Friday, December 16, 2011

His eye is on the sparrow

I'm going to post some comments I left over at Justin Taylor's blog:


“Not at all. I made a general statement. And it is quite true. Just about everybody knows there is a huge difference between allowing vs. unconditionally decreeing and ensuring that something happen.”

You keep substituting assertions for arguments. That’s a backdoor admission that you can’t make a reasoned case for your position. You recite your formulaic assertions ad nauseam as if that proves anything.

“Being able to find some exceptional circumstances in which there is not a big difference does not gainsay the point, nor does it apply to the instance at hand.”

Once again, I present an argument and you respond with an assertion.

“While your premise is debatable, it doesn’t matter because your conclusion begs the question, assuming determinism. Free will entails that circumstances do not do the rest. That’s just one aspect of your analogy that fails.”

Explain how my conclusion “assumes determinism”? How does allowing a baby to die by not feeding him “assume determinism”? Are you admitting that permission is indistinguishable from determinism?

Likewise, I also considered a situation in which leaving a baby in the woods carries a 50/50 chance of survival. How does that “assume determinism?”

Are you actually making a good faith effort to engage the argument. Or do you just read off your Arminian cue cards?

“God upholding the created order and not taking someone’s life before they do something wicked, for example, is precisely part of allowing people to act freely, and hence to sin when they do. That’s completely different than causing them to sin. It’s completely different from Calvinism, in which he logically first had the idea for each evil act that ever takes place, including the Holocaust, conceived it in his own heart, and logically then decreed for it to take place without any influence from anything outside of himself.”

You confuse metaphysical distinctions with moral distinctions. How is your metaphysical distinction morally germane? According to Arminian theism, the Nazi couldn’t murder the Jew unless God assisted the Nazi. Empowered the Nazi. So how does your distinction exonerate the Arminian God from complicity in the evil deed? Isn’t your God a collaborator and coconspirator in the outcome?

 “But the point is that your a fortiori arguments here do not work because the analogy itself is invalid and does not match the target enough.”

That’s another one of your empty assertions, bereft of any supporting argument. Claiming that something is invalid fails to demonstrate its invalidity. Claiming that it doesn’t “match the target enough” is not a counterargument. Rather, that’s just a question-begging denial. You’re incapable of actually reasoning for your position.

“But your final statement is interesting, that the more control, the more responsibility someone has. That might suggest that if Calvinism is true, then God carries all the responsibility for sin and evil, whereas man would carry none, since in Calvinism God irresistibly controls all and man has no control.“

i) It would behoove you to master the elementary distinction between culpability and responsibility. That isn’t hard. Try it some time.

ii) Actually, I’m building on the Arminian presupposition that responsibility is proportional to ability. Since the Arminian God is far more capable than human beings, that makes him far more responsible for what happens on his watch.

steve hays December 16, 2011 at 9:01 am
Arminian December 15, 2011 at 11:57 am

“Of course, that passage is often understood much differently, as indicating God’s creation of the world, not the actions that people do. Indeed, that is far more likely on the face of it (that;s how the phrase of God creating all things is normally understood) and in the context of Revelation, where the only other use of the word is in 10:6, which refers to God as the one ‘who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it’ (ESV), while 14:7 refers to God as ‘him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the dsprings of water.” (ESV).”

i) “Arminian” hasn’t shown that it’s “often understood much differently.”

ii) There’s nothing unusual about my interpretation. In addition to Smalley, Mounce presents the same interpretation. Cf. The Book of Revelation (2nd ed.), 127.

iii) The passage refers to more than creation. For it also refers to God’s will.

iv) Likewise, the passage refers to more than creation due to the difference in verbal aspect between the two statements “they existed and were created”

In principle, there are two ways to distinguish them:

a) Between precreation (i.e. God’s plan) and creation

b) Between creation and postcreation (i.e. God’s providence)

If we opt for (a), that’s predestinarian, but if we opt for (b), then that extends to subsequent events. Either one is problematic for “Arminian’s” position.

