My material on the I in TULIP (irresistible grace) is the most heavily reliant on the findings of social science scholarship of all of Tekton's articles in that set. It is thus no surprise to find that our (unnamed) critic makes it a point to poison the well by denigrating the worthies within that field. We shall get to that in a moment; first, though, we have some preliminaries to consider, which as before, are in bold.
The main point here is that there is nothing in man that can contribute to his own salvation. If it were otherwise, men could take credit and boast.
I have frequently heard this sentiment from extreme Calvinists over the years, and it remains a bewildering one to this day. Frankly, it takes a great deal of imagination -- even paranoia -- to suppose that what I have described as the role of men in their own salvation is anything for which they might "take credit" or "boast" about. In one sense, the charge is absurd because by the same sort of vain imagination, men can pretend they can take credit or boast over anything they want to, no matter what the reality is. Calvinism would do nothing to stop that boasting; it would just argue that it was unwarranted; what is stopped is not boasting, but the legitimacy of it.
By the same token, under my rubric, what is there for a man to legitimately boast about if we make the choice for salvation? This is like saying that a drowning swimmer who is rescued by a powerful lifeguard could "boast" by saying, "Hey, look at me, gang, I called for help!" A person who said such a thing would be taken for a manifest fool -- and in the same way, the extremist objection here takes all of us as fools who would presume to make such a ridiculous "boast".
In the end, it is an absurdity to say that it somehow demeans God if men have some choice for their own salvation. Note well that if God Himself set the system up that way, it hardly detracts from His honor or glory to say that it was, but it would detract from His honor and glory if we denied that it was.
Though the critic claims I did not address this question, I did do so in my article on unconditional election, which he had given short shrift to, and I suspect, did not read at all beyond a few paragraphs.
With this, we now turn to the critic's efforts to poison the social science well.
Social science criticism denies the inspiration of Scripture and the miraculous nature of Christianity.
No, it does not. Neither of these things is a fundamental teaching of the social sciences. The critic is confusing the fact that some practitioners of social science criticism happen to also teach these things with them being fundamental elements of social science criticism. But it is not. There are some (and they are a growing number) of social science critics and students who believe in the inspiration of Scripture and the miraculous nature of Christianity. David deSilva is the leading scholarly example. I am a leading apologetics example, and several others are so engaged as well, such as longtime Tekton reader Lita Cosner, who now works for Creation Ministries International.
In sum, this point is little more than well poisoning.
We should view social science criticism (SSC) as an interdisciplinary tool rather than an authoritative model.
In this the critic is merely stating his jaundiced perception of how I use SSC, not how I actually use it. To me, it is indeed an interdisciplinary tool; and yet, the question is also, "an authoritative model for WHAT?" It certainly can and should be such a model -- for how we understand Scripture where it relates to the social sciences! The key here is relevance, and if social science findings are relevant to the questions being asked, to the words being defined, and to the concepts being expressed in Scripture, then it is merely foolishness to complain as the critic does that SSC is being used to support my views.
SSC has a tendency towards Marxism.
No, it does not. In this, the critic badly misuses a statement by V. Philips Long:
Many (though certainly not all) social scientific treatments of biblical issues are explicitly or implicitly Marxist in perspective, and this inevitably influences the way in which the actions of past individuals, and the texts that report them, are assessed.
However, once the source of this comment is checked, it is clear that Long does not here refer to anything which we refer to in terms of SSC. He is not describing, and does not mention, people like Malina and Pilch who are members of the Context Group. Long's comment is therefore irrelevant.
From here, the critic presents the standard litany of mistakes associated with many neophyte critics of SSC:
- Individual conscience must have existed in the Biblical world, because man was an individual long before he was part of a group. Apart from this being a non sequitur -- how man existed, epistemically, has nothing to do with the use and development of what we call conscience -- it is demonstrably wrong, verified not only by scholarship but also by "native witnesses" like the one I call upon in the article linked below. (tillstill7-5) The critic moreover makes the outlandish assumption that individual conscience existed first, and was engulfed by the collectivist version, which merely begs the question.
- Group mentality requires individual mentality for its existence. How can I sense shame or think it right to pursue honor unless the group has instilled such thinking into my individual conscience? This also reflects a standard error; it fails to recognize that in such societies, it is not that persons do not live as individuals at all, but that group and collective concerns are given supremacy and pre-emionence. In that light, such people live and function as individuals, obviously; but their wills, desires, and actions are oriented towards the best interests and functions of the group. In other words, it is a matter of emphasis indeed -- something the critic admits is just fine with him.
This objection makes it rather clear that the critic has no idea what SSC and scholars actually mean by "conscience". For one thing, God's law is an external, and the argument is rather that conscience was rooted in externals. I refer readers to a link within the article linked below, which shows that the difference is how one reacts to one's own sin -- whether one is alone, or in the presence of others. Meditating on law or morals is not exclusive of a shame society, or of external conscience; what is different is how they react to it when they think no one is watching them. What the critic has unwittingly done is assumed that an accessory practice of persons with individual conscience -- meditating and memorizing law -- is exclusive of them, too.
