Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Contra Steven on Prevenient Grace

Steven has posted a new query on Arminian theology.

Steven has some questions about prevenient grace. Namely, he can't see how we could consider a choice free in any sense if the noetic effects of sin are still acting on the mind, even if prevenient grace has been given. He also wonders how one could actually reject this grace.

His post starts off badly by not defining his terms. He uses "sufficient" it seems in a few different ways. When distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions, a sufficient condition is speaking of a condition that, if satisfied, will definitely bring about what the statement asserts. For instance, in the statement, "If God decrees something it will be done," God's decreeing something is a sufficient condition for its being done. If He decrees it, it will happen.

When Arminians speak of God giving sufficient grace to everyone to come to Him, they are speaking of sufficient as it is normally understood; as being as much as needed to accomplish something. In my house, for instance, I have a sufficient amount of sugar to bake some cookies. I have as much sugar as I need, but it's obvious the sugar does not imply cookies. It would be helpful to avoid this ambiguity if one is going to correctly portray his opponent's position.

Steven asks, "What exactly would grace sufficient to make a truly free choice to accept or reject God’s salvation look like? That is, what would the effects of a truly liberating grace be?"

If Steven is speaking of a sufficient condition to accept God's grace, this seems to be presupposing that there has to be a P that implies Q, or a grace that will bring about repentance. But the Arminian holds that grace is necessary, but not sufficient for repentance. This grace that enables the will of man to repent could look like a lot of different things, and is probably different for every individual. For some in Paul's day, it was enough for them to hear of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). But for Paul himself, it took more grace to bring Him into relationship with the Savior (Acts 9:3-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18).

Steven then begins to stack the deck, making bold assertions such as, "If the sin-inclining effects of the flesh are not entirely removed from the agent upon making the decision, then the agent’s choice will not have been truly free–it would have been unfairly more probable that it would be a choice for evil."

Here's the issue, Steven has no grounds to back this assertion. It's actually quite strange, considering no Calvinist thinks that anyone is completely free from sin in the flesh. The Calvinist teaches that man must be regenerated before exercising faith in Christ, but that says nothing of a complete escape from the noetic effects of sin. Most continue to hold that the dulling effects of sin still remain on the mind until we are glorified (see any Calvinist commentary on Romans 7).

So I suppose that Steven is saying that regeneration must happen, a washing clean of the spirit of man, making the spirit alive instead of dead. Not to point out the circular reasoning here, but what reason is there to accept this as the case?

The Arminian is quite happy stating that something must be done to man before he can accept Christ. Steven is correct that "grace must be truly liberating because it is clear that the sinful flesh, absent divine grace or assistance, necessarily tends towards evil, and man, in terms of his natural abilities, lacks power to do good of his own." But the Arminian says that this enabling grace precedes faith and regeneration. This is a grace that God gives that enables man in a sufficient manner to be able to accept God's grace. The Arminian also holds that this is a grace that is universally distributed (Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). It is a necessary condition to lead to salvation, but not sufficient, as there are some who thrust this grace from themselves.

What seems to be the crux of the issue for Steven is, "[W]hy would anyone who has been so freed, and who can judge things properly, and so on, still choose to refuse salvation?" In other words, what makes one person respond to God's grace and the other not? JC Thibodaux has shown the fallacious nature of this objection. It's assuming that there must be something other than the individual that determines which way the will goes. But that's just assuming causal determinism, and is begging the question.

The Arminian has no problem shrugging his shoulders here. We can't know the hearts of other men, and so can't know ultimately why they don't repent. There may be influences that impact the decision made, but ultimately the will of the individual is what chooses to repent or not. There may be some people who no matter how much grace God gave would stubbornly refuse to repent.

