Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Origin of Sin and the Determination of the Elect

Reformed theologians are hardly settled on the precise origin of sin. There are two or three general camps that help to frame the debate. Primarily, there is supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. (There is also “sublapsarianism”, but its precise definitive position has been confused with other positions.)

Supralapsarianism is the position that God determined the elect logically prior to creation. In this position, He created with the plan of allowing the Fall to occur.

Infralapsarianism, by contrast, holds that God did not determine the elect until logically after allowing the Fall, which He could determine logically after creation.

Both positions provide for God to allow the Fall, but the difference is in the order of His decrees. Many Reformed theologians do not hold strictly to one or the other, but rather develop an understanding using these as reference points. (As it is, all hyper-Calvinists are supralapsarians, but not all supralapsarians are hyper-Calvinists.)

I had planned on going into the whole eternity-temporality thing. However, I’m convinced I’m the only one who understands it. Therefore, I offer this quote from Gene Bridges on Triablogue. He stated the essence of my reasoning in rather simpler terms and may be better fit for public consumption. I offer it here for your consideration:

"What God decrees for His glory, men do with their own motives. For example, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to judge Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh’s will was not violated, in that God allowed Pharaoh’s love of evil, which was his natural state, to increase, keeping Israel from leaving. Pharaoh did not keep them from leaving in order to glorify God and worship Him. He did it because he hated God, Moses, Aaron, and the slaves. What God did for a righteous motive, Pharaoh did out of hatred for God. The motive behind an act, therefore, determines whether or not it is truly sinful. In theory, if Pharaoh had done what he did to glorify and worship God, he would not have been condemned, however, a man that does such a thing is, in reality acting in faith and love for God and would have to be regenerate. Such a man would not hold Israel back; he would have released Israel and taken down Egypt’s gods. That was not God’s purpose for Pharaoh. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

God is the author of evil, in the sense that He is first cause of all things. This simply goes with pay grade. His decrees, through either action or inaction render events necessary, but, evil is the result of permission, not His direct causation, or a result of His judicial hardening of sinners, an act of justice Scripture supports repeatedly, as in the above text and in Romans 1. Nothing happens that compels a man or demon to act in a way it does not wish to act or against its nature. He may withhold constraining grace, as in the fall, in order to render a thing certain, but the agent of the evil, in this case Adam simply acts in accordance with his nature as a second cause, for reasons and motives sufficient for himself and arising from his own nature. Men thus do what God decrees, but for motives all their own. In so doing, they may incur judgment. In this way men act as infallibly as if they had no liberty, yet as freely as if there was no decree rendering their acts certain. See, for example, the predestination of Judas betrayal and Jesus crucifixion. These men did, with evil desires, what God desired and planned to happen since before creation, for Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world itself.

Another Scholastic distinction I alluded to above even though we admit is has been discussed to death and fraught with difficulties since the Middle Ages, is the distinction between God's absolute power (Potentia Absoluta) and ordinary power (Potentia Ordinata). Whatever the difficulties of those distinctions in the older theologies (See Richard Muller's discussions in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics - it's too long to enter for my purposes here), I think they are useful, at their root, insofar as they help accurately describe the way God uses means. With respect to things like creation ex nihilio, miracles, the Incarnation, regeneration, etc. God's absolute and direct control is very involved. In all other things, the decrees fall out according to the nature of second causes "either necessarily, freely, or contingently."

Notice that even in the creation narrative, we have an implication of second causes. There are commands that say, "Let there be..." and others that say ,"Let the earth bring forth..." In the Incarnation, we have a direct miracle @ conception, but it isn't as if Jesus just appears full formed as a 30 year old man like some sort of animus springing from Mary's womb. Rather, there is a normal pregnancy; He grows through childhood into adulthood, etc. We speak of regeneration in two senses: the wider and the narrower. In the narrower, we mean the direct act of God raising the soul dead in sin to life, but we are comfortable pointing out that "means" are the ordinary mode of that occurrence. As Dr. Sproul has said, the Spirit and the Word of God (preaching, studying, reading, etc) are working together."

I would consider that the logical order of the decrees is immaterial. They each derive directly from God's eternal nature. Here, it is more fruitful to understand that God, as the first cause, allows second order causes according to His created order.

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Blogger Joe Blackmon said...

Thought provoking post. Thanks a lot.

Thu Oct 11, 04:56:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lionel Woods said...

I am still wrestling with this. I subconsciously held to the view of Supra, without even knowing that there was a split. Though even now, I believe that the opposing position limits God omniscient power and is a dangerous ground for Open Theism. My opinion for now though. God bless.

Fri Oct 12, 04:57:00 PM GMT-5  

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