Sunday, June 22, 2014

Arminianism’s Scriptural and Philosophical Problems - Part 2

In Search of a Coherent Narrative


Part 2: Arminianism’s Scriptural and Philosophical Problems
Part 7: A Systematic Understanding of Universalism 

Photo by Darren Tunnicliff

Previously I discussed what an Arminian narrative or paradigm generally looked like. Ultimately, it emphasizes the concept of Freewill and denies the hand of God in ultimately choosing whom to save. God’s choice is a response to man’s choice.

Even though I do consider Arminianism still workable and honourable in many aspects, I still find it uncompelling concerning its ability to explain the scriptural revelation given to us by God. It also struggles to explain Biblical concepts in a philosophically coherent manner. In this next section, I will firstly take scripture as an example, and then cover some of the philosophical difficulties that Arminianism has with dealing with these scriptures. Many aspects of scripture come against the Arminian idea of Freewill and suggest that God through our surroundings determines who we are and what choices we make. The Bible contains many, many scriptures pertaining to God predestining and determining people’s lives. Aspects of our lives being determined can be a frightening concept, but is an idea that will be further addressed throughout this series.

For the mean time, here are some examples in the Bible suggesting that at least some parts of our lives are determined:


  • Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
  • Proverbs 16:4 “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” 
  • Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” 
  • Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” 
  • Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” 
  • Proverbs 21:1-3 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” 
  • Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” 
  • John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” 
  • Acts 4:28 “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” 
  • Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
  • Romans 9:11 “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls” 
  • Romans 8: 29-30 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” 
  • Romans 9: 14 – 24 “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” 
  • Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” 
  • Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” 
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” 
  • Revelation 17:8 “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.” 

In Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:11 the Greek word for “predestine” is “prooriz√≥”, which according to Strong’s concordance means “I foreordain, predetermine or mark out before-hand”. In verses like these, God gives a strong impression that He decides an outcome beforehand and makes it happen. Could it be that our destiny is decided before we have any say in the matter?

Not only does the Bible talk about predestination, but it also talks about God giving a measure of faith to people (Romans 12:3). However, strangely, in many other places God seems to attribute us the responsibility of generating faith, but as already mentioned, Romans suggests that our faith actually comes from God.

Proverbs is often clear about the outcomes of our plans actually being determined by God, even people’s hearts! Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It suggests that our surroundings (parents, in this instance) have a heavy influence on who we become. Conclusively, scripture expresses ideas that suggest that our wills are not as free as some would suppose.


Foreknowledge


Faced with these verses that threaten Freewill, Arminians sometimes try to get around the idea of predestination by attributing His choice of individuals to His foreknowledge, as found in the five points of Arminianism mentioned in the last section. Romans 8:29 is a key verse that provides us with a concept of foreknowledge along with predestination. If God merely knew beforehand (rather than predestined) who would choose to be saved and who would choose not to be, then this seems to enable our Freewill. That is, God supposedly predestines people’s salvation after His foreknowledge of their choice of outcome. However, there still seems to be several difficulties with placing foreknowledge before predestination in this manner, which will be my focus in the remainder of this section.

Arminian concept of God’s foreknowledge attempts to provide us with an ability to choose God before He chooses us. Yet, concerning this explanation, it falls apart when looked at more closely. Let me explain. I see that comprehensibly God can know the future by three possible ways:


  1. God foreknows the future because He is outside of time as we know it. God could view reality like a video and zip back and forward as He wills. Alternatively, He could see all time periods at once. Either way, from His perspective, the future is as if it has already happened.
  2. God set creation in motion like a wound up clock and can predict what will happen by observing everything according to a cause and effect (domino effect) scenario. Thus, God determines man’s “Freewill” through cause and effect.
  3. The future is predictable not because of cause and effect but because God creates and plans (in the present) every aspect, and does as He wishes. Thus, man’s will would be determined by God’s active involvement in the present moment.

The last two views violate Arminian Freewill because God would be the one who is micro managing processes and outcomes, even our wills. Arminians could go with the first explanation in order to keep man’s Freewill at the same time as God foreknowing who would be saved. The problem with this view is the emphasis on the future tense of “will be” or “would choose”. Arminianists say that God foreknows who would choose Him or who will choose Him, implying that the future has not happened yet. However, if God already knows the future, then surely it must have already happened, at least from His perspective. Otherwise, how could He know it? If that is true, then all of time must be knowledge to God – not foreknowledge.

In addition, if everything has already happened in the future, how then can God be involved within that future? If He did enter that timeline and intervened somehow, then the future must not yet have happened. However, if we accept that God can know the future without it already having happened, then we immediately enter one of the other two options mentioned earlier, where God creates or handles the very outcome of the future – ideas which go against the very grain of Arminianist thought.

Some people try to get around the idea of God being a deterministic sovereign Being, by saying that He does not know the future - the future is unpredictable. The future therefore is open to “possibilities”. This is called Open Theism. Arminianists could adopt this idea in order to “free up” Freewill as well as keeping God’s “choosing” abilities. However, I do not believe Open Theism is scriptural at all. The Bible is quite clear about God’s ability to know, predict or create the future. God’s predestining according to foreknowledge as expressed in Romans 8 would not be consistent in an Open Theist narrative, because He would have no knowledge of the future. The future is open to “possibilities” and cannot be foreknown.

