Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”

A while back I did a five part series responding to a post by C. Michael Patton entitled, “The Irrationality of Calvinism.” I recently noticed that some of the posts in the series did not have links at the bottom directing the reader to the next post in the series, leaving the impression that there were only two parts to the series, rather than five. I have gone back and added in those links to the bottom of those posts. I will also post links to all five parts below:

Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations 

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

I Am Just More Committed to Being Biblical Than You

In lieu of my recent interaction with C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”, I thought I would highlight a relevant post from a while back:

I ‘ve Finally Come to Embrace Open Theism

Finally “Submitting” to Calvinism

I highly recommend this  article by Chris Chapman.  It seems especially relevant in light of my recent responses to C Michael Patton on his “The Irrationality of Calvinism” post.  While portions of Chapman’s post may seem offensive to some, it still illustrates a compelling narrative for why many end up turning to Calvinism.  I have often gotten the same vibe from just having discussions with Calvinists, especially based on their personal descriptions of coming to Calvinism.  I wonder if there are  any former Calvinists out there who can attest to this narrative as rather accurately reflecting their own process in coming to Calvinism?

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 5: Taking The Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

[updated with some necessary corrections on 2/5/13]

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

Patton: These two issues, human freedom and sovereign election, are not contradictory when put together, but they are a mystery.

This is the same claim Mr. Patton made in his first post called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”

We have already begun to highlight the problems with this claim.  Mr. Patton makes an assertion here and nothing more.  If human freedom and sovereign election is understood in the Arminian sense, then there is no mystery.  If “human freedom” is to be understood in a compatibilist sense (which Mr. Patton holds to), then there is still no mystery.  The mystery is removed by redefining “human freedom”.  The only reason we would have for seeing this as a supposedly “apparent” irrational “mystery,” would be if “human freedom” was taken in the true libertarian sense, and if “sovereign election” were understood against the backdrop of exhaustive determinism.  But Mr. Patton rejects human freedom in the libertarian sense, so his claim here is puzzling.

Patton: This is one of the mistakes that I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity.

Again, Mr. Patton quickly turns the “unanswerable problems” that his Calvinism creates into an attack on Arminianism.  We have already shown how this is an easily reversible argument in Part 4.  It is also interesting to see Mr. Patton imply that Arminians handle the tension (that only Calvinism creates) by giving up on interpretive integrity.  Again, this would seem to be easily reversible when one considers the way that Calvinists typically try to “interpret” the many passages that seem to plainly contradict their system, since it seems to us that Calvinists very quickly jettison interpretative integrity for the sake of making such passages “fit” with their Calvinism. [8]

Patton: There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not formally irrational, just don’t make sense.

Fair enough, but how do we determine what is “formally” irrational and what is only “apparently” irrational?  My guess is that if it is part of a Calvinist claim, then it can only be “apparently” irrational, regardless of whether or not the Calvinist can in anyway show how the irrationality is only “apparent”.  Let’s see…

Patton: The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and creation out of nothing all fit this category. All of these are beyond our ability to comprehend.

True enough, but none of these doctrines are illogical.  To say something is beyond our ability to comprehend does not mean it is irrational.  But Mr. Patton knows that the claim against his Calvinist “tensions” is that they are actually illogical. So how does reference to mysteries that are clearly not illogical help him to explain illogical “tensions” in his system?

It is quite true that we simply do not know how God could create things out of nothing, but there is nothing illogical about that.  That is an example of a true Biblical mystery and no Christian has a problem with that mystery.  Likewise, there is nothing illogical about one Being existing in three persons.  It is beyond our comprehension because we have no examples to look to in our finite experience (in our experience, all beings are both one being and one person, so it is very hard to imagine a single being who is also three persons).  It would be a contradiction if the doctrine said that God is one person and three persons, or one being and three beings, but the doctrine doesn’t say that.  If it did, Christians would be right to reject it as “real” and not just “apparent” irrationality.  So the Trinity is likewise an example of true Biblical mystery, and no Christian has a problem with such mysteries (when properly understood). [9]

Patton: Once we fit them into a rational box and figure them out, we have entered into heresy (although I do not believe the Arminian view is heretical).

