Monday, September 15, 2008

Reformed Christianity and sufficient grace

Scripture promises that:

  1. For any temptation, the faithful Christian will receive a grace sufficient to withstand that temptation.
The phrase "the faithful Christian" here has a meaning that differs depending on the interpretation of various texts, but suggests a Christian in God's good graces, as it were. In a Catholic setting, we can precisify this as: "a Christian in a state of grace." In a Reformed setting, we can take the phrase as coextensive with "one of the Elect after gaining faith". The following also seems true:
  1. Some faithful Christians succumb to temptation.
There are some small groups of Christians that deny (2). I take the denial of (2) to be quite implausible, unless one just defines a "faithful Christian" as one who withstands temptation, in which case (1) is hard to make non-trivial sense of, or unless one has a very narrow notion of sin (e.g., transgression of one of the Ten Commandments, understood in a narrowly literal way).

But (1) and (2) are in apparent conflict. For it follows from (1) and (2) that:

  1. Some faithful Christians fall to a temptation that they have received a grace sufficient to withstand.
This immediately implies that "a grace sufficient to do A" is not a grace the presence of which suffices to ensure that one does A. But now it is really puzzling what "sufficient" could mean in this context.

Incompatibilist Christians, such as many Catholics, have a story to tell here. They can say that what (1) says is that the faithful Christian receives a grace sufficient to make withstanding the temptation be within one's power or maybe even well within one's power (this could happen by supernaturally augmenting that power, or by decreasing the force of the temptation, or both). In other words, these Christians say that "sufficient" in "sufficient grace" does not mean "sufficient for withstanding" but "sufficient for the (reasonable?) possibility of withstanding". This is a perfectly fine use of the word "sufficient". It seems imaginable that the doctor gives me medication that is "sufficient" to remove a headache, but the effects of the medication are negated by the ingestion of alcohol. What we mean by saying that the medication is sufficient to remove a headache is that it puts the removal of the headache within one's power, if only one follows the doctor's instructions.

But the puzzle is greater for Christians of a more Reformed bent, who normally see a grace sufficient for A as in fact a grace that necessitates A. This is, after all, the standard Reformed view of salvific grace: anybody who has received the grace sufficient for salvation is one of the Elect, and because of the receipt of the grace is necessarily going to be saved.

The question now is whether a Reformed Christian can give a different story about sanctifying grace, so that a person can receive a grace sufficient to withstand temptation and yet fall to that temptation. If not, then Reformed Christianity is not tenable in the light of (1) and (2).

It is possible for a Reformed Christian to have the following moderate view: While salvation is a matter of divinely determined predestination, and faith is necessitated by grace, nonetheless faithful Christians have libertarian freedom in respect of things that do not affect whether they are saved. In particular, then, if the Reformed Christian does not think sins rule out salvation, she may then given the same account of how (1) and (2) can be both be true as more generally incompatibilist Christians do. She can say that we get a grace sufficient to make it possible for us to overcome temptation.

But what about a Reformed Christian who denies that we have any libertarian freedom, e.g., because of a strong view of divine sovereignty or because she is convinced by Jonathan Edwards' and Hume's arguments against libertarianism[note 1]? Then the problem presented by (1) and (2) may be insoluble. In what sense has God given George the grace to withstand the temptation to get drunk if God in his sovereignty has placed George in a position where George cannot but get drunk?

Perhaps, though, the determinist Reformed Christian can give the following story. Many compatibilists think that if we understand "capable" appropriately, we can still say that if George freely does A, he was capable of refraining from doing A. The sense of "capable" here would be a lack of physical or mental compulsion to do A, say (the details are hard to work out), a lack that is compatible with the claim that the agent's character determines the agent to do A. Maybe, then, the compatibilist can give the familiar answer above: God gives the faithful Christian a grace sufficient to make the Christian in this sense capable of withstanding the temptation. Except that now "capable" must be understood in the compatibilist sense. In other words, grace removes the physical and mental compulsion to fall prey to the temptation, but does not necessarily repair one's character in such a way that one would withstand the temptation.

But this answer, I think, fails. First of all, if we include threats of suffering and pain under the head of "physical compulsion", and a habitual attraction to something under the head of "mental compulsion", then on this broader reading of physical and mental compulsion, God's grace does not always remove the compulsion. On the contrary, in the cases of martyrs or people overcoming addictions, the threat of suffering or the habitual attraction remain present, and grace enables one to overcome the threat or habit.

So for the answer to have any hope of working, we must understand "compulsion" fairly narrowly. But then we have the following problem. If I am compelled, in that narrow sense, to do something, then I am not responsible for that action. If I am physically compelled in a narrow sense to throw a rock, e.g., by electrodes implanted in my brain, then I am not sinning by throwing the rock. But temptation in this context is, by definition, temptation to sin. So on this view, the grace to withstand temptation is what actually makes the sin possible, since without the grace one would be compelled, in the narrow sense, to do the bad thing, and while the action would be bad, it would not be a sin (technically speaking, it might be a material but not a formal sin). The view that the grace of withstanding temptation that faithful Christians are promised is what makes sin possible seems deeply unsatisfactory. Moreover, on such a view the grace is quite pointless, since without the grace one would be guaranteed not to sin, as one would be acting under compulsion.

Maybe there is some further story the determinist Reformed Christian can give that would reconcile (1) and (2). But at least absent such a story, we have good reason not to be determinist Reformed Christians.


Nick Fortescue said...

It would have been helpful to me if (1) had more justification, either a scripture citation, or a reference to an expansion of this doctrine. With googling I'm guessing it's from Hebrews 4:14-16 but possibly also elsewhere?

I think this important because, as you point out, the whole thread of the argument depends on the understanding of "sufficient to withstand", and without some extra discussion of the justification for (1) it is hard to discuss this argument effectively.

I'm not sure if this blog is aimed at those with good theological education or just those who are interested in reading it, I am in the latter category, so if I'm outside the target audience, please just ignore this comment.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I guess a good text is "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13, RSV)

The Hebrews text is also to the point.

Dan Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Johnson said...

This is an interesting issue. I’m a Calvinist, and I’ve always been troubled by the 1 Corinthians verse you cited, precisely because I don’t have a really good story about what exactly it means. However, I don’t think that the verse is a serious challenge to Calvinism, for two reasons.

(1) First, the mere fact that I don’t have a story about or explanation of something is only a problem if the following conditional were true: if there is an explanation, I should expect to see it. (This is basically the same move that Stephen Wykstra makes with respect to God’s reasons for allowing evil.) Calvinists have strongly tended to regard human responsibility as a great mystery, tied up with the image of God and the mysteries of God’s relationship to his creation. (Jonathan Edwards may be something of an exception here. Calvin is much happier with mystery than Edwards is.) Many Calvinists are explicitly committed to the view that the truths about our imaging God in our responsible action necessarily exceed our conceptual resources (Cornelius Van Til, for one). I think the popular picture of Calvinism as an extreme form of rationalism couldn’t be more wrong, at least with respect to its best proponents – precisely the opposite is true, in fact. So the mere fact that some truths about human responsibility exceed my understanding doesn’t threaten the Calvinist story, because Calvinists expect human responsibility to exceed human comprehension. (See the first chapter of J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God for an illustration of my point.)

(2) Second, setting aside the first point, I don’t think this verse is any more of a problem for Calvinist determinists than it is for libertarian Christians, like Arminians. Here’s why: the promise in the Corinthians verse, that we won’t be tempted beyond what we can bear, is directed only at Christians. But surely non-Christians, who may be tempted beyond what they can bear, are still responsible for their sins. That’s why the promise is comforting to us, because it implies that we will be able to avoid responsible sin that we wouldn’t otherwise. But this means that the sense of possibility of doing otherwise in the “can bear” here is not the sense of possibility that is needed for responsibility. The sense in which this verse promises us that we will be able to bear temptation, therefore, has to be some sort of distinction within the more comprehensive sense of “able to do otherwise” that responsibility presupposes.

This means that the libertarian Christian’s story about the verse that you gave isn’t complete. You can’t just say that God promises that it will be “in our power” to resist temptation, because that is necessary just for responsibility. You have to say, as you hinted at, something like “well within our power.” But that needs a further story. What does “well within our power” mean for the libertarian? I’m not optimistic about libertarian free will generally, and I’m even less optimistic about giving a libertarian story about degrees of power.

More importantly, though, this means that the Calvinist compatibilist is just in the same position as the libertarian, needing some sense of “degrees of power,” where this isn’t identical with the minimum conditions for responsibility. If we get such a story, then we would just say that the maximal degree of power to do good causally necessitates doing good, and this is the sort of power God gives with respect to saving faith in regeneration (which involves the perseverance of the saints). Nothing in Calvinist doctrine requires that God’s grace always impart this maximal degree of power to do good, though (as you seem to suggest) – in fact, the doctrine of sanctification entails the denial of that. (You may be confusing the Calvinist doctrine about saving grace, which causally necessitates salvation, with a thesis about God’s gracious activity generally. Is that right?) So what would be a good story about “degrees of power”? Off the top of my head, here are two. (I’ll be assuming an Edwards-style compatibilism for simplicity; the stories will obviously differ depending on what kind of compatibilism and determinism – divine or natural – you pick.)

Option 1: The situation of both fallen humanity and glorified humanity involves a certain context-independence of action – no matter what the surrounding situation, fallen humanity will never turn to God of its own will, and no matter the surrounding situation, glorified humanity will never turn away from God. In these cases, the doing of certain evil or certain good is determined entirely by one’s intrinsic nature and is reliable in all circumstances. Perhaps the Corinthians verse is promising the absence of such a context-independent drive to do evil, or perhaps some degree of context-independence in a tendency to do good.

Option 2: Perhaps the Corinthians verse is promising the truth of some counterfactuals of this sort: if you avail yourselves of the spiritual resources you know how to use (like prayer, some spiritual disciplines, etc.), you won’t sin, without promising that you will in fact avail yourselves of such resources. The verse would then be promising that you won’t need spiritual resources or practices you don’t have access to (or you don’t know how to access) to avoid sin. This option actually seems better to me, more true to life.

You can probably come up with lots more stories, relative to whatever your preferred compatibilist theory is. Unfortunately, I don’t have an account of free will I’m happy with, and so I won’t know what account of “degrees of power” I’d be happy with, since they seem to fit together. Anyway, I don’t think the Calvinist is in an obviously worse-off position than the libertarian Christian.

Alexander R Pruss said...


That is a very helpful answer that moves the discussion forward significantly.

You're right that I papered over the difficulties for the Arminian by talking of what is "well within one's power".

Intuitively, some things are easier than others. I think it would be an interesting project to try to do a philosophical analysis of difficulty. It is easy for a bomb to destroy a piece of paper; it is harder for it to destroy a chunk of steel. It seems that ability does come in degrees, ranging from the impossible to the maximally easy. This suggests an interesting thing. When we talk of how much greater God's power is than ours, we normally talk of how many more things he can do than we can. But there is another dimension to the way God's power is greater than ours--everything he can do (qua God) is maximally easy to him.

If that's the approach, I think you're right that the determinist Calvinist can make use of it. After all, it might be equally determined that the bomb will destroy the chunk of steel as that it will destroy a piece of paper, but the latter is easier than the former.

That said, it still seems very implausible to conjoin:
(A) An omnipotent being gave George grace sufficient to do A
(B) It was causally impossible for George to do A.

The example of the bomb is an example of where an effect is possible. But the case that interests us a case of variation within the causally impossible, on the determinist Calvinist view.

I can see how there can be degrees of impossibility. Thus, if I am hypnotized to sit still, and tied to a chair, and paralyzed from the neck down, I cannot get up. By cutting the rope, you have made it less impossible for me to get up. By releasing me from hypnosis, you have made it even less impossible. But only if you release me from all the causal factors that make it impossible for me to get up can you make it be the case you have done what is sufficient to let me get up. And even that might not count, if to get up would still be too difficult (e.g., if there is a weight on me that I can lift off only at the cost of breaking my back).

