Wednesday, October 24, 2012

God's Unconditional Pledge

"God says: "I will put enmity" and "he shall bruise your head." These promises to apply and accomplish redemption contain no "ifs." They depend on God alone. God here enlists no cooperation whatsoever from fallen men. Rather, redemption is his work, accomplished and applied by divine power. God stands committed supernaturally to establish and perpetuate this spiritual war in the devil's house. Christ is God the Son incarnate, sent from God the Father to save his people from their sins. Christ's work can never fail. Its success is certain. Its success does not rest on any decision of fallen men, any more than the application of redemption does (Rom. 8:31-39). Therefore, this divine pledge is unilateral and efficacious."

Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God's Covenants


Brandon Booth said...

In the spirit of healthy debate, it seems a bit incorrect to say that their are no "ifs" in these promises, regardless of one's theological commitment. We all must face the crux theologorum: why some and not others?

Specifically, even if you take Nichols position an "if" still exists. It is simply behind the veil of God's glory. Namely, one is absolutely certainly saved if and only if God has elected him.

I understand that this is his point: God's will is sovereign, salvation depends on God's will alone. If the point is to simply affirm God's absolute, unquestionable, power, then great, point taken. But if one then wants to draw comfort from this conclusion he must, in my opinion, necessarily fail. God's will is the ultimate conditional, the ultimate "if", and no man can ever see into it or know it.

I'm not, therefore, arguing for Arminianism. Nichols position on God's sovereignty may very well be true. I'm simply asking those who hold this position to not use this doctrine to comfort those worried about their eternal salvation. Have I missed something?

Jacob said...

The larger context is a chapter on the Covenant of Grace and the emphasis he is making is that it is a unilateral covenant: God is declaring his intended action: I will put enmity between your seed and the woman's." He is distinguishing it from a bilateral covenant, one between two equal parties. Previously in the book, Nichols looked at other Reformed understandings of Covenant theology and some theologians understood covenants to be proper only if they were between equals. He does not agree and this paragraph is from his positive formulation of covenant theology. The point is that God decided to undertake the Redemption of man. It was not something that God first asked man if he could do. So here, no, he isn't talking about eternal security. He's talking about the kind of covenant that the Covenant of Grace is: unilateral and efficacious. Perhaps the reference to Romans 8 is a bit misleading and distracting from his main point here and is the source of your concern?

Brandon Booth said...

Yes, I think it is the reference to Roman's 8 that got me. Specifically his comparison: "It, [Christ's work] does not rest on any decision of fallen men, any more than the application of redemption does. Therefore this divine pledge is unilateral and efficacious."

Truthfully, I'm needling a discussion here, probably far outside of his intended meaning in this passage, but I hope that I'm doing so in the in the spirit of fun and mutual education. :) If not then read no further! If so, then, well... I hope the following make sense.

I agree with the quote of course, God has put no conditionals on us. God doesn't say, "I'll save you, but only if you [fill in the blank]". But, if Nichols holds to the doctrine of limited atonement then his emphasis on God's unilateral covenant is, to me at least, terrifying and not comforting. In other words, if God's covenant of grace is unilateral (which I agree it is), but also limited (only efficacious for those whom he has chosen) then we all live under a great big scary "if": I'm saved only if God wants me to be, but I cannot do anything to change His mind, nor can I really ever know His mind for sure. I'm certain that God's grace can be "efficacious" but I can never be certain that God's grace is "for me."

Admittedly I'm assuming a lot here. Significantly, I'm assuming that Nichols cannot offer any sure proof that God has elected me. But if the disease we're talking about is the question: "If God is good and loving, why are some saved and not others?" Then the armenians cure it by rejecting God's sovereignty, and Nichols cures it by doing away with his love (for some). In both cases it seems to me that the cure might be worse than the disease, and both wind up at odds with the character of God as He is revealed in Jesus. I prefer to be rather more ordinary. As Chesterton said, "If [the ordinary man] saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them" (Chesterton, G. K. 1994-05-01. Orthodoxy p. 24. Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition).

Jacob said...

So why can't Nichols take the truth of God's love and limited atonement and the contradiction with them?

Brandon Booth said...

Perhaps a better word is "paradox," that is "apparent contradiction." Regardless I don't think Nichols does accept a paradox between God's love an limited atonement, because there is no contradiction between God's love for some and limited atonement. In fact the phrase "limited atonement" is just another way of saying God only loves some. Correct?

Further, the results of holding to limited atonement is precisely the resolution the paradox between God's sovereignty and the fact that some are not saved.

So he doesn't accept the contradiction of God's love and limited atonement. "Limited atonement" is the denial of God's love for every one. The paradox he does accept (indeed must), is beween God's limited atonement and the certainty of Christ's atonement for him. There doesn't seem to be a way for him to confidently believe that God loves him, yet he believes it anyway.