Friday, December 09, 2016

Keswick's Mere Counteraction Doctrine: in Keswick's Errors--an Analysis and Critique of So Great Salvation by Stephen Barabas, part 11 of 17

Note:  In a previous post, I mentioned that my debate with Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation on the topic "The Old Testament Is Mainly Fiction, Not Fact," was now available on YouTube. The web address for the debate has changed, because we fixed some typos in the previous video. If you want to link to or embed the debate somewhere, please use the link on my website or the new address on YouTube. Thank you.

While one cannot rule out that Barabas’s bungled misrepresentation of Warfield is deliberate, charity hopes that it was merely accidental.  Support for accidental misrepresentation of Warfield appears from the entire absence in Barabas’s presentation of the fact that Warfield believed that eradication, control, and counteraction of indwelling sin were taught in Scripture.  Barabas presents Warfield’s position simply as eradication.  No acknowledgment of statements by Warfield such as the following, in his prominent critique of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That is Spiritual, are acknowledged:
Mr. Chafer conducts his discussion . . . on the presupposition that . . . “[w]e are either to be delivered by the abrupt removal of all tendency to sin, and so no longer need the enabling power of God to combat the power of sin, or we are to be delivered by the immediate and constant power of the indwelling Spirit.”  This irreducible “either—or” is unjustified.  In point of fact, both “eradication” and “control” are true.  God delivers us from our sinful nature, not indeed by “abruptly” but by progressively eradicating it, and meanwhile controlling it.  For the new nature which God gives us is not an absolutely new somewhat, alien to our personality, inserted into us, but our old nature itself remade—a veritable recreation, or making of all things new.[1]
Furthermore, in his bibliography Barabas cites no works by Warfield other than his Perfectionism,[2] supporting the possibility that Barabas’s astonishing misrepresentation of the Princeton theologian is a product of his shallow understanding of Warfield’s theology.  However, to avoid the conclusion that Barabas has deliberately misrepresented Warfield, one must assume not only that he neglected to read Warfield’s critique of Chafer, but that Barabas has not even carefully read the pages he cites[3] where Warfield explains his position. On those very pages the Princetonian states:  Counteraction there is; and suppression there is; but most fundamentally of all there is eradication; and all these work one and the self-same Spirit.”[4]  Barabas’s Keswick classic never states or even hints that Warfield taught counteraction,[5] suppression, and eradication—the reader of So Great Salvation who did not consult Warfield’s own writings would certainly never know what Warfield actually believed.  Barabas, in a number of pages of confused critique, never summarizes Warfield’s position as clearly as does Paul Schaefer in a single sentence:  “Warfield’s emphasis on divine sovereignty and on regeneration mean[t] that God both controls by the power of the Spirit the remnants of indwelling sin and progressively eradicates them in the one whom he has remade, as that person grows in faith.”[6]  Whether a matter of deliberate misrepresentation of inexcusable sloppiness and carelessness, Barabas’s attempt to rebut Warfield in So Great Salvation falls so short of success that it does not even state the position of the great Princeton theologian accurately.
               Since Barabas so strikingly misrepresents Warfield’s position[7] as one that “tempts the Christian to negligence,” leads him to turn from “continued reliance upon the keeping power of God,” and teaches that “we must reach a stage of spiritual development where the old nature was completely eradicated . . . [and we] become ethically self-sufficient,”[8] it is appropriate to provide an extended quotation from Warfield’s locus classicus on progressive eradication.  One can easily judge whether Warfield refutes the Higher Life model of mere counteraction for the purpose of advocating ethical self-sufficiency or if he actually believed in what he termed a “supernatural sanctification” in which “the Spirit leads us in all our acts, as well as purifies our hearts . . . [so that] to grace always belongs the initiative.”  One can also easily discern whether Barabas’s critique of Warfield’s classical orthodox model of progressive eradication, or Warfield’s critique of the Keswick model of mere counteraction, is the more accurate representation of the teaching of Scripture:
It is a fatally inadequate conception of salvation which so focuses attention on deliverance from the penalty of sin and from continued acts of sin, as to permit to fall out of sight deliverance from sin itself—that corruption of heart which makes us sinners. Laying one-sided stress on deliverance from acts of sin—especially when these acts of sin are confined by definition to “deliberate transgressions of known law”—is too poverty-stricken a conception of salvation to satisfy any Christian heart. Christians know that their Lord has come into the world to save them from sin in all its aspects, its penalty, its corruption and its power: they trust Him for this complete salvation: and they know that they receive it from Him in its fulness. [Victorious Life leader] Mr. Trumbull and his associates have no doubt been betrayed into neglect or denial of our deliverance from the central thing—“the corruption of man’s heart”—by a certain prudence. They are set upon the assertion of the possibility and duty for Christians of a life free from sinning. Grant them that, and they are willing to allow that their unsinning Christians remain sinners at heart. They do not appear to see that thus they yield the whole case. An astonishing misapprehension of the relation of action to motive underlies their point of view; and a still more astonishing misapprehension of the method of sanctification which is founded on this relation. To keep a sinner, remaining a sinner, free from actually sinning, would be but a poor salvation; and in point of fact that is not the way the Holy Spirit operates in saving the soul. He does not “take possession of our will and work it”—thus, despite our sinful hearts, producing a series of good acts as our life-manifestation and thereby falsifying our real nature in its manifestation. He cures our sinning precisely by curing our sinful nature; He makes the tree good that the fruit may be good. It is, in other words, precisely by eradicating our sinfulness—“the corruption of our hearts”—that He delivers us from sinning. The very element in salvation which Mr. Trumbull neglects, is therefore, in point of fact, the radical element of the saving process, and the indispensable precondition of that element in salvation which he elects to emphasize to its neglect. We cannot be saved from sinning except as we are saved from sin; and the degree in which we are saved from sinning is the index of the degree in which we have been saved from sin. Here too, as in every other sphere of activity, the operari follows and must follow the esse: a thing must be before it can act, and it can act only as it is. To imagine that we can be saved from the power of sin without the eradication of the corruption in which the power of sin has its seat, is to imagine that an evil tree can be compelled to bring forth good fruit—or that it would be worth while to compel it to do so—which is the precise thing that our Lord denies. What Mr. Trumbull in point of fact teaches is exactly what Hannah Whitall Smith ridicules in a vivid figure which she uses in a less felicitous connection: that what Christ does is just to tie good fruit to the branches of a bad tree and cry, Behold how great is my salvation!42
It is astonishing that nevertheless even Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas falls in to some extent with this representation. Dr. Thomas does not forget, indeed, that we are to be delivered from the corruption of sin—ultimately. When he wishes to bring into view the whole deliverance which we have in Christ, he enumerates the elements of it thus: “Deliverance from the guilt of sin, deliverance from the penalty of sin, deliverance from the bondage of sin, and deliverance hereafter from the very presence of sin.”43 The insertion of the word “hereafter” into the last clause tells the story. We must wait for the “hereafter” to be delivered from the “presence of sin”—that is to say from the corruption of our hearts—but meanwhile we may very well live as if sin were not present: its presence in us need not in any way affect our life-manifestation. Dr. Thomas enters the formal discussion of the matter,44 apparently, as a mediator in “the old question, ‘suppression or eradication?’ ”45 on this side or the other of which perfectionists have been accustomed to array themselves as they faced the problem of the sin that dwells in us. He comes forward with a new formula, by which, supposedly, he hopes that he may conciliate the parties to the dispute. “Suppression,” he declares, says too little, “eradication” says too much; let us say, “counteraction,” he suggests, and then we shall have the right word. Does “counteraction,” however, come between “eradication” and “suppression,” saying less than the one and more than the other? Does it not say less than either? Whether the “sinful principle” in us be “eradicated” or “suppressed,” it is put out of action: if it be merely “counteracted,” it not only remains but remains active, and enters as a co-factor into all effects. The illustration which Dr. Thomas himself uses, to make his meaning clear, is what he speaks of as the counteraction of gravitation by volition. In the same way, he says, “the lower law of sin and death can be counteracted by the presence of the Holy Ghost in our hearts.” Of course volition does not directly counteract gravitation: we cannot by a mere volition rise at will upwards from the earth. What volition is able to do is to set another physical force in operation in the direction opposed to the pull or push of gravitation: and if this new physical force pulls or pushes more powerfully in a direction opposite to that in which gravitation pulls or pushes—why, the effect will be in the direction of the action of the new force, and will be determined by the amount of its superiority to the force of gravity. We throw a ball into the air. We have not suppressed gravity. It pulls the ball all the time. We only counteract its effect in the exact measure in which the force we apply exceeds the pull of gravity. If Dr. Thomas intends this illustration to be applied fully, it appears to imply that the “principle of sin” operates in all our acts with full power, and therefore conditions all our acts: only, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is stronger than indwelling sin, and therefore the effect produced is determined by Him. We do not sin, not because the principle of sin in us is suppressed or eradicated, but because it is counteracted. If this be Dr. Thomas’ meaning, one would think that he ought to declare not, as he does declare, that Christians need not sin, but that they cannot sin—not even to the least, tiny degree. If the Holy Spirit who is the infinite God dwells in them for the express purpose of counteracting the principle of sin in them; and if He operates invariably, in every action of the Christian; it would seem to be clearly impossible that the principle of sin should ever be traceable in the effect at all. The ball that we throw into the air will rise only a certain distance and ever more and more slowly until, its initial impulse being overcome by the deadly pull of gravity, it turns and falls back to earth. If, however, it was propelled by an infinite force, the pull of gravity, though always present, could have no determining effect on its movement. On this theory of counteraction Dr. Thomas should teach therefore not that Christians need not sin, but that they cannot sin—as indeed the passages in I John on which he immediately depends in his exposition of his view would also compel him, on his system of interpretation, to teach.
From the point of view of Scripture, however, this theory of counteraction is quite inadequate. It renders it impossible for the Christian to sin—and the Scriptures do not teach that: but it leaves the “principle of sin” in him unaltered and in full activity, and most emphatically the Scriptures do not teach that such is the condition of the Christian in this world. It surely would be better to be freed from the “principle of sin” in us than merely from its effects on our actions. And this is in fact what the Scriptures provide for. What they teach, indeed, is just “eradication.” They propose to free us from sinning by freeing us from the “principle of sin.” Of course, they teach that the Spirit dwells within us. But they teach that the Spirit dwells within us in order to affect us, not merely our acts; in order to eradicate our sinfulness and not merely to counteract its effects. The Scriptures’ way of cleansing the stream is to cleanse the fountain; they are not content to attack the stream of our activities, they attack directly the heart out of which the issues of life flow. But they give us no promise that the fountain will be completely cleansed all at once, and therefore no promise that the stream will flow perfectly purely from the beginning. We are not denying that the Spirit leads us in all our acts, as well as purifies our hearts. But we are denying that His whole work in us, or His whole immediate work in us, or His fundamental work in us, terminates on our activities and can be summed up in the word “counteraction.” Counteraction there is; and suppression there is; but most fundamentally of all there is eradication; and all these work one and the self-same Spirit. We are not forgetful that Dr. Thomas