp. 19-20).

These assertions are hard to digest. Since it is impossible for any evangelist to identify who are the elect in a large and motley assembly, Daane sets an impossible standard to suit himself. But just why it is impossible to preach election to a motley assembly he does not explain. In fact, if the practice of many evangelists is taken into account, it is plainly false that the pulpit cannot preach an irreversible judgment as an article of faith. This is precisely one of the liberal objection to evangelists who preach hell fire.

On the first page of chapter three, "The Sources of the Gap" between election and preaching, he begins a sentence as follows: "If election is for the elect only, whereas the gospel is to be proclaimed to all men..." (p. 34). Not to repeat the point that the preaching of election is not for the elect only, who are identified before the service begins, it should be further added that the separation between election and the gospel is unbiblical. Election is part of the gospel. Paul preached the whole counsel of God. Admittedly different audiences and different times need one theme more than another. We do not on every occasion preach about the Genesis flood, nor do we for years on end preach on the period of the judges. But eventually a faithful ministry will cover all the Biblical material: flood, judges, and predestination too.

The reader, it is true, will find on the same page the statement that "election belongs to the core of the gospel." But this refers to Daane's own idea of election; it does not mean what the Westminster Confession means. Furthermore, Daane shows his dislike for Berkhof, who is rather close to the Westminster doctrine, and he even calls Hoeksema demonic. Yet he admits that their views on election are the standard Reformed position. But when the creeds say that God has foreordained "whatsoever comes to pass" - a phrase for which he expresses dislike several times in the book - he dismisses the creeds as "scholastic" and even as "medieval scholasticism." Now whether the seventeenth century is to be included in the Middle Ages or not, the doctrine of the Westminster Confession is scriptural. The Scripture says, "[God] has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires" (Rom. 9:18).

There are sections in Daane's book that are hard to criticize, not because it is difficult to find something in them to object to, but because the whole is so completely incredible. For example, Daane rejects predestination because it conflicts with history. He seems to assume that only the end event is predestined and not the historical events leading up to the end. "If every event," he says, "is itself destiny, then nothing moves toward a destiny and nothing comes to pass in the historical sense" (p. 44). Predestination does not mean that each event is by itself the final "destiny." It is predestined, but it is not the end of history. As predestined, it is a part of a series of events that advance toward a climax. Therefore, there is no inconsistency between predestination and events coming to pass in an historical sense. How could anyone be confused on such an obvious point? However, seeing this non-existent contradiction in the standard doctrine, Daane tries to avoid it by introducing the "freedom" of God. What he means by divine freedom becomes somewhat clearer as the book continues; but in the early part of his book he is not explicit, for example, "the truth lies in that the freedom of God by which he decided to go historical" (p. 49).

The alleged antithesis between predestination and history seems to be due to the idea that God's decree is single. Reformed theology, in Daane's opinion, not only asserts that God's decree is one, but it even makes this unity a controlling principle. To support this view of Reformed theology, Daane cites Berkhof and (especially, and at length) Francis Turretin. The difficulty in this view is that, according to Daane, man cannot think of God's decree as simple. Bu reason of human finitude we always divide the decree into parts, such as the creation, the fall, and so on. This undermines the Reformed system. Daane argues as follows: "Since God is a simple being [according to the Reformed system]... the divine decree must also be a simple, single act. The decretive act therefore is not composed of individual resolves, separable items, distinguishable moments.... When filtered through human reflection, the single decree is fractured into diverse items..." (p. 52).

The confusion is apparent. God's decree is one act, no doubt, but this one act, this single decreeing, includes the complexity of the divine mind. There are of course diverse items, distinguishable from one another: the flood, the call of Abraham, the anointing of David, and so on. In this sense the decree is manifold. Leibniz would have described it as beautiful because it united the greatest degree of unity. Daane's trouble is a confusion of the act, which is one, with the complexity of its contents. Nor is this diversity the regrettable infirmity of human limitations. Daane writes: "If the single decree is such that the distinctions finite minds inevitably make... do in fact characterize it, a number of things follow. First, election and reprobation, although they appear distinguishable to our finite mind, are in reality indistinguishable.... All created reality and history is one single, undefinable, indistinguishable datum..." (p. 53, 54). But whoever held that God cannot distinguish between Abraham and David, between Peter and Judas? Rather do Reformed theologians assert that these differences are established by God himself. Why a single act of decreeing cannot encompass millions of objects Daane nowhere explains.

Chapter five, "History, Eschatology, and God's Repentance," assures the readers that "the gospel was not always true." The reason for this is Daane's dependence on Aristotle. Aristotle held that truth is the assertion of what is. Events that will occur tomorrow are not real. Therefore a statement that it will rain tomorrow cannot possibly be true until tomorrow. Propositions in the future tense become true when the event in question happens. To this argument is may be replied that the statement, "Only by faith can sinners be justified," is an eternal truth. It was true even before Adam fell. And if a general principle, rather than an historical event, does not satisfy the discerning reader, one may consider the proposition, "Christ died." This is surely a dated, historical event. If we place ourselves in Old Testament times, "Christ will die" was true and was true from eternity, because Christ was crucified from the foundation of the world. Hence, contrary to our author, the gospel has always been true. A further logical difficulty with his position is that if a proposition in the future tense is not true, it cannot be used in a syllogism. But we are all content to say, "If it rains tomorrow, I shall stay home." Christians can also say, "If the gospel is preached throughout the world, some will be saved." This inference would be impossible on Daane's view of truth. What is worse, or at least what is more obviously unscriptural, Daane argues: "In his freedom God decreed. As an unnecessary decree, as a decree that bears the pedigree of the historical, it might not have been" (p. 77). This means, does it not, that the truth, "Judas betrayed Christ," might never have become true? And though Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, historically Jesus might not have been crucified. 

