Sunday, September 02, 2012

The monster meme

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 7:42 am


“Oh, I do think that Calvinism ‘makes God a moral monster’, as it logically leads to God being the author of all sin and evil (even though most Calvinists disagree that it does)”

i) Notice that Arminian doesn’t bother to define his terms (“author of sin”).

ii) Why should we judge God by an extrabiblical category? It’s the height of impiety to judge God by an extrabiblical category.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 7:46 am


“But it is a classic criticism of Calvinism that its doctrines logically lead to God being the author of sin. Surely you don’t think it inappropriate that believers who draw that conclusion point it out, even if you disagree with their conclusion? It is not stating that Calvinists believe that God is the author of sin (though some Calvinists do) or that Calvinists worship a God who is the author of sin, but that Calvinist doctrine logically leads to the conclusion that God is the author of sin, disagreeing with Calvinists who deny this. Does that make sense?”

No, it doesn’t make sense to frame the issue in unbiblical terms. It’s highly presumptuous to judge God by a vague, unscriptural phrase like “author of sin.”

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 11:17 am


“But don’t you agree that if a believer thinks Calvinism makes God the author of sin (a moral monster) despite Calvinist denials of this (i.e., there is a disagreement of the logical entailment of Calvinist doctrine), that it is completely appropriate to point that out as long as one does not claim that Calvinism or Calvinists themselves believe God to be the author of sin?”

It is impudent to judge God by a made-up standard like the “author of sin.” I’m struck by how many professing Christians presume to stand in judgement of the their Judge based on their made-up standards.

“Otherwise, would you not be essentially arguing that Arminians should not voice their concerns or disagreements with Calvinism, at least on the question of whether Calvinism logically entails that God is the author of sin/a moral monster? Should that question somehow be out of bounds?”

i) Is Arminian claiming that “moral monster” is synonymous with “author of sin”? If so, how did he come up with that definition? Is that just his ad hoc definition?

ii) Notice that Arminian is skewing the issue. The question at issue isn’t whether one should take a position to its logical conclusion, but whether the framework is the right framework. He who frames the debate wins the debate. Why frame the issue in terms of “authorship of sin”?

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 7:49 am


“Depends on the Calvinist. The God of double-predestination is a moral monster…”

You give no reason for your value judgment.

“…but that view is hardly subscribed to by the majority of Calvinists, as far as I know.”

Actually, double predestination is standard mainstream Calvinism. That distinguishes Calvinism from Lutheranism, which affirms single predestination (election, but not reprobation).

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 10:12 am


“The God of double-predestination is a God who knits together a child in the womb, saying ‘Child, I love you. You are my creation, and I have made you into a unique reflection of my image. But you’re going to hell and there’s nothing that will ever change that. In fact, I don’t even know why you’re being born. I might as well just cut out the middle man and send you right to the eternal torture chamber. Because justice.’”

That’s just a polemical caricature.

“I would be surprised if it were standard mainstream Calvinism, since a) I myself don’t know many Calvinists who adhere to it (and I ran in Calvinist circles for many years), and b) it’s a classical heresy.”

Well, to take one obvious example:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto eternal life, and others foreordained to everlasting death” (WCF 3.3).

“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to brand anyone embracing double-predestination as a heretic, but they are certainly heterodox.”

That’s what you say, but you don’t give us a reason to agree with you. That’s just your unargued opinion.

“I mean, I know Calvin himself was a fan, but he also came up with that whole ‘Regulative Principle of Worship’ thing, so you can’t trust everything he says.”

To cast the issue in terms of “trusting” Calvin is another polemical caricature.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 11:59 am


“If what I’m arguing is a caricature, then give me the non-caricaturized version. Show me how double-predestination can line up with Scripture.”

E.g. Lk 2:34, Jn 9:39; 1 Pet 2:7-9.

Keep in mind that double predestination doesn’t require a direct prooftext. It’s sufficient to combine two revealed truths: on the one hand, whoever is saved is saved by grace alone; on the other hand, not everyone is saved.

“As for its heterodoxy, it was, as I said, ruled as being a heresy by the early church. This was in response to Augustine’s view of it, so you can imagine how the early Christians would have felt about Calvin’s active double-predestination. As far as I’m aware, anything that’s been ruled as a heresy by the early church is the height of heterodoxy (guess where orthodox theology stems from? Hint: It’s not the Reformation).”

Unless you’re Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, that’s a red herring.

“To me, heterodoxy doesn’t necessarily mean that double-predestination is wrong, but it does mean that the onus of proof is upon those who would affirm double-predestination, not those who would deny it, as they are already in line with orthodoxy on this particular issue.”

