April 24, 2017

Understanding Necessity In Arminianism And Calvinism

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The concept of necessity is one that, on the one hand, seems really simple, and yet proves itself to be rather difficult to track. When talking about theology, we usually are referring to the concept of ontological necessity, or what must exist. Another way of thinking about it is that it is impossible for necessary things to not exist.

In Christianity, there exists only one necessary thing: God. Everything else is what we call contingent, that is reliant on something else. The belief that God is the only necessary thing is called aseity, that  God exists a se, or "by Himself". Now the question that I want to ask here is how does this affect Arminianism and Calvinism?

Now I wrote a post a while ago called The Teological Argument For The Existance Of Libertarian Free Will, and the point I'll be making here will cover some common ground. But rather than simply arguing for the existance of LFW, I am instead seeking to explore the effect of compatibilism and necessity.

What In God Is Necessary?

So the first question is, what is it that makes something necessary? The answer is that something is necessary if it must exist. In other words, it is impossible for it not to exist. This would be true of God. This would also need to be true of any of God's essential attributes. After all, it would be nonsense to say that God exists necessarily, but He could be someone and something completely different than He is. Rather, we need to also affirm those aspects of God that make God God. For instance, God is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, incorporeal, and eternal. He is necessarily tri-personal, which grounds His essential goodness. Without these properties, God would simply not be God.

But there are divine attributes that God need not have which He does. Those are any attributes that define God's relationship to something outside of Himself. For instance, God is not necessarily creator, for He could have chosen not to create. God is not necessarily the God of Israel, for Israel need not exist. God is not necessarily just, for God does not need to be in the company of sinners (though He is necessarily righteous/good).1 So even though God is necessary, it does not entail that everything we can say about God is also necessary.

What Will The Will Do?

This brings us to the most important question. Are God's choices necessary? Now the Arminian clearly says no. This is because the Arminian believes that God possesses LFW, and thus His choices are not necessary since that is basically what LFW means.

But what about compatibilism? This is a bit more difficult since I've heard half a dozen different definitions of compatibilism. One basic one is that compatibilism is the belief the free will and determinism are compatible, which isn't particularly helpful. One holding to this definition without any further development could simply say that God's choices are not necessary but couldn't have been anything else. Because they said so. This has always struck me as saying "I believe in A and not A".

However, most Calvinists that I have met generally argue that by compatilibilism they mean that one acts in accordance to one's nature. That is, you chose what you chose because it is in your nature to make that choice, and because it is YOUR nature, it rightly belongs to you. Thus your will is free. To be frank, this actually makes perfect sense to me. This is basically how I understand the operation of the wills of animals.2

So for God, these compatibilists will argue that the choices that God makes He makes because they are the natural result of His nature. So because God is perfect, and good, etc... He inevitably creates the universe. Therefore, if God did other than what He has done, He wouldn't truly be God!

Problems

However there are problems when applying this understanding to God. If God's decisions are the expression of God's nature, and God's nature is necessary, than logically all of God's choices are necessary. God could not have acted other than He has.

However, if all of God's choices are necessary, the effects or those choices are equally necessary. This would collapse the distinction I made in the above section. God would necessarily be Creator, so He would need to create. God would necessarily be the God of Israel, so He would need to commission Israel. God would necessarily just, so He would need to be in the company of sinners to judge them.

The fundamental result is that everything is necessary, and nothing is contingent. This makes God dependent on His creation, since He needs to create it. It is not dependent like I am dependent on my heart, but dependent like I am dependent on eating: I must do it or I cease to be. This strikes me as a challenge to divine aseity, and a diminishing of God's glory.

I find this to be ironic since most compatibilist think that they are bringing God glory through their theology. However, I believe it is quite the opposite. Compatibilism makes God smaller, mechanical, and dependent on His creatures. While the idea of making human actions necessary may sound appealing to the Calvinist, a flat our rejection of libertarian free will makes that extend to God as well, diminishing His glory and  honor.

So to my Calvinist friends, I suggest that you embrace the notion of LFW for God, just as I embrace the notion of CFW for animals. Then we can quibble and argue over the free will of humans.
_____________________________________________________________

1 For more on this, see my post: http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2014/06/essential-attributes-verses-relational.html
2 Though, of course, animals are not moral agents.This is why I do not believe it would make sense with humans or angels who are moral agents.

February 14, 2017

What If Spiderman 3 Was Good?

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A couple of years ago I made a post about how I would have done the Green Lantern movie differently. I've thought about the same question when it comes to some other movies, especially comic book movies, and I thought I would share one that I feel was especially disappointing: Spiderman 3.

Spiderman 3 was disappointing for several reasons, but the principle reason was because it didn't have to be. Spiderman 2 left us with a great set-up for the third film, but when the movie came, it felt like they just didn't want to tell the story that the second movie set-up. All of the story around Harry Osburn felt like it was there because it had to be there.

Furthermore, the fundamental flaw of the film is obvious: too much story for too little movie. Your telling the story of Venom (which is already a necessarily complicated story), Harry getting amnisia, Peter and MJ having relationship problems, a reworking of the Uncle Ben story along with Sandman, and the background theme of Peter letting fame get to his head. That is way too much, leaving the movie horribly cluttered and unfocused. But what's worse is that we didn't get the story that we really wanted, a solid conclusion for the relationship arc between Peter and Harry. The most important part of the movie for us seemed to be the least important for the writers and director.

So two things should be at the heart of this correction: #1 the focus of the story should be the restoration of the relationship of Peter and Harry. #2 one villain besides 2nd Green Goblin. However, we want a villain that is going to influence Peter and Harry's relationship. I don't see how that'll be true of Sandman, so Venom makes significantly more sense. Also, with the Venom story, you can have the fascinating reversal of guilt within the relationship.

So what follows is the story I would have told, with 4 main fights:

Plot

Beginning

During the opening credits, we see the symbiote crash land on earth. We then can see it go on various adventures, maybe taking hold of various animals briefly, until it ends up in the sewers.

We can start the movie the same way the original movie starts: with Spiderman being celebrated by the community and Peter trying to talk to Harry but being ignored. It is a pretty good starting point, so why change. However, once all of that is basically established, I would have Peter proposing to MJ, and MJ saying yes. Right after the proposal, Peter hears of a fire somewhere in the city, and goes to investigate.

When he arrives, he discovers that it was an abandoned building, and Harry is there waiting for him. They fight, in a similar way in the movie (that scene was actually pretty good), but the fight ends with Harry being victorious, and Peter having to escape through the sewers. It is in the sewers that the symbiote attaches to him.

Black Spiderman

He returns home, tired, with the symbiote covering him as he sleeps. When he awakes, he has the black suit (which should be smoother IMO). He eventually shows it to MJ, but instead of being impressed by it, she is concerned. So Peter promises to take it to Dr. Connors, and he does so. Connors promises to look into it, and tells Peter stay away from it until he gets a chance. Peter agrees...

And then immediately after we get a montage of him using it to fight crime; and having a lot of fun doing it too. This then leads to Peter bringing in pictures of the new suit to JJ. He has a conniption over it. This leads to the introduction of Eddy Brock, and the reward that JJ offers for evidence of Spiderman breaking the law.

Peter comes home to MJ, and they have a talk about the black suit, and MJ's career, and simply enjoy each others' company. Eventually Harry comes up, and MJ suggests that maybe she'll be able to talk to him. Peter thinks this is a bad idea, and they go to bed. In the morning, MJ gets up, and leaves a note telling Peter that she is off to talk Harry. Harry sees this through a camera that he has apparently been using to spy on them.

Harry then leaves his own note, or gives Pete a message in some manner, that he has taken MJ to some location. Peter goes there to save her, yelling at Harry for involving MJ in their disagreement. They have a second fight. This time, Peter is much more aggressive, due to the suit beginning to have an effect on him. During the fight, Brock shows up to try and take a picture and Spiderman destroys his camera infuriating him.

Eventually Peter wins the fight, and Harry reveals that MJ isn't actually there, and that he never took her to begin with. Peter tells Harry that he's crossed a line. So far he has not wanted to fight Harry because they are friends, but next time Harry attacks him, he will not hold back.

