Archive for the ‘Order of Decrees’ Category

More (or More Complete) Answers for Godismyjudge

July 10, 2008

Godismyjudge (Dan) has provided an audio response (link) to my post here (link) (see post for prior chronology).

Dan seems to complain that I haven’t given a “yes or no” answer to the question that he posed. I think it would be foolish to answer a confusing (at best) or perhaps unexplainable question with a “yes or no”-type answer.

Dan argues that he could answer the question by saying “Yes God could have created a world in which it didn’t rain on May 31st – God is allpowerful.” In the sense of it being a trivial thing for God’s power, I’ve already answered the question in the affirmative – but Dan did not ask (at least not clearly) a question about whether God had sufficient power to do so. If Dan’s just asking about God’s power, clearly God has the power to make it rain or not, according to the good pleasure of his will. God’s power, however, is subservient to God’s will.

Dan’s argument that the question is easy for him to answer but “going to stretch [TurretinFan] a bit to answer,” is a bit silly, because Dan doesn’t actually answer the question as stated, but answers a question about God’s power (as noted above). Furthermore, Dan has the inherent advantage of knowing (let’s hope!) what he means by his question, whereas when he asks ambiguous and/or equivocal questions, I have to seek clarification from him. That’s not so much me stretching, as me stretching him – trying to pull out the meaning of the question from him, so that it can be answered.

Dan seems still to misunderstand my comment about God’s actions in eternity: confusing atemporal actions of that sort (within the council of the trinity) for something having to do with “logical order” (which is really irrelevant).

Dan argues, based on his seeming misunderstanding that the idea of an infinite series of causes and a first cause are contradictory. Since “series” is essentially temporal terminology, calling God’s actions (whatever those may be) prior to time “an infinite series of causes” makes little or no sense.

God is the first cause of everything that comes to be. There is not an infinite series of causes with no starting point. God himself is the starting point. Let’s be clear about that.

Given Dan’s confusion, he wages war against the idea of a combination first and infinite regression of causes. I’m mostly in agreement with his critique – it’s just inapplicable to my position, because of the flawed starting point to the analysis.

Dan is correct in several points, however, so let me identify those, as perhaps they will be helpful to the dialog, assuming Dan is willing to clarify his question (and assuming he wants an answer … the audio suggests he did not ask the question to get an answer but in essence to challenge me to consider the consequences of my system of thought).

Dan is correct that from a temporal standpoint Creation is the first event. Creation is not the first cause, Creation is the first effect. God is the first cause.

Dan is also correct in that, when considering what within God caused God to create what he did, logical priority is given to God’s nature/attributes. Thus, we can view the actions/decisions of God as flowing out of the nature of God, although there is no sequence within God (though yet, as part of the Trinitarian marvel, there is communion within the Godhead).

Dan is right that there is no room for infinite regression on either a temporal or logical order. That’s why I didn’t mean to suggest that there was such a regression.

Dan seems to be confused about the following flow:

1. God’s nature
2. Flowing from God’s nature, God’s actions.
3A) God’s actions in eternity.
3B) God’s actions in time.

That is to say, as a logical consequent of self-love, the Only-Begotten Son was loved by the Father from all eternity, and so also the Spirit proceeded from the Father from all eternity. God is a living God. His life is not something that came to be. It existed before time, and it does not change (though yet it may properly be described as active). I realize that this may be a lofty subject, but I hope this explanation clears it up for Dan, so that he can move past whatever “infinite regression of causes” barrier he has created for himself.

I’m concerned that perhaps Dan wants to suggest that there was a time when God was inactive, and then afterwards a time when God became active. I’m not sure that Dan really needs to get to “first cause” versus infinite regression here. There was a time before God was saying “This is my beloved Son,” but that does not mean God was inactive before then. Also, it does not mean that something external to God moved God to say that.

Nothing external to God ever moves God to do anything. That’s part of the impassivity of God, a logical consequence of omnipotence.

Dan then goes on to say that his answer is that “the agent is the source of the action” is the answer to the question of explanation of the actions of man. Dan apparently wants to suggest that each man is an uncaused first cause.

Dan actually goes so far as to claim, “There is no way to explain the source of actions.” This is simply unbiblical. The Bible gives explanations for the sources of actions frequently.

Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Revelation 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Dan’s statement, in fact, is contradicted not only by special revelation, but by general revelation as well. In nature, we may be able to track down the source of an action so far, but we can track it down somewhat. We understand that an apple moves down, as opposed to up, because of the attractive force of the Earth’s mass. We can explain action, and we can assign causes to actions in the physical world.

Thus, on its face, Dan’s claim that “There is no way to explain the source of actions,” is both unbiblical and absurd. There is a way to explain the source of actions, it just would require Dan to give up his view of Libertarian Free Will (LFW).

Ultimately, Dan’s description of so-called “agent causation” is problematic not only because it is special pleading, but more particularly because it ascribes to man what is only properly to be ascribed to God. That is to say, by suggesting that God is not the first cause of all things, Dan’s view of agent causation removes some of that from God and gives it to man.

Eventually, in the audio segment, Dan goes back to the issue of Creation and the cause of Creation.

