Monday, December 5, 2011

Irresistible Grace and J.P. Holding - Part II


Grace

Holding says that good behavior is an expected result of grace and not required for it. The implication is, of course, Greco-Roman culture’s client-patron relationship serves as the basis for how NT Christians understood God’s miraculous work of salvation in the hearts of men. Not only does Holding fail to prove this is the right model for understanding the God-man relationship, he fails to show how cultural norms serve as theological imperatives in the NT. Frist, it does not follow that men absolutely and always responded to the patron with good behavior. The dance was sometimes cut short. The description of those who reject God makes this plain. Paul says men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, etc. (II Tim. 3:2-3) Paul says men will be acharistos. Jesus uses this word to describe God’s kindness toward acharistos men. The word means a complete lack of thankfulness. Secondly, Jesus this word to describe the general condition of all men in Luke 6:35 when He says that God is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

Holding, under the spell of social science criticism once more, says, there is no such thing as an isolated act of grace. Yet Jesus changes the client-patron game in this sense as well when he says to His followers, I want you to do it differently. First, love your enemies. Second, continually do good deeds. Third, lend to those who ask expecting nothing in return. Jesus added to this that God is kind toward ungrateful and evil men, implying that we should do the same. Holding apparently presses the client-patron model too far.

Holding then comments that gratitude is always the right response toward the patron-- these were courses of action to be avoided by an honorable person at all costs. Of course they were. No one disputes that. And for efficacious grace, this is absolutely the case. What Holding fails to recognize is that it is God that makes the unregenerate person honorable, and therefore, always responding with gratitude. There are parallels in the client-patron relationship that can enrich our understanding of the NT audience when they heard these new teachings and that is beyond dispute. However, Holding continually presses this model into service in a most radical way and the result is disastrous.

Holding now brings it home for us. From these insights it is clear that the paradigm of prevenient grace fits much better what the ancients would have understood to be the nature of the relationship between God and man. God gives grace; man responds -- if favorably, more grace is bestowed; if unfavorably, less is received. And this is precisely the point of the Calvinist. The ancients could not understand the relationship between God and man on his own. Holding’s bent toward natural theology and the influence of the Enlightenment in his writings is glaring. Scripture repeatedly says the truth that Jesus is revealing has been hid from most. Men are described as ignorant, without understanding, blind, and worthless. The client-patron relationship may add some insight into how the audience would have thought and perhaps it provides us with some details that help us better explain the text in some cases, yet it does not, as Holding attempts to do, turn the doctrine of efficacious grace on its head in any sense whatsoever.

Holding says, And therefore, Sproul's observation that "if grace is obligated it no longer becomes grace" becomes essentially of no relevance once we are beyond the first round of "gracing". The question of whether regeneration precedes faith would be answered, "Yes, it does, and faith is followed by more regeneration if accepted; then by more faith, and on it goes." And oddly enough, this is the picture we have always been given of sanctification in the life of the believer. Grace enacted creates obligation and initiates a relationship of mutual obligation.

Once more, in his grand conclusion on grace Holding demonstrates that he clearly does not understand how to use social science criticism in enriching his understanding of the text. He begs the question rather than contradicting it when he says that Sproul’s objection is of no relevance after initial “gracing.” Gracing? The whole point is what happens from the start to begin with! Holding glosses over it. He never addresses it. If regeneration precedes faith, as Holding admits it does, then he has relented to efficacious or irresistible grace! Perhaps he does not realize that irresistible grace is the view that regeneration precedes faith! If he is going to write about Calvinism and refute certain points, he should realize this and not to do so is inexcusable. Secondly, Holding’s final comments on regeneration are terribly confusing. He says that “faith is followed by more regeneration if accepted.” Regeneration is not progressive sanctification. The relationship between regeneration and faith is interesting indeed. Faith is the natural and immediate result of becoming regenerated. It serves as proof of genuine regeneration and shows itself in immediate conversion. Conversion is followed by good works which indicate outwardly that one’s faith is genuine over time. Holding seems to have confused progressive sanctification with regeneration. The concept of “more regeneration” is not a biblical one and one that I have never heard of before. I am uncertain where it comes from. Regeneration is the new birth. It is the miracle of being born again and this happens one time and one time only. From there we grow in our knowledge, and understanding, and faith, and sanctification.

Faith

Holding then begins to focus on revamping the definition of faith, saying, A key question is what "that" refers to -- what is the gift of God? Just grace? Or grace and faith? Calvinists conclude that "that" refers to both items, grace and faith, and there is nothing wrong with that grammatically (it is one option, not the only one), but in terms of the client-patron relationship, it simply doesn't wash. A patron gave a client grace; the patron did not give the client faith. Faith was the client's response to the patron's grace -- or, it referred to the "fidelity" and trust held by the client in his patrons.

