Friday, May 23, 2014

Austin Fischer

The Society of Evangelical Arminians has been touting Austin Fischer. He's a celebrity convert to Arminianism (from Calvinism). They parade him around the way Called to Communion hypes evangelical converts to Rome.
And the Arminians are welcome to have him. It says something about Arminian standards. Take this post:
In particular, I think it subtly implies that my de-conversion was rooted in a misunderstanding of Calvinism and if I had only stuck with it longer and understood it better, things might have been different. I call this a red herring because no one has been able to point out what I didn’t understand about Calvinism.
Be careful what you ask for. 
So I wanted to do justice to all of that while at the same time not getting so bogged down in the red tape and causal euphemisms that I failed to communicate what I found to be the inevitable conclusion of consistent Calvinism; namely, evil and sin and hell exist, ultimately, because God wanted (in a STRONG sense of the term) them to. To borrow the example DeYoung cites, I completely agree with him: no Calvinist believes God rapes people (of course!!!!). However much worse than that, I don’t see how a Calvinist cannot conclude that the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever existed will be damned, ultimately, because God wanted them to and to that end, set in motion events that would guarantee their damnation.
Notice how he's bundled two claims into one: 
i) God has damned the overwhelming majority of humans. 
But, of course, Calvinism has no official position on the percentage of the damned. Reformed theologians like the Warfield thought the elect were in the majority, not the minority. 
ii) Then there's his simplistic claim that God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist." But, of course, that doesn't mean God wanted them to exist for their own sake, as if that's good in itself. Rather, they serve a purpose. 
ii) Keep in mind that the Arminian God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist" more than he wanted them not to exist, for it was within his power to prevent it. God "permitted" them because that's offset by the compensatory goods. So the Arminian must also resort to a greater good defense. 
However, I do think that the New Calvinism has been very coy with the way it has cloaked the doctrines of determinism, compatiblism, and double predestination in euphemisms, neutering them of their intelligibility and substance. Since writing, I’ve received lots of emails from people who thought they were Calvinists and had no idea double predestination was a part of the package. That’s some pretty important fine print to be unaware of.
He doesn't say what "euphemisms" he has in mind. But while we're on the subject of euphemisms, about about the Arminian's euphemistic appeal to divine "permission"? 
And as noted in an earlier post (and in Kevin’s as well), I think Calvin would be with me here, because he himself admitted that the doctrine of double predestination was “terrible.”
That commits the schoolboy mistaken of reading the connotations of an English word back into the Latin original. 
Along these lines, I was on a podcast recently discussing the book with a very smart and consistent Calvinist and I noticed something interesting. We were asked what we thought about the recent spike in Calvinism, and he admitted that he was surprised by it and didn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. This got me thinking and I remembered that he has frequently admitted he thinks the hard doctrines of Calvinism render it a very offensive theology that is destined to be a minority opinion in the church. I didn’t ask him at the time (and I wouldn’t have wanted to put him in a spot), but I can’t help but think he might agree with me here. When Calvinism is preached honestly and consistently, with all of its hard edges showing instead of concealed in euphemisms, it is very difficult and offensive and it seems unlikely it would ever be as popular as it is now in western evangelicalism.
The Bible in general has many "hard edges" and "hard doctrines." There's something in Scripture to offend everyone. Since Fischer thinks people ought to be consistent, why doesn't he become an atheist?  
Fischer objects to Calvinism because it suggests that “the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried is the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he had made sure they would do” (p.46)…[But] the sharp disjunction put forward by Fischer could just as easily be constructed out of the Arminian position: “how can the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried be the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he knew they would do when he created them and could have easily prevented?” The Arminian position doesn’t really gain us any theodicy points. –DeYoung #3…Response I’ve bumped up against this question a few times. On the face of it, it seems to have merit, but it’s based in a misunderstanding of how foreknowledge works. 
Kevin suggests God is basically as culpable for Bob’s damnation in free-will theism as he is in Calvinism, because God knew Bob would end up in hell when he created Bob and yet did nothing to stop it. The assumption Kevin makes is that God could have used his foreknowledge to “easily prevent” Bob’s damnation. But these are two dots that simply won’t connect…a non-sequitur argument. 
How could God have used his foreknowledge of Bob’s damnation to prevent Bob’s damnation? I am not aware of any answer to that. It’s not as if God goes, “Hmm…if I were to create Bob, what would happen to him? [Cue foreknowledge] Oh I see—he would be damned. O well, I’m going to create him anyways.” 
No—God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen. So God can’t use his foreknowledge to see that Bob WILL be damned and then act to make sure Bob won’t be damned, for then God’s foreknowledge would have been incorrect (a.k.a. not foreknowledge). To be fair to Kevin, it’s an easy mistake to make and many people who believe in simple foreknowledge make the same mistake.
i) Fischer is too philosophically maladroit to distinguish between divine foreknowledge and divine counterfactual knowledge. The question at issue is the Arminian God wittingly "eternally crucifying countless souls" if he made them. "What would happen if God did X" is hypothetical or counterfactual. That's not the same as foreknowledge. Fischer commits an elementary modal blunder by treating foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge interchangeably. 
ii) In addition, Fischer ironically concedes that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with alternate outcomes. If God knows what Bob will do, then Bob can't do otherwise. God's foreknowledge dooms him to hell. 
The moral of the story is that intellectually lightweight ex-Calvinists like Fischer make the best Arminians. 


