Reformed vs. Orthodoxy … a false dichotomy?

October 30, 2007

I was just reading this article over on Well of Questions. Great, interesting Orthodox reflections on the part that man plays in salvation and sanctification.

It occurred to me … this may not be happening in a vacuum (I don’t know when the volume referenced was written), but the verses brought up, the points brought up, etc., are very similar to those used to support a Reformed concept of … soteriology? The only difference is that they stop short of re-writing the universe (complete moral determinism); but the basic principles, goals, the humility, the dependence on God, it’s all there.

So, is the conflict a straw man? Is your theological position just the Orthodox view with neoplatonism included, or is there a meaningful, important distinction? Reformed folks, rise up!


56 Responses to “Reformed vs. Orthodoxy … a false dichotomy?”

  1. dslavich Says:

    It’s not a false dichotomy, because fundamentally the post you referenced seemed to still advocate a synergistic emphasis. It talks about asking for faith, in order to receive. That is a far cry from the Reformed understanding.

    You’re notion of “complete moral determinism” is a completely false understanding of good Reformed theology. It is an extension of a Reformed (and biblical) view of God’s sovereignty that Reformed teaching does not make. It is like saying the Arminian side is fully Pelagian. Perhaps it could be, if thing were taken to an extreme — but that is not what the theological system says. Reformed theology may seem to point toward “complete moral determinism”, when misunderstood and caricatured. But it is not such a system.

    Also, you keep mentioning “neoplatonism” in reference to Reformed theology. The burden of proof is on you there.

  2. Ben Says:

    Wow, you’re really sensitive about this, aren’t you? I don’t think it’s just me that keeps mentioning neoplatonism — most of the Orthodox folks I’ve been arguing with have that as their primary charge. Honestly, though I know enough about neoplatonism to see where they’re coming from, I couldn’t even begin to prove it. If you re-read my post, you might see that I meant it as a question rather than a combative attack.

    I’m not sure how I could have been around you folks for this long and have a “completely false understanding of good Reformed theology”. Either Reformed theology allows for human moral agency, or it doesn’t. It seems to me that “monergism” means “no human moral action, before Christ or after Christ”. To my understanding, that is the definition of complete moral determinism. If I’ve mistaken some aspect of Reformed thought, please point it out to me.

    So, maybe I could then rephrase the question like this:

    If Reformed thought stops short of complete moral determinism, then what is the difference between Synergism and Monergism?


    How can you have monergism without complete moral determinism?

    Did you read the article? Most of what I was trying to point out was how similar it was to the Reformed position. My original question could have been boiled down to: how is a “healthy” Reformed view different from this, and is the distinction an important one? You answered the question “is it important”, but you didn’t answer the question “how is it different”.

  3. Lee Says:

    I think the disconnect is on when the action takes place, Ben – is it action which initiates, or action in response to God?

  4. Lee Says:

    … and which does not negate a person’s will.

  5. Ben Says:

    I would say, action in response to God. I don’t think that human beings turn to God without His action. Nor do I think that if God saved me and “turned me loose” without continuing to intervene in my life to discipline me that I would progress in sanctification by my own will.

  6. Lee Says:

    Then we agree!!

  7. Lee Says:

    (Not sure how my earlier 2 comments from 4:07pm and 4:11pm got inverted, but they did.)

  8. Ben Says:

    Ok, so how is that different from synergism? If you can choose either to respond to God or resist Him, even if it may not have ultimate bearing on your salvation, then you still lose T, I, and P.

  9. Lee Says:

    A response to that question requires much more time than I have right now 🙂

    One thing to note about the story on WoQ (which I did read in its entirety): just because the summary of an Orthodox story happens to look like it agrees with Reformed theology does not in any way mean that the nitty-gritty details of the Orthodox theology underpinning the story come remotely close to Reformed theology – and I’m pretty sure that the folks over at EP would heartily agree with me on that point.

  10. riddlej Says:

    I am a classic Arminian, so I enjoyed reading your post and comments. I would argue (obviously) that consistent Reformed theology advocates monergism and Arminianism is the synergistic alternative. I would agree with the basic premise stated above that man’s action is in response to God’s influence (some influence is more powerful than others) but that man in fact has a free will that ultimately bridges the gap between God and man’s behavior. The Westminster Catechism and Reformed tradition (especially that in the line of Jonathan Edwards) does in fact teach that God’s influence is irresistable, meaning that in some sense man has freedom of will but that he cannot actually act otherwise in response to God’s saving influence. Is this freedom of the will authentic? In the philosophical sense it is but in the libertarian sense it is not. If man cannot choose to act other than he does, he is not (in the Arminian understanding) completely free.

    Forlines’ “Quest for Truth” is a fabulous exposition of this subject from a classic Arminian perspective.

    That said, I believe there are distinctions between Reformed and Orthodox positions that are extremely important—even moreso than their soteriology. One distinction is their historiography, or the context that a Reformed/Orthodox person interprets the role of their church movement. While a Reformed believer sees their role in history as a purifier of the true Church, the Orthodox believer sees their role in history as essentially still the true Church. In other words, when Orthodoxy split from Roman Catholocism, they saw themselves as correct and everyone else as outside the Church. (The Roman Catholics believed the same way except that THEY were the true Church).

