Augustine the Libertarian

Some refer to Calvinism as Augustinianism.  John Calvin took the teachings of the later Augustine and systematized them.  The only major difference between the later Augustine and Calvin’s theology is the doctrine of perseverance.  Augustine believed that one could be truly regenerated and yet not be granted the gift of perseverance.  Calvin denied that one who was truly regenerated could fail to persevere.  But what about the early Augustine?

The early Augustine had a theology that was little different than the theology which had dominated the church since apostolic teachings.  Augustine held to a libertarian view of human freedom and only began to move away from that view when embroiled in debate and controversy with the Pelagians.  In these debates his theology began to shift.

Calvinists might claim that this shift was due to theological maturity and greater insight into Biblical truths once overlooked.  Another possibility is that when trying to counter the Pelagian arguments regarding free will Augustine went too far in the other direction and began to fall back into some of the gnostic determinism which he had abandoned upon his conversion to Christianity from the Manichaean sect.  Augustine’s later redevelopment of much of his theology was the direct result this overreaction to the Pelagian controversy.  I prefer the latter explanation.

So what did the early Augustine believe concerning the will?  He agreed with the consensus of the chruch Fathers before him.  He held to a libertarian view of free will and argued for it along the same lines as many Arminians do today.

Compatibilists often tell us we are “free” if we are not coerced by external factors and do what we “want” to do.  The part that they often leave out of the conversation is that they believe that our “wants” are causally determined by internal factors.  Somehow, compatibilists think that if you make the shift from external to internal the problem is resolved and we can be truly free even if our will is controlled by internal factors (motives, desires, etc.).  And since we do what we want to do (i.e. we are not forced to do such things “against our [causally determined] wills” ) we are rightly held responsible by God and man for our actions.  What would Augustine think of such arguments?

Thomas Williams in his introduction to Augustine: On Free Choice of the Will writes,

A libertarian such as Augustine would not be convinced by this sort of reasoning.  These philosophers still insist that my choices are determined; the fact that they are determined by internal rather than external factors is inconsequential.  It is not better to be a hand puppet than a marionette.  Besides, to a libertarian, this view is just a dodge.  To see why this is the case, suppose that I have made a choice that was determined by my state of character at the time of the choice.  Call that state of character S.  How did I acquire S?  If we admit that determinism is true, we must say that, given the laws of nature and causal factors at work both inside and outside me, S is the inevitable result of some prior state R.  And how did I acquire R?  It was the result of some prior state Q, which in turn was the result of prior state P and so on.  And thus we trace the causal chain back in time, eventually reaching a point before I was born. But how can I be responsible for choices that are assured causal results of states of the universe [or eternal decrees if you will] that existed before I was born?  For obviously I have no control over things that happened before I was born.  The fact that this causal chain eventually wormed its way inside me, so to speak, determining my choices from within, no longer seems to guarantee my freedom.  It is with such considerations in mind that Augustine rejects the view (known as ‘compatibilism’) that determinism is compatible with human freedom and moral responsibility; and since he is convinced that human beings are in fact free and responsible, he must reject determinism as well. (pp. xii, xiii) 

Augustine, like Arminians, believed that if our choices were determined by factors which we could not control then we could not be held responsible for our actions (even if we did those actions “willingly” since the will itself has been causally determined by factors beyond our control).  If the will has been causally determined then it is not helpful to say that because we do things “willingly” we should be held responsible for those actions.  Augustine agreed with the consensus of the early church Fathers that such a view could not make sense of moral responsibility.

Calvinists tend to get hyped up when Arminians accuse them of making puppets of people with their deterministic view of the will.  Yet those same Calvinists will happily describe us as inanimate and helpless clay in the hand of the Potter who has the right to shape us however He pleases (which misunderstands what was being expressed in Jer. 18, Rom. 9, and related passages).  If we object to their determinism then we are sternly rebuked for being like pots who are talking back to the Potter.  And yet, the Potter apparently formed and shaped us just so that we would indeed talk back to Him.  Strange theology indeed.

