Saturday, November 12, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 5)

Part 5 of the review of Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Chapter 4 — God's Sovereignty and Divine Determinism

Olson calls some inconsistent Calvinists on the carpet for their denial that Calvinism implies Determinism. Fine, but then it is one thing to say that it implies some form of determinism; it is another thing to think that all forms of determinism is bad.

On page 75, Olson raises the objection that whatever is necessary cannot be gracious, and therefore Calvinism with its determinism makes the creation necessary thus undermining grace. This is however an argument that fails to take into account the difference between God's will ad intra and ad extra. What is necessary for God ad intra is what is necessary indeed. However, if God freely wills to do something like for example create the world, then God's willing it makes that action subsequently necessary, although it is God who freely wills it. Olson fails to distinguish between an absolute necessity and a subsequent necessity here.

In a similar note, Olson fails to distinguish God's glory ad intra and ad extra in his critique of the rationale of God doing everything for His glory, and thus accuses Calvinists of saying that God needs the world in order to manifest His glory (p. 93), thus undermining the aseity of God. According to Calvinism, God's glory is perfect, but His glory is perfection in Himself and is not revealed to the world. Therefore, God does not need the world to be inherently glorious, but the manifestation of His glory (ad extra) requires external beings to be present to behold the revelation of God's glory.

One thread which runs throughout Olson's argument is that moral responsibility implies human ability. This premise may sound right to many people, and is in fact true when dealing with human relations, but why should we accept that when it deals with our relation to God? What is the predication for responsibility, but that one is held accountable for his actions? Accountability not ability is the precondition for responsibility. Within humans, ability imply accountability because those who do not have the ability to for example not stop stealing are sick, and sickness is not one that the person is responsible for. However, God deals with humans under our federal head Adam. We fell in Adam and we are furthermore held responsible for all the subsequent sins we commit in our lives. Sinners are not sick but rebels actively choosing to sin. That we cannot not sin is irrelevant after all since Man in his natural state does not even desire to not sin.

Olson furthermore does not think through this objection of his, which is actually a double edged sword against Arminianism as well. If moral responsibility implies human ability, then Man cannot be held responsible for any sin which he commits since he is sinful from birth. Since Arminianism affirms original sin, then God cannot send Man to hell for sinning because Man cannot do otherwise. This goes to the issue of faith in Jesus Christ as well, as unbelief in a sin. How can Olson hold an unbeliever responsible for not believing in the Gospel, since his sinful nature means he is unable to do so? Olson could of course use the Arminian notion of prevenient grace, an idea without biblical proof at all, but given the fact that prevenient grace is meant to only make Man able to choose to believe the Gospel, where does this leave those unreached people who have never heard the Gospel message at all? If one believes, contrary to Scripture, that they are saved by obeying what light of nature they have, then perhaps it would be better NOT to preach the Gospel to them, since those who have obeyed what light of General Revelation they have might reject the Gospel when they hear it.

The main thrust of Olson's objection in this chapter is that having God ordain everyone means that God is a "moral monster." God in his view would be no different from the devil. The problem for everyone including Olson is that there is evidently evil in the world. If God does not ordain everything including evil, then evil serves no visible function; evil is pointless and purposeless. Olson's postulation of a consequent will to account for how God uses evil for His purposes, in a reactionary manner to evil, calls into question the doctrine of God's immutability and aseity. Does God change when faced with evil? If however, God's consequent will is moved into the realm of eternity through God's foreknowledge of evil, then another question arise: Is God's will determined by something that is temporal? Can the eternal be determined by what is temporal?

The philosophical problem related to the theory of simple foreknowledge comes into play here. As the open theists have realized, exhaustive foreknowledge of the future imply that creatures do not truly have libertarian free will. In light of this, Olson's Arminianism runs into the same problem that Calvinists have. According to Arminianism, God cannot not allow evil to happen. For if God foreknows that evil will happen, then why didn't He prevent it from happening, unless He cannot do so? On the issue of salvation, if God foreknows that a person Sam will not accept the Gospel, then why did God not create him instead of creating him to go to hell? For it is better not to be born than to burn in hell forever. Furthermore, can Sam chose to believe in the Gospel if God foresaw that Sam would not chose to believe? Instead of preaching to the elect (Olson's caricature of what Calvinism will lead to), evidently Olson to be true to his Arminianism with its theory of simple foreknowledge has to preach to those foreknown to believe. Perhaps some contemplative prayer will show Olson who are those whom God foreknows will believe and he can then preach to these only.

Therefore, unless one wants to drift into Open Theism, one needs to embrace a form of determinism. Far better to say with Scripture that God decrees evil in order to bring about a greater good (which as a rejoinder to Olson means that we do not necessarily know what is the greater good that God intends), than to think of evil as having no purpose and God reacting and thinking of how to make it all good in spite of evil. Furthermore, if evil is not decreed by God, then there is another force at work in the universe independent of God, be it chance or something else. Any admission of that leads to Manicheanism with its dualism between God and the forces of evil.

Concluding this section, we see that Olson's objections are double edged. What he accuses Calvinism of can be used likewise against Arminianism. The only way to escape the charge of determinism is to either embrace Open Theism and Process Theology (both beyond the pale of orthodoxy), but I doubt that Olson wants to go there, although his friendship with the late Open Theist Clark Pinnock may indicate to us more than meets the eye.

No comments: