Does God Foreordain and Render Certain Sins? (And Why Some Questions Annoy Me)
Not infrequently some Calvinist confronts me with a question that, in the way it is asked, implies two things: 1) I must have overlooked parts of the Bible, and 2) They have not read any non-Calvinist theology. The way these people often ask their question annoys me because it’s insulting. First, more often than not, I’ve answered the question in either Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities or Against Calvinism. And, in most cases, some version of the Arminian answer may be found in virtually any book of Arminian theology. Second, the tone of the question is usually that of “Aha! Obviously (!) you [meaning me] have not read the whole Bible or, if you have, you have simply chosen to ignore portions of it.”
I admit it. In my mere humanity, this approach annoys me so much I usually just turn away from it. It would be different if a student, for example, asked the question sincerely and honestly and respectfully, not implying that I obviously don’t have an answer. Often I point people to one of my books, ask them to read it, and then invite conversation about anything they’ve read there that they still don’t understand.
That’s why I wrote Against Calvinism—to explain the alternative to Calvinism (as well as to explain why I am not a Calvinist). I purposely kept it brief and relatively simple so that I don’t have to explain my view over and over again to people who are fully capable of reading such a simple book of Arminian theology. I can simply suggest they read it. If they’re really interested in the subject, they will. If they are only interested in asking insulting questions, they won’t.
I come back to the testimony many Arminians have made here and elsewhere. We frequently encounter Calvinists who are anti-Arminian but have never read a book of classical Arminian theology. They’ve only read books about Arminian theology written by Calvinists. Or, in some cases, they’ve never read a book about the subject but only listened to their favorite Calvinist talker bash a straw man called “Arminianism.”
So let’s go at it one more time (hopefully). Does God foreordain and render certain sin in general and specific sins? Calvinism says yes but then usually retreats into the language of “permission” which, non-Calvinists believe, is inconsistent with Calvinism’s divine determinism. If God “designs, ordains, and governs” sin and evil, then, as Arminius himself said (and Wesley agreed) God is the only real sinner. Adding that God does not “cause” sin but only “permits” it only raises the question of how God “ordains and governs” sin without causing it. Then, in most cases, Calvinists resort to the language of “secondary causes” which doesn’t relieve God of responsibility for sin if it is the product of his will and he renders it certain.Now, an Arminian begins with the fact that God only permits sin in general and specific sins and then says that, yes, God also uses sinners and their freely chosen sins for his purposes, but without sin being part of his antecedent will. Sin is only part of his consequent will—what God wills to allow because of the fall and its consequences. So, the men who crucified Jesus, for example, were only “destined” to sin insofar as they planned and carried it out freely and God permitted them to do what they wanted to do. But this was part of God’s consequent will, not God’s antecedent will. And God did not render their sin certain. He knew what they would do, but he did not effectually manipulate them to do it nor was their sin part of God’s “design” except consequentially.
So, the whole answer depends on recognizing the difference between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will and the difference between God rendering certain and God permitting. When Scripture refers to God foreordaining something that is obviously ungodly, it has to mean that God foreknew it and chose to use the ungodly dispositions and actions of sinful creatures for his purposes. Why does it have to mean that? Because otherwise God is the author of sin and evil—something few Calvinists wish to say.
When this is pointed out, many Calvinists then jump to play what I call the “nominalist card”—that God is free to do whatever he wishes and we have no right to question it. In other words, according to them at that moment (even if overall they don’t seem always to believe this), God is above all law—even one that is part of his own nature and character. This is, of course, what Luther and Zwingli believed and stated very clearly. And from them it entered into the stream of Protestant theology much to the horror of Catholics and Orthodox but also many Protestants. The problem is that this makes God a-moral and therefore untrustworthy. Might is then what makes right. If God should decide that lying is good, it would be. The only thing “holding up” any rightness is God’s sheer will ungoverned by any innate goodness of character.
I could go on, but I’m not re-writing my books here—or any other Arminians’ books. To Calvinists with questions about Arminian theology I say—go read! Arminian books are not all that scarce. If you just can’t bring yourself to read a book of Arminian theology, at least read John Wesley’s sermons “Predestination calmly considered” and “On free grace.” But, really, don’t pontificate (even with questions) about Arminianism if you haven’t studied it at all.