The Cancer in Calvinism

From the outset I want to make it clear that I’m not asserting that Calvinism is heresy, as I consider most Calvinists to be genuine brothers and sisters. This post is rather about a serious error that has subtly crept up in the teachings of many Reformed Theology proponents and teachers. It is not one of the five points of Calvinism itself, but is no less integral to the theology of many Calvinists.

 

The First Warning Signs

Many Calvinists I’ve spoken to over the years have been great to talk to. Some just seem to be evangelicals with a stronger emphasis on predestination than most. For others, something just seemed…off. Very off. I started noticing a troubling tendency with some of the things they said: much stock was put into unconditional election and predestination, so much so as to mitigate the need for faith altogether. I would hear the occasional Calvinist friend talk about being “saved before they were born,” but I also knew that many Reformed preachers taught salvation by grace through faith, so I initially wrote it off as people misunderstanding their tradition’s theology. Little did I know….

 

A Tumorous Trilemma

I’ve come to believe that the real issue has been hiding in plain sight for a long time. In his ponderous polemic, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Puritan theologian John Owen poses the following trilemma to we who believe Christ tasted death for everyone (per Heb 2:9).

To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:– God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for,
either all the sins of all men,
or all the sins of some men,
or some sins of all men.
If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. ii. 20, 21.
If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.
If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins?
You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.”
But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it?
If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not.
If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death?
If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins.
Let them choose which part they will.

(John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Book 1, ch 3; emphasis and spacing mine)

 

A Premalignant Presupposition

Read the bolded portion of the argument carefully. Closer observation reveals a far graver issue. Parsing out what Owen is saying,

But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If [unbelief is] not [a sin], why should [unbelievers] be punished for it? … If [Christ did die for the sin of unbelief], then why [would the sin of unbelief] hinder [the unbelievers from being saved any] more than their other sins for which [Christ died]?

The answer to the trilemma is fairly trivial: While refusal to believe is indeed a sin, the reason it keeps one from salvation is not due to it being a sin, but because unbelief, by definition, precludes belief in Christ, without which no one can be saved (Heb 11:6). As with all sins Christ died for, forgiveness for unbelief is only obtained through subsequent belief in Him.

While Owen’s argument is trifling at best, his sophomoric reasoning isn’t the biggest problem here. While unstated, there is a premise both insidious and heretical that one must hold to make this argument without duplicity or cognitive dissonance: If one is seriously arguing that unbelief would not stop a person from being forgiven any more than any other sin, that is effectively saying that Christ’s death brings about salvation whether or not one believes. Or to put it succinctly,

If Christ died for one’s sins, then faith isn’t necessary for salvation.

Note that he is not arguing that all for whom Christ died must eventually believe and be saved, no, he is saying they would be saved despite not believing! Any Bible-believing Christian should be horrified by such a godless and contra-scriptural idea. That faith is absolutely necessary to be saved is all over the New Testament (in John 3:16, Acts 13:39, Romans 3:22, 5:1, 10:9, Galatians 2:16, 3:22, to give a few references). How in the world can an allegedly Christian theologian be arguing that lack of faith wouldn’t stop someone from receiving forgiveness?

If such a premise were true, it would entail that whether one believes has no bearing on whether he obtains salvation.

And if having faith has no bearing on obtaining salvation, then one can only conclude that salvation is not by faith.

While Owen’s trilemma and the similar arguments derived from it may seem superficially persuasive if one doesn’t spot their weakness, examination of their underlying ideas reveals more than was intended. One who argues that the atonement would save even those who never believe necessarily (except for reason of ignorance or sheer cognitive dissonance) holds a view of redemption that not only lacks scriptural support, but violates one of the central tenets of Christianity in denying salvation by faith altogether.

 

The Cancer Spreads

If the mutation was confined to just a small band of loonies in a corner, it would be of little concern. Sadly, a great many Christians of the Reformed theological persuasion have fallen for this unscriptural line of reasoning. Owen isn’t some isolated edge-case Calvinist predicting the timing of the second coming on the radio or protesting funerals. To the contrary, he’s widely regarded among Calvinists, and the book his trilemma was written in is considered one of their finest classical defenses of Limited Atonement.

