Thursday, September 07, 2006


DS: Are you saying that by lack of knowledge we will always do that which God has pre-determined?

SH: We will always do what God decreed because he decreed it, and he executes his decree via creation, miracle, and providence.

Ignorance of the decree is not a positive, causal factor.

But exhaustive knowledge of the decree would be an impediment to its fulfillment.

Lack of knowledge is just that—the absence of something. A negative condition.

The absence of exhaustive knowledge doesn’t do anything, but merely removes a potential obstacle to the realization of the decree.

DS: And I remain confused (perhaps my fault) as to whether humans can thwart God’s will. Whether we have the actual capability to prevent something God pre-determined to happen from happening.

You started this off with:

Steve: To the extent that his decretive will remains a secret, that ensures the fulfillment of his decretive will consistent with his revealed will.

This would certainly imply to me that there is a possiblity God’s decretive will not be fulfilled in some way, and by the term “secret” it is the obtaining of knowledge that would prevent it.

SH: A counterfactual possibility, not a live possibility. If God exhaustively revealed his plan for the world, then that would set up the conditions for its non-fulfillment.

But, of course, that contrary-to-fact condition is not in the cards.

DS: You go on:

Steve: For if God were to reveal his decretive will exhaustively, then this would tip people off, and with that advance knowledge they would then be in a position to thwart the plan.

As I stated in my original comment, this seems to clearly state that knowledge would provide humans with an action they are already capable of doing—namely preventing God’s will from happening.

SH: Hypothetically speaking.

DS: But in this response, you now state:

Steve: 2.It’s not that human beings are able to thwart the will of God.

From which I infer that regardless of knowledge, it is impossible for humans to thwart the will of God. Do you see my confusion?

SH: This does not admit a yes or no answer because we’re dealing with counterfactuals, and so we need to draw some distinctions:

1.If (which is not the case) God were to exhaustively reveal his plan for the world, then, ex hypothesi, then that would place human beings in a position to thwart his will.

2.But they are not, in fact, able to thwart his will, in part because this a counterfactual scenario, and:

3.It would be a contradiction in terms even to speak of God’s decretive will as actually subject to non-fulfillment since, by definition, the decree ensures the outcome.

If it can be frustrated, then it isn’t the decretive will of God, as Calvinism defines it.

DS: Your example of a left turn is a good one, so let’s use that.

Steve: If I know that I’m “supposed” to make a left turn, then I can think of making a right turn instead of a left-turn in defiance of the plan.

Yes, you can think of it. But can you do it?

SH: Depends on how we define "can."


[i] Assume I have the ability to take a right-turn or a left turn.
[ii] Assume I learn, some way, that God has decreed I must take a left turn.
[iii] Assume I intend to thwart God’s plan.


[i] is ambiguous. You have the physical ability to turn either right or left.

[ii] is an assumption which I deny as a live possibility. But we can raise it for the sake of argument. If true (ex hypothesi), then certain consequences would follow.

[iii] is also ambiguous. In principle, someone could form an intention to defy God’s plan, but unless he knew it, he’d be in no position to make good on his intention.

However, you can also connect [iii] to [ii], where [iii] follows from [iii].

DS: Do I have the physical capability of taking a right-turn? Or if God has pre-determined that I will take a left turn, no matter what happens I will take that left turn?


1.You retain the physical ability to turn either way regardless of [ii] and/or [iii].

2.But if God has decreed for you to turn left, then the alternative is not a live possibility.

3.God has not decreed that you turn left despite [ii] and [iii]. Rather, if God has decreed that you turn left, then [ii] and [iii] are not in play.

4.If we grant your assumptions, then it’s possible for the agent to actually do otherwise.

In that event, he would not violate God’s decree, for there would be no decretive course of action to violate.

5.But the decree presupposes that [ii] and [iii] are false assumptions.

DS: Now assume I do not know God’s decree.

Is it possible I will take a right-turn?

SH: A physical possibility? Yes. A live possibility? No.

DS: What if I have no intent whatsoever? I do not know God’s plan, do not even know there is a God. If God DID have a plan, I have no problem following it.

Is it possible, I could inadvertently take that right-turn anyway?

SH: No, because God has decreed that your (strongest) desire is to make a left-turn, and God has also decreed that you will be able to carry out your appointed desire.


  1. Steve,

    This is totally off topic, I apologize, but I wanted to get your take on something. Have you ever heard of Tony Byrne or read his blog He appears to be a promoter of Moises Amyrault, John Davenant, and James Ussher, who believed that Christ's death on the cross was sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect. It seems like 4-point Calvinism to me but he denies such a label. What do you think? Sorry for posting this here, but I didn't know how else to ask you about it....thanks

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  3. Thanks Evan, that was helpful. This issue about the extent of the atonement is definitely his pet doctrine. He blogs almost exclusively about it. The thing is when he talks about Christ's death being sufficient for all, and that if God had elected 10 more people than He originally intended, that Christ's wouldn't have to atone for any more sin because of His death being of infinite value, Tony is talking about a completely hypothetical situation. The fact is God didn't elect any more sinners unto salvation than Christ paid for on the cross. Even the OT sacrifices that foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Lamb of God were for specific people for specific sins.

    I've also noticed that when speaking about "high" Calvinists he seems to equate them the hyper-Calvinists (even though he knows the differences between them, he just thinks it's a matter of degree). The differences, though they may be considered by degree, are actually quite significant.

    He also will generally trash good men like Piper, Sproul, Mohler, MacArthur, etc. because he thinks they knowingly use deceptive language when touching upon the extent of the atonement (e.g. the confession of faith they put together for the Together For the Gospel conference). That definitely was a red flag for me. Anyway, thanks for your (and Gene's) response...

  4. After further discussion with Tony at his blog, I would like to apologize to him publicly for 2 things:

    Firstly, I should have contacted him personally to give him the opportunity to clarify his statements (regardless of whether I agree with him or not) before I posted here. That would have been the better part of wisdom and Christian charity. So for that Tony, I'm sorry...

    Secondly, I stated that he "trashed" such men as Sproul, Piper, Mohler, MacArthur, etc, and upon further consideration the use of the word "trash" was too harsh and inaccurate in this case. He respects them but disagrees with their doctrinal positions regarding some issues. He has not generally blogged against these men, nor has he exhibited a vendetta against them personally. For this I also apologize to Tony. I mistook some remarks he made that led me to an erroneous conclusion.

    If any of the stated remarks has in anyway soiled his good name it is due to my wrongdoing and should not reflect on Tony Byrne...

    Thank you

  5. After further discussion with Tony and consideration of his writings, he does make the appropriate differentiation between high and hyper calvinists. I believe I overreacted to some of his posts. For this too I would like to apologize to Tony...

    Thanks again