Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grudem 16b: God's Providence 2 (Concurrence)

Continuing my summary/evaluation of Grudem's chapter on providence. Again, this is the chapter where Calvinists differ most from Wesleyan-Arminians.
B. Concurrence
Grudem defines divine "concurrence" as follows: "God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do" (317).

The understanding here of God's "cooperation" with human action is subtle and needs to be understood very carefully. In Grudem's view, humans feel like they are acting freely even though God is really behind the scenes making them do what they do. We experience our actions as free actions even though God is really directing them. This is a position that William James called "soft determinism" in the ate 1800s. [1]

To capture the logic, we might skip ahead to the section on human responsibility: "God has created us with the characteristic of being responsible for our actions" (333). For Grudem, this is the starting point. By definition, he is saying that if a human shoots the gun, then the human did it and is responsible. It does not matter if I have hypnotized you, manipulated you, or somehow brainwashed you to make you pull the trigger. It does not matter if I am the one who has entirely made you want to shoot your wife and created the circumstances under which I know you will shoot her. By definition, if you want to shoot her and shoot her, you have willfully shot her by definition and are responsible, even if I made it such that you could not possibly have done anything else.

Accordingly, by definition, God does not do evil. "The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature, whether man or demon, who does it, and the creature who does evil is always worthy of punishment" (329). This is true for Grudem even though ultimately, "God ordained that evil would come about through the willing choices of his creatures" (328). Again, according to Grudem and others like him, God makes us want to do evil. God creates circumstances in which it is not possible that we would do anything but evil. But because we are the ones who do it, we are responsible and God is not.

This is just the way it is, by definition. Grudem will later respond to the Arminian critique of this scheme. The Arminian responds, "If a man uses a lever to move a rock... 'the lever is not a true second cause but is only an instrument of the real cause of the movement... In such a system man contributes only what has been predetermined'" (340). [2]

Grudem does not deny that it works in this way, that we are the instruments of God's will like a lever. He simply denies that the person or "lever" is not free or responsible by definition. For Grudem, Scripture defines being a lever, as it were, as being responsible. It is an assumption "about the nature of human freedom" (343 n. 54). For Grudem, the way it works for God is simply different than the way it works with us. If we object and say this is not really what it means to be responsible for an action, Grudem responds that "Scripture is not willing to apply such reasoning to God" (343).

It is important to keep Grudem's overall logic in mind as we then go back and read his section on concurrence. What Grudem means when he speaks of God "cooperating" with created things in every action is really that God is what we might call the secondary cause behind every primary cause in every case (319). The created thing looks like it is freely acting, feels like it is freely acting in many cases. But God is actually behind the scenes causing it to act and even feel in this way. When Grudem says, "No event in creation falls outside of his providence" (317), he means that God is behind the scene directing everything that happens.

So God directs inanimate creation (318). God directs animals (318). God directs events that seem random or chance, coincidental (318-19). But for Grudem, there is no such thing as chance or coincidence (337). God directs the affairs of nations (319-20) and every aspect of our lives (320-22). Grudem produces numerous Scriptures throughout this section that certainly sound deterministic, that sound like God determines and directs all these things down to the minute details.

In many cases, we could give a fully "natural" explanation as well (319). The creation looks like it is acting freely. We feel like we are acting freely. But "the doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs, and works through, the distinctive properties of each created thing, so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see" (319).

Why is it important for Grudem to make such distinctions? There are at least two very important reasons for Grudem to interpret the Scriptures in this way. First, it is important so that humanity is responsible for its actions (321). The second is so that we can say that God does not do evil, even though Grudem believes God commands it to be done by us.

This leads us to what is by far the most important part of this chapter: Grudem's consideration of how God's providence relates to evil. It is very important for Grudem to be able to say that God "never does evil and is not to be blamed for it" (328). As quoted above, "The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature" (329).

But at the same time, "God ordained that evil would come about through the willing choices of his creatures" (328). This is a very subtle tightrope. According to Grudem, God is causing us to do evil. But because we are the ones with the gun in our hands, because we want to pull the trigger, we are the ones doing it. We feel like we are the ones choosing evil even though God is really causing us to do it. But since God is not the one with his hand on the gun, he is not responsible for it in Grudem's mind.

Grudem quotes Calvin here with approval: "Thieves and murderers and other evildoers are the instruments of divine providence, and the Lord himself uses these to carry out his judgments that he has determined with himself" (328). [3] Then of course God also gets glory when he punishes those who have done the evil (he has caused them to do) (327).

Grudem understandably warns us that we humans never have a right to do evil (329, even if God wills us to do it). We should never want evil to be done (even when God is willing us to want evil to be done). We can understand why Grudem concludes with his mentor Louis Berkhof that "the problem of God's relation to sin remains a mystery" (330). [4]

He concludes the section on concurrence with Calvin's preference not to say that humans have free will at all. Certainly we do not have absolute freedom, Grudem says (331). "Scripture nowhere says that we are 'free' in the sense of being outside of God's control." Yet Grudem allows that we can say we are free in the sense that "we make willing choices, choices that have real effects. We are aware of no restraints on our will." In other words, we feel free (even though we really aren't).

