Thursday, March 14, 2013

Our Grandmother Who Art in Heaven

I’m going to comment on a post at SEA. The fact that this was posted at SEA means it isn’t just the eccentric opinion of an individual Arminian blogger, but is being treated as a representative statement of the Arminian outlook:

After the passing of Kim Jong-Il, Calvinist leader Justin Taylor did a brief post highlighting how diabolical he was.

It is simply baffling that Calvinists can decry the diabolical, heinous actions of Kim Jong-Il (and others like him), and yet they hold that God first conceived in his own divine heart every one of the man’s wicked actions, thought them up without any influence outside of himself, and unconditionally and irresistibly decreed them without any influence outside of himself, resulting in the man doing them all without any chance, power, or ability to do anything else. It’s madness I tell you! Madness!!

This is in part a hackneyed objection to predestination (“unconditionally and irresistibly decreed them…resulting in the man doing them all without any chance, power, or ability to do anything else.”).

I’m going to pass on that objection because I’ve dealt with it so many times before. Moreover, philosophical developments in the compatibilist/incompatibilist debate continue apace.

Instead, I’d like to focus on what this objection says about the current Arminian position on God’s omniscience, or lack thereof. This isn’t just a question of what God does, but what God knows, and how he knows it (or doesn’t know it).

Notice how the Arminian poster describes the Reformed position:

They hold that God first conceived in his own divine heart every one of the man’s wicked actions, thought them up without any influence outside of himself…

That is stated in implicit contrast to the Arminian position. Hence, according to the Arminian position, God is literally innocent, in the old-fashioned sense that God can’t anticipate or imagine the wicked actions of his creatures on his own. God lacks the mental ability to contemplate those possibilities. If creatures never committed evil, God would have no idea of what evil is.

This denies the intrinsic omniscience of God. Evil is inconceivable to God, not in terms of what he does, but what he thinks. God depends on outside influences to find out, not only what’s going on, but what’s logically or conceptually possible with regard to sin and evil. 

The motivation for this position seems to be that God is too pure to be able to think of evil all by himself. God can only imagine good scenarios. God requires an external stimulus or propter to become aware of evil possibilities. Apart from sinners, God wouldn’t have a clue.

This protects the holiness of God by making God naïve. Left to his own devices, God is too naïve to be aware of evil hypotheticals which his creatures might commit. God is too innocent to consider evil in the abstract. God would have no concept of evil unless there were evil creatures. God discovers the unimaginable possibility of evil from his wayward creatures. We teach God. God is a student of the world. God has no independent cognizance of evil apart from evildoers. “You mean, that’s what sinners do? I can hardly believe my ears!”

God is a babe in the woods, shocked by what his creatures are capable of doing. A child God who has to learn the ways of the world from his creatures.

This also raises the question of how God can learn from creatures before they exist. How can God be “influenced’ by nonentities?

I suppose this is one way of protecting God’s honor, but it’s a very grandmotherly notion of God. A sweet spinster. A gold-hearted church lady. The “old dear” whom mischievous boys exploit. She always opens her purse to them whenever they solicit contributions for their “charities” (such “good boys”), never suspecting that they actually spend the donations on peep shows.

It says something about the cloying world of sugary Arminian devotion that they can work themselves into this mindset. But it’s not the kind of piety that wears well when life does its worst to you or your loved ones.


  1. Some people should tread carefully with their words.

    What if -just what if- (!) the Calvinistic understanding of the faith is correct?

    If (!) Calvinism is, as Spurgeon said, simply the gospel, many of the words I have heard from Arminians are downright blasphemous.

    Imagine! Accusing God!

  2. One good turn deserves another.

    Therefore, if Arminians want to mock and discredit the apparent implications of Calvinism, then turn-about is fair play, and Calvinists can mock and discredit the apparent implications of Arminianism.