Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making fun of Jesus (and of others)

Remember this?

I take it that this topic – making fun of Jesus – is fitting for this time of the year, which is conventionally regarded as that time when attention is focused on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. During a part of the last earthly days of Jesus he was made fun of. But I confess that I have never heard a sermon or lecture on this theme, only ever a passing reference to the crown of thorns.

So reflecting on this at greater length is a fitting thing, and one that may have a certain freshness to it. And I would say a theme to be preferred to the more routine discourses on ‘the death of God’, which find their inspiration more from Nietzsche than from the New Testament. But I also think it is timely.  So I wish to link it to a topic of current interest, to freedom of expression and its limits.

The incident of the crown of thorns was part of the fun. The no doubt tedious lives of the battalion of soldiers were enlivened by a little pantomime they devised entitled ‘The king of the Jews’ and performed, fittingly enough, inside the palace, the governor’s headquarters. With the connivance of the powers that be, therefore.

‘The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself”. (Lk. 23.36-7). Another part of the game was to dress Jesus ‘in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns they put it on him’. So ironically they made Jesus the King of kings ‘play king’.  They began to salute him, ‘”Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.’ (Mark 15.17-20).

What did Jesus do in return? He endured the cross and despised the shame. Game over. Except that they fancied Jesus’ clothes and at the very end they raffled them. They don’t seem to have done the same with the purple cloak.  

All this is taken up by Peter in his first letter under the topic of ‘reviling’. Jesus was reviled, Peter says. But when he suffered, he did not threaten. But not just that. He did not try to get his own back. ‘When he was reviled he reviled not again’. We might say that ‘like a sheep that before its  shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’ Why was that? What did he keep silent? The answer must be that this was his way of showing that he was entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (I Pet. 2. 23f.)


But what has liberty to do with this? Some posts ago we looked at Calvin’s view of liberty. An important strand of his outlook which is often overlooked is that liberty according to Calvin is, of its very nature, two-way, what used to be called a liberty of indifference. Not merely freedom from, but freedom to and from. Calvin says that the liberty of regeneration, the bondage from which Christ has made us free, is to be part of our characters, our hearts. This freedom is not best expressed in the keeping of a law, a new law. (Incidentally, you’ll notice that in the passage mentioned above, Peter might have reminded his readers of the law’s golden rule, but instead his teaching has a distinctive NT, Christological, centre to it.) We are as a consequence of such liberation new men and women in Christ. We have no other destiny.

Yet, Calvin says, the obligations of the laws of whatever country we live in, in one or other of the passing kingdoms of this world, are nevertheless not optional, provided that the keeping of such laws does not force us to sin. Rather we are to internalize these laws, making the keeping of them a matter of conscience. Why? Because the state is the minister of God. It is interesting (to me at least) that Calvin believed that the church should not enact new laws, but that the state may, and perhaps must, in order to continue effectively to govern in new circumstances. Our conscience has to respect both activities. It ought to tell us not to obey what the church has no business to enact, but to obey new laws of the state.

But aside from these negative and positive attitudes to commandments, the Christian believer, and Christian citizens, have liberty. There are adiaphora, things indifferent. As I’m saying, I think that the word ‘indifferent’ brings out the character of Christian liberty better than the mere word ‘liberty’ does.  

Where we have such liberties, we may not take maximal advantage of them. Calvin was an advocate of Christian liberty, but he was not a liberty-maximiser. We might say, Calvin was not a libertarian, regarding liberty and its pursuit as the basic value. He was not an advocate of a minimal state, or such like. It was no part of his gospel. He wasn’t a one for advocating political change except insofar as the interests of the church were involved.

They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices….Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, and wine, are the good creatures of God, permitted, no destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present, and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. (Inst. III.19.9)

In view of what follows, it is important to stress that  Calvin is not a reliable guide to matters of toleration. He thought in a Constantinian way. The Reformed church was to have a specially privileged position because it was the magistrate’s duty to ensure that it alone enjoyed freedom, and to sanction the use of the civil law to silence those who deviated from Reformed orthodoxy, such as Jerome Bolsec and Michael Servetus, as fomenters of civil disorder.


