Predestination in a Cheap Tux

A friend pointed me to this article by Roger Olson on the monster God of Calvinism, which, if logical demonstration were a verdant jungle in the Amazon, would be as bare as hell’s back yard. There are enough non sequiturs here to roll out to an appropriate thickness, in order to cut them up to use for awnings. But it is important to note at the outset that I would rather dip a right hand covered with paper cuts into a basin of verjuice than to overheat my rhetoric on a point such as this. This issue is far too important to distract the reader with a verbal tapioca that has three eggs too many in it. So to speak.

Okay, so if I had a gizzard, this line of argument would be down in it. But I don’t have a gizzard and so I can say all this in a spirit of mild composure, and am gazing over the terrain of this argument with the equanimity and serenity of a somnambulant Buddha.

The argument! What’s the argument? There are a bunch of things here that I will likely address in a few additional installments, so let me begin with just one, the one with a “kick me” sign taped on its back. Actually, there is more than one like that, so let me be more specific. Let me start with a brief, but very pointed observation about divine foreknowledge.

Now that I have gotten all that out of my system, let us turn to the question at hand. Enough with my squirreling around. I am sure that Roger Olson is a very nice man, and we puppets of fate have very little opportunity for normal humor. Being oppressed as we are by the immense weight of divine sovereignty, sometimes the humor just squirts out sideways, much like the way it goes when you drop a cinder block on a chocolate eclair.

Seriously, people, time to be serious. In an afterthought, Olson attempts to head off a Calvinistic comeback that says that Arminianism has the same problem, just not acknowledged. He says that “this is not the place for it.”

Furthermore, in support of this dismissal, he says, “Divine foreknowledge is no more causative than human foreknowledge.”

This misunderstands the objection entirely. If we could isolate divine foreknowledge, detaching it from God’s other attributes and actions, then this could be a reasonable point. If God’s foreknowledge were just like mine, only vast, then what is true of my foreknowledge at a given instant would be true of God’s foreknowledge at all those other instants. Fair enough. If I see a bicyclist hurtling toward a tree, I can have certain foreknowledge that he will hit that tree, and yet, because I am fifty feet away, my knowledge is in no way responsible for the collision. Why would this be different just because God can see ten bicyclists, or a thousand of them?

The answer is that He is the Creator of these bicyclists, and His foreknowledge includes all contingent foreknowledge. Contingent upon what? Upon His decision to create. That means that He knows what will happen on Planet Xtar if He decides to create it. The decision to create is therefore causative. The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation.

This means that divine foreknowledge is not — as mine is — the knowledge of a mere observer. You cannot grapple with the implications of this point unless you combine two points together. God knows exhaustively what will happen in this world if He creates, and because He created it, that act of creation was a decision that willed everything contained within the bundle.

God knows what will happen if He creates the tree and if He creates the bicyclist, and therefore the decision to create is nothing more nor less than predestination in a cheap tux.

And this is why Roger Olson has promised us that he will convert to atheism, which we will address in our next segment.

The After Deck of the Pirate Ship

Whenever I write on things like liberty and taxes, it is easy for some to try to stuff me into the wrong box. And upon my making this objection, some might expect me to go on to say that I hate labels. But actually I love labels, which are the precondition of all honest discourse. Con artists hate labels.

But the label should be accurate. I am no anarchist, and I actually am in favor of both liberty and taxes. I’m against parodies of either, and because these parodies are currently dominating the landscape, they are the problem which must be addressed.

The parody of liberty is found in the libertarian image of the fornicating pot smoker – but you can get high and get laid in a 6′ x 8′ prison cell. There is one who defiantly cries out that he wants more liberty – so that he can enslave himself ever more tightly in chains he has forged himself. But no tyrant has ever been successfully resisted by cluster of lotus eaters, however big the cluster might be. Virtuous people cannot be kept as slaves, and an effete and self indulgent people are made for slavery. It is their native habitat.

But the parody of taxes is the idea that general and indiscriminate confiscation is somehow in accordance with the rule of law. People who are subject to such treatment are not a free people, but rather are a huddled band of prisoners on the after deck of the pirate ship. In case you were wondering, that’s you right now.

Christ or Cocaine

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #186

And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:30–32).

Paul then advances another argument for the resurrection of Jesus. The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, and they understood that resurrection to be a guarantee of their own resurrection. It would therefore make no sense for them to establish a fraudulent faith that did nothing but jeopardize their health and safety if they knew that the dead were not raised.

By putting this argument forward, Paul is confirming a standard argument for the resurrection of Jesus, which is the fearlessness of the apostles—in contrast to their behavior prior to the crucifixion—in proclaiming that resurrection. The apostles had all seen the resurrected Jesus, and their subsequent behavior makes no sense unless they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

Paul is in danger every hour. Every knock on the door could be a raid. Paul avows, with his right hand on his pride in the Corinthians, that he dies every day. This is the meaning of taking up your cross daily, and following Jesus. Why would Paul have fought the way he did at Ephesus if the dead are not raised. He is very blunt about it. If there is no resurrection, then the only sensible option is to party on the lip of the abyss. In the Pauline logic, it is either Christ or cocaine.

