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.

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Blannwich
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Blannwich

Yeah, for a time I read his blog to ensure that I wasn’t pulling from solely calvinist authors, pastors, and such. Ya know, I wanted to make sure I was hearing both sides of the story, getting balanced input as it were. But I read one post in which he stated he would sincerely have trouble doing ministry alongside a Calvinist, because of… well you know, what with all the moster-worship. I just can’t take this man seriously. I can look past his terrible argumentation, but to outright decline doing ministry along side a person like that was off-putting to… Read more »

Bro. Steve
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Bro. Steve

A long time ago I engaged in a discussion with a guy with a doctor’s degree in philosophy over this exact issue. He had this monster-god idea going on in his head, that the Calvinists (and the Amyraldians ) have made God into a Most Terrible Being by ascribing sovereignty to Him. The question I axed him at the time was, how is foreknowledge plus creation ethically any different from outright predestination? If you know what’s goan happen when you mash the button, and then you mash the button, what’s the logic for saying that what follows is none of… Read more »

jigawatt
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jigawatt

I love Aminians, God bless ’em, but I’ve never heard one accurately describe Calvinism.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Even Reformed types often think deistically.

Creating is a start. — but Who’s to blame if He continues to yank gravity’s pulling hand?

I read somewhere that even the winds and waves obey Him.

prayersofadoration
Member

That dude is messed up. He’s a functional atheist already, impaled on Euthyphro’s dilemma. Look at this from his first paragraph: If God [creates people for hell], then “God is good” means nothing other than “God is God”—a tautology. “Good” tells us nothing about God in addition to “he is God.” He thinks there’s some standard of goodness outside God. Of course saying God is good is a tautology; it cannot be otherwise. God created everything that is not himself from nothing, therefore any standard you might use to check God’s goodness is either something God creates or it is… Read more »

Moor
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Moor

I feel a little out of my depth philosophically here, and perhaps even theologically, but in an attempt to sharpen my thinking on this, I’ll forward my first thought in response and see if it holds any water. Feedback would be most helpful in refining my thinking. Why wouldn’t we say, even if we affirm a connection between our conceptions of “good” and “the good” and God’s conceptions of “good” and “the good” (even calling it God’s “conception” sounds to my ear like a limitation), that our conceptions of “goodness” ought to be subservient to God’s “conceptions” of “goodness”? That… Read more »

Drew
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Drew

“The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation.” True, but I think the Arminian concern about Calvinists is that Calvinists often talk about God as if God WANTS the reprobate to be reprobate. If an ice sculptor creates an ice sculpture for a wedding that is scheduled for a hot, sunny summer day, he may KNOW that his creation will melt, and yes, in a sense, he is causing it to melt because he created it knowing that it would melt–but that doesn’t mean he WANTS it to… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

Drew,
The difference is that the creator of the ice sculpture is also the creator of the sun, and the legislature that determined ice would turn to water at 33 degrees. Which is, I believe, Pastor Wilson’s point- when God is the one who creates and arranges all the “variables” nothing is variable and what will come to pass will come to pass. Thus creation with foreknowledge is in no way morally distinct from sovereignly bringing something to pass, since it is also sovereignly bringing something to pass.

Matt
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Matt

Lot of bluster here, but like it or not Roger Olson is right about the Calvinist monster god. Granted, the Calvinist comeback is right too…this is a problem with Christianity as a whole rather than just one single branch. Calvinists just decided to turn it up to eleven, perhaps hoping that then no one would notice the issue.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Drew,

A being that does not get what he wants is not omnipotent.

“Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”

“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Bryan
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Bryan

I appreciate the observer vs. Creator distinction you draw out. Can I push a little further and see if you would agree with the sentiment that God, by the very nature of being himself, cannot act passively? In other words, could we say that God’s sovereignty is so pervasive that God cannot help but be active in all that happens? I’m not equipped to easily search the original languages to check this statement exegetically. But even if an example were found in the original languages of a passive verb being ascribed to God, the point could still stand theologically by… Read more »

RFB
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RFB

Matt,

Please define “monster” only using the attributes of a Thrice Holy God Who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, Who because of His Holiness, is owed eternal praise from all of His created beings.

