Friday, February 12, 2010

Dr. Fowler White on grace and justice

I've asked Dr. White a couple of questions in regard to his interactions with Peter Leithart:

(1) Am I understanding your argument correctly, that חֵ֖ן and χαρις are not limited to situations involving demerit, but rather that “grace” is only proper as an English translation of those terms in situations involving demerit?

And this would be a matter of convention, for the sake of avoiding confusion?

What then do you make of Leithart’s contention that this convention is “too narrow”, signaling that he doesn’t wish to adopt the convention?

(2) What do you make of Leithart's “strict justice” argument: that Adam’s hypothetical obedience would have been disproportionate to the reward?

The floor is yours!

JRC

16 comments:

Andy Gilman said...

Hi Jeff,

Since Dr. White hasn't arrived yet...maybe you could point me to a concise example of the argument involving "disproportianate reward." Doesn't the whole argument depend on man being able to discern what value God places on Adam's obedience? How do we know that eternal life is not a proportianate reward for Adam's obedience in God's measure?

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Andy,

Here are a couple of arguments

Tim Gallant: http://www.biblicalstudiescenter.org/covenant/monocovenantalism.htm (see footnote 1 especially).

Mark Horne: http://www.hornes.org/theologia/mark-horne/covenant-of-works

Leithart: http://www.leithart.com/archives/002035.php

JRC

Jared said...

Mind if I tag along?

Jeff Cagle said...

Join the party. I'm here to learn.

JRC

Paige said...

Hullo, Jeff,
I'm here, too, interested to learn. Meantime, could I trouble you to email me? I have a nifty MATH resource to pass on to you! (If my email doesn't show, it's paige, then a dot, then britton, and it's a gmail address.)
blessings!
pb

rfwhite said...

Jeff Cagle Question 1) To be sure I’m understanding: I am correctly understanding your argument that Heb. hen and Gr. charis are not limited to situations involving demerit, but rather that Eng. “grace” is only proper as a translation of those terms in situations involving demerit? And this would be a matter of convention, for the sake of avoiding confusion? What then do you make of Leithart’s contention that this convention is “too narrow”, signaling that he doesn’t wish to adopt the convention?

White/Beiser Response (note: this is a joint response from Beisner and me):

(Jeff: A little confused by the punctuation in your sentences, but we think we understand.)

The White/Beisner comments to Leithart were directed toward the word “favor” vis-à-vis “grace.” Looking at his essay, we noticed that “favor” is the word that he employs, at first, to describe the relationship of the Son and the Father and, then, to describe, by analogy, the pre-fall relationship of Adam to God. Leithart urges that, as the Son was in a state of “favor” with the Father, so Adam was created in a state of “favor” with God. To this, Beisner and I responded: so far, so good.

At this point in Leithart’s discussion, however, he states parenthetically that Beisner and I restrict too narrowly the meaning of the word “grace.” Why, though, does Leithart make this observation? Well, in this parenthetical remark, he makes the first use of the term “grace” in his essay, and his comments immediately after that remark make clear the reason for his calling attention to "grace": Leithart believes that he has found a point of agreement between White/Beisner and the FVers/Shepherd. It is always good to find, and even hope to find, points of agreement between parties who disagree, but Leithart’s belief is only correct if we concede that “favor” and “grace” are interchangeable terms. Beisner and I don’t agree, however, to that concession.

“Favor” and “grace” are not interchangeable terms in English or in the original languages, unless the context requires that conclusion. For example, in the OT, the regular meaning of the expression “to find [hen] in the eyes of somebody” is to be approved of as deserving of favorable treatment. See, e.g., Gen 39:4; 50:4; Num 32:5; Deut 24:1; Prov 3:4. It doesn’t mean to be favored as an act of mercy despite the recipient’s demerit, unless it appears in particular contexts. As to the NT, the most frequent usage of [charis] may well be for merciful treatment despite demerit, but this usage doesn’t exhaust the term’s meaning in the NT: see, e.g., Luke 2:52; Acts 2.47; 7.10, where the meaning refers to the positive treatment that is due to a worthy recipient. The payoff of this discussion is to notice that “grace” (i.e., favor despite demerit) is a specific kind or subset of “favor”; the two terms don’t necessarily have an identical meaning.

As all this bears on Adam, Beisner and I would say that Adam was created in a state of favor with God, but that that state of favor was not a state of grace.

rfwhite said...

Jeff Cagle Question (2) What do you make of the “strict justice” argument: that Adam’s hypothetical obedience would have been disproportionate to the reward?

White/Beisner Response:

Backing up a step, we’d say that, by nature, Adam the creature, as the dependent covenant party, had no claim on God the Creator, as the independent (sovereign) covenant party. God condescended to obligate Himself by promise should Adam have fulfilled the covenanted condition. See Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vo1. 1, 8.3.1-2.

The idea that Adam’s hypothetical obedience would have been disproportionate to the reward is unsound. That idea starts with the supposition that Adam’s status as a creature limited the value or worth of his actions and, accordingly, those actions couldn’t have had eternal value. His obedience, according to this reasoning, couldn’t have earned the reward of eternal life, and that eternal reward must be bestowed as an act of grace.

By way of counterargument, Beisner and I have to contest the supposition that Adam’s actions could not have had eternal value. If this were true, then how is it that his act of disobedience could have had the eternal value which all agree that it had? By the reasoning proposed, Adam’s disobedience could not have deserved the punishment of eternal death, and we’d have to conclude that God imposed a judgment beyond the demands of justice. Was Hell, however, a punishment disproportionate to Adam’s disobedience and thus an injustice? Or was the substitutionary death of Christ the payment of a disproportionate punishment and also itself an injustice? Surely we can agree to answer both questions in the negative.

