Victor Reppert left a long comment on my blog, and also posted the same comment over at his blog. Before responding, it’s important to remember the context. The latest round got started when (on July 22) Reppert chose to plug a provocative and unprovoked attack on Calvinism in general and Triablogue in particular by Billy Birch. And Reppert taunted us to respond: “This is a nice piece, by William Watson Birch. Calvin's Bulldogs will no doubt differ with this assessment, however.”
Reppert is entitled to plug whoever he likes. By the same token, I’m entitled to respond.
Perhaps his latest post represents his belated attempt to put out a fire on which he used an accelerant. Fine. But let’s just keep in mind how this all got started.
I think some of the angry responses on the part of Calvinists to Arminians has to do with the moral objection to Calvinism that Arminians often use, which sometimes is expressed by the claim that the Calvinistic God is as bad or worse than the devil.
Working from their own understanding of moral responsibility, it is easy to see why Arminians can end up saying "Your God is the devil." The Wesleys did that, and it cost them their friendship with Whitefield. Put thus, the objection puts the Calvinist's back up, and things tend to get acrimonious from there.
i) This is incorrectly framed. The issue has nothing to do with getting angry or getting one’s back up.
It’s not as if I take this personally. I’m not offended when people attack God. God can take care of himself. He doesn’t need me to defend him. Those who attack the God of Scripture are answerable to the God of Scripture. And that’s a very sobering prospect.
I respond for the benefit of others. Militant Arminians like Birch are doing what political consultants typically do. Redefine your opponent before he can define himself. Defame his character. Use that, in turn, to defame his position (guilt-by-association). Define how or what he’s allowed to say in his own defense.
It’s a preemptive strike. An effort to discredit a position by discrediting its proponents, and thereby prejudice the reader against it.
When opponents of Calvinism try to poison the well of Calvinism, I have a right to pour antitoxin into the well to counteract their tactics. I'm keeping the Reformed well drinkable for thirsty souls.
Militant Arminians like Birch are trying their best (or worst) to prevent Calvinism from getting a fair hearing. The purpose of my response is to set the record straight. That’s all.
I don’t have to convince anyone. That’s not my duty. But it is my duty to make a case for what I, as a Christian, believe.
ii) As far as emotion goes, some Arminians are so overtly hostile to Calvin, Calvinism, and Calvinists that their animosity disables any critical detachment or notion of fair play. And that’s ironic, since Arminianism is all about fair play. But the sheer animus that some Arminians exhibit towards all things Calvinistic issues in some strikingly paradoxical fits of Arminian chauvinism.
Maybe the Arminian should say "Given our understanding of who is responsible for what, an understanding we consider to be the fact of the matter, the Calvinistic God turns out to be as bad as the devil." I think that is not quite the same as saying "Your God is the devil."
i) This isn’t a question of whether Arminians should be more tactful. Birch was misrepresenting Reformed theology. And he was also resorting to hypocritical tactics to prevent Calvinism from getting a fair hearing.
ii) At the same time, I think it’s a good thing when the issue comes to a head. A good thing when Arminians candidly state what they really think of Calvinism. When they take their own position to its logical extreme. Polarization can be beneficial. It promotes intellectual clarity. It presents the theological options for what they really are. No fudging.
iii) As I’ve explained on more than one occasion, the reason I quote Arminians who say the God of Calvinism is diabolical, and those who worship such a God share the evil character of the God they worship, is to expose Arminian duplicity. On the one hand, you have some Arminians who wax sanctimonious about how we should never be disrespectful in the way we address a professing believer. On the other hand, the very same Arminians characterize their Reformed opponents in the most degrading terms they can possibly muster.
It’s important to document that backstabbing, Janus-faced behavior.
This is tricky and something I should probably address. I take it Calvinists say that the actions of Satan are predestined before the foundation of the world by God.
That being the case, if you buy into the kind of incompatibilist theory of moral responsibility that an Arminian typically does (responsibility is traceable to the originating cause), then God is responsible for everything the devil does. Given this picture of things (and an Arminian might agree with Kant that compatibilism is a "wretched subterfuge").
That’s misleading. Arminians tend to use “responsibility” as a synonym for culpability. But it’s not.
Responsibility is a precondition for culpability, but a responsible agent can be blameless and praiseworthy in his actual conduct.
If we say that Mary and John are responsible parents, that’s a compliment. If we said Mary and John are irresponsible parents, that would be critical.
Likewise, if I say, “Please hire my son. He’s very responsible for his age,” that’s a commendation, not a condemnation.
In Calvinism, God is ultimately responsible for whatever the devil does. However, this doesn’t mean that God is solely responsible. And it doesn’t mean that God is blameworthy.
Incidentally, would we really prefer a God who is not responsible for what the devil is up to? Would we rather have fallen angels on the loose–like a rabid dog that prowls the playground?
Now Calvinists think that intermediate causal agents are responsible for their actions, and, at the same time, God does have a good reason for predestining Satan to perform all the evil actions he performs, including those actions which cause people to sin their way into hell. So, God is in the clear, and Satan is not.