Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Liberty University on the Ergun Caner Fiasco

"After a thorough and exhaustive review of Dr. Ergun Caner’s public statements, a committee consisting of four members of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees has concluded that Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory. However, the committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence. Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review. Dr. Caner’s current contractual term as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary expires on June, 30, 2010. Dr. Caner will no longer serve as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The university has offered, and Dr. Caner has accepted, an employment contract for the 2010-2011 academic year. Dr. Caner will remain on the faculty of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary as a professor" (

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Contra Steven on Prevenient Grace

Steven has posted a new query on Arminian theology.

Steven has some questions about prevenient grace. Namely, he can't see how we could consider a choice free in any sense if the noetic effects of sin are still acting on the mind, even if prevenient grace has been given. He also wonders how one could actually reject this grace.

His post starts off badly by not defining his terms. He uses "sufficient" it seems in a few different ways. When distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions, a sufficient condition is speaking of a condition that, if satisfied, will definitely bring about what the statement asserts. For instance, in the statement, "If God decrees something it will be done," God's decreeing something is a sufficient condition for its being done. If He decrees it, it will happen.

When Arminians speak of God giving sufficient grace to everyone to come to Him, they are speaking of sufficient as it is normally understood; as being as much as needed to accomplish something. In my house, for instance, I have a sufficient amount of sugar to bake some cookies. I have as much sugar as I need, but it's obvious the sugar does not imply cookies. It would be helpful to avoid this ambiguity if one is going to correctly portray his opponent's position.

Steven asks, "What exactly would grace sufficient to make a truly free choice to accept or reject God’s salvation look like? That is, what would the effects of a truly liberating grace be?"

If Steven is speaking of a sufficient condition to accept God's grace, this seems to be presupposing that there has to be a P that implies Q, or a grace that will bring about repentance. But the Arminian holds that grace is necessary, but not sufficient for repentance. This grace that enables the will of man to repent could look like a lot of different things, and is probably different for every individual. For some in Paul's day, it was enough for them to hear of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). But for Paul himself, it took more grace to bring Him into relationship with the Savior (Acts 9:3-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18).

Steven then begins to stack the deck, making bold assertions such as, "If the sin-inclining effects of the flesh are not entirely removed from the agent upon making the decision, then the agent’s choice will not have been truly free–it would have been unfairly more probable that it would be a choice for evil."

Here's the issue, Steven has no grounds to back this assertion. It's actually quite strange, considering no Calvinist thinks that anyone is completely free from sin in the flesh. The Calvinist teaches that man must be regenerated before exercising faith in Christ, but that says nothing of a complete escape from the noetic effects of sin. Most continue to hold that the dulling effects of sin still remain on the mind until we are glorified (see any Calvinist commentary on Romans 7).

So I suppose that Steven is saying that regeneration must happen, a washing clean of the spirit of man, making the spirit alive instead of dead. Not to point out the circular reasoning here, but what reason is there to accept this as the case?

The Arminian is quite happy stating that something must be done to man before he can accept Christ. Steven is correct that "grace must be truly liberating because it is clear that the sinful flesh, absent divine grace or assistance, necessarily tends towards evil, and man, in terms of his natural abilities, lacks power to do good of his own." But the Arminian says that this enabling grace precedes faith and regeneration. This is a grace that God gives that enables man in a sufficient manner to be able to accept God's grace. The Arminian also holds that this is a grace that is universally distributed (Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). It is a necessary condition to lead to salvation, but not sufficient, as there are some who thrust this grace from themselves.

What seems to be the crux of the issue for Steven is, "[W]hy would anyone who has been so freed, and who can judge things properly, and so on, still choose to refuse salvation?" In other words, what makes one person respond to God's grace and the other not? JC Thibodaux has shown the fallacious nature of this objection. It's assuming that there must be something other than the individual that determines which way the will goes. But that's just assuming causal determinism, and is begging the question.

The Arminian has no problem shrugging his shoulders here. We can't know the hearts of other men, and so can't know ultimately why they don't repent. There may be influences that impact the decision made, but ultimately the will of the individual is what chooses to repent or not. There may be some people who no matter how much grace God gave would stubbornly refuse to repent.

