Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Burning Question for Arminians

One of the blessings of the Internet is having a vast collection of Reformed and Calvinist resources at my fingertips. I have made many online friends over the years who have inspired me in my walk with Christ and whose words of encouragement have helped me in all areas of my life. It's also a comfort to know that so many other people out there, both Calvinist and Arminian, wrestle with difficult issues as they travel on their own spiritual journeys, actively seeking the precious truths found in God's word.

Alas, there is a downside to this virtually unregulated medium. Anyone can get a web site or a blog and say just about anything with an air of authority they wouldn't otherwise have in the "real" world. (Hey, I'm living proof of that.) And that usually means one must sift through tons of dirt and mud (and venom and bile) to find a single nugget of wisdom.

Don't get me wrong. I love controversy as much as the next guy. In fact, I had an hour-long discussion with two Mormon "elders" just the other night who stopped their bikes to try and convert me as I was taking out the trash. (They eventually gave up in frustration and rode off, saying that it was clear I didn't even believe the Bible, and that I was wasting their time!) But much of the controversy found on the World Wide Web comes from Christian bloggers in what can only be described as a misguided (and in many cases, I'm willing to grant, unintentional) attack on some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Like the Remonstrants of old, these bloggers are lashing out in ignorance against certain teachings in scripture because they can't make sense of them from a human perspective. "A God who chooses some people for salvation and not others? That isn't fair! My God is a God of love! And what do you mean that God ordained sin to enter into the world and that he causes bad things to happen? My God is not the author of sin! My God is not evil!" On and on they ramble, never seeming to tire of setting up Calvinist straw men and knocking them down in righteous indignation.

It is the issue of God's sovereignty with which they seem to have the biggest problem. Oh, they will readily agree that God is sovereign over all creation, but they will be just as quick to criticize a brother or sister who talks of a God who turns hearts toward hatred (Psalm 105:25), who means evil for good (Genesis 50:20), or who molds all people for his own purposes (Romans 9:21-23).

Unfortunately, they don't stop at mere criticism. Many go on to make the outrageous claim that we Calvinists believe in an evil God. They would agree with Dr. Roger Olson, professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, who said, "The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil."

Which brings us to the issue at hand.

Imagine the following situation: I'm out for an evening stroll when I smell something burning. I look around and notice flames in one of the second floor windows of a neighbor's house. In the other window, I can see a little girl pounding on the glass and can hear her cries for help. I do nothing. I don't even use my cell phone to call 911. I just stand there watching until the entire house is engulfed in flames and the little girls dies. Now, since I was perfectly capable of saving her, but chose not to, how could anyone with a conscience say that I was not responsible for her death?

From a basic human perspective, there wouldn't be any doubt. By standing there and doing nothing as that little girl burned to death, I would be just as culpable as if I had started the fire in the first place. And that's really what we humans care about, isn't it, deciding who's to blame in tragic situations?

So, here's the question I have for you Arminians: If a sovereign, loving, all-powerful God neither ordains nor causes bad things to happen, but simply stands by and allows them to happen, then how does he escape responsibility for the pain and suffering of those involved? (Keep in mind that the "bad things" being talked about here can refer to everything from the stubbing of one's toe to the eternal damnation of one's soul.)

I submit that you cannot answer that question without betraying your own Arminian worldview. You cannot answer it without resorting to the same theological gymnastics you accuse Calvinists of performing. And you certainly cannot answer it if you have a problem conceiving of a truly sovereign God who works all things for his ultimate glory.


Anonymous said...

Justin says...

A great way of putting it. I hope you don't mind if I "borrow" your idea when I need it in the future?

Lee Shelton said...

Not at all. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Justin says...

No, thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I have asked many Arminians this question myself. I usually use an example like "a women is being rapped outside my door. I am perfectly able to stop it, but I do nothing...is that not my fault?"

I even heard Piper once say -Predetermination theologically gets you nowhere. You have all the same issues as predestination.

Lee Shelton said...

What it seems to boil down to is this: Arminians see God doing what's best for man; Calvinists see God doing what's best for God.

Leslie said...

I should state up front that I'm not very studied in what Calvinist or Armenian theology is specifically, but I'd like to take a stab at answering this question. To give some of my basic beliefs up front, currently, I do not agree with the position that God has predestined people in the sense that his election does not depend on choices of the person. I believe God has elected believers for Heaven and unbelievers for Hell, and it is up to each of us as to which of those groups we end up in.

To start off, let me say I do not think this question gives the Calvinist the upper hand. If I understand Calvinist theology properly (which I may not, and I'd appreciate correction and apologize in advance if I am wrong), the corresponding analogy would be you actually putting that girl in the house, tying her up, then setting the house on fire, then going outside to watch and blaming her for it. God chooses certain people to be saved and certain people to be lost, and therefore they are forced into their eternal judgment, yet it is somehow their fault. Frankly, if I had to choose, I'd rather be the person who watched it and did nothing than the one who placed her in there and made it all happen and then watched it. With that said, I think there are problems with your analogy from the start.

Allow me to offer what I think would be a better analogy. Imagine you are taking that same stroll, and you see the girl in the window. You run and get a ladder, and put it up to the window so she can crawl out. However, she refuses to come out, saying to you, "what fire? there's no fire!" If you offered her help and she refused, would you now be to blame? Of course not - it was clearly her decision, foolish though it may be.

This is how I see God operating. He offers that grace and salvation, but it is up to us to take hold of it (John 3:16-21). That is not to say that we do anything to deserve it, or that we save ourselves (Ro. 3:23-24). Without God in the picture, we would have no ladder, and would certainly be lost (1 Cor. 15:17). But by faith in Christ, we take the steps God has called for, and so through fruit-producing faith (and this is what real faith is) we are justified (Matt. 7:17-19, Ro. 5:1, Ja. 2:14-26).

The thing is, I do not see this as betraying anything, but simply following scripture. I still see God as sovereign. Basing our salvation upon our choices does not take away his sovereignty. God is in control of all things and therefore allows all things, and thus he takes responsibility for all things that occur. This is how I see Job's story playing out - God allows the adversary to do his thing to Job - it is Satan who directly brings about those bad things, but in the beginning and in the end (Job 2:3, 42:11) God takes responsibility for it. God did not directly cause it, but because he is so powerful and is above all things, he is still indirectly responsible for all.

So again, in the end, I see God as the one offering escape from that firey house, and we are the person in there, who has to decide to take that free gift. Through faith, believers see that they need a way out and that Christ's sacrifice is the only way out. Through pride and arrogance, unbelievers do not even realize their predicament to begin with and so do not take the way out which is also freely available to them. I see God as doing what is best for both God and man. I do not believe it is one or the other. God, by his very nature of love and justice (among other things) does that which is good for Him and good for man at the same time.

Lee Shelton said...

This post was specifically directed at those who like to use the accusation that the "God of Calvinism" is cruel because he ordains all things, good and bad, to happen. Well, first of all, we can't get away from that truth. Scripture is quite clear (Genesis 50:20, Exodus 4:11, 1 Samuel 2:6-7, Psalm 37:23, Psalm 115:3, Proverbs 16:4, Isaiah 46:10, Matthew 10:29, John 3:27, Acts 4:27-28, Romans 8:28, Romans 9:14-16, and so on).

Secondly, the Arminian (one who thinks man's free will trumps God's sovereign will) cannot escape the "cruel God" accusation. If he or she asserts that Calvinists make God the author of evil, then what does that say about their belief in a God who creates everything, makes evil possible, allows bad things to happen, and then doesn't save all people, even though he has the desire and power to do so?

In short, how is the God who ordains bad things to happen more guilty than the God who creates the possibility for bad things to happen, allows them to happen, and then doesn't intervene? It doesn't make sense.

For a very basic glimpse at the doctrines of Calvinism, stay tuned for my next post. It will be the first in a five-part series.

alfred angelo hickey said...

Calvin's problem, it seems is that he couldn't explain how 2 contradictory ideas (based in the weakness of language/concepts) could be reconciled maybe. Choice and election. Choice is very often understood to be the way to God in scriptures. We are to examine ourself, choose life, do the right thing. It is madness to think that God's instructions to Adam and Eve did not involve choice. In the scriptures people negotiate with God, we are instructed to send Him our petitions- these all involve volition, action, agency.