Steven then voices an implication he sees coming from Arminian theology:
someone who was aware of their sinfulness, aware of their need to trust in God, aware of the fact that God is their only hope in saving themselves and that this requires a surrendering of the will, and able to properly judge reasons for acting (that is, isn’t given to misjudge the value of reasons like “sin feels better than holiness” when considering what to do), would still be able to choose to reject God and embrace the hell he sees coming for himself.
Steven has stacked the deck and is begging the question here. He is presupposing that a prevenient grace would undo all effects of sin on people to enable them to come. As I will continue to state, it hasn't been shown why this needs to be the case, as I think it's clear God could grace someone such that they would be able to choose Him even while being under some sinful influence, since that is what is consistent with our experience. Further, he thinks that true freedom requires being only swayed by the grace of God in this case, but I would argue that to have a truly free choice, both options should be on the table. Also, even if Steven is correct about these other aspects, it still doesn't follow that if completely free from any noetic effect of sin and enabled to accept God that one would necessarily choose him.

Steven ends with two points, which I will address quickly, even at the risk of repeating myself.

1) "such a radical freedom of indifference, absolute ability to do otherwise, seems to not be very valuable, so it isn’t clear why someone would say it is required for a choice to be truly free, responsible, etc."

The only value the Arminian would ascribe to libertarian free will is in its use to come to a freely chosen relationship with Christ. As Walls and Dongell write in Why I'm Not a Calvinist, "The same freedom that makes it possible to enter a genuinely trusting and obedient relationship with God also makes it possible for us to go our own way and disobey him. God allows the latter in order to enable the former." A genuine relationship must be a freely chosen one. I think that is a fairly strong and indisputable axiom. We know that a relationship between a volitional creature and something that cannot choose is not real. This is where the puppet analogy pops up. God wants people to freely come to Him. This is why He allows the ability to choose not to come to Him. Even though God graces someone with the knowledge and ability to escape sin, they can actually choose against that.

2) "an agent who fulfills the above criteria in terms of knowledge and ability and yet still does otherwise than what he knows to be the right thing, and his choice is somehow supposed to be free, seems like an impossibility–inconceivable."

Not only is it not clear why this would be the case, but it again seems to be begging the question for determinism. He's basically saying that if someone receives this prevenient grace from God, they should necessarily come to Him. But that hasn't even begun to have been established. Given the Biblical testimony it is hard to see, on Calvinism, why all are not saved. But on Arminianism, the explanation of why some aren't saved is fairly simple; some simply choose not to repent despite God's gracious, merciful, and loving drawing.

14 comments:

Onesimus said...

People like Steven base too much on assumption and too little on the revelation God has given through scripture.

When scripture IS referenced, it is only PARTS of scripture, and then only those parts that can be manipulated to support those original assumptions.

Steven said...

“Namely, he can't see how we could consider a choice free in any sense if the noetic effects of sin are still acting on the mind, even if prevenient grace has been given. He also wonders how one could actually reject this grace.”

Well, we could consider it free in a trivial libertarian sense—he still could have done otherwise, let's say. But I questioned how it could be an ultimately free and well-informed choice. After all, the agent's choosing whether or not his soul will end up in hell if he were to die a moment afterwards. A choice of that magnitude, seems like, requires some kind of genuine ability to weigh reasons, etc. If some of the effects of sin are still binding him that are relevant to his making such a truly free and responsible choice, then it's hard to see how it's fair of God to hold him responsible. Thus, I argued that certain aspects of the effects of sin upon him—specifically, his ability to properly judge the value of reasons—must be removed if his choice is going to be free.

“His post starts off badly by not defining his terms. He uses "sufficient" it seems in a few different ways. When distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions, a sufficient condition is speaking of a condition that, if satisfied, will definitely bring about what the statement asserts. For instance, in the statement, "If God decrees something it will be done," God's decreeing something is a sufficient condition for its being done. If He decrees it, it will happen.”

I used 'sufficient' in the same sense. The event *God gave grace to S* is sufficient for the obtaining *S repents in faith* on Calvinist assumptions, but not on Arminian assumptions. That's all that I meant.

“When Arminians speak of God giving sufficient grace to everyone to come to Him, they are speaking of sufficient as it is normally understood; as being as much as needed to accomplish something. In my house, for instance, I have a sufficient amount of sugar to bake some cookies. I have as much sugar as I need, but it's obvious the sugar does not imply cookies. It would be helpful to avoid this ambiguity if one is going to correctly portray his opponent's position.”

