A story of four lifeguards…

It was the Scottish philosopher David Hume who famously complained about the weaknesses of arguments based on analogies. Even though I’m English, I have to confess I think he has a point. Let us be clear though. Using an analogy is not a logical fallacy in and of itself and sometimes they can help explain a more abstract point. But one needs to be aware that there are lots of problems related to using them.

Introductions to critical reasoning and logic often point out that analogies need to be careful not to be so disanalogous as to be useless (ironic I know but too often the case). Analogies also need to beware of implying consequences detrimental to the point being made and should also consider what counteranalogies might be offered in reply.

With those things in mind I would like to address an analogy used by the Calvinist theologian Gorden H. Clark. It was brought to my attention on the ‘Calvinism is the Gospel’ website. The article giving the summary of Clark was written by professor Jerry Johnson. The paper is titled ‘The problem of God and the existence of evil – An Introduction’ and the context is Clark’s claim that free will does not solve the problem of evil (he wrote it before Plantinga came on the scene so we can forgive him!). Johnson notes:

“Clark gives an illustration of a lifeguard on a beach:

Picture a lifeguard on a beach who watches as a boy is taken under by a strong undercurrent. The boy struggles violently (a picture of man’s enslavement to sin). The lifeguard has the ability to rescue the boy and he may shout some words of advice, telling the boy to exercise his free will and swim to shore. But the boy drowns as the guard watches from shore. Would the Arminian conclude that the lifeguard has escaped culpability? This illustration shows that permission of evil does not relieve the lifeguard from responsibility. This is even more evident when we consider that the lifeguard (in this case, God) created the beach and the boy. An omnipotent lifeguard could have prevented the boy from entering the beach, or He could have prevented the undertow from occurring, or he could have made the boy a better swimmer, or He could have simply rescued him directly.”

So does this analogy help the Calvinist critique Arminianism? I think the clear answer is no and here’s why.

It appears obvious to me but the Arminian lifeguard (let’s call him ‘Al’ from here on) would not be merely calling from the shore so we have immediate disanalogy. That is, of course, the view of Pelagianism (that man can rescue himself of his own nature and God need not interfere). So Clark has misrepresented the lifeguard as Arminian when he’s actually more Pelagian (a confusion most serious scholars don’t make). Now ‘Pel’ (the Pelagian lifeguard) is more analogous to Clark’s lifeguard since he calls to the swimmer (and perhaps even gives advice on good swimming technique from shore) but the disanalogy now becomes the person drowning because Pelagianism teaches this person can save themselves and therefore they would be a reasonably capable swimmer and can swim back to the shore to a hearty congratulations from Pel and a round of applause from the onlookers.

Now if the lifeguard gets in the water and helps the drowning swimmer so they both make an effort to get to shore together then that would not be Arminian lifeguarding either! Now the lifeguard is semi-Pelagian (let’s call him ‘Spel’). Here it is important that the drowning swimmer assist Spel in the job of getting back to shore. Spel is a decent lifeguard but he’s a touch out of shape and he needs the drowning swimmer to pull his own weight from time to time during the rescue. Spel does a decent job throughout the day but he can’t save those who can’t help themselves (or him)!

Now surely it’s time for the real Arminian lifeguard (‘Al’) to get wet? Al swims out seeing the swimmer is going under and cannot possibly rescue themselves and grabs the drowning swimmer and the swimmer PASSIVELY (shame there’s not double bold with flashing back lights possible) permits the lifeguard to rescue him (after all he could kick and scream and desire to be left alone to save himself in his pride and rejection of Al). Al does this for ALL the drowning swimmers throughout the day by the way. The only ones who drown drown because they refuse to allow Al to save them.

Well hopefully that has demonstrated the shallowness of the analogy? It’s clearly disanalogous to the doctrine it’s attempting to critique. The only reason it might look convincing is either because people don’t tend to think about analogies too much or it is reinforcing an already inadequate understanding of Arminian theology and therefore appears to have potency. But let us now propose the counteranalogy to see if it floats…

So how does the Calvinist lifeguard do (I am referring to the TULIP ‘high’ Calvinist – we’ll call him ‘Cal’)? Cal knew all the swimmers on the beach that day were complete non-swimmers. He didn’t just allow them to get into the water – he determined they would. But before they dipped their toes in the ocean Cal chose a small minority of swimmers to save and decided the vast majority he would allow to drown (this he doesn’t do against their will, by the way, since before they go swimming he (somehow) gives them the desire to drown and resist being saved. During the day only the minority ever struggle not to drown and most accept their fate willingly and drown because they desired it (as determined by Cal). The minority saved by Cal are rescued according to their will but keep in mind this is the will Cal gave them. They are not only passive in being physically rescued but also passive in terms of having no decision to make when Cal turns up.

By the way… in John Calvin’s theology Cal swims out and pretends to save some who were not chosen to be saved just so that when Cal has got them a little closer to shore he can let them drown because they lost faith in their lifeguard and their own ability to assist him! This has caused some of the saved swimmers already on the shore some concern and now they don’t get the towels at the ready until swimmers actually get onto shore and are quite clearly out of the shallow waters.

Worse than this is the fact that Cal is apparently a more glorious lifeguard because he assigned some to eternal ‘drownation’. Their willful drownings bring him greater glory than if he had determined to save them all even though he could have done that without violating their wills.

Are Calvinists quite sure they want to tell the story of the four lifeguards (Pel, Spel, Al and Cal)?

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PS. Some Calvinists are not as unfair or as misleading about Arminian theology. Here is Calvinist theologian Michael Horton showing his graciousness toward his Arminian brothers and sisters and warning against misrepresenting Arminianism as semi-Pelagianism:

“How much more should we cherish our fellowship with Arminian brother and sisters with whom we differ! I have never met an evanglical Arminian who would say, “I’m trusting in Christ and in my own effort for salvation.” It is not only unhelpful but erroneous to suggest that Arminians do not take the Bible seriously or entrust their salvation to God’s grace in Christ.”

Michael Horton, ‘For Calvinism’ p.18

“The crucial difference between Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism is that the former insists upon the necessity of grace prior to all human response. At least as Arminius taught it, Arminianism does not deny original sin or the inability of human beings to save themselves.”

Michael Horton, ‘For Calvinism’ pp. 33,34

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And this is from Peterson and Williams’ book ‘Why I am not an Arminian’:

“…we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate. You see, calling someone a heretic is serious business. Heresy is not merely doctrinal error; it is a damnable error. The heretic so mangles the gospel of Jesus Christ that it no longer communicates the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Heresy is such a corruption of the grace of God in Christ that it invalidates either Jesus as the Saviour or grace as the way of salvation. The Arminian tradition does neither. The Arminian Christian believes that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to save sinners and that the saving work of Christ comes to the sinner by way of the grace of God received through faith. Whatever issues relevant to salvation we disagree upon, let us agree on this: the Calvinist and the Arminian are brothers in Christ. Both belong to the household of faith.”

Robert Peterson and Michael Williams, ‘Why I am not an Arminian’ p.13

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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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21 Responses to A story of four lifeguards…

  1. Now Dimly says:

    Nice post. Your analysis of the analogy is spot on. I have found myself getting annoyed in advance when I read or listen to an argument by Calvinists that portrays semi-Pelagianism because I know who they really are referring to–Arminians. I should devise a stock response and allow myself to feel some peace–“that’s a good point, if you are talking about semi-Pelagianism” or something like that. Here is another thought about your character “Cal.” Some of those he saves will make it to shore and then, once they realize who he is, will begin to call him Al and give him much more praise despite everyone around him saying that his name is really Cal.

    • michaelstheology says:

      Thanks ND.
      I like your plot twist at the end. I think they might also be somewhat put out to discover they were not some ‘ elect’ group after all. Thanks.

  2. Hello,

    I enjoyed your discussion of the four lifeguards and am happy to know where that lifeguard analogy came from (i.e. I had heard various Calvinists use it not knowing the source). I have only one slight tweak to add to your discussion. At the end of the discussion of “Cal” you wrote: “Their willful drownings bring him greater glory than if he had determined to save them all even though he could have done that without violating their wills.”

