How evangelical Calvinism is not Arminianism et al.: Metaphysics Matter

Just because evangelical Calvinism affirms universal atonement some have concluded, or might conclude that we are essentially a sub-set of Arminian theology; if not, at the least, Amyrauldian—but this could not be further from the truth. Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, follow a thoroughly different prolegomenon (or theological methodology) than what we will find funding the arminiusprintthinking of Arminians, Arminius, or even the classically Reformed (who take their cues from scholasticism Reformed, and Thomist intellectualism [as did Arminius himself, in a modified form]). I have written on our dialectical approach to theology, and analogy of faith method, with Myk Habets and personally in our 2012 edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.

In order, though, to illustrate my point further let me highlight Arminius’ personal approach to how he thinks of knowledge of God and how that implicates God’s dealing with humanity in salvation in a God-world relation. I will appeal to a rather lengthy section from Richard Muller’s book on Arminius; in this section Muller elucidates Arminius’s appropriation of Molina’s (et al.) ‘middle knowledge,’ and how Arminius used this to foreword his own uniquely styled understanding of God, foreknowledge, predestination, and salvation. What this sketch from Muller should illustrate is how Arminius, much like his scholastic and Reformed contemporaries worked from within a logico-causal mechanistic and deterministic Aristotelian (if not Stoic) understanding of metaphysics (it is precisely this that evangelical Calvinists, following the lead of Barth and Torrance through their respective actualism[s], repudiate).

Muller writes (in full):

This problem, resident in Thomist theology, had become a focus of discussion at the University of Louvain after the publication of John Driedo’s De concordia liberi arbitrii et praedestinationis divinae in 1537. Driedo argued that divine grace and human freedom ought not to be severed in the work of salvation and, indeed, that “the right use of free will, foreknown by God, ought to be the basis for election to the grace of “justification” and that, therefore, predestination could be defined as the divine decree “to call and to aid human beings in such a way as to bring about their obedience.” Driedo found it necessary to distinguish between the prior divine intention to save all human beings which establishes the priority of grace and rests all salvific acts of human beings on the effective movement of God as first cause and the divine foreknowledge of the success or failure of that grace, inasmuch as those who are called do not respond equally to the divine offer of salvation. The ultimate ground of predestination is the divine good pleasure, but this ultimate ground cannot conflict with the divine demand that human beings freely choose to live rightly. Driedo’s views were carried forward by his students at Louvain and were, beginning in 1556, adopted by the Jesuit teacher, Fonseca, as the basis for his refutation of Calvin’s teaching, De praedestinatione, libero arbitrio et gratia contra Calvinium (Paris, 1556). By 1565, Fonseca had provided a full description of the concept of a divine scientia media, prior to the divine decrees and, therefore, having the character of a noncausal knowing, distinct from the categories of scientia necessaria and scientia libera.

It was precisely this ultimately causal character of the divine intellect—that God knows all possibilities and, granting the priority of intellect over will knowingly ordains which possibilities he will actualize—that Molina strove to overcome in his debate with the somewhat radicalized Augustinianism of Bañez and with the Dominican interpreters of Thomas Aquinas. Whereas Thomism generally and Bañez in particular “began with metaphysical principles,” with God “as first cause and prime mover,” Molina began with the problem of the free consent of the will and assumed as his task the explanation of “divine foreknowledge and the action of grace in such a way that the freedom of the will is not explained away or tacitly denied. Molina’s Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providential, praedestinatione et reprobatione, published in 1588, argued that God’s foreknowledge of future contingents must be understood not as a knowledge of contingencies created or ordered as such by the direct action of the divine will (and therefore a category of scientia libera) but as a knowledge of contingencies standing prior to “any free act of his will” and resting on a clear and certain knowledge of the act of the creature.

Thus , Molina argues the existence of a divine knowledge or foreknowledge

Mediate between the free and the purely natural knowledge of God by which … God knew, before any free act of his will, what would come to pass conditionally (ex hypothesi) by the agency of the created will in the order of things, granting that he had decided to place these angels or men in a particular situation; if, moreover, the created will were able to do the contrary, by [this foreknowledge] he would know the contrary.

