Sunday, November 20, 2016

Emil Brunner on Providence, Determinism and Permission

Here is an excerpt from Reformed Theologian Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, Volume 2, from Chapter 6, “Of Providence, Preservation and God’s Government of the World”, where Dr Brunner addresses the determinist view held by Zwingli and Calvin, and suggests instead the more Arminian approach (without calling it that) of divine permission. The whole book (along with the other volumes) is available online from here. This excerpt comes from pages 170 & 171-173 (bold mine, italics in original):

If all that happens is determined by the will of God, how can human freedom be possible? If all that happens is determined by the will of God, then, confronted by the actual course of this world, how can we possibly call God a God of Justice and of Love? These are the two questions which inevitably arise, whenever we try to teach the truth of Divine Providence. Now let us turn to the first of these two questions.

As there is a "determinism from below" so also there is a "determinism from above". The former view denies human freedom from the point of view of the assertion of a causal natural order of all that happens. [...] this determinism amounts to a mechanistic view of the universe. [...] It is, of course, obvious that this determinism is opposed to the truth of revelation, given to faith.  
But there is also a "determinism from above", which declares that human freedom is an illusion, because all that happens, even human action, is due to divine Providence. Only a few Christian thinkers, like Zwingli, for instance, have dared to draw this conclusion from their view of Providence. Where this takes place, God also becomes the cause of Sin, as Zwingli openly admits. "One and the same crime, for instance, murder or adultery, in so far as God has caused, moved, and urged to it, is no crime at all; in so far, however, as it is due to man it is a crime; for the former is not bound by the Law but the latter is judged by the law". But if God incites the robber to commit robbery, "is he not then forced to do it? I admit he is forced, but in order that he may be executed" (De Providentia, Ch. 2).  
Calvin is less logical; although like Zwingli he conceives Providence as the absolute determination of all that happens, he tries to escape from the final conclusions, that even sin is inevitable and God becomes the Origin of Sin and Evil. Such an assertion seems to him — very naturally — to be blasphemy. Only we cannot see how he can avoid drawing this conclusion, save by a forcible act of will which refuses to admit a logical conclusion. Of course, Calvin cannot be aided by the notion that here we are speaking of a necessary or inevitable paradox. A genuine paradox only exists where there is a real contradiction between two necessary ideas. But in Calvin's thought this is not the case. For him the only thought that is necessary is that of the truth that all that happens is determined by God; he is not concerned with the thought of human freedom and responsibility. At least, where Calvin develops the idea of Providence he does not treat this second conception as one which has final and equal necessity. Calvin denies human freedom, but he also maintains full human responsibility, while at the same time he asserts that God alone determines all that happens, without, however, ascribing to Him the origin of evil. This is the element in Calvin's thought which is so unsatisfactory, not to say painful and dishonest. He does not admit for a moment that there is an insoluble dilemma here, a paradoxical statement which cannot be regarded as free from contradictions, a statement which includes within itself two opposed assertions, but he proceeds as though everything were in order, while actually he is flying in the face of logic.  
This raises the question: ought we perhaps to conceive the idea of Providence in another way? or must we come to terms, somehow or other, with this paradox, to be clearly formulated as such? The first answer is given by those — and in the long history of the controversy on this question in theology these are by far the most numerous— who make a distinction between divine determination and divine foreknowledge. God does not do everything that happens, but He knows it all beforehand. But does not such foreknowledge of an action in which God has no share seriously menace the idea of the Omnipotence of God? in order to avoid this a third idea has to be brought into play: that of divine permission. God does not will, nor does He cause the "Fall of Adam"; the rebellion of man, and all that flows from this; but, on the other hand, not merely does He foresee without being able to alter the course of events, but the very fact that He foresees it means that He leaves room for it to happen.  
Our first question cannot be: which of these intellectual solutions is logically or metaphysically the most satisfactory? Rather, in accordance with our dogmatic canon we can only ask: What does revelation teach us more exactly about Providence? Here, first of all, we must remind ourselves of what was said earlier about the Omnipotence and the Omniscience of God. The God of revelation is indeed not the potestas absoluta of speculation, but the God who limits Himself, in order to create room for the creature. God wills to have a real "counterpart". God creates a creature, since He limits His absoluteness. The two ideas, Creation and self-limitation, are correlative. Anyone who has taken the first idea seriously has already conceived the second. It is not that the second is a result of the first, but the second is the same as the first, only it is seen from the opposite end. The idea of the divine self-limitation is included in that of the creation of a world which is not God, and in so doing the idea of potestas absoluta or of omni-causality has been given up.  
This whole question of the independence of the creature, has, however, real religious significance only in view of human freedom. God wills and creates free creatures because He desires communion, not unity. He wills to be worshipped in freedom. This is the only sense in which Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Providence are conceived within the sphere of the Christian Faith.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"evangelical Calvinism" and TF Torrance, "Predestination in Christ"

