Debate on Calvinistic Compatibilism: Matt’s Wrap-Up

I thank you Derek for the time and attention you have given to our discussion and for exemplifying a spirit of genuine brotherhood despite are sharp disagreements. If anyone has allowed his passions to get the better of him—it is me 🙂 Passion + blunt frankness + keyboard doesn’t always equal the greatest medium for discussion in my experience. However with the resurgence of Calvinism in many young people—who I believe do not fully know what they are adopting—I cannot think of a more critical discussion to have. We are after all debating whether or not God’s mind is the origin of conception for every evil He allegedly divinely decreed—and the logical consequences of that view.

In your wrap-up you stated that my critique of your Calvinist position is “utterly inaccurate” and “fraught with mischaracterization.” Of course I couldn’t disagree more! I quote you at length in many places and critically engage you in your own words. So this accusation is quite inappropriate. What you construe as mischaracterization is simply the unfurling of the banner of what you believe to its full “glory.” It’s almost as if you would rather keep some of it rolled up under the pretense it doesn’t exist or it is not germane to our discussion. All too often I find the last card Calvinists play is the classic “mischaracterization card” to avoid further explanation.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to mischaracterize Calvinism–or Arminianism. Both sides can attack straw men. But I have not done so and you offer no evidence to the contrary—just more assertion to sidestep logical obligations placed upon your view. In fact you fail to offer a single, demonstrable example in defense of your claim that I have mischaracterized what Calvinism logically ENTAILS. Note I said “logically entails” Derek. Our discussion has never been about what Calvinism’s historic confessions assert or claim. Merely quoting a portion of the Westminster Confession counts for nothing in this discussion. It’s not about what can be claimed, it’s about what can be demonstrated after every stone has been unturned. Why is it that Arminians are constantly accused of mischaracterizing, misunderstanding and misapprehending Calvinism whenever they showcase it fully and filter out all the obscuring language that trades one meaning for another?

Case in point was when you claimed God determinatively decreed everything that occurs—including sin, but when asked I ask if this includes “millstone worthy” evils like children being raped you suddenly and inexplicably re-couch your theology as “God decreed to allow men to freely commit evil—like rape.” Given your habit of conveniently trading in “God decreed all evil” to “God decreed to allow men to freely commit evil,” I asked you more than once to explain WHY Calvinism’s usage of the word “allow” isn’t wholly irrelevant and meaningless given the fact that God causally determines and renders certain what he decrees to occur. You never answered this. You just repeat it over and over. I asked you multiple times, “Does God need to ask permission from himself to carry out his own determined will?” Again—no answer—just more repetition and now the accusation that I’m mischaracterizing your position.

I can only assume your reflexive reaction against my critique and your unwillingness to logically connect-the-dots inherent to your own statements, is an act of sheer-will, Derek. And you exhibit quite a strong will 🙂 Although I am disappointed with your last reply, I cannot say I am very surprised. The questions I presented to you, as well as my request that you undergird your assertions with further explanation that doesn’t appeal to more assertion, (i.e. “you mischaracterize Calvinism”) is ultimately an insufferable task for you or any Calvinist. It is not entirely your fault though—when the multiple layers of articulate oratory, spiritual platitudes, and obscuring language are peeled off one finds a core belief structure that is thoroughly inconsistent, untenable and inseparably coupled with cognitive dissonance that invites confusion and contradiction more than clarity and understanding.

NOW—that’s a lot of assertion, isn’t it? 🙂 So let me now undergird it with examples so that my points don’t just drift aimlessly in a sea of words, assertions and historical confessions unanchored and unsubstantiated.

Let’s examine your chosen theme that runs throughout your last reply:

“You demonstrate a total misunderstanding of key Calvinist convictions… you present Calvinism in an utterly inaccurate way…I cannot think of any mainstream Calvinist who has ever held to the kind of belief you define as Calvinism…I will simply suggest you study the actual beliefs of dozens of historic Calvinist leaders… it is unfortunate that you misrepresent my views on logic and paradox In a way strikingly similar to the way you misrepresent Calvinism.”

And here is a key statement: “Your persistently repeated misstatements about the beliefs of Calvinists have prompted me to attempt to clarify what Calvinists actually believe versus what you claim they believe. This is, of course, not a matter of mere logical proof, but of historical analysis.”

Derek, we need to get one thing clear. My aim has never been to argue, “this is what Calvinists say and conclude about their views.” Rather I have sought to argue: “THIS IS WHAT CALVINISM SAYS AND THEREFORE THIS IS WHAT CALVINISM LOGICALLY ENTAILS.”

