Limited Atonement and the Fallacy of Negation

I recently read a blog by a blogger named theidolbabbler arguing for Limited Atonement (see here). He argues that Limited Atonement is a doctrine so obvious that it is scandalous that anyone shouldn’t see it in scripture. His proof? Two texts (Colossians 2:13-14 and Romans 6:5-7) in which the Apostle Paul teaches that Christ died for the sins of God’s people, the church, or believers. This somehow supposed to prove “the teaching within Calvinism which states that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect… and that He did not bear the sins of every individual who has ever lived.” But is it at all obvious?

As I commented on the blog, the author is simply engaging in the so-called “fallacy of negation” and therefore deriving a faulty inference from the data.

You see, the text where Paul teaches that Christ took on himself the sins of believers, “having nailed them to the cross,” is certainly true. But does that prove that Christ did not die for the sins of unbelievers (or, more precisely, those who will/can not ever become believers, as per divine predestination)?

The faulty inference to Limited Atonement comes from saying that because Paul intends, in that context, to pick out a particular set of people’s sins who were nailed to the cross (namely, the elect/believers), that therefore it was only and particularly those who are believers/elect that Christ died for, and nobody else.

A similar mode of thinking is employed whenever people point to texts from Matthew, Ephesians or John saying that Christ for the sins of “his people”, “his Bride” or “the sheep.” The idea is that because the text speaks restrictively, therefore it speaks exclusively and only to the negation of all other people.

But that’s completely wrong-headed. That basically commits the fallacy of negation.

For example, say I have three children — Chris, Tom and Emma — and I’m talking to a friend and say, “Gee, I’m proud of Tom; he’s done so well in school,” do I therefore mean to communicate to my friend that I am NOT proud of either Chris or Emma, and that Chris and Emma have NOT done well at school? Of course not! Just because I restrict my speech in a context to Tom alone does not mean the opposite is true for Chris and Emma; I’m just restricting my speech in a context for a purpose of talking about Tom; I say nothing neither here nor there about the others.

So if, in the world, the numbers {1, 2, 3} represented all people, and {2} in the set is the elect, then it does not follow that because Paul teaches Christ died for {2} that therefore he did not die for {1, 3} also. That will not follow on any rule of logic. What you will need is a more specific text teaching that it was the elect and the elect alone, with nobody else, that Christ died for. But I think you will find that difficult, especially given the universal language of Christ’s provision apparent elsewhere (e.g. 1 Jn. 2:2).

Finally, two comments. I think the motivation behind this kind of thinking for Limited Atonement is either systematic attraction to make Calvinism seem whole and cohesive (divine predestination and election of a particular people: election of them alone, grace for them alone, Christ for them alone, etc.) and a subsequent fear of its opposite, namely, Universalism. However, I think Limited Atonement is a problem for both these purposes:

(1) Limited Atonement makes Total Depravity redundant. Even if sinful people had full fee will, with no need of grace to believe, then they could not be forgiven anyway if there was no atonement for them, so Limited Atonement is not necessarily harmonious with other Calvinist doctrines, and;

(2) Christ’s providing atonement for all does not necessarily mean effectually atoning for all. There is a difference between provision and application in the atonement. Interestingly, Universalists and Limited Atonnement advocates both deny the distinction between provision and application, taking them to be virtually synonymous or at least co-extensive, such that everyone Christ provided for is also a necessary effectual recipient of that provision. However, Unlimited Atonement proponents always make a distinction between provision and application, the latter being a subset of the former, as application is conditional on belief, whereas provision is made for all anyway. Unlimited Atonement is the position that Christ provided atonement for all, by atones effectually and really for believers alone. In making this distinction, Unlimited Atonement is thus wholly different to both Limited Atonement and Universalism.

So I see no reason to infer Limited Atonement from those texts.


A. W. Tozer on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) was one of the finest Christian thinkers and preachers of the relatively recent past. I have only just become familiar with him quite recently, but have been delighted to share in some of the insights of his writings.

One such insight that I have particularly appreciated is that found below on the topic of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

As an Arminian, I have never understood the Calvinist insistence that divine sovereignty and control implies that human beings cannot be granted (libertarian) free will. I have always thought it rather obvious that a God who may do whatever he pleases with the powers of the heavens and the earth can make man such that he does possess free will.

I have never encountered a quotation such as Tozer’s that so perfectly encapsulates and summarises my view on this topic at current.

Thus, without further ado, here it is; the quotation from A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Authentic Media, 2008), pp.144-145:

[p.144] “Another real problem created by the doctrine of divine sovereignty has to do with the will of man. If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice? And if he cannot exercise freedom of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct? Is he not a mere puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the strings as it pleases Him?

“The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man. It appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing violence to either, although the effort that follows may prove deficient to partisans of one camp or the other.

“Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will [p.145] of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”

Notice that Tozer first acknowledges the real difficulty in discussing divine sovereignty and human freedom. He therefore does not so presume to state his opinion lightly. Nor is he so proud or dogmatic so as to suppose that his word shall be the final and all-encompassing say on the matter.

Yet, to me, what he then goes on to say is simply masterful. He asserts that it is possible — nay, that it is, indeed, the case — that God has sovereignly decreed that mankind should have free will. Whatever choice man then makes in this capacity God has given him, man fulfills that original decree, not in that God causally determined and thus necessitated any one particular choice any given man should make, but that in so making the choice, that man has thereby exercised that rational capacity of free agency that God, by his sovereign free will, has decided that mankind should have.

The one quibble I would have with Tozer is that it seems implicit in his quotation that he believes that this is a middle ground between two extremes of Arminianism and Calvinism, one which denies divine sovereignty and the other that denies genuine human free will, respectively.

Yet if one were to compare what Tozer says to what writers such as Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley say, then it would actually become apparent that how Tozer has explained his position falls squarely within the Arminian camp. For on Arminianism, the freedom of our will just is a sovereign gift of divine grace in creation and salvation — in creation, as subsisting in the nature of man in original righteousness (that which was lost in the Fall); and in salvation, as God draws us who are totally depraved and thus unable of ourselves to come to him by His Spirit, and softens our hearts through Prevenient Grace in order to enable us sinners freely to come to Himself.

