Saturday, February 22, 2014

An Arminian bedtime story

Jerry Walls 
“Imagine a parent who is able to control each and every action of his children, and furthermore, is able to do so by controlling their thoughts and inclinations. He is thus able to determine each and all actions taken by those children. He is also able to guarantee that they desire to do everything that they do, and this is exactly what he does. He puts them in a special playroom that contains not only toys but also gasoline and matches, and then gives them explicit instructions (with severe warnings) to avoid touching the gasoline and matches. Stepping out of sight, he determines that the children indeed begin to play with the matches. When the playroom is ablaze and the situation desperate, he rushes in to save them (well, some of them). He breaks through the wall, grabs three of the seven children, and carries them to safety. When the rescued children calm down, they ask about their four siblings. They want to know about the others trapped inside, awaiting their inevitable fate. More importantly, they want to know if he can do something to rescue them as well. 
“When they ask about the situation, their father tells them that this tragic occurrence had been determined by him, and indeed, that it was a smashing success—it had worked out in exact accordance with his plan. He then reminds them of his instructions and warnings, and he reminds them further that they willingly violated his commands. They should be grateful for their rescue, and they should understand that the others got what they deserved. When they begin to sob, he weeps with them; he tells them that he too has compassion on the doomed children (indeed, the compassion of the children for their siblings only dimly reflects his own). The children are puzzled by this, and one wants to know why such a compassionate father does not rescue the others (when it is clearly within his power to do so). His answer is this: this has happened so that everyone could see how smart he is (for being able to know how to do all this), how powerful he is (for being able to control everything and then effectively rescue them), how merciful he is (for rescuing the children who broke his rules), and how just he is (for leaving the others to their fate in the burning playroom). And, he says, ‘This is the righteous thing for me to do, because it allows me to look as good as I should look.’”  
From Thomas H. McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper” Trinity Journal 29NS (2008): 241-242. 
It’s hard to imagine a better story for Piperian Calvinists who have a passion for their theology and want to convey its true glory to children and other neophytes in the faith.

i) To begin with, this trades on the emotional connotations of small, clueless, helpless children. That triggers our protective instincts. Yet that's hardly analogous to adults or sinners. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, It's striking that Arminians like Walls and McCall find this persuasive when it's trivially easy to tell a parallel bedtime story by substituting Arminian assumptions. 

Assuming divine foreknowledge or middle knowledge, God knowingly puts them in a special playroom that contains not only toys but also gasoline and matches. God knows that by putting them in that situation, they will set the play room on fire. God knows that by putting them in that situation, some of them will burn to death. God could prevent that tragic outcome by not putting them in that situation in the first place. And that wouldn't violate their freewill. 

Even assuming that God doesn't know the outcome, a parent is negligent for placing small children in a play room with matches and gasoline. Indeed, the legal term is "depraved indifference." If they die in a house fire as a result of those initial conditions, the parent is culpable for exposing them to such a risky situation. 


  1. "Imagine a father who is able to control each and every action of EVERYBODY, but refuses to exercise his power, even to protect his own children, because free will is more important to him than the protection of his own children."

    Billy: "Daddy, why didn't you stop that murderer from killing Sally?"
    Father: "Well Billy, because that would have violated his free will, and I want people to love me for realz, so I can't interfere. It's my Prime Directive."

    uhhh...I must have missed something

  2. Dr. McCall obviously doesn't understand Calvinism.