October 12, 2016

The Teleological Argument for the Existance of Libertarian Free Will

Is Libertarian Free Will Cogent? Preliminaries

One of the arguments that Calvinists argue is that the very notion of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is incoherent. "It simply doesn't make sense," they say. However, I think that the notion of LFW is important for any theist to hold, and Calvinists shoot their theology in the foot by denying its cogency. 

Now for a definition. Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is usually defined as the ability to do other than what one actually does. So if I chose to have pizza for supper, I actually could have chosen burgers. It was a real option. This is to contrasted to Compatibalist Free Will, which says the will is free if a person does what a person wants. So if I chose to have pizza for super, that is considered free as long as I truly wanted pizza. However, we can also look at LFW as agent contingency. By agent contingency I mean that certain events and ends are contingent upon whether an agent makes a certain choice. Another way of saying this is that agents  have a real effect on the outcomes of their lives and historical events. Agent contingency exists if and only if those agents have LFW. Otherwise, those events and ends will actually be contingent on those things which caused the person to choose what they do. 

One final point before we move on. Since Calvinists are determinists, it would seem evident that they would reject LFW. However, this is why I used agent contingency as opposed to human contingency. I am not going to be arguing here whether or not humans have LFW. I am merely interested, in this post anyway, whether or not LFW exists. It could be that humans have CFW and God has LFW and Calvinism could till be true. Furthermore, the argument here is just in regards to God's will, not human will. 

So before I can give the argument itself, I must explain the teological argument for the existence of God and the Calvinist argument against the cogency of LFW. 

The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument means the argument from purpose. The fundamental argument is that when we look around us at the world, it appears to have a purpose for its existence. However, this endued purpose implies a designer of some sort. Finally, the best designer one can propose is God. The most popular version of the argument right now is the argument from fine tuning. It is typically argued as follows:
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe can be explained by necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It cannot be explained by necessity.
  3. It cannot be explained by chance.
  4. Therefore it must be explained by design. 
The Calvinist Argument Against Libertarian Free Will

Before we can look at the argument, we need to say something about compatibilism (CFW). According to compatibilism, our decisions are the results of internal calculations. With Atheism, it is usually understood as the processes of the brain. For the Calvinist it, can be understood in this sense, but it is more typically understood in terms of various wants and desires that exist within the person's soul, and the strongest desire wins out.1 Now in my mind, this doesn't really solve the problem since there is still the issue of how these desires become weighted the way that they do. Most Calvinists would probably argue that God weighs them, or a combination of this and the atheist understanding. Anyway that's besides the point. What is the point is that Calvinists define free will in this sense, and they feel that this offers more of an explanation of how the will works than LFW.

They present what I am calling here the argument against randomness. This argument seeks to set up as a dilemma either compatibilism or the idea that our choices are random. The argument seems to go like this:
  1. Our decisions must either come from strongest desire or are random
  2. Our decisions are not random
  3. Therefore, our decisions must come from strongest desire
Now LFW clearly rejects the first premise, since we do not hold to either compatibilism or that our choices are random.

Putting the Two Together

Now my argument in this post is to simply intended to show that if you accept one of the two above arguments (the teleological and randomness), you must reject the other. One can reject the teleological argument of course, but I think that many Calvinists would be disinclined to do so.

 In essence, my argument is simply a recognition that the two arguments are referring to the same concepts in different terms. The most obvious is chance and randomness. These are clearly synonyms. What's less clear is that 'strongest desire' is the same as necessity. However, I don't think it can be seriously denied. By strongest desire, it is meant that our wills are mechanical. It is the stance that we make our decisions because it is the necessary result of the conditions leading up to that decision.

Thus the Calvinist argument becomes:
  1. Our decisions are a result of necessity or chance
  2. Our decisions are not from chance
  3. Therefore, our decisions are a result of necessity
Therefore, what Calvinists have actually done is simply ruled out design as a distinct kind of causation from necessity or chance. Therefore, if the two arguments are incompatible. They are either both plausible or neither of them are.

And if you think about this, it makes sense. If there is no libertarian free will, then God does not have libertarian free will. If God does not have libertarian free will, then every decision He makes is a manifestation of His nature. Since His nature is what it is necessarily, than everything that God does happens out of necessity. Therefore, without LFW, design is simply a form of necessity, even if we consider them true and free choices.

Calvinist Solutions

This leaves the compatibilists with three options.2 First, the boring choice is simply to drop the argument against libertarian free will. And this is perfectly fair! After all, just because an argument is bad, it doesn't mean that the position is wrong.3 This does leave us with a possible aseity problem, but I'll get to that later.

The second is to reject the teleological argument. Now again, one may do so. There is nothing that says that a Christian needs to agree to the teleological argument. However, I think there is an even more serious problem here when it comes to aseity. So what is aseity?

