Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Phil

The Arminian position has always been perplexing to me.  Even when I was one I at least attempted to logically work through what I believed.  I am glad for those who were patient with me when I was in the pupa stage of becoming a full fledged reformed thinker.  And I am certainly glad for those who now tolerate my understanding or lack thereof as I continue to work through ideas.  And I think this is where we as the reformed will make the most impact on our friends who have not yet been “converted.” In gentleness, love and much patience show them how their position is illogical.  And really it will not take a Spock intellect to do so since their position, although strongly held, is weak. 

In this week’s Friday Phil, Phil does this very thing by taking aim at the belief that God is at once sovereign and that man can over ride that sovereignty at will and refuse God.  To us we readily see the inconstancy of this position and they will too but they have so much personally invested in their position that they will not let go without persuasion and time.

So consider this classic repost from Dec 2008        

The Arminian Problem in Simple Terms
by Phil Johnson

If God knows the future with certainty, then the future is (by definition) already predetermined. If tomorrow is predetermined and you don't want to acknowledge that the plan was decreed by God, you have only two choices:

1.  Some being other than God determines the future and is therefore more sovereign than He. That is a kind   of idolatry.

2.  Some impersonal force does the determining without reason or coherence. That is a kind of fatalism.

So anyone who denies that God preordained whatsoever comes to pass but wants to avoid both fatalism and idolatry is logically compelled to deny God's omnscience.

That of course, is precisely the rationale that has led so many to embrace Open Theism.

The more sensible option—and the biblical one—would be to abandon Arminian presuppositions and acknowledge that God declared the end from the beginning, and that He works all things according to the counsel of His own will.


James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

The argument that God's foreknowledge implies determinism is invalid, as it commits the modal fallacy. Please see here for a great explanation:

or the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy:

Jamie said...

First the argument is Phil's not mine, although I do agree with him. Second, with all respect to Plato's logical reasoning and to Stanford, we are not speaking of human reasoning here but God's. If, for example, God knows the future with certainty (and I use certainty here in the absolute infallible sense), then for that future to not come about quite frankly dethrones God for He "knew" something that was not making Him in error.

For Him to know something that does not come to pass is an impossibility since He is God and has preordained (determined ahead of time) everything; which is Phil's argument altogether.

What most Arminians choke on is they believe, in error, that just because God has preordained everything they have no free will in the matter; but that is not true. On this the Scriptures are replete with examples

See both you and God conspired to post to this blog today. He preordained that you would (actually from eternity past) and you freely chose to do so. In fact once you chose to post here, it was impossible for you not to just as God had preordained.

James said...


Thank you for your comment. I actually agree with you, that God does not know things that do not come to pass (in the sense that that he believes that something will come to pass that does not). I believe that you did not fully address my comment. My critique is of Phil's first statement: that God's knowing means that the future is predetermined.

This statement is false, and it's not up for debate: that statement is like saying that's a false statement, a known fallacy in the construction of the proposition. A correct statement would be that if God knows the future with certainty, then the future is known. However, you must then show why that knowledge implies determination: as an example, Moses is given knowledge of the future, and also I have knowledge that Dillon is serving coffee in this cafe. But that knowledge does not equal to determination.

There is a way to link knowledge to predetermination, but that statement is dependent on a framework of God that is everlasting: that God is a timed being and so has a past present and future. Most Reformed theologians would not be comfortable with this formulation of God and this formulation of predestination, because it also forces God to be a determined being. I can send you a longer document discussing this issue if you wish.

It still may be that God determines the future, but it is not because his knowledge requires the future. A better argument can be used using statement (1) in his argument.

Jamie said...

“I believe that you did not fully address my comment" Well I thought I had if maybe in inference only. My point would be that God cannot know what will not come to pass since it cannot come to pass as He did not preordain it to come to pass. And while this seems circular it is not but is wrapped up in His sovereignty.

Yet it would seem the question revolves around cause or effect, that is is the knowledge that something will happen based upon some future prediction by God or upon God having determined it would come to pass first thereby knowing it would. You are correct that the knowledge you have and Moses had is not the same thing as the knowledge God has since God is the cause or the determiner of what will happen. See God’s knowledge does mean the future is predetermined since He is the one who determines what comes to pass. Yet this in no way prevents human choice in the matter. In other words “God's knowing means that the future is predetermined” and “that knowledge [directly] implies determination” is actually true only because He, being God, predetermines it to be.

You are correct most if not all reformed theologians would not be comfortable with God being a “timed being” since He presents himself a the Eternal I AM who is outside of time (since He was before time), but who steps into time in the affairs of men to incarnate himself in order that He might redeem His creation. Certainly all orthodox reformed theologians would be and I being an orthodox reformed theologian agree as well making a longer document on the issue unnecessary.

James said...

Your argument gets at a central idea, that for God to be sovereign, he must have caused everything that happens to happen. Therefore, everything that happens is predetermined by God. This is a fine argument to make, but it is not how Phil bases his argument. He bases it on a false statement, namely that God's foreknowledge means by definition that something is predetermined.

Your argument, however, is based on a highly debatable argument: that sovereignty of God is based on causation, rather than dominion. The principle difference between your particular Reformed argument and the argument of some other Reformed Theologians, Aquinas, Arminians, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and everyone else is that your claim is that sovereignty must be exercised through causal control of everything, rather than dominion. I and others would assert that God allow other beings under his dominion to decide the outcome of certain events and decision but ONLY at his allowance. It can be revoked at any time and it is only sovereignty granted by God, who retains supreme sovereignty. I state this not to say that your argument is bad, but that it is HIGHLY debated even with Reformed theology.

So in short, your argument is good: you wrap God's predetermining act around his sovereign nature. Phil does not. He wraps it around a false proposition (albeit an exceedingly common one.)

Jamie said...

Having read Phil for a number of years now, I can say that he and I, on this point are in complete agreement. Granted he makes a statement with the foundational argument somewhat presupposed, but you must remember that his original audience was not mine but his on the TeamPyro blog and this post may have been one of a series (I cannot remember). So when he states “If God knows the future with certainty, then the future is (by definition) already predetermined” he is actually stating as I have prior, i.e. that God has predetermined (preordained) everything and that is the bases for His knowing the future. So His knowing the future “with certainty” means He predetermined it to come to pass. While Plato and Stanford may have an issue with this it is how God presents himself in the Scriptures.

This position rebuts the classic argument that the reason God knows what will happen is because He looks down the corridor of time to see what happens. This is usually presented in explanation of God’s foreknowledge in matters of salvation. So that God never effectually calls men (elects them) for salvation with an irresistible grace but rather elects those who will answer based on His having looked into the future and seeing who responds.

My argument is not based upon causality but is based upon (and I believe Phil’s as well), that God is sovereign and by definition it means over all things as you cannot be simi-sovereign or sorta/partial sovereign; you either are or not. So his dominion gives Him autonomy over all and subordinates all to Him whereby He causes both well-being and calamity. Isa 45 where God declares that Cyrus is His instrument for His use is a good example here.

Also as a side note: Aquinas, Arminius, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox are not Reformed thinkers as the Reformation occurred in rebellion to the church of Rome (Catholic) making Aquinas to early. The Eastern Orthodox were not either as they are in opposition to the church of Rome as well, yet not part of the Reformation. Arminius, although of the time period was a proponent of Pelagius who opposed the idea of predestination. Declared a heretic, Pelagius’ ideas resurfaced as semipelagian, also declared heresy, which was taught by Arminius with a few modifications.