Reversing roles

Harry, downcast, returns home to find MJ waiting for him. He doesn't want to talk to her, but she doesn't take no for an answer. (maybe some explanation of how she got in will be necessary, but that'll be for the director to decide). Harry and MJ have an argument, where MJ challenges Harry to reconsider his devotion for his father. Point out that while it was reasonable to be mad before he knew who his father was, at this point he's just being ridiculous. Harry than yells, "he killed my father", to which MJ replies, "Yeah, 10 minutes after your father threw me from a bridge!" She mentions that he died by his own glider at some point. Then Harry tells her to get out, and she does.

We then cut to Harry looking off his balcony a bit later, when he calls to his butler to get his father's autopsy report. He looks it over, and then looks tired, and we cut away.

We then see MJ returning home to Peter, and they argue about her not listening to him. He doesn't talk to her the way he normally does, and she questions this. Pete backs down and apologizes, saying that he was just really worried. She says she understands, and they move on.

The next day, he goes to the Daily Bugle to find that Brock has won the award with his fake photo. Enraged, Peter goes after Brock, but JJ and Robby pull them apart. Peter storms out, and returns later with evidence that Eddy faked his photo. Eddy is fired.

We then turn to a montage of Peter turning evil. Not emo, but actually wicked. The idea of an emo Peter actually kind of works for me since it would make sense that Peter doesn't really know how to be bad. But still, what we have in the film was executed poorly (especially that very uncomfortable dance scene), but I don't have any better ideas here. Perhaps it simply could have been done better. But the basic idea, with Connors commenting on the symbiote in the background, makes logical sense to me, and I think it could be done well. Be we should see him fighting more violently, flirting with other women, and acting like a jerk.

MJ complains to Peter about his recent behavior, eventually blaming the suit which gets Peter really upset about. Afterwards she runs out. We find that she ends up going to Harry to tell him that Peter is changing and she needs his help. Harry asks how he could help, and she replies that she doesn't know, but she can't reach him anymore. Harry says that he'll try.

Just then Peter shows up, asking what MJ is doing there. Harry attempts to explain, and talk to him, but Peter instead is simply enraged that they are plotting against him. Peter then attacks Harry, and now it is Harry who is trying to stop the fight. However he does defend himself, using some more advanced weapons than he had before. However, Peter decimates him in the end.

He is about to kill him when MJ stops him. Peter than raises a hand to strike her, but then realizes what he is about to do. He takes a few steps back in shock. He then looks down at Harry, and then at his hands, and then back at MJ. He says, "take care of him" and webs away. MJ then begins to take care of Harry.

Return to the Red and Blue

Peter then goes to the church, where we get the famous church scene, complete with Brock getting the symbiote. However, he doesn't smile, ever.

Peter returns home, naked. MJ is packing. MJ looks at him and questions where his suit is. He says he got rid of it, and he is sorry about what happened earlier. She says that a simple apology doesn't make everything better, and Peter agrees. He says, "hopefully time will. I still love you, but there is something in me I have to fix." MJ says she is staying with Harry which Peter clearly doesn't like. But he asks her to apologize for him to Harry as well, and she says that she will.

At this point, Peter takes a sabbatical from being Spiderman, focusing on being Peter Parker and getting his head right. He also stops watching the news and ignores various calls from the Daily Bugle. Meanwhile, Venom has taken over Peter's role as Spiderman and is framing him for various crimes. He is destroying Spiderman's reputation and Peter is completely unaware because of his seclusion.

At some point, Venom attacks Harry , or perhaps just commits a crime near him. When this happens, Harry realizes that Venom is not Peter and something is going on. He quickly calls MJ, but while he is on the phone with her, Venom captures him.

Denouement

Peter tracks down Venom (how doesn't really matter) and brings Harry's gear with him. He rescues Harry and gets Harry his gear. They have a brief period of forgiveness, and then the two of them fight Venom together (which, let's face it, was the only good part of the actual movie). The fight goes public and people see the red and blue Spiderman fighting the black Spiderman, and begins to cheer for Spiderman again.

Harry eventually does some "death-defying" move to get a sonic bomb close to Venom, allowing Peter to defeat him. In the process, Harry is impaled by his own glider. The two of them talk about their past, and what could have been, and laugh. Harry says that he loves Pete, and then dies.

Peter than returns to MJ. She forgives him, as he cries in her arms. The movie ends with MJ giving the final speach, interpreting the events, who Spiderman is, etc...

Role credits

February 11, 2017

Naming A Few Fallacies

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I've been thinking about the kind of conversion I typically see on-line, and in light of that, I've spotted a couple of fallacies that are commonly made that do not seem to have names. And so, I have named them. I offer them to the internet in the hope that people can recognize these as fallacious and, hopefully but not likely, improve the quality of internet conversation. They are
  1. Same Mind Bias
  2. Opposite Fallacy
  3. Misplaced Proposition Fallacy
  4. Counter-argument Fallacy
  5. Leading Counter-argument Fallacy
  6. Transubstantiation Fallacy
  7. Analogy/Allegory Confusion
Same Mind Bias

This is similar to the bias known as the False-Consensus Effect, where someone believes that more people agree with them than they actually do. However, this isn't connected to knowledge, but to thought process.

The assumption here is that people usually think the same way that you do, and when they come to different conclusions than you, you make assumptions about how they got there. In reality, of course, people have radically different ways of thinking, and even sometimes come to the same conclusion for entirely different reasons. However, this generally doesn't stop people from generally assuming that people think in the same manner.

A couple of examples are in order. First would be the well established Historian's Fallacy, where you judge a decision that someone made in the past based off of modern sensitivities. Another is the tendency for an empathetic person to think that someone doesn't care about others, because that person isn't being as sensitive, when in reality that person may care a lot, but is focusing on helping the person's practical needs. A third example is the expectation that someone would come to believe the same as you do, if they are presented with the same evidence and arguments which convinced you, and then become incredulous when they do not. Often, in the last scenario, one assumes the other person is ignoring you, or is uninterested in truth, but the possibility that the person may simply be ingratiated by a different kind of evidence rarely comes up.

All of this is a lead up to the first fallacy I named here:

The Opposite Fallacy1

This is a fallacy that is based off of the Same Mind Bias and a specific example of an Appeal to Motivation. This is when someone has an opposite opinion of you, so you assume that they have opposite premises or motivations. Therefore, you are assuming that they are thinking the same way that you do, even though their conclusion is different.

My favorite example of this is the abortion debate. Many times, people who are pro-choice assume that those who are pro-life are somehow "against women", which is strikingly odd. Pro-life people are quite open about the fact that we are motivated by belief that fetuses are children, and thus shouldn't be unceremoniously killed. But because pro-choice people are motivated by women's issues, they are assuming that those who disagree with them have opposite motivations. In reality both the pro-life and the pro-choice movements have a greater variety of beliefs thaN either side typically acknowledges.

Definition The Opposite Fallacy: The assumption that if one has an opposite opinion, they also have opposite motivations.

Misplaced Proposition Fallacy

I honestly don't know why this isn't already a named fallacy, and perhaps it is but simply listed in places of which I am unaware. The concept is fairly simple. In the midst of a debate, a person misunderstands a particular claim's role in the other person's argument, or misunderstands the role of their own claim. When an argument is laid out mathematically like this:
  1. p -> q
  2. p
  3. therefore, q
the role of each proposition is quite clear. But in more complex arguments, and especially ones couched in colloquial speech, it is often easy to lose track what exactly an argument is doing. Therefore, it is quite common for people to just simply misunderstand what it is that is going on.

The most famous example of this is the fallacy fallacy. This is the mistake that your counterargument works as an argument against the person's position. I can make a bad argument for something that is actually true. For instance, I could claim that everything that is made of water is blue, the sky is made of water, therefore the sky is blue. Neither of those premises is true, yet the conclusion is. Proving the argument wrong does not mean that the conclusion is wrong. It would simply mean that I will have to justify the conclusion for different reasons. But fundamental to this mistake is a misunderstanding of the role of counter-argumentation. What follows are some other examples of this kind of mistake.

Counterargument Fallacy

This fallacy is actually intimately connected with the Fallacy Fallacy. Indeed, it is essentially its opposite. The counterargument fallacy is when someone discounts a counterargument due to it being insufficient to counter to person's position.

