The Five Conundrums of Calvinism

Roger Olson sketches five conundrums — something between contradiction and mystery — in Calvinism, and these conundrums Olson thinks call into question the good name of God. I shall present them as questions.

How can God have absolute divine sovereignty and humans be genuinely responsible?

How can God determine everything and anything be evil? That is, if everything is God’s will, and God is good, everything is good or at least nothing is evil. This includes rape, child abuse and hell.

How can anything injure God’s glory if God wills everything? Even unbelief, even heresy, even sin.

How can God’s saving some and passing over others and be good and loving and gracious? [Olson thinks God chooses on the basis of foreknowledge.]

How can God be good and ordain evil actions in this world?

There are often better, non-Calvinist explanations, and the Calvinist appeal to conundrum, or antinomy, masks the illogic and fails to deal with the more adequate rational, logical answer of others. Divine determinism and meticulous providence create more problems for God’s character than they solve problems. Divine self-limitation and human free will are better, more rational explanations.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://profanefaith.com profanefaith

    This is beyond my pay grade. When Arminians talk about Calvinists they often make them into determinists, but I am not familiar with any who are. In fact, I have found more ground-level determinism in the piety of average evangelicals (whatever that is, right?). I guess this leads to more questions than answers for me.

    How can God have absolute divine sovereignty and humans be genuinely responsible?
    How can God be sovereign and humans not be held responsible? Is a limited God necessary to be truly human?

    How can God determine everything and anything be evil?
    Who is saying God determines everything?

    How can anything injure God’s glory if God wills everything? Who out there is making that kind of statement, that God has willed everything but somehow is glory is hurt?

    How can God’s saving some and passing over others and be good and loving and gracious? Is only a God who saves all then good and loving and gracious?

    How can God be good and ordain evil actions in this world?
    How can God be powerful and allow evil actions in this world?

  • John

    While these are legitimate problems for Calvinism, Olson’s Arminianism faces the same problems. If an all-powerful, all-knowing God created this particular world knowing the end result from the beginning, it makes no difference whether we speak of that end result as ordained (a causal determinism) or foreknown (an epistemic determinism). Divine infallible foreknowledge is simply determinism with the appearance of softer edges.

  • PLTK

    In response to profanefaith @1:

    Sometimes I think we are missing each other in these questions. You claim to not understand well Scot’s questions, but I must admit to thinking your responses to Scot’s questions, miss the mark.

    It makes me think the Calvinist and non-Calvinist theological underpinnings lead to such different world views we often completely miss each other’s meanings. Perhaps this ties into Olson’s comment that while he understand Calvinists say they don’t believe what he thinks is a logical consequence of their system, while he accepts their comment it is not part of what they believe, he cannot help but see it as a logical extension of Calvinism.

    In responses to your questions 1)I believe a God who allows real free choice to humans is necessary for a real relationship between us to exist and for real love to exist. I do not believe this is a limited God, but one who chooses to limit his control over us in order for this to occur because of His great love.

    #2) Your general issue seems to be the issue of determinism. I do know there are a several Calvinist theologians who adhere to this (sorry, can’t pull names out at the moment, though I would agree that many run of the mill Calvinist don’t hold to this.) Nonetheless, I would say most of these 1)haven’t thought too much about what they really believe and 2) miss what I see as the logical inconsistencies here. I don’t see how you can be a Calvinist and not be logically determinist — i.e., I see it as a logical necessity of Calvinist belief. My pastor (I attend a Grand Rapids megachurch and our pastor is clearly Calvnist) once preached on how God determined everything — we ALWAYS walked within God’s plan, even, he commented, to his getting up and going to church that morning to preach. Of course, he also argued this within the context of humans still having free will and accountability, and referred to mystery at this point. So, yes, many do say God determines everything.

    3) Calvinist do say we injure God’s glory and at the same time God determines everything (again, perhaps not the typical pew Calvinist with unexamined beliefs)(and as an aside, yes, I acknowledge that most Christians of all theological backgrounds have many unexamined beliefs). Then they refer to mystery and some rather convoluted explanations of how free will exists within the context of God’s control as we chose what we “will” according to our natures, but our corrupted nature has no ability to chose anything but evil and that injures God. But we didn’t chose to have a corrupted will, right? The answer: we inherited Adam’s corruption. But why did Adam sin? Did he, of all humans, have real free will? If so, did God decree that Adam sinned? If so, then we have inherited the corrupted will that God decreed us to have… and so it goes.

    4) No, but only a God who offers a real choice of salvation to all is truly loving and good and gracious. I.e., those offered salvation must have the ability to respond and accept or it is not a real offer.

  • http://virtualclaritymagazine.org Phil Schomber

    PLTK (#3),

    I agree that Calvinists and Arminians often talk past each other, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that we approach these questions from different starting points. But, I also think a big part of the problem is that it is difficult for us, as limited human beings, to understand precisely how God works in the world. When we try to put together a systematic explanation, our finite understanding inevitably leaves us with loose ends. Those loose ends leave both sides open to the charge of logical inconsistency.

    I come from a more Calvanistic background, but I admit it is difficult to understand exactly how a Calvanistic understanding of divine providence doesn’t slide into a determinism that eliminates meaningful free will. But, Arminianism faces similar problems. For example, if we have a libertarian free will that allows us to genuinely choose anything at anytime, how is it that God can not only know the future but also ensure a certain result?

    I had a professor in seminary who said Scripture often underdetermines our theology. I wonder if that is a helpful reminder here. Scripture affirms both God’s sovereignty and human free will, but it doesn’t give us a detailed explanation of how the two interact. We can do our best to put them together in our own minds, and when we do that certain systems will make more sense to us than others, based on our other beliefs. But, in the end, we’ll still be left with loose ends that won’t fully satisfy everyone and that ultimately fall short of reality.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Can anyone cite Scripture where God limits himself for the purpose of preserving his character?

  • Randy Walberg

    @Peter G. John 1:14. When God came in human flesh, He most certainly limited himself.

  • http://profanefaith.com profanefaith

    Much of this conversation lies in realizing we are facing the same or similar tensions in either system, and that some of the tension is also in what is said or unsaid in Scripture. I don’t like criticisms of a system that end with “…and so that’s why you have to buy into my system.”

  • Jeremy

    Like profanefaith says, Arminianism has all the same problems with these questions that Calvinism does. Just change “will” to “allow”. Either way, from a finite human perspective, his character would appear to be no less impugned. He’s either the rapist or the cop who stands there watching. That is of course unless we, when confronted with the problems of sovereignty (limited or absolute), would be fools to think we can judge the character of our creator.

    Thank God he went to such great lengths and suffered such a high cost to demonstrate beyond all doubt His overwhelming goodness in Jesus Christ. To see His goodness clearly revealed in Christ and then to question His character based on something we “see through a glass darkly” reveals a great lack of trust on our part. Or at least misplaced trust. In the end, Calvinists (the direction I lean in) will be satisfied with God’s exercise of his power even if Arminianism turns out to be true and Arminians will be satisfied with his goodness even if Calvinism turns out to be true. Of that we can be sure.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Peter G#5, how about never to flood the earth again?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Phil Schomber#4,

    I am no theologian, but I play one at home.

    Phil, I think Arminians allow god to know certain things without meticulously determining them. For instance, I can assure you that a Democrat is going to get more than 30% of the popular vote in the Nov 2012 election. It is a certainty.

    Likewise, there will absolutely be those who accept Jesus, and those who follow the Satan. None of that means I am meticulously determining them but they are definitely true.

    I can also tell you that the days of the earth are numbered, that the skies will fill with fire and dread never before seen by man will fall upon the earth. That will definitely happen.

  • PLTK

    The rapist/policeman analogy is not a great fit, particularly as in the case of the policeman, he is tasked with protecting others as a fundamental part of the job–not acting would go against the fundamental nature of the job.

    A better analogy would be the difference between a father who 1) forces his child to marry an abusive spouse, knowing full well that terrible things will happen to the child (and not only forces the marriage, but renders certain the abuse) and a father who 2) permits his child to marry an abusive spouse, also knowing full well that terrible things will happen to that child. I believe this more clearly speaks to the the fundamental difference in the relationship between the father and child.

    For Phil #4, I agree that we will all find that much of our understanding will be shown to be faulty when we see God face to face and admit that non-Calvinist systems also have problems.

  • David Dollins

    Eve had a choice. Adam had a choice. The only thing ‘prepared’ from the foundation of the world (because He foreknew our choices, being Omniscient) was a Lamb. Pretty straight forward to me.

  • Jeremy

    @PLTK – Analogies are particularly tough when it comes to this topic. They are all full of holes and break down pretty quickly. That said, I would say the father/child analogy would be more accurate if the father knew the husband would murder his daughter.

    Either way, almost any well-rounded concept of justice accounts for the fact that allowing a crime one could prevent in some sense makes one complicit.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeremy you are engaging in making a logical paradox that just makes no sense. Like saying god can’t make an object so large he can’t lift it.