In referring to Eph. 2:8-10, Holding challenges the view that both grace and faith are the antecedent of “touto” and therefore may not be viewed as the gift of God that Paul references. He says that grammatically, that is one option, but not the only one. What is the other option? He does not tell us. It would seem to me that if Holding is going to demonstrate why this particular way of understanding the text is wrong, he would spend some time showing us, exegetically of course, why that is so. Apparently he does not think exegesis is that critical to refuting the traditional view.

Once again, Holding returns to the magic of social science interpretation to enlighten us. He says that faith was the client’s response to the patron’s grace! Then he begs the question: he says the patron did not give the client faith. Yet again, Holding assumes the client must have had faith prior to the gift of grace. He does not show us how the client-patron model demonstrates this. He just assumes it.

Holding rightly anticipates direct refutation, One other verse pointed to in this regard is Phil. 1:29, which says "it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake..." "Believe" is the same Greek word used to refer to faith; hence faith is "given" or granted to us. But in the client-patron context, what would be granted to us is faith in the sense of depending on God, our patron.

Holding does not even make it through his diatribe against efficacious grace without violently contradicting himself. In his comments on Eph. 2:8-10 he argues that faith is not given by the patron, it is the client’s response to grace. But here he admits that faith is in fact given by God. But then he wants to provide us with more social science magic and define faith differently in this text. According to Holding’s holy grail of biblical interpretation, social science criticism, faith refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. The words bond, commitment, and loyalty are good ones when it comes to describing faith. From an impersonal perspective, it is the acknowledgement of the reliability of what one believes in, hence, the assent to something or to something somebody says. In sum, faith primarily means personal loyalty, personal commitment to another person, fidelity and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness. [Malina, Bruce J. Handbook of Biblical Social Values. 72-75]

Note that Holding’s contrasting conjunction “but” is never followed with an argument for why Paul has in mind “this” kind of faith as opposed to “that” kind of faith mentioned in Eph. 2:8-10. The theological bias with which Holding strong-arms the biblical text seems obvious at this point.

Eph. 2:8-10 is unambiguous in its teaching that salvation is not synergistic in any sense. Holding focuses on the wrong thing when he tries to say that the demonstrative pronoun does not refer to the faith and grace that precede it. There are two other phrases that serve to drive Paul’s point home. The first one is οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν which is “not from yourselves.” The contrast of grace and faith is with the phrase “not from yourselves.” However, Holding’s definition of faith would certainly make it internal to the unbeliever. Hence it would be from us. We decided to believe or respond in faith. That is from ourselves. Holding’s view fails miserably to treat this text with sound exegesis. The second phrase has the identical construction: οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων which means not from works. One can only conclude that salvation comes not as a result of anything in us or  anything we do! It is not me nor my actions, but God’s work. Paul follows these points with the epexegetical, “for.” For we are His workmanship! What we are in Christ we are by God’s work, not because of who we are or anything we did. Holding misses this entirely. Now, Holding says there is a response component in the client-patron relationship and this is true. Without pushing it too far, we can understand that there is also a response on our part to God’s gift of faith and grace! There is a response to God’s saving act! What is it? Paul tells us in v. 10. He says that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them! That is the client’s response to the work of salvation extended to us by the divine patron, God!

Holding then comments, Neither Calvin nor Arminius, as far as may be seen, knew anything of Hebrew block logic or of client-patron relationships, which look to be essential keys to understanding important texts in this debate.

First and foremost, I have shown in this blog as well as previous ones that Hebrew block logic and social science criticism are not silver bullets in the interpretive process of Scripture. Holding has continually raised such methods to the most lofty of positions, and that, without proper justification. He refuses to acknowledge the fact that scholars are not in agreement on the so-called science in the model, not to mention there seems to be very little humility in how he uses the tools. Is there any value in SSC? Of course there is some value. I have admitted this repeatedly. It can deepen and enrich our understanding of certain issues addressed by NT writers. Nonetheless, it cannot nor should it serve to replace the rock that is grammatico-historical hermeneutics. It serves as a complementary tool at best. Secondly, Holding has apparently adopted the postmodern approach to tradition, much like the emergent church in that he seems willing and ready to dismiss theologians like Calvin, Luther, and Augustine because they are old and antiquated now. That is very unfortunate.

Conclusion

Holding fails to provide any exegetical evidence from Eph. 2:8-10 to overturn the reformed teaching of irresistible grace. He appeals to social science criticism in an attempt to force the client-patron model onto biblical hermeneutics. Moreover, that model fails to show how Holding’s view coheres with the biblical evidence. SSC does not help him in this case. Holding fails to do justice to Paul’s proposition in Eph. 2:8-10. He leaves out important clauses in his treatment of that text. In addition, Holding contradicts himself when he introduces Phil. 1:29, perhaps anticipating refutation. His handling of that text demonstrates more theological bias on his part. He simply says faith means something different here than it does in Eph. 2. Holding never refers to the Westminster Confession or the Canons of Dordt in his explanation of irresistible grace. Holding’s explanation does not call on the lexical evidence, fails to treat the numerous other passages that teach what Holding denies, and he refuses to engage theological material readily available on the matter.

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