I often hear these kinds of arguments when dealing with the arguments from God's existence. For instance, if an atheist argues that God doesn't exist because of the existence of evil, I could counter with the simple point that God could have justifications for the allowance of evil. It is unfortunately not uncommon for an atheist to then say, "That doesn't mean that God exists!" Well, yes. It doesn't mean that. My point wasn't that therefore God exists, but that your argument is merely insufficient to prove His non-existence.

I actually run into this a lot and, again, I am amazed that no one has named this fallacy already.
Definition The Counterargument Fallacy: The rejection of a counterargument because it is insufficient to defeat the whole position.

Leading Counterargument Fallacy

This basically is an example of the Fallacy Fallacy, but usually when we think of the Fallacy Fallacy, we think of it in terms of the middle of a debate, where someone names a fallacy, and thinks that that is sufficient to win the argument. However, a bit more confusing is when someone starts the conversation with a counterargument.

The most famous example of this is when an atheist argues, "If God created the universe, then who created God." Many use this as a stand alone argument against God's existence, which is simply confusing. The argument, as presented by Dawkins, was a counterargument against the teleological argument. But I could simply reject the teleological argument, or believe in God for other reasons, and the point because irrelevant. Now I don't think that it is a good argument even in that respect, but when an atheist leads with this, it is merely confused.
Definition Leading Counterargument Fallacy: When a person leads a discussion with a counterargument.

Transubstantiation Fallacy

Now the name here is actually a pun, and has nothing to do with the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Rather the Transubstantiation Fallacy is where a person thinks of a substantiating argument as a major argument. So for instance, one could present the Kalaam Cosmological Argument as follows:
  1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
    1. An infinite amount of anything cannot exist in the real world
    2. If the universe were eternal, then it there would have been an infinate amount of seconds
  3. Therefore the universe must have a cause
Now above are basically two arguments. One is the main argument which are propositions 1, 2, 3. But under premise 2 is a separate argument which argues for premise 2. This is a substantiating argument since it is arguing for the soundness of the premise rather than for the final conclusion. Whenever you present an argument, it must be both valid and sound. A valid argument is one where the conclusion logically follows from the premises while a sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are true. The process of showing that the premises are true is called substantiating your premises. Hence the name "substantiating argument".

 OK, so what do I mean by Transubstantiating Fallacy? It is where someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument. So, using the above example, if I were to argue that the universe cannot be infinitely old, because an actual infinite cannot exist, they may reply, "OK, but that doesn't prove anything! That doesn't mean that God created the universe!" Correct. It doesn't prove that. All it proves is that the universe must have begun to exist. That is why there is more to the argument.
Definition The Transubstantiation Fallacy: When someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument.

Analogy/Allegory Confusion 

 I am someone that uses a good deal of analogical thinking as I reason through things. As such, I have found it extremely frustrating when using analogies in debates. This is because people often over-extend the analogy, claiming that it fails because it doesn't do what it isn't designed to do. Part of the problem is that analogies require effort on the opponents part to understand. They are fantastic at explaining concepts, but only if the other person actually wants to understand. If a person is simply trying to defeat you, they can easily pick apart even the best analogies.

 There's an old saying about the Trinity: all analogies fall short. I find this saying to be a tad obtuse though. Of course all analogies fall short of explaining the Trinity. This is because all analogies fall short of explaining anything. After all, if an analogy worked perfectly, it wouldn't be an analogy, but an example. At its core, an analogy is a kind of metaphor, and metaphors work by talking about something different, but has a tiny sliver of overlap, as a way of isolating that sliver. Analogies, by their very nature, are trying to merely explain part of an idea, rather than the whole thing. To say that an analogy doesn't work because it fails to take into account the rest of the discussion is a mistake. The entire point is to isolate the concept away from the rest discussion in the first place.

 Now part of this is because people also have a tendency to use analogies poorly. This is because people often mistake what the role of an analogy in a discussion is. Many think of an analogy as a kind of argument: a way of demonstrating the truth of what it is that you are saying. But by their very nature, an analogy can never be used to show an argument's soundness, only its validity. The purpose of an analogy is to be understood, but being understood is not the same thing as being convincing. Something can make sense and still be false, like fantasy stories.

Part of the root cause of all of this that most people seem to want win a debate as quickly as possible. The dream is to have that one comment that shuts the other person down. However, in real conversation, dialogue takes time. For analogical reasoning this poses a problem, for understanding an analogy requires a sympathetic ear. The listener has to try to make the analogy make sense, for it naturally will not on its own. But if a environment of mutual respect isn't garnered, then such sympathy from an opponent is impossible. Instead they are going to see all of the ways in which the analogy falls short of the discussion.

 But we shouldn't do this, even if our opponent is using the analogy as an argument, for it is still good for us to understand his point. Just because the presenter doesn't understand the purpose of analogies doesn't mean we don't have to either. We can still seek to understand what is being said, and as such we have to avoid the tendency to allegorize. Unlike an analogy, an allegory is a way of re-framing an entire topic using different images, to get us to look at the issue a new way. In an allegory, there does exist perfect correspondence, or at least some facsimile to it. But analogies are not allegories. Allegories get us to emotionally connect. Analogies explain. Allegories paint in broad strokes. Analogies surgically isolate particular components.

And this one is probably the one that I am the most passionate about, because the frequency of this mistake is what I truly lament the most when it comes to most conversations: people are in too much of a hurry. Arguments have pieces to them, and it is usually good to talk about each piece individually and carefully before moving on. If you are constantly trying to talk about the whole issue, it is very unlikely you'll accomplish anything. To convince, you usually need to go deep. And to go deep, you have to tease out the particular assumptions that the two of you have. Often our debates are merely symptoms of much deeper differences.  ______________________________________________________________
1I originally called this the "Same Difference Fallacy", but I didn't really like this name I don't particularly like this name either. Suggestions are welcome.

January 21, 2017

What The Atonement Debate Is Really About

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In the Arminian/Calvinism debate, the most aggravating topic for me has been the Atonement debate. Calvinists will argue that Christ died only for the elect while Arminians argue that Christ died for everyone. Now the reason why I find it aggravating is not because it is difficult for me to defend my view, or that Calvinists are annoying about it. The reason for the aggravation is that the entire debate is kind of a misnomer. The argument has nothing to do with the nature of the atonement.

Now some of you may find that shocking, but I assure you that the nature of the atonement is not what is actually being talked about. Rather the debate is about the intention for the atonement. Now when I first got into this debate, I somewhat laid the issue of the atonement aside, because more so than any other facet of the debate I could tell that we were just talking past each other here. Then I compared what we were arguing in terms of the nature of the atonement and concluded that we were saying the same thing, but simply using different words. This convinced me that the debate was an irrelevance. However, I've come to realize that the debate has to do with an undercurrent issue that we end up ignoring because of the way that we've named the issue.

Now to demonstrate that we aren't really talking about the nature of the atonement, consider the following list:

  1. Both agree that a person is not born justified
  2. Both sides agree that a person becomes justified when they have faith
    • So we agree on the atonement's provisional nature
  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 is infinite in power
    • So no difference in "spilt blood"
  6. Both sides agree that it is particular in application
So this leaves the basic question, what is the debate about?

Some Logic

This issue is based off of a question regarding how God manifests His sovereignty. Consider the following propositions.

A= God desires to save all people
D= Some people are damned
E= God gets everything He desires

Now these three ideas as a group are mutually exclusive. You can accept any set of two of them, but not all three. This is because if God desires to save all people, and some people are damned, then clearly God does not get everything He desires. [(A  and  D)-> ~E] From this one basic premise, we can see what the fundamental logic is for Arminianism and Calvinism:

Arminianism:
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. A1
3. D2
4. Therefore, ~E
Calvinism
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. E3
3. Therefore, ~A  or  ~D4
4. D2
5. Therefore, ~A
So the question before us is how do we settle this while maintaining God's sovereignty and upholding the witness of Scripture?

The Calvinist Solution

For the Calvinist, there is simply no way to logically reconcile their view of God's sovereignty with the notion that God would want something and then not obtain it. Therefore, they conclude that God cannot desire everyone to be saved, or at least He does not desire everyone to be saved as much as He wants to condemn them. This seems to contradict several passages of Scripture1. So how do they avoid this?

