Wondering With Calvinists

I often wonder at how Calvinists seem to shelve their deterministic doctrines and essentially adopt the contrary doctrines (of Arminianism) while trying to argue against Arminianism.  I see this all the time in modern print and on the internet, but it was no less a problem long ago.  The following is a quote from a Calvinist against the writings of Wesley which this Calvinist (Dr. Fairchild) imagined to be a serious misrepresentation of Calvinism: 

Dr. Fairchild speaks thus of a passage by Mr. Wesley: ” In the doctrinal Tracts, p. 172, is an address to Satan, which we have no hesitation in saying is fraught with the most concentrated blasphemy ever proceeding from the tongue or pen of mortal, whether Jew, Pagan, or Infidel, and all imputed to the Calvinists. One cannot help wondering how such transcendent impieties ever found their way into the mind of man ; I am not willing to transfer the language to these pages; but the work is doubtless accessible to most readers, having been sown broadcast over the land.” [Chreat Supper, p. 150.) He also indorses the charge of forgery which Toplady made against Mr. Wesley. (See p. 111.)  Emphasis mine.  Taken from The Calvinist Doctrine of Predestination Examined and Refuted, pg. 22

Really?  How can a Calvinist truly wonder “how such transcendent impieties ever found their way into the mind of man…?”  They found their way by irresistible eternal divine decree and the direct control over the will and the mind that the Sovereign God exercises over all of His creatures.  How else?  How did they find their way into Wesley’s mind?  By God and no one else, of course.  Surely Dr. Fairchild did not believe that Wesley exercised his mind independent of God’s irresistible eternal decree and exhaustive sovereign control, did he?  If such things did not originate in God long before Wesley was created, then where did they originate from?  Surely God foreknew such thoughts.  But the Calvinist will insist that God’s foreknowledge is based on His eternal decree, His plan that He will causally and infallibly bring about in time, down to the minutest detail.  So God planned and decreed such thoughts for Wesley from eternity and controlled his will to write exactly as he wrote.  Wesley had no more power to resist those eternally decreed thoughts and actions as he did to create a universe; and yet Fairchild “wonders”. I wonder too.  I wonder why it is so hard for Calvinists to be consistent with their theology in the way that they live and express themselves.  I wonder that the answer to that question isn’t rather obvious.

Some Quick Comments Regarding Free Agency and Foreknowledge

The following comments come from the “??Questions??” page.  Since they quickly address two of the most common questions Calvinists ask Arminians, I thought I would post the short correspondence on the main page.  You can read the original question in full here (which might provide some helpful context concerning the first question).  The inquirer’s questions are in italics, followed by my responses:

…though I have trouble understanding why God can’t know what a hypothetical person might do, even if there is no person to know about

Because there is no person to know anything about, just as you said. That seems plainly absurd to me. How can God know what a person (and remember there is no “person”, nor will there ever be) would freely do in a situation when the “person” will never exist to make the free choice or be in that situation? If God could know such a thing it would only be possible within the framework of determinism where God could know what such a person would choose simply because God would know what He would cause the person to choose. But the Arminian is operating from the perspective of freedom, and not determinism. For that reason, the objection, based on the presupposition of determinism, cannot succeed. It is simply question begging.

Also, if God did foreknow what a person would freely choose and then not create that person based on that knowledge, God would falsify His own foreknowledge by not creating that person. God would essentially make Himself wrong by making something He foreknew happening as not happening, or making a person He foreknew as existing, never to exist. Since God cannot be wrong, He cannot not create someone based on what He knows this “person” (who will actually never exist) would do or choose. Do you see the problem?

I think my question at the moment is ultimately about freewill and our responsibility. With libertarian free will, we are sent to hell for our free choice to reject God. Why then, do some choose God and others reject Him?

For a multitude of reasons. No one is denying that we make choices for reasons or in accordance with motives. Arminians only deny that such things irresistibly cause our decisions. When we choose in accordance with a motive, or for a reason, we do so freely, rather than by necessity. The free agent weighs the motives and chooses accordingly. Motives do not irresistibly dictate choices.

If they all have the same ability to choose freely, and are all given the grace of a choice to accept Christ, and yet some accept and others reject, what is the cause?

The cause is the God given power and capacity to make a free choice (or, as you say, “the ability to choose freely”). The cause is the agent himself and the agent’s will is a full and adequate cause in itself, needing nothing more to make (or cause) a choice, in accordance with whatever reasons or motives it deems important.

If it is external factors (influence from environment, time period, family, etc.) it seems unfair that the only difference between the one in hell and the one in heaven is that one had better environment.

Influences are factors, but they are not irresistible factors. That is all the Arminian is saying.

If you say, however, that the cause is something in us, rather than external factors, why are we that way in the first place?

Yes, it is the God given alternative power of the will that is in us. We are that way because God created us with the power to make free unnecessitated choices. It was His good pleasure and sovereign right to do so.

Did not God create us the way we are?

Absolutely. He created us as free moral agents.

I’ll try to put it another way… This is my dilemma. If person A chooses God and person B rejects Him, is it because of their differing environments or because of the way they are?

Ultimately, neither. Those things factor in to our choices, but they do not irresistibly cause us to choose a certain way. The reason for the choice is ultimately the agent himself who freely decides what he or she will do and why he or she will do it, in accordance with the God given power of free will. You would probably do well to read this series by J.C.

https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/category/fallacies-of-calvinist-apologetics/

More On the Authorship of Sin (Part 3)

In parts one and two of the authorship of sin series (as well as the post that kicked it off), we examined some of the Calvinist defenses against the charge of their making God the author of sin, as well as some of the counter-objections they raise to the Arminian view. As was shown therein, the exhaustive determinist views eliminate all other possible authors of sin except for God. They may attempt to obfuscate the issue with defenses such as this I found (attributed apparently to Bartholomew Traheron),

To ordain a thing and to be the proper cause, author, and worker of a thing is not all one, as by these following. He that sets his wine abroad in the Sun to make vinegar, ordains it to be made vinegar, and yet he is not the proper cause of vinegar, but the nature of the wine and the hot Sun beams.

Such a defense relies upon factors (e.g. the natures of wine and sunbeams) that are at least to some degree independent of the one who makes the vinegar. Whereas if everything about us is due to God with man’s independence playing no part whatsoever, then such an analogy would still leave God the author of sin through secondary causes (as we covered in part II).

The Last Fall-Back Position: The ‘So what?’ Defense

The irreconcilable contradictions in the necessitarian views and God not being the author of sin have driven many Calvinists to take a stance of simply granting that God is in fact the source of all evil, and that all sin is exhaustively decreed by Him. While they may maintain a formal stance that He isn’t the author, this is double speak meaning only that God isn’t responsible for what He decrees or God isn’t sinning in authoring sin (or some similar evasion), they still firmly maintain that sin originates in God. Others have dropped the facade entirely, as Vincent Cheung demonstrates in ‘The Author of Sin‘:

On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be, “So what?” Christians who disagree with me stupidly chant, “But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin….” However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a half-decent explanation as to what’s wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective. Whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin.

Cheung isn’t some crazed, lone exception. Alpha and Omega Ministries’ Turretinfan echoes the sentiment:

To briefly summarize, God is not the “author” of sin because he does not do sin: he is not a voluntary agent that performs a sinful act. Furthermore, God is not the “author” of sin because no one who sins is coerced into sin contrary to their will by God. If WLC means something else by “author of sin” we can respond with Vincent Cheung that we will simply grant the objection, and ask why that should be a problem. Used outside the first two items listed above, it is simply pejorative rhetoric, not a meaningful objection.

Authorship of sin in this context (as we’ve already shown) implies origination thereof -which in Turretinfan and Cheung’s views is attributed to God. The defense that God somehow isn’t the author of sin in such views amount to equivocation -merely redefining author to mean “he who commits” or “he who violates someone’s will to bring it about,” rather than the originator. Such circumventive excuses may satisfy the giver, but it doesn’t change the fact that their views still make sin ultimately and completely the design of God, which contra Cheung’s assertion, is a massive problem for anyone who believes scripture as we’ll examine directly.