David R
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David R

@RFB – 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 1 Timothy 2 :4 says that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. So there is some tension here between what God wants or desires and what God has purposed.

Moor
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Moor

matt Do you not see the irony of your pronouncement regarding the presence of “bluster”? Or the irony of your accusation that others are escalating the tone of the debate? You seem to want to present yourself (here, and to my mind, in most of your posts) as an objective commentator who stands outside the fray and introduces occasional statements of perspective or who helps frame the larger debate. This role, of course, is an important one that gets filled all the time in various settings (though never truly by a purely objective person), but your rhetoric and general antagonism… Read more »

jigawatt
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jigawatt

Matt, RFB’s question is a fair one, but I’d rather hear what an omnicient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolant god would actually look like. How would such a god be different from the Christian God? Honest question here, no sarcasm – I really want to hear what you think.

RFB
Guest
RFB

RFB,

Do you believe that God wanted, wants, and always will want people to suffer in Hell for eternity? Do you believe that God wanted, wants, and always will want people to sin against Him?

You gotta own that if you’re a TULIP Calvinist.

RFB
Guest
RFB

David R.,

A rationale explanation of those “all’s” requires that one determine the subject audience of the epistle.

Your first reference (2 Peter) seems to have a clear elaboration of this principle; the mention of “promise” and “us” defines a delineated group.

Matt R
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Matt R

The decision to create is causative of all the things that the Creator knows will follow from that particular creation.

Anyone who believes in libertarian free will would deny this. I happen to believe that libertarian free will is unintelligible, but Olsen was right that this is a separate issue and is irrelevant in response to the objection to Calvinism he is presenting.

RFB
Guest
RFB

I did not write the below italicized statement, even though it appears that someone is posting under my name:

RFB,
Do you believe that God wanted, wants, and always will want people to suffer in Hell for eternity? Do you believe that God wanted, wants, and always will want people to sin against Him?
You gotta own that if you’re a TULIP Calvinist.

Drew
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Drew

@RFB

Sorry, that was me, in response to your previous comment. I promise it was not intentional.

Matt
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Matt

RFB, there you go, from the article. …if God creates some people, created in his image and likeness, for hell or even merely “passes over some” when he could save them (because election is unconditional and grace irresistible), then God is not good in any meaningful sense. The only way to salvage this is to retreat to the “man can’t understand God” position, which is not so much answering the objection as avoiding it. …but I’d rather hear what an omnicient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolant god would actually look like. With this world? I’m no theologian, but I think you can… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

Drew and Matt,

I will attempt to answer your questions later today; daily priorities for now.

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

With this world? I’m no theologian, but I think you can have two of the three at most.

Ok so say one arrives on the scene right now. What’s he going to do?

Andrew Lohr
Member

Can C.S.Lewis be good if he created the white witch to do evil things and be killed by Aslan?

Matt R
Guest
Matt R

I think I’m noticing a pattern here. Please correct me if I’m missing something, but it seems to me that a lot of the arguments on this blog consist of the following two steps: 1) Assume (incorrectly) that your opponents share your presuppositions. 2) Reductio! For instance, to prove that Stephen Fry, as an atheist, has no grounds to make a moral judgment, he 1) assumes that morality is determined by authority, and 2) demands to know “Who says?” Or take his position on gay “mirage.” He 1) assumes that marriage is heterosexual by definition, and argues that 2) therefore… Read more »

Dan Glover
Guest

Matt R,

You said: “For instance, to prove that Stephen Fry, as an atheist, has no grounds to make a moral judgment, he 1) assumes that morality is determined by authority, and 2) demands to know “Who says?”

