Calvinists believe in Calvinism for various reasons, but reason isn’t one of them. They may see their Calvinism as the best explanation of their own conversion experience. They may find comfort in it in times of trouble or distress. They may like its hermeneutically restricted internal logic which systematizes their theology and soteriology for them, making it easier to grasp and express. Even non-Calvinists can appreciate Calvinism’s emphasis on the study and exposition of theology, God’s sovereignty and the glory of God. But I submit that the words of C. S. Lewis, albeit spoken in a different context, are nevertheless applicable here when he said, “It appeals to every part of me except my reason.”
And ironically, it is in this protest that the Calvinist finds the most satisfaction and comfort for retaining his Calvinism. When it comes to defending their theology, to put as little credence in human reason as possible is a hallmark of Calvinism. Indeed, to boast that they do not trust fallen human reason in theological matters seems in their way of thinking to equal the supreme exaltation of God above all things – especially mankind. But the main problem here lies in the confusion of liberal rationalism with the legitimate utility of God-given reason discussed in chapter 7. And I have already argued for the indispensability of logic and reason in the interpretative task in that chapter. But I contend that one thing is for sure – logical reflection and moral intuitions hold no weight for the Calvinist with respect to discerning the validity of his interpretations of Scripture.
Here I intend to provide the evidence as to how Calvinists think about, or fail to think about, the necessity of human reason in hermeneutics. In this chapter I will attempt to demonstrate that reason is problematic for the Calvinist. The Calvinist simply refuses to reason, and reason properly, when it comes to their interpretations of the biblical text and theological conclusions. And this becomes an insurmountable problem for Calvinism itself. It is insurmountable because when our interpretations violate the canons of reason and our moral intuitions they must be declared to be misinterpretations of the text lest we introduce all manner of subjective relativism into our hermeneutic in which case we will no longer have an objective interpretive methodology by which to discern the author’s intent. I submit that in order for a hermeneutic to be sound, that is, provide us with the principles by which we can get at the objective meaning of a text, it must be characterized by logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. I also contend that these rational and moral characteristics are precisely what the Calvinist feels free to forfeit in their hermeneutic so as to preserve as a priori biblical truth their deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty and their soteriological “doctrines of grace.”
This a priori belief in theistic determinism forces the Calvinist to do two things. First, they must divorce exegesis from the deliberations and deliverances of philosophical reflection and moral intuitions. Certainly the Calvinist must have an exegesis of the text, as we all must, to establish our doctrinal claims as credible. But ultimately, for the Calvinist, their exegesis has to stand despite the logical and moral incoherence that their exegesis generates. Therefore, the Calvinist must dichotomize exegesis from the truth searching functions of philosophical or logical examination and intuitive moral reasoning. Secondly, therefore, the Calvinist must engage in the suppression of reason. If philosophical and moral reasoning expose the incoherence, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Calvinist’s interpretations, and there are those who trust their logical and moral sense in determining what is true from what is false, then it is necessary for the Calvinist to suppress a person’s logical and moral reasoning to get them accept their Calvinist’s interpretations of the disputed texts. And if a person has embraced Calvinism the same suppression of logical and moral reasoning is necessary for them to remain a Calvinist. Logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction must no longer be allowed to be a concern in exegesis and interpretation. And there are ways that the Calvinist attempts to get people to look past the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in Calvinism. I dealt with these in detail in Chapter 8. The most common way is to explain the incoherence of their exegeses as mystery. They also play upon other religious predilections and sentiments like “gaining a tolerance for mystery,” “God’s ways are above our ways” and humbling oneself before “the sovereignty of God” or giving him “the glory due his name.”
But let’s carefully examine the Calvinist’s interpretive thought by examining a quote by Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware from their book Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives of Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace. Note that I will refer to this quote in many of the sections in this chapter.
Schreiner and Ware – Logic or Exegesis: The False Dichotomy
Prominent Calvinists Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware write the following in their book Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives of Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace.
“…we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis, although we grant that those who disagree with us would interpret many Scriptures differently. But their fundamental objections are certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we affirm. It should be granted that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism. The objections go something like this: If God chooses only some, then how can he be loving? If God’s grace is irresistible, then what happens to human free will? If God saves those he has chosen, why pray or get involved in missions? If God is in control of the world, then why do anything at all? If God is sovereign, then why is there suffering in the world? If God governs all events, then why is evil our responsibility, not his?
Calvinists would not answer all of these questions in the same way. In fact, as careful readers will surely observe, there are differing opinions even among the contributors to this work as to the most satisfying answers to these questions. Nonetheless, there would be agreement among Calvinists that God is sovereign, and that his free election of individuals to receive his efficacious grace alone accounts for personal salvation. God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace cause all who believe to put their faith in Christ to be saved. We suggest that the answers to the preceding questions are often complex because the reality of life as portrayed by the Scriptures is complex. God is completely sovereign, and yet human choices and responsibility are not a charade. God ordains all that comes to pass and is good; and yet evil exists, and it is really evil. God chooses only some to be saved, and yet there is also a true sense in which he desires the salvation of all. Those who are elect will never lose their salvation, and yet those who do not persevere to the end will not inherit the kingdom of God. All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems. Rather, the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture. Our attempt to solve the problems posed by our theology, then, is an example of “faith seeking understanding.”
Several things are noteworthy here. First, we must respect and carefully consider the idea expressed by Schreiner and Ware when they state “the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” I think this is correct. The fundamental reason anyone should believe any doctrine they are presented with is because they believe it is taught in Scripture. So I take them to be saying that one should not believe these “Calvinist doctrines of grace” unthinkingly – perhaps merely on the basis of family heritage or ecclesial tradition. With that I also agree. But this presents us with two questions to answer. One is whether these doctrines are actually taught in Scripture and the other is how would we know.
I take Schreiner and Ware to be pointing out that a Calvinist should be a Calvinist because he or she has wrestled with the biblical data and come out convinced that the Bible teaches the “Calvinist doctrines of grace.” But what does it take to be convinced that the Bible teaches a certain doctrine? What does it involve to come to believe certain doctrines are the teaching of Scripture? We are talking here about how we go about interpreting Scripture, and that seems to involve presenting a principled, reasoned argument as to why we should adopt one interpretation over another. Now, these matters are the purview of hermeneutics, which is the discipline of delineating the principles which constitute good interpretation and by which we accurately discern the intent of the author from the text.
So, immediately Schreiner and Ware have confronted us with some hermeneutical questions. Do sound principles of interpretation applied to the relevant texts leave us no other option than to conclude that the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are taught in Scripture? What principles and processes of interpretation are in play such that one would confidently conclude this? In other words, we are asking whether a responsible biblical hermeneutic compels us to conclude that the Calvinist “doctrines of grace,” or any other doctrines for that matter, are the teaching of Scripture.
Schreiner and Ware have obviously wrestled with the relevant texts at a high scholarly level and have come out believing that Calvinism best represents the teaching of Scripture. But there are other scholars who disagree with that claim on the basis of certain “fundamental objections” they raise against those interpretations and doctrines due to the logical and moral difficulties they generate. Those who claim that the “doctrines of grace” are not taught in Scripture do so, as Schreiner and Ware point out, because their “fundamental objections are certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we [Calvinists] affirm.” The doctrines Calvinists claim “are taught in Scripture” raise serious “logical problems,” and Calvinists grant “that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism.” Schreiner and Ware proceed to mention those difficulties in the above quote, and we can see that as well as logical difficulties they also include problems of a moral and theological nature.
Hence, we are confronted with a more precise and fundamental hermeneutical question. Is it in accord with proper interpretive principles and methods to affirm an exegesis as the accurate teaching of Scripture when that exegesis produces logical, moral and theological incoherence, inconsistency and/or contradictions? The answer will involve whether or not one believes that these logical and moral problems “provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology” are objections of such a substantial nature that they cannot be responsibly ignored or dismissed. Are they of such a substantial nature that they demand intellectual justification and as such bear upon the validity of the Calvinist interpretations? In short, the answer to the question will involve declaring one’s hermeneutic. That is, whether it is a hermeneutic of coherence or a hermeneutic of incoherence.
The difference would be that in a hermeneutic of coherence one believes that these logical and moral objections are reliable indications that the text has been misinterpreted and therefore one should not believe the Calvinist’s doctrines are taught in Scripture. In contrast, in a hermeneutic of incoherence one does not believe these logical and moral objections have interpretive significance or speak to the accuracy and validity of the Calvinist’s interpretations. If “the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture,” then we have to ask by what reasoning and by what methods we come to know what is taught in Scripture, which is just to ask what are the principles of a sound hermeneutic. And if a sound or reliable hermeneutic requires logical and moral coherence, then the logical and moral incoherence in Calvinism has direct bearing upon determining its interpretations to be invalid, and therefore they should be rejected. Precisely because of their logical and moral problems, these doctrines may not be what is taught in Scripture and therefore should not be believed. The point here is that the logical problems of Calvinism should at least give us pause in accepting their claim that their “doctrines of grace” are what is “taught in Scripture.” The non-Calvinist’s “logical difficulties” and “objections” cannot be cavalierly dismissed.
I submit that for most readers of a text, including the biblical text, it hardly seems necessary to defend the position that interpretations that generate incoherence, inconsistency, and contradiction cannot be accurate interpretations of the text. That seems to go without saying. That is to say, it is hardly possible to defend the position that incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations of the biblical text are accurate interpretations. Consider what we would be left with in discerning an author’s intent when coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are thrown to the interpretive wind. I don’t see how we could confidently say what a text means, let alone come to consensus about that meaning. Logical coherence, consistency and non-contradiction, along with our moral intuitions, are essential to any form of thought or communication that could be considered rational. Surely, therefore, they must be essential to our hermeneutic. We want our interpretations of Scripture to be rational, not irrational.
Therefore, how can the Calvinist overcome their hermeneutical obstacles of interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction? In order to convince people that the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are “taught in Scripture,” the Calvinist will either have to resolve these logical and moral difficulties, or argue that such difficulties ultimately do not carry hermeneutical weight. Regarding the former, Schreiner and Ware’s book Still Sovereign attempts to resolve these difficulties to clear the way for believing in the “doctrines of grace.” Now, note that these very attempts imply that logical and moral coherence are important for belief, and yet, by their own admission, such a defense of their doctrines is not essential. In fact, they admit that such defenses fail in the end, for they themselves have concluded that “All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.” I say that their attempts to resolve their difficulties fail in the end because if they had proved successful in eliminating the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in their doctrines they would not be required to resort to “mystery.” It wouldn’t be the case that “the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.” The arguments in their book would be convincing and they would not have to resort to “mystery.” There would be a full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility that would be based in a responsible exegesis of the biblical text that would show itself to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory. But that is not the case with Calvinism. When all is said and done, the Calvinist’s logical and moral difficulties remain. And they are not biblical mysteries. Rather, their exegetical conclusions remain characterized by incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. Hence, the Calvinist must ultimately avoid the issue of reason in interpretation. In direct contrast, it is the non-Calvinist that can show that coherent, consistent and non-contradictory exegeses of the relevant texts do exist, and as such, these are the more accurate interpretations of the biblical witness regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility. As the result of a hermeneutic that includes coherence, consistency and non-contradiction along with responsibly implementing all that is involved in the grammatical/historical exegetical methodology, the non-Calvinist interpretations establish themselves as the more plausible renderings of the text. Therefore it is those interpretations that warrant our belief.
Hence, Calvinists conclude that their exegeses of Scripture should be believed regardless of any logical and moral difficulties that their exegeses create and the doctrines derived from it exhibit. This has serious implications for those of us who accept the Scripture as our sole authority in matters of faith and practice, as it should for the Calvinist who also affirms the same about Scripture. It raises questions as to whether or not Scripture is inherently inconsistent or contradictory. If it is not inherently inconsistent or contradictory, as we both rightly affirm, and yet the Calvinist interprets it as inconsistent or contradictory, then it is reasonable to think their interpretations have gone astray. This brings us again to the more immediate issue that must be addressed, that is, whether the logical and moral difficulties of the Calvinist’s exegesis have hermeneutical implications for determining the validity of the Calvinist’s interpretations. Since Calvinists ultimately claim “mystery” as “the full and final resolution” of their doctrinal difficulties, they are in effect stating that interpretations of Scripture should not be subject to human logical reflection and moral intuitions. They say this on the basis that we should expect there to be teachings in Scripture, that because Scripture is divinely inspired and because of its lofty subject matter, we should expect there to be logical and moral difficulties that we cannot resolve. Furthermore, due to our fall into sin, our intellectual faculties simply fail in fully understanding God and his ways. What the Calvinist is telling us is that their exegesis of the relevant texts plainly and clearly teach their understanding of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism and their “doctrines of grace” such that it is sufficient for us to believe these interpretations regardless of the “logical difficulties” and “difficult questions” they engender. But by doing this the Calvinist is declaring they hold to a certain type of hermeneutic, that is, a hermeneutic of incoherence. Again, they must ultimately avoid the issue of reason in interpretation. But there are serious problems with this approach.
The first is that it is misconceived to place “scriptural exegesis” in a dichotomous relationship with “logical problems” or “logical difficulties.” But this is precisely what Schreiner and Ware are doing here. To pit “scriptural exegesis” against “certain logical problems” as if good interpretation can simply separate these “logical problems” and ignore these “fundamental objections” is to embrace a false dichotomy and construct a faulty hermeneutic. One cannot dichotomize reasoning logically about the text from “scriptural exegesis.” To do so is to jettison the necessity for one’s interpretations to make sense. That luxury is not available to the responsible interpreter. But this luxury of claiming that one’s interpretations are what the Bible teaches despite being logically contradictory and morally incoherent is precisely a luxury that the Calvinist is safe-guarding for himself by establishing a dichotomy between exegesis and reason. They are giving themselves permission to have their interpretations be nonsense while claiming that the practice of exegesis has lead them to their interpretive conclusions. And who can argue with exegesis? But if the Calvinist’s exegesis has led to certain logical and moral incoherencies and contradictions, and yet the Calvinist does not value logical and moral reasoning in his hermeneutic, then logical and moral coherence must take a back seat to his exegetical conclusions. But this confronts us with the question whether a sound hermeneutic and responsible exegetical practice can ignore logical reasoning and moral intuition in the interpretive process. Can all logical and moral incoherence be chalked up to the fact that we are dealing with matters that stem from the mind of God and that his ways are higher than our ways? Can all logical and moral incoherence be chalked up as being incomprehensible mysteries to us? Should we expect in the practice of interpreting God’s written revelation that our interpretations not be subject to the laws of logic or our moral intuitions but rather we should expect to arrive at interpretations that are actually incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory. Is such the norm for good biblical exegesis according to a sound hermeneutic? Granted, there are true mysteries in Scripture, but interpretations that are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory should not be classified as among them.
Therefore this false dichotomy needs to be pointed out for the confusion it creates, and we should challenge the claim that once one has provided an exegesis of the text, that exegesis stands despite its problematic logical and moral implications and entailments. We should consider the possibility that one can offer an exegesis of a text and yet err in that task evidenced by their interpretations resulting in incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. These are indications that the Calvinist has misinterpreted the text. I think it is incumbent upon us to ask how it is that an exegete can claim to have correctly interpreted the text when his interpretive conclusions turn out to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory. We should be concerned when the Calvinist claims their theology is the teaching of Scripture despite these logical and moral difficulties. We need to ask whether resorting to mystery and incomprehensibility to “explain” and justify such interpretations, which serve to draw our attention away from the “logical difficulties” inherent in their “doctrines of grace,” are convincing. We should be concerned when this happens precisely because our exegesis and interpretations become untethered from the canons of reason which are the foundation of any rational communication – whether written or verbal.
We must ask ourselves whether the examples of incoherence in Calvinist thought and interpretation I will provide below demonstrate that the Calvinist’s exegesis of the various relevant texts and their derived doctrines are seriously flawed. And we must also ask ourselves whether it is hermeneutically essential that our interpretations exhibit logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.
Exegesis: An Excuse to Avoid the Probative Force of Logical and Moral Reflection
I have argued that Schreiner and Ware erroneously understand exegesis as in a dichotomous relation to the philosophical and moral reflections that can be raised against their exegetical conclusions. They have distanced philosophical reflection and moral reasoning from exegesis, thereby neutralizing the probative force these two factors bring in critiquing Calvinism and exposing it as a flawed interpretation of Scripture.
We now have to deal with Schreiner and Ware’s contention that “the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis.” Recall that Schreiner and Ware state,
“…we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis, although we grant that those who disagree with us would interpret many Scriptures differently.”
What I submit is happening here is that Schreiner and Ware are attempting to use exegesis as a basis for bolstering the scriptural credibility of their position by suggesting that the non-Calvinist does not object to “the doctrines of grace” on any convincing exegetical basis. If the Calvinist can get people to think that their objectors simply don’t do “scriptural exegesis” as responsibly and thoroughly as they do, and show that the objections to their “doctrines of grace” rest on some other basis than exegesis – like pointing out the “logical difficulties” of the Calvinist doctrines – then Schreiner and Ware can claim the exegetical high-ground. After all, who could argue against the fact that if the Calvinist can show that the non-Calvinist position is not primarily based in an exegetical treatment of the text, while “the doctrines of grace” are exegetically supported, and “the central reason the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis” but because of “certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology [Schreiner and Ware] affirm,” then the non-Calvinist position must not be as exegetically sophisticated as the Calvinist position and therefore Calvinism is what Scripture teaches. When Schreiner and Ware suggest that because they do exegesis, as if the non-Calvinist doesn’t, but rather relies on “logical difficulties” or “certain logical problems” with Calvinism, they want us to believe, therefore, that “the doctrines of grace” are closer to the truth of Scripture in these matters. But given this type of controversy, that is, one that involves the interpretation of Scripture, the Calvinist may claim the non-Calvinist is weak on exegesis to distract us from a due consideration of the interpretive and hermeneutical implications of the substantive philosophical and moral critiques the non-Calvinist can level against Calvinism.
It should first be emphatically stated that given that the non-Calvinist can level philosophical and moral critiques against Calvinism does not mean that the non-Calvinist position is weak on exegetical grounds. That is simply false. It is incorrect to state “that the central reason the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis.” Schreiner and Ware may be convinced of that, but not on the basis of the evidence. The obvious must be clearly stated. Non-Calvinists do provide sound, scriptural exegesis of the various texts relevant to this controversy. I do not need to give examples of that here. I will do so in other chapters and the annotated bibliography on this website provides overwhelming evidence that what Schreiner and Ware are suggesting here is false. All one has to do is go to the scholarly literature to see that non-Calvinists provide in-depth exegesis of the texts in their peer-reviewed articles and published works.
So it seems to me that when Schreiner and Ware state “we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis” they are suggesting that the non-Calvinist doesn’t refute them on the exegetical level, and that smacks of an excuse to avoid the philosophical and moral indictments that non-Calvinists can level against Calvinism. As integral to a sound, scriptural exegesis and hermeneutic, these philosophical and moral critiques are devastating for Calvinism. In that Schreiner and Ware dichotomize exegesis from the deliberations of philosophy and morality the Calvinist would like to leave us with “exegesis” as the only consideration by which we accept an interpretation. And therefore, of course, the Calvinist can safely claim their “exegesis” is correct or at least as valid as any other. The Calvinist would have “exegesis” and “exegetical conclusions” to be the only criteria by which to evaluate the validity of one’s interpretations of a text. And I would agree with that, but only if “exegesis” is not defined in a way that dismisses philosophical reasoning and moral reflection as integral to good exegesis. It would seem that what Schreiner and Ware are doing here is eliminating from the discussion the devastating logical and moral critiques that can b brought against the Calvinist’s exegesis and their “doctrines of grace.” But adherence to the laws of logic and consideration of moral standards and intuitions are surely essential to doing good exegesis.
So if Calvinists stress the centrality of “exegesis” while characterizing the non-Calvinist as deficient in such “exegesis,” that will strengthen the credibility of Calvinism as exegetically grounded, while also putting some distance between Calvinism and the non-Calvinist’s philosophical and moral objections to Calvinism. Furthermore, when Schreiner and Ware claim the exegetical high-ground they are presupposing that their Reformed Calvinist exegesis is correct. But exegesis is a slippery matter at times. Although one might claim that a technical exegesis supports one’s theological predilections, it can fail to definitively do so. For instance, as to the meaning of the words “world” and “all” in certain key texts including Matt. 28:18-20, author and pastor Ronnie Rogers writes,
“Calvinists are continually reminding everyone that words like “world” and “all” actually mean groups of people or the elect, rather than meaning all individuals, both elect and non-elect, in the world. …words like “world” and “all” sometimes have a limited meaning based upon context, but it is also true that at times they mean everyone everywhere.”
Rogers, assessing John Piper’s book “Let the Nations Be Glad,” writes,
“When Piper explains Matthew 28:18-20, he gives ten reasons why nations, ethnē, should be understood as “people group” rather than meaning “to win as many individuals as they could.” He believes that salvation will happen to some throughout the world, but does not believe that everyone throughout the world can receive salvation by faith. However, in his arguments, he admits that the very form of the world used in Matthew 28:18-20, which is ethnē, “can mean either Gentile individuals or people groups.”
Further, concerning how the exact phrase used in this passage appears throughout Scripture, “all the nations” he says, “Only once must it mean Gentile individuals. Nine times it must mean people groups.” “The other eight usages could go either way.” Consequently, by his own admission, the Scripture uses both the word and the phrase in both ways, which fits fine with what I am presenting but does not work for a Calvinist. Referring to usages in the Old Testament, he says, “Virtually all,” there again demonstrating that grammar does not prove the Calvinist point.”
“…whether one understands the phrase as “people groups”, “nations” of ethnicities,” etc., that does not address the real question, which is does the missionary endeavor and preaching of the gospel offer a real chance of everyone to be saved or is the offer only for those God selectively regenerates? To wit, do only some in every people group have a chance or does everyone? If God is concerned about all people groups, maybe he is concerned about everyone in all of the people groups (John 3:16), Piper’s views notwithstanding. Piper’s answer is clearly only the elect, a point that he did not prove to be supported by Scripture, but rather he read his conclusion into Scripture.”
The point is that not all exegesis is created equal. As much as the Calvinist may be doing exegesis that does not mean it is sound exegesis. I have already suggested that it cannot be sound exegesis when it is divorced from logical and moral deliberations. Indeed, it cannot be sound if it is not philosophically and morally coherent, consistent and non-contradictory. That is to say that one’s interpretation must adhere to the principle of context. Incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in one’s interpretations are in essence violations of the principle of context. Essentially, the principle of context demands that our interpretation of one text be coherent with those texts immediately surrounding it and the thoughts of the author in the broader context which includes the whole canon of Scripture. Simply put, when the Calvinist claims “our exegesis shows that…,” what the non-Calvinist will insist is that these exegetical claims make sense. That is, when anyone claims they are doing “biblical exegesis” it must be a process that “makes sense” of the text. Exegesis is a “no nonsense” task.
For example, John Lennox provides an exegetical treatment of verses in Romans, Hebrews, Ephesians and John’s gospel to counter the Calvinist errors of total inability with respect to faith and faith as merit, and the need for pre-faith regeneration. As to all sinners having the capacity to believe, and that believing not being a meritorious work or contribution to their salvation, Lennox makes three points.
The first is that the Calvinist is confused on the nature of faith and that,
“Some of the confusion arises from overlooking a simple logical point: meriting something, and having to do something to obtain that thing, are not the same. For instance, a distant relative may leave me a considerable sum in her will. I have done nothing to deserve it. She has gifted it to me as set out in a document held by her solicitor. He sends me a letter informing me of the fact. Now I have to decide whether I trust him and, indeed, her. I have to respond or I will not receive it. I could reject it. Clearly, the fact that I have to do something to make it my own does not mean that I have merited it or contributed to it in any way.
It is surely for that reason that our Lord can say to a woman on one occasion: Your faith has saved you; go in peace (Luke 7:50).
Consistent with this, when Paul is asked by a jailer at Philippi, who has just been terrified by an earthquake that freed the prisoners, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Paul does not understand the jailer to be asking how he can merit salvation. He does not respond by suggesting that the jailer can do nothing in view of the fact that his salvation depends entirely on the sovereign choice of God. On the contrary, he tells the jailer exactly what he is able to do – and should do: Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household (see Acts 16:25-34).”
Lennox’s second point is that,
“In response to the jailer Paul was not denying that salvation was wholly by grace and unmerited. On the contrary, he was affirming it. For – and this is the critically important thing – Paul regarded faith, the act of believing, as the opposite of merit. This means that the personal act of believing in our trusting in Christ for salvation is not a meritorious action that contributes to salvation.”
Lennox goes on to talk about the faith of Abraham from Romans 4 noting that,
“…the faith was Abraham’s – his faith. The text does not say here that God “gave him the faith”…nor does it say that Abraham’s faith was a meritorious contribution to his justification…No, Scripture says that it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.
Listen to Paul defining the essence of faith in God in verses 4-5 (ESV):
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift by as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…”
Lennox then makes his third point.
“We notice also that a person’s faith in God is described as their own faith; the faith of an ungodly person is counted as righteousness.
Paul, then, is contrasting two possible actions or attitudes – working and trusting – on the basis of the tacit assumption that everyone is capable of performing both.”
Lennox quotes Hebrews 11:1-2,
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
And then he states,
“To commend someone for doing something that is not within their power to do is meaningless.”
He deals with Ephesians 2:8-9, a key text for Calvinists. They exegete this text to mean that due to man’s total inability and in that election is unconditional, faith too must be given by God to the elect as a gift for them to be saved. Lennox writes,
“…it will be objected that Paul explicitly says elsewhere that faith is a gift of God. The relevant passage is Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul writes:
For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.
It is then argued that this verse is consistent with the view that the unregenerate person is incapable of believing, and unless God gives them the faith that person will never believe. However, in the Greek text the word for faith is feminine in gender, whereas the word for it (in the phrase it is the gift of God) is neuter. From a grammatical point of view it is therefore not faith that is the gift – the gift is salvation by grace. Paul is in fact here making the same point as in Romans 4, contrasting salvation by merit with salvation by grace through faith.”
What is to be observed in all these examples is that for Lennox the integrating of technical exegetical or textual information with logical and moral reflection on this data and these texts is essential to the interpretive process. Using both spheres of interpretive concern, Lennox comes to interpretations that correct the Calvinist’s conception of faith as merit and counter the doctrines of total inability, unconditional election and pre-faith regeneration. The point is that interpretation cannot be done in a logical and moral vacuum. The text being studied has to be seen in coherent relationship with other texts being studied or have had their meaning disclosed. Proposed meanings of texts cannot be set in logical and moral contradiction with each other and left in abeyance as a biblical mystery.
Lennox makes this clear when commenting on the logical difficulty of human moral responsibility in light of the Calvinist doctrines of an eternal divine decree, unconditional election and reprobation. Lennox writes,
“…there are theologians like E. H. Palmer who hold that:
Reprobation as condemnation is conditional in the sense that once someone is passed by, then he is condemned by God for his sins and unbelief. Although all things – unbelief and sin included – proceed from God’s eternal decree, man is still to blame for his sins. He is guilty; it is his fault and not God’s.
It is sad to read of Palmer’s own reaction to this. Elsewhere in the same work he freely – and rather oddly – admits that his view is “illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical and foolish.” He then takes refuge in saying, “This secret matter belongs to the Lord our God and we should leave it there.”
To ascribe views that are illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish to God and his world sounds like the language of unbalanced extremism. After all, if an argument – and Palmer uses his reason all through – leads to illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish conclusions, then the first thing to look for are flaws in the argument – either in its logic or its premises. Yet Palmer, astonishingly, encourages us blindly, and purely on the basis of his own personal authority, to “leave it there.” But God does not leave it there. The New Testament does not leave it there. As we have seen, and will further explore, a long and detailed argument in John’s Gospel is geared precisely to establish the very opposite of Palmer’s contention. God justifies his ways to us and repeatedly asks us, as his creatures, to use our moral judgment to grasp that his will and actions are the exact opposite of illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical and foolish. Simply to “leave it there” risks undermining the credibility of Scripture.
Using our God-given moral judgment is very important. For instance, the most elementary moral logic surely tells us that, if someone is going to be condemned because they personally failed to so something (in this case believe), then they must have been capable of doing it in the first place. Otherwise no guilt could be attached to their action, and their condemnation would be unjust. Attempts like Palmer’s to dismiss this point by saying that this belongs to the secret counsel of God are singularly unimpressive and cannot be correct, as the Lord himself makes it clear that guilt implies responsibility and moral capacity.
In his discussion with the religious leaders about his healing of the blind man, Jesus makes the point:
If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but not that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
According to Christ, then, people will never be condemned for not seeing what they cannot see. Therefore, if they are to be judged for not believing, they must have been capable of believing. To suggest otherwise is to run the risk of representing God as a moral monster, and that is unthinkable.”
The point here is that the Calvinist cannot simply claim that once they have performed a technical exegesis upon a text, that the truth of the text has been disclosed. It is always a danger that one is imposing a presupposed theological grid upon the text. How do we know Palmer has erred in his theological conclusions? Because Palmer’s interpretations lead to what is “illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical and foolish.”
I am not claiming that logical and moral coherence are sufficient for discerning the meaning of a text, but they are necessary. A technical exegesis is necessary for us to come to the author’s intent, but it is not necessarily sufficient for attaining the precise meaning of the text. It is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient. That is, it is not sufficient if it does not inherently include the deliberations and checks of logical and moral reasoning. These cannot be dissociated from what it means to do exegesis. The Calvinist’s hermeneutical error is that they refuse to join philosophical and moral reasoning to exegesis in the interpretive task. Many of their textual interpretations result in rational and moral incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions with their interpretations of other texts, and that being the case we are simply told that “we should leave it there.” It cannot be overstated that surely this is a faulty hermeneutic. It certainly seems that the Calvinist, in that he can support such a hermeneutic of incoherence, is not interested in what the text actually means to tell us, but rather in preserving the traditional Calvinist doctrines no matter what the intellectual and moral price tag. Lennox states the truth when he says that the Calvinist “encourages us blindly, and purely on the basis of his own personal authority, to “leave it there.”
In contrast to this Calvinist confusion, what is necessary and sufficient for coming to the true meaning of the text is the exegetical process defined as a process that results in exegetical claims and conclusions that exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.
The Calvinist cannot boast of the accuracy of their exegesis if their exegesis leads them and us into these intractable logical and moral difficulties. Neither can the Calvinist hide behind an exegesis that had been divorced from clear thinking about the text and claim that the non-Calvinist merely objects to Calvinism on the basis of its logical and moral difficulties. Non-Calvinists object to Calvinism on the basis that the Calvinist exegesis leads to thinking and speaking nonsense. Non-Calvinists also object to Calvinism on the basis that the non-Calvinist does provide sound exegesis of the relevant texts and these exegeses have the advantage of being free from the acute logical and moral difficulties found in the Calvinist interpretations. This certainly suggests that the non-Calvinist interpretations better explain the author’s intent than the Calvinist interpretations.
Don’t miss the hermeneutical divide here. When we contrast the interpretive perspectives and conclusions of Palmer and Lennox, it becomes very obvious that Palmer does not value the logical and moral considerations that are so hermeneutically essential for Lennox.
So those who disagree with Schreiner and Ware do interpret many scriptures differently. They do exegete the text, and their exegesis leads to different conclusions precisely because their exegesis incorporates the clear thinking that comes from deliberations of logical, philosophical reflection and moral intuition and reasoning.
Therefore, for the non-Calvinist what makes an exegesis “sound” or weak, in addition to its faithfulness to the grammatical-historical method, is precisely the degree to which it is marked by explanatory power and scope, freedom from ad hoc “explanations” and the inclusion of logical, moral, theological and practical coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. Non-Calvinists view rational and moral coherence as integral to their “scriptural exegesis.” Certainly the non-Calvinist must offer an exegesis of the relevant texts if they are going to establish their position as biblical. Of course non-Calvinists must apply the same standard of coherence to their exegesis. They must provide competent and convincing exegetical interpretations that exhibit grammatical accuracy, a depth of explanation regarding historical, social and religious context, consideration of literary genre, rational consistency with the immediate literary and broader canonical context and logical and moral coherence with other established theological themes and doctrines. I contend that the responsible non-Calvinist theologies and soteriologies do just that. Non-Calvinists insist on providing an exegesis which does not result in nonsense. And they do just that too. But this is not so for the Calvinist. Hence the hermeneutical divide.
Therefore the “certain logical problems” non-Calvinists raise regarding Calvinism are relieved given the non-Calvinist’s exegesis. This is the way the non-Calvinist maintains his position – on the basis of a coherent exegesis. This is also the way the non-Calvinist refutes Calvinism on the basis of both coherence and exegesis. This is in contrast to the Calvinist who seeks to maintain his Calvinism regardless of an incoherent exegesis. The Calvinist insists his exegesis is valid but it shows itself to lack clear thinking, that is, it cannot stand up to philosophical or moral scrutiny. So it is an incoherent exegesis, which surely must be deemed an irresponsible exegesis. Combine the thorough and coherent non-Calvinist exegesis of the relevant texts with the logical and moral critiques of the Calvinist exegesis and interpretations, and you have a formidable case for the non-Calvinist interpretations and against Calvinism. Therefore objections that show up the logical problems with Calvinism would be an integral part of the non-Calvinists critique of Calvinism. That’s just the way the non-Calvinist thinks hermeneutically.
Schreiner and Ware admit that there are “logical difficulties” in their theology, but this seems to have no significance for their hermeneutic or implications for their interpretations. In their hermeneutic, the logical problems in their position are not sufficient reason for them to revisit their textual exegesis. So ask yourself, can the logical and moral implications of one’s exegesis be excluded as a necessary criteria by which we determine whether that exegesis accurately reflects the meaning of the text? For the Calvinist the answer is “yes.” For the non-Calvinist the answer is “no.” This is the hermeneutical divide.
This hermeneutical divide is the reason why this controversy continues. If I were to claim that my exegesis of the text, although it exhibits incoherence and contradiction, is the correct meaning of the text, how would you be able to discern the truth of my claim? Would it be by offering an alternative exegesis of the text that is equally incoherent and contradictory? I don’t think so. If that were the case, we wouldn’t get any closer to the true meaning of the text. My interpretation would be just as good as yours. This only points out how necessary it is that our interpretation exhibit logical and moral coherence. It certainly seems that the way we could get at the true meaning of the text is by countering an incoherent exegesis with an alternative exegesis that does not suffer from incoherence and contradiction.
But suppose your coherent exegesis threatened a key doctrine I hold dear and I were to ultimately claim that any logical problems there are with my exegesis are the result of the inability of our finite minds to grasp how the meanings gleaned from my exegesis cohere and therefore we have a mystery on our hands that we cannot fathom. I think you would be justified in asking, “Then how could such an exegesis ever be verified or refuted?” Correct. It could not. And this is just what the Calvinist is doing hermeneutically. They are dismissing the very tools of thought necessary to validate an exegesis. Therefore, if logical and moral objections can be dismissed as meaningful critiques of one’s position and divorced from playing an indispensable role in validating one’s exegesis, that exegesis can never be validated or invalidated. Key doctrines would remain intact and could not be altered. That exegesis and theology would just exists and remain in existence for whatever other reasons – but those other reasons would never include a philosophical or moral assessment of that exegesis and theology.
So the crucial question is, “Do the Calvinist’s incoherent interpretations remain in existence for reasons that are less than exegetically satisfactory?” In other words, can you have an exegesis that leads to logical and moral incoherence and yet claim that this is also a satisfactory hermeneutic that produces accurate interpretations of the Scriptures? If you believe you can, you would simply boast that you have exegeted the text and discredit your objectors as merely getting hung up on the “logical difficulties” in your position. You will assert that these logical difficulties hold no weight with respect to evaluating the validity of your exegesis. If this is the extent of your hermeneutic then there will never be a consensus as to the meaning of Scripture with someone whose hermeneutic takes logical and moral coherence to be indispensable. I submit that we cannot divorce philosophical and moral reflection from our hermeneutic, our exegetical process or our interpretive claims. Once we do this then anything goes. Any interpretation can be deemed valid.
Therefore, I submit that the negative logical and moral ramifications of the Calvinist exegesis cannot be dismissed by fleeing to “mystery.” And I submit that intellectual integrity warrants our rejection of this non-explanation. These logical, and I would add moral objections, must be acknowledged and satisfactorily resolved by Calvinists within their Calvinist system or they must alter their system appropriately, especially given that there exist exegetically, philosophically and morally sound alternative interpretations. Intellectual and exegetical integrity demand it. The problems identified in Calvinism must be dealt with in light of an interpretive method that emphasizes an exegesis of the text that shows itself to be logically and morally coherent. Until this happens this controversy will continue. This is the hermeneutical divide that is at the heart of the controversy.
Faith Seeking Understanding or an A Priori Doctrine Seeking Justification
Recall that Schreiner and Ware concluded that “our attempt to solve the problems posed by our theology, then, is an example of “faith seeking understanding.”” But what is “understanding” except the process by which we reason through the problems posed by our theology or a certain interpretation of a text? What is a “problem” except something that does not cohere with something else; something that is inconsistent or contradictory?
To “solve the problems” you must reason, and to reason you need to acknowledge the input of the canons of reason and moral intuition. I submit that this is what is not happening in Calvinism. How can the “reason” people ought to embrace the “doctrines of grace” be “because they are taught in Scripture” if those doctrines pose “logical problems” which raise doubt as to whether or not they are taught in Scripture? If logical and moral reasoning are essential to a sound hermeneutic then we would have sufficient reason to reject the claim that they are what is taught in Scripture. To avoid question begging the Calvinist will have to give us coherent exegetical reasons for believing their doctrines are biblical, but how will they do so when we find that their exegesis generates incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions with other established biblical teachings and reality as we all experience it? If the reason people ought to embrace the “doctrines of grace” is on the basis of exegesis, how are we going to discern the accuracy of an exegesis when logical reasoning and moral intuitions can be dismissed when that exegesis raises “logical difficulties?” How else can one discern a valid exegesis from an invalid exegesis? How does one defend their exegesis when that exegesis is found to present “logical problems” yet logic is not allowed to lend its input?
Ironically, the Calvinist presupposes the validity of “logic” in affirming the “logical problems” non-Calvinists raise in objection to Calvinism, but then the Calvinist dismisses this logic as to its legitimate function in evaluating the validity of their interpretations. It is fine to claim that this is “faith seeking understanding,” but how will faith ultimately gain this “understanding?” What is this “understanding” if not a reasoned conclusion? Faith that is Christian need not depend on or wait for complete understanding. But faith that is Christian is never to be defined as “blind faith” or faith without reasoned evidence, let alone faith that is against reason itself. “Faith seeking understanding” cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction that is inherent in one’s exegesis and theology.
This Calvinist explanation of “faith seeking understanding” needs to be carefully examined. We should first establish what the Bible says about the nature of “faith” so we can discern what is meant by “faith seeking understanding.” Is the Calvinist using the word “faith” here to mean belief in a non-negotiable established doctrine, particularly their view of divine sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism, and therefore “understanding” is the ongoing attempt to make sense of the logical and moral problems that this determinism creates? A tenet of Calvinist “faith” is belief in theistic determinism. Hence the real gist of the phrase “faith seeking understanding” is something more like, “our belief in theistic determinism seeking rational justification.” And it is no problem if the Calvinist never produces this rational justification because they can always maintain their determinism by falling back to “mystery,” which is where they stand now.
The point is that the “faith” that is “seeking understanding” cannot be a doctrinal conclusion presupposed to be true that generates incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. “Seeking understanding” is very different than accepting incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. Faith therefore seeks understanding in accord with the rules of logic and our moral intuitions, not in spite of them. Understanding is the grounds for faith, otherwise there would be nothing to believe in, or, what is proposed that we believe may be genuinely irrational and not worthy of belief and trust. Faith must not become justification for accepting what is incoherent. Faith is one’s personal decision to trust in what can be understood and has been demonstrated to be trustworthy. Faith therefore rests upon and embraces understanding. Faith embraces what can be understood due to divine revelation. What is revealed could not be known or understood apart from its being revealed. There are things revealed which human reason is inadequate for knowing on its own, but that is very different than claiming that what is revealed can be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory and pinning that on reason’s inability to grasp what is revealed. No. In that case, the fault lies in the interpretation of what is revealed.
Indeed, the purpose of divine revelation is to provide logical and moral grounds for faith in God. Divine revelation foster’s and demands faith in all of what is revealed precisely because it can be seen not to be dismissive of the laws of logic and our moral intuitions. Revelation is meant to be understood and is therefore sufficient to and in accord with the workings of reason. This is why a person is held culpable by God for their unbelief in light of God’s sufficient revelation of himself and his salvation. Again, faith is the trust you personally put in God according to what He has revealed. Thus, saving faith is centered upon the divine revelation of the way of salvation in Christ Jesus. But let us note that all this is dependent upon and interrelated with the interpretation of a written text and therefore the validation of what one proposes to be the meaning of that text. Therefore, an essential question we need to answer is, “What makes for valid interpretation?” I submit that it involves coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.
In contrast to the flight to “mystery” and the claim of “complexity,” along with “faith seeking understanding,” perhaps, rather, the “logical difficulties raised” are indicators that the fault lies in Schreiner and Ware’s interpretation of Scripture. In that case, “mystery” and “complexity” and “faith seeking understanding” become scapegoats to maintain what common logic and morality identify as problematic interpretations.
Therefore, on the basis of the indispensability of the laws of logic to any rational thought, if the non-Calvinist can identify “certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology” then these “logical problems” constitute a determinative refutation of the Calvinist exegesis of the relevant texts and the theological system developed upon that exegesis. This is the role of the laws of logic in the interpretive task. These laws are indispensable and they are able to reliably support the validity or expose the invalidity of one’s interpretive propositions. We can confidently say that what is logically incoherent or contradictory is false. If we cannot confidently say this, or we choose to ignore it, then all thought and knowledge collapses into meaninglessness. When our theology violates the laws of logic, that is, when it is found to be inconsistent, incoherent or contradictory, then we have determined that theology to be an incorrect interpretation and understanding of Scripture. If Calvinism violates these laws of logic, as I believe it does, then this is sufficient to conclude that it is false.
Therefore, it appears to me, that the Calvinist is persevering and protecting their doctrine of deterministic sovereignty regardless of the wide range of problematic implications. Rather than take their hermeneutical cues from these problematic indicators, Calvinists feel compelled to maintain a deterministic definition of sovereignty which will in turn dictate the definitions of their soteriological doctrines such that “his free election of individuals to receive his efficacious grace alone accounts for personal salvation.” But is this true to Scripture when the Calvinist must also admit that that same Scripture testifies to genuine human freedom, personal moral responsibility and culpability, contingency, potentiality and possibility? We read of these on almost every page on the Bible. Does “mystery” really suffice as “the full and final resolution” of divine sovereignty and human responsibility? I do not think so for the reasons given above. Rather, the problem is interpretive.
Also note that Schreiner and Ware would have no way of knowing whether they might be in error here because the logical, moral, practical and theological difficulties which may be reliable indications of misinterpretation are put out of court. Hence, in this way their definition of “sovereignty” as a theistic determinism can, for them, remain unassailable and continue to hold absolute sway over their whole theological paradigm. Who can discuss or attempt to persuade someone that a certain exegetical interpretation doesn’t make sense when the tools by which we determine sense from nonsense are rendered inapplicable and irrelevant to the discussion on the grounds that “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and therefore the relationship between sovereignty and human responsibility is “incomprehensible to sinful human reason?” Who can persuade someone that their position is incoherent if when they are confronted with the incoherence they always flee to “mystery?”
So we are left asking what makes all these responses anything more than mere assertions which only beg the question as to whether or not the Calvinist has interpreted the Scripture correctly. What makes “mystery” anything more than a bold assertion that presupposes that the Calvinist soteriological interpretations are true? Thus, as far as the Calvinist is concerned their interpretations are insulated from substantive critique because the logical and moral frameworks for discerning the validity of an interpretation are a priori discounted as far as hermeneutics is concerned in favor of asserting “incomprehensibility” and “mystery.” It is only upon such shaky hermeneutical grounds that they can boast that God is “Still Sovereign.”
But note again, if there is an alternative interpretation that proves to be the result of a careful examination of the historical, grammatical, social and theological context, and also “makes sense,” that is, adheres to the cannons of reason and our moral intuitions, then we see no reason as to why that shouldn’t be deemed the more accurate interpretation.
Schreiner and Ware’s admission that “the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism” is highly significant. It is a step of honest self-reflection upon the problematic implications of their theology. But when all is said and done, these “logical difficulties” simply do not matter to Calvinists as far as interpretive validity is concerned. I would hope that more Calvinists would take the time and effort to carefully reflect upon what they say they believe with respect to the nature of the difficulties inherent in their positions, the cause of those difficulties, and their hermeneutical implications. And yet, as they persist in simply ignoring the logical and moral objections and critiques of their theology Calvinists seem to become more and more oblivious to them.
Schreiner and Ware Ignore Logic and Morals, Claim Complexity and Flee to Mystery
Note that Schreiner and Ware are able to dismiss rational and moral considerations in their interpretations and theological conclusions. As to the logical relationship of their theistic determinism to human choice and responsibility they state,
“God is completely sovereign, and yet human choices and responsibility are not a charade. God ordains all that comes to pass and is good; and yet evil exists, and it is really evil.”
The logical and moral problems engendered by the theistic determinism in their position is readily apparent by the “and yets.” Their determinism regarding individual salvation is also evident.
“…there would be agreement among Calvinists that God is sovereign, and that his free election of individuals to receive his efficacious grace alone accounts for personal salvation. God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace cause all who believe to put their faith in Christ to be saved.”
The terms and phrases used vary (e.g., “God chooses,” “grace is irresistible,” “he has chosen,” “God is in control,” “God governs,” “God is sovereign,” “free election,” “efficacious grace,” “unconditional election,” “irresistible grace,” “God is completely sovereign,” “God ordains all that comes to pass and is good,” “God chooses only some to be saved”), but they all express what amounts to a theistic determinism which is a bedrock understanding of divine “sovereignty” that is unalterable for the Calvinist.
It is obvious that Schreiner and Ware themselves conclude that their view of “sovereignty” raises “certain logical problems” and “logical difficulties” in relation to “human choices and responsibility.” They state that “God is completely sovereign, and yet human choices and responsibility are not a charade.” They acknowledge that what the Calvinist means by “God ordains all that comes to pass” is logically and morally problematic with respect to the character of God as good and the existence of evil. They acknowledge that unconditional election is logically problematic with God’s desire that all be saved and with affirming that those who do not persevere to the end will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It is crucial to observe that Schreiner and Ware admit the legitimacy of the logical (and moral) difficulties non-Calvinists have brought against Calvinism. They confess that “the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism.” They also state that there exist “hard texts for Calvinists.” These acknowledgements are crucial for weighing the role of logic in the hermeneutical and exegetical task and the role logical coherence plays in determining the validity of one’s exegetical and interpretive conclusions. It is crucial because it certainly seems to be an admission of the legitimacy of logical and moral reasoning. We are, therefore, left baffled as to why logical and moral reasoning can be dismissed when they indict the Calvinist interpretations for incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction. We are left wondering why logical reflection and our moral sense are put out of court in doing sound biblical interpretation and for discerning the validity of exegetical and interpretive conclusions. If the complaints are saying something legitimate, then the reasoning that brings forth the complaints is legitimate. Therefore, why shouldn’t that reasoning apply to the Calvinist’s interpretations? Why shouldn’t that reasoning be essential and indispensable to the Calvinist’s hermeneutic?
As already noted above, in Schreiner and Ware’s list of problems that Calvinism faces they also admit to difficulties that are of a moral nature. These we detect by our moral intuitions. For instance, we know that it is morally wrong for someone to be held responsible and condemned for doing evil when they were irresistibly determined by God to do it. And we know that since God determined the evil, he must be the foundational causal agent in the evil action and therefore the agent responsible for the action. And I think it should be obvious to all that to place the responsibility on the human person doing the evil act as the “secondary cause” and to hold them accountable for the evil act when it is God who irresistibly determined for them to do it, does nothing to relieve the essential problem here. Due to their theistic determinism, the Calvinist’s attempt to explain evil and evil actions land us in moral incoherence with respect to the justice of such matters and the character of God as holy and good. In addition, God, who’s very nature is loving and just, has predetermined that certain persons, before they came into existence, would suffer eternal punishment, torment and separation from himself, while others, before they came into existence, were predetermined to salvation, and both occur in a way in which the persons themselves with respect to their wills and choices are completely passive, that is, that each one’s eternal destiny is decided and irresistibly caused by God alone. Here we have acute problems involving our sense of justice and the very character of God. So the problems are both of a logical and moral nature.
How do Schreiner and Ware respond to these problems having acknowledged the legitimacy of the logical and moral difficulties of their Calvinist theology? First they point out that the answers to these objections are “complex.” This point is well taken. Anyone who has engaged this controversy knows how complex it can be. But that will not help the Calvinist extricate himself from the logical and moral problems inherent in his theology. “Complex” is different than logically and morally incoherent. Even if “the reality of life as portrayed by the Scriptures is complex” this complexity will not testify to logical and moral incoherence, neither should it be used to support logical and moral incoherence in one’s theology. It is a vain attempt for Schreiner and Ware to redefine the logical and moral incoherence in their position as “complexity.” It will not do to obscure the logical problems of their theology by describing them as “complex.” Rather, when one’s theology exhibits logical and moral incoherence, that theology ought to be revisited in light of responsible and sound alternative interpretations of Scripture that exhibit logical and moral coherence. Indeed, logical reasoning and moral intuitions, if allowed to lend their input hermeneutically, assist in clarifying and therefore simplifying these matters in our thinking, thus reducing their complexity. I contend that the “complexity” of Calvinism betrays its incoherence, and therefore Calvinists would like nothing more than the permission to remain incoherent and have such be accepted as legitimate within an evangelical hermeneutic. Calvinists do not want to be pressed on their logical and moral incoherence. They want to be allowed to have the answers to the logical and moral objections non-Calvinists raise against Calvinism to remain “complex,” but this is only a euphemism for “incoherent.” “Complex” makes incoherence sound legitimate.
Having made this point about complexity, we can see how Schreiner and Ware ultimately deal with this complexity and solve these logical problems. They do so by fleeing to “mystery.” They explicitly state,
“All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.”
Again, Schreiner and Ware confirm the problematic nature of their definition of “sovereignty” when they admit to “certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we affirm.” But as much as they will attempt to address these in the subsequent essays in their book, they a priori assert that those problems are a “mystery.” Schreiner and Ware clearly state that “All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.”
This seems to be telling us that any Calvinist attempts to resolve the logical or moral difficulties in their theology will ultimately fail. In effect, Schreiner and Ware are both admitting and informing us that there are no answers to these logical and moral problems inherent in their theology. The flight to mystery indicates that revisiting and interpreting the text in a way that takes logical and moral coherence on board is not an option. The essays in their book, even though they will attempt to alleviate these logical and moral difficulties exegetically, ultimately will not resolve them. Why? Because it is impossible to reason your way out of a fundamental incoherence or contradiction while the interpretations producing the fundamental incoherence or contradiction remain intact. We can never resolve a logical or moral incoherence or contradiction without correcting the cause of these. To leave the incoherence or contradiction intact and attempt to reason it away will only reveal that reason will refuse to cooperate in such an endeavor because we would be requiring reason to betray itself. But the cannons of reason cannot be violated by rational argument. Sooner or later such arguments will show themselves up as also irrational, incoherent or contradictory. You can’t reason around a contradiction. Reason won’t participate in attempts at defeating itself. Attempts to reason around incoherencies and contradictions only produce more incoherencies and contradictions in the process. After the many attempts at explaining why what you believe is really not nonsense fail, and only produce more nonsense, then one has to admit that they actually do have a real incoherence or contradiction on their hands. They are caught in real philosophical and/or moral incoherence or contradiction. Mystery, antinomy, apparent contradiction, incomprehensibility, etc. cannot rescue the situation. What is philosophically and morally incoherent cannot be resolved unless one deals with the problem at its source. In this case the source is the Calvinist’s exegesis that claims divine sovereignty is defined as universal divine causal determinism. Theological incoherence remains incoherence and theological contradictions remain contradictions until they are resolved at the level of interpretation and interpretive thought. But for the Calvinist, processing one’s exegesis in accord with the rules of logic and reason has been put out of court. Given this Calvinist hermeneutic of incoherence there can be no resolution to this problem.
Therefore, the critical question facing the evangelical church which demands an answer is whether or not biblical interpretations that prove to be logically and morally contradictory, inconsistent or incoherent are valid exegeses of the text.
Schreiner and Ware admit that interpretations that differ from theirs can be put forth. But that does not help us to determine which of those differing interpretations is true. Surely the disciplines of hermeneutics and exegesis are about ferreting out the true meaning of the text. Surely then, the question must be asked, “How can we know whose interpretations are an accurate reflection of the the true meaning of the text?” I submit that a crucial element in the answer to this question is logical and moral coherence. We should not divorce our biblical exegesis from the “logical problems” of that exegesis. In determining the validity of that exegesis, surely the logical and moral coherence of that exegesis must be taken into consideration. If logical and moral coherence are indispensable for determining valid from invalid interpretations, then, due to the type of difficulties Calvinism generates, the Calvinist interpretations fail as a proper exegesis of Scripture.
We all agree that due diligence in the exegetical process is fundamental and indispensable for coming to a correct understanding of the text and for accepting one interpretation over another as what the author intended to say. And certainly Calvinists provide an exegesis of the controversial texts. But as I have said, there is good exegesis, not so good exegesis and simply bad exegesis, and we need a hermeneutic that can discern the difference. But we critique Calvinism not on the basis of its incoherence alone, but also on the basis that there are exegetically sound alternative interpretations of the relevant texts. There are alternative exegeses that lead to different interpretive conclusions. But again, obviously not any exegesis will do. Each side in this controversy does not accept the others exegesis as the satisfactory meaning of the texts at issue (e.g., Rom. 9, Eph. 1, Jn. 6, et al.) Exegesis is a necessary condition for properly disclosing the meaning of the text. But obviously it is not a sufficient condition for coming to a proper understanding of the biblical texts. What are we to do when positions differ and both sides claim exegetical grounding? I submit that there usually are grammatical-historical “reasons” that just haven’t been considered or incorporated one or the other, or perhaps both sides of the debate that produced flawed interpretations. So, ideally we could come to a consensus on the meaning of the text by the use of the grammatical-historical method alone. But there just might be grammatical-historical considerations that may have been overlooked. And it seems to me that interpretations claiming to be based on a proper application of the grammatical-historical method which dichotomize logical and moral coherence from that exegetical method, that is, they don’t consider the deliverances of logical reflection and moral intuition important elements in their hermeneutic, are prone to misinterpret the text and will likely do so. And that being the case, one’s traditional doctrinal interpretations and beliefs will stand as a priori true and therefore the Calvinist would not be capable of acknowledging any critique that would persuade him to alter his perspective on and interpretation of these important texts. One cannot carry on a responsible grammatical-historical exegetical methodology while ignoring whether the results are logically and morally incoherent or not. Philosophical reasoning and moral intuitions are vital contributors to the exegetical process. These also have to be taken into consideration. They are key arbitrators between two contrary exegetical conclusions.
