Does God Predetermine Everything?


A Hermeneutical Assessment of a Discussion between Calvinist Chris Date and Provisionist Leighton Flowers

or

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Parts 2 through 12


Written by Stephen C. Marcy © November 2019 / Rev. June 2020


               On April 6, 2019 Justin Brierley moderated a discussion between Calvinist Chris Date and Provisionist Leighton Flowers.  The program was titled “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything?”  It can be found here.

               At that time I wrote a critique of Calvinist Chris Date’s position that was posted on Leighton’s website as edited by Eric Kemp.  It was titled “Can Incoherence Be Biblical?”  It can be found here.

               Below I offer several more critiques of Chris Date’s positions expressed on Justin’s program. Consistent with the title of my first critique I have also labeled these “Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” Parts 2 through 12.   I recommend listening to the original program and reading my former critique to give context to what I have written below.  Nevertheless, to fill you in here’s a brief introduction.

Introduction

            In my previous essay “Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” I discussed the “two wills in God” view (prescriptive and decretive) that Calvinist Chris Date offered to extricate himself from the incoherence his “meticulous divine providence” view of God’s sovereignty created with what he also affirmed of the biblical witness to human responsibility and that God wants all people to be saved.  Leighton found that the “two wills in God” defense makes God out to be duplicitous and untrustworthy, and that compelled Leighton to reject Chris’ deterministic view of God’s sovereignty.  Therefore, I pointed out that Leighton is working under a hermeneutic of coherence, while Chris is not.

            In brief, Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” maintains that “God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and “everything people will do.”  This, of course, includes all evil thoughts, desires and actions as well as who and who will not be saved.  So all things occur solely according to God’s will as God alone has predetermined and causes them to happen.  Chris labels this God’s decretive or secret will.

            Yet, Chris also affirms that God desires all people to be saved and that people are responsible for their acceptance or rejection of salvation.  He also holds that God gives commands to be obeyed and for which people are held culpable for their disobedience and their evil thoughts desires and actions.  God communicates his will to us so that things may be the way God wants them to be and has expressed to us that they should be.  This is what Chris labels God’s revealed, prescriptive or permissive will.

            The logical and moral incoherence here was obvious to Leighton, but not to Chris.  For Leighton the incoherence is hermeneutically significant, that is, it speaks to whether or not Chris’ interpretation is valid or not.  In contrast, Chris does not find his incoherence to be hermeneutically significant.  Chris does not consider his incoherence to have any bearing upon the accuracy or validity of his exegesis and interpretations.  For Leighton this “two wills” explanation only makes God out to be duplicitous and untrustworthy and therefore cannot be a correct interpretation of Scripture.  For Chris, these problems of logical and moral incoherence pointed out by Leighton have no bearing upon whether or not his interpretations are valid.

            Therefore, whether coherence should be an essential principle in one’s hermeneutic serving to determine the validity of a proposed interpretation was the question I raised in the previous essay.  I sought to point out that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are always the foundational issue between the non-Calvinist and Calvinist when it comes to textual interpretation and theological differences.  I also contend that this is a point that is not being stressed in the discussions and debates with Calvinists.  The issue of whether the Calvinist believes that the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in their interpretations and theological conclusions are indicative of exegetical misinterpretations of the text is never pressed home to them.  The Calvinist will stress that they stand upon their exegesis of the text, but the fact that the Calvinist summarily dismisses logical and moral reasoning in their exegetical and interpretive processes as well as the theological constructs and whether this speaks to the validity of their interpretations is never pursued.  That is, the differences are never discussed at the level of the hermeneutical principles that are necessary for discerning valid interpretations.

            When all the differences between Leighton and Chris have been explained and the reasons given for those differences, a further question needs to be pursued.  That is, what are the principles of interpretation that enable us to conclude that either Leighton’s or Chris’ interpretations are accurate reflections of the author’s intent?  This question is never brought up.  Are the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions Leighton points out in Chris’ interpretations significant indicators that Chris has misinterpreted the text?  The usual procedure is to state the positions, point out the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Calvinist’s position and leave it at that.  Whether or not coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential and indispensable factors for determining the validity of the Calvinist’s interpretations never enters the discussion.  The logical and moral consistency of one’s interpretations is essential to Leighton’s hermeneutic, but the logical and moral consistency of one’s interpretations is not essential to Chris.  This is a fundamental difference within each one’s hermeneutic, and that is what makes for this controversy.  This is the hermeneutical divide.

            Now each side in this debate produced texts to demonstrate exegetical grounding for their position.  Chris particularly emphasized the technical, grammatical exegesis of Gen. 50:20 to support his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  I will examine this exegesis in detail as well as his other texts below.  But as essential as exegesis is for disclosing the meaning of a text, Gen. 50:20 raises questions about the limitations of exegesis and whether it can function regardless of matters of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  In other words, can an exegesis provide the accurate understanding of a text even though that exegesis fosters incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction within itself or with its immediate context or causes logical and moral difficulties in relation to the interpretive conclusions from other texts of Scripture?  Again, this is the hermeneutical question that needs to be posed to Calvinists in interviews like this.

            In that Calvinists stress that their exegesis of the relevant texts lead to their deterministic views on God’s sovereignty and soteriology, I would like to pursue this question by examining the interpretations Chris offered on three texts in support of his “meticulous divine providence” view of sovereignty (Gen. 24, Acts 4:28 and Gen 50:20).  Can the view that “God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and “everything people will do” be the Scriptural meaning of divine sovereignty properly exegeted if that meaning is incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory with the meanings exegeted from other texts within that same ScriptureCan we be confident that when one interpreter demonstrates that another’s interpretation of a particular text is in logical or moral conflict with its immediate context or other clear teachings in the broader canon of Scripture, as Leighton demonstrated with Chris’ interpretations, that these logical and moral difficulties are reliable indicators that the latter interpreter has misinterpreted the text?  I think we can.  Leighton thinks we can.  But I submit that Chris doesn’t think so.

            Therefore, unless all interpreters take coherence on board in their hermeneutic we can see how this controversy will find no resolution.  Once logical reflection and moral intuition are jettisoned from the interpretive process and from arbitrating between disparate interpretive conclusions, there can never be a consensus as to what constitutes a valid interpretation from an invalid one.  If logical and moral reasoning can ultimately be dismissed when one’s interpretations present logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency or contradictions, then the means by which we can discern their validity has been forfeited.  Such interpretations are not subject to rational or moral critique and can conveniently be placed in the category of divine revelatory “mystery.”  There will be no basis for agreement on what makes for a better or worse interpretation of the relevant texts.

            For those who do take coherence on board in their hermeneutic it is not enough to say we agree to disagree that our interpretations differ.  We need to pursue the hermeneutical question as to whether coherence is essential and indispensable or non-essential and dispensable in biblical interpretation.  In that Leighton and Chris not only hold to different interpretations of particular texts, but these lead to different worldviews and views of God and salvation, we need to determine which interpreter has erred.  As mutual exclusive positions they cannot both be true, that is, unless one wants to argue that Scripture can be inconsistent and contradict itself or simply dismiss this result of their interpretations.  The latter, I contend, is what Chris must ultimately do.

            Furthermore, in that the “good news” is also at stake in this controversy, intellectual, interpretive and evangelistic integrity demand that we address the hermeneutical issues at the core of this debate.  Therefore, lest we continue down the road of adopting the interpretive and theological relativism that accepts that these two mutually exclusive theologies and soteriologies are legitimate and accepted readings of Scripture, we need to consider whether or not the incoherence, inconsistency and contractions that may surface in one’s interpretations are reliable indicators of the invalidity of those interpretations.

            I describe this program as “the interview that keeps on giving.”  Therefore, I also want to examine other intriguing topical issues and questions this interview raised.  One question is, “What gospel message did Chris first hear when he became a Christian?”  Since the gospel is the most important matter at stake in this controversy, let’s examine this issue first and proceed from there to come around to it again at the end.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 2 / Good News and Evangelism

What Gospel Message Do Calvinists Hear When They First Believe?

            Chris states,

               “I’ve been a Christian for approximately eighteen years, and I would say that for maybe the first couple of those years…I don’t even think I knew what Calvinism was…”[1] (8:33 – 8:46)

            So, if Chris says that he didn’t even know what Calvinism was when he became a Christian, then what was the content of the message he heard when he first became a Christian?  This is a question that needs to be asked and answered by Calvinists.

            From his own testimony we know that in Chris’ case it was not “the doctrines of grace” that he first heard or that brought him to salvation.  And yet, we know that for Calvinists these doctrines are the full and final explanation as to how and why a person becomes saved – they are the Calvinist’s soteriology.  And for many Calvinists they are the gospel.  And I would argue that one’s soteriology is the theological ground and substance for one’s message of the gospel or “good news” – or at least it should be.

            Therefore, I submit that what Chris first heard when he became a Christian was some form of a non-Calvinist gospel message of truly “good news.”  Chris had to hear and know, as in “be assured of,” that God loves him in particular and provided salvation in Christ for him in particular.  Chris had to hear and know that Jesus died specifically for him to provide forgiveness for his sins and that he could be saved by simply putting his faith and trust in Christ.  Chris had to hear and know that God is kindly disposed towards him and that he was personally and individually included in God’s salvation plan.

            Now, if the Calvinist remains consistent with his “doctrines of grace,” it is this kind of assurance of inclusion in salvation that these doctrines cannot provide nor can the Calvinist coherently proclaim.  For the Calvinist to proclaim what provides for such assurance of inclusion, would be inconsistent with his own soteriology of exclusion based on his doctrine of predestination or a premundane unconditional election.  It would be inconsistent with the proclamations that there are a limited number of specific persons chosen for salvation, and who these persons are is unknown to any of us. Therefore to preach to all that salvation is for all is disingenuous and hypocritical.

            Yet this is precisely what most Calvinists do.  When evangelizing, and also in the normal course of their preaching and teaching, Calvinists are inconsistent.  They present a non-Calvinist message of “good news,” not their “doctrines of grace.”  And it would be an interesting question to ask what Chris’ response might have been as an unbeliever if he would have first heard “the doctrines of grace” and associated them with the biblical Christian truth regarding the “good news” of salvation.  It is an interesting question as to whether Chris or anyone else could have understood “the doctrines of grace” as “good news” to them.

            What this means is that the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are not the gospel message.  This is so because the gospel must be “good news” to the hearer.  And in order for the “good news” to be good it needs to contain, within the message and at the time of delivery, the assurance that the person being spoken to is included in God’s salvation plan and can actually receive this salvation.  They have to be assured that they can actually be saved and that they were not excluded by God.  This is what the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” do not and cannot provide.  As such, the Calvinist soteriological doctrines cannot, with consistency, be put into the service of true gospel evangelism.  That is what evangelism is.  It is the proclamation of good news.  A non-Calvinist message must be preached in order for there to be “good news” given to the hearers so that they may be saved.  And that is the message Chris must have heard when he first believed.

            Now Calvinists can certainly preach this “good news,” and non-Calvinists hope they do.  This will suffice for most non-Calvinists so as to let “sleeping dogs lie.”  But the moral problem of Calvinist inconsistency with their underlying soteriology remains.  And the issue of validity in interpretation is always before us.  Hence, except for those Calvinists who insist that their TULIP soteriology is the gospel message and perhaps somehow claim to be able to “evangelize” consistent with that soteriology, when all is said and done, as far as doing evangelism by presenting truly “good news” is concerned, such Calvinists are for the most part inconsistent.

            If what Calvinists first hear is a non-Calvinist gospel of truly “good news,” and if their Calvinism is incompatible with that non-Calvinist gospel of truly “good news,” then this has profound implications as to whether Calvinism is a false gospel.  In that it is antithetical or incompatible with the first message that they themselves heard when they believed, it is therefore “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6, 7).  It is a “gospel” or soteriology that one has to become convinced of after they hear the “good news.”  But, if it is incompatible with that “good news,” then it is a false soteriology.  And being that one’s soteriology dictates their gospel content and message, it is a false “gospel.”

            Although it was the Judaizers that were distorting the gospel that the apostle Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles in his day, he had no problem laying down the ‘no other gospel” principle.  That is, that there is no other gospel than the one he taught and proclaimed.  Paul instructed the Galatian believers in this gospel principle in which he included himself when he said,

               “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8, 9)

            Calvinist D. A. Carson writes,

               “The objective truth of the gospel, Paul insists, enjoys an antecedent authority; if even an apostle tampers with that, he is to be reckoned anathema.  So an authoritative gospel must be passed on.” [2]

            So what is that “authoritative gospel?”  What gospel did Paul preach?  Was it the gospel Chris and other Calvinists heard when they first believed?  Was it the “good news” message of God’s love and provision of salvation for every individual sinner that the Calvinist first heard, or, was it the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” which are incompatible with that “good news” message the Calvinist first heard?  If they did hear the “good news” message and now embrace a Calvinist soteriology incompatible with that message, then which is the true biblical gospel? 

            From Chris’ testimony and the above discussion I think is it accurate to say that Calvinism is a post-Arminian-conversion soteriology.  Substitute “Arminian” with any other form of non-Calvinist soteriology (e.g., Provisionism) and the point still stands.  A person needs to first hear the non-Calvinist message of “good news” in order to be saved.  Only afterward does it happen that the believer is somehow convinced to abandon the “good news” they first heard and embrace the Calvinist soteriological system.

American Values or Biblical Libertarian Freedom?

            Chris states that he was an atheist before he became a believer and that he was,

               “…raised in America which is of course extremely passionate about liberty and about freedom, and so I carried into my Christian faith the sort of presuppositions around that, and I just assumed that we have the kind of freedom that I think Leighton would say that we have…” (8:50 – 9:04)

            Calvinists are wont to point out that liberty and freedom are American political values to suggest that the non-Calvinist position of libertarian freedom has been shaped by those political values and not by what Scripture teaches.  But we need to ask whether the non-Calvinist’s understanding of libertarian freedom comes from their American political values or whether the Bible actually teaches that we have this type of libertarian freedom as having been made in the image of God who has freedom as essential to his nature.  Moreover, we might ask whether the American values of liberty and freedom are grounded in and reflective of what Scripture teaches about these as abiding truths, and if they are, whether when incorporated into political society they, as might be expected, foster the success of that society.  If that is the case, Chris would have things backwards.  It was the biblical values of liberty and freedom that were influential in the establishment of the American society and political system.

            Another question we might ask is whether those who are raised in repressive communist or totalitarian regimes and then become Christians ever adopt libertarian freedom as integral to their soteriology.  If this is truly a cultural import into Christianity then they would probably not exhibit or care about these uniquely American traits of liberty and freedom.  Perhaps if all those living under such regimes, if they could be isolated from these Western American values (which they usually are as far as being “raised in” these communist or totalitarian countries) would, on the basis of their study of Scripture alone, tend to be Calvinists who do not believe in human liberty or freedom, especially freedom of the will.  If Calvinism is biblical, perhaps that is what we would expect to see as the predominant belief of those not “raised in America which is of course extremely passionate about liberty and about freedom.” 

            Anyway, somehow Chris came to the conclusion that he was thinking of his Christianity in terms of the presuppositions of American values of freedom and liberty at which point Chris testifies that,

               “But a friend of mine…challenged me on the topic and pointed me to biblical texts that I had to wrestle with, and ultimately I was convinced of Calvinism, predestination and theological determinism…” (9:06 – 9:20)

            So in effect, Chris was somehow convinced that the Bible teaches theological doctrines that are antithetical to the non-Calvinist soteriological doctrines that we can presume Chris heard when he first believed.  And not only that, if Leighton and other critics have correctly and legitimately identified real inconsistencies and contradictions within Calvinism itself and its relation to other biblical texts and doctrines, then we have to conclude that Chris and all Calvinists have the ability to divorce their exegetical process from the logical reflection and moral intuitions that disclose these inconsistencies and contradictions.  But my point is that these just might be tell-tale signs of misinterpretation.  There certainly are many indications of textual misinterpretation other than inconsistency and contradiction.  But one would think these too are certainly among them.

            Therefore, I think that we can conclude that when Chris was wrestling with the biblical texts at the challenge of his friend, they both never considered that if the meanings gleaned from those texts result in incoherencies, inconsistencies and/or contradictions with meanings gleaned from other texts, or that their theistic determinism had negative philosophical and moral entailments of its own, then therefore, in some respect, they had misinterpreted the text.  The point is that to have arrived at “theological determinism” they had to ignore the logical and moral havoc that such determinism wreaks with the majority of the Scriptures that plainly testify to indeterminacy, contingency, human freedom and responsibility.  They had to adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence.

            Furthermore, once these inconsistencies and contradictions are pointed out and summarily dismissed by “mystery” or rationalizations such as “two wills in God,” compatibilism, the influence of American political and cultural values, etc., this reveals that the jettisoning of logical and moral coherence in interpretation holds the status of a principle within the Calvinist’s hermeneutic.  That is, the Calvinist’s hermeneutic does not require that their exegesis and interpretations exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  That the Calvinist is both required and able to ignore the negative logical and moral entailments of their interpretations becomes obvious when those entailments are brought to the fore as Leighton did in this interview and does in the majority of his other programs.

            How the Calvinist is able to intellectually and psychologically perform this dismissal of coherence in the interpretive process and why they do it would make for an interesting study or topic for a subsequent interview.  Here I just want to point out that Calvinists actually do dismiss logical and moral reasoning and this raises the question as to whether interpretations that show themselves to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory can ever be valid interpretations of the biblical text.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 3 / Calvinist Determinism, Entailments and the Suppression of Reason

Chris Date’s Definition of “the Sovereignty of God”

            First, it is crucial that we understand what Chris means by “the sovereignty of God.”  In the interview the phrases “the full sovereignty of God” and “specific sovereignty” were mentioned.  The phrase Chris prefers is “meticulous divine providence.”  We must fully grasp what he means by this phrase to evaluate the texts he brings forth in support of this definition.  Chris states,

               “I prefer the phrase “meticulous divine providence” because of that word “meticulous” – I think it’s helpful.  Because what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

            The logical and moral implications of how Chris has defined the sovereignty of God cannot be overemphasized.  He has made it clear.  God’s sovereignty means that “God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and that “he’s predetermined everything people will do.”  Chris describes this as “meticulous divine providence,” but this is obviously a “meticulous divine determinism.”  Note that Chris’ use of the word “providence” is not consistent with the deterministic definition he gives of “meticulous divine providence.”  Divine providence does not entail divine determinism.  Non-Calvinists affirm God’s meticulous providence, that is, that God’s care, guidance and rule extends to all of his creation.  Perhaps Chris prefers the word “providence” because it tends to soften his determinism.  But he has already confessed that he was “convinced of Calvinism, predestination and theological determinism.” (9:06 – 9:20)  So we should not think that his use of the word “providence” in the phrase “meticulous divine providence” is anything other than a hard theistic determinism.

            Chris’ view is what William Lane Craig calls “universal divine causal determinism.”[3]  Now determinism, whether theistic or naturalistic does not merely imply certain logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions, rather, it entails them.  An entailment is something that flows as a necessary consequence by virtue of the rules of logic and/or our moral intuitions from a prior propositional claim.  Necessary consequences presume the proper basicality and reliability of the canons of reason and our moral intuitions.  And the points being made in this interview by Leighton’s answers and implied in Justin’s questions are indicative or suggestive of what is entailed in Chris’ theistic determinism, e.g., God is responsible for evil and thus the author of evil.  And in addition to these entailments, because theistic determinism wreaks havoc with the Scriptures by generating inter-textual incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions, i.e., with the biblical witness to Satan’s activities, contingency, human freedom, human responsibility, culpability, and divine justice and judgment, etc., we therefore have warrant to conclude that “meticulous divine providence” is a misinterpretation of the Scripture regarding God’s sovereignty.

            Now we have such warrant because we are operating upon a hermeneutic of coherence.  Simply put, if the Bible, properly interpreted, is neither incoherent nor inconsistent and does not contradict itself, then Chris, as with all Calvinists, needs to be asked about why interpretations which generate these logical and moral difficulties can be considered valid.  In that the determinism inherent in “meticulous divine providence” creates incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to contingency and indeterminacy, on a hermeneutic of coherence, it betrays itself as a misinterpretation of Scripture.  On a Calvinist hermeneutic of incoherence, these difficulties hold no significance as to the validity of their interpretations.  The incoherencies, inconsistencies or contradictions in Chris’ position simply do not have interpretive significance.  Therefore, Chris needs to be asked whether these logical and moral problems in his position speak to the validity of his interpretations or not.  It needs to be made clear whether Chris, as a Christian determinist, believes in a hermeneutic of incoherence or a hermeneutic of coherence.  If it is the former, Chris can always say that his exegesis of Scripture leads to “meticulous divine providence,” and there would be no way to convince him that an alternative exegesis that produces coherence, consistency and non-contradiction is the better exegesis, or that because his exegesis produces incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction it is therefore incorrect.  The rational and moral bases upon which we can discern a valid interpretation from an invalid one have been removed from the interpretive process.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 4 / Assessing Theistic Determinism”

The Role of Logical and Moral Reasoning

            Leighton and Justin take logical and moral reasoning to be indispensable to proper biblical interpretation.  Justin picked up on a moral entailment of Chris’ determinism with respect to the character of God and posed this question to Leighton, who was formerly a Calvinist.

               “Was this also a kind of moral issue for you as to what it makes the character of God look like?” (7:06 – 7:12)

Leighton responded,

               “It can, yes.  Now I understand that Calvinists…don’t see God as monstrous or the author of evil.  They are very quick to say that’s not what we believe.  But as Roger Olson and other Arminians have argued, I have come to the conclusion that if I were to affirm the claims the Calvinists make, then I would have to logically come to the conclusion that he does author evil, and that is something that I think is not consistent with the biblical revelation.” (7:12 – 7:42)

            Now it’s important to see that both Justin and Leighton are thinking about Chris’ theistic determinism in terms of its moral coherence.  That is, whether or not it is morally coherent with what they perceive the Scripture teaches about the character of God.  Note that they are utilizing logical and moral reasoning to process Chris’s determinism.  In their minds Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” raises questions of coherence with what the Bible tells us about the character of God as perfectly holy, just and good.  Justin and Leighton take it that God has no evil in him and can do no evil.  But for Leighton, Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” by definition logically entails that God is “monstrous or the author of evil.”  Leighton is simply pointing out what is logically and morally entailed in Chris’ view of God’s sovereignty.  Given “meticulous divine providence,” Leighton states that, “I would have to logically come to the conclusion that he [God] does author evil.”  That’s a logical entailment of theistic determinism.  But note that Leighton also adds that this is “not consistent with the biblical revelation.”  So we have here a philosophical assessment of what determinism entails and an interpretive assessment that determinism is inconsistent with other Scriptures.  Note that with respect to biblical interpretation Leighton is operating on a hermeneutic of coherence.  Chris’ view is “not consistent with the biblical revelation,” therefore it must be a misinterpretation of that revelation.

            So Leighton is processing Chris’ determinism as to a) its logical and moral entailments, and b) the consistency of those entailments with other interpretative conclusions from Scripture about the nature of God.  What is logically and morally entailed by Chris’ view and the consistency or inconsistency of those entailments with other Scriptural doctrines and data is the means by which Leighton tests the validity of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” as an interpretation of God’s sovereignty.  Leighton thinks it is “intuitively obvious” that Chris’ view is not what Scripture teaches.  Again, simply put, Leighton has a hermeneutic of coherence.

            Now my point is that for Chris, a determination of the truth or falsity of his definition of “meticulous divine providence” is ultimately not subject to any of the problematic logical or moral entailmentsthat Leighton and Justin raise with regard to that definition.  Granted, Chris attempts to give reasons in defense of his view in light of these logical and moral entailments.  He offers certain “explanations” to counter the texts Leighton brought forth to refute Chris’ view.  But as Leighton points out, Chris’ defenses also fail the coherency test.

            Here are three “explanations” that Chris gives and why they fail as a defense of his position.

Three Calvinist Maneuvers to Create Coherence

            Chris, and all Calvinists, employ at least three intellectual maneuvers in an attempt to present their theistic determinism as coherent and consistent with the many truths of Scripture that seem to be in conflict with it.  These are 1) “two wills in God,” 2) “secondary causes” or “God works through means” and 3) compatibilism.  Let’s see if they are successful.

1. Two Wills in God.

            I have dealt with this in my first essay “Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” which can be found here. I also examine such issues in “Chapter 8 – Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism” (which can also be accessed in the “Table of Contents” menu). Nevertheless, I will review this issue again here.

            The “two wills in God” defense only increases the Calvinist’s incoherence and begs the question.

a) It increases the incoherence because Chris’ view maintains that “God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and “everything people will do.”  This, of course, includes all evil thoughts, desires and actions as well as who and who will not be saved.  So all things occur solely according to God’s will as God alone has predetermined and causes them to happen.  Chris labels this God’s decretive or secret will.

      Yet, Chris also affirms that God desires all people to be saved and that people are responsible for their acceptance or rejection of salvation.  He also holds that God gives commands to be obeyed and for which people are held responsible and culpable for their disobedience.  They are responsible and culpable for their evil thoughts desires and actions.  God communicates his will to us so that things may be the way God wants them to be and has expressed to us that they should be.  This is what Chris labels God’s prescriptive, revealed, or permissive will,

      The logical and moral incoherence here was obvious to Leighton, but not to Chris, that is, in the sense that Leighton finds it hermeneutically significant and Chris does not.  For Leighton this “two wills” explanation only makes God out to be duplicitous and untrustworthy. (54:06 – 54:14)  God’s will is conflicted.  He decrees that we do certain things that he has otherwise willed and commanded for us not to do.  He wills and commands for us to do certain things that he has otherwise decreed that we not do them.  So what does God really want from us?  What is God really like in himself?  This logical and moral incoherence is significant for Leighton as to the validity of Chris’ interpretation of Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God.  These difficulties reveal that Chris’ interpretation is not valid.  Therefore, Leighton rejects Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view as unbiblical.

      For Chris, these problems of logical and moral incoherence have no bearing upon whether or not his interpretations are valid.  But his “two wills” explanation has only increased the incoherence as described above.  God causes, by his decretive will, things contrary to what he has expressed in his revealed will.  Again, the incoherence seems obvious.

b) Secondly, it also begs the question because it presupposes the decretive will is to be defined as “meticulous divine providence” or theistic determinism.  But on a different definition of the divine decree(s) – say, for instance, that God decreed for man to have free will – the “two wills in God” explanation is not even necessary.  The eternal divine decree(s) and divine sovereignty are not defined deterministically, and therefore there is harmony and consistency among what God has decreed and what God reveals regarding his will for us.

      For instance, the latter view does not run into problems like the disingenuousness of God calling all people to come to Christ, believe in him and be saved (his revealed will), while having already predestined who will and who will not be saved (his decretive will).  In effect, on Calvinism, God does not want to save and will not allow to be saved, many of the people he has told he wants to save and who can be saved.  Out of all who are offered salvation, only certain particular persons – “the elect” – will be effectually called, regenerated and believe.  Surely we can see how problematic this is logically, morally and ethically with respect to the character of God and the message of the gospel as “good news.”  I think Leighton is correct.  This makes God out to be duplicitous.

      Therefore, the “two wills in God” defense devised by Calvinist theologians to address the incoherencies generated by their theistic determinism fails as incoherent and question begging.

2. “Secondary Causes” and “God Works Through Means.”

            As to “secondary causes” or “God works through means,” we need to ask what the Calvinist is attempting to achieve in the use of these concepts and terms.  Like the “two wills in God” defense, these are also supposed to provide some reconciliation between theistic determinism and the inescapable biblical and experiential witness to human freedom and responsibility.  “Secondary causes” and “God works through means” are supposed to retain a measure of genuine human freedom and responsibility, liberty and contingency within the sphere of theistic determinism.  The Westminster Confession puts it this way,

               “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”[4]

            The Calvinist’s claims of “secondary causes” or that “God works through means,” are supposed to convince us that there is a genuine “liberty or contingency” by which we are truly acting even though God has predetermined and is causing all things to occur as they do.  This tack seems an attempt to ward off the negative implications of a hard determinism.  But is it convincing?  I don’t think so and here’s why.

a) In that the Confession is asserting that there exists “liberty and contingency,” it is, by definition, contradicting its own doctrines of the eternal divine decree and sovereignty defined as theistic determinism.  In this respect the document is self-contradictory.  In this context, determinism and contingency are contradictory concepts.  The Confession’s attempt to introduce liberty or contingency into theistic determinism only heightens the problem of contradiction that has been at the center of our controversy all along.  Moreover, it is incoherent to claim that “the liberty or contingency” are not “taken away, but rather established” in a deterministic world in which all causes are the will and work of God.  In a world in which theistic determinism is true, there is only one cause of all things – God.  Calvinists confess this and the Confession is clear on this point.  It states that,

        “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…”

      This is enough to defeat this “secondary causes” explanation as an attempt to introduce “liberty and contingency.”  There are no “secondary causes,” at least in the sense the Calvinist wants to “establish” them, that is, as introducing into their determinism true “liberty” or “contingency.”

b) Also, we must note the contingent nature of these “secondary causes” and “means.”  Not only do they propose to support liberty or contingency in contradiction with determinism, they are also themselves contingent in nature and as such are in contradiction to determinism.  The “second causes” and “means” that the Calvinist is referring to by which God brings to pass what he has predetermined, are things like intending and choosing or deciding to do certain things, or by trying to persuade someone to change their mind, etc.  The point is that these “secondary causes” and “means” as the Calvinist wants to employ them to defend his determinism as reasonable and possible, are “causes” and “means” of a contingent nature.  Therefore, what the Calvinist is saying is that theistic determinism is accomplished by “secondary causes” and “means” that just are contingent activities which presuppose a contingent reality. Therefore, the nature of these “second causes” and “means” stand in contradiction with the Calvinist’s determinism.  When we think and act in contingent ways like warning people to do one thing and not another, when we cause things to occur or use certain means like deliberation, discussion, decision-making, taking matters into our own hands by stealing, murdering, raping, etc., the Calvinist claims that these are the “second causes” and “means” by which God accomplishes what he has predetermined to occur.  The absurdity of attempting to smuggle “liberty” and “contingency” into determinism through “second causes” and “means” when God has also predetermined these “second causes” and “means” will be discussed below, but here the Calvinist is claiming that divine determinism is carried out by these “secondary causes” or “means” which are of a contingent nature and presuppose the truth of a contingent reality.  As the Westminster Confession states, the Calvinist is presupposing these “second causes” and “means” to be of the nature of genuine “liberty or contingency.”   But contingency and determinism are mutually exclusive concepts.

      Therefore, the two affirmations, that God has predetermined all things (determinism) and works his will by secondary causes and means of a contingent nature (contingency) are logically incompatible or mutually exclusive affirmations.  They are in contradiction with each other.  This explanation of how divine determinism plays out the world through causes and means of a contingent nature as an attempt to defend theistic determinism amounts to a contradiction.

c) We must also point out that to speak of “secondary causes” and “means” in the context of theistic determinism is not only contradictory, but merely redundant.  Given that Calvinism just is a universal divine causal determinism, God also predetermined all these “secondary causes” and “means.”  For instance, the Confession is also clear about “all the means” by which the elect are brought to glory.  It states,

        “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto.[5]

      It has already been established, that “God from all eternity did…unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…”  It is therefore nonsense to talk about “secondary causes” and that “God works through means” in an attempt to introduce some sort of “liberty or contingency” into theistic determinism.   “Causes” as “secondary” lose their meaning in the vortex of theistic determinism.  The phrase, “God uses certain means,” also loses its meaning when used in reference to the things people do to bring about what God has universally and causally predetermined to occur.  Again, given theistic determinism there is only one cause of all means – God.  So these explanations are at best redundant and at worst absurd given the fact that God has already preordained “whatsoever comes to pass.”

d) Note therefore that these “secondary causes” are only of an instrumental nature.  They cannot be logically thought of in any sense as agential causes with respect to the human person or will. Personal agency is integral to the concepts of “liberty” or “contingency.”  On Calvinist determinism, the human will, and therefore the human body, is completely predetermined by God to will and do what God wills and “does.”  Therefore, what we humans do can only be considered to have been done in an instrumental sense.  We are instrumental “causes,” and nothing more.  All things occur because God causes them to occur, including what humans think, desire, believe and do.  Whether “causes” are primary, secondary, tertiary, etc., it does not matter.  God is the sole agent and therefore the sole cause of every event in the whole universe.  People are merely instrumental means by which God accomplishes his will in the world.  Yes, God works through “means,” but not in any sense in which the Calvinist would like the word to connote, that is, as adding genuine liberty or contingency into our lives and reality.

e) Neither can it be said that anyone does anything freely, for that would require the will and the act to be genuinely individuated from the will of God with respect to agency.  Determinism cannot coherently incorporate contingency or free will decisions as means to its ends.  Free will and determinism are logically incompatible.   Dr. William Lane Craig observes that,

        “…it’s logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something.  If he does it freely, he cannot be made to do it.  If God makes him do it then he doesn’t do it freely.  It is as logically impossible to make somebody do something freely as it is to make a round square or a married bachelor.  That’s just logically impossible, and being all-powerful doesn’t mean the ability to do the logically impossible.”[6]

      The point that needs to be stressed here is that when someone claims two concepts that are logically incompatible to be true, then something is amiss.  When two concepts are mutually exclusive, they both cannot be true.  Calvinist claims about “free will” decisions which are thought of as “secondary causes” but are also predetermined by God and therefore caused by God, are logically precluded from being free will decisions on the part of the person themselves.  On universal divine causal determinism God just is the cause of all things.  Whether you designate them “primary” or “secondary” or “tertiary” or call them “free” or “contingent” makes no difference.  These “causes” are all subsumed under Calvinist sovereignty defined as universal divine causal determinism.

      Therefore, given theistic determinism, to speak of “means” or “secondary causes” that are characterized by contingency, possibility, potentiality, free will, etc. to satisfy the witness of Scripture and experience to these realities would, by definition, be incoherent and false.  It is to contradict oneself and also present the Scriptures as contradictory.  In a deterministic universe, free will cannot be smuggled in on the back of “secondary causes” or “God works through means.”  That is only to say that “God works through secondary causes that he causes and God works through means that he has caused to be the means by which he will accomplish what he has predetermined to occur.”  And that is nonsense if you are trying to derive “liberty” and “contingency” from these “secondary causes” and “means.” Nothing escapes the vortex of determinism.

      Now, here’s the important point to be made. All these logical and moral difficulties either have hermeneutical significance as to determining the validity of the Calvinist’s interpretation of Scripture or they do not.  For the non-Calvinist to identify these difficulties is one thing, deciding whether they tell us anything about the validity of the Calvinist’s exegesis and interpretations is quite another. I believe Justin and Leighton should think that the Calvinist’s incoherence has interpretive significance in the sense that it is telling them that Chris has certainly misinterpreted the text a some point and that this is not merely a matter of two different but legitimate interpretations being expressed.  Either the incoherence of Chris’ position speaks to interpretive validity or it does not. Chris too ought to acknowledge that incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in interpretation indicates that the interpretation is not valid. But Chris and Calvinists do not acknowledge this. They adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence. They raise incoherence to the level of a hermeneutical principle. That is, interpretations can be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory and still be accurate and valid meanings of the text. What do you think?

This is the fundamental issue in this controversy, the one upon which it rests, and the one upon which it can be resolved.

3. Compatibilism

Most Calvinists know that they cannot dismiss the reality of human freedom that is not only evidenced in Scripture but also all around them and which they themselves exercise every day of their lives.  But neither will they give up their deterministic view of divine sovereignty.  Hence, revealing that they actually do feel pressured by the constraints of logical reasoning and moral intuition, Calvinists have attempted to show that their theistic determinism is logically compatible with human free will.  Hence, the name compatibilism.

These Calvinists define free will as being able to do what you desire to do.  The hitch to this definition that makes it compatible with determinism is that God determines all your desires.  So as long as you are doing what you want to do, you are acting freely, but it is God who determines what you want to do.  Hence, free will is compatible with determinism.

Calvinists who adopt compatibilism differ from Calvinists who also believe in divine determinism but see that the logic of divine determinism requires them to deny human free will.  The two are not compatible. Calvinists that flat out deny human free will are called “hard determinists.”  Although such a denial is untenable, at least these Calvinists are making an attempt at acknowledging that logic matters. Those Calvinists who adopt compatibilism are called “soft determinists.”  Calvinist theologian John S. Feinberg is a soft determinist who embraces compatibilism.  He writes,

“Unfortunately, some Calvinists, because of their understanding of God’s sovereignty, have denied that humans are free.  Yet some of those Calvinists maintain that we are morally responsible for our sin, while God, who decreed our sin, is not morally accountable.  When asked how this can be true, they respond that it is a paradox which nonetheless must be true because Scripture demands it.”[7]

So according to Feinberg even the “hard determinists” land themselves in a contradiction by maintaining that although God predetermines all things – even sin – we are morally responsible for our sin and God is not. Let us pause here to make some observations.

a) There are points of logic, justice and moral intuition that are being struggled with here.  Their rational and moral reasoning are telling the Calvinist that something is not quite right about the “paradox,” that is, the claim that “we are morally responsible for our sin, while God, who decreed our sin, is not morally accountable.”  Hence, we need to ask what our logical reasoning, sense of justice and moral intuitions that seem to want to reject the “paradox” are all about.  Are these reasonings and senses telling us something valid as to the truth or falsity of “the paradox?”  Are these senses accurate and valid for determining truth from error?  And we need to ask where they come from and in what are they grounded.  The answers will have implications as to what conclusions we should reach regarding the plausibility of compatibilism.

b) For the “hard determinists,” both the logical reasoning and the moral intuitions that are telling them something is not quite right about the “paradox,” are so essential to their interpretive thinking that they are compelled to deny human freedom.  They obviously see their understanding of God’s sovereignty and human freedom as logically and morally incompatible, that is, that there is a real contradiction here.  The two are mutually exclusive.  Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that they do logically carry through with what their determinism entails with respect to human responsibility, it is certainly the case that the “hard determinists” believe that rational integrity demands making a choice between a deterministic understanding of God’s sovereignty and human freedom, and they choose to deny human freedom.

