My Review of Kevin’s Review

By on May 16, 2014

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Here’s my review of what I thought, generally speaking, was a fair review of my book by Kevin DeYoung. I’ll focus in on a few key critiques and offer some responses.

 

#1…Really Reformed?

 

It’s worth noting the chronology in Fischer’s journey. He became a Calvinist in high school (p.8) and started rethinking his Calvinism already as a freshman in college (p.19), which is not a lot of time to explore the depths of the Reformed tradition. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t sincerely Reformed and couldn’t understand the basic contours of election and reprobation, but it does put his “deconversion” story in context…What it does mean is that this is not the journey of a lifelong Calvinist or a deeply entrenched Reformed thinker who threw in the towel, as much as it is the story of ana earnest young Christian who didn’t grow up Reformed, was never trained to be Reformed, but who embraced Reformed soteriology for a short time as a teenager before he found a better alternative in the Arminianism of his esteemed professors. –DeYoung

 

#1…Response

 

I’ve discovered a 6th point of Calvinism!…the perseverance of the Calvinism of someone who is truly a Calvinist :). I jest, but the basic point that there is a “point of no return” (by which I mean a point where you are so steeped in a worldview that de-conversion is basically impossible), and that I wasn’t there yet is fair enough, though a red herring of sorts that isn’t really helpful.

 

In particular, I think it subtly implies that my de-conversion was rooted in a misunderstanding of Calvinism and if I had only stuck with it longer and understood it better, things might have been different. I call this a red herring because no one has been able to point out what I didn’t understand about Calvinism. Would I have been less likely to de-convert had I been a Calvinist for 20 years instead of 5? Of course, but that’s not really saying much.

 

#2…Is Reformed Theology Represented Accurately?

 

I believe Fischer has tried hard to be fair with Calvinism. He does not make ad hominem arguments. He does not take cheap shots. But despite these good intentions, Fischer’s arguments suffer from a lack of familiarity with important distinctions frequently cited in the Reformed tradition. For example, Fischer suggests that Calvinists believe that when people are raped, maimed, murdered, and tortured that God ultimately did those things to them (p.21). What’s missing here is an awareness of the distinction between remote and primary causes. No Calvinist I know would say God rapes people. God is never the “doer” of evil. Arminians may not find the distinction compelling, but Reformed theologians have always made clear there is a difference between God ordaining what comes to pass and the role of human agency in actually and voluntarily performing the ordained action. –DeYoung

 

#2…Response

 

Now we’re getting somewhere! The issues involved here are certainly tricky and here was the tightrope I tried to walk while writing.

 

I am well aware of the various nuances in the Calvinist doctrines of primary and second causes. I leaned on them during my time as a Calvinist. God doesn’t actively cause sin and evil; rather, God withholds the grace that humans need to do good and once he does that, they sin “freely” (that is, in a compatibilistic sense). Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Piper and Helm all make different accents, but this is the basic line of thought: although God “ordains” sin and evil, God is never the actual doer of sin and evil. God ordains it but humans still freely do it and are responsible for it (=compatibilism).

 

So I wanted to do justice to all of that while at the same time not getting so bogged down in the red tape and causal euphemisms that I failed to communicate what I found to be the inevitable conclusion of consistent Calvinism; namely, evil and sin and hell exist, ultimately, because God wanted (in a STRONG sense of the term) them to. To borrow the example DeYoung cites, I completely agree with him: no Calvinist believes God rapes people (of course!!!!). However much worse than that, I don’t see how a Calvinist cannot conclude that the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever existed will be damned, ultimately, because God wanted them to and to that end, set in motion events that would guarantee their damnation.

 

So should I have gone into more detail regarding all the nuances of causation in Calvinism? I think it’s a fair request for Kevin to make and if I had it to do over I would. However, I do think that the New Calvinism has been very coy with the way it has cloaked the doctrines of determinism, compatiblism, and double predestination in euphemisms, neutering them of their intelligibility and substance. Since writing, I’ve received lots of emails from people who thought they were Calvinists and had no idea double predestination was a part of the package. That’s some pretty important fine print to be unaware of.

