Jonathan Edwards on the “necessity” of the divine decree

Our acts are free, though triggered by intentions that are caused according to God’s sovereign determination of the relationship between prior states of affairs and our intentions to act. Moreover, we approve of our intentions that cannot be other than what they will be.

Like us, God approves of his intentions and cannot act contrary to them. Yet, unlike us, God is most free, at least because his acts proceed from intentions that are not the effect of preceding states of affairs. So, unlike us, God is ultimate sourcehood and can do anything he can possibly desire.

There is no time in eternity, but even if time were uncreated, there could not have been enough time to have sequentially chosen a decree according to an intention that was chosen according to a previous intention ad infinitum. No, the divine intention is eternal, and a chosen intention is unintelligible.

Unsatisfactory objections with no solution:

With respect to Richard Muller and others, the world from an Edwardsian perspective is not (from itself) necessary but given the eternal decree, it is not narrowly-logically necessary but causally necessary being secured by the divine intention. Notwithstanding, creation itself isn’t essential to God, for creation is not a property of God, and God existed without creation. Should we find it strange that God cannot exist without some eternal intention to create or not create? Can God have no intention, even an intention not to have an intention? Surely God must exist with an intention he never did not have. That’s just built into God being God! Notwithstanding, that which God’s free intention contemplates is not a cause that acts upon God or his intention.

Room for freedom:

In conditional (Classical Compatible) terms, God could have not created this world had he so willed. Or, rather than contemplate hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past, we might contemplate a different future that would entail a different past: Had God not created, he would have intended not to create. Either way, God’s intentions and acts are most free and agreeable to God according to a “mesh” of undivided will.

What’s the alternative, (i) a non-eternal intention? (ii) An eternally chosen contingent-intention (according to an eternally chosen or unchosen intention)? (iii) An eternal yet metaphysically contingent intention? But how does (iii) not make not just creation but also God’s eternal will contingent, which is bound to lead back to (ii).

Impassibility of the contrary?

If nothing outside God acts upon God resulting in an intention to create, then God’s ultimate freedom to create is intact. That said, what’s the problem with Edwards on the necessity of the divine decree? What does the charge against Edwards even mean, that God is not most free unless another eternal intention could have been formed in God contrary to the eternal intention God eternally approved of for himself? Again, what’s the alternative to such freedom? If libertarian freedom is a philosophical surd, then how can God be libertarian free and not free in an Edwardsian sense?

As we teach our children, God can do all his holy will. (WSC 13)

Orthodox Presbyterian Church 88th General Assembly at Eastern University

I’m a bit surprised that some OPC Pastors and Ruling Elders are eager to maintain that the OPC did not prematurely acknowledge guilt at their 88th General Assembly.

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“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”

OPC Statement

An example of denying what was purported:

The disgust expressed was at the sin reported. The most serious allegation involved a heinous expression of racial contempt and disgust. We wished to express disgust at the mere mention of such a sin. We never said that we committed it and we never intended to stop investigating it, whatever the university did (I will not publicly criticize them in this matter). We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves and I believe that’s what we endeavored to do.

A prominent OPC man. (Bold emphasis mine.)

It’s one thing to be wise yet quite another thing to be crafty.

I’ll try to clear up some confusion surrounding the OPC’s premature acknowledgment of guilt, hopefully establishing, contrary to the thinking of a growing number, that (i) the acknowledgment of guilt did not pertain merely to the mention of the abstract possibility of sin having occurred, and (ii) these “reported” incidents were actually acknowledged as true, just as they were reported.

First, when behaving rationally, we don’t communicate “grief, sorrow, and disgust” over the mere possibility of incidents. No, we lament over incidents we have already judged true. After all, it is always possible that such incidents occur. Therefore, mere abstract possibility is never sufficient to articulate such feelings, at least when thinking clearly.

Imagine an accusation of murder or adultery against a loved one. I would not (nor could I!) emote “grief, sorrow and disgust” over such an accusation unless I thought it was actually true. What triggers a package of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” is not abstract possibility but cognitive conviction that certain supposed incidents reflect concrete realities. Actual lament presupposes actual acts, unless, of course, the lament (and communication of lament) is disingenuous.

A second point of confusion among several is in thinking that if “grief, sorrow, and disgust” are according to “reported” incidents, then “guilt…” could not have hastily been prejudged as true (on the basis of the incidents having been merely reported incidents). Well, whenever guilt is acknowledged, it is always according to a report (or testimony) of some sort having to do with past alleged incident(s). Consequently, it’s a downright matter of special pleading to suggest that reported incidents, even if not yet thoroughly investigated, cannot possibly be prematurely judged. After all, hasty verdicts are commonplace, not just in the world but sadly in the church too. Moreover, further investigation can occur even after a matter is prejudged, especially when cooler heads eventually prevail.

Again, the OPC’s statement:

The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”

The fact of the matter is, the incidents were unambiguously acknowledged as true, hence the measured communication of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” over the reported incidents. Secondly, that the report was not thoroughly investigated does not imply that the OPC withheld judgment, or that the report was not prematurely acknowledged as true and guilt informally rendered. Rather, the carefully worded statement supports the fact that the report was indeed received as true, hence lament, yet without proper procedure in confirming the report’s truthfulness.

Confessional issues:

Borrowing heavily from the Westminster Larger Catechism, which OPC church officers have vowed to uphold, I submit that the premature acknowledgment of guilt was not promoting truth among men; nor speaking truth and only truth in matters of judgment. We are to strive for charitable esteem of our neighbors (even if they’re in the OPC!), and have an unwillingness to admit an evil report concerning them. In short, the statement passed unjust sentence – for even if the accusations are true, there was no basis to have received them as such.

