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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Grace Revealed: Total Depravity

It all starts here. Honestly, in retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't get this part right away. After all, I believe it is related to what may be the most significant worldview difference between conservatives and liberals. That worldview difference? The nature of man. I, and conservatives in general, believe that people are naturally lazy and selfish. Liberals think people are basically good. Fortunately for me, social science and the Bible back me up.

You disagree? Consider these: The Killing Fields. The Gulags. The Holocaust. The torture of American POWs in Viet Nam. The rack. Chinese water torture. Do those sound like the actions of basically good people? Germany was a bastion of liberal Christianity just prior to the Nazi takeover. That wasn't an isolated few - it was the refusal of the many to oppose the bad - lazy and selfish. Just like me.

If we are basically good, why in the world do we need laws with associated punishments? Why do I need to hammer one of my employees before the rest do their jobs as instructed? Because people are bad in nature.

However, the doctrine of Total Depravity does not merely state that men are basically bad - it states that men are ENTIRELY bad. So bad, in fact, that they are incapable of performing a truly good act. While I would not deny that acts that appear good are certainly capable of being performed, the measure of whether an act is truly good is measured not just by the act, but by the motivation.

Any one who has had the (unpleasant) opportunity to study social psychology have seen that the unabashedly secular who study the behavior of men have come to the very same conclusion. Social psychologists hold that there are no altruisitc acts, and that all acts are motivated by a sense of gain for the individual - whether external or internal. The Bible concurs:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Jer 13:23

They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalms 14:1-3

heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned Romans 5:12

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Eph 2:1-3

Thus, man is by nature a sinner and unable to do any good on his own. Considering that the requirement for entrance into the kingdom, absent Christ, was perfection (Matthew 5:20, 5:48), no one could enter the kingdom of God and all were, instead, condemned to eternal damnation, where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched (Matt. 9:44,46,48).

How then could a man be saved? So asked the disciples, and Christ told them what the answer was - with men salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt. 9:26, Mk. 10:27, Lk. 18:27). Thus I shall describe the method of salvation in the next post, Unconditional Election.

32 Comments:

  • I agree, completely. The entire premise for developing a political philosophy is based on the nature of man. Afterall, if man is essentially good, than he/she must have had external forces that have prevented him or her from reaching goals or conducting themselves in an appropriate manner in life. Therefore, the external forces are to blame, not the fact that man is sinful by nature, and they must find salvation in order to be whole.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/16/2006 05:06:00 PM  

  • I also agree - the basic position of humanity is that we are broken, fallen beings.

    I think, though, that you've stated the doctrine of total depravity in an unusual way. It's not that we are as depraved as possible (which is the impression you gave). Rather, it's that no part of our being escapes being depraved. So, we are not totally evil beings with no slightest flicker of goodness; but no part of us is free of corruption.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/16/2006 06:26:00 PM  

  • I think you are on to something that is basically good. Is what you are doing for the love of your neighbor? As a Christian, join me to create a miracle in the cities.
    See http://truepowergiving.blogspot.com/

    By Blogger Tom, at 3/17/2006 06:57:00 AM  

  • John wrote: ”So, we are not totally evil beings with no slightest flicker of goodness; but no part of us is free of corruption.”

    In a Biblical context, “goodness” is synonymous with righteousness (perfection) and evil is synonymous with imperfection, relative to God’s holiness. In light of that, Hammer’s conclusion is spot-on: ”…the requirement for entrance into the kingdom, absent Christ, was perfection (Matthew 5:20, 5:48), no one could enter the kingdom of God and all were, instead, condemned to eternal damnation…”

    Ultimately, the good/bad distinction must be understood Biblically. This concept is completely foreign to the unregenerate, which profoundly affects evangelism. That is: effective evangelism is less a matter of peer-to-peer persuasion and more a matter of simply disseminating the gospel; the Holy Spirit alone quickens the comatose spirit of the elect (I hope I didn’t preempt the next post).

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/17/2006 09:12:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    My main problem with what you wrote is that goodness/evilness is not a binary either/or position. There are shades of grey. And while grey is not the colour we seek, it is there nonetheless.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/18/2006 03:39:00 AM  

  • John,
    There are “shades of grey” from a human perspective, but God doesn’t grade on a curve. Christ’s perfection is the gold standard.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/18/2006 09:26:00 AM  

  • Much agreed, Robert. Especially in light of how I view liberal Christianity today. Faith based on works alone, and ensuring everyone leaves church feeling good about themselves and not necessarily convicted morally, is definitely within the grey area that you spoke of, John. It shouldn't be the duty of evangelism to impart the touchy-feely and feel-good Christianity that is hollow, and still leaves one searching for the conviction and truth of a black and white Bible.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/18/2006 10:43:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    But God only judges at the last - when we're living, we are not yet judged. And when we are living, our fate is not yet sealed. We live in a world of greys and although we cannot escape without God, there are differences between those who truly approach evil and those who are merely bad, even those who are almost good.

    True, Christ's perfection is the standard but none of us (not Christians or non-Christians) actually attains this standard Even the regenerate are imperfect (if you like that language). Even for the saint, sin and evil remain companions. So, as I said, "total depravity" speaks not of our being as evil as we could possibly be but of our every part being tainted by evil. That taint may be greater or lesser in different parts and in different people, but it is always present. And it will remain present until all is made new.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/18/2006 05:22:00 PM  

  • Andrea,
    I've never heard of anyone believing that faith is based on works alone. There are people who maintain that faith without works is dead, but that's quite different. The job of evangelism is not to impart any particular emotion at all, but to communicate the living God.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/18/2006 05:23:00 PM  

  • John,
    Our positions are not that far apart here. Indeed, I think that we both agree with Paul, who wrote: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7:19). However, Paul was also inspired to write: “…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Therefore, the actions of all humans are expressly directed by God.

    ”God only judges at the last - when we're living, we are not yet judged. And when we are living, our fate is not yet sealed.”

    This is simply not the case. While it is true that the Judgment Seat of Christ (and the Great White Throne Judgment?) is the final judgment, God judges (or rather, is ever-mindful of) the hearts and thought of every individual. Moreover, Christ himself said: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) In other words, we’re instructed to “call a spade a spade”, as long as our judgments are objective.

    Lastly, Scripture is abundantly clear about “fate”. For example: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal…” (I Kings 19:18), “For the Lord of Hosts will make a determined end in the midst of all the land” (Isaiah 10:23), “…I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those people who were not my people, ”You are My people!”…” (Hosea 2:23), Romans 8:29-30, Romans 9 (the entire chapter) Ephesians 1:11 and so on.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/19/2006 11:22:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    "Therefore, the actions of all humans are expressly directed by God."

    So you would assert that God expressly directs all the evil acts in the world? That makes God the direct cause of evil. (Using language like "expressly direct" means that we have moved from permission to compulsion, and from general plans to specific actions.)

    I fully respect the desire to maintain God's sovereignty over Creation but that desire must not lead us to make statements that misrepresent God's relationship to the Creation. And, I believe, to assert that God directly wills and commands evil acts is in contradiction to the God revealed in Christ Jesus.

    There is a balance in the Bible between the belief that God rules Creation and that all will work out according to God's plan, and the belief that we truly possess the gift of free will, that we are capable of and responsible for our own actions. To allow either side of this balance to gain too much importance is to upset the balance of Scripture. And saying (as you appear to be doing) either that free will is an illusion or that "free will" merely means that God will punish us for carrying out God's commands is to have placed too much importance on the "control" side of the equation.

    The Bible is clear that God rules the Creation, but is also clear that we are free creatures able to reject or accept God; that we require God's own help for our salvation does not negate the fact that we are involved, too. To assert that we are not involved at all means that God either chooses arbitrarily (because it's nothing to do with us) or that God specifically created a great many human beings (whom we are told that God loves) in order to condemn them to hell - a position I find totally incompatible with the example shown by Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God.


    When it comes to a discussion of judgement, you're blurring two quite different concepts. The first is judgement - the declaration that someone is going to heaven or hell. This happens once and once only, when our lives are over and we stand before God's judgement seat. The second is what you called "mindfulness" - the observation of someone's current place and direction in the journey. Mindfulness contains criticism as well as love; God has not abandoned us, even before we are saved. Rather, God does not want anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    The distinction is made clear in that "mindfulness" carries no consequences for us. If we choose to (for those who know God), we can listen to God to learn how we should change and grow. But, if we do not or cannot listen, nothing happens until we finally stand before that judgement seat. Only then does the judgement become decisive and final.

    Calling a spade a spade is all well and good. But we are specifically instructed not to judge another's servant!

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/19/2006 01:36:00 PM  

  • I have indeed heard of people believing works alone will gain them salvation. Many a "modern Christian" believes that Jesus was merely a teacher of good behavior, and high moral conduct, and that His words of conviction were left for loose interpretation. Think liberal here! How many Christians believe that the Bible is not black and white in its truths and commandments? We are unable to attain holiness through works alone, yet man-both Christian and non-Christian, often fail to understand that without complete surrender to Him, we are completely lost and completely evil. Becoming a Christian is the act of confession that no matter how hard we work towards perfection, it is unattainable and worthless without Him.

    By Blogger Rightthinker, at 3/19/2006 02:54:00 PM  

  • John,
    Yes, an ultimate, final judgment is yet to be handed down; but that in no way means that God is unaware of the verdict. This directly relates to so-called “free will”. You claim that “we truly possess the gift of free will” and caution that ”To allow either side of this balance to gain too much importance is to upset the balance of Scripture.” Can you provide Scriptural support (in context) for that assertion? I would argue no such support exists.

    To assert that we are not involved at all means that God either chooses arbitrarily (because it's nothing to do with us) or that God specifically created a great many human beings (whom we are told that God loves) in order to condemn them to hell - a position I find totally incompatible with the example shown by Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God.

    I alluded to this in my last comment, but I’ll be more specific now: Romans 9 in general and verses 6-24 in particular. For instance: v. 8 “…those who are children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” and v.13 “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” and v. 21 “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (honor refers to containers for drinkable liquid, whereas dishonor refers to containers for excrement…vs. 22-24 explain this further).

    So you would assert that God expressly directs all the evil acts in the world? That makes God the direct cause of evil. (Using language like "expressly direct" means that we have moved from permission to compulsion, and from general plans to specific actions.)

    I chose my words carefully and I meant exactly what I wrote. These are not my own ideas, but rather ideas that are clearly articulated in Holy Scripture. Two examples immediately come to mind:

    1. Isaiah 45:6-7 “That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.”

    2. The entire book of Job and particularly 1:8 “Then the Lord said to Satan, have you considered my servant Job…?

    Now, from the previous two examples, it’s quite clear that God uses both good and evil to accomplish his eternal plan. Moreover, all things (every human action, Satan’s agenda, the outcome of elections, genocide, war, Christ’s crucifixion, etc, etc.) were God’s idea before energy or the first sub-atomic particles were even created.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/19/2006 03:23:00 PM  

  • I, and conservatives in general, believe that people are naturally lazy and selfish. Liberals think people are basically good.

    People are both innately good and evil. All of us have a constant, internal conflict that partially resolves in each and every thought and action we take.

    Conservatives choose to focus on the negative, the lazy and selfish part of our being. At their worst they assume the other doesn't even exist, goodness can only be forced on a person by external pressure.

    Traditionally, liberals don't view people as innately good, they viewed people as innately formless, believing each person as solely a product of his or her environment.

    That, of course, is not correct. But your review of psychology seems a bit lopsided. Genes may always be selfish, but the instincts they produce are not always that way. We are a social animal and have many pro-society traits as well.

    For example, only the rarest of persons doesn't truly love his or her child. There is an innate goodness in all of us that rises to the top as we relate to those that our in our family and tribe.

    Where liberalism has succeeded so wonderfully over the past centuries is expanding the size of our tribe, expanding the set of those we consider one of us.

    For some reason I'll never understand, conservatives seem to constantly try to add more and more people to the 'other' category. But we are all evil towards 'others', I agree with you there.

    Did you know one of the traits found in all societies is the belief that other societies don't love their children as much as they do?

    Once upon a time if you met someone you didn't know, one of the two of you would end up dead. That doesn't happen any more. You are far less likely to die by the hands of another now than any other time in human history.

    Humans are amazingly adaptable and we all have a great well of goodness we can tap into. Yes, that evil half is there as well. But when you build a society that encourages the good half and discourages the bad, we adapt.