So the non-Calvinist questions the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” on two grounds: exegetical and logically. But the Calvinist claims the truth of their “doctrines of grace” solely on exegetical grounds while dismissing the logical grounds by resorting to “mystery.” But to dismiss the logical grounds is to dismiss the means to determine the accuracy of the exegetical grounds.
Determinism Motivates to Pray
Here is an example of the incoherence of Calvinism. In their Introduction Schreiner and Ware provide five reasons as to why they “love the doctrines of grace.” Their fourth reason is that “the doctrines of grace motivate us to pray.” They explain,
“…the doctrines of grace motivate us to pray. We do not simply pray that God will move on people so that it is possible for their wills to respond. Such prayers are characterized by hesitancy since their outcome is dependent ultimately upon the human will. We pray rather that God will invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around so that they will be saved. We do not ask God simply to make salvation possible; we pray that God will save them, all the while knowing that God’s perfect will, from all eternity, is alone wise and right.”
Schreiner and Ware deem the non-Calvinist’s prayer to be inadequate because they “simply pray that God will move people so that it is possible for their wills to respond.” They say “Such prayers are characterized by hesitancy since their outcome is dependent ultimately upon the human will.” But let’s now examine the alternative given Calvinism.
Schreiner and Ware claim that as Calvinists “We pray…that God will invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around so that they will be saved.” But this prayer is problematic with respect to the Calvinist’s deterministic worldview in relation to its content. First, this prayer certainly implies the expectation that God may or will do something in answer to that prayer, that is, something that God otherwise would not have done if the prayer had not been prayed. After all, isn’t that the reason Schreiner and Ware pray at all? Isn’t the reason they pray so that things would be what they otherwise would not be? That certainly is the impression they give us here. Furthermore, they clearly state, “…we pray that God will save them.” Question. If God does “invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around” and “save them,” does that have any relation to the prayer, or, does all that happen solely on the basis that the person is among the unconditionally elect who were chosen by God for salvation before he created the world? On Calvinism it is precisely the case that it happens solely on the basis of unconditional election. Unconditional election or predestination is the only explanation as to why a person is saved. And their salvation or reprobation being unconditional, that is, not conditioned upon anything or anyone other than God’s will and his activity to bring about his will – including the Calvinist’s prayer – the prayer has no affect with respect to the turning of the desires of their heart or their ultimately being saved. The prayer has been eliminated as having any effect because salvation is unconditional. The resulting salvation of the elect has nothing to do with the Calvinist’s prayer. It occurs because God causes it to occur according to his will to save that individual. Period. Prayer or no prayer.
Note that the “prayer” itself is also predetermined by God. That is just a fact given the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism. Therefore if the Calvinist attempts to claim the prayer was a contributing factor in a person’s salvation, the Calvinist is being deceived. The Calvinist simply chooses to believe that God, by predetermining and causing the person to pray, saved the person. We can only understand what is going on as God inducing the prayer and as such the prayer adds nothing as far as cause and effect upon God or the person being prayed for. The Calvinist’s prayer does not do what Schreiner and Ware claim it does here, that is, have some causal effect or move God to act in a way he may not otherwise have acted on this person’s behalf. Whether the Calvinist prays this prayer or not has no bearing upon the eternal destiny of the person they are praying for. That person’s salvation occurs or does not occur, not because of any prayer having being prayed or not having been prayed, but only on the basis of their divinely predetermined destiny, that is, whether they are among those unconditionally elected to salvation or not.
So we can ask, as far as a person’s salvation or eternal destiny is concerned, does God act in answer to prayer, or does he unconditionally predetermine their eternal destiny and the related prayers? It cannot be both because the contingency which seems to be entailed in the former logically excludes the determinism of the latter. It cannot be both conditioned upon the prayer and unconditioned apart from the prayer. Therefore, if a person’s salvation is based on unconditional election, then what purpose is the prayer with respect to the prayer’s particular content – “that God will invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around so that they will be saved?” If the person is not elect, the prayer cannot accomplish anything with respect to what it requests of God. God will not save those he has predestined to condemnation. If the person is elect, the realization of their salvation, as unconditional, has nothing to do with the prayer.
Schreiner and Ware state that they pray that “God will invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around so that they will be saved.” So what? You can pray for whatever you would like to pray for, but this is not a prayer that has any meaning given their doctrine of unconditional election and their underlying universal divine causal determinism. What meaning can such a prayer have with respect to its stated goal – “that they will be saved” – for a person whose eternal destiny is already unconditionally predetermined by the God? None. Schreiner and Ware are praying something that has no effect on what happens in a universe in which everything has been predetermined by that God. That Schreiner and Ware state, “We pray God will save them” is meaningless in a deterministic reality because, again, it seems incoherent for them to be praying as if the nature of life and reality contains situations that are characterized by genuine contingency, potentiality or possibility. Schreiner and Ware, in praying as they do, presume that God has not predetermined all things and that he will do something in response to someone’s prayers. If God has predestined this person to spend eternity in hell, no prayer is going to change either the person’s mind or God’s mind on the matter. And to claim that “We pray rather that God will invade their lives and turn the desires of their heart around so that they will be saved” regarding someone who is among the elect is not a prayer, it is a recitation of what God will unfailingly do. When Schreiner and Ware say, “We do not ask God simply to make salvation possible; we pray that God will save them” that is to both presume that God will act in answer to their pray in the sense that if they had not prayed the prayer it is a real possibility that the person who could have been saved will not be saved, that is, that they know something about the person which they do not. So both the content and disposition of their prayer to God as presenting the possibility of the salvation of this person by God’s activity, presumably by his present ability and willingness to act salvifically on behalf of that person, when that salvation may not be possible because that same God has made salvation for that person impossible is incoherent and confused. So both the presupposition of the prayer and its content are incoherent with their theistic determinism.
Therefore, given universal divine causal determinism, God does not act on the basis of prayer. If you find that your prayer was “answered,” it was not really answered. It was a predetermined event coincident with your predetermined desires expressed in a “prayer” to God. On Calvinism God does not answer prayer, he predetermines prayer.
The Calvinist will object and state that God works through “secondary means” and “secondary causes” as if that resolves the problems raised by theistic determinism. I have dealt with this thoroughly in chapter 8 where we saw that these phrases are just empty verbiage used to attempt to revive a semblance of human freedom and responsibility in a deterministic universe. In this context, these phrases would merely refer to God predetermining the Calvinist’s prayer, which to us might look as if it was being “answered” by God. But that would not be the case. Both the prayer and the “answer” have been predetermined. For God also predetermines all “secondary means” or “causes” – including Schreiner and Ware’s prayer. God predetermines the prayers to be prayed and the persons who will pray them leaving us with God being the sole causal agent in the universe. And he himself is not a free agent, for he is now bound to his divine eternal decree. Again, we cannot escape the dizzying irrational effects of the vortex of determinism. Everything, including Schreiner and Ware’s prayer, is being sucked into its depths of incoherence.
On Schreiner and Ware’s determinism, their prayer – “we pray God will save them”- amounts to a self-reflective or self-referencing hope or wish with regard to the person being prayed for. On Calvinist determinism this prayer only says something about the personal desire of the one praying. that is that the one they are praying for be saved. But again, the prayer cannot influence the person’s eternal destiny. That has been unalterably fixed from eternity past. Therefore Calvinist’s prayer reduces to the predetermined expression of the Calvinist’s hope that God has elected to salvation the person they are praying for. But if this person is among the non-elect such a prayer is incoherent with both the content and disposition of the prayer itself. Hence, we have God predetermining human sentiments that conflict with the ultimate reality of the person’s eternal destiny. God puts it into the heart and mind of Schreiner and Ware to have a compassionate desire for a person’s salvation and actually express that in prayer when with regard to the non-elect God himself has predestined them to eternal damnation.
In contrast, given libertarian human freedom, the content and disposition of the prayer present the situation as an open, contingent reality, one with genuine potential and presenting the real possibility that the person may be moved from the unbelieving state that they are presently in to a state of belief and salvation. God is free to both respond to the prayer and act in the situation. Therefore the prayer takes on meaning and purpose.
Note therefore that Schreiner and Ware’s concern for that person may be more loving and compassionate than God’s if the person is among the non-elect. Their desire for the good of the other person may be greater than God’s compassion and desire for the good of that person. Schreiner and Ware’s concerns for that person may be dashed to pieces by their God who may have predestined that person to eternal torment in hell. Whether prayers are made on their behalf or not has no bearing on the eternal destiny God has predestined for that person.
For Schreiner and Ware to contrast their view of prayer with prayers that “are characterized by hesitancy” is to misrepresent the non-Calvinist view and practice of prayer. To state that the non-Calvinist’s prayer has as its goal to “simply make salvation possible” is misleading and a red-herring with regard to the central issue here. It certainly does not bolster their position and fails to acknowledge that salvation has already been accomplished by Christ on behalf of all sinners. The Bible teaches that salvation has actually been accomplished for all sinners in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is made possible as it pertains to its appropriation by the sinner to themselves on the basis of their faith or believing. Prayer for the salvation of someone therefore asks God to work in the circumstances of the unbeliever’s life so as to elicit the response of faith. God does not cause faith through the divine bestowal of an irresistible grace as Calvinism teaches. Faith, or believing is always a responsibility placed upon the sinner. It is the appropriate God ordained response of the sinner to the good news of their salvation in Christ. It is everywhere in Scripture contrasted to works and therefore cannot be included in works or understood as meritorious as in Calvinism. We can therefore see that Schreiner and Ware’s prayer does nothing for the one they are praying for. It does not even make salvation possible for them if they are not among the elect. Yet, again, that is what the content of their prayer seems to make us think can occur, that is, that their prayer can affect God’s actions in that person’s life so as to bring them to a crisis of decision – to believe or continue in unbelief. In short, there are two options on Calvinism. A person is either predestined for salvation and certainly will be saved or they are not so predestined and cannot be saved.
Note that Schreiner and Ware point out that the Calvinist does “not simply pray that God will move on people so that it is possible for their wills to respond.” We saw that on the basis of unconditional election they rather pray that “God will save them.” Yet one type of prayer, that is, petitionary prayer, seems incoherent with Calvinist determinism. The meaningful granting of a petition requires we presuppose a non-deterministic reality. Petition has no meaning in a exhaustively predetermined reality. Given our assessment of the incoherence of the Calvinist options of prayer in this regard, the non-deterministic reality in which human wills are involved in matters of one’s eternal destiny seems to make much more sense.
It is therefore sobering to think that our prayers can influence God to act on behalf of others and ourselves. Of all the other purposes prayer serves in our lives, such potentiality and possibility are certainly of the very nature of petitionary prayer. This possibility of personal interaction with God through prayer certainly provides motivation to pray. The non-Calvinist view of reality makes sense of prayer. Prayer changes things. On Calvinism prayers just are God ordained self-talk. Universal divine causal determinism entails that God is the sole agent in the whole universe. Therefore, as far as what God ordains us to think and say in prayer – for on Calvinism God causes everyone’s every thought, desire, belief and action – he causes us to think and say to him. Hence, in prayer God talks to himself through us. Calvinism thus logically entails a very odd, and unscriptural, view of prayer.
This point about salvation being “possible” is characteristic of each system. On the non-Calvinist view salvation is “possible” for the person being prayed for because God desires their salvation and therefore provides everything needed for them to respond positively to the gospel. In the gospel message God reveals to the sinner their need of salvation. God is at work by his Spirit through that message of “good news” to show and enable the sinner to respond of their own will to that gospel. The gospel message, in which the Spirit is at work, tells the sinner of their need of salvation and to believe in Christ. By the very fact that they are hearing the “good news” of their salvation God is “invading their lives.” It is correct that we do not pray for God “simply to make salvation possible.” He has already done that in the atoning work Christ accomplished on the cross on behalf of each and every sinner. The Holy Spirit is a work in the gospel message to “turn the desires of their heart around” so that the sinner hearing the good news is enabled to respond in faith and be saved. When the remain in unbelief, they are without excuse. They could have and should have believed. It is only their own willful rejection of the salvation offered to them that will cause them to spend eternity apart from God.
Schreiner and Ware add the following caveat to why “the doctrines of grace motivate [them] to pray.” They add, “all the while knowing that God’s perfect will, from all eternity, is alone wise and right.” This hints at the negative side of unconditional election, which is that God has willed certain particular persons to eternal damnation. Schreiner and Ware deem this to be God doing what is “alone wise and right.” Here Schreiner and Ware have to suppress their logical and moral intuitions to call what they would otherwise deem in human affairs to be unwise and simply wrong “alone wise and right.” The word “alone” conveys this drastic divergence between the negative moral implications upon the character and ways of God given the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and what we would normally consider what is wise and right. “God’s will…alone” expresses the dissonance between God’s character that unconditional election requires and what we know of wisdom, justice and doing what is right and fair. Schreiner and Ware can accept as wise and right the eternal condemnation of one person whom God could have just as easily chosen for salvation in comparison to a person who is no better or no worse and yet for some unknown reason has chosen them for salvation. This, according to most of us, is anything but wise or right. I deal with this problem in detail elsewhere, but suffice it to say here that it is very hard for me to see how the incoherence of determinism motivates them to pray.
So it seems to me a strange kind of thinking for Schreiner and Ware to find motivation for prayer regarding a person’s salvation in their “doctrines of grace” when those very doctrines generate such substantial incoherence and moral difficulties. To claim these doctrines are a motivation to prayer, Schreiner and Ware have to dismiss thinking through the logical and moral implications of their theistic determinism in relation to the nature and presuppositions of prayer. If it is really the case that “prayer changes things” and we are going to think logically and coherently about what we are saying about prayer, then the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism cannot be the nature of reality. Either prayer changes things or it does not? Given a universal divine causal determinism nothing can be altered in the present or the future from the way God has willed it to be. Given theistic determinism, by definition, there is no such thing as change in the sense of “things could have been different than what they are.”
Determinism a Bulwark for Suffering
Another reason Schreiner and Ware say they love their “doctrines of grace” is because,
“…the doctrines of grace and divine providence are a bulwark for suffering. The world is a frightening place, and horrible sufferings occur.”
Note that for the Calvinist “divine providence” here means universal divine causal determinism. Logically, therefore, God is the ultimate and and direct cause of this world being “a frightening place” and he is the direct cause of all the “horrible sufferings” that occur. Let’s be clear here. On Calvinism God is not merely the “first cause” of all things in the sense of having created all things, but he is causal in the sense of directly bringing about these “horrible sufferings.” This being the case, the Calvinist has the problem of answering how it is that God is not indicted in doing evil and therefore being evil himself. But more incoherence follows. They continue,
“The book of Job teaches us that no suffering occurs, even that which Satan brings, apart from God’s will.”
Note that Schreiner and Ware are here telling us that there is a being called Satan that brings about suffering. That is, Satan is a creature that can cause suffering. Now according to the Calvinist’s definition of “the divine eternal decree” and “divine sovereignty” and “meticulous divine providence,” it is God alone that has “ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” and by that they mean a universal divine causal determinism. God is the sole cause of all that occurs, even suffering. But here we have Satan causing suffering, which both presupposes the existence of a will that can act, not as God has predetermined, but as God allows. And it is this “allowing” or “permitting” that is incoherent with Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism. For God to allow Satan to act to bring about suffering is very different than the divine causal determinism of Calvinism. What the Calvinist’s theology of sovereignty teaches and logically requires is that God alone causes all things to occur. There are no other beings that can cause things to occur in and of themselves. God causes those beings to do what they do. And as such God is the cause of the evil actions of Satan. Hence to say, “no suffering occurs, even that which Satan brings, apart from God’s will” is not a speak of Satan bringing about suffering “apart from God’s will” is not consistent with Calvinist universal divine causal determinism. It is not the same as the Calvinist’s insistence that God has predetermined and causes all things to occur as they do by his own will, that is, God directly causing Satan to bring about the suffering that God wills. Indeed, Calvinist determinism has God causing Satan to be who he is and do what he does.
So, if Schreiner and Ware were to be true to their theology here they would have to maintain that God causes Satan to do what he does. But they pull back from their theistic determinism here because the text does not support it. What the passage supports is not theistic determinism but rather a true biblical depiction of God’s sovereignty as the exercise of his supreme authority over all his creatures and within all of his creation and any of it historical events to accomplish either his universal or immediate plans and purposes. That is the nature of divine sovereignty. It is God’s capability to rule and reign over the free creatures he himself has made. We see God’s ruling and reigning in action here and it is in direct conflict with the Calvinist’s definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism. The book of Job, like the rest of Scripture testifies against determinism and for God’s sovereignty in dynamic interaction with his meaningfully free angelic and human creatures.
Obviously Satan is not a creature that does the will of God. And Satan causes many others not to do the will of God. So God’s will is not always done. Nothing is clearer from observing the biblical history and our present experiences. Therefore, obviously Satan has a will of his own. Satan rebelled against God, and it would be absurd to think that a definition of divine sovereignty would require us to believe that God predetermined and caused Satan to do what he did in rebelling against God and that God is judging and redeeming his own predeterminations. Therefore, contrary to the way Calvinists misrepresent creaturely freedom, it is not a threat to God’s sovereignty.
In this instance, with respect to what Satan would like to do to Job, we see that Satan cannot act apart from what God decides in the matter for reasons God wants to accomplish. It is therefore incoherent to speak of God allowing Satan to do what Satan wills to do and yet hold to a universal divine causal determinism which entails that God’s will is the only causal will in the universe. To “not be able to act apart from,” which presupposes the reality of at least one other substantially free agent, is very different than “to not be able to act at all” as a substantially free agent. The latter is entailed in theistic determinism.
Schreiner and Ware continue,
“Not a sparrow falls apart from God’s will, and God has numbered the hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:29-30).”
These are statements about God’s knowing all things within the context of God’s care for his disciples. As God knows and cares about what is happening with his creatures, he knows and cares about his disciples. For Schreiner and Ware to be consistent with their determinism the verses would have say “not a sparrow falls without God having predetermined that it fall.” But the verses do not say this. Again, context is crucial here. Jesus is telling them that as to the mission he is sending his disciples on that they should not be afraid (Mt. 10:26, 28, 31) Why? Because “the Spirit of the Father” will be with them (10:20), they have Jesus’ example of being maligned with which to identify and they need to know that are valuable to their “Father in heaven.” Just as the Father knows about such a small thing as the falling of a sparrow, he will certainly therefore know what his disciples experience. Jesus therefore comforts them by telling them “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (10:31) That is obviously very different than the thinking that these verses support theistic determinism. Schreiner and Ware affirm the above treatment of these verses when they state,
“The inference is that nothing happens to us that does not pass through God loving hands.”
But note what they are doing here. The are backing away from their determinism. The phrase “pass through” is too soft. This is too weak and does not properly express their theistic determinism. Schreiner and Ware should be more forthright. They should have said, “Nothing happens to us except what has been predetermined and caused by God.” That is very different than “passes through God’s loving hands.” “Passes through” implies other causal agents that are doing things that God has to either allow or not allow to happen. That is different than God willing and causing these “agents” to do what they are doing as Calvinist theistic determinism requires.
So they claim their “doctrines of grace” are a bulwark in suffering, but when they have to explain this they step back from God determining all things to describing what happens in suffering as God “allowing” and “permitting” some things. The point is that Calvinists default to the non-Calvinist’s position when it comes to the problem of evil and suffering. There is nothing Schreiner and Ware say in completing this section that a non-Calvinist would disagree with.
“We are not saying that suffering will not be agonizingly painful, nor are we suggesting that there will be no process of questioning or grief. But we are saying that we can live in the confidence that no action or event – not one! – can ever occur outside of God’s all-encompassing and wise plan. Even though life is not always easy, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We can trust our lives to a loving Father who shelters us under his wings and works everything out so that we will be more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). The world is not spinning out of control. He is guiding it according to his own wise plan, which is beyond our understanding.”
The confidence they say they live in does not require theistic determinism. Therefore I do not see how the “doctrines of grace” are required or even support the claim that they are a “bulwark for suffering.” Indeed, on consistent Calvinism, God is the cause of that very suffering. He is the author of evil and evil himself. So much for being a bulwark.
What Is the Purpose of Schreiner and Ware’s Book?
So, in their more honest moments, these prominent Calvinists must admit there are “logical problems” in their theology. In their book Schreiner and Ware attempt to ultimately address or resolve these problems by further explications of their doctrines in light of Scripture. But what does this attempt amount to if logical and moral coherence are still not allowed to play their necessary role in determining the validity of these further explications? Ask yourself this key question. Would any further explications they provide need to be logically and morally coherent? You must answer this question. It cannot be ignored. The Calvinist’s answer is, “Not necessarily.” How about your answer. Can you affirm a “hermeneutic of incoherence?” So, here’s the Calvinist’s hermeneutical strategy. If attempts by Calvinists to justify their exegeses and doctrines run up against logical and moral difficulties, given their “hermeneutic of incoherence” they simply continue to claim “human incomprehensibility” and “mystery.”
Furthermore, why is a book like this necessary? Are the Calvinist contributors to this book trying to further resolve their logical difficulties? If so, why? I thought we had reached “the full and final resolution” to this problem of sovereignty and human responsibility in “mystery.” They state this as a forgone conclusion. If they have already concluded that their problems are a mystery then what more needs to be said? What more can be said? Can a genuine biblical “mystery” that is past finding out due to the limitation of fallen, finite human reason be resolved through further exegesis? It does not seem to be possible once we are untethered from the interpretive anchors of the truths of logic and our common moral sense.
So Schreiner and Ware’s book seeks to justify their Calvinism through “biblical analysis,” addressing “theological issues” and “pastoral reflections.” So what would constitute a justification or resolution of their “doctrines of grace?” Perhaps resolution of the logical and moral difficulties those doctrines generate? But that seems to entail accepting that logical and moral coherence are essential to a sound exegetical method and biblical hermeneutic. But that raises the question why then are logical and moral coherence not applied to the “doctrines of grace” as they are presently exegeted? If there is recognition that “logical difficulties” exist, and there is respect for and the employment of logical and moral coherence in the interpretive task to further justify the “doctrines of grace,” why aren’t logic and moral coherence respected and employed in assessing the validity of the interpretations that produced those “doctrines of grace?” Why shouldn’t coherence be applied to the “doctrines of grace” themselves? Why shouldn’t coherence bear upon discerning the validity of the interpretations that produced them? Would such an assessment require abandoning those doctrines? I think it would. So, for the Calvinist, their exegesis is off limits to logical and moral assessment as far as these bear upon the determination of the validity of their exegesis. As such it betrays the fact that they hold to their doctrines first and foremost, not out of sound exegetical reasoning but out of some other reasons that transcend exegetical, interpretive and hermeneutical coherence.
This is why it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Calvinist has an a priori commitment to a deterministic definition of sovereignty regardless of the question as to whether logical and moral coherence are meaningful for determining exegetical and interpretive validity. For the Calvinist this is the teaching of Scripture regardless of the logical, moral and theological incoherence it produces with respect to other clear passages and affirmed doctrines. Deterministic sovereignty is non-negotiable. Therefore, whatever logical, moral or theological incoherencies or contradictions this concept of sovereignty causes, ultimately these do not matter with regard to discerning its interpretative validity. Hence, proposing divine mystery is all that is left in response to these critiques and must suffice for anyone who wants to embrace Calvinism.
If further exegesis is all that is needed to convince us the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are the biblical teachings then I see no other way of doing this other than that any subsequent arguments Calvinists make be marked by completeness, clarity, coherence and cogency, that is, they take “logical difficulties” seriously and attempt to remove them. Logical and moral reasoning are entailed in what it means to argue. This is not a quarrel. It is a call to reasoned argument with regard to the meaning of the biblical literature. I see no other way of arguing a point of view other than on the basis of logical reasoning. I see no other way of convincing someone of a point of view than on the basis of sound reasoning. That is what “convincing” means. But I contend that this is something the Calvinist has a priori eliminated from determining the validity of their own interpretations regarding their “doctrines of grace.” Schreiner and Ware have made this clear. They could never be convinced otherwise as to the validity of their “doctrines of grace” because the grounds upon which convincing occurs have ultimately been put out of court. They say their position is based in exegesis, but it is an exegesis that is not subject to logical and moral coherence, consistency or non-contradiction. It is an exegesis that is not subject to the laws of logic and moral intuitions. I submit that if the Calvinist’s hermeneutic does not include the deliberations and deliverances of logic and moral intuition, then their exegesis that violates these cannot be defended with the rules of logic or moral intuitions that they reject. It is hopeless to try to get logical reasoning to support a position that is based on rejecting logical reasoning. That is doomed to fail because reason cannot betray itself. It can be distorted. But then it is no longer reason. One will sooner or later have to resort to mystery as Schreiner and Ware admit when they confess that “All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.”
Non-Calvinists Can’t Tolerate Mystery?
Calvinists accuse non-Calvinists of being intolerant of mystery. They state that non-Calvinists are short on tolerance for living with biblical mystery. But when Calvinists do this they are mischaracterizing the non-Calvinists response to the situation their own interpretations have created. According the non-Calvinist, incoherent and contradictory interpretations are not to be considered biblical mystery. What the Calvinist calls a “mystery,” the non-Calvinist calls a contradiction. And therefore what the Calvinist is attempting to do in chiding the non-Calvinist for lack of appreciation for and tolerance of biblical mystery is to get them to concede the point at the hermeneutical level. If we all agree to mystery, the problem is solved. But it is the Calvinist who must convince themselves that their contradictory interpretations are a “mystery” so as to preserve their traditional doctrinal positions. “Mystery” is, of course, a powerful spiritual lever that can be used to pry non-Calvinists from insisting the Calvinist ought to adopt a hermeneutic of coherence. What the Calvinist needs is for the non-Calvinist to grant them permission to be interpretively and theologically incoherent. The Calvinist needs this permission because they cannot escape their incoherence and they refuse to let it challenge and inform their interpretations. What the Calvinist wants is to be allowed to have a theology of “mystery” as a cloak for a hermeneutic of incoherence. If logical and moral coherence are going to be ignored, the nature of the difficulties their interpretations have created demands the flight to mystery. So, the non-Calvinists insistence on rejecting Calvinism as a true mystery and rather seeing it as it truly is – a contradiction – reveals the hermeneutical divide. The Calvinist is willing to reassign to mystery the logical difficulties that they acknowledge are in their interpretations, whereas the non-Calvinist is not willing to do this. They think this is intellectually irresponsible and therefore just poor hermeneutics. For the non-Calvinist the Calvinist interpretations are not “apparent contradictions” but real logical contradictions and moral difficulties that reliably indicate to us that the Calvinist’s interpretations are incorrect. Calvinists acknowledge “that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism” but these have no bearing for them as to the accuracy of their interpretations. This is telling us that the Calvinist does not consider such difficulties hermeneutically significant. It seems obvious to many of us that the Calvinist demonstrates again and again that they do not consider these difficulties hermeneutically significant. They fall back on their exegesis of the text, but as foundational and important as the grammatical-historical method of exegesis is for proper biblical interpretation, there can be better and worse exegesis. Therefore, a technical exegesis is insufficient in and of itself to discern which of two conflicting exegetical interpretations of the same texts reflects the biblical truth. The more fundamental question here is hermeneutical, that is, whether logical and moral reasoning are indispensable considerations in discerning the validity of one’s exegesis. If not, the resulting exegeses may be vastly different and even contradictory. And, rather than a responsible search for the truth, “live and let live” or “why can’t we all just get along?” will be the preeminent concerns. That is the case in this controversy.
Hence Schreiner and Ware observe that,
“All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems. Rather, the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.”