To express “grief, sorrow and disgust” over sin that was reported while in the same breath saying the OPC was not admitting guilt that sin was actually committed is at best equivocal. I’ll merely say to that, the OPC’s standards also speak about equivocal language in light of the Ninth Commandment.

Final thoughts:

It would be egregious if the OPC offered a disingenuous apology in order not to be kicked out of Eastern. Yet some I’ve spoken with believe the motive to continue the GA may have been sufficient cause to give Eastern what they were perceived to have wanted yet without proof. But if the statement was not an intentional admission of guilt, then was it intended to mislead Eastern into thinking guilt was being acknowledged when it wasn’t? If not, then how did intelligent men carefully craft a calculated statement that communicated guilt without intending to do so?

In the final analysis, assuming I am to take the statement according to the plain meaning of words, the OPC seems to have cracked under pressure by formulating and approving such a statement that communicated guilt prematurely. Yet if it was not their intention to acknowledge guilt, then two unhappy alternatives are left – either willful deception or incomprehensible incompetence.

It’s unclear why the OPC offered a premature apology that is now not just being contested by some as a mistake but actually being denied as being the admission of guilt that it is! However, what is abundantly clear is that the OPC needs to come clean on a few things, including not correcting a leader’s misuse of Jesus’ words:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

What do Elf and Certain NAPARC Churches Have In Common? (A parody too close to home.)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is to be updated this fall for the “Totally Reformed” who actually believe in the appointment and engagement of Sessions, regional Presbyteries and General Assemblies to govern the church, even in cases alleging abuse.

This minority of churches, now called TR churches for short, are going to add one more question to the Shorter, making the child’s catechism a total of 108 questions. One TR pastor from Holland Michigan noted, “Although we realize it’s going to put additional strain on children memorizing the catechism and on homeschool moms and dads, we think it’s best for our children’s future.” It’s the hope of many that for Q&A #108 the OPC’s very own Tom Tyson might provide stick-figure illustrations of both Shorty and the team at the GRACE organization, which is representative of other abuse prevent organizations that function as provisional Presbyteries when called upon by the church at large.

The 2022 amendment to the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q 108: What does the movie Elf have in common with a growing number of NAPARC churches in 2020 through 2022?

A 108: The eagerness to abdicate responsibility.

An uncanny analogy:

Session: Okay, picture this: We bring in Miles Finch.

Pastor: The Miles Finch?

Session: The golden ghost. We bring him in. He’s written more classics than Dr. Seuss. It ain’t gonna be easy, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Pastor: My two top writers, my crack team, my fun squad… you came in here pitching me the idea of hiring another writer?

Session: Yeah, Miles Finch.

Pastor: I like it.

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Miles Finch, Consultant

Let’s now get serious with some food for thought. If an abuse prevent organization is staffed by OPC Elders, would the organization be ill-qualified to investigate an OPC church? If not, then why abdicate outside the denomination? If yes, then what qualifies one to serve in such spiritual matters?

NAPARC Infidelity

This is a follow-up post to Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility.

It’s staggering to consider how far a preponderance of NAPARC churches have drifted from Reformed confessional theology. If the shepherds won’t protect the sheep, the sheep better get better at protecting themselves.

Today’s obsession with egalitarianism, critical theories, and medieval philosophy by “historians” posing as philosophical theologians is more a result of confessional infidelity than a reason for it. In other words, when confessional theology doesn’t grab you, something else will. Something must fill the void. Like a vortex – enter Thomasts, Davenant Institute, Aimee Byrd, Diane Langberg and others. You can almost hear the sucking sound.

Unwittingly and to their surprise, the new breed of moderates are working on the same side of evangelicalism, the New Life church movement and other thin complementarians who are together dumbing down, diluting and denying the confessional faith and practice of NAPARC. “Really, Ron?” Well, you tell me. For instance, is today’s gospel more about healing broken relationships and making the abused whole, or is it more about vicarious penal substitution that exhausts the unmixed wrath of God so that sinners might find forgiveness and righteousness in Christ? How can we find so much in the text of Scripture that’s not actually in the text of Scripture, yet we can’t seem to find, or at least make application from, the cross of Christ? Is it because culture and social media is framing ministry rather than Word and Spirit working in and through broken vessels? Are church leaders leading the sheep or responding to felt needs and critical theories with a new social gospel? If shepherds are indeed shepherding, then ask yourself two questions – with what and toward what?

In no particular order, below are some of the more significant theological departures from NAPARC ordained servants. But first, as I stated in my previous post:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows… If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy.

Knowing full well that most congregants aren’t theological, let alone passionately so, I offer the following for prayerful reflection.

* By denying theological determinism, one loses claim on the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) God’s eternal decree; (ii) God’s aseity; (iii) God’s exhaustive omniscience; and that (iv) God is most free and absolute. That’s the theological implication of not internalizing and embracing WCF 3.2. Now that needs to be internalized!

* By denying the regulative principle of worship, one betrays the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) upholding Christian liberty of conscience, (ii) maintaining wine at the Lord’s Supper, and (iii) forbidding women to pray and read Scripture during congregational worship services. (WCF 20:2, 21:3,5; 29:5; WLC 109)

* In cases of divorce, by not rendering ecclesiastical verdicts, including censuring the guilty and vindicating the innocent, no-fault divorce is condoned, which denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is not a matter of private judgement but requires public and orderly proceedings. It also denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is only lawful for adultery and willful desertion that is beyond the remedy of church and state. (WCF 24:6; 30:2)

* By affirming contemporary 2 Kingdom theology, the Reformed position on Christ’s kingly reign over all creation including all civil magistrates is denied. (WCF 19.4; WLC 108)

* By not “fencing the Table” from non-communing members of evangelical churches, the Reformed doctrine of the visible church is denied. (WCF 25:2,3; 26:2)