Calvin Cat is making you reprobate

Problems of Biblical Proportions

Determinists often try to shift the issue to that of culpability, but to attribute the origination of sin itself to God is already a denial of what the scriptures plainly state, despite Cheung’s hand-waving. In part 2 we pointed out that hearts that devise evil schemes are an abomination to Him (Proverbs 6), yet this deterministic philosophy in fact makes every evil scheme God’s own invention. Further problems arise when God Himself refutes such a notion through the prophet Jeremiah:

“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” (Jeremiah 32:35)

God made it very clear that He not only didn’t command such a thing, but distances Himself from the concept entirely in stating it didn’t enter into His mind that they should do this abominable act – a plain denial that it was His contrivance at all.

The Calvinist responses I’ve heard given this would be funny if they weren’t so desperately bad. They often try to set up a straw man “literal interpretation” of “nor did it enter my mind” meaning “I didn’t know they were going to do it”, then insist that taking the passage ‘literally’ amounts to Open Theism, so therefore one should accept their view that the passage is some sort of anthropomorphism. Besides there being apparently nothing conveyed by this supposed ‘anthropomorphism,’ contextually speaking, the concept of “didn’t enter my mind” is most readily interpreted idiomatically as “I didn’t think this up”[1], not, “I didn’t see that coming.” This being the case, the choice of ‘Open Theism or Determinsim’ is a false dichotomy. (See here for a discussion on this passage by Richard Coords).

Who is the father of lies?

In John chapter 8, Jesus provides an extremely fitting description for His chief adversary:

“… He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44b)

Now if every lie the devil tells is his own independent invention, then this certainly must hold true, for deception and hatred of the truth begins in him. But what if this weren’t the case at all? What if in fact the devil didn’t rightly imagine his falsehoods for himself, but rather had someone else thinking it up and feeding it to him? Could he rightly be called the ‘father of lies’ if someone else made up his lies for him, and he were just the ‘delivery boy?’ As I explained in the comments of a previous post:

“If every lie the devil ever told wasn’t really his own idea that was rooted in his own heart and will, if instead each lie were really just God’s invention that He decreed the devil tell, to say that, we would literally (contra John 8:44) be calling God the father of lies rather than the devil.”

This is where exhaustive determinism begins to scripturally break down even further. Those who spread it would literally have us believe that God conceived all of the devil’s lies for him; thus, applying the term ‘father of lies’ to Satan would be little more than quaintly inaccurate pejorative, as the real source of all the deceit he spreads would in fact be God Himself!

Explicit Denial

It was pointed out by another poster named Steven, that scripture plainly denies sin coming from God. He quoted 1 John chapter 2:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)

Here John cites major factors of sinful behavior that the unregenerate world is defined by: wicked cravings, lust, and pride, which drive all manner of wicked action. He also explains that one cannot love these things and have the love of God abiding in him, because as opposed to agape love that is from God (cf. ch 4:7-8), the lust and pride that are from the world (and by extension, its prince – Eph 2:2, 2 Cor 4:4) aren’t from Him at all. The word ‘ek’ [from] used in this sense in both passages is a commonly-used primary preposition, …denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause; literal or figurative; direct or remote) (source)

The underlying reason John gives not to love the world’s elements such as lust and pride then is because they neither originate nor proceed from God, they are “not from the Father but from the world.” As implied above, this is in direct contraposition to the love of God emphasized throughout 1 John,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

The contrast between the things of the world and the love of God, with regard to their respective origins, is important as well: for in the same sense that love is from God, wickedness such as lust and pride is not. Yet this contrast seems to be lost on most hardcore Predestinarians. Their consensus is that all wickedness actually does come from God, just secretly and in a way such that He’s not responsible for it.

Therefore I conclude with Jonathan Edwards, “God decrees all things, even all sins.” Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “He works all things after the counsel of His will.” (Piper, John; Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?)

As John Gill said, “Though God’s decree made Adam’s fall infallibly necessary as to the event, yet not by way of efficiency, or by force and compulsion on the will.” Clearly it was the divine will that sin should enter this world, or it would not have done so.

