Calvinist Sleight of Hand: A Brief Arminian Interaction With Wayne Grudem’s Arguments Against the Compatibility of Foreknowledge And Conditional Election

A while back someone on the SEA discussion board referenced the following comments by Calvinist Theologian Wayne Grudem arguing against the compatibility of foreknowledge and conditional election.  Below is my brief interaction with this quoted material.

The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined. If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not. There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this. Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise. But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them? Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do. But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation. (Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine  p.589)

Grudem’s argument employs the usual Calvinist sleight of hand in an attempt to make foreknowledge causative in nature. He makes a subtle and unjustified shift from will be to cannot be otherwise. That is false. What will happen is not the same as what must happen, or what cannot be otherwise. It is just the same old conflation of certainty (what will be) with necessity (what must be) that has been refuted for ages. Here is how I would specifically respond to Grudem’s argument:

Grudem: “The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined.”

Response: Actually, they are not already fixed, but they will be fixed and God foreknows how they will be fixed. The crucial question is who will fix them? The proper answer is that the agent will fix his choice when he makes it, and freely so. Foreknowledge doesn’t change that at all. 

Just think about it. Suppose there was no foreknowledge. There would still be one future choice (in this case) and not another. So how does adding foreknowledge change anything? It doesn’t. The future will follow one particular course of events regardless of whether anyone has foreknowledge of those events or not. That tells us nothing of the nature of future choices, whether they will be free or not.

And adding God’s foreknowledge, which simply mirrors that single course of future events, doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of those choices either. They can still be made by the agent with full power to do otherwise, even if God foreknows how the choice will go.

Grudem: “If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not.”

Response: Yes, absolutely certain (will be), but not necessary (must be).  This is where that distinction between certainty and necessity is crucial. Notice how he makes the subtle shift from certainty to necessity below, with no logical warrant for the shift, and no argument. He essentially just asserts that if something will be a certain way, then it must be a certain way. But that is just an assertion, nothing more; and this assertion assumes the very point in contention (and so is question begging)

Grudem: “There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this.”

Response: There it is, the unwarranted and subtle shift from certainly to necessity. What he should have said was “there is no way that their lives will turn out any differently…” And why is that? Because of the choices that they will certainly make. But they can certainly make free choices just as well as predetermined choices. Whether a choice is free or predetermined, it will still eventually happen. If they were to make different free will choices in the future then God’s foreknowledge would simply mirror that course of events instead.

Again, just adding foreknowledge to the way things will be doesn’t change anything. It tells us nothing with regards to whether or not there is any real freedom in the choices that will be made. It does not magically change will be to must be. Calvinists like Grudem just assume and assert that it does change it, but they have no real proof or argument, just an assertion.

Grudem: “Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise.”

Response: Again, notice the wholesale shift now from certainty to necessity. All he is saying is that because it will be a certain way it must be a certain way (could not be otherwise). That’s it. And again, that is nothing more than an assertion. Grudem just switched cards when nobody was looking and hoped nobody would notice.  I will just counter assert that the certainty of a future act does not make it a necessity. That was easy.  And notice how just tweaking his sentence changes everything:

“Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined [yes, but by who?] for they [will not] be otherwise.”

Just change “could not” to “will not” and there is no problem. Why? Because “will not” does not necessarily imply “could not”. And I can agree that their destinies are determined, but they are determined based on the free choices that they will certainly make, with full power to do otherwise (and God’s free response to those choices).

Grudem: “But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them?”

Response: This is all based on a false dilemma that Grudem has created by deliberately conflating certainty with necessity. There is no such problem with those who understand that crucial distinction between what will be (certainty) and what must be (necessity). And, as I said before, the future is determined by both God and people. People will make free will choices (many of which are direct interactions with God), and foreknowledge does not change that.

So we determine our destinies, though God foreknows those choices (and the end results of those choices). But God also foreknows his very real interactions with us that are yet future as well. He foreknows His own actions and responses, just as He does ours. But His foreknowledge of His future free actions does not mean He has no power to choose otherwise or no freedom to do so. It is just the same with us.

Grudem: “Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do.”

Response: Of course, this does not follow at all if one does not conflate certainty with necessity. We control our destinies based on the choices we make and the way we respond to God and His actions and interventions in our lives. God’s prior knowledge of that doesn’t change that truth at all.

