Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Salvation without faith?

Calvinist, James White, writes: "It becomes tiring to respond constantly to the repitition of such falsehoods as this one: 'Calvinism must hold the unbiblical view that Christ's death saves without faith.' No, God not only commands faith, but He mercifully enables us to believe by freeing us from our sin. The point is that faith is not the human 'capacity' that makes man's will the ultimate decision maker in salvation. Christ's substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for success or failure." (Debating Calvinism, pp.190-191)

First, what is White saying is 'not dependent' upon faith?

Answer: The benefits of the atonement.

But if that's the case, then it would seem to me that Hunt's accusation is right on target. For if the benefit of the atonement is independent of faith, then salvation is independent of faith, and thus Hunt's perception of Calvinism as a theology whereby 'Christ's death saves without faith,' logically holds. It seems to me that White has contradicted himself. Feel free to jump in and help me understand why you do, or do not, feel that White has contradicted himself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Molinism (Middle Knowledge)

Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell are two Arminian professors at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. In their book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist," they explore a concept known as Molinism, named after Luis De Molina, a Jesuit theologian in the 16ht Century, who taught that God possesses "Middle Knowledge," which is essentially that God knows everything that everyone would ever do in all possible circumstances. It is the knowledge of contingencies, providing non-Determinists with a viable explanation for how God could providentially govern the universe:

Walls and Dongell: "...God arranges the world as he chooses based on his middle knowledge. God exercises sovereign control in the sense that he creates the person he wishes to create and brings about the circumstances he wills, knowing just what choices all those persons will make in the circumstances he has brought about." (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.137)

Walls and Dongell: "Unlike the Calvinist determinist, the Molinist believes God's decrees are dependent on what he knows creatures would freely do in various circumstances." (p.137)

That almost sounds like a kind of "Compatibilism," and yet it is not true Compatibilism since it rejects Hard Determinism.

Walls and Dongell: "Molinism is an attractive position in many ways. It offers an account of providence that explains how God can have a highly particular degree of control over various circumstances without resorting to determinism of human choices. For those who are attracted to Calvinism's account of providence and sovereignty but are hesitant to embrace determinism, Molinism may seem like the perfect alternative." (p.138)

In my opinion, it offers a very logical explanation for Genesis 50:20. One of the Bible's clearest examples of Middle Knowledge is found at Matthew 11:20-24. Moreover, I believe that 1st Corinthians 10:13 also lays the groundwork for Middle Knowledge. So is Middle Knowledge a middle ground that Calvinists can embrace?

Walls and Dongell: " the end of the day, Molinism is not a compromise position that Calvinists can embrace; rather, it is a variation on Arminianism. As Muller has recognized, if Molinism were accepted as a middle ground position, 'the Reformed would need to concede virtually all of the issues in debate and adopt an Arminian perspective.' It is clear, then, that Molinism, despite its strong account of particular providential control, does not represent enough divine control for the truly Reformed." (pp.138-139)

Perhaps the reason for this, is because for Calvinism, God's knowledge does not guide His decrees, but rather, His knowledge is the result of His decrees, insomuch that God's knowledge is the "transcript of His decrees."

Additionally, here is an interesting article that I located concerning Middle Knowledge.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Arminianism = Pelagianism?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

The basis for this charge is because although God takes the first step in seeking, convicting, knocking and opening hearts to receive Him, “this step is not decisive, and can be thwarted by the sinner. If the sinner refuses to cooperate with or assent to this proffered grace, then grace is to no avail.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

So in other words, any theology whereby God sovereignly gives a person the power of contrary choice, must be Pelagianism by definition. That is the argument.

Sproul continues: “The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? ... Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?” (What is Reformed Theology, p.187)

In other words, if one person receives Christ, but another does not, then what makes the difference? (To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, illuming one but not the other.)

Sproul writes:Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation.” (What is Reformed Theology, pp.187-188)

This gets back to the original point, so here comes the key argument for Sproul:

Sproul states:If God merely offers to change my heart, what will that accomplish for me as long as my heart remains opposed to him? If he offers me grace while I am a slave to sin and still in the flesh, what good is the offer? Saving grace does not merely offer regeneration, it regenerates. This is what makes grace so gracious: God unilaterally and monergistically does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why would Sproul think that Prevenient Grace is just an “offer” rather than some actual operation taking place at the heart level? Acts 16:14, concerning Lydia, states that God opened her heart to respond to the Gospel. Note that it does not say that her old stony heart was swapped out for a new heart of flesh. (Calvinists commonly read that into the passage.) Why shouldn’t we understand the passage simply to mean what it says, in that God enabled her to believe? Why shouldn’t we conclude the same thing about others who hear the Gospel, that is, that God gets down at the heart level, convicts them of their sin, and enables them to believe, though not being decisive, that is, a determinant, but instead forces the person into a one-way-or-the-other choice? Is God sovereignly entitled to do so? The question seems absurd, but is also quite realistic, since it is often insisted that for God to give someone such a choice, namely, the power of contrary choice, would be tantamount to God giving away His sovereignty.