* By intimating that children of professing believers actually join the church upon profession of faith is to deny the Reformed doctrine of the visible church. (WCF 25:2; 28:1)

* By not disciplining delinquent church members who depart and don’t in due time join another evangelical church, the doctrine of the visible church is violated. Also, the solemnity of lawful oaths and vows are compromised. (WCF 22:3,5; 25:2)

* By condoning movies, books or nativities with images of Jesus, the Reformed teaching on the Second Commandment is denied. (WLC 109)

* By condoning going to restaurants on Sunday, even under pretense of unbelievers being permitted to work on Sunday, the Reformed teaching on the Fourth Commandment is denied. (WLC 99, 117)

Again, these departures do not bother the average congregant. But neither did they bother those who remained in the pews of the now apostate PCUSA, a denomination with less outward pomp and glory than Roman Catholicism, yet a synagogue of Satan just like her.

Are these seeds of apostasy or a just musings of a pedantic blogger?

Dr. James Anderson Dismantles Opposition to Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological Determinism and Christ’s Kingly Reign Over All

It’s never pleasurable to read (i) caricatures, (ii) misunderstandings, (iii) reckless treatment of opposing views and (iv) badly formulated arguments – especially by other Christians. It is pleasurable, however, given such grave misfortune, to read precise interaction with such positions.

One wonderful thing about James’s work is his points of disagreement are always precisely articulated. (My prayer is that people will engage and if warranted change their views. I’ve never known James to bite or gloat.)

James interacts here with Davenant Institute’s attempt to interact with Pesuppositional Aplogetics.

James interacts here with J.V. Fesko’s attempt at Reforming Apologetics.

James interacts here with Richard Muller’s attempt to unhitch the Reformed tradition from theological determinism and its compatibilism implications.

James interacts here with David VanDrunen’s attempt to make sense of a 2K paradigm.


The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility

If you’re not grieved by the infidelity of the church, then with this post you’ll find little relevance.

Churches don’t become apostate overnight. Apostasy begins with elders having a faith and practice that is contrary to their confessional standards.

Within the confessional pale, elders don’t typically deny their ordination vows overtly. It’s rare that an elder takes the initiative of disclosing conscious theological shifts in faith and practice since the assumption of his ordination vows. A contributing factor to the rarity of such truthful disclosure is the pervasive practice of ordaining unqualified men to the office of elder.

Apropos, if an elder doesn’t internalize what he vows to uphold, how can he state any differences – if not now, then later? Can a man announce a change in conviction without first having conviction? Can a man contend for that which he is so unfamiliar? If a man cannot teach his Confession, how can it be discerned by himself or others whether he truly grasps it? How many elders are apt to teach their Confession? Which is not to ask whether one is capable of uncritically parroting A.A. Hodge or G.I. Williamson on the Confession, which too can be rare.

The deception of self and others entailed by not considering the weightiness of entering into ordination vows soberly and fearfully cannot but end in sin, including full blown apostasy lest God grants repentance. Consider, did the apostate overseers in the PCUSA fall away from truth embraced, or is it more likely they never cherished the truth they vowed to have received and adopted? Congregant beware. Mere casual acquaintance with a church’s Confession has no place among ordained servants. Yet can one truthfully maintain that’s not where much of the Reformed church finds herself today? How do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

There are innumerable understandings, teachings and practices within “confessional” NAPARC churches that constitute not just stated differences but outright exceptions to the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Yet too often the elders who approve, teach, and practice such things say they don’t take exceptions to the Standards. Such ordained men, at best, are guilty of denying their vows in ignorance rather than knowingly – until such time they’re confronted for the first time with their confessional ignorance and infidelity. Then, the lesser violation gives way to greater, lest God grants a change of heart. Again, consider for instance the PCUSA. Consider from whence we came, including the need for the Protestant Reformation. When doctrinal exceptions are intentional, there’s usually a self-ascribing of nobility from elders who seek to liberate themselves and the oppressed from the bondage of passé dogma that has in their estimation fulfilled its purpose. Neither Confession nor conscience walls in such crusaders. That’s why congregants need eyes to see and ears to hear.

A charge to congregants:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows. In other words, if the average congregant’s lament isn’t with a particular teaching or practice from within that opposes the church’s stated doctrinal standards, shouldn’t their grievance at least be with the integrity of the shepherds who deny what they vowed before God to uphold? If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

This is not to shift blame from pulpit to pew, but it is the foolish congregant who does not care whether her overseers uphold confessional doctrine that she is indifferent to or even opposes. We’re no longer talking merely about an elder’s doctrinal convictions but instead the caliber of his Christian character. It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy. It’s a fair question to ask whether the average layperson has become more concerned with constitutional representation from our civil leaders than confessional fidelity from our spiritual ones. Again, what’s the congregant’s role in any of this anyway?

In this one respect, the Reformed church resembles Romanism. Not to know what your overseers are to believe and teach is to follow glibly after both nothing and anything. As the old adage goes, if you don’t stand for something eventually you’ll fall for everything.

Did the PCUSA become the harlot she now is without first flirting with doctrinal infidelity? Again, how do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

Be in prayer for the forthcoming NAPARC General Assemblies. Pray for your elders, and perhaps pray most earnestly for yourselves to discern according to your gifts of understanding and respective places of calling.

Impeccability of Christ & Broadly Logical Modality

The Sproulian view of the peccability of Christ ends in either in an abstraction of the human nature from the second Person or else it attributes human personhood to the Son. Either way the denial of the impeccability of Christ implicitly, yet unwittingly, denies Chalcedon. (At the 21 minute mark I interact with Sproul, though I don’t get into modality in the Sunday school class.)

