Calvinism and the God-as-author analogy

One of my faithful visitors here pointed me to the following recent essay posted to the Desiring God blog by one Joe Rigney (professor at John Piper’s Bethlehem College and Seminary) entitled “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil.” The link is: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/confronting-the-problem-s-of-evil.I am not sure whether Rigney is the author of the essay; the “voice” is Piper’s in many ways. It’s unsigned, but the “by” box at the top says “Joe Rigney.” So I will attribute it to him.

In the essay Rigney argues that God’s sovereignty is like that of a human author’s over his or her narrative. Human authors frequently write novels in which their characters do terrible things. Just as we don’t blame the human author for the acts committed by his or her characters, so we shouldn’t blame God for the acts committed by sinful people.

Of course, I think the analogy breaks down. If a human author somehow gained the magical ability to bring her characters to life so that they do actually commit horrific acts of murder (for example), we would hold the author responsible (as well as the now alive characters). The only reason we don’t hold authors responsible for murders committed by their characters in novels is because the characters and the murders are imaginary, not real.

But that’s not the point I want to press here. I’ve already talked with numerous Calvinists about that and other points related to God’s sovereignty and, for the most part, our conversations have ended in what I would consider impasses. That is, we can’t come to agreement about God’s moral responsibility for acts he foreordains and renders certain.

If I could talk to Rigney (or someone who agrees with him), here is what I would ask:

“You seem to believe that people who understand God’s sovereignty the way you do (as all-determining, comprehensive, meticulous) rightly feel not only shock but abhorrence at events such as school shootings in which multiple children are killed. But why? My question is not why you DO, but why you think it’s right to have such feelings. I”m not asking about moral rightness; I’m asking about logical rightness.

IF God foreordained and rendered certain a particular event for a greater good (as you assert), why, as a Christian, embrace feelings of abhorrence about them? Shouldn’t you at least TRY not to feel abhorrence about them? After all, they are actually good from a higher perspective–the one you claim to have that sees them as necessary events brought about by God for the greater good.

The “abhorrence” I’m talking about here is not the natural sensation of shock and dismay and sadness. I understand it may be impossible for anyone to avoid that in the face of murdered children. The abhorrence I’m talking about is the repugnance at the evil of such an event that most people also naturally feel.

If I had your perspective, I would strive to overcome that abhorrence in the face of any event. I would strive to be stoic about every event, realizing emotionally as I would intellectually that it is what God desires to happen and therefore must be, in the highest sense possible, good, however evil it may seem from a finite perspective.

Now I assume you will appeal to God’s alleged complex emotions in the face of evils he ordained and governs (to use Piper’s language). However, I assume that when God sees a terrible evil occur that he ordained and governs, he doesn’t feel moral repugnance about it. That would imply a split in God himself. The negative emotion God feels (from your perspective and John Piper’s) must be something like the horror we feel when we hear about child murders, but it surely can’t be moral repugnance insofar as he, God himself, wanted it to happen and rendered it certain according to his will for the ultimate good.

If you say that God DOES feel moral repugnance when creatures do evil, then I can only assume you radically reject the doctrine of divine simplicity and believe that God actually morally abhors that which he himself plans and renders certain for the greater good. In that case, it seems, God operates from a finite perspective like we most often do.

What I’m asking about is your feelings about your feelings about evil. Do you ever sit back and reflect on whether and to what extent your moral repugnance and righteous indignation in the face of radical evil are justified?

Now, please, understand my question rightly. Again, I’m NOT asking whether, as a mere mortal, a creature, feelings of moral repugnance in the face of radical evil are normal. I’m sure they are. What I’m asking is how you feel about them. Do you embrace them or seek to resist them? If you embrace them, why? Why not try to resist them? Surely it’s possible. We’re told that the stoics of the ancient world accomplished that–at least to some degree.

Perhaps you’ll say that such feelings are simply irresistible. But my question is whether you think they are right. What justifies them rationally? Even if they are irresistible, why not ALSO celebrate such horrific events since you know, however you feel, that they are ordained and rendered certain by God FOR THE GREATER GOOD?

Again, IF I held your perspective about God’s sovereignty I would do my best to push aside feelings of moral repugnance in the face of, for example, child murders, and view them stoically if not as causes for celebration. Why not?”

 

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger,

    You paint the following helpful (scary) picture. “If I had your perspective, I would strive to overcome that abhorrence in the face of any event. I would strive to be stoic about every event, realizing emotionally as I would intellectually that it is what God desires to happen and therefore must be, in the highest sense possible, good, however evil it may seem from a finite perspective.”

    Is this not yet another good illustration of nominalist thinking – on the part of the imaginary person who agrees with Rigney/Piper?

    On a slightly different tack, it seems there are two kinds of believers when it comes to putting all the cards on the table. One is willing to say exactly what she means, admit to all the logical ramifications, never hold back on admitting any belief/conclusion essential to her position. Just say it all, clearly, precisely, and stand by it without any squirming, intellectually or otherwise. The other equivocates from time to time, pulls back when necessary, holds back some essentials for some audiences, claims things that appear to be inconsistent with other parts of the position, but will not clearly address the issue. In general squirms a lot, intellectually and otherwise.

    I’m not discussing politicians here, but, in the second case, you could be forgiven for thinking so.

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  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,
    A good and right question. This is a significant hole in a Calvinist’s thinking – and when pressed, they will generally do anything possible to avoid calling good as bad and bad as good. It is something that we all try to avoid. I suspect that it is why you have a difficult time with the OT “genocide” passages. It is why I do gymnastics trying to make sense of the “Davidic census” accounts.
    Hope you had a great Christmas.
    -Tim

    • rogereolson

      Well, it seems to me there is a qualitative difference between admitting to having problems with certain biblical stories and claiming that human acts foreordained and rendered certain by God are evil without involving God in any guilt for them. You and I are striving to be logical when we struggle with certain biblical accounts. It seems to me that at least some Calvinists are simply escaping logic, pushing it aside, when they claim that God foreordains and renders certain human decisions and actions that are truly, objectively evil for the greater good (i.e., the decisions and actions serve the higher good God wills and that cannot be achieved without them) and they (the Calvinists) feel moral repugnance at them and embrace that feeling as logically correct.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        It may be a qualitative difference in our eyes, but it may stem simply from a difference of prioritization. They seem to be committed to understanding certain passages in a certain way (ie Rm 9-11) – and this colors everything else. The implications seem very difficult to swallow for some of us – indeed for some Calvinists, too; there is a temptation to try to justify the unjustifiable (“ends justify the means” arguments).
        We, on the other hand, have as our immovable starting point about God, something different. But these give us problems as well, and we do what we can to patch up those holes (or we just shrug our shoulders sometimes).
        I guess that now that I think about it, that 1. God must be considered kind and 2. The decisions that I make must be consequential (in some way, even if only for me). Any theology that goes against these (at least), I’m not interested in. I end up with different problems and holes in my theology, but I can live with those. I can’t live with the problems that the Calvinists bear up under.
        You are right, there is a qualitative difference.

        • rogereolson

          Thanks, Tim. I think we agree about this. Every system has holes. My problem is with those that claim they have none. But let’s be specific. Some “holes” in systems are mysteries–beliefs that transcend rational explanation. For example, I believe that God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly (simple foreknowledge). I also believe God does not determine the future exhaustively and infallibly. Therein lies a mystery. I cannot explain, and I doubt anyone can explain, how both can be true. However, there is no logical contradiction in them. Affirming both does not involve me in logical contradiction. To use the old illustration–physicists believe light behaves both like particles and like waves. How one reality can do both is a mystery, but affirming that it is like both does not involve one in sheer, logical contradiction. What would make it a contradiction is if a physicist said that light is “exclusively” particle like and “exclusively” wave like. No physicist would say that and if one did, everyone would object. Some systems go beyond “mystery holes” into logical contradiction holes. That is more than a problem; it’s a defeater of the system. Some Calvinists admit that their Calvinism contains logical contradiction holes. For example, Christian Reformed pastor and theologian Edwin H. Palmer (in The Five Points of Calvinism, Baker, 1972) says that what Calvinists believe is “absurd.” Yet he does not think that’s a problem; he revels in it. Other Calvinists, however, try to explain why and how the Calvinist beliefs Palmer calls absurd are not absurd. They appeal to concepts they have created such as God’s “complex emotional life” and the difference between God’s intentions and sinners’ intentions (to explain how a murder, for example, can be foreordained and rendered certain by God and yet only the murderer be guilty). At least some of them do not recognize how these concepts logically conflict with other beliefs they hold (e.g., divine simplicity and exhaustive determinism). I came to the conclusion some time ago that high Calvinism (as taught, for example, by Jonathan Edwards) is logically incoherent in a way Arminianism, for example, is not. Both embrace mystery, but I do not think Arminianism is logically incoherent.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            I do not think Arminianism is logically incoherent

            Admittedly, some systems of thought have more coherence than others, but one man’s (unable-to-explain-two-seemingly-incompatible-things) mystery is another man’s logical incoherence. You and I, for instance, disagree on God’s foreknowledge because you see mystery where I see inconsistency. And to be honest, I’m terribly sympathetic (without agreement) with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their insistence on non-Trinitarian views. They have other troubles, but they do struggle to avoid appealing to mystery.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            btw, light is a particle that also acts like a wave sometimes. :)
            (no mystery to that.)

          • rogereolson

            Well, I have consulted with physicists about the “light mystery” and, so far, all have agreed that what exactly light is remains a mystery even to them.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    From what I have read, and from conversations I have had with friends of mine who are much more Reformed in these matters than I am, they would respond that the emotions you describe are simply part of what it means to be human, and are even commanded in Scripture (“weep with those who weep”), and that they simply find themselves living the biblical tension between these divinely ordained responses to evil and what they perceive to be the divinely ordained way of understanding the place of evil in God’s sovereign plan.

    A friend of mine once boiled down the differences between (broadly speaking) Calvinists and Arminians in this way. Each “camp” must live with its own set of mysteries and tensions. Calvinists must live with the mystery of how it is that God is in fact good in the face of what a deterministic understanding of his sovereignty entails. Arminians, on the other hand, must live with the mystery of what exactly it means that God is sovereign – or, rather, how exactly that sovereignty is ultimately worked out given that there is much of which it cannot be said that God has caused (because God is good) but over which it must be said, biblically, that God is indeed sovereign.

    What I have found is that I am not morally and spiritually able to live with the former tension; nor do I find it to be necessitated by Scripture; and so, on the relevant points, I differ from Calvinists.

    • rogereolson

      Okay, but what I’m asking is how a Calvinist feels about his or her moral repugnance in the face of evil deeds that he or she believes are ordained and rendered certain by God for the greater good. Do they, Calvinists, feel those feelings are logical or merely natural? I agree that each “camp” has problems it must live with, but embracing feelings of moral repugnance in the face of events God wills to happen because they are necessary for the greater good does not seem necessary. Surely a person who believes it can at least admit those feelings are unwarranted and struggle against them, right?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Against my better judgement I read the article you refer to – as an academic, it really goes against the grain to skip over evidence, even if it’s been investigated a thousand times and found inadmissible. According to the author, (in his words):

    “Here’s the basic claim: God is an Author. The World is his story. We are his characters.” (1)

    and further on, under the heading of “philosophy” the author gives us this bit of wisdom:

    “In fact, I’d suggest that the distance between real humans and the Pevensies is far less than the distance between Lewis and God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And this distance between human authors and the Divine author is what makes the distance between real persons and fictional characters largely irrelevant. ” (2)

    And then two clinchers:

    “Apart from his creative activity there is no will to act upon. He simply creates us exactly as we are, doing exactly what we’re doing. Both we and our decisions are not the result of God’s creative will, but the content of that will.” (3)

    “Evil exists so that Good can triumph.” (4)

    There we have it. The distance between beings that exist (us) and imaginary beings (characters in a novel) is less than the distance between us and our Father/Creator in whose image we are made (2). Our will is not really something that can change (3) – we cannot change, perhaps because God cannot change? This great author is so powerful that he needs evil in order to feel triumphant (4). We are the actors in a play (1). If we don’t play our part exactly, we get written out. Well, not really, because there is no possibility of not playing our part exactly as written. It’s as if we don’t exist, but must to stand judged for what we would have done had we existed. Or, we do exist, but we cannot, should not, feel – just respond as the author dictates. We are like toys in the playpen of some child with a very weird imagination. It’s basically a hall of mirrors. We cannot tell the end from the beginning. We cannot see a way out or a way through, or any way at all. But then, we don’t need to see a way, because if we did see a way (out, for example) we cannot take it, for we have no will of our own. Well, we can imagine that we have a will, written in by the author, of course. But it appears to be the author’s will that we remain in the hall of mirrors. Apparently that exit was only a mirage. Perhaps put there …… who knows why? No wonder people sometimes feel that the world is spinning, even spinning out of control.

    Fortunately, there is a better way. Several, even many better ways. Ironically, one of these ways is outlined in the same piece, at the end under the sub-title “The Emotional Problem: Divine Author, Divine Character”. I can agree with much in this last section. It seems as if the long first part is driven by some sort of fear that we will miss something essential if we focus more on the “Divine Character” in our story than on the “Divine Author”. But the Divine Character is Christ the Lord. How can we go very far wrong by focusing on him? What danger lies in allowing the Spirit he has sent to renew, rebuild, reengage us? Allowing the same Spirit to show us that the exit from the labyrinth was not a mirage, but real. There is a whole new world called the Kingdom of God waiting just outside that exit. A Kingdom where we are to use our Spirit given Christlikeness to help build, as co-labourers and co- creators with the author. It turns out that, once through the exit, the author wants to work through us, to help us become authors. To help us be as concerned about others as we are about ourselves. To help us love God with all our heart, soul and strength because we are made in his image. And, to be children of God, sisters and brothers of the King who is one of us, indeed the main character in our story – God’s story.

    • Robert

      Hello Bev,

      I appreciated your post as you demonstrate that you clearly understand where these theological determinists are coming from.

      You wrote:

      “According to the author, (in his words):

      “Here’s the basic claim: God is an Author. The World is his story. We are his characters.” (1)”

      Well that sums up their view quite nicely, we are all characters in a predecided story. Each plays his or her part and it is impossible that we do otherwise than to live out our completely prescripted lives.

      You quote the author of the article as saying:

      “ “Apart from his creative activity there is no will to act upon. He simply creates us exactly as we are, doing exactly what we’re doing. Both we and our decisions are not the result of God’s creative will, but the content of that will.” (3)”

      We are all created to be “exactly as we are, doing exactly what we’re doing.”

      In such a system there is no such thing as either free will or rationality. Free will is eliminated as our every choice is predestined by another person and we have no choices ever. Rationality is eliminated because rationality like free will presupposes that we are separate from causal chains and so our decision to adopt one claim rather than a competing claim is up to us, is our choice and is not predestined. If my every thought is predestined as the theological determinists want to believe, then I have no choice when it comes to deciding whether something is true or false, rational or not rational, factually and adequately supported or not factually or adequately supported (in each case I simply conclude whatever I was predestined to conclude). And yet the theological determinists have and make choices, urge others to choose their view rather than other views, urge people to be rational about their choices and decisions and conclusions like everyone. I guess reality just does not match their cherished and professed philosophy/theology!

      You quote the author as saying:

      ““Evil exists so that Good can triumph.” (4)”

      I guess God needs to impress himself with pyrrhic victories in which everything is staged.
      You then share some conclusions:

      “There we have it. The distance between beings that exist (us) and imaginary beings (characters in a novel) is less than the distance between us and our Father/Creator in whose image we are made.”

      The author analogy is very good for what theological determinism entails.

      “(2) Our will is not really something that can change”

      Of course not, free will is an illusion, it can’t be real if God has predestined every event, thought, belief, desire, feeling, movement. What is troubing is why God would predestine that so man of his own people, Christians, believe in free will, when in fact it does not and cannot exist? I could see God perhaps predestining unbelievers or people who were not his own to believe lies and illusions: but his own people, that doesn’t fit someone who claims to be a God of truth. And while we are on it, if he prdestines everything why predestine so much division and false beliefs among his own people? Again he says he wants unity among his people but then he prdestines so much disunity and division and confusion and contention. And while we are on this point: why does he predestine so many things that he says in the bible he is against or hates (he says he hates it and it is sin, but then he predestines every sin and does so in such a way that every time anyone believer or unbeliever sins, they never had a choice, they never could have done otherwise, they had to sin in exactly the way he predestined for them to sin.

      “(3) – we cannot change, perhaps because God cannot change? This great author is so powerful that he needs evil in order to feel triumphant”

      Hey it’s his play, his toy set, so he can do whatever he wants with his toy soldiers in his sandbox.

      “(4). We are the actors in a play (1). If we don’t play our part exactly, we get written out. Well, not really, because there is no possibility of not playing our part exactly as written.”

      This is what it boils down to: there is no possibility of not playing our part exactly as written.

      “It’s as if we don’t exist, but must to stand judged for what we would have done had we existed. Or, we do exist, but we cannot, should not, feel – just respond as the author dictates.”

      Here another common analogy helps us picture this view: there is one divine puppet master and everyone else is a conscious puppet whose every thought, intention, belief, desire, action is directly controlled by the puppet master. Yes we do exist, Yes we have a will, it is just that we are being directly, completely and continuously controlled by the puppet master.

      “ We are like toys in the playpen of some child with a very weird imagination. It’s basically a hall of mirrors. We cannot tell the end from the beginning. We cannot see a way out or a way through, or any way at all.”

      You are right it is a world where most of our beliefs are false and God predestined it to be precisely that way. If you are lucky and predestined to see the illusion and be one of the lucky ones to be saved, you got lucky. If you are unlucky and predestined to not see the illusion, to argue that we really do have our own wills, have free will, have genuine choices and genuine rationality, well that is just bad luck. It all becomes a matter of luck because in this world God predestined you to be saved (good luck), but in many other possible worlds he could just as easily have predestined you to be a reprobate/damned from birth (bad luck). And the good and bad luck is relative to what particular world God decides to actualize. All you can hope for is some good luck and most importantly for the best luck which is being preselected for salvation.

      ‘But then, we don’t need to see a way, because if we did see a way (out, for example) we cannot take it, for we have no will of our own.”

      Conscious puppets have no will of their own, their will is merely manipulated by the puppet master.

      “Well, we can imagine that we have a will, written in by the author, of course.”

      You will only imagine that you have your own will if unluckily God predestines for you to have that false belief. Don’t feel too bad though if you have that false belief as God has clearly predestined the vast majority of mankind (whether believers or unbelievers) to have that belief that they have their own will and have and make their own choices. Some lucky ones actually get predestined to see through the illusion and know reality, that its all predetermined, all prescripted.

      “But it appears to be the author’s will that we remain in the hall of mirrors. Apparently that exit was only a mirage.”

      For the unlucky ones so predestined.

      “Fortunately, there is a better way. Several, even many better ways. Ironically, one of these ways is outlined in the same piece, at the end under the sub-title “The Emotional Problem: Divine Author, Divine Character”. I can agree with much in this last section. It seems as if the long first part is driven by some sort of fear that we will miss something essential if we focus more on the “Divine Character” in our story than on the “Divine Author”. But the Divine Character is Christ the Lord. How can we go very far wrong by focusing on him? What danger lies in allowing the Spirit he has sent to renew, rebuild, reengage us? Allowing the same Spirit to show us that the exit from the labyrinth was not a mirage, but real.”

      Did God predestine you to have these non-calvinistic thoughts? :-)

      “There is a whole new world called the Kingdom of God waiting just outside that exit. A Kingdom where we are to use our Spirit given Christlikeness to help build, as co-labourers and co- creators with the author. It turns out that, once through the exit, the author wants to work through us, to help us become authors. To help us be as concerned about others as we are about ourselves. To help us love God with all our heart, soul and strength because we are made in his image. And, to be children of God, sisters and brothers of the King who is one of us, indeed the main character in our story – God’s story.”

      Again, why would God predestine you to have such non-calvinistic thoughts here? :-)

      Robert

      • rogereolson

        Of course, very few Calvinists take Calvinism to this extent–the logical conclusion of their doctrine of exhaustive, meticulous providence. For example, I once asked the leading evangelical Calvinist alive today (most influential) where the first evil intention came from. He said “I don’t know.” He was comfortable leaving that in the realm of mystery. However, it seems to me that’s a huge concession to Arminianism insofar as it admits one very significant sphere of reality (creaturely intentions) that can be formed independently of God. But, of course, the Calvinist cannot admit the first evil intention came from God. That would make God the author of sin and evil which very few Calvinists wish to do. (Although Jonathan Edwards admitted the truth of it in a restricted sense.) What’s left to account for the formation of the first evil intention? Only the creature. And there are only two options there. Either 1) the creature (whether Satan or Adam) contained a flaw in his or her good creation, making it not perfectly good, or 2) the creature was able, in spite of being perfectly good, to deviate from that goodness which would imply free will. Appeal to mystery here only works if the Calvinist has left “room” in his or her doctrine of providence for a “maverick molecule” (to use R. C. Sproul’s terminology for whatever would not be absolutely under God’s control)–something most Calvinists don’t do. Otherwise, there’s a logical contradiction in the Calvinist’s system.

  • Stephen Walton

    I am NOT accusing Piper and his followers of doing this…but in a very twisted way isn’t this reasoning what Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are doing? Carrying out this idea to its logical conclusion. Soldiers and children are dying because God wants them dead. He has foreordained their death as judgment and therefore it should be celebrated.

    • rogereolson

      But what I am asking is why Calvinists such as the author of the essay in question do NOT celebrate dead soldiers and children. That would seem to be a logical response to their deaths IF those deaths are willed, planned and rendered certain by God for the greater good. Now let me be clear, I’m not claiming that “celebrating” them would mean having no normal human sorrow or feelings of loss. Rather, those normal feelings could remain even as a divine determinist praised and thanked God for the deaths. And by “celebrate” I don’t mean publicly. That would rightly be avoided in order not to cause hurt to those who lost loved ones. By “celebrate” I mean only interiorily–within one’s own mind. That’s what I’m asking of the author of the essay. Does he or doesn’t he celebrate in his own mind horrors such as mass murders of children? If not, why not?

  • http://www.ironstrikes.com drwayman

    Dr Olson – The Calvinist idea of God decreeing the evil of the universe, seems similar to me the sin committed in the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. Now, in Calvinism, rather than taking responsibility for sin, God is blamed. It seems the cycle continues and we never learn.

    I recently came across a terrific article from Seedbed that talk about this: http://seedbed.com/feed/evil-sometimes-the-human-explanation-is-better-than-the-divine-explanation

  • Andy

    How does a Calvinist feels about his moral repugnance in the face of evil deeds that he believes are ordained and rendered certain by God for the greater good?

    I think they rely on a largely insulated view of evil. Here in the Western world we are largely shielded from evil. From time to time we have a senseless school massacre, Katrina, or Twin Towers – and the YRR leaders speak up at that time with an explanation. But I am claiming that they are not facing the real extent of evil. They are protected from having to talk about the sex trade, dictatorial cruelty, systems that oppress with no hope. They are largely insulated from conditions like those in Les Miserables (awesome movie, by the way!). Even at its peak the full extent of Nazi evil was not fully known on our insulated continent. An example would be Zosia in Greg Boyd’s “God at War,” opening chapter.

    Is the Piper-type extremism as common in other parts of the world where it is more difficult to overlook evil? Or are we simply choosing to overlook evil as a choice while we engage in comfortable tea parties, here?

    • rogereolson

      This reminds me of how, in my experience, divine determinists (mostly Calvinists) often use illustrations that involve almost instantaneous death (as foreordained and rendered certain by God). I heard former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop speak on “God killed my son” some years ago. He argued that the only comfort he had in his son’s death was to believe it was planned and rendered certain by God. And he talked warmly and at length about how his son did not suffer. I wanted to stand up and ask him what he would believe if his son hadn’t died that way, as many do not. What if his son had died of, say, ALS or torture at the hands of terrorist kidnappers?

    • Mr. X

      “Is the Piper-type extremism as common in other parts of the world where it is more difficult to overlook evil? Or are we simply choosing to overlook evil as a choice while we engage in comfortable tea parties, here?”

      Well, Calvinism was first developed in sixteenth-century Europe, so its proponents wouldn’t exactly have been unaware of suffering…

      Actually, I wonder if the opposite reaction to what you describe was taking place: people saw the world around them wracked by disease, war and religious strife, and took comfort in the idea that however bad and senseless everything seemed to be getting, there was some greater purpose behind it all.

      • rogereolson

        But, of course, all Christians have always believed there is a greater purpose behind all the evil and senseless suffering in the world. What Calvinism added was the belief that evil and innocent suffering (e.g., infants and toddlers being tortured and killed) are foreordained and rendered certain by God rather than being allowed because the world has rebelled and turned its back on God.

  • http://GoodReportMinistries.com Ivan A. Rogers

    “But what I am asking is why Calvinists such as the author of the essay in question do NOT celebrate dead soldiers and children. That would seem to be a logical response to their deaths IF those deaths are willed, planned and rendered certain by God for the greater good.”

    And, yet, let us remember that it was the Father who sent his Son into the world with a specific assignment: “For this cause came I into the world; to give my life a ransom for many.” And again, Jesus ascribed his sufferings to the Father, saying, “Not my will, But thine be done.” Is there a greater injustice (by human reckoning) than the brutal beating and crucifixion of Jesus? yet, according to scripture, it was the Father who was complicite in the matter: “It pleased God to bruise him” (Isa 53:10).

    Yes, we do, indeed, celebrate the death of Christ even though on the surface it appears to be unjust. But unless it had happened, where would we be? Is the Father the author of evil? Well, what do you think?

    • rogereolson

      That’s why it’s called “Good Friday,” right?

  • Eric Landstrom

    Perhaps an analogy to ask of our Calvinist friends: if your hand strikes another do you then claim that your hand acted alone and that you cannot be held accountable for what your hand has done? The reasonable man knows that the hand cannot act on it own because the reasonable man knows that the hand is the servant of the mind and knows that the hand only does what the mind wills of it. So too then are sinners who act only by the predestinating will of God. For according to the logic of your belief, God compels men to sin. Yet against reason is the Calvinist counter-claim that men are not like the hand. Though men, like the hand, can only do what they are willed, the Calvinist counter-claim is that God is not responsible for the sins of men. But clearly we can see the ridiculousness the Calvinist claim by the hand that only acts by the will of the mind.

  • James Petticrew

    What annoyed me so much about this piece is that it treats terrible human suffering and tragedy at such a superficial and theoretical level. In some sense victims of evil are equated with the fictional deaths of fictional characters in literature written for entertainment

    When I was a police officer here in Scotland I worked in the mortuary at the Lockerbie disaster there was nothing theoretical about what confronted me in that town hall, I saw unspeakable horror caused by unrestrained evil and to some how suggest God has some hand in it for some greater purpose fills me with revulsion.

    • rogereolson

      I didn’t know this about you. Have you read any of Peter May’s novels? I’m reading The Black House, the first of his Lewis Trilogy. One thing that attracted me to it was some reviewers’ comments about the involvement of “Presbyterian fundamentalism” in them. So far, however, he’s only mentioned the presence and influence of several severe Presbyterian sects (on the Isle of Lewis, the setting of the novels). He hasn’t gotten into their theologies at all. The focus, brief and blurry as it is, is on lifestyle which makes them all sound like Puritans right out of the seventeenth century.

      • James Petticrew

        I have not read those, there are numerous Presbyterian churches here caused by schism from the church of Scotland then from each other, most of these churches vary little in doctrine and practice but separate on some minutiae or other

        The island of Lewis is the bastion of the mainly gaelic speaking Free Church of Scotland which is the “rump” of the so called Great Disruption of the Church of Scotland Of 1843 the biggest split in the church of Scotland over the issue of patronage being introduced by Parliament into the Scottish church as it was in the CofE.

        Interestingly the Island of Lewis was the scene of the last community wide revival ( not an evangelistic campaign, what I think you would call in the States an Awakening) in the late 40s early 50s I have been there and met people involved and quite remarkable things happened which I would be skeptical about if I hadn’t spoke to first hand witnesses. Another interesting fact is that this revival was sparked by Duncan Campbell an evangelist from the Faith Missiom, an organisation which had a background in the holiness movement. Do these novels deal with the revival?

        http://www.pwamm.com/PDFs/TheLewisRevival.pdf

        • rogereolson

          So far not. But I’m only halfway through the first book of the trilogy (The Black House). Do you know if the Faith Mission had any connection with (or vice versa) the no-name church known by outsiders as the Two by Twos or The Workers? I seem to recall some connection. My uncle was a missionary of the Two by Twos (although he didn’t call them that). They are, I believe, the largest house church movement in North America, but most people have never heard of them because they don’t use any name except Christians. Officially, for government purposes, they are called Christian Conventions. Their founder was one William Irvine who, if I’m not mistaken, was affiliated with the Faith Mission movement.

          • James Petticrew

            If I remember right Irvine left the Faith Mission on “bad terms” but it sounds like he took the FM terminology “workers” and methodology “two by two” ETC with him to the States. Pretty sure the FM operated in Canada

            The FM always had a very low ecclesiology and I think Irvine split with them over the issue of working with churches, which probably explains the refusal to use any name but “christian”

  • Robert

    Hello Roger,

    I think we have been through this before, but I will repeat myself once again. I don’t think you are sufficiently taking calvinism to its logical conclusion when you wonder and ask about feelings calvinists have about various evils and atrocities.

    You wrote:

    “Okay, but what I’m asking is how a Calvinist feels about his or her moral repugnance in the face of evil deeds that he or she believes are ordained and rendered certain by God for the greater good. Do they, Calvinists, feel those feelings are logical or merely natural?”

    Roger I think that you forget what calvinism if true entails, that you do not go far enough with it. Roger you operate with the idea/belief/premise/assumption that we genuinely have free will. So that when event X occurs,we have a choice as to how we will respond to the event. I happen to agree with you that we have free will as ordinarily understood. But that belief would be false if calvinism (exhaustive predestination of all events) were true. If calvinism were true, then free will does not exist, it is an illusion, it is not real. In reality we ONLY AND ALWAYS DO, THINK, FEEL, whatever God predestined for us to DO, THINK, or FEEL. So Roger when you wonder about how a calvinist would react or feel about something, the answer (if calvinism were true) is however God predestined for him to react or feel about something. Roger you sometimes forget that if this kind of calvinism is true, then everything that happens necessarily happens (in fact it is impossible that it happens otherwise than it does in fact happen).

    Bev understood it correctly when he wrote: “If we don’t play our part exactly, we get written out. Well, not really, because there is no possibility of not playing our part exactly as written.”

    That is exactly right: “there is no possibility of not playing our part exacty as written.”

    So if all is predestined and God predestined Piper to be a calvinist and hold the views and beliefs and feelings that he does: there is no possibility of Piper not playing his part exactly as written. Likewise, if all is predestined and God predestined you to be an Arminian and hold the views and beliefs and feelings that you do: there is no possibility of you not playing your part exactly as written. And if calvinism is true, then this is true of every single one of us, with absolutely no exceptions. If someone has certain thoughts and feelings and then commits some crime or atrocity, then regarding his thoughts, feelings and actions: there is no possibility of not playing his/her part exactly as written.

    So Roger when you ask how would a calvinist respond or react or feel about X, Y, or Z: the answer is that he/she will respond or react or feel always and only as God predestined him/her to respond or react or feel.

    Bev also got it right when he wrote: “Or, we do exist, but we cannot, should not, feel – just respond as the author dictates. We are like toys in the playpen of some child with a very weird imagination. It’s basically a hall of mirrors. We cannot tell the end from the beginning.”

    If all is predestined we don’t think, feel, choose, move, do anything on our own: instead everything we think, feel, choose, every movement, everything we do is prescripted by God.

    So the author analogy is actually a perfect one for what is happening if calvinism is true (i.e. God is the author and conceives of a story and the circumstances and characters and situations and events of that story first, he then actualizes this total plan, this story as what we call history). We are like toy soldiers that God places wherever he wants and does to them whatever he wants. He alone has a will, he alone has choices, everything and person si merely following the script that he first conceived.

    Roger you asked:

    “Surely a person who believes it can at least admit those feelings are unwarranted and struggle against them, right?”

    No, how could they struggle against the feelings and thoughts they have if God predestined them all?

    If God predestined you to be an Arminian and hold the beliefs that you hold, then how could you struggle against them?

    If God predestined Piper to be a calvinist and hold the beliefs that he holds, then how could Piper struggle against them?

    We can only struggle against something, reject it, oppose it, if we have a will of our own and have free will and everything is not predestined by God. The idea that we can and do choose our responses to things is a non-calvinist belief/premise. Now you and I believe this is a reality that we experience daily, but that is not calvinism. In calvinism this belief we have is an illusion, it is not real, it is imaginary. And pathetically if calvinism is true, God predestined us to have our mistaken belief about free will (a belief we must hold and cannot discard because God predestined us to have this false and mistaken belief).

    Occasionally you get into discussions with people who profess to be moral relativists (i.e. they claim everythng is relative and so there is not good or evil in itself, it is all just our opinions of what we believe to be good or evil). One of the major problems with relativism is that if nobody is wrong, then everybody is right (so no matter what someone does or believes, for them it is right, and what someone who holds the opposite beliefs is also right, so everything is relative to ones perspective).

    Calvinism is a theological form of relativism where everythng becomes relative to God’s total plan. So you might think at first that some atrocity is wrong, but in reality it is good because it is part of God’s total plan which from God’s perspective is good. You might think reprobation seems wrong, seems bad, seems to be a cruel thing to do to human beings, but not from God’s perspective (from his perspective it is a good thing, it allows him to manifest his wrath towards sinners the calvinists tell us). The point is that if all if predestined then our notions of good and evil go out the window and are all subsumed under the good total plan of God. And again our reactions to this calvinistic theology are all prescripted. For the calvinist who seems to have no qualms about any of this, God predesined him/her to be like that. For the calvinist who struggles with this, God predestined for him/her to be like that. For the non-calvinist who struggles with this and finds it reprehensible or false or mistaken or argues with it, God predestined for him/her to be like that as well. Again it all gets subsumed under the total plan.

    In another post you wrote:

    “But what I am asking is why Calvinists such as the author of the essay in question do NOT celebrate dead soldiers and children. That would seem to be a logical response to their deaths IF those deaths are willed, planned and rendered certain by God for the greater good.”

    But it is not an issue of strict logic, it is an issue of everything strictly following the total plan in which everything is predestined. So whatever responses, thoughts, feelings, actions a calvinist (or anyone else for that matter) experiences or engages in, is what it is, “because there is no possibility of not playing our part exactly as written.”

    And you asked yet again:

    “Does he or doesn’t he celebrate in his own mind horrors such as mass murders of children? If not, why not?”

    There are two very different answers to this question, depending upon your view of whether or not exhaustive predestination of all events is true or not.

    If it is true, then he celebrates or does not celebrate completely dependent upon what God has prescripted for him/her (he has no choice but to do what he/she is predestined to do).

    If it is false, if we really have our own will, have free will, then our response is our response, it is a response we have chosen, not a response that we were predestined and so necessitated to have.

    Robert

    • rogereolson

      I think you are right about what consistent Calvinism entails. But few Calvinists affirm it. Therein lies a problem of logical coherence in the Calvinist system. As I said to another commenter a few minutes ago, some Calvinists admit that what they believe (all of what you wrote and yet we are responsible for our sins and God is not) is “absurd” (e.g., Edwin H. Palmer in The Five Points of Calvinism, Baker, 1972). Others do not admit that it is absurd and claim their system is the most logically coherent one. IF the author of the essay in question believes in exhaustive, meticulous, divine providence, then he ought to admit all of what you wrote above. I suspect that insofar as a Calvinist does admit it, many half-hearted Calvinists will flee from Calvinism. I suspect the author of the essay does NOT believe all of what you wrote above. For example, most Calvinists I know make a distinction between divine intentions and human intentions and pin blame only on the latter. But my question to them has long been where sinful human intentions come from. Jonathan Edwards claimed they come from the creature and not from God. But therein lies a serious inconsistency. If humans are capable of forming evil intentions autonomously, then exhaustive, meticulous providence is not true IN THE WAY they usually teach it in the doctrine of providence (e.g., Paul Helm’s claim that I quoted here not long ago that God is in control of ever twist and turn of every thought). So my question is really probing at whether Calvinists such as the author of the blog essay in question are willing to bite the bullet and be total consistent and admit that 1) they ought to celebrate rather than feel moral repugnance in the face of horrendous human evils, and 2) that they really have no control over such things so their feelings and responses are not theirs to decide.

    • Val

      LOL Robert, this illustration reminds me of a Star Trek episode. God is like some ‘Paxon’ race that invades us and (re)programs all our thoughts and memories. I think Calvin, if he authored this idea, is a great Sci Fi writer, not sure he ‘got’ the Bible though.

      • Robert

        Hello Val,

        You are very close to what consistent calvinists believe: except it is not that all of our thughts and memories are RE-programmed, rather, they are all PRE-programmed. In calvinism everything is preprogrammed, prescripted, we merely live out the preselected role that was assigned to us when EVERYTHING was predecided by God. Sadly in this thinking God has preprogammed most of humanity not only to commit their every sin, but to then later be eternally punished for doing the very sins they were prescripted to do.

        Robert

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  • Craig Wright

    By the way, Roger, in a previous post you recommended for me, in dealing with the OT decrees of God to annihilate people, to read C.S. Cowles contribution to SHOW THEM NO MERCY. I had the book in my library and went back to read it again. Cowles, by far, does the best job of dealing with that dilemma.

  • Aaron

    Hey Dr. Olson,

    I don’t know if you have seen this but you were put on a “Spectrum of Protestant Theology.”
    You can see it here: http://brandanrobertson.com/blog1/2012/12/27/the-spectrum-of-protestantism-in-2013-part-1.html

    I thought it was an interesting spectrum and I thought you would be interested by it too.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for bringing my attention to it. Frankly, I think I’m difficult to categorize, but I don’t belong with the others he categorizes as “mainstream evangelical.” I would put myself in his “neo-evangelical” category and relabel it “postconservative evangelical.” (“Neo-evangelical” is what mainstream evangelicals were called in the 1940s and well into the 1950s.) I deny biblical inerrancy, so that would seem to make my presence among those listed as “mainstream evangelical” uncomfortable. And I had to laugh to see my name listed in the same category as Wayne Cordeiro!

    • Tim Reisdorf

      I found it curious that Tim Keller was on there twice in two different categories! Maybe there was extra space in the Neo-Evangelical group, so they threw him in there for good measure.

      • rogereolson

        I think the guy who created the categories and put theologians (and others) in them explained why Keller appears in two different categories in response to a comment at his blog. But I don’t remember the reason.

    • James Petticrew

      I can’t believe he has named Westminster seminary but never mentions the whole Wesleyan Arminian position a founding part of evangelicalism historically. Seems to be written from a reformed perspective to me.

  • Gryphon Hall

    Whenever any of my Calvinist friends try to persuade me by asking that why, despite the “evidence” I am not a Calvinist myself, I usually reply along these lines:

    “If you are right, then God decreed (from the beginning of time, before I was born, blah-blah) I remain a staunch Arminian (like the Wesleys) and nothing you can do can contravene God’s will.

    “If I am right, then I am merely exercising the free will and intelligence He gave me rather than conforming to a theology that makes God the author of sin.”

    • rogereolson

      Very clear and concise answer. Thanks.

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com EnnisP

    It’s interesting that in John Calvin’s day religious authorities caused the tragedies (beheading or burning people at the stake for “heresy”) and they weren’t crazies wielding assault rifles. These acts were carried out by the intellectual-religious-political-social elite and they were emotionally complicit so abhorrence at such cruel and extreme measures wasn’t a response or a topic of discussion.

    The question of whether or not “abhorrence” is a logical emotional response to human tragedy is relevant only for today’s calvinists.

    • rogereolson

      But even in Calvin’s Geneva it was possible and common to feel moral repugnance (which is what I’m really asking about) at some things such as Servetus’ heresies and his challenge to Calvin’s authority. My question then would be why? “Dear Brother Calvin: Why do you feel moral repugnance at Servetus’ heresies and challenge to your authority? After all, he was predestined by God to have these heresies and this rebellious spirit for a greater good. Why not celebrate them?”

      • http://www.truthunchanging.wordpress.com gracewriterrandy

        Surely you aren’t so deluded as to believe Calvinists think an action or belief is not evil simply because God has ordained it? You seem to presuppose that predestination involves causation in everything God has ordained. That is simply untrue. Additionally, sin does not cease to be sin because it is included in God’s plan. What we do rejoice in is the truth that since God is in sovereign over his universe, he is able to overrule the most heinous acts for his glory and for the good of his people.

        • rogereolson

          Every Christian I know agrees with the last statement of your comment. See my book Against Calvinism for numerous quotations from leading Calvinist theologians contradicting “That is simply untrue.”

  • http://ccmati.org McWolfe

    We would not only attempt to overcome feelings of repugnance but, if we see such acts and events as the will of God for a higher good we do not understand, we would be compelled to reward such individuals who commit such acts. If we don’t want to be that radical, we should at least refrain from punishing them. Of course, if we don’t want to be that radical, we should abandon such ridiculous theological speculations.

  • Pingback: A Calvinist Take on the Problem of Evil | shelboese.org

  • http://mikestoleyobike.tumblr.com Mike M

    1. Not only are all evil acts ordained, but our hatred for evil acts are also ordained.
    2. God is not at odds with Himself when He ordains something that’s morally repugnant to Him.
    3. Part of the “greater good” is me hating the evil acts. By me hating the evil I am glorifying God by hating the evil and loving the Good.
    4. I do celebrate any good that comes from the evil act. Don’t all Christians celebrate the results of the evil acts of men nailing Jesus to the cross?

    • rogereolson

      My question was not that. Let’s stick to the question I raised. How do you, as a Calvinist, feel about your hating of evil acts ordained by God for a greater good? Do you think it’s logically right to hate them? Your response here seems to support those non-Calvinists who argued that it’s irrelevant to consider anyone’s, including one’s own, feelings or thought or intentions (from a Calvinist perspective) because they are all ordained by God and could not be otherwise than they are. Would you care to take a shot at answering where the first evil inclination came from?

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    I think the answer, Roger, from the Calvinist perspective would be that humans are responsible for what God has unconditionally predetermined that we do. And just as he has 2 wills, hating certain things he decrees, and yet desiring them to accomplish a greater good (like a judge who sentences his own son to death to uphold justice), so we can hate certain things but still desire them for the greater good they accomplish.

    Now it is shocking that many Calvinists really do believe that we are genuinely responsible for what God has necessitated that we do simply because he has also necessitated that we desire to do the things we do. I have actually seen Calvinists express repugnance for the idea that God would hold us accountable for things he predetermines us to do if he did not also predetermine us to desire to do those things (i.e., held us accountable if he had us not want to do those things but made us do them anyway). Even though, in their view, we cannot do other than God has predetermined that we do, and his predetermining decree is ultimately why someone does whatever atrocious evil they might do, they think we should not have done that evil. It makes no real sense. But I think this is (ideally) the heart of the issue of why they could feel moral repugnance at human evil despite believing it was irresistibly caused by God. This brings us back to typical problems with Calvinism, such as the problems with 2 divine wills, the incompatibility between exhaustive divine determinism and human free will and responsibility, etc. But I think the answer to your question lies there, and will ultimately be unsatisfactory, rooted in Calvinism’s incoherence. But the issue is probably that at least a number of Calvinists have actually imbibed the Calvinist viewpoint, as incoherent as it is, to the point of not feeling the tension you describe too much. Now of course, any number of Calvinists have not thought through the issue, or are inconsistent, etc. But I guess I am suggesting the Calvinist response from the more ideal, objective Calvinist doctrinal point of view.

  • http://priceofdiscernment.wordpress.com David M

    I appreciate this article, Roger. I’m not incredibly familiar with your work, but as the days go on, this ideology of God (the author of sin and death), despite my previous leanings, is becoming more and more saddening to me, and I appreciate your willingness to speak out against it. I’ll be keeping an eye on your writings in the future. Have a great weekend.

