Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taking Calvinism too far?

Or just to its logical conclusions? Copan on Sproul Jr.

36 comments:

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

Thanks for making me aware of this short piece by Copan. From reading the piece and knowing what consistent calvinists believe, R.C. Jr is simply taking his exhaustive determinism/his calvinism to its logical conclusion (i.e., that God necessitated the sin of Adam, God wanted the sin to occur and made sure that it was impossible for ADam to do otherwise). If this is squemish for anyone, it simply shows they do not understand the erroneous calvinistic system nor its logical conclusions. From seeing R.C. Jr's position, perhaps he should be added to the bloggers at Triablogue as his views would fit in perfectly there. Thanks for sharing this Victor. Now get ready for all the personal attacks and "anonymous" responders that will ensue from your post here.

Robert

normajean said...

I love Copan!

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I don't understand Paul's concern. It's as if he isn't aware of the supralapsarian position. I don't think I've ever read a more Arminian-sounding post from an ostensible Calvinist.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Sorry, my bad. I had thought Paul was a Calvinist because I had assumed that Parchment & Pen was an exclusively Calvinist blog. In fact, I'm told, he's an Arminian—so seeing an Arminian-looking post from him is hardly a surprise.

Perhaps Victor could elucidate what, precisely, about Paul's post he feels warrants response from a Calvinist. Its mere expressions of shock and horror are notably lacking any convincing argumentation.

Victor Reppert said...

I am not sure whether the younger Sproul isn't just being criticized for being a more consistent Calvinist than his father. I think a Calvinist should avoid saying that God needs reprobates in order to show his wrath, but that could be replaced by the statement that the existence of reprobates is intrisically good because it enables God to show his wrath.

Other than that, this looks to me to be what Calvinism is. I'm a little surprised by Copan's shock. It is to my mind horrifying, but then I don't care much for Calvinism.

William Watson Birch said...

I vote logical conclusions.

Anonymous said...

"anonymous" responders that will ensue from your post here."

Like Robert/Henry/Lurker/Sockpuppet?

Gordon Knight said...

Plantinga defends Supralapserianism here:

http://philosophy.nd.edu/people/all/profiles/plantinga-alvin/documents/Supralapsarianism.pdf

But P's version is molinistic.

a helmet said...

The schizophrenia of calvinism is displayed by the zealous attempts to make God the potter of vessels for dishonor, while simultaneously denying that He is the author of evil.

Who else does the title "author of sin" denote than the potter of dishonorable vessels?

May calvinism be choked by its own antagonisms.

-a helmet

normajean said...

Gordon, I wonder what Triabloggers think of Plantinga's Calvinism?

Robert said...

Hello NormaJean,

"Gordon, I wonder what Triabloggers think of Plantinga's Calvinism?"

Plantinga holds to both **libertarian free will** and to **molinism**, both concepts rejected by **consistent** calvinists. Normajean have you ever read Plantinga's famous talk titled: "ADVICE TO CHRISTIAN PHILOSOOPHERS"? In that talk he has a section in if where he talks about determinism. He makes it absolutely clear that he rejects it and that the arguments for it are extremely weak. Check it out if you have not already done so. Just do a google or other such search and you will easily find it.

Robert

normajean said...

Thanks!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Based on my ridiculously ignorant understanding, his article seems as logically valid as any other theology I've seen. Of course logical validity is only one goal. Soundness is probably useful too.

I like how he breaks up the sources of Evil to five possibilities. But doesn't the Bible say that Satan is the one that tempted Eve?

So that leaves, where did Satan's evilness come from? The environment, himself, or from God?

All three possibilities have unpalatable answers, especially within a deterministic framework where there exists no libertarian free will.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I asked:
"So that leaves, where did Satan's evilness come from? The environment, himself, or from God?"

This is simplistic. It could be from an interaction between Satan and the Environment, Satan and God, God and Environment, or all three. So really even given three elements in the basis set (environ, Satan, God), including relations is necessary so there are actually seven possible sources of Satan's evil.

Within the noncalvinistic traditions, what is considered the source of evil? Isn't it usually free will? Since Calvinists don't have this recourse, then it seems this guy isn't being crazy at all, but simply logical.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I have no idea what 'supralapsarian' is, and frankly the wiki article was pretty much Greek to me.

Mike Darus said...

Supralasparian Calvinism affirms that God elects those who will be saved and those who will be damned. It affirms that Election (God's decision) occurred before The Fall (Adam's sin- the "lapse"). It's alternative is Sublapsarian Calvinism that only affirms that God elects those who will be saved, not those who will not.

A common tenant that Supras and Subs agree on is that no one can believe in Christ unless the Holy Spirit enables them. Subs affirm that when God enables some, he is not condemning the rest.

