Jerry Walls, Calvinism and the Character of God

As many of you know, I do not consider myself a “blogger” (see the “most recent” post before this) or internet theologian and rarely contribute to theological discussion on the web. This is because, for the most part, such discussions take place on a very “popular” level, are fueled by emotion as opposed to careful argumentation and aren’t very helpful in advancing understanding of the issue at hand. Occasionally, such poor discussion looms in the wake of an issue or figure that deserves a thoughtful treatment. In my judgment, one such figure and issue is Jerry Walls and his attack on reformed soteriology/Calvinism (historically speaking, “Calvinism” involves more than just a particular view of God’s sovereignty in salvation, but since Walls uses the term in the more narrow sense, so shall we). Unlike most very vocal, public opponents of Calvinism, Walls has an extensive background in philosophy (Ph.D from Notre Dame) and has has quite a number of academic books, lectures and interviews to his credit, many of which discuss and argue for his militant opposition to Calvinism. In virtue of his background, publications and internet exposure, Walls’s argumentation has made a much bigger splash than anti-Calvinist Youtube theologians and disgruntled blog warriors of internet past.

While Walls has been responded to in peer-reviewed, academic journals, to my knowledge there have not been many, if any, careful replies to Walls at a popular level on the web. Most replies, even by a few prominent Calvinists, are philosophically bankrupt and appear to be nothing more than passionate pleas. So then, upon reading the latest anti-Calvinist interview of Walls, it seemed opportune to lay out a careful and substantive response to Walls that could be “shared” and accessed easily on the web. While I will be using http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/bound-to-eternally-suffer-an-interview-with-philosopher-jerry-walls/ as my primary foil, Walls has been consistent in his criticism of Calvinism, so those familiar with his work may find reading the interview superfluous. If you have no knowledge of Jerry Walls, reading the interview along with a cursory Google or Youtube search will be beneficial prior to reading this response. Of course, there is a great deal that could be said in response to Walls, but in what follows I wish to focus on what seems to be the lynchpin of the whole discussion. I feel that Walls would agree and can only hope that he would approve of my tone and clarity, despite disagreeing with my conclusions.

The Love and Character of God

That the God of Scripture is portrayed as good, loving and holy needs little argumentation. What it means to say that God is good, loving and holy in His character and actions is not as clear. At the center of Walls’s critique of Calvinism is the contention that Calvinism sacrifices God’s loving and just character on the alter of iron-fisted sovereignty. If God plans every action, event and detail of creation and, in one way or another, infallibly brings about His plan, then God cannot be  good and loving (whether a Molinist could honestly embrace this articulation of meticulous sovereignty is a different question for a different day) . This is because if God is meticulously sovereign, then in one way or another he wills and brings about all evil actions, including rape, murder, child molestation and ultimately, eternal suffering. How could a being that knowingly and willing brought about any of these things voluntarily be considered good and loving?

As Walls says, “Is he truly a God of love who is perfectly good? You cannot claim this with any plausibility if you believe God determines people to damnation, people he could have just as easily determine to salvation… God is more glorified by unconditionally choosing to save some and damning others than he would be by determining all to accept salvation. Such claims make shambles of the claim that God is love.” After all, if a human being did these kinds of things, while telling others to avoid them, would he not be considered a monstrous hypocrite? Indeed, Walls thinks that it would only show that “God’s ways that are ‘higher’ than ours are actually lower than the standards we expect for a decent human being.” In subscribing to Calvinism, you sacrifice your “moral intuitions in the name of worshipping a God whose ‘goodness’ is utterly at odds with the normal meaning of that term.” Finally, if God is meticulously sovereign, then it follows than we cannot act other than we do. This “flies in the face of how we understand justice. A person is considered culpable only for things over which he has control. And what would we think of a judge who determined a criminal to willingly murder someone and then sentence him to death for murder. We would hardly think such a judge was just. Yet, that is just how Calvinists see God.”

Analyzing the Presupposition

Walls’s “character argument” against Calvinism seems to hinge on one primary contention: namely, that when understood in the “normal” sense of the words, a perfectly good and loving God would/could not do certain things that Calvinists claim He does and remain perfectly good and loving.