 

And as noted in an earlier post (and in Kevin’s as well), I think Calvin would be with me here, because he himself admitted that the doctrine of double predestination was “terrible.” So while it’s fair for Kevin to push me a bit here, I think it’s fair for me to push Kevin and others to be more clear about the doctrines of determinism and, especially, double predestination. Because if they neuter and euphemism them to death so that people don’t step back and go, “Wow…that’s terrible”, I don’t think they’ve explained them honestly enough.

 

Along these lines, I was on a podcast recently discussing the book with a very smart and consistent Calvinist and I noticed something interesting. We were asked what we thought about the recent spike in Calvinism, and he admitted that he was surprised by it and didn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. This got me thinking and I remembered that he has frequently admitted he thinks the hard doctrines of Calvinism render it a very offensive theology that is destined to be a minority opinion in the church. I didn’t ask him at the time (and I wouldn’t have wanted to put him in a spot), but I can’t help but think he might agree with me here. When Calvinism is preached honestly and consistently, with all of its hard edges showing instead of concealed in euphemisms, it is very difficult and offensive and it seems unlikely it would ever be as popular as it is now in western evangelicalism.

 

#3…Free-Will Theism Probs: Foreknowledge and Evil

 

Fischer objects to Calvinism because it suggests that “the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried is the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he had made sure they would do” (p.46)…[But] the sharp disjunction put forward by Fischer could just as easily be constructed out of the Arminian position: “how can the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried be the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he knew they would do when he created them and could have easily prevented?” The Arminian position doesn’t really gain us any theodicy points. –DeYoung

 

#3…Response

 

I’ve bumped up against this question a few times. On the face of it, it seems to have merit, but it’s based in a misunderstanding of how foreknowledge works.

 

Kevin suggests God is basically as culpable for Bob’s damnation in free-will theism as he is in Calvinism, because God knew Bob would end up in hell when he created Bob and yet did nothing to stop it. The assumption Kevin makes is that God could have used his foreknowledge to “easily prevent” Bob’s damnation. But these are two dots that simply won’t connect…a non-sequitur argument.

 

How could God have used his foreknowledge of Bob’s damnation to prevent Bob’s damnation? I am not aware of any answer to that. It’s not as if God goes, “Hmm…if I were to create Bob, what would happen to him? [Cue foreknowledge] Oh I see—he would be damned. O well, I’m going to create him anyways.”

 

No—God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen. So God can’t use his foreknowledge to see that Bob WILL be damned and then act to make sure Bob won’t be damned, for then God’s foreknowledge would have been incorrect (a.k.a. not foreknowledge). To be fair to Kevin, it’s an easy mistake to make and many people who believe in simple foreknowledge make the same mistake.

 

So in short, the suggestion that free-will theism doesn’t really have much more to offer than Calvinism when it comes to God’s goodness in the face of hell is, in my estimation, more smoke than fire. From where I’m sitting, it means the difference in a good God who looks like Jesus crucified and one who doesn’t.

 

#4…Free-Will Theism Probs: Jesus and Suffering

 

Similarly, Fischer argues that the Reformed idea of God doesn’t work because in the gospels we see a God who is the healer of suffering and sickness, not the cause of it (47). Not only does this ignore a whole lot of Scripture to the contrary (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 1:5; 16:14; 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Kings 22:20-23; Isa. 45:6-7; 53:10; Amos 3:6; Ruth 1:20; Eccl. 7:14), but Fischer has painted himself into a corner that no orthodox Christian can get out of. If you have, like Fischer does, a doctrine of hell and if you have penal substitutionary atonement – not to mention the whole history of divine judgment in the exodus, the conquest, the exile, and in the consummation – you have a God who causes suffering and is just to do so. –DeYoung

 

#4…Response

 

I think Kevin thinks I have painted myself into a corner because he does here what he felt like I did to the Calvinist doctrine of causation: he flattens out what I said into blacks and whites.

 

I never say God never causes suffering. In fact, I find it hard to believe any biblical Christian could say that. What I say is that the Bible (in both its specific teachings…Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15, John 1:1-18, John 14, etc…and in its very structure) teaches us that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature, is the image of the invisible God, is the deepest glimpse into the heart of God, because HE IS GOD. And how does Jesus respond to suffering when he encounters it? He heals it. He heals it. He heals it. He heals it. He heals it.