There have been a couple of different ways they have attempted to do so. One possibility is accommodation, where God's inscrutable will is simplified in the Bible so that we can understand at least an element of it. Another possible route is to understand these passages as describing all kinds of people rather than every individual person. Yet another method is the two will theory, which I half-halfheartedly expressed above. Here, God is understood to ambivalently want to save and condemn, and for some the desire to save is stronger, and for some the desire to condemn is stronger.

Now I've criticized each of these positions elsewhere, and I won't do so here. For now, it is sufficient to point out that this is what the Calvinist view of the atonement comes down to: not efficacy, but a defense of God obtaining anything which He desires.

The Arminian Solution 

For the Arminian, there is simply no getting around these Biblical texts. From our perspective, we are biblically obligated to accept the assertion that God desires to save everyone, even those that ultimately are not saved. As such, we must answer the theological question, "How is God sovereign if His will can be thwarted?"

The answer is, that it isn't thwarted. There are two important challenges that need to be discussed. First of all, is it true that not obtaining a desire is the same thing as being thwarted? If it is true, then the Calvinist would be correct in affirming E (That God gets everything He desires). The second is how do we understand God desiring to save certain people, yet not obtaining that desire.

The first point seems simple. To be thwarted simply isn't to not obtain something you want, but it is to be defeated or overcome in attempt to obtain it. Thwarting is a response to action, not desire. If I desire my son to go to bed so I can watch a movie, but then say nothing to him, I am not thwarted when he decides to stay up a little later. I did not act on the desire, and so I was not thwarted.

"Hold on", one may say. "The problem isn't that God merely desired salvation and didn't obtain it. Even many compatibilists will say that. The problem is that God actively pursues their salvation, and He does not obtain it. Because God does act with the purpose of obtaining their salvation, and yet does not obtain it, He is therefore thwarted."

Well, no. While action is necessary for thwarting, it is not sufficient. If God acts in such a way as to promote what it is that He desires, and yet intentionally does not act sufficiently to guarantee it, then as long as the actions that He does undertake are not overcome or prevented, then not obtaining His desire would not be the same as being thwarted. That's a bit of a dense sentence, so let's rephrase. It depends on how He acts. If He doesn't try to force His desire, than even acting to bring about His desire would not be sufficient to have been thwarted if denied.  Let's consider again the example of my son. Consider if I turn to him and say, "Hey, would like you to get ready for bed?" Assuming this is a real offer and not a rhetorical question, if my son says no, that would hardly be considered being thwarted. This is especially true since it is in my power to force him to go to bed if I chose to exercise that power. So him staying up, in either scenario, is no challenge to my sovereignty over him. Therefore, the first challenge to the Arminian position is met.

So this leads us to our second challenge. How could God desire the salvation of people who are ultimately damned? While we have shown it is logically possible, that doesn't mean that it makes sense in the case of salvation. After all, if He really wants to save them, then why wouldn't He act in such a way as to guarantee it?

So here I appeal to the concept of a contextualized desire. Some can express a desire to have something when in reality they would only want that thing if obtained in a certain way. For instance, Lebron James may say that he wants to put the basketball through the hoop. However, he won't exercise his full power to do so. He won't push other players out of his way, or hold onto the ball as he gets closer to the hoop, or go and get a ladder or something. This is because, while he may merely say that he is trying to get the ball through the hoop, we understand that he doesn't merely want  to get the ball through the hoop. He only desires to do so within the context of a basketball game.

The classic Arminian analogy for this notion is romance. If you are wooing a woman, you want her to love you in return. If you had access to love potion #9, and used it to make her love you, it would feel hollow. Rather, you want her to love you back. This is rather analogous to the way we view God's desire in the context of salvation. Salvation isn't simply God saving us from Hell, but saving us to an eternal life with God. It makes sense that God would only want those who want to be there.

Now there is significantly more to salvation than just  this, of course. We have to deal with the need of redemption, and sanctification, and justification, and all the rest. The point here is rather an isolated question of why God would only want to save people in a way that they could reject. In answer to this question, the idea that God wants us to want to be with Him makes sense as an explanation for this feature.

Some Objections

Now what might the Calvinist say to all of this? The first response may be to say that this would make salvation meritorious on wanting God. This is a very misguided objection. Again, if we return to the analogy of romance, if a woman does not want to be with you, does that mean that she is less worthy of you? In my wife's case, wanting to be married to me may be her only flaw! Ah, but wanting God is different because God is the greatest good, while I am most certainly not. Even then, it doesn't seem that wanting to be with God has earned you anything, because even if you wanted to be with God, that doesn't take away your sin. Only Christ's atonement actually does that. Thus wanting to be with God simply is not meritorious. Rather it simply represents the reasons for God's sovereign choice. As long as God could have chosen otherwise, we are not dealing with merit.

A second objection may be that this would make the atonement of Christ merely provisional. It is the faith that causes the atonement to work, not the power of the atonement itself! This is a gross error. It is not as if you have faith and the atonement automatically kicks in or something. Rather God applies Christ's atoning work to the faithful. But again, He need not. I can have faith, and God could refrain from applying Christ's atonement, and I would still be dead in my sins. It is God's act that causes the atonement to be active in my life, not my act. Thus the atonement being provisional does not entail that it is merely provisional. It is still the atonement that does the actual justifying. Also, as stated in the introduction, this is just as true on the Calvinist system. Therefore the provisional nature of the atonement in Arminianism, as inconsequential as it is, could not ingratiate us toward Calvinism.

A final objection that we'll consider here is that this leads to the fact that all which distinguishes the reprobate from the elect is faith, and that this makes faith meritorious, regardless of my earlier point. Well, first of all this is a criticism on conditional election, not universal atonement. There are other critiques of conditional election one may import into this conversation as well, but I'll just consider this one as a way of addressing that category. But look else where for answers to those concerns. To the specific objection, this is simply confusing merit with condition. If one starts out with the assumption that conditionality is sufficient to demonstrate merit, then this might go through, but I reject that premise. God having a reason for choosing something in no which way, shape, or form implies that He was obligated to make that choice. I have said significantly more about this else where, but I'll leave the objection here for the purposes of this post.

So in the end, I think the Arminian is quite justified is criticizing the Calvinist for reinterpreting the plain sense of the atonement passages. While the Calvinists' theological concerns are duly noted, they are not enough for us to alter what God's word has revealed to us.


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1 John 1:29, John 3:16-17, John 4:42, John 6:33, 51, John 12:32, 47, I Timothy 4:10, II Peter 3:9, I John 4:14, Revelation 22:17 and others. See here.
2 Matthew 25, Acts 4:12, John 3, and many others. Since this is a point we agree on, I won't belabor it.
3 Based off of their definition of sovereignty.
4 Normally I wouldn't bother showing a rather obvious step like this. However, I want to point out that Calvinists seem to make this step very consciously. This is basically saying that either Calvinism or universalism must be true. This seems to be where they get the idea that Arminianism leads to universalism. But I think this is based off of their inability to recognize that their definition of sovereignty is neither obvious nor necessary. Indeed, I think they believe E to be more obvious than D, and many are simply unwilling to imagine sovereignty without affirming E. Therefore any attempt to object to universal atonement by way of universalism is merely a symptom of not listening.

December 7, 2016

Who Speaks For Arminianism?

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What is Arminianism? This sounds like it should be a simple matter. Simply look it up a dictionary and read what's there. But there is a problem. Different people seem to define Arminianism differently. You will certainly get a different definition at SEA than you will at Monergism.com. Then there is the question of whether Molinists or Open Theists are Arminians. And who gets to determine this?  I'm going to dive into these questions here.

Language, Calvinists, and History

First of all, there is the question of what determines the definition of any word. You can't say the dictionary since A) words existed before there were dictionaries and B) dictionaries are always changing. So what gives a word its definition.

Well, the simple answer is use. A word develops its meaning over time through how it is used by others. Dictionaries are simply places for us to look up how a word is being used. This isn't to say though that language is simply a subjective matter. A meaning of a term is agreed upon by us for the purposes of communication. I can't simply use a word any way I want and say, "well that's what it means because that's how I use it." Rather it means what it means because that is how we, as a people, use the word in general conversation. The goal is communication, not merely self-expression.