This contention, however, relies on a crucial presupposition: that God is good and loving in the same, or similar, way in which we consider one another good and loving. Surely we would not consider someone who willingly and voluntary brings about rape and murder “good” or “loving,” at least not in the normal sense of the words. I must confess that it seems fairly clear to me that God fails the “love” test on a Calvinistic (and Molinistic) understanding of things when evaluated in accordance with our “normal” understanding of love. The real question, then, is whether or not God’s goodness and love are to be understood in the “normal” sense of the word, or in another sense, perhaps one that is quite contrary to our a priori moral intuitions about morally acceptable divine action and love. What support does Walls give for understanding God’s goodness in the “normal” sense of the term (i.e., how we regularly use the term when we refer to one another as human beings)? As far as I can tell, he doesn’t–not in this interview, not in his books and not in his lectures.

Let’s look at a short list of actions performed by our perfectly good and loving God and observe how they are in conflict with our “ordinary” concepts of love and goodness. For example,  it would be evil (for me) to knowingly and intentionally plan to sell someone into slavery, yet this is exactly what God does in the case of Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 50:20). It would be evil, for any reason, to turn someone’s heart against God, yet this is what God does to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:21). It would be evil to watch a child drown while easily being able to save them. Yet, despite being easily able to do so, God lets children drown all the time. It would be evil to live for our own glory and fame, yet God created everyone for, and lives for his own, glory (2 Sam. 7:23 Ps. 106:7-8; Isa. 43:6-7; 48:-11; Ez. 36:22-23; John 12:27-28). It would be evil to knowingly and intentionally lead someone to be tempted, yet the Spirit leads Jesus to be tempted (Matt. 4:1). It would be evil, for any reason, to command the slaughter of women and children, yet God commands just this (1 Sam. 15:3). It is far from obvious that a perfectly good and loving God would punish people eternally who die without ever hearing the gospel, yet this is what happens to those who do not know God (2 Thess. 1:8-9).  Finally, and most alien to our “normal” understanding of love and goodness is the plain fact that God hates certain people: “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:5-6). Notice that no mention is made of God loving the evildoer, but hating their evil. Rather, it is the evildoer that he hates and the bloodthirsty that he abhors. Yet, this is compatible with God’s perfect love.

What these observations help us realize is that while our “pre-Scriptural” intuitions about what kinds of actions are consistent with a good and loving person are fairly accurate, our pre-Scriptural intuitions about what kinds of actions are consistent with a good and loving God are quite inaccurate. This is the Creator-creature chasm. In light of the Creator-creature chasm, we may formalize Walls’s argument and our reply as follows:

Against Meticulous Sovereignty

1. If God is meticulously sovereign, then he, in one way or another, intentionally brings about all evil actions. (Definition of Meticulous Sovereignty)

2. If God, in one way or another, intentionally brought about all evil actions, then he would not be perfectly good and loving.

3. God is perfectly good and loving. (1 John 4:8 et al.)

4. Therefore, it is not the case that God, in one way or another, intentionally brings about all evil actions. (2, 3 MT)

5. Therefore, it is not the case that God is meticulously sovereign. (1, 4 MT)

 

For Meticulous Sovereignty

1. Inerrant Scripture seems to portray God as meticulously sovereign. (Gen. 50:20; Isa. 46:10; Prov. 16:33; Phil. 2:13 et al.)

2. If 1), then we should accept that inerrant Scripture teaches God’s meticulous sovereignty unless our confidence that we have interpreted the relevant passages correctly is lower than or equal to our confidence in the truth of other beliefs that are mutually exclusive with our interpretations. (Principle of Rational Decision)

3. We should accept that inerrant Scripture teaches God’s meticulous sovereignty unless our confidence that we have interpreted the relevant passages correctly is lower than or equal to our confidence in the truth of other beliefs that are mutually exclusive with our interpretations. (1, 2 MP)

4. We have no beliefs in whose truth we are more or equally confident in than our interpretations of the relevant passages and that are also mutually exclusive with our interpretations. (Divine Action Skepticism)

5. Therefore, we should accept that inerrant Scripture teaches God’s meticulous sovereignty. (3, 4 MT)

While one might possibly challenge multiple premises of each argument, it seems to me, and I believe Walls would agree, that the discussion comes down to whether one finds premise 2 of the “Against” argument or premise 4 of the “For” argument more compelling. In light of this, what can be said in favor of each?

I think we have already sufficiently presented Walls’s defense of premise 2 of the “Against” argument. If God, in one way or another, plans and brings about every evil action, including eternal suffering, he cannot be perfectly good and loving, because such action is antithetical to goodness and love. For Walls, this seems to be a fundamental, moral intuition, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t say much more about why we should have confidence in the accuracy of this intuition, either in this particular interview or in his written work. Alternatively, I’m not aware of any justification Walls gives for thinking that our “normal” understanding of love and goodness should control or give boundaries to our understanding of God’s love and goodness, particularly when Scripture appears to suggest divine actions that are at odds with such a “normal” understanding.

In contrast, what can be said in defense of premise 4 of the “For” argument? Through a sampling of divine action throughout Scripture, we have seen that our ordinary, normal, creature-to-creature understanding of love and goodness are in need of revision when applied to God. This means that prior to approaching Scripture, we should not have a great deal of confidence in our natural ability to discern what kinds of actions a perfectly good and loving God (not person) could perform while remaining as such.

Comparatively, there are multiple reasons to have (more) confidence in our ability to correctly interpret the language of Scripture, including the language that apparently portrays God as meticulously sovereign. First, Scripture claims to be able to be understood by even the simple and uneducated (Ps. 19:17; 1 Cor. 1:26). Second, The NT was written in common Greek for common people and was often addressed to relatively uneducated church congregations who were expected to understand the language of the letters, including references to the Old Testament (e.g., Matt. 8:17). Third, because of our depravity, our moral intuitions are regularly less accurate than our ability to understand natural language. Even among Christians, disagreements about morally acceptable actions are far more rampant than disagreements about the meaning of most sentences outside of a theological agenda.

So, because we have good reasons to doubt the accuracy of our pre-Scriptural, moral intuitions about what kinds of actions a perfectly good God could perform, combined with a solid measure of confidence that we can regularly interpret the language of Scripture correctly, including the language that apparently portrays God as meticulously sovereign, premise 4 is extremely justified, more so than premise 2 of the “Against” argument, it seems.

Conclusion

This concludes our brief, but hopefully, substantive, response to the core of Walls’s main anti-Calvinist argument based on God’s character. We examined his presupposition that it is the ordinary, person-to-person sense of words like “goodness” and “love” according to which we are to understand God’s love. As we have seen, for a number of reasons it isn’t clear why Walls (or anyone) believes this. On the contrary, there are good reasons to think that, while still a communicable attribute of God, God’s goodness and love are to be understood in ways that are often times unlike our ordinary use of the terms. This is due to the Creator-creature chasm. To provide a dim analogy to this chasm, it would be evil for me to give my employer’s merchandise to my friends for free. However, if the owner of the store gave my friends free merchandise, this would not be evil. Although we are both performing the same kind of action, the moral status of each action is different because of the position, status and prerogatives of the person performing it. So, because we have confidence in our ability to correctly interpret the natural language of Scripture that portrays God as meticulously sovereign, and because we have good reasons to think that our “pre-Scriptural” intuitions about morally acceptable divine are unreliable, we should embrace the apparent, most natural reading of Scripture and advocate meticulous sovereignty.

Of course, there is much more that needs to be said in order to comprehensively respond to Walls. Such a response would necessarily include a discussion of God’s revealed and decretive wills along with a discussion of moral responsibility and the (lack of) ability to do otherwise given meticulous sovereignty. Nevertheless, if the concerns we have voiced here are correct, then the driving force behind Walls’s Calvinistic polemic falls to the ground.

Tyler Krug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Comments

Filed under Theology/Philosophy

16 responses to “Jerry Walls, Calvinism and the Character of God

  1. I think you have hit on a root issue in the debate. Does our understanding of “goodness” correspond in any meaningful way to the goodness of God? Roger Olson has an good post (of course, from the Arminian side) discussing this in terms of voluntarism and theological realism [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2010/12/a-much-neglected-basic-choice-in-theology/]. Your account here is much more careful than the bumper sticker version of the voluntarist argument Olson cites (God can do whatever he jolly well pleases), and I’m not sure that’s exactly where you are going with it, but your post made me think of Olson’s.

    I think you are certainly right to say that we should not assume that our human understanding of “goodness” or “love” can be univocally applied to God. I doubt that Walls would want to do that either, though as you say, he hasn’t really dealt with the issue; and it would be interesting to hear from him, regarding whether or not he really is simply appealing to a moral intuition.

    I think, scripturally, I would want to go to the Law as an expression of God’s character, and to Christ as the climax of God’s self-revelation, and argue for an understanding of love and goodness which is rooted there. And, without appealing to “intuition,” I would want to say that we should be able to come to a genuine (though imperfect) understanding of “goodness” which would correspond to divine goodness, and which I would want to appeal to as an arbiter in these kind of debates. In other words, I agree we can’t simply apply our understanding of the good to God’s actions; but I still think our understanding (if scripturally grounded), though limited, has enough correspondence to the reality of God’s goodness to be used in support of the Wesleyan-Arminian position.

    Having said that, I recognize that my take is built on debatable presuppositions, and I believe I understand and can sympathetically explain the Calvinist view as well.

    That’s not a full response to your argument, but some initial thoughts.

    Thanks for offering such a careful and respectful critique.

    James

  2. Thank you so much for your humble and substantive response, James. Allow me to offer one, brief point to consider for a Wesleyan-Arminian response along these lines.

    I think most Calvinists seek to understand God’s love in a way that is rooted in Scripture’s display of His character and in Christ, just like the Wesleyan-Arminian. It’s just that the text of Scripture appears to suggest an understanding of God’s love that, while analogous to our “normal” understanding of love at many points (e.g., gracious, forgiving, patient, self-sacrificial etc.), is quite disanalogous at so many others (e.g., a few of the examples listed in the article). I think that if our natural, intuitive grasp on what kinds of actions a perfectly good and loving God could perform were as strong as our intuitive grasp on moral facts such as “Child molestation is wrong,” then we should almost certainly interpret the text in a way that is consistent with those intuitions, similar to how we interpret texts mentioning the “four corners of the Earth” or the sun “rising” in a phenomenological manner consistent with our scientific knowledge. The challenge for the Wesleyan-Arminian, it seems to me, is making a plausible case that we should approach texts discussing God’s sovereignty in like manner. But given the frailty of our pre-Scriptural intuitions about what kinds of actions a perfectly good and loving God could perform, it isn’t clear where one would start. Thanks again, and please feel free to dialogue further if you so desire.

  3. Scripture does make clear that God determines / predestines certain actions related to what I will call “salvation history” (see Acts 4:28). The Bible is primarily concerned about this story of “salvation history,” essentially following a single genealogical line from Adam through Christ, encompassed in the greater story of God’s chosen people (the Jews, and later the Christians).

    My current, early-stage hypothesis is that God will violate “free will” in the least invasive way, in ways already compatible with the character of the persons involved, for the sake of salvation history.

    Joseph’s brothers were already prone to jealously and rivalry. God used that to accomplish his purposes for salvation history. Pharaoh had already hardened his own heart. God used that to accomplish his purposes for salvation history. Did God have to determine every single thought and action of Pharaoh? Or did he simply have to influence his heart one or two times in a way already consistent with Pharaoh’s character and previous decisions?

    I believe it would be a mistake to generalize this to every decision of every person in every place in every time.

    • Brother Justin,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. A few things to consider:

      “I believe it would be a mistake to generalize this to every decision of every person in every place in every time.”