  1. It is really sad to read your bitterness toward a brother that holds a different view than you.

    1. Your purely emotive, ad hominem comment reveals more about you than it does about me.

    2. Since I don't think Fischer is a loss to Calvinism, I don't feel "bitter" about his defection from Calvinism.

  2. Hmmm...

    Austin Fischer mounts very public attacks against Calvinists, and when a Calvinist offers a robust response he's labeled "bitter". Funny how often that seems to work in only one direction.

  3. ===
    No—God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen. So God can’t use his foreknowledge to see that Bob WILL be damned and then act to make sure Bob won’t be damned, for then God’s foreknowledge would have been incorrect (a.k.a. not foreknowledge).

    Wow. Fischer has obviously not thought this one through at all. If God knows what will happen (and it must be stressed that He knows this *apart* from His decreeing what will happen in Arminianism) and that can't be wrong and God knows it forever, then since God cannot be wrong then He has no option but to have everything happen as He foreknew. God is a slave to what He knows will happen, and what He knows will happen isn't even what He has decreed will happen. He has no choice in what will happen. He knows it will happen and therefore it must happen or His foreknowledge is false.

    He's just watching a DVD that He can't even interact without messing up what He knows is coming.

    Chalk up another reason why it's important to argue that God's foreknowledge is based on His decrees.

    1. In other words, not only is it that Bob cannot do otherwise (which Steve already pointed out), but God cannot do otherwise either.

    2. That's a novel form of "divine determinism"!

    3. I think we should, of course, differentiate between what he says and what might be the case. It clearly won't do to say "Austin Fischer says X; therefore, arminianism entails X." I'm assuming you agree with that, but it's important to note nonetheless.


    4. Considering how often he's been featured at SEA, with more to come, why should I draw that distinction?

    5. but all you could conclude from that is the people from SEA (or top people or whatever relevant people) also believe it. that doesn't mean it's true though. of course, it might be true, but certain people believing it won't get you that conclusion. it seems like this would be rather uncontroversial, but maybe you disagree?

    6. I think it's fair to treat SEA as an outlet for center-right Arminianism (although Olson is center-left). So unless you think SEA isn't representative of true Arminianism, there's nothing wrong with judging Arminian claims by that standard.

      Mind you, I often interact with more academic Arminians. These tend to be center-left.

    7. maybe we are talking past one another. I agree that you might be able to use this as a basis for assuming how other arminians view things. but that doesn't mean you can use it as a basis that such claims are actually what Arminianism entails. hopefully that helped to clarify what I am and am not saying.

    8. If you disagree with how SEA represents Arminianism, you should take that up with SEA.

  4. I think that one negative image that compatibilism encounters (not that it's the fault of calvinism, mind you) is the idea that God is forcing a person to do something - even though most of the reformed confessions deny this. I think people get the image of, say, Cain trying to withhold his hand from Abel but alas, the will of God prevails and a murder has been committed.

