Monday, April 19, 2010

"Out-Hitlering Hitler"

I'm going to repost some comments that I left at First Things: Evangel:

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:13 am | #1
There are a number of things we could discuss, but for now I’m curious about these two statements:

“Did God choose a predetermined number of human beings to bring to ultimate bliss, and alternatively select a predetermined and far more numerous group of humans on whom to inflict incalculable eternal suffering…Or perhaps the whole ‘I’m in, 95 percent of humanity is out” is just fine.’”

Where do you come up with these percentages? Do you think that’s an honest and accurate depiction of Reformed theology?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:28 am | #2
Incidentally, folks like you wonder aloud how Calvinists can stomach Calvinism, yet you recycle these stale, oft-refuted objections and caricatures of Calvinism. So why do you find it mysterious of Calvinists find your cliche-riddled objections unconvincing? You’re making no good-faith effort to seriously engage the other side. So why would you expect us to be impressed?

Who’s your target audience? Clearly you’re not attempting to open a dialogue with Reformed believers. Are you merely preaching to the choir? Is that your goal?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:33 am | #3
“If Calvinism, especially in its supralapsarian form—which argues that God foreordained the eternal fates of humans not yet created in a world not yet created, never mind fallen…”

Just as a point of historical theology, what makes you think that supralapsarianism teaches double predestination, but infralapsarianism does not?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:52 am | #8
Johnny Dialectic

“What do percentages matter?”

Why does truth matter? Apparently, it doesn’t matter to Johnny Dialectic.

However, some of us actually think it’s important to truthfully represent a position we presume to discuss and critique.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:55 am | #9
Johnny Dialectic

“What do percentages matter?”

Since they figure in Sacramone’s argument, they matter to his argument. Isn’t that obvious?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 11:56 am | #10


Eastern Orthodoxy=heresy.

Gee, that was easy.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:16 pm | #26
Dale Coulter

“On a Reformed continuum, the worst defenses of the position, it seems to me, tend to come from those Reformed thinkers who have embraced divine voluntarism and its concomitant divine command theory. Calvin is in this camp.”

He is? That’s been disputed by scholars like Michael Sudden and Paul Helm. Where’s your counterargument?

“This is why EO folks think that all talk of ‘merit’ in the west tends to miss the point. No matter how much effort humans put into the process, they simply cannot make themselves incorruptible or immortal; it is beyond what creatures can do.”

There is more to original sin than corruption and mortality. There is also culpability. Unrighteousness.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:20 pm | #27

“Non-Calvinist theology is the theology of the Early Church. The Early Church received its theology from the Apostles. They got it from Jesus. Calvinist theology goes back to one man who developed his doctrines 1500 years after Christ. Yes, this is very easy.”

Calvinism is the theology of Isaiah, Paul, and John. Calvinism received its theology from Jesus and the Apostles. By contrast, Orthodox theology represents the backdated tradition of men. Yes, this is very easy.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:26 pm | #29
Anthony Sacramone

“Perhaps all we can do in the end is admit that the construction of economies of salvation and ‘golden chains’ out of the hidden will of a hidden God who is outside of time can only and always be provisional.”

Calvinism doesn’t construct soteriology from the “hidden will” of God. Rather, Calvinism constructs its soteriology from the revealed soteriology of Scripture, as well as the revealed promises of the Gospel.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:29 pm | #31
Anthony Sacramone

“But unlike with a lottery ticket, figuring out your election status left you with nothing to cling to but a purely subjective notion of the operation of the Holy Spirit within your life.”

The practical question is no different in Calvinism than evangelicalism generally. Do you have saving faith?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:32 pm | #32
Anthony Sacramone

“Especially one whose obsession with his own glory reduces every person to nothing more than an adornment. If this is true…”

Well, Jeremy Pierce is both a Calvinist as well as a contributor to Evangel, and he’d take issue with your characterization. Have you read his material on the glory of God?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:46 pm | #34
Anthony Sacramone

“(Whether non-elect infants go to hell has been a long-fought controversy within the Reformed world, admittedly, but there’s nothing it its confessions or theology that seriously argues against it.)”