The only burden of proof lies on Christians to acquit their doctrines before the bar of Scripture.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm


“To be honest, I don’t find those terrible convincing.”

To be honest, I don’t find your subjective response terribly convincing either.

“The fact that some will reject God’s message does not necessarily entail that those who do reject the message were selected by God before the beginnings of Creation to be condemned for all eternity.”

In Lk 2:34 and Jn 9:39, rejecting God’s message (or messenger) is a divinely intended reaction. The message is designed to have that polarizing effect.

It’s not merely that some will reject the message, but that God intended the message to be a means of achieving that end-result. That was its purpose.

In 1 Pet 2:7-9, God destines some people to reject Jesus while, in back-to-back contrast, God chose believers.

And unless you think God is undecided, unless you think God makes up his mind what to do with people after he creates them, then this was decided before the creation of the world.

“Fundamentally, I’m sensing a pervasive denial of free will entirely, suggesting that no one turns from Christ but rather is forced to turn away from Him by the hand of God, which to me sounds more like hyper-calvinism.”

You ask for prooftexts, then avoid them and change the subject.

And your definition of hyper-Calvinism is idiosyncratic.

Having lost the argument on the merits, you try to win the debate through labeling.

“I disagree completely. The fact that we are Protestant does not release us for a second from the tradition of our faith.”

Tradition only binds us insofar as tradition is true.

“I know that many Calvinists agree with me on this because they do not hesitate to call people out on Pelagianism, Gnosticism or Arianism when they come up (or even sometimes when they don’t).”

Because Pelagianism, Gnosticism, and Arianism are actually, demonstrably wrong.

“It leaves me a bit confused, when Calvinists are so eager to promote and endorse the Early Church’s teachings against Pelagianism, but then when the heretical status of double-predestination comes up, well, that’s just some aspect of church tradition we don’t need to pay attention to because we’re not Roman Catholic.”

Once again, that’s a diversion.

“I know an increasing number of younger people who are growing disillusioned with Calvinism because of the historical tunnel vision that it often endorses – the sense one often receives from a Calvinist church is that God’s true revelation of the Body of Christ came in the 16th century CE and everything before that was just a bunch of mistakes and corruption that we can safely ignore.”

There are degrees of truth and error.

“I know we’re getting a bit far afield, but there is both a growing want and
need, I think, within Protestant circles in general and Calvinist circles in
particular, to get in touch with our roots. To read less of Calvin and Luther
and more of Irenaeus and Justin Martyr.”

Our roots lie in God’s biblical revelation. You need to go deeper than the church fathers.

“I agree, but the point that I was trying to make was that 1500 years ago, the doctrine of double-predestination was measured against the light of Scripture and found to be inadequate; a falsehood. So what I was getting at is that should someone desire to promote double-predestination, they need to first demonstrate why the rulings of it as a heresy were in error. In other words, as it is already in poor standing, one must first demonstrate why double-predestination ought to be taken seriously.”

Prior “rulings” don’t create any presumption one way or the other. That just tells you what some bishops believed back then. You can’t use that to shortcut the authority of Scripture. You have to do exegesis.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm


“If what I’m arguing is a caricature, then give me the non-caricaturized version. Show me how double-predestination can line up with Scripture.”

You said: “In fact, I don’t even know why you’re being born. I might as well just cut out the middle man and send you right to the eternal torture chamber. Because justice.”

i) To begin with, describing hell as an “eternal torture chamber” is how atheists typically caricature hell.

ii) In addition, God doesn’t create the reprobate merely to damn them. Among other things, the reprobate are secondary agents in world history. They contribute to God’s historical narrative. They have a role to play, like all of us.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

The WCF is simply a public statement of faith that attempts to summarize some major teachings of Scripture. It’s not an extended defense of the faith. It doesn’t attempt to harmonize various Biblical teachings.

You can disagree with it, but don’t act as though it failed to do something it never intended to accomplish in the first place.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 7:51 am

John Thomson

“God may be truly described as monstrous if his decrees started from a good creation some of which he destined to be bad and damned and others of which he destined to be good and blessed.”

You offer no supporting argument for your assertion. Why should we accept it?

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 10:41 am

i) I didn’t say that most Calvinists were supra. Rather, I said reprobation/double predestination is standard, mainstream Calvinism. Both infras and supras hold to reprobation.

ii) Reprobation isn’t unconditional. Rather, sin is a necessary, but insufficient condition, of reprobation (unlike election, which is unconditional).

iii) God hasn’t given us the ability to judge that God is evil. That’s self-refuting.

iv) Alluding to Jas 1:13 is too facile, for that passage has both semantic and syntactical ambiguities.