Choice is the only clear way to Christ from a scriptural perspective. This is emphasised in the scripture "How will they hear without a preacher." And faith comes through hearing the word of God. All require action, hearing is an action !!! So what of election. Choosing never changes God's election and doesn't contradict election. But also realise, Jesus did not know the day nor the hour. Knowledge in heaven is relative to elements in the trinity.

Since Christ Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. That was only for the Father. So this idea of election is not such a simple thing. Satan gave Job a hard time by challenging God/Job to a test.

I argue the greatest thing getting in the way of God's sovereignty is "Reformed,in its current form" the way certain groups are pushing it. It has opened the way for liberals to get their way, as true spiritual discernment is no longer, but human discernment. So people do things that are seemingly sinful and get away with it because they are "Reformed." I think the church has lost its head !

God doesn't want a Reformed Church, he wants a Jesus church. Some heresy in Reformism is to call a "church" Calvinist, or Lutheran or even words invented by them like: "Presbyterian" etc...
Where is the glory to Jesus, where is the centrality of the cross. We have replaced Jesus with institutions, named by other people and ideas, is this idolatory ? Where is the simple gospel ?

Have we glorified human teaching and teachers,as kings or Gods as much as in the Catholic Church (Pope) or like Buddha ? (Buddhists totally miss the innate contradiction in their belief system- they have this "King (Lord) entity" yet they believe all the universe is God and One- so how is Buddha special then and why do they have little golden statues of him everywhere- why don't we ever talk about the contradictions in other ideas/philosphies ? Its curious that 75% of Buddhists belive in a God. Jesus is actually God as man- now there's something worth following.

At least Anglican churches follow the scriptural pattern of Church in a place, or church in England. It should not be maybe: Church of England. But then why do we have Anglican churches in Africa or even Australia ? That's what I tell JWs and Mormons, if God sent you to America, why are you here, preaching to us. We want a "prophet" for Australia !!

People are saying that election in essence makes us deterministic robots, that's because they are silly, and worldly, given to and promoting being bullied by authority, that they are just blind followers- they go against the whole point and spirit of reformation, and replace God with men's ideas.

Luther tried to make Jesus more accessible, so people could CHOOSE Christ. Like I have said, this in no way contradicts election. It is a conceptual problem people have, not a spiritual thing. We are mocking Reformation by saying that election means we do not choose, it is potentially heretical, because the bible clearly commands a response/choice, whether this be Israel or people.

A better question is what is CHOICE for the Christian ? What does it mean to choose Jesus today. How do we obey ? What does it mean to submit to the Lordship of Christ !

In Conclusion, God's will for people is that all follow Him, "on earth as it is in heaven," but as we know this will not happen, many will deny Christ and there will only be a remnant of Israel too.
But as the scripture says, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Work that out ! Phillipians 2: 10-11

Richard Coords said...


I would like to address this question:

Lee Shelton: "So, here's the question I have for you Arminians: If a sovereign, loving, all-powerful God neither ordains nor causes bad things to happen, but simply stands by and allows them to happen, then how does he escape responsibility for the pain and suffering of those involved? (Keep in mind that the "bad things" being talked about here can refer to everything from the stubbing of one's toe to the eternal damnation of one's soul.)"

I would like to challenge the underlying presumption of foreknowledge in which God, according to Arminianism, just stands and watches the fire victim and the rape victim, with casual indifference of the priest and Levite of Luke 10:30-37. I disagree fundamentally. From the Arminian perspective, God doesn't just stand there as an unwilling participant. Obviously the observer in the fire and rape incidents are BOTH unwilling to intervent, and yet is God, according to Arminian, unwilling to intervene? Why on earth would we suppose such an odd thing? The Psalmist states: "But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress." (Psalm 59:16) You see, God is willing to rescue. But if someone should be unwilling to call upon God, and perish, then that is their own fault, and something for which they may have added condemnation.

How does He escape responsibility? Because God was willing to intervene. But in your analogy, the person outside the burning building is unwilling to intervene. So that's why I feel that your analogy is patently unfair.

alfred angelo hickey said...

