Tuesday, March 14, 2006

recent PZ quote:

"I observe that Christians don't even tolerate sinners, another “other” for all their talk of forgiveness. It is a wondrous fact – an arresting fact – that when Christians fall into sin, the talk one hears literally every Sunday, in principle, of God's forgiveness and welcome to the sinner becomes a dead letter. It is as if we declare "God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" only to NOT mirror that, any time sin actually strikes close to us in a real live human being. It is an amazing reality that a sinner has about as much chance from Christians as Zontar did from the soldiers in It Conquered the World. (Zontar was burned to death, by the actor Lee Van Cleef.)"


mike burton said...

How true! I see it in my own evangelical Episcopal parish right here in the Diocese of SC (yes, SC).
It happens all the time. A Christian (sinner) actually falls into sin and the response more often than not is "you're just not trying hard enough" or you have a "responsibility" as a Christian that pagans don't have or "you need to get an accontability partner" (presumably to keep you from sinning).
Grace and forgiveness look good on paper, but when the shit hits the fan, you are SOL!

John Stamper said...

Your pop is spot-on, as usual.

I think the key problem for so-called evangelicals (so-called because they are often light years from the early Evangelicals’ very radical understanding of sin and forgiveness, grace and the Law, and especially the bound will) turns on what we mean by REPENTANCE. Because what a lot of times these neo-evangelicals will say is that, on the contrary Paul Zahl, we DO welcome sinners… REPENTANT sinners that is.

Now don’t get me wrong – repentance is an absolutely crucial part of the Christian experience. (C.S. Lewis once said that what modern day people want is “not so much a father in heaven but a grandfather in heaven, a senile benevolence that wants nothing so much as to see young people having a good time.”) Repentance, wrath, sin, accusation, judgement, law – this Christian vocabulary has got to be kept and even SHARPENED, precisely against the accomodating spirit of the age. But I think we need to also turn back to the early Luther and Cranmer, for whom it was so crucial, and hear the language, particularly REPENTANCE, in the way it radically attacked the natural man’s thirst for glory, the way it UP-ENDED “common sense” and “reasonable” theologies.

Common sense and Reason say that we repent of SINS. Plural. Acts. And so repentance becomes a meritorious act of the self-disciplined will, the glorious human will freely choosing (with a little help from some grace) to turn from Bad Actions (or Bad Thoughts, Bad Feelings) and successfully resolving not to do these anymore. We may fall off the wagon later, but the key thing is achieving in the moment that successful self-induced resolution. After all, what could it mean to say you were in a state of repentance WHILE YOU WERE STILL DOING THE BAD THING? That’s crazy… right? It’s folly.

But if we think of the problem as fundamentally a state, not actions springing from a state, and most crucially a state in which we are bound and from which we will not be delivered in this life – if we are not judged by God for what we do, as your dad says, but for who we are – then everything begins to be seen differently. Repentance does very much still involve a 180-degree turning, but not fundamentally one of action – not turning away from bad things that I do, but turning away 180-degrees from belief in myself and turning solely to the Cross, clinging to the Cross alone. Repentance becomes a place of perceiving one’s own wretchedness, a place of true self-awareness and grief and abhorence for what one is, and throwing oneself totally on the mercy of Christ. That is exactly the sense that a drunk can be flushed to the gills, reaching for the bottle and also repentent. Actions may indeed alter later after repentance, but if so that happens via the sanctifying work of the Lord which, along with suffering, always remains a mystery, and His sanctifying work from saved person to saved person differs according the secret counsel of His own good pleasure and in His own time, a Work that CANNOT be used as a litmus test to detect those who have “truly” repented. This is folly to a theologian of glory (who necessarily privileges the Free Will and its capacity to choose its actions) but to a theologian of the Cross, who correctly sees himself in a state of paralysis regarding his ability to choose the Good, it is the only thing that makes sense.

It’s also in this scheme of Luther and Cranmer that we find the radically counterintuitive (but very Biblical and indeed Pauline) idea of forgiveness PRECEDING repentence. Our hearts are hardened – we need an inbreaking Word from without BEFORE we can see as we ought, and love as we ought. Not because we successfully repented first, but because we experience the Word of forgiveness first. THEN we are broken open raw and can admit to what we are. The woman with the oil is broken open by the complete acceptence of her by the man Jesus just as she is, a whore; THAT sovereign action of the electing forgiving Jesus reducing her to wordless grief and tears where all she can do is kiss His feet. (And most crucially, there is no suggestion in the text that she subsequently joins the Young Ladies Christian League and stops plying her trade.) It is the experience of Saul of Tarsus: not because he repented first, but because the bleeding Christ whom he was persecuting loved him and chose him and forgave him; THAT reduces him to wonder and repentence. And this experience becomes a formal part of the Book of Common Prayer: where AFTER receiving absolution we are able to ask for “true repentence.”

So for me what a lot of this turns on is what a modern day evangelical means by Sin (a singular state or plural actions) and therefore what we think God principally cares about. If sin is primarily a plural thing, then we have moralism: God’s primary aim is to improve our behavior (thoughts, feelings). If sin is primarily singular, then God is not primarily concerned with what we do, but with saving us from the Grand Delusion of thinking we can live in any state but utter dependence on Him.

And of course, as Fitz likes to point out, these issues are not primarily intellectual, as if the doctrinal error is a matter of the mind. Hawthorne’s Puritans (no less than the Christians PZ criticizes) are not cruel and prideful to the poor adulteress because they believe the wrong theology; they believe the wrong theology because of the opportunities it gives them to be cruel and proud and self-righteous. “Faith is a rectitude of the heart” as Fitz says.

Anonymous said...


mike burton said...

And Amen!

rka said...

John Stamper, that is a brilliant letter. New life is a 180 degree turn away from the state of belief in myself, to the Cross, the mercy of Christ, while I am yet a sinner. The word of forgiveness does break one's heart open. And what then? Being all His, then all is well, and nothing will be wasted. Not a sparrow falls....

bpzahl said...

I'm collapsing this comment with one that I would make in response to Jeff Dean in the previous thread (the Peter Principle).

I have been talking with Simeon a lot about why semi-pelagianism (defined loosely as "our responsibility to respond to God after he takes the first move") works for some folks, whilst others need a doctrine of total grace. I have come to the conclusion that the primary reason for these differences is the compartmentalization of sin and sin-management--specifically, we have an internal yard-stick for how "sinful" our sins are, which makes some sins more manageable than others. Here are two scenarios:

1. Christian A believes that it is God's grace which enables him to live a Christian life, but he must respond actively to that grace by being more [fill in Christian virtue], thereby cultivating fertile ground for sanctification to occur. When he messes up, he does believe that God's grace covers his insufficiencies. He is obviously still struggling with some sins: a white lie here and there, being a little unkind to the not-too-cool neighbour (but mostly making an effort to not do so), maybe having a hiccup or two with pornography every month or so. He is also a faithful member of the church worship band and co-leads a bible study. By and large his life is pretty solid. He repents for these sins as they arise, but by God's grace gets over it and is able to move on, and feels like he is, in the overall sense, making progress in his spiritual life despite the odd sins that crop up. However he feels able to "get over it", even though the same sins crop up again and again, just not enough to paralyze him. He's doing enough good to equalize the sins that crop up here and there so that there is some small, steady progress towards being more holy. Because Jesus died on the cross with great love for him, he can be strengthened and disciplined according to the Bible, and yet know that Jesus’ blood covers his bad moments when he can’t cover them himself.

2. Christian B believes that God’s grace and it alone is sufficient for her, and even then it still doesn’t feel enough. She hardly feels like she’s making any move towards sainthood. She gets drunk on Friday nights, and finds herself in a stranger’s bed on Saturday mornings. She also perpetually has a hard time with her body image and idolizes the bodies of supermodels, which affects how she eats, how much she exercises, and how she dresses, even though she knows that those things have an unhealthy power over her. Not to mention the odd days when she “nicely” gossips about a colleague or takes an extra box of pens from her office. No matter how hard she tries, sin-management is a losing battle. When Christians at her church talk about how they struggle with bad attitudes or don’t feel like they pray enough, she feels like no other Christian is as screwed up as she as. But she also, in the more hopeful moments, remembers that this is for which Jesus died on the cross. Her state is a perpetual awareness of how broken her existence (not just her doings) is, and faith to her isn’t about how much progress she can make, but that she is fine in God’s eyes just as she is (even without her efforts, which is hard to believe.)

Which of these two are more sanctified?

To me, the problem of the church is this compartmentalization of sins. Some sins are more problematic than others, so there is a yardstick of how “manageable” sins are. White lies are less problematic than compulsive lying. Stealing stationery from work is less problematic than alcoholic addictions. Not tithing (and not telling anyone about it) is less problematic than not praying enough (which is always easier to confess). To the extent that a person feels his or her sins are mostly manageable, semi-pelagianism works. It really feels encouraging to know (when you are able to manage 65% of your sins) that God’s instruction in the Word helps you manage your sin and your life, and God’s grace is there to cover you when you screw up. Christians think that as long as their lives don’t involve (too much of) the “big sins” like addictions, anger, violence, abuse, etc. then they are pretty okay. They’re making some progress when they resist the temptation to tell a white lie or when they’re not as hung up about their career. This compartmentalization is what gives the illusion of the self-manageability of sins (with the grace of God) and, the other side of the coin, the self-manageability of a saintly life (by the grace of God).

On the other hand, if we see _every_ sin as the same, we’re in a very different position. It renders Christian A no different to Christian B. Telling three white lies in a day is just as bad as being anorexic three meals a day. Having worldly ambition is just as bad as making the world your god. Exaggerating your LSAT scores to a friend is just as bad as stealing an iPod from Bestbuy. Lusting after a woman is just as bad as committing adultery. In this light, there is no compensation for any sin. We can’t compensate for telling a white lie by being extra nice to a needy friend, just as we can’t compensate for cheating on our boyfriends by praying a little more. The damage has already been done, and continues to be done: our _beings_ are sinful, not just our _doings_. Obeying the Word and self-discipline makes up for the doings, but not for the being. So all that is left is (drunroll) repentance (as John Stamper so vividly described it.)

So the problem, in my view, is a view of sin that is not dark enough. As long as we have this Christian yardstick to measure the sinfulness of sins (and the virtuousness of virtues), we will not realize that it sin pitch black from A to Z. Christians start to think that more virtuous virtues will wash out the blackness of some of the little grey sins, so we try to compensate by the virtues, not realizing that the two are like oil and water. If the sin in our lives is black, and the good in our lives is white, there is no grey. Sanctification is not making the black grey. We are simultaneously black and white (simil iustus et peccator), and even if someone has a dot of black on their page there is still black. In God’s eyes, however, we are all white as snow, by the blood of Christ.

bpzahl said...

Lastly (and I’ll shut up after this one): Simeon’s posts about hope in the previous thread is also telling. The difference between a non-Christian in trouble and a Christian in trouble is that the non-Christian is left to his devices. Ultimately, when all things fail, a non-Christian has nothing left but him or herself. When that happens, and when that person knows that what he has is not enough, it drives him to despair. When a Christian is in trouble and nothing in the world can help, he is left with himself and God. Even when he has or does is not enough, his hope is that God is enough. That is true faith.

A semi-pelagian Christian, on the other hand, is half way along the line. This Christian believes that when she is in trouble, nothing in the world can help, but God helps her to help herself and she should choose to respond to his help. But the fact that she can choose to accept or reject implies that the situation is not as dire as she might think. The fact that she thinks she still has some strength to cooperate with God suggests that she isn’t really in the point of despair where no one or nothing else but God can save.

The question isn’t whether one is more Christian the other. Both believe that God saves. But one has been driven to despair, and the other hasn’t. When you despair, you give up. A non-Christian gives up and there is nothing left. A Christian gives up and God is left. A semi-pelagian doesn’t give up.

bpzahl said...

Okay, I lied. This is my last comment (in a string):

"God helps those them that help themselves." Benjamin Franklin

"Heaven helps those who help themselves." Samuel Smiles, in the first page of his book, Self-Help, 1859.

"God helps those He chooses to help, when He chooses to help, and in the way He chooses to help." Bonnie Zahl

Tim Galebach said...

Bonnie, it's really hard for me to equate a white lie with killing someone, on a gut level.

bpzahl said...

Yes Tim, that is true. But both would require the death of Jesus on the cross to absolve.

Jeff Dean said...

Correction, Bonnie.

According to the New Testament, killing someone is as bad as telling a lie.

If we don't harken unto the scriptures, then of course we'll rank sins according to our own thoughts about them.

bpzahl said...

oooh dean, you geniused me!!!

John Stamper said...

You all are AMAZING. Love listening to every one of you.

I think I agree with both Bonnie and Tim. Tim is truthfully describing the way we feel in our gut . He's right! I really do feel that way.

But I think Bonnie is right too. We feel that way, but that is what is so shocking about the Sermon on the Mount. It inverts all our reasonable expectations and feelings. It isn't reasonable to say that if I get angry with someone I have just murdered him. Surely not? Or that if I see a pretty woman and experience a pang of lust I have just committed adultery with her.

This leveling of the playing field so that the occasionally angry but very polite law-abiding Christian is guilty of exactly the same thing as the murderer on death row seems crazy to me. But I can't seem to escape the fact that this seems (to me) to be the NT witness.

Hey, speaking of Christian ethics, I just saw the documentary BONHOEFFER (2003) which I really liked. And one of the things I found interesting is that at the end of his life he ended up concluding that Christian ethics were indeed impossible for him to codify into any system of rules. That ultimately one had to cast oneself on the sheer mercy of Christ and beg for guidance -- and regard what happened as a mystery that might not be explicable in terms of moral first principles or their deducible consequences. I'm still mulling that over and may be doing so for a long time! :-)

mattie said...

Bonnie et al -

There is a dualism in your comments that I find problematic. I think there is another position. I believe that the New Testament record shows that we are called to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). If we believe the Gospel, we will want to, as Jesus says, "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). We have to remember that the Gospel (good news) is that we are not saved by our works, but by the grace of Jesus Christ. This reality also means that we are freed from sin and death. Will we still sin? Yes. But we are being saved!

St. Paul's letters are full of exhortation to believers to change their lives because of, through, and with the help of Christ. Some examples:

* But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:14)

* Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

* Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1)

* Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:7-9)

* Assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. (Eph 4:21-27)

This is the scriptural record. If I am saved I must strive for holiness. If the despair of my sinfulness permeates and defines my life I am not saved (this is a truism!). Do I sin? Yes. But, my sin should prompt repentance and a contrite heart that weeps over having rejected my Jesus who desires for me to have life (not heaven) and life abundantly (Jn 10:10). Sin destroys life, and if salvation restores life, then sin and salvation are incompatible. We will not be perfected until the day of the Lord, but we are answering our call to holiness here and now, in this world.

