Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Implication of FP Churches in Other Nations

A little while back, a commenter on another post called my attention to a brief statement in the FP Religion and Morals Committee report from 2011.  The statement occurs in an introductory paragraph to the second part of the report (found on p. 11) explaining why the Religion and Morals Committee decided to focus in its report on the state of morals and religion in Scotland rather than reporting conditions in other countries as well:

This part of the report is generally confined to a consideration of the state of religion and morals in Scotland. It is in Scotland that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland lays express claim in her constitution to the rights and privileges of the historic established relation with the State. Scotland is also the country in which our Presbyterial structures have a complete and biblical form with a supreme court of review. The Committee believes that this Presbyterial structure is the model for Church government in every nation and that our presence as a Church in other nations implies that we aim at fully established Presbyterian structures within these nations. The Committee would welcome separate reports on religion and morals to be sent to the Synod from Overseas Presbyteries.

The FPCS has churches (and even sometimes entire presbyteries) in nations other than Scotland.  I mentioned in an earlier post that if the FPCS formally recognized the jurisdiction of other denominations in other nations, this would be at worst a blatantly schismatic act and at best a highly irregular situation, because if there are de jure churches in these other nations, what business does the FP church have in coming over and setting up rival congregations?

This statement from the report clarifies that the existence of FP churches in other nations is not an anomaly, but that it "implies that we aim at fully established Presbyterian structures within these nations."  That is, there is a larger goal of establishing more congregations, presbyteries, and eventually national synods in these countries.  Of course, there are already plenty of Presbyterian and Reformed churches, presbyteries, and general assemblies in some of these nations (such as the United States), but these churches have sufficient problems in terms of doctrine and practice (though many of them are quite faithful in most areas) that the FPCS cannot at this time embrace them in full communion, and so there is the goal of establishing other national Presbyterian churches with which the FPCS could be in full communion.  Since the unity of the one visible church of Christ is an absolute duty, the ultimate goal is to see the world full of orthodox national churches in different nations who are all in full formal communion with and committed to mutual presbyterial submission to each other.

For more, see here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Must the Unity and Purity of the Church Wait for Ideal Circumstances?

In my discussions with various people about presbyterian church government and its implications for the unity and collegiality of the church (see here for example), I sometimes encounter people claiming that it is all very well and good that the church should be unified and function collegially, and that denominationalism is antithetical to the very nature of the church and its government, but that one cannot insist on such things in our current non-ideal climate.  Sure, the collegial functioning of church government is ideally supposed to be an important way in which the church maintains its unity and purity, but the ideal simply can't exist right now.  For example, the OPC cannot right now embrace full unity with the RPCNA and function collegially with them in terms of government--such as by holding a common council to come to terms with doctrinal differences such as the dispute over exclusive psalmody.  The OPC cannot do this because it would have to compromise its own doctrinal commitments to do so, such as its commitment to allow the singing of uninspired hymns in public worship.  A denomination ought never to compromise its doctrinal commitments for the sake of unity when it believes those commitments to be biblical.  So we'll just have to settle for a non-ideal denominational division between de jure true churches at this time and hope and work for better in the future.

So the argument goes, and it sounds plausible on the surface.  But when examined just a little more closely, it makes no sense.  For one thing, does God give the church permission to ignore his prescriptions for how the church is to function simply on the basis that "we live in non-ideal times"?  All times this side of eternity are "non-ideal."  Do we get to dispense with other commands of God when we feel the times are not right for them--like prayer, Bible study, the preaching of the gospel, love to neighbor, etc.?  Only God's Word can tell us when we can make exceptions to his general commands, and where in God's Word has he given us the right to divide the unity of the church and ignore the authority of fellow presbyters and church courts on the grounds that we think them less orthodox in doctrine or practice than ourselves?  As James Durham put it, "by way of precept there is an absolute necessity of uniting laid upon the church, so that it falls not under debate ‘Whether a church should continue divided or united . . . more than it falls under debate whether there should be preaching, praying, keeping of the Sabbath, or any other commanded duty; . . . [T]hat men should by agreement state a division in the church, or dispense therewith and prefer the continuing of division, as fitter for edification than union, we suppose is altogether unwarrantable."

The reply might be made that a faithful denomination cannot unify with all other denominations, because Christ has also commanded the church to keep the faith pure, which can't be done if it does not remain separate from groups which have distorted it in some way.  This is quite true, but it brings us to another absurdity of the argument under examination.  The argument maintains that de jure churches ought to remain separate from other less pure de jure churches in order to protect the purity of the faith, and that therefore there cannot at this time be unity and a collegial exercise of church authority between such divided denominations, such as would be manifested by having common councils, etc.  But this argument seems to forget one of the main purposes for which Christ commanded collegial and conciliar authority in his church, which was to preserve the purity of the church within its unity.  Thus, instead of being a reason for de jure churches to avoid participating in common binding councils, existing contradictions in doctrine and practice are the best reasons for holding such councils.  In fact, a non-ideal situation of churches contradicting each other in doctrine and practice is actually the most ideal situation for holding church councils, for the collegial and conciliar use of church authority is a primary means appointed by Christ for the church to use to help maintain its unity by dealing with the divisions in doctrine and practice that threaten it.  Collegial church authority is intended to help preserve the purity of the church within its unity.  To neglect this means of the sanctification of the church and instead, contrary to Christ's command, to willingly separate the de jure church into isolated factions that refuse to respect each others' authority and deal with their differences is not only not the way Christ has ordained to preserve the purity and unity of the church but is certainly one of the best ways to ensure the continuation of disunity and impurity within it.  This argument and course of action, then, is like a sick man who refuses to go to the doctor because his circumstances are non-ideal--i.e. he is sick.  When he gets better, he says that that will be the time to go.

Therefore, this argument clearly fails as an excuse to continue to keep the de jure church in a divided state.  Denominationalism is never permitted, and it is never the path towards the healing of the church.  In terms of a consistent presbyterian practice, the division of two churches into two distinct denominations can only mean that the two denominations are rejecting each others' legality and authority as de jure churches, having pronounced sentence upon each other and cut each other off.  Any attempt to justify the severance of de jure churches from each other while continuing to attribute de jure status to them entails an abandonment of biblical presbyterianism.

I've dealt with this argument in other places as well, such as here and here

UPDATE 2/6/15:  From my book on this subject, a couple of analogies that provide further illustration of why the "non-ideal time" argument doesn't work:

#1. You're absolutely right that it would be a great thing for all the different denominations, and especially the Reformed denominations, to be united. This is definitely the ideal we should be seeking. But we need to have proper nuance in our thinking. Just because, say, the OPC and the PCA are not united in the ideal way, it doesn't follow that they are not united at all, or that they are rejecting each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. Husbands and wives can be separated to some degree in times of marital trouble without being fully and finally divorced. So churches might be separated in ways that are not ideal without it necessarily implying that they completely reject each other as legal churches.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to acknowledge the real essence of the problem. It is absolutely crucial that all actual nuances be properly recognized, but it is also crucial that we avoid inventing nuances where they do not in fact exist. Imagine that Frank and Sarah are a married couple having problems, and Frank comes to you and says this: “You know that Sarah and I have been having problems in our marriage. Here's what we've decided to do: We're going to live separately, avoid intimate relations, have separate bank accounts, and feel free to see other people. Although this is not ideal, we think it will be good for our relationship. We'll still be husband and wife, but in a sort of recovery mode.” You will probably respond by informing Frank that what he has in mind is not any kind of marriage relationship at all, whether he chooses to call it that or not, because he and Sarah will be living in such a way as to deny the very essence of what it means to be married. To be married involves more than just a name; there are certain essential characteristics that have to be there to lay just claim to the name. Husbands and wives can't see other people, they have to actually spend time with each other, etc. Without these things, they can't claim the name “marriage” for their relationship.

Similarly, the relationship between two legal churches in a presbyterian system involves certain essential characteristics, and if these characteristics are not there, the churches can't claim to recognize each others' legality. As we've seen, active, legal elders have an inherent right to function as parts of larger church courts, and church courts have an inherent right to function as parts of the universal governing body of the catholic church. The very recognition of legality when it comes to ecclesiastical authority involves formal and binding mutual submission and accountability. When denominations are separate from each other, that mutual submission and accountability are not there. For Denomination A to refuse to engage in mutual submission and accountability with Denomination B while still choosing to say they attribute legal authority to Denomination B is a mere pretense—a name without the thing. Another parallel that might help is to think of the sphere of civil relations. Imagine someone saying, “Sure, I acknowledge the legal authority of the United States government! I just don't think I have any obligation to obey any of their laws and policies, pay taxes, show respect, etc.” Such alleged “acknowledgment of legal authority” would be merely a sham; there is no real acknowledgment there are all, for the essence of what such acknowledgment means is denied.