Grudem: “But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation.” (p.589)

Response: Another huge leap in logic. There is no “impersonal force” necessary, only choices made by real persons. And if God has determined to make salvation conditional, then He is still the one who determines who gets saved and who doesn’t. Those who believe will be saved and those who do not will not be saved. That condition and His response to that condition was His choice, not ours.

The only choice we make is if we will meet the God ordained condition for receiving His salvation, but it is still God alone who saves, and for that reason God still gets all the credit for salvation. It is exactly because we cannot save ourselves that we need to trust in Christ to save us. If we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to trust in Christ to save us, now would we?

So the condition of faith (the fact that we need to trust in Christ to be saved) is what makes salvation all of God and all of grace, and it is why faith is the perfect condition for receiving salvation which by its very nature excludes boasting:

“What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  (Romans 4:3-5, emphasis mine)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.” (Romans 4:16, emphasis mine)

So conditional salvation/election and God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved are fully compatible.  Despite Grudem’s assertions, it does not follow that such a view (when properly understood) leads to a fate like controlling impersonal force behind God, and it doesn’t lead to the idea that we or any such non-existent force gets the credit for salvation rather than God.  Grudem’s argument is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, nonsequiturs and question begging, and for that reason is hardly persuasive.

_________________________

Related:

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

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

 

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13 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on SOTERIOLOGY 101 and commented:
    This is a great summary of some of the discussions we have had here about the conflation of certainty with necessity. Good read!

  2. Thank you Derek for so graciously correcting my spelling.

  3. Great post kangaroodort!!

    Its not actually clear to me that Grudem is conflating TD (theological determinism) with TF (theological fatalism). That is to say, its not clear to me that he is conflating determinism with “necessity”.

    He does use the word “fate” when he refers to NON-theological determinism,- for example some kind of “Natural” determinism.

    But for me, the basic issue is the premise that if God knows [X] will occur at [T1], and [X] then fails to occur at [T1], does that entail God’s knowledge being in error?

    William Lane Craig makes a distinction where he states God’s foreknowledge is like an infallible barometer. The barometer infallibly knows the temperature, but does not cause the temperature to be what it is. -quote “God’s foreknowledge is chronologically prior to the event, but the event is logically prior to God’s foreknowledge”. This formulation allows God to infallibly know what man will do without determining it. And it would seem to dispel the question of God’s knowledge being in error. But the Calvinist cannot embrace this option and remain true to Calvin.

    Calvinists therefore suffer from two conflicting urgencies. They want to say that God decrees *ALL* things universally which come to pass, while retaining a biblical frame of reference. The problems: (1) The language of scripture is predominantly in-deterministic, requiring eisegesis to make it say what they want it to say. (2) They need to retain a biblical sense of personal responsibility for sin, and evade the logical consequence of God being the author of evil. Which turns them into sophists and semantic magicians. (3) They need to be able to function in their daily activities AS-IF their thoughts, choices and actions are “up to them”, in order to retain a sense of internal normalcy.

    (3) Is why Calvin, instructs his disciples to -quote “go about your office AS IF nothing were determined in any part”. Forcing Calvinists to live in a world of double-think.

    And the average Calvinist construes 1001 spurious imaginations in order to rationalize away the logical and ethical conundrums. And this leads them into abject dishonesty. And thus Calvinist language, long ago evolved into is a language of dishonesty.

    And worse for them, it may be the case that God is -quote “holding salvation out to them as a savor of greater condemnation” to at some time – quote “strike them with greater blindness”. So it follows there is a -quote “large mixture”, in their fold whom god is deceiving into believing they are saved, for the purpose of magnifying their torment in the lake of fire.

    Who wouldn’t love such a belief system!!

  4. br. d.,

    I am not sure where you got the idea that I was suggesting Grudem was conflating theological determinism with impersonal fatalism. If anything, he was saying that non-deterministic foreknowledge leads to a sort of fatalism (which is a total nonsequitur).

    What I was saying was that for Grudem to saddle the Arminian simple foreknowledge view with a sort of determinism comparable to the Calvinist view, and even worse a sort of impersonal fatalism (which is what he tries to do), he can only succeed by wrongly conflating certainty (what will be) with necessity (what must be) and assuming that foreknowledge is somehow causative (actually makes things happen, somehow controlling people’s wills and choices).

    Also, the idea of necessity simply means that something must happen. That can fit with theological determinism just as well as it can fit with impersonal determinism because it does not speak to the source that renders things necessary, only that such things are necessary. I say that because you seem to equate necessitation with impersonal fatalism above, while seemingly suggesting that theological determinism avoids that designation.