It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is now offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today – the recovery of the gospel. (J.I. Packer, introduction to the 1958 reprint)

The trilemma itself is widely referenced and quoted by many prominent Calvinists:

James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken (The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel)
Steve Lawson (Foundations of Grace)
Robert Reymond (Ten Lines of Evidence for the Doctrine of Particular Redemption, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition)
Dr. Christopher David Bass (That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John)
Jonathan D. Moore (The Extent of the Atonement)
Dr. Manuel Kuhs (British Reformed Journal, Issue 59)
Phillip G. Kayser (Ransom Paid: Does the Bible Limit the Atonement?)
Joseph R. Holder (Romans: Theological Masterpiece [Volume 1])
Sam Storms (For Whom Did Christ Die?)
Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th. M. (How to Handle So-Called Problem Passages on the Extent of the Atonement)
Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Dr. Joel Beeke (Problems with Arminian Universal Redemption)
Dr. Gary D. Long (Definite Atonement)
Dr. Roger Nicole Th.D., Ph.D. (The Case for Definite Atonement)
James White (Was Anyone Saved at the Cross?)
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., of Third Millennium Ministries
The Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanted) 
Erik Raymond of The Gospel Coalition

And it’s not people just mindlessly parroting Owen without realizing what he’s saying. Many of the authors make the argument in their own words, laden with the same repulsive premise:

The Arminian will answer: “because they refused to believe in Jesus Christ. They are guilty of unbelief.“ But this unbelief, is it a sin or is it not a sin? If unbelief is not a sin, then why should anyone by punished for it? If unbelief is a sin, then Christ was punished for it in His death. If Christ paid for this sin as all others, then why must this sin stop anyone from entering heaven more than any of the other sins (e.g., murder, adultery, homosexuality, etc.). Furthermore, if Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, then one cannot say that He died for all the sins of all men. The Arminian cannot escape from the horns of this theological dilemma. (Brian Schwertley, Limited Atonement)

Belief in an unlimited atonement, on the other hand, presents many logical and biblical problems. First of all, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross. (S. Michael Houdmann of GotQuestions.org)

If God propitiated His wrath towards me in a truly substitutionary and penal sacrifice, how can He still be angry at me? Did God in Christ actually redeem, reconcile, and propitiate His anger against us on the cross? Then I cannot and will not ever experience that anger. (Sam Waldron, The Biblical Confirmation of Particular Redemption)

But God is angry at men for their unbelief,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:18)

If, however, Jesus died to make atonement for generic guilt, for human guilt in general, then culpable unbelief is covered by the atonement. So I don’t see how a qualitative paradigm circumvents the force of Owen’s dilemma. If refusing to believe in Jesus is culpable, and Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, then culpable unbelief is included in the atonement. The category of guilt includes all instances thereof. (Steve Hays)

But you really need to qualify what you mean when you say that “He laid down His life for all of humanity.” Such a statement is unnecessary and may be misunderstood. I could say, “so why aren’t they all saved then?” “If he already paid for their sins then there should be no condemnation.” But unbelief is one of the sins He died for. (John Hendryx, Monergism.com)

No condemnation for people who have no faith? John writes,

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Yet a heartbreaking number of Calvinists all but flatly deny that very truth.

If ALL the sins of ALL men were laid upon Christ, then the sin of unbelief was too. That unbelief is a sin is clear from the fact that in 1 John 3:23 we read, “And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Refusal to believe in Christ is, therefore, an act of flagrant disobedience, rebellion against the Most High. But if all the sins of all men were laid upon Christ (as it is now asserted), then He also endured the penalty for the Christ-rejector’s unbelief. … For if unbelief is a sin and Christ did not suffer the penalty of it, then all sin was not laid upon Christ. Thus there are only two alternatives: a strictly limited Atonement, availing only for believers; or an unlimited Atonement which effectually secures the salvation of the entire human race. (A.W. Pink, The Atonement)

