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.

 

 

Loraine Boettner Defending the Negative Inference Fallacy

“Furthermore, when it is said that Christ gave His life for His Church, or for His people, we find it impossible to believe that He gave Himself as much for reprobates as for those whom He intended to save. Mankind is divided into two classes and what is distinctly affirmed of one is impliedly denied of the other. (Loraine Boettner – The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 68-69, emphasis mine)

Kind of like when Hebrews 10:30 says, “The Lord will judge his people?

The Transfer of Nonsense Principle (Concise Version)

I wrote an article some years back on the Transfer of Necessity Principle (TNP), an idea which some have used as an argument against free will. Looking back, my only real regret writing it was that it was too long, and probably inaccessible to someone who hasn’t studied the issue. With that in mind, I purposed to write a more concise refutation of the idea. For reference, I’ll be interacting with Linda Zagzebski’s Stanford article on Foreknowledge and Free Will (also revised since my original article).

Before I get into TNP itself, I’ll let Zagzebski outline the position that many Christians have historically taken in response to objections to God’s foreknowledge of free will choices (typically called The Boethian Solution):

This solution probably originated with the 6th century philosopher Boethius, who maintained that God is not in time and has no temporal properties, so God does not have beliefs at a time. It is therefore a mistake to say God had beliefs yesterday, or has beliefs today, or will have beliefs tomorrow. It is also a mistake to say God had a belief on a certain date, such as June 1, 2004. The way Boethius describes God’s cognitive grasp of temporal reality, all temporal events are before the mind of God at once. To say “at once” or “simultaneously” is to use a temporal metaphor, but Boethius is clear that it does not make sense to think of the whole of temporal reality as being before God’s mind in a single temporal present. It is an atemporal present in which God has a single complete grasp of all events in the entire span of time.

Notice, the main point of the solution: because God is transcendent, He perceives time from the outside, and from there knows all that is within it. Keep this in mind as we look at TNP.

Transfer of Necessity Principle (TNP) Defined

The arguments for TNP (innovated by Diodorus Cronus, but used and adapted by others in recent times) tend to be overly long and ponderous. I’ve trimmed the theological fatalist version down here for easier consumption:

P1 Events in the future can’t affect events the past
P2 In the past, God infallibly knew what you will do in the future
C Therefore, anything you may do in the future can have no effect on what God infallibly knew you would do in the past

Taking the example of drinking punch on Christmas (though we could extrapolate it to pretty much anything we do), TNP would say:

Given that you drank punch on Christmas
P1 Things that happen after Christmas can’t affect things that happen before it
P2 God infallibly knew before Christmas that you would drink punch
C Therefore, there was nothing you could have done on Christmas to change what God knew
Further, since what God knows is always accurate, you had no real option but to drink punch on Christmas (i.e. no free will)

Are you sensing a problem? You should be. Premise 2 in both cases is misleading in that it frames God’s timeless knowledge much as one would an event in time. God timelessly knowing a thing, by definition, isn’t really an event in time, and it’s fallacious to treat it as such (Cronus original argument is similar, except he uses past truth propositions rather than God’s knowledge, which is equally fallacious). Temporal events can’t affect past temporal events, but there’s no reason to think that what applies to such events would identically apply to timeless properties. In fact, there’s good reason to reject this notion entirely due to the counter-example of truth.

Counter-Example: I will now affect a proposition ‘in the past’

Elvis Presley has died (shortly before I was even born, in fact). That is an event in time. There’s nothing I can do to go back and undo this event. In fact, nothing about the occurrence of the event itself could ever be influenced or affected by anything that I do. That he’s dead is “now-necessary” (and always has been for me).

What about *truth* in the past? Was it true yesterday that I would write today? Absolutely. You’re reading the evidence of it right now. Does my writing affect anything about that proposition? It does actually, because my writing today is what makes that proposition true -even in the past (ditto for the proposition of you reading this article today, you’re also making that true right now)! If it weren’t for my writing this today, such a proposition yesterday would have been groundless and false.

So I cannot affect or influence a past event, but I am, as I write, making a past proposition true! Is this retro-causation? Am I traveling backwards in time? Not at all. What is true isn’t an ‘event,’ but a timeless property. A timeless property can be grounded or fulfilled by what is temporal.

