Well, as I am stranded in Richmond now (prayers that I will eventually, someday, arrive in Kiev, Ukraine, to teach Church History, would be appreciated!) I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to Michael Brown’s “Calvinist Conundrums” that he posted on FaceBook today. They will allow me to bring up some issues that we discussed in Charlotte a year ago, and to once again press my friend on his systematic theology (which he has, whether he realizes it or not!).
The value of responding to these alleged problems with the Reformed position can be found in just this: the synergist, who is not an open theist, has to answer the very same questions the Calvinist does! And I firmly assert that the synergist truly has no consistent response to the very objections he raises to the Reformed position, outside, that is, embracing open theism and thereby departing from classic, and I would argue, Christian, theism. Open theism truly is the only consistent Arminianism. Thankfully, my Arminian brothers are not consistent.
The first Calvinist Conundrum Michael posted (I never found it but he summarized it for me) was regarding “what a sinner could say to God on judgment day after being damned without having the possibility of salvation.” Of course, the issue is not whether justice is defined by possibilities that were unknown to the creatures thusly being judged. No man will be judged based upon what they did not, nor could not, know, They will be judged upon the motivations of their hearts, and every single one thusly judged, justly, will be found to have violated, purposefully, repeatedly, and joyfully, God’s law. The idea that there has to be some kind of “chance” given to condemned sinners is unbiblical and illogical. God could have justly judged the entirety of Adam’s posterity based upon his representation of them without saving any; if one rejects this, one rejects the very basis upon which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. In any case, the false assumption inserted into the question is that for justice to exist, God must treat all people in the same fashion, and while that is very popular in Western society today, it is not a biblical concept. God treats one portion of mankind with demerited grace and mercy; and one portion with strict and proper justice, judging them on the basis of their suppression of the truth and their purposeful violation of God’s law.
But please note, Michael has to answer the same question, since he affirms God’s exhaustive knowledge of all future events. God created a world in which He knew exactly which of His creatures would be damned for eternity even before the creation came into existence. And since that knowledge is infallible, it could not turn out any other way. Those individuals had no chance to be saved (outside of violating God’s foreknowledge of their damnation). We are left with the odd idea that God tries and tries and tries to save individuals that He well knows will not be saved, and they themselves have no chance to be saved.
Oh, I can hear the response: “But that is their choice! If they would but turn, they would be saved.” I can say the same thing. Anyone who would turn would be saved, but I know that outside of the gracious act of regeneration, none will ever do so. But in my case, the theoretical repentance of one of the non-elect, violating both the decree of God as well as the biblical teaching of man’s nature, flies in the face of positive biblical teaching. For Michael, it raises the possibility of error in God’s own knowledge of His creation and events in time, thusly undermining the perfection of God and the basis of prophecy itself. In any case, it shows that the argument cuts both ways.
For this conundrum to have validity not only would Michael have to have a basis for answering it himself, but it would have to define justice more clearly, and would have to establish that God could not choose to act both justly and graciously for His own purposes; that is, it would have to establish that if God acts in grace to creature X, He must likewise, and in all cases, act in grace toward Y, Z, A, B, etc. It is painfully clear, just in basic biblical revelation, that God has shown unmerited favor to group X while showing justice to group Y in the same context: Israel and Egypt being a wonderful example.
The second alleged conundrum went as follows:
Calvinist Conundrum #2: Since God clearly defines justice for us in the Word, using Himself as the perfect model of justice, how is He acting justly by creating someone who had no option but to sin and then eternally condemning that person for sinning? How is that justice? How is that an example of the Judge of all the earth doing what is just” (Gen 18:25)? And one other question for the discussion. Did Adam sin by his own free will or, as Calvin stated, “because the Lord had judged it to be expedient”?
Let me answer the last first: both, of course. Did Joseph’s brother’s sin by their own choice or by God’s predetermined plan? Both. Did the King of Assyria punish Israel by his own choice, or by God’s determination? Both. Did Pilate condemn Jesus by his own choice, or did God predestine it to occur? Both. Etc. and etc. This is the very essence of compatibilism.
Now, when we speak of post-fall sin, we are in “our own world” and can understand how it works fairly directly. But when it comes to Adam, well, we have very, very little biblical revelation regarding his nature, will, etc. It is easy to project onto him from our post-fall position, but that would be dangerous. But once again, Michael is in the very same boat we are in, only he lacks the one vital element that makes it all work, the divine decree. That is, he can say Adam fell of his own free will, but he has to, at the same time, say that God knew Adam would fall, that it was a certainty when God created that Adam would fall, but that the fall, though certain, was not “because the Lord judged it to be expedient.”
This is the same problem Michael faces with his alleged conundrum. In light of the infallible nature of God’s knowledge of all future events, He created, fully aware of the condemnation of those who are outside of Christ. He brought them into existence, knowing that they would never be saved, knowing they would experience His wrath, knowing, infallibly, their end. It is just that He did so without any particular purpose in their life, their interaction with those who would be saved, and their just condemnation. They just “happened” to happen! Nothing could be done about it, I guess! God is eternally bummed about them, but, it’s not His fault! Sure, He could have not created this universe, but He did, and there just isn’t any reason why He did so in such a way as to bring those people into existence.
This is really where I think Michael is at his weakest in rejecting Reformed theology. This was a vital portion of our exchange a year ago at SES. As noted above, the problem with the alleged conundrum is two-fold: it assumes that for God’s actions to be just that He must treat all men the same; that is, that if He extends grace to X, He must extend the same exact grace to Y. But we know this is not true biblically, and we know it is not true experientially. The grace shown to the inhabitants of, say, Antioch in the first century after Christ is completely different than the grace shown to the inhabitants of, say, the Olmec peoples of central America during the same time frame. This is a given. So the assumption of the conundrum is invalid. But there is another error inherent in its statement. It ignores the fact that men sin willingly, not under coercion. It lacks a properly biblical anthropology, and hence does not seem to realize that God’s Spirit is actively restraining evil, not coercing evil, a major and important difference. It is not that they had “no option but to sin” (confusing man’s actions based upon desire with a knowledge of God’s eternal decree, which none of us possess) but that they choose to sin, long to sin, love to sin. The way the objection is stated communicates the idea that you have an innocent party that is put in a position of having to do something evil, with no “options.” Such is a far cry from what Reformed theology is asserting, and more importantly, it is a far cry from what the Bible explains is man’s condition and nature after the Fall.