Lastly, one could say that the people whom God chooses to be saved are not chosen on an individual basis but more on a hypothetical collective level. My question regarding this is where does God’s foreknowledge come into this perspective? If God had foreknowledge of the future people group who would choose Him, then surely He must have had foreknowledge of the individuals who would make up that people group that He predestined. Thus thinking of predestination as a hypothetical group of people does not answer how the people within that group actually become a part of that group, and in my opinion does not provide a leg for Freewill ideas to stand on (Romans 8:29).


Arminianism Freewill not only tries to 'free up' our choices, but ultimately tries to attribute the existence of evil to man. However, if God foreknows the future as well as allows man the freedom to choose good or evil, it still leaves God with the responsibility of allowing evil to happen. James 4:17 states that even the act of choosing not to do good and thus allowing evil to happen, is a form of sin. This implies that if God is able to change the future and does not do so, then He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.



This then leads to questions that we can ask of God as to why He actively allowed evil to happen, especially when He had foreknowledge of it. If God knows who will be saved and who will not be, then why bother creating people in the first place who will suffer eternity without Him? Does their existence simply suggest that God values Freewill, by providing an example of evil that the rest are saved from? These questions lead to concepts that some Calvinists have, such as God directly creating people for heaven and for hell. However, Arminianist thought opposes these ideas, because it would mean that God chose to create a situation for evil to exist (even though they still say that He had foreknowledge that evil would definitely exist). Thus, foreknowledge does not truly get God “off the hook” when it comes to creating evil - God actively allows evil to happen, especially because He foresaw it.



In conclusion, the Arminian concept of Freewill does not have a monopoly on scriptural verses that point towards it. Many contradict it, in fact. In addition, the concept of God’s foreknowledge enabling man’s Freewill does not actually work. It fails on multiple levels, such as failing to attribute the author of sin to us, failing to provide a way for God to choose us after we chose Him and therefore failing to provide an answer as to how humankind chooses redemption or not.

NEXT...
    

Friday, June 13, 2014

Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative - Part 1


In Search of a Coherent Narrative

Part 1: Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative
Part 5:  A Biblical Universalism
Part 6: Biblical Support for Universalism

to come...


Part 7: A Systematic Understanding of Universalism 

Photo by Stuart Anthony


Introduction

This series is about a search for a coherent scriptural narrative of our lives in relation to God and the world that we live in. Looking at reality, we all create some sort of narrative or way of understanding the world around us - sometimes realised and sometimes not. Within Christian circles today, two grand narratives go head to head. They are the narratives of Arminianism and Calvinism. These two narratives are not synonymous with each other even though they both fall under Christian belief. At first glance, they seem to be a dichotomy, but I do not see them as necessarily being so. This series will seek to draw a sought after unity between concepts within Arminianism and Calvinism with regards to their inherent difficulties. The first analysis will cover the key concepts of Arminianism - what it is, why it is attractive, and why I believe it does not work. The second analysis will cover Calvinism - what it is, why it is attractive, and why I believe it doesn’t work. The third analysis will provide a potential solution to the inherent difficulties within the Arminian and Calvinistic narratives.

Before I begin, I will share a little of my background surrounding these issues to shed some light on where I am coming from. I grew up in a dedicated Christian family who taught me to search for truth. Ever since I was young, I enjoyed mulling over idealistic views about life. I relished the challenge of explaining reality in a way that others could understand. My journey ventured into trying to provide an answer that tied together the disparities between Arminianism’s “man’s free will” and Calvinism’s “God’s free will”. I originally held to Arminian thought but became more and more unsettled by it. I valued human choice. To me, if we were without choice, then questions like these arise - how can one have love for God? Or – How can one be loyal without the opportunity to be disloyal? I understood love to be a choice and therefore not compelled. Not only that, but as I read the Bible it seemed to me that man’s free will was evident, especially considering that God required and expected certain actions and outcomes from people. However, emphasizing man’s responsibility meant that I read over many of the passages that talked about predestination and the role that God played in choosing who would be His chosen people (the elect) and who would not be. I tried many a time to get around these passages. This disparity left me perplexed - how God could expect actions and outcomes from people contrary to what He had already predestined them to do? For a good while, I simply saw this inconsistency as a paradox and trusted in God’s love and grace to bring about the best outcome for individuals and humankind. However, I have since studied these disparities more closely and discovered an idea that I believe provides a possible resolution to these otherwise opposing narratives.

To further explore Arminianism and Calvinism, I will first give an overview of the KEY components of each respectively. At the end of each overview, I will raise in more detail the scriptural, philosophical, and moral struggles of each that I have found inherent in their thought. Now I realise there are multiple variants of Arminianism and Calvinism, such as the difference between Moderate Calvinism and High Calvinism. However, I believe they all fundamentally have the same core issues. It is predominantly these core issues that I will address.