But what of the liberty of those like the Roman soldiers, who made fun of ‘The King of the  Jews’? The question of freedom of speech in society exercises many at a time when political correctness has suddenly become the political orthodoxy. There are certain things you may not say, certain words that suddenly have become taboo, certain ideas that you may not air. Besides these, the exercise of traditional liberties are threatened from Islamic terrorists who at the drop of a hat will spray bullets at upholders of freedom of speech. In such circumstances it is tempting to defend such freedom in a retaliatory framework. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Here’s what I suggest. As a part of his general outlook to defend and uphold personal liberties, a Christian ought in to be an advocate of freedom of speech. He enjoys such liberties, and in equity others should enjoy them too. He should take this position knowing full well that his fellow-citizens will use these freedoms in a retaliatory manner, and so misuse them.

But though it is tempting for a Christian to join them, he may not go down that path. It is tempting to respond to Muslim violence with violent acts of one’s own. A Christian may hold that possessing political liberty he may fight fire with fire. But when Christ was reviled he did not revile in turn. That example should be sufficient. In the face of terrorism and its threats and bloody actions,  many make freedom of speech a social and political absolute. So they threaten Muslims, along with any one else they may feel inclined to target. Christians ought not to follow them, but to exercise restraint. Because Christians are made fun of, and feel the offensiveness of blasphemy and of lampooning, it is not a sign of weakness when they are not hurtful in return. It is a sign of strength.  When I am weak, then am I strong.

At this point Christians say (or they are told) that they should be prepared to laugh at themselves, or take a joke at one’s own expense. And I suppose that we all should do this, even desperately serious secularists, and desperately serious Christians, and weirdos of various hues.  It’s hard to keep a straight face, I know. But if people are genuinely hurt by opposition then Christians should not add to their hurt.

Paul’s conduct as an apostle went a step further: ‘When reviled, we bless, when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things’. (I Cor. 4.12-13) I suppose this response is part of not pronouncing judgment before the time. (I Cor. 4.5) Peter said as much. Jesus believed that now is not the time for judgment. His silence was ominous, though the soldiers did not think so. We are to entrust ourselves to him who judges justly. But in any case the exercise of such freedom is not an absolute right. Christians aren’t to be libertarians.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Amyraut one more time

Saumur Academy, where Amyraut taught, was suppressed by royal edict in 1685. 
Nothing remains of it, but its site is said to have been here,
where the Hotel de Ville stands today.

We saw previously, when discussing Davenant’s view of the death of Christ, that it is a variant of ‘hypothetical universalism’. But then we also saw that any view that regarded Christ’s death as of infinite value, can be thought of as hypothetical universalistic as well. For such a view is committed to the proposition that if God had ‘arranged’ (Davenant’s preferred verb) or had decreed that the salvific effects of the Christ’s death would have a universal effect, issuing in the salvation of everyone, then everyone would have been saved. A hypothesis leading to a consequence about universalism. Even John Gill is committed to that. He does not hold that had the number of the elect been greater than in fact it is, the sufferings of Christ would have to have been correspondingly greater! Any hypothesis that has universalism as a consequence, or aim, or possibility is a case of hypothetical universalism. So that the term ‘hypothetical universalism’ is pretty useless at discriminating one version of the scope of the death of Christ from another.

The Formula Consensus Helvetica

To get a statement of Amyraldianism from a contemporary or near contemporary kind we need to visit the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1695), prepared by Francis Turretin and J.A. Heidegger. (A PDF of the Consensus translated by  Martin Klauber is available through  Google). Canon  VI reads as follows -

Wherefore, we can not agree with the opinion of those who teach: l) that God, moved by philanthropy, or a kind of special love for the fallen of the human race, did, in a kind of conditioned willing, first moving of pity, as they call it, or inefficacious desire, determine the salvation of all, conditionally, i.e., if they would believe, 2) that he appointed Christ Mediator for all and each of the fallen; and 3) that, at length, certain ones whom he regarded, not simply as sinners in the first Adam, but as redeemed in the second Adam, he elected, that is, he determined graciously to bestow on these, in time, the saving gift of faith; and in this sole act election properly so called is complete. For these and all other similar teachings are in no way insignificant deviations from the proper teaching concerning divine election; because the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God's purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred (Rom 9:11). The same Holy Scriptures testify that the counsel and will of God do not change, but stand immovable, and God in the, heavens does whatsoever he will (Ps 115:3; Isa 47:10); for God is in finitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance and change of purpose. The appointment, also, of Christ, as Mediator, equally with the salvation of those who were given to him for a possession and an inheritance that can not be taken away, proceeds from one and the same election, and does not form the basis of election.

