Monday, January 23, 2012

"P" and the "No True Scotsman" Fallacy

version 2.0

Truth Unites... and Divides responding to a comment I posted in this blog said...

This is a highly interesting comment.

I have a derivative question which has puzzled me for some time.

With regards to "P" (the Perseverance of the Saints), how does "P" escape the charge of falling into the "No True Scotsman" fallacy? If someone could help my muddled thinking on this, I'd appreciate it.

Thesis: Only genuine Christians persevere. And never apostasize or deconvert.

Thesis: Michael Sudduth apostasized (or deconverted).

Conclusion: Michael Sudduth was never a genuine Christian (supposing that Michael Sudduth died today and never repudiating Hinduism and Lord Krishna and never repenting of his worship of a false idol).

Question again: How does doctrine of "P" refute the allegation that it's an example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy?

My response:

Truth Unites... and Divides, there's the logical possibility that God, in His absolute sovereignty, temporarily saves some people only to later take away that salvation by withholding (or taking away) "the gift of final perseverance" (to use Augustine's terminology). In which case, as some Catholic Augustinians claim, God elects some to initial salvation AND to final salvation. But for others, God only elects them to initial salvation. This logical possibility doesn't take away from God's sovereignty even though, like classical Arminianism genuine Christians can fall away. The difference is that in the former God's will is the determining factor in those who fall away, while in the latter it's the person's libertarian will that's the determining factor. Therefore, one could argue that in Augustine's (and Aquinas' and Luther's) view, God is actually more sovereign than in Calvinism because God can be a spiritual "Indian giver" (no ethnic insult/slur intended) taking away a salvation he initially gave (by retracting or withholding altogether the gift of perseverance). This is my interpretation of Augustine's view. Augustinian Catholics would say that God didn't positively reprobate those whom He elected to only grant initial salvation and that it is their own sinfulness that leads them to finally fall away. But I would argue that the mere fact that God intentionally withholds or takes back the gift of final perseverance logically necessitates that God is positively electing them to reprobation since God knows that without His gift of perseverance they cannot do other than fall away.

From my perspective, the major problem with Augustine's view is that it denies that God's love is unchanging. Sure Common Grace can allow for God to love the non-elect in a way less than the elect, but in Augustine's view there would then be three categories of grace: 1. Efficacious Grace (which lasts to and through eternity), 2. Initial Grace (which does not last even though it's nearly identical in basis and kind as the former), and 3. Common Grace (which does not last, but which is dramatically inferior in kind than either 1 or 2) .

Also, how can the Scripture be true that states "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things [including the gift of perseverance]"? Btw, one's view of the atonement obviously has tremendous ramifications for the doctrine of Perseverance [ see below].

Nevertheless, it could be that the number of the elect and the number of genuine saints aren't coterminous. All this also depends on what one means by a "(genuine) saint". Is one a genuine saint by virtue of regeneration? Does that only mean the Calvinistic understanding of regeneration, or can it include baptismal regeneration (per Augustine, Aquinas, Luther et al.)?

Catholic James Akins section on the Perseverance of the Saints in his paper explains it much better than I can. He makes clear the Augustinian distinction between predestination to initial salvation (election to salvation) and predestination to final salvation (election to glory).


Above I mentioned Rom. 8:32 and how one's understanding of the atonement could affect the doctrine of Perseverance.

While I'm not dogmatic against it, I now lean less towards "Limited Atonement" (as it is understood by contemporary Calvinists) because of the seemingly legitimate distinctions made by Reformed folks like David Ponter, THEOparadox and websites like Calvin and Calvinism (et al.).

They show that, though forgotten by or unknown to modern Calvinists, there has been a long line of historic Calvinists who affirmed that while the intent of the atonement is limited, the extent was unlimited. So they make a distinction between John Owen's view (and later re-affirmed by John Murray's) of Limited Atonement, and a permissible and historic Calvinistic view of Particular Redemption which affirms Christ did die (in some sense) for the non-elect.

Though, I have to admit that in their debates with the Triabloggers a few months back (primarily with Steve and Paul), the Triabloggers seemed to have had the better arguments.


  1. Thanks for writing this response Annoyed Pinoy.

    If I can adequately summarize your argument, it's that the phrase "Perseverance of the Saints" has to be properly elaborated/understood such that it doesn't merit/fall under the rubric of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

    Is that right?

    1. I suppose it depends on one's theological agenda. You have to decide that for yourself. From an atheistic perspective, the charge of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy makes complete sense because if atheism is true, there is no distinction between genuine Christians and false Christians. Since such a distinction only makes sense from God's perspective and if God actually does place people in various states of grace. Given atheism, anyone who claims to be a Christian *IS* a Christian since there's no ontological distinction between those who only profess saving faith and those who actually possess saving faith. If Christianity is true (and I believe it is), then the distinctions I'm making are legitimate possibilities regardless of whether they are real.

      For myself, I want to be Biblical and logical. That's why I hold to a generally Calvinistic view because I'm convinced from Scripture that God is as sovereign as Augustinianism and Calvinism teaches. I'm convinced of Total Depravity, and Unconditional election, and by logical extension Irresistible (or better phrased Efficacious) Grace. At least toward the elect, if there are such entities as saints who are not numbered among the elect (as Augustinianism teaches). I prefer the traditional TULIP because it's so much more clear-cut. But I realize that maybe "L" and "P" as usually held nowadays by Calvinists might be slightly wrong.

  2. I'm not a Calvin scholar but it's often been said that Calvin was the first to argue that all genuine saints will persevere. That he was the first to introduce that theological novum. But from the little that I've actually read of Calvin, and from the quotations of Calvin by others (e.g. Federal Visionists) I've gotten the impression that maybe Calvin didn't actually teach the Perseverance of the Saints as it was later defined in confessions of faith like the Synod of Dort. Calvin seems to have had a rich doctrine of apostasy, falling away, and the pruning of fruitless branches.

    Whatever the case, I again recommend you read James Akin's paper A TIPTOE THROUGH TULIP by James Akin

    Especially his section on Perseverance. He says what I'm trying to say more effectively.

  3. Hey there AP,

    Thanks for the comments regarding the C&C site. I am glad that it has been able to give you some insight and new way of looking at the nature and extent of the satisfaction.

    I have to say, tho, I am smarting over the thought that you think Hays had the better argument. ;-) <--note smilie. For sure, if one thinks the gospel offer is no more than a conditional statement proposed for folk to "consider," then I guess they had the better argument. :-)

    Having ruminated over and over that discussion, the core issues still comes to the facts that: 1) one cannot offer what one does not have in one's possession to impart; and 2) counter- factual conditions (CFCs)can render simple statements of material conditionality false. They never actually dealt with this part of my argument. And 3), conditional statements are not offers.

    Where I did muck up is in my shift from a lexical definition of "offer" to a theological one. That confused them. That was a lesson
    well learnt on my part.


  4. Two things:

    I didn't realize until months later (2 or 3) that David Ponter had posted a comment on this blog. Now that it's been over a year, I doubt he'll notice this response. David, I thinking about the debate further, I realize that the Triabloggers were able to appear more victorious than they actually were because of their focusing on specific definitions rather than the general thrust of your argument. So, I think the debate was closer than my original evaluation.

    I found an audio debate between James White and James Akin on the topic of Predestination and whether there are two kinds of election. The debate is nearly 1 1/2 hours long. Here's the link:

    I know there's a 3rd thing I wanted to say which I forgot to include in the main text of the blog, but I can't seem to remember it. If I do remember it, I'll post it as #3 here in the comments rather than change the text of the main blog since people have already commented on the blog. I only change the main text of my blogs without notice when there are no comments.