Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Classical Ockhamist Response to the Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge

Previously I argued that there is a powerful argument against the claim that libertarian free action (defined in the last post) is compatible with God's infallible foreknowledge (or belief) of those actions, roughly, with God's omniscience (S is omniscient = df S knows every true proposition that is logically possible to know and S believes no false proposition). I will repeat the bare bones of the argument for convenience:

The TI Argument

Following William Hasker, I will use the incompatibilist argument offered by Linda Zagzebski, though names and actions will be different. With the contemporary emphasis on “going green,” it seems best to retire poor Jones and his ever-running lawnmower. Hasker opted for one “Cuthbert” and his iguana. I find it unnecessarily cruel to name people Cuthbert, and so will modify Hasker’s modification of Zagzebski’s argument with Al Dente and his plate of Fettuccini Alfredo.

Let three moments of time be ordered such that t1 < t2 < t3

1. Suppose that God infallibly believes at time t1 that Al dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3. (premise)

2. The proposition God believes at t1 that Al dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3is accidentally necessary at t2. (from the principle of the necessity of the past)

3. If a proposition p is accidentally necessary at t and p strictly implies q, then q is accidentally necessary at t. (transfer of necessity principle)

4. God believes at t1 that Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3 entails Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3. (from the definition of infallibility)

5. So the proposition Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3 is accidentally necessary at t2. (from 2-4)

6. If the proposition Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3 is accidentally necessary at t2, it is true at t2 that Al Dente cannot do otherwise than to eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3. (premise)

7. If when Al Dente does act he cannot do otherwise, he does not do it freely. (principle of alternative possibilities)

8. Therefore, Al Dente does not act at t3 freely. (from 5-7)

This argument gives us a powerful formal argument against the compatibility of God’s foreknowledge of the (libertarian) free actions of human beings. I will refer to the above argument as the TI argument (the argument for Theological Incompatibilism).

The Ockhamist solution

The Ockhamist view denies the accidental necessity of God’s past beliefs about future free actions, and so denies premise (2) of the argument. The Ockhamist denies the accidental necessity of God’s past beliefs by making use of the hard/soft fact distinction. Though this distinction is notoriously difficult to explicate, it can be explained adequately enough to understand the gist.

A “hard fact” about the past is a fact that is entirely about the past.1 For example, take the fact about the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. That fact is entirely about the past. On the other hand, a “soft fact” is not entirely about the past. God’s belief in September 2009, that Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo for dinner on December 25, 2009, expresses a fact that is not entirely about the past. Part of the belief refers to what will happen in the future and its truth is capable of being affected by as of yet to occur free choices. Thus, if the hard/soft fact distinction can be explicated, and if God’s past belief is indeed a soft fact, then God’s past beliefs about the future free actions of humans is not accidentally necessary, and therefore premise (2) is false.

Another popular Ockhamist response, given by Alvin Plantinga, is to argue that we do have power to change the past, but this power is not causal power it is “counterfactual power.” It is “counterfactual” since Plantinga admits that, if God knows Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo for dinner, then Al will eat Fettuccini Alfredo.2 But, Plantinga argues, Al has the power to act such that if Al so acted, then God would have had a different belief. So, even though God may have in fact believed a certain proposition P, Al Dente still has the power to do something such that if he were to do it, God would not have believed P. The explication just given is why this Ockhamist solution is dubbed “counterfactual power over the past.” This argument looks like it denies the accidental necessity of God’s past belief, and so premise (2) of the TI argument denied.

In this post I will not deal with Plantinga's Ockhamist answer but only with what I'm calling the "classical Ockhamist" answer, viz., the claim that God's past belief is a soft fact about the past.

Some problems with the Ockhamist solution

Recall the claim made above regarding God’s belief about a paradigm case of free action: God infallibly believed on September 1, 2009, that Alvin Dente would eat a plate of Fettuccini Alfredo for dinner on December 25, 2009. We can put this more rigorously as:

(G) God believed at t1 that Al Dente would eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3.

We then asked whether, given (G), Al Dente was free to refrain from eating at t3. A reason for giving a negative answer to this question is based on the principle of the fixity of the past (PFP, hereafter).3 Our argument has been that:

(G) is a fact about the past relative to t2, so it is not within Al Dente’s power to bring it about that ~ (G); i.e., (G) is outside of the control of Al’s power.4 However, (G) entails that Al Dente will eat at t3. Whatever is entailed by something outside of someone, S’s, control is itself outside of S’s control. Therefore, whether Al Dente can refrain or do other than eat at t3 is outside of his control.5

Recall that the Ockhamist denies the accidental necessity of God’s past beliefs, and so denies premise (2) of the TI argument. The Ockhamist denies that God’s past beliefs about the future free actions of agents are accidentally necessary by claiming that God’s past beliefs in this area are not hard facts; rather, they are soft facts. This means, Ockhamists tell us, that God’s past beliefs are not subject to PFP.

To see why the Ockhamist makes this claim, and why the move does not work, it will serve us to look at some putative examples of hard facts and soft facts vis-à-vis (G). Here are three paradigm cases of hard facts, cases all Ockhamists would count as hard facts:

(1) In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

(2) Jones uttered the sentence, “Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009,” on September 1, 2009.

(3) Jones believed that, “Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009,” on September 1, 2009.

These facts about the past are contrasted with another type of fact, facts called soft facts. Paradigm cases of these facts might be examples like:

(4) In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, 517 years before Al Dente at Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009.

(5) Jones uttered the true sentence, “Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009,” on September 1, 2009,

(6) Jones correctly believed that, “Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009,” on September 1, 2009,

Ockhamists want to say that (G) is similar to (4) – (6), and so (G) should be classified as a soft fact about the past. But this way lies trouble. First, there is no accepted explication of the hard/soft fact distinction. This makes progress difficult, to say the least. But, despite this hurdle, the explication on offer must at least do two things. As Widerker points out,6 the Ockhamist must (i) make explicit the property P that (G) and (4) – (6) have in common; and (ii), they must show that it is in virtue of having P that makes them soft facts. But the various explications have had trouble doing just that. In other words, the property soft facts are said to have do not show that it is because of this property or feature that facts like (4) – (6) are not subject to PFP.

We can illuminate this point by briefly looking at some features soft facts are said to have that hard facts do not have and which make them not subject to PFP.7 One view is that soft facts entail facts about the future. This is of course true of facts like (4) – (6). But is it because of this property that (4) – (6) are not subject to PFP? No; and here is why: Many hard facts (facts subject to PFP) entail facts about the future. Here are two:

(7) Walter Payton scores his first touchdown at t1 entails the future fact, relative to t2, that Walter Payton does not score his first touchdown at t3.

(8) God delivered the Israelites from Egypt at t1 entails that God exists at t2 – tn (this assumes that God is eternal).

Another view is that a soft fact entails the obtaining of a future state of affairs. Again, (4) – (6) share this feature (the future state of affairs that obtains is Al Dente eating his pasta dinner). But certainly it is not because of this property that (4) – (6) are not subject to PFP. Again, some ostensible hard facts (facts subject to PFP) entail future facts. Here is a plausible assumption for the theist to make: Necessarily, if God decrees that X will occur at t3, then X will occur at t3. Therefore, if God decrees at t1 that Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3, then Al will eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3. Certainly, God’s decree at t1 is a hard fact about the past relative to t2, yet God’s decree at t1 entails the future state of affairs at t3.8 The basic problem these accounts face, as Widerker points out, is that there certainly seem to be cases where one temporally distinct event E1 is necessarily connected, either metaphysically or logically, to another temporally distinct event E2 that obtains later than E1. Yet, in these cases, E1 is considered, on most analyses, to be a hard fact about the past, and thus subject to PFP.

The Ockhamist, not surprisingly, still wants to call (G) a soft fact; and they beg our patience as they work on explicating the hard/soft fact distinction. After all, they tell us, (4) – (6) certainly look like soft facts in that they are not subject to the fixity of the past. At this juncture, we should make more explicit what is meant by the past being fixed. Hasker claims that a hard fact, one subject to PFP, is a fact that is really about the past and also not within anyone’s power to make false.9 Widerker concurs, offering the following account of PFP:

(PFP) If a given event occurs at time t, then no one has it within his power at a time later than t to bring it about that the event did not occur at t.

Given this view of PFP, we can see why there is the intuition that (4) – (6) are not subject to PFP, and are thus soft facts. Given this view of PFP, we see that although we do not have the power to bring about10 the nonoccurrence of the past event, we do have the power (on LFW) to bring it about that an event does or does not exemplify the contingent proposition it refers to, e.g., Al Dente eats Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009. Applying this to one of our putative soft facts:

(6) Jones correctly believed that, “Al Dente will eat Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009,” on September 1, 2009,

we can see that, on LFW, Al Dente can bring it about that he refrains from eating Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009. In doing so he does not cause the event of Jones’ believing to not occur, he merely and harmlessly causes the non-obtaining of the contingent property expressed in (6).11 Furthermore, on this analysis of PFP, we see why (6)’s counterpart, (3), is subject to PFP.