    But the Reformed position separated themselves from both Roman and Orthodox histories, calling neither themselves nor any other group the true Church. Instead, they deduced principles from the Bible that qualified one as a true believer, regardless of the actual church they were a part of. Sometimes called “the priesthood of all believers,” this was an essentially different view of who the Church constituted. And, in my view, a huge step forwards for the Christian religion… the conversion in the heart was now the deciding factor, rather than the geographic locale or particular church building one attended. Because of this shift, Reformers ushered in the worldwide Body of Christ which is exploding to this day. This type of explosion is simply not a phenomenon logically or historically related to the Roman/Orthodox branches. (With all due respect to them).

  11. Ben Says:

    I think that lack of context may have changed the perceived meaning of this post for you, Riddle … meaning, my friends and I (on our respective blogs) have been discussing various distinctions between Reformed and Orthodox theology for the past month or so (and have had a number of Orthodox folks from sites like EP and Fr. Stephen’s interacting with us as well).

    In that context, my post is more of an exploration of this particular difference between Reformed and Orthodox thought, rather than summing it all up on that one point.

    I appreciate your perspective, though … I think we have yet to encounter any feedback from a classic Arminian on these issues.

    So, I could ask you this question: is the impetus for Synergism, from your view, philosophical (need for libertarian free will) or exegetical (Bible directly speaks to the existence of man’s component of salvation and/or sanctification).

  12. riddlej Says:

    Thanks for the context, Ben. Sorry.

    I am not pure enough to say only biblical reasons propel me to synergism. I believe philosophy does as well. However, I believe the Bible more than supports synergism—I believe it actually teaches it, especially when you get into overarching theological implications.

    I also see political science confirming a synergistic worldview because in evil structures or systems, the first thing you see imputed is force. History shows that geopolitics trying to corner an individual’s free will (say radical Islam or communism) are oppressive and almost always fail. The heart eventually rebels (or is assassinated). But the libertarian will is the glory of democratic-republics. People are instructed by the Law to hopefully do good but given freedom where Grace actually operates to help people obey. So a system where influence is mitigated by an agent’s will is a safe and just one (because evil, when done, can be abhorred and punished). Could this be the case on earth if it were in contradiction to th way God worked? I feel that would be kind of hypocritical (or at least confusing) for us to say so.

    Perhaps one question I would ask to Reformed monergists who reject this line of earthly thinking is whether they think we will have libertarian free will in heaven. Will God be “controlling” us in the sense that we cannot act otherwise because of His holy influence? Or will the curse of sin be totally annihilated so that our free will actually can be trusted? I believe this question hits the heart of the matter: whether Law is needed or whether God intends for Grace to reign supreme.

  13. Ben Says:

    Meh. To consider libertarian free will as a good in and of itself sounds more like the Enlightenment than the Bible to me. To my understanding, a discussion of “is libertarian free will a true good” also has to be separated from its current tangible effects in the world, including political systems … because success of a given system can be attributed to many factors, some of which we may not know about yet, some of which are merely coincidental.

    Tangentially, though, democracy is (in my opinion) only as good as the benefits it provides society. This is why most folks would not want a libertarian democracy to degenerate into anarchy — because there are forces in this world (or, as we might say, wills or components of individual wills) that are damaging to individuals and to society. Even the pagan “an’ it harm none, do as you will” recognizes this. In some cases, a just and good autocrat can be better for a society than democracy … and democracy, though often having many benefits, is not without its drawbacks as well.

  14. Ben Says:

    Again (not to rag on you, just responding to your ideas), you say:

    “History shows that geopolitics trying to corner an individual’s free will (say radical Islam or communism) are oppressive and almost always fail.”

    This statement is patently false. These kinds of systems are the rule, not the exception. The current governments of the “developed world” are very unique — both for history and for the current world as a whole. Radical Islam, for instance, is (with modifications, of course) basically the same system that has existed for nearly 1000 years in the Middle East … and the Christian governments of the Middle Ages were not that different. Even going back less than four hundred years in Europe, was there truly any Protestant country where Catholics were welcome, or vice versa? I know the most about England and France, but I imagine it was much the same everywhere: violence and hatred against those who are different. Groupthink. Conformance. This is the nature of humanity, and has been the nature of government since time immemorial. I am not making a positive value judgment on these systems, quite the opposite, but they are definitely more common and are often quite successful.

  15. riddlej Says:

    I am sorry that my political science bit was a moot point for you. I wasn’t trying to be Enlightenment–I just didn’t go into the biblical defense of Arminianism because there are so many authors who have done it better than I could.

    However, I believe your exposition of political science shows that it is not unimportant to the debate. No earthly system corroborates God’s ways in itself, but to say that earthly governance is irrelevant to God’s governance is a dangerous statement. It commits, I believe Francis Schaeffer would say, the ignominious “two-story” divide (secular/sacred). I believe God reveals Himself in all areas of life when we are aligned with Him; we should see good fruit if our philosophy captures some of His truth. We certainly see bad if it doesn’t!

    Please don’t take this to mean I am a “democracy or bust” type. That is not what I think. I recognize there have been good autocracies in history and bad democracies. The system being built on the foundations of Christ is the most important thing.

    However, because I am a reformational thinker, I believe the story of history is largely led by God until the end, with the devil trying to mess things up as we go along. I believe God providentially is leading the Church more into His will, to counter the devil’s work and become more conformed to His image. And I see His sovereign choice (recently) to use the tool of republicanism rather than autocracy. I see, for example, that after the Catholic Church was unable to recover during the Counter-Reformation, that God shifted the balance of power in the West away from Catholic nations (Spain, Italy, France) and toward the Protestant ones (especially England). England carried the light of the gospel during the beginning of the missionary movement in the 17/1800s, and then America was handed the torch as she got on her feet for pretty much the last century. Now America is in a tenuous state as godly/secular forces struggle within.

