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?'”

Great Quotes: Merrill C. Tenney on John 1:12-13 And Faith Preceding Regeneration

This provides the initial definition of ‘believe’ by equating it with ‘receive.’ When we accept a gift, whether tangible or intangible, we thereby demonstrate our confidence in its reality and trustworthiness. We make it part of our own possessions. By being so received, Jesus gives to those who receive him a right to membership in the family of God.

‘Become’ indicates clearly that people are not the spiritual children of God by natural birth, for we cannot become what we already are. This verb implies a change of nature. The word children (tekna) is parallel to the Scottish bairns– “born ones.” It emphasizes the vital origin and is used as a term of endearment (cf. Luke 15:31). Believers are God’s ‘little ones,’ related to him by birth.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, pg. 32)

The implications are obvious.  The new birth is received by faith and we become God’s children through faith.  John 1:12 simply cannot be made to comport with the Calvinist claim that regeneration precedes faith.  Indeed, it proves that contention false.

Related:

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality  Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

Does Jesus Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?