A Counter-Argument

Zagzebski contends that God’s knowledge being timeless doesn’t get around the issue of TNP. She presents the syllogism,

(1t) God timelessly knows T.
(2t) If E is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that E.
(3t) It is now-necessary that T.

This second premise commits the same error as the one above, treating God’s timeless knowledge as a temporal event. Besides that, at least for purposes of making this argument, Zagzebski appears to discount the entire point of the Boethian solution she described above: God timelessly knows temporal contingencies because He perceives all of time. If we factor in what Boethius actually argued, premise 2t would force us to conclude that God perceiving some event happening within time is what makes it have to happen (the timeless [pun intended] “chicken or the egg?” problem). Zagzebski acknowledges the problem with treating timeless knowing like an event, but makes an equally puzzling assertion:

Perhaps it is inappropriate to say that timeless events such as God’s timeless knowing are now-necessary, yet we have no more reason to think we can do anything about God’s timeless knowing than about God’s past knowing. The timeless realm is as much out of our reach as the past.

The whole point of the Boethian solution was that God’s timeless knowledge is partially comprised of what happens within time, what is temporal in part constitutes what is timeless. Since we can plainly see from the above counter-example that current action can make something timelessly true, I would counter we have no reason to think that God couldn’t base His timeless knowledge on what occurs within time. This is not our reaching into a timeless realm to affect God, but rather He reaching into His creation with and for His understanding.

“…for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (1 Chronicles 28:9b)

A Fundamentally Backwards View of Reflections

TNP rests upon a flawed assumption, much like other bad philosophical pretensions throughout history. [See also: Zeno’s Paradox (physical motion is not a series of division operations), Truth Relativism (it’s absolutely true that nothing is absolutely true?), and the Bible date calculations of The Watchtower or Harold Camping (the numbers usually add up, but the Bible never supports the meaning they assign to the numbers)]

I explained TNP to my teenage daughter. Once she grasped what was being said she perked up immediately, retorting, “That’s backwards!” She caught the perhaps more fundamental problem immediately. The major fallacy with both the “true proposition” and “God’s knowledge of our choices” versions of TNP is that infallible knowledge and true propositions (as used here) are reflections of reality, not events or necessitating forces. Arguing that true propositions or God’s knowledge somehow make a thing necessary makes about as much sense as arguing that mirrors make you do things when you stand in front of them:

<SATIRE>Stand in front of the mirror, then while looking into it, take some action. You will never do differently than the mirror shows you doing, therefore we can conclude that the mirror makes your actions necessary!</SATIRE>

This is of course, blithering nonsense. The mirror doesn’t drive you to act, it gives off a reflection of what you do -just as (per Boethius) God timelessly knowing based upon what you do, or certain propositions being true because of what you do- are also reflections. Proponents of TNP and other such philosophical voodoo greatly err in putting the metaphysical cart before the figurative horse.

Conclusion

The arguments for the TNP fail because they operate under the premise that timeless properties (truth, God’s knowledge) function exactly like past events. While temporal events cannot change events of the past, they can in some ways contribute to timeless properties (such as whether a proposition about an event is true). Timeless properties such as propositions and God’s knowledge of choices are reflections of reality, not drivers.

With that Gordian Gobbledygook cut through, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ground the other hopefully timelessly true propositions of me mending my fence and enjoying my kids playing baseball.

 

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.

 

Tackling Calvinist Errors on Omniscience & Aseity (Plus a Deductive Proof)

In our last post on Calvinists who talk past the debate, we handily disposed of the fallacious arguments of a Calvinist objector insists on misrepresenting the issue. He tries to salvage his rapidly-crumbling narrative with yet more proof that he is simply talking past what is being discussed without understanding it.

Still Missing the Point

I’ve been pretty clear since the beginning of our dialogue that God doesn’t derive His attributes from creation. Quoting previous posts:
[Me]: No one is arguing that God’s nature has changed or acquired new attributes, but as I argued, the “relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes” do change. When God chose to create the world, He chose to involve people as objects of certain of His attributes, and said attributes come to involve people. 
God is both omniscient and faithful regardless of whether the world exists or not, but the specifics thereof – who He knows about and who He is faithful to, depends upon our existence.
I pointed out that the objector was drawing conclusions about my beliefs that were the polar opposite of what I wrote. He proves my analysis correct yet again in replying,
But very few people think we ground God’s characteristics via his actions. 
I think this is simply a denial of aseity because it is him admitting that characteristics of God are not innate to him but something he takes on.
If some of God’s characteristics are contingent upon the world, then wouldn’t that imply on his view the world is necessary for God to have certain qualities?   
His persistence in the exact same error indicates that he’s either being hasty and not reading, or just outright disingenuous.