    Don't give up on us.


    (Of course, there could be another explanation. Perhaps everyone just assumes everyone else is just like themselves. I don't know many overly selfish and lazy people but then I don't know many conservatives. Are you guys really that bad? :-)

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/19/2006 03:54:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    Yes, we are all that bad - but so are you!

    "For example, only the rarest of persons doesn't truly love his or her child. There is an innate goodness in all of us that rises to the top as we relate to those that our in our family and tribe."

    Social psychology still classifies that as selfish, because preservation of propogation is considered non-altruistic!

    John & Robert,
    I would present that you both speak the same truth, but your concern for the reception of the message direct the manner in which it is expressed. Consider:

    You both agree that man is corrupt. However, Robert simply says that man is evil, John feels like that is an unfair statement, and wants to emphasize the things that appear good that man does or is.

    Man is created by God - therefore he cannot be purely evil. However, man is corrupted by sin, and cannot be purely good. Both of you are right - there are levels of depravity which we express all along the continuum from mind-blowingly evil to really, really, good - but we are all enemies of God on our own.

    Furthermore, John's heart, which expresses itself in his emphasis of the good in man, also expresses itself in his desire to not see God as evil - and again, he is right. God does not direct a single evil act. What we must overcome is our pride - that we know what good is better than God.

    God can direct any act, whether it appear evil to us or not. Our perception of something as evil no more makes it so than the loss of our buddy on the battlefield makes the general's decision to advance our company a bad decision.

    We must remember that we are on the pointy tip of the spear. It is God who holds the shaft and direct the entire spear - even when it is piercing the side of his own Son. Why? For His glory and the good of those who love Him. Failing to understand the mind of God neither makes him evil nor incapable of control of anything or everything.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/19/2006 05:34:00 PM  

  • Andrea,
    Few people who claim to be saved hold to works-righteousness...at least as far as saving themselves by doing good things go. More common is cheap grace, a subject I have written on a number of times.

    However, even more common is a mix of free will and grace that is hinted at here by John. That will be more clearly addressed in the next post. Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/19/2006 05:37:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    When you think, "lazy and selfish", try not to think of the worst people you know of as the standard (I think that would be the POTUS by your thinking :)).

    Instead, think of some of the small decisions you make during the day. Many of our decisions are geared toward the following idea - how can I get the greatest benefit for the least cost to myself? That is why capitalism works - we all want to get the most for the least. It doesn't mean we disregard others entirely, but that we seldom consider them as important as ourselves.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/19/2006 05:42:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    Before going any further, I want to establish first whether we share any common ground at all on this issue of divine control / free will.

    Are you saying that every single act and every single thought (the two being indistinguishable unless we are making the mind a mere spectator with no power at all over the physical world) of every human being is directly decided and executed by God?

    If so, we do not share the same faith, even if we both hope in the same God. For the Universe that you believe in is simply a puppet show, with God's hands animating every thing. There is no room in such a Universe for Love, rebellion, faith, salvation or, indeed, sin. For how can we sin (act against God's instructions) when it is God who instructs us so to act?


    Hammer,
    Thanks for that summation. It's not quite how I (or, I'm sure, Robert) would have expressed it but you are on the right lines in your assessment of our disagreement, I think. Although I would (as always :-) ) prefer a different set of metaphors to you in expressing some of these things.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/19/2006 05:44:00 PM  

  • John,
    You pretty much "poisoned the well" with your response to Robert - and I think you'll agree if you re-read it. I recommend you hold off on that line of discussion until my next post(ideally today, but may not get posted until tomorrow).

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/20/2006 09:58:00 AM  

  • John wrote:
    ”Are you saying that every single act and every single thought (the two being indistinguishable unless we are making the mind a mere spectator with no power at all over the physical world) of every human being is directly decided and executed by God?”

    The short is an emphatic YES! As I said earlier, this is not my personal view, but rather that which is clearly articulated in Scripture. Moreover, I gave several Biblical examples which, what whatever reason, you’ve failed to address. I suggest that we argue from Scripture, instead of mere speculation.

    ”If so, we do not share the same faith, even if we both hope in the same God. For the Universe that you believe in is simply a puppet show, with God's hands animating every thing. There is no room in such a Universe for Love, rebellion, faith, salvation or, indeed, sin. For how can we sin (act against God's instructions) when it is God who instructs us so to act?”

    Let’s look at this logically, shall we? Suppose that everyone has “free will”. Further suppose (as is clear in Scripture) that God has a will. Now, we know a few important aspects of God’s will; namely:

    1.) He alone is God; there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6-7)
    2.) Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
    3.) He is fashioning a Bride to be conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
    4.) Membership in the Body of Christ is not predicated upon man’s will, but God’s will. (Romans 9:16)
    5.) The members of the body are hand-picked by God alone; it is not a matter of individual choice. (John 10:29)

    In light of that, the concept of “free will” militates against God’s will in the following sense: if, in fact, humans are free to accept or reject Christ, then much of Scripture is just plain wrong—in addition to God’s will being abrogated. That is, one’s free will could theoretically cancel out God’s will. Quite frankly, this is sheer fantasy, in addition to being unbiblical.

    For instance, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, which was evil, right? But wait…Joseph reassured his brothers of God’s soveriegn dismisal of human free will, by saying: ”So now it was not you who sent me here, but God…” (Genesis 45:8). And a liitle later, Joseph reiterated: ”But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20).

    Also, think of Pharoah (Exodus 9:16), Job’s ordeal, Christ’s crucifixion (which involved the not-so-free will of Pilot and the Pharasees) and so on…even my own conversion was against my will, because I was a staunch atheist/agnostic. Bottom line: God’s will is predominate and the human will is simply shaped—by God alone—to conform to His will, which was settled before time began. In other words: God makes our will match His. This ought to be a reason to rejoice, rather than an excuse to deny His sovereinty.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/20/2006 10:37:00 AM  

  • Not at all, Hammer. We’re all adults here. ;-)

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/20/2006 10:38:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    First off, I'm sorry that I came across like that. I'm not at all trying to anathematise Robert - I'm sure that we are both following the same God. The issue is that our understandings of the relationship between God and Creation appear to be so utterly at odds that they will affect almost our entire understandings of our faith. With such a gulf, we have to begin almost totally at the bottom in order to build any kind of bridge between our conceptions of God and how God relates to us.


    Robert,
    The first thing I need to say here is that your statement "this is not my personal view, but rather that which is clearly articulated in Scripture" is precisely an opinion. Those things that you perceive as "clearly articulated in Scripture" are not clear at all to me - and things that I believe God is clearly saying there you seem not to accept. So, let's have less appeal to "clear meaning" and try to explore our understandings. There is no context-free, objective Meaning to the Bible. The Bible is not the ultimate Reality. Only God is the absolute. The Bible's only purpose is to point beyond itself to God.

    So, when you say "I suggest that we argue from Scripture, instead of mere speculation", you have a point. I agree that speculation is not necessarily helpful. However, simply quoting Bible verses gets us nowhere at all. We have to look at the logical coherence of the Biblical witness and try to balance its various elements. And that can look like speculation, but we cannot avoid assessing the logical structures we are building if we want to avoid error. And if our structures start to tell us something about God that is plainly wrong, there must be something wrong with our structure!

    Second, the antithesis you set up between our will and God's is, I believe, a false one. God's will in Creation need not operate either by fixing our "choices" in advance nor by operating us as puppets. Rather, God works with us - with our rejections and refusals as well as our agreements and acceptances.

    As for quoting the Bible at you to provide evidence for my position, I don't have time at the moment to do extensive research (I don't keep handy lists of verses to hand to "prove" any given point of theology!). However, a few points to consider include the ubiquitous Biblical injunctions to obey what God has commanded - if obedience is not the submission of one free will to another, what is it? Consider also that love, by its very nature, cannot be forced; if we are called to love God, how can we do this without the freedom to relate to God?

    If you really don't like applying general principles and insist on proof texts, then here are a few random examples:

    "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" Matthew 23:37

    Notice here that the barrier to Jesus' action is the will of another.

    "That. . . hearing they may hear and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them." Mark 4:12 quoting Isaiah 6:9

    The focus here is clearly on the ability to gain forgiveness - prevented by not knowing the Lord's truth rather than by inate inability.

