December 24, 2018

When Does The Day End?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a little while now, but what actually determines when the day ends? I don’t mean physically, but rhetorically, like when someone says, “At the end of the day…”. Now why exactly is that the end of the day?

Sometimes this is obvious, but I’m not wondering this in a vacuum. I’m really wondering this when it comes to Calvinists. One of the major claims that they make is “At the end of the day, Arminians believe they are responsible for their salvation.” Now, I’ve heard arguments that they’ve made to that effect, but for the life of me I don’t really know what they mean by “At the end of the day” in that sentence. It seems to simply be there to say, “Now I’ve thought about this really really hard,” but it doesn’t tell us anything about their actual thought process.

So how do we determine who is responsible for salvation "at the end of the day"? How do we determine what determines responsibility for something? Well first, why do I think that God is responsible for salvation “at the end of the day”? For me, the answer is that He is not obligated to save us. Even if I have the faith of Abraham, He could still choose to not save me, and He would be completely justified in doing so. I’m confident that He won’t, but this is because He promised. My assurance is therefore grounded in His promises, not my faith.

But Calvinists don’t see it that way. They claim that what makes us responsible for salvation is that our faith is the thing that differentiates us from those that are not saved. Now, as an Arminian, I cannot deny that that is the differentiating factor. After all, that is simply what it means for something to be a condition. However, that factor doesn’t strike me as determinative because, like I said earlier, it isn’t obligatory.

So which of us is right? I could say that its me since Arminianism is my theology that we are talking about. Since the claim is with regarding consistency, then it is what I consider determinative that actually matters, not them. And, yeah, I think that’s right, but it’s also an easy answer and thus lazy. Maybe we can think a little deeper.

Getting a Job

Before we tackle Calvinist/Arminian question head on, let's go more broad and talk about responsibility in general. We can do this with an analogy. Let’s say that there is a manager for a job named Mr. Smith. Smith is hiring for some well-paying position. He has two applicants. One comes in wearing a red tie, and the other comes in wearing a blue tie.

Now Mr. Smith isn’t much of a thinker and he takes Leadership books a little too seriously. One of the things that these books say is that red ties give a better impression in interviews, and so he believes that he ought to judge someone on whether or not they have a red tie. Now neither applicant knows this beforehand, but Smith tells them afterwards that he has chosen the applicant with the red tie for this reason.

So, what do we think? Why did Red Tie get the job? Was it because he wore a red tie when the other applicant didn’t? Or is it because Mr. Smith is a kook? At the end of the day, who determined who got the job?

I think it is rather obvious that this falls on Smith. After all, he set the qualifications, and neither applicant was even aware of that qualification. Indeed, I think this becomes all the more obvious if we change tie color to skin color.

But let’s alter the scenario. Instead of a red tie and a blue tie, the two applicants came in with completely different apparel. The first wore a black suit with a red tie, but the other came in with blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and underneath a torn blue t-shirt with the words “Put Another Dime in the Jukebox, Baby.” Once again, Mr. Smith chooses the man in the red tie.

But do we still completely credit Mr. Smith? Well no. Now we see the guy in blue as a schlub, and as such we know that he should have expected to have gotten a "No", coming dressed like that.

So, it seems that predictability is a major determining factor of the “end of the day”. However, do we really think that Red Tie earned the position? Well, generally not. Rather we think that Blue, well, blew it. While we may think that Blue is responsible for rejection by not wearing a tie, we don’t think that Red Tie earned it simply by wearing a tie. Rather, we just agree with Mr. Smith’s evaluation and recognize that Blue should have known better.

So, What Should Determine Things?

OK, back to the question of the process of salvation. I think when we are talking about a process, we should take seriously the actual language of the phrase "At the end of the day...". What determines the “end of the day” is that which is at the actual end of the process. But I don’t think it is the final event, but it is the final decision made by all parties involved. After all, at the end of the day, Mr. Smith could have rejected both applicants.

I think where Calvinists are coming from is how predictable God is in the process. If we have faith in Christ, then God will save us. Because He will save us, His actions after that don’t really factor in. They aren’t decisions, but just reactions to what our decision was.

But I think this is a fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians, because, for personal beings, reactions are decisions. Even though God’s actions are enactments of things that He promised, He still has to make the decision to do what He promised. Therefore, for us Arminians, those decisions do count.

Now I can speculate as to exactly why Calvinists don’t think they count. It might be because they view God’s will as compatibilist, so they don’t see His reactions as real choices. But again, the complaint is a complaint of consistency, and they of course know we hold a libertarian view of God’s will. Perhaps it is because Calvinists are casually-centered in their thinking, as I have argued elsewhere, and simply view predictability as the same as an effect. It simply doesn’t occur to them to view His actions as choices. This is my hypothesis, but it’s only a hypothesis. In either case, I don’t think they’ve really thought through this problem from our perspective, but have merely isolated one bit of our theology, and deemed it inconsistent with their beliefs. Quite frankly, that’s an inconsistency I can live with.

August 9, 2018

William Lane Craig Gets Arminianism A Bit Wrong

I often listen to Dr. William Lane Craig’s podcasts, both his general podcast and his Defenders class. They are very informative and I highly recommend them. In his most recent Defenders class, as of the date of this response (8/9/2-18), he compares the providential views of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Molinism.1 Now I have no disagreement with his descriptions of Calvinism and Molinism but his description of Arminianism struck me as utterly foreign. I think he simply is confused on this matter.
So, first, let me make some general points, and then I’ll get to his comment.

