What’s wrong with Calvinism?

I am sometimes asked why I am not a Calvinist. I thought about writing my own blog on this issue but two factors made it seem unnecessary to do so. One is because I have previously given some reasons why I reject Calvinism back in my previous blog called ‘Coherent Calvinism? A response to Mike Ovey’. Second is because, in recent months, I have both begun reading, and saw this lecture by, the Arminian philosopher and theologian Jerry Walls. Since Walls explains why he is not a Calvinist so well in this lecture, in my opinion, there is really no need for me to do a worse job explaining it. Therefore, if this is a question you like to think about I here recommend both his lecture and the notes I made whilst watching it underneath. The notes summarize his main points and I have also recorded all quotations made by him in his power point.

At the end I have added some addition resources and asked what I think are some very important questions for Calvinist theology and I attempt to interact with some very popular modern-day Christian theologians who defend it. Enjoy!

Calvinism is a view about the nature of salvation named after the theologian John Calvin although it could possibly go back to Augustine.

TULIP

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Preservation of the Saints

“Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”

Westminster Confession, III, 5

God does not foresee who will have faith. Salvation is completely unconditional. If God chooses you you will have faith if he does not choose you you will not have faith.

“All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”

Westminster Confession, X, 1

There are two different types of ‘call’ in Calvinism.

  1. Effectual call – only for those who are saved.
  2. General call – which goes to everybody.

Notice – they are determined and yet they come most freely!

If you’re going to understand Calvinism you must understand the Calvinist concept of freedom.

The ‘common sense’ view of freedom is:

“Libertarian Freedom – A free action is one that is not determined by prior causes or conditions. As he makes the choice, the agent has the power to choose A and the power to choose not-A, and it is up to him how he will choose.”

This is NOT the view of freedom in Calvinism. The Calvinist view is that of soft determinism / compatibilism:

“Compatibilism – There is no logical inconsistency between freedom and determinism. Freedom and responsibility and compatible with total determinism.”

“Compatibilist Freedom:

  • A free act is not caused or compelled by anything external to the agent who performs it.
  • It is, however, caused by something internal to the agent, namely, a psychological state of affairs such as a belief, desire or some combination of these two.
  • The agent performing the act could have done differently if he had wanted to.

So Calvinism at first seems internally inconsistent if we’re working with a libertarian definition of freedom but if we understand freedom the way it is defined as in compatibilism then it can be internally consistent.

Philosophically consistent Calvinists appreciate they need to be compatibilists.

“Calvinists as determinists must either reject freedom altogether or accept compatibilism.”

John Feinberg, TrinityDivinitySchool

There is a HUGE implication on the compatibilist understanding of freedom.

“If we suppose some form of compatibilism, then God could have created men and women who freely (in a sense compatible with determinism) did only what was morally right.”

Calvinist philosopher Paul Helm

God could have made ALL people freely (in the compatibilist sense) love him and always do the good! And they would have done it ‘freely’ (as Calvinists understand the term). Therefore Calvinism has a serious philosophical problem.

THE CALVINIST CONUNDRUM

  1. God truly loves all persons.
  2. Truly to love someone is to desire their well being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you can.
  3. The well being and true flourishin of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him.
  4. God could determine all persons freely to accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.
  5. Therefore, all will be saved.

What premise will Calvinists reject if they are to avoid the conclusion? But Calvinists are not universalists. Arminians will reject premise 4.

Consistent Calvinists are compatibilists. Eg.

“When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of his love, we mean that He loves whom he chooses. God does not love everybody.”

Calvinist theologian Arthur W. Pink

Pink understands the logic of Calvinism completely.

“If God had elected to save everyone without exception, all would certainly be saved. But God never had the slightest intention of saving everyone. That is what the doctrine of election means in the first place: God chooses some, but not all.”

“That God may have reasons of his own for choosing me for salvation and not my father (who, as far as I know, died an atheist) may well be so, but it is certain that I did not supply him with those reasons.”

R.K. McGregor Wright

“But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And, though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.”

Calvinist Pastor and Author, John Piper

Maybe Piper loves his sons better than God does?

Inconsistent Calvinism:

“Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled though he is also a responsible moral agent.”

“The reality of human moral agency and responsibility in a world where God is Lord is one of the mysteries of creation, which we reverently acknowledge, but do not pretend fully to understand.”

Calvinist theologian J.I. Packer

A frequent move inconsistent Calvinists make is to appeal to mystery (which is ironic since they often come across as the rational ones). Packer appears to be affirming both determinism and libertarian free will as if they are not consistent. So he says:

“Accept it for what it is and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding.”

J.I. Packer

“In these circumstances, what is the difference between an apparent inconsistency and a real one? How do we know that what is called an antinomy might not turn out to be a real inconsistency?”

Paul Helm

Real Contradictions:

Explicit Contradiction is when a statement is simultaneously affirmed and denied:

  1. Bach is a bachelor
  2. Bach is not a bachelor

Implicit contradictions can be made explicit by adding definitions and employing basic logic.

  1. Bach is a bachelor
  2. Bach is a married man
  3. All bachelors are unmarried men
  4. Bach is an unmarried man (2 and 4 are now explicitly contradictory)

Apparent Contradictions:

A paradox is a surface contradiction that is merely verbal, but not real.

  1. I am crucified with Christ
  2. Nevertheless I live

A contradiction is not a paradox.

A contradiction is not a mystery.

Mystery: a truth that, while not contradictory, is beyond our full understanding. Unlike a paradox, it cannot be easily resolved by making terms explicit. Eg.

  1. There is only one God.
  2. God exists in three persons.

“So the basic difference between the two positions is not… that Arminianism discerns a bona fide free offer of Christ in the gospel that Calvinism fails to discern and take seriously; nor that Arminianism acknowledges human moral responsibility before God while Calvinism reduces our race to robots.”

J.I. Packer

“Everyone in the Reformed mainstream will insist that Christ the Saviou is freely offered – indeed, freely offers himself – to sinners in and through the gospel; and that since God gives all free agency (that is, voluntary decision-making power) we are answerable to him for what we do… But Calvinism at the same time affirms total perversity, depravity, and inability of fallen human beings, which results in them naturally and continually using their free agency to say no to God.”

J.I. Packer

Which view of freedom does he really believe in here? It sounds like libertarian freedom! But he is saying God makes a bone fide (“Good faith”) offering of himself to us in the gospel. How can he say that? How can he be consistent in saying both?

So Packer’s position leads to the following claims:

CORE CALVINISM

  1. Only the elect can actually accept the offer of salvation. (Only those who are elect can be saved – the elect cannot respond.)
  2. Not all are elect.
  3. Not all persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.

But then Packer says this kind of thing:

  1. God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to all persons.
  2. A bona fide offer is one that can actually be accepted by the person to whom is is offered.
  3. All persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.

What is Packer saying in 4? That there is such a thing as a good faith offer which cannot be received? Surely a good faith offer is one which can be responded to? Packer is either being dishonest or misleading. Assuming he’s being honest he must believe 5 and 6! Compare 3 and 6:

  1. Not all persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.

6.    All persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.

This cannot be a mystery. It’s an implicit contradiction. You cannot make them true by appeal to mystery.

AMBIGUOUS CALVINISM

This you will find all over the place. This happens when the Calvinist slips between the compatibilist view of freedom and the libertarian view of freedom.

“There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom he holds it out as a savour of death [cf 2 Cor. 2:16], and as the occasion of severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believer alone… Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness amd strikes them with even greater blindness.”

John Calvin, Institutes 3.24.8

In older classic Calvinism you would hear a lot about the dreaded false hope. If you fell away how did you know that you were one of the true elect?

How do you make sense of this in compatibilist terms? Surely Calvin is talking about libertarian free will? When sinners get blamed for rejecting God is because of them and not God.

MISLEADING CALVINISM

Arthur Pink bites the bullet at least and admits – God doesn’t love everybody!

“This is how Calvinism maintains credibility – by continuing to use the rhetoric of universal love in a way that their theology DOES NOT SUPPORT!” J. Walls

“When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, ‘Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?’… From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no gesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.”

