Thursday, July 16, 2009

Regarding My Calvinism Comment

In this post, I said,
Calvinists tend to see God’s knowledge from outside of time of events as the thing that makes them come to be, rather than the actual efficient cause within time.
A friend asked me to clarify that statement. This was my original response: That is actually something which I have observed both Calvinists and Arminians to do. Observing that God knows what our responses to his actions will be "before" he acts, they regard God as being the one who authors the events, rather than, well, the people who are actually the ones responsible. In fact, I suspect that if Calvinists and Arminians got over this hump, they would have a lot less to argue about, and be more comfortable acknowledging all of the truths stated in the Bible in stead of pitting one set against another. And then a couple hours later, I added this: After thinking about my comment (and not sleeping, like I should be doing), I would like to clarify it some more. There are Calvinists who maintain that there must be no "real" free will, since everything that happens is God's plan, and therefore "decreed" or "planned" to be so (and actively brought about by God). We are saved simply because God wanted us saved and not others, only for His glory, and our participation in salvation has nothing to do with our will, other than the fact that it was changed on us. People sin and reject him because he decreed it to be so for his glory (somehow). The Arminians who make this same mistake of seeing God's knowledge as a cause tend to be open theists, who, when presented with the above scenario accept the assumption that God's knowledge of events (including sin) would cause them to be, but reject the scenario by concluding that God must therefore not know exactly what's coming, and is not the author of sin because he didn't know for sure that it would happen, (even though his plan accounted for the possibility, perfect as it was). People who make the "God's knowledge causes events" assumption tend to think of it in terms of God "seeing ahead" into the future. I prefer to look at it as God interacting with the timeline all laid out in front of him. He doesn't dive himself in at one end of time, travel in one direction, and emerge at the other end: he touches all points of the timeline in one eternal instant, not arriving at them from the moment before, but directly from his eternal now. That is, incidentally, why he is the Same. You cannot step into the same river twice, but you can step into the same God at any and every moment of your existence. That is also how he sees us as already perfected in Christ: not because he's planning (or hoping!) to make us so, but because he knows us as being so (and God does not play pretend). Old testament sacrifices pointed to the offering of Christ, and they were accepted for sins, not because the real atonement would happen "at some point," but because Christ's offering was there in the presence of God for him to accept. And I would add this: Please notice that I am not speaking of all who call themselves Calvinists or Arminians. There is a tendency in the extremes of both, however, to fall into this same trap.


  1. I'm an Arminian, and completely agree with what you've written here. The big here is conflating foreknowledge with causation.

    God bless, Kevin

  2. Kevin,

    You're right that that is the big [issue] *here*. The context of my comment was rather narrow, and, as I point out, there are less extreme points of view in both the Calvinist and Arminian camps that do not commit this error.

    However, I have difficulty reconciling my comments in the 2nd to-last paragraph ("That is how...") with the Arminian concept of apostasy: namely, that true Christians can lose their salvation.

    I know that there are those within the Church, who you and I (and certainly the world) might call Christian, but are nevertheless wholly unregenerate and without the indwelling Spirit of God. I do not think that we disagree about the fate of those people: if they remain in that state, they go to hell.

    Where I differ sharply from the Arminian view is with regard to true Christians: those who have received Christ, and are sealed by the pledge of his sanctifying Spirit within them.

    From God's eternal perspective, he either sees people as perfectly sanctified in Christ or in complete and final rejection of him. God cannot consider you his child in one moment, and a reprobate creature destined to hell the next.

    In fact, he cannot treat you as completely reprobate one moment (even if that is what you are at the time) and his beloved child the next: the Bible teaches that he always did treat his children as his children.

    We are either "chosen in him from the foundation of the world", or we will hear "depart from me, for I *never* knew you."

    God's response to us is caused by our response to his actions toward us. This presents a chicken-egg problem that the Calvinists say started with the egg and the Armenians say started with the chicken.

    I don't think either of them is quite right: their assumptions of one-dimensional causality are clouding their heads.

  3. I really should say "in us and toward us", not just "toward us". God enables us to respond to him by healing our spirit such that it can once again produce desires that come from him. Without that, fallen man would never want to respond to God.

  4. I really hate how discussions on the Internet seem to go be all over the place (but I hate the idea of Facebook's walled garden even more).

    A friend on Facebook (where my blog posts are automatically imported as notes) asked me the following question:

    "Tim, can I ask, if you don't consider yourself a Calvinist or Arminian, what theology classification do you find describes your views best?"

    A simple question, and I probably could have responded with a single word, but that wouldn't really have been an answer, so I replied with this:

    Part of my objection to Calvinism and Arminiansim is that they are "isms": little packages of ideas that claim to represent the whole truth about the matter. "Look at it through our lens," they say, "and everything will be settled. You will never again be startled out of your comfort zone by the Word of God."

    The main problem with both Calvinism and Arminianism is that they ignore parts of scripture. Chiefly, Calvinism ignores the parts where we're treated as if we have a free will, and Arminianism ignores the parts where our salvation is a completely done deal that doesn't depend on our faithfulness us to maintain, but on God's faithfulness.

    But I know why you're asking: you want a framework to understand. Perhaps you hadn't considered that there are points of view that don't lie anywhere on the Calvinist-Arminian axis: that there was more than one dimension to be "on" positionally.

    I find that my point of view is much closer to Calvinism than Arminianism. Some who see things a lot like me will call themselves Calvinists without (I contend) considering the implications of such an association.

    Fortunately, I have (quite recently) come across a name for my point of view. It is called "Compatibilism", in that it states that the sovereignty God and the free will and responsibility of man are both true, and are not contradictory: they are, in fact, compatible.

    I found a good (and short) summary on this Wikipedia page, which I will quote, because of the dynamic nature of Wikipedia:
    "Compatibilism in this context holds that the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are both biblical concepts and, rightly understood, are not mutually... Read More exclusive. The all-knowing God (who sees past, present, and future simultaneously from the perspective of eternity) created human beings (who have the subjective reality of making choices in the present that have consequences for themselves and others in the future) in such a way that both are true: God is ultimately sovereign and therefore must have at least permitted any choice that a human could make, but at the same time God is right to hold humans accountable because from their perspective within the confines of serial time, humans make moral choices between good and evil."

    The only part I don't like about the above summary is that the way it is phrased seems to treat the temporal perspective as less "real" than the eternal perspective. Both are simultaneously real, and temporal reality is not diminished by God's trans-temporal existence.

    Another (slightly more dubious) article that addresses Compatibilism can be found here: