Archive for the ‘Total Depravity’ Category

Romanides on Original (Ancestral) Sin

November 6, 2008

Romanides’ thesis is that the Fathers of the second and third centuries believed (contra Augustine) that the effect of Adam’s sin was to introduce death (constituted in the loss of divine grace) into the race of man. Through death Satan rules mankind and causes them to sin. Important in this is that 1. God is not the author of sin or death 2. Satan is no instrument of divine wrath 3. Death is no punishment inflicted by God but rather the natural consequence of our sin which came at the deceptive prompting of Satan, thus it actually makes sense for God to want to save us from death.

This is how:

“In the first place, the deprivation of divine grace impairs the mental powers of the newborn infant; thus, the mind of man has a tendency toward evil from the beginning. This tendency grows strong when the ruling force of corruption becomes perceptible in the body. Through the power of death and the devil, sin that reigns in man gives rise to fear and anxiety and to the general instinct of self-preservation or survival. Thus, Satan manipulates man’s fear and his desire for self-satisfaction, raising up sin in him, in other words, transgression against the divine will regarding unselfish love, and provoking man to stray from his original destiny. Since weakness is caused in the flesh by death, Satan moves man to countless passions and leads him to devious thoughts, actions, and selfish relations with God as well as with his fellow man. Sin reigns both in death and in the mortal body because ‘the sting of death is sin'”

The Ancestral Sin pg. 162

Conditional Election in the Incarnation

March 2, 2008

Defenders of unconditional election will generally deny that there are any examples of God choosing a person based on qualities internal to them in Scripture. Many of them will also assert that if God depends on human decisions (if He “waits on man to respond” as it is sometimes said) to accomplish salvation, then this robs God of his glory and sovereignty, because its really man’s choice that counts, not God’s.

Luke 1:28-30
“Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…”

If defenders of unconditional election are correct about these two ideas, then why does it seem that in Christ’s incarnate economy, the very foundation of our salvation, God elects Mary based on a faith that she chooses to have? Notice the lack of “God elected you to accept grace” language; rather, its “God elected you because you accepted grace”. And if God conditionally elected in something as great as the Incarnation, why not think God conditionally elects in personal election of believers unto salvation?

Inclusivism (3): A false implication of Romans 10:8-17

December 13, 2007

A common argument for religious exclusivism comes from Paul’s statements about hearing and believing in Romans 10. Here I will examine one argument for exclusivism in Romans 10:8-17 and the inclusivist response. The verses read as follows:

…But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

A standard argument given is as follows:

1. Paul says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
2. Saying that confession and belief are a necessary precondition for salvation imply that lack of confession and belief rules out salvation.
C. Therefore Paul rules out salvation for those who lack confession and belief.

Is this right? No. As the moderate Evangelical theologian John Sanders points out in his book “No Other Name”,

Some believe that Paul asserted the necessity of knowing about Christ for salvation when he said that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (10:9). But logically this means nothing more than that confession of Christ is one sure way to experience salvation: Paul does not say anything about what will happen to those who do not confess Christ because they have never heard of Christ. The text is logically similar to the condition statement “If it rains, then the sidewalk will be wet.” If the condition is fulfilled (if it rains), then the consequent will follow (the sidewalk will be wet). But we cannot with certainty say, “If it is not raining, the sidewalk will not be wet.” Someone may turn on a sprinkler, or there may be a pile of melting snow nearby–any number of thigns besides rain might make the sidewalk wet. It is sometimes argued that since all those who accept Christ are saved, it must follow that only those who know about and accept Christ are saved. But this is like arguing that since all Collies are dogs, all dogs must be collies. The argument is simply fallacious. We can be certain the text is telling us that hearing about and coming to know Jesus is one sure way to experience salvation, but we can be just as certain that the text is not explicitly telling us that all the unevangelized are damned.(p 67-8)

This is precisely the fallacy called “affirming the consequent”; Sanders illustrates it well when he gives the sidewalk/rain example. Saying “If p then q” and then affirming “q” does not imply “p”.