Aseity is an attribute of God which means that He exists as Himself (or "a se" in the Latin). This means that God needs nothing else to explain His existence and (and this is the important part here) He can exist by Himself. However, when you consider cause and effect, if there is a sufficient cause for something, then the effect will also exist. This would mean that if everything that God does is an expression of His nature, and everything that God does then happens by necessity, then creation exists necessarily. It means that God could not have not created. It means that God didn't simply want to create us, but He needed to. In my mind, that's a problem.

Now if you go with the first option, the problem doesn't magically go away either. You still have the basic issue of how is it possible that God's decisions come from His nature and yet aren't necessary. How do you explain compatibilism in such a way that distinguishes it from necessity? This is why I say that it is a possible problem, since, at this point, the ball would be in the Calvinists' court.

But I think the best solution for the Calvinist to deal with this problem is to simply let go of the compatibilist claim. Rather they can simply claim that God has LFW and we don't. After all, I don't think that dogs or cats or birds have LFW. There is nothing that says that if God has free will we must.

"Now hold on", one might say, "A Calvinist may claim that just because the argument fails, that doesn't mean their position that LFW is impossible fails. So you are missing the option that they can drop this particular argument but still say that LFW fails for other reasons." Well, yes, technically that claim is correct3. However, the argument doesn't merely fail. It doesn't merely suffer from this aseity problem. What it does is expose the aseity problem that is already there. Indeed, I think you can conclude that God must have LFW from the cosmological argument. To be frank, I can make this aseity point without any reference to either the cosmological argument or the teleological argument.

So no, I go with my original assessment. The best solution for the Calvinist is to say that God possesses LFW and we don't. This wouldn't actually affect their theology in any way. And if they say refuse the option only because it would give Arminianism an in, then they need to ask themselves, "are you more interested in winning a debate or are you more interested in truth?

1 It is worth pointing out that libertarians don't really reject the notion that we choose our greatest desire. This seems obvious. The question is, as I somewhat imply above, what makes that desire the greatest desire. However, due to brevity, I don't really try to reword the Calvinist claim here too much and use their language. But I do find the language unhelpful if not downright objectionable.
2 Well three reasonable options. One can always choose to be irrational.
3See Fallacy Fallacy.

September 28, 2016

Or "Being A Friend To Job"

What I Mean by Rhetorical Piety

It is important to note that I am not suggesting that Calvinists are doing anything deceptive here. So when I mean piety, I don't mean false piety. More simply, what I mean is presenting one's beliefs as the properly pious belief.

It is unfortunate that the word 'pious' has lost its true meaning. Often we take it to mean someone with a sense of spiritual superiority. As C. S. Lewis once said using the character of Screwtape, if you destroy the word you destroy the idea. However, piety is simply the attitude of giving God His due respect, and every Christian should strive to be pious.

Let me remind you than in this series, I am not necessarily accusing Calvinists of doing anything wrong, and this is especially true here. There is nothing wrong with striving to be pious in one's theology, or how one expresses it. My intention is to point out what they are doing and its effect.
That being said, it is important that we distinguish pious rhetoric with actual piety. Actual piety is an attitude, and isn’t determined by the actual words we use. Rather it has to do with the heart behind those words. We can have the words of a pious person but lack actual piety. Likewise one can sound completely impious, yet, because their devotion to God is resolute, there are full of true piety (think Psalm 88 or Psalm 13).

This is why we need to be careful when we attach piety to ideas. It doesn’t belong there. Certainly, we should seek to express devotion to God when we express our ideas, and our devotion to God necessarily implies a pursuit of truth. But believing the right thing isn’t what piety is. Piety is a personal quality describing your relationship with God.

Orthopathy vs Orthodoxy

One of the things I’ve talked about often is the three orthos. First is Orthopraxy, or “correct practice”. It includes both moral activity as well as ritual. The second is Orthodoxy, or “correct doctrine”. It refers to the beliefs that we have about God, humanity, and the world. The third is Orthopathy, or “correct attitudes or passions”.

In general, the most important aspects of the Christian life have to do with orthopathy, and the greatest errors are when people try to make orthopraxy or orthodoxy (things we humans can actually measure and control in others) more important. Emphasis on orthopraxy leads to legalism and oppression, while an emphasis on orthodoxy leads to fideism and schism. Even faith is often confused as an intellectual concept (putting it in the realm of orthodoxy) instead of a personal interactive concept (putting it in the realm of orthopathy).

I bring this up because piety is also an orthopathic concept. It has to do with our attitude toward God.

Rhetorical Piety In Action

When we read the book of Job, we read of Job’s three friends. At the end of the book, we know that God rejects their teaching so it is good to look at their teaching to avoid error, and one of the fascinating things to note about their teaching is their pious language. It is everywhere in their speeches. They ground their teaching in the wisdom of those who came before them, and in God’s absolute and indisputable sovereignty.