This divine knowledge, therefore, rests entirely upon the acts of creatures. No divine determination enters into the scientia media. Thus, God is capable of foreknowing the way a given creature will act, given certain conditions—and capable, therefore, of acting upon this foreknowledge of future contingents by establishing those conditions accordingly. Molina refers specifically to the statement of Origen that “a thing will happen not because God knows it as future; but because it is future, it is on that account known by God before it exists,” as cited by Aquinas had categorically refused to view the future event as the cause of something in God or as standing outside of the divine causality.

A crucial element, therefore, in the transition from Aquinas’ view to the modified Thomism—on this point, radically modified—of the Jesuit theologians, was the denial of the causal nature of the divine knowing. Molina insisted on the utter omniscience of God and rested the divine foreknowledge of future contingents on the “unlimited perfection of the divine intellect.” In other words, God so utterly knows the entire realm of possibility that, beyond his willing some things to be and other things not to be, God also knows, simply because of his own infinite cognitive powers, the actual results of all contingent causes prior to their actualization. Suárez, whose formulation of the problem Arminius also probably read, chose not to rest his argument purely upon the nature of divine cognition. Suárez argued that God, in foreknowing the nature or character of his creatures, foreknows how creatures will be disposed to act in any given situation, and therefore foreknows with certainty the actual result of a future creaturely choice.[1]

While this represents interesting historiography and theological development relative to the Protestant scholastics (inclusive of the Reformed and Arminius in particular), it should be illustrative of my point which I made to start this post out. Evangelical Calvinism does not think from the type of a priori speculative metaphysics and theory of causation we see funding this sketch by Muller. I don’t really think critics of evangelical Calvinism (if they have engaged at all) get this, not at all. Roger Olsen’s engagement with evangelical Calvinism (i.e. our book) doesn’t get this; Kevin Vanhoozer in his engagement with evangelical Calvinism (in published form) doesn’t really appreciate this (he thinks our appeal to a “Barthian” or “Torrancean” mode of dialogical/dialectical theology does not serve as the pressure valve we think it does). I say this because these critics of evangelical Calvinism continue to try and force us to operate from the type of metaphysics we see funding what Muller just described of the scholastics Reformed, the Molnisits, Arminius et al. But to me this is thoroughly disingenuous, especially if both Olson and Vanhoozer, among others can recognize that we do indeed work from other theological methodological grounds (which attendant to that comes with its own set of self-referential criterion of coherences).

Evangelical Calvinists, at least this one (me), after Barth think from the scandal and particularity of Jesus Christ. Instead of thinking a priori from ad hoc speculative metaphysics and schemata, we attempt to think all things theological from the depth dimension of God Self-revealed and interpreted in Jesus Christ; so we think a posteriori. We aren’t attempting to think out all of these types of abstract causal relations in a tightly wound conception of a God-to-world relation that is informed by a mechanical theoretical conception of causation (from God to humanity). Thomas F. Torrance gets at how an evangelical Calvinist understanding of causation, if we have one, is totally at odds with what we find funding classical Calvinism and Arminianism. Torrance writes:

It is this interweaving of natural processes and human agencies, of nature and rational intention, that gives history its complicated patterns. The course of events has often quite unforeseen results, for human acts may fail to achieve what would have been expected or may achieve far more than would or could have been anticipated. But in our interpretation of history we must never forget that in the heart of historical events there is free happening which bears the intention in which the true significance of history is to be discerned. Thus while we must appreciate fully the physical factors involved, we must penetrate into the movement of time in the actual happening in order to understand the event in the light of the intentionality and spontaneity embedded in it. The handling of temporal relation has proved very difficult and elusive in the history of thought, for it has so often been assimilated to logical relation and so transposed into something very different. The confusion of temporal with logical connection corresponds here to that between spontaneity and causal determinism in natural science. We can see this error recurring, for example, in notions of predestination where the free prius of the divine grace is converted by the scholastic mind into logico-causal relation, while the kind of time-relation with which we operate between natural events is imported into the movements of divine love and activity. It is a form of the same mistake that people make in regard to the resurrection, when they think of its happening only within the logico-causal nexus with which they operate in classical physics.[2]

