Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices

The following article was written by Stephen Altrogge, and posted on his site, THE BLAZING CENTER.

Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices
By Stephen Altrogge 
Click here to see the original post at Stephen's site.

Alright, I confess: I’m a Calvinist. Do you still like me? Will you still invite me over for you Super Bowl party? Will you still be my Facebook friend? Can we still do piano duets (I don’t play the piano, but if I did I would want to play duets)? I sure hope so.
But what exactly does it mean to be a Calvinist? There is a lot of confusion and misinformation and downright misrepresentation when it comes to Calvinism. Depending on who you talk to, a Calvinist is someone who:
1) Believes God hates everyone (see Westboro Baptist Church).
2) Believes God has chosen people to be saved, and no matter what a person does, nothing can change that choice.
3) Is grumpy, sour, and always making sure everyone else is obeying the rules.
4) Doesn’t believe in evangelism because God has already chosen people to be saved.
Over the next several posts I want to address several common myths regarding Calvinism, and explain how I, a Calvinist, respond to those myths.
The first, and probably most prevalent myth regarding Calvinism, has to do with free will and choices. The argument goes something like this: If God has predestined people to be saved then people don’t have a free will, and our choices for or against God are not real choices. 
I get this argument, I really do. In some ways, it’s the logical extension of the doctrine of predestination. If God does the choosing, that must mean we don’t do any real choosing. Am I right? After all, who can resist the will of the Almighty God?
Slight problem though: the Bible makes it crystal clear that God predestines people for salvation AND that every person is responsible to choose Jesus Christ. This is a paradox for which the Bible make no apologies, and a paradox which every true Calvinist gladly embraces.
Ephesians 1:4-6 says:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
I don’t know how much clearer you can get when it comes to the doctrine of election. If I am a Christian it is because God predestined me, before the ages began, to be adopted as a son. He did not predestine me because of anything good or bad I would do. He predestined me according to the purpose of his will. This fills me with gratefulness.
These kinds of words run throughout the entirety of Scripture. Romans 8:29-30 says:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This passage forms an unbreakable chain. Before the foundation of the world God, foreknew those whom he would be predestine for salvation. Those whom he predestines are always called, those whom he calls are always justified, and those whom he justifies are always ultimately glorified. This is completely God’s doing. He gets all the credit and all the glory. From beginning to end, God does the saving. Scripture couldn’t be more clear on this subject.
But Scripture also makes it clear that every man and woman is responsible before God to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus said to the Pharisees:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
In Acts 2, after preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, Peter called his listeners to repentance:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
True Calvinism embraces the unconditional election of God. The Bible makes no apologies for the fact that God elects specific men and women to be saved apart from any conditions within them. God is God, and he is free to do whatever he pleases. The clay cannot say to the Potter, “Why have you made me this way?”
True Calvinism also embraces the real need for repentance. This is not some sort of tricky word game God is playing. Every man and woman is commanded to turn from their sins and choose God. The choices we make for God or against God are real choices, and we will really be held accountable for those choices.
How do God’s sovereign, electing purposes, and man’s free will work together? I’m not sure. The Bible doesn’t spell it out in detail. It gives us some hints as to how they work together, but it doesn’t ever clearly answer the question. As a Calvinist, I fully embrace God’s sovereign perogative to choose whomever he pleases. I also fully embrace every person’s responsibility to repent. I find the following quotes from Charles Spurgeon helpful in this matter:
I believe that God will save his own elect. And I also believe that if I do not preach the gospel, the blood of men will be laid at my door.
I am quite certain that God has an elect people, for he tells me so in his word. And I am equally certain that everyone who comes to Christ shall be saved, for that also is his own declaration in the Scriptures. When people ask me how I reconcile these two truths, I usually say that there is no need to reconcile them, for they have never yet quarreled with one another.
The true Calvinist believes that election and free salvation do not quarrel with one another.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Limited Atonement

You may be aware that a new book on the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" has just been released. You may also know that Calvinists, historically, have taken a variety of positions on the subject. With that in mind, I would like to interact with a few statements made recently on the Gospel Coalition blog (and by the way, just to be clear, I would generally consider myself to be a strong supporter and advocate of TGC and its work). Nevertheless, here are the statements to which I will respond:
Many Amyraldians or "4-point Calvinists," while espousing a particular election (by the Father) and a particular application (by the Spirit), hold to a universal atonement (by the Son). What's problematic about emphasizing particularity at the stage of application but not at the stage of atonement?The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected). The same problem attends semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty). According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology. Christ is presented in the Bible as King, Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head, Master, Firstborn, Cosmic Savior, and Last Adam. This is who the incarnate Son is, and therefore when he dies for sinners he cannot fail to be for them who he is. The person and work of Christ cannot be separated. In short, both trinitarianism and union with Christ point toward a definite intent in the atonement, as both ensure its efficacy. (Source:
I am not an Amyraldian or "4-Pointer," and probably not a "hypothetical universalist," as those terms are usually defined among today's Calvinists. I do not deny that the intent of the atonement was to save a particular people. I do, however, deny that this was the sole intent, and I also deny that the atonement's extent has to be measured by its intent. My theology is Classic/Moderate Calvinism, as opposed to "High Calvinism." Classic/Moderate Calvinism is a prestigious tradition that is often castigated and misrepresented (or perhaps simply misunderstood) by High Calvinists.

It is from this perspective that I will respond to a few of the statements made above, beginning with this one:
The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected).
This problem is not relevant to Classic/Moderate Calvinists, as I will now demonstrate. In fact, our position exposes a significant inconsistency in the High Calvinist view. This is how they often frame the discussion:

1. Election is particular
2. Atonement is particular
3. Calling is particular

In other words: "God's work is particular, so why confuse things by generalizing just the atonement?"

On the other hand, this is how we frame it:

1. Election is particular in scope, but this does not limit God's general love and common grace which are extended toward all humanity
2. Atonement is particular in intent, but this does not limit the universal sufficiency of the atonement as potentially salvific for all of humanity
3. Calling is particular, but this does not limit the general call of the Gospel as God's command for all people everywhere to repent and believe.

Most High Calvinists will agree with our views on 1 and 3, but for some reason cannot accept the correlating balance on 2. This is actually in inconsistency on their part, not ours.

