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Jan 23, 2013

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Ken Hamrick

Jim,

While I don't find anything in particular to address in this installment (at this time), I will say that is seems that you are dismissing much of the substance of the truth due only to the extremes in which it is clothed; and I sense that what you want to replace it with (which you have not yet revealed in any depth) is just as extreme in the opposite direction.

Do you intend only to criticize Augustin and the broad theological framework that followed him, or can we hope for an equally rigorous alternative to be explained and defended?

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

I'm a bit puzzled by this comment. You say I am dismissing the "truth." What truth do you believe I am dismissing? I will readily admit I am dismissing original guilt, but I do not believe original guilt to be the "truth." What I believe I have shown is that Augustine's assumptions of the overemphasis on God's sovereignty and infralapsarian humanity are novel for his time. He injected these ideas into the received tradition. I don't think either of these statements are, as you say, "extreme."

I find the sentence "I sense that what you want to replace it with (which you have not yet revealed in any depth) is just as extreme in the opposite direction" to be very presumptuous on your part. All you had to do was ask me if you wanted to know what I thought. Far from being the "opposite extreme," I think that the received tradition on nature and grace that Augustine first embraced then flatly rejected (in favor of, in my opinion, the outworkings of his pagan-based assumptions) is a very good place to start. The Eastern Christian view of original sin is much more faithful to the whole counsel of Scripture, in my opinion, than the Augustinian framework. It is still alive and well in Eastern Orthodoxy today and has been the general view of the church from its very beginnings. Remember, it was Augustine who deviated from this teaching to embrace his own interpretation based on his assumptions.

This series of posts is only about Augustine. Perhaps I can find the time to rigorously construct an alternative, but it might have to wait until the semester is over. In the meanwhile, I think reading some of the critiques of Augustine by John Cassian would be a good start.

Jim G.

Ken Hamrick

Jim,

Coming from a position centered between Calvinism and Libertarianism, one of compatibilism/antinomy, I would agree that Augustine went to an unwarranted extreme on some things. But I would also caution that a correction to his extremes is not sufficient reason to reject divine determinism, the moral inability of sinners, or the realistic union of mankind in Adam. In other words, rejecting Augustine's extremes does not mean we should adopt libertarianism.

I don't know if you are a libertarian or not. That's why I used such language as "it seems" and "I sense"--I'm not certain of your views, and so I prodded you in hope that you would share them. If that was presumptuous, I apologize. Of course, you have what you hold to be the truth, just as I hold what I believe to be the truth. But unlike some (not necessarily those here), I am willing to engage in substantive debate to see how the differences hold up in comparison.

One of the areas of disagreement, which you must have anticipated, is that of the role of Providence in the development in the theology of the Church. You seem to assume that differences between Augustine and those before him justify rejecting Augustine's views. But there is a good argument to be made for the fact that God did not intend the theology of the Church to remain forever in the simple state it was in before Augustine (or before Ambrose or Hilary or Cyprian or Tertullian). It is good for the Church to progress in understanding the truth through the development of theology.

In any case, please do not mistake my zeal for vitriol. I appreciate the work you have done on this, and your discussing it here with us.

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

I did not mean to suggest you were being vitriolic. I enjoy a good debate, but you could just ask me what I think. I have nothing to hide. Now, not all my thoughts are worked out in full detail yet. They may never be, unless I live to be 250, but I've got some ideas on how a detailed picture would look.

For the record, I do not reject a realistic union of mankind in Adam. I just do not see that union as (for lack of a better word) "active" as Augustine did. Augustine clearly believed that all humans were present in Adam and somehow consented in his sin, thereby bringing upon themselves guilt. Thus, in his view, humans are a mass of perdition. I, on the other hand, believe that I was in some way really present in Adam, but much more passively so, so that his guilt did not spread to me. That is, I was unable to "consent" to his sinful action, though what he did affected me in mortality, death, and the inability to escape inclination to sin. My moral freedom was severely inhibited, but not eradicated altogether. My understanding of and desire for God was darkened, but not extinguished. Had these two things been wiped out in the fall, I would no longer be human, because these properties are fundamentally part of what it means to be human. Augustine , in his later years, believed "human nature" to be a metaphor for something that is not really human anymore. I do not follow his radical path.

What I think will be clear at the end of this series is that beliefs such as divine determinism and moral inability of sinners -- two things I flatly reject as they are usually stated -- are the RESULT of Augustine and his extremes. My next post will show that divine determinism (at least in salvation, what we now call "unconditional election") follows immediately as a "theorem" from Augustine's three key assumptions: exhaustive divine sovereignty, infralapsarian humanity, and the belief that not all are saved. It is because Augustine imported pagan assumptions into the faith that divine determinism took root in some parts of the Christian faith. There were no Christian determinists before him. None. Nada. It was an innovation, and in his era, innovation was anathema. Again, the question we should be asking is why the novelty? I did and this is what I found. Rejecting Augustine's extremes necessitates rejecting the consequences of said extremes - divine determinism, and the Edwardsean moral inability.