So rather than being a middle way through Arminianism and Calvinism, I believe Tozer’s point of view is an example of genuinely classical Arminianism. Perhaps what Tozer thought was Arminianism was actually Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. For that, we can forgive him. For it is a common misconception among those who are not sufficiently acquainted with the original writings or Arminius, Wesley or the Remonstrants that Arminiainsm is Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian.

Nevertheless, classical Arminianism is genuinely a theology of grace — grace from beginning to end — with a sovereign God who loves his creatures, and gives each one a libertarian free will to make genuine, moral choices, and we fulfill his sovereign decree for us to have a free will whenever we exercise that moral capacity that God has given us by his grace.

‘The Case for Inclusivism’: An Arminian Response

I recently read a 2012 blog post written by Kevin Jackson over at Wesleyan Arminian on The Case for Inclusivism. This blog particularly interests me as a classical Arminian, as I am an Exclusivist, yet Kevin also believes, “All Arminians ought to reject [E]xclusivism for the same reasons they reject Calvinism.” His blog has so much to say about God’s love, grace, character and nature, the Bible, and Christian tradition. In the gentle and tender spirit of the original blog that is characteristic of Kevin (which I love so much), I’ll keep my thoughts and responses as charitable as I can. But I must confess that this will be a long post, as this subject is of such extreme interest to me.

Here’s the structure of this post: First, I’ll provide Kevin’s own definition of Inclusivism. Second, I’ll provide some brief comment on Kevin’s proposed reasons in favour of adopting Inclusivism. Third, I’ll present a very brief biblical case for Exclusivism from Romans 10:14-15. Finally, I’ll provide a logical illustration of why this is perfectly in accordance with all those godly doctrines Kevin and I both hold dear as Arminians; namely, God’s goodness as most maximally expressed in his universal saving desire and intense agape love displayed for all through Jesus.

1. Kevin’s Definition. Here’s how Kevin defines Inclusivism:

“Inclusivism is the Christian doctrine that teaches it is possible to be justified through Jesus Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who he is.  Specifically, [I]nclusivists hold that it’s possible that some who have never heard the preached word can still be saved through Christ.”

From this, I assume that Kevin defines Exclusivism as any position that rejects Inclusivism. Well, alright then. What are the reasons Kevin offers in favour of the Inclusivist view?

2. Kevin’s Reasons in Favour of Inclusivism. Kevin provides several thoughtful and important ideas for us all to consider when thinking through this issue. I like to characterise each one, and provide some comments.

2.1 Biblical Support.

Kevin starts by citing one text after another which indicate to him that Inclusivism is probable. I won’t go into them in detail. But all are of the nature or character somewhat as saying that God loves the whole world ad sent Jesus on behalf of the whole world.

This is in no doubt true. But it’s not obvious why this should support a thesis of Inclusivism.  How does it follow from the love of God for us that that love need not be consciously reciprocated by us toward Him in order to enter into a saving relationship with Him? If justification by faith is anything it is a relationship with the holy Father of the living Christ through indwelling of the Spirit of God who speaks to our hearts. It may be more charitable, then, to interpret these verses not as making probable Inclusivism, per se, as much as providing evidence for a premise that is a step in an argument supporting Inclusivism, that step being, namely, the love and grace and mercy of God that is directed toward the whole world, which I believe to be true. But Exclusivism can make sense even under this notion, as I hope to demonstrate below.

2.2 Every Tribe and Nation?

Kevin advocates the problem of the unevangelised as an argument in favour of Inclusivism. “People from every tribe and nation will be represented in heaven,” he says. The inference to Inclusivism seems to work by saying that there have surely been many tribes in existence in the past history of the world that never heard the Gospel. But since every tribe must be represented in order for the Scripture in Revelation 7:9 (and elsewhere) to be true, then it is necessary that at least one person from every particular human people group be saved.

I have two thoughts in response to this. First, how does Kevin know that there have indeed been tribes that have gone extinct outside the reach of Christ’s people and their message? Second, even if such tribal groups (such as the Teotihuacan people, whom Kevin cites) have gone out of existence as a full-blooded people, why couldn’t they be represented in their later progeny, who are known to God? Scripture often identifies descendants with their fathers (e.g. Matt. 23:29-31; Acts 7:51; especially Ezekiel 16, etc.). Kevin’s argument would actually make necessary that at least one person directly from every people group must be saved. But that seems highly counter-intuitive.

2.3 Mercy Trumps Doctrine — The Good Samaritan

Kevin makes use of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 and links it to Matthew 25:31-46 as a demonstration of Inclusivism from the fact that the Samaritan is apparently an exemplar of what it takes to be a saved, in that this semi-Pagan (which is what Samaritans were, hence, Kevin’s correct citation of even Jesus’ Jewish disciples’ hatred of them) is nevertheless person who, being judged according to what they have done, will receive mercy from God.

But, clearly, Jesus’ parable is not supposed to be a demonstration of what it takes to be saved. Rather, Jesus’ parable rather seems like demonstration of what genuine love of neighbour should look like. In response to the question “Who is my neighbour?” in Luke 10:29, Jesus takes to task this so-called “expert” in the Law with the story, and shows that our being lovingly neighborly to someone consists in our showing love to them in practical and self-sacrificial ways. But it’s not obvious that Jesus’ teaching is supposed to have the implication that anyone who is a good person in this way will receive mercy. Indeed, that seems like a works-righteousness error, which Kevin rightly wants to avoid. And indeed, from an Exclusivist point of view, surely such love of neighbour flows out of a living faith in God! We ought to love our neighbour because we first love God as a proper mode and expression of that love. Hence, the command to love our neighbour is secondary to the first and the greatest commandment which is to love God. And, certainly, the Lord Jesus preached to many Samaritans who believed (John 4:1-42).  So maybe Jesus was pointing to a believing Samaritan and not one of “the heterodox heathens” of Jesus time, purposefully order to contrast him an unbelieving “expert” in the Law! In any event, it doesn’t seem this story strictly supports Inclusivism as a thesis.