 

I’m not offering a bulletproof syllogism here. My aim is more humble. I’m saying, “Hmm…Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature, the deepest peek into God’s heart, and every time he encounters suffering, he heals it. What does this teach me about God?” Well, at minimum, it teaches me that the deepest disposition of God towards suffering is to, graciously, heal it. And when I hold that image of God up next to the Calvinist picture of God (where God causes the most unthinkable suffering…hell…for no reason other than to flex his wrath muscle for the elect), I find it hard to reconcile.

 

I do think God causes suffering. I think the Bible teaches me that God does, often for purposes such as discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11). But I find it very difficult to look at the way Jesus interacts with suffering in the Gospels and then sit comfortably with the doctrines of Calvinism where God ordains the most terrible suffering imaginable on the majority of humanity.

 

 

#5…Free-Will Theism Probs: Soteriology

 

Fischer also struggles to give a response to the problem of our own willing in Arminian soteriology. He affirms total depravity and that we do not have the ability to turn to God on our own. Commendably, Fischer wants to safeguard that salvation is of grace and leaves no room for human boast. But he doesn’t own the uncomfortable conclusion at the bottom of free will theism, namely, that the reason some people open the gift of salvation and others don’t, the reason some people surrender and float up to safety while others struggle and drown (to use Olson’s analogy), is owing ultimately to our decision. Why are some people in heaven and some people in hell? The Calvinist says the decisive factor was God. In free will theism the decisive factor is you. Fischer dismisses the whole issue as a problem we don’t need to worry about (p.79). –DeYoung

#5…Response

 

I don’t know if it’s always been this way, but in the recent discussions regarding Calvinism and free-will theism, I have noticed that the primary concern for Calvinists is making sure humans can’t boast in salvation, whereas the primary concern for free-will theism is a recognizably good God. Just a thought. Onward we march…

 

While I completely understand the Calvinist concern to make sure there is no room for human boasting in salvation, I’ve just never been too moved by this line of argumentation. In fact, when I was a Calvinist I remember arguing with someone over this (insisting that if Calvinism weren’t true then humans could boast in their salvation), and my friend saying to me, “God must be pretty insecure if he’s up in heaven, wringing his hands, worried humans might think their participation in salvation merits boasting.”

 

And so while I really don’t mean to be dismissive, I do just see an impasse here where we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t think that if salvation is by grace, through faith, and faith itself is a gift from God, and yet I have to respond to this gift in some way, this means I was the decisive factor in my salvation (of course lots of this hinges on what is meant by “decisive”). That math will never add up for me. So if the math of salvation has to equal 1, with no room for human boasting, then I’m just fine saying the equation I see in the Bible is 1 (God) + 0 (Me) = 1, and that while my 0 contributes nothing, it is still necessary. I think this tends to be the way the Bible handles this, admittedly, mysterious issue of divine grace and human repentance/discipleship/faith.

 

The same Paul who says we have been saved by grace through faith that is a gift from God and not a work (Eph. 2:8) also says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Paul has no problem with the notion that salvation is a gift from God and yet Christ (through Paul) begs people to be reconciled to God, as if it were important that they actually do so because they will not be reconciled if they don’t. You can explain this with compatibilism if you want, but you’ll be claiming you have a peek behind the curtain that I don’t see in Paul (and I think most of the early church fathers would agree).

 

So I am quite happy with leaving it at…salvation is by grace through faith that is a gift from God, and yet in some sense I must (enabled, but not necessarily determined, by grace) receive this gift. I think this is precisely how the Bible frames the issue of God/grace and humans/faith in salvation. If Calvinists want to go further, that’s fine, but the accusation that the formula I’ve sketched above necessitates some sort of “works righteousness” or semi-Pelagianism just isn’t as sticky as I think many Calvinists think.

 

Thanks again to Kevin for the review, and I hope this brings some more clarity to the conversation.