When I studied theology in the '80's, there were no serious supralapsarians, therefore Calvinism was not criticized for saying that God chooses those who will be damned. Those who studied the issue would know that most Calvinists would deny this. It seems like the Internet has changed this. Now, a "consistent" Calvinist seems to be another name for the Supralapsarians and this is the new "majority?"

Victor Reppert said...

Mike: I don't think it's the internet exactly. I think many people have turned to Calvinism because they see abandonment of Calvinism as the foothold by which humanism infects evangelical theology, thus making Calvinism the bulwark against humanism. As such they are inclined to take the Calvinism "straight," and therefore embrace such things as supralapsarianism and theological determinism, as well as a full embrace of limited atonement. Theologians like Piper may be responsible for this development. But for people like Bnonn and the Triabloggers, what Sproul Jr. described as Calvinism is what it is. It may be that Copan was accustomed to the 80s version of Calvinism, and so was shocked to find a modern version which embraces the logical conclusion of the position without compromise or apology.

Victor Reppert said...

You will notice that the Triabloggers defend divine reprobation, and accept that language in describing what they believe.

kbrowne said...

Mike Darus,

The distinction between supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism seems to me a distinction without a difference. If God chooses to save A,B and C, but does not choose to save D,E and F when he could save everyone (and I take it all Calvinists agree on that point) how is this different from choosing to damn D,E and F.

a helmet said...

Ultimately calvinism ends up making God, who is holy, the author of sin. That's ridiculous and disqualifies that set of doctrines totally.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hardly a compelling argument given that the Bible itself explicitly describes God's relationship to sin in a way which you would describe as "authorship".

Anonymous said...

The Calvinism makes God the author of evil argument seems to me to be trying to win by simply labeling your opponent with a position that seems troublesome. This is very similar to how liberals or socialists try to win the political/economic debate. They simply claim that capitalism = not caring about the poor or injustice. Once you tar your opponent with that label, the hope is that people will agree and so victory will be acheived without having to do any hard work. Of course when the liberal/socialist is required to spell out his argument in rigorous fashion, it will be seen as nothing but assuming liberal/socialist assumptions about the world and then declaring yourself the winner based on liberal/socialist understandings of the world without ever having to actually argue for those understandings. But of course we all know that if you assume your position is right then you will see problems with the other side. But this is neither an interesting conclusion or a proper way to argue for a position. That's how I see it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, the other option is that once they try to spell it out in a rigorous and intellectual honest way, if their assumptions don't simply take for granted what needs to be proved, then they impale their own position on the very same sword.

Gordon Knight said...

Is there a Calvinist resposnse to the argument from evil?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Why would you ask that instead of just googling it and educating yourself?

http://www.google.co.nz/#hl=en&source=hp&q=argument+from+evil+site%3Atriablogue.blogspot.com

mattghg said...

Peter van Inwagen has this to say in his Gifford Lectures on the problem of evil:

There is the “radical Calvinist” defense, according to which God decrees evil in order that his glory may be displayed in its final defeat; all created beings who suffer, suffer justly (the defense contends) because God has created them with evil wills—to demonstrate his glory and power by his ultimate victory over them—and their sufferings are an ordinate punishment for the evil actions that their evil wills lead them to perform. (A Notre Dame graduate student, Christopher Green, defended this view in a term paper in a seminar on the problem of evil, and made it seem more plausible than I should have thought possible. A later version of this paper, entitled “A Compatibi-Calvinist Demonstrative-Goods Defense”, was read at the 2003 Eastern Division meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. It is as yet unpublished.)

That is, after having said that he thinks only the free-will defence has any hope of succeeding.

Robert said...

Billy Birch has a good article today (8-24-09) on what it means to say in calvinism that God is the "author of sin" on his site CLASSICAL ARMINIAN. His discussion goes directly to issues discussed in the Paul Copan article being discussed in this thread.

Robert

The Dude said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Hello Victor, [part 1]

People are not commenting directly on the Paul Copan article so I want to make some comments about it here. So the discussion gets focused on Copan’s comments rather than on tangents.
Copan writes:

“His father R.C. Sproul Sr., also a Calvinist, has been much more tentative and modest about the question of sin’s starting point; he basically concludes that this is a mysterious matter, stopping well short of attributing the origin of evil to God:” (then quoting Sproul Sr.)”

Senior is not being consistent with his own Calvinistic premise that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. Senior backs off from the logical implications of his own view because he knows where it leads: God not only allows sin, he necessitates it.

Copan writes:

“Sproul Sr. allows for a libertarian understanding of free will in Eden, which itself is a departure from Calvinism proper. But let that pass.”