In chapter six, "The Election of Israel," Daane offers a substitute for the Biblical doctrine of individual election to salvation. "The first case of election in the Bible," he says, "is God's election of the nation of Israel (p. 99). No verse is quoted, and one naturally thinks of God's choosing Abraham, selecting him out of the other pagans in Ur and sending him on a long journey. Noah was also selected. How is it then that anyone can say that the first case of election is that of the nation of Israel? It is no wonder that "this light from the Old Testament has largely been ignored by all those ecclesiastical traditions which have formed a doctrine of individual election." We shall continue to ignore this light, for this light is darkness. Daane continues, "By approaching election in the first form in which it was historically actualized, we can protect ourselves against an individualistic distortion of election..." (. 100).

But once again, how can anyone think that the first historical actualization of election was the nation of Israel, when Noah lived many centuries earlier? Of course Daane has heard of Abraham: "In choosing Abraham God does not choose a single individual; his election includes the election of his seed." This does not dispose of the cases of Noah and Enoch, nor does it do justice to the case of Abraham. God did indeed choose the single individual Abraham, and he did not choose the others in Ur. Then further, though he chose Abraham's seed, God did not elect Ishmael, but Isaac only. And in the case of Isaac, God chose the individual Jacob and not the individual Esau.

Of course Israel was the chosen nation. As a nation it preserved the worship of Jehovah and prepared for the Messiah. But the election of the nation to play this role is not the individual election of every member to salvation. The national election is subservient to individual election. Salvation is the main concern. Salvation is the most important point in Genesis 15. Even in Genesis twelve, where nation and seed are explicit, there are altars. To suppose that the blessings mentioned in these verses are merely earthly blessings of a posterity and a nation is to misunderstand the whole matter. If such were the case, why should Christians today be at all interested in Abraham? The most important thing is the election of individuals to eternal salvation. One must reject as untenable the statement: "The Bible knows nothing of an individualistic doctrine of election; it knows only of a divine election that involves both the father and son and his seed.... The Bible knows nothing of an individual election with a direct reference to eternity.... As there are no more individuals like Melchizedek, without father and mother, so there is no individual election that is not also social corporate election" (p. 114).

For one thing, the case of Melchizedek itself disprove the general statement that the Bible knows nothing about individual election. Further, Rahab was individually elected. True, she later joined the nation of Israel, and with her household too; but these later events were dependent on her prior personal election. Then what about the many Gentiles whose fathers were not Christians and whose children were not? Of course these elect persons became members of the organized church. But they are members of the organization because they were individually elected. No one denies that Christians have social responsibilities; but the basis it hat first of all they are Christians. Indeed, one is repelled by Daane's slighting reference to "this narrow interest in the individual's salvation" (p. 116; emphasis supplied).

A previous paragraph indicated that Daane speaks of the freedom of God. This theme becomes more prominent in chapters seven and nine. Though it may at first be difficult to see what Daane meant by freedom, it soon becomes clear that he does not mean freedom from external control. No doubt God is free from external control, but for Daane this is by no means sufficient for the doctrine of God. Therefore, one must consider the following passages: "A God who cannot elect without reprobating nations or individuals is not a free and sovereign God" (p. 127). "It is as erroneous to impose inevitable sequences on God's elective action as it is to condition it on man's choice" (pp. 127-29). "Within decretal theology, God's elective ways are so comprehensively searched out and scrutinized that the very necessity of election and grace is seen as grounded in the rational nature of God" (p. 148).

The first of these quotations can be paraphrased by saying, "A God who cannot toss a coin heads without tails being on the under side is not a free and sovereign God." To elect some only, as the Scriptures plainly teach, is ipso facto not to choose certain others. Would freedom allow God to elect some only and also to elect all? This is a freedom to think irrationally. Is God free to create a stone too heavy for him to lift? The question is constructed of a self-contradiction. It is nonsense. Must we defend the sovereignty of God by ascribing nonsense to him? Similarly, the second passage quoted in the preceding paragraph is an assertion that God is irrational. Whatever logical consequences may be deduced from God's elective action are as inevitable as their premises. The Westminster Confession, to which Daane of course does not subscribe, says that "the whole counsel of God... is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture." Thus the Confession rejects Daane's demand that we accept certain premises and simultaneously repudiate the conclusions validly deduced from them. In the present century many religious persons wish to curb their logic by their faith, as Emil Brunner recommends. They define a triangle as a three-sided plan figure and complain that the Pythagorean theorem is inconsistent with the sovereign freedom of God. Like Kierkegaard they make a belief in contradiction the prerequisite of being a Christian.

Possibly Daane might answer that the above ignores the subject of reprobation. Reprobation, however, is but one instance where an author must choose between rationality and irrationality. The principle of logical consistency admits of no exception. He who offends in one points can equally offend in any other. Nevertheless a mention of reprobation is appropriate.

A dozen times Daane quotes the Canons of Dort to the effect that the decree of election and the decree of reprobation are not accomplished "in the same manner." This is a vague phrase and neither Daane nor the Canons of Dort define it. Whatever may be Daane's esoteric sense of the phrase, it is possible, and even likely, that the men of Dort had something in mind that would not satisfy Daane's intentions. For example, they might have meant that election to salvation is based on the merits of Christ and that reprobation is based on the sins of the person reprobated. This satisfies the phrase "non in the same manner," but not Daane's argument. Therefore, it is not true to say that "the rejection of the 'in the same manner' causes decretal theology no end of trouble" (p. 150). Equally untrue is the following assertion: "Election in biblical thought is never a selection, a taking of this and a rejection of that out of multiple realities." And immediately he confounds his readers by mentioning God's election of Abraham rather than some other person in Ur of Chaldees.

