10/27/13

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation

Part 1: Introduction and Definitions

What's this debate about, why is it important?

Part 2: The Problem Stated

The problem Christians face: The Bible presents both human choice and God's sovereignty.

Part 3: Proposed Solutions

Philosophical systems Christians have come up with to try to deal with this issue, and why they don't work.

Part 4: Conclusion

The Biblical position, and why it's the only one that makes sense. (IMPORTANT: DO NOT read this portion before reading part 2 and 3. Fight the urge! The conclusion won't make sense if you haven't first read the background for why this is the conclusion.)

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 4)

Conclusion

The approach the author of this article takes will be referred to as Christian compatibilism, though it has been advocated by those of a more reformed persuasion for quite some time. The problem that most will level at a reformed (biblical) understanding of foreordination and predestination is that it takes away any kind of responsibility. If a person’s actions are certain in advance then how can they be held responsible for those actions? We can state the problem in the form of a syllogism.

It is certain in advance that s cannot do other than x 
Responsibility implies the ability for s to do other than x 
s is not responsible 

The resolution to the problem is this: s can do other than x in a morally responsible sense because s was not coerced. To put it simply, people are not coerced into doing evil. God did not coerce those who perpetuated the arch crime of history (crucifying the Son of God) to do what they did. It says they were "godless men." The roman soldiers didn't have to work that day, they could have done an infinite number of other things rather than crucify the Lord. But the truth is they wanted to. They desired to kill Him, and so they carried out their plan, a plan God had ordained from the beginning. It's hard for finite creatures to comprehend this truth. If we want to make a future outcome absolutely certain we must coerce something or someone in order to accomplish it. For instance, a mobster, if he wants someone killed, must in advance either pay someone reliable to do it, or do it himself (that is, if he wants to be certain it will happen). From God's vantage point this is not the case however. God does not have to coerce in order to accomplish His will. He works in such a way that men retain their choice making abilities and make the choice he predetermined at the same time. So the problem, logically speaking at least, has been eliminated. The law of non-contradiction says that things cannot both be true and not true in the same sense and in the same way. In this case, there is no contradiction because God is sovereign over human affairs in two senses. In one sense He foreordains, and in another sense He does not coerce. To boil it down: foreordination does not equal coercion biblically speaking. God made it certain in advance that men would freely choose.

Another charge leveled at those skeptical of the Christian compatibilist position is that there’s no reason to pray or evangelize if God simply decrees what will take place. The answer to this objection is that God ordains the means  as well as the ends (Phil 1:6, 2:12; 3:14; Eph. 2:10; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28; etc.) It's God who's at work in the believer's sanctification process, yet the believer is commanded to pursue greater spirituality. Whilst the believer exercises himself or herself to obey God it is really God at work in them. It is in God's sovereign plan that the believer will put forth this effort thereby bringing about the intended result. The end (a mature believer) is accomplished through the means (the believers pursuit), yet both are ordained by God. This is true when it comes to evangelism and prayer as well. God has ordained that those things are his means by which he accomplishes an end. So prayer does change things and so does evangelism, yet it is God who is at work in the very process including believers in His divine decree. Eph. 2:10 declares, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." God also ordains evil to reach a desirable outcome (as in the example of the crucifixion).

In conclusion, the Bible maintains that the idea that God foreordains and the idea that man is held responsible are not diametrically opposed. Foreordination is explicitly taught in both testaments (Is. 46:10, Psalm 33:11, Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:28-30, 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:13; etc.). God's control over time is just about always (if not always) viewed as a comforting reality. Just think of the alternative! If God were not in control of the future how much comfort would there be in the midst of any tragedy in this world, and how would we know God's promises would be kept? At the same time, man is morally responsible for His choices and is in fact commanded to choose righteousness. (Deuteronomy 30:19; James 1:13-14; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:3; etc.)