teaches an ultimate eradication; and we would not be unwilling to read his recognition of it “with a benevolent eye” and understand him as teaching, not that the eradication is not going on now, but only that the eradication which is going on now is not completed until “hereafter.” That would be Scriptural. But we fear Dr. Thomas will not permit us so to read him. And, if we mistake not, this difference in point of view between him and the Scriptures is in part, the source of his misconception and misprision of the seventh chapter of Romans. That chapter depicts for us the process of the eradication of the old nature. Dr. Thomas reads it statically and sees in it merely a “deadly warfare between the two natures”; which, he affirms,46 “does not represent the normal Christian life of sanctification.” He even permits himself to say, “There is no Divine grace in that chapter; only man’s nature struggling to be good and holy by law.” What is really in the chapter is Divine grace warring against, and not merely counteracting but eradicating, the natural evil of sin. To Paul the presence of the conflict there depicted is the guarantee of victory. The three things which we must insist on if we would share Paul’s view are: first, that to grace always belongs the initiative—it is grace that works the change: secondly, that to grace always belongs the victory—grace is infinite power: and thirdly, that the working of grace is by process, and therefore reveals itself at any given point of observation as conflict. In so far as Dr. Thomas’s representation obscures any one of these things it falls away from the teaching of the New Testament. Grace assuredly “means a new life, a Divine life, which lifts us above the natural, and is nothing else than the life of Christ Himself in His people.” It is, in substance, as sanctifying grace, the occupation of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and the undertaking by Him, not only of their renewal, but of their control. It is they alone who are “led” by the Spirit who are sons of God. But the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is not confined to the direction of our activities. Dr. Thomas says truly47 that grace does not merely “educate the natural heart.” But he errs when he says that “grace does not improve the old nature, it overcomes it.” He errs when he teaches only that “it promises hereafter to extirpate it,” but meanwhile, only “counteracts its tendencies.” It is progressively extirpating it now, and that is the fundamental fact in supernatural sanctification. The sanctifying action of the Spirit terminates on us, not merely on our activities; under it not only our actions but we are made holy. Only, this takes time; and therefore at no point short of its completion are either our acts or we “perfect.”[9]
A comparison of Barabas’s attempt to critique Warfield and Warfield’s own words brings to mind Barabas’s admission that Keswick theology, despite a century of teaching and publishing book after book, has produced no “carefully prepared, weighty discourses of a theological nature.”[10]  It is consequently not surprising that Barabas’s own book fits the Keswick pattern, so that rigorous analysis demonstrates that his presentation of Keswick arguments is neither weighty nor carefully prepared.  In any case, whatever the reason, Barabas’s critique of Warfield’s classically orthodox progressive eradicationism is a disasterous failure.

See here for this entire study.

[1]              “A Review of He that is Spiritual,” Benjamin B. Warfield.  Orig. pub. Princeton Theological Review 17 (April 1919) 322-327, reviewing He That is Spiritual, Lewis Sperry Chafer.  (New York, NY:  Our Hope, 1918.  Reprinted on pgs. 211-218 of Christ the Lord:  The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, ed. Michael Horton.  Note that Barabas makes the same sort of false dichotomy that Chafer does—perhaps a further line of evidence that Barabas was ignorant of Warfield’s argument.
[2]              Pg. 201, So Great Salvation, Barabas.  Barabas would have done well to carefully investigate the writings of what is very likely the most prominent historical Keswick critic before composing a Keswick critique of Warfield’s theology.  Then again, his sloppy study of Warfield is an accurate reflection of the Higher Life methodology overall, as “Keswick furnishes us with . . .  no carefully prepared, weighty discourses of a theological nature” (pg. 51, So Great Salvation).
[3]              On pg. 72 of So Great Salvation, Barabas cites pgs. 579-583 of Warfield’s Perfectionism vol 2, where Warfield explicitly states that the Holy Spirit counteracts the sin principle as well as suppressing and progressively eradicating it.  Indeed, Warfield’s affirmation “Counteraction there is; and suppression there is; but most fundamentally of all there is eradication; and all these work one and the self-same Spirit” (pg. 583, Perfectionism, Vol. 2) is made in-between two quotations Barabas makes from pgs. 583 and 584 of Warfield’s work, a mere handful of sentences after the end of Barabas’s quotation.  Barabas’s failure to state Warfield’s position correctly in such a situation is both most regrettable and inexcusable.