In other words, we say: "God's work is general and particular, so why deny the general aspect of just the atonement?" In fact, we might even go a step further, and offer a much more reasonable and Biblical solution, by viewing the General Love of God, Common Grace and the General Call of the Gospel as grounded in and made possible by the general/universal aspects of the atonement. The Cross IS God's Word of love and grace to all mankind. The Cross IS God's call of repentance to all of the world's people. The Cross IS God's extended hand of forgiveness to all humanity. And our Gospel is THE WORD OF THE CROSS.
Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty).
A bigger problem is faced by the High Calvinist, as I have shown above. Additionally, I would suggest that few people understand Calvinism as well as Curt Daniel. My High Calvinist friends would be well advised to listen to him.
According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10
Despite this dismissive comment, 1 Timothy 4:10 presents a strong exegetical case for the atonement's unlimited extent and limited intent, if not a dual intent. Furthermore, in the Classic/Moderate approach the Three Persons of the Trinity are certainly united in expressing a general love, a general atonement and a general call toward all humanity, while also working to achieve a specific end for a particular people in each of those activities. Why don't High Calvinists level the same criticism against General Love, Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel (as Hyper Calvinists do)? Again, it is clear that the High Calvinist scheme is inconsistent by overlooking the fact that General Love stands alongside Unconditional Election, and the Free Offer stands alongside the Effectual Call. The next statement demonstrates this oversight well:
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology.
This is quite a stretch, and, I might add, a little bit uncharitable. The phrase, "died for," is far too ambiguous to become the basis for judging a person's Christology as "distorted" or less than orthodox. Why can't Christ "die for" all of humanity in one sense, and "die for" a particular people in another sense? Furthermore, is the Father's will confused when He elects some but extends love and grace to all? Is the Holy Spirit's will confused when He tells us to proclaim Good News to everyone but inwardly draws only His chosen ones?

Following the logic of the statement quoted above, the Father cannot love those He did not elect, and the Spirit cannot send the Gospel to those He will not convert, without somehow being "confused." In our view, neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit are ever confused; they each work in both general and particular ways, being in precise harmony with themselves and with One Another.

As a Calvinist and a Bible believer, it makes the most reasonable sense to embrace the universal extent of the atonement while not denying its particular intent. Whatever you call it, the result will be truly CONSISTENT CALVINISM.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Arranged Marriages

I asked my daughter: "Should we have arranged marriages, or should we be allowed to marry someone we love?" 

She thought for a moment, and then shouted: "FALSE DICHOTOMY!"

"Very good." I said. After all, a marriage could be arranged between a man and woman who already love each other (perhaps some marriages are arranged this way unwittingly), or a marriage can be arranged between a man and woman who will grow to love each other. Real love and arranged marriage are not mutually exclusive (I am not saying we should practice this, by the way).

Next I said, "Now, imagine that I am both omnisicient and omnipotent. Could I pre-arrange a marriage for you with someone you love?"

"Of course you could, if you were God!" She said. After thinking it through for another moment or two, her face lit up and she exclaimed, "Hey, wait a minute . . . ALL MARRIAGES ARE ARRANGED!"

I smiled.

She had expressed a brilliant, simple, and thoroughly Biblical thought. Every marriage, including the most loving marriage on earth, is an arranged marriage. And most every marriage can be a genuinely loving one.

So, how is it that my 12-year-old daughter understands compatibilism so much better than the Arminian apologists I meet online? Why can't they see through the false dichotomy of "foreordained" and "free"? They tell me it is a "contradiction" (and much worse). I wonder, do they think God is too limited in His power, or wisdom, or freedom, or knowledge, or ability, or love, to accomplish such a wonderful thing?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Cessationism, Continuationism, and the Charismata

Last night I listened to a well presented debate between Dr. Michael Brown (charismatic) and Dr. Sam Waldron (cessationist) as they addressed the issue of charismatic gifts. It was helpful that both men presented primarily Scriptural arguments. Here it is:

On reflection it struck me that Dr. Waldron's argument against ongoing spiritual gifts would be equivalent to saying that authentic writing about the Christian faith can no longer occur because the actual writing of Scripture has ceased. Authentic preaching can no longer occur because the authoritative preaching of the first Apostles has ceased. Authentic missionary work can no longer occur because Apostolic authority was not conferred on individuals after the first century. Dr. Waldron does not hold to these conclusions, but on what basis? His argument for cessation of spiritual gifts could be equally applied to the three issues mentioned above. If there can be writing, preaching and missionary work beyond the passing of the Apostles, why can't there be a form of spiritual gifting that continues without them? We have the written Canon by which all writing and preaching and missionary calling can be judged as genuine or spurious. Why shouldn't the canonized Apostolic authority of the Bible be sufficient to guide us in the proper use of spiritual gifts? In an ironic way, cessationism becomes an argument against the sufficiency of Scripture! Isn't Scripture sufficient for the proper management of the spiritual gifts?

We are not talking about people having the ability to heal or prophesy at will; we are talking about godly, Spirit-empowered, doctrinally sound Gospel preachers who walk by the Spirit and submit themselves to His holy leading while regularly engaging in particular spiritual gifts when and as He enables them for the spreading of the Word of Christ. Why won't more cessationist apologists address this kind of continuationism? Is their argument so weak that it needs the shock effect of obviously false charismatic abuses and heresies in order to stand? 

In comparing the Biblical merits of Dr. Waldron's arguments as opposed to Dr. Brown's, I have to conclude that the answer is "yes." Gratefully, Dr. Waldron did not resort to that kind of sensationalism in presenting his cessationist arguments.

With all of that said, I should add that the only safe way to be "charismatic" is to be firmly grounded in a Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God, the Great Gift Giver, and in sound Biblical doctrine. Then again, that is the only safe way to do anything.

I should also add that I would much prefer a Biblically sound, Gospel-centered cessationist to an off-balance and unstable charismatic clown of the type that is so often showcased in today's "charismatic" circles (you've probably seen them on TV and YouTube). Interestingly enough, many of my Pentecostal friends would agree with the statement I have just made.

Feel free to share your thoughts, dear friends.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Particular and General: A Key Tension in Reformed Soteriology

Reformed soteriology is humble and grand enough to tolerate significant tensions. One evidence of this is its ability to view the overarching, eternal purpose of God in both general and particular ways. In doing so, it maintains a clear line of division between the generalities we can know and the particulars known to God alone. It views the particulars abstractly, as categories without content. For example, we know abstractly that God has sovereignly elected some (i.e., the "elect" as a category); but we do not know concretely who they are (i.e., the content of the "elect" category). At the very same time, Reformed soteriology views the generalities concretely, as partially categorized content (for example, we know the general truth that God loves and desires to save every living person, without exception). The Biblical Calvinist does not apply election in an unwarranted way; he does not use this truth to invalidate God's general love for the non-elect and His general desire to save all sinners. Election is specific to a subset of humanity, but God's love and saving desire are all-humanity-wide. God is love.

Let's imagine for a moment that we are speaking with two unbelievers. God knows that one of them is elect and is going to be brought to repentance, and He also knows that one of them will die in the stubbornness of his heart. For our part, we don't know which one of them is elect, or if both of them are elect, or if neither of them is elect. We don't know if either of them will repent and be saved. Even if they both appear to repent and believe, we won't know for certain that their conversions were genuine until we meet them in heaven. On earth, we can't know with absolute certainty that they are truly saved and will persevere to the end. Those are particulars that belong to God's own purpose and wisdom. 

What we can know for certain and by faith is this: God has a purpose for both of them. Both are created in God's image and are loved by Him. Both are enemies of God. Both, in their current state, would gladly choose an eternity in hell over intimate fellowship with their Creator. Both are sinners who need saving grace. God would be pleased greatly by the salvation of both, and He will also be pleased to display His justice if they remain His enemies and perish. If they repent, they will be saved. From the standpoint of generalities--from our human standpoint--both unbelievers are identical. In our eyes, both are potentially elect. But from God's standpoint--in His own omniscient knowledge of the particulars--they are very different. One is elect and will be brought to faith, and the other is destined for damnation. Even if we knew for certain that one of them was elect, we wouldn't have any way of knowing with any certitude which one it is. So unconditional election is a solid and certain truth, but it is equally a mystery.
So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills. (Romans 9:18) 

High Tension Wires:
Very Powerful!
We can approach these two unregenerate souls with the sure knowledge that God elects, but not that God elected either of them in particular. We can approach them in the certain understanding that God will bring justice directly upon some human beings, but not in the sure knowledge that either of these sinners will have to personally bear the wrath he justly deserves. We can know that both of them are currently under the wrath of God, already condemned for their unbelief--yet neither of them has perished yet, so we can be hopeful about both of them. We know that both will perish if they do not repent. We know that Jesus bore the wrath of God, and we know that if either of these unsaved persons repents he will no longer be under God's wrath. He will pass from death to life and will be created anew in Christ. We look at these two people and see potentials, not particulars. We see conditions, not determinations. We see a process partly finished, but up to the point of our visible horizon neither one is differentiated from the other. In God's mind they may be different, but in our minds they cannot be. It is enough for us to know that God knows.

What happens when you remove
the tension from one side?
The great error of the hyper Calvinist is to attempt in his own mind a coalescence of the generalities and the particulars, so that they become one in his mind. He tries to know things he cannot know, and is forced to rely on his own senses to determine who is and is not elect. He seeks to preach God's love to the elect only, to communicate God's saving desire to the elect only, to preach the Gospel to the elect only. He tries to be as efficacious in his efforts as God is in His ordination of all things. Thus, the hyper Calvinist simultaneously exalts his own perceptions while oversimplifying the complexities of God's dispositions. He limits everything to the unknowable particulars, which he concretizes, having no room in his thinking for the generalities or the undefined abstractions. The inherent arrogance of this approach should be obvious. The lopsidedness is striking.

This understanding will help us to take a Biblically balanced view of many topics, among them the extent of atonement. We can posit particular redemption from the standpoint of divine particularity. God knows whom He saves by the atonement. Once we have said this much, what need is there to limit the sufficiency or the potentially salvific nature of Christ's work? The fact that God will not apply the redeeming power of the blood of Christ to all people is no reason to believe it does not essentially contain that power. From the standpoint of generality, we can make no assumptions. So, in considering the elect abstractly, we can say "Christ died especially, efficiently, particularly for them." In looking concretely at the masses of lost humanity, we must say, "Christ died for the whole world." We can tell a lost sinner, "Christ died for you," and this will be true in many senses whether the person we are speaking with is specifically elect or not.

The best Calvinist thinkers and scholars of the past have embraced key tensions and important distinctions between the general and the particular. Those who have been most Biblically grounded have warned us to remain purposely ignorant of those things which God has not seen fit to reveal, and to hold solid and steadfast in embracing all that He has made known in His awe-inspiring wisdom.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Isaiah 53:6 - The Substitute for Sinners

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned--every one--to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

In verse 4, He carried our sorrows and griefs. In verse 5, He bore the punishment due for our sins. Now in verse 6, He carries our very sin itself, as if He Himself had been the sinner. In the astounding reality of substitutionary atonement, Christ actually and literally took our place on the cross. He truly suffered the just and fierce wrath of God in our stead.

The Image of the Sinner: a Sheep

"sheep" = Heb. צאן tso'n - small cattle, sheep, sheep and goats, flock

Sheep are ignorant and don't know what's good for them. They are irrational and misguided creatures. They wander about in any direction, aimless, easily endangered and vulnerable. Even in our seemingly "innocent" meanderings and missteps, we are SINNING AGAINST GOD.

The Trajectory of Sin: Straying

"gone astray" = Heb. תעה ta`ah - to err, wander, go astray, stagger

For a stray sheep, the world is filled with hazards and dangers. That sheep is a defenseless and helpless thing with no means of protecting itself. The only hope for a lost sheep is that the shepherd pursues him and finds him before calamity strikes.

Psalm 119:176 "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments."

The Nature of Sin: Turning Away

"turned" = Heb. פנה panah - to turn

Sin is the opposite of repentance. It is turning from God. Repentance is turning to Him. 

What could be more insulting than to turn away the face, eyes, and ears from the one who is addressing us? What could be more dishonoring than to walk away in a different direction when we have been rightly commanded by legitimate authority? Perhaps a direct attack or assault would be considered more antagonistic; however, we turn away when we know we cannot win in a straightforward battle, and when we realize that we are facing One much greater in strength and we simply do not want to comply.