Chapter nine, "The Freedom of God and the Logic of Election," is probably the worst in the book. It is chiefly a diatribe against theologians. "Many distinguished theologians rarely sit in the pew, and even less often occupy the pulpit" (p. 152). What is the evidence for this assertion? Does it apply to the theologians of the Westminster of perhaps of Dort? Even if it did, the argument is a non sequitur. Why must Daane assume that the most careful students of Scripture are the least to be trusted? Daane in particular dislikes Turretin. But to say that he and others who hold that God is rational had their roots in Aristotle is forced; it is also ironical because Daane takes his theory of propositions in the future tense directly from that ancient Peripatetic. Nor can one agree that the name Aristotle have to his God was the Absolute (p. 153). Again, "Aristotle's God was not a person," needs qualification. It does not fit in with Metaphysics, Book Lambda. Aristotle in this place asserts that a human being can for short periods of time experience the same type of thought that God always experiences. This seems to presuppose that God is a personal being who thinks.

To return now to matters more immediately theological, Daane in several ways argues that the decretal theologians asserts a simplicity in the divine decree that allows no distinction between creation and the fall, or the fall and Christ's crucifixion. This strain in Daane's thinking was alluded to before. One asks, which decretal theologian holds that creation cannot be distinguished from the crucifixion?

If now one admits that Daane's historical sense is poor but believes that the logic of the situation supports him, we repeat that there is no reason to deny that a single act of decreeing can include several distinct items. But beyond this repetition a rational critic must maintain that God need not be irrational to be free. "Van Til holds that God is exhaustively rational. He is therefore obliged to make God's will an unfree agent of divine rationality" (p. 157). But this is to say that if God is free, he must be irrational. Anything rational is unfree. So also with Turretin: "God's will [in Turretin] is so identified with his essence that the former [God's will] is not free to will anything but that which the latter demands" (p. 159). In other words, Daane demands that God be free from rationality. This means that God must be insane. A few pages further on (164-70) Daane several times speaks of God's going out of himself. But if God goes out of himself, he must be beside himself, as is proper to an irrational mind.

Admittedly, Daane does not want to call God insane. Indeed he says: "God is rational, not irrational. But this is not to say he is exhaustively rational" (p. 161; emphasis his). He had also just said: "Once God is defined as exhaustively rational, no room is left for his will and freedom." But what can this mean but that some parts of God's mind are irrational. Most of God's mind may be rational, but in the recesses of his will reason does not rule. Then as a sort of punch line, he adds: "God's will is no less definitive of God than is his essence." This and similar phrases surely imply that Daane thinks of God's essence as one thing and his will as something else added to it. Such a concept suggests several questions: (1) is God a compound, or is he a simple being? (2) Is it not of the essence of God to have a will? (3) Is divine psychology a faculty psychology? (4) What is the essence the essence of? Could it not be the essence of his will? Or, to repeat early Reformers, God's will is simply God's willing. The difficulties increase. They are exemplified in Daane's statement: "God is free to exist without a decree as well as without a world" (p. 162). This means that God's freedom consists in his having, or his ability to have, a mind without mental content; he is free to exist without ideas, without knowledge, without purpose. Verbally Daane rejects irrationalism. But either he does not see the implications here put forward or he sees them and denies that they are validly drawn. But whether they are validly drawn or whether they are fallacious is precisely the question every reader must settle for himself. To the present writer, the freedom Daane describes seems to be the freedom of a blank mind. And in opposition to Daane, Turretin, his bete noire, was surely correct when he said that the cross must be for "those reprobates who arranged for Christ's crucifixion... the means of damnation."

One must face the question, being the kind of God he is, could God have decided against Christ's being crucified before the foundation of the world? Presumably Daane says yes. But then Daane's God is not really the God whom the Bible presents. Omniscience makes Daane's God impossible.

On page 162 we read, "God's creation of the world as his free act is not contrary to rationality, but something other than his rationality requires." On the following page he continues: "Either alternative would accord with his nature." But this statement is something neither Daane nor anyone else can possibly know. Admittedly it seems very plausible to most people that God's nature does not require ten planets in the solar system rather than only six. So far as omnipotence is concerned God could have made this system with any number of planets. But though this is so plausible when omnipotence along is considered, the situation is different when we take omniscience into account. Since there is much that is not revealed in Scripture, our ignorance is such that we cannot know that "either alternative accords with his nature." Therefore, unless Daane can support his premise, there is no reason to accept his conclusion.

There is even less reason to accept his conclusion in view of the fact that Daane's arguments are frequently fallacious. He says: "When everything is rational, nothing is distinguishable from anything else. In the darkness of rationalism everything is a cow and all cows are black" (p. 163). This is nonsense. Geometry is as rational as anything anyone can think of; but this does not prevent us from distinguishing a circle from a triable. In fact, it is our rationality that enables us to distinguish respectively the theorems describing their diverse characteristics. And surely rationality does not confuse a school boy's mistake with a formally valid deduction.

There is more bad logic. "In decretal theology... whatever happens is ipso facto what God wills. No purpose runs through the stream of events" (p. 169). To be sure, God decrees whatsoever comes to pass - a phrase Daane detests - but how does this exclude purpose in whatsoever comes to pass? God decrees each event for the purpose of exhibiting his own glory; and in subsidiary details God decreed that Abraham should have no ground for boasting. A further purpose of justification is the sanctification that inevitably follows. Naturally the subject matter of geometry is no teleological; but rationality and syllogisms handle teleological subject matter just as easily. Under given conditions, it is rational to choose one line of action and irrational to choose another. Reason dictates the correct choice. Hence there is no ground for saying that decretal theology excludes purpose.