They state that “people do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems.” Of course not. But solving all such problems is not the issue. It is the fact that it creates those problems that is the issue here. And to attempt to solve those problems without addressing what it is that created them in the first place is bound to result in rationalizations that are as incoherent as the interpretations they attempt to defend or, once again, result in the flight to mystery.
Therefore, perhaps people should reject becoming a Calvinist because of the number and nature of its logical and moral problems. Apart from Calvinist proof-texting, how would a person know “these doctrines are taught in Scripture,” except that the interpretations also exhibit rational and moral coherence with the other proposed teachings of Scripture? People don’t become non-Calvinists because such a theology solves all the problems a non-Calvinist view may contain, but because they believe it is the teaching of Scripture. But they believe that it is the teaching of Scripture on the basis of sound exegesis which includes logical and moral coherence. That hermeneutic, by definition, excludes Calvinism as a viable interpretation of the text. Non-Calvinists cannot embrace Calvinism in that any difficulties that exist in the non-Calvinist position are located where there is genuine incomprehensibility regarding the ways of God, not in contradictory logical claims and moral inconsistencies that impugn the character of God and stand in logical and moral opposition to other Scriptures. They are non-Calvinists because their exegesis is sound and coherent. They are non-Calvinists, not despite the other Scriptures, but because of the other Scriptures. They do not embrace a both/and hermeneutic apart from incorporating interpretive coherence, whereas the Calvinist embraces a both/and hermeneutic despite its interpretive incoherence. For the non-Calvinist, rational and moral coherence among interpretations is essential. In contrast, to diffuse the profound nature of the rational and moral difficulties inherent in Calvinism, Calvinists resort to re-categorizing the “logical difficulties” as “mystery.” But these logical and moral difficulties are not mysteries. Rather they seem to be all too transparent and understandable as logical and moral contradictions and incoherencies. Furthermore, Schreiner and Ware’s conclusion is perplexing. If “the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery” then why investigate this issue at all? Why write a book like “Still Sovereign?” Who can uncover what amounts to a forever hidden divine “mystery?”
Schreiner and Ware Know They Have Insurmountable Problems
In the passage that introduces their book “Still Sovereign” Schreiner and Ware have admitted to, and even delineated many of the logical and moral problems that plague their theology. So they certainly are able, by the use of their logical and moral faculties, to identify and acknowledge these problems. Therefore, as far as their identification is concerned, they are anything but mysterious. But if one’s logical and moral faculties are suitable for the identification of these problem, why are these faculties not suitable for determining the validity of those interpretations when those same faculties also identify these interpretations as contradictory or incoherent? Is there any rule, principle or legitimate expectation in exegesis that requires putting aside logical and moral reasoning in doing exegesis? What us it about the Calvinist’s exegetical method that when it leads to interpretations and doctrines that are incoherent, inconsistent, and contradictory, it becomes appropriate to exclude that exegesis and those interpretations from the probative force of logical and moral assessment? On what hermeneutic does one have that prerogative? What exegetical method provides the luxury of fleeing to mystery when one’s interpretations run afoul of logical and moral reasoning and cannot be justified intellectually? Can a biblical exegesis be justified as valid while at the same time prove to be logically or morally incoherent? I don’t think so. What would biblical or exegetical justification look like without logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction? It must either take to path of further attempts at understanding the text coherently with its immediate and canonical context or flee to mystery. Schreiner and Ware’s admission that “the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery” is confirmation that their position cannot be justified. The Calvinist would have to give us a reason why our logical and moral faculties are not suitable to arbitrate in this matter. It seems the burden of proof as to why we cannot trust or employ our logical and moral intuitions in judging the validity of an interpretation is upon the Calvinist. And the Calvinist cannot deal with this inquiry by merely saying the Scripture teaches their doctrines, for that would be to beg the question. Again, how we can be sure whether or not the Scripture teaches their doctrines is the question before us. So it seems that we cannot cavalierly dismiss our logical reasoning and moral intuitions in the interpretive task. Fleeing to mystery is not an option here. Mystery is just not the nature of the case.
All this points to the conclusion that the Calvinist logical and moral difficulties are hermeneutically significant. It tells us that the Calvinist doctrines are incredible because they do not stand upon a plausible exegesis, that is, their exegesis refuses to be subject to logical and moral assessment and therefore leaves us with no way to assess its validity. Schreiner and Ware state that “we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis.” But that is not true. The “doctrines of grace” are questioned by non-Calvinists on the basis of “scriptural exegesis.” But for the non-Calvinist “scriptural exegesis” is logical exegesis. No so for the Calvinist. For the non-Calvinist “scriptural exegesis” is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory exegesis. Not so for the Calvinist. To point out the false dichotomy between exegesis and “logical problems” is a problem for the Calvinist because they want to create the impression that the “logical problems” are somehow inferior to “scriptural exegesis” – as if they are not part of an evaluation of the validity on one’s exegesis. Schreiner and Ware are suggesting that their “doctrines of grace” stand on the basis of “scriptural exegesis” and therefore those doctrines are unassailable on that basis. But non-Calvinists do question those doctrines on the basis of exegesis. We question those doctrines on the basis of the Calvinist exegesis that excludes logical and moral reasoning from that exegesis.
When Schreiner and Ware state that “we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis,” surely they are not suggesting that non-Calvinist’s do not have exegetical support for their interpretations and doctrinal conclusions. Non-Calvinists certainly do have exegetical support for their interpretations and doctrines. So the non-Calvinist objects to the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” on exegetical grounds and logical and moral grounds. But again, the non-Calvinist sees these as integrally related. Hence, when Schreiner and Ware observe that the non-Calvinist’s “fundamental objections are certain logical problems provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we affirm,” the non-Calvinist certainly is questioning their “doctrines of grace” because of “scriptural exegesis” precisely because “scriptural exegesis” is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory exegesis. So the non-Calvinist has both positive exegetical support for their interpretations and doctrines while also objecting to the Calvinist doctrines on the basis of its exegesis as being divorced from logical and moral reasoning, which just is poor exegesis.
To resolve this controversy it seems to me that we would have to accept as a sound hermeneutical principle that the incorporation of logical and moral coherence is an integral element within the exegetical task. Reflection on the deliverances of logical reasoning and our moral intuitions when reading and exegeting a biblical text or texts not only serve to lead us into accurate interpretations but also reliably arbitrate among incompatible interpretive conclusions. These serve as safeguards against interpretive error. Coherence is an essential factor in determining sound interpretations and essential for discerning the validity of a proposed interpretation. It is not a sufficient factor, but it is a necessary factor. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell rightly observe that, “While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.” For the Calvinist to confess that he is a Calvinist because he believes his Calvinism is taught in Scripture when his Calvinism generates logical and moral incoherence is to leave his exegesis unjustified as a convincing exegesis. The logical and moral reasoning which provide the grounds for any convincing that is to go on has been put aside. Calvinist’s ignore this problem in their exegesis and interpretations. Calvinism must be accepted on an “exegesis” defined as indifferent to logical and moral coherence. Calvinism must be accepted apart from logical and moral grounding.
Non-Calvinist also believe their doctrines are taught in Scripture on the basis of sound exegesis. So where does that leave us? What will determine which exegetical conclusions are more plausible? I submit that an indispensable God-given arbiter between conflicting exegetical conclusions is the logical and moral coherence of those exegetical conclusions. Logical and moral reasoning just are integral to good exegesis and therefore logical and moral coherence and non-contradiction are essential for determining the validity of one’s exegesis.
Philosophy and the Authority of Scripture
The non-Calvinist who holds to a high view Scripture as divinely inspired and authoritative would agree that what we teach and proclaim is to be an accurate reflection of what the Bible teaches and conveys. But the logical and moral difficulties that Schreiner and Ware acknowledge plague their Calvinist teaching are troublesome not only hermeneutically but with respect to an evangelical doctrine of Scripture. As Calvinists, Schreiner and Ware are asserting that the difficulties peculiar to their Calvinist interpretations are inherent in Scripture as properly interpreted. They believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture, that is, that the difficulties of the type generated by the Calvinist interpretations are inherent in Scripture. But the type of difficulties we are dealing with here have to do with the most fundamental modes of reasoning – the rules of logic and our moral intuitions. These are the very things we use to interpret the Scripture in the first place, which I have said casts doubt on the validity of the Calvinists exegesis, but the Calvinist’s interpretations also raise the question whether Scripture can be logically self-contradictory or morally incoherent as divinely inspired and as God’s Word to us. Apparently, on Calvinism, this is so.
Baggett and Walls submit that a proper hermeneutic must incorporate what we have been given in general revelation, what they call “philosophy,” which simply is the use of our God-given reason to the end of thinking clearly about interpretive claims. They write,
“We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored in the process of figuring out the answers to such questions. The Protestant principle of sola scriptura is sometimes today misunderstood to imply that clear thinking and good reason play no part in figuring out God’s revealed truths. The primacy of the Bible in terms of its theological truth is taken to imply that exegesis, biblical interpretation, carefully isolated from any other sources of insight, ought to be able to answer any and all theological disputes that may arise.
Skepticism toward philosophy often reaches fever pitch in the Calvinism / Arminianism debate, where disputants on both sides of the divide often eschew the deliverances of philosophy and insist that the question must be settled on biblical and exegetical grounds alone. Any hint of even bringing philosophical analysis into the conversation is thought to be anathema, abandoning the authority of Scripture to provide reliable revelation.
Here we need to draw an important distinction. Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology….take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically. The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally. It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.
…When someone suggests that we “don’t need philosophy,” either in this debate or more generally, their words at best reflect a huge misunderstanding. The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought. Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be a people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s just not that simple. We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of Scripture. If, in addition to building a strong biblical and historical case against Calvinism…we can also build a strong philosophical case, that’s significant. Indeed, it’s essential to the very process of biblical interpretation…Philosophy can and ought to help adjudicate this intractable debate among Christians.”
Apologist and philosopher Greg Koukl would agree. Although writing in an apologetic context on the virtues of argument, his comments on the role of reason in biblical interpretation are applicable here. He writes,
“Imagine living in a world in which you couldn’t distinguish between truth and error… Such a world would be a dangerous place. You wouldn’t survive long.
What protects us from the hazards of such a world? If you’re a Christian, you might be tempted to say, “The Word of God protects us.” Certainly, that’s true, but the person who says that might be missing something else God has given us that is also vitally important. In fact, God’s Word would be useless without it.
A different thing is necessary before we can accurately know what God is saying through his Word. Yes, the Bible is first in terms of authority, but something else is first in terms of the order of knowing: We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly. Therefore, the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.
For some of you this may be a controversial statement, so let’s think about it for a moment. In order to understand the truth of the Bible accurately, our mental faculties must be intact and we must use them as God intended. We demonstrate this fact every time we disagree on an interpretation of a biblical passage and then give reasons why our view is better than another’s. Simply put, we argue for our point of view, and if we argue well, we separate wheat from chaff, truth from error.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Loving God with the mind is not a passive process. It is not enough to have sentimental religious thoughts. Rather, it involves coming to conclusions about God and his world based on revelation, observation, and careful reflection.
What is the tool we use in our observations of the world that helps us separate fact from fiction? That tool is reason, the ability to use our minds to sort through observations and draw accurate conclusions about reality. Rationality is one of the tools God has given us to acquire knowledge.
Generally, sorting things out is not a solitary enterprise. It’s best done in the company of others who dispute our claims and offer competing ideas. In short, we argue. Sometimes we are silent partners, listening, not talking, but the process is going on in our minds just the same.
This is not rationalism, a kind of idolatry of the mind that place’s man’s thinking at the center of the universe. Rather, it’s the proper use of one of the faculties God has given us to understand him and the world he has made.”
Schreiner and Ware simply cannot ignore the deliberations and deliverances of philosophy. They need the clear thinking that it provides for rightly interpreting the Scriptures. They need to adopt a hermeneutic of coherence.
The Popular Reactions to Calvinism
There are various reactions believers have towards the Reformed Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” Most are shocked when they first hear of them. And as I have argued, this initial common sense response should not be ignored. Others are indifferent, not realizing or caring about the important negative implications of these doctrines. Calvinists themselves tend to see them from the positive side only. Ultimately they dismiss all the negative ramifications of their doctrines. Others conclude that theistic determinism hasn’t any practical bearing upon daily living, so they just ignore Calvinism. It is a fact that all Calvinists all live as if the world is characterized by contingency and indeterminacy. And how we live in the world as compared to the theology we claim is true about the world is perhaps the most powerful apologetic for or against a theological worldview. Our theology must provide explanatory power and explanatory scope. One’s theology, if it is true, has to be consonant with how we live and experience reality. We have every reason to think libertarian free will is the truth about reality because there is no escaping the fact that we all think, make decisions and act on that basis. Calvinism simply lacks such explanatory power and scope when it comes to being coherent with human behavior and reality as we experience it. Others are partial to Calvinism as they acquiesce to the Calvinist rationalizations like those previously discussed. And many just think that if in the end we are left perplexed by the options presented by the theologians, then surely we are better off if we err on the side of “divine sovereignty,” even if that means embracing theistic determinism. Calvinism seems attractive in that respect. We want to be on the side where it’s God “who gets all the glory.” Our Christian humility prompts us to “play it safe” and “go with God, not man.” But these are false dichotomies set up by Calvinists. And then there are the Calvinists who suggest that one is spiritually proud or lacks faith in God if one does not embrace the “doctrines of grace.” These suggestions are particularly intimidating. But the majority of Christians who have given it some thought may quietly and confidently reject it because they are convinced “Calvinism ultimately doesn’t accord with God’s character” or “it just doesn’t make sense.” They politely seek to avoid controversy and maintain peace and harmony in the spirit of Christian love and brotherhood, but lack the conviction that truth matters. On the Calvinist side, many are “closet Calvinists” for the same reasons. Many pastors and teachers are careful not to firmly state or preach what they “believe” lest they jeopardize the peace and harmony of their congregations, or because they themselves realize that their Calvinist doctrines cannot be preached in the service of the gospel as “good news.” And if pressed on the issues, it has been my experience that Calvinists simply ignore those who question or challenge them.
Therefore, this chapter, and indeed this whole website, is meant to challenge all evangelical Christians to think more carefully about the negative implications of Calvinism, especially with regard to the gospel as “good news.” Those who call themselves “evangelicals” need to do so lest they let the truth of the gospel slip away. In the midst of the tolerance and love we are to extend to fellow Christians with whom we disagree, surely the gospel is not something that can compromised. Generally speaking, there is a strange silence among Christians as to these extremely problematic issues within Calvinism. I think one will find that they are not directly discussed or taught in most evangelical churches today. Even the passages in Scripture that bear upon these doctrinal differences are simply skipped over. So much for teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. The reason for this is that most pastors and Christian laypersons do not clearly understand the issues at stake and are confused about how to get at the truth of the matter. And this is what we would expect. J. I. Packer for instance, has made it clear that Calvinism is not to be understood but simply accepted. The Calvinist will embrace the tenet, “faith seeking understanding,” but then he forfeits the understanding that is readily available to inform that faith. Indeed, it is understanding that challenges their faith, that is, their Calvinism, and therefore the tenet is more like “faith selecting understanding.” The problem for Calvinism is that when it is brought to the bar of logical coherence and fundamental principles of reason and morality, both of which are essential to good interpretation, it does not fare well at all. When it runs up against these problems the adage becomes “faith ceases seeking understanding.” Don’t be fooled. The internal logic of the Calvinist TULIP is not what we are talking about when we say Calvinism does not take logical and moral coherence on board in its hermeneutic. Even though it has its own internal logic, Calvinism cannot be rationally fitted or explained within the immediate contexts of the disputed texts nor the broader context of the canon of Scripture. This baffles most Christians, not because of “a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic” as Calvinists assert, but because most Christians rightly believe faith and reason are not in conflict, that sound interpretation is based upon God-given logic, and true biblical mystery is not the same as doctrinal contradiction.
If the Calvinist seeks ‘understanding’ at all, they find that ‘understanding’ soon gives way to an intellectual void that cannot even be filled by faith, for faith is not irrationality, but reasoned trust in a God who can be known as trustworthy and loving. This knowledge of a trustworthy, loving God, and whether he is kindly disposed towards any one of us, Calvinism cannot provide. It undermines faith by suppressing what can and must be understood about God to even begin to have faith in him, that is, that he loves each and every one of us and desires that we be saved. Again, Calvinism is a religious scheme to be believed regardless of its conflict with other biblical truths. This is not the nature or definition of biblical faith or the “good news.” Indeed, the severity of the Calvinist doctrinal incoherencies leads into a logical, moral, and epistemological morass from which one must retreat if one is to rightly fear, love, and worship the personal God of the Bible who is worthy of a coherent faith response through a knowledge of the provision and assurance of one’s salvation.
Helm, Calvin and Castellio on Reason and Common Sense
Note the “explanatory” approach Calvin himself took in his work Concerning the Secret Providence of God (1558). When pressed on the logical and moral difficulties in his theology by a French theologian Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563), Calvin ultimately resorts to incomprehensibility. Calvinist Paul Helm documents the exchange between Calvin and Castellio in the book The Secret Providence of God. Helm, as the editor, writes the introduction in which he describes Calvin’s views on providence and predestination as follows,
“Such providence/predestination was “absolute”; that is, it was not conditioned by any human merit or by God’s foreknowledge of any other such preconditions, nor is providence to be regarded as a mere general superintendence of the creation. Rather it reaches down to every detail, including the intricacies of human action. Thus Calvin’s belief about predestination/providence also embrace the fall and the propagation of original sin, as well as those predestined to life according to God’s foreknowledge and election were only a minority of the human race and the predestination of the elect has it counterpart in the perdition of the reprobate.”
One way Calvin sought to reconcile his understanding of an “absolute” providence and predestination with human responsibility was to claim there are two senses in which God wills things. This was expressed as a “bare” permission and “willing” permission, that is, there is God’s decretive or secret will by which God determines and causes whatever comes to pass – all desires, beliefs, attitudes, actions and eternal destinies (“bare” permission), and yet there is also God’s revealed or preceptive will, commanding or prohibiting certain desires, beliefs, attitudes and actions, and to which he holds men responsible for their disobedience and for their rejection of Christ and salvation (“willing” permission).
One of the problems Castellio had with Calvin’s view is that if God decrees all things then this idea of a second will, that is, the revealed or preceptive will is logically incoherent with that decretive or secret will that determines all things. Since God, by his decretive or secret will, predetermined all things “down to every detail,” God’s revealed or preceptive will has no meaning. It is just a distinction without a difference. It is “nominal,” or in name only. The incoherence was obvious to Castellio.
Castellio also critiqued Calvin for claiming that God causes men to do or not do by his decretive or secret will that which is contrary to what he otherwise commands or prohibits them to do in his revealed or preceptive will. People violate God’s revealed will, precepts, or commands every day. On Calvin’s scheme it is God who also secretly decreed that they do so. This presents a duplicitous and conflicted view of God.
Moreover, Castellio points out that if God has decreed all things then a logical corollary of this is that God decreed all evil and is therefore indicted as responsible for it. Indeed, God is evil himself. The alternative would be to argue that because God is just and good, then the actions he decreed are not really evil at all.
Helm recounts Castellio’s objections and gives us Calvin’s ultimate response.
“Castellio’s general line is that the distinction between God’s willing permission and God’s decree is merely nominal, so that, in effect, if by decree God wills all that comes to pass then he wills evil in precisely the same fashion as he wills good, and he is responsible for evil in precisely the same sense that he responsible for good. This not only compromises God’s character but also calls into question another of Calvin’s nuances: his distinction between “two wills” in God – “will” in the sense of what God decrees and “will” in the sense of what God commands. Castellio’s preference for understanding divine providence as “bare” providence and divine foreknowledge as “mere” foreknowledge and his rejection of the stronger senses of these terms lead him to ridicule what in fact are Calvin’s central and controlling distinctions in this debate.
Castellio argues that if, as Calvin claims, God controls whatever comes to pass, then how can he sincerely command what is at odds with what he decrees shall come to pass? Surely, if God wills an action to occur, and if so, then how can he sincerely forbid it and how can that action be evil? Castellio has some fun at Calvin’s expense in claiming that Calvin’s doctrine obliterates moral distinctions, making it difficult to distinguish between God and the Devil! (Article 3). So he represents Calvin’s views as “all the crimes that have been accomplished by any man are the good and just works of God” (Article 4) and “the will of God is the supreme cause of the hardness of men’s hearts” (Article 9).”
We should stop here and ask whether Calvin’s “two wills” is the teaching of Scripture or just contrived to accommodate the logical and moral problems within Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture. By presenting responsible alternative interpretations of the relevant texts that don’t run afoul of logic and our moral intuitions we can be confident that Calvin’s “two wills” response is not the teaching of Scripture and does amount to a contrived attempt to solve these problems caused by his determinism. And of course many non-Calvinist scholars have provided those responsible alternative interpretations. So this really is not a matter of the Calvinist position being biblical and all others not, as Calvinists claim. Therefore, more to our hermeneutical point, we must ask the Calvinist why Castellio’s conclusions are wrong. Why are they not the logical and moral entailments of Calvin’s determinism and therefore legitimate criticisms, that is, legitimate criticisms from a hermeneutical point of view that certainly do speak to the invalidity of the Calvinist’s interpretations? This would be to press the Calvinist as to whether logical and moral considerations are indispensable to proper interpretation and whether they are reliable indicators of the validity or invalidity of theirs or anyone else’s interpretations. For the Calvinist to respond that their doctrines are the teaching of Scripture would be mere question-begging. To admit that logical and moral considerations are indispensable to proper interpretation would be to shipwreck the Calvinist position on the rocks of logic and moral intuition as part of a sound hermeneutic. It would indict their own interpretations as seriously flawed. On the other hand, to respond that logical and moral considerations are dispensable or not essential to proper exegesis and interpretation, the Calvinist would be adopting a hermeneutic of incoherence which disallows all rational assessment of Scripture. Even the potential for rational dialogue over the meaning of certain texts is put out of court by such a hermeneutic of incoherence. But this is precisely the hermeneutic the Calvinist has adopted. That is why Calvinists must flee to “mystery,” for it sounds like the most “convincing” option in light of the formidable critiques that biblical exegesis, philosophical reflection and moral intuition level against Calvinist thought and doctrine. But this flight to mystery is ad hoc and also question begging.
So let us proceed to “the central issue” at hand – Calvin’s exclusion of reason and common sense from his hermeneutic. Helm continues,
“Castellio’s fire is directed at Calvin’s inability to demonstrate how what is not commanded by God can also be willed by God in a significant sense, and this opens up what for Calvin turns out to be the central issue. This is Castellio’s fondness for preferring his own reason to what for Calvin is the clear teaching of the Word of God about the Lord’s decreeing evil and his use of that evil to further his own purposes. Castellio believes that by reason, common sense, and the use of certain apt analogies, he can clear up or rather avoid what Calvin regards as divine mysteries, the fact that these matters are beyond our full understanding, being “ineffable.” Calvin freely recognizes that we cannot altogether see how what God commands and what he decrees are part of his one single will, and we cannot presently fathom the reasons that God has for electing some and bypassing others. Nevertheless, for Calvin it is sufficient that Scripture repeatedly affirms such things (along with claiming that God is not himself sinful, not “the author of sin”). We cannot fully comprehend how it is that these things – God’s universal, absolute decree and man’s culpability for evil – can be consistent, not even with the help of the distinction between primary and secondary causation, or of the doctrine of the two wills, or of God’s willing permission.”
Firstly, is the use of “reason, common sense and apt analogies” in interpreting the Word of God merely a “fondness” – especially reason and common sense? Philosophers, many theologians and I think most laymen would disagree. There is plenty to comprehend here via our reason and common sense. Plenty to chew on and digest. And when we do so, this leads to conclusions that repudiate Calvin’s interpretations and affirm Castellio’s critique of Calvin. And I submit that such conclusions are reliable interpretations of Scripture precisely because they incorporate reason and common sense. It is not that we do not have enough information about the issues at hand so that we must admit to mystery, but rather that the Bible has provided more than sufficient revelatory information on the relevant subjects and therefore the flight to “mystery” is premature and smacks of the preservation of a preferred interpretation rather than an objective assessment of the text. The problem is not the lack of information. The problem is one of misinterpreting the information we do have.
Calvin’s approach is not very promising because it is self-refuting. “We cannot fully comprehend how it is that these things – God’s universal, absolute decree and man’s culpability for evil – can be consistent…” This implies that Calvin realizes that his doctrines are inconsistent, which presupposes the use and utility of reason. But this is just to affirm reason’s usefulness in one instance – that “God’s universal, absolute decree and man’s culpability for evil” are seen as inconsistent, but to deny reason’s usefulness for discerning the validity of Calvin’s interpretation. As far as reason’s utility in the exegetical task is concerned it is rejected and we are told that Calvin’s exegesis is correct and we just have to live with the results as something we cannot fully comprehend. Calvin asserts that we cannot comprehend the inconsistency here, although we can discern the inconsistency. This is to employ reason to discern inconsistency in this matter only to turn around and claim reason’s deficiency in this matter. Reason tells him there is an inconsistency in his theological propositions but with respect to determining the validity of his interpretation of Scripture reason doesn’t apply. His interpretation is inconsistent, and yet it is also correct yet incomprehensible. First we are told that it does not conform to reason or common sense, which is only to acknowledge that our reason and common sense can function reliably, but then, in ad hoc fashion, we are told this same reason and common sense does not function reliably when it comes to assessing the validity of his “teaching of Scripture.” This seems to be Calvin’s way to avoid a substantive critique of his interpretation of Scripture. It is very effective because he is putting out of court the very thing that we need to discern the validity of his interpretation – the deliberations of reason and our moral intuitions. I submit that Calvin is leaving himself open to the charge of being irrational. But that does not matter for Calvin. With Calvin’s rejection of reason and moral common sense from his hermeneutic, his doctrines can remain intact on other grounds like claims of mystery or incomprehensibility. But also along with Calvin’s rejection of reason and moral common sense from his hermeneutic all hope of resolution of this problem ceases. Two different hermeneutics are in play that are mutually incompatible with respect to the role of logical and moral reasoning in the interpretive enterprise. Calvin has assured us that any dialogue as to the meaning of the biblical text could never be productive and his interpretations never be challenged by the Castellio’s of the world because Calvin has insulated himself from their “fondness for preferring their own reason to what for Calvin is the clear teaching of the Word of God.” As far as Calvin is concerned, the Castellio’s of the world are left with nothing by which to discern the truth or falsity of Calvin’s proposed interpretations. The purview of the canons of reason, moral intuition and common sense to discern interpretive validity have been put out of court by Calvin. Hence, as you have probably already observed, Calvin’s position is merely question-begging. Despite the incoherencies Castellio has pointed out in Calvin’s interpretations and that Calvin himself recognizes, “Nevertheless, for Calvin it is sufficient that Scripture repeatedly affirms such things” and Calvin insists that they are “the clear teaching of the Word of God.” Now why is that? Simply because Calvin presupposes the truth of his interpretations on the basis of a hermeneutic of incoherence. Calvin’s interpretations are certainly not biblically accurate if we take rational and moral reasoning on board in our hermeneutic as Castellio is arguing needs to be done.
Furthermore, if Castellio is prevented from objecting to Calvin’s views on the basis of reason and common sense he would be more likely to acquiesce to Calvin’s interpretations. After all, why wouldn’t Calvin’s interpretations be just as legitimate as Castellio’s? This is what Calvin would prefer. And it is what Calvinists press for to this very day. We can see that given Calvin’s stance of rejecting reason’s critique of his doctrinal propositions, that Calvinism requires this suppression of reason for persons to give assent to Calvinist theology and remain Calvinists.