But this is a bit different when we are talking about the labels of ideas. Labels that we use for ideas, like any label/word, is simply a shorthand that we use to talk about something complex. It is easier for me to say, "capitalism" then for me to say "the belief that markets by nature are influenced by the routine decisions of people driven by their own self-interest". Imagine using that long definition every time you wanted to refer to the concept! So instead, we assign the idea a label. This can make the idea more ambiguous if people misunderstand what the concept is (indeed, it is difficult to detach misconceptions from labels often due to emotional attachment to the label), but it is also necessary or else conversation would be way to cumbersome.

But unlike words such as 'phone' or 'car' or 'fridge', ideas are usually named very intentionally. And because they are controversial, they are constantly being managed by both those that ascribe to those ideas, and to the opponents of those ideas. Nobody generally gets into a fight about what the word 'car' means. Therefore, unlike 'car', names for ideas need to have some kind of objective referent to protect it from the white-washing of its allies and the mud-slinging of its opponents. This is why founders are so important to these conversations, and why so many beliefs are named after particular people. Calvinism isn't defined by what John Piper said or what John Wesley said, but by what John Calvin said. Likewise, Armininism is defined by James Arminius.

Indeed, the biggest problem that Arminianism has is that for the past 100 years or so, the terms have been primarily maintained by Calvinists, and they've done a lousy job. If you go to the average Calvinist website which defines the word 'Arminianism', you would be hard-pressed to find a self-ascribed Arminian who actually agrees with what they describe. Indeed, the small handful of times I've met such people, its often taken about a 15 minute conversation to get them to either change their beliefs to match Arminius, or for them to stop calling themselves Arminian.1 This is because, in general, Arminians care more about the work of the church then they do about theological dispute than Calvinists typically do.

This is why I always go back to the Articles of Remonstrance. I am aware that Arminianism has had a history beyond simply the Remonstrance. But the Articles are where I start because ideas need an objective standard that defines it, or else the terms becomes useless.

Borders, Centers, Open Theism and Molinism

Now this leads to a second question. If we should define Arminianism off of Arminius and his comrades, does that mean any deviation from their precise beliefs fall out of bounds. Well here the answer seems to be no. It would seem ridiculous to suggest, for instance, that John Wesley was not an Arminian, though he disagreed with Arminius on quite a bit. So, I think the first clarification here is that we should focus in on how they summarized their position, rather than looking at Arminius as a whole. Again this brings us back again to the Articles, rather than all of Arminius's works.2

Second though, I  don't think we should restrict ourselves to the letter of the articles, but to the heart of the articles. Roger Olson makes an interesting point in terms of naming things. We can think of two different kinds of sets: bordered sets and centered sets.

A bordered set is one where the set is defined by what falls into a particular number of boundaries. If we think about this in terms of sheep, it would be if one defined the flock by a fence. Those sheep in the fence are part of the flock, those outside the fence are not. This is the way that Statements of Faith work. If you affirm the precise wording of the Statement of faith, then you are within the boundries, and are therefore part of the group. Bordered sets work pretty well for organizations.

A centered set is defined by a particular reference point. And the idea here is whether or not you feel as if you are in agreement with that reference point. If we think about this in terms of sheep, it would be defined by the shepherd. Those sheep that follow a particular shepherd are part of that flock. Those that do not know that shepherd are not. This is the way most movements actually work. There is usually some kind of person or event which defines a movement, and someone uses a label if they support that person or event. For instance, Pentecostalism is defined by the Azuza Street Revival. There is a lot of variety in terms of exactly what Pentecostals believe, but all of them look to that event as inspiration.

Now the argument here is that Arminianism should be treated as a centered set, one where the Articles are used as a rallying point. It isn't as if you have to agree with the Articles perfectly to be an Arminian, but the closer you are to the Articles the "stronger" your Arminianism is.

So with this in mind, let's consider two cases that people often ask if they are Arminian, and I'll give you my thoughts. It is worth pointing out that what follows is simply my opinion on the matter, since neither of these two position represent Arminius or the Articles. Rather, people have noted that there are some similarities there, and the question is, are they close enough to the Articles to be a kind of Arminianism?

Open Theism

Open Theism is the belief that the future doesn't exist. Therefore any statement about the future has no truth content. So if someone says, "I will go to the store tomorrow", that statement is neither true or false. It is undetermined, like Schrodinger's cat. So if God is omniscient, that means He holds no false beliefs. So if God thinks that "I will not go to the store tomorrow", He would be wrong, even if I don't go to the store, He would still be wrong if He believed it today, but today the statement isn't true, but undetermined. He would know what will probably happen, and much more accurately than we would, but we couldn't actually know, because that would be Him knowing something false.

Now if you find this hard to swallow, don't worry, you are not alone. I'm not an Open Theist either. In fact my biggest issue with it is that it rejects foreknowledge, while the Bible teaches foreknowledge. However, the question here is whether or not it's true. Rather, we are considering that there are many who argue that Open Theism is a kind of Arminianism (such as Roger Olson, who I mentioned earlier, though he isn't an Open Theist either). So is it?

Well, the first  thing we should notice is that there is something wrong with the question. Open Theism is not a soteriological position, but a theory of omniscience. So the question isn't whether or not Open Theism is a kind of Arminianism, but if Open Theism is compatible with Arminianism.

The compatibility question has to do with the strong implications both beliefs have on providence, and also the doctrine of election. In terms of providence, both beliefs strongly hold to libertarian free will. In classic Arminianism though, God knows what our free will decisions are going to be, even though He doesn't cause them. While that is a difference, it doesn't seem to be a sufficient difference since free will itself is intact (though perhaps understood differently).

However, when we come to the doctrine of election, there comes a bigger problem. Classically, we understand certain passages referring to God elect people has Him knowing who they are. Where there is a difference between individual election Arminians and corporate election Arminians, we both agree that God does know who the elect are going to be. There are numerous Biblical verses that describe God relationship with the elect that seem to make little sense if He doesn't know who they are. In my opinion, that creates a fundamental difference of what it means to be part of the people of God, and therefore an Open Theist is too far away from Arminius to really be thought of as an Arminian.

Molinism

Molinism is the belief that there is a kind of truth statement called a counter-factual, which is a statement of what would have happened if things were different. For instance, "If I went to the store, I would have bought milk." What the Molinist claims is that such statements have truth values, and therefore God knows what theses truth values are. This would include the decisions made by libertarian free will creatures. Therefore when God created the world, He would therefore use this knowledge create the world in such a way to get precisely what He wanted out of it.

Now again, this is not a soteriological doctrine, but rather a doctrine of omniscience, but also of providence. So again, the question isn't really whether or not it is a form of Arminianism, but whether or not it is compatible with it. Here, I see absolutely nothing in terms of the question of the process of salvation. The only real question is if it is compatible with libertarian free will.

Now his depends a little bit on your definition of LFW. I use two different definitions for it, yet one makes Molinism seem inconsistent while the other one makes it seem consistent. Yet in my mind there isn't really a difference between the two definitions. If you are confused, that's OK, it'll make sense as we go on.

The first definition of LFW I use is the standard one: it is possible that one could have done other than what one actually does. Here there does seem to be a discrepancy. After all, one could say that I do what I do because of the way that God created the world. He predicted how I would act, and created the world where i would be guaranteed to do what I do.

However, things change when you consider my second definition: that (certain) events and ends are contingent on human decisions. So for instance, whether or not I end up going to the store is determined by whether or not I choose to go. And this understanding seems perfectly compatibile with Molinism. This is because on Molinism certain worlds are not feasible for creation because there doesn't exist a scenario where someone will make a certain choice, even though they are logically possible. So for instance, there is no world in which I would go to the store and buy hummus. It ain't happening. So if God wanted to create the world so that I would purchase hummus He wouldn't be able to do so while leaving it contingent on my will. Therefore it seems that LFW is intact.

Now I personally take the first definition to be the subjective description of the objective second definition, so for me Molinism is compatible with Arminianism. However, not everyone sees it that way. However whether you agree with me that Molinism is a form of Arminianism or not, it is still relatively clear that it is both similar but not the standard model. (For the record, I am not a Molinist)

Conclusion

So who speaks for Arminianism? Well, no one really. Human life is messy, and we need to deal with that. However, there is a standard for Arminianism to which any contenders should be judged, and that is the Articles of Remonstrance. To say that something is Arminianism, it must be at least similar to what is taught in that document and the beliefs of its authors (and Arminius). Likewise, any definition of Arminianism which would exclude them is clearly defunct. So even though it isn't clear where the line is, it is clear what the center is.


