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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Calvinism And The Fall: The Problem Ignored Again

Just saw this post called “Man’s Will: Before And After the Fall” which opens with these words:

Augustine and the Calvinistic tradition in general define the will’s freedom, or lack thereof, in relation to sin. Why? Because this is how the Bible defines it. Jesus declared “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. … So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36) Augustine understood that before the fall, Adam was “able to sin and able not to sin“, that he, as representative of the human race, was in a probationary state, not sealed in righteousness (like the glorified saints). Likewise regarding man’s condition after the fall he said we are in the sad condition of being “not able not to sin” So Augustine understood the Bible to be teaching that Adam (pre-fall) was free in regards to sin’s bondage but his willful act rendered his post-fall descendants to be in bondage to corruption; to have a will that is no longer free at all (apart from grace) to make God-pleasing redemptive choices. It is worthwhile to remember this in your discussions about free will, because the historical debate about free will refers to man’s condition in sin after the fall (emphasis mine).

As usual, while this Calvinist refers to Augustine to describe the difference between pre-fall and post-fall abilities, the problematic implications of Augustine’s view for traditional Calvinist views on sovereignty (defined as determinism in Calvinism), free will and foreknowledge are conveniently ignored.  Sorry, but you just can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Great Quotes: Daniel Whedon on Foreknowledge and Free Will

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

For the context of this quote, you can read Whedon’s entire book free online.  The section dealing with the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge can be found on pages 267-293.  The above quote was taken from a recent edited version which is why the page # is different.

Related:

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

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

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

Sin, Reprobation and Foreknowledge: The Calvinists’ Attempt to Have Their Cake and Eat it Too

The doctrine of the unconditional election of a part, necessarily implies the unconditional reprobation of the rest. I know some who hold to the former, seem to deny the latter; for they represent God as reprobating sinners, in view of their sins. When all were sinners, they say God passed by some, and elected others. Hence, they say the decree of damnation against the reprobates is just, because it is against sinners. But this explanation is virtually giving up the system, inasmuch as it gives up all the principal arguments by which it is supported. In the first place, it makes predestination dependent on foreknowledge; for God first foresees that they will be sinners, and then predestinates them to punishment. Here is one case then, in which the argument for Calvinian predestination is destroyed by its own supporters. But again if God must fix by his decree all parts of his plan, in order to prevent disappointment, then he must fix the destiny of the reprobates, and the means that lead to it. But if he did not do this, then the Calvinistic argument in favour of predestination, drawn from the Divine plan, falls to the ground. Once more: this explanation of the decree of reprobation destroys all the strongest Scripture arguments which the Calvinists urge in favour of unconditional election.” (Calvinistic Controversy: Embracing A Sermon On Predestination And Election, And Several Numbers, Formally Published In The Christian Advocate And Journal, By Rev. Wilbur Fisk, D. D.)

The Calvinist who wants to claim that the condemnation of the reprobate is conditioned on their sinfulness while the salvation of the elect is conditioned on nothing at all run into serious problems regarding the typical Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge and the exhaustive pre-determinations of a divine secret eternal decree.  If the decree is the basis for foreknowledge (as traditional Calvinism asserts), and therefore the means by which God foreknows anything, then it must be admitted that God irresistibly decreed the sinfulness of the reprobate from eternity, just as He decreed all else, and it is only because of God’s eternal decree that He is able to foreknow the state of the reprobate as sinful (because He previously decreed that it must be that way).

So the reprobate finds himself in a sinful state for no other reason than because God irresistibly decreed it from eternity.  If that is the case it is nonsense to say that God’s decree for the reprobate is based on them being considered as rebellious and deserving of condemnation already.  And as Fisk points out, it cuts against the typical Calvinist argument concerning the nature of foreknowledge, that it is based on the eternal decree.  And in doing so, it affirms the Arminian view that God has foreknowledge of true contingencies that are not based on the necessity of an irresistible eternal decree.

This is the same problem that Calvinists encounter who want to claim that Adam had libertarian free will (LFW) when he fell in the garden after the pattern of what Augustine taught (which is often quoted or paraphrased by Calvinists),

God holds us accountable because we were included in Adam so far as God is concerned.  Adam was our source, our representative, our “head.”  When he rebelled and fell into death and condemnation, we all fell with him.  Before he fell, Adam had the power not to sin; after he fell, he lost that power.  We are born in the condition of Adam after the fall: unable not to sin. (God in Dispute: “Conversations” Among Great Christian Thinkers, by Roger E. Olson, pg. 93)

Or as R.C. Sproul puts it in Chosen by God,

The Reformed view follows the thinking of Augustine.  Augustine spells out the state of Adam before the fall and the state of mankind after the fall.  Before the fall Adam was endowed with two possibilities: He had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin…stated another way, it means that after the fall man was morally incapable of living without sin.  The ability to live without sin was lost in the fall.  This moral inability is the essence of what we call original sin. (pg. 65)

Clearly, the claim is that Adam had the “ability” and “power” to avoid temptation in the garden and “not sin.”  That is an apt description of libertarian free will: the power of contrary choice.  But if Adam did not have to sin in the garden, then how did God foreknow that He would indeed sin?

This is no problem for the Arminian who claims that God has the ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices.  But this is precisely what traditional Calvinists deny.  Instead, they say that God can only foreknow what He first decrees.  If that is the case, then Adam had no power to not sin since God irresistibly decreed from eternity that he would sin.  Clearly, Adam could not have the power to act contrary to the irresistible eternal decree of God (by definition you cannot resist the irresistible).  This leads to major theological problems for the Calvinist who claims that Adam had libertarian free will prior to the fall, but this power was lost by all after the fall (following Augustine).  He would need to affirm that:

1) God could not foreknow Adam’s sin (if it were truly free), or

2) Admit that God can indeed have foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices and that not all of what God foreknows is based on a prior decree

#1 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Open Theism

#2 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Arminianism

On this score, the Calvinist simply cannot have his cake and eat it too

So if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be denied, the oft repeated argument that God’s decision to reprobate was justly in view of mankind’s sin and rebellion must fall (as Fisk notes above).

And if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be affirmed (as it must be to claim that Adam did not have to sin in the garden), then the arguments against Arminianism based on the incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge must fall (as well as arguments that try to paint LFW as logically absurd).

The only way to avoid the horns here is to accept the view that Adam’s fall was irresistibly predetermined by God and Adam’s posterity are therefore sinful and rebellious by divine necessity so that God’s decision of reprobation cannot be based on a sinful state that God simply found them in (of their own accord), and justly left them in as a result.  Instead, it is a state that God Himself necessitated by way of an irresistible eternal decree.  The reprobate has no power over his depraved state or over his actions, and never did.  So reprobation can only be based on raw decree, which includes the fall of Adam and the sinful state and actions of all his posterity.

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

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Book Review)

John D. Wagner has produced  an updated and expanded version of “Grace Unlimited”, originally edited by the late Clark H. Pinnock.  This updated version is called “Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation.”  This newer version contains several new essays along with some changes and heavy editing of  a few essays that appeared in the original version.

Essays that remain from the original version include: “God’s Universal Salvific Grace” by Vernon Grounds; “Conditional Election” by Jack Cottrell; “The Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:27)” by William G. McDonald, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner; “Predestination in the Old Testament” by David A. Clines; “Predestination in the New Testament” by I. Howard Marshall; “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts” and “Soteriology: Perseverance and Apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” both by Grant Osborne, and “God’s Promise and Universal History: The Theology of Romans 9” by James D. Strauss, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner.

For the purposes of this review I will focus on the new material and make some closing comments that will address some of the older material as well.

The first essay in this new volume is “Arminianism is God Centered Theology”, written by Roger Olson.  In this section Olson clears up many misconceptions and misrepresentations of Arminian Theology commonly propagated by Calvinist authors and those who simply have not carefully studied the subject.  In doing so, Olson convincingly demonstrates that Arminian Theology is thoroughly Evangelical and grace oriented.