But you see the problem, right?  Not only are these Calvinists acknowledging that logical and moral reasoning are reliable and interpretively significant, but ironically, of course, this lands the “hard determinists” neck deep in a contradiction of their own making when they say they are making a choice to be a hard determinist.  That would be to say, “I freely choose to believe that I was determined to not believe in free choice.”  They use their human freedom to choose to believe in determinism which logically requires they deny human freedom (but if determinism is true, it must be the case that they have been determined to accept determinism and deny free will). So their determinism lands them in a predicament with their experiential reality.  They find themselves having to exercise their free will to believe that they are determined to reject believing that they have free will.  This is self-defeating.

c) If the compatibilist, the “hard determinist,” the Arminian and the atheist are all determined by God to think, believe and act as they do, then what’s the sense in talking about this at all?  It seems that those of us who do not embrace a form of determinism – theistic or naturalistic – are the only ones for whom it makes sense to discuss these matters.  And if we are right, we do believe we may persuade the Calvinist and the atheist to think and believe otherwise.  But if determinism is true, no one “persuades” anyone of anything because persuasion is a contingent concept and as such it cannot be a reality within a deterministic worldview.  And why a determinist would get exercised about the things that are happening in the world that are not quite right or downright evil when God has predetermined them to occur, doesn’t make sense. But then again, their reactions would simply boil down to whether God determined them to react as they do.  And since they don’t have a free will, we can’t even talk about or hold them culpable for reacting inconsistent with their determinism.  That is how they were determined to react. But Calvinist critiques to change the way things are don’t seem to make sense given Calvinist determinism.

The point to note is that if the hard determinist’s logical reflections and moral intuitions are reliable, and these reveal to them a contradiction between their deterministic sovereignty and free will, then to their credit these Calvinists are taking rational and moral coherence seriously in denying free will.  But to the degree they claim they are freely making such a decision, they defeat their determinism.

Whether they let logical reflections and moral intuitions guide their interpretation of Scripture is another matter.  Sound reasoning compels them to either deny God’s sovereignty as they interpret it as a theistic determinism, or deny human freedom as I presume it is interpreted from Scripture by them as libertarian freedom.  Since the two are mutually exclusive, these Calvinists must make a “hard” choice.  And since they cannot see how any biblical alteration can be made in their definition of God’s sovereignty as deterministic, therefore they deny there is any such thing as human freedom and free will.  And although this requires them to ignore the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to libertarian freedom that brought them to this crossroad, at least they are attempting to be logically and morally consistent with their determinism, if not true to Scripture’s portrayal of divine sovereignty.

The point to note here is that this position that ends up denying the human freedom that is clearly taught in Scripture is not a sound interpretive option.  It in effect denies the authority of Scripture by denying what Scripture clearly teaches for the sake of remaining consistent with a determinism that they are convinced the Bible also teaches.  But good interpretation should not have to deny one biblical “truth” so as to affirm another biblical “truth.”  Rather, one should embark upon a reexamination of the two “truths” to uncover which is not a biblical truth after all.  When such a contradictory situation develops, good biblical interpretation need not “throw up its hands” and jettison logical and moral reasoning and flee to mystery, but rather employs logical and moral reasoning in the interpretive task, returning to the text to find out where the misinterpretation lies.

d) The “soft Calvinists” who see a problem with the “paradox” that “we are morally responsible for our sin, while God, who decreed our sin, is not morally accountable,” but do not solve it by an outright denial of human freedom, seek to do so by developing the compatibilism that I discussed above.  But this explanation only pushes the problem of incoherence back a step.  Compatibilism does not solve it.  God still determines everyone’s every thought, belief, desire and action.  Compatibilists also sense the logical and moral problems of compatibilism that causes them to ask, “How can this be?” To get around these problems, compatibilists like Feinberg offer the following explanation to justify their compatibilism.  Feinberg continues,

“I do not affirm this paradox.  Instead, like many other determinists, I claim that there is room for a genuine sense of free human action, even though such action is causally determined.  This kind of freedom cannot be indeterministic, of course.  Instead, determinists who hold to free will distinguish two kinds of causes which influence and determine actions.  On the one hand, there are constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will.  On the other hand, there are nonconstraining causes. These are sufficient to bring about an action, but they do not force a person to act against his will, desires or wishes.  According to determinists such as myself, an action is free even if casually determined so long as the causes are nonconstraining.  This view is often referred to as soft determinism or compatibilism, for genuinely free human action is seen as compatible with nonconstraining sufficient conditions which incline the will decisively in one way or another.”[8]

Feinberg rejects the “paradox” explanation, revealing that he is aware of the need for rational coherence in one’s interpretations.  It seems that “soft determinists” like Feinberg also feels the pressure of rational coherence, otherwise why would they attempt a reconciliation between determinism and human free will?  Why the need for compatibilism?[9]

Feinberg maintains that “there is room for a genuine sense of free human action, even though such action is causally determined.”  But will Feinberg’s compatibilism explain how this can be?  Can there really be a genuine sense of free human action while such actions are causally determined by God?  Let’s examine his view further.

Free Human Action or Free Human Agency?

Let me first point out that even though Feinberg uses the term “agent” once in this paragraph, he never uses the phrase “free human agency,” it is always “free human action.”  Now to be charitable, perhaps when he writes about “free human action” he is not losing sight that humans are also free agents.  Perhaps he is stressing the idea that determinism has to do with the cause of a person’s actions.  It explains why people act as they do.  But it will also deal with the ultimate origin of these acts, that is, ultimately from where or from whom do they come, and how they brought about.  I just want to mention this because it may be significant.  Feinberg may be avoiding the phrase “free human agency” because the contradiction between free human action and determinism is made more evident when the term agency is used.  For instance, if we have Fienberg saying,

“Instead, like many other determinists, I claim that there is room for a genuine sense of free human agency, even though such agency is causally determined.”

Or,

“…genuinely free human agency is seen as compatible with nonconstraining sufficient conditions which incline the [agents] will decisively in one way or another.”

It is the difference between causing an agent to act and causing a human action.  To talk of a free agent comes smack up against determinism.  One can stress the cause of a human action, but this downplays the human as a free agent.  It focuses on the human action being caused freely (defined by acting according to your desires which are determined by God), rather than on a free agent being caused or made to act according to God’s will.  The latter seems to be a logical impossibility.

Again, I quote Dr. Craig who observes that,

“…it’s logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something.  If he does it freely, he cannot be made to do it.  If God makes him do it then he doesn’t do it freely.  It is as logically impossible to make somebody do something freely as it is to make a round square or a married bachelor.  That’s just logically impossible, and being all-powerful doesn’t mean the ability to do the logically impossible.”[10]

 My point is that it may be more problematic to conceive of a free human agent being causally determined to act according to another’s will, than to merely talk about a free human action as being causally determined by another’s will, although this also has serious difficulties.  All you have to do in the latter is qualify the word “free.”  But in the former you have to deal with both “free” and “agent.”  More on this below.  I just want to emphasize that Feinberg has to attempt to alleviate the problem his determinism generates with human agency, not just human action

Personhood, Determinism, Constraint and Coercion

Since the compatibilist is going to maintain their theistic determinism, they therefore must offer a definition of human freedom that is rationally coherent with that determinism.  Again, compatibilists maintain that as long as we are able to act according to our desires, wants and wishes we are acting freely, that is, without constraint or coercion.  The determinism is maintained by stating that it is God who determines our desires, wants and wishes, and he does so without constraint or coercion.

But this raises certain problems and questions.  Look at it this way.  When personal being #1 (you) is acted upon by personal being #2 (God) such that personal being #1 (you) irresistibly and imperceptivity performs the will of personal being #2 (God) and personal being #1 (you) cannot do otherwise, even though it is via “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” that personal being #2 (God) gets personal being #1 (you) to do what personal being #2 (God) wills, is there any meaningful sense in which we can say that personal being #1 (you) did what they did freely?  Is personal being #1 (you) doing what you will to do in the sense that it is the person (you) via that person’s own will (yours) that is doing it and not just your physical body via personal being #2 (God) determining your desires?  Do your mere desires control what you do, or do you have a will that controls and directs your desires and what you actually decide to do?  Are you, as a personal being, willing and acting freely in any meaningful sense if you are acted upon deterministically by another’s will?  Are you willing and acting freely if you are merely instrumentally and inevitably moved by the will of another, even if through the “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” of your own desires being determined by God?

Calvinists will attempt to alleviate their incoherence by focusing on the fact that God is a personal being and therefore determinism avoids the mechanical, robot analogy often brought against it.  The determinism takes on a personal aspect because it is God who is determining all the desires, wants and wishes of every one of his human creatures.[11]  But what about a person’s will?  How can the comprehensive predetermination of the will, desires, wishes, beliefs and actions of another person be said to be “nonconstraining” even though the cause of these predeterminations is personal (God)?

Moreover, just because the person doesn’t realize their will, desires, beliefs, wishes and actions are being determined by God’s will, does that establish that their actions are remaining their own, that is, that they are acting according to their own will freely?  What makes a person’s actions their own?  I submit that it is the fact that because human beings are made in the image of God who is a rational and free being, they are therefore persons who possess a mind and a will that in and of itself can initiate and control their own thoughts, attitudes, desires and decisions.  This is what it means to be a human person.

Let’s return to compatibilism and ask what the implications are once “the cat is let out of the bag” so to speak.  That is, once we all learn that everyone’s wills, desires, wishes, beliefs and actions are meticulously and exhaustively determined by God and we are merely “performing” accordingly?  The result is that we must acknowledge that we do not do what we do freely.  Hence, the specters that impugn God’s character as being the author of evil and that speak of demise of personal responsibility and culpability return to haunt us.

So “compatibilism” suffers from the same logical and moral problems that plague theistic determinism.  Compatibilism attempts to push these problems forward a step onto the person’s desires, wants and wishes, as if this will resolve the problem of determinism and free will.  But compatibilism is just Calvinist determinism under another name.

The more fundamental issues here involve the meaning of personhood and what is entailed in a person acting freely.  This personhood is what I was attempting to stress in the very awkward paragraph on “person #1 (you)” and “person #2 (God).

It’s important to note that the compatibilist, in a further incoherence, presupposes in their discussion that individuals have, as integral to their personhood, a will of their own.  They presuppose that there is a will that is uniquely our own – with the accompanying desires, wants and wishes – in each human individual by virtue of their human personhood.  Feinberg clearly implies this when he states,

“…determinists who hold to free will distinguish two kinds of causes which influence and determine actions.  On the one hand, there are constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will.”

When Feinberg’s compatibilism speaks about there being “constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will,” he is admitting that we are agents with wills of our own.  The fact that we are personal agents with an individuated will is presupposed in the debate itself.  So, what happens to that individuated agent and will on compatibilism?  I submit that it is rendered meaningless.  Allow me to explain.

At a minimum, personhood entails the individuation of a self from another self.  When one self seeks to “influence” the thinking, desires, wishes and willing of another self to act differently, that presupposes two wills that are under the control of two selfs.  This is what is entailed in having “a will.”   That the desires, wishes, beliefs and actions are under the control of that person to a significant degree.  That person, or self, always retains the ability to will to act differently than another self would desire or will that person to act.  As such, the self has a will of its own that cannot be decisively determined by another self.  On determinism it does not matter whether the determinations are brought to pass coercively or non-coercively, or whether they are constraining or non-constraining.  Changes of will, desires, wants and beliefs can happen among persons by persuasion.  A person may be persuaded, but such persuasion presupposes an individuated self with a mind and will that can do otherwise.  On the other hand, those persons may not be persuaded.  Therefore, it is always the determinism of compatibilism that is problematic.  That Calvinist’s theistic determinism, defined as “I (God) will unfailingly have the other “person” do what I (God) will them to do,” is what creates the real logical contradiction with personhood because human free will is integral to personhood.  The fact that we can add, “I (God) will unfailingly have the other person do what I (God) will them to do via “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” does not relieve the contradiction inherent in the claim that there is here “a genuine sense of free human action, even though such action is causally determined.”[12]  There is a genuine sense of human action, but it is not free human action.  Just because an act issues from a person’s desires, wishes, beliefs, etc. does not make it free, it only makes it occur.  And because we are dealing with human’s here, that makes it a human action.  But again, it is not a human action of a certain type, that is, free – as in one’s own.

The problem with the Calvinist mindset is that it misconceives that it would be a problem for God to be sovereign if he did not exhaustively predetermine everything that will happen throughout all of human history and in the whole physical universe.  There can be no competition to God’s will by another will lest God’s will be thwarted.  According to Calvinist thinking, there has to be one causal will in the world, and it, of course, has to be God’s will. God alone is the cause of what happens in the world.  But theology is not only about what actions God wants performed in the world.  Putting actions aside for the moment, it is a vastly different conception of human free will when one’s desires, wishes and beliefs have been caused to be what they are by what another (God) has unfailingly and unalterably determined them to be by his will.  “Free human action” implies not merely the performance of an action by a person, but that the source of the action is the person’s own will, and not merely their desires divorced from their will.  The problem is precisely that one’s desires, wishes, beliefs, and therefore their will and actions, have been determined by the will of another.  It is both an issue of the source of the willing and the removal of the ability to will otherwise due to the determinism of the causal influences of another’s will that renders the claim to “a genuine sense of free human action” meaningless.

It is the determinism, even if achieved by “nonconstraining sufficient conditions,” that is destructive to the retaining of personhood as entailing a self which entails the substantive independence of the exercise of one’s own will.  If “a genuine sense of free human action” is to be retained, it must entail an authoritative, individuated will with an ability to do otherwise.  An individuated will that resides within the person themselves is required of personhood.  From a theological point of view it is the ultimate and inevitable theistic determinism, not the “nonconstraining sufficient conditions,” that is the fundamental problematic issue.  The determinism annihilates personhood.  When “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” are employed by one person to determine the thoughts and actions of another person we have the same end result – the obliteration of any meaningful sense of personhood which must include the free human action rooted in the will of the person themselves.

Determinism and Nonconstraining Causes or Nonconstraining Sufficient Conditions

It is incoherent to speak of “nonconstraining causes” or “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” which “incline the will decisively in one way or another” and also talk of “genuinely free human action.”  I should say here that this does not mean that God does not have the prerogative to determine people’s actions however he chooses to do so – even by foregoing the free will of the person.  Human freedom is not absolute, but it is of a certain nature that is logically incompatible with theistic determinism.  So when God determines to do what he wills for reasons he may reveal or not reveal, he has the right to circumvent human freedom.  But to view the activity of God as a universal divine causal determinism goes against the Scriptural witness to the nature of God, human freedom and responsibility and a contingent reality.  As long as these remain the testimony of Scripture, we cannot accept Calvinist determinism as the explanation of divine sovereignty.

In the context of claims about there being “genuinely free human action,” determinisms, and the causes and “sufficient conditions” that are a result of them are, by definition, “constraining.”  If they are “causes,” the purpose of which is to cause the person to do the divine will, and they are sufficient to achieve their purpose, then they are constraining.  Just because Feinberg reaches one step back to the divine will “inclining the will,” desires, wishes, and beliefs of a person to irresistibly affect their actions does not mean there is no “constraining” going on.  Rather than holding a gun to their head, the constraining is present in the supernatural or spiritual activity at the point of the desires, wishes and beliefs in the person, which will lead them to perform the actions that God has willed they perform.  If these people have a will of their own as Feinberg admitted they do when he talked about “constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will,” then on determinism, by definition, the will of these people is constrained.

But even more so.  We may also think about it this way.  It is disingenuous and verbal legerdemain for the compatibilist to claim “God is not forcing a person to act against his will” when God is actually preempting their will altogether.  Surely Calvinists like Feinberg believe we have wills.  Well, what then is a will for?  Feinberg’s compatibilism has subverted the whole concept and meaning of a will as it refers to human persons.  Sure the person is acting according to their will which has now become identical with the will of God, but not due to the free assent of their own will to do the will of God, but by God working irresistibly and determinatively through “nonconstraining sufficient conditions” to alter the person’s will, desires, wishes to accord with what God wills.  In a very real sense this is not to “force a person to act against his will” precisely because the whole of the will has been preempted!  There is no will here to force and therefore nothing here to be willed by the person themselves.  Indeed, to incline “his will” decisively would leave nothing to force God to act against!  Therefore, it makes no sense to speak in those terms.  To decisively determine a person’s desires, wishes and beliefs is to completely overtake their will.  And this is precisely the problem.  “Calvinist-speak” will not work here.  The bottom-line here is that one person who has the power to do so (God), unfailingly substitutes the will of the human creature with his own will.  Simply because it is not a physical event of coercion, it is nonetheless, if the person has a will of their own, some kind of constraint, and that for the purpose of absolute control.  That is what the Calvinist means by God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.

Again, technically speaking, Calvinists claim that there is no “constraining” or “coercion” going on in compatibilism.  But I submit that the will of a person is inseparable from that person’s desires, wants, and wishes.  That is just what it means to will.  To will means to have desires, wants and wishes.  If this is so, then if God is the sole determiner and cause of the person’s desires, wants and wishes to be what they are, then he has in effect overtaken or preempted their will.  To do one is to do the other.  Hence it cannot be said in any meaningful way that the person is acting freely.  The person is acting according to their divinely predetermined desires.  How is that acting freely?

The Red-Herring of “No Constraint” and “No Coercion”

For the Calvinist to claim that there is no “constraining” or “coercion” of the person’s will going on is to make a distinction without a difference.  Certainly the Calvinist can claim this is the case and that there need be no “constraining” or “coercion” because the will has been totally preempted by God to do as he has predetermined.  And in this, the individual’s will has been extricated and their personhood violated.  “Constraining” or “coercion” of the will?  No.  Absolute commandeering?  Yes.  In that case you can legitimately claim there is no “constraining” or “coercion.”  But that would be just to play a semantic game.

Hence, I submit that the compatibilist’s insisting that there is no “constraining” or “coercion” going on is a red-herring.  It’s even worse than that.  Again, human persons have been extricated from their wills by God substituting their thoughts, attitudes, desires, wants, wishes, beliefs and actions with his.  The Calvinist will grant that you have desires, but they will not grant you your will from which your own desires, wants and wishes would flow.  But the will cannot be divorced from desires, wants and wishes, and therefore these cannot be divorced from the will.  They form an integral whole.  Therefore, for the compatibilist to claim that God determines all things by determining everyone’s thoughts, desires, wants, beliefs and actions is to say God determines all things by annihilating everyone’s will.  Concerns about whether or not God is constraining, forcing or coercing the will are not germane to discerning the truth or falsity of compatibilism.  What is relevant is that God has extricated his human creatures of their wills in that he has commandeered their every thought and desire.  So even the human will is swallowed up in the vortex of determinism.

Calvinist’s who are “soft determinists,” that is, those who still define divine sovereignty deterministically and yet want to affirm human free will, have a vested interest in developing an argument that is logically coherent in defense of their position.  I have suggested above that instead of a “paradox” the Calvinist definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism is a real contradiction.  Hence, if Calvinism can be shown to be logically contradictory, then it surely must be false.  And if its best hope, compatibilism, can be shown to be a real contradiction, then we have further established the implausibility of Calvinism.

            In light of the substantial problems in these three defenses, I think it is safe to say that if Chris were pressed on the hermeneutical question as to whether or not the incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions of his view are reliable indications of the invalidity of his interpretation on God’s sovereignty, he would still deny this and ultimately flee to mystery.  The Calvinist will never concede his deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty no matter how much logical and moral havoc it wreaks with other truths the Calvinist will also affirm are taught in Scripture.  This hermeneutical stance is integral to what it means to be a Calvinist.  To abandon it would be to abandon Calvinism.  But it is also to adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence which is surely not a viable hermeneutic.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 5 / Calvinists Answer “Yes”

Mystery: Calvinist Determinism Dodges Rational and Moral Critique

            Therefore, when Chris eventually refuses to consider the negative logical and moral entailments generated by his “meticulous divine providence” as interpretively significant, he is ultimately refusing to subject his exegesis to substantive rational and moral critique.  What Calvinists do is to isolate and insulate their exegeses and interpretations from anyone being able to deliberate and make pronouncement as to their biblical truth or falsity on the basis of logical reflection and moral intuition.  If you have a hermeneutic that deems logical reflection and moral intuition as significant for determining interpretive validity, then given “meticulous divine providence” you would logically conclude God is the author of sin and evil.  That certainly seems to be entailed by “meticulous divine providence.”  And that was Leighton’s conclusion.

            Yet the Calvinist confessions, and I assume Chris also would assert, that God is not and cannot be the author of evil.  So the confessions state this as truth on the basis of Scripture and we also have good reasons to believe our moral intuitions are also reliable and come to this same conclusion.  Therefore, Chris has to deal with the Scriptural, logical and moral difficulties of his theistic determinism which entails that God is the author of evil.  It will not do for the confessions and Chris to merely assert God is not the author of evil.  Chris has to show us why the conclusion that “God is the author of evil” is not a logical and moral entailment of his determinism.  The claim that God is not the author of evil must comport with the logical and moral entailments of the determinism that places the claim in doubt.  But Chris cannot do this.  His determinism does logically and morally entail that God is the author of evil, and that further entails that God is himself evil.

            But if Chris has a hermeneutic that deems logical reflection and moral intuition insignificant as to determining interpretive validity, then if “meticulous divine providence” is true, the only recourse, in light of the logical and moral problems that this theistic determinism produces is for Chris and his fellow Calvinists to claim that this logical and moral clash of his doctrines are an incomprehensible mystery. And this is precisely what Calvinist do.  Ultimately, the only way the Calvinist can “deal with” these acute problems produced by their deterministic interpretations is to flee to mystery.

            But can Chris give a substantive explanation of this incoherence in his theology rather than fleeing to mystery?  Does Chris even think an explanation is necessary?  He does offer interpretations of certain texts that he claims support “meticulous divine providence,” and I will examine them below.  But if Chris, like all other Calvinists, thinks the full and final solution to the logical and moral problems in his theology is an incomprehensible mystery, then this gives us indication of his hermeneutic.  It would be a hermeneutic that allows for logical and moral incoherence.  It is a hermeneutic of incoherence.

            Hence the divide between Leighton and Chris, and the divide between non-Calvinists and Calvinists, is the divide between whether logical and moral reasoning are integral to responsible interpretation and determiners of valid interpretations or not.  The non-Calvinist believes they are, whereas the Calvinist believes they are not. 

            Again, Justin picks up on the moral entailments of Chris’ definition of sovereignty, but this time poses the question to Chris.

               “What about that kind of moral dimension to this?  I think that sometimes it compels people to change their mind on this – they don’t like what it might mean if God does essentially predetermine some people will be saved and some people won’t.  Or equally, all of the facets of evil and suffering that exist in the world – that God is somehow ultimately responsible for every bit of suffering that goes on.  Does that moral dimension, has that ever kind of caused you to wonder in that sense?” (9:24 – 9:53)

Chris’ answer is revealing.

               “I don’t think so.  And quite the contrary I would say…I find the Calvinist God extremely beautiful and far more beautiful in fact than the non-Calvinist God.” (9:53 – 10:10)

            Justin’s question contains certain suspicions, if not conclusions people reach when pondering the implications of theistic determinism.  It’s important to note the vast rational and moral difference between the incredulous reaction people have about “what it might mean if God does essentially predetermine some people will be saved and some people won’t” and “that God is somehow responsible for every bit of suffering that goes on,” along with Leighton’s conclusions that God is “monstrous” and “the author of evil,” as compared with Chris’ answer of “I don’t think so.  And quite the contrary… I find the Calvinist God extremely beautiful.”

            This dichotomy in reasoning between Leighton and Chris is fascinating to me.  For reasons that need to be teased out, Chris is able to take a position that is contrary to those who base their conclusion on what they perceive are the logical and moral entailments of theistic determinism.  Somehow Chris is able to distance himself from these logical and moral entailments of his position that common folk realize and that Justin and Leighton have pointed out to Chris.  And if they are truly logical and moral entailments, then Chris is rejecting legitimate logical reflection and moral intuition as interpretively significant. For Chris these are hermeneutically insignificant.

            So what must happen within Chris’ mind for him and other Calvinists to do this?  Putting aside for the moment the ultimate necessary Calvinist answer that God predetermined it – which, for the Calvinist, would be the bottom-line truth of the matter here and put an end to the whole discussion – Justin points out that this issue of logical and moral incoherence “compels some people to change their mind on this,” that is, reject Calvinism.  So, are these people so mistaken in their logical thought processes, moral intuitions and their reading of Scripture that they fail see what Calvinist determinism entails? Has their pride or lust for human autonomy so overwhelmed their beings that they refuse to acknowledge that Calvinism is the true teaching of Scripture? Or, might it be that the Calvinist is mistakenly dichotomizing their exegesis from logical and moral reasoning and thereby failing to see that theistic determinism cannot be the Scriptural truth regarding divine sovereignty?  Perhaps Calvinists refuse to acknowledge that even given the fall into sin, our logical and moral reasoning are divine gifts to us and both are still reliable and necessary to rightly interpret the text, let alone the everyday decisions of life.  When non-Calvinists point out the negative logical and moral entailments of theistic determinism, perhaps they have rightly taken on board the elements of rational and moral reasoning necessary for coming to the true meanings of the relevant texts.  In addition, interpretations that evidence logical and moral coherence with the wider canon of Scripture increase their plausibility as the true meaning of those specific texts.  In that the non-Calvinist can explain the meaning of more Scripture in a coherent manner, perhaps he has a better hermeneutic than the Calvinist.

            So, in light of Chris’ theistic determinism, we see how Chris is able to come to his conclusion that his God is “beautiful” rather than the author of evil.  To do so he must put logical and moral reasoning out of court in his hermeneutic.

The Suppression of Reason and Moral Intuition

            Note the main point here.  Only those who take coherence, consistency and non-contradiction on board in their hermeneutic can and will come to the conclusions Leighton and Justin have come to regarding Calvinism.  Those who are able to dismiss coherence, consistency and non-contradiction from their hermeneutic have paved the way to intellectually embrace Calvinism.  It is important to understand that the Calvinist’s ability to dismiss coherence as interpretively significant is a crucial component contributing to this controversy. 

            Note therefore what has to happen within a person intellectually and intuitively for them to become a Calvinist.  I submit that it is required that a person suppress their logical reasoning and moral intuitions and adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence to accept Calvinism.  Prominent Calvinists testify to a period of mental and emotional anguish that occurs when introduced to the Calvinist doctrines.  I suspect it is the same for all who ultimately embrace Calvinism.  But if you refuse to suppress your logical reasoning and moral intuitions you never could and never would subscribe to Calvinism.  To discern the truth of the Calvinist’s claim that Calvinism is what the Bible teaches has everything to do with how to interpret the Bible and that has everything to do with whether or not you find coherence, consistency and non-contradiction interpretively significant or not.  It has everything to do with your hermeneutic.

            So given that philosophical reflection and moral intuition expose the Calvinist’s theistic determinism as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory with other clearly taught biblical truths, that is sufficient for many of us to deem Calvinist determinism false.  When logical and moral reasoning are taken on board in our exegetical and interpretive process, and Calvinist determinism generates these same difficulties of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with the broader Scriptural witness to the nature and ways of God, man and reality, we can conclude that it is a misinterpretation of what the Scripture has to say about the sovereignty of God.[13]  As non-Calvinists Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell point out,

               “While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”[14]

            They also state that,

               “There are aspects of God that transcend our reason to be sure, but God doesn’t call us to believe anything opposed to reason.  This distinction is one that some popular postmodern Christian writers often fail to grasp, and they thereby tend to make a virtue of incoherence.”[15]

            And again,

               “[It does not] serve the cause of clear thinking and truth to confuse contradiction with mystery or to suggest that it is a mark of superior piety to be unworried about logical consistency. While the truth about God is beyond our full comprehension it doesn’t contain contradiction.  Calvinists can’t eliminate the contradictions in their theology by fleeing into mystery or appealing to notions like antinomy.  To the contrary the contradictions we have identified are a telltale sign that something is profoundly awry at the heart of Reformed theology.”[16]

            Because of the logical and moral inconsistencies that Calvinist determinism generates with what else we find in Scripture, we can confidently say it cannot be a valid interpretation of Scripture.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 6 / Evil and Suffering

The Problem of Evil, Logical Consistency and the Application to Calvinism

            We come to the issues of evil and suffering brought up in this interview.  As Leighton argued, these present acute problems of biblical, logical and moral incoherence for Chris’ theistic determinism.  Here we cannot discuss “the problem of evil” in full.  I just want to point you to certain aspects of “the problem of evil” argument that are relevant to the issues here.

            Those who want to disprove theism have tried to do so on the basis of the logical inconsistency of the two premises, 1) God exists as an all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good being, and 2) Evil exists.  If these premises can be shown to be logically inconsistent then the conclusion 3) God does not exist, would logically follow.

            My point is this, it is agreed among all these philosophers and theologians that logical consistency or inconsistency is a sufficient determiner of the truth or falsity of a matter.  Prove it inconsistent and you have proven it false.  Case closed.  Therefore, as applied to this controversy, why is it that when the Calvinist position is shown to be inconsistent, this is simply ignored as inconsequential?   Why is it that the Calvinist can summarily dismiss their problem of logical inconsistency and this be considered by Calvinists and most non-Calvinists as hermeneutically insignificant?  Why do evangelical philosophers and non-Calvinist theologians, ignore the implications of interpretive and theological inconsistency?  And how is it that even Chris affirms the problem of inconsistency when he quotes James White.  Chris states,

               “As James White has often said, ‘inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.” (1:05:41 – 1:05:44)

            But why is it that “inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument” unless it is a Calvinist argument?

Another thing to point out in the presentation of the problem of evil is that all these philosophers and theologians agree, as I think Chris, Leighton and Justin would also agree, that the element of the first premise – that God is “a perfectly good being” – is true.  And it is true, not just as a philosophical deduction, as for instance from the ontological argument, that “God is the greatest conceivable being” and therefore must be perfectly, totally good, but also the clear teaching of Scripture.[17]

            This has bearing on this interview because Chris’ determinism raises the question as to whether a perfectly good God can be the predeterminer and cause of evil and suffering.  Leighton contends that Chris’ theistic determinism, by definition, logically requires that God is the author of evil.  It seems that to Leighton, Justin and so many of us, that Calvinism suffers from substantive logical and moral inconsistencies.  If this is so, then as James White and Chris affirm, we should deem Calvinism “a failed argument,” that is, a failed theology and therefore a misinterpretation of Scripture.  As a matter of hermeneutical principle that either indicates the validity or invalidity of one’s interpretations, this problem of logical and moral inconsistency cannot be passed over.

Evil and Suffering: Can Theistic Determinism Provide Purpose and Meaning?

            As far as this interview is concerned, there are two ways to look at the relationship of theistic determinism to evil and suffering.

            One is that Chris finds himself needing to justify his a priori belief in “meticulous divine providence” in light of the acute problems it generates in relation to evil and suffering.  As this interview demonstrates, evil and suffering certainly present unique challenges to Chris’ theism precisely because it is deterministic.  Can determinism stand up to biblical, logical and moral scrutiny?  Chris will seek to justify it on biblical grounds with three passages and by telling us that because God predetermines and causes all things therefore he has “good purposes” in the evil and suffering he has ordained.

            A second way to look at the relation between theistic determinism and evil and suffering is to demonstrate the perceived benefit that theistic determinism provides in one’s personal experience of evil and suffering.  This amounts to a more subjective approach that again centers on God’s “good purposes” being brought about.

            So, we are inquiring into what is involved in Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence” in relation to evil and suffering and why he takes the view he does.

            Chris shares that he and his wife experienced two miscarriages.  Chris then explains their thinking on the relation between their theistic determinism and God’s “good purposes” in evil and suffering.

               “…my wife and I were able to grieve but trust in the goodness of God because we knew God had good purposes in the miscarriage that we believe that he had foreordained.  And sure enough we would find out years and years later that there were good purposes in that…

               But the point I’m getting at is that for me the options are either you believe God sort of takes this hands off approach and let’s human beings commit senseless acts of evil – and yes, he’s able to work things out of those senseless acts of evil; he’s able to work good out of them, but the acts in and of themselves are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.  Whereas in my view, God doesn’t let those things happen, he ordains them to happen because he has good purposes in them.  And for me, that makes what my wife and I suffer, and friends and family suffer, both natural and moral evil, all the more tolerable, and we’re able to have peace in the midst of it because we know God has good purposes in mind.  So I find the Calvinist God to be beautiful and compelling, not monstrous and terrible.” (10:33 – 11:51)

            Note that Chris is making an important concession here when he says,

               “…either you believe God sort of takes this hands off approach and let’s human beings commit senseless acts of evil – and yes, he’s able to work things out of those senseless acts of evil; he’s able to work good out of them, but the acts in and of themselves are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.”

            Chris is conceding that God is able to bring good purposes out of these senseless acts of evil without having to predetermine and cause those evil acts.  Although the non-Calvinist rejects the “hands  off” description as a mischaracterization of their position, Chris’ statement is more in accord with the non-Calvinist’s view of God’s sovereignty and role in working all things for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28).  Chris affirms that even if “God sort of takes this hands off approach and let’s human beings commit senseless acts of evil,” God is still “able to work things out of those senseless acts of evil; he’s able to work good out of them.”  

            So what does theistic determinism bring to this issue that makes it better and not worse?  For Chris, if God permits human beings the freedom to commit acts of evil, then “in and of themselves” these acts “are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.” [18]  Therefore Chris emphatically states that “God doesn’t let those things happen, he ordains them to happen because he has good purposes in them.”  Is this any better than the “hands off” view (which, according to Leighton, is a mischaracterization of a third option – his Provisionist view)?  Although Chris has admitted that on the “hands off” approach God is able to work good out of these senseless acts of evil, Chris rejects that view.  Chris rejects the position that God brings about good purposes from the evil acts as freely chosen and committed by others. Rather, he maintains that God brings about the evil acts because he has good purposes in them.  So Chris is claiming that a) God has “good purposes” he wills to bring to pass, and b) in order to do so, God must predetermine and cause the evil acts.  By predetermining and causing evil acts to occur God brings about his “good purposes.”

            But now why is this predetermining and causing evil acts to occur necessary to God working good out of them?  Is Chris confusing or conflating the necessity that God cause the evil acts with the divine ability to bring purpose from the evil acts?  It seems so.  It seems Chris is thinking that the ontological status of the evil acts has everything to do with God being able to bring about “good purposes” from them.  That is, if it is God who predetermines and causes these evil acts to occur, then God’s “good purposes” can be realized.  If it is not God who predetermines and causes these evil acts to occur, then God’s “good purposes” cannot be realized.  This, in turn, allows Chris to “trust in the goodness of God,” making what he suffers “all the more tolerable” and that he and his wife are “able to have peace in the midst of it because [they] know God has good purposes in mind.”  Chris’s view is that God needs to be the cause of the evil acts for them to have good purposes.  This is to say that if God does not predetermine and cause the evil acts, then they remain, in reference to Chris and to God, purposeless, pointless and senseless.  “They’re just pure, terrible evil.”  But how and why does Chris come to this conclusion?  Why does Chris think that for God to bring about “good purposes” from evil acts, he has to have predetermined and caused those evil acts?  Especially since he has already conceded that this is not necessary.

            Also, given his theistic determinism, how does Chris know God has “good purposes” in mind for the evil and suffering he brings about?  If God predetermines and causes evil, why think God is good at all, let alone that he has “good purposes” for the evil and suffering he himself causes?  Chris’ thinking as to the necessity of determinism here is not clear to me nor has Chris explained himself on these matters.

            So in effect, for some reason Chris thinks that God’s “good purposes” are somehow inherent in evil acts, and these evil acts have to be brought about by God for these “good purposes” to be realized.  But good things can come about from the “hands off” approach as Chris himself admits.  God can bring about the same good purposes without God having to predetermine and cause the evil acts.  So it seems to me that in each of the different views we have come around to the same Romans 8:28 result – God works things for the good of those who love him.  So Chris’ view seems to get us no further than the “hands off approach” with respect to being assured that God can work out “good things” or “good purposes” from these acts of evil and from the suffering we experience. In order for God to do so he need not predetermine and cause the evil and suffering.

            But there seems to be a distinct advantage to the “hands off approach,” which as Leighton points out is a mischaracterization of the non-Calvinist position because God is not “hands off” in the sense that he is not involved at all.  “Hands off” divine impotence or “hands on” divine determinism is a false dichotomy.  The advantage of the “hands off” non-deterministic approach is that it does not impugn the character of God by making him the author of all evil and the one responsible for all evil acts.  Chris maintains that God’s good purposes depend upon God foreordaining and causing all evil and all evil acts.  As Leighton points out, it is hard to see how this does not indict God in evil, make him the author of evil and therefore evil himself.  And this “hands off” view seems to be more reflective of reality as we know and experience it and more accurately cohere with the witness of the Scriptures to the character of God and our moral intuitions than proposing God to be the determiner and cause of all evil acts and yet denying that he is the author of evil and moreover stating the opposite that “…the Calvinist God [is] beautiful and compelling, not monstrous and terrible.”  “Compelling?”  Yes.  But “beautiful?”  How so?

            Indeed, we can argue that comfort and purpose in evil and suffering evaporates given “meticulous divine providence.”  After all, if God is causing these evils and sufferings, what is there to think that he has anything but malevolent intentions towards us when we experience them?  Because you find the suffering more tolerable and you experience peace?   But this is a frail reed, and you may not even be among the elect, for even Calvin admits that,

               “God certainly bestows His Spirit of regeneration only on the elect…But I do not see that this is any reason why he should not touch the reprobate with a taste of His grace, or illumine their minds with some glimmerings of His light, or affect them with some sense of his goodness, or to some extent engrave His Word in their hearts.  Otherwise where would be that passing faith which Mark mentions (4:17)?  Therefore, there is some knowledge in the reprobate, which later vanishes away.”[19]

            On Calvinism, there is no reason to think God hasn’t got evil intentions for people in the evil and suffering he brings upon them.  On theistic determinism things just are what God has decreed and causes them to be.  They cannot be otherwise.  But what purpose they serve is left a mysterious unknown to us.  And the person who does evil could not have done otherwise.  The person who presently believes in theistic determinism and the person who presently does not, cannot believe differently.  For who can change what God has decreed?  It is a fact that we cannot be sure of that decree with respect to ourselves or anyone else – whether it is for life or for death – until time has passed us by.  Indeed, we have two very different Gods being presented here.