30 Comments

  1. With regards to the Calvinist argument on boasting, the Calvinist is always worried about “the other guy” who didn’t believe. Too bad they are not so worried about “the other guy” who God irresistibly decreed from eternity to suffer eternally for unbelief and sins that God irresistibly decreed for him to do from eternity. When it comes to “that guy”, it is always, “Oh, don’t pay any attention to him”, but when it comes to receiving a free and undeserved gift from God (salvation) through simple trust in Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves (save us), then it is always “but what about the other guy who didn’t believe, can’t you boast over him? What made you so smart”, and on and on…

    The bottom line is that we cannot boast in salvation because it is a free and underserved gift from God. We cannot earn it. We cannot merit it. We cannot atone for our own sins. We cannot regenerate ourselves. We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot sanctify ourselves. In short, we cannot save ourselves. So what can we do? We can depend on Christ to do all of that for us. That is what faith is (total dependence and reliance on Christ) and that is why the principle of faith excludes boasting (Rom. 4). Nobody can rightly boast in simply receiving a gift that they did not deserve, did not purchase, did not work for, did not earn, and did not give to himself. That’s absurd, and that is precisely Paul’s point. Likewise, this Calvinist argument is based on an absurdity.

    Nowhere in Scripture do we see the idea that a gift can only be a gift if it is irresistibly given. Nowhere in Scripture do we see the idea that grace is only grace if it cannot be resisted. Scripture doesn’t say it and our daily experiences contradict it. The only one’s who promote such absurdities are Calvinists.

    But suppose it does come down to a matter of irresistibility that makes it impossible to boast in salvation. Suppose it is because faith is a gift irresistibly given that makes it impossible to boast. Then couldn’t works serve the same function? God could just as well have made works the condition for receiving salvation by irresistibly causing people to do works, just as He supposedly irresistibly causes people to believe. Why couldn’t works exclude boasting since they are irresistibly caused by God? Indeed, in deterministic Calvinism, all things are irresistibly caused by God (faith and works included). So what makes works any different than faith in such a view?

    So in Arminianism it makes sense why the principle of faith excludes boasting. It makes sense why salvation by faith is what establishes it as being by grace (Rom. 4:16). But in Calvinism’s insistence that it is irresistibility that makes it by grace and excludes boasting, and against the backdrop of determinism, it simply cannot make any real sense of what Paul has to say about the principle of faith excluding boasting.

    In the end, anybody can boast about any number of things. The Jews were very proud and boastful and yet they considered themselves a lock for salvation due to their heritage based on the promises to the patriarchs. Many Calvinists come across as arrogant and smug, so much so that even Calvinists recognize this problem and tendency and have often written about it and pointed it out (trying to set such smug Calvinists straight). Now they might protest, that while such Calvinists may be proud and arrogant, that doesn’t mean they have legitimate grounds for being so. But that’s point then, isn’t it? Paul’s point is that those who trust in Christ for salvation have no legitimate grounds for boasting since they have done nothing to earn or merit salvation, nor could they even if they wanted to. The only way to be saved is to depend on Christ to save you, and you can’t rightly boast in salvation if you have to depend on someone else to save you. It’s really not that complicated.

    Nice work Austin. Keep it up.

    God Bless,

    Ben

  2. Episcopius

    May 17, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Thank you for the book and for responding Austin.

    I thought the initial response of DeYoung’s was very trite. I do agree with you that neo-Calvinists do a lot of hiding behind some very obscure language in order to avoid some obvious problems with their theology. I often find myself talking to people who think they are Calvinists and yet they think this means holding to both libertarian free-will and theistic determinism in some pious mystical tension. They often have no idea about compatibilism at all. This may be unfair to some Calvinist leaders but I do think some of them do some very deliberate hiding behind obscure language at this point because they know most people won’t question them.

    The only area I think I disagree is this idea of simple foreknowledge. The Bible does appear to suggest that God’s foreknowledge extends to what might happen as well. Numerous times God predicts what will happen if they do x but explains that if they do y something else will happen. So I do think there is a strong biblical case for God having counter-factual knowledge.

    Thanks for your book and your gracious response to Kevin. All the best.

    • But he isn’t saying God can’t or doesn’t have counterfactual knowledge with regards to people who will actually exist. He is denying that God can use His foreknowledge of what a created being would choose and then use that foreknowledge to “not create” that person, which would falsify His foreknowledge of what that created being would freely choose, since there will never be any such being to make any sort of free choice about anything. You may disagree and say that God could have knowledge of what “people” who will never exist to make any choices would freely choose, but denying that God can foreknow what people who will never exist will “feely do” is not the same as denying that God can have counterfactual knowledge of those who will indeed exist because God will indeed create them.

