Friday, March 14, 2014

Predestination and the Chrysippus Cylinder

HT:  Pastor Cooper on Election

The Lutheran view of election is consistent with some philosophical views of destiny that would have been already established in Greek culture during the apostolic age.

If you look at traditional Calvinism views as a “fatalistic” school where fate is determined by an outside agency (typically “the gods”) that cannot be changed no matter what we do, you can see that alive and well in the Greek thought of Paul’s day.  The best example would be Oedipus who was doomed from birth to a tragic fate and all his attempts to avoid it only lead to the very outcome that could not be avoided.

You can also see the Arminian view in the “free will” schools of indeterminism where causality was removed from fate in varying degrees among the teachings of Aristotle and the Epicureans.

But rising out of the stoic schools in the centuries leading up to the time of Christ you see a “third way” that one could reasonably assume that the original readers of the epistles would be exposed to.  This “causal determinism” is a moderating view between the two that sought to resolve the inconsistencies found in both extremes by describing fate in time based on actual causes instead of alien divine decrees or internal self-determination.

In particular you have Chrysippus of Soli (200 BC) and his famous cylinder example.  Chyrsippus explains that, if a cylinder is on a hill it rolls down that hill because of logical causes that could be considered both external and internal.  If you kick the cylinder, it would roll because of your external activity up on it but also because of its internal quality (namely its “roundness”).  So nature and external action are the causes of fate.  If the cylinder is sufficiently round and you kick it, it will roll down the hill and it can’t not roll down the hill unless other causes present a different outcome.  The cylinder was not “doomed” to roll down the hill in a fatalistic sense nor did it roll down the hill on its own accord because its fate is determined in time and is based on logical causality.

Of these three opinions of “destiny”, you see Paul’s line of thinking communicating what is more in line with a causal determinism in which Christ and His redemptive work are simultaneously the internal and external causes of salvation.  To borrow Chrysippus’ cylinder as a metaphor for conversion, Christ both “kicks” the Christian to salvation by His external saving act and (through the work of the Holy Spirit) determines the roundness of the Christian’s nature through sanctification and the sacraments.  The elect are the elect because they are kicked and they are made round… and roll down the hill because of temporal causes that were foreknown beforehand.  The elect could be known to be elect from eternity because God’s work as both internal and external cause is perfect and irresistible.

But this does not upset Paul’s teachings of the falling away of some Christians nor does it make his exhortation to remain steadfast in the faith a waste of time.  The Lutheran denial of double predestination can also be upheld in light of Chrysippus… because a cylinder that ceased to be round would no longer roll down the hill in the stoic understanding of causality... or to put it another way, what happens when salt loses its saltiness? The Lutheran understanding of the predestination paradox and irresistable grace that can be resisted would not be anachronistic to ancient Greece if understood this way.

I think that an ancient Greek mind would understand this causal nature of Paul’s description of our divine election in ways that westerners did not really grasp thousands of years after these philosophical debates took place. I don’t think that the original readers would hear Paul’s description of causal election in time and think Oedipus-style fatalism or Aristotelian free will.  They had access to a popular philosophical background that would agree with Pastor Cooper’s analysis of the text… that all election is centered in God as both the external and internal causes of man’s election as found in the work of Christ.

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