Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Christians Should Love Hell

Earlier today, I read a blog post by Tom from Being the Body who is a fan of Rob Bell and claims to have read all of his new book Love Wins. This blogger seems quite adamant that Bell does not promote universalism in the book, and quotes a couple of nebulous and vague statements from the book to prove his point. Personally, it's going to take more than that to clear things up for me. By I digress; that is not the point of this post.

In the comments section, there was a fellow whose handle was "DaviGoss." DaviGoss said something which I considered at once ignorant and at the same time very representative of what many in the evangelical world are thinking regarding the strong response which we Calvinists have had towards suggestions that someone might be teaching universalism:
Why do some people want a God who would "sentence souls to eternal suffering"? - Does this say more about them than about God? What the God who is love? - God's love is infinite; God's patience is eternal.
You get to pick your shoes each morning. You get to pick between sandals or army boots. You don't get to just pick the nature of reality. Now, if I am going to just believe what I want to believe based on my own random ideas and inclinations, I choose New Age. But if we believe what we believe based on revelation, then it gets more complicated than simply what we feel like believing. When it comes to believing in Hell, there is the boilerplate answer that we could give: "we don't want that; it's awful; hell is terrible; we hate Hell!" Let me suggest something a bit more radical. Christians are to love Hell, because Hell is an echo of the glory of God.

If hell is temporal, then God's anger at sin is temporal. If punishment is not eternal, then affronts to the glory of God deserve only a finite response - a slap on the wrist. The reason why Christians ought to scream at the thought of universalism is that nothing less than the glory of God is at stake. This is not about Calvinists enjoying the thought of the eternal suffering of Hell - it is horrifying to think about. But it is about something far more horrifying - a God who is not angry that his name has been besmirched to the degree that his name is glorious and infinitely worthy of honor. In the same way, universalism faces the same problem - the universe is filled with people who have besmirched the name of God, and who have not been united to Jesus Christ by faith.

At one point in Rob Bell's "Love Wins" video, he talks about the fact that many teach that Jesus rescues us from God, and then he asks, "What kind of a God is it that we would need to be rescued from this God?" I just wanted to immediately raise my hand and say, "A HOLY GOD who hates sin!"

We are convinced of the importance of Hell because it is inextricably united to the glory of God. Hell exists because God is glorious and will in no way acquit the guilty. Therefore, as believers, we are to love Hell, even if we are to fear that anyone should go there. So when you see us mean-spirited Calvinists passionately defending the biblical doctrine of Hell, remember that we're not masochists or hatemongers. On the contrary - we love God and will fight to defend His glory.

Jonathan Edwards' Ethic of Virtue and Love (Part 2)

Edwards gives us an immediate application of his teaching, which we explored in Part 1 of this series. This next conclusion he presents does not usurp or supersede the previously stated definition of true virtue as “benevolence toward being in general” but instead clarifies (or more properly, offers us an insight into the implications of the previously constructed argument).

“From what has been said, it is evident that the true virtue must chiefly consist in LOVE TO GOD; the Being of beings, infinitely the greatest and best” (125). As is Edwards’ style, he will now explain how he gets to this conclusion, followed by the implications of this implication.

First of all, we must remember that true virtue has two grounds: benevolence and being. First of all, God is maximally benevolent: “For God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who has an infinite fullness of brightness and glory.” Here we see that God is the most benevolent of all beings.

Second of all, God possesses the most being: “God has infinitely the greatest share of existence. So that all other being, even the whole universe, is as nothing in comparison to the Divine Being.” Edwards’ conclusion of this implication is that
he that has true virtue must necessarily have a supreme love to God, both of benevolence and complacence. And all true virtue must radically and essentially consist in this. Because God is not only infinitely greater and more excellent than all other being, but he is the head of the universal system of existence; the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty; from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom and through whom and to whom is all being and all perfection; and whose being and beauty are, as it were, the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence: much more than the sun is the fountain and summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day.
Edwards anticipates a possible objection: “We should love our fellow creatures and not God, because our goodness does not extend to God and we cannot be profitable to Him.” Edwards answers twofold: First, “If [God] be above any need of us…it will dispose us to rejoice in His prosperity.” This is a brilliant answer, as Edwards’ ethic as set forth thus far is really concerned with man and how he should act, not with how man may benefit God.

His second answer is that “Though we are not able to give anything to God, we may be the instruments of promoting his glory in which He takes true and proper delight.” Then, Edwards directs his readers to his writing titled The End for Which God Created the World, where he proves from both philosophy and then heavily from Scripture that God’s own glory is the reason why He created the world. Here he also answers this argument by saying that God’s creation for His own glory does not represent a deficiency, but that rather, creation overflows from God’s abundance, just like water overflows from a fountain, not out of a lack but out of an abundance.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Measuring Our Response to Rob Bell

After Justin Taylor shared his post "Rob Bell: Universalist?", I was immediately ready to throw the good book at Bell. Believe me; I'm as eager as the next guy to condemn Rob Bell for being a false teacher - if, in fact, that is what he is.

The problem, as I see it, is that while at first I saw no ambiguity in the book's blurb (which you can read at JT's blog), and while at first I saw no ambiguity in the video that accompanies the blurb, I have since changed my mind.

You see, the only definitive statement I can find from Bell in all of this is that:
  • "[A] loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering."
If this were a heresy trial, I'm not sure that the verdict would be guilty, simply based on this one line. The problem with hanging our hat on this sentence is that Bell may, in the end, be taking the line that "God isn't sending people to Hell - their sin is."

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Someone might argue that his rhetorical flourish regarding Ghandi's presence in Hell is likewise an indicator that he is outright denying the biblical teaching on Hell. The problem is, there's still wiggle-room. He might be questioning the presumptuousness regarding one's attitude toward the eternal fate of another when, in fact, we don't really know. As an example of the type of wiggle-room that might be going on: "You don't know about Ghandi's soul; maybe he was saved before he was assassinated" or something like that.

The video itself certainly looks definitive at first glance. But it is composed of 95% rhetorical questions. Typical Emergent stuff - you know, questions are the only real answers (blah blah blah). Anyway, it has certainly been presented to make Bell look like he denies that any are damned; but there are a lot of possibilities here about what is really going on. He could be an annihilationist (which we must grant is awful, but still not the same thing as universalism). He could be a pluralist (i.e. John Hick). He could have some sort of Barthian universalism in mind ("God's 'yes' is stronger than man's 'no.' "). He could just straight up believe that Jesus died for every man, and that thus every man will be saved (true universalism). And of course, there are a host of other horrifying possibilities as well. The possibilities are so varied that I would be embarassed to go on record about this until we know more, although the second we know what is really being taught, we can get to work picking apart, critiquing, and condemning, if necessary.

Part of my reaction here is that I have many friends who are diehard Rob Bell fans - they listen to all of his sermons and read his books. I asked them point blank what they have heard the man teach on the subject of Hell. They told me that he has taught on heaven and hell before and that he most definitely did not teach from a universalist perspective, so all of this is very surprising to them. As such, this book would represent a watershed moment in Bell's constant theological development. Considering that universalism is not in line with his past teachings on the subject, I think that charity may be the best approach until we know what sort of theology he's actually going to be presenting.

It may be that everything is as it seems, and Rob Bell has, in fact, outed himself and abandoned the faith once delivered. But I am one of those voices who is patient enough to wait a month and see what's really going on. The alternative is, he ends up not being a universalist, based on the possible loopholes I just presented, and we Calvinists and Reformed-types end up looking like the caricature that has been created for us - judgmental, knee-jerk, irrationally paranoid and the like. I don't think those caricatures are fair or accurate, but we could be playing right into them if we aren't measured and cautious in our response to Bell - especially considering that this is a life-or-death, heaven-or-hell issue. Literally.