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1 And every single one of them got their definition from being a former Calvinist.
2 Though his works are well worth a read. He was a brilliant theologian, and more importantly an ardent believer in Christ.

November 22, 2016

Richard Bushey's "A Few Of The Worst Arminian Arguments"

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Richard Bushey has produced another article about Arminianism, and I felt that as a friend I should give it a pass over to give him some feedback. Here he has gone over five of he sees as the worst Arminian arguments, so let's see whether they are as bad as he thinks.

Now, before we get into the details, it is worth reviewing a principle when responding to "bad arguments" posts. Let's call this the JSP, Joe Schmuck Principle. Now when I read these critiques, and I'm sorry to cut the suspense here but I think the point is important, my typical reaction is, "these are all straw men". I've heard many Arminians make arguments which fit the form of the subtitles, but they aren't really making the points that Richard then goes on to criticize. So, its simple: these are strawmen, and that's why they seem so bad.

Ah, but this is where JSP comes in. You see, for every good argument, there is going to be some Joe Schmuck, especially out there on the internet, who attempts to use that argument and then does it in a terrible way. Joe was convinced by the argument, but didn't fully understand it, and then uses it with only partial understanding. Richard after all isn't saying that these are some of the worst arguments I've made or that someone I know has made. These are arguments that Arminians in general have made. The problem is that even if these do not represent the way  I would make these arguments, that doesn't mean that Richard isn't correctly describing the arguments of Joe Schmuck.

Therefore, rather than saying that these arguments are strawmen, I'll assume that they are accurate representations of arguments made by Joe Schmuck. So first I'll correct Joe's argument and then see how the proper argument holds up to Richard's point.

Also, before I move on to the actual arguments, Richard does produce an analogy to describe Arminianism and Calvinism. I'm not impressed with this analogy, and I have told Richard why elsewhere, but I don't want to get sidetracked so I won't get into it here.
God Is Forcing People To Sin
Apart from God himself, anthropology is the centerpiece of Reformed Theology. We believe, like our Arminian brethren, that man is dead in his sin. Sin is so reprehensible to God that he cannot have it in his presence. God is a righteous judge, and he must condemn the wicked. The one who justifies wicked men is an abomination (Proverbs 17:15). This is where the Arminian will mount their attack. For if God is condemning the wicked, the wicked need to truly be morally responsible. If God determines who will go to Hell, then he is forcing people to sin and then condemning them for the sin that he forced them to do. At face value, this may seem like a compelling argument. But that is only when you load Arminian presuppositions into Calvinist theology. 
The Arminian is assuming that man has libertarian free will (the freedom to choose something other than what God has ordained). If man has libertarian free will, then God’s election would be a forced election, and sin would be forced, against the will of the transgressor. It is almost as though the wicked desperately want to do what is right, but they are struggling against the will of God who is forcing them into sin. That is not Reformed Theology. On Reformed Theology, man only wants sin. He hates righteousness. To say that God is forcing man to do something implies that man is being carried along against his will.
Well, the problem here is that Joe's argument isn't really fully formed. He says,
1. If God determines who goes to Hell (H) then He is forcing people to sin (F) and then condemning them for what He did.(I for 'injustice') H -> (F ^ I)

This clearly makes no sense. There is no connection between God choosing to condemn people and Him forcing them to sin. That is just nonsense. What Joe should say is that combatibilist free will amounts to God causing people to sin (F), and if God causes someone to do something and then condemns that person for what what He caused them to do, then that would be perversion of how the Bible describes justice. (H ^ F) -> I.

[H -> (F ^ I)] is a very different claim than [(F ^ H) -> I], and far more coherent. And note how this argument wouldn't be assuming libertarian free will. It is, in essence, a critique of combatilist free will. Therefore Richard's first objection to Joe's argument would be circular if applied to the proper argument.

Also note that I prefer the word 'cause'. 'Force' is more emotionally evocative, but also less accurate. This is because 'force' often implies that it is done against a person's will. This is precisely why Richard notices Joe's circular reasoning. 'Cause' on the other hand simply notes that God brought it about, which should be uncontroversial to the Calvinist, yet leaves the point of the good Arminian argument fully intact.
The second point worth noting is that this is a moral objection to a "biblical" account of God. It presumes to say that God owes some debt to man, and he is not fulfilling that debt. God could only create a world in which everyone had a fair chance. There is no way around denying that this objection assumes that at the very least, God owes a fair chance to everyone. The landlord owes all of the tenants a free choice, that he will pay their debt on their behalf. Think of how much more significant the sacrifice of Christ is than the sacrifice of the landlord. The Son of God was slaughtered. If God owes everyone a fair chance, if he owes us an indeterministic universe, then it would follow that the cross was something owed to us. The Son of God was paying a debt not for mankind, but to mankind. So even if we concede the point (on the basis of my first objection, we ought not), this is still among a few of the worst arguments in Arminian theology.
-Quotation marks added by me
Certainly Joe Schmuck does think that man deserves a fair chance, but the average Arminian doesn't. Rather, the problem isn't that God would be immoral, but that God would be unloving. Now one could say that love is a moral principle, and that is hard to disagree with given that Jesus says as much, but it has nothing to do with what people deserve. Joe, surely influenced by American values, has misread the basis of biblical ethics. However, when you do have an understanding of biblical ethics, there is still something very fishy with abandoning your children, while saying you love them.

SEA recently put up a video by Jerry Walls that makes this exact point. You can watch it here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/jerry-walls-calvinism-the-god-of-love/

There is another question embedded here. Do moral arguments have a place in theology? Well, yes! We believe that God is good. That is one of His defining attributes, He is omnibenevolent. Now people can take that too far and impose on God their own morals, and we should avoid that. However, the Bible has quite a lot to say about what is right and what is wrong. And if a theological position posits that God does something which is in contradiction to how the Bible defines ethics, it is worth pointing out that logical contradiction.

Whatever It Means, It Cannot Mean That
I do not know how many times that this has happened in church history. An Arminian mounts the moral attack against God in the last section and a Calvinist responds by directing the Arminian to Scripture. They read through some of the seminal texts of the Protestant Reformation, such as John 6, Romans 9, or Ephesians 1, and the Arminian waves dismissively. He redirects you to his moral objection, and around and around you go. He might tell you the old Wesleyan slogan, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” That entails that a passage like Romans 9 absolutely cannot mean that the landlord is choosing to pay the debt of only some tenants because of the moral objection to that premise. The only solution is to reinterpret the text until you come across a viable, Arminian alternative.
OK, note John Wesley is not Joe Schmuck. Joe might misquote Wesley, but we can go back to Wesley and see what he actually meant.
This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture that God is worse than the devil I cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never an prove this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.
-John Wesley, Sermon 128, paragraph 26
Note how Wesley isn't actually dealing with a specific Bible passage. This isn't his answer to Romans 9 or Ephesians 1. To that he gives actual exegetical analysis elsewhere. Rather he specifically says that the Bible cannot mean that "God is worse than the devil". Most Calvinists would agree with that basic statement: the Bible cannot mean that God is worse than the devil. Now, they would disagree that their theology implies that God is worse than the devil, granted. And certainly Wesley's language is quite strong here. But Calvinists insist that God is good and therefore they agree with Wesley's basic point. Any theology that teaches that the Bible teaches that God is evil must be misinterpreting it.

And we can sum up Wesley's point as a hermeneutical principle thusly: biblical consistency. We hold that all of the Bible agrees with itself, and if a difficult passage seems to contradict the meaning of clearer passages we check our assumptions and reassess. Indeed, just three paragraphs earlier, Wesley lays this principle out plainly: "Thus manifestly does this doctrine tend to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation, by making it contradict itself; by giving such an interpretation of some texts, as flatly contradicts all the other texts, and indeed the whole scope and tenor of Scripture;". In addition to this comment, the vast majority of the text just before this is laden with Scriptural quotation grounding his theology in the Bible. Therefore, Wesley here is not responding to a particular Calvinist quoting a particular text, but is describing the principle of biblical consistency. I know no Calvinist who rejects this principle.