The problem I see with Christian B is that yes, she is "fine" in God's eyes just as she is, but that's not the point. The point is that, through Christ, we are liberated from the bonds of sinfulness that keep us enslaved to death. Jesus came so that we might know light. That we might live in the light. And the life led by Christian B is not full of light. Whether you think she must enact her holiness or whether you think it is wholly a work of the Holy Spirit that flows from faith, either way her life is not the life of a "saved" Christian because she is still being destroyed daily by sin.

I know there are other important points made in your post that I don't have the time to address now. Sorry about that. I just think it is imperative to be honest with ourselves about the call to holiness that is prominent in the New Testament, even in St. Paul's letters.


Tim Galebach said...

Mattie, I like your respect of the biblical record. The only thing that makes me queasy is that you seem to want Christian A to be the norm. Christian A is someone who exists in great numbers in every church. I probably am closer to Christian A.

The problem is that Christian A isn't holy, she's neurotic.

mattie said...

Hey Tim -

That was one of the things about Bonnie's post that I wanted to write about later. I don't think Christian A is the model either. I think it is somewhere in the middle - someone who absolutely recognizes that they sin and are reliant on God's grace but is also growing daily into a deeper relationship with God and themselves to the point of cultivating a repentant and contrite heart.

I think that what this looks like is being aware and confessorial about our sins and begging God for mercy and deliverance. But it also means being open to the non-super-natural ways in which God will provide that deliverance. By this I mean that I absolutely believe that God has the capability to take away my tendency towards (insert favorite sin) right now if He wanted. Or, he might be helping me grow in to a woman after his own heart by gifting me with people to hold me accountable, giving me examples of "saints" who have been set free from that sin, leading me to read books in which characters deal with that sin, and/or giving me an increased awareness of the brokenness that results (in me and others) when I engage in that sin. All of those things gradually change my heart into a heart that learns to not want to commit that sin. It will probably still happen from time to time and I will have to always be begging the Holy Spirit for grace in countering that sin, but I do believe transformation is possible. I think we can see that in the lives of people who have undergone genuine conversions (I'm just reading a book about Thomas Merton, so he springs to mind) and I hope that my life testifies to that reality. I am being changed and I praise God for His unending and absolute grace in that process.


Eric Cadin said...

Tim, in Mattie's defence, she neither writes nor implies that Christian A is the norm. Rather she points to the vocation of every Christian, i.e. a universal call to holiness. Trying to force a conclusion from an sharply dichotomized argument/scenerio is not honest.

A very brief but consequential observation from reading these discussions leave me very pessimistic about the christian life here on earth. It seems we cannot be said to desire or actually do anything. The unfair scenario leads to this type of conclusion. What ever happened to the Gospel. Where is John 10:10 in all of this? The discussions of bondage and a real and persistent earthly enslavement sound more like the thief in the night than he who comes to give life and life in abundance.

Eric Cadin said...

Furthermore, theologically this position, i.e. a universal call to holiness, can be found, among many other places within the entire Tradition of the Catholic Church as it is its position then, now and always, in III, 31, 1, reply of St Thomas' Summa Theologiae responding to the question of whether Christ's flesh was derived from Adam:

"I answer that, Christ assumed human nature in order to cleanse it of corruption. But human nature did not need to be cleansed save in as far as it was soiled in its tainted origin whereby it was descended from Adam. Therefore it was becoming that He should assume flesh of matter derived from Adam, that the nature itself might be healed by the assumption."

Jesus Christ, in taking the common nature assumed of man is able to the specific nature without borrwoing tainted material, thereby never "touching" sin, which as God he cannot. Christ takes a human nature without recieveing a correpted one, thereby raising man, human nature, to God, and not the other way around.

The very practical implication is that at Baptism we all recieve a new nature which is complete in itself. The "goal" or "job" then is that in the normal course of life people grow and, here it is, PERSONALIZE it. Holiness lies precisely in personalizing the new nature.

The importance of Baptism lies very much on this point, namely, all the "tools" for Christian life, the Theological virtues and most impotantly the NEW nature, arise from the sacramentally real death and rebirth of the Baptized

Eric Cadin said...

To quote Jean Galot, S.J. regarding the meaning and importance of person:

"Each of the divine persons is a relational being completely determined by his origin. Thus the Father is perfectly a Father in realtion to the Son...Conversely, each human person is a relational being that does not possess [in actuality] its full perfection from the beginning and must perfect himself through concrete relationships with others. His relational being is destined to pass from potency to act, to become more completely realized through human contacts...they are subject to growth in personality. A human person gradually become more of a person and the reality of his person develops. This maturation is provided by the activation of his relational dynamism. In relating to others, the person becomes more profoundly himself...
THe persons of the Trinity have possessed this plenitude from all eternity; man, on the other hand, continues his unending quest for personla fulfillment. Personalization is the tendency to come as close as possible to the perfection of personality realized in God." (Who is Christ, p. 305)

Now of course grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. all come into play, but we should, I think, be wary of removing all agency from Christian life, thereby stripping man of that relationship which God so profoundly loving bestowed upon us, namely, personhood.

simeon zahl said...

Tim's point that the striving towards holiness by means of personal agency is not holy, but neurotic, cuts to the core of the disagreement here. I recommend again, as strongly as I know how, that those who disagree read Gerhard Forde's "On Being a Theologian of the Cross".

Here is a quote, which you (Mattie and Eric, and perhaps others) will probably disagree with massively:

"Our works are deadly sins even if we think they are done with the help of grace. For then our works stand between us and God; they usurp the honor belonging only to God. This is a transgression of the first commandment. The self sets itself as an idol. Piety is no protection".

The level of difference between the paradigm with which you are operating and the paradigm with which many of us here are operating is drastic. I know this quote is provocative-- perhaps even for those who are more in the "Luther" camp!-- but it does illustrate how great the divide here in fact is.

Until what Forde is saying makes sense, until the true difference between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory is understood, we will remain at a massive and frustrating impasse. One worth having a Reformation over, in fact!

The heart of the matter is this: Forde/ Luther believe that your position actually promotes rather than discourages sin! Not intentionally, of course-- please believe that I know your intentions are entirely positive. But the disagreement is that radical. For us, or for me anyway, it is not a disagreement about methods of sanctification-- it is a fundamental divide over what sin is and what it is not.

Eric Cadin said...


if I could ask then, admittedly from a "works" framework, what if anything can/do we do? How can the human person be free? How can we enter into relationship with others, with God, if we can't "do" anything. If we lose, and forgive me if I am incorrectly stating your position, our SUBJECTivity, what exactly are we? What is the point to life? Is there such a thing as Christian life? Should we all stop eating so that we can get to Heaven quickly, where finally we will be free? Whence comes our dignity as human persons? Why should we oppose abortion, shouldn't we celebrate the rapid ascent of the unborn into heaven? Why, oh Why did Jesus heal people, surely the poor "bound" leper will now live longer in bondage. The poor guy who was lowered into the room by his 4 friends. If only jesus had stopped with his sins being forgiven, because surely in his state he was to die soon and enjoy eternal paradise, now he most likely will live longer?

The questions could pretty much continue ad infinitum...

Eric Cadin said...

oh, and what on earth are we to make of that pesky epistle of straw that Luther was so anxious to throw out?

simeon zahl said...

Eric, again, read the Forde book! The claim is not that those things (holiness, good behavior, experienced personal freedom, etc.) do not matter but that your way of getting to them actually gets you further away from them. The position in that book is not a strange antinomian variation on your point of view, but rather its diametrical opposite. It is a completely different paradigm. But my saying this will not make sense until you read the book. Best of all, it's only 115 pages!

Really, read the Forde book!

And as to your last point, someone else can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Luther specifically did NOT throw out that epistle (though he did "throw out" the Apocrypha as Scripture), despite the fact that he thought it to be "straw". A small but important point.

Tim Galebach said...

I, Tim Galebach, on this March 16th in the year of Our Lord 2006, hereby recant every position that I have held to this point. It is possible to lead an awesomely sanctified life on this earth, through the tabula-rasing of baptism, followed by periodic shots in the arm of grace, as I confess my sins to take care of anything grace misses. I can be free in this life.

I hope that illustrates why I care infinitely more about "is" than "should".

P.S. Simeon and Eric, please go and actually read what Luther actually said about James, in context. You'll agree with some of it and disagree with some of it, but until then, please don't throw it around as a facile rhetorical device.

mike burton said...

I agree with Simeon's earlier point of HOW we view sin and what that means in the context of striving to be holy is really the source of the divide here.

Mattie said earlier:

" he might be helping me grow in to a woman after his own heart by gifting me with people to hold me accountable, giving me examples of "saints" who have been set free from that sin, leading me to read books in which characters deal with that sin, and/or giving me an increased awareness of the brokenness that results (in me and others) when I engage in that sin."

I want to focus soley, now, on the phenomenom of "accountability relationships" because I think that it is a wonderful example of the different way we view sin and the human condition.

If I may give an example which I think is typical of these accountability relationships.

Two fine young Christian men at my church are accountability partners. One of these fellows, we'll call him "Laurel" (not his real name) asks his friend, we'll call him "Hardy" (again, not his real name), to keep him accountable in an instance.

It seems Laurel is struggling with his desire to engage in sexual acts with his girlfriend. He is worried that he has not the strength on his own to keep himself pure.

Enter Hardy. Laurel asks Hardy to call him on the telephone every night at 9:00, the usual time he begins to get "frisky", and to remind him that he ought not be doing what he desires to do.

Hardy agrees. Problem solved. Laurel does not commit the sin and becomes more "holy" by his abstention.

This is where we fundamentally disagree.

There are only two scenerios that come from this view of accountability.

A. Laurel succeeds in his striving, and does not commit the physical sin. He and Hardy pat one another on the back and say "well done!"

The problem with this scenerio is that, according to our Lord, the moment the thought of the act entered Laurel's heart, said sin WAS committed. However, since Laurel does not view sin in this way, he revels in the fact that with his friend, they have overcome the sin by simply not PHYSICALLY committing it. There is no need for confession or repentance because Laurel has kept himself from sinning.

B. Laurel fails in his striving and is condemned by his friend and more importantly his own heart. Since he is depending on his own human frailty to deliver himself from the sin, Grace is not an option for him.

In either of these scenarios, Laurel is DRIVEN FURTHER from God, for neither Grace nor forgiveness are present. And THAT is what Laurel really needs!

Jeff Dean said...

Dear Mattie,

The initial point you raised about holiness is very important to me. That you made the point only by citing scripture is key to this discussion; thank you for meeting me at my sola!

The scriptural record does seem very clearly to indicate that holiness is a part of the Christian life.

Furthermore, the Reformers agreed. I am reading Cranmer's sermons and writings every day now, and he insisted--contra Luther--that the assurance of salvation was found not by relying on the promises of God, but rather by examining the good works that resutled from one's faith in those promises!

(Eric, this is how Cranmer understood the seeming contradiction between Paul and James. There are other interpretations--namely, New Testament internal evidence suggests that James was written long before Paul wrote his own epistles, so the theological "trickle-down" effect must be taken into account. Namely, James is refuting a characture of Paul's theology that had wafted its way to his diocese. You can take or leave this interpretation as you wish, but, and I can explain more later, I find it very convincing.)

Here's my point, Mattie. I find those scriptures very troubling, because Paul seems to be saying very clearly (1) exactly what Luther posits, namely, that we are dead to the Law and alive to grace because of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, and (2) this transformation means that we are different--that we are holier.

Here's what keeps me in therapy and on pills: The Romans are wrong about point #1, but the Protestants seems to be wrong about point #2. Imputed righteousness is certainly a theological novum originating with Luther. Before him, the best understanding of Augustine's position was factative--God actually made righteous those who had faith in his promises and illustrated that faith through their good works. (The Anglican Reformers dropped the good works bit--faith was sufficient for the factative restoration).

Eric makes an excellent point about the paralytic man: what about restoration? What about those of us who are desperate to be made whole?

The Reformers insist that believing we are counted righteous--that we are counted whole--by God is the root of our restoration. Now, if I'm not seeing restoration, then I must not have faith.

I'm not so naive or uninformed to realize the cyclical way in which this leads to brokenness and faith. My problem, however, is that Paul seems to write about the Christian life as a transformation, originating at a point and then marching forward from that point.

I, on the other hand, never escape the cycle of despair. I never produce good works, and the only way I'm able to get through my day is believing that the entire spiritual realm is irrelevant to me, having taken care of itself because of the death of Christ.

It's like the war in Iraq: sure it's important, and sure I'm implicated by it somehow, but I would have to sit and think about it constantly--or actually go over to war--if I didn't just ignore it all together.

Until I was taught the Lutheran Gospel, such apathy would never have been an option for me.

Suffice it to say I see both sides fully (even though each side will be certain that I don't), but I fail to see either working out in the real world.

My question for all of you is: why?

Eric Cadin said...
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Eric Cadin said...

Jeff, I want to see if I can make an attempt to bridge the gap, or chasm as Simeon puts it by responding, in a typically Roman way, with a both/and, a nuanced perhaps, way of uniting the Truth of both sides,

Not only am I not “shocked” by your Simeon's quotation, but would say that I, and I believe the Catholic Church, would actually agree with it. With a caveat of course, which I will explain, again, of course, analogically.

To subscribe any act outside of God would be to Idolize self, idolize man. But the distinction and this I think is often overlooked by protestants, is the “ordering” (there for sure is a better word, but I am at a loss at the moment) of action. Just because God is the origin of action and principle agent does not absolve us of action, for we are secondary agents.

Here’s the analogy. The will (please excuse for the discussion any theological imputation regarding bondage, original sin, etc., let us speak purely on the philosophical level of anthropology) is a faculty of the soul whose object is the Good. Now man’s sole “orientation” is to that Good, which is infinite, perfect, etc. Man, and his will, is finite. So, the will “yearns for” the infinite Good, necessarily. Thus on this most fundamental man is not “free,” But man, as a finite agent, with his sensible appetites are bourne to delimited , finite goods.