At the end, the point of this post is simply: it may be wise to wait until Rob Bell's new book comes out and we read it before we consign him to the Hell he might be denying.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jonathan Edwards' Ethic of Virtue and Love (Part 1)

I had a tremendously fun time revisiting Jonathan Edwards in our last series, and so I thought it would be fun to explore the earlier chapters of one of Edwards' other major works - this one being his book The Nature of True Virtue, through a brief three-part series. Originally, True Virtue was intended to be published in tandem with his other dissertation, The End for Which God Created the World. When viewed as a pair, this establishes a solid context for interpreting the work that Edwards is doing in these writings. As the introduction to the Yale volume of his ethical writings says: "interpretations of True Virtue made without regard to its connection with End of Creation have fostered inadequate and even quite mistaken understandings of his ethical writings."

Of all of Edwards' works, it is fair to say that this book is probably the least Biblical (strictly speaking) and the most philosophical. One ought to keep in mind that the ethical and philosophical climate within which Edwards was writing was during the enlightenment - and so many philosophers in Europe had set forth their own ethical views - Edwards never shied away from being Biblical, but he intended his arguments in The Nature of True Virtue to be engaged with on the same level as the secular philosophers of his own day.

What True Virtue Consists Of

It would be fair to characterize the Edwardsian ethic as an “ethic of beauty.” This concept of beauty is not only present in his theology, but in his philosophy, and it is worthwhile to attempt to know what he means by beauty. He gives beauty a definition in two parts: particular beauty, and general beauty. Particular beauty is “that by which a thing appears beautiful when considered only with regard to its connexion with, and tendency to, some particular things within a limited, and as it were a private sphere.” General beauty is “that by which a thing appears beautiful when viewed most perfectly, comprehensively, and universally, with regard to all its tendencies, and its connexion with everything to which it stands related” (122).

He begins by immediately stating the doctrine he is about to prove: “True virtue essentially consists in benevolence to being in general” (122). Edwards always begins his writing by defining his terms. These terms are important because they are the foundation of Edwards’ ethic. In the definition, he defines the two parts of true virtue: benevolence and being in general. Benevolence is a disposition of love, and being in general is “the great system of universal existence.” In Edwards’ thinking, a love for particular beings does not necessarily mean that one has true virtue, but if one has true virtue, then they will necessarily have love for particular beings.

Edwards then sets forth two types of ways in which love may manifest itself: Love of benevolence is “that affection or propensity of the heart to any being, which causes it to incline to its well being, or disposes it to desire and take pleasure in its happiness.” This is a love which is motivated only by a desire to dispense happiness to the chosen object of affection. Love of complacencies is a “delight in a being for its beauty.” Though the love of benevolence is not motivated, necessarily, by anything beautiful in the object of affection, the love of complacence specifically delights in a thing for its beauty. I can never love my wife entirely from benevolence, for there are things about here which I love and delight in. They motivate me to give her happiness, and thus, I exercise a love of benevolence, but that benevolence is motivated by my love of complacence.

Edwards ends this section of definitions by stating that God’s love is one of benevolence, because his delight in us has love is its first motive. Furthermore, there is nothing lovely in us for God to take delight in which He has not first placed there, and that action itself is even motivated, not by our beauty, but by His benevolence. Thus, God is benevolently loving and non-complacent.

Virtue Cannot Consist of Gratitude

Why does virtue not consist in gratitude? Because gratitude, by its definition, “supposes a benevolence prior to gratitude, which is the cause of gratitude. The first benevolence cannot be gratitude.” Now that these definitions have been thus reached, Edwards pauses, looks back on what he has shown so far, and offers a modification of his definition of true virtue. He now says that
true virtue consists, not in love to any particular beings, because of their virtue or beauty, nor in gratitude, because they love us; but in a propensity and union of heart to being simply considered; exciting absolute benevolence to being in general.
For Edwards, true virtue has two aspects: being and benevolence. From this, Edwards makes a crucial statement:
When anyone under the influence of general benevolence, sees another being possessed of the like general benevolence, this attaches his heart to him, and draws forth greater love to him.
If I am possessed of true benevolence and meet another who is also possessed of true benevolence, I will unavoidably be drawn to that purely loving individual who is truly virtuous. “He that has a simple and pure will…must love that temper in others” (124). This means that where I find maximum benevolence, and maximum being, there I will find true virtue.

The opposite of this is also true. A being who is destitute of virtue will also love and long for that which is the opposite of virtuous and, by definition, evil. Why is this? “For a being, destitute of benevolence, should love benevolence to being in general, it would prize and seek that for which it had no value.” Edwards reminds us before proceeding that “it is impossible that anyone should truly relish this beauty…if he has not this temper himself.”

[In Part 2, we will see that because of the things Edwards has laid down here in Part 1, the only truly virtuous action is one which arises from love for God.]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Having Been Justified...You have Hope

In his excellent commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner makes some thoughtful comments on Romans 5:1-5 and the christians hope.
Three consequences of righteousness are articulated: peace, access to grace, and hope. The last receives the greatest attention in the text (vv. 2b-5), validating my contention that hope is the central motif in the text. Paul argues that hope is strengthened even in afflictions since a chain of effects occurs when trouble strikes: troubles beget endurance, endurance produces tested character and the result of tested character is hope. Contrary to hope in this world, this hope will not bring shame on the day of judgment because the experience of God's love in the present thought the Holy Spirit demonstrates infallibly that believers will not experience God's wrath on the last day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: The War for Late Night

My father was a Leno man. For as long as I could remember, my father would record every episode of the Tonight Show during the week and then watch them whenever he had the chance. I never knew anything of David Letterman, because my father had a strong dislike of the man. Basically, having been born in '82, I grew up on Leno. When I was in High School, I started staying up late and watching Conan. I loved Conan, and I loved Late Night. When the Late Night fiasco of 2009 erupted, I was totally fixated. I had loved Conan's take-over of Tonight, and I couldn't believe that Leno wouldn't just bow out gracefully. Leno struck me as being a performer for old people who don't really like comedy. When Conan released his "People of Earth" manifesto, I was right on board with him, and refused to watch Jay's newly revived Tonight ever since then. In other words, "I'm With Coco!"

Earlier today I finished The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, Bill Carter's in-depth examination of the entire 2009 late night debacle. To say this book has changed the way I see the Jay vs. Conan situation would be an understatement. I haven't just changed the way I see Jay vs. Conan; I've changed the way I see the entire late night institution.

Carter's book was written based on a series of first-person accounts. He actually interviewed all of the players - from Conan and Leno themselves to Conan's agents and the suits at NBC. Oftentimes, the dialogue which took place is shocking and reflects poorly on those involved, which makes the book all the more essential reading for those for whom the war over late night has been an obsession. One of my favorite moments in the book was when the suits at NBC announce to Conan that they're keeping Jay and moving him to The Tonight Show's old spot right after the local news. Conan can't keep his befuddlement to himself: "What does Leno have on you?" At his next meeting he repeats the question.

At one point, the suits say that they want to keep both Leno and Conan. For the second time, they say that they didn't want to have to make Sophie's choice. Conan is so sick of the reference. Conan's producer, Jeff Ross says, "Stop with the Sophie's choice...You did make a choice." NBC was definitely over-using the reference.

The book is written as a fast-paced narrative. It reminded me of Bryan Burrough's books in that it took a real historical series of events and set them together into a gripping account. Some reviewers thought that this book had some slower moments, but I couldn't disagree more. Everything Carter covers in this book is relevant and helps the reader to make sense of the overall narrative. As somebody who didn't really understand the entire background, I needed to be properly introduced to each of the characters.

Ultimately, by reading the book, I discovered the extraordinary complexity of Leno's position and came to appreciate his desire to not be retired. Although I assumed that it would be graceful for Leno to bow out once his ten o'clock show performed so miserably, I hadn't considered that Leno might not want to spend the next thirty years of his life only playing with cars and visiting golf courses. After all - Leno had so much money that The Tonight Show had stopped being about money, for him. For Leno it was about living the dream and doing what he had always loved. I never believed that Leno was being vindictive or that he was the schemer that many Conan supporters portrayed him as, and this book certainly bore that belief out.

