What do Ernest Becker, René Girard, Anders Nygren, Daniel Gilbert and the Book of Romans have in common?

Romans small3
Many moons ago I heard about a book that won the Pulitzer price for General Non-Fiction in 1974: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. The title intrigued me, and so I ordered it from the USA. (I could not find a single copy in the whole of South Africa…)

The book blew my mind. To this day I regard it as the best “non-theological” commentary on the human condition that I have ever come across. I followed it up with Becker’s Escape from Evil, and the experience pretty much repeated itself. And I am still working through his The Birth and Death of Meaning. Slowly…

I don’t think these books are everyone’s cup of tea, but they exposed me to a line of thinking that helped me greatly to understand the predicament of being human, as well as my Christian faith.

The only other scholar in the field of the human sciences whose writings had a similar effect on me was Rene Girard. His work on mimetic desire, conflict and scapegoating is fast becoming legendary. It is also becoming extremely popular, which is perhaps unfortunate. Girard has been, and is being enlisted as an apologist for a number of causes and doctrinal novelties that I doubt he would have personally endorsed. Sadly, this is often the case with profound thinkers who are no longer with us.

Added to this, Girard is a human being and his insights are certainly not complete or perfect. One does not have to agree with every tenet of his theory to gain much from it (the proverbial fish and bones). To elevate him to the status of guru is unwise. Many of his views do not sit well with conservative evangelicals, but that does not have to create an either/or conflict. His main contribution is in the field of anthropology, and his readers should consider for themselves what the implications are for their theology. For instance, the notion that you HAVE to reject the penal substitution theory of atonement in order to gain much from Girard is, in fact, not true. His work is multifaceted, and can be thought of as a series of self-contained units, each flowing into the other. There is no need to follow him slavishly, or to adopt each of his conclusions.

I have often thought of these two men as Cyrus-like servants of God, in the sense that they fulfilled a spiritual purpose without knowing that they were doing so, or at least the extent to which they were doing it. I suspect that Girard discovered it along the way, but that he was too modest to actually make something of it.

To elaborate on these purposes would fill a book, so I will refrain. Suffice it to say that Becker’s assessment of the human condition is pretty dark and damning, and that he suggests, as an objective scholar and social scientist, that “primitive Christianity” may be the only answer to the succession of failed immortality ideologies and “hero-systems” that have marked the human race since the dawn of time. Biblical Christianity, of course, takes the problem of death really seriously. Modern Christianity, according to Becker, is simply another “hero-system” or effort to deny death, and thus he relegates it to the same status as all other immortality ideologies. (All Restorationists may now applaud.)

The irony of these scholars’ work is that it has been mostly overlooked by mainstream theologians and believers (Girard’s work is finally being noticed, as mentioned, but this only happened relatively recently), seemingly because it did not come in the stereotypical theological wrapping. But this is in fact what makes it so powerful. As young researchers neither of them were crusaders for a cause or motivated by some or other belief system that created a research bias and predisposed them to looking for clues that would fit into an existing schema. They truly “stumbled” upon the powerful truths that they ended up articulating for the rest of us, and only later related it to the sphere of religion.

My all-time favourite interview is of Girard telling how he discovered that the Decalogue’s Tenth Commandment reveals mimetic desire to underlie all divine moral codes, and that it did so millennia before he came up with his theory. He notes that he finds it absolutely befuddling that this obvious fact has been overlooked by theologians. (First five minutes of interview – you can skip the rest).

To me Becker and Girard’s work represents two sides of the same coin: Mimetic desire is in fact the subjective response to the reality of death, and thus our greatest and most sophisticated effort at denying death. (Eve found the power to dismiss God’s warning of impending death through the enchantment of desire).

What we covet is in fact the life of the neighbour, and the closest we can come to this is to appropriate his/her possessions. In the process the neighbour is “sacrificed” to effect the life-exchange and overcome death. Our fascination with vampirism is but one testimony to this subconscious drive within.

This, of course, is where the gospel comes in. My greatest companion volume to Becker and Girard is Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros (another largely forgotten work) – a book that shaped Karl Barth’s theology significantly.

Barth beautifully summarises Nygren in these words:

Love, as Eros, is, in general terms, the primordially powerful desire, urge, impulse, and endeavor by which a created being seeks his own self-assertion, satisfaction, realization, and fulfillment in his relation to something else. He strives to draw near to this other person or thing, to win it for himself, to take it to himself, and to make it his own as clearly and definitively as possible. In Agape, however, the one who loves never understands the origin of his search as a demand inherent within himself, but always as an entirely new freedom for the other one… And because he is free for him, he does not seek him as though he needed him for himself as a means to his self-assertion and self-fulfillment…. He loves him gratis. That is to say, he desires nothing from him, and he does not wish to be rewarded by him.

The book that completed the puzzle for me was Daniel Gilbert‘s Stumbling on Happiness. His groundbreaking work in regard to affective forecasting reveals that we desire things because we anticipate that they will make us happy. In this way we become slaves to our projections of a happy future self who inevitable ends up being grumpy about everything we have accumulated and achieved for him/her when we finally meet him/her.

Gilbert is not a believer, but his insights into the things that make humans tick are worth noting – and a lot of fun to consider alongside a Bible open to Ecclesiastes.

I was blown away when I discovered the book of Romans to be an eternal and majestic exposition of all of the above, especially Paul’s interpretation of the Mosaic law as a vehicle to reveal that God handed humanity over to desire as a result of rejecting him, and that none of us, no matter how religious, can suppress the power and dictates of desire, and so we “all have sinned”.

It is indeed impossible to understand the much disputed Romans 7, or even Romans 2, without these insights. In Romans 7 Paul represents the religious persona trying to do good but being tripped up by desire, revealing him/herself as a lawbreaker and in need of a saviour. In Romans 2 he hints at this by telling very “righteous” people that they were doing exactly the same as the “sinners” whom they were judging.

To conquer covetousness, and in the process fulfill the intention of the law as revealed in the tenth commandment, something called “love” is needed, that is, the ability to joyfully take what is mine and hand it over to my neighbour, as opposed to taking what belongs to my neighbour and appropriating it for me.

Agape is therefore diametrically opposite to covetousness, and here Nygren is helpful.

This suggests a reversal between the subject and object in the sacrificial drama, and this, again, is where Girard becomes helpful. The identity of the scapegoat is changed, and the “living sacrifice” is revealed as the only one with the ability to live this life of love and service and so fulfill the law by proving him/herself to be covet-free.

However, to do so, the underlying death-conquering motive that manifests in denial, mimetic desire and “heroism” must be dealt with, and this can only happen where there is an actual participation in the life that is really life. Hence, an identification with the life of God (as opposed to the apparent life of the neighbour) is necessary as the first step to be delivered from acquisitive, mimetic, erotic desire.

Romans 4’s Abraham reveals this action as something called “faith:” “My body is as good as dead, but God can give life where there is none!” The acknowledgment of “my body of death” is imperative as a basis for faith, and so Paul’s despair in Romans 7 as a result of his inability to conquer mimetic desire is intended to produce this very cry “who shall deliver me from this body of death” as a precursor of the faith that followed and that would lead to an impartation of Spirit-life in Romans 8, and thus to the new identity of a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12 (one who has died yet is alive, like Isaac & Christ) who is finally able to live the life of love and service expounded upon in chapters 12 right through to the end of the book.

Interestingly, the introductory passage to the “practical” section of the book, in the first verses of chapter 12, reveals that the “renewing of the mind” has to do with not thinking higher of oneself than you ought to, but to think with sober judgment, namely as a particular, single member in this new, resurrected body of Christ.

Thus chapters 1 to 11’s covetous narcissistic self that seeks to be served is exchanged in 12 to 16 with an “alive” sacrificial self that seeks to serve, and who never thinks of itself outside the boundaries of its particular calling in the community of the saints. Thus the rivalry that is prohibited by the tenth commandment, underlying and constituting the covetous self, is done away with completely. Envy and inferiority, as well as pride and arrogance, are also done away with.