    This is not to “baptize” America as God’s favorite or even republican nations. Nor is it to advocate colonialism, where a nation brings more to a country than the gospel. However, I think it is undeniable that (Christian) democratic/republican government has been an instrumental tool for Him to spread the gospel—perhaps because of the emphasis on the dignity, worth, and importance of individuals as well as the avoidance of the morality of a nation being dependent on one ruler (or his cabinet).

    Autocracy, when it grows cold to God, keeps the form of godliness for a long time while hiding staleness within. Democracies can be the same, but it is much harder because of the dynamic nature of law, customs, and the way constituents can shape the nation. Tocqueville, for example, recognized this and explained it better than I could. But even I see how republicanism, when based on Christian law, gets at the heart of individuals as the gospel is supposed to–it changes the success of the Word and its culturally transforming power to relying on hearts’ true warmth to it, as opposed to external props. I believe this is closer to Jesus’ desire, even though Christian government and law (as upheld by Catholic or Orthodox regimes, for example) are important too.

  16. Ben Says:

    Hm … a lot to respond to there.

    1) democratic/republican government has been an instrumental tool for Him to spread the gospel

    … as was the autocratic Roman Empire. The fact that it has been used by God does not in itself imply that democracy is good.

    2) “two-story” divide (secular/sacred)

    Hm, I would say this charge is unfair, although I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I do not intend to divorce our moral epistemology from the secular world; as far as is possible, for instance, I read “secular” history rather than “Christian” history. That being said, however, I view the history of Christianity as the church in the world, not as the world and church growing together, leading us to …

    3) I believe the story of history is largely led by God until the end

    There’s the key difference. I would not view human progress through such rose-colored glasses. Certainly advances in areas of human knowledge and achievement have brought about many goods; but the world is still fundamentally “subjected to futility”. There has been more hatred, suffering, war, murder, horrific violence in the last hundred years than in the previous 2000 years. To me this looks more like the culmination of the earth’s corruption than the gradual erosion of evil by the work of the church.

  17. Ben Says:

    One more response:

    “gets at the heart of individuals as the gospel is supposed to–it changes the success of the Word and its culturally transforming power to relying on hearts’ true warmth to it, as opposed to external props”

    Hm, there is something in that. However, I would challenge the idea that individualism is in itself a true good. It can result in a more genuine faith, but it has drawbacks as well. Sometimes an externally imposed structure can be very helpful for people trying to follow God, but who need support. We are intended to be “one part of a body” after all. Once again, I would measure individualism by its benefits, not as an end in itself … and it has both benefits and drawbacks, depending on the situation.

  18. riddlej Says:

    I definitely don’t believe in individualism in itself. That is secular humanism. But I do think the freedom to let people be individuals comes before the training of them how to conduct themselves as such. I believe Locke and Madison did as well. In tightly autocratic societies, there is no possibility of that.

    I think another important dimension here is the role of the state. One of the distinctives of Reformation history is increasing divergence of the state’s role from the church’s. This was argued famously by Enlightenment thinkers but also Anabaptists and Methodists who believed the synonymous nature of church/state was responsible for the evils of the Roman empire. Now it is taken for granted in America, but still not in many places (including Orthodoxy).

    I would argue that your “external props” for “those who need support” is exactly the church’s role. While it is up to the church in a Reformed society to reach individuals, the state’s only role is to permit such reaching. Such props cannot come from the state to the individual without it being unhealthy. But it can come from the church as long as the church is submitted to Christ (instead of man or the state).

    Why? As an Arminian, Christ’s desire to let us choose Him or not is paramount in the worldview. I personally believe any entity that purports to have authority over men (church or state) should echo this philosophy. Those that don’t soon find themselves in either extreme of being ineffective (dead) or controlling (tyrannical).

  19. Ben Says:


    Ugh, I hate that word. I used to hear it at Biola all the time. Not that I’m blaming you, but it should be “distinctive attributes”, as in “One of the distinctive attributes of the Reformation, as it developed through history, was …” 🙂 Oh well, you can’t stop a linguistic construct whose time has come, I suppose.


    “Such props cannot come from the state to the individual without it being unhealthy.”

    Hm. I don’t know if I would distinguish between the sources of the authority. For instance, though the church has a responsibility to admonish against stealing, a more effective way of helping those with a tendency to steal is to enact laws against stealing. Likewise, though I am not of the “theocracy” camp, a culture or government that supports Christian values a little bit autocratically can have a positive effect morally. I don’t necessarily think that this makes the individual a better person, but alongside the attendant dangers of hypocrisy and groupthink, there are also benefits — if good examples of virtue are set forth by society, and checks are placed upon evil, this could help a struggling Christian to choose the true good.

  20. Lee Says:

    Whoa – are you taking a descriptivist stance on “distinctives”, Ben?

  21. Lee Says:

    Whoops! That was, of course, supposed to be: are you taking a [*gasp*] prescriptivist stance on “distinctives”, Ben?

