Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheap vs. Costly Grace

Cheap grace does not demand anything from us. Costly grace demands everything from us. "Cheap grace," Bonhoeffer writes, "is the grace we bestow on ourselves." (The Cost of Discipleship, 44). Cheap grace remains very common--it is the one error which is common to all the churches I have visited in the town I am currently in. It is a grace which does not save from sin. Bonhoeffer:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. (ibid., 45)
 Cheap grace is not always accompanied by an attitude which allows everything to remain as it was, though Bonhoeffer seems to focus on that sort. It is sometimes accompanied, instead, by leaving the removal of sin up to the sinner, rather than up to grace.
That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. (ibid., 44)
This is what happens when we leave by grace alone at the entryway into the Christian life, and do not bring it through the whole of life in Christ.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:2-6)
Here we see that we not only enter into Christ, but continue in him by faith. Thus, we are not only justified by faith, but also sanctified by faith. Our good works, which we are called to walk in, are not works according to the law, but according to grace--we do them, now, through the Spirit of God and not by our own power. Thus our good works are not ours, but the result of our union with Christ by faith.

Cheap grace says that we are okay. Costly grace denies this, instead it recognizes that we are sinful and calls us, graciously, to change, and in so calling us God empowers us to change. Preaching cheap grace only recognizes that we have been saved from the guilt of sin, but leaves us to live as if we were still under the power of sin. Costly grace commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, since it is no longer our power, but God's which acts in us to renew us into the image of his Son, whose image we truly bear.

Preaching of this kind reminds us who we are, that we are in Christ, and thus motivates us to good works--not by tricks of psychology, not by fear of earthly things, but from the love and fear of God almighty who saved us and is with us to purify us. Preaching of cheap grace leaves us where it found us: in the grip of sin. God's grace costs us our lives. Being a Christian involves the death of oneself. Preaching, therefore, cannot afford to leave us in the comfort of being in charge of our own sanctification, but must demand that God be granted authority--as he already truly has the authority--to work in us.

We like to work at our own sanctification, and we must work, but not as if it were up to us, and thus our failures are not our own. It is God who works in us, and it is therefore in him that we find the power to change. We do not change ourselves, but rather we are changed by gazing upon the lord our God. Our sanctification is accomplished by living before God. And this is not a work, but a joy, because we know that God is good.

Sanctification occurs because God is who he is. Salvation is the beginning of this, where we are made right in God's eyes by faith, that is, by trusting him. Sanctification is the continuation, or expansion of this trust, and the working out of this trust. When we preach as though we had to do good on our own, we deny the power of God, because we do not depend on God to work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We therefore must go to God for sanctification, not only to know what we ought to do, but to be enabled, indeed, impelled, to do it.

My conviction is that our sins are due to a lack of trust in God. We do not trust him because we do not know how good he is. We do not know how good he is because we do not seek him in his word and by prayer. Scripture is beautiful because God is beautiful, and we therefore see the beauty of God in Scripture. We are then moved to praise him and worship in every way: by prayer and by singing, but also by doing his will. And when we know who God is, that he is holy and powerful and righteous and loving and merciful and that he is with us, then we will see that, if God is for us--as he is--then we have nothing to fear. We will then act in the will of God more and more as we trust him more and more to take care of us and our concerns.

So long as we preach a "grace" which does not free people from their sins, we preach Godless works. So long as we preach works without the power of God, we preach guilt, law, death. Can this grace save? Can we depend on Christ for salvation from hell and reject his lordship in this life? And yet this is what this cheap grace does! For it denies the lordship of Christ by trying to sanctify the sinner by the power of the sinner, rather than by dependence on Christ, and it denies the authority of Christ to save from sin by refusing to let him save from the power of sin, and it removes Christ from the life of the sinner, despite what Christ said, "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) by leaving him out of salvation, as if he were far off. But our salvation, and so our sanctification, is always dependent on Christ's power, acknowledging his authority to work in our lives, and done in the presence of Christ, as we follow him as his disciples. It is necessary to return to Christ, then, for those who have turned to this cheap grace, lest they be rejected at that day and be among those who say to Christ
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christ crucified means that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins, and he did not do the job halfway, but when he died cried out, "it is finished!" That is, sin is killed. Not only are we freed from the guilt of sin as it was killed on the cross, but we are also freed from the power of sin, since it is dead and cannot, therefore, do anything. We are in Christ. Therefore, sin is dead to us, and we are dead to sin. This does not mean that we may continue in sin, but that, to us, it is as though sin were not there to be lived in--insofar as we do live in sin, we live in a past which is fading away. We are called out of darkness and into light because we are now children of the light: it is where we belong.