    The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) clearly discusses the choice of the son, in isolation, to return to his father - who exuberantly welcomes him.

    Similar things are seen in places like Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9.

    It is impossible, it seems to me, to read the Bible and not see copious teachings that we are in some sense truly free to act - just as God is truly sovereign. We cannot totally ignore either strand without losing sight of the truth. We must maintain both our own freedom and God's soveriegnty if we want to hold to the truth.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/20/2006 03:00:00 PM  

  • "The issue is that our understandings of the relationship between God and Creation appear to be so utterly at odds that they will affect almost our entire understandings of our faith. With such a gulf, we have to begin almost totally at the bottom in order to build any kind of bridge between our conceptions of God and how God relates to us."

    I think you are right here - more right than many think. That is why I began this series...

    Also, I don't think that Matthew 23:37 is a "random" selection at all. In my opinion, it is the single greatest challenge in a verse to the doctrine of Unconditional Election. Even so, it falls short.

    I promise to come back to this verse - but I feel that without first expounding upon the remainder of the Doctrines of Grace (Particular Redemption, Effectual Calling, and Eternal Security) that I would pack up the comments section with what belongs in the posts.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/20/2006 04:31:00 PM  

  • John,
    First of all, I think that this exchange is helpful on many levels, and I’m glad you’re willing to play along. And I hope that my remarks haven’t come across as disrespectful; if so, it was uninterntional.

    ”There is no context-free, objective Meaning to the Bible.”

    We’ve debated this point in the past, and I still reject this line of reasoning. If the Bible has no objective meaning, then it would be utterly useless. Fortunately however, the Word of God is the epitome of objective Truth, as evidenced by John 17:17 ”Thy Word is Truth”, Hebrews 4:12 ”…the word of God is living and powerful…” and numerous other examples (and no, those are not merely “proof texts”).

    ”if we are called to love God, how can we do this without the freedom to relate to God?”

    I addressed this a few comments back, but it bears repeating: “…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). God causes us to want that which He wills. There’s no coercion involved; we simply don’t have the wherewithal know what we ought to do (Romans 7:15).

    ”It is impossible, it seems to me, to read the Bible and not see copious teachings that we are in some sense truly free to act - just as God is truly sovereign. We cannot totally ignore either strand without losing sight of the truth. We must maintain both our own freedom and God's soveriegnty if we want to hold to the truth.”

    The verses that you cited, particularly Isaiah 6:9, (which is explained further by Paul in I Corinthians 1:20-25) undercut your argument significantly (although, my goal here is not to score rhetorical points). Also, in John’s Gospel (12:40), he makes reference to Isaiah 6:9…and verse 10: Make the heart of the people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.

    Therefore, the idea of human freedom is a matter of perception at best and sheer fallacy at worst. Granted, it seems as though we have “free will”, but the Bible tells a different story altogether. As with any proposition, one must begin with the most primary premise(s) and work from there. However, if one, as you seem to, begins with “free will”, problems quickly arise, such as: what to do with thorny passages like Romans 9 and others. Conversely, if one, as I do, begins with a doctrine of God that fully acknowledges His sovereignty, then passages like the ones you cited are easily placed in their proper context.

    By the way, the reason that I provide chapter and verse references is so that you (or whomever) won’t have to take my word for it. After all, my opinion is no better than anyone else’s…I would encourage any and all readers of this exchange to check out whether or not I’m using the Scriptures correctly.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/20/2006 06:08:00 PM  

  • Dang, I left a big long response here this afternoon, or so I thought. Oh well, suffice it to say it countered all your points and beautifully made all mine. I even name-dropped Pinker to make a point I've actually read something recently on the topic. Oh well.

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/21/2006 12:59:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    We've strayed rather significantly from the original topic of this post, and I suspect that we've got as far as we're going to in communicating our position to the other so I'm not sure whether it's worth continuing much further here. However, I do just want to clear up a couple of places in which you seem to misunderstand what I'm saying.

    First, I know that we don't agree about objective meaning. But I do need to point out that the verses you quoted as support for "objective truth" stand for nothing of the sort. "Truth" does not equate to "objective Modernist abstract truth". Nor does "living and powerful", either. I would not argue in any way that these verses are not true and accurate descriptions of the Bible - but I disagree quite profoundly with the way in which you seek to apply them.