            Therefore, it is an interpretive issue of mammoth proportions how one person can read the Bible and interpret divine sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism and the other person interpret divine sovereignty apart from theistic determinism.  It is an even more astounding phenomenon as to how the theistic determinist sees no interpretive significance in the negative logical and moral entailments of that determinism, while the other person sees all these as interpretively significant, and indicative of the fact that the determinist has misinterpreted of Scripture on the matter of divine sovereignty.  It is perplexing how the non-Calvinist can view the Calvinist God as the author of evil and as such monstrous, terrible and untrustworthy, while the Calvinist comes to the opposite conclusion and sees the God of universal divine causal determinism as “beautiful and compelling” and “more beautiful than the non-Calvinist God.”  Hence, what we have in this controversy is a crisis of logical and moral reasoning in hermeneutics.

            Therefore, it seems to me that Calvinists do not take the logical and moral implications of their determinism seriously enough in relation to determining the validity of their interpretations.  But if the Bible teaches us that God is good, loving, kind, compassionate, holy and separate from evil; that he has no evil within him and therefore cannot instigate or tempt people to do evil or do evil himself, and if Calvinists would substantially agree with this, and if God’s goodness is akin to our conception of what constitutes goodness, then the non-Calvinist’s arguments have weight by virtue of pointing out the negative logical and moral entailments of the Calvinist’s views.  And as such, Calvinists would either have to go back to the text to interpret it in a coherent manner or maintain that interpretive coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are ultimately hermeneutically insignificant.  For instance, if Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” entails believing things about God that are incoherent, inconsistent or in contradiction with other biblical observations and interpretations regarding the nature of evil, human responsibility and the character of God, then this is either hermeneutically significant or it is not.

            In that Calvinism has been adequately vetted and shown to contain incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions, the subsequent matter of the implications of these logical and moral difficulties for interpretive validity need to be pursued.  The discussion needs to be brought into the arena of hermeneutics.  We need to be asking how we determine interpretive validity.  Does it have anything to do with the interpretive coherence, consistency and non-contradiction?

Evil and Evil Acts: Can God be Their Cause?

            Let me raise some questions here that those who are more philosophically informed may be able to help us answer or correct as necessary.

            Chris mentioned that “the acts in and of themselves are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.”  How is it then that what we all perceive and describe as “just pure, terrible evil” suddenly becomes something different when assigned to God as having predetermined and caused it to occur?  Furthermore, if these evil acts are evil “in and of themselves” then how can a God who is absolutely good be the cause of them?  Does universal divine causal determinism also require God to be the source of the evil?  If not, why not? Recall Chris said that, “my wife and I were able to grieve but trust in the goodness of God.”  Note that Chris is affirming that God is good and he can trust in that goodness.  Does this divine goodness accord with Chris’ definition of what is “good?”  If so, we take it that Chris would not say that acts which are “in and of themselves…purposeless, pointless, senseless; …just pure, terrible evil,” could originate from and be caused by a God who is good.  In other words, would Chris also affirm that God is perfectly, totally good?  If so, what would he say that perfect, total goodness entails?  Can a perfectly, totally good God predetermine and cause people to do evil?

            Moreover, for Chris, what God’s goodness translates into is that the evil and suffering he and his wife experienced will have “good purposes.”  He states that he could trust in the goodness of God, “because we knew God had good purposes in the miscarriage that we believe that he had foreordained.”  But it is one thing to know and be assured that God has “good purposes” for the evil and suffering we go through and quite another to claim that God predetermined and caused that evil and suffering.  It is one thing to say that because God is perfectly good we know he has good purposes in evil and suffering and quite another to seemingly negate that very claim of the perfect goodness of God by also saying that God predetermined and caused that evil and suffering.  We also note, therefore, that a miscarriage, as terrible as that is, is not a murder, rape or child abuse, all of which Chris is also ascribing to God in his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  The problematic nature of what we assign to God as source and cause depends upon the nature of the occurrence we are labeling as “evil.”  For instance, God’s judgment meted out on nations and even his own people Israel may include “evil,” but surely we mean this in a different sense than the claim that God predetermines and causes our everyday varieties of murder, rape, and child abuse.

            I presume that Chris’s confidence that good would come of his suffering was grounded in his belief that God is perfectly good.  But then his theistic determinism negates that perfect goodness by implicating God in that evil and suffering as being the very cause of it.  And I submit that this is the mistake Chris has made here as well as in the passages he has chosen to prove his “meticulous divine providence.”  He presupposes his determinism and then reads the passages accordingly.  They are examples of eisegesis, not exegesis.

            According to Chris, a perfectly good God can and needs to bring about pure, terrible evil and suffering so that for those whom he predetermined to experience this pure, terrible evil and suffering – those who love God or believers – he might bring to pass the “good purposes he had in mind” for them.  This seems to me to be a non-sequitur. It seems seriously misconceived as to the nature of God’s goodness and him being the cause of evil and suffering and what it means for him to bring about his good purposes and for whom.  But I think that we can see that this is Chris’ only option.  This is the result of his a priori belief in theistic determinism.  I call it the vortex of determinism.  It causes a dizzying effect of incoherence on all that comes within its maelstrom – which is everything.  Those who embrace it can never escape the incoherence it forces upon them in one way or another.

            For instance, if acts of evil are evil “in and of themselves,” that is, ontologically, and God predetermines and causes all things, then Chris has God as the author of evil acts that “in and of themselves are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.”  Therefore, it seems to me that Chris is attempting to change the nature of the evil acts to something different by virtue of God bringing to pass “good purposes” from them.  And for God to do that he has had to predetermine and cause the evil acts.  But I do not see how this follows.  The nature of evil, and therefore evil acts, does not change simply by having God predetermine and cause them to occur and because he has “good purposes in mind.”  And if Chris admits evil acts don’t change their nature as “just pure, terrible evil,” then it would seem that a God who is perfectly good cannot predetermine and cause them.  And if that is the case, then it seems Chris would have to agree that we are left with God bringing “good purposes” from the evil acts because it is free creatures which cause them and that would require Chris to hold to some form of the “hands off” approach he rejected.

            A God as perfectly good and as sovereign as the God of the Bible can bring good things out of evil and suffering without having to predetermine and cause them.  What a God as perfectly good and as sovereign as the God of the Bible cannot do is predetermine and cause evil acts that “in and of themselves are purposeless, pointless, senseless; they’re just pure, terrible evil.”  The Bible says these are caused by the freely chosen actions of Satan and men.  Evil and suffering, “in and of themselves,” can remain pointless, senseless and just pure, terrible evil and yet God can still work out his good purposes in spite of these evils and suffering.

            Therefore, we are back to the “hands off” approach, or rather sovereignty based in a freewill theodicy as an intellectually, morally and biblically sufficient explanation for the comfort and peace believers can have in the midst of evil and suffering.  That is, God allows the evil to occur and then by virtue of all that he is as to his nature and attributes, which include and inform his divine sovereignty, he brings about “good purposes” for those who he foreknew and even fore-loved, that is, those who believe. It is believers that are therefore predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

            Romans 8:28 comes to mind here.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (ESV). Or, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God…” (HCSB) The idea here is one of “ultimate good.” But this verse and its context is not in accord with theistic determinism because there is nothing in the verse – even given certain nuances of meaning – that indicates that God predetermines and causes “all things,” especially evil things and suffering.[20]  In the context the “all things” refers to the particular sufferings of those believers Paul is writing to.  And it is to be noted that the words “to those who love God” set an effective limit to the scope of “all things” working together for good. 

            Paul provides assurance that God is at work in and through the sins that are being committed against these believers for the good of their salvation.  It is not that God has had to predetermine and cause the suffering his people are experiencing for him to be able to accomplish “good purposes.”  It is that God allows the evil to occur because of the way he determined the world should operate with genuine human freedom.  And as such this included the possibility of evil.  But God makes this evil subservient to his authority and will.  “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.”  In this he cannot fail.  He rules and reigns over all things.  That is the nature of his sovereignty.  That is the message and assurance Paul gives in Romans 8.  This is a tremendous comfort to suffering believers. And it is all the more comforting as consistent with knowing that God is good and loving, not the predeterminer and cause of “pure, terrible evil.”  To state that God is sovereign over the affairs of men does not entail that God predetermines and causes every meticulous detail of what occurs.  It is the type of sovereignty that affirms God is free to create free creatures that have fallen into sin and do evil against one another. But God takes this evil and employs it to the benefit of the salvation of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose of mercy that he offers to everyone in Christ. He employs this suffering for their formation into the image of Christ.  This free choice of God to create such a world is not a threat to his sovereignty. Rather, this sovereignty which grounds the “we know that…” of Romans 8:28.

            The Scriptures and reality certainly seem to bear out this view.  I see no reason why God would be less than sovereign if we deny theistic determinism when we consider that God is at work in this finite world by the perfect interaction of the full complement of his infinite attributes.  And I would just ask Chris what he thinks he would be losing or sacrificing if he were to give up his deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.  The biblical record testifies to a dynamic, living, personal God, not a monergistic entity that overwhelms all else with his own will.  He has created his human creatures in his image, not with absolute freedom but substantial freedom, and has placed his human creatures in a world in which existence is dynamic, not static; contingent, not fated.   I think in light of the biblical witness to indeterminacy Chris would have to give up his determinism.  But here’s the crucial point.  He would have to do so only if he takes logical and moral coherence on board in his hermeneutic.  He would have to do so only if he considers logical and moral coherence to be essential for the interpretive task and necessary and reliable for determining valid from invalid interpretations.  But the Calvinist does not accept that their interpretations of Scripture are subject to the deliberations and deliverances of logical and moral reflection.

            So the theistic determinist has the problem of making sense out of God being absolutely good, yet causing evil so that he can accomplish good purposes for those he brings the evil upon.  Chris has led us to think that theistic determinism is necessary for there to be comfort for the believer in the midst of evil and suffering.  Chris believes that somehow God changes evil into “good purposes” by being the predeterminer and cause of the evil.  Put another way, Chris believes that for some reason God has to be the predeterminer and cause of the evil that those who love God suffer so that they may experience the “good purposes” God has for them. Why is that? I will try to answer this question below. But the point I want to make here is that if Chris is going to hold that God is perfect in his goodness, a different understanding of sovereignty is necessary so as not to indict God in evil, but again, he will only be concerned to do so if coherence is part and parcel of his hermeneutic.

            Therefore, the more plausible and biblical alternative seems to be that God, through the full complement of his attributes, e.g., wisdom, omniscience, goodness, sovereign power, etc., uses or employs, and even prevents and directs the evils men choose to do to those who love God, and God does this because he loves them. Those who believe are now “the people of God.” They are those who have been called by the gospel and have believed in his purpose of showing all mankind mercy and the way of salvation in Christ (Rom. 8-11).  It is true that “God works all things for the good of those that love him,” not that God predetermines and causes all things, even inflicting evil and suffering upon those who love him. Rather, “all things work together for the good of those who love God.” That is, even the experiences of evil and suffering will, together with all other things, work for the ultimate good of those who love God. That God predetermines and causes these “all things” is not the meaning of the passage in its context. Such an interpretation does not comport with what we know of God’s goodness from Scripture.

If Chris were asked why he holds to theistic determinism, I presume he would say because the Bible teaches it.  We do not want to hold to a theological doctrine merely because it provides subjective comfort to us, although if the doctrine is biblical it certainly may.  We want to believe it because Scripture teaches it.  But if consistency, coherence and non-contradiction are tell-tale signs of correct interpretation then it seems that Chris’ theistic determinism doesn’t pass the test.  Therefore, we have to conclude that Chris holds to theistic determinism despite its logical and moral difficulties, which is to say he holds to a hermeneutic of incoherence.

            Can this good God do evil?  Chris says yes.  I will treat below the example of the crucifixion of Jesus that Chris provides as supporting his position.  But first let’s examine Chris view from his subjective motivations and personal search for meaning and purpose in suffering. Perhaps this has influenced his understanding of the relation between God, man, evil and suffering.

Subjective Motivations for Adopting Theistic Determinism

            So, is theistic determinism necessary on biblical grounds, especially when Chris has admitted that the comfort that comes from God bringing “good purposes” out of evil and suffering doesn’t require God to have predetermined all things?  The “hands off” theology did not prevent God from bringing about good purposes through the evil and suffering of believers experience. Reflecting on all of the above and the implausibility of theistic determinism, we are left wondering if Chris’ explanation and testimony as to the comfort that arises in knowing that “good purposes” can be brought about from evil acts only if God has predetermined and caused them, is an explanation concocted to justify an a priori commitment to theistic determinism rather than making it clear how theistic determinism is required for “pure, terrible evil” to have “good purposes.”  I say “only if God has predetermined and caused those evil acts,” because even though Chris has already stated that God does not have to predetermine and cause evil acts for him to bring about good things from them, the fact that he insists on this distinction being made with respect to these “good purposes” tells us that he believes that the only way we can properly understand the relationship between God, evil and suffering and “good purposes” is through theistic determinism.  The inconsistency in these positions aside, according to Chris, theistic determinism does a superior job in bringing about God’s “good purposes.”

            But if Chris’ view does not provide a coherent biblical account of God, evil, suffering and “good purposes,” but “the hands off” view can provide more coherence among all the data that needs to be accounted for in dealing with this issue then why isn’t the non-Calvinist Provisionist view deemed the more accurate interpretation here?  What seems to be the problem?  I suspect that the problem is one of static theological traditionalism rather than delineating a sound hermeneutic that reflects a high view of Scripture as to both its inspiration and authority.  The ability of the Calvinist to dismiss logical and moral reasoning in interpretation indicates that their deterministic definition of sovereignty will not be altered, even by Scripture.  It stands despite the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions it generates with the clear teachings of Scripture itself.  Chris is dealing with an a priori commitment to theistic determinism and therefore he needs some justifying rationale for it in light of the problems it has in explaining evil and suffering.  Chris has tried to make it that the only way evil and suffering take on meaning and purpose and work for good is if God predetermines and causes the evil and suffering.   But we can see how the determinism warps what supposedly provides its justification.  It turns God into the author of evil and evil himself.  The determinism also eliminates the meaning and purpose, not only of the suffering in that each person will react to it only in the manner that God has predetermined they do so, but all else in life is just a predetermined.  Determinism, especially with respect to our unknown eternal destinies, is hard to reconcile with our lives having genuine meaning and purpose.

            So we are also left wondering whether this theistic determinism provides a psychological framework for Chris to deal with the evils and sufferings that occur in his life rather than it being a coherent interpretation of the whole of the Scriptural witness regarding the nature of God, man, evil, suffering, salvation, etc.  Chris may be searching, and understandably so, for psychological comfort in dealing with his own personal experience of evil acts and suffering, including that of other friends and family, and so he feels the need for God to be in “absolute control” of this evil and suffering and therefore adopts the view that bestows upon God the most absolute control possible – theistic determinism.  Chris equates God’s ability to handle these evil events and translate them into something meaningful and purposeful in the life of the Christian, with determinism.  Chris shared that his wife had two miscarriages.  We sympathize with them.  Yet, the question is not so much whether God can bring to pass “good purposes” from the evils and sufferings we experience, for Chris already admitted that, but the question is whether or not theistic determinism is taught in Scripture.  The question becomes whether God actually foreordained and caused the miscarriages along with all other evils of all sorts in the world.  Chris says “…we knew God had good purposes in the miscarriage[s]…”, but was that because God actually did foreordain and cause them, or, because as Chris says, these were miscarriages “…we believe that he had foreordained?”  What is actually true and what we want to believe can be two very different things.  And if it is what Chris chooses to believe that we are dealing with here, then it may not be what Scripture teaches.  We must also ask how believing in determinism provided comfort and peace in the situation?  That is not clear at all. One might just as well find it terribly disturbing to think that God predetermined and caused their evil and suffering. This may not provide any comfort whatsoever for some believers.

            Of course it would be inappropriate to raise these theological issues when pastoral care and comfort is needed.  In the midst of the evil or suffering, if a person thinks and believes divine comfort is found in theistic determinism then any question about the truth of that belief needs to be left for another time or a forum such as this.

            So I think there is a vast difference in definition and conception of “the sovereignty of God” between God allowing evils to occur and bringing “good purposes” from those experiences, and God causing evils to occur whenever and wherever they occur on the basis that he has predetermined them so that the “good purposes” that the evil acts contain can be realized.  Why would allowing or permitting them preclude God’s ability to bring about “good purposes” from them?   Why would the necessity that God predetermine and cause them to occur be required for him to be able to bring about “good purposes” from them?  Ironically, he has already brought about an evil purpose in predetermining and causing the evil.  Why would the necessity of having God causing evil acts assure anyone that he has “good purposes” in them, unless they just presuppose this as a subjective comfort for themselves?  Is God less sovereign apart from holding to a doctrine of universal divine causal determinism? 

            Again, the two alternatives the Calvinist presents to us – “hands-off” with God being caught off guard, helpless and unable to accomplish his plans and purposes, or, universal divine causal determinism, is a false dichotomy.  We can stand on the word of comfort Paul gives in Rom. 8:28, because we know God is not the cause of the evils and suffering we experience but neither is he helpless before the free choices made by evil men.  We can confidently maintain that God has morally sufficient reasons to permit evil.  We cannot say with any confidence that God has morally sufficient reasons to predetermine and cause the “purposeless, pointless, senseless” and just “pure, terrible evil” Chris is talking about here.  Chris emphatically states that “God doesn’t let those things happen, he ordains them to happen because he has good purposes in them.” The link between God’s predetermination of the miscarriages and the good purposes he has in them is a non-sequitur. This determinism is something Chris and his wife choose to believe about their miscarriages and any good purposes that might come from them, but I for one fail to see any necessity between the two. As such, it is the way Chris is compelled to process the events as a Calvinist. But we can see how Chris’ determinism raises the logical inconsistency of a perfectly good God being the author of evil and evil himself.  But if we say God has morally sufficient reasons to permit evil, then these problems don’t surface.  God’s character is not impugned by transferring the evil directly to himself by a “meticulous divine providence.”  Neither is there any threat to his sovereignty.  Furthermore, when the Calvinist asserts “secondary causes” and that God works his predeterminations through “means,” on determinism these do not relive God of being ultimately responsible for the evil.  And it is in accord with Scripture and the freedom he granted mankind to allow evil to occur that makes it very likely that we will experience that evil at some time or another.  And that is the point of the promise of Romans 8:28. He will work all these things for good. But it is not in accord Scripture or the character of God to be the predeterminer and cause evil.

            So Chris is saying that God brings an evil thing to pass and in that evil thing “good purposes” lay.  But what other implications, indeed logical and moral entailments, come along with this claim?  It seems that once the move is made to causal determinism, a Pandora’s Box of logical and moral incoherence is opened.[21]  Not only do we lose sight of a good God as we know goodness and therefore God becomes as C. S. Lewis put it, “we know not what,” but our assurance of the nature of our relationship to God as one of love and a kind disposition towards each and every one of us, and having our ultimate eternal good in mind, is lost to us because we cannot be sure that the God who predetermines and causes evil and evil acts is really a good God.

            Therefore, all those who believe in theistic determinism, including Chris and his wife, have to presuppose God desires to be good to them – that God has “good purposes” in this life for them and has elected them to salvation and eternal life.  But given their soteriological “doctrines of grace” that teach unconditional election – a doctrine which transfers the knowledge of the love of God and the provision and assurance of salvation for every sinner by beholding Christ and the cross, to a decision of God made in eternity past which is accessible to no one – Chris and his wife do not and cannot know that they have salvation.  They can only presuppose their own unconditional election.  In this sense, practical Calvinist soteriology is largely based on wishful thinking.

            So the crucial difference between these views is that Chris’ view does something that Leighton points out should not and cannot be done, that is, make God the author of evil and responsible for evil acts.  And as Leighton points out, the “hands off” approach that Chris presumes is the only other option to theistic determinism is a mischaracterization of the non-Calvinist position.

            So there is a third option that we believe is the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty.  It is one in which God involves himself personally in what goes on in the world to accomplish his plans and purposes for mankind’s redemption. He does whatever he pleases.  His will prevails wherever and in whatever he has determined to accomplish.  No one and nothing can thwart his plans and purposes.  He works all things according to the counsel of his own will.  And among the several strengths this view of sovereignty holds forth is that the biblical witness can be coherently read and interpreted in contrast to the incoherence of universal divine causal determinism (Calvinism).  We would all agree that divine sovereignty means God can do as he pleases, except make square circles, married bachelors, murder, rape, lie, cheat or steal.  But, according to Chris, he can do at least the evils mentioned.  He can murder, rape, lie, cheat and steal.  Oh, of course Chris will object that God doesn’t “physically” commit the evil acts.  But to raise that point would be a red-herring to divert our attention from the issue of responsibility.  Of course God doesn’t physically commit the evil act, but he does employ “secondary causes” like you and me that he effectually and irresistibly causes to do the evil acts which he wills to be done.  God provides “means” by which he accomplishes the “ends” which his will and his will alone has predetermined to occur.  So these “secondary causes” and “means” do nothing to relieve the Calvinist’s predicament of divine responsibility for the evil acts that are “in and of themselves” evil.  Calvinist determinism presents an insurmountable problem not only for our logical reasoning and moral intuitions but what we know from a plain reading of Scripture about the nature of God.  This is substantial evidence that Calvinism is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures on these matters.  It seems to confirm that the Calvinist exegesis has been untethered from the logical and moral reasoning necessary to properly interpret Scripture and therefore the Calvinist has adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence which places their interpretations beyond rational and moral critique.

            Interestingly, in identifying the acts as evil, Chris is implicitly affirming God’s perfect goodness and that God is the standard of goodness and that Chris knows what that goodness looks like.  Unless we know God is good and we know what constitutes that goodness, we would have no reliable concept or absolute standard by which to determine what is evil.  And God, by definition, must be perfectly good; a being in which no evil exists.  He must be that standard.  He is perfect in goodness.  He is omnibenevolent because that is what is entailed of his nature for him to be God.  God, as the greatest conceivable being, must be omnibenevolent or all good.  But if God is the standard of good by which we know something to be evil, and Chris seems to affirm God’s goodness, yet his theistic determinism reverses this knowledge and affirmation in having God as the author and cause of evil, presenting God in the way we know good not to be defined, then we are left in a confusion.  We do not consider or designate someone, who causes another to sin – say perform a murder or rape – “good.”  We have every reason to think that is especially applies to God.  And as Leighton pointed out, proposing “secondary causes” does nothing to alleviate Chris’ problem here for God also predetermined those “secondary causes.”

            So it seems to me that Chris is trying to personally reckon with his personal experience of evil and suffering, but his theistic determinism has God being and doing things God cannot be and do.  Therefore, this determinism only plunges Chris deeper into a vortex of logical and moral incoherence.  Universal divine causal determinism is untenable logically, morally, exegetically and theologically.

Chris’ Personal Search for Purpose and Meaning in the Midst of Evil and Suffering Revisited

            According to Chris, it is only if God predetermines and causes evil acts that they take on meaning, sense and good purpose.  According to Chris this makes the suffering “all the more tolerable, and we’re able to have peace in the midst of it because we know God has good purposes in mind.”  But in having thought about whether theistic determinism is necessary for us to be assured that “God has good purposes in mind” or can bring about good purposes from evil acts, I suggested that theistic determinism doesn’t help in this regard but only makes matters worse.  I therefore suggested that Chris is reading his own traditional theological determinism and personal psychological “necessity” into the text because of the comfort determinism offers him without carefully considering the negative logical and moral entailments of determinism that Leighton points out throughout the program.  I argued that Chris has not considered the role coherence, consistency and non-contradiction play in determining the validity of one’s exegesis and interpretation.

            What Chris seems to require is the ontological passing along of evil acts onto God to give them meaning and purpose.  It’s only when God has determined and caused the evil acts that they take on good purposes.  But is this something Chris requires from his own subjective perspective for evil to be “tolerable” and for him to have “peace” in the midst of suffering?  Is this something that is required of his a priori traditional Calvinist theology?  What is entailed in this view is that God has predetermined this suffering for me in the sense that he is actively causing it to happen to me and therefore it is “tolerable” and I can have “peace” about it. So Chris seems to be seeking emotional and intellectual refuge in the fact that whatever comes from God, because it comes from a God who is good, becomes “tolerable” and allows us to have “peace” in our suffering and evil. But Chris also seems to be making God out to be the source, author and cause of evil, and as such this God conflicts with the God of goodness which is necessary for the tolerance and peace that this knowledge about God brings in the midst of his experiences of suffering and evil. Whatever comes from God must be good because Chris believes God is good, and yet, due to his determinism, Chris has that same God as the author, source and cause of the evil and suffering he is experiencing. His universal divine causal determinism seems to conflict with and diminish the claims regarding the good purposes and comfort one gets in the midst of suffering and evil on the basis that God is good. Claims made by determinists about the goodness of God from which they are supposed to derive comfort, also include the fact that God is not good, for their determinism requires that he is also the source, author and cause of their evil and suffering.

            Chris acknowledges that there is a “purposelessness,” “pointlessness” and “senselessness” to the “pure, terrible evil” people experience, yet his determinism places all this at God’s doorstep.  But can God produce anything that is “purposeless,” “pointless” and “senseless?”  Can such “pureevil come from a purely holy and good God?  Take the physical abuse and rape of a little child for instance.  Don’t our moral intuitions tell us that this is “just pure terrible evil” and that as such it is not something God predetermines and causes to occur?  But according to Chris God did predetermine and cause the abuser to do what they did.  And the rationale Chris gives for believing this is so that the evil act might have “good purposes” and that at some point the victim will see the good purpose for which God brought this evil upon them.  According to Chris it is the fact that God predetermined and caused it to occur that makes what happened “tolerable” and enables the victim to find “peace.”

            But this seems to me to be misconceived precisely because it runs counter to what we are told about God’s goodness and holiness in Scripture and what we are told about the sinful nature of man.  It seems that Scripture requires from us some form of human freedom, responsibility and culpability in the context of the effects of sin as the better explanation of these evil acts, while also requiring that the nature of God makes it that he cannot be the determiner and cause of such evil.  A free will theodicy seems the more biblical explanation of all the biblical and experiential data that needs to be accounted for here.

            Now, is it not the case that the evil act has purpose, sense and meaning as far as the evil doer is concerned, that is, the evil act fulfills a perverted sexual desire (rape), to get revenge (murder), to enrich one’s self (theft), etc.  If this is so, then Chris’ theistic determinism has God causing these evil senses, meanings and purposes within the evil doer.  God predetermines and causes whatever fulfillment, purpose and meaning that the evil doer finds in performing the evil act.  If there is such a thing as “pure, terrible evil” and it has its own evil meaning and purpose and fulfillment, then on determinism God is the source or author, the active cause and ultimately responsible for that evil’s meaning and purpose and fulfillment.  He is the source, the cause and the one responsible for the evil meaning and the evil purpose.  The good purposes have yet to come about.  But is it really biblically credible that this is the case with God?  Both the prior evil purposes and meanings as well as the good purposes and meanings yet to come, Chris assigns to God as a result of his determinism.  The determinism requires the former evil meanings and evil purposes as well as the latter good meanings and purposes.  It is all of God. But again, is this really biblically credible or is it just an example of an a priori determinism running roughshod over Scripture and reality as we know it?  It is one thing to focus on the good purposes God brings out of evil, but it is quite another to acknowledge that on determinism it is God who produces the base, evil purposes, base, evil intentions and base, evil meanings that are in the mind and heart of the evildoer. That is precisely what Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view requires.

            Furthermore, the promise of “good purposes” coming out of suffering is limited to “those who love him.”  Therefore, what “good purposes” is God obligated to bring out of the evil acts he causes to perpetrate upon a victim who is an atheist unbeliever who cares nothing of God as well as the one he causes to do the evil act?  Are the purposes of God for these people purely evil?  Since there are no “good purposes” promised to these unbelievers, are the evils and sufferings God brings upon them, evil acts that are “in and of themselves…purposeless, pointless, senseless; …just pure, terrible evil?”

            Therefore, we must ask what role theistic determinism plays in the minds and hearts of those that embrace it.  According to Chris, only when God foreordains and causes these evils do they have the possibility to take on “good purposes.”  But his determinism places in doubt the very goodness of God upon which the suffering and evil is supposed to gain meaning and good purpose. For it is this same God that determines the evil and suffering. It seems that we must say that they become purposeful divine evils. So the subjective need to have acts of suffering and evil make sense within the context of an a priori determinism face some serious problems.   

Now, it seems Chris is requiring three things from us that amount to quite a logical and moral stretch with respect to what we do know about God from Scripture.

1. First he is requiring us to think about what it could possibly mean for God, who we know is good and holy, to foreordain and cause persons to do evils like rape, murder, adultery, lying, child abuse, etc.

2. Secondly, he is requiring us to think that although a good and holy God foreordains and causes people to do evil, yet he is in no sense responsible for the evil being done.

3. Thirdly, Chris is requiring us to think about how we can even possibly conceive of, or what it could possibly mean, to think that when God foreordains evil it becomes purposeful evil?

            In reference to the first requirement above, how does the proposition that God foreordains all the evil thoughts and actions in the world cohere with the character of God as good and holy, which Chris would also affirm.  This is the problem that both Justin and Leighton have with Chris’ view.  It is the problem of Chris’s theology being logically and morally incoherent.  For Justin and Leighton this has hermeneutical significance, that is, it indicates that at some point Chris has misinterpreted the text.

            With reference to the second requirement, how is it that we are supposed to think coherently about God foreordaining and causing people to do evil and for him not to be responsible for that evil?  Here is another incoherence that Chris’ theology produced and was the grounds for Leighton’s objections here.  It is hard to see how Chris’ view does not run counter to what we know of the character of God and does not make God out to be the author of evil and responsible for it.  This is a problem that for Leighton has interpretive significance, but not so for Chris.

            As to the third issue regarding purpose, Chris is asking us to think that only divine determinism endows evil with “purpose.”  But does evil itself need to be endowed with purpose?  It is even possible for evil, in and of itself, to have good purpose?  Does it have any ontological status or is it merely the deprivation of good?  Moreover, does God need to be the cause of a specific evil for it to serve some purpose in the divine economy and under God’s sovereignty, goodness, love, grace, mercy and salvation?  Isn’t God about the salvation of persons from the power of sin and the devil who is the one ultimately responsible for evil and whose was the cause of mankind’s fall into sin in conjunction with man’s willful rebellion against God so that man also now does evil things?  What coherent place is there for a “meticulous divine providence” that has God predetermining the very sin he is combating in Christ on the cross and in us by his Holy Spirit.  As Leighton pointed out, God would be redeeming the evil and sin he himself has ordained and caused to occur in the world, and that seems absurd.  Surely Chris sees this problem, but it does not have hermeneutical significance to him as to the validity of his interpretations.

            Chris maintains that the comprehensive spectrum of all the evil that persons perform is due to the fact that God has ordained them to do so.  C. S. Lewis came to conclude that God could not be the source evil and suffering.  At the death of his wife Joy, Lewis struggled with understanding the nature of God’s goodness in light of suffering, death and grief.  He reviewed the options open to him so to speak and asked the following probing questions.

               “Or could one seriously introduce the idea of a bad God, as it were by the back door, through a sort of extreme Calvinism? You could say we are fallen and depraved.  We are so depraved that our ideas of goodness count for nothing; or worse than nothing – the very fact that we think something good is presumptive evidence that it is really bad.  Now God has in fact – our worst fears are true – all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty.  But all these blacks (as they seem to us) are really whites.  It’s only our depravity that makes them look black to us.

               And so what?  This, for all practical (and speculative) purposes sponges God off the slate.  The word good, applied to Him, becomes meaningless: like abracadabra. We have no motive for obeying him.  Not even fear.  It is true we have his threats and promises.  But why should we believe them?  If cruelty is from his point of view “good,” telling lies may be “good” too.  Even if they are true, what then?  If His ideas of good are so very different from ours, what he calls “Heaven” might be what we should call Hell, and vice-versa.  Finally, if reality at its roots is so meaningless to us – or, putting it the other way round, if we are such total imbeciles – what is the point of trying to think either about God or about anything else?  This knot comes undone when you try to pull it tight.”[22]

            It certainly seems to make more sense to affirm that God can have a purpose for evil without having him be the source and cause of evil; that is, having intentionally brought it into the world and also be its cause in every single instance.  It certainly seems to make more sense to affirm the relationship between God, evil, suffering and the believer according to what Paul states in Romans 8:28,  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  This speaks about those who trust in God and have heard the gospel call and freely believed.  It was God’s purpose to call through the gospel both Jew and Gentile to salvation.  These believers are now experiencing suffering for their faith.  Here too, as Chris has said, “God has good purposes in mind.”  But Chris’ theistic determinism bogs him down in unnecessary confusion.  The sufferings of these believers has been brought about by God himself.  If according to Chris, when God foreordains and causes evil and suffering, he must also have evil purposes in mind.  That comes with the territory.  You cannot bring about good purposes through bringing about evil actions without also bringing evil purposes to pass.  To purpose good by causing evil is also to purpose evil.  This, a good and holy God cannot do.  But he can take the evil he allows to occur through Satan’s activities and the hands of wicked men and bring about his good purposes from that evil.

Where the Mystery Lies and Interpreting in Context Means Interpreting with Coherence

            Any mystery here would therefore lay, not in the assertion that God is good and yet predetermines and causes evil, but in how a good God does bring about good for those who love him from the evils in this world caused by Satan and evil men.  I submit that that is the biblical depiction of God’s sovereignty precisely because divine sovereignty is inextricably linked to the fullness of the divine character as also loving, compassionate, gracious, good, wise, holy and just.  Sovereignty need not, and indeed cannot, be understood merely as a universal divine causal determinism.  And that is the Calvinist’s mistake here.  It is to interpret apart from the concerns of context.  Context is inseparable from coherence.  Indeed, to interpret in such a way that the author’s statements and flow of thought are seen to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory is what it means to interpret in context.  Put it bluntly, assuming the author wrote coherently so as to be clearly understood, our interpretations should make sense.  Hence, it certainly makes more sense given the Scriptural witness to God’s final judgment of evil deeds that he is not also the cause of those evil deeds in the persons he will judge.  This would be another example of the incoherence inherent in Calvinist determinism.  And that reveals the hermeneutical divide once again.  Making sense or valuing coherence is essential to Justin’s and Leighton’s hermeneutic, but it is not essential to Chris’ hermeneutic. And Chris needs to be asked whether he believes logical and moral coherence are essential to sound hermeneutics and therefore reliable indicators of the validity of one’s interpretations.

            The Pauline perspective brings peace in the midst of suffering without introducing the idea that God has had to preordain that suffering.  The difference in the positions seems to reduce to the issue of the meaning and purpose of suffering and evil.  Whereas in Leighton’s position, if suffering and evil do not spring from the monergistic will of God who has predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass,” that does not mean that believers are left uncomforted and unsupported in the midst of evil and suffering.  They are to know that God is greater than these forces of evil which are causing their suffering and therefore he has the ability to work good out of “all things,” both as inflicted upon them by the morally evil acts of others and the natural evils they may experience.  For Leighton it is less plausible to accept the prospect that God has inflicted people with every form of evil and every form of suffering otherwise, as Chris maintains, they would have no purpose for those who believe.  God can employ evil and suffering to bring about good purposes without having to have ordained and caused them himself.  It does not follow that if God has not ordained and caused the evils that people commit that he is therefore rendered helpless with respect to bringing about good purposes for those believers who suffer from those evils.  God need not to have predestined and caused all evil for him have purposes for it.  The evil acts remain evil per se.  They need not and cannot be turned into something other than evil acts.  Therefore, God, the very God to whom we would go for comfort in the midst of evil and suffering cannot be the God who ordained and caused our suffering.  If that were the case the words of C.S. Lewis would ring true.

            “We have no motive for obeying him.  Not even fear.  It is true we have his threats and promises.  But why should we believe them?  If cruelty is from his point of view “good,” telling lies may be “good” too.  Even if they are true, what then?  If His ideas of good are so very different from ours, what he calls “Heaven” might be what we should call Hell, and vice-versa.”[23]

               But he is the God who is completely good and will ultimately judge the evil acts of men and will redeem the suffering of his believing children.

            We also need to be more nuanced and subtle with this question than the Calvinist allows.  Miscarriages are different than murders.  When God inflicts his judgment on evildoers which results in killing, suffering, captivity, etc., is that an “act of evil” on God’s part?  Is God doing “evil” when he destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, judges Pharaoh and the Egyptians or devastates Samaria and Jerusalem and sends his people into captivity?  My point is that not all “suffering” and “evil” is of the same type.  And it would be overly simplistic to say “See, God caused the Babylonians to sack Jerusalem.  Therefore God causes suffering and evil.”  I think we must ask whether this suffering is of a type that should also be described as God doing evil?  There is suffering that God plans should occur, even if he causes the Babylonians to do his will in the disciplining of Israel.  But that is different than the suffering that is gratuitously brought about by evil men acting contrary to the will of God.  Its purpose, for the one doing the evil, remains to do evil.  There is no reason to deny this.  To admit such does not reduce God’s ability to redeem that evil for his good purposes when and where he sees fit.  God commands people not to murder.  We take it therefore that the murderer is not doing to the will of God and therefore it could not have been God who willed, predetermined and caused the murderer to do what he did.  So the salient point the non-Calvinist is making is that on Calvinism it is the same God who commands the person not to murder who has also willed, predetermined and irresistibly caused the person to commit the murder. That makes no sense.

            And all this seems to be consistent with the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty and character as loving, just and good.  The fact that he is separate from evil is what it means for him to be a good and holy God.  There is no evil in him and he cannot do evil.  Men and demons do evil.  And although God has allowed for evil to come into play, such evil is not outside of God’s providential redeeming capability.  God is capable with respect to evil, not responsible for it.

            The believer’s peace is not dependent upon the circumstances they find themselves in.  It depends upon the character of the God in whom they trust.  God may provide present protection in this life from evil doers.  But if not, as for instance in the case of persecuted and martyred Christians, their peace is still secure because they know God is good and righteous.  He will execute his just punishments on all those evil doers, either in this life or at that great future judgment day when he will do away with all evil.

