Monday, April 23, 2007

More About Calvin's "P"

My previous entry, "Calvin's 'P'," raised questions from a reader about eternal security, also known as assurance of salvation. Several of you commented on his thoughts (thank you), and Gene actually made me laugh with his word pictures of Jesus holding an eraser. All comments contained excellent points. My good friend Boethius seemed to try to shift the focus to the question of private judgment vs. the authority of the (Roman Catholic) Church - a little odd, since he was the asker of the original question in the post! I'm sure he only did this, however, since he sees the questions as being linked.

Since this whole thing started out with him asking what I believe, I guess I should answer the question. What follows is hardly a Summa of my beliefs, but I intend for it to be a fair representation thereof.

Unless I've missed something, all of the commenters, including Boethius, would agree on the inspiration of the Bible and that our doctrines must not contradict the Word.

The difference is in epistemology. How do we know what we know? From the Church, from our hermeneutic, or from the Spirit leading us? In reality, I think it's some combination of the three - though I tend to think of "Church" as being somewhat synonymous with "historically orthodox beliefs." I'm always skeptical of anyone who shows up with novel doctrines that he believes he's just discovered after 2000 years of false Christianity. True divergence must always be suspect.

Admittedly, evangelical independence coupled with American individualism has led to some Protestants - leaders and otherwise - having some pretty wacky ideas. I won't attempt to defend Pat Robertson, Creflo Dollar, or Jim Jones. But in practice, it's not really happening that mainstream evangelicalism is coming up with novel theology all the time. In fact, our core beliefs are remarkably static.

That barely begins to address the question of "whose authority," but it's a start.

As for eternal security, I don't think this issue would be debated as hotly as it sometimes is if there were no ambiguity in the Scriptures. I don't believe that God is ambivalent on the subject, but His Word to us does not provide the indisputably clear answers that we would wish for.

I think you can make a case for salvation being "loseable," but I don't think that's the best answer. Here's why:
  • John 10.28, 29. Jesus says he gives eternal life to his sheep, and no one can snatch them out of his hand. If a shepherd is going to protect the sheep from all foes, even to the point of endangering his own life, I can't imagine that he will let them wander off on their own, no matter how badly they want to go.
  • 1 Cor. 11.27-32 talks about being judged by the Lord so as not to be condemned with the world. I suppose this passage could be taken to support or disprove eternal security, depending on the efficacy of God's judgment. But why would it be inefficacious?
  • Eph. 2.13, 14 has a sense of permanence when it talks about how we've been brought to God through the blood of Christ.
  • Heb. 10.14 says that Jesus, by his one ultimate sacrifice, has "made perfect forever" those who are being made holy. I don't see how I can be made perfect forever today, and lose that being made perfect forever tomorrow when I sin in a particular way. Rather, it sounds to me like the fact of salvation is settled, even as the outworking (aka sanctification) of that salvation is progressive.
  • In several passages, the NT uses the picture of adoption to describe what happens to us as those who belong to Christ. To my knowledge, in the Greek and Jewish cultures of the NT time, adoption was a one-way street, as it is in our society today. Once you get adopted into the family, you can't get "de-adopted" - not by the initiative of the parents, nor by the initiative of the child. Adoption is never conditional upon the child's assent or compliance.
So that's a basic outline of what I think about these matters. Others have expressed these thoughts much better than I, and certainly more comprehensively. For example, John Owen, in 1654, took about 500 pages to examine Perseverance. Even his book's title(!) displays the multifariousness of the subject:

OR, The certain Permanency of their 1. Acceptation with GOD, &
2. Sanctification from GOD. MANIFESTED & PROVED FROM The 1. ETERNALL PRINCIPLES 2. EFFECTUALL CAUSES 3. EXTERNALL MEANES Thereof. IN, 1. THE IMMUTABILITY of the 1. Nature 2. Decrees 3. Covenant and 4. Promises Of GOD. 2. The OBLATION and INTERCESSION Of JESUS CHRIST. 3. The 1. Promises 2. Exhortations 3. Threats Of The GOSPELL. Improved in its Genuine Tendency to Obedience and Consolation. AND VINDICATED In a Full Answer to the Discourse of Mr JOHN GOODWIN against it, in his Book Entituled Redemption Redeemed. With some DIGRESSIONS Concerning 1. The Immediate effects of the Death of Christ. 2. Personall Indwelling of the Spirit. 3. Union with Christ. 4. Nature of Gospell promises, &c. ALSO A PREFACE Manifesting the Judgement of the Antients concerning the Truth contended for: with a Discourse touching the Epistles of IGNATIUS; The EPISCOPACY in them Asserted; and some Animadversions on Dr H:H: his Dissertations on that Subject.
_________________________________________________________________ By
JOHN OWEN Servant of Jesus Christ in the Worke of the Gospell.


  1. Don't forget Phillipians 1:6 = He who began a good work in you WILL CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION to the day of Christ Jesus.

    And Romans 8:30-31 = those whom he foreknew...he predestined...he called...he justified...he glorified.

  2. Dear Arnold,

    Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful response. I now have a much clearer sense of what you believe and why. I think we agree on many of the most important points.

    There are obviously points on which we disagree. There are two ways I might respond. The first is easier and certainly more familiar. I could take the verses you offer (along with your interpretations) and attempt to show that your interpretation has gone astray. In short, we could have good, old-fashioned game of proof texting. To do that I might begin here:
    or here:

    This would, I believe, miss the larger point.

    The second (and much harder) way is to suggest that what you, or I, or any reader of this blog might think is totally irrelevant (though I was obviously curious about your thoughts or I would not have asked my initial question).

    “How” we think is the crux of the matter.

    Are we thinking with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) or as autonomous agents making our own powers of reason the final authority for interpretation? Unfortunately, your desire to redefine the Church as “historically orthodox beliefs” is not itself an “historically orthodox belief.” The idea that we should be able to take up the scriptures, read them for ourselves, and decide what to believe was not the practice of the Church for the first 1600 years. What Christians were to believe was received from the Church (and grounded in scripture) rather than extracted through the use of a concordance (or Google).

    Thus we come to our ecclesiology, or our theology of the Church. Does the Protestant understanding of the Church have any basis in the first 1600 years of Christianity? (Perhaps a topic for another time.)

    There were countless disputes in Church history that were decided by the magisterium of the Church (sometimes over centuries through much sweat and blood). The question of the “preservation of the Saints”—as with so many other potentially ambiguous questions in scripture--has been decided by both the Eastern and Western Churches. These decisions were not purely the work of human intellect. They were reached through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we choose to reject this, then on what authority? (You suggested that you would be suspicious of someone showing up with novel doctrines after 2000 years and claiming that in the previous 2000 years the Church had been wrong, and yet this is exactly what the Reformers did. Calvin’s P was a sixteenth-century innovation.) The harder way of addressing the question of “eternal security” that I am proposing forces us to examine the role of “private judgment” in our faith and the nature of our ecclesiology. (Of course, very view of us take the time to work solely from private judgment. Usually we go with the view that sounds the best to us and seems to have a Biblical basis.)

    So what is my point?

    It is that the difference between the Protestant and Catholic/Orthodox view is as radical (I would argue) as whether we place the Earth or the sun at the center of our solar system. (The analogy would be whether the individual believer’s judgment or the judgment of the Church is at the center.) Does the “buck” of scriptural interpretation (on any question pertaining to our faith) stop with us (and those who think like we do) or do we submit to the Holy Spirit’s work through history in the Church (against which Christ promised the gates of Hell would not prevail)?

    So, if you are interested in the proof texts, feel free to begin with the links above. But I think the question of Calvin’s P will not be resolved in this way.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,

  3. Boethius - First, thanks for your comments. I hope the following helps discussion. I have a few thoughts. (And the questions are honest ones)

    1. After reading the proof texts, I still don't follow how faith is completed by our works. Is Christ's death not sufficient? How can the act of being declared righteous by God be a continual process and/or be taken away?

    2. Regarding church history, I do think the Protestant idea of the Bible did have a place in the first 16 centuries. I believe the reason that it took until Luther for all this to break out is becuase the Church responded much more harshly to those before him (Wycliffe, Tyndale, etc.) And though I do agree that God is Sovereign and directing the church, I believe many doctrines shifted to being inconsistent with the Bible. Indulgences, purgatory, and not allowing the comman man the ability to read the Word are just a few examples that are unbiblical. And they allowed for a more corrupt leadership of the church.

    I love any thoughts you might have in response. Thanks.

  4. Hi Mr. Boethius -

    As usual, you provide a thoughtful response/rejoinder. I suspect (as you suggest) that we could engage in endless proof texting and never come to agreement - the "winner" would be the one who gave up last.

    So I'll just offer a few thoughts, which are, admittedly, inadequate by themselves. But I don't have the time or skill to write a book about the subject, so perhaps this will suffice for the time being.

    In my view, we're not really "deciding for ourselves." The Holy Spirit is (ideally) guiding us. His ability to speak is not limited to the Magisterium; He may, if he chooses, also speak to the individual. Of course, this truth is fraught with peril, and that's why we need to "test the spirits," be humble, listen to the counsel of godly believers, look at history, etc.

    Further, even the Magisterium is made up of PEOPLE who are deciding. It's an article of faith, and I think it's your belief, that they are better able to decide doctrine, and/or that they are more surely guided by the Spirit. I can respect that.

    But ultimately, I must assert that the Eastern and Western Churches don't "decide" the question of perseverance, or any other doctrine. It's not the Church's role to decide truth, but to discern truth as they are led by the Spirit.

    And finally (for this entry, at least), I wonder how important all this is to God, anyway. To put it in other terms, it's obvious to me that God works through people who have a variety of beliefs on these matters. He uses both Calvinists and Arminians to bring people to Himself. Of course, He knows the "true doctrines," and I'm not arguing that truth is in any way irrelevant. But since there are godly people on both sides of this debate - people who are walking with God and helping others find Jesus - that tells me that God has chosen to exercise some latitude in whom He will graciously befriend, inhabit, lead, and use.

  5. OK, one more thing. Even if we let the Magisterium decide the doctrines, we still need the HS to lead us into truth, such as which job to take or school to attend, or how to deal with a child's difficult behavior, or whether it'd be wise to marry a certain person, etc. These are not things the Magisterium can decide for us. They're too busy. But the HS isn't. So I don't think we can get away from individualism, not if our walk with God is a real one.

  6. Hello David,

    Thank you for your comments and questions. If the links I offered in the previous post are not as helpful as I had hoped, I would encourage you to take a look at the links in the post I made to Arnold’s original blog entry.
    They might take some time to read, but I think the Pontificator’s thoughts on this matter will help. They are:

    Briefly stated, we as believers live within three perspectives at once (and scripture gives evidence of all three of these): we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. All three aspects of this process come from God’s grace and initiative. He gives us the grace to respond to his initial call, gives us the grace to follow him, and one day will give us a life in intimate connection with the Trinity through grace (also known as the beatific vision). Yet, just as God did not override the will of Adam and Eve and forces no one to come to him against their will, we can make a shipwreck of our faith. The Church describes this process through the category of mortal sin. Briefly stated, it involves doing something terribly wrong (grave matter) with full knowledge and with a full act of the will. Sins that do not meet these criteria will impair our walk with God and our relationship to other believers but do not cause the shipwreck of our faith. If we commit mortal sin, God has provided the sacrament of reconciliation (as the normal means) through which we can be reconciled to Christ and his Church. If we are perfectly contrite, such sins can be addressed without the sacrament (though this is not the normal means).

