04 June 2012

Inability and Responsibility

by Phil Johnson



ere's a bit of e-mail correspondence from someone who is adamantly opposed to the biblical (and Calvinistic) doctrine of total depravity. He insists that if sinners are spiritually unable to summon faith from their own hearts by their own free will, then they cannot be held responsible for their unbelief. Since we know they are responsible if they remain unrepentant, he says, we cannot say their depravity renders them unable to come to Christ in faith. Would God hold them responsible for something they are totally unable to do?

I cited the argument Jonathan Edwards makes in Freedom of the Will: that the sinner's problem is a "moral inability," not a "natural inability" (Edwards' words).

In other words, the problem with fallen humanity is not a physical incapacity or a lack of some intellectual, emotional, or rational faculty; it is that our wills are in bondage to sin. Fallen people sin willfully, not under compulsion or duress. They know full well what God's righteousness demands of them, and they refuse that duty, not because of factors beyond their control, but because they love sin and hate God. And it is that hatred of God that renders them unable to repent and trust Him.

Therefore the sinner's inability does not nullify (or even mitigate) his responsibility. He is without excuse (Romans 1:20).

My correspondent flatly rejected Edwards's distinction, appealing only to "common sense." "Inability is inability," he wrote.

The following exchange ensued between us. I've framed his messages in blue boxes:

Simply put: I reject the false dichotomy between "moral inability" and "natural inability." Inability is inability. You are simply failing to come to grips with the ramifications of your own doctrinal system.


But I've already given multiple examples to show that inability is not always morally exculpatory. Yet you are simply reasserting your original presupposition (that "inability is inability" and inability always rules out responsibility)—and your only defense of that claim is that it's "self-evident."

Well, it's not self-evident to me. If that's your best defense of Arminianism, your theology is in trouble.

Nevertheless, let me give one more example: Here's a man at a party who is so drunk he is unable to keep from wetting his pants. On the other hand, here's an infant who is unable to keep from wetting his diapers because he is only 10 days old.

Do you think the infant's inability is morally equivalent to the inability of the drunk?

Yes, because in either case, unless (according to Calvinism) God has regenerated the individual, he will simply be unable to believe, no matter his age or experience. So age and experience make absolutely no difference. What makes the difference, in Calvinism, is regeneration. But if you want to hold to a doctrine that views babies as hopelessly evil, created solely for the purpose of eternal torment, hey, knock yourself out.


You missed the whole point, or else you deliberately ignored it. I know you don't really think the drunk's inability exculpates him. Even your vaunted "common sense" tells you the drunk's inability is different from the inability of the infant—because the drunk's inability is the fruit of his own wrongdoing. Claiming his inability renders him blameless is like the gang-banger who kills his own parents to get drug money and then pleads with the court to show him mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.

See: "Common sense" actually forces us to acknowledge that there are different kinds of "inability," and inability per se does not necessarily absolve us from responsibility and guilt.

But Scripture commands sinners to believe. You simply cannot say they are unable to do what the Lord commands.


That argument is as biblically unsound as your original appeal to "common sense" was rationally deficient. God frequently commands us to do what we have no ability to do (cf. Matthew 5:48). And Scripture clearly teaches that sinners are unable to please God (Romans 8:7-8). They are nonetheless damned for their sin.

You need to rely more on the Bible and less on what seems reasonable to your rationalistic notion of "common sense."

Your "drunkard vs. baby" analogy simply does not hold water.


Nice accidental pun, but that wasn't an analogy. I was simply making the point that there is more than one kind of inability. The inability of the drunk is not morally equivalent to the inability of the infant. Trying to dodge that rather obvious point doesn't help the Arminian case, here.

But the man in your tale was not born drunk. It is not relevant as an analogy to human depravity.


Again: I was not making an analogy. I was merely trying to disabuse you of the notion that "inability is inability" and no legitimate distinction can ever be made between moral inability (as in the case of the drunkard) and natural inability (the reason we don't look askance when the baby soaks diaper after diaper).

Nonetheless, the comparison between that drunkard's incontinence and our fallenness is not as irrelevant as you suggest, because our sinful behavior shows that we are complicit with Adam in his rebellion. We cannot claim to be "innocent" victims of original sin, as you are trying to portray. Our sinful inability is more like that of the drunk than the infant. That is the very point Jonathan Edwards was making when he distinguished between moral and natural inability. Our inability is a moral defect, not a natural one. And therefore we are guilty because of it.

It works this way even in everyday life, too. You don't excuse a sluggard just because he was born with lazy tendencies, do you? Do you buy the claim that even homosexual behavior is OK because some people seem to be born with a constitutional attraction to people of the same gender?

I still say it is self-evident that the distinction you are trying to make is bogus.


Of course you do. It always comes down to that in Arminian theology, doesn't it? You just know inability nullifies responsibility, even though the Bible never says that, and even though plenty of verses could be cited to prove otherwise.

Thanks for the feedback, but I'd rather trust Scripture than your notion of what is "self-evident."

The bottom line is that unredeemed sinners are sinfully unable to do anything God demands of them (Romans 8:7-8). Yet God does hold them responsible for their disobedience. Your whole argument thus falls apart with your presuppositions.


Phil's signature


140 comments:

Mike Westfall said...

See, this cat is pushing a watermelon out of a lake, so your whole argument is bogus.

Bill O'Neill said...

Unless the watermelon holds water? Thanks for the post. I've been at a loss when it comes to arguing, I mean discussing the truth of the T in TULIP. And now it's as good a time as any to dig back into J. Edwards.

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

Phil: thanks for sharing the discourse. I had a similar discussion with an Arminian brother some time ago and I agree with you, there is an over reliance on what seems right, ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture that in Adam all sinned and that we are all dead.

Rom 5:12: Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
Eph 2:1: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins

Context is king and I cannot for the life of me how we get around “all” and “dead”. All means all, no exceptions, and “dead” means dead, i.e. without life. The spiritually dead includes everybody, at least some period of time, until regeneration. What comes next is the Arminian finding different instances where “all” and “dead” are used and illicitly comparing the two uses. Sigh, while they are brothers, it often is quite similar to discussing things with the other capital “A” folks, the Arians.

Nash Equilibrium said...

People always seem to get confused by what you said here: "They are nonetheless damned for their sin." This man you are corresponding with seems to think people are damned for their unbelief, which is only indirectly true. But we are directly damned for our sin, and then damned again if we won't embrace the incredibly generous pardon God has made available.

By the way, medical science also says that alcoholism is a disease which "the drunk" genetically inherited and is unable to control (just like homosexuality, etc). (You know, like original sin). lol

Manfred said...

It's interesting to me because it helped clarify something I've been wrestling with: The covenant given Moses on Mt. Sinai was part of the covenant of works, not of grace. The fact that the Hebrews could never keep it did not relieve them of their responsibility to do so, all of which (as does the balance of the laws that emerged from the 10 words) points them to their need for the One promised in Gen 3:15; the One Who would keep the Law. (This is Paul's argument in Galatians 5, to boot.)

olan strickland said...

But Scripture commands sinners to believe. You simply cannot say they are unable to do what the Lord commands.

That is my all-time favorite Arminian argument. TEN COMMANDMENTS dude!

yankeegospelgirl said...

I would still be interested to get a Calvinist's perspective on infant mortality.

Kerry James Allen said...

I humbly summon Chantry to tie the foxes tails together and burn the fields of the Arminians. Verily.

Manfred said...

yankeegospelgirl - I think infant mortality is an issue for medical doctors, not theologians :-)

A wise man would make no statement about whether babies inherit the kingdom of God, because it would do nobody any good and the Bible tells us all we need to know. All are born in sin and hell-bound. How can they be saved if they don't believe? etc. King David's statement does not develop a biblical doctrine about the salvation of infants.

Preach and teach the gospel to your children and trust God to save all He has chosen.

Kerry James Allen said...

YankeeGospelGirl: Read John MacArthur's book Safe in the Arms of God.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Thanks for the recommendation Kerry.

I don't really buy the equivocation of active sin with simply being born having the potential to sin. Yet I believe no man comes to the Father except through the Son. So it seems to me that there is no reason for the infant soul to be taken to Heaven OR Hell by default. The Catholics solved this problem by creating limbo. I don't really buy that either. What I could imagine is that God endows infant souls who have been taken from this world with the knowledge and understanding to choose good or evil. At that point they may reject or accept Christ. But of course, that's just an idea, and the Bible doesn't give us much to go by either way.

Bill said...

YGG: I concur with KJA's recommendation. GTY has a great number of resources concerning this very difficult topic. A two-part series Dr Mac gave covers it quite well:
http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-242/the-salvation-of-babies-who-die-part-1

Johnny Dialectic said...

Phil, I actually agree with one part of your response. I winced when your correspondent fell back on "common sense" as an argument. You rightly point out that it's Scripture that gives us truth, not our senses.

You did rhetorically overshoot on occasion, e.g., Of course you do. It always comes down to that in Arminian theology, doesn't it? You just know

And you know better than that. If your corresponded were, say, Roger Olson, you'd not be able to get away with this. True Arminian theology comes down to Scripture just as true Calvinistic theology. We can keep the argument there (where it's been from the beginning) and make our choices.

But I can overlook this magniloquent lapse because at least you don't indulge the way of the intellectual coward, via content-less and vituperative one-liners. You actually offer a meaty engagement along the way.

Your theological mistake is a common one, viz., total depravity = total inability. Your citation of Romans 8:7-8 is thus inapt. The context is the LAW, not the gospel. As long as a person is controlled by the flesh, he is unable to obey any command of the law as God wants it done and as the law requires. In the unbelieving state he cannot please God with respect to the law. But this text says nothing about a sinner being unable to respond to the gospel. In other passages it is clear that sinners are able and expected to respond to the gospel in faith and repentance (Matt 23:37; John 3:16; Rom 1:17; Rev 22:17).

Darrel said...

If we are to believe this person's line of thinking there are two conclusions that must be reached. First, God is unjust to require compliance with His Word on any level thereby rendering the Word ineffectual and/or a outright lie. Secondly, it raises the vaunted "free-will" of man over and above the will of the Father and in doing so opens the flood gates of pride and "bragging rigths" for all who claim to have been able to find faith in themselves apart from it being as it is in fact: a gift from God Eph. 2:8&9, 1Cor. 4:7.

If saving faith may be attained from within a man and apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, then that person has no need of grace. If you are able to overcome unbelief and the sin that resides within apart from God, then you have no need of grace. If you can find within yourself to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strenghth, then you have no need of grace.

So when does grace begin a work in your life, Mr. Armenian, when you request it? Show me in the Word where this is so.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has no place for the abilities of men to do anything "for" or toward God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is completely and only about the ability of Christ to save totally apart from the help or assistance of man. The only bragging that will go on in heaven will be that from saved sinners who were born (again) not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:13.

DJP said...

This perfectly illustrates what I've often observed:

Arminians invariably illustrate the disastrous results of starting somewhere else, then coming to the Word of God, and forcing it to comply with the "somewhere else" that commands their higher loyalty.

Kerry James Allen said...

As Dave Barry would say, "Vituperative one-liners" would be a great name for a rock band.
"The basis and groundwork of Arminian theology lies in attaching undue importance to man, and giving God rather the second place than the first." Spurgeon

Eric said...

Johnny,

Quote from Roger Olson:

"One day, at the end of a class session on Calvinism's doctrine of God's sovereignty, a student asked me a question I had put off considering. He asked: "If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn't question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?" I knew the only possible answer without a moment's thought, even though I knew it would shock many people. I said no, that I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster. Of course, I realize Calvinists do not think their view of God's sovereignty makes him a moral monster, but I can only conclude they have not thought it through to its logical conclusion or even taken sufficiently seriously the things they say about God and evil and innocent suffering in the world."

Still think that Phil is overshooting? Roger Olson would only use Scripture and not his own moral judgment of God and "logical conclusions"? You see, he just knows, and would refuse to worship God even if fully convinced from Scripture. Sounds an awful lot like what Phil is describing.

Kerry James Allen said...

From what I've read of Roger Olson, I would't puff him here unless you want some egg on your face. He is perilously close to Open Theism if not there already. And where does Arminianism logically lead you? Open Theism, of course.

DJP said...

Thanks, Eric, for illustrating EXACTLY what I just said.

olan strickland said...

Johnny Dialectic: But this text says nothing about a sinner being unable to respond to the gospel.

This text does.

Sorry for another one-liner :)

Jay Beerley said...

This is what makes me incredibly sad about my SBC brethren and this ridiculous statement (which I'm sure you've seen by now, Phil):

"Traditional Southern Baptist"

The denial of the federal headship of Adam, the imputation of guilt (which makes the imputation of righteousness so glorious), is certainly under much attack.

What cracks me up, I hope this isn't off topic, is that if you strip this away everything else crumbles away. A true Armenian wouldn't argue for Perseverance of the Saints, but these off-base Southern Baptists are trying to have their cake and eat it to. So they've constructed a system whereby sin doesn't remove your "ability" to respond to the gospel, but salvation removes your free will to turn apostate. Simply ridiculous.

Eric said...

Dan,

Agreed. Finding/understanding God in Scripture only in a way that we can accept Him based on our sensibilities is idolatry - had a good sermon on that yesterday afternoon.

Whenever I see/hear people want to judge God according to their sensibilities (ie - "I could not worship that moral monster"), I always think of Habakkuk 2:20 - "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him." That verse comes immediately after God mocks those who would set up an idol of wood or stone and worship it.

