Aber mit der Heimat
geht man immer herum,
durch die Welt,
dort und dort
No one could describe
the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos,
He consented to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and image.
Kontakion of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
It's never occurred to me to think of it this way before, but after watching that video, I realize for the first time how much the Calvinist doctrine of election has in common with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception. He hits it on the head when he says that if you believe in total depravity, you have to believe in Calvinist election. The same is true for immaculate conception if you believe in the Augustinian, biological view of the transmission of original sin. The one requires the other in order for the whole thing to make sense. I believe this is what they call in legal circles "poisoned fruit." The problem with the immaculate conception isn't the immaculate conception itself but the flawed understanding of original sin upon which it is built. Similarly, the problem with Calvinist election is not the view of election itself but the distorted understanding of creation and the fall that comes before it.
Your analysis is flawed. One can believe in original sin and yet not require the immaculate conception. The child Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb, yes with her egg, but not as an automatic inheritor of the utter depravity of humanity (a depravity which Mary herself shared). To argue that Mary *had* to be immaculately conceived in order to be the mother of Jesus begs the question, how could she be if he parents were sinful? If we accept that her parents were sinful then we have removed the necessity for non-sinful parentage of those who are themselves non-sinful. If that is so, why the necessity for Mary herself to be non-sinful in order to conceive a sinless child?
Total depravity on the other hand is not a philosophical concept required to make sense of Scripture (though as we have seen the Immaculate Conception doesn't itself make sense of Scripture) but rather a concept found at the heart of the Bible.
"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
"There is no-one righteous, not even one."
"Surely I was conceived in sin?"
"One can believe in original sin and yet not require the immaculate conception."
Absolutely true. Which is why I said the Augustinian, biological view of how original sin is transmitted is the problem. I suppose I could be more charitable to Saint Augustine and say that the problem is Augustine as read by the medieval Latin Church. But belief in original sin isn't the issue. As Chesterton says, original sin is the only one hundred percent empirically verifiable Christian doctrine. We are born into a fallen and sinful world. We are damaged right from the start. But if you believe that original sin is not about the broken state of the world after the fall, but rather about an inheritance of the guilt for Adam's sin, then you can see how you would be at pains to ensure that such guilt would not be inherited by Jesus. And since Mary is the vessel of Christ's humanity, it becomes necessary to free her from the stain as well. Thus, a dogma is born to solve the problem. Of course, the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly says that inheritance of guilt is not any longer how Roman Catholics are to view original sin, which begs the question why the Marian dogma persists. But that is a whole different conversation.
In regards to total depravity, your exegesis is not convincing. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but that is not the end of the story. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." This, it would seem, punches a very large hole in the idea, purported by the video above, that God chooses certain people and dies for them while ignoring others. As Paul says elsewhere, "for as all have died in Adam, all are made alive in Christ Jesus."
These verses that you quote point to the devastation of sin, original sin and otherwise, but by no means do they indicate that our state is such that we are so far gone as to make it utterly impossible for us to recognize God when He reveals Himself and respond to His call. If we are totally depraved, meaning that there is not even a hint left in us of that which is good which God created, then we would disintegrate, for it's only by God's continued presence within us that we are able to still exist at all (at least if Saint Athanasius is to be believed). The image of God is distorted within us, ruined even to the point that we cannot trust our own consciences without proper formation, but that doesn't mean that it is absent. There are myriad passages of scripture that point to people acting in accordance with the will of God even before they come to faith (Acts 10-11 for example), and even more scripture that makes it abundantly clear that faith comes before the grace of salvation ("And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" – Colossians 2:13).
If we are totally depraved, than perhaps a kind of selective, almost random seeming election is necessary. Otherwise, there is no way for us to be saved at all, given that even if God stands right in front of us with his arm stretched out we are unable to take it. But if God actually intends for us to "seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27) than selective, random election would be a cruel joke and the offer of salvation itself a fraud.
