Saturday, March 25, 2006

God's Eternal Decrees: The Missing Decree

Theologica has been running a series on ordered lists of salvation. Theologica is theoretically a group blog with diverse views, but heavily Calvinist in its actual contents, so the "ordered lists of salvation" series has emphasized Calvinist views. The Calvinist views have the advantage of not being Arminian views, but I have these things against them:
  • They assume that grace (God's good favor) comes before Christ, while Scripture specifies that grace comes through Christ;
  • They turn election into a gift that comes before Christ, while Scripture specifies that election is likewise a gift in Christ;
  • They turn God into the mediator between man and Christ, whereas Scripture says that Christ is the intermediary between God and man;
  • They turn Christ's work into a transaction in which we benefit by decree, whereas Scripture says we are also transformed by our participation in Christ's death and resurrection;
  • They turn predestination into a gift which comes before Christ, where again Scripture specifies that predestination is a gift in Christ;
  • They respect God's power and strength, but ignore the fact that in Christ God chose the weak things to shame the strong.
In other words, their Christology is weak and their disrespect for anything but power leads to a caricature of God's sovereignty, one which in practice overlooks that God has chosen to create a world in which we have stewardship and lordship, our own God-given power by His decree.

Before I get to the missing decree, I would like to point out that there is one way in which Calvinist "ordered lists" acknowledge implicitly, if not explicitly, that God has chosen to give mankind the power to turn away from God and reject God. The Calvinist ordered lists of salvation tend to include this: that God permitted the fall of man, by which they mean the original fall of all mankind from grace into a state of depravity. Some Calvinists allow that mankind could have either fallen or not based on man's own disposition, while others maintain that God decreed even the fall. Note that the most simple change required for Calvinists to move beyond the popular "sola sovereignty" view of God is the simple recognition that God's decree is in continuing effect: that God's permission for the fall, for rejecting him, is not limited only to ancient history, but is a continuing part of God's design of the world. That one change alone, the recognition that that decree continues, permits recognition of so many Scriptures that Calvinists typically deny: that people really do fall away from faith, that God really does love the whole world, that Christ really did die for all, that there really is more to the cross of Christ than a transaction, that Christ is the mediator between God and man and not vice versa, and so forth. And it permits understanding the foolishness of God: that God chose what is weak and what is foolish to shame our distorted views of wisdom and power.

But most of all, it allows the insertion into the "ordered decrees" something conspicuously missing from the Calvinist lists: that God's hidden purpose was to head up all things in Christ. This is the missing decree from Calvinist lists, one whose absence shapes each list and is felt deeply throughout all of popular Calvinist polemics. God's decree to head up all things in Christ preceeds the fall of man; it preceeds the creation of the world. This one decree restores Christ to his rightful place as the foundation of theology, the foundation of our salvation, and the one who effects both our creation and our salvation.
And he made known the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment: to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

7 comments:

rebecca said...

They assume that grace (God's good favor) comes before Christ, while Scripture specifies that grace comes through Christ...

No, just that God plans the ways in which he will be gracious before he creates. However, it is all still grounded in (or comes through) Christ's propitiatory work in time.

They turn election into a gift that comes before Christ, while Scripture specifies that election is likewise a gift in Christ;

The benefits that election brings all come through Christ. Christ is crucified in time, but God plans things beforehand based on his plan to send Christ.

Remember, the decrees are all just plans--God's plans for what he will do once he creates.

They turn Christ's work into a transaction in which we benefit by decree, whereas Scripture says we are also transformed by our participation in Christ's death and resurrection

It's both. God plans, and his plans come to fruition, but everything we receive is grounded in Christ's death. Our participation in Christ's death and resurrection is the grounds for our transformation and the grounds for every other saving benefit we receive.

They turn predestination into a gift which comes before Christ, where again Scripture specifies that predestination is a gift in Christ;

Once again, election (or predestination) is "in Christ" but also "before the foundation of the world." Both things are true with an eternal God. He works both outside of time and in it.

Reading quickly over your post, I'm afraid that most of your objections would be levelled just as well to all the other orders of decrees--not just the Calvinist ones.

By the way, the heading up all things in Christ is more in the historia salutis, which we will get to later--that's the list of how redemption worked out in history.

codepoke said...

FWIW, I have read his a couple times now, and look forward to your followup. I intend to read the theologica posts before commenting, but it may be few days before I have the chance.

Weekend Fisher said...

Rebecca, I must not have written plainly enough, or your paradigm has prevented you from seeing what I'm saying. In Scripture, Christ is not merely first in the history of our salvation, but also in the order of our salvation.

In Calvinism, God's blessings come secondarily through Christ but not primarily through Christ or because of Christ. In Calvinism, all these blessing come from God's sovereign choice which *determines* whether Christ applies to a person, and God becomes the mediator between man and Christ, which is unScriptural. In Calvinism, God's election determines where Christ applies, as opposed to Scripture in which the election itself is in and through Christ, and so forth for each blessing.

Calvinism removes Christ from the *cause* of salvation, which is changed to predestination; he is made merely to be the *channel* of blessings already determined apart from Christ. This is very much in opposition to how Scripture portrays it.

codepoke said...

Amen.

This is also why theology is so boring. When the message drifts from Christ, it is just counting angels on pinheads. Each of the items in the ordered lists is large and important, but when they exist because of the work of our Bridegroom they become alive. He is our fascination, not theology.

I am still agreeing. Christ is the Source of every blessing. The Father has laid Christ at the corner of the building of His decrees. Those decrees flow because Christ underlays them all.

I also still have questions.

I loved your linked post on "Martin Luther and the Kaiser's Wife." (I think I guessed what the allusion was, but I've never heard it before.) The whole thing was great. In it you bring out:

"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) is unpopular with those who teach that God does not want all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

How do you believe centering the decrees of God on the fountainhead of Christ changed the traditional calvinistic interpretation of this verse?

codepoke said...

Boy. 25 minutes from question to answer. That's what I call fast!

Weekend Fisher said...

LOL, if "the answer" means the more recent post, I started typing that before you put in your question. Providence or something. But Rebecca, while noticing that yes I did object to all the other "ordered lists" of decrees she'd posted, but does not touch the fact that the criticisms still stand all the same, regardless of how many cousin theological systems make the same mistakes. The objections are Scriptural and address very basic mistakes; it does not matter how many systems have made the same mistakes, it's not a defense. For having grace before Christ, or a foundation other than Christ, there is no Scriptural defense.

Orycteropus Afer said...

I'm happy to tell you that this post won an Aardie. Congratulations on a job well done, Weekend Fisher.