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 3)

Proposed Solutions

Open-Theism

As we examine the proposed solutions to this problem we will progress from more simplistic to more nuanced approaches finally culminating in a biblical solution. The first approach we will be examining is known as “open-theism.” Open-theism maintains that “Scripture depicts God as having a perfect, immutable character but as expressing this character through his wonderfully flexible interactions with his creations.” It posits a God who is “frequently grieved, frustrated, and even amazed at how stiff-necked people are toward him.” To give an example: God, in an open-theistic system, did not know about the September 11th terrorist attacks before they happened. He was in no position therefore to prevent them from occurring, and as a result, shares in the pain and outrage felt by the American people that such an injustice would take place. In short, God is open-theism denies God’s sovereignty. This is one way to reconcile the tension between sovereignty and choice—simply deny sovereignty. The major problem with this view is that it does not correspond to the God of Scripture, a God who “turns [the king’s heart] wherever He wishes,” ordains the future of His elect, and knows what will take place in the future. Such a God would not be able to guarantee the salvation of His people or for that matter, the ultimate victory of His kingdom over the dominion of Satan. There would be no comfort in God’s plan because His plan would be subject to change as He reacts to the natural disasters and free decisions of men. Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney describes such a God this way: “If [God] could not foreknow and control [the world] He would be the most baffled, confused and harassed of all beings; and His government one of perpetual expedients.” A God who is not sovereign is no God at all.

 Best Possible World's Defense

A second proposed solution to the problem can be referred to as “the best possible world’s approach.” Many Christian apologists use this approach when attempting to answer the problem of evil (How can God be both good and sovereign if evil exists?), but it can also be used to answer the sovereignty/choice dilemma. Theologian John Frame relays the argument in his book Apologetics to the Glory of God:
The philosopher G.W. Leibniz and others have argued that this world, for all its evils, is nonetheless the best world which God could have produced. . . Certain evils are logically necessary to achieve certain good ends. . . So the best possible world will include some evil.
In other words, God chose to create a world in which bad choices were possible because it was also the only world in which love was also possible since “love cannot be programmed, it must be freely expressed.” In this world “freedom is preserved in that each person makes his own free choice to determine his destiny.” John Frame dismantles this assertion by showing that the best possible situations do not in fact require the existence of the possibility of evil. The perfect love of God himself within the Trinity does not assume the choice to rebel. The new heavens and new earth will likewise be environments of perfection in which sin will not be a possibility. A second philosophical problem with this approach is that it is only a possibility.
If God can make a whole world that is imperfect and requires renovation, surely it is possible that he can determine a whole historical sequence which is imperfect in comparison with other worlds he might have made.
In other words, we don’t know that this is the best possible world since “God is free to make things that are either imperfect or perfect.” One other problem with this approach to the sovereignty/choice conundrum is that love is merely assumed to lack any kind of compulsion without a defensible exegesis from the biblical text to prove that such a requirement is in fact a contingency. It may be that love has to be initiated (making it not a completely free choice) as 1 John 4:19 suggests.
 
Corridor of Time Argument


A third solution, and perhaps the most common solution (often used in conjunction with “the best possible worlds” approach) is the idea that God passively looked down the corridor of time, saw those who would choose Him, and so chose them to be His elect. This solution is specifically aimed at addressing predestination by defining it in a way that allows (seemingly) for both a sovereign God and a free mankind. In His book Calvin on the Ropes, Douglas Shearer attempts to interpret Romans 8:29-30 in such a way that God is merely sovereign in the sense that He knows what is going to take place. Shearer asks his readers:
The interpretation we give to Romans 8:29-30 is radically changed when we stand foreknowledge on its own. Why should we be surprised that God can look down the corridor of time and know that Jacob will choose to ground his relationship with God in faith—Jacob's choice, not God's—thereby putting him in right relationship with God and transforming him from a "vessel of wrath" into a "vessel of mercy?"
While this approach may seem very attractive, it has two major problems. One is philosophical, and the other exegetical. We will start with the philosophical problem. Those who advocate for the “corridor of time” solution believe that God is sovereign in the sense that He knows the future before it has taken place. The diagram below illustrates the point.

T1---------------------------------------------------------------------------T2
x is certain                                                                       x takes place

From the vantage point of eternity (T1) it is certain that a particular event will occur (x) at a particular time (T2). Jonathan Edwards critiques this position by affirming that it is certain in advance that what takes place will take place for the simple reason that the thing that takes place (x at T2) has a previous effect (at T1) in the mind of God. To put into a simple syllogism :

x is foreknown 
If x is foreknown it is not contingent 
x is not contingent

X represents all events, and therefore proves that if foreknowledge exists all events in history are certain to take place before they happen. Thus the “corridor of time” solution really turns out to be no solution at all. If anything, more problems are created since God knowing full well the evils of the creation decided to create anyway with no real purpose for the evil which exists. The Lord’s desire for “all to come to repentance” becomes a frustrating pipe-dream that God is not able to bring about—a slave to His own decree. Logically speaking, God would have no real control over his creation if this were the case rendering biblical passages of comfort for believers meaningless. Tragedy would be purposeless and the universe absurd. There would be no real reason to pray to a God bound by the choices of free agents since He would have no ability to interact in such a way as to bring about any change. The exegetical problem with the “corridor of time” approach is that it hinges on a dubious interpretation of the word “foreknowledge.”
The Arminian . . . not having imbued foreknowledge with the character of foreordination, will continue to believe that God’s fore-knowledge, considered as prescience, is part of his omniscience and includes all things as certain, both good and evil, contingent and necessary, without being in itself causal
In other words, the Arminian position is that foreknowledge is a passive knowledge God has concerning future events. Unfortunately, this is not how the word is defined biblically. James White asks, “What Greek lexicon gives us this as the meaning?” Romans 8:29 states:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified
This passage is referred to as the “golden chain of redemption.” The words foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified are all:
active verb[s] in the past tense; that is, these are actions that are, from God's perspective, finished and certain. . .The term translated foreknow is an active verb. . . When we examine the use of this word in Scripture, we discover that three times in the New Testament God is said to "foreknow." And what is vitally important to understand is that in none of these passages does God foreknow future events. That is, the word does not refer to looking into the future and observing events. The direct object of "foreknow" when used of God is always personal. God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29), His people (Romans 11:2), and Christ (1 Peter 1:20).
Thus it can be clearly seen based on both philosophical necessity and biblical exegesis that the “corridor of time” approach will not work when reconciling divine sovereignty with human free choice.

Molinism

The last view to briefly examine before providing an answer to this problem is the view of Molinism. Molinists believe that God utilizes something referred to as “middle-knowledge” to enact his decree. William Lane Craig, a major proponent of middle knowledge, maintains that God knows all possible outcomes of human decisions within all possible environments, and thereby creates the environments that will ensure His plans are carried out. The same critiques leveled at the “corridor of time” approach are applicable here. In addition, molinism maintains that God only really knows the choices that men will make after they occur which opens it up to the same critiques leveled at the open-theist position. Molinism therefore, is the worst of all worlds in attempting to resolve this dilemma. It posits a God that knows the potential choices of men without knowing them in actuality till after they occur, and trying to gain the best result by shaping the environment to constrain man into obeying the will of his creator. This view also denies what Christ said about the nature of man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries.” Man’s decisions for evil are not motivated by environmental factors. 

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 2)