      You write,

      Numerous times God predicts what will happen if they do x but explains that if they do y something else will happen. So I do think there is a strong biblical case for God having counter-factual knowledge.

      But these are example of people who indeed exist, that God has indeed created. So again, even if you disagree with Austin’s point, this is not the same thing.

      • Episcopius

        May 18, 2014

        Post a Reply

        Hi Ben,

        Actually what he said was: “God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen.”

        He does not bring in the distinction you’re making. I think even most Molinists would agree that God does not know what is illogical to know but what they do argue is that God has all logically possible counter-factual knowledge and that is what this statement about foreknowledge appears to deny. If God does not have knowledge of what might logically happen then I think this creates some huge problems for reading the Bible. So this is why I’m questioning the statement as it stands. There are passages in the Bible which indicates that God knows the future (what will happen) but there are also passages which indicate he knows what might happen in the future granted different decisions are made. (eg. Is. 1:19,20; Jer.18:8-10)

        • Actually what he said was: “God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen.”

          And he is quite right about that. Knowledge of what “might happen” would be middle knowledge, not foreknowledge, correct?

          But his point seemed to be that God can’t use His knowledge of what “will” happen to then make what will happen not happen, which
          would falsify His foreknowledge concerning what “will happen.” Now, I might have him wrong on that so it is better to let him further explain himself when he gets the opportunity.

          He does not bring in the distinction you’re making.

          I think it is implied at least, since he writes,

          So God can’t use his foreknowledge to see that Bob WILL be damned and then act to make sure Bob won’t be damned, for then God’s
          foreknowledge would have been incorrect (a.k.a. not foreknowledge).

          This is in response to DeYoung writing,

          “how can the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried be the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for
          things he knew they would do when he created them and could have easily prevented?”

          Now I admit that I assumed that DeYoung was speaking of prevention in the sense of not creating the person since that is often how the
          argument goes, but you may be right that this is not what he is saying. But DeYoung doesn’t seem to be bringing up middle knowledge or the idea that God can use it providentially to bring about or prevent whatever “free” choice he wants to bring about or prevent in
          a person. So from a simple foreknowledge perspective, Austin’s answer takes care of DeYoung’s objection. But I would still say the examples we have in Scripture that imply counterfactual or middle knowledge do not suggest that God uses that knowledge in the way Molinists tend to suggest God uses it. That is not to say that He can’t use it that way (which I think is debatable), but that we don’t have that sort of thing being specifically described in Scripture.

          There are passages in the Bible which indicates that God knows the future (what will happen) but there are also passages which indicate he knows what might happen in the future granted different decisions are made. (eg. Is. 1:19,20; Jer.18:8-10)

          I agree. But the first is foreknowledge (knowledge of what will happen), while the second is something else (middle knowledge or
          whatever you want to call it). The point still remains that God cannot use His foreknowledge (of what will happen) to then make that thing not happen (which would falsify His foreknowledge and make Him wrong).

          But even if middle knowledge is brought to bear, there is still a profound difference between God not preventing someone from freely rejecting Him or from freely sinning and then holding that person accountable for that choice and irresistibly causing someone to reject Him or sin against Him and then judging that person for what God irresistibly caused that person to do (which I am confident we both agree on). To suggest that the Arminian non-prevention view leaves Arminians in the same predicament as the Calvinist exhaustively deterministic view is absurd. They are light years apart and make a tremendous amount of difference with regards to theodicy, etc., and I think that distinction is rather clear and obvious to most people.

          I also find it interesting that while Calvinists insist that the non-prevention view amounts to the same thing as the decretal determinist view with regards to theodicy, they will so often illegitimately appeal to the non-prevention view in order to make their own views seem more acceptable, despite the fact that there is no room for permission or non-prevention in determinism.