You are confusing and conflating two different things: assertive claims with demonstrative claims. I’m attacking the logical coherence of Calvinism’s assertive claims by pointing out that it cannot meet the logical obligations placed upon it to move from assertion to demonstration.

So I fail to see where I mischaracterized what Calvinism asserts and logically entails, Derek. Does it not say God decreed everything–every thought, desire and choice of man? Does it not say God renders certain everything that occurs through his sovereign will? Does it not say that God determined Adam and Eve to fall into sin—despite not having a fallen nature that desired evil?

You can’t deny this Derek—for they are repeatedly stated in your own historical confessions and scholarly proponents.

So what do you deny? You simply deny the logical implications of these views the way I have argued them. So if I’m wrong—where am I wrong? If I overstate my case logically—where? After 25 posts I’m now convinced that you can offer no counter-argument to the contrary. You either highlight the limits of our human logic to critique the Calvinistic, theological portrait of God (the very portrait suspect!) Or you repetitiously appeal to a paradoxical interpretation of scripture that is hermeneutically driven by the very Calvinistic theology under question! So in a sense you are just chasing your proverbial tail. You are busy saying much but proving little, my friend.

A little caveat is in order. I am not suggesting at all that our logic trumps God’s revelatory word! I’m saying they are not incompatible as your view would seem to imply–such that we need to resort to mystery or paradox in the here and now. While some mysteries and tensions in scripture are beyond the reach of our logic to fully plumb their depths, I adamantly refuse to accept the proposition that questions surrounding God’s moral nature in the face of alleged “biblical doctrines” is intended by God to be one of those “mysteries.” This is what distinguishes your view from mine.

Here’s how I would summarize our debate and the questions we started with, which are still unanswered:

1) I know that Calvinism asserts: “God’s will of decree has ultimate, determinative control over what we choose, but that does not invalidate freedom of choice.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN HOW THIS IS NOT A LOGICAL IMPLICATION? No—they don’t and neither have you.

2) I know that Calvinism asserts: “God conceived of every evil he subsequently decreed, but that doesn’t mean he is the author of the evils he conceived and decreed.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN HOW THIS IS NOT A LOGICAL IMPLICATION? No—they don’t and neither have you.

3) I know that Calvinism asserts, “God’s mind is the decretive origin for all evils, but that doesn’t mean such evils ultimately originated in his mind.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN HOW THIS IS NOT A LOGICAL IMPLICATION? No—they don’t and neither have you.

4) I know that Calvinism asserts, “God decreed the very sins we do, such that we cannot choose against God’s prior decree of the sin we are determined to commit, but that doesn’t mean God tempted us to do the very sins he decreed we are to commit.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN HOW THIS IS NOT A LOGICAL IMPLICATION? No—they don’t and neither have you.

5) I know that Calvinism asserts, “God determinately decreed the sin of X to occur, such that X must occur in accordance with the divine decree, but that doesn’t mean it is meaningless and irrelevant to say God allows the sin of X to occur freely.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN HOW THIS NOT A LOGICAL IMPLICATION? No—they don’t and neither have you.

6) I know that Calvinism asserts, “God causally determined the very acts of evil and wickedness scripture says he hates and abhors. But this doesn’t mean God hates himself or hates what he sovereignly decreed.” BUT DO THEY EXPLAIN…do they explain, do they explain… no Derek—there is never a demonstrative explanation to evince claims asserted.

I do not mean to be cheeky or unkind, but the inconsistency of your position is consistent in one key area—you consistently make inconsistent claims you can’t substantiate.

Derek, it does no good to appeal to your “endless quotations” from Calvinists who will “provide veritable mountains of proof” from “dozens of historic Calvinist leaders” if in the end none of them bother to explain or unravel the incompatible nature of what they ASSERT. If an error is asserted 100 times in a row through multiple people through multiple generations, it doesn’t make it any less of an error. The closest anyone came to providing an answer beyond the appeal to mystery is Jonathan Edwards who tried to argue that God is not morally culpable for decreeing evil because God merely withdraws his grace and permits humans to choose according to their own sinful desires. But of course Edwards left out the key point that his view of sovereignty also entails God’s choice of what people desire! It’s like saying, “I’m not responsible for you getting lost and running out of gas—I wasn’t the one driving. I only manipulated and recalibrated the GPS and withdrew the gas from the tank before you left.”

Edwards cannot escape the conclusion that people still do only what God predetermined them to do. In fact in Edward’s view people aren’t even genuinely free to choose what sins they will commit—because each sin itself has been determined in virtue of the fact that the “strongest desire to decisively incline the will” has also been determined by the divine will. Moreover Edward’s theology also entailed that God determinatively decreed that Adam and Eve fall into sin—despite the fact that they did not have a sinful nature that would incline them to desire sin! So how is God not morally culpable for the fall of Adam and Eve? We have yet to hear an answer from your “veritable mountains of proof” from the “dozens of historic Calvinist leaders.”

Lastly you continue to assert there are no real logical problems inherent to your view. Why? Because your presumptive, Calvinistic framework tells you so. And what is your framework? That in our limited, human “two-dimensional” world we cannot make sense of the inconsistent propositions of Calvinism that you seemingly confess a “two-dimensional” world results in. BUT in God’s hidden, “3rd’ dimensional” divine logic perspective all these problems, paradoxes and mysteries disappear.

Let’s just assume that were true, Derek. If so, Calvinists ought not to go around preaching that all these difficult mysteries and paradoxes be dogmatically termed the “doctrines of grace”—as if the propositions of Calvinism were beyond question and self-evident in scripture ! At minimum they should present their thoughts and conclusions as “theory” and “speculation” given your own concession that our “two dimensional” perspective is too limited to make logical sense of these mysterious “infinities” of God’s inner working as you call it. From whence comes the dogmatic insistence among your historical creeds that Calvinism = unquestionable, 1st order doctrine???

All that being said, your example of round squares (cylinders) and square triangles (pyramids) sort of sums up why our discussion has been largely obstructed by your appeals to another reality of logic (God’s alleged mysterious perspective) to avoid logical conclusions derived from this reality (our human perspective). Obviously, Derek, no one denies cylinders and pyramids are the merging of two different shapes that take on a 3rd dimensional shape. However in philosophy “round squares” are routinely considered contradictory by definition because a square cannot have 4 right-angle sides and not have 4 right-angle sides. This would be an actual contradiction—just like a married bachelor. And your view is not posting seeming contradictions but actual contradictions (i.e. God’s mind is both the conceiving and decretive origin of the sin of X occurring, but God’s mind is not the ultimate origin for the sin of X occurring.)

Your view is driven by the continual positing of incompatible propositions that reason and logic argue against it. To avoid this conclusion you posit the existence of an alternate reality of logic called God’s “inner workings” or his “divine logic” that will one day invalidate the Arminian critique over Calvinism’s logical conundrums.

Your appeals to scripture are likewise—not at all objective—but filled with conjecture that makes scripture itself absurd and meaningless in its denunciations against evil and wickedness. As I thoroughly sought to point out in my last exchange:

You believe Proverbs gives us good warrant to conclude that God has predetermined every choice of man—whether good or evil—based on the verses you highlighted. I dealt with those verses and shared why the Calvinistic interpretation is not the only interpretation possible. In fact I shared why it is highly speculative and absurd because Proverbs is not seeking to teach that God directs each of our steps deterministically into wickedness and evil—but rather how submission to God results in God’s guidance and direction away from wickedness! That is one of the fundamental points of Proverbs your interpretive framework is missing. I also demonstrated–not just asserted– how if your view was systematically applied to Proverbs across the board, it would result in numerous errors and contradictions.

In concluding, I can’t let this following statement pass by without a response. You declared:

“Matt, you have asserted that Scripture itself is not sufficient to decide the question under consideration, and have demanded logical proof and argumentation, insisting that these are sufficient to determine the question.  In my view, you have elevated human reason above Scripture by discounting the possibility that direct Biblical propositions can settle the question, and implying instead that the reasonings of your own mind can settle it.”

That is not at all what I asserted. Quite the opposite! In my closing paragraph in post 26 part 2 I stated that I believe God’s revelation–though not fully complete (you stated this yourself)–is still consistent enough in matters of greatest importance to warrant our logical interaction with it and our subsequent making of correct, logical conclusions on that basis. This is after all God’s will. God desires and expects us to rightly divide the word for understanding and not to entertain contradictions. All of your assertion, without explanation, the constant positing of incompatible propositions, and your continual appeal to unsearchable mystery and biblical paradox as a synonym for flagrant contradiction tells me you believe the current extent and volume of God’s divine revelation lacks “key pieces” to qualify it as currently, revelatory consistent, such that it would invite our logical inquiry and any subsequent logical conclusions.

In other words, I have such a high view of scripture and God’s current level of revelation (i.e. scripture), I believe we can make reasonable conclusions based on it and correspondingly rule out absurd inconsistencies that are derived from invalid interpretations of scripture–especially when God’s moral character is at stake. You on the other hand believe God’s revelation in theory settles the matter, but our human reasoning cannot unravel the seeming incompatible nature of God’s revealed truths in scripture at this time. Why? Because you hold that alleged Calvinist doctrines like– “God determinatively decrees and renders certain our sins, but that doesn’t mean he wants us to sin or tempts us to sin”is an insoluble problem that contains valid questions but whose answers are ultimately sequestered in an other-worldly dimension called God’s “divine logic.”