In other words for the evangelical Calvinist, there are unseen, unknown contingencies built into the nature of things themselves that make it impossible to accurately infer a stable causal chain of events from the event back to the cause itself. The answer to this, in relation to knowledge of God, is to see the event and cause conjoined together in the person-act of Jesus himself. It is from this vantage point that we then are set up to know God, in Christ, but no longer as some sort of deterministic causal agent; but instead, as personal, triune Divine agent who apocalyptically breaks into the contingencies of history re-creating them towards their telos or created purpose in Christ (cf. Col. 1:13ff) — the resurrection, then, being the instantiation of this within time-space history. So we are forced to think from the mystery of God made flesh itself. What this does is to set up a whole other set of questions, ones that have to do with Godself and Christ revealed, rather than abstract speculative questions that cause thinkers to construct the types of theories of causation and metaphysics that we see funding classical Calvinist and Arminian theologies (among others).

I could share more, particularly with reference to how actualism works, at least in my style of evangelical Calvinism. But hopefully what has been shared will allow the reader to appreciate how at odds evangelical Calvinism is with its kissing cousins in the classical forms of Calvinism and Arminianism (and other so construed expressions of classical theistic theology). I know it is tempting for folks committed to the classical metaphysic to force evangelical Calvinists into their conceptual playground, but that’s just simply a dishonest requirement. We all work within and from self-referential coherentist constructs of thought, as such it is appropriate that we recognize that and then test the “coherence” of said frameworks from within the parameters of their own conceptual houses. Having said that, not all conceptual frameworks are equal; I contend that evangelical Calvinism has the capacity to think more responsibly from the implications and conceptual impositions of the Gospel itself, in contrast to what we find in the classical frameworks, which work from a prioris not necessarily related to the God of the Bible or the Gospelself.

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 158-61.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009, 249-50.

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Jacobus Arminius, The Theologian of Law: Miscellanies on Moralism and the Priority of Justice

There is so much I would like to communicate through this post; Jacobus Arminius is just that kind of rascal! Unfortunately, because of space limitations and blog attention span disorder, I will have to delimit myself to the
arminiusbare minimum of what I would really like to cover in regard to Arminius’ conception of duplex amore Dei (i.e. God’s ‘twofold love’), and how that is taken captive by a ‘Legal theology’ of the sort that I would think ought to heal any Arminian of being Arminian (if they actually followed the actual teachings of Arminius–which I don’t think most know). I am really having a hard time knowing how to whittle this down, much of what I am going to provide will just be straight quotation of Arminius from his Declaration of Sentiments, and then maybe some commentary from his translator W. Stephen Gunter.

We will jump into the discussion that involves Arminius Legal Theology. I will quote Gunter’s lead into Arminius, and then we will hear directly from Arminius.

[P]oint nineteen is a tightly woven sustained argument exhibiting a fine example of Arminius’ scholastic inclinations. He starts where his opponents start, with Legal Theology in the pre-fall situation, logically irrespective of Christ’s saving work. God is characterized by justice, which produces a hatred for sin, and God is characterized by his “love for humanity” as creatures endowed with reason…. At this juncture he invokes Hebrews 11:6, because in Arminius’ theological dialectic, election is God’s free decision to save those who by grace come seeking and believing: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Regardless of where one encounters the doctrine of election in Arminius, one finds also the dimensions of uncoerced, non-necessitated freedom. It is important to keep this in mind, even as we see how Arminius weaves his notion of the duplex amor Dei:

[Here is Arminius]A mutuality exists between those two kinds of love. The love that God extends to humanity cannot come into play unless it is permitted by God’s love of justice. This implies that God’s love for justice is the more excellent of the two; however, love for the creature abounds, except where the love of justice would prohibit its expression. The consequence of this is demonstrated by God’s condemning humanity on account of sin. God clearly demonstrates this love relationship in the original created order; however, this does not imply that God’s love for the creature supersedes his love for justice. Had this been the case, God would have manifested a stronger aversion to the eternal misery of the creature than to the creature’s disobedience. The abundant place for divine love is clear because God condemns no person for any reason other than sin, and God saves the multitudes of humanity who are converted from sin. In the divine dispensation, this salvation would not be possible unless it was God’s will to allow an abundant scope for his love toward the creature under God’s judgment, to the extent this is permitted by his justice (p. 124).[1]

For Arminius, then, God loves His justice more than He loves creation. The consequent of this is that for Arminius, God’s own life is shaped and given co-inherence through a relation of Law and Justice; and thus not a conception of God as Triune, ‘personal’, self-giving love. Love of Law precedes Love (of people) and Grace in the theology of Jacobus Arminius, and this is played out–in my view–in the most heinous of ways as it relates to God’s love for humanity.