    But there's a way that <a href=">Turretinfan explained</a>, and it's that all God has to do to harden someone's heart is to withhold His grace. This might more clearly show how the sinner is acting in accordance with their own will and desire.

    I suppose one might object that the term 'predestination' implies causing something to happen, but that's what the pottery metaphor is supposed to provide - an example of a process occurring by removing something from the equation.

    Another thought is that it might invite the question of where a person's will or ideas originate. "makes u think," as they say.

  5. "How could God have used his foreknowledge of Bob’s damnation to prevent Bob’s damnation?"

    Ah, so he admits God is providentially otiose. I'd rather affirm theological determinism than fatalism.

  6. Austin Fischer's dialogue with James White can be listened to HERE. Fischer's main challenge was, "How is the God of Calvinism recognizably loving & good?" He cited noted Calvinist Paul Helm who also argues that God's goodness shouldn't be thought of as totally dissimilar to our own understanding of goodness.

    I have difficulty defending that as a supralapsarian Calvinist to my atheist and Arminian friends.

    For example, I have difficulty explaining how an inherently good and benevolent God can ordain the reprobation of any of His creatures. Given the better forms of supralapsarianism, reprobation has two parts. 1. preterition which is unconditional, 2. pre-condemnation/pre-damnation which is conditional. Conditioned on the guilt due to the sins of the non-elect. However, those very sins are unconditionally ordained by God. So, the problem shows up again in a different form. How can a benevolent God unconditionally ordain/decree the sins of His creatures (for which He will judge them)? Some of those creatures whose sins are ordained are elect and some non-elect. It's difficult enough to explain how God can ordain the former (i.e. sins of the elect), but the latter is even more difficult since they will not be saved (i.e. the sins of the non-elect). Nor do all things work together for good to the non-elect.

    Puritan Calvinist (infralapsarian?) Thomas Watson wrote, "The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked. Just so, God does not punish until he can bear no longer." [bold added by me]

    Non-Calvininists can argue the following way. God being naturally benevolent would only be benevolent and beneficient to His creatures. Calvinistic Reprobation is unprovoked malevolence. Therefore either God is not benevolent or Calvinistic Reprobation is false.

    On a related issue, how do we argue for God being the ultimate moral authority? I've used various arguments but they're not completely satisfactory to me. For example, appealing to the ontological argument, I've pointed out that God possess all virtues to their highest degree and therefore it is fitting that He is the highest moral authority (being the very paragon and standard of goodness and virtue). However, atheists can still ask, what reasons should they have to believe that even if God is the paragon of goodness to additionally believe that God is the absolute moral authority? Why should they accept that claimed authority? I don't think it's sufficient to (merely) say that "To question God's authority is already to deny and reject God's authority. It begs the very question." Surely, we have to argue for it with rational reasons. If any of my fellow Calvinists has suggestions, I'm all ears.

    1. Here are some responses one of my atheist cyber-friends wrote:

      ...No, to question is NOT to deny. I could be a Christian and interrogating you on YOUR reasons. It's simply a fallacy to say that posing a question implies a denial. Flatly false....

      ...He merely DOES judge with impunity. But what makes you believe his judgments ARE right? Your account of 'rightness' is merely 'mightiness'...

      ...Suppose I believed that God was the ultimate source of evil...that whatever God does/wills is definition, by his nature...and he's unstoppable. What's your counter argument? You don't have one. You're just insisting on a definition, but not presenting an argument in favor of god being good...

      ...The imago dei argument is very problematic. On that view, if you were created in the image of Satan by Satan, you'd have a moral obligation to do as he instructed....

