Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 1

A little while ago I wrote a blogpost on whether or not we must believe in metaphysical causal predeterminism to believe in Divine Sovereignty. I argued that there is no necessary or logical connection between a biblical understanding of divine rule and authority and the philosophical thesis roughly that all events are causally necessitated by causal factors outside themselves (such as a god or gods) moving them irresistibly to do what they do. An American friend has taken issue with me on several key points, and I’d like to respond briefly to his blog over a new series of posts. 

My structure in this series will be: Quote my friend (‘Complaint’), then pick out two or three things to respond to (‘Reply’). I don’t have time to respond to everything in minute detail.

So let’s begin.

A. Complaint. Blake says:


1. Denial of Determinism ~ “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago?” ~ 2 Kings 19:25

It is unfortunate that free will theists often discuss these issues irrespective of Biblical revelation. Brendan’s blog post is no exception to this. Why should Calvinists deny determinism when no compelling evidence is offered demonstrating that Calvinist proof-texts do not teach what Calvinists say they teach? If “scripture is just undeterminative as to precisely just how to make sense of divine government over the world,” then Brendan ought to take the time to prove this from scripture. However, this claim that scripture is “undeterminative” and imprecise regarding these issues is almost more troubling than the denial of determinism.


B. Reply. Three discernible problems:

1. Take 2 Kings 19:25. This is illustrative of a big problem that always appears in Determinist proof-texting (more on that general method below). Note one select translation says God ‘determined’ something. (The Hebrew word has also been translated to (fore)ordain, to plan, or to do.) But how does Blake know this determination is the same kind of metaphysical, causal pre-determination of all events whatever espoused in Calvinist philosophy? There’s just no way to find out. Furthermore, what, exactly, did God determine? That King Sannacherib of Assyria might trample down cities. Was this uconditional? Was this irresistible? Not a word of mention. Maybe God raised him up so that he might freely march on Jerusalem–an event that may have been avoided, according to Jeremiah 18:1-10. Blake is guilty not only of inserting deterministic philosophy into the Bible, but also a hasty generalisation. He infers a whole, systematic, philosophical network into the word ‘determined’ when we can just as easily interpret it non-deterministically (in the philosophical sense). 

2. Blake thinks it’s a problem that I haven’t responded to various Calvinist “proof-texts” which teach metaphysical, causal predeterminism. Two things. First, the whole point of what I said is to try and undercut the philosophical insertion into scripture that metaphysical predeterminism really is. It is a philosophical network placed over texts trying to make sense of divine government of history. Secondly, I resolutely refuse to get into proof-texting — a useless eisegetical methodology which conflates contexts and disrespects the text, in my opinion. If something like proof-texting is being used to support the metaphysical causal predeterminists, I’d say that unsound methodology is a part of the problem.

3. Blake thinks my rather humble and modest claim that scripture is underdeterminative with respect to the specific philosophical way we make sense of meticulous divine government over the world is more troubling that determinism itself. Apart from the question-beggingness in favour of determinism inherent in that statement, I notice that Blake hasn’t offered us any reason to think that this kind of a statement by me is illegitimate. Consider the issue of God and time. Does divine eternity mean God exists timelessly eternally without time? Or does it mean that God is simply beginningless yet everlasting throughout time, existing at each moment of time? Christian philosophers agree that Scripture is underdeterminative about this; it simply does not state the precise philosophical conditions required to decide between cases. That is what I am suggesting with Divine Sovereignty. The metaphysical causal predeterminism folks need to realise that a whole lot more goes in to proving metaphysical causal predeterminism than one-off statements about God being in control and that he directs and is involved in specific historical events. Much more is included in that philosophical thesis, and thus much more is required than what scripture alone says. There is a whole blanket systematic theology required that goes beyond simple biblical theology. And my claim is that metaphysical causal predeterminism (nor free will, for that matter) is established by scripture alone.

Next time, we will walk through Blake’s second objection to my post.

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