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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Total Disappearing Act

The limitations of the Blogger platform became evident last week when the comments on IC’s post on the subject of Total Depravity started misbehaving.

Total Depravity ended like this:

I think we need a new term. “Total depravity” is a poor coinage, and terribly misleading, I think. I would opt for a biblical term instead. However, “dead” won’t do, unless we keep remembering that it’s a metaphor, not a total reality. The danger is that we will take that metaphor farther than the Bible takes it — which is an error comparable to adding or subtracting from scripture.

after which IC and Qman got into a lengthy exchange that Blogger truncated for us around the seventh comment. The original post and previous comments may still be read at the link above, but further comments (if there are any) may be made here.

For convenience, here are the portions of the exchange that are missing:

Posted by Immanuel Can at November 08, 2015 10:48 p.m.
"General graces," like "total depravity" is not a Scriptural term. It has this advantage over the latter, though, that it may be consonant with Scripture. However, we should be careful not to build too much out of any term man invents.

"Salvation" and "grace," are better than either of the former terms, in that they are fully Scriptural, and are thus a product of God speaking about God in words of His choosing, not merely of man attempting to describe what he thinks God's ways might be.

Now, that what man calls "general graces" may be reasons for mankind to be grateful to God is certain, although they are not sufficient to produce salvation, just as the Scripture actually says (Romans 1:21). Rather, they just multiply the reasons why God's judgment against such an attitude is perfectly fair and deserved, as again the Scriptures say (Romans 1:18-20). But general graces do not send mankind to Heaven. In fact, as you can see, the recipients in Romans 1 simply become more hard-hearted.

In contrast, saving grace (as in Romans 3:23-25) is specifically the unique product of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely of the experience of general kindnesses God shows to all men alike. Saving grace is also transformative, reconstituting people as children of God (1 John 3:1-2) and renewing the mind (Romans 12:1-2), so that thankfulness to the true Source for general graces becomes possible to us.

But general graces do not save. The Bible makes no such claim.

P.S. -- I'm not sure what your final claim entails, but I should point out two things: firstly, that the opposite of "dogmatic" is not "practical"; and secondly, that if we take the statement that "God wishes that none should perish" (which is a Scriptural truth) to imply that therefore none DO perish, we have contradicted Scripture. Not only that, but we have reimagined God as just as Deterministic as the Calvinist 'God,' but this time on the side of forced compliance instead of forced condemnation. In both cases, the free will of man has been steamrollered.

Posted by Qman at November 10, 2015 9:54 p.m.
Sorry about the mix up concerning who posted.

I understand your points, IC, but don't think they addressed what I meant to come across.

Let me restate then. What I suggest is that if you desire someone's friendship, or to maintain a friendship, it stands to reason that you treat them and the relationship well to produce that willingness to enter into and maintain that friendship. I therefore meant to imply that "general graces" serves that purpose. And, because of that attitude and treatment received through "general graces" one should hope for a potential for reciprocity, which can then lead towards an attitude deserving of "saving grace". I did not mean to imply that "general grace" constitutes "saving grace" but that it can be a precursor to it.

Further, since the process generated by "general grace" in the human soul and psyche does not come about by a dogmatic rule or behavior but by God's genuine charity and caring, it implies practicality (on God's part) since dogmatism is inherently inflexible and therefore impractical (in the wider context of saving a human soul).

Posted by Immanuel Can at November 11, 2015 7:16 a.m.
I don't think we're disagreeing at all that "general graces" are among the demonstrations of the love of God that should woo us to Him. I also don't think we're disagreeing that it can serve as a precursor or signpost to saving grace. The distinction I'm at pains to note is that they are not simply of-a-piece, with "general graces" simply precipitating us into saving grace.

"General graces" are just a way of saying "God is good," not "mankind is saved." As we saw in Romans, many -- in fact most -- of the beneficiaries of God's general graces harden their hearts and turn away from that (see also Matt. 18:13-14). So long as we're on the same page about that as well, I don't think we're disagreeing at all.

I remain unclear, however, about what you mean by opposing practicality with dogmatism. Definitionally, they're not opposites, for sure. And flexibility is surely not equivalent to practicality either, for things may be both flexible and impractical (consider, for example, an inconsistent referee at a sporting event), while a sort of "dogmatic" firmness with rules is sometimes practical (consider a judge who remains blind to race, colour, gender and creed when handing down his/her equitable judgments).

Of course, I'm not trying to defend any sort of dogmatism that is "inherently inflexible," as you put it, when it should not be -- who would? But I'm not sure what aspect or view of salvation you're calling "dogmatic" and what aspect or view you're wanting to say is "flexible" and "practical."

But if you want to clarify, I'm all ears.

Posted by Qman at November 11, 2015 12:47 p.m.
I am just making a general statement about dogmatism and its effects and have no specifics in mind concerning salvation other then assuming that God is not limiting our salvation based on a human penchant for, and understanding of, religious dogmatism.

That understanding is limited and can lead to problems. E.g., the judge in your example has a problem in that he is practical within a narrowly defined context of dogmatism. The context can of course be different, e.g., if he is a judge in the Third Reich. His flexibility in that case is narrow and limited by his constraints not to get himself into trouble. Therefore, once more, dogmatism reduces your flexibility. A reduction in flexibility reduces your available practical choices, e.g., letting a politically incorrect individual go free. I am convinced that God reserves for himself the greatest salvational options.
... and that brings us up to date. Carry on, gentlemen, should you so desire.


  1. Well, to continue the thought, I'd just add in response to Qman that God surely has no need of methodological "flexibility." Flexibility is a property human beings admire because they are contingent and not in control of things, and so may find it necessary to adapt to new realities that they could not foresee, and that suddenly and unexpectedly appear to change the equation. That surely never happens for God.

    Likewise, dogmatism would be bad for humans, since they do not know everything, and thus are in no position to be dogmatic about what they think they know. It seems unreasonable to suppose, however, that dogmatism would be anything but a positive virtue for God, since He always stands in perfect possession of the truth and never makes a doctrinal mistake. Thus He would always be right...and dogmatism is appropriate to absolute truth, surely.

    So I hold it far from obvious that we should be drawn to an account of God that requires Him to keep ""flexible" and maximize His "available practical choices" or worse, "get Himself into trouble" by being too "limited by his constraints." I submit to you that such an entity would surely not be God at all.

    1. IC, you are entirely correct in your assessment concerning God and his not requiring dogmatism of the human type but possessing perfect and infallible divine dogmatism. However, I did not refer to God's need or possession of dogmatism but to the fact that we as his creation, evidently, are endowed with a penchant for imperfect and possibly harmful dogmatism. I am comparing that to his divine charity and caring. Perhaps it would have been clearer if I had said "I am just making a general statement about HUMAN dogmatism ... ", and also "it implies practicality on God's part since HUMAN dogmatism is inherently inflexible ... ".

      I guess I assumed too much, namely that it is clear that I would not assume for God to share our imperfection.

  2. What confuses me about your explanation, Q, is that you explicitly say in your previous message, "God reserves for Himself the greatest salvational options." You say, "for Himself." That would seem to claim He needs options.

    I don't think He does. But perhaps you only misspoke or expressed yourself in a way you did not intend; and it would be churlish to hold you to your word if that's the case. You may clarify if you wish.

    Now, regarding human dogmatism, would we not also say that it was only "wrong" to the extent that it was distant to some degree from Divine knowledge? In other words, if a dogmatic person happened (even by accident, but certainly if by knowledge) to light upon exactly the same position as God holds, would we then fault him for dogmatism? That would seem unreasonable.

    Being dogmatic is wrong when we are wrong. But surely there's no gain in being either undogmatic or inflexible in those matters in which we are right, no? For in such cases, the dogmatism in question would be nothing other than God's own view of the situation.

    Again, then, dogmatism is only *sometimes* a vice, and flexibility is only *sometimes* a virtue. And there's no reason that God needs either -- especially in regard to salvation.

    1. God always has options, as a matter of fact must have (needs) options and also flexibility. How else can he reconcile himself to our free will granted by him. There would be no free will if God did not have or need options to deal with the result of our free will. So I think he does. I hope you are not suggesting a watchmaker or clockwork universe.

      With regard to dogmatism, it is generally perceived as wrong or at least unfavorable to be dogmatic. See the definitions of dogmatism from Merriam-Webster below.

      1. positiveness in assertion of opinion especially when unwarranted or arrogant

      2. a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises

      I was not even going that far as to imply dogmatism is wrongness but only implied that it results in restrictiveness and inflexibility. I am also not referring to individual isolated instances of actions under dogmatism, which can be right or wrong, but to dogmatism as a whole as an approach or philosophy that can lead to unfavorable results. Also, from a quantitative viewpoint, of course there are benefits (gains) to be had from being minimally dogmatic since that results in greater flexibility, which is my point. This does not imply anything about your choices and actions though since they will still be good, bad, or indifferent, except you have more choices. If one or some of your choices happen to coincide with a choice that is in agreement with God's position how would that randomness imply anything about God being dogmatic? That's a bit of a stretch. We are wrong or right not because of dogmatism but because of the choices we make under any system of dogmatism. So dogmatism itself is not a vice but can lead to vices by a person.

    2. No, that does not follow. "Non Sequitur," as we say in logic. The concept of human free will does not impinge on or violate the principle of Divine foreknowledge.

      Let me explain. The doctrine of foreknowledge (in distinction to Calvinism's Theological Determinism) says that God can *know* beforehand what we will do, but not thereby have to *make* us do it. It's just like I can *know* you will reply to this message, but even if I'm absolutely right about that, my knowing it does not *make* you do it. You could do otherwise if you wished: you just won't. :)

      So our free will does not imply that God will need to keep options open. In fact, that would postulate a finite God...more like Zeus or Poseidon than the God of the Bible. God does not react after-the-fact to whatever humans do; He is not subject to rules of time and space, so He knows the end from the beginning.

      As for dogmatism, I don't think we're disagreeing about its being a bad thing when humans do it, especially if it's done with arrogance or in an unwarranted way. When applied to humans, we agree that it usually carries those undesirable connotations, due to our finiteness. But the same statement that would be "dogmatic" in a human would be simply "truthful" if God were to make it. And if human statements coincide with God's truth, then there is no "dogmatism" at all on their part -- if, as you take to be the case, "dogmatism" entails "unwarranted" or "arrogant."

      So truthful statements can never be said to be "dogmatic" in your sense. Only erroneous statements can. Truth, whether spoken by God Himself, or when it coincides exactly with God's truth but is spoken by humans cannot, by definition, be "unwarranted" or "arrogant." Truth is its own justification.

      So it is not whether the thing said is singular, exclusive, firm or inflexible: it's whether it's truthful that matters.

      Moreover, if one knows the truth but "flexes" away from that, one is not simply becoming "more flexible": one is then become more dishonest and untruthful in precisely the same proportions as one is increasing "flexibility."

    3. Hmm, it seems you are indeed one of the few gifted individuals who can foretell the future, because you knew you could make me reply :/ .

      I see it a little differently though in that God has indeed options regarding us and yet still perfect foreknowledge. Foreknowledge implies that God can see what we might call timelines, but an option does not take up time or constitute a timeline it is simply a juncture where different timelines diverge (branch from) leading to different results. I also suggest that God can see or has knowledge of the timeline that would have occurred if a different option would have been chosen. As a matter if fact that ability would make him definitely even less finite in our estimation.

      So, let me give an example. Suppose God thinks I am a salvageable individual but I can potentially really mess things up by making wrong choices based on my free will. Let's suppose I approach such a potential juncture and God decides to take the option and intervene. He does so by having me slip on a banana peel and I am laid up for two weeks with a broken leg not being able to act stupidly. I certainly did not exercise my free will to slip on the banana peel and if I would have had the option I would have tried to avoid that. So God opted to protect my soul. Nevertheless, all along he had foreknowledge that such a timeline juncture would occur and that he would exercise this option. He of course did exercise his option because he had foreknowledge of the timeline that would have occurred had he not done so and he thought that one was not good for me. Bingo.

      The above seems to raise the point or complaint though that many people have, namely, "why doesn't God exercise his options more often to benefit us?" Undoubtedly the answer is that that would constitute total control, puppeteering on his part. The converse to that is not, however, that God never exercises his options and never interferes. If that was the case then why would we pray at all petitioning God to please go ahead and implement a beneficial option for the cause we pray for? None of that would detract from his perfect foreknowledge. The key question for us then becomes, how does God balance all that out for the billions of individuals? Evidently we refer to that as a mystery.

      With regard to dogmatism, I think we are talking past each other a bit. I don't consider dogmatism to be a bunch of statements but an actionable belief system that will, among others, elicit statements, action and inaction. All of those will be shaped by the type of dogmatism one adheres to. That dogmatism therefore affects the actionable space one has, which would tend to limit flexibility. Dogmatism can be based on incorrect or even deliberately untruthful premises but I am not equating dogmatism, which is just a bunch of words, itself with truthfulness or wrongness but deserve that for the one who issued the dogmatism and for those who fill that actionable space. Now truth can still be part of an untrue dogmatism because truth can come in parts. In that case a part truth may be used to deceive overall. I agree, of course, that truth is by definition in concord with God's will but it can also be misused. And by now I actually forgot what we are trying to figure out here.

    4. We were trying to discern whether being "flexible" and "undogmatic" were really virtues. (It seems you had suggested, or could be read to suggest, that God needed those things.)

      On dogmatism, you suggested that "unwarranted" and "arrogant" judgments were involved, and I said that if we accept that definition, then the term "dogmatic" doesn't apply to God's judgments, nor, for that matter, to judgments men make if they conform completely to God's judgments on a particular matter -- like, say, the means and terms of salvation. For truth cannot be "unwarranted." Nor can it be "arrogant" to affirm as true something that one knows absolutely for certain is true. So inasmuch as a human beings speaks the words of God, he/she is not being "dogmatic."

      As for "flexibility," we discovered in was never a virtue to attribute to God, since He has no need of flexibility, and "flexing" away from truth would not be something we should attribute to Him: it would mean dishonesty.

      I think that's basically it.