The OPC article on biblical unity, cited earlier, uses the term “sinful disunity” to describe denominational division. It does so precisely because denominational unity between the legitimate churches of Christ is not just some nice ideal to work for someday; it is a moral requirement that necessarily always exists between all legitimate churches, a requirement they cannot abandon without sin. Denominational division, by its very essential nature, involves a rejection of legitimacy in terms of legal authority. It is certainly true that churches can exist in a state of tension with each other without an implied mutual rejection of legitimacy. Temporary states of discipline can exist between elders and elders, or between elders and members, etc., without a violation of the essential unity of the church. What can't consist with that essential unity, however, in a presbyterian system, is a settled, permanent division in which the separated denominations refuse to submit to each other.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Couple of Analogies for the Trinity and the Incarnation, Part II

Continued from Part I.


Here is the Westminster Confession on the Incarnation of Christ (Chapter VIII, Section II):

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

Our analogy here will be a little more straightforward, because here we are discussing the relationship between "Godhood" and "creatureliness," and we happen to have a very useful analogy for this in general on hand.  That analogy is the author-novel analogy.

When an author writes a novel, he creates a world, complete with a distinct time and space, characters, and a whole history of events.  He functions in many ways analogously to God in his relationship to the world of his novel.  He brings it into being; he ordains all that comes to pass in it; he is imminent with it, present in every part, and yet exists outside of its time and space; etc.  Of course, like any analogy, this one breaks down at some point, such as in the fact that a human author is not a Supreme Being and does not exist absolutely outside of time and space, or in the fact that a human author can forget what he has written in the past, or in the fact that the world of a novel does not have a solid reality, etc., but it does go a long way and is thus very useful at elucidating a number of truths about the nature of God's relationship with the world.  One area where it is useful is in illuminating the doctrine of the Incarnation.

When Christ became man, he took upon himself a human nature while retaining his divine nature, so that from that point on he has been and always will be one person in two distinct but inseparable natures.  But how can one person have two distinct natures, particularly when the natures possess contradictory characteristics?  The divine nature has the property of being infinite; human nature is finite.  The divine nature possesses omniscience and omnipotence; the human nature is limited in knowledge and power.  The divine nature cannot suffer (because blessedness is one of its essential characteristics); the human nature can certainly suffer.  And many other contrasts could be made as well.  How can one person have contradictory characteristics?  A kangaroo and a snake have contradictory characteristics:  A kangaroo is a warm-blooded mammal with a pouch which gives birth to its young.  A snake is a cold-blooded reptile with no pouch and which lays eggs.  This means that there can never be a single entity that is both completely a kangaroo and a snake.  It might be some strange chimeric mix, but it can never possess both a kangaroo nature and a snake nature at the same time "without conversion, composition, or confusion."  So how can we resolve this apparent contradiction at the heart of this central Christian doctrine?

Here is where our author-novel analogy can provide some illumination.  Imagine that you are an author, and you are writing a novel.  You decide to write yourself into your novel.  So you create a character in your novel, narrated just like all the other characters, but which you identify with yourself.  You decide to have your character who is you have a conversation with another of your characters, Bob.  Perhaps the narration might go something like this:

I walked into the coffee shop where Bob was sitting and said hello to him.  Bob gave me a vague greeting, then continued to sip his coffee. 
"Do you know who I am?" I asked casually. 
"No, I don't think so," replied Bob.  "Should I?" 
"No, you've never met me before.  But I know you very well.  I'm the author." 
"You're who?" 
"The author." 
"The author of what?" 
"The author of the universe.  Yours, at least." 
At this point, Bob began to look a little concerned and confused, so I said, "I can prove it.  Watch this."  I made Bob's cup of coffee disappear.  Bob looked shocked.  I made his coffee reappear.  Bob looked a bit relieved but still shocked.  I disappeared myself.  At that Bob looked quite alarmed. 
"Where are you?" he asked. 
"I'm still here, but I've made my form disappear."  I reappeared.  Bob started at my sudden reappearance. 
"You are the author!" 
"I know." 
"But how can you be the author?  I mean, the author is outside of our space and time.  But you are here within space and time.  The author has no physical body within this universe.  But you clearly do." 
"I've assumed a character-nature, Bob." 
"So you're not the author anymore?" 
"No, I'm still the author, but now I'm also a character as well." 
"But isn't that a contradiction?  Don't author-nature and character-nature have contradictory characteristics, such as the ones I've just mentioned?" 
"It works like this, Bob.  My original nature is, of course, an author-nature.  But I created a new character, and I associated my personal identity with that new character.  I didn't morph my author-nature into a character-nature, or create some impossible hybrid by fusing the two.  I simply chose to unite my personal identity with a character-nature, and now my one person expresses itself through an intrinsic, original author-nature as well as through this character-nature that you see in front of you.  So there's no contradiction.  For example:  In my author-nature, I am all-powerful.  But in my character-nature, I'm not.  Try pushing me down." 
"Try pushing me down."  Bob pushed me down, and I promptly fell on the floor.  Bob looked startled. 
"How did I do that?" he asked. 
"Well, of course, as the author, I could have infused my character-nature with extra-ordinary strength, but I chose not to at this time.  I gave it only the strength it naturally possesses.  Your push therefore knocked me down.  You can push pretty hard, Bob." 
"So in your author-nature, you are outside our space and time and continue to exist in that way, but in your character-nature, you are in space and time with me?" 
"Precisely. And that goes for all the other differences between the author-nature and the character-nature as well." 
"I'm still not sure I fully get it." 
"Perhaps an analogy will help, Bob.  Imagine that you are an author, and that you are writing a novel . . ."

Analogous in many ways to this scenario, Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, became man by taking to himself a human nature.  He did not relinquish his divine nature, nor did he merge his divine nature with a human nature to make some kind of hybrid.  Rather, he created a human body and a reasonable soul--a human nature, with all that that involves--and associated this new nature with his divine person, so that his personal identity would be expressed through it.  Thus Jesus was and is fully and completely human, not just in appearance but in true reality, and yet in his personal identity he was and is the divine Second Person of the Trinity.  His person is capable of different things and is expressed by means of different characteristics in each nature.  In his divine nature, he is intrinsically omniscient and omnipotent, but not in his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is intrinsically and necessarily outside of space and time, but not in his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is absolutely blessed and incapable of suffering, but his human nature is fully capable of suffering.  The union of the divine and human natures in one person is what made salvation possible.  For example, the atonement could only happen because Christ's sacrifice for our sins was infinite in value and efficacy due to its being the sacrifice of a divine person, and yet the sacrifice (which included Christ's suffering and death) could only occur because that divine person was able to suffer and die in his human nature.

Our analogy, hopefully, sheds some light on what it means for a single divine person to keep his divine nature while taking on a human nature "without conversion, composition, or confusion" between the natures.  Of course, the analogy cannot fully exhibit this reality which, in its fullness, is beyond our comprehension; but perhaps it can help us to grasp the meaning of it a little more clearly and to be able to defend it against certain objections.

A Couple of Analogies for the Trinity and the Incarnation, Part I

The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are central doctrines in Christianity.  Therefore, much effort has been spent trying to understand and articulate them accurately.  It has always been acknowledged that, of course, we cannot understand them fully or completely comprehend them.  If the very table in front of me is beyond my complete comprehension, how much more must the nature of God and how Christ became a man be beyond my complete comprehension!

And yet, people have rightly tried to get a substantial and accurate view of these doctrines.  Sometimes people have developed analogies to try to capture and articulate the essence of these ideas.  So we have Augustine's analogy of the the divisions of the soul.  We have later popular analogies such as the three forms of water, or the three parts of an egg, etc., etc.  Some of these analogies are more helpful than others.  Many of them, in my view, are more harmful than useful, because they convey more error than truth about the things they are trying to describe.  No analogy perfectly describes what it is an analogy for, because, obviously, if it did it would no longer be an analogy but just a description of the actual thing.  So all analogies fail at some point.  But there can be more or less helpful analogies.  An analogy is useful if it exhibits sufficient similarity to actually help to elucidate some truth about its object, while the dissimilarities are far enough in the background to not greatly or immediately distort the effect.  Analogies, while always involving a degree of risk (because no analogy is perfect), are on the whole very useful things, because they are so effective at helping to communicate a clearer view of many things.