Sanders admits in a footnote that applying strict standards of linguistic precision to this text may be inappropriate, as some critics of this response have suggested. Paul might be saying that one can only be saved by believing in Christ explicitly. But the question he raises is one worth pondering: why think that Paul is saying that? We would have to assume that something more is going on behind the text than what the grammar indicates and requires. But is there any good reason to do that here?

There are other arguments for exclusivism from Romans 10, but they will have to wait for future posts. It seems that this one, though, is relatively unpersuasive.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (I): Preliminary Considerations

December 10, 2007

Many Orthodox theologians dissociate themselves from using or endorsing arguments for God’s existence. It is sometimes claimed that the early Church Fathers–the early Christian theologians of the first few centuries–rejected human reason and logic and were mystics who did not care about philosophical questions. While it is true that reasoning from the reality of creation to a Creator does not factor into the theology of the Early Church Fathers in the way it does perhaps in subsequent Western theology, it has always seemed to me to be an exaggeration to deny that “natural theology” has any part to play in their thought.

The purpose of this series will be to examine the place of arguments for God’s existence and what I will call “common theistic claims” (beliefs theists generally hold about the soul, nature, etc.) in the thought of the Eastern Fathers. When I say “natural theology” I don’t mean the idea that natural reason can approach the divine essence; I just mean that human reason and experience can lead us to some knowledge of the existence of God (his activities as Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, etc.). Because of the extremely negative connotation “natural theology” has in contemporary theology, I will instead use the phrase “theistic arguments” or “arguments for God’s existence”. And notice that I do not say *unaided* human reason; because grace never abandoned nature, all intellectual movement toward God is God-given. My preliminary thesis is that the use of arguments for God’s existence and common theistic claims in the Eastern Fathers can be characterized in the following ways:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in the Fathers. By “foundation” I mean “beliefs that constitute the basic claims of Christianity which serve as the starting point for theology”. A foundational belief for Christian theology is “Jesus Christ is God”; this claim is part of the initial deliverances of Christian revelation. My claim is that “natural theology” does not serve as a starting point for what gives Christian faith its authority. It comes to conclusions that fit with the “foundation”; but the process is not itself the foundation. The ultimate authority of Christian claims comes from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the authority is known (or reasonably believed) ultimately through experience of God.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical. By rhetorical/persuasive/polemical I mean that they serve a purpose of moving those outside of the Christian faith toward the faith by showing the intellectual inadequacy of naturalism, dualism, Platonism, pantheism, etc. By rhetorical I do not, however, mean “lacking in intellectual integrity”, “merely intellectual and linguistic games”, or “lacking in substance”. Theistic arguments tell us real things about the world and can be used to persuade non-Christians or help the faith of catechumens and students.

(3) The conclusions are modest. The Fathers do not attempt to idolize philosophical rationality by claiming that arguments for God’s existence give deep insights into the nature of God. They don’t bring us all the way to the Christian God. They do not infer a whole lot about God but give us some basic propositions that fit with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

Inclusivism (2): Responsibility and Knowledge in the New Testament

December 9, 2007

A standard ethical principle is that we are can only be held fully responsible for the actions we do if we are sufficiently aware of their wrongness. This directly relates to the inclusivism/exclusivism debate. If knowledge of a certain kind is necessary to be fully responsible for your relation to God, then if this principle holds, people who lack this knowledge should (plausibly) be treated differently. The following is an exegetical argument for the conclusion that degrees of moral knowledge correlate to degrees of responsibility in the New Testament.

Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The action of “overlooking” seems to indicate a lesser degree of judgment. The overlooking is in response to human ignorance–specifically ingnorance about salvation through the specific God of Israel and his Messiah. This past fact is now to some degree and in some sense being reversed; God expects an appropriate response because of Jesus’ appearing. The scope of this reversal is not, however, evident.

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus here intercedes on behalf of the ignorant. He seems to imply, in his prayer, that because of the ignorance of those who are harming him, they are not to be held fully responsible for their actions.

Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Though it is not directly stated here that there is a decreased degree of responsibility for those who are previously ignorant, it is interesting to note the range of people to whom Jesus’ statement applies. Not being fit for the kingdom is an issue for those who *look back*. The punishment of the unworthy only applies (here at least) to those that reject what they have already been given.

