Austin Fischer Responds to Kevin DeYoung’s Review of his Book

My Review of Kevin’s Review

Dr. David Allen Reviews and Critiques “From Heaven He Came And Sought Her”, The Latest Calvinist Defense of Limited (Definite) Atonement

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Excerpt from conclusion:

While the book [From Heaven He Came And Sought Her] will likely be too much for some laypeople to digest, I would encourage all theological students, pastors, and scholars to take the time to read it and digest it. It is probably the most comprehensive defense of definite atonement available. On the surface, it looks formidable, but it has a soft underbelly and is vulnerable to a number of criticisms.

It only takes one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died for the sins of all people to confirm unlimited atonement no matter how many statements indicate Christ died for a specific group of people. Likewise, it would only take one clear statement in Scripture that Christ died only for the sins of the elect to confirm definite atonement. There is not one single statement in Scripture that overtly states Christ died only for the sins of the elect. There are easily a dozen New Testament Scriptures overtly stating Christ died for all people.

The burden is on the authors of this book to prove that a simple positive statement can entail a universal negation. This is the book’s claim. The hill which the authors must climb is to prove, exegetically from Scripture, that Christ died only for some people’s sins (a limited imputation of sin). If exegetically, DA fails, then no amount of theological flying buttresses will support it.

We are also told that Dr. David Allen is himself presently working on a new book on atonement.  We will be sure to promote it when it comes out.

Related posts and articles:

I. Howard Marshall: The Theology of Atonement

I. Howard Marshall: For All, For All My Savior Died

Robert Picirilli: The Extent of the Atonement

Robert Picirilli: Salvation by Faith, Applied

Albert Barnes on the Extent of the Atonement

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation “A”: Atonement For All 

3 Part Series on Provisional Atonement

Brian Abasciano Responds to Thomas Schreiner’s Recent Review of His Book on Romans 9:10-18

Excerpt:

Concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, after a note of agreement, you just assert positions opposite to mine without substantiation. So I’ll take the opportunity to share something merely anecdotal. Before publishing the book, I submitted my chapter on the hardening of Pharaoh to a distinguished Reformed scholar who is writing a major commentary on Exodus, asking for feedback. I was expecting some serious pushback or criticism of my reading. But to my surprise, the scholar largely agreed with my reading and, if anything, seems to think the divine hardening even less deterministic than I do and plans to cite my work. It is not as if it should be obvious that the divine hardening of Pharaoh was deterministic or irreversible.

Brian Abasciano, “A Response to Thomas Schreiner’s Review of my Book on Romans 9:10-18″

Related articles:

Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”

Brian Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election”

Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds to Dr. Dan Wallace on the Issue of Corporate Election

Brian Abasciano on the Corporate Perspective of Paul and His Culture, The Translation of Romans 9:6b, and Corporate Election in Romans 9

Brian Abasciano on the Meaning of “Calling” 

Klein, William W. “Paul’s Use of Kalein: A Proposal”

Brian Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (This is Dr. Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation and the basis for his first book on Romans 9.  It is essentially the same as his first book on Romans 9, but longer)

Corporate Election Quotes

Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”

A while back I did a five part series responding to a post by C. Michael Patton entitled, “The Irrationality of Calvinism.” I recently noticed that some of the posts in the series did not have links at the bottom directing the reader to the next post in the series, leaving the impression that there were only two parts to the series, rather than five. I have gone back and added in those links to the bottom of those posts. I will also post links to all five parts below:

Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations 

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

Arminianism, Calvinism and Atheism

The Arminian perspective provides a convincing framework for dismantling the atheist argument against God based on the “problem of evil”

The Problem with Using the Logical Problem of Evil

However, the Calvinist framework seems to only compound the problem of evil and create unnecessary difficulty in defending Christian Theism:

Be an Atheist for an Hour

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism And Why You Should be an Arminian

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism and Why You Should be an Arminian

Calvinists often lead the charge against Open Theism and traditional Arminians agree that Open Theism is Biblically problematic.  However, Calvinists often seem to hide the unfortunate implications of their own view of foreknowledge.

Open Calvinism?

Calvinism and Open Theism share some major philosophical assumptions.  One assumption is that God cannot foreknow contingencies (as in the future free will choices of His creatures).  Beginning with this assumption the Calvinist and Open Theist go about solving the problem two different ways.  The Open Theist, desiring to preserve the integrity of man’s free will, denies that God has foreknowledge of free will choices [1]. While God can foreknow events that He will cause or necessitate, God cannot foreknow contingencies.  Calvinism approaches the problem with the same fundamental assumption in believing that God cannot foreknow contingencies and therefore denies contingencies altogether in order to preserve God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.

Calvinists also agree with Open Theists that God can only have foreknowledge of that which He causes or necessitates while taking this one important step further in affirming that all things have thus been caused or necessitated by God in accordance with an eternal decree.  Arminians, on the other hand, affirm that God can indeed have foreknowledge of contingencies.  God is fully capable of having complete knowledge of every free choice that will ever be made without causing or necessitating those choices.  Arminians admit that they do not know how God can do such things, but see no logical problem with the assumption and no need to explain how God can do such things, just as Arminians see no need to explain how God can create the universe out of nothing.