The view referred to is generally taken to be Amyraldianism. At first the phrase ‘at length’ seems rather vague. Notice that it couples the view sketched with ‘similar teachings’, perhaps having Bishop John in mind. But later on when the Canon refers to ‘inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance and change of purpose’, expressions used to characterise 2) above, there is clear reference to a prior (logically prior, not temporally prior) inefficacious divine decree, and that in the Amyraldian scheme of things 3) represents a ‘change of purpose’ in the divine mind, at least in the sense that the decree with inefficacious consequences is now augmented or supplanted by a second decree to elect, and effectively bring those elected to salvation. That God has a purpose that includes human failure as part of it, does not mean that the purpose itself has failed. Nor that he has a revealed will that human beings fail to keep is the sign of a failed purpose. Of course things are different in the case of a secret purpose of God to will the salvation of all people which does not issue in the salvation of a single one, as we have seen Du Moulin charges the Amyraldians with holding.

An agenda?

One question is, why did Amyraut and his chums go to these lengths? For surely they must have believed that God would know that were he to decree such and such, then such and such would come to pass, whatever it was. Why then, they may have asked themselves, did God go to the lengths of actually decreeing what he knew would have an inefficacious result, not the result that he in his philanthropy for the fallen human race wished but one that he would have infallibly known would be the result? And there are other questions too, besides the question ‘Why did God go to this trouble?’ Is this decree with an inefficacious effect still in place? Alternatively, has God rescinded it or annulled it in some way? And how would we know if it was still in place,  or that he had rescinded it or not? Indeed, what is the biblical basis for there being such a view in the first place? These were Reformed theologians, remember.  One might have expected one or two pieces of scriptural evidence to be offered in its favour. Is there empirical evidence since the time of the Apostles for such a philanthropic universal distribution of the call to Christ? At this point at least, Davenant’s appeal to the idea that Christ had dual intentions, a general intention and a particular intention, side by side as it were, is milder. Though if God had such a general intention it might be asked why, as a part of general providence, is the gospel heard not by everyone?

What this suggests (to me, at least) is that the Amyraldians may have been proposing their scheme as part of a wider agenda. As sharp divines they must have realized what a dog’s breakfast it was, but were willing to put up with it for other reasons. But what could that wider agenda be? We may note that one thing that the Amyraldian proposal does is to weaken connection between the plight of the race in the  fall of Adam. For now the responsibility of each of the non-elect comes simply from hearing and not receiving the gospel message. So maybe this is part of a general weakening of the headship of Adam. Or maybe the agenda was to weaken the place of natural revelation in human responsibility, the first kind of the ‘two-fold knowledge of God’ prominent in Book I of Calvin’s Institutes, for example. It is hard to say whether or not a consequence of the Amyraldian scheme was an intended consequence, or even a foreseen consequence  of those who invented it.

One agendum of these versions of hypothetical universalism might be to ‘soften’ what were perceived as the hard edges of Calvinism. But such softening of Calvinism is illusory in either version. For what emerges from the Amyraldians' support for a second particularistic decree supplanting the failure of the general decree is a decree that is, if we permit the use the language of hardening and softening in this connection, is as hard-edged as orthodox Calvinism. The net effect is the same, for Amyraut, or Davenant, as hard as the hard edges of orthodox Calvinism: a definite atonement issuing in the salvation of the elect, of all and only those for whom Christ died. For the second decree of the Amyraldians, (as well as gthe followers of Davenant) the decisive decree, the one that succeeds, as all parties agree, is as hard as ever.

