Monday, January 12, 2009

Middle Knowledge

What is Middle Knowledge?

Middle knowledge entails God’s knowledge of all hypothetical situations, all contingencies, that is, all of the what-ifs.

What do Calvinists believe about Middle Knowledge?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: "God's omniscience refers to God's total knowledge of all things actual and potential. God knows not only all that is, but everything that possibly could be. The expert chess player exemplifies a kind of omniscience, though it is limited to the options of chess play. He knows that his opponent can make move A, B, C, or D, and so forth. Each possible move opens up certain counter-moves. The more moves ahead the expert can consider, the more he can control his chess-game destiny. The more options and counter-options one considers, the more complex and difficult the reasoning. In reality no chess player is omniscient. God knows not only all available options, but also which option will be exercised. He knows the end from the beginning. God's omniscience excludes both ignorance and learning. If there is ignorance in the mind of God, then divine omniscience is a hollow, indeed fraudulent, phrase. Learning always presupposes a certain level of ignorance. One simply cannot learn what one already knows. There is no learning curve for God. Since no gaps exist in his knowledge, there is nothing for him to learn. For us to know what will happen tomorrow, we must guess concerning things that are contingent. If I say to a friend, 'What are you going to do tomorrow?' he might reply, 'That depends.' Those two words acknowledge that there are contingencies ahead and that what happens to us depends on these contingencies. It is said that God knows all contingencies, but none of them contingently. God never says to himself, 'That depends.' Nothing is contingent to him. He knows all things that will happen because he ordains everything that does happen. This is crucial to our understanding of God's omniscience. He does not know what will happen by virtue of exceedingly good guesswork about future events. He knows it with certainty because he has decreed it." (What is Reformed Theology?, pp.171-172)

Question: If God has Middle Knowledge, then why didn't He use it to save everyone, or to bring about His kingdom on earth, or to minimize sin?

Let's address this in 4 steps:

1) Do Calvinists agree with Arminians that God possesses Middle Knowledge?

Yes, based upon Sproul’s quote. However, the Calvinist perspective is that God’s Middle Knowledge is simply the logical result of an immutable decree, though nevertheless, both sides agree with the general concept of Middle Knowledge.

2) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to limit sin?

According to Calvinism, God limits sin, to only those sins which are aligned to the sovereign purpose of God. (As previously discussed, that eliminates Compatibilism, and leaves room only enough for Hard Determinism.) Arminians insist that God does not ordain sin, or create sin for a purpose, or create sin by necessity, but rather that God takes the sin of others and uses it for a purpose, which is a big difference between God creating the fact of sin. Arminians believe that God created the fact of freedom, rather than the fact of sin, and then God uses men’s freedom, in order to initiate His own sovereign plans and desires.

3) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to bring about the kingdom of God on earth?

Arminians believe that God used His Middle Knowledge of what Israel would have freely done, and planned Calvary accordingly (see Acts 2:23). The opposing Calvinist view affirms that God knows all contingencies (i.e. Middle Knowledge), but never knows anything contingently, and that is a major distinctive. In other words, according to Calvinism, God’s knowledge is not of what man would do, on his own, but what man would do, from the stand point of what necessarily follows from a predetermined, all-encompassing, decree.

4) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to save everyone?

I may disagree slightly with most Arminians on this point, because I believe that God could save anyone and everyone, by their own free choice, if God simply applied sufficient pressure. In other words, think of someone who is the most “lost” and “depraved” person that you know, and imagine if Jesus appeared to them, just as Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus along the road to Damascus, and spoke with him, and blinded him for three days. You have to imagine that no matter how much a person is depraved, absolutely no one is too depraved for God to be able to reach. That doesn’t magnify man, but rather magnifies the ability of God to reach sinners, no matter how far off they may be. My understanding is that God does not give an irresistible grace, as per Calvinism, but rather that God gives a sufficient grace, that is, an enabling grace (i.e. Prevenient Grace), where someone is placed in a situation where they “can” receive Him, all by the divine intervention of God. The reason why one embraces or rejects this grace, thus depends upon the individual, and it’s not a matter of man seeking God, but God seeking man, and forcing the decision upon man. Man is therefore “passive” in terms of whether grace comes to him, and is only “active” in terms of whether he accepts or rejects the matter set before him, and on that account, is held accountable by God. There is also a strain of Calvinism, though is not the norm, that God uses His Middle Knowledge to bring about the salvation of His “elect.” There is also a strain of Arminianism that teaches that God used His Middle Knowledge to choose to effectuate the world in which the “most” amount of people would end up getting saved. (I do not subscribe to this view, but am studying it more carefully. It was taught by William Lane Craig and Ken Keathley. You can find Keathley’s presentation here. My next post will more fully address Keathley’s presentation on Molinism, in which he actually rejects both Calvinism and Arminianism.)

