Sunday, November 20, 2011

J.P. Holding's Total Depravity: A Calvinist Responds (II of III)

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

I would also note as well that John 6:65, which I previously included in the above, does not say that God enables people to believe -- I think that that is a Calvinist reading of the verse. Indeed the connection between belief and the Father's permission is not specified -- it's just as well to say that the Father has to act as an access-granter because people can and will join the movement under false pretenses that no man can discern, which would make much better sense under the client-patron relationship understanding.

A discursive review of James Patrick Holding's writings reveals that he is radically enamored with social-science criticism to the point that it is almost an idol. Holding fails to realize that Jesus did not adopt the mindset of the cultural mileu in which He found Himself. While it is true that understanding the social context of Scripture can help enrich our understanding of the text, it is nowhere near the silver bullet Holding seems to think it is. 
The client-patron relationship has nothing whatever to do with rightly understanding what Jesus is getting at in John 6. First of all, the assumption is that people actually want to join, but do so under false pretenses. Such an understanding of “joining” the Christian group not only contorts total depravity, but flattens membership in the Christian community to some sort of sociological expression. This is not anywhere close to orthodox soteriology. A look at John 6:64-65 clearly indicates that Jesus is explaining why some men do not believe. Jesus says, I have given you the truth, but some of you do not believe. The reason you don’t believe is because it has not been granted to you by my Father to believe. In other words, the only way men can believe in Christ is if God grants them faith! That is simple, basic exegesis 101. The Greek phrase “dia touto is well attested in the NT, showing up some 64 times. Perhaps Mr. Holding would be well served to take a discursive look at this construction before he introduces social science theories into his interpretation of this passage. Nonsense!

I can honestly interpret Genesis 6:5 under no different principles. This is undoubtedly exaggeration for effect, for of course one cannot literally have thoughts of the heart that are continually evil (for we must all sleep sometime); certainly the hearts of these antediluvians were wicked and depraved, but whether this means that they were depraved to the extent that total depravity requires simply cannot be determined from this verse -- much less can it be said that this automatically applies to all men throughout history, although it offers persuasive evidence that it is so. Nor does this verse say anything either way about whether men were unable to behave otherwise.

Holding demonstrates severe inconsistency here. In this case, he allows room for hyperbole but in John 12:32, he insists on a more wooden-literal approach. It seems abundantly clear to me that Holding’s hermeneutic is a hermeneutic of convenience. He switches up his method wherever he finds it convenient so that he can hold to his theological bias. If he were consistent, he would insist on a literal approach to this text the same as he did on John 12:32. The truth is that context determines the meaning of a text more than any other single factor. Suffice it say the inconsistency is obvious in Holding's methodology. There is no rhyme or reason why we should take John 12:32 quite literally and why we should not do so here.


Psalms 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

This verse offers a standard Ancient Near Eastern exaggeration for the purpose of expressing a point: That we're sinners and we express it from even the youngest age; in this case, David expressing the utter depth of his own sin, in light of events with Bathsheba. While I in no way mean to imply that our sin is not serious or extensive, it is no more legitimate for the Calvinist to use this verse as they do than it is for the Skeptics (who make the same arguments using it), and the verse in no way says that we can't make a right choice.

The comments here are quite obscure. I am not clear what Holding is arguing this text means. Is this a denial of original sin? Is Holding a full-blown Pelagianist? It is hard to say based on these comments. David is not exaggerating his sin to express a point. He is uttering a divinely revealed truth: he was born in iniquity. Before he was even out of his mother’s womb, he was a sinner. Moreover, Calvinism does not contend that we cannot make a relatively right choice. It contends we cannot make right choices as God sees right choices. Our choices, while unregenerate, always contain an element of idolatry and self-worship in one way or another. Our righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God. What is Holding saying here? It is not clear. This interpretation is another product of social-science criticism. This method has a very strong tendency to ignore the divine nature of Scripture and impose on the writers of the text the same rules one would impose on every other text. The Scriptures are not like every other text. The Scriptures are God revealing Himself to mankind with the goal of transforming the lives of men who read the divine revelation that is Scripture. Holding fails to account for this fact repeatedly.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
As we know, Jeremiah is known for his hyperbole for the sake of emphasis, as is quite the norm in an oral culture; moreover, this verse has the structure of a proverbial saying and should therefore be read in that light. It cannot carry the absolute sense that a Calvinistic argument requires. (This also applies to two other verses from Jeremiah that have been used [Jer. 4:22, 13:23].)
Once again, Holding displays his hermeneutics of convenience to argue that we are not all that bad. The heart really isn’t deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked! Jeremiah is merely using hyperbole. This verse is not a proverb and should not be read as such. It is in the middle of a prophetic utterance.
Feinberg comments, "In OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will. Notice the connection between "heart" and "deeds" in vv.9-10. Some think v.9 is a personal confession of the depths of Jeremiah's heart (so Cundall); others refer the text to Jehoiakim or Zedekiah. Actually, the passage best fits all humanity. The human heart is desperately corrupt and, humanly speaking, incurable...Who can plumb the depths of the heart's corruption and sickness? Even its owner does not know it." [Feinberg, Charles. TEBC w/NIV. 486]
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Palmer [Palm.5P, 17] points to this verse and argues:

A baby never desires or decides to be born. He never contributes an iota to his own birth. In the whole process from conception through birth, he is completely passive and totally unable to control his birth. In a similar fashion, the unbeliever cannot take one step toward his rebirth.

Though this relates to the "U" aspect of TULIP as well as "T", let's consider it now. I asked here at one point whether Palmer is getting his biological facts straight; I have never understood that a baby is a totally passive bystander in the birth process, but rather, does a little struggling of its own instinctually, which would rather reduce the impact of Palmer's analogy, since no one thinks instincts have anything to do with conversion.

As it turns out, a science-minded reader has told me that, indeed, Palmer is wrong: A baby even determines when it will be born, for it secretes a hormone that induces labor.

But I rather think the analogy Palmer draws is stretched anyway. The metaphor of new birth is appropriate; how else would the idea of a new creation be better expressed? In order for this argument to work, Palmer has to show that there was no better analogy available which would have illustrated both a new creation and a active choice behind the matter. Otherwise, he is simply stretching the analogy for his own purposes -- and we may next ask questions like, "What is conception analogous to?"


I have to admit that I laughed out loud when I read these comments. These have to be some of the most incredible comments I have ever read. A baby secretes a hormone that causes labor to begin. So this secreting of the hormone is an act of the will? The baby actually cogitates that it is now time for me to leave this place and enter the world. Let’s see, where did I leave that packet of hormone I was given a while back? Really? Can anyone take such a statement seriously?

I am curious as to what exactly is a “science-minded” reader? If this person were a scientist, I am sure Holding would parade his credentials around for all to see. We are left wondering what a "scientific-minded" reader is. My guess is that a “science-minded” reader is someone who is curious about science and that is about the extent of it. In that case, I would be inclined to say that many of us are “science-minded” readers. I know I am. Dr. Craig Bissinger, a Gynecologist admits that they are still not certain what actually triggers labor. Science is nowhere close to reaching a consensus on what really triggers labor. One thing seems abundantly clear: it is not the will of the baby that actually triggers labor and to infer that it is seems to me to be quite ridiculous. Even if it were true that the baby secretes a hormone to begin the process, that is not at all an active role in the birth process. The release of the hormone is outside the infants control. Moreover, if one really wanted to use Holding's analogy, they would have to say that the born again experience is in deed initiated by man and he only needs to doctor's help completing the birth process. Is that biblical soteriology? I would submit that such an analogy is the equivalent of full-blown pelagianism.

By now it is painstakingly obvious that whatever view J.P. Holding has regarding total depravity, it is not the view shared by the reformed community. We conclude our views of J.P. Holding's views on depravity in our next blog. Holding says he is going to write a book about Calvinism. That is exactly what we need: one more person who does not understand Calivinism writing about why something they don't understand is wrong.

"We more frequently require to be reminded of the obvious than informed."
-Samuel Johnson

"We need education in the obvious more than the investigation of the obscure."

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