Written better than I, I quote Pierre-Marie Emonet, O.P. in “The Greatest Marvel of Nature”: “Thus it is in the desire of an infinite amplitude that the root of freedom resides. If the will has for its object a Good to which nothing is lacking in the line of good, and tends to it necessarily, then it cannot tend necessarily to a finite, limited, particular good. Absence of inner necessity is called freedom: free choice.” (71)

“Free choice, then, is a judgment that consists in weighing the goods that are presented to the will. And the measure by which we weigh these goods is the Good, the universal essence of Good…Everything presented to the ‘willing’ will be weighed against the weight of the Good, the weight of happiness. Such an appetite does not perform its movement impulsively. It will deliberate. It will weigh the goods. Aristotle calls the will the ‘deliberative’ faculty.” (71)

Please note how there is an “ordering” of freedom. We are not free to choose the Good but are free to choose the good in front of us. The former in no way removes agency or culpability from the latter. On the contrary, as Emonet notes: “Yet, there, in the depths of human creativity, [ here he is speaking of the subjectivity of the human being to be a subject who chooses his ends] is where the universe of morality and immorality finds its origin…The will necessarily plunges the human being into a metaphysical drama. But by that very fact, it reveals to him his greatness!” (79)

Thus in an analogical way, we can act freely and subjectively without in any way dismissing, demeaning, or negating the sovereign and rightful authority of God. Thus we are not in fact idolaters but are in fact human persons!

Just a bit of speculation here, but why this might be “hard to swallow” among protestants is the misunderstanding of and absence of a Sacramental understanding. The Incarnation gives purpose, freedom, and dignity to creation. Catholics have an easy time digesting this understanding because we know and experience how God acts through us as agents, how for example God, through the priest, [and why through him, not because God has to, but because he chooses to,…Look at the Incarnation. Did God have to Save us that way…no, but he did, and that tells us something about Him] consecrates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It is not the priest who consecrates but God acting THROUGH the priest.

Anonymous said...

"We are not free to choose the Good but are free to choose the good in front of us."


Try quoting the above to an alcoholic or to the "good" mother, who in frustration and rage strikes her disobedient child.

It's not that simple.

Eric Cadin said...

I would explain to them, with sensitivity, charity, and tact, exactly what I wrote, which is truth, which is how we as human persons are made. Would I phrase it like that, probably not, but I wouldn't make something up.

Our will in cooperation with the intellect, because of original sin, does not deliberate well in those situation. But at no point are we "orientated" to anything but the Good. We choose a percieved good but it turns out to be sin, i.e. not the best shall we say. It's not a fair comparison but we are both free and not free, our freedom reveals our greatness our not free opens up our happiness.

"You shall be as God," said the serpent. Pride blinds us to thinking we orient ourselves. What a small and petty universe I then rule.

See the drink is a good, the peacefulness of a quiet baby is a good, but are their methods, their means, their choices the best. I don't think so.

Tim Galebach said...

Eric, it seems to me that what you wrote is not "truth", but highly speculative metaphysics.

The lowercase good that you describe looks like a simple restatement of self-interest or appetites. The two people in the example don't want the "good" of the drink, or the silence of the baby, they want to satisfy themselves.

I understand that you're trying to fuse a sovereign God with freedom of human choice. I'm just not convinced that Greek metaphysics are the way to get you there, and they CERTAINLY don't represent Truth with a big T. You can give an equally good account of life by saying that we're oriented towards the self, rather than the Good. I would argue that the Christian account tends toward the latter.

All that said, I don't know if this is the most productive line of discussion, simply because of its highly speculative nature. I think that Dean's post is more interesting, because it gets closer to what neither "side" wants to discuss, namely the lack of actual evidence for the theoretical models that each are married to.

Eric Cadin said...

Tim, I agree with you regarding the productivity of a discussion on the will, my only point in raising it in an example was to illustrate that the dichotomizing of agency need not be the only perspective, that both God and man can be actors on different levels. That a hierarchy of being exists.

Surely the parable of the talents says something of man's free will, his subjectivity.

[Though I must say, refering to the explication of the will as a faculty of the soul as "highly speculative metaphysics" is quite bold and highly speculative seeing as such an understanding has been around for thousands of years and pretty much solid (keeping in mind that I am avoiding any imutation of oringal sin's effect upon the will, i.e. bondage, etc., for that moves into theology), for "satisfying themselves" can still be seen as a "good"]

mattie said...

Jeff -

I think your point is important and I thank you for your willingness to address my scriptural concerns. Like Tim (sorry Eric) I don't think the Thomistic recovery of Aristotelian metaphysics is all that useful.

I'll try to take up your question: "Why?" Why don't you personally see restoration? Why does sin persist in the believer? Additionally, a question I've been thinking about lately is how can people do good works WITHOUT faith (because we see that all the time in secular charities, etc.)? Which begs the opposite - how can people with faith not do good works?

I wish I knew! The only thing I can say is that I find the imagery throughout the new testament of development the only way to understand the confusing the relationship between faith and works. Particularly I find Galatians 4:1-9 and Colossians 1 meaningful in trying to understand this.

First, Galatians 4. This idea that we are co-heirs with Jesus is very important, particularly with respect to the temporal aspect of sanctification. Through Christ's life, death, and resurrection we have become his brothers and sisters, genuine children of God. I take this to mean that we are growing into our roles as heirs. We still think we are slaves (and consequently have occasion to act as slaves), but we are actually heirs. As we come to know our identity and vocation we "grow into" the blessings and responsibilities of an heir. Only after death will we "inherit the kingdom" of God fully, but we are being given pieces of it to multiply (cp. the parable of the talents) while we are here on earth.

Second, Colossians 1. There are two key pieces here. First, the inheritance imagery again, but also this idea that the gospel is "bearing fruit and growing." This is also evident in the "fruit of the spirit" passage in Galatians 5. I used to see this as evidence for a bonded will, but I'm reading it very differently with my newfound Catholic hermenuetic. Now I see it as testimony to the relationship between freedom and gift. Faith is an utterly undeserved gift from God (the tree, if you will) that is designed and created to bear fruit. However, we have the capability to water or not water the tree, to till the soil, to put it in the sunlight, etc. We cultivate our gifts in order to help God bring his agapic love into the world through so-called "good works," which really just means acts of love. Another thing about the "fruit" analogy that I find helpful is that there are seasons when trees bear fruit and seasons when they are barren. You don't expect peaches in December. But, the farmer has to do something in December to ensure that the tree is fruitful come harvest time. I think we all go through cycles of fruitfulness and barrenness and that this happens to remind us of our reliance on God as well as our role in ensuring that "the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven."

I want to write more, but I have a busy day. I'll try to throw out a couple more ideas tomorrow. I will particularly attempt to respond to Simeon on Forde and Mike on accountability.

Much love,

mike burton said...


I think the Scriptural exhortations are more DESCRIPTIONS of what we're ABLE to do through the pwer of the Hoy Spirit and not PRESCRIPTIONS of what we are EXPECTED to do on our own.

For true "good works" or true "acts of love" can ONLY come by the Spirit of God.

And, since we are unable to truly love one another by this Spirit that we cannot possess unless it is freely bestowed upon us, how can we be expected to, with our bound/flawed/self-centered will, aspire to Love?

If we simply do good works by prescription, what makes them different than the "good works" of unbelievers which "have the nature of sin", as we read in the Thirty-nine articles.

Real "Good Works" come only through the Spirit of God who is the only One capable of them.

Does God EXPECT us to do that which we cannot? Or does He ALLOW that we do that which ultimately gorifies HIM?

mattie said...

Mike - I want to read the scripture the way you do, but it doesn't seem that is what Paul is saying. I don't know Greek, so perhaps my translation (NRSV) is off, but there is definately agency here. He says "let us cleanse ourselves." He says "put on Christ." Those sentences not only imply action, but insist on it.

Moreover, Paul writes all these letters, as he acknowledges, to believers. These are real people who really believe in Christ and some of them are doing good works (i.e. being loving) and some are not. Paul doesn't say, "Oh, that's okay that some of you aren't doing good works." Instead he says, "Get your shit together and start behaving like you really believe that God became human and liberated you from sin and death."

I am not advocating a prescriptive agenda divorced from genuine faith. I'm definitely not saying that if you only follow these specific exhortations you will "be saved." I am however saying that, informed by the Pauline record, human will plays a role (and a quite significant role, at that) in promoting and furthering the kingdom of God here on Earth.

Jesus says, "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect." (Matt 5:48). Does this mean that "God expects us to do what we cannot?" You be the judge. I think that God expects us (and created us) to be "perfect" in the sense that we are created in his image. And what image is that? "God is love." (1 Jn 4:8) Thus, to be perfect is to be loving. Will we ever be liberated from sin & death this side of heaven? No, but do we do something? Yep. Can we love? Do we grow in our ability to love? I know Simeon & Bonnie can and have. I know Jeff can and has.

I also want to address your example of accountability. That is horrible! That's not what my accountability relationships look like! If those are what you think of then accountability definately should not be advocated! This is where my point about conforming our desires to Christ's desires is so important. The role of Hardy is not to condemn OR congratulate Laurel but to walk beside him reminding him about Christ's plan for his life and what holiness looks like. The point is not to artificially resist temptation but to grow into men and women who are allowing Christ to dwell in us. Romans 8 is key here. The Spirit intitates and allows our holiness, but we play the role of "setting our minds on" and "walking" (v. 5 & 4, respectively) according to that Spirit dwelling in us.

Again, the best way to see Jesus' perspective on this is John 8:1-11. Jesus doesn't tell the adulterous woman, "Oh, it's okay, I understand. You're sinful! Go ahead and screw around." He says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again" (v. 11). Jesus seemed to think it was possible to grow and change and sin less through the power of grace and reconciliation.

Simeon - Creighton only has one book by Forde (Justification by Faith) which I picked up and am starting to read. I ordered "On Being A Theologian of the Cross" and will hope to have remarks for you in a couple weeks.

As always, in Christ,


mike burton said...


I don't mean to say that all "accountability" relationships are just as the example that I gave.

I do not believe in them personally because I think that it opens up a door for us to become self-righteous and judgemental.

Accountability relationships have indeed sprung from something very good. We used to call them "prayer partners".

The accounability thing is another form of those but allow us the one thing that we all lust for in life - control. It is no longer good enough for us to PRAY for our brother when he falls into sin, as St. John the Evangelist saith, but we must now rebuke, correct and insist that our brother change his wicked behavior. Nevermind that its a perfect case of the blind leading the blind.

I simply fail to see where faith plays any role in accountability relationships. They're just there for behavior modification.

mattie said...

Mike -

We are not only called to pray for our brothers and sisters, but called to live in community, growing in faith and helping others to grow in faith. See, for example, Galatians 6: 1-10 & Ephesians 4:15-32. I think faith plays a *huge* role in sanctifying the body of Christ, whether in deliberate "accountability" type relationships, or in friendships, or in the church writ-large.


bpzahl said...

Mattie, I hear what you're saying. My guess you is you would say that exhortations are what we are expected to do by the Spirit of God. So it is expected of us to do what the exhortations describe, but only because God has given us His spirit which gives us what we need to do so. That makes total sense.

But I want to address the fact of expectations, specifically our expectations on ourselves. Let’s assume, for a minute that a Christian has been saved; he has been given a new spirit, a new mind. He is a new creation, and he begins to live as one. He makes better decisions and is, in general, making good progress towards holiness. And he expects God to help him when he is stuck, because God has promised it in the Word. He expects to be making progress since he is a Christian. He expects to be growing, to be flourishing as a human being; to have peace and joy in spite of his circumstances. He expects that when things get hard, God will help him.

How might he feel if and when God doesn’t? What if God does to him what he did to Job?

The problem with expectations is that it brings a scale into the picture. Expectations are emotional and cognitive weights and measures by which we order and make sense of our lives. I expect to be paid at the end of the month for my work. Expectations mean action-consequence. An action leads to a consequence. So a wise action leads to a positive consequence, and a selfish action leads to a negative consequence. That is what we would expect. We would also expect that when we pray a lot, a consequence would follow – we would feel closer to God, we would know him better. But how would a person feel when a wise action (following God, obeying him, faithful prayer, reading the Word, etc.) leads to a negative consequence, such as prolonged periods of spiritual dryness, little (if any) change to one’s sin, or even something seemingly totally unrelated, like infidelity of one’s significant other, the sudden death of a beloved one, acute terminal sickness, etc.?

My point is that if we go with the expectations (of God on us, and thus ours on God, since it is a relationship between two people) as described in Paul’s exhortations, we would be hard pressed to even stay in a relationship with God, because all too often he allows things that we don’t expect (either good or bad) to happen. Indeed, God expects us to be holy; he expects us to grow, to mature, to seek him, to obey, and to love him. That is not the problem. The problem is that we can’t help but start expecting things of God, too. “Surely he has a reason to expect us to grow, if only for our own good,” we think, and we start thinking about what our idea of “good” is. We start expecting God to be “good” in the way that we’d like him to be good, so when he fails to be good not once, twice, but twenty times (such as allowing temptation and we stumble, having our boy/girlfriend cheat on us again, seeming to ignore our cries for help, or not answering our prayer for something we desperately need or want), we get stuck. We get stuck because we expected God to have expectations on us. We thought that, by striving to meet those expectations, he would help, he would listen, he would draw near. But often he doesn’t.

When pastors quote “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” I always think of Job. A theology that emphasizes the expectations of growth and development does not and cannot adequately account for the experiences of suffering and desert weeks, months, and years. Yes, in the “grand scheme of things” it is for the best that we should suffer, that we should have periods of spiritual drought, but that is not a helpful word to a person who is suffering or in their ninth month of spiritual drought.

bpzahl said...

As for accountibility: again, when one _expects_ that accountability (plus holy spirit plus God's grace) is able to help us overcome our problems, but it fails to, and it only leads to more guilt not just before God but before the person to whom you are accountable, all you are left with is a Christian in despair and full of fear and resentment.

Eric Cadin said...

Bonnie, I wonder what you mean by, "so when he fails to be good not once, twice, but twenty times (such as allowing temptation and we stumble, having our boy/girlfriend cheat on us again, seeming to ignore our cries for help, or not answering our prayer for something we desperately need or want), we get stuck."

Specifically "he [God] fails to be good."

Is the good you are referring to our subjective interpretation or God actually failing to be Good. The former I understand, the latter has some problems. If it is indeed the former, then here is one way the "perspective" mattie proposes aids our Christian life. God reveals Himself to us, thw Word became flesh, He calls us friends and shares Truth, His plan with us, the whole plan, probably not, but as much as He desires to. It seems to me that Mattie is pointing to the "renewing of the mind" which comes from God's transformative power. We are not then "striving" to our percieved expectations but informing our lives with His true plan for us, united ourselves actively to him.