Alternatively, then, we affirm that we should assess the relationship between Adam’s actions and God’s sanctions by referring to God’s covenant, with its stipulations and sanctions, not by referring to a standard other than God’s covenant. And we might add this: even granted the suppositions of the Leithart side of the debate, had Adam perfectly and perpetually obeyed, it would have entailed that his obedience would have continued eternally (i.e., that he had been confirmed in a perpetual state of holiness and righteousness), and so there would have been no disproportion between his obedience and the reward for it.

jared said...

Is there a book or some articles that detail the history/development of pre-fall covenant of works? I'm not entirely sure the parameters of it, as I currently understand them, have any biblical warrant at all. I don't dispute that Adam was in covenant with God, I'm just not certain/convinced it should be constructed the way traditional Reformed theology has it constructed.

rfwhite said...

Jared: One article to include would be Mark W. Karlberg, “The Original State of Adam: Tensions Within Reformed Theology,” Evangelical
Quarterly 59:4 (1987): 291-309. Yes, he is a Kline supporter, but his essay can be read for one orientation to the discussion and for bibliography through 1987.

Jeff Cagle said...

Thank you both for your responses. Your paragraph

Alternatively, then, we affirm that we should assess the relationship between Adam’s actions and God’s sanctions by referring to God’s covenant, with its stipulations and sanctions, not by referring to a standard other than God’s covenant.

was very helpful in confirming my own take.

JRC

jared said...

Dr. White,

Thanks for that article, it is fascinating! I'm only half-way through it at the moment but so far Karlberg's reading very much so seems to favor (no pun intended) an FV understanding of the pre-fall Covenant. It also seems to confirm an FV criticism, namely that somewhere between the the start of the Reformation and the formulation of the Standards the scholastic notion of merit worked (again, no pun intended) its way into the Reformed understanding of the original covenant. I suspect the article will explain this in more detail. Karlberg says,

In the state of nature Adam could find favour in God’s sight and enjoy temporal life as long as he remained faithful and obedient. That is to say, natural life was contingent upon good works (merit);
eternal life was non-meritorious.


Very interesting! Thanks again.

John Thomson said...

Bear with someone who is at best reformed with a small 'r'.

The problem I have with this whole debate is just how speculative it is. What grounds do we have for thinking that Adam's obedience promised eventual glorification? There is no such promise made. The only thing we are told is that disobedience would result in death. Is this not one of the weaknesses of Reformed dogma that it insists on going beyond what is revealed into rampant speculation and then it builds theological constructs on a speculative foundation (the idea that eternal life must be merited and not a matter of pure grace, if you like the whole IAO debate).

Even Christ, the one through whom God intended to bring eternal life, did not merely as a man bring in eternal life. He was the God-man. He had life (eternal life) in himself. (Jn 5). In him was life in a way that it never was in Adam. He had authority to lay his life down and to take it up again. My point is the parallels with Adam admit as many contrasts as parallels.

Again, I fear that when Reformed thinking gets too removed from the plain teaching of Scripture into speculative philosophies it begins to distort Scripture and create systems that hide truth rather than reveal it.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Jeff,

You were asking, in our little discussion, about primary sources for Heinrich Bullinger's belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The source is a "Sermon on Mary" from 1558, as noted in the German work, Das Marienlob der Reformatoren: Martin Luther, Johannes Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger (Gebundene Ausgabe), by Walter Tappolet (Tubingen, 1962); at around p. 290:

http://www.amazon.de/Das-Marienlob-Reformatoren-Johannes-Bullinger/dp/3780501996/ref=sr_1_2/275-4337546-8814020?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276357205&sr=1-2

See a secondary reference to this in Google Books:

http://books.google.com/books?id=tgM2uD5UAmQC&pg=PA218&dq=bullinger++virginity+tappolet&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&cd=1

Moreover, Bullinger wrote the Second Helvetic Confession in 1562:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.ix.ii.v.html

In its Chapter XI, it refers to "the ever virgin Mary" and "the Virgin Mary." IN Chapter III it mentions "the Blessed Virgin."

http://www.ccel.org/creeds/helvetic.htm

Here is the original Latin version for Chapter XI, section 4 (complete):

4. Eundem quoque æterni Dei æternum Filium credimus et docemus hominis factum esse filium, ex semine Abrahæ atque Davidis, non ex viri coitu, quod Ebion dixit, sed conceptum purissime ex Spiritu Sancto, et natum ex Maria semper virgine: sicut diligenter nobis historia explicat evangelica (Matt. i. ). Et Paulus ait: Nullibi angelos adsumit, sed semen Abrahæ (Heb. ii. 16). Joannes item Apostolus, qui non credit, Jesum Christum in carne venisse, ex Deo non est (1 Joh. iv. 3). Caro ergo Christi nec phantastica fuit, nec cœlitus adlata, sicuti Valentinus et Marcion somniabant.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds3.iv.v.html

So there you have it: one proof from the original primary source in Latin, and another alluded to in a standard compilation of the Mariology of the earliest Protestant leaders.

Dave Armstrong said...

I found another secondary reference to the 1558 sermon, too:

http://books.google.com/books?id=lDSuvJtjrBcC&pg=PA128&lpg=PA128&dq=sermon+on+mary,+bullinger,+1558&source=bl&ots=e9NOdcpIkk&sig=Lf1tLgf6KCfm1Nh5SFmp55YaqfI&hl=en&ei=sK8TTLfsKeXrnQef-72UDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA

Jeff Cagle said...

John,

I hear you. It strikes me that we come close at times to disregarding WCoF 20.2 and 31.3.

JRC

Jeff Cagle said...

Dave,

Thanks for doing the leg-work. Now I know.

JRC