Steven then voices an implication he sees coming from Arminian theology:
someone who was aware of their sinfulness, aware of their need to trust in God, aware of the fact that God is their only hope in saving themselves and that this requires a surrendering of the will, and able to properly judge reasons for acting (that is, isn’t given to misjudge the value of reasons like “sin feels better than holiness” when considering what to do), would still be able to choose to reject God and embrace the hell he sees coming for himself.
Steven has stacked the deck and is begging the question here. He is presupposing that a prevenient grace would undo all effects of sin on people to enable them to come. As I will continue to state, it hasn't been shown why this needs to be the case, as I think it's clear God could grace someone such that they would be able to choose Him even while being under some sinful influence, since that is what is consistent with our experience. Further, he thinks that true freedom requires being only swayed by the grace of God in this case, but I would argue that to have a truly free choice, both options should be on the table. Also, even if Steven is correct about these other aspects, it still doesn't follow that if completely free from any noetic effect of sin and enabled to accept God that one would necessarily choose him.

Steven ends with two points, which I will address quickly, even at the risk of repeating myself.

1) "such a radical freedom of indifference, absolute ability to do otherwise, seems to not be very valuable, so it isn’t clear why someone would say it is required for a choice to be truly free, responsible, etc."

The only value the Arminian would ascribe to libertarian free will is in its use to come to a freely chosen relationship with Christ. As Walls and Dongell write in Why I'm Not a Calvinist, "The same freedom that makes it possible to enter a genuinely trusting and obedient relationship with God also makes it possible for us to go our own way and disobey him. God allows the latter in order to enable the former." A genuine relationship must be a freely chosen one. I think that is a fairly strong and indisputable axiom. We know that a relationship between a volitional creature and something that cannot choose is not real. This is where the puppet analogy pops up. God wants people to freely come to Him. This is why He allows the ability to choose not to come to Him. Even though God graces someone with the knowledge and ability to escape sin, they can actually choose against that.

2) "an agent who fulfills the above criteria in terms of knowledge and ability and yet still does otherwise than what he knows to be the right thing, and his choice is somehow supposed to be free, seems like an impossibility–inconceivable."

Not only is it not clear why this would be the case, but it again seems to be begging the question for determinism. He's basically saying that if someone receives this prevenient grace from God, they should necessarily come to Him. But that hasn't even begun to have been established. Given the Biblical testimony it is hard to see, on Calvinism, why all are not saved. But on Arminianism, the explanation of why some aren't saved is fairly simple; some simply choose not to repent despite God's gracious, merciful, and loving drawing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

God as the Properly Basic Epistemic Foundation of Knowledge

Classical foundationalism has typically held, as phantomreader42 argues here, that the only beliefs that are properly basic are "true by definition (x=x, there's no such thing as dry water), evident to the senses...or a self-evident axiom..." But is this necessarily the case? Think about it, if we are formulating our epistemology on that statement, then it should be consistent within its own system, shouldn't it? But the statement "A properly basic belief needs to either be something true by definition (x=x, there's no such thing as dry water), evident to the senses (which your god isn't), or a self-evident axiom" itself is not true by definition, it is not evident to the senses, and it is not a self-evident axiom. It's simply an arbitrary definition adopted by some people in order to justify their belief system. In other words, poor phantomreader42 holds to a self defeating epistemology.

But surely, someone like phantomreader42 could say, this is a good epistemic rule by which to come to knowledge of the world. I don't think it is. If that were our foundation, we would have no reason to trust in the very things it proposes we rely on. If we are simply the products of chance and natural selection by means of random mutations 'choosing' survivable traits, then our brains have developed only to help us survive. If that is the case, then any studies or methods of coming to knowledge we have developed rest on this brain that evolved to survive. So if certain beliefs are beneficial to survival, they will continue to be utilized by the brain to continue our life. If this is the case, then there may be false beliefs that we think are true because they would help us to survive. If this is the case, then there is little reason to trust any of the beliefs we hold to actually correspond to reality. Even the belief that our studies have led us to the belief that our minds have evolved randomly would be suspect.

The naturalist would have trouble arguing against this, because they themselves postulate that humanity evolved religion, which in their minds is a false belief, to aid in survival. Not only that, but we could conceive of other false beliefs that would help us survive. Say a caveman thought that it is true that the best thing that could happen to him would be to be eaten by a dinosaur. Say too that he thinks the best way to go about being eaten is to run like heck every time he sees this dinosaur. Of course it is false that the best way to be eaten by a dinosaur is to run from it. But it helps our caveman friend to survive, yet it is a false belief.

With this in mind, it is hard to see any reason to hold that any of our beliefs would be true using this method of epistemology.