    Yet how do we address the relationship between faith and works? For Catholics, the usual term is cooperation: we cooperate with God’s grace. But this is a funny kind of cooperation. It is the cooperation between an infinite God and very finite mortal. The best (yet very imperfect) example I can use to illustrate this is from my relation to my own children. I may let my daughter do a chore around the house to earn a bit of money. She does the chore and I give her three dollars. She then goes to the store and buys something with “her” money that she “earned.” Now the money, the existence of the chore itself, and the very life she lives derive from me as her father. Can she truly lay claim to any of this? Yet I do all of this because I wish to honor her dignity as a human being. When Catholics talk about cooperating with grace, it is this kind of cooperation that they mean. Our good works are like filthy rags and if there is any good in them, they derive (ultimately) from the goodness of God.

    Also, I would not argue with your assertion that there have been corrupt leaders of the Church and that many Christians have distorted the gospel either through their actions or their teaching (as many continue to do so today). I would insist, however, that even in its darkest days (with the most vile Popes), the Church never compromised on any teaching that was essential to the gospel. It never proclaimed a dogma that was wrong or called Christians to believe something that was false. Now, there are many, many misunderstandings concerning what the Church teaches regarding the issues you raised. In my own journey, I found that either (1) I did not understand what the Church taught or (2) what the Church taught was in fact supported by scripture and church history (and I was the one who was wrong). You raised several issues: the Church’s understanding of the Bible through history, its relation to Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, and doctrinal matters such as purgatory, indulgences, etc.

    Most of these fall into two classes: historical matters and doctrinal matters. Each deserves careful attention and I would be willing to examine each of them with you (though we probably should not do so on Arnold’s blog). Would you believe me if I said that for each of the objections (historical and doctrinal) that you raise, there is a sound biblical explanation (concerning doctrinal matters) or a reasonable historical explanation (for historical matters)?

    The judgment that certain things are “unbiblical” is an example of what I referred to in my previous post as the over-grasping of private judgment. I won’t beat that dead horse here.

    Further complicating the matter is the fact that, in almost every case of a controversial issue, most Protestants do not understand what the Catholic church teaches on a particular matter. So their judgment of something as “unbiblical” is invalid from the beginning because it is based on misunderstanding. (In fact, many former Catholics were poorly instructed and they themselves regularly misrepresent Church teaching.) But assuming that one clearly understands a given teaching of the Church, is an individual Christian in a position to pass judgment on that teaching as being right or wrong? This has been the primary concern of most of my posts in this thread and it is the essence of what it means to be a protestant: the individual Christian stands in judgment over the Church and its teaching.

    The judgment that certain teachings were unbiblical also suggests that “sola scriptura” (Scripture alone) is a valid position to hold. Unfortunately, “sola scriptura” is not scriptural. The Church, not scripture, is “the pillar and bulwark” or our faith (so says scripture). Scripture itself indicates that from the beginning the teachings of the faith included both written scriptures and oral tradition. (I could provide proof texts if you would like.)

    If you would like to know more about what the Church teaches there are a few basic resources that you should be aware of (and some which pertain to the issues you raised in your post):
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (second edition) is available online here:
    (or you could borrow Arnold’s). It has everything you would want to know about what the Church teaches. (It also could be used as a door-stop.)

    The Second Vatican Council issued a number of very important documents.
    One concerns the Church (Lumen gentium):
    This document contains, among other things, very interesting passages on the relationship between the Church and the “separated brethren” (i.e., Protestants).

    One concerns Scripture and Tradition (Verbum Dei):

    You might also consider the podcasts “Scandals in Church History” (I think he covers the crusades and the inquisition) and “I fell into a burning ring of fire” (on Purgatory) both are available at Prairie Rome Companion

    On the supposed medieval prohibition against Bible reading, you might consider:

    You might also look through the podcasts archived here:

    Again, I appreciate your thoughtful comments and questions.

    Please remember that Catholics believe that we are saved by grace and that God grants us the opportunity to cooperate with that grace. This was the teaching of the Church for 1500 years and remains the teaching of the Catholic and Orthodox churces today.

    And before we pass judgment on a teaching of the Church (as being unbiblical) we should be sure that we know exactly what that teaching is (and before judging an historical event, we should get the facts from both sides).

    If you would like to discuss any of this further, Arnold could provide you with my e-mail address.

    Blessings to you (and happy Easter!),

  7. Hello Arnold,

    Thank you for your response.

    I’ll try to respond to your points as well as I can.

    The central concern seems to be with the magisterium and the individual believer (along with the role of the Holy Spirit and who “decides” matters of spiritual importance).
    I would like to insist that this is not an either/or situation but rather a both/and situation (with a hierarchy).

    We receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized and Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would guide and guard his Church. Of course the magisterium (i.e., the bishops in apostolic succession) does not decide whom we should marry (or whether we should marry at all). Rather, the bishops (as successors to the apostles), under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, make decisions that pertain to our faith and morals. There are examples of this that virtually no one would dispute: (1) deciding which books belong in the Biblical canon, (2) whether Christ was both God and man, (3) whether gentile Christians must be circumcised, (3) whether God is both one and a trinity? And so on. Who “decided” these things? The Church, i.e., the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, under the leadership of the bishops (as successors to the apostles), judged what was a heresy and what was the truth. This process continues today.

