A Strong Argument Against Calvinisim? Part 3 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, and part two here. The third and final post ……
(Note: FJ stands for Father John’s comments while CP stands for the Calvinist Protestant comments.)
FJ: Can you cite one Scripture that says that men do not believe because God chooses to not cause them to believe?
CP: See how you have twisted the issues? I raised the question of why some believe; you accuse me of making God the cause of unbelief.
FJ: The problem here is that you wish to have your cake and eat it too. You insist that God is “absolutely” sovereign over all things, such that He decreed that Adam would fall, that he decrees who will repent and who will not, and yet you want to duck from the charge that this view clearly makes God equally as responsable for the evil in the world and the damnation of the wicked, as it does for all the good things. God can’t be the only free moral agent, who is free from Edwardian determinism of the will, without also being the only responsible moral agent for all the evil that occurs. If God is the only variable in the Universe, then only God gets the credit, and only God gets the blame.
CP: The fact is that _everyone_ refuses to believe because they love sin and hate God (Rom. 8:7-8). God does not force anyone to reject Him. All He has to do is withhold His grace, and we are doomed by our own sinfulness.
FJ: If God decreed the fall, having made Adam’s will such that he could only give in to the strongest motive, and having set before him stronger motives to sin than to obey, and then God makes the bulk of his descendants “vessels of wrath” whom he has no intention of trying to redeem, then only the God of your theology could be responsible for the fact that they “love sin and hate God.”
CP: So the correct question is, How do unbelieving, God-hating sinners come to faith? The answer: God draws them.
FJ: But the Scriptures teach that Christ is the true light which enlightens every man that comes into the world. That all do not come to the light can only be because they reject the light, not because the light is not provided.
CP: Now (and this is the question I think you might be aiming at), who ultimately chooses those who will receive this grace? Citing “one Scripture” to answer this is no challenge at all; the problem is knowing when to stop. Scripture everywhere says it is God who makes this choice. Here’s a sampling: (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:11, 16; 1 Cor. 1:26-29; Jn. 1:13; Jas. 1:18).
FJ: But unless you assert that the Scriptures can err, you must understand these Scriptures in the light of all other Scriptures which show that Grace is resistible (Acts 7:51), and that grace is available to all (John 1:9; 3:16).
And what breaks the deadlock of tossing Scriptures back and forth is the fact that the view I hold to is the Faith of the Fathers of the Church, as can clearly be seen by any who wish to read them. The view you present is only partially supported by St. Augustine — and by no one prior to him.
CP: So God actively grants faith to the elect (Eph. 2). But He does not actively cause unbelief in the same way.
FJ: If I threw two people into a lake, and then saved only one—would I be guiltless of the death of the one I did not actively save?
CP: Nevertheless, God’s choice to pass over the non-elect does in a sense mean they are sovereignly appointed unto wrath. Scripture itself uses such language:
CP: First Peter 2:8 says Christ is a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
Jude 4 says there were certain false teachers “who were before of old ordained to … condemnation.”
Romans 9 calls the non-elect “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”
FJ: Yes, predestined according to foreknowledge and God’s eternal purpose. That does not mean that God makes people vessels of wrath because he takes pleasure in the death of the wicked—because Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. The wicked die only because they reject God’s efforts to save them. Thus God asks them “Why will ye die?” If they died only because God did not wish to save them, this would be utter nonsense.
CP: In an earlier post, I cited Paul’s words:
For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Cor. 4:7)
CP: You now reply:
FJ: How does this prove that Man does not have to choose to respond to what God offers him?
CP: ?!!!? Whoever said that man “does not have to choose to respond”? The gospel calls all sinners to repent and believe in Christ. Those who refuse are held responsible for their sinful unbelief, precisely because it is willful rebellion. God is righteous to judge them.
FJ: But what you call “willful” cannot be taken as a responsible act, any more than a baby can be said to willfully starve to death if no one feds him. In your view, even Adam only sinned because he was presented with stronger motives to sin than to not sin, and thus according to your definition of the will, he was powerless to choose anything but to sin.
The alternative is to posit that people reject God’s grace because God decides that they will reject God’s grace. Which puts God in the uncomfortable position of damning people for what he makes them do.
CP: Not so. Again, God does not force anyone into unbelief. We are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
FJ: But again, you wish to have your cake and eat it too. Who makes men “by nature” children of wrath in your view? God does. Thus God makes most men such that they cannot believe, and lifts not a finger to help them to believe.
CP: Where do you get the notion He coerces people into unbelief? (Certainly not from me or any other Calvinist. God’s dealings with us involve no coercion and no violence to the human will. The fact that you keep coming back to this baseless accusation only serves to show how bankrupt your objections to Calvinism really are.)
FJ: The fact that you continually insist on a position, the consequences of which you also insist on disowning, shows the bankruptcy of your position.
CP: You ask:
FJ: How is it that God’s grace is denigrated because people can reject it? And how does God come out the better if the reason they reject it is in fact that he never intended that they respond to it in the first place—but only held the ball, like Lucy, and then pulled it out of the way just as poor Charlie Brown was about to kick off?
CP: John, I think it’s positively sinful to speak (or even think) of God in the sort of evil-caricature terms you are using. You are saying (as you have said before) that if God is truly sovereign, He is evil. It ought to make you tremble to say such things.
FJ: I am saying that if God is the one that “creates evil,” and if He decrees whatsoever comes to pass, and if he ensured Adam’s fall by making his nature and circumstances such that he could not but sin, then in this view God would be the author of sin. If that is blasphemous, the blasphemy is yours—since this is your position.
Furthermore, if God calls all men to repent, but knows that they cannot repent, and will only repent if he gives them irresistible grace to do so, but chooses not to give it to most men, then such would be like holding out the ball, with no intention of allowing the kicker to kick it. Again, if that is blasphemous, it is your position, not mine. It is also a novel position, contrary to the Faith of Church. Even St. Augustine did not believe that Adam fell by any necessity, but that he was free to choose the good, or the evil.
If you can show me that your interpretation was the interpretation of the Early Church, then I will scratch my head and go back to the drawing board. Otherwise, I take your position with the same seriousness that I do any other novel teaching that has come along well after the Apostolic era—only serious enough to seek to refute it for the sake of those who believe it, not because I consider it to be even remotely possibly true.
But Scripture teaches that apart from grace, no one would—or could—come to Christ in faith (Jn. 6:65). That point is granted.
CP: But you don’t really grant it, because 1) you describe “grace” as something God owes everyone and is unrighteous if He withholds (the very opposite of true grace);
FJ: If Adam fell of his own accord, and apart from any necessity, then it is conceivable that all men could be justly damned without any hope of mercy, if one posits a corporate personality. They would be justly condemned on the basis of Adam’s sin. They would not justly be condemned for failure to repent, if future repentance was not possible. But in any case, it is God Himself who says “whosoever will”, and so we know that he does extend his grace to “whosoever will.” In your view, however, even Adam had no more free will than we do—and so his damnation would indeed make God unjust. This is one point that St. Augustine managed to steer clear of error on.
CP: and 2) you don’t see this “grace” as really efficacious. Rather, you think “grace” awaits the consent of the sinner before it can begin to operate on her behalf. I’m glad that’s not what grace is—else no one would ever be saved.
FJ: If my kid does something wrong, and I offer her forgiveness on certain conditions of repentance and future obedience—how is it that my forgiveness is not efficacious? However, it will do no good for the child that chooses to continue in disobedience.
CP: OK, so take John 6:37,45 in context. What do those verses mean? Or even Romans 8:30, which states that all who are “called” are justified. Again, you are denying that grace is efficacious, and thus you deny the very concept of grace.
FJ: OK, this is from St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, verse 27:
But perhaps some one will say, “If all that the Father giveth, and whomsoever He shall draw, cometh unto Thee, if none can come unto Thee except it be given him from above, then those to whom the Father giveth not are free from any blame or charges.” These are mere words and pretenses. For we require our own deliberate choice also, because whether we will be taught is a matter of choice, and also whether we will believe. And in this place, by the” which the Father giveth Me,” He declareth nothing else than that “the believing on Me is no ordinary thing, nor one that cometh of human reasonings, but needeth a revelation from above, and a well-ordered soul to receive that revelation.” And the, “He that cometh to Me shall be saved,” meaneth that he shall be greatly cared for. “For on account of these,” He saith, “I came, and took upon Me the flesh, and entered into(5) the form of a servant.”
Verses 44 and 45:
Ver. 44. “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw Him.”
The Manichaeans spring upon these words, saying, “that nothing lies in our own power”; yet the expression showeth that we are masters of our will. “For if a man cometh to Him,” saith some one, “what need is there of drawing?” But the words do not take away our free will, but show that we greatly need assistance. And He implieth not an unwilling(2) comer, but one enjoying much succor. Then He showeth also the manner in which He draweth; for that men may not, again, form any material idea of God, He addeth,
Ver. 46. “Not that any man hath seen God,(3) save He which is of God, He hath seen the Father.”