God’s decree that sin should enter this world was a secret hid in Himself. Our first parents knew nothing of it, and that made all the difference so far as their responsibility was concerned. Had they been informed of the divine purpose and the certainty of its fulfillment by their actions, the case would have been radically altered. They were unacquainted with the Creator’s secret counsels. What concerned them was God’s revealed will, and that was quite plain. (A.W. Pink, “Gleanings from the Scriptures”)

Isn’t it impossible for God to do evil? He can’t sin. I am not accusing God of sinning; I am suggesting that He created sin. (R.C. Sproul, Jr., Almighty Over All, Baker, p. 54) [emphasis mine]

Both Pink and Sproul insist that God still “isn’t the author of sin” by appealing to the same equivocation cited above; but don’t be fooled by the glossing over -they still maintain that the origin of all wickedness is God. Ironically, Sproul employs a similar process of elimination as I do at the end of part 2 and in this post to arrive at the same conclusion: that exhaustive determinism makes God the creator of evil, which is equivalent to calling Him the author of sin.

Christian Philosopher Paul Copan takes Sproul to task on this point by citing that all which God creates is good (1 Timothy 4:4, James 1:17, which strongly agrees with 1 John 2:15-16), and that while God does create things like disasters (Isaiah 45:7), these aren’t to be confused with God creating moral evil (sin) as Sproul argues for.

‘Proof-Texting?’

The plain denial that sin originates within God doesn’t sit well with many determinists. Paul Manata attempts to frame the use of 1 John 2 as eisegetical proof-texting by appealing to Christ’s words in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing” (to which he satirically insists that this would include sin). Immediate context obviously dictates that the “nothing” Christ speaks of is opposite of bearing fruit by abiding in Him (vs 2-5). While it’s obviously true that context absolutely must be observed and factored in, Manata’s counter-example fails to make any relevant point, as it doesn’t identify how or why our use of 1 John 2:15-16 is supposedly violating context, merely that context in fact can be ignored and passages of scripture misapplied (which he unwittingly proves on a fairly regular basis[2]). He does attempt to provide some alternate explanation:

But not only that, commentators recognize that John means that those actions are not characterized by a godly life (e.g., Yarbrough, 1-3 John, BECNT). John’s speaking of what characterizes actions, they are either from the father or from the world.

This argument doesn’t make much sense: there’s no indication in the passage that it’s addressing ‘godly life’ vs ‘worldly life’ but clearly speaks of God Himself and the world in reference to where evil originates. The determinist eisegesis here ignores the preposition that denotes the evils’ origin without verbal or contextual warrant in favor of a contrived reinterpretation that’s apparently based solely on a non-scriptural philosophical presupposition. Secondly, entities don’t objectively characterize their actions in terms of good or evil on the basis of their person, the actions themselves that are good or evil characterize the entity as such.

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

The commentary Manata cites on 1 John 2 actually makes the very point that it’s the world’s actions that characterize itself. Quoting Yarbrough:

The third component in John’s explanation of what characterizes the [world] is [the arrogance of life] (Yarbrough, Robert; 1, 2, and 3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), p. 133)

John’s indisputable point to his readers is that much of what surrounds them, insofar as it “belongs to the world,” is “not from the Father. It is rather from the world.” More specifically, the world is characterized by an unholy trinity of “what the body hankers for and the eyes itch to see and what people toil to acquire.

The logic of 2:7-17, as it comes to a close, runs like this: do not set your affections on the [world, 2:15], insofar as what characterizes the [world] is foreign if not hostile to the Father and what he represents (2:16).” (Ibid., p. 134)

Yarbrough in fact makes the point that it’s the sinful pride that characterizes the world, and makes no attempts to change or reinterpret the originative language in reference to sin of verse 16. Under the heading ‘The origin of world-love’, he even states,

The reason lies primarily in the place of origin of “the things” John has in mind … everything that belongs to the world is not from the Father but is from the world). John is thinking of things that can be regarded as detrimental because they lack sanctifying ties with the Father. They are not rooted and grounded in him and can therefore be regarded as not coming from him. (Ibid., p. 131 [emphasis mine])

Instead of lending aid to Manata’s verbal gymnastics, Yarbrough instead drives home the point that the origin of the wicked things is central to John’s imperative against them in verse 15! This is especially relevant, since where an action properly originates is one of its primary defining characteristics where Christians are concerned; agape love and good works in Christ (Eph 2:10) are from the Father (godly); lust, pride, and all manner of evil are from the world (and thus worldly).

