Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No Place for Responsibility: What's Wrong with Classical Calvinism, Part I: Ethical (Moral) Autonomy

I am sure that many of my readers assume the title of this post implies that I am reading a book. I am reading a book—but the title of this post (and this new series) is really a play on the original title of the book sitting on my desk at the moment. The title of the book on my desk is called “No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism” by R.K. McGregor Wright. I am gonna start a new series here at the blog, in which we examine McGregor Wright’s arguments regarding Arminianism and his defense of Calvinism.

By the way, I am still working on posts regarding the Doctrine of Perseverance and the issue of Eternal Security; it’s just that, along with those posts, I will be blogging daily on McGregor Wright’s work.

I haven’t said it much, but if anyone ever finds a good book on the Arminianism/Calvinism debate that you think is a good find and want me to read, just respond back here at the blog to the post on the site that day, and just tell me the title and author. I’ll be glad to read the book—or respond to your posts, if you have questions about something I’ve already read. I’m always up for the challenge of defending my Reformed Arminian view (oh no! I really typed it…)

Wright’s chapter two, titled “The Incoherence of the Freewill Theory,” is where Wright begins to attack Arminianism. He first defines what autonomy meant originally:

“The term originally meant ‘able to make its own laws’” (R.K. McGregor Wright, “No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, page 45).

He accuses Arminians of claiming “autonomy” over their decisions. And then, he gives examples of some types of autonomy: metaphysical, epistemological, ethical or moral, and teleological. For our purposes here, I will focus on Wright’s definition of ethical or moral autonomy:

“Ethical or moral autonomy is the ability to make moral judgments from an interior sense of right and wrong, WHICH THEREBY IMPLIES AN ABILITY TO SUPPLY ONE’S OWN STANDARDS” (45).

I don’t know about you, the reader, but I have a serious problem with Wright’s statement here. Just because the person has an “interior” sense of right and wrong, an inside assessment of right and wrong, does not mean that the person has their own standards of right and wrong. I make this an important thing to discuss because Wright asserts that “when Arminians speak of ‘the will,’ they are referring to an independent and self-determining power by which we are enabled to make AUTONOMOUS choices” (44).

Arminians would testify to an inward law of right and wrong that has been planted on the hearts of EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING—all that have been born and all that will be born! Paul details this truth in Romans 2:

“For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, THEY ARE A LAW TO THEMSELVES even though they do not have the law. THEY SHOW THAT THE WORK OF THE LAW IS WRITTEN ON THEIR HEARTS. THEIR CONSCIENCES TESTIFY IN SUPPORT OF THIS, and their COMPETING THOUGHTS EITHER ACCUSE OR EXCUSE THEM on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:13-16, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Notice what Paul says here. First, the Gentiles who do not have the law on tablets of stone “are a law to themselves.” Why? “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.” In their hearts is contained God’s Moral Code which He has given to every man, woman, boy, and girl. Not only is the law in their hearts, but “their consciences testify in support of this…” Every person also has a conscience that alerts them as to when they have done right, or when they have done wrong. So, contrary to what Calvinists believe, or even what Luther believed, every person has a God-given innate sense of right and wrong, planted there by man’s Creator.

But then, Paul says something that should take us aback: “their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them…” The word for “excuse” here in the Greek is “apologoumenon,” from the word “apologeomai,” meaning “to defend oneself or speak in one’s own defense.” From this group of words we get the Greek word “apologia,” meaning “defense,” and the English word “apology,” which also means defense. People use a defense when they “apologize,” and express their regret over something. So their thoughts, whether or good or bad, will be judged by the moral law God has planted within every single person.

Paul says here, therefore, that all will be judged and that it is possible to judge every person because, even if they don’t have the written law, they have a moral law within them that they cannot erase. By virtue of every man having a form of the Divine Law, every man will be judged according to that form which he has.

And this is why Calvinism doesn’t make any sense: because it states that, unless God perseveres a person and pushes them to do good, that they cannot do any good. Nevertheless, we see that even the sinner has a moral law from God which directs their lives down a certain path. If this is true, then the Calvinist notion of being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) must be investigated once more. What does the above phrase mean, IF, according to Romans 2, every man has a divinely-given sense of right and wrong? Does being “dead” in trespasses and sins mean being “unable to hear from God” or incapable of doing any good? Or, does it mean that we were once (as sinners still are) damned to Hell? Does it mean that once, we were guilty under the law and subject to eternal damnation?

Wright’s words make it clear that he considers Arminians to be those who believe in “autonomous” free will. However, Arminians do not believe in ruling themselves: they believe that each person has been given an inward law by God that they are to govern themselves by. Each person knows right from wrong, why rape is bad, why killing and committing murder is a crime, why tax evasion gets you landed in prison, why failure to pay taxes lands you in jail, and so forth.

But according to the Calvinist, man’s actions are all based on his character:

“When a choice is made, this act of the will is always the act of a person who is either regenerate or unregenerate. That is, all acts of the will are expressions of a character, whether good or bad. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 7:15-20 when he warns that ‘every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit’ (v.17), and that it ‘cannot’ (ou dynatai) be otherwise” (Wright, 44-45).

I’ll end this post with a small article included in the Holman Christian Standard’s “Apologetics Study Bible,” done by Holman Publishers. The title of the article is called “What is Natural Law?” by Paul Copan:

“From a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. discussed civil disobedience, noting that ‘there are two kinds of laws: just and unjust’ and that there is a ‘natural law’ to which we are subject. He was right: We shouldn’t say we know right and wrong only because ‘the Bible says so.’ Romans 2:15 states that God’s MORAL LAW HAS BEEN WRITTEN ON THE HEARTS OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS. This innate or intuitive awareness is beautifully illustrated in C.S. Lewis’s ‘Abolition of Man.’ There he lists various universally recognized moral laws and virtues—impartial justice, truthfulness, kindness, mercy, marital fidelity, respect for human life. They have been regarded as true for all from ancient Babylon and Greece to Native America, from Jews and Christians to Hindus and Confucians. Yet while humans are capable of recognizing basic moral principles, they MAY suppress their conscience, harden their hearts, and become morally dull.
Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas spoke of certain ‘laws.’ He said there is an ETERNAL law, which God alone knows and by which God created and governs the universe. Because God created us in His image (as moral, reasoning beings), we are capable of recognizing a SELF-EVIDENT NATURAL LAW, the reflection of God’s eternal law in the created order. This law is known by all human beings whether or not they are aware of God’s special revelation through Israel and Jesus Christ, as inscripted in the Bible. God has placed within us a disposition to have moral knowledge. Unless we suppress our conscience, we naturally know basic moral truths. General virtues and vices, Thomas Reid wrote, ‘must appear SELF-EVIDENT to every man who has a conscience, and has taken the pains to exercise this natural power of his mind’ (‘Of Morals’).
Some will respond, ‘There can be moral atheists. We don’t need God for morality.’ However, atheists have been made in the image of God. Though they deny God’s existence, they have still been designed by God to function properly and even to create human law for the good of society—the law that, to varying degrees, applies the natural law placed within us. Atheists ignore the very basis of goodness—God, who created them and who is the highest Good. (See J. Budziszewski, ‘The Revenge of Conscience and Written on the Heart’)”
(Paul Copan, “Apologetics Study Bible.” Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007, page 1683. Capitalization mine).

No comments: