Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can Calvinists really be concidered Augustinian?

Calvinists often claim that their theology is not something which arose through the writings of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. To support this thesis, they usually cite St. Augustine, the doctor of grace. Here are five reasons why I do not believe Calvinists are truly Augustinian in their soteriology. Though they can certainly cite him as an influence, the theology of Concord is much closer to that of Augustine and his early predecessors.

1. Augustine saw baptismal regeneration as essential for his soteriology. In some ways, baptism is the foundation of Augustine's theology. Read for example, his treatise On the Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism. His entire defense of original sin was through its remedy in baptism. Within his anti-Pelagian writings, Augustine constantly refers back to baptism as a primary means God uses to give his free grace, and free man's will. There is no immediate operation of the Spirit in Augustine. The Spirit works through word and Sacrament. The Lutheran church from the beginning held to baptism as the means which God uses to give grace and overcome our Adamic state.

2. Augustine denied the "P" of Tulip. In his treatise On the Perseverance of the Saints, Augustine defends the perseverance of the elect, but defends at length that those who are truly regenerated and saved can fall away from the faith. This both Luther and the Lutheran Confessions confessed.

3. Augustine did not believe in limited atonement- at least not in the Calvinistic sense of the term. Yes, there are times when he talks about the particularity of the death of Christ. However, it would not do justice to Augustine to say that he only talked of particular grace. He believed that God gave true grace to non-elect men. His discussions of baptism and the means of grace make it clear that there is universal grace. This is more than mere common grace which only restricts the wicked actions of men and gives some outward blessings men do not deserve. None elect men are truly forgiven through baptism, though they will eventually reject it.

4. The Augustinian definition of double predestination, at least as explained by later writers, is not Calvinistic. Augustine himself did not focus much on the double aspect of predestination and explain what the predestination of the reprobate means. However, the later Augustinian tradition as developed by Prosper of Aquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and ultimately the Council of Orange, when defining double predestination always made the point that when men are predestined unto death, they are only predestined based upon foreseen future demerits. This goes against not only a supralapsarian view, but also an infralapsarian view which would argue that the reprobate were predestined in view of Adam's sin but not necessarily their own. The Augustinian tradition would thus argue that is man is saved it is unconditional, though if he is damned it is conditional.

5. Augustine started his discussions of predestination from Biblical anthropology and the greatness of God's grace to fallen sinners. Calvinism has often, though not always, discussed predestination under the realm of God's sovereignty. This is secondary for Augustine, and for the Lutheran Confessions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rereading Pieper Volume I. Part 2

It is interesting that Lutheran dogmaticians use different categories for classifying the attributes of God than do the reformed. The reformed typically discuss the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. Pieper however classifies them as positive and negative attributes. Those attributes which are positive things which we have in part such as love, holiness, justice etc. Negative attributes are those attributes of God which are known negatively, or as opposed to our own attributes. These would include omnipresence, omniscience, etc. Pieper is correct in saying that how one classifies these attributes is not particularly important. Theologians are free to use different categories to discuss biblical truths.
Pieper then discusses the doctrine of creation. He opposes the doctrine of Augustine and other fathers who claim that the six days are a mere literary device to describe God's creation. He argues that those Christians who subscribe to evolutionary theories are putting the truths of science over God's word. Here is where I think Pieper goes too far. Science can find legitimate truths. When science finds something which disagrees with scripture, either the result of science is wrong, or one's interpretation of scripture is wrong. Pieper does not seem to be able to admit that perhaps his interpretation of scripture is wrong. He goes so far as to argue for geocentrism in a footnote. (pg. 473) I do not buy into evolutionary theory, however, I do not have a problem seeing the days as a literary device. The problem is never with scripture but with our interpretation of it. We must admit our interpretation as fallible.
Pieper's section on divine providence admits that God's providence extends over all things that happen. He deals with the problem of God's sovereignty over sin in a particularly good way. He states that God is sovereign over man's sinful actions so far as they are actions, but not so far as they are sin. This protects God from causing sin, but preserves his sovereignty. Pieper at this point leaves it to mystery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rereading Pieper Volume I.

