Thursday, December 21, 2017

One clarification concerning Vincent Cheung

[Note:This post was written in response to someone with whom I am having a conversation. I have no wish to deal with Vincent Cheung any more than I already have. Those who have no idea who Vincent Cheung is, you are strongly encouraged to not read this].

My criticism of Vincent Cheung and his (essentially) hyper-Calvinism can be read in the following articles:

God, the Author of Sin and Metaphysical Distanciation: A Brief Rebuttal of Vincent Cheung's Theodicy

Vincent Cheung and 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism

Some practical problems with Cheung's heresies

These initial criticisms of Cheung have mainly dealt with the substance of Cheung's teaching, but I have realized that there is a need to deal with the form of Cheung's teaching as well, on this topic, so I would like to take this opportunity to be as clear as I possibly can in my criticism of Cheung's hereises.

The first deals with the issue of form. Many people have pointed out that Cheung defines "author" differently from traditional Reformed definitions. According to Cheungians, Cheung's definition of "author" is merely a claim that God is the ultimate cause behind everything. God is the "author" of sin in the same way as a writer "authors" a novel. Just as an "author" decides everything in the novel, including wicked acts by the antagonists while not endorsing the wicked acts, so likewise God is the "author" of sin in that he controls how sin works in the world. Therefore, it is argued, since Cheung defines "author" differently, God can indeed be the said to be the "author of sin." To deny that to God is to claim that sin is outside the sovereignty of God altogether.

To this, my response is the following: (1) Yes, such a definition of "author" is orthodox, but (2) Cheung has no right to redefine a technical term "author," for otherwise anyone can redefine "sin" to actually mean "righteousness" for example, and more importantly, (3) Cheung is teaching more than "God is the ultimate cause of sin." Thus, in form, Cheung is not actually heretical but rather subversive of established terminology, which he has no right to redefine as he wishes. With that hopefully out of the way, we can go on to the actual content, and not be waylaid by the refrain "But, but... Cheung defines 'author' differently." Yes, I do know that, and I am here putting this objection to bed! Cheung's redefinition of "author" is divisive, but it is not what makes him a heretic.

When Cheung calls God "the author of sin," he is claiming more than God is the ultimate cause of sin. Rather, Cheung is claiming that God is the only real cause of every thing that happens. As I have shown in the first article critiquing his idea of "metaphysical distanciation," for Cheung any agency or second causes is under the direct control of God. Cheung does not deny the existence of second causes, which is another statement people seem to think that I have made. No, Cheung affirms the existence of second causes BUT he denies their actual agency as second causes. For Cheung, "second causes" are mere instruments. As an analogy, let us assume that there is an android which I have programmed to think in a certain way, utilizing a complex code for it to function almost like a human being. In this scenario, the coder is like God, the android is like Man, and the program God's sovereign control. When the android (Man) does something, it does so because the coder (God) has told it to do so, even though the coder (after coding) has no direct control over the android. Cheung's view of "secondary causes" is like this scenario, whereby Cheung's god codes sin into the programming, but because the coder (God) does not actually commit the sin, he should not be said to be evil.

For anyone looking into the scenario, it is rather obvious that the coder is in fact evil, because the program causes the android to do evil. The android has no agency of any kind, and cannot do otherwise on any level. One will seek in futility for any reason why the coder should be exonerated from any crimes committed by the android, when the android does commit a crime.

The orthodox teaching of Scripture is that Man has real moral agency. Man makes real decision and real choices, which God did not make neither did He make through Man as instrument. Man is not some automaton controlled by a puppet master after all! Rather, Man has real creaturely freedom, wherein he is constantly exhorted to choose God, to choose life, and to reject sin. Thus, I maintain that Cheung does affirm "second causes," but not as to their function as "second causes." It is almost like how Cheung redefines "author," so likewise he redefines "second causes" and rob them of their agency.