Given our work up to this point we are now in a position to show why (G) is disanlagous to (4) – (6) in at least one relevant area. Take our definition of Omniscience:

O: S is omniscient = df S knows every true proposition that is logically possible to know and S believes no false proposition.

O entails that God Infallibly Believes (GIB) every true proposition, thus:

GIB: S infallibly believes = df S believes every true proposition that is logically possible to believe and S believes no false proposition.

Now, take (G):

(G) God believed at t1 that Al Dente would eat Fettuccini Alfredo at t3.

Given GIB and (G), we can see that if Al Dente refrained from eating the plate of Fettuccini Alfredo on December 25, 2009, then God would have held a different belief than the one he in fact held. That is, the event described in (G) would have been different, not simply the exemplification of the contingent proposition referred to. But this violates PFP, and thus it attributes to Al Dente the causal power over the past. Since no one has causal power over the past, a claim Ockhamists do not wish to deny, then Al Dente cannot refrain from eating his plate of pasta, and therefore, Al Dente does not act freely when he so eats.

Of course, the Ockhamist is free to present an account of the hard/soft fact distinction where facts like (3) do not express hard facts, but this seems unlikely. Certainly, as many have pointed out: the past beliefs of people seem to be as good an example as any of something that is fully past, and it would be an ad hoc move, invoked to save a theory, to claim that the past beliefs of a divine person are not fully past. It certainly seems that my belief at 6:00 am this morning is, at 6:01, something completely in the past, and thus unalterable. Yet, there is another way out. The Ockhamist may affirm that we do not have causal power over the past, but we do have another kind of power over the past: counterfactual power. I will take up this objection in a later post, Lord willing.


1 One view is that the fact’s grammar points to the past (using past tense) while its content is not entirely about the past (cf. David Hunt, “The Simple Foreknowledge View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 77).

2 Of course, since Al Dente and his dinner is my illustration, Plantinga does not refer to that example specifically.

3 One reason to think that the past is accidentally necessary is that it is fixed and lies outside our control.

4 The kind of power and control spoken of here is assumed to be the kind desired by libertarianism, i.e., the power to refrain from doing some action, or to do otherwise.

5 Widerker (2002) claims that this argument is given by Jonathan Edwards. Plantinga also presents this argument as a “powerful” expression of the incompatibilist’s worry (Ockham’s Way Out, 181). This argument is also expressed in Hasker (1998) and Linville (1995).

6 David Widerker, “Troubles With Ockhamism,” The Journal of Philosophy, v. 87, 9 (Sept. 1990), 465.

7 I’m using Widerker as a rough guide, ibid, 465-470.

8 Of course, libertarians would not say Al Dente ate freely, but that point is irrelevant to my example. Similar points could be made in light of God promising X. Suppose God promises at t1 to allow into heaven all those who trust in Jesus Christ, and Jones trusts in Jesus Christ at t3. Given the plausible assumption that “If God promises that X, then X,” this fact entails that Jones will be in heaven at t4, where t4 > t3.

9 William Hasker, God, Time, and Foreknowledge, 82, though he goes on to offer a more salient and rigorous account, pp. 88-90.

10 S “brings about” Y iff: There exists an X such that S causes X to be the case and (X&H) => Y and ~ (H=>Y), where ‘H’ represents the history of the world prior to it coming to be the case that X (Hasker, “A New Anti-Molinist Argument,” Religious Studies, 35 (1999) 291.)

11 Though agents do not always have this power, see Widerker, Troubles, 471.

Feeding the multitude

And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens." So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day (Gen 1:20-23).

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:15-21).

Many professing Christians subscribe to theistic evolution. From what I can tell, that’s the default position in modern Catholicism. There are also some “evangelicals” like John J. Davis and Alister McGrath who represent that position.

Some Darwinian theists are more conservative than others. For example, you have Darwinian theists who deny the historicity of the creation account, but affirm the historicity of Jesus’ miracles. For example, although they’d deny the historicity of Gen 1, they’d never presume to deny the feeding of the multitude.

But this raises some interesting questions. Take the creation account of fish in Gen 1:20-23. A Darwinian theist will deny that this is how fish actually originated.

Rather, he believes that fish originated through a long evolutionary process. And he believes that because he thinks the scientific evidence points in that direction. However, he also believes that Jesus miraculously multiplied two fish.

Now we don’t know exactly what the additional fish were like that Jesus made by instantaneous fiat. But they were probably duplicates of the two fish. Just like you could catch in the Sea of Galilee.

Suppose you were an evolutionary ichthyologist who traveled back in time to this event. Suppose you examined one of the miraculous fish–only you didn’t know it was a miraculous fish.

Could you tell the difference between the miraculous fish and a normal fish from the Sea of Galilee? No. All the evidence would point to a fish from the Sea of Galilee.

What is more, the miraculous fish would look just like fish that had gone through all of the preliminary stages in the lifecycle to reach that point. Its parents had mated. It started out as a fish egg. And so on.

But, of course, none of that would actually apply to the miraculous fish.

What is more, not only would the miraculous fish resemble a fish with a personal history, but, of course, that history would be continuous with the history of all its ancestors. The generations of fish which came before it.

But, of course, none of that would actually apply to the miraculous fish.

What is more, our evolutionary ichthyologist would explain to us that this fish was a “living fossil”–insofar as a modern fish bears the telltale traces of its evolutionary past. A living record of the past. Of prior adaptations leading up to a modern fish. Not only does this fish have a personal history, from its conception forward, but it evidences the evolutionary history of its species. To get to this fish, you have to go back millions of years through all of the intervening stages in evolutionary development.

But, of course, none of that would actually apply to the miraculous fish.

What is more, our evolutionary ichthyologist would explain to us that this fish evidences the common ancestry of man and fish, for human blood shares the same basic salt content as fish blood.

But, of course, none of that would actually apply to the miraculous fish.

The presumptive history lying behind the miraculous fish turns out to be nonexistent. All of the “scientific evidence” amounts to evidence of something that never happened.

So the position of a conservative Darwinian theist seems to generate a dilemma. Why treat the multiplication of fish as factual while treating the initial creation of fish as fictitious?

"A pathetic fiasco"

Return to Romanist Francis Beckwith approvingly posted the following remarks by John Stackhouse on the “the RTS/Waltke fiasco”:

“What’s pathetic about this action is that those points weren’t even radical in the nineteenth century, when when Darwin himself had a number of orthodox defenders. So RTS apparently is not quite ready to catch up with almost two centuries of theology/science dialogue.”

For the moment I’m not going to debate the merits of the case. That’s another argument for another day.

For now, I’ll content myself by drawing attention to the duplicity of Beckwith’s criticism–via Stackhouse.

Here’s a 21C Catholic epologist (teaching at a nominally Protestant university) who presumes to attack a 21C Protestant institution because that institution is doing things differently than its 19C counterpart might have.

Yet it’s not as though there haven’t been sea-changes between 19C Catholicism and 21C Catholicism–not least of which its reversal on Darwinism.

So, for Beckwith, if, in the development of doctrine, a Catholic institution (i.e. the whole church of Rome) moves to left, that’s a commendable turn of events–but if, on the other hand, a Protestant institution (i.e. RTS) moves to the right, that’s a “pathetic fiasco.”

Why Waltke resigned

This is the closest thing I've seen to an official explanation for Waltke's resignation:

[quote] Michael Milton, president of the seminary's Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video. Milton said that Waltke would "undoubtedly" be considered one of the world's great Christian scholars of the Old Testament and that he was "much beloved here," with his departure causing "heartache." But he said that there was no choice.

Milton said that the seminary allows "views to vary" about creation, describing the faculty members there as having "an eight-lane highway" on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe thatyom may be providing "a framework" for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for "a diversity" of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn't arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: "We are a confessional seminary. I'm a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession. Nor do I have a freedom that would allow me to express my views in such a way to hurt or impugn someone who holds another view." Indeed he added that the problem with what Waltke said was as much his suggestion that religion will lose support over these issues as his statements about evolution itself. (The statement of faith at the seminary states: "Since the Bible is absolutely and finally authoritative as the inerrant Word of God, it is the basis for the total curriculum.")

Given Waltke's role and reputation, Milton said that his resignation wasn't accepted on the spot. But after prayer on the question, Milton said, officials accepted the resignation.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Billy Birch makes God the author of sin!

But such is the length and breadth one is willing to go to in order to defend an absolutist view of God's sovereignty. Never mind that God "cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (James 1:13 TNIV).

More than being indicative of a generation, the issue of the use of alcohol by Christians appears more prominent among the young neo-Calvinists as of late. Perhaps these young ones are merely imitating their present theological heroes Mark Driscoll or R. C. Sproul Jr, who advocate Christians using alcohol. Martin Luther (another link) himself is infamous for drinking alcohol while discussing theology, earning him the moniker "drunk little monk." If anything is clear in Scripture it is the sin of drunkenness (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3). Abstinence is a wiser choice.