    I do not disagree that we, as individual believers, must seek guidance from God and trust in that guidance. But there are limits that God set (isn’t this what the Garden of Eden was all about?) and there is a hierarchy. There is a sphere in which we exercise our judgment and there is a sphere in which the Church (of which we are a part) exercises her’s. What the sixteenth century witnessed was a deformation of that balance. Individual believers (with very good intentions) took to themselves (for every complex reasons) the questions and powers that God entrusted to his Church. The consequences of this is most obvious in the continual splitting-off of Protestant denominations since the Reformation. If the Christians in these denominations are being guided by the Holy Spirit, why do they disagree on so many (and often essential, as well as non-essential) things. I do not doubt that God can and does work through these denominations, but that does not validate the overreaching of private judgment that has continued since the sixteenth century and the deformations to the gospel that have taken place. (As a side note, would Luther or Calvin even recognize the modern, American megachurch as a “church”? A friend who is a PCA pastor insists that were Calvin and Luther alive today, they would be signing up for RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults): (e.g.)

    So yes, there is a sphere in which the individual decides for him- or herself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But there is also a sphere—i.e., faith and morals--which is proper to the Church. This is how God intended his Church to operate (and this is how things unfolded, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the earliest centuries of Christianity). (One could argue that the Church went astray within the first 200 years, but I assume that this not a position you hold.) Protestantism has almost completely laid claim to this latter sphere (i.e. the Church’s) over time on behalf of private judgment. Yes, bishops are people, but they are guided by the Holy Spirit when making decisions concerning certain matters and under certain circumstances. (The workings of the magisterium is a big topic.)

    No doubt you believe that the human authors of the Bible were working under the guidance of the Spirit. If so, is it so difficult to entertain the idea that the Spirit continues to guide and guard the Church through the magisterium? Do the bishops “decide” matters of faith and morals? Yes and no: the Holy Spirit decides through them. The Church and its shepherds do not act above or independently of the scriptures, but are rather guided in their interpretation. (For more on this relationship, please see the link to Verbum Dei in the response I offered to David). In a previous post I used the analogy of light and lens. The latter is the Church which allows us to interpret scripture properly.

    Of course none of this makes sense if we understand “Church” to mean a collection of isolated believers who shop around to find a preacher, a theology, music, worship-style, and singles group that they like. It only makes sense if the Church was established both visibly and invisibly at Pentecost and has been guided and maintained by the Holy Spirit since that time. It only makes sense if the Church is a supernatural institution.

    How important is this to God? I would suggest that it is extremely important. In the stripped-down American version of Evangelicalism, ecclesiology may seem like a bookish topic of little relevance. But if God established his Church as an ark through which we come to Christ and are preserved and grow (through the grace of the sacraments, etc.), then to set aside the classical understanding of the Church is to try to do what God wants in a way that he never intended. Obviously God could and did speak through Balaam’s ass, but does that mean we should throw saddles on our backs? If pushed for an unvarnished assessment, I would say that the gospel of most Evangelicals is sorely deficient and deformed by the (individualistic) pressures of modernity (i.e., cultural trends in play since the sixteenth century) and the errors of the Reformation. On the other hand, most of my Evangelical friends, while tolerating my swim of the Tiber to Rome, would probably insist that I risk burying the gospel beneath the traditions of men and unbiblical accretions. We remain friends because we are committed to proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.

    The questions we have discussed seem to nest within and around each other:
    So what is the Church? How do our ideas of the Church correspond to the teaching of scripture and the understanding of the earliest Christians (and Christians for the first sixteen centuries)? Only after one has answered these questions can (or should) one continue to the questions concerning what the relationship between the judgment of the individual and that of the Church is (and should be). And only then (I would suggest) should we turn to matters such as Calvin’s P (and whether we should use grape juice at communion. :)

    Thanks for being a gracious blog host.

    See you soon,

  8. Please don't tell me the Magisterium says grape juice is OK. Juice is the only Protestant heresy I'll admit.

  9. Boethius

    Thanks for the response. I will look into the resources. I have one last thought that you may or may not want to respond to. I'll put it out there just in case.

    Regarding the idea that God does not override man's will, what do you think of the following verses.

    2 Cor. 4:6 = For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

    So, I would argue here that as God commanded the light to be, he also commanded us to be awakened to the light of Christ, and thus to be saved.

    Eph. 2:5 = even when we were dead in our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ.

    And again here (as well as others (Col 1 & 2)), it seems we are not merely wounded, but dead in our sin. And just as we have nothing to do with our physical birth, we also have nothing to do with being born again.

    The reason I project these thoughts is becuase they help me understand how the work of our salvation is monergistic, and thus final. And from there God is supplying the grace to continue in the faith as the work of sanctification is synergistic.

  10. Boethius and Arnold,

    Speaking of juice...

    I would like to know your thoughts on transubstantiation?

    Thanks, this has been fun to read!

    ~~Althea a.k.a. "Thea's Ideas"

  11. I love this verse...Rom. 1:17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

    With all do respect to those well thoughtout arguements Mr. Boethius, it would be too much like religion for me to go along with. Faith by grace alone in Chirst alone is just right to me. I just don't understand the logic in your arguments and I certainly can't believe that the soverign God(the author of my faith)would allow my salvation to be shipwrecked, especially since I think he's at the helm...Therefore I'll stick to my misinterpretations of scripture and my reformed views. I suppose purgatory might be my consequence=) I commend you though, you seem to understand a lot more about the Catholic Church than most of my Catholic friends have in the past.