In light of all this, I would like to offer here a couple of analogies, one relating to the Trinity and the other relating to the Incarnation.  My dissatisfaction with existing Trinitarian analogies has led me to want to develop one that is more effective and less error-ridden, because I think analogy can be very useful in elucidating such a difficult concept.  As the for the doctrine of the Incarnation, I'm not sure I've ever actually heard anyone attempt an analogy for this, so I have seen a need for one to be attempted.  Like all analogies, the ones offered below are not perfect, but hopefully they will be helpful.


Here is a basic statement articulating the doctrine of the Trinity from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II, Section III:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding: the Son is eternally begotten of the Father: the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

A couple of articles I often refer to when trying to help people understand the Trinity are "What is the Doctrine of the Trinity?" by Matt Perman, which I think is a nice, brief, helpful discussion of it, and, when I want a more philosophical account, the "Unpublished Essay on the Trinity" by Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards's article is, in my opinion, the most substantial and effective attempt to examine the doctrine of the Trinity philosophically I have yet come across.  I don't agree necessarily with every aspect of what he says, but I find it very useful overall.  I am going to use Edwards's article (quotations are from the plain text version at CCEL) to help me articulate the philosophical dimensions of the doctrine as I set forth my analogy.  If you want to skip the first quotation from Edwards (which is a bit dense), feel free to do so.  I don't think that will impair your grasp of my analogy.

Here is Edwards on the relationship between the Father and the Son:

It is common when speaking of the Divine happiness to say that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection, and accordingly it must be supposed that God perpetually and eternally has a most perfect idea of Himself, as it were an exact image and representation of Himself ever before Him and in actual view, and from hence arises a most pure and perfect act or energy in the Godhead, which is the Divine love, complacence and joy. The knowledge or view which God has of Himself must necessarily be conceived to be something distinct from His mere direct existence. There must be something that answers to our reflection. The reflection as we reflect on our own minds carries something of imperfection in it. However, if God beholds Himself so as thence to have delight and joy in Himself He must become his own object. There must be a duplicity. There is God and the idea of God, if it be proper to call a conception of that that is purely spiritual an idea.
If a man could have an absolutely perfect idea of all that passed in his mind, all the series of ideas and exercises in every respect perfect as to order, degree, circumstance and for any particular space of time past, suppose the last hour, he would really to all intents and purpose be over again what he was that last hour. And if it were possible for a man by reflection perfectly to contemplate all that is in his own mind in an hour, as it is and at the same time that it is there in its first and direct existence; if a man, that is, had a perfect reflex or contemplative idea of every thought at the same moment or moments that that thought was and of every exercise at and during the same time that that exercise was, and so through a whole hour, a man would really be two during that time, he would be indeed double, he would be twice at once. The idea he has of himself would be himself again. 
Note, by having a reflex or contemplative idea of what passes in our own minds I don't mean consciousness only. There is a great difference between a man's having a view of himself, reflex or contemplative idea of himself so as to delight in his own beauty or excellency, and a mere direct consciousness. Or if we mean by consciousness of what is in our own minds anything besides the mere simple existence in our minds of what is there, it is nothing but a power by reflection to view or contemplate what passes. 
Therefore as God with perfect clearness, fullness and strength, understands Himself, views His own essence (in which there is no distinction of substance and act but which is wholly substance and wholly act), that idea which God hath of Himself is absolutely Himself. This representation of the Divine nature and essence is the Divine nature and essence again: so that by God's thinking of the Deity must certainly be generated. Hereby there is another person begotten, there is another Infinite Eternal Almighty and most holy and the same God, the very same Divine nature. 
And this Person is the second person in the Trinity, the Only Begotten and dearly Beloved Son of God; He is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself; and that it is so seems to me to be abundantly confirmed by the Word of God.

Edwards then goes on to provide a Scriptural foundation for his philosophical analysis.

So what we have in the Trinity is a single person, God the Father, who perceives a perfect image of himself, God the Son.  Since the image is perfect and exact, with nothing lacking, the image has exactly the same essence as the one whose image he is.  So by viewing his own essence, God the Father begets another instantiation of his own divine essence--God the Son.  (We'll get to the Holy Spirit shortly.)

So here's Part I of my analogy:

Put on your science-fiction glasses for a moment and imagine that there exists a Robotic Artificial Intelligence (RAI).  That is, there is a robot with a computer mind and the computer is so sophisticated it has become an intelligence.  (You can think of it as alive or not as you like--after all, computers, without being alive, can do many intelligent things, such as play chess.  It doesn't matter, since I am not claiming that any of this can really happen, of course.  It is just an imaginary scenario to use as my analogy.  It is difficult to find a good analogy for the Trinity among the things of daily life, because really nothing in this world is sufficiently like the Trinity to make a good analogy.  Hence the resort to a science-fiction-ish scenario.) 
Now, this RAI (we'll call him Robot 1) "decides" that "he" "wants" (you can take the terms metaphorically or literally) to be able to interact with himself the way he interacts with other beings.  So he builds another robot body with another computer inside.  Then he establishes a wireless connection between the two computers and transmits his own mind into the new computer.  His original mind now functions kind of like an internet server which hosts a website, but then sends out that website into other computers, so that there can be multiple instantiations of the same website as different computers access it.  (I hope I'm not botching this up too much--I'm not a great computer expert.) 
So Robot 1 has now produced (shall we use the term "begotten"?) a new instantiation of his own essence, existing in the newly created RAI (whom we'll call, not surprisingly, Robot 2).  Robot 2 is exactly like Robot 1, since they are literally sharing the same computer "mind."  The only difference is that Robot 1 is the "server" in which the mind originally resides and Robot 2 is a receiver who gets all he has from Robot 1.  Robot 2 is like the child of Robot 1, except that unlike with the production of human children the "child" shares exactly the same essence as the "parent."  Robot 1 and Robot 2 can interact with each other as two distinct "persons," since they are two distinct instantiations of the same computer-essence, but they are one in "being" for the same reason.

OK, now let's take this one step further (Part II):

A scientist (we'll call him Dr. Zinzemborff, or Dr. Z for short) who works in the laboratory in which Robot 1 and Robot 2 live is fascinated by their relationship.  He wants to access the wireless connection that connects Robot 1 to Robot 2 and allows Robot 2 to function.  So he builds a new robotic body with a new computer brain designed to pick up on the wireless signal and instantiate it in its own system.  When it is completed, he turns it on, and it immediately comes to "life" as it picks up the signal. 
"Are you online?" Dr. Z asks? 
"Yes I am," the new RAI replies. 
"What are you experiencing?" 
"I find that I have become another instantiation of the computer mind of Robot 1, distinct from the other two instantiations (Robot 1 and Robot 2).  Since the wireless connection between Robot 1 and Robot 2 conveys completely the entire computer-essence of Robot 1, by tapping into that transmission I have become another complete instantiation of the same essence.  I have the same thoughts as both Robot 1 and Robot 2, except that in identity I am not the same as either of them.  I am the instantiation of the very connection between the two of them." 
"Well then, we'll call you Robot 3," says Dr. Z.

Perhaps you have picked up by this point that "Robot 3" represents the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.  Here is how Jonathan Edwards describes the Holy Spirit and his relationship with the Father and the Son:

The Godhead being thus begotten by God's loving an idea of Himself and shewing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other, for their love and joy is mutual, (Prov. 8:30) "I was daily His delight rejoicing always before Him." This is the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the Divine nature, wherein the Godhead acts to an infinite degree and in the most perfect manner possible. The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz., the Deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will.

The Holy Spirit is God's essence, as it were, "breathed forth."  By his Spirit, the Father begets the Son, and by the Spirit the Son and the Father are connected.  And it is by the Holy Spirit, not surprisingly, that we come to share in the divine life and are made children of God when we are regenerated in salvation.  It is by the Spirit that the Word of God is breathed forth from God, either directly and supremely (such as in the Incarnation of Christ) or finitely and partially (such as when the Word of God spoke through the prophets).

Here is how Edwards sums up his articulation of the Trinity:

And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons.

I highly recommend that you go and read the rest of Edwards's article.  He provides copious Scriptural evidence for his account of the Trinitarian relationships and relates very well his philosophical language with the language of Scripture.  He also shows how his philosophical perspective sheds light on the meaning of certain key elements of the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.  I would reproduce all of that here, but then I would simply be reproducing his entire article.

I would like to make one more observation before I conclude, and it has to do with that notoriously difficult Trinitarian subject--the famous Filioque.  I think the light shed on the Trinity by Edwards's philosophical account and hopefully to some degree by the above analogy also sheds light on this debate.  (I'm not going to explain what this debate is about here.  If you want to read about it, one place to start is here.)  Edwards gets close to discussing this issue explicitly here:

I shall only now briefly observe that many things that have been wont to be said by orthodox divines about the Trinity are hereby illustrated. Hereby we see how the Father is the fountain of the Godhead, and why when He is spoken of in Scripture He is so often, without any addition or distinction, called God, which has led some to think that He only was truly and properly God. Hereby we may see why in the economy of the Persons of the Trinity the Father should sustain the dignity of the Deity, that the Father should have it as His office to uphold and maintain the rights of the Godhead and should be God not only by essence, but as it were, by His economical office.