Therefore, materially, in the content of what Cheung teaches, Cheung actually teaches the error rejected by the Reformed orthodox that God is the "author of sin." While formally, he redefines the term in a way that seem orthodox, materially he teaches the exact error that the Reformed orthodox rejected. This is why Cheung is a heretic, and it is not because he adopts the term (formally), but because he teaches materially the error the Reformed orthodox rejected.

The Reformed orthodox teaching is that there is real creaturely freedom and real moral agency of human beings. But God's sovereignty super-intends everything, so that all things will come about as God has decreed (c.f. Gen. 50:20 among others). How is that possible? We are told from Scripture that this is the case, and the task of theologians is to attempt to comprehend that. The way that is traditionally done is through appeal to "mystery," which is good as far as it goes but it makes no progress on the topic at hand. The way that I have done this is through the analogy of appealing to multiple dimensions, as I had done in my article dealing with metaphysical distanciation. Creaturely freedom and human freedom are not fighting each other in a tug-of-war. But rather, they operate on different planes. If you ask me if this solution is "biblical" (i.e. proof-texted from Scripture), then you are missing the entire point of this exercise, which is to help make sense of what God has already revealed in Scripture. We can see in Scripture that God's ways are different from ours (Is. 55:9), and thus to use them to springboard into a theory of different planes of working is helpful for us to understand how both divine freedom and human freedom can both be true, yet God is fully and absolutely sovereign. With the position of different planes or dimension of operation, we can make a beginning in understanding how God is the ultimate cause of every thing but yet not the Author of Sin, something which the Scriptures teach.

Thus, in conclusion, Cheung is a heretic for teaching the material error that God is the "Author of Sin," not for formally claiming that God is the "Author" of sin. This point needs to be made clear, because it seems that for some Cheungians, the mere fact that Cheung redefines "Author" means saying God is the "Author of Sin" is right and proper. EVEN IF there was no material heresy in Cheung's teaching, it is not right to redefines terms and use them in (essentially) an equivocal fashion, sowing confusion and dissension among fellow believers.

20 comments:

Gregory S. Gill said...

Are you aware that in the book "Absolute Predestination" by Girolamo Zanchi, that he called God the 'author of sin'? Do you agree that the dictionary has more than one meaning for the term 'author'? And that if one uses the term 'author' to reflect any of it dictionary meanings that, that person is not redefining the term because that person is respecting its semantic range?

For most of what you said you've not use the scriptures to show how your statements are based on and rooted in the bible. At best you are merely speculating.

Daniel C said...

@Greg,

did you even bother to READ what I just wrote?

>Do you agree that the dictionary has more than one meaning for the term 'author'?

I have JUST addressed THAT in the article.

>For most of what you said you've not use the scriptures to show how your statements are based on and rooted in the bible.

And I HAD just addressed THAT in the article.

> At best you are merely speculating.

Yes, Cheung does not speculate, and pigs fly.

I would prefer that you not make a fool of yourself publicly. Please do yourself a favor and actually READ what I wrote.

Gregory S. Gill said...

I have given the issue some further thought since our last contact with eachother and I now think that both you and Cheung are speculating very much. I believe the bible is silent on the issue and that we are to settle with God is the one who ultimately causes everything. Whether He does whatever directly or indirectly only God knows. And that is good enough for me.

Gregory S. Gill said...

I need make a very important correction concerning my first post. The correction is this, are you aware that in the book "Absolute Predestination" by Girolamo Zanchi, that he called God the 'author of evil'?

steve said...

Perhaps Gregory can provide a direct quote from Zanchi. In addition, it would be important to compare the English translation to the original Latin regarding God's "authorship" of sin.

Daniel C said...

Hi Greg,

No, I have not read that book by Zanchi. But since it is open source, I am sure if you can give and properly cite the quote I can check to see if what you are claiming is correct, and in what context too.

Daniel C said...

@Steve,

agreed

Gregory S. Gill said...