    P.S. BTW -The Roman church has had its "spliters" as well (such as Mel Gibsons denomenation

  12. Hello David,

    The question of synergism vs. monergism is clearly relevant to the question of Calvin’s P.

    Philip Carey has a brief essay entitled “Augustine and the Varieties of Monergism” at Pontifications ( Therein he addresses “Calvin’s distinctive new doctrine about the perseverance of the saints” and its relation to Augustine’s thought. It would appear that St. Augustine was both a monergist (though not a radical or absolute monergist) and a synergist. As with so many aspects of the Tradition, it is not a matter of either/or, but both/and. I hope you will take the time to read Dr. Carey’s piece. Obviously the verses you cited were not understood in monergistic terms prior to the sixteenth century (and this is, in part, the result of the Protestant partition of justification from sanctification). (For more on mortal sin and monergism, you might take a look at: )

    Based on Carey’s categories (monergist, radical monergist, absolute monergist), where do you place yourself? (As could be predicted, I’m standing with Augustine [and the later Dominicans rather than the Molinists]).

    Also, lest my previous posts seem to divide Catholics too sharply from other Christians, you might be interested in the following:
    It is one of several joint statements that have been produced during the last decade.

    Thanks again for your questions and comments. They are helping to clear some cobwebs from my cerebral attic.


  13. No one would ever guess you're a music major!

  14. Hello Althea,

    Transubstantiation is a curious topic. I certainly can offer no exhaustive account, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

    It is clear that the from the beginning of Christianity, Christians believed that the bread and the wine used in the Eucharist became the body and blood of Christ. That is, the sacrifice of Christ became present again at each celebration. Christ was not sacrificed anew, but the same sacrifice became present. By receiving the Eucharist in communion, Christians received grace and were united to one another and to Christ in a miraculous way.

    Transubstantiation is simply a thirteenth-century term that seeks to explain how this happens. It does not seek to prove that it happens because this had been taken for granted for sixteen centuries. The explanation of how it happens depends upon the term “substance.”

    For a bit more on this, you might take a look at:

    The following section of the Catechism treats the Eucharist:

    Thanks for your thoughts (and ideas).

    Take care,

  15. Hello Gene,

    I visited your blog and it looks like you have some connects with R.U.F. My wife and I were also a part of R.U.F. as undergraduates and found it to be a tremendous source of spiritual nourishment. (We were married in a PCA church.) I still think that Calvinism is the most rigorous and consistent form of Protestantism that exists. If you are smart, confident, articulate, and committed to the Protestant Project, then the Reformed tradition is the place to be.

    I also appreciate your illustration of the dangers of private judgment. To believe anything because it “is just right for me” or to reject a teaching of the Church because you just “can’t believe” it perfectly captures the dangers of allowing ourselves to be the final authority. (How many people have walked away from Christianity for exactly those reasons?)

    Also, the notion that one can “shipwreck” one’s faith did not originate with me (see 1 Timothy 1:19).

    Finally, you mentioned Mel Gibson and other Catholic “splitters.” Yes, there have been heretics and schismatics from the beginning. (Technically, though, Gibson is probably best described as a schismatic rather than a heretic.) I believe Milton captured the spirit of it well when he had his Satan state that “it is better to rule in Hell [Geneva?] than to serve in Heaven.” However, today it is generally considered impolite to use the terms “heretic” and “schismatic” in mixed ecclesial company. :)

    I hope that you will continue to explore and grow in your faith, whether it be reformed or unreformed.


    p.s. I was just kidding about the Geneva = Hell, part. I would rather be in Geneva any day. (It just so happens that today is the feast day of St. Fidelis (of Sigmaringen), a martyr who was killed by some separated brethren in the seventeenth century.)

  16. Well, if they reject its because they were never really with us, but you already knew I'd say that:)

    you also know that, as a Calvinist, I consider scripture to be the final authority in faith, life and in interpretation, you know...sola scriptura.

  17. Boethius -

    Thanks for the articles. From Carey's perspective, I would fall into the monergist camp (not radical or absolute). And the second article was a very refreshing one as I am reminded of our (Cs and Ps) shared beliefs.

    I do however have a question regarding Augustine and prevenient grace. When I read the Confessions, I don't see the thought of this type of grace mentioned. Also, I'm not sure where this type of grace is found in the Bible. Maybe you can help me there.

    Also, when I read statements in the Confessions like: "Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire," I see Augustine saying God is in control. He can't do anything regarding salvation. His "work" is the result of God giving Him the ability. And if God is giving him the ability, why would he stop? This statement does not seem to come from someone who believes that he can lose his salvation.

    I'm enjoying this discussion


  18. Also, I had a quick thought from Jude.

    Jude verse 1 explains how we are called and KEPT by Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Then, in verse 21, he explains how we are to keep ourselves in the love of God through prayer.

    Now, I would argue that the "kept" in verse 1 is something different than in verse 21. We can't ULTIMATELY keep ourselves unto eternal life. God WILL do that for those who are His. However, we do some level of keeping ourselves in God's love as we pray. It shows we are His. If we don't pray, we don't reflect being His (simply put).

    This a quite a paradox, very appropriate for this blog.

    Any thoughts?

  19. Hello David,

    Thanks for your questions. I, too, am enjoying this question.

    From a Reformed reading of the Bible, where is prevenient grace? R.C. Sproul and others claim not to be able to find it.