2.4 The Shortcomings of the “Biblicist” Argument

Kevin seems unconvinced by arguments which say Inclusivism is false because there is no explicit biblical reference that indicates something like it is true. There are other doctrines, he says, that are not explicit but that we infer from other passages; e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity, or the doctrine of prevenient grace, or salvation for those die in infancy.

Well, I take great issue with this. It is true that we can infer that which is not explicitly stated based on other principles. But does Kevin seriously think something as fundamental and foundational as the Trinity has no explicit biblical backing? Try sharing that with a Jehovah’s Witness. Or does Kevin really think that Prevenient Grace — which just is the name we give to the calling, convicting, enabling work of the Holy Spirit through the preached Word of God prior to salvation — not explicitly affirmed? (Maybe Kevin has a slightly different view to me about what prevenient grace is, as a Wesleyan and not Classical Arminian.) Surely it is. No, I don”t believe you can derive a formulation like three hypostases (or persons) in one ousia (or essence)” from the Bible. But I do think you can get monotheism, three distinct persons, coequality, coeterinity and complete love and unity in one Godhead; and that’s all we need in order to get a doctrine of what we call a triune godhead.

I do, however, agree with the general spirit of what Kevin says. Of course you can infer doctrines form general biblical principles. That’s mostly how I infer and believe in infant salvation. I do believe scripture teaches that children are not held morally guilty for their fathers’ sins (cf. e.g. Ezekiel 18). But I also infer it from my knowledge of the love and mercy of God revealed more broadly in Scripture, reason, tradition and experience (a quadrilateral Wesleyan flavour there!). God would not damn children who have not consciously sinned and rejected him of their own accord.  The problem is that I also think heathens who are outside the present ‘range’ of the preaching of the Christian people do indeed consciously reject God out of their lives. More on that below in section 4. Furthermore, I do think there is some explicit biblical indication that people need to hear, being convicted by and repent and believe the Gospel to be saved from their sins. More on that below in section 3.

2.5 Inclusivism in the Early Church

Kevin also finds support for Inclusivism among certain early church fathers. Certainly the classical world was very reprobate at that time, and they would have been conscious about the extent of the unreached. I doubt the modern world is less reprobate; perhaps even more so.

Well, I don’t have much to say to this given my ignorance of the patristics. Save except two thoughts. First, surely, the vast degree of heathenry is the very reason for the urgentness of spreading the message. Why travel all over the Mediterranean like Paul and why go to India like Thomas, being battered, bruised, abused and ultimately murdered, if you thought people could be saved without hearing of Christ? Why travel over the Atlantic Ocean to the American Indians, like Wesley did, if you thought they could be saved despite worshiping their Great Spirit and who knows what else? Second, even if some of the fathers did say it, what if some of the fathers were in favour of a literal body-and-blood Eucharist, or the veneration of icons, as the Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox allege to support their practices? It seems to me that if any ancient bishop said anything, the first thing we ought to do is challenge them to show it to us form the Word of God. And if they couldn’t do that, because they didn’t have a Bible, then how could we agree with them in conscience? I certainly couldn’t.

2.6 Exclusivism is Synonymous with Calvinist Thought

Last, Kevin provides a real stinger for an Arminian: Exclusivism is Calvinist in character. There is no practical difference, he says, between God’s not giving grace to everyone (Calvinism) and God’s justly leaving someone in their sins outside the Gospel-word (Exclusivism). “All Arminians ought to reject [E]xclusivism for the same reasons they reject Calvinism,” he says. “Our view of God’s character demands it.”

But surely there is a difference. For in the Exclusivist case, God is being just in leaving people in their sins, even according to Kevin (“God justly [emphasis added] leaves them in their sin”). But in the Calvinists case, surely God is not just. On Calvinism, God calls people to repentance, but then specifically does not give them the grace sufficient for their repentance. But God then holds them accountable for not repenting, even though God knows that the only reason they do not repent is that eh doesn’t give them the grace necessary for that end. That isn’t just. That’s a foolish game. But on my story about Exclusivism, at least, God does give people grace, such that they can be held morally accountable before him for rejecting, though this grace is not of the kind such that, simply by responding to it in the right way, people can be saved by virtue of it. I will explain my story below.

Now let us move onto how I think Exclusivism is both biblical and makes sense, even in light of those doctrines about God’s universal saving desire and amazing free grace both Kevin and I hold dear as Arminians.

3. Exclusivism is Supported by Romans 10:14-15. For me, the question is not just what seems most right to say, but important, too, is what does the Bible also explicitly say. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” says the Lord (Proverbs 3:5). And: “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). I’m sure Kevin would wholly agree with me on this point.

But it is here, on the Bible, where Inclusivism fails — so I will argue. With this in mind, then, let’s turn to Romans 10:14-15, which is, to me, a kind of foundation text for Exclusivism in the same way that John 3:16 is a foundation text for the love of God for the whole world through the Gospel. Here’s what it says:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15; cit. Isaiah 52:7.)

Let’s place this passage in its proper context.  Immediately, it forms part of the Romans 9-11 discourse on the unbelief and justification of the Jews, so the object of speech here (“they”) will be the Jewish people and not people in general. This of course takes place in the wider context of the whole book of Romans, which is arguably a discourse on the whole of salvation from beginning to end: its reason, its cause, its grounds, its purposes or ends and its consequences, and so on and so forth. Historically, Paul was clearly writing to the culturally mixed church(es) in Rome, which was a metropolitan mixing pot of the cultures and languages and customs of about 1.5 million Greek, Hebrew and Latin (etc.) people. Paul’s concern seems have been to clarify so misapprehensions about both Jew and Gentile in God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the whole world.

Well, alright then. How does this section make Exclusivism more plausible than not?

Notice how in Romans 9-11 how very concerned Paul has been to take the preached word to his own people. Why? Especially given 2:12-15 and 3:3:9-19, we have already seen that everyone breaks the law of the conscience or the written law by virtue of the rejection of the Creator who has revealed himself in the creation. Therefore everyone is under God’s judgement and needs to be justified by faith (Rom. 4). The purpose of the law, then, is to convict human hearts of their sinfulness and need for the saviour Jesus.

