Friday, February 11, 2011

What shall we say then? In the midst of a rather rareified discussion about exactly how God moves the will, (among adherents of Thomist Catholic theology) Dr. Feingold, AKA The Hebrew Catholic Jack Collins, never fails to use simple, earthy examples. At that point, I figured a humorous impertinence would do the room some good. So I said, "All this talk of actual grace [prevenient grace that moves the as yet unsaved to take a step toward God] and sanctifying grace [the justifying grace, infused by the Holy Spirit, which includes the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity/love] is beautiful and lovely and everything, but, assuming such distinctions are valid,--while recalling the Scripture in Ephesians, 'and you were dead in trespasses and sins...but God made us alive together with Christ....'--are you saying that actual grace takes a man from 'All Dead' to 'Mostly Dead'? But how can you receive, respond to, or reject grace if you are dead?" That's as starkly as I can state the Calvinist hostility to this whole line of inquiry. On the other hand, the Calvinist absolutely cannot vindicate God's honor from charges that He is arbitrary and miserly with the gift of salvation without abandoning Calvinism because the free offer of the gospel to all must be real. It's no good to say that the general call (as opposed to the effectual call to the elect) is enough to avoid this charge, because there is no way to move from one category to another. If the blame for sin cannot fall upon God, (and God has already decreed that redemption may be found in Jesus Christ, and judgment for those who reject Him) He cannot make it impossible for people to come to Christ. But in Calvinism, that's exactly what we're alleging God has done, whether we realize it or not. It is one thing to desire to give God all the glory in salvation; it is yet another to put all the blame for sin on people; but it is quite a different thing to say that God owes nothing in the way of mercy to those whom he holds under the threat of condemnation. Here is all the disputed text in context, or better said, in cotext. In other words, if God thinks enough of people to condemn them for rejecting his Son, they must be able to choose the contrary. The ethnic identity contrast between those who receive and those who reject Christ at the end of the text is instructive. It seems to mean that if God wants to cancel out the Gentile disadvantage with respect to knowledge by way of mercy, he's free to do so. (Obviously.) That isn't to say that God cannot be wildly disproportionate in his dispensation of grace(s) to individuals. But it puts the case for individual Calvinistic election in serious doubt. Mainly because that position is 1) inconsistent with God's stated beneficent salvific purpose, and because it 2) assumes the alternative is Pelagian self-effort (when the offense is mercy to Gentiles, not monergism). But of course, the ethnic pride at issue has no outlet but salvation by works; but it's unwise to posit unconditional individual monergistic election and Pelagianism as the only choices.

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