    Augustine answers this question (though not in the Confessions) and provides citations from scripture. Consider chapter 38 of his “On Grace and Free Will,” entitled:
    “We Would Not Love God Unless He First Loved Us. The Apostles Chose Christ Because They Were Chosen; They Were Not Chosen Because They Chose Christ.”

    (Here is the first part of the chapter:)
    Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, "We love Him because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19. Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." John 15:16. For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him. He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. "You have not chosen me," He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). "But I," says He, "have chosen you." And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen. There could be no merit in men's choice of Christ, if it were not that God's grace was prevenient in His choosing them. . . .”
    (the whole work is here: )

    Of course, these statements could be misleading out of context. (He was writing against the Pelagians.) Consider that the second chapter of this work is called: “He Proves the Existence of Free Will in Man from the Precepts Addressed to Him by God.” And the third chapter is entitled: “Sinners are Convicted When Attempting to Excuse Themselves by Blaming God, Because They Have Free Will.” And the seventh chapter: “Grace is Necessary Along with Free Will to Lead a Good Life.”

    The statements you cited by Augustine (from the Confessions) certainly attest to his belief in God’s sovereignty. God can do anything he wishes and he could have chosen to override human will if he had so wished. Human free will is not something that exists over and against the sovereignty of God. Rather it is a gift from God and further evidence of his love for us and his desire to be freely loved by us.

    It is true that Augustine believes that God acts first and gives us the grace we need to believe in Him (this is “operating” or “prevenient” grace). This grace is the gift of faith. We could never respond to God’s initiative without His enabling us to do so. And yet, as Carey points out, Augustine did not separate justification from sanctification and so he believed that we cooperated with Grace in our lives as Christians. This is the grace with which we cooperate in our spiritual growth.

    And then Carey offers some unsettling words: “For Augustine, you can have a perfectly genuine faith but not persevere in faith to the end of your life. There is no guarantee that believers will not lose their faith and thus ultimately be damned. Hence no matter how true your faith presently is, that does not mean you are sure to be saved in the end.” These words should give us pause. Is this not the presupposition that prompted the Apostle to instruct us to work-out our salvation with fear and trembling? But note that Augustine is not talking about the grace-less eternal in-security of Islam (that began this whole conversation). It is a working-out that is surrounded and infused with grace. It is a working-out that derives its strength from the sacraments, prayer, the renewing of our minds in scripture, the prayers of all the angels and saints, and the infinite love of the triune God. It is a working-out that will prompt us all to know (in heaven, if we don’t already) that every ounce of goodness in our souls is ultimately derived from grace. This is a working-out of our salvation, not a working for our salvation.

    Thus, I agree with the first part of your interpretation of Augustine: he is saying that God is in control. The second part—that [Augustine] can’t do anything regarding salvation—does not necessarily follow from the first. Of course we cannot do anything apart from God. But has God created a space for us in which we can be agents, in which we use the gift of freedom that he has bestowed upon us to cooperate with his grace? Carey’s citation’s from Augustine’s “Grace and Free Will” indicates that God has done just that: “For in beginning [i.e. in the initial choice to have faith, from which charity springs] He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will.” (Carey continues:) “In Augustinian terms: prior to any co-operation of our will, operative grace produces faith (i.e., a good will) in us, then from faith springs charity, which works together with the (co-operating) grace of God in the journey to eternal life.”

    And then you asked: if God is giving us the ability to “work” (co-operate) with Him, why would He stop? That’s just it. God does not stop. If we shipwreck our faith, it is not because of what God does or does not do, but because of what we do. And this must be a radical doing, a fully informed, fully willed rejection of Christ through sin. How else could Hell be a just punishment?

    If this is what Augustine believed and what the Church taught (though the two are not strictly concordant on all matters), then this means that the Church lost its grasp of the gospel before the year 450. Was it only recovered in the sixteenth century? But which gospel, Calvin’s or Luther’s is/was the correct one? And if we teach people that they cannot shipwreck their faith when they can, how will we be judged ?

    As an aside, you might find the following (concerning different sorts of grace) to be of interest:
    (Arnold, if you are reading this, Yancey should have read Journet’s book.)

    I hope this makes sense, I’m writing between my childrens’ naps.

    Blessings and peace,

  20. Hello David,

    I think you delivered your most recent post as I was composing the one above.

    Clearly distinctions can be made here: the word “kept,” as with words “faith” and “choose” can be used in different ways. Also, the mystery of "election" seems to be hovering over the whole book of Jude. Yet I wonder how your distinction stands in relation to verses 5 and 6:
    ". . . he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day."
    Clearly God led (through his own initiative) the children of Israel out of Egypt. But we know what happened in the desert and how many of them entered into the promised land. The mystery of the fallen angels is an even larger difficulty.

    Though some Catholics tend to emphasize human will (the Molinists) while others tend to emphasize election (Aquinas and the Dominicans), the official teaching of the Church holds the two in tension without relinquishing either. (I believe Carey touched on this in his piece on monergism.)


  21. Boethius

    To both responses
    1. My initial thought is that I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I need some more time to think over some of it. But I will tackle one question briefly.

    The question, "How else could Hell be a just punishment?" - I guess this just brings us back to the issue of original sin. I believe hell is a just punishment for everyone. He created some as vessels of mercy and others as vessels of srath (Rom 9) in order to display his glory in both.

    2. You are very right that fallen angels is a great mystery to me. But I don't think those he delivered physically out of Egypt he necessarily should have delivered physically. Paul reminds us in Rom 2:26 that a Jew is one inwardly, so many of the physical Isreal (visible church if you will) were not part of the true spiritual Israel (invisible).