In this section, Grudem presents a Calvinist understanding of concurrence, and he quotes John Calvin more than once to demonstrate that his teaching is fully in keeping with the Calvinist tradition. To argue for "cooperation" between divine and human action, Grudem plays hocus pocus with his definitions. In so many words, Even though what I'm saying is really not cooperation, I'm going to define 'cooperation' as God manipulating me to feel and act this way. You can't argue with me, he says nicely, because this is just how God wants me to define the word, even though it's not any picture of cooperation that would fly in any other context.

In the end, however, Grudem's section on concurrence basically reduces to God's governance. God's cooperation with human will for Grudem is nothing more than God giving us a drug that forces us to do evil but then does not consider God responsible for the evil we then inevitably do. Concurrence for Grudem simply means that the puppet doesn't feel like a puppet, even though it is.

To be sure, Grudem produces a significant amount of Scripture that sounds deterministic. God hardens pharaoh's heart (Exod. 9:12). God sends an evil spirit on Saul to torment him (1 Sam. 16:14). God incites David to do an evil for which God then punishes Israel (2 Sam. 24:1). God can deceive a prophet and then punish the prophet for deceiving Israel (Ezek. 14:9).

On the other side, Grudem would not deny that there are countless passages where it sounds like human beings have real choices in front of them. Just before Ananias dies for trying to lie about what he did with some money, Peter says, "Wasn't the money at your disposal?" (Acts 5:4). In other words, Ananias was free to do whatever he wanted with the money. When 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God wants all people to be saved--and yet not everyone is saved--then we must conclude that God has ultimately left the decision up to us.

This last verse is potentially very significant. If God wants all people to be saved, then must not Grudem become a universalist, someone who believes all people will be saved? In Grudem's system, if God wants everyone to be saved and God is the one who causes those who will be saved, then everyone must be saved. For the Arminian, God would prefer for everyone to be saved but leaves the choice to us, with the result that not everyone will be saved. Grudem has to find a way to reinterpret the verse for his system to remain logical, which he certainly does. Logic is as important to his system as it is to the Arminian's.

Grudem wants to say both that we have freedom to decide and yet could not possibly decide anything but what we decide. When the Arminian objects that this is a logical contradiction, Grudem suggests we are like a plant arguing over whether God can make animals who can walk (346). But this is not a question of what God is capable of doing, as if we don't have enough faith. This is a flat out logical contradiction. It says, "x is y... and x is not y." Grudem's position is incoherent in a way fundamental to the universe God has created. God has defined this sort of thinking as irrational for this universe. It's not God's problem; it's Grudem's.

Clearly there are a number of Scriptures that sound Calvinist and a number of verses that sound Arminian. Both Grudem's side and the Arminian side have to do something with one or the other set of language to be logically coherent--and both sides typically do. They just choose to address a different set of language. When Grudem argues for soft determinism, he is arguably twisting the Scriptures where people sound free to choose. Similarly, Arminians have often dodged verses that sound deterministic.

For Grudem and the Calvinist tradition, the best way to fill in the blanks is to suppose that even though we feel like we are free, God is actually making us feel that way. By contrast, Arminians have often argued that God predestines us on the basis of his foreknowledge. God knows what we will freely choose and determines things accordingly.

However, the best way to approach such things is to read all such comments in their full context, recognizing that even the ideological language of the Bible comes to us incarnated in the thought categories of the original audiences. The ancient world was strongly fatalistic yet accepted that humans make choices as an expression of their will. We therefore should not be surprised to find both deterministic language in Scripture and language that sounds like we make free choices.

Take the Oedipus story. It is fated that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus then makes great efforts of will to escape his fate. Yet in the process of trying to escape his fate, Oedipus ends up killing his father and marrying his mother. In the Greek fatalistic worldview, Oedipus makes choices that seem to be free yet in the end his fate is accomplished nonetheless.

It is no surprise that much biblical language would have this same deterministic feel. At times biblical language sounds like people are freely making choices and at other times biblical language sounds like people are determined. St. Augustine took this imprecise language typical of the times when Scripture was revealed and made it into a coherent, logical philosophical system. Calvin followed suit and now Grudem, John Piper, and others after Calvin.

But this language was generally informal in Scripture. It was always at least partially cultural language. It was normally imprecise rather than philosophical. We are left to make it into a system. Fundamentalists like Grudem inevitably mistake elements of ancient worldview for God's all time philosophical thinking.

For the Arminian tradition, the best way to fill in the blanks is to suggest that, yes, God is fully in control. God signs off on everything that happens. God allows everything that happens (permissive will). But God does not always command every specific thing that happens (directive will). Sometimes God does determine. But sometimes God genuinely empowers the creation for freedom.