To preach a grace which addresses only the guilt of sin is therefore to deny that we are united into Christ's death. To try to be perfected "by the flesh" is foolish. We have the Spirit of God who is far more powerful, and is willing--even eager--to perfect us.

Turn, then, churches! Return to Christ and be freed!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Time: A vs B

The B-Theory holds that moments are ordered only by being before and after other moments in time. The A-Theory holds that moments also have temporal properties: pastness, presentness, and futurity. Note, then, that both A-Theory and B-Theory hold that moments are ordered identically, but A-Theory holds that there are temporal properties, i.e., that it makes a difference to the nature of a moment whether it is past, present, or future. Thus, a moment in time moves through time from being future, to being present, to being past. The problem is that for change to happen requires time. So, if A-Theory is true, then a moment in time changes from being future to being present. It does so in time, however, which it partly constitutes. This is a difficult topic to untangle, I think, due to A theorists being in a tangled theory.

Given the A-Theory, for a moment to be future, it must be future to us, now. The idea is that there is only one “now” which changes. It refers to the one moment which has the property of being present. That moment changes every moment, however. So, what happens when a moment loses the property of being future and gains that of being present? Well, just that. When does that happen? Just before that moment becomes now. When is that? What moment is that? There is no moment, except itself. This is the problem with the A-theory: it tries to allow for change in time itself. Time is the medium in which things change, however. This is related to the joke about time passing at the rate of 1 second/second. Time travel is inherently unit-less, since the units of time cancel out.

Okay, let’s back away from this for a moment and consider God. Some people believe that God was once outside of time, atemporal, and then became temporal. This means that he was once omni-present temporally, but no longer is. Thus, once he was at all times, but now he is not. How could this work? In what medium does this change take place? If it takes place in time, then God’s being in the future changes from being true to being false when he changes from being atemporal to being temporal. But he already was in the future. How can he change from being in the future to not being there? If we considered the future it as a location which someone could move in and out of, then it would be fine, but note that a person moves in and out of a room over time. There is nothing to distinguish the future where God is and the one where he is not: he once was in the future, but now is not. This might make sense if we had reached the future, but the premise is that it doesn’t matter when we are, God was still in the future once, but not anymore.

The same problem of change over time exists for moments as for God. When was the moment future? At any prior moment. When was it past? At any moment which comes after it. When was it present? At that very moment. Thus, from any moment, from its perspective it is present, which is what the B-theorist says, but the A-theorist says that moments change from having one temporal property to another. The problem is that moments, by their very nature, are the building blocks of time, and so a change to them is a change to time, or to the timeline. So, suppose there are four moments: A, B, C, and D. We begin at A. A is present, and the rest are future. Then we go on to B. A is now past, B is present, and C and D are both future. What changed? Did time change? Or did our position in time change? The B-theorist will claim the latter, but the A-theorist claims the former: that time changed. A change occurred to time. However, this change must occur timelessly. Since it is a change to time, it cannot also be a change which took place over the course of time. To refute this claim would be required to show that the A-theory is coherent. To prove this claim would prove that the A-theory is incoherent.

For time to change over time requires a time which time can change over. If time changes over a different time, then we will have to explain that time in the same way. If time changes over itself, on the other hand, then it faces the problem which an atemporal God becoming temporal faces: when was it what? That a moment was future, until itself, means that it either is always future--since that is the state of time--or never future--for the same reason. We could not notice a change in time over time, since the change would have to have occurred by that time. To note a change in time--that it is then then, and now now, and now was future then--is simply to notice that time exists, and is ordered in a certain way, completely consistent with the B-Theory--which is not to notice a change in anything.

