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>Corporate versus individual election

2009 November 21 40 comments

>Brennon Hartshorn has posted his take on Romans 9 from an Arminian perspective. Marcus McElhaney, of a more Calvinist persuasion, has addressed Brennon’s post pointwise. Both are an interesting read and there is some common agreement; they may be worth perusing prior to reading this post. I do not seek to reproduce or comment on the whole exchange. Rather one paragraph of Marcus’ made me think that aspects of freewill needed clarification.

In Romans 9 Paul writes

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Brennon’s comment on verses 14 and 15 (italics above),

What about this? Was God unrighteous when He chose Jacob over Esau? The Jews at this time would have thought so. Esau was the eldest and that meant that the birthright of Isaac was naturally his. But God chose Jacob to be the one to carry on the line of Israel. Paul asserts that of course God is not unrighteous in this decision.

In verse 15 Paul is citing Exodus 33:19. Let’s remember that Paul is a Jewish Rabbi. Jews memorized large portions of the Old Testament. He had an amazing command of knowledge of these ancient texts. Would he rip the text out of context in order to prove a point about individual unconditional election? No! The context here is not about who goes to heaven and who does not. In context, Moses has asked God to show him His glory. God says it is because of His mercy that He has decided to show Himself to Moses, not due to anything Moses did. So Paul’s point is God does not owe us mercy based on what we do (will or run). The basis of God’s choice to save people is not on the people’s conduct, but on His compassion. The “IT” in verse 16 is not individual salvation; the “IT” refers to God’s choice of what to predicate His salvation on: Corporate election. Individual unconditional election has not appeared in this section. (Emphasis original.)

Marcus responds thus,

I’m not sure why we would assume that if God could do this with nations that he does not do it with individuals? In order for God to do it on a corporate scale means turning and directing the will of many people…so teaching that God does not do anything against human free will goes out the window. I agree that the verses are definitely saying that election is based on God’s will and desire and nothing to do with the properties of those being elected. I mean you can’t elect yourself to something and still call it “election”. “Fair” is whatever God says it is as far as I am concerned. I think that Paul is really pointing out that this is how God is and deals with his creation. It’s His reality. We just live in it…on His terms.

While I disagree with aspects of this paragraph, I also think Marcus misunderstands aspects of freewill.

The context of Romans 9 seems to be corporate. Paul starts by mentioning fellow (ethnic) Israelites. He then goes on to discuss individuals such as Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. The need of the exegete is therefore to explain why the change to individual salvation or, as Brennon attempts to do, how the individuals mentioned represent the corporate or represent God’s dealings with the corporate.

The importance of assessing individual versus corporate is that dealing with the corporate is fundamentally distinct from dealing with the individual. The issue with God dealing with the individual is that if God does so in an exhaustively deterministic way then man is essentially an automaton. He is therefore unable to to truly love, nor is he responsible for his actions—good or bad.

This does not mean that proponents of freewill deny that God is able to act deterministically, he is; it is that he does not do so exhaustively because he wants creatures to love him. God could set up a clockwork world and appreciate its beauty and precision. But God created this world with men who would love and enjoy him forever.

Freewill does not constrain God, he constrains himself. God could still prevent men from thinking or conceiving some things, and he may in fact do this at times. God is able to prevent the actions of evil men and does so. Freedom is not a power that God struggles to overcome, it is a gift, an attribute of God that he bestows on man.

Now this does not apply to corporate groups because a group does not have freewill, other than the freedom of the individuals within it. And God can act in ways that affect corporate outcome without overriding the freedom of individuals that comprise it. God can raise up a nation by providing optimal environmental conditions, and he can destroy a nation by sending disaster.

In doing so we note that God’s plans for groups can be brought about according to God’s purpose and for his glory. God tells Israel they are not a nation of note but that he will make them great. Individuals within various groups still retain the choice to side with or against God. If God punishes a nation, individuals of such nations can still appeal to God’s mercy. We see this in Rahab and the Egyptians who left in the Exodus. If God blesses a nation, individuals can still reject God’s purposes; consider Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

While a Calvinist may see God working on the corporate scale as an outworking of exhaustive determinism of individuals, this perspective is a result of the Calvinist system. God is actually able to act on the corporate scale without exhaustive determinism. The non-Calvinist perspective is that God works at the corporate level to assess the actions of individuals. God does not control the motives of our hearts, he tests them.