      I take it, then, that you are rejecting premise 1 of the “For” argument. The question would then become, why? God is the author of all of history, declaring the end from the beginning and accomplishing all of his purposes (Isa. 46:10); he turns the hearts of man however he pleases (Prov 21:1; Ex. 7:3); he moves the will of man to work and act (Phil. 2:13); he is sovereign over nature and animals, weather and seasons (Ps. 148; Num. 22: 28-30; 1 Kgs. 17: 2-6; Matt. 10:29; 5:45); he brings about life and death (1 Sam. 2:6; Job 1:21; Ps. 139:15-16; Heb. 9:27); he plans the rise and fall of nations and carries it out (Job 12:23); he brings about the smallest details of creation (Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:30). No one can thwart his word, plan or will (Isa. 55:11; Romans 9:19; Acts 4:28). I could go on. God plans every event, actions and detail of creation according to his will and in one way or another, infallibly brings that plan to pass–this is what Scripture seems to clearly teach. What compelling reasons could we come up with to resist this biblical conclusion–or why would we even want to?

      “My current, early-stage hypothesis is that God will violate ‘free will’ in the least invasive way, in ways already compatible with the character of the persons involved, for the sake of salvation history.”

      It seems clear that God does, in fact, work in people to act in a way that is largely compatible with their character. The question, however, is one of logical order. Does a particular person have a particular character because God has, in one way or another, planned that they have that character and brought it about? Or, does God just work with what he’s got, so to speak, once salvation history starts to roll, reacting and evolving with the redemptive story line? Not least on the basis of the few verses I have mentioned above, Scripture seems to teach the former, not the latter. Please feel free to dialogue further if you so desire. Thanks!

  4. I would say that we should be careful in taking verses out of context and interpreting them from frameworks that are inseparable from pre-existing doctrinal stances. However, let me reflect on some of the passages you have used and statements you have made.

    Isaiah 46:10 – Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’;

    – God can do anything he chooses, whatever is his will. I argue that he is primarily concerned with “salvation history,” rather than the motion of, for example, a single dust mote.

    Proverbs 21:1 – The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of Yahweh; he turns it wherever he wishes.

    – This is specifically referring to a king or “the” king. We should not generalize to every human being. Exodus 7:3 also refers to a specific instance relating to a specific human being that factors into “salvation history.”

    Philippians 2:13 – for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure

    – This can be interpreted as the Holy Spirit working in / influencing Christians through the process of sanctification – it does not say that God determines and controls every thought and behavior of every person.

    You say that God is sovereign over nature and animals, weathers and seasons. (Ps. 148; Num. 22: 28-30; 1 Kgs. 17: 2-6; Matt. 10:29; 5:45)

    – Certainly. God has the power to do anything he desires, but this is different that determining everything. Jesus commanded the wind and waves to be still and they obeyed him – the Bible does not say that Jesus determined that the storm would happen in the first place. Jesus was frustrated to find out that a fig tree had no figs on it – the Bible does not say that he determined in advance that the fig tree had no figs on it. Otherwise, Jesus would be playacting. God also uses intermediaries to carry out certain tasks in the present – Revelation 7:1 talks about four angels holding back the four winds. That is a little different than God pre-determining where those specific winds would be from all eternity past.

    You list Job 1:21 as evidence that God determines the life and death of every person throughout all history.

    – Certainly all life originates with God during Creation. However, in this example it is in fact Satan that caused death. God allowed it to happen but set certain parameters in place that Satan had to work within.

    Likewise, in Acts 17 we see that God determined times and boundaries for nations (God’s free actions), to see if those different groups of humans would use their freedom to seek God and perhaps find him (humanity’s free actions).

    God brings about the smallest details of creation (Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:30).

    – Creation? Yes. Pre-determining everything that will ever happen throughout all time? No. Proverbs 16:33 doesn’t mention creation at all, but rather talks about “the lot.” This seems to refer to the Urim and Thummim and other God-ordained methods of decision making that were given to the Israelites during the Old Testament period. Matthew 10:30 simply tells us that God knows even the number of hairs we have. This speaks more to omniscience than creation, per se.

    No one can thwart his word, plan or will (Isa. 55:11; Romans 9:19; Acts 4:28).

    – I argue that God’s plan and will as revealed in the Bible primarily concern the scope and course of “salvation history” and God’s group of chosen people. God is directing the overall flow of human history to his ends, but not every detail within.

    I have not seen any Bible verses that make me believe that God from all eternity past has “ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession). I think this is a philosophical conclusion that does not arise naturally from reading scripture.

    • Brother Justin,

      I think that it is open for the defender of meticulous sovereignty to reply in a number of ways at this point (exegetically, philosophically, church history etc), but I suppose I wonder something more fundamental in your case: in light of these kinds of passages, don’t you bear the burden of proof in denying meticulous sovereignty? It seems to me that your doctrine of providence could be summed up like this: “God plans and determines some things, particularly those things related to ‘salvation history’, but far from everything.”

      But where is the biblical evidence for this limited, “broad sovereignty?” If God declares the end from the beginning (a hebrew merism for “everything”), what positive reason can be offered from the text for thinking that there are exceptions? This response is strengthened with each passage we examine that indicates God’s sovereignty–over kings, over nations, over life and death, Satan and angels, the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30 following the context of v. 29 is not at all about God’s omniscience but his providence and control, in the same way he controls whether or not a bird falls to the ground) and the turn of lots (limiting this to merely inquiry through Urim and Thummim in the Israelite cult–which the text makes no mention of–requires bearing a burden of proof). What texts can be marshaled forth to oppose this apparently “good and necessary inference” from Scripture?

  5. I would strongly disagree with the proposition that Scripture teaches meticulously sovereignty. As I mentioned, I have never see a passage of Scripture that convinces or even indicates this. You have repeated Scripture references that I have already (to my own satisfaction at least) refuted as pertaining to the hypothesis of meticulous sovereignty. In fact, I would say that my reading of Scripture indicates the opposite – that many things happen that are contrary to God’s preferences and desires, but that he ultimately achieves his purposes despite these things, because God is never caught-off-guard or dis-empowered. God allows free creatures to do things that are against his stated desires and will, but he will ultimately give every man their due.

    So, it is my firm belief that Scripture does not teach meticulous sovereignty.

    However, it is only my “early stage hypothesis” that God will violate “free will” in the least invasive way, in ways already compatible with the character of the persons involved, for the sake of salvation history.

    Also, I had posted a longer response on my blog in addition to the one I gave here two posts ago.

    • Brother Justin,

      I’m not sure you have really addressed my challenge–that is, to shoulder a burden of proof from Scripture that God is not meticulously sovereign. Mentioning that there are actions that go against God’s revealed will does not at all count against meticulous providence, for both Molinistic Arminians and Calvinists agree that this occurs. I want to see a case from Scripture that God is not meticulously sovereign. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You must have a positive argument of your own to justify your position that God is not meticulously sovereign, even if you disagree with everything I have said. Otherwise, you are left with mere agnosticism with regards to the extent of God’s sovereignty, not a denial of meticulous sovereignty. This positive argument from the text is what I’m looking for, and I haven’t seen yet. I’ve enjoyed the dialogue and will leave the last word to you. Thanks!

  6. Those who hold to meticulous sovereignty should be willing to take this doctrine to its logical conclusion. I applaud Gordon H. Clark for the bravery he showed in doing so.

    “As a staunch Calvinist, Clark does not hesitate to use the term determinism to describe God’s causing of all things, including human acts. He argues that human will is not free. In describing the relationship of God to certain evil actions of human beings, he rejects the concept of the permissive will of God. He even states, “I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do it…”” (Erickson 1998, 442).

    How does one who holds to meticulous sovereignty console a grieving parent who’s child was gunned down in the Sandy Hook massacre?

    Grieving mother: “Why? Why would God allow this to happen!?!”