This seems incompatible with Inclusivism in this way: that faith is the instrument by which we become conjoined to Jesus Christ. What is faith? Is it not a confession of his Lordship, and a submission to the facts of the atoning sacrifice for sins and resurrection of Jesus from the dead by the  power of the Father? “For if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.: (Rom. 10:9). This salvation by faith is an active and conscious believing. So the belief is necessary for this salvation. This then serves as the motivator for our verse selection.  For Paul believed that it would not be possible for the Jews who had broken the law — that very same law of conscience that is broken by the Gentiles in Romans 2 — having never heard of the Christ, to have faith and be saved. For “faith comes by hearing” (10:17), and this is the reason the feet of the evangelist are called “blessed” (10:15). Paul characterises faith as a necessary requirement for justification, but he sees both the preaching and the hearing of the gospel word as a necessary condition for having faith. But it therefore follows that both the preaching and the hearing of the gospel word is a necessary condition for justification, and thus salvation. o you cannot be saved without hearing the preached word and, by faith, obeying it. But then it follows that what Kevin has defined as Inclusivism is false. It is not true that one can be saved through Christ without an explicit knowledge of who he is. For the clear proclamation of Christ is included in the preaching of the gospel word as its essential expression, such that there cannot be any gospel that is preached if there not be a clear understanding of Christ and his atonement and resurrection that is communicated.

Without this understanding of the passage in an Exclusivist sense, how can we make sense of the rhetorical force of Paul’s questions in Romans 10:14-15? For every question Paul asks, the Inclusivist has a quick-and-easy answer. But that’s a problem. The apostle is not looking for an answer that would defeat his point to motivate gospel-evangelism to the law-breaking and faithless Jews. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Inclusivist answer: They don’t need to. “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” Inclusivist answer: They can’t, but that doesn’t matter. “And how will they hear without a preacher?” Inclusivist answer: They don’t need one. The Inclusivist doctrine simply undermines Paul’s justification for motivating the preaching that he does. Therefore, we should reject the Inclusivist doctrine as contravening rather clear Scripture on this point. I, at least, cannot see how Inclusivism can fit with Paul’s point in Romans 10.

4. Exclusivism Makes Sense.

Despite what may seems to be a highly intuitive biblical case for Exclusivism, it may still seem unjust. So let me provide a story of how it may be the case that, when people perish outside Christ and faith in him in an unreached area, they may be plausibly wholly culpable for that state of affairs and God still remain wholly loving and just.

Imagine Exclusivism is true and there is an area in the world “R” that is unreached. It therefore follows that for any number of sinful people {1, 2, 3} at R, nobody can be saved. That seems unloving or unjust. But now imagine there is another continent “C” where the gospel is present. At C is a missionary named “M”. Now imagine that God reveals himself to all people everywhere in general revelation of nature and conscience. It follows that {1, 2, 3} and M all have an awareness of the Creator, and can be held accountable to their response to that revelation, as per Romans 1:18ff. Now let’s imagine God has the following disposition: For any person at all {1, 2, 3…}, if that person responds to general revelation in the right way, I will send a preacher to that person. Now imagine that at R, person 1 responds to general revelation in the right way. Therefore, God will send a preacher to person 1. Let’s say that person is M. God somehow moves M at C to go to 1 at R, and to preach the gospel to 1 at R. This may take place in various ways. But when M moves to R and preaches to 1, 1 is granted prevenient grace to believe and be saved. Furthermore, if 1, 2 and 3 are all in a single community at R, it may also follow from M’s being at R that 1, 2 and 3 hear the gospel and are enabled by prevenient grace to respond and believe even if persons 2 and 3 did not respond to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience in the right way. So it is still possible by God’s mere grace that complete unreached rebels hear his gospel, believe and are saved. Now, clearly,  when 1, 2 and 3 hear the gospel (say), perhaps 1 and 3 reject it but 2 believes. In that case, prevenient grace has becoming effectual saving grace, and 2 is born again. God has therefore saved 2 by grace through faith by the preached word, and justly condemned 1 and 3. But what if 3 never heard at all? What if he perished? I say he would perish justly. Why? Because he would have sinned and remained rebellious by rejecting the general revelation of God in nature and conscience. Who knows how constant and continual is the common grace of God in his general revelation to us that we may hear and respond to it, that he may send a preacher. But if we are so proud such that they will not even respond to that, then their condemnation seems just.

5.  Conclusion.

So I would counsel Kevin to rethink his thesis. His argument is not very strong, and it seems easy (a) how Exclusivism would work on an Arminian view, and (b) that the Scripture indicates that conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. But let us now turn to a more pastoral note.

If Paul believed that the sending of a preacher was necessary to his own people of the Jews — those who had the written Law! — how much more those Gentiles on the outside, who do not even keep their own law of conscience that God has placed in their hearts? Remember, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, given our desperate sickness and sinfulness (Jer. 17:9), God has lovingly given common grace for all people around the world that they may respond to His general revelation in the right way, have a preacher sent to them by God, hear the Gospel of God’s love displayed for them, be convicted by that message through the Spirit, repent, believe and be saved. This story seems perfectly acceptable.

I do take very serious the Scripture in Acts 17:24-28 (and with this I end):

24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

Here we see the glory and the love of God for every man. Paul, standing in the most pagan place, the Areopagus, speaks the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who had never heard. He proclaims that God has made each and every single person in the whole world and placed each one in all their respective locations and circumstances that they might seek and know Him. For God wants to be known by each and every man He has created, and to be found by them. Nobody is lost due to accident of circumstance, or time, or geography. People are lost for rejecting God. And all have rejected God. All have sinned. Therefore, all need the Gospel. “How blessed are the feet of those who bring Good News.” This motivates us for mission in parts of the world we have never been to. This takes us to the corners of this dark world which is “without God and without hope” (Eph 2:12). Let us then take the news of the Lord to all the ends of the earth, and fulfil the great commission He has given us.

Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 5

Let’s talk about Blake’s fifth objection to my original post. If you didn’t see my previous discussion about the principle of alternative possibilities, or PAP, then see here.