Let me now move on to your two options. I think a general grace, or a removal of a general problem, doesn't do justice to 1 Cor 10:13. That verse really seems to be talking about something specific to the temptation.

I think the second option suggests a regress problem. Take the case of prayer. It's our duty to pray for God's help. To fail to pray for God's help is itself a sin. Presumably, if one fails to pray for God's help, one has fallen to a temptation (either sloth or fear that God would hear one's prayer).

For the setup to work without a regress, there would have to be cases of temptations where it is true that had we done A, God would have sufficiently helped us, but our failure to do A was not itself a sin. But the existence of these cases does not seem very plausible. It seems that if we pray to God for help, he will help us, unless there is something sinful in our prayer or in some other sinful way we reject his help. And a failure to pray regularly to God for help is a sin.

I still haven't given any positive account of what it means to say that something is well within our power. I can't give you necessary and sufficient conditions. Here is a vague sufficient condition: Something is well within my power of choosing if it is within my power of choosing and the reasons for choosing it are at least as vivid and pressing as the reasons against choosing it.

Anonymous said...

I'd basically agree with Dan Johnson's point #2.

Paul is addressing Corinthian converts (and implicitly all Xians who are united to Christ and share in the one body/bread etc.). The privilege attested to in 10:13 therefore is not some categorical truth about God's dealings with humanity, but a privilege for a certain subset. Accordingly I think this contradicts the Roman-Catholic story (or at least the one Dr. Pruss proposes). This is because the story seems to basically turn on God's providing grace enabling one to libertarianly choose the right thing. But libertarian agency is a philosophical thesis about humans in general; and prevenient grace enabling one to exercise such agency in moral/spiritual matters is, according to RC a universal gift (and is even made use of by adherents to false religious and, according to Rahner, even atheists potentially). Hence the context precludes this grace+libertarian-agency package as a candidate for being Paul's point. Would not the libertarian Xian say that God has given *all* people the grace such that if they "follow the instructions" they can escape sin? Do non-Xians not have a "reasonable" possibility of avoiding the sin they are nevertheless held responsible for, according to the libertarian?

If Paul was endorsing libertarian freedom here, then an implication would also be that he was endorsing the possibility that genuine believers could fall away and be damned. I think for the Reformed this verse loses its comfort if it is interpeted in a synergistic way such that God is merely promising to enable us to (in the last analysis) autonomously do the right thing. At the end of 1st Thes. God's faithfulness is also mentioned, and here it is tied to the claim that God Himself will bring to pass the sanctification of those He has called.

There are also a couple other contextual details that may support alternative interpretations (such as the two Dan Johnson proposes, perhaps). (a) The 2nd-person pronouns (ambiguous in english) are plural in v. 13, and the "able" verbs are also 2nd-person plural. Further, the preceding and following verses deal with corporate sins and specifically with idolatry (such as with Israel in the desert). Perhaps v. 13, then, can be understood not as providing a general principle for individuals about their strength to withstand particular temptations, but about God's faithfulness to keep his corporate body from "falling in the desert" as it were (cf. Hebrews 4-6, where literal falling in the desert symbolizes spiritual apostasy).

Also being "able" (dunamai) does not always imply a merely necessary condition for something; it can also be used to imply a sufficient enabling. For instance, unless one is born from above he is not "able" to enter the kingdom of God; it seems that Christ is not saying that if one is born again, then they merely *might* enter. Or, "noone can come (is able) to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him;" if the Father does draw, then that is sufficient for coming ("and I will raise him up on the last day"). Hence perhaps in v. 13 here (I am not sure) Paul is actually saying that God will *ensure* that Xians will endure tempations. Obviously though, as Dr. Pruss points out, this could not be taken to mean that every individual Xian in every individual temptation is kept by God from sinning. But it could refer to a general faithfulness of the Corinthian *body* being preserved, or it could refer to individuals but not necessarily every single temptation (perhaps it refers to their general faithfulness to God and their success over idolatry); and these two are of course not mutually exclusive.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't think it is Catholic teaching that non-Christians are guaranteed prevenient grace in every moral decision.