"(2) That God's free and voluntary permission of sin lays no man under any forcible or compulsive necessity of committing it; consequently the Deity can by no means be termed the author of moral evil, to which He is not, in the proper sense of the word, accessory, but only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it."

"POSITION 3.—God, as the primary and efficient cause of all things, is not only the Author of those actions done by His elect as actions, but also as they are good actions, whereas, on the other hand, though He may be said to be the Author of all the actions done by the wicked, yet He is not the Author of them in a moral and compound sense as they are sinful; but physically, simply and sensu diviso as they are mere actions, abstractedly from all consideration of the goodness or badness of them.

"Although there is no action whatever which is not in some sense either good or bad, yet we can easily conceive of an action, purely as such, without adverting to the quality of it, so that the distinction between an action itself and its denomination of good or evil is very obvious and natural."

http://www.truecovenanter.com/gospel/zanchius_absolute_predestination.html

Daniel C said...

@Greg,

if you notice the quote you have cut and pasted here, it states that "God ... Author of those actions done by His elect, .... Author of the actions done by the wicked, ... yet he is not the Author of them in a moral and compound sense..."

You notice the contrast of the phrase "Author of .. actions" with the phrase "Author of them"? Also note that these are spoken of as actions QUA actions, and the whole section here lies under the heading "The Omnipotence of God."

So, even apart from the Latin, what you have cited proves the exact opposite of what you claim. First, Zanchi called God "the author of the actions done by the wicked," which is different from "author of evil." Second, Zanchi speaks of God as the "author" of actions, but not author of states ("evil") or even people. Thirdly, through the phrase "not the Author of them in a moral and compound sense," he is emphatically denying that God is the Author of sin.

Gregory S. Gill said...

You forgot the first paragraph that I pasted where he said God can be called the author of evil in "only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it" sense.

Unknown said...

Tom McClintock here.

"on the other hand, though He may be said to be the Author of all the actions done by the wicked, yet He is not the Author of them in a moral and compound sense as they are sinful; but physically, simply and sensu diviso as they are mere actions, abstractedly from all consideration of the goodness or badness of them."

This part of the quote seems to be saying something similar to what Vincent says...that is, that God is the author and immediate cause of the wicked's wicked actions but since God metaphysically caused these actions, there being a distinction between causing and doing, God in no wise is unrighteous. If you all see it differently, by all means, say so and explain. I would be interested in knowing.

Also, I have a question: Why is it that when God decrees evil from all eternity that is not evil in any sense, yet if He were to immediately cause (not do) evil this makes Him evil. Remote cause=righteous Immediate cause=evil?

And now an appeal to scripture and an example of God acting. Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar is judged by God for his pride. God in judging Neb makes him to be like a cow, seemingly removing even his human rationally. Neb's behavior is sinful, we are made as human's in the image of God, we are not to act as brute beasts. God did this immediately to Neb, I see no secondary causes. Thoughts? When I have asked about this with others....they ignore me.

Finally, I'm not given over to Vincent's view but am puzzled. One of the main problems I have with his view is that I see extremely scant, if any at all, historical testimony from the church, for like 19 centuries of his view. This is a great concern. If his view is the biblical view, why has the Spirit not illuminated the church about it for so long. It reminds me of dispensationalism in that regard.

Daniel C said...

@Greg,

yes, the quote states "can by NO means be termed the author of moral evil," which means he should NOT be termed thus.

Daniel C said...

@Tom,

If you have followed my arguments in my articles, you would know that Cheung is saying MORE than God does not personally do evil.

Also, saying that God is the Author of actions in a section speaking about divine omnipotence has nothing to do with the topic of whether God is the Author of a person's actions, which in that quote is the "moral and compound sense." Zanchi is a theologian of his time, which means he is schooled in scholasticism, and anyone who wants to interpret him must interpret what he says according to scholastic thinking. A good rule for anyone is that if one cannot understand what Zanchi means by "moral and compound sense," then one cannot rightly interpret him


>Why is it that when God decrees evil from all eternity that is not evil in any sense, yet if He were to immediately cause (not do) evil this makes Him evil.