    Again, sorry to just pick a couple things, but I need some more time with the rest of it.


  22. Hello David,

    (1) You are quite right. We have all fallen short of the justice/righteousness of God. The Church taught from the beginning that Baptism washed away original sin (though not all of its effects, e.g., concupiscence.) How many people in the typical Ameri-church believe this today? (The doctrine of original sin is a very interesting, and very Augustinian, subject.)

    But this does not answer the questions concerning (a) what role has God given us to play in this amazing working-out of his grace and (b) to whom do we turn to understand the scriptures that pertain to this: ourselves or the Church?

    (2) You are quite right about this as well. But we must ask ourselves why Jude made the statements in vv. 5 and 6 if they have no bearing on our keeping and being kept in Christ (or the condemnation of those in v. 4).

    Also of interest is Jude's call (in verse 3) to "contend for the faith which was once for delivered to the saints." He was, of course, writing about the Tradition (i.e., that which is handed on) which had been passed on by the apostles to their successors. This was an oral tradition (both doctrinal and litrugical) that was just beginning to crystallize into a written canon. Our faith is something we receive from those who came before us and work out with fear and trembling, not a systematic theology we develop and justify through our own intellectual faculties.

    I don't mean to repeat myself, but what I think (about a given point of doctrine or a given passage of scripture) isn't, ultimately, what matters. What I want to know is what the Church thinks and whether I am thinking with the Church. This requires the docility (but not slavishness) of faith (which is itself a gift). This is why the early Christians received the Lord's Prayer and received the creed at Baptism. They weren't asked to read the New Testament and then compose their own.


  23. Dear Boethius,

    I've been reading and thinking about your posts very carefully.

    I grew up in a Catholic home. As the oldest, I was brought up during the phase in our family when catechism was important, and am the only one of four siblings that made it all the way through to confirmation as child (one did these things as an adult). When I was in college, I started studying the Bible and thinking about my faith in God more seriously than before.

    My father noticed that I was reading scripture and instructed me to choose a Bible with an imperater. So, I did. After awhile, I started to delve a little deeper into Catholic tradition. My father also instructed me that I was to gain spiritual strength by observing the sacraments and church tradition, not by my excessive (he believed) reading of the Scriptures. So, I did. I quit studying the Bible and my daily devotionals, and pretty everything else that I was doing with the Bible (some memorization included).
    I pretty much submitted to listening to the priest's homilies for my instruction instead of books or teaching tapes. I fought with my evangelical fundamentalist friends about my beliefs--it wasn't as fun as this discussion. And I dated a guy who was very involved with our parish and who was hinting at marrying me. In other words, I lined up everything according to what my family expected of me, and also what I believed the Church expected of me...basically shut up, stop thinking and rocking the boat.

    Just who did I think I was, anyway?

    I was headed down a dangerous path and I knew it. I had a lot of Catholic friends, and they had varying degrees of commitment and spiritual depth to God. Some knew more church history than I did, some knew less. Not everyone has read Augustine in the Catholic church, and most know just what they've been told.

    For instance, I asked my Mom about transubstantion, she had no idea what I was talking about. When I explained (what I learned through reading while in college) she disagreed, saying that the eucharist was symbolic. My dad, who was raised in parochial school and taught high school CCD classes, knew more about what I was saying but could not explain why the Church believed it. He finally conceded that it was symbolic. We got into an arguement about dogma that solved nothing nor answered my question.

    It's too bad, because it is that particular dogma that made me decide to leave the Catholic faith.
    Basically, I discovered that Jesus said "touto esti" not "touto gignetai" in Matt. 26:2 and 28. So, I did not decide that I interpreted scripture for myself. I found out that the Church, as decreed in the Council of Trent, interpreted it wrong, and then condemned anyone who did not follow their interpretation. So, according to them, devout Catholics like my parents were accursed, whether they knew it or not. Accursed is a big word, and it leaves no room for someone else dropping the ball in the teaching of transubstantiation.

    My first communion, I remember that the well meaning teachers told me that receiving the bread and the wine was like receiving Christ in my heart. What more could a little kid comprehend? Even that much, was big stuff.

    The history of the Catholic church is determined by God. He brought out of it great things. But the Catholic church has had its downs as well as ups. There were many reformations before the Great Reformation--brought on by godly people who would not shut up, stop thinking and quit rocking the boat. And I believe that there will continue to be reformations in the Body of Christ, local and the catholic, apostolic church.

    So, going back to my discovery about transubstantiation, not only was I ready to leave the Catholic faith, but Christian faith altogether. I was wracked with doubt, discouragement and confusion.

    In contrast, I had one to one time with believers in the evangelical church who answered my questions, walked with me through my doubt and confusion with the Bible and showed me how to feed myself from God's word. For four years. Every week. I had more of a solid foundation with them about what I believed than I did from 18 years of being raised in the Church.

    My father eventually left the Catholic church. Apparently his prescription for me did not work for himself. During Mass, he gave cash as his weekly offering, in the hundreds of dollars range. He did care for envelopes. When the local parish decided to send giving receipts for tax purposes, the Silva family showed a big goose egg, when in fact, the amount would have been in the thousands if it had been by check or if he had used envelopes. This hurt my dad's pride to no end, after all he had done to serve God through involvement in every aspect of church affairs. He would not give God a check, nor contain it with his name on an envelope and he would not put up with the church office and everyone in our small community thinking that he gave nothing.