These actions will bring the wrath of God upon anyone -- whether or not he or she confesses to be a Calvinist. Perhaps some of these neo-Calvinists (those who were converted to Calvinism by merely reading a book by John Piper or Mark Driscoll) think that because they are unconditionally elected by God unto faith and salvation that they will escape the coming wrath. However, the apostle Paul exposed such persons as hypocrites (Rom. 2:1). They judged sinners but were indulging in sin themselves! Paul concluded: "But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things" (Rom. 2:2 NKJV). He then added: "And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?" (Rom. 2:3 NKJV)

1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it. 9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him
(Jn 2:1-11).

A Dilemma For Those Who Doubt Eternal Security

How is it that those who would say that sinners are damned by no more than one sin (no matter how “small” that sin may be) and who also say that one can lose one’s salvation—how is it that they can possibly believe that anyone is saved? If one sin is sufficient to damn a previously innocent person, is it not equally sufficient to damn the Christian who commits a sin? And who among us does not sin every moment of our lives by not granting God the honor, glory, and worship He is due in our thoughts, words, and deeds, by not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and by not living perfect lives?

GTCC Outreach Report 4-9-2010

The weather was blustery and a little cooler, but God blessed our evangelistic outreach today at GTCC. I didn't get to open-air preach because the school's administration called me two weeks ago and told me that I couldn't preach on campus unless I applied for a week-to-week permit to speak in the gazebo on the front campus lawn. Of course, there's nobody anywhere near the gazebo except crickets and mosquitoes, so I opted to continue my on campus, one-on-one outreach. I had made myself clear to the administration early in the semester as to what I wanted to do in the campus quad area (open-air preaching, one-on-one evangelism, and literature distribution) and the first day I open-air preached the campus police accepted my written permission without any problems. However, apparently it created no small stir, and the administration nixed the open-air preaching. However, we are good to go with one-on-one evangelism. So, here's the day's report.

The question of the day was: "What must I do to be reconciled to God?"

1. Interested/Disinterested.

The first people I spoke with were two young men; one seemed to be somewhat familiar with the gospel yet disinterested. The other seemed to be listening, interested, and showed some evidence of conviction after I began to explain sin, righteousness, and judgment. Neither one of them knew what the gospel was, although they had heard the word used by their preacher and had regularly attended church in the past. As I was speaking with them, three to four of their friends walked up and I began sharing the gospel with them, yet they were also disinterested. All of them were on their cell phones except for the convicted young man. I focused on him, gave him the gospel, and left them all with gospel tracts.

2. A Pot Smoker and two Apathetic Muslims

The second group of guys I spoke with consisted of one young man from Africa named Eli who claimed to be a Christian and his American friend that claimed to be a Muslim. Eli told me that I had to keep the Ten Commandments to be right with God and the Muslim guy seemed like he didn't want to answer my question about how one could be reconciled to God. I asked Eli if he had kept the Ten Commandments and he adamantly said, "No! No man can keep God's law perfectly!" to which I agreed and then asked him what a righteous and holy God should do to him on the day of judgment. Eli tried to argue that God would be merciful to Him and I asked, "Upon what basis?" and he said, "Because God is forgiving and merciful." I said, "True, but a perfectly righteous and holy judge must perfectly judge your sin or else He's not a good God." He disagreed because he said he had been a pretty good guy. I then asked him what a good earthly judge should do to a "pretty good guy" that raped and murdered a girl 30 years ago but since the murder he's been doing soup kitchen and homeless shelter work and has been an otherwise upstanding citizen. He said the earthly judge should forgive him and let him go. I said, "What!? Upon what basis? I mean, didn't this guy commit heinous crimes? Isn't he still considered a rapist and murderer according to the law of the land regardless of the fact that he's done some good stuff the last 30 years?" He said "Yes" and I said, "Dude, I don't understand. How can this earthly judge be a good and just judge if he just lets a murderer or rapist go?" He never really answered, but I then made a parallel with God. I asked him, "If an earthly judge must judge righteously or else he's not a good judge, how much more must the Perfect and Infinitely Holy Judge of the universe uphold his own righteous standards? If God were to judge you based upon His holy law, would you go to Heaven or Hell?" He said, "Heaven." I said, "He can't, you've broken His law, He has obligated Himself to uphold His own justice, and you must be damned in accordance with His righteous standards (Proverbs 17:15)." I then began to explain to the gospel to him and his Muslim friend, but once the Muslim heard about Jesus, he got disinterested and took off. Eli then revealed his idol to me by asking me what I thought about smoking weed. I told him it was a sin on at least three counts: (1) it is illegal [Rom. 13:1-5], (2) it violates the commands to be sober-minded [1 Peter 1:13], and (3) it is a form of idolatry via addiction [John 8:34]. He tried to justify his potsmoking by saying that there was no command against smoking weed in Scripture. I also said that there was no direct command against abortion, yet by comparing passage with passage one can show that abortion is murder. He went on to justify his sin, so I ended what was becoming a fruitless conversation and tried to engage someone else.

Next, I turned Eli's other Muslim friend that had just sat down and I tried to speak to him about Isa (the Muslim name for Jesus) dying on the cross for sinners. He told me that the New Testament was corrupt and so I called his bluff by asking if he had any evidence to back up his claim. He then said, "The Old Testament is where it's at!"; meaning, that the truth about Jesus could be found in the Old Testament not the New. I said, okay, let's look at what the Old Testament says about Isa. As I began to read Isaiah 53, he got an apathetic look on his face, opened his cell phone, made a call, and started to walk off. I said, "Hey man, you just asked me a question . . . don't you care about truth?" He ignored me and walked away. I then went on to pass out more tracts and look for someone else to engage.

2. Fellowship with Two Christians

As I walked away from Eli I was called over by a Christian man that wanted to fellowship a little. He was speaking with another young Christian girl and we had a great time of fellowship for about 10 minutes as we discussed the liberal views of their New Testament professor and what they could do to be prepared to interact with him and the class in a way that could be challenging yet respectful. At this point, I wanted to move on so I that I wouldn't miss any witnessing opportunities.

3. A Seventh Day Adventist Sabbatarian

The next two young men I gave tracts to were very kind and seemed to really love the gospel of Christ. The more outspoken of the two told me that he was a youth leader at a local Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Having interacted with Seventh Day Adventists many times before, I immediately asked him, "Do you believe that those who do not worship on Saturday have the mark of the Beast and are condemned to the Lake of Fire?" The question seemed to take him back a bit, so he suggested that we sit down for a minute and talk about it. I then asked him the question again, but he asked to see my Bible and he proceeded to argue for a seventh day Sabbath command that is still binding upon Christians today. I tried to patiently yet firmly counter every example that he gave from the Old and New Testaments and attempted to show that he was engaging in eisegesis. He wasn't budging a bit, but his quiet friend seemed to be quite interested in the interaction, though I'm not sure he understood much of what he heard. I eventually made my way to Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16 showing him that the Sabbath is no longer binding upon Christians as the shadow of the Old Covenant has given way to the Substance of the New, namely, Christ Jesus Himself. He tried to make what I believe to be an unbiblical distinction between the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments, to which I countered with Exodus 34:28 (the 10 words are the summary of the Mosaic Covenant), Exodus 31:13-17 (the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant), and 2 Corinthians 3:6-7 (the tablets of stone were representative of the "killing letter" of which New Covenant believers are no longer a minister of). I believe I successfully countered all of his major points, but the conversation needed to come to an end. Thus, we cordially parted ways and I was off to find other folks to talk to.

4. The Disinterested and Apathetic

Next, as I was praying for God to put some receptive hearts in my path, I made my way near the entrance of the Applied Technologies Center. Immediately I spotted two groups of folks milling around and having friendly conversation. The first group to my right had what appeared to be only one professing Christian in it. I asked them where they thought morals came from and they said "your parents . . . your lifestyle." I then asked, "What happens when one parent tells their kid that it's okay to hug their friends whereas the other parent says its okay to slap their friends? How do we tell which one is right?" I then tried to use some examples to illustrate the self-refuting nature of moral relativism; and when I began to assert that moral standards necessarily come from God or they will be self-refuting, the cell phones came out and all but one girl showed complete disinterest and started walking away. I then asked the girl that was left, "Where do you go to church?" She told me, and I asked her what a person must do to be reconciled to God and she nailed the gospel pretty good. I then said, "It looks like your friends have no interest in the things of God. Are you going to tell them about Jesus?" She said she would. I explained that it might destroy her friendships with them and she said, "I don't care". I exhorted her to tell and keep telling her friends about Jesus until it was too late.