As an aside [I don’t have the time to get into this here], Arminius intentionally operates with a subordinationist conception of the Divine Monarchia (or God-head); which makes perfect sense, given His ‘Legal Theology’, and thus the priority of Law being met prior to Love being given (so in order for this to happen, Jesus, then must become the ‘instrument’ by which God’s [the ‘Father’s] ‘Just’ requirements are met, prior to Love being given. So Law is always the orienting pole of salvation, and then the subsequent Love for the sinner. Law becomes the control that leverages the continued obedience of the sinner, and thus salvation and relationship with God continues to be shaped by God’s ontological character as a Lover of Justice, more than a Lover of the Person. Note Arminius:

[…] This prioritizing of justice is the only adequate protection against carelessness. At the same time, the foundation for the latter kind of faith, one that dares to believe that God will undoubtedly reward those who diligently seek Him, is that great love for humanity which neither can nor will prevent God from effecting salvation for the sinner—unless God be hindered by his greater love for justice…. God’s twofold love, and the mutuality that each part bears toward the other, serve together to form the foundation of religion, without which no true religion can possibly exist. Any doctrine, therefore that is in open hostility to this twofold love and to the relationship that mutually exists between them, subverts the foundation of all religion. (pp. 126-28)[2]

Okay, so this aside has gotten a little out of control. What this illustrates, though, is the utter contingence that God’s own life and then subsequent relation to His creation has on Law/Justice (and the voluntarism therein). Beyond that, what this also demonstrates is that Arminius suffered from a terrible case of, at least, semi-Pelagianism. As corollary with Arminius’ conception of God’s love of justice as primary, this becomes the rule by which humanity sustains their salvation, and it becomes the motivation for personal holiness; fear of damnation. So Arminius, in good Pelagian form has constructed a soteriology that is a principled moralism; one that starts in God’s life and works all the way down to ours, and back up to God’s again.

There is much more to say, but let me end by quoting Arminius’ final summarization of his view of predestination and election; the final summation that he gives to his opponents and detractors in his Declaration of Sentiments (which represents Arminius’ mature and final statements on his positions). Here is Arminius, and with this we end:

  1. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest, and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

  2. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith. Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

  3. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

  4. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its own foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere.[3]

It is fitting that Arminius ends his summary with an article (IV) grounded and framed by keeping the conditions of the Law, meeting God’s standard and definitive form as Lover of Justice more than Lover of People.

Roger Olson (contemporary evangelical Arminian theologian, par excellence), has written more than once (online and elsewhere), that most Arminians nowadays are nothing more than semi-Pelagian; he communicates this with the triumphalism that if Arminians today really followed and knew what Jacobus Arminius actually taught, they would cease all  semi-Pelagian activity, and become ‘orthodox’. Really?

[T]here is nothing in that reasoning of Calvin that I cannot heartily approve, if all things (in it) are rightly understood. For I confess that the grace by which the Holy Spirit is given, is not common to all men; I also confess that the origin [fontem: source, principal cause] of faith can be said to be gratuitous election of God, but it is election to bestow faith, not to communicate salvation. For a believer is elected to participate in salvation, a sinner is elected to faith. ~Jacobus Arminius[4]


[1] W. Stephen Gunter, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 176-77.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] Works, 1:747 cited by Gunter, p. 181.

Jacobus Arminius’ View of Predestination [In His Own Words], and Some Commentary by Me

Here are Jacobus Arminius’ own words on how he conceived of a doctrine of predestination; this is following a lengthy argument, made by him before his ecclesial examiners against double predestination (and against both
supra and infra lapsarianism):

arminian1

I. The first specific and absolute divine decree regarding the salvation of sinful humanity: God decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King in order that he might destroy sin by his own death, so that by his own obedience he might obtain the salvation lost through disobedience, and by his power communicate this salvation.

