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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.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I was recalling a "conversation" of sorts last night (it was a 'chat' over the interwebs) about the Scripture in more ancient tounges (Latin, Greek) and I was lavish in my exhortation that she should learn the biblical Greek, (OK, fine, the Hebrew as well, if possible) being in possession of more than a modicum of facility in acquiring language (or at least the discipline to do it). In any case, I noted, to the great warmth of my own heart, that God, in his goodness, made the most important parts of the Bible to be fairly easy syntactically. (John 1, 1 John, Colossians 1:15-20, for example) A Roman 5 year old could read 1 John, I'm almost certain. Well, I'm not hard-core enough to go to the Greek (today), but I went to the Vulgate, first to the Prologue of (St.) John's Gospel, (and a little past) then to Colossians 1, starting with the greeting, and then I skipped to the Christ-hymn. (St.) Jerome chose an interesting word after telling us that "he is the image of the invisible God": "primogenitus." Now, most English translations render this "firstborn," and that is perfectly acceptable. But it has the sense of "origin." If we had any doubt, just keep reading. "For by him all things were created...[then specifying categories of everything you could think of]." Don't miss this now, v. 17: "And He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together." You just wouldn't say that about simply a good man, even the best man. And if I may offer a humble defense of the papists, at the absolute zenith of Mariological veneration, I've never heard anyone say she is holding the universe together. Not even close. It gets better. But I won't quote it all. Yet God the Father was pleased that all His fullness in this Jesus. He's also the Head of the Church, the firstborn from the dead. And there's a reason: so that in everything, He might be preeminent. Frankly, this is the gospel. I already told you: I'm not dying for Faith Alone, or Election, or perpiscuity, or whatever. In fact, some of that (likely) isn't true. But I'd (like to think, anyway) do it to say that Christ is God in the flesh, and the Savior of the whole world.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

5 Non-Football Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday

5. That Maria lady was pretty. I can't spell her name, and I don't care.

4. Jen Aniston's apparent offense was really wanting to have a baby before she lost the chance. What a psycho! Why would she want to do that? [sarcasm]

3. Harrison Ford was highly intoxicated. It was some mixture of funny and shameful.

2. If you have to tell us why they are famous, they're not famous.

1. I promise, Keith Urban can sing better than that.
I got suckered on that whole, [paraphrase] "fierce moral urgency of change" deal with Obama. Still detaining people indefinitely for possibly dubious reasons; "Gitmo" is still open; American troops in two hot theaters of war; Lots of other stuff. But I don't agree with Roger Simon, here. I was eager to hear what the president would say, and particularly on Egypt. I understood the president to say, if you listen between the lines, as it were, that he had no idea what would happen, but it was up to Mubarak. What is almost unbearably irritating about Victor Davis Hanson is that his hawkish neoconservatism comes as a package deal with his anti-socialism. And with Obama, it's personal. I think that Obama's economic policy is totally wrong, as I have said a million times. But if he makes any gesture of nonviolence toward anybody, he is an "empty suit" who has "sold out our friends to our enemies." Or other such nonsense. One of the underappreciated aspects of Reagan that a few noted this week is that he was a true peacemaker. He didn't always apply American principles consistently, and our clarity on human rights was clouded by anti-communist efforts. But we did find out that he was a tireless negotiator, even with our greatest enemy. And that peace was a goal down to the core of his being. He dreamed of nuclear disarmament since his college days. One of Obama's selling points was a willingness to negotiate without preconditions with governments and groups unfriendly to the US. It is the same wager Reagan made with the Soviets: No matter what they say for public consumption, they are people, by and large, who want tranquility and flourishing for themselves and their loved ones. Any one of such groups may be tainted by bitterness and a cycle of violence, but if you can find those beyond the crazy and the power-hungry, there are possibilities. Which is why we can't simply assume that everyone associated with "dangerous" groups must be a terrorist committed to our destruction. Socialization is not a simple matter.
You might fault Obama for being explicit about what Reagan generally kept hidden. But there is no doubt that if one can secure prosperity and safety without violence, one should do so.