            The biblical position is that God allows humans, as fallen, sinful creatures, to do evil of their own free will.  Yet God works purposes from these acts as he sees fit and for whom he sees fit – namely those who he has designated to play a role in salvation history and those who believe on him in both the Old and New Testaments.  It is possible that senseless acts of pure, terrible evil remain just that for those upon whom they are perpetrated, and yet, these innocent victims will be vindicated when the evildoer is judged by God.  This too makes such evil acts “purposeful” with respect to the Christian worldview without impugning the character of God by implicating him in these acts of “pure, terrible evil.”

            Whatever the difficulties the non-Calvinist faces on these issues, I have attempted to show that “meticulous divine providence” is not a biblical concept.  Therefore, I submit that the biblical examples that Chris gives to support his “meticulous divine providence” view need not be interpreted as he interprets them and therefore need not support his “meticulous divine providence” view as he insists they do.  Let’s examine them next.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 7 / Acts 4:28

Acts 4:28 – “…To Do Whatever Your Hand and Your Plan/Will Had Predestined to Take Place”

            Acts 4:27-28 reads,

               “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (ESV) 

               “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place.” (CSB)

            Chris refers to the crucifixion of Jesus as an example of “meticulous divine providence” or God predetermining and thereby causing everything that occurs, even the evil actions of men.  Chris contends that the account of the crucifixion counters a common non-Calvinist objection against Calvinism – that God cannot predetermine evil.  Chris points to Acts 4:28 in support of his view that God does predetermine evil, for God predetermined the crucifixion which was the worst evil that could have been perpetrated – the killing of the innocent Son of God.

            Chris’ contention raises the question whether this verse regarding what God predestined to take place according to his “plan” or “will” requires the interpretation that God predetermined and caused all those persons involved to perpetrate all their evil deeds against Jesus as is required by Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence,” or, whether this verse can be read as God using “what he foreknew about their free choices as a means of working out his “plan” or “will.”[24]

            For instance, on a related passage in Acts, non-Calvinist scholar Jack Cottrell comments that,

               “Acts 2:23 is a perfect illustration of the way God works through his foreknowledge.  It says that Jesus was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” …Obviously the verse says nothing about a relationship of cause or dependence one way or the other.  It refers simply to predetermination and foreknowledge.  That is, the death of Jesus came about the way it did because of both these factors.  On the one hand, God had predetermined that Jesus would die as a propitiation for the sins of the world; this was his own unconditional plan for saving the world.  On the other hand, the details as to how this would be accomplished were planned in relation to God’s foreknowledge of the historical situation and of the character and choices of men such a Judas.  So at least in part we may say…that the predetermined counsel is dependent on the foreknowledge.”[25]

Cottrell also states,

               “It was God’s will or plan (boule) from the beginning that the Savior would be delivered up unto death; his foreknowledge of Judas’ character and inclinations enabled him to use the betrayer’s free choices to bring this about.”[26]

            Whether we agree with this alternative view or not, the point is that if it is a coherent view that is exegetically sound, it will be sufficient to counter Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view which suffers from incoherence.  And once it is shown that Chris’ view is incoherent, the way is open for either the people involved in the crucifixion to be the source of the evil doings and/or God’s role in the event to be other than deterministic as is required by Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”

            I submit that Leighton does show how Chris’ view is incoherent.  He states,

               “And so appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin, so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed, is an absurd and self-defeating argument.  And this is the question I’d have to pose.  Is God merely sovereignly working to bring about a redemption for the very sins he sovereignly worked to bring about?  Is Calvary about God cleaning up his own mess?”  (43:00 – 43:18)

            So when Chris tells us that it was God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin, but his “meticulous divine providence” also logically requires that God is the predeterminer and cause of all the sin and evil he is redeeming in Christ’s death on the cross, then Leighton’s question, “Is God merely sovereignly working to bring about a redemption for the very sins he sovereignly worked to bring about” is a good one and brings out the incoherence in Chris’ theology.  Chris’ view does seem to be absurd and self-defeating.

But I think Justin and Leighton should take the discussion to the next level and address how we know an interpretation to be valid. I would like the discussion to probe deeper into the hermeneutical issues involved here. That is, whether or not coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are indicative of valid exegesis and interpretations and vice versa. The point I would like to see addressed is whether a) Chris will affirm the incoherence of his position that Leighton has pointed out, and if so, how he would explain that incoherence to be hermeneutically and exegetically legitimate, and b) if Chris does not affirm any incoherence in his position, what response does he give to Leighton’s critique to show there is not incoherence. What needs to be discussed and decided is whether or not incoherence, inconsistency and/or contradictions within one’s interpretations and theological conclusions are sure signs that those interpretations and theological conclusions are not valid expressions of the meaning of the text. If coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are indicative of interpretive validity, and Chris’ exegesis and interpretations can be shown to be incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory, as Leighton attempts to do here, then we all must conclude, including Chris, that his exegesis and interpretations that he believes support his “meticulous divine providence” view are invalid. If Chris refuses to acknowledge the indispensability of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction to the exegetical task and for coming to valid interpretive conclusions, then he has to justify his hermeneutic of incoherence.

            Furthermore, Chris’ view requires more than the divine predetermination and causality that we read of in this account.  Given Chris’ definition of “meticulous divine providence,” he would have to show not only that every act in this event of the crucifixion was predetermined and caused by God – something the non-Calvinist might readily concede – but that all the evil acts of everyone throughout all time were also predetermined and caused by God.  I don’t think Chris can do this, especially not on the basis of Scripture.  Therefore, if it can be shown that even one act – evil, good, or otherwise – cannot be coherently subsumed under Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view, that is, that it can be convincingly shown that at least one act in the totality of human history was not predetermined and caused by God, then Chris’ view fails.  I submit that the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is sufficient to defeat Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”

            So the comprehensive determinism of Chris’ view fails on at least three counts.  a) We can point to instances in which a coherent reading of the text indicates that God did not predetermine and cause what is recorded for us.  What occurs is certainly the result of the free actions of human beings contrary to the will of God.  b) Chris’ view impugns the character of God making him the author and cause of evil.  And c) Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” results in the absurdity of God predetermining and bringing to pass all sin and evil in all the world, including that of the crucifixion, and then dying on the cross to redeem the sin and evil he predetermined and brought to pass.  This is Leighton’s point and he thinks this is self-defeating.

            So here is the fundamental question.  Is Chris’ interpretation regarding “meticulous divine providence” valid if it proves to be incoherent, absurd and self-defeating?  This raises the hermeneutical issue of whether or not incoherence in one’s interpretation speaks to the invalidity of one’s exegesis of the text. And this is the discussion that needs to be had to get at the heart of this controversy and it’s resolution.

            Therefore, given the incoherence of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence,” might there be a better interpretation of the text that does not land us in incoherence, absurdity and a self-defeating interpretation?  Why does this text demand Chris’ interpretation?  I don’t think it does.  The better interpretation would be the one that is exegetically sound and doesn’t land us in the logical and moral morass that Chris’ view generates.  In other words, coherence should be taken on board in one’s hermeneutic.  Leighton values coherence.  Chris does not.  And that is the fundamental hermeneutical divide between them that enables Chris to maintain his interpretation no matter what logical or moral objections Leighton brings against it.  But until the hermeneutical issue of how we are to determine the validity of one’s interpretations is raised, and an in-depth discussion is had in which the Calvinist is confronted with the implications of their incoherence as determinative of the invalidity of their interpretations, the non-Calvinist will continue to point out the incoherence of Calvinism and the Calvinist will continue to ignore it.

            So, does Acts 4:28 tell us about God’s sovereignty and divine providence?  Certainly.  Does it speak of God’s predestined plan?  Certainly.  But there is nothing in this confession of these first century believers that need be taken as their affirming universal divine causal determinism.

            As it is so often with the interpretation of a difficult passage, we are dealing with establishing of a cumulative case for or against a position.  Here is where context is crucial.  We must interpret such passages in light of other clear biblical narratives and teachings (e.g., Acts 2:21, 23, 37-41; 3:17-26; 4:11-12, 23-31; 5:1-11; 7:39, 42-43, 51-53; esp. chps. 10 – 15; 16:30-31; 17:27, 30; 28:23-28), and well established doctrines.  Considering all this information with a mind towards logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction, it seems to me that the non-Calvinist view offers the better interpretation of passages like Acts 4:28.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 8 / Genesis 24

The Answered Prayer of Abraham’s Servant and Chris’ Fantastic Claim

            Chris says that the sovereignty debate usually focuses on texts that Calvinists believe explicitly state God predetermines the future.  But what Chris wants to present here is a passage in which “meticulous divine providence” is implicit in the historical situation the passage records.  Chris maintains that in Genesis 24, the way the account of the prayer of Abraham’s servant who was sent to find a wife for Isaac is fulfilled, implicitly demonstrates “meticulous divine providence” at work. Chris states,

               “It’s easy to overlook the great number of acts of human agency that must have been involved in fulfilling the servant’s request.” (18:45 – 18:51)

            Chris then provides a long list of prior events and their timing that he says must have happened just as they did for the answer to the servant’s prayer to occur as it did.  This seems to me to presuppose the truth of “meticulous divine providence” and read determinism into the events of this account.  We must ask why Chris’ comprehensively deterministic explanation of the event is not question-begging.

            I will offer a simplified explanation of the account below.  But first we can ask whether Chris’ universal divine causal determinism can make sense, not only of this text, but the Scripture taken as a whole.  Chris states,

               “So my contention with this passage is that in this event we see God’s meticulous providence in action.  Here God has foreordained dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of acts of human agency, all carried out through years and years and  spanning generations such that Abraham’s servant would pray what he prayed when and where that he prayed it and that his request would be instantaneously granted.  That’s what I think this passage is demonstrating.” (19:41 – 20:11)

            But wait.  According to Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” God has ordained every act of “human agency” throughout all of human history.  Why then would Chris speak about God having “ordained dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of acts of human agency?”  It is inconsistent with his “meticulous divine providence” for him to speak of a limited amount, however large, of acts of “human agency” because Chris himself maintains that, “God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and that “he’s predetermined everything people will do.”  And if it be said that we are talking only about the number of events related to this incident, how do we know that a completely unrelated act of human agency wasn’t necessary and influential in some way for this incident to occur as it did? Indeed, perhaps every single human decision and act of human agency – right from Adam and Eve – has had a direct effect on every other decision and action that occurs. Chris adds,

               “All I’ll say is that, as I’ve said, here in this passage, there’s so many countless acts of human agency involved that must have been what they were.  It’s kind’a like the fine-tuning of the universe if you think about it.  If any one of these various decisions weren’t made in the way they were made, if there wasn’t some other decision made in its place that would make this event possible, you just wouldn’t see Abraham’s servant praying what he did when he did and having it fulfilled instantaneously when he prayed it unless all of these things happened in precisely the way that they did. (24:39 – 25:10)

            Chris speaks about “so many countless acts of human agency involved that must have been what they were,” and “if any one of these various decisions weren’t made in the way they were made… you just wouldn’t see Abraham’s servant praying what he did when he did and having it fulfilled instantaneously when he prayed it unless all of these things happened in precisely the way that they did.”  Now, why are these claims and conclusions what we must necessarily draw from this event recorded in this text?  Rather than “meticulous divine providence” being the explanation of what is happening, perhaps God is dynamically at work with free human agents in these particular events in the stream of salvation history so that his good and saving purposes will be accomplished.  That is, God is not necessarily statically watching what he predetermined and is causing to occur regarding all the actions of every person that has ever lived – which is what Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view requires.  For the non-Calvinist the more plausible way to view this passage is that God is at work in the situation in ways that we are not fully informed of, but a universal divine causal determinism is neither a necessary or viable explanation.

            After all, it is in this context and stream of salvation history where we would most likely find the divine hand at work.  But it need not involve an exhaustive regress of predeterminations so Abraham’s servant would identify Rebekah as a wife for Isaac.  There is a context to be considered here, both spiritual and historical.  God has chosen Israel as his people through which he will bring the Messiah.  God is therefore especially involved in directing and affirming the affairs of the patriarchs to that end.  He also has other purposes that he wills to accomplish through Israel, like revealing his character and commandments.  So it is not surprising to read of God’s special determinations and interventions in the lives of the patriarchs and their representatives who are sent on special missions related to this salvation history.

            But note carefully why Chris’ view is not tenable.  If, even within this salvation history in which God acts determinatively, there can be found accounts that clearly communicate even one instance of contingency, one instance of evil, one instance of human freedom that entails responsibility and culpability, even one instance in which it is obvious that God’s will has not been done or that God himself declares that what has happened is not his will, then “meticulous divine providence” fails as a biblical paradigm of divine sovereignty and Leighton’s paradigm still holds.  Granted, Chris and Calvinists attempt to maintain their theistic determinism despite the overwhelming witness in Scripture to a non-deterministic, contingent reality by putting forth “two wills in God,” “secondary causes” and compatibilism.  But all these can be seen for the frail reeds that they are.

            Therefore, what is at issue here is not whether or not it is God’s prerogative to predetermine particular actions of persons and particular historical events – the non-Calvinist admits this as Leighton stated in this program.  Rather, the problem is with the claim of a “meticulous divine providence,” that is, that God has predetermined the whole show, so to speak, along with the claim that the Bible actually supports such a view.  If that were so, each and every narrative account or didactic passage in the whole of Scripture would have to be able to be interpreted, either implicitly or explicitly as coherent, consistent, and in non-contradiction with “meticulous divine providence.”  This, of course, cannot be done, yet Chris, presupposing the truth of his “meticulous divine providence,” actually envisions this as a possibility.  I examine this claim in the next section.

Chris’ Futile Ph.D. Study

            After Chris finished explaining how all the events in this narrative and all of those leading up to it demonstrate God’s “meticulous divine providence,” Justin picks up on the implication of Chris’ view.  He says,

               “Ok.  And I suppose that kind of same rationale could be applied to all kinds of other stories across the whole of both the Old and New Testament.” (20:11 – 20:18)

To which Chris then responds,

               “That’s right. Exactly. I’ve often thought about doing my Ph.D. in Old Testament on specifically this issue – historical events in the Old Testament that seem to implicitly record God’s meticulous providence in action.”  (20;19 – 20:30)

            Justin astutely recognized an important implication of Chris’ explanation of the Genesis 24 account in light of Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”  Justin saw that on Chris’ view the same exhaustive chain of predetermined events would necessarily apply to everything that has ever occurred and therefore everything that is also recorded for us in Scripture.  This implication is not only absurd, it is unbiblical.  If “meticulous divine providence” is true, then what would this Ph.D. study reveal?  Where would it necessarily lead?  According to “meticulous divine providence,” every single historical event in the Old and New Testaments would either implicitly or explicitly record God’s “meticulous divine providence” in action?  “Meticulous divine providence,” by definition, logically requires that every passage confirm it in one way or another.  Nothing that we read in either the Old or New Testaments, could fail to record God’s “meticulous divine providence” in action because by definition “meticulous divine providence” extends to everything that has happened in all of history – including the present and the future – down to the minutest detail.  That, at least, includes all that is recorded in Scripture.  In effect, Chris is stating that every book, passage, verse, jot and tittle of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments, can grammatically, semantically, literarily, contextually, theologically, logically and morally be shown to support Chris’ universal divine causal determinism.  I find this not only to be impossible, but absurd. 

            And the determinist sword cuts both ways.  If it can be convincingly demonstrated that any single grammatical construction, verse, didactic passage, narrative account, text or book of the Bible properly interpreted does not support “meticulous divine providence,” that is, is incoherent, inconsistent or in contradiction with “meticulous divine providence,” then that view could not be what the Bible teaches or affirms, and the Calvinist theology and soteriology would be proved false.  This has direct bearing upon what Chris will present as his strongest proof of his view via his grammatical exegesis of Genesis 50:20.  But again, the exegesis of any text that claims to confirm “meticulous divine providence” will be proved to be in error if there is even one other text in those same Scriptures that indicates even a hint of contingency in reality and human affairs, for determinism and contingency are mutually exclusive. They contradict each other.  Therefore, one or the other is false.

            I contend that Chris’s universal divine causal determinism is not what we find even in a cursory reading of Scripture and certainly not from its in-depth study.  If Chris were to embark on such a study he would have to come to the conclusion that the majority of Scripture is incoherent with his “meticulous divine determinism,” or he would merely presuppose the determinism, read it into the text and flee to mystery given the resultant incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  He would have to either conclude that his “meticulous Divine providence” view is mistaken, or he would have to be able to explain every single text, even those that contradict his “meticulous divine determinism,” as somehow only an “apparent contradiction.”  Sound familiar?  This is precisely what Calvinists do with those texts that are in contradiction with their theistic determinism.  If Chris cannot demonstrate how “meticulous divine providence” is coherent with the full scope of the Scriptural witness, and I don’t think he can, then if he refuses to give up his determinism, he would be indicating to us that he has adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence and would again be forced to flee to mystery to “justify” that incoherence thus begging the question as to the accuracy of his interpretations.

            Genesis 24 is a piece of salvation history.  That is, God was especially at work in those he was in the process of choosing to be the patriarchs of the nation he was going to bring into existence. Through these patriarchs he would bring about salvation for the whole world. And because that salvation is for each and every individual person and genuinely offered to them, it would be contingent upon the condition of believing (Jn. 1:4-13, 29; 3:14-18, 36; 4:42; 8:12, 24; 9:35-41; 11:14; 12:32-50; 20:30-31).  This text must be interpreted in the light of the primary purpose and message of Scripture and within its own context of salvation history.

            The servant prays that the Lord would reveal to him the woman God had “appointed” for Isaac (24:14, 44).  Does this “appointing” require “meticulous divine providence” as Chris’ has defined it?  If there is such a thing as “meticulous divine providence,” neither the servant nor Abraham spoke, lived or expected events to work according to such a determinism.  They certainly knew of God’s providential care and guidance as the account indicates, but not a “meticulous divine providence” as Chris has defined it.  We may note the following.

            First, nothing in the account requires the exhaustive regress of circumstances and events that Chris imposes upon the account.  There is nothing in the text to warrant a conclusion that these events required the divine predetermination of every other preceding event in all of history. Such a determinism has to be read into the text.

            Secondly, note verse 24:5.  The servant says to Abraham, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land.”  Certainly the plain reading of this statement indicates the idea of contingency and that Abraham’s plan may be altered by the woman’s will.  She may decide not come with the servant.  Abraham then says something that confirms both God’s providence and contingency.  “[The Lord]…will send his angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.  But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” (vss. 7, 8)  Certainly a “meticulous divine providence” may be imposed on any text of Scripture just by claiming that whatever happens is what God predetermined to occur.  And we do expect to see God’s direction here as this salvation history that God is superintending unfolds.  But the personal dynamics that are so essential to this event lead us to think that things are not meticulously predetermined.  It seems that Abraham and the servant were not working from a deterministic mindset, but they did explicitly look to God for his guidance in this important circumstance.

            The point is that the passage itself does not require us to think that God predetermined and caused every single human event prior to and including these events as Chris explained must be the case in order for these events to take place as they did.  That does not follow.  Chris maintains that however things worked out, that was what God meticulously predetermined through every circumstance and decision made by every person throughout all previous history.  But why is that not reading his “meticulous divine providence” into the text?  Why is this not question-begging? 

            In contrast, the passage may very well be interpreted as God having directed the servant’s prayer such that what he prayed would simply track with the immediate circumstances that God foreknew would come about by the prior free will decisions of those involved.  Perhaps God intervened in ways only God knows how to with respect to the servant so he would pray as he did for the purpose of providing the servant the affirmation he was seeking as to who he should approach and bring home to Abraham as a wife for Isaac. Or perhaps, the servant praying as he did, God moved Rebekah to say and do what she did in confirmation of the servants request. God answers prayer.

            Leighton has pointed out that you cannot prove that God predetermines everything by citing that God predetermines some things.  So Leighton’s position affirms that God has the prerogative to predetermine certain actions and events.  God is intimately and personally involved in human affairs and intervenes in those affairs to bring to pass that which he has planned and purposed.  But it is an intervention, not an exhaustive predetermination.

            The non-Calvinist position is not about defending human autonomy at all costs as Calvinists have so often mischaracterized it.  For the non-Calvinist, this is not a matter of either human autonomy or God’s sovereignty.  It is Calvinism’s theistic determinism that makes this an either/or proposition.  Rather, for the non-Calvinist this is a matter of understanding God’s nature, actions and relationship with his human creatures as the Scriptures as a whole witness to that relationship, especially given that God has determined to constitute them creatures made in his own image.  The non-Calvinist insists that “meticulous divine providence” is incoherent with a whole host of such clear biblical doctrines along with teaching passages and narrative accounts.

            Also, again, Chris says he wants to study the narrative passages that seem to confirm “meticulous divine providence.”  But if “meticulous divine providence” is true, then by definition, every narrative should be able to be explained to be coherent and consistent with determinism to warrant our believing in it.  It cannot just be imposed on the passage.  Furthermore, if such a determinism should be found to be incoherent, inconsistent or in contradiction with just one other piece of biblical data or doctrine, then it would be proved false. Indeed, every passage in Scripture would have to logically and morally confirm theistic determinism.  By definition, that is what theistic determinism requires.  But obviously this is impossible.  Even the Calvinist acknowledges, yet struggles with, the biblical witness to a contingent reality along with human freedom and responsibility.

            So what this tells us is that Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” or universal divine causal determinism, cannot coherently account for the full testimony of either the historical narratives or theological teachings of Scripture.  Therefore, on the grounds of sound principles of interpretation Chris’ view can be deemed a misinterpretation of Scripture.

Chris’ Confusing Claim

            How does Chris deal with all the other biblical accounts and teaching that testify against his “meticulous divine providence” view?  It seems that he does so by “hedging” on, or possibly contradicting, his own “meticulous divine providence” view.  Later on, speaking about the actions of Joseph’s brothers against Joseph, he says that,

               “[Leighton] is absolutely right.  That if there are texts that say that God predetermines some events and some actions in time, [it] doesn’t mean that he determines it all.  And I never made the claim that it does.” (43:44 – 43:54)

            If I’m correctly understanding Chris here, it certainly appears he is confusing, if not contradictory.  Chris seems to be saying that he never made the claim that “if there are texts that say that God predetermines some events and some actions in time” that this means “he [God] determines it all.”  In other words, if there are texts that clearly show that God has predetermined some events and actions in time, Chris would deny that this is proof that God “determines it all.”  Ok. One text does not a “meticulous divine providence” make.  Granted.  But this is irrelevant to Chris’ deterministic view. In that Chris holds to “meticulous divine providence,” he does have the burden of showing a) how any particular text conclusively affirms his “meticulous divine providence” view, and b) how every single text in all of Scripture witnesses to this “meticulous divine providence,” for that it what this view, by definition, requires.  Therefore, given Chris’ “meticulous divine providence,” by logical necessity Chris is also claiming that each and every text in Scripture can be interpreted to show that “God predetermines it all.”  That just is by definition what his “meticulous divine providence” is claiming. And if this view is Scriptural, that is what Scripture will evidence.

            Recall Chris’ definition of God’s sovereignty.  “…God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail… God…knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.”  So even if Chris incoherently states that some texts may demonstrate “meticulous divine providence” and this per se “doesn’t mean that [God] determines it all,” nevertheless Chris does have to show us how any particular text conclusively teaches his “meticulous divine providence,” and how each and every biblical account and teaching, event and action, can be understood to support his “meticulous divine providence” in all its exhaustive depth and scope.

            I think that is not only impossible, it would be ridiculous to think one could do so.  And yet, that just is the interpretive burden that Chris’ determinism places upon him.  If as Chris maintains, “that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time” and  “the unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail” and that “God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do” (12:09 – 12:47), then the Bible would have to consistently, coherently and comprehensively affirm this on its every page or this doctrine would prove to be false.  If the biblical record were to clearly affirm any type of contingency, potentiality, genuine human freedom, responsibility, culpability, divine displeasure, warning, judgment, etc. then Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view would not be plausible.

            This is where the alternative non-Calvinist view that affirms it is God’s prerogative to predetermine certain particular events and/or intervene in a genuinely relational way in human affairs or even supersede, alter, or prevent human thoughts, decisions and actions, proves to be more consistent with the testimony of Scripture.  It upholds both God’s sovereignty and human freedom.

            Therefore, what is at issue is the absolute universality of the divine predeterminations.  What non-Calvinists object to is the claim that universal divine causal determinism is what the Bible teaches.  And they object to it, not because the want to preserve human autonomy at any cost, but because of their insistence upon employing sound hermeneutical principles in their interpretation of Scripture. They maintain that good interpretation is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory. For the non-Calvinist logical and moral coherence are hermeneutically essential.  For the Calvinist they are not.

What Do “Acts of Human Agency” Entail?

            Chris speaks of the servant account in Genesis 24 as God predetermining “thousands of acts of human agency.”  But it seems inconsistent for Chris to talk of “acts of human agency” from within a theology of “meticulous divine providence.”  What could Chris mean by “acts of human agency?”  And what could it mean for God to “ordain” “acts of human agency?”  “Human agency” implies a non-deterministic dynamic in the narrative.  So are we able to determine that “meticulous divine determinism” cannot be the explanation of this text?  I think so, because once one makes “meticulous divine providence” the explanation of this text, the determinism wreaks logical and moral havoc not only with the “human agency” that Chris cannot avoid in the text, but with other texts in Scripture that clearly indicate and teach libertarian human freedom.  Given “meticulous divine providence,” every narrative, teaching, event, and word of Scripture would logically be trapped within the vortex of determinism and there should not be and could not be one instance of “human agency,” that is, in the sense that the phrase has any genuine meaning.  There wouldn’t be one instance present in Scripture in which the thoughts, desires and actions of the person or persons could be considered as being caused by their own free wills.  Therefore, Chris ought to be talking about “divine acts of human instrumentality.”

            There is no doubt that Scripture testifies to this type of libertarian human freedom, and Chris seems to acknowledge this when he describes what is happening in this servant narrative as “acts of human agency.”  In doing so he contradicts his own “meticulous divine providence.”  Such “meticulous divine providence” cannot be made coherent with the biblical witness to “human agency,” contingency, potentiality, human decision, responsibility, culpability, invitation, judgment, etc.  Therefore it cannot be the correct way of viewing this text.  It would make no sense to call all the doings of the human beings in this passage and its various events “acts of human agency.”  They may have been the actions or doings of human creatures, but they were not acts that were of the nature of “agency.”  According to Chris these “acts of human agency” were needed to bring about this event as part of a “meticulous divine determinism” because such a determinism encompasses any and all acts of all time.  Given “meticulous divine providence” Chris’ explanation of this text would seem to logically annihilate any meaningful concept of “human agency.”  There would only be one agent in any coherent, meaningful sense, and that agent would be God.

            Once all the exegesis is submitted, it is with regard to this broader concern about the sense or nonsense one is making out of the scriptural testimony that I am pointing out here. I contend that Calvinism shows itself to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  The non-Calvinist does not say that God cannot either predetermine or intervene in detail as to some event, but if that is the case, and it certainly appears to be in the several accounts Chris raises, that does not entail that God ordained “whatsoever comes to pass.”  Our point is more modest.  It is just to show that these biblical accounts do not necessitate Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  And in that his “meticulous divine providence” runs roughshod over much of the biblical witness to the contingent nature of reality along with human freedom and responsibility, this “meticulous divine providence” or theistic determinism, cannot be the teaching of Scripture.

Are There “Two Wills in God?”

            Other incoherencies created by Chris’ determinism were pointed out in this program.  One was the “two wills in God” argument Chris provided to reconcile the clear statements in the Bible about God’s goodness and that he desires to do good to everyone and also desires the salvation of every person, i.e., God’s revealed will, and yet that God decrees evil and provides salvation only for some, i.e., God’s secret will.  Leighton’s response was that this “makes God out to be duplicitous.” (54:06 – 54:14)  I dealt with this in my original essay “Is Coherence Biblical.”[27]  But let’s review the important issues Leighton raises here.  He says,

               “I know Chris doesn’t believe God is duplicitous, but I think it makes him out to be, because you’ve got God externally saying I want this thing but secretly he’s actually determining the exact opposite of that.  Now we agree there’s different senses in which God wants things, and brings things to pass, even within our worldview, but not in the way in which he contradicts himself or works against the very thing that he is outwardly saying he wants.  I think that just gives a false view and makes us not being able to trust what God says externally because we have to wonder well is that what he wants internally as well?  And I think that falls apart on itself.”  (54:18 – 54:57)

            If Leighton is right that Chris’ explanation of “two wills” in God has God contradicting himself and it also makes God out to be duplicitous, then if Chris values the deliberations of reason and moral intuitions in the interpretive task, he would have to admit to the truth of Leighton’s conclusions.  Now, Chris might admit that this “two wills” explanation makes God out to be duplicitous and self-contradictory, and if he did, the reason he probably would nevertheless embrace this duplicity and self-contradiction is that he believes this “two wills” explanation is what the Bible teaches.  But we can see how that brings us back to the question of how we can know that this is what the Bible teaches and, more to our point, whether the logical and moral contradictions and absurdity that Leighton finds in Chris’ “two wills” explanation are reliable indicators that Chris is wrong about the Bible teaching his theistic determinism which necessitates this explanation.  And if Chris can ultimately dismiss Leighton’s conclusions, this would seem to confirm that Calvinists do not value logical and moral reasoning in their hermeneutic.

            Leighton raises the issue of the logical entailments of the Calvinist’s views.  Often times what Calvinists deny they believe, is nevertheless logically entailed by their other beliefs.  Here we have God being made out to be duplicitous and untrustworthy due to Chris’s “two wills” theology which springs from a certain exegesis of the text that interprets “sovereignty” as theistic determinism.  Chris provides this “two wills” explanation in defense of the logical and moral incoherence Chris’ theistic determinism generates with the texts that indicate that God is good and desires the salvation of all.  Note that in light of those texts Leighton’s assessment incorporates logical reflection and moral intuitions in determining the validity, not only of Chris’ “two wills” explanation, but also his deterministic interpretation of divine sovereignty.  It is the logical and moral incoherence of Chris’ “two wills” defense, as a problem his theistic determinism has produced, that compels Leighton to reject Chris’ views.

            Another example Leighton points out involves Calvinists using the word “permission.”   When Calvinists talk of divine “permission” they are being incoherent with their universal divine causal determinism.  “Permission” presupposes the genuine human agency spoken about above which is contrary to the sole agency entailed by “meticulous divine providence.”  For Leighton these kinds of incoherencies cannot be overlooked.  For the Calvinist they can ultimately be dismissed.  The subsequent question we must raise and answer is whether or not we can conclude that this incoherence is a tell-tale sign of misinterpretation.

Chris Affirms Interpretive Coherence?

            Surprisingly, and apparently inconsistent with his dismissal of philosophical deliberations and moral intuition playing an indispensable role in his hermeneutic, Chris speaks about being able to deduce from narrative passages like the answered prayer of Abraham’s servant, the “meticulous divine providence” that he believes is clearly taught in other passages in which “the author is intending to communicate” just that.  Chris states,

               “…I don’t think it’s improper to say the necessary conclusions to be drawn from a passage are such and such even if that’s not what was directly intended by the author.” (23:36 – 24:22)

            Note that to draw a “necessary conclusion” is to perform logical or philosophical reflection on the passage.  It is to identify its logical entailments.  The simple and obvious point to be made is that we would hope that Calvinists would not jettison such reasoning when it inconveniently exposes the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions their theistic determinism produces.

            Perhaps Chris sees support in this Genesis 24 account for his view of “meticulous divine providence,” but whether “meticulous divine providence” is the “necessary conclusion” to be drawn from it is not clear at all.  Leighton doesn’t think it is a necessary conclusion, and therefore believes Chris is reading his “meticulous divine providence” into the text rather than exegeting it from of the text.  Chris points out that there are other clear texts in Scripture he can point to, and will bring forth in this discussion, that he believes teach his “meticulous divine providence.  Here he believes this narrative supports his view.

            But perhaps the “necessary conclusions to be drawn from the passage” are that God is immediately at work in this situation which is otherwise characterized by libertarian free will choices, to direct the servant and Rebekah to meet.  This is a definition of divine sovereignty that does not “necessarily” require Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  The “necessary conclusion” to be drawn from a full treatment of the context – immediate and canonical – may just be that that God could have superintended and intervened in the event at that time in a way that does not make “meticulous divine providence” and its exhaustive regress of causes a “necessary conclusion.”  This is important because necessary conclusions cannot allow for any other conclusions.  So the “necessary conclusion” status of the account remains unfounded.  Chris is presupposing his determinism and reading the text accordingly.

             By talking about “necessary conclusions,” Chris is affirming the value of logical inferences and deductions.  And this is precisely what Leighton is doing in regard to Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.  Leighton is teasing out the logical entailments of Chris’ determinism.  Chris is able to use philosophical reflection to arrive at exegetical conclusions about this narrative, yet Chris describes what Leighton was doing as imposing his fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the biblical text.  Chris logically infers from this passage that it affirms “meticulous divine providence,” yet somehow that is imposing his fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the text

            The bottom-line is that we must all come to grips with whether or not logical and moral reasoning are essential to good interpretation and reliable indicators of valid interpretations.  The critical difference is that what Leighton is pointing out are the incoherencies in the results of Chris’ deductions from passages like this with other passages that Calvinists, and presumably Chris, also admit teach human freedom and moral responsibility.  So at this larger macro-interpretive level, interpretations like those Chris offers here, even though he claims logical inference leads to the “necessary conclusion” of “meticulous divine providence,” do not logically and morally cohere with other passages of Scripture.

            What do we do now?  Well, on the basis of the logic that Chris himself accepts and exercises here in necessarily concluding “meticulous divine providence” from this passage, if his conclusion creates incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions with other biblical narratives and teachings on human freedom and responsibility, we can conclude that what he has “necessarily concluded” from this passage is a reading of his “meticulous divine providence” into the text and therefore this “necessary conclusion” is incorrect.  You cannot employ logical and moral reasoning in one instance and ignore it in another. The same logical and moral reflection Chris employs here tells us that when the larger Calvinist exegetical picture begins to take shape, it reveals itself as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  As such, we should conclude that somewhere or in some respect the Calvinist’s exegesis has gone awry.  That is what tells Leighton and other non-Calvinists that the Calvinist’s claims about what passages mean in support of Calvinism are either exegetically flawed or examples of eisegesis rather than exegesis.  They are reading their Calvinism into the text rather than getting it from the text.  This is confirmed when the text need not logically be understood as the Calvinist claims it should be understood, and again, this is also confirmed when the larger doctrinal picture of Calvinism takes shape and is found to be incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory.  This cannot be ignored as hermeneutically insignificant.  It is hermeneutically significant.

            What Leighton and many other non-Calvinist scholars ultimate show us is that the “meticulous” in “meticulous divine providence” cannot be logically or morally maintained on the basis of a full-orbed consideration of the Scriptural witness to the contingent nature of the relationships between God, man and reality.

            I contend that Calvinists read the Bible on the basis of a flawed hermeneutic that divorces philosophical and moral reflection from exegetical practice and its conclusions.  We should not accept dichotomizing exegesis from philosophy and our moral intuitions.  Theologians, for all their proficiency regarding the study of the biblical text and theology do need the help of evangelical Christian philosophers.  Exegesis, for all that it demands of the exegete to study to get at the meaning of a text, requires of that exegete in his study and its results to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory.  One cannot say, “Whatever the negative rational and moral implications and entailments of my exegesis, because I have exegeted the text, that is what the text must mean!”  There is good exegesis and bad exegesis.  The Evangelical Philosophical Society to the rescue!?

The Incoherence of Calvinism

            These are questions and issues about the incoherence of Calvinism and its logical and moral entailments.  As Leighton has demonstrated, the Calvinist’s “two wills” theory, and others like it, as defenses against the difficulties raised by their theistic determinism, only increase those difficulties.  What this demonstrates is that Calvinists cannot reason their way out of their incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  This is because you can’t reason your way out of an incoherence while seeking to maintain the incoherence.  Reason won’t allow us to manipulate it so as to cause reason to betray itself.  Reason cannot be used against itself to reason out of an incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction.  Unless one first removes the fundamental cause of these difficulties there is no escape.  Without removing the fundamental flaw in one’s reasoning, the best one can produce and offer is a rationalization.  This is what this “two wills” in God proposition amounts to.  But rationalizations don’t hold up against further rational and moral scrutiny, as is evident in Leighton’s critique of this “two wills” theory.  Mere rationalizations ultimately fail as cogent explanations of the things they seek to defend.  Sooner or later, all rationalizations show themselves up to be deficient as coherent explanations.  Unless you alter the basis of the incoherence, your attempts at providing reasons for your position will always prove unreasonable.  They only compound the incoherence.  Again, reason just will not allow herself to be used to circumvent herself to defend interpretations that we might hold as a priori truths.  As Calvinists attempt to reason out of their inconsistencies or contradictions while maintaining the fundamental cause of these, which is their universal divine causal determinism, they will always fail with respect to a hermeneutic that maintains that philosophical reflection and moral intuitions are essential in the interpretive process.  That is why, even if the Calvinist acknowledges their logical and moral difficulties, they must ultimately dismiss the deliverances of philosophical reflection and moral intuition with regard to the validity of their exegesis, for they cannot have these probing into or poking around their exegetical conclusions and showing them up as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  To retain their Calvinist determinism, they must ultimately assert the validity of their exegesis despite its incoherence.  Calvinists do ultimately acknowledge the logical and moral difficulties in their interpretations and doctrines, but nevertheless insist the Bible teaches those doctrines.  Therefore they ultimately have no defense from or recourse in philosophical reflection or moral intuition.  Hence, Calvinist’s must resort to mystery or inscrutability.  That is where all Calvinistic exegesis leads.  That is the ultimate ground upon which all Calvinist exegesis rests.  The final and full result of the way they read, exegete and interpret Scripture regarding the sovereignty of God, soteriology and the gospel is ultimately an incomprehensible mystery.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 9 / Interviewing and Debating Calvinists

The Fundamental Question Calvinists Need to Answer

            In my previous essay titled “Can Incoherence Be Biblical” as edited by Eric Kemp, I pointed out that Calvinists and non-Calvinists need to come to grips with the hermeneutical implications of the observations made by Leighton Flowers and many others about Calvinism generating absurdity, duplicity, incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.  Now, are these logical and moral difficulties hermeneutically significant in the sense that they speak to the validity or invalidity of one’s textual exegesis and interpretive conclusions?  This is the fundamental question Calvinists need to be asked and answer.