Daane does not and cannot produce one verse which asserts that a particular event was not foreordained. His rejection of the phrase, "whatsoever comes to pass," is an imposition of an alien philosophy on the Scriptures, and the result is a serious distortion. Nor is there a valid point in repeating that predestination in the Bible is in Christ, as if decretal theology had ever excluded the second Person of the Trinity from the divine decreeing. Is it simply not true to say, "Individual election... is regarded [by decretal theology] as an occurrence outside Jesus Christ.... Individual election occurs outside of Christ because God's decree itself does" (p. 179). On the contrary, the Trinity made the decree, all three Persons; and the Trinity decreed that salvation should take place through Christ's sacrifice. Why should anyone insinuate that decretal theologians ever denied this? Note the men he opposes: Turretin, Benjamin Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, Lorraine Boettner, Louis Berkhof. The mention of these excellent theologians shows that the view Daane opposes is the standard view of the Reformed churches. It is also the view of the Bible.

Gordon Clark: Calvinism and Confusion (The Southern Presbyterian Journal)

1956. Calvinism and Confusion. The Southern Presbyterian Journal, XV (24) 2–3.

An evangelist, several members of a city mission board, and various people in various places have
said to me that faith in Christ must precede regeneration. The evangelist in his sermon told the audience that first they must put their faith in Christ, then they must repent, and then they must be born again.

But this is so confusing. And if the people who hear this type of preaching are not confused, it must be because they do not think about what they hear.

The Bible teaches that man is dead in sin. Before he can do anything spiritual he must be raised from the dead, or, to use another figure of speech, he must be born again. A dead man cannot do anything. Now, since faith is a spiritual activity, pleasing to God, a man must be spiritually alive before he can show the evidences of a spiritual life. That is to say, a sinner must be regenerated and given a new heart before he can believe in Christ. The carnal mind is enmity against God. This Calvinistic message is not confusing. It makes sense and can be understood. But to put the matter in still clearer terms, consider the confusion into which the evangelist throws the doctrine of justification.

Faith is the sole means of justification. This theme was a major part of the Reformation doctrine. Justification by faith was the message that swept away Romish superstition, idolatry and dependence on works. But if faith precedes regeneration, it would be possible for a man to be justified, to be clothed upon with the righteousness of Christ, and therefore to be saved, without being born again. Yet the Scripture very definitely says, Ye must be born again. But of what use would regeneration be, if one is already justified, accepted as guiltless before the throne of God, pronounced righteous - all without being born again? This just does not make sense. It is confusion.

And it is a shame when evangelistic sermons are full of confusion. The message of redemption should be made clear and plain. That is why evangelistic sermons should be strongly Calvinistic.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Gordon Clark: A semi-defense of Francis Schaeffer (Christian Scholar's Review)

1982. A Semi-defense of Francis Schaeffer. Christian Scholars Review. Vol. 11, No. 2. 148-149.

In the Christian Scholar's Review, Vol. X, No. 3 (1981) Dr. Ron Ruegsegger criticizes Francis Schaeffer's philosophy. The article is well researched, well written, and well worth reading. Even so, I find some irrelevancies, one misapprehension, and certain omissions.

The irrelevancies come in the first half of the article. The first half is indeed good, in that it compares Schaeffer's historical and logical remarks with the views of philosophers he opposes. But the method does not seem just. Ruegsegger opposes Schaeffer's interpretation of (for example) Hegel and Kierkegaard on the ground that some recent critics interpret these philosophers differently. The suggestion then is, modestly expressed, that Schaeffer's philosophy suffers therefrom. To argue cogently, however, Ruegsegger would have to show that Schaeffer's interpretation is wrong, and that a recent view is correct. This he does not do.

On page 249 Ruegsegger charges Schaeffer with a logical fallacy. He writes, "Schaeffer frequently defends what he calls the Christian presuppositions against its contradictories, but he seldom argues for it against its contraries." On this point it is the critic who commits the fallacy.

The contradictory of "All dogs have four legs" is "Some dogs do not have four legs." Its contrary is, "No dogs have four legs." Now, being a good Christian presuppositionalist, I wish to defend the true Calvinist position that "All dogs have four legs." To do so, I construct a fine argument in refutation of the thesis "Some dogs do not have four legs." If this latter proposition is false, then the affirmative must be true. But note that if this is what I do, it is not necessary to disprove the contrary also. If the contradictory is false, the contrary must also be false. It is Ruegsegger who falls into the logical blunder with which he charges Schaeffer.

There is another point also. It is similar to the preceding insofar as it charges Schaeffer with missing an alternate view. Schaeffer, when discussing ethics, states that if one abandons Christianity "there are three (and only three) alternatives: hedonism, sociological law, and totalitarianism." The critic insists there are more than three: "utilitarian, intuitionistic, naturalistic, ... and none of these are [sic] reducible to either hedonism, sociological law, or totalitarianism." If the critic will read either Bentham himself, the founder of utilitarianism, or Sidgwick's great work on The Methods of Ethics, he will discover that utilitarianism is based on psychological hedonism, from which is attempts to produce a universal hedonism. 

In connection with Schaeffer's ethics there is another point that his critic objects to. Schaeffer's normative principles are distinctively revelation or biblical; but, complains Ruegsegger, not one of his nine arguments against abortion is biblical. He says "curiously enough" (p. 252), and contrasts Schaeffer's theory with his practice, condemning the latter as "inconsistent." Yet it is not inconsistent," as Ruegsegger almost sees. In opposing secular advocates of abortion and greedy politicians, it is legitimate to use ad hominem arguments. These arguments are legitimate even in geometry. One tries to show inconsistencies in the opponent's position. One tries to point out conclusions, logically drawn from the abortionist's principles but which he either does not like or is afraid to admit in public.