Actually Fr J. you are on to something which has always puzzled me about the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity of all human kind. If it were to be the case why should I believe anything anyone says, not least someone who said he knew the truth because it is written in the Bible. Since the authors and compilers of scripture, Paul downwards, were equally subject to depravity how could God have got his message through that way? He's either got to suspend depravity as he did with Jesus and perhaps Mary, or the whole lot is not worth a candle. As I see it, Calvin's doctrine creates a disastrous own-goal, even allowing for Jesus since he actually wrote no scripture himself.
This response is just not engaging with the basics of the doctrine of depravity. Yes, human beings in their fallen state are depraved, but those who are saved are not. Their very natures are changed. Secondly, although there are human authors of scripture, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted to be communicated. God was perfectly capable of making sure that happened.
Not sure if you are responding to me or Fr J. but you are far from convincing when you say "……but those who are saved are not [depraved]. Their very natures are changed. Secondly, although there are human authors of scripture, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted to be communicated".
If you read it again you will see that is the very point I was trying to make – why should I believe you if you say all that, or indeed "You are depraved but I am not because I am saved" You have absolutely no means of verifying such a statement…and as we known from the record, plenty of preachers have gone on to deny everything they once believed in. You no doubt will try to have it both ways by saying they were not saved in the first place…..
Scripture itself declares that it is Spirit-breathed. If that is so, then that makes its veracity of revelation independent of my sinfulness.
But scripture had no independent existence from its human authorship. …..Or are you arguing that it has?
The classical doctrine of inspiration is that the Spirit inspired the writers of the Scriptures. Scripture reflects the personality of its human authors, of that there is no doubt, yet God guided its original writing and its compilation. So the Bible has both human and divine authorship, at the same time.
I can see that, but in the end it was still a group of men who decided what was scripture – in the canon – and what was not. They can claim that the Holy Spirit attended and inspired them, but how can we be sure? Scholars now know that quite important portions where not in fact composed by the authors they were attributed to but were pseudepigrapha -i.e. fakes. Do you suppose these were still inspired even if they were not authored by the author that traditional attribution was given to…or should they be pruned out of the Canon?
It was a group of men inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is your prerogative to reject that idea, but that's the understanding of the Catholic Church down the ages, that God guided the process of recognition of Scripture.
And get out of your head the idea that folks just sat down at Nicea and decided at that point what was and wasn't Scripture. As tables like this show, there was a very clear understanding from the 1st Century as to what was and wasn't Scripture in the New Testament. There is an extraordinary unanimity in the Fathers as to the content of the Bible centuries before Nicea.
Thanks for the table – rather useful. I see Metzger's name is associated which gives it gravitas. I suppose Ehrman would not be among your recommended scholars……
Some of Ehrman's earlier stuff is really good. Don't like the later output. Obviously.
Utter nonsense. That God continues to sustain us and all creation through every second is basic theology (Colossians). It does not follow that we would disintegrate – God is perfectly capable of sustaining for as long as necessary the objects of his mercy and his wrath.
This very passage in Colossians places the action of regeneration with God, not man. You, who were dead, God has made alive together with Him (Jesus). How you can argue, based on this verse, that it is the action of the human that initiates regeneration beats me.
And one can easily read Acts 10 and 11 as the story of God working in the lives of those he saves, before the point of regeneration. Indeed, the doctrine of election demands as much!
"That God continues to sustain us and all creation through every second is basic theology (Colossians)."
Yes, it is.
"It does not follow that we would disintegrate"
Yes, it does.
"God is perfectly capable of sustaining for as long as necessary the objects of his mercy and his wrath."
So is your position, then, that God simply keeps us around to be angry with us? If so, why? And where is the scripture that indicates such a thing? If not, please help me understand your position better.
"How you can argue, based on this verse, that it is the action of the human that initiates regeneration beats me."