Here are a few short quotes from “evangelical Calvinist” Theologian TF Torrance, from his article “Predestination in Christ” (The Evangelical Quarterly 13.2 (April 1941): 108-141), where he challenges the traditional Calvinist (deterministic) understanding of predestination, grace and Romans 9-11 (bold mine): 

It is with this point that a doctrine of predestination must start: In Christo. Nor must it ever be allowed to trespass those bounds. There is no higher will in God than Grace. (p 110) 
Now in Christo certainly means that. And it is only when a doctrine of predestination becomes disengaged from Christ, that it becomes abstract and savours of determinism. But this abstraction cannot be allowed--that is to say, the separation between Grace and the divine decree of election. There is an absolute bond between God and His Word. God is always Subject! Predestination, therefore, far from being anything impersonal, is supremely personal, supremely so, because in Christ the Word. That God has come to us in that way, through Christ, means the acute personalization of all God’s dealings with men, election and damnation not excluded. But that is the difficulty, for in Christ God comes too near, and sinful men are not able or willing to bear the pressure and weight of a personal God--it is far easier to keep things more abstract, and so to keep God at a distance. But such impersonal relations with God mean in the end some form of determinism. That is why determinism is always cropping up in Christian theology, because the dialectic of the sinner yields determinism. Over against all this, Christian faith must cling to the fact that God encounters us personally in Christ through the Word. Just because he comes to us with and through the Word, it means that He has come not to manipulate human beings, but to bring them to decision. God has not come to elect stocks and stones but to elect human beings and to do it in such a way that He brings their whole beings under the sovereignty of His Word, that He makes them responsible, and so for the first time truly personal. (112) 
Some commentators and theologians are apt to accuse the Scriptures themselves of determinism, and in particular the famous passage of St. Paul in Romans ix. But this is a fundamental mistake. Determinism is as foreign to both the Old and the New Testaments as is abstract thought. The difficulty with the New Testament is that people are apt to read it with Greek eyes, as it is written in Greek. It is a welcome fact that not a few modern New Testament scholars who are at the same time good Hebraists, have scouted this tendancy, while from the Jewish side scholars have repudiated the validity of drawing parallels between St. Paul or Hebrews, for example, and Hellenistic Judaism. There can be no doubt about the fact that determinism is quite impossible for classical Hebrew; it is completely foreign to the whole Hebrew mind. That is a point we Westerners do not readily understand because our language and thought is steeped in a powerful Greek tradition of impersonalization. It is small wonder therefore when theologians misunderstand the New Testament in this regard. [...] Without doubt, as much as anything else, it is the study of the Old Testament that keeps the thought of predestination healthy. The lapse into determinism is only possible with the employment of abstract categories of thought, such as cause, force, etc. (113-114). 
Here we must be quite clear about the fact that predestination is not just the religious form of determinism. It has nothing whatsoever to do with it.  It has to do with Grace, the Love of God as related to the divine aseity. And that is the way St. Paul understands it in Romans ix. 11-13. A careful reading of the context from Chapter IX to Chapter XI makes that quite clear. There St. Paul is at pains to point out that Grace is free to all.  
The Scriptures lend no countenance to a Jones-Smith theory of predestination, in which one is damned and the other elected simpliciter. (114-115)
Apparently the Reformers often failed to see that the Grace of God is as comprehensive extensively as it is intensively. They all agree that Grace cannot be granted because of merit, but it is only in fact granted to demerit. The Holy Spirit has no predilections in regard to merit--but that is true extensively as well. The Holy Spirit has no predilections in regard to who are to be damned and who are to be elected, not even in the Arcanum Consilium! Predilection in regard to particular individuals is only apparent--judged on the basis of cause and effect--when one is taken and the other left. No such thought occurs to St. Paul in Romans--it is a cardinal principle with Him that Christ died for all, and that Grace extends freely to every man. (115)
To return to more concrete language, the personal encounter of Christ with forgiveness on His lips, singles out a man (cf. all the miracles), and gives him freedom to say “yes” or “no”. It must not be thought that this freedom is such that it can be pocketed; freedom is only possible face to face with Jesus Christthe mystery isand this we shall never fathomthat such a man may commit the sin of Adam all over again. He may usurp that freedom, try to pocket itbut this usurped freedom becomes his very sin, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. He becomes hardened. (123-124)
The Salvation of Christ free to all is given to man, but its very giving in forgiveness, brings sin to book, brings judgment, though just because it brings pardon. But that is the difficulty: the Offence of the Cross. Christ Himself is the stumbling-block. “Only when we are confronted by Him is there the possibility of being ‘offended’. For there is no Other Who can force men to come to a decision about Him when they are confronted by Him. The Person about Whom it is imperative that we should make a decision, for or against faith, is the Mediator, the One before Whom, in Whom, we decide before God and in the presence of God.” [Brunner, The Mediator, p 341] That is why the possibility of election means the possibility of rejection, because the possibility of faith means also the possibility of being offended. When we are brought face to face with decision in this encounter, and answer No or disobey--and God does not allow us to be neutral--then we choose damnation in the second place, that is the Cross of Christ is our judgment only and not our salvation. When we answer Yes or obey, then we learn that Christ has already answered for us! We are chosen already in Christ. We must say that both election and damnation are in Christ--man cannot damn himself any more than he can elect himself. What constitutes his disobedience damnation is the Cross itself. God's reaction against sin there receives its full weight, and when the sinner repudiates the Cross, he comes under the full weight of the judgment of God. In point of fact man probably never or only very rarely deliberately repudiates the Cross--he evades it and keeps on evading it until it is too late, but it amounts to the same thing in the end. (126)