Try this: Stephen Fry is pronouncing his morality authoritatively. Doug Wilson is essentially asking Stephen Fry why he thinks he is authoritative.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi Jigawatt, I wondered if this Arminian Catholic could take a crack at defining Calvinism, and if you would kindly correct me where I go wrong. I have heard many Calvinists say that no one outside it can define it accurately, and I think that problem is exacerbated by Calvinists who do not agree among themselves. So this is my understanding of the Doctrines of Grace, omitting those beliefs that are common to all Christians. (1) God is sovereign over all things, has purposes known only to Himself, and has not only foreseen but foreordained everything that was, is, and… Read more »

doug sayers
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doug sayers

DW, you certainly win the prize for witty and condescending rhetoric but I confess to having mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, as one who’s been freed from Calvin’s irresistible grip, I am happy to see you ratchet up the mockery as this will assure that your influence will be limited to the small market niche of the pugnaciously Reformed. But on the other hand you have so much to offer, in terms of biblical knowledge and gifting, that I hate to see you run people off. (To be fair, not all of your attempts at humor were… Read more »

James Bradshaw
Member

Doug S writes: “If God “caused” or “wanted” Adam to eat from the tree then why would He command him to abstain from it? If Adam had no power of contrary choice then the command to abstain, upon penalty of death, is a sick joke.”

Not at all. The command to not do that which must come to pass (and could not have been otherwise) is a good thing. How do we know? Because … that’s why. Can the clay say to the potter and all that? Sit down and quit asking impudent questions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkJcFGvNgcY

scm
Guest

This quote from Tozer has been helpful to me over the years as I have gotten on and off the fence:

“God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination, and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, ‘O Lord, thou knowest.’ Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”

JohnM
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JohnM

No, Olson is not the best apologist for Arminianism. Olson’s core argument always seems to come down to sounds-so-awful-it-can’t-be. That more than exegesis, which is disappointing. Now I’m hardly the best apologist for Arminianism either and I’m not going to offer any detailed exegesis, or any proof texts – though Arminian’s got those as much as Calvinists do. Overall though, it’s simply that a plain reading of scripture in general leads me to broadly Arminian conclusions, and I could only reach Calvinists conclusions by filtering most of scripture through the Calvinists presuppositions that I don’t get by a plain reading… Read more »

Doug Sayers
Guest

Thanks James B, your post illustrates two points I was trying to make.

Remember, “God is God and you’re not!” can go both ways; in fact, it can go any way you want it to.

If we build our entire soteriology on our feeble assumptions as to the scope of God’s omniscience and how He chooses to use it then we build on some thin philosophical ice.

Christopher
Guest
Christopher

“…if God creates some people, created in his image and likeness, for hell or even merely “passes over some” when he could save them (because election is unconditional and grace irresistible), then God is not good in any meaningful sense.

The only way to salvage this is to retreat to the “man can’t understand God” position, which is not so much answering the objection as avoiding it.”

Given that all people created in Gods image deserve hell is it not good that some are saved?

“Given the pervasive and pointless level of suffering through history”

What makes the suffering pointless?

Tom
Guest
Tom

When the Son cried out to the Father, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” was it not with genuine lack of foreknowledge?
God submitted to God’s will, even to the point of death on the cross.
God is love. God is good.

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

Jill Smith, thanks for your reply. Yes, Calvinists can be a disagreeable bunch, not the least of which is among ourselves. So my assertion that I’ve never heard an Arminian describe Calvinism, I’m limiting it to Calvinism as I understand and believe it. I’m kinda busy right now so I can’t go into detail, but your outline is … let’s say a decent start. Real quick, (2) is not specific to Calvinism if you’re just talking about our imperfect conscience. And (4) is getting close to the lapsarian controversy, which I won’t touch with a ten foot pole. Also lots… Read more »

Moor
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Moor

I know we were told by the original article that we aren’t allowed to name “mystery” as a factor in this debate, but it seems like such an obvious and important one.

That God is able to foreknow everything, but that this foreknowledge doesn’t render humanity incapable of exercising free will, is a profound mystery.

That God foreordains everything that comes to pass, but that this fore-ordination doesn’t negate human agency, is a profound mystery.

In both cases, I am perfectly content to let the word “mystery” aid in my articulation of Calvinism — limited as that articulation might be.

