Calvinism and the arbitrary camp director

Posted on 08/01/11 59 Comments

I have been arguing that on Calvinism God’s bestowal of special, electing love on some creatures and not others is wholly arbitrary. And this is a problem.

Tom offers the following Calvinist response: “Why does God choose me and not the other guy? Because through a fool like me, he can bring glory to Himself.”

Unfortunately this begs the question since any elected fool could bring glory to God. So why Tom rather than, say, Gene Simmons or Sadam Hussein?

I don’t think that people like Tom understand how this picture of God arbitrarily deciding to bestow electing love on some and not others undermines a conception of the divine love. So here’s an illustration of the problem. Imagine that there is a camp for troubled youth. The camp director has a rather unorthodox method of dealing with the campers. Some of them are beaten severely with whips in a wholly punitive or retributive (i.e. not restorative) manner while others are chosen by the director to receive care, love and nurture in a way that restores them.

You are contemplating sending your child to the camp but you want your child to be lovingly restored, not viciously beaten, even if the beatings are just. So you enquire: what is it that makes the director decide to beat the children rather than nurture them? Is it the  nature of their crimes? Their race? Gender? What?

The answer comes back. There is absolutely nothing that differentiates the two groups. The bottom line is that for some inexplicable reason the director arbitrarily selects some children to be beaten and others to be nurtured.

Now imagine that somebody came up to you with a positive testimonial. “The director loved our child! He nurtured her. She’s much better now. He is very loving to those he chooses.” Wouldn’t you want to scream back “But what about the children he opts to beat? How can you call that loving? How can you focus only on those he nurtures and completely ignore those he beats? Doesn’t it bother you that his choice to nurture your child was wholly arbitrary?”

And now for a footnote.

Tom then attempts to paint me into a dilemma by characterizing the Arminian as protesting: “It’s not fair because they [the reprobate] didn’t get the chance to choose!” And he then asserts:

“Following this line of logic, then what can be said for the man who lives in the isolated hut in china? He’s never heard the gospel, he’s never had a chance to get saved, how is it that he should go to hell?

“Would you be so heretical to say that he doesn’t go to hell? For if that is the case then we should not preach the gospel for it becomes bad news. The Apostles should’ve never spread the Good News, they should’ve died with such news if such is the case.”

Tom, your first problem here is your assumption that inclusivism, the position that a person can be saved apart from hearing the gospel, is a heresy. It isn’t. Inclusivism is not only the official position of the Catholic Church, but also is held by millions of evangelicals. Further, I am indeed an inclusivist and have defended the view on multiple occasions in my blog. Finally, the whole discussion of inclusivism is irrelevant anyways since many Arminians are exclusivists who argue that God secures a gospel hearing for anyone who would have responded favorably to such a hearing.

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  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    This analogy is emotionally compromised due to the use of children — even troubled or rebellious ones — as “victims”. Humans are not automatically the children of God. Let me try and give a better analogy.

    Out of 2,000 violent death row inmates in a particular state, the governor decides to pardon 200 of them in a sweeping act of mercy. All of these inmates are equally unrepentant; they all desire pardon, of course, but none of them have shown any signs of true remorse for their crimes. The governor spends months researching the background of every single offender, and chooses to pardon the 200 men and women who seem the least likely to ever contribute favorably to society.

    A strong conservative lobby in the state has made it clear that the governor will not be re-elected if he pardons this many inmates, but he does so anyway.

    The 200 who were chosen would not have shown remorse if they had m been pardoned under other circumstances. However, when made aware of the sacrifice the governor made to effect their freedom, knowing that they did nothing to make themselves more attractive to his grace, they are overwhelmed with gratitude and go on to greatly benefit society, giving him credit for their unique change.

    The difference is that it can be argued that the children in the youth camp deserve to be nurtured and cared for and restored; the death row inmates deserve to have their sentences carried out. Was it in the governor’s power to free all 2,000 inmates? Yes. Does that mean he is obligated to do so? Certainly not.

    Someone will no doubt point out that the governor is not even distantly responsible for placing the death row inmates in their position, and this is true. But in Randal’s example, the camp director was not responsible either. I wasn’t trying to correct that part of the analogy.

    • Walter

      Someone will no doubt point out that the governor is not even distantly responsible for placing the death row inmates in their position, and this is true.

      What is so ugly about Calvinism is the fact that God is the one who meticulously controls every event. Mankind’s rebellion would simply be part of the script so that God would have a “reason” to be wrathful against creatures that he himself made rebel in the first place. It’s all just a staged event where God can maximize his glory (or would that be ego?).