  • Melvin Koh

    Well said.. its emotional incoherence… Where Jesus would weep over the dead children and comfort the parents yet tell them you gotta trust me in this and have faith.. i really meant to kill the kids but you should rejoice cause now they are with me and thanks for taking care of them for the last 6 to 7 years. I don’t intend to use them anymore for my kingdom’s purpose.. they are now matyrs.. Sigh..

  • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

    Dr. Olson,

    Interesting topic here! Speaking for myself as a more-or-less Piper-esque Calvinist (and not implying that he would claim my views), I want to address the line of reasoning some previous commenters have chosen. Specifically, I would like to address the idea of taking certain tenets of Calvinism to their “logical conclusion.”

    It is worth noting that the Desiring God article linked in your post is a good bit more in-depth and honest about the tensions than many of your readers may realize. I would also suppose that Calvinists in general have much more sophisticated views than the “determinism taken to its logical conclusion” approach which seems to be a “straw man of choice” in this thread. In itself, the term compatibilism implies that “determinism taken to its logical conclusion” is insufficient to describe the viewpoint to which compatibilistic Calvinists adhere. In fact, the term contains an implicit denial of “determinism taken to its logical conclusion.”

    Compatibilism certainly involves some mystery and tension. But let’s be honest–all Christians embrace logical tensions to some degree. Take the statement, “Jesus is God” to its “logical conclusion” and we have grounds to deny essentials like the virgin birth, the humanity of Christ, the death of Christ (and therefore the resurrection), etc. because God can’t “logically” be born, be a creature, die, etc. Take “Jesus is a human being” to its “logical conclusion” and we have grounds to deny His deity, eternality, etc. Such reasoning is obviously not valid (at least not for Christians), yet I see no difference between this and the kind of reasoning contained in some of the comments above (note that I am not saying anyone here is not a Christian; only that the reasoning employed is invalid for Christians). Many core doctrines of the Christian faith contain this kind of tension, and it would not be proper to take one facet of the doctrine to its “logical conclusion” without overlaying and nuancing through appeals to other aspects of the doctrine. Let’s not sugar coat this, or pretend that every aspect of every Christian doctrine can properly be “taken to its logical conclusion.”

    One could ostensibly take selected portions of the ancient creeds and use them to argue against the truths contained in other portions of the same creeds. Even Arius would have agreed with parts of the Nicene creed; then, by taking them to their “logical conclusion,” he would have argued against the other parts. Arius took portions of the Biblical teaching to their “logical conclusion” without embracing other portions because, in his mind, it would not logically make sense to do so. Is there not a danger in this kind of reasoning, which seems to make human understanding, rather than God’s Word, the ultimate measure of the Truth. Arius was, after all, a genuine heretic on both Calvinist and Arminian terms.

    What I appreciate in the writings of compatibilistic Calvinists like Piper is a willingness to honestly accept all of the Biblical data, even when it goes beyond the ability of the human mind to reconcile all of the ensuing tension. While I admire the rigorous commitment to logic on the part of many Arminians, I have yet to find one that (to my satisfaction, at least) admits all of the Biblical testimony into the system. For me, losing precious Biblical propositions is worse than having inexplicable holes in the system. And with that said, I am a Calvinist today because I do not find a more logically consistent system that takes in all of the Biblical data. I easily find more logically consistent systems that don’t take it in. For me, it’s Sola Scriptura first, and then the fun part of working out the logic as far as possible.

    Note: I am not saying Arminians don’t believe the Bible; I am saying their system, especially as represented in this thread, seems to inconsistently elevate human logic in opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of Providence while readily accepting the logical tensions of the Incarnation and other orthodox doctrines. No Arminian says of the humanity of Christ: “Whatever the Bible means in those passages, it can’t mean that!”

    Finally, to answer your questions in the post, I would take the position that evil does not become good simply because God ordains it. It would never become a ground for rejoicing simply because God ordained it. Our sadness at the atrocities in this world may in fact reflect God’s own heart and mind in the matter. However, along with Him, we rejoice exuberantly in all of the good that He ultimately brings about through the evil that is done. Per Romasn 8:28.

    To illustrate this in a more personal way: by God’s grace, I hate and abhor my own sins. I am deeply saddened and shamed by them. Yet I also rejoice in the forgiveness and grace that I could never have experienced if I was sinless. I don’t love being a sinner; but I love being redeemed from sin! Yet I couldn’t have been redeemed if I had never been a sinner. Thus, as a forgiven perpetrator of heinous crimes against a holy God and His creatures, my Calvinistic theology lines up perfectly with my experience and what I find in the Scriptures. If anything, a true Calvinist will ask God for MORE feelings of moral repugnance against evil. And at the same time he will ask for more JOY in God’s good grace as well. All of this lies right at the heart of Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Apparently He believes in paradoxes, too.

    A happy New Year to all, and much joy in Christ!

    Derek Ashton

    • rogereolson

      Derek, I always appreciate your civility even when we sharply disagree. You will not be surprised to read me say that, in my opinion, it is Calvinism that seeks logical consistency over biblical fidelity. I will point this time to only one example: limited atonement (which I realize some Calvinists reject but which seem to be part and parcel of what you call eloquently “Piper-esque” Calvinism). As I have explained in Against Calvinism, the high Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement must ignore much Scripture. Of course, I think you would agree, neither side in this debate really “ignores” any Scripture. What we are calling ignoring is really interpreting in a non-natural sense. I hope you will agree that no intelligent Arminian literally “ignores” any of Scripture. What we do is interpret Scripture differently (than Calvinists). So, to be fair, I don’t believe any informed, intelligent Calvinist literally ignores any of Scripture. What happens, in my opinion, is that much of Scripture is interpreted in non-natural ways in order to make it fit with the system. I’m sure you would admit that’s what you really mean when you say non-Calvinist systems of theology overlook or ignore crucial passages of Scripture. In my opinion, limited atonement does exactly what Piper argues we must NOT do in his long footnote about Clark Pinnock in (I think) Desiring God. He argues that Pinnock believes some things because Scripture allows it and logic requires it. I can’t believe any Christian does otherwise. We all believe some things because logic (or evidence) requires it and Scripture allows it. That’s how I view limited atonement. I don’t say Calvinists who believe in it ignore or overlook Scripture; I say they take something they believe (e.g., unconditional election of some sinners and irresistible grace granted to them only) and force it to its logical conclusion (limited atonement) and then interpret Scriptures no non-Calvinist would interpret this way as supporting limited atonement. As for your explanation of your feelings about evils God ordains I will just say I can’t even imagine living with that level of cognitive dissonance. If I came to believe that God ordained and rendered certain an event such that he manipulated the thoughts and motives that sinfully caused it I would have to celebrate all of that and not isolate the good results and celebrate only them. That seems absurd to me. I realize it doesn’t to you. However, I thank you for joining the discussion. Your Calvinist voice is always most welcome here because you are not insulting or uncivil. I wonder if you would answer this question I have put to many Calvinists without satisfactory answers? From where did the first evil inclination come?

      • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

        Dr. Olson,

        Thank you for your very kind words.

        I actually agree with what you mentioned concerning non-natural exegesis used in support of limited atonement. My views on that topic are more in line with Richard Baxter (and many other puritans, including numerous Westminster divines), R.L. Dabney, William G.T. Shedd, Bruce Ware, and (I suppose) John Calvin. I am drawn to the moderate historical stream within Calvinism whose adherents are apt to take texts such as I John 2:2 at face value. I disagree at least partly with Piper’s approach on this.

        There are admittedly those on both sides of the Calvinist/Arminian spectrum who engage in system-driven exegesis (and some on both sides who tend not to, thankfully). One of the arguments I have made to fellow Calvinists is that they should take a more moderate view on limited atonement simply because it fits more consistently with God’s universal love/saving desire for all people (which is strongly affirmed by Piper) and the free offer of the Gospel (also strongly affirmed by Piper). These mainstream Calvinist essentials, which unfortunately aren’t conveyed well by the TULIP acronym, logically argue for a less limited atonement than most of today’s vocal Calvinists are promoting.

        Concerning the doctrine of Providence, I don’t think a Reformed view requires that God “manipulates the thoughts and motives” behind sinful actions. All mainstream Calvinists retain, at the very least, the concept of “unconstrained” and “voluntary” creaturely actions (thus no one is “manipulated” under normal conditions). This is one of the critical distinctions entailed in compatibilism. Of course, I understand that this quibble probably doesn’t make the Reformed approach any more attractive for committed Arminians.

        Your question about the first evil inclination certainly provokes thought. My Biblicist side wants to say Scripture leaves this entirely in the realm of mystery. And that is probably the best place for me to leave it, as much as I would like to speculate. Do you see Open Theism, Arminianism, Molinism or any other non-Calvinist system answering this in a more satisfying way?

        You probably know that Augustine danced around with this question in the Enchiridion, chapters 10-23. His answers are paradoxical: God only created good; evil is a corruption/privation of that good; thus evil cannot exist apart from good, while good can exist apart from evil; anything totally evil would cease to exist because in it there would be no good thing left to corrupt with evil; thus a being cannot be evil without also being good in some sense.

        Augustine’s answer is sensible enough, but still leaves your question unanswered. What prompted the initial privation of good? I suppose only God truly knows.

        Blessings,
        Derek

        • rogereolson

          Derek, I always appreciate your irenicism (which doesn’t in any way dilute your strongly held theology). The problem I have with any Calvinist appealing to mystery when faced with the question of the source of the first evil inclination is the typical Calvinist doctrine of providence which, according to my understanding of it, anyway, excludes anything real (and even evil, though a privation of the good only, is real in that it exists) from escaping God’s ordination. Surely, if God is as all-determining and controlling as most Calvinist theologians assert (e.g., Helm and Sproul), then nothing, not even the first evil inclination, can fall outside God’s plan and determination. The way most Calvinists have handled this (including Edwards) is to say that God brought it about by withholding the grace needed for the creature not to develop an evil inclination. Edwards admits that this amounts to making God the author of sin and evil in a restricted sense. God, he argues, is not the cause of them, but, like everything else, they only exist because God desires them to and renders them certain. (I have expounded this and documented it in Against Calvinism.) It seems to me a key difference between Calvinism and Arminianism (and this difference existed also between, say, Luther and the Anabaptists) is that one side sees evil as having purpose above, higher than the purpose of the creature (e.g., selfishness). It has divine purpose, ultimate purpose. The other side regards evil as a surd, lacking any purpose at all. God can bring good out of it, but it has no divine purpose behind it. God never intended for it to come into existence. The problem with the first view, it seems to me, is that, from an ultimate perspective, evil is not really evil. Anyway, that is how I would have to regard it did I hold that view.

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Dr. Olson,

            I see your point, and this is truly an important difference, as you noted. On Calvinistic terms, no event (including the first evil) can ever be viewed as non-ordained or unforeseen by God. He could not have been “surprised” when the first evil occurred.