            If the Calvinist answers that they are hermeneutically significant, and their Calvinist doctrines truly suffer from these difficulties, then they would need to return to the text to seek exegetical options that lead to coherent, consistent and non-contradictory interpretations of Scripture.  They could also deny that such difficulties mark their interpretations and doctrinal conclusions, but this is not usually what the Calvinist does here.  They do admit to them, but yet insist that their exegetical and interpretive conclusions are what the Bible teaches.  Therefore, they take the position that their Calvinist doctrines are incomprehensible to human reason, an antinomy, tension or mystery that cannot be fathomed by human understanding.  What they are communicating by this is that their logical and moral difficulties are not hermeneutically significant.  That is, they do not indicate anything about the validity or invalidity of their exegesis and interpretations. Therefore, Calvinists need to explain why the incoherencies and contradictions that philosophical and moral deliberations disclose regarding their interpretations should not come into play in determining the validity of their exegeses and interpretive conclusions.  They would need to justify what certainly appears to be a hermeneutic of incoherence.

            Faced with this challenge of the logical and moral incoherence and contradiction of their interpretations, the Calvinist reverts to casting doubt on the reliability and utility of fallen human reason.  But if the non-Calvinist is confident that human reason functions even somewhat reliably as God-given for the purposes for which God intended it to function (and most Calvinists when push comes to shove will agree with this), then logical and moral reasoning should be deemed hermeneutically significant.  To say our reason and moral intuitions function as they should in matters of everyday life, but are flawed when it comes to interpreting divine Scripture, is ad hoc. And if that is the case, then the non-Calvinist needs to make this the focus of their debate with Calvinists.  On purely logical and moral grounds the Calvinist’s “meticulous divine providence” or universal divine causal determinism and “doctrines of grace” could not be what Scripture teaches.  And if logic and moral intuition do play a role in exegesis and interpretation then we should hold firm to that conclusion. Therefore, when the Calvinist attempts to discount human reason in interpretation, this will probably involve the non-Calvinist in a defense of the sufficiency, necessity, reliability and utility of human reason and our moral intuitions for the interpretive task. Couple this with non-Calvinist interpretive alternatives to Calvinism that are rooted in a grammatical-historical exegesis of the relevant texts, and that prove to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory with the other biblical truths and doctrines, then the preponderance of what needs to be considered for discerning the more accurate interpretations of these texts favors the non-Calvinist’s position.

            Therefore, it seems to me, that whether one includes or excludes the deliverances of philosophical reflection and moral intuition in their hermeneutic is at the heart of this controversy.  If coherence does have significance for determining validity in interpretation, then a hermeneutic of coherence needs to be acknowledged by all and practiced as constituting a sound, biblical, evangelical hermeneutic.  This issue needs to be pondered by all interested in the truth of Scripture and the gospel.  And surely its implications for the content of the gospel message as “good news” and its proclamation with intellectual and personal integrity need to be of concern for anyone who goes by the name evangelical.

            So it certainly seems to be the case that Calvinists have a hermeneutic that permits incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, and there are too few scholars pressing them on this with respect to what this tells us about the validity or invalidity of their exegetical practice and truth or falsity of their interpretive claims.  Calvinists need to be asked specifically about these matters.  For instance, do you think that logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are reliable indicators of the validity of one’s exegesis and interpretations along with the theological structure built upon these?  Do you think that exegeses and interpretations that result in incoherence, inconsistencies and contradictions among other biblical texts, many whose meanings are quite clear, along with established theological and doctrinal conclusions, must have misinterpreted the text at some point?  I believe their answers would provide clarity as to the hermeneutical divide this controversy is really about and reveal the potential for its final resolution.

            If Calvinists like Chris Date can jettison our logical reasoning and moral intuitions in the interpretive task, then their interpretations are unassailable by others like Leighton and Justin who believe one cannot sacrifice logical and moral coherence in the exegetical and interpretive task.  If coherence, consistency and non-contradiction do not matter in one’s position, then that position is not subject to the substantive critiques of those for whom they do matter.  The Calvinist need never concede their position as a flawed interpretation of the text because the logical and moral difficulties that non-Calvinists raise to show Calvinism is false ultimately just don’t matter to the Calvinist.  And if the Calvinist is going to be consistent with their own approach, they could only refute the non-Calvinist position on purely exegetical grounds, not on any logical, philosophical or moral grounds.  If they insist that logical and moral coherence and consistency come into play in a critique of non-Calvinism, we would have to ask why this does not matter in evaluating their own exegeses and theology. But it is hard to imagine any such critique being effective upon the Calvinist if they may simply resort to mystery and incomprehensibility as justification for their interpretive incoherence. The point is that it would be a strange exegetical methodology that has to ultimately dismiss logical and moral reasoning in the process.  But Calvinists do this to preserve particular interpretations upon which non-negotiable doctrines like deterministic sovereignty depend.  Yet these are interpretations and doctrines that cannot bear the probative force of philosophical reasoning or the application of our moral intuitions.  Therefore, evangelical scholars, pastors and laypersons need to ask themselves whether they should accept the Calvinist hermeneutic that would have us think that exegesis need not result in interpretations that are logically and morally coherent.

            We shouldn’t think that any resolution to this controversy can occur when the Calvinist need not justify their interpretations on logical or moral grounds while the non-Calvinist takes the logical and moral inconsistencies and contradictions of Calvinism as reliable and indispensable indicators that they have not properly interpreted the text.  The ground upon which we reason about what a text could possibly mean has been cut out from under us.  This is what the Calvinist must ultimately do in discussions about their theology.

The Calvinist’s “Shut Up! And “Your Flattening It Out” Objections

            Therefore, it is necessary that non-Calvinists press Calvinists on this matter of their incoherence.  Calvinists insist the Bible teaches a deterministic sovereignty regardless of its logical and moral implications.  But when the several different logical and moral incoherencies of theistic determinism are presented to the Calvinist their ultimate question-begging response is to ask, “Who are you, a finite, fallen creature to do anything but fall on your knees, be silent and worship God’s sovereignty?”  For example, when Leighton pressed James White on the incoherence that results from his theistic determinism, White responded,

               “Sit down creature.  You live, for maybe eighty years, and then you die.  You are stupid in comparison to God.  Shut up! And listen to what he says.” [28]

            White never substantively addressed Leighton’s critiques of White’s determinism.

Another of White’s typical responses to Leighton’s critiques is that Leighton is “flattening out” White’s theistic determinism.  What White is really telling Leighton with his “flattening out” objection is “don’t press me at the fundamental logical and moral level about my theology.  Don’t’ “flatten it out” to that level!  At that level the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions are revealed.  Let me keep them hidden.  Don’t expose them!  Let me keep my added “dimension,” that is, “accept and allow me the incoherence I need to hold to my theology despite the fact that foundationally it is logically and morally incoherent.”  What White is really saying is, “Legitimize my interpretive incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions so my Calvinism remains a viable biblical theology.”

            But Leighton will not allow White to escape the incoherence of his views.  So White’s protest against Leighton’s probing really means, “I cannot address the incoherence in my theology, so you need to resign yourself to agree that our interpretation of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism is a valid biblical option regardless of its incoherence.  You may disagree with my theology, but don’t do so on the basis of logical reflection and moral intuition.  You need to back off and just stop asking those pesky questions about the logical and moral problems my determinism raises because I cannot answer them. You need to take the common approach that is acceptable to us Calvinists, that is, the attitude that this is a secondary or non-essential issue and therefore to be accepted among the evangelical biblical options. ”

            Calvinists will retort that non-Calvinists “just don’t understand Calvinism.”  But what it takes to “understand Calvinism” is to put aside your logical and moral reasoning capacities which, if you attend to them, are telling you that Calvinism is not to be understood.  The Calvinist requires that we give them permission to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  They demand that we accept that requirement and say nothing more about these difficulties and proceed at the level of presenting our exegetical and interpretive arguments without asking whether the Calvinist’s incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions are indicative of misinterpretation.  We are required to ignore the hermeneutical issues that the Calvinist’s incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions raise.  And for too long many non-Calvinists have obliged them.  We have reached the point in many evangelical churches where an interpretive and theological relativism allows for these two mutually exclusive theologies and soteriologies to be considered equally legitimate and acceptable interpretations of Scripture.  In doing so we have institutionalized this relativism to the detriment of the life of the mind in Evangelicalism.  This relativism is a cause of theological indifference, ignorance and the erosion of the truth of the gospel as “good news.”  Moreover, it has obscured what is at the core of this controversy – the rejection of the obvious hermeneutical principle that our interpretations need to make logical and moral sense – as well as acknowledging that two mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture cannot both be correct.  This interpretive relativism prevents a resolution to this controversy, and again, it is eroding the truth of the gospel.

            Scholars like Leighton Flowers are showing great courage in exposing, in a civil and cordial manner, the logical and moral flaws in Calvinism.  He rightly refuses to dichotomize exegetical and interpretive claims from the logical and moral entailments of those claims.  I contend that this dichotomizing of philosophical reflection and moral intuition from the exegetical task is characteristic of the Calvinist’s response in such discussions and debates.

Dichotomizing Philosophical Reflection and Moral Intuition from Exegesis and Interpretation

            During Justin’s program Leighton and Chris bring forth interpretations of passages they believe support their theological positions.[29]  We see this dichotomizing of exegesis from philosophical/logical and moral considerations when Chris states,

               “We can speculate until the cows come home as to why God might predetermine that someone refuses to repent and be saved and therefore is punished with death, even though God doesn’t desire it and commands them to repent and be saved.  But unless we’re willing to say we fully know the mind of God, then even if we can’t fathom why God would do such a thing, we don’t get to impose our fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the biblical text, which is what I think Leighton is doing.” (1:06:48 – 1:07:08)

            First we should note that only the Calvinist has to “speculate until the cows come home as to why God might predetermine that someone refuses to repent and be saved and therefore is punished with death, even though God doesn’t desire it and commands them to repent and be saved.”  The non-Calvinist does not have to struggle to explain what Leighton describes as absurd, self-defeating and duplicitous.

            Secondly, it certainly seems that Chris acknowledges that a logical and moral problem has been raised by his theological conclusions.  So what is Chris’ response to this?  It is to say “we can’t fathom why God would do such a thing.”  But don’t we know enough about God to say that we can fathom whether or not God would do such a thing, with the definitive answer being that he would not?  If we don’t presuppose the truth of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” we can move on to what we do know about God from Scripture, things we know to be incoherent with Chris’ deterministic interpretations, and let that knowledge and the need for coherence inform the issue.  Our concern then shifts from having to explain “why?” God acts inconsistently, which presupposes the truth of Chris’ interpretations, to whether God can act inconsistently given what we do know about God from Scripture.  And that brings us around to the crux of the matter.  Has Chris accurately understood the intent of the authors throughout Scripture when his interpretations generate incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with what we do know about God, or man, or reality from other texts in those same Scriptures?

            Here Chris presupposes the truth of his exegeses and interpretive conclusions despite the logical and moral incoherence they produce with the character of God who cannot be duplicitous.  Instead of letting these problems inform his exegeses and interpretations as to their validity or invalidity, he claims incomprehensibility as to God’s reasons for predetermining a person’s inability to repent and be saved and punishing them with death, even though God also communicates to that person that he desires that they repent and be saved and not experience his punishment and death.  Chris presupposes the Bible teaches this contradiction and tells us that this is something we cannot fathom.  But Leighton, and many others among us, seem to comprehend it well enough.  Leighton concludes that these Calvinist beliefs are self-defeating and make us unable to trust what God reveals to us with regard to his will for us.  We are left wondering whether his revealed divine word and will truly reflects what his decretive “sovereign will” is for us.  In other words, we cannot trust what God says.  According to Chris’ Calvinism, what God has eternally and unalterably decreed for us may be the exact opposite of his expressions of love for us and his desire that we be saved.  For Leighton this makes God out to be duplicitous.  It presents God as contradictory in his willing, speaking and acting.  He states,

               “I know Chris doesn’t believe God is duplicitous, but I think it makes him out to be, because you’ve got God externally saying I want this thing but secretly he’s actually determining the exact opposite of that.  Now we agree there’s different senses in which God wants things, and brings things to pass, even within our worldview, but not in the way in which he contradicts himself or works against the very thing that he is outwardly saying he wants.  I think that just gives a false view and makes us not being [sic] able to trust what God says externally because we have to wonder, “Well, is that what he wants internally as well?”  And I think that falls apart on itself.”  (54:18 – 54:57)

            Now note how Chris handles Leighton’s objections.  He states that “we don’t get to impose our fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the biblical text.”  Is Chris arguing that Leighton’s reasoning is fallible?  How so?  Chris needs to show us why Leighton’s reasoning is fallible.  And if Chris truly has landed us in a logical and moral incoherence with his interpretation of the text, as certainly seems to be the case, are we just supposed to ignore this?  If philosophical reflection on Chris’ interpretations have really made God out to be duplicitous, surely that is very significant, at least with regard to the nature of God, and perhaps interpretively.  If Chris’ interpretations make God out to be duplicitous, even Chris would have to admit that to be duplicitous is a bad thing and not a possibility for God because of his unchanging character as holy, good and true.  If duplicity is sinful, unethical behavior for us, it certainly is impossible for God who cannot sin.  Here, Chris would have to admit to the reliability and utility of philosophical reflection and moral intuition.  Our use of these faculties lead to valid conclusions.  Therefore, that Chris’ interpretations result in God being duplicitous is either significant as to the validity of his interpretations, or it is not.  Leighton’s philosophical or common sense observations on the results of Chris’ exegetical and interpretive conclusions are either valid or they are not.  And if they are valid, they can’t simply be rejected as imposing “fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the biblical text.”  Rather, they would be a reading of the text that is intellectually and morally responsible.  Chris’ response seems to beg the question.  The very thing at issue is whether or not we can know the Scriptures are actually teaching us what Chris says they are teaching us – that “God might predetermine that someone refuses to repent and be saved and therefore is punished with death, even though God also communicates to them that he doesn’t desire their punishment and death and commands them to repent and be saved.”  How would we know whether this doctrinal statement is true or not?  I submit that philosophical and moral reasoning are essential hermeneutical tools that serve to help us identify valid interpretations from invalid ones.  What will prevent Chris from the question-begging presupposition that his interpretation is correct when he tells us “we can’t fathom why God would do such a thing” and when “philosophical conclusions” are put out of court as determiners of the validity of Chris’ interpretations?  The answer is, “Nothing!”

            And why would Leighton’s philosophical conclusions be “fallible?”  Would they be fallible because Chris contends that we cannot possibly say we “fully know the mind of God?”  What is he suggesting, or rather actually asserting, that we should believe about the nature of God and his “mind? That if we fully knew it the duplicity an contradiction would disappear or be resolved? But that also seems to be question-begging. We want to know why Chris’ exegesis is a matter of not fully knowing “the mind of God” while our God-given logical and moral faculties are telling us Chris’ interpretations make God out to be duplicitous? What is “fallible” about this thinking or its conclusions?  If Chris would argue that God can’t be duplicitous, then he is both acknowledging the legitimacy of philosophical and moral reasoning, but at the same time rejecting it in an ad hoc fashion from evaluating his own interpretations.  If Chris were to say that Leighton’s philosophical and moral conclusions must be “fallible” because no one can claim to “fully know the mind of God” or “we can’t fathom why God would do such a thing,” that would be to insulate his interpretations from the probative utility and force of logical reflection and moral intuition by cavalierly dismissing these as hermeneutically and interpretively insignificant. Not only that, it could be used to justify any interpretation that shows itself to be logical and morally incoherent or contradictory. You just don’t and cannot “fully know the mind of God.” Furthermore, this excuse just does not hold up in light of the many texts in that same Bible that give us detailed revelation about “the mind of God.” 

            To state that no one can claim to “fully know the mind of God” or “we can’t fathom why God would do such a thing,” is to confuse legitimate incomprehensibility as to God’s thoughts and ways with assigning incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction to God’s thoughts and ways.  The former admits to legitimate incomprehensibility or mystery that does not impugn the rationality of God’s thoughts or his character as a God of truth, while the latter does impugn the thoughts and character of God by disregarding the fact that the canons of reason and the discipline of philosophy that is built upon them are a God-given gift to us as made in his image.  We are therefore rational and moral beings, and the interpretation of a written text – even a divinely inspired text – is a rational and moral exercise.  To dismiss such difficulties in one’s interpretations is to insulate them from substantive rational and moral critique and preserve the interpretations and doctrines regardless of such critiques, which – if these are legitimate hermeneutical principles that determine interpretive validity – would be to place one’s doctrinal position above and beyond the authority of Scripture and outside the principles of a sound evangelical hermeneutic.

            In that Chris rejects philosophical and moral reflection when it comes to his interpretations, he ends up assigning incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction to God’s thoughts and ways.  Surely this requires us to conclude that Chris’ has erred in his interpretations at some point. 

            So is there a direct correlation between exegetical and interpretive coherence, consistency and non-contradiction and whether an exegetical interpretation accurately reflects the meaning of Scripture or not?  Are interpretations that generate logical and moral incoherence valid interpretations?  In this instance, we are inquiring into whether or not the Scripture actually teaches that God would “predetermine that someone refuses to repent and be saved and therefore is punished with death, even though God doesn’t desire it and commands them to repent and be saved.”  So how would we know whether or not Scripture teaches this except we take into consideration the logical and moral coherence or incoherence of these supposedly biblical propositions?

            We need to note that Chris, and Calvinists in general, acknowledge that they have a logical and moral problem on their hands here.  But the same rational and moral intellectual means by which they recognize a logical and moral problem in their theology is not allowed to tell them anything about the validity of that theology or its underlying exegeses.  What is happening here is that the very same philosophical reflection and moral intuition that reliably tells the Calvinist (and all of us) that something is amiss in their interpretations, is being willfully ignored when it comes to assessing the validity of their interpretations.  The logical and moral difficulties are assigned to “mystery.”  But there is another alternative.  The Calvinist might take rational and moral coherence on board in their hermeneutic and trust these to indicate to them that they have not accurately interpreted the relevant texts.  So Calvinism is pressing upon each believer and the evangelical church as a whole to make a crucial decision about their hermeneutic.  We all must ask ourselves, and we all must come to a decision as to whether a hermeneutic of incoherence is a legitimate hermeneutic for biblical interpretation or not.  The alternative is a hermeneutic of coherence.  Which will it be? 

            When Calvinists assert “incomprehensibility,” “mystery,” etc. they do so to circumvent the logical and moral difficulties in their position and are endorsing a hermeneutic of incoherence.  What they are saying is that any logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies or contradictions that mark their position are interpretively insignificant.  For the Calvinist, these say nothing about the validity of their exegesis and the truth of their interpretive conclusions.  Once such a hermeneutic is embraced, nothing more can be said that will convince the Calvinist that their interpretation has gone amiss, because convincing presupposes reasoning and reasoning proceeds on the basis of the laws of logic and our moral sense.  This is why in discussing the exegetical reasons as to why each side believes the passage means what it means, there will be no movement at that level. This is because the very logical and moral framework by which we determine whether an interpretation has gone awry is no longer in play.  Once someone exegetes a text, it is imperative they ask whether or not their interpretation is coherent within its own context and the broader context of Scripture along with what is their own theological framework. I submit that ultimately such coherence is dismissed by the Calvinist. It is not a necessary element in their hermeneutic. This is why the controversy continues.

            Hence, Calvinists have a vested interest in keeping Calvinism successfully insulated from a primary means we have to judge its exegetical validity, that is, rational and moral coherence, which just is the hermeneutical principle of context.  Therefore, the fundamental question that needs to be put to the Calvinist is whether or not they think that logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction (i.e., context) are essential to sound exegesis and interpretation and reliable indicators of the validity or invalidity of one’s exegesis and interpretive conclusions.

            I submit that a careful study of Calvinist interpretive thought reveals that they do not think that logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are integral to exegesis, interpretation or a sound hermeneutic, nor are they reliable indicators or arbiters of the validity of one’s exegesis and interpretations.  In contrast, the non-Calvinist incorporates rational and moral coherence as essential to their hermeneutic, that is, they believe coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are indispensable factors in determining the accuracy of a proposed exegesis and the theological conclusions derived from that exegesis.  This is the hermeneutic upon which Leighton proceeds.  This is the bottom-line of all his critiques of Calvinism.  Ultimately the difference between the two is not based upon their exegesis, as essential as one’s exegesis is.  It is based upon the coherence of their exegesis of a particular text with other exegetical and interpretive conclusions drawn from the immediate and broader context of Scripture.  The rational and moral processes the interpreter applies or fails to apply in integrating the broad spectrum of texts and teachings throughout Scripture is what we are dealing with here.  This is a matter of how interpreters perceive the problem of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction given their exegetical and interpretive conclusions.  It is a matter of what they do with texts that they’ve interpreted as incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory with each other.  As it stands, rather than returning to the text to consider alternative interpretations that do not create these difficulties but offer a coherent flow of thought and harmony with the immediate and broader contexts, the Calvinist places such problems under the rubric of “mystery.”  So this is a matter of deciding whether the integration or disintegration of one’s exegetical and interpretive conclusions constitutes a sound hermeneutic.

            Note that these concerns for coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are nothing less than an adherence to (Leighton) or a disregard for (Chris) the principle of context.  So the issue is ultimately about how one reasons or refuses to reason about their exegesis of the text.  It is not merely about having an exegesis that one can tout regardless of the fact that it does not cohere with the context or other biblical truths.  It is not merely about accumulating textual exegeses that seem to support one’s traditional doctrines.  Rather, I contend that every exegetical discussion is also inevitably a philosophical and moral discussion.  And that is what needs to be teased out with respect to the validity of the exegetical arguments and conclusions presented in discussions like this.

            For instance, Calvinists have an exegesis of Romans 9.  But non-Calvinists conclude it is incorrect because of the incoherencies and contradictions it creates with chapters 10 and 11, let alone the previous 8 chapters and the biblical worldview of indeterminacy gleaned from the canonical context as a whole.  Certainly the non-Calvinist, by virtue of their exegesis of the chapter, present Paul as meaning something completely different than the Calvinist exegesis of the text. But the Calvinist’s exegesis doesn’t convince the Calvinist. Therefore, the non-Calvinist has to show the Calvinist something of the historical and theological integration or coherence, not merely within that chapter, but in the context of chapters 10 and 11 and the letter as whole to justify their interpretation. This is integral to the non-Calvinists interpretive thought process. But the coherence, consistency and non-contradiction the non-Calvinist demonstrates to the Calvinist as justifying their exegesis and interpretation, ultimately means nothing to the Calvinist. Ultimately the Calvinist does not concern himself with whether his exegesis exhibits coherence, consistency and non-contradiction within the immediate and broader contexts. But for non-Calvinists the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions the Calvinist interpretations produce are tell-tale signs that Romans 9 has been incorrectly interpreted.  Moreover, when the non-Calvinist offers a coherent, consistent, non-contradictory interpretation of Romans 9 in relation to chapters 10 and 11 and the letter as a whole – interpretations that diligently incorporate the elements of the grammatical-historical method – then we can confidently say that would be the better interpretation of Roman 9.  And such non-Calvinist exegesis and interpretations have certainly been done.[30]

            The Calvinist, although he would consider the grammatical-historical method essential for gleaning the meaning of a text, also believes that the cumulative results of that method need not display coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  This is also why Chris does not accept Leighton’s philosophical and moral critique of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  Because Leighton’s hermeneutic values philosophical and moral coherence and these are not germane to Chris as far as his exegesis and interpretive conclusions are concerned, we are left with Leighton’s exegesis vs. Chris’ exegesis, but nothing to persuade or convince us that one is a more accurate or valid reading of the text than the other.  Therefore, Chris maintains his exegesis despite Leighton’s exegesis and his philosophical and moral critique of Chris’ exegesis.  The point Leighton makes as to why his is a better interpretation of the texts at issue – because it provides contextual coherence, consistency and non-contradiction – is discounted by Chris as immaterial to the exegetical process.  Even though Chris might acknowledge that his position produces incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions, these do not hold any hermeneutical significance for Chris.

Context, Coherence and Human Reason

            It is worth repeating that this principle of coherence is akin to the hermeneutical principle of context which is accepted by all reputable scholars for properly reading and interpreting a text.  For what is the principle of context but a sensitivity to and a working out of the relations of the author’s thoughts and intended meanings coherently.  Lest we indict Scripture as containing incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions, we should presuppose that its authors, as well as its divine Author, did not write incoherently, inconsistently and in contradiction to themselves.  If the principle of context is more than this, it is certainly not less.  A disregard for coherence is a disregard for context.  Therefore, this is a deep hermeneutical flaw in the Calvinist’s interpretive mindset and practice.  They forfeit the principle of context for mystery.

            Note that I am not arguing that interpretive coherence is a sufficient indication of an accurate interpretation, but I do contend that it is a necessary condition.  In other words, we can know what a text cannot mean when one’s interpretation is found to be incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory with other clear texts, established biblical themes, teachings and doctrines as well as our own experiential reality.

            Note also that I am not arguing for the ability of human reason to arrive at all and every truth about God, man and reality.  For that we need Scripture as divine revelation.  Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison is correct when he writes,

               “…it is important to recognize that the source of truth is neither in mortal experience nor in human reason, but in a rational and objective divine revelation embodied in Scripture.”[31]

            As much as the source of truth is not in experience or human reason, we should note that Harrison states that it is contained “in a rational…divine revelation.”  And that is all that I am highlighting in this controversy.  I am arguing that human reason does have an essential role to play in rightly understanding any truths divinely revealed in a written text, because that text is a “rational…divine revelation.”  “Divine revelation” and “rational” must not be pitted against each other.  Surely the limited nature of what is revealed will leave us with particular mysteries of the faith.  But what constitutes a true mystery is an important matter to discern.  Precisely what those mysteries are is the question before us.  When interpretations of the text that are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory are said to be mysteries that are the result of the divine nature of the truths revealed, that claim has to be carefully examined.  It has to be examined as to whether we are dealing with a true biblical mystery or a real interpretive contradiction.  I submit that the former would not be of the nature of a contradiction.  True biblical mystery is characterized by a lack of knowing or insight in relation to something else revealed and understood.  In contrast, the latter strikes our reasoning as an identifiable logical clash or unrest between two or more propositions or claims about what someone claims is the meaning of the divine revelation.  Generally the logical clash or unrest is between various proposed interpretations of particular texts.  We are right to check the claims we make as to the potentialities and possibilities of human reason, but I think there is a meaningful difference here that involves the function of reason for discerning valid interpretations in contrast to jettisoning reason under the guise of “mystery” to maintain certain doctrinal positions.

            Given the Calvinist’s dismissal of human logical and moral reasoning as unimportant when it comes to the critiques non-Calvinists bring against their interpretations and their worldview of theistic determinism, ironically and inconsistently, Calvinists display a confidence in such reasoning when they engage in scholarship and life in general as the next section will point out.

Theistic Determinism, Naturalistic Determinism and the Calvinist’s Rational Inconsistency

            Calvinists rightly critique naturalistic determinism as rationally and morally incoherent and untenable.  Yet, Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view is a theistic determinism.  We should therefore ask why theistic determinism is not as rationally and morally incoherent and untenable as naturalistic determinism.   Is it the determinism per se that causes naturalism to be untenable?  If so, the same problems would plague theistic determinism as a determinism.

            Indeed, Calvinist Al Mohler has shown how naturalistic determinism, because of its determinism, is incoherent and untenable.[32]  But in doing so he argues against his own theistic determinism.  Even though it is of the theistic kind and not the naturalistic kind, the same logical and moral problems that come with determinism are inherent in his Calvinist theistic determinism.  The problems with determinism result from the determinism per se.  In arguing against naturalistic determinism Mohler defeats his own Calvinist doctrines of an eternal divine decree and divine sovereignty.

            The point that needs to be stressed is that Calvinists reject naturalistic determinism for philosophical and moral reasons.  They see the incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions generated by naturalistic determinism and reject it for those reasons.  But these same difficulties are inherent in their theistic determinism, yet they will not apply the same philosophical and moral reasoning to that form of determinism.  If it is the determinism that is the culprit here, how then do we arrive back at determinism from our exegesis and interpretations of Scripture, ignore or explain away the corresponding rational and moral problems the determinism raises, and then claim such are the accurate teachings of Scripture?  You can only do so when you forfeit philosophical reflection and moral intuition with respect to your own exegesis and interpretations of the text.  When it comes to their theistic determinism, Calvinists dichotomize philosophical reflection and moral intuition – which is just the practice of clear thinking – from their exegesis and dismiss the idea that this has bearing upon determining the validity of that exegesis.  Why then are Mohler and Chris allowed to disregard or rationalize away the logical and moral entailments of their universal divine causal determinism?  Should they be allowed to disregard or rationalize them away?  If so, why?

            Discounting human reason and its role in interpreting authoritative Scripture, Calvinists claim that their exegesis takes precedence over the philosophical and moral problems that their exegesis produces.  They therefore distance their exegesis from the probative force of logical reflection and moral intuition.  But the deliverances of logical refection and moral intuition are part and parcel of good exegesis, if only because our exegesis must not reduce to nonsense.  When it does, there is nothing more to discuss because the laws of thought as thought, and therefore as the basis for all rational discussion and interpretation, have been forfeited.

            Note that Leighton in this program with Chris, and in all his programs, is continually pointing out how Calvinism “just doesn’t make sense.”  Of course he provides alternative interpretations of Scripture, so his Provisionism is rooted and grounded in the biblical text.  But it is the rational and moral coherence of his position that separates his interpretations from those of his Calvinist interlocutors.  Hence, the hermeneutical divide.  Therefore, we are either going to make sense in our interpretations of the text and hold Calvinists to a hermeneutic with rational and moral standards, or we are going to continue to allow Calvinists to propose that interpretations that are identifiable nonsense are also legitimate interpretations of Scripture.

            As was done in 17th and 18th century liberal rationalism, this is not to exalt human reason above and beyond its purview with respect to God’s ways, the authority of Scripture or the necessity for and insights gained through historical-grammatical exegesis.  But it is to say that you cannot acknowledge Scripture’s authority and understand the nature and ways of God without also acknowledging that historical-grammatical exegesis needs to be properly performed, and this cannot be done without employing sound hermeneutical principles.  Therefore, the question that has to be pressed here is whether or not it is a sound hermeneutical principle that one’s interpretations make sense, or whether one can claim that interpretations that end in nonsense can also be legitimate interpretations of the text.  Can we adopt a hermeneutic that divorces the role of philosophical reflection and moral intuition from determining whether one’s proposed interpretations are what the text actually means?  Can the logical and moral entailments of Calvinism as a universal divine causal determinism be set aside in discerning the biblical validity of the Calvinist’s exegesis and interpretations, or do they have direct bearing upon discerning the validity of those interpretations?  Leighton, and many non-Calvinist scholars, do not think the negative logical and moral entailments of the Calvinist’s theistic determinism can be set aside.  Chris, and most Calvinists, believe they can.  This again is the hermeneutical divide.  This is what allows the Scripture to mean one thing to Leighton and quite another to Chris.

            We may emphasize the point by considering Dr. William Lane Craig’s assessment of Calvinism, or what he rightly terms “universal divine causal determinism.”  I refer you to his five-fold critique of Calvinism and his conclusion.[33]  Dr. Craig provides no exegesis of a biblical text.  He does not even quote a Scripture verse.  But by laying out the logical and moral entailments of the Calvinist’s “universal divine causal determinism” he demonstrates that it is false and concludes “the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.” Now this rational or philosophical assessment either has legitimacy, reliability and truth to it or it does not.  If it does, then our hermeneutic must include these deliberations and deliverances of reason as significant for evaluating one’s interpretive conclusions that purportedly rest on a grammatical-historical exegesis of the text.  Claims of exegetical support for an interpretation need to be evaluated.  Here we have an example of how philosophical reflection on the Calvinist exegetical and interpretive claims can show them to be in error.

            The point is that philosophical reflections and our moral intuitions are essential hermeneutical elements that are reliable for at least telling us what the Bible cannot mean with respect to this debate.  These issues not only need to be teased out in further discussions involving apologists, philosophers and theologians on programs like those produced by Leighton[34] and Justin[35] but also in more formal conferences, seminars and symposiums.

            What is the Calvinist to do with the logical and moral reasoning of Dr. Craig’s critique?  One option is to ultimately dismiss it, as Calvinists are prone to do and Chris seems to do above as the imposition of “fallible philosophical conclusions and speculations onto the biblical text.”  The Calvinist can simply ignore Dr. Craig’s reasoning and claim that despite the incoherence, inconsistencies and contradictions that Dr. Craig points out, Calvinism’s “universal divine causal determinism” is what the Bible teaches.  But without providing some reason as to why we should believe the Calvinist’s exegetical conclusions are correct, or without some type of justification for dismissing philosophical reflection and moral intuitions from one’s hermeneutic, the Calvinist’s exegetical claims certainly seem to amount to mere assertions.  To acknowledge Dr. Craig’s reasoning as legitimate would be to acknowledge that Calvinism is indeed unacceptable for Christian theology and therefore not a valid interpretation of the Scriptures.  The Calvinist would have to go back to the text and embrace one of the more coherent interpretations on offer – like Leighton’s Provisionism.  To deny Dr. Craig’s logical and moral reasoning would be to embrace logical and moral incoherence as legitimate for Christian thought and legitimate for biblical exegesis.  Denying the logical and moral reasoning in Leighton’s and Dr. Craig’s critiques would require the Calvinist to defend a hermeneutic of incoherence, that is, a hermeneutic that need not incorporate logical and moral reasoning in the exegetical and interpretive endeavor.  Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell stated an exegetical truth when they wrote,

               “While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”[36]

Even Chris admits,

               “As James White has often said, ‘inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.” (1:05:41 – 1:05:44)

            But Calvinism can be shown to be inconsistent.  Dr. Craig, Leighton and many others have demonstrated this.  Therefore, Calvinism is not only a “failed argument” from Scripture, it is a failed interpretation of Scripture.

Pressing the Calvinist on Incoherence and Interpretive Validity

            Given the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions that result from Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence,” at the appropriate points along the way Chris should have been asked whether the incoherence in his position reliably indicates a faulty exegesis and interpretation of the texts pertaining to God’s sovereignty.  The non-Calvinist identifies the Calvinists incoherence, but this is never pursued as to whether such incoherence has hermeneutical implications and therefore reliably indicates the invalidity of the Calvinists interpretation.  All Calvinists, including Chris, need to be asked this question.

            Therefore, given Chris’ divine determinism, Chris must be asked whether he also admits to biblical narratives and teaching passages that affirm genuine human freedom and moral responsibility, and if so, does this make his position incoherent.  And if not, why not?  If it does make his position incoherent, he would then need to be asked whether this fact has interpretive significance, that is, that it is proof positive that he has misinterpreted the text.  He must be asked whether the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions Leighton raised against his view have interpretive significance.  That is, do the logical and moral difficulties in Chris’ position indicate a misinterpretation of the text?

            Most importantly, we must also draw out the logical and moral implications of his determinism for the gospel as “good news.”  Calvinists, like Chris, talk about “the gospel.”  They must be asked what they mean by “the gospel” as to its specific content, message and the nature of its proclamation.  It should then be asked whether the Calvinist’s “gospel” content and message is “good news” and whether it is consistent with their underlying soteriology.  If not, then they should be asked whether it needs to be consistent with their underlying soteriology.  I think questions like this will surface the Calvinists perspectives on the role of rational reflection and moral intuition in interpretation and clarify the nature of this controversy and what it will take to resolve it.

            So let’s press the follow-up hermeneutical question.  If Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” definition of God’s sovereignty is deterministic, and therefore truly renders his views absurd and self-defeating and makes God out to be duplicitous and contradictory, and generates logical and moral difficulties with other biblical truths, then can we conclusively know that Chris has misinterpreted the text when he tells us it teaches “meticulous divine providence?”  If we take logical reflection and moral intuition on board in our hermeneutic, we certainly can know that he has misinterpreted the text.  Intellectual integrity and a responsible hermeneutic require us to conclude that the Calvinist’s definition of divine sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism cannot be what the Bible teaches. 

            In that Chris would obviously disagree, I think, therefore, the dividing issue is made clear.  It is simply the acceptance or rejection of logical reflection and moral intuitions in one’s hermeneutic.  Either philosophical reflections and moral intuitions are incorporated into one’s exegesis and interpretive process or, at some point, they are divorced from it.  The hermeneutical divide is made clear.  We need the Calvinist to clarify their position as to this hermeneutical divide, not just make the ad hoc and question-begging assertion that their exegesis and interpretations are correct despite their incoherence

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 10 / Genesis 50:20

Genesis 50:20

“As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” – Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

The verse, with its immediate context, in the ESV reads,

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

In the NIV it reads,

“15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

        18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

            As I see it, there are a number of problems with the interpretive conclusions Chris has drawn from the grammar of this text. Before I delineate and explain these problems, let’s survey the context of Genesis 50 with help from Old Testament scholar Terence E. Fretheim who has written the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Genesis.  If we find in this context any witness to contingencies, human decisions for which people are held responsible, evils and sins for which persons are culpable and guilty, etc., then Chris’ determinism which is incompatible with such a witness cannot be the proper interpretation of Scripture or Genesis 50:20 in particular.  Let’s begin in chapter 37.

Gen. 37:18-28The Sins of the Family

               “This scene describes the brothers’ plotting against Joseph to kill him.  Their motivation centers on Joseph’s dream (they sarcastically call him a “master of dreams”); by killing him, they will make certain that the dream does not become a reality.  Ironically, by selling him to Egypt they enable it to become so!  They think that human action can affect the outcome of what has been depicted in a dream.”[37]

            Note that in 37:4-11 the text says the brothers “hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (v. 4), “hated him even more” (vss. 5 and 8) or were “jealous of him” (v.11).  In vss. 18-20 “they conspired against him to kill him.  They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into the pits.”  Leighton makes this very point.  He says that the brother’s original intent was murderous and that this came from their pride and jealousy.  Now Leighton points out that pride cannot originate in God.  Leighton quotes 1 Jn. 2:16 which states, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”  As such, the sinful intentions of the brothers could not have originated with God nor be caused by him. (34:10 – 34:54)  This directly contradicts what Chris claims the exegesis of 50:20 requires – that God predetermined, that is, “devised” or “planned” the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” against Joseph, and that God was causally active in bringing it to pass.