However, if we hold as our foundation that God exists and has created our minds to come to true knowledge, then we have a good, non-self-defeating epistemic foundation on which to build further beliefs. We can be assured that a maximally great being would not create our senses to fool us, but to give us pretty good information about the world we live in. Further, we could trust that our methods of reasoning and scientific inquiry would lead us to further truth if followed faithfully. We'd have a ground for the laws of logic, for different sorts of abstract objects, and for the ethical morality that is inherent in logical reasoning (ie it's bad to use fallacious arguments).

The Christian world view is reasonable, and is internally consistent, and I see no reason to not hold it as the foundation of one's belief system.

Monday, June 14, 2010

See, I Can Change My Mind; or Accepting Molinism

After much reflection on the issue, I have decided to accept Molinism as the correct way to view God's exhaustive omniscience as it relates to human freedom. Since I also think Arminius was a Molinist, I believe I am in good company.

Luis Molina, in response to the deterministic slant the reformers were taking, set out to articulate how he saw an omniscient being dealing with creation and free creatures. He postulated that we can see that God has three different "moments" in which He knows things.

  1. Natural Knowledge - This is the knowledge of what God knows could happen. In other words, what is broadly logically possible to happen. God possesses all necessary truths. This being the case, God has knowledge of any possible world.
  2. Middle Knowledge - This is God's knowledge of all counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a proposition that is in the subjunctive mood. For example, stating, "if I were rich, I would own a Ferrari," is a subjunctive proposition. So prior to His divine creative decree, God knew what any free creature would do in any situation they would be in. By this knowledge, God knows the range of feasible worlds He could create with free creatures.
  3. Free knowledge -  This is the knowledge of what will actually happen after God makes His decision to create from among the feasible worlds. God knows everything that will happen in the actual world. He knows everything that any of His creatures will actually do, and what He will actually do.
So, with this in mind, it is easy to see how God could very easily providentially guide creation to His ends and still deal with free creatures. Take, for instance, the crucifixion. Peter says in Acts that Jesus was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Well we know that God Himself didn't cause the pharisees to be godless. Rather, God knew what kind of godless men the pharisees would be, and He knew that if they were put in the position they were in, they would act to murder Jesus. Thereby, God was able to decree that Christ would be crucified to accomplish His justice, and was able to use the freely chosen sinful actions of evil men to accomplish this.

I find this system to be extremely Biblical. God made predictions like in Jeremiah 38:17-18 where He said, "If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from their hands." Jesus used middle knowledge to tell the disciples that if they cast their net to the other side of the boat, they would catch many fish (John 21:6).

I think this system is the most Biblically and philosophically sound, and think it is mentally stimulating, since you can study it for a long time and still glean new insights. I recommend looking into it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Great Quote From Dan Chapa on the Good Nature of God

I hope he doesn't mind. Dan said this elsewhere about a year ago.

Since a sinning Holy One is a self-contradiction, it's not a 'thing' and therefore it's no limitation to God's power not to be able to sin. One way to look at it is that God's nature provides Him a range of things He can cause and that range doesn't include sin. Another way to look at it is that desires are a necessary, but insufficient, condition for choices. You have to desire something to be able to choose it, but if you desire it, you still may choose something else (that you also desire). God only has good desires, so He cannot sin.

Verses All Arminians Should Know

This list was compiled about a year ago by many members of The Society of Evangelical Arminians. I was asked to put it into blog form, and have finally sat down and gotten it done.

I hope for this to be a useful resource for any Arminian needing good scriptural texts that display his or her view. It should be cautioned that proof texting is far too easy for anyone to do, and with any of these verses the context should be considered. Far too often, context is ignored and erroneous interpretations are formed. So, use these verses, but corroborate their contexts. We strove to carefully consider the contexts and, in our minds, these verses and explanations faithfully represent the author's intent, showing Arminianism to have strong Biblical support.

Also, if you see any verses that you think should be added, comment on the post and let me know.

Verses that show election is conditional:

  • Matthew 11:28-30 - Salvation is an invite to those who will come.
  • John 3:16
  • John 4:42
  • John 6:40
  • John 6:51 - Must eat of the bread of life to receive benefit.
  • Acts 13:39
  • Romans 1:16-17
  • Romans 5:1-2 - It is through faith that we are made a part of Christ.
  • Romans 9:30
  • Ephesians 1:13
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 - Jesus died for all, but there is a specific subset that receives the benefits, namely those who believe.
  • 1 Peter 1:1-2 - Election is according to God's foreknowing who shall believe.