    Sorry if I have misunderstood you.

    Much of the rest of what you say is spot on in my opinion.

  5. What about the idea that since God knows it will happen and allows it to happen(or causes it)that it’s what he wants to happen? If it’s what God wants then it is necessary. Right?

  6. Nick,

    To allow something with regards to human willing actually assumes freedom outside of the one who allows it. Otherwise the language of permission makes little sense. If I am causing something to happen, then it does’t make sense to say I am “allowing” or “permitting” that which I am causing.

    God can want to allow something to happen without necessarily “wanting” that thing to happen. This explains God’s relationship with human sin as revealed in Scripture. God allows sin, and He allows people to make sinful choices, but He does not want that sin, nor does He cause it or necessitate it by simply allowing it.

    Here is a good quote from A.W. Tozer that puts this in perspective:

    “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” (The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, emphasis mine)

    Here is a post that interacts with John Piper’s claim that God “ordains” all sin and evil. Piper tries to use the language of permission to get God off the hook for being the originating author of all sin and evil but his attempt fails because the language of permission cannot work in a his deterministic framework. Why? Because permission only makes sense where there is real freedom involved:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/john-piper-on-god-ordaining-all-sin-and-evil-part-1-an-arminian-response-to-pipers-first-question/

  7. Hi Nick,
    Firstly, I am personally hesitant to use the word “necessary” in these conversations, because Theological Fatalism has traditionally hinged on the tiny distinction that things occur “of necessity”.

    So personally, I’m hesitant to use that word. But we have the issue of God’s knowledge not able to be wrong. This introduces the notion of IMPOSSIBILITY into our considerations. It is IMPOSSIBLE for God to be wrong.

    Thus, if God knows that I will wake up at 7AM tomorrow morning, and God cannot be wrong, then does that logically entail that my waking up at 7AM tomorrow is inevitable and unavoidable. And if God knows this at the foundation of the world, then my waking up at 7AM tomorrow is also something that I cannot change, since its inevitability was fixed in the past which I cannot change.

    Is it true then:
    (1) I do not have the power to “do otherwise”?
    (2) And no “alternative possibility” can have existence?

    These are questions that have traditionally had their eb-&-flow in Christian philosophy, and still remain.

    Molinism, Open Theism, Calvinism etc each have proposed solutions.
    Of these, Calvinism’s solution is the one most ethically problematic, because it makes God the author of sin, and infers that God deceives people, He deceives Adam and Eve, into believing he wants them to obey while retaining a “secret” will which is the opposite of what he tells them. He deceives christian believers into believing they are saved, temporarily in order to magnify their torment in the lake of fire. etc.

    And it has been perennially observed that Calvinists are highly reliant upon dishonest language, in order to promote and defend their solution. Their solution hinges on the proposition that God’s knowledge is the consequence of his decrees. And God does not “allow” or “permit” anything to happen, (using the strict definitions for these terms) which terms Calvinists don’t enunciate with honesty.

    Hope this helps

  8. Br.d,

    On the use of the term “necessity” please see my comments above. The term simply means that something must happen.

    With regards to your argument that if God cannot be wrong then we cannot do otherwise, please see this response to what is called the “Transfer of necessity” argument (which is basically the same argument you are making here)

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/the-transfer-of-nonsense-principle/

    Basically, what makes a future choice true is the future choice itself, and not God’s foreknowledge of it. If a future choice is made with full power to choose otherwise, then that choice will be freely made. God’s foreknowledge comprehends both the choice and the nature of the choice, that it will be made with full power to choose otherwise, i.e., it will be made freely.

    God’s foreknowledge of that choice does not change the nature of the choice from free to necessary, and neither does God’s foreknowledge itself make the future choice true. Rather, the future choice is what makes God’s foreknowledge of the choice true. The choice itself is the source of truth, and God’s foreknowledge simply comprehends that truth (and the nature of that truth as a truly free act) in advance. His foreknowledge simply mirrors what will be, it does not cause it, nor does it change the nature of what will be.

    It might “feel” to us like God’s foreknowledge of a future choice would limit or remove the freedom of that choice, but philosophically that is simply not the case.

    I would also highly recommend you take a look at Daniel Whedon’s book which was written as a refutation to Johnathan Edwards’ “Freedom of the Will”. Here is a link to the book where you can read it free online. The pages you will find most helpful are pages 267-292, especially pages 271-292,

    https://books.google.com/books?id=HwtVAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

  9. wonderful post kanaroodort!!

