March 24, 2014

May I Have A Cookie?

A question that we often hear from Calvinists is, "What is the difference between those that come to faith, and those that don't?" The context is the question of merit. Is faith meritorious? The question is intended to serve as a test for this, and if the answer is faith, than faith is meritorious. However, I think this is the wrong question. This question merely tests to see if faith is a condition, which is something that all Arminians admit. The real question is, are all conditions meritorious?


What does it mean for something to be meritorious anyway? This is really where we should start. Let us consider something which is obviously meritorious. When I work certain hours of my job, I earn of paycheck. Thus this work is meritorious for me. Because I have earned this paycheck, my boss is obligated to give the paycheck to me. I would consider this to be a good definition of something meritorious then: something which obligates the giver to give me something (such as honor, praise, or reward). If I merited it, then I deserve it, and if I deserve it, then something wrong has happened if I am not given it.

Let us compare this to the idea of condition. A condition is something necessary requirement for some action. Again, we can look at a paycheck. If I want to have the paycheck, then I need to do the work. Therefore, the work is a condition for the paycheck.

We can think of it this way: a merit places a requirement upon the giver, while a condition is a requirement for the receiver. In business relationships, it is normal for things to be defined by obligation. Very rarely does anyone enter into a business relationships without wanting to get something while giving up as little as possible. Therefore, business contracts often define the obligations of both parties. Therefore, they discuss both what is meritorious and what is conditioned. But are all relationships that way? For this question, we need to go outside the arena of business and into a family home.

Getting A Cookie

Let's say two boys walk up to you and ask you for a cookie. Boy A says, "May I please have a cookie?" while Boy B says, "I want a cookie!" Afterwards, you give a cookie to Boy A. Why? This would be to answer the Calvinist question, "Why did Boy A receive the cookie, but Boy B did not?" The simple answer is that Boy A was polite. This demonstrates that politeness was a condition that the boys had to meet in order for them to convince you to give them a cookie.

Now, did Boy A earn the cookie? No, and I think this is obvious. After all, you have not done anything wrong if he didn't give a cookie to either boy. There is nothing about saying "please" which obligates you to give the cookie to Boy A. Now, it is certainly true that many children, while they are learning politeness, have trouble with this distinction. They know that saying please is necessary for them to get a cookie. But they often think that it merits them the cookie as well, which it doesn't. As a parent, I feel no requirement to give my son everything he asks for merely because he is polite. In fact, it would be irresponsible for me to do so.

So from this example, we can ask two questions. Question 1: "Why did Boy A receive a cookie and Boy B did not?" The answer to this question deals with conditionality. What was the condition that Boy A met that Boy B did not. Question 2: "Did you have to give Boy A a cookie?" The answer to this question deals with merit. If the answer is yes, then Boy A earned the cookie. If the answer is no, then Boy A did not.

Answering The Real Question

So let us ask these same two questions of salvation. "Why are the elect saved, and the reprobate damned? Why the difference?" Answer: the elect had faith. This demonstrates that faith is a condition of election/salvation. However, "Because I have faith, does God have to save me?" No. I could have all of the faith in the world and if God does not apply Christ's atonement to me, I would be condemned, and I would still deserve it. My faith does not obligate God.

This also means that my faith does not guarantee my salvation either. Then why am I confident that I am saved? Because God promised. It is grounded in His character, not my actions or condition. He promised to save the faithful. He did not have to though, and that is the point.

March 3, 2014

Playing With Action Figures

Probably one of the poorer arguments that I think Arminians use is what is often referred to as the robot analogy. And I don't think it is poor for the reasons that Calvinist do. Calvinists seem to believe that it is inaccurate. Here I disagree: it is completely accurate. The problem is that if a Calvinist would simply own up to it, it would actually work to their defense... kinda. We can see this if we replace the notion of robots with action figures.

Now Calvinism's primary weak point is theodicy. Yes I know that Calvinists have a lot of answers to theodical questions, but that is because there are so many theodical questions which Calvinism invokes, and it is questionable if any of these responses really satisfy the objections. But let us consider Piper's argument that God brings about evil for the sake of demonstrating His glory. Now, in part, I think this doesn't really make sense because A)who is God demonstrating His glory to and B) the idea is really based off of 18th century political theory (if Grotius taught about the governmental theory of atonement, this argument can be called Edwards's governmental theory of election).

However, when I switched the word 'demonstrate' with 'express', it conjured up the image of myself as a young boy playing with  action figures. At the time, I was really into He-man. Now, often I would have Skeletor kidnap my sister's Barbie, and He-man would come rescue her (my sister often played this with me). Skeletor's base was in the closet on the third shelf or so. As he and He-man fought, Skeletor would be cast off of the ledge into the abyss of the bedroom floor, receiving his just reward for his treacherous activities.

However, did Skeletor actually deserve what happened to him? After all, he only did what I made him do. Indeed, the Skeletor figure was completely impotent unless I caused him to act. So who's really to blame, Skeletor or me?

But if it is me, then have I, as a 6 year old child, done something wrong? Clearly not. My actions were expressions of my sense of justice. The fact that I ultimately desired He-man to be victorious shows that I was indeed just. Though I caused Skeletor to kidnap Barbie, I only did so for the purpose of He-man vanquishing him. I can't express my sense of justice unless there is evil for justice to act upon. Therefore, that justifies the evil that I committed, correct? That is the Calvinists point! That is their argument after all. It is proven.

Except when I did this, I used action figures. Action figures have no worth apart from my use of them. To really get to the point, both Skeletor's and He-man's ultimate destinies were the same: some trash heap somewhere, long forgotten if not for a blog post written many years later. In the end there was no true justice.

There was no true evil either. After all, Barbie didn't suffer. Nor did she suffer indignity. Indeed, there is no standard of morality which would claim that something evil had taken place. The reason why I am not evil has less to do with the line of causation of the action, and more to do with the reality of the action itself. It was merely simulated evil.

I think this is why Calvinists avoid the robot analogy. If accepted, it actually satisfies their need for protecting God's goodness and character. It supports their argument. But in doing so, they sacrifice the relevance of reality. It turns all of our lives, and all of God's actions in history as merely a show: a simulation for the sake of God working out His thoughts on the question of justice. This would apply not just to the acts of evil, but also to the acts of good and glory. Every endeavor of history, either human or divine would be destined to irrelevance, designating God's actions of salvation, power, mercy, wisdom, creation, and wonder as nothing more than a really well articulated play. I can't think of can't think of any more damage we could do to God's glory than that.