Categories: determinism, freewill

>Limitation does not equal causation

2009 August 11 Leave a comment

> J.C. Thibodaux gives a useful illustration.

God’s choices being constrained by His nature doesn’t amount to His choices being entirely determined by His nature. The difference between constraint and determinism can be described with a more physical case: The shoulder socket constrains how far and in which directions one’s arm joint can move (without really getting hurt anyway), but it would be silly to say that the socket itself ‘determined’ which directions one’s arms moved and when, since the joint moves freely within the range of the socket. Likewise, the constraint that God cannot lie doesn’t preclude Him from having other options, since choices don’t always come down to only the two options of ‘be dishonest or don’t be dishonest;’ there can be more than one choice within the range of honesty and Holiness.

I think this is a helpful analogy for Arminians to use in explaining their position.

While it is true that actions have consequences and thus certain choices make others logically impossible—if one muscle on the shoulder contracts to move the arm then for movement to occur other muscles must relax—the constraint of possible actions does not prevent all choice. Free will means that we can make real choices within limits of the ability we have been given.

Note also that some choices will be theoretically possible but may be limited in some men by their lack of awareness of the possibility.

Categories: analogy, freewill

>Proof-texting unconditional election

2008 October 24 9 comments

>In response to a recent post on sovereignty I received an anonymous comment suggesting my analysis contradicted the Bible. This is a bold claim, though I am prepared to defend my position. I will add that this post is an object lesson in why proof-texting can be a poor technique. While short texts of Scripture can refute error, they need to be understood and applied correctly. Anonymous did not expand on the texts or explain how they contradict my claims.

My claims and anon’s quotes are in italics, my response is in roman type.

Anon: This is a sad commentary. You analysis says exactly opposite of that the Bible says.

However others thought it a good commentary. jc_freak and travelah agreed with it, and kangaroodort affirmed it and linked to it. While this particular post was short on Scripture, it was not intended to be exegesis of a particular passage. Other posts have defended my view. In this post I was trying to identify a logical error, that being:

  • I don’t think sovereignty by necessity means God can force people to love him.

God can still be sovereign even if the whole whole rejects him. Our acceptance or rejection of God does not alter the fact that he is King and owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

bethyada: Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

Anon:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:21-23)

And yet I quote this very passage latter on. Rather than interact with my interpretation you just quote it with the assumption that your interpretation of it is the right one and that alone is enough to refute me. Re-read my response. You are reading “prepared” to mean “pre-prepared.” While that is possible, especially given the following mention of “prepared beforehand” other verses suggest that men prior to redemption are objects of wrath and yet become objects of grace. See Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

If we remain disobedient God prepares us for destruction, but he desires repentance.

bethyada: I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

Anon

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18)

And what does mercy have to do with forcing people to love him? God can have mercy on whoever he wishes, but he has said he will not do so unless we repent. And if he gives us mercy we can still choose not to love him.

bethyada: God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

Anon

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

This is not about our acceptance or rejection of God, it is about God giving us the ability to do what we desire to do. Just because we choose God and reject evil does not mean we have the ability to walk according to our choice.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)

God in Ezekiel says this new heart will cause us to walk in his statutes, and while consistent with an unconditional election position, is also consistent with conditional election. God can give us ability if we desire it and he has promised it. If we desire it alone we cannot do it. God says here in Ezekiel that he will do this for his own glory, but this does not necessarily mean that he will do it to those who are evil and unrepentant. The question here is not about God’s abilities to help us live by the Spirit, rather it is about whether God changes us despite our will, and whether determinism allows love.

bethyada: To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Anon:

…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,… (Isaiah 46:10)

My claim was specific. I am not saying that God is not sovereign. Non-Calvinists acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The comment as it stands already refutes your response. A high view of God’s omnipotence does not automatically make God able to do the logically impossible. By analogy I claim that a high view of sovereignty doesn’t mean that God can make free people love against their desire. A verse reinforcing God’s sovereignty does nothing to prove me incorrect. If I am incorrect it is because my analogy is incorrect or inappropriate.

Further I think God can force activity and situation outcomes against the will of man; see Nebuchadnezzar’s 7 years. But Nebuchadnezzar still had to choose to love or reject God.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,… (Daniel 4)

bethyada: Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction…Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation.

Anon:

This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God. (Job 20:29)

The LORD has made all things for Himself: yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction. (Proverbs 16:4)

For certain people … long ago were designated for this condemn… [truncated by haloscan but from Jude] condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

And I can proof-text just as easily.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

I am not claiming that all men will be saved, just that God desires such. The verses from Job and Jude do not say that men were eternally elected to be evil and thus damned, they say that God will surely punish the wicked. The verses are compatible with a Calvinist interpretation, but they do not teach Calvinism. Jude could be read that the condemnation is determined before the wickedness, yet God’s foreknowledge allows him to determine their condemnation prior to the event even though the condemnation is because of the event. That is, the cause is the wicked actions even if knowledge of the wickedness predates the actions. The Job passage seems an odd rebuttal as the speaker is Zophar and the conclusion is that God decrees thus because of the evil man’s wickedness.

Proverbs 16 as it reads suggests that God has created men for the purpose of destruction. This is the ESV version (which I also use). But is the verse actually teaching this? The verse in the NET version is,

The Lord works everything for its own ends—/
Even the wicked for the day of disaster.

Which is compatible with God ensuring that outcomes will be just; that is, God will ensure our actions will ultimately have their appropriate consequences. Through other Scripture we know this takes into account God’s mercy.

A footnote in the NET states that the word “work” means to “work out” or “accomplish.” Another says that “for its own ends” means,

“for its answer.” The term לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ (lammaanehu) has been taken to mean either “for his purpose” or “for its answer.” The Hebrew word is מַעֲנֶה (ma’aneh, “answer”) and not לְמַעַן (lema’an, “purpose”). So the suffix likely refers to “everything” (כֹּל, kol). God ensures that everyone’s actions and the consequences of those actions correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God’s order there is just retribution for every act.

Thus God makes the day of destruction for the wicked, not the wicked for the day of destruction. (See also Matthew 25:41.)

I have no problem with quoting Scripture to support truth. The problems with proof-texting come, as can be seen here, when it is done

  • poorly;
  • without regard to context;
  • with no relevance to the issue; or
  • with the assumptions of one’s position which, while possibly consistent with the text, are not specifically found within the text.

It is better to interact with the Scripture and the points made by one’s opponent. Documenting not just what the Bible says, but explaining what and why it means thus.

Categories: freewill, sovereignty

>A clarification on sovereignty

2008 September 20 3 comments

>is in order. 3 responses to my recent post, God’s sovereignty and glory, while accurate, did not quite focus on what I was trying to say.

It is not that I think God gives us some freedom and still retains his sovereignty, even though that is true.

Rather, I think that if God makes us free agents then it is impossible for him to make us love him. Love is a free expression. If determinism is true then we can act affectionately (or in a way that has that appearance) but we a little different from programmed robots. If we are free to love then we either do or we do not. If we choose to reject God then God cannot make us love him. It is not a question of sovereignty. It is a question of logic:

If freewill then not forced love.

The nature of love means it is our decision to make.

A couple of side notes. I am not saying freewill equates to being able to do or think anything. We cannot do many things. It may not occur to us to think of many things. We cannot process ideas that are beyond our comprehension. And God is able to act on our thoughts (give us ideas or prevent us thinking something); and on our actions, force or prevent a certain action. Freewill means the ability to make some decisions independent of God. We may make some of these decisions contradictory to God’s preferences.

And even though God cannot make us love him he can prove his existence to us and he can act in such ways as to maximise the chances that we will desire him. He can pursue us to depths unimaginable.

Categories: freewill, logic, sovereignty

>God's sovereignty and glory

2008 August 29 11 comments

>Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction. Neither are we created for redemption; rather for fellowship. Because of Adam’s choice we become estranged. God’s grace gives us a possible path back. Those who continually reject God’s drawing are handed over to destruction. They become unredeemable* objects of wrath whom God prepares for destruction based on our rejection of him.

It is theoretically possible that every person could choose God.

God does seek his own glory, but the Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation. Why? Because if we choose obedience and become objects of mercy, God gains even more glory.

God is glorified when he destroys the wicked.

God is glorified more when he shows mercy to the repentant wicked.

What of Romans 9?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called,…

It is not that God creates beings solely so they can be destroyed and they have no choice to escape that destination. Rather they have insisted on wickedness, they have rejected God’s offer of mercy, therefore they are prepared for destruction. Given they are not redeemable, God uses them to maximise his glory in the view of the vessels of God’s mercy. God uses a bad situation for good.

If Calvinism was correct about God’s sovereignty then he would maximise his glory by saving everyone. That would bring him more glory than damning some.

*We are children of wrath because we are fallen (Ephesians 2:3). If we reject God to the point we are not redeemable then we are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

>Free will and determinism, a parallel in literature?

2008 August 22 10 comments

>I have argued that God does not ordain evil and raised the question: How can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin, yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life?

Some have claimed that there is a parallel in fiction. The author is parallel to God and the characters are parallel to created persons.

The problem with this analogy is that it is back to front. Fictional characters are not real. They are constructs of the author that do not exist in reality. They have no will of their own. If a character is murdered in a novel we don’t think of book author as evil, even though the murder solely originated in the mind of the author, because no one actually dies. We think of the fictional murderer as evil because we carry the fictional back over to reality. Book characters are not truly evil, they are fictional. But their behaviour as it corresponds to reality is recognised as evil.

The book analogy fails because we have been created with choice. We can murder or not murder (characters do not have this choice). It may be argued that this response is begging the question and the counter claim put forward that the book analogy is exact, we do not have a choice. If we have no choice then none of our actions are sinful. We are all doing the will of our creator. We are neither righteous nor evil.

>Does God ordain evil?

2008 August 12 32 comments

>God may will certain events. These events may involve sinful actions of men. Some have suggested that because God ordains these events then God is ordaining evil.

God does not desire evil nor ordain evil. When addressing the actions of God there are some subtle issues that need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, there are actions that God does that are not intrinsically sin despite the fact that man doing the same action would be sin. This is not arbitrary, this is because the action does not apply to God. Take killing as an example. God can kill but God cannot murder. This is because he created us and owns us. He is the author of life and can remove it at will. However man can murder. But not all killing is murder. So a man executing a criminal is carrying out God’s command for justice and neither the man nor God are sinning.

Let us suppose that God wills that a particular evil man should die. God could:

  1. kill him directly;
  2. command a ruler to execute him (judgment from a judge for his sin);
  3. command a man/ army to kill him (compare David); or
  4. allow a murderer to kill him.

In all but the last situation neither God nor the killer is sinning. In the last case the man is sinning but God is using it for his purposes. Note that in the last example God is not commanding the murderer to murder. Rather the would-be-murderer is to resist sin. In resisting murder (sin) he is obeying God. This is the best course he should take. Resisting sin in this situation does not thwart God’s will. God can still see to the execution of the evil man he wishes dead. The will of God here is that a person be put to death. It is not God’s will that a man commits murder.

If God wills a person to kill the evil man then he is not a murderer, he is acting as God’s agent of judgment (example 3) and is not sinning. God can command a person with the authority of the sword to put him to death. That person is doing God’s will and is not sinning.

If God desires something, how can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life? Of course God can use evil men, but God does not intend for any man to be evil, he intends for them to repent. In our example God is not intending for the murderer to murder, he intends for the evil man to be put to death. That God does not prevent a murder and uses it for his goal does not make him the author of evil nor does it make murder God’s intention. The best option is for the (potential) murderer to repent of his intended actions and let God carry out his intentions on the life of the person another way. God can know the plans of a wicked man to murder said person. It is God’s will that the man be put to death. It is not God’s will that the person murder him.

That God knows murders will happen does not mean he approves.

Secondly, God does not necessarily ordain things that he uses. God can bring good out of evil, even greater good than had the evil not happened. This does not mean that God desires that the evil happens.

One cannot observe consequences of God working through the actions of evil men and assume that God’s activity equals his approval.

Take teaching truth as an example. False doctrine tests us. Responding to false doctrine may aid us in understanding true doctrine better. God may also use false teaching to purify his people. But better no false teaching than some false teaching. Spreading falsehood means judgment for both those who teach it and those who follow it.

>Did God give us a false understanding of ourselves?

2007 December 31 2 comments

>A further argument for freewill is that men think that it exists. Within my mind I am certain that I have freedom of my own choices. I think it likely that others think the same way. Granted some cultures have a more fatalistic view of life, but even if their outlook is, “If God wills it,” they still think that they are making some decisions.

That I think I have freedom to make choices comes from God. If in reality I do not have that freedom, that is all my thoughts and actions are essentially God’s thru me, then I think this implies that God is deceitful. Of course God can do as he wills, but deceiving all men totally (thru general revelation) about an aspect of reality does not seem to be in God’s nature.

One may argue that my fallen nature prevents me fully understanding myself, let alone God. The problem with this argument is that it is not claiming that I do not fully understand my freewill, rather it is claiming that my belief I have freewill is completely incorrect. There are many attributes that we have because of God’s image, and these are broken because we are fallen; The more we take on the mind of Christ the more we can rightly understand these attributes; but I can think of none that are so broken that our view is completely the opposite of reality.

Take justice. Even though this can be very distorted such that gross injustices are done, the concept that there is an ought remains. And those doing injustice frequently do so claiming they are doing true justice, the appeal to justice (albeit false) is still there.

Take design. Even an extreme Darwinian, while accepting a false path to the complexity of life, acknowledges that proteins, structures, cells and organisms work. So they would deny design but can still see function.

Take truth. Even liars are usually aware that they speaking unreality. It takes a long legacy of deceit to no longer be able to tell the difference between truth and untruth in one’s own life, and even then there is an awareness of some aspects of reality.

The claim that freewill does not even exist but is only a false belief of our mind is not consistent with the other attributes. It is the odd one out. The claim is not that part of the image of God is broken, it is a claim that we think this way despite being completely incorrect. And even worse, freewill is an attribute that God does have, and we falsely think he has given it to us.

And those who are redeemed still have this sense of freedom within them. Even those who subscribe to no-freewill theology still feel they have some freedom of their decisions.

So we have a claim that humans think they have an attribute that God really has, yet they are incorrect in their thoughts (not just broken reasoning), and even redemption is not enough to alter these intrinsic thoughts.

Categories: depravity, freewill

>A father's foreknowledge

2007 December 30 3 comments

>During a discussion on Jamsco’s blog, Bnonn was suggesting that if God’s knowledge is contingent on our actions then God cannot know about what we will never do.

  • P1. If human beings have libertarian free will, and God has definite knowledge of human actions, then it is necessary that God’s knowledge of those actions is logically contingent upon them.
  • P2. If God’s definite knowledge of human actions is logically contingent upon them, then God cannot have definite knowledge of human actions which will never occur.
  • P3. But God does have definite knowledge of human actions which will never occur.
  • C4. Therefore, human beings do not have libertarian free will.

I have previously said that while reasoning is good it is also fallen, so if our logic contradicts Scripture then we must check our premises or reasoning. I think the error is logic is related to the first premise. While reviewing the premises is useful, illustrations are also useful because if the illustration is feasible, then the argument probably needs modifying. This is an example from my daughters.

  • Bethyada: D1, for your snack you can have blue cheese on crackers or avocado on crackers.
  • D1: I’ll have x.

I offered her this (a factual) and I knew her response would be x. I knew her response prior to the answer. My knowledge is not so much contingent on her actual choice, rather it is contingent on me knowing what her choice will be. But her choice is clearly hers and not mine.

  • Bethyada: D2, for your snack you can have blue cheese on crackers or avocado on crackers.
  • D2: I’ll have y.

Now this is a hypothetical (counterfactual), I don’t really do this, it is just a mind experiment. But I am still certain of her response. Clearly my knowledge here is not contingent on her choosing.

Note the answer is different for each of them given the same choice. It is not that I am forcing the answer I wish to have (do you want to eat a chocolate bar or a slug).

The reason I know the answers is because I know my daughters.

I would rephrase premise 1

  • P1. If human beings have (libertarian) freewill, and God has definite (fore)knowledge of human actions, then it is necessary that God’s knowledge of those actions is logically dependent on God knowing what humans will do.

God knows us better than I know my children so God always knows what our choice will or would be.

Categories: foreknowledge, freewill, logic

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Sovereignty and free will

2007 December 18 Leave a comment

>There is an interesting passage in Jeremiah which inputs into the Calvinism debate:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (Jeremiah 18)

There is a lot here that points to God’s activity in the world: God gives a command to Jeremiah (which presumes obedience is possible); if Jeremiah is obedient then God will allow him to hear his words; God can build up nations and destroy them.

The potter motif is interesting. God gives Jeremiah an analogy to act out. It is important to understand this analogy, what God is saying thru it and what God is not saying thru it—while there may be more than one meaning in many passages of Scripture, we must not over read it: for example in this story God is like the potter, the potter is mortal, this does not imply that God is mortal.

We have a potter forming an object, this becomes marred, the object is reworked into something different, the potter chooses what he makes.

God says that if the potter is able to work the clay as he sees fit, how much more so is God able to do as he wills: “…can I not do with you as this potter has done?” But further than this, not only does God have a right to do this, he is also able to do this: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In what way is the house of Israel, or a nation, like clay. The answer is in God’s subsequent pronouncement. They are similar in that God is able to destroy a nation or prosper it, just as the potter is able to make an object of his choosing. They are similar in that God is able to change his plans for the nation, to destroy a nation he was planning to prosper, or vice versa, just as the potter can change what vessel he is making.

One must be careful in making claims about the nature of the clay from this analogy. One must look to what is given in explanation. The clay is spoiled in the potter’s hands. Is that because of flaws in the clay or flaws in the potter? Is it relevant? The point is just that the potter has sovereignty over the clay, before and after its spoiling. Theoretically the potter could have destroyed the whole project and started again according to his original plan, but God wanted to use the change in the object being fashioned to reveal himself.

The spoiling of the clay is the change in behaviours of a nation. Though “spoiled” carries a negative connotation, this is not the case in the explanation. This discrepancy suggests that the spoiling may not carry over any analogous qualities. Nations can behave in positive or negative ways. They can repent, a good response, or they can commit evil, a bad response.

And while clay has no will, clearly the nation does. God appeals to the nation to listen to his warning: “If… I declare…, and if that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent….”

While God has declared his sovereignty, that he has the right to do and is able to do exactly as he wills, he also states that his actions are contingent on the actions of the nations. He will change his behaviour based on our actions. It is not that we can force God’s hand, make him do what we want, rather that there are opportunities in which we can choose our path. God may limit the number of paths available to us, but there are outcomes we can determine, or rather outcomes (the specifics of which are determined by God) can be accepted or rejected by us. God does not force us or manipulate our thoughts to make a decision for him or against him.

In this passage God is talking about nations. Does the same apply to individuals? God’s commands to and requirements of nations are not always the same as that to individuals: the state is given a mandate to execute criminals, individuals, in general, are not. That this principle is relevant to individuals can be seen by comparing to Ezekiel.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

While this passage describes God’s abundant mercy, the call to repentance comes thru out the Old and New Testaments. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we are able to choose to avail ourselves of this salvation.

>Freedom of man

2007 December 4 11 comments

>Reading Calvinists I am not certain they always understand the opposing view. There are several things that need to be understood by Calvinists if they are to adequately interact with those who do not subscribe to the reformed view.

I myself have not read Calvin or a great deal of defence of Calvinism. I have however read a lot of material written by Calvinists, some of which covers questions of salvation and predestination. And my current Bible is a Reformation Study Bible.

An aside: I am somewhat concerned that “reformed” is synonymous with “Calvinism.” Protestants in general trace theological ancestry back to the Reformation and many of them do not hold to a “reformed” view; but the term is well established. I actually object to Open View being called consistent Arminianism because it steals a term which already has meaning, and makes a judgment about deniers of Open View theology—that of inconsistency. Always be wary of those who frame debates in terms of manipulating language and the meanings of words!

Further, I have not studied up on Arminian theology, I just disagree with Calvinism so I think my ideas likely have an Arminian flavour.

Problems I have with Calvinist theology

  • I cannot see how God can cause something to happen directly and not be the source of it. Therefore I think that Calvinism makes God the author of sin. This is so contrary to what the Bible seems to teach that I cannot bide by it.
  • God repeatedly calls us to repent. The Bible is full of examples of God calling men to obey him and punishing men for disobedience. That God causes the disobedience that he so frequently rebukes men for just seems preposterous.
  • Other than a few verses (eg. Romans 9) the Bible does not seem to read in a Calvinist way.
  • Verses that seem to contradict Calvinism are given interpretations by Calvinists that seem to me to be unusual or bizarre.
  • A genetic fallacy I know—but it seems, from the little I know, that Calvin was influenced by Augustine who wrongly married aspects of Greek philosophy to Christianity.

How I see some Calvinists misunderstand non-Calvinists

We do not necessarily take the polar opposite to Calvinists.

Men are created in the image of God. They are also fallen. So they have many aspects in common with God but these aspects are frequently broken. They are broken beyond repair in that they can only be fixed by Christ, but they are not broken beyond recognition, nor use.

Take reason. Our ability to reason is because of God’s image in us, but we make mistakes in our reason.

  • We may not follow logic completely
  • We accept false premises
  • We prefer to think reality conforms to our sinful nature
  • We will defend our sin rather than face it.

But also

  • We can follow some logical arguments
  • We accept some true premises (to a varying degree) even if we do not know Christ
  • Some men do realise that things are not all right with man
  • And, even if we are unwilling to see evil in ourselves, most see it to some degree in others.

Now it may well be God’s sustaining power and work in our lives that allows us to do things while broken, but those thoughts remain ours, at least at the level of whether we choose to agree with God or disagree with him. That is, God is not forcing certain men to reject him, rather he is calling all, and all can respond, though not all choose to.

While God gives us much freedom, this does not mean we deny that God can override that freedom, at least in action; though he may prevent a thought or prevent a thought developing. Nor is deism true— God did not set up the world leaving us to do what we may, God is very actively involved in his creation. He responds to our prayers, he guides us, he gives us ideas, he speaks in dreams, visions and audibly at times. God is probably far more active in this world than most people appreciate.

But the key idea is that we have freedom of choice. While God has preferences for us we can choose to accept them or choose to rebel against them. We can oppose God. While God’s ultimate will (final plan or thing that he has determined to happen) cannot be thwarted, we can surely rage against him.

God is able to bring good out of evil, even greater good than would have been had the evil not occurred, but that he does that is testimony to his goodness; to claim that God willed evil to bring about a greater good seems, to me, to be inconsistent with the nature of God.

Categories: freewill, philosophy

>Open View Theology

2007 December 3 1 comment

>I have been wanting to make some comments since Vox started debating jamsco. To me it seems that the debate is covering several issues which are not always well defined. The question over whether God knows the future is discussed alongside free will and God’s micromanagement of our lives.

These 2 issues actually create a trilemma. God either knows the future specifically or he does not. God either controls every aspect of our lives including all our thoughts and actions, or he does not. But the 2 issues can be held separately.

To avert confusion, by “God ordains” I mean everything that happens in the world, good and evil, thoughts and actions of all men, has its origin in God’s will; ie. men do not really have their own will that can be at odds with God. By “knows the future” I mean the specific future, not all possible futures and not a general knowledge based on what he causes to eventuate.

The 4 options are

  1. God ordains everything and knows the future
  2. God ordains everything and does not know the future
  3. God does not ordain everything and knows the future
  4. God does not ordain everything and does not know the future

The above 4 options are really only 3. It seems to me that if God ordains every event then he knows the future pragmatically (brings about one specific future) even if theoretically he did not know it intrinsically.

I am not certain the micromanagement (predestination)/ freewill debate, which essentially the Calvinist/ Arminian debate, will be resolved easily. Though it is important for both sides to know the other side and understand it reasonably well. (I also think that the word predestination carries too much baggage to be used without clarification.)

Bible verses may support one’s underlying philosophy, but one also uses his philosophy when reading Scripture in general, and therefore interprets passages as being consistent with that philosophy—even when that interpretation is more strained than other readings. Vox phrases the error well,

  1. Take a Bible verse
  2. Assign a possible meaning to it.
  3. Insist this is the ONLY possible meaning, even when the meaning doesn’t make sense. (In this case, the problem is apparent a priori, but usually it is only evident when considered in context with other, contradictory verses.)
  4. Ignore all other plausible interpretations, especially more logical and Biblically supported ones.

In general terms one has to show that the Bible as a whole supports his theology.

At minimum show that a passage can only be interpreted in a specific way or that the other view contradicts Scripture*.

My position for the above options is 3. God does not micromanage everything but he does know the future specifically, nothing takes him by surprise. I will discuss both these options in future posts (God willing, I am not omniscient).


*A passage can only be interpreted in a specific way

  • P→Q

Example: Verse x means Calvinism.

The other view contradicts Scripture

  • R→S,
  • ~S→~R

Example: Open view implies y. Scripture says that y is not true (or the opposite of y is true) therefore open view is false.

What is unhelpful is using consistency which is non discriminatory

  • T→V
  • V→T

Which is logically unsound because U may also imply V. Example: Calvinism suggests z and Scripture says z. But Arminianism also suggests z!