            In vss. 21-22 Reuben saves Joseph’s life and tries to rescue him so he could bring him back to Jacob.  Judah also wants to spare Joseph’s life but mercenarily has the brothers, unbeknownst to Reuben, sell him to the caravan going to Egypt.  Fretheim comments,

               “No individual in this story emerges innocent.  Even Joseph, though certainly the primary victim, furnishes fuel for his own troubles.  Everyone in his own way contributes to the mess in which the family finds itself…to turn God into an all-determining power undermines human responsibility for sin and encourages human passivity in the face of the power of evil.”[38] (Emphasis mine)

Gen. 38 – Judah and Tamar

First, the account states that both Er and Onan, Judah’s sons, were wicked in the sight of the Lord.  Therefore, the Lord puts them both to death (Gen. 38:1-10). Was the wickedness of these men their own, that is, from attitudes, desires and actions for which they were the cause and culpable for in the eyes of God, or were they predetermined to be wicked by God’s willing and causing them to be wicked? If it is the latter, as is required by Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence, we have again the absurd situation of God predetermining and causing the wickedness of these men and then holding them accountable and punishing them by death for the sin God predetermined and caused them to commit.

Fretheim states the purposes of this interesting account.

               “Once again, the second born carries on the line of promise, for David (Ruth 4:18) and Jesus (Matt 1:3) descend from Perez. …Such an explicit connection with the birth of Jesus affirms that this royal lineage does not somehow float above the maelstrom of life.  This fact presents divine irony: God works in and through what appears weak and despised according to worldly standards in order to accomplish God’s purposes (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31). (Emphasis mine)

The intriguing account of Judah and Tamar certainly strikes us as one marked by the decisions of the free human agents involved and does not give us any indication that these doings are predetermined and caused by God. This is especially the case since by God’s own standards, although some were given later in time, the act of incest between Judah and Tamar merited the death penalty as did adultery during betrothal (Gen. 20:12; Deut. 22:13-21, 23-24). Yet, given “meticulous divine providence,” we again have God predetermining and causing sins that he commands his people not to commit.

The way this account functions in the broader narrative is to tell us about how the family line of Abraham was perpetuated. As commentator Gordon J. Wenham reminds us, this in not “the story of Joseph,” but rather “the family history of Jacob (37:2).” Perez, Tamar’s son through Judah, was the father of Boaz who was the ancestor of King David who was of course the forefather of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17). Judah was the ancestor of both David and Jesus. The account testifies to God’s sovereign working out of salvation history through the free actions of the persons involved.

Gen. 39 – Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife: God Does Not Predetermine Sin

            We must not miss Joseph’s theological “worldview” statement in 39:9 when Joseph resists the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph says, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”  Note what Fretheim concludes from this text.  He writes,

               “…the text offers no evidence that such sin-generated events are the will of God for Joseph; sin is “against God” (v. 9); hence it is contrary to the divine will.”

            It is verses like this that provide strong and clear evidence against Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.” Chris’ view entails (as he will argue on the basis of Gen. 50:20) that “wickedness” and “sin” are predetermined and caused by God. But this account refutes that view.  David’s thought process and reaction here tell us something important related to our topic. David’s response indicates the impossibility of thinking that God could ever be the determiner and cause of the wicked and sinful situation that David was confronted with by Potiphar’s wife. What David says is incoherent with “meticulous divine providence.” By David’s affirming that the actions and intentions of Potiphar’s wife were a great wickedness and in against God,” David was also affirming that God could not do this great wickedness and sin against himself! But that is precisely the idea that is required by “meticulous divine providence.” We would again run up against the problem of God wiling and causing sinful desires and actions in people (e.g., Potiphar’s wife) that are against his will because they are against his nature. God, of course, is sovereign throughout the affairs in Genesis.  But we must let the text, through its entire witness as to the dynamics between God and men, define the nature of that sovereignty.  God himself will indicate to us how his sovereignty should be understood.  Fretheim observes that God’s sovereignty is something very different than a “meticulous divine providence.” God is present with Joseph for sure, but there is nothing that indicates a universal divine causal determinism at work

               “…the narrator assures the reader that Joseph has not been abandoned.  Although all human supports have failed, and Joseph is far removed from the community of faith and the land of promise, God stays with him.  God’s presence, neither localized geographically nor dramatic or spectacular, is an unobtrusive, working-behind-the-scenes kind of presence.

               In addition, God’s presence with Joseph encompasses human abandonment and prison.  Moreover, the text offers no evidence that such sin-generated events are the will of God for Joseph; sin is “against God” (v. 9); hence it is contrary to the divine will.  God does not always get God’s way in the world.  Divine presence does not mean “preventive medicine” or a “quick fix” of whatever may befall a person of faith.  There are implications here for how God works in the world: not in overwhelming power, but in and through the ambiguities and complexities of the relationships of integrity God has established.

               The narrator thereby speaks not simply of divine presence but of the kind of God who acts in these events.  Presence is one thing; the nature and effect of that presence is another.  Verse 21 speaks of this God as one who shows steadfast love (hesed); this word occurs elsewhere in the Joseph story only for human kindness and loyalty (40:14; 47:29).  The author emphasizes here divine loyalty to the promise (see 32:10).  God also works with Potiphar, so that Joseph finds favor in his eyes.  Thus God appears active, not only within the lives of the family of promise, but also within those who do not confess the name of God.”[39]

I think we can see that the determinism required by Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view does not accurately reflect all the dynamics between God and man that are at work in the account. God is certainly sovereign in these affairs, but this sovereignty is not of the nature of a theistic determinism.

Gen. 41 – The Interpretation of Dreams

               Fretheim writes,

“It would seem best to see Pharaoh’s statement in 41:38-39 as ironically putting this data together in an appropriate way: “God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.”  Both human and divine agents are recognized.  The initiative and the “showing” come from God, but human wisdom and discernment remain necessary.  Joseph’s gifts are not irrelevant (as if any person would do).  His abilities come into play and are used by God in the interpretation process…

               Yet Joseph does not boast in his own abilities; he diminishes himself and gives the glory to God who works in and through him, without whom the appropriate interpretation would not be possible.  Comparable language in our own time would be the naming of a sermon as the proclamation of the word of God.”[40]

Fretheim continues.

               “The realities of dreams and their interpretation issue in a complex configuration of divine, human, and nonhuman agency (see chap. 40).  God sets the context, but does not override human discernment, care, and planning.  Humans channel the divine blessings to their most effective ends. Dreams and their God-given interpretations do not necessarily shape the future in detail. Creaturely response also shapes the future.  Natural disasters (the famine) do not have predetermined effects; wise human planning can ameliorate their negative impact.

               Policies are to be developed “so that the land may not perish through the famine” (v. 36).  The dreams do not determine the future in every respect.  God has firmly established the future to which the dreams point, and God will act soon (v.32).”[41]

               “God’s work of blessing in this chapter [Gen. 41] includes the entire human race, not just the chosen ones.”[42]

Gen. 42 and 43 – Joseph and His Brother’s Confession of Guilt

            The text speaks about the brother’s confession of guilt in v. 21.

               “Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listenThat is why this distress has come upon us.”” (ESV)  (Emphases mine)

            It was the brothers who sinned.  Verse 22 makes this clear.

               “And Ruben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy?  But you did not listen.  So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” (ESV)  (Emphasis mine)     

            It was the brothers who caused the evil and sin done against Joseph and who were therefore responsible for their actions.  It was they, seeing his distress, who refused to listen.  They chose not to listen.  Now they realize that their sin is the reason distress has come upon them.

               “The issue of guilt and punishment surfaces in a number of ways.  It involves however, not forensic acts of divine judgment, but the functioning of the moral order.  The moral order does not function in some exact temporal way; the brothers’ actions against Joseph come home to roost only after some thirteen or more years.  Moreover, it does not function mechanically.  The brothers certainly reap the consequences of their sins and relive many dimensions of Joseph’s own experience of suffering; yet both human and divine actions are capable of breaking in that spiral, and reconciliation among the brothers finally comes.  Nor does the moral order function in some deistic way.  God works within it to bring about good (see 45:5-9; 50:15-21).  Yet, God does not have full control over human behaviors, else one could not speak of sin as in any sense a human responsibility.  But human sin cannot finally stymie God, who can draw everything that has happened into the orbit of larger purposes for good.[43] (Emphases mine)

            Belief in “divine meticulous providence” precludes speaking coherently about human responsibility.  On Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view, God, and God alone, is responsible for the sin against Joseph. The “meticulous divine providence view” is incompatible with the view that the brothers are responsible for the sin against Joseph because given “meticulous divine providence” it is God who effectually and irresistibly caused the brothers to do what they did. They could not have done otherwise.

Divine sovereignty, therefore, as demonstrated to us in these narrative passages, means that God reigns and rules in human affairs.  But this sovereignty is not a predetermination of “all things” such that all thoughts and actions are caused by God’s predetermined, direct and irresistible activity.  Given the biblical testimony to contingency and genuine human decisions to do evil, wickedness and sin which are depicted as inseparable from personal responsibility, sovereignty cannot mean that God has meticulously predetermined every thought and action of every person throughout all time according to his own will and power.  The Genesis account testifies to God’s working in and through the circumstances that are produced by genuinely free human decisions and behaviors.  It is as Fretheim says, “…human sin cannot finally stymie God, who can draw everything that has happened into the orbit of larger purposes for good.”

            This chapter has Joseph putting the money the brothers brought to give to him back in their sacks.

               “Joseph, of course, had done this; yet, his discernment and wisdom are God-given.  Hence, the brothers do get it right in one sense: God indeed remains active in these exchanges among the brothers, not least in seeing to the moral order at work in their lives.  Their first reference to God represents another advance in their development (cf. 44:16; 50:17, their only other explicit God statements).  In 50:20, Joseph will answer this question: God has been at work in their lives for good – a response anticipated by Joseph’s steward (43:23!)”[44] (Emphases mine)

            The steward says to the brothers, “Peace to you, do not be afraid.  Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you.” (43:23)

               “In 43:23, God did not personally insert the money in their sacks (cf. 42:25), but because this human action was in tune with the divine purposes, one could claim God as the subject of the action.  Such a claim does not mean that Joseph’s decision to fill the sacks was necessary; he could have taken other actions.  The author’s direct use of God language seems purposely ambiguous, for the divine activity is not obvious, but remains confessional, as no empirical claims can be made.  It becomes a statement of faith.”[45] (Emphasis mine)

            Often times in Scripture it can be said of God that he is the subject of an action although the action is done by a person in the circumstance.  One reason actions are ascribed to God is because, as Fretheim states, the human action is “in tune with the divine purposes.”  God would have us do his will, and in doing so, we can rightly ascribe the doing to God. But nothing is more obvious than the fact that God’s will is not always done. Hence, the absurdity of “meticulous divine providence” which maintains that God’s will is the only will that gets done everywhere and in every way. Also, the monotheistic Israelite was prone to explain what occurs in the world from the point of view of God’s sovereignty.  After all, there is only one God whose rule and reign cannot be thwarted and of whom it can therefore be said that he is “in control” of the things that occur in his world.  This is a plausible explanation of verses that assign calamity, disaster, etc., to God himself (e.g., Isa. 45:1-7).  God accomplishes his purposes, that is, when he has purposes to accomplish, through these happenings. Also, the context of divine judgment is important for understanding the biblical statements about God’s “evil” (KJV) action, and such statements must be kept in their contexts where God is bringing about his righteous judgment on the wicked and perhaps other good purposes.  Because God is omnipresent and omniscient the Israelite could affirm that God is involved in every circumstance but without affirming determinism.  God providentially superintends by virtue of his ruling and reigning over all things – good and evil, not by having determined all things – good and evil. This is the theology of divine sovereignty that our brief survey of Genesis has revealed thus far. And this is the context in which we must interpret Gen. 50:20.

Gen. 44 – Judah’s Public Confession to Joseph

               “The author mentions God only once in this chapter (v. 16), but it is significant.  Although the brothers had previously acknowledged their guilt to one another (42:21), they now confess before Joseph.  Moreover, although the brothers now use God language for the second time (cf. 42:28), previously it took the form of a question.  Judah here brings guilt and God together, thereby confessing that God has been engaged in these events, working to expose their guilt in and through what has happened.  When we combine this with other changes, we understand Joseph’s testing (though rigorous) has finally served a positive purpose.”[46] (Emphases mine)

            What sense is there in God’s “meticulous divine providence” determining and causing the brothers evil actions and guilt only for God to have to work in these events to show the brothers their evil actions and their guilt in and through what has happened?  The brothers are guilty of their evil actions because it was the brothers who of their own intentions and decisions freely willed to commit their evil actions.  To speak at the level of intentions will be important for correctly interpreting Gen. 50:20 which is the verse at issue here.

            Indeed, given “meticulous divine providence,” all this is merely a meaningless charade.[47]  For what is it that the brothers can learn if the brother’s actions and lives are totally predetermined by God?  There are no persons to speak of as individual decision-makers that can provide any genuine meaningful interaction with God or God with them.  If, as Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” requires, God has already predetermined the evil thoughts and actions of the brothers and all of Joseph’s thoughts and actions and everyone else’s thoughts and actions in the narrative, then what purpose does the account serve?  If it has any purpose it would have to be a purpose in accord with “meticulous divine providence.”  But that is something we could never know because God has predetermined Chris and many others to believe the text teaches “meticulous divine providence” while God has also predetermined many others of us to believe it does not.  What it “truly” means, we can never know, because we cannot trust our reasoning about the text or anything else for that matter, because God has arbitrarily determined our mutually exclusive thoughts and beliefs about the meaning of the text which is not according to any “truth” in the matter.

            Fretheim continues on Joseph’s public confession.

               “It seems somewhat strange to say that God has “found out,” as if God did not know what had transpired.  The author links God and Joseph again (see 43:23).  This use of God language also reflects Joseph’s speech in 45:8, where human and divine agency are combined.  Moreover, in 45:5-9 Joseph will speak of God as one who has been engaged in preserving life; the reference in 44:16 to God as one before whom guilt stands exposed is directed toward the same end.  The exposure of guilt serves life and well-being, not to perpetuate self-loathing.  God’s activity in convicting the brothers, therefore, brings about reconciliation in this family.”[48] (Emphasis mine)

            God is the one preserving life and before whom guilt stands exposed.  This presupposes both natural and human moral circumstances in which God works but does not specifically cause as Chris’ view requires.

            Gen. 50:20 must be situated and interpreted coherently and consistently in the context these chapters provide. We have seen that the “meticulous divine providence” view does not adequately nor coherently deal with all the dynamics between God and man as the narrative speaks of them. The deterministic view seems to me to be a reading of the text that simply ignores the incoherence it creates.  It is based on certain verses in which we are told of God’s direct involvement in the affairs of these people but erroneously extrapolates them to a universal divine causal determinism.  But this cannot be the case in light of the contingency and freedom of human decisions, the guilt, the accountability and the responsibility assigned to the brothers in these accounts.  “Meticulous divine providence” is neither required from these texts nor logically and morally coherent with them.  Indeed, such a view cannot coherently account for all that is narrated – especially Joseph’s theological worldview statement when confronted by Potiphar’s wife and the enigmatic account of Judah and Tamar.

            Is it really plausible to think that through the guilt of the brothers God brings about a needed reconciliation when it was God himself that caused the enmity between them by predetermining and effectually causing his brother’s to sin against Joseph?

Gen. 45 – “God Sent Me”

Fretheim writes,

               “Chapter 45 provides the climax to the story, but must be seen as closely coordinate with chap. 46 (especially 45:5-8 and 46:1-4).”[49]

               …Joseph says, fundamentally, that in spite of their past history, all will be well because what has happened corresponds to God’s purposes.  He invites them to view the past from the perspective of the present: everybody is alive.  Hence, their particular past can be interpreted as having a fundamentally (not totally, 50:20) positive dimension.  God has “taken over” what they have done and used it to bring about this end.  Their actions have become God’s by being woven into his life-giving purposes.  Even more, Pharaoh’s actions – elevating Joseph as ruler – have become God’s.  The author leaves aside the role of the human for a specific purpose (not unlike referring to a sermon as the word of God) – the role of the human returns in 50:20.  Human actions could have resulted in different ends: these ends have come to pass, however, and the result means that the decisive actor has been God.

               Some scholars think that the narrator’s perspective appears most transparently at this point; yet, it certainly needs 50:15-21 for proper interpretation.  The important new developments in 50:15-21 move theologically beyond this text, so that Joseph’s perspective becomes more mature (see above). Moreover, we are not fully clear about how God’s activity should be interpreted.  Certainly, God acts unobtrusively, hidden beneath the ordinary course of events. God is the subject of two verbs (salah, “send”; vv. 5, 7, 8) and (sim, “make”; vv. 8, 9), in every case with Joseph as the object.  God acts to preserve life, particularly the life of Joseph’s family (vv. 5, 7). (Emphases mine)

               …The author interprets Joseph’s being sent to Egypt and his elevation to leadership in Egypt (“father to Pharaoh” is a title for a king’s counselor) as God’s means of preserving lifeWhat God did provides the decisive reality within this larger concatenation of events that has led to life and well-beingGod’s concern for life also embraces Egypt, indeed the entire world, as already evident in Joseph’s wise administration (see 41:56-57).  The divine objective encompasses every sphere of life within both family and nation.”[50] (Emphases mine)

            Recall Chris’ definition of “meticulous divine providence.”

               “I prefer the phrase “meticulous divine providence” because of that word “meticulous” – I think it’s helpful.  Because what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

            These chapters make no sense if “meticulous divine providence” is true.  Divine providence?  Yes, certainly.  “Meticulous divine providence?”  No.  Joseph explicitly states that it was the brothers who sold Joseph into Egypt and that they should not be distressed or angry with themselves (45:4, 5).  Throughout the account we are made to believe that these were their actions and they were responsible for them. Therefore, it isn’t God who caused the brother’s to do what they did as is required by “meticulous divine providence.”

            Chris clearly states that God has “predetermined everything people will do.”  It is difficult to understand this in any other way than that God causes everything people will do.  But Joseph is not informing them that all is well because God predetermined and caused them to do what they did.  That would be their best defense in pleading their innocence before both Joseph and God.  Who can resist his will?  If God predetermined everything everyone has done in this narrative, then no one can be held responsible for their actions.  On “meticulous divine providence” they should feel relieved of the guilt and shame they do feel and carry with them regarding what supposedly they did to Joseph.  And Joseph’s testing of his brothers would be not be something Joseph was doing, but rather that God is causing him to do.  But for what purpose?  To bring about the “response” of the brothers that God already predetermined for them? Chris’ determinism only lands us in logical and moral absurdities.

            But the narrative does not lend itself to teaching any such determinism at all.  Throughout the narrative we see that neither Joseph nor his brothers have a deterministic mindset.  They have a non-deterministic understanding of God’s sovereign activity within their sphere of activity.  On a comprehensive determinism the story loses its meaning.  On a non-deterministic view of divine sovereignty it was God who has made sure that the brother’s evil actions and the things Joseph experienced culminated in preserving life (45:5).  God does good, not evil.  Fretheim’s assessment seems accurate.

               “Joseph does not require sorrow or regret from the brothers (cf. 50:17-19).  Rather, he confesses that God has been at work in all these events to preserve life, and that is the decisive reality in this moment.  What God has done stands independent of the brothers’ repentance.  The word, for the brothers, thus serves as a straightforward gospel word, spoken by one who has experienced it deep within his own life: God has acted so that life, rather than death, now abounds.  So the activity of the brothers, however reprehensible in itself, has been used by God as a vehicle for sustaining the life of the family.”

Gen. 45 – Some Problems with the “Meticulous Divine Providence” View

            Fretheim explains the divine and human dynamics in chapter 45.

               “The relationship between divine and human agency in vv. 5-9 is much debated.  One view understands v. 8a in a literal fashion: God sends Joseph to Egypt, not the brothers.  God is the only effective agent in this event (“this all-sufficiency of divine sovereignty makes human action almost irrelevant”).[51]  A number of difficulties attend such a view, however.  (1) The text explicitly ascribes effective agency to the brothers: They “sold” (makar) Joseph into Egypt (vv. 4, 5; 37:28; cf. 42:21).  The brothers are not considered puppets in the hands of God (see also the agency of Joseph in vv. (9-13).  (2) The larger story uses the language of sin (hata, 42:22; 5017) and evil (ra a, 50:15, 17, 20) to refer to the brothers’ action, for which they are guilty (asem, 42:21: awon, 44:16).  To consider God as the actual subject of these words would be problematic and would rule human responsibility for such activity out of order. (3) The notion of testing is integral to understanding the story (cf. 42:15-16).  If God serves as the absolute subject of events, there would be no real test of the brothers, for God would bend their wills to respond as God saw fit.  All of Joseph’s activities would only be a façade for a divine game.  (4) Later, 50:20 speaks of both human and divine intentions effectively at work in these events, though in the service of different purposes.”[52]

Fretheim points out the problematic nature of interpreting this narrative deterministically as in Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.” He writes,

               “…such a view seems problematic if it means that God’s will can never be rejected or frustrated, so that human sin becomes in effect God’s will for the moment.  The OT as a whole often testifies to the resistibility of God’s word and will.[53]

               Either of these perspectives would profoundly affect how one portray the development of the story.  Talk about the drama of the story should then be cast so that everything happens consonantly with the divine will, and any analysis of human words and deeds, even thoughts, should be peppered with talk about the controlling divine subject.  And, of course, no negative judgement should be placed on the activities of any human subjects, for that are only doing the will of God.”[54]

Fretheim presents a more acceptable view.

               “A more acceptable view would speak of the effectiveness of both divine and human agency in the drama, in which both can influence and be influenced, resist and be resisted.  As with doxological language more generally, however, God acts decisively, and should thus be celebrated.

               We should not evaluate the brothers’ life-diminishing activity against Joseph as good (see 50:20) or deem irrelevant how they conduct themselves within God’s economy.  Rather, God’s activity from within the context set in part by the brothers’ sinful behaviors has proved, finally, to be decisive.  Hence, what God has done now counts in charting a way into the future. God has preserved life; God has kept this family intact in the threat of death.  To use a different image, the brothers’ sinful objectives have been thwarted by being drawn into the larger orbit of God’s purposes and used by God in such a way as to bring life rather than death.  To repeat, God has “taken over” what they have done and used it to bring about this end.  Their actions have become God’s by being woven into God’s life-giving purposes.  Even more, Pharaoh’s actions – elevating Joseph as ruler – have become God’s!”

               The extent to which one can draw inferences from this text concerning God’s more general activity in the world (providence) remains difficult to discern…While the text testifies to God as an actor in human affairs, these acts are understood in ways quite different from, say, the Exodus events (or 46:1-4, for that matter); they are more hidden to ordinary sight, much less disruptive of ordinary life.

               Such an understanding of God’s involvement in the life of the cosmos seems especially pertinent in our own world, wherein the tracks of God seem so often ambiguous at best.  We might confess that God’s activity count as a factor to be reckoned with in all events, but these same events could be interpreted with reference to God at all.  But those who make this confession would also go on to say that, wherever there are signs of life rather than death, signs of reconciliation rather than estrangement, God has been at work in, with, and under human affairs.  Depending on the context, it may be that God should be the only subject of such verbs so that we know whose life-giving purposes and activity have been decisive.”[55]

            We have been anticipating Chris’ interpretation of Gen. 50:20 which he contends supports a deterministic reading of this narrative which is “the family history of Jacob” (37:2). I have attempted to provide the literary and theological context into which we need to place Joseph’s words in 50:20. I think it is clear that our survey of the previous chapters, and especially chapter 45, have already rendered Chris’ theistic determinism untenable on exegetical, logical, moral and theological grounds. Before we examine Gen. 50:20 and Chris’ supporting arguments in more detail, here are five summary points that make Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” interpretation of this narrative implausible.

1. The Text Explicitly Ascribes Effective Human Agency to the Brothers.

            It was the brothers who “sold” (makar) Joseph into Egypt (vv. 45:4, 5; 37:28).  They are presented as effective human agents in the narrative (45:4, 5; 37:28-33; cf. 42:21, 22; 50:15-19). Chris’ view is not supported by the effective human agency of the brothers and of Joseph which is made explicit in the story.  If they are effective human agents, then God is not the sole effective agent in the universe as is required by Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”  According to the text’s testimony to the effective agency of the people involved in these historical events, it cannot be the case, as Chris contends, that God has “predetermined everything people will do.” One cannot interpret the text deterministically and have the text remain coherent. Determinism certainly would make the brothers mere “puppets” in the hand of God (see also the agency of Joseph in vv. 45:9-13). 

2. God Is Not The Cause Sin and Evil.

            The larger story uses the language of sin (hata, 42:22; 50:17) and evil (ra a, 50:15, 17, 20) to refer to the brothers’ action, for which they are guilty (asem, 42:21: awon, 44:16).  To consider God as the actual subject of these words would be problematic and would rule out human responsibility for these attitudes and actions.  Note that both Fretheim and Leighton believe that we cannot make God complicit in the actions of the brothers which the text clearly describes as sinful and evil.  God is not the author of sin and evil.  He cannot be the effective or causal agent of sin and evil.  God is perfect in holiness and separate from sin.

            On this matter, Chris comes to very different conclusions.  He claims that God can be the cause of sin and evil and is responsible for it taking place.  He will cite 50:20 and has cited Acts 4:28 as evidence that God is the cause of evil.  But as far as this Genesis text is concerned, it indicates that the brothers were the ones that were the cause and the doers of the sin and evil, not God. The preceding context of 50:20 (vss. 15-19) makes it clear that the evil done to Joseph lays squarely with the brothers. And when Joseph eases his brother’s fears and asks the rhetorical question, “Am I in the place of God?”, the role of God that Joseph is referring to is as a judge of the brother’s intentions and actions. But God as the judge is incoherent with God as also the predeterminer and cause of those same actions. This indicates that Joseph saw God as judging their conduct and therefore did not see a “meticulous divine providence” at work here which have God also causing the sin he would be judging. (see 50:15-19).  So it seems that Chris’ interpretation of 50:20 in support of theistic determinism is already defeated in chapter 45 and the previous contexts.

3. On Determinism There Would Be No Human Responsibility.

            Furthermore, Fretheim and Leighton’s logical conclusion is that on the deterministic view all human responsibility would disappear.  For Chris, God’s sovereignty “is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.”  This, of course, annihilates personal human responsibility.  But this personal human responsibility is a key component of the interaction between Joseph and his brothers and his brothers and God.  The text explicitly speaks about the brothers being responsible and culpable for what they did to Joseph (42:21-22).  Even Chris affirms the brothers caused the sin done to Joseph and were responsible for it.  This presents the problem of dual causality and dual responsibility that I will address below.

 4. Joseph’s Testing Becomes a Façade as the Working Out of a Divine Game. 

            The notion of testing is integral to understanding the story (cf. 42:15-16).  If God serves as the absolute subject of events, there would be no real test of the brothers, for God would bend their wills to respond as God saw fit.  All of Joseph’s activities would only be a façade for a divine game.

5. The Text Speaks of both Human and Divine Intentions.

            If the Scriptures give witness to genuine human intentions then theistic determinism cannot provide a coherent explanation of what is occurring in this historical narrative.  Theistic determinism runs roughshod over such texts.  Later, 50:20 speaks of both human and divine intentions effectively at work in these events, though in the service of different purposes.  Can two personal agents have different intentions regarding the same acts without being incoherent?  Can two personal agents be the cause and also be responsible for the same act without being incoherent?  I will examine this matter of intentions further below. First let’s focus more directly on Chris’ exegesis of Gen. 50:20.

Genesis 50:20 – Chris’ Grammatical Exegesis

Gen. 50:20 reads,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)

Chris exegetes the passage as follows.

            He tells us there are two subjects:

1. the brothers (“you”)

2. God

            There is one verb:

1. “intended” or “meant”

            That the verb is used twice in reference to two direct objects:

1. “evil,” “injury” or “wrong”

2. “it” – which simply refers back to the first direct object.

            Chris states that when this direct object – “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” – is used with this verb, “intended” or “meant” in other places in Scripture, the verb takes on the meaning of “to devise” or “to plan.”  Chris therefore draws the interpretive conclusion that just as the text says the brothers “devised” or “planned” (the verb) the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” (direct object), so God also “devised” or “planned” (the verb) “it” (direct object), i.e., the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong..”  Therefore, both God and the brothers “devised” or “planned” the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong.”

            By importing the meaning of the verb (“intended” or “meant”) as “devised” or “planned” from other contexts into this context, Chris seeks to strengthen the meaning from “intended” or “meant” to a meaning that is more congruent with his “meticulous divine providence.”  The verb defined in the more active sense of “devised” or “planned” is more suitable to his deterministic view.  According to Chris, this would have both God and the brothers as active, causal and responsible in what happened to Joseph.  Both God and the brothers were active, causal and responsible for the sin and evil that that was done to Joseph.  As the human and divine determiners and cause of the evil done to Joseph, it involves both the brothers and God directly and therefore “devised” or “planned” better reflects Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”

            Again, Gen. 50:20 reads,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)

            Regarding these words, Chris interprets them to mean something like this,

            “What Joseph says here is that both his brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin. They were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.  And the way Joseph does that is he makes his brothers and God the grammatical subject of the same verb and he makes their intended harm – the selling him into slavery – the direct object of that verb.  You meant evil against me but God meant it for good.” (32:00 – 32:25, Emphases mine)

Chris also has also directly stated the following.

               “So what Joseph is saying here is that the very same evil intended by his brothers when they sold him into slavery, is the very same evil that was intended by God.  The only difference, Joseph says, is that God meant that evil for good, that is, his purposes in bringing that evil about through the agency of Joseph’s brothers was good, unlike the purposes for which Joseph’s brothers did it.

               Now, I don’t think believers in libertarian freewill like Leighton can explain this text.  Without fail every single attempt I’ve seen…fails to take account of the way the grammar is structured here by Joseph – the fact that God and Joseph’s brothers are both the subject of the same verb and the same direct object.” (33:24 – 35:05, Emphases mine)

            Much of what Chris says in this latter statement the non-Calvinist can agree with.  But there are several problems with Chris’ interpretation of this text as affirming his “meticulous divine providence” view.  They are as follows:

1) It has been shown that “meticulous divine providence” is incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory to other narratives, teachings and doctrines of Scripture.

            If we take coherence on board in our hermeneutic, as I have been arguing above that we must, “meticulous divine providence” cannot be the implicit or explicit meaning of this text because “meticulous divine providence” or universal divine causal determinism is incoherent with the biblical witness to a non-deterministic, contingent reality in which human freedom, free will and human agency and responsibility are affirmed on almost every page of Scripture.

            Whatever this text means, we know that on the basis of a hermeneutic that considers coherence, consistency and non-contradiction to be essential to interpretive validity, that it cannot mean what Chris is proposing.  Exegesis alone is not definitive in this regard.  We need to take into consideration the negative logical, moral and theological entailments of Chris’ exegesis of this verse as affirming his “meticulous divine providence” or universal divine causal determinism. When we run up against an exegesis that produces inter-textual incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction we have to entertain the possibility that, even given a technical assessment of the grammatical structure, the overall sense along with the logical and theological relations have been ignored and therefore that exegesis may be flawed.

2) The Old Testament texts Chris cites to render “intended” or “meant” as meaning “devised” or “planned” refute Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”

            The Old Testament texts Chris’ cites to support how the meaning of the verb “intended” or “meant” strengthens to “devise” or “planned” when used with the direct object “evil” are incoherent with his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  Although Chris uses these passages to show a grammatical feature of the verb, in doing so they also testify to a contingent reality and human free will which are contrary to Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  So even if these passages support his grammatical point, it is problematic to see how that point transfers to 50:20 if these passages also contradict the view of “meticulous divine providence” that Chris is attempting to assign to 50:20. Let’s examine these passages.

Psalm 35:4

        “Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek my life!  Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me!”

In Psalm 35 the psalmist pleads to the Lord to “contend…with those who contend with me” and “fight against those who fight against me.” (v. 1)  He asks the Lord to rise to his help and assure him that “I am your salvation!” (v. 3)  He states, “Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me!” (v. 4)  He states that “the angel of the Lord” should drive them away and pursue them.  And most importantly he asks, “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (v. 17)  And again the psalmist states, “You have seen, O Lord, be not silent!  O Lord, be not far from me!” (v. 22)

 1) Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view is incoherent with these imprecations, because the text clearly states that it is those who “contend” with the psalmist who are the ones devising the evil against him.  There is no indication here from the psalmist that it is God who is devising evil against him, or that God has predetermined and is causing the psalmist’s enemies to do their evil deeds.  But that would be required on Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.

      Be that as it may.  The psalmist understands that God is present and aware, but “looking on” (v. 17), which implies his care for the psalmist in his predicament and that he can pray for the Lord’s vindication and that his enemies be ashamed and dishonored (vss. 23-26). This certainly implies that it is not God who is causing the evil being done to the psalmist.  The text is telling us that God is present with the psalmist but yet allowing the evil doers to do what they will to do against the psalmist.  And that is very different than God meticulously predetermining and causing the evil doers thoughts, motivations and actions against the psalmist.  The psalmist states, “All my bones shall say, ‘O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?’”

      So the point is that the text is telling us that these people are devising evil of their own wills contrary to the will and ways of God.  They are acting independently of God in the sense that they are not predetermined or caused by God to do what they are doing.  That is the way the psalmist presents it to us.  To get “meticulous divine providence” out of this text, we would have to first read it into the text by some creative interpretive stretch.

      The psalmist is certainly not viewing his circumstance as God caused, rather, he gives us the distinct impression that those who contend with him are responsible for their actions.    Moreover, the definite impression we get from this text, and others throughout Scripture, is that “those who devise evil” (v. 4) do not do so because of the “meticulous divine providence” of God who predetermines and causes all evil thoughts, desires and actions, but that there are “those who devise evil” (NIV, “plot”) as free moral agents who are therefore responsible and culpable for their actions.  This text speaks against Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”

 2) If “meticulous divine providence” is biblical, then ultimately we have to view and interpret this text as God having predetermined and caused the evil against the psalmist.  Hence we have the incoherence of God causing the actions of the pursuers while the psalmist calls upon that same God to “draw the spear and javelin” against them and put them to “shame and dishonor” (vss. 3, 4).  Given the “meticulous divine providence” view, the text itself, through the psalmist’s responses, leaves us with an incoherence, for the psalmist prays to that same God who is causing his distress to relieve his distress.  God would be both the cause of the threatening of the psalmist’s life and the remedy to the psalmist’s life threatening predicament.  Surely we shouldn’t presuppose that the psalmist thinks it is God who is causing those who are devising evil against him to do so.  Should we think the psalmist’s worldview mistaken or incoherent?  And if it is, we would have to take that into consideration in interpreting the text.  Chris would have to argue the psalmist was mistaken or incoherent in his worldview and the text is recording this for us.

 3) If God is devising the evil against the psalmist, how can he be assured that God can be his salvation?  Why would he cry out for God to say to his soul “I am your salvation!” if the psalmist also thought God was also causing his enemies to contend with him?  That would not make sense. The whole sense of the passage indicates that the evil doers are acting out the evil intentions of their own wills.  God is not determining their wills, desires or actions as Chris’ view requires.   

4) What would a response that is coherent and consistent with believing in “meticulous divine providence” look like given the evil the psalmist was experiencing?  Wouldn’t he be confident in whatever outcome God has predetermined for him?  What should we make of all the descriptions of the evil doers, the psalmist’s pleas for vindication and a change of circumstance?  If we believe in “meticulous divine providence” there would be nothing to express except that God is doing with the evil doers and the psalmist and each and every one of us what he wills to do – good or evil.  Given “meticulous divine providence” the “response” of stoic fatalism is hard to avoid.  Indeed, whatever one’s response is, that too is predetermined and caused by God.  We can see therefore how Chris’ view leads to this account and all of life being a divine charade.

5) The meaning of the Hebrew word at issue as “devise” or “plan” is appropriate here in this context in this Psalm.  Given these circumstances the evil is surely being “devised” and planned” by these evil doers.  But “meant” or “intended” may be more appropriate in the context of the Genesis 50 account.  Words have a range of meanings that are determined by their contexts. The meanings appropriate in this Psalm are not necessarily appropriate in the context of the Genesis 50:20 passage.

 6) Recall Chris’ suggested Ph.D. study thesis in which he would seek to prove the Bible either implicitly or explicitly affirms “meticulous divine providence” in the narrative genre and from other texts in Scripture.  Surely this passage has elements in it that are not at all coherent with “meticulous divine providence.”  Indeed, Chris would have to show us how it is that texts like Psalm 35 affirm “meticulous divine providence.”  The point is that by definition “meticulous divine providence” requires that every biblical text coherently testify to the worldview of universal divine causal determinism.  I can confidently say that that would be impossible to do.  Texts like these show that “meticulous divine providence” cannot be maintained.  These texts, and the overwhelming majority of Scripture, do not logically, morally, interpretively nor theologically affirm “meticulous divine providence.” Therefore, based upon a hermeneutic of coherence, “meticulous divine providence” is, by definition, not a valid interpretation of Scripture.

      Conclusions.  Note that these observations are based on a hermeneutic of coherence. If Chris and other Calvinists want to maintain their theistic determinism they will be required to adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence. But if they do so, they must justify that hermeneutic. But that would be impossible, for on a hermeneutic of incoherence the rules of logic, which are the rules of thought qua thought, will have been forfeited and any interpretation one prefers will not be able to be rationally defended or disputed and will merely be held as one’s own subjective, preferred interpretation. Therefore, taking coherence on board in our hermeneutic, whatever can be gained by importing “to devise” or “to plan” into Genesis 50:20, it cannot give Chris his “meticulous divine providence.” By definition “meticulous divine providence” cannot allow for texts like Psalm 35 that describe reality as incoherent with the Calvinist’s deterministic worldview.  Moreover, the God the psalmist calls upon to save him is not the God who has predetermined and is now causing his distress and “devising evil” against him.  Other evil men are doing this “devising” of evil, not God.