I’ve also heard it argued that the passage is talking about what God hasn’t commanded, i.e. lust and pride aren’t commanded in the law of God or scripture. While the statement itself is true, it doesn’t hold up well as a viable explanation for this passage, since in the same sense that lust and pride don’t come from God, they do come from the world. This defense would be tantamount to saying that the world in general makes laws stating that men must be lustful, greedy, and prideful. While those of the world may condone or hypocritically practice these things, the case can hardly be made that they issue them as points of law!

Another conceivable defense Necessitarians may claim is that the passage is using some kind of idiom to express that these things come directly from the world, and only indirectly from God through the world, which would make it an expression not of origin, but mere proximity. Such a stance would reduce the motivation behind John’s admonition to a rather feeble line of reasoning: that God is just as much and completely the author of sin as He is of salvation, we’re just to shun the former because He implements it “less directly.”

In short, from whence evil comes is its source. As necessitarian doctrine frames the issue, these evils don’t arise due to some contingency of other independent wills within the world, but in fact arise wholly from within God who immutably decrees that sinners commit them. Were that the case, then it would be completely inaccurate to say that these things don’t come from Him as John proclaims.

Conclusion

It’s been asserted that real Calvinism is most always eventually supplanted by hyper-Calvinism, the tenets of which include God authoring sin. This brand of hyper-Calvinism has strong roots in the movement, being propagated by many of its most respected and influential authors of past and present. It’s accordingly made strong inroads into this latest ‘Reformed Resurgence,’ becoming increasingly popular among internet Calvivangelists, and will likely consume the movement (at least in the leadership and scholastic echelons) as time goes on. The adoption of this hyper-Calvinist belief may be because it’s the most (perhaps only) logically consistent and defensible theodicy given the mainstream Calvinist definition of ‘sovereignty’ espoused by those like Piper, which they stretch from “always having total power” into meaning, “always completely exercising total power.” It’s little wonder then that he, Toplady, Gill, Edwards, Pink, Sproul, Cheung, et al have embraced the idea of God being the creator of evil. Calvinists who truly believe God isn’t the author of sin should be advised that this transition to hyper-Calvinism isn’t merely a possible danger to their movement, it’s already well under way.

Bottom Line:

* Among Necessitarians, the phrase “God isn’t the author of sin” is a smokescreen; they still maintain that sin comes from and is decreed by God.

* The issue goes beyond just culpability: to claim that sin actually originates in God is still making Him its author, contrary to the scriptures.

* Exhaustive determinist doctrine makes the God who finds it abominable when hearts devise wickedness into the deviser and source of all wickedness.

* To God’s proclamation that it never entered His mind that Israel should sacrifice to Molech, said doctrine asserts that He in fact engineered their transgression in toto from the beginning.

* It changes God from a God of truth in Whom is no darkness to the originator of every lie, and Satan from the father of lies into little more than a courier for the falsehoods God decrees he tell.

* It gainsays scripture’s declaration that wickedness “comes not from the Father but from the world,” contending that lust and pride actually are altogether fashioned and immutably decreed by God.



[1] The word for ‘mind’ [leb] is the same as that used for ‘heart’ in Hebrew. The same word is used in Proverbs 6:18 when referring to “a heart that devises wicked imaginations.” A thing “entering one’s heart” can be indicative of concepts such as calling a thing to remembrance (e.g. Jeremiah 44:21) -obviously not the meaning in this case- or purposing / setting affections on a thing. An example of the latter is in Ezekiel 14:4-7 in reference to setting up idols in one’s heart. An example of it implying purposing a thing is in 2 Kings: “And Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the dedicated gifts that are brought into the house of the LORD—each man’s census money, each man’s assessment money —and all the money that a man purposes in his heart to bring into the house of the Lord….” (2 Kings 12:4, NKJV) The KJV translates it more literally as “all the money that cometh into any man’s heart to bring into the house of the LORD.” From the Hebrew usage of the term and the context, it seems that their idolatry being a thing not purposed by God is the most viable interpretation.

[2] A particularly amusing example is his treatment of Hebrews 6.