While we don't often encounter idols of wood and stone today, idols of the heart are a dime a dozen (starting with those idols in my heart that must be cast down).

donsands said...

"Your theological mistake is a common one"-JD

I se where Phil was spot on my friend.

Like we have discussed in the past, we are dead, we are corpses, who need to be quickened, or born again.

Your thought is : "mostly dead".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9tAKLTktY0

Kerry James Allen said...

a-r-m-I-n-i-a-n

Eduardo Barrientos said...

People reject election and effective grace because they do not understand our deathness and blindness before God sovereignly intervened.

My salvation was by grace alone, not by grace plus my free will.

Daryl said...

I am sure that there are Armenians who would affirm all that Phil wrote here.

Arminians...not so much.

Kerry James Allen said...

Not oxymoron: Calvinistic Armenian.

Eric said...

Entering the discussion in 3...2...1...: "But, we solved the problem of inability by making up this little thing called prevenient grace. You won't find it in the Bible, but we just know."

Phil Johnson said...

yankeegospelgirl: "the Bible doesn't give us much to go by either way"

I think it says more about God's grace to children who die in infancy than contemporary Calvinists want to acknowledge. Most of our Calvinistic ancestors (starting with Calvin himself) were not reluctant to declare the same confident belief David clung to in 1 Samuel 12:23. Here's a sermon I preached on that subject:

HERE.

Morris Brooks said...

The thing that always stands out to me in these types of conversations with those who are resistant to the doctrines of grace, is their lack of knowledge and understanding of God; and therefore their low view of God. Additionally, they almost never argue from Scripture, but from their flawed natural reasoning.

Morris Brooks said...

@Jay, Yes, the latest release from our SBC anti-Calvinist brothers illustrates Phil's point in this blog.

Tom said...

Hmm... Heb 6:4-6 implies that some people whose spiritual blindness is removed still reject the gospel. (Interestingly, this passage demonstrates inability (after the rejection of God's grace) AND what seems to be resistible grace of the Arminian sort.)

Frank Turk said...

Would it help our friends who hate Calvinism for us so-called Calvinists to start saying "unwilling" instead of "unable"? I realize that our will technically, formally makes us "unable" but the problem is not one where the choices are obsured: the problem is that we like one and hate the other.

I mean: that's the definition of being sinners.

Frank Turk said...

Regarding the death of infants, I'm with Phil unequivically.

VcdeChagn said...

Such a God would be a moral monster-Roger Olson

His argument (as well as the original correspondent's) can be answered with this one line:

God is not subject to fallen notions of fairness-Shai Linne

To make yourself think that you understand soteriology better than God is just about the height of blasphemy.

About the baby thing. As a father of 11 children, 6 of which have died, I trust God and leave it at that. I hope MacArthur is right, but I can't, even with my intense desire to see it be true, find a clear teaching in scripture. Yet I still trust Him, by His grace and power and mercy alone.

"To whom shall I go?"

Mike Riccardi said...

The notion that "ought" implies "can" runs right into the brick wall of Romans 9:19. Paul's interlocutor asks, "Since no one can resist God’s will, how is it fair that He still finds fault?"

Whatever our conclusions are about the doctrines of grace, they must make sense of that objection.

And the fact is: the only way that this objection makes any sense at all is if three things are true:
(1) Man ought to repent and be saved as commanded by God,
(2) Man lacks the moral ability to repent and be saved, and
(3) God still holds man accountable to repent and be saved, and will punish them for their failure to do so.

This objection can only make sense if "ought" does not imply "can"—that is, if commanding something of someone does not necessarily mean that they are able to do what you command. If the doctrine of total depravity/inability were not true, the objection Paul raises makes absolutely no sense.

I've develolped this thought more thorougly here, for those interested.

Unknown said...

Interesting debate, but both sides leave something to be desired.

This exchange never got down to the real point that the Arminian was trying to make, which was "The same principle that makes a person not responsible for something they are physically unable to do, would make a person not responsible for someone they are (claimed to be) morally unable to do."

Neither side got to addressing why physical inability would make someone not have to take responsibility.

It's similar to arguments with atheists who say that stealing is wrong and homosexuality is right. It begs the question: What makes stealing wrong? (And if it's God, then that would mean that homosexuality is also wrong).

Regarding the drunk vs baby analogy, we would blame the drunk, not for wetting himself involuntary, but for making the conscious decision to drink an amount of alcohol which would make him behave in unseemly ways. He had the ability not to do that.

Aaron Snell said...

YankeeGG,

I'm not sure I'm reading you correctly here, but when you say,

I don't really buy the equivocation of active sin with simply being born having the potential to sin

you seem to dangerously understate the case. Mere potential to sin is pelagianism. The biblical anthropology is something more than that. We are not merely born with the potential to sin, but a proclivity to sin. We are born into slavery, not neutrality or freedom. The doctrine of original sin provides the strong connection between the guilt of the first sin and the resulting corruption
of human nature on the one hand, and the actual transgressions that result from the corrupt nature on the other hand, that you (I think wrongly) see as equivocation.

DJP said...

Once again, unknown, absolutely totally missing Phil's explained and re-explained point.

Robert Warren said...

JohnnyD said: If your corresponded were, say, Roger Olson, you'd not be able to get away with this. True Arminian theology comes down to Scripture...

Unless, of course Dr. Olson replies with: "...the debate over God’s sovereignty in salvation cannot be settled merely or simply by collection of biblical evidence."
as he did here
. Then you'd be right back to Phil's assertion.

Daryl said...

Unknown,

Change "a drunk wetting his pants" to "a drunk killing a pedestrian" or "a drunk shooting your son", and I'm betting the idea of not holding him totally accountable for his actions evaporates pretty quickly...

Skarlet said...

I wish it wouldn't list me as "unknown" just for using my google account which is not connected to my blogger account (but which still has my name).

Anyway, DLP, if I've missed some crucial argument here, I hope that you will tell me what it is, rather than vaguely referring to it.

I do not see where Phil states directly if he believes that a person can be held guiltless for disobeying something, if they are physically incapable of doing otherwise

And furthermore, if he does agree with such a thing (that physical incapability takes away responsibility), on what basis he would say that it's true. Why would an incapable person be held guiltless?

Until he addresses that, he really can't claim that moral incapability does not follow the same principle, since he has yet to define that principle.

Skarlet said...

Daryl,

I agree with you that making the example situation more extreme would make it easier to discuss the various issues involved.

If a drunk kills a pedestrian (let us say, by driving a car while drunk), then he can be blamed twofold:

1 - For choosing, when sober, to drink an amount of alcohol which is unhealthy for himself, goes against the biblical mandate to avoid drunkenness, and may be dangerous to others.

2 - For choosing, when drunk, to drive a car, when he could have chosen not to drive while drunk. Some people get drunk and do not drive drunk, some people get drunk and DO drive drunk. There is a choice point here, and the drunk choose to endanger the lives of people, which ended up killing someone.

His intentional and sinful choices, in that case, caused a wrongful death. He is to blame.

The only action that originally he could not be held responsible for was wetting himself, which he was physically incapable of avoiding, after a certain amount of intention self-intoxication. (In which case, he would be responsible for his intentional self-intoxication, and all negative results of that)

Daryl said...

Skarlet,

He can also be charged with murder.


But that is irrelevant. The Bible tells us we can't please God, and it also holds us accountable for our sin.

Both are true, Scripturally. And that's the ground we need to stand on.

Skarlet said...

Daryl,

I absolutely agree that Scripture is what we need to stand on. Of course, I haven't seen any instances in the Bible where man is commanded to do something that he is not also given supernatural ability to do. Even when Jesus commanded Lazarus, He also gave the supernatural ability.

So, then, I would say that the Bible holds us accountable for all sin, which we choose to do (and we do!) even though we could accept his grace instead.

But even with your belief that hypothetical moral inability comes with responsibility and culpability for not doing what one is unable to do -- that does not answer why (or if) you would believe that physical inability would lead to a lack of culpability.

If a father tells his son "Run upstairs to your mother immediately, she is calling you," and the son does not run upstairs because he is lame in both legs and therefore unable to run, should he be held culpable for that disobedience?

If not, why not? What Scriptural or moral grounds do you base that judgment off of?

I'm curious to hear your view.

Tommy said...

Methinks you are veering off of Phil's illustration.

Babies don't drive or kill people. At least not too often.

His illustration is to show that the two groups have an incapability, but that this limitation is different in nature to each other. That the drunkard has in fact reveled in his sinfulness and exploited his inability. The man whose heart is sinfully wicked doesn't need to be able to choose Christ of his own volition, because even if He could choose, he never would.

It's very fitting that Christ is the perfect example on the other end of the spectrum. He didn't sin, not just because He chose not too, He in fact couldn't sin. Maybe He didn't have that free will so precious to us.

Jason Dohm said...

For those of you who,like me, struggle to remember that human history didn't begin in 1970 (or whatever year you were born): IT DIDN'T. These same propositions have been circulating for hundreds of years, and many of the best arguments were made by men who have now been dead for centuries. Martin Luther's "Bondage of the Will" does a great job with all of these objections. Luther argues that our inability is actually a merciful means of teaching us that we are unable so we will flee to Christ. Where have you heard that before? Galatians 3 - the Law is a tutor, confining us under sin to bring us to Christ. Arguing that we are able to keep every commandment given by God inevitably leads to sinless perfectionism, because God has commanded us to be perfect just as He is perfect. Once you accept that you are able to be perfect, it is only a matter of minutes before you start dumbing down sin so you can say you don't sin. In two simple steps, you have become a good Pharisee.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"If a father tells his son 'Run upstairs to your mother immediately, she is calling you,' and the son does not run upstairs because he is lame in both legs and therefore unable to run, should he be held culpable for that disobedience?"

If the Father picks up the son, carries him upstairs and then asks him to answer his mother, then yes he is responsible. And that's what the Lord did for us by paying the full price for sin and then giving us the faith to trust in it.

Carl C. said...

As a new Christian, the first book of any depth I read was Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will. I should say trudged through, because that is tough reading for a newbie to Christianity and Reformed doctrine - or for that matter, anyone not used to following deep, drawn-out logical arguments done in 18th-century English. I would as much recommend that to a new believer as chewing on a handful of rusty nails.

But it IS a treasure trove - notwithstanding its obvious lack of a good editing process - and helped hone down my unanswered questions about Calvinism. It is especially helpful in the area Phil quoted about moral/physical inability.

However, distilling this distinction into more readily-understandable terms still eludes me, and always shows up when I have discussions with Arminian/Amyraldian brethren. I tend to go the route Frank alluded to:
Would it help our friends who hate Calvinism for us so-called Calvinists to start saying "unwilling" instead of "unable"? I realize that our will technically, formally makes us "unable" but the problem is not one where the choices are obsured: the problem is that we like one and hate the other.
I mean: that's the definition of being sinners.


Phil's interchange is helpful with the baby/drunkard comparison. Any other terms, insights or experiences to help communicate this difference?

donsands said...

I wonder if Reformed and non-reformed alike would have the same testimony of how God saved their souls?

I know for me, I was dead, and my heart was dark and listened to this world and the devils in this world.
I look back and see I hadn't a snowballs chance in Hades to come to know the truth of Jesus' Gospel.

In fact, I was no different than Judas.
"But God...."

I was not seeking God. And I find in the Word that He was seeking me?!
What a Savior!
So what was it?
I believe with all my heart one factor was the prayer of the saints to a Almighty sovreign Lord who works in His Church to will and to do, and His will is for us to pray for sinners.
I was prayed for, and God answered the prayers of His saints.

I was a walking corpse deserving to be judged by God, and taste His wrath.
And yet, He sought me, and opened my eyes, and changed my heart.

His mercy is beyond belief!

I never say that I decidied to become a Christian, and live a different life, and turn over a new leaf.
Nor do I say, "I accepted Christ on such and such a day."

I was like that blind man from birth, who Jesus came to and and told what to do, and he did it, and he saw. He later saw Jesus in a greater way, and he worshiped our Lord.

We need to pray for dead sinners my friends. They are lost with dark hearts in their sin of lust, or false morality, it makes no difference.
Pray to God.

Frank Martens said...

The analogy is like a dirty window they cannot clean...

Sure the individual can see, but they cannot see through a dirty window that they cannot touch or clean. Likewise, a person can think and reason and is able to make rational decisions. However, because of a dirtied mind, they are unable to see (think) clearly their need for repentance.

And it even goes beyond that... there's something to be said about a dead person being dead.

This is the whole thrust of Romans 1:18-31 (esp 1:28b).

Skarlet said...

Tommy,

It's true that we were veering off of Phil's illustration, because we figured making the difference more extreme might help make it easy to dissect the situation.

His illustration demonstrated that babies have a lack of some physical ability, and also demonstrated a lack of physical ability of the drunk, which was directly caused by the drunk's sinful (intentional, able) choice. So, his example did not show any moral inability.

Similarly, what's the point of distinguishing the two? Why would physical inability exculpate anyone?

Jesus did have “free will” in that his actions are self-determined, and not determined by anyone else. :) In all choices, he is the one to make the decision between one course and action and another.

Robert Warren said...

Edwards never met a comma he didn't like :-)

Tommy said...