This is a bizarre statement.   Surely Mr. Patton knows that Arminians, like all Christians, fully affirm the Biblical mysteries he just described (the Trinity, creation ex nihilo and the hypostatic union) and therefore, do not need to “fit” such Biblical mysteries into a rational box, since there is no indication that these mysteries are irrational in the first place.  All of this just deflects and confuses the issue.  While it is true that both mystery and contradictions cannot be “figured out”, they cannot be figured out for entirely different reasons.  “Mystery”, as Patton has so far demonstrated, cannot be “figured out” because it goes beyond human capabilities and comprehension, but does not contain contradiction.  Contradiction and irrationality cannot be “figured out” because it reveals error.  To say a contradiction cannot be “figured out” is simply to say that it is false and, by definition, cannot be made true.

Patton: The issue of human freedom and unconditional election is in the same apophatic domain.

No it isn’t.  It is not the same at all, and Patton hasn’t shown that it is.  Instead, Mr. Patton has given us examples of legitimate mystery and then just asserted that the tension involved in his system is likewise legitimate.  But examples of true mysteries do nothing to prove that contradiction is mystery.  Again, all we get from Mr. Patton on this is baseless assertion.

Patton: We can’t make sense out of them and once we do, we have entered into error.

Rather, we can’t make sense of them because they reveal error. Talk about twisting things out of shape.  Mr. Patton has now essentially claimed that to allow contradictions to reveal error is itself an error.  What a mess Mr. Patton’s polemic is creating.

Patton: There are many things that God reveals that confuse us and baffle our thinking.

True, but irrelevant.

Patton: Theyseem irrational.

And again, Mr. Patton does nothing to help us know how we can tell the difference between real (formal) irrationality and only “apparent” irrationality.  The best we can assume is what I mentioned earlier: any irrationality in Calvinism must, by definition, be only “apparent” rather than real.  How do we know that?  Because Calvinism is true, of course!  This is a wonderful situation to be in as a Calvinist.  The Calvinist system is now entirely safe from falsification of any kind.  You can’t point to irrationality to disprove Calvinism.  In fact, that itself would be “error” and lead to “heresy.”  Ah…but how nice that the Calvinist can still use rational arguments to disprove opposing systems like Arminianism.  It must be so nice to be a Calvinist!  This is another point I made to Patton way back in 2008,

“Also, when you affirm tensions that seem to me to be plain contradictions (though it seems you would deny that or at least try to “reconcile” it) you give up all rights to criticize an alternative theological system on rational or coherent grounds. You forfeit the right to point the finger at Arminian theology and say, “that doesn’t make sense with what the Bible says”, etc. You put your system in a position of being impossible to falsify and yet attack other positions based on incoherence.

Now maybe you have never done this. Maybe you have never said that Arminianism leads to conclusions that simply do not make sense or are incoherent, etc. But if you have attacked Arminianism on logical grounds with respect to what you perceive as Biblical realities, then you have no right to affirm “apparent” contradictions within your own system and even go so far as to make the acceptance of such “apparent” contradictions (“tensions”) into a pious act for the sake of just trying to be more honest with the Bible etc. Do you see where I am coming from? Hopefully I am misunderstanding you on this.” (Link)

…But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Patton in the least, and based on many more posts criticizing Arminianism on logical grounds, I am confident I have not misunderstood him.  Again, it must be nice to be a Calvinist.  If you disagree, you are just afraid to embrace tension.  You are just trying to make the Bible “fit” your man made system, traditions or false common sense assumptions.  If you point out inconsistencies, they will just appeal to mystery and shame you for not being willing to embrace Biblical mystery as they do.  Indeed, you might even be told that you are actually committing error (being irrational) in expecting things to be so rational.  You are just so hung up on your western thought and American common sense.  You just want things to be fair.  You just want to get your way.  You just want to be sovereign over God.  You just want to talk back to the Potter. You might even be told that you are just trying to satisfy the desires of your sinful nature.  And on and on…

Patton: Yet we find God saying, “Chill. Just trust me. I got this under control. While I have revealed a lot and I know you have a lot of questions, this is a test of trust. I love everyone but I did not elect everyone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Will you trust me or will you redefine things?”

And so we can add “you just don’t trust God” to the list of why anyone would dare criticize or reject Calvinism.  My goodness, who wouldn’t want to be a Calvinist at this point?  And notice again the blatant question begging in that, for Mr. Patton, the only possible reason for rejecting Calvinism would have to be an attempt to redefine Biblical teaching.  Does Mr. Patton really believe that Arminians have no Biblical grounds at all for rejecting Calvinism?

Patton: God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction.

So Mr. Patton keeps asserting.