            However, does the classical Arminian approach really view evil as entirely purposeless? It would seem that God’s omniscience entails an awareness on His part of every evil that ever will or can occur, and His omnipotence would include the ability to prevent or allow it. If this is so, then He must maintain ultimate control over evil (and therefore have some kind of purpose in allowing it). If not, He could choose not to allow it.

            Blessings,
            Derek

          • rogereolson

            Purposeless in terms of intentionality. Of course God had a purpose in allowing it. The difference lies in intentionality. In Calvinism, as I understand it (having read scores of books by Calvinists including Calvin himself), every event is foreordained and rendered certain by God for a specific purpose. God intends it to happen, not just to permit it to happen (Calvin rejected the language of permission in discussing divine providence). In Arminian theology we distinquish between two wills of God: antecedent (in which evil does not exist at all) and consequent (in which God permits evil in order not to control creatures so that they can only do what he intends for them to do). Thus, in Arminian theology, evil has no purpose in God’s overall plan. It happens. God deals with it, overcoming it and, when possible, bringing good out of it.

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Dr. Olson,

            Thank you for explaining this in further detail; those are useful distinctions. Does this approach make the cross “plan B” rather than God’s original design?

            Much has been made of Calvin’s critique of divine “permission,” but he makes it clear that what he opposes is a “bare permission” by which God would relinquish His Lordship and Providence, and merely respond to human wills rather than rule over them.

            I really appreciate your taking time to discuss these matters with me. At the end of the day, we are fellow Christians. That is what counts!

            Blessings,
            Derek

          • rogereolson

            Thanks, Derek. I always enjoy having dialogue with you. But, as I’m sure you have noticed, we tend to go around in circles–always returning to the same questions and answers and differences. I wonder to what extent our basic differences (also between most evangelical Calvinists and evangelical Arminians) are a matter of perspective? I’m not relativizing the matter because I do believe one of us is right and the other wrong (or we’re both wrong). But I’m continually puzzled by how equally sincere, God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, reasonable people can see God’s sovereignty in Scripture so differently? To answer your question. I don’t think of the cross as “Plan B” in the ordinary sense because, as a classical Arminian (not an open theist) I think God knew all along what was going to happen. I do think the cross is part of God’s consequent will, not God’s antecedent will. But just in case you have difficulty with that, think about the fact that ONLY (not shouting, just emphasizing) a supralapsarian can really say that the cross is God’s “Plan A,” part of God’s antecedent will. An infralapsarian (most Calvinists) will also have the same challenge (from a supralapsarian) as you give me. I once asked John Piper about this, hoping to trap him (we were having a very irenic, civil discussion but he was trying to trap me, too–into affirming open theism) and he said he “might be” a supralapsarian. He indicated he was leaning in that direction. I think that would be the way anyone would have to go if they affirm that the cross is “Plan A” in the sense of logically preceding God’s decree to permit the fall. What do you think? Can an infralapsarian say that the cross is God’s “Plan A” in the sense you mean–”God’s original design?”

        • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

          Dr. Olson,

          Yes, I have noticed that our discussions (and most between Calvinists and Arminians) seem to always take the same turns. It is easy to get frustrated with this and start pressing harder (or louder) in an effort to get things resolved. But I doubt it is necessary to get past the differences; perhaps just understand them better. That is what I most appreciate about our dialogues. You have been involved in this discussion with many different Calvinists and for a good while, so your restraint in this regard is very much appreciated. It says much about your character.

          Regarding your question, I believe the cross was/is “Plan A,” but not because of supralapsarian leanings. Some infralapsarians would take all of the decrees together and call that, collectively, “Plan A.” From this standpoint, every Calvinist can (and should) view the cross as “Plan A” or God’s original design. This is perhaps similar to your approach in the comment above, which seems to take God’s antecedent and consequent will(s) together as “Plan A.” The move seems warranted in both cases, and perhaps points to an important similarity between the two schools of thought when backed into the same corner!

          As a side note, I like the approach taken by R.L. Dabney, who said the following (so much better than I can say it):

          “… he who apprehends the action of the infinite mind reasonably and scripturally at once, sees that, while the sublapsarian is right in his spirit and aim, both parties are wrong in their method, and the issue is one which should never have been raised. As God’s thought and will do not exist in his consciousness in parts, so they involve no sequence, neither the one nor the other. The decree which determines so vast a multitude of parts is itself a unit. The whole all-comprehending thought is one coëtaneous intuition; the whole decree one act of will. But in virtue of the very consistency and accuracy of the divine plan, and infinity of the divine knowledge, facts destined to emerge out of one part of the plan, being present in thought to God, enter into logical relation to other parts of the same plan. As the plan is God’s thought, no part precedes any other. But none the less those parts which are destined to be, in execution, prior and posterior, stand in their just causal relations in his thinking. One result decreed is to depend on another result decreed. But as the decree is God’s consciousness, all is equally primary. Thus there will be neither supra- nor infra-lapsarian, and no room for their debate.” (This is from Dabney’s essay entitled, God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, as Related to His Power, Wisdom and Sincerity)

          While slightly more sympathetic to the infralapsarian position, Dabney stands with a number of other Calvinists in the moderate stream who disparaged the lapsarian debates in general. In their view, the whole project goes well beyond the bounds of Scripture and involves us in questions that are ultimately unanswerable (or at least defy systematization). Herman Bavinck was another notable representative of this viewpoint.

          So it would appear that we can both agree that the cross is viewed as God’s original design from each of our perspectives. Now, please don’t take the following as an attempt to “trap” you (and I doubt I could successfully trap you, anyhow) . . . but does this put you in the position affirming that evil, in general, was also part of “Plan A,” or God’s original design? And would this not make evil “intentional” and “purposeful” from the divine perspective, even if taken as God’s antecedent will? Finally, does this potentially put us in the same boat as far as theodicy is concerned? Maybe the differences can be illustrated more succinctly in this attempted summation:

          ***The Calvinist says God (in His secret, sovereign will) deliberately decrees to permit evil (for a purpose), and every evil is used for the greater good.
          ***The Arminian says God (in His antecedent will) knowledgeably chooses to permit evil (for a purpose?), and
          some evils are used for the greater good.

          Both are taking measures to maintain that God is not directly “responsible” or “culpable” for the evil that occurs. Yet both view evil as God’s “will” in some sense. However, if my summations above are correct, Calvinism more satisfactorily vindicates God’s permission of evil by putting every evil to good use. For Calvinists, this is part of what is meant by “works all things together for good” in Romans 8:28.

          Blessings,
          Derek

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Oops! I meant to say:
            ***The Arminian says God (in His consequent will) knowledgeably chooses to permit evil (for a purpose?), and some evils are used for the greater good.

            consequent will, not antecedent will.

          • rogereolson

            Okay, that’s a helpful clarification. Your error threw me off and conditioned my response to your earlier comment. I definitely agree with this way of putting it.

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Oops! Another error . . .

            “even if taken as God’s antecedent will” should say “even if taken as God’s consequent will”

            Sorry, I got my antecedents and consequents mixed up! :)

          • rogereolson

            That’s easy to do. Thanks for clarifying. We are now, with these corrections, much closer to agreement (at least about what Arminian theology says about God’s will and evil).

          • rogereolson

            Thanks, Derek. Again, I appreciate your tone which is much more helpful than many who engage in this conversation. While I need to think about this more, at first blush it seems I do not think of evil, even permission of evil. as existing in God’s antecedent will. I think God’s permission of evil is only consequent. My initial reaction is that Dabney’s approach to the matter is speculative. My own approach tends to privilege the narrative nature of Scripture and at least attempt to avoid peering into the divine mind in eternity. Thus I prefer Arminius’ approach to the “divine decrees” which begins with salvation history itself and with Jesus Christ as savior. But, again, were I to do some speculating about the inner workings of God’s mind and will (which I don’t rule out as always wrong headed so long as it is kept humble and tentative) I would say the difference lies in God’s intentionality. As I understand “high, federal Calvinism” (which is that kind of Calvinism I object to most), hell is intended by God for his glory. It is not a concession to evil. I think of God as always knowing of hell but intending it only as a concession to freely chosen evil.

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Dr. Olson,

            You are hitting on some important points here. It’s interesting that our discussion has gone from pondering the first occurrence of evil to interpreting evil’s ultimate defeat in hell. Clearly, both of our theologies contain significant and deliberate aspects of theodicy.

            Our perspectives regarding God’s intentions play a key role in these theodicies. In my brand of Calvinism (which is admittedly not “high, federal Calvinism”, but historic/moderate), although we unabashedly affirm that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, we do not view good and evil as decreed symmetrically. In other words, while God ultimately intends to allow evil to occur, and to use it for His good purposes, He is also strictly separated from evil in significant ways, as follows:

            –He does not commit evil Himself (actually, He can not); However, He is directly involved in good whenever it occurs (He can do good only)
            –He never acts as the direct or proximate cause of evil; However, He is always and only the direct or proximate cause of good
            –He only intends evil in a passive way; However, He actively intends good
            (note: these distinctions also serve as an explanation of why we do not rejoice in the evil that we view as divinely ordained)

            To illustrate, we say that election is solely a “positive” decree. It is God’s decision, from eternity, to do good (savingly) to certain hopeless sinners. God does not “positively” decide to condemn the others; He decides to allow many (or perhaps most) sinners to voluntarily condemn themselves. Thus reprobation is nothing more than the absence of election.

            Does this bear some similarity to your approach of relegating evil to God’s consequent will?

            Further, although God does not choose to ordain the salvation of all sinners, He positively decrees to give life, breath, food, water, possessions, and many other kindnesses to all people in spite of their rebellion against Him. This is Common Grace. Although God “hates” sinners for their wickedness (Ps. 11:5), He “loves” them as His creatures (Ps. 145:8-9, 13, 17).

            Similarly, our theology views hell as neither a mere concession to evil, nor as a mere utility for revealing God’s glory. It is viewed as a deeply tragic yet glorious conquest of evil by justice. Hell is unspeakably tragic in that a portion of those made in God’s image break fellowship with Him forever. Yet it is glorious in that all unrepented evil is justly and eternally condemned.

            Although God ultimately “decreed” the outcome, those condemned were condemned by their own will, and voluntarily. Having unregenerated hearts, they preferred their own condemnation to God’s holy presence; they preferred the caustic sting of justice to the mercy sincerely offered; they called out for the rocks to fall on them to escape from the presence of a Little Lamb.

            Thus, hell’s condemnation is viewed as passively ordained (one might even say as a “concession” to the creature’s will); however, hell as an enactment of divine justice is viewed as positively ordained, and as good triumphing over evil. This approach represents an extension of the same compatibilistic reasoning we apply to the story of Joseph, the appointment of wicked Cyrus as God’s servant, and the death of Christ on the Cross. In each case, God ordained evil and intended good simultaneously. The evil was done voluntarily by the creature; the good was done purposefully by God.

            I am not so much trying to convince you as I am attempting to put our theologies side by side for comparison. Simply agreeing on terms and understanding the other side’s use of those terms is a feat in itself. As you know, these discussions don’t always get so far along.

            I am sure you have other things to do, so I will plan to leave off from this discussion thread, unless you pose specific questions for me to answer. Thank you for an informative and thought-provoking conversation!

            God bless, my dear brother.

