“...we have made Arminian thinking sharper and clearer and the only and obvious alternative to the conventional options. Our Calvinist critics call it ‘consistent’ Arminianism, a judgment I am not inclined to reject” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 12).
“One cannot just introduce dynamic and relational features into the doctrine of God without reconsidering undynamic and unrelational features of it like meticulous sovereignty and exhaustive foreknowledge. The conventional package of attributes is tightly woven. You cannot deny one, such as impassibility, without casting doubt cast[sic] on others, like immutability. It’s like pulling on a thread and unraveling a sweater. A little boldness is required; tentative changes will not do” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 77).
Reading these words a few days ago stirred within me a great need to defend the system I hold to so dearly. Before I get started, then, let me say that as a fallible human being, I (like everyone else) have a tendency to look at my theological system as being more biblically faithful than anyone else’s. I’ve learned while studying these systems, though, that each system makes some good points biblically...and that I have to listen to the other opposing systems out there and let them teach me things that I did not learn from my own.
Having said that, though, I will be as robust in defending Classical Arminianism as I have always been here at the Center for Theological Studies. This post will show why Classical Arminianism is a consistent system and so refute the charges that have been made against the system itself.
Daniel Strange gives us the above challenge in his article, “The Price of Internal Consistency?”:
“The free-will theists therefore agree with Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards, that FOREKNOWLEDGE IMPLIES FOREORDINATION and that CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM IS GUILTY OF IMPORTING CALVINISTIC THOUGHT into its doctrine of omniscience” (Daniel Strange, “The Price of Internal Consistency?” Tyndale Bulletin 51.1 (2000), page 7).
I capitalized the two phrases above to pinpoint the importance of Strange’s quote. First, the charge is made that “foreknowledge implies foreordination”: in other words, if God foreknows everything that will happen (He knows before it happens), then God has “foreordained,” or predetermined, what will happen. Fascinatingly enough, Bruce Ware treats the supposed Classical Arminian “inconsistency” in his work:
“Like it or not, says the open theist, this commitment to exhaustive divine foreknowledge undermines much of what Arminianism cherishes most. If God knows all future choices and actions, then it follows that those choices and actions are not free, that the meaningfulness of human behavior is destroyed, that genuine providential governance of the world is undermined, that real relationship with God is rendered only apparent and illusory, and that in the end a fundamentally determinist model of the God/creature relation, much like that advocated in versions of Calvinism, cannot be avoided” (Bruce A. Ware, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000, page 41).
Why is it that exhaustive foreknowledge AUTOMATICALLY leads to exhaustive sovereignty? This is a connection that Pinnock (and all open theists) and Ware seem to make: that to affirm God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is to affirm meticulous sovereignty. But this is not necessarily the case. Calvinists affirm both exhaustive sovereignty and exhaustive foreknowledge; but in Calvinism, man cannot have responsibility for his actions. This explains why a lot of students and professors I’ve met with here at Southeastern have become Molinist in their thought: while Calvinism’s God is absolutely sovereign, He is also responsible (and the author of) sin and evil, which goes against James 1. Dr. Ken Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” has done a marvelous job in getting Calvinist professors and students to change their theology. You simply cannot have responsibility in Calvin’s system, like it or not.
For those who believe that God knows everything, Open Theism is not an acceptable theological system. Therefore, one is left with two choices: either Molinism (and variations on this, even compatibilist middle knowledge, which Ware seems to advocate in his work “God’s Greater Glory”), or Classical Arminianism. These two systems have stood the test of time and continue to do so.
Foreknowledge does not NECESSARILY imply foreordination. To infer that this is true would mean that God’s foreknowledge is necessarily causal (that God causes what He foreknows). If this is true, then God’s foreknowing that David would commit adultery with Bathsheba and kill Uriah was the cause of David murdering Uriah and sleeping with Bathsheba. I think James 1 cancels out the possibility of causal foreknowledge.
Secondly, as Daniel Strange notes above, to affirm the Classical Arminian view of exhaustive divine foreknowledge would mean that “CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM IS GUILTY OF IMPORTING CALVINISTIC THOUGHT into its doctrine of omniscience.” What does this mean, exactly? That, in order to affirm a consistent Arminianism, man’s libertarian freedom must trump God’s sovereignty? God can’t know the actions of creatures if creatures can choose for themselves?
Calvinists and Open Theists seem to believe that Open Theism is consistent Arminianism, but I would argue that Open Theism actually undermines the sovereignty of God. God doesn’t know the actions of man, so He really can’t incorporate the deeds of man into His plans. Open Theism really tries to make God “omnicompetent,” as Pinnock states, but how can God be if He doesn’t know what will happen before it happens?
Now, regarding the claim against Classic Arminianism being “Calvinistic,” let me respond in the following manner: when did Calvinism monopolize the view of exhaustive divine foreknowledge? Is it conceivable that God could foreknow something without actually causing it? For instance, God knew that Israel would rebel against Him after her deliverance from Egypt; does this mean, then, that He caused Israel to rebel against Him and then punished her for so doing by letting the wilderness generation die out in the wilderness? No it doesn’t. If it does, then how could God punish her for doing what He caused the nation to do? Some will argue a case for “compatibilist middle knowledge,” or some “compatibilism” between the divine and human actions. I will not dive into this now.
At the moment, let me just say that God foreknowing all things is not “Calvinistic” at all; to say this is to say that ONLY Calvinists are evangelicals, that only Calvinists hold to the inerrancy of Scripture (since the Scriptures affirm exhaustive foreknowledge), that only Calvinists are Christians. What about Molinists? Surely, Molinists hold to exhaustive divine foreknowledge! And what about four-point Arminians, for example? While I often accuse four-point Arminians of inconsistency, they are “inconsistent” because they hold to the exhaustive sovereignty (and hence, exhaustive foreknowledge) of God! They hold to the idea that once you place your faith in Christ, God holds you...and they look at Classical Arminians like myself and think that we fail miserably to hold to the sovereignty of God! This might explain why R.C. Sproul writes that “People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians? I usually answer, ‘Yes, barely.’ They are Christians by what we call a felicitious inconsistency” (R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, 25). Evidently, R.C. Sproul is not alone in his assessment of Arminianism as a whole.
Some argue that holding to human libertarian freedom is to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. Stephen J. Wellum writes:
“But, someone might object, could not this challenge also be raised against other evangelicals who hold to a view of divine sovereignty that incorporates a libertarian view of human freedom, and not just the viewpoint of open theism? Is it only the open theist who succumbs to this kind of problem? Do not all those who affirm libertarianism also face this same dilemma? And thus, are you not indicting other evangelicals who reject open theism but affirm libertarianism? My answer is both yes and no. Yes, in the sense that IT IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ANY LIBERTARIAN POSITION TO ARGUE CONSISTENTLY HOW GOD CAN GUARANTEE THAT WHAT HE WANTS WRITTEN IS WRITTEN FREELY BY HUMAN AUTHORS. But no, in the important sense that traditional evangelicals who are committed to libertarianism are also committed to exhaustive divine foreknowledge of future free human actions which allows them to maintain simultaneously libertarian freedom and the guarantee necessary in order to uphold a high view of Scripture. An excellent example of this approach is that of William Craig” (Stephen J. Wellum, “Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience, Inerrancy, and Open Theism: An Evaluation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June 2002): page 8; http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_200206/ai_n9125078/pg_8/?tag=content;col1).
Wellum is referring to human writers and the Spirit, the Divine Author of Scripture itself, in bringing forth the words of Scripture. How did the Spirit and human writers combine to produce the Scriptures? And what does this tell us about the kind of theological system we should hold to? This is a question that I will get to in my next post.