5. The Interested and Convicted

The second group 15 feet away were given tracts and after I introduced myself I immediately asked them, "What must a person do to be reconciled to God?" It was if immediate conviction came over them simply through asking that question. One girl sheepishly said, "You must repent and believe". I asked them Who I must repent to and Who must I believe in? The same girl clearly said "Jesus". I then asked if there was any other way to get to God and she said, "No." I then explained the gospel. I then asked them, "If I asked your friends if you acted like a Christian, what would they say?" No one said anything. This seemed to deepen the conviction that was already present. I then said, "Listen to what the Bible says about those who say they are Christians but really aren't." I quoted the following verses by memory:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; (1 John 1:6)

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;" (1 John 2:3-4)

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)
I then said, "If you say you love the Lord, yet there is no change in your life and you are living in habitual sin, then you are not a Christian. You are self-deceived." I then exhorted them to go home, read 1st John and examine themselves in light of what John says a real Christian looks like. They thanked me and then I was off to talk to the last group of people I encountered.

6. Lunch Ladies

The last group of I spoke with consisted of a group of three ladies that sat at a lunch table outside the GTCC daycare. There was only one woman sitting outside at the lunch table upon my arrival. I introduced myself, asked her how a person could be reconciled to God, and she said that she was a Christian and went to church. I then asked her to explain to me how I could get to heaven if I had only 2 minutes to live. At this point, two other ladies had just come out to sit with her and they heard my second question. One lady had a veil over her face and her body language seemed to indicate that she was not happy. The girl I was talking to told me I needed to ask for God's forgiveness and I asked "Which God? Allah, Buddha? . . ." and she interrupted with "Jesus". I asked her why I needed to be forgiven and she seemed to be stumped a little. I didn't want to take too much time away from their lunch, so I gave them the gospel in a minute, thanked them for their time, and gave them all postcard-sized tracts.

In conclusion, I think I spent way too much time talking to the pot-smoker and the Seventh-Day Adventist. I need to remind myself that it is more important to win the man rather than win the argument. May God bless these efforts in spite of my mistakes. Soli Deo Gloria!

I, Robot


"When I say that Arminians don't believe that God would caually determine evil, we mean first of all that God may allow sin to happen, but that He, being holy, would never cause it."

That's a false dichotomy. Arminianism doesn't take the position that God merely "allowed" evil to happen. Arminianism has a doctrine of creation and concurrence. It's not as if the world came into being all by itself.

"He may allow pain and trials to come into our lives, but He would not decree that we cannot choose otherwise but to sin."

But a little lower down you say:

"Well, I do not argue that there was something else he was going to do instead. To argue that anything would have happened if things were other than they are is completely hypothetical."

So if, by your own admission, there wasn't something else the human agent was going to do instead of sinning, how is your objection either coherent or relevant?

"God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able, through His grace."

Except for the fact that in Arminian theology, he does allow Christians to be overcome by sin. When push came to shove, they didn't have the willpower to resist the temptation. The temptation was stronger than their resolve to resist.

"Are you saying that if God (a force outside of us) doesn't causally determine (rather than just allow) everything we do, that He isn't really a God at all? And that, by logical necessity, if we don't believe that God causally determines everything, but rather allows sin, that we don't really believe in a God at all? Is that the logic? I'm just trying to understand... Wouldn't that mean that all the godly men throughout history who didn't believe in calvinism weren't really saved and didn't really believe in God at all?"

You keep resorting to this emotive, girly-girl rhetoric to deflect principled criticisms of Arminian theology based on what Arminians themselves strenuously say about God's relation to the world. But if Arminian theology has untoward consequences, then that's your problem, not mine. That's a question which Arminians need to wrestle with themselves. Don't throw your problems back on my lap, as if it's bad form for me to hold Arminians to their own representations.


"I will take it as a concession that the rebotic metaphor serves as a tight enough analogy to Calvinistic determinism, in accordance with your statement."

You can take that as a concession if you prefer to be dishonest and palter in equivocal usage.

"That is really all I was after."

What you were after is the specious appearance of a quick win, so that you can scurry back to your Arminian blog and falsely advertise a fatal concession.

"Now, you and other Calvinists can try to explain how creatures controlled in such ways are still meaningfully 'volitional' or 'responsible' for their irresistibly controlled thoughts, desires, 'choices', and actions, but that would require far more 'qualifications' and 'explanations' than any Arminian needs to make his point (just as I rather easily made the point above)."

i) That illustrates the limitations of any metaphor. And it's silly to think you can either prove or disprove a position by endlessly tweaking a metaphor. At best, a metaphor is just a limited illustration. It is not the actual position. I wouldn't attempt to keep refining a metaphor beyond it's natural limits.

ii) It's not as if I haven't responded to Arminian objections before. The explanations are readily available.

iii) Moreover, you haven't made your point. What you done is to assert that a predestined agent is equivalent to a puppet, then further assert, assuming that comparison, that a predestined agent lacks "meaningful" volition or responsibility. So all you've really done is to beg all the key issues every step of the way, then pat yourself on the back as if you'd scored a major accomplishment. That's a wonderful exercise in self-deception.

"In the end, despite word games and deflections, it all boils down to the same thing, as you freely admitted above."

This is yet another instance where you lapse into dishonesty. Since you insist on using the robotic metaphor, I explored that metaphor for the sake of argument. And even on your own terms, it's hardly a "word game" or "deflection" to distinguish between an automated vacuum cleaner and a conscious android with adaptive programming. To the contrary, that's a serious philosophical debate in AI literature and science fiction.

"But even if it was a perfect analogy and an essential synonym, it would still serve the intended purpose of showing that a Calvinist 'agent' is nothing more than a robot, without needing to redefine 'robot' to make it a synonym."

To the contrary, if you humanize a "robot," like Data, so that your robot is psychologically indistinguishable from a human being in the key features of personhood (a la the Turing test), then a 'robot' becomes a synonym for a humanoid person. In which case, a predestined agent is "nothing more" than a human person. Your analogy collapses into identity and tautology.

"One that I think is easily understood by most people (and no, I don’t have any 'polling data', but I have never come across someone who has had any difficulty in understanding the analogy and what is meant by it."

People who understand debates over AI also understand the difference between Lt. Commander Data and a computerized lawnmower.

"Like I said before, I don’t have time for debate right now."

Like you said before, and like you continue to say as you continue to post comments to me and others. So that's a phony disclaimer.

You're just using that as an escape route because you can't actually defend your own position.

Dracula as Antichrist

On more than one occasion I’ve commented on the fact that the vampire is an Antichrist figure–what with the twisted Eucharistic symbolism and all.

At the time I was confining myself to the literary significance of the vampire. The symbolic function of the literary or cinematic vampire in relation to other characters in the novel, movie, or TV show. In other words, fictitious role of the vampire.

However, the vampiric genre seems to be increasingly popular. Of course, this is, to some extent, a case of Hollywood cashing in on a lucrative market niche. And it’s a vicious cycle. The popularity of the genre feeds (pardon the pun) the media, while the media feeds the genre.

Now it’s possible that this is just a fad. Perhaps a cyclical fad.

But the subculture of vampirism may also be burgeoning into a cult or alternate religion–like Mormonism. Not coincidentally, it taps into to a segment of the youth culture. For vampirism reflects the fear of death. Fear of aging. The denial of death.

And that is very powerful. Very alluring.

Of course, this is make-believe. But make-believe has never been an obstacle to cults–or even mainstream religions like Catholicism.

Vampirism also trades on the fascination with evil. The appeal of the forbidden. And that is also tempting to the young.

We’ll see, as time goes on, if the vampiric subculture stays, fades, or expands.

All the world's a stage

Some actors play themselves in every role they take. Moviegoers see their movies because they like the image which that actor projects.

But other actors are character actors. They disappear into the role. If they play the role of Napoleon, they read biographies of Napoleon to help themselves get into the role. To think like Napoleon. Gesture like Napoleon.

There’s a tension in acting. Many actors try to be realistic. Yet there’s something fundamentally unrealistic about acting. And that’s not just because the actor is pretending to be someone different.

An actor has read the script. He knows what happens next. He knows what will happen in every scene.

An actor has memorized his lines. Frequently, he has also memorized the lines of the costar.

He will practice his lines in front of the mirror. Practice different facial expressions. Practice different intonations.

In a dialogue with his costar, the actor knows what he is going to say next, and he also knows what his costar is going to say next.

Of course, real life isn’t like that. We don’t know what the other person is going to say before they say it. As a result, we don’t know what we’re going to say in response to what they say.

We also don’t know from one day to the next what’s going to happen from one day to the next. We know our own past. We know other bits and pieces of the past. But we’re profoundly ignorant of the future.

Yet an actor ties to immerse himself in his role. Learn everything he can about the character so that he will be in character when the director begins shooting.

Not only does the actor know in advance who will say what when and do what when, but the director rehearses every scene. And he frequently does several takes until the actors get it just right.

But, of course, in real life, we don’t get to go back and reshoot a scene if we’re dissatisfied with how things went the first time around.

So acting is paradoxical. An actor, to be realistic, has to feign ignorance. He must pretend to be wholly unconscious of what he’s acutely conscious of. Part of acting is acting as if he doesn’t know what’s coming next. Acting as if he’s reacting.

And this illustrates the psychological difference between fatalism and the psychology of predestination.

In fatalism, the agent knows what’s going to happen to him before it takes place. And that makes him very self-conscious–as if he’s peering over his own shoulder every step of the way.