Dan seems to recognize (or if he doesn’t, he should recognize) that the logical order I have presented is as follow:

1. God exists;
2. God has a nature/attributes;
3. God acts based on his nature/attributes;
4. Among God’s timeless acts, God decrees to create;
5. God, logically subsequent to the decree to act, knows that (and what) he will create; and
6. Among God’s acts, and as the first temporal act, and logically subsequent to the decree and knowledge, God creates.

That’s the general flow. Dan seems to have tried to ask whether between 5 and 6 (or between 4 and 6), God “could have” created something different than what he did. If the question is as to God’s power alone, the answer – of course – is yes. If the question takes into consideration God’s decree, the answer is “no,” because God cannot act contrary to his own decree – he cannot contradict himself. Likewise, if the question takes into consider God’s knowledge of what God will do, the answer is “no,” because God cannot render his knowledge invalid.

I suppose Dan may have wanted to ask whether God could have decreed differently. Again, the question comes down to whether we include everything that went into God’s decision to decree as he did, or not.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Working backwards, it is impossible for God not to exist. It is impossible for God to have a different nature or different attributes from what he has. Since God’s actions flow from his nature/attributes (and not from any external source), God himself determines his own decisions.

God’s decisions don’t pop, without reason, from nowhere – they are wise decisions, as Scripture teaches. Wise decisions have a reason, they are not arbitrary. Furthermore, it is in God’s nature to glorify himself. This nature guides and shapes the way that God exercises His power. None of this should really be surprising to Dan, so I’m not sure why there is a impasse of understanding.

Toward the end of the audio segment, Dan gets to the topic of “absolute impossibility,” the ambiguous and potentially equivocal problem with Dan’s original question (bypassed by Dan, in his own answer, by addressing God’s power alone).

I had criticized the alternative question in which a “yes” would have said “God had to do it that way,” by pointing out that the term “had” suggests to our mind external constraint. Dan agrees with me that there was no external restraint before Creation, but seems to want to insist that he can use such a word, despite its connotations, of God before creation. I don’t agree. I think it is misleading to use words in a way that is so contrary to their ordinary meaning. Indeed, that’s been one of my criticisms of the LFW movement, from the start: namely that it applies unnatural meanings to words to arrive at a superficially satisfactory result, that erodes once we realize what the words are intended to mean. I’m not the first person to note this. Hundreds of years ago, Jonathan Edwards noted the same thing.

Dan states that the question really is, “What were God’s intrinsic abilities? Was it possible for God to create a world that didn’t include rain [on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location]?” The answer to that question, as noted above, if one is speaking of God’s power in isolation from the other attributes of God (the remainder of his nature), is yes. That would seem like the most natural way to answer the question, but I don’t think it would be a satisfying way (to Dan’s liking to answer the question).

In order for their to be “possibility” as contrasted from “actuality,” we have to take something out of the picture. That’s just the nature of the “possible” as opposed to the “actual.” If we include the entirety of God, from whom the decrees come, we haven’t taken anything out, and it makes no sense to speak of possibility, but only of actuality.

In fact, we can dig a bit deeper. The usual way to phrase the question would be: “If God had wanted to, could God have (would it have been possible for God to) make it stay from raining on May 31, 2008, at Dan’s location?” The answer, of course, is a simple yes.

I guess Dan could then try to ask, “Could God have wanted something different from what God wanted?” The answer to that question is, if God were different from who he is, he could. In other words, since the source of God’s wants/desires/etc. are purely internal, their content depends on who God is. If God were different, they would be different. If God were an arbitrary and foolish being, on May 31, 2008, water could simply have disappeared from the planet for a few hours, then popped back, then turned to gold, without any particular reason.

Now, I hope that the above will serve to answer thoroughly every variant of Dan’s question that Dan may or may not have intended to ask. Let me provide a brief preemptive critique of the direction Dan seems to be headed.

Dan’s seeming argument is this:

1. God’s act of Creation is an example of “agent causation.”
2. If an explanation for God’s act is adequate, then the same explanation for man’s act is adequate.
3. Therefore, “agent causation” is an adequate explanation of man’s act.

There are several obvious problems with this seeming argument. Even granting the idea that “agent causation” is an “explanation” for God’s Creation, because man is fundamentally different from God (and, in particular, man is neither omnipotent nor impassive), there is no good reason to suggest that an explanation that works for God would also be adequate for man.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that “agent causation” (if that is even a proper label for the idea that God’s nature – who God is – fully determines his actions and that consequently God himself is the cause) makes sense (with all those qualifications) for God, but is plainly contradicted for man, who is not impassive and who is not eternal or immutable. Man came to be: God did not. Thus, even Man’s nature: who man is, itself has a cause. God’s nature, who God is, is simply self-existent. To assert that man is similarly self-existent is to describe a divine attribute to man, and to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, such a claim is simply absurd: children come from their parents – they are obviously not self-existent.

Likewise, not only special revelation but general revelation informs us of the fact that children are (at least to a very significant extent) the product of nature and nurture. In short, the idea that children’s acts (or adults’ acts for that matter) are simply uncaused causes, is contradicted by both special and general revelation.