Horn #1

Arminians believe that Calvinism’s position on foreknowledge creates a serious theological dilemma for Calvinists.  In agreeing with Open Theism that God cannot foreknow free will choices, Calvinism avoids the appeal to mystery with regards to explaining how God can foreknow the future, including all of the actions of His creatures.  Calvinists believe that their view provides a rather simple solution: God foreknows the future because His foreknowledge is based entirely on His eternal decree.  In this view, God decreed from eternity all that would ever take place.  God planned everything and then set that plan into motion.  The only way God can know what will happen in the future is by exhaustively planning the future in eternity [2]. God will infallibly bring to pass all that He has decreed, down to the tiniest detail.  Arminians believe that this view creates serious theological problems.  Let’s unpack this view a bit to get a clearer picture of the difficulties it presents.

Calvinists affirm that God’s decrees (His plans from eternity) encompass absolutely everything.  Nothing is excluded.  Everything was planned by God in eternity.  God can only foreknow something because He decreed it and will infallibly bring it about in time.  Since God’s plans for the future are exhaustive, His foreknowledge of the future is likewise exhaustive.  This creates a serious problem with regards to God’s relation to sin.

The Bible makes it clear that God hates sin and is separate from sin.  God’s holiness as revealed in Scripture affirms this in the strongest way possible.  It is primary to God’s character.  But if the Calvinist view is true, God can only foreknow sin because He decreed it and infallibly brought it about in time in such a way that it could not have been avoided.  Sin is therefore necessitated by divine decree, and not just sin in general, but every specific sin that would ever be committed.  Still further, every sinful desire, motive or intention has been decreed by God as well.  If this were not the case, God could not have foreknowledge of these sinful desires, motives and intentions.  This is why Arminians often charge Calvinists with making God the author of sin.  The implications are logically unavoidable.  Sin doesn’t originate in the person, but in the decree of God, long before there were any people around to sin.  This means that every sin has its origin in the mind of God.  God Himself thought up every sin and how each sin would be committed in such a way that the sinner could no more avoid committing that decreed sin than he or she could create a universe.

Calvinists take different approaches to dealing with this difficulty.  Often they will simply speak vaguely about God’s decreeing sin, but when pressed they must admit that the eternal decree allows for no such vagueness.  It is very specific and all encompassing, down to the last detail. Some say that while God may be responsible for decreeing the sin, the sinner is ultimately responsible because of his evil desire that produces the sin.  But this cannot solve the problem.  Again, the decree encompasses everything.  If it didn’t, God’s foreknowledge would be limited and Calvinism would quickly morph into a form of Open Theism (see Horn #2 below).

The exhaustive nature of the decree must mean that the decree includes the evil desires that produce the sin just as it includes the sinful act itself.  The decree includes the necessary cause and effect relationship between the sinful desire and the sin.  The decree includes the sinful intention.  The decree includes the thought process that led to the sin and every thought in that process.  The decree includes the “sinfulness” of the sin.  The decree even includes the nature and depravity of the sinner.  The decree encompassed the first sin of man as well as the rebellion of Satan.  Appeals to secondary causes are likewise futile as God decreed all so called “secondary causes” as well.  No secondary cause can cause anything outside of the decree of God.  In short, everything is according to plan and the source of the plan is God alone.  Therefore, God must be the originating source of every sinful thought, intention, motive, desire and act.

Horn #2

The first horn deals with the problem of Calvinist foreknowledge making the God of holiness the necessary and responsible author and originator of everything sinful in the universe.  There is no way out of this difficulty except to make illogical assertions like the claim that while God causes us to sin by way of His decree, He is somehow not the responsible author of sin.  The other serious problems that arise from the first horn are the difficulties of accountability, justice and judgment.  The Calvinist view cannot avoid the implication that God punishes His creatures for unavoidable sins and punishes them eternally in the most horrible way imaginable.  God decrees their every sinful thought and act in such a way that they cannot possibly resist those thoughts and acts and then punishes them eternally for thinking and acting in perfect conformity to the irresistible eternal decree of God.  Again, there is simply no way to avoid this problem except to make more illogical assertions.

Typically, Calvinists will just assert that the sinner is still responsible for his sins even though those sins could not have been avoided.  Some focus on the fact that the sinner sinned “freely” in accordance with his nature or desires, while apparently hoping that we will not press the uncomfortable issue of the sinner’s nature, desires, thoughts and intentions being likewise irresistibly decreed by God along with the very nature of the sin as sinful.  In other words, God punishes His creatures for being exactly what He created them to be and for acting exactly as He created them to act.

The only real solution is to deny that such things as sinful thoughts, intentions, motives and acts are encompassed in the divine decree.  This solution, for the Calvinist, avoids the first horn of making God the author of all sin and evil while falling on the second horn of limiting God’s foreknowledge.  If God did not decree such things, according to Calvinism, He cannot foreknow them either, and the Calvinist quickly becomes a partner with the Open Theist in denying God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.  So in Calvinism one must either fall on the first horn and accept that God is the author of sin in the strongest sense possible, or he must fall on the second horn and give up exhaustive foreknowledge.

Avoiding the Horns

Happily, there is an easy solution and that solution demands only one simple thing of the Calvinist: to give up his Calvinism and become an Arminian!  The Arminian holds that God does not need to decree a thing in order to foreknow it.  God foreknew all things from all eternity.  This means that there was never a “time” when God did not foreknow all things.  Therefore, God did not learn of the future since He always knew it fully.  However, God is able to foreknow things that are contingent.  God foreknows not only the future choice, but also the God given alternative power in the will that made the choice.

A person can choose either of two or more options with full power of choosing alternatively, and yet God foreknows what that free choice will be without in any way rendering that choice necessary by His foreknowledge.  God’s foreknowledge is not causative.  God foreknows the choice because we will choose.  We do not choose because God foreknows the choice.  The logical order is choice and then knowledge, while the chronological order is knowledge and then choice.  It is the difference between certainty (will be) and necessity (must be).  God foreknows our free choices as certain (they will be), but that foreknowledge does not render those choices necessary (they must be) [3].

In this view God permits and foreknows sin but in no way causes it.  God does not think up sins for us to do in an eternal decree.  We are the originators of our sin and rebellion, though God perfectly foreknows all of it.  God’s relationship to sin is one of permission and non-prevention only.  However, there are times when God will intervene to stop people from doing evil things.  God has the sovereign right to do such things when He sees fit in accordance with His wisdom (or in response to prayers, etc.).  God also has the sovereign right to allow people to think up sins and commit them, while in no way approving of those sins and certainly not decreeing those sins in such a way that people cannot avoid committing them.

In this view God judges in perfect justice.  God hates sin but allows for His creatures to choose for or against Him.  While God allows for sin and does not always intervene to prevent sin and evil in this world, there will come a day when God will judge the universe in perfect justice, holding every person accountable for their actions and putting an end to sin and evil once and for all.

Calvinism’s view cannot look to any such solution as the problem of evil is only compounded by a future judgment since God would be holding His creatures accountable for sins and actions that originated in the mind of God and were decreed by God from eternity in such a way that those sins and actions could not have been avoided by the creatures He judges.

In such a view, God judges His creatures for perfectly conforming to the decree of God in such a way that they could no more avoid all that they thought and did than they could make God cease to exist.  In essence, God would be punishing His creatures for being exactly what He created them to be and acting exactly as He irresistibly decreed for them to act.  Likewise, God would reward/bless many for doing just as God decreed for them to do with no difference at all between their acts and the acts of those condemned except for the fact that God decreed “good” acts for them rather than “condemnable” acts [4].

In such a scheme, there is no perceivable moral difference between the one who sins and the one who does right.  Neither has any control over their intentions, desires or actions [5].  Both acted in perfect conformity with an irresistible eternal decree.  Both acted in accordance with a “strongest motive force” that they had absolutely no control over and no power to resist [6].  The only difference between them is that God will bless or reward the one while condemning and punishing the other.  It is amazing to me that Calvinists seem increasingly comfortable with such a concept of God’s justice

Conclusion:

The Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge is plagued with serious theological difficulties that lead to absurdities and which challenge the most basic Christian teachings concerning God’s character, holiness, justice and love.  In contrast, the only difficulty in the Arminian scheme is that of explaining God’s ability to foreknow free will choices without causing them (though it is not really hard to imagine such a thing, even if we cannot explain how the ability operates).  Arminians do not see this as a thing necessary to explain.  No theologian can explain how God can have knowledge of anything, let alone future contingencies [7].  No theologian can explain how God can create the universe out nothing.  No theologian can explain God’s eternal nature.  These are mysteries left in their proper places rather than affirming blatant contradictions under the umbrella of mystery [8].

The Arminian position has all the advantages of comporting with Scripture and experience while avoiding the grave theological implications of Calvinism.  It has the advantage of providing a satisfying theodicy which looks ahead to a future judgment that will forever solve the problem of evil rather than compounding it exponentially.  It accords with the language of Scripture with regards to commands and the obvious inherent Biblical assumption of an alternative power in the will in numerous passages where we are called on to make choices, make changes, make and hold commitments, practice self-control and self-denial, etc [9].  It allows us to accept the Biblical testimony that God desires for all to be saved and that Christ died for all without having to submit such passages to tortured interpretations.  Indeed, Arminianism even makes better sense of those passages, given their specific language and full contexts, which specifically address the issues of election and predestination [10].  Therefore, it seems to me that there is every reason to be an Arminian and no good reason to be a Calvinist [11].

Related Articles: Big Trouble in Little Geneva: Good Series Exposing the Major Theological Problems Inherent in John Piper’s Calvinist Theodicy

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[1] In the libertarian sense where our choices are not predetermined as in the Calvinist compatibilist accounting of free will.  I have argued previously that the language of choice is non-sensical in the absence of legitimate options as would be the case if every movement of our mind and “will” was predetermined, necessitated, and therefore completely outside of our control.  The libertarian accounting of free will affirms that when we make a choice we have full alternative power in the will for a contrary choice; otherwise it could not properly be called a “choice” at all.  Robert Picirilli puts this well when he writes, “A choice that can go but one way is not a choice…” (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 41)

[2] Free Will Baptist F. Leroy Forlines quotes several Calvinists on this point.  He writes,

“Foreordination, for most Calvinists, takes the mystery out of foreknowledge.  As Boettner explains:

‘The Arminian objection against foreordination bears with equal force against the foreknowledge of God.  What God foreknows must, in the very nature of the case, be as fixed and certain as what is ordained; and if one is inconsistent with the free agency of man, the other must be also.  Foreordination renders the events as certain, while foreknowledge presupposes they are certain.’

“He goes on to say:

‘The Arminian doctrine, in rejecting foreordination, rejects the theistic basis for foreknowledge.  Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.’

“Feinberg, in arguing for his position of ‘soft determinism,’ says, ‘if indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future.  If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies.’  Crabtree also sees a problem of divine foreknowledge of free human events.  He explains, ‘No one, not even God, can know the outcome of an autonomous decision that has not been made, can he?  To assert the possibility of such knowledge is problematic.’” (The Quest for Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions, pg. 310)

[3] See Picirilli’s book, Grace, Faith , Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Arminianism vs. Calvinism, pp. 36-44, 59-63.  See also his theological article which covers most of the same ground (see his published response to open theism here).  See also Thomas Ralston’s treatment of the issue.  Probably the strongest argument for the consistency between true libertarian freedom and exhaustive foreknowledge can be found in Daniel Whedon’s refutation of Jonathan Edwards in John D. Wagner’s edited reprint, Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pp. 227-235.  An unedited original version of Whedon’s work can be read online.  The same sections can be found there on pages 271-292.

[4] I put these terms in quotes here because it is hard to understand how our actions could rightly be called good or condemnable if they were thought up by God from eternity and decreed for us in such a way that we were entirely powerless to avoid them.  This would seem to empty such actions of any moral relevance.  They would simply be arbitrarily labeled based on how God chooses to react to the actions He thought up and decreed for His creatures (either in reward/blessing, or condemnation/punishment).  And in case anyone wants to divert attention to the intentions behind the actions, we need only remember that according to Calvinism God decreed those intentions in the exact same way.

[5] Feinberg’s description of compatiblism or “soft determinism”, as quoted by Forlines, is instructive on this issue and more fully reveals the serious moral problem inherent in the position,

‘Like many other determinists, I claim that there is room for a genuine sense of free human action, even though such action is causally determined.  This kind of freedom cannot be indeterministic [or free in the libertarian sense of the power of contrary choice in the will], of course.  Instead, determinists who hold to free will distinguish two kinds of causes which influence and determine actions.  On the one hand, there are constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will.  On the other hand there are nonconstraining causes.  These are sufficient to bring about an action, but they do not force a person to act against his will, desires, or wishes.  According to determinists such as myself, an action is free even if causally determined so long as the causes are nonconstraining.  This view is often referred to as soft determinism or compatibilism, for genuine free human action is seen as compatible with nonconstraining sufficient conditions which incline the will decisively in one way or another.’

“Later in this same treatment, in commenting on human responsibility, Feinberg explains,

‘People are morally responsible for their actions because they do them freely.  I agree that no one can be held morally accountable for actions that are not free.  But as has already been argued, compatibilism allows the agent to act freely.  The key is not whether someone’s acts are causally determined or not, but rather how they are determined.  If the acts are constrained, then they are not free and the agent is not morally responsible for them.’ (Quoted in The Quest for Truth, pp. 308, 309)

For our purposes, this will require some unpacking.  First, to Feinberg, people act freely as long as they are not forced to act “against their will.”  That is, if they are forced to act contrary to their own “desires, or wishes.”  An example of this might be someone being forced to do something they do not desire to do because they are at gun point (though even in this scenario a person could choose not to obey the gun man).  In such a case, Feinberg would say the person is not acting freely and is therefore not morally responsible for his actions.  However, if we act in accordance with our desires, that means that we act freely and are for that reason morally responsible.  Moral relevance is attached to “freely” acting in accordance with our desires.  But this explanation gets very strained when we realize that even in Feinberg’s view, God determines those desires which act irresistibly on the will.  In his view God irresistibly moves the will to “freely” act as it does (“freely” only in the sense that nothing hinders the will from acting just as God irresistibly controls it to act), but the will cannot help but to move just as it is moved. So it is difficult to see how Feinberg’s solution solves anything at all.

[6] See Thomas Ralston’s refutation of the Calvinist appeal to motives as necessarily and irresistibly controlling our decisions: Thomas Ralston on the Freedom of the Will Part 9

[7] Arminian F. Leroy Forlines quotes Calvinist James Oliver Buswell who sees no philosophical problem with not being able to explain how God could have foreknowledge of the future free will choices of His creatures,

“To the question then how God can know a free act in the future, I reply I do not know, but neither do I know how I can have knowledge by analysis, by inference, by reason or from causes, or from statistical data reported by intuition, or (if it is insisted upon) by innate ideas.  Knowledge is a mystery in any event, and God’s knowledge of free events in the future is only one more mystery, revealed in Scripture.  We have good and sufficient grounds to accept, and no valid ground to reject, what Scripture says of this subject.” (F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism, pg. 74. quoting Buswell’s A Systematic Theology of the Religion, Vol. 1, pg. 60

[8] Arminius rightly left the mystery of God’s foreknowledge in His nature as follows:  “God foreknows future things through the infinity of his essence, and through the pre-eminent perfection of his understanding and prescience, not as he willed or decreed that they should necessarily be done, though he would not foreknow them except as they were future, and they would not be future unless God had decreed either to perform or permit them.” (The Writings of James Arminius Vol. 2, pg. 480, as quoted in Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 40).

Likewise, Daniel Whedon makes it clear that the difficulty is not a matter of whether future free will choices can be reconciled with foreknowledge (as they certainly can be reconciled), but in understanding how God can foreknow future free will choices,

“Whether there is any foreknowledge or not, it is certain that there will be one particular course of future events and no other.  On the most absolute doctrine of freedom there will be, as we shall soon more fully illustrate, there is one train of choices freely put forth and no other.  If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible.  The difficulty does not indeed lie in the compatibility of the two.  The real difficulty (which we distinctly confess to leave forever insoluble) as may soon more clearly appear, is to conceive how God came by that foreknowledge.  But that is no greater difficulty than to conceive how God came by his omnipotence or self-existence.  It will be a wise theologian who will tells us how God came by his attributes.  It will require a deep thinker to tell how the universe or its immensity came about by its real or actual deity; or how the present self-existent came to be, and no other.” (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pg. 229)

[9] See Glenn Shellrude’s excellent article on the incompatibility of Calvinist determinism with the language of Scripture.

[10] This is especially true with regards to the corporate election view which makes far better sense of passages like Romans 9-11 than the reformed individual unconditional election view.  See here for some great resources on the corporate view of election.

[11] For more on why you should be an Arminian, see this fantastic write-up on the F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation.

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

The Arminian Magazine: Getting Acquainted With Arminius, Part 2 (by John S. Knox)

In the years preceding the Declaration of Sentiments’ creation, Arminius frequently defended his position as a minister and theologian in the Reformed church and as a supporter of Calvin. His Declaration is the summary compilation of that defensive effort against the Supralapsarians and high Calvinists. As such, each section of the Declaration will be inspected as to its topic(s), thesis statement, and supportive assertions.

The Declaration consists of ten chapters on a variety of topics, but Arminius did not dwell equally in consideration on each of them. With clear purposes in mind, he gave appropriate attention to the aspects of doctrine crucial for a better awareness of his position, and in order to obtain a fuller understanding of the relationship between humanity and God. As such, he hoped his presentation would serve a dual purpose in his endeavors for biblical truth and in his defense of Supralapsarian charges.

SECTION I – “ON PREDESTINATION”

This is by far the most complex part of the Declaration. Nearly 15,000 words long, this exposition has three purposes. First, Arminius describes the Supralapsarian understanding of predestination and explains how it is harmful and wrong. Second, he presents other views of predestination with their finer points of understanding and benefit. Lastly, Arminius presents his own views on predestination.

Arminius’ depiction of the Supralapsarian understanding regarding this topic is unflattering, to say the least. He begins his examination with a blunt statement of dismissal of their assertion that God has predestined some to salvation and others to damnation. He points out the fact that it is a belief “… espoused by those [Supralapsarians] who assume the very highest ground of this Predestination.” So begins his condemnation of their extremist doctrinal interpretation of Calvin and the Bible.

He then goes on to detail their arguments and later provides the grounds for his rejection of these theological opinions. The main reasons for his denunciation of the Supralapsarian position are: (1) “it is not the foundation of Christianity, of Salvation, or of its certainty,” (2) it “comprises within it neither the whole nor any part of the Gospel,” and (3) it “was never admitted, decreed, or approved in any Council, either general or particular, for the first six hundred years after Christ.” Supplementing this, he adds, it “neither agrees nor corresponds with the Harmony of those Confessions which were printed and published together in one Volume at Geneva, in the name of the Reformed and Protestant Churches,” it is “repugnant to the Nature of God,” it is “opposed to the Act of Creation,” it is “injurious to the Glory of God,” it is “hurtful to the salvation of men,” and it “is in open hostility to the Ministry of the Gospel.”

Apparently, Arminius has little trouble pointing out the defects of the Supralapsarian approach to predestination. He backs up each of these criticisms with proof of their flawed foundations. This long list is a testament to his personal disdain for the doctrine promoted by these high Calvinists.

Arminius then goes on to describe two other incorrect ways of conceptualizing predestination other than that of the Supralapsarians. First, God irreversibly decided in eternity,

to make (according to his own good pleasure,) the smaller portion out of the general mass of mankind partakers of his grace and glory, to the praise of his own glorious grace. But according to his pleasure he also passed by the greater portion of men, and left them in their own nature, which is incapable of every thing supernatural, [or beyond itself,] and did not communicate to them that saving and supernatural grace by which their nature, (if it still retained its integrity,) might be strengthened, or by which, if it were corrupted, it might be restored – for a demonstration of his own liberty. Yet after God had made these men sinners and guilty of death, he punished them with death eternal–for a demonstration of his own justice.

The crux of this complex passage is the suggestion that Arminius finds no logic or love in God predestining some people to salvation and others to damnation whether it is before or after the Fall of Adam–both seem incongruous considering God’s expressed plan in Scripture for humanity.

Arminius rejects this understanding because it makes God the author of sin, which he cannot and will not affirm. Furthermore, this concept suggests an understanding of predestination that is “a palpable and absurd self-contradiction.” It does not fit into any logical understanding of the nature of humanity nor does it accommodate God’s biblical plan of redemption.

Arminius describes a third understanding of predestination in which, “God acts without the least consideration of repentance and faith in those whom he elects, or of impenitence and unbelief in those whom he reprobates.” Arminius condemns this third understanding of predestination because it suggests that God does not care about the moral behavior or authentic faith of His followers-a concept not found in Scripture. This concept conflicts with the image of the God of justice accepted by early church fathers. God carefully judges the world and all its inhabitants, suggesting that He would not arbitrarily send certain people to heaven and hell, regardless of their good or bad faith in Him.

Finally, Arminius presents his own understanding of predestination. Rather than the lengthy exercise used earlier to invalidate the Supralapsarian view, Arminius offers a short and concise argument for his beliefs in this matter. He points to four decrees of God as evidence for his standpoint.

First, God “decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, for a Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.” Jesus Christ is the ultimate sin offering used to appropriate the complete salvation of all humanity. Second, God “decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and Believers as persevered to the end.” Remaining in a sinful state only leads to death and to eternal damnation, but turning from sin leads to personal salvation. Third, “God decreed to administer in a sufficient and efficacious manner the means which were necessary for repentance and faith.” The resources for finding one’s salvation are always available to everyone because God is ultimately wise, merciful, and just. Fourth,

He knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.

This is not the same as ordaining some to salvation and others to perdition. Rather, it is a supernatural ability to see into all possibilities of humanity and the future. It speaks of the power of God, which, conveniently, Arminius discusses in the next section in his Declaration. Predestination was perhaps the most serious misjudgment of the Supralapsarians according to Arminius, but his high Calvinist peers also embraced other extreme distortions of biblical interpretation and application, dangerously manifest in their rigid doctrinal positions not explicitly found nor supported in Holy Scriptures.

From: The Arminian Magazine, Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29

I Am Just More Committed to Being Biblical Than You

In lieu of my recent interaction with C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”, I thought I would highlight a relevant post from a while back:

I ‘ve Finally Come to Embrace Open Theism

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 5: Taking The Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

[updated with some necessary corrections on 2/5/13]

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

Patton: These two issues, human freedom and sovereign election, are not contradictory when put together, but they are a mystery.

This is the same claim Mr. Patton made in his first post called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”

We have already begun to highlight the problems with this claim.  Mr. Patton makes an assertion here and nothing more.  If human freedom and sovereign election is understood in the Arminian sense, then there is no mystery.  If “human freedom” is to be understood in a compatibilist sense (which Mr. Patton holds to), then there is still no mystery.  The mystery is removed by redefining “human freedom”.  The only reason we would have for seeing this as a supposedly “apparent” irrational “mystery,” would be if “human freedom” was taken in the true libertarian sense, and if “sovereign election” were understood against the backdrop of exhaustive determinism.  But Mr. Patton rejects human freedom in the libertarian sense, so his claim here is puzzling.

Patton: This is one of the mistakes that I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity.

Again, Mr. Patton quickly turns the “unanswerable problems” that his Calvinism creates into an attack on Arminianism.  We have already shown how this is an easily reversible argument in Part 4.  It is also interesting to see Mr. Patton imply that Arminians handle the tension (that only Calvinism creates) by giving up on interpretive integrity.  Again, this would seem to be easily reversible when one considers the way that Calvinists typically try to “interpret” the many passages that seem to plainly contradict their system, since it seems to us that Calvinists very quickly jettison interpretative integrity for the sake of making such passages “fit” with their Calvinism. [8]

Patton: There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not formally irrational, just don’t make sense.

Fair enough, but how do we determine what is “formally” irrational and what is only “apparently” irrational?  My guess is that if it is part of a Calvinist claim, then it can only be “apparently” irrational, regardless of whether or not the Calvinist can in anyway show how the irrationality is only “apparent”.  Let’s see…

Patton: The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and creation out of nothing all fit this category. All of these are beyond our ability to comprehend.

True enough, but none of these doctrines are illogical.  To say something is beyond our ability to comprehend does not mean it is irrational.  But Mr. Patton knows that the claim against his Calvinist “tensions” is that they are actually illogical. So how does reference to mysteries that are clearly not illogical help him to explain illogical “tensions” in his system?

It is quite true that we simply do not know how God could create things out of nothing, but there is nothing illogical about that.  That is an example of a true Biblical mystery and no Christian has a problem with that mystery.  Likewise, there is nothing illogical about one Being existing in three persons.  It is beyond our comprehension because we have no examples to look to in our finite experience (in our experience, all beings are both one being and one person, so it is very hard to imagine a single being who is also three persons).  It would be a contradiction if the doctrine said that God is one person and three persons, or one being and three beings, but the doctrine doesn’t say that.  If it did, Christians would be right to reject it as “real” and not just “apparent” irrationality.  So the Trinity is likewise an example of true Biblical mystery, and no Christian has a problem with such mysteries (when properly understood). [9]

Patton: Once we fit them into a rational box and figure them out, we have entered into heresy (although I do not believe the Arminian view is heretical).

This is a bizarre statement.   Surely Mr. Patton knows that Arminians, like all Christians, fully affirm the Biblical mysteries he just described (the Trinity, creation ex nihilo and the hypostatic union) and therefore, do not need to “fit” such Biblical mysteries into a rational box, since there is no indication that these mysteries are irrational in the first place.  All of this just deflects and confuses the issue.  While it is true that both mystery and contradictions cannot be “figured out”, they cannot be figured out for entirely different reasons.  “Mystery”, as Patton has so far demonstrated, cannot be “figured out” because it goes beyond human capabilities and comprehension, but does not contain contradiction.  Contradiction and irrationality cannot be “figured out” because it reveals error.  To say a contradiction cannot be “figured out” is simply to say that it is false and, by definition, cannot be made true.

Patton: The issue of human freedom and unconditional election is in the same apophatic domain.

No it isn’t.  It is not the same at all, and Patton hasn’t shown that it is.  Instead, Mr. Patton has given us examples of legitimate mystery and then just asserted that the tension involved in his system is likewise legitimate.  But examples of true mysteries do nothing to prove that contradiction is mystery.  Again, all we get from Mr. Patton on this is baseless assertion.

Patton: We can’t make sense out of them and once we do, we have entered into error.

Rather, we can’t make sense of them because they reveal error. Talk about twisting things out of shape.  Mr. Patton has now essentially claimed that to allow contradictions to reveal error is itself an error.  What a mess Mr. Patton’s polemic is creating.

Patton: There are many things that God reveals that confuse us and baffle our thinking.

True, but irrelevant.

Patton: Theyseem irrational.

And again, Mr. Patton does nothing to help us know how we can tell the difference between real (formal) irrationality and only “apparent” irrationality.  The best we can assume is what I mentioned earlier: any irrationality in Calvinism must, by definition, be only “apparent” rather than real.  How do we know that?  Because Calvinism is true, of course!  This is a wonderful situation to be in as a Calvinist.  The Calvinist system is now entirely safe from falsification of any kind.  You can’t point to irrationality to disprove Calvinism.  In fact, that itself would be “error” and lead to “heresy.”  Ah…but how nice that the Calvinist can still use rational arguments to disprove opposing systems like Arminianism.  It must be so nice to be a Calvinist!  This is another point I made to Patton way back in 2008,

“Also, when you affirm tensions that seem to me to be plain contradictions (though it seems you would deny that or at least try to “reconcile” it) you give up all rights to criticize an alternative theological system on rational or coherent grounds. You forfeit the right to point the finger at Arminian theology and say, “that doesn’t make sense with what the Bible says”, etc. You put your system in a position of being impossible to falsify and yet attack other positions based on incoherence.

Now maybe you have never done this. Maybe you have never said that Arminianism leads to conclusions that simply do not make sense or are incoherent, etc. But if you have attacked Arminianism on logical grounds with respect to what you perceive as Biblical realities, then you have no right to affirm “apparent” contradictions within your own system and even go so far as to make the acceptance of such “apparent” contradictions (“tensions”) into a pious act for the sake of just trying to be more honest with the Bible etc. Do you see where I am coming from? Hopefully I am misunderstanding you on this.” (Link)

…But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Patton in the least, and based on many more posts criticizing Arminianism on logical grounds, I am confident I have not misunderstood him.  Again, it must be nice to be a Calvinist.  If you disagree, you are just afraid to embrace tension.  You are just trying to make the Bible “fit” your man made system, traditions or false common sense assumptions.  If you point out inconsistencies, they will just appeal to mystery and shame you for not being willing to embrace Biblical mystery as they do.  Indeed, you might even be told that you are actually committing error (being irrational) in expecting things to be so rational.  You are just so hung up on your western thought and American common sense.  You just want things to be fair.  You just want to get your way.  You just want to be sovereign over God.  You just want to talk back to the Potter. You might even be told that you are just trying to satisfy the desires of your sinful nature.  And on and on…

Patton: Yet we find God saying, “Chill. Just trust me. I got this under control. While I have revealed a lot and I know you have a lot of questions, this is a test of trust. I love everyone but I did not elect everyone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Will you trust me or will you redefine things?”

And so we can add “you just don’t trust God” to the list of why anyone would dare criticize or reject Calvinism.  My goodness, who wouldn’t want to be a Calvinist at this point?  And notice again the blatant question begging in that, for Mr. Patton, the only possible reason for rejecting Calvinism would have to be an attempt to redefine Biblical teaching.  Does Mr. Patton really believe that Arminians have no Biblical grounds at all for rejecting Calvinism?

Patton: God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction.

So Mr. Patton keeps asserting.

Patton: We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

But if such issues are false, God certainly does not know how to reconcile them.  The One who is Truth cannot reconcile falsehood.  Their “collective truthfulness” is certainly taken away if they cannot co-exist at all (i.e. they are false).  Assertions and question begging do not prove co-existence.

Patton: I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.

Funny, that’s what I think about Calvinism!

Patton: The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to abide for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

Well, allow me to counter-assert that the Calvinist system improperly labels irrationality, contradictions and error as “mystery” for the sake of Calvinist fidelity and to render Calvinism unable to be falsified, even by reason and truth.  And let me point out again that Calvinists will often go to great lengths to try to remove such “tension and mystery”.  The doctrine of compatibilism is just one such example.

Patton: As I said before, I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think that it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human intelligibility.  I think it is a good illustration where the West meets the East. Revelation meets mystery. Cataphatic theology meets apophatic theology. While Calvinism is not formally irrational, it is emotionally irrational. I get that. But I think we need to take both pills.