    You are correct that under calvinistic premises that he could have saved them all had he chosen to do so. This is a strong point against Calvinism: under their scheme he could save all of them but instead intentionally chooses to damn most of them (that does not speak of a good or loving character at all!).

    Isn’t it also true that most contemporary calvinists hold to the premise that God directly, completely and continuously controls all things and persons?

    If that is the case, then it is not quite accurate to suggest “even though he could have done that without violating their wills.”

    God can only be *violating* their wills, if their wills are independent of his will, which would not be the case if he controlled their wills.

    If I had control of your will, there would be no need to violate your will to get you to do something since I already control your will (and so could direct you any way that I choose to direct you: analogous to a puppet master who directly, continuously and completely controls their puppet). I only have to *violate* your will if I don’t totally control it. And with many Calvinists they seem to believe that God has complete control of all persons and their wills. If he has such control then he never needs to violate their wills to get them to do anything. Violation of a will only occurs if these wills are independent from other persons, not controlled by other persons (including God).
    Put another way, and to use an analogy: the Calvinists borrow from the non-Calvinists’ thinking when they speak of “permission”( because if all is determined there is never a case of “permitting someone to do something”): similarly, they borrow from the non-Calvinists’ thinking when they speak of “violating” someone’s will. In the real world, distinct from calvinist fantasies and imagining: sometimes people do have their will violated by another person, sometimes people are permitted to so things when they could have done otherwise than what they were permitted to do. In each case these realities exist because at times people do choose freely in the libertarian sense and their independent wills are sometimes violated by other persons.

    So I am not strictly speaking disagreeing with you, simply pointing out that if all is determined as Calvinists imagine, then God is never violating any person’s will because he already controls it. As he controls it, there is no need for him to violate it. In a world where a divine puppet master exists alongside many of us completely controlled puppets: the puppets are never permitted to do anything nor are their wills every violated.

    Oh and should the Calvinist try to escape by claiming “but that puppet world is disanalogous to the human world since puppets don’t have wills and human persons do”. The simple response is twofold: Ok then imagine a world where the puppets have wills, wills that the puppet master completely controls. Secondly, if you are going to argue that God completely, directly and continuously controls all persons (as you do when you claim God is not sovereign unless he exercises this kind of control over persons), then you are in fact arguing that God has exactly the kind of control that the puppet master has over their puppets (whether they have a will or not!) 🙂

    Robert

    • michaelstheology says:

      Hi Robert – thanks for you message.

      I don’t know if Clark was the first to use this analogy or not but it’s certainly one which gets used a fair bit.

      Yes the New Calvinism (headed by Piper) holds to divine determinism in everything (not something found in TULIP). So yes, I don’t think you’re disagreeing with me either. God gives people what they want but it’s important to note that God has given them those desires from eternity and so he does not violate their will. You are right in that this leads many to ask the question whether human beings are merely God’s puppets doing his bidding and, at this point, I find Calvinists will usually do some special pleading along the lines you noted. They will then begin using ‘permission’ language which makes little sense since to ‘permit’ something, by definition, is to give your will or desire over to someone else’s will or desire but how can that someone else be the source of that desire if the real source of it is God? It makes no sense to use this language and that is why many Calvinists are more consistent and reject it (I believe Calvin himself rejected such language).

      Yes you’re right. The puppet analogy would fall down too easily and so I would simply prefer to argue that point without reference to any analogies since it’s a strong enough point without any.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. David Bishop says:

    How does someone passively permit? Is that like not running a stop sign? I’ve passively permitted it to stop me by not running it? Wouldn’t that imply I have the ability to run it?

    So then, by passively permitting God to save him, the sinner, the human sinner, the mortal sinner, the creature sinner, the finite sinner, he chooses not to overpower God and thereby run the stop sign? Poor God, at least He tried.

    Sounds to me this is the same thing the serpent suggested in the garden. You shall be as God.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hi David,

      You asked “How does someone passively permit?”

      Well in the context of the analogy what a person being saved needs to do is just lie there and do nothing. If someone wants to be rescued by a lifeguard the best thing they can do is just be still and let the lifeguard save them.

