Sunday, June 16, 2013

Monergism Distorted

I stumbled upon another Mark Driscoll video dealing with the issue of monergism vs. synergism which I found very interesting. Driscoll launches the clip with this:

"Here is the gist of the question: Some people love Jesus and go to Heaven, other people don't love Jesus, they go to Hell… Why? Why is it that some people to Hell, and others go to Heaven? Is it because they didn't choose Jesus, or is it because Jesus didn't choose them?"

Now this is an interesting quote because Driscoll seems to want to base salvation upon loving Jesus, not trusting in Jesus. This may seem like a small point, but let's be precise here. Is eternal salvation from Hell contingent upon loving Jesus, or is it contingent upon believing in or relying upon Jesus? I can find no scripture making salvation contingent upon loving Jesus. Paul and Silas didn't tell the Philippian jailer that he should "love the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Jesus didn't say "whoever loves Him has everlasting life."

Driscoll goes on to outline the two positions, monergism and synergism:

"The monergistic position--we'll call it the 'one-handed' position since it's an easier word to remember--is that God reached down and grabbed some people and saved them through Jesus. The synergistic position is that God reached down His hand to lost sinners, and that they reached back to Him so that they took hold of God's invitation and in so doing, God pulled them out of death and damnation, but He did so by their partnership with Him."

What's interesting is that as he sets this up, he makes it pretty clear that the "two-handed" position, which is "synergism" is a heretical view. Now I agree that synergism is heretical, however compare Driscoll's definition of synergism with William MacDonald's definition, excerpted here from the Bible Believer's Commentary on James 2:

"[the verses in James 2] are commonly misused to support the heresy that we are saved by faith plus works, called 'synergism.' In other words, we must trust the Lord Jesus as our Savior, but that is not enough. We must also add to His redemptive work our own deeds of charity and devotion."

This is a bit different from how Driscoll characterizes synergism, though there is a relationship.

The common thread between the two characterizations is that synergism has us adding our meritorious work of our own into the equation. For Driscoll, the "reaching" he describes is apparently meritorious and For Macdonald, it's our deeds of charity and devotion. "Good works," you might say. Now "good works" may be a very broad category, but "reaching" is much more nebulous. Exactly what is he talking about? Well, it seems like Driscoll is talking about the act of putting one's trust in Christ. Faith, on Driscoll's view, is meritorious. Faith has power. Faith saves. However, is this the view of the apostle Paul?

There are three passages I'm immediately aware of which demonstrates that Driscoll disagrees with New Testament teaching on this issue.

Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

In this passage, Paul describes that we have been saved by Grace, through faith. And this by-grace salvation which we receive is a gift from God and is not of works. Well, if it's not of works but it is through faith, then faith must not fall into the category of "works" in Paul's mind. (and in the mind of God) Faith is not work.

Rom 4:5     But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness

Here again we have a very clear distinction made by Paul. Paul describes a man who does not work, but the man does believe on Him who justifies the ungodly. Well, if faith was a work then Paul couldn't describe a man who does not work but believes. If belief is a work, then clearly the man works. But Paul's describing a man who does not work, but believes. This can only mean that faith doesn't not fall into the category of works.

Rom 4:16     Therefore [it is] of faith that [it might be] according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed…

This passage further reinforces the principle. Faith is entirely compatible with grace. Salvation can be described as "by grace" and "through faith" without contradiction because "faith" is not work.

It's rather easy to see why this is the case, even in our ordinary life, by conducting a simple thought experiment:

If I trust my neighbor to feed my pets while I'm out of town, is that equivalent to me feeding my pets? Of course not!! My neighbor is the one feeding my pets. I'm merely trusting him to do it. If my trusting him to feed my pets was equivalent to me feeding my pets, then my neighbor would find that the food dish is already full when he gets over to my house! But that doesn't happen… I trust my neighbor to feed my pets and if my neighbor fails to feed my pets, my pets will go hungry in spite of my faith in my neighbor, which demonstrates that my faith doesn't actually have the power to provide food for my pets. But my neighbor does have that power, and that's why I'm trusting him to do it. Trusting my neighbor to do the work of feeding my pets is not equivalent to doing the work of feeding my pets.

So let's apply this more directly to the salvation question. If avoiding the lake of fire (salvation) requires that my name be written in the book of life, and in effect, Jesus is the one who writes my name in the book of life, and I trust that He will do that, then how does my trusting Him to do it equate to me writing my name in the book? How does that give me the pen? How does that give me access to the book?

It doesn't.

The bottom line is this: If by "reaching back to God" Driscoll means a positive faith response to divine revelation, then this is not work. And if a positive faith response is not work, then affirming that such a thing happens and is necessary in no way constitutes "synergism."

The Calvinist wants to bully us into thinking that if we reject unconditional election and affirm libertarian freedom we necessarily reject Monergism. They want us to think that trusting my neighbor to feed my pets is as good as feeding my pets myself. But clearly this is in error both logically and Biblically. Logically, because the merit is always found in the object of faith, not in the faith itself. Faith accomplishes nothing. And it's in error Biblically because Paul tells us as much in (at least) these three passages. So to treat faith as a work is to deny Paul's clear teaching on the subject.

The assertion that I'm "saving myself" because I affirm that it was my own libertarian free will choice to believe in Christ is simply nonsense. And to say that such a choice undermines God's sovereignty is just as ludicrous.

Libertarian freedom only means that people have the freedom to choose from the options that are available. It doesn't mean that we can create our own options. If I'm a contestant in a game show and I'm given a choice of prizes between what's behind door number 1 and what's behind door number 2, and I choose door number 1, I get whatever prize is there. But the rules by which I arrived there, the existence of the prize, the placement of that prize behind door number 1 are all things that the organizers determined. Have I usurped their "sovereignty" by choosing one of the two options they presented me with? My choice of door number 1 didn't determine any of that, did it? All I did was make a choice from the available options and the organizers are the ones that defined those options and made them available. But the Calvinist wants to say that if I'm making a libertarian free will choice to trust in Christ and I believe the result of that choice is eternal salvation, then somehow I'm creating my own option, that I'm determining my own outcome. But this is simply indefensible. God determines the outcomes. All I do is choose between them.

It is entirely consistent to say that Monergism is true and we have libertarian freedom and the ability to simply trust God to do what He promised to do, what only He can do. To say that our libertarian free will choice to trust in Christ is required for salvation is not to advocate synergism because that choice has no value, no power, no merit. That act of faith itself properly locates the merit, the power, and the value in Christ. He is the one who does the work. We simply trust Him to do it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Throwing Unconditional Election Under The Bus

A few years ago I stumbled upon a YouTube vid featuring Mark Driscoll, who offered an interesting personal story as a means of illustrating--and apparently justifying--the doctrine of unconditional election. As an interesting side note, were it not for public relations considerations, we could just as easily call this doctrine "unconditional damnation" because just as there are no conditions under which God's elect could escape Heaven, there are also no conditions under which God's non-elect could escape Hell. That is, according to the doctrine (whatever you choose to call it) God has unconditionally chosen some for Heaven and unconditionally chosen some for Hell… and there's absolutely nothing that the individuals within each group can do about it.

Back to Driscoll's illustration. He tells the story of when his family lived along a very busy street in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace. As the story goes, Mark was about to put his 3-year-old daughter in the car when, in a moment when her dad was distracted, she managed to break away, running toward traffic on Mountlake Boulevard. Mark describes that she had been warned repeatedly about the danger of the nearby street, but that his daughter freely chose to disobey his warnings and ran toward the street anyway. He then describes how he chased after her, shouting for her to stop, but she continued on and at the very last moment, just as a large truck was about to intercept her, Mark, a loving father, grabbed his little girl by the back of her coat and yanked her away, saving her from catastrophe. Mark sums up the story with this:

"That is election. When the Father, in love, pursues foolish, obstinate, disobedient children who have chosen death, and He decrees that, more important than their will is His love. And anyone who is here and who is a Christian should thank God that not only did He call out to them, but He pursued them. And then, in Jesus Christ, He extended a hand and He grabbed them, and He yanked them unto Himself. And anyone else who would run from God has no right to declare Him unjust. They're morally responsible for their own rebellion."