As far as providence in doctrinal development, since you are a Protestant, you certainly do not apply this unilaterally yourself, now do you? :0) Theology is always bound to cultural contexts, since it is our reflection upon God. Times changed between Tertullian and the 4th century, and so did reflection. But NEVER does changing times warrant the acceptance of pagan assumptions and the injection of something totally new into the tradition. Progress (as in answering the questions of the day from within the faith) is good. Novelty, especially that with pagan origins, is not.

Jim G.

Ken Hamrick

Jim,

Thanks so much for a substantive response (a rare thing now days)! Your second paragraph about being in Adam is suprisingly close to my own view. As for there being no determinists prior to Augustine, I disagree. As Millard Erickson explains, in Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 348-349, the Old Testament writers were themselves determinists:

For the Old Testament writers, it was virtually inconceivable that anything could happen independently of the will and working of God. As evidence of this, consider that common impersonal expressions like “It rained” are not found in the Old Testament. For the Hebrews, rain did not simply happen; God sent the rain. They saw him as the all-powerful determiner of everything that occurs. Not only is he active in everything that occurs, but he has planned it. What is happening now was planned long ago. God himself comments, for example, concerning the destruction wreaked by the king of Assyria: “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins” (Isa. 37:26) Even something as seemingly trivial as the building of reservoirs is described as having been planned long before (Isa. 22:11). There is a sense that every day has been designed and ordered by the Lord…

The Old Testament also enunciates belief in the efficaciousness of God’s plan. What is now coming to pass is doing so because it is (and has always been) part of God’s plan. He will most assuredly bring to actual occurrence everything in his plan. What he has promised, he will do. Isaiah 46:10-11 puts it this way: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it”…

It is particularly in the wisdom literature and the prophets that the idea of an all-inclusive divine purpose is most prominent. God has from the beginning, from all eternity, had an inclusive plan encompassing the whole of reality and extending even to the minor details of life. “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4; cf. 3:19-20; Job 38, especially v. 4; Isa. 40:12; Jer. 10:12-13). Even what is ordinarily thought of as an occurrence of chance, such as the casting of lots, is represented as the Lord’s doing (Prov. 16:33). Nothing can deter or frustrate the accomplishment of his purpose. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established” (cf. 21:30-31; Jer. 10:23-24)…

Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your work! Thanks.

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

Of course, you do realize that the good Dr. Erickson is a determinist himself.

I would take serious exception to his assertion that "it is virtually inconceivable that anything could happen independently of the will and working of God." The OT is much more complex than Erickson's reductionistic statement makes it out to be. Just look at the text you quoted. Does Erickson cite any narrative texts from the OT, you know, the ones that say so-and-so displeased the LORD? Is Erickson following the proper hermeneutical method for dealing with proverbs as life maxims rather than didactic truth? Is he taking into account the intended effect of figurative language used in the prophets? Does he give a fair treatment to texts such as Jer 19:5 or 32:35 that, taken at Erickson's face-value approach, flatly contradict his assertion? No on all counts.

Anyone can isolate a few texts and cause them to be the controlling ones through which the rest of Scripture is read. When one surveys the entirety of the OT, i do not think a deterministic view of providence is warranted. Moreover, all Christians read the OT through the lens of Christ and the NT. I think determinism is even less warranted there -- especially in the life and person of Christ. That was the subject of my recent ETS paper. So, to answer your response, Augustine is still the originator of what we now call Christian determinism.

Jim G.

Adam Harwood

Dr. Gifford,

Your work on this topic is top shelf.

I was unaware of Gratia et Certamen. Fantastic resource.

Blessings, brother.

In Him,
Adam

Jim G.

Thanks for the encouraging words, Adam. Call me Jim. :0)

Gratia et Certamen (Grace and Struggle) is the definitive work on the so-called Semi-Pelagian controversy. It is a fantastic read that is meticulously documented. The only drawback is that it costs about $100. That is too much money for a book at this stage in my life. It incorporates so much from Augustine and every major secondary source on nature and grace.

Jim G.

Lydia

"In fact, if anything, hatred seems to be an effect not a cause!"

Thank you. Interesting that I have been having this discussion with some others concerning, "cause and effect" that seems to be ignored in so much of the determinist God paradigm when teaching scripture.

Lydia

Oops, I put the above comment in the wrong thread. I was responding to Peter's comment about Joseph's brothers on the last thread.

Malcolm Yarnell

Thank you very much, Dr Gifford, for the stimulating discussions of Augustine. It is good to see the lights turned on doctrinal development and devolution. Enjoyed the unvitriolic discussion, too.

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