By contrast, a Calvinist knows there is a script, but he hasn’t read it. He only learns the plot by living.

An Arminian doesn’t even know there’s a script. He denies it. Ironically, he was scripted to deny the very existence of the script.

Scripture as adiaphora

Over at First Things: Evangel, Mark Olson did a post. Unable to defend his position, he's apparently retreated from the field of battle under the cover of other commenters. So I'm reposting my own comments here:

steve hays
April 6th, 2010 | 7:52 pm | #1
Thanks for documenting the fact that the Orthodox Church is quite liberal. Some misguided Evangelicals convert to Orthodoxy under the illusion that Orthodoxy is a bastion of conservative theology in the midst of liberal theology. You have, albeit unwittingly, put that misimpression to rest.

April 6th, 2010 | 8:50 pm | #3
Dude, I’m more concerned with a “Christian community” which feels free to relegate Bible history to fictitious “adiaphora” except for a dogmatic residual. And that’s not something the Apostles would have done.

steve hays
April 6th, 2010 | 10:46 pm | #5
Mark Olson:

“First, I think the liberal/conservative distinction is not useful, I agree with sd on that point. For example, if you attempt to labeled EO as a ‘liberal’ theological bastion, you might consider and compare the problems modern liberal protestants are wrestling with right now … and note that Orthodoxy is by comparison not doing so at all.”

Really? Explain the difference between a liberal Democrat and Michael Dukakis, Arianna Huffington, George Stephanopolous, or the late Paul Tsongas.

“Finally, are you proposing that the flood being historical fact is a dogma to stand aside Trinity and the Empty Tomb?”

I take it that this is how you’d apply your Orthodox hermeneutic to, let us say, the Gospel of John:

John 1:14: Dogma
John, chapters 2-19: Adiaphora
John 20:9: Dogma

“When St. Paul talks of the Gospel … that includes the necessity in believing in a literal flood?”

Apparently the Jefferson Bible is the official Bible of the Orthodox Church.

“How about giants? A heroic age? Every person on Earth thought of nothing but evil thoughts?”

I don’t see any evidence on your part that you’ve made the slightest effort to exegete those passages in a scholarly fashion. What exegetical literature have you consulted?

“Whether the story is noetic or fact is adiaphora.”

That’s an assertion in search of an argument.

“There is no relegation to ‘fictitious adiaphora’ going on here.”

Either the flood account is literal or fictitious.

steve hays
April 7th, 2010 | 8:24 am | #10
Mark Olson


The question is whether you only affirm the historicity of just those portions of the Fourth Gospel which your denomination happens to dogmatize. Is that your hermeneutic?

“Let’s see for the flood and the garden I indicated that in that time period there were literary triggers to indicate that a story was to be taken as a literal account or not, like four rivers which do not meet are told to meet.”

Yes, you said “At the beginning of the story there is a mention that this story is at the juncture of four rivers. Real rivers which however in reality are nowhere near each other. They do not “meet” anywhere.”

And why do you think that’s a plausible argument? Rivers can converge at numerous points. For example, tributaries can originate in a common body of water upstream (the headwaters). They can also converge downstream (e.g. at a delta). Or they can intersect somewhere in-between. It’s easy to document real-world examples.

As far as literary triggers are concerned, Gen 2:10-14 situates the story in Mesopotamia. The Tigris and Euphrates are real rivers. And they were known to the target audience. So that’s a real world setting.

“Huh? Aren’t they politicians.”

Of Greek Orthodox extraction.

“I’m unclear on where they stand theologically.”

What about where they stand morally? What about the fact that the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t hold them to basic standards of Christian social morality?

“It’s unclear why a mid to late first century author writing in a different genre would be expected to follow the same pattern.”

You’re assuming that John was written in a different genre than Genesis. What’s your justification for that assumption?

“My point is that a narrative can be true but not have exact correspondence to an accurate video playback.”

But you’ve already indicated that you don’t think the flood account corresponds to a genuine historic event–situated in real time and real space.

“Have you read St. Gregory’s Life of Moses? Didn’t St. Athanasius (or was it St. Antony I don’t recall right now) write about the passage out of Egypt and the struggle through the desert and into Canaan entirely in terms of personal spiritual journey from sin to salvation, crossing the Jordan as Baptism and so on.”

And how is that relevant to the correct interpretation of Exodus?

“Let me ask you this? Which is more important today to you, historical accuracy or the spiritual lessons like that?”

So the Resurrection doesn’t need to be a real event as long as it teaches us spiritual lessons. Is that it?

You’re reducing Christianity to a set of ideas–like Buddhism. In Buddhism, it doesn’t matter what Buddha really said or did.

But Christianity is grounded in events. The spiritual truths are grounded in events. We can derive spiritual truths from the Exodus because it really happened–as a result of which we can analogize from various elements of that event to comparable situations.

“Do you know how Hebrew verbal tradition worked? Why do you assume that ‘literal’ inscription and remembrance of events or ideas was the norm? Why do you transpose 20th century narrative norms and values on cultures which are basically alien to you?”

Have you read John Currid’s commentary on Gen 2:10-14? He has a doctorate in archeology from the Oriental Institute. Have you read David Tsumura’s monograph on The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament supplement Series 82? Have you read Kenneth Kitchen’s discussion of Gen 2:10-14 from his work On the Reliability of the Old Testament? Kitchen is Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at University of Liverpool?

If anyone is transposing 20C narrative norms to an ancient text, that would seem to be you, not me.

“Even first century Israel was a Mediterranean honor/shame society with a completely different notion of economic and social norms. Why do you expect a plain reading of even the Gospels makes sense if you don’t take the worldview of Jesus and his audience into account?”

You mean, like Craig Keener’s 2-volume commentary on the Gospel of John? Yes, I’d said that I’ve taken their worldview into account. Have you?

steve hays
April 7th, 2010 | 9:17 am | #12
Mark Olson

“At the beginning of the story there is a mention that this story is at the juncture of four rivers. Real rivers which however in reality are nowhere near each other. They do not ‘meet’ anywhere.”

Over time, rivers can change courses. Over time, rivers can dry up.

April 7th, 2010 | 6:19 pm | #29
Mark Olson

“It would be good if you tried to make more sense…Let’s see a river east of Assyria, a river going around the country of Ethopia and sharing a common source with the Euphrates. Yet, somehow over time that makes sense, over time Eastern Africa and Western Afghanistan shared common waters. Gotcha.”

You have a habit of making bald assertions without furnishing any supporting data. Once more, what exegetical scholarship have you consulted on the rivers of Eden or the location of the Garden?

You seem to take for granted that you know what the Biblical place names and tributaries refer to. But ancient geographical references can be obscure. What was common knowledge some 3000 years ago may be long-forgotten. And there can be more than one candidate.

I also don’t think that “Gotcha” is an appropriate response to God’s word. That’s more akin to the attitude of the murmuring Israelites whom God condemned to perish in the wilderness.

“Well, for the EO patristic commentary is somewhat important. I did in fact mention that in the above piece.”

How is St. Gregory an expert on the ANE?

“Why do you suggest that only two chapters of John are part of EO liturgy and teaching?”

Your hermeneutic evidently takes the position that you only have to affirm the historicity of those few portions of Scripture which your denomination has chosen to dogmatize.

“But my guess would be that they realise that the call to repentance, turning their life to God, and that as is said in every service that ‘Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am first’ is something we all can say truthfully.”

What about excommunication?

“It’s unclear to me where you are trying to go with this.”

You said, “For example, if you attempt to labeled EO as a ‘liberal’ theological bastion, you might consider and compare the problems modern liberal protestants are wrestling with right now … and note that Orthodoxy is by comparison not doing so at all.”

Since in you invited a comparison, I’m taking you up on your invitation.

And that’s not the only point of comparison. What about the very liberal view of Scripture taught at St. Vladimir’s?

“It’s unclear to me where you are trying to go with this. Do you want me to start asking why you aren’t in communion with the church that has a patriarchy in Antioch on a street called Straight for 1800+ years?”

You’re more than welcome to ask me that question if you’d like–although you might also want to preface your question by explaining why I should care.

“And no I haven’t read the commentaries you referenced, but judging from your remarks, if you have indeed read them yourselves … you’ve demonstrated quite well that reading does not infer comprehension, seeing that you consider John a book written in Greek in the first or second century to share the same literary patterns as Genesis, a book derived from an oral tradition and written down by authors in the kingdoms period.”

Thanks for once again corroborating my point that Eastern Orthodoxy has become a haven for theological liberals–and thereby confirming the fact that the situation Eastern Orthodox is, indeed, quite comparable to “the problems modern liberal protestants.”

I appreciate your frank admission. That’s just one more reason take Eastern Orthodoxy off the table.

“Can you cite an example of how your literal interpretation the Noah story draws from honor/shame anthropological norms?”

Can you demonstrate how honor/shame conventions are germane to the historicity (or not) of Gen 6-9?

