Saturday, June 02, 2007

God's Justice: The Gift of Faith

(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I questioned an aside in which Robert Koons claims that "Calvinists, [by asserting] that Christ has died only for believers, ... make faith into a human work that merits salvation." I questioned this claim because it makes no sense to me from my (admittedly minor) knowledge of Calvinism. If anybody knows where Koons presents an argument to support this claim, please let me know.

Today's question concerns a different sort of statement, or series of statements:
If all the world is justified by Christ alone, does this mean that all will be saved? No, because not all are in a position to benefit from Christ's redemption. In order to be able to benefit from our objective justification, we must undergo an internal transformation that enables us to enjoy eternal life with God. Eternal life in God's presence would be no benefit to a sinful man, whose heart and mind are at enmity with God. C.S. Lewis illustrates this fact beautifully in his masterpiece, The Great Divorce. Unregenerate people would find heaven more intolerable even than hell. (pdf, page 41)
Koons is here rejecting universalism, the view that everybody, willy-nilly, ends up in God's presence because God ultimately extends grace to all. Koons cites C.S. Lewis to the point that unregenerate people would find hell more tolerable. I'm familiar with Lewis's interesting point, but doesn't it miss Koons's point? How so? Because if grace were extended to all, willy-nilly, then all would "undergo an internal transformation ... [enabling them] to enjoy eternal life with God." All would be regenerate. This doesn't happen. Why not? An argument must be lurking here. Koons only obliquely addresses the point:
How does this internal transformation take place? It begins with faith, which is itself a free gift of God, dependent on no prior works or merits. However, merely believing God is not sufficient for being able to enjoy communion with God: faith must reach its natural end or completion, in the form of the love of God. Only when, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we begin to love God are we in a state in which we can begin to enjoy the benefits of Christ's redemption. It is true, of course, that we never love as we ought, but neither do we ever trust as we ought. The process of sanctification is a long and gradual process: the attainment of perfection is not a prerequisite of friendship with God, but the natural result of that friendship. (pdf, page 41)
I presume that on this point, Koons is expressing his own view rather than a specifically Lutheran or Catholic one, but his view may be common to both ecclesiastical traditions. Anyway, the regeneration process is set into motion by God, who gets the ball rolling through the free gift of faith -- free in the sense that God suffers no obligation to grant the gift. The recipient, however, is under an obligation to reciprocate by learning to love God, which occurs through another gift, i.e., God's Holy Spirit, given to believers.

I have two questions on this point, and they are not specific to a particular Christian tradition. I just want to know. Does Koons think that faith is given to all but not acted upon by all? What is the role of human agency in the regeneration process?

If individuals have a choice, then I can understand God's justice, but if some are excluded from receiving the gift of faith (or perhaps the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit?), then God's justice is rather harder to comprehend.

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At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes - the overlap from my wandering thoughts, and what my wandering feet, bring to each other is amazing...

I just started another blog. I have no idea how it will turn out. I don't generally feel comfortable sharing that spiritual side of my thinking in public, but...

Anyway, the 2nd real post I am working on for it stems from today's Bible page flipping that led to my reading Mark 3 - especially a passage I've mulled over a good number of times (Mark 3:28-30) - and did yesterday - and still came away scratching my head - but digging into it yesterday also led me to read Mark 5 - as I began paying particular attention to Mark 3:11.

I believe all of that is standing with what your blog post and question are about.

I'll go ahead and post the work in draft to give a better idea of where my thinking is explorering on it.

But, I also think our previous discussion on Paradise Lost and Satan as heroic figure fits within this discussion.

One of the keys of my reading yesterday was to note how - in Mark 3:11 the "unclean spirit" - unlike even the 12 disciplines - immediately recognized Jesus as Christ - recognized and ackowledged - but the result sure wasn't being cleansed. The answer to why probably touches on your question as well...

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


I've left at your new blog a message, which I'll also post here:

The emphasis upon the Holy Spirit as that which cannot be blasphemed against without dire danger of eternal damnation can be understood within the holiness/impurity opposition.

Within the biblical context, if one sets oneself against holiness, then one is quite simply impure and will remain so. Impurity cannot come into proximity to holiness without being endangered.

The various hostile encounters between Jesus and impure spirits in Mark's Gospel are signified by the very first encounter, in which the impure spirit addresses Jesus as "the Holy One of God," a title that emphasizes his holiness.

It's not clear to me that Mark's Gospel ever shows Jesus giving impure spirits an opportunity to repent.

My question about whether grace is extended to every individual is tangentially related, I suppose, but it was more a query about theology than exegesis (though I wouldn't want to suggest that these are unrelated).

Thanks for the link.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a query about theology than exegesis "

I think we could probably write some books using that as a core theme...

I responded to your comment. I'm working on another post that is an offshoot of that one and these questions.

The role of the Holy Spirit is something I've been trying to mull over for a good long time now, and it will probably end up being on of the frequent topics of posts....

My own thoughts on the matter are highly unsettled at the moment - all up in the air waiting to see how they will piece together when they fall...

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

As I was logging off, this stuck out-

"My question about whether grace is extended to every individual..."

Can grace not be offered to every individual, but their destiny to refuse it be a foregone conclusion?

Did Adam and Eve have a choice in Eden? Surely, an omniscient God knew they would eat the apple and gain knowledge of good-&-evil.

Does that knowledge negate the idea the choice was real?

I have no idea how Calvinism and other faiths that emphasize predestination view it or lay it out in their system(s).

At 9:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The question of God's infallible foreknowledge and people's libertarian freedom is usually dealt with, among those who affirm both, by arguing, basically, that God foreknows what people will freely choose to do.

One interesting approach to this is called Middle Knowledge theology. In a prior entry (maybe yesterday), I've linked to previous posts on this topic.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave a shot at Google Book for Middle Knowledge and Molina but didn't get anything major unless it was in Spanish...which I can't read...

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Try "Google Advanced Search," and you'll find a host of useful articles.

Or read William Lane Craig's The Only Wise God.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a short biography of Molina see:

Luis de Molina

You could also take a look at:

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Middle Knowledge



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