Sunday, July 31, 2011

Canterbury Letters to Geneva George (15): Secondary Causes

Below is the fifteenth installment in the series I'm publishing on behalf of a friend entitled "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George." Before reading and responding with comments, please be sure to read my introduction and the author's introduction to this series at the first posting entitled "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George (1): The Via Media." And also read the other postings in the "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George" series here.

Dear Geneva George,

We seem to be a lot closer in our thinking than I realized. At least, that’s what I thought until I got to your discussion on the third page about secondary causation. You say you agree that God is not the author of evil in the sense that He uses secondary means to accomplish his decrees. But that is not the sense that I meant it when I said God is not the author of evil, so you are affirming agreement with a position I didn’t advocate.

Before I explain why I didn’t use the popular secondary causation argument, let me make sure I understand your terminology correctly. If I am hammering a nail into a piece of wood, I am the primary cause of the nail going into the wood, while the hammer is the instrumental or secondary cause, right? Similarly, for all of God’s decrees, He is the primary cause while the instruments or means by which He accomplishes those decrees are the secondary causes. Have I understood?

Assuming I have understood correctly, here’s why I don’t find that explanation particularly helpful. If the statement that God is not the author of evil means merely that God determines evil through secondary causation, then by the same logic we would have to say that God is not the author of salvation, since He uses secondary causation in the work of redemption, such as the work of missions and preaching the Word (Romans 10:14). During your discussion of evil you said that God does not get the credit for what happens through secondary means, so it hardly seems consistent to reverse this when we are dealing with the secondary means leading to salvation. You can’t have it both ways and are going to have to pick.

I looked up the Jonathan Edwards passage you referenced and I was surprised to find that most of it is actually 100% consistent with everything I argued, particular where he writes:

“But if, by ‘the author of sin,’ is mean the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and, at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the author of sin, I do not deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense). And, I do not deny, that God being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down; and, I assert, that it equally follows from the doctrine which is maintained by most of the Arminian divines.”

If that is all you meant, and all that Jonathan Edwards was saying, then there would be no difficulty. The problem is that this is not all that has been said, as I showed in my previous letters.


Canterbury Chris

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