  22. riddlej Says:

    It’s been nice discussing it. I think you pretty much described how I feel about the state above…

    “I don’t necessarily think that this makes the individual a better person, …”

    And on that issue, I am trying to make my point that autocracy went out with the Reformation. It wasn’t an accident—even the German princes knew that Lutheranism was a threat to the King. And yet they also knew Lutheranism provoked them to take such a stance because of the internal (personal) nature of conversion that Protestantism stresses. Deep below the trappings of a culture/church. In short, it was a threat to authority, and one that was too great for a Catholic or Orthodox culture. Thus all the religious wars that ensued.

    However, your other statement is something that quite honestly scares me:

    “Hm. I don’t know if I would distinguish between the sources of the authority. ”

    Now I totally get your example of a state holding up church beliefs against stealing. There are lots of good examples like that. But they would all be a case where the state is in fact submitting to God’s laws (in this case, the Ten Commandments). I believe state can be a good thing. The problem is that it is often not. The goodness is not inherent in the state, or the authority it has, or the law-making abilities. It is in the extent to which it is enforcing God’s morality. As soon as it turns against God’s ways, it becomes a persecutor.

    The Founding Fathers concluded that only a specific type of government is willing to share that power/authority with God. They went out on a limb to say so, but I believe the power of the American Revolution shows that republicanism linked with Christianity is one of the most benevolent forces in society; the French Revolution showed what republicanism without Christianity looked like. While this may slash the image of republicanism to you, it bears hardly any study to show the same occurred with the history of monarchy too.

    So is it worth it to choose republicanism over monarchy? I think so, because of the nature of free will. I think it promotes more conversions and more dedication to God in the inmost being. I totally believe a Christian monarchy could help struggling Christians. But I look at it like the value of going to church before you’re saved. You go because it is your tutor… it points the direction you’re supposed to go, gives you examples of people going that direction, and gives you opportunities to choose that way. But the church itself cannot convert you, and too many people grow up in the church thinking that they are saved when they are not. They have accepted the Christian ways, but they have not turned their heart personally over to God. This is exactly what Luther and subsequent Reformers were emphasizing, in contrast to Catholicism/Orthodoxy. Simply, the Emperor wanted Luther’s heart (the letter, not the spirit) and Luther refused to give it. Obviously the same happened with Jesus.

    Does this mean the exterior church has no value? Of course not. The world is better when people attend church and believe in its morals. But when it gets down to it, God cannot save those people unless they turn their wills over to them. If one refuses to believe that, they refuse the basic essence of being a Protestant.

  23. Ben Says:

    I don’t think we really disagree about the nature of the state — I don’t view the state as a good in and of itself, either — I am mostly saying that everything must be evaluated based on the benefits it provides. If a given autocratic system provides benefits for some people, well, that must be weighed against the drawbacks. Since you or I is unlikely to influence the governmental system of any nation, it is kind of moot anyway.

    As to the whole “autocracy went out with the Reformation” thing, I heartily disagree. First of all, you must understand that from the perspective of Luther and most of the Reformers, you are not part of the Reformation, strictly. Martin Luther himself considered the crux of the Reformation to be about (lack of) Freedom of the Will, and the bulk of the Reformers felt similarly. To my view, the German princes responded (not wholly, but in part) out of a desire for power — they wanted to be free from Rome. The Reformation made egalitarian ideas possible (by breaking the church’s power and enabling the Enlightenment), but it was not itself egalitarian. Remember the peasants’ rebellion, wherein Luther betrayed those who looked for his support. Remember, too, that the Reformers were just as intolerant of Catholics as the Catholics were of them. Many Roman Catholics, Quakers, Anabaptists, and etc. died at the hands of Reformers who felt that only their way was acceptable; this is not to condemn the Reformers, but to say that this is the way people did business in the 16th century. The ideals of the enlightenment were co-opted with religious terminology by the American rebels, but we must remember that even their Christianity would not necessarily be much like our own. Many of the “founding fathers” were deists, unitarians, etc.; and remember, as well, that at that point in history “freedom of religion” still meant a degree of social and governmental autocracy in the area of religion. You still had the accompanying hypocrisy that that pressure brings; therefore, the fact that they re-badged Locke as a Christian ideal could have been, in the main, political pandering as easily as genuine Christian conviction. I could say tons more, but this is getting a bit long-winded.

    Oh yeah, one more thing, about the French Revolution, Christian “historians” are always attacking it, but they never seem to have a very clear perspective on it. There are a great number of factors that make it not at all like the American Revolution, and quite a few that also separate it from the English Civil War, which is much more analogous. I don’t intend to defend the French Revolution, because I in some respect disagree with their beliefs and aims, but I think your comments show a lack of perspective (and one that is, of course, common to many conservative Christians).

    First, there are mitigating factors. The French had, at this point, three hundred years of brutal religious intolerance, and a much more autocratic and violent monarchy than the English (in either the American Revolution or the English Civil War). The clergy were like little kings, rich and corrupt. So, the tensions are boiling over rather than simmering. The American Revolution, through a clear lens, is not an act of desperation, it is an act of convenience (as far as revolutions go). Their reasons for rebelling were really not that good; the crown had not really done that much to hurt them. They rebelled because it was a better arrangement for them. Now, they must have felt more strongly about it than that to be willing to endure a bloody and difficult war, but as revolutions go, it’s pretty tame. Like the FR, The English Civil War was accompanied by violence against the church as well … remember how they executed the Arminian Archbishop of Canterbury … his crime … Arminianism? In the case of the English Civil War, though, you didn’t have as many mitigating factors. For one thing, though it was directed against the Catholic and Arminian religious factions, it was driven by a Calvinist ideology rather than an Enlightenment one; therefore, they did not want to destroy Christianity, but focused their hatred on only one segment of it. In the French Revolution, the church was Christianity, the prop was folks like Rousseau and Voltaire, and there was no impetus to restrict their hatred of religion to one particular sect. The violence may have been worse in the French Revolution, but only in the sense that it was more modern. The English Civil War still had one foot in the medieval, and only knew medieval forms of brutality … and they were the first to kill the king, you must remember. In many ways, the English Civil War was setting the stage for the French Revolution, and probably the Bolshevik Revolution as well.