          Here is a post that highlights such an attempt by Piper, following Edwards:

          http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/john-piper-on-god-ordaining-all-sin-and-evil-part-1-an-arminian-response-to-pipers-first-question/

          God Bless,
          Ben

        • Austin Fischer Austin Fischer

          May 22, 2014

          Post a Reply

          Good thoughts here fellas. I am intentionally just honing in our Kevin’s critique wherein he implies foreknowledge is something God could use to prevent what does happen from happening. It’s not a blanket rejection of middle knowledge, but a clarification of what foreknowledge is and what it can and can’t be used for. I think Kevin’s argument mistakes simple foreknowledge for middle knowledge.

          • Episcopius

            May 22, 2014

            Thanks for clarifying Austin. I am still left wondering what your position on middle knowledge is though? If you ever feel like writing on the topic I’d be most interested! Thanks again for the book. I am lending my copy to my Calvinist pastor this weekend as it happens in the hope it might open up some good discussion. Thanks!

  3. Your response is helpful. As a Calvinist, I’d like to offer just one qualification in regard to your comments under # 2. Calvinists need not necessarily assert that the “overwhelming majority of humans” are damned. I grant that my own accessibilist/inclusivist position has not been the majority understanding in the Calvinist tradition, but even a gospel exclusivist could appropriate B. B. Warfield’s case for the salvation of a large part of the human race. (See his essay, “Are they few that be saved.”) In _Who Can Be Saved_, I offer a number of reasons why a Calvinist can be optimistic that the majority of the human race are unconditionally elect and will be saved by grace through faith, though not necessarily through explicit faith in Jesus.

    • Austin Fischer Austin Fischer

      May 22, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Hey Terrance. Thanks for stopping by! I remember reading “Who Can Be Saved” years back and thinking, “I wish more Calvinists would read this book.” I probably ought to read it again myself.

    • Mr. Tiessen,

      How does such a suggestion square with what Jesus said in Luke 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” ?
      I don’t see how we can say that the majority of humankind will be saved in light of this statement by Jesus. He says that “many” go down the broad road to destruction and “few” enter through the narrow gate of life. Not only that, it seems to plainly contradict reality. Christians make up only a fraction of the world population, and even Calvinists are often pointing out that even many who claim to be Christians are not saved. So that seems to narrow things down quite a bit.

      • Hi Arminan perspetives,

        I sent a longer reply but it didn’t seem to get through. Bottom line, I think Warfield was correct, Jesus is not describing the relative numbers at the end, but preparing his disciples for the response they will have to their ministry in their own lifetime. This says nothing about the unborn, infants, the unevangelized, or the millennium.

        • Hey Terrance,

          I was actually able to read your other reply even though it was in moderation, but wasn’t able to respond to it. I just don’t see sufficient evidence in these passages to back such a claim that in fact more will be saved than not when all is said and done.

          Having looked again at the passage in Matthew and the similar one in Luke (which is probably the one Warfield focused on, given the title), I simply cannot imagine why you or Warfield would draw such a strong conclusion. In the Luke passage, one could possibly focus on the fact that Jesus speaks of those at the judgment saying, “You taught in our streets” as an indicator that this was meant only for those who heard Jesus speaking. But that doesn’t mean this principle doesn’t stretch beyond those who hear Jesus (indeed you seem to say that it has reference to the ministry of the disciples, which would itself go beyond this). And this says nothing of the passage in Matthew, which has no such contextual indicators. In order to take the interpretation you take, I think we would need to see a strong indicator of a necessary narrowing of focus to apply to just a small group of people (during a relatively narrow period of time) in such a way that this principle will eventually give way to one that is essentially the opposite. I see nothing at all in the context of either passage that would warrant such a view.

          I am open to the idea that more will ultimately be saved than not, but I would need to get beyond these passages ( and others that seem
          to strongly suggest a great falling away in the last days, rather than a sweeping revival) before I could do so. So far I remain unconvinced, but you have given me some food for thought and some cause for further investigation, and I appreciate that.

          God Bless,
          Ben

          • Terrance Tiessen

            May 23, 2014

            Hi Ben,

            Perhaps the key is starting point. Is the overall picture in Scripture of God as generous or stingy with grace and mercy? I think it is more biblical to start from a perspective like that of Ps 103:8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast
            love.”