            In Christ,
            Derek

          • rogereolson

            Derek, Thanks for this detailed and carefully crafted exposition of your Calvinist belief about evil, hell, etc. My only complaint is that much of its seems to fall into conflict, even contradiction, with other things you may or may not believe but that most Calvinists espouse. For example, Paul Helm (among many other Calvinist theologians) says that every twist and turn of every thought and intention is under the direct control of
            God. You say that God is never the “direct proximate cause” of evil. And yet he decreed it and, I assume you would agree, rendered it certain. In other words, according to most Calvinists, the fall of Adam and Eve was intended, planned, ordained, governed and rendered certain by God. His permission of it was “effectual permission” (many Calvinists would say). That is, he rendered it certain by withholding the grace they would have needed not to fall and that not to preserve their free will but in order to bring it about that they sin. You may not believe that, but as I have shown with numerous quotes in Against Calvinism, it is what many Calvinists (such as Jonathan Edwards) believed and believe. It’s possible that my only quarrel with what you believe is perceived inconsistency whereas my quarrel with some other Calvinists is something more. Thanks for coming here and being such a valuable spokesmen for moderate and irenic Calvinism.

          • http://rickyroldan.wordpress.com Ricky Roldan

            A great discussion indeed brothers! Derek, excellent explanation is showing that the Arminians theodicy would have to be similar if not the same as the Calvinist view. The fact that God included evil within His decrees, whether or not one wants to use the “bare permission” view or the “consequent will” view, one must concede that God is the first cause of sin while man in his rebellion and choices is the second cause and the actual responsible party (Authors of sin). Not sure how any non-Calvinist can work around or deny this fact.

            Dr. Olson, you have to be one of the most gracious Arminians I have ever read. Thank you for your Christlike heart in these matters and I hope that us Calvinists may take notes of your humility.

            Grace and Peace

            Ricky

          • rogereolson

            Thank you, but I have addressed why your first paragraph is not true many times here. I hope you read some of those blog posts. How can God be the author of sin if sin was not part of his plan for the universe but an unintended consequence of creating free creatures?

    • gene

      What I have difficulty with is that Calvinists don’t recognize that many of us understand compatibilism to be simply a minomer for contradiction. You mention mystery and tension but I reject that at this point, for we understand two things according to Calvinism:
      a) God gives men no choice in doing good or evil.
      b) Men choose to do evil and are thus culpable.

      For me it would be easier and more fruitful if Calvinists claimed the bible teaches at least one contradiction.

  • http://paulspassingthoughts.com Paul Dohse

    I was in that camp for 20 years. That is exactly their response to tragedy. Remember, Calvinism seeks ALL wisdom through two trajectories: God’s holiness and our evil.; i.e., the knowledge of good and evil. “Transformation” (they really don’t believe Christians change) takes place through contemplating our evil as “set against God’s holiness.” So, all truth, events, etc. fall into one of those two categories, or both. So, nothing is “tragic” per se–it is a good thing that further reveals God’s holiness as set against our wickedness. According to the bedrock of Reformed theology, the Heidelberg Disputation, tragedy would fall under the “glory story” instead of the “cross story.”

    • rogereolson

      I deleted the last sentence because I disallow accusations of “false gospel” (etc.) against fellow Christians.

  • André

    I think your argument fails.
    Två questions: (1) Is this really such a big problem it pretends to be?
    (2) Is this “problem” only for calvinism and not for armianism?

    Let start with (1) why would it be problematic to judge something evil taken by itself (and feel abhorrence about it) while simultaneously judge it as necessary for a greater good? Is this not what we say about the cross?! In itself it was the most terrible thing ever — the murder of God — but seen in the perspective of the greater plan of salvation the most wonderful thing.

    Now lets go to (2). Take a look at an armianist parallel to your argument: “IF God decided to allow a particular event for a greater good (as you assert), why, as a Christian, embrace feelings of abhorrence about them? Shouldn’t you at least TRY not to feel abhorrence about them? After all, they are actually good from a higher perspective–the one you claim to have that sees them as events allowed by God for the greater good.” What difference does it make whether God has wanted to allow x to happen for a greater good, or whether God has decreed x to happen for a greater good with regard to the point you are trying to make? Not much I would say. Therefore, I think you argument fails.

    • rogereolson

      Like others who have responded in similar fashion (“tu quoque”) you fail to take into account the issue of divine intentionality. Go back and read my conversation with Derek Ashton, my favorite Calvinist conversation partner. I think you fail to understand the difference between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will (in Arminian theology).

      • André

        Dear Roger, thank you for your reply. I hope this can be a fruitful discussion. I want to point out to you that I have not any decisive position about this yet. I am open for both armianism and calvinism (although I reject open theism for both biblical and philosophical reasons).

        I disagree with your claim that I have committed the fallacy of tu quoque. I did not just state “you are not better of!” my point was that if you provide an argument as a reason to reject a position (calvinism) in favor of another (armianism) then you necessarily assume that the same argument cannot be used against both positions. Does not that seem reasonable? Perhaps your argument was against both positions, but that does not seem as a plausible interpretation of your position.

        Secondly, I neither see how the distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will, can make any difference with regard to (1) nor how how the distinction in intentionality vs permission can make any difference with regard to (1). What is relevant is the ability to judge something evil taken by itself (and feel abhorrence about it) while simultaneously judge it as necessary for a greater good. Something may have extremely negative intrinsic value although it has high positive instrumental value. The same reason that make God on a calvinistic scheme decree what is evil in itself, makes God the on an armianistic scheme God permit what is evil in itself. On both accounts one can hold a negative attitude against something that is evil considered in itself although it is necessary for a greater good.

        Thirdly I fail to see how the distinctions in question can make any difference with regard to (2). The parallel armianistic argument with the distinctions: “IF God decided with his consequent will to allow a particular event for a greater good (as you assert), why, as a Christian, embrace feelings of abhorrence about them? Shouldn’t you at least TRY not to feel abhorrence about them? After all, they are actually good from a higher perspective–the one you claim to have that sees them as events allowed by God’s consequent will for the greater good.”

        Finally I am far from sure that one on a calvinistic scheme has to believe that God intends exactly everything in the same sense. For example, could not God intend x in itself, without intending y in in itself, although God knows infallilble that y is a consequence or necessary presupposition for x and therefore decreeing y in order to achieving x.

        • rogereolson

          I have trouble discerning whether the “Calvinism” we are talking about is really the same one. My objection is to any theology, some versions of Calvinism especially, that teach that God foreordains certain specific persons to spend eternity in hell for his glory and renders it certain that they will do that. If you cannot see how that differs from God permitting certain specific persons to spend eternity in hell because they choose it (against God’s will for them), then I don’t know what else to say.

  • André

    Dear Roger

    I may have misunderstood you. I thought we were discussing the issue whether calvinist are emotionally inconsistent towards “evil” and that they should “strive to overcome that abhorrence in the face of any event.” The argument you know advance is not what you discussed in your “Calvinism and the God-as-author analogy” although it may be related to it.

    If you want we can discuss this new argument. Well I can see the difference between the descriptions you give, however in order to be fair I think one has to spell out all the relevant factors (which may be difficult) and I do not think you have done that.
    The reasonable calvinism position: God foreordains that certain specific persons by their own fault to spend eternity in hell for his glory and renders it certain that they *by their own fault* will do that. That is, God predestine so that the cause of their sinning are from themselves. He creates certain people who will choose to reject his commands and take the consequences of that.

    The armianist position: God permits certain persons to spend eternity in hell because he created them knowing that they choose it (against God’s will for them) for some unknown purpose (or for his glory?)
    The two relevant questions for the armianist are: (1) why did God create these persons if he ultimately did not want this?
    (2) What is the relevant difference between ordaining x and permitting x when (a) you control every circumstance around x, (b) there is no difference in effort between ordaining and permitting x, and (c) you know for certain the outcome of permitting or ordaining x ?

    • rogereolson

      I have answered those questions numerous times here. In classical Arminianism God knows what people will decide and do because they decide and do those things. His knowledge is in no way causative. His knowledge of free decisions and actions on the parts of creatures corresponds to their free decisions and actions; it does not effect them. You are looking at Arminianism through Calvinist (or at least Augustinian) lenses which distort it.

      • André

        Dear Roger, thank you for your reply. I disagree with you that I look at Arminianism through Calvinist lenses. Yes on a arminianistic scheme God knows what people will decide and do because they decide and to those things and his knowledge is in no way causative. However, how can those truths in any way possible answer (1) and (2)?
        The questions remains: (1) why did God create these persons if he ultimately does not want them to end up in hell? (regardless of whether it was their “free choice” or not and God just uncausally know about it).
        (2) What is the morally relevant difference between ordaining x and permitting x when (a) you control every circumstance around x, (b) there is no difference in effort between ordaining and permitting x, and (c) you know for certain the outcome of permitting or ordaining x ?
        If you have already in a satisfactory way answered these questions, then I understand why you do not want to bother to do that again here. Perhaps you would be so kind to provide a link where I can read these answers, I would like that a lot.

        • rogereolson

          I have discussed those questions at length in earlier blog posts. Of course, my answers don’t satisfy committed Calvinists. Their objections don’t satisfy me. Intuitively I cannot see how others cannot see a difference between permitting and ordaining. As a teacher I reluctantly permit some students to fail a course. I never ordain it (even indirectly by grading on a curve).

          • André

            Dear Roger, thank you for your response. Yes people that is very committed to their theories are seldom open for criticism. Let us no examine your response. I notice that you do not address (1) (why did God create these persons if he ultimately does not want them to end up in hell?) It is understandable since it is a very difficult question to answer (especially for armianism, and one may not like the calvinistic answer).

            As for (2) I can very much see the difference between you reluctantly permitting some students to fail a course in contrast to ordaining it. However this is irrelevant for the discussion since the analogy is incorrect: your case does not match the case with an omniscient and omnipotent God.

            Let look at a more relevant case: Adolph Hitler. God knowingly created and sustained the person Adolph Hitler infallible knowing that Auschwitz would follow, while retaining the power to curt short this horrible regime at any time. The answer from armianist must be that he permits it for an higher good. But if the intentions of God are the same in that God causes S to do X, and God permits S to do X, what is the morally relevant difference if there is no difference in effort between causing and permitting?

            Let me give a longer quote from Gordon Clark:

            “Picture a lifeguard on a beach who watches as a boy is taken under by a strong undercurrent. The
            boy struggles violently (a picture of man’s enslavement to sin). The lifeguard has the ability to
            rescue the boy and he may shout some words of advice, telling the boy to exercise his free will
            and swim to shore. But the boy drowns as the guard watches from shore. Would the Arminian
            conclude that the lifeguard has escaped culpability? This illustration shows that permission of evil
            does not relieve the lifeguard from responsibility. This is even more evident when we consider
            that the lifeguard (in this case, God) created the beach and the boy. An omnipotent lifeguard
            could have prevented the boy from entering the beach, or He could have prevented the undertow
            from occurring, or he could have made the boy a better swimmer, or He could have simply
            rescued him directly . . .It is quite within the range of possibility for a lifeguard to permit a man to drown. This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the
            case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent
            Creator. . Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.”

            This seems to be a case which is more analogous with God than your example, don’t you think? The difference between permitting and causing seem not very morally relevant when applied to God.

