An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

[Updated with some additional material on 1/28/13]

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Patton: Therefore, [according to Arminianism] God’s predestination of people is “fair” and makes sense. After all, there are too many questions left unanswered when one says that God chooses who will be saved and who will not. Why did he choose some and not others? Did God make people to go to hell? Is God fair? “Why does he still find fault, for who resists his will?”

The Arminian chooses this position because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile human freedom and God’s election.

Here is where Mr. Patton really missteps.  First, Patton assumes that the Calvinist view is the Biblical view.  This assumption is essential for his further argument regarding why Arminians hold to Arminianism and reject Calvinism.  Since he assumes the Calvinist view is the Biblical view, he assumes the only reason an Arminian would have for rejecting that view would be a matter of desiring fairness, answers to questions Calvinism can’t answer, emotional reasons, or a need for consistency.

But what if Calvinism is not the Biblical view?  In that case, none of this would follow.  Even if it is the Biblical view, none of this necessarily follows.  Arminians might reject the Calvinist view simply because they do not find it Biblical! Why should they be called on to accept Calvinism just because Calvinists think it is so Biblical?  And why should they be thought to reject it for the reasons Patton describes, if it can simply be the case that they do not think the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is correct?  Mr. Patton’s assumptions are rooted in blatant question begging, in assuming that since Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, one can only have non-Biblical reasons for rejecting it.

Patton: Both [human freedom and God’s election] are clearly taught in Scripture.

Amen!  They are indeed, and there is no “tension” there, because Biblical election is not Calvinist election!  So the problem of “tension” is a Calvinist problem, and not a Biblical problem, unless it can be proven that Calvinism is entirely Biblical, which is the very issue in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians.

Patton: Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistent theology, one or the other must be altered.

Again, here is where Mr. Patton’s argument against non-Calvinists entirely breaks down.  Arminians don’t need to alter freedom or election since Arminians are convinced that the Bible does not teach Calvinist unconditional election.  Patton assumes that the Arminian starts with an assumption and then “alters” what the Bible teaches in order to get the Bible to fit that assumption and remain “reasonable and consistent.”  But on what basis can Patton make such an assumption?  On the basis of his “assumption” that Calvinist election is Biblical election.  But again, that is the very issue in dispute! I pointed this out to Patton in a comment in a similar post he wrote called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  (I corrected some typos to make it more readable)

Mr. Patton,

Just a few quick comments with regards to two of your statements:

In the end, my argument is that the Arminian tradition attempts to reconcile tensions that are best left in tact for the sake of a rational understanding.

and…

This post is primarily focused on the issue of unconditional election. This concept creates too much tension for the Arminian.

I can only speak for myself but I do not reject unconditional election because it creates too much tension for me. I reject unconditional election because I do not see it in Scripture. I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible. Now you may say they exist but that brings us back to a matter of exegesis and interpretation.

I also reject Calvinism because I see so many Scriptures that seem to plainly contradict it as a system. And I do mean contradict (I am not referring to creating “tension”).

Now it seems that you became a Calvinist because you found some tensions in the Bible that you could not resolve without becoming a Calvinist but then you also affirm that you see Calvinism as superior because it holds to so many tensions. Strange.

Anyway, I am fine with you being a Calvinist but I get a little frustrated when Calvinists tell me why I hold to Arminianism and it seems that the two statements above get quite close to that. You are welcome to your tensions and you are welcome to see them as evidence for the truthfulness of your system but I think it is pushing it to tell Arminians that they are Arminians because certain concepts “create too much tension” for them, etc.

You can see my full comments here.  Unfortunately, Mr. Patton did not really interact with my comments at all.  He  did make some general comments that might have partially been in response to me here.  I left some follow-up comments here.

Therefore, it is not a matter of Arminianism not “allowing” inconsistencies and Calvinism “allowing” them (which apparently appeals to Mr. Patton).  Rather, Arminianism simply does not “create” the same tensions that Calvinism does.  Arminianism doesn’t need to “allow” for inconsistencies that are foreign to Arminianism (i.e., since they are foreign to how the Arminian understands and interprets the Bible).  Only Calvinism needs to do that. So it is inaccurate and question begging to paint Arminianism as a system that “cannot allow” inconsistencies, simply because it does not interpret the Bible in the same way as the Calvinist.  This is also an easily reversible argument (as we shall see in Part 4).

Patton: However, the Calvinist is not satisfied with a redefining of God’s election to make it fit.

Could the question begging be any more blatant than this?  Patton assumes the Calvinist definition of election is correct, and then says that Arminians “redefine” it to “make it fit.”  But that is not the case.  The Arminian does not see Calvinist unconditional election in Scripture, and therefore has no need to make anything “fit.”  As I said to Mr. Patton in the comments quoted above, “I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible.”

Go to Part 4

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2

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16 Responses

  1. Arminians might reject the Calvinist view simply because they do not find it Biblical!

    Amen, that is exactly why I reject Calvinism.

  2. “Patton assumes that the Arminian starts with an assumption and then ‘alters’ what the Bible teaches in order to get the Bible to fit that assumption and remain ‘reasonable and consistent.'”

    Imagine if we took Patton’s train of thought regarding Arminianism but replaced it with Calvinism:

    The [Calvinist] chooses this position [of unconditional election] because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile God’s sovereignty and God’s election.

    Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistent [Calvinist] theology, one or the other must be altered [or redefined].

    When Calvinists fail to admit that the debate between Calvinists and Arminians is one of hermeneutics, and little else, the results are statements like Patton’s (and Sproul’s, and MacArthur’s, and Piper’s, and Driscoll’s, and Packer’s, and Dever’s, and . . . well the list could be quite lengthy).

  3. Reblogged this on Arminian Today and commented:
    Part 3 of the series examining C. Michael Patton’s post on Arminianism. A great defense for Arminianism here.

  4. slw,

    That’s why I reject it too.

  5. Billy,

    You wrote,

    When Calvinists fail to admit that the debate between Calvinists and Arminians is one of hermeneutics, and little else, the results are statements like Patton’s (and Sproul’s, and MacArthur’s, and Piper’s, and Driscoll’s, and Packer’s, and Dever’s, and . . . well the list could be quite lengthy).

    That is exactly right. Generally speaking, you always see Arminians criticizing Calvinism on exegetical, theological, or philosophical grounds without ever trying to tell Calvinists why they hold to Calvinism. But Calvinists are always doing that. It is because we just want to be sovereign over God, or because we worship free will, or because we can’t deal with “tensions”, or because we aren’t enlightened enough, or because our sinful natures just love the sweet taste of heretical Arminianism, or because we are blinded by western thought, and on and on.

    And you are quite right that the arguments are easily reversible. That will largely be the subject of the next post.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  6. Good post. And good to see someone using “question begging” correctly.

    This frustrates me also; it seems that Arminians can think Calvinistically for the sake of the argument, yet I seldom see Calvinists doing the reverse well.

  7. Good points raised regarding the a priori assumptions that Calvinistic definitions of predestination/election are correct and Biblical rather than the actual points under debate.

    Spent few days in dialogue through the comments on that post. The trumping of tension and mystery over reason and consistency was quite odd in my opinion.

    From the comment section:

    (CMP) “I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony. … While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation.”

    (me) If one is sacrificing biblical integrity how do you know? What would the criteria be for knowing when one has sacrificed “biblical integrity” vs when one is just allowing for tension and mystery? Doesn’t reading a text (revealed or otherwise) require logic and reason to understand it? And doesn’t evaluating different interpretations of that text require logic to determine which is most likely correct?

    The logical inconsistency in claiming a system of determinism and that a totally sovereign God must cause all that comes to pass but was not the cause of sin was a difficult point of discussion that was generally avoided through comments.

  8. MikeB,

    Solid comments to Patton. Did he respond? I am honestly surprised that Patton sees this as some sort of persuasive apologetic for Calvinism and polemic against Arminianism. The question begging and self defeating nature of his arguments seems so obvious. It is really strange that he didn’t seem to think it through carefully before writing this post. It is especially weird that he doubled down on an earlier post he wrote on the same subject when it had been pointed out to him there how weak his argument was.

    The logical inconsistency in claiming a system of determinism and that a totally sovereign God must cause all that comes to pass but was not the cause of sin was a difficult point of discussion that was generally avoided through comments.

    It almost always is. And that is another reason why it is so seemingly important for the Calvinist to make such claims about “tension” and “paradox” and “antimony” and “mystery”, while poo-pooing logic and reason (at least when it is convenient). Such things are the only answers they can come up with.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  9. I am honestly surprised that Patton sees this as some sort of persuasive apologetic for Calvinism and polemic against Arminianism.

    A student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary also told me that he is attracted to Calvinism due to its often appeal to mystery and tension. He thought that Arminianism tried to contain too many theological and philosophical answers. I was beside myself.

    He asked me what mysteries or tensions Arminianism holds. I said, “You mean besides the Trinity, the intra-relationship of the Godhead, the eternality of the Godhead, the Incarnation, and the like?” He looked at me dumbfounded — no exaggeration. Of course Arminianism contains mystery; Christian theology contains mysteries. But much has been revealed to us. Salvation is not a mystery (cf. John 3:14-18, 36; 1 Cor. 1:21).

    I then informed him that Calvinism inherently creates mysteries and tension, and that such is not a compliment to theology or Scripture. He was intrigued with my answer for about five minutes. Oh well.

    While reading Patton’s expressions, I have to wonder if his varied conclusions, including his polemics against Arminianism, are due to his deep-seated suspicion that Calvinism is actually wrong.

  10. “Of course Arminianism contains mystery; Christian theology contains mysteries.”

    – For me the Mystery is… about Foreknowledge, Problem of Evil(?) vs. the OVTs.

  11. Ben

    Not to my questions directly. There was a comment that there are numerous mysteries/tensions in the Christian faith and that this was one of them (see #5). We agreed that first 4 were logically rational but disagreed on logical consistency of #5 and we never addressed what I would call #6 Determinism and cause of evil.

    1. Creation ex nihilo
    2. Hypostatic Union
    3. Dual nature of Scripture
    4. Trinity
    5. Human Freedom/Responsibility and Divine sovereignty (unconditional election included)

    I am taking a seminary class in soterology and we cover paradoxes next week. I wonder if the idea of tension regarding election will be part of the discussion.

    Keep Blogging
    Mike

  12. William

    Interesting conversation. I do love the Parchment/Pen blog and all that CMP does to make theology accessible. I just don’t think this argument is very sound.

    Personally if two views seem to be Biblically grounded like sovereignty and election then I would evaluate the views looking for assumptions that are not required by the text and logical inconsistencies. The logically consistent and Biblically based view would be the one that is most likely the correct interpretation.

    Mike

  13. #5 is not logically consistent. So what to do about it? Well, a few options. I will be getting into one option in the next few posts (a Calvinist approach that flatly contradicts one of Patton’s main premises, and one that Patton adheres to!). But the main point here is that Patton, and other Calvinists, are citing legitimate rational mysteries to try to lend credibility to an illegitimate irrational “mystery.”

    Citing true Biblical mysteries (that all Christians agree with, even those supposed mystery hating Arminian types) does nothing to legitimize that which is truly irrational and illogical in a certain theological system (like Calvinism). And how does citing legitimate mysteries make the point against Arminianism, when Arminians fully affirm all of those Biblical mysteries? All it does is make Patton, and other Calvinists, feel better about the problems in their own system. If #s 1-4 (and there are plenty of others) are all examples of “tensions”, then Arminians do not have a problem with “tension” in the Bible. So Patton’s main argument about Arminians not wanting “tension” in their theology is an obvious non-sequitur.

    I am taking a seminary class in soterology and we cover paradoxes next week. I wonder if the idea of tension regarding election will be part of the discussion.

    It shouldn’t, unless the professor assumes unconditional election or exhaustive divine determinism to be the only Biblical possibility.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Ben, can you submit this series to SEA? It is absolutely fantastic.

  15. jc freak,

    Yes. I just sent you an e-mail as well.

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