Jane
Member

“When the Son cried out to the Father, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” was it not with genuine lack of foreknowledge?”

No, because that wasn’t a genuine question, it was a scriptural allusion.

To suggest that Jesus didn’t have foreknowledge of God’s purpose in the cross is pretty much to ignore the Psalms, prophets and the Gospels up to that point.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Given that all people created in Gods image deserve hell is it not good that some are saved? It would be if God were not in control of all this (omnipotence, omniscience). If he were simply doing the best he could to salvage the situation that has gotten somewhat out of control then we could call that good. But he created the situation, with full intent that it turn out as it has, and in response deigns only to save some portion despite that it would cost him nothing to do more. What makes the suffering pointless? You tell me:… Read more »

Matt
Guest
Matt

Ok so say one arrives on the scene right now. What’s he going to do?

You mean if an omnipotent/-scient/-benevolent God arrived? I don’t know what exactly he would do first, but going back to Stephen Fry, getting rid of bone cancer would be a fine start.

Jane
Member

Matt, the question isn’t “what is the point of smallpox” but “what is the point of a particular person having smallpox?” Unless you know there’s no point in any specific case, you can’t assume there’s no point to the existence of the thing at all.

Maybe you can argue that there’s at least one case in which there was no point in that person having smallpox, but unless you do, you can’t assume there’s no point to smallpox existing at all.

prayersofadoration
Member

If he were simply doing the best he could to salvage the situation that has gotten somewhat out of control then we could call that good.

Lol no. He’d massively incompetent and criminally negligent.

You tell me: what was the point of smallpox?

God’s glory. What? You don’t see how? Is that any surprise? He would have to be pretty small to fit in your understanding.

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

Matt-
There is a very well articulated theology of suffering but beyond I’ll put that aside for a moment. God has decided that men may live a certain time and then die. What does it matter if the means is smallpox vs something else? I believe you were in support of reasonable measures for population limitations on another thread so I would think that you would see the strictly utilitarian benefits to creation of limiting man’s lifespan on Earth.

Matt
Guest
Matt

He’d massively incompetent and criminally negligent.

Perhaps, but surely that’s better than criminally responsible.

God’s glory? So you imply that now that man has eliminated smallpox, God’s glory is diminished? That’s certainly an interesting take.

Matt, the question isn’t “what is the point of smallpox” but “what is the point of a particular person having smallpox?”

You could ask both ways. But along that line, what is the point of anyone getting smallpox?

Matt
Guest
Matt

What does it matter if the means is smallpox vs something else? Well does it matter to you if you live 40 years or 80? I assume it does. For that matter, it would matter a whole lot to a baby who dies of some infection in infancy. I agree that in a finite world, some form of death is necessary to make it work at all. Hence why I don’t really believe the Garden of Eden story. But the details do make a difference, and dying in your sleep at 80 is a bit different than dying of plague… Read more »

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

Forty or 80 doesn’t make a big difference to me. If there is no eternal life then the thought of only living 80 years is maddening. Its the blink of an eye. If there is eternal life then the life I’ve lived on Earth is plenty.

Barnabas
Guest
Barnabas

Its ironic that the more technology removes pain from out lives the larger the problem of pain looms in our general consciousness.
Suffering and death are a fact, I don’t see any point in getting mad at God about it. I have a feeling that if you spent a while thinking of suffering and death from an evolutionary standpoint you would begin to find some beauty in its cruelty. Why can’t it be beautiful as a part of God’s redemptive plan?

Tom
Guest
Tom

Jane,
Yes, Jesus had foreknowledge of the cross, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel abandoned as he took the place for our sin.
The point is that the answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is at the cross.

Moor
Guest
Moor

The turn in the discussion reminds me of Romans 9… 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were… Read more »

Matthias
Guest
Matthias

Matt, if God exists, then the world would be exactly as it is. This means it’s a bit shortsighted for anyone to point to how the world is in order to argue that God somehow doesn’t exist. Make sense?

Matthias
Guest
Matthias

Also, Matt, from what is it that tells you what a god either would or should be like?