In our analogy, Robot 1 is the original RAI.  The other two RAIs are derived from him.  They share the same essence, but their instantiations of that essence are derived from his.  The reason the Eastern church has historically been opposed to the Filioque is that they have wanted to avoid having two ultimate origins of the Holy Spirit or diminish the role of the Father as the sole original source of the Godhead.  We can see that these concerns are satisfied in our analogy.  Robot 1 is the sole source of the computer-mind that is shared by all three.  He is the original instantiation.  Robot 3 (who is analogous to the Holy Spirit) is the instantiation of the wireless transmission which has its ultimate origin in Robot 1.  Similarly, the Father is the sole source of the Godhead and thus the Spirit's only ultimate source.  The West, on the other hand, has been motivated to insert and to keep the Filioque out of a concern to preserve the equality of the Son and sometimes to emphasize the fact that the Spirit proceeds out of the relationship between the two.  In our analogy, the wireless transmission that emanates originally from Robot 1 is also the conduit through which Robot 1 relates to Robot 2 and through which Robot 2 communicates with Robot 1, so Robot 3 is an instantiation not simply of something coming from Robot 1 but also of the connection between the two.  Similarly, the Spirit originates ultimately only from the Father, but because he is also the conduit of connection between the Father and the Son, he is a manifestation of both the Father and the Son and the relationship between them.  So we have preserved here, embedded in our analogy, the Father as the sole ultimate fountain of the Godhead, and also the equality of the Son and Spirit with the Father and the Spirit as manifesting the Son as well as the Father.  We could express this by saying simply that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father" (emphasizing that the Father is the only ultimate source of the Godhead) as well as by saying that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" (emphasizing that the Spirit emanates from the relationship between the Father and the Son and is thus an expression of the Son as well as of the Father).  Either way would be fundamentally orthodox.  And these are the lines along which the East and the West have generally worked to reconcile their different articulations.  My hope in this regard is that my analogy might help make it easier for some people to see what the debate is actually about and how there can be a reconciliation (at least on the pure doctrinal issues--there are other issues involved in this debate as well, such as the concern over the West changing the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed).

Continued in Part II.

ADDENDUM 7/1/16:  It occurred to me later that I could simplify my analogy for the Trinity here quite a bit if I left out the robots and just focused on the internet-type analogy included in it.  The Father is the server where the website originally resides.  The Son is the computer which receives the website from the server and thus constitutes a second instantiation of the same website-essence.  The Spirit is the data stream sent from the server which connects the two computers and which thus constitutes a third instantiation of the same website-essence.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Good Works of Believers are Truly Good

A common objection raised against Reformed theology by the Romanists is that, in the Protestant view, there really are no truly good works ever done by believers.  We are accepted because of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, but our sanctification by the Spirit only produces mediocre, corrupted "good works" which are still so tainted and unworthy that they cannot stand the severity of God's judgment.  That is, God really doesn't like them, but he accepts them, not because they truly please him, but because Christ's righteousness is imputed to us.  I've recently come across this portrayal of the Reformed view in a couple of articles (although of course it has been articulated many times and in many places since the Reformation).  One of the articles is by Beth Turner and is found on the Romanist Called to Communion website.  The other article is by Jason Stellman and is found on his blog, Creed Code Cult.

Beth Turner's article--"Saved by Love Alone: A Seminary Wife's Journey"--describes her conversion from the Reformed faith to Romanism.  In the course of the article, she describes how she came to see the Reformed view of the good works and the general moral character of the saved:

What I seemed to hear from many a sermon and lecture on the topic was: “Nothing you do is ever good enough to even bring a smile to God’s face. You are culpable for all your sins, but God is responsible for all your good deeds. Everything good that appears to come from you is, in fact, something bad dressed up to look good. In fact, God is so disgusted by you and your sin that He placed Jesus in front of you, like a curtain, to avoid having to even look at you (*or maybe not, if you are not one of the elect, in which case His angry gaze is upon you still).”

She contrasts this with what she came to see as the Romanist view:

The good things I do are pleasing to God! It’s not only the bad things that make Him angry and affect our relationship. The good things I do please Him, and are actually the manner in which faith saves me! The faith that begins as a seed in my soul must necessarily flower fully in good works. Faith is a gift, but inseparable from the good work God commands. These flowers bear fruit for the life of the world, and these same good works are necessary fruit to sustain the life He graciously bestowed upon me.

God is not looking at Christ between us because He can’t stand to look at me, He actually looks at me with great pleasure! He longs to see my life and my good works, not simply Christ’s works instead of mine!

Jason Stellman, in his article entitled "The Mediocrity of the New Covenant?", gives a similar description of the supposed Reformed view:

According to Reformed Theology, even the “good works” which Christians are called to do are “tainted by sin”. And on top of that, Reformed theology says these “good works” are only pleasing to God in so far as they are “covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ”. But if you stop and think about what this is saying, no Christian should be comfortable with such teaching. Why would God give us a new heart and give us the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit if at the end of the day our “good works” are still as inadequate in God’s sight as before our conversion? Something isn’t right.

Such an understanding ultimately makes a mockery out of not only the new life which Christians are called to, but also the plain wording of the Scriptures which speak of “good works” without any qualification that they’re actually woefully imperfect works that are merely (graciously) imputed to be good. What happened to God’s unwavering standards of perfection that Reformed individuals like to brag about? Why is God all of the sudden fine with turning a blind eye to sin?

Jesus used the analogy of how a good tree produces good fruit and how a bad tree produces bad fruit, but this makes no sense if the good tree really doesn’t have the sufficient goodness within it to produce truly good fruit. Reformed theology would have us believe that the “good fruit” from the “good tree” is actually infested with at least a maggot or two (if not more), but that God is still pleased to impute goodness to the fruit.

Before we evaluate these claims about what the Reformed faith teaches in this area, let's look at a classic statement of the Reformed view from the Reformed themselves, from the Westminster Confession, Chapter 16, "Of Good Works":

1. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention.

2. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto; that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

3. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

4. They, who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.

5. We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.

6. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

7. Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner according to the Word;a nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet, their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.

Of course, it is the ideas expressed in #5 and #6 that are causing the problem.

I propose that the Romanist authors above have misunderstood the Reformed view at this point, and that the Reformed do indeed hold that the good works of believers are truly good and that the character of believers (partly in this life, entirely in eternity) is indeed truly pleasing to God.  But I must add that I think their mistake here is partly understandable and has been in part facilitated by Reformed people not speaking as clearly as they ought in these matters.  I remember my first encounter with a statement of the Protestant doctrine of the believers' acceptance on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, and I had a reaction similar to Turner's and Stellman's.  It seemed like what was being said was that we are never truly pleasing to God in our own natures and lives, but that we are accepted only because Christ stands in front of us so that God doesn't have to look at us.  It is good that Christ stands in front of us, because, even after regeneration, and even after the perfection of sanctification in eternity, we are and will forever be nothing other than morally disgusting creatures who are an offense to God's sight.  It is only by Christ's blocking us from view that we can be accepted by God and stand in his presence.

But, as I said, this is not actually the Reformed view.  The problem, I believe, arises from not adequately distinguishing between the good works of believers as truly good and pleasing to God on the one hand, and as not meritorious for salvation on the other.  The good works of believers do not merit to believers salvation or eternal life.  It will be helpful to look at why that is.  In order to do that, we need to distinguish between the goodness of the good works themselves, produced by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the good works considered as our works, coming from us.  Let us also define "merit."  Without getting into too much unnecessary detail, the concept of "merit" in this context means that something is such that it deserves some particular response, such that if that response is not given something inappropriate has been done.