Hey Skarlet,

What could He choose between though? He chose to come down, and pay the penalty for us, absolutely. Pure grace, in which you and me partake together, brother. But could He ever choose contrary to His nature? Was it ever a real possibility that He could sin? Absolutely not. That’s the real gist, is that His nature, the very essence of who He is dictates what His capabilities are. God is very limited in the moral decisions He can make; He can only do what is according to His perfect nature. He can never compromise His Holiness, even if He tried.(Let me know, anyone reading this, if I might be misusing terms like “nature” in this context. I’m sure you know what I’m intending to say though.)

We, being made in His image, reflect that in our spectacularly awful own way. We can only choose based on our sinful nature. That’s why Paul understands us as new creations. We are recreated, not rehashed. I’m not Tommy 2.0, I’m someone else entirely. Still dumb, still childish, still using my childhood nickname, but I have the Holy Spirit residing in me, with His perfect nature, that I don’t have to be enslaved to sin anymore.

It really such a beautiful doctrine, when you see the murk that we belong in, and that we were lifted out of it.

Eric said...

Hi Skarlet,

You said: "Of course, I haven't seen any instances in the Bible where man is commanded to do something that he is not also given supernatural ability to do."

How about perfect obedience to the law of God? Certainly it is commanded in the Bible, yet only achieved once, by the God-man. So, for the rest of humanity since the beginning of time, what is the problem, if we have been given the supernatural ability to perfectly obey the law of God? Have we just failed to tap into that supernatural ability?

Eric said...

Hi Skarlet,

A follow-up question: If there is nothing commanded in the Bible that we are not given the supernatural ability to do, then Jesus' sacrifice was unnecessary, since we can perfectly please God and be seen as righteous all on our own.

Eric said...

I know, I know...that ended up looking a lot more like a statement than a question.

Daryl said...

Just to clear a small (OK, not so small) thing up here.

I'm feeling a little for Johnny D., not wanting him to seem to be wrongly represented in this thread.

While I completely disagree with his take on the sovereignty of God (he's an Arminian, for the uninitiated), what Skarlet is advocating for is not Arminian, but Pelagian.

To believe that we all have the natural, still functioning ability to obey God's law, is a belief in the non-falleness of man.

Just thought I'd try to clear that up a little.

To answer Skarlet about the justice of a father telling his lame son to climb the stair...no, that would not be just.

But we are federally represented by Adam, he fell, we fell. The OT is full of that kind of thing.

We are condemned before we are even aware that the stairs are supposed to be climbed. THAT's the sin we need to deal with. Adam's sin.

Ours is only the result of our sinful, condemned nature, not the cause of it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Pig: Must... not... get into mud! Must... not... get into mud!Must... not... get into mud!

ARRGH! How'd I wake up in the mud again!

Karen said...

Before conversion, humans cannot choose righteousness, because we are spiritually dead, which is why we cannot "choose" to be saved. OK.

Does this only apply to salvation? Or can unsaved folks do NOTHING good? Or can they do "good" things, but those acts are seen as "filthy rags?"

I'm wondering because I've read some things re: parenting (not to derail this discussion) - things like in Elyse Fitzpatrick's book "Give Them Grace." She gives an example of a child who refuses to share, then wails "but I CAN'T obey!" According to her book, the parent should agree with the child, to tell them "that's right, you can't! That's why Jesus died for our sins. With his help, we can obey!" (I'm not quoting her book directly here, just paraphrasing from memory)

But I think we do assume that unregenerate people can obey, at least to some extent. For instance when you stop at a four way stop, you expect the other 3 people to stop, regardless of whether they have spiritual life.

But when we have been converted, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, who allows us to choose not to sin. (correct?) So nobody can do anything *right* until after conversion? or is it that we can do *right* things, just they appear evil to God until we are saved.

Not wanting to distract from the idea of monergism in salvation. Just wanting to see how this plays out practically in our expectations for behavior of unsaved folks.

Skarlet said...

Hey Tommy,

It is true that God cannot change, that God is 100% pure and holy, and therefore it is certain that He will never act against His own will or nature. With that said, though, who determines the action of God? Is it man? No. Is it someone power high than Him? No. Is it fate? No. God Himself determines His own actions. His “nature” is descriptive, not causative. God is the freest Being in the Universe, being all-powerful. Insomuch as His choices are determined by Himself, He has “free will.” [I put it in quotes here to refer to one specific definition of free will, namely, self-determined choices.]

So, I believe that Jesus had free will.

I think that there is a difference, by the way, between certainty and ability. If I know the future, and I know that my brother will never murder anyone, that means that there is CERTAINTY that he will never murder. It does not mean that he is UNABLE to. Certainly means “can but won't.” [Or “can and will.”] But “can but won't” is not inability, in fact, it refers to ability within the quotation marks.

It would be easier to argue that people with a sin nature “can but won;t” cease to suppress the truth in unrighteousness without God regenerating them, then to try to prove that they cannot, simply because they do not. Those are my (fallible) thoughts, anyway.

Skarlet said...

Hi Eric,

You wrote, “How about perfect obedience to the law of God? Certainly it is commanded in the Bible, yet only achieved once, by the God-man.”

My previous comment to Tommy actually touched on this topic, I believe. Man “can but won't” obey the law. Let's face it, we have an appetite for sin. Even as believers, free in Christ to be slaves to righteous, we CAN resist temptation (for God promises that there is no temptation that He allows into our life that is beyond our ability, for He provides a way of escape) and yet time and time again, we simply don't.

This is not inability, this is certainly. This does not mean that God hasn't provided us a way of escape in each temptation, this is just proof that we “can but won't” always take that path. We will *certainly* sin, but that does not mean that we are *incapable* of resisting any specific temptation.

“if we have been given the supernatural ability to perfectly obey the law of God? Have we just failed to tap into that supernatural ability?”

We don't want to tap into that ability. As believers, sometimes we want to accept God's grace and resist whatever temptation we are currently facing. Other times we choose, consciously choose, to give in to temptation, not use the escape or grace that God has given, and indulge in sin.

“If there is nothing commanded in the Bible that we are not given the supernatural ability to do, then Jesus' sacrifice was unnecessary, since we can perfectly please God and be seen as righteous all on our own.”

Given sin nature, it is CERTAIN that every person who ever has and ever will live will sin, fall short of the glory of God, and be on their way to a fire-y and Just eternity in hell. If anyone is going to accept righteousness or heaven, then, Jesus' death to atone for and justify their sins, and the Holy Spirit's act of regeneration is necessary.

Eric said...

Skarlet,

I'd be interested to see how you develop this theory of "supernatural ability" from Scripture. Are you essentially arguing for the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace? If you state it takes this "supernatural ability" to obey, then aren't you also saying that we do not have the natural ability (and thus are inable)?

The only supernatural act that I see in salvation is God's supernatural act in saving man - all of God, all of grace. I don't find Biblical warrant for human ability to tap into a supernatural ability.

General Soren said...

Frank Turk:

Yes, using the phrase "unwilling" would indeed help the Calvinist case out quite a bit. Nuance and all that, but one of the major (is derailment a good word for this?) tangents C-A debates often get into is how people can have "free will" yet still be "unable" to choose God.

Using "Unwilling to choose God" changes that argument entirely.

Regarding the responsibility issue, I generally say that if God is a person standing on the side of a river, and throws a lifeline to a drowning man, then it's the responsibility of the man to grab the lifeline, and a decision to try to swim out of the river that ends in death is not God's fault. Even if the man didn't think he was drowning, the lifeline was thrown out to him, and he rejected it.

That'll probably draw some flak, but it's the best explanation I know of "responsibility" in this context.

Skarlet said...

Hey Daryl,

First of all, I'm not sure why you think I'm a Pelagian. I believe that all people (after Adam) are born with a sin nature and WILL CERTAINLY choose to sin. This is due to willful disobedience of God, not to inability. All men sin and fall short of the glory of God. That's just the reality of it. It's not because we are too weak and unable, it's because we are (all) rebellious and chose to reject God's laws and standards. Outside of God's grace, every one of us is running toward hell. Is that really a Pelagian position?

“To believe that we all have the natural, still functioning ability to obey God's law, is a belief in the non-falleness of man.”

Not really. I believe that man has fallen. This does not effect his ability to obey commands, but rather effects his desire to. We each are born with an appetite for sin, and we all willfully choose to indulge that appetite. I stated, also, that we are able to do what is right only though the supernatural ability that God gives – Like when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb. If I say that with the command, God also gave the supernatural ability to obey the command, does that somehow imply that I believe in the “non-deadness” of Lazarus to begin with? Of course not. It implies no such thing.

“To answer Skarlet about the justice of a father telling his lame son to climb the stair...no, that would not be just.”

Why not? What moral or Biblical principle would make it unjust to condemn someone for disobedience when they are physically unable?

donsands said...

"So nobody can do anything *right* until after conversion? or is it that we can do *right* things, just they appear evil to God until we are saved."-Karen

Yep. There is none that does good.

And the good that God wants is the good Jesus did.

I ask myself, "Can I for a minute and a half live exactly as Jesus my Savior lives; in thought, word, and deed?

No. He is all my righteousness.

And the un-quickened surely can do things that are good in our eyes, and in the eyes of the world, but the motivation must be love for every deed unto our Father in heaven.

And even with all this our Lord is going to reward us for all that did in faith in this life, and we shall throw our crowns at His throne of purity, even though he has given us these crowns, and made us fit for eternal bliss, which I am ready for BTW!

I do love Christ in my heart and long to be with Him. This is 100% genuine grace for grace.

Johnny Dialectic said...

@Eric, your citation is not apt in the slightest. Phil's overstatement was concerning the BASIS of truth. Olson's statement was on another topic entirely, the context of which is the consequence of Calvinist doctrine.

So yes, Phil went too far and it hinders his argument.

Thanks, BTW, for being cogent and respectful.

Skarlet said...

Eric,

My position is that perhaps in some situations we are naturally able to obey and simply choose not to (because of our appetite and desire for sin), or perhaps in all situations, we lack any natural ability and only have what ability God sees fit to grace us with. The Hebrews passages indicates that God actively provides a way of escape for each temptation, and that is why we are not tempted beyond what we are able. This proves that at least some of the time, our ability to avoid sin does not rely on our own (even regenerated) ability, but on the supernatural provision of that.

Either way, I have not seen any specific instance in Scripture where God commands something, and does not also provide a way. The Arminian doctrine of God's grace for all (though it does not claim that all receive equal grace) is in line with this belief, teaching that with the command to repent, God also gives grace for the supernatural ability to repent (or to cease resisting, like a drowning rat).

You mention that, from your interpretation of Scripture, the only supernatural act is God's actions toward man of salvation (e.g. atonement, justification, regeneration, sanctification, glorification). However, that does not even encompass Jesus' command to Lazarus, which include supernatural ability but not salvation, or God's provision of an escape from temptation to believers, which also includes supernatural ability (IE we wouldn't have the ability to resist that temptation, except that God supernaturally and actively provides a way of escape) but not salvation.

But my main point here is not to prove provinient grace. You suggested that Scripture teaches that God holds man accountable for what he is (naturally or supernaturally) unable to do. I merely pointed out that that's one interpretation. Other people read and believe the Bible, and come to a different conclusion: That God holds man accountable only for what he is (naturally or supernaturally) able to do. Your statement that Scripture teaches your view has not been substantiated, and so therefore while I agree with you that we must hold by what Scripture says, I disagreed with your conclusion that we therefore must believe that all men are unable to believe unless they are regenerated (the normal Calvinist view).

Linda said...

Inability: Well, God's word says- "Before the twins were ever born God said -"Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated"-Romans 9:13.

What's even more astounding about Jacob is he did bad. In fact he did WORSE than his brother Esau. . Jacob was wicked to the core-unable to choose and worse than his brother Esau. Yet God chose Jacob not Esau

it is solely on God’s MERCY-it is God’s will-- Phil 2:13 “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure


"common sense" -I take this to mean that a person can have a rational understanding of Christianity or of what the Bible teaches apart from the illumination given by the Spirit. A scholar can understand Christian theology as well as any other branch of knowledge. A philosopher can lecture on the Christian idea of God. A historian can analyze the nature of the Protestant Reformation and describe justification by faith very well.

But left to themselves, people like this do not believe what they explain nor are they saved or changed by it. If they are asked their opinion of what they are explaining, they will say that it is nonsense.

Gal 3:23 "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed."

Sir Aaron said...

@Frank Turk:

You are not the first to suggest a change in vocabulary with regards to TULIP. I've read a number of publications that advocate a similar position. I've come to believe that while tinkering with the vocabulary might help with those who are unfamiliar with the theological tenets of either Calvinism or Arminianism, it will do nothing for those like the person with whom Phil corresponded. Most Arminians, as has been illustrated in this very meta, will reject Calvinism outright simply because they don't like it. Unfortunately, no amount of language clarification will change that.

Sir Aaron said...

@Karen:

What does Scripture say about our "good works" done apart from saving faith?

Can man do good works from our vantage point, e.g, feeding the poor, caring for the sick, sacrificing one's self for a loved one? Sure. But we aren't judged by our standards but by God's. And He has given us His view on this topic, pretty extensively in fact.

Kerry James Allen said...

"Every man approves of Calvinism till he feels that he is a loser by it; but when it begins to touch his own bone and his own flesh then he kicks against it." Spurgeon.
I would highly recommend the book "Sermons on Sovereignty" by Spurgeon. It wrung every last drop of Arminian blood out of me, I can tell you for sure.

Bobby Grow said...