The full article is available online here.  

These last two quotes were also included (at least in part) in the book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (edited by Myk Habets & Bobby Grow - Google Preview), which I have just begun reading.

Note, however, that by “evangelical Calvinism”, these authors are referring to a particular Scottish strand of Reformed Theology which, as you can see, is quite different from the typical New Calvinism (with its TULIP emphasis) from which we so commonly hear.  Dr Olson, in his review of the book, writes:
So-called evangelical Calvinism, as represented by this book’s editors and authors, is a breath of fresh air that will probably be dismissed as revisionist by the die-hards among the high federal, TULIP Calvinists. 
According to this book’s editors and authors, Calvinism comes in several flavors and theirs, evangelical Calvinism, has been handed down primarily by Scottish chefs. As mentioned, the two main ones are the Torrances. Many other names are mentioned, but I won’t go into all of them. Suffice it to say that this flavor of Calvinism has a Barthian taste but is not limited to Barth or the “Barthians.”

In Evangelical Calvinism, Myk Habets writes: 
It is well known that the Torrance brothers, Thomas and James, are outspoken against Calvinism after Calvin, what Torrance variously describes as "federal Calvinism," "hyper-Calvinism," "Bezan Calvinism," "scholastic Calvinism," and "Westminister Calvinism." All such Calvinisms as Torrance styles them present a federal scheme of salvation, a moralising of the Christian life, the intellectualising of faith, a logicalising of theology, and an overly forensic notion of election and justification in which faith and assurance tend to be torn apart from each other. Torrance considers his own position to be an "evangelical Calvinism." (p 184)

(Note, however, that Myk later says that Torrance rejects "the Arminian position that humans are in a neutral position and respond to the Gospel from free-will" (187)--this is an incorrect characterization of Arminianism and, though I have not read a lot of Torrance, in what I have read he does not name "Arminianism" either. Rather, Torrance writes more generally about the incorrect "belief in a free-will that somehow occupies a neutral position" ("Predestination in Christ", p 115, and in endnote 33, adds, "this was one of the major contentions of Luther against Erasmus"); this is not the position held by any Arminian scholar I have read.)

Dr Roger Olson also points out, referring to Torrance's view as shown in the quote from p 123-124, above:
How is this different from classical, evangelical Arminianism? I don’t see that it is different at all. It is only different from a distorted image of Arminianism.  
Am I saying that evangelical Arminianism and evangelical Calvinism are identical? No. But, then, there are varieties of evangelical Arminianism, too. There are so-called "Reformed Arminians" and there are Wesleyan Arminians.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dr Greg Boyd on Romans 9 and leaving Calvinism

Below is the video of Dr Greg Boyd's excellent sermon on Romans 9. The downloads for this sermon are available on the Woodland Hills Church website here.

He begins addressing Romans 9 at around 5:56 of the video, and at about 15:45 he shares his own testimony of how he left Calvinism.

Also see Dr Boyd's blog post: "How do you Respond to Romans 9?".

For more testimonies:

There are a number of testimonies from other former Calvinists I have come across and shared on this blog.  Here are the links to some those posts:

Related Posts:

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