Saturday, May 03, 2014

Grudem 16d: Objections to Arminianism

Here is the final summary/evaluation of Grudem's 16th chapter on God's Providence. Thus far I have reviewed:
Now the final review of the chapter:
G. Another Evangelical View: The Arminian Position 
In this section, Grudem addresses Arminianism (named after Jacob Arminius, 1560-1609), the main alternative to Calvinism. [1] He describes it in this way: Arminians "maintain that in order to preserve the real human freedom and real human choices that are necessary for genuine human personhood, God cannot cause or plan our voluntary choices" (338). Rather, God's purposes for the world "are more general and could be accomplished through many different kinds of specific events." [2]

He gives four arguments that Arminians have used against the Calvinist view of providence:

1. Arminians charge that "the verses cited as examples of God's providential control are exceptions and do not describe the way that God ordinarily works in human activity" (339).
Here Grudem references a paragraph in a chapter by David Clines. [3] In this chapter, Clines argues that while the Bible indicates that God predetermines certain specific events, it does not teach that God determines every event. Additionally, the Bible doesn't say he was ordering events in Australia when he was ordering things in ancient Israel.

2. Arminians charge that "the Calvinist view wrongly makes God responsible for sin" (339).
Arminian's would say that the Calvinist view makes us merely puppets or robots who cannot do anything other than what God causes us to do. Clark Pinnock puts it this way: "it is simply blasphemous to maintain, as this theory does, that man's rebellion against God is in any sense the product of God's sovereign will or primary causation." [4]

3. Arminians charge that "choices caused by God cannot be real choices" (340).
Jack Cottrell writes that, in a Calvinist understanding, there really isn't a primary and secondary cause but God reduces to the primary cause. [5] Cottrell argues that when someone 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."

4. "The Arminian view encourages responsible Christian living, while the Calvinistic view encourages dangerous fatalism" (341).
The argument here by some Arminians is that regardless of Calvinist theology, Calvinists have to live like Arminians. If they were consistent, some might argue, they would live in a fatalistic way. They often live and act like they have choices, although their theology might lead them simply to sit back and watch "God's will" play itself out.

Notice right off the bat the biased way in which Grudem describes the Arminian position. The Arminian thinks that God "cannot" do something. According to Grudem, Arminians believe that "God cannot" cause voluntary choices. Quite the contrary. God could certainly cause us to make choices we experience as free choices. What the Arminian disputes is whether such choices would really be free. We are not debating what God can do. We're debating whether the Calvinist position even makes sense.

1. We will evaluate Grudem's responses below. At this point we ask whether he has accurately described the Arminian objections to the Calvinist understanding of Providence. With regard to biblical instances of God's determinism being exceptions, Grudem probably skews the position of some Arminians (e.g., me). I personally would say that some deterministic language in the Bible is cultural language or even conventional language. It is the way people in the ancient world talked about divine and human agency. It is part of the "that time" of the Bible rather than the "all time."

On the other hand, if Grudem is trying to say that an Arminian might believe that God determines some things but not all things, that would be an accurate assessment. Most Arminian thinkers would not say, however, that humans are completely free. Indeed, it is quite possible that the vast majority of things we do are predictable. Arminians simply believe that, on the core matter of salvation, God can empower us to make an undetermined choice. Beyond this point there would be a variety of positions among Arminians as to how free we are in any one instance.

2. Grudem's second description of the Arminian position is dead on. This is the key critique. Calvinism makes God responsible for sin. It makes us into puppets and seems to deeply contradict the most central and important affirmations about God's character in Scripture. In our view, Grudem sacrifices the most important characteristics of God in Scripture (his goodness and love) in order to harmonize a difficult and arguably incarnated detail of Scripture (his determinism). This has always been the greatest problem with the doctrine of inerrancy as it has played out in Calvinist circles--it skews the most central and important truths in order to harmonize them with difficult and unclear details.

