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Friday, April 28, 2006

Grace Revealed: Intellectual Dishonesty

I briefly addressed the basic tenets of Arminianism HERE. Arminianism is, like its predecessors Gnosticism, Pelagianism, and semi-Pelagianism, a system which places salvation, ultimately, in the hands of man. To the Arminian, salvation occurs when a man “chooses” to “accept” the “gnosis” (which itself is true) that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, died and rose again, and is the savior of the world. Arminians hold to synergism – that salvation requires both God and man to act – therefore, salvation cannot occur without the work of both. However, the most useful argument of the early church fathers, reduction ad absurdium (reducing a claim to its logical final conclusion) is never applied to Arminian thought.

Well, it sometimes is. I applied it, and abandoned Arminianism, as all who honestly examine their theology must. For, at its core, Arminianism is entirely intellectually dishonest. While these words are charged, allow me to explain why I believe this to be so.

Arminians insist that God is sovereign, knows the future, and allows man to choose his own salvation. As UK John put it, “God comes as close as he can”, and allows us to make the decision.

I would assert that it is entirely intellectually honest to claim that God can have full foreknowledge and allow men to freely choose. Others would assert that this cannot be so, and say that foreknowledge of the Creator amounts to predestination. That is not my tack in this voyage.

Instead, I address the sovereignty of God, without asserting it is an ultimate end or starting point. As I asked John, “Please give me an example of one of the purposes of God that cannot be thwarted by man, yet still give man the full “freedom to choose”. Obviously, a human must be involved in the purpose. The creation of the universe would be one, but the interference of a man with a will is not a consideration there. This will help me immensely to overcome my conviction that Arminians are giving lip service to sovereignty.”

No answer ever came…because it is an impossibility.

Thus, we are faced with the reduction to absurdity. If God does have purposes for man, yet man can freely choose, there must therefore be purposes of God that man can thwart.
Furthermore, if man can freely choose, then the Incarnation was nothing more than a gamble. It would, therefore, be possible for Christ to have paid the price for no one, because every man could have rejected Him.

Arminianism is paradoxical, because somehow a man freely choosing accomplishes the purposes of God. How did this occur? Did God keep making people until the right decisions came about? Or, did God change his purposes to what man chose? Or, did God decide that what man chose really was his purpose? The appeal to “free will” is clearly not one born of a logical theology. It is one born of emotion, and yet something else.

It is an utter logical contradiction that God is in charge of the universe in any meaningful way (meaning, involving the eternal souls of men) yet allows men “free will”. If Arminianism is not a logical conclusion, from whence does it come? That will be my next to last post in this series.

5 Comments:

  • Whoah there, Hammer! You've strayed rather considerably in the aspersions you're casting.

    "Arminianism is, like its predecessors Gnosticism...To the Arminian, salvation occurs when a man “chooses” to “accept” the “gnosis” (which itself is true) that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh"

    That's completely false. Arminianism is not a descendant of Gnosticism, and certainly has no necessary connection to accepting knowledge. Indeed, you know that I deny absolutely any idea that salvation is about knowledge, but that faith is instead about relationship.

    "I asked John, “Please give me an example of one of the purposes of God that cannot be thwarted by man, yet still give man the full “freedom to choose”...
    No answer ever came…because it is an impossibility.
    "

    Actually, and I apologise that this wasn't clearer from the context, my answer was as follows, from my next comment:
    "I don't believe that we have total freedom to choose - indeed, I've explicitly said that I don't. I believe that we have some freedom, and that this is real freedom."

    That is, you're setting up too sharp a division. I am not suggesting that we are totally free, as you ask. I am suggesting only that we are really free - and, most particularly, that our freedom is constrained not by God but by our sinful nature.

    Part of the problem here is, I think, that the picture of God and the world being used here is too mechanistic (I talk about this some more in the next post in my series about moving on from ID). That is, God's plans and God's methods of action are not defined by the fine detail of the planning (as you suggest) but by the comprehensive nature of God's abilities and God's Creative power. God, if you like, creates the landscape that we journey in. God decides what the origin and the destination will be, but does not control the journey.