Here Copan notes that Senior injects LFW into the beginning so as to escape the God necessitates sin logical implication of his own view. Copan says “But let that pass.” No, let’s not let that pass. If you allow for LFW at the beginning, maintain that LFW was present before Adam and Eve fell into sin, then their actions of sinning were not **necessitated** (as must be true under exhaustive predeterminism of all events)but were freely chosen. As freely chosen actions, they, not God, are culpable for their sinful actions. And if their actions were freely chosen involving LFW then God is not the author of sin. Senior plays this move in order to escape the logical implications of his own view. But we should not allow him this move, because you cannot simultaneously maintain that all events are predetermined and claim that LFW was present at the beginning before they sinned. If all is predetermined, then LFW never exists, cannot exist.

Copan after stating that Junior was more consistent in his calvinism (in that he acknowledges that if God predetermines all events then God is the author of sin and God necessitates the fall of Adam and Eve)writes:
“It seems that Sproul Jr. is not only using an argument from silence from the Confession, but he is ignoring an important emphasis in Scripture—that God cannot be the author of evil.”

What bothers Copan is that he sees that Junior in being consistent ends up with God as the author of sin. Other calvinists not being as forthright or consistent will try to evade this logical implication of their view by engaging in evasive manuevers such as (1)attacking the concept of “author of sin” (what do you mean by that term . . .?) or (2) claiming that under non-calvinistic premises, God is also the author of sin (it is a problem for us but it is also a problem for you).

Robert

Robert said...

[response to Victor part 2]

Copan writes:

“Yes, God can do what he wants, but what God does (and what he wants) will be good and just and reflecting his love and his holiness.”

His point is that God’s actions flow out of His character. It is true that God is sovereign meaning that He does as He pleases in any and all situations. But this sovereignty does operate in a vacuum, it operates with God’s character (He is good, He is loving, etc. etc.). And here is one of the major problems of calvinism: if God necessitates sinful actions and evil events, this contradicts his revealed character (e.g. He claims to be Holy and hate sin, but then he necessitates it so people have to do sin and it is impossible for them to do otherwise).

Copan continues:

“James 1 doesn’t only tell us that God can’t do evil; it also tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above; that is, God shouldn’t be accused as being the source of evil. God is intrinsically good and so cannot “create evil.”

Again his point is that God acts in line with his character. And as He is intrinsically good he cannot directly cause or create evil (that would be a contradiction of His revealed character).

Copan calls this error of claiming that God directly causes or creates evil the Manichean error:

“2. The Manichean error: Sproul Jr., it seems, has pushed things over the orthodox edge by saying that God is the author or creator of evil. This stands in violation of what 1 Timothy 4:4 tells us: “For everything God created is good.””

And according to Copan this error crosses the line by making God into the author or creator of evil. God allows evil to occur but the orthodox position is that he does not directly cause or bring it about (angels and humans do so)and he does not (did not) create evil things or persons.

Some necessatarians speak as if God creates evil persons directly, as if he creates them evil. The orthodox and longstanding Christian view is that God created all things good originally but that sin entered the world through freely chosen actions. Or put another way, God does not create evil persons, he creates persons with the capacity to do evil who then freely choose to do evil (they make themselves evil, God does not create them that way). If all things are necessitated as both Senior and Junior believe, then LFW does not exist and cannot exist and God then does in fact create evil and evil persons. If LFW exists and sin is a freely made choice then God does not create evil and evil persons moral evil instead is a freely made choice.

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Robert,

The statement, "All events are predtermined." is not a fair representation of classic Calvinism. Calvinism affirms that God elects who will be saved. This is different from "all events." It is very difficult to find biblical evidence for God's determination of "all events." This conclusion is usually based on a "omni-sovereignty" approach based more on logic consistency than bibilcal evidence. There is strong support for limiting the decrees of God to bigger issues like who is elect, Christ's atonement, Christ's return and possibly the length of a person's life.

Mike Darus said...

kbrowne:

You are almost right. There is a hair's breadth difference between Supra- and Sublapsarian Calvinism but the difference is real. It is possible for God to choose some without damning others. Calvinism assumes all are damned unless God enables faith. All are condemned, not because of God's action, but Adam's free act which degrades the freedom of his descendants. Calvinism denies that people have free will because their faculties are diminished by depravity inherited from Adam. The cause of their inability to have faith is not God, but Adam, compounded by their own actions. In Sublapsarian Calvinism, there is a denial that God chose who would be condemned.

It think of it like walking into a class of 30 kindergärtners with a bag of M&M's. You give 10 kids an M&M and leave. You have not changed the state of the other 20. They may be mad, but their situation is not changed. In this way, God choosing some does not mean he has predestined the rest.

Calvinism is not a cozy theology, but it can be logical and internally consistent.

Robert said...

Hello Mike,

I agree with some of what you say and disagree with some of what you say (surprise! :-)).

“The statement, "All events are predetermined." is not a fair representation of classic Calvinism.”

Disagree. Actually it **is** what “classic Calvinism” believes. The statement in the Westminster confession that “God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass” declares that in calvinism “all events are predetermined”. Calvin believed that, as did Luther as did Jonathan Edwards as does Piper as does MacArthur, etc. etc.