3. Again, Grudem's wording is not the way I as an Arminian would put it. It is not that choices caused by God cannot be real choices. It is that they aren't real choices. They are not real choices by definition. We are not debating God's power here. We are debating a contradiction in definition--and one that is a matter of Grudem's piecing together of Scripture, not straightforward divine revelation. Grudem's position is that a decision can be both fully determined and yet not be fully determined at the same time (while using the words in exactly the same way). This is not a denial of God's power, as Grudem is trying to argue, but a fundamental incoherency to the Calvinist doctrine of providence.

4. Some Arminians would no doubt accuse Calvinists of promoting fatalism. I personally would not, although I would agree that fatalism is the most likely skew of the Calvinist's true position.

H. Response to the Arminian Position
1. Are these passages unusual?
Grudem's response to the charge that instances of God's determinism are exceptional or special cases is that "the examples are so numerous... that they seem to be designed to describe to us the ways in which God works all the time" (342). "Scripture is given to tell us the ways of God," and the Bible gives "clear teaching" on this in some places we should extrapolate to other places. Some of the teaching seems very general in nature (e.g., Eph. 1:11).

There is no denying that a good deal of Scripture uses deterministic language. Yet there is no denying also that a good deal of Scripture uses language that seems to imply that humans have real choices that God does not determine. I return to 1 Timothy 2:4. If God wants everyone to be saved and everyone is not saved, then God must not ultimately determine everyone who is saved. Grudem wants to think that he is the one who believes in Scripture and the Arminian just doesn't like what it says. But, in reality, the Bible has two sets of language that are just difficult to fit together.

Grudem's version of inerrancy is a harmonizing version. He harmonizes ideas in the text the way that others harmonize events. So if Mark says Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus while leaving Jericho (Mark 10:46) and Matthew says Jesus healed two blind men leaving Jericho (Matt. 20:29) and Luke says Jesus healed one blind man going into Jericho (Luke 18:35), the harmonizer's version of inerrancy insists that Jesus must have healed three blind men, one going into Jericho and two coming out, one of whose names was Bartimaeus. Notice how the final version of the story is different from all the actual versions of the story in the Bible. The idea of harmonizing has trumped all three of the actual biblical texts in the name of an idea about the Bible.

In the same way, Grudem and his version of Calvinist theology tries to shove together two different sets of biblical imagery to make them fit together. There are texts that sound deterministic and there are texts that sound like people make real choices. So Augustine and Calvin in their pre-modern glory harmonize them together to say that we experience our choices as free even though they are not. Like the blind harmonizer above, Grudem, Calvin, and Augustine have created a theology that is different from all the individual theologies in the Bible in order to preserve an idea they have about how Scripture must fit together.

2. Does Calvinism make God responsible for sin?
Grudem's basic answer here is that the Arminian cannot account for the many texts where God seems to determine evildoing. As for Grudem's secondary causes really being primary causes, Grudem once again simply says that Scripture doesn't reason this way. "Scripture repeatedly gives examples where God in a mysterious, hidden way somehow ordains that people do wrong, but continually places the blame for that wrong on the individual human who does wrong and never on God himself" (343). Meanwhile, Grudem claims that Arminians will not allow God to ordain even one sinful act.

We have already mentioned earlier that there seems to be a development within Scripture on the question of how directly God causes evil or tempts individuals to do evil. When we say something of this sort, we are letting the individual passages say what they seem to say, rather than reinterpreting them to fit our interpretations of verses elsewhere.

James 1:13-14 would seem to give the most mature statement of Scripture on the topic: "No one, when tempted, should say, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it" (NRSV). Grudem cannot take these verses at face value. He would reinterpret it to say, "We are not tempted by God but by our own desires that God completely causes us to have." He has to reinterpret the verse to say nearly the opposite of what it says in order to harmonize it with his idea about Scripture.

The statement that "Arminians will not allow God to ordain even one sinful act" is misleading at best. Arminians believe that God ordains all sinful acts in the sense that he allows them. No sinful act happens outside of God's control.

Does God directly command sinful acts? An Arminian might believe there are some instances where he does. The key point is that Arminians do not believe that God directly forces us to be sinful. Arminians believe that God can use those whose intentions are already evil in heart. Does God sometimes steer the evil? Most Arminians would accept that God can use evil to accomplish his will. What is key is that he gives everyone the opportunity to choose good.