A. Objection. Here’s Blake’s fifth issue:

5. The Charge that Calvinist Determinism is Primarily Philosophical

It is the ultimate irony that an Arminians would accuse the Calvinist of philosophical sophistry regarding the issue of divine determinism and the sovereignty of God. Brendan calls the Calvinist doctrine of predestination i.e. determinism, a “biblically unwarranted,” “extra-biblical, philosophical-theological construct,” that resembles “secular philosophical presuppositions.” It is ironic that Calvinistic biblical predestination is accused of being anti-biblical philosophy, when some Arminians, perhaps even Brendan, regard Molinism as a system that may be able to resolve the issue of divine foreknowledge and human free will (the difficulty of which does not exist within Calvinism). If one asserts that Molinism is more agreeable to biblical revelation than Calvinist predestination (which is really just biblical predestination), then such an individual is thoroughly confused. Arminian doctrine of libertarian free will and the undeterministic sovereignty of God is the one that is guilty of an “extra-biblical, philosophical-theological construct;” a Greek philosophical construct in particular.

B. Response. I think it would help if I were to explain what I meant by calling metaphysical causal predeterminism primarily “philosophical.” Since I’m a student of Philosophy at the University, I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way. All I mean is that I can detect in the Calvinist’s understanding of the biblical concept of “divine sovereignty” a metaphysical doctrine of determinism underlying their understanding of how this biblical concept make sense. The criticism would then be when the Calvinist makes this metaphysical doctrine a necessary condition for divine sovereignty, when it is not at all obvious that this doctrine can be strictly derived from the text of Scripture. In other words, I don’t think you can do strict, inter-textual exegesis and prove that Moses, Paul, John or James or whoever had something like this in mind. What determinism becomes then is not an exegetical derivation, but rather a philosophical mechanism (such as middle knowledge) to explain biblical data such as divine control, divine foreknowledge, divine power, divine prophecy, divine purposes and so on and so forth.

Determinism. In the broadest possible sense, x determines y to do R if and only if x somehow causes y to do R in such a manner that y cannot but do R. This can be spelled out and nuanced in various ways. But the general idea of determining is that makes do the thing that does, and cannot but do the thing is causing to do. Determinists tell different stories about this. Some determinists even think this is compatible with having a form of free will.

Just take a look at that broad definition of determinism. Clearly, just by looking at it, you can see that it doesn’t come from the Bible. Does that mean that it is false? Not necessarily. Determinism is a philosophical explanatory framework for other sets of data found in the Bible {A, B, C}. Anyone who thinks this kind of a philosophical story makes sense given the scriptural data {A, B, C} could endorse it. The mistake is thinking that determinism is derived from {A, B, C}, rather than being consistent with and perhaps explanatory of {A, B, C}.

Now the obvious question is: Is determinism in fact consistent with all the data {A, B, C}? Well, imagine:
A = people are given choices by God to do P or Q;
B = people are morally responsible for what they do;
C = God is not the author of sin.
Could a deterministic explanatory framework make sense of this? Some people (like Blake) say Yes. Others (like me) say No. We think some kind of Libertarian Free Will framework makes most sense.

And that’s the thing. I wholly admit that Libertarian Free Will is a philosophical explanatory framework of the biblical data. By calling determinism such a framework I did not mean to say that Free Will is not such a framework. The question is which framework makes most sense of the biblical data. So, imagine these data {D, E, F} where
D = God accomplishes all his purposes;
E = God is in control of world history, persons, events, times, places and locations, etc.
F= God predestines some but not others to eternal life.
Can Libertarian Free Will makes sense of this data? Some people (like me) say Yes. Others (like Blake) say No.

Any sound philosophical theology or explanatory framework will have to deal with all the biblical data {A, B, C, D, E, F} and not just selections such as {A, C} or {B, D, F} or some other subset of all the data. I, too, and keen on James White’s insistence that we have not only sola scriptura (scripture alone) but also tota scriptura (all of scripture) in our theological formation.

Next time, we will talk through Blake’s sixth objection to my original blog.

Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 4

Previously, we replied to a rebuttal of to my claim that determinism is radical. Now, we’ll tackle Blake’s fourth objection that the Principle of Alternative Possibilities does not make sense on given several facts held to by Arminians.

A. Complaint. Here’s what he says:

4. Principle of Alternative Possibilities

[Quoting me.] “Well, freedom (in the Libertarian sense) roughly means to be the first un-caused cause of one’s own activities (agent causation) and by implication to be free and able to choose from a range of several alternatives (principle of alternative possibilities, or PAP).”

Arminians cannot even believe this. In Roger Olson’s summary of Arminian doctrine, he states, “Left to themselves, without the liberating power of grace, sinners will not exercise a good will toward God.” This is the case because Arminians affirm that humanity is unable to please God and obey him until God enables them to obey through prevenient grace. Therefore, before one receives this prevenient grace from God, sinners have no “alternative possibilities” other than sin and corruption.

Also, just to mention briefly, the Bible lists tons of evidences and situations when God hardens a person’s heart or compels someone to make specific decisions. Are we expected to believe that individuals who were compelled by God to make certain decisions were “able to choose from a range of several alternatives” contrary to God’s purpose? Was Caiaphas able to choose not to prophesy (John 11:51)?  Unfortunately, Arminians may respond that he could have.

The concept of PAP is also contradictory to the historic Arminian doctrine of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. If God knows everything that will happen then humans are not free “to choose from a range of several alternatives,” but by necessity choose what God foreknows we would choose. There is no alternative possibility other than what God foreknows will happen. Brendan had mentioned to me previously that this is a difficulty in Arminian theology. There are individuals who have tried to overcome this problem of divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will. Among those who have ventured to do so include William Lane Craig, and his utilization of Molinism.

B. Response. There are at least three parts to this: (1) total depravity and prevenient grace, (2) divine hardening, and (3) the (in)compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

First, let’s define the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP). Essentially, PAP is the doctrine that a person is morally responsible for their actions only if they could have done otherwise than what they did. PAP is taken to be a necessary condition for libertarian free will. Given two choices A and B, when you choose A, you could have chosen B.

1. Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace. Blake thinks the doctrine of total depravity and necessity of prevenient grace negates PAP because, left to ourselves, in our natural and fallen state, we can’t exercise a good will towards God. On this both Arminians and Calvinists agree. But I don’t see how this negates PAP. I agree with John Wesley that, even in a state of darkness, one is free to choose between a variety of sins! So there are alternative possibilities in what we choose to do as graceless fallen creatures, but it’s just that whatever we choose to do, it will be morally evil.