This is not the sort of sufficiency I was talking about, and that's relatively clear from my post.

(part 1)

Steven said...

“If Steven is speaking of a sufficient condition to accept God's grace, this seems to be presupposing that there has to be a P that implies Q, or a grace that will bring about repentance. But the Arminian holds that grace is necessary, but not sufficient for repentance. This grace that enables the will of man to repent could look like a lot of different things, and is probably different for every individual. For some in Paul's day, it was enough for them to hear of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). But for Paul himself, it took more grace to bring Him into relationship with the Savior (Acts 9:3-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18).”

That's not what I was talking about. I know that on Arminian assumptions grace doesn't bring about (in the sense of entailing) repentance, which I even said in my first paragraph. The question was rather, what would grace sufficient for the agent's making a truly free and informed decision of that kind of gravity look like? What has to happen to him for his choice to be fitting of the occasion?

“Here's the issue, Steven has no grounds to back this assertion. It's actually quite strange, considering no Calvinist thinks that anyone is completely free from sin in the flesh. The Calvinist teaches that man must be regenerated before exercising faith in Christ, but that says nothing of a complete escape from the noetic effects of sin. Most continue to hold that the dulling effects of sin still remain on the mind until we are glorified (see any Calvinist commentary on Romans 7).”

I don't deny that the effects of sin are still upon us after regeneration. I argued, however, that those effects of sin relevant to an agent's making an informed decision about whether or not to repent in faith must be removed for the choice to be free.

“So I suppose that Steven is saying that regeneration must happen, a washing clean of the spirit of man, making the spirit alive instead of dead. Not to point out the circular reasoning here, but what reason is there to accept this as the case?”

I'm not arguing that regeneration should happen. Just that the effects of sin relevant to the making of the choice are removed. Or, if you don't like the phrase “removed”, then “dulled”, or “disabled”, or whatever. My point still stands.

“The Arminian is quite happy stating that something must be done to man before he can accept Christ. Steven is correct that "grace must be truly liberating because it is clear that the sinful flesh, absent divine grace or assistance, necessarily tends towards evil, and man, in terms of his natural abilities, lacks power to do good of his own." But the Arminian says that this enabling grace precedes faith and regeneration. This is a grace that God gives that enables man in a sufficient manner to be able to accept God's grace. The Arminian also holds that this is a grace that is universally distributed (Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). It is a necessary condition to lead to salvation, but not sufficient, as there are some who thrust this grace from themselves.”

What does this have to do with my argument? Do you accept or deny that the effects of sin relevant to the agent's making a truly informed and free decision must be removed/disabled/dulled?

(part 2)

Steven said...

“What seems to be the crux of the issue for Steven is, "[W]hy would anyone who has been so freed, and who can judge things properly, and so on, still choose to refuse salvation?" In other words, what makes one person respond to God's grace and the other not? JC Thibodaux has shown the fallacious nature of this objection. It's assuming that there must be something other than the individual that determines which way the will goes. But that's just assuming causal determinism, and is begging the question.”

I'm not asking why do some repent and why not others. I'm asking, *how* could an agent who is able to properly judge the value of reasons, and is aware of good reasons to repent, still refuse to repent?

Not even all libertarians hold that agents are *always* free to do otherwise. See, for instance, Peter van Inwagen's article “When is the will free?” Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 3, Philosophy of Mind and Action Theory (1989), pp. 399-422.

Do you *really* think it is possible that an agent who is aware of reasons to do A, is able to judge them properly as good reasons, and is aware of reasons against abstaining from A, and is able to judge them properly as good reasons, *still* do not-A? Can you seriously conceive of such a thing?

And if you can, could you seriously think of such a choice as a *free* one? Doesn't it seem rather the agent is being wildly irrational in a manner inconsistent with freedom of the will?

“Steven has stacked the deck and is begging the question here. He is presupposing that a prevenient grace would undo all effects of sin on people to enable them to come. As I will continue to state, it hasn't been shown why this needs to be the case, as I think it's clear God could grace someone such that they would be able to choose Him even while being under some sinful influence, since that is what is consistent with our experience.”

I didn't *presuppose* it, I *argued* for it.