Conan ultimately refused to move The Tonight Show out of a belief that the time slot was essential to the show's identity. For Conan, moving The Tonight Show would have offended its identity. However, in the book's epilogue, Jerry Seinfeld has a radically different perspective on the identity of a talk show.
There’s no institution to offend! All of this ‘I won’t sit by and watch the institution damaged.’ What institution? Ripping off the public? That’s the only institution! We tell jokes and they give us millions! Who’s going to take over Late Night or Late Show or whatever the hell it’s called? Nobody’s going to take it over! It’s Dave! When Dave’s done, that’s the end of that! And then another guy comes along and has to do his thing.
I appreciate Seinfeld's de-romanticized view of television. At one point in the book, when Conan is reflecting on a Tonight Show that starts at 12:05, Conan turns to his wife Liza and says, "Even if the show moved, it would still be the same Tonight Show that Johnny Carson hosted, right?" For Seinfeld, the answer is, "No! The name is the same, the show is totally different because the man has moved on."

I'm still with Coco, but now I'm not against Jay, either. The late night business is just way too complicated and full of bloated egos for anybody to be totally wrong or totally right in the whole debacle.

All in all, you really should read The War for Late Night if you have had any interest in the subject matter. You'll never find a more complete, even-handed, or in-depth examination of the epic struggle for late night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rejoicing with Trembling

This morning as I read Psalm 2 for my devotions, I came across verse 11, which reads:
Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
I took great pleasure in a command with so much apparent diversity of motives and expressions. However, the notion of rejoicing with trembling might be a bit puzzling. I looked to Calvin and wanted to share what he had to say about this verse.
There is a great difference between the pleasant and cheerful state of a peaceful conscience, which the faithful enjoy in having the favor of God, whom they fear, and the unbridled insolence to which the wicked are carried, by contempt and forgetfulness of God. The language of the prophet, therefore, implies, that so long as the proud profligately rejoice in the gratification of the lusts of the flesh, they sport with their own destruction, while, on the contrary, the only true and salutary joy is that which arises from resting in the fear and reverence of God.
[Edit: John Piper did a way better job of discussing this exact same verse; but I didn't know that when I originally posted this.]

Another Misuse of 'Original Sin'

In the modern consciousness, the idea of 'original sin' gets misused in all sorts of ways. One of the prominent misuses is that our less theologically-informed peers think of original sin as the original sin that set us all on our road to misery. Here is an example of such a misuse. It's from Bill Carter's fascinating book The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, which I have been reading and greatly enjoying.
Rob Burnett, still an executive in charge...never stopped being a true believer. For him NBC's selection of Leno over Letterman could be linked to the concept of original sin: NBC picked Jay over Dave and had never really overcome picking the apple from the wrong tree.
Of course, original sin is not an act, but a condition. Now, Bill Carter doesn't care, ultimately, whether he misused the concept. The point is, contemporary man rejects original sin for a lot of reasons - among which is that they don't really know what it is. This is not going to improve, however, so it is just one more way in which we as Christians must explain ourselves along the way and never assume that unbelievers actually know what we're talking about when we use words like 'original sin' or 'savior' or any other host of words that we take for granted in the church context. It also means, of course, that since the culture misuses it, you can almost guarantee that there are people in the church who don't understand it, either.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What God and Justin Bieber May Have in Common

It's two Piper posts in a row, but here goes. This morning, Piper posted an excerpt from an interview with Brad Pitt in the hard-hitting Parade magazine, in which he argues against the God-centeredness of the universe. He actually sounds, in parts, like many Christians I've met who do not believe that God is the center of the universe.
Religion works. I know there's comfort there, a crash pad. It's something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it's comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn't last for me.

I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, “You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!” It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.
And of course, everybody knows that if you can't fully comprehend something, then it must not be true. If that methodology was correct, then, Justin Bieber would not really be the most famous person on the planet right now, since I cannot comprehend how such a thing is possible.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Piper on M'Cheyne - On Prayer and Preaching

This is a bit old, as far as the internet goes, but I still can't help but recommend the following resource. It is John Piper's biographical message on Robert Murray M'Cheyne from this year's Desiring God Pastor's Conference.

Among the most helpful aspects of what Piper had to say were his parsing out of M'Cheyne's advice to those ministers who tend towards the more intellectual side of things:
Since the intellectual part of the discourse is not that which is most likely to be an arrow in the conscience, those pastors who are intellectual men must bestow tenfold more prayerfulness on their work, if they would have either their own or their people's souls affected under their word. If we are ever to preach with compassion for the perishing, we must ourselves be moved by those same views of sin and righteousness which moved the human soul of Jesus.
As I sense the time for seminary drawing nearer, I am more and more frequently made aware of my own prayerlessness and the lack of real faith that such prayerlessness manifests. Elsewhere, M'Cheyne says something else that causes this intellectual to pause:
We are often for preaching to awaken others; but we should be more upon praying for it. Prayer is more powerful than preaching. It is prayer that gives preaching all its power. . . .
As I see it, we need men like this - because I would never naturally come to conclusions like this - and yet I know that they are truths which are Biblical and which come from only a few short years of M'Cheyne's experience.

So anyway, as I say - definitely read/watch/listen to Piper's talk on M'Cheyne. It's absolutely worth it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 6)

Concluding Thoughts on Edwards’ Endeavor

Some may find it hard to understand the restless intellect of a brilliant theologian of Edwards' caliber. I must confess that I myself have at times decided that I cannot fully comprehend many theological issues. The mystery of the trinity, the divine/human nature of Christ, and yes, the Fall, are just some of the issues that, though possible to understand in a limited sense, are impossible to fully comprehend.

Thus it is with many theologians who, when they look at the issue of the Fall, see immense difficulty. Once again: How could a righteous and holy Adam, who did not possess an indifferent will, but one that was necessarily good, come to rebel against God and against his better judgment? This is not a question that is unique to Calvinists, but is one that Arminians must answer as well. It does not, of necessity, represent a crux in the Calvinist worldview, for a worldview is not constructed upon conclusions, but upon evidence and facts. It would seem that the only way for this issue to in fact, not be an issue for the Arminian is if they can find a way to combat Edwards’ arguments against a neutral will. If such arguments cannot be answered, then the problem of the Fall is a problem for everyone - Calvinist, Arminian, and (sigh) Cal-minians alike.

It would seem that the question of the Fall represents something else. There are some things we can know about the Fall, for example, who was involved, whether Adam and Eve were righteous before the Fall, what was forbidden, what was the result of their disobedience, and whether or not the Fall was decreed by God. But there are also some things that elude us, as regards the mystery of the Fall, and it seems that such issues must be left where they are: issues we cannot fully understand - depths we ought not plumb - this side of Heaven. Certainly we can wrestle with the difficult questions, we can enjoy discussions and debates on such issues, but it would seem that if even the most brilliant Christian minds have found such discussion to be ultimately unfruitful, then how can we who stand upon their mighty shoulders, believe ourselves any better?

Our appreciation of Edwards’ writing in Freedom of the Will must be very great. It is brilliant, and, some have argued, one of the greatest apologies for the Calvinist view of the will ever composed. In addition, his companion work, Original Sin is a crucial writing in which Edwards defended (and some might say, still defends) the orthodox view of sin against the onslaught of rationalism over scripture of his own day.

I end with a quote from John Gerstner’s Mini Theology of Edwards, where he comments that the problem of the Fall became to Edwards an obsession in need of resolution.
As did Noah, Edwards became “drunk” on one occasion in spite of a life of exceptional holiness. And just as in the case of Noah, there was undoubtedly powerful temptation; so here the great intellectual theologian became intoxicated with the greatest theological problem in the entire Word of God.
If we ordinary Christians have not been overcome, it is because we have not felt as keenly the most irresistible temptation to solve the unsolvable. We have been spared not because we are better, but because it has been easier for us to realize that the problem is beyond us.[1]

[1] Gerstner, John H. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois, 1987) Pg. 39-40

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 5)

An Analysis of Edwards' Problem of the Fall

As we discussed in the last post, Jonathan Edwards concluded that God was the negative primary cause of the Fall, even as Adam was the secondary cause of the Fall. Most problematic was Edwards' view that Adam's nature contained both a principle of Flesh and a principle of Spirit. In Edwards' view, God continuously gave grace to Adam that he might favor Spirit over Flesh, but when God removed His grace, Adam necessarily fell into sin.