    I could write volumes about the misadventures of my siblings, who for the most part, have been struggling all of their adult lives without a spiritual foundation. But the saddest story is about my mom, who towards the end of her life saw a need to go back to church but it was a lonely time for her. Passing out of this life into the next was frightening, she was not spiritually prepared even though she knew it was coming after a long sickness, even though she and I had many long talks. The last time I saw her, she told me that of all my siblings, she felt the most comfort and strength through me.

    I am sure that families of all denominations have their struggles. It sounds as though as yours is still quite young. I hope that you will be careful about church authority. No one, no matter how well meaning, exercises spiritual authority flawlessly.

    Be wise, is all I'm really trying to say. And with all your rational and well put together arguements, I am sure that you exercise common sense.

  24. Dear Thea,

    I will be out of town during the next few days and so I will be unable to respond to your post until then. I am very sorry that your experiences have been so difficult. On my road to Rome I passed many souls traveling the opposite direction.

    I will respond as soon as I can.


  25. It's okay, Boethius, thank you for trying to respond but you don't have to. But if it makes you think, then that's all I wanted.

    People making "shipwrecks of their faith" is not a distant reality to me. I love many of them. And "assurance of salvation" is not a theological debate for me, when I saw what a difference it would've made for Mom if she even had a chance. She became so disenchanted with the abuses of the authority in the Catholic church she trusted nothing and no one.

    I mean, it makes me think a whole lot harder than it ever had in my whole life. And here's where I am at: looking through doctrine through a microscope is fine, but sometimes you got to lift your head up and take a good look at a bigger picture. God is bigger than our doctrine.

  26. Thea,

    Again, thank you for sharing your personal journey.

    I cannot speak to your experience growing up in a Catholic home. I am sure you know that similar stories are told by Christians from a variety of traditions. In fact, one could substitute “Baptist,” or “Presbyterian” for “Catholic” and find numerous readers who could say, “Yes, that was what happened to me.” And yet the similarity of these stories does not lighten the burdens that we carry when we grow up in imperfectly Christian homes. Certainly you also know that Catholic families (and the churches to which they belong) do not have a monopoly on any of the ills that you described. To the extent that the Church is a human institution, it will be plagued by human sin and weakness until the parousia. To further complicate matters, there are tares among the wheat.

    There are two points in your post to which I can respond:

    (1) Abuse of authority.
    There are many people who abuse scripture, yet we as believers know that scripture has authority and we do not reject that authority because someone has abused it. Just because someone abuses his authority as a leader in the church does not negate the legitimacy of that authority per se.

    (2) Concerning transubstantiation and the “Take eat, this is my body . . .” passage of Matthew 26, there are two basic possibilities. Either Catholics and the Orthodox (for 2000 years) have not been smart enough to understand the scriptures (i.e., the Greek) or they have lied about what scripture says. There are many people who would choose the latter option. These same people have read one too many Chick tracts. ( You kindly chose the former, more generous, option (i.e., the Fathers at the Council of Trent and those of the previous 1500 years needed to go back to Greek 101).

    As you know, Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. His words were translated into Greek. The Greek you have cited has been debated countless times and appears again and again in anti-Catholic tracts. (This line of reasoning is not unlike the Petrus/Petra/Peter question, or the brothers/cousins/adelphoi question.) The “funny” thing is that the anti-Catholics can’t agree on the Greek used in this passage. Some mount their anti-Catholic case on the claim that the verb is “esti” and some on “gignetai.” In either case, they act as if they are the first people to have ever read the Bible with a Greek lexicon in hand. If you would like to discuss the Greek at greater length, we can do so by e-mail. (Though my Greek is quite rusty I would be willing to investigate this further with you.)

    The thing that demonstrates the ludicrous nature of this debate is that the Church was unanimous through the earliest centuries in teaching the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. The following link (including both primary and some secondary sources) should demonstrate this:

    Of course, I could offer more sources if you are interested.

    Finally, lest you think that one must choose between a suffocated-by-authority Catholicism and a living, vibrant faith, you might take a look at the this Catholic “Navigators” site (they have reworked the wheel and have their own TMS):

    And then there are these “Evangelical Catholic” sites:
    (I could pass along others if you are interested)

    Thanks again for your thoughts and comments. If you would like to continue this conversation, let’s move offline. (Arnold would be happy to give you my e-mail address.)

    Athanasius contra mundum,

  27. Hi Boethius,

    Thanks for being the first Catholic I've ever talked to who responded sensitively to my story.

    I had made my decision back in college on the basis that I believed that God is bigger than which Church I attended. If He wanted me back in the Catholic church, I believed (and still do) that He would lead me back. However, at the time, I was hungry to grow spiritually and wanted to go deep into God's Word, and at the time, I felt the best place to be fed was in an evangelical community. The whole transubstantiation dilemma was the tipping point. Intellectually and emotionally, I felt that I had to move towards the best biblically based explanation possible. It wasn't easy. No one on the Catholic side of the dilemma provided any sense of coherency about their belief.

    To leave my family's religion, it meant that I would not be married or buried according to that tradition, and of course, the alienation involved with my family in making an independent (some called it crazy, some called it rebellious) decision. I thought it through very carefully.

    Your statements on points 1.) and 2.) are persuasive, and I think you are the first among all Catholics I know who could explain them. Priests and nuns included.

    I don't know how old you are. But you represent a different generation of Catholic than the one my husband and I grew up in. You have to know that the term "evangelical Catholic" was literally unheard of 22 years ago. Things have changed for the better, it appears. It makes me want to know how that happened and why. Certainly, it is God. It is encouraging to see this.

    As for transubstantiation, yes, we can discuss this offline. I'm open to that.

    Althea contra mundum,