I agree that the claim here is not simply that God has given libertarian freedom to the Christian. (But I don't want to dismiss this possibility. I think Augustine would be quite friendly to it.) There has to be something more here than the mere causal possibility of withstanding temptation. I don't have a story as to what exactly the "more" consists in. But it seems intuitively very clear to me that anything less than the causal possibility of withstanding temptation does not qualify as a grace sufficient to withstand the temptation.

Note that even if we have a collective in 1 Cor 10:13, it would probably not be a collective covering all of the Church. It would be a collective covering the Corinthian Church. But if the claim applies generally, and is not just a particular claim about a particular grace given to one group, then it would have to be a general claim that every body (city-wide? congregation?) of Christians receives grace sufficient to corporately withstand temptation. This, however, faces similar problems to those faced by the individual version. After all, it seems quite possible for a body of Christians (say, the Christians in some small town) to collectively fall to temptation, even though it is not possible for the Church as a whole to do so.

Here is a rough idea as to what the grace is like. We sometimes say that someone did something "by a superhuman effort". We do not always mean that literally. But there is a notion of an effort beyond what can ordinarily be expected of a human being. At the same time, sometimes one is obliged to do more than is ordinarily expected of a human being--and one can do it, in the bare libertarian sense.

We can now understand the sufficient grace in two ways. One way is that it helps the Christian in such a way that with the help of grace, she need to put in no more than an ordinary level of effort to withstand temptation, even though without the grace a superhuman effort might be needed (think of refusing to worship Caesar when the penalty for the refusal is being roasted alive). A second--and superior--way is to the graced Christian, the more than ordinary becomes ordinary.

Here is a related question for you and Dan. Consider the difference between the case of George who withstands a temptation and Jennifer who fails. Let us suppose that both were faithful Christians before the temptation, and the temptation was the same. If one sees the cases as deterministic, it is hard to see how one can avoid saying: George got a grace that was enough to keep him from the temptation, but Jennifer did not get a grace that was enough to keep her from the temptation.

What explains the difference in behavior? One option is that George just got more grace than Jennifer did. But if that's the difference, then how was Jennifer's grace sufficient? It seems that now the Reformed determinist needs to distinction between sufficient grace and really sufficient grace, or something like that. But the implication of that is that Jennifer didn't get sufficient grace.

Here is a final observation. A traditional Reformed criticism of the Catholic position is that Catholics say that it is possible to get grace sufficient for salvation, and yet not be saved, i.e., that grace can be sufficient and not efficacious. The criticism goes that this kind of grace is not really sufficient if one was able to resist it. But the temptation case shows that everybody--whether Catholic or Reformed--has to admit that a kind of grace can be sufficient without being efficacious. The difference is that Catholics think this is true both of salvific grace and of the grace of withstanding temptation, while the Reformed do not think this is true of salvific grace, though they probably have to, on biblical grounds, have to think it is true of the grace of withstanding temptation.

Dan Johnson said...


Interesting responses. I have four points.

(1) You say once that anything less than causal possibility seems "intuitively" insufficient for "grace sufficient to withstand the temptation," and once that this renders the conjunction of God's enabling me to do something and my not doing implausible on compatiblist views. But this strikes me as just a rejection of compatiblism -- compatibilism locates the morally relevant differences between responsible and nonresponsible people -- and between various sorts of responsible people -- somewhere other than the absence of causal determination. I think you just find compatibilism counterintuitive, and I just don't share those intuitions. I think your arguments bear this out -- I think the George and Jennifer case is really just a restating of your intuition.

(2) Your argument in your last post turns crucially on your use of the word "sufficient." The 1 Corinthians verse doesn't use "sufficient." It uses weaker terminology -- "way of escape," "may be able," etc. Calvinist views about irresistible grace are all about God's saving action across the whole sweep of my life, or perhaps about the moment of regeneration -- not about any particular temptation.