      On a side note, how can a lesser being really rebel against a sovereign deity who is all-powerful and all-knowing?

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    I chose to watch through the Matrix trilogy last week, and was reminded of this climactic scene from Revolutions.

    Neo has been beaten down by the form of Smith that was the Oracle. Smith asks Neo why he insists on getting up, why he continues to fight. He lists all the reasons he can come up with that cannot possibly be, and spits them into Neo’s face. “Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why? Why do you persist?” Neo answers, “Because I choose to.”

    It was his choice, of course, that made all the reasons Smith mocked come rushing forward: truth, peace, freedom, and even love. But those were the results of that choice, not the cause. Ultimately, the choice was its own reason.

    So if we can laud Neo for choosing for choosing’s sake — a seemingly arbitrary act — must we find fault with God for making a choice that seems arbitrary to us and yet has been promised to bring about the greatest possible good and truth and beauty and love? If we cannot trust what God has told us, what can we trust?

  • drwayman

    David – The problem with your analogy is that it leaves out a very important aspect of Calvinism: omnicausality.

    To be faithful to Calvinism (as I understand it), the governor predetermined before time began that these 2,000 inmates would commit the crimes that they did. In fact, the governor not only predetermined their crimes, he determined the exact methods in which they would carry out their crimes. In fact, the governor also placed the victims in the right place at the right time so that they would be victimized. The governor saw to it that there was not “one rogue molecule (to quote RC Sproul)” that everything worked according to his exhaustive, predetermined plan.

    I see no problem with Dr. Rauser using children as part of his example. After all, Jesus valued children greatly. He even said that one should not cause children to sin and that those that do should have a millstone hung around their neck and thrown into the sea. I certainly hope that Jesus was not being emotionally compromising in his analogy…

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      As far as the use of children is concerned: we are emotionally attached to children, and so Randal’s analogy alters our perception. It casts humanity as a group of troubled youth who deserve the opportunity to be nurtured and restored. That’s not what humans are. We’re unrepentant repeat offenders who cannot deserve mercy or restoration.

      With respect to omnicausality: I predicted your objection in the last paragraph of my comment. Randal’s analogy doesn’t preserve omnicausality on the part of the camp director either; that wasn’t the point. I don’t see how omnicausality is relevant to the question of whether a seemingly arbitrary choice can actually be righteous. Even from an Arminian point of view, God is still the Prime Mover who set all events into motion with full knowledge of how they would transpire. Omnicausality does not change how we should view a seemingly (but not actually) arbitrary choice on God’s part.

      • Jerry Rivard

        “We’re unrepentant repeat offenders who cannot deserve mercy or restoration.”

        What is our offense?

        • Mac Lee

          Jerry,
          sin

          don’t believe me?

          the wages of sin is death

          “innocent” children die

          innocent children have sinned therefore they are not innocent

          there is no such thing as an innocent child,

          • Jerry Rivard

            At what point does a newborn baby deserve punishment?
            When he soils his diaper for the first time?
            When he takes his first breath?
            At the moment of his birth?
            At the moment of his conception?
            Before that?

            • randal

              I’d say when he soils his diapers. :)

              On a serious note, I have a great quote from Augustine talking about how selfish babies are. It makes me wonder how he parented Adeodatus.

              • Jerry Rivard

                A quote I’ve always remembered from some sitcom whose name I’ve forgotten is:
                “Apart from babies, is there anyone more selfish than the dead?”

                Levity aside, I’d really like to read a comment defending the position that newborn babies are sinful and as such deserve eternal punishment. Or if that’s not what is meant by the “no innocent children” comment, an explanation of what it does mean.

                (I’ll say in advance that quoting scripture to justify such a moral atrocity as condemning the pre-verbal will only serve to solidify my belief that even if God does exist, the bible is not His word.)

                • randal

                  The notion of naughty neonates derives from a notion that human persons have not only original sin (a disposition to sin which is inevitably actualized when we become sufficiently developed cognitively to act sinfully) but also original guilt (the actual guilt of Adam imputed to us). The main theory of original guilt is a federal headship model according to which Adam was the representative (or federal head) of the human race so that when he sinned his guilt was imputed or credited to all future human persons (or human beings) as well. The most common illustration of the concept is appeal to a diplomat who represents a country and yet when he misbehaves there are repercussions for his entire country because he is the representative.

                  I don’t think there is any such thing as original guilt. Most Christians agree with me.

                  • Jerry Rivard

                    To the point Walter has been making, how is it justified that God bears no responsibility for any of this sinfulness (whether we bear the guilt of long-dead ancestors or are sinfully predisposed to the point of inevitability)?