It’s really as simple as modus tollens.

1. If it is possible that Jesus could sin, then it is possible that God could sin.

2. It is false that it is possible that God could sin.

3. Therefore, it is false that it is possible that Jesus could sin.

Given the validity of the form of the argument, which premise (1 or 2) is disputed by those who’d deny Christ’s impeccability? It’s hard to say given that the focus is typically on the possible sin of Christ’s humanity, and not on the possible sin of Christ in his humanity. Notwithstanding, in order to deny impeccability one must affirm that it’s possible for the Son to sin. Otherwise the debate is misunderstood.

Possible world semantics are also useful here. Consider, is there a possible world in which the incarnate Son of God sins? (The answer to the question is kind of built into the definition of God, but I won’t get ahead of myself.)

Modality considerations:

We would do well to distinguish (a) narrow or strict logical possibility from (b) broad logical possibility or metaphysical possibility. One might say that “God sins” is logically possible in a strict sense because the proposition does not immediately entail a logical contradiction. But that would not imply that it is broadly logically possible, metaphysically speaking, for God to sin.

An analogy might be useful here. A state of matter cannot be solid and not solid at the same time and in the same way. To affirm the contrary would entail logical impossibility in a strict sense, as it would violate the law of non-contradiction in an immediate inferential sense. (It’s critical to grasp at this point that one needn’t know what solid, gaseous, liquid and plasma states entail for it to be known that such a phase of matter (a form that is both solid and not solid…) is a strict (or narrow) logical impossibility. The logical contradiction in view is formal and according to the law of non-contradiction (aside from any semantic considerations). It merely pertains to: something cannot be x and ~x…

However, it would not immediately entail a logical contradiction for a phase to be simultaneously solid and gaseous; yet how is such a state of being relevantly possible? Well, it’s not. It can’t be actualized. We might say that such a form of matter is not strictly (or narrowly logically) impossible, but that’s merely because no formal law of logic is immediately violated by the term solid-gas. What’s lacking in the immediate or strictly logical inference of the possibility of a solid-gas is the meaning, or qualitative differences, of two distinct truths about forms of matter. Yet once we know the semantic implications of solid and gaseous states, then we may infer from additional premises that no solid can be simultaneously gaseous. Accordingly, we may then further deduce that a phase that is both solid and gaseous is more broadly logically (or metaphysically) impossible. Furthermore, a solid-gas is just as relevantly impossible as a solid that is not a solid!

Back to impeccability. Like a solid-gas, a God-man who can sin is a contradiction in terms. Such contemplations are broadly illogical due to the nature of things.

2 ways one might go:

Without grasping the relevant implications of divinity as it relates to the doctrine of Christ, one might assert the metaphysical possibility of Jesus sinning. Furthermore, it’s not immediately inferable that it’s logically impossible for all possible humans, including Jesus, to sin. Yet if one grasps Chalcedon and incorporates God’s nature into the deduction, one may more modestly concede the latter option, that it is narrowly logically possible for Jesus, a human being, to sin. Whereas the former option lacks the use of relevant information about God’s nature, the latter, although more sophisticated, would have little or nothing to do with the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability, which is a metaphysical, broadly logical consideration. (Moreover, I’ve never seen such a subtle distinction of modality articulated as the basis for one’s denial of the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ, which is not to say that some haven’t had such reflections without having the semantic categories to articulate such a position.)

Those who hold to a doctrine of peccability either are confusing modalities or else they’re latent Nestorians:

Christians who affirm a doctrine of peccability typically do so without any self-conscious reference to a modality maneuver. Notwithstanding, to assert peccability as true doctrine entails a misunderstanding of temptation that in turn undermines the two natures in one subsistence. It’s not as though they affirm only strict logical possibility over possible actuality. Rather, in affirming peccability, they affirm the actual (metaphysical, broadly logically) possibility of an unfaithful Christ (and consequently affirm strict logical possibility too). In doing so, they abstract the human nature from the divine person, which falls to the same type error as positing a solid gas. In confusion, they might additionally attribute distinct personhood to the human being, Christ (Nestorianism).

Further reflection:

Christians embrace the incarnation of the divine Son as a union of two distinct natures in one hypostasis. Yet given a doctrine of peccability, is it further supposed that the human nature could possibly have sinned apart from the Person having sinned? In other words, by sinning would the Second Person (God) have committed sin only in his humanity but not personally? It’s hard to tell whether people like Sproul think that the whole person of Christ could possibly sin in his humanity. After all, Sproul’s position entails an unorthodox abstraction that “Satan was not trying to get God to sin. He was trying to get the human nature of Christ to sin, so that he would not be qualified to be the Savior.”

Wrapping up:

Given the meaning or ontological import of Jesus is Son, we may safely maintain it is metaphysically or broadly logically impossible for Jesus to sin in any actualizeable (feasible) world, which is the only relevant scope of possibility in this regard. Since God cannot possibly actualize a world in which the Son sins, in what Christological sense might Christ possibly sin? Given God’s nature, an implication of Chalcedon is Jesus was indeed impeccable.

There are other missteps Sproul makes. I’ll briefly touch on a few.

“But if Christ’s divine nature prevented him from sinning, in what sense did he obey the law of God as the second Adam?”

False dichotomy: When God prevents us from sinning in the face of temptation, are we not truly obeying? Accordingly, operative grace does not undermine either obedience or true temptation.

Moreover, God’s free knowledge of the divine decree presupposes the causal divine determinism of ordinary providence. Consequently, Sproul’s question smacks of Incompatibilism for God cannot but ultimately and causally determine the incarnate Son’s willful intentions through the intentional ordering of states of affairs, about which God pre-interprets the particulars consistent with a Reformed understanding of concurrence.