Growth has taken on a very bad name, instead we should think of it as a unversal call, vocation, to holiness. This vocation given and sustained at all times by God raises us to the divine, a divination. Your emphasis on expectations are extraordinarily human in perspective. This is way vocation perhaps is a better word. Our relationship to Him raises us beyond these emotions to a communication, a Hope in the carrying out of His plan, an insight into Divine providence.

Most, if not all, of the "bad" things you mentioned, it should be noted are not direct acts of God, per se, but result from Sin, result from free human acts, they are consequences, even sickness. The Christian, however, infused with Hope "desires the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as his happiness, placing his trust in Christ's promises and relying not on his own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit." (CCC, 1817)

Eve said...

"Law gives us much more than we are able to do, and grace gives us much less than we are willing to do."
I'm sorry I do not remember who said it (a funny name like "Frier" or "Brier") but I read this the other day, and thought of you, Mattie....Something tells me you are both very willing and very able to do a lot of the things that you feel are required or necessary as a believeing Christian. For those of us who are not so equipped, I am glad to travel "under the mercy" (vanAucken).
And I can't WAIT to read what you think about "On Being a Theol. of the Cross"---I really think you won't like it, but I will be thrilled to listen to a smart disagree-er of Forde.

bpzahl said...

Yeah Mattie, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Forde's book!

Eric: of course I meant the goodness (lower case g) of God and not the Goodness of God. The latter can never be debated.

My point is exactly that the expectations we have _are_ human because _we_ are human. Anything that is healthy and not of man _must_ be the intervention and hijacking of the Holy Spirit.

You said that the badness in the world are consequences of sin, sickness, etc. Then explain to me Job. Of all people he was a righteous man, but he was subject to a suffering that I can't even possibly imagine. I (and perhaps I have a wrong perspective!) cannot help but see a God who is a mystery, who doesn't do thing logically, even to a man whom He loves dearly.

As for your point about "vocation", I find it very abstract. It does sound awesome, Eric, and I'm really glad that you feel like you are right in the middle of it. But it's too abstract for me. It sounds good, but I have absolutely *no* clue what it looks like in reality, in my life.

Lastly, I want to ask you one question (which you wouldn't have to answer): how did/do YOU know that you're meant to be a priest? What was that process of discovery like? And what makes you think that you _will_ be a priest? How many people have said this to themselves: "I thought God wanted me to be/do/go [fill in blank]..." when their strivings have failed, or when the world has failed them? Maybe you don't know any of those people...I know lots.

mike burton said...


I agree with Eric that badness, sickness, etc. are a result of sin.

What I don't agree with is his notion of sin. The sin from which we must be freed is not "Free acts of the human will", but ONE free act of the human will many years ago.

It is precisely from this one free act of sin that none of the rest of us has a free will!

And, its consequences could only be defeated by ONE free act of Love.

Anything bad, good, or in between that we do has absolutely no effect on whether or not we live in sickness, spiritual dryness, etc.

To say anything different is to say the Work wasn't completed on the Cross.

Eric Cadin said...

Mike, thank you for your directness. I must say I find your declaration very reasonable.

But I ask, and would love further explanation, "when if ever is our will free?" Might it come following our Baptism, when we are born from above of water and the Holy Spirit? If not then, when. If not on earth, but only in heaven, then how do you reconcile all of Mattie's passages refering to our actions. Jesus seemed full of commands to act, look at the beatitudes, the constant parables involving stewards, etc.

I am not suggesting at all that we work for salvation, rather that a NEW life in Christ frees us to personalize our nature, to become the man or woman God made us to be

Joshua Corrigan said...

Eric, I would say that the man/woman that God made us to be is one of complete dependence on him such that freedom is not the point at all. Alternatively, we may be set free in the moment we are loved in our unlovable-ness. It is at this point that we can freely choose the good-if even for a split second. A Tim Keller type might say that we are freed to love the good in as much as we are given to apprehend the love that God has shown us (which usually doesn't last too long).

Also, regarding your earlier philosophical concerns, must say that the analogy you present would be accurate except that it is in no way Christian. Not taking into account theological considerations leaves the anology in the realm of pure speculative reason (which is not reality or truth). As such, it is very nice but as an anology of who we are, and what we do, it is very incomplete. We are simply not oriented to the good. I cannot see how our desire for an infinite Good necessitates freedom. Christianity is a religion "in" history. Speculative philosophy cannot account for history so it is severely limited.

I have been told that Luther said that in order to study Aristotle one must first become a fool in Christ.

Your analogy, to me, seems to be similar to the one that Kant makes in transferring the conception and perception of freedom to the realm of the practical. The analogy seems to start from this perception of freedom and dictate its existence as a priori without justifying the leap from perception to actuality. Our is an actuality that empirically exhibits bondage and not freedom.

So your example (and I am sure that I have not fully understood it), seems to be inapplicable preceisely because it deny's the truth of the human condition (which you have acknowledged). Unless we can prove that our perception of freedom (which we all have in "the moment of truth")is more than a perception, all the speculative philosophy in the world will be useless.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Thank you Eric and all for the fantastic discussion!

bpzahl said...

"I would say that the man/woman that God made us to be is one of complete dependence on him such that freedom is not the point at all."

HURRAH to Josh Corrigan!

Eric Cadin said...

Josh, thank you very much for your comments, particularly your further clarification of your position regarding “freedom” and “complete dependence on him.”

I have three points:

1. My original intention in mentioning the will was not to discuss the philosophical or theological applications of my example, rather, it was to show, via an analogy, that a kind of agency, action, and subjectivity on the part of man need not necessarily impinge upon the sovereignty and primacy of God. Perhaps my example distracted too much from this point, but I think it bears repeating that we need not necessarily fear that action, or “instrumentality,” on the part of man will make incomplete “the Work on the Cross.”

2. Since a question of the will has emerged, I think some clarification is in order. Leaving aside the theological considerations does not make my account purely speculative, for I only excluded those considerations to avoid being bogged down in denominational differences. In very sharp contrast to the theories of Kant and Schopenhauer, the understanding of the human soul, which leads to understanding of the intellect and will, birthed from the writings of Aristotle are very much grounded in reality, as real existent things are the foundation of knowledge, without which we can know nothing. Further, our “orientation” to the Good, who is God, is not affected by original sin, as such. Now Original Sin does damage our intellect and will, (here is where we can disagree, i.e. in regards to the extent and ability to be restored) but that does not necessarily “re-orient” us to anything else. Where the confusion arises, I believe, is that this fundamental orientation will allow us to do good works apart from Christ or other such conclusions. That does not necessarily follow, instead what this orientation allows is our ability to know. It allows, perhaps even, urges us to know and to love, which are the raison d’etre of the soul. Freedom is not conjured up and then imposed upon creation, but in this theory it flows from a sober and true view of the human person and the purpose, functioning, and desire of the human soul. This understanding of the human soul is witnessed to in thousands of years of writing, art, music, dance. It does not challenge any Christian doctrine, instead it has remarkable if not perfect complementarity. For example, the “emptiness” that people say exists in all people and in sin is filled with all sorts of idols but can only be completed by God, by surrender to Him, can, though not perfectly since it is quite vague, be seen as this yearning, this orientation to the Good, the infinite unsatisfaction of the finite creature craving the infinite.

3. I would ask how a complete bounded will which allows no action nor free will can be reconciled with the Scriptural record, in the Epistles and especially the Gospels. It seems to me that such an idea is truly in the realm of the speculative. Scripture, Tradition, Patristic Fathers, for thousands of years speak to agency, free will. Not until a single man, Martin Luther, came around did this speculation emerge with force. It seems somewhat forced precisely because is seems to be an imputation of an idea upon scripture instead of letting revelation speak. For example: Jesus raises Lazarus, the man comes out bound, Jesus asks the people to unbind him. Why not do it himself? Is there any participation there? Jesus feeds the five thousand. The apostles distribute the food, why not rain food down from heaven? Is there not participation and human instrumentality there? Can you find a single example from the Gospels where Jesus seems to bind human action to the extent that we can’t do anything at all?

I close with two sayings of great saints

St. Benedict: “Pray and Work”

St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”

mike burton said...


Pelagius, from whom this idea of free will originated was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Orange, and was condemned again at the Council of Florence, the Council of Carthage, and also, ironically, at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

Pelagianism was condemned as heresy precisely because it denies the falleness of our nature, the Doctrine of Original Sin.

What was accepted by the Church in the sixteenth cenury is "semi-Pelagianism". Semi-Pelagianism says we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. This lesser Pelagianism is still contrary to what Augustine and indeed Aquinas taught.

Free will is not a thousands year old belief. It started with a heretic in the 5th Century and has been heresy ever since.

Furthermore, your assertation that the idea of a bound will was invented by "one man" - Luther- is erroneous to say the least. All of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer) stood on the same ground regarding the bondage of the will. And Augustine and all of the early Church fathers as well.

Read Luther's "The Bondage of the Will". You can Google it. I think you can actually read it online.


mike burton said...

"This, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, "Free-will" is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert "Free-will," must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them."

from Luther's "The Bondage of the Will"

Eric Cadin said...


Summa Theoligiæ - Prima Secundæ Partiss
Question: 6; Article: 1

Whether there is anything voluntary in human acts?

Objection 1: It would seem that there is nothing voluntary in human acts. For that is voluntary "which has its principle within itself." as Gregory of Nyssa [*Nemesius, De Natura Hom. xxxii.], Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 24), and Aristotle (Ethic. iii, 1) declare. But the principle of human acts is not in man himself, but outside him: since man's appetite is moved to act, by the appetible object which is outside him, and is as a "mover unmoved" (De Anima iii, 10). Therefore there is nothing voluntary in human acts.

Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher (Phys. viii, 2) proves that in animals no new movement arises that is not preceded by a motion from without. But all human acts are new, since none is eternal. Consequently, the principle of all human acts is from without: and therefore there is nothing voluntary in them.

Objection 3: Further, he that acts voluntarily, can act of himself. But this is not true of man; for it is written ( Jn. 15:5): "Without Me you can do nothing." Therefore there is nothing voluntary in human acts.

On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) that "the voluntary is an act consisting in a rational operation." Now such are human acts. Therefore there is something voluntary in human acts.

I answer that, There must needs be something voluntary in human acts. In order to make this clear, we must take note that the principle of some acts or movements is within the agent, or that which is moved; whereas the principle of some movements or acts is outside. For when a stone is moved upwards, the principle of this movement is outside the stone: whereas when it is moved downwards, the principle of this movement is in the stone. Now of those things that are moved by an intrinsic principle, some move themselves, some not. For since every agent or thing moved, acts or is moved for an end, as stated above ( Question [1] , Article [2]); those are perfectly moved by an intrinsic principle, whose intrinsic principle is one not only of movement but of movement for an end. Now in order for a thing to be done for an end, some knowledge of the end is necessary. Therefore, whatever so acts or is moved by an intrinsic principle, that it has some knowledge of the end, has within itself the principle of its act, so that it not only acts, but acts for an end. On the other hand, if a thing has no knowledge of the end, even though it have an intrinsic principle of action or movement, nevertheless the principle of acting or being moved for an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is imprinted on it. Wherefore such like things are not said to move themselves, but to be moved by others. But those things which have a knowledge of the end are said to move themselves because there is in them a principle by which they not only act but also act for an end. And consequently, since both are from an intrinsic principle, to wit, that they act and that they act for an end, the movements of such things are said to be voluntary: for the word "voluntary" implies that their movements and acts are from their own inclination. Hence it is that, according to the definitions of Aristotle, Gregory of Nyssa, and Damascene [*See Objection 1], the voluntary is defined not only as having "a principle within" the agent, but also as implying "knowledge." Therefore, since man especially knows the end of his work, and moves himself, in his acts especially is the voluntary to be found.

Reply to Objection 1: Not every principle is a first principle. Therefore, although it is essential to the voluntary act that its principle be within the agent, nevertheless it is not contrary to the nature of the voluntary act that this intrinsic principle be caused or moved by an extrinsic principle: because it is not essential to the voluntary act that its intrinsic principle be a first principle. Yet again it must be observed that a principle of movement may happen to be first in a genus, but not first simply: thus in the genus of things subject to alteration, the first principle of alteration is a heavenly body, which is nevertheless, is not the first mover simply, but is moved locally by a higher mover. And so the intrinsic principle of the voluntary act, i.e. the cognitive and appetitive power, is the first principle in the genus of appetitive movement, although it is moved by an extrinsic principle according to other species of movement.

Reply to Objection 2: New movements in animals are indeed preceded by a motion from without; and this in two respects. First, in so far as by means of an extrinsic motion an animal's senses are confronted with something sensible, which, on being apprehended, moves the appetite. Thus a lion, on seeing a stag in movement and coming towards him, begins to be moved towards the stag. Secondly, in so far as some extrinsic motion produces a physical change in an animal's body, as in the case of cold or heat; and through the body being affected by the motion of an outward body, the sensitive appetite which is the power of a bodily organ, is also moved indirectly; thus it happens that through some alteration in the body the appetite is roused to the desire of something. But this is not contrary to the nature of voluntariness, as stated above (ad 1), for such movements caused by an extrinsic principle are of another genus of movement.

Reply to Objection 3: God moves man to act, not only by proposing the appetible to the senses, or by effecting a change in his body, but also by moving the will itself; because every movement either of the will or of nature, proceeds from God as the First Mover. And just as it is not incompatible with nature that the natural movement be from God as the First Mover, inasmuch as nature is an instrument of God moving it: so it is not contrary to the essence of a voluntary act, that it proceed from God, inasmuch as the will is moved by God. Nevertheless both natural and voluntary movements have this in common, that it is essential that they should proceed from a principle within the agent.

Eric Cadin said...

Perhaps I should ammend my statement, as it could be more precise. I would replace "free will" with "freedom". This, I think, make a world of difference, and is what I meant in writing "free will"

Joshua Corrigan said...

Eric, Excellent comments! Your clarification is helpful and your challenge is formidable. Regarding your points
1. I understand that you were trying to show the possibility of our free agency on a level apart from that of God. I would still submit that the motivation for producing such an example seems to be aimed at providing for a freedom which is presupposed. In other words I see the analogy's structure as one whose foundation is, as yet, unjustified. So, the analogy proposes freedom at the expense of (what I might see as) a biblical representation of our realtionship to God.