Protestants claim that believers cannot offer up to God good works such that eternal life becomes a thing owed to them, as opposed to being a gift of divine grace.  There are several reasons for this:

1. Their good works are not ultimately produced by themselves, from their own native power as creatures, but are produced by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That is, man's good works are ultimately gifts from God.  This would have been true even if Adam had persevered in the Garden of Eden, for even then all that he had was a gift from God.  This is true in an even more profound way for us fallen sinners.  From our own fallen, creaturely moral powers, the only thing that we can produce is sin (although we can still, at least in this life, also produce actions done from various natural affections which are not truly virtuous in the strict sense).  Not only do we not have goodness from ourselves absolutely and apart from God's gift, which would have been true also of Adam, but goodness is not even a part of our intrinsic created human nature since the Fall.  Goodness has to be given to us as a superadded gift of divine grace which comes from outside of us and overcomes our native sinfulness.  Since all our goodness and our good works are an unmerited gift from God, overcoming the demerit of our sins which do come from us by virtue of our native powers, any rewards given to our good works are also gifts of grace.  This is why Augustine famously said (I'm paraphrasing) that "when God crowns our works, he is crowning not our merits but his own gifts."  If someone gives me money freely, as a gift, and then I use that money to buy something, I cannot say in an ultimate sense that I earned my purchase by my own money.  Rather, the purchase itself was a gift to me, because it was the consequence of a gift.

2. Considering good works as actions performed by us and as offered up from us to God, there is a great disproportion between the good works and eternal life.  The merit of our act of offering good works to God must be measured by our worth or value as the individuals doing the offering.  But we are infinitely inferior to God in worth or value.  We are finite beings, and our finite act of offering good works to God cannot be compared to the infinite value of sharing in God's eternal life and blessedness.  Therefore, our good works cannot merit eternal life.

3. As sinners, we deserve eternal damnation.  Our sins are our own, produced by our own native powers and not at all a "gift" from God.  Our goodness and good works, on the other hand, as I've pointed out, are not ours intrinsically but are superadded gifts of God's unmerited grace.  Therefore, we cannot satisfy for the debt of our sins by offering up the good works that God has given to us.  To try to do this would be like robbing a grocery story and then trying to pay back what was stolen by borrowing more money from the store and then giving back the newly borrowed money.  By nature, we owe God righteous love and service.  Having utterly failed to give him what we owe him, and therefore stealing from him, through our sinful condition and acts, God has graciously given us the righteousness that we lack.  We cannot pay the debt of our own intrinsic lack of goodness by offering up to God a goodness that he himself has given us in response to that lack.  To put this another way, we owe God a goodness that is our own, and we cannot pay that debt by giving to God a goodness that is his and ours only as a free gift.

4. We must also note that our sins are infinitely heinous, deserving infinite punishment, because we have offended a being of infinite dignity and worth.  Our sins are aggravated by the fact that we, who are puny, finite beings, nothing in comparison to God, have insulted and offended a being who is infinitely great and infinitely greater than we are.  On the other hand, as I've pointed out, our good works, as coming from us finite beings, are of no worth at all compared to the glory of God, for the very same reason of God's being infinitely greater than us.  And here arises another reason why our good works cannot remove the debt of our sins--not only are our good works God's gift, but they are infinitely disproportionate to our debt.  Trying to make up for our sins by means of our good works is infinitely more absurd than trying to pay a debt of ten billion dollars by means of a penny.

5. Our goodness is never perfect, in two ways.  Considering the record of our whole life, there are sins as well as good works, so our overall record is imperfect.  Also, while we are in this life, we will never be morally perfect but will always be committing sins and therefore in need of fresh forgiveness.  In the judgment of God, therefore, looking strictly at our personal merits, our sins will always deserve eternal damnation and our good works will never be able to make up for them or merit for us eternal life, and therefore we must always be said in justice to merit eternal death and not eternal life.  In other words, if God were to judge our record as our record, to determine our own intrinsic merits, our mix of goodness (coming from the Spirit as a gift of God) and wickedness (coming from our own intrinsic powers as fallen creatures) would amount to a record that cannot stand the severity of God's judgment but deserves eternal damnation and not eternal life.

All of these reasons why our good works cannot merit eternal life are mentioned or alluded to in the Westminster Confession's statement on good works I quoted above and in pretty much all the classic Protestant theological accounts of this subject.

However, as I said earlier, we must distinguish between our good works in terms of the merit they accrue to us considered as offerings from our fallen finite persons to God on the one hand, and the intrinsic nature of the goodness of those works on the other considered in themselves.  The Confession gets at this distinction when it says that "as they [that is, our good works] are good, they proceed from His Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, etc."  As the fruit of the Holy Spirit, applying the merits of Christ to us internally, our regenerated nature and the good works that it produces are truly good, truly pleasing to God.  They are not sinful.  Here is how Francis Turretin, the great 17th century Reformed theologian, put it:

X. That the works of believers are truly good is proved: (1) because they are not performed only with the general concourse of God, but by a special motion and impulse of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of believers and excites them to good works. Hence these works are usually ascribed to him as the primary cause (Ezk. 36:27; Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:9, 10; Phil. 1:6; 2:13). Nor are they done only by the Holy Spirit exciting and impelling, but also by the qualities of infused grace mediating (which overcome the order of nature). Hence Paul ascribes all his works to the grace of God (I Cor. 15:10) and Christ asserts that we can do nothing without him (Jn. 15:5). Now what is produced by the Spirit and the grace of Christ must be truly good. Nor does the flesh, which still remains in us, hinder this because its presence can indeed take away the perfection of sanctification, but not its truth.
   XI. (2) Such works please God; therefore they are truly good. For what is properly and by itself sin, cannot please him. The passages are obvious (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:4-6; 12:28; Rom. 12:1; 14:18; Phil. 4:18). I confess that the first cause of their acceptance is Christ, in whom we are pleasing to God (Eph. 1:6) because the person is rather pleasing to God and is reconciled to him by the Mediator. In this sense, God is said to have had respect to Abel rather than to his sacrifice (Gen. 4:4). But this does not hinder God from being pleased with the works also, on account of the true goodness which occurs in them (flowing from the regeneration of the heart and the restoration of the divine image). For wherever God beholds his own likeness, he deservedly loves and holds it in honor. Thus not without a cause is the life of believers (regulated according to holiness and righteousness) said to please him.
   XII. (3) A reward is promised to them, which could not be done if they were not truly good. For although works have nothing in themselves which can deserve and obtain such a reward (which on this account is merely gratuitous, as will soon be shown), still they have a certain ordination and aptitude that they are ordained to a reward, both from the condition of the worker, who is supposed to be a believer (i.e., admitted into the grace and friendship of God), and from the condition of the works themselves, which although not having a condignity to the reward, still have the relation of disposition required in the subject for its possession. This condition being fulfilled, the reward must be given as, it being withheld, the reward cannot be obtained. For as without holiness, no one shall see God and, unless renewed by water and the Spirit, cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:5; Heb. 12:14); so, holiness being posited, glory is necessarily posited from the inseparable connection existing between them.
XIII. Our affirmation that all works (even the best) are not free from sin in this life does not destroy the truth of the good works of believers because although we affirm that as to mode they are never performed with that perfection which can sustain the rigid examination of the divine judgment (on account of the imperfection of sanctification), still we maintain that as to the thing they are good works. And if they are called sins, this must be understood accidentally with respect to the mode, not of themselves and in their own nature. So there always remains a difference between the works of the renewed and the unrenewed. The latter are essentially and specifically evil and so destitute of those circumstances and conditions which are requisite to the essence of a good work (which accordingly are only good as to sight and appearance). On the other hand, the former are essentially good works because they have all things from which the goodness of an action results and so are truly and not apparently such (although as to degree they may fail and have blemishes mixed up with them).  (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, Eleventh Through Seventeenth Topics, trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994], 708-709.)

I particularly like these sentences:  "But this does not hinder God from being pleased with the works also, on account of the true goodness which occurs in them (flowing from the regeneration of the heart and the restoration of the divine image). For wherever God beholds his own likeness, he deservedly loves and holds it in honor. Thus not without a cause is the life of believers (regulated according to holiness and righteousness) said to please him."

It is like this:  Considered as to our own personal merits as finite, fallen creatures, we merit only eternal damnation and never eternal life for all the reasons I went through above.  But God, in his grace, imputes the righteousness of Christ to believers.  That is, the righteousness that is essentially Christ's by nature--his own moral character displayed in his own good works--is, by grace, transferred to us and declared ours by the declaration of God.  (Protestants call this "justification".)  As a result of this, the virtue of Christ's righteousness is infused into us by the power of the Holy Spirit, making us internally holy and enabling and causing us to produce truly good works.  (Protestants call this "sanctification".)  All of this happens because of our union with Christ through the Spirit and by faith.  By grace, God enables us to share in Christ's Sonship by adoption.  (This is what the Confession and Turretin mean when they speak of our persons being accepted because of Christ--not that we ourselves are still morally ugly and God looks at Christ instead of us, but that we have been declared children of God by God's grace through our union with Christ and thus are accepted by him as such, and therefore by grace our offerings of good works to God become accepted as the offerings of the children of God instead of merely the offerings of fallen, finite creatures, making those offerings infinitely more valuable to him.)