The Problem Stated

In the intro to their book, Predestination and Free Will, David and Randall Basinger state:
The Christian faith presents us with a dilemma. On the one hand, we believe that God made us morally responsible beings with the ability to make meaningful moral decisions.   . On the other hand, Christians also believe that God has sovereign control over all earthly affairs. . . Nothing can thwart God's plan. . . The dilemma becomes clear. Can both of these basic Christian beliefs be true?
If man is really a victim, so-to-speak, of God’s determined plan, how can he be held responsible for his decisions? On the other hand, if man truly does have control over his moral decisions, how can God be said to be sovereign over them? These questions have challenged great Christian thinkers throughout the centuries. Augustine of Hippo affirmed the inability of man to choose freely by stating, “The free will has been so enslaved that it can have no power for righteousness.” In a treatise on predestination he affirmed that, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, that we do good works.” Therefore, human beings, according to Augustine, rely solely on God to carry out the very commands He holds them responsible for. John Calvin had the same viewpoint believing that “those destitute of his Spirit cannot produce any thing that does not deserve cursing.” He agreed and attributed to Augustine the idea that, “men also are ruled by Providence [and] that there cannot be a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without the ordination of God; because it would happen at random.” However, in Calvin’s teaching there is an attempt to reconcile these two paradoxical truths. He states:
Man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, [a voluntary slave]; his will being bound by the fetters of sin.
Calvin therefore does allow for two separate senses in which it can be said that mankind is free. In one sense, man “has a free choice because he acts voluntarily.” In another sense, he is incapable of voluntarily acting in any other moral way. This observation will become extremely helpful to us as we seek to resolve the dilemma. Among those of Augustine’s and Calvin’s persuasion (that man’s will is in bondage to sin) sit the eminent theologians Martin Luther, John Knox, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon, among others. On the other side of the fence (those who believe man’s will is not in complete bondage to sin) sit such influential scholars as Pelagius, Jacobus Arminius, Desiderius Erasmus, and John Wesley, among many others. Though some on this side of the fence, such as Pelagius, can be considered heretical in their extreme libertarian stands to the detriment of God’s sovereignty, most from this “Arminian” persuasion seek to reconcile free will with God’s sovereignty in some way. John Wesley affirmed that God “can do whatever He pleases. He can strike me or you dead in a moment. But he loves you; he loves to do you good.” Randy Maddox, in his book Responsible Grace, in which he describes John Wesley’s practical theology, states Wesley’s position as follows:
While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she
sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.
The attempt within the Arminian persuasion seems to be a preservation of man’s ability to choose apart from God’s determined foreordination, while at the same time affirming that God is sovereign over His creation. As we shall see, philosophically this is an impossible task, thus leaving both systems with the same basic problem: How does God’s sovereignty not override man’s responsibility to keep God’s moral law? In popular evangelicalism this issue is often termed “the robot problem?” Poet Hiam Gosaynie puts it this way, “[If predestination were true] wouldn't that mean that everything is decided before we even take any action at all? Before we live? Before we fall? Wouldn't that necessitate in making no decision—in being robot-like throughout our lives?” Man’s aversion to being controlled by an outside agent makes such arguments compelling. Though the other side of the coin is rarely considered. If God cannot interact with His creation in such a way as to influence them would this not make Him a robot helplessly observing a chance universe without a purpose for any of it? The robot problem runs both directions. On a popular level it would seem we either have to make God a robot, or man a robot—something evangelicals who believe the Scriptures are reluctant to embrace in either direction. It is the resolution of this work to prove that there does exist an answer to the conundrum—an answer that reduces what seems to be a contradiction to a paradox without any reasonable alternatives.

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 1)

Introduction

Reconciling God’s sovereignty with man’s ability to choose is one of the perceived “contradictions” in the Christian faith. Skeptics attempt to use this alleged problem to support the claim that Christianity is false, and Christians are often confused by the fact that both teachings, while clearly perceived, seem to be unreconciled in the pages of Scriptures. Commonly, many evangelicals tend to think that Calvinists posit a deterministic answer to this problem that belittles man’s choice, while Arminians possess an answer that sacrifices God’s sovereignty. It is important for Christians to have a balanced approach that does not sacrifice either doctrine. Skeptics may never be satisfied, but they should at least know that a resolution does exist. Addressing this contradiction lies at the heart of apologetics and is vital in our understanding of God’s nature. Every major theologian has had to come to terms with this paradox—some devoting lengthy famous works to the topic: Martin Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will, Jonathan Edward’s Freedom of the Will, all the way up to such modern classics as Norm Geisler’s Chosen But Free, and James White’s The Potter’s Freedom all attempt a reconciliation. The modern controversy between Calvinists and Arminians will continue leaving many “meat and potatoes” evangelicals wondering how to understand any of the philosophical sounding arguments being made. My attempt in this work is to, without sacrificing the concepts, provide an understandable and clear reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and man’s choice.

