Friday, February 11, 2005

Taking the creeds for granted

Sorry for seeming obsessed with James White by having two consecutive posts about him (not to mentioning planning to attend Patty Bonds' lecture this weekend), but something he said struck me as particularly odd lately. Anyway, Pastor White was responding to a hyper-calvinist, which apparently refers to a Calvinist who not only holds TULIP as the Gospel but also thinks that a truly regenerate person cannot accept the possibility that someone who doesn't hold to TULIP will be saved. On that point, I agree that the so-called "hyper-Calvinists" are far off the deep end. But I thought the substance of White's rejoinder was a bit odd.

The unidentified hyper-calvinist said:
Anyone who says that people who believe in universal atonement are saved is taking sides with Satan, calling God a liar and is not a Christian.

White's response began as follows:
Anyone who says that people who believe in duotheletism are saved is taking sides with Satan, calling God a liar and is not a Christian.

Without using Google or taking your eyes off your monitor, sir, do you know if you are condemned by that statement? Do you know what duotheletism is? It's important. It has to do with the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and His person, all vitally important things, just like the extent of the atonement. So, are you a duotheletist or a monotheletist? Do you know? If we make such important, yet complicated, aspects of the faith the standard by which we know if a person is a Christian, how many people are Christians today, sir?

I see this as unusual for two reasons. First, there seems to be an entirely arbitrary cutoff as to what is and isn't easy enough to be essential knowledge to Christianity. After all, isn't faith based on the Gospel? I consider Calvinism's version of salvation by grace to be anything but easily comprehensible. Moreover, in the way that it is presented by Pastor White and others, it turns on hairsplitting interpretations of the koine Greek language, hardly the most ordinary matter. Not only that, it's koine interpretation upon which a massive array of scholars disagree, so you have to figure out whether Douglas Moo's refutation of N.T. Wright is valid or not, and whether E.B.C. Cranfield is just showing Catholic bias when he includes the Catholic interpretation among his 30-odd possible views of a particular passage. There probably aren't all that many people in the world (if any) with sufficient expertise to make those judgments about every book of the Bible so comprehensively that they could come to a definitive conclusion, much less an irrefutable conclusion. So by this reasoning, I'd say that the Gospel has basically zero content. But that sure doesn't explain why they pile on Catholicism so much.

What I found really unusual was that he used the example of monothelitism versus duothelitism. As far as I can tell, Calvinism is straight-up monothelitism. All of Western theology may have that gloss to it, and if Perry Robinson and Daniel Jones are right, all of Western theology devolves into monothelitism at some level. But in the case of Calvinism, it's pretty much the pure and unadulterated confession of a single will, not just in Christ but in everything. In fact, if there is one Christological doctrine on which the somewhat nominalist origins of Protestantism have the most difficulty, it's monothelitism. At least the Origenist dialectic includes two options (perhaps winnowed down to one in the eschaton by Ss. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas). Calvinism has NONE. You are free to do exactly what your nature makes you want to do, and that is that, incidentally meaning that the notion that secondary causes excuses God from being the author of evil goes right out the window. So yeah, it's a great question to ask someone whether they are condemned for denying duothelitism, but I've got to wonder if White knows the answer to that question himself.


At 11:30 PM, Blogger Tim Enloe said...

I don't get that either. Since you get along with White, maybe you could go back on his Dividing Line program and question him about it. I and a number of others would like to hear whether he's willing to apply his logic about the complexity of monothelite / duothelite views relative to saving faith to his particular form of solafidian doctrine.....

At 8:16 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I get the impression that whatever cordiality there is would end pretty quickly should something like this come up, particularly if I went after the "simplicity" of the Calvinist message (I'm sure I would be a postmodernist denying the truth of Scripture by the end of the hour). If it didn't degenerate to that point, I suspect that it would be because the criticism was ignored or misunderstood, especially given that White doesn't appear to have studied patristic theology with any seriousness (viz., he respects it to the extent it agrees with him and ignores it as "error" to the extent that he does not). Going over something at the level that Perry does has been a strenuous and time-consuming exercise for me as a sincerely motivated lay Catholic, and I can't imagine that someone unmotivated to the task could even hope to understand it. As you've noticed with your own medieval studies, it's difficult to meaningfully convey your point even to someone who is trying sincerely to grasp it when there isn't a common field of experience, and it takes a heck of a long time to build that foundation for communication without academic studies. Maybe I could suggest some works on the duothelite controversy particularly that could be helpful, in order to explain what it was that the Greek Fathers meant by "monothelitism." If only J.P. Farrell's work on Maximus weren't out of print! :-(

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Tim Enloe said...

Well, FWIW, I think the Calvinism-as-form-of-monothelitism criticism is a very serious one that ought to be taken seriously by us Calvinists. At this point in time, I myself haven't studied patristic theology in enough depth to be able to sketch an answer to the charge, but I do recognize it as a serious charge upon which some serious Calvinist effort should be directed. It would not be a good thing in my estimation for Calvinism to be so insistent upon its orthodoxy only to be found guilty of a Christological heresy like monothelitism. Although, perhaps from the other side of the story the judgment of Harold O.J. Brown in his work Heresies might be helpful when he says that unlike say, Arianism, things like monothelitism are errors that real Christians might hold in good faith, not realizing how serious they are.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that Jonathan.

White doesn't really understand the severity and complexity of monotheletism [monergism] and I'm saying this not based on a testimony from him, but it is evident from his works. White thinks he's a diothelite because he confesses two wills. Monoenergism took many forms, but it is particularly Byzantine Monoenergism that Maximus took aim, and particularly, the passivity that Pyrrhus and company reduced the human agency to. In other words, confessing two will is not enough, but it was the underlying metaphysics that Maximus strove to refute [in its semi-Origenist form]. One thing that is a beneficial consequence in the Monothelite refuation, is you just about get a complete sketch of theology. Believe me I am much aware of White's belief in libertarian free-will in God, and I or Perry would love to challenge him on that issue [the dividing line as a fair medium hardly withstanding]. One of these days, as two growing forces do, we're gonna butt heads. Like Agent Smith told Neo: "It is inevitable." No pun intended to monergism. :) What might also be interesting to note is White having to suck up some pride and defend Thomas, since that's the position that isn't Malebranche waiting to happen--no form of supralapsarian is going to make it any easier by any means.

If you can't find Farrell's book on Maximus, you can still get his translation work of Maximus and Pyrrhus--which in the Introduction he gives a summary of the 3 fold problem of monotheletism that he discusses in the larger work. Also, I would recommend Lars Thunberg big work on Maximus, Microcosm and Mediator. That one has been re-printed. There is also another work that I know of that is in French that Farrell drew alot from, if you have competence in that language.

I think Tim is right though, most people wouldn't realize the seriousness immediately of monoenergism.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is kind off topic :), but is there any possible way you can be contacted via email? I have a few apologetic concerns that are kind of urgent and I would really appreciate it if we could get in correspondence. Let me know and I'll post my email address.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Daniel/Anonymous #1:
I've got the Dialogue with Pyrrhus on order with Amazon (takes a while), but the big Thunberg is out of my book-buying budget in the immediate future. Is the shorter "Man and the Cosmos" worth getting in the short term?

Anonymous #2:
I've turned on the email button on my profile. Feel free to email me there, although I'll demur that apologetics really isn't my specialty. I prefer to agree where possible.

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I haven't read the shorter one Man and the Cosmos so I don't know, but what I have heard is that it isn't as good.

But I can't see how it wouldn't hurt sense they are the same author.


At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a thing that many seem to miss about Calvinism. That the gospel is a good news proclamation, not the acceptance of that proclamation. Many like to say that the gospel according to a Calvinist is, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and that does encapsulate it to a certain degree, but the real view that Calvin had was that the “good news” was the favor of God to me, the sinner. The responsibility of Christian is to simply believe, and embrace that promise of God’s goodness in all that Christ Jesus is. Many like to focus on the faith of the Calvinist in Christ as being His gospel, but it is simply the response to the good news of the New Covenant. This is God’s good news.

Heb 10:15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.Here (The new perspective view aside) the classic Calvinist sees nothing on the part of the believer to do here in this covenant, but simply to rejoice in it. The idea being that the joy and love of the renewed and grateful heart overflow, and the good fruit of a Christian life follow…all being built up and encouraged by the Holy Spirit of course...


At 9:23 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I don't think it's a matter of missing what Calvinism is. It's a question of Calvin's definition of the promise being wrong, as if God granting us the privilege of being fellow-workers with God is somehow less "gracious," less of a "favor" than monergistic regeneration and salvation.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say what you will, but the point is, the promises of God themselves are the gospel (good news), not the particulars and definitions of how one looks to those promises, either directly, whether regeneration is a mechanism of God in it, or whether the direct object of ones faith is through the administration of sacraments, dispensed by men clothed in God’s power and authority.
The mistake is to define the methods of knowing or attaining to the promises as the gospel (good news) it’s self. -mouse

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The topic is monoenergism. If you think you have an insight of how to tie in what your saying about the Gospel to the topic, then, let's hear it. If not, then you are just preaching. Do you have a point related to the topic?

What do you think Christ had in mind when he said "not my will but thine be done" ? Is Christ willing of self-preservation in his natural human faculty in opposition to the divine will that wants him to go to the cross?


At 8:24 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

"The mistake is to define the methods of knowing or attaining to the promises as the gospel (good news) it’s self."

I agree with that observation and go even farther; the Gospel is Christ Himself. Calvinism seems to be in error about both the object of faith (God's promises to man, rather than God Himself) and the nature of Christ Himself (defective Christology, sacramental theology, etc.). The fundamental Calvinist errors in the object of faith are what generate the errors in knowing and attaining the Gospel. So while I completely agree that the fundamental issue is the object of faith itself, I think Calvin's irrational rants about "direct objects" of faith are simply a poor smokescreen to distract from his fatally defective understanding of Christ.

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

If you're not going to interact with what I've said, then I'm not interested in your comments. Whether you call it "direct/indirect" or "implicit/explicit," the point remains that Calvin's description of Catholic faith as faith in the Church rather than God was a slanderous lie, and *that part* of his theology is conceded to be irrational nonsense even by some Calvinists today. Nor is your ridiculously reductionistic construal of what I meant by the Gospel being Christ Himself (a concept quite common in theological literature) remotely relevant to what I was saying. I see no reason to prolong this thread with irrelevant comments, so I'm closing it.


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