“As another commentator states, “the Trisagion of the living creatures has attributed to God a holiness which cannot ultimately tolerate the presence of evil. Evil things derive their existence from God, but not their evil quality; for evil is the corruption of that which God made good (Caird, The Revelation of Saint John, 68). So your comments provide a striking contrast between the Calvinist view and the biblical and Arminian view.”

i) Actually, G. B. Caird oscillates between hopeful universalism and annihilationism. So, at most, that presents a striking contrast between Calvinism and universalism or annihilationism. Is that “Arminian’s” position?

ii) In addition, Calvinism also takes the position that evil is a corruption of the good. So “Arminian” fails to make good on his postulated contrast.

“So your comments provide a striking contrast between the Calvinist view and the biblical and Arminian view. And I hope other Calvinists take note of what you are actually saying, which would seem to be where Calvinism leads.”

i) If you were actually paying attention, you’d notice that I didn’t say it. Rather, I quoted a commentator. Is Smalley a Calvinist?

ii) So that’s not where “Calvinism” leads. That’s where Rev 4:11 leads. That’s exegetical theology.

“You basically argue here that God is the creator of evil, when Scripture says that ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5; ESV) and ‘For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world’ (1 John 2:16; ESV).”

You fail to draw an elementary distinction between intrinsic evil and instrumental evil. That’s a Johannine distinction as well (e.g. Jn 9:1-3; 11:4).

steve hays December 16, 2011 at 8:21 am

“I’ve been reading this interchange where Calvinists seem to be proclaiming that every action of Tebow is predestined by God. Apparently, predestining professional football fits into the grand scheme of God’s plan to gain glory for Himself.”

i) I see. In Wayman’s Arminian theology, God can’t be bothered by the mundane things or little things in life. Only big important things.

By contrast, Calvinists believe God’s providence extends to falling sparrows (Mt 10:29). Even worse–Calvinists even believe God numbers the hairs on our head. How ludicrous can you get!

ii) BTW, God doesn’t “gain” glory for himself by what he predestines.

“I would suggest that you haven’t taken that far enough because Hays does. On his blog, Hays makes this simple but nonbiblical statement, “In biblical Calvinism, God predestines every event. That includes mental events.” So Hayes states that God not only predestines all events but He also predestines MENTAL events. This is interesting as he has to be consistent with his version of Calvinism to make such a bold, unsubstantiated, and impossible to prove with or without the Bible statement.”

Has Wayman even read the Bible? Let’s take some examples–beginning with events:

“I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23).
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov 16:9).

Not only is God our creator, but he directs our every step. We do whatever we do because God was directing our steps.

This also extends to mental events. For instance:

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1).

i) This is an a maiore ad minus argument, using the king as a synecdoche for men generally. The king is the most powerful man in Israel. He directs others below him. So if even the king is under God’s thumb, so is everyone else. The greater includes the lesser.

ii) God controls the king’s “heart.” That’s a stock metaphor for our intellectual and emotional life. Our thoughts, feelings, and deliberations.

iii) This is compared to another metaphor: a canal. Water goes wherever water is channeled. Water has no inner direction. External facts like topography and gravity dictate the course it takes.

I’ll have more to say, but let’s enough for the moment.

“I spent several years as an Involutary Commitment Officer. I encountered people who thought they were Jesus, David Copperfield, cut off parts of their body, etc. To say that God predestined these mental events is simply ludicrous.”

“Simply ludicrous” is not an argument.

“I have also encountered people who believe that God spoke to them when their body moved a certain way, when a plant fluttered on top of a microwave or the broadcaster on the TV had a special message for them. To believe the God predestined such thoughts is, by any stretch of the imagination, blasphemous to God’s impeccable character.”

Once again, that’s not an argument.