Patton: We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

But if such issues are false, God certainly does not know how to reconcile them.  The One who is Truth cannot reconcile falsehood.  Their “collective truthfulness” is certainly taken away if they cannot co-exist at all (i.e. they are false).  Assertions and question begging do not prove co-existence.

Patton: I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.

Funny, that’s what I think about Calvinism!

Patton: The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to abide for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

Well, allow me to counter-assert that the Calvinist system improperly labels irrationality, contradictions and error as “mystery” for the sake of Calvinist fidelity and to render Calvinism unable to be falsified, even by reason and truth.  And let me point out again that Calvinists will often go to great lengths to try to remove such “tension and mystery”.  The doctrine of compatibilism is just one such example.

Patton: As I said before, I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think that it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human intelligibility.  I think it is a good illustration where the West meets the East. Revelation meets mystery. Cataphatic theology meets apophatic theology. While Calvinism is not formally irrational, it is emotionally irrational. I get that. But I think we need to take both pills.

Translation: Calvinists are brave and noble because they accept “tension”.  If you reject Calvinism, that is probably because you are just too western, too rational, too intelligible, too Cataphatic, too emotional and just not brave or tough enough to “take both pills.”  Shame on you!  And note again that while Mr. Patton never tires of asserting that Calvinism is not formally irrational, he has still not taken up the task of demonstrating why this is so.  Why should we just take his word on it, especially when it is the main point in dispute? The question begging continues.

Admittedly, Patton would probably not put things as gruffly as I have here, but this is exactly what his arguments amount to when simplified and taken to their logical conclusions, and it is time that Calvinists like Patton are taken to task for such claims.  They have gotten away with this stuff too long, and it has made fruitful and honest discussion nearly impossible.  The Calvinist and Arminian debate is first and foremost a debate about Scriptural interpretation, and interpretation involves reason just as any other thing that looks to discover truth.  Calvinists need to stop making the outlandish claim that Calvinism is superior because it accepts mystery where Arminianism does not.  They need to stop talking like they are just tougher and braver for accepting hard truths that Arminians are just too afraid to face.  They need to stop telling Arminians why they believe as they do, when they really haven’t a clue. They need to stop demonizing logic and reason while, hypocritically, using logic and reason against those who disagree with them.  They need to stop telling Arminians that Arminianism is all about philosophy, when their arguments are extremely philosophical.  They need to stop talking about accepting “tension” when they are not willing to accept “tension.”

Nobody is perfect, and none of us are fair or right or consistent at all times when debating tough issues.  However, such silliness as this has really gone on for far too long.  From now on, let’s try to play by the same rules and stop assuming that if people reject Calvinism it must be for some sinister spiritual or emotional reason, and cannot possibly be because we simply find Calvinism unbiblical.  I can honestly say that if I could find Calvinism in the Bible, I would happily accept it.  However, I cannot find Calvinism in the Bible, and so I find no reason to accept it or live with the supposed unanswerable questions that Calvinism apparently creates.  Hopefully, Mr. Patton and Calvinists like him will begin to accept this fact.  The sooner they do, the sooner we can have an honest, respectful and fruitful dialogue on these important issues.

Go to Part 1

________________________________________________________________

[8]  Obviously, Arminians find Calvinist attempts to deal with passages that express a universal scope to the atonement,  God’s love for the world, desire to save all and desire that all come to repentance, as contrived.  Such attempts by Calvinists to reconcile such Biblical declarations with their doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement would seem to be anything but an exercise in interpretive integrity.  The same holds true for the many warning passages in Scripture and passages that seem to plainly teach the possibility of apostasy.  For a detailed exegetical examination of such passages, see my 13 Part series on Perseverance.

[9] Patton might be interested to know that some Calvinists are Calvinists because they apparently cannot deal with the supposed “tensions” and “mysteries” in Arminianism.   F. Leroy Forlines cites John S. Feinberg as one such example.  He cannot deal with the “mystery” of how God can foreknow anything without predetermining what it is He foreknows.  Forlines quotes him as follows:

“If indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future.  If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies.” (Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, pg. 32)

Forlines cites J.A. Crabtree as another example,

“No one, not even God, can know the outcome of an autonomous decision that has not been made, can he?  To assert the possibility of such knowledge is problematic.” (The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol.2, pg. 436)

Likewise, Loraine Boettner echoes the same distaste for such “mystery”,

[Arminianism’s rejection of divine foreordination constitutes a rejection of] “the theistic basis for foreknowledge.  Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 42; All quotes taken from F. Leroy Forlines’ Classical Arminianism , pg. 44)

[I wonder what Mr. Patton would make of Boettner’s appeal to “common sense”?]