Now I’m not claiming that they were Calvinists. Their teaching had to do with the reward/punishment system connected to our actions in this life, rather than the nature of grace, atonement, and salvation. However the similarity of their rhetoric is striking, especially since none of this pious talk is technically wrong, but rather the conclusions they draw from it.

We see a lot of this in the language of Calvinists. The idea that determinism is intimately implied by the notion of sovereignty, and that anything less than Calvinism is a rejection of the sovereignty of God are clear examples of precisely this kind of rhetoric. “If you believe in A, then you must believe in B. If you reject at, then you despise God and exalt man.” But such assertions are based not off of the interconnections of Arminian beliefs, but a firm internal belief by Calvinists that they must be Calvinist to be truly pious.

The End Result

The basic end result of pious rhetoric that isn’t held in check by humility is a combination if vilification and straw man. And I say held in check because, again, there is nothing wrong with seeking to bring God glory by your theology, nor praising how it does so. Rather it needs to be held in check by the desire to seek God’s sense of glory, and not project our own sense of glory on Him. I have often been told, “Who are you, O man, to speak back to God”, yet they fail to realize that I am not speaking back to God, but speaking back to them.

A rejection of our conclusions doesn’t mean a rejection of all of our premises. I certainly have trouble seeing how God could be all loving and good on Calvinism, but I would never claim that Calvinists reject His goodness or love. And when Arminians do this, they are committing the same kind of rhetoric. What Calvinists need to realize is that it other premises of their belief that we are rejecting, rather than a belief in God’s sovereignty or the effectualness of the atonement. This can only start by separating out the laudable goal of declaring God’s glory from our theology, from tying God’s glory to it.

For series index, click here

July 2, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part VI: Security


So what is the debate about security really about? Well, there are two realms within which this debate takes place: pastoral and theological. So instead of looking at the two positions in succession, we'll being looking at these two realms instead, once we define the positions in play.


So the Calvinist position goes by several names, but it is worth distinguishing between three concepts. First there is the idea of eternal security or ES. This is the belief that once a person has been regenerated, justified, and elect, it is impossible for those works of God to be undone and for a person to return to a depraved state. Second, there is the position of what I call Once Saved Always Saved or OSAS. This is the belief that once a person has accepted Jesus in their heart, that they remained saved regardless of what they do. OSAS is considered to be an aberrant take on the eternal security doctrine, and isn't considered to be proper Calvinism. I would also personally call it heresy, and I believe most Calvinists are in agreement with me on that. Finally there is the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints or PS. PS is the belief that if we are ever saved, then you will remain faithful for your entire life. Thus those that do fall away were never truly saved to begin with.
So we can see OSAS and PS as two different interpretations of ES1 . Since the average Calvinist typically rejects OSAS2, from here on out, when I am referring to eternal security, I really just mean PS.

Arminians instead focus on the notion of present assurance. This is the belief that it is possible to know whether or not you are truly saved by the internal witness of the Spirit and the demonstration of His fruit in your life. Also, we stress that our sense of security comes from our relational knowledge of God Himself instead of unknowable decrees. This said, some Arminians hold to eternal security and some do not.

However, those of us who don't, myself included, believe in what is known as conditional security. That is, you will remain protected against all of the wiles of the enemy as long as you have faith in Christ. It is important to note that security is conditioned on the same ground as election.

Pastoral Concerns

The pastoral concern comes from the person who comes into the pastor's office and asks, "Am I saved?" Let's call this person Leonard. So what is the pastor to say?

Well, let's talk about Leonard really quick. Leonard accepted Christ when he was 19. He has been in Bible study every week since then. He has been the first volunteer for every evangelistic outreach. He demonstrates all of the fruits of the Spirit. Therefore, it is easy for the pastor to say, "of course you are. Don't you remember Christ coming into your heart?"

Now here comes the key confession. Leonard replies, "Yes. And I know that Christ is real. But I have a secret sin in my life, and I am afraid that God has rejected me because of it. I can't feel His Spirit as I once did." So what is the pastor to say.

Let's look at the response of the eternal security pastor first: "Leonard, you have to remember that you were born again in Christ. Take comfort in that. Our salvation doesn't hinge upon our daily commitment to some law. It isn't something that comes one day and is gone the next. If you were born again, then you are saved. This is simply something God is working out through you, and this fear that you have is God's conviction, bringing you into a deeper level of sanctity."

That sounds really good. That is the kind of encouragement Leonard needs. The problem of course is that it is kind of a lie. The truth is that given the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, neither Leonard or the pastor has any real reason to believe the key premise in the argument: that Leonard is born again. They have no idea. Therefore, for the theologically reflective person, this word of comfort is rather hollow.