I think this highlights a general issue that I’ve noticed in Theology discussions about free will. I think the way Theologians talk about “free will” is a moral/spiritual quality to love God. But in Philosophy, all we PAP-affirming Libertarians are talking about is a raw choice between any two alternatives A and B, irrespective of their moral content.

2. Divine Hardening. I also agree with Blake when he says there are times when God hardens our hearts, but I don’t agree that God ‘compels’ us to do what we do. His signature case fr compulsion is Caiaphas’ prophesy. But I don’t see why we have to interpret that speech-act as divine compulsion. Rather, I think what we see here is a person freely speaking about Jesus, where God’s Spirit’s revelation coincided with those words spoken freely by the High Priest as a prophesy. After all, Arminians think nobody can even lift a finger much less speak words without divine concurrence. Arminius believed that God must empower us and sustain us even to do the very mundane day-to-day things we do. So God perhaps concurred with Caiaphas’ speaking the relevant words that God could use to say something true about Jesus.

I think divine hardening is an interesting case. My interpretation of God’s hardening of a person’s heart is when God simply hands that person over to do what they want to do. Romans 1 talks about this giving over to sins. hen God calls us to do the right thing, and we choose the wrong thing, God might just hand us over to that, and that will lead to our becoming hardened. Actually, Pharaoh’s story is really interesting in this respect. For although the Bible does say that God hardened the King of Egypt (Exo. 4:21, 7:3, 10:1, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8, 14:17), the same Bible also says that this same King hardened himself (Exo. 8:15, 32; 9:34), and other times it does not specify who hardened whom (Exo. 7:14, 22; 8:19; 9:7). So it seems there is a human element going into play here, and that seems compatible with PAP.

3. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Blake also thinks that PAP is inconsistent with God’s knowing what we will do in the future. But I’d like to point out that it’s not obvious that if we will choose a certain path of action and God knows what it will be then we could not have in principle chosen another course of action. But I don’t even think Blake characterizes it fairly. For he says if we will choose a path of action at a future time, and God knows it, then we will choose it “from necessity.” Where did that come from? I don’t know how Blake is forming his objection. But if Blake’s argument is something of the form
(1) Necessarily, if God foreknows that P at t, then P at t.
(2) God foreknows that P at t.
(3) Therefore, necessarily P at t.
then Blake is probably making the mistake of illegitimate transferring the modal operator “necessarily” from premise (1) to premise (3). For whereas (1) simply makes a claim about the infallibility of God’s foreknowledge of a true future proposition P at t (given the infallibility of his knowledge in general), the conclusion (3) makes necessary not God’s knowledge of P at t given the truth of that proposition, but it makes necessary P at t itself, which is obviously a mistake. Or, put in another way, (3) doesn’t follow from (1) and (2), and so the argument is logically invalid.

Put more charitably, I guess this is just an argument-plug for the incompatibility of freedom and foreknowledge. But it just isn’t clear what Blake is arguing, or what his argument form is. If Blake wants us to think there is a problem between God’s knowing what we will do and our ability to do otherwise then what we will do, then he needs to provide some relatively complicated story of why that is supposed to be a problem. Intuitively, there’s no problem with having the metaphysical causal powers to do something different in principle even if it turns out you won’t do otherwise. That is, it doesn’t follow from the point that you can do otherwise that you therefore will. But I guess that’s just the whole debate.

A brief note on Molinism, too.  Molinism is not, per se, an answer to the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom, as Blake seems to think. Molinism is a story about how future contingent truths get the truth-values that they have. Molinism has a mechanism to explain that in such a way as the Simple Foreknowledge proponent does not. But Molinists still have to deal with the freedom and foreknowledge problem along with Simple Foreknowledge proponents.

Next time, we’ll talk about Blake’s fifth objection to my blog.

Open Theism is Better than Calvinism

I have noticed an interesting trend on part of the neo-Reformed New Calvinists to say that Open Theism is a “heresy.” A heresy is not just a mistake. It is an error that damns the soul of person that holds it. To be a heretic is to hold to (and perhaps also actively to teach) a heresy. It is logically incompatible to be a true believer and to be a heretic at the same time. It is a deadly accusation to call somebody a heretic, and it is therefore never to be used lightly.

But Calvinists (and others) ordinarily call Open Theism out for heresy. But what is this alleged heresy? And why is it a heresy? In this extended post, I will attempt to do three things. Firstly, I will  begin with an excursus on omniscience (part 1), then I will describe Open Theism (part 2). Then, I will explain Calvinism according to one of its major tenants (part 3), followed by an excursus on what “events” are, and what kinds of events there are (part 4). Finally, I will compare an explanation of sin on Open Theism and Calvinism (part 5), and then provide some reason to think why, given a choice between Open Theism and Calvinism, all things being equal, Open Theism is arguably the best option (part 6). I will then add a brief disclaimer to quell any worries the reader might have about the author (part 7). 

Let us begin by taking an excursus in order to define “omniscience”.

1. What is Omniscience?

What does it take for a person to be “omniscient”? According to the standard definition, a person is omniscient if and only if a person knows all true propositions and believes no false propositions.

(A “proposition” is a truth-apt statement, that is, any statement that can be true or false. For example, “the door is open” and “God loves me” are truth-apt sentences; but neither commands, nor questions, nor ungrammatical statements such as “Open the door!”, “Is the door open?”, or “is door open can” are truth-apt statements; they are therefore not propositions.)

In other words, an omniscient person knows all true propositions and believes no false propositions. 

Classically, God is conceived of as an omniscient person (or being). Therefore, God knows all true propositions and believes no false propositions.

Now, let’s turn back to our original discussion about Open Theism. 

2. What is Open Theism?

Open Theism is a form of free will theism. It is a thesis about what is true about any free being “x”. Such truths may include: x is a free being, x is a person, x had (past tense) black hair and now has (present tense) blonde hair; x is in need of salvation by grace through faith apart from works; x has peace with God.