Perhaps I will make another attempt later at making this comprehensible. As it stands, this post is hard for me to understand. The entire question of A-Theory vs. B-Theory, it seems to me, must rest on some kind of misunderstanding, but I do not know what that misunderstanding is.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Foreknowledge and Libertarian Freedom: The Self-Reference Problem

I have held a certain argument against the compatibility of libertarian free will and exhaustive divine foreknowledge which I thought I saw a way out of recently, but in writing this post discovered that the “way out” was susceptible to a modified version of the same argument.

The argument is as follows: if God has complete divine foreknowledge, then for God to do otherwise than he does would involve God causing his beliefs about the future to have been false (and thus, not knowledge). Thus, God could not choose to do otherwise than he does while retaining his complete foreknowledge. To put it another way: God’s complete foreknowledge includes foreknowledge of things which God does. Given that God knows what he will do, he must do that which he knows he will do, and so does not have libertarian free will.

The above argument works as is, however, only if God acts temporally. That is, if God’s actions follow each other in time, and are done in response to other temporal events, as is the case with our actions. If, on the other hand, God acts once, or all at one moment from his perspective, then it is possible for him to have libertarian free will with respect to his actions.

If God’s actions are temporal, then when God acts he already has the knowledge of what he is about to choose to do. He cannot, therefore, act otherwise. If God’s actions are done all at once, along with his knowing the future, then his actions may be libertarianly free. This requires more than just God’s acting in a moment, however. If God acts all in a moment, but foreknows in a prior moment, then the problem remains. If God acts without foreknowledge, then he effectively acts blindly. It is necessary, therefore, if we are to retain both God’s libertarian freedom and his foreknowledge, that God act in light of his foreknowledge of what will happen under certain circumstances. He then acts all in a moment choosing what he will do. Having done so, he may as well have complete divine foreknowledge, but it cannot affect what he does, since he has already acted. He may, in his actions, know what set of actions he is choosing and thus what the future will be, and may therefore perform each action in light of all the other actions which he is performing, and this, it seems to me, is as close to complete divine foreknowledge as we can get while retaining God’s libertarian free will—and is close enough for me (not that I endorse the position, given that I don’t actually believe that God has libertarian free will).

This counter, which I believe is a variety of Molinism, is supposed to allow for God having libertarian free will, but it is unclear as of yet whether it falls to the same argument as I started with if we modify the argument a little.

The problem is that Molinism requires God to have knowledge of what people will freely choose under certain conditions. If this includes God, then he has knowledge of what he will, in fact, do, and so is no longer libertarianly free. If it does not include God, then the question is why not? It cannot be due to the fact that his circumstances do not exist, or are unknown, since God, at least, could rigorously specify his circumstances which we have vaguely specified as choosing between various actions. If there is some fact as to what God will do in these circumstances, then, having complete foreknowledge of what would happen in various circumstances, i.e., knowledge about all facts about what will happen or be done under any possible circumstance, God will know what God will do under the circumstance at hand. Thus, even if God’s foreknowledge is limited to what will happen under various circumstances, God is still caught in his foreknowledge such that he cannot have libertarian freedom.

The point of arguing against God’s libertarian freedom is that if God does not have it, we do not need it in order to be morally responsible, or for any other purpose. If God is good and not libertarianly free, then moral agency does not require libertarian free will, else God would need it in order to be good. At this point, I believe I have shown that the options for belief regarding libertarian freedom are:
  1. Open theist: deny divine foreknowledge, affirm libertarian freedom. 
  2. Determinist: affirm divine foreknowledge, deny libertarian freedom.
The question is which we should choose. The choice is unproblematic for me, since I do not see libertarian freedom as logically possible. Likewise, do not think that the A-theory of time, which open theism relies on, is logically coherent either (more on that in a later post).