Another new essay in the volume is “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of the New Testament Texts Or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist” by Glenn Shellrude.  This is an excellent essay which looks at numerous Biblical texts and the overall tenor of Scripture against the backdrop of Calvinist determinism.  Shellrude succeeds in showing that one cannot read or understand Scripture in any coherent manner when the fundamental presuppositions of Calvinist determinism are in view.

Picirilli’s contribution on “The Intent and Extent of Christ’s atonement” focuses on the exegesis of the many key texts that point towards an unlimited provisional atonement in accordance with God’s love for the world and desire to save all.  Picirilli does an  excellent job showing how these texts support the Arminian view and are simply incompatible with the Calvinist “limited atonement” claims.

The next new essay in the volume is J. Matthew Pinson’s “Jacob Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming” which looks at Arminius and his Theology in historical context and how his Theology is thoroughly “reformed” despite being at odds with Calvinism on many crucial points.  Like Olson’s essay, this essay serves as an important corrective to so many false views and claims about Arminius and his Theology.

Another new contribution comes from Fundamental Wesleyan scholar Vic Reasoner which focuses on John Wesley’s attention to  grace in his own articulation of Arminian Theology called: “John Wesley’s Doctrines of the Theology of Grace.”  Not surprisingly, Dr. Reasoner spends a good deal of time describing Wesley’s view of entire sanctification and it’s relation to God’s powerful working of grace in the hearts and lives of believers.

The final essay that is new to this updated volume is Steve Witzki’s “Saving Faith: The Act of a Moment or the Attitude of a Life Time?” which argues strongly for the need of continuance in faith to reach final salvation.  While Witzki’s essay argues against  any Theology that would deny the possibility of apostasy, he especially takes aim at the popular and very dangerous version of “Once Saved, Always Saved” that would deny the need for perseverance in faith at all, claiming that an initial moment of genuine faith is all that is needed to guarantee one’s eternal place in heaven regardless of any subsequent eventuality, including loss of faith and rejection of Christ.  Witzki’s exegetical work is devastating to this dangerous  and surprisingly popular “saved regardless” view of eternal security.

Overall, this is a great effort by editor and contributor John D. Wagner,  pulling solid essays from the original “Grace Unlimited” and many newer essays of several contemporary and important Arminian writers together in order to take this work to a whole new level.  My only complaint would be that the corporate election view as articulated by such notable scholars as Brian Abasciano and William Klein was not represented in this new volume.  However, Wagner does incorporate some minor elements of this view in his contribution to the essay on Romans 9, while still not fully capturing the essence of this view as articulated by the best proponents of the view like Abasciano, Klein and Shank.

I also found it disappointing to see Dr. Jack Cottrell representing the Arminian election view in his essay since, despite the name of the new volume referencing “The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation”, Cottrell is not, himself, an Arminian, as he denies two key features of Arminianism: total depravity and the need for enabling grace to overcome that depravity in order to make a faith response possible.  For those reasons, Cottrell’s soteriology is more  properly classified as semi-Pelagian  and not “Arminian.”  And while Cottrell does  a good job describing the classical Arminian “election by foreknowledge”  view in his essay, he also unfairly dismisses the corporate election view and demonstrates that he does not fully understand the view he is rejecting in his brief interactions with Robert Shank’s work “Elect in the Son.”

Despite Cottrell’s misunderstanding of the corporate view and the fact that a key contributor to this volume on Arminian Theology is not even Arminian,  this updated volume is a huge improvement over the original publication and is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the topic of Arminian Theology.

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

My Review of Kevin’s Review

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

The links to the series no longer work, so here are a few interactions from his blog:

Review of Henri Blocher, Chapter 20, Systematic Theology of Definite Atonement in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

Review of Henry Stange’s Chapter on Those Who Never Hear the Gospel in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

Review of Sinclair Furguson’s Chapter on Limited Atonement and Assurance in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”

Review of John Piper’s Chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her,” Part 1

Review of John Piper’s Chapter in “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her,” Part 2

Excerpt from conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Related posts and articles:

I. Howard Marshall: The Theology of Atonement

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

Robert Picirilli: The Extent of the Atonement

Robert Picirilli: Salvation by Faith, Applied

Albert Barnes on the Extent of the Atonement

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

3 Part Series on Provisional Atonement