[4]              Pg. 583, Studies in Perfectionism, Part Two, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 8, B. B. Warfield.  Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.
[5]              In the sense that Warfield employs the word control and counteract, the words can be legitimately employed to describe one aspect of the Spirit’s work in sanctification.  However, the Keswick quietistic and perfectionistic penumbras associated with counteract make control a generally superior designation.
[6]              Pg. 164, “An American Tale,” Schaefer, in Christ the Lord:  The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, ed. Horton.
[7]              Regretably, Barabas is not alone in his misrepresentation of Warfield.  John Walvoord, reviewing Warfield’s Studies in Perfectionism from a Chaferian, pro-Higher Life perspective, makes the astonishing affirmation that “Warfield never seems to have adequately distinguished spirituality from perfectionism” (pg. 358, Bibliotheca Sacra 116:464 [October 1959]).  A more accurate assessment, made by a comprehensive study of Warfield’s works rather than by the utterly unwarranted assumption that opposition to Keswick is opposition to deep Christian spirituality and passionate fellowship with God, was made by Fred G. Zaspel:
Warfield . . . glories in the lavish provisions of salvation in Christ. The Christian’s privileged standing as a saint; his status as a child of God in the realization of the Father’s love and fellowship; his rich enjoyment of the Spirit; his freedom of conscience despite his sin; the fullness of righteousness imputed to him in justification; the new life, “repristination,” purity, and inward and outward transformation all inevitably realized in renewal and in sanctification; the hope and final realization of glory with Christ—these are all common themes in Warfield. (pg. 508, The Theology of B. B. Warfield:  A Systematic Summary, F. G. Zaspel)
[8]              Pg. 73, So Great Salvation, Barabas.  Ironically, one of Warfield’s critiques of the Higher Life theology is that it hinders the genuine dependence on God fostered by the classic evangelical doctrine:
Nevertheless, the open teaching of the whole [Higher Life] movement is to the effect that God acts—and can act—in the matter of sanctification, as in the whole matter of salvation, only as man, by his prior action, releases Him for action. This is not a wholesome attitude to take towards God. It tends to looking upon Him as the instrument which we use to secure our ends, and that is a magical rather than a religious attitude. In the end it inhibits religion which includes in its essence a sense of complete dependence on God. (pgs. 554-555, Studies in Perfectionism, Part Two, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 8, B. B. Warfield.)
Would Warfield criticize the Higher Life system for inhibiting that “sense of complete dependence on God” which is the “essence” of religion if he were truly an advocate of ethical self-sufficiency?  Let his own words indicate his attitude toward being ethically self-sufficient:  “Ethicism and solafideanism—these are the eternal contraries, mutually exclusive. . . . [It must be] Christ Only, Christ All in All, with us; only then, do we obey fully Paul’s final exhortation: ‘Let your joy be in the Lord’” (pgs. 324-325, Faith and Life, B. B. Warfield. New York, NY: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1916).
42             For example, “Every-Day Religion,” 1893, p. 165. [Footnote in Warfield.]
43             “Grace and Power,” 1916, p. 62. [Footnote in Warfield.]
44             “Grace and Power,” chapter viii. pp. 131 ff.; also printed in tract form under the title of “Must Christians Sin?” [Footnote in Warfield.]
45             The phrase is taken from O. A. Curtis, “The Christian Faith,” p. 390. [Footnote in Warfield.]
46             pp. 93, 94. On the ill-treatment which the Seventh Chapter of Romans has received in general from the members of this school see some interesting remarks by H. A. Boardman as cited, chapter vii. pp. 98 ff. [Footnote in Warfield.]
47             P. 93. [Footnote in Warfield.]
[9]              Pgs. 579-584, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part Two (Vol. 8 of Works.  Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.
[10]             Pg. 51, So Great Salvation, Barabas.

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