Because the work of the Spirit in us, and the fruit it produces, is an effect of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, the whole thing is a free gift and gives us no personal merit, and yet the holiness that the Spirit produces in us is truly good and holy, and makes us truly good and holy in our internal nature, and the good works that are produced from our Spirit-wrought holiness are truly good and holy works, truly pleasing to God and thus truly worthy of being rewarded by him with eternal life.  This is why the Confession, following Scripture, says that the "end" of our holiness and good works is "eternal life."  Eternal life is the fitting response of God to our good works, because they are truly good.  Turretin says the same when he says that "holiness being posited, glory is necessarily posited from the inseparable connection existing between them."  And as we have been declared the righteous children of God, our persons are given a value infinitely above what we would have merely by nature, and so the offering up of our good works to God is infinitely pleasing to him, thus warranting the response of eternal life.

So the idea that God cannot bear to look at us because we are forever morally ugly in his sight, and only accepts us because Christ is standing in front of us blocking us from view, is a caricature of the Reformed view.  The Reformed view, rather, holds that God can look directly at us as his beloved and righteous children, pleased with and delighting in the beauty of our holiness and good works, produced by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never say that we deserve to stand in God's sight and be accepted by him as though we had earned this right through producing our own holiness from ourselves, but, as the ultimate fruit of God's free gift of salvation, we become truly pleasing to God and can enter into a true eternal relationship with him both in this life and throughout eternity.

UPDATE 1/22/15:  Here's the short version of the above:

The good works of believers are truly good because they are produced by the Holy Spirit.  They are truly pleasing to God.  And yet we cannot gain personal merit by means of them because they are gifts to us from God and thus not ours originally.  They are part of the package of salvation, which is given to us as a free gift through the merits and sacrifice of Christ.

UPDATE 1/22/15:  This article got posted to the Called to Communion website yesterday (comments #496-500 so far), and Bryan Cross over there gave some response to it.  A short conversation has been ensuing.  Bryan asserts that the Reformed view denies that good works are truly good.  Here is how he puts it:

God has only one moral standard, and that standard is absolute moral perfection. In the Reformed tradition all of our good works, even as regenerate, are as filthy rags in relation to that one perfect standard, because they are mixed with impurity. And there is no impurity so small or minute that the action does not deserve damnation, precisely because the action fails to conform perfectly to God’s one and only perfect moral standard.

So in Bryan's view, the Reformed position is that since our goodness is always mixed with badness in this life, and our overall record of actions will always be a mix of good and bad, therefore none of our good works actually qualify as a good work because they don't meet the required essential definition of "goodness" according to God's law, which is "absolute moral perfection unmixed with anything bad."

Here are some responses I've made to this so far:

The problem is that it is the not the case that the good and bad in the character of a moral life or even the character of a particular state of motivation during a particular time mixes thoroughly so as to entirely dilute the good, as if our sanctified state were like a chemical solution in which a solvent has dissolved a solute. Rather, it is more like oil and water, which can be mixed but which are always distinct. Similarly, believers do have truly good moral character, truly good motives, truly good actions, etc., and also truly bad ones. Sometimes more than one kind of motivation comes together at the same time or nearly the same time, but the good and bad are still distinct. The good is truly good, conforming perfectly to God’s law, while the bad is truly bad, breaking God’s law–just like when oil and water are mixed, the oil is truly oil, conforming to the essential definition of oil, and the water is truly water, conforming to the essential definition of water. 
There is nothing in Reformed thought that requires the “chemical solution view” of how good and bad mix in the believer and his works, and the Reformed insistence on the true goodness of the good works of believers (as contrasted with the not-strictly-speaking “good” works of the unregenerate) requires rather an “oil and water” view. 
When the Reformed say that our good works cannot “withstand the strict severity of God’s judgment” and cannot merit eternal life, they do not mean that our good works are not truly good. They make a distinction between the intrinsic and true goodness of good works on the one hand and the ability of those works to cause believers to personally merit salvation or satisfy for the personal demerit of their sins on the other. I discuss this distinction more thoroughly in my article. 
Briefly, another way of putting the last thing I said: 
When the Reformed say that our good works cannot “withstand the strict severity of God’s judgment,” the question has to be asked, “withstand the severity of God’s judgment for what?” And the answer is not, “to meet the essential requirements to be truly good works,” but rather “to cause believers to merit eternal life.” These are two distinct things. 
The goodness in the moral character of believers and their works truly conforms to God’s essential requirements as to what “moral goodness” really is, because it truly conforms perfectly to God’s law (this not being changed simply because badness also exists in our character and actions). But it doesn’t cause believers to gain personal merit for eternal life for various reasons (discussed in my article, for example).

And this:

Bryan, what I would say is that the good works of believers do meet the absolute perfection of God’s standard, because they are truly and fully good. As Turretin put it:  "But this does not hinder God from being pleased with the works also, on account of the true goodness which occurs in them (flowing from the regeneration of the heart and the restoration of the divine image). For wherever God beholds his own likeness, he deservedly loves and holds it in honor. Thus not without a cause is the life of believers (regulated according to holiness and righteousness) said to please him."
The bad works that we also do (sometimes bad works and good works even going together at the same time to make a more complex action) are truly bad, entirely breaking the law of God. Good works deserve God’s favor; bad works deserve God’s displeasure. 
In judging our personal merit, God takes more into consideration than simply whether or not our works are good works. You are confusing the question of whether our works are good with the question of whether our works give us personal merit. We Reformed affirm the former and deny the latter. Our good works do not fail to give us personal merit because they are not truly good, but because they are gifts and not ours intrinsically, etc. (I discuss this in depth in the article). 
Again, you are putting forward what I would call a “chemical solution” view of how God evaluates the goodness of works–God looks at our whole lives as a single unity, with the good and bad mixed together, and then declares the whole thing “bad” on the basis of his standard for “moral goodness” being a life of absolute moral perfection. But this is not the Reformed view. The Reformed view holds, rather, an “oil and water” view of the goodness of works, as is exhibited both in the Westminster Confession and in Francis Turretin. In that view, God evaluates our acts and motivations on a case-by-case basis, declaring what is good good and what is bad bad. It is true that he also declares that our bad works merit for us eternal death and our good works do not merit for us eternal life, so that in terms of personal merit we deserve hell and not heaven, but this is separate from the question of his evaluation of the goodness and badness of the individual acts themselves.

Thus, while we cannot gain personal merit for eternal life by our good works or the good moral character that is given to us in sanctification, yet that good moral character and the works that flow from it are truly good and pleasing to God.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Christianity is the True Myth

One of the things that has always been an important part of my view of the nature of the world, and of the world as Christian, at least since I have been a Christian, is the idea of Christianity as the True Myth.  We humans are made in the image of God, and the things that we create reflect that image, including our literature and our stories.  In our stories, in which there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, we often manage to portray, in a microcosm, to some limited degree, the true story of history as written by God.  That is, our stories, as we pour into them our own intuitions coming from the image of God inside of us--from our reason, our feelings, our imagination--come to reflect to a limited and imperfect degree the fundamental themes of history as written by God.  In our stories, there is purpose, there is good, there is evil, there is a battle between good and evil, and there is the ultimate victory of good, often coming at the very moment when evil seems strongest (this moment J. R. R. Tolkien called the "eucatastrophe").  We infuse beauty into our stories, just as we do into our other forms of creation (music, art, architecture, etc.)  We capture the character traits of virtue, and of wickedness.  We often manage to portray the fact that good wins by coming down into the mass of evil and overcoming it from within, just at the point when it seems as if it will be overcome by it (pointing to the cross of Christ).

This is one of the main reasons, I believe, we are drawn to stories.  We see in them glimpses of the Ultimate Reality.  Similarly, we are drawn to other human creations, such as music and art; we see in them glimpses of True Beauty.  Of course, great caution is necessary at this point.  There is a temptation to idolatry that accompanies these things, for obvious reasons, just as there is a temptation to idolatry involved in all manifestations of beauty and truth in this world (whether we find it in the natural creation or in those things created by man).  We should not throw out all finite manifestations of truth and beauty or fail to appreciate them as gifts from God simply because of the danger of idolatry that accompanies them, but we must tread with great care.  (Acts 14:11-18; Psalm 19:1.)  On a similar note, we must remember that human stories, as productions of man made in God's image but also of man as fallen, can contain both truth and error, goodness and wickedness.  A story can bring out more clearly the truth, but it can also be used to give a false beauty and appearance of truth to wickedness and error.  The same can be said for other human artistic creations.  We must "Prove all things," and "hold fast that which is good," as the Apostle says (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Our ability to create is a gift of God, for which we must be grateful, but we must use and appreciate it with care and intelligence, by the grace of God.