  24. Ben Says:

    Well, Lee, this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve made a hypocritical stand on an issue. 🙂

  25. Ben Says:

    Boy, that was a long comment.

  26. riddlej Says:

    Ben, I appreciate your response but it is clearer to me that we’re from more different persuasions than I initially thought. I wasn’t trying to give you the Conservative Christian line. Before I was saved, I spent many years in the secular historical world and have given alternative positions a lot of thought.

    At this point, my main concern is for those Reformed thinkers who are suddenly finding solace in the Catholic or Orthodox churches. With due respect to people of those faiths, I find this unwise and ahistorical. Reformation and Enlightenment thinkers alike believed and died for an individual’s right to govern themselves. While not always used wisely, they believed either God or nature illustrated it was the right thing. For Reformed thinkers to revert to the Catholic or Orthodox world, despite any linguistic similarity to their worship, is for them to cut off the head of their heritage.

    Also, it is to take a leap into a completely different civilization than I believe they are prepared for. There is a reason why France, Russia, and Iran (as examples) have the culture and history they do. I’m not sure most Western citizens are prepared for a jump like that.

  27. Ben Says:

    Hm, I think you may be mistaken about that. Once again, right or wrong, I would question whether you can be philosophically and historically accurate in marrying the Enlightenment and the Reformation so closely. If you read the Reformers themselves, and study their actions, you may find that they did not wish for individual determination, but rather for a new autocratic system to replace the Roman Catholic Church. And I should say, in my Christianity the head is neither the Reformation nor the Enlightenment, but Christ.

  28. Ben Says:

    I’m sorry if I’m coming across as a little heavy-handed. I have been a semi-serious student of Church history in general, and re-evaluating the meta-narrative of the evangelical movement in specific, for the past few years, so a lot of the subjects you’ve touched on are in some respect “hot-button” issues for me. I don’t mean to belittle you, although I think I do know what I’m talking about when I say that the meta-narrative of evangelicalism (which you are, I think, defending) should probably be scrutinized more closely than it has been in the past.

  29. riddlej Says:

    Right. Well I wish you luck on your scrutinizing. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  30. nathanwells Says:

    I just went to a Greek Orthodox church over the weekend…dude…

    I will blog about that later…

    But, just to state a simple answer to your question: no. I don’t believe it is a false dichotomy.

    My own practice of what I believe is very far from perfection – like I said in my post today – I think there is something to be said on waiting for God in everything – including sanctification. My own effort is of no value – when I say my own I mean my flesh. But Christ does live in me, His Spirit is at work.

    I think the difference is this: I believe God is ultimately in control of all things. I also believe I am responsible for how I live. I do not know how the two fit together. Nor do I believe Scripture addresses how they do.

    I believe the Orthodox belief of “free-will” tries to mesh the two extra-biblically – seeking for answers that I do not believe the Bible provides.

    To me it is clear that this, from man’s perspective, is a legitimate question: “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” (Romans 9:19)

    But in God’s perspective, it is not a legitimate question, for He is the Creator and we are but created beings.

  31. Ben Says:

    Hm. So you do, in fact, believe in “complete moral determinism”?

  32. Ben Says:

    You know, it’s funny, because that’s pretty much how I feel about monergism — that it’s the result of over-philosophizing and over-thinking certain passages. It doesn’t make it correct, but I think the Orthodox view was the first one to gain prevalence and acceptance (Augustine aside). That is, they didn’t change; the Protestant church did.

    Another question: there is a difference between “God is in control” and “God controls everything”. When you say God is in control, do you mean that God pre-determines every event?

  33. Lee Says:

    Ahhh! Not the dreaded “complete moral determinism” question again! 🙂

  34. nathanwells Says:

    God controls everything means that, as RC Sproul would put it, “There are no maverick molecules in the universe”

    When Jesus told Peter he would deny him, Peter wasn’t free – at least not in the sense that most Arminian think of freedom (if nothing else, this proves that we cannot comprehend what is going on because God clearly knows the future and yet Peter clearly denied Christ – but because God knew the future there really wasn’t a choice for Peter, he HAD to deny Christ because God said he would – for either camp, there is mystery here).
    I am not as free as God is. Also, regardless – Peter can’t tell God, “Hey, I didn’t WANT to deny you, you made me!!!” Because the Bible is clear we are responsible for our actions. And yet, God hardens, and God has mercy – and based on human reasoning I could ask the question, “Why does God send people to hell, if he is the one that made them do it?”
    The Bible says, don’t ask that – I don’t have a right – God has the right to do whatever He wants. And somehow, while he is in control of everything, men will be rightly punished, without excuse, on the day of judgment, and other will be shown mercy (Pharaoh and Peter sinned the same, the only difference between them is one was a vessel of wrath and the other was a vessel of mercy).

