Whenever the Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde was asked, “Is the grace of God irresistible?” he would typically reply, “I find it to be so, don’t you?”
How would you answer the question?
In yesterday’s article “Irresistible Grace: Is Sergius Bulgakov an Augustinian?” I probably should have noted some of the differences between Sergius Bulgakov’s irresistible glory and St Augustine’s irresistible grace.
The most obvious difference pertains to the question of election. Bulgakov believes that by the Incarnation all human beings are comprehended in Christ and therefore will be saved by divine grace. Augustine, on the other hand, believes that only the elect (less than all) will be saved (limited atonement?). But did you know that as a young Christian, before his ordination to the priesthood, Augustine apparently believed in a version of universal restoration, along the lines of Origen (see Ilaria Ramelli, “Augustine from Supporter to Opposer of Universal Restoration“)?
Bulgakov restricts the irresistibility of grace to the parousia, when the incarnate Son reveals himself in glory to all human beings. Augustine, on the other hand, considers the initial turn to faith as an irresistible working of the Spirit. But as Phillip Cary points out, he does not teach a “once saved, always saved” view of justification, as is now popular in evangelical circles (see “Augustine and the Varieties of Monergism“). It remains possible for the justified to lose their faith and thus their salvation. On the other hand, the elect will persevere and find eternal life.
In a private email to me Dr Cary notes that Augustine’s understanding of the beatific vision is Platonically intellectual, i.e., a vision of the divine essence. This would appear to distinguish him from Bulgakov, for whom the parousial vision is a seeing of the incarnate Christ in his resurrected glory. As far as I know, Bulgakov did not discuss the Latin understanding of the beatific vision in his theological writings.
I’m sure there are other differences. What interests me most is the Bulgakovian proposal that the parousial vision of Christ will be infallibly compelling for even the most hardened and incorrigible sinners.
Is the grace of God irresistible? I hope so!
(Go to “The Judgment that Blesses and Curses“)