On the other hand, we turn to those we know are ready to help us. We turn to the authority we acknowledge and accept. We turn to the master we find to be good and wise and excellent.

It is His kindness that leads us to repentance.

Which way are you turning?

The Essence of Sin: Self-Centeredness

"his own way" = Heb. דרך derek - way, road, distance, journey, manner

The straying sheep follows his own path. He doesn't trust the Shepherd and won't walk in His paths. In going his own way, the sinner ironically goes down the well-worn path taken by every other sinner since Adam and Eve. It is "his own way" as opposed to God's way, yet it is the same old way of all sinful humanity. Sin is oddly unoriginal.

The Corrupting Nature of Sin: Iniquity

"Iniquity" = Heb. עון `avon - perverseness

As sinners, we are deeply and inherently corrupted. This is why we must be born again; it is why we must be disciplined by the rod of our Father-Shepherd, and die to self, and later shed this corrupt flesh to be clothed with a new body. Our very planet and universe have been corrupted through sin, and they must be replaced with a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness shall dwell. Sinners can be redeemed from their perversity or they can remain corrupt and perish with all that is corrupt. This is where "our own way" leads us. But God's way is to save the straying sheep whose pitiful bleats are born of faith.

The Extent of Sin: "All We" and "Every One"

We have strayed as a group, and we have strayed individually. All Israel strayed. All mankind strayed. Every person has strayed. You have strayed and I have strayed. Sin is a universal trait of mankind, a very "common" thing.

The Saving Power of Substitution: Our Iniquity was Laid on Him

"Laid on Him" = Heb. פגע paga` - to encounter, meet, reach

Christ bore our iniquities. The sinless Savior carried sin. The animals that were sacrified in the Levitical sin offerings were symbolic substitutes who painted the picture of Christ carrying away the sins of the people. They typified our Lord, who would bear all the iniquity that ever was.

The verse highlights the fact that Christ shared our human nature. He and we, together, are compared to "sheep." We strayed like sheep, while he was sacrificed as a lamb in our place. He died like a sheep for those who are like sheep. Although the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant could never suffice as actual substitutes for humans, and were merely symbolic, Christ became the perfect and real man who was given to die in the place of sinful man. He became the spotless lamb who died in the place of straying sheep.

Thanks be to God, we straying and perverse fools can be brought to repentance and carried home!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Modest Proposal for Fixing America

I don't comment much on politics here, and that is by design. However, America's political system is so out of order and beyond stupid that I am now compelled to speak out. Regular programming will resume following this short announcement (unless the ongoing political situation prompts me to speak out again).


1. Amend the Constitution to create five new political parties and require a minimum of five fully viable parties at all times. (The most liberal of these parties should be the "Blue Dogs"). 
2. Require all political candidates to have proven leadership experience in a role that brings direct benefit to society, having demonstrated a firm commitment to the Constitution, moral responsibility and accountability, and fiscal responsibility and accountability. Require a minimum percentage of politicians to be normal, non-wealthy Americans. Allow only a small percentage of politicians to be lawyers and attorneys. 
3. Immediately hold referendum elections under the five party system for all major political offices.  
4. Term limits. Ten years in politics and then you're done. 
5. Remove all Democrats and Republicans from office, disband the two parties and make it illegal for them to ever form again. Make the terms "Democrat" and "Republican" more odious than the worst profanity. 
6. Make it illegal for anyone who has ever held an official role in either of these parties to ever be involved in politics in any sense. (We might consider generously allowing them to remain in America on the condition that they donate all of their wealth to charity, get regular jobs, and act like normal citizens going forward). 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 20 - Every Theologian In History

"No one should be surprised if a theologian falls into contradiction with himself at times—especially if he (or she) writes much over a very long period of time. I’m a historical theologian and have studied the theologies of virtually every major Christian theologian from Irenaeus to Pannenberg (and beyond). In every case I find some tension, some element of conflict within the theologian’s own system."

--Roger E. Olson, source

I do not think Dr. Olson's intention in making this comment was to support the concept of theological paradox, especially since he has written disparagingly of that subject in the past. Although his statement was probably intended to say something about the natural human inconsistency which we all share, it may point to something much more significant.

Is it possible that a universal element of logical tension exists because there is an inherent limitation within "human reason" that prevents us from successfully systematizing the infinite? Is it possible that we are trying to squeeze timeless realities into temporal containers? Could we be working with eternal truths that do not arrange neatly into the categories we are working with and assuming by our human limitations?

Just a thought.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Martin Luther for the Win!

The following is excerpted from Luther's introduction to his commentary on the sermon on the mount. Somehow I fear that most of today's "Protestants," and even the more solid among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, have lost sight of what the Reformation was all about, the gains that it made, and the Biblical "wrecking ball" that it indiscriminately brandished against all forms of man-made, Gospel-distorting doctrines. Something tells me we could use a few more Luthers in the church today. Notice, especially, that Luther recognizes an orthodox "middle ground" of balanced, Scriptural teaching, with heretical extremes on both sides, incorporating only a part of the Biblical doctrine while destroying the necessary balance. 

Here are the first few paragraphs from Luther:

"I am truly glad that my exposition of the three chapters of St. Matthew, which St. Augustine calls the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, are about to be published, hoping that by the grace of God it may help to preserve and maintain the true, sure and Christian understanding of this teaching of Christ, because these sayings and texts are so very common and so often used throughout all Christendom. For I do not doubt that I have herein presented to my friends, and all others who care for these things, the true, pure Christian meaning of the same. 

And it is hard to understand how the very devil himself has by his apostles so cunningly twisted and perverted especially the fifth chapter, as to make it teach the very opposite of what it means. And though Christ purposely intended thereby to antagonize all false teaching, and to exhibit the true meaning of God’s commands, as he expressly says: “I am not come to destroy the law;” and takes it up piece by piece to make it perfectly clear; yet the infernal Satan has not found a single text in the Scriptures which he has more shamefully perverted, and made more error and false doctrine out of, than just this one which was by Christ himself ordered and appointed to neutralize false doctrine. This we may call a masterpiece of the devil.

First of all there have fallen upon this chapter the vulgar hogs and asses, jurists and sophists, the right hand of the pope and his Mamelukes. They have sucked this poison out of this beautiful rose, and scattered it everywhere; they have covered up Christ with it and have exalted and maintained the antichrist, namely, that Christ here does not wish everything which he teaches in the fifth chapter to be regarded by his Christians as commanded and to be observed by them; but that much of it was given merely as advice to such as wish to become perfect, and any who wish may observe these parts; despite the fact that Christ there threatens wrathfully: — no one shall enter heaven who sets aside one of the least of these commands, — and he calls them in plain words commands.

Thus they have invented twelve gospel counsels [consilia evangelii], twelve items of good counsel in the gospel, which one may heed if he wants to be something over and above other Christians (higher and more perfect); they have thus made not only Christian salvation, yes even perfection also, dependent aside from faith upon works, but they have made these same works voluntary. That is, as I understand it, to forbid really and truly good works, which is just what these nasty revilers accuse us of doing. For they cannot deny this, and no covering and smoothing over will help them as long as this fifth chapter of Matthew abides. For their books and glosses are at hand, along with their former and present daily impenitent life that they lead in accordance with this their teaching. And the teaching of those twelve “evangelical counsels” is very common among them, viz., not to require wrong doing, not to take vengeance, to offer the other cheek, not to resist evil, to give the cloak along with the coat, to go two miles for one, to give to every one that asks, to lend to him who borrows, to pray for persecutors, to love enemies, to do good to them that hate, etc., as Christ here teaches. All this (they disgustingly say) is not commanded, and the monks at Paris honestly assign their reasons, saying, this Christian teaching would be much too hard if it were loaded with such commands as these, etc.

This is the way the jurists and sophists have hitherto ruled and taught the church, so that Christ with his teaching and interpretation, has had to be their fool and juggler; and they still show no signs of repentance for this, but are eager to defend it, and to put forward again their cursed shabby canons, and to crown again their cunning pope. God grant, however, that I may live and may have to give clasps and jewels for this crown; then he, God willing, shall be called rightly crowned.

Therefore, dear brother, if you please, and have nothing better, let this my preaching serve you, in the first place, against our squires, the jurists and sophists, I mean especially the canonists, whom they themselves indeed call asses, and such they really are, so that you may keep the teaching of Christ for yourself pure in this place of Matthew, instead of their ass’s cunning and devil’s dung.

In the second place also against the new jurists and sophists, namely, the factious spirits and Anabaptists, who in their crazy fashion are making new trouble out of this fifth chapter. And just as the others go too much to the left in holding nothing at all of this teaching of Christ, but have condemned and obliterated it, so do these lean too much to the right, and teach that one should have nothing of his own, should not swear, should not act as ruler or judge, should not protect or defend, should forsake wife and child, and much of such miserable stuff.

So completely does the devil mix things up on both sides, that they know no difference between an earthly and a heavenly kingdom, much less what is to be taught and to be done differently in each kingdom; but we, God be thanked, can boast that we in these sermons have clearly and diligently shown and exhibited it, so that whoever hereafter errs, or will err, we are freed from all responsibility on his account, having faithfully presented our opinion for the benefit of all. Let their blood be upon their own head; our reward for this we await, namely, ingratitude, hatred, and all sorts of hostility, and we say cleo gratias."

Editor's Inquiry: Does anyone know what cleo gratias means? I am admittedly weak in Latin (among other things), and this is a question for which even Google does not appear to have an answer. Please share your Latin interpretation skills with us if you know!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sinners and the Savior - Encouragements and Exhortations

A healthy Christian is never far from the knowledge that he is a sinner. We often pass through the trials, struggles and frustrations of Romans 7. This is normal. The more closely we walk with the Lord, and the longer we live under the light of His Word, the more our sin will be exposed. However, if we are going to progress in sanctification we need to continuously apply and re-apply the principles of Romans 6 and the promises of Romans 8.

We must never allow our own sinfulness to become the focus of our faith. That is a sure path to trouble. Instead, we must focus intently on Christ as Savior - particularly in relation to these questions:
  • How Christ saves
  • Why Christ saves
  • When Christ saves
  • Where Christ saves
  • Whom Christ saves
  • What Christ saves us from
  • What Christ saves us to
  • What Christ saves us for
Focus on these things. Consider each one in detail. The questions appear simple, but the answers are gloriously complex (and totally encouraging). Explore them. Chew on them. Revel in them. Each will lead you to the Gospel as the power of God for all who believe!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Made the list!

Every week I catch up on the latest "Calvinism News" at The Contemporary Calvinist site. What a nice surprise to find one of my articles listed this week. :-)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Adding Some Important Clarifications to the SBC Statement on Calvinism

The recent SBC statement rightly affirms God's love for all people and His desire for all to be saved. Roger Olson has suggested that Calvinists should be required to explain these statements further, and that it might be disingenuous for them to sign the statement without elaborating (See here, here and here). 

To demonstrate the point, he proposed that a coalition of Calvinists, Classical Arminians and Open Theists ought to be challenged to sign the following, without qualification, and wondered if any would be willing to do so:
“We affirm that God loves everyone and desires everyone to be saved and that God elects some to salvation and that people do not have free will to decide whether or not to be saved and that God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly.”
I could never sign that in good conscience because it denies human freedom/responsibility.

However, I agree that more should be said by Calvinists and Arminians about God's love for all people and His desire for the salvation of all. I chose (of my own free will) to add the following comment to Dr. Olson's third post on this subject, including some proposed clarifications to be made from both sides. This will really prove a point:
Dr. Olson, 
I am glad you are discussing the SBC statement.  
I doubt ANYONE would sign your proposed statement (of course, you already knew that). I, as a Calvinist, would object to the denial of freedom, but not to the affirmation of God's general love and desire for the salvation of the lost. 
With regard the actual SBC statement, I agree that more could (and probably should) be said about God's love for everyone and His desire for everyone to be saved. 
If I had my way, Calvinists would have to explain further by stating: "We affirm that God loves all people in the sense that He freely gives them life and breath, reveals Himself to them, provides every good thing they experience, withholds patiently for a time their just and well-deserved punishment for sin, extends His open hand of salvation to them, and calls them to Gospel repentance; and that He desires the salvation of all people in the sense that He would delight in saving all, and will never turn away anyone who turns to Him; and that this sincere love and desire on God's part do not result in the salvation of all people because many freely choose to reject Him in spite of such kindness."  
And Arminians would have to state, "We affirm that God loves all people in the sense that He freely gives them life and breath, reveals Himself to them, provides every good thing they experience, withholds patiently for a time their just and well-deserved punishment for sin, extends His open hand of salvation to them, and calls them to Gospel repentance; and that He desires the salvation of all people in the sense that He would delight in saving all, and will never turn away anyone who turns to Him; and that this sincere love and desire on God's part do not result in the salvation of all people because many freely choose to reject Him in spite of such kindness."  
This could be followed up with, "Both Calvinists and Arminians agree on these points." 