Grudem's case in relation to evil is where it really gets sticky. He is saying, in effect, that even though the rapist feels like he is raping a little girl freely, God is ultimately behind the scenes forcing him to do it. God has left him no other alternative but to rape. According to Grudem, God has caused every child molester and sadist to do what they do. Yet Grudem wants to say that because the assailant feels like he is freely murdering, raping, ripping, stabbing, cutting, he is the only one morally culpable. The puppet master, the master planner of the rape, the one who designed it in all its minute details, is off the hook. It is ultimately a distinction without a difference.

No rational person could handle such logic. It is terrifying to think of how a person with this sort of thinking might behave in this world. Many will lose their faith if they are led to believe that this is the way a Christian must think, and many people's hearts will be defiled if they apply this twisted logic to their parenting or everyday life.

The solution is to recognize that the biblical language is uneven and enculturated, even that biblical understanding develops in the flow of revelation from Old to New Testament. The test case of 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 is instructive. 1 Chronicles says that Satan incites David to do something that 2 Samuel says God incited David to do. Grudem's explanation of this conundrum is to see Satan as the instrument God commands to push David to do something.

By contrast, the Arminian suggests that God allows Satan to test David and that David fails the test (unlike Job, who passes). 2 Samuel reflects an earlier stage in Israelite thinking. The earliest layer of biblical texts in the Old Testament have no awareness of the Satan, not even Genesis, which never mentions Satan. Even in Job's thinking (Job the person rather than the thinking of the author of Job), the Lord is the one who has taken away (Job 1:21). In the story, Job doesn't know about Satan.

But by the time of 1 Chronicles, God is no longer the one who directly tempts people (cf. Jas. 1:13). After the Babylonian exile, Israel has broadened in its understanding of divine agency, now having a category for the Satan. If Genesis and 1 Samuel were being written now, they would no doubt have ascribed to Satan various actions that were earlier ascribed to God.

This discussion reveals the inadequacy of Grudem's use of Scripture. His position is ultimately based on a certain understanding of biblical language, yet he doesn't know how to read the Bible in context, which undermines his entire position.

A final word should be said about Romans 9:20-21, where Paul indicts the clay that would complain to the potter for making it the way the potter did. This is a difficult verse--or at least should be for anyone with the heart of Christ. It is difficult not because of some defiant heart but because of the rest of Scripture. The way Grudem takes it fundamentally contradicts the way the New Testament reveals God's character as one that desires everyone to be saved.

Is God the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son or is he the eternal tyrant Grudem sees in Romans 9. Grudem, Piper, Calvin, and Augustine pick the wrong set of verses as their fundamental starting point. Rather than consider Romans 9 unclear, and rest on the clear voice of Christ in the Gospels, they take their stand on a difficult passage and force the majority passages into its logical mold.

So what is Romans 9 really about? It is about the puzzling situation in Paul's day that Gentiles were receiving the gospel while most Jews were not. Paul's opponents saw his position as something like a married man who was divorcing his wife for a younger woman. Why was God allowing the Gentiles in without becoming Jews? After God had been "married" to the Jews within the covenant of the Jewish Law all these years, they might say, why was God seeming to change the rules, turning to a new Gentile "mistress," now making salvation available to all through Christ? These are the underlying questions of Paul's opponents that were driving Romans 9.

Paul's answer is that God can do whatever he wants, because he is God. Absolutely true! We have no basis to complain about God's will. Absolutely true! But we can clearly see by Romans 11 that Paul's argument in Romans 9 is not the end of the story. Even disobedient Israel can be saved (11:11-12). Indeed they will be saved (11:26). Language in Romans 9 that sounds very hard is thus not nearly as hardened as it sounded at first. There was an element of rhetoric involved from the start.

[1] In "The Dilemma of Determinism," a paper presented at Harvard Divinity School on March 3, 1884.

[2] Here Grudem is quoting Jack Cottrell, "The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty," The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, Clark Pinnock, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 104-5.

[3] Quoting Calvin's Institutes 1.16.5.

[4] Louis Berkhof, Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982 [1932]), 175.


vanilla said...

"This is a very subtle tightrope." Indeed, it is the very definition of tortured, convoluted logic.

Pastor Bob said...

The study that I used and like is: CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY by H. Orton Wiley, and was adapted and arranged by Paul T. Culbertson. The doctrinal emphasis is Arminian and Wesleyan.

Ken Schenck said...

It is now available for free online: Wiley's Christian Theology

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Ken

I'm curious about one point. (I should mention from the outset, full disclosure, that I'm Lutheran. We disagree with both the Calvinists and the Arminians on key points. You've done a solid job of covering some of our objections to Calvinism, though our biggest objection is probably that Christ only appears under "L" for "Limited" in the TULIP, and is otherwise a no-show in their soteriology. Big problem.)

Anyway, the question is this: Based on what do you say that Grudem picked the wrong set of verses, or is overthrowing the one set with the other set when it should be vice versa? Couldn't they -- don't they -- make the exact same argument in response?

Take care & God bless