    In talking of these things I need to be careful – because I think there is much mystery around these subjects, as well as a danger of focusing too much on one aspect of salvation and therefore coming into error.

  35. Ben Says:

    “because God knew the future there really wasn’t a choice for Peter”

    Ah, now you’re making philosophical assumptions. You assume that complete foreknowledge is dependent on determinism; that is, that unless every event is pre-determined, God cannot truly know the future. It is the easiest answer to the question “how can God know the future?” but is far from being the only answer.

    “the only difference between them is one was a vessel of wrath and the other was a vessel of mercy”

    There is a difference between saying that God can harden Pharoah’s heart, and that Pharoah and Peter are the same. I don’t think an honest, unprejudiced look at the Bible could support a statement like that, though I know that Reformed theology believes it. Romans 9 is of course one of the best arguments for Reformed theology in this area, but it is not the only thing the Bible has to say about good and bad people; and the fact that God can harden a heart or raise up a vessel of wrath does not mean that he does in every case. The OT is filled with descriptions of the righteous and unrighteous, and the NT isn’t exactly silent, either. Consider, for instance, “how long have I wished to gather you up, but you were unwilling.”

    There is certainly a mystery here, but that should not be an excuse for copping out. If you see two seemingly contradictory doctrines in the Bible, they might be a paradox, or you might be wrong about one or both of them. Saying it’s a mystery can just as easily be an evasion as anything.

  36. nathanwells Says:

    You said, “Ah, now you’re making philosophical assumptions.”

    Yes, they are – I was using that as an example of our philosophical assumptions don’t always match up with Scripture.
    I said, God knows. And I also said Peter chose.

    As far as Peter and Pharoah being the same I get that from a few places, but since we are in Romans 9: “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” (Romans 9:21)

    “the same lump” – as in “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” as in, we are all fallen human beings.

    I believe there are multiple wills in God. God can be willing that Pharaoh would let his people go, and at the same time, actively harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not.

    If God wants something to happen it will. Nothing holds him back. Why? because, God is God.

    “The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains. Then his yoke will be removed from them and his burden removed from their shoulder.” (Isaiah 14:24-25)

    “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)

    God does whatever He wants. He “works all things after the counsel of His will”

  37. Lee Says:

    …and the fact that God can harden a heart or raise up a vessel of wrath does not mean that he does in every case.

    What does that mean, Ben? Is there another choice? Or are you saying that He “chooses to not interfere” (i.e., not harden and not elect – just let sin do its natural thing – though one could argue that this is a passive involvement) in some cases?

  38. Ben Says:

    What I mean is, God can take away moral choice for a particular person at a particular time. This does not necessitate God taking away moral choice for every person at every time.

  39. Lee Says:

    How is that different from “choosing to not interfere”?

    Also, I don’t think that Nathan is saying that God “takes away” moral choice, exactly, since we are still held accountable for our sin.

  40. Ben Says:

    Lee: Actually, I think he does. He says (and he is very Reformed in saying so) that there is no moral choice, but we are still accountable for our sin.

    Nathan: I don’t expect you to agree. I will say, however, that in many cases you are reading meaning into these passages that may not possibly be there. The monergistic view was far, far out of the mainstream when it was adopted by the Reformers, so I would say the burden of proof is on those who are “dissenting” here.

    Meaning, I don’t see Reformed theology in those verses. “The same lump” could mean Total Depravity, or it could mean something else. In light of the rest of scripture, I think it means something else. I’ve heard the multiple wills argument before and I don’t find it very compelling. It sounds like an evasion, when you actually read the passages that they apply it to. Etc. Not that it isn’t a complicated issue.

    I appreciate your remarks, but the more I hear a coherent defense of synergism from these Orthodox folks, the less guilty I feel for not having been a monergist all these years, and the more I feel like it’s the monergists who are making a big mistake interpreting the Bible. 🙂

  41. nathanwells Says:

    wow – I’m “very Reformed”


    So, if I’m reading things into the text as far as multiple wills, how do you read Pharaoh?

    When God says He wishes that someone would do something (like repent), and then that person doesn’t repent – does that mean that the person’s own will trumped God’s? How does that fit in with God saying He does whatever He wants?

    I don’t see how you think your interpretation does less “dancing”

    But really, I don’t care extremely about this argument. In many ways it is futile and foolish.

    I don’t believe people go to hell because they are Arminian. But I do believe it is a false understanding of what Scripture says.

    So, since the burden of proof is on me – must I explain that the Bible does not teach that Mary is ever a virgin, nor does she intercede on behalf of us, nor does the Bible teach that the bread and the wine actually become the physical flesh and blood of Christ nor does the eating of it take away sins, and who said God was pleased to accept the liturgy – who said we are not to reveal the mystery of God to his adversaries – how exactly would that take place – and what makes us saying we will not kiss Jesus as Judas did any better than Peter, and who said that Mary intercedes for us?

    You don’t need to answer those – I will be probably be blogging on each over the next few weeks (they are questions from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that was used at the Greek Orthodox church I went to over the weekend).

    I don’t know – just because someone has said something for a long time doesn’t make it right. I mean, Hinduism has been around a really long time – should I believe them?

    If you could point out how I am being unbiblical I desire to hear – because I want to be in line with the Word. But really, have you overlooked all these errors of the Orthodox church that I listed? With tradition so high, how does that affect ones reading of Scripture?