(part 3)

Steven said...

“Further, he thinks that true freedom requires being only swayed by the grace of God in this case, but I would argue that to have a truly free choice, both options should be on the table. Also, even if Steven is correct about these other aspects, it still doesn't follow that if completely free from any noetic effect of sin and enabled to accept God that one would necessarily choose him.”

It doesn't matter what you “would argue”. And it's not just that the agent is free from the noetic effects of sin and enabled to accept God; not only that, but he's also aware of reasons to do so, able to judge those reasons properly, and aware of reasons against abstaining, and able to judge those reasons properly. How could such a person possibly not accept God? And if he did, how could such a choice possibly be a *free* one, when it seems rather obvious that something must still be wrong with him?

“Steven ends with two points, which I will address quickly, even at the risk of repeating myself.”

I didn't end with two new points; I was summarising the point of my article. Just to clarify.

2) "an agent who fulfills the above criteria in terms of knowledge and ability and yet still does otherwise than what he knows to be the right thing, and his choice is somehow supposed to be free, seems like an impossibility–inconceivable."

“Not only is it not clear why this would be the case, but it again seems to be begging the question for determinism. He's basically saying that if someone receives this prevenient grace from God, they should necessarily come to Him. But that hasn't even begun to have been established. Given the Biblical testimony it is hard to see, on Calvinism, why all are not saved. But on Arminianism, the explanation of why some aren't saved is fairly simple; some simply choose not to repent despite God's gracious, merciful, and loving drawing.”

I'm not begging any questions. I genuinely have a problem conceiving of an agent who fulfills all those criteria and *still* doesn't accept God's salvation. And I'm not alone in this; libertarians have argued that it is not always the case that an agent can do otherwise, and under some conditions, being able to do otherwise seems genuinely impossible—see the van Inwagen article I referenced earlier.

(part 4)

bossmanham said...

I don't have time to respond to everything, Steven, but I will say that 1) I don't see a reason to accept your argument. 2) I myself say we don't always have the power to do otherwise (and think that's an insufficient definition of LFW), but it's clear in a case of accepting or rejecting God, there would be nothing that prevents it. 3) It seems to me you're equivocating on what freedom is. To be ultimately free, one must accept Christ and be regenerated. The Arminian contends that God gives more than enough grace to men for them to know they should and be able to come to Him, thus being made free. As a Molinist, I also think that God knows what amount of grace is needed for any to come to God, and that there may be some who would not accept Him in any circumstance, yet He still gives them opportunity after opportunity to accept Jesus.

Why someone doesn't, ultimately, I don't know. They simply choose not to of their own free will. But then we can't blame God for that, because He is great and merciful and has given them the ability to. I blame the individual.

Do you have a link to Van Inwagen's article?

bossmanham said...

Never mind, I found the article on JSTOR.

SLW said...

even if Steven is correct about these other aspects, it still doesn't follow that if completely free from any noetic effect of sin and enabled to accept God that one would necessarily choose him.

Absolutely true, Adam didn't.

Steven said...

"1) I don't see a reason to accept your argument."

This is hand-waving, not arguing. I gave reasons for what I argued. Where are your counter-arguments?

Of course, your child was probably born in this time, so I don't blame you if you don't argue because of that. But at least bring it up so you have a public excuse.

"2) I myself say we don't always have the power to do otherwise (and think that's an insufficient definition of LFW), but it's clear in a case of accepting or rejecting God, there would be nothing that prevents it."

I didn't define LFW as always having the ability to do othewrise.

"3) It seems to me you're equivocating on what freedom is. To be ultimately free, one must accept Christ and be regenerated."

What kind of freedom must the agent already have in order to act so as to bring that about--that is my question in my thread. And I answered it with the suggestion that it'd have to be some kind of significant freedom.

"The Arminian contends that God gives more than enough grace to men for them to know they should and be able to come to Him, thus being made free. As a Molinist, I also think that God knows what amount of grace is needed for any to come to God, and that there may be some who would not accept Him in any circumstance, yet He still gives them opportunity after opportunity to accept Jesus."