What of the Reformers?

Many Biblical Christians have considered and faced down the implications of the Fall and the sovereignty of God. Those who are of the same school of thought as Edwards, so far as his conception of the freedom of the will and also of God’s sovereignty, may have been led to consider in their own minds the issues that Edwards tackled, but very few have ever chosen to tackle the problem so directly as he did.

When Calvin chose to comment on Genesis chapter three and its implications so far as the Fall and God’s decreeing the Fall, Calvin would go no farther than to say that it must have been God’s will that the Fall occur, or else it would not have occurred.[1] Anything beyond what we have been told, he said, is dangerous. Now, an Arminian who reads in Calvin’s commentary on the Fall that it indeed was God’s will for man to fall will not find his assessment conservative at all, but to someone with a working and comprehensive knowledge of Reformed doctrine will see that Calvin’s own thoughts on the subject are quite standard.

Luther, likewise, took a very conservative and safe stance, compared to the daring of Edwards. “People who are not wary allow themselves to be drawn away from the Word into dangerous discussions. Because they are not satisfied with the Word, they ask: ‘Why and wherefore do these things happen thus?’”[2]

Beza went just as far as Calvin and taught that “the Fall was both wonderful and necessary.”[3] In his writings in this regard, Beza merely pointed out that since everything tends towards God’s glory, then even the Fall brought God glory, and more-so than if the Fall had not occurred. In many respects, what Edwards was doing was explaining how these things that Calvin and Beza taught (either explicitly or implicitly) could actually come to pass.


Though some readers may find it surprising, Edwards was not the most outspoken theologian on this matter, though many had implied what he taught. According to both Berkhof[4] and also Gerstner,[5] the only other theologian to speak so boldly with regard to the Fall was Nathanael Emmons. However, to put him in the same theological heritage may be fair but to say that their theologies agreed would be a vast overstatement. Emmons differed dramatically from Edwards by saying that sin was positively created in Adam. His somewhat Berkleyan influences fostered his rejection of original sin in favor of his belief that God produces sin in all people, whenever they sin. Emmons also taught that infants who die before becoming moral agents are annihilated. He also taught that “believers, at the time of their justification, are only partially and conditionally forgiven.” In its review of Emmons’ complete works, the Princeton Review commented, “Such is Emmonism; To say that it is not Calvinism, is only to say that black is not white, or that preposterous and exorbitant absurdity is not scriptural wisdom.”[6] The Calvinist author of this article goes on to say that Emmons’ theology is “evil and only evil.”

Needless to say, whereas Edwards staunchly defended God’s holiness and inability to sin or to positively cause sin (which is dramatically different from negatively causing sin), Emmons produces unwarranted conclusions, and supports them by broad, unscriptural assertions. Whereas Edwards places the blame for our sinfulness squarely upon our own shoulders, Emmons never hesitated to say that we are at every moment volitionally determined by God in a positive sense. For Edwards, though he attempted to offer a most rational explanation for the Fall, logically following Biblical truths and sound reason, Emmons stripped the Fall of all mystery and laid open what for most has been nothing more than a sneaking suspicion.

So on one end of the spectrum, you have Emmons who was not afraid to be bold and accuse God of sin. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the classic Reformers who believed it dangerous to plum the depths of God’s secrets and mysteries. Indeed, they knew what the abyss they were looking into probably contained, but, constrained by Biblical wisdom, chose to keep their assertions within the realm of absolute truth and scripture. Emmons, however says that “[t]hey looked over the brink, but they beheld an abyss and they returned. They distrusted the sounding line, when its lead sank into the depths of divinity, and ceased to read off the fathoms…”[7] This heresy was utterly rejected by nearly all New England theologians, and now Emmonism is a practically extinct theology, leaving little behind, save the works of its somewhat eccentric creator.

The occurrence of Emmonism is in the least fascinating, however, because it shows indeed the darkness that plumbing the depths of God’s hidden nature could bring about. It seems that there was never a darker picture of God drawn than what we see in Emmons’ theology. If anyone so desires to go to the length that Emmons did, to assert that God positively causes sin, one may get drawn away “up, into God,” but in order to do so, they must release their hold on the scriptures, which prevent such speculations from happening. The Scriptures are our only safe foundation and anchor.

In the final part of our series, I will offer some concluding thoughts on Edwards' views with regard to what we've discussed.

Next Up: Part 6


[1] Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press. 1960) Pg. 956-957
[2] Luther, Martin Luther’s Works (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis. 1958) Volume 1, Pg. 148
[3] Beza, Theodore “Supralapsarianism: The Fall was Both Wonderful and Necessary” Quæstionum Et Responsionum Christianarum Libellus (1570) Questions 190-194
[4] Berkhof, Louis The History of Christian Doctrine (Baker Book House, 1983) Pg. 156
[5] Gerstner Pg. 315
[6] Princeton Review Book Review of the works of Nathaniel Emmons (Princeton Review, October 1842) Pg. 1
[7] Emmons, Nathaniel Works Edited by Jacob Ide (Crocker & Brewster. 1842) as quoted in Princeton Review (October 1842). Pg. 3

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 4)

Adam Needed God’s Grace

In Miscellany 501, Edwards offers this thought, with regard to the Fall of Man:
Adam had sufficient assistance of God always present with him, to have enabled him to have obeyed, if he had used his natural abilities in endeavoring it; though the assistance was not such as it would have been after his confirmation, to render it impossible for him to sin. Man might be deceived, so that he should not be disposed to use his endeavors to persevere; but if he did use his endeavors, there was sufficient assistance always with him to persevere.[1]
The aspect of Edwards’ statement here which bears the need for examination is his teaching that Adam always had “sufficient grace.” In other words, Adam’s original composition of Flesh subservient to Spirit, which was on the throne, was always dependent upon God’s grace to keep the Spiritual aspect upon the throne. Upon consideration, however, we see that if in fact, this grace from God was sufficient as Edwards claims, then Adam should never have fallen.

Edwards’ theology does, in one respect, consider God the Author of sin, but only in a negative sense. This teaching that God can be seen as the negative cause of sin in fallen man is still within the bounds of Calvinist orthodoxy, and many do hold such a view. In this respect, such a teaching is not abnormal. What he means by “negative cause” is that in fallen man, sin is so prevalent that whenever human beings do “good” or things that are non-self centered, that those good things come from God. In order for God to be considered the negative cause of sin, all He has to do is remove His gracious restraints and then the person will sin, completely separate from the positive influence of God. This is seen as an act of justice on God’s part, since the person, when good, is good only by God’s grace, and when they sin, they are doing what they would have done in the first place. Observe in one of Edwards’ unpublished sermons:
All the corruption has the same spring and therefore if there be in the heart of men the spring of one sort of wickedness there must be of all. The cause of corruption is negative. It is the absence or removal of the grace of God or of a spirit of love to God leaving natural principles to themselves… There is no love to God at all in the heart of man, and therefore it will follow that there is all the corruption in the heart of man that the absence of this principle can be the cause of natural principles of self love, a love of pleasure and honor and hatred of pain, etc. are the same in all.[2]
Natural principles, by nature, are inherent. An inherent principle in unfallen man of natural and sinful desires means that man as created – by Edwards’ own statement – was self-loving. As Gerstner points out, when Edwards refers to “the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such,”[3] the fatalism is inescapable.[4]

Whereas Augustine taught that Adam was created posse peccare (with a potential to sin) and posse non peccare(a potential to not sin), Edwards is saying that man was created unable to stand on his own moral two feet. Thus, Edwards’ Adam is only posse peccare. Now, Edwards has shown that God must overcome this imperfection, but if God does overcome this inherent imperfection in Adam, and God’s sufficient grace is sufficient, then if God continued to provided this grace, then the Fall never should have occurred.
But, should it nevertheless be said, that if God, when he had made man, might so order his circumstances, that from these, together with his withholding further assistance and divine influence, his sin would infallibly follow, why might not God as well have made man with a fixed prevailing principle of sin in his heart?[5]
It is in response to this question that Edwards states that if sin did come into the world, “it should arise from the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such, and should appear so to do, that it might appear not to be from God as the efficient or fountain.” Edwards does not say that God is the positive cause of Adam’s Fall, but as the reader can now see, he does teach that God negatively caused the Fall by the just withdrawl of His Spirit.