As we can see from these quotes, foreordination (determinism), for most Calvinists, takes the mystery out of foreknowledge.  For them, God cannot possibly foreknow what he does not decree and predetermine will take place.  Therefore, God simply cannot foreknow truly free will choices or contingencies.  God’s foreknowledge must, therefore, be entirely dependent on his decree.

It has been pointed out by Arminians that this leads to the unfortunate and unavoidable logical implication that God can only foreknow our sinful thoughts, desires and choices, because God first thought them up and decreed them from eternity, making God the responsible author of all sin.  It is interesting that Calvinists will swallow this horrible implication under the guise of “mystery” and “tension”, but cannot bring themselves to accept the mystery of God’s ability to foreknow the truly contingent free will choices of His creatures.

Calvinist James Oliver Buswell, Jr. is an interesting exception.  He finds no problem with affirming God’s ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices,

“To the question then how God can know a free act in the future, I reply I do not know, but neither do I know how I can have knowledge by analysis, by inference from reason or from causes, or from statistical data reported by intuition, or (if it is insisted upon) by innate ideas.  Knowledge is a mystery in any event, and God’s knowledge of free events in the future is only one more mystery, revealed in Scripture.  We have good and sufficient grounds to accept, and no valid grounds to reject, what Scripture says on this subject.” (A Systematic Theology, 1:60, quoted in Forlines’ Classical Arminiansim, pg. 74)

Arminius, like Buswell, was happy to leave the mystery of how God can foreknow the future as a mystery.  There are plenty of other mysteries in Arminianism that Calvinists simply cannot tolerate (like how we can have alternative power in the will).  One doesn’t need to read too much from popular Calvinist writings to see that.  I guess Calvinists just cannot deal with a system that has so much mystery and tension.

For a concise article on how divine foreknowledge is completely compatible with libertarian free will, see here.

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

See Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

 Patton:  However, I think we need take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The central core of Calvinism primarily centers on one doctrine: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands.

This is highly debatable among Calvinists.  This may be Mr. Patton’s opinion, but I think that he is probably in the minority.  Sovereignty (defined as God’s exhaustive control over everything) is what leads to the Calvinist understanding of predestination in many Calvinist’s minds.  However, it is true that the Calvinist view of predestination can lead back to such a view of sovereignty, but it does not demand it.  Unconditional election and predestination can just as easily fit within a system that does not hold that God exhaustively determines all things.  Also, for many Calvinists, “predestination” is essentially synonymous with the doctrine of God’s exhaustive determinism and is not limited only to matters of salvation (like unconditional election and reprobation).  In other words “predestination” simply means that God “predetermines” everything in reality (i.e. exhaustive determinism, the Calvinist version of “Sovereignty).

Patton: An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

This is a confused statement.  The Arminian view of sovereignty is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty just as the Arminian view of predestination is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty.  Mr. Patton’s distinction here is not really accurate.

Patton: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination.

Just as both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s sovereignty (which Mr. Patton happily admits here ), which is why Mr. Patton’s previous comment is awkward and strange.

Patton: In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen.

We need to stop right here, as Mr. Patton’s comments wrongly imply that Arminians base “predestination” on “merit”, simply because Arminians hold that predestination (more appropriately, election) is conditional.  Mr. Patton should know this is not the case.  Arminians hold that election is conditioned on faith, and faith holds no merit (Romans 4).  It is also simply an obvious non sequitur to assume that if something is “conditional” it means it is “earned” or “merited”.  This is a common Calvinist mistake and a misrepresentation of Arminian theology that is still perpetuated, despite Calvinists (like Mr. Patton) being continually corrected on the matter.

Also, it must be pointed out that Mr. Patton is conflating election and predestination, as Calvinists often do.  Unfortunately, even Arminius seemed to conflate the two based on his ties with Reformed thinking.  But many (if not most) Arminians today do not see election and predestination as the same thing, because the Bible doesn’t view them as the same thing.  Election has to do with God’s choice of His covenant people to belong to Him and bear His name.  Predestination has to do with God’s predetermined purpose for His covenant people.  Predestination is not about God predestinating some sinners to become believers.  Rather, predestination has to do with God’s eternal purposes for believers (to adoption as sons, to an inheritance, to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc.).  Calvinists, like Mr. Patton, will likely disagree with that important distinction, but it is a distinction that should not be overlooked, especially when trying to compare the Arminian view with the Calvinist view.