Indeed, Richard himself says something similar in his article "5 Commonly Misused Bible Verses": "As we interact with our brothers in Christ, we may hear them reciting verses from the Bible, and we begin to think that what they are saying does not really sound right... But when we look more closely, it is revealed that the Bible is not saying what they want it to say at all." I've heard many Calvinists say similar things. And I don't point this out to say, "you are just as guilty." Rather I'm pointing out that what Wesley said is perfectly fine, and you are simply misunderstanding him.

Now yes, Joe Schmuck often misuses this passage to dismiss Calvinist interpretations instead of dealing with them directly. This is because he's a Schmuck. It's a family trait. But if one means what Wesley means by it, there isn't a problem.

The problem with this approach is that it is not honest exegesis. The reader is not asking what the author is saying. He has determined what the author is saying before going to the text. He is like the scientist who assumes scientific conclusions before going to the data. That scientist would not be conducting true science. Similarly, the theologian who starts with the assumption that the Bible can never teach Calvinism is not conducting true exegesis. But isn’t the task of biblical theology to understand what the Bible is actually saying? Isn’t the task of the apologist to understand the Christian faith so that he can relay an accurate presentation to others? 
Suppose for a moment that while reading through the Bible, a theologian named Johnson came across challenging texts about God taking the lives of human beings. But Johnson was in denial. He said, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” When Johnson is confronted with an atheist, he recites his favorite slogan and the atheist prevails in the argument. If Johnson were honest in his exegesis, he would have allowed the text to speak for itself and developed a more robust understanding of theodicy. The Arminian who recites this slogan is making precisely the same mistake. If he were honest in his exegesis, he would allow the text to speak for itself. When Calvinism is established, then you develop an understanding of theodicy. This Wesleyan slogan makes my list precisely because it disallows honest exegesis and takes an atheistic methodology to the text of Scripture.
Exactly right. Shame on Joe. Exegesis is more than just simply reciting slogans. You need to actually do the work of examining the text. However, if one quotes a slogan in the midst of a robust exegetical analysis, and uses it to merely point out the intuitive backing of the point that one is demonstrating through one's analysis, I see nothing wrong with that. Quote responsibly.

Calvinism Is A Prideful Theology
Ah, so you are the special one. You are your parent’s favorites. The rest of us are on the outside, looking in, unable to come to God, unable to elevate ourselves to the upper echelons of spirituality. God has chosen his favorites and they may lift their heads in pride. That is essentially what Arminians will lodge against Calvinists. It is a prideful theology for people who need to feel like they are better than someone else in the world. Their ego is manifesting itself. While some may use Calvinism as an outlet for their ego, this would be an abuse of the theology. It would be a malfunction, not a function, of proper Reformed Theology.
Now I found this section to be rather interesting since Richard didn't point out the obvious problem with the argument, namely that Joe sometimes uses it as an ad hominem. However, Richard really does present the argument fairly here. This wouldn't show that Calvinism is false, but it does show a danger in Calvinism in that it can lead to pride. I appreciate that Calvinist's resist this tendency by Holy Scripture, but I would argue that this is in spite of the theology not because of it.

However, I would point out that in my experience, the main reason for Arminians pointing this out is because of either the experience that Arminians have had with Calvinist apologists or because of the Calvinist claim that Arminianism leads to pride. This point becomes ironic as we proceed. But I would agree on the merits of the argument, that TULIP, not sufficiently balanced with other points of Reformed Theology, can lead someone to pride and I would insist that it most certainly does not protect against pride. I will concede though that this is merely an analysis of TULIP, and not an analysis of the full Reformed Tradition.
In fact, Reformed Theology leaves no solace for the man of pride. In addition to outrightly condemning the prideful heart, Reformed Theology teaches that there is nothing in yourself that caused God to move on you. There is no worth, esteem, or merit that beckoned God to you. God did not recognize that you were better than everyone else and therefore elected you. He did not recognize your intellect or performance or zeal and elect you. He only saw a pitiful, worthless, wretched creature whose days are marked by a sinful heart pursuing the lusts of the world. You are saved only by the regenerating grace of God. That is a proper way to view Reformed Theology. It is only in Arminian circles that one will hear Reformed Theology characterized as a manifestation of pride.
Now here, we get to why I made a distinction between TULIP and the Reformed Tradition. The question of whether or not this is argued within Reformed circles is irrelevant to the question, because no theology lives in a vacuum. Hallelujah that the Reformed Tradition has historically avoided this problem. But I would argue that the shield for this is Sola Scriptura, not what Richard points out.

This is because Richard is making a very simple mistake: accomplishment is not the only possible source of pride. Certainly, a Reformed person would not think that they earned salvation, but people feel pride from any source of superiority, not just accomplishment. Therefore, his counterargument is quite besides the point. You can see this in the way in which he makes our argument in the first paragraph. None of the premises that he presents there are countered here. He only counters the conclusion, not the premises. Overall, I think that Richard's reasoning is guilty of what is called, in logic, denying the antecedent, and it is a formal fallacy. Let me demonstrate:
  1. If a person accomplishes something, they'll be prideful about it [A -> P]
  2. A person can't accomplish election [~(A|E)]
  3. Therefore a person cannot feel pride about election [~(P|E)]
This is blatantly invalid. The question that arises is, is it possible for someone to feel pride in something else? The answer to this question is yes. People can feel pride based on status. An excellent example of a person who is given a high status without accomplishment is a prince. Nobility is not granted to a prince for what they have accomplished, but for what their parents accomplished. And despite the fact that princes are given their status unconditionally, they are hardly the paragons of humility.

So here's the question in regards to Calvinism (i.e. TULIP): do the elect have a superior status to the reprobate? I think the clear answer to that question is yes. Therefore TULIP is no shield to pride.

Note to Joe: None of this PROVES that Calvinism inevitably leads to pride. I've pointed out to Richard before that I don't like bet-hedging or slipperly slope arguments since they are rarely sound. All this shows is that Calvinism is not a shield to pride, and other doctrines (perhaps even the false belief that pride only comes from accomplishment) are necessary to maintain humility. If a Calvinist is honest about that, and does seek humility for those other reasons, there is no reason they can't be a humble Calvinist. However, I do think that if a Calvinist is not encouraged to pursue humility, and is merely left with TULIP, pride will most likely follow.
In fact, ironically, one could see how Arminian theology could also manifest as a source of pride. If you are going to point out how Reformed Theology is vulnerable to abuse, it is probably appropriate to point out how Arminian theology is vulnerable to abuse. If the landlord offered to pay the debt of all of the tenants and some refused out of pride, but you accepted the gift, that will make a significant statement about you. It will say that you were wise enough to see that accepting the gift was in your best interest. If you are drowning and somebody throws you a rope, to those who refuse to grab the rope, you may say, “What is wrong with those people?” Accepting the free gift of God can be a source of pride if you were wise enough to accept it. If you are going to point out the way that Reformed Theology can be abused and count it as a demerit, then it seems equally valid to point out the way Arminian theology has been abused and count it as a demerit.
*cough* tu quoque *cough*

But in all seriousness, let's take Richard's point here at its best and assume he's making the same point here as I did above; namely that Arminianism is not a shield to pride. Well....

Certainly conditional election is not. One can claim that any condition is a kind of accomplishment (though not necessarily meritorious. We can discuss that distinction another day). I would also concede his point that an accomplishment can give someone a sense of pride. Now I can counter this with the point that some instances of that pride would be ridiculous, like thinking that you somehow saved yourself when grabbing onto a rope... However, unless they are Joe Schmuck, an Arminian wouldn't ground our rejection of pride in the nature of election. We ground it in the nature of faith (as does Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9).

Faith is not simply intellectual assent. It is a trusting disposition towards another. When I say I have faith in my wife, I do not mean that I believe she exists, or that I believe that she is my wife. It means I trust her. And not simply in a specific matter. It means I trust her in our relationship to be committed to our covenant. Faith in Christ is trusting in Christ to save you and command your life. Because of this, faith is an inherently humble disposition towards Christ. You cannot brag about faith for the same reason you cannot brag about humility: if you brag about it, you don't have it. Even if I were to simply brag in me trusting Christ as opposed to those silly heathens, that still would be ingratitude of Christ's act within me and a sign that I have faith in myself rather than in Christ. Thus, I wouldn't have faith.