Fixed A Glitch With Owen

I noticed on my blog-stats that a visitor had checked out my post Provisional Atonement Part 1: Dealing With John Owen’s Arminian Dilemma.  Upon looking at the post I noticed that much of it was unreadable.  Something apparently happened to it when it was imported from blogger.  I fixed the text so that it is now readable.  If anyone notices glitches in any of my posts please e-mail me so I can fix them as soon as possible.

Calvinism and Job: Something to Think About

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Job.  Job endured severe trials but did not curse God (though he did question God).  The emphases of the book are many.  It is probably mainly concerned with a faulty theology which claimed that bad things don’t happen to good people.  But how does any of this relate to Calvinism and Arminianism?

We are told in the first two chapters of Job that Satan presented himself before the Lord and the Lord pointed out the righteousness of Job.  It would appear that God was proud of Job’s righteous conduct and wanted Satan to take notice.  God was truly pleased with Job.

Satan takes God to task concerning Job’s righteousness and makes it clear that he believes Job fears God in faith and righteousness because God has shown favor on Job and Job has had a blessed life.  If Job’s circumstances were different, then he would likely respond differently, even to the point of cursing God. Consider Satan’s first challenge to God concerning Job:

Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and fields are spread out throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face. (Job 1:9)

Now let us keep in mind the presuppositions of Calvinism and try to make sense of Satan’s challenge.  If Job has faith in God and serves God in righteousness, it is entirely due to the irresistible influence of God’s grace.  God is the direct cause of Job’s faith and righteousness.  Why then would Satan challenge God in such a way?  Why talk about blessings and say that if only God would remove these blessings, or harm Job’s flesh, that Job would curse God to His face?  Why not say something like:

“Does Job fear God for nothing.  Doesn’t he fear you because you chose him to fear you from the foundation of the world and have caused him to serve you in faith and righteousness by that grace which Job cannot resist?  Remove from him your irresistible grace and then let’s see how Job responds.  Will he not curse you to your face?  Am I supposed to be impressed with your servant Job for doing what you have irresistibly caused him to do?”

I suppose that Satan may have been ignorant of the doctrine of irresistible grace, but I still find the entire confrontation and dialogue to be very odd given Calvinistic presuppositions.  In fact, I find most of God’s interactions with His creation to be very odd given Calvinist presuppositions.  Job is just one example of how a Calvinist may need to temporarily ignore such doctrines in order to read the inspired text.  No doubt some intelligent Calvinists will be able to explain why we should not think such conversations as that found between Satan and God in Job are odd given Calvinist presuppositions.  I am not saying that these passages disprove Calvinism.  I am just saying that they do not fit comfortably with Calvinist beliefs concerning how God interacts with human beings and exercises His sovereignty.  Since the Bible is full of many such interactions, it should not be surprising to Calvinists when people have a hard time believing that their doctrines are Biblically sound.  I welcome any comments or suggestions.

Spotting Some Great Posts

Just wanted to draw your attention to a few excellent posts I have read.  First, I want to highly recommend that you check out Dan’s new series on Jonathan Edwards’ view of the will.  I thought his series on Owen was excellent and I am looking forward to his new series on Edwards.

Pizzaman at Seekadoohas a great post on Libertarian Freewill which deals with the reconciliation of freewill and sovereignty from an Arminian perspective; and I just read an older post by Sam of Purging My Soul…One Blog At A Time regarding the practical implications of Calvinism (Part 3 of a 3 part series).

Perseverance of the Saints Part 8: What Kind of Sanctification is Being Described in Hebrews 10:29?

We now examine another interpretation that looks to make this sanctification merely outward with no internal reality. It looks to compare the sanctification described in 10:29 with the outward ceremonial cleansing referred to under the old covenant in 9:9 and 9:13.

Peterson and Williams see it as “a covenantal sanctification in which persons are set apart as part of God’s covenant community, the church, but are not necessarily saved.” They conclude that “covenantal but not saving ‘sanctification’ appears in Heb. 9:13 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. In view of the contrast here between the Old and New Covenant, we interpret “sanctified” to mean set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” (Why I Am Not An Arminian pg. 86)

Grudem follows this basic understanding by citing numerous passages, most of which occur outside of Hebrews, that do not necessarily have reference to inward sanctification. He then concludes:

These other examples do not of course prove that hagiazo in Hebrews 10:29 must refer to something other than the internal sanctification that accompanies salvation, but they mean that we should not assume that hagiazo means saving sanctification either. Moreover, the entire context in which 10:29 occurs, from 9:1 to 10:39, is concerned with parallels between the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices and the better new covenant sacrifice of Christ. Because a ceremonial focus pervades this context, a ceremonial sense of sanctify would be appropriate in 10:29. This is especially true in the immediate context of 10:19-31, for the author is speaking of the fact that the congregation in general has a ‘new and living way’ (10:20) available by the blood of Jesus, and therefore can ‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence. (Still Sovereign, pp.177, 178).