Ignorance About Omniscience

He finally clears up his ‘explanation’ objection.
It is clear that J.C. doesn’t understand what explanations are. For example, the Leibnizian cosmological argument is an argument about explanations. It asks the question about the necessary foundations of reality.  … So, we are asking the same metaphysical question about God’s being(mainly his attribute of omniscience). … It isn’t grounded or explained by God. The reason for which God knows certain things are thus grounded not in himself but in the world.
To sum up the heretofore poorly-explained objection, the objector makes the error of conflating the attribute of omniscience with the specifics of God’s knowledge. As I’ve already pointed out to him,
[Me:] God is eternally faithful whether we exist or not. God has chosen to create man and made covenants with him. God’s faithfulness has not changed, who God is faithful to has changed. God knows all that is whether He creates the world or not. God has chosen to create a world with free agents. God’s omniscience has not changed, who God knows about has changed. That is an important distinction, and the point of confusion that our dear objector is stuck on and talking past in his objections to what no one is arguing.
Looks like he’s still just as confused and lost in noobie-land as ever.
While my question still stands, is God temporally not omniscience?  
He seems to be asking, “Is God temporally not omniscient?” If the same God is both transcendent and immanent (not just one or the other), then God in His immanence (within time) would know all that He does from His also-transcendent (from outside of time) perspective. Given that, our objector’s question seems to be a category mistake.

The Calvinist Argument Backfires!

I also made a counter-argument showing that God’s innate attributes, such as His faithfulness, are not created by people, but that some optional aspects of those attributes (such as who He is faithful to) do involve creation. The objector replies with a counter-example of his own:
The point is the same argument that he produced about Faithfulness and Omniscience can equally be made about God’s goodness.  … So, either he has missed the argument I provided, or his argument about God’s attributes has zero relevance.
Yes, I absolutely agree that the same point I made about faithfulness and omniscience can also be made for God’s goodness. In fact, I’ll make it right here:
  • God is good (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be good to, but that would not detract from His being good
  • God did create the world and has chosen to show His goodness to members of creation
  • Said showing of goodness is an optional aspect of God’s goodness contingent upon Him creating
Just like,
  • God is omniscient (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to know about, but that would not detract from His omniscience
  • God did create the world and knows everything about His creation
  • Said knowledge of His creation is an optional aspect of God’s omniscience contingent upon Him creating
Talk about an epic backfire. That the argument could easily fit God’s goodness is fairly obvious, which shows again that our beloved cage-stage objector is simply talking past the point he fails to grasp.

Shooting Down Miscellaneous Errors

Freewill theists wish to agree with that sentiment but are inconsistent when it comes to grounding God’s knowledge of future contingents in the random and arbitrary choice of human agents.
That’s right folks, your choices are just metaphysical dice-rolls. Fallacy sighting confirmed: The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #3: We Choose by ‘Chance?’
I’ve presented a model where God is ‘Self-Contained’ no explanation extends beyond God himself.
When combined with the idea of God predetermining everything, the idea that all of God’s knowledge comes only from Himself makes for an unworkable mess for several reasons:
  1. That there is spiritual darkness in the world is evident. Yet as I’ve pointed out when addressing the authorship of sin, John writes, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) Likewise, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16) So if spiritual darkness, sin, etc. exist, but there is no such darkness in God or that comes from God, then from whence does it originate? The determinist ultimately has to concede that all such evil originates within God, contrary to the teaching of the apostles.
  2. It contradicts the contingent statements God Himself makes, [e.g. “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:18), and numerous other places].
  3. It paradoxically contradicts God’s aseity (independence from creation), and likely His power to freely choose altogether (see the argument below).

Deductive Proof

The question of necessitarianism becomes relevant. What kind of freedom does God possess?   
If every proposition that God knows is innate to Him and an immutable part of His being, then choices such as whether to create the world wouldn’t be choices at all. God would literally have no choice other than to carry them out. I can simplify the problem with a brief syllogism:

P1 To be truly omniscient requires that one’s beliefs match reality.

P2 Per 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.

* That is to say, High Calvinism that holds that the specifics of God’s knowledge are an innate part of His being (many of which debate us from that standpoint). This argument would not apply to Calvinists who don’t hold that premise.

If our sovereign God is intrinsically independent of creation, then He certainly has no innate need to create us to be truly omniscient.

 

Calvinist Debate: Talking Past the Argument

In reply to my post on Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes, our dear objector has given us another demonstration of missing the point entirely. As is all too common when discussing theological issues, most ‘cage-stage’ Calvinists have a dreadful habit of trying to define what you believe for you rather than actually listening to or reading what’s being expressed. As a result, they usually end up talking past whatever point is being made to attack some imagined or extreme position, as our esteemed objector appears determined to demonstrate.

Before we get to that, his big objection in his initial post was that the Arminian view of free will would somehow ‘explain’ God’s attributes. Though I expressed that his objection about people ‘explaining’ God’s attributes wasn’t clear, instead of any clarification we get this:

The problem with the second point is that it is clearly incorrect. It is relevant because it still shows that Arminians have tensions in their worldview.

He’s still not clear what he means by this, but suffice to say that complaining about creation ‘explaining’ God’s attributes without even defining his objection proves neither tension nor relevance.

 

A Matter of Time

We also went a little bit into the nature of God and time. I mentioned John Frame….

I should also point out the fact that John Frame is a Calvinist.

Hmmm…so he is… Hey, wait! Maybe that’s why I cited him when I mentioned, “Calvinists are no strangers to the idea of God’s transcendence over time…!”

Since God on Frame’s view exists both timelessly and at every point in time, then we can still ask at any moment, how he knows future choices from that specific moment….

He seems to think God in his temporal existence is located everywhere throughout time. So, God simply observes each moment and therefore knows what we are going to do. The problem with that answer is how at any moment in the past can he know what a human will choose?

And he’ll get the same answer that I gave before: “God also exists outside of time, and is therefore not limited by time or the ‘present’ as we see it….” 

It makes one wonder how our objector can read that God knows because He exists outside of time (transcendence) and conclude that we’re arguing He knows because He exists within time (immanence)?

The other problem is that of time. Does Thibodaux hold to an A series or a B series of events? If A theory is true, then the future is unreal. So, God would only be located in the present or only in the past and the present.

The answer to that should already be obvious. Between the two, only the B theory of time allows for God to exist in a state ‘above time,’ as it were.

He calls my argument “noob arguments” in his moment of class and maturity but as I’ve pointed out on other occasions many philosophers throughout time have discussed these issues. They know the difficulty of dealing with future contingents.

Of course there’s some difficulty in describing things that don’t fit in with the normal human experience and perception of time (even some things observable by science such as gravitational time dilation). However, the idea of God’s transcendence in relation to time is already quite well-known as a defeater argument against determinist objections to the Almighty’s abilities, rendering his protests mere cringeworthy noobie mistakes.

 
Not Paying Attention to the Argument

The objector’s main argument was that the Arminian view makes God’s attributes ‘dependent’ on man. I answered by way of comparison, which I’ll reproduce here:

  • God is faithful (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness
  • God did create the world and is faithful to His covenants with His creation
  • Said faithfulness to His creation is an optional aspect of God’s faithfulness contingent upon Him creating

I think those points are beyond dispute here, so why is it so hard to grasp:

  • God is omniscient (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to know about, but that would not detract from His omniscience
  • God did create the world and knows everything about His creation
  • Said knowledge of His creation is an optional aspect of God’s omniscience contingent upon Him creating

We get this as in reply….

This leaves Thibodaux in a dilemma, if God is truly independent of the world, then his attributes aren’t dependent upon the world, but under his scheme, God’s being is dependent upon the world. God’s attributes are explained by certain things of the world. I’d look at those passages at as extrinsic relations God has given his act of creation. Nothing in creation has given him a certain attribute. So, it seems he’s forcing these passages to mean something more than they actually state….

It is like arguing because God is good to various people throughout time, that divine goodness is dependent on us.

How in the world can anyone read, If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness.“, and conclude that it means ‘divine goodness is dependent on us’?

So, he is presenting a position that is unnecessary because God is just as faithful in his atemporal existence as in his temporal existence but what he saying couldn’t be true of God’s atemporal existence.

Again, I argued that God is faithful whether people exist or not, so he’s eisegeting in the exact opposite of what I wrote.

