Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bad Calvinism?

Perry and I have been looking for some takers here http://www.energeticprocession.com/archives/2005/02/bad_calvinism.html

<< Monenergism was condemned by the 6th Council of Constantinople and by the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor. It might be helpful to look at that. >>

i) Sorry, Dan, but an argument from authority is only compelling if your theological opponent acknowledges the authority-source. As a Calvinist, my rule of faith is sola Scriptura. So the mere fact that Calvinism might be implicitly condemned by St. Maximus or an ecumenical council is a non-starter. One might as well say that the theology of St. Maximus is implicitly condemned by Calvin!

ii) Now, if you can come up with an actual argument from St. Maximus or the Council of Constantinople, that would be something to consider.

iii) No, the burden is not on me to look that up. Rather, the burden is on you to:
a) show what is wrong with monenergism, and to
b) show that Calvinism is monenergetic.

<< By my lights, Calvinism with its voluntarist necessetarianism is semi-Origenistic. >>

i) As above, the onus is on you to
a) show in what respect Calvinism is semi-Origenistic, and to
b) show what is wrong with this.

ii) On the face of it, it is pretty loose and anachronistic to prejudge Calvinism by these ancient condemnations, which didn’t have Calvinism in view.

Calvin, for one, expressly rejected Medieval voluntarism, a la Ockham, Scotus, Sorbbonists. See the discussion in P. Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004).

So you would need to mount an argument to the effect that even though Calvin denied voluntarism, that is still implicit in the logic of his belief-system.

iii) The conjunction of voluntarism and necessitarianism is not self-explanatory. Ordinarily, these would be regarded as mutually exclusive. And, indeed, Perry’s paper accuses Calvinism of necessitarianism rather than voluntarism.

So perhaps I should let you duke it out with Perry, and then see who is left standing before I enter the ring! J

<< It seems to me that one can only maintain a Calvinist view of anthropology and soteriology on pain of denying a Christian view of God. Such a result seems to me as about as good of a knock down argument against a theological position as one could ever want. If one’s views in any other area commits one to a denial of a core Christian teaching, then it is the former views which are false and to be rejected…If this move is made, Calvinism’s entire soteriology and anthropology has to be re-thought because now it will be true that an agent’s nature does not determine his actions. Consequently teachings like total depravity have to be re-thought to include libertarian free will and one wonders then what is left of traditional Calvinism. >>

You are moving way too fast here, Perry. Calvinism is not a philosophy, although it carries philosophical implications that can be worked up into a philosophical system. Calvinism is not an axiomatic system which we educe from a few first principles.

Calvinism begins, not with an idea, but with revelation. It applies the methods of exegetical and systematic theology to God’s revelation in Scripture. Calvinism is a theological belief-system with many lines of implicit and explicit exegetical evidence feeding into it.

You can’t disprove Calvinism with one crucial experiment. What you are discussing here are various models of action-theory. Now, Scripture rules out certain models. But of those left over, they will be, in some measure, underdetermined by Scripture--for this is a highly specialized question which moves us into the field of philosophical theology.

What, for example, I tried to do in my essay on “Is God the author of sin?” was to show that compatibilism is consistent with Calvinism and Scripture alike. That burden of proof was sufficient to rebut objections, since the opposing side can do no better, if as well, in establishing its own position.

<< Now I take it as an uncontroversial point between all Christian traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran and Anabaptist) that God has libertarian freedom with respect to things like creation and redemption. >>

Sorry, but your presupposition is, in fact, quite controversial, and I, for one, reject it. One problem is that you are confounding counterfactual freedom with libertarian freedom. I affirm God’s counterfactual freedom, but deny his libertarian freedom.

This is partly a semantic question. How do we define libertarian freewill (hereafter LFW)? If you define LFW as the freedom of indifference, such that the will is in a state of moral neutrality and rational equilibrium, with no bias one way or the other, then I’d emphatically deny that God is free in that sense.

