Calvinism and Arminianism compared — Triablogue

I’ll comment on a post by Roger Olson:
What is Calvinism? A) Belief that God foreordains and renders certain everything that happens without any exceptions; everything that happens in creation is designed, ordained and rendered certain by God; B) Belief that God alone decides, unconditionally, who will be saved, that Christ died only for them (“the elect”), and God saves them without any cooperation on their part (“irresistible grace”). “A” is called “meticulous providence,” “B” is called “double predestination.”
That’s largely true but misleading:

i) To my knowledge, “irresistible grace” is a synonym for monergistic regeneration. There’s no cooperation in regeneration.
That doesn’t mean Calvinism takes the position that “God saves them without any cooperation on their part” across the board. For instance, Calvinism regards sanctification has a having a cooperative dimension. It would be more accurate to say Calvinism denies that their cooperation is independent of God’s grace.
ii) Olson has a formulaic characterization of Calvinism: “designed, ” rendered certain”. The problem is not with those descriptors but the implied contrast with Arminianism. But there’s an obvious sense in which those descriptors apply to Arminianism as well (see below).
*There are some varieties of Calvinism that deviate slightly from above, but above is classical, historical, evangelical Calvinism as taught by Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, R. C. Sproul, John Piper and all other classical, historical, evangelical Calvinists.
Notice that Olson typically ignores Reformed philosophers like Paul Helm, Greg Welty, Paul Manata, Guillaume Bignon, James Gibson, and James Anderson. He doesn’t test his position against the most challenging opponents.
What is Arminianism? A) Belief that God limits himself to give human beings free will to go against his perfect will so that God did not design or ordain sin and evil (or their consequences such as innocent suffering); B) Belief that, although sinners cannot achieve salvation on their own, without “prevenient grace” (enabling grace), God makes salvation possible for all through Jesus Christ and offers free salvation to all through the gospel. “A” is called “limited providence,” “B” is called “predestination by foreknowledge.”
i) How did the Arminian God not “design” sin if he created a world in full knowledge of the outcome? That wasn’t an unforeseen development. So he took that into consideration–in which case it wasn’t an unplanned event. Didn’t the Arminian God intend the foreseen consequences of his own actions?
ii) When does God offer salvation to all through the gospel? Not in this life. Is postmortem evangelism classical, historical Arminianism?
*As with Calvinism there are varieties of Arminianism that deviate slightly from above, but above is classical, historical, evangelical Arminianism as taught by Arminius, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C. S. Lewis, and Dallas Willard and all other classical, historical, evangelical Arminians.
I thought Finney was Pelagian, Willard was an open theist, while Lewis espoused Purgatory. Is that classical, historical, evangelical Arminianism?
The underlying issues are not free will or predestination; both Calvinists and Arminians say they believe in both. (But they interpret them differently.) The underlying issue one has to consider is the character of God. The Arminian emphasizes God’s love; the Calvinist emphasizes God’s power.
i) What a gross caricature! According to Calvinism, salvation and judgment display all of God’s attributes.
ii) Moreover, there’s different kinds of love. The Arminian emphasizes indiscriminate, ineffectual love while the Calvinist emphasizes exclusive, effectual love.
According to Arminianism (as espoused and explained for example by John Wesley), double predestination and meticulous providence make God morally monstrous and not good in any meaningful sense of the word. Why?
