Monday, November 30, 2009

The God of Non-Contradiction, Part II; Libertarian Freedom: A Display of the Sovereignty of God

I’m back to continue my examination of Axel D. Steuer’s article titled “The Freedom of God and Human Freedom.” Steuer shows us in his article that God is “The God of Non-Contradiction,” the One who is orderly and logical. Because God is logical and consistent in His character and nature, He is not going to “control my self-control,” for instance. Such beliefs are contradictions and go against all rules of logic. The Law of Non-Contradiction (I’ve said it numerous times) states that two opposing things cannot exist in the same respect at the same time (such as “short and tall”).

In today’s post, I’m gonna continue Steuer’s work. This post, however, will tackle the issue of libertarian freedom and what it means. It is my belief that many who argue against it do so because they fail to understand the nature of libertarian freedom.

Steuer goes on to say:

“The one kind of control God cannot logically have over free human agents is self-control. Thus, it is not paradoxical that an omnipotent being cannot COMPLETELY control another distinct being which has at least a certain degree of self-control or freedom. The creation of such freely acting or independent beings IN NO WAY LIMITS GOD’S POWER (indeed IT MIGHT BE TAKEN AS FURTHER TESTIMONY TO THAT POWER) nor does the existence of such beings require any sort of self-limitation on God’s part. GOD CAN STILL DO WHATEVER IS LOGICALLY DO-ABLE (i.e., God is still omnipotent) even if he freely creates beings over whose free choices he has (on logical grounds) no control” (“The Freedom Of God And Human Freedom.” Scottish Journal of Theology Vol. 36, pp. 172-173).

In writing about God controlling human “self-control,” Steuer tells us that “an omnipotent being cannot COMPLETELY control another distinct being...” The phrase “completely control” DOES NOT LEAVE OUT THE POSSIBILITY OF SOME MEASURE OF CONTROL! I say this because theologians such as Bruce Ware, and other compatibilists, attempt to add further limitation to man’s freedom---- when the truth is, that man’s freedom IS ALREADY LIMITED! This is the definition of what libertarian freedom is:

The Libertarian view - According to libertarianism, the idea that God causes men to act in a certain way, but that man has free will in acting that way is logically false. Free means uncaused. Man has free will, and his decisions are influenced, but not caused. God limits the actions of men, but not their mind or will. Man has the ability to turn to God in Christ and sincerely ask for help, selfishly perhaps, apart from specific (special) divine enablement. According to Arminianism, God, in his freedom, not only sets a condition on salvation and wills only to save those who would ask Him to rescue them. God, then, predestines those who He "foreknew" to salvation. Or, according to Open Theism, God is anxiously waiting to see what each person will do, for he cannot know ahead of time what the choice might be. (from Theopedia--

“God limits the actions of men, but not their mind or will.” This sentence sums up the libertarian freedom position perfectly. God limits our choices, and this is demonstrated in things that humans cannot do. A good example is one given by a former Apologetics professor of mine—that of flying. Humans do not have “unlimited” free will, for we cannot make ourselves fly. We cannot just get up, flap our arms, and start flying in the air. We are not immortal, so we cannot just get shot with bullets and not be mortally wounded or killed by the impact of the bullets through our bodies. There are things that our “humanness” or human essence will not allow us to do. In other words, humans are made with boundaries, limits to our potential. However, this is not a bad thing. Rather, having limits within our humanness is where freedom is most found. Timothy Keller writes regarding the claim that Christianity limits one’s potential:

“Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature.
In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world produce greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfillment. Experimentation, risk, and making mistakes bring growth only if, over time, they show us our limits as well as our abilities. If we only grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically through judicious constraints—WHY WOULD IT NOT ALSO BE TRUE FOR SPIRITUAL AND MORAL GROWTH? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?”
(Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief In An Age of Skepticism.” New York: Dutton, 2008, pages 46-47).

Although Keller writes regarding limits to our actions as believers, I think Keller's argument would also apply to humanity in general. It is having limits within our humanness that we are most free. Therefore, libertarian freedom is truly free in that sense. It is not the freedom of the Open Theist, where God doesn’t know the future, or that of Bruce Ware, in which God “regulates and adjusts” the influences of my will to an extent that I do everything He wants me to do. No, the idea of libertarian freedom matches the freedom of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Keep in mind that they could eat of every tree EXCEPT ONE!

This is an important fact that needs to be understood in the debate regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Bruce Ware, for instance, attempts to “limit” the freedom of man by eliminating every choice except that of his “inclination” in the decision process (man thus has a “freedom of inclination,” stated in his book, “God’s Greater Glory”). Others, like the Classical Calvinist camp, attempt to erase and eliminate man’s freedom completely (which only exacerbates the problem). But here, in the idea of “libertarian freedom,” is the solution to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Think of it: the ideal theological solution to the question of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a system where God is clearly in control, but yet, humans do have some form of freedom in which to operate (both are sound biblical doctrines). So, how is this accomplished? “One’s account of providence must be robust enough to be a plausible candidate for DIVINE providence, without being so strong as to imply that God himself is an EVIL-DOER” (Kenneth J. Perszyk, “Molinism and Theodicy.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44, page 168. Article itself is from pp. 163-184).

How do we listen to these words of Kenneth Perszyk? We do so with the assumption that, if evil exists (which it does), and God cannot be responsible for it (which James 1 states), then God cannot have all the power in the world. That power must be shared if God is not at fault for evil. Therefore, man has some freedom, even if Calvinists find the idea revolting...

And this is where libertarian freedom comes to center stage. In this theological idea (with a philosophical label), we find that man has a “limited freedom,” while God, as Sovereign, has an “unlimited freedom.” Man, then, is allowed to have freedom within boundaries, and God, having created those boundaries, still retains control over man as His creation (without determining man’s choices). There is no contradiction with God limiting the amount of freedom; there is contradiction involved, however, should God DECIDE man’s CHOICES. God cannot DECIDE TO CHOOSE FOR ME if He has given me the power to CHOOSE for myself! A determined choice is no choice at all...

The last statement Axel Steuer makes is the following:

“The creation of such freely acting or independent beings IN NO WAY LIMITS GOD’S POWER (indeed IT MIGHT BE TAKEN AS FURTHER TESTIMONY TO THAT POWER) nor does the existence of such beings require any sort of self-limitation on God’s part. GOD CAN STILL DO WHATEVER IS LOGICALLY DO-ABLE (i.e., God is still omnipotent) even if he freely creates beings over whose free choices he has (on logical grounds) no control.”

God’s power is not limited because of the freedom of man. Instead, it gives “further testimony to that power,” as Steuer tells us. It’s the same idea as a rich man. He demonstrates his wealth by giving large sums of money away to charity, for example. The fact that he CAN give away large sums of money shows that he isn’t threatened by so doing. In contrast, the person struggling from paycheck to paycheck doesn’t have the option of giving money away—for he or she barely has enough money for himself/herself!

God is still able to intervene in our world despite the choices of man; however, God has committed Himself to honoring the choices of man—which is why when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden (Gen. 1), God didn’t “erase” their choice. When the Israelites continued to complain and rebel in the wilderness, the Lord allowed them to die in the wilderness and forfeit entering the Promised Land. When Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel (Acts 7), he was stoned to death by Saul of Tarsus—and the Lord “stood” for Stephen in glory, but still allowed him to be stoned to death. Peter was still crucified for the cause of Christ—and the Lord did not step in and “erase” Peter’s death! The thief on the cross still had to die for his crime—despite accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. There are numerous other examples, but all these serve to show that our Lord has committed Himself to our genuine choices—-- such that He will not “choose” our choices or undo the consequences of our actions. He will intervene in our world when He so chooses----but not so as to violate the power of choice He has given man. This is why the Jews were disappointed when Christ revealed that He did not come to free them from Roman oppression.

I will cover a little more of Steuer’s last quote in my next post.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The God of Non-Contradiction, Part I

In my last post, I discussed the idea that two opposing terms must be qualified if they are to correspond to reality. For instance, God is not contradictory—and we must think about this, for example, when we see God allowing nations to be murdered and destroyed and yet His Word tells us not to murder (Exodus 20). “Murder” and “not murder” cannot exist in the same way at the same time. To do so is to live with a blatant contradiction that doesn’t make any sense.

For those of you who have been reading the material here, for the last few weeks, I’ve been constantly mentioning what’s called “the Law of Non-Contradiction” (which I espoused in the above paragraph of this post). To give another example (other than murder), let’s use the words “short and tall.” No one can be BOTH short and tall at the same time. However, the opposing “heights” can be relative—for instance, “shorter than her aunt” but “taller than her grandmother” resolves the contradiction. In order for contradictions to be resolved, they must be “qualified,” or given a relative qualifier (being tall “in relation to” someone or something else). This is the key to resolving the idea of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. The biblical doctrines of “God’s Sovereignty” and “man’s responsibility” ARE NOT CONTRADICTIONS! They are not paradoxes that we must live with. Because God is consistent and logical (a God of Order), we can resolve these two biblical doctrines and uphold them both equally.

Axel D. Steuer writes:

“We seem, in brief, to be caught in the paradox that, whether we affirm or deny that God can create such beings, we end up by imposing a limit to God’s power. The options for resolving this supposed ‘Paradox of Omnipotence’ seem to come down to denying either divine omnipotence (and hence divine freedom) or human freedom...however, I believe that there is yet another way of resolving this supposed paradox...In brief, an omnipotent God is able to do whatever such a being wants to do short of involving itself in a self-contradiction. And one of the things God presumably wanted to do and in fact accomplished was THE CREATION OF BEINGS CAPABLE OF ENGAGING IN FREE ACTIONS, i.e., with freedom or a degree of self-control” (Axel D. Steuer, “The Freedom Of God And Human Freedom.” Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 36, pp. 171-172).

“An omnipotent God is able to do whatever such a being wants to do short of involving” Himself in that which goes against His nature. In other words, God will not make a “round square” or a “square circle,” because these two objects are contradictory in nature. It’s the same thing with humans: God will also not create a “She-Man” or a “He-woman,” because male and female are two distinct genders that cannot be crossed. One cannot be both male and female at the same time in the same way. People are often considered to be masculine in some things (like sports) and feminine in others (like watching romance movies, eating healthy, shopping, etc.). Men are even considered to be “feminine” in some cases when they cry in front of other guys. But we all know that when a man is labeled “feminine,” he is labeled as such WITH RESPECT TO crying (his emotions)—not that he is actually a woman! And when a woman is labeled “masculine” in her field (like working on cars, for example), we know that she is not really a man, but masculine IN RELATION TO her field of labor. Both genders must be qualified to coexist harmoniously.

And it is this approach must be carried over to the intensive theological debate regarding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man:

“Now, while this ability of free human agents to control their own choices may seem to place a limit on God’s omnipotence, that is not really the case. For this self-control or freedom is a property of the human agents God chose to create and IN NO WAY REDUCES GOD’S POWER AND FREEDOM to create, destroy, intervene, or in any other way to exert divine control over the lives of all creatures. The suggestion or demand...that the Deity BE ABLE TO CONTROL, EVEN MORE DIRECTLY, THE MECHANISM OF SELF-CONTROL OF HUMAN AGENTS amounts in effect to...the demand that GOD ACTUALLY BECOME IDENTICAL WITH SOME OF THE CREATURES—for only then could God have absolute or total control over their free choices or mechanisms of self-control...since this impossibility of God’s determining the free decision of agents other than Himself is a LOGICAL IMPOSSIBILITY, God’s power is not diminished by the fact that persons cannot be created both HAVING a degree of self-control or freedom of action and LACKING such self-control” (172).

Have you ever heard the statement, “God is gonna control my self-control?” chances are, if you’ve heard it, you are one of very few and I’d like to meet you (smile)! God has given His children, via the Spirit, the fruit of self-control. Since God has given us the power to control ourselves, God is not gonna FORCE me to control myself. If God were to do that, then He would be violating the power of self-control that He gave me. This is why we think it ridiculous, for example, when a parent lets a child raise himself or herself—because children are unable to raise themselves; and how much sense does it make for a parent to let children “parent” themselves? If children are gonna be their own parents, then what do they need a “mom and dad” for? And everyday life testifies to the contradiction of children “parenting” themselves—look at how many go on to be involved in a number of sad tragedies, whether it be children engaging in unprotected, pre-marital sex or drugs or gangs, etc. We see the downward slope of contradictions all the time. Contradictions are not just silly on the surface; they are also tragic in real life. It’s amazing to think of how different the world would be if humanity spent time correcting its contradictions...

I have one more quote of Steuer’s to examine in my next post.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not Yet Reconciled

“But why would a proponent of middle knowledge...want to maintain that this world contains no ‘pure loss’ if this is possible? The answer is related to the problem of evil. There are two basic theodicies. Proponents of the greater-good defense maintain that there is no unnecessary evil, no ‘pure loss.’ All events stand as necessary components in the unfolding of God’s perfect plan. Proponents of the free will defense, on the other hand, maintain that some evil is ‘pure loss,’ the result of human decision-making over which God voluntarily gave up control by granting humans significant freedom.

Now let us suppose—as happens to be the case—that some proponents of middle knowledge want to utilize the free-will defense. Then of course they need to maintain that God was not able to bring about the exact world he wanted, for otherwise there could be no ‘pure loss.’ Or, to state the general point differently, to the extent that the proponent of middle knowledge wants to utilize the free-will defense, she or he must opt for a weaker reading of T2—of God’s control—than that affirmed by the theological compatibilist or paradox indeterminist. The proponent of middle knowledge cannot have it both ways”
[David Basinger, “Divine Control and Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge The Answer?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 1 (March 1993): 64].

In one of my recent posts, I discussed the issue of gratuitous evil and quoted some of Luis Molina’s words regarding the “greater good” theodicy. Molina stated in the quote that God only allows that which He can bring a greater good from. I stated in the post that 1 Peter shows us what gratuitous evil is and argues for its existence. If all evil is intended to exist by God with the purpose being “His glory,” then why does Peter tell us that there is “no credit” in suffering when we suffer for our own faults, but glory in suffering for Christ? Evidently, Peter was not a fan of the “greater good” theodicy. And I think Peter’s words are echoed throughout the rest of Scripture.

In addition, what about the observations noted in our world? What about the tragedies that happen everyday? What about issues like divorce, which Jesus said was not so “from the beginning” (Mark 10:5-9)? What was Jesus saying when He refused to comment on the explanations regarding recent deaths of those in Luke 13?

“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘DO YOU SUPPOSE THAT THESE GALILEANS WERE WORSE SINNERS than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, NO; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, DO YOU THINK THAT THEY WERE WORSE SINNERS THAN ALL OTHER MEN who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, NO; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5, NKJV).

In John 9, we have a case where the man born blind from birth was healed by Jesus and vindicated as not suffering blindness as a result of sin. Jesus said that the man was born blind “so that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3, NKJV). In Luke 13 however, Jesus doesn’t say this. The Galileans whose blood is mingled with the sacrifices didn’t die so that God’s work could be manifested; those on whom the tower fell did not die so that God’s work could be manifested. Instead, we find Jesus silent on these matters. Perhaps these tragedies took place because of “pure loss” in our world...

What we find scripturally is that some events are allowed to happen because God desires to use them (He “permits” them to happen). However, there are other events like those of Luke 13 on which Jesus is silent. These events, then, do not serve a divine purpose. They are allowed because of the fallenness of our world.

Basinger’s quote above shows us that middle knowledge serves a purpose as related to Deity. Because God knows all things (including things that would have been certain in another world), He has a much stronger grip on world events than does the God of simple foreknowledge; however, in the grand scheme of things, He too, cannot violate the power of choice that He has given His creatures. If a person believes in true libertarian freedom, then that advocate of middle knowledge does not have a God who is the strong tyrant of the Calvinist system. But another point Basinger makes is that this God is also unlike that of the “paradox determinist,” one who advocates a God who determines the choices of humans. To them, the ideas of divine power and human responsibility are a “paradox,” a contradiction. My response would be the following, though: if these two biblical doctrines are “contradictory,” then what are we saying about God? To make these two contradictory is the same as saying that the Lord murders nations but then turns around and tells us to not commit murder (Exodus 20)—without realizing that the Lord’s execution of the other nations is because of righteous judgment. The problem is though, that the ideas have not been qualified. There is a solution, since these two concepts cannot exist in the same manner at the same time (according to the Law of Non-Contradiction). To accept “biblical paradoxes” is a dangerous thing. If the Bible shows us the nature and character of God, and the Bible contains “contradictions,” then what does this say about God? That God is contradictory?

If life consists of such “gratuitous” evil, then is God still sovereign? Yes, He is. Does the presence of such evil weaken the power of God? Absolutely not! But what it does show us is that there is a Lord who made man “lord” over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28, Psalm 8) and gave him true, genuine choices.

I think there is some truth to the idea of God’s middle knowledge. But I think that it has been employed (in some sense) as a way to give God “greater control” over our choices—and I’m rather suspicious of it. The writer of Hebrews was more right than he realized when he wrote, “but now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8b). If believers are going to take God as sovereign, then something has to account for the fact that the world had to be reconciled to God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19) and that this reconciliation is yet to be fully actualized in our world. That can’t be done if theologians continue to ascribe tighter control of humanity’s choices to God. With an increased tighter control, God comes to bear more responsibility for the world situation—and man even less...

Monday, November 23, 2009

What's Wrong With Molinism: Ware's Second Objection

“Second, Molinism’s insistence on libertarian freedom is itself problematic. For reasons argued in the previous chapter, libertarian freedom simply fails as a viable understanding of human freedom for both philosophical and biblical reasons. Since libertarian freedom reduces human choosing to arbitrariness, and since libertarian freedom is fully incompatible with the strong view of divine sovereignty taught in Scripture, therefore the very notion that humans have the power of contrary choice (as understood in the libertarian model of freedom) simply must be rejected. Hence, the Molinist model as it stands cannot and should not be adopted by Reformed thinkers” (Bruce Ware, “God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, page 112).

I addressed Bruce Ware’s first objection to classical Molinism in my post titled “‘God’s Lesser Glory’ in ‘God’s Greater Glory.” In this post, I will tackle Bruce Ware’s second objection to classical Molinism.

In the quote above, Ware tells us that he addresses the philosophical problem with libertarian freedom in the previous chapter. This is what he said in the chapter prior to the above quote on libertarian freedom:

“This Arminian notion of libertarian freedom is often referred to as a ‘freedom of inclination.’ In the former, we are STRICTLY INDIFFERENT to whether we choose A or not-A, since the reason or reasons we have for one are identical to the reason or reasons we have for the other. Imagine this in a concrete situation: the reasons that the murderer had for pulling the trigger must be, on grounds of libertarian freedom, exactly and precisely the same were he, instead, to have refrained from pulling the trigger. If this is the case, then we cannot know ‘why’ he committed the murder, i.e., why he chose to pull the trigger instead of not. There is no accounting then, for human moral choice, and our actions become fully inexplicable” (86).

