According to Billy Birch:
“First, let us define sin. The Larger Catechism states that sin is ‘any want [lack] of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.’2 This definition works as well as any other.”
If we plug that definition of sin into the phrase “author of sin,” then God would be the author of sin in case he were to transgress or be out of conformity with his laws for rational creatures (i.e. men and angels).
So, according to Birch, God must be a sinner since God is a Sabbath-breaker (Jn 5:17). Doesn’t seem like a very auspicious opening move to me, but then it’s his argument, not mine.
However, I appreciate his tacit admission that Arminian theology makes God a sinner. It’s nice to know that Arminianism would never besmirch God’s character.
“Second, let us define author. The writer to the Hebrews states that it was fitting of God the Father to perfect the author of the salvation of everyone through sufferings (Heb. 2:10). He also called Jesus ‘the author and perfecter of faith’ (Heb. 12:2 NASB). The Greek word for author is archegos and ‘primarily signifies one who takes a lead in, or provides the first occasion of anything.’3”
This is inept on several grounds:
i) Birch is defining a Latin derivative by reference to a Greek word.
ii) Birch is defining his usage by reference to two verses in Hebrews, as if that has any bearing on the sense of the phrase (“author of sin”) in historical theology.
iii) Birch is defining the Greek word by reference to Strong’s, rather than a standard Greek lexicon (e.g. BDAG, EDNT) or a major commentary on Hebrews (e.g. deSilva, Ellingworth, Lane).
“Combining our definitions, then, an author of sin would be one who is either the father, originator, founder, or pioneer of any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature. This is the definition of author of sin which we will be working with in this post.”
This is hopelessly amateurish. To determine what the “author of sin” means in historic theological usage, you’d need to consult the primary source documents. How were 16-17C opponents of Calvinism using that phrase?
It’s not just that Birch is wrong. It’s worse than that. He has no inkling of how to arrive at the correct answer.
“Can God be said to be the author of sin?”
If, for the sake of argument, we play along with Birch’s amateurish definition, then the answer is yes. Birch makes God the author of sin.
God laid the foundations of the world. Therefore, God is the founder of the world. If the world we inhabit is a sinful world, then that makes God the author of sin, since he laid the foundations for that “infallible” outcome.
Likewise, God is the originator of men and angels. If men and angels fell, then that makes God the author of sin, since the end-result takes its point of origin in God’s prior action.
This is plugging Birch’s definitions into his own equation.
So, thus far, Birch’s argument yields the following results:
i) God is a sinner
ii) God is the author of sin
“What Arminius (and Arminians) wants to avoid, again, is the admission that God is one who is either the father, originator, founder, or pioneer of any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”
If that’s what they want to avoid, then, by Billy’s own argument, their effort is a miserable failure. For Billy’s argument indicts God as both a sinner and the author of sin.
“By ‘God's cooperation,’ Arminius means that since God is the sustainer of all things, and since no one or no thing can do anything without God granting it, God is said in that sense to cooperate.”
So doesn’t Arminian theology make God a necessary accomplice in every single sin?
“Arminians interpret Jesus' instruction to pray for God's will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10) to mean that His perfect will (that which is done in heaven) is not always done on earth.”
Does this mean God also has an imperfect will?
“Arminians interpret the Lord's words to reference God's ‘perfect will’ (as opposed to His ‘permissive will’).”
Doesn’t that grossly understate the case? “Concurrence” or “Cooperation” is more than mere “permission.”
“The fact that these wicked people of Judah sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire testifies to God's permissive will, for He Himself stated that not only did He not command them to do such a wicked thing, but the thought for them to commit such wickedness never entered His mind.”
Is Billy an open theist? God doesn’t know the future? God didn’t see it coming?
“Again, concurrence is not denied. What is denied here is exhaustive determinism, i.e. that God was the one who was either the father, originator, founder, or pioneer of any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.”
How is that distinction morally relevant? How does “concurrence” exempt God from complicity in the outcome?
“It is painfully obvious that God is distancing Himself from involvement in this wickedly horrible and sinful act. What or who made Judah sin? The wicked people who committed the horrible act made Judah sin, not Judah's holy and just God.”
Even if that’s “painfully obvious” in Jeremiah, how is that painfully obvious in Arminius? How is the exegesis of Jeremiah, even if we stipulate to Birch’s interpretation, germane to the logical implications of Arminian theology?