These notes, however, are only a semi-defense of Francis Schaeffer. If I were criticizing him, I should first say that he is not a philosopher at all. To be sure, he discusses certain philosophical problems, but he omits so much that he does not deserve the title. In fact, I rather guess that he admits that he is not a philosopher. His great work lies in other fields, particularly the field of evangelism. And there are others who discuss more of philosophy than he does and still omit a great deal. It is not enough to state that the doctrine of the Trinity solve the one-many problem. One must state what the problem is and show just how the Trinity solves it. It is not enough to assert the trustworthiness of sensory experience in an attempt to avoid skepticism. One must define sensation, prove that there are uninterpreted elements in the mind, show how these can be combined into perceptions, and then develop concepts without assuming, what is factually false, that all men have sensory images. Besides which, one much choose from among Plato's, Aristotle's, and Kant's theories of individuation, or produce a further alternative. Schaeffer is not the only one who omits these essential elements in a philosophy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Clark on Salvation, Sanctification, and Synergism

While writing a review the Appendix to Scripturalism and the Senses, a slightly off-topic comment Mr. Lazar made recalled to mind a similar position staked out by John Robbins. Mr. Lazar writes, "Clark denied an Arminian can 'consistently be assured of his salvation' because they deny divine monergism. Instead, they believe in synergism—that man cooperates (ergism) with (syn) God in salvation" (pg. 162). 

Mr. Lazar provides no relevant citation for this assertion. Instead, what is referenced - and is true - is that Clark denied that Arminians can consistently have assurance due to their affirmation of libertarian free will, freedom which would logically preclude knowledge of whether they may deny the faith in the future. For example:

...if predestination is false, what becomes of our assurance of salvation and the perseverance of the saints? If God has not from all eternity decided to preserve me in grace, do I have any spiritual power in myself to persevere to the end? And if I have such power, would not salvation be achieved through my own efforts and by my own merits, rather than by God's grace? (link)

Clark, of course, rejected libertarian free will. Yet - as I've argued elsewhere (link, link, link, link) Clark also held that synergism - "that man cooperates (ergism) with (syn) God in salvation" - does occur, at least within the salvific context of progressive sanctification. While a proper understanding of such synergy presupposes the predestination of God to preserve us in grace, these two ideas do not conflict. The following eight citations, all written at various times in Clark's life, are evidences of this fact:

When we consider the omnipotence of God, we may wonder why he does not accomplish the work of purification and sanctification in us instantaneously. God could, no doubt, make us perfect all at once, but, none the less, he takes time. Some people chafe under the burden of becoming righteous slowly; they look for some short-cut. If God justifies by faith, they ask, why does he not also sanctify by faith? And because of impatience, a few Christians try to satisfy themselves with a perfection which, though not perfect, is at least apparently attainable all at once. The Scriptures, however, teach something different. We have seen that our members must be instruments of righteousness; in the verse following, (Rom. 6:16ff) we have the illustration of slavery and servitude, which obviously is not an instantaneous act, but a continuous condition of life. The point is stressed in other passages of Scripture. Phil. 2:12, 13 says, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling of course, God works in us; the point to be noted is that it is a work and not a single act. Or we may turn to Gal. 6:5, which says, every man shall bear his own burden. The Christian life, then, has burdens that take time to bear. Or again, in 1 Cor. 3:9, we are laborers together with God. Therefore we should not indulge ourselves in the hope of an easy, instantaneous sanctification, but rather run with patience the race that is set before us. (1945. Romans Six. The Quarryvillian, 1 June, 2, link)
That sanctification is a struggle is plainly stated in Scripture. Romans 7:23 and its context show how Paul struggled. Note that he is here describing his experiences after regeneration. He could not earlier have said, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” The phrase in 2 Corinthians 10:3, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh,” indicates a war. Paul here makes a play of words by using flesh in two different senses First Timothy 1:18 describes Timothy’s sanctification as a good warfare. And in 6:12 Paul urges him to “Fight the good fight of faith.” See also 2 Timothy 2:3.
But the fullest statement that the Christian life is a warfare comes in Ephesians 6:10-17. The whole armor of God is needed to withstand the wiles of the devil; we wrestle against the rulers of darkness; we need a breastplate, a shield, a helmet, and especially a sword. And we need perseverance. 
The theologian today and the man in the pews must recognize that this warfare is conducted in the power of the Spirit. Were not the right man on our side, our striving would be losing. 
But there is a difference between regeneration and sanctification. As to the former, “we are altogether passive therein.” In the latter we struggle. One must not deny either the Spirit’s power or our activity
Certain popular Bible teachers have been so impressed by the power of the Spirit that they deny our need to struggle. When I was a boy, my aunt, previously a missionary to the Mormons, gave me Hannah Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Fortunately I was too young to understand it. Somewhat hypocritically, as it seems to me now, Mrs. Smith wrote in her Preface, “I do not want to change the theological views of a single individual. The truths I have to tell are not theological, but practical” (p. vi). When she adds, “They will fit in with every creed, she is certainly asserting a falsehood.
The Keswick movement, of which I think Mrs. Smith and her husband were a part, used such phrases as “Let go, and let God”; “We must not try to sin”; “Let him do it all.” For example, Mrs. Smith declares, “Man’s part is to trust, and God’s part is to work…. Either we must do it for ourselves, or someone must do it for us… it is something we are unable to do…. Plainly the believer can do nothing but trust…. Surrender and trust… is positively all the man can do We do not do anything, but He does it” (p. 29-31). 
As a dedicated, and many will say extreme, Calvinist, I more than gladly insist on God’s doings. No one understands much of the Bible unless he believes in sovereign predestination. But if God predestinated Calvin to write the Institutes, and if God has predestinated me to write this greatly inferior booklet, it was nonetheless Calvin and it is nonetheless I who must put down the words on paper. Mrs. Smith’s statement, “Either we must do it ourselves, or someone must do it for us,” is in its context a false disjunction. Both Calvin and God did the Institutes. And in an even stricter sense both God and Moses wrote the Pentateuch. They cooperated, and as in all cooperation their precise activities in producing the result were different. God is the source of our abilities and the effective determiner of how we use them. But it is we ourselves who must fight the good fight and run the straight race through God’s grace. (The Holy Spirit, pgs. 46-48) 
But there is a difference between regeneration and sanctification. As to the former “we are altogether passive therein.” In the latter we struggle. One must not deny either the Spirit’s power or our activity. The two of us must cooperate. You see there is no synergism is regeneration, but there is in sanctification. (Audio lecture on Sanctificationlink)
Sanctification is the life process of growing in holiness. And this requires effort (Gal. 5:17; Jas. 4:7; I Pet. 2:11). (The Biblical Expositor: Volume III, pg. 249) 
Not only do destructive critics make such mistakes; many sincere and devout worshippers are also confused. They often say that we are saved by faith alone. This of course is false. We are justified by faith alone; but we are regenerated without any previous faith or works; we are sanctified by faith and works; and we shall be glorified by neither. A closer study of Scripture would help us avoid confusion relative to the several distinct phases of an all-inclusive salvation. (The Pastoral Epistles, pg. 133) 