Ware’s objection to libertarian freedom is that the choice is one of “indifference.” He claims that in libertarian freedom, “the reason or reasons we have for one are identical to...the other.” However, who ever said this? What is characterized as “the same”? The desires or the self-determination? Norman Geisler writes regarding self-determinism:

“In this view a person’s acts are caused by himself or herself. Self-determinists accept the fact that SUCH FACTORS AS HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT OFTEN INFLUENCE ONE’S BEHAVIOR. They deny, however, that such factors are the determining causes of one’s behavior. Inanimate objects do not change without an outside cause, but PERSONAL SUBJECTS ARE ABLE TO DIRECT THEIR OWN ACTIONS” (Norman Geisler, “Freedom, Free Will, and Determinism,” in “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition” by Walter A. Elwell, editor. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, page 469).

Contrary to Ware’s assertion, those who hold to libertarian freedom do not claim that the desires are the same for both possible actions in any given case. Libertarians acknowledge that there may even be stronger desires for one action than the other; however, the strength of the desires does not in any way necessitate that a person will commit a certain action. Ware simply misunderstands what is meant by “all things being equal.”

Next, regarding libertarian freedom (from Ware’s original quote), he states that libertarian freedom “is fully incompatible with the strong view of divine sovereignty taught in Scripture.” But here, I would say that God has a “strong sovereignty,” just not the type of sovereignty that Ware has in mind.

My proof? Matthew 25. Here we find that the Lord has strong sovereignty in verses 14 and 15:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability” (Matthew 25:14-15, NKJV).

Let’s notice some things about this master: first, he has servants. Secondly, he has goods. Third, he entrusts his goods to his servants. We see that this master is in control of his affairs—and that he does whatever he pleases.

However, with the actions of the lord in verses 14 and 15, we do not find the Lord exercising “meticulous sovereignty,” but instead “general sovereignty.”
But this is where someone would object, “If God doesn’t have meticulous sovereignty, then how could He be in control? Simple. Look at the parable of the talents: does the Lord feel threatened or worried about entrusting His possessions to the servants? Of course not! Even though the servants are entrusted with the Lord’s possessions, the Lord STILL OWNS THEM! He is no less in control because the servants are to grow what the Lord owns!

In Matthew 25:19, we are told, “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” We see that the Lord is still sovereign here, when he requires each servant to report to Him and bear responsibility for what they had done with what He had given them.

The Lord’s sovereignty in Matthew 25 is one of “general sovereignty.” We can think of the Lord’s rule in Matthew 25 as that of an owner of a grocery store chain or a restaurant chain. The owner of a chain of stores does not work every cash register, clean up every aisle, stock every can on every shelf at every store, and take inventory at every store. The owner of the chain simply watches over what is going on. If he doesn’t like what’s going on at any one of his stores, he can intervene at any time and restore order to the chaos. The owner is not out of control because he has entrusted his stores to other people. But if the owner entrusts his chain to others to run, he cannot be in every store at every moment of the day to make sure every little operation is running smoothly. To do that would be to exercise “meticulous sovereignty,” and there would be no need for workers.

God could easily have chosen to exercise “meticulous sovereignty”; and if He had done so, then there would be no need to create a race made in His image, after His likeness, to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Nevertheless, mankind bears the image and likeness of God; and, as such, has been given the right to “reign with Him.” And this is not only what we did in the beginning (Gen. 1:26-28), but what we are doing now (2 Cor. 5:19-20), and also what we will do in the end (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; Rev. 3:21; Rev. 22:5).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Molinism and Calvinism: The Difference?

“The evil acts of the created will are subject as well to DIVINE PREDETERMINATION and providence to the extent that the causes from which they emanate and the general concurrence on God’s part required to elicit them are granted through divine predetermination and providence—though not in order that these particular acts should emanate from them, but rather in order that other, far different, acts might come to be, and in order that the innate freedom of the things endowed with a will might be preserved for their maximum benefit; in addition evil acts are subject to that same divine predetermination and providence to the extent that they cannot exist in particular unless God by His providence permits them in particular IN THE SERVICE OF SOME GREATER GOOD. It clearly follows from the above that all things without exception are individually subject to God’s will and providence, which INTEND certain of them as particulars and PERMIT the rest as particulars” (Luis Molina, quoted by Terrance Tiessen, “Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work In The World?” Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2000, pp. 169-170).

Having read William Lane Craig’s defense of Molinism, as well as Tiessen’s chapter on Molinism, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the Molinist argument. Here though, I wanna examine the two systems of Molinism and Calvinism. Molinists claim that their system is unique and distinct from Calvinism; but is it?

I quoted Luis Molina (the proponent of what has been named “Molinism,” so named after himself) above to give us an idea of Molinism as Molina believed it to be. He states that God permits evil acts “in the service of some greater good.” But this is no different than the Calvinist stance! Calvinists believe that, since God exercises meticulous providence over the world, including all choices, that God only allows certain evils because He will use them for His “greater good.” But does all evil REALLY bring glory to God? Peter gives us the answer in 1 Peter 2:

“For this is commendable if, because of conscience toward God one endures grief, SUFFERING WRONGFULLY. FOR WHAT CREDIT IS IT if, WHEN YOU ARE BEATEN FOR YOUR FAULTS, you take it patiently? BUT WHEN YOU DO GOOD AND SUFFER, if you take it patiently, THIS IS COMMENDABLE BEFORE GOD. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW HIS STEPS” (1 Peter 2:19-21, NKJV).

Peter tells us that the only suffering that is godly is when we SUFFER WRONGFULLY—we pay the price for things that we did not do, and do not deserve. There is no “glory” towards God when we suffer for things we have done and are responsible for.

Peter makes this statement more boldly in 1 Peter 4:

“IF YOU ARE REPROACHED FOR THE NAME OF CHRIST, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you...but let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet IF ANYONE SUFFERS AS A CHRISTIAN, LET HIM NOT BE ASHAMED, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:14-16, NKJV).

Only when a person suffers because of godliness can they “not be ashamed.” But when a person suffers for their own evil acts, there can be nothing but shame! This is because no glory goes to God when we commit sin and evil. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If we “fall short” of God’s glory, then GOD’S GLORY IS NOT ACHIEVED IN OUR SIN! Rather, sin robs God of His glory.

Therefore, all sorts of questions come to mind. A year or so ago, a student by the name of Eve Carson was killed on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I heard stories of people who came to Christ on that campus because of Eve Carson’s death. However, does this mean that God used her murder for “His greater glory?” God could very well have used her murder to bring good out of such a tragic situation; but was it NECESSARY to do so? According to Peter’s words above, God was not bound to use this evil to bring about a good. Why was He not bound to so do? Because Eve Carson was murdered mercilessly by two men who had no reason for so doing. It was a purposeless murder, regardless of their own individual reasons. Cold-blooded murder never comes with a reason, regardless of motive. One of the killers was sentenced to death row, the other to life in prison. They did not suffer for “God’s greater glory,” but for their own sin—which did not bring glory to God, but robbed Him of the glory due His name. They should not have robbed God of His glory simply because they, like Christians, are made in the image and likeness of God. Every sin committed by a human robs God of His glory, whether they are a Christian or an atheist (for example). Humans were created to glorify God, and our sin does not give glory to God, but robs Him of it.

There is no credit, no “pat on the back,” no “high-five,” for the actions of the two gentlemen. Instead, there is only shame and despair...and sadness, and the ever-present reality of our broken and fallen world. As a result, if the actions of the two murderers were not for God’s greater glory, then neither was the death of Eve Carson for God’s glory. Rather, it was the sad consequence of heartless actions from two depraved gentleman who used their freedom to commit a horrible deed.

I say all this to make a statement: Molinists attempt to “correct” the issues of Calvinism. And I think they do in some sense because they affirm libertarian freedom and choice on a far greater level than Calvinists. However, while affirming choices in theory, they erase them in practice. Notice above that Molina said that God “permits” evil actions, not “intends” them. If this is the case, then God could not have had a predetermined purpose for evil actions, since purpose and intention go hand-in-hand. If there is no intention, then there is no purpose; if there is no purpose, then there is no intention. Since God does not intend for these evil acts to be committed, there is no “divine purpose” necessary within such actions for God to use them. He very well can choose to do so—but He is not motivated to do so by some secret desire to affirm the necessity of evil in His world. Molinists and Calvinists should think about this when they affirm the “greater-good” theodicy and the necessity of evil; for, why is evil necessary when in the beginning, God made everything “good”?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Quicksand of "Tension"

For the last six months, I’ve been reading everything I could get my hands on about Calvinism and Arminianism. After six months, I’ve learned a great deal about both systems; but there’s also much to learn about the other systems in the theological world. I guess you could say I’ve come to learn that there’s more to learn...

I decided to pick up a new book last night (a book I will return to rather frequently), called “Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World?” by Terrance Tiessen. The book itself contains 11 models of providence and prayer—that’s right, I said it: ELEVEN MODELS! I highly recommend this book as a reference work and encourage you to return to it again and again.

In this book, regarding the Molinist model, Tiessen writes:

“God thus providentially arranges for everything that does happen by either willing or permitting it, and He causes everything to happen insofar as He concurs with the decisions of free creatures in producing their effects, yet He does so in such a way as to preserve freedom and contingency. Hereby, RESOLUTION OF THE TENSION between divine sovereignty and human freedom is addressed through the appeal to middle knowledge” (Terrance Tiessen, “Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work In The World?” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Notice the words I have capitalized above? “resolution of the tension.” This phrase reveals that there is an underlying assumption of tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom. But the most disappointing part of the Molinist model is the fact that the model itself never gives a reason for why these two concepts are in tension! I’ve read Beilby and Eddy’s work on “Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views,” and William Lane Craig, in his section on foreknowledge, doesn’t give us a reason as to why such a tension exists! We are never given the justification for tension between these two biblical concepts. But I believe that such “tension” should be proven before it is assumed.

Tension is at the foundation of the Molinist model. This, to begin with, is a bad sign. It usually means that the rest of the Molinist system will be built on a shaky foundation...and without a sturdy foundation, no theological system can stand...

"A Schizophrenic Godhead"

“Finally, exhaustive divine sovereignty appears to pit Jesus against the Father. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and instructed them that Christian leaders were to emulate this style of leadership. In my opinion, the church leadership has not done a good job of fulfilling Jesus’ intention. But if the Father gets exactly what he wants, then what has transpired in the history of the church is PRECISELY WHAT THE FATHER INTENDED. If Jesus desires that Christians love and forgive one another instead of domineering over one another but the Father desires that we lord our power over each other (as witnessed by what actually happens), then THE DESIRES OF THE SON AND THE FATHER ARE AT ODDS, PRODUCING A SCHIZOPHRENIC GODHEAD. (If one posits a hidden will of God the Father behind the revealed will of God the Son, then the ‘revelation’ of God in Jesus is undermined)” (John Sanders, “The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007, page 225).

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary provides the following definition of “schizophrenic”:

2 : contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes.

What John Sanders wants us to do is evaluate the argument. You cannot have two opposite things adjacent to one another, in the same respect at the same time. For example, a person cannot be both “short” and “tall” at the same time in the same way. “Short” and “tall” cannot remain unqualified absolute statements. To leave the phrase as “short and tall” is contradictory. If you revise the phrase as “shorter than her aunt, taller than her mother” you have solved the problem.

If Jesus’ visit on earth was about UNSELFISHNESS, while the Father promoted SELFISHNESS, then what does that say about the Trinity? As Sanders tells us, the Trinity becomes “schizophrenic”—divided in its nature. “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13, NKJV) I think not. If Christ is not divided, then neither is the Trinity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A House United

“If Jesus is the paradigm of providence, then God is fundamentally opposed to sin, evil, and suffering. Jesus is NOT REVERSING WHAT GOD HAD PREVIOUSLY BROUGHT ABOUT (for example, disease and suffering). If Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, then never again can Christians justify destroying people...the teaching of Jesus stands opposed to the theology that EVERYTHING HAPPENS JUST AS GOD DECREES IT SHOULD AND THAT GOD’S PURPOSES ARE NEVER FRUSTRATED” (John Sanders, “The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence” (Second Edition). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007, page 116).

I started reading John Sanders’ work several months ago; but life got in the way (as usual) and threw me off the trail. I put down Sanders’ book with the hopes of returning to it soon. After several months, I am returning once more to Sanders’ book, “The God Who Risks.”

Reading his quote above about sickness and disease renewed my passion for the problem of evil. How do we deal with the fact that evil exists in a world created by a good God? According to Sanders, “Jesus is not reversing what God had previously brought about.” I think Sanders’ words parallel Matthew’s words in his Gospel:

“Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘this fellow does not cast out demons EXCEPT BY BEELZEBUB, THE RULER OF THE DEMONS.’ But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF WILL NOT STAND. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:24-28, NKJV).

Jesus was considered to have casts out demons by the ruler of the demons. And Jesus said that, should He do that, He would then be dividing the demons, not uniting them. In other words, He would be tearing down the same thing He was supposed to be building up!

Jesus is not casting out demons by demons here; He is simply entertaining the accusation of the Pharisees, and showing them how nonsensical it is. Their accusation of Christ would be the equivalent today of a football player from one team running to score a touchdown FOR THE OTHER TEAM! That makes no sense! If two teams are playing a football game, then doesn’t it make sense to believe that each player wants HIS OWN TEAM to win—not the OTHER team?

When Jesus engages their accusation, He does so to show them that no one in their right mind would do what they are claiming He’s doing; but the reason why they’re making such ridiculous claims is because they will claim He is ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE SON OF GOD! Even when such claims are nonsensical, the Pharisees will resort to them in order to continue their denial of Christ’s Messiahship.

Surprisingly, though, the Pharisaical spirit lives on in the twenty-first century...except today, it’s not literal Pharisees making such claims about Jesus—instead, it’s Christians who are making such claims. Our Calvinist brothers and sisters do this when they claim that, like Sanders said, God sends Jesus to reverse evil and disease THAT HE DESIGNED for His greater glory!! It is foreign to the idea of God. God is consistent in His nature and in His Word, and the idea that God would come to earth and “undo” what He did from the beginning is absurd. But if Christ were undoing what God had designed, then He would be working against the will of His Father...and now, Calvinists have created a fight amongst the members of the Trinity. This then, becomes unbiblical, as the Trinity members always have one mind and one will. Never is there a deliberation between them. They all act in agreement, all the time. Because they all act in agreement, the Trinity shows us a case of “A House United,” not divided. For if they be divided against one another, the Trinity as we know it would not stand.

There is more of Sanders to come; so stay tuned...

Monday, November 16, 2009

"God's Lesser Glory" in "God's Greater Glory"

“Despite the appeal of Molinism for some today, there are at least two significant problems with it, as seen from a Reformed perspective. First, it is not at all clear how God can know by middle knowledge just what choices free creatures would make in various sets of possible circumstances. The problem here is that since freedom in the libertarian sense is defined as the ability, all things being just what they are, to choose differently, it is impossible to know what decision will be made simply by controlling the circumstances within which is it made. Because, all conditions being just what they are, one can choose otherwise, control of the conditions exerts no regulative power over the actual choice made within those conditions. Therefore, it is impossible to know what decision would be made just by knowing the conditions within which it is made. In short, nothing grounds God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in various possible sets of circumstances, and hence, God cannot know what middle knowledge advocates claim he knows: what free creatures would do in any and all possible sets of circumstances.
Second, Molinism’s insistence on libertarian freedom is itself problematic. For reasons argued in the previous chapter, libertarian freedom simply fails as a viable understanding of human freedom for both philosophical and biblical reasons. Since libertarian freedom reduces human choosing to arbitrariness, and since libertarian freedom is fully incompatible with the strong view of divine sovereignty taught in Scripture, therefore the very notion that humans have the power of contrary choice (as understood in the libertarian model of freedom) simply must be rejected. Hence, the Molinist model as it stands cannot and should not be adopted by Reformed thinkers”
(Bruce Ware, “God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, page 112).

I promised that I would return with Ware’s two reasons against Molinism. The above quote tells us what they are.

Let’s tackle Ware’s first reason: “it is not at all clear how God can know by middle knowledge just what choices free creatures would make in various sets of possible circumstances...because all conditions being just what they are, no one can choose otherwise, control of the conditions EXERTS NO REGULATIVE POWER over the actual choice made within those conditions.”

But this contradicts the Bible. The fact that the Lord limits our choices doesn’t mean that He is incapable of knowing which of the choices we will make. A good example of this comes from 2 Samuel 24, where the Lord punishes David for numbering the troops of Israel and Judah. David prays and asks the Lord to forgive him of his sin of numbering the people. The Lord sends the prophet Gad to David with a response to his prayer of forgiveness:

“Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, ‘Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I OFFER YOU THREE THINGS; CHOOSE ONE OF THEM FOR YOURSELF, THAT I MAY DO IT TO YOU” (2 Samuel 24:11-12, NKJV).

The Lord tells Gad to tell David to choose one of three options regarding a punishment for his sin. What were the three options?

“So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me” (2 Sam. 24:13).

David has been given three options: seven years of famine, three months running from enemies, or three days of plague. The Lord gives David three options to choose from—and doesn’t appear threatened to the reader in the biblical text. So, if the Lord chooses to grant choice, then how does this indicate that He doesn’t know what I (or anyone else) will choose? The very fact that God limited David’s choices show His sovereignty over all; in the same way, the fact that we have libertarian freedom demonstrates that, while we are free, our freedom comes “within constraints,” within boundaries set by God. If anything, God’s establishment of boundaries and limits displays His sovereignty far more than if He dictated what action I would take. The God who gave David three options concerning His sin demonstrates that the God of the Bible is a God who owns everything. Only those who own a lot can give a lot. And since God owns everything, He can choose how the process of selection works (in regards to choices, punishments, etc.).

This argument of Ware’s, however, is very much like that of the Open Theist. The Open Theist says that, “if God knows my choice, then how is it free?” As a result, the Open Theist claims that God doesn’t know my future choices. The problem with this theological conclusion is that it clearly denies Scripture (Psalm 139) and makes God “in our image, after our likeness” instead of us being made “in His image, after His likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

Bruce Ware writes a counterpart to this book, “God’s Greater Glory”; the opposing book is called “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism.” I just read chapter one of this book, and in the first chapter Ware discusses how Open Theists believe that if God foreknows all things, then every action and choice is determined, not free. The only way (according to the Open Theist) for a choice to be truly free is that God is ignorant of it...knows nothing about the choice until it happens. With Ware’s entertainment of this accusation against Molinism, it seems that he’s given into the Open Theist trap.

It seems then, that Bruce Ware advocates quite a bit of “God’s Lesser Glory,” as much as the open theist does. And this is in a book titled “God’s Greater Glory!”
I would go into Bruce Ware’s second reason to oppose Molinism...but it would infringe on my next post. In that case, you’ll just have to keep reading...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Middle Knowledge and 1 Samuel 23

“And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod here.’ Then said David, ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.’ And the LORD said, ‘He will come down.’ Then David said, ‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And the LORD said, ‘They will surrender you.’ Then David and his men...departed from Keilah....And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand” (1 Samuel 23:8-14).