But isn’t God’s goodness not dependent on his creation? God acts in ways revealing to us what he is like. But his being is in no way dependent upon the world. That is just to deny aseity. Hence you’re conceding to my argument without realizing it.

I said that God is faithful even if there is no creation to be faithful to. How does he interpret that as denying God’s aseity?

I think God is unchanging and timeless. … If God is timeless, then his nature can’t be changed at any time. Because he is timeless. So, Thibodaux is only speaking about God qua his temporality. Now, I don’t hold Frame’s view as I have said already, but I’m pointing out that in his own position that these are just events where God’s faithfulness is demonstrated and not that God because of these covenants are acquiring a new attribute.

No one is arguing that God’s nature has changed or acquired new attributes, but as I argued, the “relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes” do change. When God chose to create the world, He chose to involve people as objects of certain of His attributes, and said attributes come to involve people.

God is eternally faithful whether we exist or not. God has chosen to create man and made covenants with him. God’s faithfulness has not changed, who God is faithful to has changed. God knows all that is whether He creates the world or not. God has chosen to create a world with free agents. God’s omniscience has not changed, who God knows about has changed. That is an important distinction, and the point of confusion that our dear objector is stuck on and talking past in his objections to what no one is arguing.

 

Still no Answers to Calvinism’s Undermining God’s Aseity

I further pointed out that the Calvinist objection trips over its own feet:

[Me]: If God’s knowledge is innate to Him, then everything He knows is innate to Him. My existence is one of the things God knows about. If God innately knows that I was born some time in the latter part of the last century, then that fact has eternally been an innate part of God’s knowledge; God therefore had no choice but to create me, else He would falsify His knowledge. Thus God’s omniscience is now dependent upon my existence. (The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Simplicity and Immutability)

To which we only get,

This is more silliness from the author. the point is that humans future actions can’t be the grounds for which God knows what they will choose to do.

It’s pretty telling that his only reply to the argument is a non-answer via mere assertion of a point unproven.

[Objector]: God decrees events to occur at specific times. [emphasis mine]

At least he’s figuring out Calvinism now.

 

Conclusion

It’s kind of sad and disappointing that the objector hasn’t really read the material carefully enough to understand the argument to which he erroneously objects; nor does he yet possess the self-awareness of his own position to realize that his own views ultimately undermine God’s innate independence from creation even more than his arguments against free will & foreknowledge purport to.

 

Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes

Some years after writing this article on God’s aseity, I was pointed to a reply by ‘TheSire’ (hereafter, ‘the objector’) that more or less misses the point of my original post. It’s not very long or well-conceived, but I’ll address his main points.

 

Lack of Explaining Power

The first of his objections involves people ‘explaining’ God.

Van Til thinks of aseity as God being self-contained. Nothing can further explain God other than himself but on Thibodaux scheme, God being is explained by creatures. But how can a being that is a se or self-explained be further explained by created things(people and their choice)?

It isn’t really clear what he’s asking. If he’s talking about how we define God, He most certainly is, in some ways, defined by His creation.

“God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:15a)

“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob…” (Isa. 43:1a)

God identifies Himself by both His relationship to His people and status as Creator (which of course requires a creation).

Nobody is making the argument that free will requires us to create God’s being.

Yes they were in fact: the post was addressing a particular fallacy by a Mr. Prussic that amounted to just that. That said, if that’s not what our dear objector is arguing for, then the objection against us ‘explaining’ God is apparently as irrelevant as it is ill-defined and poorly explained.
Situational Lack-of-Understanding

Our objector’s piece here is a bit of a facepalm. Calvinists are no strangers to the idea of God’s transcendence over time (that is, in addition to being within time [immanent], God also exists outside of time, and is therefore not limited by time or the ‘present’ as we see it, see John Frame’s The Doctrine of God, pp. 570-71), but when it comes to arguing against free will, they temporarily fall into a state of obfuscating ignorance (à la Hays and his ilk), which makes for some hilarious noob arguments.

If their choices ground these future contingents, then how can God know prior to what they are going to do before they choose to do it?

From a perspective of prior to creation, it is hard to see how it is coherent to suppose God knows something that is either false or has no truth value.

How could non-existent things ground God’s knowledge?

Maybe because being in the stretch of all time that is clear to God is not non-existent from God’s perspective.

It is easy to see on a Calvinist scheme that God simply thinks of agents making particular choices and that is what makes it’s true.