II. In the second precise and absolute decree, God decided graciously to accept those who repent and believe in Christ, and for Christ’s sake and through him to effect the final salvation of penitents and believers who persevere to the end in their faith.  Simultaneously, God decreed to leave in sin under divine wrath all impenitent persons and unbelievers, damning them as alienated from Christ.

III. The third divine decree: God decided to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means necessary for repentance and faith—this being accomplished according to divine wisdom, by which God knows what is proper and becoming both to his mercy and his severity. And this all proceeds according to divine justice, by which God is prepared to adopt whatever his wisdom may prescribe and carry out.

IV. From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew those who would not believe and persevere. [Jacobus Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, trans. by W. Stephen Gunter, 135.]

Arminius immediately follows these points up with twenty implications of these theses; which I will have to share at a later time. Suffice it to say, it becomes quickly clear that Arminius was just as much a son of his time as any of us are. He is using the same kind of formal and material methodological and conceptual matter that his antagonists have available to them, in other words he is a classical theist who is also a conceptually formed scholastic. In other words, Arminius and his detractors are really not all that far a part.

It should be noticed, that Arminius offers these points after he has just offered direct argument against both supralapsarian and infralapsarian positions; declaring that in both situations, God is still seen as the decreer and antecedent cause of evil (even the infralapsarian position). Thus, Arminius, argued, creation was not ultimately created as ‘good’, but as evil, since it was the theater intended for God to cause evil that his justice might be displayed (he also makes an argument from God’s love of  justice juxtaposed with God’s love of humanity).

So for Arminius, he believes that the supra/infralapsarian positions (the now Westminster Calvinist positions) both stumble over themselves because he thinks that God has caused salvation (antecedent or previous to) the ‘fall’ and sin. And thus repentance, justification, the incarnation, etc. become arbitrary middle terms that aren’t really necessary for salvation for the elect to be accomplished. In other words, Arminius’ point of attack focuses on the Calvinist position offering a ‘metaphysical’ salvation far away that does not really need the ‘physical’ (like the historical fall, etc.) in order to become reality. So Arminius is trying to offer a conception, in contrast to this, that offers a view of salvation that is (dare I say) actualistic and concretely particularized and realized in the ontology of the world, and within the parameters of salvation or redemptive history (i.e. not all predetermined back up in the absolute decrees of God somewhere in eternity).

Out of time, more to say, but this should do for now.

Jacobus Arminius’ Argument Against Supralapsarian Double Election From Creation

Here is one of many ways that Jacobus Arminius sought to undercut the supralapsarian double election teaching of some of the Calvinists of his day (and it should be noted that Arminius was of their number, ecclesially). This is Arminius finally offering his self-defense of his views on such things, which up until now had only been caricatured by his detractors as they made inferences from what some of Arminius’ students taught and preached from arminiustheir respective pulpits in Holland. Here is Arminius in his Declaration of Sentiments:

IX. This Predestination Is Diametrically Opposed to the Act of Creation

1. By virtue of its intrinsic nature, creation is a communication of that which is good; however, creation is not a communication of good when its purposive intent and design is set up to attain a predetermined reprobation. That which is good may be judged and determined to be good according to the mind and intention of the donor and according to the goal or purpose for which it is bestowed. In this instance, the intention of the donor would have to been to damn, an act that could only affect created beings, and the goal of the creative act was the eternal damnation of those beings. In which case, creation was not a communication of any good, but rather a preparation for the greatest evil—according to the very intention of the creator and the actual result of the event as designed. For such an event, the words of Christ are appropriate: “It would have been better for that one not to have been born” [Matt 26:24]. [W. Stephen Gunter, translator, Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary, 116.]

This is representative of one of many arguments and articles that make up this particular article on predestination and creation. Arminius is offering a series of arguments from different angles that seek to undercut supralpsarian double election teaching. You can see how his argument is very scholastic, syllogistic, and succinct—Arminius was no dummy!

