Thursday, March 04, 2010

Arminians in holy underwear

Herein we begin to see surfacing a major problem for the Determinist. For his philosophy to remain intact, nothing God does can be based upon anything man does. Yet the Bible here clearly states that God blessed Abraham because he was obedient to His voice. Abraham offering his son didn’t compel God to do anything, yet God freely chose to bless Abraham based upon his obedience. This is important to note, since if even part of the reason behind God’s reaction / response / reciprocation towards men is their own actions, then this establishes some form of contingency. This is especially devastating to the determinist philosophy, since in God’s own words, it’s addressing the ‘why’ behind His actions, not merely the ‘how.’

Calvinists sometimes claim that God is speaking to people in ‘human terms,’ and hence might say some things that seem to make more sense to the ‘mind of the natural man’ (which they often equate with Arminianism). So because God is speaking words designed to appeal to the Arminian viewpoint (who, unlike Calvinists, haven’t been given the mind of Christ enough to see past the facade that God is erecting), it’s safe to exclude the idea from our understanding of God altogether, isn’t it?

Four words: “God’s word is truth.” Can this defense for determinism then hold up when compared to scripture? Is it still truth, just in ‘human terms,’ for God to say that He blessed Abraham because he obeyed, when He actually means His deciding to bless him wasn’t at all dependent upon his obedience? That wouldn’t merely be phrasing things in terms that people can relate to, it would be downright deceptive. Even Christ’s parables, which hid their meaning from many a hearer, weren’t designed to mislead people into believing falsehood. When scripture applies anthropomorphisms, idioms, or other literary devices, it’s not for vain exercise or duplicity, but to convey truth of God’s word, for all of God’s word is truth (Psalms 12:6, 33:4, John 17:17). The objection above really amounts to saying that God’s word employs literary devices to obfuscate the truth of who He is, rather than reveal it. But the hole in the determinist case rips even wider yet upon further examination….

Far more than just in Abraham’s story, all throughout the Bible, we’re told numerous times of God doing things because of something man does. Using objection 6’s “God’s only telling us what He appears to be doing” interpretive method, or some other such contrivance, we would have to recast major portions of scripture into superficial smokescreens, declaring God’s revelations of Himself to be pretenses, and repeatedly insisting that the reasons God gives for His actions aren’t really His reasons at all, just to salvage determinist philosophy.

1.Because Arminians are more obsessed with predestination than Calvinists, they project their obsession onto Calvinists. But while it’s true that, given our commitment to Biblical predestination, Calvinists will reject the incipient open theism in Thibodaux’s alternative, that’s not the only reason we have to reject his open theism.

For the way he’s framed the issue isn’t simply a logical choice between Arminianism and Calvinism, but a logical choice between Arminianism and classical Christian theism.

For if you subscribe to a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, impassible, a se, timeless, and spaceless, then you have to reject Thibodaux’s open theism.

Put another way, Thibodaux can either redefine “reaction” or else he can redefine God.

If you wish to say that God is omniscient, then what it means for him to “react” is very different from what it means for finite human agents to react. Ordinarily, we react to events because we don’t know the future. We have to wait and see what happens, then we adapt to the situation.

Likewise, if you wish to say that God is timeless, then what it means for him to “react” is very different from what it means for finite human agents to react. Ordinarily, we react to events after the fact. There’s a temporal sequence between the prior action and our subsequent reaction.

Those are just two examples. And it’s ironic that Thibodaux began his post by quoting Cottrell’s allegation that Calvinists “redefine” freewill. For unless Thibodaux is a closet Mormon or open theist, he will have to redefine “react” in terms of how a transcendent God “reacts” to human beings.

Put another way, unless Thibodaux is prepared to make generous allowance for anthropocentric language in depicting God’s relation to Abraham (and other men), then he is a de facto Mormon or open theist. Yet Thibodaux has already cut off that escape route on this issue by assuring us that any appeal to anthropomorphic language at this juncture would be “deceptive,” “duplicitous,” a “pretense,” &c.

The moral of the story: scratch an Arminian and out pops a Mormon or open theist. Like the Pod People, Arminian body-snatchers are not what they appear to be. Beneath the holy underwear of the average Arminian epologist is a Mormon epologist clawing to get out.

2.Then there’s Thibodaux’s logical blunder. He fails to draw an elementary distinction between two very different propositions. To say that, given God’s plan, God does something because we do something is hardly equivalent to saying that God plans something because of what we do. For what we do is not a given unless God made it a given in the first place.

God is like a novelist. The decree is like the plot of a novel. If the novelist makes Jerry propose to Margery, then the novelist makes Margery accept his proposal.

In a novel, there’s a sense in which a novelist does something on account of what the characters do next. In the novel, some things happen because other things happen.

However, this doesn’t mean the characters have an independent existence. This doesn’t mean they affect the choices of the novelist. This doesn’t mean the actions of the novelist are contingent on the actions on the characters in the sense that what he writes is dependent on what they do.

Rather, what they do is dependent on what he writes. But what he writes will including writing a certain amount of interaction into the plot–to give the story continuity and cohesion. In the novel, one event leads logically to another event. One action forms the basis of another action.

Likewise, to take one example, God makes conditional promises to men. If men comply with the promise, then God does what he promised.

But God’s promises aren’t conditional in the sense that God was dependent on man acting a certain way. Divine promises are entirely consistent with divine predestination. God decreed the promise, and God decreed the human response–or lack thereof. Same thing with prayer.

The entire transaction turns on God’s sovereign initiative. Man is acting and reacting in accordance with God’s plan of action.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of quick points:

    C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that "prayer doesn't change God; it changes me." God wants us to pray for our sake. After all, a "no" answer to prayer is just as valid as a "yes" answer to prayer. If I pray for something and it doesn't come about, then the answer was "no," or in some cases, "wait." Nevertheless my prayer is always answered. Neither a "no" nor a "yes" answer holds any implications regarding God's ability to bring His will to pass.

    I like your analogy of the novelist. My life is definitely contingent upon God, but His is not contingent upon mine in any way.

    Hebrews 12:2 in the KJV says,

    Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

    That translation has always stuck with me and makes me think of your analogy.