          • rogereolson

            Clark did not believe in the self-limitation of God. I do. Nor did he believe in free will. I do. From where I sit, Clark’s salvation (i.e., what he believed about it) is a condition, not a relationship. The analogy doesn’t hold because it doesn’t include a person’s free will to drown. A better analogy (and we could go on forever with this) would be a sign that says “No lifeguard on duty; swim at your own risk.” I know you’ll pick at that analogy, too. I don’t offer it as a perfect or complete analogy because there aren’t such. But I wonder what Clark would say if I picked on his analogy. According to his view of God’s sovereignty, the “lifeguard” (God) has the ability to save all the drowning people but chooses to save only some, purposely allowing many to drown. Would anyone call the lifeguard a good lifeguard or “good” in any sense? I don’t think so.

  • Joe Rigney

    Dr. Olson,
    One of my students pointed out this post and question to me today, so I thought I’d at least attempt a reply. (And yes, I’m the author of the piece at Desiring God, not Piper). Like you, I’m fairly sure that if we were to get into a debate, we’d probably run around in circles (the same ones Calvinists and Arminians always do). But since you asked a sincere question, I’ll at least attempt a sincere answer.

    Put simply, if I understand the distinction you’re making between “initial horror” at evil and logically consistent moral repugnance, I embrace both because I think that the Scriptures teach both. If Job can feel horror and moral repugnance at his loss while simultaneously confessing that the Lord gives and takes away, then so can I. If Jesus can weep at the tomb of Lazarus and genuinely share in the grief of his family, all while knowing that in 5 minutes he would call him out of the grave, then I can weep at the funerals of children, all while knowing that God has good and wise purposes in ordaining that such evils exist.

    Additionally, I hold to the “two wills of God,” which I understand you regard as introducing confusion into the divine mind. Again, it’s passages that have driven me to that conclusion, and it seems that Arminians resort to a similar construction when they seek to explain why all men are not saved if in fact God desires the salvation of all men. I believe, like you, that God genuinely desires the salvation of all men, and I believe (like you?) that all men are not saved because God desires something more than this salvation. As a Calvinist, I would say that the “something more” is the full communication of his glory and fullness. As an Arminian, (I assume) you would say something like “authentic relationship with creatures possessing genuine freedom” (which creates the possibility of rejecting God). In both cases, you have God bringing about a state of affairs which he says is not his “desire” for the sake of something which he (presumably) desires more.

    Finally, I just want to underline the last section of my article. The reason that the Author-story analogy is so helpful to me is that it enables me to see God as both the omni-present, comprehensively sovereign Author and as locatively-revealed and authentic character in the story. In my judgment, Arminians emphasize God-as-character (the God who weeps, the God who repents, etc) because they see it in the Bible (which it is), but deny God-as-Author (as I presented it). Likewise, some Calvinists emphasize God-as-Author and explain away passages about God’s repentance as though it weren’t “real” repentance (thus denying the significance of God-as-character). I want to embrace both perspectives as genuine, authentic revelations of who God is. I don’t want to privilege one over the other. I want my reasoning to be done within the bounds of Scripture, and not allow one part of the Bible to mute another. Whether I succeed in that regard is for others (and ultimately God) to decide.

    Thanks for the question.
    Joe Rigney

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for weighing in. I half expected it. And I am pleasantly surprised (I probably shouldn’t be) at the irenic and generous nature of your response. You put your finger on our most significant disagreement. I cannot understand how God can be “good” (in any meaningful sense) and predestine people to hell for his own glory. You say God genuinely desires the salvation of all people. I assume you mean he wishes that could be the case. But his own self-glorification outweighs his desire for people’s salvation, so he is willing to send them to hell (when he could save them because salvation is monergistic) in order to manifest his justice. And yet how just is it that their sinfulness was also foreordained and rendered certain by God. Okay, I am repeating myself. You know my objections (I hope) and I know yours. Still, I appreciate your taking the time to join the conversation.

      • Joe Rigney

        Dr. Olson,
        A comment and a question. The comment is that while I certainly believe that hell is a demonstration of God’s justice, I think a better rationale (from a Calvinist perspective) is that hell is a demonstration of God’s sovereign freedom in dispensing mercy to whom he wills (“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”). Limiting the purpose of hell to demonstration of wrath or retributive justice opens up the question as to why the cross is an insufficient display of God’s wrath (and thus God could display wrath on the cross and still save all men). Instead, I’d suggest (in line with Romans 9 and its quotations of Exodus) that God is revealing his “purpose of election” and his sovereign freedom in showing mercy to whom he will. Of course, I would connect God’s commitment to show such freedom to the fundamental definition of his righteousness (in Piper’s book on Romans 9, he argues that God’s righteousness is his unswerving commitment to his own name, especially his sovereign freedom in showing mercy). Again, I’m sure that’s not persuasive to you, but there it is.

        My question was this: As an Arminian, do you believe that God ordained the death of Jesus (including the evil actions that brought it about)? And if so, do you feel the “moral repugnance” you asked me about toward the cross? And do you also sing songs like “The Wonderful Cross”? Again, I’m just curious.

        Thanks.

        • rogereolson

          I don’t believe God ordained or rendered certain the specific sins of those who crucified Jesus. He allowed the inevitable to happen. It was inevitable given Jesus’ claims and the powers that dominated the religious and political context in which he made those claims. I do sing “The Wonderful Cross.” Could we sing it together in spite of our profound differences of interpretation of God’s sovereignty?

          • Joe Rigney

            If I’m ever in Waco or you’re ever in Minneapolis, we most certainly can.

          • rogereolson

            I come to Minneapolis fairly often. Let’s try to get together one of those times.

  • Alan Steele

    Wow. A lot of ground being covered here. I think it’s great to see such active engagement in such weighty topics – and in such gracious fashion toward each other.
    I would like to respond to Dr. Olson’s excellent question, “From where did the first evil inclination come?” Someone once posed this question to me during a small group discussion on sin. Up to that point, I had typically brushed aside the question with superficial responses like, “Great question. This might be the first question I ask when I meet my Savior face to face.” It was an honest answer, but on this occasion it felt terribly inadequate and I felt I owed this individual and the group a better answer. I also felt it was time to finally confront this question and do some digging. I think times of growth are generally accompanied by a good deal of personal discomfort. Care is needed in exploring this topic since as far as I know, the Bible does not directly address this question.
    Let’s start with sin since sin would seem to be the linchpin for this discussion. Did sin exist in Adam as he was created? The answer, I believe, is “no”. God is not the creator of evil. God is not capable of evil. So, if Adam was without sin, how did sin enter into him? Another way to phrase the question is, “How did Adam, not possessing a sinful nature, slip, or ‘fall’ into sin?”
    We must also recall that there was a “tempter” present with Adam in the Garden. Described as a serpent, the account in Genesis does not specifically mention Satan, although most interpreters make this assumption. The efforts of the tempter seem to have evil intent, defined as against God’s commands and in opposition to God’s will. So, the next question is, “Beginning with the assumption that the tempter was not created evil, for the same reason that Adam was not created evil, how did the tempter fall into sin?” If the tempter fell into sin, it seems to logically follow that he had a will as part of his created nature that was free enough to allow him to do so.
    I think it is safe to conclude that both Adam and Satan were given a will by God as part of their created nature. As I stated earlier, since God created both the creatures, Satan and Adam, we can safely conclude that they were created without inherently sinful natures. In this way then their wills, as created attributes, were free – that is to say free in the sense that they were unfettered by the corruptive influence of sin – but, not free from the possibility of corruption. Apparently, that last attribute belongs solely to God. My best attempt at an explanation of this difference between us and God is to say that the Creator is infinite and we, the created beings are finite – meaning, we are limited. Part of the finite nature of Satan and Adam was their susceptibility to corruption.
    So, the created beings Satan and Adam were finite creatures with wills and were susceptible to the possibility of corruption as part of their created nature. So, what caused the created beings, Satan and Adam, to fall into sin and become corrupted?
    One attempt I have read that seeks to address these matters has to do with another created attribute: desire. God also has this attribute. He desires, for example, that we place all of our trust in him and that we obey his commands. God’s desire is not corruptible. Satan and Adam’s desire was.
    One theory postulates that it was through desire that both Satan and Adam eventually slipped into sin and became corrupted. Their desire for the coveted thing, power and glory on a par with God, eventually overcame their desire to trust God completely, to obey God’s commands and to be content with their status, thus causing the slide into sin.
    This is what I offered to the guys in the small group and it resulted in some really interesting discussion.

    • rogereolson

      This is constructive and helpful. Thank you. My first question (not to you necessarily) is why John Piper didn’t answer with this very Augustinian view when I put the question to him. His response instead was that he didn’t know. Most Calvinists I have asked simply decline to respond. So I find this response a good starting point for dialogue. In fact, I agree with everything in it. It’s a very good Arminian answer! But I assume a Calvinist is offering it. What I wonder is how consistent it is with the classical Calvinist/Reformed doctrine of providence. Surely Calvinists want their doctrines to be consistent with each other. I have demonstrated in Against Calvinism that many, I would say most, classical Calvinists have been and are what I call divine determinists who believe in meticulous providence. (I realize they don’t like the term “determinism,” but I can’t think of any better term for what they say they believe.) Sproul, for example, loves to tell audiences (and has written into some of his books) that (paraphrasing) if there is one maverick molecule in the universe God is not God. The context makes clear that he isn’t just talking about molecules; he’s talking about everything. Paul Helm nails it down by saying (again paraphrasing) that every thought is controlled by God. I take it (and have argued in Against Calvinism and elsewhere) that the classical Calvinist doctrine of divine providence admits no non-God-determined events. To be sure, all kinds of explanations are given of ways in which God determines without directly causing (e.g., secondary causes). Nevertheless, the idea is (and one can find this clearly spelled out in Calvin’s Institutes) that God never, ever merely observes what happens and never, ever finds that what happens is not what he planned to happen. God is, that is to say, the all determining reality. Thus, the first evil inclination (and what followed from it) MUST have been determined by God. Sure, the creature (Satan, Adam) formed the evil intention within himself, but the issue is why? Did he form it independently of God’s will and intention? Was God’s permission that he form it antecedent or consequent in relation to the creature’s free will? Was God’s permission that he form it effectual? That is, did God, for example (as Edwards says) withhold or withdraw the divine influence the creature needed not to sin? These are question that arise from the very Augustinian response of Mr. Steele. As I understand it, any claim that the creature who first sinned, who first formed an evil intention, did so independently of God’s will, plan, purpose and control falls into conflict with the classical Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty as expressed in the classical Calvinist doctrine of divine providence. In other words, so it seems to me, the answer Mr. Steele gives is inconsistent with Calvinism but consistent with Arminianism. Of course, a Calvinist might hold it by adjusting his or her doctrine of providence, but that would be to make a huge concession to Arminianism (free will theism). (I am using “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” throughout this response as place holders for broader beliefs. Luther and Zwingli, for example, both believed in divine determinism but can hardly be called “Calvinists” without anachronism. Similarly, Erasmus and Menno Simons seem to have denied divine determinism but can hardly be called “Arminians” without anachronism.


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