What do you think about Arminius’ argument against double election from creation? Do you think his major premise, i.e. that creation is a communication of that which is good …, is the best way to argue against this doctrine (if you are so inclined to in fact argue)? And what does this reveal about Arminius’ own theological orientation, relative to his methodology? I mean, what does making a primary argument from creation say about Arminius’ chosen theological methodology? [Hint: It is something I have argued against more than once, and as a theme of my blogging against classic Calvinism]

One thing is for sure, though; to read Arminius, directly, throws him into a light that really overshadows what has become known as Arminianism today. Arminius was really more of a Calvinist than anything else (methodologically, conceptually, and so forth). He moved and breathed within that context (the Calvinist or Reformed one), and he sought to work with the same material datum that his opponents worked with; that is, working from an Aristotelian based metaphysics and conception of reality (or now known as classical Theism today). This is why I usually lump classical Arminians in with classical Calvinists; their approaches aren’t dissimilar at the material principled level (de jure), but instead, their disparity comes at the level of chosen emphases and referent. They both work from a conception of God that is heavily decretal (a God who works through a set of predetermined decrees).

From Whence Is Human Freedom?

I am reposting the following because I am working the next couple of days, and so don’t have the time to develop some things I would like to in response the discussion I have been having with Nathan in this thread. Some have asked what ‘grace all the way down’ might mean (in the thread and post I am referencing). Some of you are wondering how I might move differently than a classic Calvinist or Arminian in framing human action as grounded in a theological-christological anthropology—thus ultimately recasting, and somewhat avoiding the usual categories of working out of ‘the bondage of the will’ dialogue. So in lieu of me writing an actual post that would articulate how I might proceed; this post, and maybe one more tomorrow will have to suffice until I can do a proper (new) one. Somebody might think that some of the language from Barth sounds like what Billings is critiquing in the Arminian, but it’s not. Since Barth’s construct grounds what it means to be human, dogmatically, in the elect humanity of Christ for us. This is the piece that classic Arminianism (and Calvinism) is missing; i.e. ‘the classic way’ operates with a competitive view between Divine-human action vis-á-vis human action simpliciter. Meaning that the classic approach, does not ground humanity from the humanity of Christ in an objective gracious way. Instead, it sees humanity as abstracted from the humanity of Christ in need of union with his humanity which is only actualised through their cooperation with God in salvation by habituating in the ‘created grace’ (which becomes the impersonal intermediary that binds elect or foreknown humanity to Christ’s humanity). More to be said. Here’s Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ as ‘God with us’, which becomes the recreated humanity through which our humanity elevated to what it means to be human; or free for God.

Here is a great statement from Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ,

[T]he answer is that we ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and gift of our salvation. By it we are made free fro Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remains to us of life and activity in the face of this actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment. It is not a small thing, but the greatest of all. It is not for us a passive presence as spectators, but our true and highest activation—the magnifying of His grace which has its highest and most profound greatness in the fact that God has made Himself man with us, to make our cause His own, and as His own to save it from disaster and to carry it through to success. The genuine being of man as life and activity, the “We with God,” is to affirm this, to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains, to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community, of those who know that this is all that remains to us, but that it does remain to us and that for all men everything depends upon its coming to pass. And it is this “We with God” that is meant by the Christian message in its central “God with us,” when it proclaims that God Himself has taken our place, that He Himself has made peace between Himself and us, that by Himself he has accomplished our salvation, I.e., our participation in His being. [Karl Barth CD IV/I, p. 12]

This is the kind of stuff I am looking for. A theological anthropology, that is Christological; that honors the integrity of created humanity by giving humanity its place in the recreated humanity of Jesus Christ for us. It is a participationist humanity that we are given as a gift, we don’t possess it in ourselves. The giveness of humanity is where humanity flourishes through its relation in the divine life (i.e. the proper order) in Christ. This early section in IV/I is entitled “God with Us.”