“Now, for Calvinists to suggest that God ‘influences the desires and decisions of people’10…”
This is a phrase that Billy quotes over and over again. It illustrates, once again, his inability to discuss serious issues at a scholarly level.
Grudem is basically a NT scholar who teaches systematic theology. That brings a useful, exegetical orientation to his theology.
However, theodicy crosses over into philosophical questions regarding various models of value theory and action theory. This is properly the domain of a Christian philosopher or philosophical theologian, not an exegetical theologian.
What is more, Grudem published a systematic theology which was written for popular consumption. Birch, in turn, is quoting from a digest of Grudem’s systematic theology. So Birch is quoting from a popularization of a popularization.
If Birch were serious about Reformed theodicy, he’d study some contemporary Reformed philosophers or philosophical theologians on the issue at hand. Or email them.
Instead, he frames the issue in terms of a phrase which he lifted from a pop theology text by a Bible scholar.
“But one cannot restrain from asking how God can ‘influence the desires and decisions of people; without being in some sense responsible for the results that follow.”
Even if we stick to this phraseology, it fails to draw a rudimentary distinction between responsibility and culpability. Doesn’t Birch know the difference?
“According to Calvinism's definition of God's sovereignty, He not merely influenced their desire and decision to commit that wickedness, He secretly willed it, for all things which happen have been foreordained by God's all-determining, secret decree.”
If it’s a “secret,” then who leaked the secret to Birch?
“A distinction between two modes of God's will is absolutely crucial to Arminius and his followers: the antecedent and the consequent wills of God.”
Let’s plug this into Birch’s prooftext. As he quotes it, it says: “They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!" (Jeremiah 7:31 NLT; cf. Jeremiah 9:5). But what this really amounts to is:
"They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; however, I antecedently and consequently willed them to sacrifice their children Molech."
How does that distinction exonerate God?
“The first has priority; the second exists because God reluctantly allows human defection in order to preserve and protect the integrity of the creature…Sin is only within God's will consequently insofar as it is necessary to preserve liberty…”
i) Why does the preservation of human liberty require God to allow for sin? Billy himself defined human liberty as the freedom to do otherwise.
Well, if that’s your operating definition, then every human being can either do right or wrong. In that event, the liberty of the creature is consistent with a creature always doing good. So why didn’t God choose to create the possible world in which everyone freely chose good over evil? If human beings really have the freedom that Billy ascribes to them, then there ought to be a possible world corresponding to that alternative.
ii) Moreover, why is God obligated to respect the liberty of evildoers? What if one free agent infringes on the freedom of another free agent? Why should God respect the freedom of the mugger to beat and rob a little old lady? Why should he respect the freedom of the mugger at the expense of the victim’s life and liberty? How is that a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil?
“…in granting one permission to do something, even if against the wishes of the one who grants it…”
How is that exculpatory? If a rich, indulgent dad grants his spoiled, bratty son permission to commit date rape and murder, is he not complicit in the crimes of his delinquent son? Why does Birch think that’s an adequate theodicy?
“I pointed out to Hays that neither Calvin, the authors of the Belgic and Westminster Confessions, Dort, Erickson, or Grudem offer detailed explanations of what is meant by ‘author of sin.’ It is assumed and commonly agreed what the phrase is referring to, so much so that these Calvinists find it imperative to insist that their theology does not make God the author of sin, without defining what it means for God to be the author of sin. But when I posted on God being the author of sin in Calvinism recently, Hays felt it necessary to point out that I had not defined the term. Oy! I mean what Calvin means, what the Confessions mean, what Erickson means, what Grudem means.”
i) To begin with, the fact that a 16C reader might know what a 16C writer is talking about hardly means a 21C reader knows what a 16C writer is talking about. Suppose we applied Birch’s silly statement to Shakespeare.
ii) An accuser shoulders the burden of proof in defining his accusatorial terms.
“It is not mere invective for critics of Classical Arminian thought to connote that Arminianism inevitably leads to Open Theism, it is defamatory and deceitful ~ an attempt at constructing a straw man, thus caricaturing Arminianism to make one's system appear orthodox.”
Is Billy just a bit dense? Is that his problem? He acts as though this is a slippery slope argument. It’s not. Rather, it’s a logical argument. What does libertarianism entail? That’s the question.