Consider this: If God made man so that man needed God’s Spirit to be holy and yet God withdrew His Spirit (whether He did this sovereignly is of little consequence now), but then God harshly judges, curses, and condemns man to death and eternal suffering, then it seems that God would be unjust to judge man for an act of disobedience that could have been prevented, had God – the good and gracious God – continued to uphold Adam in a state of holiness. This is the crux and the hole, which Edwards has dug for himself.

Let’s summarize: As long as Adam used his natural abilities, God’s sufficient grace would always be sufficient. Adam naturally speaking was imperfect and always needed God’s assistance to keep from falling. However, Edwards says that God did not owe it to Adam the assistance He was providing, and so, sovereignly withdrew His Spirit from Adam, and thus the Fall infallibly followed God’s sovereign withdrawl. It would seem that Edwards’ mistake in all of this is that he presupposes fallen man, before the Fall. He presupposes that the way in which God relates to us, as fallen people must have been the same when he dealt with our parents, Adam and Eve. Instead, as we see in this next quote, Edwards’ statement which bears each reader’s own judgment is that a creature by virtue of his “creature-ness” is naturally imperfect.
It was meet, if sin did come into existence, and appear in the world, it should arise from the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such, as should appear so to do, that it might appear not to be from God as the efficient or fountain. But this could not have been, if man had been made at first with sin in his heart; nor unless the abiding principle and habit of sin were first introduced by an evil act of the creature, it would not have been so visible, that it did not arise from God as the positive cause, and real source of it. – But it would require room that can’t be here allowed fully to consider all the difficulties which have been stated, concerning the first entrance of sin into the world.[6]
Gerstner reminds us of Foster’s summary of this: “God is that author of the system, man of the sin.”[7] Gerstner, however, says, “In truth this view amounts to: ‘God is that author of the sinful man; sinful man is the author of sin.’”[8] Did Edwards understand the implications of the statements he was making? John Gerstner – according to R.C. Sproul the greatest Edwards scholar of the twentieth century – says that he did, but only in part. Gerstner writes:
When I first read this paragraph many years ago it froze my blood. I could not believe it; that is, I could not believe that Edwards meant it or thought of its implications. By now I have come to the sad but inescapable conclusion that he knew what he was writing and meant it as stated. This I conclude although I do not believe that Edwards ever recognized that this doctrine implies the purest conceivable form of fatalism, and a total abandonment of the Christian religion, as understood by almost the entire catholic tradition, including himself, through all the ages of the Church’s history, and in all the pages of Edwards’ most biblically oriented writing![9]
In our next post, we will explore the marked contrast between Edwards' attempts at plumbing the depths of these questions and the ways in which the historic Reformed theologians dealt with the questions - including some perverse offshoots from Edwards' own thinking.

Next Up: Part 5


[1] Edwards, Jonathan The “Miscellanies” (Entry Nos. 501-832) Ed. Ava Chamberlain (Yale University Press, 2000). Pg. 51
[2] Unpublished MS sermon on Romans 7:14; Quoted in Gerstner, John H. The Rational and Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards 3 Vol. (Ligonier Ministries, 1992) Vol. 2, Pg. 313 [my emphasis]
[3] Works Pg. 81
[4] Gerstner Pg. 314
[5] Works Pg. 81
[6] Ibid.
[7] Foster, Frank Hugh. A Genetic History of New England Theology, (University of Chicago Press, 1907) Pg. 79
[8] Gerstner Pg. 318
[9] Gerstner Pg. 321-322

Monday, February 14, 2011

Machen: Liberalism Worse than Rome

We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

-J. Gresham Machen
Christianity & Liberalism

Sunday, February 13, 2011

To Lady Gaga: Being "Born This Way" is Not Enough

I am told that Lady GaGa's single "Born This Way" has rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts and is supposed to be some sort of generation-defining song. What interests me, after reading the lyrics and listening to the song is that through the song, she is attempting to cause her listeners to cut loose, to accept themselves as they are, and to remember that they do have an excuse for their behavior - after all, I was born this way! A very popular sentiment in our culture, to be sure.

There are Christians out there who are going to take their stand against the message of this song by arguing, "No, you aren't born this way! It was a choice!" They will then appeal to science and the fact there has never been found a "gay gene." Such a response is not only theologically awful, but it misses the larger issue.

Lets just grant for a moment that Lady GaGa is absolutely right, and without question, every person is "born this way." Does this mean that everyone should act out on any and all of their impulses? Is the presence of an impulse or a desire enough to determine that an action is moral or immoral?

Or one might even turn the ethic around on GaGa. If someone is intolerant and hateful, might they excuse themselves by simply claiming, "Sorry, but baby, I was born this way!"

It would not be difficult to demonstrate the absurdity of this type of sentiment. All one has to do is look at human behavior that nobody is willing to say is acceptable and then move back from there. Murder? Okay, murder still isn't okay, even if the murderer does have a human impulse to commit such an act. Rape? Okay, rape still isn't okay, even though Lady GaGa keeps telling us that being "born this way" is grounds for determining our ethical standards. Sodomy? Well, that is one of our culture's grey-areas, isn't it? It's certainly debatable in the public arena, although it shouldn't be in the Church. What about adultery - breaking marriage vows? Well, I know a lot of people who believe it was fine for them to have an affair and destroy their marriage, simply because of the presence of the desire.

If you think about it in theological terms, Gaga has just given the field to Augustine. Sorry, Pelagius! Better luck next time! But who could have guessed that by granting Augustine's doctrine of posse pecar, someone would have thought they could find an ethical shelter for human misbehavior!

Don't misunderstand me; this meandering post is not about cross-dressing, or sexual orientation, as some may think the song is about. I don't even think that's all that the song is about. Rather, the point I am making is to point out the morally suicidal ethic that underlies the sentiments of "Born This Way."

The truth is, everyone is born this way, and yet we are without excuse, because we are still willing in our disobedience to God, even if we are unwilling to acknowledge Him. Simply because our desires are bent and perverted (my own included) does not excuse us (Rom. 2:1). Rather, our desires confirm that we are in inescapable need of the Savior who can free us from the guilt of sin and enable us to have a principle of love for God, so that we can honor God in our ethical decisions.

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 3)

Man’s Original Composition

Upon an examination of Jonathan Edwards' great theological work, Original Sin, we find in Part IV, Edwards devotes all of Chapter II to the objection “against the doctrine of Native corruption, that to suppose men receive their first existence in sin, is to make Him who is the Author of their being, the author of their depravity.” [1]