2. I do not accept that original sin does not affect our orientation to the good(capital or lowercase "G"). Our disagreement is not just in the extent and ability of our restoration. I believe that we are in fact oriented away from the good. This is a fundamental conclusion that Aristotle could never come to as he never understood a "fall" of any kind. His goal was to transmit the workings of nature to the realm of humanity in such a way that our "problem" is nothing greater than what Dr. Phil could handle. So much for counterintuitive cross. Inasmuch as the church has adopted this high conception of anthropology, it has misapprehended the problem and misinterpreted the scriptural solution. Freedom is necessitated by an Aristotelian christianity, but I don't accept that it is (a) proven by it or that (b) Aristotle-infused christianity is valid in the first place. Thus it is Gods work to both change our orientation as well as work His love through us.

3. To your question I would first reiterate Simeon's plea to read Forde. Otherwise I would appeal to the same scriptures as not supporting free will. A reading of Luther's Bondage of the Will would do a much better job than I to argue this point. I have the suspicion that Jerome might be behind a great bit of confusion. Your examples only show that Jesus/God uses us, not that we have free will. I doubt that anyone here would argue that God does not intend to use us for his work on Earth wether it be in feeding 5000 or unwrapping Lazarus or rescuing child prostitutes in Indonesia.

I am sure someone else can add something much more insightful than I. Thanks again.

Joshua Corrigan said...

"the movements of such things are said to be voluntary: for the word "voluntary" implies that their movements and acts are from their own inclination"

I would agree. It is our inclinations that we are bound to. See John's "Forde quote" March 14 post. Thus we are bound to our "voluntary" choice motivated by involuntary inclinations=bondage.

mike burton said...

I think also that a differentiation needs to be made between our will and our intellect. They are not the same.

Although it is true that we may act with our intellect (as far as we can dependent on our intellectual capability), our intellect doe little to help us in matters above.

Our will is linked to our hearts, our intellect to our heads. Though we may, by use of our intellect "choose" to put on brown socks or blue, order steak or fish, etc., our will acts not freely for it is incined to the bad.

If the will and the intellect are linked, we find that our salvation is an intellectual choice ,one which those with little or no intellectual capacity, ie. mental retardation are still not free to make!

It can only be through the perfect, loving, and everlasting will of God that we be saved!

mattie said...

Mike -

You wrote, in refuting Eric, "Augustine and all of the early Church fathers [believed in the bondage of the will] as well." I fancy myself a student of the patristic era, and in all my reading I can find nothing in Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, or Origen asserting a bonded will. Of course I haven't read all their works, so if I'm missing something, please pass it along!

Moreover, the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great) definately believed in a free will! Gregory of Nyssa's "Sermon on the Sixth Beatitude" is all about how by cleansing ourselves of impurities (which he says IS possible) we will know God's because we will behold the divine image in ourselves.

If you have some evidence that some early church father that I haven't read asserted a bonded will, I'm more than willing to read him. I just can't find it. And trust me, I've been trying.

As for Augustine, we've covered this a bit on the blog. There are plenty of passages in Augustine's sermons that assert our complicity and cooperation with God and there are plenty who say we do nothing. None of us seem to know his work good enough to really say how he felt. I know Luther thought he asserted a bonded will, but my position is that he was refuting Pelagius, not attempting to go to the opposite extreme.

I have to go now, so I'll write more later. All I wanted to say is that while Eric may have overstated his case by saying that the bonded will was invented by Luther, as far as I can tell, you are just as inaccurate in asserting that it was a patristic ideal.


mike burton said...


I ask pardon for the generalization. Perhaps I went to far when using the term "bound will" to refer to any doctrine that the Fathers may have espoused.

I would have done better to say that most of them did not espouse a doctrine of "Free Will"

I will refer you also, dear Mattie, to Luther's "The Bondage of the Will". (excerpts below)

There I think he makes the case without so many errors as I.



"...if you doubt, or disdain to know that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe confidently, trust to, and depend upon His promises? For when He promises, it is necessary that you should be certain that He knows, is able, and willing to perform what He promises; otherwise, you will neither hold Him true nor faithful; which is unbelief, the greatest of wickedness, and a denying of the Most High God!"

"...the greatest and only consolation of Christians in their adversities, is the knowing that God lies not, but does all things immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, changed, or hindered."

"First, God has promised certainly His grace to the humbled: that is, to the self-deploring and despairing. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled, until he comes to know that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsel, endeavours, will, and works, and absolutely depending on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of another, that is, of God only. For if, as long as he has any persuasion that he can do even the least thing himself towards his own salvation, he retain a confidence in himself and do not utterly despair in himself, so long he is not humbled before God; but he proposes to himself some place, some time, or some work, whereby he may at length attain unto salvation. But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved."

Eric Cadin said...

Josh, thank you again for your insights, especially over on the other quotation, though I wonder why you cannot fathom the idea of infusion, which lessens dramatically any and all problems.

Mike, you are indeed correct to assert that the the will and intellect are distinct faculties of the soul, however, you assertion that "our will acts not freely for it is incined to the bad," I most strongly disagree with. I had written a lengthier response earlier, but there was an error, and I lost it. I know that this may be frustrating but will again let St. thomas do my work for me.

QQ 8, 1.
Whether the will is of good only?

Objection 1: It would seem that the will is not of good only. For the same power regards opposites; for instance, sight regards white and black. But good and evil are opposites. Therefore the will is not only of good, but also of evil.

Objection 2: Further, rational powers can be directed to opposite purposes, according to the Philosopher (Metaph. ix, 2). But the will is a rational power, since it is "in the reason," as is stated in De Anima iii, 9. Therefore the will can be directed to opposites; and consequently its volition is not confined to good, but extends to evil.

Objection 3: Further, good and being are convertible. But volition is directed not only to beings, but also to non-beings. For sometimes we wish "not to walk," or "not to speak"; and again at times we wish for future things, which are not actual beings. Therefore the will is not of good only.

On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that "evil is outside the scope of the will," and that "all things desire good."

I answer that, The will is a rational appetite. Now every appetite is only of something good. The reason of this is that the appetite is nothing else than an inclination of a person desirous of a thing towards that thing. Now every inclination is to something like and suitable to the thing inclined. Since, therefore, everything, inasmuch as it is being and substance, is a good, it must needs be that every inclination is to something good. And hence it is that the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that "the good is that which all desire."

But it must be noted that, since every inclination results from a form, the natural appetite results from a form existing in the nature of things: while the sensitive appetite, as also the intellective or rational appetite, which we call the will, follows from an apprehended form. Therefore, just as the natural appetite tends to good existing in a thing; so the animal or voluntary appetite tends to a good which is apprehended. Consequently, in order that the will tend to anything, it is requisite, not that this be good in very truth, but that it be apprehended as good. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 3) that "the end is a good, or an apparent good."

Reply to Objection 1: The same power regards opposites, but it is not referred to them in the same way. Accordingly, the will is referred both to good and evil: but to good by desiring it: to evil, by shunning it. Wherefore the actual desire of good is called "volition" [*In Latin, 'voluntas'. To avoid confusion with "voluntas" (the will) St. Thomas adds a word of explanation, which in the translation may appear superfluous], meaning thereby the act of the will; for it is in this sense that we are now speaking of the will. On the other hand, the shunning of evil is better described as "nolition": wherefore, just as volition is of good, so nolition is of evil.

Reply to Objection 2: A rational power is not to be directed to all opposite purposes, but to those which are contained under its proper object; for no power seeks other than its proper object. Now, the object of the will is good. Wherefore the will can be directed to such opposite purposes as are contained under good, such as to be moved or to be at rest, to speak or to be silent, and such like: for the will can be directed to either under the aspect of good.

Reply to Objection 3: That which is not a being in nature, is considered as a being in the reason, wherefore negations and privations are said to be "beings of reason." In this way, too, future things, in so far as they are apprehended, are beings. Accordingly, in so far as such like are beings, they are apprehended under the aspect of good; and it is thus that the will is directed to them. Wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 1) that "to lack evil is considered as a good."

Eric Cadin said...

Finally, before anyone replies with a "but we no longer seek the God because of original Sin," we are still creatures of the Creator and our Happiness rests in Him alone, hence our "orientation" is to Him alone.

Again, St. Thomas

QQ. 2, 8.

Whether any created good constitutes man's happiness?

Objection 1: It would seem that some created good constitutes man's happiness. For Dionysius says (Div. Nom. vii) that Divine wisdom "unites the ends of first things to the beginnings of second things," from which we may gather that the summit of a lower nature touches the base of the higher nature. But man's highest good is happiness. Since then the angel is above man in the order of nature, as stated in FP, Question [111], Article [1], it seems that man's happiness consists in man somehow reaching the angel.

Objection 2: Further, the last end of each thing is that which, in relation to it, is perfect: hence the part is for the whole, as for its end. But the universe of creatures which is called the macrocosm, is compared to man who is called the microcosm (Phys. viii, 2), as perfect to imperfect. Therefore man's happiness consists in the whole universe of creatures.

Objection 3: Further, man is made happy by that which lulls his natural desire. But man's natural desire does not reach out to a good surpassing his capacity. Since then man's capacity does not include that good which surpasses the limits of all creation, it seems that man can be made happy by some created good. Consequently some created good constitutes man's happiness.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 26): "As the soul is the life of the body, so God is man's life of happiness: of Whom it is written: 'Happy is that people whose God is the Lord' (Ps. 143:15)."

I answer that, It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man's appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man's will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps. 102:5: "Who satisfieth thy desire with good things." Therefore God alone constitutes man's happiness.

Reply to Objection 1: The summit of man does indeed touch the base of the angelic nature, by a kind of likeness; but man does not rest there as in his last end, but reaches out to the universal fount itself of good, which is the common object of happiness of all the blessed, as being the infinite and perfect good.

Reply to Objection 2: If a whole be not the last end, but ordained to a further end, then the last end of a part thereof is not the whole itself, but something else. Now the universe of creatures, to which man is compared as part to whole, is not the last end, but is ordained to God, as to its last end. Therefore the last end of man is not the good of the universe, but God himself.

Reply to Objection 3: Created good is not less than that good of which man is capable, as of something intrinsic and inherent to him: but it is less than the good of which he is capable, as of an object, and which is infinite. And the participated good which is in an angel, and in the whole universe, is a finite and restricted good.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Rather than try to refute Dr. Aquinas directly in this comment I will just say that I do not accept his philosophy (especially as it pertains to human ability/anthropology). I may be wrong but when I read Aquinas I get the distinct impression that his mission of incorporating "the philosopher"(Aristotle) into christianity is always more important than the "Truth". It is no doubt that Aquinas was probably an authentic genius but I cannot accept his classical premisis. To invoke Aquinas in matters of human anthropology is to beg the question since he (inasmuch as he adheres to aristotle) does not accept the depth of the human problem.

But alas, if anything is true, it is that there is no way to, through argument, convince anyone that they are not free. The only way I know to come to such a conclusion is through deep personal "trouble", a subject that Aristotle cannot account for.

mike burton said...

Dear Eric,

I think we are at an impasse here in that you and I fundamentally disagree on the anthropology.

I belive in a very low anthropology and you in a higher one.

I think we are beginning to go 'round in circles.

I again refer you to "The Bondage of the Will" as well as to Forde's "On being a Theologian of the Cross".

It really begins with our view of the human condition. It's easy to believe in a "Free will" if you think man is basically good. Conversely, it is impossible to make "Free will" line up with God/Scripture if you believe man is basically very, very bad.

See the quotes I posted earlier fom Luther's "Bondage". They shed some light on how we rob God of his Power and Glory and set ourselves a little higher than we truly are when we depend on anything less/more than his Grace.

Also, when you and I are at the end of our ropes, when all is lost, when we're dying on our beds and we are shouting out for mercy from the only One who can save us, that is really the only time we will wholly see the utter emptiness of any trust wemay have placed in "free will".


mike burton said...

Well said Joshua.

As far as St. Aquinas' assertions, I once again will borrow from Luther's "The Bondage of the Will":

"All that I say concerning those saints of yours, or rather, ours, is this:- that since they have spoken differently from each other, those should rather be selected who have spoken the best: that is, who have spoken in defense of Grace, and against "Free-will": and those left, who, through the infirmity of the flesh, have borne witness of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. And also, that those who are inconsistent with themselves, should be selected and caught at, in those parts of their writings where they speak from the Spirit, and left, where they savour of the flesh. This is what becomes a Christian reader, and a 'clean beast dividing the hoof and chewing the cud.' (Lev. xi. 3., Deut. xiv. 6.) Whereas now, laying aside judgment, we swallow down all things together, or, what is worse, by a perversion of judgment, we cast away the best and receive the worst, out of the same authors; and moreover, affix to those worst parts, the title and authority of their sanctity; which sanctity, they obtained, not on account of "Free-will" or the flesh, but on account of the best things, even of the Spirit only."

Eric Cadin said...

I do think we are at a bit of an impass, though I believe it not to be insurmountable.

First I would clarify that by freedom I mean a kind of choice, and if anything confronting that great "trouble" would seem to be a most vivid illustration abstractly and concretely in my own life of my extraordinarily profound freedom to choose wrong, to choose "the bad." My culpability seems to speak to my freedom.

For sin to destroy absolutely man's freedom, wouldn't that necessarily destroy man himself, leaving you at a very low anthropology indeed. For if man ceases to be a rational animal by losing his reason, how is he even a man? I don't mean at all to provoke, but I fail to see how one anthropology is high and one low when without reason the latter can't even be called anthropology. Where's the anthro?

Eric Cadin said...

Mike, I like that quotation.

Tim Galebach said...

Eric, I guess the best way to explain the "Lutheran" position is to substitute the phrase "incurably self-centered" for "bound will". A rational person can still be incurably self-centered.

Jeff Dean said...


Anyone close to me knows how badly my thesis-writing has been going--almost comically so! I have not met a single deadline (not ANY deadlines! NONE!) I have missed or been late to EVERY meeting with EACH of my three advisors. The project has been catastrophic!

Furthermore, my faculty advisor is one of the leading theologians in her field in the world--you would likely know her name!

I had a meeting scheduled with her on Monday, and I managed to get there on time. I was literally shaking, terrified she would scream at me for disrespecting her time and importance.

Instead, she smiled and told me she knew how hard I had been working (a lie) and how good my idea was (a lie) and how important my contribution to scholarly knowledge would be (a lie). She imputed three positive traits to me.

I went home and wrote ten pages.

Grace abounding to the chief of sinners will bear fruit. Nothing else will.

Eric Cadin said...