    The relevance of this here is that we need not choose between total control and total freedom. I would agree with you that positing total human freedom causes serious problems for understanding God. However, I maintain that positing total divine control causes equal problems (the sterility and puppetry that we've discussed previously). The truth, I believe, lies in between - in a God who governs and sustains, and yet with creatures who make their own journeys. There is in this no contradiction. Whether this is Arminianism or not, I leave up to you to decide :-)

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 4/28/2006 12:20:00 PM  

  • John,
    The connection between Gnosticism and Arminianism is certainly less than the connections between Pelagianism/semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Also, I did not mean to imply that the knowledge was the connection, but the person choosing to accept the knowledge. You can recast the mystical nonsense of the gnostics as a relationship or belief if it makes more sense that was, but the connection is the choice - that's all.

    I am suggesting only that we are really free - and, most particularly, that our freedom is constrained not by God but by our sinful nature.

    I agree here.

    the picture of God and the world being used here is too mechanistic

    I'll await that post to address that idea, which you have mentioned before, but not fleshed out for us.

    we need not choose between total control and total freedom

    You say that, yet I have difficulty envisioning it. In every single action, regardless of the mitigating and contributing factors, we either have a choice or we do not. If God's plans and methods are merely attempting to influence us, then I hold we are truly free. However, Scripture seems to make pretty clear that, at a minimum, God chooses for us when he decides, such as:

    And say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them. And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, and deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword. And I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them, and carry them away captives: and he shall array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd putteth on his garment; and he shall go forth from thence in peace. He shall break also the images of Bethshemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire. (Jer 43:10-13)

    Who chose here? The words say that God made it happen. If God merely influences the king of Babylon, God could not say "I will send" or "I will kindle".

    God, if you like, creates the landscape that we journey in. God decides what the origin and the destination will be, but does not control the journey....Whether this is Arminianism or not, I leave up to you to decide

    Actually, it sounds rather Reformed. Consider this numerical analogy: In a given set of n numbers, with a known average of N (the destination), and known included numbers n1, n2, n3...nx(the origin), each and every number in the set can be anything - but because of the known average, when all of the numbers are collected, and every number is known but one...that number cannot be anything. It must be a number that brings the set average to what it is known to be. It is not free.

    In the journey, no matter where the ship goes, at least a single portion of the journey must be set not by what the pilot desires, but by what the known destination is.

    That single portion is grace, which brings us to redemption. Clearly, it is irresistible, because if we did not follow that exact portion, we would not get to the destination.

    The degrees of freedom in a set of numbers is always n-1, because one number is set by the known average. Thankfully, I do not have to solve for that final number, because I could be wrong, and miss the destination. God, who is never wrong, has chosen it for me.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/11/2006 10:53:00 AM  

  • John,
    Also, I wrote the final two posts when I wrote this one. I mention that because I quote you in the final post as "an able proponent of Arminanism", but after this comment from you, I am no longer sure you are one! I'm leaving the quote there, though, because it does reflect an Arminian position.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/11/2006 10:57:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    But the notion of choice isn't a defining feature of Gnosticism. There's no historical or philosophical connection between the two, and suggesting that there is can only be unhelpful. Sure, one can draw parallels, but I could do the same with calvinism. It's just not helpful.

    Your analogy of "control" as control at a single point only causes me no problems. Indeed, it's precisely what I've been suggesting in various places - that we are usually free to choose but that we are constrained, sometimes to a single action. My issue is that this control needn't happen. Your analogy of number choices isn't quite right, as I see it. Rather, we have 15 choices of numbers (say), and the goal is to reach a particular average of those numbers already selected; that average equates to "salvation". The point is that the average may be reached after the first choice, the 10th or the final choice. Or not at all. Compulsion only becomes an issue at the final choice. For most people, then, there is no compulsion even though it was theoretically possible. Indeed, I don't think that "compulsion" is the correct term anyway when we're thinking about a God who can build the landscape in the ways that must be possible to God. We can be funnelled towards choices without ever actually over-riding us.

    pax et bonnum

    By Blogger John, at 5/14/2006 02:41:00 PM  

  • OK, for the sake of conflict reduction, I drop the connection to Gnosticism but retain the connections to Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.

    I actually didn't get what you are aiming at with the alternate numbers part, but you are explaining your theory on your blog, so I'll watch there!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/17/2006 02:09:00 PM  

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