Luke 12:47-8 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a greater beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. For everyone to whom much has been given, mcuh will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Here Jesus teaches the lesser punishment of those who are ignorant of the wrongness of their actions.

Matthew 11:20-24 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds fo power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

The fact that judgment will be more tolerable for those who did not witness the “deeds of power” implies the principle that a lesser degree of knowledge they had decreased their culpability.

James 1:22-5 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they look like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

Though this passage does not touch on those who are not “hearers”, there is a distinctive emphasis on awareness of the law as what divides people into two categories–hearers who do and hearers who do not obey. If other categories exist they are not explicitly mentioned.

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Similarly to above, there is an emphasis on defining moral wrongdoing with relation to knowledge.

Romans 2:12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Though Saint Paul does not say that existing apart from the Mosaic law makes one *not* a sinner in any sense, there does seem to be something special about sinning “under” the law (presumably meaning “with awareness of it due to membership in Israel”). Paul talks later about how the Gentiles who exist apart from the law still have awareness of the law in their hearts. This could be taken to imply that everyone has equal consciousness of the law and are thus equally guilty; but it seems that if we go this route, verse 12 doesn’t make as much sense.

Romans 3:30 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Again, this doesn’t say that there’s no knowledge of sin at all apart from the law. Yet this does seem to be making a distinction of some kind between those who have the law and those who don’t.

Romans 7:7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Similarly to Romans 3:30 there is not a denial that one can know sin *in any sense* apart from the law (and Romans 2:14 seems to suggest this, as well as Romans 7:22 if you read it as Witherington suggests–see here for a summary of Witherington’s exegesis). But there does seem to be a lesser degree of awareness, perhaps, or something like that as a result of not having the law. One could also interpret “know” in a sort of “acquaintance” sense, such that one could not be acquainted with sin apart from the law; but I am not sure if this is as plausible of a reading as understanding “know” in a sense of “being aware that I am doing”. And even if we grant that it means “know” in an acquaintance sense, doesn’t this still imply that lacking knowledge of sin would mean that we are obstructed from sinning?

A plausible conclusion to draw from the above verses is that there is some kind of direct relationship between the amount of knowledge we have about right and wrong and the guilt that comes from sinning.

Inclusivism (1): The Issues

December 9, 2007

There is a debate about salvation in Christian theology with respect to the “unevangelized”. An unevangelized person is someone who has never heard the message of Christianity. The problem that these people pose for Christianity is easy to see. If God is all-loving, and wills the salvation of all, and faith is necessary for salvation, and there are people who never even have an opportunity to exercise faith, then this seems to create a problem: God does not give an opportunity for salvation to all people. This series of posts will be aimed at articulating the approach to this issue called “inclusivism”, according to which salvation does not require explicit knowledge of the historical facts of Christianity.

The Questions

In order to explain the range of opinions on this subject, consider the following two questions:

-Is every human person saved?
-What are the conditions for salvation with respect to the kind of *knowledge* a person must have?

The first question can be given two different answers: yes and no.

-A person who answers “yes” to the first question is called a “universalist”.
-A person who answers “no” to the first question is called a “particularist”.

I will take it for granted that particularism is true, and move on to assess questions about how salvation becomes available.

With respect to the second question about conditions of knowledge for salvation, several sub-questions arise:

Is explicit knowledge of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Kingdom of God has come by the power of his death and resurrection for all who repent and believe–necessary for salvation?

-A person who answers “yes” is called an “exclusivist”.
-A person who answers “no” is called an “inclusivist”.

Regardless of whether or not this knowledge is necessary, how can people gain access to this knowledge?

-One answer (sometimes erroneously considered the traditional view) is called “restrictivism”, according to which only missionary work by human Christian missionaries can make the knowledge necessary for salvation available.
-A second view is called “post-mortem evangelism”, according to which after death, unevangelized people are given a chance to convert to Christianity.
-A third answer is called “accessiblism”, according to which God provides access to the Gospel to every appropriate person, whether through human missionaries, or direct revelation (dreams, angels, etc.). Many accessiblists think that God is not obligated to reveal himself to people who He knows wouldn’t respond to Him if given the opportunity.