Tim, I don't know if your explanation agrees with Joshua's statement

"But alas, if anything is true, it is that there is no way to, through argument, convince anyone that they are not free"

For this quotation which asserts non freedom in the human person necessarily castrates if not outright dismisses reason. A "bound" will doesn't seem capable of recieving anything at all from the intellect, so "where has my reason gone?"

Eric Cadin said...

I don't know if anyone will actually look, but Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XI, wrote on exactly this impass to which we have come. He in two pages briefly outlines the two approaches and their essential non-syncretism, while at the same time noting "they must remain present as polarities that mutually correct each other and only by complementing each other point to the whole." (230)

You can find these pages on a google book search of "Introduction to Christianity" and view pages 228-230 (God bless Google)

The two different paths taken by Christiology are of course Theology of the Incarnation and Theology of the Cross.

As an aside, though it is more of a doctorate than a mere introduction, his opus is extraordinary in is depth, breadth, and compassion and is an remarkable read.

Eric Cadin said...

if you put in keyword "cross" the final entry on the first page is the beginning of the section, p. 228

Joshua Corrigan said...

Eric, thanks again for your participation! I would like to address your statement:

"First I would clarify that by freedom I mean a kind of choice, and if anything confronting that great "trouble" would seem to be a most vivid illustration abstractly and concretely in my own life of my extraordinarily profound freedom to choose wrong, to choose "the bad." My culpability seems to speak to my freedom."

What you call freedom to choose the bad is (much more simply put) nothing but bondage. To hold on to freedom here is almost philosophically irresponsible viz. Occam's Razor.

I sympathize with your question of where the man is in all of this. This is a common question raised to a theology of the cross. So I must, once again, invoke Gerhard Forde's book "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" which quite specifically addresses this issue. And while I am too lazy/busy to find a quote for you right now let me butcher an Ashley Null quote about Cranmer's conception of the will.

Aristotle: Mind determines the will which chooses, and the heart is the better or worse for it.

clearly reason is in control

Cranmer: The desire of the heart determines the will which chooses its object and the mind justifies the result (told you I would butcher it)

Quite the opposite. Now if we want to bestow the label of freedom on the will since in both cases it "chooses" then fine, but of what value is a choice when its freedom is determined by inclination?

Castration of the reason is the least of our worries. Our heart is where the problem lies.

I will read The Ratzinger piece. I encourage you to look into the Forde book.

Mike, thanks for your wonderful quote and your great insights

Mr. Dean, I want you to know that you are my new hero. I just so wish I had such a sympathetic advisor. After 2 years (also with many passed deadlines) I spoke to her last month. After a confusing dialogue she ended by saying " You know... I dont even know what you are writing about, if you are writing at all! (which I wasn't)." It has taken me three weeks to THINK about working again.

Tim, I have not met you but I think you are a badass.

Joshua Corrigan said...

As well, I think that Eric's questions are deserving of a thoughtful response. I was hoping that, if anyone else is interested, someone with more prowess might oblige them.

bpzahl said...

Josh Corrigan's butchering of Cranmer is essentially what we know about cognitive dissonance and its resolution (see Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959, the classic cognitive dissonance experiment, or Festinger, 1957 for the classic book by that title).

In a nutshell, the 1959 experiment had asked some kids to do an uber-boring task; all of them rated the task to be very very boring. These kids were then asked to get another friend to do the same boring task. Half of the kids were paid $1 to invite a friend, and half the kids were paid $20 to invite a friend (there was an additional control group who were not asked to invite anyone.) They were asked to lie about the experiment and make it sound interesting, so that their friends would participate.

When asked a second time to rate the task again, the kids who were paid $1 to invite their friends rated the task to be more interesting. There was insufficient justification for lying about how interesting the task was (in order to invite their friends to do the same task), so they had to justify it by actually changing their attitude, in order to relieve the cognitive dissonance. The kids who were paid $20 had sufficient justification to lie about it (i.e. got paid a lot of money) did not feel any dissonance, so did not rate the task to be any more enjoyable than their previous rating.

All this to say, as Josh (and Cranmer) said: the desire of the heart (to eliminate cognitive dissonance) determines the will which chooses its object (choosing to believe what is false is actually real) and the mind justifies its results (by changing one's attitude).

We don't like to think that we are simul iustus et peccator. That's a classic case of cognitive dissonance which, Luther would argue, must be maintained. There are a few solutions:
1) to believe that we are fully justified, and that our sins doesn't count and our Sin has been wiped away. That still maintains the fact that we continue to sin, which doesn't really solve the cognitive dissonance.
2) to believe that we are fully justified, and that we have a way to get rid of our sins. that resolves the cognitive dissonance because it attemps to actively get rid of the sin in the equation, which provides a temporary, but ongoing resolution to the dissonance. thus we believe that we really are making a difference in our salvation-sanctification, but out of the desire to remove the cognitive dissonance.
3) to believe that we are not justified at all, and must do what we can to cooperate with God such that our justification continues in him. This is heresy, no?

I would say that scripture seems to point to 1) and 2), but experience points to 1), which isn't the most fun place to be in. But it is only in a state of continous suspension (i.e. simul iustus et peccator) that our hearts/desires do not drive us to will ourselves to resolve the dissonance, and let the mind justify it. God alone justifies; not our minds.

mattie said...

Mike -

I've read a great deal of Luther and the other Reformers. In fact, I even spent the first two thirds of my life as an LCMS Lutheran. It's not that if I just understood Luther better I would agree with him. To me, Luther is just another heretical theologian, one to put in the same category as Pelagius, though for opposite reasons.

I must say again, however, your assertion that free will originated with Pelagius in factually and theologically inaccurate. Here are a few selected passages to illustrate my point:

"God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue CXLI)

"This expression [of our Lord], "How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not," set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Ch. 37)

"But we, who have heard by the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men, rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life and believe God through His voice." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Bk. 2, Ch. 4)

"Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to everyone . . . This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition." (Origen, Preface to De Principiis)

"Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, "Harden not your hearts;" and in Ezekiel himself, "Cast away from you all your transgressions, which ye have impiously committed against me; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; and keep all my commandments..." We should remember that it is He who says, "Turn ye and live," to whom it is said in prayer, "Turn us again, O God." We should remember that He says, "Cast away from you all your transgressions," when it is even He who justifies the ungodly. We should remember that He says, "Make you a new heart and a new spirit," who also promises, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you." How is it, then, that He who says, "Make you," also says, "I will give you "? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands? There is, however, always within us a free will,--but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin,--and then it is evil,--or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness,--and then it is good. But the grace of God is always I good; and by it it comes to pass that a man is of a good will, though he was before of an evil one." (Augustine, "On Grace and Free Will," Ch. 31)

"The choice of the will which was weakened in the first human being can be restored only through the grace of baptism. Once something is lost, it can be returned only by someone who could give it in the first place. Thus Truth himself says, "If the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed" [Jn 8:36]... When people do what displeases God, they do their own will, not God's. When, however, they serve the divine will in doing what they will, although they perform their actions voluntarily, what they do is actually the will of him who prepares and commands what they will [Prov 8:35]." (The Synod of Orange, Canons 13 & 23)

The Roman Catholic position is not that we save ourselves absent God's grace. It is not that by "doing good works" we achieve glory. Our position is that through the grace of God, freely given, in water and the word, we are restored in our ability to love and serve God and one another. Do we screw up? Yes! Does God still love us? Yes! But does God want our lives to reflect our freedom from sin and death! Absolutely.

Bonnie - I agree that we are simultaneously saintly and sinful. I do not agree, however, that we are simultaneously a saint and a sinner. I know that might seem like a tiny semantic difference, but I think our identity in Christ requires that we recognize that we are continually being saved through the grace of God and that fundamentally changes WHO we are in an instant while our actions might take a while to catch up. This is where I find the heir analogies so imperative. At our (re)birth (baptism) we become heirs, sons and daughters of Christ. Only at emancipation (death and/or the parousia, I'm not sure!) do we gain ALL the benefits of our identity, but we spend our lives growing into that identity. Yes, Bonnie, God alone justifies. But, that justification empowers us to live as one who is justified.

In the Forde book I'm reading now (Justification by Faith), he makes this point (which I think is a great one) that Christians rely too much on the forensic language of justification and not enough on the life and death language of salvation that is laced all through the gospel. I agree with him that we need to think long and hard about what it means to have been given life and live according to that gift.

There has been some talk of piety and superficiality in devotion and I agree that is a problem. But, I want to share an example from my own life. I try to go to mass every single day. It started out as a sort of discipline, maybe a bit of trying to impress people at my parish, maybe a bit of wanting to just learn more about the liturgy since I'm a new Catholic. It has (which has been a total surprise to me) turned into this amazing gift that God gives me every day of being able to spend time with Him in the word and in the Eucharist. Now, most of the time, I can't wait to go to mass because I get to experience Jesus in this amazing sacramental way! (Not that I don't experience Jesus in my prayer and scripture study and in fellowship with my other Christians, but mass is super special.) I'm not saying there aren't some days I don't just sleep in or whatever, but I don't beat myself up about it. But I just imagine Jesus missing me when I don't come see him. He's not mad at me for not going to mass, he just wants to spend all his time with me because he loves me that much and wants to give himself to me in every possible way he can. Is daily mass a "pietistic devotion"? Surely for some people. For me it is time with my beloved.

I'm not even going to get into the Thomistic debate because I don't know enough about that era to make an even remotely intelligent contribution.

Anyway. I'm off to Borders to pick up my recently arrived special order of "On Being a Theologian of the Cross," Simeon! I'll let you know what I think. In the interim, do read that Ratzinger excerpt that Eric posted. I think it is very useful in contrast to what I understand Forde's argument to be about the "Theology of Glory" which Ratzi takes and turns into the "Theology of the Incarnation." Good stuff.

Much love, in Him,

mike burton said...


By anthropology I mean the definition of the theology dealing with the origin, nature, and destiny of human beings.

Using this definition, there is much more to anthropology than the ability humans have to reason.

I would like, however , to digress.

Following is an example that I hope will do more to explain what I'm on about than all of our definitions of "big words" and theological ramblings!

There was a man who in his 30th year was experiencing the most crushing blow that he had hitherto been dealt in his life.

The man was in the middle of a divorce from his wife. They had a two year old daughter. Reeling from this twist of fate, the man was cast into utter despair. All of his attempts to reconcile with his wife were to no avail and divorce proceedings were underway.

The man turned to exessive drink and the company of sordid women to ease his pain. The man had met a young woman at work, a Christian woman, who showed him kindness and a friendship developed. The man found himself able to confide in the girl ALL of his shortcomings and offences, down to the dirtiest and most foul things he had done in his relationship with his wife, and indeed, his whole life.

As time passed, the man, moved by the fact that the girl accepted him aside from the things she knew of him and showed him friendship without judgement, came to develop feelings more than that of the casual friendship towards the girl.

He, being aware that the girl was the only person on earth who truly knew waht a wretch he was and the horrible things of which he was capable, was afraid to declare his love for her, for he knew that if there was one person on earth who SHOULD reject him, it was her.

Nevertheless, compelled by his love for her, he confessed it. And she was not impressed. Being the man's friend was one thing. She was not in a position to be hurt by him or his actions in the way she could be if she were more involved. The man understood, knowing that he was a detestable man, why she would not allow herself to get any closer to him.

Yet, his heart yearned for her and he spent his time trying to convince her to give him a chance, to overlook the bad in him.

As time went on it was apparent that she was not to be moved, despite his greatest efforts. The man, finally, utterly, gave up.

A few weeks passed with no contact between the two. Both had taken new jobs and would not even see one another at work.

The man continued, further in the depths of despair and his own wretchedness showed itself more and more.

And, then, the day of the Carolina/Clemson game in November, 2003, the girl tracked the man down at his usual tailgating spot near the stadium.

There, Leslie confessed to me her undying, unending, and most undeserving love and told me that she wanted to be my wife and have my children.

It was at precisely this moment that Mike Burton was able to understand what Grace was. That despite my wretchedness, I could be loved, of no merit or deservedness of my own. That day, I was shown, in a practical and powerful way, that GOD loves me just as I am. He did the work, he changed the heart, he did it ALL.

Tim Galebach said...

That's a cute story Mike. Just make sure not to fuck it all up now.

bpzahl said...

that's not very nice...

Tim Galebach said...

I mean that comment to draw attention to what Mike had to say, not denigrate it. And on that note:

Could I propose a free will vs. robotics moratorium, at least for a bit? I'd be more interested in hearing the reasons why people hold their theological positions than hearing about the theological positions themselves, that might give us somewhere new to go here.

For example, Mike's post that started off this whole thread is an expression of a theological position that is motivated by his experience. Ditto Bonnie's embrace of Lutheranism, and Mattie's espousal of piety/disciplines based on her experience with daily mass.

That's about 400% more interesting to me than anything Aquinas had to say (yes Eric, I'm a brash young radical who will chuck tradition at the drop of a hat *smile*).

mike burton said...


I will use all of my "willpower" to not "fuck it up".

.... and I will.

I posted that story to prove a point regarding the freely given Grace of God. And it DOES PROVE it.

I dare anyone to PROVE the empty, baseless idea of free will. It can't be done. Really, someone prove to me that he/she is better off spiritually because of his own power to choose the good himself. Prove to me that even if you THINK you willed it that it wasn't REALLY the Grace of God and not your perception of something that you THINK you did.

Tell me that my story doesn't prove that God's Grace is freely given and I will tell you that you are altogether without faith.

Tim Galebach said...

Yes! Exactly Mike!

My favorite sermon ever by PZ (the only one I remember) was one he gave at Harvard my sophmore year. I only remember the beginning:

First there was Law (PZ groans).

Then came Grace ("Yay!").

Then comes Law (groans again).

mattie said...

The Catholic Christian position on free will is not the ability, sans God, to choose the good. Is is not the ability to save ourselves. It is the (God-given) ability to cooperate with and/or reject the salvific will of God.

Following Tim's advice and Mike's example, let me tell you a story. Many of you (BPZ, SMZ, CPH, EFC, TG, JDD) know me quite well. You know how horribly fucked up I have been most of my life. I've abused alcohol, drugs, sex, credit, food, etc. etc. I have hurt many people very deeply because of my anger, hatred, insecurity, and jealousy. I have almost been committed to a mental hospital because of my severe depression and anxiety. I have tried to commit suicide.

I knew how sinful I was. I knew that God loved me despite that all. I knew I was imputed with Jesus' righteousness, but I could still only see myself as that pile of shit. The fact that I was covered by the snowy whiteness of God's love didn't seem to make a difference.