    If god gives free will, then he can’t intervene, by definition.

    You have to debate why he would not give free will.

  • Jeremy

    that is, complicit morally if not legally.

  • Tim Marsh

    The greatest conundrum of Calvinism is that, if we accept the soteriological model of unconditional election, then why would his atonement be limited? Would it be for a greater glory if all are saved?

  • Kurt

    These are serious issues that Calvinist will ever fail to reconcile. Valid points about Arminians are made here as well. …That’s why I’m an open theist. The only for me to settle these questions is to appeal to an open theist view of sovereignty and the future (ala. Pinnock, Boyd etc.)

    Everybody is bailing SOME water… I think I’m bailing the least. :)

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    First, it is bewildering that there is any questioning of whether Calvinism teaches determinism. It is undeniably the view of standard Calvinism, and that can be demonstrated quite easily.

    Second, allowing something is radically different than unconditionally decreeing and ensuring that something happen. In Calvinism, God logically first had the idea for each evil act that ever takes place, conceived it in his own heart, and logically then decreed for it to take place without any influence from anything outside of himself. That indeed makes God the author of all sin and evil logically, even though Calvinists incoherently-IMO deny that idea. I know that some internet Calvinists think there is no real difference between allowing something and unconditionally decreeing it or irresistibly causing it, but I think most people do, and that it is quite obvious and undeniable. But we may have to just agree to disagree about that. The concept of “allowance” is not logically compatible with Calvinism (precisely because of its determinism), whereas it is with Arminianism, leaving Calvinism with no ground to say God allows evil for a greater purpose, while such grounding is part and parcel of Arminianism (God allows evil because free will is necessary for genuine relationship, love, and for glorifying God {who is love} most {more than lack of free will does, in which all that happens is actually God’s will in a fairly robust sense, and there effectively ends up being only one will in the universe}.)

    It makes perfect sense that, as the Creator, God could rightly decide to give people free will and then hold them accountable for it and bring perfect justice in the end rather than somehow have the responsibility to stop every evil from occurring, particularly as free will is necessary for genuine relationship, and love, and allows for proper glory to God as opposed to having a world full of puppets that he pseudo-relates to and causes to pseudo relate him and to one another, and his will being the only real will in the universe.

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    Perhaps I should add that the argument that God knowing what would happen and creating anyway means he is responsible for what happens does not work against the simple foreknowledge Arminian position. For God’s foreknowledge cannot be wrong. It simply mirrors what will happen. That in no way conflicts with the freedom of the agents. Yet it also means that he cannot decide not to create someone based on knowing what they will do, since his foreknowledge is based on the fact that they will do that and not creating them would make his foreknowledge wrong, and additionally, not creating them would take away the basis of the decision not to create them in the first place.

    As for how God can know the future without causing it, most Christians have held that God transcends time. Modern science actually supports that as possible even from our finite understanding. But Scripture does not tell us how God does that even as it does not tell us how God can do any number of things he can do, such as speaking the world into existence. What it does reveal is that people have a limited free will within the boundaries God has set, that God knows the future, that he is too pure to look on evil or be its author, that he does not want us to sin, and that he wants all to turn to Jesus and be saved.

  • Aaron

    Arminian said “it is bewildering that there is any questioning of whether Calvinism teaches determinism. It is undeniably the view of standard Calvinism, and that can be demonstrated quite easily.”

    This is why it is so hard to discuss theology with Calvinists, They use language to disguise and soften what they actually believe to make it more palatable.

  • http://www.parkpresbyterian.com J. Christy Wareham

    I don’t even see how divine self limitation solves anything. If God was self limiting yesterday, then can’t God have a change of mind today? If so, all the same conundrums remain. If not, God is evermore permanently limited. In that case, what is the problem with acknowledging certain limitations apply, even to God, in the first place? If a brick has fallen from the top of a building, how is God diminished by the limitations imposed by gravity (vertically) and inertia (laterally)?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Randy (#6), thanks but you missed my qualification completely: “for the purpose of preserving his character.” I doubt you want to argue that the purpose of the incarnation was to preserve God’s character (because then it wouldn’t be an incarnation anymore).

    DRT (#9), God promises to never flood the earth again. And where are we told that the purpose was to preserve his character? And if that was the purpose, what does that say about his character given that he did flood the earth? Did mature a bit after the flood?