The End of a Long and Interesting Debate

For several weeks now, I have been engaged in discussion with a non-Calvinist brother named Matt. Matt has taken a position of incompatibilism, stating that God cannot both sovereignly foreordain all things and simultaneously permit evil to occur through the exercise of genuine freedom on the part of the creature. He believes Calvinism makes God the "author of evil" and leaves man without moral freedom or responsibility. As one might expect, I argue that this understanding is incorrect.

Thus far, there have been 26 separate volleys in this informal debate, which originally took place in the comments at this post:

Matt has also taken the time to post each comment as a separate blog post on his site.

Below is my final summary response. I would imagine Matt will reply to this, and that his response will be the end of our discussion (for now, at least). Here is my closing argument:
Thank you for taking time to reply and for all of the work you have undertaken in reorganizing our comments into individual posts. 
I will make a few final comments here, and then leave off. This has been a most interesting exchange, and I am grateful for the time and thoughtful attention you have given to it. 
You can imagine my disappointment in finding your last two posts fraught with the same mischaracterizations of Calvinism that prompted me to write to you in the first place. Here on posts numbers 24 and 25, you demonstrate a total misunderstanding of key Calvinist convictions, proving to me that I have utterly failed to dislodge these misapprehensions from your mind. Throughout our discussion, and especially in these latest posts, you present Calvinism in an utterly inaccurate way, and as a theological position which would actually be blasphemous, heretical, destructive, and entirely inconsistent with Scripture, if the position was actually held by anyone. I cannot think of any mainstream Calvinist who has ever held to the kind of belief you define as Calvinism. Even many hyper Calvinists would cringe at some of the propositions you tell us Calvinists must affirm. 
As such, I find your sudden shift to a demand for “argumentation,” rather than “assertion,” to be curious. Your persistently repeated misstatements about the beliefs of Calvinists have prompted me to attempt to clarify what Calvinists actually believe versus what you claim they believe. This is, of course, not a matter of mere logical proof, but of historical analysis. I chose not to inundate you with endless quotations proving that real Calvinists don’t actually believe what you say they believe. A visit to will provide veritable mountains of proof. Therefore, beyond the following quotation, I will simply suggest you study the actual beliefs of dozens of historic Calvinist leaders, from the Reformation onward, which have been carefully documented at that site. Best of all, everything there is surrounded by extensive context in order to lessen the possibility of misinterpretation. 
Here is what the Westminster Confession explicitly states concerning God’s sovereign foreordination and the origin of evil: 
“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (WCF 5.4) 
This is what Calvinists actually believe. The Calvin and Calvinism site referenced above will show you various ways Reformed thinkers have logically reasoned through the implications. You may say that this is self-contradictory and impossible. To you, perhaps it is. To them, and to me, it is not. 
Note that the WCF does not deny permission of sin, but affirms it, insisting that the permission is not without God’s bounding, ordering and governing of the sins that are permitted. You have stated that the language of permission is an Arminian approach. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I don’t think the WCF is an Arminian creed. Can you now see, from the WCF, that the language of permission is actually, historically speaking, a stock Calvinist answer to the question, and that this is exactly opposite to the beliefs you presented as “Calvinism”? Frankly, if Calvinism was what you claim it is, I would join you in staunchly opposing it. I would actually go further and condemn its adherents as anti-Christian heretics. Fortunately, Calvinism takes a position exactly opposite to the one you say it affirms regarding the goodness of God and the origin of evil. 
Throughout our discussion, I have argued from numerous Biblical texts that the Calvinist’s position is both reasonable and logical. You do not accept my arguments, and that is okay with me. But it would be dishonest for you to claim I haven’t presented arguments for my position. 
You have asserted that Scripture itself is not sufficient to decide the question under consideration, and have demanded logical proof and argumentation, insisting that these are sufficient to determine the question. In my view, you have elevated human reason above Scripture by discounting the possibility that direct Biblical propositions can settle the question, and implying instead that the reasonings of your own mind can settle it. My position on this is reciprocal to yours. I hold that clear Biblical propositions DO undeniably settle the matter, whether or not the reasonings of my mind (or yours) can attain to the divine logic undergirding the divinely revealed answer. In other words, my core epistemological presupposition is that Scripture itself is more reliable and trustworthy than fallible human logic. I am honestly surprised that you disagree on this point (although it is possible that I have misunderstood your position on this). 
Matt, it is unfortunate that you misrepresent my views on logic and paradox in a way strikingly similar to the way you misrepresent Calvinism. The reason may be that I have not explained well enough, or that you have honestly misunderstood, and hope it boils down to one these (or a combination of both). Here again, I can only seek to clarify my position and argue from Scripture. 
I can certainly appreciate the logic of your arguments and illustrations regarding things like “married bachelors,” etc. My answer to all of this is simple: matters of divine ordination and human freedom cannot be oversimplified in this way. Sure, there are plenty of either/or dichotomies in our world. Married or not married. Pregnant or not pregnant. Speeding or not speeding. Everyone understand this. However, the existence of either/or dichotomies does not invalidate the possibility of both/and synergies (which are sometimes presented as false dichotomies). What about this one: square or circle? In two dimensions, this really is an either/or dichotomy. But in three dimensions, we have the cylinder, a “square circle.” We also have square triangles (pyramids) and circular triangles (cones). So . . . what if we human beings could only conceive of two dimensions, and an all-knowing God who sees three dimensions told us something is both square and circle? Would we argue with Him, and say that His claim is illogical? Or would we trust that on His level of understanding it is possible for a cylinder to exist? Stated simply, I view divine ordination and human freedom not as a married vs. bachelor issue, but as a square vs. circle issue. We see squares and circles where God sees cylinders. And again I ask, what prevents God from being able to do things like this? Is He not on a higher level than we are? Is He not wiser? Smarter? More knowledgeable? More capable? 
You may think all of this is illogical. You are free to think so. However, I just laid out a sound logical reason for you to affirm and trust God’s harmonious use of both foreordination and genuine human freedom. This is not all as simple as 2+2=4. We are dealing with infinities here. In human experience, we don’t have anything exactly like eternal, divine “ordination” to compare with or argue from. To fully understand exactly how all of this works, we would have to be eternal, divine, all-wise, all-good and all-powerful. I’m just guessing that those shoes don’t fit either one of us, Matt. 
Finally, I want to thank you once again for a challenging and enjoyable conversation. I pray you will be mightily used by God in the work He has given you to do, that you will continue to grow in your love for Christ and your knowledge of Him, and that your entire life will be blessed and prospered in Him. I also hope that a large cylinder shape is ordained to be set up somewhere in the New Creation, and that we may freely decide to meet under its shadow for a continuation of this discussion, with a fresh insight and understanding that magnificently humbles us both through a recognition of how little we actually apprehended when we engaged in this discussion. And there we shall worship the Lamb together! 
Until then, many blessings, brother. 
In Christ,
Derek Ashton

