Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 3

On the previous part in this series, we talked about Blake’s problem with my saying that Scripture is underdeterminative about metaphysical causal predeterminism on Scripture. I clarified one misunderstanding, and clarified my (and everybody else’s) usage of the term.

Today, we’ll talk about objection 3, which has to do with the radicality of metaphysical causal predeterminism.

A. Complaint. Here’s what Blake says.

3. Divine Determinism as “Radical”

[…] Again, if the texts Calvinists use do not teach our “radical” form of determinism, Brendan ought to make a scriptural argument explaining how those texts are unclear. All Brendan does is assume his position and then conclude with his position, which is not overly impressive.

I believe that libertarian free will is a “radical” position, but merely asserting that carries no weight.

It is rather odd that an individual who would most likely align himself with the Protestant Reformation would make this claim. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, John Knox, Augustus Toplady, and George Whitefield, some of whom were reformers, all affirmed Calvinistic predestination/determinism. In fact, all reformed confessions that I can think of including the Westminster and London Baptist Confession of Faith affirm that God predestines all things: “God decreed in Himself from all eternity…all things which shall ever come to pass.” Belief in divine determinism was not much disputed within Reformed Protestantism until the time of the Remonstrants, which is one reason why the Remonstrants (Arminians) ought not to carry the title of “Reformed.” Determinism was not “radical” in the context of the Protestant Reformation to the Reformers, nor to those that followed suit. On the contrary, to deny determinism was radical. Indeed, Brendan’s libertarian free will position is the one guilty of radicalism.

B. Response.

Since this objection takes three broad parts, let me divine it and respond as briefly as possible.

1. He accuses me of just assuming determinism is false without a biblical argument. Apart from the obvious fact that I never statedly endeavoured on my original post to give a thorough biblical-theological argument about this problem (!), apparently Blake didn’t carefully read my previous rejoinder to his criticism, where I pointed out that, in the Bible, Free Will seems most consistent with: “God’s giving persons choices to make (e.g. Deu. 30), there’s being other ways things could have been in this world (e.g. Jer. 18:7-10; 1 Samuel 23:9-13), and God’s real disappointment with the way things do work out (e.g. Gen. 6:5-8).” (Emphases added.) Unless and until he can show that facts such as these are consistent with an eternal, causal, predeterministic, necessitarian, secret-but-apparently-we-know-what-it-is decree, I feel justified in inferring (Libertarian) Free Will on these grounds as most consistent with the text.

2. Blake also accuses (Libertarian) Free Will of being ‘radical.’ Blake is free to accuse all the ancient Church Fathers such as all the Ante-Nicenes, essential writers like the Cappadocians, the Apologists, even Augustine, and all the Medieval Fathers, including Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, then pre-Reformation non-Catholic independents such as Waldensians, Hussites, Lollards, and then all post-Reformation Anglicans, all Methodists, all Nazarenes, all Assemblies of God, all Pentecostals, all Lutherans  most Baptists — in short, just about every orthodox and/or historic form of Christianity both Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant — of holding to a ‘radical’ Free Will position. But that’s his business, not mine! The fact is: Literally nobody prior to Augustine and almost nobody after him held to the kind of metaphysical causal predeterminism that many (but not all) Calvinists hold to today. That, among other reasons, is why determinism is radical. Free Will in one form or another has always been accepted as orthodoxy in every major church denomination everywhere, including Westminster confessional Presbyterianism. Hard Determinism has always been rejected as heterodox at best, heretical at worst, and it has never been accepted as orthodox confessionally by any major denomination. It is accepted by almost no one, except by a few radicals here and there on the internet, and especially by young men without learning.

3. Last of all, Blake thinks that all Reformation figures and the entire Reformed Tradition held to metaphysical causal predeterminism, and he rejects out of the Reformed Tradition anyone who doesn’t agree with his niche position. Apart from the rather embarrassing implication that this assertion would place all confessional Anglicans (Article X) (which allows both for Free Will at Creation and after the Fall yet with Prevenient Grace) outside the Reformed tradition, I would just like to say this one thing: If Blake thinks the Reformation was about metaphysical causal predeterminism, then he clearly doesn’t understand what the Reformation was about. The context of the reformation was all about responding to Roman Catholic doctrine concerning justificationgrace and ecclesiology (not to mention hundreds of years of preceding independent non-Catholic and non-Calvinist churches–Waldensians, Hussites, Lollards, Anabaptists, etc.). The defining Reformation solae — scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and glory to God alone —  simply have nothing to do with Calvin and his ilk, who arose at least one generation later, after Luther. Calvin was merely a child (approximately eight years old, in fact,) when Luther hammered his famous Theses to the door of All-Saint’s Cathedral-Church, Wittenberg, in 1517. Calvin was a teenager when the issues were already being laid out on the table and debated fiercely by both Protestant, and Catholic, and others. How on earth can any responsible person who knows anything at all about the Reformation and the Reformed Tradition be so daring so as feel able to pontificate who is truly Reformed and who is not, simply according to what they think about Free Will and Determinism?! It is literally madness. I indite Blake Deal — both morally and intellectually — for making such an outrageous (and false) generalisation. Blake is being simplistic. His replies are simplistic. His doctrine is simplistic. His understanding is simplistic. Nobody, anywhere, can fairly look at Jacobus Arminius and say he is not Reformed. He was a Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian, for pete’s sake. Event the Synod of Dort (Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Article 1) confesses some form of Free Will at Creation prior to the Fall. All Anglicans are Reformed. But Anglicans are permitted to hold a variety of opinions on this matter. Blake’s lense is simply too narrow. But this isn’t “pin-hole photography Christianity”. This is Theology! This is where the serious men do their work; it’s not where the boys play.

I encourage Blake to put down the narrow pin-hole lense of the camera, and to take up the Theological textbook.


4 thoughts on “Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 3

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