Self-Determination, Freedom, and Choice of the Will in Calvinist-Arminian Debate

Arminians (and Open Theists) argue for “libertarian freedom” in their debate against Calvinists. Clark Pinnock explains that “a free action as one in which a person is free to perform an action or refrain from performing it and is not completely determined in the matter by prior forces-nature, nurture or even God. Libertarian freedom recognizes the power of contrary choice. One acts freely in a situation if, and only if, one could have done otherwise…It is the freedom of self-determination, in which the various motives and influences informing the choice are not the sufficient cause of the choice itself. The person makes the choice in a self-determined way.” [Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, A Theology of God’s Openness (Baker, 2001), p. 127]

Roger Olson contrasts the Arminian view of libertarian freedom with the Calvinist view of “compatibilist freedom”. “Most Calvinists, when pushed to explain why persons act in certain ways or choose certain things, appeal to the strongest motive as explanation and then add that motives are not self-determined but given to persons by someone or something. In this theory people are “free” when they act in accordance with their desires, when they do what they want to do, even if they could not do otherwise. This “free will” is compatible with determinism.” [Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP, 2006), p. 129] However, Olson rejects compatibilist freedom because it is incompatible with responsibility, which the Calvinists affirm. Olson dismisses compatibilist freedom because “It is hardly the most common meaning of free will or the meaning of “the person on the street” who talks about being free. It is hardly the most common meaning of free will or the meaning of “the person on the street” who talks about being free.” [An Arminian Account of Free Will]

Olson is being simplistic and tendentious when he asserts that for Calvinists “motives are not self-determined but given to persons by someone or something.” Continue reading “Self-Determination, Freedom, and Choice of the Will in Calvinist-Arminian Debate”

Election and Middle Knowledge: Arminius’ Gambit and Reformed Response

Recently, one scholar [William Craig] has proposed Molina’s concept of a divine foreknowledge of future contingents lying outside of or prior to the divine will as a possible point for dialogue between Arminians and Calvinists – as if the concept had never before been proposed by Arminianism, and as if the concept actually offered a middle ground between the Arminian and Calvinist theologies. For scientia media to become the basis for such rapprochement, however, the Reformed would need to concede virtually all of the issues in debate and adopt an Arminian perspective, because, in terms of the metaphysical foundations of the historical debate between Reformed and Arminian, the idea of a divine scientia media or middle knowledge is the heart and soul of the original Arminian position. Middle knowledge is not a middle ground. It was the Arminian, just as it was the Jesuit view, in the controversies over grace and predestination that took place in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Continue reading “Election and Middle Knowledge: Arminius’ Gambit and Reformed Response”

John Calvin Against the Philosophers: Providence-Predestination vs Chance (Epicureanism) and Determinism (Stoicism)

The frequent attacks on Calvinism by non-Calvinists in the Web gives the impression that Calvinism is a pernicious Christian sect. The attacks often highlight predestination as a major problem with Calvinism. The Calvinist’s doctrine of predestination is regarded as a rigid and legalistic doctrine that violates our sense of justice. It also robs the believer of his assurance of salvation.

Critics assert that the Calvinist teaching of predestination owes more to alien philosophical arguments rather than the bible itself. This is ironic as Calvinists are often accused of relying on proof-texting and contestable exegesis when they are challenged to demonstrate the coherence of the doctrine.  The accusation that Calvinists rely more on philosophical arguments than the bible doesn’t quite match the observation that the majority of Christian philosophers are not Calvinists, but Arminians and Open Theists.

Calvinists are puzzled when critics charge them of relying more on philosophy than on biblical revelation. How can Calvinists be guilty of subordinating the bible to philosophy when they defend tenaciously two propositions which many philosophers instinctively regard as logically incompatible with one another – that God’s choice in predestination is unconditional but man is still held responsible for his decisions – because the bible says so. Obviously, Calvin’s conception of predestination is not defined within the limits of human rationality; in fact his doctrine is offensive to reason. Continue reading “John Calvin Against the Philosophers: Providence-Predestination vs Chance (Epicureanism) and Determinism (Stoicism)”

Paul Teaches that Election to Salvation is Individual, not Corporate. Ephesians 1:3-14

The Augustinian view of election of believers outlined in the comments on Eph 1:4 in particular has come under challenge recently from scholars who defend a view they term “corporate election.” Brian J. Abasciano explains:

Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group. Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group.… Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.… On both the individual and the corporate level, election is contingent on faith in Christ.