“Calvinism makes it so that a filter is not necessary on our thoughts. “God predestines every mental event.” Hence, if I get a thought that God told me to kill my daughter, it undoubtedly comes from God. It has nothing to do with my mental health. There is no need to ask for help because then I would be questioning the mental events that God predestined. In essence, I would be questioning God. And who am I, oh man, to question God?”

i) To begin with, Wayman acts is if it’s “ludicrous,” “blasphemous,” or “unimaginable” that God causes or decrees sinful attitudes or dispositions. Yet Scripture attributes sinful attitudes or dispositions to divine agency. For instance:

“But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the LORD your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done” (Deut 2:30).
“19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Josh 11:19-20).
“24 The LORD made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes, 25 whose hearts he turned to hate his people, to conspire against his servants” (Ps 105:24-25).
“For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled” (Rev 17:17).

a) Notice that God is controlling hearts and minds.

b) Moreover, this is in relation to sinful thoughts and attitudes.

ii) In addition, God can direct human behavior at a subliminal level. For instance:

“A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Prov 20:24).
“6Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think” (Isa 10:6-7).

a) The first passage uses the metaphor of life as a journey. Because God is ultimately directing our steps, we don’t know, from one day to the next, where our steps will take us. We may make plans, but we end up going wherever God plans.

b) In the second passage, there’s a contrast between what the human agent consciously intends to achieve, and the underlying fact that he’s subconsciously achieving what God’s intends, despite what he (the human agent) consciously intends.

So Wayman’s counterexamples, involving mentally ill patients, operates at the wrong level.

“These mental events that Hayes alludes to in regard to Olsen were predestined by God. Hence, why does Hayes get so upset and comes to God’s defense when Olsen says (or maybe even thinks) things with which Hays disagrees?”

How does Wayman know I’m “so upset”? Is Wayman in the habit of diagnosing people he’s never met? That’s pretty unprofessional, if you ask me.

“Does that mean that Hayes should take up his case with God rather than Olsen, Arminian, or even you, Robert? After all, even Hayes thoughts (mental events) are not unique or even clever because they are predestined by God.”

Needless to say, that’s a false dilemma, for my response to Robert and Olson is also predestined. Therefore, my response is entirely consistent with predestination.

“So, what we have is God arguing with Himself and simply using Hayes as a foil.”

What we have is God using Arminians to illustrate human folly.

steve hays December 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm
Imagine if we applied Wayman’s dismissive reasoning to the following Biblical attributions:

“And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet” (Ezk 14:9).

Wayman: I spent several years as an Involutary Commitment Officer. I encountered cultists who thought God spoke to them. To say that God deceived them is simply ludicrous.

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thes 2:11).

Wayman: I have also encountered psychics who believe that God spoke to them when their body moved a certain way, when a plant fluttered on top of a microwave or the broadcaster on the TV had a special message for them. To believe the God deluded them is, by any stretch of the imagination, blasphemous to God’s impeccable character.

“19And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you” (1 Kgs 22:19-23).”

Wayman: Scripture makes it so that a filter is not necessary on our thoughts. Hence, if my patient believes that God spoke to him, it undoubtedly comes from God. There is no need to ask if God put a lying spirit in the mouth of a mental patient. In essence, I would be questioning God. And who am I, oh man, to question God?


  1. Quite a varied interaction you all had on Justin's blog :). I, too, tend towards an Arminian position on quite a number of fundamental issues. However, I did agree, Steve, with a number of your arguments in this series of exchanges. The two that stand out primarily are these:

    I, too, do not see how an Arminian position "exonerates God from complicity" in evil deeds such as the Holocaust. In fact, I believe that Arminius' proposed doctrine of the 'concurrent will of God' necessitates the conclusion that God is responsible for evil but not culpable for it.

    Additionally, I am also convinced that God can and does "control the human heart," even predestining select individuals without respect to his/her will. I am of the opinion that God's activity in these respects is selective and not universal in the Scriptural texts, but that may be a point to be debated on a pericope by pericope basis.

    I know that these debates can generate some heat because we are so deeply invested in the God we worship and our search for a biblically rooted understanding of who He is. But, I did want to thank you for taking time to remain engaged with the Arminian perspective, even if that engagement primarily entails pointing out errors in thinking, from your perspective.

    I've always said that I'm presently an Arminian because of my study of the biblical text. I'm thankful for Calvinist brothers and sisters such as yourself who keep me digging in the Word and re-evaluating how I'm reading it.