Thursday, December 13, 2007

Truth and Consequences

In our recent discussion with Triablogue, we debated the issue of the possibility of a true saint falling away and several warning passages in scripture addressed specifically to the saints that warn against the same (from Matthew 5, Hebrews 4, Revelation 22, and to a smaller extent Romans 11). Paul Manata's articles got exceedingly lengthy, and took on a rather odd and insulting tone, but didn't prove very difficult to deal with. Steve Hays attempted to intervene and made at least an intelligible case for the warnings in scripture being only hypothetical, but hits other problems with the questions this concept raises. Listed are the challenge and our latest posts, some of which I quote below.

Original Challenge

Even more cheap insults by Paul Manata

Address on the admonitions in scripture by Hays

My reply to Manata and Hays

Let's look at the practical implications of Hays' argument first. While perhaps explaining a warning being given, the explanation can't fully account for the consequences listed in the warning passages of scripture. Hays writes,

Suppose, though, the libertarian will object that while, as a matter of fact, no driver disregarded the sign, that unless a driver was free to disregard the sign, then the sign would be pointless.

But how does that follow in the least? Suppose the drivers have been brainwashed. Their psychological conditioning is so overpowering that every time they see a warning sign, they take the warning to heart. They are unable to resist their conditioning.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the warning sign has this coercively deterrent effect on the drivers, how would that render the stimulus pointless?


Translation: The warnings are divine shock value, their consequences mere coercion. I'd already factored in this defense into the challenge, concerning which I point out an obvious problem,

All inherent problems aside, even if this were the case and God were simply 'putting us on,' so to speak, for the sake of our living righteously, then is it not better to take the Lord at His word? If God's purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God's word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect?

In my latest reply, I add,

The view that the members of Triablogue espouse puts them in a rather awkward position, as when God states 'heed or I shall revoke your part in my kingdom,' their reply is, 'Therefore having our part in God's kingdom revoked is not actually possible under any circumstance by virtue of the fact that God has threatened to do that very thing.' Perhaps as Hays' parallel of stimulus suggests, God preserves the saints by fear of falling away. But if such fear or coercion is His intended purpose in these warnings, then why do Calvinists teach a doctrine that goes directly against any such fear or coercion, which tries to reduce it to no effect in stating that it is not possible for the saints to fall away? I agree that God does indeed spur we who are His on to glory with warnings, but not with hollow threats of Him committing things He would never actually do based on things He won't let happen.

So if God's purpose in issuing warnings with the worst possible consequences is to be compared to bogus, yet highly effective road signs, then how is saying 'Don't worry, those signs are feigned, they're just made to scare you, it's not actually possible for you to fall in' not going against that purpose? Thus even if fear and coercion unto holiness were the sole intent of the consequences in God's warnings to the saints, the teaching of a doctrine that absolutely no saint can fall away directly contradicts such an intent.

Hays tries to defend his view logically,

Even in this case, the sign is still meaningful. Indeed, what the sign says is true. If you were in a position to disregard the sign, and you did so, you would suffer the stated consequences. Conditional statements can be true statements, even if they’re counterfactual statements.

The fact that a hypothetical may never be realized hardly renders it either unintelligible or pointless. Indeed, counterfactuals are a basic feature of moral deliberation. It’s because a hypothetical course of action has certain consequences that we avoid it.


While the logic concerning conditionals is sound, his defense cannot deal with the ends being used to justify such means, since the possibility of lapse from grace is in the estimation of most Calvinists, a serious doctrinal error which they would equate with unfaithfulness on God's part in preserving us. As I'd also stated in the original challenge,

If even the suggestion that a believer could fall from God's grace is a 'false doctrine' or 'Pelagian error', then why does God's holy word testify to that very possibility?

and added in the response to Triablogue,

The very fact that being cut off from Christ is listed as a consequence for not abiding in Him (which is not an obvious impossibility) suggests its possibility; so if scripture makes it so plain that our perseverance is not dependent upon us in the least, and God cannot fail to uphold His end, then why would scripture even bring up the contingency of His failure or unfaithfulness? Why tack on a consequence that plainly constitutes 'heresy?' That is quite beyond incredulity. Are we to seriously believe that God's holy word is touting false and misleading doctrine for the sake of our good practice?

God isn't mumbling crazy impossibilities, heresy, or idle threats into the air to keep us secure. His warnings are true and their consequences are real, for His word is truth (John 17:17). One need only look at the admonitions in scripture to see what the apostles taught concerning security in Christ; to those engrafted Paul writes,

"For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either." (Romans 11:21)

But by Triablogue's logic (Triablogic?), folks like us now some kind of false teachers for plainly stating that very thing: "Yes, if you as a saint don't abide, God can and will cut you off!", instead of trying to explain it away with, "Well, while that conditional statement is true, He technically won't ever really cut you off, God's just saying that to deter you...." Apparently, warning actual saints against the possibility of falling away is gospel truth when the apostles proclaim it, but now our affirming the viability of that same truth constitutes deep doctrinal error.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I fear that this is rather pointless in that both sides start at different points.