So an important hermeneutical question is being highlighted in this exchange between Calvin and Castellio. Are Castellio’s metaphysical observations sufficient to defeat Calvin’s doctrinal and interpretive claims? I think so, for the same reasons that we don’t accept square circles, married bachelors and talk about justice being green. These things just don’t make sense. For the same reasons, that is, that laws of logic apply even to talk about God and especially to the interpretation of His divinely inspired written texts, we know Calvin has erred here. This philosophical critique is enough to show Calvin is wrong.
But along with this logical and moral critique of Calvin, Castellio would need to present alternative exegetically sound interpretations of the relevant texts that do not raise the philosophical incoherence and contradictions Calvin’s interpretations raise. Once that is done, Calvin’s “central issue” would no longer hold weight doctrinally because it would be shown to be both interpretively and philosophically flawed. Calvin wouldn’t be able to cavalierly dismiss that Castellio prefers his own reason and common sense over what for Calvin is the “clear teaching” of Scripture because Castellio would have offered exegetically responsible alternative interpretations. Calvin would also have to deal with those alternative interpretations on the basis that they accomplish both a responsible exegesis and a coherent exegetical result. And if Calvin were to disagree with those alternative interpretations, he would have to show how they are not the teaching of Scripture without using principles of logic, moral intuitions or common sense. Having already rejected them in his interpretive methodology, these faculties and their deliverances are no longer available to him. Calvin would have to show us how we know a “clear teaching of the Word of God” when the criteria of reason and common sense are put out of court in the exegetical process. How could Calvin ever show us that?! How would we ever know the “clear teaching of Word of God” apart from reason, moral intuition and common sense? Again, Calvin is question-begging.
Now, these exegetically responsible alternative interpretations are available. Non-Calvinists are providing “clear teaching of the Word of God” on the relevant texts. The point is that the non-Calvinist’s exegesis of the relevant passages will conflict with the Calvinist’s interpretations because the non-Calvinist requires their interpretations to be logically and morally coherent, whereas the Calvinist does not. So here we have the hermeneutical divide. If Calvinists have jettisoned rational and moral considerations from their hermeneutic, why should they accept logical and moral critiques as evidence against the biblical validity of their exegesis and interpretive conclusions? This is precisely what Calvin is doing here with Castellio. In addition, why should the Calvinist give attention to logical and moral considerations held out as evidence for the accuracy of the non-Calvinist’s exegesis and interpretations? The Calvinist can simply reject any other interpretations and never have to provide reasons for doing so.
Indeed, I submit this is one reason why Calvinists feel no responsibility to respond to the critiques leveled against Calvinism. They do not trust and therefore do not feel obligated to respond to logical and moral criticisms of their teachings and doctrines. After all, “for Calvin it is sufficient that Scripture repeatedly affirms such things,” and “we cannot fully comprehend how it is that these things – God’s universal, absolute decree and man’s culpability for evil – can be consistent, not even with the help of the distinction between primary and secondary causation, or of the doctrine of the two wills, or of God’s willing permission.” They may even subsume all disagreement with them under the predetermined will of God and therefore be inclined to conclude that attempts to persuade their critics to embrace their doctrines is a futile effort. If God has not determined to do an effective work in them, then no change is possible. That being the case, there is not much the Calvinist can do, if anything. There critics must be left to God to work the needed change of mind and heart.
“God’s revealed law establishes moral standards and obligations which, as is known from experience, are widely flouted, for men and women frequently act immorally. But given God’s providential government of his creation and also his predestination of the saints, such immoralities are also willed by God, for they are part of his “particular” providence, the character of which is equitable and just. To use two examples cited by Calvin, God prohibits incest, and yet he willed that Absalom should commit incest. He forbids deceit and yet willed that Jesus should be betrayed, and so on. What is hidden from us, the factor that leads to Calvin’s habitual reference to “secret” providence, are God’s purposes or reasons for willingly permitting the particular occasions of evil that occur and for denying salvation to many.”
Here we have an attempt to introduce conditionality or contingency into Calvinist theistic determinism. But it fails, as expected, because of the contradictory and confusing terminology of “willingly permitting” in which “willingly” is supposed to refer to God having preordained whatsoever comes to pass, while “permitting” is supposed to refer to people choosing to do what they do and being culpable for it. Calvin is equivocating on the word “willing.” Helm acknowledges this when he writes,
“Calvin notes that in phrases such as “God’s secret will” and “God’s revealed will” the word will is used equivocally. These are not only two different senses of will, but insofar as the revealed will is flouted, God’s will in this sense is at odds with his divine decree. But Calvin hardly helps his own cause when he occasionally uses expressions such as “God wills what he does not will.” For if God wills what he does not will, there is a contradiction at the very heart of what, according to Calvin, God wills. But he vehemently denies this, so the two wills need to be carefully distinguished.”
So there is “a contradiction at the heart of what, for Calvin, God wills.” And of course Calvin would vehemently deny this. But his “two wills in God” explanation does nothing to relieve the contradiction. Now, it is important for us acknowledge this and come to grips with its interpretive implications. We need to decide whether or not contradiction is indicative of a misinterpretation of the text in some respect, or whether such incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction can simply be ignored in the exegetical and interpretive task.
Helm has written, “…if God wills what he does not will, there is a contradiction at the very heart of what, according to Calvin, God wills.” There is a contradiction here because Calvin teaches that God wills, as in determines, all things to occur as they do, and that God also wills, as in desires, that those things he determined do not occur as they do. This is to state nothing more than that God is confused. Helm recognizes that this whole scheme is confusing.
“One has the impression, from The Secret Providence of God and from other writings such as the Institutes, that deploying this distinction is not Calvin’s preferred option just because of the confusion between “willing permission” and “bare permission” that it engenders.”
What drives all this confusion? The monolithic Calvinist doctrine of the eternal divine decree, or, theistic determinism.
“…God is in the occurrence of every evil in virtue of his decreeing it.”
Calvin’s “two wills” theory makes no sense. For Calvin to simply assert that his theory of “two wills” in God does not lead to a contradiction does not make it so. His “two wills” theory, which is not necessarily the teaching of Scripture and was concocted to soften his determinism, leads to an inevitable contradiction unless you commit the fallacy of equivocation. And that certainly is no help. We should not attempt to repair a failed theology with proposing fallacies. Who wants their position to be based on a fallacy? Furthermore, this fallacy should not be described as “carefully distinguished” meanings of the word “will.” When we “carefully distinguish” the word “will” in the summary statement of Calvin’s position, that “God wills what he does not will,” this can only mean “God decrees to occur what he does not want to occur.” And that is schizophrenic nonsense. And we ought not to let ourselves become so confused as to think it credible under the guise of exalting God’s sovereignty. Hold onto your common sense. Don’t let it go.
Certainly “permission” involves “willing” to allow something to happen. This “willing” is not problematic, but neither is it the type of “willing” that is at issue here. It is the use of the word “willing” as decreeing or predetermining defined as a universal divine causal determinism that is problematic. The word “willing” as meaning God decrees all things, coupled with the word “permitting” or permission” produces an incoherence because it implies the wills of two different moral agents in action, but this is excluded by the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism. To insert “willingly” before “permits” in an attempt to make determinism coherent with the concept of permission. We should see it for what it is – linguistic legerdemain. It is to speak nonsense and therefore just doesn’t work. No one has an issue with the fact that God “willingly permits,” that is, allows evil things to happen, but that is just the point. It is enough to say that God permits evil things to happen. That is the more accurate reflection of the testimony of Scripture. The word “willingly” is not necessary, and as such it is contrived for a purpose it could never achieve, that is, to somehow support and preserve the Calvinist doctrine of theistic determinism. Of course with respect to God, when he permits or allows someone to do an evil act, God is doing so “willingly.” But he is not willing the act to occur in the sense of having predetermined it and causing it to come to pass.
Equivocating on the word “willingly” is an example of the linguistic gymnastics Calvinists are so famous for. We obviously all agree that God permits certain evils to occur, but that God “willingly permits” with the meaning of this phrase being that he predetermined them by his own will to unfailingly come to pass and is therefore the cause of that evil, is incoherent with the concept of permission. We have no problem with God willingly permitting evil acts to occur, but not that he causes them to occur by his own will according to his eternal decree which predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass” and claiming this is somehow coherent with permission. It is true that,
“Bare permission fits snugly in the theological thinking of someone whose God is not all-decreeing.”
And permission, “bare,” “willing” or otherwise, does not fit at all into the theological thinking of someone whose God is all-decreeing. So permission has to be jammed into such a theology regardless of the logical and moral wreckage left in its wake.
I don’t know why Helm seems to defend Calvin’s position here because he has previously told us that “God’s universal, absolute decree and man’s culpability for evil” can never be comprehended as consistent, “not even with the help of the distinction between primary and secondary causation, or of the doctrine of the two wills, or of God’s willing permission.”
“For Calvin, God has the right to discriminate and choose, even though his reasons for choosing are inscrutable to us. He is our Father in the sense that he is our creator and sustainer, but he has the rights of a creator, and this must never be forgotten. Castellio’s fondness for analogies that fly in the face of what Calvin regards as the clear teaching of Scripture touches upon what he sees as Castellio’s second epistemological deficiency; his intolerance of and impatience over any attribution of mystery or unaccountability to God’s ways. Calvin is ready to emphasize human limitations in understanding or explaining God’s ways. Castellio is not.”
Just what are the full characteristics and nature of this “Father” God would need further explanation. How does God’s love, grace and compassion fit into Calvin’s “Father” who exercises rights that are so egregious to our moral sensibilities and also inscrutable to us such that true knowledge of God’s character is placed beyond our grasp? How does “he is our creator and sustainer, but he has the rights of a creator, and this must never be forgotten” help in sorting out the kind of “creator and sustainer” Calvin has painted for us – one who predestines people to hell before he creates them and is the cause of all evil? Resorting to “he has the rights of a creator” does nothing to explain or relieve the logical and moral problems in Calvin’s theology.
Another Calvinist tactic that serves to insulate their theology from critique so as to preserve it is revealed here. That is, the assertion that non-Calvinists are intolerant of and impatient with “any attribution of mystery or unaccountability to God’s ways.” In response, first, what we are impatient with, and rightly so, is not mystery but interpretive incoherence. When Helm states that “Calvin is ready to emphasize human limitations in understanding or explaining God’s ways,” what he is really confessing is that Calvin is ready to ignore what human reason exposes about the incoherence of his interpretations and doctrines. Calvin resorts to “God’s ways” being beyond our ways as an excuse to ignore the insurmountable problems that logical and moral reasoning reveal in his doctrines. Calvinists have a vested interest in non-Calvinists being “patient” with their “mystery” which is only to say, “Do not challenge my theology on logical or moral grounds lest you expose it as incoherent.” Secondly, the assertion that non-Calvinists refuse to be accountable to “God’s ways” is just another instance of question-begging. The Calvinist is presupposing the truth of their doctrines. In addition, Calvinists will also charge non-Calvinists with not appreciating the “nuances” of Calvinism and being “impatient” with them. Helm writes,
“Castellio’s strategy is to ignore Calvin’s nuances and to straightforwardly charge Calvin’s God with being the author of evil. Dialectically, Calvin is at something of a disadvantage at such points because he has to answer the charge that God is the author of sin by deploying his distinctions, as well as by appealing to divine inscrutability, and this procedure is made to seem contrived and self-serving to someone as impatient as Castellio.”
We have seen that Calvin’s “distinctions” are as contradictory as the deterministic doctrines they attempt to justify and protect. And none of Calvin’s “nuances” can ward off the straightforward charge that Calvin’s God is the author of evil. There are no “nuances” here. There are no “nuances” that can alter the common sense logical and moral reasoning that leads most people to that conclusion something is very wrong with Calvinism. They can clearly see that its determinism is untenable. Calvin certainly is at “a disadvantage at such points” because Calvin’s “distinctions” do not succeed in extricating Calvinism from its logical and moral difficulties. You can attempt to divert attention away from these difficulties by claiming that there are “nuances” and “distinctions” that need to be considered. But when all of these are considered the charges that logical reflection and moral intuition level against the Calvinist doctrines and its determinism hold fast. That is why Calvin must ultimately appeal to “divine inscrutability.” But this is no help either. It certainly is “contrived and self-serving,” but not because Castellio is “impatient” with Calvin, but because Calvin, and Calvinists to this day, just will not face the fact their interpretations and the theological doctrines derived from them are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory. This accusation of “impatience” is really a way of saying “Don’t push too hard or too fast in identifying the obvious logical and moral inconsistencies, incoherencies and contradictions in our theology. Please accept our “distinctions” and “nuances” as sufficient “reasonings” in support of our doctrinal positions. We know these cannot address the objections raised against our theology, but at least allow us to continue to justify our position to ourselves.”
Helm recognizes the seriousness of these matters. He writes,
“These differences are symptomatic of two different conceptions of God.”
This is certainly true, and reveals the profound importance of this controversy. Does the Bible present two different conceptions of God?! If not, one conception (or both) is the result of a serious misinterpretation of Scripture. Helm continues,
“In his theology Calvin never resorts to paradox or logical incoherence to address theological problems, even though he readily recognizes God’s inaccessibility. But how can his account of God possibly be consistent? How can he have two wills and not generally permit evil but willingly permit this evil and that evil? How can he proclaim the freeness of his grace and at the same time elect and predestinate only a small minority of the human race to salvation? Calvin’s response to such questions is threefold: to affirm the meaning and truth of the Scriptural data that call forth these distinctions, to resolutely refuse to apply analogies to God that are not themselves warranted by Scripture, and to affirm (also on scriptural precedent) that God’s ways are mysterious and unfathomable.”
And this precisely identifies the problem in the Calvinist hermeneutic. Calvin will never admit the incoherence of his interpretations, and therefore he must flee to “God’s inaccessibility” and “that God’s ways are mysterious and unfathomable.” The things that Calvin claims are hidden from us are the products of his own interpretations of Scripture. Given alternative interpretations, many, if not all of the problems raised here, do not come into play. On non-deterministic interpretations of divine sovereignty these “logical difficulties” are not even raised.
Furthermore, why Castellio’s critique of Calvin’s theology should even trouble Calvin is a mystery in that Calvin rejected the deliberations of reason, common sense and moral intuitions from his interpretive processes and as determinative of the validity of its results. In addition, if we grant Calvin’s theological determinism for a moment, since Castellio was predetermined to believe what he believed, what was Calvin to do? It is hard to understand why Calvin would even bother responding to Castellio for it was God himself who caused Castellio to think, desire, believe and speak as he did, and that being the case, Calvin was arguing with God himself.
What I have attempted to show above is that Paul Helm’s account documents the logical incoherence and contradiction in Calvin’s theology, and not only that, but also Calvin’s failed attempts to deal with the incoherence in his theology with his ideas of “two wills” in God and that God “willingly permits” evil. These attempts only breed more incoherence. Calvin’s explanations did not free him from his problem of logical incoherence. Therefore, why Calvinists make any attempt at presenting their theistic determinism as consistent, coherent or non-contradictory with human responsibility and man’s culpability for evil is where the true mystery lies.
We can thank Paul Helm for his assessment of Calvin’s reasoning in contrast to Castellio’s. It probably won’t convert any Calvinists to follow Castellio and become non-Calvinists because that would require first that the Calvinist was predetermined to change their position, and secondly, they would have to be convinced that the logical and moral objections raised are indispensable for determining the validity of Calvin’s interpretations. The Calvinist will never be convinced of this because, as I have attempted to show, a Calvinist is, by definition, one who simply does not take logical and moral coherence on board in their interpretive processes and for determining the validity of their interpretations. Their doctrines of the divine eternal decree and the sovereignty of God defined deterministically, which generate the logical and moral incoherence in their theology, are a priori biblical truths and therefore are incontrovertible doctrines. As such, this closes the door to these “logical difficulties” playing a role in determining the validity of their interpretations. But I hope this account of the differences between Calvin and Castellio on the role of logical reflection and moral intuition in the interpretive enterprise will convince you that they are critical for doing good interpretation, while also giving pause to those who are being pressured by Calvinists to suppress there logical and moral faculties so that they might embrace Calvinism.
Schreiner and Ware, Logic or Exegesis: The False Dichotomy Continued
Schreiner and Ware follow Calvin in asserting their doctrines are the teaching of Scripture despite their logical and moral difficulties. Recall that they state,
“People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems. Rather, the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.”
But certainly we ought to be asking whether such difficulties are indicative of the fact that these Calvinist doctrines are not taught in Scripture. Do such problems raise doubts about the accuracy of the Calvinist’s exegesis? Whether Calvinists can successfully solve “all such logical problems” in their theology is not the issue. The issue is the fact that Calvinist interpretations of Scripture generate them in the first place. And as far as they are real contradictions, inconsistencies and incoherencies, I do not see how the Calvinist could ever solve them unless they depart from the interpretive method, along with the particular doctrines, that are causing them. Recall in the previous section that Calvinist Paul Helm observed that they cannot be solved, “not even with the help of the distinction between primary and secondary causation, or of the doctrine of the two wills, or of God’s willing permission.” In other words, Calvinists assert that Calvinism is, after all, a “mystery” which they claim is the result of a proper exegesis of the text regardless of its “logical problems.”
But can interpretations of texts that lead to incoherence and contradiction be the proper exegesis of those texts? Castellio didn’t think so, and many other scholars do not think so. I contend that any claim that one holds to a doctrine for “exegetical reasons” entails that they also hold it because of logical reasons and moral considerations, not regardless of these. We need to reject the false dichotomy between “scriptural exegesis” and “logical objections.” Good scriptural exegesis is logically consistent exegesis.
Non-Calvinists contend that Calvinism is false because the non-Calvinist can clearly demonstrate that the Calvinist’s exegesis of the relevant texts generate incoherence and contradiction and the non-Calvinist can produce and demonstrate that there are sound exegetical alternative interpretations that do not generate incoherence and contradiction. Non-Calvinists ought not to fall into accepting this dichotomy between exegesis and philosophy, or what Schreiner and Ware call “logical problems,” because it is a false dichotomy. Again, philosophy is essentially just clear thinking. Exegesis just is an examination of the text that, for all else it involves, does so with clear thinking, that is, with coherence and noncontradiction as essential to the task. The non-Calvinist believes that clear thinking is indispensable to exegesis. Lucid, cogent, consistent, coherent interpretations are what mark good exegesis. And these bear upon hermeneutics regarding its several principles and concerns.
For instance, there would be no advance as to authorial intent if our exegesis can dismiss coherence and non-contradiction. To dismiss these would only open the door for our biblical author to be incoherent and contradictory, thereby throwing our search for his “intent” into confusion. We would never be able to discern his true intent because once the canons of reason are considered non-essential to exegesis then one’s exegesis or claims about the author’s intended meaning would be relative to whatever any exegete claims the text means. One interpreter could claim the author means one thing and another interpreter claim he means something totally different without the exegetical tether of needing to have the author make sense. And this is just the point. If we are willing to jettison rational and moral coherence as essential to determining the validity of an interpretation, then one interpretation is as good as any other even when an interpretation is marked by incoherence and contradiction. We land in interpretive relativism. In contrast, we must presuppose authors write to be understood for the points they are attempting to communicate. And understanding requires that one think, write or speak according to the laws of logic. Divine inspiration cannot be used to excuse interpretive incoherence or relativism. Coherence, therefore, is essential to exegesis and therefore essential for discerning the validity of one’s exegesis.
You would think all this would go without saying. But as I have thought carefully about the Calvinist / non-Calvinist divide I cannot escape the conclusion that the essential difference lies in the degree to which one takes rational coherence on board in their hermeneutic. It is not as though there are two mutually exclusive yet legitimate interpretations of the disputed texts, although this is the way it is presented in evangelical churches today. There is a pervasive interpretive relativism within Evangelicalism. It is somewhat surprising that what common sense otherwise tells us is essential to interpretation has to be expounded in this manner and to this degree. We would simply ask the Calvinist for a response to the following questions:
- Can one claim as a credible exegesis that which violates the law of non-contradiction?
- Can one claim their understanding of the text to be valid if it results in incoherencies and inconsistencies?
- How can one insist that exegesis ought to be the means by which we come to understand the meaning of a text and yet be able to dismiss logical reasoning and moral intuitions in the process or in its conclusions?
I submit that “logical difficulties” are an integral part of any serious assessment of the exegetical validity of a text. This clear thinking is what distinguishes good exegesis from bad exegesis or eisegesis. A “logical problem” to an exegetical proposition or interpretive conclusion is a significant matter and is an integral aspect of the hermeneutical task. Non-Calvinists believe that to determine the truth or falsity of one’s exegesis requires the use of logical and moral reasoning. The best theologians and biblical exegetes are also the clearest thinkers. Theology and philosophy are inseparable. Exegesis and logical reasoning go hand-in-hand.
Therefore, it is incorrect to say that “scriptural exegesis” is not the “central reason” the non-Calvinist questions “the doctrines of grace” as if “certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology” are the more “fundamental objections” brought forth by the non-Calvinist. I have argued above that for the non-Calvinist there is no dichotomy between “logic problems” and Scriptural exegesis. Therefore, “Scriptural exegesis,” in its fullest sense, is a “central reason” the non-Calvinist questions the “doctrines of grace.” If non-Calvinists do not dichotomize exegesis from the “logical problems” provoked by that exegesis then it is incorrect to say that the non-Calvinist does not have substantive objections to Calvinism based on “scriptural exegesis.” Our “logical objections” to Calvinism are part and parcel of our “scriptural exegesis.” Therefore non-Calvinists do question the “doctrines of grace” on scriptural exegetical grounds, while the dichotomy that does exist between the Calvinists exegesis and philosophy is a false dichotomy and the cause of serious misinterpretations.
Piper on James 4: How Exegesis Devoid of Coherence Distorts the Meaning of a Text
I have argued that to merely provide a technical exegesis of a text does not guarantee it has been accurately understood. It is also required that one’s exegesis make sense. Interpretive validity cannot be reduced to merely exegeting text after text, declaring their proposed meanings and constructing a theology while ignoring any inconsistency and incoherence created by those proposed meanings of the text or of the theology constructed from them. A responsible and valid exegesis of Scripture requires that the full and final testimony of that Scripture be marked by coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. This is not to say there are no genuine mysteries in Scripture, but it is to maintain that we should not claim that incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory interpretations fall into the category of genuine biblical “mystery.” The Scriptures are not incoherent or inconsistent, nor does Scripture contradict itself.
Calvinists make much about their doctrine of sovereignty, defined as theistic determinism, being supported by biblical exegesis. They claim that exegesis must hold sway over any philosophical or logical objections non-Calvinists levy against Calvinism. I have shown that this is a false dichotomy and that any exegesis that is true to the text must include logical and moral coherence.
Here is an example of an incoherent exegesis of James 4 given by Calvinist John Piper. And although he provides us with an exegesis of the text, I think I becomes obvious that his exegesis cannot be what the text means to say. Therefore, this goes to show that the Calvinists claim that Calvinism is what the Scripture teaches because it boasts exegetical support while dismissing the assessments and interpretive input of philosophical reflection and moral intuition is simply a flawed hermeneutic.
Here we have an example of a exegesis of James 4 that, when we take logical and moral coherence on board in our hermeneutic, does not provide us with an accurate interpretation of the text. Let us examine this exegesis of James 4 that Calvinist John Piper claims supports his deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.
In an interview on John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast, the following question was posed to Piper.
“So, Pastor John, you have said many times that you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. That he finally and decisively controls everything, from the farthest galaxy to the smallest subatomic particle, including all the actions of human beings. I think what our listeners would like to hear is not only why you believe that, but mainly, how does this truth make a difference in our daily lives?”
“Well that’s right. That is precisely one of the foundational, pervasively influential convictions that I have behind everything I do and think. Let me give just one passage of Scripture as to why, and then four really practical ways this makes a difference in our lives.”
Note that Piper affirms “the absolute sovereignty of God” by which he means that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings.”
Now we need to remove any nuanced connotations from these words and be clear as to what Piper means by them, for it is possible for a non-Calvinist to affirm this description of “the absolute sovereignty of God.” If by “finally” is meant “in the end,” and by “decisively” is meant “definitively” or “authoritatively,” and that by “controls everything” is meant that there is nothing that can thwart God’s ultimate plans and purposes, then I, as a non-Calvinist, could agree. I believe God “finally and decisively controls everything” in the sense that nothing escapes him as if it there were something that caught him by surprise and was beyond his ability to deal with given the full complement of his attributes and according to his ultimate plans and purposes. Nothing or no one can frustrate God from accomplishing what he wills to accomplish. Nothing or no one can impede him in his purposes. But this definition does not entail theistic determinism. Therefore, the key word here is “controls.” What does Piper mean by “controls?”
As a Calvinist, what Piper means by “controls” is that God has predetermined by his own will whatever occurs, down to the minutest details, and therefore he causes all things to occur as they do. That is the point of the questioner when he includes “from the farthest galaxy to the smallest subatomic particle, including all the actions of human beings.” He is stressing Piper’s theistic determinism. In Calvinist theology, what is meant by “the absolute sovereignty of God” equates to what William Lane Craig has aptly labeled universal divine causal determinism. We need to be clear on this. What makes the Calvinist view so controversial is its deterministic definition of divine sovereignty that entails that God is the sole causal agent in the universe. All other “causal agents” are merely so instrumentally given universal divine causal determinism. They are the “secondary causes” or “means” which God has also predetermined due to the fact that this divine determinism is universal.
Note also that Piper says this theistic determinism is “one of the foundational, pervasively influential convictions that I have behind everything I do and think.” Let us observe the ramifications of determinism when it becomes the foundation for all that a person does and thinks. Piper continues by providing textual support for his deterministic definition of sovereignty.
“The text that gives a glimpse into why I believe this is from the book of James:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. (James 4:13–16)”
Piper understands James 4:13-16 as teaching his deterministic view of sovereignty. Here are the conclusions he draws from this passage.
“So, there it is. You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live.” So I conclude that if the Lord doesn’t will for us to live, we die. If he does will, we live. The Lord is absolutely in control of everything that determines our life and our death.
We don’t live a second longer than he wills. We don’t die a second sooner than he wills. I believe this brings amazing stability and strength and courage and boldness and risk-taking into the Christian life if we believe that God is good and sovereign.”
Does this text really teach Piper’s determinism? Is that really the meaning of this text? What if this passage in James were to establish that people have wills of their own that are at odds with or lack conformity to the will of God? That certainly would undermine Piper’s deterministic definition of sovereignty. Given determinism, if this passage were to indicate that people act contrary to the will of God then such in interpretation would have God at odds with himself, and that would be nonsense. If the passage were to either teach or presuppose that because people have their own wills and desires by which they plan and purpose what they will do in the future in disregard of God’s will, and that this is viewed as contrary to God’s will, then that would affirm a distinction between their wills and God’s will. This would also be sufficient to show that Piper’s determinism is incorrect. This would especially be the case if James were to speak in terms of God having the prerogative to overrule the human will, along with its plans and intentions, in certain circumstances. This would logically imply that the human will is distinct from God’s will, that human beings have a will of their own for God to overrule, otherwise God would be overruling his own determinations, and that would also be nonsense. If human agency is real, that is, that humans have wills that are substantially free from the will of God, this would require a different definition of “sovereignty” than Piper’s theistic determinism.
In addition, what if we can show that what James says in other places in this same epistle are incoherent with Piper’s deterministic view of sovereignty? Unless we decide to ignore the principle of context, which involves the affirmation of the rational coherence among an author’s thoughts put down in writing, and presuppose that coherence didn’t matter to James and that coherence isn’t essential for us to understand what James has written, that is, that coherence has interpretive significance, this would show that James’s intent in the phrase “If the Lord wills” is not what Piper contends it is.
At this point just ask yourself whether James’s admonition “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” logically entails universal divine causal determinism. Do you think so?
