When It Comes to Calvinism, Logic Can Lead to Heresy

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David R. Brumbelow's picture

Very interesting article by Roger Olsen, although I had trouble with the ads jumping around the site.  

Calvinists do seem to have a problem with making God the author of evil.  

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  -1 John 1:5

David R. Brumbelow 

Jay's picture

The question that should automatically arise, then, is how does this avoid making God the author of sin and evil? I don’t think it can—from within the common Calvinist system of God’s sovereignty, providence and predestination of all things.

When asked to explain, to relieve the apparent contradiction, most Calvinists appeal to “secondary causes.” God renders sin and evil certain only through secondary causes. Two come to mind: Satan and fallen human beings. But we cannot avoid going “back” in our thoughts to how Satan came to be evil and how Adam and Eve fell into sin when they had fellowship with God—given that God “designed, ordained, and governed” (and rendered certain) even their evil decisions and deeds.

I have been trying to get a straight answer to that question from a 5 point Calvinist for literally years now. I have given up on it because it seems like we are playing dodge ball instead of discussing theology.  Or I am told that I just need to believe in the Calvinist system.

No thanks.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

The alternative doesn't solve the problem, because then you have a God who simply passively knows what will happen, and allows it to take place. This position solves nothing; it merely moves one step backward. Opponents see right through this. Look at any of the popular debates online between militant atheists and Christian apologists with a Arminian take on soteriology (e.g. Craig, Licona). The athiests see this opening, and always drive tanks through it.

To confess mystery isn't a cop-out, if you go as far as the Biblical evidence will allow you to go before you play that card. I confess that God is completely sovereign, nothing takes place that He hasn't decreed, and everythign He decrees is ultimately holy andf good. Yet, I have no idea why God determined the Fall. I must believe there is a greater and good purpose. Yet, I also believe that Adam and Eve genuinely wanted to rebel. This is where the compatibalist view of God's sovereignty comes into play. We freely do what we want, good or bad. But, above it all, God is channeling our thoughts and desires to accomplish what he wants. Olson dismissed this reference to "secondary causation" in his article, but it deserves to be heard.

I expected better from Olson. What does he have? The "free will" view? That doesn't solve the problem:

  • People genuinely wanted to kill Jesus, and they did it. Yet, over and above their desires, God decreed that Jesus would die. There it is in action - compatibalism.
  • Judas wanted the money, so he plotted and found a way to get it. Yet, God intended Judas would do it.
  • Eli's sons genuinely refused to listen to their father. They wanted none of it. Yet, the Bible tells us, "But they would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of the Lord to slay them," (1 Sam 2:25).

Compatibalism. Providence. We need to trust the God of all will always do right. There's a lot we can't understand. I won't deny God's right to be in charge of this world because I can't wrap my mind around a problem - I choose to trust God. I think compatibalism is the answer to this problem. I'm sorry Olson doesn't see it that way. Let's come out of the systematic clouds and discuss texts . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

AndyE's picture

The sovereignty of God over all things seems to be a fairly well-established doctrine to me.  If God works “all thing according to the counsel of his will,” what things would fall outside of that control, plan, and will? Is God unable to stop sin from occurring?

You could hardly come up with a more grievous sin than to crucify the sinless Jesus; yet he was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) and it was “the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isa 53:10).  Does that make God the author of sin per Isaiah or Peter? No.

My short answer is that God orchestrates circumstances of the world in such a way that the natural inclination of man responds in such a way to accomplish God’s plans and purposes, and he does so without tempting man to sin, putting sin into man’s heart, or being the author of sin or evil.

Andrew K's picture

This is basically just the classic "problem of evil" sharpened and wielded against Calvinism when it could just as easily, with a few adjustments, be brought against any theistic system.

When God creates a man whom He knows with divine certainty will kill 50 people, yet still creates him when He could choose to do otherwise--does that then make God the author of that sin? And how can you avoid the conclusion that it doesn't, if you don't believe in secondary causes?

And if God ordains that Christ should be crucified--that is, He ordains that action (Acts 4:24-28)--which is clearly sin, has God then ordained sin?

My personal view on this is that we are trying to press by analogy what can only be known by revelation. That is, saying that Calvinism logically makes God the author of sin isn't actually logical at all, but of taking a kind of human analogy (relating to authorship and human decree) and applying it in an illegitimate way.

Paul Henebury's picture

All doctrines have "frayed edges" where it is unwise to push beyond.  That God is in control is beyond dispute.  How God is in control (i.e. how He chooses to act in His providence) is not beyond dispute.  We make things either/or usually because we go beyond what is revealed and employ unaided reason to matters we have little or no revealed truth about.  Often this is seen in assertions like "well, the alternatives are such and such" which doesn't do anything but deflect the question.  Another direction which is taken is the resort to philosophical nominalism (God can do whatever He wants), which is a hiding to nowhere.  