This is a strange idea. Off course God does not intervene- it happens, displaying free will. You guys are stuck in one point i time, while the bible says this life is very small in the light of eternity, some say it was God's grace that he made it that we live 120 years, to avert suffering. Does He let it happen yes, maybe to show us what we are when we disobey and disregard him- yes innocents suffer. I experience this daily and ask why God does not stop the suffering. he can control it, but wont, because we have choice. His intervention will be judgment both then and now.

Will he use the sin- surely yes. But remember in God's eyes the worst sin might be rejecting Him, not rape or whatever and we all dot his every day. I think God probably wants a bit of empathy, directly.

Choice doesn't mean its what people want, Choice for a Christian is to choose life and Jesus and live in His will. Yes this is a choice. There are in scripture always 2 ways to live. If there was no choice there would be one.

Does choice matter in itself. No, God gets His way. Why is it such a big theological problem for you guys.

Providence and predestination, both prescribe that we are not responsible for our actions and that neither in a sense is God, because everything He does is right. In this state of affairs there can be no sin. You'd have to get the bible and throw it out.

The reason they are in scripture, might be to show that God has a plan- be that flexible and that we have a purpose, which at times seems unclear. But love is most definitely the core of it.

You guys need to move from theory to action, to theory to heart to action or heart to theory to action. Then we can live in God's pleasing and perfect will which is "love."

Anonymous said...

Lee says, "In short, how is the God who ordains bad things to happen more guilty than the God who creates the possibility for bad things to happen, allows them to happen, and then doesn't intervene? It doesn't make sense."

Lee, read Richard's response on 7/4/09, for it's a good one. Your question is very absurd. Would you like me to ask this question in regards to YOU?

Really, why are you not in prison since you have not intervened to the best of your ability concerning the rapes and murders that go on in your city? Clearly, allowing is not the same as doing the action. You have allowed others to commit adultery because that is their free choice. That does not make YOU evil. Even if you had the power to do so, would you be evil because you did not tie everyone up on account of the fact that if everyone isn't tied up there is the possibility that they could commit evil?

God has given us the gift of free choice. Then He also gives us a power to walk into that helps us please Him, rather than incur upon ourselves His wrath against the evil some people choose.

Calvinism is certainly one of the worst doctrines I've ever seen tolerated amongst the true church. I am deeply saddened that those who claim to uphold God's Word, holiness, and love would in actuality so defame His attributes of love and holiness. Calvinists, in saying God predestines everything, are also definitely saying that God DOES evil acts and is therefore not loving, good, or holy. Because the "puppets" He is supposedly holding are doing exactly what HE is authoring them to do. Calvinists are full of contractions, but cannot seem to see it!

I wrote a short article last week on my blog (http://smilesback.wordpress.com) entitled "He Who Creates That He May Torture." That is what the logic of Calvinism is truly saying. And all those who truly know God should contend with THAT horrible defamation of Him as long as we have breath. Because it is the opposite of the truth. Rachel

Lee Shelton said...

Rachel, your analogy only works if I knew exactly when and where a rape or murder was going to be committed. I would most certainly be charged with a crime if it could be proved that I knew a murder was being planned and took no steps to prevent it.

God, on the other hand, does know exactly when and where every rape or murder will take place. Likewise, he creates some people knowing they will ultimately reject Christ and spend eternity in Hell. Arminians refuse to assign him responsibility, but have no problem accusing Calvinists of making God the author of evil. You don't see the hypocrisy in that?

Anonymous said...

Lee, You did not satisfactorily address my points. Please at least respond to my assertion that you are saying that GOD Himself does evil acts because He is the cause of the one puppet doing something evil to the other puppet. Forgive this horrible analogy, but you Calvinists need to face reality: I tie you up and give you a mighty kick to your face with a pointed boot. Now, that is absolutely evil. But why do you get angry at ME? It is really GOD, supposedly, who ordained that, and I had no choice in the action. This, and much worse, is what Calvinists attribute to God! This is why believers of Scripture who have read about God's true character as He has revealed Himself in His Word, and who are not swayed by the logic of men who contradict themselves, are utterly repulsed at your doctrines.

If you are an open-minded person, then let me direct you to an excellent website I came across recently. It is http://heavensfamily.org/ss/calvinism

Please read it, so that your theology can adjust to the Biblical way of salvation (which is through repentance and belief), rather than Calvinism's way of random selection; and so that you can help yourself find the true, just, holy, sinless, completely righteous God.


