Thursday, May 22, 2008

Still a Tough Question for Arminians

I posted a variation of this last year. However, in light of recent comments from an Arminian brother, I thought it was time for a slight modification.

Imagine the following: A father allows his two-year-old son to go outside to play knowing full well that their house is next to a lake. He also knows that his son has a habit of not listening when told to stay away from the water. Still, this father doesn't want to be the kind of parent that smothers his kid. The little rascal will have to grow up sometime, so he is given great freedom to make his own choices.

Sure enough, as soon as he sets foot outside, the boy heads straight for the water. His father sees this, but does nothing. He just stares out the window and watches. The child steps onto the dock, and still the father looks on.

It isn't until the boy slips and falls into the water that the father rushes to the rescue. But he doesn't jump in after him. He takes a life preserver from the boat that's tied to the dock and tosses it to his son. "Grab it!" he shouts. The boy continues to splash and scream for help. "Grab the life jacket, son! It's all up to you. If you want to be saved, just reach out and take it."

Eventually, the young boy ceases to struggle and sinks below the surface. The life jacket floats where the father threw it. "Son!" he cries. "Can't you hear me? All you have to do is hold on and I can pull you in." No response. The father turns and heads back to the house. Words cannot describe the sadness he feels, but there just wasn't anything he could do. He offered life, but his offer was rejected, and that ultimate act of disobedience resulted in his child's death.

Now, if that really happened, there isn't a single court in the country that would let the father off the hook. At the very least, he would be found criminally negligent for his son's death. But in the minds of most people, the father would be just as guilty as if he had pushed his son into the water in the first place.

Here's the question I have for you Arminians: If a sovereign, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God, who neither ordains nor causes bad things to happen but allows them to happen according to his permissive will, creates mankind with the foreknowledge that every human will fall into sin, then how could such a God escape responsibility for the pain and suffering of his creatures, much less the eternal damnation of those who don't respond to his free offer of salvation?

I submit that you cannot answer that question without abandoning 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.

28 comments:

Kyle said...

Your poor analogy breaks down at so many points that is ceases to be a reflection of truth. It leaves out sin, obstinate refusal of grace, the fact that in order to have many saved God would have to accept many who are lost (see William Lane Craig's Middle Knowledge solution for the soteriological problem of evil).

At any rate, as I have said before, you cannot deflect the intractable problems in your theology by pointing out the far less serious problems in Arminian theology.

To go along with your inept analogy, at least the Arminian God doesn't paralyze his child from the neck down and then drown him in the lake - while paralyzing his other son, throwing him in the water, and then "saving" him out of his great "mercy."

Kyle said...

And, again, the Arminian God is fully sovereign and fully works things out to His glory. It just so happens that the glory of the Arminian God is not at odds with the eternal good of any of His creatures, unless they decline His love.

The fact of the matter is that the Calvinist simply doesn't have an answer, so he tries to toss the ball back in the Arminian court. When the Arminian offers a cogent and satisfying response, the Calvinist still fails to give a solution to the problems in his system.

We Arminians have done our part. We're waiting for you to defend your theology from the devastating problems we raise. In fact, we've been waiting hundreds of years for Calvinist apologists to finally come around =)

Lee Shelton IV said...

You raise no "devastating problems" for Calvinist theology. Every question you have raised has been answered ad nauseum over the centuries. Still, the proud Arminians refuse to allow God to be completely sovereign over his own creation. I say "proud" because Arminian Christians believe that it was their decision to follow Christ. Apparently, they have some special insight that others lack. They can't give all the credit to God without betraying their view of free will.

Once again, I draw attention to the fact that Arminians refuse to deal with the same inherent problem that they accuse Calvinist theology of having. You say that if God ordained the existence of evil, then that makes him responsible for every bad thing that happens. But if God created the potential with the full knowledge that creation was going to fall into sin...well, that's different. God couldn't possibly be responsible.

The reason we aren't getting anywhere is that you insist on constraining God to your human understanding of love and fairness. Tell me: Is it all about God, or all about you? To whom should glory be given? God, you say? How can that be if it was your ultimate decision to believe?

Stan said...

Kyle, it's not that Calvinists don't have an answer. It's that Arminians reject it out of hand.

I have yet to figure out the alternative. Calvinists say that God is Sovereign over all things and, thus, ordains even evil. (Note that this isn't a direct cause.) What does the Arminian say? "God does not ordain evil. Evil ... just happens. God didn't want it. He didn't allow it. It just happened." Of course, both of us can see that doesn't work.

You're arguing that the poor Calvinists who can't answer your accusations are simply throwing the ball back in your court. I'm still wondering what your alternative is. You say, "Calvinism is wrong!" So what is right? If God is sovereign and evil is, did He NOT allow it? If He did allow it, was it NOT His will? If it was NOT His will and things happen that He does not allow, in what sense is He sovereign?

I'm not trying to make a Calvinist argument. I'm trying to find the Arminian alternative.

Kyle said...

Lee,

You have not answered the many serious problems I have raised for Calvinist theology. See the other post. If you think the problems in Arminian theology (which I have addressed and answered, though you persist in refusing to interact with them) are the "same inherent problems" as those in Calvinism, I'm afraid you are mistaken at best and deluded at worst.

Calvinists don't allow God to be sovereign in any way that is not deterministic control, thereby making God the direct author and cause of sin among other things. They proudly think they are "special" and are the "elect," so it doesn't matter to them that God unconditionally damns and eternally harms everyone else.

Additionally, If you want to give God all the "credit" for salvation in the sense you are advocating, you logically have to give Him all the "credit" for damnation and sin too, since God causes both in EXACTLY the same way in Calvinism.

I constrain my God to the biblical revelation of the God of holy love. The Calvinist God is a human creation that is foisted upon the text, and one that came centuries after the earlier church at that. It is an unworthy and inglorious view of God, not to mention an unbiblical one.

Who is it all about? God and His glory. We agree here. The question is who's God is ACTUALLY glorious, and whose God is a sadistic, pathetic, resourceless, unloving, and unjust monster. I'll leave you to defend your view of God against the objections I have leveled at it in the other post.

The very fact that you have yet to answer my questions and simply keep reiterating yours without interacting with my answers suggests that there is no good defense of Calvinism forthcoming. Hundreds of years of Calvinist apologetics have simply failed to make the case persuasively in such a way that avoids all of the problems (and more) that I have laid out.

Stan,

In Calvinism, God causally determines sin (and everything else). If you don't like that, you shouldn't be a Calvinist. Everything is within God's directive and perfect will, which means evil is part of God's perfect will. Horrible? Yes, that's another reason why I'm not a Calvinist.

Arminianism alone allows for a directive will (things God causes), and a permissive will (things God allows creatures to do). All is within God's sovereign control and boundaries - WITHOUT needing to resort to deterministic control and WITHOUT needing to causally determine sin.

"Sovereignty" has never meant micromanagement and deterministic control in the history of the world except in Calvinism. It simply means that God is in control, He reigns, He rules. That's the biblical notion, not determinism.

God does not need to determine all things to be sovereign. That limits His glorious sovereignty to a humanly constructed idea of "sovereignty."

Evil doesn't just "happen" randomly. God permits it because He has decreed to give men true freedom so they may truly love Him. If that's what He sovereignly wills, the Calvinists are just going to have to submit to God's revelation and His ways of doing things.

In Christ's holy and loving name, Kyle

Lee Shelton IV said...

Kyle, have you read the book of Job? Satan couldn't touch Job until God gave him permission to do so. You may recall what Job said to his wife: "'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10). So, did God sin in decreeing evil in Job's life? Absolutely not. But, then again, you claim that we're talking about two different Gods here.

Kyle said...

Lee,

The book of Job proves the Arminian notion of a permissive will - in other words what God allows, but does not cause in a directive sense. Only in the sense that He allows free agents to sin does He decree evil in this world.

So no, God didn't sin by PERMITTING (an Arminian copyrighted word) sin, but He would sin if He were to CAUSE it (as He does in Calvinism).

Roger said...

Kyle, what about Christ's crucifixion and the events leading up to it? Was that part of His so called permissive will also? Or was it an event that was predetermined before the beginning of time? Everything they did was sinful and exceedingly wicked... even more so because it was done to the Son of God, but was it not all orchastrated by God?

Kyle said...

Roger,

Yes, God permitted and even predestined (predestination is not predetermination) the crucifixion, but did NOT causally determine the free actions of those who crucified Jesus to murder Him, which would make God the author of sin.

The cross was needed because of human sin - it would be absurd to cause humans to sin in order to bring about Atonement for the sin that God caused in the first place. That makes a mockery of God's love, holiness, and the cross.

The problem with Calvinism is that God predetermines all things in the same exact way, including evil, which makes Him the author of evil - though He only saves some people from the mess He caused.

Roger said...

Kyle said: "but did NOT causally determine the free actions of those who crucified Jesus to murder Him, which would make God the author of sin."

exactly. This is where compatibilism comes in.

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle said...

Roger,

In compatibilism, God still causally determines sin. His actions are causally sufficient for the person to "make the choice" such that he plants desires that are impossible not to follow (contra 1 Cor 10:13).

In compatibilism, God causes evil in the same way he causes good. Freedom is "redefined" such that it is acting on your strongest desire, but of course God plants that strongest desire in there and therefore makes sin necessary. So, unfortunately for the compatibilist, God still causes sin and is therefore the author of it.

Additionally, on compatibilistic premises, he could have determined all men to love each other and God forever. Yet he doesn't, because he is not good.

The only position that keeps God from being the casue and author of sin is to say that people freely choose sin in a causally indeterminate way - i.e. Arminianism/libertarianism

John said...

Mr. Shelton,

That is an analogy I've not yet heard, and a very good one. Keep up the good work.

Isaiah 45:7

Roger said...

Kyle, in Genesis 37 (the account of Joseph and his brothers), would you not say that God ordained for Joseph to go to Egypt for a purpose? God doesn't pick up Joseph like a pawn on a chess board and move him to Egypt. He uses "means" to fulfill His plan and purpose... God used his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery so that he might be taken to Egypt right? How did God do this? He gave Joseph dreams... (Gen 37:5, 9) These dreams caused his brothers to hate him more. To the point that they planned to get rid of him. Later when the brother wanted to kill him, (37:18-20) one of the brothers didn't have a heart to. (37:21) God didn't want Joseph dead. He wanted him to go to Egypt. The traders then came and the brothers sold him to the traders. Notice that the Scripture implies Reuben was not there with them at this time. (37:29) If he had been there, he probably wouldn't have allowed them to sell him to the traders. (37:22) God SENT Joseph to Egypt... not directly, but indirectly. In the end Joseph said to his brothers, "YOU meant evil against me, but God meant it for good..." God ordains the same evil that was practiced by the brothers and ordained the same acts to carry out His plan and purpose. Compatibilism. What do you do with texts like this?? There are 100's in the Bible.

Kyle said...

Roger,

Simple. God permits His creatures to freely do something that He plans to use in his overall plan. I'm not seeing Calvinistic determinism here. All of these "scary" passages work fine in a Molinist/Arminian framework.

The word "ordain" is not used in this passage; you are importing it into the text. God is creative enough to use the wickedness of humans for His purposes, allows evil, and the like, but He does not CAUSE it. Well, in Calvinism He does, which makes Him the author of evil.

Compatibilism is just a nice-sounding philosophical position that leaves God causing sin and evil in a direct, causal sense.

You should study more deeply other options to interpreting these texts than divine determinism. I feel like so many Calvinists have never even attempted to step outside of their theological box.

Kyle said...

Well it's been real guys, but it does seem like you are quite unfamiliar with solid Arminian theology, especially if you think a poor analogy like the one offered here does justice to the facts. I'll await Lee's response to my challenges in the other post in the meantime

In Christ's holy and loving name,

Kyle

Stan said...

Kyle,

It's been good, but it does seem like you are quite unfamiliar with solid Calvinist theology. You claim that Calvinism teaches that God is the direct cause of evil and that Calvinism doesn't allow for God's directive and permissive will. Since every Calvinist I've ever heard talk on these topics disagrees that God is the direct cause of evil and affirms that God has both directive and permissive wills, I have to wonder where you're getting your information.

In other words, I don't know a Calvinist that would disagree with you that God does not create or force sin. Why are Calvinists required to defend a position with which they disagree? (Rhetorical question ... not asking for an answer.) And why is it that Calvinist responses are evasions while Arminian responses are "cogent and satisfying"? (Again, rhetorical question. Don't bother answering.)

Kyle said...

Stan,

Exactly how does God "permit" something in Calvinism if He causally determines all things, including evil actions of men? Permission is a word that only fits in Arminian theology.

Do you believe God causally determines all things or not? Of course most Calvinists are uncomfortable with the idea that God causes sin, but that's a logical result of you theology. I still await to this day an explanation for how one can believe in complete divine determinism and yet also believe that God is not the author of sin. The too are simply mutually exclusive.

But I'm open to your defense. If God determines all things, how does He not determine sin? In what sense does God "permit" things in Calvinism if He ordains all things down to the last detail?

Why are my responses cogent and satisfying? Because they actually answer the questions raised, whereas you and your fellow Calvinists merely passionately and loudly deny the necessary logical implications of your own view. You don't avoid an objection by simply asserting your opposition to the problem that the objection raises. You need to show how the problem is avoided - something Calvinists have yet to do with the various lethal objections that have been raised to the system over the years.

Kyle said...

I might add, it is very common for Calvinists to "slip into" language that has no basis being in Calvinist theology, like "permission," when it becomes clear that divine determinism makes God the author of sin and damnation.

Chris Roberts said...

There is a problem with the analogy that I haven't seen addressed (granted, I admit I did not thoroughly read all the comments).

A brief disclaimer: I am a once-Calvinist, then strong non-Calvinist, now back to wrestling with the issue. I'm riding the fence between Calvinism and non-Calvinism (not Arminianism - yes, one can be non-Calvinist and not be Arminian) and feel I will be here for a while.

Anyway. In the analogy it is the man's son that is at issue. In Christian theology only those who are saved are described as the children of God. We are often loose when we express this, referring to all humanity as God's children. But we only become the children of God through adoption, and that through Christ.

The children of God will never sink into the water, will never drown, will always be preserved. Children of God are already saved and can never lose their salvation.

A better analogy would be that there is a man watching a lake full of kids and they are all drowning, what will the man do to save lives? Assuming some sort of comparison between this man and God, we have to recognize that it is within his power to save all the children. So the challenge for Calvinism is why does the man then only choose to save some of them, refusing to do what he is fully capable of doing - rescuing all the children. And the challenge for the non-Calvinist is how can the man be sure that any of those children would be saved.

Kyle said...

The analogy fails because the offer of salvation is not like pulling someone who is drowning out of the water, as if just a little more effort or exertion of power on the the part of the father would do the trick. The offer of salvation is not a matter of force, power, or success/defeat. It is the call of a Father to an errant and depraved rebel to repent and come home. He will not force him to come, nor will he "change his will" to come (as if he was a non-person).

It's about love that is either accepted or declined.

awilburjames said...

I personally believe in the Sovereignty of God in all things but in the discourse I see here, I see the 'Arminians this and the Calvinists that'.
God will bring a person where he wants them to be for God's purpose according to His good will.
There are believers and unbelievers in all main stream Christian Local Churchs. God knows those who are His.
I personally wish to know Jesus Christ and Him Crucified as Paul desired as well.
Preach the Gospel and let God rescue the elect.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and selfcontrol are all virtues that the Holy Spirit will bring to maturity in all true believers in Jesus Christ.

Kyle said...

awilburjames,

The same Paul who wrote that he desires to know Christ and Him crucified also wrote the epistle of Romans, Galatians, and much of the doctrine of the New Testament. God calls us to doctrinal maturity, not an unreflective and immature faith.

Scott said...

I ask you read Romans 9:10-18. I cannot help but think that God does as He pleases with people. He has created some to push His elect towards Him, while the others are wasted. Pharoah is a good example of this. Another eample is when God told Rebekah that her older son would serve the younger son. This was told before they were even born and sin had not yet been committed by them. AS it states "Jacob I loved and Essau I hated". God does as He pleases. It goes further here to address the issue of God being unjust? He is not unjust! God told Moses "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." God is not in anyones box. Verse 16 is very plain though, "It does not therefore depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy". Salvation is by grace through faith. Does not the potter have the say so as to how He molds the clay? Does the clay tell the potter how to make it? I think not n reference to 9:20-21. God makes His creation as to what He purposes it to be, not as He permits it to be. God draws men to Himself. This word "draw" is translated "to drag"...it is not referring to "pursuading" someone to Himself, that would be rediculous. I direct your attention to Romans 9:22-23 is a great passage of scripture that tie into all of this. He has created some to be the subject of His wrath in order to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy...His elect! The objects of His mercy He prepared in advance for glory, before the beginning of time! Prepared in advance I would say is "predetermined or predestined". The bottom line in this is that God does not give up His Sovereign authority to man's free will. God's will trumps man's will. Man's "free will" will lead man to destruction everytime. Man's heart cannot and will not seek God. How can a dead person revive himsef? He cannot...he must have something or someone else involved in order to do this...the Holy Spirit does this by regenerating the heart in order for man to be able to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Without this regeneration the man will remain dead in his sins...I have yet to see any dead person come back to life on his or her own, have you ever seen a dead person come back to life on their own?
I was once an Armenian thinking person yet I had to ignore huge chunks of scripture in order to remain with that "man sided-man made" belief system. Then I discovered the true Sovereignty of God. This changed my life and that of my family. I do not call myself a Calvinist, but a true believer in God's word or a reformer...this seems to be best supported by the Calvinistic theology as scripture clearly supports it. I have yet to find a stretch in any of the Reformed Theology yet and I have been studying it for years now. I have read the arguments on boths sides, watched countless video of the two sides debating this, read numerous books on the arguments for both sides...I can say resoundingly that the Armenian view cannot be the theology of the God of the Bible. In no way will God relinquish His authority for a moment in order for man to make a free choice with Him first having prepared the persons heart. It is either all about God or all about Man, but you cannot have both.

Stan said...

Kyle, you portray Calvinists as either too stupid to see there are problems with their theology or, worse, blatantly dishonest. Wise Christians would certainly see it your way. Is that actually your view or is it just the way you are coming across in these conversations?

Kyle said...

Stan,

My tone during this debate has not been any sharper than Lee's. If you look at some of the heavyhitters on your own side like R.C. Sproul, you'll find much sharper rhetoric (Sproul once commented that Arminians are barely Christians).

I do think Calvinists are wrong, incoherent, and unbiblical. It puzzles me that they have such shorted circuits in their theological reasoning. But it does not follow that I think they are stupid or dishonest. I simply have no clue what the motives a Calvinist would have to remain a Calvinist after examining the critiques that Arminians level against it.

Do you have no response to my latest post to you?

Kyle said...

Scot,

I'm quite aware of Romans 9, and it presents no problem for Arminian theology (not ArmEnian - why can't you properly spell the title of the position you once held and have since read "countless" books on?)

God sovereignly permits human freedom, else He is the author of sin.

I do find it refreshing that you admit that in your theology, God "wastes" everyone who is non-elect. If only more Calvinists were as forthright as you about the logical implications of their view - there would be far fewer Calvinists.

Anonymous said...

Kyle,

I have to disagree with you. Your tone comes across to me as belittling, without grace, and lacking love for fellow believers (though perhaps you don't consider Calvinists true believers?).

Reasonable people can disagree without them having to disparage one another. If it were such a clear cut issue, the church wouldn't still be vigorously debating it after all these years.

(I might add, instead of addressing your tone, you immediately shift the focus to other people. You are responsible for yourself and not for Lee or RC Sproul.)

By His Grace,

Kim

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