  • Aslan Cheng

    We need to explain the Bible better, of couser, we cannot fully understanding the Bible. The Bible does have a system that contains unity and diversity. We cannot simply put anything we,mostly individual, doesn’t understand to mystery. This mystery are something like that we face the science and religion conflict, somebody take the idea of a God of gap. These ideas not an responsible solution at all.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: These are serious issues that Calvinist will ever fail to reconcile. Valid points about Arminians are made here as well. …That’s why I’m an open theist. The only for me to settle these questions is to appeal to an open theist view of sovereignty and the future (ala. Pinnock, Boyd etc.)

    Kurt,

    Yeah, that’s more or less why I’m an open theist too. (I think I intuitively believed in the whole ‘open theism’ deal long before I learned what the exact term was). It’s the only position that makes sense to me given that our subjective experience tells us that we have free will, and given that we know that God is perfectly good.

  • Val

    I am in agreement with Kurt and Hector st. Clare – open theism (Boyd’s position makes the most sense). Knowing the Christus Victor theory was around in the early church, and the way it clears up the Predestined/Free Will confusion makes me think we are so far off the true track I wonder what will happen to the North American Church (Christus Victor/Open theism explanation is the best one I have heard about how God “determines” everything. It may have all sorts of “holes” in it. But what makes me more confident in it is the fact the early church fathers wrote about Christ in this way

    I would love to hear what is wrong with it though, as right now there seems to be little written on what exactly makes Penal Substitution so much better than Christus Victor?

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    Val,

    It’s not case of either/or but both/and. That penal substitution is part of the atonement (I would say along with a type of Christus Victor and other models), see for example, from an Arminian point of view, I. Howard Marshall, “The Theology of the Atonement” (http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/222).

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    “Divine determinism and meticulous providence create more problems for God’s character than they solve problems. Divine self-limitation and human free will are better, more rational explanations.” Absolutely. If you can look another person in the eye and tell him that you don’t know if he has been selected to go to heaven or hell apart from any “in time” choice, you’ve got problems.

  • Jeremy

    @DRT – If we’re going to talk about free will we have to talk about it in biblical categories. The freedom that scripture is concerned with doesn’t seem to line up with our post enlightenment concept of Libertarian Free Will. Unless we agree on the nature of biblical freedom we’d just be talking past each other and that’s a whole other debate…

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: If we’re going to talk about free will we have to talk about it in biblical categories.

    Why?

    Free will (and by that I do mean libertarian free will) is something that people had subjective awareness of before the Bible was written, and that they have subjective awareness of even if they’ve never read the Bible. It’s one of the basic facts of our existence, that anyone can perceive. Grace builds on nature, as they say, and one of the essential factors of our nature (and the nature of the angels, and of God) is that we have free will. I’m unlikely to be convinced by any argument to the contrary, whether it’s drawn from the Bible or from atheistic physicalist materialists. We know we have libertarian free will, and that’s that.

    Val,

    I’m not sure that debates over free will vs. predestinatin necessarily imply one or another explanation of the Atonement. I don’t, personally, have a specific view of the Atonement that I stick to, I think several of them have some merit. When I think about the Temptation of Christ I’m drawn to the recapitulation theory, when I think about the Passion I’m drawn to penal substitution, and when I think about the lordship of Christ in our lives I’m drawn to the ransom theory.

  • Val

    Thanks Arminian – that link is great, I am working my way though it. Good points Hector St. Clare – I think I might be trying to understand it as a clear package but it is probably a huge event that had many levels of effect (paying for our sins, freeing us from the enemy, living a life sinless to model for us how to live and undo the human bondage to sin, etc.

    I need to keep reading, but the one thing that I wonder about in the free will/predestined are all the people who never hear the word in their lifetime. Once we are presented with the gospel, it is one thing to choose or be compelled, but what draws me to Christus Victor is the idea that the enemy takes special pains to keep certain cultures away from the power of the gospel. Think if India – they are amazing at worship, or the First Nations people in the far north – some of the most prophetic and visionary people in the west. These cultures have so much darkness and oppression over them – if it is free will, I think many circumstances have clouded their ability to choose. If it is predestination, then why does everyone get predestined in Reformed churches but no one in Mountainous Himalayan valleys with rare dialects?

