“Even though we stress ever so strongly that God’s authority is finally at issue, the idea of a rigid causality arises. But this may not be. We are dealing with God’s address to people. But people as such cannot be regarded as the effects of causes. When they are on their own and conscious of themselves they set themselves apart from and over against the nexus of cause and effect. They are not merely conditioned. They also condition. They think and will. What might come to them as mere authority and make them effects does not really come to them. It does not touch their humanity. We are saying that God’s Word speaks to us. Here is an event that cannot take an automatic form. It has the form of a constraint that is possible and actual only in the sphere of freedom. The same is true when we say that someone believes and obeys. The compulsion here is obviously different from that of a rolling ball. It either takes place in freedom or not at all. We ultimately understand the concept of authority itself very poorly if we think of it only as a superior force and do not see that we have here the power of a command which can be heard and obeyed only in the sphere of freedom.”
Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 251.
Philochristos / Sam is a Christian blogger who I very often agree with on many matters. Having said that, he is a Calvinist and therefore I have been reading his recent series of replies to William Lane Craig with some interest. Unfortunately I do not have time to respond to each piece so I am going to confine my response to just one part of Sam’s series since it is of particular interest to me. The post I am responding to is called William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 3A of 5. My response will make much more sense if you read his article first. 
Sam rightly points out that the phrase “author of sin” is, on its own, obtuse. He is quite right to point out that Molinists hold to the exhaustive foreknowledge of God and that, in one sense, the claim “God is the author of sin” is true. It’s true only insofar as to say that had God chosen not to create anything at all then nothing sinful would have ever happened.
But even then I have a problem with this language. Authorship implies a dictation of the story (Sam uses Harry Potter as his example). Voldemort does not get any interaction with J.K. Rowling in terms of his character development. So while Sam is right to concede the language is ambiguous (it is) and also right that the analogy is weak (it is) I would go further and say the language is so disanalogous that it’s no longer precise enough to be meaningful and has, instead, become a linguistic barrier. My wife and I are responsible for our children existing but if someone claimed we were the “authors of their sin”, by virtue of the fact that they are in the world because we chose to have children, I’m not entirely sure I would be happy with that description. Of course they would never have sinned had they not existed but that does not, in any meaningful way, make us the ‘authors’ of their actions.
Sam says, and here I think he’s right:
“I’m guessing Craig would say the difference is that when God disposes the world in such a way that he knows sin is inevitable, he doesn’t actually cause it to happen. Rather, he passively allows it to happen.”
No guess work needed. That is Craig’s position. He believes that God foreknows future free actions.
Now here is where the problems begin, in my opinion. Then he goes on to say this:
“I don’t think it makes much difference in whether God causes or allows evil. In either case, God intends the evil to come about because he has some good purpose in it. If God didn’t have a good purpose in allowing the evil, he could’ve easily prevented it. He chose to allow the evil because he intended the evil to happen. That seems to me to be consistent with the view that “God decrees all things that come to pass.” However you look at it, whether by allowing or causing, God disposes the world in such a way that evil is inevitable because evil is part of his plan.”
This response trades on an equivocation of the word ‘decreed’. Yes it could be consistent with the phrase “God decrees all things that come to pass” if one means by it that God brought our universe into being knowing everything that would take place. But that is not what many Calvinists mean when they say “God decrees all things that come to pass” as Sam, I suspect, well knows. What most of them mean is that God has causally determined everything that happens before the foundation of the world and not merely that God created knowing what would happen in any contingent sense.
Sam appears to think there is little difference in the Calvinist and Molinist views because of what God knows in advance but he fails to explain that the key difference between these two views is what God knows. What God knows, on Molinism (and evangelical Arminianism too albeit in slightly different ways) is what people will freely choose to do. But this does not make God the cause of those decisions or the sin chosen. I find this is an error a lot of Calvinist theologians make when they write about this.
As philosopher Peter Cave states:
“If God knows that Peter will sin, then, yes, it does necessarily follow that Peter will sin, but it does not necessarily follow that Peter will necessarily sin. To note that something necessarily follows is not to note that what follows is itself necessary… just because someone – anyone – knows something to be true, it does not mean that what is known is a necessary truth and so could not have been otherwise. Foreknowledge alone is no threat to our acting freely.”
Quoted in Peter S. Williams A Faithful Guide to Philosophy p.264
That difference is really a most profound one and I think Sam is badly mistaken in thinking there is little difference here. God knowing freely chosen actions in advance is not anything like God meticulously predetermining everything that will happen (either without any free will at all or a compatibilist concept of freedom). They are miles apart.
This becomes even more acute when he turns to various biblical passages and says that God was causing people to sin. Bravo to Sam for following high Calvinist teaching to its logical conclusion: God is the author of sin, on Calvinism, in the sense that he causally determines people to commit sins. He has, indeed, written the script. Often Calvinists will hide this admission by talking about God having two wills and sometimes they will even use the language of ‘permission’ when they cannot really mean it. But now comes the serious logical problem (one of many in my opinion) because, as Sam notes:
“In general, I think it is wrong to cause another to sin. The Bible gives several warnings against being a stumbling block to other people and causing them to sin.” (Matthew 18:6-7, 1 Corinthians 8:9-12)
Spot on. It certainly does. But then he continues by saying:
“Although it’s clearly a sin to cause somebody else to sin, I think this is only a prima facie moral imperative that is not without exception.”
Okay. So Sam thinks there are situations (all be it they are ‘exceptional’) where it is not a sin to cause someone to sin. I love ethics so I could not wait for Sam to give his example since I don’t think I’ve ever read one given for this. The only problem is Sam’s story of the helpless quadriplegic, the mass-murdering black man in the woodshed, and the racist murderer equivocates on the key word ’cause’. You see, in Sam’s story the helpless quadriplegic gives the racist murderer information which helps him kill the black man in the woodshed but the SOURCE and motivation of the decision to kill is still that of the racist murderer. The story is disanalogous.
If it were to be be more analogous then the quadriplegic would, in some way, need to have known (not just with a degree of probability either but with perfect full knowledge) that this situation would arise long before its taking place, and he would also have causally determined not only the murderous tendencies of the racist but also the mass-murdering tendencies of the mass murderer. Now we have something more analogous but now we also have a quadriplegic who is morally responsible for the murder about to take place since he determined it. It gets worse though because now the racist murderer has a case to bring against the quadriplegic since he is only acting in accordance with the nature the quadriplegic gave him! But what high Calvinism says is that the quadriplegic who caused the man to be murderous will now judge him for his actions! Who is he, after all, to dare question the quadriplegic? (Apologies if that is convoluted – I blame Sam’s analogy!)
Immediately after the story he says:
“But the point is to illustrate that it is possible for there to be a morally justifiable reason for causing another person to sin. If it is possible for us to be morally justified in causing people to sin, at least in some cases, then it is possible that God has a morally justifiable reason for causing people to sin in all cases in which they sin. Before Craig could argue that God causing people to sin makes God evil, Craig would first need to rule out that possibility.”
Notice the equivocation on the word ’cause’ again. In the story ’cause’ meant giving someone an opportunity to do something they, themselves, really want to do apart from the wishes and control of the quadriplegic. But that is not, at all, the kind of causal determinism high Calvinists have in mind. It is not that God gives people opportunities to sin and then they do so due to their own autonomous determinations. Not at all. God has made them to sin because he has predetermined all future events. Compatibilist Calvinism suffers the same problem since, even though people do what they want to do, their very desires are foreordained by God to be what they are. They could not do otherwise. Their sinfulness is necessary. This is why the Calvinist John Frame admits that God “actually brings evil about.” (Quoted in Olson’s Against Calvinism p.59)
It is the source of these decisions which makes the judgement of God justified. On Calvinism the source of these actions is God whereas on Molinism and Arminianism it is on the humans in question. It is for this reason Craig writes:
“Since God is not responsible for these human activities, it follows that he does not bring them about. They are therefore truly free acts, or contingents, and God’s foreknowledge of them is thus foreknowledge of future free actions.”
William Lane Craig The Only Wise God p.48
Calvinism is still left with this huge problem of the responsibility of evil actions being brought against God. After all, the entire biblical narrative constantly teaches that humans are morally responsible for their actions. As Peter S. Williams says:
“The biblical story is predicated upon the assertion that humans are morally blameworthy for freely choosing to do that which we know to be wrong (sin).”
Peter S. Williams A Faithful Guide to Philosophy p.259
As Walls and Dongell note:
“Calvinism is hard-pressed to account for sin and evil in a way that is morally plausible. For if God determines everything that happens, then it is hard to see why there is so much sin and evil in the world and why God is not responsible for it.”
Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell Why I am not a Calvinist p.133
Sam’s conclusion is most worrying as he writes:
“God is justified for causing people to sin because he does so for good and praiseworthy ends which outweigh the immediate consequences of sin. But that is not the only reason God is justified in causing people to sin. He is also justified for a reason that does not apply to mere mortals. He is justified because he is God—the creator. He is justified because of his divine prerogatives and absolute autonomy and freedom to do as he wishes with his creation.”
This is merely to introduce another huge problem into the equation. This notion that God is capable of doing anything at all is often referred to in theology as nominalism. Not only is this doctrine very widely rejected throughout church history but it also encounters some huge problems in terms of what the Bible says. Can one really defend the view that God’s actions can be divorced from his nature? It is also not good enough to say that God is God and he can do whatever he likes. No he cannot! The Bible makes it very clear that God cannot sin. The Bible makes it clear he cannot look on sin and he cannot be in the presence of sin. He is utterly and perfectly holy and therefore completely blameless. But Sam is proposing a God who thinks about sin, who schemes about sin, who predetermines people to carry out those sins and who then blames the people who did them even though they could not have done otherwise because they were bound by God’s meticulous predestining.
If God is the source of human sin, in the sense that the people actually doing them are only doing what God has causally determined them to do, then we still have the enormous problem of God being directly involved in sin (not just some remote author) and then holding humans to account and punishing them for doing the very things he chose for them to do. Even if we conceded this very utilitarian notion that greater goods could come from God causing some evils the problem remains that God holds the people responsible who he was using for the greater goods. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and it has more to do with the ethics of Jeremy Bentham than it does with Scripture.
David Bentley Hart and Roger Olson both bring out why we should object most strongly regarding this notion that God determines sin:
“If indeed there were a God whose true nature – whose justice or sovereignty – were revealed in the death of a child or the dereliction of a soul or a predestined hell, then it would be no great transgression to think of him as a kind of malevolent or contemptible demiurge, and to hate him, and to deny him worship, and to seek a better God than he.”
David Bentley Hart The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? p.91
“In short, the Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty given earlier in this chapter [here he is talking about the high Calvinist version of meticulous providence as found in Edwards, Sproul, Boettner, and Piper] inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil, and innocent suffering (such as the children of the Holocaust) and thereby impugns the integrity of God’s character as good and loving. The God of this Calvinism (as opposed to, say, revisionist Reformed theology) is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil.”
Roger Olson Against Calvinism p.84
Again, Hart, after talking about a man who was unable to save four of his children during the Asian tsunami of 2004 says:
“Only a moral cretin at that moment would have attempted to soothe his anguish by assuring him that his children had died as a result of God’s eternal, inscrutable, and righteous councels, and that in fact their deaths had mysteriously served God’s purposes in history, and that all of this was completely necessary for God to accomplish his ultimate design in having created this world. Most of us would have the good sense to be ashamed to speak such words; we would recognize that they would offer no more credible comfort than the vaporings of the most idiotically complacent theodicy, and we would detest ourselves for giving voice to odious banalities and blasphemous flippancies.
And this should tell us something. For if we would think it shamefully foolish and cruel to say such things in the moment when another’s sorrow is most real and irresistably painful, then we ought never to say them…”
David Bentley Hart The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? p.99,100
Since the Bible is very clear that humans are responsible for their actions it follows that God cannot causally determine their actions. That the Bible does speak of God using the freely chosen sins of people is quite clear but none of the passages cited by Sam makes any kind of case for a world where everything that happens happens because God was the cause of it. The passages he raises do not, as he supposes, “make God out to be the author of sin in the sense that God intends and brings it about that people commit sin” but rather that God is able to redeem and use the sinful actions of people which they have decided they would do. For more on the stories from the Bible Sam cites explained on Molinism see chapter 1 of Kenneth Keathley’s book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. 
Even in the favourite case of Pharaoh, almost always cited by Calvinists, Calvin himself said:
“Thus Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib waged war against the living God… Yet God had aroused them all to carry out all these acts. He had turned them, willing evil and thinking evil – or rather, turned their evil will and their evil intention against Israel, and was making it prevail, sometimes to avenge the ungodliness of His people, sometimes to enhance their deliverance.” (Emphasis mine.)
John Calvin, ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ 1536 edition 1.18.1
Instead of ascribing sinful behaviour to God, let us instead stay with the biblical teaching that God is good and morally perfect and that he does not even tempt people with sin, let alone causally determine them to do so.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
James 1:13 (ESV)
 You can find his article and blog here.
 Kenneth Keathley Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach Chapter 1 ‘The Biblical Case for Molinism’. Here is one example:
The story of Joseph is a favourite of the Calvinist since Joseph exclaims “Therefore it was not you who sent me here but God.” (See Genesis 45:5-8) Keathley notes that the Calvinist tries to read far too much into the text:
“Nothing about what Joseph said to his brothers absolved them from their sin. In fact, it is just the opposite. Later, he states, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result – the survival of many people” (Gen. 50:20). God concurrently accomplished his plans through Joseph’s brothers.” [p.24]