Sunday, April 26, 2015

Todd Friel Is No Monergist

I agree with Todd Friel: "precision in language" is important. So when a Reformed Baptist who claims to hold a monergistic sotoriology goes off the deep end using non-monergistic terms to reason away the sinfulness of children, imprecision begins to creep in. In Friel's April 17th video clip, "Babies who die go to Heaven", based on arguments from silence, speculations, and vague clutching at Scriptural straws, Friel brings in Greek philosophy by the back door using non-Reformational, and Anabaptist terms, "age and level of accountability", as if one of these ideas is better than the other. Both have their roots in classical Greek formulations about the development of children. In Greek thinking, children were not highly thought of, existing as a kind of blank tableau incapable of thought or decision making until a certain age when the first sparks of reason were thought to begin. These ideas crept into Arminian views of salvation during the Enlightenment in relation to children and particularly infant baptism where it was believed that children must first attain understanding and a certain level of intellect in order to possess Biblical faith and then be baptised as a believing adult. Friel seems to share some sympathy with this soteriology, to the point where children can't accrue a "sin debt" because they don't have a Biblical understanding of what sin is. Two problems arise at this point.

Firstly, original sin is downplayed. Friel's assumption that children don't understand sin explicitly states that somehow adults do. However, in the Apology to the Augsberg Confession, original sin is defined as a "diseased nature that cannot fear and love God and believe God", which includes an "ignorance in the mind" that denies to human nature an ability to understand "the things of the Spirit of God". This concupiscence continues into adulthood, however educated one may be, as attested to by Paul's condemnation of "wisdom of the world" as foolishness and folly.  Clearly original sin isn't isolated to the young. As when Jesus cried out to the crowd, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do", he was mostly addressing adults: Roman soldiers, the Jewish leaders of the day, and others who came to witness his crucifixion.

Secondly, Friel's arguments takes away the sovereignty of God in salvation and places the emphasis on how old, educated or mentally disabled an unbeliever is, as if God's power through his Word isn't quite enough to puncture these underdeveloped minds: to quote Todd Friel "an ability to believe" must be present, a statement that contradicts Ephesians 2: 8-9 which reads that faith is not of human doing. Even one of Friel's heroes, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, would baulk at his "ability to believe" comment. Taking Friel's argument to its rather comic extremes, we would have an impotent God basically sitting on his hands until finally He could say, "ok, you're old enough, you've been schooled enough, now I can act". The conditions of human age and reason are made to supersede the power of the Holy Spirit to create faith and repentance, and render God as a bit part player in someone's salvation. A conditional salvation based on the ability of human reasoning is behind all Friel's talk of babies and the mentally disabled not bearing a responsibility for their sin: if they can't think, therefore no sin debt is attributed to them.

However, its here we run into another problem with Friel's thinking: how God dealt with the children of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. There are several clear examples of whole cities "devoted to destruction" with their entire populations wiped out at God's command. If its Friel's position that the children in those cities did not have a sin debt, what does that say about God's character? It would appear to make God unjust that He would condemn children who held no responsibility for their sins along with the rest in such a cruel, capricious fashion. However when we remember that even original sin in itself is enough to condemn humanity, even apart from wilful or ignorant sins, God's judgment on the Canaanites is perfectly in line with his righteousness and holiness in whose presence sinful man cannot stand. Friel's appear to God's character therefore is an emotional one, and is not borne out by several examples of God's judgment on various people groups, including the Israelites, which included the killing and mistreatment of children:

Deuteronomy 28:52-63

 "They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.  The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left,  so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.  The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter,  her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.
 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God,  then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting.  And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.  Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.  Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God.  And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it."

In conclusion, if it's Friel's assertion that God is incapable of violence towards children, he should reconsider that position in light of this Scriptural example, along with the following passage:

2 Kings 2: 19-24

Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”  He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”  So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
 He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”  And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

(I guess God didn't hang around for the 42 small boys to understand their sin, after all.)

1 comment:

  1. In my Baptist days, I remember a pastor of mine saying that God commanding the killing of Canaanite children was an act of mercy designed to send them straight to heaven.