    Something that has always bugged me about Penal Subsitution – since Christ came to pay our sins, and now it is paid, everyone is without excuse. BUT… in Christus Victor, they are not saved/freed because Satan still blocks access to them (language, unstable political climate, laws against evangelizing and persecution of the South Asian churches – especially the churches that are effective evangelizers). The Kingdom still needs to expand, and until it does – those who aren’t aware will remain in some form of bondage. I feel it is unfair to say God just didn’t predestine them, when our own disobedience to keep bringing the word hasn’t been fulfilled, but they are not yet free to make a choice for God…

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Wonderful Val. Shouldn’t the first test of theology be if somehow all the special circumstances line up to make you the benefactor of the theology that you may be allowing your depravity to get in the way? It’s amazing to me that they don’t see that.

  • Stephen Hesed

    Yet another anti-Calvinism post. Aren’t there bigger theological fish to fry out there? With that said, my two cents:

    If you believe in the omnipotence and omniscience of God (in the classical senses), then you believe in a form of determinism. To flesh that out: if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then every event in the history of the universe is either caused by God or permitted by God. And because God is omniscient, He knows exactly how His decisions to cause, prevent, and permit events will shape the course of history. Therefore, God knows the exact Universe that His own actions will result in, and so every single event in the history of the Universe, down to the proverbial “fall of a sparrow”, is in a sense “caused”, “decreed”, or “ordained” by God. Ephesians 1:11 seems to support this conclusion.

    Within this framework, the decisions of agents are in a sense predetermined. Since God has complete knowledge of the psychology of all agents and has complete control over all the factors that influence a given decision, He can manipulate the Universe in order to determine the outcome of the decision. There are numerous suggestions throughout the Bible that God is sovereign over human decisions, from the classic example of the hardening of Pharoah to the many mentions in the Prophets of God “raising up nations” to do His bidding.

    If I am correct in all of this so far, then classical Arminianism does not solve the essential problem of God desiring all people to be saved and yet not saving all people. Open Theism, which modifies the traditional understanding of God’s omniscience, is the only way to preserve truly libertarian free will. Otherwise, we must choose between either pure determinism or a form of compatiblism that appeals to antinomy. Due to the Scriptural emphasis on human responsibility, I opt for the latter.

  • http://deliberatesimplicity.blogspot.com Dave Browning

    Balance is not very sexy, or cool. What is deemed newsworthy is often extreme in one direction or the other. This is true in ministry, as well. The ministry or theologian that is extremely (and then fill-in-the-blank), evangelistic, Calvinistic, dogmatic, gets noticed. But for long-term effectiveness balance yields the best results, in your personal life and in your ministry.

    Here are some areas in which to strike a balance:

    Broad
    Deep
    Fellowship
    Worship
    Freedom
    Accountability
    Grace
    Holiness
    Evangelism
    Disicpleship
    Community
    Outreach

    A wise, older leader once gave me a good piece of advice: “Lean against the prevailing wind.” If you find yourself preaching about grace all the time, maybe balance that with a message on holiness, etc. So much of spirituality is both/and.

    It was said of Abraham Lincoln that he was “a man of steel and velvet.” That is the same sort of balance we see in Christ (full of grace and truth) and in His expectations for His church (speaking the truth in love).

    I think we need more of a biblical theology, than a systematic theology. When I open the Book and see “whosoever will may come” I preach that with gusto. When I turn the page and read, “elect before the foundations of the world” I revel in that truth. I don’t have to figure out the back story. I can just present the truth.

  • Jeremy

    Well said, Dave. I see the matter of sovereignty/responsibility in much the same way I see matters like the trinity, the incarnation, etc. We’re not so uncomfortable (for the most part) with tension in these areas, so, like you said, I read those two passages I accept them both not being able to explain precisely how they coexist.

  • http://alastairblake.com alastairblake

    I have come to doubt total hereditary depravity. be it calvinistic or arminian. It doesnt seem that God talks to humans as if they were left in that state. from genesis on, he tells them to repent in a way that seems to understand it as possible, by their own means. If God, has made everyone in his image, and they can choose God’s ways, then I see God as free from responsibility for what happens to the individuals, as he has offered salvation, and anyone can respond. If God can create beings with their own ability to trust Him, and if he will supply the strength they need, then it seems to me that God would not be responsible for what they do, or where they end up, since I believe he gives opportunity for obedience or rebellion.

  • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

    Thank you for this … and for each commenter.

    I appreciate listening and learning here.