What then is the object of fear in these verses? To begin with, is it plausible that Paul is warning the Philippians to fear damnation when he himself was confident (1:6 says confident or being persuaded) that God would complete the work he had begun? Notice that in some instances the antonym of fear is pride. Proverbs 23:17 speaks of fear as reverence or submission. Proverbs 28:4 contrasts fear with the hardening of the heart. Hebrews 12:28 speaks of reverence and godly fear. In 1 Peter 1:17 fear is virtually gratitude and awe. Jeremiah 32:40 says, “I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me.” The fear itself is a basis of assurance and confidence. Does this not cover the Arminians with shame?

It must also be noted that salvation has several aspects. Some people say, “I was saved on December 31 at 6:05 p.m.” If the statement is true, it can mean only that they were regenerated at that time. But sanctification and eventually glorification are also parts of salvation. Therefore when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation,” thereby indicating a process, he is referring to sanctification and not to regeneration. Once again this ties in with God’s beginning a work that proceeds go to completion. In this process, as is absolutely not the case in regeneration or justification, we have some work to do. And God works in us, not only to do such work, but beforehand to will such work. (Philippians, pgs. 73-74)

Let us be quite clear on the fact that the Bible does not teach salvation by faith alone. The Bible teaches justification by faith alone. Justification then necessarily is followed by a process of sanctification, and this consists of works which we do. It consists of external actions initiated by internal volitions. We must therefore work out our own salvation; and this in fear and trembling, because we must depend on God. (Predestination, Chapter 6)

An associated group, the World Evangelical Fellowship, has a slightly different creed. One of its phrases is ‘salvation by faith apart from works.’ This surely is not Romish, but neither is it evangelical; for while the Bible definitely teaches justification by faith alone, it also teaches that sanctification, an essential part of salvation, involves a life of good works. See Romans 6. (1958. Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Billy Graham, The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate Vol 92 No 6, June-July: 65-66, 70, 76, link)  

I believe these demonstrate that in Clark's mind (and mine), a proper understanding of "synergism" or co-operation does not entail libertarian free will. That is, contrary to Arminians, "God is the source of our abilities and the effective determiner of how we use them." But, contrary to Mr. Lazar, we are not "altogether passive" in progressive sanctification (as monergism would imply), a phase or aspect of "salvation." In progressive sanctification - indeed, in the normal case of saving faith, a point to which I will return below - we use our own abilities in cooperation with God, having been predestined or determined by Him to use those abilities. 

I am aware of others who admire Clark yet disagreed with him about this. While I think it was a bad idea (for more than one reason), John Robbins, for instance, inserted a rare, editorial rebuke of Clark in the 1987 TrinityFoundation reprint of Predestination, writing:

From here to the end of the paragraph Dr. Clark errs in two ways. First, the Bible emphatically teaches salvation by faith alone: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). “Those by the way side are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). “Who will tell you words, by which you and all your house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). “By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2). “For by grace are you saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). “…it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). “…them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). “God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).

We see in these verses that justification is not an aspect of salvation on a par with other aspects, but is so identified with salvation that the terms are interchanged repeatedly. To be justified – to be declared righteous because of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness – is to be saved. All else – sanctification, good works, glorification – flow from that.

Second, Dr. Clark errs when he says that sanctification “consists of works which we do” and “of external actions initiated by internal volitions” and that “we do the things that produce sanctification.” All these statements are in error. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is not something we do, nor is it the result of something we do. Question 75 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is sanctification?” and answers: “Sanctification is a work of God’s grace….” In the Westminster Confession of Faith, the chapter on Sanctification is separate from and precedes the chapter on Good Works. To show that sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of ourselves, it cites such verses as 1 Corinthians 6:10: “…but you are washed, you are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” John 17:17: “Sanctify them through your truth: Your Word is truth.” Ephesians 5:26: “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly….” Good works neither are sanctification nor do they produce sanctification. Good works are an effect, a result of sanctification by the Spirit.