According to Calvinism, salvation is completely produced by God from beginning to end with no free cooperation on the part of the sinner being saved. God decides to save some unconditionally and damn others when he could save them because grace is irresistible. Christ died only for the elect—those God decreed to save. Both the saved and the damned have no “say” in their eternal destiny (heaven or hell). Of course, they both feel as if they are making free decisions, but from God’s perspective everything, including sin, is part of God’s plan and purpose—including hell. Calvinist Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor in Geneva): “Those who find themselves suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God.” Hell is necessary for God’s full self-glorification because God’s self-glorification (God’s purpose in creation) requires that all of his attributes be manifested. One of God’s attributes is justice and wrath, including hell, is necessary for the full manifestation of God’s justice. (Arminians argue that the cross on which Jesus died was a sufficient display of God’s justice and wrath.)
i) As I’ve often pointed out, to say the Calvinist God could save “everyone” is equivocal. A possible world in which God saves everyone has a different world history than a possible world in which God saves some and damns others. It’s not the same group of people in both worlds because regeneration and sanctification impact the choices people make, which impacts how the future turns out. And that has a snowball effect the earlier in the process that begins. Changing a few variables in the past generates greater changes in the future. Some people who are saved in a world where some other people are damned wouldn’t even exist in a world where everyone is saved. So they’d miss out.
ii) Rom 9:22-23 say one purpose of salvation and judgment is to manifest God’s justice and wrath.
iii) God’s “self-glorification” is ambiguous. That’s not for God’s personal benefit, since he has nothing to gain, but for the benefit of the saints.
iv) Notice that Olson never gets around to explaining how his (flawed) description of Calvinism makes God “morally monstrous”. Does Olson think God has an obligation to save the wicked? This isn’t like rescuing a drowning swimmer.
v) According to classical (simple foreknowledge) Arminianism, if the world God foresaw contains hellbound sinners, and God makes the world he foresaw, then it’s too late for hellbound sinners to change their eternal destiny. By making the world he foresaw, God locks in that world history. Having acted on what he foresaw by making that foreseen world, it can’t be any different.
vi) According to Molinism, although there may be two possible worlds in which the same individual is saved or damned, the individual has no say in which world God instantiates. The individual is never given that choice. God doesn’t consult him on whether he’d rather exist in a world where he goes to heaven rather than hell. Rather, he’s stuck with God’s choice-for better or worse.
Arminians believe God genuinely wants all people to be saved and does everything possible to bring that about—without taking away free will. The gospel (the Holy Spirit through the gospel) frees the sinner’s will from bondage to sin and makes it possible for him or her to respond with repentance and faith.
But everyone doesn’t hear the gospel in this life. Moreover, some people have much greater spiritual advantages than others in this life. Two people who hear the gospel aren’t equally receptive depending on their social conditioning. So unless Olson makes postmortem evangelism a necessary component of freewill theism, his claim makes no sense.
Arminians make a distinction between two wills of God: “antecedent” and “consequent.” God’s antecedent will is what God wishes were the case; God’s consequent will is what God permits to be the case. Sin has no place in God’s antecedent will; neither does hell. These exist only because of human persons’ free (not foreordained) rebellion against God and refusal of God’s mercy.
Doesn’t that artificially compartmentalized God’s omniscience? If God has foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge, then he knows all along what will happen in case he makes the world, and he knows all along whom he will consign to hell. How can God not intend the consequences of his own choices and actions? Although he’s not the only agent, his choices and actions create the necessary initial conditions for what unfolds.
According to Calvinism (as espoused and explained for example by Jonathan Edwards), the Arminian view of salvation makes the human person’s free decision to accept God’s grace by means of repentance and faith the decisive factor in his or her salvation and therefore makes salvation less than a free gift; it becomes partly a “work of man.” This contradicts (they argue) many passages of Scripture including, of course, Ephesians 2:8-9.
Is that just a Calvinistic view of Arminianism? Is it not true from an Arminian viewpoint that “the human person’s free decision to accept God’s grace by means of repentance and faith the decisive factor in his or her salvation”?
Calvinists believe God wishes it could be true that God saves everyone, but for his own good reasons knows it is not possible—if his main purpose in creation is to be fulfilled (viz., his own self-glorification by means of the manifestation of all his attributes including justice).
Is it definitional to Calvinism that “God wishes it could be true that God saves everyone”?