Per Calvinism, that would be ‘decreeing,’ not ‘thinking,’ though neither road will avoid slamming headlong into the author of sin problem.

It’s a short walk to Open Theism at this point.

Indeed, if we were to adopt the “How kin God know yer tomorree choice-makins’ if dey ain’t done happund yet?” stance that he’s posited for the moment, then I suppose Open Theism would follow.

 

Freedom!

He does try to address the main argument in the post, but sadly falls flat.

That clearly makes some aspect of God dependant on my choices.

The dilemma either an essential attribute of God is dependant on human choices or God simply doesn’t know the future.

I address this point in the post linked to above, comparing God’s knowledge to His faithfulness: God is both omniscient and faithful regardless of whether the world exists or not, but the specifics thereof – who He knows about and who He is faithful to, depends upon our existence.

[Me]: Let’s look at another one of God’s attributes: faithfulness. God is indeed called “faithful and true” (Revelation 19:11, see also Deuteronomy 7:9, Isaiah 49:7, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Knowing this, I ask, has God ever made a promise or oath to anyone? He certainly has. His covenant with Abraham and his descendants is a prominent example (Genesis 22:16-18). Second question: for God to remain faithful to what He has promised, does the one(s) to whom He made such promises have to exist? I would think so: Abraham and his descendants apparently must exist for God to remain faithful to His promises that He made to them.

So then God’s attribute of faithfulness actually does depend upon His creations (their existence in this case), provided that He has chosen to make a promise to them. This type of dependency wouldn’t attack God’s aseity, as making the promises in the first place (and thus establishing that dependence) was His decision alone. This clearly wouldn’t imply that He has some innate need of creation, but would definitely indicate that such a dependency exists according to His will.

To which we get the reply,

[Objector]: God’s faithfulness comes from His Holy nature. For example, God is faithful between the persons. Aseity is connected to the fact God is a trinitarian being. God isn’t dependant on the world to be faithful. Its seems rather obvious that God’s moral character isn’t dependant upon the world.

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. To show what I mean by comparison:

  • God is faithful (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness
  • God did create the world and is faithful to His covenants with His creation
  • Said faithfulness to His creation is an optional aspect of God’s faithfulness contingent upon Him creating

I think those points are beyond dispute here, so why is it so hard to grasp:

  • God is omniscient (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to know about, but that would not detract from His omniscience
  • God did create the world and knows everything about His creation
  • Said knowledge of His creation is an optional aspect of God’s omniscience contingent upon Him creating

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Our objector failing to understand the comparison shows that he’s not yet grasped the issue: if God knowing our free choices would make God’s attribute of omniscience “dependent on man,” then by his logic, God being faithful to people would likewise make God’s attribute of faithfulness “dependent on man!”

 

The Final Nail – God Needs us to Create us to Remain Omniscient?

When I studied the subject some years ago, it dawned on me just how nonsensical was the idea that all of God’s knowledge is innate to Him rather than some aspects of it being dependent upon things like His choice to create. It actually raises a rather awful implication:

[Me]: If God’s knowledge is innate to Him, then everything He knows is innate to Him. My existence is one of the things God knows about. If God innately knows that I was born some time in the latter part of the last century, then that fact has eternally been an innate part of God’s knowledge; God therefore had no choice but to create me, else He would falsify His knowledge. Thus God’s omniscience is now dependent upon my existence.

This could even be taken a step further: I’m a believer in Christ, part of the elect. God has innately and eternally known that I’ll be part of the elect -that fact is part of His divine essence (according to Mr. Prussic anyway). By that logic, God not only had to create me, but to make His knowledge true, had no choice but to elect me as well (and Calvinists accuse me of being “man-centered”), else falsify His knowledge. Even the Potter doesn’t have any real freedom by such backwards thinking! We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that divine simplicity interpreted in such a way as Mr. Prussic does breaks down into complete incoherence.

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Simplicity and Immutability

In an ironic twist, the [high] Calvinist view actually militates against God’s aseity: If the specifics of God’s omniscience, such as His knowledge of us, are essential parts of God’s being, then God must create us for His knowledge to hold true! The idea of God having some innate compulsion and having no choice as to whether He creates or redeems people also runs afoul of another one of His attributes: maybe after a refresher on transcendence, our objector can study up on a certain attribute known as Sovereignty. I’ve heard some Calvinists believe in that too.