This view is proposed over against the historic Augustinian/Calvinist view, which, we are told, “refers to the direct choice of individuals as autonomous entities” and leads to a “maverick Christianity” of isolated individuals rather than to a healthy, unified church.

Furthermore, we are told, the insights of the “new perspective on Paul” (NPP) have bolstered this corporate view of election as consistent with E. P. Sanders’s homogenized view of Second Temple Judaism, in which corporate Israel was elected gratuitously and individuals enjoyed this election and predestination only insofar as they maintained their status within the group through personal covenant fidelity, i.e., obedience to the law. It should be noted that not everyone agrees that the radically diverse groups in Second Temple Judaism can be homogenized quite so easily.

The argument for corporate election as it relates to Ephesians concentrates on Eph 1:4a (καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ, kathōs exelexato hēmas en autō, “insofar as he chose us in him”), where ἡμᾶς (hēmas) (“us”) is said to refer not to individuals but to “the church as a whole, especially as it was uttered in a collectivist cultural milieu in which the group was seen as primary and the individual as secondary, embedded in the group to which he belonged and referred to as a result of his membership in the group.” Continue reading “Paul Teaches that Election to Salvation is Individual, not Corporate. Ephesians 1:3-14”

Sovereign Grace, Regeneration and Humble Calvinism

Salvation is Solely the Work of God
One of the hallmarks of Calvinism is monergism, that is, the biblical conviction that we are born again by God working alone (mono = one). God is the only active agent in our rebirth because the depravity of sin has rendered fallen man totally unable to believe in Christ. God’s sovereign grace actualizes salvation, beginning with effectual calling and regeneration, the process whereby the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit recreates fallen human nature and enables sinners to believe in Christ. In this regard, regeneration precedes faith. In contrast, synergism (Arminianism) teaches that we are born again by divine-human cooperation, each contributing its part to accomplish regeneration (syn = together). Synergism is possible because sinners retain sufficient ability to believe in Christ. Effectively, this mean that God offers potential salvation which is actualized only when a sinner believes.

The Canons of Dort (1618-1619), which is one of the foundational doctrinal documents of the Calvinist Reformation, resolutely rejects synergism in one of its affirmations. Continue reading “Sovereign Grace, Regeneration and Humble Calvinism”

Predestination and the Beginning of New Birth – Pelagianism-Arminianism-Calvinism

The expiatory work of Christ which is sufficient for, adapted to and freely offered to all men, being presupposed, the question of questions is, How, by what agencies and on what conditions, is it effectually applied to any individual? The Scriptures make it plain that the condition of its effectual application is an act of faith, involving real spiritual repentance and the turning from sin and the acceptance and selfappropriation of Christ and of his redemption as the only remedy. But what will prompt a sinner in love with his sin, spiritually blind and callous, thus to repent and accept Christ as the cure of the sin he loves? The first movement cannot begin with man. The sinner of himself cannot really desire deliverance from sin; of himself he cannot appreciate the attractive beauty, loveliness or saving power of Christ. The dead man cannot spontaneously originate his own quickening, nor the creature his own creating, nor the infant his own begetting. Whatever man may do after regeneration, the first quickening of the dead must originate in the first instance with God. All Christians feel this as the most intimate conviction of their souls. Yet it involves necessarily this very doctrine of eternal predestination or election. If God begins the work, if our believing follows his quickening, then it is God, not man, who makes the difference between the quickened and the unquickened. If we believe, it is because we have been first quickened. If any man does not believe, it is because he is yet dead in his natural sin. God’s eternal choice therefore cannot depend upon foreseen faith, but, on the contrary, faith must depend upon God’s eternal choice. Continue reading “Predestination and the Beginning of New Birth – Pelagianism-Arminianism-Calvinism”

The Limited god of Open Theism is Not the Almighty God of the Bible

Open theism is the belief that God is not timelessly eternal. “God changes in some ways so as to respond appropriately to a changing creation…God’s foreknowledge is limited, because of the limitations he has placed upon himself in giving humans freewill.” /1/ The idea that God has limited foreknowledge was first formulated by the Polish Socinian movement in the late 16th century. It was recently revived by several Open Theists (Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice & John Sanders et al) when they jointly published the seminal work, The Openness of God (IVP, 1994). However, anyone who feels swayed by their sophisticated arguments should recall the old-time rebuttal, “Your argument is logical but your conclusion is unfounded because your premises are wrong.” Applying logic to wrong premises only leads to conclusions that do not correspond to reality. For the same reason, the logic of Open Theism results in a god who is in conflict with the God of Biblical-Classical theism because its premises or fundamental philosophical intuitions are questionable. Continue reading “The Limited god of Open Theism is Not the Almighty God of the Bible”

Two Philosophical Objections which make Molinism-Middle Knowledge Untenable

For readers who are not familiar with the term “truthmaker”, note the following clarifications:

Definition 1 – Truth bearers are those things that are made truth by truthmakers. A truth-bearer is an entity that is said to be either true or false and nothing else. Examples: Sentences, propositions, judgments, beliefs (propositional attitudes or opinion about the meaning of a sentence) etc

Definition 2 – Truthmakers are those things that make something true. A truthmaker for a truthbearer is that entity in virtue of which the truthbearer is true.

The idea of truthmaker is premised on the correspondence theory of truth. A sentence is true because of the way the world is, in contrast to the suggestion that the world is the way it is because of which sentences are true. For example, if a certain man exist, then a statement that the man exists is true, and vice versa. But there is a priority between these two states of affairs. It is the case that the statement is true because of the way the world rather than the case that the world is the way it is rather because the statement is true.

Timothy O’Connor provides two objections that make Molinism untenable.

Objection 1: Molinism posits truths without truthmakers Continue reading “Two Philosophical Objections which make Molinism-Middle Knowledge Untenable”

Reformed Critique of Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Part 2 by Francis Turretin

THIRTEENTH QUESTION: MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE

Discussion by Francis Turretin (1623-1687). Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol. one (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1992), pp. 212-218.

Summary of Francis Turretin’s Argument Against Middle Knowledge.
Sect 1-4. Definitions

Natural Knowledge or knowledge of simple intelligence is indefinite. It is God’s knowledge of all things God could possibly do with his omnipotent power, irrespective of how God actually decides to exercise this power. Thus, God knows what he could do, if he so choses to do it.
Free Knowledge is God’s knowledge of future things (what God eventually and freely brings into being). It is definite as it refers to how God actually exercises of his omnipotent power by his decree.
Middle knowledge lies in between natural knowledge and free knowledge (the order is logical and not temporal). It is not based on God’s decree but on the autonomous free will of creatures.

Sect 5-8 What is the issue with middle knowledge? Continue reading “Reformed Critique of Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Part 2 by Francis Turretin”

Reformed Critique of Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Foreknowledge and Future Contingents

Definition: Contingent
Proposition – a contingent proposition can be true but does not have to be true.
Fact/Event – occurring without this necessarily being the case, i.e. it might not have occurred. A being is contingent if it is not logically necessary.

ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. By Francis Turretin (1623-1687).

QUESTION: Do all things fall under the knowledge of God, both singulars and future contingencies? We affirm against Socinus. [p. 206]

VIII. On the state of the question observe: (1) that a thing may be contingent in two ways—either with respect to the first cause (inasmuch as it can be produced or not produced by God, and so all creatures are contingent with respect to God because he might not have created any if he had so willed); or with respect to second causes (which can produce or not produce their effect and are thus distinguished from necessary causes). We here speak of future contingents in the latter and not in the former sense. Continue reading “Reformed Critique of Middle Knowledge (Molinism/Arminianism). Foreknowledge and Future Contingents”