“Then he [James] says not just we will live, but rather, we will do this or that. That’s James’s way of saying everything. He’s referring to practical things like “tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” James says, “No, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.’” I conclude that this means we won’t do this if it’s not the will of the Lord, and we won’t do that if it’s not the will of the Lord.
There’s a text, especially James 4:15, which I think tells us to practically believe and govern our lives by the conviction that God is completely sovereign over all the details of life, death, and whether we do this or that.”
Here Piper interprets the phrase “this or that” as comprehensively referring to all the actions of all persons of all time. He also interprets the phrase “If the Lord wills” as meaning that the Lord’s will has predetermined all the actions of all persons of all time. Recall that for Piper, the phrase “God is completely sovereign,” means God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings.” Here Piper reiterates the comprehensive nature of this sovereignty by the words “over all the details of life.” It is clear that what Piper means by “God is completely sovereign” is universal divine causal determinism or theistic determinism.
Let’s examine both the content and context of James 4:13-17 more carefully to see if Piper’s interpretation is a valid exegesis of the text. Here is the full section in the RSV.
13 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; 14 whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Note first how Piper has truncated the pericope to exclude verses 16b and 17. Verse 17 is part of the text, and an important part at that, for our discussion. I’ll return to this later. Piper has also skipped over verses 13 and 14 and left out commenting on verse 16. But Piper has not only truncated the paragraph but also the sentence in verse 15 to focus on the phrase “If the Lord wills.” Piper shortened verse 15 to talk about life and death, and makes his comments without due consideration of the context. Note that nothing in these verses or in the words “If the Lord wills” requires the conclusion, “The Lord has predetermined absolutely everything in our lives which includes our death,” or that God “finally and decisively has preordained whatever comes to pass, including all the actions of human beings.”
Piper focuses on the matters of life and death broadly speaking. From James’s statement “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live…” Piper extrapolates the opposite and adds that “if the Lord doesn’t will for us to live, we die.” Ok. That certainly may be the case. But how does that entail that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings?” It doesn’t. That is a non-sequitur.
Moreover, the fact that God wills that someone dies at a certain time might be a special act of God in response to other factors that include that person’s free will decisions or prayer to God – for instance, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 and Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:1-6. How could these historical events be coherently understood from within Piper’s theistic determinism? The nature of these incidents certainly leads us to believe that the time of death or its postponement was a contingent matter, not predetermined. Piper’s conclusion that “if the Lord doesn’t will for us to live, we die. If he does will, we live” only confirms that God can do as he pleases, not that he has predetermined all things to occur as they do. Piper’s conclusion that “We don’t live a second longer than he wills. We don’t die a second sooner than he wills” are ambiguous as to teaching determinism. And for Piper to presume the people James is addressing are thinking about their lives in terms of theistic determinism does not seem to be the point of what James has written. Nothing in the passage thus far is communicating that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings.” Piper merely asserts that this is what James means to tell us. Piper is reading his theology into the text. James says,
“…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and we shall do this or that.”
Context is always important. Who is James addressing and what is their situation and approach to life? Verse 16 tells us that these people were boasting in their arrogance and that all such boasting is evil. Therefore, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring…” means that your boastful arrogance is out of touch with reality under God’s sovereignty by which he can change your plans and even end your life. That is what it means for God to be sovereign. But James’s point is that life is unpredictable and brief and that this ought to produce in us a due reverence for God and willingness to submit to his plans and purposes for us. This does not mean that God has predetermined the time and means of our death. Note that James’s presupposition here is that these people do have a will of their own that is out of touch with the God-fearing humility that comes from a due reverence for God as our creator and sustainer. As such, this situation that requires James’s words of rebuke would be incoherent if James viewed life as comprehensively predetermined by God. Teaching these people that life is predetermined in this situation where free will is presupposed is also incoherent. You can’t be teaching people that all things are predetermined by God as a means to change their behavior while all the time presupposing it is they who have the ability and responsibility to do so.
By taking verse 15 out of its fuller context Piper has removed the important content that both informs and controls the meaning of the verse. So let’s read James in context with an eye for coherence to see whether Piper is reading his determinism into the text (eisegesis) or deriving it from the text (exegesis). Here is the full section in the RSV.
13 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; 14 whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
It is important to say at the outset that James is not rebuking these persons for their interest in trade or business, laying out future travel plans to carry on that business or seeking to make a profit per se. Such activities are certainly legitimate in and of themselves. But believers need to approach all their endeavors with distinctively Christian attitudes and actions. A more informed contextual reading reveals that James is speaking to believers or others who exhibit a boastful arrogance (v. 16a) and presumptuous self-confidence about where they will go and what they will do in the future with their lives (v. 13). New Testament professor Donald W. Burdick observes that,
“This section gives another example of the “wisdom” that characterizes the world (cf. 4:15). James addresses businessmen, probably Christians, since v. 17 seems to suggest that the readers know that their practices are wrong.” 
We’ll come back to verse 17 later, but note here that James’s first words, “Go to now” (KJV) or “Come now” (RSV) or “Now listen” (NIV), forcefully address these over-confident businesspersons. Burdick notes that this is “a pointed call for attention that indicates the seriousness of what follows.”
Right from the start we have a situation in which these people need instruction in God’s will and ways. These people need to hear and heed what James is about to say in contrast to what they “say.” Burdick points out that the phrase “you who say…” is in the present tense legontes (“say”) and “seems to indicate that this situation under consideration was not an isolated instance. It was something that occurred frequently.” They are saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain.” (v. 13) The point is that “God has no place in the plans.”
This was a settled mindset that James was concerned about with regard to their spiritual lives. We all know people like this, and perhaps we need to check ourselves in this respect. Many of us, even as Christians, are proud and self-centered. We believe that it is by our own strength, prowess, education, cunning, and resources that we have achieved a measure of success, status and wealth. We make plans that are completely our own, with no humble disposition to follow God nor reference our wills to have him work his will in our lives. Some symptoms of this self-centered life are prayerlessness, ungratefulness and discontent. This kind of pride in what we are and have, along with an arrogance about what we will accomplish in the future due to our own abilities and prowess is simply to be ignorant of the reality that it is God who gives us all good things. Certainly there is no need for us to degrade ourselves in a false humility. We can exercise a healthy sense of pride in our accomplishments. But the point is that this should never be devoid of thanks to God and submission to his will. This is the outlook for the believer. We can also enjoy all the good things we have obtained. But there can be an overemphasis on the “we” by which we forget that all good things come from our Father in heaven (1:17). We often leave God out of the equation in our thinking and living. James is rebuking those who go through life oblivious to or even rejecting God’s presence and grace. James thinks they ought to know better (4:17). They should not be acting with indifference or willful neglect of God’s presence and the possibility of divine redirection of their plans and purposes for their lives. Life must be about doing the will of God. Therefore, from time to time our wills need to be corrected. Obviously, then, James observes that people do not always think and act in conformity to the will of God. It is this difference of wills that informs us that Piper’s determinism, in which all thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions are determined solely by the will of God and comprehensively caused by his activity alone, is incoherent with the text and therefore wrong.
We continue with verse 14,
“…whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
“No allowance is made for unforeseen circumstances. These businessmen are confident that they will be able to carry their plans to completion. And so James points out their fallacy. They “do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” to say nothing about a year from now. They have been planning as if they know exactly what the future holds or even as they have control of the future. Not only is their knowledge limited, but their very lives are uncertain. They may not be here next year…Some of James’ readers had been planning as if they were going to be here forever!”
So James is rebuking these believers for their seriously flawed thinking exhibited in their words and actions. They are the type that take for granted their future existence while planning and arranging their commerce to the neglect of the consideration of God ways and without due concern for and submission to his will. A modern day example of their attitude might be, “We, ourselves, have made plans. We are going to New York City where we will spend a year, do business and make for ourselves a handsome profit.” Full stop. Now, that would be to view things from a purely horizontal perspective. It is a completely man-centered and self-centered thinking. Now when we add, “If the Lord wills,” as James instructs, he is not meaning to tell us that we should acknowledge that all things have been predetermined by God. Rather, this is an expression of submission to what God might have by way of a change of our plans and purposes. James sees their attitude of pride. There needs to be a corrective of the purely horizontal viewpoint, one that is willing to take into account God’s will for them.
Let’s look more carefully at the reasoning of the passage in light of theistic determinism and why the content and context defeat Piper’s interpretation.
To these people James says, “Instead you ought to say…” The word “ought” is highly significant here. James’s rebuke presupposes human free will and implies personal responsibility. When James chides these arrogant people about what they “ought to say” James is presupposing that they are exercising their wills in disregard to God and his will. If they “ought” to be doing something they are not doing, then they are willing and acting contrary to the will of God for them. That is what they need to do “instead” of what they are presently doing. The word “instead” is also telling. It suggests that what these people were thinking needs to be replaced with a different way of thinking and yet there is always the possibility that they will continue to disregard James’s instruction and not be open to God’s will for them. What they need to do “instead” is change their perspective to include a due reverence, humility and submission to God as to what he might will to do in their lives. It is a word of contingency, potentiality and possibility.
But all this makes no sense given Piper’s deterministic definition of the will of God which has God determining that they do what is contrary to his will. Contrary to Piper’s determinism, James is saying the change of mind that they need is their responsibility, he certainly does not believe that God caused them to think and act in their present waywardness. If that were so, then God would be willing and causing in these businessmen the very godless disposition that God does not will for them to have. God would be simultaneously holding them accountable for their proud arrogance while having determined them to be proud and arrogant. Piper’s theistic determinism makes nonsense of the text, and we cannot seriously entertain that James is a theistic determinism and is missing or ignoring the logical incoherence of his own words.
James’s words, “Instead you ought to say” presuppose that these people lack this humble, submissive outlook on their lives and business that God would have them embrace. They rather disregard God and are acting accordingly. According to James they need to change, but the fact that they are thinking and doing as they are means that God is not causing it and this needed change is an open issue. They may or they may not respond. The implication is that they can shut God out and continue in their foolish ways. In contrast, on Piper’s determinism, God has caused them to be proud, self-sufficient and arrogant and yet through James God is also instructing them to be humble, submissive and open to his will. Recall Piper’s definition of sovereignty. It is that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings.” So, according to Piper, it is God’s will that these people be arrogant and boastful and yet according to James it is not God’s will that they be arrogant and boastful. This makes contradictory nonsense out of the passage.
Note that if James was speaking as a “Calvinist” we wonder what he is thinking when he warns, chides, corrects, and instructs these wayward believers, not only here but throughout his epistle. So let’s now expand our interpretive context to the whole epistle. We will see that James says in so many other places also speaks against Piper’s deterministic interpretation of the words “If the Lord wills.” Especially applicable is 1:13-18. James says,
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (NIV)
Here James absolves God from being the source or cause of temptation, evil or sin. But in direct conflict with what James says here, Piper’s theistic determinism – that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings” – has the problem of indicting God as responsible for the presence of evil in the world, tempting people to sin and causing their sinful actions. Again, Piper’s theistic determinism is in direct conflict with what Scripture states here.
To deal with their contradictory position Calvinists have developed what they call “compatibilism.” I examine this supposed “solution” in detail in Chapter 8 – Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism. Simply put, compatibilism defines “free will” as the ability for a person to act according with what they desire to do. As long as they are able to do what they desire or want to do, they have “freedom of the will.” If they are not coerced, forced or restricted from doing what they desire or want to do, then they have human freedom. According to the Calvinist, what makes this “compatible” with divine determinism is that it is God who determines people’s desires. Therefore, for the Calvinist, as long as people are doing what they desire or want to do, they are acting freely, but it is God who determines and causes what people desire or want to do. Hence God accomplishes his will in all things by determining all the desires of all people, and since they are able to do what they desire, they therefore do what they do freely.
This, of course, does nothing to remove the determinism in the Calvinist position or establish meaningful human freedom. It only pushes it back a step and reduces the “second cause” – the human being – to a merely instrumental role in performing what has been predetermined by the will of God. Persons may remain physically unshackled or externally uncoerced by others, but having their inner being, from which they will, think, desire and act, determined by God alone, makes their thoughts and actions no less “shackled” and no more free than if the person were physically constrained. Lack of freedom is not limited only to being physically constrained. One can be constrained in thoughts, desires and beliefs. And this is what God is doing on Calvinism. A person cannot be unilaterally and exhaustively predetermined by another in their will, thoughts, desires and actions to do something freely of their own will. That is incoherent and contradictory. Compatibilism, therefore, is just another expression of determinism. Piper’s theistic determinism, then, implicates God as the source of evil and the perpetrator of evil, sinful acts.
In response to compatibilism, it is crucial to observe that James clearly teaches that God does none of this. In fact, James refutes Calvinist compatibilism at its core when he states. “…but each person is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” Obviously people have desires that are their very own. They are not predetermined and caused by God. Indeed, James vindicates God from being the source and motivator of people’s evil desires. Burdick states,
“Therefore it is inconsistent to think that God could be the author of temptation.
Instead, the source of temptation lies within man himself. He is tempted “by his own evil desire.” James personifies man’s sinful desire and identifies it as the efficient cause of temptation (RHG, p. 635.) He does not blame any external person or object.”
But Piper’s position logically entails that God is the sole cause of temptation, evil desire and enticement. Therefore, Piper’s position is in conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture.
James also clearly states, “Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Piper’s divine determinism has God as the sole cause of this whole process which culminates in sin and death. We must conclude that on Calvinism God is the author of sin. If the Calvinist will protest that this is not the case, again, we would like to know how it is not, other than merely asserting that it is not.
James further counters Calvinist compatibilism that makes God the source of evil in 1:16-18. He states,
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all that he created.”
“The warning in this passage is against being deceived into thinking that God is the author of temptation. In fact, the Greek construction used here…often implies that the addressees have been engaging in the practice being prohibited. In that case James would be saying, “Stop being deceived.”
Here follows the statement that the prohibition of the previous verse was intended to introduce. Instead of sending temptation, God is the giver of “every good and perfect gift.” The concept of goodness rules out the possibility that God would send an influence as destructive as temptation. God’s gifts are marked by kindness and helpfulness, not destructiveness. They are “perfect,” which in this context excludes any possibility of moral evil, such as tempting his people to commit sin. The point of James’s statement is that nothing but good comes from God.
…He is always the giver of good gifts, never as sadistic being who would entice his creatures to destroy themselves in sin.”
But on Calvinist compatibilism, all the desires of every person – good or evil – are caused by God to be what they are so that they will perform what God has predetermined. For Calvinists like Piper this insures that God remains absolutely sovereign in the affairs of men. Given Calvinist determinism, we cannot escape the conclusion that God does indeed, not merely entice, but predetermine and therefore cause his creatures to destroy themselves in sin.
To Piper’s credit he attempts to be logically consistent in his theology. But in doing so he cannot escape the illogical implications of his own determinism. When Piper was asked, “Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all of our besetting sins?” His answer was an unequivocal “Yes.” Also recall that Piper quotes Calvinist Mark Talbot in agreement when Talbot states,
“God…brings about all things in accordance with His will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11: James 1:2-4). This includes – as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem – God’s having even brought about the Nazi’s brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”
Piper and Talbot are obviously suppressing their moral intuitions here. This is evidenced in the words “as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem.” One must suppress their moral intuitions as well as the biblical data to come to such a detestable position that certainly impugns the character of God as a moral monster. It doesn’t “seem” to be an incredible and an unacceptable thing to think about God, it is an incredible and unacceptable thing to think about God. And that is because the vast majority of the Scriptural witness about the nature of God testifies to his holiness, purity, sinlessness, goodness, mercy and compassion. Here we have the hermeneutical divide in stark relief. The Calvinist is able to suppress his God-given moral sensibility and the clear teaching of Scripture to preserve his theistic determinism, whereas the non-Calvinist must take into account the full scope of the biblical witness to let it speak its truth about the nature of God and reality, not only when interpreting this passage in James but any other text of Scripture. The clear thinking of philosophical reflection and moral intuition needed to avoid the blasphemy about God that Piper and Talbot are teaching here is absent in the Calvinist’s hermeneutic.
What James states in 4:16 provides more evidence against Calvinist compatibilism and determinism. It reads,
“As it is you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.”
James considers arrogant boasting to be evil. According to compatibilism and Piper’s determinism, God predetermined and caused the arrogant boasting of these people and therefore he predetermined and caused them to do evil. But God has nothing to do with evil. This impugns the character of God who, as Piper himself noted, is “good” as well as “sovereign.” Piper clearly says, “…we believe that God is good and sovereign.” But how is God “good” on Piper’s deterministic definition of “sovereign?” He is not good, rather, he has caused these people James speaks about to do evil. The Calvinist should seek a definition of sovereignty that is coherent with the broader context here and does not impugn but rather upholds the goodness of God.
James ends the pericope of 1:16-18 by saying that “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (1:18) God is good to all in bringing us the “word of truth” whereby God gives us “birth,” This does not mean that God unconditionally chose certain people to be saved through “the word of truth.” Since nothing but good comes from God (1:13-18), we are warranted in thinking that he would not predetermine certain persons to eternal damnation, but because of his character as loving and gracious, would work on behalf of their salvation. He desires all persons to be saved. Contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election or predestination, God chose that through “the word of truth” new “birth” would come to those who believe. No definition of sovereignty need preclude salvation being bestowed upon the sinner by God upon the condition of faith. Throughout Scripture it is indicated that the only condition upon which salvation is appropriated by the sinner to himself is by faith. This “birth” which is spiritual, and is therefore something that God performs by the Spirit, is given only to those who believe. And all may believe and be saved. Those who refuse to believe are not saved. This arrangement is what God has sovereignly established. It was not and will not be thwarted and it cannot and will not be circumvented. God’s sovereignty will see to it. Given all that needs to be taken into consideration to come to an informed, coherent interpretation of these verses and the others we are considering, we can be confident that James does not mean to say this spiritual, new “birth” is given only to those God has unconditionally chosen to save. What God chose or predetermined to do is establish “the word of truth” and to give new “birth” to those who believe “the word of truth.” God gives believers new birth through “the word of truth” which is the gospel. The gospel is “good news.” This gospel comes with the working of the Holy Spirit who enables the hearer to respond in faith. Those who respond humbly to the work of the Spirit and accept this “good news” God saves. Those who proudly resist the work of the Spirit and reject the “good news” remain in condemnation because they have not believed (Jn. 3:16-18).
Having broadened the context of our assessment to include the whole epistle of James, there are many other passages in James that are contrary to theistic determinism in that they imply personal responsibility, free moral agency, freedom to choose between possibilities, contingency, commands, prohibitions, etc. Interestingly, some of these passages directly contrast man’s desires with God’s desires which speaks against Piper’s determinism and compatibilism. James’s epistle contains a litany of situations that presuppose genuine human agency, free will and moral responsibility – boasting in riches (1:9 ff.), anger (1:19 ff.), showing partiality (2:1-13), taming the tongue (3:1-12), bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (3:13-18), fights, quarrels and evil speaking (4:1-12), fraud, luxurious living and self-indulgence, condemnation and murder (5:1-6), and saving souls from death (5:19-20). These passages are inconsistent with Calvinist determinism. Rather, they affirm a non-deterministic relation between God and man. Here are the texts of the examples above.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (1:5-8)
“Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (1:20)
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” (2:1)
“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
…but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (3:2, 8-10)
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (3:14-17)
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (4:1-2)
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes and enemy of God….
God opposes the proud
But gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (4:4,6-8,10)
Previously I raised the question as to what would decisively refute Piper’s deterministic interpretation of James 4:13-17. I said what would do so is if this passage spoke of person’s having wills that are distinct from and at odds with what the passage informs us about the will of God for them. I think that a coherent reading of the text made this clear. Moreover, if this text, along with the many other texts in his epistle are in any sense stating that people think and do things that are in conflict with what God would have them think and do, then Piper’s deterministic view of God’s sovereignty is not a view that is coherent with the biblical witness. I also stated that if James were to speak in terms of God having the prerogative to overrule the human will, along with its plans and intentions in certain circumstances, then that would refute Piper’s determinism. I think the phrase “If the Lord wills…”, while not necessitating determinism, certainly implies that God may intervene in human affairs to overrule the will of man. Moreover, if the broadest context of the whole biblical witness communicates that God may thwart what people have willed to do, or overrule and use for his good purposes what they have already done, then this would confirm that Piper’s view is incorrect. Given these various passages in James, and the whole canonical context, Piper’s view of deterministic sovereignty is incorrect and cannot be the meaning of the words “if the Lord wills” in 4:15.
Other issues come to mind given Piper’s determinism. It makes no sense for James to get bothered about these things as if they shouldn’t be, while at the same time believing that they are predetermined by God to be and therefore must be. What James would be observing in these self-sufficient believers is just what God had predetermined. What more need he say about these things? Can he coherently object that they are attitudes and actions that shouldn’t be if God ordained them?
Furthermore, note that the words, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” do not entail the theistic determinism that Piper wants from the passage. Rather, if James were to speak consistent with what Piper means by sovereignty he should have said, “Instead of thinking you are in control of your lives, you need to think about reality in the following way. Say that “Because the Lord finally and decisively controls everything, including all the actions we will take, our future is determined. Therefore we shall surely live while God wills, do what God has predetermined we do and die when God wills.” But we can see that on the basis of theistic determinism James’ instructions and rebukes that presuppose personal responsibility and freedom to do otherwise become nonsense. On determinism James’ statements become merely information that these people can do nothing with and need do nothing with their thoughts, desires and attitudes towards the future. And again, on theistic determinism James’ words would be incoherent. These people are either predetermined to take the spiritually indifferent, arrogant and proud view that they hold or change their view. But either way, it has nothing to do with them at all.
Or even more accurately and confusedly, if by saying “Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills” James was expressing theistic determinism as Piper contends, James might have thought, “I don’t even know what to say. If God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings” then not only are these people doing what God is causing them to do, but I am thinking doing and writing what God has predetermined me to think, do and write. You can see the confusion that is caused by theistic determinism. William Lane Craig is correct. This has “dizzying self-defeating” effect. Far from reliving anxiety, it creates anxiety about the purpose or meaning of whatever we do. We might imagine James saying to himself, “Will writing anything really matter? What should I do? What should I write? Should I write or not? Is it up to me?”
The Calvinist cannot cavalierly dismiss this as a trivial misrepresentation of their position. Again, recall Piper’s definition of sovereignty. It is that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings.” If that is the case, one does wonder what the function of James’ epistle is, especially with regard to its condemnations of sin, warnings against sinning and commands to alter our thinking and living. All these presuppose a non-deterministic worldview. The Calvinist will claim that God works his predetermined plan through certain “means.” He uses “secondary means” to accomplish what he has predetermined for everything including “all the actions of human beings.” James’ epistle is a “means” by which God accomplishes his predetermined will. But this is also problematic, for “the means” by which God accomplishes his predetermined will, that is, the means by which his deterministic reality unfolds is through personal responsibility, free moral agency, freedom to choose between possibilities, contingency, potentiality, commands, rebuking, prohibitions, instruction, etc. But all these “means” presuppose a non-deterministic reality. They have no coherent place in a deterministic reality. They are yet another incoherence that results from a deterministic divine plan. “The means,” as characterized by contingency, are incoherent with the claim that God predetermines “whatsoever comes to pass.”
If the Calvinist claims that what is written is the way the elect are brought to salvation, that is, that James and what he has written are all part of the “means” by which the elect or brought to salvation, then this too is incoherent. It is incoherent because again what is being proposed is that the language and concepts of contingency, potentiality, non-determinism, personal responsibility, etc. are being employed by God to bring about what is ontologically a comprehensively predetermined reality. The descriptions and teachings don’t match the reality. How would the conclusion that reality is ultimately deterministic be gleaned from or be coherent with reading a text that speaks as if reality is contingent and non-deterministic. This too is a confusion. Contingent narratives along with so many biblical teachings are incoherent with theistic determinism. Indeed, they are antithetical to theistic determinism.
On Calvinism, all that James observes and writes is predetermined by God. For what ultimate purpose then is the epistle written? The answer, on Calvinism, is that God just wanted James to write it. Was it for some “purpose?” We don’t know. What could that purpose be given universal divine causal determinism? We will never know. It surely isn’t to persuade or convince, which have no place within theistic determinism. “Persuasion” would just amount to God putting certain facts into a human beings mind such that the human being would be a conduit of God’s will being done in their sphere of existence. There is no person to persuade as if they had a will by which they could think or act contrary to God. There is only a human creature that God merely programs to do his will.
The Calvinist will respond that this passivity is a misrepresentation of Calvinism because we do not know what God has predetermined and therefore we must act, and in acting we fulfill his predetermined plan. But how does this resolve the problems inherent in a theistic determinism in which God imposes his will upon our thinking and desiring which does not seem to cohere with how we perceive the nature of our actions as substantially free and responsible? This seems to be another example of Calvinists engaging in the suppression of reason documented earlier. They are telling us to simply ignore the fact that determinism presents a logical and moral intellectual struggle that needs to be resolved. Piper’s determinism keeps cropping up in incoherent ways. Our logical and moral reasoning persistently tell us that Piper’s theistic determinism is seriously wrong, both intellectually and existentially. This is the nature of a contradiction. It is an intellectual, moral or existential problem that cannot find resolution or a “resting place.” It certainly may do so, but that would require the alteration or elimination of the belief or proposition that causes the contradiction. Resolution can only be achieved by an alteration in the content of the mistaken beliefs or propositions.
So Piper’s determinism is not at all what James means to convey to these people. Obviously James is not presenting to them theistic determinism as the corrective of their proud, arrogant, self-sufficiency. That would be self-defeating and render his rebuke nonsense. James is not chiding them for their failure to acknowledge theistic determinism, teaching them theistic determinism or commanding their assent to theistic determinism. That wouldn’t make much sense. By the words, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that,” James is not commanding them to accept the idea that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings,” while also chiding them for living in disregard for God and his will for them. Rather, by the words “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” James presupposes that these people are free to choose with what mindset they will conduct their affairs, that is, whether in their own self-sufficient pride, or, in humble consideration of the will of the God who gives them life and enables them to carry on their business and make a profit. It is the will of God that they have a God-centered disposition but the phrase “If the Lord wills” does not entail that God predetermines their present disposition and future actions. It is the will of God that they say “If the Lord wills” but given that they do not say that, we conclude that God allows for their will to be done. Therefore, James’ words imply a non-deterministic reality in contradiction to Piper’s determinism.
Note also that the admonition “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” is incoherent on Piper’s theistic determinism in the sense that it introduces the contingent “if” into a predetermined divine willing regarding all things. There are no “if’s” in a deterministic world. There is no meaning to “If the Lord wills we shall…” because the Lord wills all things. There is no “if” about the Lord’s will or anything else. On determinism, whatever these businessmen are thinking, and whatever these businessmen are planning, and whatever they “will” to make happen in the future, will just be what God has predetermined. In contrast, on non-determinism, whatever these businessmen are thinking, and whatever these businessmen are planning, and whatever they will to make happen in the future, is an open question ultimately involving their response to James’ admonition. For James to tell these people, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” is an admonition to submit themselves to the will of God which may be different than their planned course of action. God may direct them differently if they include God in their plans, and he may not direct them in that way if they do not. We certainly may conclude that it would be incoherent for us to think along with Piper that God has predetermined both scenarios. We limit the actions and will of God in our lives by neglecting James’ admonition. The alternative to being proud and self-sufficient is to think in terms of doing “the Lords’ will.” An implication to what James is saying is that we can limit the way God wills to act in our lives. God respects this free agency he has bestowed upon us as persons made in his image. This is what James wants them to acknowledge. They may or may not do so. That remains an open issue for all of us.