Now this is a very interesting story, and I think it can serve as a good illustration. But I don't think it accomplishes what Driscoll expects it to accomplish, and in part this is because of what Mark has chosen to leave out of the illustration. Namely, the fact that while God grabs some people and yanks them away from traffic, He chooses not to grab others. He lets them get squashed.

Now there's no escaping one fact here: Those who are let go do, in fact, get what they deserve. There's no dispute on that point. But we can use Driscoll's illustration to demonstrate something very important about the scenario that Driscoll presents by conducting a little thought experiment. And we'll use Driscoll himself as the loving father, and we'll suppose that he lives along this same busy street, but that he has five children. To make Driscoll a better stand-in for God, let's suppose that he is omnipotent. He is all-powerful in the illustration.

Now suppose that all five of Driscoll's kids run out toward traffic. Of course, it's likely that an ordinary father--one who lacks omnipotence--would be physically unable to apprehend every one of five children in time. But we're not talking about an ordinary father here. We're talking about a father who isn't constrained by physics. The omnipotent Driscoll can save all five just as easily as he can save one. But he doesn't save all five. He only grabs two and he allows the other three to get run over.

Let that sink in. He lets the other three go in spite of the fact that He is perfectly capable of saving every one of them.

Here's a question: In such a scenario, where a father had the ability and opportunity to save all five of his children from certain death, but only rescued two, would that father be charged with a crime? Would society view this father as "just?" Should society view this father as "just?"

I don't think that society would view this father as "just" at all, nor do I think they should. In a situation like this, the death of any children may well be the result of their collective decision to run out into the street… or participate in whatever dangerous activity the father might save them from. But when someone comes upon the scene who has the capability to save all five children and chooses not to save 3 of them, it's hard to imagine that such a person wouldn't be brought up on charges. And it's easy to see why: This fictitious father had the moral authority, the physical ability and the opportunity to save all of his children but only two of them were saved. Given this set of circumstances, there's only one way to account for why the father didn't save the three children: He didn't want to save them.

Someone might reply that this projects a "human" concept of justice onto God, and that we don't have the right to dictate to God what's just and what's unjust. Okay…  then shouldn't we emulate God's standards of justice? Isn't that what laws against murder and adultery and theft are all about? Reading through the ten commandments, it's pretty clear that all but one are an expression of God's perfect justice. Why should you not steal? Because it's unjust to get for free what someone else worked hard to create. Why should you not murder? Because it's unjust to end someone else's life without proper justification. Why should you not commit adultery? Because it's unjust to violate the promises you made to someone and betray their trust.

The scenario that Mark Driscoll describes presents God as unjust and capricious. When God tells us that He is perfectly just, He assumes we know what justice is. If we can't understand what "justice" is, then God telling us that He is "just" informs us of precisely nothing. God's attributes are important, and one reason they're important is because they serve to govern our understanding of certain aspects of His plan for mankind. Knowledge of His attributes acts kind of like the training rails that pop up on either side of the lane at a bowling alley, often used by very young children, that keep the ball from slipping into the gutter. When our conclusions are inconsistent with what we know of God's character, this is supposed to cause us to regroup and reassess our understanding. Man is made in God's image. We know instinctively what is and is not "just" because not only has He told us in His word, but He's written it in our hearts.

Honestly, I'm horrified that pastors like Mark Driscoll are teaching congregations that this is who God is. And what application do these questions have for Christian apologetics? How can we defend such a view of God? How can we tell people that the God who Mark Driscoll describes should somehow be regarded as "just?" Should we try to hide this reality from them until after they've trusted in Christ? I don't think so.