Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Arminian Dilemma

Steve Hays recently pointed to a statement from Roger Olson which said:
The original plan (to speak mythically) did not include the cross, but it became part of the plan when humanity rebelled (emphasis original).
More fully, in the paragraph Steve quoted, Olson says that he believes that the incarnation would have happened no matter what, but that it “became a rescue mission (emphasis original)” due to man’s fall into sin. Indeed, Olson speaks elsewhere in the post of Christ’s incarnation as “not merely a ‘Plan B’”—wording which indicates that it is still at least a Plan B, (for one cannot “merely” be something without being that something.)

When I commented on Steve’s post, I pointed out that this type of thinking demonstrates to me that someone who believes in this manner must jettison the immutability of God at some point. Olson seems to be fine with that, saying: “It is sad that so many Christians…prefer instead a philosophical idea of God as glorious according to human conceptions of glory—immutable, impassible, apathetic, self-enclosed, infinite (in the sense of incapable of limitations).”

Olson already should not be seriously quoted by any Arminian in the first place as he is essentially already an Open Theist. Nevertheless, certain Arminian organizations still hold him in high esteem. The viewpoint of God having a Plan B is also relatively common among Arminians I’ve met, but it holds quite a dilemma for a consistent-minded person.

First, it requires God to change. This is what is meant by mutability. An immutable God is an unchanging God (Malachi 3:6a, ESV— “For I the LORD do not change”) . One who is the same from day to day (Hebrews 13:8, ESV – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”). One who does not vary: “James 1:17b, ESV – “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”). Clearly, to deny the immutability of God, you must deny many Scriptural passages (a problem Olson doesn’t mind, since he denies the inerrancy of Scripture in the first place—again I ask why any Arminian still quotes this guy).

But if God had to come up with a Plan B, then the Arminian is faced with a problem. Either God had to change and invent a new Plan B, or God knew Plan A would fail all along. The problem with the first prong stretches beyond just the immutability of God, but also runs straight into the omniscience of God. How would it be possible for God not to know Plan A would fail if God is omniscient? Indeed, if God did not know if Plan A would work or not, then He had to learn that information. It would mean that when God implemented Plan A, He didn’t know what would happen, putting God on equal footing with man.

I believe that this question here could very well be the distinction between Arminians and Open Theists, because Open Theists will just acknowledge, “Yeah, God learned something. He doesn’t know everything.” But Arminians do not want to jettison Omniscience and Immutability, and therefore will conclude that God knew that Plan A would fail all along.

But here’s the question. If I know that a plan isn’t going to work, but I do it anyway, what does that say about my intelligence? Let me give a concrete example to play with. I work an IT Help Desk job during the day. If someone called up and said that they can’t connect to the internet, I know that telling them to turn off all the power in their house will not fix the solution. It would be foolish for me to offer that as a suggestion. Instead, I offer suggestions about things that might be causing the problem. “Have you tried resetting your router? Can you connect with a different browser than your default browser? Are you getting malicious popup advertisements that might indicate a virus?” Etc. Now, to be sure I do rank those in order of which is most likely to be occurring with a given customer, and if the first suggestion fails I move on to the next one. Thus, I do engage in Plan B behavior. But that’s sort of the whole point. Since I’m not omniscience and I don’t know what the problem is until I’ve investigated it, then I’m forced to offer Plan A, Plan B, all the way up to, “Buy a Mac so you can call me back and hear me say, ‘I’m sorry, we only support PCs here.’”

But if we are insisting that God knew that Plan A—testing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—was going to fail, requiring Him to move to Plan B, and God did what He knew would fail anyway, then that doesn’t speak much for the intelligence of God. In point of fact, we have to realize that if God knew that Plan A would fail, the only rational option left is to conclude that what we are calling Plan B was God’s Plan A all along.

Returning to the Help Desk analogy: if I’m working with someone who is completely unknowledgeable about computers and I know that rebooting his computer will fix the issue, having him turn off all the power to his house may not be so crazy after all. Instead, the point of turning off the power is so that the actual plan—Plan B—is put into effect. The computer powers down and must be restarted.

Granted, that example is extremely forced, but it should make the logical structure obvious. If God knew that Plan A couldn’t help but fail, then Plan B was His genuine Plan A all along. The only reason Plan A would be put into effect is so that Plan B happens. Thus, Plan A failing is the first step of Plan B. Plan B is the genuine plan and Plan A is the mere prelude. But if that is the case, then we can jettison the whole language of Plan B, because it just simply is the only plan that exists.

So it seems to me that Arminians are stuck in an uncomfortable position here. Either they must side with the Open Theists in believing that God is not omniscient or immutable, or they must side with the Calvinists in agreeing that God planned the fall of man in some sense so that He would redeem mankind. The only other option is to say God does things He knows must fail in the hope that it would succeed anyway, which seems to me to be pretty close to a certain definition of insanity that’s thrown around….

1 comment:

  1. I've heard many of the things Olson says parroted by ignorant (not a pejorative) Arminians, but in my experience after careful dialogue and going to the Scriptures most of these folks will jettison the bad arguments and side with the Bible, even though they may not immediately become 5-Point Calvinists or totally abandon their position, ending up somewhere in the neighborhood of - "Well, I'm not sure what it means, but whatever it means it can't mean that!"

    It's generally charitable to assume that average lay people who make the sort of claims that Olson makes are simply repeating what they've heard a teacher they respect claim, and have uncritically accepted the arguments. There are a lot of Biblically illiterate and poorly discipled Christians in the church.

    But in the case of Olson and people like him this isn't the case. Instead these people are familiar with the counter arguments, and they know what the Scriptures teach, and they simply reject God's Word in favor of their own worldview instead of conforming their worldview to God's revelation.

    This is inexcusable wickedness and high-treason. These are hirelings, false teachers, and wolves in sheep's clothing.