This issue was present in two prior Blogs:

The next Blog post will address Molinism, as taught by Ken Keathley.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Church History

Tommy Nelson is the Senior Pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas. His theological perspective is Calvinistic. He is slightly monotone and can be overly negative at times, but nevertheless, he did a fine job in teaching a series on “Church History,” and I highly recommend it to you.

Mac Brunson, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Jacksonville, FL, also taught a series on Church History, and I highly recommend that as well. Mac Brunson is a gifted communicator and teacher, and non-Calvinistic, so if you wish to hear his series as well, you may contact the First Baptist Bookstore at 904-356-6077 and have it shipped to you. Buy both! I did. Mac Brunson and Tommy Nelson are also going to be at the Pastor's Conference in 2009.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The nature of Free Will

The nature of Free Will: why does one person choose one way, and not another? Calvinism has the answer. Calvinism tells us that one person chooses one way, and another person, another way, because God predetermined their choices. However, it's not really "Free Will" to say that someone has the freedom to do that which is scripted of them, but that's not the point. The point is that the Calvinist argument ultimately broke down for Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, when dealing with Adam & Eve, and you might add Lucifer and the fallen angels for that matter:

Calvinist. R.C. Sproul, states: “But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know.” (Chosen By God, p.31)

This is problematic for the Calvinist argument, because their argument against Prevenient Grace is that it fails to determine action, by merely enabling a person to render a free choice, whether to accept what is put to them by God, or to reject it, and therefore it fails to answer the fundamental answer of why a person chooses what he does. And now you know, that the very same question also applies to Adam & Eve, which R.C. Sproul admits that he has never found anyone who can explain it. However, realize that Sproul could have stated that God determined their fall (due to sovereignty principles), and that's why they freely chose what they did, but he refused to go that far. Why?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

James White responds to Troy Brooks

On a youtube clip, Calvinist James White, responds to an OSAS Arminian, Troy Brooks, who presents 6 issues to address.

1a) Troy’s first question deals with the Calvinist doctrine of Preterition in lieu of God’s universal saving love. In other words, how can God love everyone if He has allegedly “passed by” most, as per “Westminster” terminology.

James White responded by stating that a) God has differentiated degrees of love, and b) is not required to provide an “opportunity” for anyone to be saved, and if God saved even as little as just one person, then that would be an amazing display of grace.

My thought would be to first target the concept of “kinds, levels and types” of love. Turn to Luke 10:30-37 and ask yourself whether the priest and Levite demonstrated a “kind, level or type” of love to the Samaritan, whom they “passed by.” Surely, the answer would have to be “no,” and that would be significant, because the debate would therefore no longer center on whether God has undifferentiated “kinds, levels and types” of love, but whether Preterition is any kind of love at all. This will eliminate the “degrees of love” defense, and reduce it to a more straightforward matter of “loving vs. not loving.” Once that’s done, James White can never go back to a “kinds of love” defense. Now he’s left with two classes: Those God sovereignly elects to love vs. those God sovereignly elects to hate, and it’s not a matter of “dead, rebel sinners” first hating God, because according to the Westminster, God first hated them by deterministically scripting whatsoever comes to pass, whatsoever they should ever say and do. Once that’s set in place, it’s time for John 3:16. James White states that the “reason for the giving [of the Son] was so that believers might be saved.” However, in actuality, the reason for the Father’s giving of His Son was so that “the world” (whom He loves) would have a Savior, and on that account, whosoever in the world that should believe in Him, would not perish but have eternal life. It’s fairly straightforward stuff, but White must play a shell-game with John 3:16 in order shift the object of the Father’s love from “the world” to “believers,” and by extension, those elected to believe.