Because directly causing evil means that God does evil. Whereas the type of "cause" that we call "indirect causation" or "ultimate causation" is not God acting in the same way, but rather God acting via contingent or free agents. Contingent thus theoretically "can do otherwise," but they obviously do whatever God sovereignly decrees - contingently and freely according to their moral agencies, but sovereignly according to God's plan.

Please read my first piece on metaphysical distanciation for my way of trying to show how the different types of causation work. Thanks.


> God did this immediately to Neb

Yes, God's judgment on Nebuchadnezzar is direct. And nobody denies that God directly judges Man. God's judgment is not evil, as I am sure you would not disagree.

Gregory S. Gill said...

When you read the quote in context Zanchi is saying God is not the Author of evil in one sense but in another sense He is.

Daniel C said...

@Greg,

seriously! That is not what Zanchi is saying! You quoted it, I cited it back to you, and showed you where he is denying what you claim he says. Which part of "no" and "not" do you NOT understand?

If you cannot correctly interpret a written source, it is no wonder you embrace Cheung.

Gregory S. Gill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gregory S. Gill said...

@ Daniel C

You are interpreting Zanchi out of context as he is making a contrast in saying its wrong the say God is the Author of evil "in the proper sense of the word, accessory" but such may be said "only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it." He is making a contrast of what is wrong in one sense but correct in another sense.

The first paragraph in my post of quoting Zanchi is a paragraph of contrasting ideas.

>"it is no wonder you embrace Cheung."<

Pray tell, how do I embrace Cheung?

Daniel C said...

@Greg:

your reading comprehension skills are very poor if you think Zanchi is teaching that God is the author of evil when Zanchi clearly saying that God "by NO means be termed the author of moral evil."

I am sure it is evident to everyone that you are blatantly twisting Zanchi's words. Since this is the case and you are totally unable to do basic reading comprehension, I have no wish to interact further with you.

Daniel C said...

And if you actually think that your point is rescued by the second part of the sentence, you fail your reading comprehension once again, since it is stated that God is the Author "only remotely or negatively so," where the key word here is "NEGATIVELY." So Zanchi is saying God is Author (+ve) Negatively (-ve) of Evil, which means God is not the Author of Evil (Basic Math: +ve x -ve = -ve).

Gregory S. Gill said...

@Daniel C

>"your reading comprehension skills are very poor if you think Zanchi is teaching that God is the author of evil when Zanchi clearly saying that God "by NO means be termed the author of moral evil.""<

When one read the whole unit (of which you only quoted a part of) its then becomes clear what Zanchi meant by part that you quoted. The whole unit is "consequently the Deity can by no means be termed the author of moral evil, to which He is not, in the proper sense of the word, accessory". In other words God can't be said to be the author of evil "in the proper sense of the word, accessory". He then adds "but only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it." Is not the term or word 'but' in the quotation making a contrast in saying in this other sense "but only remotely or negatively so, inasmuch as He could, if He pleased, absolutely prevent it" it may be said that God is the author of evil? If the word 'but' in the quotation of Zanchi is not making a contrast (to the words or idea that just came before it) then what is it doing?

'But' definition:

conjunction
1.
used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.
synonyms: yet, nevertheless, nonetheless, even so, however, still, notwithstanding, despite that, in spite of that, for all that, all the same, just the same

preposition
1.
except; apart from; other than.
"in Texas, we were never anything but poor"
synonyms: except (for), apart from, other than, besides, aside from, with the exception of, bar, excepting, excluding, leaving out, save (for), saving
"everyone but him"

https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=EdJDWqDDGYLDmwHou52YDg&q=but+definition&oq=but+def&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0l8j0i10k1.2060.5751.0.8257.8.7.0.0.0.0.124.685.4j3.7.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.7.685.0..46j35i39k1j0i131k1j0i131i20i264k1j0i20i264k1j0i46k1.0.AGG13YaD-ks