Re: Coercion

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 17:37:49 EDT

Terry M. Gray wrote:
> In the Reformed (and not necessarily exclusively Reformed) doctrine
> of regeneration God takes a human will that is dead to Him and in
> bondage to sin and gives the individual a new (or renewed) will that
> is not dead to Him--one that now is able to respond with faith to His
> saving work. The Westminster Confession (X,I) puts it like this:
> "...taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of
> flesh; renewing their wills...effectually drawing them to Jesus
> Christ" and then it's quick to add "yet so, as they come most freely,
> being made willing by his grace".
> Perhaps bringing this conversion business into the picture is
> inappropriate since we might regard this activity to be outside the
> categories of God's ordinary governance. But it seems to me that the
> theological formulations here speak of a decisive act of God (removal
> of heart of stone, giving a new heart of flesh, renewing wills,
> enlightening, etc.) but really tries to avoid the spectre of coercion
> and divine puppeteering. Now in the Reformed view, God always has his
> way (irresistible grace), but it's a caricature of the Reformed view
> to say that God has coerced the individual or has made him/her do
> something contrary to his/her nature (contrary to the sin nature,
> however).
> Perhaps similarly we should view God interaction with the world. God
> always gets His way, i.e. He is fully in control, but
> creaturely-actions are authentic, according to their created
> natures/properties. All language of coercion or overpowering or
> puppetering is inappropriate.
> While I know that Howard disagrees with me here, in my view there's
> no need to "choke on RFEP" at the place where Don did. God's
> orchestrating our lives (which I believe He does) does not
> necessarily stand against RFEP or the authenticity of my own choices
> and the happenstance circumstances that surround me. This, of course,
> is the age-old debate between divine sovereignty and human
> (creaturely) responsibility. Reformed orthodoxy has always affirmed
> both. Both hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism (in the Reformed debates)
> and Pelagianism (in the Augustinian debates) have forced a choice
> between the two. Process theology and open theism in the modern scene
> do the same thing....................

Terry -
        I would put the matter in different terms. God's act of "justifying the
ungodly" parallels creatio ex nihilo in being something done entirely by God - as I
think the connection between verses 5 and 17 of Romans 4 brings out. Thus process
theology, which says that nothing depends on God alone, must reject not only creatio ex
nihilo but also justification sola gratia.
        But there's more to be said, because justification is normally a _mediated_
action of God via Word and Sacraments. That raises the question of how far one can
understand God's origination of the universe as mediated. My own answer is "pretty
far." Those interested in my thoughts of 17 years ago can read a PSCF article "The
Paradox of Mediated Creation Ex Nihilo" which can be found on the asa website.


George L. Murphy
Received on Thu Apr 8 17:40:23 2004

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