Another key distinction here is the difference between the subjective dimension of evildoing and the objective dimension. Arminians affirm that God gives individuals the opportunity for their subjective will to be free to make good choices. But if a person is evil in heart, the Arminian does not necessarily deny that God might direct the external, objective acts of evil that a person does. The Calvinist makes no meaningful distinction between objective and subjective wrongdoing.

3. Are determined choices real choices?
Grudem spends over three pages responding to this critique. He seems to hold that both the Arminian and Calvinist positions are a matter of assumption. Because of human intuition, he claims, the Arminian assumes that a person whom God causes to do something cannot be a real agent, a real person. The Calvinist, he would argue, follows Scripture and assumes the contrary.

In this section, he references Calvin's distinction between necessity and compulsion, a distinction which William James would aptly describe three hundred years later as "soft determinism." So God necessarily does good and the Devil necessarily does evil, but neither are compelled in terms of their wills. They are doing what they want to do. So human beings freely do what they want. They are not "compelled" even though God is ultimately causing them to want what they want. According to Grudem, we are not compelled to do what we do even though we do it necessarily.

So Grudem denies that this makes us a puppet or robot. He indicts the Arminian of being small minded, like a plant that would say God could not make a creature who could move around or an Arminian dog who would say God could not make a creature who could record barks down on paper. The problem with the Arminian, in Grudem's eyes, is a lack of faith in what God can do and probably a lack of submission to Scripture.

The idea that God might cause us to feel like we are doing things freely when in fact he is causing us to want to do them is completely coherent. What is not coherent is to suggest that such acts are truly free. Again, it amounts to saying that we are fully determined and not fully determined at the same time, while using the words in exactly the same way. To say so is not a denial of God's power. It is simply pointing out a straightforward logical contradiction.

Again, this is not like a dog or plant saying that God couldn't create a dog that could write speech down or a plant that could walk. It is like saying that God always makes 2 + 2 to equal 5 in base 10 while 2 + 2 at the same time equals 4 in base 10. There are propositions of definition and propositions about the world. Grudem's plant and dog illustration is a proposition about what God can do in the world. But the Arminian is saying that Grudem's thinking is a contradiction of definition. He defines "real choice" in a way that contradicts the definition of "real choice."

This is the fundamental problem with Grudem's version of Calvinism. It makes God directly responsible for evil and thus obliterates the distinction between good and evil. It makes God into Satan. It is difficult to see how, if Calvinism is true, that we would not have to conclude that Christianity is fundamentally incoherent.

4. Does Calvinism encourage fatalism?
Grudem indicates that Calvinism calls for "responsible obedience" (346). Rightly understood, Calvinism would oppose fatalism or a laziness. "Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that our actions have real results and that they are eternally significant" (347). But, to Grudem, Calvinists have a "more comprehensive trust in God in all circumstances and a far greater freedom from worry about the future." Calvinists, in his mind, truly trust that "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called" (Rom. 8:28, NIV).

Every theological tradition has strengths and weaknesses. The best thinkers in each tradition do their best to make fine distinctions to keep each system from falling into incoherency. But on the grass roots, popular level, those fine distinctions are often lost.

So Roman Catholicism has never endorsed the worship of Mary. They make an important distinction about venerating her. Only God is worthy of worship. But do some Roman Catholics on the popular level come close to worshiping Mary? It's certainly possible.

Do Wesleyans believe in total depravity and that we can only choose God because of God's grace working in us? That's certainly what John Wesley believed, but on a popular level, no doubt many in the Wesleyan tradition would pick "false" on a test that said, "Humans are totally depraved."

In the same way, we should not hold it against Calvinist theology if some Calvinists have a fatalistic attitude on a popular level. In official Calvinist teaching, God works through our action and so the doctrine of predestination is no excuse not to be diligent or to sin.

We might correct Grudem's understanding of Romans 8:28, however, which rips these words out of their context in Romans 8. When Paul told the Romans that everything works together for good, he was in the middle of a train of thought about the suffering we may undergo in our bodies before the resurrection, especially the suffering that might come from persecution. If we suffer with him now, we nevertheless have the hope of being glorified with him (8:17).