When I first read through F. Piper's Christian Dogmatics, I was a Calvinist. By the time I had finished volume III, I was convinced that there was simply no exegetical foundation for many core Presbyterian beliefs, primarily in reference to the two natures of Christ and the sacraments. These volumes were one of the most important factors in my decision to join Lutheranism. I decided to reread them now as a convinced Lutheran. I am going to put up reviews of each of the three volumes, as I have no noticed several things I both agree and disagree with as a Confessional Lutheran within his Dogmatics.

Pieper spends a considerably large portion of the first volume on Prolegomena. The main point he gets across is that scripture itself is the sole authority of all theology. He argues against 19th century liberalism, which was prominent during his writing. Neither reason nor experience is above scripture. He sees both the reformed and Roman churches as flawed in similar ways. The Roman church places it's own tradition and magisterium above scripture. The reformed church, though they profess sola scriptura, too often make doctrinal formulations based upon logical deduction. For example; some men are saved and not others. Those that are saved are only converted by God's own choosing, therefore, those who are damned are only damned due to God's own choosing. When first reading this, it made me think about two books in particular which have been staples of Reformed theology for years: John Owen's the Death of Death, and Jonathan Edwards' the Freedom of the Will. Ultimately, much of Reformed theology, specifically the doctrine of limited atonement is not based upon clear exegesis but logical argumentation. When I was reading through Hodge's systematics (at the same time I read Pieper) I noticed that his whole argument against the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes of Christ's divine to his human nature, was based on the fact that he had decided that to be human means to be present in one place at one time.
The next section in the book is on Holy Scripture. Here he defends the older orthodox theologians who had been attacked so often by 19th century liberalism. He spends much of his time defending the fact that Luther also taught Biblical inerrancy. Pieper discusses the Homoleugomena, Antileugomena distinction taught by the Lutheran fathers. This distinction comes Eusebius. The books of the New Testament are categorized by acceptance in the early church. Some books have been universally recognized: the 13 epistles of Paul, the four gospels, Acts, 1 John and 1 Peter. There was doubt in some areas about: 2, 3 John, Jude, James, Hebrews and Revelation. The first books listed are primary. All doctrine should be decided chiefly by books about which there is no doubt. The Antileugomena have been accepted as inspired by most in the Lutheran church (though there have been times when one has doubted one of these books), however they take a secondary place in establishing doctrine. I think that this distinction is valid, however, it seems that because God has led his church with these specific books for most of the 2000 years of church history, it would be acceptable to get rid of this distinction. It can be confusing and unhelpful.
The next section of volume I is on the doctrine of God. He begins this section by discussing the natural knowledge of God. He believes that man knows the existence of God a priori, through the conscience, and a posteriori, through creation. This knowledge however is never a saving knowledge which comes only through the gospel. Pieper then moves on to discuss the trinity. He defends the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. All who deny this are heretics. It is refreshing to read Pieper's blatant refusal to claim those who deny the trinity as Christians. In our day of relativism, barely anyone is willing to affirm that knowing even an essential truth like the Trinity is necessary for salvation. This is one of the highlights of the Dogmatics. Peiper's theology is thoroughly trinitarian. He defines concisely and clearly the false explanations of, and denials of the trinity which have arisen through out history and refutes them with scripture.
One thing which I found particularly interesting is the Pieper denies Augustine's explanation of the trinity. Augustine explains the trinity by describing the Father as love. The Father, as love, must have an object of love, thus the Son is eternally begotten as that object. The love itself between the two persons is the Holy Spirit. This always seemed too speculative to me, though I love Augustine. I agree with Pieper that this is not clearly taught in scripture. He also denies Melancthon's idea that God the father, when reflecting upon Himself creates in reality what he is reflecting upon. This is how the son is eternally begotten.
Pieper also has a very good section on the trinity in the Old Testament. He says, contrary to modern theology, that one can produce the doctrine of the trinity from the Old Testament, particularly in reference to the angel of the Lord and the Spirit at creation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Luther on the atonement

