Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grudem 16c: Human action is important.

Here is more summary/evaluation from Grudem's 16th chapter on God's Providence. Thus far I have reviewed:
Now the second to last installment:
C. Government
After discussing God's maintenance of everything and the relationship between human will and God's will, Grudem proceeds to God's government. Grudem defines God's government as the fact that "God has a purpose in all that he does in the world and he providentially governs or directs all things in order that they accomplish his purposes" (331). Grudem does distinguish between God's "moral" will, his moral expectations of the universe and God's "providential" or "secret" will, his will for what happens in history.

We have argued in our evaluation of the previous section that God's "concurrence" or "cooperation" with the creation for Grudem is not substantially different from God's direct governance. Grudem makes a distinction without a difference. Our evaluations elsewhere on this chapter will sufficiently cover the problems with Grudem's approach.

We might mention here a distinction in God's will that Grudem does not accept, namely, the difference between God's "directive" will and God's "permissive" will. For Grudem, all God's will reduces to his directive will, things that he specifically commands. By contrast, others such as myself would say that God sometimes allows things to happen that he did not specifically command. Interestingly, this Arminian perspective still fits within Grudem's definition of God's government, since one of God's purposes for the universe is to give it a measure of freedom.

D. The Decrees of God
"The decrees of God are the eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, he determined to bring about everything that happens" (332). This is the plan itself, whereas providence is the implementation of the plan in history. "God does not make up plans suddenly as he goes along" (333).

An Arminian will generally not have a problem with the idea that God had a plan for the universe, although it would not be typical to speak of the decrees of God outside of Calvinist circles. Arminians have typically believed that God's plan is from eternity past, only that he formulated that plan in dialog with his foreknowledge of choices we would make. It is this last statement that Grudem and other Calvinists would reject.

E. The Importance of Human Actions
One objection to Calvinist determinism is that it implies that our actions are not important or that we should not be morally responsible for our actions, if God is determining them. This section argues that human action remains significant even though it is determined.

1. We are still responsible for our actions.
It is in this section that Grudem basically says that God has defined "being responsible" as doing the act. The primary agent (God) is not responsible, but the secondary agent that does the act (us), at least when it comes to God. If we do it, we are the guilty ones, even if God made us do it.

2. Our actions have real results and do change the course of events.
This is true to Grudem because "God has ordained that events will come about by our causing them" (334). In other words, our actions do things that God has planned, which makes them significant. God has predestined that certain things happen by way of our actions. He has determined our actions and he has determined the results of our actions.

3. Prayer is one specific kind of action that has definite results and that does change the course of events.
In other words, God has both predestined us to pray for certain things and he has predestined that he will perform certain miracles as a result of those prayers he has predetermined that we would pray. He has also predetermined that sometimes we would pray and he would not answer.

4. In conclusion, we must act!
"A hearty belief in God's providence is not a discouragement but a spur to action" (336). God has predestined that the actions he has predestined us to do will be the means by which certain things come about. The Calvinist doctrine of providence, Grudem argues, should not encourage anyone to sit back in idleness to wait for God to act. Laziness is a distortion of the doctrine of providence, Grudem says.

Grudem does not mention Calvinism and missions, but we can use the question of missionary work to clarify what he is saying here. When modern missions was first on the rise around the year 1800, some Calvinists objected to the idea of going to India to preach the Christian message. The idea was that if God had predestined those in India to be saved, they would have been born somewhere where the Christian message already was.

Grudem and Carey would respond that it is God's will that such individuals hear the gospel by the human agency of missionaries going. In that sense, the fact that the eternal destiny of each individual person from India is decided by God is no excuse not to go and share the good news with them.

5. What if we cannot understand this doctrine fully?
Grudem, like Calvin, recognizes that the Calvinist doctrine of providence is difficult. Calvin's advice is to accept it because (he thinks) it is taught in Scripture and to embrace it "with humble teachableness."

I have already discussed some of this material in the earlier evaluations of this chapter. Arminians--and all rational thinkers--maintain that the person planning an act is far more responsible for an act than the puppet or instrument that actually does the act. This is the fundamental basis of all moral understanding and is in fact an aspect of Western law that demonstrates the influence of Judeo-Christian values. The Calvinist trajectory on this issue thus fundamentally undermines the basis of moral thinking in general.

Jesus teaches that it is the heart that defines evil (Mark 7:20-23), not the action. Paul (e.g., Romans 14:5, 14, 23) and the New Testament (e.g., James 4:3, 17) operates with an ethic that focuses on intention rather than action. The Calvinist orientation toward the act itself, rather than the intention behind the act, threatens to undo the very essence of Christian ethics. The Calvinist definition of sin is thus wholly inadequate, defined as any act short of God's absolute moral standard.

The Wesleyan-Arminian definition of sin, at least the sin about which God is most concerned, is more biblical, especially in terms of the New Testament. Sin is any intentional action contrary to what you know to be the right action. This is not the only kind of wrongdoing, but it is the one about which God is most concerned.

As far as prayer is concerned, we would suggest that God actually makes decisions on whether to intervene in the flow of history sometimes, based on whether we choose to pray or not. In one scenario, he might let x happen because we do not pray. But if we pray, he might intervene to where y will happen. Of course he knew whether we would pray or not before the foundation of the world and thus he knew how he would respond from eternity past.

E. Further Practical Application
The headings for this section more or less speak for themselves. Trust in God. "We need not worry about the future but trust in God's omnipotent care" (337). Be thankful for all good things that happen. Finally, "there is no such thing as 'luck' or 'chance.'" Nothing "just happens." "We should see God's hand in events throughout the day, causing all things to work together for good for those who love him."

We do not need to worry about the future. We should be thankful for the good things that happen to us.

Whether there is "luck" or "chance" is a good question for an Arminian. Does God grant a degree of freedom to the creation? Certainly nothing happens without God's permission, but it is here that the Arminian may resort to mystery and say we don't know whether God has ordained that some events happen by chance.

However, an Arminian probably will not see God micromanaging everything that happens every day. In some cases, God may let nature take its course. In other cases, God allows human beings to make choices. In that sense, Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life is much more of a Calvinist perspective than an Arminian one. It may be more comfortable to think that God causes everything to happen for a reason, but that does not make it true. And, when it comes to evil, it is deeply problematic to think that God directs the evil that happens down to the smallest detail.

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