                    The “best of all possible worlds” response is pretty lame as far as I’m concerned. Wasn’t there a possible world where not Adam, but maybe, say, Bill Clinton, was the first to sin, so that most of us might be spared? Or if it wasn’t possible to create man except with a sinful nature, then isn’t God punishing us for His own limitations?

                    • Jerry Rivard

                      And why did I get an error that said I didn’t have permission to edit that comment? (No need to answer, just letting you know there might be a bug.)

                      (I was able to edit this one. Hmmm.) (And I do edit a lot of my comments after I re-read them, and never got the error before.)

                    • randal

                      Why do you always assume a natural cause? How do you know it wasn’t divine action? (Methodological naturalist :( ). Let’s hope this was a one-off. If it happens again please let me know and I’ll follow up.

                    • Jerry Rivard

                      Actually, I was assuming an agent cause. Agent causes are not always intentional. ;)

                      I’ve pretty much ruled out divine intervention. Now, if my comment had been changed to Romans 1:20 or something, then I might consider the possibility…

        • Walter

          What is our offense?

          The canned Christian response is usually “rebellion.” We’re all dirty, disgusting rebels who deserve both the death penalty and heaps of torment because a mythical ancestor ate a piece of magic fruit, causing the rest of us to inherit a proclivity towards continued rebellion–like sleeping in on Sundays, or spending your extra cash on Netflix instead of using it to subsidize some preacher’s income.

          • Mac Lee

            Walter,
            you have an overwhelming sense of disdain for Scriptural truth and history, may I ask why?

      • drwayman

        David – You wrote, “As far as the use of children is concerned: we are emotionally attached to children, and so Randal’s analogy alters our perception.” That what makes the omnicausality back story even more heinous. These people whom God has supposedly meticulously controlled are REAL people. They are children not just criminals.

        Omnicausality is relevant to this discussion because either we have an arbitrary God or an omnicausal God under the Calvinist system. My understanding is that is the point of Dr. Rauser’s post is to show weaknesses in Calvinist soteriology. Is that not what we are discussing?

        You can’t paint the Arminian understanding of God with the same broad brushstrokes with the Calvinist understanding of God since God is the prime mover.

        There is a big difference. God either causes all the evil to happen (not a rogue molecule) or God allows the evil to happen. I don’t like that we have evil in the world but the Arminian option of allowing evil seems closer to the loving character of God that we find outlined in God’s Word than a God who causes every evil event in the universe.

      • randal

        I have defended appeals to emotion here. Your apparent thought is that we need to find people we don’t have emotional attachments to so it is easier to conceive God damning them. That’s where the problem lies. And who says troubled youth DESERVE to be nurtured and restored? The point is not a pelagian deserving. The point rather is the unconditional love of a parent to see their undeserving progeny flourish (i.e. find shalom). So I find that you are distorting the illustration in an attempt to nullify its legitimate emotional draw.

  • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

    Anyone who “would have”…like in the actual world? Are some Arminians out there claiming that as long as some possible world contains “x freely chooses God” then x is saved?

    That would be interesting. Transworld justification! Jesus died for the free creatures that would have freely chosen him in at least one possible world.

    • randal

      Well I don’t agree with the exclusivist Arminian position to begin with. But if I did I would say that there are no people who fail to hear the gospel in the actual world but who accept it in nearby possible worlds.

  • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

    I am not understanding the arbitrary charge.

    “Any elected fool could bring glory to God;” and, any maximally-occupied lifeboat of free God-choosing agents (tokens if you will) could satisfy God’s type-maximizing creation agenda.

    So you’ve got a lifeboat full of token free agents (it’s football season, sorry), and no argument precluding other possible worlds with maximum occupancy but a different group of occupants. So God arbitrarily chooses because His choice is only partially explained by the size of the life boat. And a non-entailing explanation gives rise to the “randomness” objection that normally aims at libertarians anyways. Add to that the fact that any partially explained contingent fact precludes the PSR (Leibniz cosmological argument) and you’ve got some good reasons to think the whole “arbitrary” thing isn’t much of an objection to Calvinism.

    To me, it just seems like Calvinists and Arminians disagree on what God is trying to maximize. And sure, Calvinism is emotionally unappealing. But I don’t see it as any more/less arbitrary than the lifeboat. The guy in the lifeboat and the guy who got elected are both “in the same boat?”

    Maybe not. An agent’s desire and ability to x fully explains x (in the final cause sense). So the eternal decree fully explains the Calvinist lifeboat, right?

    The eternal decree entails the Calvinist lifeboat. The Arminian decree does not. So in that sense, the Arminian situation is arbitrary (arguably at least).

    (I’m kind of shotgunning my thoughts on this…don’t feel like you need to respond. Very interesting to think about after hitting the books on free will a bit more.)

    • randal

      I’ll shotgun a response. I don’t disagree that the Arminian view is arbitrary too. Take election out of the picture altogether and ask why God creates one world rather than another when the goods produced in both are commensurable. That’s like being on the Ford dealership and choosing between two different cherry red Mustangs. The difference is not simply that God is arbitrary in the Calvinist sense but not the Arminian one. The difference instead lies in the fact that within Arminianism God’s choice is constrained by the choices of libertarianly free creatures. In the maximally effective salvific world that God opts to create (one of many possible worlds) David Parker and Paul Manata will be saved but Andrew Dice Clay will (sadly) be lost. In another one of those worlds Paul is lost and Andrew is saved (David is saved in all those maximal worlds). But God opted to choose one rather than another because he had to choose one if he was to create a world most reflective of his omnibenevolent nature. Sorry Andrew, but God’s options were limited by sin.

      On the Calvinist view things are very different. God could have created a world in which all people are saved, even Andrew Dice Clay. (In that world Clay’s jokes are even funny!) But he opted not to create that world.That’s the root of the arbitrariness problem.

      • http://ponderingthepreponderance.blogspot.com David P

        Calvinist view: “God could have created a world in which all people are saved.”

        Where is the justification for this claim in the literature? I am just interested in seeing exactly how Calvinism implies that God could actualize a possible world where all people are saved. (Every logically possible world is not feasible for God, even on the Calvinist view.)

        • randal

          It is true that many Calvinists would not agree with this statement. Indeed, some Calvinists are strong determinists who believe that there is a best of all possible worlds and that = the world most glorifying to God, and thus out of the necessity of his nature God created that world. In extreme forms of this determinism creation becomes something akin to a neoplatonic emenation.

          But in my experience most Calvinists want to retain the divine freedom in election. Since God is the primary cause of human free action it follows (unless we have some reason to think otherwise) that God could have willed all to choose him freely.

          • http://ponderingthepreponderance.blogspot.com David P

            “But in my experience most Calvinists want to retain the divine freedom in election. Since God is the primary cause of human free action it follows (unless we have some reason to think otherwise) that God could have willed all to choose him freely.”

            Freedom to elect every x (in at least one possible world) does not entail freedom to elect all x (in at least one possible world). That would be a quantifier shift fallacy.

            I can conceive of a logically possible world where God commits evil…but that world is metaphysically impossible (conceptually incoherent). Likewise with a world where the Calvinist God elects everyone.

            The Calvinist thinks his concept of God requires a world where not everyone is elected. So for him, there is no metaphysically possible world that you describe.

            I could be wrong though…have any Calvinists said this that you are aware of?

            • randal

              “have any Calvinists said this that you are aware of?”

              Said what? That God could have elected all but, er, elected not to? If that’s what you’re asking the real question is this: why would a Calvinist think, based on his view that God is the primary cause of the free willing of human agents, that a world where everyone is elected is not feasible? I can see why it is not feasible for God to create a world where he commits evil. But why would it be not feasible for God to create a world where he elects everyone?

              • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

                Well, you know what Edwards would say. :-)

                I’m still not sure how an Arminian can place logical constraints on God via free will, without affirming middle knowledge and the counterfactuals of freedom.

                • randal

                  I’m confused by your question since I do affirm middle knowledge and the counterfactuals of freedom. (As my self-absorbed dorm mate in university used to say every time he passed a mirror, ‘I coulda been a rock star.’) So what’s the problem exactly?

                  • http://ponderingthepreponderance.blogspot.com David P

                    Oh, I didn’t know you affirmed middle knowledge. Cool beans. Do you think the Arminian who accepts perfect foreknowledge and rejects middle knowledge is in the same boat? (lifeboat could have been bigger since God isn’t constrained by counterfactuals of freedom).

          • Robert

            Randal had said:

            “God could have created a world in which all people are saved.”

            David P then asked:

            “Where is the justification for this claim in the literature? I am just interested in seeing exactly how Calvinism implies that God could actualize a possible world where all people are saved. (Every logically possible world is not feasible for God, even on the Calvinist view.)”

            Note the last line the distinction between possible worlds that are logically possible and feasible and those that are logically possible but not feasible. In order to argue that God cannot actualize a possible world in which everyone is saved you would have to demonstrate that the set of possible worlds that is logically possible and feasible and involves everyone being saved is an empty set.

            And how is anybody going to prove that?

            Before going further it should be noted that any world which God creates (using the terminology of possible worlds as David P apparently likes to frame things in that way) will be chosen from a set of possible worlds that is both logically possible and feasible.

            Randal replied by first pointing out that it is true that not all calvinists would agree with the claim that God could create a world in which all people are saved. Those who disagree would be calvinists who also believe that God Himself has no choice in the matter but that God’s own choices are necessitated choices (necessitated by what is the best possible world, what gives him the most glory, etc. etc.):

            “It is true that many Calvinists would not agree with this statement. Indeed, some Calvinists are strong determinists who believe that there is a best of all possible worlds and that = the world most glorifying to God, and thus out of the necessity of his nature God created that world. In extreme forms of this determinism creation becomes something akin to a neoplatonic emenation.”

            I don’t take these extreme necessatarians too seriously however because if God does not at least sometimes have free will, then He cannot be Sovereign(if He has no choices and everything that He does is necessitated then he cannot exercise sovereignty, and His choices would not be up to Him and He cannot do as He pleases which is the essence of being sovereign).

            Randal then wrote:

            “But in my experience most Calvinists want to retain the divine freedom in election. Since God is the primary cause of human free action it follows (unless we have some reason to think otherwise) that God could have willed all to choose him freely.”

            Randal is correct here because if God can choose freely and His choice of which possible world would be actualized is a freely made choice that is up to Him. Then the only constraints would be that whatever possible world God chooses (in which all human persons are saved) to actualize will come from a set of possible worlds that are (1) logically possible and (2) feasible. Some would say this set of possible worlds in which all would be saved is infinite or at least a large number.

            To keep things simple say there are only 3 possible worlds which are logically possible and feasible in which all human persons are saved, worlds where people do not have libertarian free will and are saved the way calvinists suggest (i.e. God regenerates them and their regeneration necessitates their faith response to the gospel).

            OK, then because God is sovereign and so does as He pleases, He could choose from any of these three worlds. He would have the choice of world 1, world 2 or world 3, and so by actualizing any one of the three he would be choosing freely and yet the result would be a fully determinate world in which all are saved. I don’t see the difficulty here at all.

            It would be like an author who has complete control of his novel. He conceives it, decides how many characters it will have, what each character will do and say. Decides which character will be a hero and which will be a villain. And say the author thinks about it and concludes that there are only three good stories where everyone is a hero. The author as author can decide which of the three will be the story that he/she wants to write. All three are available options for him/her. And the resulting decision is completely up to him/her.

            It would be easy for an author to do this with his/her story and so just as easy for an omnipotent and omniscient God to do the same with the 3 logically possible and feasible worlds that he was considering.

            So where is the problem?

            Under calvinism where God prescripts everything, where the story is completely up to Him, where libertarian free will does not exist, God could easily actualize one of the logically possible and feasible worlds where every human gets saved.

            This is how Thomas Talbot works his premises and so he combines a Calvinistic premise (the affirmation that God prescripts everything) with a compatibilist premise/ view of free will (which you have to choose to hold if all is prescripted :-)), and a biblical premise that God desire to save all people (as stated by the bible) and ends up with his universalism. If it is all up to God and human wills really make no difference as they are already completely controlled by God anyway (that’s “compatibilism” where everyone’s actions are totally controlled and prescripted by God and yet they are simultaneously all acting freely! :-), then Talbot’s universalism is a very logical conclusion.

            Robert

            • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

              Your comment was too long to read in one sitting. Basically it looks like you’ve read Craig’s debate with Talbott (or just Talbott elsewhere). Congrats. But his argument is inapplicable here, since the definition of “feasible world” I gave is different.

            • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

              “So where is the problem?”

              The problem is that Calvinism holds that a possible world with all saved is not feasible (in my sense of the word: “desirable to a perfect creator”…for various reasons which you seem to already recognize.

              Let’s say you define a feasible world as one with a maximal set of compossible goods. Ok…then the Calvinist obviously has reasons to think that a universalist world is not in that set.

  • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

    Dr. Rauser, I was under the impression that I had undercut your “arbitrariness defeater,” :-) e.g.,

    http://randalrauser.com/2011/02/why-god-might-save-a-chinese-over-a-german/

    • randal

      PM, you wrote:

      “So assume a rich, kind suitor stands in front of a thousand self-employed whores skilled in the art of stealing, scamming, and manipulation. Moreover, they have all scammed and harmed the suitor. Spit on his servants, and cursed his good name. None of them deserves to be pulled from out of the rest, dressed in white, and turned into a virtuous virgin. In fact, they all deserve to be punished according to the law. The suitor chooses one of them, in love, but she has done nothing to merit this choice. He did not base it on foreseeing that she secretly loved him first and would love him in return. He didn’t base it on the color of her skin, or the sound of her voice. But he loved her, and he had very deep, meaningful, complex reasons involving a multitude of greater goods in mind for choosing her out of the rest.”

      The first point where this is misleading is that on Calvinism God is the primary cause of the actions of creatures and thus of the fallenness of creatures. If the rich suitor is the primary cause of the thousand self-employed whores being whores then we have a more relevant analogy. Another problem with the analogy is that it depends on God’s love for the elect being an exclusive erotic love rather than open agapeic love. Moreover, at the end of it all you just declare that the suitor “had very deep, meaningful, complex reasons involving a multitude of greater goods”. What kind of goods? If there is nothing in the one whore rather than the others that makes her more desirable then what kind of complex reasons did the suitor have for choosing her?

      Finally, just for fun, let’s switch the analogy to a rich widow and a thousand unemployed gigalos.

      • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

        Dr. Rauser,

        I can cite Arminians who say God is the primary cause of all that happens, even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause. So it’s hard to see how this is “unique” to Calvinism. Second, many prominent Calvinists have not viewed divine determinism as causal determinism. Off the top of my head, Helm doesn’t. And, for a non-Calvinist voice, Kevine Timpe makes this claim too, i.e., that theological determinism doesn’t need to be or entail or demand causal determinism. Third, um, the Bible even uses the term agape love for a *rape*, so let’s not commit any semantic fallacies. Lastly, surely you’re not objecting that because I don’t know the exact reasons that there are none? It’s enough for me to know that there are reasons, even if I don’t know them. For, (a) God might have chosen not to reveal them, (b) I may not be able to understand them in my fallen state even if he were to reveal it, and (c) they may employ metaphysical distinctions so fine that a finite creature could never in principle understand them, even if revealed. So again, I’m failing to see how you have an objection against Calvinism simpliciter here. Maybe you would against everyone that concedes all your points, but you can’t draw out what you say Calvinism essentially is from Reformed confessional documents.

        • randal

          “I can cite Arminians who say God is the primary cause of all that happens, even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause. So it’s hard to see how this is “unique” to Calvinism.”

          I’d want to know more about how they’re using terms like “primary cause”. Which theologians are you thinking of? That would also raise a question of when an Arminian is no longer an Arminian. After all, I can point to Christian theologians who don’t believe God exists.

          “Lastly, surely you’re not objecting that because I don’t know the exact reasons that there are none? It’s enough for me to know that there are reasons, even if I don’t know them.”

          Oh, I need to respond to this in a blog post. (And I still need to respond to your critique of me at your website too.) Hang on.

  • Douglas

    “I have been arguing that on Calvinism God’s bestowal of special, electing love on some creatures and not others is wholly arbitrary. And this is a problem.”

    It sure is a problem if it were wholly arbitrary, but it isn’t arbitrary at all. Not one iota. God never acts arbitrarily, randomly, capriciously, unaccountable change of mind, despotically, tyrannically, oppressively, unrestrained, God’s bestowal of special, electing love for all His chosen people, past, present and future, before the very foundations of the world, is sovereign. The rest God leaves over to what their evil, wicked, sinful hearts desire and it is NOT God they desire. They receceive justice, something everyone of us deserves. No one desires God prior to the new birth. We are all blind, deaf beggars, dead in our trespasses and sins prior to regeneration. Why God saves a great multitude no one can number (Revelation 6:9-10) but not all, is God’s business and His alone. Why God saves any is truly awesome amazing grace indeed. Why did God save you? Did God save you because you made the right choice? Did he save you because he knew/saw you making the right decision down the proverbial corridor of time so he choose you based upon that? Did God save you because weren’t as evil as Hitler? You are better than you’re neighbour? Because God saw something good or special in you? Now that’s my boy?

    I think Arminianism has dealt a disastrous, heavy blow to mankind. I think Arminianism has obscured the true Gospel for a very long time.

    I think Arminianism leaves room for man to boast in himself, in the flesh, whereas Reformed Theology, nicknamed Calvinism, strips man of all boasting except in the Cross of Christ.

    Arminianism

    “[Arminians] … say that the Augustinian tradition subordinates the love of God to the will of God … But this is not what distinguishes the Augustinian tradition from the Arminian tradition. The distinction is between intensive and extensive love, between an intensive love that saves its loved ones, and an extensive love that loves everyone in general and saves no one in particular.

    Or if you really wish to cast this in terms of willpower, it’s the distinction between divine willpower and human willpower. Or, to put the two together, does God will the salvation of everyone with a weak-willed, ineffectual love, or does God love his loved ones with a resolute will that gets the job done?

    The God of Calvin is the good shepherd, who names and numbers his sheep, who saves the lost sheep and fends off the wolf. The God of Wesley is the hireling, who knows not the flock by name and number, who lets the sheep go astray and be eaten by the wolf. Which is more loving, I ask? – Steve Hays

    “What the Arminian wants to do is to arouse man’s activity: what we want to do is to kill it once for all—to show him that he is lost and ruined, and that his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that he must look upward. They seek to make the man stand up: we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and that his business is to submit himself to God, and cry aloud, ‘Lord, save, or we perish.’ We hold that man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel he can do nothing at all. When he says, ‘I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other,’ marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow.” – C. H. Spurgeon

    and that’s all I have to say about that for now. Sorry it’s a tad disjointed, I left school when I was 14 and have been trying to catch up ever since. I am actually a nice enough fellow now, but once I was bad to the bone. Saved by God alone to God be all the glory alone, eh.

    • Ryan

      “Arminianism leaves room for man to boast about how good God is for not arbitrarily damning people to the most unimaginable torment for crimes that He would ultimately be the cause of.”

      Even if Arminianism leaves that room open (as in, some people might go that way, even when they shouldn’t), it also leaves the room open for man to boast about how good God is for not arbitrarily damning people to the worst possible torment for crimes that God deliberately caused them to commit. Does that balance?

      “The God of Calvin is the good shepherd, who names and numbers his sheep, who saves the lost sheep and fends off the wolf. The God of Wesley is the hireling, who knows not the flock by name and number, who lets the sheep go astray and be eaten by the wolf. Which is more loving, I ask? – Steve Hays”

      Is he trying to say that the conditional preservation of Arminianism trumps the ethical unattractiveness of Calvinism?

      • Ryan

        On that note, I wouldn’t be opposed to a “doctrinal Calvinism” of sorts, whereby God introduces seemingly awful theological systems, such as Calvinism, to give us a greater sense of appreciation for the God reflected by the correct ones. ;)

  • Walter

    God’s bestowal of special, electing love for all His chosen people, past, present and future, before the very foundations of the world, is sovereign. The rest God leaves over to what their evil, wicked, sinful hearts desire and it is NOT God they desire. They receceive justice, something everyone of us deserves.

    The point that no Calvinist seems to want to address is the fact that under their worldview people have “evil, wicked sinful hearts” because their sovereign God made them that way. Every single thing that happens down to the smallest detail in an individual’s life is simply part of a predetermined script that is unfolding as we speak. We become actors in a cosmic play. The elect can’t help but become Christians; the reprobates can’t be anything other than reprobates. Serial killers and rapists are just following the script. There is no real choice, only an illusion of choice.

    • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

      Walter, I didn’t know you were (a) a libertarian or (b) a hard determinist. The former would seem troublesome for your atheistic naturalism, the latter would seem troublesome for your ostensible ascriptions of blame. One would think atheists more conversant with action theory than they appear to be. For example, what’s defective in John Martin Fischer’s theory of moral responsibility? Or, how about McKenna’s? Or P. F. Strawson’s? Or Harry Frankfurt’s? Why don’t these views work (they are all atheists, as far as I know), and why couldn’t a Calvinist employ elements of them in his theory of moral responsibility?

      • Walter

        I’m a libertarian and a deist, not a naturalist.

    • Robert

      Walter provides a very accurate description of the calvinism espoused by people like Manata here.

      First, Walter is correct, that the calvinists repeatedly ignore the problem, attempt to suppress it, change the subject, reframe things to avoid the reality that if their view is correct then “God made them that way.” And that includes every person’s thoughts, actions, everything about them. If someone thinks certain things it is because God made them that way. If someone does certain things it is because God made them that way. So if someone is a nonbeliever and lives a life of rebellion against God and never turns from their sinful ways: God made them that way.

      Second, Walter is correct that if calvinism is true then “every single thing that happens” is “part of a predetermined script”. There are no exceptions to this Calvinistic premise/assumption. That means every sinful action and thought is exactly what God predetermined for a person (whether they are nonbelievers or believers).

      This makes God the author of sin, though calvinists hem and haw and do every possible reframing trick in the book to evade this simple logical entailment of their view.

      Some calvinists in order to evade the fact that God first conceives, desires and then ensures that every sin occurs by their premise: try to pin the blame on human persons. Specifically their sinful nature caused by Adam’s fall. But if calvinism is true then God ordained both the fall and ordained that sinful nature.

      Third, Walter brings up an appropriate analogy: if calvinism is true then we are merely “actors in a cosmic play”. And this is not improv (cf. the great TV show “Whose line is it?”) where the actors have some leeway as to what they say and do on the stage. This is every actor going strictly by the lines assigned to him or her. They have to, they have no choice.

      Fourth, Walter fully understands unconditional election. The elect have to believe and it is impossible they be otherwise and the reprobates have to be reprobates and it is impossible they be otherwise. If this is true, it then makes you wonder how someone who believes this can be so callous and hateful towards unbelievers or even Christians who reject calvinism. Because we are all simply following the scripts assigned to us.

      Fifth, Walter brings up the example of serial killers and rapists and points out that they are just following their scripts as well. Now for some this is merely hypothetical or rhetorical. But for me as I work with inmates, this has particular relevance. If calvinism is true then all of the inmates that I work with did exactly what God wanted them to do and prescripted them to do. Talk of their doing otherwise, or talk about how they should have done otherwise becomes completely meaningless and empty (because if calvinism is true then it was impossible for them to have done otherwise, they had to do what they did). If that is the case, then Christianity becomes a joke when it comes to evil. The God who tells us not to do these evil actions and crimes, is the same person who made us into precisely the persons that we are (who have the thoughts that we have and do the actions that we do).

      I actually had one inmate try to suggest that to me once: “I had to do what I did since it was ordained by God, I had no choice, He set me up to do it”! And that is just it, this inmate is correct if calvinism is true. God entraps every inmate into doing their every crime. He set them up, he preplanned it, and then He ensures that they carry it out. He then blames them for the crimes he set them up for and ensured!

      Sixth, as Walter points out, if calvinism is true then free will as ordinarily understood (i.e. that we sometimes have and then make choices) is an illusion and has no reality at all. Most people (both nonbelievers and believes) believe they sometimes have choices. . Yet this belief is wrong if calvinism is true. Free will as ordinarily understood is not real, it is always a false belief to think that though you did one thing you could have done otherwise in a particular situation. And any time we talk about having a choice between two alternative possibilities we are misleading ourselves and others if calvinism is true. It also means those biblical texts where God himself speaks as if we have choices are also misleading. But with God it is worse as He knows that no one ever has a choice and yet he speaks to us as if we do, speaks in the bible as if people have choices. That means that God is deceiving us.

      And again who ensures that the most people believe this false belief? God does. He predetermines that we have this false belief as well as every belief that we have. And this gets nasty as he gives some believers the true belief that they have no choices (i.e. calvinists) and yet gives most believers the false belief that they have choices when they never do (i.e. non-calvinists).

      This means that God is not only toying with unbelievers He is toying with believers as well. Prescripting that calvinists and non-Calvinists disagree about and debate the reality of free will. If God had prescripted everything, I could perhaps understand not enlightening nonbelievers with true beliefs (I mean in calvinism you have to ensure that the reprobates remain reprobates, can’t give them any chance to be saved), but to do it to your own people: that is just nasty. And yet if calvinism is true that is reality.

      Robert

  • Jerry Rivard

    “Some of them are beaten severely with whips in a wholly punitive or retributive (i.e. not restorative) manner while others are chosen by the director to receive care, love and nurture in a way that restores them.”

    This slipped right by me until my iPod randomized Joni Mitchell’s The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song), which includes the line “God is correcting you.”

    Do you believe that beating someone severely with whips can ever be restorative? Have you ever personally been restored or redeemed by physical punishment? I’m curious what people here think about this, and whether there are any trends that correlate with religious beliefs.

    I say no, physical punishment, especially severe physical punishment, is not a vehicle for redemption. Behavior modification, yes, but not redemption.

    • randal

      “Do you believe that beating someone severely with whips can ever be restorative?”

      No. But note that in the illustration those who are chosen to receive care, love and nurture are not whipped. Only those who face a non-restorative punishment are whipped.

      I was just listening to Carole King today, but alas, no apposite lyrical rejoinders come to mind.

      • Jerry Rivard

        It was the inclusion of “not restorative” in parens that led to the question of whether such punishment could have been seen as restorative. Which led to the same question about any degree of physical punishment. I’m not sure which of these your “no” was in response to.

        Yes, I got it that those who were “cured” were cured by means other than physical punishment.

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  • Steven

    Where’s the Bible? I’m all for theological debate and refutations, but who cares about examples and analogies? Without biblical basis I have no ground on which to criticize Calvinism or election.

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