Monday, June 16, 2003

Mail Call

I got email from Robert Bauer aka The Hokie Pundit with some tough questions regarding Calvinism/Predestination. He gave me permission to use it as the basis for some posts, which I will do by addressing his objections one-by-one. Notice I didn’t say answer his objections. I promise nothing.

Dear David,

Partially sparked by some of your posts, I'm examining Millennialism and the Calvinist/Arminian debate right now, though concentrating mostly on the latter for now. I've been reading Sproul and Boettner, and while they make a very good argument for Predestination, it's the contradiction with what I perceive to be God's nature that poses the problem for me. While I've looked for their answer to certain objections, they either haven't answered or their answers have gone over my head (Boettner is especially frustrating, since his response to any objection seems to be "It's a mystery. Moving along..."). The main problems as I see them are on the origin of sin, on consciousness, and on the power of God.

We are constantly assured that God isn't the author of sin. However, in viewpoints which seem to support Predestination, it's hard to escape the opposite conclusion. When Adam was created, he either had no predispositions, was predisposed to good, or was predisposed to evil. If he had no predispositions, then he would have no reason to obey or disobey God and would have to have been given prods and urges, effectively making him inclined to either good or bad. Genesis says that God saw that his creation was "good," and so must Adam have been. It would appear to me that it was Satan who changed this, by creating a situation where Adam sinned by not preventing Eve from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This raises two points. Firstly, God allowed man to be corrupted when he could've prevented it (though I'll buy an argument that says God had to allow it for some other purpose, such as a promise to Satan or for a greater good). Secondly, we've simply moved up one step, and need to ask how the very best of God's angels could've been corrupted. The only answers I can deduce from this objection are that either God created sin or there is another being with at least partial sovereignty (leading to either Manichaeism or Arminism, depending on whether you want that being to be natural or supernatural).


These are good questions, and I do not have any answers. Much smarter people than I (e.g., Jonathan Edwards) have struggled with the problem of the origin of sin or the introduction of evil, and nobody has come up with a plausible explanation that clearly protects God from culpability, which means nobody has uncovered the correct explantion.

I have no clue whatsoever where evil comes from, and agree than if you pawn it all off on Satan you simply hide the problem at one level removed, accomplishing nothing. Clearly this is indeed a great mystery.

I also agree that it is manifestly obvious that God allowed man to sin and thus to fall, in the sense that He could have prevented it. Why didn't He? I don't know. Oh, you can say "so that He could demonstrate his love by providing a plan of redemption" but that seems more a restatement of what happened rather than an explanation.

However, I don’t see how all this especially a problem for Calvinism.

I think one must always be careful not to equate Calvinism with determinism. The pre-fall free will is exactly the same to a Calvinist and an Arminian. Their views on the post-fall free will are essentially the same, with one small but significant difference: To the Calvinist, fallen man, due to the radical extent of his corruption as a result of Adam’s failure (the true meaning of original sin) has a moral inability to choose God. He has the natural ability, i.e., he has free will, but his degradation prevents him from even seeking God. That does not detract one iota from the liberty of his will.

Not a perfect analogy, but think about this: (Most likely) you will never choose to hold a hot iron to your face, or shove a nail into your eyes. You just "can't" choose it even though you "can".

To the Arminian, man has at least a vestigial ability to choose God. His will isn't any freer, but he has slightly different inclinations in his repertoire.

The Calvinist and the Arminian agree that (a) Adam chose to sin and (b) Adam had the ability, natural and moral, to chose not to sin.

It is only after the fall where we being to disagree, a disagreement ultimately over the extent of the corruption.

Adam was created with a free will; he, as are we, was a volitional creature. The difference between Adam and post fall (unsaved) man is that Adam had inclinations to please God. He had the moral ability not to sin. After the fall, man lost those inclinations along with the moral ability. Before being saved, man cannot choose not to sin. Everything an unsaved man does, no matter how noble it appears, is sinful.

There is a simple model, about which I have posted, that says man only chooses that to which he is most inclined, i.e. man is a slave to his desires. That is a model of the will, and Calvinism or Reformed theology does not depend on that specific model, although I do believe (a) that model has a great deal of merit and (b) it is too simplistic to be the total answer. Calvinism does stand-or-fall (in my opinion) on unsaved man's inability to choose God on his own, independent of how the will actually works itself out.

I will post and address the rest of Robert’s email in the days to come.

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