            Another Calvinist, Neal Punt, makes an excellent point when he suggests that Calvinists have characteristically approached election from the wrong direction. They assume that no one is elect except those which Scripture identifies as elect. But it is better to assume that everyone is elect unless Scripture specifically states that they are not.I like the optimism this generates in my approach to other people. I assume that God has gracious purposes for the person I meet. They may be moving away
            from God now, and in rebellion, but it is not over until the end of their lives, and even then we are not accurate judges of the orientation of a person’s heart in their final encounters with God. God is remarkably patient with sinners and, having satisfied his righteousness by the universally sufficient sacrifice of Christ, as his ambassadors of reconciliation, we invite people to repent of their sin and to respond properly to God’s gracious overture toward them.

            Shalom,
            Terry

          • arminianperspectives

            May 25, 2014

            Terrance,

            You are a Calvinist, correct? If so, please explain this sentence: “God is remarkably patient with sinners.” Thanks. In general, while I would like to agree with you on this, I still don’t see that the passages from Jesus have been adequately addressed. I don’t see that Psalm 103:8 really changes things either. In many ways, I find much of what you say to be a little inconsistent with Calvinist presuppositions. But I also know that there isn’t just one flavor of Calvinism out there, so maybe that is the issue. Thanks for the dialogue so far.

            God Bless,
            Ben

          • Terrance Tiessen

            May 25, 2014

            Hi Ben,

            I’m thinking of a text like 2 Pet 3:9, in particular, but more generally the whole narrative of Scripture impresses upon me the tremendous patience of God with sinners. Every breath a person takes while living in rebellion against God is an act of grace on God’s part, since death is what they deserve. The history of God’s dealing with nations, and particularly with Israel, demonstrates his tremendous patience in not bringing judgment upon their heads long before he does. It is not surprising that the
            souls of the martyred, under the altar in Rev 6:10, puzzle at the long delay in God’s avenging their blood.

            I realize that it may seem incongruous for a Calvinist to cite a text which speaks of God’s not willing any to perish, because we believe that God chose the entire history of this world in meticulous detail, which means that only those are saved whom God blesses with effective grace, and all who go to hell do so for lack of that grace from God.
            This gets us into the infamous (?) doctrine of the two wills of God, the distinction between his preceptive and his decretive will (that is, between his moral will and the will of his eternal purpose). I have some sympathy when Arminians scratch their heads about this one, but I can see no better way to reconcile biblical statements that are clear to me.

            Where I am a somewhat unusual Calvinist is in my affirmation of what I now call “hypothetical knowledge Calvinism.” I appreciate the work done by Molinists in regard to possible worlds, and I might be a Molinist if I thought their position was coherent, but I stumble at the grounding objection. I don’t think it is possible to predict how a
            libertarianly free creature will act in hypothetical situations, so knowledge of future counterfactuals is impossible even for God. Until a person makes a choice, God can know the probabilities of their choosing in a particular way (as Gregory Boyd asserts), but he cannot know with certainty what that choice will be. I also think that Alvin
            Plantinga’s concept of “transworld depravity” (that there was no possible good world in which no sin occurred) is helpful. Furthermore, I value the work John
            Feinberg has done on human dignity, and I agree with him that Calvinists often overstate the range of things God can achieve through the uncoerced decisions
            of morally free agents.

            Putting all this together, I think that God is extraordinarily gracious to everyone, and he allows many people to live in rebellion for long periods of time, because it sometimes takes a long time for grace to bring a person to submission, without coercing them in a way that would make their submission involuntary.

            I’m sorry if so brief an account of my view is rather dense, but it probably indicates that you are right in considering me a somewhat unusual (but not unique) Calvinist and, hopefully, it illuminates my sense of the great grace of God as he works for the well being of creatures who consciously resist him.

            Shalom,
            Terry

          • arminianperspectives

            May 27, 2014

            Terrance,

            I am puzzled by a lot of what you say since I have dealt with Calvinists for so long and am familiar with how often they express and state things in ways that tend to gloss much that lies beneath (which I content are often the very details that make all the difference). This may not be the case with you, but I just can’t read Calvinist explanations without wondering what they mean by many words and phrases as I have seen again and again that they frequently mean something quite different than the language would seem to suggest. That is why I asked for clarity.

            I don’t think the two wills defense solves anything, but you rightly anticipated that. There is so much I would like to get into with your comment, but I don’t think you are looking to get into a debate. So I will just focus on one thing, the thing I was trying to get clarity on: the idea of God being patient with sinners. The way you put it initially, it seemed to imply that God is patient with sinners with a view towards them coming to repentance. Your use of 2 Peter 3:9 seems to confirm this, but then you write,

            I realize that it may seem incongruous for a Calvinist to cite a text which speaks of God’s not willing any to perish, because we believe that God chose the entire history of this world in meticulous detail, which means that only those are saved whom God blesses with effective grace, and all who go to hell do so for lack of that grace from God.

            Yes, it seems incongruous on numerous fronts (and I believe it seems that way precisely because it is that way), but I want to zero in on this bit about effective grace. You seem to confirm that you believe one can only be saved if God grants them effective (effectual) grace, and without this grace it is impossible for them to come to repentance and be saved. So if it is entirely up to God who gets this grace and when they get it, then in what meaningful sense can we say that he is patient with them up until that point that He alone deems appropriate to give them the effectual grace which causes repentance? It would seem that He is only being patient with Himself. What could God possibly be patiently waiting for in the sinner when the thing that is necessary for them to be saved can only be done by God when He bestows “effectual” grace on them? This is, of course, compounded against the back drop of exhaustive determinism, which it seems you hold, but then again it is hard to tell.
            Let me offer an illustration for clarity: Suppose a parent uses a mind control device to control every action of his child. He tells the child to clean his room, but will not control the child to do so, making it impossible for the child to obey. So weeks go by and the room isn’t cleaned, despite the controlling parent issuing numerous commands. Finally, after a month, the parent controls the child to obey the command and clean his room. In what meaningful way could we say the parent was being “patient with the child” for the weeks leading up to the time he controlled the child’s mind to finally obey?

            I’ll leave it there for now. If you don’t have time to continue this discussion, I understand.
            God Bless,

            Ben

          • Terrance Tiessen

            May 27, 2014

            I understand your perplexity, Ben. I find it puzzling myself, but Scripture does seem to me to be clearly describing God as meticulously in control, This is not a difference within the church which I expect to see resolved this side of glory. Since I am a Calvinist, I have concluded that God wants it this way. Arminians and Calvinists bring to their lives and service perspectives which vary quite fundamentally, but both of us serve God’s kingdom purposes.Meanwhile, we love one another in Christ, and we sharpen one another’s understanding of Scripture and hence of God as we go. I’m often grieved that Calvinists, who prioritize grace in our theology, are often so ungracious in dealing with fellow believers who hear Scripture differently. Thankfully, God is gracious, even when we are not.

            Blessings,
            Terry

          • arminianperspectives

            May 27, 2014

            Hello Terry,

            Is this all the response I am going to get? If so, that might be the most puzzling thing so far. Maybe you are just short on time and planning on responding more later, or maybe you are not interested in the discussion anymore. That’s fine, but this certainly doesn’t seem to be any kind of an answer to what I asked. It seems more like a statement that while you can’t make sense of what you believe or explain how it can be congruent, you just feel like you must accept it anyway. Of course, I might have you wrong on that. I guess I was just hoping for more. It still all seems very plainly incoherent to me. I do very much appreciate your humble and irenic approach though.

            God Bless,
            Ben

          • arminianperspectives

            May 27, 2014

            Ok, thanks. I look forward to reading them and maybe interacting with them as well. God Bless.

          • arminianperspectives

            May 27, 2014

            Well, I just skimmed it and it looks like a post I will definitely have some things to say about. I think I have addressed quite a bit of it already above (in my first comment in this thread), but there is plenty more to be said.

  4. Beakerj1

    June 27, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Thanks so much for these responses Austin. I think a bright light needs to be shone into all the dark corners of calvinist theology so everyone can see how hideously frightening it really is. I will never never never understand those who put God’s power over his goodness. It’s just bizarre to me.

  5. J. Inglis

    July 6, 2014

    Post a Reply

    “he Calvinist doctrines of primary and second causes”

    I see that as a distinction without a difference, but one that Calvinists make a big hullabaloo about because they have nothing else to fall back on. Repeatedly saying that it makes a difference does not make it so, and therefore to say that Arminians are not playing fair because they miss that point is rather irrelevant. Spouting off about primary and secondary causes is an exercise in missing the point.

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