Some General Points

First of all, I think that it is improper to speak of a strictly Arminian doctrine of providence. Arminianism is a soteriological position, not a providential one. This point will become very relevant as we get into the meat and potatoes.

Now it is true that Arminianism has providential implications. And there are doctrines of providence associated with the Remonstrant and Wesleyan traditions. However, Arminianism isn’t a tradition in that sense, but a theological position. And that position is soteriological.

This brings me to my second point. It is a point of debate within the Arminian camp whether or not Molinism is compatible with Arminianism. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism is a providential position. Therefore, the question isn’t which one is correct, but are they compatible. There are some who believe that Molinism is too deterministic to be compatible, and others who believe that any position which holds to Libertarian Free Will is, in fact, compatible. I am the latter, though I am not a Molinist.

Indeed, let us consider the words of one of the leading modern teachers of Wesleyan and Arminian thought, the late Thomas Oden:
A fine point must be sharpened in this connection: God not only grasps and understand what actually will happen, but also what could happen under varied possible contingencies. If God’s knowing is infinite, God knows even the potential effects of hypothetical but unactualized possibilities, just as well as god knows what has or will become actualized…
This has been called “God’s knowledge of the hypothetical” or Scientia media2
I think it is hard to consider Thomas Oden as not being Arminian in theology, yet the above quote, and others, clearly shows that he held to a Molinist view of providence. Or perhaps consider another prominent Arminian:
He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes (i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act. (ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted… (iii) Let the third class be of those things which God can do from the acts of the creatures, in accordance wither with himself or with his acts. 3
For those who don’t check the reference, that is Jacob Arminius. While he clearly taught middle knowledge, I’m not sure if whether or not he taught Molinism. But I’m also not sure whether or not he taught Molinism. It is disputable. Thus, it is hard for me to think that Molinism is outside the tent of Arminianism itself.

So, let us instead refer to the position Craig is describing as SFV (of the Simple Foreknowledge View).

What Craig Says

Now, as of the writing of this, Reasonable Faith does not have the transcript up, so I am transcribing this myself from the audio. So I apologize if I transcribe anything inaccurately.
So how does the Arminian then explain divine sovereignty? Well, the Arminian appeals to God’s simple foreknowledge of the future in order to explain God’s foreordination of everything that happens. That is to say that on the basis of His knowledge of what people will do, God then foreordains that it will happen. And His foreknowing it in no way determines it. He just knows that’s what people will do; He knows what their free choices will be and therefore declares and ordains that that is what is going to happen.
And that no more determines their choices as an infallible barometer determines the weather… The weather will determine the barometer. And similarly, God’s foreknowledge will give you absolute certainty what is going to happen, but it is not as though the foreknowledge determines what will happen. -timestamp 16:33, analogy details cut for space by me.
Now this view definitely does not belong to Jacob Arminius, as we saw. But I am uncertain whether it belongs to any Arminian at all. In accordance to the Joe Schmuck principle, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on whether one exists. However, here it suffices to say that I am unaware of any Arminian who would say that, or more specifically any SFV advocate who says that.

First of all, I think it confuses sovereignty and providence with foreordination. Sovereignty is the state of being king. God is sovereign because He is in charge. This comes with certain rights and privileges, as well as obligations on us as His subjects. But it communicates a kind of relationship with His creation. It doesn’t necessarily say something about causation.

Likewise, providence is simply the working out of God’s governance. While we can talk about God’s providence of the future, and we can talk about God’s relationship to His providence in the present from the past, providence is not a concept which is bound to the topic of time. Indeed, my understanding of sovereignty and providence have a lot more to do with the present than the future.

What Craig seems to be talking about is foreordination 4. Foreordination explicitly deals with how God establishes what is going to happen in the future from the perspective of the past. Foreordination is certainly a part of providence, but providence doesn’t reduce to it.

But, OK, does Craig’s description of how Arminians understand providence accurately describe how SFV describes foreordination?

Well, no

I would stipulate, if not insist that the SFV is necessarily grounded in the B-theory of time. Indeed, the only reason I’ve ever had to question SFV is the doubts I currently have on the B-theory. The problem comes when one sees that Craig’s description of SFV is assuming A-theory categories.

The fundamental mistake that the analysis makes is that it assumes that God’s providential activity is simply in declaring the future. This is false. Rather, God is already in the future, molding and shaping it, as He is also molding and shaping the present.

Imagine a potter whose potter wheel is spinning clockwise. Does it make sense to say that the work of the right hand is merely to declare what the left hand is doing? Or are both hands working simultaneously on the same pot?

Likewise, from the perspective of eternity, God has a hand in both the past and the future, and He is shaping both in reference to each other. God providence is simply the action of His hands, whatever action that may be. I see no reason why God acting eternally throughout history should be understood as merely Him declaring what will happen from the past. Rather, God's foreordination is grounded in Him actively being in the future.
1: This is Defenders series 3, section 8, part 10.
2: Thomas Oden, The Living God, (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1992), pp. 72
3: Jacob Arminius, Disputation 4: On The Nature of God,, section XXXIV
4: Another word I could have used is predestination, but predestination is often more specifically linked to election and reprobation. But I didn’t want to confuse things by adding more and more words like regeneration, glorification, propitiation, expatiation, procrastination, consternation, and other words ending in nation and cation and ration, which are simply suffices to say that stuff happens in theology.