A pastoral strategy?

But maybe this is not the agendum. Maybe what concerns them is that in the proclamation of the gospel everything relevant to a positive response to that proclamation is and should be manifest. Who is among the number of God's elect and who not, is not manifest,  as it would be if a list of such people was publicly available. It is secret; and the question, am I one of the elect? can only be answered a posteriori, in terms of a person's response to the gospel, so that Christ and a person's relation to him is, as Calvin put it, the mirror of that person's election. 

So the argument may be, a person's response to the gospel ought not to have to surmount the doctrine of 'limited atonement' which logically depends on election. t clutters up the free offer of the gospel, Christ's atonement is not sufficient in some abstract sense only. He died for the world, as John 3.16 teaches, and with his finger on that text the preacher can say ex animo and in an unqualified sense to his hearers, that 'Christ died for you'. If that's the concern, then Davenant's hypothetical universalism is the neater fit. But Calvin's point seems me to meet these concerns of Davenant and Amyraut, if indeed they had such concerns. But perhaps not, and so perhaps the hypothetical universalists we have been thinking about are on to something - a pastoral strategy with a textual basis in the NT - that is important. It is all a bit murky.

Warfield on Westminster

B. B. Warfield has a commentary on the Westminster Divines’ construction of Ch. III of the Confession,  concerning the divine decree, and especially the consideration of the sixth paragraph, the last sentence, which reads in its finished version: ‘Neither are any other redeemed by Christ effectually called, justified, sanctified and saved, but the elect alone.’ (III.VI) He describes Edmund Calamy’s position in the debate as a modified version of the ‘Hypothetical Universalistic’ schema (of Amyraut) which he took to involve a decree foreseeing the failure of  any to believe in Christ apart from efficacious grace. Warfield takes Calamy to be holding Davenant’s position, that in dying Christ had a double intention, one intention to the world without exception, but with no success, and to the elect, a subset of the world of sinners, with full success. (It is interesting to note that Calamy had been a student in Cambridge from about 1616 onwards, during the time that John Davenant was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity there. (1609-21) ) As far as I can tell, Calamy himself did not publish anything on the matter. He does not seem to offer a defence in terms of the pastoral strategy that was mentioned earlier, though note that the account of the debate that has come down to us is incomplete. 

Calamy and those who thought like him were given full opportunity to put their views, but the views did not meet with acceptance in the Assembly. A consequence was the inclusion of these words in the chapter III: ‘Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, and saved, but the elect only’. (See Cunningham, Historical Theology, II  329 etc. .) Warfield remarks on Calamy, that he

affirmed a double intention on Christ's part in His work of redemption, declaring that He died absolutely for the elect and conditionally for the reprobate. Theologically his position, which has its closest affinities with the declarations of the English Divines at Dort, was an improvement upon the Amyraldian; but logically it was open, perhaps, to all the objections which were fatal to it as well as to others arising from its own lack of consistency.' (The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, 139) 
Lacking consistency not because it posits a second decree arising because of the divine foreknowledge of the failure of the first decree, (as the Amyraldians did), but because Christ is now thought of having two intentions at odds with each other, the fruit of one unconditional divine decree and the other conditional decree, and the foreseen failure of his conditional decree.  This was the objection of Edward Reynolds to Calamy in the debate, that his ‘universal hypothetical’ proposal was: ‘upon a condition that they cannot perform, and God never intended to give them’. (140) Reynolds went on to state that ‘The [Dort] Synod intended no more than to declare the sufficiency of the death of Christ…and to be salvable is a benefit and therefore belongs only to them that have interest in Christ’. (142) It is interesting that in later life, due to the pressure of Laudians on Puritan clergy to conform, the ‘deviant Calvinist’ Calamy became a hot Presbyterian, while during the Restoration the undeviating Calvinist Reynolds became Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and then the Bishop of Norwich.

More could of course be said, but that's sufficient for now.

(The part of the Minutes discussed by Warfield can be found in Mitchell’s edition  (1874), 151; these are now part of the Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly (ed. Chad Van Dixhoorn, 2012), III.692f.)