    Thanks!

    Please also review William Lane’s Craig’s comments on the link between theological fatalism and things occurring “of necessity”.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s3-15

    I’ll look into the two links you graciously provided!
    Thanks 😀

  10. br.d,

    Look at the this line from the 2nd paragraph of Craig’s transcript:

    “Fatalism is the view that everything that happens happens necessarily. Theological fatalism is the view that because God foreknows everything, everything happens necessarily.”

    In both cases “necessairly” means it must happen, cannot be avoided. It happens of “necessity.” Of course, in the second view things do not happen of necessity when foreknowledge is rightly understood, but that is the claim Craig is addressing.

    So again, to say something happens of “necessity” just means that it must happen. That is true in Calvinism where God’s decree necessitates all that happens; it is true in a materialistic worldview where unseen laws necessitate all that happens, and it is true in a more classical fatalistic view where impersonal force necessitates all that happens. The difference is not to be found in the use of the word “necessitate” but in the force behind that necessitation.

    By the way, Craig’s argument is the same as mine. He is saying that just because God foreknows something it does not mean it will happen “necessarily” (must happen). Instead, it only means that it will happen (that is “certainty”, not “necessity”). Just because something will happen (certainty), doesn’t mean it must (necessity). Craig would fully agree with my response to Grudem here.

  11. Thanks kangaroodort.
    Did you also see where he states that Theological Determinism, unlike Theological Fatalism doesn’t have things happening necessarily, or “of necessity”, but in Theological Determinism, events do occur inevitably and unavoidably? In Calvinist terminology: “rendered certain”

    BTW: if we could share email addresses, we could chat directly…if that would be ok with you, reach out to bwagner at SOT101 for my email.

  12. No. I did not see that in the article. I also read through some of the discussion points and still did not see it. Can you quote that section?

    I did see Craig draw a distinction between determinism and theological fatalism in his discussion, saying determinism means God causes everything (which does indeed mean everything happens of necessity), while in Theological fatalism the claim is that all things happen of necessity, not because God will cause them, but simply because He foreknows those things which then renders them necessary.

    I don’t think Craig’s terminology is standard terminology here, but just how he prefers to describe the two different views. It is how he distinguishes between the idea that God’s foreknowledge removes freedom and the idea that God’s decree removes freedom. That’s fine, but one doesn’t need to use that terminology to distinguish those two views.

    Still, the point remains that the claim is that things happen necessarily in both schemes. The only difference is the source that renders such things necessary. In what Craig calls theological fatalism, it is foreknowledge that renders things necessary. In what Craig calls theological determinism, it is God’s decree that causally renders all things necessary. The “necessary” part doesn’t change.

    To say something happens “necessarily” is the same as saying it happens “unavoidably”. Calvinists can say “rendered certain” because the “rendered” speaks of causation that goes outside of the person. In that sense it is the same as necessitate, just another way of saying it. If God’s foreknowledge rendered certain all that will happen, then that would be the same as saying it necessitates all that will happen.

    When I speak of the difference between certainty and necessity, I do not say “rendered certain”. That is not an accurate way to describe what I am saying. I am saying that God can foreknow something as certain and that thing can still be free. Why? Because it is the free will of the person that renders the choice certain (or causes the choice), and not God’s foreknowledge.

    But if I said God foreknowing of something “rendered” it certain (which introduces causation to the idea of foreknowledge), then that would be the same as “necessary” and remove freedom.

    Notice the difference in these statements:

    “God foreknows all things as certain” (this perseveres freedom)

    God’s foreknowledge renders all things certain (removes freedom since it makes God’s foreknowledge causal)

  13. Thanks very much Kangaroodort!

    I know that the a critical characteristic of Calvinist foreknowledge is that in their system, foreknowledge is the consequence of fore-ordination via decrees. However, they consistently make dishonest statements concerning evil events suggesting, in Calvinism, God merely “epistemically” foreknows or knows the event is going to happen but does not cause it to happen.

    These statements are attempts to obfuscate Calvinism’s formulation that foreknowledge is the consequence of foreordination. By hiding this aspect of foreknowledge in their system, they try make God’s role appear passive in the evil event. For me, that is simply an attempt to deceive people by working to make Calvinism APPEAR indeterministic.

    Its almost like they want to cherry-pick specific contexts by asserting that good events are brought about by Theological determinism, while sin and evil are brought about indeterministically.

    Do you see that? And how do you cut through their deceptive language?

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