    Deterministic Theologian: “Don’t worry. God did not just allow it to happen, but he actually caused it! He meticulous determined every drop of blood and every second of physical suffering your child experiencing during their murder. And, because Scripture teaches us that God’s will is both pleasing and perfect, your child’s murder must be thought of as ultimately pleasing and perfect in conformity with God’s eternal and unchangeable sovereign will.”

    Calvinist Theologian: “And, if you child is not part of the Elect, they will spend eternity in hell and God will be glorified because of it.”

    Now I do understand that we do not subvert theology and our understanding of reality to pastoral concerns and social graces, but this presents a troubling practical matter to me. Is the gospel of meticulous sovereignty really “Good News?”

  7. But ultimately, if meticulous sovereignty is true, then God from all eternity pre-determined that I would not believe in meticulous sovereignty. He pre-ordained that I would hold deep beliefs that are counter to reality. Even more interesting, he allowed a member of the Elect, as evidenced by the inner-witness and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, to hold these views. Indeed, if meticulous sovereignty is true, every word that I am writing is actually being dictated to me and through me by God’s eternal decree – I am only experiencing the neurological illusion of free choice and creative thought as I type these sentences. I have no hope of changes my views unless God planned that I should from an infinite length of time in the past.

    • Brother Justin,

      Forgive me for commenting further (I think you were writing while I was responding with my ‘final’ response), but I must point out: none of this is Scriptural evidence opposing meticulous sovereignty. It is a collection of philosophical intuitions about free will, moral responsibility and what kinds of actions are compatible with divine goodness–exactly what this article is calling into question.

  8. Why is the burden of proof not on meticulous sovereignty? I think it is historically a minority position… Let me ask you this before I begin – what would you consider to be sufficient evidence to prove a case that God is not meticulously sovereign? Because my experience has been that all evidence will be reinterpreted by those holding to meticulous sovereignty to reinforce their views. Ultimately it is not a testable hypothesis.

    The burden of proof is always on the person making an assertion or proposition. Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of argumentum ad ignorantium, is the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person who denies or questions the assertion being made. The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise.

  9. My original post from my blog which I did not copy over… more in response to the idea of “right and wrong” and human concepts of “love” versus God’s concept….

    I do not believe that Scripture at all teaches that God is “meticulously sovereign.” As stated above, there is a Calvinist definition of “sovereignty” that may be distinct from the Biblical definition. As the Walls and Dongell book argues, God is free to create any universe he wants and do whatever he wants with it. It just so happens that he chose, in his wisdom, to create a somewhat self-contained system that allows for legitimate human free choice. God did not have to create such a universe and God could presumably take away this “free will” at any time if he chose to. He is, after all, fully capable of doing anything he wants at any time.

    God gave Adam the task of naming the animals in the Garden… does that not at least indicate that God is on some level pleased to allow for independent and creative action from human beings?

    If God does meticulously determine every action in human history, the following seems unavoidable to me (as one tiny example):

    1. God commanded men to spread over the face of the earth.
    2. God determined that men build the tower of Babel, contrary to his will.
    3. God became concerned about the behavior that he determined.
    4. God determined to reverse his determination.

    Is this not the picture of a schizophrenic god working at cross-purposes with himself? He constantly wills that which is contrary to his will. I visualize a young child playing with action figures, one the super hero and one the super villain – creating imagined conflict for his own amusement. This is not the God of the Bible that I am familiar with.

    Yes, Christians must realize that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways are higher than our ways. But I do believe that, through the image of God, we have moral intuition, albeit sin-stained by our fallen nature. C.S. Lewis referred to this as the “natural law.” We can only understand love and goodness accurately through God’s revelation. But to say that God’s version of love is completely foreign to our understanding of love is to make God an unapproachable alien force.

    The type of love demonstrated by the incarnation of Jesus Christ indeed shows a type of love we are very familiar with. However, the love demonstrated by Jesus Christ is higher and purer than anything we human beings naturally show, but it is not indecipherable or alien to us. I will state that the modern, Western concept of love may not be identical to other cultural conceptualizations. We need to define love on God’s terms, but the Bible gives us plenty of data by which to do so – particularly through the approachable example of Christ.