I was loved throughout that time by the aforementioned people, and their imputation did make a difference. Their imputation made me recognize the infusion I had been given! I was given the grace to wake up to the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in me and that my will is being conformed to Christ's. That radically changed my life. I don't dispute that imputation happens. I just think that if we are honest to the entire scriptural record (and not just Romans 4) we begin to see the transformative power of the Incarnation of Christ and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus (like my friends and your Leslie) does not impute me with righteousness in order that I might continue to be mired in the misery of sin. That imputation is done so that we might have new life. As scripture exhorts, we are called to "choose life" (Dt. 30:19). I absolutely believe that my life testifies to the fact that every day I am growing into a woman (wholly reliant on God's grace, but making her own decisions) who is increasingly able to choose life. Leslie doesn't want you to lie to her, cheat on her, hit her, etc. She wants to give you the freedom in your relationship of love to continue to grow as a man and a husband after God's own heart, a heart of love, grace, and compassion. But Leslie can only do so much. She can love you, exhort you, empower you, encourage you, but ultimately, you have the power to love or hate, to do good or do evil.

That's the relationship I have experienced in my life. And, yes, I think it PROVES free will as our ability to cooperate with God's grace as we are increasingly transformed into the sons and daughters of God. The grace I recieved in baptism, at confirmation, in Eucharist, and in the sacrament of reconcilliation touch and continue to change me. I can absolutely reject, avoid, ignore, or destroy that freely given gift. That is free will. Fortunately, God desires for me to be whole and be fruitful and draws me back to him time and again.

The book of 1 John really helped me see this truth of the Gospel. Yes, we sin, yes, we must repent. In and through that process we are reborn in the water, blood, and spirit of Christ Jesus, who gave himself to free us from our addiction to sin and death. "No one who lives [in Christ] keeps on sinning" (1 Jn 3:10)! I want to live in Christ. I want to love more deeply, more passionately, more selflessly every day. I can choose to reject my baptismal birthright (and I have many a time and I'm sure I will do so again in the future), but that is not God's will for me. God's will is that all should be saved (1 Tim 2:4), not only from eternal damnation, but from the earthly bonds of sin and hate.

Yes, your story (and mine) proves that God's grace is freely given. Both also prove that grace can be rejected. You can leave Leslie. I can go back to my former disgusting ways. Let us both pray and work that neither of those things come to pass.


mike burton said...


Your first point, that one is able to reject or accept Grace, necessarily makes the Will of God subject to my or your will.

The eternal Will of God cannot be contingent on the will of humans.

If one has truly been touched by Grace, there is no choice BUT to respond to it. It illicits a response, it doesn't ask for one.

What happened in my story, what happened in my heart was apart from reason. I didn't sit there thinking about my choice to either accept the grace shown to me or to reject it. Rejecting it was never an option. Irresistible Grace.

I would go so far as to say, that if you have to reason whether or not you're going to accept or reject the grace shown to you, you've really not been shown Grace.

This is not a head thing, it's a heart thing. And the heart is no more tied to reason than the will is to the head!


mike burton said...

Also, Paul makes clear more than once in many places in his letter that we CANNOT do any good outside of the power of the HOLY SPIRIT!

He never asserts that by our choice to do good that we can do good!

Your will is not free. If you are doing wrong, it is bound to evil and if you do good, it is under the control of the Holy Spirit. Either way, your will is not free.

Jesus did not die to give us the choice to accept or reject him. He died to forgive the sins of the world. You cannot find in Scripture one shred of evidence to support any other view than God's immutable, eternal Will determining the spiritual fate of anyone!

"God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and hardens whom he wants to harden" Romans 9:18

"No one can come to me unless the Father enables him." John 6:65

Where is there any "free will" here? God's will is done, not contingent on our pitiful, selfish,black wills, but because HE wants it done.

mattie said...

Mike -

I respect your hermenuetic and theology, despite my disagreement with it. May I please have the same respect? Please don't imply that I haven't been given grace or that I don't have a heart. I am an aspiring theologian, but I'm also a passionate disciple of Christ. In other words, I think about this every day but I also LIVE it, in my heart and my soul. I am just as committed to the Truth of God as you are.

Your assertion that there is NO evidence for free will, again, is a gross exaggeration. I have cited numerous scriptural citations as well as various quotations from patristic authors to support my position in previous posts. For good measure, here are a few more.

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever REJECTS the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (Jn 3:36)

"Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you REJECT it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:46)

But because of your stubbornness and YOUR UNREPENTANT HEART, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who REJECT the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:5-8)

"Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they DID NOT SUBMIT to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." (Romans 10:3-4)

The scriptures relate a mystery to us - the amazing economy of salvation that has been given to us in Christ Jesus. I understand that there are scriptural references that imply a bonded will. But there are just as many that imply free will. I know that this is up for discussion. That's the point of theology - to interpret and apply scripture and tradition all while maintaining an integrity to the core truth of the entire history of God's people.

Yes, God has a universal salvific will. Yes, anyone who is saved is saved because of Christ Jesus. But, logically, if you believe both of these things you must believe either (1) everyone is saved or (2) we are capable of rejecting God. If you can't assert one or the other of those propositions you undermine that universal salvific will. If God is a sort of doubly-predestining God sending some to damnation then he doesn't have a universal salvific will. And, if he leaves some to the "bondage" of sin/the devil then the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross is neither complete nor universal.

I (along with about a billion Catholics around the world) believe that I have a free will but also believe that to be truly "free" the way to salvation is to die with Christ, submitting my will to his grace, and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform my will to God's will.

I think St. Augustine said it quite well: "When God says, "Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you," one of these clauses--that which invites our return to God--evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace." (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 10)

In Him,

Joshua Corrigan said...

Let me just say that although I might disagree significantly with Mattie, I am becoming a big fan of hers.

Since the Spirit seems to be moving us to a bit of testimony here I thought I would give my two cents.

All I would like to say is that in the last 5 years (the time since I first began to hear and understand the Gospel), the way in which I see God working in my life is not in or through cooperation at all. In other words, on the occasions when I have acted in accordance to the law, I never find myself in a position where I have to make a momentous (or even trivial) decision that pits myself against my devilish inclinations. Instead, whenever I do "that which I want(ought) to do" it is always done DESPITE my use of reason. I only recognize what has happened in retrospect.

In fact, when I do come to moments where I feel like I am up against a big moral decision in which I am charged with making a choice, I always 100% of the time, give in to my "lower desires".

Basically, when I see that I have done something that was truly an expression of love to someone in need, it never comes about because I had to make a tough choice and I made the right one. But when those tough choices do come up, I make the wrong one...consciously.

Thus I cannot, in good conscience, see my freedom in matters of Gods work, but I do indeed perceive freedom. I perceive freedom every time I fuck up. Which is to say, I am bound.

Eric Cadin said...

In the spirit then of sharing, I would have to say, obviously, I agree most significantly with both Mattie’s analysis and experience.

Something she mentioned and I echo, is the relational aspect which I think is being very much overlooked.

Why do Catholics, why do I go to Mass daily. Practically its build into the horarium of the seminary, but more importantly, we believe that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a re-presentation of the perfect sacrifice of Christ on Cavalry, the most perfect act of worship, that is the Love of the Son to the Father. Here, I am called to, privileged to witness and, thank you Jesus, brought into participation, this perfect act of Love. Really and truly my Beloved presents Himself before me. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Maybe its naïve, maybe its profoundly mistaken, maybe it’s a foolish human projection of idealism, but I really believe Him when he says, If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

He calls me friend, and he in these few words radically transforms the Law, He does not say, Love your neighbor as yourself, but, love one another as I have loved you.”
He Loves me, and all of you, he really does, and that love has power, it transforms, it brings live, it calls us out of ourselves, it empowers us to Love. For love, I have come to learn, often through royally messing it up, is not a one way street. He loves us first, and because of that can command that we love. It is a degradation almost to call that bondage. When your spouse loves you and you love in return would you call that bondage? When God acts so powerfully in my life, when he blesses me with a drop, a peak, and glimpse of His face and my soul is enraptured, is that bondage? When I, we, who are made in the image in likeness of God are so caught up in His love and his Grace that we can’t help but share that with everyone we see, is that bondage? Cause if it is then bind me up.

The intellect I have experienced is not separated from the will. This is not just true academically, but I really have experienced what could be described perhaps as conforming my mind to the mind of Christ. For one, at a certain level, that is what love is, to think and to desire as one. But more than that, the more I seek to do good and avoid evil, the more I strive for virtue and shun vice, the more I tangibly and honestly experience freedom. Am I perfect, not even close, but that is not so much the point. For God alone is worthy of being loved with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, and with all one’s mind.

Reflecting upon freedom in my own life, it is not so much a moment of “a tough choice which I can make the right or always the wrong decision,” but the power, given solely through Christ to choose him. It is this understanding of freedom that I have experienced, and I believe to be that held by the Church, again, the power, given entirely through His Love and Grace, to choose the Good.

As I conclude I will share a bit of the reflections of John Paul II on the dialogue of Matt 19 between Jesus and the rich young man:

He first ask Jesus, what must I do to have eternal Life, the response, “keep the commandments.”

The commandments thus represent the basic condition for love of neighbour; at the same time they are the proof of that love. They are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point. "The beginning of freedom", Saint Augustine writes, "is to be free from crimes... such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom...".(Veritatis Splendor, 13)

Then Jesus asks a separate question and follows it with instructions, “If you want to be PERFECT….”

Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called. Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life; on the other hand, for the young man to give up all he possesses and to follow the Lord is presented as an invitation: "If you wish...". These words of Jesus reveal the particular dynamic of freedom's growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law. Human freedom and God's law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom. "You were called to freedom, brethren" (Gal 5:13), proclaims the Apostle Paul with joy and pride. But he immediately adds: "only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (ibid.). The firmness with which the Apostle opposes those who believe that they are justified by the Law has nothing to do with man's "liberation" from precepts. On the contrary, the latter are at the service of the practice of love: "For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' " (Rom 13:8-9). Saint Augustine, after speaking of the observance of the commandments as being a kind of incipient, imperfect freedom, goes on to say: "Why, someone will ask, is it not yet perfect? Because 'I see in my members another law at war with the law of my reason'... In part freedom, in part slavery: not yet complete freedom, not yet pure, not yet whole, because we are not yet in eternity. In part we retain our weakness and in part we have attained freedom. All our sins were destroyed in Baptism, but does it follow that no weakness remained after iniquity was destroyed? Had none remained, we would live without sin in this life. But who would dare to say this except someone who is proud, someone unworthy of the mercy of our deliverer?... Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves".(IBID, 17).

This is a still uncertain and fragile journey as long as we are on earth, but it is one made possible by grace, which enables us to possess the full freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21) and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as "sons in the Son".

Finally Jesus responds “Come follow me.”

This is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father. By responding in faith and following the one who is Incarnate Wisdom, the disciple of Jesus truly becomes a disciple of God (cf. Jn 6:45).(Ibid, 19)

simeon zahl said...

Mattie, and Eric,

I hear what you're saying and I see the verses that you point out. But I still can't get over Romans 9-11. I have brought up those chapters, and 9 in particular, in at least two lengthy posts on these exact same questions here at John Camp. And no one has given a remotely satisfactory explanation. I think it is exegetically and hermeneutically far more responsible to interpret single verses here and there, such as Acts 13:46, in light of Romans 9-11, rather than the other way around. In fact, Romans 9-11 is so strong and clear and explicit a meditation on precisely the issue of predestination, that it is not possible to interpret it in light of Acts 13:46, rather than the other way around. One has to say either that Paul was simply confused (something many people have said, but which entails a dangerously low view of Scripture), or else one has to engage in extensive exegetical acrobatics to show that Paul really accepts precisely the position he is arguing against!

And let me remind you, it is in the same sequence that Paul begins by telling us that God "has mercy on whomever he chooses and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses" and that God has created "vessels of wrath that are made for destruction" alongside the "vessels of mercy", and ends by saying that God-sent "hardening has come upon a part of Israel", that he reminds us that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved".

Again, just to repeat: the argument that predestination cannot be true because that would make God a monster will not and cannot _ever_ hold water exegetically, because it is precisely and clearly and specifically dealt with in Scripture and rejected. If you must insist that salvation depends on our choice, then you must come up with other arguments (and I know you have, Mattie-- I'm just saying this one is out of court). The "that would be unfair" thing just doesn't fly, logical though it would seem to be to us. That case is closed.

Again, you may appeal to mystery. Well, I appeal to mystery too, and so does Paul! But whereas you locate mystery in saying that it is mysteriously the case that our salvation is both by choice and by grace, Paul locates it in the mystery that a just and omnipotent God could predestine parts of his creation to Hell. There is a huge difference in which you consider to be the "mystery". It is here, in favor of predestination, in Romans 11:33-36, that Paul appeals to mystery. For him there is no mystery about our participation in our salvation-- we are just chosen, period. The mystery, rather, is that that fact somehow, in God's view, could be fair.

Until you explain Romans 9-11, and in particular Romans 9:10-24, I will continue to find it very difficult to have an open mind on this one. And I confess I find those verses so clear that I am sceptical about whether you or anyone could explain them away on the predestination issue. And, again, the "the God of predestination is a monster and unjust and therefore not the God of the Bible" argument is out of court. The Bible could not possibly be clearer about that specific "problem".

I realize that what I'm talking about here is the predestination issue specifically, and not the "bondage of the will in relation to sanctification one", and trust it will be taken as such.

So, thoughts on Romans 9:10-24?

simeon zahl said...

To clarify the point in the first paragraph of my previous post: I acknowledge that some type of "exegetical acrobatics" is necessary either way, either for you to explain Romans 9 or for me to explain Acts 13:46. My point is that it is far far far easier and more exegetically responsible for me to interpret Acts 13:46 in light of Romans 9 than it is for you to do the reverse. One is a lengthy theological meditation on the issue of predestination; the other is a specific statement in the context of a larger story and ministry. Acts 13:46 can easily be understood to be descriptive, or rhetorical, rather than as a definitive theological statement on the relationship between God, salvation, and mercy. Romans 9-11, on the other hand, is precisely such a theological statement.

The point is, this is not an even playing field exegetically. Do you disagree?

simeon zahl said...