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fun With Paradoxes

I came across this brief, entertaining and informative video on YouTube and decided to share it here. I also decided NOT to share it. However, I was only deciding NOT to share it with those who never watch it. Thus, you may decide for yourself whether I did or did not choose to share it with YOU. :)

Either way, it is a free and well meant offer of the video, backed up by a full provision of what is being offered (this is a Moderate Calvinist's inside joke for those of you who missed it).


The video begins with one of the classic paradoxes of the Greek philosopher Zeno, and then goes on to explore time travel, parallel universes, physics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Quite an accomplishment for a mere six minutes!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Calvinistic Compatibilism: A Discussion of Divine Causation, Human Freedom and Moral Responsibility

Below is an excerpt addressing the subject of divine causation and compatibilism. This has been adapted from a series of responses I recently shared with some non-Calvinist Christians who have taken an incompatibilist position (i.e. their belief is that God's pre-determination of everything is incompatible with human freedom of choice and moral responsibility). I argue here for the opposite view, that God's sovereign pre-determination of everything is perfectly compatible with human freedom of choice and moral responsibility for our actions. This is excerpted from an ongoing conversation in the comments at the following blog post:

Dear Non-Calvinist friends:

You present an interesting argument. The main thrust seems to be that Reformed theology makes God the author of evil, and in so doing removes man's freedom and moral responsibility. This objection is not new; it has been a common challenge faced by Calvinistic thinkers for centuries. I believe the argument is flawed, and I will explain why in detail. First, here is a summary:
  1. The argument fails to distinguish between hyper Calvinism and mainstream Calvinism
  2. The argument is based on a faulty understanding of mainstream Calvinism, which affirms compatibilism rather than mere determinism.
  3. The argument is based on a faulty understanding of compatibilism, which affirms human freedom and responsibility in addition to determinism.
  4. The argument groundlessly assumes compatibilism is impossible and self-contradictory.
  5. The argument is based rationalism rather than a sound, Biblical epistemology (theory of knowledge)
  6. The argument gives undue credit to the human mind's ability to peer into the unrevealed. 
  7. The Argument fails to present a Biblically and logically sound alternative to the Reformed approach, which it rejects based on multiple misunderstandings.
Historically, Calvinists have taken a variety of positions, from a VERY SOFT compatibilism to a VERY HARD determinism. You have quoted from several examples of this diversity. A.W. Pink (depending on the day of the week), Vincent Cheung and Gordon Clark are in the line of the more hyper brand of Calvinists, who are most likely to espouse the hardest form of determinism without apology. You extol this as being somehow more “consistent.” Others like Piper, Packer and Frame are more likely to express a compatibilism that affirms human freedom as a mystery within (and even upheld by) divine ordination. I have read Calvin’s discussion of free will in the Institutes; he is a textbook compatibilist, at least in that part of his writings.

So I think it is a bit unfair for you to say Calvinistic ordination always “collapses into causal determinism” and then disparage the softening statements of compatibilism offered by the more moderate voices in the group. This would be akin to me saying that an Arminian view of free will collapses into Pelagianism (or perhaps Open Theism), while ignoring the Classical Arminian’s affirmation of Total Depravity (which strongly inhibits – or rather, kills –  libertarian freedom), and Prevenient Grace (which ackowledges the deadness and – gratefully – affirms our need for divine grace). I prefer to view the more moderate/mainstream Calvinists’ softening statements as evidence of a commitment to Biblical balance, preventing them from falling into the philosophical trap of hard determinism (the kind hypers veritably revel in). I do not see the softening statements as logical contradictions, but an attempt to be consistent with Scripture, grounded in the humility that confesses God’s ways are superior to our highest intellect.

I cannot see how God can be God without ordaining all things. I find this inconceivable simply because it is contrary to His Word:
  • Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
  • Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
  • Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?
  • Isaiah 46:8-11 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
  • Eph 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will
At the same time I cannot see man’s God-given freedom as less than a genuine, morally responsible and unconstrained liberty. Here I am just agreeing with Calvin and other compatibilists. We insist that God can ordain everything without denying his creatures real freedom. We cannot turn from either of these conscientiously held convictions.

Photo borrowed from
One of the great difficulties in this discussion is the fact that you and I are speaking two very different philosophical languages. We embrace opposing assumptions and presuppositions (although I would guess we fundamentally agree that Scripture is inerrant and Christ alone saves, by grace alone through faith alone to the glory of God alone).

Your arguments presuppose that freedom of will is incompatible with God's pre-determinate counsel. If I agreed with this presupposition, I would find your arguments unassailable. However, do you have any way to prove that this really is the case? Do you have a Biblical argument to prove this?

My presupposition is that God's all-determining will, eternal decree, and continuous providential action are not at all incompatible with creaturely freedom of will. I see God's decree clearly taught in Scripture, so I cannot take that away without a total change of heart in terms of the exegesis. On the other hand, I live in a world in which I experience every moment the liberty of my choices. Uncoerced, unconstrained, and apparently including the ability to choose otherwise than I do. But alas, which am I to believe? God's Holy Word or my undeniable experience?

But there is more. Another aspect of my experience has been my absolute and unquenchable rebellion. Only God's sovereign grace could ever have changed my heart and altered my course. And yet by His grace I did not find myself constrained or forced to believe. I chose freely; yet I could (and would) only choose to believe in Christ by sovereign, irresistible grace.