Jeremiah 18:8, 11

        “…and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” (v. 8, ESV)

        “Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’” (v. 11, ESV)

      Jeremiah 18:8 is another passage Chris cites to justify “devise” or “planned” instead of “intended” or “meant” as the meaning of the Hebrew word in Gen. 50:20.  But the contingent nature of the passage and its context stand in direct contradiction with Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”  The passage presupposes both freedom on the part of God as the potter and human freedom and responsibility with respect to “Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”  Here is the verse in context.  The Lord sends Jeremiah to the potter’s house to watch him work the clay in his hands.  Jeremiah then says,

        “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’” (ESV)

      The circumstance of the potter is taken up as analogous with what God can do with any nation, especially “Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (v. 11)  The presupposition is not that God is meticulously predetermining all the thoughts and actions of every person within Israel and Israel corporately, for God is warning them about their present sinful and disobedient behavior, both as individuals and a nation.  The Lord is telling them what he will sovereignly bring to pass in judgment of them, but he also makes clear that in such situations his judgment is contingent upon whether or not that nation “turns from its evil.” (v. 8)  The text clearly affirms a contingent reality, not a theistic determinism.  The fact that God is sovereign in the world and the fact that events in the world have the nature of contingency are not mutually exclusive.  We see both God’s sovereignty and the contingency of human decision and historical events in the fact that God declares that if a nation which was informed of God’s coming judgment turns from its evil, then “I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (v. 8).  (NIV, “planned”)  And vice versa.  “…if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it” (v. 10).

      Obviously it is not God who is predetermining and causing the evil of the nations he is referring to.  But that is what Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” requires of this text and all of Scripture.  But that is to turn the plain meaning of this text into incoherent nonsense.  The prophetic word to Israel is, “So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look, I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds.’ 12 But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (vss. 11, 12, CSB)  Obviously, this account, with its contingency and human freedom is not coherent with “meticulous divine providence.”

      We should acknowledge that God can “shape disaster against” and be “devising a plan against” Israel because of its evil ways.  But we must also acknowledge that they are Israel’s evil ways and that they are called to “Return, every one from his evil way, amend your ways, and your deeds.” (ESV)  So note the free response of the people that is a refutation of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  The people say, “We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (vss. 11, 12, CSB)  This affirms that the people are responsible for their evil deeds and their response to to God’s message. The “meticulous divine providence” view is incoherent with the human freedom and the source of the evil in this passage.

      God can “intend” to bring “disaster” on nations because of their evil.  But that God is not the predeterminer and cause of the evils is obvious, and the contingent nature of the future events is also obvious.  If the nation does not listen to God’s voice, disaster will come and not the good God “intended” to do to it.  If the nation turns from “its evil,” then God relents from the disaster he “intended” to do to it.

      By definition, all it takes to defeat the view of “meticulous divine providence” is a single instance of contingency or any single thought, desire, belief or action of a human agent which cannot be attributed to the irresistible, effectual, predetermined causal action of God upon that person.  That is all it takes to refute what by definition requires all things to be predetermined by God. Such a view is logically contradictory to the concepts of contingency and free will that are present in this passage and throughout Scripture.

      Conclusions about these texts.  Therefore, in that both of these passages Chris cites to justify the strengthening of the verb “intend” and “meant” to “devise” and “plan” in the hope that Gen, 50:20 would explicitly support his “meticulous divine providence,” we see, rather, that these texts present reality as contradictory to his “meticulous divine providence.”  Therefore, we have warrant from the broader canonical context to conclude that Chris’ view is not biblical.  This means that we cannot interpret Gen. 50:20 as if a “meticulous divine providence” governed this family history of Jacob and the role of God, the brothers and Joseph in that history. Therefore, if this verse can be interpreted in another way that is exegetically sound and contextually coherent, then that would be the better interpretation.

      Furthermore, we can make the point here about the hermeneutical divide.  Chris, and Calvinists in general, will not incorporate logical and moral coherence in their hermeneutic.  The fact that the examples Chris quotes contain contingency and speak of reality as indeterminate is not taken by Chris to be significant as to the validity of his interpretation, not only of Genesis 50:20, but also the validity of the other texts he claims explicitly teach his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  Moreover, it will be impossible for Chris to interpret all of the didactic and narrative passages in Scripture in accord with his “meticulous divine providence” view.  But that is what is required of him, for by definition, all that is narrated, expressed or taught in Scripture must accord with “meticulous divine providence.”  Therefore, if there is even a hint of contingency, indeterminacy, human freedom, responsibility, culpability, potentiality or possibility, then Chris’ determinism fails.

3) The “devised” or “planned” argument is weak.

a) Context.

      Psalm 35 and Jeremiah 8 refute Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.  And even if a strengthening of the verb to “devise” or “planned” is appropriate in other contexts of Scripture, this does not necessarily mean that it should be interpreted similarly in this Genesis context.   Even with the direct object being the same (“evil,” injury” or “wrong”), this context is unique, and the grammatical elements need to remain subject to the other details relayed in these particular events and the narrator’s sense of the words in light of his theological purposes in Genesis along with what the author is relaying of those events to the first readers and to us by extension.

b) Even given “devised” or “planned,” we don’t arrive at “meticulous divine providence.”

      Even if God has “devised” or “planned” the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” that Joseph experienced, that is, that there are some events God has predetermined and causes to occur, it certainly does not follow that he has predetermined and causes all that occurs down to each and every meticulous detail of anything and everything that happens for all time throughout the whole universe.  Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” does not follow from this passage, and Leighton made that point.

      Chris points out that it is not on passages like Gen. 50:20 that he bases his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  This passage is an example, among many others, in which Chris finds that his view is implicitly affirmed.  Yet, Chris claims that the grammar of the text indicates that God predetermined in a causal way the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” that occurred to Joseph.  He also makes the point that the grammar has never been successfully dealt with by non-Calvinists to show how it does not support “meticulous divine providence.” But as I argued above, if the grammar is said to affirm “meticulous divine providence,” but that deterministic worldview is not a viable biblical worldview on the basis of the overwhelming witness of Scripture to contingent realities and free agency, then “meticulous divine providence” is not what this passage is affirming. If it is incoherent with the majority of the biblical witness, then it must mean something other than what Chris claims it means.

      Joseph, in this text, most likely wanted to communicate the sense of “intended” or “meant,” not “devised” or “planned.”  I say this because Chris had to go outside this context for the definitions of “devised” or “planned.”  And the texts cited are inconsistent with his determinism.  More on this below.

      So we have seen that Chris’ view cannot be the view of Scripture due to the incoherence its determinism produces with the indeterminacy and contingency so clearly evident throughout Genesis, the examples Chris gives in in Psalm 35 and Jeremiah 18, and the Scriptures as a whole.  So whether implicit or explicit, “meticulous divine providence” cannot be found in Scripture.  Divine providence and divine sovereignty?  Yes.  Theistic determinism or “meticulous divine providence?”  No.

      Again, all this tells us something important about Chris’ hermeneutic.  It tells us that he does not consider coherence, consistency and contradiction to be significant indicators of the validity or invalidity of one’s exegesis and interpretations. 

4) The major versions use the words “intended” or “meant.” 

            The RSV, ESV (“meant”) and NIV (“intended”) rightly capture the sense of the passage.  The brothers intended to harm Joseph, and therefore they did just that.  But God intended what the brothers did to bring about good and the saving of life.

            As a theistic determinism, Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” cannot be satisfied with the sense of “intended” or “meant.”   The sense of these words are more distant from the actual performance of the acts of evil. The notion of intention is very different from the concrete performance of the deed required by Chris’ determinism. His determinism requires a stronger sense from the verb.  That is why he went to Psalm 35 and Jeremiah 18 in support of the translations of the verb as “to devise” or “to plan.”  But I have shown that Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” is incoherent with the data in the context of those passages.  Therefore, his view is unbiblical and therefore whatever Gen. 50:20 means to tell us about what God did in this situation, it cannot be explained as “meticulous divine providence.” Therefore, I submit that the sense of the passage and an explanation of it must be something along the following lines:

               “Joseph’s brothers intended to do evil, injury and wrong against Joseph. Joseph’s brothers went ahead and performed the evil they intended against Joseph. And although the evil acts were carried out by the brothers, because of God’s involvement in the events, good would come from those evil acts.  God, although he did not cause the evil, injury and wrong against Joseph, he did intend that “it” – the evil, injury and wrong done against Joseph by his brothers – would serve very different purposes than those of the brothers, which was to harm Joseph.  God intended from “it,” “that many people should be kept alive.”

            God’s involvement in the events can be understood in ways that accord with the grammar of the text without necessarily concluding that the grammar and vocabulary can only be understood as meaning “meticulous divine providence.”  The grammar of the text can mean something other than theistic determinism. It can mean precisely what most versions translate it as – “intended” or “meant.”

            Let’s examine this more closely.

5) “Intend” or “meant” does not mean “to cause.”

Gen. 50:20 reads,

               “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

               “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)

            Now, Chris claims that the grammar Joseph employed in this text requires the following explanation.

               “What Joseph says here is that both his brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin.  They were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.  And the way he does that is he makes his brothers and God the grammatical subject of the same verb and he makes their intended harm – the selling him into slavery – the direct object of that verb.  You meant evil against me but God meant it for good.” (32:00 – 32:25)

            I don’t think we should miss the obviously simple point that “intend” or “meant” (or even “devised” or “planned”) does not mean “cause.”  I don’t think the text can support Chris’ deterministic extrapolation of the grammar because if we read the text according to Chris’ exegetical conclusions we would have something more like this.

               “You caused me harm, but God caused me harm for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (NIV)

            Here are other interpretive results that would be consistent with Chris’ explanation of the meaning of the text given his grammatical exegesis.

               “As for you my brothers, you intended, meant, devised, planned and caused evil against me for my harm, but God intended, devised, planned and caused evil against me for my harm and for good.  So both you and God intended, meant, devised and planned and caused evil against me, and whereas you meant to harm me, so too God meant to harm me, but as far as God was concerned, it was to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, something you had never intended, meant, devised, planned or caused to occur.”

Or,

               “Now, my brothers, you and God both devised evil, injury and wrong against me and planned to harm me, and caused me to be harmed, but the evil, injury and wrong both you and God devised and planned to harm me, and by which you both caused me to be harmed, God devised and planned and caused for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

            The interpretations required of “meticulous divine providence” seem bizarre.  Is it really plausible that this is what Joseph intended to communicate to his brothers in Gen. 50:20? Recall that Chris states,

               “So what Joseph is saying here is that the very same evil intended by his brothers when they sold him into slavery, is the very same evil that was intended by God.  The only difference, Joseph says, is that God meant that evil for good, that is, his purposes in bringing that evil about through the agency of Joseph’s brothers was good, unlike the purposes for which Joseph’s brothers did it.

               Now, I don’t think believers in libertarian freewill like Leighton can explain this text.  Without fail every single attempt I’ve seen…fails to take account of the way the grammar is structured here by Joseph – the fact that God and Joseph’s brothers are both the subject of the same verb and the same direct object.” (33:24 – 35:05)

            Let’s think about several interesting aspects of these statements.

a) The second direct object (“it”) can refer back to what the brothers did in toto.

      This would not require that God intended the evil the brothers intended or that God was responsible for the sin the brothers were responsible for committing against Joseph.  The grammar doesn’t exclude the sense in the passage that God intended for the circumstances the brothers created of their own sinful, evil intentions and their own sinful, evil actions, to issue forth in God’s intentions for good and the saving of lives in a way that God remains above the sinful, evil actions of the brothers.  The contrast is between sinful men who believe their intentions are private and unknown to God and that what they do only involves their immediate circumstances of which they think they are in absolute control, and what a sinless God is able to foresee and know via his omniscience and therefore is able by his wisdom and power to accomplish through the circumstances created by the brothers sinful intentions and actions.  For Joseph to say “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” is to say God commandeered the circumstances the brother’s created by their own intentions, actions and purposes and made them serve his own intentions and purposes.  What is being presented in this general summary account is a glimpse into the ultimate workings of God in the free course of human affairs.  In this narrative we are given a broad level insight into the intentions, devices or plans, if you will, of finite humans for evil purposes that are taken up by the intentions, devices and plans of an omnibenevolent, all-wise and sovereign God for good purposes.

b) The passage needs to be interpreted and left to remain at the level of intentions

The brother’s intentions were very different from God’s intentions as to the actions the brothers committed against Joseph.  And it is crucial to observe that at this level of intentions that both the brother’s and God’s intentions can be and remain very different intentions but related to the same direct object – the evil acts the brothers did to Joseph.  It is at that level of intentions that Joseph speaks, and therefore it is at that level of intentions that we ought to interpret the passage.  Joseph is not speaking about cause.  He is speaking about intentions, which is to speak about the end results.  The brother’s intended result was evil and God’s intended result for what the brother’s did was for good and for life, not evil and death.

      The “it” refers to the evil the brother’s intended and the acts they subsequently performed based on those intentions.  “God intended it for good” expresses, not that God was causal behind the sin that was done to Joseph, but that God had his own good intentions for the evil the brothers intended to do and actually did do to Joseph.

      Intentions are subject dependent.  The brothers have theirs and God has his and they can be very different.  We can accept that the direct object stays the same because that is what Joseph has insight into, that is, how what the brothers intended and in time acted upon, was altered by God’s intentions regarding their sinful acts done against Joseph.  The intention of God with respect to “it” – the evil, injury and wrong that the brothers did to Joseph – was a good intention.  “God intended it for good…” We must keep our interpretation at the level of intentions because that is where the text leaves it.

      Again, this second direct object (“it”) can refer back to the brothers’ involvement in toto – their evil and sinful intentions as well as their acting upon those intentions. They actually committed evil, injury or wrong against Joseph. This does not require that God be complicit in their intentions, attitudes or actions precisely because he did not predetermine or cause those intentions, attitudes and actions.  Yet, as God, he can have intentions of his own with regarding the evil the brothers both intended and carried out. Indeed, as a holy and upright God he cannot be complicit in evil intentions and actions.  Therefore, we can speak at the level of intention about the events.  The evil the brothers intended and subsequently acted out against Joseph, God intended for good and the saving of lives.  The evil acts the brothers intended and performed were their responsibility, yet God had other good intentions regarding those acts.  It was sin that the brothers intended and committed against Joseph, sin which God cannot be complicit in in any way but intended for the saving of many lives.

      Therefore, the grammar of the verse need not be taken as Chris insists it must be taken.  The verse does not mean God intended, meant, devised or planned to harm Joseph.  It means that God intended, meant, devised or planned good from “it” – the harming of Joseph by the brothers.  Any grammatical equation of God as a subject with evil, injury or wrong as the direct object, passes through the verb “intend” or “meant” which is not necessarily to say that God, evil intentions and evil acts are ontologically compatible, working in harmony together to accomplish both evil things and good things in the world, but rather it is to show that God can sovereignly employ the evil intentions and the subsequent evil acts of other subjects to his good intentions and purposes.  It seems to me that Chris’ grammatical exposition supports the former idea that God and evil are ontologically compatible.

      The text gives us insight into the brother’s intentions and tells us about the evil and sin they performed.  But the text also tells us of God’s intentions which prevailed.  Thus the verse can be read at the level of intentions with nothing more to be derived from the vocabulary about a proof for a “meticulous divine providence” that cannot be sustained in light of the whole testimony of Scripture to a non-deterministic reality.

      Hence, even on the strengthening of “intended” to “devised” or “planned,” with respect to this verse 50:20, the evil the brothers did still falls short of “to cause” or “to do” on God’s part which is required by Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.  That the brothers were the cause of the evil, sinful acts is a fact that is made clear to us in the narrative.  Therefore, 50:20 needs to be interpreted according to what the narrative has already communicated as to the brother’s intentions and actions.  With respect to both intention and cause, or preforming the evil, it was the brothers who did this and were responsible for it.  What does the narrative communicate to us about God’s intentions and actions in all these events?  Commentator Terrence Fretheim writes,

        “The God who created the world and called it good has been about life and its preservation in and through all these events, despite their intentions for death.  Joseph, by clearly naming the brother’s actions as “evil” – something not done in 45:39 – makes this matter public.  His positive action has their evil behaviors in clear view, and the brothers now know that the evil they have done no longer counts against them.”[56]

And,

        “God’s creational purposes for goodness, life and well-being in and through people do not cease even in the face of their weakness or failure.

        The narrator gathers up a key theme of these chapters (50:20) concerning what both the brothers and God have done (see also 45:5-9).  The verb (hasah) is translated in various ways; either “plan” or “intend” will do, though “plan” lifts up the concrete idea of intention more directly.  This term also more clearly alludes to the plots of the brothers against Joseph.  In their very plans, God, too, has been working on a plan for goodness (see Jer 18:11-12, 18; 29:11).

        God does not have a highly detailed plan all worked out that will come to fruition regardless of what humans do.  The people involved are not automatons, whose good or evil actions count for nothing.  Positively, they can act for good in the face of those who plan evil.  Negatively, they can frustrate God’s intentions, so that the future may look different from what would have been the case had only the divine plan been realized.  Yet, however much these planners may complicate the divine planning, God’s way into the future will never finally be stymied.  God will persevere, will stay with plans for life, though it may entail changes in the ways and means to that goal in view of human intractability and failure.  We should remember this perspective, voiced at the end of Genesis, as we move into the “evil” evident in the book of Exodus.

        The divine action has been behind the scenes, unobtrusive.  Dissimilar to the rest of Genesis, it has been more subtle, interweaving the threads of goodness and mercy among the various strands of evil in their lives, working toward the best possible end.  God can take what such persons do and draw it into God’s larger purposes.  We do not find a situation in which “even the evil design is included in God’s plan.”  God does not intend human evil.  Rather, God’s plan “is to bring the evil devised by the brothers to good effect.”[57]  Paul echoes this text in Rom. 8:28: In everything, in even the worst that evildoers may throw God’s way, God will draw it into the divine plans for good.  For Joseph, finally, one must trust in these persistent divine purposes on behalf of life.

        …The brothers do, indeed, reap many consequences for their deeds (cf. 42:14; 44:16); even forgiveness would not bring those to a sudden end.  The issue becomes whether the evil consequences (hence the sin that triggered them) will be allowed to claim the day.  God’s move, in and through Joseph, means that sin and its consequences are not allowed to have the last word.  The people of God can trust that, in the midst of sin and evil, God pursues his purposes for good.”[58]

            Of course each subject – God and the brothers – are going to refer to the same direct object – evil, injury or wrong – because it is the evil, injury or wrong that the brothers committed that Joseph is referring to, but he refers to these with respect to the two very different intentions regarding that evil once it was performed by the brothers. It was not caused or performed by God. It was caused and performed by the brothers as the result of their own evil intentions which were obviously distinct from and in opposition to God’s intentions.  The subject, “God,” can intend something very different for the direct object, “evil, injury or wrong,” than the subject, “the brothers,” intended for the direct object, “evil, injury or wrong.” For the brothers intended the direct object, “evil, injury or wrong,” to harm Joseph, whereas God intended the direct object, “evil, injury or wrong,” to save many lives.

            Joseph was speaking at the level of intentions.  Therefore that is the level at which we must interpret the verse.  We must speak at the level of intentions, as Joseph did.  And therefore God intended the evil for good.  What the text does not say is that God caused the evil for good. Intentions, both the brother’s and God’s, are present even if the brother’s never actualized their intentions. Intentions, both the brother’s and God’s, can be different. And again, of course it is the “it” that the intentions of both the brothers and God refer to because that is the theological theme Joseph wants us to realize – that with regard to the whole complex of evil and sin that the brother’s intended for Joseph and did to Joseph and were responsible for and guilty of doing, God had other intentions. He brought about good from “it.”

            But Chris’s view makes God’s will the cause of the brother’s actions.  Recall his definition of “meticulous divine providence.”

               “…what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

            This is why on this view we can conclude that God becomes the author of the evil intentions as well as the cause of the evil actions done to Joseph by his brothers.  Chris’ determinism forces upon the text a meaning that is not necessarily in the text when it is left at the level of intentions.  It forces the text to go down to the level of active causation and responsibility.  I submit that such a “meticulous divine determinism” is not what Joseph is seeking to communicate to his brothers.  Neither does Chris’ determinism maintain the coherence of the narrative as a whole with the contingency and human responsibility that are certainly presupposed throughout.

            Therefore, the verb “intend” or “meant” is going to refer to the same direct object, “evil,” “injury,” or “wrong,” but not in the sense of causation.  The verb “intend” or “meant” is going to refer to the same direct object precisely because it is the evil done against him that Joseph is explaining in terms of God’s involvement in the circumstances.  Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view which equates to theistic determinism is clearly incoherent with the data of the narrative in which Joseph places responsibility on the brothers for their intentions and actions, which implies that their intentions and actions were their own.  If Joseph held the brothers responsible for the evils they perpetrated, and he certainly did, and the brothers understood their responsibility for their acts, and they certainly did, then Joseph is being incoherent and inconsistent if he somehow or in some way also understood these events in terms of a theistic determinism in which Joseph also has God perpetrating the evils and responsible for them.  On the basis of the grammar in 50:20, Chris would have us believe that the intentions on God’s part are identical with the intentions of the brothers.  On the basis of the grammar of 50:20, Chris would have us believe that the actions on God’s part are identical with the actions of the brothers.  And on the basis of the grammar of 50:20 Chris would have us believe that the brothers were responsible for what occurred to Joseph and God was responsible for what occurred to Joseph, and all these in the same manner and way. This seems to me to be reading determinism into the text rather than reading the text in the fuller context of Genesis and Scripture as a whole.  The point is that the grammar of the text clearly need not support an interpretation that God’s intention in these matters is identical to those of the brothers.  Neither does the grammar make God the cause of the actions committed by the brothers because the text speaks at the level of intention, not cause.  The brothers concocted and performed the evil, injury and wrong done to Joseph.  What Joseph wants us to know is that God’s intentions are about doing good and preserving life, and those intentions get accomplished in the midst of other human intentions, even when those intentions are evil.  In effect, Chris’ view states that “God intended or caused evil, injury and wrong – period!  And God intended or caused good and the saving of many lives – period!  The better interpretation is the one that has God meaning to take the evil the brother meant to do and ultimately did, and accomplish what he meant to accomplish through “it,” that is, his own good purposes.

            Conclusions. If Joseph himself was not thinking in terms of causation but only intention, then we do not have the problem with the text that Chris’ determinism raises.  Is it not necessary or even possible to interpret the text as “God predetermined every single event in all of history, including this whole narrative, causing it to occur just as he predetermined it.”  Surely that would make nonsense of a key teaching of the text which is that even in the midst of the evil actions of men for which they are responsible, God can unfailingly work his purposes.

            Joseph says “You intended evil…” because he is going to stress what God intended from the events – good and life.  We can discern the difference if we say, “You, my brothers, intended evil against me, and then you acted upon your evil intentions, but God intended that those evil actions that you, my brothers, intended and committed against me would turn out for good and life.”  That is what we should take away from the text.  The grammar need not support anything more or anything less.

              Chris has to have the text support his “meticulous divine providence” view – as he does every single text in Scripture, which is another point against Chris’ view that has already been discussed.  Therefore, Chris supports his view by importing other senses of the verb found in other contexts into this context.  These senses strengthen the verb from “intend” or “meant” to “devise” or “plan.”  Chris believes this secures God’s direct involvement in terms of causation and responsibility. But Chris’ move is unwarranted for the reasons given above, of which at least these two, speak decisively against his view.

First, care needs to be taken that just because these words have a certain connotation in one context (Ps. 35 and Jer. 18), that does not mean we can simply transfer that connotation into another context.  That may not be appropriate.  I have attempted to show that the context of 50:20 does not require those senses.  Context, both immediate and canonical determines the meaning of words.

Secondly, the contents of Psalm 35 and Jeremiah 18 contradict Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.  The contingency and human responsibility in these two passage refute his theistic determinism.  Therefore, as far as interpreting Gen. 50:20 is concerning, because the canonical context cannot support determinism, and our brief survey of the broader context of Genesis cannot support determinism, we must conclude that 50:20 cannot be interpreted to support Chris’ determinism.  Since such determinism stands in contradiction to the overwhelming witness of Scripture to a non-deterministic reality, Chris’ determinism is unbiblical.  Therefore, we must interpret 50:20 in a non-deterministic manner.  It is best to understand the verse as “intend” or “meant” as I have argued above and as many translations have it.

Now,  I think a plain reading of the text makes it obvious to the reader that the brothers were the cause of Joseph’s initial troubles.  It was an evil act with evil intent on the part of the brothers who initially wanted to murder Joseph, and then, deciding differently, threw him into the pit and sold him to travelers to send him away.  The question now is whether God so caused and intended what the brothers also caused and intended in the same way and in the same degree and with the same purposes as Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” logically requires. In other words, it seems that Chris, by his exegesis of the passage, has lead us into dual-causality and dual-responsibility, not in any coherent sense, but in a conflicted incoherent sense.

6) Dual Causation and Dual Responsibility are Incoherent

Regarding the Genesis 50:20 passage Chris states,

               “What Joseph says here is that both his brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin.  They were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.  And the way he does that is he makes his brothers and God the grammatical subject of the same verb and he makes their intended harm – the selling him into slavery – the direct object of that verb.  You meant evil against me but God meant it for good.” (32:00 – 32:25)

            Question. How can the brothers and God both be “ultimately causal” behind the sin and evil done to Joseph?  How can two personal agents both be “ultimately causal of the same act?  How can two personal agents both be “ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.”  It seems to me that the grammar cannot be interpreted in a way that both the brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin and responsible for it taking place.  Neither can both be ultimately causal and responsible for the evil and sin.  Let’s make some observations. First, recall how Chris defines the sovereignty of God – what he calls “meticulous divine providence.”

“…what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

 a) This dual causation and dual responsibility is incoherent with what Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” logically requires.  What Chris’ view logically requires is that God alone is “ultimately causal behind that sin.”  God alone “devised” or “planned” the “evil,” “injury” or “wrong” done to Joseph.  On Chris’ determinism, God must be the sole agent, sole cause and be solely responsibility for the evil done to Joseph.  There can be no dual-agency or dual-responsibility. With respect to evil and suffering, Chris has stated, “…in my view, God doesn’t let those things happen, he ordains them to happen…” (10:33 – 11:51)  And again, “…what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)  God caused the brothers to do what they did to Joseph.  God predetermined and caused, down to the tiniest detail, the brothers to irresistibly carry out what they did to Joseph.  They could not have done otherwise.

Therefore, then, the brothers are in no way the actual cause of the sin against Joseph as Chris claims.  By virtue of God having decreed and therefore causing all things, he has therefore also caused the brothers to do the evil they did to Joseph. And Chris is also clear on the point of responsibility.  God is ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.  Hence, God is the primary or ultimate cause and the sole agent who is responsible for that sin to take place.  That is, on Chris’ view, God is the sole agent in any meaningful sense relating to the events recorded here. It is therefore incoherent to state that “What Joseph says here is that both his brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin.  They were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.”

Chris is affirming that it is “through the agency of the brothers” that God brings about his purposes. But there cannot be two separate agents that are ultimately casual for the sin committed or “ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.”  For Chris to claim the brothers were ultimately responsible for determining the sin to take place while claiming that God determines all things is incoherent.  Also, for Chris to say that God was ultimately causal and ultimately responsible for that sin, is to indict God in sinning.  He is the cause of sin and also responsible for it taking place.  He is its author, making God himself sinful.

In other words, Chris is telling us that the brothers are “agents” who are causally active and responsible for the same actions that God who as the sole causal agent is responsible for bringing about.  This is incoherent.  When Chris says, “…both [Joseph’s] brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin” and that “they were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place,” he is not only making a statement that is incoherent with itself as to ultimate causation and agential responsibility, but also with his view of “meticulous divine providence.”  The brothers couldn’t have been ultimately causal “behind the sin” or “ultimately responsible” for determining for that sin to take place, not only because logically one or the other must be ultimately causally responsible for the sin, but also because according to Chris’ definition of sovereignty as “meticulous divine providence” God has “predetermined everything people will do.”  And “the unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.” (12:09 – 12:47)  If that is the case, then God, and God alone, is the ultimate cause not merely “behind the sin,” but “of the sin,” and God and God alone is ultimately responsible for that sin. Hence, on Chris’ view we would have to understand the brothers as being merely the instrumental “cause” of what God has ultimately decreed and caused them to do. 

b) Chris is also somewhat confusing when he uses the phrase “behind that sin.”  What does he mean by that?  He states that the brothers were “behind that sin.”  Does “behind that sin” mean that they committed that sin and were responsible for it?  According to the text and Chris’ statements the brothers committed the sin and were responsible for it.  But Chris also states that God was “behind that sin.”  Does Chris mean to say God committed the sin and was responsible for it?  It seems that is what he must mean because he claims that “both [Joseph’s] brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin.”  Given Chris’ dual causation and responsibility, with respect to being “ultimately causal behind that sin,” or bringing the sin about, whatever applies to the brothers applies to God and whatever applies to God applies to the brothers.  The same goes for being “ultimately responsible for “determining for that sin to take place.”  Whatever applies to the brothers applies to God and whatever applies to God applies to the brothers.  This conflation of causality and responsibility of the brothers and God seems to be absurd.  So I think that we can see that this duality is untenable with respect to the notions to which Chris applies them – causation and responsibility.

c) Dual causation and dual responsibility seem to make nonsense of the passage.  Therefore, somehow the intentions and actions of the brothers must have been different (should we say ontologically?) than the intentions and actions of God.  And they were.  The intentions and actions of the brothers were murderous, evil and sinful.  But the intentions of God and his activity given the events occasioned by the brothers evil, sinful intentions and actions against Joseph, were for good – the keeping of the family and many others alive.  And this – no more and no less – is just what Joseph is telling us in Gen. 50:20. 

            The point is that even if there is the possibility of dual causation and dual responsibility (apart from the Calvinist’s explanations of “secondary causes” or “God works through means,” which are also incoherent[59]), Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” does not allow for it.  His “meticulous divine providence,” by definition, demands sole divine agency, sole divine causality and sole divine responsibility.  Chris cannot coherently bring the brothers into the picture with respect to assigning them meaningful agency, causality or responsibility.  These are swallowed up in the vortex of Chris’ determinism.  So Chris’ exegesis of this passage is incoherent with his own view of “meticulous divine providence.”  Given this incoherence I don’t see how Genesis 50:20 can be teaching what Chris says his grammatical exegesis demands.

Conclusions

1) Chris interprets 50:20 as dual agency, dual causality and dual responsibility, but this is incoherent with his theistic determinism which, by definition, logically requires God to be the sole causal agent, solely responsible for all things – including sin and evil.

2) Joseph’s point in this verse makes no sense on Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.  Joseph is pointing out interaction among the human intentions and the divine intentions.  A contrast is being made in which Joseph affirms that there was an intention of God that has been accomplished in and through the intentions of the brothers, even though they were evil intentions.   So Joseph can speak about God intending that evil, but not to point out that God is an accomplice in the brother’s evil intentions or actions, but that God has intentions for that evil which will lead to his ultimate good purposes.  God intends the evil which was intended and then actualized by the brothers, to serve his good purpose.  The close grammatical association between God and evil makes Joseph’s point more poignant – God’s intentions are to employ the evil intentions of men to accomplish his purpose of the saving of many lives. Without the intentions of the brothers being genuinely free decisions made of themselves and not predetermined by God, Joseph’s point about the divine intentions having prevailed would make no sense.  What would there be for Joseph to point out about how God’s intentions were accomplished despite the brother’s intentions if all things were predetermined by God as Chris’ determinism requires?  What meaning would Joseph’s words have given “meticulous divine determinism?”  Indeed, the brothers were to take comfort in the fact that despite their sin which they were keenly aware was their sin and for which they were responsible and would be held culpable for, God’s intentions did prevail.  They did not know the ultimate plans and purposes of God that would be served by Joseph’s rise to authority in Egypt.  What Joseph now realizes, given hindsight in the situation, is that the brother’s intentions, which were fully their own, and the brother’s actions which were fully their own, were subject to God’s intentions which were fully his own.  God’s intentions were to allow the brother’s to do what they did so as to bring Joseph into the sphere of Egypt and into his role there so as to achieve his good purposes for Jacob’s family as well as the Egyptians. It is a narrative that reflects the way God works the salvation of the world in and through the evil and sin men commit. The point is that God loves all sinners and has accomplished salvation for each and every one of them in Christ. This is “good news.” All may be saved through faith in God and Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. The forgiveness of sins is available at the cross for all to receive by faith.

3) Nothing in the grammar needs to be taken as Chris insists with respect to the harm done to Joseph.  The verse does not mean God intended, devised or planned to harm Joseph.  Even if we grant the importation of “devised” or “planned” from Ps. 35 and Jer. 18 into this text, which I do not grant, the result is that God intended, devised or planned something good from the harm the brothers did to Joseph, which is referred to in the second direct object – “it.”  This “it” refers to the whole complex of evil intentions that the brothers had for Joseph and their putting them into action.

4) When Joseph refers to God as the subject of the verb “intended” or “meant” (“devised” or “planned”) in reference to the second direct object (“it” – evil, injury, or wrong), he is saying that God was involved in the “it” with respect to his intentions for the “it” which Joseph states was his brother’s sin and for which they were responsible and guilty. God was involved in the “it” with respect to his intentions so as to bring about a good result, the saving of many lives.

5) I’ve shown that Chris’ deterministic exegesis of this text is in logical and moral contradiction to the fuller testimony of Scripture to a non-deterministic reality and human freedom and responsibility.  Therefore, since exegesis, although foundational, is only one component in the larger universe of interpretive considerations, which includes the coherence of that exegesis, we must also judge the accuracy of an exegesis and the interpretation constructed from it by its coherence.  All the weight of a text’s meaning cannot be laid on a particular exegesis while disregarding the logical and moral difficulties that exegesis generates.  Technical, grammatical exegesis has certain limitations, and we must certainly acknowledge that there exists good and bad exegesis.

7) The limitations of grammatical exegesis.

Grammatical exegesis is not the final word in interpretation.  We also need our exegesis to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory.  If these logical principles are considered essential to our hermeneutic, then we cannot interpret the text as implicitly or explicitly supporting “meticulous divine providence.”  For one to embrace the Calvinist deterministic doctrines, they would have to ultimately ignore the incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions their determinism generates with the overwhelming majority of Scriptures that witness to a non-deterministic reality in which human freedom and responsibility are inescapable. As non-Calvinists Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell point out,

               “While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”[60]

                        As Henry Thiessen observes, the non-Calvinist view of election,

               “…has fewer objections than any other, and best commends itself in the light of what we know of the righteousness and holiness of God on the one hand, and of human responsibility on the other.”[61]

            Klyne Snodgrass writes,

               “Thought is always structured or it is nonsensical.  In discerning the structure of a passage, we are able to follow the flow of the author’s logic and come to understanding.”[62]

            As to the importance of interpreting a particular passage or verse by virtue of the “hermeneutical circle” and in relation to the broader canonical context Snodgrass writes,

               “Exegesis usually focuses on specific passages of a document, but a given pericope can be understood only in light of the whole.  Understanding of the whole, however, presupposes understanding the individual parts. This is the horizontal hermeneutic circle; interpretations takes place in the continual movement of knowing the part from the whole and the whole from the part.  Attention must be given to the purpose and “location” of the whole document and then to the location with the document of the passage in question.  The relation to passages immediately preceding and following the pericope being studied is among the most important relations for understanding.”[63]

And regarding word studies Snodgrass warns,

               “Discerning how specific words convey meaning is obviously crucial, but exegesis is much more than words studies.  In fact, word studies are often misleading.  Words do not have meaning that can be assessed by some formula.  Words have a conventional range of meanings, ways we expect them to be used.  These meanings (the dictionary definitions) make up the semantic field of a word.  Any aspect of a word’s meaning – but not all of it – may be used in a given context, or the word may be used creatively in a new way. …Such work must be done, but it does not show what a word means in a given.  One can only know that meaning by discerning the relations in the context.  This also means discerning how words are put together in specific grammatical constructions.  Of crucial importance for both Hebrew and Greek is discerning the use of prepositions, infinitives, participles, and the way nouns are connected, especially with the genitive and dative in Greek.  By way of example, the meaning of pistis Christou (Gal. 2:16 et. al.) is notoriously debated both as to the aspect of the semantic field of pistis and the kind of genitive with Christou.  Does the phrase mean “faith of Christ” (as most translation, but yielding a redundancy in the text) or “faithfulness of Christ”?”[64]

            As foundational as exegesis is to interpretation, it is not fool-proof.  There is good and bad exegesis, and everything in between.  We need to allow sound logical and moral reasoning, which just is the hermeneutical principle of context, to “exegete” our exegesis.

8) The character of God is impugned on Chris’ view.

            Chris’ view is clear.  He believes the Scripture teaches that God causes sin and God determines sin to take place and that God is responsible for the sin that does take place.  But it seems that Chris is reading his “meticulous divine providence” into the text because by definition, this view would require Chris to conclude that God predetermines and causes the evil and sin that was not only done to Joseph, but that is done everywhere to everyone at all times.

            But given the plain sense of the text in conjunction with what we know about the nature of God as sinless, perfectly good, holy and pure, that is, a God who cannot determine or cause evil and sin of the type we have in this historical narrative, the interpretation I suggested above relieves us of the problems inherent in Chris’ determinism in light of what we know of the nature of God from Scripture.

             I submit that we cannot accept a view that impugns the character of God as evil and the author of evil.  But that is what is logically entailed on Chris’ view.  God is the one who preordained and caused the evil done to Joseph, and as such implicates God in that evil.  “Secondary causes” or “God uses means” do not help here as these are encompassed within “meticulous divine determinism.”

            Chris may believe this is an air-tight proof of determinism on the basis of the exegesis of the text.  He maintains that the grammar of the text supports his “meticulous divine providence” view.  But, at the same time, his exegesis creates a conflict with what the Scriptures also testify to regarding the nature of God as One in whom there is no evil, who is perfectly good and absolutely holy and therefore cannot think evil thoughts, devise or plan to do evil, cause anyone to do evil or do evil himself.  What is Chris to do?  What are we to do with Chris’ exegesis?  As pointed out in the previous section, our exegesis is subject to the principles of hermeneutics, of which coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential.