“I may be wrong, but I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. If that were the case, the temptation, the tests, and his assuming of the responsibility of the first Adam would have all been charades. This position protects the integrity of the authenticity of the human nature because it was the human nature that carried out the mission of the second Adam on our behalf. It was the human nature uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit.”

What is it to be “uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit” other than to attribute something additional to the Second Adam that was not granted to our first father by the Holy Spirit? Moreover, how might Sproul capitalize on the Spirit’s anointing in a way that distinguishes it in any relevant sense from the ordinary empowering of the human will that might have come to Christ’s humanity from the Son’s ubiquitous divine nature, which is shared with the Father and the Spirit? How many divine beings are there after all? Moreover, the incarnation entails a perichoresis in the sense that the omnipresent divine nature of Christ penetrates his human nature, as it does ours yet to a lesser degree, though always without a transfer of properties. The penetration is also one directional and never from the human nature to the divine nature.

Lastly, regarding the human nature and Christ’s mission, was it the human nature that kept itself from sinking under the infinite wrath of God? Moreover, did the human nature alone give worth and efficacy to the sufferings of Christ? No to both. A human person could not have possibly redeemed! Accordingly, Sproul is not only wrong for abstracting the humanity of Christ from Christ, he’s also mistaken in thinking that the divine nature of the Son contributes nothing to our salvation. (See my post on strict vs. pactum justice.)

We are saved by a divine Person, not by an abstracted impersonal nature or even a human person. Accordingly, Sproul simply is incorrect that “the human nature carried out the [redemptive] mission.” Rather, it was requisite that a person carry out the mission, and that the person be God incarnate, as Sproul’s confessional Standards rightly teach:

Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favor, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them…

(As with the false doctrine of Christ’s peccability, so it is with Molinism. As I argue here, Molinism posits true narrow-sense possibilities that cannot be actualized even though there are an “infinite number” of these “logical” possibilities. And here, I made a passing remark about impeccability in a post primarily pertaining to Dabney’s unhappy employment of Middle Knowledge. That passing remark was a seed thought to the current post.)

Trinitarian Heterodoxy Eclipses Marriage (once again)

A pair of books were recently released entitled: Let The Men Be Men & Let The Women Be Women. As the subtitles disclose, the respective books pertain to God’s Design For Manhood And Marriage & God’s Design For Womanhood and Marriage.

My wife was reading to me a portion from Chapter 2 of one of the books, wherein a passing reference to the Trinity was made. The author said he’d develop the reference more in Chapter 10. Naturally, I took a quick peak at chapter 10 because some otherwise good material on wives and husbands has been disregarded over the years due to missteps having to do with Trinity analogies. One particular egalitarian Anglican-theologian who’s well versed in Trinitarian theology has capitalized on such missteps. Others have as well. Neither Baptists nor Presbyterians should want to throw the baby out with the bath water (pun intended).

In the hope that such books are a success in bringing clarity to the complementarian discussion, I thought I’d make a few comments on some direct quotes from the book on women.

My thoughts as they relate to the doctrine of God, I think, would be shared by most Reformed Presbyterian theologians and pastors. We might recall that they are the ones (along with an Anglican or two) who went after Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and others for their Trinity analogies to marriage in the summer of 2016. What I have found doubly unfortunate is that some biblical teaching on marriage has been dismissed, if not even scorned in the process, due to mistaken Theology Proper.

More than in Reformed Baptist circles, there are thin complementarians in the Reformed Presbyterian community. Many of these men have their Trinitarian theology down pat. So, any Trinity misstep by otherwise good men of God provides occasion for some to dismiss biblical complementarianism. This is understandable, which should cause certain Reformed Baptists to be more careful, if not solely for the sake of putting forth a biblical view of God, and secondly so that others might give attention to sound marriage doctrine.

From chapter 10:

The Trinity As A Model Of Submission

“The Trinity” is a term that defines the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one essence and attributes, yet three in distinct work and purpose. (Emphasis mine)

We don’t want to eclipse Divine Simplicity and the inseparable operations of the Trinity. (We might recall, that was a big deal in the Trinity debate in the summer of 2016.)

Each divine Person is operative in all God’s works. Which is to say, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Indeed, it was the Son who died on the cross, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (by the Spirit). In redemption there is one distinct work and purpose, carried out through the inseparable operations of Persons when Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God.

Trinity is not a term that seeks to define God by “relationship” within the Godhead, if by relationship we mean personal distinctions of authority and submission. The historical Christian creeds discriminate not by eternal relationships (or economic functions) but by personal properties. Accordingly, any orthodox reference to “relationship” must be interpreted as personal properties ad intra that cash out as eternal modes of being. Any eternal relationship may only be conceived of in terms of relations of eternal origin, not subject to temporal-sequence or personal roles. Historically, the church has defined Trinity in terms of the eternal origins of existence: unbegogtenness of the Father; eternal generation of the Son; and procession of the Holy Spirit.

God uses that aspect of the trinity to teach us how marriage is to work. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:3 “I want you to understand the Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”As Paul is about to discuss the role of women he makes a statement about the trinity is the reason for different roles in marriage…

Wives and husbands share in a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find a suitable analogy of authority and submission in the ontological Trinity because the ontological Trinity is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). Yet if submission entails a plurality of wills, then there can be no submission in the ontological Trinity by the nature of the case, for one will cannot submit to itself.

Perhaps there is authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3. I hope more scholarship goes into this text. But what I first find key in the text is the reference to Christ, referring to the Son as the mediatory God-man. In other words, we may not draw application from the Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits in His human will to the Divine will of the Father.

