Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Difference Between a Decree and a Cause

Greg Koukl on The Stand to Reason blog is bold to post ideas in Christian philosophy that are not yet fully developed. But such a thing is necessary for allowing the idea to be processed in the community of Christians at large. He recently started a discussion on the difference between God issuing a decree and acting as a cause. That language might not immediately seem pertinent. But there is the tension that we see in scripture where God is absolutely sovereign and where He seems to cause sin as a result. Go here to watch his video blog and read some of the comments:

My slightly edited response:

God, as a causer, is not an agent of cause. "Agent" implies that the causer was himself caused by something else. God's causing is in this way different than His creation, as discreet subdivided iterations of existence, being internally consistent agents of cause. That is, God has eternally established what will happen by decree and has created underlying rules for all of creation to follow as temporal causal agents.

Men, as volitional systems of causal agents, have intent. Where this intent agrees with God's ethical will, then there is no sin. Where this intent does not agree with God's ethical will, there is sin. The will of man is hardly monolithic. Every decision a man makes consists of a cocktail of intents - some good, some bad. If God causes anything to happen in the action of any man in the fallen world, that man will be guilty of sin.

God's intent, conversely, is always pure. God is not guilty where His goodness causes actions that arise out of the evil intents of men.

Men are sinners already and God has not alienated Himself from men any further than they are by causing actions that for men are sinful because of their intents. And their intents are not the most fundamental level of their sin. Evil intents arise out of the status of men being separated from God. We are born in a separated world and are likewise separated from God from birth. Even when we are given the Holy Spirit, we must endure the wiles of this separated world. Being given the Holy Spirit allows us to be separated FOR God (Holy) in this age rather than being separated FROM God in this age.

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Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Jim Pemberton on a TeamPyro thread:

"It seems that three things are at play between the article and the comments:

1) Love
2) Sound Doctrine
3) Obedience

There seems to be some equivocation assumed between them in general. But Dan makes a very important point:

“So what have we established? Only that Jesus didn't say what He didn't say in this passage.”

I hear very conservative preachers and good students of scripture make the hermeneutical error of incorrectly arguing from silence. For example, it might be said, “What Paul did not say was…” and then what Paul didn’t say is used as a lesson. The point might be perfectly valid, but not from the immediate text unless equivocation is clear in the text. Where the logical relationship is conditional, arguing from silence is denying the consequent (given, of course, that the logic is discernibly deductive rather than inductive).

Apropos to this discourse, take John 14:15 as a straight-up syllogism: “If you love me, [then] you will keep my commandments.” For this to be equivocal we would have to also be able to say that if we keep His commandments then we love Him, or if we don’t love Him then we won’t keep His commandments. If this were true, then the Pharisees loved Him, or any reference to them following the law was incorrect or tongue-in-cheek.

As I observe the three items here are not equivalent items.

1) You cannot truly love without pursuing righteousness.
2) You cannot truly love without pursuing sound doctrine.
3) Sound doctrine and obedience have a rather weak link, however. You can be obedient without having sound doctrine (atheistic moralism is an extreme example) and you can have sound doctrine without being obedient. Any spillover from one to the other comes through also loving God.

But I must note that one can have sound doctrine without loving God or anyone else. I admit I haven’t demonstrated that relationship scripturally and the best I can do as I type extemporaneously is to point to James where the demons believe and don’t have faith (James 2:19).

A personal example is that I know apparently godly Christians who have sound doctrine, are obedient, and love each other very well also seem to lack that same love for other Christians who are socially challenging. There is a man who has been in my fellowship who is socially challenging. Due to some health issue he once had, he doesn’t have the intelligence to understand deeper theology and his manner is often less than tasteful. Nevertheless, he professes Christ and attends church regularly, even attempting to minister in some way. If there is someone who defines the opposite of the “in” crowd, this man is it. It is considered “loving” by my godly brothers to berate him for behaving badly. Not one has taken the time to work with him to help him normalize behavior to something more fitting for a Christian and I hear them laugh about him in his absence. My godly brothers are also considerably loving to each other as evidenced by some of the playful banter that they do.

Now I’m not very good at playful banter. I know that if I said to them the same things that they say to each other, they would look at me funny, because I’ve tried it. There must be some connection between them that I lack. I am at least intelligent enough to know how to act like I have some sense. But this other fellow doesn’t have that kind of intelligence. There is a mutual love that my godly brothers have for each other that even I am excluded from. How much more this poor soul who needs help developing the godly fellowship he needs to grow in his faith?

Christ admonished us to love those who cannot return the outward workings of our love (Luke 14:14) and made it a condition of His judgment (Matthew 25).

Therefore, I consider that it is possible to be doctrinally sound and otherwise obedient, but lack this important if altogether uncomfortable aspect of love."

This was a very, very good comment.

Thank you for writing it.

Fri Feb 25, 01:29:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Jim Pemberton said...

Thanks, TUAD. I have to admit that I only wrote it out of my own condemnation for not loving others as I ought and conviction that I need to do better myself. I've since tried to work with the fellow I talked about, but can't say I can teach well where I have little knowledge. I probably should have made that point in that already monstrous comment.

Fri Feb 25, 04:47:00 PM GMT-5  

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