“How then,” saith some one, “doth the Father draw?” This the Prophet explained of old, when he proclaimed beforehand, and said,
Ver. 45. “They shall all be taught of God.” (Isa. 54:13.)
Seest thou the dignity of faith, and that not of men nor by man, but by God Himself they shall(4) learn this? And to make this assertion credible, He referred them to their prophets. “If then ‘all shall be taught of God,’ how is it that some shah not believe?” Because the words are spoken of the greater number. Besides, the prophecy meaneth not absolutely all, but all that have the will. For the teacher sitteth ready to impart what he hath to all, and pouring forth his instruction unto all.
As for Romans 8:30, you have reached conclusions which the passage does not support.
I refer you to St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies 15 and 16 on the Book of Romans, which can be found online at Wheaton’s Early Church Fathers site.
The problem is you would have us believe that the contingencies are a mere playing pretend. God tells sinners to repent, but he really does not mean it—since they will only repent if he makes them repent, and if he does not, they cannot.
CP: Who ever said He doesn’t mean it? The point you’re missing is that all sinners refuse to obey (Rom. 8:7-8; Jn. 6:44, 65). But in the case of the elect, He intervenes to assure their salvation. That’s grace. He is not obligated to show the same grace to all.
FJ: How can a call to repentance have any meaning without the means to respond being provided? God knows what man is capable of. If man cannot repent unless he provides them with the irresistible impulse to do so, how can God command those to repent whom he has no intention of seeing repent?
CP: In fact, as I have suggested before, your objection works more effectively against your own view than against mine. After all, whether we are Calvinist or Arminian (or EO), we will affirm that God does command all men to believe. Yet you yourself acknowledge that He declines to do what He could do—He does not intervene to give unbelieving sinners new hearts of faith.
FJ: I say that he makes no one believe, though he would enable all men to believe and repent if only they would accept what He freely offers.
CP: So how does the Arminian god escape the charge that He either doesn’t mean what He says, or else is impotent?
FJ: Your conclusions have not been demonstrated to have any validity.
CP: Again we return to the real issue: the objection you have raised is tantamount to a denial of either the omnipotence or the goodness of God.
FJ: It is only a denial of omnipotence if one assumes that to be omnipotent, one must do all that one possibly could do. But as you know, the root word in omnipotent, is the same as in the word “potential.”
CP: I’m particularly interested in how you believe foreknowledge absolves God from the charge that He is responsible for evil. If Calvinism makes God responsible for evil (as you have repeatedly suggested), how does your view rescue the Almighty from a similar blame? If He knew evil would occur and permitted it anyway—even though he could have avoided it—how is He exculpated from responsibility in your view?
FJ: God predestines according to foreknowledge and His eternal purposes. Part of His eternal purpose is that Man would love Him of his own free will, and not by any necessity. Those that respond to God’s grace are foreknown and predestined to be heirs of Salvation, according to God’s eternal purposes. Those that reject God’s grace, are foreknown, and are accordingly appointed unto damnation. Those that reject God’s grace are therefore, justly condemned.
For some reason, you think that this cooperation would mean that man merits his salvation. But if some ransomed prisoners choose to stay with their captors, while other choose to be free, no one would say that those thus freed had merited their release.
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 and Part 2 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)
Posted on December 2, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, The Christian Life, Theology and tagged Arminianism, Calvinism, christianity, early church history, Eastern Orthodox, faith, free will, John Piper, Not For itching Ears, Protestant, TULIP. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
Hi Jim. In desperate reading, I stumbled across something that I thought would be of meaningful interest to this series of posts. Referencing Calvin’s Prefatory Address to his Institutes, it seems he found it necessary to defend his theology by the use of quoting the Fathers and listing their stances on many of the debated doctrines between Orthodox/ Catholic/ Protestant churches. He doesn’t list just a few, but covers an extensive piece of traditional real estate. He also addresses the issue of an unbroken record of Church history.
I’m currently digging now to try to locate the original statements by these men. If time permits you to take a look, I’d love to hear your take on this. Thanks
That would be interesting to read. I have Lane/Osbornes condensed version of Calvin’s Institutes, which doesn’t include his Prefatory Address. I would love to read it. Maybe you could provide us all a link if you find it somewhere on-line?
Jim, there’s probably other sources, but I often use resources provided at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. They provide some pretty exhaustive works. Here’s the link to the Institutes.