Part 1: Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative

The key components of an Arminian worldview are found in the five points of Arminianism, which is given in a little more detail here (http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/reformed-theology/arminianism/calvinism-vs-arminianism-comparison-chart/). A key concept in the Arminian thought is the very common idea of Freewill. (For the purpose of this series, in order to help distinguish what I mean by Freewill, I will use a capital “F” for Freewill when referring to Arminian Freewill.) Here is my brief summary of the five points of Arminianism:

Freewill or Human Ability. This understanding of man’s relationship to sin and God consists of a Freewill that is not bound. Man can freely choose to have faith in God but can also choose not to. Man’s will is not entirely subject to the sin nature. Once a man freely accepts God and puts faith in Him, then that is when the Spirit provides the needed assistance and intervenes in a person’s life.

Conditional Election. This is a reference to the process of how God choses those whom He will save. “Conditional Election” is where God chooses based on foreknowledge of the future as to who would place their faith in Him and who would not. Therefore, humankind ultimately chooses whom God chooses to be saved. God’s choice for salvation is a reply to man’s faith in Him.

Universal Redemption or Universal Atonement. This covers the scope of atonement provided by Christ on the cross. “Universal Atonement” says that Christ died for everyone’s sins, but that redemption will only come into effect if a person accepts what He has done for them on the cross. If a person rejects Christ, then there remains no atonement for their sins and therefore no forgiveness.

God’s Holy Spirit can be resisted. Similar to the above notions, this concept emphasises man’s Freewill. The Holy Spirit will work in people’s lives by calling them to Himself, but only will have effect for salvation when He is not resisted by them.

Falling from Grace. Some Arminians (not all) consider that those who are truly part of God’s people can still turn away from God. Some others believe that once a person has turned to God they cannot then turn away, thus creating division on this thought.


Taking all these key ideas together, they create a narrative or “worldview”. This narrative goes something like this: In the beginning, God created humankind. He created us like Himself so that we have Freewill to determine our own outcomes. We are ultimately our own sovereign over the outcome of our lives. Some say the reason for this is that God wanted a people who would be able to love Him freely and without compulsion. It would be impossible to have loyalty without the opportunity to be disloyal. God gave Adam and Eve this Freewill, but they used it to turn against God and put all of humanity in a state of separation from God. This grieved God. It grieved Him so much that He wanted to restore mankind to Himself. Yet God must keep justice by punishing evil. If He merely let Adam and Eve do as they wish with no consequences, He would be unjust as the Sovereign Creator. Therefore, He separated mankind from Himself because dark could not dwell with light. His grand plan was to send a Redeemer (Jesus Christ) who was to pay for the evil done by mankind, thus fulfilling the justice due. At the same time as this desire to draw mankind to Himself, He still values man’s Freewill and wants to draw them to Himself according to their choosing. If He forces mankind to choose Him then it would defeat one of the purposes of creating them in the first place – to have a people who would love Him freely and without compulsion. It would violate their Freewill. Thus God is divided – He wants good to reign and yet at the same time have Freewill. God values Freewill over all other desires of His, including the salvation of all people. Being a righteous judge, He must punish those who chose evil while still respecting their Freewill, and thus sends them to an eternal separation from Himself. Evil and light will not forever dwell together. In conclusion, sin is the result of mankind’s choice. However, mankind can seek after salvation and then form a partnership with God that will ultimately restore them into the image of God.


Another scenario that may help to explain the saving relationship between God and people is the drowning man (borrowed from David Pawson, http://davidpawson.org/). To an Arminian, salvation is like a man drowning in a river. God sees the man and throws him a rope to pull him ashore. The man then chooses whether he will grab hold of the rope or not. Many will reject it but some will accept it. As the man is pulled to shore, it would be incorrect to say that he saved himself. Yes, he did choose to grab hold of the rope, but God is the One who ultimately pulls him to shore.

The reasons behind accepting this paradigm are potentially many. The key ones that I see as the most relevant are:

- Arminianism takes the responsibility for sin away from God and places it on the individual. The alternative would state that since God is the Creator of all then that also makes Him the Creator of sin. If we were not responsible for our sins (that is, if God was responsible for sin) then that would seem to make God unfair – it paints Him as having unreasonable expectations of people, especially if He then sentences them to eternal conscious torment for acts of sin that they had no choice in. However, the Bible requires us to love God. Some Arminians believe that if God is the Creator of all and we are to love Him, then he must be lovable. Arminianism gets around the problem of a God who does “evil” (through directly creating sin) by attributing the existence of sin to mankind’s Freewill, thus letting God off the hook.

- Arminianists believe that people ultimately do not have a predisposition to choose God or not. When God judges people, He judges us according to our Freewill deeds. God would be unjust to judge us according to predisposition, because He created our predisposition.

 If man’s Freewill did not exist, then love or loyalty would not exist because it would not be free. How can one be loyal without the opportunity to be disloyal? We would be robots, mere play figures in the Creator’s world of evil and good.

 Much of scripture supports the Arminian belief. The general message of the Bible is that man is responsible for our sins and that God holds us accountable for our every action and thought.

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