(i) Grace isn't like a substance that you give to sinners analogous to refilling your car with gasoline.
(ii) My question is--given the conditions that must obtain if God gives a person grace to decide to accept salvation or not--how could grace possibly be resistible? How could someone with sufficient grace to make a fair and free decision either way, and is aware of plenty of good reasons to accept salvation and can judge those reasons as being properly valuable, still be able to refuse salvation? The offer is too good to be true; it is inconceivable to me that anyone acting freely, freed from the grip of sin, might still refuse salvation. That is my whole point. Grace must be irresistible, it seems.

bossmanham said...

Steven, your argument amounted to, "it seems like it should be the case that there should be no influence from sin when graced by God, because otherwise it wouldn't be a free choice," which is not compelling. It is a free choice because it is 1) unconstrained and 2) not determined by a prior state of affairs. It may be influenced by both God and sin, but it is not determined by them, therefore it is free.

I didn't define LFW as always having the ability to do othewrise.

Then you have not made a point.

What kind of freedom must the agent already have in order to act so as to bring that about--that is my question in my thread

The same kind needed for any choice, the ability to make it. Prior to grace we lack it, posterior to grace we have the ability. Your musings on certain other influences are null, since I hold that all that is needed is prevenient grace to enable a free choice.

Grace isn't like a substance that you give to sinners analogous to refilling your car with gasoline.

Who the crap said it was?

how could grace possibly be resistible?

Because it is such that it doesn't coerce a response, but only enables it.

bossmanham said...

How could someone with sufficient grace to make a fair and free decision either way, and is aware of plenty of good reasons to accept salvation and can judge those reasons as being properly valuable, still be able to refuse salvation?

I answered that in the post, "The Arminian has no problem shrugging his shoulders here. We can't know the hearts of other men, and so can't know ultimately why they don't repent. There may be influences that impact the decision made, but ultimately the will of the individual is what chooses to repent or not. There may be some people who no matter how much grace God gave would stubbornly refuse to repent."

Honestly, the question is pretty silly. There have been decisions people have made that, to me, are inexplicable. Just because, Steven, you are incredulous at the idea of being able to shirk this grace doesn't mean it isn't doable. I MYSELF am a little incredulous, but I see it taught in scripture, and I see it happen, that people DO reject it.

Just because we don't know exactly how doesn't mean it isn't the case. That is why your argument is weak. It's based on personal incredulity, which is fallacious.

Steven said...

“Steven, your argument amounted to, "it seems like it should be the case that there should be no influence from sin when graced by God, because otherwise it wouldn't be a free choice," which is not compelling. It is a free choice because it is 1) unconstrained and 2) not determined by a prior state of affairs. It may be influenced by both God and sin, but it is not determined by them, therefore it is free.”

(i) Talk about “influencing” is confusing. What does it mean to influence a choice, but not determine it entirely? To raise the probability of its occurring? But can there be anything like a probability that S will do A, especially in a situation like his choosing to either be damned to hell or not? How do you judge the probability of such a thing?

(ii) I didn't just say it wouldn't be a free choice. I said that the gravity and importance of the circumstances seem to me to require that the choice be ultimately free, or least pretty damn free. If he's going to make a fair choice about whether or not to accept God's salvation, and be held responsible to the point of hellfire for his choice, then it seems to me like he ought to have a “clear head” and not be so bogged down by sin as he used to be. He ought to be able to judge the value of reasons for acting pretty well. He ought to have some kind of reasons occur to him that would at least make repentence a live option for him, and he ought to recognize his need.

“Then you have not made a point.”

My point is that ability to do otherwise when deciding to accept God's salvation (or not) makes no sense. I don't need to define LFW as *always* being able to do otherwise in order to make that point. My point is not against libertarianism so much as it is against resistible grace.

“The same kind needed for any choice, the ability to make it. Prior to grace we lack it, posterior to grace we have the ability. Your musings on certain other influences are null, since I hold that all that is needed is prevenient grace to enable a free choice.”