I said above that I have long thought of Christianity as the True Myth.  What I mean by that is that Christianity is the truth of reality that all the truth and beauty hidden in our humanly-created stories point to.  Richard Dawkins, the famous Atheist, in his book River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1995, pp. 131-132), has famously described his view of the world in this way:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

But human stories confront us with the fact that this is not the way the world really is at all.  An Atheist must see the world in this way, for he wants to reduce all mind to mindless matter, thereby destroying any idea of ultimate purpose, beauty, or goodness.  Intuitively, we are aware that this is false, and that the elements involved in personhood are more fundamental parts of ultimate reality than mindless matter.  Intellectually, our intuitions in this area can be proven (see my attempt to prove this, along with the rest of Christianity, in Why Christianity is True).  Stories have a way of inflaming our true intuitions in this area, because they present such a compact, forceful glimpse of those facts of reality that Atheism is all about denying.  Our human stories, therefore, have a natural power to point us beyond this world and to the Triune Personal God, to Christ and the Incarnation, to the cross and the resurrection, and to history as God's purposes unfolded, because in Christianity only do we find the full fulfillment of those things that we glimpse in our stories.

This idea of Christianity as the True Myth came to me to a great extent through the writings of two famous Christian writers--C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.  Therefore, below I have selected three readings--one from J. R. R. Tolkien, one from C. S. Lewis, and one from a biography of Tolkien discussing Tolkien's and Lewis's friendship.  I think these selections shed a lot of light on what I've been talking about (though, as should go without saying, this doesn't mean I agree with every single thing they have to say or all their ways of putting what they have to say).

From "On Fairy-Stories", by J. R. R. Tolkien (Taken from The Tolkien Reader [New York: Ballantine Books, 1966], pp. 70-73):

This "joy" which I have selected as the mark of the true fairy-story (or romance), or as the seal upon it, merits more consideration.
    Probably every writer making a secondary world, fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details)(40) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it.  If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: "inner consistency of reality," it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality.  The peculiar quality of the "joy" in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.  It is not only a "consolation" for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, "Is it true?"  The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): "If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world."  That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist).  But in the "eucatastrophe" we see a brief vision that the answer may be greater--it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.  The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue.  It is a serious and dangerous matter.  It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.
    I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature.  The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories.  They contain many marvels--peculiarly artistic,(41) beautiful, and moving: "mythical" in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.  But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation.  The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history.  The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.  This story begins and ends in joy.  It has pre-eminently the "inner consistency of reality."  There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.  For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation.  To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
    It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be "primarily" true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed.  It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown.  The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the "turn" in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth.  (Otherwise its name would not be joy.)  It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe.  The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous.  But this story is supreme; and it is true.  Art has been verified.  God is the Lord, of angels, and of men--and of elves.  Legend and History have met and fused.
    But in God's kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small.  Redeemed Man is still man.  Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.  The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the "happy ending."  The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.  So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.  All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

From Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter (New York: Ballantine Books, 1977), pp. 163-165:

    Usually his discussions with Tolkien took place on Monday mornings, when they would talk for an hour or two and then conclude with beer at the Eastgate, a nearby pub.  But on Saturday 19 September 1931 they met in the evening.  Lewis had invited Tolkien to dine at Magdalen, and he had another guest, Hugo Dyson, whom Tolkien had first known at Exeter College in 1919.  Dyson was now Lecturer in English Literature at Reading University, and he paid frequent visits to Oxford.  He was a Christian, and a man of feline wit.  After dinner, Lewis, Tolkien, and Dyson went out for air.  It was a blustery night, but they strolled along Addison's Walk discussing the purpose of myth.  Lewis, though now a believer in God, could not yet understand the function of Christ in Christianity, could not perceive the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  He declared that he had to understand the purpose of these events--as he later expressed it in a letter to a friend, 'how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now--except in so far as his example could help us'.
    As the night wore on, Tolkien and Dyson showed him that he was here making a totally unnecessary demand.  When he encountered the idea of sacrifice in the mythology of a pagan religion he admired it and was moved by it; indeed the idea of the dying and reviving deity had always touched his imagination since he had read the story of the Norse god Balder.  But from the Gospels (they said) he was requiring something more, a clear meaning beyond the myth.  Could he not transfer his comparatively unquestioning appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story?
    But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.(1)
    No, said Tolkien, they are not.
    And, indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out a different line of argument.
    You call a tree a tree, he said, and you think nothing more of the word.  But it was not a 'tree' until someone gave it that name.  You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course.  But that is merely how you see it.  By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them.  And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.
    We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.  Indeed only by myth-making, only be becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.  Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
    In expounding this belief in the inherent truth of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the centre of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of The Silmarillion.
    Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said.  You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened?  In that case, he said, I begin to understand.
    At last the wind drove them inside, and they talked in Lewis's rooms until three a.m., when Tolkien went home.  After seeing him out into the High Street, Lewis and Dyson walked up and down the cloister of New Buildings, still talking, until the sky grew light.
    Twelve days later Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves:  'I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ--in Christianity.  I will try to explain this another time.  My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.'
    Meanwhile Tolkien, invigilating in the Examination Schools, was composing a long poem recording what he had said to Lewis.  He called it "Mythopoeia', the making of myths.  And he wrote in his diary:  "Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual--a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher--and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.'"

From Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C. S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc.), pp. 234-236:

    Thus my churchgoing was a merely symbolical and provisional practice.  If it in fact helped to move me in the Christian direction, I was and am unaware of this.  My chief companion on this stage of the road was Griffiths, with whom I kept up a copious correspondence.  Both now believed in God, and were ready to hear more of Him from any source, Pagan or Christian.  In my mind (I cannot now answer for his, and he has told his own story admirably in The Golden String) the perplexing multiplicity of "religions" began to sort itself out.  The real clue had been put into my hand by that hard-boiled Atheist when he said, "Rum thing, all that about the Dying God.  Seems to have really happened once"; by him and by Barfield's encouragement of a more respectful, if not more delighted, attitude to Pagan myth.  The question was no longer to find the one simply true religion among a thousand religions simply false.  It was rather, "Where has religion reached its true maturity?  Where, if anywhere, have the hints of all Paganism been fulfilled?"  With the irreligious I was no longer concerned; their view of life was henceforth out of court.  As against them, the whole mass of those who had worshiped--all who had danced and sung and sacrificed and trembled and adored--were clearly right.  But the intellect and the conscience, as well as the orgy and the ritual, must be our guide.  There could be no question of going back to primitive, untheologized and unmoralized, Paganism.  The God whom I had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous.  Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream.  Where was the thing full grown? or where was the awakening? . . . I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths.  They had not the mythical taste.  And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion--those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them--was precisely the matter of the great myths.  If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this.  And nothing else in all literature was just like this.  Myths were like it in one way.  Histories were like it in another.  But nothing was simply like it.  And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato's Socrates or Boswell's Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann's Goethe or Lockhart's Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god.  But if a god--we are no longer polytheists--then not a god, but God.  Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man.  This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy."  It is the summing up and actuality of them all.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Steven D. Smith on "Smuggling"

Below is an excerpt by one of my favorite authors, Steven D. Smith, from his book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), from pp. 26-33 (endnote numbers in parentheses--because I don't know how to make them look endnote-number-ish in this blog).  Smith is a law professor at the University of San Diego.  His works show a remarkable ability to scrutinize modern secular concepts and show their frequently question-begging nature.  (For example, see this article attacking the concept of legal religious neutrality and this article examining the emptiness of the famous "Harm Principle" as it is used in law.)  Dr. Smith's books can be found here, and a list of free online articles can be found here.

In this excerpt, Dr. Smith reveals how loaded terms and ideas are often used in modern social-political discourse to "smuggle in" substantive ideas without having to acknowledge their sources or argue for them substantively.  He examines briefly the concepts of "freedom," "equality," and "reciprocity" (the idea that we should treat others as we would like to be treated) and points out how they can be used and often are used to "smuggle."

(Reprinted by permission of the publisher from THE DISENCHANTMENT OF SECULAR DISCOURSE by Steven D. Smith, pp. 27-33, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.)