So for Grudem, Peterson, and Williams it seems that “sanctified by the blood of the covenant” means little more than “given the right to go to church and assemble with believers as they worship.” This is not only extremely weak but impossible to sustain in light of the very context to which Grudem appeals. Before we examine this context we need to note that Peterson and Williams have probably gone too far and hurt their position by stating that “sanctified” means “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” Are they then asserting that an eternally and irrevocably condemned reprobate is “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God?” Such a thing does not seem friendly to their position at all and may betray the difficulty of describing this sanctification as anything less than that which accompanies salvation. Unfortunately, they did not bother to further explain how such a thing could be said of reprobates who have never belonged to God in any covenantal sense, so we can only speculate.

As we noted in my last post concerning who is sanctified in Hebrews 10:29, the context of the passages in question has to do with a comparison between a “sanctification” that is merely outward, performed by sinful priests, and a “sanctification” that is inward, performed by the holy Priest King, Jesus Christ. We noted that the main focus is the cleansing power of Christ’s blood in contrast to the blood of animals which can never remove sin or cleanse the conscience. The point is that Christ’s blood brings forgiveness and makes believers holy and acceptable in God’s sight, which makes Christ and His eternal priesthood far superior to that priestly ministry of the OT.

Grudem is correct in assuming that the context of the passage has to do with making worshippers fit to enter the presence of God, but he has not gone far enough. The only reason that these worshippers can “‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence” is because these worshippers have been truly sanctified with the soul cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. They have been made fit and acceptable to enter God’s presence and boldly approach the throne of grace only because they have been truly purified through faith in the Son of God and have been forgiven and made holy on the merits of His blood. What Grudem seems to be suggesting is that some sort of “outward” cleansing has made these worshippers fit to enter God’s presence (which to Grudem means little more than going to church as noted above); but will the context bear this out?

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience, since they relate to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10)

The inspired writer is concerned with demonstrating that the way to enter God’s presence under the Old Covenant is obsolete and has come to an end. It was inadequate to truly purify and was therefore a shadow of the fulfillment that was yet to come (“a time of reformation”).

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (9:11-12)

Only through Christ’s blood can one truly enter the holy place in the New Covenant which has surpassed and supplanted the Old Covenant. Only those redeemed by His blood have access with and through Him to the holy place and into God’s presence. It is no longer possible for someone to enter God’s presence through that which provides only an outward cleansing because the Old Covenant has been replaced with the New which demands that God’s worshippers enter His presence truly purified by the blood of His dear Son. The writer of Hebrews is not saying that there remains a “sanctification” that is merely outward by which sinners can go to church with believers or hang out undetected with true worshippers. He is stating in no uncertain terms that the only sanctification available by which one can enter God’s presence is that wrought by the blood of Christ which forgives and purifies sinners who put their faith in Him….

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13, 14)

Grudem appeals to verse thirteen to support his theory that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward. The problem with this suggestion is that the context works against it since the writer is again describing the replacing of the Old Covenant with the new due to the inadequacies of the Old Covenant. The inspired writer is in no way suggesting that one can still receive an outward cleansing through the blood of animals for the purpose of approaching God in worship. Rather, he is stating that the New Covenant is superior and the Old Covenant obsolete because Christ’s blood provides real inner cleansing of the soul (see Hebrews 8:6-13).