Moreover, there are other passages to take into account, viz. 1 Kgs 22:19-23.

v) You can’t isolate God’s intentions regarding any particular event from his overall objectives.

vi) The “author of sin” is a cipher which critics bandy about without defining it or showing why we should judge God by that unscriptural form of words.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

John Thomson

“God hasn’t given him the right to judge him for he is God, however, he has given us the ability to distinguish between good and evil…”

He hasn’t given us the ability to discern whether his actions are good or evil. For one thing, whether a given action is right or wrong often depends on the larger context. We lack the larger context. We have a spotty knowledge of the past and present, while knowing next to nothing about the distant future. You’d have to be privy to God’s intentions and goals.

“…and when a full blown supra position is posited it seems to militate against these instincts.”

It doesn’t militate against my moral instincts. Hence, you’re instinctual appeal backfires.

“If we find the supra arguments biblically lacking we are right to judge them as wrong.”

You’re speaking for yourself, not for me. Don’t presume to speak on behalf of others who don’t share your assumptions.

“There is a difference between judging God and judging what theologians tell us is true of God.”

If you’re appealing to a vague moral “instinct,” then you are, indeed, judging God.

“I think you are being evasive here. The texts are fairly clear. Every passage we don’t like has ‘both semantic and syntactical ambiguities.’”

If you’d bothered to consult standard commentaries on the text (e.g. Blomberg, Davids, Johnson, McCartney, McKnight, Moo), you wouldn’t be so glibly dismissively. And if you have consulted them, you have even less excuse for your dismissive remark.

“That seems to me quite different from turning what is good (Adam!)and deliberately making it bad.”

i) You’re shifting ground. The question at issue is how this passage is consistent with what you said about James.

ii) Why do you imagine reprobation means God turned Adam from good to bad?

“In your own words, ‘You offer no supporting argument for your assertion. Why should we accept it?’”

Maybe because, if you’re going to hurl charges of “moral monstrosity,” you need to bring a modicum of moral sophistication to the table. Among other things, that means evaluating events in light of other events, as they contribute to an overall design. Otherwise, your objections are fatally shortsighted.

“I agree with your sentiment here though the fact that the words are non-scriptural does not mean they are unscriptural. In fact, I think that James is saying in the text I cited that God is not the author of sin.”

You haven’t defined your terms.

“I am happy to say that in his sovereign purpose God allowed sin and uses and directs even the sinfulness of man to praise him, while still asserting that God will not encourage or incite to sin.”

And how do you square that claim with 1 Kings 22?

steve hays
        August 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

        John Thomson

        “We all seek to understand what God reveals of himself from the revelation he has given.”

        No, we don’t all seek that.

        “It seems to militate against the instincts of many believers including many Reformed believers. Perhaps you are hardened in this area.”

        Perhaps your “instincts” are hardened against God’s revelation in this area.

        “I am not appealing to ‘vague moral instincts but I am not surprised when moral instincts of one who has been for many years a Christian and has ‘senses trained by practise to distinguish between right and wrong’ also cohere with what Scripture reveals. My authority is what Scripture teaches not what theologians teach.”

        Your authority is the instinct you keep appealing to.

        “What happened to biblical perspicuity?”

        That’s a popular caricature of perspicuity.

        “Steve, until you come down from the high horse of apparent sneering superiority conversation is hardly worthwhile. You are not discussing with a heretic, not even someone arminian in persuasion, but a brother very near your own position yet you insist on a pugnacious adversarial tone… is this consistent with the God you worship? Does this tone commend him to others and and is it likely to win your brother?”

        i) Actually, you’ve the one who’s resorting to harsh adjectives.

        ii) If you insist, then as a matter of fact the God I worship often adopts a “pugnacious, abrasive, adversarial” tone in Scripture.

        iii) You and I are perfect strangers. I don’t have to make any assumptions about you, or vice versa. The Internet is not the local church.

        iv) If you’re already my brother, why do I have to “win” you?

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 5:57 pm

John Thomson

“If we find the supra arguments biblically lacking we are right to judge them as wrong.”

Supra arguments aren’t biblically lacking. For instance, God ordains natural and moral evil as a means of manifesting his mercy and justice, viz. Jn 9:1-3; 11:2; Rom 5:20; 9:17,22-23; 11:32; Gal 3:22; Rev 11:13.

steve hays
August 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Other issues to one side, why are you trying to convince us that universalism is true? After all, if universalism is true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Calvinist or Lutheran or Arminian or Hindu or Buddhist or atheist or suicide bomber. Universalist is classically fatalistic.

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