Friday, January 16, 2015

How Calvinists do it

I don’t know how Calvinists do it. Like many bloggers Justin Taylor posted an obituary of Steve Jobs. Unlike many bloggers, he receives comments. Not three comments in, the post got this one:
I am saddened by Jobs’ passing. My prayers are with his family and friends. I don’t mean for this to be insensitive, but why would those who believe in the concept of God’s sovereign saving grace have any “hope” one way or the other that Jobs found rest in it? Wouldn’t they just want God to carry out His salvific desires in whatever way HE sees fit?
“Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
if God decided to NOT impart Jobs with His sovereign saving grace (he didn’t appear outwardly a believer), this only magnifies the grace that the elect receive: “that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.”
i) One thing I notice about philosophically-inclined critics of Calvinism like Jerry Walls and Adam Omelianchuk is how often they pick on Calvinists who are not philosophically-inclined. Instead of taking on theological opponents in their own weight class, they go after easy marks.
ii) The comment he quotes was apparently made by a freewill theist (or possibly an atheist sockpuppet) who used the obituary as a pretext to attack Calvinism. But the comment regurgitates the usual uncomprehending objections to Calvinism. And you'd think somebody like Adam, who ought to be philosophically sophisticated, would discern that.
iii) At one level, there's not even a prima facie tension between a predestined outcome and hoping for a particular outcome, for if predestination is true, then we were predestined to hope for that particular outcome–whether or not what we hope for comes true. God foreordains our future-oriented hopes as well as the future itself. 
iv) Then we have the hackneyed confusion between fatalism and predestination. But in Calvinism, the actions of human agents (e.g. prayer, evangelism) is one way in which God carries out his salvific desires. 
v) Let's take a comparison. Suppose your daughter attends a small private college. You receive a frantic phone call to turn on the news. A breathless reporters says a gunman reportedly killed a number of students at the school, before he himself was shot and killed. Police are withholding the names of the victims until they ID them and notify next-of-kin. 
Should you pray that your daughter was not one of the victims? But at that point, the event is past. Either he shot her to death or he didn't. Prayer can't change the past.
The accidental necessity of the past is analogous to the fixity of the future (given predestination). And many freewill theists grant the accidental necessity of the past. 
In both cases, you can't change the outcome. That, however, doesn't mean you can't affect the outcome. Answered prayer is a factor in historical causation. Prayer is one of God's appointed means to further his appointed ends. Absent answered prayer, history would turn out differently. That applies to retroactive prayer as well as hopes and prayers about a predestined future. 
So, yes, Adam, that's how Calvinists do it. On the face of it I don't see even an apparent point of tension. 


  1. Thanks Steve, I actually learned a lot through this short post. Began to understand the God uses means idea more. Also the similarity between past and future was enlightening. I expect I will be thinking through this tonight and losing sleep getting my head around it. Bit puzzled about the potential effectiveness of prayer retroactively - "That applies to retroactive prayer." Surely praying after the massacre where a certain death has happened cannot change the now historical outcome. That is obvious so I suspect I have misunderstood your point here. Can you expand and clarify a little if time allows. Blogs like yours inspire my little efforts at . Keep well


  2. Useful foils like Omelianchuk, Walls, and Olson help clarify the truth of Reformed theology by way of their often tendentious and gratuitous swipes.

  3. "Prayer is one of God's appointed means to further his appointed ends."

    What is an example of something that is not one of God's appointed means to further his appointed ends?

    1. Something that's an end in itself.