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)”

Calvin and Calvinists on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement

Calvin, not being a universalist, could be said to be committed to definite atonement, even though he does not commit himself to definite atonement. And, it could be added, there is a sound reason for this.
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R. T. Kendall argues in his provocative book, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford UP, 1979), that the doctrine of salvation taught by the Puritans is cold, legalistic and introspective, in contrast to John Calvin’s warm and spiritually vibrant doctrine of salvation. In this regard, the Puritans who promoted a distorted form of Calvinism were influenced by Theodore Beza who succeeded Calvin in Geneva.

Kendall highlights two problems with Beza and his Puritan followers: First, Beza and his followers taught a novel doctrine of limited atonement, that is, the idea that Christ did not die for everyone in the world, but only for the elect. Kendall claims that this is a radical departure from Calvin who taught that Christ died for all but that he intercedes only for the elect. Second, Beza and the Puritans reduced the act of faith to an act of the will which contradicts Calvin’s view of faith as a persuasion of the mind. Kendall argues that the doctrine of limited atonement inevitably results in legalism and loss of assurance of salvation. Kendall presses his claim by arguing that assurance of salvation is possible only if it is grounded in Christ’s universal atonement. Continue reading “Calvin and Calvinists on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement”

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”

Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)

The doctrine of the providence of God assures believers that the Lord is sovereign over the circumstances of their lives. Indeed, “The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.” (John Flavel)

Meditation on God’s providence will foster both gratitude and fortitude in believers. Flavel in his classic book, The Mystery of Providence demonstrates how the Reformed doctrine of providence provides practical advice on how believers may grow in sanctification and enjoy the peace of God through times of affliction (excerpts given below).

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APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE

How may a Christian discover the will of God and his own duty under dark and doubtful providences?
In order to answer this question we must consider what is meant by the will of God and what by those doubtful providences that make the discovery of His will difficult and what rules are to be observed for ascertaining God’s will for us under such difficult and puzzling providences.

How may a Christian be supported in waiting upon God, while Providence delays the performance of the mercies to him for which he has long prayed and waited?
It is supposed in this case that Providence may linger and delay the performance of those mercies to us that we have long waited and prayed for, and that during that delay and suspense our hearts and hopes may be very low and ready to fail. Continue reading “Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)”

It is Pointless to Lament before the God of Open Theism or to Trust in His Deliverance

The Psalmist who feels overwhelmed by terrible suffering and injustice brings his lament before God not just to calm his fears and frustrations. No, the remedy he seeks is not therapy. It is deliverance. But surely, the fundamental premise that encourages him to come before God is that God is still in full control of the situation? But is God in control?

Calvinism upholds a God who exercises full sovereignty and absolute control not only over personal circumstances, but over world events and history. He is a God who gives real hope and assurance. To be sure, some Christians continue to experience horrific suffering. But at least, the Calvinist believes that God has a good reason to let that happen. God can even turn evil to good in the long run. As such, Joseph could say to his murderous brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20) Peter told the Jews that God overrode their evil deed of crucifying Jesus to accomplish his plan of salvation. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23)

For the Calvinist, evil may sometimes seem to prevail but God is in control because he is omniscient. With exhaustive foreknowledge, he is able to exercise meticulous providence. In contrast, opponents of Calvinism like Open Theists cannot enjoy such an assurance because the God of Open Theism is not trustworthy. Open Theism says that we are vulnerable to horrific suffering because God cannot fully protect us. God does not possess exhaustive foreknowledge as he cannot know beforehand how human beings with autonomous, libertarian freedom would choose. This means God himself cannot be sure or decide on the best course of action until the human agent has acted.

God may have an overall plan to maximize the ‘best’ outcome based on educated guesses about the future, but this is not providence as its focus is on the “big picture” rather than the individual welfare. Since he does not have exhaustive foreknowledge, he may even be mistaken. He may be unable to protect your best interest as he may be forced to factor in competing interests of other agents who are not fully in his control. The logical conclusion is that he cannot be a God whom one can absolutely rely on. It would be pointless to bring your lament before him if you cannot be sure of his deliverance. It would be folly to trust in him. In contrast, the Calvinist enjoys firm and unshakeable assurance because his God is absolutely trustworthy.

I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isa. 46:10-11)

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

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”