Historically, people like Martin Luther and others have affirmed that fallen humanity have voluntas, will; but that humanity does not have arbitrium, or 'free-choice'. In other words, we have a will that self-moves; but that's the point, it only will, by definition, move toward self. Only God has 'free-unabated-self-determined choice'. And so we only come to have free-choice insofar as we are confronted by him for us in Christ. It is only through participation in him, and with is kind of freedom that we can finally look away from the self-possessed self, and actually have freedom of choice (it is derivative from his freedom).

So the question then becomes who has this possibility. And if we follow a Christ-conditioned supralapsarian view of election, it will become clear that all of humanity has been confronted by God's choice for us in Christ at the cross.

So in my scenario both the classic Arminian and Calvinist are wrong. But the classic Calvinist is more right. And the Phil's correspondent isn't an Arminian, but a straight up semi-Pelagian. But, if pressed, I might charge both the classic Arminian and Calvinist as such as well (given their classical construal of grace as a created quality given to the elect).

Pyrodoggie said...

I think that examined more carefully, the idea of "without the ability, there can be no responsibility" is more damning than the Calvinist position.

To say that a morally incapable person (which the Arminian in this article refuses to distinguish with all other forms of inability) will be excused is the same thing as saying to a judge in the court "I killed. I could not help myself. I was born a killer" to win himself freedom. Such a person ought to be locked up (either in a psychiatric ward, or in prison) all the more than someone who killed for a specific reason. The defendant's inability not to kill (physical, moral, or the indistinguishable inability of your Arminian correspondent - choose) will either win him a free trip to the psychiatric ward (of course, if found insane), or to the prison.

While the said person may win acquittal legally, society acknowledges that the same is dangerous enough to be let loose in public. And I cannot imagine the victim's family to hold no anger towards the defendant who could not not kill the victim. Now raise that indignation to the divine holiness of God.

Ian said...

"But Scripture commands sinners to believe. You simply cannot say they are unable to do what the Lord commands."

If we could do what the Lord commands, I suppose it would technically be possible to be justified by the law. Too bad the role of the Law is to condemn. Thanks Romans!

It's a slippery slope to call one's philosophies 'Doctrine'. If it's not in the Bible I won't give it much weight.

Linda said...

We are without excuse and no one can claim they’ve been given no revelation---Rom 1:20

some of the "CANONS of the Council of Orange(529 AD)"

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers"

CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).

Linda said...

CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

Eric said...

Hi Johnny,

I disagree wholeheartedly that the Olson quote is not apt. Olson, by refusing (in that quote) to acknowledge the authority of Scripture above his own sensibilities, is making himself the basis of truth. In the end, he openly admits that he would only ever worship a God that aligns with his personal understanding of what is right, just, fair, etc, no matter the declaration of Scripture. Thus he makes himself the source of truth. I'm not sure how you can see it otherwise.

Tommy said...

Hey Skarlet,

Sorry about the "brother" comment earlier. Can't say I've ever known someone male with your name, so I'm without excuse ;)

Freedom, as it's seen in Scripture, is freedom from sin, not freedom to have as many options as possible. Now I know you know this, but it's really important to focus on this.
You brought up the difference between certainty and ability. We can be more than certain that God won't compromise Himself in choosing evil, even once. He has an inability to choose evil. He never could, but He never desires to anyways. He's not thrashing against the chains of His character to do what is against His nature.

So it's very easy to believe that man, being the fallen image of God, is in the same exact position, but on the flip side. We could not choose what is contrary to us, and you and I know there is no righteousness in us before Christ. Yet we're not thrashing against those chains to come to Christ in our fallen state. We have no desire to do anything glorifying to God. So to use the terms brought up, it's certainty and ability, with no division between them. We have an inability to serve God of our own volition, but it's certain we never would anyways. Much the same with God with evil.

Tommy said...

And I'm with you on that Eric. My wife doesn't completely hold to the Doctrines of Grace, so I suggested we get "For Calvinism" and "Against Calvinism", because it seemed like Horton and Olson could have a good calm discussion. I read that from Olson though and knew that a man who has such blinding hatred against it could never be in a position to discuss anything.

You're spot on. He's making a truth claim, stating that he wouldn't follow God not based on lack of evidence for the doctrine, but because of the nature of God Himself.

+++ said...

How does lll this line up with God's perfect Sovereignty?
don

Johnny Dialectic said...

@Hi Eric. It's actually quite the opposite of what you suppose. His hypothetical ACCEPTS that the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is correct, that your God is what is found in the Bible. Then he states he would not, of his own choice, worship such a God. He is admitting that he would turn aside from that "truth." This is a far cry from someone saying their view of truth ITSELF is based upon feeling. I hope you can see that distinction.

Olson always argues from Scripture when it comes to doctrine. That's why this quote you've pulled can't support Phil's unfortunate overstatement.

Eric said...

Hi Johnny,

I still disagree, and the reason is because by making his admission, he reveals his bias. You can't escape the fact that Olson is judging God by his criteria - he lays that out in the open for all to see. Are we then expected to believe that this pervasive ideology (so strong that he would refuse to worship God) is not a significan influence in how he is reading Scripture? His baseline of truth is his own feelings. By refusing to worship such a God, he is not aknowledging the truth, he is refusing to accept the truth - that is obstinate unbelief. Any refusal to worship the revealed God of Scripture is an idolatrous rebellion against God in which man sets himself up as god. Olson has admitted to being willing to go there, and the basis for that willingness is his own sensibilities - in other words, "he just knows it".

Eric said...

Johnny,

I suspect that we won't end up viewing this quote in quite the same way, and that's ok. I'll try not to belabor the point any more than I already have.

I would, however, hope that you are affected in some way by the quote. It seems rather sad to me that Olson would make such an admission, and I don't think it speaks well of him.

May you be well. Thanks for the dialogue.

jmb said...

Eric quoted from Roger Olson:

"One day, at the end of a class session on Calvinism's doctrine of God's sovereignty, a student asked me a question I had put off considering. He asked: "If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn't question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?" I knew the only possible answer without a moment's thought, even though I knew it would shock many people. I said no, that I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster. Of course, I realize Calvinists do not think their view of God's sovereignty makes him a moral monster, but I can only conclude they have not thought it through to its logical conclusion or even taken sufficiently seriously the things they say about God and evil and innocent suffering in the world."

The way the question is asked by the student affords no leeway; this is who God really is, period. Yet Olson is convinced that this real God would have to be a "moral monster" because, he, Olson, "could not" believe otherwise. He is so convinced that his way of thinking about God is correct, that divine revelation of the truth would not dissuade him. What he would worship is not God but his own way of thinking.

Skarlet said...

Hey Pyrodoggie,

I just wanted to comment quickly on what you said here.

You suggested that the idea of "without the ability, there can be no responsibility" is “more damning than the Calvinist position,” though I'm not sure what you mean by “damning” in this case.

Anyway, to show what you mean, you give the example of a murderer who claims that he was unable to not commit murder, that he will be locked up in prison or a psych ward, and is too dangerous to be let loose in society through being acquitted.

But those who hold the idea that "without the ability, there can be no responsibility" also hold that A – God holds everyone responsible for sin, and B – everyone either has or is given ability to obey commands.

Therefore, the killer is either lying or insane. It is insane to believe that one is unable to not commit murder (which, coincidentally, is what Calvin believed: when they or anyone else sins - that it was decreed by God, and the person is internally compelled unable to not commit the sin). So legally, that position would be judged as insane. But more likely, the killer knew that he had a choice, and wants to get out of trouble.

In some alternate universe, though, where people can murder (and be unable to not kill), then a murderer like that should not be put in a psych ward, because they are correct about what is going on. They should be acquitted, and also put in a prison, where they (or whoever is controlling them) cannot harm anyone.

So, I don't see where your example shows that the viewpoint of "ability and responsibility go together" is wrong. All you've done is to point out the insanity of trying to claim no control over one's own actions.

Skarlet said...

Hey Tommy,

Here's the thing. If two things would lead to the same situation, then how are you going to prove which thing caused the situation? I can say “Either you are mistaken, or else you are lying,” if I believe you to be saying something untrue, because either cause would lead to an untrue statement. But how then can I prove that you can lying? How can I prove that you are not simply mistaken? [This is an analogy, as you will see...]

In the same way, if both certainty and ability lead the same situation in mankind (that is, we sin), how can you look at it, and prove that a person sinned because they were unable to do otherwise? How can you prove that they were not simply choosing not to do otherwise?

You see, Calvinists and Arminians alike hold man responsible for all sins they commit. The difference is that Calvinists say that man is unable to do otherwise, and tries to hold man accountable for what he could not have avoided (e.g. he is damned unless he is able to achieve the impossible). Arminians, on the other hand, say that man's appetite for sin and intentional choices based on that (certainty) explain sin, and holds a man accountable for sinning intentionally and rejecting God, when grace was offered so that he did not have to sin.

This position also holds that ability and responsibility go together. We are to imitate God, as dear children. As parents ourselves, we are not to command our children to do things they are unable to do (like telling the lame boy to run upstairs), and then punish them for not doing it, though they did the best they could. Similarly, if that's an imitation of God, why would we believe that God commands his creatures to do things they are unable to do (without also giving supernatural ability), and then punish them for disobeying, though they acted and willed according to the best grace they were given? If we are not to spank our kids for not doing the impossible, and we are to imitate God, it makes no sense to claim that He damns people for not doing the impossible. He is a God of mercy.

The verses in the Bible that talk about all people sinning do not focus on inability, but on intention choice: We have chosen, every one, to go his own way. All have sinned (not “'all lack the ability to obey”). Etc.

So, if both things (certainty of choosing sin, or inability to resist temptation) lead to the same outcome, then one needs something further to determine which is the cause of the outcome. Biblical commands to imitate God, along with his commands to parents and descriptions of Himself, along with the Biblical focus on volition, would be “something further” that would point to blaming sin on rebellious volition, rather than on man's weak inability.

People say that Calvinist position puts man in a more humble position than the Arminian position. But I disagree. The logical implication of the Calvinist position is that while unbelieving, they always did the best they were ever able to do. The Arminian position is that while unbelieving, we each had grace from God, but turned our backs on that, spit in His face, and rebelliously rejected the obedience that we owed to God.

Skarlet said...

Hey Tommy,

I just realized that I forgot to reply to your comment about freedom! Just like “all,” the word “freedom” usually is referring to something specific. Freedom “from this” may not equal freedom “from that.” For instance, when we became free from sin, we become slaves to righteousness. [Slave = not free from]. That sort of slavery, of course, is better than freedom from righteousness.

The term “free will” is usually used, between Arminians and Calvinists, in two ways. Either it's used to mean “a person is capable of having faith prior to regeneration” or else it's used to mean “Determinism is not true. People are free to choose either option in a given situation.”

I reject the first usage of the term, because that's a dispute about ability, and not freedom. I can be free to jump off of a building, but I do not have the ability to fly. So, saying that people are capable of faith is an ability dispute, not a freedom dispute. I use the term by the second definition above; Free-will means self-determined actions. Free, in this case, means free from external determination; nothing outside of you determines what you will do.

Of course, stuff outside of us influences the decision and can make one option easily. If a man puts a gun to another man's head, and says “Give me your money,” that's overwhelming influence, and it makes it really easy for the victim to hand over the cash. Still, the victim is determining his own response, he COULD not hand it over, and either try to fight the assailant, or else just take the bullet. A suicidal person might do just that.

So, by that meaning, I believe that God and man both have free will.

Eric said...

Skarlet,

You said: "The logical implication of the Calvinist position is that while unbelieving, they always did the best they were ever able to do."

That is one of the most inaccurate portrayals of Calvinism that I have ever seen, and it belies the fact that your knowledge and understanding of Calvinism is not very developed.

Skarlet said...

Re: Olson

Hi Eric, sorry to jump in here, I just wanted to say that I don't think Olson is trying to make himself the basis of truth, and give a different perspective on it.

In his quote, he says that if the Calvinist idea of God were true (this truth, then, not being based on his feelings), he would choose not to worship such a God. You can call this rebellion, but not a question of what he bases truth on, since in the hypothetical he accepts the truth that God is the Calvinist idea of God (truth part), but does not worship Him (submission part).

On the other hand, I can't really judge Olson too much. It's not about sensibilities, I don't think. It's about who you are currently worshiping. Someone might say to say, “What if someone day you find out that the truth is: God enjoys burning babies in hells. That's where He gets His happiness and thrills from.” At first you might respond, “I would never find that out, because that's not what God is like according to the Scripture.” But they persist: “Yes, but IF. I said IF. This is hypothetical here. IF you found out that God WAS like that, would you still worship Him?” And, because you are so attached to God and His character (as you understand Him to be) this other idea of God seems totally wrong to you, and you answer “If God was like that, I wouldn't worship Him.”

In other words, a Christian can be so attached to Christ and Christ's true character, that with that knowledge and love and connection already in his heart and spirit, that if that christian (hypothetically) later found out that a lessor God existed, a Christ without the character of Christ as we know it, that Christian could not bring himself to worship that God.

It's not about sentimentality, then. It's about being attached to the true God of the Bible, such that if that God didn't exist (in a hypothetical), you still could not bring yourself to worship another.

Just another way of looking at it.

Eric said...

One interesting thing to note about the Olson quote is that Olson's supposed "moral monster" conundrum has been shown repeatedly to equally (if not moreso) applicable to Arminianism, using the man-centered logic employed. It makes me then wonder, when/if that reality sinks in with Olson some day, will it cause for him a great crisis of faith? Might he eschew belief altogether? After all, with that line of thinking, he's really standing right next to the athiests who rail against what they view as a mean and nasty God because they are unwilling to allow God to dictate truth and reality. I pray that Mr. Olson does not reach that point.