Why FreeWill Theism and Arminians’ ‘Choice’ is Theologically Aloof, pace Billings

I haven’t addressed (for some time) some of the very things that originally gave this blog inception in the first place; i.e. things related to Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the more frequent points of departure between the two camps is the question about freedom of choice in regards to salvation. Arminians argue that we have free will, albeit aided by prevenient grace, and thus have the capacity to choose or reject God’s free offer of salvation. The Reformed, or Calvinists, believe that man’s ‘will is in bondage’ to itself; and thus the only choice man will make is for himself. Further, Calvinists argue that salvation must be all of God and all of grace, or man has room to boast that he had a part in his salvation; etc. These are some of the basics that keep the continued debate going (as an Evangelical Calvinist I have a unique way to side-step this whole apparent dilemma–fodder for another post). I, in principle, side with the Reformed (of course, since I am Reformed … and this is one of the things that makes me Reformed). J. Todd Billings sketches the Reformed position, and in the process critiques the Arminian position that shows why it is untenable, theologically.

[B]ut how can we receive or even have faith unless we are free to do so on our own? This frequent question assumes that true humanity is humanity autonomous from God rather than united to God. The Reformation doctrine of the bondage of the will to sin asserts that, apart from the Spirit’s regeneration, the fallen will is unable to do any good that could contribute to salvation. No part of the fallen human being is untainted by sin such that it could take the first step toward God—that is what total (extensive) depravity is. But this claim is not a new speculation born out of the Reformation. It is simply the consequence of a theology of salvation and communion that John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters are well aware of: in the words of Christ, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

One faces a similar issue in interpreting Paul’s imperatives, which, if taken out of context, may appear to make divine and human agency partitive and competitive: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Is Paul postulating an autonomous way of speaking about the Christian will, such that Christians “grieve” God unless they obey him from an autonomous space? No. Once again, this is part of Paul’s eschatological way of speaking. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” like “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), is an imperative to live into the God-given identity that Christians have already received in Christ. For example, in Ephesians, the neighbor-love imperatives of 4:25 through 5:1 are rooted in the indicative of union in Christ: “for we are members of one another” (4:25). Ephesians does not exhort us to make ourselves members of Christ’s body; rather, being a member of Christ’s body is the accomplished fact that leads to the exhortation to speak only what is “useful for building up,” avoiding the evil talk and bitterness that would “grieve the Holy Spirt” (4:29-30). Similarly, Paul roots the imperative of Romans 13:14 in the indicative of union with Christ, which is prominent in the book of Romans. Only by removing such imperatives from the eschatological “now” but “not yet” that conditions Paul’s theology of union with Christ can one use such passages to support the notion that Christian action has a space that is autonomous from the Spirit’s work. Why is it impossible for the fallen human to take the first step toward God? Because it would be a contradiction in terms, both scripturally and logically, when the scriptural framework outlined above is owned. To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin—the corollary to salvation as communion.

If we are to move the implications of this position to a post-Reformation era, we can see how it differs from a classic Arminian position. On the one hand, unlike Pelagius, Arminians affirm that fallen humans cannot choose God on their own. Yet, in contrast to the Reformed explanation, the Spirit’s prevenient grace lifts the sinner to a state of equilibrium in which the sinner can either choose or reject God’s gospel. But this explanation is impossible without assuming that true humanity is autonomous from God rather than in divinely enabled communion with God. Why? Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself,” rather than effected “by the Spirit.”

Yet Arminians could object that their view of prevenient grace affirms divine initiative and communion with God the Spirit in the moment of decision. That is true, in a certain sense. But Arminians don’t confess that divinely enabled communion goes “all the way down,” so to speak. There is divine initiative not just at the conception of Christ in Mary but throughout the incarnation. We do not abide in Christ the Vine at the beginning, only to be replanted after Christ has given us new life. No. We abide in Christ “all the way down.” Apart from this abiding, John says, we can do nothing. The Arminian denial of the effectual or causal dimension of the Spirit’s work occurs to preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will. But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.” Only by the Spirit’s effectual work can one move toward communion with God. Or, stated differently, only by communion with God can we move toward communion with God. That’s what the Reformed teaching of the bondage of the will affirms. —J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, 47-9

Still here 😉 ? With the obvious popularity of Arminian Evangelical Roger Olson, and others; it is apparent that Arminian Freewillism is popular amongst all sorts of Evangelical Christians (e.g. not just those who are self consciously Arminian in theology, like Olson). I think Billings throws down the Reformed gauntlet, and I am unaware of how what Billings has written can be defeated by an Arminian response. If you know of one, let me know; won’t you?