D.A. Carson

How can you really say that God loves everyone if you are a Calvinist? How does Carson get his “Of course!”? Carson distinguishes three types of love:

3 SENSES GOD MIGHT LOVE THE UNCONVERTED

1. God’s providential love over all that he has made.

2. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world.

3. God’s particular, effective selecting love toward his elect.

Without 3, 1 and 2 are meaningless.

Surely Carson is equivocating on the word ‘love’ is he only loves them as in 1 and 2 and not in 3?

“What if God gives you every material blessing for 70, 80, 90 years only to send you to hell unconditionally? Is that love?”

J.L. Walls

If Carson really spelt out what he meant by ‘God loves you’ would anyone take it seriously?

Now recall the ‘Huge Implication’ from earlier:

“If we suppose some form of compatibilism, then God could have created men and women who freely (in a sense compatible with determinism) did only what was morally right.”

Calvinist philosopher Paul Helm

The fundamental difference (even bigger than the issue of freedom) is the character of God. Calvinists talk a lot about the power of God but they do so to the extent that God can do anything – even those things which violate our deepest moral intuitions.

“If we think of the issue only in terms of power, the question is naturally framed in terms of what God could do; but if we think of it in terms of God’s character, the focus shifts to what God would do. And it is clear to us that is God determined all things, including our choices, he would not determine the sort of evil and atrocities that we have witnessed in history. Nor would many, perhaps even most, of the human race ultimately be separated from the love of God and lost forever. Indeed, if God determined everything, none would be lost (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).”

Jerry L. Walls, Wesleyan Philosopher, ‘Why I am not a Calvinist’, p.218

“Interestingly, the title of the article in which Piper insists on adoring a God who might consign his son to hell is ‘How does a Sovereign God love?’ We believe Piper has the question backward… Given the full revelation of God in Scripture, the question we should be asking is, how would a God of perfect love express his sovereignty?”

‘Why I am not a Calvinist’, p.219

“When love is subordinated to will, then the fatherhood of God, which is emphasized in the Trinity… takes a back seat to the image of God as King or Ruler… In a nutshell, our case against Calvinism is that it doesn’t do justice to the character of God revealed in Scripture. It does not accurately portray the holy One who is ‘compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love’ (Ps. 103:8), the God for whom love is not merely an option or sovereign choice, but who is such that his eternal nature is love (1 Jn 4:8).

‘Why I am not a Calvinist’, pp.219-220

God cannot fail to love. It is not a weakness – it is a strength!

“That God is Lord over his creation is clear. But a prior figure used in Scripture demonstrates the character of God’s kingship. Before God was King, he was Father, and his fatherhood is more ultimate than his kingship. Kingship speaks of his relationship to his creation. He reigns and will reign over it all. But fatherhood speaks of a relationship within the very nature of God that was there before he spoke anything into existence. In the bosom of eternity, before there was time or space or humanity, the second person of the triune Godhead called the first person of the Trinity not Lord, but Father.”

Dennis Kinlaw, Wesleyan Old Testament Scholar

 ——————————————————————————————

Those are my notes on the lecture. I hope they help you study it better.

I would also like to add some other examples of Calvinists doing the sorts of things Walls has described above. In doing so I am NOT suggesting these Christian thinkers are stupid or that they are not Christians. However, I do think they help demonstrate some of the problems highlighted above. What is also an issue is that most of these people are very popular and well known and listened to both within the Christian community and as representatives of the Christian community by non-theists which means this has implications for how we do apologetics.

Here is the famous Calvinist theologian John MacArthur appealing to the mystery card under the guise of calling the problem a ‘tension’:

Notice Mark Driscoll, in this video clip, start by affirming libertarian free will in order to blame humanity for their rejection of God (he even states God gives people “what they want” but forgets to mention that, on Calvinism, what they want is what God predetermined them to want) but then he claims that God overrides the free will of the elect in order to force them to be saved. Interestingly, to justify the idea of violating free will, Driscoll give the analogy of him as a father pulling his daughter out of a road where should could have been knocked down by the speeding cars. What this analogy does not account for is that it implies God allows the majority of his children to walk into oncoming traffic even though it’s no crime (in fact surely it is a GOOD action since it’s done by a perfect being?) to violate their free will and, for some reason, he only saves a few ‘elect’ instead. Would we call such a father ‘loving’? (Notice how this takes us back to Walls’ question to Piper about whether he loves his sons more than God does.)