    Second, you are still asserting that we have no real freedom ("a matter of perception at best and sheer fallacy at worst") while saying that we do ("God causes us to want that which He wills. There’s no coercion involved"). You cannot have it both ways - either our every action is controlled by God or it is not. If we are free to act in any sense then God does not control us. If God controls us in any way (not guides or influences or helps) then we are not free to act. (And notice that we may lack true freedom even if God does not control us. This is the conventional idea that we are unable freely to choose God - not because God controls us but because we are trapped in sinfulness.)

    Third, you still misunderstand what I'm saying. Even when I quote verses for you, you don't read them! For example, in Isaiah, "lest they see...and return" means that they could choose to return if only they could see. They do not see, and so do not choose - but choose differently.

    Fourth, I don't "begin" with free will - I read it in the Bible and hear it in Christian theology and history. Just because there are passages that speak strongly of God's sovereignty (which I have never disputed), we must not conclude therefore that that is the only part of the truth. Because there are many other places where either explicitly or as a basic assumption the Bible teaches that we are free to act. Neither by itself is sufficient and leads us into error. We must hold both together - because that is what the Bible teaches.

    If free will is only a fallacy, as you suggest, we live in a puppet Universe. This fatalist view is, it seems to me, problematic for a living faith in Jesus Christ, because it removes any ability or responsibility from us, leaving us as mere passengers and observers of events. The self becomes irrelevant, and God punishes us for the actions that God has made us take. I do not see Jesus in this.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/21/2006 03:35:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    I look forward to your filling out your thoughts on these issues. It's hard trying to discuss one part without reference to another.

    My selection was random only in the sense that it was neither careful nor exhaustive - a few things that I found quickly.

    One final thing that I realised I've not expressed clearly is this. Robert is stating the choice between God's will and our free will as a binary either-or choice: either God is in control or we are. If the choice was like that, I would agree that God's sovereignty must be taken first. However, I believe that the Bible does not show us a world that works like that. In the Bible, we read that God is sovereign and that we are free to act. That is, the situation is both-and, not either-or. This is why we must, I believe, hold to both without letting go of either.

    Just as I object to expressions of theology that see our free will as "a fallacy", relegating us to the status of automata, so I object to expressions that elevate our freedom above God's, recasting God as a passive receiver of our decisions. Neither is Biblical. Both truths (God's sovereignty and our freedom) are necessary.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/21/2006 06:29:00 AM  

  • John,
    I too think we are speaking past one another here. It’s been fun though.

    A few quick points:

    You cannot have it both ways - either our every action is controlled by God or it is not.

    God controls every action and makes people agree with His choice.

    Even when I quote verses for you, you don't read them!

    Well, I responded to yours, but you remain silent about Romans 9 and others…odd no?

    Because there are many other places where either explicitly or as a basic assumption the Bible teaches that we are free to act.

    Those “basic assumptions” happen to contradict the most foundational premises in the Bible. Again, have you ever read Romans 9 and related passages? That might be a good place to begin a thorough study.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/21/2006 07:52:00 AM  

  • Robert,
    Yes, I have read them. And they stand for the position that God is sovereign. I've never disputed that. My assertion is that the Bible also teaches that we are free to make choices. And I mentioned a few things to support this, including specific verses and stories as well as foundational principles, and you responded to only one of them. Odd, no?

    How do we understand the parable of the prodigal son if God controls our choices? How do we understand the concept of obedience if God controls our actions? How do we understand love if God manipulates our every choice? These are the sorts of questions that make it impossible for me to follow your path as I follow Christ. And notice that these are specifically drawn from the Bible.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/21/2006 08:40:00 AM  

  • How do we understand the parable of the prodigal son if God controls our choices? How do we understand the concept of obedience if God controls our actions? How do we understand love if God manipulates our every choice?

    I’ll address each one of your questions in a moment.

    God must “manipulate our every choice” because: 1.) He knows the particulars of His will, whereas we do not; and 2.) even IF we knew everything about God’s will, we still lack the wherewithal to accomplish it.