In the place thereof, an identity with a very particular calling and equipping, whose life is shared with others, is encountered, embraced and accepted. The only rivalry that is left is revealed by Paul (tongue-in-cheek, I’m sure) to be the following: Outdo one another in showing honour! (12:10)

I have been long convinced that most of our psychological ailments spring from the cognitive dissonance triggered by the failure of our death-denying, hero-aspiring tendencies.

In other words, our failure to keep up with the Joneses drives us mad. And so it should, for God is telling us to go back to the right tree. I have found in Romans a paradigm to challenge our most basic and dearly held presuppositions, rather than just another “therapy” aimed at helping us to live up to our delusions. In fact, in my experience virtually all efforts at therapy represent efforts to assist us to better deny death and to better actualise or authenticate ourselves.

The converse is also true. I have been completely astounded at the impact of going the opposite route, namely using the above truths as a basis for counseling (anti-counseling?) brothers and sisters in the Lord. Truly, only those who are willing to lose their lives can find it, and any therapy that is not based on this truth is tantamount to doing interior decorating on death row.

Ironically, the Buddhist insight into desire as the cause of suffering and its related ideals of selflessness and Nirvana are now being “discovered” by many Christians, causing them to reject Christianity in favour of a philosophy of selflessness and slow, restful religion. Yet Buddhism or any of its derivatives cannot compare with the majestic way in which Paul expounds these very same things – the “primitive Christianity” referred to by Becker.

The Bible has a much more sophisticated and practical approach to desire and selflessness than what you can find in any branch of Buddhism, or anywhere else in the entire universe for that matter, but you have to read carefully to find it.

(This post was originally a comment on the blog of David McAnulty)

5 thoughts on “What do Ernest Becker, René Girard, Anders Nygren, Daniel Gilbert and the Book of Romans have in common?

  1. errollmulder July 6, 2016 / 1:15 pm

    Hey Tobie, for about 15-2o minutes while reading your post, I found myself like ‘a pig happily rolling in mud’ at the recall of our Roman adventure here in the Bay! Of course, not to make light of the profound insights shared as the scaffolding for the ‘bigger picture’ Romans. And thanks for all the hard reading that made those insights possible, under the revelation of the Spirit.
    I enjoyed the whole Girard interview, really very interesting.

    I have not by any means been following the Pistorius saga as it has enfolded the past few years, but couldn’t help feeling that his story is absolutely one of gross mimetic desire with all its terrible consequences. And now he will sit for 6 years to ponder it all. Of course our own story, bar the intervention of grace, could have been a different and yet similar one… I can’t help but think that so much of the exploding narcissism (read Trump & Motseneng) we witness in the drama of life all around us has its roots lying here.

    So I revel anew with you in the TRULY good news of Jesus Christ! My only regret is seeing it all so late – but let me make the best of the present!

    Lots of love to the family, and is there just ANY small chance you folk may still make it to PE?

    • Tobie July 8, 2016 / 12:28 pm

      Hi Errol, thanks for the comment and kind words. Romans never ceases to amaze! Just recently I was meditating on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and it struck me that Satan showed Jesus what had been “given” to him, and suggested a course of action that would enable Jesus to appropriate those possessions (in this case the “kingdoms of the world.”) Where does one find a better example of an appeal to mimetic desire? The temptation to “fall down and worship” the devil (prohibited in commandment 2) depended on Christ first breaking the tenth commandment. And then, last week, writing on Paul’s quote of Psalm 51 in Romans 3, it struck me that David’s great sin was coveting his neighbour’s wife. The murder (commandment 7) and adultery (commandment 8) were mere consequence of breaking the tenth. And this morning it struck me that Ahab and Jezebel’s sin was coveting their neighbour’s vineyard. Again, the false testimony (commandment 9) and murder (commandment 7) were mere consequence of breaking commandment 10. Isn’t Scripture amazing?!

  2. Tobie July 8, 2016 / 12:35 pm

    PS: I spoke to Marthinus this morning. Unfortunately we had to rush back for school exams. The idea was that the reunion would flow into the holidays, enabling us to spend some time with you guys. However, we are planning to come down in December for a while. Can’t wait!