Eric said...

Skarlet,

The key phrase in your analysis is the parenthetical "as you understand Him to be" and it is telling that it does not instead read "as He has revealed Himself to be". By refusing, Olson says that he is willing to substitute the former for the latter. That is in fact a question of wherein he bases truth.

Additionally, if you have any information as to where Mr. Olson has dealt substantially with significant analyses illustrating how his "moral monster" conundrum is equally applicable to Arminianism, I'd be interested to know.

Skarlet said...

Hey Eric,

You said that my description is “one of the most inaccurate portrayals of Calvinism that [you] have ever seen.”

If I had to guess, I would say that you said that because the emphasis is wrong. That Calvinists emphasize their sin nature and worthiness of hell. However, I was not trying to speak of the emphasis, but of the logical implication.

To say that unbelievers have inability to do anything pleasing to God, anything righteous, or to have faith (prior to regeneration) is, logically, to say that while you were an unbeliever, you had bad motives, did nothing pleasing to God, nothing righteous, did not have faith AND that was the best that you were able to do (IE anything above that falls in the range of what you had inability to do).

If that is not the logical implication, please show me the gap in logic. I know I'm not always right. I say what I think and believe. If it's right, then great. If it's wrong, then I hope that other people will take the time to correct me.

Skarlet said...

Eric,

I agree with you that I hope Olson never reaches a point where he has an unhelpful crisis of faith. If he has a crisis of faith at all, I hope that it will lead him to a deeper understanding of God. His ideas of the “moral monster” do also apply to the Arminian God, I believe, but I also have not spent any time studying Olsen's work.

By the way, I'm not sure what you mean by “man-centered logic.” God is the source of truth and logic. God does not contradict Himself, for instance, which is a logical function. No truth is illogical, so if God is truth, God is logical. An argument is either logical, or it isn't. I'm not sure how you could say “man-centered logic” anymore than you can say “fat logic” or “crispy logic.” Does Not Compute.

I think it's telling that you would rather speak of God "as He has revealed Himself to be.” This shows a lack of understanding of how fallible the human mind is. We do not have direct access to God's revelations. Rather, we use our eyes to read words in English (or else study greek and hebrew and use our limited understanding thereof), we interpret the words a certain way, put labels and implications upon those views, and so on. All of us christian worship God as we understand His revelations about Him; only when we are in heaven will we see Him face to face, know Him as we also are known, and experience His revelation of Himself directly.

Until that point in time, we can still be awed by well-done magic tricks, which rely on three things: Faulty sensory input, faulty mental labeling process, and faulty implication mapping. This is why 100 different christians can read the Scripture and come to 100 different conclusions about what this passage is speaking of specifically, or what that passage means.

We christians all worship God as we believe He has revealed Himself to be. But what of the hypothetical I gave? If you found out that God enjoys tormenting babies and burning them just for the fun of it, and that's where He gets happiness and thrill from, IF that was a given and you knew it, would you still worship Him?

Eric said...

Skarlet,

I'd begin by admitting to a bit of hyperbole. I see what you are describing as absolute depravity rather than total depravity.

Maybe a re-read of Phil's post would also shed some more light. Your statement implies a lack of responsibility, which the post makes clear is not necessary.

Jeff said...

Skarlet: "Either way, I have not seen any specific instance in Scripture where God commands something, and does not also provide a way."

I think you probably have read these passages, but it seems that you don't think they address your concern.

[14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

[5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
(Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

These sound like issues of ability to me.

Romans 8:7 specifically says that God has given us commandments to follow, but people DO NOT submit to that law because they CANNOT submit to that law.

Until God regenerates our dead spirit, we CANNOT submit to His law, we CANNOT please Him, and we CANNOT understand Him. That inability, of course, leads to our unwillingness. We can not so we do not.

So, I believe these are two specific instances in Scripture where we see that humans are, by nature, unable to comply with what God has commanded.

Eric said...

Skarlet,

Actually, we do have direct access to God's revelations - the Bible. I don't underestimate the fallibility of the human mind, but neither do I underestimate the infallibility and perspicuity of God's revelation of Himself. Contrary to your analysis that seems to essentially conclude that truth is unknowable, I believe there is a right and wrong way to understand God's revealed truth, and really there is now other way. If the truth is unknowable from God's revelation, then the whole Christian enterprise is a sham.

As to man-centered logic, it does actually compute. Just like you can say false logic and have it compute. Man-centered logic is exactly what it says it is: it puts man and his natural sensibilities at the center and then proceeds to judge God accordingly. The opposite of man-centered logic is Biblically informed or centered logic, where we allow God to state what reality and truth are, and then we make every thought we have captive to that truth. Hard to do, but it is our calling.

And, I'll answer your hypothetical scenario (since you pose it is parallel or analogous) when you can find one historical, credible Christian or theologian who has posited that as truth revealed in Scripture.

Skarlet said...

Eric,

I'm sure exactly what you are referring to as the difference between absolute depravity and total depravity, in this case. Perhaps you could expound on that point.

You said that “Your statement implies a lack of responsibility, which the post makes clear is not necessary.” In this case, I assume you are speaking about my statement about the Calvinist implication that all non-believers are doing the best they possibly can. But I was not implying a lack of responsibility, for in the Calvinist view, non-believers are doing the best they can, have evil motives, sin, are responsible for that sin, and (if they never are regenerated by God) are justly damned. I hope that clarifies what I was saying a bit.

“Actually, we do have direct access to God's revelations - the Bible.”

No, see, we don't. For an analogy, above you said that my statement implies a lack of responsibility, when it did not. You had access to my words, but then those words were filtered through your brain and your understanding and logical induction, and the message received was not the message sent. This happens in every single human relationship: We say something, or use a tone of voice or a look, and we are sending message X. However, the other person mentally decodes those words and tone and look, and understands it as message Y. Message received was not message sent.

We do not have DIRECT access to God's revelations, except when we are in heaven. We have to know how to read English, or Greek, or Hebrew, and then figure out the meanings of the words. You and I probably disagree about what “faith” is, or “love.” We decode those words entirely differently. We have access to the Bible, but it's not direct access to our spirit, since we have to use our fallible human brain to try to understand it. God's revelation is infallible, but our interpretation of it, our understanding of it, [not just about big doctrinal issues, but even small things, like whether the story of rich man and Lazarus was a parable or a true story] is very fallible.

“ Contrary to your analysis that seems to essentially conclude that truth is unknowable”

Beautiful example of “message sent is not message received.” I don't believe at all that truth is unknowable. We each know many things that are true, about the physical universe, and about God. I'm just saying it's not 100% true. Some of what we think about God is false, even though we have access to Scripture. This is because our mental understanding software is fallible and flawed, which leads to two people reading the same passage and coming away with opposite understandings of what it's saying. One person may be right (thus, truth is knowable), and the other person may be wrong (and needs to have enough humility to know that his interpretation may be wrong). I know lots of truth, yet I know I am also wrong about things that I don't yet know I'm wrong about.

Skarlet said...

...

Logic is the path between a premise and a conclusion. What you describe as “man-centered logic” here is any logical procession from the premise: Man's natural sensibilities are accurate. What you describe as “Biblically centered logic” here is any logical procession from the premise: God and the Bible are the trustworthy source of truth. But those are not two types of logic. Rather, they simply begin with a different premise. So, I agree that the second premise is true, but not the first. But I disagree with your usage of the word “logic” in this case; a premise is right or wrong, it is not logical, illogical, or man-centered logical. Logic refers to a procession from one point to the next, and a premise has no such procession.

“And, I'll answer your hypothetical scenario (since you pose it is parallel or analogous) when you can find one historical, credible Christian or theologian who has posited that as truth revealed in Scripture.”

Hmm. The only reason to sidestep the question (the I can think of, for myself) would be because you don't want to make a similar statement to Olsen and admit that if God was other than what you know that He is in real life, you would have a hard time worshipping Him.

Eric said...

Skarlet,

The reason to sidestep your hypothetical is that it is ridiculous, and I try not to respond to ridiculous hypothetical questions. The hypothetical put to Olson was not ridiculous nor far-fetched.

We do have direct access to God's revelation. It could not be more direct. We can read it, study it, and know it. You are simply wrong on this count, no matter how much human infallibility you want to import.

One definition of logic is as follows: interrelation or sequence of facts or events when seen as inevitable or predictable. Olson starts with his sensibilities (man-centered) and constructs a sequence of facts that is seen (in his eyes) as inevitable or predictable - voila: man-centered logic.

Total deprevity refers to the fact that all of man is polluted by sin, absolute depravity refers to man being as sinful as he could possibly be.

While I believe that you don't believe that truth is inknowable, you lead one to conclude that you believe that by going on about how 100 different Christians will have 100 different takes on a passage of scripture without providing any sort of qualifying language. This you said in the context of speaking critically of my assertion that we should know and speak of God "as He has revealed Himself to be". If you merely intended to say that we will never know God perfectly until we are in glory, then I agree wholeheartedly, but think you could have been more clear.

Congratulations on comment number 100 - often embraced with glee by commenters here (for whatever reason). I've enjoyed our back-and-forth, and will let my comments on this related but not entirely on-topic thread of thought rest with this entry. Unless of course I feel strongly compelled...you know how that works.

Eric said...

I must say that I mis-state when I said in my last post that the revelation that we have "could not be more direct". That clearly is not the case, as those in history have who have spoke directly with God had more direct revelation than we do. So, not a real good choice of words on my part. Still direct access to revelation, but not the most direct. Carry on.

Skarlet said...

Hello Jeff, :)

Your thoughts and the verses that you bring up are very relevant. Also, I thought that it was very kind of you to mention that I probably have read those passages, and they have not dissuaded me from my current interpretations. You are correct about that, of course.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
(1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

I agree with you that this directly speaks about the unregenerate man's inability to comprehend and understand things of the Spirit of God. However, I see commands to unbelievers to repent and to believe on Christ as Lord (Boss) and Savior. I don't see God commanding unbelievers to understand the things of the Spirit of God. Us Christians, on the other hand, we have the responsibility and privilege of studying God's Work, experiencing the Spirit of God directly, and seeking to understanding Him and His ways more and more.

The other passage is very interesting. I'll break it down and discuss some of the particular parts:

A - For those who live according to the flesh [Non-believers] set their minds on the things of the flesh [Active choice]

B - The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. [Consequence]

C - Those who are in the flesh cannot please God

The ability part is mentioned in B and C. In C, we learn that those in the flesh (non-believers) cannot please God, because God is not pleased by non-believers, even if they outwardly obey a particular law. Their heart is not right. C, actually, does not address what those in the flesh are able to think or believe or decide or do. Point C only addressed the fact that God is not pleased by them.

Part B also mentioned the inability of the mind, which has previously been acted upon by the person and has been set on the flesh, to submit to God's law. This inability is said specifically to follow a choice by the person. The person first chooses to effect their mind and act upon it, to set it on the things of the flesh, and then the result is that mind, being set on the things of the flesh, is unable to submit.

Part A says that those who live according to the flesh habitually set their mind on the things of the flesh. It does not whether they do this because they are unable to set their mind on the Spirit, or whether they choose not to. We know that while they are setting their mind on the things of the flesh, while they make that choice, their minds are the as a result unable to submit to God. But the passage does not say that a non-believer is unable, through either natural or supernaturally-given ability, to set their minds on the things of God instead and repent.

To give an analogy. I might say that a drunken drinks a lot of alcohol habitually. And his mind, which is in a state of stupor, does not make wise choices, and indeed cannot! That explains the limitations of the mind, once the person has acted upon it in a certain way, which I have mentioned is their current lifestyle choice. However, it does not imply that a drunkard is unable to make a difference choice about alcohol, or to find someone to help him quit drinking.

Skarlet said...

Jeff,

(continued)

In short: God commands all men everywhere to repent. This passage teaches that He is not pleased by anything non-believers do or think. This passage also teaches that the act of setting one's mind on the things of the flesh puts the mind in a state where it cannot submit to God. The passage does not say that a non-believer cannot repent (in which case the mind would not be set on the flesh anymore).

So in both cases, I can see where you are coming from, but the passages don't actually give any examples of a man being unable to fulfill a command. The first case had an inability, but not a command. The second case also had inability, but that inability was traced back to a conscious decision, which means they could also choose the opposite (but don't).

If someone makes themselves unable for a time (when they had another option), like in the case of the drunk, then as they choose to perpetuate their own inability, that choice is their own fault and they can be held responsible for it. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows (actively), he will also reap (and be unable to avoid).



Now, I will bring up some Scripture. The famous “Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed” comes from Isaiah, which is a beautiful example of what I've been saying here.

First the Israelites refuse to heed God's commands, and then they ask “What does God say?” so that they could judge and mock it. At that point (Chapter 1), God says “enough” and closes their ears and hardens their hearts. Not forever, mind you, but “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant...” (IE until His judgment on them is over.)

Before that judgment was pronounced, God sent Isaiah to say “hear” and “give ear” to the Israelites. That was a command, and while that command was given, they had the ability. After God takes away their ability to hear and see, then it's not until chapter 32 that He turns away from His judgment and says “The eyes of those who see will not be dim, And the ears of those who hear will listen.”