Then again, God's Word commands me to choose and holds me responsible for the choices I make. It nevertheless says I can have no good thing (faith and repentance included) unless God grants it to me by His mercy.

So now I have God's Word on both sides, and my experience on both sides. What can I do but hold on to both of them? I can't explain how God sovereignly ordains all things and yet keeps me free to choose in ways that render me morally responsible, unconstrained, voluntarily motivated, and apparently not without other options.

So I find myself embracing compatibilism, the belief that there can be a pre-determination of everything by an incomprehensible God without any diminishment of natural human freedom and responsibility. A million "rational" arguments against it won't change my understanding of God's Word or my experiences.

To be clear, when I say a million “rational” arguments won’t convince me otherwise, I am referring to arguments that are purely based on human logic, and thus appear to be “rational,” yet do not take Biblical revelation into sufficient account. I would like to think that all of my Arminian brothers will agree heartily with me on this point.

We are getting down to the root issue here. If I understand your position correctly, you fundamentally disagree with the premise of Christian compatibilism (i.e., that God’s pre-determination of everything is compatible with [and not contradictory to] genuine human freedom), and you do not even think it remotely possible that it could be true.

That last part presents a very strong claim of assurance in the way divine sovereignty and human choices can relate to one another. You are not simply saying they DO NOT relate a compatibilistic way; you seem to be making the claim that they CAN NOT relate this way. The alternative would seem to be a view of divine sovereignty that does not involve pre-determination of everything. I wonder how you distinguish between those events that are pre-determined and those that aren’t? Or is nothing at all pre-determined by God?

Don't fall for "Teeter Totter" theology!
To me, these matters are a great mystery. I view God's sovereign decree and my freedom as much more complex than a mere philosophical "seesaw," which would entail that any gain on one side necessarily results in a corresponding loss on the other. I conceive of my freedom as existing within and being upheld by His all-determining sovereignty.

I find it fascinating that any thinking person would not consider the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human choices to be a mystery. In saying this, I should be careful to define my terms. By “mystery,” I mean an item or area of knowledge which God has not revealed to us explicitly through some means (e.g., the Bible, creation, etc.).

I should also reiterate my definition of “compatibilism,” as mentioned above. It is simply the belief that divine pre-determination of everything does not conflict with genuine human freedom of choice. Jonathan Edwards affirmed this, but also went much further by actually proposing a theory of how it all works. I am not doing that (at least not right now). Although I admire Edwards’ attempt, I don’t view the results as something “revealed by God,” and thus I cannot claim the matter is no longer mysterious to me simply because someone has come up with what they think is a great explanation. Someone else may come up with a better one. Even so, until God reveals this, it remains an area of uncertainty for compatibilistic Christians who regard the Bible as their highest epistemological authority.

So I don't see how compatibilism can ever "collapse" into mere determinism. It involves determinism, yes, certainly. But if you define determinism in a way that automatically rules out the possibility of genuine freedom, I can only say that my compatibilism does not involve that kind of determinism. I would actually join you in arguing against any determinism that rules out human freedom and responsibility. I would equally oppose any version of human freedom that rules out determinism. I refuse to close off these categories as if they are mutually exclusive, since there does not appear to be any compelling reason to do so from a Biblical, philosophical or experiential standpoint.

Do you think it is remotely possible that predestination and freedom are not mutually exclusive?

I am honestly amazed that anyone can have so strong an assurance in ruling out the mere possibility (that God could possibly establish His sovereignty and our choices in a compatibilistic way) that they would even cast accusations of “irrationalism” at those who do affirm it.

By the way, I have never argued that it is virtuous to accept things that don’t make sense. My clearly stated position is that it is sensible for Christians to accept all the teaching of the Scriptures – the whole counsel of God – even if they find some aspects hard to understand or explain.

However, I would challenge anyone to Biblically and logically demonstrate that it is impossible for God to use compatibilism in His administration of the universe. In essence, can you show me how the concept of God’s pre-determination of everything and the concept of human freedom, when taken together, result in a genuine contradiction?

I am not asking whether these concepts strike you as contradictory, if they feel contradictory, if they appear to be contradictory, etc. (or even if you find the idea to be dangerous from a practical standpoint). I am only asking for Biblical and logical proof that they ARE contradictory.

The person who tries to do this faces a very significant problem: GOD is included in the equation! We are discussing a partly unrevealed relationship of metaphysical concepts which involves God’s management of His creation, the relationships of time and eternity, God and humanity (not to mention angels/demons and other entities we may not even know about), choice and freedom, responsibility and volition, etc.

My contention is that the best Biblical and logical sense we can make of the situation (taking all of the Biblical data and our own experiences into account) is to affirm that God mysteriously works (and remember, by “mysterious” I mean something He hasn’t explicitly revealed to us) in such a way that human freedom exists in harmony with divine pre-determination.

I also believe that one can make a much stronger Biblical argument for compatibilism than for incompatibilism. But that is part of the reason I am a compatibilist.

As an addendum, I share many of your concerns regarding the potential ill effects of an imbalanced Calvinism. Much of this can be characterized as hyper Calvinism (I sometimes refer to “high[per] Calvinism,” meaning anyone, whether “high” or “hyper” in his views, who over-emphasizes certain logical implications at the expense of other matters clearly revealed in Scripture). I am not saying all High Calvinists are hyper or imbalanced; but imbalanced Calvinists are almost always High or hyper in their theology.

This is part of the reason I have embraced Moderate Calvinism, and devoted myself to deterring and opposing any form of Calvinism which:

  • denies or downplays human responsibility
  • calls God the author or direct cause of evil
  • uses God’s sovereignty as an excuse for sin
  • hinders evangelism/missions on the basis of election or other theological considerations
  • leads to apathy in service and devotion
  • elevates human logic above the revealed will of God
To be honest, I would rather serve alongside a consecrated, moderate, and fair-minded Arminian who is growing in godliness than a cold high(per) Calvinist who is complacent and arrogant. 

In my view, Calvinism “done right” will actually result in the opposite effects, and to a greater extent than any non-Calvinist philosophy will. That is my conviction, and part of the reason I am a Moderate/Paradoxical Calvinist.
Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments and interactions.