For example in one of your former posts you asserted that God’s revelation is too subject to fallible reasoning “to think our application of human logic is going to lead us to a detailed understanding….[and]…I hold that clear Biblical propositions DO undeniably settle the matter, whether or not the reasonings of my mind (or yours) can attain to the divine logic undergirding the divinely revealed answer.”

Quite amazingly you then assume your own ability to transcend the default human position of possessing fallible reasoning when you pronounce:

“In other words, my core epistemological presupposition is that Scripture itself is more reliable and trustworthy than fallible human logic.”

In other words, Derek, when you interpret scripture you are of the opinion that you have exercised proper reason and logic according to the dictates of your epistemological, presuppositional hermeneutic to bring forth the right interpretation from the text! But by your own admission you should be agnostic on all these matters until God reveals his hidden, “divine logic that undergirds the divinely revealed answer.”

You essentially deny reason to argue for your own reason in order to make a point. You qualify reason as being too inadequate and too immersed in “fallible human logic” to apprehend the divine logic behind scriptural revelation, and then seek to use this very “fallible human logic” and reason to validate your own “correct claim” on scripture as being the trustworthy interpretation over and against Arminianism.

Derek, let’s not confuse ourselves further as to what you are asserting. You are NOT saying the Scriptures are trustworthy—you are attempting to say your Calvinist interpretation of the Scriptures is the sole, trustworthy, logically valid interpretation. I believe all of this is quite circular, ultimately self-defeating and betrays the core arrogance of the Calvinist position to present itself as unquestionable and unfalsifiable.

You would have us think that anyone that disagrees with your presuppositional, Calvinist interpretation of the scriptures is accused of elevating human logic above the Scriptures!

Pardon me if I strongly disagree with the charge you seek to leverage against me (and Arminianism in general), insinuating that I somehow allow human reason and presumptive logical conclusions to trump revealed scripture. If any theological position can be accused of fanatically putting their logical grid of assumptions before revealed scripture—it is Calvinism. Calvinism filters every scripture through its TULIP framework with a rigid insistence that denies many patent truths of scripture (need I mention “Limited Atonement?) and makes a host of scriptures meaningless or extremely strained to satisfy a hermeneutical approach. Your interpretive approach to Proverbs being a perfect example.

In sum, Derek, both of us bring our own interpretive framework to the scriptures even though you seem to deny this pertains to you. In my earlier post I highlighted why the discussion isn’t necessarily over the scriptures but rather the interpretive frameworks we are adopting to view scripture. You disagreed with this and simply extolled scripture’s ability to speak for itself—assuming of course you are the one doing the interpreting! I have found this reoccurring theme to be a tad self-consumed and presumptuous.

The admitted, presuppositional framework I have espoused entails such a high view of scripture and deems scripture to be so internally consistent, that God’s revelation—though limited this side of heaven—is fully sufficient by God’s sovereign design to afford a theological point of view that doesn’t ask us to grapple with horrific paradoxes related to God’s moral character juxtaposed with His causal determination of all foul wickedness committed by the devil, demons and humans.

Though I would not hesitate to concede that God is incomprehensible and therefore the interchange between God and his universe contains certain mysteries beyond our cognitive reach, this fact alone doesn’t justify the positing of all alleged mysteries. As one of my friends once said, “The kind of mysteries I must reject is the kind that says, ‘HOW in the world could God act like that and still be good?'”

Calvinism invariable results in the positing of insoluble mystery and enigma on matters where God has clearly spoken–His moral character and trustworthiness. He IS love, He hates and abhors evil, He can neither be tempted by evil nor tempt others to do evil. Yet Calvinism would have us believe that God’s holy mind conceived of every one of our sins and determinatively decreed all the vile, sordid evils of this world–for his glory. In such a world God becomes morally indistinguishable from Satan. This is not a mystery or logical inconsistency God or the Bible intends us to live with.

Despite our very sincere disagreements, I wholeheartedly affirm you as my brother in Christ, Derek, and I appreciate your sincere prayers for me and the ministry I have been privileged to be a part of here in Asia. I fully believe you to be a man of true devotion to the Lord and it is my hope and prayer that the One who is Love would draw us both ever more closer to his heart and mind as we humble ourselves before Him and live each day in His grace and smile. If you ever come through this part of the world—please let me know. I know a good noodle shop 🙂 God bless! -Matt


About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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