After that point in chapter 32, He goes back to commanding His people to hear and give ear.

So this is interesting. While they had the ability to hear, He commanded them to listen. When He took away that ability, then the next 31 chapters go by without Him commended them to hear or listen or give ear, etc. Only after He specifically lifts that limitation does He go back to commanding them to listen, which He then commands again and again in the remaining chapters.

This is completely consistent with the idea that God only commands something if those He is commanding have natural or supernatural ability.

My other example would be Lazarus. Christ gives a command which would on a natural level be completely impossible to obey, but with the command He also gives the supernatural ability to obey and come forth.

Skarlet said...

Eric,

I'm fine with leaving this side-topic at rest for now. :) I'll just add a couple of clarifying comments.

“If you merely intended to say that we will never know God perfectly until we are in glory, then I agree wholeheartedly, but think you could have been more clear.” I'm saying that, but also that not everyone who reads God's revelations in the Bible understand it correctly. Since His revelations are not directly imprinted on our mind or spirit, as they might be in heaven, but through a process of mental translation from words and contexts to meanings, two people can read the same revelation of God and not agree about the meaning.

For example, two christian may read the same passage about an overseer in a church needing to the husband of one wife, one may think that single pastors are fine since “Paul is obviously condemning plural marriage” and the other may interpret it, saying “No, 1 means 'no more than well' as well 'no less than one.' If Paul had simply meant 'no more than one,' he would have said so.” Therefore, I point out that our understanding of God's revelation, though intended to match exactly what God meant, does not always succeed.

“Olson starts with his sensibilities (man-centered) and constructs a sequence of facts.” Exactly what I was saying. It's not the sequence (the logic) that would be flawed in that case. It would be the premise (where he starts).

Also, thank you for the clarification between total and absolute depravity. I was refering to absolute depravity in just one instance: the lack of faith in Christ or repentance. That's a 0 or 1 issue. And as long as a person is at 0, in the Calvinist view, it's because he is unable to go to 1 (inability). So, in looking at just that aspect, unbelievers are doing the best that they are able to. That's what I was trying to say.

Nonna said...

Hmm. The only reason to sidestep the question (the I can think of, for myself) would be because you don't want to make a similar statement to Olsen and admit that if God was other than what you know that He is in real life, you would have a hard time worshipping Him.

Skarlett & Eric,

Both questions proceed from fallacious argumentation. Olsen fell into the trap of answering the question in the first place rather than denouncing and exposing the premise of erroneous argumentation. Once I was asked by a sparring interlocutor, "Can God make a rock so big that He can't lift it?" The question was meant to set me up and trap me. Needless to say, I didn't fall into the trap of answering "yes" or "no" to such a suspicious question.

Nonna said...

The hypothetical put to Olsen was not ridiculous or far- fetched.

Eric,

The question is based upon poor logic and argumentation. As to the motive of the person asking, that cannot be known. However, the nature of the question is suspect and was setting Olsen up for failure should he answer it directly.

Christ was asked many questions and often He never answered them because He saw the motives of those asking, or He knew His enemies were trying to set Him up for failure, or any number of other scenarios. My contention is the question asked of Olsen should not have been answered, but as Christ did on many occasions, by-passed altogether.

Eric said...

Hi Nonna,

I wonder, how do you find it to be fallacious argumentation to ask Olson a hypothetical question that is entirely realistic?

Eric said...

Nonna,

Our last two posts crossed in the digital night.

Besides asserting that the question is based on poor logic and argumentation, can you explain how?

Olson was not set up to fail (though he clearly did). He could have easily answered that if he was convinced from Scripture that God is as described in Calvinism then he would willingly worship that God. Simple answer wherein he submits himself to God's revelation of Himself instead of projecting his judgment onto God.

Skarlet said...

Nonna,

Good thoughts! I would have to agree with you here. The nature of the question sets it up so that whoever answers the question looks bad. Olson was, in essence, answering “even if my head became convinced that the Calvinist idea of God is the correct one, my spirit and soul would still remain loyal to the true character and nature of God who I have communed with and worshiped.”

The problem with the question was the “IF” part. Olson should have answered, “show me that God is like that, and I will determine my response then.” Supposing, with your mind, that God is one thing, for a hypothetical question, and believing in your heart that God is other than that, is just putting yourself through an internal contradiction.

Nonna said...

Eric,

First, let me say that I want to by-pass altogether the Arminian vs Calvinist debate that is taking place here. Now, with that out of the way...

Would you not agree that using Scripture for argumentation to defend one's point in and of itself does not alleviate one from false assumptions, false premises, & faulty reasoning and even wrong motives? The prime example in Scripture itself is the devil saying to Christ, "It is written..."

In other words, there have been many people throughout time who have used the very Scriptures that Christians hold dear to manipulate and abuse others. When someone endeavors to use Scripture to make a case in point with me, often I consider the very messenger using the Scripture, and then I consider that person's particular belief system. In other words, there are quite a few options that I have at my disposal as to how I might answer that person who is using the Scriptures to express a particular point of view.

You might say I'm suspect of many folk claiming to use Scripture in defense of their particular viewpoint. Yep, I'm guilty of that! Lots of folks using lots of Scripture to do all sorts of things out there these days. That's quite obvious. So yeah, I'm very, very cautious and cynical when I hear "Does not Scripture say?..."

I ask, Who is saying it? How are they interpreting it? From whence did they arrive at such an interpretation? From whence did this interpretation come in the first place? How does such an interpretation hold up under the manifold witness of the Christian Church? And many other questions of like nature.

Nonna said...

If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn't question or deny...

Skarlet,

You said that the problem with the question was the "if" part. I would say that the entire wording of the first half of the question is problematic. "That you couldn't question or deny" is placing subjectivity into an objective truth category. Many folks have been convinced of error by something that they subjectively couldn't "question or deny." I was onced convinced without a shadow of a doubt that abortion was a woman's right. I couldn't question or deny it.

Lance Johnson said...

"To argue with a person that has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead." Thomas Paine

Skarlet said...

Nonna,

Good point about the wording. It would be better phrased as “If it were objectively true that X, and you were aware that this was the truth...” then the objective part would be in the groundwork of the hypothetical.

But the whole question is so confusing, when you really think about it. I mean, there is an extent to which it could be revealed that the God that you worship is somewhat different than you think. There is another extent to which it would be another God altogether.

For instance, if (in the hypothetical) it were objectively true that Baal is the one who is ever-existent, all-powerful, and created everything else (and Christ isn't; but the Bible was dictated by Baal to claim that Christ says He's God), and at some point in the future you discovered and believed that truth, your past experiences would still be valid.

Your past beliefs that the Holy Spirit was God would be proven to be inaccurate, but your experiences of regeneration and indwelling would still have happened. Thus, with the new truth, you would be confronted with the dilemma of worshiping an unholy deity and rejecting the Holy Spirit of righteous, or else remaining loyal to the Holy Spirit which is not God over everything but merely a pure spirit and then getting crushed by the spirit with all the power (Baal).

Of course, a loyal Christian would remain faithful to the Holy Spirit, even at the risk of damnation by the powerful being. Otherwise, if a person's loyal just lies with “whoever has the most power in the universe,” then they would worship even the Devil, if they “found out that He was God” in some hypothetical. All so confusing...

Pyrodoggie said...

Hi Skarlet,

What I wanted to point out was that excusing a person from responsibility simply because he had inability to do or not to do is an insane position (as you put it).
As Phil puts it in his blog post:

"He insists that if sinners are spiritually unable to summon faith from their own hearts by their own free will, then they cannot be held responsible for their unbelief."

But I do not think that one could never really truly believe that. Raise the bar to a higher level and we get this:

We are commanded not to commit murder, and if we cannot, with all our hearts, prevent ourselves from murdering, then we cannot be held responsible if we commit murder. Thus, we have to have the ability not to murder so we can be held responsible if we commit murder.

But this is absurd and insane. Thus, we lock up anyone who claims to have killed because he could not help himself (i.e., he does not have the ability to prevent himself from killing). He might have been acquitted, but he has offended the victim (who's already dead), and the victim's family.

To a God who sees unrighteous anger at par with murder, unbelief is equally offensive as all the other sins. Hence, my point: the position that with inability comes freedom from responsibility is absurd.

Pyrodoggie said...

I meant "I think one could never truly..."

Pyrodoggie said...

I'd like to add a few more thoughts:

To the court of law, an insane killer who could not not kill might be acquitted by virtue of his being insane. But to the offended party, whether or not the killer is insane, the latter had killed, and killed one of his beloved at that.

Like the postmodernist who claims that morals are relative, it is quite easy to agree intellectually that a person with inability may be excused, that is until we get offended and our principle stabs us behind our back.

Skarlet said...

Hi Pyrodoggie,

First of all, you quoted "He insists that if sinners are spiritually unable to summon faith from their own hearts by their own free will, then they cannot be held responsible for their unbelief." and commented “But I do not think that one could never really truly believe that.”

I believe something similar. I would say that if sinners have neither natural ability to cease resisting God's conviction nor supernatural ability from God to have faith or repentance, then they cannot be held culpable for not having faith, which they would be unable to have. And I really truly believe that.

Raise it to a “higher level” and here's my analysis:

“We are commanded not to commit murder, and if we cannot, with all our hearts, prevent ourselves from murdering, then we cannot be held responsible if we commit murder.” That's a big “if” there. The Arminian would claim that this never happens (except perhaps in a case when a person is sowing the consequences of previous intentional choices that could have been made otherwise).

“Thus, we have to have the ability not to murder so we can be held responsible if we commit murder.”
Again, that relies on the “if,” which is far far far from proven.

“But this is absurd and insane.”
Yes – to believe that a person cannot not commit murder is absurd. Thus, my (and the Arminian's) rejection of your “if” there.

“To a God who sees unrighteous anger at par with murder, unbelief is equally offensive as all the other sins. Hence, my point: the position that with inability comes freedom from responsibility is absurd.”

Actually, your reasoning has gone something like this:
A – Sin is morally repugnant, and God holds people responsible for it.
B – Therefore, if God holds people responsible for it, and we are morally repulsed by it, we also must hold those people responsible
C – Therefore, if we are are supposed to hold people responsible for their sin, we cannot use their inability as an excuse to opt out of that role

I would agree with points A and B, there. But point C ASSUMES that there is inability. To use point C, you would have to prove that they are unable. Otherwise, the logical conclusion would be:

C – Therefore, if we are are supposed to hold people responsible for their sin, and those who are unable are not responsible, we can logically deduce that people are able to avoid sin, either naturally by grace or supernaturally.

FURTHERMORE, if you prove that a person is unable to avoid sin, than something outside of them determined that sin. That someone who is determining it, then, would be responsible and would have the blame. Just like a programmer who programs a robot to blow up a building: the robot cannot be held responsible, but the programmer can.

“Like the postmodernist who claims that morals are relative, it is quite easy to agree intellectually that a person with inability may be excused, that is until we get offended and our principle stabs us behind our back.”
Anything that is true intellectually is true. We can't give up truth because it's offensive, or if the truth hurts.

Any person with inability is not responsible (but rather the person causing the inability, in that case). With physical inability, this is easy to see and relate to, as physical beings. With moral inability, I've only seen it listed in either temporary or else death-inducing cases, and in both cases, the person themselves being the cause of the inability (having been able to cause something else instead) and therefore being responsible. [Hope that last explanation wasn't too confusing there.]

Pyrodoggie said...

Hi Skarlet,

Can we not revise "C" as follows instead:

C – Therefore, if we are are supposed to hold people responsible for their sin, whether or not they are unable to avoid committing sin, they must be held responsible.

Would not the revision free the entire argument from the presumption that there is inability? That the responsibility lies not because a person can or cannot avoid sinning, but because the very act of sin repulses God?

In any case, while I agree that your robot who was designed to "blow-up" cannot be blamed for blowing up, any such robot would be wisely dismantled, locked-up, or shut down to avoid triggering self-destruction (unless, of course, blowing up things to bits and pieces is desired).


"Anything that is true intellectually is true"

True enough, but I would like to clarify that I did only say "agree" intellectually, which I meant to say, agree using the mind. The point of that statement was to say that there are times when we hold to a certain principle when everything is well, but finds the same principle stabbing us behind our backs in dire times. Like the robot who blows up homes because he was designed to do so. We may not hold the robot responsible. We may blame the inventor. But, it would be difficult not to find the invention repulsive, along with the inventor, especially if it blows up our own home.

Now, to prove that I am NOT a robot.

Pyrodoggie said...

Skarlet,

I realize I am having a difficulty in alienating responsibility from ability without distinguishing natural and moral responsibility.

However, what I'm trying to do here (at least, try) is to deal with the Arminian's own presupposition (i.e., inability is inability) and use the same to make a point, rather than try to introduce my own presupposition (i.e., there are different types of inability) which the Arminian might likely reject too.

I'll think harder throughout the week if this is possible. But do provide criticism.

Skarlet said...

Hey Pyrodoggie,

Well, the problem with your original point C is that it presupposes moral inability (which has not yet been proven). The problem with my point C is that it presupposes the lack of moral inability (with also has not yet been proven). The problem with your new suggested point C is that it presupposes that a person is be held accountable for something by God whether or not they are unable to avoid it.

You see, in point B, we tied together God's assignment of responsible and our ideal assignment of responsibility. So to say in point C that we should assign responsibility whether or not there is inability would imply that (unstated in point B) God also does the same thing.