(3) Also, I would hesitate to describe our sin as "resisting" God's grace. God is not foiled -- he does what he wants. I think the case where he gives me a way of escape but I don't take it is a case of God not giving me enough grace at that moment to absolutely guarantee my doing good. (Insert favorite story about degrees of power here.)

(4) I agree that neither of my stories about degrees of power is free of problems. I don't know how to work one out, because I don't know how to work out a broader theory of free will (or human responsibility) inside which the theory of degrees of power would have to be nested. And until I have a story, I won't be able to tell you the (possible) differences between George and Jennifer in your case. But, then again, you haven't given a story yourself about degrees of power, so I don't think that really weighs against Calvinism at all. And my original first point still stands -- I find free will remarkably mysterious, and I don't think my inability to comprehend it weighs against my Calvinism.

Dan Johnson said...

Here's a way of salvaging my option 2, and stopping the regress. In order to have a "temptation," I have to have competing desires. I also have higher-order desires, which vary in their efficacy. Suppose the 1 Corinthians promise is something like this: for any level on which I have a temptation (competing desires), were I to have a higher-order desire to engage in practices (or avail myself of resources) which would stifle the lower-order temptation, I would be able to stifle that temptation.

If this is true, I would always have resources available to use to stifle temptation, but I would have to have the higher-order desire to do so -- and there is no promise here that I will always have this higher-order desire. So in most cases, I won't go past the second level of my desires to decide whether I do in fact avail myself of the resources -- I either have the higher-order desire or I don't. In some cases, however, like the one you mentioned, there might be temptation at the second level, too -- temptation not to pray, despite my desire to do so in order to alleviate another temptation, and so on. This won't get you an infinite regress, though, simply by virtue of the finitude of the human mind. At some point, I'll reach a level where I don't have a higher-order desire to avoid temptation, or a level where I don't have an offsetting temptation to my higher-order desire.

This would make the 1 Corinthians promise a powerful promise, because there are many people who have higher-order desires to avoid certain temptations, but whose higher-order desires simply aren't powerful enough to offset the first-order temptation, even without a higher-order temptation. Christians, then, would (on this reading) be granted a powerful sort of autonomy, where their higher-order desires are able to rule their lower-order desires (with the help of the means of grace provided by God that the higher-order desires motivate me to access), provided that they do in fact have developed higher-order desires. This would connect nicely with the notion of Christian maturity, because achieving the absence of sin would be (partially) a matter of carefully cultivating self-reflective, higher-order desires.

Alexander R Pruss said...


One objection to the higher level desire approach--which is very clever--is empirical. I think I have fallen to temptation at times at which I had appropriate higher level desires.

You're right that I have a hard time finding compatibilism plausible. I still think this case is a bit different. One reason for the difference is that compatibilism attributes to me actions that come from my character. But I think of God's grace as something that changes my character. Thus, a grace sufficient to allow me to escape temptation is, when necessary, going to be a grace that transforms my character. The transformed character should, if the grace is truly to allow me to escape temptation, be such as to be capable of doing the right thing. Maybe this isn't very different from just my usual incompatibilist intuitions.

As for the word "sufficient", you're right about this text. If we read 2 Cor. 12:9 as being about resisting temptation, we do get "sufficient" there, but who knows what the "thorns" were.

Here's about the last thought I have on this difficult topic. Suppose God gives me the grace of a means of escape from a temptation, in circumstances in which I am determined (whether by finite causes or by God's sovereign causation) not to escape from the temptation. How is this grace something that I should be thankful for, given that under the circumstances the only thing this grace could accomplish is to make me more guilty? (Since to fall to temptation when there is an escape is surely worse.) (This is actually a standard objection to the Catholic view of sufficient but inefficacious salvific grace, but I think the objection is stronger in a compatibilist setting.)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Pruss:

“I don't have a story as to what exactly the "more" consists in. But it seems intuitively very clear to me that anything less than the causal possibility of withstanding temptation does not qualify as a grace sufficient to withstand the temptation.”

