Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Felix Culpa

This phrase, Latin for 'blessed fall' is sometimes used to describe the beginning of sin and evil in our world. Inadequate Christian theodicies in describing the origin of sin, "slide into felix culpa" by either making evil something outside of God's control (eg so called 'free-will defence') or part of God's grand scheme (eg universal order, Leibniz or Thomas Aquinas). An orthodox theodicy recognises that the solution is in part a mystery, but one around which we know the boundaries (an important distinction). Blocher puts it this way "But we can understand that we cannot understand." While much of a Biblical theodicy is mysterious we do know the shape of our answer: how sin arrived (Adam in Eden) when it was defeated (at the cross) and how it will end (in Hell).

[From pages 283-286 in 'Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil' by Henri Blocher]


Alex Smith said...

I agree with Blocher that:
1. Evil is utterly evil
2. God is utterly good
3. God is sovereign

I’m also happy to accept the theodicy Blocher deducts from these three propositions, if that’s really the only orthodox conclusion. However, I’m not entirely sure it is… For example, doesn’t the following hypothesis work too?

The loving Son decided He wanted to give His Father a perfect gift. However, He knew that finite beings can’t start perfect, but need to be grown/taught, physically & spiritually. He knew this would be utterly messy (because unless you’re perfect, ‘choice’ implies the potential to make mistakes) but because He knew He was sovereign & therefore could get the utterly good result He wanted, He proceeded. As expected, even the very good beings He created, made very bad choices, choices that rightly are described as utterly evil. However, through a lot of ‘blood, sweat & tears’ He healed/regenerated/saved/taught all His creation until everything was perfect, until He was “all in all” (utmost/everything to everyone).

Admittedly there are still aspects that haven’t been revealed yet but I don’t think it’s quite as mysterious as Blocher thinks.

Funnily enough it seems we now both think sin will end in Hell, just with different implications ☺

Luke Isham said...

Just to be clear, I don't think sin "ends in Hell," it ends in death and is permanently punished by being in Hell.

Glad to hear you're reading and enjoying Blocher, if enjoy is the right word for a theodicy! He devotes an entire chapter of Evil and Cross to the theodicy you (& Hick) suggest. ("Vale of soul-making") In nutshell he says what you've suggested makes evil a necessary part of God's plan of creation and redemption. Another way of sliding dangerously into Felix Culpa.

Alex Smith said...

I think Bocher’s position reduces the definition of evil. I think if someone isn’t wholeheartedly, lovingly worshiping God as He created them to do in Eden, then they are sinning, they aren’t in an eternal, personal, loving, perfectly harmonious relationship that we find within the Trinity – the Ideal which God has always been striving for. Passages like Isaiah 29:13-14 (quoted by Jesus in Mark 7:6) show God isn’t interested in anything less:

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people”

He wants joyful praises:

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! (Psalm 98:3-4 ESV)

He wants our allegiance:

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.' (Isaiah 45:22-23 ESV)

He wants everything:

You shall [future tense] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt 22:37 ESV)

The only way the Bible shows the above occurring is when the Spirit regenerates/converts someone.

I think Bocher’s position makes the cross (‘an evil than which no greater can be conceived’) a necessary part of God's plan of creation and redemption.

Luke Isham said...

But the way you arranged and commented on those verses makes it seem God would somehow be missing something or be unsatisfied if he didn't have the worship of every single person.

Alex Smith said...

When God promises to do something, He does it.

When He says He desires something, He will act to make it occur - nothing can stand in His way forever.

When He designs & creates something to do XYZ, if it never does XYZ, then He has failed to live up to His own standards.

Luke Isham said...

So you're strongly affirming the third rung of Blocher's theodicy "God is sovereign" but weakening the first rung "evil is utterly evil" by saying we're not perfect and need to be "grown/taught."

Alex Smith said...

I strongly affirm all three :-)

Christ has justified us but our sanctification takes time – nothing novel here. As Gould says in the Journal of Anglican Studies 2012:

Many Anglicans have abandoned the Reformers’ assumption that death in and of itself perfectly sanctifies a person’s character. While some avoided the term ‘purgatory’, Ussher, Newman, Pusey, Maurice, Claude Moss, C.S. Lewis and the Commission on Doctrine all embrace the idea that those who die in a state of grace and favor with God but who are not free of sin and ready for complete union with God need a period of growth in their ability to love.

Have you read the longer quote in appendix 4 of my letter?

You haven't explained how Bocher is staying within his own triangle when he says the very evil cross is necessary?

Luke Isham said...

Blocher and the CrossThe cross is necessary for the defeat of evil but that's God responding to evil not inventing a plan to create free loving creatures that involves evil and the cross.

Who is Gould and why is he critical of the Reformed heritage? Also Purgatory ( or outskirts of heaven) isn't Hell by any stretch of the imagination. (Also why is he quoting Newman favourably!?)

Christ has justified us but our sanctification takes time – nothing novel here.

