Jan 2, 2007

Questions from a young Calvinist

This is going to sound silly coming from a so-called Calvinist, but I guess I just don't quite understand the whole free-will issue. I know that God has chosen who will be saved, but how does that work with man's responsibility? I know my dear friends will help me solve this, right? I'm not even sure if I worded the question correctly. If you need me to clarify, let me know.

6 comments:

Stan said...

I'm not sure what the question is. "How does that work with Man's responsibility?"

If the question is "In what sense is Man responsible for going to Hell?", the answer is that all have chosen to commit Cosmic Treason and, due to their choice, God is obligated to send them eternal death.

If the question is "In what sense is Man responsible for his salvation?" the answer is, mostly, "He's not." However, that's an incomplete answer. God chooses who will be saved, but each person who comes to Christ still chooses to come to Christ. No one is forced. (A common misconception about us "evil Calvinists".) God chooses, and those whom He chooses will certainly choose Him ... but they will choose Him.

But I'm sure there are other possibilities of what is meant, so ... what do you mean?

Anonymous said...

Hi Samantha,

I'm no theologian or philosopher, but I'll do the best I can. The bible teaches that God has unconditionally chosen
who will be saved *and* that man is responsible for his thoughts and actions. There are two truths, and should not
be played off against each other, as some like to do.

When we talk about free will we have to be careful to define our terms. If one means "can we make choices?",
the answer is, of course, "yes". However free will usually refers to "libertarian free will", which basically means
one has the ability to choose with equal ease between alternatives. Or, our choices are free from any
constraints of human nature or other prior circumstances. The bible denies that man has libertarian free will;
rather, he has a fallen nature. All Christians affirm that
God has perfect foreknowledge, even if they do not want to admit that He decrees all things. By
virtue of God's foreknowledge, everything has been determined. Ergo, humans do not have libertarian free will.

If one still wants to claim humans have libertarian free will, I ask
"does God have libertarian free will?", i.e., is He equally free to
choose good or evil? If not, then by the free-will yardstick, humans have
more freedom than God. (However the bible does not define freedom this way.
Biblical freedom is defined in terms of holiness: the truly free person is free from
slavery to sin. Therefore God is more free than all of us--as we would expect!)

Someone might say "if it has all been determined, why should we as
Christians do X?" The answer is that God works through means, as
the bible demonstrates (e.g., Gen 50:20, Isaiah 10, Acts 4:27-28).
I believe that this kind of determinism (called "soft determinism" or "compatibilism"
by philosophers) is most consistent with the Bible teaches.
On the other hand Islam teaches hard determinism.
In the Greek tragedy Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus believes in fate,
learns about his fate, and tries to change it, but in doing so, he
fulfills his fate. This is also hard determinism.

Spurgeon was right in saying
"I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his
own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope
that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, "You are mine, and
you shall be mine. I claim you for myself." My hope arises from the freeness
of grace, and not from the freedom of the will."

Hope that helps.

Simon

Samantha said...

This is exactly what I was looking for!

"Someone might say "if it has all been determined, why should we as
Christians do X?" The answer is that God works through means, as
the bible demonstrates (e.g., Gen 50:20, Isaiah 10, Acts 4:27-28).
I believe that this kind of determinism (called "soft determinism" or "compatibilism"
by philosophers) is most consistent with the Bible teaches.
On the other hand Islam teaches hard determinism.
In the Greek tragedy Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus believes in fate,
learns about his fate, and tries to change it, but in doing so, he
fulfills his fate. This is also hard determinism."

Sorry I made it complicated Stan and Simon. See, I understand "free will" as you are both describing it. It's the, "What do I do now if God has predestined everything that is going to happen? Why should I do anything?" that has been making me confused. I know it's the wrong idea entirely, it would be a hyper-calvinist approach (right?).

Simon (or anyone else) what are these "means" that you are speaking of? Prayer? Choices? Consequences?

I may be getting off track, so I'll stop there.

Stan said...

Scripture describes a variety of means God uses to accomplish His results. An example is one you asked - prayer. Another is the Bible. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Another is church. Others are things like preaching, evangelism, teaching, and so on.

It is true that God determines all that comes to pass, but that doesn't require passivity on our parts because some of what He determines is that we take part in His plans. That is, He determines the ends and He determines the means ... and we are often part of the means.

Take, for instance, evangelism. If we view it through the popular lens, it's a scary proposition. I had better get it right or people might go to Hell because I don't. Oh, I hope I say the right thing, do the right thing, come across the right way, talk to the right people. What are the chances???!! But if God is truly sovereign, then I can engage in it freely, willingly taking part in His chosen method of spreading the Gospel, leaving the outcome completely in His hands. It's a win-win!

Simon said...

[I note that Stan posted his comment just before I was about to post. We are in agreement.]

Samantha asked "What do I do now if God has predestined everything that is going to happen? Why should I do anything?"

This is a good question and a natural question to ask. It's so easy to get off balance here, and I've struggled with the issue myself.

One answer is "because God has not only ordained the ends, but the means to those ends". God does not merely decree that a person will be regenerated, will exercise saving faith, will be conformed to the image of Christ, etc. He also decrees how those events/processes occur. He uses the preaching of the gospel as a means to bring people into the kingdom of God. The preaching is also predestined. Think of Rom 10:14-15.

God also uses prayer as a means. God hears the prayers of a righteous person (Prov 15:29; see also Luke 18:1-8, Phil 4:6-7), and can use these prayers to achieve the ends that He has also decreed. If God decrees that X comes to pass by means of my prayers for X, then X will not come to pass unless I pray for X. So I should pray for X! I highly recommend this article by John Piper on the subject of prayer and God's sovereignty. He will no doubt explain it much better than I:

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/35/1505_Prayer_and_Predestination/

But the bottom line is that we should pray, evangelize, and do other things Christians are commanded to do simply because, well... God commanded us to do them. That should be enough for us, even if we do not understand fully how these things go hand in hand with God's eternal decree.

In answer to your question, I would say that "means" refers to causes.

You are right regarding hyper-Calvinism: it says the elect will be saved apart from means (such as evangelism). They reason that since man does not have the ability to come to Christ without being born again (which is true), then we should not command anyone but the elect to come to Christ.

Simon

Samantha said...

Thanks so much guys. It's one of those subjects that I was trying to figure out on my own, but not getting too far since I found myself identifying with hyper-calvinists and I certainly knew I was going in a very wrong direction.

I'll check out that Piper article too. You are both blessings. I have more questions though. Stay tuned. :D