Sproul summarizes: “What the unregenerate person desperately needs in order to come to faith is regeneration.” (What is Reformed Theology, p.188)

Why? If you say, “Man is so depraved that God must....” then all that you have done is limited God. Think of it this way: There are at least three types of God-can’ts. There is the illogical can’t, which is really not true inability, but rather a logic puzzle, such as whether God can make a square circle, or create a rock so big that even He cannot lift. There is also the type of God-can’t where God can’t sin, which is not true inability, in that God lacks capacity to sin, but instead is a God-can’t due to preference, in that God’s preference is not to sin, due to His nature. Finally, there is the God-can’t which is true inability, in that God simply lacks power to do something, and this is precisely what many allege, if it is maintained that God lacks the divine power and capacity to sovereignly deliver a person the power of contrary choice. I'd rather that Calvinists insist that God uses Irresistible Grace, rather than Prevenient Grace, out of preference rather than a “lack of other options.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

D. James Kennedy: Solving Bible Mysteries

D. James Kennedy was not your average Calvinist. In his book, “Solving Bible Mysteries,” in the chapter on, “Whis is True--Predestination or Free Will?”, He made some statements that Arminians can point to in agreement. For instance, he flatly denied Double Predestination. He believed in some kind of Free Will, though he also believed in Total Depravity, clarifying the difference between freedom to do what we “want” vs. freedom to do what we “ought.” But surprisingly, he also believed in an Unlimited Atonement. Kennedy believed that Jesus died for all men:

D. James Kennedy writes: “So God makes His sovereign selection from among the human race, a race of sinful and corrupt people, all of whom deserve condemnation. But God extends mercy to a vast multitude. He must be just, but He doesn't have to extend mercy to any. Those whom He selects are saved---a great number out of every tribe and tongue and nation. He sends His Spirit to them to draw them to Himself. But what about the rest? Note carefully: God invites them all to come. With a sincere invitation, He offers them a free salvation, paid for at the cost of His own dear Son.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.30)

Did you catch that? Who did Kennedy say that Jesus died for? He’s referring to “the rest,” that is, those whom he believes were excluded from the “sovereign selection.” Clearly, he's indicating a universal provision, though one must believe in Christ in order to receive the blessings of Christ, which Arminians fully agree.

Kennedy adds: “The Bible never says that anyone is predestined to Hell.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.29)

D. James Kennedy writes: “Again and again we see that people are predestined (elected) to salvation--but nowhere do we see that anyone is ever predestined to condemnation of Hell. When we thing of God as unfairly, arbitrarily electing people to Heaven or Hell, it is as if we have a mental picture of a row of people sitting on a fence, and God passes down the line and points at each one, ‘It’s Hell for you, Heaven for you, Hell, Hell, Hell, Heaven, Hell...’ Now, that would be unfair--and absolutely capricious! But that's not the kind of God we love and serve.” (p.29)

Kennedy writes: “God has graciously created human beings with a free will.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.29)

He goes on to describe the bondage of the will, in agreement with the doctrine of Total Depravity, but the point is clear: Kennedy rejects Hard Determinism. At the very least, this makes him a Compatibilist (Soft Determinism).

Kennedy adds:God does not cast anyone out. He does not bar the door. Those who are outside are outside by their own choice, because they keep God away.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.31)

However, if it’s their “own” choice via Hard Determinism, then it’s frankly not their “own” choice, but someone else’s choice. As most Compatibilists recognize, that’s part of the complexity that they must attempt to resolve, without simply deferring to paradox.

What did Kennedy teach about predestination and foreknowledge?

Kennedy writes: “For that is what predestination is--a decision that our sovereign, gracious, loving Almighty God made from all eternity when He looked ahead to a world of lost and rebellious sinners. It’s a decision He made to save a vast multitude of them through His Son, Jesus.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.31)

“Looked ahead”? As an Arminian, I believe that God, being eternal and dwelling independent of all time and space, can look back upon our future as if it was the past. So I don't necessarily think that God needs to “look ahead,” since God is not trapped by time as mankind is.

In any case, these were some of the interesting quotes that I found from this particular book by Kennedy, who was widely admired and appreciated by those on both sides of the denominational isle of Calvinism and Armininianism.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Total Inability of God???

This may seem like a silly post, but allow me to explain. Many Calvinists have explained to me that "since man is totally depraved, God must..." and then it follows that God must regenerate him (i.e. preemptively make Born Again), if anyone is to be saved. Now my reservation to this is that it takes the perdicament of man, and forces something upon God. Why? Why is God's hand being forced by the depravity of man?
Think of it this way. There are several things that God cannot do. God cannot make a square circle. God cannot learn anything. God cannot sin. These represent various types of inabilities. For instance, the first is a logical contradiction by definition, rather than true inability, just as God cannot learn anything because He is all-knowing by nature. So that's not really true "inability." Additionally, God cannot sin, not because Jesus lacked the physical parts to sin. He was fully man, just as we are, but yet He never sinned, and wouldn't ever have sinned, indicative of His nature as God, which had a preference not to sin. However, if you were to say that God is trying to reach as many people as He can, but is struggling along, doing the best that He can, then that reflects a serious matter of genuine inability, and though some non-Calvinists prescribe to such a belief, such as Geisler and Hunt, I do not. I believe that God could persuade any unregenerate person to repent, but has a preference to only impart a certain measure of Prevenient Grace, which can increased by the intercessory prayers of Christians, and which is also encouraged by Christ. (Luke 10:2) In fact, consider the most fallen and depraved person that you know. Have you thought of them? Ok, now what if Jesus stepped out of heaven and appeared to them, just like He did with Paul? What would happen? Alright, consider another example: The rich man of Luke 16:19-31. Here was a man that was in torment in Hell, and what did he want to do? He wanted Abraham to let him go back so that He could warn his brothers. Imagine that! A resident of Hell wanted to be an evangelist (of sorts). I believe that if God applied enough pressure (which He could do), everyone would crack and submit.

Having said all of this, here is my point. If Calvinists had said that God "can" reach the unregenerate, without having to resort to preemptive regeneration, then they could appeal to God's "preference" as a basis for why He chooses a different alternative. However, often Calvinists instead maintain, " is so depraved that God must....", which just makes me cringle, due to the way that it seemingly limits God, and seemingly pushes the Almighty into a corner, where has no other option left to Him, but to utilize Preemptive Regeneration.

So my one point in all of this is this: Why don't Calvinists instead say, "man is so depraved, but that is no obstacle to God, who could reach them in their unregenerate state anyway, but due to His preference, He chooses Preemptive Regeneration instead"? So there it is. Why can't Calvinists defer to God's preference? Seriously. Why should the big bad finger of Total Depravity push an almighty God into a corner?

P.S. Often I'm told that I'm simply down-playing the depravity of man, and yet I'm not at all. I'm simply lifting up God's ability to overcome it, by virtue of His own intervention. Now if the discourse should enter into the realm of "well, why then doesn't everyone positively respond to His grace" gets to the nature of free will itself, but is also the starting point of another line of dialogue.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The incompatibility of Compatibilism

There are two kinds of Determinism: Hard Determinism and Soft Determinism, otherwise known as “Compatibilism.” Wikipedia defines Compatibilism as “the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent ... compatibilists hold that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive....”

First of all, Arminians reject Determinism. So the Arminian has no interest in trying to reconcile the two. The Arminian has a completely different view of predestination, which is one that involves God’s foreknowledge, as Acts 2:23 states: “ the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God....” However, the Arminian is interested in seeing how Compatibilists try to make Determinism work with Free Will, especially since both are polar opposites, where it often appears that Determinism only ends up in completely engulfing Free Will. In other words, if God “ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Determinism) via a predetermined Script, penned before the foundation of the world, whereby all events in history unfold according to this alleged Script, how can there be any sense of Free Will? Wouldn’t it merely be an illusion of Determinism? Therefore, consider the following exchange in the book, Debating Calvinism, by Calvinist James White and non-Calvinist, Dave Hunt:

Calvinist, James White, explains: “The belief that God’s sovereign decree and man’s creaturely will coexist (compatibilism) and that since God judges on the basis of the intentions of the heart, there is in fact a ground for morality and justice.” (Debating Calvinism, p.320)

Dave Hunt responds: “Yes, God judges ‘the intentions of the heart,’ but Calvinism falsely says that He causes the intentions He judges. ... Compatibilism is double-talk.” (Debating Calvinism, 327)

White responds: “He has the temerity to say it is ‘double-talk.’ I might assign some weight to his assertion if I could bring myself to believe that he understood what it is.” (Debating Calvinism, p.331)

Hunt explains: “...God turned into good what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil. But if God caused the brothers to do evil, compatibilism is double-talk.” (Debating Calvinism, p.333)

So is that what Compatibilists believe? Do Compatibilists believe that God causes the sin that He judges? You should know that Hard Determinists reject Soft Determinism, and they simply reject Free Will altogether, and therefore make no attempt to reconcile the two. Some Hard Determinists candidly admit that they believe that God is the author of sin. They say that it is God’s sovereign right, for His own glory. Whether that makes them hyper-Calvinists is another matter.

So that brings us back to square one. How is it that Calvinistic Determinism and Free Will are not mutually exclusive, as alleged? Recently on, I was told that it cannot be understood, but only accepted on faith, because it’s a paradox. However, if Compatibilists wish to make the assertion that Calvinistic Determinism and Free Will are compatible, don’t they have a duty to explain how they are compatible, without resorting to, “Well the Bible teaches both, so I don’t need to explain it!” It seems to me that they would have a duty to give a better answer than that. What say you?