  3. Marinus Swanepoel December 4, 2019 / 10:22 am

    Hi Tobie

    I am reading Romans 7 for the millionth time :-).

    This time with the help of your Quora answer.

    So my question is – why do you think Paul would say “I agree with the law of God according to the inner man…”?

    I have heard the justification for the idea that the man in Romans seven was saved somewhere along the lines of “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God they are folly to him….” added to the idea that “the law is spiritual but I cam carnal” as a proof concept that the Romans 7 man would have had to be saved otherwise he would not agree with the law of God.

    I personally find this a bit of a jump but I would like to hear your thoughts if you have the time.

    The assumption being that unregenerate pharisees might agree with the law of God but for external reasons and not “according to the inner man”.



  4. Tobie December 5, 2019 / 11:55 am

    Hi Marinus. This is not a short answer (sorry :)). In my mind, it begins in Romans 2. There we read these words:

    “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…”

    So here we have proof that unregenerate people have an inborn desire to keep a law that has been written on their hearts by God. Note that regeneration is not a qualification for “agreeing with the law of God” and neither is it for possessing something called an “inner man.”

    The first objection that may arise is that Paul is speaking about the Torah in Romans 7 and that he is speaking about the voice of conscience in Romans 2. However, this tension is false and easily solved by his words in 2:27: “Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written coded and circumcision but break the law.” Paul clearly puts the law of the Gentiles and the law of Moses on the same par here, so much so that the Gentile’s allegiance to “conscience” will serve as an indictment to the Jew’s non-allegiance to the Torah.

    The second objection that may arise is that it is rank heresy to correlate these two laws as that would amount do a blasphemous invalidation of the events on Sinai, rendering it unnecessary. The argument could be construed as follows: “Why on earth would God see the need for giving his chosen people the Torah if the law of their conscience sufficed as a moral code for guiding them? So much so, in fact, that the gentile can even do better in matters of morality than the Jew?”

    This argument reveals a misunderstanding of the law and its function, especially in regard to two fundamental principles:

    1. The common denominator underlying the law and binding it together in all of its forms (the law of the Gentiles, the law of Moses, the law of Christ) is a little word of which the understanding has perished in the battlefields of church history (especially that history associated with the doctrines of the Reformers): Justice (or justness). As Habakuk put it: “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.”Let me reiterate that the word “righteousness” as it is understood in Protestant theology does not appear in Scripure. We have discussed that elsewhere, so I don’t need to do that here.

    2. The Torah was never intended to enable the pre-Mosaic Jew to attain to a higher level of justness than the gentile. As Paul put it, “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness (justness) would indeed be by the law…” No, the primary purpose of the Torah is clearly stated in a number of passages in the New Testament. One of them is found in Romans 3:19-20. I quote from Romans: The Big Picture, as I discussed it there in depth, and also because it addresses the third objection that will arise at this point, namely that it is a travesty to suggest that the Torah does not enable greater obedience to God than the law of the Gentiles:

    Start Quote

    The Purpose of the Law:

    Having established the above, Paul is ready to provide us with a perspective of the Old Testament, and especially the Law, that is radically different from the way in which the religious Jewish world understood it. We find it in verses 19 and 20:

    ‘Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.’

    Note that the Law of Moses is intended for those “under” the Law, namely the Jews, and that its aim is twofold:

    1. To stop every mouth

    2. To hold the whole world accountable to God

    These statements tell us that the Law was never intended to be an instrument for providing salvation to its adherents, but rather an instrument to bring an end to all boasting. Thus, the “whole word” will become accountable to God as a result of the Law, which means Jews along with Gentiles.

    The implication of this is far reaching. Paul’s point is that the Law as a whole was never intended to be kept, but to be broken!

    The Law as a Restraint

    The idea that the Law was given to be broken may sound somewhat confusing, and even sacreligious, so let us consider what we mean by this statement.

    On the one hand, God gave his Law for us to keep. The Law is “holy and righteous and good,” Paul says, and Jesus made it clear that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” The Old Testament, and especially the Psalms, are filled with praises for God’s Law.

    Viewed from this angle, the Law was given as a revelation of God’s will, even of God himself, and as a moral guide for God’s people. It served as a motivation for doing right, and as a restraint from doing wrong.

    The Law’s purpose of restraining people is especially evident in Paul’s words to Timothy:

    Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

    Thus, we could say that the Law was given to provide us with a knowledge of “sins,” namely the things that we ought not to do (the “sins of commission”) and the things that we ought to do (the sins of omission). Viewed from this angle, the Law was most certainly given to be obeyed.

    The Law as a Mirror

    However, there is another side to the story. As we have just seen, and as will be confirmed in the rest of Romans, it is impossible for any human being to keep the Law perfectly.

    The problem with this is masterfully articulated by James:

    For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (James 2:10)

    This means that the Law was never intended to be kept with the aim of gaining righteousness, as God was well aware (even before Sinai) of our inability to keep it perfectly. And so God designed the Law with a second purpose, namely to show us that we cannot gain salvation by obeying it.

    As we will promptly see, this he did by placing an “impossible commandment” in the Law that went beyond mere externals (the “letter of the Law”) to its real intent (the “spirit of the Law”). In this sense the Law became the “schoolmaster” that would reveal to us our spiritually inept state and lead us to a saviour, Jesus Christ.

    Viewed from this angle, the Law was given to be broken. Indeed, this is what verse 20 has in mind when it says that no human being will be justified by works of the Law in God’s sight, since through the Law “comes knowledge of sin.”

    Here is the true purpose of the Law: To show people that they are sinners and that they fall short of the Law’s requirement. We will run into this theme again and again in Romans. And then, in Romans 7, we will see that it is this single insight that brought the most religious person in Scripture to his knees, making him cry out to God for a deliverance from his inability to live up to the Law!”

    End Quote

    The development referred to above becomes quite clear when we consider that the Torah was not the first or only instance of transcribing the universal code of justice written on the hearts of all people. The Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylon, the Vedic hymns, the early Egyptian laws, etc. all testify to the fact that humans have an inborn desire to objectify and standardise their notions of relational justness as they are detected in their hearts. And a number of them (such as Hammurabi’s) have a chilling similarity to the Torah, which is why anthropologists and liberal theologians reject the notion that there is anything unique or transcendent about the Torah. In fact, the academic/liberal consensus is that these laws were inspired and even copied from the Babylonians.

    However, a close comparison reveals that the Torah is, firstly, unique in its insistence that the justness of God is related to his lovingkindness, which excludes all need to be compensated by his subjects – such as the pagan gods do when they demand blood sacrifices as a type of celestial bribe to appease them. Time and again God rebukes the notion of sacrifice without mercy, paving the way for the cross and the idea of a “living sacrifice,” that is, one who lives a life of perpetual mercy towards others without demanding anything from them, which is the true definition of justness. Clearly, this can only happen when those seeking to be “just” share in the justness that resides in God alone – which is what Paul had in mind with the passages translated in Romans as “the righteousness that comes from God.” (Misinterpreted as divine acquittal or exoneration in Protestant theology)

    Secondly, to accentuate the divide between the justness of humanity, even in its most passionate and earnest expression to comply with the demands of God’s law – whether in its Gentile form (heart or written) or its Jewish form – and the justness of God, God gave a commandment in the Torah that prohibits not only unjust deeds but the unjust intentions that underlie them, namely the tenth commandment. This development sets the stage for the battle of all battles, namely the sincere passion to comply with God’s call to justness (cheered on by the heart’s yearning to do so!) versus the passion to satisfy the flesh’s craving for equality to settle the great identity project that was introduced into this world by the serpent.

    Hence, we are faced with the clash of two models of justice, both manifesting as a fervent passion or desire within. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17). Sadly, for the unregenerate person, the conquerer in each case is the desires of the flesh.

    1. Note that the desires of the flesh, prohibited in the tenth commandment, masquerades as justice, that is, a self-imposed equality (leveling the playing field by taking that which belongs to the other and appropriating it for the self) and that it underlies and perverts all efforts at social justice apart from Christ. (Think of the militant activism underlying the various rights-movements of our day :))

    2. Note that in Galatians 5 the desires of the Spirit are associated with fruit, that is, a giving of life for the sake of the other; thus, the justness of sharing. Also note that this implies access to an infinite source. Psalm 23 puts it beautifully: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (the cessation of desire)…he leads me to the water and the pastures (the source)… my cup runs over (the inevitable life-giving effect).

    A side-note: These two types of justice are best exemplified by Solomon’s first call to “judge” a situation calling for justice – an event with a tremendous prophetic significance for illustrating the true nature of the cross, that is, the difference between justice for the sake of self and justice for the sake of the other. Note that the woman who was happy to have the baby cut in half was militating for equality, fueled by her loss and the desire to have it rectified by demanding a share of that which belonged to the other (classical covetousness). Note that the other woman was also happy to sacrifice the baby, but for the sake of preserving its life. (In reality, she sacrificed herself, and she did so for the sake of mercy). Two sacrifices, two types of justice. The one involved a demand for bloodshed for the sake of eradicating personal offense, the other involved mercy for the sake of preserving life – sacrificing the life of self for the sake of providing it to the other.

    The bottom line of this very lengthy explanation is that an earnest passion to live right and just, according to one’s deepest inklings and the possible written expression thereof, is imperative as a precursor to true Christianity. It is imperative because the inherent deception of our notions of justice must be exposed for the lie that it is, and our flesh as the vehicle for fulfilling those notions as the fraud that it is.

    Lest there be any confusion: The problem is not with the dictates of our hearts, but with the application of those dictates. They are disempowered and corrupted by the intrusion of the self, and that is Paul’s point in Romans 7. “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

    The suggestion that a person needs to be regenerate in order to gain appreciation for God’s law (in any of its expressions) is, in my mind, untenable. The history of religion, Jewish and otherwise, clearly testifies to this. The fact that the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” (Jeremiah 17:9) and that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God,” (Romans 3:11), does not detract from the fact that God’s law is operative in people’s hearts in a conscious manner. It means there is another sentiment at work alongside it, undermining its operation in the individual, and his/her ability to follow that law to its rightful and just conclusion.

    Something I haven’t mentioned, that should be quite obvious: The regenerate individual is never “turned on” to the Mosaic law, which is the law referred to in Romans 7. If anything, he/she is turned off…

    “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” Galatians 2:19

    “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4

    “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian…” Galatians 3:24-25

    “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that you should belong to another…” Romans 7:4

    … and turned on to the law of Christ, which does not abolish but fulfill the Mosaic law:

    “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

    “But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ… “1 Corinthians 9:21

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

    Much of the present day confusion stems from TULIP’s T, derived from John Calvin’s insistence that unbelievers have no notion of God that is worth anything (let alone ability to respond to it); and his misunderstanding of law, justice and the love of God. Hence the following typical statement by one of his best-known followers:

    “Paul describes his experience as a believer in relation to God’s law: “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…Unregenerate people have “no fear of God” before their eyes (Rom. 3:18). They have no love of the Lord’s law to speak of…”

    That’s R.C. Sproul, in case you were wondering. So where did all of this originate? From a little book by Augustine called “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (Book I, Chapter 22), where he said the following: “And because I do not see how a man under the law should say, I delight in the law of God after the inward man; since this very delight in good, by which, moreover, he does not consent to evil, not from fear of penalty, but from love of righteousness (for this is meant by delighting), can only be attributed to grace.”

    Calvinists do not believe in prevenient or enabling grace, and so any notion of true delight in God’s law must of necessity follow God’s sovereign intervention in the life of the believer through the act of regeneration that happens outside of the awareness of the believer. Hence Calvinism’s strange interpretation of Romans 7.

    Lastly, our idea that the gentiles’ notion of law and justice is useless and misdirected has not served our evangelistic efforts well. Paul certainly did not follow this line (“Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you…”) To recognise the seeds and shadows of true justice and ultimate law fulfilment in the religious efforts of the gentiles is a much better way to engage them than to trash it, and it certainly does not open the door to some sort of compromise or suggestions of universalism.

    This is a story for another day, but since I have begun speaking to unbelievers about justice, I have not ceased to be surprised by the openness I have experienced.

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