Translation: Calvinists are brave and noble because they accept “tension”.  If you reject Calvinism, that is probably because you are just too western, too rational, too intelligible, too Cataphatic, too emotional and just not brave or tough enough to “take both pills.”  Shame on you!  And note again that while Mr. Patton never tires of asserting that Calvinism is not formally irrational, he has still not taken up the task of demonstrating why this is so.  Why should we just take his word on it, especially when it is the main point in dispute? The question begging continues.

Admittedly, Patton would probably not put things as gruffly as I have here, but this is exactly what his arguments amount to when simplified and taken to their logical conclusions, and it is time that Calvinists like Patton are taken to task for such claims.  They have gotten away with this stuff too long, and it has made fruitful and honest discussion nearly impossible.  The Calvinist and Arminian debate is first and foremost a debate about Scriptural interpretation, and interpretation involves reason just as any other thing that looks to discover truth.  Calvinists need to stop making the outlandish claim that Calvinism is superior because it accepts mystery where Arminianism does not.  They need to stop talking like they are just tougher and braver for accepting hard truths that Arminians are just too afraid to face.  They need to stop telling Arminians why they believe as they do, when they really haven’t a clue. They need to stop demonizing logic and reason while, hypocritically, using logic and reason against those who disagree with them.  They need to stop telling Arminians that Arminianism is all about philosophy, when their arguments are extremely philosophical.  They need to stop talking about accepting “tension” when they are not willing to accept “tension.”

Nobody is perfect, and none of us are fair or right or consistent at all times when debating tough issues.  However, such silliness as this has really gone on for far too long.  From now on, let’s try to play by the same rules and stop assuming that if people reject Calvinism it must be for some sinister spiritual or emotional reason, and cannot possibly be because we simply find Calvinism unbiblical.  I can honestly say that if I could find Calvinism in the Bible, I would happily accept it.  However, I cannot find Calvinism in the Bible, and so I find no reason to accept it or live with the supposed unanswerable questions that Calvinism apparently creates.  Hopefully, Mr. Patton and Calvinists like him will begin to accept this fact.  The sooner they do, the sooner we can have an honest, respectful and fruitful dialogue on these important issues.

Go to Part 1

________________________________________________________________

[8]  Obviously, Arminians find Calvinist attempts to deal with passages that express a universal scope to the atonement,  God’s love for the world, desire to save all and desire that all come to repentance, as contrived.  Such attempts by Calvinists to reconcile such Biblical declarations with their doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement would seem to be anything but an exercise in interpretive integrity.  The same holds true for the many warning passages in Scripture and passages that seem to plainly teach the possibility of apostasy.  For a detailed exegetical examination of such passages, see my 13 Part series on Perseverance.

[9] Patton might be interested to know that some Calvinists are Calvinists because they apparently cannot deal with the supposed “tensions” and “mysteries” in Arminianism.   F. Leroy Forlines cites John S. Feinberg as one such example.  He cannot deal with the “mystery” of how God can foreknow anything without predetermining what it is He foreknows.  Forlines quotes him as follows:

“If indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future.  If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies.” (Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, pg. 32)

Forlines cites J.A. Crabtree as another example,

“No one, not even God, can know the outcome of an autonomous decision that has not been made, can he?  To assert the possibility of such knowledge is problematic.” (The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol.2, pg. 436)

Likewise, Loraine Boettner echoes the same distaste for such “mystery”,

[Arminianism’s rejection of divine foreordination constitutes a rejection of] “the theistic basis for foreknowledge.  Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 42; All quotes taken from F. Leroy Forlines’ Classical Arminianism , pg. 44)

[I wonder what Mr. Patton would make of Boettner’s appeal to “common sense”?]

As we can see from these quotes, foreordination (determinism), for most Calvinists, takes the mystery out of foreknowledge.  For them, God cannot possibly foreknow what he does not decree and predetermine will take place.  Therefore, God simply cannot foreknow truly free will choices or contingencies.  God’s foreknowledge must, therefore, be entirely dependent on his decree.

It has been pointed out by Arminians that this leads to the unfortunate and unavoidable logical implication that God can only foreknow our sinful thoughts, desires and choices, because God first thought them up and decreed them from eternity, making God the responsible author of all sin.  It is interesting that Calvinists will swallow this horrible implication under the guise of “mystery” and “tension”, but cannot bring themselves to accept the mystery of God’s ability to foreknow the truly contingent free will choices of His creatures.

Calvinist James Oliver Buswell, Jr. is an interesting exception.  He finds no problem with affirming God’s ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices,

“To the question then how God can know a free act in the future, I reply I do not know, but neither do I know how I can have knowledge by analysis, by inference from reason or from causes, or from statistical data reported by intuition, or (if it is insisted upon) by innate ideas.  Knowledge is a mystery in any event, and God’s knowledge of free events in the future is only one more mystery, revealed in Scripture.  We have good and sufficient grounds to accept, and no valid grounds to reject, what Scripture says on this subject.” (A Systematic Theology, 1:60, quoted in Forlines’ Classical Arminiansim, pg. 74)

Arminius, like Buswell, was happy to leave the mystery of how God can foreknow the future as a mystery.  There are plenty of other mysteries in Arminianism that Calvinists simply cannot tolerate (like how we can have alternative power in the will).  One doesn’t need to read too much from popular Calvinist writings to see that.  I guess Calvinists just cannot deal with a system that has so much mystery and tension.

For a concise article on how divine foreknowledge is completely compatible with libertarian free will, see here.

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