Saturday, December 3, 2011

Irresistible Grace and J.P. Holding


J.P. Holding of Tekton Apologetics has shared his views on Calvinism here. This blog deals with Holding’s treatment of irresistible grace. Holding contends that irresistible grace is out of accord with Scripture. In his attempt to dispense with irresistible grace, Holding leans heavily on social science criticism to redefine words like “faith,” and “grace.” My response concerns the legitimacy of Holding’s use of social science criticism to radically alter such fundamental concepts as mercy and grace. Holding implies that salvation can be synergistic without it leading to works-based salvation. But that is not quite the point. The contention of orthodoxy is that there is nothing in man, his will, or his action that serves as the final determinant of his salvation. If there is, then man can take credit and boast. That is the main point. Holding asserts that simply to receive something is not the equivalent of a works-based soteriology.

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, (Rom. 8:30, Rom. 11:7, Eph. 1:10–11) by His word and Spirit, (2 Thess. 2:13–14, 2 Cor. 3:3,6) out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; (Rom. 8:2, Eph. 2:1–5, 2 Tim. 1:9–10) enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, (Acts 26:18, 1 Cor. 2:10,12, Eph. 1:17–18) taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; (Ezek. 36:26) renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, (Ezek. 11:19, Phil. 2:13, Deut. 30:6, Ezek. 36:27) and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: (Eph. 1:19, John 6:44–45) yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (Cant. 1:4, Ps. 110:3, John 6:37, Rom. 6:16–18)
So says the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.
So says the Canons of Dordt. [III & IV. 14]

Why are some men saved and others not? The answer is either something within man or something external to man. Now, Holding will say that is a false dichotomy. He will say God brings the forces to bear and man responds. To which I will answer that if God brings those forces to bear equally on all men, then the answer remains that the difference is located in the man, not external to the man. This is a logical necessity. Holding fails to interact with this question in his treatment of efficacious grace and it is this question more than any other that the doctrine seeks to address. The question could be shortened to: Why is anyone actually saved as opposed to no one?

A Word about Social Science Criticism

First of all, the manner in which Holding parades social science criticism around as a silver bullet is unwarranted. Holding, as far as I know, portraits himself as evangelical, believing in the inspiration of Scripture and the miraculous nature of the Christian religion. The model known as social science criticism denies both of these, contending that the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration are the products of man. It comes as no surprise then that the interpretive model of social science criticism treats the Scripture as the product of man, rather than God. In addition, the model seeks to explain the rise, spread, and success of Christianity by sociological rather than spiritual means. Almost all evangelicals would agree that while socio-critical methods to biblical interpretation offer value, it is better to view such as interdisciplinary tools rather than authoritative models. To elevate the method to the level of exemplar or model is a critical mistake. It seems to me that Holding wants to elevate this critical method to the level of a model while saying that he does nothing of the sort. Yet, in his critique of irresistible grace, it is obvious to all that he repeatedly calls on socio-critical theories to prop up his view.

In a previous exchange, I charged SSC with a tendency toward Marxism. Holding took great offense to this charge, which, quite honestly, I anticipated. V. Philips Long comments about SSC, saying, “Many (though certainly not all) social scientific treatments of biblical issues are explicitly or implicitly Marxist in perspective, and this inevitably influences the way in which the actions of past individuals, and the texts that report them, are assessed.” [Long, V. Philip. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, 368] A survey of the comments and theories of SSC, it seems obvious even to the untrained eye in my opinion that Marxist philosophy is present in many of its adherents.

The theory that individual conscience did not exist in Mediterranean cultures seems at best to be an overstatement. After all, man was an individual long before he was part of a group. It is hard to see how his individual conscience would have been engulfed by the group to the point that it had been squeezed out of existence. Moreover, the group depends on the individual for its existence rather than vice versa. Group mentality requires individual mentality for its existence. How can I sense shame or think it right to pursue honor unless the group has instilled such thinking into my individual conscience? It is one thing to say that emphasis in one culture is on the group and less the individual. It is entirely another matter to postulate the extreme idea that certain cultures are completely unacquainted with the process of introspection. God commanded the Hebrews to teach their children the Torah, to keep it, to meditate on it, to memorize it, etc. This is impossible outside some sort of framework of individual conscience. This is precisely the kind of nonsense we see in some of the radical conclusions of SSC.

There are cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies that existed in the Greco-Roman world of the NT that we are better off understanding. However, to contend that somehow, the SSC scholars have found a way to avoid their own projections and biases in creating the SSC model is simply naïve. Bengt Holmberg comments on the problem of the individual in SSC,
“The tendency of modern sociological theory is to minimize the part played by cognitive interests in social actions, such as generating and sustaining religious commitments. The religious viewpoint of the actors is registered but not accorded any validity or effect, which is reserved for social factors (level of education, family background, relative deprivation, etc.). Thus the implicit claim of the sociologists is that they understand the basis of religious belief and action better than religious people do.” [Holmberg, Sociology, 147-148]
 “What we don’t know and can’t find out far exceeds the valuable information available to us; consequently, we must always make modest and realistic claims for any of our historical-cultural reconstructions.” [Klein, Bloomberg, Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 175]

Social Science Criticism insists that the bible is merely a product of the human mind and as such cannot be understood apart from a knowledge of socio-scientific processes. Holding implies as much when he belittles men like Calvin and Augustine for their lack of sociological acumen. Moses Silva comments,

“To my mind, the differences between modern Western (especially American) culture and first-century Mediterranean society are often exaggerated. Many of the examples used to prove the distinctiveness of ancient culture – such as the use of proverbs or the tendency to stereotype – can be found on any street corner in the United States today. Similarly, the assumption that there is far greater continuity between the ancient world and twentieth-century Mediterranean culture than there is between the latter and Western society needs to be proven.” [Silva, Moses. Interpreting Galatians. 111]

A couple of quick examples will suffice to demosntrate my point. In the “Handbook of Biblical Social Values,” B. J. Malina refers to the God’s elect as “his arbitrarily chosen client.” He also refers to the favor demonstrated by the patron toward clients as always “a donation-with-strings-attached.” Now it is easy to think this way because the genuine Christian has a duty to live out life in a certain way. But this is not the same as saying that the grace of God comes with strings attached. What strings? Faith conferred produces the fruit it is naturally intended to produce. Christians do not see their service to God as repayment for a favor received. Rather, Christian service and duty are out of a love and devotion to Christ that results from regeneration.

Holding, in my opinion commits the fallacy of selective and prejudicial use of evidence in his definitions of grace and faith. He only appeals to those sections that seem to support his thesis regarding these words. More about that in part II of this subject.

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