This problem is highlighted if you compare Driscoll interviewing R.C. Sproul on this matter. In this clip Sproul suggests God is like a judge sentencing his own son in that he does so with grief. But this does not address the problem since the Calvinist believes that God can absolve people of this judgement by virtue of an eternal predestination. So the question is not answered by Sproul’s analogy:

So, as I said, if Sproul’s answer is a “great answer”, as Driscoll says, then it ought to answer why some are sent to judgement and others are not. Atheists will often ask this question in fact. Why are so many not saved? To go back to Sproul’s analogy it would appear, on Calvinism, that the crimes committed by the defendant being condemned were beyond his control to change. Now what judge would condemn someone who did a crime but had no choice in whether they committed the crime or not? That would be grounds for, at the very least, diminished responsibility. Even worse for Sproul’s analogy is that it would actually be the judge who was the one who compelled the defendant (although you could start to say victim at this point) to commit the crime with no choice as to whether to reject the action or not. Yet this judge, supposedly, with sadness and grief condemns this person? This makes no sense whatsoever. A thoughtful non-theist will be able to see beyond this kind of poor analogy and it weakens the overall case for Christianity and belief in a loving and righteous God.

Here is John Piper making his theological determinism very clear in that he believes every single particle in the universe does exactly what God has predetermined. Whilst affirming that all is predetermined he appears to suggest the solution to the problem is “a choice you have to make about the cross”. What Piper does not explain is how this choice is not a choice in the libertarian sense but rather a more limited choice. Is this misleading Calvinism or incoherent Calvinism?

Now here is John Piper interviewing Rick Warren and Warren’s answer to a question on unconditional election is to appeal explicitly to a logical contradiction as if it were a mystery using this word ‘tension’ to mean an ‘apparent contradiction’.

In this video Calvinist Greg Koukl considers the question of why God elects some and not others. He admits to having no possible reason for knowing why this is so but the problem of what this appears to imply about God’s character is not discussed. Instead Koukl takes the popular approach of suggesting that the real unfairness is on those who are absolved of their crimes and not those condemned guilty. Again this presupposes who can make a case for individual guilt on a person who could not have done otherwise but was internally constrained to live the way they did. But it also raises questions about the fairness of this judge. If a judge absolves some people of their crimes but not others for no reason whatsoever but apparently on some completely arbitrary basis and when questioned about it replies “You would not understand so I will not explain.” we would not think this was a good judge but a lousy one. Again, both theologically and apologetically, this appears to make defending God rationally impossible.

Questions that I think need addressing by my brothers and sisters in Christ who are Calvinists are:

1. Why do many Calvinists appear to believe in libertarian free will in apologetic contexts (or at least give the impression they do)?

2. Is the compatibilist notion of free will sufficient to absolve God of injustice without appealing to mystery?

3. What do you think of the analogies used by the Calvinist theologians above?

4. Why would incompatibilism be inconsistent with God’s omnipotence?

5. If the compatibilist notion of free will is reasonable then why would God not have been sufficiently glorified by a humanity where everyone was saved?

6. Can you really say, in good conscience, that God ‘loves’ the non-elect?

7. If God has to create a world where some are damned then does this not mean God is at least somewhat unjust or possible even partly evil in his nature? And if he has to create a world where some are damned what does this mean for God’s power? But if you say he did not need to create a world where some (remember that some Calvinists would even say ‘most’ at this point not just ‘some’) are damned then why did he?

If anyone else reading this blog knows of any other brief video clips I can add to this resource please let me know and I will add them in. Thanks.

Lastly this is the video Walls was talking about at the end of his lecture where he and Paul Sloan discuss the main Biblical passages (Part 3 of 6):

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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25 Responses to What’s wrong with Calvinism?

  1. Jay Morgan says:

    Micheal, Very well written. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks. I book marked as a resource.

  2. wellthmaker says:

    How ridiculous. The last 7 questions are answered By God through Paul in Rom 9. It is a mystery in that the human mind does not full comprehend God and his ways, just as we do not fully comprehend what happened on the Cross when Jesus said My God My God why hast thou forsaken me. Or any aspect of the trinity really.
    Lean not on your own understanding. Can you find out God by trying?
    Rom 9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
    20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

    • michaelstheology says:

      Thanks wellthmaker,

      Well I obviously do not agree that the seven questions really are answered by God through Paul in Romans 9 because I do not believe that Paul was talking about individual election to salvation in that chapter but, instead, that Paul was far more concerned about corporate election and the place of the Jewish nation now the gentiles are to be grafted in to the elect (which makes more historical and literary sense). Now, of course, you will claim that is a faulty interpretation but you must know that there are top level Biblical scholars who are in full agreement with me here and therefore we are left in a hermeneutical stand off. When left in such a stand off it is very worthwhile asking oneself (I think) which interpretation makes most rational sense instead of pulling out the mystery card and thinking one is being pious in doing so.

      It always tickles me that many Calvinists spend such a huge amount of time trying to explain the workings of God in even tiny details that even Scripture does not do (as to differentiate between different wills of God etc.) and yet the minute they encounter some really tough questions about their views they suddenly pull the “Don’t you question or try to explain God!!!” card. That seems very disingenuous to me and I think we have a duty to do better than that. I’m not questioning God by the way – I’m questioning a man’s (or it would be better to say – a GROUP of men’s) interpretation of God and I don’t think that doing so is misplaced but rather is a rational duty.

  3. Pingback: Free will? Free of what? | SelfAwarePatterns

    • michaelstheology says:

      Thanks Mike.The problem, as I see it, is you are treating libertarianism as if it is one very narrow view of free will and it’s not – it’s a whole family of views and there are dozens of varieties of it. The definition in your article was incredibly narrow and one which I seriously doubt too many libertarians hold to. Even classic substance dualists would not define libertarianism the way you do. Also, as you admit, there are loads of non-substance dualist philosophers who are libertarians (in a broader sense than your definition) so I guess they missed the memo on how they cannot be both? Also, in order to hold to Plantinga’s free will defense, one only need be a theistic incompatibilist (belief that determined agent causation between God and human CANNOT leave the human responsible for their actions) which leaves the broader debate about compatibilism and incompatibilism (which is what philosophers outside of philosophy of religion are discussing) wide open. What is necessary also is a commitment to moral responsibility but since hardly anyone in the debate questions that this is not a problem. Also – keep in mind the logical problem fails to meet its own burden and is rendered impotent without any specific defense being mounted. Happy New Year.

  4. labreuer says:

    One fun question to explore is what happens if we get to the point where we can create simulated digital worlds that contain sentient beings? Do we have the right to cause them to suffer 24/7? After all, we are gods to them: we created them. If creating a being gives one full rights over the being, then we should be able to torture our created beings. And yet nobody would support this. Except perhaps the Calvinist, via special-pleading for God. Am I being uncharitable?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Maybe a little bit uncharitable. Calvinists don’t think God created people to suffer for the sake of suffering per se but to suffer because it glorifies him all the more. So perhaps, in your analogy, if you found some way the creator of the virtual reality game gets more glory for creating such endless suffering it might be the same kind of thing (only, of course, in the analogy the people are not really real they just think they are so his ‘crime’ is far less).

      • labreuer says:

        Sorry, I meant that if the following principle is true,

        (1) The creator of a world is allowed to do with it what he/she pleases.

        , then we ought to be perfectly moral in creating digital worlds in which sentient, sapient creatures in them are tortured endlessly. If I’m wrong here, then the justification that God can do anything because he is God falls flat. The reason this is often obscured is that we usually talk about “what God would do”, and this “would” is a function of God’s character. So what God does is good because of his excellent character, not merely because he is God. That is what I am getting at by criticizing (1); it is only true of morally perfect creators.

        This is muddied when we say that everything God does is good. This is true because of God’s character, not because he is a deity. Here I avoid another mess, by saying “a deity” instead of “the greatest possible being” of the ontological argument. It’s important to separate various aspects of arguments like this; muddy the waters and you can say anything!

  5. reformedarsenal says:

    “The ‘common sense’ view of freedom is:

    “Libertarian Freedom – A free action is one that is not determines by prior causes or conditions. As he makes the choice, the agent has the power to choose A and the power to choose not-A, and it is up to him how he will choose.””

    Does the Father have the freedom to choose not to love the Son?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Would it be love if he didn’t?

      • reformedarsenal says:

        Do you really mean to say that the Father could choose not to love the Son? Could the Son choose not to glorify the Father? Could the Father choose not to be faithful to his promises?

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          If ‘love’ contains no element of individual volition then I have no idea what you mean by that verb.

          Do you think Jesus’ temptations were nothing like ours then (in that he could not possibly have dishonoured his Father and given in)?

          There also appear to be some rather huge assumptions here about how analogous God’s freedom needs to be in line with ours which I would seriously question.

          Of course – anytime the Calvinists would like to explain how one can be responsible for actions which were causally determined by a source other than oneself – I’m all ears! 😉

  6. reformedarsenal says:

    “If ‘love’ contains no element of individual volition then I have no idea what you mean by that verb.”

    If you think that the Father is able to ultimately choose to not love the Son, then you have no idea what the verb means in the first place. The Father’s love toward the Son is perfect, unconditional, and flows from his very nature. To affirm that he can choose not to love the Son either means that 1) His love is arbitrary and subject to change (a denial of divine immutability and simplicity), or 2) that it is conditional (meaning that his love is not perfect, because it is conditional). You’re really caught in a sticky spot. Beyond all that, God IS love, which means that as an attribute, it must be expressed so in order to cease to love the Son the Father would have to cease to be God.

    “Do you think Jesus’ temptations were nothing like ours then (in that he could not possibly have dishonoured his Father and given in)?” – That’s a red herring. Do you think that the Father could choose to sin now?

    “There also appear to be some rather huge assumptions here about how analogous God’s freedom needs to be in line with ours which I would seriously question.” – You were the one who claimed that Libertarian Free Will is a “Common Sense” definition (something that is entirely disputable). If anything God must be MORE free than we are, not less. Meaning his freedom, if LFW is both the only rational and the most desirable articulation of freedom, must be at least as libertarian as our own if not greater than our own on a significant magnitude.

    “Of course – anytime the Calvinists would like to explain how one can be responsible for actions which were causally determined by a source other than oneself – I’m all ears!” – This is a straw herring if I’ve ever seen one. My question is a critique of a statement you made in your article, simply diverting the discussion back to your critique of Calvinism does not answer my critique.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Well then I think your Christology is in for some very serious problems if that’s the case. (Christology here is most certainly not a “red herring” on this matter at all. In fact I would say it’s paradigmatic for a responsible theology.)

      I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of Christian theologians and philosophers have thought that it was possible for Jesus to sin during his incarnation. If not then it’s very hard to understand certain NT texts which suggest he was tempted as we are. If Jesus wasn’t really tempted, or it was not even logically possible, for him to sin (which is a manifestation of not loving God with all our hearts, then he most certainly was not tempted anything like we are. In fact, such ‘temptation’ is qualitatively completely different and barely even deserves to be called that.

      Furthermore, I notice you merely ASSERT that having a choice in matters of love makes the choice ‘arbitrary’ or ‘conditional’ but you fail to make a case for either. I completely disagree that having a choice in matters of love makes the choice arbitrary. That’s like suggesting a person’s love for their husband or wife is arbitrary. I’d love to see the philosophical argument that could bear that burden. Nevermind the fact that numerous Christian philosophers have pointed out many times over that libertarian free will is not making the claim that there are no causal factors involved in making decisions. (Kane/Timpe) And then you say ‘conditional’ but that depends on what you mean. Of course it’s conditional on certain things. There are some things God cannot fail to do because of his nature.

      Actually it was Jerry Walls who said that about the “common sense” view of libertarian free will. But I generally agree with him here. Most people are not thinking about compatibilism when they think about their choices. It is the common sense view most people have. They think they can eat toast or cereal in the morning. They tend to think they can wear a blue shirt or a white one. Feel free to dispute it but disputation without evidence doesn’t mean much to me. Although I would agree the common sense view can be too crude. My view is much closer to those who argue for virtue libertarianism (see Timpe’s ‘Free Will in Philosophical Theology’ for a defense). (This view does not hold that an agent necessarily needs to be able to choose x or -x in some moment t in order to be morally free.)

      Why “must” God be more “free” than we are? Again, you merely ASSERT this. Does the Bible say that? Are there not some ‘freedoms’ which make a being a less perfect being than another? Remember that those who hold to LFW don’t think it’s always beneficial. Clearly sometimes it’s not.Also those who hold to LFW also do not have to hold to the view that “LFW is both the only rational and the most desirable articulation of freedom” since many of them don’t think it will work that way in heaven (see Timpe and Sennett for example). I am just reading Tim Mawson who writes:

      “…one and the same ability (to be less than morally perfect) can be a power for us even though it would be a liability for the most powerful being that is logically possible—God.”

      I have never heard of a “straw herring” before! Is that a genetic disorder created by a straw man and a red herring having children?

      It is absolutely not a “diversion” to bring up the argument from responsibility. It is the core piece of evidence for people having some moral degree of LFW. If you want to convince me, or any other non-Calvinist, that compatibilism is a sound Christian doctrine then you have the task of demonstrating that it is clearly taught in Scripture and that it is not logically incoherent. If it’s the former and not the latter then you are asking me to become a Christian fideist and I don’t think that’s an option for me I’m afraid. I think the Christian faith is a rational faith but I only think that is the case for non-deterministic forms (which, thankfully, is the vast majority of it).

      Lots of assertions and dodging the questions I feel from your side. I’m afraid to say it reminds me of a thousand other conversations I’ve had with Calvinists.

  7. Thoughts on this reply to Walls’s interview? http://wp.me/p2DOKP-1G

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks but I don’t think much of it I’m afraid.

      Both in this lecture and in Walls’ book ‘Why I am not a Calvinist’ Walls explains what is meant by the love of God and his appeals are far more based on what the Bible says than intuitions so I think you misrepresent him on that badly. He also notes that there are numerous Calvinists who claim that God really does not love everyone. This is a problem Calvinists have to live with alongside those who equivocate with the verb (as he shows in the lecture). He also does not shy away from judgements God makes on human beings but argues that one can at least understand some reasons why God might do such things (to protect the line of the Messiah etc. which results in giving a loving reason for them). As opposed to this he takes up the serious problem Calvinists have in claiming that people are responsible for their actions even though they have been made that way to act the way they do (with a merely compatibilist notion of freedom). He shows how it’s not mysterious how such people can be judged but how contradictory it is logically speaking. And the Bible makes it perfectly clear that people are deserving of punishment for their actions. That makes it a completely different kind of problem and far more serious for the theological determinist.

      As opposed to your argument I say, along with the majority of the church throughout world history, that the Bible does not teach a “meticulously sovereign” God and that the few verses you cite to that effect can be, and have been, accounted for perfectly well without concluding the doctrine of “meticulous sovereignty”. Given that the church has largely rejected that reading of Scripture (especially the early church fathers) I think the onus of proof is on the theological determinist to make their case still. The fact that modern scholars are also strongly opposed to this reading suggests that job has not been done (at least to anyone who reads more than Calvinists commentators anyway). If you had read Walls’ book you would know chapters 1 and 2 are both devoted to doubting premise one of your argument most directly on the basis of biblical exegesis.

      So I’m afraid I’m not blown away.

      • aRemonstrant,

        I could be mistaken, but I’m not sure you have appreciate the subtlety of the argument.

        First, The understanding of God’s love presented is not based on intuition at all, but Scripture, which portrays God’s loving, gracious, good and perfect character as complex. No intuitive of understanding of God’s love for all people would included, for example, God hating some people (e.g., Ps. 5:5-6) or consigning to Hell people who have never heard the Gospel. Developing an understanding of God’s love that does justice to truths like this is actually the main point of the article, and you haven’t interacted with it at all.

        Second, although it is not the subject of the article, Walls (and you) both assume that an agent must have the ability to do otherwise in order to be held morally responsible for their actions. But this is far from obvious given the writings of Harry Frankfurt and John Martin Fischer (i.e., a semi-compatibilist, not a traditional “compatibilist,” understanding of freedom which I, myself, opine and Walls critiques) and most philosophers, including Arminians like William Lane Craig, agree that the ability to do otherwise is not necessary for free choice/ moral responsibility (“Philosophically, I’m persuaded by arguments such as have been offered by Harry Frankfurt that free choice does not entail the ability to do otherwise.” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-god-morally-praiseworthy). If you haven’t read a great deal of John Martin Fischer, I would encourage you to do so.

        Finally, the idea that Walls’s book is devoted to doubting premise 1 of the “For” argument simply isn’t true. Walls is not arguing against meticulous sovereignty, but determinism, particularly divine determinism. It appears to me that you are badly conflating the two. There are plenty of Arminian advocates of libertarian free will who believe that Scripture teaches God’s meticulous sovereignty (Molinists), and they should, given that it is, in fact, the historical view of the Church. A short-list would include William Lane Craig, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan and William Dembski.

        I don’t know how fruitful further discussion will be, but I do hope that this helps bring to light some distinctions and subtleties that I’m afraid you have overlooked.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Actually Walls and Baggett make it clear in ‘Good God’ why a perfectly loving God would hate and would judge some people so I feel you are the one heavily oversimplifying Walls on this matter. He is not some open theist you know. The question of people going to hell who have never heard the gospel is one where there are different views no matter whether one is Arminian, Molinist or Calvinist so I don’t see that as having much bearing here.

          I do not agree that Walls always argues that someone must have the ability to always do otherwise in all situations either. Walls makes it clear that his view is also about the sourcehood of the decision (showing some overlap with Timpe’s view on libertarian freedom). I myself hold more to sourcehood as being distinctive of libertarian freedom than necessarily and always the ability to do otherwise. What matters is the source of the decision first and foremost. I also think that’s true of a lot of philosophically aware libertarians too.

          I am using ‘meticulous sovereignty’ and ‘divine determinism’ to mean essentially the same thing. I’m not the only one to do that either. If someone wants to distinguish the two then they are free to do so (or are they?) but determinism is the orthodox Calvinist view along with compatibilism. Molinism, such as found in Keathley, he prefers to use the phrase ‘meticulous control’ while also allowing for human freedom in a way Calvinism does not. When most Molinists talk of ‘meticulous control’ they most certainly mean something different to most Calvinists. I am more more disposed toward a Molinism which takes libertarian freedom seriously than Calvinism for sure and Keathley’s case is pretty persuasive.

          Of course I am generalizing – it’s a comments section. I’m not writing an essay here but rather very briefly explaining why I don’t think you have created any serious problems for Walls that’s all. Sorry. You can always send it to him and ask him his view – he’s pretty good at responding to his critics.

          • A Molinist agrees with the analysis of meticulous sovereignty that the article provides. God plans every event, action and detail of creation according to his will and, in one way or another, infallibly brings his plan to pass. I studied under Keathley, actually, and know that he would agree with such an analysis. For reasons that defy a comments section, I do not think Keathley’s ambulatory model of grace is successful. But, so long as we can agree on meticulous sovereignty as mentioned above, my argument is successful, and I think could even be utilized by Molinists against, say, open theists. Of course, I think Peter Van Inwagen’s unpublished “Against Middle Knowledge” (an articulation of the grounding objection to CCFs in modal semantics) and Cowan’s “Luck Objection” deal a fatal blow to Molinism, but that is neither here nor there 🙂 Thanks for the dialogue.

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