Definitions

In order to be clear about the subject at hand we must first establish what is meant by the terms that will be used. There are certain words commonly thrown around concerning the discussion pertaining to God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom that are easily redefined based on the theological background of the individual using the term. To avoid confusion, we will first, as best as we can, accurately provide biblical definitions for each of the theological terms used. The term “sovereignty of God” refers to “The biblical teaching that God is king, supreme ruler, and lawgiver of the entire universe.” As one author put it, “There are no random, renegade molecules running loose.” God is in complete control of “whatsoever comes to pass.” His kingly authority extends over everything that exists including time itself. Foreordination describes the aspect of God’s sovereignty in which He ordains, or “plans beforehand” what will take place within His decree—i.e. The inner-workings of His ultimate purpose for the consummation of all things. In other words, God has an active control over His creation—including the volition of man. Arminians would tend to favor a more indirect foreordination in which God passively knows what will take place, while Calvinists tend to favor a more direct foreordination in which God actively plans every detail of His decree from eternity. The word predestination concerns God’s specific foreordination when it comes to the issues of election (whom God chooses to send to heaven) and reprobation (whom God chooses to send to hell). Some theologians such as B.B. Warfield make no distinction between the terms predestination and foreordination, but for the purposes of this book we will assign a broader meaning to the former and a more specific meaning to the latter. Predestination is therefore concerned with God’s choice to save some and not others from the vantage point of eternity. Once again, Arminians tend to focus on God’s passive knowledge of humanly actions in making this decision, while Calvinists tend to focus on God’s active involvement in making such a choice. An important distinction that must be made for the purposes of this article is the difference between “free will” and “free choice.” Although the term “free will” can and has been used by good theologians such as Augustine to refer to something closer to the definition of “free choice,” its definition is commonly understood as, “the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies.” The problem with this definition is that it renders decisions as being uninfluenced by outside forces whether they be in divine or human categories. To give an example for the sake of clarification—if an individual is given the simple choice of eating an ice cream cone or running a marathon there are a plethora of influences that go into determining what course of action to take: from the time it would take to run a marathon, to the weather on that particular day, to the physical effects of each decision, to the personal pleasure derived from each experience, etc. Biblically, man’s fallen nature is a very strong factor that (at the very least) influences him towards evil. Therefore, I find it better to use the term “free choice” to refer to man’s ability to choose from a range of options, considering the outside influences that affect his disposition. That is to say, the decisions man is responsible for are not made in a vacuum.

10/18/13

The Communist Agenda = Supplant Christianity

I have been thinking a lot lately about the direction the U.S. has been going for the past 150 years (toward more government control), and the surprising lack of interest Christians have toward doing anything to stop it, let alone being even remotely informed about what's taking place culturally. I'm not pointing the finger at all Christians by any means. I know there are some great men and women who have woken up and who are sounding the alarm and trying to do something about it. But I know they are the exception. Most Christians are unaware about how what's happening in our country is a war against Jesus Christ and their own faith-commitment. They're in a battle, but they're not soldiers. Conversely, most patriotic Americans don't understand that in order to restore what they once loved they must look toward Christianity as the moral basis for accomplishing any of their goals. They're soldiers, but they're fighting the wrong battle.

So here's the frustration for me, and this is after reading lots of books (i.e. The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, Marx and Satan, Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists, Liberal Fascism, Total Truth, By This Standard, How Shall We Then Live?, A Christian Manifesto, etc. etc.) and staying informed (watching a lot of MSNBC, FOX, Listening to Talk Radio, etc. etc.): Why don't most patriotic Americans get the fact that they need Christianity, and why don't most Christians get the fact that they need to be patriotic Americans? (Just to be clear, I'm not stating any of my supposed "accomplishments" as something to brag about. I just want people reading this to know I'm not speaking from ignorance)

So here's the deal. I thought to myself, "Self, what can you do to influence the Christians you know to wake up and see what's happening as it relates to them, and how can you influence patriotic Americans you know to wake up and see how what's happening all relates back to a war on Christianity?" Then I came across these two documentaries. I know most people say things like, "I don't like history," or, "I'm not interested in politics, it's just boring." So I thought, well, these two films are kind of entertaining. They capture your attention AND if watched together, they explain exactly what I'm trying to communicate in a short concise way. So, I encourage you: Watch both of these documentaries and share them with as many people as possible! Yes, there will be those on the Left who won't like them, etc. but their target audience isn't for people who have already drank the cool aid.

The first documentary is made for patriotic Americans who see their country being ground down and making the connection to the actual spiritual battle between Satan and Christ which is going on with America as the battleground. For instance, did you know that the "gay rights" movement was a communist conception to institute government control? The vast majority of those advocating it don't even understand this, but that's exactly the plan. The connection between civic morality and economics is a direct one, you'll see that through this documentary.

The second documentary is designed more for Christians, helping them understand our heritage and the importance of defending this heritage in the hear and now.

Watch, Wake Up, Warn.

Agenda: Grinding America Down

AGENDA: Grinding America Down (Full Movie) FREE to watch for a limited time! from Copybook Heading Productions LLC on Vimeo.

Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure



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