The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

Archive for the ‘Phil Johnson’ Category

Phil Johnson on the ‘Feminization’ of the Church

I wonder what you, dear reader, think of the following snippet of this message from Phil Johnson (in case you don’t know, Johnson is Executive Producer of John MacArthur’s radio ministry Grace To You, as well as MacArthur’s editor for his many books, and also an in demand speaker [he seems to be gaining more and more notoriety within parts of Evangelicalism—even though Johnson is a heavy critic of American Evangelicalism in general [as am I], and also founder of popular biblioblog, Pyromaniacs); here’s the video:

There has been a lot of hub-bub, as of late around John Piper’s comments on the masculination of Christianity; and yet Phil’s message has seemed to slip under the radar of some. Obviously Johnson is a staunch complementarian, and this informs the rather rugged tenor of his communique’ (by the way, I am also a complementarian—but of a softer version). Anyway, I just wonder what you all think of Johnson’s message; and the response he received as he delivered it at Shepherd’s Conference 2010?

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Written by Bobby Grow

March 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Phil Johnson Critiquing Robert George and the 'Old Thomism'

This is in response to Phil Johnson of Pyromaniac fame. He recently posted an article, at his blog, on Robert George [Princeton Lawyer, and champion of conservative ethics, also devout Roman Catholic] (one of the signers of the “Manhattan Declaration”); he was offering a scathing critique of George’s usage of “Natural Law.” You can read his “critique” here.

I ended up making a comment on Phil’s article, I said:

Phil,

I agree with your critique of George’s use of reason; but where do you think that comes from? He is, and Rome is, pure and simple Thomist. This dichotomy between Faith and Reason fountain-heads from there.

What I find ironic about your critique is that your sword cuts both ways. I wish the TULIP and its history was as pure and biblical as we are lead to believe; but unfortunately it is not. It’s informing doctrine of God is as thoroughly “Thomist” as George’s ethics and natural law are. So either the “Calvinist” can simply reject what I just said; or accept it, and just remain internally inconsistent when critiques are made of natural law theory.

Just my 2 cents . . .

After a series of comments (of which one of the “Pyros” deleted two of mine), Phil says to me, in a summarizing kind of way:

. . . Moreover, the threads of similarity and realationship between Thomist soteriology and Calvinism are a lot less clear-cut than you imply. That’s only one of several reasons your argument is simplistic and jejune.

But for the umpteenth time, this is not the place to have that discussion. Not only does the above post have nothing to do with Calvinism; it makes no reference to Thomas Aquinas, either. You’re the one that brought him up. I realize he stressed “natural law,” but he didn’t invent the idea, and this post was not making any argument about Aquinas per se.

Incidentally, one of Thomas’s central beliefs, and something he wrote tons of material in defense of, is the doctrine of divine omniscience. Would you suggest that everyone who argues against Open Theism is a “Thomist”? Do you think everyone who accepts the doctrine of divine omniscience is so indebted to Thomas that it would be inconsistent to accept omniscience and yet reject Aquinas’s stress on natural law? Are we obliged to entertain a debate about Thomism in our meta every time a post makes reference to divine omniscience?

That’s essentially the argument you’ve tried to make about Calvinism. It’s silly.

Period.

I’ll clarify one more time: because this post made no reference to either Thomas Aquinas or Calvinism, the debate you want to have is off topic here, and any further reference to it, by anyone–for ANY reason–will result in a ban. (And it will be a permanent ban if the culprit is a repeat offender.)

I want to provide more feedback to this kind of thinking by Phil, but if I do it over there, It will either be deleted and/or I will be banned or both; so I’ll do it from the safety of my own little cyber-space.

It is severly naive to think that the TULIP and the ethics of Robert George have nothing to do with eachother; and yet this is exactly what Phil believes. It is naive because both start, methodologically, with a Doctrine of God that is Thomist (viz. a doctrine of God that construes God as the ‘unmoved mover’ or a ‘Monadic singularity’ from whence the persons of the Trinity ‘subsist’). It is this vision of God that strings reality together in a series of analogical connections; so that all of reality finally finds its cause in the “First cause” God (we can analogically work our way, through ‘reason’ by ‘perfecting grace’ through a series of links that ultimately get us to this God — i.e. start with man, move to Angels, move to God). It is this doctrine of God that allows for the appeal to “Natural Law” that George makes (an inseparably related dichotomy between ‘faith and reason’); and at the same time allows for a TULIP’ist to appeal to the notion that God died for a limited amount of people known as the elect.

Let me explain: Both the “natural lawist” and the “TULIP’ist” assume on this split between “nature and grace;” so that nature predicates grace (or man somehow predicates who God is), at least this is the unwanted implication. The Thomist sees this dilemma, so they appeal to Aristotle’s causation, which allows them to speak of primary and secondary causation; more popularly known as “decrees.”

When applied to George’s Thomist ethics, this means that he can appeal to “Natural Law” because it is something that fits within a Thomist world of “secondary causation.” God is the primary cause, but He has so created that nature has the ability to act “freely” within itself — according to itself — because of this man has the appitude within himself to know right from wrong by simply looking at nature. What this does, though, is assume on a split between nature and grace so that God is seen as the primary cause, and ethics are seen as the result of man reflecting upon observations of nature (which is a result of secondary causation, not directly associated with God — God remains untouched by nature).

Similarly, the TULIP’ist, like Phil Johnson represents, when thinking through the logic of the TULIP also appeals to this aforementioned split between nature and grace. For him, he believes that God ‘unconditionally elected’ a particular group of people to ‘save’ and die for (limited atonement); and that this choice is based within God’s decree (secondary cause). This belief places a wedge between nature and grace by assuming the Aristotelian notion that ‘God’ is an unmoved mover who cannot be touched by His creation (if so He has been moved by someone/thing other than Himself). The problem is, is that in this framework, God in Christ, then becomes subserviant to His decrees when He becomes man in the Incarnation. This means that something/one other than Himself (nature — secondary cause) has dictated how or who He should be; and that is apart from His own self-determined person.

The similarity between both George and Johnson’s approaches is in their respective ‘Doctrine of God’. They both work out of the notion that God is the ‘unmoved mover’ (even if Phil denies it, this is the history and framework that has given birth to the TULIP). They both assume that God works through ‘secondary causes’. Thus they both assume that God is predicated to be who He is by nature — thus they make God ‘contingent’ upon His creation; whether that be in the realm of ethics (George), or in the realm of soteriology (Johnson).

For Phil to say that my points on his critique of George were simple and jejune is simply to admit that he is either unaware of the facts; or he is aware, and simply chooses to ignore them in order to maintain a modicum of ‘biblicism’ when in fact what is really being maintained is a ‘Thomist’ doctrine of God in the name of ‘biblicism’ (which is even worse).

Written by Bobby Grow

December 27, 2009 at 7:20 am