Calvinists make a distinction between two wills of God: “decretive” and “permissive.” (They also distinguish between God’s “decretive will” and God’s “prescriptive will,” but that is not directly pertinent here.) God’s decretive will is all-determining; it decides and then God renders certain all that happens without exception for his glory. However, God does not cause anyone to sin or do evil; God renders these certain. There are two or three different Calvinist explanations of how God renders sin and evil certain without being guilty of them.
i) That’s not really two different “wills”. That’s a verbal distinction based on using the same word twice. An unfortunate linguistic tradition. But to put it more accurately, they make a distinction between predestination and God’s commands or prohibitions.
ii) Actually, there is a sense in which the Calvinist God causes sin, but there’s a sense in which the Arminian God causes sin. As one philosopher (David Lewis) put it:
“We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it. Had it been absent, its effects — some of them, at least, and usually all — would have been absent as well.”
On that definition, God causes sin and evil, although he’s not the only cause. That’s applicable to Calvinism and freewill theism alike.
Arminians argue that Calvinism, with its all-determining decretive will of God, cannot escape making God the author of sin and evil.
I rarely see Arminians define “author of sin and evil”. They use that as an intellectual shortcut. A substitute for an actual argument.
Calvinists argue that Arminianism, with its emphasis on the necessity of human free acceptance of God’s grace (free meaning able to do otherwise) makes salvation something other than a sheer gift and ultimately falls into works righteousness.
A better characterization is that Calvinists affirm salvation by grace alone while Arminians deny salvation by grace alone. In freewill theism, salvation is a combination of God’s grace and the sinner’s independent consent.
Arminian synergism emphasizes that God’s grace is the effectual cause of salvation while the person’s faith is its instrumental cause.
Since, according to Arminianism, saving grace is resistible, how is that effectual rather than ineffectual?
According to Calvinism, evil, including sin, is efficaciously permitted by God (meaning his permission renders it certain) for a good purpose—his own glory in redeeming his elect people from sin and evil and his own glory in punishing the wicked (showing forth his justice and power).
According to Arminianism, evil, including sin, is non-efficaciously permitted by God (meaning his permission does not render it certain) for a good purpose—his desire to have a relationship with human beings created in his own image and likeness that is not coerced but is free. God grants (self-limitation) human beings the ability to resist his will. God is sovereign over his own sovereignty; he can remain sovereign and permit sin and evil which are not his antecedent will.
That’s Olsons’ stock formulation, which he repeats ad nauseam. It never occurs to him that merely allowing something to happen can (and often does) ensure the outcome. Some outcomes are be inevitable unless an agent intervenes to prevent it or deflect it. If I’m standing next to someone who jumps off a skyscraper, then once he makes the jump, his fate is sealed. If I tackle him before he makes the jump, I prevent his suicide. But if I do nothing, my inaction renders the fatal outcome certain. At that point the trajectory is irreversible.
There are many situations where an outcome is initially indeterminate; up to a point it could veer off in more than one direction, depending on other factors, but then it crosses a point of no return. I can take the onramp or bypass the onramp . But if I take the onramp, I’m committed. I’m no longer in the same indeterminate position I was approaching the onramp. Making one choice excludes another choice. It’s too late to change my mind.
Calvinists respond that if God foreknew that some of his human creatures would reject and disobey him and created them anyway, he is just as responsible for their sin as if he foreordained it and rendered it certain. Arminians respond that God’s foreknowledge does not cause sin and evil but only “corresponds” with it. God foreknows because it will happen; his foreknowing does not render it certain.
i) Many philosophers argue that foreknowledge does ensure the outcome.
ii) It’s true that God is responsible for the consequences of his own actions. But in my experience, the argument goes like this: if God foreknew that some humans would reject and disobey him and created them anyway, then he wasn’t acting in their best interests. If he made them in full knowledge that by doing so, they’d be damned, he failed to treat them lovingly.

via Calvinism and Arminianism compared — Triablogue

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