To be “free” on this form of free will theism is to have Libertarian Free Will. Libertarian Free Will very roughly is the view that free persons cause themselves to do what they do, and for any course of action they choose to do, they could have done otherwise than what they did. Both agent causation and the principle of alternative possibilities feature in this perspective. People who hold to this perspective debate among themselves whether or not having this kind of free will is reconcilable with God’s having divine foreknowledge about what you will freely do. 

Open Theists are people who take the view that divine foreknowledge is irreconcilable with this kind of human freedom. But since we do have such freedom, God mustn’t know what we will freely do. 

Open Theism isn’t technically a thesis about this irreconcilability per se. This follows from something else that the Open Theists (generally) hold to.  

Just what is that thing? Well, Open Theists (generally) think that it is not true that there are truths about what free creatures will freely do do at any future time. So, given the whole set of truths about libertarian free beings, future free acts do not feature in the set of true things about those beings. 

Now let’s come back to our definition of “omniscience.” Remember, a person is omniscient if and only if that person knows all true propositions and believes no false propositions — and God is such a person. 

What does one logically get when one combines (A) omniscience and (B) Open Theism? It follows from (B) that there are no truths about what any libertarian free being will freely do at any future time. It follows from (A) that an omniscient person such as God does not know what is not true. Therefore, on (A) and (B) it follows that (C) God does not know what a libertarian free being will freely do at any future time. Therefore, the future is said to be “open”; there is no fact-of-the-matter about what free creatures will freely do. 

Now, that’s no problem for omniscience, so defined. For if it is the case that there is no fact-of-the-matter or truth about what any free being will freely do, then God will not believe anything about what that free being will freely do, since that belief would be false. This no more impinges on omniscience than would God’s not believing that you have ten heads. That proposition would be false. So God doesn’t know it.

Now let’s turn to defining that one basic tenant of Calvinism I mentioned.

3. What is Calvinism? 

Calvinism is many things. But among other things, Calvinism is a form of theological determinism. That is to say, on Calvinism, God causally predetermines everything that comes to pass in time — including the acts of the creatures. For example, the Westminster Confession talks about how “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” in time. And the Canons of Dort, speaking of divine predestination, do often speak of the “unchangeable purpose” (I.7) by which God freely chose “a definite number” (ibid.) of people from among the fallen human race (which he decreed should fall) for eternal salvation, concerning which the cause is “exclusively the good pleasure of God” (I.10); those “chosen ones” (2.9) whom God has loved with an “eternal love” (ibid.). From teachings such as these (although there is more that goes into it), all Calvinists are determinists in one way or another.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions[.]” On Calvinism, the “antecedent events and conditions” of every event — past, present and future — are somehow set by God. Therefore, we say God causally determines every event, past, present and future. In common parlance, this is often talked about as God’s being “in control,” his “Sovereignty” and his “eternal decree.”

Now we must take another excursus, this time on “events.” 

4. What is an event?

We said that, on Calvinism, God causally predetermines every “event.” We should also see how, on Open Theism, there is no fact-of-the-matter about what free-agent-caused future events there will be. But it may not be obvious to everybody what an event is. Here, we simply mean it in the ordinary sense of “something that happens.” This could be more precisely specified. But it will do for now. 

Here, then, is an alphabet-length list of examples of quite ordinary/common “things that happen”, or, events:

a. singing
b. jumping
c. walking
d. falling
e. rising
f. flowing
g. being righteous
h. striking your toe and screaming “Ouch!”
i. spilling milk
j. making a sound
k. making love
l. being cruel
m. lying
n. stealing
o. masturbating into a chicken-corpse
p. being selfish
q. dropping the Atom Bomb
r. sexually molesting a young child
s. raping someone
t. turning from sin (repentance)
u. bullying somebody
v. wife-beating
w. being racist
x. blaspheming God
y. believing in Jesus
z. apostatising 

This short list of events is quite an interesting one. Some are morally ambiguous/neutral {a, b, c, d, e, f, h, i, j, o, q,}, and some are morally good {g, k, l, t, y}, but others are morally evil {k, m, n, p, r, s, u, v, w, x, z}. 

With these in mind, let us turn to our comparison of Open Theism and Calvinism, and then we’ll close.

5. Sin: An Open Theist and Two Calvinist Explanations. 

Take another look at all the evil things on that list, {k, m, n, p, r, s, u, v, w, x, y, z}. Some of them have to do with people’s being cruel to other persons; others to being cruel to God. All of them have to do with failing to love God and failing to love neighbour. In other words, all of them have to do with spitting on and rejecting “all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). That is, they are all “sin.”

Sin happens all the time. It is, indeed, the greatest problem in our world. Sin, being lawlessness, or the transgression of the Law, is the work of the Devil, which Jesus Christ appeared in order to destroy (1 John 3:4, 8). Sin also grieves God, and kindles his wrath (Genesis 6:5-6; Romans 1:18). 

Let’s say a sin happens tomorrow. Let’s say you are the one who commits the sin. How does one explain that?

Say you’re an Open Theist, and you believe the future is open. What do you say? Well, technically, you can’t say the sin will happen tomorrow. That is future. So what you ought to say is: Ia sin happens tomorrow, then I alone cause it. You would have caused your sin at that future time, and you alone are responsible for that sin. 

What if you’re a Calvinist, who believes God causally predetermines all things, past, present, and future, as we have already defined it? Well, it depends. If you’re a Hard Determinist you must say that God alone is the cause of your sin. There is no “free will” of any kind at all. God alone has set it up that you must sin, and that by necessity. God has “unchangeably ordain[ed]” you to do what you will do. So the real explanation for your sin is not yourself, but God. 

Maybe that sounds a little bit harsh to you; it seems to undermine human responsibility for sin. Actually, I, the author, purposefully left out the second half of what the Westminster Confession said earlier. Maybe you think God has “unchangeably ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to past” — including (and perhaps especially) your own, personal, sin. But maybe you agree with Westminster that this is done by God in such a way “…yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” That is to say, maybe you’re a Soft Determinist or Compatibilist . You think that God has “unchangeably ordain[ed]” all the sin that you ever have done, that you are currently doing, and that you ever will do. On this account, you maintain moral responsibility because you, voluntarily and willingly, commit the sin that you do, and that’s roughly what freedom means — to be voluntary. But it is still true, you think, that God “unchangeably ordain[ed]” your sin. You are simply implicated by virtue of the fact that you are the one doing it voluntarily.

