Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Following up on follow-up questions

Questions in the meta are sometimes overtaken by other longwinded controversies. Here are two questions that fell through the cracks. They’re unrelated, but I’m going to discuss them together since they got lost in the shuffle. And I’m lifting them out of the combox since the original commenters probably lost hope of ever seeing a response to their questions.


"One thing struck me when discussing compatibilism with my arminian friends. We cannot pray in the same way when praying for someone’s salvation.”


“For example, the arminian will pray that someone will come to their senses and choose God. That does not make sense from a calvinistic perspective.”

Yes and no. There are a couple of issues here:

i) Left to their own devices, the unregenerate suffer from spiritual inability. They cannot repent of their sin and exercise saving faith in Jesus. They cannot perform good works.

But God, by his grace (i.e. regeneration), can bring them to their senses.

ii) Belief isn’t a choice, in the straightforward sense of the word. And this isn’t a theological issue, per se. It’s just that, psychologically speaking, belief is not an act of the will. We don’t simply will ourselves to believe something or disbelieve something.

Conviction is primarily involuntary. If you have a predisposition to believe or disbelieve something, and you’re presenting with suitable evidence, that is apt to automatically generate a corresponding belief or disbelief.

For example, I didn’t choose to believe there’s a tree outside my window. That belief is spontaneous and irrepressible.

Mind you, there are certain things we can do to indirectly cultivate a belief or undermine a belief. If I only read one side of the argument, I’m inclined to belief that side of the argument.

“If prayers are not theologically sound, but well-meaning, is it ok for a calvinist to say amen to them?”

Depends on what you mean. For example, some prayers have the right goal, even if the theology underpinning the prayer is faulty. If the goal is right, we can agree with the goal. We can agree that God grant this request.

Most Christians aren’t professional theologians. And even professional theologians aren’t infallible.

So God is used to hearing prayers which may be theologically defective in some respect or another. And God often answers theologically defective prayers.

Wesley once prayed for his horse. He needed his horse for transportation. I doubt his defective theology had much to do with whether God healed the horse.


“I wish to read more on the decrees and providence of God and how the relate to cause and effect.”

The decree is a divine state of mind. It is God’s complete concept of the world he intends to create. By itself, an idea or intention is not a cause—in the sense of making something happen. Rather, it’s a resolve to make something happen. To act on that idea. There’s a difference between having a plan and enacting a plan.

God causes his decree to be realized through the process of creation, miracle, and providence. His decree subsists outside of time and space, but he objectifies his decree in time and space by creating the world according to his decree. And that includes the creation of impersonal agencies (e.g. forces of nature) and personal agents (e.g. men, angels).

They do things. They cause things to happen. They are ways in which the decree is realized.

There’s an analogy (which also involves an element of disanalogy) between divine and human creativity. We also plan to do things. And we implement our plans by various material means.


  1. Steve,

    When you speak of forces of nature, do you mean it in the sense that:

    i. it is short-hand for a description of how God usually acts; or

    ii. the forces of nature are something that can control objects apart from God's direct causation?


    Steve, when you speak of forces of nature, do you mean it in the sense that:

    i. it is short-hand for a description of how God usually acts; or

    ii. the forces of nature are something that can control objects apart from God's direct causation?


    1.I’m not using “forces of nature” as a synonym for “laws of nature.”

    I generally avoid talk of natural laws. I prefer to speak of providence.

    2.I’m thinking of something like the wind. A windstorm can fell trees. So there’s a case of a case-effect relationship between a natural force and a natural object. One could multiply examples indefinitely.

    It's possible for a Calvinist to be an occasionalist, although that's anomalous.

    3.Since I believe that God subsists outside of time and space, God’s direct causation isn’t God acting on nature or in nature, but rather, God enacting the entire natural order.

    God achieves many of his aims indirectly through the medium of natural processes or personal agents. He causes everything to be (primary causality), but in causing everything to be, he is also causing various agents and agencies to be, and they, in turn, act as second causes within the natural order.

    In the case of certain miracles, God can also bypass the intervening processes and effect a result ex nihilo.

  3. Prove there is only one God.