            Chris maintains that his “meticulous divine providence” view is a necessary conclusion from this passage and many others in Scripture. Chris states,

               “…I don’t think it’s improper to say the necessary conclusions to be drawn from a passage are such and such even if that’s not what was directly intended by the author.” (23:36 – 24:22)

            I think we can apply this idea of a necessary conclusion to assess the validity of Chris’ own “meticulous divine providence” view. Chris may not intend to impugn the character of God, but that is the necessary conclusion of his view.  And just as the brothers intended and actually carried out the evil against Joseph, God intended that once the evil acts that the brothers at one time only intended were actually performed by them, good would come from those evil acts.

            I cannot see why it is not a necessary conclusion that God is the author of evil and therefore evil himself if he has predetermined and caused not only the actions of the brothers against Joseph but all the evil that has ever been done and perpetrated on others throughout all of human history!  Recall Chris’ understanding of God’s sovereignty or what he calls “meticulous divine providence.”

“…what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

Chris would have to explain how his view does not make God complicit in evil, or he would have to simply ignore this troubling entailment or necessary conclusion of his theology.  But if this analysis and conclusion is correct, it is an insurmountable obstacle to his view.  God cannot be the effectual and irresistible cause of the horrendous sins and evils that is performed in the world.  That’s just very bad theology.  And it is bad theology because Scripture teaches us that God cannot tempt or cause a person to do evil, or do evil himself.  Furthermore, the grammar of the passage cannot support his determinism because the Scriptures as a whole does not support determinism. It witnesses to contingency and indeterminacy throughout it accounts and teachings. Human freedom and responsibility are either explicitly stated or implied on almost every page.  Hence, “meticulous divine providence” cannot be biblically, rationally or morally affirmed.

            So what is God doing here if not determining the evil actions of the brothers?  I suggest that the answer involves understanding the ways of God in light of a broader range of his attributes.  Chris’ focus is on God’s sovereignty, and that defined as determinism.  This certainly explains how God accomplishes Joseph’s ascension to authority in Egypt.  But it also explains every other event, whether good or evil, that has ever occurred throughout all of history, and as such, it creates insurmountable incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions with the Scriptural witness itself and our everyday experience.  This is to emphasize absolute control at the expense of God’s other attributes of holiness, purity, goodness, omniscience, wisdom, etc.  What Joseph confesses does not tell us how God accomplished what he did through the individuals in this story, except to say that what the brothers intended and did for evil purposes, God intended for other purposes of good and the saving of lives.  Old Testament scholar and commentator Gordon Wenham writes that this is “…the key idea that informs the whole Joseph story, that through sinful men God works out his saving purposes.” (Wenham, 1994). Wenham quotes Von Rad as saying, ” The statement about the brothers’ evil plans and God’s good plans now opens up the inmost mystery of the Joseph story. It is in every respect, along with the similar passage in ch. 45.5-7, the climax to the whole. Even where no man could imagine it, God has all the strings in his hand. But this guidance of God is only asserted; nothing more explicit is said about the way in which God incorporated man’s evil into his saving activity.” (Wenham, 1994) And although I take it that Von Rad was not suggesting a theistic determinism with his “strings” analogy – for that would be inconsistent with his concluding statement – this is a satisfactory explanation and a better one because Chris’ has to plead mystery as to how it is that God can predetermine all the evil ever intended and cause all the evil ever performed throughout all time while also maintaining that he is perfectly good and holy. Chris also has to plead mystery as to why it is that a God who predetermines and causes all things, both good and evil, is not responsible for that evil and therefore evil himself. The former non-deterministic view does not have God violating his own perfectly holy, pure, sinless nature or presenting us with contradictory wills, desires and decrees. The former view only needs to plead mystery as to how God does what he does through sinful men, and not as to why it is that God can be what Scripture tells us he cannot be as to his nature, or why it is that Scripture can be interpreted incoherently, inconsistently and in contradiction with itself. Furthermore, with respect to answering the mystery of how God accomplishes his will on the non-deterministic view, divine foreknowledge and wisdom will go a long way.

            Also, Joseph’s understanding of history is God-centered, but this does not necessarily entail determinism.  Joseph could have said, “You meant what you did for evil, but look at what happened.  Here I am now, the chief person in Egypt just below Pharaoh himself.  And now I have the power to take care of all of you and all of Egypt.”  From a completely secular point of view what happened was that Joseph finally had the lucky break that he had coming to him.  But Joseph sees God at work in and through the things that his brothers did to him.  It is with Jacob and these brothers of Joseph that God has chosen and has planned and purposed to make into a nation to which he will reveal himself and through which he will bring the Savior of the world.  Wenham writes, “This principle of salvation being brought to all through the suffering of the one finds its clearest expression in the NT in the life, death, and exaltation of our Lord (cf. Mark 10:45).” (Wenham, 1994) God is superintending his salvation history.  We should not be surprised to see accounts of God’s predeterminations in relation to these saving purposes throughout the biblical record.  But that same record clearly testifies to a type of human freedom and responsibility that stands in contradiction to “meticulous divine providence” or universal divine causal determinism.  Whatever valid mystery exists as to how God works in and through the intentions, plans and acts of wicked people, it is this latter view of “meticulous divine providence” or universal causal determinism that is biblically untenable.

9) “The Agency of Joseph’s Brothers?”

            Recall Chris’ definition of God’s sovereignty or “meticulous divine providence.”

               “…what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.” (12:09 – 12:47)

Recall also what Chris says about the brothers and God both being the cause of the sin and responsible for that sin taking place.

            “What Joseph says here is that both his brothers and God were ultimately causal behind that sin.  They were ultimately responsible for determining for that sin to take place.  And the way he does that is he makes his brothers and God the grammatical subject of the same verb and he makes their intended harm – the selling him into slavery – the direct object of that verb.  You meant evil against me but God meant it for good.” (32:00 – 32:25)

“So what Joseph is saying here is that the very same evil intended by his brothers when they sold him into slavery, is the very same evil that was intended by God.  The only difference, Joseph says, is that God meant that evil for good, that is, his purposes in bringing that evil about through the agency of Joseph’s brothers was good, unlike the purposes for which Joseph’s brothers did it.” (33.24 ff)

            But when Chris says God brought about the evil done to Joseph “through the agency of Joseph’s brothers,” that certainly sounds like they have agential status and that God “used” them for his purposes.  This raises doubts about the thrust of Chris’ grammatical analysis which is supposed to be a hands-down proof of theistic determinism.  What this affirmation of causation, responsibility and the agential status of the brothers does is bestow upon them the virtues of personal agency, which include a freedom of the will that is contrary to determinism. Chris has already affirmed that the brothers had a causal role in the evil done to Joseph and that they are also responsible for it.  Therefore, Chris’ assignation of agency to the brothers seems to give independent ontological status to them with respect to their intentions, wills and actions.  Chris states that they “intended” or “meant” evil and sin against Joseph.  But when he does this he is being incoherent with his own “meticulous divine providence” view which, by definition, has God as the sole active agent in the universe.  Chris’ universal divine causal determinism leaves no room for the genuine active agency of other persons.  God’s predeterminations and causation are “meticulous.”  This includes everyone’s thoughts, desires, beliefs, wants, wishes, inclinations and actions.  The brothers cannot have an agential status that implies human free will, moral culpability or personal responsibility, although Chris assigns them such a status and the accompanying responsibility to the brothers.          

Also, for Chris to say that God purposed to bring about evil “through the agency of the brothers” seems inconsistent with what he states that we cannot say, that is, that “God used” or God allowed” or “God permitted” what the brothers did to Joseph. The prohibition of these phrases is at least an attempt to be consistent with his theistic determinism but they also seem to be equal to saying that God purposed to bring about evil “through the agency of the brothers.” Chris also talks about the purposes for which “Joseph’s brothers did it [the evil].” When Chris says things like this, it certainly sounds like he is admitting that the brothers were causal agents and responsible for what they did to Joseph. Yet, once again, Chris also maintains that God was causal and responsible for what the brothers did to Joseph.  “God used” or “God allowed” or “God permitted” seems consistent with Chris’ affirmations of the brothers’ agency, but inconsistent with the determinism of Chris’ “meticulous divine providence.”  According to Chris, these descriptions do not reflect the grammatical particulars of Gen. 50:20 which he interprets as confirming theistic determinism. But then why speak of the brothers as agents? When he states that “both” the brothers and God were causal and responsible regarding the sin against Joseph, and that God worked “through the agency of the brothers,” he is affirming that there are causal agents in the world other than God.  But on Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence” there is only one causal agent in the universe, and that is God. God is the sole agent due to the fact that he has universally and causally determined what will happen in every detail throughout all history. This view is even implied when Christ says “God worked through the agency of Joseph’s brothers.” It was God who was acting in an ultimate and irresistibly effective way to bring about the events in the narrative. Therefore, once we adopt Chris’ theistic determinism, “agency” in any independent meaningful sense goes by the wayside and instrumentality enters in. God is the agent and the brothers are the instruments by which God “providentially” goes about causing what his will alone has predetermined to occur in human affairs down to the most meticulous detail.

            So, according to Chris’ grammatical exegesis, Gen. 50:20 teaches “meticulous divine providence” or theistic determinism.  But in contradiction to this determinism, Chris also contends that the brothers are said to be independent moral agents that had intentions and performed actions independent of God’s will.  Joseph states, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” and Chris interprets this as both the brothers and God being causal and responsible agents in the evil done to Joseph.  But Chris’ determinism requires that God be the sole agent in these events.  So when Chris has the brothers being causal and responsible agents in the evil done to Joseph he is contradicting his “meticulous divine providence” view which logically requires that God is the sole causal and responsible agent.

10) Different Purposes

            Furthermore, Chris maintains that God intended the evil for good purposes.  Chris also maintains that the brothers also intended that same evil for evil purposesBut given Chris’ theistic determinism their purposes could not have been different lest God not have “meticulous” control over the brothers intentions and purposes and this history and all history, and Chris would have to admit a will other than God’s at work here.  The point is that the brothers cannot have “purposes” other than those God decreed them to have.  So which were God’s true purposes here?  Good or evil?  We know Chris means to tell us that God devised the evil just as the brothers did, but did God do so with both good and evil purposes in mind?   Can God purpose too bring about evil? Was it God’s purpose to bring about both evil and good?  I submit that the different purposes and the individuated wills that these different purposes presuppose, are not coherent with Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view.

  “Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 11 / The Hermeneutical Question

Chris Does Not Employ a Hermeneutic of Coherence

              So what will indicate whether or not we are imposing our presupposed theological scheme upon this or any other text rather than letting the text inform and revise our theology?  I suggest that an essential indicator is whether or not our grammatical exegeses and the theology built upon them make sense with the immediate context and with the broader teachings of Scripture as a whole.  It is the matter of hermeneutical coherence.

             Note that an examination of the contexts – immediate, broader and canonical – of the passages Chris offered in support of his “meticulous divine providence” view are incoherent with that view.  For instance, take the Jeremiah 18 passage, it has contingency written all over it – a contingency that is in contradiction to “meticulous divine providence.”  The point is that the very verses Chris uses to justify that a “meticulous divine providence” is at work in Genesis 50:20 contradict his “meticulous divine providence.”

            Chris’ hermeneutic of incoherence maintains his deterministic view of God’s sovereignty despite the clear and plain witness in Scripture to contingency and indeterminacy.  Therefore, it is crucial to note that the problems of incoherence and contradiction Chris’ “meticulous divine providence” view presents with the data in these passages don’t matter to Chris as being hermeneutically significant for determining the validity of his interpretations.  But, if we take coherence on board in our hermeneutic, whatever the grammar and vocabulary of Gen. 50:20 means, it cannot be used in support of “meticulous divine providence” because “meticulous divine providence” runs roughshod over the human responsibility, free decisions and contingency that are overwhelmingly testified to throughout Scripture.  This is not the result of an agenda to preserve human autonomy and pride that refuses to humble itself before a a clearly biblical position on God’s sovereignty as theistic determinism. Rather, it is a matter of the hermeneutic we are going to employ to arrive at what we do claim to be the clear biblical position on God’s sovereignty and other contested doctrines. We are either going to adopt a hermeneutic of coherence or a hermeneutic of incoherence. On a hermeneutic of coherence the nature of God’s involvement in the Genesis account must be accounted for in some other way than as a “meticulous divine providence.”  Those who interpret Scripture on the basis of a hermeneutic of coherence, would conclude that the Calvinist is imposing his “meticulous divine providence” onto the text rather than gleaning it from the text. 

            We can let the Hebrew scholars grapple with whether the grammar demands Chris’ interpretation of Gen. 50:20 and let people make up their own minds on that matter as Leighton suggested in the discussion, but what I believe we can conclude is that “meticulous divine providence” cannot be what Scripture teaches.  Even if Scripture does testify to certain events being divinely determined, and it certainly does, Scripture cannot be read coherently given the claim that everything is meticulously divinely determined.  And since that is the case, that is enough for us to conclude that Calvinist determinism is false and a misinterpretation of God’s sovereignty.  And if that is true, the negative implications for the Calvinist’s TULIP soteriological system are devastating. And that, in turn, will free many in the evangelical church to once again believe and proclaim a gospel message that is truly good news!

Warning! Do Not Divorce Exegesis From Philosophical Reflection

            This is where I would vehemently warn non-Calvinists who continue to divorce exegesis from philosophical reflection, not to do so.  They should not affirm that exegesis can exist in isolation from philosophical reflection and deliberation, by which I mean clear thinkingThis clear thinking is essential to establishing the validity of one’s exegetical propositions and interpretive conclusions.  While offering alternative views to Chris’ determinism (e.g., William Lane Craig’s Molinism, “the eternal now” view of C. S. Lewis and Boethius), Leighton, in passing, stated that,

“…this is obviously not a philosophical discussion, it’s an exegetical one…” (26:10 – 26:59) 

In one sense that is technically true, but in another sense it should not be the case.  Every exegetical discussion is also a philosophical discussion.  Justin evidenced this division when he stated,

“Yeah, I mean there’s huge different debates you can have on this subject aren’t there?  There’s the whole philosophical theological debate about how that squares off with human freedom and you know genuine choice to be able to love and so on, and equally this whole debate we’re going to be more looking at today on the biblical side of this and what the Bible seems to affirm or deny on this front.” (13:14 – 13:35)

Chris also makes this dichotomy as I document in Part 9.  And later on he says,

“…I’m not a philosopher, at least not a professional one and not a good one.  I’ll let somebody like Guillaume Bignon come on the show to defend the philosophical aspects of this.” (47:47 – 47:54)

If Justin were to have the philosophers come on the show to defend the philosophical aspects of this controversy, I wonder if any of them would approve of and endorse as valid interpretations those that show themselves to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  I have already referred to William Lane Craig’s five-fold philosophical critique of Calvinism.  Does this critique demonstrate sound thinking or not? And if so, could there be a difference between that sound thinking as applied to Calvinism and a determination of the validity of the exegesis and interpretations Calvinism is based on? In other words, can an incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory theology be an accurate interpretation of the biblical text? If so, how so?

            When the non-Calvinist objects that Calvinism’s deterministic doctrines impugn the character of God or are unjust to the reprobate, this is to do exegesis integratively with our moral intuitions.  It is to bring our moral intuitions to bear upon a proposed exegesis of the text.  We should do the same with philosophical reflection.  When non-Calvinists point out the contradiction between determinism and human freedom and responsibility, philosophical reflection is at work.  Philosophical deliberations and the deliverances of philosophy cannot be put aside while a proposed grammatical construction of a text lands us in logical and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  Every exegetical discussion should also be a philosophical and moral discussion.  And when we divorce these, or when the Calvinist jettisons philosophical reflection and moral intuition because these threaten the credibility of their exegesis, we can see that the controversy can find no resolution.  Calvinism survives by ultimately ignoring the philosophical and moral critiques brought against their exegeses and the theology that is built upon them while placing the logical and moral problems of their interpretations into the category of “mystery.”

So Does God Predetermine Everything?

            So does God predetermine everything?  Not if you take coherence on board in your hermeneutic.  If God predetermined everything most of the Bible becomes nonsense and life becomes absurd.  Does God predetermine everything?  Sure, if you want to read Scripture without taking coherence on board in your hermeneutic.  If you don’t have a hermeneutic of coherence the Bible can be used to support any interpretation you want to put on it.

            So who provided a more compelling answer to the question, “Does God predetermine everything?”  Did the exegesis of any passage Chris’ presented, in and of itself, conclusively support his “meticulous divine determinism?”  Do certain passages unequivocally teach us that sovereignty means “meticulous divine providence,” or, is sovereignty as Leighton described it by quoting A. W. Tozer when he said,

               “The eternal decree of God decided not which choice that man should make but that he should be free to make it. He goes on to say, Man’s will is free because God is sovereign.  A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon his creatures, he would be afraid to do so.” (15:25 – 15:38)

              I think Leighton’s presentations and counter arguments, when viewed comprehensively and coherently, were more persuasive.  God does not predetermine everything.  But note the nature of Leighton’s arguments given the texts he presented in contrast to Chris’ texts.  Leighton’s counter-arguments to Chris’ texts pointed out their incoherence in their contexts and and their incoherence with the texts Leighton brought forth in defense of his position.  So coherence, consistency and non-contradiction were taken by Leighton as proof of misinterpretation on Chris’ part.  But Leighton’s texts and the incoherencies and absurdities he pointed out in Chris’ position, were not taken by Chris as interpretively significant.  They could not change his mind.  And they never could do so because Chris does not think that logical and moral reasoning play a definitive role in exegesis and interpretation.  Chris gave an exegesis of Gen. 50:20, but his exegetical conclusions need not be logically or morally coherent with the meanings of other clear texts of Scripture.  So what is the dividing interpretive issue between Chris and Leighton?  It is the matter of whether or not one takes logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction on board in their hermeneutic as reliable indicators of valid exegesis and interpretations.

            Sure Chris’ interpretations tell us that Chris has different views from Leighton on these issues, and that is where we leave it most of the time.  But our concerns and questions should go deeper than this.  We need to be about delineating the hermeneutical principles that determine the validity of an interpretation, not just live with mutually exclusive interpretations as if both can be true.  We need to decide on whether or not logical and moral coherence are essential to hermeneutics, or whether one is practicing a hermeneutic that is ultimately indifferent to the law of non-contradiction and embraces interpretive relativism. This is the question that needs to be posed to Chris and other Calvinists in interviews and discussions like this.

            If Calvinism and non-Calvinism both cannot be the truth about the meaning of the controversial texts, then one is right and the other is wrong (or both are wrong).  And if we want to avoid logical, theological and interpretive relativism, we should be able to know which is which.  But how will we know?  How do we determine who is interpreting the text properly?  Is it even necessary to avoid incoherence in interpretation?  Can we embrace interpretive relativism and remain intellectually responsible?  Should we just embrace, as we seem to be doing at present in the evangelical church, an interpretive relativism that maintains that the Calvinists and non-Calvinists interpretations are both legitimate readings of Scripture, even though they are mutually exclusive interpretations?

            Presently interpretive and theological relativism are part and parcel of an evangelical hermeneutic in that both Calvinist and non-Calvinist theologies and soteriologies are deemed to be equally legitimate interpretations of Scripture.  Leighton’s hermeneutic requires coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  Chris’ does not.  They both use the same Scripture, yet come to mutually exclusive conclusions.  If we take logical and moral coherence on board in our hermeneutic, then we must declare that an exegesis of a text that is found to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory to other clear teachings of Scripture is a misinterpretation of that text.  We must be intellectually responsible here.  Incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations are not valid interpretations and therefore do not warrant our intellectual or theological assent.

Most importantly, the evangelical church needs to grapple with this issue because the gospel is at stake here. And it is to proclaim the biblical gospel message of truly good news to the whole world that is the charge laid upon any church that calls itself evangelical. I submit to you that the increasing turmoil, violence and distress we are seeing in the world today is the result of a dearth of the preaching of the truth of the gospel as good news. The evangelical church is obviously confused and divided regarding the gospel message. As a result the biblical “good news” is being suppressed, eroded and has almost vanished from many evangelical churches. We need to give careful consideration to what I contend is an essential issue for the preservation or needed restoration of the gospel, that is, this hermeneutical divide.

            I submit to you that this controversy tenaciously persists, not because the Bible teaches both a “meticulous divine providence” and human freedom and responsibility as a “mystery” we all have to accept, but because there is a violation of fundamental reasoning inherent in the Calvinist hermeneutic.  Calvinism, and therefore this controversy, survives through a faulty hermeneutic that puts rational and moral coherence out of court as factors that serve to determine the validity of their exegesis and resultant interpretations.  Certainly Calvinist’s have an exegesis of the relevant texts, but can their exegeses be logically and morally incoherent with other texts and biblical teachings, impugn God’s character and ignore reality as we know and experience it and still lay claim to being accurate interpretations of Scripture?  Leighton, and all non-Calvinists, don’t think so.  And the strength of Leighton’s position, and his programs, lies in pointing out the incoherence in Calvinism.  The Bible does not teach that God predetermined everything?  And as Leighton pointed out, for God to predetermine and cause many things does not a “meticulous divine providence” make.

            What programs like Leighton’s and Justin’s reveal is that we are failing to deal with the essential hermeneutical issue at the core of this controversy.  We are failing to pursue the question of the role of coherence in interpretation with respect to determining the validity of interpretations.  Is it or is it not necessary that one’s exegesis and interpretations of Scripture exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction for them to be deemed accurate interpretations of Scripture?  Chris and other Calvinist scholars, pastors and leaders need to be asked this question. As it stands now, Chris can offer up interpretations that prove to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory with other Scriptures – observations that basic philosophical reasoning and moral intuitions reveal – yet without coming to grips with the interpretive implications of these incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  The hermeneutical principle that incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations and doctrines cannot be valid interpretations of the text has not yet been fully acknowledge or clearly articulated by non-Calvinists, nor have they challenged Calvinists in this regard.  Non-Calvinists do not press Calvinists on whether their biblical, logical and moral difficulties are hermeneutically significant.  We avoid the question as to whether or not coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are hermeneutical principles, and as such, cannot be cavalierly dismissed as mystery. We are hesitant or even fearful to acknowledge that they are indispensable principles by which we can be confident that we are rightly dividing the word of truth and that our interpretative conclusions are valid.  The simple fact that interpretations that are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory cannot be valid interpretations of the text has not yet been fully acknowledged or clearly articulated by the evangelical church.

“Can Incoherence Be Biblical?” – Part 12 / The Gospel as Truly “Good News”

The Most Important Implication – The Gospel

Finally, I want to reiterate and expand on the fact that the gospel is at stake in this question and controversy.  “Does God predetermine everything?” is a question that depending upon how it is answered affects the meaning and value of life in the present and for better or worse in eternity.  Calvinists interpret the Scripture as teaching that every one of us has been either predestined by God to eternal life or eternal death.  And our eternal destiny has nothing whatsoever to do with us.  The Westminster Confession reads,

“3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.”[65]

Calvin defines predestination as follows,

“We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[66]

John MacArthur, an influential Reformed Calvinist pastor and theologian, has defined election as,

               “…the doctrine that says God chooses those who will be saved.  And He does so sovereignly, according to His own will and His own purpose, uninfluenced by any other person, or by anything anyone does.  That is to say the choice is apart from any action on the sinner’s part…”[67]

            The most important implication of this debate has to do with the destructive effects that “meticulous divine providence” has upon the content and proclamation of the gospel as “good news.”  The Greek word euangelion, from which we get our designation “evangelical,” means “good news.”  The phrase “the gospel” is used in evangelical circles where Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies are both considered viable biblical options.  But these soteriologies are mutually exclusive.  This theological relativism or lack of concern for distinguishing between these soteriologies and their implications for the gospel as “good news” is beginning to render the term meaningless.  It is taken for granted that “the gospel” means the same for the Calvinist and non-Calvinist.  Therefore the phrase, “the gospel,” is rapidly becoming emptied of its content and meaning.  To preach “the gospel,” to teach “the gospel” and bring “the gospel” to the whole world is said to be the purpose of evangelical churches, schools and ministries.  “The gospel” is mentioned in practically every sermon, bible study and Sunday school lesson.  But what do we mean by “the gospel?”  Calvinists and non-Calvinists who hold to mutually exclusive soteriologies are both talking about “the gospel,” but in that our soteriology is definitive of our gospel content, or at least it should be, the mutual exclusivity of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies result in mutual exclusive gospel messages.  Therefore, Calvinists and non-Calvinists cannot mean the same thing when they talk about “the gospel.”  What each means by “the gospel” must be very different, that is, if they are going to speak consistent with their underlying theological and soteriological doctrines.  So what “gospel” are evangelicals talking about?

            I submit that Calvinists need to be pressed as to what they mean by “the gospel” and whether their explanation is consistent with their soteriological “doctrines of grace” and their theistic determinism.  Subsequently we need to ask what affects their “doctrines of grace” have upon the content and proclamation of the gospel in accord with its biblical definition as “good news.”  Calvinists should be able to explain how the gospel is “good news” in relation to their “meticulous divine providence” and soteriological doctrines.  If their explanation is inconsistent with their soteriological “doctrines of grace” and their theistic determinism, then they need to explain why that inconsistency is legitimate and what type of hermeneutic this reflects as to its nature and principles.  I contend that most Calvinists speak inconsistent with their professed soteriology when talking about “the gospel.”  Now, the point is that this inconsistency is either hermeneutically significant, or it is not.  If the Calvinist’s explanation of the “good news” is found to be logically and morally inconsistent with their soteriological doctrines, then they need to be asked whether this is hermeneutically significant, that is, whether this incoherence is a reliable indication that their exegesis with regard to their soteriology has gone awry.  We need to channel the discussion into grappling with which hermeneutic is intellectually and morally responsible and whether that matters or not.

            For instance, Chris needs to be asked whether or not the inconsistencies and contradictions his determinism produces with the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to indeterminacy, contingency, human freedom of the will and personal responsibility, as Leighton has pointed out, are indicative of the invalidity of his interpretations.  And if not, he needs to be asked whether incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations and theological doctrines can be valid interpretations of Scripture.  Moreover, on what basis does he determine a valid interpretation of Scripture from an invalid one?  And most importantly, Chris needs to be asked what is the precise content and message of his “gospel,” whether that content and message is consistent with his Calvinist soteriological doctrines and whether that content and message is “good news” to the hearer.[68]

            This controversy should be of concern for all Christians who call themselves “evangelical” and want to preserve and defend the gospel as “good news.”  As such we need to come to grips with the fact that there are two incompatible soteriologies in the evangelical church today with serious gospel implications.  We can no longer live in denial of this fact.  Mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture cannot both be the truth of Scripture.  We should not accept interpretive and theological relativism.  As Christian apologists, philosophers and theologians, we must clarify and defend the faith, and first and foremost that means clarifying and defending the gospel message as “good news.”  Intellectual and spiritual integrity, as well as faithfulness to Scripture and the truth of the gospel demand it.

            In conclusion, I agree with the non-Calvinist scholars and contributors to the book Grace Unlimited when they wrote,

               “The most important theological presupposition of all of us writing in this volume is our conviction that God is good in an unqualified manner, and that he desires the salvation of all sinners.  To each human being God offers forgiveness in Jesus Christ and the gift of sonship.  We delight in our Lord’s word: “It is not the will of the Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14).  We reject all forms of theology which deny this truth and posit some secret abyss in God’s mind where he is not gracious.  We consent to Paul’s judgment that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and to Peter’s conviction that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9).  If it seems controversial to assert this conviction boldly and unashamedly, then it ought at least to be admitted that here is a truth far more deserving of controversy than many which are debated.  On it hangs, we believe, the validity of the universal offer of the gospel, and the possibility of Christian assurance.  If we do not know that God loves all sinners, we do not know that he loves us, and we do not know that he loves those to whom we take the gospel.”[69]

               “…we are opposing a powerful effort in Protestant orthodoxy to limit the gospel and to cast a dark shadow over its universal availability and intention, manifesting itself most overtly in classical Calvinism.  This theology which, in its dreadful doctrine of double predestination, calls into question God’s desire to save all sinners and which as a logical consequence denies Christ died to save the world at large, is simply unacceptable exegetically, theologically, and morally, and to it we must say an emphatic “No!”[70]


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References

Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. The Last Days of Jacob and Joseph. In Genesis. Vol. 2 of Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, 490-493. Dallas: Word Books

[1] “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything? Chris Date and Leighton Flowers Debate Scripture.” April 26, 2019 https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Does-God-predetermine-everything-Chris-Date-and-Leighton-Flowers-debate-scripture

[2] D. A. Carson, “Church,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker), 249.

[3] I refer you to William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism.  In it he points out the logical and moral incoherence of Calvinism and concludes “that the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”  See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link.  Last accessed October 23, 2019.

               I want to point out that this is a prime example of the hermeneutical divide.  It is a test case for what one must do intellectually and morally for one to become and remain a Calvinist, that is, ultimately dismiss the philosophical and moral incoherencies, inconsistences and contradictions inherent in the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture.  The Calvinist’s hermeneutic could therefore be described as dichotomizing the use of logical reasoning as employed in the deliberations of the discipline of philosophy, along with a disregard of our moral intuitions, from the exegetical and interpretive task.  For the non-Calvinist, this is an unacceptable hermeneutic.  Hence the hermeneutical divide that is at the very core of the controversy as both its cause and the obstacle to its resolution.

[4] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.1, p. 30.

[5] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.6, p. 35.

[6] William Lane Craig, Defenders 3 class, “Doctrine of Christ”, Part 49. May 2, 2018.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-christ/doctrine-of-christ-part-49/  Last accessed July 2, 2018.

[7] John S. Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things” in Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Huma Freedom, David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 24.

[8] Ibid. 24-25.

[9] Note that unless fundamental hermeneutical changes are made this is all a “chasing after wind” so to speak. Calvinists will never be able to land on a reasonable solution to their logical and moral difficulties.  This is so because at its core their theology has the problem of a real contradiction in their interpretive conclusions.  One will never find an answer that comports with reason regarding something that is essentially a violation of reason itself, that is, what amounts to a real contradiction.  You cannot reason your way out of a contradiction.  You have to identify and remedy the element in your thinking that is causing the contradiction and then reject it as false, or in this case reject it as a misinterpretation.  For the Calvinist, the problem lies in their deterministic interpretation of the eternal divine decree and God’s sovereignty.  Their determinism generates the contradictions in their theology with the many other clearly non-deterministic truths and teachings in Scripture.  Unless they adopt a hermeneutic that allows logical and moral reasoning to play a role in the interpretive enterprise as reliable, necessary indicators of interpretive validity or invalidity, they will never resolve the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions that so persistently plague their theology and continue to fuel this controversy.   

[10] William Lane Craig, Defenders 3 class, “Doctrine of Christ”, Part 49. May 2, 2018.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-christ/doctrine-of-christ-part-49/  Last accessed July 2, 2018.

[11] See Kevin Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[12] John S. Feinberg, “God Ordains All Things” in Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 24.

[13] The Calvinist would have to argue that William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism is interpretively irrelevant in order to become or remain a Calvinist.  Calvinists attempt this by certain strategies – “two wills in God,” “God works through secondary causes and means” and compatibilism.  It can be shown that these do not help the Calvinist’s cause.  In the end, they simply must dismiss logical and moral reasoning from their hermeneutic to preserve their a priori deterministic definition of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.  They do not consider that the incoherence is interpretively significant so as to force them to go back to the text in search of an exegetically responsible, coherent interpretation.  But technical exegesis and logical and moral reasoning should not be separated in the interpretive process.  Hence, this controversy is most fundamentally a hermeneutical issue.  It is the difference between adopting a hermeneutic of incoherence (Calvinist) and a hermeneutic of coherence (non-Calvinist).

               See chapter 10 for many examples of this suppression of reason on the part of Calvinists.

[14] Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.

[15] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80.

[16] Jerry L Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 185.

[17] Note that if the ontological argument is successful we come to know by philosophical reflection that God is a perfectly good being.  Now we would expect Scripture, rightly interpreted, to affirm this.  But we can also go the other way around.  If we find Scripture, rightly interpreted, to be affirming that God is a perfectly good being, we would expect that our philosophical deliberations on the matter, rightly performed, would come to the same conclusion.  Hence the complimentary interaction of philosophical reflection and deliberations and the exegetical process in the interpretive task. This is not to say that we can know through human reason what only divine revelation must disclose, but it is to say that logical reasoning and moral intuition should not be divorced from exegesis and the interpretive task.  But this divorce seems to be necessary for the Calvinist to maintain their deterministic definition of divine sovereignty. 

[18] We cannot discuss here the full nature of evil, free will theodicy and ethical dilemmas.  We must be limited to examining the point Chris raises about the relationship between theistic determinism and bringing about good purposes from evil and suffering.

[19] I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, 3rd. ed. (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 143.

[20] RSV – “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him,”

ESV – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,”

NIV – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,”

KJV – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,”

HCSB/CSB – “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God:”

ASV – “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good,”

[21] Again, see William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism at https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/

               Also, for instance, what are the implications of theistic determinism upon divine justice?  Theistic determinism logically entails that God will someday be judging the very evil acts he ordained would take place?  And what of the moral incoherence of holding someone responsible of their evil actions when they could not have done otherwise?  And also, if God preordained all the evil and sin in the world, what are the implications for the need for a savior and what was actually happening in the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross?

[22] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), 36-38.

[23] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), 37.

[24] Jack Cottrell, The Doctrine of God, vol. 2, “What The Bible Says About God The Ruler,” (Eugene, OR : Wipf & Stock, 200), 304.

[25] Ibid. 209.

[26] Ibid. 304.

[27] This essay can be found at https://soteriology101.com/2019/05/07/can-incoherence-be-biblical/

[28] See Leighton Flowers’ podcast presentation, “James White Continues Critiquing Andy Stanley with Fallacious Arguments,” Jan. 1, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78SrLrprHmk  (40:03 – 40:17) Last accessed 4/14/2019.

[29] “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything?”  April 6, 2019.  A discussion between Calvinist Chris Date and Provisionist Leighton Flowers.  Last accessed 3/18/2020.

https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Does-God-predetermine-everything-Chris-Date-and-Leighton-Flowers-debate-scripture

[30] See Leighton C. Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology, (Columbia: Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 71-153.  Also see the annotated bibliography on this website – www.goodnewsapologetics.com

[31] R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 444.

[32] Albert Mohler, “So…Why Did I Write This?  The Delusion of Determinism,” August 21, 2008. https://albertmohler.com/2008/08/21/so-why-did-i-write-this-the-delusion-of-determinism/  Last Accessed 8/16/2018.  See also Leighton Flowers, “Soteriology 101” podcast “Mohler vs. Piper on Determinism and Free Will” in which Leighton critiques Mohler’s inconsistency on naturalistic determinism in relation to his own Calvinist determinism. https://soteriology101.com/2016/11/07/mohler-vs-piper-on-determinism-and-free-will/ (26:00 ff.)

               See also this website, www.goodnewsapologetics.com  Chapter 11, “Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence, Example 23 – Mohler on Naturalistic Determinism and Theistic Determinism: A Distinction without a Difference.”

[33] See William Lane Craig’s critique at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  Last accessed on 4/13/2019.

[34] See Leighton Flowers’ website www.soteriology101.com

[35] See Justin Brierley’s programs at https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/

[36] Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.

[37] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 227.

[38] Ibid. 229.

[39] Ibid. 236.

[40] Ibid. 239.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid. 244.

[43] Ibid. 248.

[44] Ibid. 247.

[45] Ibid. 252.

[46] Ibid. 254.

[47] William Lane Craig affirms this logical entailment of Chris’ view of “meticulous divine providence.”  Craig states, “…universal divine determinism threatens to make reality into a farce. What do I mean by that? Well, on this view the whole world becomes a vein and empty spectacle. There really are no free agents who are in rebellion against God, no free agents whom God seeks to win through his love, no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a sort of charade in which the only real actor is God himself.  I am reminded in this connection of a really bizarre cartoon I saw once in which there was an audience pictured listening to a lecture and the lecturer was a marionette – you can see the strings attached to his wooden arms and his wooden head – and, when you looked at the audience, all of the members in the audience were marionettes as well and the speaker was saying, “Now concerning the logical order of God’s decrees of election” and it just made the whole thing a farce. One Reformed puppet lecturing to other Reformed puppets on the virtues of Reformed theology. It is just a charade. So, far from glorifying God, I am convinced that the Calvinist view really denigrates God for engaging in such a farcical charade as this. I think it is insulting to God to think that he would create beings who are, in every respect, causally determined by him and then treat them as though they are free agents, even punishing them for the wrong actions that he made them do or loving them as though they were not freely responding agents. God, on this view, would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers on the battlefield and then moves them about in his make believe world pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and then pretending that these toy people merit praise and blame. So it seems to me that this view of universal divine determinism really turns reality into something of a farce.” – William Lane Craig, Doctrine of Creation (Part 10) – Defenders 2 Series, Oct 12, 2012.  Last accessed 3/23/2020.

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/

[48] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 254.

[49] Ibid. 255.

[50] Ibid. 256.

[51] Van Rad, Genesis, 438.

[52] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 258.

[53] See T. Fretheim, “Will of God in the OT” and “Word of God” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:914-20, 961-69.

[54] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 258.

[55] Ibid. 258-259.

[56] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 274.

[57] Westermann, Genesis, 37-50, 205.

[58] Terence E. Fretheim, Genesis, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, v. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 274-275.

[59] I provide thorough critiques of these and other such Calvinist’s explanations in chapter 8, “Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism.”

[60] Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.

[61] Henry C. Thiessen, Introductory Lessons in Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 347-348.

[62] Klyne Snodgrass, “Exegesis,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 205.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.  Also, regarding a second version of the principle of the hermeneutical circle Thiselton writes, “The interpreter begins with what Dilthey calls a prior relationship to “life” (Leben), in contrast to what Lonergan terms “the principle of the empty head.”  The latter leads nowhere.  Bultmann suggests an example: to understand a musical text, we need to have some inkling of what music is; to suppress everything that we may know already about music simply ensures an absence of understanding.” – Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hermeneutical Circle,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 281

[65] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.3, p. 32.

[66] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[67] From the radio broadcast transcript “Answering The Key Questions About The Doctrine of Election”, by John MacArthur.  Found at http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=transcripts&aid=GTY106_T © 2005-2007. Grace to You. All rights reserved.

[68] See “Can Incoherence Be Biblical? – Part 2 / Good News and Evangelism”

[69] Clark H. Pinnock, “Introduction,” in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), 11.

[70] Ibid. 12.

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