Patton: This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditional. It has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

This is not a very good description of Arminian election.  The Classical view would better be expressed as God’s election of “believers” in Christ.  Jesus is the “elect” and only “in Him” is anyone “elect” (note again Mr. Patton’s conflating of terms).  Arminian election has its “founding” in Christ, not “the faith of the predestined.”  So God foreknows those who are joined to Christ in faith and therefore it can be said that election is “according to foreknowledge.”  It is not so much a foreknowledge of an act of faith, but a foreknowledge of people (“believers”), joined to Christ.  Faith is how one comes to be joined to Christ (Eph. 1:13), but it is the person “as a believer” who is in union with Christ that is the proper Biblical object of foreknowledge, not just the act of faith that joins one to Christ.  God foreknows and elects “believers” because they are joined to Christ (Eph. 1:4).  To be fair, some Arminians have expressed it as Mr. Patton does, but that is not the best way to express it.  It ignores the main focus and purpose of election in Arminianism, an election based on Christ and those who come to be in faith union with Him.

The corporate view is even more robust and even more Biblically accurate in my opinion, but it is not the Classical approach.  The corporate view does not rely on foreknowledge as the Classical view does, either.  Mr. Patton doesn’t even mention the corporate view, so I will not spend time delving into it at this time. [4]

Go to Part 3

_______________________________________________________________________

[4] For more on the corporate view of election, which I believe to be the Biblical view, see “Corporate Election Quotes” and “Corporate Election (Resources)

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 1: The Set Up

[Some important updates have been added regarding the footnotes as of 1/19/13.]

C.Michael Patton is the President of Credo House.  He has now written two separate and similar posts defending the “irrationality” of Calvinism as actually being a strength of the system, specifically over and above Arminianism. In this newest post, Mr. Patton levels many unfair and unfounded criticisms against Arminian theology and “Arminians” in general,  betraying a basic lack of understanding concerning what Arminians believe and why they believe it.  For this reason, an Arminian response seemed appropriate in order to set the record straight.  This response will interact with the entirety of C. Michael Patton’s post, which would make for a very long interaction as a single post.  For that reason, the response will be broken into parts.

 Part 1: The Set Up

Patton: I am a child of Western thought. Therefore I like to figure things out. If possible, I like to figure it all out. It causes some problems sometimes with me and God and I need to deal with it better. Sometimes I only really follow or engage with God when I get it.  When things make sense to me, it eases my intellectual anxiety and engages my will. Who?, What?, Where?, How?, and, especially, Why?

Honestly, I don’t like the way this starts out.  It makes it seem like logic and wanting to figure things out is just a “western” thing.  That is not the case at all.  It’s pretty basic to human nature and our desire to understand and make sense of reality and the world we live in.  This desire goes far beyond just questions of theology, and it is not limited to “western thought” in the least.

Patton:  Theological gurus call this “cataphatic” theology. Cataphatic theology emphasises God’s revelation and our understanding of it. Taken to an extreme, we can find ourselves in arrogantly awkward position of, as A. W. Tozer put it, “trying to look God eye to eye.” When we have to understand everything, we attempt to trade our finitude for infinitude. And this should scare us to death. We need a healthy dose of “apophatic” theology. This emphasizes mystery.

Actually, we need a balance of both.  There are unhealthy extremes on both ends.  Patton admits this later on.

Patton: Our Eastern brothers and sisters normally get this better than we do. They are content without publishing a new theology book every year. They normally don’t write papers explaining the mysteries of the world, have societies discussing the nuances of our faith, and they don’t argue about too much.

But why is that?  Personally, I think a lot of that is because Eastern theologians almost unanimously reject Calvinism and so don’t find themselves in the position to always try to reconcile irreconcilable problems.  Honestly, a tremendous amount of Calvinist scholarship is caught up in dealing with problems that Calvinism alone creates (and this post by Mr. Patton is yet another example).

Patton: Taken to an extreme, it can lead to an unexamined faith where people know what they believe but they have no idea why. And God did go through a lot of trouble to explain quite a bit of himself to us. While there are secret things that belong to the Lord (apophadic), the things revealed belong to us (cataphatic). We need balance. We need a cool yet passionate head about us. We need to hold some theological ropes very tightly, but we need to loosen our grip on others. There is quite a bit that we can know about God, but there are so many things that we don’t get and we will never get.

Agreed.

Patton: Why all of this? Because I am going to talk about something that is very divisive in the Christian life. And, for the most part, I am going to try to encourage some of my Western brothers and sisters to take a que [sic.] from my Eastern brothers and sisters and step down off the stool and quite [sic.] trying to look God eye to eye. I am going to encourage us to allow some tension in a very debated issue in Protestant Christianity.

The reason for all of Mr. Patton’s set up now seems rather clear.  It is to create the idea that it is unreasonable to reject contradictions and irrationality in a theological system, namely (and only) Calvinism, of course.  That’s right, Mr. Patton has just introduced a new so called “tension” into the mix, the wild claim that it is irrational to have a problem with irrationality.  Of course, this is circular and self-defeating, just as the main thrust of Mr. Patton’s entire post.  Not only that, we see another slam on “western thought.”  Why does Mr. Patton keep going back to that?  The answer seems to be that if he can convince his readers that their problems with irrationalities in Calvinism are just an unfortunate and invalid symptom of less sophisticated “western thought”, his readers will be more likely to feel OK about embracing such irrational “tensions” in Calvinism.

I have seen this same tactic many times before.  For example, Craig Brown, in his little book, “The Five Dilemma’s of Calvinism,” says,

“In my defense of the Reformed faith, I will be ‘the Devils advocate’ and attack five principles of Calvinism from the standpoint of American common sense.” (pg. 9, see here for a post dealing with this quote and other aspects of Craig’s book)

So the argument is now framed to be more of an issue of Calvinism versus flawed Western or American thinking, rather than Biblical truth. [1] Indeed, Mr. Patton will eventually spin things to such an extent as to potentially convince his readers that those who embrace such irrationalities (“tensions”) are nobler and just more honest with the Bible than those who do not (namely Arminians, of course). [2]

Patton: I am a Calvinist. It is funny. I often hear people talk about Calvinism as a closed box system that forces everything to fall in line, even when we have to sacrifice biblical integrity to do so. I often hear the accusation that Calvinism is a system that makes rationality its primary goal. And this is often true. Sometimes Calvinists do attempt to fit things into a system and engage in questionable logic driven hermeneutics to do so.

An admission that should not be soon forgotten.  It is important to note here what Mr. Patton apparently means, though it is not very “apparent” from what he says here.  Mr. Patton speaks about Calvinism being a “closed system” because Calvinists often pride themselves on the logic of that “system.”  Indeed, many people seem to embrace Calvinism because the logic or coherence of the “system” appeals to them, or seems compelling.  Patton finds this ironic since he embraces Calvinism because it has the same “tensions” (“apparent” inconsistencies, or irrationalities) that he sees in the Bible.  So it is not coherence that attracts Mr. Patton to Calvinism, but “apparent” incoherence. [3]

If Mr. Patton’s post were simply about explaining why he personally holds to Calvinism and finds it attractive, or how he finds it ironic that people are drawn to Calvinism based on the supposed logic of the system when he embraces it for its “irrationality”, that would all be well and good, but Mr. Patton does more than that.  He attacks Arminianism in the process, and unfairly so.  That is why this response seemed necessary.

Go to Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

__________________________________________________________________

[1]  Craig Brown and other Calvinists will actually take this a step further and say that Arminians embrace Arminianism and reject Calvinism, not just because Arminians are influenced by “western thought” or “American common sense”, but because Arminianism so strongly appeals to our sinful nature!  See the following posts to see such wild claims for yourself: The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 1 and J.I. Packer Calls Arminianism “An Intellectual Sin of Infirmity”  

[2] Unfortunately, this is a typical Calvinist tactic.  The aim is to shame “logical” and “rational” interpreters as not submitting to what the Bible says as, supposedly, only Calvinists have the guts and the fortitude to do.  Besides painting the Calvinist as more noble and honest than those who refuse to “embrace” such “tensions”, it also amounts to saying, “So what if Calvinism doesn’t make sense; neither does the Bible!” As will be discussed further, there is no reason to assume that such “tensions” are inherently “Biblical” tensions.  Rather, they are the direct results of the Calvinist interpretation of the Bible. They are Calvinist tensions, not Biblical ones.

[3] For further evidence that this is Mr. Patton’s view and one of the main reasons for writing these posts, see his comments in the thread of a similar post called, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  You can see that comment here  (which seems to be a partial and general response to a comment I made earlier in that thread that will be quoted below).