And there’s nothing in its confessions or theology that seriously argues for it.

However, the question of infant salvation isn’t just a question for Reformed theology. In terms of historical theology generally, the premise of infant baptism is that assumption that infants are born in a state of original sin, so they require baptism to absolve the guilt of original sin. Otherwise, unbaptized babies are damned.

So, by your logic, just about every paedobaptist tradition (e.g. Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist) worships a “monster” who “out-Hitlers Hitler.” Is that the point you were trying to make?

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 2:49 pm | #35

“Show me where the Early Church taught Calvinism.”

Why should I care? There’s no correlation between antiquity and truth. There were heresies in NT times. Some NT epistles are directed at heresies.

What concerns me is not what the “Early Church” taught, but what the Bible teaches.

And, of course, your appeal to the “Early Church” begs the question inasmuch as early heretics claimed to represent the true church. So you need some independent criterion to justify your identification of the “Early Church.”

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 3:00 pm | #37
Dale Coulter

“Reformed theology, especially in its supralapsarian expression, makes the problem almost insurmountable because it suggests that God set in motion a chain of events leading to the fall of humanity.”

How does that distinguish supralapsarianism from infralapsarianism, exactly? In infralapsarianism, God also decreed the fall? The supra/infra debate involves the teleological order of the decrees. That’s the point of contrast, and not that God decrees the fall (or damnation) in supralapsarianism, while not decreeing those events in infralapsarianism.

I have to wonder where some commenters get their information?

For that matter, how does this distinguish Calvinism from Arminianism or Molinism? In Arminianism, if God made a world in which the fall was a foreseeable consequence, then he set in motion a chain of events leading to the fall of man.

Likewise, in Molinism, if God chose to instantiate a possible world in which the fall occurs, then he thereby set in motion of a chain of events leading to the fall of man.

What I’m encountering in this thread are many elementary misstatements of Reformed theology, along with an illogical grasp of the alternatives.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 3:35 pm | #40
Dale Coulter

“I’m not sure how to respond to the “more to original sin” statement because I don’t understand the point of the claim. Maybe some clarification?”

Biblical hamartiology and soterilogy has a forensic dimension that your leaving entirely out of account.

Sin doesn’t merely leaves us liable to death. It leaves us guilty before God. Morality as well as mortality.

Now maybe your EO filter screens out that central strand of the Biblical witness but it is there, all the same.

So I don’t see that you can swap in corruption/mortality categories for merit/demerit categories (or their Biblical equivalents).

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 3:45 pm | #42

“Steve, You have essentially conceded the argument. History doesn’t matter to you. God’s people do not matter to you. Living the Scriptures does not matter to you. You are the pope. The church is in your image and likeness. The faith was once for all delivered to you.”

Bible history doesn’t matter to you. And church history points in all different directions.

The Eastern Orthodox don’t have a monopoly on “God’s people.” Sorry to disappoint you.

The EO don’t live the Scriptures. They live their traditions.

Your pope is the Greek Fathers and 7 ecumenical councils. My “pope” is God’s word. I like my “pope” better than yours.

You’ve made the church in the image of EO representatives.

The “faith once delivered” is an allusion to a NT text, not postbiblical traditions.

I’d also note that I have yet to see to present a single argument for your position. What distinguishes you from a Mormon who merely stipulates the truth of his position? All you’ve done is to posit that EO is true. Well, anyone can do that.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 4:00 pm | #45
Dale Coulter

“It seems to me that if you posit that prior to the decrees to create or permit the fall, God decreed to elect some to salvation, then you’re in for a rough time with respect to getting out of the problem of evil.”

Since that’s not an actual argument, there’s nothing to get out of.

“However, if you want to claim it’s the same, be my guest.”

Did I say that were the same? No. In context, I said they were the same in reference to the fact that, either way, God decreed the Fall. Some commenters don’t seem to be conversant with what the supra/infra positions actually represent, even though they act as though they do.