      The above were comments he made in 2008 before I came to my current position of Divine Command Essentialism. Which I've summarized Here: God in Relation to Law: Ex Lex, Sub Lego or Sibi Ipsi Lex

      In response to the defeater about being made by Satan in Satan's image I'd now have this to point out. According to my limited understanding, some of the church fathers and medieval theologians (being influenced by neo-Platonism for better or worse) sometimes argued that evil is the privation, negation and twisting of the good. Also, borrowing from the neo-Platonic scale/chain of being the "good" was related to that which is pure and perfect being (i.e. God who is pure being and actuality) while "evil" to that which tends towards non-being (potentiality and ultimately to nothingness). I suppose we can combine this insight with the ontological argument to argue for how all virtues and excellencies (in being and in character) meet at the top, namely in God. And that's another reason for why appeal to God's nature and character as the paragon/paradigm/exemplar of goodness isn't arbitrary.

      BTW, the above atheist cyber-friend who I've been interacting with since (circa) 2000 has recently started vlogging HERE.

      Here's his video: The crippling Effect of Divine Command Theory on Moral Reasoning. He's also got a few videos in response to presuppositionalism.

  7. AP - FWIW I'd simply point out that your apparent tautology isn't problematic in the least given that the topic is ultimate authority.

    That's just to say that everyone reasons in circles at the point of ultimate authority. Ultimate authorities are funny like that, because they end up being self-authorizing.

    So then you have the self-authorizing (and self-authenticating) God of the Bible set over and against the self-authorizing (and non self-authenticating) opinions of fallen men. Divine wisdom vs. worldly wisdom (so called) which is actually foolishness. For example it's foolish to ask for reasons outside of God that attest to His absolute moral authority as if there were something beyond God that could confer such authority upon Him. In such a case God would not be God because the thing outside of Him which conferred authority upon Him would by definition be more ultimate than God, which is absurd.

    Certainly your atheist friends will find such argumentation unpersuasive, foolish, and perhaps offensive, but that's to be expected after all.

    As for God's freedom to dispose of His creatures as He sees fit, I don't see even an apparent problem. There's the basic Creator/creature distinction, and if God's creatures don't like the way He has decided to order His creation, so much the worse for them. God doesn't sit in the dock for men and angels to examine and render judgment upon Him, quite the opposite.

    That God ordained things to be such as they are is quite clearly the Biblical witness, but why He has ordained things as He has is an altogether different category in that He has not been pleased to reveal that information.

    Though we might infer many reasons from the Bible (displaying a broad range of His glory and perfections through creation, the fall, the restoration, and the consummation), the fact is we simply don't know why, but we know that we're called to walk by faith and not by sight, and to humbly trust in Him.

    1. I've argued pretty much the same things to that atheist friend of mine (though I know his real name, online he goes by Ozymandias Ramses II, or "Ozy" for short). I told him ultimately it takes regeneration for him to see, believe and willingly accept/embrace that God is the absolute moral authority. But I also know that regeneration shouldn't be an excuse for having poor rational reasons for one's beliefs or poor reasons for why others should either 1. accept their coherence and 2. their truth.

  8. Correct, but again there's nothing irrational about the Christian position of grounding ultimate beliefs in the ultimate self-attesting authority of God. On the contrary, it's the only truly rational position, because the alternative is self-authority, which is highly irrational.

    The unregenerate will not (indeed cannot) accept these truths. That's also the witness of Scripture, and serves as a rational basis for the quandary you're describing. The unregenerate has no rational apologetic.

    1. I Agree. In conversations with atheist I always make sure to mention the sensus divinitatis/deitatis that humans have, to general revelation, to the self-attesting authority of Scripture, and finally to the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit by which a Christian is persuaded that Christianity is true. A Christian acquires certainty when the external testimony of Scripture (or Scriptural truth) is coupled with the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Or as Van Til said (alluding to the WCF), "I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, because 'of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.' "

      Here's a BLOG where I've collected some links to the subject of The Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit.

    2. Instead of conversations with atheists I think it would be better if you conversed with adherents of other religions and discussed why this mystical sense which you say humans possess leads to such a bewildering array of contradictory beliefs. When and if you can all speak with one voice then come to the atheist community. I for one would be highly impressed with such agreement and inclined to think you are on to something.

    3. In fact all the human religions of the world speak with one voice, and one message: "earn it". Certainly "it" comes in all sorts of colors, shapes, and flavors, but people do enjoy novelty and variety.

      Christian theism stands alone over and against them all.