    I didn’t read Calvin, I read the Bible and that’s how I came to most of my beliefs – yes, confirmed by others, and I understand better because of others – but I see these things in the text, I believe by the Spirit of God.

    What is freedom? Do I want freedom the way the world explains it? No – I want God, I want what He wants for my life. May God grant us understanding, and hearts that hear each other and are able to continue by his grace to speak with love and intense care for one another.

  42. nathanwells Says:

    forgive me for my rant – it wasn’t directed at you Ben.

    sometimes I blog too fast.

  43. Ben Says:

    Hm, for not caring about this argument you sure are posting a lot. 🙂 I totally understand what you are saying about Orthodoxy, there are many things about it that I don’t agree with.

    That being said, it’s not a coincidence that the Reformation was born in the Augustinian order. Augustine is the only one of the church fathers we treat authoritatively … and most of the other fathers, from what I can tell, believed differently about many things … in particular, synergism: it was the belief of the church as a whole up until Luther, and the Orthodox continued believing it afterwards.

    This is different from Hinduism because this is the church that the apostles founded, that confirmed the canon that you look to as the ultimate authority, etc. Even if corrupted, there’s no denying that this church is closer to the early church in practice and belief than we are.

    I came to my beliefs [synergism] by reading the Bible as well. I believe you when you say that your beliefs came from the Bible and not Calvin … but don’t you think it might skew your perspective, if every authority figure in your life is Reformed? These are the people who taught you how to read monergism into those passages. Does that mean it’s not there? Of course not. But it does mean that your judgment may be clouded.

    It’s kind of like that safety net thing Danny and I were talking about in reference to the SBC. Are we required to believe exactly the same as the Orthodox church? No, but if you’re going to disagree, you ought first to understand their position humbly and be sure that you know what you’re doing.

  44. Ben Says:

    Oh no problem Nate, I know how that is. I have to be very careful not to alienate the people I argue with on here, because I tend to go off on the ideas without respect to the person, etc.

  45. riddlej Says:

    Ben– yes you do! But because you’re defending synergism, I’ll credit it to you as righteousness 😉

    I believe the extreme monergism in Reformed thinking came from Jonathan Edwards. It was the end of a long philosophical quest for him.

    And yet the synergism that was part of the Catholic tradition is not one I want to defend. Aquinas was big on arguing that some part of man’s mind was not completely fallen under the curse so that it is able to reason that salvation is a good thing and respond to God’s grace. I believe Erasmus defended something similar. Thus the scholasticism and rationalism that came from the Catholic tradition… it was based on faith in the mind.

    That is not the kind of synergism Arminianism asserts. Arminianism embraces total depravity, even in the mind, but recognizes that even a totally depraved soul which has prevenient grace is able to respond to God’s influence by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit stirs a person, and through His influence, the person makes a free will choice to accept or reject.

    Arminianism also defends free will in the same way Ben argued… that God’s foreknowledge is related but distinct from his foreordination. That He knows everything that will ever happen but not because He ordained that it all would. He did not ordain evil. Nor did He ordain man’s decisions or Satan’s behavior. He is somehow sovereign, knowing and allowing man’s free will choices, and yet reaching the ends He desires and prophesies. That is the mystery. But I believe it extolls the greatness of God even better than saying God knows everything that will happen because He planned it all from t=0.

  46. Ben Says:

    Yep, it’s definitely not my goal to offend. Sorry about that.

    The Catholic and Reformed positions on this issue seem to be reactions to each other, I think. That doesn’t mean in and of itself that Reformed theology is wrong, but it might explain why they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, perhaps with Arminians like yourself, Riddle, and/or Orthodox folks falling in the middle.

    I had not thought before about Jonathan Edwards originating the extreme monergism, although that does make sense: he certainly is the primary source for it. Of course, he could just as easily be the best expression of an idea that developed from Luther onward, or even from Augustine onward. I am like a broken record, but I keep going back to Luther’s statement (paraphrased):

    “Mankind is free to milk cows and build houses, nothing else.”
    (or rather, man has no moral agency)

    In statements like this I see the seed of Edwards’ extreme monergism. Of course, Luther said a lot of crazy stuff, so that could not really be what he meant.

  47. Ben Says:

    I’m actually excited to hear your comments on the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Nathan, even if they are critical. I was just reading your post on the “three views of scripture” and in the comments you mentioned the “corruption” that had been going on for many years. I thought I’d point out something I found interesting … a comparison of Augustine and John Chrysostom. As follows.

    *Born within 5 years of each other.
    *Both were highly esteemed theologians by the pre-Reformation churches (East and West).
    *Both Bishops, Saints, and Doctors of the Church
    *Their ministry was during the time that the canon was confirmed
    *Both were skilled rhetoricians who converted to Christianity from a pagan background.

    … and yet, Chrysostom (if his liturgy is any indicator) had a whole lot to say that is outside our box, as you noted. Of course, so did Augustine, but as Protestants we don’t really look at them the same way, do we? My point, I guess, is that the corruption that resulted in the Reformation was not necessarily a corruption of doctrine, but of practice … or rather, that the ideas you object to in Orthodoxy were part of the church in Augustine’s day.

  48. Lee Says:

    riddlej – I’m getting lost in the comments – what were you responding to exactly when you said “Ben – yes you do!” ?

  49. Ben Says:

    I think that was “Yes, Ben, you alienate people.”