Within the economic Trinity there is submission but it’s misleading merely to observe that a divine Person submits to a divine Person and to extend that submission analogy to the equality of persons in marriage. The reason being, it is a divine Person as a human being who submits to a divine Being who is not a human being! In other words, Christ Jesus submitted only in his human will to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the wills in view are not. So, the analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll elaborate…

In marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet in Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. Therefore, that a human being, who is a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks analogous force with respect to a human being who must submit to another human being in marriage. In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of equal wills but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. The taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by Persons per se but by another property, the plurality of natures of the Second Person.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which I just argued was in error.)

The principle and practice of submission has been around as long as God has existed.(Emphasis mine)

“As long as God has existed” draws application not from the economic Trinity but rather the immanent Trinity. The sentiment literally implies submission exists in the eternal and one undivided will of God prior to the hypostatic union, but the Scripture proof-text refers not to the eternal Son but to the incarnate Christ. Apart from the human will, the Second Person cannot submit his will to the Father given that it’s the identical will. (God is a simple being, not composite.)

It won’t do to appeal to the ordering or taxis of the eternal and undivided will of God. For no amount of ordering of the one undivided will of God can result in a willful coming under lest we equivocate in our analogy. Even if we recognize an ordering of the Son’s will to become man, while the Father willed that he himself not become the mediator, it’s at best a misnomer to consider a will of concomitance in terms of authority and submission. For the Son delights in the plan of God for it is the very eternal plan of the undivided Trinity. He can do no other. It’s His will!

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether and any analogies and application should be limited to Christ in his humility per 1 Corinthians 11:3, yet I’ve just challenged how far we might be able to take even that analogy.

Within the economic Trinity there is a Divine Person with a non-divine will that makes Jesus’ submission to God possible, but the notion of Trinity seems to complicate matters because we are then left to speak in terms limited to the economic Trinity and only one of the Persons of the economic Trinity, Christ Jesus, as his human will comes under the one divine will, which is the Son’s. Accordingly, authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration of the union of two natures in one hypostasis.

Again, Reformed Presbyterians need this teaching on marriage. I believe we may learn much from our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters. To that end, my hope is Trinity analogies would be reconsidered in new light, as I wish there to be no dismantling of any reasonable core thesis on marriage.

Lee Irons’ View of Unbelievers and the Christian Sabbath, a basic logic lesson.

Lee Irons maintains that the Sabbath is binding upon Christians but not upon unbelievers. If Irons is correct, then Christians may allow unbelievers to labor for them on Sunday, for instance as servers at restaurants and coffee shops. If Irons is incorrect, then Christians who dine out on Sunday are paying servers to break God’s law, which entails sin for such believers.

Irons makes the following claims:

(10) Promise establishes obligation (Heb. 4:1). Thus, the Sabbath sign is to be observed only by the holy covenant community, for to it alone does the promise of eschatological consummation apply (Heb. 4:9-10; Luke 13:16).

(11) Conversely, since unbelievers have no promise of eschatological consummation, they have no obligation to observe the sign thereof.

(12) It is not biblically permissible for the covenant community to attempt to enforce Sabbath observance on those outside of the covenant community (e.g., blue laws), nor should believers refrain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to profane the Sabbath.

In arguing this way, Lee Irons upholds an esoteric position that has no confessional status or biblical precedent. Again, Lee Irons argues that the Christian Sabbath is obligatory for the covenant community but not for unbelievers. Of course, if Irons’ conclusion were correct but fallaciously derived, it would not be reliable.

The point of this post is not to establish that Christian Sabbath is obligatory for all, but simply to show that Lee Irons has reasoned fallaciously. Therefore, even if his conclusion were true, it cannot be established upon his argument.

I’ll make four points and some sub-points:

* I’ll formally formulate Irons’ informal argument and interact with it to show its formal fallacy, upon which his argument rests.

* I’ll rid the argument of its formal fallacy to show that a cogently argued conclusion utilizing his premises is no threat to the position Irons opposes.

* I’ll use Irons’ unsuccessfully argued conclusion to show that even though fallaciously derived, if it were indeed true would lead to further theological and moral problems, including an implicit denial of the need for the gospel.

* Lastly, I’ll show Irons’ disregard for the Westminster Larger Catechism and the law.

Anne Hutchinson

1. Irons asserts that promise without qualification establishes obligation. I’m going to grant the premise, not because it was demonstrated by Irons but because I believe it’s demonstrable in relation to divine promise (though not without a little work).

Irons reasons that sabbath observance with its promissory nature, which points forward to eschatological consummation, does not apply to unbelievers because the promise of consummation does not apply to them. In other words, because unbelievers are not promised final rest, they are not obligated to rest on the Sabbath.

Irons three point argument is contained in his point 10. The order of his informally stated argument is: Major Premise, Conclusion, Minor Premise. Of course, that order is fine for informal discourse. If we clean up the argument a bit, we may infer the following deduction:

p1. Promise establishes obligation

p2. The promise applies only to the covenant community

Therefore, the obligation is only for the covenant community

Let:

P = Promise

O = Obligation

C = Covenant Community

If P, then O

P is only for C

Therefore, O is only for C

On the surface it’s not hard for some to discern that something doesn’t seem quite right about Irons’ argument. It just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Understandably, it might take a bit more skill to identify precisely Irons’ misstep.

Irons commits an illicit transfer fallacy by concluding:

“Thus, the Sabbath sign is to be observed only by the holy covenant community.”

Irons’ fallacy wouldn’t be so bad if his entire argument didn’t rest on it. Accordingly, it’s not as though I’m going to refute Irons’ position on a technicality. Rather, I’ll demonstrate that Irons’ argument is misleading and erroneous at its core.