Again; if Christ died for all; then he made expiation for all their sins. He therefore must have made atonement for the sins of unbelief and final impenitence; which prevent man from applying to himself the redemption provided for him: and thus they will no longer stand in the way of such an application: for on the supposition of satisfaction having been made for them; they must be pardoned. (Francis Turretin, The Extent of the Atonement)

However, if the sins of every individual are actually taken away, then why do any go to hell? After all, aren’t all the sins taken away? “Ah,” but you say, “they are taken away only if that person believes.” The only problem with that is that Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cleanse of all sin, even the sin of unbelief. Therefore, even that sin is covered. Remember, it says that the sins were taken away by the cross of Christ, not made possible to be taken away. (Matt Slick)

If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.” (R.C. Sproul, Biblical Scholasticism)

“If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.” (R.C. Sproul, The Design and Scope of the Atonement)

Paul speaks of our fallen state apart from life in Christ,

“…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)

If, as Sproul argues, it would be unjust for God to punish us solely due to what Christ did, then would it not also be unjust for Him to hold us under His wrath (and thus under the sentence of condemnation) to begin with?

The third statement is what the Arminians would say. Christ died for all the sins of all men. But then why are not all saved? They answer, Because some do not believe. But is this unbelief not one of the sins for which Christ died? If they say yes, then why is it not covered by the blood of Jesus and all unbelievers saved? If they say no (unbelief is not a sin that Christ has died for) then they must say that men can be saved without having all their sins atoned for by Jesus, or they must join us in affirming statement number two: Christ died for all the sins of some men. That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God’s punitive wrath is appeased toward them and his grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into his marvelous light. (John Piper, For Whom Did Christ Die?)

How do they reconcile these mutually-exclusive ideas? Salvation can’t be obtained both by faith and apart from faith, yet many of these authors claim to believe in salvation by faith while making an argument that effectively denies it. Do they truly not understand the implications of what they’re saying? Are they surreptitiously redefining “salvation by faith” to mean something else (e.g. “You were always saved, you just realize you’re saved by faith”)? I cannot judge, I can only say that such a premise is diametrically opposed to the gospel and destructive. It’s not going to take the next bright young generation of Calvinists long to understand where these arguments must eventually lead and go full-on cultic.

 

Hope for Remission?

Thankfully some Calvinists have shown discernment enough to see past this heresy.

Owen is right to think Christ’s work atones for all sin, unbelief included. But he is mistaken in thinking that if Christ’s work atones for all human sin, including the sin of unbelief, there is no impediment to the salvation of all human sinners. Faith is a condition of the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ. This, as Davenant and Dabney make clear, is a perfectly just arrangement; in which case, even if UA obtains, there is not doctrine of double payment to answer. (Oliver Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, p. 233)

Tony Byrne at Theological Meditations posted a series that quoted several authors refuting such an error. A sample quote from Dabney,

Nor would we attach any force to the argument, that if Christ made penal satisfaction for the sins of all, justice would forbid any to be punished. To urge this argument surrenders virtually the very ground on which the first Socinian objection was refuted, and is incompatible with the facts that God chastises justified believers, and holds elect unbelievers subject to wrath till they believe. Christ’s satisfaction is not a pecuniary equivalent, but only such a one as enables the Father, consistently with His attributes, to pardon, if in His mercy He sees fit. The whole avails of the satisfaction to a given man is suspended on His belief. There would be no injustice to the man, if he remaining an unbeliever, his guilt were punished twice over, first in his Savior, and then in Him. See A. A. Hodge on Atonement, page 369. (R.L. Dabney)

If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition. (Neil Chambers)

Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins. (Charles Hodge)

I would recommend any God-fearing Calvinist give his posts on the subject a read. Sadly, the Reformed believers who have seen past Owen’s smokescreen have gone largely unheeded by their peers, who have let a heretical idea in through the proverbial back door. Some may not like hearing it from a guy with more Arminian leanings, but please hear me out. We’ll always have disagreements (as all major denominations and movements do), and probably never resolve them all this side of eternity. There are things in the Bible that are less essential to the Christian faith which are often less clearly explicated, and on which some disagreement is natural. Salvation by faith is not one of those things we can disagree on. No matter what our positions on secondary issues, we must not adopt forceful or clever-sounding rhetoric that compromises the gospel. God sent His Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish. It is no longer Christianity if that message is lost. Sine Fide is not an option.