Following this the critic quotes two texts on sociology of uncertain relevance to the issue, as neither directly addresses any point I made, but rather offers commentary on reputed problems of discernment in such matters as religious commitments and achievement of certainty. Unfortunately, the purpose of these quotes is not explained, so that it seems that they were meant for no other purpose than to inspire vague doubts in the reader's mind about SSC.
Finally, Moises Silva is quoted in his opinion that differences between modern and ancient culture are exaggerated. This hardly inspires much confidence, since Silva is in no way trained in SSC and has never published in that field. Silva gives as his reasoning: Many of the examples used to prove the distinctiveness of ancient culture – such as the use of proverbs or the tendency to stereotype – can be found on any street corner in the United States today.
I frankly would say that these two examples only illustrate Silva's exceptional inexperience in these matters "Use of proverbs" is a literary, not a social distinctive, and has nothing to do with the social sciences as such. (At the same time, our reasons for using proverbs are quite different from theirs: E.g., They used them because they were easy to remember in a society where 90-99% of the people were illiterate; we use them because they are catchy and sell detergent.) "Tendency to stereotype" is more on target, but Silva ignores the point that whereas today this is widely considered offensive, in the ancient world it was considered normal, and was also the leading way to learn about a person -- whereas today, we expect one on one conversation to be the method. Silva has wrongly taken the mere presence of these two elements to be the marks of distinction, when it is really their depth and purpose that is the distinction -- and I daresay this evidences a remarkable lack of depth in Silva's social science readings.
Our critic is little better informed, and perhaps less honest. He selects some "quick examples" that he feels demonstrates problems, and "quick" must surely have been correct, as the examples are carelessly handled. I will quote in full this time:
In "The “Handbook of Biblical Social Values,” B. J. Malina refers to the God’s elect as “his arbitrarily chosen client.” He also refers to the favor demonstrated by the patron toward clients as always “a donation-with-strings-attached.” Now it is easy to think this way because the genuine Christian has a duty to live out life in a certain way. But this is not the same as saying that the grace of God comes with strings attached. What strings? Faith conferred produces the fruit it is naturally intended to produce.
And on it goes, but we need not quote further, and it is little wonder the critic does not say what page these quotes come from. It is from page 91 of the book referenced, in the middle of the entry on Grace/Favor, and -- in a subsection discussing "charisma," or "gifts." The critic comments as though Malina were discussing something equivalent to the faith that leads to salvation, but that is not in the least what is in view, or would be; rather, what would be in view would be works within the covenant structure, and rewards for service -- the sort of thing illustrated by Jesus' parable of the servants who were given charge of cities by their master in accord with their performance, and by the principle Jesus stated that of he who has much, much will be expected.
In this, then, the critic shoots himself in the foot by charging me with "selective and prejudicial use of evidence" -- for it is clear that he is inept and clumsy in his management and understanding of that evidence.
With that, we may now move on to where the critic actually addresses my article on irresistible grace, and his critique is marred throughout by a misunderstanding, one I have found typical of him in the past when addressing something he considers beneath him to address. It has to do with what he claims is a contradiction in my explanation, but first, we have some preliminaries:
Your argument indicates that a Greco-Roman client-patron relationship is the basis for how Christians understood salvation. Why should this model serve as a theological imperative?
The answer, broadly speaking, is that the evidence shows it, but our critic is not in the least interested in addressing such evidence as: The fact that the description in the NT matches such a relationship, using even some of the same terminology; the fact that social science scholars have done credible, depth studies showing the connection (e.g., Neyrey's Render to God is the best example); the fact that the OT covenant made rather clear use of the ANE equivalent, a suzerain-vassal relationship (complete with a treaty, Deuteronomy, that matches suzerainty documents in form). The critic has had no interest in exploring such matters in depth, finding it sufficient to engage in well poisoning as above and taking that as sufficient reason to broadly dismiss scholarly work on this subject. He is thus left here with such first falsely restating and overstating my views (e.g., I do not say that "men absolutely and always responded to the patron with good behavior"; rather, such behavior was the ideal and expected response) and then drawing a non sequitur (e.g., God being gracious or kind to evil men is not mutually exclusive of good behavior being the proper response to grace).
Perhaps the most important point I made in my article was that grace was a "circle dance," not an isolated act, and that this melded well with Arminian views of prevenient grace, but not with Calvinism's model for it. The critic does not answer this directly, but relies instead on yet another non sequitur: Jesus was a "game changer" on many teachings, so he could have changed the meaning and understanding of grace as well. Of course, we can readily reply that Jesus did not change the game on many points (e.g., Jewish monolatry), and thus we can use that to say just as effectively that grace was NOT one of the things changed. We can also point out that the teachings the critic thinks are "game changing" (such as loving enemies) are not, actually, that radical in terms of newness, and can find varied parallels in even pagan moralists. In the end, though, none of this makes any headway towards showing that the "circle dance" of grace just happened to be something Jesus reformed.
Following this, the critic "responds" to my point about gratitude being the correct response to the patron by merely framing the matter in Calvinist terms ("God makes the unregenerate person honorable") and solemnly declaring that I "fail to recognize" this. Not at all -- that is simply the Calvinist view which my analysis refutes. The critic here believes that when B is offered which refutes A, one can justly reply simply by saying, "Oh yeah? Well, A!" and that will do the job.
