About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

G. C. Berkouwer on Primary and Secondary Causation

In ‘Idolaters at Providential Prayer’, John McDowell quotes from my ‘Reconsidering Concursus’ (IJST 4:2 [2002], pp. 205–215).

Terry J. Wright incorrectly claims that “causal” language in the doctrine of providence’s sense of concursus “risks reducing creaturely activity to the effect of the divine cause” (Wright, “Reconsidering Concursus,” 207). Indicating that he misunderstands the function of “causal” talk he responds, “The biblical witness portrays God not as causing creaturely actions but calling creatures to act … and towards a response rather than to a reaction” (207–8). He claims that “’Cause,” then, has an unnecessary mechanical feel to it” (208).

John C. McDowell, ‘Idolaters at Providential Prayer: Calvin’s Praying Through the Divine Governance’, in Myk Habets and Bobby Grow (eds.), Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012), p. 386, fn. 147

McDowell continues,

That, however, is because of what modernity has done to causality, reducing the fourfoldness of the Aristotelian distinction. It is that which then forces Wright to misread Calvin (214).

While I’m stoked to have been quoted at last (!); and while I can live with McDowell disagreeing with me on the whole secondary causation thing; all the same, I am a little frustrated that McDowell quotes from G. C.Berkouwer on divine concurrence to argue against me:

As Berkouwer observes, the theme of concursus “was not intended to involve God in a system of causality to which He would then be subject and in which He, like man, was just another cause, through the prima causa. On the contrary, the purpose of the distinction was to avoid the pantheistic notion which might identify the two, making God a part of the causal system of nature” (Berkouwer, The Providence of God, 154)

when Berkouwer’s very next sentence is this:

But, though we may respect the intent, we must realize that this distinction has not brought the Church essentially further in her reflection; in fact, it has more often obscured her insight into Divine Providence.

G. C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God. Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: 1952) p. 154

And Berkouwer goes on to say:

We cannot invalidate the criticism brought against this merely by pointing to the good intention behind it. Even though it is not intended to involve God in interaction with other causes, the use of the terms first and second causes implies that God is only the most important cause among equal causes (causa prima inter pares).

Berkouwer, The Providence of God, pp. 154–155

Is McDowell’s use of the quotation from Berkouwer misleading, given what the Dutchman goes on to say?

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