 

 

Innate vs Self-Imposed Dependencies

Does God depend upon anything in creation? Everyone agrees that God has no need of things like food, water, shelter, rest, etc. We often refer to this as God’s aseity –His independence of His creation.

So God has no innate need of these things, and is utterly self-sufficient. But can God take on a need in some sense? God the Son certainly did in a way when He walked the earth, but let’s go a little deeper than even that. Reading in Genesis and beyond, we see God making promises to people.

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

Since God cannot lie (Heb 6:18), then it follows that He must fulfill the covenants He has made. In terms of His independence, something has changed: He is no longer completely independent of creation. God cannot fail (not that He would want to anyway, but bear with me) in His good promises towards His faithful. That produces something of a two-way dependency relationship between God and creation. We have need of God to sustain us, and God needs to sustain us to be faithful to His covenants.

The idea of God depending on us in any sense may seem awkward, so I’ll illustrate by example: If God did not sustain us, we would cease to be (for He holds all things together, Col 1:17). God made a covenant with Abraham (His creation), to show him mercy and make him co-heir of all things. Having made such a covenant, He cannot go back on it. God’s faithfulness depends upon Abraham existing and inheriting eternal life. Not that God needs Abraham to feed or clothe Him, but rather, He cannot unmake Abraham or consign him to Hell; He must bless Abraham as He promised for the sake of His faithfulness. God’s faithfulness requires that Abraham live eternally.

God having a requirement or need of some kind? Doesn’t that contradict God’s independence from creation? Not quite: Aseity is God’s innate independence from creation. God never had to create Abraham or make such promises in the first place. It says nothing against the idea of God taking on a sort of self-imposed, indirect dependency through the act of creation or making covenants. This is something that God Himself chose to do.

Objections on Omniscience

Some Calvinists have objected that such a view of aseity is deficient, especially as it pertains to God’s omniscience. That is, God creating people as free agents, and knowing what we will do based upon what we actually do (as opposed to scripting all our choices out for us); they frame this as God needing creation to be omniscient. One particularly bad objection comes from a certain cage-stage Calvinist we’ve interacted with, who insists that we must logically be denying God’s aseity because of His entering into a voluntary dependence with creation. It’s not that we haven’t alluded to the argument above before.

[Me]: That is true, God is faithful regardless of whether there is a world, just as He is omniscient. Catch is, God’s faithfulness now doesn’t just exist by itself, He is not only innately faithful, but He is now faithful to people like Abraham. God being faithful to Abraham requires that there be an Abraham. Our over-eager objector is confusing God’s immutable attributes with the relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes. (Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes)

Problem is, he still doesn’t seem to recognize the difference between optional aspects of an attribute versus the attribute itself.

So, my dilemma of irrelevance or absurdity stands. If these examples where relevant, then God’s acts cause him to change himself…

While God’s innate attributes themselves do not change (He is always Holy, faithful, etc.), some optional aspects of them do (such as who He is faithful to). God was not in a relationship with Abraham before Abraham existed, but He is now. If we buy our objector’s hyper-Hellenized objection to God having some sort of ‘change,’ then we must also logically reject God taking on the self-imposed dependencies of having to fulfill His covenants, thus jettisoning the biblical promises of God in the process.

Calvinism Makes God Innately Dependent

The point that I brought up that these things aren’t “optional aspects” at all.

If such things as who God is faithful to aren’t optional for Him, then they can only be necessary to Him, meaning that God had no choice in the matter. Hence, my deductive proof  holds:

P1 To be truly omniscient requires that one’s beliefs match reality.
P2 Per [high] Calvinism, God innately and immutably believes that creation comes into existence (becomes a reality).
C Therefore, per Calvinism, God innately and immutably requires that creation comes into existence to be truly omniscient.