      I think if you read the Bible you can find God getting frustrated and his plans being thwarted all over the place. It is not that God is being “overpowered” by something or someone more powerful than himself. It is rather this clear Biblical idea that people can resist God and refuse his grace.

      So I would not accept, in the slightest, that this is anything close to making man as a god in terms of his power. This is where the analogy would break down completely because the person resisting God’s grace is dependent on God even for their rejection of him (in the sense that they would not be alive if it were not for him allowing them to live). So being able to resist God does not make one god-like in any sense.

      What it does do, however, is it makes it clear that it is THEY who are responsible for rejecting God and not God himself causally determining their disbelief.

      I hope that clarifies?

      • blakejohnson says:

        To say that the alternative is a notion that “God himself causally determines their disbelief” is a complete mischaracterization. I should make a list of Arminian authors who have treated their Calvinist brothers fairly, to go along with your above list 😉 .

        You’re right that the drowning person “would not be alive if it were not for God allowing them to live.” But of course it goes much, much deeper than that, right? Is God not holding their molecules together? Can their arms function at all, or continue in a solid state, on their own? The Calvinist’s point is that an action done “independent of God” is an impossibility, an irrational notion. Ch. 8 of John Frame’s Systematic Theology does a good job of laying this idea out.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          “To say that the alternative is a notion that “God himself causally determines their disbelief” is a complete mischaracterization.”

          Really? Funny that because then you claim:

          “The Calvinist’s point is that an action done “independent of God” is an impossibility, an irrational notion.”

          Funny how Calvinists end up asserting two contradictory things at the same time!

          Frame is a compatibilist himself so I don’t know how you think he’s going to help you here. He thinks free-will and causal determinism can be reconciled with each other. Well that’s the question of course. Can they? If so, how? That you don’t explain. I’m not really surprised. No Calvinist has ever been able to. They merely shrug their shoulders and claim it’s a mystery!!

          Frame was also critical of Clark’s ex lex approach to theodicy it’s worth noting.

          • blakejohnson says:

            Do you not believe that some things are beyond our capacity to understand? Why do you mock a response to something that says it’s a mystery to us?

            And Frame most certainly does not speak positively of the “free will” that you are asserting. He rejects it as nonsense. There are several ways to define these terms, and you seem very comfortable making these criticisms without taking the time to define terms.

          • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

            I mock it because that is the central issue! One can only ascribe to mystery those thing which are mysterious. One ought not to ascribe to mystery the central issue one has with a certain philosophy. On that basis people can believe anything! No evidence for a flat earth? Oh it’s a mystery. Of course it’s not. When there is evidence, strong evidence, against one’s philosophy it is an act of intellectual suicide to ascribe mystery as the solution. You might as well confess you believe something irrational and say you’re just gonna believe it anyway. That would be more honest.

  4. Pingback: Why does John Piper misrepresent evangelical Arminianism? | aRemonstrant'sRamblings

  5. blakejohnson says:

    I would humbly suggest you’ve misrepresented the purpose behind Clark’s analogy. It is prefaced by the statement: “Free will was put forward to relieve God of responsibility for sin. But this it does not do.” The analogy is given for purposes of Theodicy, simply showing that “free will” as a concept is inadequate to exonerate God in the matter of evil, because it pretends that an omnipotent God can act “passively” toward a person. Even in your own corrected view of the analogy you make clear that God is never acting passively.

    I think Clark gets it right and that his analogy is an excellent one 🙂 Then again, I am a biased Calvinist.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I think, in fairness, I did actually note this as the context of his remarks. I’m suggesting Clark is misrepresenting classic Arminianism by using this analogy. The analogy clearly demonstrates that Clark is conflating Pelagianism with Arminianism (and they are most certainly not the same thing). Unfortunately you don’t tell us why you think Clark is getting this analogy right. You merely assert it. Of course you think his analogy is right because you are a Calvinist but I challenge you to read again more closely. How is my retelling of the story an incorrect representation of Calvinism?

      Is it not true that you think God causally determines everything? Is it not true that you think everything that happens is down to his intention? Well if that is the case what theodicy can the Calvinist offer? Pain, suffering, and evil are all causally determined by your god. The people going to hell? Well they’re going there because god determined them to of course. The murderer, the rapist, the dictator conducting genocide… all god’s actions. Of course not directly… he merely gives them a will to do such things in a way that they cannot do otherwise. This god you believe in is no different than what Christians have often called the devil. How you can believe in such a being is well and truly beyond my ability to comprehend. I sincerely hope you take the opportunity to think about the logical consequences of your beliefs.

      • blakejohnson says:

        In this reply, you make even more clear the misunderstandings you have about Calvinism. They’re the same misunderstandings that have led you to mischaracterize Clark.
        ” The murderer, the rapist, the dictator conducting genocide… all god’s actions. Of course not directly… he merely gives them a will to do such things in a way that they cannot do otherwise.”
        The Calvinist does not attribute their sinful will to God, but to Man himself because of his Fall into sin. Incidentally, Arminians are supposed to agree with that origin account; it’s only Pelagians who deny it. Are you sure you’re not Pelagian?

        You say I need to consider the logical consequences of my beliefs. This has been what I’ve always said Arminians are failing to do. If there are events that take place, even sins committed, outside the sovereign control of God, what consequences will there be from this position? In your effort to exhonerate God (!) from accusation, you strip Him of any meaningful ability to declare the end from the beginning. Prophecy is reduced to an extremely educated guess. This sort of God is not found in Scripture.

        That is the truth that Clark gets across so well. He’s simply making the point that, for a being of God’s power and authority, it makes no logical sense to speak in terms of His “permitting” in a way that removes him causally from the equation.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Yes I am fully aware the Calvinist will blame the human agent for the action (and I even said that). The philosophical problem the Calvinist has is that man only does those things because God has given him the will he has given him and he cannot do otherwise. Calvinists want to have their cake and eat it. They want God’s will to be sovereign and they deny humanity independence of will but then when humans do evil they want to blame the human.

          The irony here is that you ask: “If there are events that take place, even sins committed, outside the sovereign control of God, what consequences will there be from this position?”

          Well the consequences for the problem of evil are clear. God did not orchestrate evil. He allowed people to exercise a will which was opposed to what God wanted. This means that God is not to be held responsible for their actions. This has been seen, by most serious philosophers, as a great advantage for the problem of evil. It is why Plantinga’s (who is a Molinist) free-will defense is today seen as so strong a reply to the logical problem of evil that most atheist philosophers do not use it anymore but instead focus on the evidential problem. What has Calvinism offered in this arena? Nothing at all! Instead you are left with this huge problem that you wish to blame human beings for their actions whilst at the same time asserting that humans are doing the will of God and they could not have done otherwise. If you truly do believe, as you claim, that God cannot be removed “causally from the equation” then he cannot be removed when it comes time to apportion blame. If you are going to make the bold claim that God cannot be blamed for the evil you will need a philosophical argument to demonstrate why not. But no Calvinist has ever been able to do that so I don’t hold out much hope I’m afraid.

          I have been making the point to Calvinists for about twenty years now and none of them ever gives a straight reply. Perhaps the only exception to this is Pink who freely admits that God doesn’t love everyone.

          • blakejohnson says:

            Both sides are guilty concerning your accusation of “wanting to have our cake and eat it too.” Arminians want to assert God’s power and sovereignty, and yet be able to say that there’s a libertarian free will that is possible in His creatures. I would argue that that position is irrational and nonsensical – even God’s will isn’t “free” in that sense. He must take actions in accord with his nature. But even leaving that aside, the real question is: which viewpoint squares with the biblical notion of the human condition? Thankfully Arminians understand that God must take the first step, but then they take the enormous leap (over countless scriptures) that God’s initial moving is sufficient to bring about a person’s conversion. And without a fundamental change in the nature of that person!

            “If you are going to make the bold claim that God cannot be blamed for the evil you will need a philosophical argument to demonstrate why not. But no Calvinist has ever been able to do that so I don’t hold out much hope I’m afraid.”
            God’s role as primary Cause does not implicate Him morally in sin because He was not the Actor* (please don’t quote that one line and respond to it; keep reading.). In using the secondary causes that He does, He makes use of an (already) sinful tool, that is only capable of acting in rebellion against Him. He doesn’t force it to be that way, it’s that way by nature. This is the result of the sin of our first parents – who DID have the sort of free will you’re arguing for. Once that happens, we are how we are (as judgment for sin), and God remains guiltless. When He makes use of us for His good purposes, His use of wicked vessels is His free choice, and certainly doesn’t make Him wicked in the process. I’m sorry – but that’s a clear answer to your question, an easy/common one, and I do not believe you’ve never heard it. You just don’t like it, and dismiss it out-of-hand. But not only does it make sense; the alternative is an impossibility, and creates a weak god that is willing to give glory to his creatures that is only due to Him. An Arminian in heaven “will have something to boast about before God,” since the difference between them and the unbeliever is that they were good enough, smart enough, etc. to “make the right choice.” Salvation is not “all to the glory of God.”

            As I close this out, I do want to apologize for the antagonistic tone I’ve contributed to in our conversation. Clearly this is something we’re both passionate about, and that’s fine. So long as we both love the Lord and want His glory above all things, we are brothers in Christ, and I’m thankful for that.

            *If you go on a bit farther in the chapter of Clark that you quoted, you’ll find him discuss matters of Cause vs. Authorship. He could have spent more time on it than he did, but insofar as it goes I’m helped by the analogy.

          • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

            The difference is that God has, even within his nature, genuine choices. He could have chosen to have not created human beings at all. He was not obliged to. But when the Calvinist says that human act according to their nature they also mean to say that humans cannot do other than what they actually do. Classical Calvinism denies that human beings could have done otherwise than what they actually do. WHat they do they are completely determined to do according to their nature or due to God’s intervention because they are one of the chosen. So it is not true to claim that Arminians are asking for more free will than even God has. This is not true. They are claiming God has given them the freedom he himself has. A libertarian freedom where one can do otherwise.

            Now if you wish to use an actor analogy then stay with it. The actor’s job is to read the script right? He doesn’t write the script right? He just says and does what the script tells him to. In fact, on Calvinism, he doesn’t get to ad lib one single word! So who is ultimately responsible for what the actor does? Of course it’s the script-writer!

            Then you use the analogy of the tool. Brilliant! So do we blame a hammer for its actions? Of course not we blame the agent using the tool.

            The only reason that ‘tool’ (human being) is only capable of acting in rebellion is because God made him that way. If I make a robot which is only capable of killing. Is that robot guilty of the actions it does? Of course not. It could not have done otherwise so how can it be responsible? You say God doesn’t ‘force’ them to be this way… well.. yes of course! But that’s only because he’s made them so that they DESIRE to do those things. God gives them the motivation! In other words he programmes them to want to do the bad stuff!

            If this is you defense of Calvinism I am shocked. Because what you are doing here is digging yourself a philosophical hole. And it’s one you cannot reason your way out of. What you’ll do once you’ve got yourself into this logical quandry is just what all Calvinists do at the end of the day. You’ll admit it makes no sense whatsoever but continue to assert it’s true nonetheless anyway. It’s not logic which has convinced you of Calvinism. It’s no doubt a feeling that Scripture teaches it and you must defend what Scripture teaches EVEN IN the face of philosophical logic. Calvinism is, in that sense, a mystery cult. Talking to Calvinists is as fruitless an exercise in logic as talking to a Mormon or JW. You can win the arguments of logic all day long but ultimately they will resort back on a fideistic epistemology based on authority.

            It is however funny that you claim that human beings CAN, and indeed did, have libertarian freedom since you are willing to ascribe such freedom to Adam and Eve. If for them then why not for everyone else? Giving Adam and Eve libertarian freedom doesn’t let Calvinists off the hook. You’re still left with the problem of the guilt of everyone else.

            When you assert, and it is an assertion, that God is not guilty for making wicked ‘vessels’ (another analogy which has exactly the same problems I mentioned before) you need an argument in support of that view. But notice how many bare-faced assertions you make at the end. It may be a ‘clear answer’ but it’s not an argument. How is God not guilty? How are individuals who cannot do otherwise than the way they were made guilty of what they do? These are the questions I asked and you’re not answering them at all. You’re merely asserting God is not guilty. Philosophers think the biggest problem with determinism is responsibility. Now… stop begging the question and give us an argument. I am still betting I don’t get one. The reason why is because no matter how hard you dig in Calvin, Whitfield, Clark, or even Piper… you won’t find one! All of them ask you to accept it on blind faith. I’m not dismissing anything “out-of-hand” as you claim. You only have to read my blog to see I take my philosophical opponents very seriously. I read them – a lot! And I question them a lot. I’ve probably read more Calvinism than most Calvinists I’d bet.

            You then demonstrate your own ignorance of Arminianism when you say: “An Arminian in heaven “will have something to boast about before God,” since the difference between them and the unbeliever is that they were good enough, smart enough, etc. to “make the right choice.” Salvation is not “all to the glory of God.”” That is one of the propaganda-machine points of the Calvinist rhetoric and I’m surprised you bought it. This makes me wonder if you’ve read any Arminius? Or any Arminian for that matter since this is one matter they usually set straight from the start. Heck you only have to read a decent Calvinist to get yourself done of that myth!!

            Here… try the Calvinist scholar Mark Ellis in his introduction to The Arminian COnfession of 1621 (Princeton Theological Monographs Series published in 2005). He says, and I quote:

            “In contrast to Pelagius’ belief in human ability, the Remonstrants wrote that “we could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death, or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves.” They reaffirmed human inability and the necessity of grace in and that salvation is the work of God. It is only by grace that people “may really believe in their Christ the Savious, obey his gospel and be freed from the dominion and guilt of sin, indeed also through which they may truly believe, obey and be freed.” The Remonstrants clearly were not Pelagians.”

            That’s on page vi of the introduction should you wish to look it up. He also goes on to demonstrate why they were not semi-Pelagians either. And he also goes on to wonder why so many Calvinists look to Geneva to resort to fabricating their differences with the Remonstrants. He suggests Calvinists should read that confession before making claims about what Arminians believe and I think he has a point.

            I’m afraid you’ve not read my most recent blog posts. I am no longer a Christian of any sort myself. I left Christianity behind two nearly three years ago. That has, among other things, given me the liberty to say what I really think about Calvinism. I have nothing but contempt for it. I consider it as philosophically as robust as Nietszche is on morality. In other words – not at all! While I don’t extend that contempt to the people who follow it I certainly cannot understand how any thinking person could consider it a viable philosophy. For me the only rational form of Christianity would have to be one which teaches a doctrine which is compatible with responsibility and that would mean some form of libertarian will.

            If you read my blog ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?’ https://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/whats-wrong-with-calvinism/
            and watch the lecture by Jerry Walls you will see why I think Clark is dodging the key question.

  6. blakejohnson says:

    “So it is not true to claim that Arminians are asking for more free will than even God has. This is not true. They are claiming God has given them the freedom he himself has. A libertarian freedom where one can do otherwise.”

    So God can sin? He can make choices that violate His nature? “Impossible for God to lie,” and so on.

    “Then you use the analogy of the tool. Brilliant! So do we blame a hammer for its actions? Of course not we blame the agent using the tool.”

    You are literally voicing the identical argument that Paul anticipates to his own teaching!! Do you not realize this? He uses MY analogy when he describes the potter and the clay, and anticipates in Rom. 9 that men will have that objection. Your problem is with Paul, not me.

    Dismiss the issue of human merit as a “myth” if you like, but you’ve still got to answer what, in the end, will be the SOURCE of the difference between someone in hell and someone else in heaven? For Arminians it will be the wisdom and righteous choices of that individual. To Man be the Glory. Logically there is no other way around it.

    Both of these errors of yours are a problem of biblical ignorance. One can be excused for not knowing every classical argument for Arminianism; but when you find yourself unknowingly voicing the very objections that Paul wrote about two thousand years ago, there’s little excuse.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      No that’s not what I said about God’s libertarian will. What I said was that he has some choices which he could or could not do. He has choices where there was a completely logical counter-factual. The example I gave was creation.

      You can easily make the case that choosing between good and evil is not a good ability which humans can boast of having whilst God doesn’t have it. Surely it is better NOT to have such a burden?! So that’s nothing to boast about. Man is not better than God for having it – he’s inferior for having that freedom.

      Although… as a side note… if God cannot sin then Jesus’ temptation was a pretty nasty deception by God the Father eh? That also means Jesus was never tempted “just as we are” after all since his ‘temptation’ (if you can even call it that now) was categorically different than ours. It also suggests Jesus was out of the loop too. Nice move loving Father God!

      I completely disagree with that reading of Paul in Romans 9 that’s why. I would be with N.T. Wright in thinking that chapter has NOTHING at all to do with election to eternal salvation but everything to do with God using whomever he will to achieve his purposes on earth.

      I cannot help but notice you have NOTHING to come back with on the issue of Arminians being Pelagian. You know, usually in that situation, what someone normally does is concede the point and apologize for misrepresenting their opponent. Not the Calvinist!!! We cannot do away with that accusation! Let’s just repeat it using different words but with no evidence. No wonder Trump gets support from American evangelicals. They’ve not been taught about producing evidence for their assertions. And then you ASSERT that one must logically conclude man is responsible for his salvation. But again (NOTICE this because this matters!) you make no argument for that conclusion. You are merely asserting. I don’t think I have to respond to assertions only arguments.

      Then we get another hasty attempt at rebutal (yawn!). Of course you ASSUME a Calvinist reading of Romans 9 as the only way to read Romans 9. But you are the one ignoring a HUGE amount of scholarship to the contrary. There are a good many Biblical commentators who think that reading is profoundly wrong. The biggest scholarly heavyweight that Calvinists have to deal with here is N.T. Wright. He, and many others, have made the point that Romans 9 makes more sense if it considered to be a defense of God choosing the Jewish nation as his instrument of bringing salvation to the world. It is to be understood as a corporate choosing of a nation and not choosing individuals for salvation. This is why you cannot find early church fathers reading the passage in such an individualistic way. This corporate reading is the more historical reading of the passage. Unfortunately for you I know Christian hermeneutics well enough to know there are at least a dozen ways of reading that chapter and it is considered one of the most controversial chapters to read in the entire Bible among Christians themselves. So it does not impress me greatly that you merely posture at one reading of that chapter and try to use that reading as your trump card. In fact that strikes me as an incredibly weak move and one which indicates you’re running out of ammo fast.

      In your haste to reply you have also failed to come back to me on several of the points I made in my previous post. Ignoring them also makes your response all the weaker too I’m afraid.

  7. blakejohnson says:

    I’ll let you have the last word here; this’ll be it for me. You need to do some serious thinking, though, as to WHY Paul would expect that argument. Don’t try to twist his words into an argument that wouldn’t get that objection in response.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Great! You Calvinists are so easy to parody. Almost every Calvinist I ever encountered ran a mile as soon as they met someone who could engage with them. They also almost always run away after trying to patronize their opponent. Well my retort is this. Instead of patronizing you back, I (the deist!!!) am going to say I’m happy to discourse more anytime. Because, unlike you, I am not writing you off. I think you can do some thinking about this issue. I think you can see beyond the Calvinist propaganda you’ve swallowed. And I am quite prepared to continue this discourse any time you want.

      Take comfort in what you believe. I am a non-Christian because God ordained that before the creation of the world. In fact, according to Calvin, I will be doubly damned because I was ordained to think I was a Christian for twenty years only to walk away. But I did so because of the nature God gave me and I could not do differently than he has ordained. At no point could I, myself, have changed this. It was determined before my birth. I have merely read out the script as an actor reads the play.

      Now if you can really think that makes me responsible for my eternity of double-strength flames in hell then you must be brainwashed by something far more powerful than reason and logic can ever rescue you from.

      PS. I’ve answered that question about Paul in my other post.

      All the best.

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