So that’s the issue. First establish the basis of love (by dispatching the “kinds of love” defense), and then apply Scripture, in terms of who God said that He loved. From there, it’s just a matter of James White having to spin John 3:16, and then ultimately retreat to Romans 9:13, in which he stated in Debating Calvinism: “No matter how one understands ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED’ (Romans 9:13), this verse alone should be enough to refute such an errant view of God’s love.” (Debating Calvinism, p.268) From there, you can simply point out that Paul was quoting Malachi 1:2-4, and the rest is academic, as “Esau” was defined as “Edom,” in whom God said that He was “indignant forever” on account of their betrayal of Israel during the Babylonian captivity, as recorded in the book of Obadiah, rather than an arbitrary, sovereign election to hatred, and besides, no matter how far we get from God, He has still made a provision for our redemption through His Son, in which even the worst of us can be redeemed, as the apostle Paul had confessed to being the worst of the worst on account of having murdered Christians. (1st Corinthians 15:9)

1b) The next issue raised is whether God needs evil to accomplish good, or whether God simply uses evil to accomplish good.

James White responds by deferring to his Westminster “traditions” by assuming an all-encompassing “creative decree.” He then states that “God does not force anyone to commit evil,” and explains how God is “restraining evil” which he “permits to come into existence,” but which is little more than double-talk, when he just finished describing an all-encompassing decree of Determinism! That’s what I find particularly fascinating with his approach. The consistent theme of James White is that he is not straightforward in how he articulates his theology.

James White then responds with the question of whether God, with His exhaustive omniscience, foreknowing that by creating the fact of freedom, will someday result in the acts of sin, means that by proceeding ahead with such a future anyway, means that God has a specific “purpose” for sin. First of all, it should be pointed out, that if God has a purpose for sin-A, then He does not have a purpose for sins B through Z, and hence a depraved person’s freedom to commit sins B through Z, stands in opposition to the alleged “purpose” of sin-A, and thus the freedom of a depraved person to commit sins B through Z, must be eliminated, and reduced down to only the desire to commit sin-A, and thus the “free will” of Compatibilism is really nothing more than the freedom to do that which is scripted, to the exclusion of all other “free” choices, and hence, Compatibilism, in that sense, is reduced to nothing more than a thorough-going Hard Determinism, and in fact, is why some Calvinists indeed reject Compatibilism in favor of Hard Determinism. For more on this point, see here.

James White asks, “Which is it? Does God create with a purpose for sin, or not?” The answer is no. It first needs to be pointed out that there are things in which God specifically stated that He did not decree, such as the command to commit child sacrifice, as recorded at Jeremiah 32:35. For more on this verse, see here.

Second, as Norman Geisler stated, “God made the fact of freedom; we are responsible for the acts of freedom.” (Chosen But Free, p.23) For more on this point, see here.

So God has created a world with the fact of freedom, which has resulted in the acts of freedom, and God uses our acts of freedom, even the sinful ones, in order to bring about good, namely Calvary, as recorded at Acts 2:23. This stands opposed to the perspective that God has scripted sin “by necessity” in order to bring about a scripted good, in order for God to be able to display His various attributes. The difference is that either God foreknows our acts of freedom and determines His interaction accordingly, or God scripts whatsoever comes to pass. Usually the Calvinist complaint is “how” God could then know the future, without having determined it, which is a question that White asked in Debating Calvinism on p.163. For more on this point, see here.

His perspective, then, is that God must script everything, in order to foreknow anything. This represents a rather odd presentation of the omniscience of an eternal Being, who exists independent of time. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, for such an eternal Being, all time must seem as one “eternal now,” and on that account, God can know the future self-determined choices of others, possessing the power of contrary choice, without having to determine them, because He is present in what we call “the future,” and such knowledge is not merely “passive knowledge,” because God is interacting. God can relay such prophecy as Revelation 20:7-9, in terms of what others do, and then state what He does in response. So it’s by no means merely passive.

Traditionally, Calvinists have defended the “author of sin” charge on the basis that God uses “secondary causes,” but once again, even this defense is refuted by Scripture, when God rejected King David’s secondary-causes when bringing about the murder of Uriah. For more on that point, see here.

2) The next issue by Troy Brooks concerns a salvation without repentance. Yes, Calvinists do believe that God regenerates without repentance, but then White attempts to distinguish “regeneration” from “salvation” in Debating Calvinism on p.293.

White responds by calling Troy Brooks “ignorant.” This is classic White-speak. Geisler did a fantastic job of exposing White-speak in the appendix of Chosen But Free. It should be noted that this methodology is directly in contrast to the apostle Paul, who instructs: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2nd Timothy 2:24-26)

James White explains: “they are changed…they are made ‘new creatures.’” White raises this point in Debating Calvinism on p.191, which is also something that I quote extensively: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191)

The fundamental issue is that according to the theology of James White, a person must become preemptively birthed “in Christ” in order to unfailingly come to Christ. In other words, all that which is in Christ, namely regeneration, a new heart, a new spirit, a new nature, ect., is the vehicle by which a person may freely come to Christ initially, just as a seasoned Christian freely comes to Christ repeatedly. For they ride in the same vehicle, the vehicle of Regeneration. The problem is that it’s impossible for an unbeliever to be “in Christ.” Unbelievers, we are told by Christ, remain condemned, as per John 3:18. In contrast, those who are in Christ, are “now no longer under condemnation,” as per Romans 8:1. So there is no such animal as an unbeliever in Christ, and moreover, Ephesians 1:13 outlines the order of operations in becoming sealed in Christ: Hears the Gospel, believes in the Gospel and then is sealed in Christ. Moreover, Romans 8:33 marks the identity of the New Covenant “elect” by confirming that they are free from condemnation, which we know as a distinguishing feature of those in Christ, that is, Christians. That means that there is no such animal as an “elect unbeliever.” On that account, the methodology of James White is severely challenged, whether he chooses to recognize it or not.

3) Taking on Total Inability, Troy Brooks then explains that man has the ability to “choose” good. Arminianism would agree, only insomuch that God’s grace makes it possible (i.e. the Holy Spirit seeking, drawing, knocking, convicting, pricking, piercing and even opening unregenerate hearts to respond to His call). It should be noted that both Arminians and Calvinists stand in agreement on the fundamental necessity of God’s preceding grace (i.e. Prevenient Grace), though the difference is that Arminianism holds such Prevenient Grace as resistible, whereas Calvinism holds it as irresistible. However, the argument of R.C. Sproul is that such Arminianism, becomes a “distinction without a difference” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187), when contrasted with Pelagianism, since both require that with the appropriation of such preceding grace, it is still ultimately left to the individual to respond to God, and why does one respond and not another? For more, see here. Obviously the common denominator is “Free Will,” and it is fair for Calvinists to point that out. However, Arminians prefer that Calvinists instead refer to it as “Freed Will,” that is, freed by grace to believe, and honestly, who are the Calvinists to say that God cannot condescend to man on this level? Is God not sovereign enough to deal with mankind in any manner that He chooses? So what if God should give man the ability to make a freed choice? White warns Brooks about standing before God someday after using such rhetoric as “robots,” but I would warn Calvinists about using rhetoric like calling God a “feeble” “impotent” “lackey,” and a “cosmic bellhop,” and in White’s own words, “a weak and beggarly miser,” if God chose to condescend to man in a non-Calvinistic manner, and.regardless, God still gets the last word anyway, when every knee shall bow. (Philippians 2:10-11) Whether man takes the “way of escape” or not, as per 1st Corinthians 10:13, God is no less sovereign, and God still remains in control since He perpetually limits our range of choices, insomuch that He does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle.

4) Troy Brooks raises the question of why God would plead for the salvation of some, if He has no intention of granting them any opportunity to receive His offer? This is actually a fantastic point, because Calvinism makes a mockery of the patience of God. For in “what” is God being patient, if He has appointed an irresistible grace for some, while withholding the means of repentance for others? This is just another example of Scripture being incompatible with Calvinism.

James White’s defense is that the “command to repent is extended to all people.” As a 5-Point Calvinist, that’s a major flaw on his part. For to even tell someone to repent, is to imply that they have a Savior to whom such repentance will be received, and hence you are essentially telling them that Jesus died for them. This is why careful Calvinists are noted for saying that Jesus died “for sin” (not necessarily yours, unless you are one of the Calvinistically elect), rather than to stand with the apostle Paul and affirm that Jesus died for “our sins,” according to the “gospel” that he described at 1st Corinthians 15:3. For more on this point, see here.

James White then states that “there is not a single person who wants to be saved who will not be saved. The problem is that there is none who want to be saved, until God, by His Spirit, grants spiritual life.” I would just love for him to try to explain that to the Jehovah’s Witnesses with whom he debates. Believe me, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who we would recognize as being lost, absolutely do “want” to be saved, which is why they work so hard for it. It is said that when a Jehovah’s Witness goes door to door, it is not to save you, but to save themselves. For they are told by their Watchtower elders that unless they put in the approved amount of time in field work, they will not be spared at Armageddon. So they want to be saved, but the problem is that they are putting their trust in men (the Watchtower organization), rather than putting their trust in Christ. For more on this point, see here.

White adds the familiar phrase of “I do not know who the elect are,” and hence he preaches to “all men,” but not “all men” (of course) in the individual and distributive sense, but only in terms of “groups” of men. (sarcasm off). I’m going to add a rather radical thought. I know who the elect are. The elect are redeemed, born again Christians. After all, Romans 8:33 tells us that they are free from condemnation, which we know to be a distinguishing feature of those who are in Christ, that is, believers (i.e. Christians). Essentially, White’s comment echoes the traditional rhetoric of Calvinists who state, “we don’t know who the elect are.”

Next, White gets a little animated by saying that God, as depicted by Arminians, has “failed,” if men should reject and spurn His grace. I wonder if White has ever contemplated his “tradition” with Matthew 22:2, in terms of Jesus’ parable of the king who gave a mass invitation to a wedding feast, but which was rejected by many. For more on this point, see here.

5) Troy Brooks next raises his concern over the “contradictory,” dual willed, secrecy theories of Calvinism.

White responds by affirming that God has two wills, but does White acknowledge that according to his theology, these wills, at times, contradict one another? Take for instance, Ezekiel 33:7-11, in which God states that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Now by the Calvinistic “script” theory, in which God’s “creative decree” predetermines whatsoever comes to pass, you would have the apparent contradiction between what God says that He takes no pleasure in, versus what Calvinists insist that God has secretly decreed. This is perhaps what Troy Brooks had intended, by his charge that Calvinism espouses a form of Dualism, in which God’s will is set apart as double and contradictory.

6) The final issue raised by Troy Brooks is that if, according to Calvinism, that God could save all (unilaterally and monergistically with an Irresistible Grace), then why doesn’t He, or is the God according to Calvinists, less loving than men?

White answers by stating that God has chosen not to give all men an Irresistible Grace, because “God chose to demonstrate the full range of His attributes.”

I find it amazing that, according to Calvinists like James White, God needs to send people to Hell (viz. the “immutable script,” the “creative decree”), in order for God to be able to show everyone just how good He is. I wonder if James White has ever contemplated whether God would have gotten more glory by decreeing him to Hell, rather than some other poor “arbitrary soul” viz. Unconditional Reprobation. Perhaps he thinks it’s “the other guy” who makes a better fit for helping God display His attributes. It’s like the old Calvinist saying:

We are the Lord’s elected few,

Let all the rest be damned;

There’s room enough in hell for you,

We won’t have heaven crammed!

(The Other Side of Calvinism, p.300)