I think it is exegetically unclear that this is implied in this verse, if the “causal possibility” for a person P in a temptation T to act righteously implies a libertarian ability to act righteously specifically in T (where T is an instance, not a general type). You seem to admit that Paul’s point in this assurance to the Corinthians cannot be merely that they have the libertarian freedom to choose rightly in temptation; after all, the libertarian freedom to choose rightly is (so the libertarian Xian thinks) not just an ability belonging to Xians. Something “more” is required, and you speak of the amount of “effort” being reduced for the Xian, so that something “superhuman” for one may be more “ordinary” (relative to the effort expended) for another. Although adding something more would help in differentiating the ability given to the Corinthians from humanity in general, it seems to weaken the connection to the passage. Paul speaks of God’s providing a way of escape so that one will be able to endure temptation; I can see how granting libertarian freedom would do this (it’s just precluded by the context of this being a peculiar not universal blessing). But it’s not as clear on the surface that God’s providing a way of escape could mean that He makes it easier for us to “escape” (choose rightly). In other words, the motivation for taking the verse to be supporting libertarian freedom in the first place seems to be lost if it is admitted that Paul is not in fact assuring us that we have that freedom – but only that, whatever kind of freedom we have, it is easier to choose rightly. In this case, the argument may be less of an argument from Scripture for a particular thesis but rather from philosophy for a particular interpretation of Scripture.

“After all, it seems quite possible for a body of Christians (say, the Christians in some small town) to collectively fall to temptation, even though it is not possible for the Church as a whole to do so.”

I see how a problem at the individual level can be formulated for the corporate level. However, the key point of the plural pronouns and verbs in my view is that it weakens the view that God intends for libertarian choice to be part of our account of this verse. Collectives do not (qua the collective) make libertarian choices. Individuals make libertarian choices. But collectives can (collectively not just distributively) endure things, and escape temptations. However I do not view this as a clincher or anything; one could possibly take the plurals distributively, so that Paul is saying that each individual in the group has an ability to withstand a temptation, and so it could involve a libertarian ability in that case. But this is not a given, and so the plural aspect is a relevant factor in the big picture I think.

I think that your “rough idea as to what the grace is like” could be compatible with a non-libertarian theology too. A determinist could hold to distinctions in the amount of perceived effort and difficulty involved in the psychological process in making choices. I don’t have to believe in libertarian freedom to believe that some of my choices are “easier” to make than others, and I could furthermore believe that certain choice-types are, in a similar way, “easier” for me than for other individuals.

“What explains the difference in behavior? One option is that George just got more grace than Jennifer did. But if that's the difference, then how was Jennifer's grace sufficient? It seems that now the Reformed determinist needs to distinction between sufficient grace and really sufficient grace, or something like that. But the implication of that is that Jennifer didn't get sufficient grace.”

If “sufficient” means a sufficient condition for the performance of the right action, then Jennifer did not have sufficient grace and George did. But in this sense of “sufficient,” the Reformed does not need to believe in the first place that Jennifer had sufficient grace in this situation. 1st Cor. 10:13 doesn’t actually speak either of “grace” or of “sufficient.” I am not saying that these terms are bad terms to apply to the verse; a blessing from God can be termed a “grace,” and one’s being “able” to do something can be described as being rendered “sufficient” for it. But “grace” and “sufficient” are also technical terms, and there is perhaps a danger of equivocation. The empirical facts keep me from believing the verse means that every individual Xian has “sufficient grace” in the sense that he will be kept monergistically from succumbing to temptations in every individual case, and I’ve already given reasons for rejecting the view that Paul means that Xians have “sufficient grace” in the sense that ever one will have a libertarian ability to escape temptation in every individual case.