You’re Not A Robot, Are You?
Since the free will theodicy has been popularized, many people will use it as sort of a reflex against Calvinist theology. God does not want robots, so he created a world in which there was free choice. When people hear about Calvinism, they will think that it does not contain a model of free will. So, they will suggest that if Calvinism were true, then God must have created a world of robots. In a world of robots, there is no love, moral responsibility, meaning, and the cross would have ultimately been for nothing because everybody just does as they are programmed. Is that the case? 
Unfortunately, many Calvinists do not have a thorough understanding of their own theology. They presented an anthropology that only discusses the doctrine of total depravity, wherein we do what is in accord with our greatest desire. While that is certainly the case, it is not broad enough to encompass the entire doctrine of compatibilism. Compatibilism is the doctrine that determinism and free will are compatible with one another. This is the majority view among Reformed thinkers and the prevailing view among the Reformed Confessions of Faith. So, Calvinists do believe in freedom of the will. But we also believe in determinism. We believe that these two concepts can be maintained fully and consistently. So, when an Arminian says that Calvinists believe in a world of robots, they are essentially misunderstanding Reformed theology. They have not apprehended that we do have a doctrine of free will.
Richard is basically correct. When Joe argues that Calvinists believe that we are robots, he is misrepresenting them. That said, I would argue that compatiblism doesn't actually work, which would imply that we would be robots if Calvinism were true, but it would be an error to say that Calvinists agree with that analysis.
Now, before you suggest that there is some problem with the doctrine of compatibilism, I must point out that this is irrelevant to the discussion. The objection that Calvinism creates a world of robots is an objection to what Calvinists believe. It is based on poorly expressed and bastardized versions of compatibilism. But if you assess what Calvinists believe, you cannot say that it entails that we live in a world of robots. You might be able to raise logical problems with the doctrine of compatibilism, but these logical problems would not salvage the robot objection.
Well, I agree with most of this paragraph with the exception of one sentence: "But if you assess what Calvinists believe, you cannot say that it entails that we live in a world of robots." Yes, actually, we can say this. We can say that your beliefs are logically incoherent, and that this is the logical implications of your beliefs. But I do agree with your basic point that we need to actually make that argument, and not simply claim it, or tell others that you believe in something you don't just because we think you should. So, I agree with Richard here about 90%, and that 10% might simply be me misunderstanding him.

God Is Still Sovereign
If you are a Calvinist visiting a strange town and you want to find a suitable church, you could probably find a Reformed church by conducting a Google search for the words “Sovereign church near me.” Calvinist churches often emphasize the concept of sovereignty. That is because sovereignty very much centralizes Calvinism. It emerges in our discussion, piety, and study of the Bible. God is sovereign over all things, from the movement of a quantum particle, to the falling of a leaf from a tree, to the wicked decisions of men, to the salvation of men. One of our major objections to Arminian theology is that it seems to compromise the sovereignty of God. He is not in control of all things. He allows the free will of mankind to even contradict his will and his decree. But, still, Arminians will still say that God is sovereign. This is among the worst arguments that Arminians will apply.
Hold on. This isn't an Arminian argument. It's a Calvinist argument, and we are simply defending ourselves. What is this even doing here?
If we were to discuss a text like Genesis 50:20 with Arminians, they will likely propose an alternative view of sovereignty. While the text says, “What man intended for evil, God intended for good,” Arminians will suggest that what man intended for evil, God merely used for his good purposes. He is being reactive rather than active. But to say that this is an act of sovereignty would seem to raise serious questions about what sovereignty is. Arminian theology often focuses on God’s foreknowledge. God knows what men are going to do and he reacts to that, planning to use it for his purposes. But in this case, God would not be sovereign as much as he would be a fortune teller. Just consider the question: is God sovereign over man’s wicked heart? Is he sovereign over sin? If the answer is no, then one must say that God is not sovereign over all things. Therefore, God is not sovereign. 
If the answer is yes, then the Arminian probably means to communicate that God knows how to use what man did for his own purposes. With that being the case, then God is not truly sovereign over what man did. It is an old cliche that disaster will serve as an opportunity for growth. If a governmental force exploits that opportunity, generating good out of some evil that occurred, you would not say that they were sovereign over the evil that occurred. You would say that they were shrewd opportunists. To say that God is simply taking advantage of what is happening is to either deny his sovereignty or to redefine it as something that is not even recognizable. To the Arminians reading: keep your theology, but please, do not say that God is sovereign on your theology. Own your theology.
Considering the previous section, I find this whole section to be extremely hypocritical. Yes, we have a different vision of what sovereignty means (which he doesn't come anywhere close to articulating here), just like Calvinists have a different vision of what free will means. Therefore, we need to ask what do we actually mean by the term, and then assess to see whether or not that vision is tenable, rather than simply pointing out the very obvious observation that Arminians are saying something different.

So what does sovereignty mean? I mean in general, not in theology. Dictionary.com gives us these definitions:
  1. the quality or state of being sovereign, or of having supreme power or authority.
  2. the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign;royal rank or position; royalty.
  3. supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.
  4. rightful status, independence, or prerogative.
  5. a sovereign or independent state, community, or political unit.
Note how none of these definitions say that a sovereign gets everything he wants. Now it may be possible to argue that, for God, He must get everything He wants to be truly sovereign, but again you would need to make that argument, not simply say it. Sovereignty is, basically, the right and power to act. But that also implies that a sovereign is not obligated to act.

No Arminian that I've ever met actually says that a person can go against what God directly decrees to happen. That's an impossibility. But we can go against His will because God does not decree everything He wants. Let's say that I want my son to go to bed, because I want to watch a show. However, because I don't actually command him to, he decides to stay up. Therefore, he has gone against my will: something other than what I wanted has occurred, and I had the power and right to have gotten what I wanted. However, this does absolutely nothing to undermine my sovereignty over my son because I choose not to enforce my will. We do not differ in terms of God sovereignty, but we differ in terms of God's choices.

But this is all besides the point, because at the end of the day, he is simply treating us the way he demands we not treat him in the previous section. If he wants to say that our vision is incoherent, then he has to actually interact with our vision of sovereignty instead of assuming his own. But of course we are going to say that God is sovereign because the Bible says that God is sovereign. If he actually convinced me that my understanding of sovereignty was incoherent, then I wouldn't simply own it. I would leave Arminianism. However, he fails to do that if he doesn't even properly describe what our vision of sovereignty is.

Conclusion

I think that we can see that Joe Schmuck has a tendency to really make a mess of things. It can be really difficult to separate out the chaff from the wheat in terms of the quality of our debate partners. I am certainly glad that Richard has given me this chance to clear up some of the mistakes that Joe has made, and I hope that Arminians and Calvinists can come together, and worship the Lord Jesus as the people of God.


November 15, 2016

Why I Dislike The Term Biblicist

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This will be a fairly quick post, but I hope that it is helpful in thinking through what words are for. There are many people who like to refer to themselves as "biblicists". Personally, I never do. I do refer to myself as an infallibilist, because that is articulating a view of biblical authority that I affirm. But what does 'biblicist' actually mean?

Well, very little. I guess it could mean that someone accepts the Bible as an authority. However, most Christians do. You could use this to distinguish yourself from liberalism, but there are lots of other ways of doing this. Additionally, the term is rarely used that way. Usually it is used to distance oneself from official theological labels. Now I have discussed such labels here before, and I think that labels are important and valuable. I also think that someone should insist on being allowed to label oneself.

However, labels have to actually be meaningful. If we are discussing Arminianism for instance, and you say that you are not an Arminian but a biblicist, how have you differentiated your view from Arminianism? Arminianism is a stance on soteriology, and it compatible with most views of Scriptural authority. What's more it views itself to be a description of what the Bible teaches. So how are you clarifying your position?

In reality you're not. You are distancing yourself from the conversation. Now, that is fine, but if you are going to do that, you need to do it honestly.

One of the things I have noticed about our culture is that we feel like we have to justify why we don't want to talk about something. Often this justification is there to make us feel like we are better people than those who do discuss it. But this is dishonest, and insulting for those of us that do care. If you don't want to get involved, simply say that you don't want to be involved. I often step out of political conversations this way, and no one looks down on me for saying so. And, ironically, if I did dismiss such conversations, that's when they would actually look down on me.

In short, calling yourself a "Biblicist" doesn't mean that you are biblical. It simply means you are ignorant or disinterested in theology. In my opinion you would do better to simply say so.