It's completely novel that sanctification continues into Hell! Death is a new state, this age is ended and a new one begins. As Blcoher points out in the first article, today, (this age) is the day of salvation not the other side of eternity. In the Ordo Salutis, Glorification is the doctrine after death! The only way out of this is to say like Barth that everyone is saved in Christ on the Cross and that Hell is always empty.


The Evangelical Universalist Hell is punishing people twice and if repentance takes place in Hell assumes people continue sinning in Hell because you need sin in order to repent.

No I didn't read the Appendixes. :) Tell me the essence of them over lunch.

Alex Smith said...

In that case, gradual sanctification is God responding to the limitations of finite beings :-)

James B. Gould is Instructor of Philosophy at McHenry County College, Crystal Lake, Illinois, USA. I assume he’s also an Anglican. I don’t think he’s being critical of all the Reformed heritage, just one assumption, that according to Wikipedia, Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, Anglicans (as Gould pointed out), Lutherans, Methodists, and other Protestants (like Jerry Walls) are critical of.

He mentions Newman 6 times in his article and directly addresses your objections, so I’ll email it to you so you have his full argument. I don’t agree with everything he says but it’s still very thought provoking – perhaps print it out & scribble your thoughts on it so I know you haven’t just skim read it :-P

“Today is the day of salvation” implies the sooner the better, not that today, the 28th of June 2013, is the only opportunity, otherwise no one has been saved in the last 2000 years since Paul wrote “today”! How do you justify equating “today” to just “this age” – I can’t see anything explicit in the context?

In terms of the EU Hell potentially being double punishment… According to Calvinism, Christ has paid for the sins of the Elect and yet obviously they are still experiencing the consequences of sin and God’s discipline. So EU Hell could be similar to that. (Although I think there will be ongoing sin in Hell, even if there wasn’t, people could be repenting of the sin they committed in this age)

Luke Isham said...

Sanctification is an "under the sun"/day of salvation thing, not somehting that drags on for millions of years.

You said that God "knew that finite beings can’t start perfect, but need to be grown/taught, physically & spiritually." By saying this you diminish the evilness of evil, Blocher's first statement in his theodicy.

The difficulties of an Evangelical Universalist (EU) Hell are becoming clearer:
1) Christ's work on the Cross should be complete, but for EU, people are punished again in Hell.
2) You don't repent from remorse, you repent from sin, but according to EU there's no sin in Hell.
3) Christ's victory over sin is final and complete, there can't be people lingering on in Hell for a few thousand years making up their minds as whether or not they'll repent.

[Interestingly these aren't difficulties for the traditional Universalist, there is no remorse in Hell because it's empty, Christ becomes everyone's sin on the cross, so death (even with a bit purgatorial action) is entry into Heaven.]

Alex Smith said...

Why do you think that sanctification is limited to this age? I’ve shown that’s the minority Christian view so I’m puzzled how you justify it?

I’m saying humans need to be grown/taught in the same way Blocher says humans need the cross. That could be articulated as God responding, although given I believe God is outside of time & therefore assumedly has foreknowledge, I think He knew the limitations of humans (& that they’d need to be redeemed on the cross) before they fell. I don’t understand why you think that makes the evil less evil?

1) *very confused expression* didn’t you see my response to this objection above??

2) According to Blocher, there’s no sin in Hell, I explicitly said, “I think there will be ongoing sin in Hell”.

3) EU says it will be complete (in a “Now & Not Yet” fashion), Blocher says his system achieves this, but it seems to me, all he does is reduce sin to merely actions, when Jesus said it’s also our thoughts, and I tried to show in the passages above, it’s anything other than the Ideal of the Trinity itself.

Where have I ever denied Christ becomes everyone's sin on the cross??

Luke Isham said...

One article from Gould doesn't show that it's the minority Christian view and even if it was I think I'm in good company with Cornelis Venema
's Christ and the Future. As for why sanctification is limited to this age: verses like 1 Peter 4:7 "the end of all things is near" gives a sense of urgency to this age, this period "under the sun." But there's also the whole issue of the Doctrines of Grace being focused on this life, with no mention of, for example, evangelism, faith or regeneration in Hell.

You said "I’m saying humans need to be grown/taught in the same way Blocher says humans need the cross." But I don't see this, maybe something you'll have to explain in person. If sin is part of our spiritual formation to become better people, then it's not sin at all but Felix Culpa, something God made and ultimately delights in because look at the result! You Dad's often said he wouldn't want to worship a God who condemns people to Hell but I wouldn't want to worship a God who sees sin as "growing/teaching" tool.

1) I didn't see that last paragraph!
2) If there's sin in Hell then why is there a Last Judgement before Hell? So are you taking the reconciliation of all things concept as when the last sinner leaves Hell and not Judgement Day? Is there evidence for the two being separated?
3) Another lunch thing.

So no limited atonement for you then! (Mark Driscoll is almost with you on that one I think.)