Verses that show the atonement is available for all:

  • Isaiah 53:6 - The iniquity of us all was put on Christ.
  • Matthew 11:28-30 - Any who some to Christ are welcome.
  • Matthew 18:14 - The Father does not wish that any should perish (anti predestined-reprobation).
  • John 1:7 - Jesus intended for all, wants all to believe.
  • John 1:29
  • John 3:16-17
  • John 6:33, 51
  • John 12:32, 47
  • Romans 3:23-24 - All have sinned and all have access to justification in Christ Jesus.
  • Romans 5:6 - Christ died for the ungodly. Since all are ungodly, Christ died for all.
  • Romans 5:15 - Since sin spread to all, Christ's atonement is meant for all.
  • Romans 10:13 - Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 - All died, yet Christ died for all.
  • 1 Timothy 2:3-6 - God desires all men to be saved, and gave Himself for all
  • 1 Timothy 4:10
  • Titus 2:11 - God's necessary grace that leads to repentance appears to all.
  • Hebrews 2:9 - Jesus tasted death for everyone.
  • Hebrews 10:10 - Christ offered once for all.
  • 2 Peter 3:9
  • 1 John 4:14
  • 1 John 2:2 - Jesus is the propitiation, not just for believers, but for the whole world.
  • John 4:42
  • Revelation 22:17

Verses that show grace is resistible:

  • Jeremiah 7:24
  • Luke 7:30
  • Acts 7:51 - Blatant resistance of the Holy Spirit. It is proper to infer that if they didn't resist, they would have been led to repentance.
  • Romans 10:16 - Not all who hear will believe.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:1 - One can receive God's grace, yet not appropriate it in their lives.

Verses that show we must remain in Christ to be secure:

  • Romans 11:17-24
  • 1 Corinthians 15:2
  • Ephesians 5:3-7
  • Colossians 1:21-23
  • 2 Peter 1:10
  • 2 Peter 2:20-22
  • Hebrews 6:4-6
  • Hebrews 10:26
  • James 1:12; 5:19-20

Verses that show man has libertarian free will

  • Free will offering verses
    • Exodus 35:29; 36:3
    • Leviticus 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; 23:38
    • Numbers 15:3; 29:39
    • Deuteronomy 12:6, 17; 16:10
    • 2 Chronicles 31:14; 35:8
    • Ezra 1:4, 6; 3:5; 7:16; 8:28
    • Psalm 119:108
    • Ezekiel 46:12
    • Amos 4:5

  • Isaiah 1:19-20 - Can choose to be obedient or rebel.
  • Ezekiel 33:11 - Have the ability to choose from different options.
  • Luke 7:30 - Pharisees rejected what God wanted for them.
  • John 7:17 - A person must want to do what God is giving them the grace to do. This verse shows that God allows things He doesn't want to happen.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:37 - Power over own will--not necessitated--that's the definition of LFW.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13

Verses demonstrating God's prevenient grace

  • Jeremiah 31:3
  • John 16:7-11
  • Romans 2:4 - It is God's grace that leads us to repentance.
  • Romans 10:14-17 - One must hear God's word to come to faith.
  • Titus 2:11 - God's grace leads to repentance.

Verses showing sin is not from God

  • Jeremiah 7:24
  • James 1:13-15
  • 1 John 2:16

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Edward's Duck (or why Proximate Causation Doesn't Solve the 'Author of Evil' Issue)

In his essay, Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards, to escape the implication that God would be the author of sin if his philosophy of the will is correct, says:

They who object, that this doctrine makes God the author of sin, ought distinctly to explain what they mean by that phrase, “the author of sin.” I know, the phrase, as it is commonly used, signifies something very ill. If by “the author of sin,” be meant the sinner, the agent, or actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin; rejecting such an imputation on the Most High, as what is infinitely to be abhorred; and deny any such thing to be the consequence of what I have laid down. But if by “the author of sin,” is meant the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the author of sin, I don’t deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense), it is no reproach for the Most High to be thus the author of sin. This is not to be the actor of sin, but on the contrary, of holiness. What God doth herein, is holy; and a glorious exercise of the infinite excellency of his nature. And I don’t deny, that God’s being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down.1

Edwards says because God is not the proximate cause (the direct creature acting) of sin, therefore He is not the author of that sin. He says God is only permitting that sin while at the same time making it necessarily so by being the "disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow." Now, as much as I admire Jonathan Edwards as a mighty man of God and amazing philosopher, I gotta call a duck when I see one.

Edwards claims that proximate causation is enough to clear God of the author of sin charge leveled by incompatibilists. I argue that this isn't a good defense for the compatibilist. Consider a couple of examples. The most relevant to this is the example of the cause of a book, since it actually includes an author. The proximate cause of a book is a printing press. It is the reason the book exists in printed form. But no one credits the printing press, or even its operators, with being the creator of the content in that book. The author of the book, the one who originated the idea, is the one we give credit for writing the book. The writer is the ultimate cause and reason that book exists. Or consider the Titanic. When someone asks what the cause of the boat's sinking was, you could answer that it was because it submerged beneath the waterline, water filled the hull, the ship gained more density that the water it was floating on, and it could no longer stay afloat. That is the proximate cause of the sinking of the Titanic. But that is a completely uninteresting and unsatisfactory answer for why the ship sank. We all know the ultimate cause was an iceberg.

I think you can see what these examples show. Just saying "God isn't the author of sin because He isn't the proximate cause" isn't a sufficient answer to the charge leveled by libertarians. God, on strict determinism, is the ultimate cause of sin. He "from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."2 I think it's obvious what is in mind when libertarians recoil from this idea as making God the author of sin. He came up with the idea, as in it originated in His mind, and He brings it about as a result of His decree that it will happen. And if He decrees it, it becomes necessary. This does not allow Edwards the convenience of simply saying that God is "permitting" sin, as the Westminster Confession continues, "[He] has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions."3 This isn't simple permission based on what He knew would happen, as it is in Arminianism, but rather a deliberate authorship of all acts, including sin.

This also has the unintended consequence of bringing doubt into whether we can actually attribute anything to the direct causation of God. For instance, one of the motivators to accepting Calvinism is so man is not given any power over his own salvation (which the Arminian doesn't claim anyway). But if man is, as I'm assuming, the proximate cause of his faith, then wouldn't this also strip God of that glory? This would extend to anything God uses proximate causes to do. We attribute many good deeds, rightly in my opinion, to God that He uses proximate causes to accomplish, like when someone is cure of a deadly disease through the work of doctors. Following Edwards' logic, we should strip this honor from God and lay it solely on the proximate causes. But, as we know, all good things are from God. Paul writes that God works all things together for good for those who love Him, and He uses proximate causes for such ends.

I think it has been made obvious that simply "getting God off the hook" by proposing proximate causation as a solution to the authorship of evil is not sufficient and should be rejected by Christians. I think it is clear that man in himself determines to sin by the power of his own will, and has no excuse before a holy and sovereign God. As John said, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world" (1 John 2:16).

As far as how the quote from Edwards ends, where he suggests that if we define author of sin as, "the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow." I believe I have also addressed this duck as well. Edwards and other Calvinists have to stretch all known logical boundaries to assert that, even though every event is from God, He still remains holy. Edwards says, "What God doth herein, is holy; and a glorious exercise of the infinite excellency of his nature. And I don’t deny, that God’s being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down." However, Edwards is stripping the meaning from what is meant by author of sin and applying something entirely foreign and, in my opinion, unintelligible to the words used.

As my discussion of proximate causes as compared to ultimate causes shows, this is just obfuscating the point. If God makes everything happen, why isn't He to blame? We say He is responsible and to be blamed for good things that He brings about, because He only brings about good things. These things He authors! If He also determines sin, why shouldn't we say so? And if we admit that He is the reason for sin, then why should we think He is holy? It seems to me, we measure unholiness against God. But if He is the reason for unholiness, how on earth can we make that distinction?

For another great essay on this, go here.

1 Freedom of the Will, vol. 1 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.” (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957), p. 399
(In this quote, the biggest issue I have with Edwards' theology is that God makes things "infallibly follow." I have no issue with God ordering events so that His will is accomplished. However, this is not the implication of determinism, for the actual will of man is one of the things that is determined. The Molinist or Classical Arminian approach to the situation I think is an acceptable alternative to this.)

2 Westminster Confession of Faith, On God's Eternal Decree,

3 Ibid.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On My Blog Layout

Is my layout easy to read on, or should I change it?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Question for my Lutheran Readers (if there are any)

As I understand the Lutheran concept of consubstantiation, it is because of the divine nature of Christ that His human substance is found in the Eucharist. The divine attribute of omnipresence is communicated to the human nature of Christ like the heat from a red hot iron would be transferred to something it was placed near. So, when one eats the bread and drinks the wine, they are actually chewing the body of Christ and drinking His blood.

But if Christ's human substance is now omnipresent, wouldn't that mean we also breathe Christ and type on Christ etc? Or is it just when the elements are consecrated that His substance is put in them?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Irony in a Lab Coat