  • Leon

    I think the main problem lies in our understanding of the other side’s position. I am not a Calvinist, but believe the Doctrines of Grace are more correct than the other side. In the Arminian view of Calvinism, God micromanages everything. I have never once seen a Calvinist who believes this, Calvin certainly did not. I was originally taught Arminianism in Bible College, but couldn’t reconcile it with scripture, even though I had all the verses they used. I also cannot reconcile all the points of Calvinism, either. I think I will stick to what the Bible teaches, that we cannot come to Christ outside the calling of the Father, and that we do ultimately make a choice, but an informed choice after God has changed our heart and shown us what is being offered. And, if God knows the end from the beginning, how can foreknowledge not play at least a small part in His decision on who to call? If we know that a car, that is the same price as another, is prone to breaking down regularly, could we stop ourselves from considering that in our final decision on which one to buy? I think not. The knowledge is there, it will be considered. That doesn’t mean it is the sole consideration, either. God IS sovereign, and will do as He pleases. When we start dictating what actions of God are/are not evil, we are putting ourselves in His place. That doesn’t end well, ask Satan.

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    Leon #37 said, “In the Arminian view of Calvinism, God micromanages everything. I have never once seen a Calvinist who believes this, Calvin certainly did not.”

    This is an incredible claim, It is well known and undeniable that standard Calvinism teaches exhaustive divine determinism in the form that God unconditionally and irresistibly decreed all things. Calvin certainly believed God decreed absolutely everything people think, say, or do.

    Calvin, e.g., said:

    “we maintain that, by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the
    course which he has destined” Inst. I.xvi.8

    “Men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself, and brings to pass by his
    secret direction” Inst. I.xviii

    “The hand of God rules the interior affections no less than it superintends external actions; nor would God have effected by the hand of man what he decreed, unless he worked in their hearts to make them will before they acted”
    (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (tr. J. K. S. Reid) (London, 1961), 175f.)

  • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

    Interesting post.

    First, It is obvious that God self-limits (however, His self-limiting – or condescension, divine humility, etc. – is itself an expression of His eternal glory). For a Calvinist, there is no problem in any of that. The major problem, in fact, is not that God self-limits, but that human beings self-exalt. For example, we magnify ourselves by imagining that we can devise better “logical” explanations for the philosophical conundrums created by the Bible rather than simply accepting God’s own testimony and admitting we are limited in our logic, information and understanding. We don’t particularly like God’s testimony because it leaves a lot of holes and seems to create logical conflicts. Our rationalistic minds demand resolution; we don’t want to live in the lowliness of our own limits, or the discomfort of mysteries and paradoxes. We easily commit the error of filling in the gaps with our own thoughts. However, because the contradictions themselves are only apparent, the resolutions we create are also only apparent. They are a mirage designed to make us feel better – but in reality we have solved nothing. There was nothing to solve because God never saw any conflict between the two sides we supposedly resolved (e.g. His meticulous sovereignty and our freedom of choice). In fact, if we “solved” the apparent problem by contradicting a single Biblical proposition, we only succeeded in creating a bigger problem for ourselves!

    Second, it is true that “explanations” have been devised which fill in the logical gaps left by the Bible. However, I daresay this has only been done at the expense of the Bible. There is no way to take ALL of the Bible at full face value without accepting a great deal of mystery and some degree of paradox or antinomy. We stand in great danger of overstepping whenever we begin to demand answers to questions God Himself has left unanswered.

    In conclusion, I remain a Calvinist because it is the only system I know of that allows me to give full credit to God’s revelation in the Bible without delving presumptuously into the matters He has not revealed. At the same time, the Reformed system leaves me the freedom to explore philosophical matters with the understanding that I am only thinking the lowly thoughts of a man – so I can rest in God’s wisdom even when I can’t get it all figured out “logically.” It teaches me to take my own thoughts less seriously, and God’s thoughts with absolute confidence. If my system is criticized because it doesn’t answer all of the questions to the satisfaction of a fallen human being, I can live with that.

    I believe any true Pietist can and should find such an arrangement refreshingly humbling. Pietists and Calvinists ought to be the best of friends. :)

    Blessings,
    Derek Ashton

  • Scott C

    @ Hector_St_Clare – #29. You said:
    “Free will (and by that I do mean libertarian free will) is something that people had subjective awareness of before the Bible was written, and that they have subjective awareness of even if they’ve never read the Bible. It’s one of the basic facts of our existence, that anyone can perceive.”

    Really? We have a subjective awareness that our choices have no antecedent causes? That all influences can be neutralized such that our choices are capable of being completely unbiased? That we have no preference for one choice over another? That we can be influenced to tell the truth and for no apparent reason decide to lie? That we can believe one day and then suddenly decide not to believe the next day? Boy, if that is one of the basic facts of our existence, then I missed the boat.


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