You misunderstand me. I do not argue that regeneration is initiated by man, nor even that man is an aid to his own regeneration at all. Regeneration is an act of God, in His mercy. It is likewise an act of God, in His mercy, that He gives us the grace to be able to have faith in what Christ has done for us. To say otherwise is Pelagian and false, as I'm sure you would agree. God makes it possible for us to have faith, but what that verse tells us clearly is that repentance comes before regeneration. The Calvinist understanding of election, at least as explained by the video above, makes this impossible. If the doctrine is to be believed, than God selected those whom He would save well before the foundation of the world, long before those individuals had fallen into the corruption of sin, let alone repented of it.
"And one can easily read Acts 10 and 11 as the story of God working in the lives of those he saves, before the point of regeneration. Indeed, the doctrine of election demands as much!"
So did it matter at all that Cornelius came to faith or that he was baptized? Or the other Gentiles? There was clearly grace at work in their lives prior to their coming to faith. But if they had died without ever coming to faith, would it have mattered? Of course, you can argue that God simply wouldn't allow such a thing to happen to His elect, but if that's the case than faith seems little more than a pro forma ticking of a box. But if Acts 17 is right that God intends for us to "seek Him" and "find him," than there must be something to be gained in that finding, there must be some enduring value to faith. We are told to pursue faith (1 Timothy 6:11). If the Gentiles had died without faith, despite the good that God had already rendered in them, they would have died lost, because "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). If, then, faith matters so much, and it is only by grace that we are able to have faith, just as it is by grace that we are saved through faith, then how does one come to the conclusion that only a very few are elected to be saved and that those were elected before they were ever born, regardless of any choices they might make? Either faith is a real act of trust, or an inevitable side effect of an irresistible calling, in which case we must either become universalists, which of course carries with it other major biblical problems, or we must accept the novel concept that God plays favorites, which renders null and void such central passages of scripture as John 3:16-18 and Romans 2:10-12. Unless I'm grossly misunderstanding the Calvinist doctrines of election and depravity–which I'm willing to admit is a very real possibility–I fail to see any way of reconciling these doctrines with the testimony of scripture.
No, the scriptural position is that God gives us every opportunity to repent in order to demonstrate his love for us. The fact that hordes of us choose not to is not his fault. We choose not to repent. We are guilty of rejecting God.
Absolutely, but then how does anybody come to repentance in the first place if the only way that they can do that is through God's grace? Or to put it another way, if faith itself is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), how do we merit that gift? We don't is the answer. We do absolutely nothing of our own will or activity to have the saving faith (as opposed to those who do not have that faith and therefore reject God constantly).
No, the Scriptures tell us very clearly faith is a gift of God. We do not "do it", God gives it to us and the moment he gives it to us we exercise that faith and repent.
And as for the idea that faith comes before regeneration in Colossians 2:13, that doesn't work with the text. In fact the opposite. "You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh," clearly refers to our state as reprobate, hell-bound beings. We are spiritually dead and how is that resolved? "God made alive together with him" shows us very clearly that it is the action of God that makes us alive, not any action of our own. If you want to suggest that Colossians 2 supports an Arminian view of salvation, please show us how.
That God's providence leads all people to try to seek him is not in doubt, but the issue is whether they can ever find him in their own power. "Feel their way towards him" in Acts 17:27 implies a groping in the dark, that the human struggle for God is in reality one, in it's own strength, without fruition.
As to the other verse, 1 Tim 6:11 is written to the saved. We are to pursue all the things the verse says, but given that the text is intended for those already saved ("Man of God") it cannot be saving faith referred to here.
Hebrews 11:6 does not cover whether faith is human derived or divinely gifted, it merely states that it is required. You cannot assume anything about the source of that faith as you do.
John 3:16-18 simply states that all those believe in Jesus will be saved. You cannot assume from the text that it is possible for all to be saved, i.e. that the "all" is open to anybody who "works it out". The verses do not explore how humans come to believe in Jesus, only that those who do are saved. Indeed, John 3:18 might actually push us towards an electionist position, since those who do not believe, are already condemned.
Romans 2 once again does not state how saving faith occurs, but rather what the consequences of saving faith (or otherwise) are. It also spells out clearly that God does not show favouritism, so we who hold to the clear doctrines of election in the Bible do not believe that God "fore-sees" the actions of those who he then elects to save, saving them on the basis of what he knows they will do. Rather, God elects to himself a people through all time and places, not on the basis of any merit from their entire lives, but rather to demonstrate his glory in saving those who were so undeserving of it.