  50. Lee Says:

    Wow – that’s very generous of riddlej, then! 😉

  51. Ben Says:

    Back to an earlier subject … I found this quote on this page

    Freedom of opinion, as Gibbon remarks, “was the consequence rather than the design of the Reformation.”

    Speaking of Calvin’s conflict with Servetus.

    I think that the Gibbon they are quoting is Edward Gibbon:

  52. drewsive Says:


    I think I recall meeting you at Biola. You were friends with Phil Hahn, no? He and I sang in the King’s Men together. Small world.

    I just wanted to encourage you to spend more time in archives of Energetic Procession, particularly in the posts on the problem of the dialectic, person and nature, and absolute divine simplicity. You may also want to peruse what Perry’s written on Calvinism.

    Also, the guys over at Well of Questions are current Biola students, ironically enough. They’re exceptionally gifted thinkers; I know them well.

    I hope you are well.

    Drew Harrah

  53. drewsive Says:

    One more thing:

    If you’re still in the area, perhaps you could come to a Divine Liturgy at St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa? Michael Garten and Mark Krause of Well of Questions fame attend (as do I), and I’m sure they’d love to spend some time personally hashing out these issues with you (as would I, but they’re smarter than me, so they’d be of greater benefit to you).

    May God be with you!

    Drew Harrah

  54. Ben Says:

    Yep, I was (and am) friends with Phil Hahn, and I’m pretty sure I remember you as well.

    No, I’m not living in the Southland anymore — San Jose area now. There are a few Orthodox churches up here I have been thinking about trying, although of course we have attended Orthodox liturgy a few times before; my wife’s mother converted to Orthodoxy a few years ago.

    I may take you up on that info from EP; although, since a previous comment string on this blog turned sour, my interest in Perry’s ideas has cooled a bit 🙂 I was very impressed with the WoQ guys — they seemed to have a more balanced perspective, and are obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about philosophy and etc.

    Probably I am not going to convert — though I admire and appreciate some aspects of Orthodox theology and practice, there are a few I’m just not a fan of — but I sure have enjoyed and benefited from the various discussions I’ve had on Orthodox subjects here on this blog and elsewhere in the past month or two.

    I’m sure that there will be more to come as well, so if you’re interested in discussing, feel free to comment on old posts to start it up again, or subscribe to my feed and I’m sure I’ll be talking about some sort of Orthodox topic before too much time has passed. Blessings.

  55. drewsive Says:


    I understand that Perry can be a bit off-putting, but the fact remains that he’s extremely well read and has a better understanding of the issues than most. For that reason alone he should be taken seriously. Honestly, in reading through that engagement, I don’t think you addressed most of his arguments. Please, do take some time to try to understand the Orthodox position on the problem of the dialectic and the confusion of person and nature — this is where the rubber hits the road theologically.

    ‘Probably I am not going to convert — though I admire and appreciate some aspects of Orthodox theology and practice, there are a few I’m just not a fan of — but I sure have enjoyed and benefited from the various discussions I’ve had on Orthodox subjects here on this blog and elsewhere in the past month or two.’

    I was in this exact position for the past several years. In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with Orthodoxy. I am now a catechumen and I eagerly await my reception into the Church next Pascha. Hands down, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.


    Drew Harrah

  56. Ben Says:

    Hey, that’s cool, I hope that works out for you. It’s been really great for my mother-in-law, and my wife and I have certainly had our Christian experience enriched by interaction with the Orthodox church through her influence.

    As regards Perry, I’m sure he’s really intelligent … but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Biola experience, it’s that no matter how intelligent another person is, I and I alone bear ultimate responsibility for my thoughts and beliefs. Though I can respect people I disagree with, I’m not going to lose any sleep over the fact that an intelligent person disagrees with me — they could still be wrong, and I can still be right. Etc.

    In my defense, I would say that he didn’t quite address my arguments in that thread, either. In re-reading the thread (it was a good while ago) it seems like we spent more time talking past each other than otherwise.

    He also had the advantage of coming into the argument oriented against Protestantism, whereas I was attracted to Orthodoxy less as a polemicist and more as an interested observer trying to understand.

    The person and nature stuff? I glanced at it, but I don’t know why he’s in such a huff about neoplationism and scholasticism and etc. Probably the real essence of the divide between evangelicalism and his brand of Orthodoxy is that his idea of the cultural, philosophical, doctrinal aspects of Christianity are just so rigid. Me? I am ok with people disagreeing. As long as we’re all on the same team. That’s something I learned from Biola, too: that it’s better for Lutheran, Orthodox, nondenom, and etc. to get along than otherwise.

    Etc. In truth, the thread was quite upsetting for me — up until that point, my experience with Orthodoxy had been overwhelmingly positive. I had not realized the negative attitude that many Orthodox folks have towards Protestants. I ended up talking with a number of folks I knew (and some I didn’t) who were Orthodox intellectuals. They reinforced that Perry’s perspective on Protestants, though popular, was not the undisputed opinion of the Orthodox church structure as a whole (hence my reference to Dr. Nassif, one of the folks I ended up exchanging emails with).

    I get the feeling that certain branches of Orthodoxy are a little more friendly to Protestants / evangelicals than others — the Antiochians in particular seem to be a little more progressive. I don’t know if Perry is OCA or not, but it seems that they are a little more hostile in general, from what I’ve heard. Not that I, as an outsider, would be in a position to say one way or another.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: