Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Mail Call (Cont.)

Continuing now with Robert Bauer’s objections to Calvinism.

The second objection is one of consciousness. If some have been predestined to be unrepentant sinners, then why are they conscious? Wouldn't it be better for them to be merely "furniture" for the Elect?

Yes it would be better for them. Just as it would have been better for Judas. However, we don’t get to make that call. God has prepared these unfortunates according to His own plan, as much as it seems pointless and cruel to us.

Again, this problem is not just for Calvinists. On average, every day more people die who have not heard the gospel than on any other day in history. (I would give proper attribution if I could remember where I heard it.) Arminian theology teaches that, at least in the normative sense, these poor souls who have not made a personal commitment to Christ are lost. It would also be better for them to have never been born.

For that matter, why would the Elect be conscious if their consciousness had no bearing on their actions, as God knows exactly what they'll do in a given circumstance and manipulates events to cause the Elect to follow their inclinations in such a way as to be led to Salvation?

God's knowing what people will do in a given circumstance is part of his Sovereignty. Arminians do not deny this attribute. Predestination is taught by both Calvinists and Arminians, It has to be, it is mentioned so prominently is scripture. Calvinists teach "classic" predestination, while Arminians teach the "foreknowledge based" version.

The only manipulation suggested by Calvinism, and I agree it is radical, is that man is given a new heart, one that seeks God. And it is true that by this means he inevitably draws us to Him. At the same time, the free will is not dead and the old self is alive and kicking, causing a great deal of mischief for which we will have to make an accounting. So Calvinism does teach that (a) God violates our will be giving us a new heart and (b) The elect are irresistibly and inevitably drawn to him. But it also teaches that, far from robots, we are engaged in a constant, personal battle of the will against temptation and sin.

It seems to me that at least *some* volition is necessary on the part of the sinner. Let's say a man has fallen into a ravine, and while he's not seriously hurt, he's going to die if he can't get out. He's got a park safety brochure with him, and so he pulls out his cell phone and dials the ranger station for help, and they dispatch forces to help him. The rangers throw him a rope and tell him that if he'll just grab it and keep hold of it, they'll pull him up to safety. If he does so, then it is not of any act of his own that he got out except by calling for help. He is free to let go of the rope at any time, if for instance he distrusts the rangers or wants to make a go of extracting himself without their help. Similarly, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, I'm not sure they fell into utter helplessness. As they now had knowledge, they not only knew that many earthly pleasures might make them happier than obeying God, but also (or at least their later descendants did) that they had an escape from pain available by God's outstreched hand.

Yes, that is a classic Arminian metaphor. The problem is that it is not found anywhere in scripture, as much as we would wish it so. (Personally I don’t wish it so. I am happy that the only thing I contribute to my salvation is my sin.) What scripture says about fallen man is not that he is gravely ill, but that he is dead, and he can contribute no more to his rebirth that Lazarus could have assisted in being brought back to life. To wit, scripture teaches:

Not a pretty picture. Just look at one of them: We cannot please God. Would not our assent to the Gospel, from our natural will as demanded by Arminianism, please God?

Arminianism demands the impossible.

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.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Awaiting Christ’s Third Coming

Virtually all Christians believe in a rapture of some form or another, with the familiar definitive text coming from 1 Thessalonians:
16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.(1Th 4:16-17)

The questions which divide us are (a) when this is to occur and (b) whether there is a great seven year tribulation which occurs afterwards. More succinctly, does this passage refer to The Second Coming of Christ, bodily to earth, or does it refer to a secret second coming, or maybe the onset of The Second Coming, with the caveat that it takes seven years to complete.

The highly popular (and highly effective at generating revenue) 170 year young dispensationalist premillennial view proclaims the following complex schema:

The rapture occurs, resulting from a secret second coming, and the church is taken away. All non-believers are “left behind”.

There follows:
  • The appearance of the antichrist
  • The seven year “great tribulation”
  • The tribulation ends with the Battle of Armageddon, at which time Christ returns for the second time, a second time.
  • For 1000 years, Christ will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
  • The temple is rebuilt, memorial animal sacrifices are re-instituted (of all the aspects of this view, this one borders on an abomination, in my opinion).
  • At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released and a short-lived rebellion takes place. After it is crushed, the wicked are cast into the lake of fire and the eternal state begins.

Why is the rapture "secret"

This is complicated, and related to the belief that the tribulation occurs after the rapture.

The main reason is that Christ's "real" second coming is tied to judgment and the general resurrection. But neither (at least not the judgment of the wicked) occur before the tribulation, yet the tribulation occurs after the rapture. Hence the rapture cannot be the real second coming, but a preliminary secret mission to remove the church.

The church must be removed for two reasons; one is a red herring in my mind. The true reason the church is removed (in this schema) is so that God can go back to dealing with the ethnic Jews, a hallmark of dispensationalism.

However, another reason given is that there is scriptural support that believers are spared the tribulation. Unfortunately, there is also scriptural support that believers are not spared. In fact, if we look at the consummate tribulation text in the Olivet Discourse, we read:
19How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. 22If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matt 24:19-22)
Virtually everyone agrees that this is a description of the tribulation, and that elect refers to believers (independent of one’s view of predestination). Surely then, there are believers at the time of the tribulation.

No problem, say the pretrib premills, these are believers that come to Christ after the rapture. The are given a "second chance" as it were.

The real mystery to me is who wouldn't believe in Christ after they were left behind, at least those millions who know (from reading Left Behind) what happened.

But the house-of-cards is on shaky ground here, apart from purely common sense questions. Consider this passage
6And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. (2Th 2:6-8
The problem is this:
  • The He who removes His restraint at the start of the tribulation, freeing the antichrist to make his mischief is the Holy Spirit.
  • This is consistent with removing the Church—since the Spirit indwells believers, if you remove the Church you remove the Spirit, and vice versa. So far so good.
  • Exactly how are those left behind to become believers without the Spirit?

As I said, I think removing the church so that it doesn't have to endure the tribulation is not the real reason. The real reason is dispensationalism and its belief that God is not finished with the ethnic Jews.

On the other hand, is there precedent for removing His people to avoid a tribulation?

And God sent horrible plagues upon Egypt, culminating with the death of the first born. To spare the Hebrews from this great tribulation, He removed them from the earth, and kept them safe in the sky until the his wrath was satisfied, then he returned them to Egypt from where His servant Moses led them out of captivity.

Uh – no that is not how it happened. The Hebrews both endured the tribulation and yet were spared the brunt of it, in situ. The same will be true for the Church.

Secret? Some secret

Another problem is that the rapture, as described in 1Th 4, does not sound very secret. It talks about Christ visibly returning, with the voices of the archangels, and the shouts of trumpets. Possibly graves are split open as the dead in Christ arise. At any rate, this is hardly the "poof, they’re gone" as described in Left Behind. To avoid this problem, we sometimes are told that all these things do happen, but they are visible/audible only to the believers who are being raptured away. Convenient—and mentioned nowhere in scripture.