First, Edwards says, his opponent makes the assumption that if Edwards is correct, then God is the author of sin in a positive sense. To this, Edwards offers his reply:
In order to account for a sinful corruption of nature, yea , a total native depravity of the heart of man, there is not the least need of supposing any evil quality, infused, implanted, or wrought into the nature of man, by any positive cause, or influence whatsoever, either from God, or the creature. [2]
Edwards is about to enter into a defense based upon this statement right here. Everything that follows is an effort to support his (indeed Biblical) apologetic that God cannot be seen as the author of sin.
When God made man at first, he implanted in him two kinds of principles. There was an inferior kind, which may be called natural, being the principles of mere human nature; such as self-love, with those natural appetites and passions, which belong to the nature of man, in which his love to his own liberty, honour, and pleasure, were exercised: these, when alone, and left to themselves, are what the Scriptures sometimes call flesh. [3]
Edwards’ concept first states that this principle or ability inhabited unfallen man. To some readers this may not be at all different from Augustine’s posse peccare (possibility to sin). Although I am tempted to elaborate and speak more on this principle, I will complete Edwards’ argument, first.
Besides these, there were superior principles that were spiritual, holy, and divine, summarily comprehended in divine love; wherein consisted the spiritual image of God, and man’s righteousness and true holiness; which are called in Scripture the divine nature.
Now we see the second half of the principles which Edwards proposes God placed into man as initially created. These two principles, according to Edwards, were inseparably connected with mere human nature; thus, Spirit and Flesh were both present within man at the beginning of creation. The astute reader will immediately see what is happening here - but we need to fully appreciate what Edwards is doing, and make sense of his methodology before we make our judgments.
These principles may, in some sense, be called supernatural, being such as are above those principles that are essentially implied in, or necessarily resulting from, and inseparably connected with, mere human nature; and being such as immediately depend on man’s union and communion with God, or divine communications and influence of God’s Spirit: which though withdrawn, and man’s nature forsaken of these principles, human nature would be human nature still… These [spiritual] principles were given to possess the throne, and maintain an absolute dominion in the heart; the [flesh] to be wholly subordinate and subservient. And while things continued thus, all was in excellent order, peace, and beautiful harmony, and in a proper and perfect state.
Next, we see how Edwards conceptualizes the spiritual house of the unfallen human. Essentially, Edwards sees the man’s heart as a throne, with either Spirit or Flesh ruling. In unfallen man, the Spirit ruled and all was at peace. Here, Edwards offers us no bridge between this last sentence and the next:
When man sinned and broke God’s covenant, and fell under his curse, these superior principles left his heart: for indeed God then left him; that communion with God on which these principles depended, entirely ceased; the Holy Spirit, that divine inhabitant, forsook the house.
So we see that in Original Sin, Edwards understood man in the way that was thus described, but now a storm of questions rolls forth: Did God abandon Adam and thus bring about the fall? In connection with our original question from Sproul, how could Adam, a man with God on the throne, of himself, dethrone God? If God created Adam with the flesh in his heart, would that place the blame squarely on God for Adam’s Fall? These questions which we have for Edwards will all be answered in due time, but it is important for us first to listen to the things Edwards says about this subject elsewhere first, so that we can have a complete picture of what is going on in the conception he is drawing for us. And that will have to wait for Part 4.

Next Up: Part 4


[1] Works Pg. 217
[2] Ibid.
[3] Works Pg. 217-218

Friday, February 11, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 2)

Edwards on the Will
Edwards was extraordinary. By many estimates, he was the most acute early American philosopher and the most brilliant of all American theologians. At least three of his many works – Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and The Nature of True Virtue – stand as masterpieces in the larger history of Christian literature. The appeal of his thought endures. Every year several books and scores of academic articles, reviews, and dissertations appear about him. [1]
Thus begins George Marsden’s biography of Edwards. It has been said by some that Jonathan Edwards’ book The Freedom of the Will is the greatest philosophical writing in all of American history. Others have declared that this philosophical writing alone prevented the growth of Arminianism in the American colonies by a hundred years. Edwards himself was so confident of the truth and success of his writings that he declared at the end of the book that he had conclusively shown the Arminian position on free will and its necessity for moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame was inconsistent and thus, illogical to hold to.[2] In years following, (to my knowledge) no one was able to successfully refute the arguments contained in Edwards’ treatise.[3] Marsden says "its power…was a significant factor in the intellectual resilience and influence of Calvinism in America well into the nineteenth century."

Paul Helm provides a fine summary of the basic structure of FOTW:
In a way The Freedom of the Will is an exercise in overkill. Establishing the thesis of Part I, that there can be no sense of freedom of the will such as is claimed by Arminians, is logically sufficient to establish Edwards’s position. But with characteristic relentlessness in the next Part Edwards argues that even if there were such a viable concept of freedom, it is not necessary for the ascription of praise and blame; while in Part IV he shows that the arguments used by the Arminians to support their view are insubstantial. So three times over Edwards offers a different, decisive attack on the Arminians, not the Arminians of the era of the Synod of Dordt, but contemporary, up to the minute Arminians, such as Thomas Chubb and Daniel Whitby.[4]
Edwards’ goal in writing the book was to prove that it is inconsistent for free will as the Arminians defined it to be necessary in order for humans to be held responsible for the decisions they make. The Arminian position on the will was that the will is free if it is able to choose A and also B (“A” being to please God; “B” being to please self). In this schema, the desires may be towards sin, but the will is not ruled by the desires, thus, a person, though bent towards sin, may still be able to choose to not sin. The will is seen as neutral or unbiased.[5] Edwards stressed that according to the Arminian scheme this is the only way that a person can be held responsible for their sin or rewarded for their good. Refuting this teaching prompted Edwards to make the complete title of his book A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, Which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. In this book, to use the language of the previous statements, Edwards argues that given a choice between A and B, a person is free if he is never prevented from choosing whichever of the two he so desires.

Edwards’ overall position essentially says that even though human beings are necessarily determined towards evil and wickedness (because of the Fall), they are still free to perform those evil actions, which necessarily follow from their evil nature. In fact, Edwards was emphatic to say that man truly is free, for nothing prevents him from doing what he wills to do at any given moment! Whereas Luther’s own treatment of the subject was more negative in nature, bearing the title Bondage of the Will, Edwards chose a positive assertion for his title, Freedom of the Will.

First, Edwards defined the will as "That by which the mind chooses any thing. The faculty of the Will is that power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the Will is the same as an act of choosing or choice."[6]

Second, it is important that we observe Edwards’ definition of necessity. Edwards actually devotes two whole sections of FOTW to the discussion of necessity, impossibility, inability, and contingence. Because of this extensive discussion, and for the sake of the simplicity to which I am aiming here, we will define necessity by Edwards’ simple statement that, "A thing is said to be necessary, when we cannot help it, let us do what we will." [7]

Finally (for the purposes of this writing), Edwards defined determination of the will. He says, "It is that motive, which as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will." [8] He clarifies this further on the next page when he says, "The Will always is, as the greatest apparent good is." Or, as he states elsewhere, "A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires anything contrary to his will." [9] In other words, man always acts according to his strongest motives or desires. In many respects, this sentence, found in the first section of his book, is the "grand doctrine" of his writing on the will.

The one objection which is commonly raised in discussions on this argument of Edwards’ is the example of a robber. If a robber puts a loaded gun to an individual’s head, it may be argued that that person’s giving his money to the robber is against his desires. This argument is fallible, however, because if the example is considered, the person’s options are limited to two: either (1) surrender his money to the robber, or (2) be shot and killed. Though the person’s options are not desirable, the person will pick whichever of the two options he finds most desirable, from the choices available. This is why Edwards says a person always chooses what he finds most desirable at the given moment.

This argument is also the center of his assertion that man indeed has free will, in that he is never prevented from doing as his desires dictate. Certainly, even God’s own will is a free will in this sense, because, Edwards argued, if God had free will in the sense that Arminians asserted it was necessary for virtue or vice, then it would be possible for God to sin. He argued that God’s will is not "indifferent" or "neutral" as the Arminians argued it must be, but that God’s will is indeed righteous, good, and holy, and that necessarily. Here is the crux of the problem for the Arminians: if the Arminian say, "well God is not necessarily good," then they are no longer speaking of the God of the Bible. On the contrary, they must believe that God is necessarily good. If this is the case that God is necessarily good, then may we even regard Him as righteous and holy, since he has not decided to be so of an indifferent or neutral will? [10] The same question may be leveled at the Arminian with regard to Jesus Christ in his humanity. Since he was necessarily good, ought we to still worship him as perfect Lord and savior since he was (and is) morally unable to be evil? [11] All that Edwards is showing here is that it is totally reasonable to consider a being to be good or evil, even if that being’s desires are of necessity one or the other. Moral inability in a human being does not excuse the human from judgment for his sin. The conclusion of this matter is that human beings are in fact, totally depraved, and yet, they are free to be depraved. They are depraved, and necessarily so, as Edwards previously defined necessity.