All agents, whether divine, angelic, demonic, human, sinless, sinful, fallen, redeemed, or impeccable bring to their decision-making a certain moral and intellectual predisposition, for better or worse—as the case may be.

Now, there’s a difference between a predisposition to action, and a predetermination to action, but what we don’t have here is LFW in the sense of freedom of indifference.

In mainstream Calvinism, the will of God is not a sheer will, but a will characterized by all of God’s other attributes. For example, the Westminster Confession says that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3:1).

Notice what it does and doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that “God, by his own will, did freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Rather, it says that “God, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will,” foreordained all events.

There is a voluntarist flavor to the late Gordon Clark, but that doesn’t reflect confessional Calvinism. Clarkians are free to make their own case.

But, at this juncture, I take my stand with the Westminster Confession. And I don’t see that what it says is in tension with the inner logic of Calvinism.

<< But when I search for reasons why a Calvinist would think that God is free with libertarian freedom with respect to creation and redemption, I am flooded by Calvinists with verses like Daniel 4:35. Such verses speak of God’s power and His might. They speak of Him doing whatever pleases Him, whatever He desires and so forth. While those things are certainly true of God, forgive me, but I do not see how such passages show that God is free with respect to creation and redemption and here is why. >>

Several problems here.

i) I’ve already denied your guiding presupposition.

ii) Why do you demand a Scriptural prooftext from Calvinism, but not from other theological traditions (e.g. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Anabaptist)?

Is there something distinctive to Calvinism where Calvinism alone must come up with a prooftext for what you say is “an uncontroversial point between all Christian traditions”? What is your own prooftext?

iii) A better place to start is not Dan 4:35, but God’s counterfactual knowledge. As, again, the Westminster Confession puts it, “God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions” (WCF 3:2).

The prooftexts given are 1 Sam 23:11-12; Mt 11:21-23. This list could be extended to many other conditional statements in Scripture.

Cashing this out in Calvinist coinage, the actual world is not the only possible world. God knows what would happen had he chosen to decree a different state of affairs.

Although the lingo of possible worlds is associated with Leibniz, Paul Helm has suggested that Leibniz may have gotten his inspiration from William Twisse, the supralapsarian Calvinist and chairman of the Westminster Assembly.

This is also associated with Molinism, but counterfactual knowledge need not be grounded in middle knowledge. Rather, it is grounded in God’s self-knowledge. In particular, God’s counterfactual knowledge reflects the application of his omniscience to his omnipotence. God knows what it is possible for God to do.

<< Like the case of human agents, if an agent’s nature determines their actions, why doesn’t this hold true with God also?… So why would a Calvinist think that God is free with libertarian freedom with respect to creation and redemption? I can’t think of a reason. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t one but only that I can at present not bring one to mind. >>

This is a crucial overstatement. Calvinism draws a distinction between the power of contrary choice (between good and evil) and the power of alternative choice (between alternative goods and alternative evils).

An agent’s nature does not determine is specific choice. Rather, it determines the general class of choices. A sinner can only sin, but he can sin in different ways. God can only do good, but there are a variety of goods from which to choose.

<< So why is it that an agent’s nature determines their actions with respect to angels and humans but not God? Isn’t this the reason given by Calvinists as to why God cannot sin, namely because his nature determines His actions? If so, I cannot see how a Calvinist can stave off the conclusion that creation and redemption are necessary on this schema. If an agent’s nature determines their actions, then creation and redemption are necessary and sola gratia goes out the window. That is to argue, if the thesis that an agent’s nature determines their actions is true, then creation and redemption are necessary and inevitable since God’s nature determine His actions. >>

I’ve now shown how a Calvinist can stave off that conclusion (see above).