“It’s also misleading to keep using the tag Arminian as though everyone who rejected Reformed theology was or is a follower of Arminius.”

Well, since I didn’t use it that way, there’s nothing misleading about my usage.

“On the Molinism bit, I would have to say that I disagree with that particular read of Molinism. God knows that given counter factuals of creaturely freedom, a person placed in a particular set of circumstances will do X. However, such counter factuals must unfold over the course of history. In other words, God does not by an act of will set in motion a predetermined order of events that unfold in a particular way. God sets in motion a series of events that can unfold in a variety of ways given counter factuals of creaturely freedom.”

i) If God knows what a person will do in a given situation, and God creates that situation, then it will unfold accordingly.

ii) In Molinism, God is not instantiating a wide-open scenario. Rather, he’s instantiating one possible world to the exclusion of another (or other) possible alternative(s). It’s not two or more possible worlds bundled into one actual world–as if contraries are simultaneously instantiable.

“And finally, even if you think I’m making “elementary” mistakes, let’s please be more charitable in calling me out on them.”

That comment didn’t single you out.

However, if you’re concerned with charitable discourse, you might redirect your concerns to Sacramone, who went out of his way to use the most incendiary invective he could think of.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 5:26 pm | #59
Dale Coulter

“Your description of Molinism seems to assume that God directly creates every possible scenario when, in fact, that is not what happens.”

i) No. Remember that I’m responding to the metaphor of “chain reaction.” By definition, a chain reaction is a case of indirect causation. A indirectly causes E because A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, which causes E.

ii) And I didn’t say the Molinist God creates “possibilities.” Rather, I said the Molinist God creates actualities by choosing which possibility, or set of possibilities (i.e. possible world) to instantiate.

“There is a possible world instantiated with a number of possible scenarios within that world. Out of these possible scenarios history unfolds as creatures are presented with counter factuals of creaturely freedom.”

You’re blurring possibility and actuality. Possible worlds or world-segments represent alternate possibilities. These are abstract objects. When the Molinist God instantiates a possible world, that’s a complete, self-contained, and consistent set of concretized possibilities, in contrast to unexemplified alternate possibilities.

God is selecting from contrary alternatives when he instantiates a possible world, not combining contrary alternatives in the same world–which would be incoherent.

Not all possibilities are compossible. An actual world can’t exemplify incompossible alternatives.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 5:31 pm | #60

“My point was made when it went conceded that the historic consensus of Christian history knows not Calvinism.”

There’s no such thing as consensus in church history.

“However, I think all of us can see that Church history matters.”

Beginning with NT church history.

“The fact that the Church did not hold to Calvinism should tell us something.”

Yes, it tells us something about groupthink, institutional inertia, and the fact that theological dissent wa criminalized.

“Did it really take 1500 years to discover the truth?”

I can just imagine the Sanhedrin using the same argument at the trial of Christ.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 5:44 pm | #61
Dale Coulter

“OK, I need to know how someone who holds to a supralapsarian position can claim some sort of causal concurrence between the divine will and the human will with respect to the fall. It seems to me that an infralapsarian position can because it sees the fall as involving a permissive will on God’s part. In the supra position, God is actively bringing about the fall of humanity, not by permission. So, one option for the infra position has been removed by the supra position to my mind. Maybe I’m wrong here.

i) There are no passive decrees. The decrees don’t merely allow things to happen. They ensure their occurrence.

ii) The basic distinction in the supra/infra debate is over different teleological arrangements. What presupposes what? What’s a means and what’s an end?

iii) Then there’s the question of how God implements his plan. Broadly speaking, that involves fiat creation, providence, and miracles. Primary and secondary causes.

iv) But the Bible doesn’t have a philosophical theory of causation, and there are various theories of causation. Calvinism isn’t committed to any particular theory of causation.

Theologians frequently avail themselves of the philosophical resources of the day, as well as the “scientific” models and metaphors available to them. And that, of course, varies from one time and place to the next.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 7:20 pm | #67
Dale Coulter

“I really don’t know what you mean by concretized possibilities when God instantiates a possible world.”

Mere possibilities don’t exist in time and space. To concretize possibilities is to exemplify them in time and space (or at least in time).

“My point was that the possible world God chooses to actualize or instantiate, contains within it a set of possibilities, which are only actualized as history unfolds.”

Which doesn’t mean a set of contrary possibilities.

The abstract ensemble of possible worlds is like a garden of forking paths. An actual world instantiates one of those paths.

“So within world A, there are a number of scenarios that could unfold given creaturely decisions. This is not to confuse the possible with the actual.”

Except that it does. To say that within world A are contrary possibilities is to embed two or more possible worlds (or world-segments) within the same actualized possible world–which is incoherent.

“A number of scenarios that could unfold” represents different possible worlds for different branching possibilities–not different forking paths which occupy the same concrete reality. Different timelines are represented by different possible worlds, and vice versa.

To select one possible world from many, then realize that possible world, is to realize that possible world rather than some contrary set of possibilities.

“You seem to keep assuming that once God instantiates a possible world, then all events in that world are already determined in some Reformed way.”

No, they are determined by God’s selection of one to the exclusion of another (or others).

“That is, God’s making an actual world necessitates God’s making all possible events within that world actual.”

I didn’t discuss how God brings about all events, whether directly or indirectly. That’s not the issue.

steve hays
April 19th, 2010 | 7:41 pm | #68
Dale Coulter

“When I said permissive I was merely echoing Jerom Zanchius’ own language when he says that God decrees to permit the fall. Yes, the decree itself represents God’s active will insofar as it expresses divine purpose/intention (teleology as you put it), but the will is to permit it.”

A “decree to permit” is not the same thing as merely permitting it (“bare permission”), as if it would happen all by itself unless God actively intervened to prevent it.

“This move allows Zanchius to attempt to reconcile how God wills something and yet humans will it through concurrent causality as the decree is actualized in time.”

In supralapsarianism, it’s not as if human agents are forced to act against their will. There is no sense of compulsion.

And, in supralapsarianism, human beings are secondary agents. They can and do various things. They also deliberate.

“As I said, to my mind, this complicates the problem of evil considerably because it attributes the introduction of evil into the world ultimately to the a divine act (not what God knows, but what God actively wills to be the case).”

Your terminology is very imprecise. The decree is a divine “act” in the same of a mental act. On the other hand, it’s not a divine act in the sense of a creative act.

And it’s hardly adequate to say that God merely foreknew the Fall. God is the Creator. If the fall was a foreseeable consequence, then God introduces evil into the world by knowingly creating a world in which the Fall will occur.

At the same time, this is a necessary rather than sufficient condition. Counterfactual causation (i.e. unless A occurs, B will not occur).

“If God stacked the dominos in such a way that the fall happened necessarily, well, you’ve got a problem.”

That depends on what you mean by “necessarily.” Unless you’re an open theist, it follows that if God chooses to create a world in full knowledge of the outcome, then the foreseen world which he makes will unfold exactly as he foresaw it.

“Molinism does not lead to this position.”

Except that it does. If God chooses to instantiate the set of possibilities known as world A rather than the set of possibilities known as world B, or vice versa, then those and only those possibilities will eventuate.


  1. On causation, have you or the other Triabloguers written anything on occasionalism?

  2. Hi Steven,

    Steve, Paul, and Aquascum (among others?) talked a little bit about occasionalism when they were debating Vincent Cheung. If you Google for "occasionalism" on Tblog, you should come up with some stuff. Hope that helps.


  3. Steve, I love the thought of these self-important, enamored-with-their-own-wisdom ninnies running smack into you in these public forums. You, really, are in some way, the continuation of "the Rock" in Matt 16. Perhaps that has something to do with your selection of your Avatar photo, eh?

    May you influence many thousands of self-important ninnies.

  4. John,

    That avatar is not Rock Hudson, it is Cary Grant.

    Right, Hays?


    "That avatar is not Rock Hudson, it is Cary Grant. Right, Hays?"

    So true.