Dr. Clark knew all this, for in his book Sanctification, he wrote, “Chapter 13 of the Westminster Confession emphasizes the fact that we are sanctified by God, not by our own efforts; an imperfect obedience to the moral law is a result of that sanctification, not the cause of it.” He concludes his book with the words of Christ from John 17: “Sanctify them by your truth. Your Word is truth.” (John Robbins, Predestination, footnote 9 in the chapter on Free Will)

What can be said in reply to Robbins? Personally, I consider the aforementioned citations of Clark sufficient to show what Clark actually believed, why, and why his beliefs are well founded. But a few further comments can be made. To the first of Robbins' criticisms, there can be no question what Clark's view about the meaning of "salvation." As already has been alluded to above and will be highlighted again, Clark believed "salvation" could, depending on a context, refer to related but distinct events or to the broad encompassment of all of these events:

Furthermore, although there is no space here to argue it, justification inevitably issues in sanctification. True grace and true faith never fail in this life to produce good works. Nothing in this article is to be thought to contradict the necessity of preparing for a future life on a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Salvation has several elements, including regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification. But they are different elements. (1973. Concerning Justification. Christianity Today Mar. 16, link

In light of all of this, I can easily conceive of how someone might mistakenly (or deceptively) believe how what I have put in bold in the following quotations could suggest Clark believed that "salvation" is monergistic (ignore the italics for now, to which I will return below): 

It is sad that some Christians – perhaps some even in our own church, do not enthusiastically receive the doctrine of election, for if God did not take the initiative, it is certain that the sinful heart of man never would.

There is a story of an elderly gentleman, a faithful Christian for many long years, who once testified, “I am saved because God and I cooperated; I did my part, and God did His.” The people were astonished at this testimony, as he expected them to be; and after waiting a moment to let the people wonder what he might have contributed to his salvation, he continued, “I resisted, and God did the rest.”

Peter knew that God had taken and had kept the initiative in his case. He was not offended at the notion of election, for he saw in it the source of all his blessings. Therefore he could write to us with joy that “ye are a chosen generation . . . that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We also should rejoice in God’s electing grace. (1947. Elect Unto Obedience, A Sermon Prepared at the General Conference of Quarryville. The Witness Jul: 3-4.)

The Arminian system holds (1) that God elects persons to eternal life on the condition of their reception of grace and their perseverance as foreseen; (2) that Christ died, not as the substitute for certain men, definitely to assume their penalty, but to render a chance of salvation indifferently possible to all men; (3) that all men have the same influence of the Holy Ghost operating on them, so that some are saved because they cooperate, and others are lost because they resist, thus in effect making salvation depend on the will of man; and (4) that since salvation is not made certain by God's decree nor by Christ's sacrifice, and since man's will is free or independent of God's control, a regenerate man can unregenerate himself and ultimately be lost.

In contrast the Calvinist, the Confession, and the Bible teach (1) that election is unconditional and that sovereign grace is irresistible; (2) that Christ offers us a difference, you know; (3) that human cooperation is not the cause of regeneration, which depends on God and not on the will of man; and (4) that the new birth begins an eternal life, i.e. a life that does not end in a year or two. (1955. Assurance. The Southern Presbyterian Journal, Jan. 19)

In contrast with the pope’s claim to be the vicar of Christ, in contrast also with the practice of praying to the Virgin and to saints, the Scriptures place no barrier between man and God. The apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 2:5 says, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Sinful man indeed needs a mediator in order to approach God, but that mediator is the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Any reliance on priests, saints, the Virgin, or the pope constitutes a rejection of Christ. Christ is sufficient for our salvation; he does not need to be helped out. (link)

A hasty glance would perhaps lead one to mistakenly infer that Clark is, at times, inconsistent. For these citations do initially seem to suggest that unlike, say, Arminians or Roman Catholics, a Calvinist should not think that we "cooperate" or "help out" in "salvation." But when we look at the bold quotations in context - specifically, the italicized statements - one should begin to understand that what Clark is actually saying is that man does not cooperate or help out in certain soteric or salvific events. 

The context of the first citation discusses election. The context of the second citation discusses regeneration. The context of the third citation discusses mediation. Strictly speaking, in each of these aspects of salvation, I certainly agree with Clark that there is no synergism. But such does not deny a proper understanding of synergism in other "elements" of salvation or in "salvation" broadly considered as an overarching concept that includes some synergistic elements (like sanctification).

Returning to Robbins' first argument against Clark, then, he strangely cites 2 Thessalonians 2:13 as support for his position (which is contrary to Clark's) that "salvation" and "justification" are interchangeable and equivalent. But read the verse and try to substitute "justification" for "salvation." Would Robbins say that Paul meant, "God has from the beginning chosen you to [justification] through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth"? Does Robbins think justification comes through progressive sanctification? On the contrary, Clark's own commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 aims to show that Robbins is wrong to equate "salvation" with only one event:

Since God is omniscient, which a pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago discreetly but in consistency denied some fifty years ago, since, therefore, all his plans form an inviolable system, his choice has several determinate results. Here Paul mentions two: first, salvation in the form of sanctification; and second, belief in the truth. Common parlance among evangelistically-minded witnesses is usually confused. In witnessing, when one asks a prospect, “Are you saved?” he really means, “Have you been regenerated?” But regeneration is only a part, the initial part, of salvation. Then salvation continues in the form of sanctification; and finally, there is glorification, which comes at death and is to be completed at our resurrection. Here Paul has confined his thought to sanctification and its immediate cause, belief in the truth. (Commentaries on Paul's Epistles, pgs. 319-320)

Perhaps Robbins would object to this as well and argue that in this context, sanctification refers to regeneration. 

Even so, on Robbins' own position, justification and [progressive] sanctification depend on faith, something we do indeed "do" (Acts 16:30-31). God alone indeed declares a man righteous in Christ - and in this sense, justification can be viewed as monergistic. But because justification in turn depends on saving faith, and because saving faith is something we "do," God's monergistic declaration depends on a synergistic cooperation. Of course, having faith is something we can "do" solely by God's grace, but this is besides the point. 