Now the causal aspect of things doesn't really factor in here3 , but I'll get to it in the second section. However, when we come to the Arminian perspective, our social centeredness comes in strong. Here is how the conditional security pastor would answer:

"Leonard, who do you go to when you are feeling guilty?"
"Well, you. God."
"So you pray when you feel guilty. Why? Do you believe that God is the only one that can right your sin?"
"Yes, of course"
"Do you believe that He is the only one who can give you assurance that you are saved?"
"Then you are saved. Yes you are sinning, but God is convicting you of that sin, drawing you to repentance and wholeness. But if you weren't saved, your sin would cause you to curse God, not run to Him. Remember, our salvation doesn't hinge upon our daily commitment to some law. It is our faith that God looks at. Our trust in Him. If you believe that God can deliver you from the sin, then you have a penitent heart, and your faith in Him is intact. That's the key to salvation: not our perfection, but Christ's perfection."4

This is key. It isn't some event that happened in the past, or some declaration in heaven that we appeal to. It is the person's relationship with God. It is who they are in Christ that matters, for it is Christ who saves. That gives the person assurance, and it is assurance, not security, that they really need. To give a person a sense of security by sacrificing assurance is like selling the car for the gas: it gets you no where. Instead, teach faith, for salvation is free.

Theological Concerns

The principle concern that Arminians have is the present assurance issue mentioned above. There is a secondary concern, and that has to do with security being grounded in decrees rather than in Christ Himself. However, I'm not really going to address that concern here because I don't think it speaks to the issue at hand."5

However the Calvinist does have an issue here which is worth pointing out. It is similar to the defeat issue mentioned in the Atonement installment of this series.6 Here they'll say that if God has saved the person, then how can that be undone? That seems to imply a kind of weakness in God's salvation.
Now again, notice the emphasis on power. This is, again, a very causal concern. Indeed if we look deeper we'll see that the casual nature is still there. They'll often point out certain acts such as regeneration, election, or predestination, and ask how these can be undone. The emphasis here is on the nature of the actions! The actions accomplish a certain thing, so some kind of equally powerful counter action would have to undo it.

Now, to me, I have trouble seeing the issue. Election for instance is simply understood completely different by me.7 And predestination isn't undone, but it isn't presently experienced either, so it simply isn't in the purview of the discussion.8

The real issue is regeneration from what I can see. We can define an apostate as one who has been regenerated, and yet turns away from God. Such a person will not inherit eternal life. The Calvinist says that this person wasn't truly regenerate, but I just don't see why. I see nothing about the concept of being reborn which entails that you cannot re-die. And I've never really had a Calvinist point out why they think this is the case.

Now it may be connected to the idea of Total Depravity. If Total Depravity implies one is unable to turn towards God, and regeneration is the opposite, then it should imply the opposite. But again, I don't see the entailment here. Especially since every Calvinist I know will fully admit that a regenerated person is capable of sinning, even though they would say a depraved person cannot do good. So I'm not sure if that is what they are thinking here, and I don't want to put words in their mouth.

But I do think that this emphasis on ability is what is really motivating the Calvinist. In other words, there is no logical implication going on here, but a casual concern about giving humanity the ability to leave God. I believe that they are afraid that if this is true, than apostasy is somehow inevitable (though I don't see why since our depravity is gone). Here, I simply have to give my skepticism. Other than their vehement insistence on this point, I see no real argument. Indeed, in terms of ability, I don't see how the regenerate is any different than Adam and Eve.

However, the concern is something that we as Arminians should take seriously. If we are going to convince a Calvinist of their error, we cannot be dismissive of their concerns, but we must seek to understand them, and show why they are unimportant or how Arminianism satisfies the concern better.

And this is really been the point of this exercise. To understand our opponents so we can be effective in communicating with them. I'm not interested in simply winning debates. I'm interested in spreading God's truth and protecting the church from error. This means not out arguing the Calvinist, but convincing them. I hope that this series has been helpful for you in doing precisely that.

1 It occurred to me as I wrote this sentence that every one of these acronyms ended with an S. Never noticed that before. I've learned something today.

2 And rightly so.

3 Unless you consider the idea of finding comfort in mechanical inevitability, trying to be assured of salvation as one is of one's car starting in the morning. Meanwhile, the kind of assurance that God grants us is more of the kind of a child trusting his father to catch him at the bottom of a slide.

4 It is worth pointing out that this is a real conversation I had with someone some 6 or 7 years ago. It was with the mother of a friend of mine who had spent her entire life wrestling with trying to be good enough for the church and for God, coming out of the holiness movement. The husband had actually stopped going to church because she was addicted to serving the church to the point of self-detriment.

After the conversation above, she was shocked, never hearing an answer like that before. A year later, when I saw them again, the husband thanked me, telling me that she had never been more sure of her salvation in her life. This was with her speaking to many Calvinist pastors before she had spoken to me. I'm not saying this because I think I did a good job. I'm saying this because simple Arminian theology really works! Calvinists who claim that we have no words of comfort to give to such a person simply doesn't understand what Arminian theology is.