I wish I could figure out how to do block quotes. What's the html for that?
"We do absolutely nothing of our own will or activity to have the saving faith (as opposed to those who do not have that faith and therefore reject God constantly)."
Here is where the train comes off the tracks. The schema you are presenting is one in which human beings are essentially incapable of participating in their salvation in any discernible way. That we cannot produce our own salvation is biblical and true. That we deserve death and hell, also true. That we would be nothing without Christ, quite true. That without grace, we cannot ever come to God on our own, all biblical, all true. But that we do not participate at all in our salvation? That we have nothing good of the creation left in us, nothing worth God taking the time to save? This makes faith an automatic reaction, like a reflex, and grace a kind of irresistible current that annihilates anything that stands in its path. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we were dead in sin until we received the gift of grace. But he also tells us in Philippians 2:12, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This would seem contradictory if we are deadened in such a way that there is nothing left worth saving in us, that God is essentially starting over from scratch. But if God, in His sovereignty and His mercy, chooses to make it possible, by grace, for us to respond to His call, then we are participants in our salvation, even if that participation is completely and wholly contingent upon the action of God in Christ.
I’m tempted to re-hash all the scripture we’ve already been through, but I think it would just bring us back to the same place. We can likely quote scripture at each other until we’re blue in the face and never convince each other of what seems so obvious to us. So instead, let me ask you a couple of questions that I think are important. First, given that I think you want very much to affirm the sovereignty of God, how can you say that God is incapable of giving us, by His grace, a real and true choice about whether to accept or reject His call to repentance and faith? Second, if faith is simply an inevitable response on the part of the elect to irresistible grace, what is the purpose of faith? What does it even mean to have faith in such a context? Third, does God love those whom He does not elect? And finally, on a note that is a bit more personal, how do those who are mentally disabled or suffering from neurological conditions fit into this understanding of salvation?
< blockquote > to open and < / blockquote > to close, but with no spaces.
Let me answer your three questions.
I don't think God is in the slightest bit incapable of doing this, but the question is whether he has actually done it.
Well faith is trust isn't it? The Holy Spirit regenerates the Elect so they are capable of repenting and putting their trust in Jesus (which they do, since as regenerate creatures this is the natural thing to do, as similarly reprobate creatures reject Jesus naturally).
In the life of the believer however this ongoing trust is exercised daily in our walk of discipleship. So the believer is engaged in an journey of letting Jesus be Lord of more and more of his/her life until that glorious final day when our faith and decision will be actualised in heaven.
This is what the Philippians 2:12 quote is about – To "work out" your salvation is to work it out in your daily life, in the same way (verse 13) that God works is us, as a gradual process of sanctification. Paul's call is to see who Christ is and what he has done, and then turn to him as one saved by him to discover the benefits of his Passion. The verse is written to believers, not unbelievers (and this is a mistake made time and time again in rejection election when verses written to believers are applied to unbelievers).
It is a mistake to analogise election to automating humans (i.e. that emphasising God's sovereignty turns humans into robots). Look at it this way. Arminians claim that humans have free will, but in reality they do not. Unregenerate sinners do not have free will because they are simply incapable of choosing the "repent" option of all the choices available. They simply will not do because they cannot do it. They are therefore not free agents but are rather bound by the sinful nature. They are slaves to sin, not freemen at liberty to make all possible choices.
Regeneration changes the nature of the elect so now the "repent" option is available to them – they are capable of making that choice and indeed they do, for their nature is altered to one that will want to repent. Faith is then exercised and salvation proved to be true. These repentant sinners are now slaves to Christ – their nature has been altered but they are still not "free" in a sense that demands utter human liberty. But then, utter human liberty is a rejection of God's sovereignty, so why would we ever expect it to be a "good" thing?
Yes, but it must be admitted that it is a different love to that for the Elect. But be careful of making a human objection to this – if God has done this, how is it wrong?
Or dead children? The doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation is that he is sovereign. We know that those who reject Christ will not inherit his kingdom. We know that those who accept Christ will be saved. But all of these things are sovereign acts of God, so the mental incapacity or otherwise of a human being is not a factor in the saving sovereign choice of God. The elect reveal themselves that when Christ is preached they respond. But I am open to the possibility that there are amongst the elect those who have not heard or comprehended Christ preached (which is not to say that those who have rejected him are in the Elect, or that we might anticipate a large number of such people, for the path is narrow and few walk it whilst most take the wide path to destruction), since the public demonstration that they are amongst the Elect has not yet been witnessed.
I would agree with all of that. But notice where the action is in what you've written there. The believer lets Jesus be Lord of more and more of his or her life. Hence, as you rightly point out, Philippians 2:12 is a call to believers to participate in God's sanctification of them. Of course, all of the heavy lifting is done by God. Nothing would be possible for us to do without His grace. But in what you've just said, there is an acknowledgment of the believer playing a role in what is happening through his or her cooperation.
Which makes this all the more interesting to me:
Is it possible, then, for the elect to choose to reject God? From what you're saying, it seems that it would not be, because the nature of the elect is such that they cannot help but want to repent, just as the reprobate cannot help but want to have nothing to do with repentance. But if that's the case, how does the fall happen at all? Or were Adam and Eve incapable from the beginning of choosing God? In which case, the whole thing takes on a new and even more ominous tone.
I don't really think that we're terribly far away from each other on the question of God's sovereignty or human agency. While I would want to stress the continued presence of the Imago Dei in fallen humanity, even in a fractured and distorted way, it seems that you would say that there is not even a trace of the Imago Dei that remains in the fallen human being, that fallen man is, so to speak, rotten to the core. Nevertheless, I think we both agree that fallen humanity is incapable of reaching God or of coming to faith and repentance without the sovereign act of God to enable them to do so. Where we differ, really, is in whether or not God offers that first grace to all of humanity or only a select few – or rather, whether Jesus died for all sinners or only for some.
Yes, indeed. And may I say, I am deeply moved by the story of Zachary and grateful for your willingness to share your grief and your faith in the midst of that grief with the world. It has been an inspiration to me in my own faith and struggle.
Yes, in sanctification. But election is to do with the initial act of justification. Repentance can never occur initially unless the reprobate human is first entirely regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
No, it is not possible for the Elect to reject God. And why would they ever possibly want to?
That is a brilliant question and this blog post is a good starting point of explaining the traditional Calvinistic answer. But once again I think your problem here is that you are mistaking the Calvinistic view which sees the act of regeneration as under God's sovereign choice with the idea that every single human choice is itself subject to God's will. That second position is not the position of those who hold to the highest notions of the sovereignty of God.
I think what I want to say is that there is man is born (conceived even) in a state of rebellion against God, such that he will never of his own volition choose for him. That does not mean that reprobate humans are incapable of exhibiting aspects of the Imago Dei, but rather in the crucial matter of bending the knee to He whose image that are made in, they are never going to do it without external super-natural intervention.
Yes, this is the exact difference. But to be fair to my position, God does offer salvation to every single human being and would be more than happy if they were to take it. The crucial point is that in their own strength not one single human would, and if you believe that God offer prevenient grace to all, is not the fact that some choose to act on it a matter over which they may boast (Ephesians 2:9)?
I'm glad to have been of help. I'm afraid that with everything that has happened to us over the past three years, I am still in Psalm 13.
Perhaps I should let it go, since this deep into the thread, I imagine that most of the world has already tuned us out… But oh, it's so hard to resist just one more round…
They should not want to, but the issue is not whether it's a good idea or not. It's never a good idea to reject God. The question is whether or not there is any actual exercise of choice, and whether it matters if there is. If faith is not a choice, than it's not really faith. It doesn't particularly matter whether the choices presented are obvious or not. If I look one direction and see that I would walk off the edge of a cliff to my death and I look the other direction and see that I would not only live but win free ice cream for life, my choice would be the proverbial no-brainer, but it would still be a choice.