The restrictive import of “only” may not logically be transferred from premise 2 to the conclusion in this way. The restriction that the word “only” contemplates pertains to whom the promise is made (C). Whereas the scope of “only” in the conclusion is illicitly indexed to an obligation that the major premise contemplates. Therefore, it’s invalid to transfer the restrictive “only” this way because the conclusion ends up exceeding the scope of the premises.

To put it in logical terms, <if P is sufficient for O, and is only given to C> does not imply that some ~C aren’t O (or under O). Accordingly, even if Irons’ premises were true, they do not guarantee the conclusion. Therefore, the argument is invalid and any position that rests upon an invalid argument is unjustified.

Transfer type fallacies among theologians are not uncommon. They are easy to unearth by applying a bit of philosophical theology.

An example of a transfer fallacy that is identified by more sophisticated Arminians is called the transfer of necessity fallacy, which too many Calvinists unwittingly commit from time to time.

It goes like this:

p1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen

p2. God foreknows x

Therefore, x will necessarily happen

That’s just food for thought but back to Irons.

Irons’ thesis is glaringly indistinguishable from his defense. Irons has begged the question by resting his conclusion upon a series of assertions that lacks valid formulation. (That’s not subjective conjecture but an objective matter pertaining to valid syllogistic reasoning.)

But let’s toy with this a bit further in order to try to refute the best that possibly can be argued with Irons’ premises:

2. If we rid Irons’ argument of the transfer-only fallacy, then the “argument” no longer concludes anything about the unbelievers’ relationship to the Sabbath:

If P, then O

P is only for C

Therefore, O is for C

Consider:

p1. Promise establishes obligation

p2. The promise applies only to the covenant community

Therefore, the obligation is for the covenant community

The conclusion of the reformulated non-fallacious argument does not establish that obligation is only for C and not, therefore, also for at least some unbelievers. Accordingly, Irons can only make his case with his premises by improperly expanding the scope of only, which is formally invalid.

From a purely logical standpoint, Irons’ assertion, argument and conclusion are one and the same.

3. In a spirit of generosity let’s allow for the essence of Irons’ conclusion, even though he has assumed it without valid proof.

The essence is that if there is a promise that only applies to C, then the associated command must only apply to C.

We can approach this bald claim several ways:

A. Irons premise is that the promise of eschatological rest pertains only to C. Let’s now scrutinize the premise and apply it.

C doesn’t contain only believers. It also contains both elect and non-elect unbelievers. With respect to the non-elect within C, the promise is conditioned upon a faith they’ll never possess. Accordingly, the promise pertains no more to them than to the non-elect outside C, making the premise with respect to the promise logically unworkable for Irons.

B. Yet if we remove the conditional nature of the promise, then we’re left with a promise that pertains only to the elect within C. However, given that there are elect outside C, it’s hard to see how Irons can make sense of his axiom that the promise only applies to C. No matter how the promise might be structured, without a conditional aspect it’ll apply equally to all elect regardless of their standing in C, which is not just agreeable but most happily complies with WLC Q31 as it relates to the promise of the one CoG.

C. If the promise applies only to elect who currently believe, then Irons’ has to reconcile such a modification with genuine believers who aren’t part of the visible C. Yet his claim is the promise only pertains to C.

D. A command to repent entails an obligation to repent. An obligation to repent entails a promise of eschatological proportion for the truly penitent. Yet it’s Irons’ position that a commandment with promise does not apply to unbelievers outside C. Yet God commands repentance that leads to sabbath rest, even to those outside C who’ll never repent! (Consider the free offer of the gospel!)

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17)

E. The fifth commandment is given to the covenant community and comes with a spiritual promise. Given Irons’ thesis, non-covenant children would not be under obligation to obey their parents given the commandment’s promissory nature. Moreover, given Irons’ point #11, even unconverted covenant children, being yet unbelievers, needn’t obey God’s commandment!

Irons is down to eight commandments and the rest are eliminated below.

F. Jesus taught C of his day that those within, who keep God’s commandments, will be loved by God and Christ, and that Christ will manifest himself to such that obey. The Lord goes on to say in the same passage that he and his Father will make their abode with those who keep Christ’s words. Again, contra-Irons we see a promise that pertains to the totality of the law that establishes obligation. Are unbelievers not obliged to keep God’s words due to the entailment of promise?

Irons’ promise-thesis, if followed to its logical conclusion, would eliminate all law with promise of blessing for unbelievers, nullifying the need of the gospel! (Antinomianism is part-and-parcel to Irons’ Radical 2 Kingdom paradigm.)

G. Is a man merely culpable for getting locked up for civil transgression, and not culpable for not providing for his family because he has been incarcerated?

Even the light of nature tells us that future culpability is not reduced by disobeying initial commands. People are guilty not just for not doing x (when they ought to do x), but also for the future effects of y and z if they are a result of not doing x – hence the grounding of unrealized yet future damages in jurisprudence. Accordingly, by rejecting Christ on day one does not alleviate one from not following Christ’s laws on day n. If one rejects Christ, isn’t he also culpable for not raising his children in the Lord and observing the Lord’s Day? Doesn’t the parable of the talents teach us that we are culpable not just for transgression but for neglect that prevented increase that otherwise would’ve obtained in the absence of neglect?! Doesn’t even the light of nature tell us that a student who cuts school is responsible for what he missed in class that day?

To reject Christ entails the rejection of God’s laws, which includes the blessings and obedience entailed by Christian worship and Christian sabbath observance.

4. Irons claims that “it is not biblically permissible for the covenant community to attempt to enforce Sabbath observance on those outside of the covenant community (e.g., blue laws)…”

“Enforce” is vague. If Iron’s means impose, administer or carry out, then of course the covenant community may not enforce this or any other moral law that way.