Prior to grace, we lack the ability to make a good choice, you're right. But what exactly is “taken away” when grace comes along so that we can make the choice? *That* is what I argued about in my post. My musings on other influences are apropos and to the point, because it is those things that make the choice possible, by being taken away by grace, that seem to make the option of resisting grace seem impossible—but where is your argument against that?

(part 1)

Steven said...

“Because it is such that it doesn't coerce a response, but only enables it.”

Yes, it enables it. My point is, what is the nature of this enabling? I *argued* that enabling must be of such-and-such a character, which then seems to make someone's resisting God's call seem inconceivable. Where is your counterargument? All I've seen so far is simplification of my position and confusing the issue.

“The Arminian has no problem shrugging his shoulders here. We can't know the hearts of other men, and so can't know ultimately why they don't repent. There may be influences that impact the decision made, but ultimately the will of the individual is what chooses to repent or not. There may be some people who no matter how much grace God gave would stubbornly refuse to repent.”

It's not just a matter of its being mysterious, or a matter which we ultimately don't know. It seems downright inconceivable and impossible, and you seem to agree when you say later that:

“Honestly, the question is pretty silly. There have been decisions people have made that, to me, are inexplicable. **Just because, Steven, you are incredulous at the idea of being able to shirk this grace doesn't mean it isn't doable. I MYSELF am a little incredulous**, but I see it taught in scripture, and I see it happen, that people DO reject it.”

It's not just incredulity. It's the inconceivability of it all that makes the argument more than what you've characterized it as. It's one thing to for it to be hard to characterize; the compatibility of meticulous divine control over events in history and human freedom and responsibility may be hard to understand, but it's another thing altogether if it is downright inconceivable. I am saying that resistible grace is inconceivable. You haven't responded to my stronger claim thus far except show a bit of sympathy towards it by admitting that resistible grace is a bit hard for you to believe too.

(part 2)

bossmanham said...

Talk about “influencing” is confusing

If you say so. I say it is something taken into consideration when in the process of making a choice. It may "weigh the scale" one way or another, but ultimately won't necessitate the choice. It is a consideration that would serve as a reason a choice was made.

I said that the gravity and importance of the circumstances seem to me to require that the choice be ultimately free, or least pretty damn free.

It is.

If he's going to make a fair choice about whether or not to accept God's salvation, and be held responsible to the point of hellfire for his choice, then it seems to me like he ought to have a “clear head” and not be so bogged down by sin as he used to be.

Well, first off, this isn't the only choice that makes someone deserve hellfire. It is the sinful choices made throughout ones life. Second, prevenient grace does offer the sufficiently clear head you speak of. One is made able to choose God.

My point is that ability to do otherwise when deciding to accept God's salvation (or not) makes no sense.

I'm glad to see your continued appeal to personal incredulity, because it means my position is at least prima facie a better choice.

But what exactly is “taken away” when grace comes along so that we can make the choice?

The inability to make the choice. There are spiritual blocks on the human soul that may not be totally definable. We are slaves to sin, then we are in a position to escape that slavery or remain in it.

that seem to make the option of resisting grace seem impossible—but where is your argument against that?

That you're begging the question for determinism. You assume that removal of obstacles necessarily entails choosing God. If LFW is true, and God allows it to remain in tact through the process of drawing us to Him, then you can't conclude that one should respond to the grace positively. To do so would be to assume that the grace determines the choice.

I *argued* that enabling must be of such-and-such a character

No, you asserted it.

Where is your counterargument?

If no argument was given from you, I don't bear the burden of an argument. However, my argument would simply be that prevenient grace is such that it removes the sufficient condition which makes approaching God impossible, because that is what one needs to be able to come to God and is all that is needed to make a free choice. So 1) prevenient grace removes the obstacle while also 2) making one able to accept Christ, thereby creating a free either/or choice for an individual.

Notice this doesn't include that all sinful influences are removed. If all were removed, then the free choice of sin wouldn't be available, making there only one available option, which isn't a choice at all. Your assertion that a free choice would only be one where the sole influence came from one direction would be just that; an assertion.

It's the inconceivability of it all that makes the argument more than what you've characterized it as

My own personal incredulity doesn't undo scriptural testimony.

You're still relying on your own personal incredulity, and an argument that makes not.