These two arguments in and of themselves ought to be enough to show that a necessity of sin does not excuse the sinner in the same way that God’s perfect nature does not prevent us from regarding Him as perfect and holy, even though He is not neutral. Quite effectively, Edwards argues that no one can be neutral, because a neutral will does not make decisions. [12] A car in neutral never moves, and a will in neutral has ceased to make decisions. The other crucial point, which we need to see Edwards is deriving from this, is that no event can happen without a cause. “What is not necessary in itself, must have a Cause.” By Edwards’ estimation, this law must apply just as much to the will as it does to science:
It is indeed repugnant to reason, to suppose that an act of the Will should come into existence without a Cause, as to suppose the human soul, or an angel, or the globe of the earth, or the whole universe, should come into existence without a cause. And if we allow that such a sort of effect as Volition may come to pass without a Cause, how do we know but that many other sorts of effects may do so too?[13]
So now, we see from Edwards’ arguments that everything has a cause, and the will is no different than every other observed thing in the universe in this respect. If we make an exception with the will and maintain that it is unaffected from without, that it is neutral, then we call into question other instances where the law of cause-and-effect is utilized. The importance of cause-and-effect to Edwards’ argument is this: our wills must be moved by something within us, some kind of motivation or desire, which is open to outside influence as well. This is always the case. Since it is a fact that the will cannot make decisions completely free of the desires or motives, then to argue that the will is free in a neutral sense is preposterous. Indeed, the will is always at the mercy of the individual and that individual’s desires. Therefore, free will as the Arminians define it is not necessary to someone being judged virtuous or evil. In fact, Edwards has shown that such a belief is impossible for any being who is to make decisions. Such a view is inconsistent with itself.

My purpose in outlining Edwards’ FOTW is to provide an accurate background for the reader, as Edwards’ view of the Fall - which we will begin to approach in coming posts - is linked very closely with the arguments that have just been spelled out. What I have presented above is not an exhaustive summary of Edwards’ argument, by any means. In fact, I have chosen to omit much of his arguments and also the extensions of his arguments with regard to God’s sovereignty and its relation to the will.

Many in Edwards’ time taught that Original Sin could not be true, because if we inherited the sinful nature, yet had not acted to bring that sinful nature upon ourselves, then humans could not be held responsible for their actions since it was the actions of another, namely Adam, which in actuality have caused us to do as we do.

In a sense, Edwards responded to this objection in two parts. The first part was his Freedom of the Will which was published in 1754. Four years later, he released his next book which was closely tied to this, Original Sin. In this book, Edwards implements the doctrines which he proves in FOTW to show that though God is sovereign, He is not the author of sin. [13] Fascinatingly, Edwards asserts the absolute truth and perfections of his arguments in FOTW to such a degree that he actually said that if the Scriptures did not teach what his book said, he would call their validity into question. [14] This is how convinced he was of the truths of Freedom of the Will. On the other hand, Original Sin was seen on Edwards’ part as a quite humble attempt to offer an explanation of the challenges presented by the doctrine, subject to his readers’ approval. [15]

In the next post, we will consider Edwards' understanding of the original constitution of Adam - and from this crucial topic we will have a framework for understanding Edwards' answer to Sproul's question of how the Fall could have even been possible.

Next Up: Part 3

[1] Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (Yale University, 2003) Pg. 1
[2] Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth Trust, 1976) Volume 1, Pg. 41
[3]Several years ago here on Bring the Books, I blogged a series of posts where I reviewed and critiqued atheist William Rowe's attempts to discredit Edwards' arguments. Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; and Part 4.
[5] Works Pg. 21
[6] Works Pg. 4
[7] Works Pg. 8
[8] Works Pg. 5
[9] Ibid.
[10] Works Pg. 41
[11] Works Pg. 42
[12] Works Pg. 15
[13] The reader may notice, if he is familiar with Edwards’ writings that I have described Edwards’ goal in Original Sin very acutely when in fact, Edwards had quite obtuse goals in his writing. These other goals included giving an actual defense for the doctrine of original sin, proving how sin can be imputed from Adam to his descendants, and also answering direct objections from Dr. John Taylor, a decidedly anti-Calvinist writer from England.
[14] Works Pg. 89. The historical context of this quote may be needed. Apparently, the Arminian writers of Edwards’ day were fond of speaking very strongly against Calvinism by saying that if the Bible was found to teach such theology, then it would call the power of the scriptures into question. Edwards did not truly call scripture into question, as much as he used a play on words to turn their own statement around on them.
[15] Works Pg. 233

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Communion Wafers Upgraded To Communion Bread

HATTER’S BLUFF, NY – In a move which prompted thunderous applause lasting over 15 minutes, the First Presbyterian Church of Hatter’s Bluff made the decision to move away from the decidedly unbiblical communion wafer towards the much more delicious, much more Christ-like loaf of fresh-baked sourdough bread.

Though the move was well-received, some in the church feel that sourdough is a move in the wrong direction. Some argue that Rye bread is the more “jewish” of the bread kingdom, and that it is, therefore, closer to the bread Jesus would have eaten. Others, however, feel that Jesus’ favorite bread is a European sweetbread. Says Tina Barfield, “The sweetness of the bread represents how sweet Jesus is towards those He has chosen.” Ron Henderson – a loyal deacon – agrees (albeit for different reasons), “Yeah. Sweet breads taste better, so I want them to use the best tasting bread.” Considering the prospect of using rye bread during the service elicits a shrill response, preceded by a loud shriek. “No. No, no, no! There is no way I will take the Lord’s supper if it tastes like cardboard and baby powder. Why not just put raisins or nuts in there while you're at it!?”

Some, however, have already begun Machivellian schemes to replace the Welch's grape juice with real wine. "These things take time," said our anonymous source. "You can't rush true reformation."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 1)

Based on my last post regarding Richard Muller's lecture on Edwards' view of the freedom of the will, I was asked by several people if I would be willing to introduce the concepts which Edwards tackled in his seminal work The Freedom of the Will. I am happy to oblige, as this subject is very close to my heart and something which I spent a great deal of time reflecting on during my undergraduate studies.

Therefore, this is going to be the beginning of a 6-Part series with a twofold purpose: First, I hope to introduce the uninitiated to Jonathan Edwards' arguments in his famous book The Freedom of the Will (in a heavily simplified and truncated form). It is a notoriously difficult book to read and understand, and it took me a tremendous amount of time and thought to be able to digest the arguments which Edwards laid out in the book, and so I hope to simplify the subject for our readers. This will lay the groundwork for our second purpose, which is to explore Jonathan Edwards' understanding of the Fall of Adam and Eve and how his views in FOTW play into his eventual conclusion of the origin of the Fall and God's role (if He played any) in mankind's descent into sin. Most of our readers will be very supportive of Edwards' project as we explore it in the first half, and will be quite critical of Edwards' conclusions in the second half as we reflect more carefully on what he specifically said about the Fall of Adam.

I tend not to enjoy being an egghead, and I am tremendously interested in the common man in the church being able to understand the lofty concepts that the great theologians before us explored. I will be speaking in a common and hopefully pastoral language here so that your average person in the pews might come away from reading these posts saying, "I think I know what Edwards was talking about!" That is certainly my hope here, anyway.

At a Ligonier conference several years ago, I sat in the audience and listened attentively as R.C. Sproul was asked by an audience member, "If you could ask God one question, what would you ask Him?" He almost immediately replied, "I would ask Him how it was possible for Adam to fall." Dumbfounded, the high school student that I was, I didn’t see any problem with this question: "It is because of free-will!" I said to myself. Though Calvinistic, I believed that at the very least, Adam had free will before the Fall.

He then gave an explanation of Jonathan Edwards’ teaching that "a person always acts according to their strongest desire at the given moment." Coupled with this teaching, he showed the immense problem, which arises when we consider how the Fall of man could have even happened in the first place.

When one begins to consider the Fall of man and the many issues which are brought up because of it, the very complexity of it can at time be frustrating. However, if one is willing to forego the easy road in favor of an educated and philosophically rewarding journey, this study can draw the reader/theologian into other aspects of the theology of Edwards which one might not have considered before.

