Tag Archives: Counterfactuals

Are evangelism and human responsibility for sin rational in Calvinism?

Here is a quote from Dr. Craig that seems to get Calvinists so angry:

“The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.”

(Source)

Calvinists have told me that this quotation from Dr. Craig is “heretical” or “borderline heretical”. They are claiming that Dr. Craig thinks that God is lacking in power somehow. But why is God’s power limited, according to this quote?

Well, it’s because God respects FREE WILL. That quote is simply Dr. Craig’s way of saying that God does not override the free will of his creatures.

So let’s make sense of Craig’s statement. Either there is determinism and God causes people to act, or humans have free will and they cause themselves to do things. If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do. Just think for a minute. If I push you into someone and you fall into them and then they fall off a cliff, then are you a murderer? No – I would be, because I am the cause. The Bible teaches that God has chosen to limit his power so that that people have genuine responsibility for their actions, and that means they have genuine free will. Humans can only be responsible for their sins if they have the ability to do other than they do, and this is the traditional Christian view.

It’s true that human beings are totally depraved as a result of the fall, and do not want God in their lives, but they are responsible because God wants them to be saved, and it is their free choice that prevents it. Rather than force humans to love him against their will, God lets them resist him, and so they are responsible for their sin.

Dr. Craig cites the famous Calvinist D. A. Carson (who I like) explaining some of the themes of the Bible that affirm robust free will and human responsibility:

The classical Reformed [scholars]… acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom.

On Calvinism, however, all of these 9 features of reality, supported by dozens and dozens of Bible passages, are all false. On Calvinism, God is the sole causal agent. There is no free will. People go to Heaven or Hell as a choice of God. People can only perform good actions if God acts unilaterally to “regenerate” them, making obedience to God possible. Calvinism teaches that God and his agents are constantly exhorting and commanding things that they literally cannot do because they are unregenerate, and the only way to get regenerate is for God to regenerate them, against their will. And they can’t resist that.

So let’s make sense of D.A. Carson’s list of 9 items:

  1. On Calvinism, when God or his agents exhort or command people to perform good actions, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so that they can perform the good actions.
  2. On Calvinism, when God or his agents tell people to obey, believe and choose God, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so they can obey, believe and choose God.
  3. On Calvinism, when people sin and rebel against God, it’s like people are soda cans that God shakes up some of them, and then pops the tabs on all of them and the ones he shook up fizz.
  4. On Calvinism, when God judges people for sinning, it’s like God sends the cans who don’t fizz to Hell for eternity, even though he unilaterally chose not to shake them, which is the only way they could fizz.
  5. On Calvinism, when God tests people, it’s meaningless, because there is no way they can pass the tests unless God unilaterally regenerates them first, so they can pass the test.
  6. On Calvinism, when people receive divine rewards, it’s meaningless, because all the credit goes to God for regenerating them. They are just fizzing because he shook the can.
  7. On Calvinism, when people respond to God’s initiative, it’s meaningless, because God’s regeneration is irresistible and irrevocable. They can do nothing other than fizz when he shakes the can.
  8. On Calvinism, when people pray, it’s meaningless, because God unilaterally decides whether to regenerate people or not, and all their fizzing comes solely from his decision to shake or not shake the can.
  9. On Calvinism, when God pleads with sinners to repent and be saved, it’s meaningless, because God has to unilaterally regenerate them before they can repent.

Here’s William Lane Craig to explain it further in an answer to a question of the week from Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith web site.

5 problems:

  1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture.
  2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.
  3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility.
  4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency.
  5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce.

If God’s choice, to regenerate or not, causally determines whether we can respond to him, or not, then that is determinism. And it makes our lives meaningless because we are not responsible for anything we do. Life is a puppet show, and there is only one person pulling the strings. Evangelism makes no sense, because God decides unilaterally and irrevocably who is saved. When I explain this to Calvinists, their response is that God commands us to evangelize, so we must even if it makes no sense on their view.

A Calvinist might respond to this defense of free will and human responsibility with passages from Romans 8 and 9, but those are best understood as speaking about corporate election, rather than unilaterally-determined selection. Membership in the elect group is based on people responding to God’s drawing of them to him. That interpretation fits with the rest of the Bible, which is uniformly affirmative of human free will and human responsibility. Concerns about diminished divine sovereignty are resolved by middle knowledge, in which God chooses to actualize exactly the world that achieves his sovereign will out of all the possible worlds, and he saves exactly the people he chooses to save – but without violating their free will. Yes, it’s cosmic entrapment, but at least the cosmic entrapment does not violate the free will of the creatures, which would render then irresponsible for their own sins.

Disclaimer: I don’t think that this is an issue that should divide Christians, and I do think that Calvinists are most definitely Christians. And that they are very devout and intelligent Christians, too.

If you are looking for a good book on this issue, I recommend Kenneth Heathley’s “Salvation and Sovereignty“, which is a thorough discussion of the problem of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

What happens to people who have never heard the gospel when they die?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be sent to eternal separation from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

A simple explanation of middle knowledge by Dr. Craig Blomberg

This article is from Denver Seminary, where Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Groothuis both teach.

Excerpt:

Middle knowledge is a proposed solution to predestination vs. free will, to divine sovereignty and human responsibility, going all the way back to the medieval Jesuit priest Molina (so sometimes it’s also called Molinism).

Classic Calvinists, properly concerned to safeguard divine sovereignty, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his foreknowledge of how humans will respond to the gospel, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice the ultimate determiner. Romans 8:29, of course, doesbase predestination on God’s foreknowledge, but the Calvinist typically argues that the Greek prōginoskō (“foreknow”) there begins already to shade over into the idea of election because in the Old Testament the Hebrew yādā‘ (“know”) often appears roughly synonymous with “choose.” That would explain why Paul doesn’t say just that those whom God foreknew he also predestined, which could be seen as tautologous, but “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Classic Arminians and Wesleyans, properly concerned to safeguard human freedom and accountability, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his gratuitous election, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice ultimately a chimera. They often point out that prōginoskō is not the same verb as just ginoskō (which the LXX uses to translate yādā‘ and that in Greek it most commonly means simple knowledge in advance. Thus predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge.

Middle knowledge argues for both! If open theism in recent years has diminished divine omniscience more than orthodoxy has classically permitted, middle knowledge magnifies or expands God’s omniscience beyond what most people have thought about. But it makes good sense: middle knowledge claims that God’s perfect, infinite knowledge must be able to know not only what sentient creatures will freely choose in all situations in their lives but what everyone would do in every possible situation that they could confront. Even more magnificently, divine and unlimited knowledge must be able to discern what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations (or, as philosophers like to say, all possible worlds).

So far so good, I hope. Now here’s the rub. Because there will only ever have been a finite number of humans created before God brings this world as we know it to an end, that means there remain countless uncreated beings that he could have chosen to create but didn’t. So God’s very choice to create you and me and not various other people he could have is an act of his sovereign election utterly prior to our existence. Calvinists should be happy. But it is based on knowing what we will and would do in all actual and all possible situations. Arminians should be happy. Thus, William Lane Craig in The Only Wise God defends this view from a libertarian Arminian perspective; Alvin Plantinga in a chapel talk at Denver Seminary years ago did the same from a libertarian Calvinist perspective, and Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer does so from a compatibilist Calvinist perspective.

Middle Knowledge shows what is going on under the hood of classical Calvinism, which affirms both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Middle knowledge explains how God can achieve both goals simultaneously.

The apostle Paul has this to say in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail what middle knowledge is, and how it works to resolve problems, like “what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” and “how can we reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility?” Highly recommended tool for your tool chest.

A simple explanation of middle knowledge by Dr. Craig Blomberg

This article is from Denver Seminary, where Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Groothuis both teach.

Excerpt:

Middle knowledge is a proposed solution to predestination vs. free will, to divine sovereignty and human responsibility, going all the way back to the medieval Jesuit priest Molina (so sometimes it’s also called Molinism).

Classic Calvinists, properly concerned to safeguard divine sovereignty, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his foreknowledge of how humans will respond to the gospel, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice the ultimate determiner. Romans 8:29, of course, doesbase predestination on God’s foreknowledge, but the Calvinist typically argues that the Greek prōginoskō (“foreknow”) there begins already to shade over into the idea of election because in the Old Testament the Hebrew yādā‘ (“know”) often appears roughly synonymous with “choose.” That would explain why Paul doesn’t say just that those whom God foreknew he also predestined, which could be seen as tautologous, but “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Classic Arminians and Wesleyans, properly concerned to safeguard human freedom and accountability, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his gratuitous election, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice ultimately a chimera. They often point out that prōginoskō is not the same verb as just ginoskō (which the LXX uses to translate yādā‘ and that in Greek it most commonly means simple knowledge in advance. Thus predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge.