Or to put things another way, we are, as Robbins says, sanctified by the truth, but not by a passive experience of truth. A reprobate can hear truth without it sanctifying him. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 shows that it is our belief in the truth through which we are saved, and actual belief is a volitional activity or act of will, as Clark argued (link). Thus, the point is that even on Robbins' view, a proper understanding of synergistic cooperation is involved in our "salvation" (link). 

Incidentally, I think this admission enables admirers of Clark to revisit his view of the nature of saving faith. Once it is admitted that all sides agree saving faith is an obedience to the gospel - not that it is itself our merit or ground for justification (link) - there is less worry about what additional element (e.g. "trust" or "dependence") saving faith might include besides understanding and assent, so long as said element is also not taken to be merit or ground for justification. But I have attempted this elsewhere (link, link) and will look to reexamine such things in my final review of Mr. Lazar's book.

Finally, then, what of Robbins' last point about what Clark wrote on the last page in his book Sanctification? The following could be read as contradicting what I have noted Clark has said elsewhere about progressive sanctification: 

Dr. Clark knew all this, for in his book Sanctification, he wrote, "Chapter 13 of the Westminster Confession emphasizes the fact that we are sanctified by God, not by our own efforts; an imperfect obedience to the moral law is a result of that sanctification, not the cause of it." (Sanctification, pg. 100)

What is slightly deceptive about this quote is that Robbins does not include Clark's next sentence which rounds out an entire paragraph: "Sanctification begins with regeneration." Robbins really ought to have included this line for transparency, for with this context, I think what Clark says above is easily harmonized with the many statements already cited. For I don't consider Clark to be talking about progressive sanctification at all.

Reread Clark's statement Robbins cites with the context of regeneration in mind: "we are all sanctified" (read: a salvific completed event in the past = "regenerated") "by God, not by our own efforts." Regeneration is, as was already mentioned, monergistic. Further, any "imperfect obedience to the moral law is a result of that sanctification" (read: regeneration), "not the cause of it." We don't obey to become regenerate, we become regenerate by which we can and will then obey. In other words, I would argue that in what Robbins cites, Clark is speaking about regeneration, not progressive sanctification.

If anyone does not find this interpretation of Clark's final page in Sanctification convincing, the coup de grace is that Sanctification was not originally written as a standalone book. Clark initially intended it to be chapter 8 in a systematic theology of sorts (link). 

Why is this important? Because in chapter 7 (appropriately entitled Salvation!) of that same systematic theology to which we now have access - and perhaps Robbins did not at the time when he published Sanctification (1992) - Clark makes statements that support the same, consistent interpretation of him that I have already provided above. In the first section of chapter 7, Clark confirms his position (against Robbins) about the meaning of "salvation":

The title Salvation is doubtless too broad as an accurate indication of this chapter's contents. But it is not so narrow as one of its common usesSome untutored people use the term as a synonym for regeneration. They speak of someone or themselves as being "saved" at a certain time, without having in mind any notion of justification or sanctification. Salvation, however, includes these. It is regeneration plus all the spiritual blessings that succeed upon it. For this reason salvation is incomplete without resurrection and glorification in heaven.

Nevertheless, eschatology with the promise of resurrection, the return of Christ, glorification, heaven, and the penalty of hell too, is such an extensive topic, that though all of it is a part of salvation, it will be reserved for the final chapter. The main topics here are Regeneration, Faith, Justification, and Sanctification. This is already too much for one chapter, and to alleviate the length there will be a division into parts... 

That Clark believed salvation includes justification, sanctification, et al. should be obvious by now. But note what Clark means by the last paragraph. Remembering that this is chapter 7 of a larger systematic theology, and taking note of what is outlined in the table of contents for this systematic theology, Clark is saying that in the rest of this chapter on Salvation, he will discuss regeneration, saving faith, and justification. He will reserve comment on sanctification and eschatology for following chapters, because it would be too much material to include in this chapter. 

Thus, Sanctification, chapter 8, will follow what else Clark says in this chapter. Anything in chapter 8 - that is to say, any inference that Robbins or anyone else makes from Clark's statements in Sanctification, the book published by the TrinityFoundation in 1992 - really ought to be agree with what Clark writes in chapter 7. But in chapter 7, Clark repeatedly says that [progressive] sanctification involves [a proper understanding of] synergy between God and man: 

At this point, between regeneration and faith, it is appropriate to insert a paragraph or two on the idea of grace. Not that such paragraphs will contain much more than what has already been said, or at least implied, for the material on regeneration is particularly clear on the point that it is God's work, not ours. Of course, after regeneration there comes a process of sanctification, to be considered in the next chapter, in which process there is ample room for our good works. But even so, we depend on grace to accomplish them…

What the Romanists call justification most assuredly depends partly on works; but what they call justification is not what the Bible means by the term. Their use of the term is essentially the equivalent of sanctification. Of course this requires good works

God is judged, and pronounced just. God is not made just; he is pronounced or acknowledged to be just. The fourth verse, "By the works of the law no flesh shall be justified," supports the same conclusion because the works of the law are essential to sanctification

Regeneration produces (subjective effects, particularly faith) and sanctification inevitably follows justification. An alleged faith that results in no good works is not saving faith at all. (link)

Clark says that of course sanctification most assuredly depends partly on good works. I can't imagine how he could be more plain or blunt. Can anyone seriously think that Clark wrote the above statements but then, only one chapter later, contradicted himself by actually meaning to suggest that progressive sanctification does not include human effort or obedience... especially given that this would also contradict what he says everywhere else? Or does it not make more sense that Clark was specifically referring to the beginning of sanctification - i.e. regeneration - as he himself mentions in context?

To conclude this post, one might disagree with Clark. I happen to think Clark's position protects against antinomianism, of which I find Mr. Lazar and Robbins in danger of admitting. But an accurate understanding of Clark's view is a precondition for approval or disagreement. That is what I have been concerned to straighten out by this post and hope to have done.