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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Open Theism

#2 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Arminianism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing the Calvinist Claim That God Can Irresisitibly Cause (Make) People to “Freely” Love Him

Below is a recent response to a Calvinist in a discussion forum which addresses the oft repeated Calvinist claim that while God works in the elect irresistibly, the elect still freely come to Christ in such a way that their free will is not violated. In other words, Calvinists often say that it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism to suggest that God saves people “against their will”, while it seems that their theological claims cannot actually avoid that logical conclusion.  This is a part of a conversation I recently had with a Calvinist that made this claim:

Calvinist: “My wife made me willing to love her the first time I saw her. She was so appealing to me I knew that I had to have her. That is what the Lord does to His people. He makes us willing by showing us our desperate need of Him and then the beauty of His salvation. He makes us willing by giving us a new heart to know our need and to see the wonder of the truth of the Gospel as it is in Christ.”

Me: “But prior to that we were God haters who wanted nothing to do with God, so the analogy fails. And we didn’t want a “new heart” prior to God giving us one (in Calvinism, since in my view the new heart is clearly and Biblically the result of faith, and not the cause). It would be like someone using a mind control device in someone who hated broccoli and controlling the mind in such a way that it suddenly found broccoli irresistibly attractive. Would we say that the person then freely chose to love broccoli? Of course not.”

Calvinist: “That is why Christ said that you must be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God. The new nature must come before faith. God making us willing is not mind control in the sense that you describe it but giving us a new nature and a new mind. Of course the analogy isn’t perfect but it does illustrate the fact that we can be made to love without it being against our will.”

Me: “No it doesn’t. If we were God haters that wanted nothing to do with Christ prior to His irresistible act of “giving us a new heart” that “makes us willing”, then it was certainly “against our will” because our will was to hate and reject God prior to His irresistible working in us. It would be like a man meeting a girl at a bar and the girl doesn’t like him and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she finds him repulsive. So the man slips a pill in her drink that removes her inhibitions and causes her to begin to find him attractive, even to the point of “making her willing” to sleep with him. Now if this incident was brought before the court, would the court say that the man is not liable for violating the woman against her will, since the pill he put in her drink “made her willing”? Of course not. Nobody would say that she freely chose to be with the man under such circumstances, and no one would say that her will was not violated.”

“As distasteful as this illustration might be, it illustrates the exact same principle behind your claims that while God “makes us willing” this making us willing by “giving us a new heart” is not a violation of the person’s will. Instead of dropping a pill into our drink, God drops a “new heart” into our God hating chest. The only difference would be that in your view of how God works, the “effects” of the “drug” would never wear off. But that doesn’t change the fact that a person’s will has been obviously violated in the process.”

“It really is pretty simple. If God’s working faith into us is not resistible, but irresistible, then it certainly violates freedom and the will. That is so obvious, it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. If you want to say that God irresistibly brings sinners to faith and love and devotion to Him (by irresistibly removing their “hate God heart” and putting in a “love God heart”) because you think the Bible teaches that, then fine. But trying to then claim that God does this in such a way that we freely come to him in such a way that our wills are not violated is clearly incoherent. You can’t have it both ways. Sorry.”

Related posts:

Resistible Grace or Sinless Perfection? A Call For Theological Precision in the Calvinist Accounting of Monergistic Conversion

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

No Real Choice in Calvinism

Is The “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Comments From John MacArthur on the Nature of Preveninet Grace and the Ordo Salutis

A Concise Description of Prevenient Grace From a Surprising Source (spoiler: It’s John MacArthur)

Excerpt:

I don’t think…particularly I don’t think that regeneration precedes anything except the fruit of regeneration which is a righteous life. I do not think that regeneration precedes saving faith.

Now I know that that’s becoming a…that’s a strongly Calvinistic…I shouldn’t even say Calvinistic, it’s a bit of a hard line Calvinistic viewpoint, I’m hearing it quite a bit nowadays. I had a two and a half hour discussion last week with a man who tried to convince me that regeneration occurs first and after you’re regenerate, then you can believe. So I said to him, “Show me the verse….just show it to me.” Well, he wanted to argue logic but he couldn’t find a verse. I do not find anywhere in the Scripture that the Bible says you will be saved and somewhere along the line you’ll come to realize it. When you separate saving faith from the regenerating act of God, you have put yourself in a non-biblical frame of reference and you have also created a new kind of dynamic in salvation where God is saving people completely independent of anything they do and then they’re just waking up to realize it and putting faith which they’re given by Him in regeneration into action.

Related:

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

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

Is The New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 A Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

A Preliminary Defense of Prevenient Grace

Craig L. Adam’s on Calvinism’s Use of John 6:44

Calvinism and John 6:44

Related posts and articles:

Various Thoughts on the Use of John 6 and Related Passages From John’s Gospel to Support Calvinism

Daniel Whedon on John 6

The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

John 6:37 (Richard Coords)

Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace?

Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?

 

Troubling Trends Among YRR Calvinists

The troubling trend in America’s “Calvinist Revival” 

HT: Dale V. Wayman

Strong Patristic Agreement With the Standard Arminian Approach to Rom. 7:14-25 Part 2

Read the article at The Arminian magazine on-line:

The Patristic Interpretation Of Rom. 7:14-25 Part 1, The Early Christian Witness to the Arminian Interpretation Part 2

Note:  While this represents the typical Arminian interpretation of Rom. 7 going back to Arminius, not all Arminians subscribe to this basic interpretation.   Dr. Robert Picirilli and Dr. Brian Abasciano are examples of Arminian scholars who take a different approach to the passage.

Go to Part 1