“Calvinism affirms that God elects who will be saved. This is different from "all events."”
The consistent classic calvinist believes that God predetermines all events, which includes who will be saved and who will not be saved. You will find this to be true of all of the famous proponents of the view as well as in all of their historical confessions.

“It is very difficult to find biblical evidence for God's determination of "all events."”

I agree with you here: which is one of the reasons that I reject exhaustive determinism/classical calvinism.

“This conclusion is usually based on a "omni-sovereignty" approach based more on logic consistency than biblical evidence.”

The view is based upon proof texting from some selected passages. Of course the error being made here is that even if we grant that these passages properly interpreted suggest God predetermining a particular event or outcome: you cannot logically infer a universal proposition (i.e. that all events are predetermined by God) from particular instances where this is the case.

And what you are calling the “omni-sovereignty approach” ***is*** the approach of Calvin et al. They all hold to exhaustive predeterminism of all events. Copan recognizes this in his article which is why he recognizes that Junior is being consistent with exhaustive predeterminism while Senior is not (the issue being what consistency with exhaustive predeterminism logically entails).

“There is strong support for limiting the decrees of God to bigger issues like who is elect, Christ's atonement, Christ's return and possibly the length of a person's life.”

Mike you are presenting a popular version of calvinism in which it is said not that God predetermines **all** events but that he merely predetermines the most important issues such as individual salvation (“like who is elect”) while not predetermining all events. I have a friend who holds to libertarian free will being present most of the time except for when it comes to individual salvation where predeterminism kicks in. So he thinks he has the best of all worlds holding to both LFW and to TULIP. But such a position is not classical calvinism, not what Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc. believed. And TULIP has some real problems. So what he has is a hybrid view which is unstable and not in my opinion very defensible.

Robert

Mike Darus said...

Robert,
One of the more complex debates is whether Calvin would agree with Calvinism that developed after his death. I am no Calvin scholar but my recolection from when I had opportunity to focus on the issue is that Calvin probably did not believe in TULIP. It was his followers that invented Calvinism. He was a decent biblical expositor who took Scripture seriously.

I appreciate the reference to the Westminister Confession. The statement seems clear but the biblical references in the Confession are only about election and the rest of the paragraph is filled with qualifications. Maybe there is room for me to choose which shirt to wear.

Robert said...

Hello Mike,

“One of the more complex debates is whether Calvin would agree with Calvinism that developed after his death. I am no Calvin scholar but my recollection from when I had opportunity to focus on the issue is that Calvin probably did not believe in TULIP. It was his followers that invented Calvinism. He was a decent biblical expositor who took Scripture seriously.”

I am not sure that I would agree with you that Calvin held one view and later followers developed calvinism. Here is what I understand that Calvin held to: (1) God has predetermined all events that come to pass; (2) God decided beforehand who would be saved and who would be lost (i.e., double predestination); (3) he would affirm total depravity as understood by most calvinists; (4) he definitely held to unconditional election (of both believers and unbelievers); (5) Limited atonement is the debated one because he makes some statements that seem to hold to “limited atonement” and other statements that hold to “unlimited atonement” (with various calvinists emphasizing various statements depending on the view they want him to have! :-) ); (6) he definitely held to irresistible grace; (7) he definitely held to perseverance of the saints; and (8) he definitely rejected libertarian free will (if everything is necessitated by God then there can never be libertarian free will, no one can ever do otherwise than what God has decreed). So it seems to me that Calvin held at least four of the five points of TULIP and in addition held to the exhaustive predetermination of all events and denied libertarian free will. I also do not see subsequent followers departing much from Calvin on these eight points. If you want to show that I am mistaken about any of these points I would like to see that. But this is my understanding based upon what I have read heard.

“I appreciate the reference to the Westminister Confession. The statement seems clear but the biblical references in the Confession are only about election and the rest of the paragraph is filled with qualifications. Maybe there is room for me to choose which shirt to wear.”

I referred to the Westminster confession only because it is representative of classic calvinist beliefs. Regarding the “qualifications” the necessatarian has to have those because just presenting necessatarian beliefs without any attention diverting clothes on presents a very ugly and grotesque figure.

Regarding having room “for me to choose which shirt to wear.”” That is only if you recognize and admit that at least some times we do in fact experience libertarian free will(sometimes we **have** choices).

Mike do you believe that we sometimes experience libertarian free will, that we sometimes have choices? OR do you believe like the confession says that “God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass” and so we never have choices? You cannot hold to both, either it is all necessitated and LFW cannot and never has existed. Or LFW is sometimes present so everything is not predetermined and necessitated.

Which is your “vote” Mike? :-)

Robert

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mike thanks for the explanation of supralapsarianism.