My own study on this issue caused me to consider many things, including: the nature of sin, necessity and its relation to judgments of vice or virtue, the overpowering sovereignty of God, and also God’s desire for His own glory. Such issues are complex, but not impossible to conceive of. If the scriptures were given to us, and they are accurate, then they can take us far deeper than the greatest philosopher would ever dare to go. When you couple theology with a good philosopher, the density and weight of this subject can be dealt with in an understandable and commonsense way.

When taking a tour of say, a factory, you may find out more about your guide than you might about the place which you are being shown. I think this is definitely the case with Jonathan Edwards and this aspect of his theology. What we find is a man who is not content to let sleeping dogs lie, or to simply allow the mystery to remain so. Instead we find a philosopher and theologian who definitely believed in the possibility of knowing the truth about even the deepest mysteries of God.

It is to this fascinating issue and also to the absolutely brilliant mind of Jonathan Edwards that we turn our attention in the next part of this series, as we seek to understand Edwards’ view of the will and also to understand how that relates to the Fall of man and God’s sovereignty.

Next Up: Part 2

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Miscellanies: eBook Citations, and Paul Haggis On Leaving Scientology

1. This article addresses a problem I have thought about many times before. How does one properly cite an e-book in a scholarly work? It turns out, there are different answers to this question. My gut has always been to treat the e-book being cited as a single file without citing page numbers, since they change depending on the device. It turns out, that is only one of the opinions that exist in this matter.

2. The second item is a profoundly interesting story in The New Yorker titled "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology" which profiles film director Paul Haggis (the writer/director of Crash and writer of Million Dollar Baby) and his struggle to break free of the Church of Scientology, which he was evidently was a member of for around three decades. Having been a part of Scientology for so long, Haggis discusses what it was like being an OT III (the highest thetan level possible) in this cult and his struggle to find meaning in the aftermath of it all. The article is also a very helpful primer on Scientology if you really know nothing about it. My only warning is that it is literally a book-length article. It will take a lot of time to finish reading it.

I do have some favorite snippets, however, which have given me a lot to think about:
  • “Father Rick is a lot like me—a cynical optimist,” Haggis told me. He also said of himself, “I’m a deeply broken person, and broken institutions fascinate me.”
  • “I had a little apartment with a kitchen I could write in,” he recalls. “There was a feeling of camaraderie that was something I’d never experienced—all these atheists looking for something to believe in, and all these loners looking for a club to join.”
  • “The process of induction is so long and slow that you really do convince yourself of the truth of some of these things that don’t make sense,” Haggis told me. Although he refused to specify the contents of O.T. materials, on the ground that it offended Scientologists, he said, “If they’d sprung this stuff on me when I first walked in the door, I just would have laughed and left right away.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jonathan Edwards vs. Calvin the Compatiblist?

About 5 months ago, Richard Muller gave a lecture on Jonathan Edwards' view of the freedom of the will, which can be found here. In the lecture, Muller argues that Edwards' necessitarian views of the will were a considerable departure from the established pre-Edwardsian Reformed Orthodoxy.

In his talk, he surveys various reactions from British Reformed writers who debated the Orthodoxy of Edwards' understanding of the Freedom of the Will. Muller says that the notion of Compatiblistic freedom that Edwards argues for in his brilliant Freedom of the Will (FOTW) was an anomaly at the time in which it was published. As an example, Muller suggests that Turretin believed the will to have a root indifference, thus exonerating Turretin from being in the class of philosophical necessitarianism. I have almost no exposure to Turretin, and since Muller is a fine scholar, I have no grounds on which to disagree with Muller's argument.

While I am not qualified to survey the reactions to Edwards from a historian's perspective (Muller does a fine job of that in his talk), I would argue that Calvin is much more 'Compatistic' in his thinking than he is given credit for in Muller's talk. In fact, he seems to outright deny that Calvin is a Compatibilist in his talk (which isn't surprising since the categories for Compatiblism didn't exist until many years after Calvin's time).

In contrast to Muller's position, however, Paul Helm, in his books Calvin at the Center and John Calvin's Ideas, has done much to argue that Calvin was what we might anachronistically (Helm is very self-conscious of this) refer to as a Compatibilist with regard to providence. If such is the case, then it is not that great a distance from Calvin the Compatibilist to present day Compatibilism as solidified by men such as Edwards in FOTW. If, in fact, Helm is right, then I would argue that Edwards' arguments are very much in keeping with the theological trajectory set in motion by Calvin - even if they did differ in the particulars.

Consider this discussion of Edwards by Helm:
So the created universe is a much flatter, more uniform place for Edwards than it was for Calvin. It is at all points subject to law, the law of universal causation, that in turn is subject to the divine decree; indeed, it is an expression of the divine decree; indeed, if one stresses the occasionalistic side of Edwards, it is the divine decree. Edwards’s determinism is as a consequence much more developed and avowed than that of Calvin or even of Calvin’s Reformed Orthodox successors such as Gill. Of course his aims are utterly congruent with Calvinism, but (in this work at least) he aims to argue philosophically against Arminianism, to hold it up to the ridicule of reason, to show its incoherence, rather than to appeal to the letter and spirit of Holy Scripture, except formatters of theological fact such as the extent of God’s foreknowledge and the occasional argumentum ad hominem from Scripture against the Arminians.[1]
Notice what Helm says: "Edwards's determinism is...much more developed and avowed than that of Calvin or even of Calvin's Reformed Orthodox successors..." No doubt. Few would disagree that there is new language and a different post-rationalist philosophical framework undergirding such unique terminology as "moral/natural ability" which form the bedrock of Edwards' arguments in FOTW. But a shift in framework and language does not a departure make.

In his latest post at his blog, Helm spends some more time in Edwards' FOTW. At one point near the end of his post, Helm quotes Edwards on the necessity of causation in all activity of the will and then Helm observes:
I think that it is fair to say that no claims as explicit as this are to be found in Reformed thought before Edwards. For Edwards, operating in a world increasingly influenced by the emerging natural science, and by the empiricist John Locke, human action is the result of one sort of cause, a 'volition', which is in turn the outcome of certain beliefs and desires. Such causal links, of different kinds, necessarily pervade the entire creation.
Or consider this other very relevant quote from Helm:
While I believe that it is plausible to suppose that Calvin had a broadly compatibilist view of such freedom, such as Edwards espoused, he does not advise his readers of this in so many words.
Rather than bringing Edwards to Calvin, Helm brings Calvin closer to Edwards, in my estimation. In Calvin at the Center, Helm has a chapter titled "Calvin the Compatibilist," which argues precisely as the title suggests. In Helm's appraisal, Calvin's "general outlook is that not only is human freedom and responsibility compatible with the divine decree, but that it is compatible with an immanent determinism" (227).

Don't get me wrong; Helm would be horrified if he saw me declaring his position to be that Calvin and Edwards were theologically identical. But he does argue that the conventional wisdom that Calvin was not a Compatibilist does service to Calvin's language, but fails to take into account Calvin's "hierarchical determinism" as Helm calls it.[2] This seems to fly in the face of Muller's claim that Calvin was not a determinist.

If Helm is right in his claims (and I tend to favor his thesis), then the current claim that Calvin was a strictly organic, strictly dogmatic theologian with reference to the doctrine of providence is shown not to be an entirely fair assessment.

We need to re-examine the conventional wisdom regarding Calvin and the doctrine of providence, and I think Helm's work is just the place to turn for some guidance in these matters. Such a work would go a long way towards showing that the perceived "parting of the ways" is more linguistic than substantive.

In conclusion, I really can't disagree with much that Muller has to say in his talk, as he is merely reporting the reception of Edwards' FOTW in England. However, I do ultimately disagree with his conclusion that Edwards' work constituted an actual "parting of the ways" in Reformed Orthodoxy, given the things that Helm has to say about Calvin. In truth, Reformed Orthodoxy, as Muller uses the term (especially with reference to Calvin himself), may deserve a second look.

[1] Helm, Paul. Calvin at the Center, Pg. 268
[2] See Helm, Paul. John Calvin's Ideas, Pg. 125-126