If Irons wants to be relevant at all, his use of “enforce” must be less modest and fall short of such coercion. In that case, Irons is biblically and confessionally wrong that individuals in the covenant community are not to endeavor within their place of influence to keep unbelievers from profaning the Sabbath. Accordingly, Irons either is addressing an irrelevant straw-man or denying the Catechism and Exodus XX.10:

WLC #99 That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places. (Exodus XX.10 teaches that servants and strangers are not to work on the Sabbath.)

Irons asserts “nor should believers refrain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to profane the Sabbath.” In direct opposition to Exodus XX.10, Irons maintains that a Christian may enjoy rest that comes through the labors of servants and strangers.

So, Christians who frequent restaurants on Sundays or take in live sporting events are directly encouraging people to break the 4th Commandment. It’s a clear violation of the Decalogue and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Irons is well known for his antinomian tendencies and not much more needs to be said.

Moving beyond Sproulian Compatibilism

Below are excerpts from R.C. Sproul’s, What Is Free Will?

We have seen Edwards’ [1700s] view and Calvin’s view [1500s], so now we’ll go into the Sproulian view of free will by appealing to irony, or to a form of paradox… I would like to make this statement: in my opinion, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined. Again, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined.

Sproulian or just a version of (Classical) Compatibilism?

Now that sounds flatly contradictory because we normally see the categories of “determined” and “free” as mutually exclusive categories. To say that something is determined by something else, which is to say that it’s caused by something else, would seem to indicate that it couldn’t possibly be free.

But what I’m speaking about is not determinism. Determinism means that things happen to me strictly by virtue of external forces. But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

Though apparently unaware, Sproul certainly is advocating a kind of Determinism. (See James Anderson for various species of Determinism. See my former blog, Reformed Apologist, for review and link to Paul Manata’s case for Reformed Theology as a kind of Determinism.)

What I’m saying, along with Edwards and Calvin, is that if my choices flow out of my disposition and out of my desires, and if my actions are effects that have causes and reasons behind them, then my personal desire in a very real sense determines my personal choice.

For Sproul, choices cannot be separated from desires, though the two must be distinguished. By choices Sproul is not identifying desires as choices, for he plainly states that choices flow out of desires. Furthermore, given the determinative causal place he assigns to desires, Sproul is identifying choice not as the determinative desire itself, which will (and “must”) be acted upon, but as effects that proceed from externally caused desires. In other words, the determinative desire is not the choice, but it’s the proximate cause of the choice.

For Sproul, the following chain holds true:

External Influences —> Internal Desire —> Choice

If my desires determine my choice, how then can I be free? Remember I said that, in every choice, our choice is both free and determined. But what determines it is me, and this we call self-determination. Self-determination is not the denial of freedom, but the essence of freedom. For the self to be able to determine its own choices is what free will is all about.

For Sproul choice is the action itself – that which is caused by internal desire or “according to the strongest inclination at the moment.”

Back to something Sproul said earlier:

But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

The “internal forces that are determining factors” are not chosen, nor do they cause intentions that effect “choice.” Rather, the internal forces that have determinative power are the intentions themselves, or what we might call the desires. For the Compatibilst it’s intention that brings causal force upon an action of choice.

Let’s go deeper:

At the heart of the free will debate is the cause of the intention to act.

The question is not whether free moral agents make choices or whether they flow from the agent or her intentions. The pertinent questions have to do with how intentions, if they cause volitional actions, can be morally relevant if they don’t originate with the agent as their ultimate source. Similarly, what is it for an agent to possess sufficient control over those causal influences that precede the proximate cause of any free choice? Need an agent regulate or merely guide causal influences? Must she ultimately or merely proximately cause her choices? Must there be a mesh of desires, whereby moral agents approve of their intentions?

Putting this together from outside-in, Compatibilism entails that external determining factors can cause internal intentions. In turn, internal intentions, that are externally effectuated, cause at least some “free choices” (i.e. actions that proceed from them.)

A common Incompatibilist complaint might be phrased thusly. If an internal intention triggers a volitional act, and the intention is imposed upon the agent from without, then how can the agent act but only one possible way given the preceding causal circumstances that are outside the agent’s control? Where is freedom of choice under such constraints? Fair questions.

The simple point I’m trying to make is that not only may we choose according to our own desires but, in fact, we always choose according to our desires. I’ll take it even to the superlative degree and say that we must always choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. That is the essence of free choice—to be able to choose what you want.

Allowing for lack of attention to John Locke (1680s) and Harry Frankfurt (1980s) with respect to Sproul’s last statement, Sproul is correct that if actions causally proceed from inclinations, and if we define such actions as choices, then surely such choices are according to inclinations. As for how helpful that is, I’m not quite sure. Add external causal-forces to the mix and we soft-determinists might have some ‘splaining to do!

More to consider:

Sproul provides accessible talking points. How they might advance discussion with a thoughtful Incompatibilist or provide an adequate defense for one with a Reformed leaning against Arminianism at it relates to Divine Decree and Free Will is, I think, another consideration. Perhaps further reflection is appropriate to develop a robust defense of how free will is compatible with causal divine determinism, and how one might perform an internal critique of free will Incompatibilism. The free will debate has advanced in the last 300 years beyond Sproul’s use of Edwards, especially with respect to the most sophisticated stripe of theological Incompatibilism called Molinism. (Philosophical-Theology Molinism tag here.)

Now that Sproul has at least spade some soil, we might want to unearth some deeper questions like, does any prominent free will view lead to heresy? Can any side of the debate make sense of intentions? What, if anything, is lacking with compatibilist freedom as it relates to responsibility that supposedly makes libertarian freedom desirable or necessary? Is libertarian agent-causation ill defined or even defensible?

My hope is this post and the links I’ve provided might cause one to desire and actually go beyond Sproul – to choose to think harder about these things. (Pun intended).