<< Creation becomes an emanation of sorts as does redemption with the final result being a kind of pantheism. Here will ends up being identified with nature in God so that it is now impossible to distinguish acts of eternal generation from acts of volition. Consequently there is no difference between the generation of the divine persons of the Trinity (acts of generation) and the creation of the world (acts of will). To maintain then that an agent’s nature determines their actions appears antithetical to the core teachings of Christianity. >>

i) I’ve overthrown the premise from which this conclusion supposedly follows.

ii) Even if the premise were to remain intact, it does not yield any such conclusion. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the world was necessitated by a necessitated will of God, that doesn’t make the world consubstantial with the essence of God. You are committing a category error here. Necessity, in this sense, is a form of causality, but causes and effects need not be ontologically identical or continuous.

iii) If anything, your commitment to the Palamite distinction between God’s essence and energy smacks of Neoplatonic emanationism, where every thing differs only in degree, not in kind, within the great chain-of-being.

iv) Calvinism is committed to the eternal distinction of the divine persons, but not to eternal generation and procession. Just because you are committed to Nicene Orthodoxy on this point doesn’t mean that a Calvinist is.

Calvin, for one, rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each divine person. And his precedent has been taken up by such Reformed theologians as Warfield, Murray, Helm, and Frame. This marks a higher Christology and pneumatology than Nicene Orthodoxy.


  1. Steve,

    Our arguments against Calvin are the same that we would make against Thomas. That is absolute divine simplicity. That is why I think your view is semi-Origenistic. I see that you are not familiar with the Origenist dialectic.

    I have written a paper on the issue of Monenergism and showed how the Origenist dialectic and it's presupposition of the Good as absolutely simple was the motivating factor to root the will in hypostasis or that the divine will had to determine the human will for Christ to go to the Cross, not to mention the type of movement that the Saints enjoy in the Eschaton.

    If you send me your email then I'll be happy to send it to you.

    I take libertarian free-will to be a necessary condition to hold to a correct view of God. Why? Because God can create or not create, both of those two options are not the same, and God did not have to create anything at all. That is alternate possibilities. The type of necessity that we are talking about with regards to ADS (absolute divine simplicity) is the same kind that is had by God's existence. Is that existence contingent? No, it is not. So if the act of will to create is identical to God's existence, and God's existence is not contingent, then neither is creation (goodbye creation ex nihilo). Thus, you cannot have a distinction between the acts of generation and acts of creation on a logical level.


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  6. I was interested in the comment that citing an authority is an invalid argumentation technique if said authority is not an accepted authority. One poster went on to ramble in his own obtuse way that what this or that saint said didn't mean diddly.

    Very well, this brings up the establishment of an authority. If we accept the Bible, as the Sola Scripturaists perport to do, then we must also accept the authority of the Church Council of Carthage, 397 AD, that selected the books of the Bible. To preempt the question as to their authority to do so, "Holy men of God Spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.". Those who dissent are at liberty to discard whatever Books of the Bible they please (John Calvin wanted rid of the Gospels of Hebrews and James) and pick up whatever Gnostic Text that the Fathers of Carthage-397 discarded, be it the Gospels of Judas, Thomas, and Phillip; however, in so doing, they cease to become Christains abd become Gnostics or Neo-Gnostice.

    My problem with Total Depravity is that it implies that the Church Fathers who selected the Books of the Bible are simply incapable of accomplishing such a task.

    Therefore, The Doctrine Total Depravity disproves the Scripture! It means nothing that Total Depravity is "supported" by Scripture, which is equivalent to saying that the Scripture itself ays that it is False. In fact, the Bible ceases to be an authority if it refutes itself thusly.

    Clearly, to maintain consistancy, and to maintain that the Bible is the Inerrant Word of God, You Must Abandon Total Depravity! Thus, in the Clasical Euclidean reducto absurdum, Total Depravity Falls!

    Save, O God, Thy People and Bless Thine Inhertitance. The Prokeimenon in the Sixth Tone

    Ivan Groszney

  7. Thanks, Ivan for your reductio. Robert Koons makes similar arguments in his "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism." See pp. 41-48 on sola scriptura, http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/philosophy/faculty/koons/case_for_catholicism.pdf

  8. http://www.utexas.edu/