    I think the theological concept of “anthropomorphism” is a fallacy… that we mistakenly ascribe human emotions to God. On the contrary, we ascribe God’s emotions to humans. Emotions originated with God, pre-existed us, and we are made in his image. Although in a fallen state, the image of God remains within us. The original creation was “very good,” and even the concept of total depravity does not mean that we are as evil as we could possibly be – but only that every aspect of our creation has been touched by sin. There are still traces of that original “good” creation, including our ability to do virtuous actions toward one another – such as the Good Samaritan. This is in contrast to what some have called “worm theology,” that human beings are basically despicable maggots with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

  10. You have not put forward a positive argument in favor of meticulous sovereignty. I propose that scripture nowhere indicates or teaches it. I also believe that evidence I present to the contrary will be reinterpreted from the philosophical assumption of meticulous sovereignty, or there will be a retreat into the mystery of the “secret will” of God. Such a secret will can not be argued against and no evidence can be used to disprove that hypothesis. It involves fallacies of confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and other issues involved in logic.

    So, if you first tell me what sort of evidence you would find influential or convincing, then I will build an argument based on that.

    For example: I would believe in meticulous sovereignty if a passage of scripture stated that “God has pre-determined the thoughts and actions of every human being from eternity past.” I would also believe it if God’s Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Justin, you are wrong, meticulous sovereignty is actually the truth.”

    The Westminster Confession says something like this, but later contradicts itself. I am not aware of any scriptures that say something like this.

    Please know that I am not mean-spirited in these discussions. I genuinely love and am energized by debating theology!

  11. Brother Justin,

    1) In citing Scriptures that, to all appearances, seem to suggest that God declares the end from the beginning and plans even the smallest details of creation, I have shouldered a burden of proof. I certainly am not just assuming my view is true. I think at this point you just disagree with my exegesis and its implications. No argument from ignorance here.

    2) Meticulous sovereignty is definitely NOT the historical minority position, does not imply determinism and is certainly not equivalent to Calvinism.

    3) All it would take to convince me that God is not meticulously sovereign is alternate, convincing exegesis of the horde of passages that seem to suggest that he is.

    Ok. Last word to you.

  12. I will start with Isaiah 46:10, which you have cited multiple times.

    “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;”

    The word for declare is the Hebrew verb nagad, or נָגַד

    it is translated in the NASB in the following ways: answered (3), another (1), certainly told (1), confess (1), confront* (1), declare (46), declared (13), declares (6), declaring (4), denounce (2), describe (1), disclosed (1), display (1), explain (3), fully reported (1), give evidence (1), indeed tell (1), inform (3), informed (1), informs (2), know (1), known (1), made known (4), make…known (1), messenger (2), related (2), remind (1), report (2), reported (10), reported* (1), show (2), shown (2), surely report (1), surely tell (1), tell (101), telling (2), tells (3), told (131), told plainly (1), uttered (1).

    The word declare does not mean determine. God literally tells or declares the future through prophecy. One example would be the Messianic prophecies alluded to in Genesis 3. Other examples involve apocalyptic literature / eschatological prophecies found in the Old Testament. Knowing the future does not mean meticulously determining every aspect of reality. God either has actual foreknowledge, presumably existing outside of “time” as humans experience it (a philosophical idea) or he can perfectly predict the future because of his perfect knowledge of human beings and their present circumstances, and/or he brings about the future through some level of pre-destination, such as the Bible clearly states with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Here I argue that the crucifixion was central to the course of salvation history, first mentioned in Genesis 3. All language in scripture that involves pre-destination or God exerting specific control has to do with salvation history (the ultimate plan of God’s salvation and redemption of humanity through time).

    Isaiah 46:10 says that God will establish his purpose and accomplish all of his good pleasure. But what is his purpose and pleasure? Doesn’t Isaiah 46 show us that this purpose and pleasure involved bringing deliverance through Cyrus, certainly a figure important to salvation history and God’s chosen people? And also, that “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel.” Again, we see language (the gospel / promises according to Lutherans) that relate to salvation or redemptive history and God’s chosen people.

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