Triablogoue starts at the point where it is God that saves and that man plays no role in that, monergism.

You start at the point that God saves, but that man must co-operate in order to have salvation, synergist.


They view it as all of God and you view it as man has some role in it. They would say that if one were to apostasies then they were never true believers and you would say that they were true believers. They would say that of course they heed the warning because it is commanded, just like they are to preach to all people knowing not all are elect. They see the end as well as the means.

The charge that you level against them is serious, what you are saying is that they disregard the word of God and make it null and void.

It is hard for anyone on the outside to see how this is getting silly. They say that if you do x, then y will happen. It is clear that they also say that a "true" Christian would never do x.

What you have done in my view is cheapen the work of Christ on the cross and as a savior. It is by His will, His power, His grace, His faith that one is saved. Your view takes the focus of Christ and puts it on man. Again, starting at two different points; surely both sides can see that and move on.

J.C. Thibodaux said...

The charge that you level against them is serious, what you are saying is that they disregard the word of God and make it null and void.

Yes, it is serious, but I can't help if they want to pretend that the warnings and consequences God gives are just smokescreens.

What you have done in my view is cheapen the work of Christ on the cross and as a savior. It is by His will, His power, His grace, His faith that one is saved. Your view takes the focus of Christ and puts it on man.

Then what is the purpose of warning us against falling away in scripture? Is the Bible now focusing on man rather than Christ?

Classical Arminianism said...

Josh,

"Then what is the purpose of warning us against falling away in scripture? Is the Bible now focusing on man rather than Christ?"

Good stuff man. You are getting me to think and re-think this important issue. I appreciate the insights and challenges you provide.

I wonder, though: Could it be that the little doctrine of Perseverance is such a threat to Calvinism because of the T, U, L, and I? Most Christians disregard this doctrine as unimportant. However, to Calvinism, it is CRUCIAL.

I like what I'm reading from you guys. You'll be the FIRST to know if I switch to Conditional Perseverance.

God bless you guys as you challenge us to think Biblically.

Billy

J.C. Thibodaux said...

I appreciate the feedback Billy. I think the reason the possibility of P not being true poses such a threat to Calvinism is because of their generally extreme monergistic view of salvation -- man can have nothing, but nothing to do with obtaining final salvation, either before or after conversion.

So while this issue is more of a minor intellectual difference of opinion that can be peacefully discussed among most evangelicals (since it carries little practical difference, in that we do agree that those who are finally saved are those who persevere), to strict monergists, even the possibility of a saint finally falling away spells instant disaster for the doctrinal system they've built up around their view of salvation.

Anonymous said...

Can monergism not be extreme?

While man plays no role in his salvation, he does play a role in his sanctification.

Jnorm888 said...

A non strict form of Monergism can be found in Augustines early works as well as in the canons of the council of Orange.


Many Lutherians who believe salvation can be lost with a lose of Faith would also fit into a moderate to mild form of monergism.





JNORM888

Anonymous said...

If faith is a gift of God as both sides claim they believe, then could one not say that loss of faith means that God took his gift back? Kind of like saying that God is an Indian giver.

Jnorm888 said...

I may be wrong but I think that was the Augustinian position.

Augustine thought God could take the gift back.


However, the question is this.

IF God did take the faith back would he do it "Unconditionally" or "conditionaly"?

I may be wrong but I think the late/older Augustine tought it was "unconditional". If this is the case then this is why for a long time Roman Catholics couldn't have any assurance of their salvation.

Because if it's unconditional then you can't have assurance.




I don't see a problem with the Father taking the gift of faith back if taking it back was based on conditions.






JNORM888

Arminian said...

Anonymous said...
"If faith is a gift of God as both sides claim they believe, then could one not say that loss of faith means that God took his gift back? Kind of like saying that God is an Indian giver."

No, it would be more accurate to say that the person threw God's gift away. It is not that God is an indian giver, but the apostate is a wicked and ungrateful sinner who "has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace" and has thrown away his confidence (Heb 10:29; cf. 10:35).

NWProdigal said...

It's great to find people willing to discuss these things in a respectful and intelligent manner.

I have wavered between the Clavinist version of perseverance and the Arminian position that God's promises are true, but we are participants in our salvation. Else, why would Paul say we are to "work out our own salvation"?

To the Calvinist, it's all of God, but that has NEVER been the way God worked in the Bible. God chooses to glorify Himself through men, hence the great "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11. Abraham believed, but he also performed what God expected.

I think the entire gospel is summed up in that same chapter, where the author says, very plainly, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6 KJV)

In this verse the whole concept is revelaed, I believe. We must have faith in God, Christ and all the promises. But we must also diligently seek Him and His will in order to receive the end of of those things.

God bless!

David said...

I would like to see this taken to its logical conclusion. What I mean is that most times Arminians who believe a true saint can lose salvation will say that it is rare and can only happen if they renounce their faith in our Lord. Let’s take one of your examples though that you provided in your challenge, Matthew 5:27-30. Nowhere does it say renouncing the faith it talks more of sin in general. Herein lays a problem though, if it is sin that cause loss of salvation then how much sin? It seems clear that the verse does not give a quantity, so would we have to say any sin? What about the one that would say persistent sin would cause loss of salvation, besides it not being in the verse the same question arises, how much persistent sin before loss of salvation?

Take a look at another favorite verse for Arminians to show loss of salvation in John 15, here it is not said renouncing ones faith in the Lord, rather it says not bearing fruit will cause one to be removed. Now that seems harsh, if one is not bearing fruit they are to be cut off and lose salvation. It is rare to find anyone that takes such a view and yet that is what it would require to have such a view if one wanted to use the Bible to support that view of loss of salvation. One can not be assured of salvation because any sin or lack of fruit bearing is cause for loss of salvation. The idea that it is just willful renouncing of faith in the Lord seems to put something into the text that is not there, which would run into another text used by you in your challenge in Revelations22 for proof of loss of salvation.

This of course would also lead into other issues besides perseverance of the saints. After all, it seems that a great deal is placed on man maintaining their salvation that it would seem silly to say that they would have no reason to boast. On the contrary, it would seem rather self evident that man would have a good reason to boast because it was primarily man that persevered and there was something in them individually which was not in another. Whether it is more discipline, more faith, more strength, more intelligence, more of anything really. Yet I would dare say you would deny that assertion, but it seems it would be on sandy ground. Just another view perhaps, but it seems to be consistent with what one would have to believe if not in perseverance of the saints.

On a side note to NWPRODIGAL, what if where Paul mentions working out ones salvation he is talking of sanctification? Just a thought.

Jnorm888 said...

David said

"Nowhere does it say renouncing the faith it talks more of sin in general. Herein lays a problem though, if it is sin that cause loss of salvation then how much sin? It seems clear that the verse does not give a quantity, so would we have to say any sin? What about the one that would say persistent sin would cause loss of salvation, besides it not being in the verse the same question arises, how much persistent sin before loss of salvation?"




It is up to the Father. He is the one who cuts us off from His son.

There is a passage in Hebrews that talks about "if we keep on sinning".

If this is the case then it all depends on the mercy of God.

Hebrews 10:26
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,"



He is the one that ultimately decides.



But you are correct in saying that Arminians are divided over this issue.

But with that said, I think it is safe to say that it is ultimately up to the Father's mercy.

If we are in a sinfull state God can take us out of the Olive tree if HE so wills.

God gives warnings for a reason.




JNORM888

Jnorm888 said...

David said

"The idea that it is just willful renouncing of faith in the Lord seems to put something into the text that is not there, which would run into another text used by you in your challenge in Revelations22 for proof of loss of salvation."


The scriptures you brought up may not mention it, but that doesn't mean other scriptures don't mention it.



JNORM888

David said...

JNORM888,

It seems that you see the dilemma that one has in all of this. Again, most passages speak of sin or not bearing fruit and few if any speak of renouncing ones faith as is typically implied by Arminians.

I have no problem in saying that God can remove anyone from the olive tree, after all He is the one who puts us in the olive tree. My main point was that most of the times one side will bring up a particular verse to speak against whatever they view to be erroneous doctrine by the other side only to not follow it all the way through. Perseverance seems like one of those doctrines; if one holds that one can lose salvation then it can not just be for willfully renouncing their faith, but it must also include any and all sin and/or lack of fruit bearing. As I stated before many times this is not the case that is presented.

I agree, many Arminians are divided over this and it may be one of those where it is up to the individual to live with what they believe the Spirit is teaching them. We must always remember that the one in us is greater than the one that is in this world and if we put our trust and faith in Him, then we too will fight the good fight and find our eternal rest with Him.

omakase said...

ah i know it can get tiresome arguing with these misguided zealots but keep up the good work.

kangeroodort said...

David,

It is not inconsistent to warn against sin leading to eternal punishment because sin leads to a hardening of the heart which leads to a repudiation of faith [apostasy].

Sin is dangerous and must be taken very seriously [as in Matt. 5] because if left unchecked it will certainly lead to apostasy.

That is why the writer of Hebrews so often speaks of the danger of hardening one's heart in relation to sin. The sin spoken of in Heb. 10 and the falling away of Heb. 6 is considered by most serious scholars to refer to a willful repudiation of the faith.

That is the standard Arminian understanding of how one comes to be cut off from Christ. Even in John 15, which you cite, the same concept is present. Fruit bearing is directly related to faith [abiding]. As long as we are trusting in Christ we will bear fruit. If we do not bear as much fruit as we should then the Father prunes us so that we will bear more. It is only those who cease to bear fruit altogether [abandon the faith] who are immediately cut off from Christ by the Father. Since one can only bear fruit by faith, then to cease to bear fruit is to cease to have faith.

The issue then is not whether an accumulation of sins can cause loss of salvation [which leads to questions of "How many?" etc.]. The issue is that unrepented sin in the life of the believer leads to a hardness of heart which leads to apostasy.

Hope that helps.

God Bless,
Ben

kangeroodort said...

omakase,

ah i know it can get tiresome arguing with these misguided zealots but keep up the good work.

And who are the "misguided zealots" that you speak of?