And finally, my personal story, once again: I was converted to Christianity through an overwhelming charismatic and emotional experience of the love of God for me during a church service, which was itself on a mission trip that my Mom more or less made me go on when I was 14. I was never faced with a choice or decision. Instead, I was simply informed of God's love for me, a wretch, in Christ, in such a way that no person could ever have said no to it. It never even occurred to me to consider that I could have been given a choice until having a discussion on predestination with Ben Littauer 6 years later-- so overwhelming and self-evident was my experience.

I never even prayed to receive Jesus into my heart! It felt a lot more like him letting me know he was already there. And I have never looked back since. I have sinned a great deal and run from God all over the place, but whether or not he actually exists, and whether Jesus was who he says he was, and whether I have been saved from my sins eternally through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, has never been in question. I realize many if not most people do have those questions and doubts, but I do not share those particular ones. Mine are much more whether or not God will take care of me here and now, whether he will come up with funding for the rest of my PhD or not, etc. I don't believe him at all on those things, sad to say. But my conversion experience, unasked for, on a trip I didn't want to go on, put the more basic doubts to rest. No idea why, or why me, but there you have it-- like Mike, it's the only testimony I have been given.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Just a quick note (I feel encouraged this morning to actually work on my thesis!)

There have been several scriptural references given by Mattie and Eric that, I believe, are intended to show that the Bible is clear that we have free will.

In looking over them I do not see this. I see various declaritive statements saying: "If you do thus and so...You will have thus and so..."
For example:

"You are my friends if you do what I command you"

Now there is nothing within this statement that indicates that we are free to do what he has commanded us. He is making a simple comment of fact. For me to extrapolate freedom from this is irresponsible. What is written is true but it is the law. And, alas the law is not creative but the love of God is.

For a really good look at this issue Luther's "Bondage of the Will" is the place to be. In it he directly addresses such scriptural references.

And thanks Eric and Mattie and Sim for your scripture references. This would probably get out of hand if you weren't keeping on the ground.

mattie said...

Simeon -

Thank you! I agree that Romans 9-11 is problematic. I'm not really an exegete so much as a systematician, but I will take a stab at a couple ways I think this can be understood. I'm sure there is a brilliant Catholic theologian who has done this somewhere, somehow, so I will look for him/her after I finish reading Forde (I'm about 40 pages into "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" and I find much to agree with, but a few unanswered questions that detract from his thesis).

First, let me note that I'm going to use the NRSV for my analysis. It's not as Lutheran as the ESV and not as Catholic as the NASB, so I hope it promises a bit of common ground.

The primary problem I see with Rom 9:10-22 being used to support a sort of double predestination is that Paul himself is trying to explain a specific story from the OT, not making a grand theological statement. But, even if he were, what he is saying here is that all mercy and compassion (v. 15) is contingent on God, a statement I adamantly agree with. Yes, God loved Jacob and hated Esau (v. 13), but this is no longer our situation. For in the age of Christ ALL of the world (Jn 3:16) has been revealed to be loved by God.

"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power..." (v.22) Paul is being incredibly speculative here, as the first two words show. He is saying, in effect, "I know this sounds absurd, but let me illustrate a point for you about God's omnipotence." This verse is quite far from stating unequivocally that God has condemned some people by "hardening their hearts" but it is saying that he has all the power to do so IF HE WANTED TO. Fortunately, by looking at other New Testament writings (such as 2 Pt 3:9, 1 Jn 2:2, & 1 Tim 2:4) we know that God desires all to be saved.

I know that v. 18 about God hardening hearts can seem problematic. I think there arew two ways to understand this. The first is through Hebrews 3-4 (with reference to Psalm 95). There is a great deal of "heart hardening" talk here that very much infers that we initiate the heart heardening process and that God simply allows it to be so. Secondly, the idea that God hardens peoples hearts is based on this idea that God "has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses" doesn't necessarily imply that there are any in this age of Christ who have had their hearts hardened. God is "rich in mercy," as we know. Not only that, but "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13/Joel 2:32) - which, to me, implies a human choice. As Paul continues, people can only call on the Lord if we go out and proclaim the Gospel because "faith comes from what is heard" (10:17). This, to me, speaks to the role that we play in salvation. We must listen and respond (in faith, of course), for some hear and do not respond (10:16). God's call to salvation is irrevocable (11:29), but that is not a synonym for irresistible.

There are some complicated things about Ch. 11, I will be the first to admit. But again, when Paul talks about the hard hearts of Israel it is always with the promise that they will eventually be saved (11:12, 26). Moreover, there is just as much implication that those who do not dwell in Christ do not believe by their own choosing as much as by God's choice that they not believe. For example, 11:15 - "For if their REJECTION is the reconcilliation of THE WORLD, what will their ACCEPTANCE be but life from the dead?" Human agency and universality all in one verse - the motherlode!

I think the most difficult verse is 11:32 - "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all." I will agree that this seems to say that our will is bonded. The way I would read this is that we were all slaves to sin and death (bonded) until Christ. Now, by dying and rising with Christ (in baptism), we are no longer slaves and have been freed to live as those redeemed. I think this is a particularly compelling interpretation, especially in light of Romans 6, particularly v. 6 - "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin."

I'm curious how many of you who have felt an irresistible pull to come to God or come back to God were baptized as infants. I was baptized as an infant and I've often thought about how that rebirth perhaps did make it irresistible or inevitable that I would return to God. Baptism, after all, is not about declaring our affiliation as a Christian, but is about dying with Christ and taking part (however "passively") in the mystery of salvation.

Thanks again, Simeon, for your very legitimate and worthy questions. I don't know if I've done them justice, as I am definitely still trying to figure out those very questions. I do not think those passages pose an insurmountable barrier to a theology of free will, but I can see how they have been read as justification for bonded will. Again, I want to reiterate that in no way do I think that our cooperation with or rejection of God's mercy rises to the level of what Pelagius asserted. Of course not! I just think too much of the scripture (and tradition) affirms our role in the process to ignore. I know many of you think that this makes God's will contingent on our will, but I don't agree. I think it means that God loves us and that can not be changed by any of us, no matter how rebellious or hateful we are. But, it is up to us to enter into that love and live in that love and share that love with others. We can not increase or decrease God's love for us, but we can receive (or reject) that gift.

By the way, today is the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The lectionary readings are brilliant and a beautiful reminder of the Incarnation in the midst and depths of Lent. Check out Ps 40 (esp. v. 9) and Hebrews 10 (esp. v. 10).

In his "will,"

mattie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mattie said...


By the way, I agree that the predestining "God is a monster" argument doesn't hold water. That, however, wasn't the point I was making. I was simply saying that if God condemns some then his salvific will is not universal, but limited, or at the very least, selective. It's not quite the same.


mike burton said...


First, I want to apologize if it seemed I was inferring that you, personally, have not received Grace.

I meant that as a general statement and not as one directed toward you personally.

Second, I agree with Simeon that Scripture must be interpreted wholly, each passage dependant on another and not standing alone. Scripture cannot contradict itself, nor, do I believe , is it "fuzzy" or ambiguous.

Please allow me to show you how the passages you gave to refute my passages are not in disagreement with one another, but are completely compatible with the right hermeneutic.

My passages were:

"God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and hardens whom he wants to harden" Romans 9:18

"No one can come to me unless the Father enables him." John 6:65

Your refutation:

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever REJECTS the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (Jn 3:36)

"Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you REJECT it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:46)

The passages you cited, are as Simeon alluded to, mere morsels of Truth - blanket statements of Truth.

It is True that "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever REJECTS the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

What is not in the text and can only through faulty exegis and at the expense of the passages that I offered is that we have a choice in accepteing or rejecting. The text does not say, implicitly or otherwise that we can CHOOSE to reject Christ, it merely states that if Christ is rejected or believed, such and such will come to pass!

So the passage, "No one can come to me unless the Father enables him." John 6:65, is 100% compatable with the passage "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever REJECTS the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (Jn 3:36).

If we interpret it any other way, one must be accepted and the other rejected, whereby the words of our Lord Jesus Christ become a lie, or at least contradictory to one another.

The same with the other passages and so on and so on.

Using your hermeneutic, you are trying to use passages of Scripture to prove a point of view you already have as opposed to letting Scripture speak the Truth on its own.

When we tear passages out of Scripture to stand on their own without the weight of the other Scripures behind it, we are in danger of finding ourselves handling snakes and drinking poison, or "hating fags", such as those, who do these things by virtue of a few passages, do at the expense of the vast majority of Scripture.

Thirdly, God's Grace is not just a thought or idea to be accepted or rejected. It is a real, Living Force!
One can no more void God's Grace by rejecting it than one can make a mountain disappear by refusing to look at it.


Joshua Corrigan said...


re your comment: "..."everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13/Joel 2:32) - which, to me, implies a human choice."

This is exactly the type of unfounded implication that I was speaking of in my last comment.

We would indeed have to conclude that we are free if we took every such passage of scripture as implying choice.As it stands, however, it amounts to a tremendous amount of isogesis.

It seems clear to me that in order to see such a passage as implying choice, it is necessary to have already assumed freedom.

To look at the scriptures as they stand, without such assumptions, is terrifying but authentic. We can then see them for what they are-the law. The solution for which can only be the cross.

For me to see an implication of choice in such scriptures amounts to nothing less than a casuistry of the worst kind, one which inserts myself artificially into a role in salvation, while upstaging the cross.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Nevertheless, I am still a Mattie fan.

P.S. (JZ, turn the stupid letter varification thing off)

Eric Cadin said...

First off, I would like to thank everyone for this discussion. For in such charity comes truth, I believe.

Not to overly complicate things, but Mattie mentioned an interesting, and I think providential fact about today, namely that today is the Annunciation of the Lord. This moment, when the Word becomes flesh, the world, life, changes.

Rarely, if ever, mentioned on this blog stands a person, a human, who perhaps has much to teach us, if we let her, on this subject. She is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Perhaps second only to Peter’s profession of Jesus’ divinity, though there is no reason to categorize or compare, she speaks a profound truth that we all could benefit meditating upon. The angel Gabriel speaks “Hail, full of grace the Lord is with you.” Now if ever there was a person consumed with “irresistible grace” it would seem to be Our Lady. For she had found favor with God, and he had poured out so much Grace upon her that she was in fact full, completely and totally. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” Again, this “irresistibility” seems, in the way it has been used on this blog, a profound testimony to her lack of freedom. For the Most High will overshadow her. But wait we are not finished, the angel relates that indeed, “nothing will be impossible for God” (even perhaps restoring man to freedom?)

Faced with God himself, at the most important moment in history, She acts, she speaks, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.”

Freedom, as we toss it about, becomes difficult to wrestle from the modern corruption which equates it merely with choice. Perhaps, just perhaps, at this perfect moment, God unbinds us, he restores our dignity (think of the beautiful word of that Christmas song “O Holy Night,” “When the soul felt its worth.” , truly I weep when I ponder the significance, the impact of that moment, captured in those words.) For freedom is not about choice, but perhaps, it is the power, through Him, to choose Him, to Love Him, not through my own power, but because and only, and forever, because He loved, loves, me. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary’s fiat, echoes through eternity true freedom. Not to do, to choose, or even to act my will, but to embrace, to Love, HIM.

mike burton said...

Thank you for that, Eric.

simeon zahl said...

Hey Mattie,

Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. I am not convinced, of course, I appreciate your thoughtful attempt to take the text seriously while sticking to your guns.

Just two things I wanted to note: first, people like me have no particular problem with language of acceptance or rejection of Christ. We just think that those who accept were predestined to do so, and that there was therefore no unknown x-factor in their will that let there be a possibility of an outcome other than than one God prepared in advance, a la Romans 8:29-30 ("those whom he foreknew, he also predestined...", etc.).

So I do not think it affects my position at all for people to have had conversion experiences very different mine, in which they had a strong sense of "choosing". Sure, they feel like they chose. But God set things up so they would choose the way they did. And so on.

The second thing is that I agree that it is interesting how many people who have "non-decisional testimonies" were in fact baptized as infants-- like me, for instance. I sure felt when I was 14 that that was my conversion, but then again who knows, maybe it was just my baptism. But even if so, I sure as heck didn't have free-will to accept or reject that baptism when I was 3 months old... Anyway an interesting point you make, I admit, despite my gut relatively low view of the sacraments :)

And come on people, we can totally hit 100 comments here. We're so close!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to be comment number 99 so as to assist number 100. So congratulations whoever you are.

bpzahl said...

I also have a low view of the sacraments, mostly because I have spent the past 5 months reading the religious history of over 500 British university students, the majority of whom were born into "non-practising Christian families" and were confirmed in the Anglican church. Of those who were baptized and confirmed, a large majority are atheists. I do not see any direct relationship between baptism and their (current) salvation. On the other hand, I also don't think it means those who are saved did so out of their own choice. There is a pretty even split between those who were born into Christian families to solid Christian parents, and those who claim they had a "conversion experience" and "decided" to make Jesus their Lord and Saviour. That does not, of course, mean God did not predestine them to have a powerful encounter with him and change their hearts. All that to say, if predestination is true, it does not necessarily mean one does not experience something _like_ a decision made by the will. Our _experience_ of our will to choose God has to be considered secondary to the truth of God as revealed in His word, which, with the hermeneutics Mike had described and Simeon has elaborated on, is not in opposition to the supreme will of God to predestine those he chooses to save. If God's sovereignty and predestination is true and primary, it does not inhibit us from having the experience of free will. It must be seen, however, as a subjective experience and not an objective truth.

Anonymous said...

congrats BPZ you are number 100!!
tell her about her prize...

Jeff Dean said...


What a WONDERFUL post. The first sermon I ever preached was about the Virgin Mary and the way in which God's grace in her fulfilled God's expectation of her. Thus her soul magnified the Lord!


What an important point you make about language of rejection and accepting. Thomas Cranmer was pushed by Martin Bucer to make the doctrine of predestination more discernible in the Prayer Book. Cranmer replied that, though he believed fully in God' predestination, the conception of "choice" was more pastorally accesible to people--so long as they understood their "choice" was a response to God's!


I wasn't certain at all how I felt about infant baptism. I'm not certain whether I was baptised as an infant; when I told my parents that I wished to be dunked in high school, they told me that I had been "dedicated to the Lord" as a child. No one was precisely certain what that meant, but the church I was attending, because my parents could not certify that I had water on my head with the Trinitarian formula spoken, would not certify that I had, in fact, been baptised. Long story short, I got dunked, and now I'm being confirmed.

All that to say this: When John Zahl said to me once, "I love infant baptism! It means someone is making a choice for God for me before I can make a choice for myself!" I fell in love with the concept.

I think that's the heart of the Gospel. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't think so, though.