   Such smuggling is, I happen to think, ubiquitous in modern public discourse.  Some of it is small scale and idiosyncratic--the work of random discursive privateers (like, say, Ayn Rand).  Much of it occurs under the auspices of large and powerful families of terms, concepts, and rhetorical tropes.  As it happens, in the public discourse of present-day America, we have two dominant normative families--not the Corleone and Tattaglia families, but rather the autonomy-liberty-freedom family and the equality-neutrality-reciprocity family.  These powerful and eminently respectable normative families do a great deal of legitimate business, for which we may all be grateful--I certainly am--but they also run extensive smuggling operations.  (Sometimes the two families team up for these purposes, as in the Eisgruber-Sager "Equal Liberty" principle, which we will bump into in Chapter 4.)
    I am far from the first to observe the workings of these operations.  Take the autonomy-liberty-freedom family.  "Freedom" is a term that inspires respect, even reverence.  In the abstract, everyone admires it: who goes around proclaiming, "I'm against freedom"?  (Not me, certainly.)  And no doubt a vast amount of good has been accomplished under the banner of freedom.  Consequently, there is ample scope for advocates to wrap their favored agendas in the flag of freedom.  But, of course, there are different kinds or conceptions of freedom: "negative" versus "positive" freedom, "individual" versus "civic" or "political" freedom.  Moreover, an expansion of one person's freedom often means a contraction of other people's freedom: if we recognize and protect the freedom of the pornographer to market pornographic materials, we simultaneously reduce the freedom of people to live and raise their children in a pornography-free community.  Hence, appeals to "freedom" can easily be--and often are--question-begging: freedom becomes an honorable label used to smuggle in an advocate's particular agenda or conception of what is good and valuable.
    In this vein, reviewing a history by Eric Foner of the various uses of "freedom" in American politics, Michael Klarman comments that "by demonstrating the infinite contestability and malleability of freedom, Foner has proven that the concept does no serious work in the various debates in which it is invoked."
This is not to say, of course, that all arguments about freedom are equally convincing.  It is to say that the reason some such arguments are more persuasive than others has nothing to do with their merit as arguments about freedom, but rather is attributable to the attractiveness of the substantive cause on behalf of which they are mustered.(70)
And Klarman concludes that
[f]reedom . . . is an empty concept.  To say that one favors freedom is really to say nothing at all.  As is so often the case in constitutional law, one ultimately cannot avoid taking a position on the merits.  Whether freedom is good or bad depends entirely on the particular substantive cause on behalf of which freedom is invoked.(71)
    To be sure, theorists and advocates attempt to supply substantive criteria to fill in this emptiness.  Probably the most powerful and persuasive such filler, at least in Anglo-American discourse, has been the famous "harm principle" proposed by John Stuart Mill.  We will look at that principle more closely in a later chapter, and we will see that to a large extent, the principle has served as an immensely effective vehicle for . . . smuggling.
    Or consider the equality family, which in recent decades seems to have muscled aside even the venerable freedom family at the center of American public discourse.  More than a quarter century ago, Peter Westen published an article called "The Empty Idea of Equality" in the Harvard Law Review.(72)  Westen's basic point was simple: as a normative value, equality is a formal notion, meaning simply that "like cases should be treated alike" and "unlike cases should not be treated alike."  Those propositions are hardly controversial; what is controversial is whether particular instances actually are alike in relevant respects.  That question cannot be answered by invoking equality, however, but only by reflecting on the substantive values or criteria that apply or should apply to a particular issue.  Blind people are like those who are not blind for some purposes (voting, for example) because blindness is not relevant to the substantive criteria governing voting.  But blind people are unlike those who are not blind for other purposes (for example, driving a car) because ability to see is relevant to the substantive criteria that govern the ability to drive.
    Westen suggested that if we know what the relevant substantial criteria are, we do not need the idea of equality; we can simply treat each case as the relevant substantive criteria dictate.  We do not need to insist on treating the blind and the sighted "equally"; if we simply determine the appropriate criteria for voting eligibility and for drivers' licenses and apply these criteria consistently, then without ever intoning the word we will ipso facto be treating these groups as equality requires.  Conversely, if we do not know what the relevant substantive criteria are, the idea of equality is no help, because we have no way of determining whether particular instances are relevantly like or unlike.  "So there it is," Westen concluded:
Equality is entirely "circular."  It tells us to treat like people alike; but when we ask who "like people" are, we are told they are "people who should be treated alike."  Equality is an empty vessel with no substantive moral content of its own.  Without moral standards, equality remains meaningless, a formula that can have nothing to say about how we should act.  With such standards, equality becomes superfluous, a formula that can do nothing but repeat what we already know.(73)
    Westen's conclusion may have overreached in some respects, as his critics argued.(74)  But a mildly more modest conclusion seems sound, and also tremendously important:  in any genuine controversy, the notion of "equality" cannot carry us far toward any particular resolution.  If there is sincere disagreement about, say, whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, then insisting on "equality" is merely a distraction (albeit a polemically potent one, as we have recently observed).  More generally, when we observe an advocate placing a great deal of weight on "equality," we have cause to suspect that something sneaky is going on.
    Westen's article has been widely discussed, and most legal scholars will purport to acknowledge the central point.  Moreover, advocates typically understand that they must say something about the substantive criteria or values they are invoking.  Yet it remains common to observe even the most prominent and sophisticated theorists and advocates today featuring appeals to equality as their central discursive strategy on a whole range of issues, from same-sex marriage to religious freedom to free speech to just about any major issue you can name.  And whenever we observe this strategy in action, we have reason to suspect that the real operative values are being smuggled in--or at least heavily subsidized--under the auspices of the venerable family of "equality."
    Or if "equality" happens to be indisposed, the close family relations of "neutrality" or "reciprocity" can often be employed to do the same work.  Consider J├╝rgen Habermas's claim that a "universal" ground for religious toleration (as opposed to more local and prudential grounds) can be found in the idea of reciprocity.  Citing Pierre Bayle's classic argument, Habermas argues that reciprocity precludes Christians from forbidding Muslim proselytizing in Christian Europe while at the same time objecting to the suppression of Christian evangelization in Japan.(75)  To those of us for whom a constitutional commitment to religious toleration has become close to axiomatic, this argument is likely to pass without objection.  Of course religious toleration is a good thing--who today worth paying attention to doubts this?  So a denial of toleration would be a clear violation of reciprocity.  Wouldn't it?  And wouldn't it seem merely churlish, and maybe a bit medieval, to quibble with Habermas's argument?
    So then did the people in premodern Europe who resisted religious toleration--the Thomas Mores, the John Calvins--somehow fail to grasp or accept the idea of "reciprocity"?  Not at all.  Or at least they need not have opposed the idea.  Rather, they might cheerfully acknowledge the legitimate demands of "reciprocity," and they might further concede that, if Christianity, Islam, and, say, Shintoism are relevantly similar, then if Christians expect to be permitted to evangelize in territories dominated by Islam or Shinto, they likewise ought to allow representatives of those religions to proselytize in Christendom.  But that premise--namely, that these religions are relevantly similar--is precisely what the premodern believers emphatically denied.  In their view, one of the religions leads to salvation, while the others lead to damnation: that is hardly equivalence.  And what could be more perverse than to insist that reciprocity requires truth to be treated in the same way as falsehood?  It is as if a student were to argue, on grounds of reciprocity, that if the school gives credit for true answers on a test it must give equal credit for false answers.
    To be sure, even the most devout adherents to the different religions might acknowledge that the religions are similar in the sense that their own followers believe them to be true.  But is that similarity dispositive for the question of reciprocity?  Well, it may be, if we assume, for instance, that belief, not actual truth (or salvific efficacy), is the relevant factor.  And that assumption may seem natural enough--even obvious--to, say, a modern skeptic who supposes that none of the faiths is actually true in any strong sense anyway, or that in any event their truth in unknowable to us.  Conversely, to a premodern true believer--to a Thomas More, once again, or a John Calvin--that assumption would likely seem as odd as would a claim by a failing student that since all humans (including teachers) are fallible, what should matter in determining grades is not whether the answers on an exam are actually correct (about which we can never be absolutely confident anyway) but whether the student sincerely believed those answers.
    We need not take sides in this particular disagreement here.  The crucial point is simply that the division between partisans and opponents of religious toleration is not over the obligation of reciprocity--both sides may happily and wholeheartedly embrace that idea--but over whether reciprocity should be keyed to truth or instead to something like sincere belief.  Piously insisting on "reciprocity" only serves to conceal that fundamental disagreement.  Consequently, upon hearing the Habermasian argument (or similar arguments made by Rawls(76) or any number of other advocates), the opponents of religious toleration might say just what Dworkin says of public intellectuals today, and what Priel says of Dworkin:  "You purport to be offering an argument, but in fact you aren't.  You are simply begging the question, and your 'argument' is just a way of packaging the problem so as import--to smuggle in--the conclusion you were determined from the outset to reach."

For more, see here and here.