Three Senators and a Leper

One of our great cultural problems today is that Christians do not understand civics. And by civics, I do not mean the “how a bill becomes a law” kind of civics, but rather I refer to our very common misunderstanding of the true nature of our appointed government. We have a particular form of government de jure, laid out for us in the Constitution, and we have another, very different, form of government, de facto, sitting atop Lady Liberty, strangling her to death.

Too many Christians, not wanting trouble, just blithely assume that whatever the Feds are doing is “more or less” in accord with the Constitution. There may be encroachments here or there, they think, but in the main things are okay. They further believe that our duty outlined for us in Romans 13 requires us not to look too closely at it.

Actually, it is the reverse. Our responsibility is found in Romans 13, but it requires us to look at this far more closely than we are accustomed to do.

It is not the case that the Federal government simply outranks local officials, the way (we think) a king outranks a duke. In a government of law, the king outranks all others in his appointed duties, and a duke outranks all others in his appointed duties. This is how separation of powers works.

“But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God” (2 Chron. 26:16–18).

So, simple question. Does a king outrank a priest? The blunt answer is that no, he does not. The law of Israel overarches them both, and tells the king what to do, and what he may not do, and tells the priest what he may do, and not do. These valiant priests who resisted the will of a conceited king were fully within their lawful right to do so. Uzziah was breaking the law, and the priests were not breaking the law by resisting him.

One Last Push

If you are coming to the Grace Agenda this year, we are looking forward to seeing you later this week. If you can’t make it, we would appreciate your prayers. About 600 are signed up, and we are pretty jazzed about it. And in case you missed this, the weekend is starting off Thursday night with a classic rock concert featuring Logos Dads’ Band, and concluding on Saturday night with Mozart’s Requiem. You could say we are mixed up in our musical tastes, or you could say we are catholic, but either way we are planning on having a good time.

Bonus feature: There will be a photo booth where you can take your own picture with our iconic couple, seen there on the web page

An Excessively Pious Mud Turtle

So admittedly I am a Calvinist yahoo, something of an Augustinian yob. If Calvinism were coffee, not only would I not take cream and sugar, or other foo-fooeries, but I would endeavor to make it a form of cowboy espresso, only without any steam. You take a tin can, put a horseshoe on the bottom of the can, cover it with the coffee grounds, fill it with water, and set it on the campfire. When the horseshoe floats, it is ready. To modify the metaphor, I believe what what the church needs today is more jet fuel Calvinism. Pastors today should cultivate a crawl-over-broken-glass Calvinism. No more preaching through Romans with the caution of an excessively pious mud turtle. Put yet another way, to reapply a phrase from Wodehouse, no longer should pastors ascend into the pulpit looking like a sheep with a secret sorrow. I say this, of course, in a manner free of all ecclesiastical partisanship, one-upmanship, or flag-waving. The exuberance I urge here must always, at all times, be kept within its appointed bounds, so long as those bounds are consistent with zeal for the Lord of hosts consuming us.

I say this, not because Calvinism divides evangelical Christians, but because it doesn’t. What divides evangelical Christians is their willingness to admit that, at bottom, their theology is Calvinistic. Some admit it and some don’t, but all are dealing with the same bedrock realities. So all Christians who acknowledge that God created the world ex nihilo are Calvinists in principle, and shall I elaborate?

By Calvinism I mean God’s absolute ownership of all that happens. In the words of the Westminster Confession, God freely and unalterably ordains whatsoever comes to pass. I am referring here to the fact of God’s absolute control over the world, not to His reasons for controlling it the way He does.

There are two basic tenets of Christian faith that we should review as we consider this issue.

1. The world is a screwed up place.
2. God put it here, and sustains it in its course, minute by minute.

Even the most aggressive open theist who holds to creatio ex nihilo holds to this, and holding to this has Calvinistic ramifications. And if these ramifications cause him to abandon creatio ex nihilo, he has at that point abandoned the Christian faith. It is hard to stay a Christian when denying the first lines of the Apostles’ Creed. It sort of dampens the enthusiasm for the rest.

So let’s bring it down to a very tangible question. Who is Lord of tomorrow? And by “tomorrow” I am referring to the 24-hour period following this one.

Worldwide there are about 500,000 murders per year. That works out to over 1300 murders a day, which in its turn comes out to almost one per minute. One UN report indicated 250,000 reported rapes or attempted rapes annually in the world, and because that is a number subject to great under-reporting, let us say the numbers are comparable to those for murder. But even if we don’t, that is an attempted rape every two minutes. A pretty grim picture.

Now, who is going to let this average tomorrow happen? Who has the power to prevent it from happening, but will let it happen anyway? Remember that we are not yet discussing what His righteous reasons are for letting it happen, but rather simply establishing the fact that the mess we call tomorrow will occur, or not, as the result of one decision and one decision only. The only one with the authority and power to prevent it from happening is God in Heaven. And He will not do that — or at least He didn’t yesterday.

Before we offer our respective theodicies, before we explain why God is not evil for doing this, we all must acknowledge that He has done this, and that He is the only one who has done this. And if we have agreed thus far, we have traveled a good distance together.

Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom (New York: HarperCollins)

I picked up somewhere that I was supposed to read something by the historical novelist Bernard Cornwell, so I choose this one. I enjoyed it, and it kept my interest all the way through. It was something like reading a well-written encyclopedia article, punctuated with battle scenes. This is a story about the Danish invasion of England, and King Alfred’s defense of it. Great descriptions of the shield wall.