The Bible treats us as responsible agents (not just accountable ones).  That is another thing that is beyond dispute.  When it comes down to it we are left with some truths which should be held:

God is in control

We do not know, for the most part, how that control is exercised

God cannot be the author of sin if He is not to deny Himself

Man is a responsible agent

Evil exists

Hence, evil and sin cannot originate with God, but we don't have enough revelation to answer the question about the origin of evil.  This should inform any formulation of God's sovereignty we adopt.  After all, just saying "God is sovereign" is like saying "God is God", but it doesn't address God's supervenience of creation.  God's providential rule is often mysterious and beyond our ken.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TOvermiller's picture

TylerR wrote:

To confess mystery isn't a cop-out, if you go as far as the Biblical evidence will allow you to go before you play that card

The logical conundrums of the age-old Calvinist/Arminian debate have deep historical roots and the promise of a durable future. But why must we define ourselves as one or the other? As you've stated, we must take all that Scripture says and embrace it - mystery, tension, and all.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

Jim's picture

  • Did God "know about" the Vegas massacre yesterday? [if the answer is "no" ... that opens a huge hole]
  • Could have He stopped it?  [if the answer is "no" ... that opens another huge hole]
  • Why didn't He? [greater glory ... = God the "author of sin"]
Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Is only as good as its premises. So... it can always lead to heresy, for Arminianism just as surely as any other ism.

Jay's picture

So... it can always lead to heresy, for Arminianism just as surely as any other ism.

So then...I guess we're all heretics in the long run? Wink

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's a problem with your premises. Biggrin

TylerR's picture

Editor

Which theology is gonna make it? We'll find out . . . in the long run . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JohnBrian's picture

In 2014 I posted a blog article containing a discussion that I was engaged in with another gentleman in the private message area of a Theology website. That gentleman no longer participates on the website and I heard a rumor that he was diagnosed by some doc as having an achy brachy heart.

In his first response he stated:

Knowing that this deterministic statement would lead to the obvious result of God being the author of sin, they included a pre-emptive clause "so as that He is not the author of sin". 

He then continued to insist that Calvinism must necessarily affirm that God is the author of sin.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

So, how would you summarize your counter-argument? 

Larry's picture

Moderator

But why must we define ourselves as one or the other?

It seems that one either believes something about God's sovereignty and that belief places one squarely in one camp or the other, regardless of how much one denies a label. 

JohnBrian's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

So, how would you summarize your counter-argument? 

Others above have provided Biblical evidence that the evil men do serves the glory of God:

Tyler referenced Judas, Eli's sons, and the killing of Jesus.

AndyE referenced Peter's sermon in Acts 2, where Peter points out that evil men killed Jesus, the very thing God intended for them to do.

The best example from the OT is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was an arrogant child because he knew that, as the first child by his daddy's favorite wife, he was his daddy's favorite. His brothers knew it to and hated him for it. He was eager to tell them about his sheaves dream, and maybe for the first time in his life, his daddy hushed him.

His sin and his brothers sin were all part of the process "...to bring it about that many people should be kept alive..." God purposed that the sin would lead to the accomplishment of His purpose, and yet He is not author of the sin.

James 1:13-14 states that "...God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."

Both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are evident throughout Scripture. Insisting that Calvinism must necessarily affirm God as the author of sin is a misrepresentation, another in a long line. Olson had to stoop very low to pick up this pebble to throw at Calvinism.

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

TylerR's picture

Editor

Long ago, I noted all the instances in the historical books that supported a compatibalist view of God's sovereignty. I don't have it handy, of course, but I challenge anyone to read the Historical Books and look for it. There are many, many more examples than Gen 50:20ff. It's there.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I get that there is much evidence that God uses/overcomes evil for His glory.

I'm interested in more in the  logic problem. Calvinism does make much of logical inferences and the conclusion that God is the author of evil seems logically inescapable. How is it not?

(I accept that God is not the author of evil, but in Olson's defense, it is not easy to see how this is logically compatible with Calvinism.) 

TylerR's picture

Editor

to play the "Mystery" card.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

to play the "Mystery" card.

Ha, it's true. The irony is, so many people claim that Calvinists/Reformed are rationalists, i.e., attempting to remove all "mystery" from theology. But consistent, Biblical Calvinism leaves plenty of mystery. How does one answer that God has a divine decree in which Adam and Eve fall--and yet, they make that choice freely (I mean, true "free will," without a nature in bondage to sin)? I have absolutely no idea. But I hold to both.