Appropriately, the critic then spends a paragraph reiterating the Calvinist "gospel" while ignoring my point (which he even quotes) about how prevenient grace better fits the understanding of grace in that social setting. He apparently forgets that both of us do at least agree that total depravity is true, and although I am accused of various intellectual sins, no substance even after my point on the "circle dance" is quoted in detail, where I say:
And therefore, Sproul's observation that "if grace is obligated it no longer becomes grace" becomes essentially of no relevance once we are beyond the first round of "gracing". The question of whether regeneration precedes faith would be answered, "Yes, it does, and faith is followed by more regeneration if accepted; then by more faith, and on it goes." And oddly enough, this is the picture we have always been given of sanctification in the life of the believer. Grace enacted creates obligation and initiates a relationship of mutual obligation.
Somehow, by means I cannot comprehend, the critic gets from this that I am agreeing with the Calvinist view of grace. I frankly cannot see how, save that he seems to assume that I am indicating that the grace is what effects regeneration -- in which case, he has shown once again the folly of not reading my full article on the U petal of TULIP, as well as my article on "faith" (in which I demonstrate that it means loyalty). In essence, he has read my explanation in Calvinist terms in the same way he reads the Bible. However, as a full orbed understanding would indicate, the steps I offer are:
- Grace applied to totally depraved sinner.
- Sinner is to some extent "cleared" of the effects of total depravity such that they may now make free decision for the Gospel. They may or may not do so immediately. However:
- If they start moving towards acceptance of the Gospel, more grace is applied by God allowing even more "clearing" of the effects of total depravity.
In all of this, the critic confuses my view with that of Calvinism because he has taken a broad description of both views -- "regeneration precedes faith" -- as total explanations, and by viewing both regeneration and faith as binary acts. For him, "regeneration" comes all at once; there are no grades or shades. (He uses the analogy of regeneration as "new birth," which no doubt contributes to his lack of apprehension, since birth is a one-time process; but of course, such is illegitimate totality transfer: Will he next argue that the image of "new birth" also means we literally must wear diapers after we are saved?) No doubt this is why the critic professes to find my explanation, in the end, "terribly confusing."
We next get to the matter of faith, and Eph. 2:8-10.
You challenge the view that in this passage, both grace and faith are given by God, and say that is only one grammatical option. But you fail to say what the other option is.
It speaks to our critic's lack of critical discernment that he thinks so. It seems rather obvious that with only two words (grace, faith), and one view stated (both given by God), there are only two other possible options: Only grace is given by God, and only faith is given by God. And our critic's confusion is mighty indeed, for in the very next paragraph, he describes me explaining one of those remaining views -- that the faith is the client's response! That is the same as saying in grammatical terms that the grace is the only one of the two from God. In any event, no answer is given to this point; we are merely told that I merely assume that the social science model has application, which is not an answer to my point but an admission that the critic has no answer. I explained how grace and faith operated in that context; that is the immediate understanding of what those words would have meant to Paul's readers. It is rather up to the critic to explain why we should think they were understood in some different way that would have been unfamiliar to Paul's readers.
And now we come to the point where our critic believes I have seriously contradicted myself. He reads this from my article:
One other verse pointed to in this regard is Phil. 1:29, which says "it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake..." "Believe" is the same Greek word used to refer to faith; hence faith is "given" or granted to us. But in the client-patron context, what would be granted to us is faith in the sense of depending on God, our patron.
From this, the critic detects a contradiction because, allegedly:
Next up, he addresses how "faith" is defined (loyalty), but just barely: we are offered a rather limp suggestion that I am only accepting such a definition out of "theological bias" -- and that is all; after that, several lines are spent merely reiterating the critic's preferred Calvinist reading of Eph. 2 while also denouncing my own as failing miserably, etc. One notable failure is of this nature:
Paul says salvation is not of works, so it can't be the result of anything we do!
This reflects a matter on which I have challenged Calvinists before: To show me that making a decision was regarded as a "work". I have yet to find any evidence of this; all uses of the word for "works" (ergon) indicate some physical exertion or activity and not once refer to thought or decision.
Paul also follows by saying all of this happens because we are God's workmanship. That means what we are in Christ is because of God's work.
No, not really: That is merely the Calvinist "spin" on Paul's less specific words. Of course, if Calvinism were indeed true, that would be a just way to expand the range of meaning of these words; as it is, under my paradigm, the semantic expansion would be that God has ordained this system of salvation for the sake of His "workmanship," His creation, which He cares for. The words by themselves are not specific enough when isolated to bear the weight of any interpretation; they require a context, which both sides supply by interpreting surrounding texts.
The critic closes with a brief and quite vague sermon denouncing SSC as an interpretive method (mirroring his prior critiques and saying nothing new) and charging me with being postmodern and (by implication) emergent, as well as incompetent. Well, I think in light of how poorly he has read my material....I think we can let that speak for itself!
We'll close with a look at the last petal (P) next time.