I have heard it argued by some reformed Christians, including Timothy George, that Luther taught limited atonement. Clearly, in his later writings he teaches a universal atonement. However, in his lectures on Romans in 1515 he seems to teach that the atonement was only for the elect. While I had previously thought this was the only time Luther made such a statement, I have found something in an early sermon which teaches something similar. In an exposition of Hebrews chapter 1 Luther states that Christ "has poured out his love for us and made purification for our sins. The apostle says "our," "our sins;" not his own sin, not the sins of unbelievers. Purification is not for, and cannot profit, him who does not believe." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther volume 3.1 pg. 180) Unfortunately, this sermon does not have a date in the volume, though it his clear in his discussion of the two natures of Christ that he has not yet engaged the issue of the communication of attributes of the divine to the human nature. Thus, it is one of his earlier sermons. It seems that Luther did hold to a limited atonement at the beginning of his reformational career. He did eventually abandon this and clearly teach a universal atonement while still retaining the doctrine of predestination.

With this in mind, I am curious as to the reasons Luther abandoned this older teaching. I wonder if the writing of St. Prosper "The Call of All Nations" had an influence in changing his view, since it is a work he refers to several times in his writings and letters. Prosper himself taught limited atonement and abandoned it for the paradox that God predestines specific men unto salvation yet also gives universal grace to all mankind. Luther would not have known this as he thought the work to have been written by Ambrose, however.

Has anybody else run across these kinds of quotes in Luther's older works, or know when this sermon was written?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Mathetes

The other apostolic father, probably much later than the others, who is perhaps even more clear then Clement is the author of The Epistle to Diognetus. Sadly, the author of this epistle is unknown. He simply refers to himself as “Mathetes” meaning “a disciple.” The author was said to have known the apostle Paul. Like the other writings of the apostolic fathers, Mathetes does not write this letter as a doctrinal treatise. It is rather, an apologetic tract defending Christianity against it’s pagan attackers. When answering the question of why Jesus came so late in history, Mathetes gives the following answer:
"This was not that he at all delighted in our sins, but that he simply endured them; nor that he approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that he sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached it’s height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting his own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering and bore with us, he himself took on him the burden of our iniquities, he gave his son as a ransom for us, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible one for the corruptible, the immortal one for the mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other thing was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors."

When one first reads this, he may think it came directly from the pen of Martin Luther or John Calvin. The imputational language in this epistle is obvious. Let us examine the flow of the author’s thought. First of all he makes it clear that all mankind was unable by their own works to be justified. By his wickedness, mankind has merited punishment and death. What makes us able to now enter the kingdom of God is His kindness and power. This kindness and power was revealed at one specific point in history. This point in history was when the Son of God “took upon Himself the burden of our iniquities.” Taking upon the burden of our iniquities refers to the non imputation of sin. This is why earlier in the paragraph he refers to God’s not “remember[ing] our iniquities against us.” Not remembering is clearly not transformational. The author is not here saying that through the death of the Son of God we now are no longer transgressors in an actualized sense. It is not that we no longer sin. Rather, he must be referring to a judicial act of pardon. In the author’s mind, what is the ground of our being pardoned? The answer is clear, “His righteousness.” His righteousness covers our sins. This language refers to imputation, not infusion. He then uses justification as a synonymous term for His righteousness covering our sins. Let us observe the parallel.
Problem Solution
Our sins Covered by His righteousness
Wicked and ungodly Justified by the only Son of God
Being justified is being covered by righteousness, not having righteousness infused. The line “Oh sweet exchange!” implies that the covering of righteousness includes not only the forgiving of sin but also the giving of righteousness. When something is exchanged, something is received on both sides. He shows this by two following statements. “the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors.” Wickedness is forgiven by it’s being “hidden in the righteous one.” However, for the author that is not the complete solution. Justification is linked with “the righteousness of one.” One may object that his righteousness justifies us in a transformative rather than forensic sense. This however, breaks down the parallel. If one were to admit that his righteousness given to us actually makes us righteous rather than declaring us righteous, in the same way our wickedness, if the author’s analogy is consistent, must also make Christ a sinner . This would put one in a theological mess. The obvious parallel in this text is as follows:
Christ Us
Righteousness of one Justify the many transgressors
Hidden in the righteous One The wickedness of many

Whoever this man known as “Mathetes” is, his description of Christ’s redemption would have been enough to make the Lutheran fathers proud.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the Council of Orange

In light of the decrees from the Pope I just posted, view some of the Canons of the Council of Orange held in 529 against Semi-Pelagianism:

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism-if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 20. That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.

CANON 22. Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.

CANON 23. Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

CANON 24. Concerning the branches of the vine. The branches on the vine do not give life to the vine, but receive life from it; thus the vine is related to its branches in such a way that it supplies them with what they need to live, and does not take this from them. Thus it is to the advantage of the disciples, not Christ, both to have Christ abiding in them and to abide in Christ. For if the vine is cut down another can shoot up from the live root; but one who is cut off from the vine cannot live without the root (John 15:5ff).

CANON 25. Concerning the love with which we love God. It is wholly a gift of God to love God. He who loves, even though he is not loved, allowed himself to be loved. We are loved, even when we displease him, so that we might have means to please him. For the Spirit, whom we love with the Father and the Son, has poured into our hearts the love of the Father and the Son (Rom. 5:5).

Rome's Condemnation of Augustine

The Roman Church has claimed Augustine as one of the primary teachers of the faith. Protestants, both Reformed and Lutheran, have claimed that their teachings on grace are essentially the same as those of Augustine. How can these two opposing churches both claim Augustine as a primary source of theology?
It seems that Rome, though giving lip service to Augustine, has essentially condemned him through the condemnation of Hus and the excommunication of the Jansenists. Jansenism was a movement within French Roman Catholicism in the 17th century which sought to bring Augustine's teachings of grace back to the church. Several Papal bulls condemned the movement. The most famous of these bulls is titled Unigenitus. The following are statements condemned by the Pope:

1. What else remains for the soul that has lost God and His grace except sin and the consequences of sin, a proud poverty and a slothful indigence, that is, a general impotence for labor, for prayer, and for every good work?

2. The grace of Jesus Christ, which is the efficacious principle of every kind of good, is necessary for every good work; without it, not only is nothing done, but nothing can be done.

3. In vain, O Lord, do You command, if You do not give what you command.

4. Thus, O Lord, all things are possible to him for whom You make all things possible by effecting those same things in him.

5. When God does not soften a heart by the interior unction of His grace, exterior exhortations and graces are of no service except to harden it the more.

6. The difference between the Judaic dispensation and the Christian is this, that in the former God demanded flight from sin and a fulfillment of the Law by the sinner, leaving him in his own weakness; but in the latter. God gives the sinner what He commands, by purifying him with His grace.

26. No graces are granted except through faith.

27. Faith is the first grace and the source of all others.

30. All whom God wishes to save through Christ. are infallibly saved.

38. Without the grace of the Liberator, the sinner is not free except to do evil.

39. The will, which grace does not anticipate, has no light except for straying, no eagerness except to put itself in danger, no strength except to wound itself, and is capable of all evil and incapable of all good.

40. Without grace we can love nothing except to our own condemnation.

41. All knowledge of God, even natural knowledge, even in the pagan
philosophers, cannot come except from God; and without grace knowledge produces nothing but presumption, vanity, and opposition to God Himself, instead of the affections of adoration, gratitude, and love.

42. The grace of Christ alone renders a man fit for the sacrifice of faith; without this there is nothing but impurity, nothing but unworthiness.

48. What else can we be except darkness, except aberration, and except sin, without the light of faith, without Christ, and without charity?

49. As there is no sin without love of ourselves, so there is no good work without love of God.

59. The prayer of the impious is a new sin; and what God grants to them is a new judgment against them.

76. There is nothing more spacious than the Church of God; because all the elect and the just of all ages comprise it.

79. It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for every kind of person, to study and to know the spirit, the piety, and the mysteries of Sacred Scripture.

80. The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all.

84. To snatch away from the hands of Christians the New Testament, or to hold it closed against them by taking away from them the means of understanding it, is to close for them the mouth of Christ.

97. Too often it happens that those members, who are united to the Church more holily and more strictly, are looked down upon, and treated as if they were unworthy of being in the Church, or as if they were separated from Her; but, "the just man liveth by faith" [Rom. 1:17], and not by the opinion of men.