April 7th, 2010 | 9:47 pm | #33
Gary Simmons

“Mark, you made a positively wonderful post, and the comments so far have been nothing but drivel.”

What is drivel is your resort to tendentious assertions.

“There is very serious emphasis placed in the Bible on the historicity of the Incarnation and the death, burial, and resurrection. This is meant to be taken as historical. The cues given in the flood narrative, or the book of Job or Jonah? Not so much.”

What about the Exodus?

“People have no sensitivity to genre…”

I notice that you don’t present an actual argument for that assertion.

“…and they put God in a box, saying “if God ever speaks hyperbolically the way we humans do, then his word is untrue! They must have had only evil thoughts continually. That must be taken at face value, but God is not true if he actually exaggerates in stories the same way ALL HUMANS do.”

To the contrary, Mark is the one who seems unable to make allowance for the hyperbolic phraseology.

“God could endorse a symbolic narrative about a flood, folks.”

God could also send a real flood, Gary.

“He doesn’t have to fit into your literalistic box.”

No, he has to fit into Gary’s mythological box. How convenient!

steve hays
April 8th, 2010 | 7:54 am | #39
“Genesis 2 describes a verdant paradise-like garden in which Adam and Eve lived and worked. There has been a tendency to regard the Eden episode as legend or myth, that is, not as a historical account, and to view Eden as a symbolic place rather than a real location. Archaeology cannot settle this question, but Genesis 2:10-14 surely offers a specific location for the garden by naming the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The English name Tigris is actually the Greek vocalization of the ancient Sumerian name id-dikaltu, which means River Diklatu. The Hebrew preserves the Sumerian as Hiddekel. Euphrates echoes the Akkadian name of the river—purattu. These are real rivers whose names were known in ancient cuneiform texts, and whose names survive to this day. Little is known of the other two rives, the Pishon and the Gihon (Genesis 2:10-13). The former is said to flow through the land of Havilah, a Hebrew term for northern Arabia. The idea that a river once flowed across the deserts of Arabia, and somehow connected with the Tigris and/or Euphrates River, seems far-fetched. But this all changed when evidence for such a river came from satellite radar images taken during the 1994 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Boston University geologist Farouk el-Baz, who studied the images, noticed that traces of a defunct river that crossed northern Arabia from west to east were visible beneath the sands, thanks to the ground-penetrating capabilities of the radar technologies. He called it the ‘Kuwait River,” for that is where it apparently connected with the Euphrates or emptied into the Persian Gulf. Some scholars have proposed that this is the Pishon River of Genesis 2. Environmental studies in the region suggest that this river probably dried up sometime between 3500 and 2000 BC when an arid period was experienced. This new evidence suggests that the Bible has preserved a very ancient memory that predates the era of Moses. By the mid-second millennium BC, this river had already turned to desert 1,000 years or more earlier,” J. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion Book 2008), 34-35.

“Both [Tigris & Euphrates] take their rise in the mountains of present-day Turkey (eastern Anatolia)…Today they join up in south Iraq to form the Shatt el-Arab to enter the gulf, but this was not always so in antiquity…Best contenders for the name of Gihon would either be the Kerkheh River or (better, perhaps) the Diz plus Karun Rivers,” K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 429.

“The Pishon has long proved a tougher nut to crack, until recently…Torrid north Arabia hardly seemed the setting for a river to rival the other three mentioned. But in very far antiquity, just such a river once existed, and its long-dried course has recently been traced from its rise in the west Arabian goldlands (in Havilah) east and east-northeast toward the head of the gulf, via modern Kuwait. This may well have been the ancient Pishon. If so, the ancient author’s enumeration runs counterclockwise, from southwest (Pishon) across east to the Gihon, then north and northwest to the Tigris and Euphrates, in a continuous sweep,” ibid. 429.

steve hays
April 8th, 2010 | 9:14 am | #42
I don’t think it’s coincidental that Olson is a physicist by training. He views the creation account and the flood account as unhistorical because he views them as unscientific. That’s the real reason.

Then, to feel justified in his position, he launches a preemptive strike on Bible-believing Christians in an effort to put them on the defensive.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

UNCG Outreach 4-6-2010

This past Tuesday, we engaged in one-on-one evangelism and open air preaching at UNCG. It was a sunny, beautiful day, and because of the great weather, college students were milling about everywhere.

Another Evangelical Church Attender That Couldn't Explain the Gospel

As we walked to the Walker Avenue circle, we met a young man who went to an Assemblies of God Church in Greensboro but couldn't really tell me how to be reconciled to God. I explained the gospel to him and encouraged him to read 1st John and examine himself to see whether he is truly in the faith. He seemed somewhat disinterested at the beginning of the conversation per his body language, but when I began to speak of the true gospel and contrasted that with the false gospel prevalent in many seeker churches, that gained his attention. Why are so many young evangelical church attenders clueless about the gospel? Many of the young evangelical church attenders that I have spoken with are clueless about the gospel because they are the product of the churches that they come from. If your "church's" ministry philosophy is a seeker-sensitive, Saddleback, shopping mall model, then most people attending those buildings will not have a clue what the gospel is because preaching and teaching the gospel in an expository fashion doesn't mix well with keeping the funds up so as to pay for such a infrastructure. Thus, the gospel is ditched and is replaced by Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Open Air Preaching
People started to gather to listen to the preaching only 5-10 minutes after I started. I had several people yelling things at me from a distance but lacking the courage of their convictions to engage me personally. Three hecklers gathered after 30 minutes of preaching with the first arguing for existentialism, the second arguing that talking about "God" is non-meaningful, and the third asking various questions.
1. Existentialistic relativism
The first heckler was a young lady that wanted to argue for existentialism because I was preaching that if there is no God then there is no inherent meaning in anything and that reality amounts to nihilism. She objected by noting that Sartre was an existentialist and that he said we could create any meaning we wanted to and then impute that meaning to our reality. I responded with something like, "But what happens when the meaning I create and impute to my reality contradicts your created and imputed meaning?" I then explained to her the self-refuting nature of existentialism and used that to preach the gospel of the God who gives the proper interpretation to all of reality and that if you want to know what truth is, know the mind of God as it is revealed to us in the Bible.
2. Meaningless god-talk
The next heckler was a young man that I have interacted with before. Today, he asked me a few questions about the meaning of the word "God" and I gave him the classic catechism definition: "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth". He then asked, "What is spirit?" and I said, "spirit". He said, "you're arguing in a circle and so your talk about god is meaningless" and I then said, "Your reasoning is circular too my friend! Explain to me what matter is if I ask you, 'What is matter?'" He got the point; for his only recourse would have been to answer "Matter" or "Matter is the basic material substance that the universe is made of". I explained to him that in a similar manner "Spirit is the basic substance that God consists of". He seemed to get frustrated at this point and then asked another question about theological determinism and how I could know anything about God. I quickly answered that God predestines everything and then I pointed to the ground under his feet and pulled my Bible out of my pocket and explained to him that God has not only revealed Himself to us through the creation but also through Scripture. He asked, "Well, then why has God hidden Himself?" to which I responded, "He hasn't to all men, but reveals who He is specifically to some men." I then tried to read Jesus' prayer to the Father in Matthew 11:25-27 where Christ says, "I thank you Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent . . .", but when I pulled my Bible out and started reading from it; it was like I pulled out a literal sword and he and his friends left immediately. I then said, "Hey man, you just asked me a question and now you're walking away because I pulled out my Bible? Are you scared of a book?"
3. A Good Questioner and Listener
The third heckler's name was Adam. He asked some great questions about the reliability of the Bible, the nature of God, and salvation and he listened receptively. When I began to explain the gospel to him, he quickly noted that he understood that based upon what I had explained to him from John 6:37-44, there was no way to be reconciled to God unless God came down and opened up his eyes to the truth of the gospel. About four of us said, "Amen, you've got it!" I then told him the best thing he could do would be to put his face in the carpet and beg God for mercy and that if he was genuinely humble, contrite, and repentant, then God will never turn him away. I encourage all to spend time with people that listen receptively like Adam did, for God may use these interactions to bring them to Christ.
After I finished preaching, we had about 20 kids standing around and asking great questions. Many of them were Christians who simply wanted to express their thanks for our efforts. I pointed them to Christ for these things, knowing that we could take no credit whatsoever. My prayer is that God would open Adam's eyes to behold Jesus Christ and that He will continue to give us the ability to do what we are doing each week at UNCG.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Is It Even Possible?

With all the talk of robots and puppets, I wanted to take a moment to ask a basic question. Is it even possible for God to actually create a being that can make a non-determined choice, or does the brute fact of creation render that impossible?

Let’s consider an example of some choices I made today on my way home from work. I decided today that I would shave my head. The reasons I made this decision are plentiful, but just a few of them include the fact that I don’t like combing my hair when it gets too long, I am a warm-blooded person so having less hair keeps me cooler, and I like the way I look with a shaved head. Unfortunately for me, in order to shave my head, I needed to buy some new clippers. Why? Because my old clippers are worn out and now tend to try to rip clumps of hair off my scalp rather than cut hair. But why buy clippers in the first place? Because shaving one’s head requires no skill (thus I can do it) and it is about the same price to buy your own clippers, which have multiple uses, as it is to pay for a hair stylist to shave your head for you once. Therefore, it’s practical to buy my own clippers and shave my own head.

But this meant that I needed to stop somewhere to pick up these clippers. Thankfully, there is a Target store near my house, and its convenience made me decide to stop there on the way home. But today was payday and I was also a bit hungry after work, and next to the Target is an Arbys. So right now, between moments of typing, I am enjoying some Arbys dinner.

Now this is just one small set of choices I’ve made. Let’s examine them further. What did I decide to eat at Arbys? I picked a couple of sandwiches off their value menu. Today was payday and I had money that I could have splurged with, but I also know my rent check is going to hit soon and I already spend plenty of money on such things as my morning coffee and lunches, etc. But there were several options on the value menu which fit my budget.

I chose the junior roast beef. Why? Because I wanted beef. I could have picked chicken—in the past, I have picked their chicken. But today I wanted beef. Why?

Well, that was the mood I was in. But why should that be the case? I know in the past I’ve enjoyed both roast beef and chicken, and I could remember roughly my level of enjoyment with either option, and right now I preferred the roast beef. But why did I like roast beef in the first place?

A large portion of that has to do with body chemistry. People are omnivores and we get our nutrients from eating various types of food. This is why no one sells a gravel sandwich.

Additionally, various types of animals can also be quite tasty. This depends a great deal on individual tastes. But how does one develop one’s tastes? Given the abundance of ethnic food, it seems that people like to eat what they grew up eating. Different cultures prepare different foods, and people tend to like their own culture’s foods more than other cultures (this is by no means a 100% across the board thing though). So part of why I like roast beef is because I grew up in America and we consume a lot of beef here.

But in addition to cultural issues there are also such things as the way your specific parents prepared food. This can be either good or bad. As a kid, every Wednesday we would get spaghetti. And while my dad (who cooked it) is an excellent chef, having that every Wednesday eventually made it so that I don’t really care to eat much spaghetti. The same thing happened with Ramen soup when I was in college: it was really good until I had it every day for a semester.

But beyond even that, tastes are also determined by such things as what your mother ate while she was pregnant with you. That’s because, as you develop in the womb, you are adapting to your environment. And all your nutrients are coming, at that point, from what your mother eats. This helps to shape what your body will “crave” and what it won’t.

There’s a reason I’ve gone on this long explanation (and indeed, I could carry it even further—but the point, I believe, is already made). Our decisions are based on a long and complicated chain of seemingly unrelated events. Why should what my mother ate in the womb have any impact of the fact that I now decided to eat a roast beef sandwich? And yet it did have some influence.

Furthermore, very little of these events are under my control. I didn’t choose what my mother ate, I didn’t choose what my parents cooked as I grew up, I didn’t choose the country I was born in, I didn’t choose what agriculture would be happening here, etc. For that matter, I didn’t choose for my hair to grow requiring me to constantly have to shave my head!

Yet I doubt anyone would disagree that the choice was mine, despite all these things that combined to determine what that choice would be. So with all that complexity in mind, let us reexamine my opening question: Is it even possible for God to actually create a being that can make a non-determined choice, or does the brute fact of creation render that impossible?

Let’s think about this for a moment. If you tried to create a being that could make a non-determined choice, what would that entail? Well, if a choice is to pick between two or more available options, then you must first have a being that is capable of picking between two or more available options. So let us make a machine that can pick either an apple or an orange. How would we write the programming so that it could do so?

Well, we could hardwire it so that it prefers apples, or we can hardwire it so that it prefers oranges, or we can make it so it randomly picks between the two.

The problem is that none of those options allow us to have a non-determined choice. If we hardwire the machine, it’s obviously determined. If we have it pick randomly, then it cannot be considered a choice as the selection is done apart from the one who was supposed to do the selecting. The only way that we can avoid this is if we can somehow manage to make the machine hardwire itself to a specific preference.

But this only kicks us back one level into the same problem. It would once again require us to either hardwire the machine to pick a specific hardwiring scheme, or leave it up to chance. And thus the problem remains.

This is impossible to avoid. And it does no good to argue “God just can overcome this limitation.” This limitation is a logical limitation, and just as God cannot make a round square, so God cannot give us the ability to make a non-determined choice. Either the choice is determined or it is not a choice because it is random and arbitrary.

And this is at the very root of decision making. This is the primary choice, the one that kicks off everything else. And it must be determined or else arbitrary.

So let's think once again about my dinner. Why did I pick roast beef? Ultimately, we can trace back all the competing desires and past experiences and strip them down to say that I decided what to eat based on my evaluation of those options. But what made me evaluate those specific options in the way I did? Either it was because my "evaluation making" equipment (my reasoning ability) was determined in some manner such that the result occurred the way it did, or else it was a completely arbitrary choice, which means it wasn't a choice at all.

There is no escaping this. And therefore, since Arminians believe choices are real, they have to deal with robots and puppets just as much as they say Calvinists do. Determinism is a fact of creation.

Puppets, pots, and robots

arminianperspectives said...

“As far as Rom. 9:19, 20, I am interested in your interpretation. You faulted Brennon for robotic metaphor. Why exactly? Why is robotic metaphor not reprehensive of your view? You appeal to Rom. 9 as a reference to absolute determinism. Therefore, you have God forming the clay just as He wants down to every thought, motive, and decision the ‘clay’ makes. “

If Paul makes favorable use of a “deterministic metaphor” (i.e. the potter/clay metaphor), while an Arminian uses a deterministic metaphor (i.e. puppet/robot) as a pejorative metaphor, then the Arminian objection is impious. A robotic metaphor is just a hitech variation of the potter/clay metaphor. Likewise, a puppet/puppeteer metaphor is just a variation on the same theme.

If Scripture uses “deterministic metaphors” with positive connotations, while Arminians use deterministic metaphors with negative connotations, then that is sacrilegious.

“You then have God (through Paul) rebuking the clay for ‘answering back’ to the Potter when the Potter specifically formed the clay to answer back to God in such a way that the clay could no more avoid answering back than a robot can go against its programming. Why then the bristling against robotic metaphor?”

My disapproval is only inconsistent on the Arminian assumption that libertarian freedom is a necessary precondition of blame.

“Also, you compare our lives to scripted characters in a book. Can a scripted character do anything other that the Author who writes the script causes them to do? If not, then how is that any different than robots or puppets that can likewise do nothing other than what the puppet Master or Programmer irresistibly controls them to do?”

i) Metaphors are open-textured. They have a range of connotations. If an Arminian is going to use a robotic metaphor, he needs to demarcate the range of the intended comparison.

For example, one of the stock themes in science fiction is the point at which robots enjoy human rights. A mere machine does not enjoy human rights. If, however, the robot has an AI program, then does the cross a moral threshold? If the robot is a conscious machine, with adaptive programming, then the contrast between men and robots breaks down–at which point it becomes question-begging to keep using “robot” as a pejorative metaphor. Same thing with puppets.

ii) I’d also add that Arminians have a habit of using metaphors as a substitute for arguments. To assert that a predestined agent is equivalent to a puppet or robot, then brandish that metaphor as if it disproved predestination, is not a reasoned argument. Rather, it’s an intellectual shortcut on the part of Arminians who can’t turn their metaphors into arguments. Metaphors should illustrate arguments, not deputize for arguments.

Arminians simply trade on the invidious connotations of their chosen metaphor. But that’s hardly an intelligent objection to Calvinism.

“I'm not looking for a debate, I really haven't got the time. I'm just curious why Calvinists get hyped up about Arminians using puppet or robot ‘metaphors’ and yet Calvinists use metaphors (e.g. an Author scripting a character, a Potter forming clay) which boil down to the exact same thing? Why do Calvinists get hyped up about Arminians supposedly ‘answering back to God’ when we are doing just what the Potter formed us to do according to His good pleasure?”

i) The potter/clay metaphor is authorized by Scripture. Scripture also uses literary metaphors to describe God’s creative role. So that doesn’t require a separate justification.

At the same time, Biblical metaphors involved a controlled correspondence between one thing and another. The scope of a Biblical metaphor isn’t wide open. And it would be inappropriate to press a Biblical metaphor in unintended directions.

Moreover, if Scripture makes approving use of a metaphor, then it’s impious for an Arminian to make disapproving use of a comparable metaphor.

ii) In addition, something can be wrong in and of itself, but contribute to a larger good.

“Shouldn’t you rather feel sorry for us that God has caused us to do such things and formed us in such a way? But of course, you can just say that your indignation is likewise ‘scripted’, etc. Do you feel tremendously lucky, in contrast, that the Potter formed you to defend the truth rather than ‘answer back’ to God?”

“Luck” is hardly equivalent to predestination. Luck is random. Impersonal.

If I get lucky with a pair of dice, that’s not because the dice intended to do me any favors.

