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”

Why Calvin Separated Providence from Predestination in the Institutes (1559)

In my earlier post, Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship, I noted that Calvin placed providence and predestination together in book 3 of the Institutes of 1539. Calvin’s decision arose from his preaching and pedagogical interests, as evidenced by his French Catechism (1537), but he was probably influenced by Paul’s teaching of the “ordo salutis”. Richard Muller explains: “In the 1539 Institutes, Calvin shifted the credal discussion forward and placed a revised order of repentance, justification, the testaments, and predestination (now juxtaposed with providence) after his exposition of the creed—and the best explanation for this arrangement remains his accommodation to the Pauline ordo modeled on Melanchthon.” [Richard Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin (Oxford UP, 2000), p. 136] However, in the final edition of the Institutes (1559), Calvin separated providence from predestination by moving providence to book 1 while leaving predestination as it was in book 3. Continue reading “Why Calvin Separated Providence from Predestination in the Institutes (1559)”

Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship

One of the problems with the “Calvin against Calvinists” scholarship is that it is based on questionable theological premises. This includes the claim that there is conflict between the predominantly scriptural and Christocentric theology of Calvin and the theology of later Calvinists or Reformed Scholasticism whose application of Aristotelian philosophy and speculative formulation of the will of God resulted in a doctrine of God which is rationalistic and predestinarian.

However, while the orientations of the two theological approaches are different, they are not mutually exclusive. Neither are they homogeneous systems. Indeed, the intellectual currents of the Reformation era were diverse and complex. Recent scholarship exemplified by the eminent historian Heiko Oberman has brought into question the now superseded view that Reformation thought is sharply discontinuous with medieval scholasticism. A balance reading of the historical sources would give due recognition to the issues of continuity and discontinuity in development of Reformation thought. Without doubt, a new appraisal of the questionable premises of the “Calvin against Calvinists” scholarship is in order. Continue reading “Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship”

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”

Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence

 

Bertrand Russell: Unyielding Grimace Against a Pointless Universe
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (p. 39). Continue reading “Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence”

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”