Well, alright then. Let’s move on to the final analysis. 

6. Why Open Theism is a Better Explanation than Calvinism, all things being equal. 

6.1 Calvinism. We said that Calvinism is a form of theological determinism. That is to say, God causally predetermines everything that comes to pass in time — including all your sins. But we then clarified that there are two kinds of Determinism: Hard and Soft. On Hard Determinism, God alone works to bring about some event in the world. There is no freedom of the will on this view. On Soft Determinism, however, God indeed causes you to have the dispositions and feelings that you do, such that you voluntarily do what you do. But you are the one that does them. Nevertheless, it is God who sets the necessary and sufficient “antecedent events and conditions” for your sin on this view. Therefore, on Soft Determinism, it is indeed you. But it is also God.

What do I think of this? Just this. Frankly, I believe the Calvinist explanation(s) for sin is deplorable. Nay, it is truly despicable: it is the highest of the blasphemies, the crudest of false religion, and it is perhaps among the darkest of the doctrines of the demons. I have no comprehension as to how any Christian person could ever look at their own sin and believe that God had somehow set it up that it had to be that way, and that “unchangeably” as Westminster says. 

Take a look at Hard Determinism. On this view, God alone makes me do what I do. Then he blames me for doing the thing that I did. Even though not only did I have no choice in the matter; I also did not cause the thing that I did. That’s what Hard Determinism means! On Hard Determinism, I am treated by God as responsible. But I am not actually responsible. Not even Almighty God can make a single square circular, nor make 1+1 equal 6. No. God alone is responsible for my sin on this view, and not even His saying otherwise could make it otherwise.

What about Soft Determinism? On this view, it is not only God who “unchangeably ordain[s]” the sin that I do. It is also I who freely and voluntarily sins. I am therefore responsible, under this definition of freedom. But here’s the problem: If it is both God and myself who brings it about that I commit the sins that I do, then it still logically follows that it is God who brings it about that I commit the sins that I do! If (A and B) is true, then it follows trivially that (A) is true.  But then not only am responsible for my sin, God is also responsible. And that’s not good enough! Simply because I subsist as a truly guilty and responsible sinner under a Compatibilist framework, it doesn’t get God himself off the hook immediately. For he, too, would be implicated in the sins that I do, in that he determined them, and set up the necessary and sufficient “antecedent events and conditions” bringing it about that I would sin voluntarily and yet by a necessity of that “decree” most “unchangeably” and yet “freely” delivered up by God “from all eternity” — and that by necessity.

So both Hard and Soft forms of Determinism really end up with the same result: in both cases, God is responsible for my sins. He is thus the Author of Sin — the source or origin of sin — even as much as Westminster should like to assert to the contrary. The only difference is that in the one case, God is wholly responsible and I am not responsible at all, despite my being treated wholly as such; and in the other case, both God and myself are wholly responsible, even though I alone am punished as such.

6.2 Open Theism. What about the Open Theist view? Remember, Open Theism is a form of free will theism. Human beings have Libertarian Free Will, and are not determined by God or anyone else but themselves to do what they do. Whenever they do what they do, they could have done otherwise than what they did. So if you sinned, you could do otherwise than sin. Instead of blaspheming God, you could have sung to him instead. Instead of raping that child, you could have cared for them instead. Nothing necessitated you to do the thing that you did. Nothing necessitates you to do the things that you will do. You have the power. And the choice is yours. 

I think that this view makes very, very easy sense of human moral responsibility and divine goodness — much better and easier sense than any one of the Calvinist views. You yourself caused yourself to do what you did. God is not responsible for what you did. You are truly, solely blameworthy for what you did. God didn’t know the thing you would do. But you did it. And he is angry. 

But what about divine permission? Did God not have to permit you to do the thing that you freely did? Could God have not prevented it? 

The answer is yes. God could have prevented it. But there is a world of a difference between not intervening and causing/determining. Perhaps God has morally sufficient reasons to permit the evil and suffering in the world. Or maybe free will requires that God not just intervene any old time, or for any old reason. In any event, answering a question about why God permits all the evil in the world will be a whole lot easier than answering the question of why he caused it, and made it necessary

6.3 Conclusion. Back to the original thought at the very beginning of this blogpost: Is Open Theism a heresy? I don’t think so. It is consistent with the omniscience of God, as classically conceived. It also does no injustice to God’s goodness. If anything, Calvinism has a lot more to answer for on the latter point, and I think that it is much more dangerous to be in a position that risks the goodness of God than in another position which does not. Therefore, I say that, all things being equal, were one to have to have choose between both alternatives of Calvinism and Open Theism, one should go for Open Theism every time. Anyone with even the smallest sense of the goodness of God and the depravity of man should look upon the Calvinist’s dark, deterministic doctrine of the demons, and see the former depreciated and the latter dancing across the church doorways. Any Calvinist who indites an Open Theist as a heretic simply for denying divine foreknowledge of human actions needs to take a look at their own doctrines first. A God who is implicated in setting up one’s own, personal, moral evil. What a theological disaster determinism is! It ruins the goodness of God, stains his character, thus making a mockery of our Maker even to entertain the thought that he is involved in our personal sins.  

7. Brief Disclaimer.

For anyone who might be wondering, I, the author, am not an Open Theist. Call your minds back to part 2 when I said this about Libertarian Free Will:

“People who hold to this perspective debate among themselves whether or not having this kind of free will is reconcilable with God’s having divine foreknowledge about what you will freely do.”

There are two broad camps in this kind of free will theism: Simple Foreknowledge and Open Theism.

Open Theism we have already described. On the other hand, Simple Foreknowledge simply says (pun intended) that God simply foreknows what we will freely do. But he doesn’t cause or determine what we will do. Classical Arminians typically take this position. Alternatively, or perhaps complimentarily, Middle Knowledge is an explanatory schema trying to make sense of how it is so that future contingent truths get the truth-values they they do. Those who endorse this explanatory schema are typically referred to as Molinists. Molinism on Protestantism is broadly Wesleyan and is thus a form of Arminian Theology.

END. 3265 words.