5 Namely the centeredness of the theologies.

6 Indeed they often will also point out the defeat issue here as well, but since I already went over this I saw no reason to repeat it.

7And may I note that corporate election is very socially centered. We are the family or people of God!

8 This would of course depend on your definition of predestination. Calvinists basically use it as another name for election, or the effects of election. Arminians typically have two definitions that we tend to use, depending on which Greek verb is in context, and to some degree which Arminian you talk to.

One definition we can call "being preset", which is simply to say that you are on a kind of established path to a destination. So like a train is preset towards a certain destination: it isn't simply an open field. However, this clearly could be changed. One could change tracks or get derailed (or shipwrecked :-)). The other definition we can call "foreknown". God simply knows what our ultimate destiny is going to be. Clearly, this can't change for God does not change His mind. But we don't have access to the Book of Life. But that isn't really what one is talking about when we are talking about apostasy, so it strikes me as moot.

Above I have used the second defintion.

July 1, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part V: Grace


The fourth point immediately follows from the doctrine of depravity. If we are born depraved, separated from God, and incapable of coming to Christ on our own, then God is the one that needs to act first. Furthermore, our depravity also means that we do not deserve God helping us either. This makes whatever act God does to help us to be "grace".

However, Arminians understand grace very differently. And it probably won't surprise you that I believe the difference is a causal understanding vs a social understanding.

Irresistible Grace

So how do Calvinists understand the concept of grace? With a misnomer like "The Doctrines of Grace" you would expect a pretty detailed account of what grace is. However, I find grace to be unrecognizable within Calvinism.

For the Calvinists, grace is basically what God does to save us. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, however it is a rather incomplete conception of grace. I'll get into why later. If you look at the way that Calvinists treat it though, they treat it simply as a cause. Most interestingly, grace in the Calvinist system is extremely mechanical.

The way I picture it is that in Calvinism there is this grace package, and once the package comes to you, it does everything that it is supposed to do. You're walking around, being depraved and what not and then God sends His grace upon you. You become regenerated, then you have faith, and then you are justified, and then you are saved. Bam! Bam! Bam! It happens in a flash. One thing causes the next, and it happens the same way to every person. Now I might be exaggerating a little here1, but this is how a Calvinist sounds to me when they talk about it.

This has always struck me as bizarre. When I think of the concept of grace, I think about two people, where one is betrayed and yet is kind and forgiving to the other person. To me grace is a relational term: it describes the relationship between two people. Grace on the Calvinist view seems to cut out the personal nature of the term. Now I know deep down Calvinists affirm its personal nature. When they talk about grace apart from the theology, it is clear that the word carries intense personal weight for them. But that doesn't seem to me to be connected to the actual theology.

But none of this is necessarily wrong or bad. It merely strikes me as odd. Where I think that the Calvinist goes wrong here is that they seem to think that any expression that isn't like this isn't truly grace. But this makes no real sense. We never experience grace between people that is like this. Now, this point doesn't mean of course that the Calvinist view is not grace, but it does mean that their definition is too restrictive.

Enabling Grace

Calvinists really, and I mean really, misunderstand the Arminian view of grace. Indeed, their analysis of our view of grace is so baffling that it was my trying to understand their criticisms that allowed me to recognize their causal centeredness.

Typically, myself included, Arminians say that prevenient grace is God preparing and enabling a depraved person, freeing their will to be able to do good, and encouraging them to come to the truth of the Gospel (which is Christ's lordship and atoning power). I've always considered that a rather sufficient definition, and I still do for most people. But it is too ambiguous for the Calvinists because they make some assumptions of our view that the above definition doesn't clarify.

Calvinists talk about Arminian grace in the same way as they talk about their own view of grace. They assume that we have a similar grace package concept, but that we think this package is extended to all people at the beginning of their life. Additionally, in their perception of our view,  there's less stuff in the package, in the sense that it merely make a person neutral, rather than radically transforming them. However, this is completely alien to Arminians. It is not at all what we actually thinking. I think they get it so wrong because they are attempting to describe our view from a causally centered thought process, and we simply don't think that way.

We see grace as a kind of quality of an act, rather than a type of causation. For instance, I could ask someone what the word "sweet" means. One person answers, "it means that there are simple and cheap carbohydrates in your food that your body can readily use as fuel". Another can answer, "It is a kind of flavor. One that we associate with desserts, treats, and junk foods." Note how both are correct in a sense, but one is more like the way we commonly use the term. For us, you can have two actions that are completely the same, but one is gracious and the other not because of the reasons and motivations of the one doing it. Therefore, it isn't what an act does that necessarily makes it grace, but the heart of the person performing the action.

More simply though, prevenient grace is not an act of God. It is a set of acts that God does throughout a person's life, not bringing them to "life", but keeping them "alive". Some of these acts are resistible, but some are actually irresistible. It depends on the person because God does not do the same acts of grace in every person's life. Rather what God does is based on where our relationship with Him is and who we are  and our circumstances. They are personal intimate acts of one wooing His beloved to come to Him like Hosea. It is merely the final offer of the gospel that is never presented in an irresistible way.

Think of a child who doesn't know how to swim in a pool with her father. His father holds the child in the water. He doesn't simply make the child buoyant, but stays there, holding his child until she starts to swim on her own, instructing her, loving her. It is constant and dynamic. The father holding the child doesn't show a change of state in the child, for the child is the same before the father holds her and while the father holds her. However, it is the father's hands that enables her to swim and rescues her from drowning.2

What makes it grace isn't that we are passive, but that we don't deserve it. We deserve to be condemned and rejected by God. Instead, He woos us anyway. That's grace! Undeserved favor! The only way this isn't grace is to so restrict one's definition of the word that it looses all semblance with the act of love and care that should come with the term.
1 Emphasis on "might". This is literally what the Calvinist sounds like to me, but I want to give them the benefit of the doubt here.
2 Be careful not to overextend the metaphor here. This metaphor isn't meant to describe salvation. The metaphor is simply meant to describe how enablement doesn't entail the idea of a change in state.

June 30, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part IV: Depravity


The differences in Depravity are perhaps the most interesting for our topic since both Calvinists and Arminians agree on the basic concept. However, I do think we think about Total Depravity a bit differently, in that it plays a slightly different role. And this can be seen the most clearly in how we interpret the Biblical phrase of being "dead in sin".


Both of us understand Total Depravity to mean that we are incapable of doing any true good apart from the grace of God, including having saving faith. However, the Calvinist stresses this incapacity idea. To the Calvinist it is our lack of power that is the ultimate issue.To the Arminian, Total Depravity isn't as (ironically enough) human focused. Rather for us, the point of the doctrine is to stress our need for God. It is much more about that brokenness between the human and God.

To put it more simply, the Calvinist is saying that we can't do it, and the Arminian is saying that we need help. Now one implies the other, and I want to stress that there is no difference of actual doctrine here. Arminians admit that we can't save ourselves; that's why we need help! Likewise the Calvinist will admit that we need help; after all, we can't do it! But while the Arminian is more concerned with what it means for our relationship for God, and explaining the need for prevenient grace, the Calvinist is more concerned about ensuring that humanity doesn't get credit for salvation and that the power ultimately comes from God Himself. Same belief, but we think about it differently, and the role it plays in our theology is a bit different.

Dead Men Can't Do Nothing Right

Probably the most interesting difference is the way we interpret the "dead in sin" phrase in Scripture. Calvinists compare a human in the the depraved state as being dead: unable to act. They stress the complete immobility of a corpse. Now I don't necessarily have a problem with this analogy, seeing how I believe in human inability, but it's not what the Scripture means. This is apparent in two ways. First, Jesus uses this same term in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and there is no way it could mean that in that context. Second, in Romans, which really stresses the relationship between death and sin, in chapter six it describes us as being dead to sin, and yet no Calvinists believes this means that Christians are unable to sin.

It is more accurate to think about this relationally. When your grandfather dies, you generally don't interact with him much anymore. You relationship with him is severed. This is where the expression "you're dead to me" comes from, and it seems to be how Scripture is using the term as well. To be dead in sin is to be cut off from God because of your sin. There is no relationship there to work with. This is more consistent with the Prodigal Son text and Romans 6:11, and also perfectly consistent with all other texts where the imagery is used. To be spiritually dead is to be cut off from God. And this is of course why we need God.

Next we'll be talking about the most complicated topic of this series: grace.

June 29, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part III: Atonement


The atonement debate is really interesting to me because to some degree it is a red herring. Both sides seem to think that the issue has to do with the nature of the Atonement. However it doesn't. Consider the following:
  1. Both agree that a person is not born justified
  2. Both sides agree that a person becomes justified when they have faith
  3. Both sides agree that a person is completely justified once the atonement is applied to them
    • So we agree on efficacy
  4. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement was substitutionary
  5. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement of infinite in power
    • So no difference in "spilt blood"
  6. Both sides agree that it is particular in application
So... what's the actual difference? The difference has to do with the texts in Scripture that teach that Christ died for all. We have to deal with the fact that Christ died to save all, yet not all are saved. We differ in how we deal with this discrepancy.

Limited Atonement

When talking about being casually centered, what we are talking about is a concern a about cause and effect relationships. There are two aspects of casual centeredness that come into play with the issue of the atonement. One is a concern for power. Since power is the ability to cause things, naturally power is a casual  concern. More on this later. The second issue is a tendency to describe things in mechanical ways. In a machine, this gear causes that gear to move, which causes that doohickey to do the thing, and voila, the clock works. We can certainly see this in the way they describe the will.