Far from establishing God’s aseity, Calvinism (at least our objector’s version) changes God’s relational dependency upon creation from a thing that’s self-imposed, into an innate need.

Objector: Now, he doesn’t grant the distinction between natural and free knowledge in this argument.

Our objector’s view of aseity entails that everything God knows about the world is essential to His being and immutable, there could be no such thing as ‘free knowledge’ by such a view.

Innate Knowledge and the Authorship of Sin

The above absurdity isn’t the only reason why God’s knowledge of the world can’t be innate to Himself. The problem of God being the author of evil also makes such a view logically impossible if we accept the testimony of scripture. As I’ve repeatedly argued without substantial challenge, the Bible is very clear that sinful things (lust, pride, etc) do not come from God (1 John 2:16), and that in fact there is no such darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). Our objector does his thing:

This section is about the “Authorship of Evil” objection he dragging out because his doctrine of God is so bad. He is too inept to know that this is a red herring. It has nothing to do with the fact his position doesn’t allow for aseity to be the case.

We can not only show it’s relevance, we can prove it via the rules of logical implication. If I have the implication,

P → Q (P implies Q),

then if I can show that Q is false, I also show that P is false, or,

~Q → ~P

This is called the Law of Contrapositive. It also works for multiple implications, e.g., for,

P → Q → R

then,

~R → ~Q → ~P.

So if I can deduce,

Legal American Voter → American Citizen → Human

If the subject is a Cocker Spaniel, that implies,

Not Human → Not American Citizen → Not Legal American Voter

The necessary implications of our objector’s position are,

If the High-Calvinist version of aseity is true → everything that happens finds its source in God’s mind → sinful actions find their source in God

Logically then, since the there is no such darkness in God,

Per 1 John, sinful actions do not find their source in God → not everything that happens finds its source in God’s mind → the High Calvinist view of God’s aseity is false

Bottom Line

  • Divine Aseity implies God having no innate needs, it does not preclude God taking on a self-imposed relationship with some kind of dependency in creation.
  • Knowledge of, and covenants with free agents that God freely chose to create would obviously be self-imposed relationships.
  • Actual knowledge of a thing’s existence requires that the thing exist; so God having innate knowledge of creation’s existence (as some Calvinists argue) means that He innately needs creation to exist.
  • The popular high Calvinist view of God’s aseity implies that all of man’s actions, including his wicked motives and deeds, come from God; 1 John 1 & 2 directly refute such a claim.

 

Great Quotes: Thomas Ralston on the Compatibility of Freedom and Foreknowledge With Regards to Judas Betraying Jesus

It has been said that “knowledge is power;” but it is not implied by that expression that it is a power capable of exerting itself. All that is implied is, that it directs an active agent in the manner of exerting his power. What effect, I would ask, can my knowledge of a past event have upon that event? Surely none at all. What effect can my knowledge of a future event have upon it? Considered in itself, it can have no influence at all. Is there any event, whether past, present, or future, on which the mere knowledge of man can have any influence? Certainly there is none. Knowledge is something existing in the mind. It has its seat there, and of itself it is incapable of walking abroad to act upon extraneous objects. I would therefore ask, What effect can the divine knowledge have on a past or present event? Is it not obvious that it can have none? The knowledge of God does not affect the faithfulness of Abraham, or the treachery of Judas, in the least. Those events would still continue to have occurred precisely as they did, if we could suppose all trace of them to be erased from the divine mind. And if we could suppose that God was not now looking down upon me, could any one believe that I would write with any more or less freedom on that account? Surely not. If, then, knowledge, considered in all these different aspects, is passive in its nature, how can we rationally infer that its passivity is converted into activity so soon as we view it in the aspect of the divine prescience?

But it will doubtless be argued that although the foreknowledge of God may not render future events necessary, yet it proves that they are so. To this we reply, that it proves that they are certain, but cannot prove that they are necessary. But still, it will be asked, where is the difference? If they are certain, must they not therefore be necessary?