    The concept of free will is problematic on many levels; and yes, it is quite relevant to the original post and indeed to the life of the beleiver. In fact, the truth about the human will (appetites, desires, etc.) and its relationship to God’s Will is the most primary premise of Scripture. That is, God’s sovereignty is an immutable and intrinsic aspect of His ontology and is opposed to will of fallen humans. Furthermore, God’s plan is extremely specific, which necessitates micromanagement, so to speak (I’ll not bother to list the relevant verses, because I’ve already done so in previous comments).

    The “prodigal son” is about redemption and forgiveness, rather than free will. Does it seem to imply free will? Sure, but remember Joseph and his brothers, who did not have free will, as evidenced by Joseph’s proclamation that the whole incident was actually God’s idea in the first place. There are other such examples, and I’ve mentioned some of them in this very discusion.

    The issue of obedience is exemplified in Philippians 2:13, i.e. God causes us to “choose” that which He has already chosen. Therefore, we simply act in accordance with, and because of, God’s will—not our own so-called free will. Again, think of Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh’s obstinacy toward Moses, the Pharisee’s rejection and subsequent crucifixion of Christ, etcetera. All of which was blatant manipulation. So, where was their free will?

    Humans naturally lack the capacity to love God (hence total depravity) in the way that God demands. Because of that, the elect has to be regenerated, which in turn allows the Holy Spirit to assist us in our relationship with God. Absent regeneration, one is disinclined to love God, in addition to being incapable of it. Therefore God’s sovereignty negates the human will, in order to fulfill His Will.

    Lastly, with respect to the verses you cited earlier:
    --2 Timothy 2:4 is identical to 2 Peter 3:9 (I’ve already addressed this).
    --Matthew 23:37 is similar to Romans 9:2-5, in that both Jesus and Paul are sad, from a human perspective, but both realize that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6).
    --Ezekiel 33:11 is a lamentation not unlike that of Jesus and Paul, which I just mentioned.

    This is why “free will” is perception, rather than reality.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3/21/2006 02:48:00 PM  

  • John and Robert,
    I am benefitting tremendously through your exchange. It is so difficult to observe a conversation between men of God with theological differences in a respectful, exhortational and edifying fashion in blogdom. I am blessed to have "met" the both of you and thank you for spending your time discussing this here.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/21/2006 04:16:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    My problem with your position is that you seem quite willing to explain away and dismiss any text that speaks about our freedom, while insisting on your absolute literal interpretation of every text that speaks of God's sovereignty. Once again - I do not dispute that God is in charge of this Creation and that God's will cannot be defeated. What I maintain is that as well as this we have been given freedom to act by God. This freedom is not in any way total; we are constrained by a great many things, especially our sinful nature, which makes it impossible for us to desire the good.

    However, when you say that "Humans naturally lack the capacity to love God", I believe that you are mistaken. When humanity was created, we were "very good", and we were created specifically to love God! We lack the ability (not the capacity) to love God, and not because of our nature but because of our sinful nature. That is, we have lost this ability that ought to be ours because we are fallen, broken creatures. The lack is not innate but acquired.

    That is (part of) the reason why I believe any analysis of humanity that makes our very nature inadequate to love God is flawed (indeed, it's in great danger of becoming dualist, saying that our failure is precisely that we are mortal flesh, while God is perfect because God is spirit). The Biblical witness is that we were created by God for good, that we ought to love God and that we can love God (notice the OT patriarchs who are able to love and obey God "and it was credited to [them] as righteousness"). However, because we are fallen, we can only come to the point of loving God when God first reaches out to us. We require that "coming close" by God - the move from a transcendent to an immanent God. A God who is transcendent only (as seems to be required by your explanations) cannot touch us or truly love us. The God revealed in Christ, though, is one who is not solely transcendent. Rather, this is a God who came and dwelled among us. Any attempt at Christian theology that does not take seriously the Incarnation of Christ (which doesn't mean simply His death and resurrection) is flawed from the outset.

    This is why, I think, you miss the mark when you say that I "start" with free will, whereas you start with "the Bible". Actually, I try to start with the Incarnation of Christ and work from there. Christ is the image of the invisible God, and nowhere else do we see God so clearly.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 3/22/2006 04:24:00 AM  

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