A Strong Argument Against Calvinisim? Part 2 You Decide….

Over here at Not For Itching Ears we like to discuss issues that challenge our view of Christianity and the Church.   It is healthy to consider what one believes about the Christian faith and how we express that faith in our corporate church life.  If all we ever do is listen to ourselves, we can inadvertently become the kind of people Paul warned Timothy about:  People who surround themselves with “teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Today’s post is an attempt to counter that tendency among us as we discuss Free-Will and Determinism.  To do this, we turn to an extremely interesting email exchange between Father John Whiteford (an Eastern Orthodox priest) and  some proponents of Calvinism.

This isn’t your typical argument!  Father Whiteford brings another line of argumentation to his view that is almost entirely absent from the typical back and forth between Calvinists and Arminians:  What did the early church fathers teach about this?

I recognize that there are three groups of people who will read a post like this:  1) Strong Calvinists who will want to defend their view.  2)Strong Arminians who will want to find ammo for their view and 3) those who don’t have their minds made up but may lean to one understanding of things.  My hope, is that all three groups of people will be challenged and encouraged.   It’s a long discussion so I will be breaking it up into three posts.  Read Part 1 Here;  here’s part 2:

(Note:  FJ stands for Father John’s comments while CP stands for the Calvinist Protestant comments.)

FJ: Are you asserting that it might be God’s eternal purpose to damn Joseph Blow simply because he wishes to damn Mr. Blow?

CP: I’m assering that if God saves Mr. Blow, it will be solely because this is God’s good pleasure, and not because of anything in Mr. Blow that sets him apart from the rest of humanity or merits God’s goodness to him. In other words, our salvation does not depend on us, or on anything we do. Scripture expressly teaches this: “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16)

FJ: If this verse means what you say it means then it expressly contradicts the bulk of Scripture. Yes, it is God who has mercy—we cannot will his mercy upon us, just because we will it to be so.

You react as if it were blasphemy to say that our salvation is at all contingent upon our accepting it—but this is a contingency that the Bible clearly states to be the case. Check out all the “if”s in Ezekiel chapter 18. The oft cited text, 2nd Thessalonians 2:11, is contingent upon the rejection of the people in question of the love of Truth.

Let us not add contingencies that God does not declare—but let’s not set them aside when He does either. The Scriptures do not say that God works out all things according to his eternal purpose—it says God works out all things according to his eternal purpse and his foreknowledge.

CP: Really? So you’re saying His foreknowledge is something extraneous to His eternal purpose?

FJ: No, it is something that is distinctly different, and yet works synergistically with God’s eternal purpose. You state they are one and the same… which if true, we should wonder why different words are used at all.

CP: In other words, you suggest there were things God needed to discover through His foreknowledge before He could finalize His eternal plan.

FJ: In other words you persist in viewing this question as if God were acting in sequence of time—and yet you have not explained how you understand the eternal begotteness of the Son. Was there a sequence in eternity in which the Son was not? If so, there are infinite sequences prior to that one, since we are after all talking about eternity. The problem is, you see God’s eternal existence as endless time in both directions—not as something transcending time.

CP: That’s not how I read Eph. 1:11 and Isaiah 46:9-10.

FJ: Your reading of these verses are not in accordance with the way the Church has always understood them either.

I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.

The problem here is that you read these words wrongly—you read them as “My Counsel shall stand, and all that is done or will be done is my pleasure to have done or do.” You are making assumptions about the text that are not in the text. Ezekiel 18 says God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and so obviously, their death is not simply the result of God doing his pleasure. In your view, foreknowledge is meaningless, because it is simply a synonym for God’s eternal purpose.

CP: How does that make it meaningess? I’d say it becomes more meaningful.

FJ: Do you concede that you use it synonymously with God’s eternal purpose?

CP: Your notion of foreknowledge has God peering into the future to discover how things are going to turn out. But such a notion of foreknowledge is a de facto denial of God’s omniscience.

FJ: Your notion of foreknowledge is that God knows what will be only because he has determined that it will be so. Your notion of eternity is that it is endless time, rather than a transcending of time. Thus, you must logically believe that God, at one point in eternity had not yet begotten the Son. My view is that God foreknows all things because he is not circumscribed by time or distance, but is everywhere present.

Sin is not God’s eternal purpose—is it? No!

CP: What is it, then? Something that He couldn’t avert? Something He was powerless to halt? Your God is too small.

FJ: To roughly use St. Augustines words, it was his will that man not sin, but rather that all be saved, however not so as to take away man’s free will. Yet it occurs. It occurs and it is foreknown. It occurs because there is more at work than just God’s eternal purpose.