That we may illustrate the distinction between certainty and necessity, we will refer to the crime of Judas in betraying the Saviour. Here we would say it was a matter certain in the divine mind, from all eternity, that Judas would commit this crime. God foreknew it. Although it was also foretold, yet it was not rendered any the more certain by that circumstance; for prediction is only knowledge recorded or made manifest; but knowledge is equally certain, whether secret or revealed. The pointed question now is, Could Judas possibly have avoided that crime? Was he still a free agent? and might he have acted differently? or was he impelled by absolute necessity? We answer, he could have avoided the crime. He was still a free agent, and might have acted differently.

Here it will no doubt be argued that if he had avoided the crime, the foreknowledge of God would have been defeated, and the Scriptures broken. To fairly solve this difficulty, and draw the line between certainty and necessity, we answer, that if Judas, in the exercise of the power of free agency with which he was endued, had proved faithful, and avoided the crime in question, neither would the foreknowledge of God have been frustrated, nor the Scriptures broken. In that case, the foreknowledge of God would have been different, accordingly as the subject varied upon which it was exercised. God could not then have foreknown his treachery; and had it not been foreknown, it never could have been predicted. A free agent may falsify a proposition supposed to announce foreknowledge, but cannot falsify foreknowledge; for if the agent should falsify the proposition, that proposition never could have been the announcement of foreknowledge.

The truth is, the prediction depends on the foreknowledge, and the foreknowledge on the event itself. The error of the necessitarians on this subject is, they put the effect for the cause, and the cause for the effect. They make the foreknowledge the cause of the event, whereas the event is the cause of the foreknowledge. No event ever took place merely because God foreknew it; on the contrary, the taking place of the event is the cause of his having foreknown it. Let this distinction be kept in mind, that, in the order of nature, the event does not depend on the knowledge of it, but the knowledge on the event, and we may readily see a distinction between certainty and necessity. It is certain with God who will be saved, and who will not; yet it is likewise certain that salvation is made possible to many who, according to the certain prescience of God, never will embrace it. God has made some things necessary, and some things contingent. Necessary events he foreknew as necessary – that is, he foreknew that they could not possibly take place otherwise. Contingent events he foreknew as contingent – that is, he foreknew that they might take place otherwise. And thus, we think, foreknowledge and free agency may be harmonized, human responsibility maintained, and the divine government successfully vindicated. (Elements of Divinity, pp. 199-203, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

You can read the full section here: Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Related:

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

Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom, And The Future

Daniel Whedon: The Freedom of the Will as a Basis of Human Responsibility and Divine Government (esp. pages 267-293)

Brian Abasciano’s Article on 1 John 5:1 is Now Available!

Dr. Brian Abscaiano’s article critiquing the Calvinist claims on the use of 1 John 5:1 to support regeneration preceding faith is now available online.  While it was initially posted online, it was later  removed because the Journal it was published in did not grant permission for public posting.  However, after a year those rights revert back to the author.  Sadly this was not known initially, or it could have been posted publicly many years ago.  Well, better late than never!  This is a must read article on this important passage that Calvinists have wrongly used as a prooftext for their ordo salutis for many years.  The article is now available at the SEA site: “Brian J Abasciano, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?  The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text”

 

Great Quotes: J.C. Thibodaux on Faith and Boasting

Whether you freely believe in Christ or not makes a difference only in what you obtain, not what you deserve. But since what you obtain is only what you’ve freely received from God, the One who makes you differ from those with no hope is God, for without His grace and mercy, you’d be no better off than demons who believe. Therefore no flesh can legitimately boast in His sight. (emphasis mine)

Be sure to check out the full post here

Related:

Brian Abasciano: Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe and Your Neighbor Did Not?’

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #1: If We Have Libertarian Freedom, What Makes Us Choose One Way Or The Other?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #2: Arminianism Entails Salvation by “Inherent Ability”

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #10: Wait, Now Faith is a “Work”?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

 

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

 

Dr. Brian Abasciano Answers, “Why Did You Believe And Your Neighbor Did Not?”

Brian Abasciano addresses this oft repeated Calvinist argument against conditional salvation here:

Brian Abasciano, “Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe And Your Neighbor Did Not?'”