Friday, August 10, 2007

More about Calvin on 1Timothy 2:4

One of my commenters, — anonymous" by name — referring to a criticism I made of Roger Nicole, posted this comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember that Nicole used the alleged emphatic repudiation to bolster the idea that Calvin taught particularism in the atonement. But in this quote we see Calvin distinctly teaching that God's grace extends to those who ultimately reject it.

How do you explain what Calvin said concerning 1 Tim 2:4:

"Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really 'wills all men to be saved'?"

This quote is taken from Part II of Calvin's Calvinism, entitled "A Defence of the Secret Providence of God" by John Calvin, translated by Henry Cole, page 277.

First, we should have the whole quotation:

Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really "willeth all men to be saved" (in the common meaning of the expression)?

Look at the emphasized part of that sentence. Calvin is speaking here of a particular conception of God's will, i.e., the conception of his opponent (who misrepresented Calvin's view as akin to fatalism and appears to have held some form of absolute universalism).

The kind of will that Calvin opposed here was an utterly equal will, such as might result in all men hearing the gospel and all men being the objects of the effectual work of the Spirit. He certainly does oppose that view of God's willing all men to be saved. But Calvin does not, in opposing this view of God's will, thereby oppose any and every view of God's willing all men to be saved. Consider this quote from the same context:

But how, and in what sense it is, that God willeth all men to be saved is a matter not here to be inquisitively discussed.

Secret Providence, page 277. This suggests that there is some sense, in Calvin's mind, in which God does indeed will that all men should be saved. For example, he does say elsewhere (in his commentary on 1Timothy 2:4) that God wishes that all men should hear the gospel. And in an earlier place in Secret Providence he says, "in as far as God 'willeth that all should come unto repentance,' in so far He willeth that no one should perish...." (page 276). And "Nay, if God Himself, who exhorts all men to repentance by His voice.... (page 277). This concept appears in many other places throughout Calvin's body of work.

This concept is tempered, to be sure, by Calvin's strong predestinarianism; but it is equally true that Calvin's predestinarianism is tempered by his view of God's will that all men be saved. Calvin often represents God to us as an indulgent and loving Father, who pleads for the salvation of all men.

The point here is that we have to understand Calvin's view of "God wills", in this passage. It is never wise to blindly latch on to a quote in the hopes that it will comfort us when we run into a difficulty in reading Calvin.

My son's recital at BJU music camp

Well, here it is, as promised. I'm very proud of Aaron, as you can imagine. The performance is not his best (he makes a couple of unfortunate mistakes right at the end of the piece), but it is certainly his bravest (he was performing in front of an audience of very talented teenage musicians). Even with the mistakes, it is still glorious music. The piece is Alexander Scriabin's Etude in D-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12, "Patetico." Enjoy!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pecuniary vs. Judicial Debt

In one of the comments, Seth asked the following question:

Here is my law question. As an attorney:

How would you define pecuniary vs judicial debt payments?

Money or jail?

Good question. In very broad terms, the difference is between payment in money or in kind (e.g., barter) as opposed to payment in the person of the debtor himself (e.g., imprisonment, penal servitude, stripes, or death).

The best way to think of the difference Seth refers to is not the difference between pecuniary and judicial debt but between pecuniary and penal (think penalty) debt.

Most pecuniary debts arise from contracts and normal civil transactions. But we're thinking of sin and of our debt as the penalty for our crime. So we should think of analogies arising out of criminal law, not the law of contracts. Under criminal law, a pecuniary debt might arise from certain violations and low-level misdemeanors where the judge is required or permitted to impose a fine as a penalty.

Let's imagine that you get a traffic ticket for speeding, and the judge imposes a monetary fine. You now owe a pecuniary debt. Let's imagine that you don't have the money but your brother does. He is able and permitted to pay the fine. When he pays the fine, your debt to society is discharged.

Some people see Christ's work on our behalf as similar to the brother paying the fine. And this analogy works to a certain extent. He has paid our debt on our behalf.

But let's imagine that instead of a traffic violation, we have committed a more serious crime that requires incarceration. Your brother can no longer pay. The only person who can pay this debt is you. You must do the time, not your brother.

Christ's work compared to payment

Our debt to God is not of the sort that can be paid off like paying a fine, the debt we owe to God is owed in our persons. We must ourselves do the time.

And yet God has offered to substitute Christ's sacrifice as our punishment. This has no analogy in human law. Civilized society does not permit a mother to take the chair for her son or the brother to do the 30 years for the brother.

This unique combination — a debt owed in our persons paid vicariously by Christ — is the reason why analogies fail. Christ has not paid a certain amount for so many sins. His blood is not like a quantity of money. His suffering is not a pain-for-pain equivalent for the suffering due to us. The gracious arrangement of the gospel is unique and without an exact human parallel.

The trouble with certain views of the atonement is that they fail to recognize the unique nature of this transaction. The famous double-jeopardy argument, for example, works only if one sees Christ's suffering as a payment (like a monetary payment) for the debt (like a sum of money due) of the elect.

All analogies limp. Deductive arguments based on analogies should always be viewed with suspicion.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

My "to do" list for Controversial Calvinism

Just to let you who are interested know what I am working on (and that I AM working), I wanted to show you some of the projects I'm working on for the blog.

By popular demand, I am working on an essay that combines my thoughts on the Heshusius question into one article. I will make a blog entry with a link to a pdf article for your reading pleasure. The high Calvinists have badly misinterpreted that Heshusius quote, and this article will have all my objections in one place.

I also plan to continue my critique of Roger Nicole's article on Calvin's view of the atonement. I want to make this a thorough critique, hopefully with links to good source material. This will probably take me the next year or so -- it will be small, digestible bites, though. All very interesting.

In the immediate future (this week) I plan to answer the challenge regarding Calvin's view of 1Timothy 2:4 posted in a comment to my universal grace blog post. Look for that soon.

Completely unrelated to theology, I also hope to have a video of my son's performance at the Bob Jones University music camp, just concluded. Youtube is a beautiful thing. (Who is that little kid playing Scriabin?) :-)

Contend Earnestly

Seth McBee has this really cool blog, entitled Contend Earnestly

Seth recently added me to his blogroll, and I thought I would reciprocate. Check out Seth's blog. (And thank you, Seth!)