December 7, 2016

Who Speaks For Arminianism?

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 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 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)


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.

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"

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:

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. 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.


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

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.

October 12, 2016

The Teleological Argument for the Existance of Libertarian Free Will

Is Libertarian Free Will Cogent? Preliminaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting the Two Together

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

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

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

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

Calvinist Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 28, 2016

Or "Being A Friend To Job"

What I Mean by Rhetorical Piety

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

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

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

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

Orthopathy vs Orthodoxy

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

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

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

Rhetorical Piety In Action

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

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

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

The End Result

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

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

For series index, click here

July 2, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part VI: Security


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


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

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

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

Pastoral Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theological Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 And rightly so.

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

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

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

5 Namely the centeredness of the theologies.

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

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

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

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

Above I have used the second defintion.

July 1, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part V: Grace


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

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

Irresistible Grace

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

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

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

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

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

Enabling Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 30, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part IV: Depravity


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


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

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

Dead Men Can't Do Nothing Right

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

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

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

June 29, 2016

Causal vs Social Centered
Part III: Atonement


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

Limited Atonement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlimited Atonement

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

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

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

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

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

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