CP: See? Read that last sentence. Then page up and re-read Isaiah 46:9-10, which I quoted above. Your view has God being victimized by something outside His eternal plan.

FJ: The verse in Isaiah simply does not support the contention you cite it to support.

As for whether or not Joe Blow is decreed to burn in hell for all eternity, or to spend eternity in heavenly glory—that is dependant on two things: God’s eternal purpose, and his foreknowledge of whether or not Joe Blow would respond in faith and repentance to His grace. So the variable here is Joe Blow’s response to God’s grace.

CP: What a tragic view of divine justice! Joe Blow, a sinner, deserves to burn in hell.

FJ: What a tragic view of Divine Justice—you believe that Joe Blow deserved to burn in hell before he had ever sinned. In fact, you would have us believe that God decided that Joe Blow would be sinner, and then will send him to hell for it.

The Scriptures say that Joe Blow was not born responsible for the guilt of his father’s sin, but would stand or fall on the basis of his own rejection or acceptance of God’s provision for him (Ezek 18).

CP: If God’s eternal, sovereign purpose is to show Joe mercy, who are you to question the equity of this? See the whole of Romans 9. Unless it is God’s eternal purpose to save him, Joe Blow will burn in hell, not because God is a monster, but because Joe is a sinner.

FJ: In your view of foreknowledge, God only foreknows what he has decided will be. Since you see this in sequence of time, and thus this was prior to anything that Jow Blow would have done, or could actually have been foreknown to have done (apart from God’s decreeing it to be) how was Joe Blow already deserving of hell before even Adam had sinned?

CP: Your view makes God’s saving purposes subject to the whims of sinners. But Scripture teaches us that if your view is right, and if God does make salvation contingent only on the response of the sinner, we all are doomed (Rom. 8:7-9; Jn. 6:44,65). Fortunately, salvation depends not on the one who runs or the one who wills, but on God who shows mercy.

FJ: Again, you quote Scripture out of context, and totally ignore the bulk of it. The Scriptures say that God has made provision for us, and give us the ability to accept it; however we can also reject it. God makes this contigent upon our response—see Ezekiel 18, just for starters.

CP: I say again: Your actual position is that God’s eternal decree is conditional on something He did not “cause,” but merely foresaw.

FJ: My position is that God’s eternal decrees with respect to the salvation of individuals, is conditioned upon their either accepting his provision for them, or their rejection of same. The Bible says it is conditional. You say it is not. I’ll go with the Bible. I challenge you to show me one Father of the Church who believed that Adam’s fall was not conditional upon his obedience to God. I challenge you to find a Father prior to St. Augustine who denied that men cooperate with God’s grace, and that their salvation is conditional upon their acceptance or rejection of God’s grace.

If you can’t, you are in no better shape historically than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their ahistorical version of Christianity—at least they have Arius.

+ + +

There you have it!   I think both sides represented their views well, so it shouldn’t be necessary to argue the points again.  What many of us would be interested in hearing is how you interacted with the arguments.  If you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, were there any arguments from the other point of view that you felt deserved consideration?   If you are undecided, did you find one view more compelling that the other?  Feel free to share your thoughts with the rest of us.   Read Part 1 Here

To read more of Father Whitefords writings, go here.

For another interesting discussion on a topic you may have always assumed could not be challenged, see our series of articles called “A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, The Christian Life, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. “CP: I say again: Your actual position is that God’s eternal decree is conditional on something He did not “cause,” but merely foresaw.

    FJ: My position is that God’s eternal decrees with respect to the salvation of individuals, is conditioned upon their either accepting his provision for them, or their rejection of same. The Bible says it is conditional. You say it is not. I’ll go with the Bible. I challenge you to show me one Father of the Church who believed that Adam’s fall was not conditional upon his obedience to God. I challenge you to find a Father prior to St. Augustine who denied that men cooperate with God’s grace, and that their salvation is conditional upon their acceptance or rejection of God’s grace.

    If you can’t, you are in no better shape historically than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their ahistorical version of Christianity—at least they have Arius.”

    Ouch! At least they have Arius……basically saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses have more grounds to believe their heretical views because they can at least point to an early church leader who held them as back up, where Calvinism can’t.

    The truth of the matter is their isn’t a church father who held the view of what we call Calvinism. This is something that troubles me personally and should trouble us all. The Eastern Orthodox church can, as a church that has kept the apostolic faith, rightly accuse Calvin of deviating from the historical Christian faith. That doesn’t have to equate to being herectical or wrong, (perhaps the early fathers erred in their understanding) but it certianly should cause one to raise their eyebrow in suspicion and be forced to examine the issue from another angle.

    How does that lack of foundation with the Fathers impact your view?

    Like

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