Friday, July 2

Embracing the Paradox

Part 1 of who-knows-how-many posts in response to the comments on Monergistic Regeneration

Interesting and thoughtful comments deserve responses, and that's what I plan to do, starting with this post. I plan to respond to the comment from William Meisheid, of Beyond the Rim, regarding Hebrews 6, but I'm not going to take that one on just yet. It'll get its own post later, when I get time to put it all together. I haven't written at all on the subject before (although I do have an already-formed opinion), so I just can't wing it like I'm going to try to do with the rest of the comments. I'll be getting to that one as soon as I can, but it might not be until sometime next week, since my oldest daughter is visiting us for a week, and that's keeping me pretty busy with family stuff. In the meantime, however, Texas Bill Lueg has responded to William's comment on his own blog, Minas Tirith.

So, here goes. Starting off with this comment from Charlie, of Another Think:

Both Calvin and Zwingli insisted in such a pure monergism (and a complete absence of human autonomy) that God became responsible not only for salvation, but for sin, evil, and every action of men and women which go against the nature of God.

I'm not qualified to comment on what Zwingli, but I do know enough about what Calvin wrote to comment on that. But first, allow me some hairsplitting, okay? Autonomy, as theologically defined, means complete self-determinism, something neither--or any--of the systems give to human beings. If anything impinges on our ability to do exactly as we please, then we are not autonomous. That's why we usually speak of free will or free agency in these discussions, because both of those things, as defined theologically (and those definitions differ depending on who you read), allow for some restraint on human ability to self-determine. Calvin, then, would argue for freedom of choice within human beings, but that freedom is limited by both internal and external factors.

As to the suggestion that Calvin insists on pure monergism, I'm pretty sure that's not the case. It seems to me that Calvin is fairly clearly a compatablist. He did believe (as I do) in monergistic regeneration, but he also believed that human beings make real choices for which they are rightly held responsible, and that this is not incompatible with God being sovereignly in control of everything. Repentence, then, would be a synergistic act. So, too, is sanctification. God works in them, but so do we.

I'm guessing that the statement about Calvin making God responsible for sin, evil, etc. comes from his belief that the fall (and other sins) are decreed by God. He did believe the fall was decreed, but he believed it was decreed by way of permission, and all three Calvinistic systems of the decrees agree on this. Believe it or not, so does the non-Calvinistic system of decrees. They all make very similar statements about the decree for the fall. Each one has God decreeing the fall (and sin), which, of course, means that the fall was certain to happen, but each system also has the fall occuring by way of God's allowance rather than His direct action. In other words, God decreed the fall, but He didn't work it. The action of the fall comes from man alone, not God.

In addition, God is not the agent in any evil act whatsoever, although all evil acts that occur exist in his plan for history. They, too, are brought about by God's permission, not his direct agency.

More from Charlie:

This is a well-known conundrum, and one of the primary reasons why non-Calvinists like me find Calvinism unappealing. It could be true, of course...

I'm glad you acknowledge that what we find unappealing may still be true. Good for you! What matters really, is what scripture teaches us, not how pleasant we find it. And of course, we might expect to find lots of true things unappealing, especially if they shed a bad light on us, or toy with our idea of what we think God ought to be or do.

And it is indeed a conundrum, but I think it's a conundrum that every system except open theism has, so getting rid of the conundrum is not the answer. Unless you have a God who doesn't know what choices men will make until they make them, you have a God who knew when He created that Adam would fall, and that all of creation would be cursed as a result; and this God, who is wise enough and powerful enough to have prevented that from happening, for one reason or another, chose to knowingly permit the fall and all the mayhem that resulted. If you talk to a particular open-theist author that I know, he will tell you that the unappealing nature of this conundrum that exists even in the non-Calvinist system was the driving force behind the search that led him to embrace open-theism. So we all, unless we chose to wander over into the heresy of open theism, must embrace some paradox in this matter. (As an aside, let me say that I think open theism has it's paradoxes too--it might even have straight up contradictions within it--but these paradoxes and/or contradictions are not on this particular matter.)

Since we can't avoid the paradox without jumping over the fence that defines orthodoxy, what matters is not that there is paradox in our system but that the paradox we embrace is the paradox that fits with what is taught in scripture.
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