Got any other links that might explain this? I didn't really see an answer here, other than that the first sin was infidelity, which still doesn't explain how Adam and Eve came to be able to sin, just that lack of faithfulness formed the heart of their sin.
I've heard Calvinists argue for a kind of predestination in which every single act is predestined by God, but yes, Calvin's actual view of predestination was that it only applied to election. I have been assuming that you hold the second position.
Then why would He not choose to offer the grace to all that would allow them to choose? Especially if that grace would be irresistible? And note, I'm not asking whether or not God has a right to do things one way or the other. God has every right to do anything He well pleases. Given our sinful state, He has every right not to save any of us at all, but to allow us all to be destroyed in our corruption. But if you believe that God's salvation is available to all, though many (most?) will not accept it, and that God wants all to be saved and wishes they would all accept it, why would He make it impossible for a small number to choose anything but Him and leave the rest where they are?
Not at all. The grace is given freely by God, and given freely to all, so that no one may boast. If a man pulls you out of a lake, saving you from drowning, can you boast that you did not pull away your hand at the last second so that you could not be saved? I would think that the opposite view, that God chooses some and not others, would be much more likely to produce boasting, since those whom He chooses could boast that they are better than those who are not chosen, even if they have no idea why.
I know that place well. Please know that you and your family are regularly in my prayers.
But that is exactly the choice the Elect make. Until they are regenerated they have simply no comprehension they are walking off a cliff OR that there is an alternative. Once regenerate, the Elect make a totally free choice, it just happens to be the obvious and rational one.
He doesn't make it impossible. Every single person you meet today has the opportunity of repenting and receiving Christ, but as rebellious reprobates they simply don't want to. Is that God's fault?
And as to why God has chosen to save the Elect and only the Elect, well Scripture tells us that it is to demonstrate his glory and that there is no particular reason why certain people are elected except to demonstrate God's glory. 'Cos it's all about Him.
When will we have some more postings on issues of marriage and sexual ethics? I miss agreeing with you, Peter. ;-)
A few comments from an Arminian. Total depravity means that every part of our beings is marred by sin, it does not mean that there is absolutely no good in us at all – we are, after all, still made in the image of God. That image is marred by sin but not totally eradicated. Second – I can never understand how Calvinists can't see that for God to only elect some individuals to salvation, if he is the only determining force in people being saved or not, as taught in the video clip, but not others, then that makes him capricious and not loving. Calvinism would work if everyone was elect but surely we cannot say that God is love if he only chooses to save some and not all. And I would suggest that to say that God defines what love is and not us is not a sufficient answer to this objection. Words do have to have some sort of solid meaning – and choosing to rescue 3 drowning men whilst leaving another 3 men to drown when you could have rescued them cannot be in any way be called loving. Finally, this does not mean that we have it within ourselves to place our faith in Christ and to receive salvation. We don't. We need God's prevenient grace to enable us to believe – but prevenient grace is very different from irresistible grace.
Thanks for your contribution Richard. You quite rightly highlight the key differences between the two perspectives – monergistic regeneration and synergistic regeneration.
Paul Washer is a very interesting figure – but rather radical even amongst Calvinists. He has a video on propitiation which I'd never recommend without further commentary, and once gave a lecture to a group of Christians in which he told them that the majority of them were going to hell. (cues up the Rob Bell soundbyte "Going to hell? And someone's sure of this?) I have heard some argue his "good intentions" here … but still, I think the man needs some discipleship before he's generally recommended.
I find this a pity because I like the way he really probes some issues, and I think that even the most picky Calvinists have their gifts with which to enrich the church in calling us to accountability and coherent thought – though they can be difficult to work with.
I should also note: Peter here is not generally endorsing Paul Washer – just simply calling our attention to this excellent video, which has inspired extensive commentary here which I look forward to reading in its entirety sometime soon.
Blessings to all.