So, in context, Paul was not talking about what God does with each individual event in the lives of the Romans. He was talking about what their ultimate destination was, despite any current suffering or persecution. In the end, those who love God would come to a good destination, namely, being conformed to the image of Jesus, being glorified (8:30). What is the image of Jesus? It is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:49: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven" (NRSV). What is Paul talking about here? Our resurrection bodies!

So if we read what Paul is saying in context, Romans 8:28 is saying that, despite any suffering we may face now, God will eventually work things out for good, namely, the ultimate transformation of our bodies away from the current ones that are subject to futility like the creation and to a resurrection body that is transformed and glorified like Christ's resurrection body (see also Phil. 3:21). Eventually, God will bring about the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23).

To take Romans 8:28 in terms of God determining every event that happens in our lives or making everything that happens in our lives have a purpose is to read the verse WAY out of context. The verse is about our ultimate destination, not about God's micromanagement of every little detail on the journey.

5. Additional Objections to Arminianism
a. How can the Arminian God know the future?
Grudem here presents the classical argument that if God knows the future, then the future must be determined and, therefore, we cannot be free. He addresses two different "Arminian" responses.  One is that of open theists like Clark Pinnock, who might say that there is nothing about the future to know now since it doesn't exist. In this view, God knows everything because the future is currently nothing to know. It does not exist. Grudem rightly suggests that such a view requires a radical revision of what God's omniscience would mean.

He describes the majority Arminian position second. This is the view that God's knowledge of the future does not imply that he has caused it to happen. Grudem objects that the future must then somehow be determined by something, if God knows it is going to happen. "If our future choices are known, then they are fixed. And if they are fixed, then they are not 'free' in the Arminian sense (undetermined or uncaused)" (348).

The third and final position Grudem treats under the heading of Arminianism is based on the idea of "middle knowledge." Middle knowledge is the idea that God knows all future possibilities and how each creature will respond under varying circumstances. William Lane Craig is one of the best known proponents of this position. Craig puts it this way, "By knowing what every possible free creature would do in any situation, God can by bringing that situation know what the creature will freely do... Thus he knows with certainty everything that happens in the world" (348). [5]

Grudem suggests that this position really does not lead to the kind of freedom Arminians want us to have. The circumstances and a person's disposition "guarantee that a certain choice will be made" (349).

It is hard to understand why anyone finds this argument persuasive apart from lack of understanding. The argument assumes that God is limited to go through time in the same way we do. In other words, it implicitly assumes that God is stuck within the creation. If God knows the future now, Grudem says, then the future is determined, and it must be determined by something.

And it is! The future is determined by what we decide in the future. The fact that God sees now what will be determined then does imply that it is determined, but it does not imply when it is determined or how it is determined. The future is determined in the future by us, and God knows it now because he is not only walking through history with us but sees history as a whole from a vantage point outside of time.

History is a movie that God has already seen with that part of him that is outside the creation and beyond time, the part of him that created the world out of nothing. What is unique to God is that he is also in the movie. Only God could have seen the whole movie after it is produced before taking part in the shooting of movie. Talk about having a higher view of God's power!

The other two "Arminian" positions can thus be rejected as unnecessary. Open theism is simply an attempt to reconcile free will with God's knowledge, but the only reason for it is either a lack of understanding of what we have just said or taking biblical anthropomorphism too literally. We can dispense with it as a position based on an inadequate understanding of time. Since there is no contradiction between God's foreknowledge and our free will, there is no need for open theism.

Meanwhile, the Molinist "middle knowledge" position of William Lane Craig is not truly Arminian to begin with. Craig and others like him recognize that the Grudem position is incoherent. If God determines our choices then we are not free, and it becomes difficult to say that we are responsible for our choices. So the Molinist position tries to find a way for us to be free and culpable yet for God to determine the future. In the end, however, God is still manipulating what we do in this scenario, so we must consider this position only a slightly more attractive version of the basic Calvinist position.

b. How can evil exist if the Arminian God doesn't want it?
Grudem depicts Arminians as holding that the entrance of evil into the world was not according to the will of God. In Grudem's depiction of Arminians, they believe that God "had to" allow evil to enter into the world "in order to allow genuine human choices" (349). He then suggests that if this is true, then God will have to allow the possibility of sinful choices in heaven too.