We see this clearly in the way they often handle the Scriptural passages regarding the universality of the atonement. For their view to be correct, they must somehow qualify the statements that God wanted to save everyone to affirm the Scripture. Historically they've done this in a couple of ways1, but for our purposes of displaying the mechanical nature of their thought, we are going to focus on the most popular approach today: the two-will theory.

The two-will theory is the idea that God's will is complicated. There is a part of His will that really does want to save everyone, but there is another part of His will that only wants to save the elect. Therefore, it is fine for God to express that first desire, even if it is the second desire that He desires more. So it is true that God wants to save the whole world, but He wants to save only the elect even more.

Now look at the way in which the will of God is treated. It is segmented, and the question of which segment brings about action is emphasized. Now mostly I see this as a theological trick to get around a hermeneutical problem, but the intriguing thing to me is that it treats God's will kind of like a machine with parts that have different functions.

Before we move one, I do want to make an apologetic point. First I don't think this idea is as mysterious as the Calvinist makes it out to be. We experience this kind of thing all the time. It's called ambivalence: the wanting of two contradictory things at the same time. It's not really a more "complex" will than ours2. It's just ambivalence. 

Now if you remember at the top of this section I said that there were two issues, and one was a concern about power. Here I am going to get back to that. While the above is an explanation of how they justify Limited Atonement with Scripture, it isn't why Calvinists think Limited Atonement is important. That is the power concern. This has to do with whether or not God can be defeated.

Now for most of us, I don't see why there is a problem, but I think we need to hear what the Calvinist is thinking here. If God is acting with the intention of accomplish something, and what He wants doesn't happen, it appears that He has been overpowered. If God is overpowered, than He is not omnipotent. Now, Calvinists don't frame it this way, but this is the legitimate concern behind their thinking, and I think we need to answer it. So how?

Well, I think the Calvinists are on the right track when it comes to the notion of a complex desire, but I don't think ambivalence is the correct kind of complexity. A better way to think about it is a contextualized desire. This is when you want something, but you want it in a certain way and under certain conditions.

So, for instance, Lebron James may want to put the basketball through the hoop. However, he doesn't use his full range of power to try to achieve this goal. He doesn't punch the other players, knock the hoop down to reach it better, or get a ladder, or anything else like this which is clearly within his physical abilities. Rather he chooses to try and put the ball in the hoop under certain constraints. Why? Because he isn't just interested in putting the ball through the hoop. He is interested in playing a basketball game and "putting a ball in the hoop" falls into the context of that game, but with certain parameters.

Now the above analogy isn't really designed to explain what is going on with the atonement, since someone stuffing James's shot would be him being defeated.."3 The analogy is simply designed to explain what is meant by a contextualized desire in a causal manner. The way that Arminians actually understand this is much more, well, social.

The key here is love. God doesn't simply want to save us. He wants us to love Him. Here I'm going to used a tired Arminian analogy, but it is tired for a reason. This is the fact that when you fall in love with someone, you don't really want to force that person to love you back. You want them to love you back on their own. Even if you had access to some kind of pill that could make them believe that they loved you, it wouldn't be true love. If God desires us to truly love Him as He loves us, it makes sense that He doesn't simply want to save all, but to save those who return His love. And someone refusing to love Him isn't Him being defeated; it is simply them choosing their own way. As Paul says in Romans 1, God gives them over to their desires, even though they are destructive.
So defeat isn't the right way of looking at it. It is that God wants to save within a particular context which includes free will. This makes it a contextualized desire.

Unlimited Atonement

Being socially centered, Arminians are more focused on personal attributes, and one of those is God's character. God's character is consistently good. When it comes to the atonement, as I said before, the difference here isn't really on the nature of the atonement. Rather the difference is God's intention and His honesty. For the Arminian, principle concern is the authenticity of God's offer of salvation. Limited Atonement seems to make God a liar.

Often the Calvinist would counter that they don't know who the elect are, so therefore it isn't inauthentic. Well, it is true that it doesn't make them a liar. But it would make God a liar when Scripture says things like "We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men and especially of those who believe" or "So by the grace of God He might taste death for each one" or "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance"... etc. These texts are not contextualized with His will to display justice or whatever purpose the Calvinist proposes He has for allowing some to be damned.

When it is contextualized, it is contextualized with the condition of faith, not God's greater desire. We would expect it to be contextualized by God's greater desire if these are examples of ambivolence. For instance, let's say I really want to eat some pizza. However, I also really want to lose weight. So I have to decide which is more important. Afterwards, if I were to express regret at not eating the pizza, I'll say, "Oh, I really wish I had that pizza. But I'm glad I won't have the extra calories." It is the other option that qualified the choice.