Anyhow, Dan indicates that he wants to get to the core of “What are God’s abilities?” The answer is: God is perfectly free: God can do whatever God wants to do, and what God wants to do is not externally influenced at all.


P.S. Dan graciously provides a postscript of thanks in his audio clip for the style of the discussion. I too am thankful to Dan for his kind treatment, which is not necessarily a given in Internet discussions.

Warfield’s Famous Chart on the Plan of Salvation

April 24, 2008

Since the topic of Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, Amyraldianism, and Arminianism have come up repeatedly on this blog, I think it may be helpful for my readers to have a chance to those different views arranged in textbook fashion by B. B. Warfield:

Please note that you will probably have to click on the image to be able to view it in a readable size, unless you have some sort of eagle eyes.


UPDATE: Please note that in case you don’t like the scanned image above, Vox Veritatis has found and posted a more readable version (here).

Reconciling Universal Redemption with Limited Decree to Save

March 28, 2008

I had asked:
How is purchasing a redemption for both believers and non-believers consistent with decreeing to save only believers?

Dan (aka Godismyjudge), at Arminian Chronicles replied (link to Dan’s reply):

1) the decree to save believers should not be understood as foreknowledge of individual believers (i.e. Sue and John, but not Robbie), but rather the formula that anyone who believes shall be saved

2) that decree was preceded by a decree that Christ, by His death, shall be the basis of salvation (this decree can’t be limited to the elect, because is explanatorily prior to the decree of election)

3) the decree regarding Christ’s death means salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death

I answer:

I don’t find Dan’s answer very clear, partly because he uses words that either have different meanings to him than to me or have no standard meaning (such as “foreknowledge” and “explanatorily”). Allow me to try to explain Dan’s position for him.

As to (1-2), it seems to me that Dan is trying to say that the decree to purchase redemption for mankind universally was a first decree, and that a decree to apply that redemption to the class of believers was a second decree, and that God’s advance knowledge of who would be members of that class follows the second decree. I think that by “explanatorily prior” Dan means what we call “logically prior.” Thus, we should not read a temporal sequence into the order.

I hope that if I have misunderstood Dan, he will correct my misunderstanding. Assuming I have correctly understood him:

a) The order seems purposeless or at cross purposes;
b) For example, the first decree seems to be aimed at a purpose to save mankind universally, whereas the second decree seems to be aimed (at least in part) in saving mankind only partially;
c) The attempted escape is to place God’s advance knowledge of the membership of the class of believers posterior to the second decree, but
d) It doesn’t seem credible that God would make the second decree without first knowing whether it would save anyone, because He Himself is bound by His own decrees.
e) Another attempted escape might be to argue that the first decree was only aimed at making all men savable, but
f) A similar criticism arises that the second decree still seems counter to the first decree by providing a barrier to the savability of men, and
g) There is a real question about whether there is any Scriptural basis for an intent to make mankind “savable,” as distinct from “saved.”

Thus, it does not really seem that (1-2) of Dan’s reply help resolve the apparent conflict, or – at best – they simply move the conflict someplace else.

As to (3), it seems that “the decree” referenced is supposed to be the first decree. This would seem to begin to take escape (e) discussed above. Additionally, since the first decree does not include any decree for application of the benefit of Christ’s death, it actually does not mean “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.” In fact, it does not mean that salvation is possible for anyone at all, since it does not include any way for the benefit of Christ’s death to be applied to men.

Alternatively, “the decree” in (3) might be aimed at pointing to the second decree. If so, then the same criticism from (f) as well as (d) above would apply. A decree to save those who fit within a formula is inherently discriminatory, with the formula being the discriminator. Unless there is some kind of expectation that everyone would fall within the formula (which apparently, per (3), there was not) then the formula does not mean “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.”

Indeed, one could (though why they would, I have no idea) insert between Dan’s second decree and the advance knowledge a recognition of human total inability to meet the formula. Then, it becomes clear that a decree that Jesus die for everyone (in the abstracted way Dan posits in his first decree) is not sufficient to make “salvation is possible for everyone through Christ’s death.”

I’m guessing that Dan’s ultimate order would look something like this:

1. Decree to create.
2. Recognition of the fall.
3. Decree that Christ will die.
4. Decree that Christ’s death will be applied to those who have faith.
5. Decree that it will be “possible” for anyone to have faith.
6. Recognition of who actually has faith.

Embedded within (5) would be a decree to give all men prevenient grace, or something like that.

There are a number of problems with this expanded order, though.

(a) The idea of creating without having the purpose of the creation mind already seems odd. One pictures the person in Dan’s order saying to himself, “So I’ve got this creation, what should I do with it?”

(b) The idea of the fall being something that is only recognized once there is a decree to create does not seem fully consistent with God’s omniscience. Even if this could be escaped by middle knowledge, though …

(c) The idea of the knowledge of who will believe being recognized somehow separately from the fall does not seem fully consistent either with God’s omniscience or middle knowledge.

In short, I’m not sure how Dan’s explanation doesn’t just make matters worse for the Arminian or Amyraldian.


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