Bruce Ware, in his book, “God’s Greater Glory,” provides a description of middle knowledge:

“Molina, a Jesuit theologian in the post-Reformation period, argued that God has three logical moments of knowledge prior to creating the universe. God not only possesses knowledge of what COULD be, i.e., knowledge of all bare possibilities and logical necessities (what Molina calls ‘natural knowledge’), and knowledge of what WILL be, i.e., knowledge of all future actualities, or exact and detailed knowledge of the way the world, when created, will be (what Molina calls ‘free knowledge’), but importantly, God also possesses knowledge of what WOULD be if circumstances were different from what they in fact will be in the actual world, i.e., knowledge of those possible states of affairs which would have become actual had circumstances other than those in the real world obtained (what Molina calls ‘middle knowledge’)” (“God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, page 110).

According to the middle knowledge view, God has three types of knowledge: (a) natural, (b) free, and (c) middle. Middle knowledge relates to what “could have happened” in another world.

Taking middle knowledge into account, God demonstrates His middle knowledge when He tells David that “you will be handed over and killed.” David doesn’t actually get killed, but God tells him what would have happened if he had stayed in Keilah, thereby demonstrating His knowledge of possibilities.

However, the question that we should ask ourselves is, “Why does David go to the Lord in the first place?” Why does he even ask the Lord about the news he’s heard? Because he desires to save his life. David asks about the news he’s heard because he wants to know what he needs to do—whether to STAY or GO.

So he prays to God to know WHICH ACTION TO TAKE—in other words, he had two options or alternatives as courses of action; he needed to choose one course of action, and he prays to God so that he can know which option would be the right one. But why would David pray if his decision was already DETERMINED?

And this brings up another point: why did David not just go to God and say, “Lord, tell me what to do”? Why did he just ask God about what the men of Keilah and Saul would do? Why did he even care about their decisions, if it was determined? The very fact that David asks God for knowledge of the future, which would require an action from him, demonstrates libertarian freedom (which requires more than one option). In this respect, Bruce Ware’s belief in “freedom of inclination” is quite misguided.

This view of middle knowledge actually leaves room for libertarian freedom. As Bruce Ware states,

“According to this theory(sometimes referred to as Molinism), God knows all possible states of affairs, and he also knows what free creatures WOULD do in various possible sets of circumstances. Although God does not and cannot control what free creatures do in any set of circumstances (they retain libertarian freedom in Molinism), he is able to control certain aspects of the circumstances themselves and by this he can regulate which choices and actions ACTUALLY obtain from among all those that are possible. Now while God can control these sets of circumstances, He cannot necessarily guarantee that the choice of action he wants a free creature to perform will be done” (111).

Bruce Ware disagrees with libertarian freedom. He is an advocate of Middle Knowledge, but not the kind that includes libertarian freedom. Why does he disagree? I’ll reveal that in tomorrow’s post.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Explicit Contradiction

Tonight I read chapter 4, titled “Ruling Through Creation: Divine-Human Concurrence,” from Bruce Ware’s book, “God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith.” (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004).

Bruce Ware tells us from the outset:

“Since God’s control of evil does not extend from his own nature, it cannot be ‘direct’ in the way his control of good is. That is, evil does not extend from God as good does, and hence, evil never is produced, as it were, ‘out of’ God’s own being and nature. Furthermore, GOD CANNOT WILL DIRECTLY AND IMMEDIATELY TO CAUSE EVIL, SINCE ALL THAT GOD WILLS TO DO HIMSELF (IMMEDIATELY) IS GOOD (e.g., Gen. 1:31; James 1:13, 17), AND IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO DO EVIL OF ANY KIND” (106).

Ware then presents us with an analogy of how God provides opportunity for “freedom of inclination”:

“Undercover police often use the mechanism of a ‘sting operation’ for catching criminals in the act of committing a crime. When this is done correctly, the police do not cause or coerce the criminal to commit the crime, but they do intentionally provide a setting in which the criminal, out of his own nature, will have the opportunity to develop a strongest inclination to commit the crime. Undercover policemen may pose, for example, as buyers seeking to purchase illegal drugs, and by so doing they place before the nature of the drug dealer a set of factors that may lead him to want most strongly to sell drugs to the men posing as interested buyers. When the drug dealer hands over the drugs to the buyers and receives payment for them, the crime has been committed and he is arrested and will be held morally (and legally) responsible for his crime. When this operation is done correctly, the criminal is not coerced, nor is he caused to commit the crime. Rather, he is presented with a setting to which his own nature responds the way that it does, wanting most strongly to carry out the illegal activity. The criminal, then, was free; he did what he wanted most to do, and he was not forced or coerced in the process. Yet the situation was ‘controlled’; factors of a situation were DESIGNED AND INTENTIONALLY PRESENTED to the criminal so that his nature would be given opportunity to manifest what it truly wanted to do. The cause of the choice was the nature of the criminal; some key factors leading to the choice were provided by others who sought to expose the criminal’s nature for what it was. When he made his choice, he showed what truly was in his heart, and in this he was free, and for this he is morally responsible” (123).

In this sting operation, however, the purpose behind it is a righteous one—to catch a criminal, someone who is disobeying the laws of their society. This is in no way an evil act, because righteous judgment in society consists of criminals being caught and “paying the price” for their deeds.

However, this is remotely different when it comes to the problem of evil. This is what Bruce Ware writes about God’s “meticulous” and absolute control:

“Finally, is it not clear that God is able not only to know what impact a certain set of influences will have upon our decisions, but that SINCE HE IS GOD, HE IS ABLE TO ADJUST AND REGULATE THE INFLUENCES THAT COME INTO OUR LIVES, so that by controlling the influences HE CAN REGULATE THE CHOICES WE WILL MAKE?” (82)

Notice that Bruce Ware believes that God can “adjust and regulate” influences in our lives so as to produce certain decisions from us that are in accordance with His plan. And for those who don’t believe this involves evil, let’s keep reading:

“God is always able to permit ONLY THOSE OCCURRENCES OF EVIL THAT HE KNOWS WILL SERVE HIS PURPOSES AND NEVER THWART OR HINDER THOSE PURPOSES. He is able to do this because, for any evil that may occur, it is always in God’s power to prevent that specific evil from happening” (107).

So now, the only evil used is that which “He knows will serve His purposes and never thwart or hinder those purposes.” Evidently, there is an evil that can thwart the purposes and plan of God that God doesn’t allow. If ANY evil can thwart God’s purposes, then how can He even prevent it from happening (since the evil itself is powerful enough to overcome God’s very own purposes)? If such an evil exists, then evil becomes eternal, just as God is eternal. Now, Bruce Ware has now made evil a “necessity,” and evil itself as eternal as God (and more powerful, since some evil can trump God’s plans).

I’ve established, that, according to Bruce Ware, God uses only that evil that He needs to accomplish His purposes; secondly, I showed that Ware believes that, like the sting operation, God sets up situations and “regulates influences” in our lives that move us to act according to our own desires.

If this is the case, then what about evil? If God sets up conditions such that we will commit evil, and He needs us to commit evil because it serves His purposes, then HOW CAN GOD NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVIL? This is what Ware writes regarding the Joseph story of Genesis 50:

“This Ishmaelite caravan just ‘happens’ to show up right exactly at the time needed. Recall, Reuben HAD TO BE GONE! And GOD HAD TO GET JOSEPH TO EGYPT. Clearly, the brothers didn’t care at all where Joseph might be taken. But God cared. So, IN PART BY GOD’S DIRECT-CAUSATIVE AGENCY,NO DOUBT...GOD ACTED TO ENSURE THAT JOSEPH GOT SENT TO EGYPT” (129).

The phrase I want us to observe is: “in part by God’s direct-causative agency...God acted to ensure that Joseph got sent to Egypt.” Remember Ware’s words earlier:

“Since God’s control of evil does not extend from his own nature, it cannot be ‘direct’ in the way his control of good is. That is, evil does not extend from God as good does, and hence, evil never is produced, as it were, ‘out of’ God’s own being and nature. Furthermore, GOD CANNOT WILL DIRECTLY AND IMMEDIATELY TO CAUSE EVIL, SINCE ALL THAT GOD WILLS TO DO HIMSELF (IMMEDIATELY) IS GOOD (e.g., Gen. 1:31; James 1:13, 17), AND IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO DO EVIL OF ANY KIND” (106).

Ware just told us that God cannot be “directly” responsible for evil. Yet, in his analysis of Genesis 50, God had to get the brothers to sell Joseph so that he would go to Egypt ("direct-causative agency)! According to Ware, since God wanted Joseph in Egypt, the ONLY WAY He could bring it about was through the cruel act of selling Joseph into slavery. By the way, the Lord prohibits slavery in His words to the Israelites (Leviticus 25:39-42).

Ware attempts to get God off the hook by merely claiming that He is not responsible for evil. But then, he turns around and claims that God ordains the means by which evil will be committed, not to mention that He “regulates and adjusts” the influences of men and women so that they will do EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTS (whether good or evil). Yet and still, he can turn around and claim that “in regard to human volition, because the freedom given us is the freedom of inclination, God is able to control those factors influencing a person’s strongest inclination or deepest desire, and by this he can control the choices and actions that a person will make or do” (109). What kind of a God does Bruce Ware worship, where God does all the “controlling,” but places blame on man for the inevitable sin and evil that God has designed?

Ware’s remarks are not only contradictory to what he said earlier; they also contradict one of the passages he cited, James 1:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, NOR DOES HE HIMSELF TEMPT ANYONE” (James 1:13, NKJV).

Let’s use an example: a Pastor who has been married for 15 years commits adultery. According to Bruce Ware, the pastor committed adultery because of “freedom of inclination”—the pastor did it because he wanted to. Bruce Ware would then turn around and make the man responsible for his act. However, there’s a problem with this claim: Ware would make the pastor responsible, but he would then claim that GOD REGULATED AND ADJUSTED THE INFLUENCES AND SET UP THE CONDITIONS in order to get the pastor to commit adultery. And why? because, as his book title states, for “God’s Greater Glory.” In Ware’s thought, God needed the pastor to commit adultery in order to bring about a greater good—that “greater good” being that the church could see that the pastor and his wife were having problems in their marriage and, as a result, offer counseling for married couples contemplating separation.

But does God REALLY have to have this pastor cheat on his wife in order to get the church to offer counseling for married couples having problems? Of course not! But if you’re Bruce Ware, or share his theological beliefs, evil is necessary to the plan of God. But how can God not be responsible, if evil is NEEDED in His plan?

We would all agree that the pastor bears blame for his actions. Would the pastor get off the hook if he said, “I cheated because I NEEDED understanding...and my wife wasn’t listening to me’”? Of course not! Everyone would blame the pastor for his adulterous act. But when it gets to God, and God NEEDS evil, suddenly, God is in no way, shape, or form responsible! How can this be?

Ware’s argumentation also contradicts common sense. Discussing one of the most atrocious events in world history, Edward Meadors of Taylor University writes,

“For while it may be true that Hitler never personally killed a single Jew, no one can question legitimately that he was morally responsible for the atrocious holocaust that he conceived with his henchmen. Hitler is thus universally recognized by all sane people as an evil figure in world history, even though he merely conceived but did not personally implement the holocaust. By analogy, something of this sort would indeed be true of God if he were the ‘BEHIND THE SCENES’ primary agent of the moral evils that his created secondary agents perform” [“‘It Never Entered My Mind’: The Problematic Theodicy of Theistic Determinism.” Bulletin for Biblical Research, vol. 19, no. 2 (2009): page 203 (total article is 185-214)].

Bruce Ware commits here what I call an “explicit contradiction.” He claims that God is not responsible for evil, but then turns around and makes God responsible for evil. All he does is give “lip service” to the goodness of God; but his arguments say otherwise...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Divine Sovereignty, Human Responsibility, and Middle Knowledge Calvinism

“God is comprehensively in control of the world, accomplishing purposes that he has determined in eternity. Because His will is always accomplished, it is evident that God’s creatures (human and angelic) do not have libertarian freedom” (“Providence and Prayer” by Terrence Tiessen. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, page 289).

I know that “Middle Knowledge Calvinism” is a subject that has NEVER been discussed here at the Center for Theological Studies. However, I stumbled across this article some months ago and added it to my desktop (as I do so many articles that it’ll take the next year to read!!). In any case, Tiessen was quoted in an article, and I find the quote from Tiessen’s own work to be one worth examining here.

First, see how Tiessen expands sovereignty and diminishes human choice: “Because His will is always accomplished, it is evident that God’s creatures (human and angelic) do not have libertarian freedom.”

Tiessen, however, has not read Genesis 1-2, where we find God sharing power with His creation. Terrence Fretheim explains:

“...readers have often suggested an image of the Creator God that is in absolute control of the developing creation, working independently and unilaterally. In fact, such an understanding has been the dominant image of the Creator God through the centuries in the religious traditions for which these texts are authoritative. But, is this theological understanding fully appropriate to an explication of the creation passages?
A closer look suggests that such a perspective needs to be modified. From a negative perspective, if this understanding of God in creation is correct, then those created in God’s image could properly understand their role regarding the rest of creation in comparable terms—power over, absolute control, and independence. By definition, if nonhuman creatures are understood to be but passive putty in the hands of God, then the natural world becomes available for comparable handling by those who go by the name ‘image of God.’
From a positive perspective, the creation accounts make available another point of view regarding the Creator God. WHAT IF THE GOD OF THE CREATION TEXTS IS UNDERSTOOD TO BE IMAGED MORE AS ONE WHO, IN CREATING, CHOOSES TO SHARE POWER IN RELATIONSHIP? Then the way in which the human as image of God exercises dominion is to be shaped by that model.
Evidence for this understanding is more widespread in these accounts than is commonly suggested. One might cite, in particular, the way in which these texts speak of the mode in which God chooses to create. Four models may be suggested: God creates out of already existing materials (for example, the human being out of the dust of the ground, Gen. 2:7); God invites the divine assembly to participate in furthering creative activity (for example, the earth and the waters, 1:11-13, 20, 24); God invites the divine assembly to participate in the creation of the human (‘let us,’ 1:26-27); God draws the human being into further creative activity (for example, 4:1, where creating language, ‘qanah,’ used again for God in Gen. 14:19-22, is used with Eve as the subject). God’s approach to creating in these examples is communal and relational. In the wake of God’s initiating creativity, the Creator God again and again works from within the world in creating, rather than on the world from without—God EMPLOYING CREATURES AS GENUINE AGENTS, RATHER THAN WORKING INDEPENDENTLY. Certainly all creatures, including human beings, are deeply dependent upon God for their creation and continuing life. At the same time, these texts show that God has chosen to establish an INTERDEPENDENT relationship with them with respect to both originating and continuing creation.
This interdependent divine way with the world may also be observed in the command to the human: ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion.’ This action on God’s part, the first divine words spoken to the newly created human beings, may be considered a POWER-SHARING MOVE. God here chooses not to retain all power, but to SHARE IT WITH HUMAN BEINGS: I am giving you specific tasks to accomplish and, by definition, the power with which to carry out those responsibilities. GOD THEREBY CHOOSES NOT TO DO EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD ‘ALL BY HIMSELF’”
(Terence Fretheim, “Preaching Creation: Genesis 1-2.” From “Word and World,” Vol. 29, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 77-78.

As can be seen from Fretheim’s quote, humans have been given power by God; therefore, humans have true libertarian freedom. Genesis 2 also shows us true libertarian freedom, as Adam is allowed to bestow upon the animals whatever name he desires:

“Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and BROUGHT THEM TO ADAM TO SEE WHAT HE WOULD CALL THEM. AND WHATEVER ADAM CALLED EACH LIVING CREATURE, THAT WAS ITS NAME” (Gen. 2:19, NKJV).

In Genesis 2:19, the Lord doesn’t tell Adam what to name the creatures; He simply gives them to Adam and says, “You name them.” Up until this point, the Lord Himself has named creation (sun, moon, stars, water, earth, sky, etc.). At this point, however, Adam is allowed to operate with the dominion that God has given him.

Secondly, Tiessen’s notion of absolute sovereignty: “Because His will is ALWAYS ACCOMPLISHED...”

But is this really true? I would love to be able to admit that everything God desires done is always done. However, if I did that, I would be denying Scripture:

“And when all the people heard Him [Jesus], even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the PHARISEES AND LAWYERS REJECTED THE WILL OF GOD FOR THEMSELVES, NOT HAVING BEEN BAPTIZED BY HIM” (Luke 7:29-30, NKJV).

We see that the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the will of God for themselves.” This tells us that, in at least one instance of Scripture (although there are more), that God’s will is rejected.

For another example, I’ll go to a passage that we’re all familiar with:

“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’‘and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?‘So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate’” (Matthew 19:3-6, NKJV).

The storyline here involves the Pharisees asking Jesus about the justifiability of divorce. The Lord tells them that from the beginning, man and woman were meant to never separate.

But then, Jesus says something else that should take us by surprise IF, as Terrance Tiessen tells us, God’s will cannot fail to come to pass. When asked about Moses issuing a writ of divorce, Jesus responded:

“Moses, BECAUSE OF THE HARDNESS OF YOUR HEARTS, permitted you to divorce your wives, BUT FROM THE BEGINNING IT WAS NOT SO” (Matthew 19:8, NKJV).

When Jesus says that “from the beginning it was not so,” He is claiming something profound—that divorce was not in God’s original plan. When God made the world, He made everything “good,” according to Genesis 1. Divorce, however, according to Jesus, is “bad,” so divorce could not have been part of the original plan of world history.

There are only two ways to approach sovereignty and human freedom: either by expanding the sovereignty of God and eliminating human freedom...or by granting human freedom with the sharing of sovereignty, as Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:19 demonstrate. I will write more in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Confessions Of An "Irresistible Gracer"

“...the doctrine of irresistible grace DOES NOT PROPOSE THAT EACH AND EVERY GRACIOUS WORK OR INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS IRRESISTIBLE. Clearly, there is biblical warrant for affirming a doctrine of resistible grace, if by this one means that people may resist certain gracious influences of the Spirit. The grieving and quenching of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30 and 1 Thess. 5:19 respectively) are examples of such resistance, as is the explicit statement by Stephen that the Jewish leaders ‘always resist[ed] the Holy Spirit,’ just as their fathers did (Acts 7:51). And when believers are admonished to ‘live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (Gal. 5:16), clearly the implication is that THEY MAY CHOOSE NOT TO LIVE BY THE SPIRIT’S POWER, thus resisting the gracious and transforming work he wishes to accomplish in their lives. NOT ALL GRACE, THEN, IS IRRESISTIBLE. When Calvinists refer to irresistible grace, they mean to say that the Holy Spirit is able, when he so chooses, to overcome all human resistance and so cause his gracious work to be utterly effective and ultimately irresistible” (Bruce A. Ware, “Effectual Calling and Grace,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace” by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 211).

I just love it when Calvinists come clean about the truths of Scripture. Bruce Ware is at his finest here. If I had heard him say this in person, I think I would’ve given the man a “standing ovation” for theological honesty.

Now that my initial shock is over with (smile), let’s deal with the above quote. Bruce Ware mentions that the Scriptures support a concept of resistible grace: Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, and Acts 7:51. In addition, Bruce Ware even affirms that believers can resist the Spirit: “they [believers] may choose not to live by the Spirit’s power, thus RESISTING the gracious and transforming work he wishes to accomplish in their lives.” He concludes this section with “not all irresistible.” He then explains what he means by irresistible grace—which is, that when the Lord so chooses, He can effectually work in someone for His own purposes. Bruce Ware then gives his evidence for irresistible grace: John 6:22-65, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and Romans 8:28-30.

Notice that Ware’s exegesis is dead on regarding 1 Corinthians 1:

“The burning question, for our purposes, is why some consider it [gospel of message of the cross, 1:18] God’s power and wisdom while others reject it as weakness and foolishness...Paul gives two answers to this question. First, he says that although the world in its wisdom did not come to know God, God was pleased to use the gospel to ‘SAVE THOSE WHO BELIEVE’ (1:21). So what accounts for these two conflicting responses to the gospel? Answer: SOME RESIST THE MESSAGE AND SOME BELIEVE IT. Paul affirms what Jesus had likewise taught in JOHN 6, (see 6:35, 40, 47), namely, that ALL WHO BELIEVE THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST WILL BE SAVED” (“Still Sovereign,” page 221).

But then, Ware’s Calvinist commitments return to the surface:

“But, we wonder, is there any accounting for why some believe and others do not?...the gospel elicits conflicting responses because God calls some from among Jews and Gentiles who, as a group, reject the gospel, so that these (i.e., the called) accept the cross as God’s power and wisdom while others (i.e., the Jews and Gentiles generally, WHO ARE NOT CALLED) remain in their prideful unbelief and resistance” (221, 222).

And in another place he writes,

“It is true that other texts speak clearly of the gospel going to all so that whoever believes may come and be saved (e.g., Rom. 10:12-13), BUT THIS CLEARLY CANNOT BE WHAT OUR PRESENT TEXT IS ABOUT” (222).

What Ware forgets is that Paul discusses his justification for this earlier in the text:

“For it is written:
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’” (1 Cor. 1:19, NKJV)

What Paul is saying here is that the Lord promised to create a “reversal of fortunes”; and that’s what the preached message is all about—showing the wise that they are foolish and showing the foolish to be wise!

But Paul goes back even further than this and states that “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks” (v. 24) refers to also those who call on the Lord’s name:
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, CALLED TO BE SAINTS, WITH ALL WHO IN EVERY PLACE CALL ON THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD, both theirs and ours...” (1 Cor. 1:2, NKJV)

We see here a connection between those who are “called” and those who “call.” Only when the Lord calls us can we call upon His name in response. Once He calls us, we then have a responsibility to respond.

In addition, look at verse 21: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God THROUGH THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE MESSAGE PREACHED TO SAVE THOSE WHO BELIEVE” (1 Cor. 1:21, NKJV).

So those who succumb to the “foolishness” of the preached Word are saved, while those who hang on to the “wisdom of the world” are still lost and “stumble” over Christ, “the chief cornerstone” (1 Peter 2).

Let’s look at Bruce Ware’s quote once more:

"Clearly, there is biblical warrant for affirming a doctrine of resistible grace, if by this one means that people may resist certain gracious influences of the Spirit. The grieving and quenching of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30 and 1 Thess. 5:19 respectively) are examples of such resistance, as is the explicit statement by Stephen that the Jewish leaders ‘always resist[ed] the Holy Spirit,’ just as their fathers did (Acts 7:51). And when believers are admonished to ‘live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (Gal. 5:16), clearly the implication is that THEY MAY CHOOSE NOT TO LIVE BY THE SPIRIT’S POWER, thus resisting the gracious and transforming work he wishes to accomplish in their lives. NOT ALL GRACE, THEN, IS IRRESISTIBLE.”

Ware would have us believe that his doctrine of irresistible grace has biblical warrant; but if irresistible grace is how God works, then why is it that only “resistible” grace is named in the Scriptures?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Defense of God

“Now we are ready to ask whether the apostle Paul fears that he might lose his salvation. Before we answer, it is important to note that this passage [1 Cor.9:23-27] is distinctive because Paul has plainly placed himself in the midst of his warning metaphor. The significance of this should not escape us, for this passage should function as a paradigm for understanding all similar warnings in Paul’s letters. Here is the question: Does the apostle Paul fear that it is possible that God will reject him as a reprobate on the day of judgment? IF WE ANSWER YES, WE MUST BE PREPARED TO DEMONSTRATE THAT PAUL ALSO DOUBTS GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PROMISE TO PRESERVE HIS PEOPLE TO THE END...HE MUST DOUBT GOD’S FAITHFULNESS SO THAT HE CAN BELIEVE GOD’S WARNING. OF COURSE, THIS IS INCORRECT, for Paul is the one who calls on the Corinthians to believe in God’s steadfastness to confirm his own children to the end (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Yet this is precisely what we must affirm if we hold that Paul fears that God might reject him as a reprobate on the day of judgment” (Thomas R. Schreiner, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, pages 182-183).

Schreiner gives us what I call “the classic defense of God.” This is what happens when a person claims God’s promises and focuses all on God instead of God and mankind. I’ve made it known here at the site that Schreiner seems to place such a major emphasis on the positive connotations of every warning—although he claims theological objectivity. He’ll tell us that “once saved, always saved” is wrong; but then, he’ll argue “once saved, always saved” in his conclusions.

In the quote above, Schreiner does what all Calvinists do: they point to verses about God and say, “See, we’ll go to heaven because God will do this and that.” The problem here is, however, that Paul also says in chapter one of 1 Corinthians that “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9, NKJV).

God’s faithfulness, however, has nothing to do with man’s faithfulness. The “God who is faithful” not only tells us of His nature in Scripture, but also requires us to be faithful (Revelation 2:10).

Paul, writing about the Jews and his anguish over their salvation, records the following in his letter to the Romans:

“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the FAITHFULNESS OF GOD without effect? CERTAINLY NOT! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:
‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.’

Paul asks the question, “if some did not believe...will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” If some of the Jews fail to believe, is God’s faithfulness absent? Paul responds, “Certainly not!” He seems to DIVIDE man’s faithfulness from God’s faithfulness, man’s unbelief from God’s faithfulness.

Next, he talks of the fact that although Israel has failed to believe, God is still faithful to her regardless. His faithfulness is unconditional; but does this “erase” man’s need to be righteous before God? Paul’s response is “Certainly not!” Is God unjust to punish if He is magnified through Israel’s unbelief? Paul says that God is just; for if He isn’t, “how then will God judge the world?”

God’s faithfulness is the standard BY WHICH HE WILL JUDGE THE WORLD! His faithfulness will convict the world because of their unbelief and unfaithfulness to Him.

Here is what Schreiner wrote a few paragraphs before the current quote above:

“The whole context makes it clear that to be ‘adokimos’ (reprobate) is the OPPOSITE OF BEING A ‘FELLOW PARTAKER’(SYNKOINONOS) OF THE GOSPEL...for the apostle, then, ‘adokimos’ METAPHORICALLY REPRESENTS REPROBATION, ETERNAL LOSS. Paul uses the athletic imagery, therefore, to make it clear to the Corinthians that FOR HIM ALSO THERE IS NO SALVATION WITHOUT PERSEVERANCE” (181).

At the time Paul writes 1 Corinthians 9, he realizes that even he can be cast away into eternal damnation if he didn’t stay the course and keep enduring. If there wasn’t a real actual possibility of Paul being “disqualified” from the heavenly reward, why write this? Was it just “hypothetical,” for the purpose of scaring the Corinthians into doing the right thing?

Paul uses the word ‘adokimos’ elsewhere in his letters, particularly his letter to the Romans:

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a DEBASED mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28, NKJV).

The Greek word for “debased” here is “adokimon,” from “adokimos,” meaning “reprobate.” So we find here that it is the same word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9 to talk about a very real possibility of eternal loss.

I want to point out something else, though. Romans 1 tells us that such people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) and, although knowing God, refuse to give Him the glory He deserves (v.21). They decide to serve the creature rather than the Creator (v.25), and what does God do? “Therefore God ALSO GAVE THEM UP TO UNCLEANNESS...” (v.24). These ungodly people begin to worship anything except for God Himself, and what does God do? “God GAVE THEM UP TO VILE PASSIONS” (v.26). They begin to commit all sorts of immorality, with no limit in sight. If that isn’t bad enough, we find that such people reject God to the point that they don’t even wanna keep the knowledge of God (for this is what convicts them, v.28); as a result, “God gave them over to a debased mind” (v.28).

We see here in Romans 1 that God does “give people over” to their choices, despite their knowledge of right and wrong. God does this because they know God through the things He has made, being without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).

There are those who sin willingly after receiving the knowledge of the truth (Hebrews 10: 26). For those who do so, however, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27, NKJV). And it is true as it is written: “The Lord will judge His people” (Deut. 32:26, Heb. 10:30b).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Romans 8:13

“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, IF INDEED THE SPIRIT OF GOD DWELLS IN YOU. Now IF ANYONE DOES NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, he is not His. And IF CHRIST IS IN YOU, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For IF YOU LIVE ACCORDING TO THE FLESH you will die; but IF BY THE SPIRIT YOU PUT TO DEATH THE DEEDS OF THE BODY, you will live” (Romans 8:9-13, NKJV).

Today I’m dealing with Paul’s letter to the Romans, Romans chapter 8 as quoted above. I’m still working through Schreiner’s book on “The Race Set Before Us,” so this post will involve another one of Schreiner’s exegetical “blunders.” Regarding the above passage, Schreiner writes,

“Paul clearly addresses his warning to believers, for he assumes for the sake of his argument that his readers concur that his suppositions of Romans 8:9-11 are true of them. Therefore, he appeals to his readers as ‘brothers and sisters’(v.12). His conditional warning of verse 13 SUGGESTS NOTHING ABOUT POSSIBILITY OR PROBABILITY OF FULFILLING EITHER SUPPOSITION. Paul includes his warning for one fundamental purpose, namely, TO URGE US TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO LIVE ACCORDING TO THE WAY OF THE FLESH NOW AND DIE IN THE LAST DAY, AND INSTEAD, through the Spirit, TO DIE TO ONE’S DESIRES NOW IN ORDER THAT IN THE DAY TO COME WE MIGHT ATTAIN LIFE” (Thomas Schreiner, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 175).

The first phrase capitalized above in Schreiner’s quote is that Romans 8:13 “suggests nothing about POSSIBILITY of PROBABILITY of fulfilling either supposition.” Before I attack Schreiner, let’s get some definitions going:

(1) “possibility”-- 1 : the condition or fact of being possible
(2) “possible”-- 1 a : being within the limits of ability, capacity, or realization
(3) “probability”-- 3 : likely to be or become true or real

So when Schreiner says that Paul mentions nothing about “possibility” or “probability,” he’s saying that Paul doesn’t render judgment on the believers (probability); but neither does he suggest that they have the ability to “walk after the flesh,” one of the conditions of Romans 8:13. Instead, what function does Schreiner believe Romans 8:13 plays? In his mind, it is just a HYPOTHETICAL warning: “Paul includes his warning for one fundamental urge us to resist the temptation to live according to the way of the flesh...and instead, through the Spirit, to die to one’s desires now in order that in the day to come we might attain life.”

Schreiner would agree with the words of Goodwin regarding the first-class condition: “When the [condition]...SIMPLY STATES a present or past...supposition, implying nothing as to the fulfilment [sic] of the condition, it takes a present or past tense of the indicative with ‘ei’.”

According to Goodwin, “nothing as to the fulfilment of the condition” is present in the “if” clause (“if you live according to the flesh,” for example). However, A.T. Robertson disagrees:

“This condition POINTEDLY IMPLIES the fulfilment of the condition. It is the CONDITION OF ACTUALITY, REALITY, Wirklichkeit, and not mere ‘possibility” (A.T. Robertson, “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In Light of Historical Research,” Fourth Edition. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934, page 1006).

A.T. Robertson, a Baptist, would disagree with our Baptist friend, Thomas Schreiner here. Notice that Robertson labels this condition a “condition of actuality,” distinguishing it from “mere possibility.” Robertson would disagree with Schreiner and say that Paul’s warning in Romans 8:13, that “if you live according to the flesh you will die,” is a CONDITION OF ACTUALITY: a person who has the Spirit within can succumb to sin and live a sinful lifestyle. Paul’s warning is not hypothetical—as if to say, “well, technically you can live in sin...but, you won’t.” Paul doesn’t declare judgment on the Roman congregation, but makes it clear that “two realities,” not “a reality and a hypothetical possibility” lie before them: they can walk after the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and live eternally, or they can walk after the flesh and live according to the deeds of the body...and perish eternally.

We understand why Schreiner gives his “hypothetical warning” view of Romans 8:13 when he goes into further analysis of this verse:

“...the warning is a significant means that God uses, through His Spirit, TO SECURE HIS PROMISED SALVATION IN US” (“The Race Set Before Us,” page 176).

As you can see, Schreiner’s presupposition crawls in again. The warnings never contain a serious caution of punishment—instead, they serve to “encourage” us, to push us forward in perseverance. I would say that the warnings do so, but they also caution us of eternal punishment if we fail to persevere. As I stated in a recent post, God did not warn Adam and Eve for the sake of motivating them to obey Him; He also cautioned them about REAL ACTUAL CONSEQUENCES for their disobedience. And Schreiner seems to assume that the consequences for disobedience are not possible for the believer.

Last but not least, notice what he says about this condition of Romans 8:13:

“The first-class condition (“if you live according to the flesh you will die”, example mine) in the Greek New Testament functions to express an assumption for the sake of the argument being made. IT SAYS NOTHING ABOUT ITS LIKELIHOOD OF FAILURE OR SUCCESS” (footnote, page 173).

Notice that no “likelihood of failure or success” is mentioned in the above condition. But what Schreiner fails to see is, that if the likelihood of failure is not mentioned, then NEITHER IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS mentioned either!! This means, then, that Schreiner’s supposed assumption of God “encouraging us” to persevere cannot be completely believed as he espouses it. We’ve already seen in other texts that Schreiner immediately dispels the actual choice of being saved and living in sin; however, when it gets to warnings like that of Romans 8:13, God seems to always be “assuring us” that we can persevere to the end, and God is ALWAYS motivating us to do so. But why is it that Schreiner claims to be neutral in the warnings, but still affirms the same conclusion as John MacArthur—that salvation cannot be thrown away?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jesus: To Be Or Not To Be The Author Of Sin?

“To be, or not to be? That is the question.”

This is one of the most quoted Shakesperean lines ever written. While I don’t know much about these lines and where they fit in Shakespeare’s work (excuse me for my literary ignorance), I do know that this seems to be the question that Calvinists and Arminians debate these days...and have so done since the beginning of history as we know it. “To be the author of sin, or not to be the author of sin?” For believers, that is the question.

Is Jesus guilty? Well...I would say He isn’t; but there are some who believe He is guilty of sin. S.M. Baugh is among them; and in his chapter on “The Meaning of Foreknowledge” he writes:

“Acts 2:23 also implies another truth integral to Calvinism that must not be (and is too often) overlooked: HUMANS POSSESS GENUINE, UNFORCED VOLITION and are thereby MORALLY RESPONSIBLE. Although God accomplished his fixed purpose by handing Christ over to the cross, he himself did not crucify him: ‘You nailed up and killed this man through the agency of wicked men.’ Peter’s hearers and their agents were both the culpable participants in Christ’s death. GOD ORDAINS ALL THAT COMES TO PASS, BUT ‘NEITHER IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established’” (S.M. Baugh, “The Meaning of Foreknowledge,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace” by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 190).

First, notice that Baugh credits humans with free choices and moral responsibility: “humans possess genuine, unforced volition and are thereby morally responsible.” I applaud Baugh for this honest admittance. Most Calvinists would not be this gracious; but S.M. Baugh restored my confidence in Calvinist theologians a bit with this statement.

But later on in the above quote, Baugh provides us with a massive contradiction: “God ordains all that comes to pass, but neither is God the author of sin...” Now Baugh uses a passage, Acts 2:23, to provide this assessment. Let’s read the passage:

“Him [Jesus of Nazareth, v. 22], being delivered by the DETERMINED PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death...” (Acts 2:23, NKJV)

As Baugh notes above, man bears responsibility for his own actions; God is not responsible for the actions of men, although in His foreknowledge, He knew they would crucify Jesus. It was the Jews and Pilate who put Christ on the cross. However, Baugh also notes that God handed Jesus over because of His “determined purpose.” But what was the purpose for so doing? The purpose was to save mankind from their sins. This is why the angel Gabriel tells Joseph,

“And she [Mary] will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name ‘JESUS,’ FOR HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS” (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).

And John declares this concerning Jesus:

“Behold! The Lamb of God WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” (John 1:29, NKJV)

The purpose for the Father sending Jesus into the world was to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. Jesus was sent to appease the wrath of God upon men, which is why when He is born in Bethlehem, the angels declare, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

But if God’s “determined purpose” was for Jesus to die, then what purpose did His “foreknowledge” serve? His foreknowledge is what accounts for His knowledge concerning the actions of men. It is His foreknowledge that already informed Him of the actions of the Jews and Pilate.

But if He didn’t force the men to kill Jesus, as Baugh says regarding Acts 2:23, then the only reason He “FOREORDAINED” or “PREDETERMINED” the death of Christ was for redemption. He didn’t cause the men to do what they did, but He did allow it to happen to Jesus because of His plan to redeem mankind (His creation).

Now we can see why Baugh’s words are so stunning: “God ordains ALL THAT COMES TO PASS, but ‘neither is God the author of sin...’” Baugh’s use of Acts 2:23 to justify his view of God “ordaining every action” is unjustifiable.

Acts 2:23 tells us of Christ’s coming for a salvific purpose: to redeem the world. However, IF “God ordains all that comes to pass,” as Baugh puts it, then God also ordained the sin that put Jesus on the cross. So now, we find that God not only ordained Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden, as well as all the other acts of evil (such as the sins of the men who drowned in the flood and the enslavement of His people, the Jews), but He then, AFTER ORDAINING SIN, turned around and made His Son come to die for THE SIN THAT HE ORDAINED AND CREATED TO START WITH!! What a masochist God that would be!!!

Here is a definition of the word “ordain” by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:

2 a : to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law

If the Lord decrees all acts, then evil is necessary—for the Lord “incorporated” it, just as He did good, into His sovereign plan. And, because God decreed it, He becomes the author of sin. Here then, is the definition for “author”:

1 a : one that originates or creates : SOURCE

If God ordains evil, then He becomes the author of evil. He becomes the one responsible for evil because, if He had never “ordained” it, then it would never have existed. Do you see the problems with this analysis? It stains the character and name of the Lord God.

The reason why S.M. Baugh uses Acts 2:23 to justify God ordaining every action is because he doesn’t want you to see his underlying bias. In his mind, God ordained Jesus to die; if God ordained Jesus to die, then God ordained EVERY ACTION AND EVERY EVENT that led up to Jesus’ death; since Jesus’ dying involved evil actions, God ordained these evil actions; if God ordained these evil actions, then He ordained all the evil actions that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion, including Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. If God ordained the Fall of Genesis 3, then God ordains every action (whether good or evil).

The problem with this logic, however, is that Baugh does what he claims he doesn’t want to do—that is, to make God the author of sin and evil. It looks like, once again, Calvinists make God responsible. Sounds like the time has come for a theology change...