A thought experiment (about "cooperative effort")

A thought experiment (about "cooperative effort") January 19, 2011

This is a follow up to my earlier response to Michael Horton’s comment about Arminianism in Christless Christianity and to his response here.  If you haven’t read those, this post may not make a lot of sense.

Mike (we are on a first name basis) says in his book Christless Christianity that Arminianism holds that salvation is a cooperative effort of God and human beings (p. 44)  I objected in my last post here.  Arminianism does not hold that; no informed, self-respecting classical Arminian would say that.  Those who think so simply don’t know Arminianism well enough.

My complaint is not about the word “cooperative.”  Yes, Arminians do believe that God does not save anyone without their cooperation.  The issue is whether that cooperation can fairly be called an “effort.”  Arminians deny it.

Some here (and no doubt elsewhere) struggle with this.  Isn’t every cooperation a joint effort?  No; it’s not.  There are cooperations that do not involve “effort” by both parties.

My appeal then and now is to ordinary language.  (Interestingly, in his responsive comment here Mike did not address my analogy about ordinary language.)  Who would ever call the following scenario a “cooperative effort” even though it involves a form of cooperation?

Imagine a man has fallen into the sea from a ship.  He is helplessly drowning because he cannot swim and was injured in the fall.  (Let’s not divert into a debate about total depravity; this analogy is not about that.  It’s only about whether something can be cooperative without involving effort.)

A life saver is thrown down from the deck to the drowning man and the captain of the ship yells “Grab the life safer and hold on as we pull you up!”  But the man is too weak to do it.  So, the captain, a strong swimmer, jumps into the water and swims to the drowning man and says sternly and authoritatively “Don’t resist me or fight me or we’ll both drown!  Just relax and let me rescue you.  There’s no other way.”  The man finally does relax and allow the strong captain to drag him to the side of the boat and into a life boat that has been lowered for them.

When the rescued man and the captain reach the deck of the ship the first mate slaps the captain on the back and says “Good work, sir!  I’ve never seen a better cooperative effort in my life!”  Then the first mate turns to the rescued man who is still lying on the deck gasping for air and just beginning to come around: “You, too!  Good work!  What a great cooperative effort you put forth with the captain!  You, too, are to be praised!”

What do you think the captain’s response would be?  What about those standing around who watched the rescue?  What might they say to the first mate?  What SHOULD the rescued man say?

Suppose the rescued man says “Thanks.  I do take some of the credit for being rescued.  After all, I obeyed the captain and didn’t resist his effort to save me.”

Now put yourself in the shoes of the captain (and onlookers).  Wouldn’t you say to both the first mate and the rescued man something like “You’re both crazy!  You [to the rescued man] did nothing.  You deserve none of the credit.  You only made the decision to relax and let me do all the work.  All the effort was mine; none of it was yours.  And you [to the first mate], you’re just as crazy.  He doesn’t deserve any credit; I did all the work, all the effort was mine.”

Then the first mate says “But he did cooperate with you, sir.”  Doesn’t that mean he deserves some of the credit? 

If you were standing among the bystanding onlookers, wouldn’t you say to the first mate (and perhaps to the rescued man) “What are you talking about?  Yes, there was cooperation, but the rescued man didn’t actually put forth any effort.  He deserves none of the credit; all the credit goes to the heroic captain!”

I think ordinary language tells us that the captain and onlookers are right.  We would all side with them and be profoundly perturbed by the attempt to give some credit to the rescued man.  Everyone would agree that, although there was cooperation, there was no effort put forth by the drowning man that would in any way deserve some of the credit for the rescue.

Now, if anyone wants to argue otherwise, then I don’t even know what to say except “That’s just nuts.”  I am absolutely confident that every right thinking person would agree that this was cooperation without dual effort or dual deserved credit.  The rescued man is to be congratulated but not be praised.

Now, please stick to this with me: This is not meant to be an analogy to salvation as if every aspect of the story fits some aspect of salvation.  (I have to say this because I know from experience someone would otherwise jump in and quibble about whether the man in the water should be dead and given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, etc., etc.)  The one and ONLY point of the story is this: There are realistic situations where a person cooperates with another person but in which only one of the parties is putting forth effort and deserves credit for the result.

This is the situation with classical Arminianism.  Arminianism, contrary to what Mike wrote, does affirm that salvation involves cooperation between God and the human being saved, but it does not hold that salvation involves any “effort” on the part of the person being saved.  Merely making a decision to allow oneself to be rescued is not normally considered “effort” and it does not draw praise.

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