Perry Robinson can't get "nature" and "person" straight

Perry Robinson followed up some of our conversation from this Beggars All post (here's his most recent comment, if I recall correctly) on his blog here.  The latter is fast becoming a very long and fairly involved conversation, with me against ~5 commenters, a couple of whom (Perry included) can be quite verbose.  But I wanted to bring out a string of Perry's interaction with me in which he consistently confuses the nature of Christ with the person of Christ, and several times obstinately refuses correction.
Source - Perry: As for the dead not hearing with their physical ears, I suppose Jesus couldn’t hear our prayers either since he has physical ears too.
Me:  ?? I was under the (obviously mistaken) assumption that Jesus ALSO has a divine nature and powers. Silly me.

Source - Perry:  So when Thomas falls down before Jesus and renders worship is worship of his body or is it passed on to his divine person?
Me:  Passed on…to His divine person? You who were ripping me for confusing the Gk words for nature vs person a month ago…might want to rethink this sentence.

Source - Perry:  Jesus is also deity, but it is also said of him that he “hears” prayers. Since your argument was that disembodied saints could not “hear” prayer, seemingly even by divine aid since they lacked lack physical ears, then it follows that either that Jesus hears them with physical ears or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t then the mere lack of physical ears has nothing to do with “hearing” prayers. And besides, natures don’t do anything, persons do so the “hearing” is said of the person and not the divine nature. When I remarked that the worship and honor that Thomas offers to Jesus is passed on to his divine person, in no way did I confuse person and nature. Jesus is a divine person and not a human person and this was the same point I made to you previously. What I corrected you on if you recall was that you confused person and nature by saying that the hypostatic union amounted to two hypostases coming together, which betrayed a complete lack of understanding or familiarity with the term and the doctrine.

Source - Perry: And besides, natures don’t do anything, persons do so 
Me:  Said the guy who earlier asked: “So when Thomas falls down before Jesus and renders worship is worship of his body or is it passed on to his divine person?
That’s rich.
Perry:  where is Thomas directing his worship but to the humanity of Jesus?
Me: That’s just the point – He isn’t directing his worship to a NATURE at all. How are you missing this?
Perry: Is this worship passed on to his divine person or not?
Me:  ???? As opposed to “His human ‘person’”? You’re not making any sense.
Perry: The fact that you don’t seem to know what an implication is, aren’t familiar with basic theological concepts like the soul or in our last exchange didn’t know what the term “hypostatic union” picked out I think shows that the confusion is on your part.
Me: Said the guy who just asked: “ Is this worship passed on to his divine person or not?” Yes, *I’m* the one who doesn’t understand the Hypostatic Union.
Perry:  Your position a la WCF 8.2 confuses person and nature by saying that since Jesus has a human nature, he is also a human person.
Me: Sorry, you can’t quote me making that confusion. Jesus is ONE PERSON. YOU’RE the one making Him into “a divine person”, as opposed to some other kind of ‘person’, “human” presumably. Go back, read it again, make sense this time.

Source - Perry:  I noted that natures perform no acts, but only persons do. To which you responded with noting that I posed the question about Thomas’ worship at the feet of Jesus and whether this worship was passed on through his humanity to the divine person or not and that this was “rich” implying some kind of inconsistency. First, your remark doesn’t answer my question. Please address it. Is Thomas’ worship passed on through the humanity of Christ or not? Second, that question doesn’t propose that natures are the locus of actions, so I am not being inconsistent. If you think so, you need to make an argument. Again, I’ll wait for the actual argument.
I agree that Thomas isn’t directly it ultimately to a nature, but he is directing it to the divine person through the nature before which is kneeling.

...The problem is that you see the preceding term, “divine” to refer exclusively to nature, but it doesn’t. There are divine persons, angelic persons and human persons and there is divine nature, angelic nature and human nature. To say that Jesus is a divine person picks out the kind of person or hypostasis as distinguished from the other two. It does not imply that the person is a nature.

Source - Perry:  I brought the point up to clear up your obvious lack of familiarity with the concepts and to correct your muddled thinking.
Me:  And yet YOU confused “nature” and “person”, TWICE. Is it so hard to humble yourself and say “oops, I’ve been falsely accusing you of the same crime of which I’m guilty”?

Perry:  whether the person is accessible and not whether the materials contain them or not.
Me:  Yes, the person is of course accessible. Now the question is HOW. And of course a person who IS THERE is accessible differently from a person who IS NOT THERE.

Perry:  Is Thomas’ worship passed on through the humanity of Christ or not?
Me:  The question makes no sense. One does not worship a NATURE. One worships a PERSON.
Perry:  Thomas and Scripture approvingly invoke implicitly the principle that the honor or worship rendered before one thing is passed on to the person. How are you missing this?
Me:  There was no THING present with Thomas. CHRIST was RIGHT THERE.
Perry:  Is Jesus always and only a divine person or not?
Me:  No, that statement is false. At the time of His incarnation, though He had from eternity past always been only a divine person, He took on human flesh and nature and is from that time forward forever the God-man.
Surprising, given all your much-ballyhooed qualifications and the way you rip me for one mistake one time, that you continue in these mistakes here.
Perry:  If Jesus is just one person, but not a divine person, then who is the Logos if not the one person of Jesus?
Me:  Hopefully, the explanation I just gave clarifies my reasoning. I stand behind it still, but you need to understand it in light of your equivocation of the words “divine person”.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Answering back to Arminians


“Well, you put forward that Arminians deny that God can be trusted to plan their lives, that Bennon evidences a lack of faith in God's wisdom, and that Brennon doesn't trust God to plan his life. You've made one very crucial mistake though - What you mean is that Arminians deny that God-As-Calvinism-Paints-Him, or the Calvinist God for short, can be trusted to plan their lives.”

i) Wrong. I’m not arguing on Reformed assumptions. Rather, I’m arguing on Arminian assumptions. It’s Arminians who constantly object to the notion that everything we think and say and do was scripted by God.

So I simply take them at their word. If you don’t trust God to plan your life, then you don’t trust God with your life.

ii) However, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that I was judging them by my own theological standards. So what? I also judge John Spong by own theological standards. Do you think I should judge John Spong by his theological standards?

For that matter, when Arminians like Wesley, Olson, and Brennon compare the God of Calvinism to Satan (or worse), they are judging Calvinism by their own theological standards.

Everyone takes his own position as the point of reference. Big deal.

“If the Calvinist God is, in fact, a misrepresentation of God, and merely a man-made concept, then it is wise of them not to trust a man-made concept…To say that that they don't trust the real God because they don't trust the version of God that you think exists is a blade that cuts both ways. They could as easily claim that you don't trust the real God because you don't the version of God that they think exists.”

I don’t have a problem with tu quoque arguments. If the blade truly cuts both ways, fine.

“They do trust God-As-They-See-Him-To-Be.”

So does the Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, Baal-worshiper, Jehovah’s Witness, &c.

“But despite these difference, you both worship Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, the one and only Truine God, in Spirit and Truth as much as you know how.”

Actually, the Arminians I typically deal with play a double game: They say: “You Calvinists worship the Devil! In fact, your God is even worse than the Devil! But, hey, we’re still brothers and sisters in Christ!”

“Arminians are elect too, you know, and are brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“Elect” in what sense? In the Arminian sense, viz. conditional election (e.g. foreseen faith and/or corporate election), or the Reformed sense, viz. unconditional election? Your usage is equivocal.

Are you asking me to judge Arminians by Calvinist standards? By Calvinists standards, some Arminians are elect while other Arminians are reprobate–just as some Calvinists are elect while other Calvinists are reprobate.

If, however, you’re asking me to judge Arminians by Calvinist standards, then you’ve just contradicted yourself since you now asking me to judge the Arminian “as-Calvinism-paints-him.”


“Exactly. It is a massive case of question begging on Steve's part from the very start.”

To the contrary, I’m describing the Arminian according to his own theology.

“Truly, if the Arminians are right and God did in fact make a provision of atonement for all and enables all who hear the gospel to respond in faith, then it is the Calvinist that ‘talks back to God’ in denying this Biblical truth. Furthermore, if God has sovereignly decided to grant man a measure of free will and hold him accountable for how He uses that will, then the Calvinists is ‘talking back to God’ in denying God that right, or in re-defining His ‘sovereignty’ so as to exclude that possibility.”

What a splendid example of Scripture twisting. Ben is ripping a Bible verse out of context, then reassigning that verse to perform the polar opposite of what Paul actually said. Here is what Paul said:

“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom 9:18-21).

Paul characterizes “answering back to God” as somebody who says, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’

But Ben redefines “answering back to God” as somebody who says, “Who are you to question God if he allows us to resist his will?”

It would be hard to come up with a more brazen example of negating Scripture.

“If we think that someone has a wrong conception of God, then we should try to correct that through Scriptural examination, but we need to be very careful in our rhetoric since God will certainly hold us accountable for every careless word we speak.”

In that event I’d suggest that Ben redirect his admonition at some of his Arminian cobelligerents.