As far as proposing some other schema where the Xian is rendered “sufficient” to escape temptation, I admittedly don’t have one (and I won’t attempt to add to Dan’s attempts that look real interesting to me); but I’m not sure this verse in and of itself gives sufficient information for which direction to go in that regard. That is, it is not clear to me what kind of philosophical analysis should be sought; one explaining how there is a way of escape with every Xian and every temptation-event? One explaining how there is a way of escape from particular grievous kinds of sins (such as those analogous to, or having analogous consequences of, Israel’s idolatry)? Perhaps the verse is not intended to literally convey a proposition about an ability each of us will have in each temptation-event, but is meant to have a perlocutionary force that leads hearers of the letter to be mindful of Israel’s disobedience and punishments (which is an “example” for “our instruction”), as well as have the fact that “God is faithful” pressed more on the mind (perhaps as pertaining to the gospel promises and His acceptance of sinners despite their sin), with the result that such (believing) hearers will in general escape temptation more often – though this “escaping” may not be quantifiable or reducible to a precise formula. In other words the comforting exhortation may constitute in large part a means (by the Spirit) of effecting sanctification and endurance through sin. And admittedly, my view, as will anyone else’s, will be affected by one’s take on other Scripture passages that deal with related subjects, Scripture interpreting Scripture.

“A traditional Reformed criticism of the Catholic position is that Catholics say that it is possible to get grace sufficient for salvation, and yet not be saved, i.e., that grace can be sufficient and not efficacious. The criticism goes that this kind of grace is not really sufficient if one was able to resist it. But the temptation case shows that everybody--whether Catholic or Reformed--has to admit that a kind of grace can be sufficient without being efficacious. The difference is that Catholics think this is true both of salvific grace and of the grace of withstanding temptation, while the Reformed do not think this is true of salvific grace, though they probably have to, on biblical grounds, have to think it is true of the grace of withstanding temptation.”

I do not see the propriety of the connection between the Roman Catholic and Reformed individual, since either the Reformed will deny that post-salvific grace is resistible or maintain that the “resistance” is not the same “resistance” that the Roman Catholic believes is possible. I myself don’t find the objection against the RC view, as you have presented it, a persuasive one, but I would imagine such an objection turns not fundamentally on the terminology of sufficiency and resistance per se, but rather on the underlying issues that are affected. So, it might be that what the Reformed critic means is that God’s sovereign will can be frustrated or at least constrained (such that He will have to refrain from ordaining something that He might have liked to ordain) by the resistance of a creature. Perhaps a related objection, which I think is a good and biblical one, is that the Roman Catholic conception of grace (at least as pertains to salvation) is not the biblical one, because for Paul such grace would not be grace if it relied on works.

Chris said...

I couldn't read the *entire* discussion, so forgive me if I've missed something. I think two questions need to be separated out: (i) does the biblical text clearly support premise (1)?; and (ii) is (3) true? I think the answer to (i) is 'no,' unfortunately, because I am a libertarian and this would put my compatibilist friends on a sticky wicket. But even if (1) is false, I think the theoretical question suggested by (3) is extremely interesting and important. I think the intuition of anyone not already entrenched in Calvinism is that the grace to overcome temptation is usually available to us, but that we disregard it. I like what this new question about temptation does for the debate -- it is harder to believe that God would deny suffcient resources to resist temptation to one of his elect than it is to believe that God would deny salific (i.e., regenerative) grace to someone. And if we think that there is at least one case where sufficient resources were given but unused, that is, God made the antecedent conditions such that resistance was not futile, then we have a problem for the reformed-compatibilist view.

Jeremy Pierce said...

My understanding of Aquinas' solution is that it would apply to the Calvinist view as well. For Aquinas, possibility is often relative to some sortal (to use our terms). Hypothetical possibility is thus sufficient to explain ordinary language statements of possibility. If it's possible with respect to external constraint but not possible with respect to what's determined within me, then it's possible in enough of a sense for compatibilist freedom and moral resposibility (during Aquinas' determinist/compatibilist moments).

The Calvinist can certainly say that the sin is in God's will in the sense of being in the providential plan (but not in God's will in the sense of morally approving). The sense in which it's still possible is that if the person intended to avail oneself of God's grace it would be sufficient. This is just standard contemporary compatibilism (at least of the Lewis variety; most earlier Calvinists, along with some current ones, have accepted the impossibility of doing otherwise and just denied PAP). I find this in Aquinas, and he applies it exactly to this problem. I'm not sure why the compatibilist Calvinist shouldn't say the same thing.