This is what we would expect in the text if these expressions were out of ambivalence. But we don't receive this. Rather we receive an open invitation to any who would believe. If Calvinism were true, this just strikes us as deceptive. Now God has the sovereign right to be deceptive if He wants, but it wouldn't be good of Him. It seems clear to us that God truly does want to save every single person, and He acts towards the salvation of all, even those who ultimately are damned. Now, this means that He must be acting in a way that allows them the ability to resist Him, for He is powerful enough to cause them to comply if need be. But their damnation is on their own shoulders, not God's.

Unfortunately, I don't know too well how a Calvinist would really respond to this. I usually get an answer back in the fashion of "who are you oh man to challenge God" or "that is a man-centered concerned", so I cant really show how Calvinists would approach this from a causal-centered direction. Rather, it seems to me that Calvinists have trouble recognizing that there is a problem. This doesn't show causal-centeredness, but it does show that we think about things very differently.

1 One is to quibble on the meaning of terms like 'world' and 'all'. Another is to take Calvin's route, and not understand these terms literally, but rather as God accommodating to our language and limited understanding. I find these mostly to be hermeneutical tricks and rather unconvincing, and they don't really show the causal-centeredness of Calvinist thought anyway.
2Now I do think that God's will is different than ours. God is eternal and doesn't deliberate like we do. Likewise, He is taking more into account for His choices than we do. I just don't think that this two-will theory constitutes a difference.
3Mutumbo's smiling right now.

June 28, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part II: Election


The question of election isn't whether or not God chooses who to save, but whether or not He does so unconditionally. The question is whether or not our differences on this question are grounded in a causal vs social dynamic.

Unconditional Election

The Calvinist thrust on the question of election is the fact that it is entirely unconditional. This means that there is no quality or action which distinguishes the elect from the non-elect save election itself. So why is this so important to the Calvinists.

The answer has to do with who causes election. The Calvinist feels that if there is a condition for election, than obtaining that condition causes God to elect the person. This would mean that the human causes God's election. Therefore, since God's glory should be grounded on Him having power over things, this would certainly apply to His own choices.

Arminians of course don't see it that way. First of all, I don't see why obtaining a condition for election would cause election if A)God still has to actually make the choice and isn't forced to and B)God is sovereign over what conditions He cares about. My preference of sausage over pepperoni doesn't mean that sausage pizza has control over me. However, notice the social dynamic of my point. The Calvinist view sees conditionality as a cause; I see it as a reason. Causes are physical concepts, while reasons are personal concepts. Saul was the cause of the spear being thrown, but jealousy was the reason. If faith caused God to choose us, then the Calvinist would have a point. Rather faith is the reason why God chooses us, and that is an entirely different matter.

Second of all, the principle issue that we have with unconditionality is that it makes God's choice arbitrary. Now most Calvinists object to this, but to me unconditional and arbitrary are synonyms. The second simply sounds worse. I don't mind the idea of God having no particular reason to save me, but I do have issue with God having no particular reason to not save someone else. Yes, He doesn't have to save anyone, but then I'm not claiming He has to. That's a causal concern. My issue is one of character. If He loves them, why would He abandon them without a reason? That simply isn't love, which is a social issue.

Conditional Election

Arminians believe that God chooses who to save based on faith. He does this because He wants to establish relationship with us, and faith is something that He values in His friends. It is also important to note that Arminians tend to be very insistent that faith is not intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. Rather faith is trust in Jesus Christ saving us. Faith is a social rather than epistemic term.1 This is why faith prevents one from boasting; if you trust in your faith then you aren't trusting in Jesus Himself. To boast about it is to prove that you don't have it.2

The Calvinist concern here is basically what I said above about why they believe unconditional election. However, let me run their most common argument here so I can give them some space. They often argue that if you have faith, and someone else doesn't, then there must be some cause for you having faith that the other person doesn't have. Either you are smarter, or nicer, or something else. Therefore there is something making you superior, and that is what is really causing God to choose you.

Well... This ignores the social aspect of faith. The idea behind this is that faith requires a cause, but while it is true that there may have been some reason why a person comes to faith, that reason may vary dramatically. Sure John may have faith in Christ because he is simply a trusting sort, but Paul believes in Him because of an over-whelming experience, and Peter by intellectual reasoning. It doesn't matter how faith came about; merely its presence matters. Because of this, the reason for one's faith isn't actually a factor in God's election at all. Just faith is.

And so what if God chooses the faithful. He chooses them because He wants us to be faithful. He didn't have to choose the faithful. Nothing is forcing His hand here. Indeed, if I have all the faith I have right now, and God still chooses to condemn me, He would do me no wrong. Ultimately my assurance isn't grounded in my faith, but in God's promises. I struggle to even appreciate the concern here. But then, I don't think like a Calvinist does.

1I have not provided a causal-centered definition of faith here because, to be honest, I'm not sure how to. Ultimately, I don't think that Calvinism needs to be committed to a particular definition of faith since their concern would remain for any condition.

2Like humility.