He then pushes further. "If real choices have to allow for the possibility of choosing evil, then (1) God's choices are not real, since he cannot chose evil, or (2) God's choices are real, and there is the genuine possibility that God might someday choose to do evil" (349). Grudem's answer is that God's choice is real by definition even if God cannot choose to do evil.

Grudem twists the Arminian position here, at least my position. For God to be sovereign, the entrance of evil into the world has to be a possibility that God created and allowed. It must have been his will generally. He intentionally created a world with the possibility of evil and made it a world where it was better for evil to be a possibility than for us to be moral robots of Grudem's sort.

Could God have created a world where we had genuine human choices and there was no evil. Far be it from me to say that he could not have. Far be it from me to say what God could have done in another universe--I have no point of reference to speak of such things. My position is only that, in this universe, God has created a world where it is better to freely chose the good rather than to be forced to choose the good.

I have written elsewhere that I believe God had the choice to create this universe as he did. Having created this universe, he has revealed himself to be good in it. He has freely chosen to do good in this world as he has defined it. He could do evil in this world but has committed not to do so. So God is free to do evil but will never do it--of his own free will. This is far superior to Grudem's position, which reduces to saying that God does all evil but we're not going to call it evil because God is the one doing it.

c. How can we know that the Arminian God will triumph over evil?
In this section, Grudem suggests that, if evil came into the world against God's will, how can we be sure that God will triumph in the end over evil? Grudem depicts Arminians as teaching that God "was unable to keep it out of his universe in the first place" (352). In Grudem's view, "the Arminian position seems logically to drive us to a deep-seated anxiety about the ultimate outcome of history" (352).

While he accepts that it is difficult to see evil as ordained by God as in the Reformed view, "there are far more serious difficulties with the Arminian view of evil as not ordained or even willed by God, and therefore not assuredly under the control of God" (352).

This is absurd. God has promised that good will triumph over evil. He of his own sovereignty created the possibility of evil. He in his authority has allowed evil to exist for the time being. He will in his sovereignty destroy evil as he has promised.

d. The bottom line for Grudem
Calvinists do not know the answers to these questions, Grudem says: 1) how can God ordain that we do evil willingly and yet not be blamed for evil and 2) how can God cause us to choose something willingly. But the Arminian, Grudem says, has unanswered questions about God's knowledge of the future, why he would allow evil when it is against his will, and whether he will triumph over evil in the end. In his view, the Arminian position diminishes the greatness of God and tends to exalt the greatness of man. In his view it "diminishes the wisdom and skill of God the Creator" (351)

I hope it is clear by now that the real problems lie with Grudem's approach. The Arminian has no questions about God's knowledge of the future. Grudem's argument here is what really would fit a Calvinist dog asking how God can know the future without determining it. Arminians have not a doubt about whether God will triumph over evil in the end.

The only mystery is indeed why God would allow evil to have so much power in the world if he is a good God. But the Calvinist has no answer to this question. The Calvinist tries to redefine evil so that God can do evil and still be good. So which makes more sense, to say that we do not fully understand why God allows Satan to do so much harm, or the Calvinist position--that God is in fact commanding Satan to do all the harm he does?!

You decide.

Here ends the chapter.

[1] Grudem helpfully corrects those who confuse someone from Armenia--an Armenian--from an Arminian who believes in some form of free will (338).

[2] Throughout this section, Grudem's main source for an Arminian position is Clark H. Pinnock, ed. The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989). Since Pinnock became an open theist, he represents only one form of Arminianism (an extreme one). Since then, other books have come out comparing the two. See especially Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006); Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004); and Don Thorsen, Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice (Nashville: Abingdon, 2013).

[3] Cline's chapter, "Predestination in the Old Testament," is in the book mentioned in n. 2 above that was edited by Pinnock, Grace of God.

[4] Quoting Pinnock's chapter, "Responsible Freedom," in Grace of God, 10.

[5] "The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty," in Grace of God, 104-5.

[6] Citing Craig's chapter, "Middle Knowledge, a Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?" in The Grace of God, 150-51.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this! Good job.