Hebrews 10:1-18 continues to emphasize the replacement of the Old Covenant with that of the New Covenant with particular attention being placed on the fact that Christ’s blood is superior because it provides a once for all atonement by which the sins of those who approach God are forgiven. Consider especially verses 11-14:

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (emphasis mine)

The context suggests that “perfected” has specific reference to forgiveness of sins (cf. 10:1). The blood of the New Covenant is superior because it provides forgiveness for those who are being sanctified as a result of that atonement. Those who are being sanctified in this passage are those who are benefiting from the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s sacrifice through faith in His blood (cf. Rom. 3:25). It is an inward and real sanctification. This leads us to the climax of this teaching and the practical implications of it in verses 19-25.

Let’s review and draw a few conclusions based on the context and the suggested interpretations of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams.

1) The context makes it plain that there are only two possible cleansings in view. The first cleansing [sanctification] is that of the Old Covenant which was merely outward and did not take away sins. This cleansing was by the blood of animals which foreshadowed the inauguration of the New Covenant. The second cleansing [sanctification] is that of the New Covenant. This cleansing is inward, brings forgiveness of sin, and makes worshippers holy so that they can draw near to God in confidence. There is no third cleansing in the context of these chapters! It is either an out ward sanctification wrought by the blood of animals, or it is an inward sanctification wrought by the blood of Christ. Therefore, if our Calvinist writers want to say that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward then they must also affirm that it is wrought by the blood of animals under the Old Covenant.

2) The New Covenant in Christ’s blood has replaced and made obsolete the Old Covenant. There is only one way that someone can be “sanctified by the blood of the covenant”, and that must be the blood of the New Covenant since the Old Covenant no longer exists (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:8-10; 10:1-18). Therefore, the apostate described as sanctified by the blood of the covenant could only have been sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant since there is no longer any other sanctification or covenant available.

3) Hebrews 10:28 and 29 reinforces the fact that the apostate has been sanctified under the New Covenant since he deserves a more severe punishment than those who were under the Old Covenant.

4) The connection and uninterrupted flow of thought from 10:19 to 10:29 makes it clear that the blood which sanctified the apostate is the same as the blood of Jesus which gives believers confidence to enter the holy place:

Therefore, brethren, since we [believers] have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…if we [believers] go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…and [the believer who so apostatizes] has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant [that same blood of Jesus by which the believer had confidence to enter the holy place in verse 19] by which he was sanctified…

5) It would be nonsense to say that the apostate has trampled under foot the Son of God because he rejected and regarded as unclean the blood of bulls and goats which only gave him an outward sanctification. The outrage of the apostate’s actions is firmly connected to the fact that he regarded the blood of the covenant “by which he was sanctified” as unholy [common]. Therefore, the blood could only be Christ’s blood as there would be no outrage in regarding the blood of animals as unholy under the New Covenant, nor would such a thing constitute the trampling under foot of the Son of God.

Contrary to the assertions of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams, the context is plainly against their interpretation. It is the soul cleansing blood of Christ that has been under consideration as that which replaces the Old Covenant blood of animals in the two chapters leading up to this warning. Furthermore, verse 19 plainly indicates that Christ’s blood is that which is again in sharp focus leading up to the description of the apostate.

We applaud Peterson and Williams for finding the suggestion that the one sanctified in Hebrews 10:29 is Christ to be “contrived.” However, we find it just as contrived to suggest that the blood of the covenant that sanctified the apostate was anything less than the blood of Christ by which the apostate was inwardly sanctified prior to repudiating the faith. The only interpretation which is faithful to the context is that which admits that one who has been truly sanctified with Christ’s blood can yet abandon the faith to his or her eternal destruction.

In our next post we will examine Hebrews 10:32-39.

Go to Part 9

Go to Part 1

Society of Evangelical Arminians

Just want to alert everyone to a new website and blog called SEA (Society of Evangelical Arminians).  The site officially launched today and will slowly grow as an excellent resource for Arminian Theology.  It has numerous contributers, many of whom are first rate scholars.  If nothing is up right away, please be patient and keep checking back.

Taking a Short Break

I had my next post nearly done the other day at home on a Word document (I don’t have the Internet at home) when the electricity went out and I lost it all.  Unfortunately, I will likely not get it up until late next week, at the earliest, as I will be away visiting family until Tuesday.  I will likewise not be available to interact with any comments until then; and if you are a first time commenter your comments will not appear until after I return and am able to approve them (please don’t let that discourage you from leaving comments).  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

God Bless,

Ben