Thursday, October 23, 2008

Calvinism and Determinism: a Response

Godismyjudge (GIMJ) has provided a post with the title "Calvinism and Determinism," in which his thesis is: "It seems Calvinism is simply determinism in the context of soteriology." (source)

I have a number of reactions to this sort of comment:

1) Let's suppose the thesis is correct. Then what? Applying the label "determinism" to Calvinism seems to be more an attempt to malign the doctrines of grace than to identify some weakness or error in them. It's a technique used by William Lane Craig as well - and equally as hollowly here as there. If Scripture teaches the five points of Calvinism they should be believed, whether or nor the label "determinism" applies.

2) What is worse, the label is not something with a well understood meaning. Typical readers are likely to confuse the broad philosophical category of determinism with the special case of mechanical or physical determinism. Godismyjudge doesn't mean mechanical or physical determinism, but he doesn't mention that in his post.

3) Still worse, the characterizations of Calvinism used to support the "determinism" thesis are inaccurate:

a) GIMJ claims that Calvinism teaches, "Our destiny is determined before we were born without having anything to do with us." This is not true, because "without having anything to do with us," is not an accurate representation. God appointed not only the ends but also the means. We are not chosen to glory because of something good in us, but we are chosen to be saved through faith in the Messiah.

b) GIMJ claims that Calvinism teaches, "The "possibility" of salvation [based on the sufficiency of Christ's death] is based on a different past then the actual past ... ." This is not true, either, because the sufficiency of Christ's death is a matter of intrinsic value. Christ's death is in actuality sufficient for all the sins of each and every person.

4) But the final nail in the coffin is that GIMJ's loose criticisms of Calvinism apply to classical Arminianism/Molinism as well:

a) GIMJ complains that "Our destiny is determined before we were born without having anything to do with us" is "clearly deterministic" but "our destiny is determined before we were born WITH having something to do with us," is no less deterministic. Either way, predetermination has been made. One way is divine determination, the other a synergistic determination - but both ways are deterministic in the broad, loose sense of the word employed in GIMJ's post.

b) GIMJ complains that "The "possibility" of salvation is based on a different past then the actual past" is "a hallmark of determinism" but since Arminianism/Molinism affirms God's prior knowledge of all history to come, any "possibility" of salvation for any person who will not be saved must be based on a past in which God knew something different than what he knows - i.e. a different past than the actual past.

c) GIMJ complains that "Denying contrary choice is another sign of determinism" but classical Arminianism/Molinism admits that God himself is unable to choose evil. If that is a sign of determinism, classical Arminianism/Molinism has it at the highest level.

d) GIMJ complains that the concept that "Believers can't fall away" is "Basically the same thing" as in (c) above. I cannot recall a quotation offhand, but I think it is fair to say that not only does popular Arminianism today teach "Once Saved Always Saved" but that classical Arminianism accepts the idea that those in heaven will be there eternally. Apparently, in the mentality behind this criticism of Calvinism, it's just unexplainably bad to suggest that the Shepherd is going to ensure that his sheep persevere in this life.

e) Finally, GIMJ tries to skate past Total Depravity but Total Depravity is analogous to Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. If man is unable to come to Christ without grace, it should not be any more or less deterministic to say that man is unable to fall away from Christ with grace. Of course, the problem is that it is only in theory that classical Arminians accept Total Depravity: they negate its effects via the unbiblical gap-filler of Universal Prevenient Grace.

In conclusion, I wasn't impressed by the post. Was that due to something in the post (determination) or something in me (self-determination)? I think the former - perhaps GIMJ thinks the latter. Either way there is a reason for my failure to appreciate GIMJ's mislabeling of Calvinism, and that reason demonstrates that the laws of cause and effect apply not only to the physical world but also to the spiritual world. What do you give up if you embrace what GIMJ calls "determinism"? You give up something you (and everyone else) never ever uses - the power to choose otherwise than you actually choose. By embracing God's sovereignty over man, all you give up is a history (past and future) that doesn't exist. Whether you accept Molinism or Calvinism - the future is so certain that it might as well be written in stone (as noted here).

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

natamllc said...

Of the many things that should be responded to, I only grab one:::>

TF:[[equally as hollowly]].

Yes!

I have been doing some blogging with GIMJ at his blogsite and at other blogs that has a foundation squarely resting on Ariminism and I have had a gnawing sense that I could not put into words or type out until now!

Hollow. Nothing there. No foundation. Your phrase jumped out at me and by it gives me clarity to the blurred sense.

Arminian thinking does subtlely gloss over Christ as the sole Savior and Salvation of my soul.

Thanks!

natamllc said...

Ok, I went back to the link at the end of this article.

Wow!

I have an answer that will hold up with regard to "how" many people will be saved.

My answer: ONE. One and one only!

"One"? Yes, "one"!

Gordan Runyan said...

Great thought here:

"What do you give up if you embrace what GIMJ calls "determinism"? You give up something you (and everyone else) never ever uses - the power to choose otherwise than you actually choose. By embracing God's sovereignty over man, all you give up is a history (past and future) that doesn't exist."

BTW, thanks for the psalmody suggestions.