Lee Shelton said...

I'll stick with the sovereign God of scripture.

Anonymous said...

You should not opine about theology if you cannot defend your logic. Teaching others is not a game or a vogue way to boost egos. We are absolutely responsible before the Most High for what we feed our hearers. We better get it right. I suggest that because you certainly could not deny that Calvinism's logic teaches that God Himself (and no other) pulled the puppet string to have one puppet wickedly kick the other in the face, thus making GOD to be the wicked one, you may want to consider that you Calvinists could very well be worshiping a demon-god who "masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14)

Lee Shelton said...

Rachel, did you actually read the post? It's pretty self-explanatory. The charge that Calvinism presents God as the Grand Puppet Master causing people to sin is a tired, old, straw man argument. Been there, done that.

The point of this post was to turn that argument around on those who think it's actually valid. If Calvinism makes God the author of sin, then the same must be said of the belief that God created people with free will knowing full well that they would rebel and embrace sin, condemning themselves to Hell. The only point was to show just how absurd arguments like yours are.

Just so we're perfectly clear: God is not the author of sin. He does not cause people to sin. He does ordain that evil be, but we are solely responsible for our actions. If you have a problem understanding the existence of evil, welcome to the club. That struggle has been going on since the Garden of Eden. But it helps to put it into perspective. You might want to take a look at this earlier post.

Anonymous said...

I find it sad that I have yet to find a Calvinist who does not speak in a condescending way to non-Calvinists. I'm sorry you find our arguments "absurd". And yes, I read the post. And no, I don't need to be invited to "join the club", because I too, have "been there, done that" --probably contending for truth just as long as you think you have.

As far as stating that we create a "straw man argument", that accusation is false. It IS what Calvinism teaches --that since God predestines everything, He also is then the one moving the strings to cause the evil. This IS Calvinism's teaching. To deny THAT defies any line of logic.

It does seem strange that you cannot see that God, who is love, would not create creatures who could love Him back. To force love is not love. True love is given the choice to love. He gives us tools by which to choose correctly (such as His Word, the wooing of His Holy Spirit, a conscience, free choice), and it is for our benefit as well as for His delight and honor; but the problem of evil comes because men love sin and themselves more than God or others. Your analogy of the girl in the house on fire doesn't work. God did pass by the house, He did go in, He did proclaim to her the way of escape, and He even died in place of the girl. However, many choose to sit rebelliously in the flames and perish themselves when it was completely unnecessary. Then we get proud, unthinking men who walk by and say, "Why didn't God pry her hands off as she clung to her bedpost, yelling, 'Get Your hands off of me! I WANT to remain here!'"


Lee Shelton said...

You seem to be implying that our love is more powerful than God's. But scripture clearly teaches that it is "not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Being dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1), fallen man is incapable of loving God.

justin said...

God in His love for man limits his sovereignty to that man can reject Him or accept Him.

To apply this to the case at hand. The child while suffering horribly, will enter into paradise as children do. Paul says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The man who does nothing, in the story, is culpable of lacking love for his neighbor. But is God? The evil may be allowed for the girl's salvation. If God stopped all evil, then ultimately he IS responsible for it since He didn't stop it. But God is not responsible for evil inasmuch as he allows men to freely reject him and His love, and thus carry out evil. God curtails His freedom for the sake of man. If all evil was stopped, then this earth would be Paradise. This is what man continues to desire on his own terms. Paradise was lost because it did not lead men to Salvation. Instead the Lord decreed to the serpent (Satan)"I will put enmity Between you and the woman." Thus man is always in a battle with Satan, and man must call upon God for rescue and salvation.

Saying God allowed it has nothing to do with God being cruel. For this earthly life is not the whole story. Physical suffering in fact purifies us.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.
- 1 Peter 5:10
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. - Matthew 5:4
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; - Philippians 3:10

To sum up: the question puts the suffering and death of the little girl as something that MUST be averted by God in order to not be culpable of evil. This is a false position according to the Scripture. What Arminians put forward is how God can ordain evil which is what Calvin teaches

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