Gerald at Iustificare has written several posts on grace and free will in recent weeks. The latest post, a discussion of Augustine's treatment of the issue, introduces an interesting distinction I had not heard before: the distinction of infallible vs. irresistable grace. Gerald describes the distinction as follows:
Infallible grace is “grace that always accomplishes it purpose” –nothing more or less. Infallible grace can be resisted, but is not. Infallible grace can fail, but does not. There is no ontological/metaphysical necessity associated with infallible grace. Irresistible grace, on the other hand, is “grace that accomplishes it purpose through metaphysical necessity.” With irresistible grace, the will is overrun by the force of grace. It cannot be resisted. The difference between the two is that of necessity and certainty. Infallible grace is certain, but not necessary. Irresistible grace on the other hand, is certain because it is necessary.
Now, let's apply this to grace and free will. Gerald says that Augustine argues that the elect have the capacity to resist God's grace but simply don't. Furthermore, everyone whom God wills is wooed in such way that they will not resist. Gerald quotes Augustine: "Whomever [God] has mercy on He calls in such a way as He knows suitable for him that he not spurn the caller." This seems to be a skillfull synthesis of Exodus 33:19 (quoted at Romans 9:15) with Matthew 22:14 - it is Augustine's view that God calls everyone, but knows precisely what call will cause a particular person to repent, and calls some people in this efficacious way, but others in such a way that they will spurn him (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). Now, this could be perfectly compatible with libertarian free will (the freedom to do otherwise) if you believe in middle knowledge, but there is reason to believe (from Gerald's post - I confess I still haven't read Augustine myself) that Augustine accepts a Socratic theory of the will on which we always will what we believe (rightly or wrongly) to be for our benefit.
Although middle knowledge is an extremely problematic idea, I don't believe in the Socratic account of the will, so I can't take the alternate view. (By the way, would someone like to fill me in about how Augustine explains incontinence/weakness of will?) As an Arminian, I doubt if God's 'prevenient' grace is infallible, and I certainly don't believe it to be irresistable. If it was infallible, what that would mean to me is that God effectively calls only those he knows will choose him if called, and refrains from calling those who would never choose him no matter what (because I take 2 Peter 3:9 quite seriously). However, if, as I suspect, God calls every human being in the way that will be most efficacious for that particular person, consistent with God's character and respect for human freedom, then His prevenient Grace is not infallible.
Thus in the end I must reject even bare infallibility. Infallibility plus libertarian free will could, however, be nearly as good as a more rigorous Arminianism where theodicy is concerned. The biggest concern I would say I still have is that there is good reason to believe that God desires to DEMONSTRATE his justice by means of a sort of trial at the end. Although God doesn't need to hold a trial to determine who is guilty, he still feels the need to judge from the Great White Throne in order to demonstrate that his judgment is just (Rev. 20:11-15). For this reason, I would expect God also to DEMONSTRATE that the people who are condemned would choose against him under the best circumstances, and thus I would expect him to put them in the best circumstances for this purpose, even if he has middle knowledge of their choice without bringing the circumstance about.Posted by Kenny at July 12, 2006 6:45 PM
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