If it is not necessary that one have explicit knowledge of the Gospel, then what are the conditions of salvation?

-Inclusivists vary widely on this issue, giving answers that include monotheism, belief in a future life, belief in future judgment, belief in one’s own sinfulness, belief that God remedies one’s sinfulness through salvation, and various other potential points.

I will be attempting in this series to weigh arguments in favor of exclusivism and inclusivism, and eventually move to questions about the different varieties of exclusivism.

Sources of Information:

Biblical data bears on these questions in the following ways:

-Principles could be located in Scripture that either entail or refute these positions.
-Principles could be located in Scripture that make up the assumptions and frameworks of these various views or count against their assumptions and frameworks.
-Concrete examples could be given of people who fit the criteria unique to one of the specific views.

Reason can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-What we know about God from nature could count for or against any of the views
-There could be concrete examples from our experience that support one of these views
-There could be an implication that we could draw from logical or philosophical principles in conjunction with our knowledge of God from nature, a concrete example from our experience, or the content of Scripture, that would support one of the views.

Tradition can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-The majority view of the early fathers may be that one approach is true
-Principles in the early fathers may favor one approach

It is important to realize that some of these views can overlap, such as post-mortem evangelism and inclusivism.

These distinctions help set the groundwork for assessing the strength of these various views.

Depravity and the Absolute Importance of Prayer

October 29, 2007

Recently I’ve been reading one of the basics in Orthodox spirituality: “The Way of The Pilgrim, and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.” So I guess, that would actually be two books, but it’s in one volume, so…eh. But the Pilgrim books are the old story of a Russian pilgrim who wonders across the land with nothing but a knapsack on his back with breadcrusts and his Bible in it. He travels to various holy sites, attends liturgy, and somehow finds a way to get enough hospitality to survive.

One day the Pilgrim hears an epistle reading during liturgy in which the words “Pray without ceasing…” are said, and from then on he decides he must find out what this means. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Orthodox prayer/spirituality. In the “Sixth Meeting,” in “The Pilgrim Continues His Way,” the pilgrim is having a conversation, when one of the wiser men decides to give him a lecture on some of the mysteries of the “Philokalia.”

Within this talk, the man decides to explain what part men play in their own salvations, ie: what is left up to our wills. First, he brings up faith, because obviously faith is necessary for salvation. But, the man says, man can’t just have faith. Faith is a gift from God. On his own, man cannot even produce faith the size of a mustard seed. So how can we get this gift? Ask and ye shall recieve the man responds.

Next, he brings up works. For as St. James says, “Faith without works is dead,” and “For a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” However, St. Paul reveals to us that we are powerless an unable to justify ourselves by keeping all the commandments of the law. So how can one be saved? The Savior Himself reveals this mystery: “Without me ye can do nothing,” and “He who abides in Me…bears much fruit.” To be in Christ, the man says, is, “continually to know His presence and to unceasingly to ask in His name.” So the man says, once again we see that it is only through prayer that one can ever perform good works. This, he says, is “why prayer is necessary above all else, because it gives life to faith and through it all the virtues are aquired.”

Not so fast though, the man next tells us that “True prayer requires its own conditions. It mus tbe offered with a pure mind and heart, with ardent zeal and undivided attention, with tremendous awe and profound humility.” Yet, obviously no one does this because as the blessed St. Paul tells us, “…we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” So what can a man do if he can’t even pray right, but all of salvation comes down to prayer? The only thing that is actually up to our will, the man says, is quantity.

So there you have it. How depraved are we? Pretty doggone depraved, but not completely. We have it within our power to choose how frequently we pray. It’s not within our power to have faith, do good works, or to pray rightly, but we can choose how much we pray in our own feeble, imperfect manner. True prayer is a gift of grace.

So the question is…how often do call up on the name of the Lord for mercy? Might want to rethink the priority that you currently assign to your prayer life. I know I have. Peace and blessings.