Therefore, before I could agree to your proposed point C, we would need to address whether God assigns responsibility.

Regarding the robot, it would depend. If the being that determined the actions of the robot determined the actions of all robots, and the world was full of robots, then dismantling just one robot wouldn't make a difference. So the helpfulness of dismantling would depend on what the cause of the robot's behavior is. In most cases with robots, the cause is just one person or one group of people and a very limited number of robots, though, and in that case dismantling would be a good idea.

“The point of that statement was to say that there are times when we hold to a certain principle when everything is well, but finds the same principle stabbing us behind our backs in dire times.”

I'm not sure what you mean by this. I have never experienced a sunny-day principle that stabbed me in the back in a bad time. I've had people do that, sure, but not principles. So could you explain what you mean further?

“We may not hold the robot responsible. We may blame the inventor. But, it would be difficult not to find the invention repulsive, along with the inventor, especially if it blows up our own home.”

That is very true. We would find such an invention repulsive. However, if the invention is redeemable, if the robot could be rewired and reprogrammed, it would be more tempting to try that. In board games, turning an opponent piece into an ally piece is much more desirable than simply destroying the opponent piece.

“I realize I am having a difficulty in alienating responsibility from ability without distinguishing natural and moral responsibility.”

Well, I'd be interested to hear your differentiation between natural and moral responsibility, if you have the time and inclination.

“...rather than try to introduce my own presupposition (i.e., there are different types of inability) which the Arminian might likely reject too.”

Well, I do believe that there are different types of inability: physical inability and moral inability. I don't personally deny the distinction. But I think that the same principle that would declare physical inability to exculpate a person would also declare moral inability to exculpate a person. So the question would be “why does physical inability exculpate a person?”

I look forward to your thoughts!

Pyrodoggie said...

I'm starting to see a world full of robots. Hooray for robot nannies.

“The point of that statement was to say that there are times when we hold to a certain principle when everything is well, but finds the same principle stabbing us behind our backs in dire times.”

What I meant may be explained by a quote I've read elsewhere: Without the freedom to offend, there can be no freedom of speech.

I've seen and met many who herald freedom of speech, not caring whether they offend or not. Heck, they hold to freedom of speech!

Then someone else strikes at them and they retort "that's not nice".

In the same way, not holding someone responsible because he had inability to resist committing sin is easy, unless the victim was us (like our robot who blows up by design, then out of all houses blows up mine).

"Therefore, before I could agree to your proposed point C, we would need to address whether God assigns responsibility."

I think both the Calvinist and the Arminian believes that God holds beings other than himself responsible (hence the assignment of responsibility), or else there would not have been any notion of judgment at all. Or do I not understand the statement correctly?

Although if you believe that there is a distinction between physical and moral inability, it may be easier to defend the Calvinist position.

Allow me to appeal to our own moral sensibilities. Back to our killer who could not not kill. I think we have both agreed that should a person hypothetically exist, it would not excuse him from the consequences of his actions. I am not saying that that person truly exists. All I am saying is that we imagine one to exist. That person, so utterly morally corrupt that he is unable to prevent himself from killing - we agreed that he ought to be locked up, be it a prison or psychiatric ward. We are punishing him for what he could not prevent himself from doing.
Again, I am not assuming that he exists. He may, or may not exist. I am assuming, although, that this is how we will deal with such a person should he exist. Therefore, whether or not there exists a moral inability, we know internally that man will be held responsible for such crimes. Thus, again, we see here that the charge against Calvinist that moral inability will render humans free from responsibility is absurd.
And once again, I am not proving that moral inability exists. I am simply attacking the charge that existence of moral inability is detrimental to moral responsibility.

CCinTn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Pemberton said...

A) I'm still chuckling over the margarine graphic. That's got to be one of the Pyro's better ones.

B) One thing that fascinates me to no end is how an entire nation was led to hate a group of people enough to be complicit in an attempted genocide of them in Nazi Germany. This is relevant to the discussion because we are often affected more powerfully than we realize by cultural philosophies.

God's revelation requires us to understand something of the cultural philosophies of the ancient Middle East. We can't apply today's "common sense" (cultural philosophies) to understanding scripture. This is the problem so many non-Calvinists have. Even some Calvinists have difficulty with it. But God chose to use certain cultures that are knowable to us today as a background for His revelation. It requires getting outside of our cultural sensibilities and discovering the cultural sensibilities in which the text of scripture was written.

CCinTn said...

Cleaned up some typos!

In Matt 11:212-24-27, Jesus says that if the miracles He had performed in Capernaum, Chorzin and Bethsaida had been done in Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, those cities would have repented and apparently Sodom (and the other cities of the plains?) would not have been destroyed.
I see a couple of options here:

First, Jesus was either making a statement designed to shock and chasten His hearers as they had not responded appropriately to His ministry and used this extreme language to illustrate His point or He lied since “obviously” God would not have refused to extend His grace and mercy to those cities if He knew (as in omniscience) that they would have repented of their sins (as they did in Nineveh). Doing so would make God a “monster” (Olson)

Or,

Second, God did not preordain, before the foundation of the world to elect, choose, love, save those individuals in those cities.

If God knew in advance that there would have been multitudes of individuals who would have repented of their sin, and prevenient grace teaches that God wants all people to be saved and that God has placed a divine spark (Wesley) in all of us which enables people to recognize and accept God's justifying grace, the why did God withhold sending these types of miracles to these cities so that they would have turned and repented?

Jesus told His disciples in Mark 4:11-12 that He explained the mystery of God’s Kingdom to them but to the others He spoke in parables. Why? So that they would NOT understand. Why? Because if they did, they would have repented. Their sins would have been forgiven. How could a God who loves “the WHOLE” world and desires that no one perish, want to hide the truth of His kingdom from those that He knows WOULD turn from their sins and be converted?

Arminian doctrine does not have a Biblical response for this nor do they have scriptural support for prevenient grace.
For the reams of words that have been written on this thread, Arminians reject the sovereignty of God. They do not provide any Biblical response to verses that CLEARLY state that it is God’s prerogative to make some vessels for honor and some for dishonor. That He chose Israel, rather than any other nation to make a people for Himself. That He chose (and loved) Jacob rather than Esau. That Rev 13:8 and 17:8 says that those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life since the foundation of the world WOULD follow the Beast and that Rev 20:12-15 says that those whose names have not been written would be thrown into the Lake of Fire… and on and on it goes. They reject the clear truth of scripture and they reject that God is sovereign over all. That is a free-will choice that they make.

I was raised in an A of G church with attendance of 500 – 1000 until shortly after college. Thank God that in my early twenties, He opened my eyes and heart so that I could understand and accept the truth of His sovereignty. I have now lived in the truth of His eternal love for me the past 30 years. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Skarlet said...

Hey Pyrodoggie,

I think I see what you are referring to, when you talk about principles that can stab you in the back. It's like a double standard, where it's okay for me to do it to you, but it's not okay for you to do it to me. I don't think I hold any of those, though. For example, I do agree with freedom of speech (IE the government should not be the one enforcing any censorship), but I also agree that we are never to abuse our freedom, but are to speak graciously. Similarly, I would not hold a person responsible for burning down my house, if they were unable to avoid it, but would blame and hold responsible whoever determined that they would burn down my house – sin happens, someone's gotta pay. To blame the person who couldn't have acted otherwise is just like shooting the messenger.

“I think both the Calvinist and the Arminian believes that God holds beings other than himself responsible (hence the assignment of responsibility), or else there would not have been any notion of judgment at all. Or do I not understand the statement correctly?”

Well, I meant specifically in the context of inability. We would need to address whether God assigns responsibility to those who are unable to act otherwise, before trying to imitate Him and similarly assign responsibility to those who are unable to act otherwise.

But why DO you think that physical inability exculpates peoples?

“And once again, I am not proving that moral inability exists. I am simply attacking the charge that existence of moral inability is detrimental to moral responsibility.”

Alright, and I'll go with that hypothetical for now. Thinking of the killer who, for the purpose of this discussion cannot avoid killing, who does determine that the killer kills? I agree that he would not be rescues from the consequences of his actions (ie being locked up), but it is not because he is guilty, but rather for the safety of the people. He becomes like collateral damage – whoever caused him to kill also harmed him by caused the necessity for him to be locked up. So we lock him up, but without blaming him, because he is doing the best he possibly can. It's not something he will enjoy, but it's also not a “punishment” in the normal meaning of the word, which implies culpability.

Therefore, if there exists moral inability that is not caused by previous able choice (which would lead us back to blaming the man himself for his own inability), we internally would not hold the man culpable, but rather would lock him up as necessary, and add that tally to what we blame the true culprit for (which would be whoever IS determining that this man murder, since we have established that this man is not self-determining the choice, and nothing is causeless).

Thus, we see here that to blame the one who is acted upon by another, and then doing the best he possibly can, is absurd. :)

Jeff said...

Eve tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. She had the physical and moral ability to do otherwise. It's her fault.

Adam, on the other hand, knew full well that because his wife wanted him to eat it, he had no other option. :) It's not his fault.

Ergo, the fallen human race lies squarely at the feet of Eve, not Adam. But for some reason, Adam got the blame. What's up with that? :)

Skarlet said...

Hey Pyrodoggie,

I was just having a conversation with someone else, and we came up with the idea of a third type of inability:

1 - Physical inability (I cannot fly)
2 - Moral inability (I cannot "hear")
3 - Jurisdictional inability (I cannot rearrange heaven from earth)

See, the fact that I cannot re-design or rearrange heaven is not a moral issue. It's also not a physical issue, because heaven does not exist in the physical universe. I am unable to re-design or rearrange heaven because it is out of the range of my influence or jurisdiction.

This came up in a discussion about the Arminian concept of Once Saved Always Saved. A believer cannot lose his salvation, just like he can't re-design heaven, because only God has control over those things.

What do you think about that?

donsands said...

"Once Saved Always Saved."

Amen.

Once regenerated, or quickened, or born again, a sinner is a new creature. Not to mention his, or her name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life!

Who can be bring any accusation, or charge, forward and overrule what our Savior's precious blood has accomplished?

Thank You Lord Jesus for the Cross. Gal. 6:14

Have great week in the mercy and forgiveness of Christ, if you have tasted this truth for yourself.

Pyrodoggie said...

Hi Skarlet,

Nothing is causeless. Agreed.

However, if I understand you correctly, this is how your argument goes:

1.) Nothing is causeless.

2.) Responsibility is due to the one who has caused, and not to the one caused.

3.) If there is moral inability, it must be caused by someone or something.

4.) Therefore, the moral inability must be blamed to the one who has caused moral inability, rather than the one who is morally unable.

5.) If a person caused himself to be morally unable, then he is to be blamed not for his moral inability, but for causing himself to be morally unable.

6.) However, if a person is able to cause himself to be morally unable, then he must have had a prior ability.

7.) Either he caused himself to be unable due to prior moral ability, or he is morally unable due to causes outside of himself.

8.) Thus, he is either to be blamed due to a prior moral ability, or not to be blamed.

It would seem that, based on the foregoing, one would be hardpressed not to conclude that there must have been a prior moral ability for a person to be held responsible. Am I right?

That is, unless there is no distinction between physical inability and moral inability. The turning point of your argument seems to hinge on point no. 2, that responsibility is due to the one who has caused.

However, point no. 2 seems to point out that responsibilty lies on the one who has caused because he had the choice to cause or not to cause. And upon acting on the former, he has deprived the one he has caused to lose moral ability, or put another way, moral choice.

He is responsible, not because he has caused, but because he has chosen. Or would you disagree?

Now, going back to the my killer who could not not kill, it may be that he kills because he is physically unable to not kill, or he is morally unable to not kill.

What's the difference? I believe that in the former, the killer cannot help but kill because his body acts the way it does. In the latter, the killer cannot help but kill because his desire to kill is so strong that he willfully suppresess his urge to not kill.

I believe this is an important distinction as to why physical inability excuses a person, while moral inability does not.

Thus, point no. 2 may not apply to moral inability insofar as I have distinguished the same from physical inability. This is because I would define moral inability not as the lack of moral choice, but a lack of desire to choose the moral option when presented with a moral choice. He is being controlled by no one, thus, responsibility would be pressed upon him because he had the freedom to choose between the moral, and the immoral.

On the converse, moral ability would then be defined as desiring to summon out of a persons heart, the inclination to choose the moral when presented with a moral choice.

By this definition, it would not make sense to say that a man should be morally able in order for him to cause himself to be morally unable. It is like saying that a man, given the option to between the moral and immoral, will summon the goodness from his heart in order to cause himself to desire that which is immoral. Our favorite word sofar: absurd. Moral ability does not precede moral inability.

Therefore, a man totally depraved will not choose God, not because he had no choice, but because he does not desire to choose God.

Pyrodoggie said...

Further notes:

If responsibility is to the one who has caused not because he had the choice, but simply because he caused, then there would be an infinite regression in the argument.

This is because, as agreed, nothing is causeless. There must have been something that caused him to cause, and this something is to be blamed. But that something was also caused by something else for the former to have caused, and so on. Responsibility, therefore, must be held to no one, for there is an infinite regression of causes, or to God alone, if one believes that he is the ultimate cause.

Skarlet said...

Hey Pyrodoggie,

[cause and responsibility]

I agree with the basic gist of the eight points that you list out. I probably would word them differently for clarity's sake. For instance, there are many types of “causes,” and I'm referring specifically to “determining cause,” which is a cause that determines the outcome and could have determined something else.

In the case of a lightbulb being turned on by a brother, there are many causes, from God creating light, to the invention of the lightbulb, to the purchase of that particular light to be in the house, to the correctly-working wiring, but of all those causes, my brother would be the relevant determining cause. He would be the one to determine to make the light turn on and off, when they could have determined otherwise.

Secondly, responsibility is for sin and excellence alike. For example, if I inject a patient with a drug that makes him better, that patient may be unable to prevent himself from getting better physically. Who takes the responsibility for his recovery then? I do, since I was the determining cause (in that hypothetical). So it works for both good and bad.

[Additional recap before moving on: It takes ability to choose more than one option to be able to be a determining cause in the matter.]

“based on the foregoing, one would be hardpressed not to conclude that there must have been a prior moral ability for a person to be held responsible. Am I right?”

That's right. If a person did not causally determine the sin, even through causing their own inability, then they are not responsible for it. Whoever DID causally determine the sin would be culpable for it.

“The turning point of your argument seems to hinge on point no. 2, that responsibility is due to the one who has caused.”

That's the same as saying that there can be no responsibility without ability. The determining cause, who has the ability to determine it either way, is responsible for the effect.

“He is responsible, not because he has caused, but because he has chosen. Or would you disagree?”

He is responsible because he caused when he could have caused otherwise. [Both chose and cause are necessary for responsibility] If he could not have caused otherwise, then he would be like the wiring behind the light bulb – a cause that makes no choice or determination. If he chose, but did not cause, then no positive or negative effect would have occurred, and therefore there would be nothing for him to take responsibility for.

“If responsibility is to the one who has caused not because he had the choice, but simply because he caused, then there would be an infinite regression in the argument.”

As a clarified, responsibility falls to the determining cause, which implies both choice and causation, and (all other causes remaining the same) also determines the outcome. So there is no infinite regression.

Skarlet said...

Pyrodoggie,

(inability)

“… the killer cannot help but kill because his desire to kill is so strong ...I believe this is an important distinction as to why physical inability excuses a person, while moral inability does not.”

I agree that this is the best argument a Calvinist can make, to explain why physical inability is innocent (no desire to kill) while moral inability is culpable (there is a desire to kill). In this paradigm, culpability is based solely on motive, and not on choice, whether a person is doing the best they can, or who actually caused the problem. For myself, those three are pretty important. Motive is only important insomuch as it reflects on (1) and (2), and of course if (3) happens then the person himself who is known to have been the determining cause also must take the blame.

Now HERE's something interesting that you say:

“I would define moral inability not as the lack of moral choice, but a lack of desire to choose the moral option when presented with a moral choice. He is being controlled by no one, thus, responsibility would be pressed upon him because he had the freedom to choose between the moral, and the immoral.”

If he had the freedom to choose between, then to call it inability is a misnomer. You see, I agree that people have the ability to choose between, and I agree that nonbelievers have a lack of desire to do right, except when God's grace is at work in their lives. But, I would say that they “could but don't” do right, which is referring both to their freedom (which you mention above) and their lack of desire (which you also mention above). I do not say that they can't do right (which would imply a lack of freedom to choose), but rather I say that they won't do right.

When it comes right down to it, then, we agree that people choose sin when they have the freedom (ability) to not to choose sin. Which means that you could also agree that whoever causally determines that something bad happen is the one responsibility, and still believe what you presently do.

“moral ability would then be defined as... the inclination to choose the moral”

Again, a misnomer. Physically: I have the ability to jump off a cliff, but not the inclination to do so. That's an important distinction, between ability and inclination. Ability defines the amount of freedom, extent of jurisdiction, and level of responsibility in all three realms (physical, moral, other). Inclination (to use your word) defines what we DO with that freedom, how we treat our jurisdiction, and whether positive or negative responsibility will be put upon up for those choices.

Ability = what we have
Inclination = leads to what we do with it

“By this definition, it would not make sense...”

Yes, quite so. I agree with you on this. To illustrate, I will use algebra.

Statement: “A man must be morally (able) in order for him to cause himself to be morally (unable.)”

Pyro equations: able = inclined to right, unable = inclined to wrong

With substitution: “A man must be morally inclined to do right in order for him to cause himself to be morally inclined to wrong.”

Such would be a contradiction. However with MY definitions:

Skarlet equations: able = free to choose, choose = cause himself, unable = bound and no longer free to choose

With substitution: “A man must be morally free to choose in order for him to choose to be morally bound and no longer free.”

This makes sense. After all, how you are going to choose, unless you are first able to choose?

Also, the idea that one can bind oneself makes sense, both in the physical and metaphysical realm. In the physical realm, one can freely choose to get on a roller coaster, and then once you are “locked in,” you are bound and no longer free to get off until the end.

Skarlet said...

(continued)

“Therefore, a man totally depraved will not choose God, not because he had no choice, but because he does not desire to choose God.”

I would change this to “Therefore, any of the non-elect will not accept Christ, not because he had no choice, but because he does not desire to accept Christ.” Because of course, the depraved elect eventually WILL accept (but not choose) Christ.

Overall, then, I think we are in agreement. You just use the word “unable” when you mean “inclined against” while I use the word “unable” to mean “does not have the ability or freedom to choose otherwise; the choice is not self-determined but other-determined.”

In both physical and spiritual cases, I think that (inclination, motive, desire, drive) should be left as one set of synonyms, while (ability, responsibility, freedom to choose, jurisdiction, causal determinant) should be left as a separate set of synonyms. We already do this when speaking physically, we should also use that same precise wording when speaking of invisible things. Otherwise it can become very unclear and muddied.

Pyrodoggie said...

Hi Skarlet,

I get your point regarding the misnomer. However, in calling it a misnomer, will it not erase the distinction between physical and moral abilities? I would quite disagree at this point.

For example,if a person who is morally unable, is unable not just because he desires to sin and nothing else, but because he has limitations in his freedom in terms of morals, it would leave me with a conclusion that he might be incapacitated mentally, which might be because he is being controlled by causes outside of himself, which in turn would make it physical inability.

I would not define physical inability as simply that which limits humans to locomotive abilities. I would define it as inclusive of the entire human body, including the brain. Hence, local laws normally acquits that which is insane.

By my definition of moral inability, I think that it is acceptable to call the lack of desire to do that which is good as an impossibility to do good (hence, unable), such that it is also acceptable to call the lack of desire to sin an impossibility (and hence, unable too).

For example, traditional Reformed Systematic Theology would agree that God cannot sin. In fact, it is impossible for him to sin. Not that he could NOT sin (if you get the emphasis), but that he would never go against his righteous and holy nature in all possible realities. And he does this (i.e., follow his own nature) with all willingness. Hence, we say that it is impossible for God to lie, or to do anything else that is sinful.

By moral inability, it is impossible for unregenerate humans to choose God, in all possible realities. Not that he is unable to really choose God, in the same way that God is unable to sin, but that man would never go against his nature (i.e., to sin).

However, you suggest that somehow, ability is defined as "freedom to choose". But that is a very limited definition. I think this is what Phil was saying in his post. Ability has been limitedly defined as your definition, hence the idea of the Arminians that somehow inability mitigates responsibility.

In fact, you do not really believe that. In your prior post, you said about jurisdictional ability as follows:

" This came up in a discussion about the Arminian concept of Once Saved Always Saved. A believer cannot lose his salvation, just like he can't re-design heaven, because only God has control over those things. "

By your definition, the said believer does not have the freedom to choose whether or not he will fall away, because only God has control over such things. But we all know, you and I, that we have in our minds the capacity to reject our faith. Yet we do not do it. Yet, you called it inability. We have freedom to do so, yes?

Also, in God's impossibility to sin, is he not free to choose whether or not he will sin? He is Sovereign after all. Yet, in all possible realities, the perfection of God compels him to not sin, be it yesterday, today, or forever.

Pyrodoggie said...

I think at this point, our disagreement would tantamount to defining the word ability. You limit it to "freedom to choose" (yet, in quite a baffling way, you called "Once Saved, Always Saved" a jurisdictional inability), I define it in a much broader sense. And perhaps, this might be the reason why Arminians could not see how a Calvinisit can accept the fact that man is morally unable, and yet holds man responsible.

Skarlet said...

Hello Pyrodoggie,

I agree with you that our disagreement lies with the usage of the word “ability,” and you are totally correct that if the Calvinists in general are using the word the way that you are using the word, there is a huge misunderstanding between the two groups that leads both sides to misinterpret the position of the other side.

I believe that I use the word in the normal way that it's used. Dictionary.com defines able as:

“having necessary power, skill, resources, or qualifications” Examples: “able to lift a two-hundred-pound weight; able to write music; able to travel widely; able to vote.”

This does not speak of inclination at all, which is defined separately: “a disposition or bent, especially of the mind or will; a liking or preference”

So, it is downright confusing to try to equivocate the two. I believe that the synonym sets I suggested are in line with the ordinary usage and understanding of the words.


Now, you brought up this question: “However, in calling it a misnomer, will it not erase the distinction between physical and moral abilities?”

Not at all. Regarding your example, one could be morally unable, if their moral choices are controlled by something outside of their control (IE God, the devil, their nature). If, given something that they did not choose (IE a decree, a temptation, or an inherited nature), they do not have the power or freedom to choose whether to sin or not, then they would be morally unable to choose. Their choice, in that case, would be like the wiring leading to a lightbulb, which causes the effect of the light turning on, but has no real determining power because it's entirely manipulated and controlled by the person flipping the switch and the current that then flows through it.

The way I look at it, ability refers to power, jurisdiction, responsibility, and freedom to choose. We have that jurisdiction physically, and choose to do different things with it (according to inclination). We have a jurisdiction morally (over ourselves), and choose to do different things with it (according to inclination). In both physical and moral cases, we are able to do more than we actually choose to do. We have a set of Ability (what we are able to do and free to choose about) and a smaller set of Inclination (which are the reasons we refer to when we actually choose something from within the larger set).

And what of that which is outside of our jurisdiction?

Skarlet said...

...

“By your definition, the said believer does not have the freedom to choose whether or not he will fall away, because only God has control over such things. But we all know, you and I, that we have in our minds the capacity to reject our faith. Yet we do not do it. Yet, you called it inability. We have freedom to do so, yes?”

The believer does have the freedom to reject faith, but I believe that God will convict that believer and they will return to faith. Else perhaps God will just take them home, if they are not honoring God on earth.

When I say that a believer cannot lose salvation, I mean that he cannot get away from his election, justification, regeneration, or eventual glorification. Those are all things that God does, and no matter how bad our attitude gets, it's God who chooses whether to save us or not, and for those who are regenerated, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit UNTIL heaven. The Holy Spirit does not leave them before that, no matter what choices they make. For someone who is regenerated, I believe that God will discipline them to bring them back to him, if they try rejecting Him.

In all realms, we have limited ability:

Physical: We are not able to fly, etc
Moral: We are not able to control the moral choices of others
Other: We have no current access to heaven and cannot de-decorate it

And in each of those realms, what we want to do and what we choose to do are but subsets of what we are able to do.

Lastly, the case of Biblical equivocation between “won't” and “can't”:

“For example, traditional Reformed Systematic Theology would agree that God cannot sin”

I agree that God can't sin. Just like He can't lie, which is specifically stated in the Bible. This is because not only does God determine His own choices, and we know that He CERTAINLY will never sin because He is holy. But also, God cannot change.

We are inside of time, and time measures change (atomic clocks, for instance, measure change to give us a display of something that we call “time”). God is outside of time. We can change. God cannot change.

So, I agree that God does not lie, cannot change, and therefore cannot lie. But, if a person is not kind, they still can change (being inside time), and therefore can (are able to) be kind in the future. Therefore, God's inability to sin is not analogous to any inability of man, because God is unable to change while we are able to change.

Marty Summers said...

Just like Pelagius of old the issue in my opinion is not an issue of responsibility so much as an issue of accountablility. Responsiblity is a meritorious term involing ability and therefore limited in nature. Accountability however is a legal term having nothing to do with ability and therefore is a universal issue. God holds us accountabile for our condition not our ability then judges us based on what we do or dont' do. For the believer we recive or forfeit reward while the unbeliever receives greater or lesser punishment.

Pyrodoggie said...

Hi Skarlet,

This would be my last post since this is getting quite old.

You have made glaring inconsistensies with your limited definition of ability. One of which is saying that a morally free person must not act according to his inherited nature.

If I understand that correctly, a person then, to be responsible for his actions, must not commit sin because he is intrinsically sinful, and must not commit goodness because he is intrinsically good. That which acts according to his nature must not be faulted, nor recognized for he does not have the ability to do otherwise.

However, in saying that God cannot sin, you said he does not BECAUSE he is holy. And yet, we know that God takes responsibility for his actions, in that God's goodness is meritous. Then, using that same pattern, can we not say that humans cannot do good BECAUSE they are not holy? And even so, they may be held responsible for their actions? If this is not inconsistent, I do not know what else it is.

In fact, a person's decision to commit sin is from one's own lack
of morals.

God's decision to save mankind is from God's own overflowing grace, mercy, and love.

God's decision to judge sinners is from God's own justice.

And so on.

Another glaring error is to say that what we want to do and what we choose to do are but subsets of what we are able to do.

Did not humans desire to be like God? Did not Satan desire the same thing?

Thus, I could not accept such a limited definition of ability, one that could not be consistent internally.

Nice conversing with you though. May the grace and peace of God be with you.