Middle knowledge argues for both! If open theism in recent years has diminished divine omniscience more than orthodoxy has classically permitted, middle knowledge magnifies or expands God’s omniscience beyond what most people have thought about. But it makes good sense: middle knowledge claims that God’s perfect, infinite knowledge must be able to know not only what sentient creatures will freely choose in all situations in their lives but what everyone would do in every possible situation that they could confront. Even more magnificently, divine and unlimited knowledge must be able to discern what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations (or, as philosophers like to say, all possible worlds).

So far so good, I hope. Now here’s the rub. Because there will only ever have been a finite number of humans created before God brings this world as we know it to an end, that means there remain countless uncreated beings that he could have chosen to create but didn’t. So God’s very choice to create you and me and not various other people he could have is an act of his sovereign election utterly prior to our existence. Calvinists should be happy. But it is based on knowing what we will and would do in all actual and all possible situations. Arminians should be happy. Thus, William Lane Craig in The Only Wise God defends this view from a libertarian Arminian perspective; Alvin Plantinga in a chapel talk at Denver Seminary years ago did the same from a libertarian Calvinist perspective, and Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer does so from a compatibilist Calvinist perspective.

Somebody in the comments mentions that even Paul Helm has written positively about middle knowledge. Middle Knowledge shows what is going on under the hood of classical Calvinism, which affirms both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Middle knowledge explains how God can achieve both goals simultaneously.

The apostle Paul has this to say in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail what middle knowledge is, and how it works to resolve problems, like “what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” and “how can we reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility?” Highly recommended tool for your tool chest.

A simple explanation of middle knowledge by Dr. Craig Blomberg

This article is from Denver Seminary, where Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Groothuis both teach.

Excerpt:

Middle knowledge is a proposed solution to predestination vs. free will, to divine sovereignty and human responsibility, going all the way back to the medieval Jesuit priest Molina (so sometimes it’s also called Molinism).

Classic Calvinists, properly concerned to safeguard divine sovereignty, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his foreknowledge of how humans will respond to the gospel, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice the ultimate determiner. Romans 8:29, of course, doesbase predestination on God’s foreknowledge, but the Calvinist typically argues that the Greek prōginoskō (“foreknow”) there begins already to shade over into the idea of election because in the Old Testament the Hebrew yādā‘ (“know”) often appears roughly synonymous with “choose.” That would explain why Paul doesn’t say just that those whom God foreknew he also predestined, which could be seen as tautologous, but “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Classic Arminians and Wesleyans, properly concerned to safeguard human freedom and accountability, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his gratuitous election, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice ultimately a chimera. They often point out that prōginoskō is not the same verb as just ginoskō (which the LXX uses to translate yādā‘ and that in Greek it most commonly means simple knowledge in advance. Thus predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge.

Middle knowledge argues for both! If open theism in recent years has diminished divine omniscience more than orthodoxy has classically permitted, middle knowledge magnifies or expands God’s omniscience beyond what most people have thought about. But it makes good sense: middle knowledge claims that God’s perfect, infinite knowledge must be able to know not only what sentient creatures will freely choose in all situations in their lives but what everyone would do in every possible situation that they could confront. Even more magnificently, divine and unlimited knowledge must be able to discern what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations (or, as philosophers like to say, all possible worlds).

So far so good, I hope. Now here’s the rub. Because there will only ever have been a finite number of humans created before God brings this world as we know it to an end, that means there remain countless uncreated beings that he could have chosen to create but didn’t. So God’s very choice to create you and me and not various other people he could have is an act of his sovereign election utterly prior to our existence. Calvinists should be happy. But it is based on knowing what we will and would do in all actual and all possible situations. Arminians should be happy. Thus, William Lane Craig in The Only Wise God defends this view from a libertarian Arminian perspective; Alvin Plantinga in a chapel talk at Denver Seminary years ago did the same from a libertarian Calvinist perspective, and Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer does so from a compatibilist Calvinist perspective.

Somebody in the comments mentions that even Paul Helm has written positively about middle knowledge. Middle Knowledge shows what is going on under the hood of classical Calvinism, which affirms both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Middle knowledge explains how God can achieve both goals simultaneously.

The apostle Paul has this to say in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail what middle knowledge is, and how it works to resolve problems, like “what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” and “how can we reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility?” Highly recommended tool for your tool chest.