What the phrase “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills’” presupposes is the person’s willing absence of openness to the will of God. It therefore cannot mean that this absence of openness is also the will of God as is required by Piper’s theistic determinism. Rather, juxtaposed to our will may be the will of God. “If the Lord wills” means that he may have something to say to us and his sovereignty means he can do as he pleases, but obviously the Lord also allows men to do as they please in many circumstances. James is addressing one of them. Understood in this way the two are not mutually exclusive. The alternatives here are not either randomness vs. impersonal fate or chance vs. theistic determinism. There is an understanding of providence that allows for the free decisions of human beings in the context of a personal God who has the prerogative to intervene in response to the free actions of his human creatures. It is to be noted that there is nothing here that requires we interpret the phrase “If the Lord wills (or ‘wishes,’ NRSV), we will live and do this or that” as universal divine causal determinism. It is a statement of humble submission to what the Lord ultimately wills for us as we say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” James’ point is clear. It has to do with one’s worldview; whether it includes or excludes the fact of God and his inevitable involvement in our lives. For James it is astonishing that believers would hold any other view than one that includes the desire to live on the basis of “If the Lord wills…” in their everyday affairs. It is only in the context of their freedom to willingly and humbly respond to God that these persons ought not to neglect the God in heaven who gives them health and strength to do the work that they so intensely plan and desire to accomplish. So James addresses an attitude of arrogance and ignorance of one’s human frailty. Thinking themselves to be self-sufficient is to live deluded about their reliance upon God for all things. But this does not require us to think that reliance upon God translates to all things are predetermined by God to be as they are. A sovereign God could have also determined that man have substantial freedom within the context of that sovereignty. That is what the Bible testifies to. God will do all his will, even given man’s willful rebellion against him. That is what it means to be sovereign. Yet God approaches man in a personal, responsible, reciprocal love relationship because he has made man in his own image. God seeks the good of all “in Christ” and promises salvation to those who love him. Those who reject this “good news” remain in their sin and condemnation and will in the end experience the final judgment of God.
The problem here was a practical disregard for God altogether in certain areas of life for these Christians. What James is enjoining is a dependence upon God who may direct them onto different paths than they have planned for themselves and into other situations and circumstances other than what they in their self-centered arrogance and presumptuous confidence have arranged for themselves. But also, God may let them go their own way, as is evident up this point. James does this by raising the issues of their ignorance of what the future might bring and of the frailty, insecurity and brevity of life.
As with all corrective instruction in Scripture, conflicting wills and actions are implied. Men and women are doing one thing while God would have them do another. So here too. Therefore Piper’s understanding is wrong-headed at this point.
Hence, there is nothing in the text that requires Piper’s view. For one to condition their plans on the will of God does not entail determinism. What Piper has done is latched onto the words “If the Lord wills” and viewed them through the lens of his deterministic understanding of “God’s will.” Therefore he ends up interpreting them as “since the Lord wills all things, that is, predetermined all things…” or “what occurs in all things is what God has predetermined by his will…” Therefore, Piper’s view has to be read into the text to get it out of the text. He leaves no room for an interpretation of the words in which God allows certain things to occur that God does not desire or will to happen, which is consistent with James’ admonishing these people as to what they “ought to say.”
So how does all this relate to our main thesis? Two important points must not be missed here.
1) The first is that any claims to have provided a correct exegesis of the text are inseparable from the logical and moral coherence of those exegetical claims.
2) Secondly, although on logical and moral grounds the text and context mitigate against Piper’s view, Piper disregards this as interpretively significant. Piper interprets the text with a blatant disregard for the logical and moral incoherence his interpretation generates. The very logic of James’ statements throughout the book speak against Piper’s determinism, yet this is not taken into account in Piper’s hermeneutic.
In conclusion, Calvinists know that they cannot escape the biblical testimony to human freedom, personal agency and moral responsibility. So how do they maintain their determinism in the light of this clear biblical witness to human free will? When their compatibilist explanation of free will only proves to be the same theistic determinism by “secondary causes”, they ultimately must resort to “mystery.” That is, they simply must ignore the issues of logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction inherent in their deterministic theology. They simply dismiss that these logical and moral problems in their theology have any bearing upon the validity of their interpretations of a text. But, as I have sought to demonstrate above, the Calvinist must wrest the text from its context and read his determinism into it. A careful consideration of the text in context will show that Piper’s deterministic interpretation of “If the Lord wills” is forced, inconsistent and self-defeating.
Therefore, if it remains the case with Calvinists that exegesis can be divorced from logical and moral coherence, then the text can mean whatever the “exegete” wants it to mean. I submit that this is a clear case of such eisegesis. It is also a clear case of the hermeneutical divide in which logical and moral coherence are essential in the non-Calvinist’s hermeneutic, but not for the Calvinist.
I could end my critique here, but Piper’s four practical applications of his theistic determinism are even more enlightening.
Piper goes on to give us four areas in which his definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism has positive practical application to our lives. Let’s assess Piper’s applications for consistency with this theistic determinism.
The first application is “gospel joy.” Piper states,
“Now does that make a practical difference in our lives? Oh, it is so amazingly practical. Let me give you four glimpses of why this undergirds everything I say on Ask Pastor John. Let me just list them off for you. It has to do with gospel joy, sacrificial love, fearless witness, and confident planning. Those are my four practical glimpses into how this is so personally relevant to our lives, so let me just take them one at a time, and give one text and a brief word.”
“First, gospel joy. Every day John Piper needs the gospel. That is, I need fresh assurances that my sins are forgiven, that God is for me and not against me, and that I’m not destined for wrath but everlasting joy. I need the gospel preached to me, with assurance, every day. I need confidence that when Jesus died on the cross, under Pontius Pilate, this was not a fluke of history. This was not random. This was God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper.”
So, Piper is telling us that he gets “gospel joy” as a practical implication of his theistic determinism. Piper’s doctrine of unconditional election comes to bear upon this soteriological application. He says that “every day John Piper needs the gospel.” What Piper means by “the gospel” is 1) “fresh assurances that my sins are forgiven”, 2) “that God is for me and not against me,” and 3) “that I’m not destined for wrath but everlasting joy.” These statements focus on the question of assurance; assurance that his sins can be forgiven, assurance that God is kindly disposed towards him and assurance that he is “not destined for wrath but everlasting joy.” But how do these concerns about assurance cohere with Piper’s theistic determinism, especially his doctrine of unconditional election?
Piper’s theistic determinism dictates Piper’s Calvinist soteriological doctrines, particularly unconditional election or predestination. On Piper’s view of divine sovereignty and salvation, God predetermines all things, including the eternal destiny of each individual. That God is “for” or “against” a person, or whether God has forgiven or not forgiven their sins, or whether they are destined to wrath or everlasting joy, has nothing at all to do with the person themselves. Each person’s eternal destiny is the result of an unconditional and unilateral divine decision that God made before the creation of the world which remains unknown to us.
Now Piper says he needs these “fresh assurances” that he calls “the gospel.” But it is difficult to see how his theistic determinism and unconditional election can provide these assurance to him. What is it about believing that God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings” that provides Piper with “fresh assurances that [his] sins are forgiven?” According to this view of sovereignty, Piper may not have been predestined to salvation. Piper cannot take it for granted that God has elected him to salvation. Given Piper’s doctrine of unconditional election, how does Piper know for sure that God is “for” him and not “against” him? How does theistic determinism and Piper’s doctrine of predestination assure him that he is “destined” for everlasting joy and not for wrath? And how does his theistic determinism and soteriology given him warrant to define the gospel as he has and to claim those truths for himself?
Given Piper’s Calvinist soteriology, it is hard to see how Piper can have these assurances unless he presupposes his own unconditional election or predestination to salvation. It seems that Piper has to convince himself that the gospel truths he delineated – forgiveness of sins, a positive, saving divine disposition, and everlasting joy and life – are his despite the fact that such assurances do not follow from his underlying theistic determinism and predestinarian soteriology. He correctly describes certain theological elements of “gospel joy”, but as to whether he can be assured that these apply to himself, or anyone else for that matter, is forfeited given his deterministic soteriology. Hence, Piper tells us he needs “fresh assurances” of things that his deterministic doctrine of God’s sovereignty and unconditional election cannot give him. He cannot know that these assurances are his given his deterministic, predestinarian soteriology.
Now Piper does two things so that he can claim these assurances for himself. The first is that he must ignore his deterministic soteriological doctrines. If he were to attempt to process the gospel he says he needs “preached to [him], with assurance, every day” through his Calvinist soteriological doctrines, these would only cast doubt as to whether these gospel truths apply to him. He would have to be able to know as a fact that he has been unconditionally elected by God to salvation. This he cannot know. If Piper were to attempt to apply his deterministic soteriology to the “assurances” he needs, they would no longer be assurances and he would no longer have a biblical definition of “the gospel” as “good news.” He is seeking “good news” for himself, but his theology and soteriology do not provide it. So he simply ignores this inconvenient result of his deterministic theology. Secondly, if Piper responds that he is not jettisoning his soteriology then he must simply be presupposing that he is among those unconditionally elected to salvation. But that is to pretend that God has made a way for John Piper’s sins to be forgiven and that God is “for” him and not “against” him. It is to pretend that John Piper’s eternal destiny is “everlasting joy” when it might very well be to experience God’s “wrath.” Hence, Calvinist determinism requires Calvinists like Piper to pretend God’s relationship to them is in accord with the gospel truths Piper delineates.
Notice how the gospel, if it is going to remain the “good news” of salvation, is inseparable from the assurance that it is applicable to the hearer. It must come to the hearer without unknown, secret qualifications that jeopardize the person’s assurance that it certainly does apply to them. And that is precisely how Piper is taking this good news. He takes it as though it assuredly applies to him. But Piper is being incoherent here. Although the gospel truths he states are the “good news,” the assurance he gleans from then must be grounded in a soteriological understanding other than his own. For his soteriology is antithetical to the assurance Piper says he needs, that is, that these truths surely apply to him. On his soteriology, all he can do is either ignore his soteriology and embrace a non-Calvinist, universal gospel message, or, given his Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election merely presuppose that these doctrines apply to him. As a non-Calvinist I can surely say that the assurances Piper is seeking do apply to him, but that is because my soteriology is consistent with such assurances. But we cannot say this on the grounds of Piper’s deterministic predestinarian soteriology. So Piper either ignores his soteriology or presupposes his own unconditional election to gain these assurances.
What this tells us is that Piper’s theistic determinism has gutted the gospel of an essential aspect, that is, the assurance that it applies to you, me and Piper. Calvinists themselves will admit that they do not know who is elect and who is not. Piper’s soteriology places in doubt personal applicability and therefore the assurance he seeks. Piper’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and his soteriology that springs from it, is void of ontological and therefore epistemological assurance. Only a view of God’s sovereignty which can have God unfailingly accomplish our salvation and have that salvation applicable to all on the basis of a response of faith is a God who is truly sovereign in the biblical sense. Only such a non-deterministic soteriology can be the grounds upon which one takes continual encouragement and “fresh assurances” from these gospel truths. I need to know that God has made a way for my sins to be forgiven and has not left me without remedy. I need to know that God desires my salvation and has not excluded me from it. I need to know that I can have everlasting joy in God’s presence along with eternal life and that I need not suffer his wrath and condemnation. We all need to know these things, for they are the longing of every human heart and mind. And it is crucial that this knowledge of God’s love, forgiveness and salvation be provided to us. That is what the gospel does. But that is precisely what Calvinism does not do. These assurances that the true gospel provides every sinner are precisely what Calvinism takes from us. Hence, Calvinism is antithetical to the gospel as “good news.”
Piper only emphasizes what I have just said above when he states, “I need confidence that when Jesus died on the cross, under Pontius Pilate, this was not a fluke of history. This was not random. This was God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper.” Note that there are two different issues here. The first reiterates what I have said above about Piper’s need. He states, “I need confidence that… This was God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper.” He is right about the importance of this need to know the gospel and salvation apply to him personally and individually. Interestingly he says over and over that “Every day John Piper needs the gospel…I need fresh assurances…I need the gospel preached to me, with assurance, every day. I need confidence that …This was God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper.” I think that deep down Piper knows that his soteriology cannot provide for him the gospel assurance he needs. And it seems that by repeating this he is striving to gain such assurance. But stating your need for these assurances over and over will not make it so. Your soteriology has to provide it to you. Given Piper’s Calvinist soteriology, Piper is still left with the question, “Am I included?” What he seems to be doing is crying out for the need to know. His stating that his soteriology gives him “gospel joy” is unconvincing no matter how many times and how passionately he asserts it.
But there is a second issue here. It is the issue of a false either/or dichotomy regarding historical events being either random or comprehensively predetermined. Regarding the historical working of God to bring about salvation through Christ’s death on the cross, Piper needs to know that this was “not a fluke of history.” He needs to know that “this was not random.” We agree with Piper here. We do need the confidence that “when Jesus died on the cross, under Pontius Pilate, this was not a fluke of history. This was not random.” It was God’s plan and he was perfectly able to carry it out. It could not be thwarted. Non-Calvinists have this confidence because of God’s sovereignty. This was God’s intentional plan of salvation. Divine sovereignty means that God rules or reigns in history and human affairs to unfailingly bring about what he plans and purposes to accomplish, even given the free will of his human creatures. But this does not entail theistic determinism. And the two alternatives are not total randomness or total determinism. That is a false dichotomy. There is the possibility of divine sovereignty in the context of human freedom.
Leighton Flowers makes the point that Piper, and Calvinists in general, view God’s sovereignty in terms of a false dichotomy between all things being random or all things being predetermined. Either all things occur randomly or they must be predetermined by God. There are no other alternatives. But, again, this a false dichotomy in that God may allow certain events to occur without having to have predetermined them and therefore cause them to occur. This allowing or permitting presupposes that God has not predetermined all things nor is he causing all things to occur as they do. God’s sovereignty can just as well be defined as his ability to rule over and govern the affairs of this world such that his plans and purposes cannot be thwarted even though he has granted human persons substantial, genuine freedom which entails moral responsibility. This is true divine sovereignty as opposed to divine determinism. The non-Calvinist understands divine sovereignty as God’s ability to actively rule, and overrule when the circumstances warrant it, in relation to the genuine freedom that he, as sovereign, has bestowed upon the people over which he rules. Non-Calvinists do not claim that human freedom is absolute, but it is substantial and the norm in the workings of the world. This allows for a degree of authentic reciprocal and personal relationship to occur between the sovereign and the subject which bestows true meaning and purpose for both and upon historical events. Whereas the Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereignty as a meticulous divine determinism has all human action and history being merely the expression of God’s will alone, all things, therefore, including our thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions, are nothing but the instrumental workings of God’s monolithic will which makes him the sole cause of all that happens. The non-Calvinist understanding of sovereignty is coherent with all that the Bible testifies to about the character and attributes of God along with the moral agency and responsibility of sinful human persons. It has the advantages of explanatory power and explanatory scope. The Calvinist definition of sovereignty does not. 
“Here’s the text that connects the sovereignty of God down to the details of a sinner’s actions and the gospel. Acts 4:27–28 says, “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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
Amazing. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentile soldiers, the crowds crying, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” did what God had predestined to take place. Or to paraphrase using the words of James, since the Lord willed, they lived and did this or that.
Jesus’s death, down to the details of the fulfillment of prophecy (like the throwing of dice for the choosing of his clothing) was under God’s sovereign control. It was not a random event, which brings to me the strong assurance. God was totally in charge of saving John Piper’s soul. I need the gospel, and I think that text says, “No sovereignty, no gospel.”
The fact that Piper points out that God sovereignly brought about the death of Jesus for our salvation is one thing. But given his Calvinist soteriology, as far as this sovereign historical saving work being “God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper,” or that “God was totally in charge of saving John Piper’s soul,” is quite another matter altogether. On Calvinism, we may have confidence in God’s sovereign work to accomplish salvation, but salvation for whom in particular, that is a matter that the accomplishment of salvation by the sovereign actions of God does not give us any insight into. We may take confidence that nothing or no one can impede God in his determination to save, but given Calvinism, whether that particularly applies to John Piper, you or me, still remains in question. That it was “God’s sovereign plan to save” we all heartily affirm. That it was “God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper”, that, we nor Piper knows. Piper makes the “blind leap” or presumption that this salvation applies to him. On Piper’s Calvinism I don’t see how that follows. In light of Calvinist unconditional election, I don’t see how that just because God accomplished salvation by his sovereign workings in the lives of particular individuals, that provides Piper with any confidence to say, “This was God’s sovereign plan to save John Piper.” God’s sovereign workings are what they are. Piper wants to make them workings on his behalf. On Calvinism he does not have that prerogative. Given his Calvinism, what this amounts to is a grandiose presumption. Does God’s saving work include John Piper? On Calvinism he could never know. On Piper’s soteriology, all that can be said is, “When Jesus died on the cross, under Pontius Pilate, this was not a fluke of history. This was not random. This was God’s sovereign plan to save his elect, that is, those he predestined to salvation.” But this can only remain a hope in the sense of “I hope I am among the elect.” Piper is engaged in wishful thinking here.
Note the non sequitur that because God worked sovereignly in the lives of certain individual’s to bring about the death of Christ on the cross he therefore has predetermined all the thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions of all people of all time. How would one come to that conclusion? Piper’s universal divine causal determinism does not follow from nor is it required for God to be able to unfailingly accomplish salvation.
Furthermore, if Piper is able to confidently say that this sovereign plan of God “was God’s plan to save John Piper,” and say this as if true, which is what he is doing here, then why couldn’t every person who ever lived say this about themselves? Why couldn’t the same assurance apply to them? By claiming this assurance for himself Piper seems to be giving every other sinner the privilege of also claiming that assurance for themselves. Now, if they too can and should claim this assurance, then there is no such thing as unconditional election or a deterministic predestination. The result would then be that “this was God’s sovereign plan to save everyone.” “God was totally in charge of saving everyone’s soul.” What is so special about John Piper in relation to all other sinners in need of salvation? Why can’t all sinners presuppose what Piper is presupposing here? Why can’t Piper apply to others the same assurance that he has taken to apply to himself? He should. But then where has his unconditional election gone?
Finally, it’s almost as if Piper believes that since he is able to accept the idea of God’s deterministic sovereignty as a theological truth and therefore God’s deterministic sovereignty in salvation (i.e., unconditional election), then any such work of salvation must include him. It’s as if the acceptance of determinism is indicative of one’s unconditional election. “If you can believe that, then you’re in.” After all, according to Calvinists, isn’t this doctrine also the litmus test for humility of the type needed to really exalt and glorify God in salvation? Isn’t it what eliminates all human autonomy that would steal glory from God and exalt man over God, allowing man to take credit for his own salvation? If it is, and you can embrace it, then this must be a “sign” of your election. I don’t think so. Rather, these are the logical implications drawn from universal divine causal determinism which is a worldview not taught in Scripture. If theistic determinism is wrong from the start, it’s logical out-workings will in the end prove to run roughshod over both Scripture and reason. Taking their cue from theistic determinism, the Calvinist’s albeit well-intentioned spiritual sentiments will ultimately not cohere with full scope of biblical teaching.
Piper’s second practical implication of his deterministic sovereignty is “sacrificial love.” He states,
“Second, I am called upon as a Christian now to love people, to love even my enemies, to do good all the time to those who don’t do good to me, to make sacrifices to my life, inconvenience myself, and not be a selfish person. Where in the world do you get the resources in your soul to do good to others when they’re not doing good to you? Even more, when it may cost you tremendously? When you might have to suffer in order to do good for other people?
The New Testament is filled with the summons to live that way. Peter argues, or counsels, or offers wisdom for how we are going to be able to do good when we are suffering. He says we must remember God’s detailed sovereignty over suffering as we do good.
Listen to these two verses:
Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)
In other words, suffering is going to come, especially to those who are committed to doing good — especially doing good to those who don’t do good to them. Peter says take heart; God is sovereign over your suffering. No suffering befalls you apart from the will of God.
First Peter 1:17 says he is your Father. First Peter 4:19 says he is your maker. He’s faithful. You can trust your soul to him and get on with the tough, hard business of doing good even to those who don’t do good to you. That’s number two. No sacrificial love without sovereignty, according to the Bible.”
The first point to note here is that with respect to loving people, and especially our enemies, on Calvinism God himself does not do what he commands us to do (Mt. 5:43-48). Unless the Calvinist wants to argue that predestining a person to hell is loving, then God himself does not love a vast number of people, who according to Scripture are also his enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). If he commands us to love even our enemies, he too ought to love his enemies. A God who selectively loves only some people (i.e., the elect) certainly does not provide positive example or motivation for us to love others. And the artificial distinction the Calvinist creates to justify their claiming that “God loves everyone” because he sends sun and rain upon the good and the evil, the just and the unjust, is precisely that, artificial, not to mention superficial and unconvincing. This is another incoherence the Calvinist simply ignores that requires the suppression of reason in our interpretation of Scripture. So, it is hard to see that deterministic sovereignty provides a rationale for us to love our enemies. One would think that the love God has for all people – even his enemies – would be a better reason and motivation for us to love them too, especially if this love comes by way of the Spirit’s work in our lives. If God works love in us through his Spirit, then does he not love those we are to love?
Secondly, according to Piper’s determinism and his interpretations of the verses he cites, he has God determining the evil actions of the people that bring about our suffering and then commands us to reciprocate with love. That makes nonsense of the situation described in these verses.
Thirdly, Piper quotes 1 Pet. 3:17 in support of his theistic determinism. But note what the verse includes – “doing evil.” The verse reads, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” But according to Piper’s deterministic definition of sovereignty all things are the result of “God’s will,” therefore, the suffering for “doing evil” would also be included in “if that should be God’s will.” Therefore, this has the actions of every Christian which cause them to suffer – whether for doing good or doing evil – predetermined by God. Both would fall under the all-encompassing predetermination of God. Both would be included in “if that should be God’s will.” So here again we have God causing the case of those who suffer for “doing evil” and therefore the cause of that “evil.”
Fourthly, we have here another non sequitur. Because “God is sovereign over our suffering” does not mean that he has caused our suffering. For Peter to state, “No suffering befalls you apart from the will of God” does not entail a deterministic understanding of divine sovereignty. “If that should be God’s will” certainly is not coherent within a view that claims everything that occurs is God’s will. The statement “if that should be God’s will” implies that not all that occurs in “God’s will” as Piper defines it as a universal divine causal determinism.
What Piper is doing here is an interesting case of eisegesis. At any mention of the words “sovereign” or “God’s will” Piper imposes on those words his deterministic definitions despite the havoc his definition wreaks on the logical connection of ideas and the context of the passage. Presupposing the truth of Calvinism, for Piper these must be talking about God’s preordination of “whatsoever comes to pass.” Here Piper is straining to make his over-arching deterministic doctrine of sovereignty applicable to “sacrificial love” because the words “God’s will” are mentioned in this context of “doing good” to those who are causing the suffering of these believers. But again, just because Peter mentions “God’s will” Piper’s determinism is not the required interpretation of these words.
Piper’s third practical implication of deterministic sovereignty is “fearless witness.” He states,
“Third, the sovereignty of God over my fearless witness. I’m called upon to bear witness to Jesus no matter what the fearful circumstance is. How can I overcome fear and be a faithful witness? Here’s Jesus’s answer in Matthew. Watch how sovereignty figures in:
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31)
The absolute sovereignty of God over which a bird falls dead to the forest floor is the foundation of my fearless witness. And I am precious to him. More precious than all those birds whose lives are in God’s detailed, sovereign control. How much more, then, is God watching over me in all my witness — to take care of me and only let me fall dead to the forest floor precisely when it is best for me to fall dead to the forest floor?”
Again, this passage about how our heavenly Father intimately cares for us does not necessarily require a deterministic interpretation. Jesus is teaching that God cares for his his disciples even more than the sparrows – the beautiful delicacy of the sparrow highlighting God’s care for people. A fuller biblical theology reveals that in God’s sight each person has tremendous value. In contrast, Piper’s doctrine of predestination certainly teaches us that God neither cares for nor values a multitude of his human creatures. Piper willfully ignores this important ramification of his doctrine of sovereignty. He also ignores the fuller context of Mt. 10:32 ff. Here Jesus affirms libertarian free will in acknowledgements, denial, priority of love for Christ, dedication, division and taking up the cross and following Jesus.
Piper’s final practical implication is “confident planning.” He states,
Finally, number four, the sovereignty of God in confident planning. Not much happens of any use in this world without planning. Yet a lot of people think that planning might be pointless if God’s will is always holding sway. That’s not true.
When you make a plan, which would you rather say? Something like “If I’m lucky, I’ll live and do this or that,” or, “By chance, I may live or do this or that,” or, “As fate may have it, I’ll live or do this or that”? Or would you rather say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that”?
Luck, chance, fate — they’re nothing; they’re just words describing emptiness. But when you make a plan that says, “I plan to do this, not that, if the Lord wills,” you are building your life on an unshakeable foundation — the sovereign will of God. The wise man in the Old Testament says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Or Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans of the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” So, it’s right to plan. We don’t accomplish things without a plan.
If you rest in the wise, good sovereignty of God in all your plans, you will be a confident, peaceful person. You’ll know that whatever details of your plan don’t happen, God’s will always happens. That’s part of your plan, and that’s the most important part, and therefore, you can rest in sweet peace.
So there it is, Tony. Joyful gospel dependence every day, sacrificial love every day, fearless witness every day, and confident planning every day. Those are daily, practical realities every Christian should live with and needs help with. Those texts that we just looked at, all of them point to the absolute, detailed sovereignty of God. He’s in full control, so that we can say, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.” That conviction informs everything I say and everything I do on this podcast.”
Again, we see the false dichotomy between “luck” or “chance” or “fate” and “if the lord wills” (wrongly interpreted to mean “because the Lord has predetermined.”) None of the verses cited need be interpreted as teaching theistic determinism. For instance, note that Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans of the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” If we view this verse in the context of theistic determinism it makes no sense. The verse implies a difference or distinction between “the plans of the mind of a man” and “the purpose of the Lord.” The verse simply means to tell us that in the midst of all the purposes and plans we make as human beings, the ultimate purposes and plans of the Lord will be accomplished. The verse only makes sense in the context of libertarian freedom. On Piper’s theistic determinism “the plans of the mind of a man” just would be “the purpose of the Lord.” There would be no difference. “The plans of the mind of a man” would be what he Lord predetermined and therefore purposed. On determinism the verse should read something like this, “Many are the plans of the mind of a man that the Lord has predetermined so that his purpose will be accomplished.” But that universal divine causal determinism is not what the verse means to communicate because it is incoherent, not only with the sense of this proverb, but with so much of the testimony of Scripture to human freedom and responsibility.
Piper states, “Those texts that we just looked at, all of them point to the absolute, detailed sovereignty of God.” I disagree for the reasons given above. I am forced to conclude that Piper’s universal divine causal determinism is being imposed upon the Scriptures so Piper can employ them to confirm his own theological presuppositions. This is a classic case of eisegesis.
What Piper Failed to Address
Piper has attempted to show us four ways this deterministic sovereignty has practical implications for life. But he has left out the darker practical implications of his doctrine. We might think about how this works out, for instance, in a case of suicide or rape or murder, etc. If God “finally and decisively controls everything…including all the actions of human beings,” it would have to be that God causes persons to take their own life, causes persons to rape other persons and causes persons to murder other person. Piper has said that is the meaning of the phrase “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.” Therefore, “If the Lord wills, I will steal that car.” “If the Lord wills, I will murder that man.” “If the Lord wills, I will rape that woman.” If the car was stolen, if the man committed murdered and the woman was raped, it is the Lord’s doing! It is God alone that predetermined and caused these evils to occur. Recall that Piper agrees with Calvinist Mark Talbot who states,
“God…brings about all things in accordance with His will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11: James 1:2-4). This includes – as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem – God’s having even brought about the Nazi’s brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”
It seems “incredible” and “unacceptable” because it is. Piper and Talbot have God as the ultimate cause of all evil actions and therefore responsible for evil, and therefore evil himself. Despite the protests of Calvinists to the contrary, the honest and consistent Calvinist must admit this.
Not to minimize these evils, but they pale in comparison to one’s eternal damnation and separation from God and all that is good for time eternal. The doctrine of deterministic sovereignty in its corollary of predestination or unconditional election has God predestining people to hell forever. We might ask then how that makes sense of God being a God of love and life and having sent Jesus to give us life more abundantly. God could just have easily predetermined and caused that person he predestined to hell to live a life of joy and fullness in Christ. And why wouldn’t he if he is both “good and sovereign” as Piper claims when he states, “I believe this brings amazing stability and strength and courage and boldness and risk-taking into the Christian life if we believe that God is good and sovereign.” It seems that in this case God’s sovereignty is at odds with his goodness.
How dizzying and confused is Piper’s universal divine causal determinist view of sovereignty? Well, according to Piper’s view of divine sovereignty, God predetermined Piper’s conclusions, his thinking that his conclusions are correct and that I disagree with Piper’s conclusions for exegetical and logical reasons that God has revealed to me but withheld from Piper. So God predetermined that there be at least two incompatible views of these biblical texts. Is God really the author of such confusion? On the basis of a non-Calvinist understanding of Scripture he is not. But on Piper’s theistic determinism he certainly is.
Note the essential point here. If Piper chooses to ignore the logical and moral incoherence of his position, he can tout his Calvinism ad infinitum and without having to attend to any critique that his position is incoherent. But if he were to acknowledge that for an interpretation to be valid it must be coherent and therefore he must incorporate coherence into his hermeneutic, then he could not continue to interpret James 4 in the way he has, that is, in a deterministic manner. Once again we have identified the crux of the controversy between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist. It is this hermeneutical divide.
John Lennox on Exegesis, Theistic Determinism and Interpretive Consistency
I have argued that Schreiner and Ware prevent the logical problems that “pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism” from shaping and defining their hermeneutic and interpretive methodology. It is precisely because those who disagree with Schreiner and Ware incorporate logical coherence into their hermeneutic that they “interpret many Scriptures differently.” Schreiner and Ware fail to recognize that what is fundamental for verification and validation of one’s interpretation of Scripture is whether or not one’s exegetical assertions and subsequent theological constructs are coherent.
Mathematician, apologist, philosopher and theologian John Lennox points this out in his book Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility. He documents the theistic determinism of Calvinists Paul Helm and R.C. Sproul.
Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire kept in being by God, but every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God.
R. C. Sproul echoes Paul Helm:
The movement of every molecule, the actions of every planet, the falling of every star, the choices of every volitional creature, all of these are subject to his sovereign will. No maverick molecules run loose in the universe beyond the control of the Creator. If one such molecule existed, it could be the critical fly in the eternal ointment.
What Helm and Sproul seem not to appreciate is that, if God takes over and “directly controls” the molecules in my arm – for instance, as it swings to hit you – then my responsibility has gone and I cease to be fully human. Surely the remarkable thing about the creation of human minds in the image of God is that he has chosen to cede to them, to some extent at least, a real capacity to act independently of his direct control. In other words, human freedom is real.”
Why do Calvinists insist on dismissing such obvious critiques and conclusions about their determinism? The best case scenario is that the Calvinists fear of logical and moral scrutiny is rooted in an otherwise admirable religious sentiment regarding the sovereignty of God. That God must remain a God worthy of worship and therefore must be exalted above all things is the heart-beat of Reformed thinking. The non-Calvinist would not disagree with this. He too believes in the sovereignty of God. But this sentiment can be taken to unbiblical extremes. In the mind of the Calvinist, it is as though if the exaltation of God’s sovereignty is a good thing, even more exaltation is a better thing, until, in the mind of the Calvinist the preservation of God’s glory and the worship of God as God is to think of him as the predeterminer of all things without exception. His exaltation and glory becomes defined as universal divine causal determinism. But when God’s sovereignty is taken to this extreme, and the logical and moral implications of this determinism are ignored, we have gone biblically off course. Despite the religious motivations to exalt God above all things, God becomes more than “sovereign” in a way inconsistent with what is revealed in Scripture as to the nature of God expressed in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Lennox writes,
“The key question is: just what does God’s sovereignty involve?
God clearly determines the existence of the universe and humans in it. Hence the next thing to consider is what Genesis says about the status of human beings. We are informed that men and women were created in God’s image. There is, therefore, something very special about them since, although the universe declares God’s glory to us, it was not made in his image. Human were.
Of particular relevance to our theme is the fact that the first humans were placed in a magnificent garden and told they could eat the fruit of everything except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Far from diminishing the status of humanity, that prohibition was essential to establish the unique dignity of humans as moral beings. For the biblical story here defines the irreducible ingredients that constitute humans a moral beings and enable them to function as such. In order for morality to be real, the humans must have a certain degree of freedom, and there must be a moral boundary. So God gifted them with the freedom to eat or not to eat from all the trees that were in the garden. But God said they were not to eat of one particular tree. He told them that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would be sure to die (see Genesis 2:17).
This passage is crucial for understanding what Scripture itself means by God’s sovereignty. It is clearly to be understood not in terms of absolute control over human behaviour but as a much more glorious thing: the devolving of real power to creatures made in God’s image, so that they are not mere programmed automata but moral beings with genuine freedom – creatures with the capacity to say yes or no to God, to love him or to reject him.
Of course, the word “sovereignty” (which does not, incidentally, appear in the Genesis narrative) could be understood to mean absolute control in every detail of life and, as we shall see, is taken to mean that by some theists. But this smacks of despotism and totalitarian dictatorship, rather than speaking of a God who makes a universe in which love can not only exist but is supremely characteristic of God himself.
Thus human freedom in this sense is fundamental to the biblical narrative. It chimes in with both logic and experience…”
The “fundamental objections” raised by those who disagree with the Augustinian-Calvinist theology that Schreiner and Ware affirm are rooted in the fact that “both logic and experience” testify to substantial, genuine human freedom in contrast to Schreiner and Ware’s determinism. Precisely because we can see the incoherencies and contradictions in the Calvinist’s deterministic position, these difficulties are not “mysteries” that can be cavalierly dismissed. They are not, as Calvinists say, beyond our comprehension. Non-Calvinist disagree with Calvinism precisely because we can see the incoherencies and contradictions in the position. I submit that these are indications of erroneous exegesis and interpretive conclusions. Furthermore, those who disagree with Calvinists do so also because there are exegetically grounded interpretations of the relevant texts that avoid the logical and moral difficulties generated by the Calvinist interpretations. Non-Calvinists preserve the sovereignty of God, the love of God, the extent of the atonement, the nature of faith, human freedom and responsibility, contingency, predestination, election, etc. in biblical harmony. They consider that all these biblical elements must be understood in a consistent relationship and must not be set at logical and moral odds with each other in ad hoc fashion. The proper interpretation of the full scope of the biblical data must be a coherent interpretation. To ignore the fact that one’s exegetical conclusions result in logical and moral incoherence and contradiction is not a spiritual virtue, safe-guards no biblical truth, nor does it glorify God or exalt his sovereignty. Rather, it is a sign of a faulty interpretative methodology.
“God’s guidance is never purely and simply the kind of micro-management that leaves the individual no choice. The biblical narrative demonstrates this again and again…
The issue I emphasise, is not whether the Bible teaches the sovereignty of God – it does. The issue is what it mean by that teaching. For there are many ways of understanding the concept of sovereignty. One is in terms of divine determinism. Another is that God is a loving Creator who has made human beings in his image with a significant capacity to choose, with all its marvelous potential of love, trust, and moral responsibility. God is not the irresistible cause of human behavior, whether good or bad – otherwise our actions and characters would be deprived of moral significance and it would make no sense to talk of us doing or being “good” or “bad.”
Note the logical reflection and moral intuition that is integral to Lennox’s thinking about the relation between God and man in light of Scripture. Given theistic determinism he concludes that “it would make no sense to talk of us doing or being “good” or “bad.” For Lennox, to “make sense” out of Scripture is just what it means to interpret Scripture correctly. Lennox continues,
“It is one of God’s greatest glories that he invests us with moral significance. That fact is most clearly shown in God’s offer of salvation. That salvation is all of God, we cannot merit it; but in the preaching of the gospel we are challenged to use our God-given capacity to trust Christ to receive it. That trust is called “faith”, and it is, according to Paul, the opposite of works, as we shall see.
Divine determinism, however holds that it is even more glorifying to God to believe that human beings do not have these capacities and that their behavior is completely determined by God. However, many, including myself, regard this view as going so far beyond the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty that it ends up detracting from the glory of God, to such an extent that it turns people away from the message of the gospel. To put it bluntly, it raises the question as to whether the God of theistic determinism is the God of the Bible.”
We need to pause here to observe that Lennox does not understand or define the “the gospel” in terms of theistic determinism, that is, in terms of the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” Indeed, he states that such determinism “turns people away from the message of the gospel.” There is a direct relationship between soteriology and the gospel message as “good news.” The Calvinist soteriology or their “doctrines of grace” are a theistic determinism and as such they have direct bearing upon the content of the gospel as a message of “good news.” These “doctrines of grace” do not comport with a message that is truly a gospel message, that is, a message that contains “good news” for those sinners who hear it. On theistic determinism any “good news” for the sinner is lacking. Theistic determinism turns the “good news” into bad news. Are the following soteriological beliefs consistent with “the gospel” as “good news” for sinners? Before the world was made, only certain people were chosen by God to be saved. All others cannot and will not be saved. The elect were chosen for no known reasons over others who were not chosen. The elect were predestined to salvation for reasons that lay hidden within God himself. Christ died for the elect only, not for all sinners. Christ’s death is efficacious only for the elect. There are no conditions that bring about the salvation of the elect that have anything to do with them or anyone else. Salvation, including your eternal destiny, is a unilateral and monergistic work of God. No one can exercise faith except the elect upon whom God will effectually work to bring about that faith. He does this by first regenerating them. Regeneration precedes faith. This electing grace and work of faith is irresistible in those predestined to salvation. The elect cannot reject the salvation provided for them and all others are outside the saving plans and purposes of God. It is not God’s will that the non-elect be saved. They are the reprobate destined for eternal separation from God. So, what happened to the gospel as “good news?”
This highlights the fact that the gospel is at stake in this controversy. But note also what else is at stake – the nature of God as testified to us in Scripture. Lennox touches upon it when he says, “To put it bluntly, it raises the question as to whether the God of theistic determinism is the God of the Bible.” This is a very important point to ponder. If Calvinism so alters the biblical witness to God’s nature and character so as to make God out to be something that is not in accord with that biblical witness, then Calvinism is a serious perversion of biblical Christian theology and the Christian faith. It would be enough to have perverted the gospel from the “good news” of God’s salvific love and work of atonement for all sinners to be received by faith for us to dismiss Calvinism as propagating a non-Christian and non-evangelical teaching with respect to the gospel, but add to it the Calvinist god that is antithetical to the full Scriptural witness as to his true, merciful, compassionate, just and loving character and we then have a perversion that warrants the conclusion that Calvinism is not worthy of a Christians assent, let alone their belief.
“It is therefore important to test the validity of our thinking in the light of Scripture. It is, of course, Scripture that is inspired and not our interpretation of it, and it would therefore be sad if what was giving offence was not the word of God but our misreading of it.”
Again, we hold to the authority of Scripture and grant that it is beyond the capacity of the human intellect to uncover its saving truths apart from their being revealed to us by God. He has done that through the Word made flesh (Jesus) and preserved those saving truths in his inspired Word (the Bible). The divine revelation that is Scripture opens windows into certain truths that we cannot fully comprehend. In this sense our thinking is subject to the light of Scripture. But this is not to sanction that our reason may be sent reeling such that we would be required to accept interpretations that are contradictory and inconsistent with other teachings of Scripture. In the exegetical and interpretive task our logical and moral senses should be fully engaged. Given that the Calvinist interpretations are incoherent and contradictory they must be deemed erroneous lest we endorse a hermeneutic of irrationality. Therefore, it is all the more important that we come to grips with what constitutes a sound hermeneutic. It is the crux of the controversy here. We do not want to be misreading the text, and one reads and interprets the text according to the hermeneutical principles they have adopted.
Lennox believes that our thinking is primarily subject to the authority Scripture. But he would not take this to mean that the Scripture properly interpreted would completely overturn or reverse our principles of reasoning and lead us into incoherence and contradiction. Rather, Lennox argues that the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is clearly a misreading of it. The Scripture, interpreted with congruence consistency and non-contradiction shines a light that affirms a non-Calvinist understanding of the issues at hand. To confirm that we are not misreading the text we need to bring to bear upon our exegetical endeavors our logical capacities and moral intuitions.
Lennox affirms this in dealing with moral implications of theistic determinism. He writes,
“…there are Christians who hold that absolute sovereignty is one of the most glorious of divine attributes and must be protected at all costs, even if it inexorably leads some to the (to my mind, appalling) conclusion that God is the direct cause of disasters, tragedies, and even sin itself.
Others, who may be inclined to agree, nevertheless shrink at what would seem to be the logical implications of their views. It is one thing to believe, as part of essential Christianity, that we live in a world in which nothing happens without God’s permission and even foreknowledge. But it is entirely another thing to go way beyond that, and to believe that all that happens, including evil, is meticulously planned and its occurrence made certain by God, independent of any other considerations. It is hard to imagine that anyone could believe that such extreme deterministic ideas are even remotely Christian. They seem infinitely far away from describing the God of love revealed to us in Jesus Christ – or the God who condemns and says that we should avoid evil. Yet how can one condemn anything that God has predetermined ought to occur? Thus, as we have seen, this kind of determinism abolishes the very concept of evil.”
Should we “shrink at what would seem to be the logical implications of [the Calvinist’s] views?” How can we and still claim we are rational in our biblical exegesis? Calvinist determinism has logical and moral implications that need to be reckoned with. Lennox again raises the question as to whether the Calvinist views “are even remotely Christian.”
Lennox writes on how popular Calvinist pastor and author Tim Keller views election. He states that Keller,
“…describes election as God freely choosing those who freely come… Keller mentions this in his explanation of Romans 9 in connection with the question that seems to lurk behind many expression of theological determinism:
For the biggest question is: If God could save everyone, why doesn’t he? And here Paul seems to say that God’s chosen course (to save some and leave others) will in the end be more fit to show forth God’s glory than any other scheme we can imagine. This may seem strange to us, but that is the point – we are not God, and cannot know everything or decide that is best.”
Yes, we are not God and cannot know everything, and there are many issues that we must leave at that; but this is not one of them. For, as we have seen, Scripture tells us repeatedly and explicitly that the criterion for judgment is whether or not a person believes – a position that upholds human moral responsibility and does make sense. There is nothing strange about it. It is not, therefore, possible that in this case Keller’s sense of strangeness (meaning, I presume, unfairness) is an instinctive and justifiable reaction to actual unfairness? Surely, the answer to Keller’s question is that God has provided a salvation that is available to all, and whether a person is saved or not depends on two factors: on God’s part, on the provision of that salvation; and on our side, on our faith not on our merit – on whether or not we avail ourselves of that salvation with the capacity for exercising trust that God has given us. Otherwise, there is a major problem with theodicy, as it is but a small step to deducing that God is directly responsible for evil.”
Note that Keller describes election as “God freely choosing those who freely come.” This is likely an expression of the Calvinist’s compatibilism that claims theistic determinism is logically and morally compatible with human freedom and responsibility. Therefore, so says the Calvinist, God unconditionally elects people to salvation without violating their free will. He is able to have them come to Christ freely. If this is the case, the legitimate question posed to the Calvinist is why then doesn’t God save everybody? If he is a good God, has accomplished and therefore desires the salvation of sinners, and engages in no violation to the human person or will in the process of unconditional election, then why not save everyone? Keller gives the ad hoc and question-begging answers above. We have argued that this compatibilism does not extricate the Calvinist from the contradiction that his theistic determinism creates with human freedom and responsibility. You cannot unconditionally and unfailingly predestine someone to come to Christ and also claim they came freely.
With Keller’s words, “this may seem strange to us,” we have an example of the Calvinist’s suppression of his moral intuition. Yes, this seems very strange to us! And by saying, “that is the point – we are not God, and cannot know everything or decide what is best” he is excusing this suppression of reason and moral intuition as if this admission that “we are not God” holds some spiritual virtue that allows us to dismiss what we certainly do know about the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction of Keller’s doctrines. The fact that “we are not God” has nothing to do with the logical and moral assessment of Keller’s exegesis and interpretations. “We are not God” is a red-herring. Keller wants us to disregarding what we do know about the nature of God as both just and loving, impartial and merciful, let alone what he has done in Christ to remove his wrath from us and provide salvation by faith through the death of Christ on the cross. In light of this suppression of moral intuitions and dismissal of our knowledge of God’s nature, Keller’s statements are ad hoc and question-begging. Indeed, they diminish the gospel as “good news.” As Lennox points out, “Scripture tells us repeatedly and explicitly that the criterion for judgment is whether or not a person believes – a position that upholds human moral responsibility and does make sense.” Here we have the hermeneutical divide in play. For Lennox, the interpretation of the text that makes the best sense of all the data to be considered is the more valid interpretation. Not so for Keller. The sound interpretive principles of explanatory power and explanatory scope, avoiding the ad hoc, attending to consistency, coherence and non-contradiction can all be dismissed by Keller when they threaten the theistic determinism at the core of his Calvinism. Lennox preserves his moral compass intact and contrary to Keller can conclude “There is nothing strange about it.” Lennox then asks whether Keller’s own view strikes him and others as “strange” precisely because it does strain our moral sensibilities. Why should we ignore this “strangeness?” Lennox does not think we should. And indeed, we need not do so because there is a sound alternative interpretation of Scripture that does not cause this disequilibration of our logical and moral senses. We should not interpret Scripture in such a way that entails that God is directly responsible for sin and in order to embrace such an interpretation we are required to suppress our logical and moral reasoning.
Lennox gives another example from Martyn Lloyd-Jones that clearly illustrates the hermeneutical divide. Lennox writes,
“Some interpreters – those who hold that Romans 9:6-29 has to do with the sovereignty of God in individual election to salvation – do indeed affirm that Paul turns as the end of the chapter to human responsibility, but some of these come to a highly asymmetrical conclusion, sometimes called, single predestination. For instance Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:
In verses 6 to 29, [Paul] explains why anybody is saved – it is the sovereign election of God. In these verses he is showing us why anybody is lost, and the explanation of that is their own responsibility… It is God’s action alone that saves a man. So why is anybody lost? It is because that are not elected? No. What accounts for the lost is their rejection of the gospel… We are responsible for our rejection of the gospel, but we are not responsible for our acceptance of it.
With all due respect to Lloyd-Jones, from whom I have learned a great deal, this makes no sense whatsoever. Moral logic and common sense demand that, if no one is responsible for accepting the gospel, then no one is responsible for rejecting it. Furthermore, we have repeatedly seen that there is no asymmetry in the biblical presentation of the gospel – a person will be saved or lost according to whether they believe or reject, and the responsibility is equal in both cases, since the person has the ability to accept or reject. The major defect in Lloyd-Jones’ argument is his taking the earlier part of Romans 9 as having to do with election to salvation.”
Given unconditional election, such election is not only the reason a person is saved but also why all others are lost. If it said that they are lost because of their rejection of the gospel and moreover that they are responsible for that rejection, this implies that these individuals had the ability to accept the gospel and be saved, but that is not the case on unconditional election. It is completely contrary to unconditional election. A predetermined reprobation of all persons who are not among those unconditionally elected is the logical corollary of that unconditional election.
Therefore, the fact that many non-Calvinists interpret Scripture differently than Schreiner and Ware is because reason, common sense and their moral intuitions are brought to bear in their interpretive methodology. When they read and interpret Scripture with coherence, consistency and non-contradiction in mind, the Scripture can be clearly understood. Hence their hermeneutic does not allow them to embrace the logical and moral inconsistencies, incoherencies and contradictions generated by the Calvinist interpretations of Scripture which only cloud the Scriptures. Reason and moral intuition tell them they cannot interpret Scripture in logically and morally incoherent ways. For many, to ultimately ignore incoherence is not a legitimate hermeneutical option. For how would we know to question any exegesis except by “certain logical problems that are provoked” by that exegesis? And for all the other bases there may be for questioning the validity of an interpretation, logical and moral problems are certainly among them. Schreiner and Ware state that people become Calvinists because they believe their doctrines are taught in Scripture. How are we to determine that this is true when logical and moral coherence can be summarily dismissed? How are we to verify that assertion in light of other interpretations of the same texts? It would seem that human reasoning must function as the arbitrator between true and false exegesis.
Indeed, Lennox as a Christian apologist informs us that,
“It is not surprising to meet people who say that have become atheists because the version of theism presented to them was deterministic and contradicted their moral sense. Furthermore, there are more and more people within the Christian community who are disturbed if not repelled by such views.”
Lennox deals with other moral problems of theistic determinism, as when Calvinists claim God is the direct cause of evil actions but is not responsible for those actions. He writes,
“And what shall we say of those who try to vindicate God in such situations by suggesting that, although he causes people to do evil, they are in the end responsible for it – while, incredibly, God is not? How people can even get near to suggesting such things, without seeming to realise what a monster they are making of God, is beyond my capacity to imagine.
G. K. Chesterton was forthright in his assessment:
The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God, and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon.”
“In another attempt to avoid the obvious negative implications of their views, some theological determinists, having stated that God causes everything down to the movement of the last atom and every human thought, proceed to contradict themselves by turning round and maintaining that, even so, evil is not directly caused by God. Rather, he only permits it. But this makes no sense whatsoever. There is a vast and critical difference between causation and permission.”
Note that Lennox points out that the theological determinists “contradict themselves” and that to seek refuge in permission makes “no sense whatsoever.” These quotations reveal the divergence of logical and moral thought brought to bear upon the interpretive issues in this controversy. They highlight the logical and moral division that exists between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist when interpreting the Scripture. For Lennox one’s doctrines cannot be in contradiction. They have to make sense. Not so for the Calvinism. Lennox continues,
“Not surprisingly, therefore statements blurring that distinction [between causation and permission] may become misleadingly ambiguous and confusing, as for example, when R. C. Sproul writes, “What God permits, he decrees to permit.”…Such confusion may well be evidence of the internal conflict that arises when people see where the logic of their argument is leading them and they don’t really like it.
…The depth of the resulting intellectual fog is shown by the astonishing position held by some that God directly causes the human evil that he expressly forbids. No amount of special pleading or theological sophistry can make such a view anything less than grotesque and completely unacceptable to the morally sensitive person. After all, one of the key biblical concepts is repentance from sin. It means a change of mind, agreeing with God that what I have done is wrong. It carries with it the implicit recognition that I had (libertarian) freedom to do otherwise. Therefore repentance is without meaning if God caused me to sin.
In any case, as it has often been put to me very bluntly, how can we say God loves the world if he created a good portion of it to go to hell?” ”
Here Lennox employs the undisputed biblical teaching on repentance to expose the nonsense of the Calvinist position. Note that Lennox is seeking to deal with Scripture in a coherent manner. Coherence is important to him and causes him to reject the Calvinist teaching that “God directly causes the human evil that he expressly forbids.” For Lennox this cannot be the Scriptural teaching because it is incoherent with the doctrine of repentance. It is important to note that this incoherence does not trouble the Calvinist. Hence, we have again the hermeneutical divide.
Lennox and Carson: What Calvinists Fear Most – The Scrutiny of Logical Reflection and Moral Intuition
Lennox is pressing the issue of the problematic logic of the Calvinist theology. The Calvinist explanations regarding the difficulties in their theology are as problematic as their theology. Under the scrutiny of logical and moral reflection Calvinism’s flaws begin to show. And this is what Calvinists fear the most because as Lennox points out they themselves sense their explanations contain as much confusion as their theology does. Recall Lennox’s observation that “Such confusion may well be evidence of the internal conflict that arises when people see where the logic of their argument is leading them and they don’t really like it.” The Calvinist cannot escape the vortex of incoherence and confusion that theistic determinism creates. As Lennox states,
“…we surely need to audit the validity of the interpretation of Scripture that lies behind such teaching.”
The only way to audit the validity of interpretations is to subject one’s exegetical process and conclusions to the deliberations of logical reflection and moral intuition. We can begin to affirm valid interpretations and expose invalid interpretations only when we all adopt a hermeneutic of coherence.
So as far as their hermeneutic is concerned, recall that Schreiner and Ware had to distance themselves from “the logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology [they] affirm.” They must do this to insulate their “doctrines of grace” from the substantial critiques that logical reasoning and moral intuition bring to bear on those doctrines. But when we apply a “criteria of coherence” this places the doctrines in doubt as accurate interpretations of the biblical witness. Hence, the Calvinist must squelch this “criteria of coherence” as applied to their deterministic doctrines which create their logical and moral problems in the first place, that is, their doctrines of an eternal decree and divine sovereignty. Scrutiny by logical reflection and moral intuitions of Calvinist determinism is devastating to Calvinism. Again, it is what they fear most. Lennox makes a strong statement in this regard. He writes,
“The moral argument is surely entirely sufficient to invalidate theories of divine determinism.”
If what Lennox states is true, then we can see that teasing out the logical and moral implications of their theistic determinism would be devastating for Calvinists. Under such scrutiny the key Calvinist doctrines will be exposed as untenable and therefore unbiblical. Therefore Calvinists have a vested interest in posturing their difficulties so as to avoid such scrutiny. Lennox detects and honestly describes this problem.
“The problem is, however, that those theories are often wrapped up in biblical quotations and Christian terminology that many of the clearly unacceptable logical implications of divine determinism are shrouded in mystery – a mystery that we are not allowed to question. It is even held by some that the solution lies in the fact that God has two wills: one is secret, and it is to save only those people he has unconditionally elected to salvation; and the other is revealed, and it is that he wills all people to be saved. Another, less charitable way of putting it is that the unacceptable implications of determinism get shrouded in intellectual fog and contradiction, in an intractable obfuscation.”
Calvinists also speak of their difficulties as if they are a “tension” inherent in the biblical text between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Lennox gives us insight into D. A. Carson’s view on this “tension” and what Carson, as a Calvinist, will not accept as the resolution of this “tension” in his theology. Lennox writes,
“[Carson] argues that there is no escape from that tension itself,
except by moving so far from the biblical data that either the picture of God or the picture of man bears little resemblance to their portraits as assembled in the scriptural texts themselves.
Carson concludes that, in his view,
It is no answer to tell me that my presentation of the sovereignty-responsibility tension still embraces certain unresolved tensions. Of course it does. But to correct me you must not claim to resolve all the tensions, for such delusion is easily exposed. Rather, if you wish to convince me that your theology is more essentially Christian than my own, you must show me how your shaping of the tension better conforms to the biblical data than mine does.”
Carson admits that his “presentation of the sovereignty-responsibility tension still embraces certain unresolved tensions.” What are these “certain unresolved tensions” that Carson “embraces?” They are the various incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in his Calvinist theology and soteriology that are well known and spring from his theistic determinism. Carson does whatever he can to avoid using the words “incoherent,” “inconsistent” and “contradiction” in reference to his theology. He would rather describe it as “my presentation of the sovereignty-responsibility tension.” The word “tension” is employed to soften the severity of these logical and moral problems and make them more intellectually and interpretively palatable. Other words that are employed are “conundrum,” “antinomy,” “paradox,” and “mystery.” But we must ask whether these “certain unresolved tensions” are real incoherencies and contradictions, and if so, is this hermeneutically significant and telling as to the validity of Carson’s understanding of Scripture. He cannot just presume his interpretation of divine sovereignty or human responsibility is correct, thus begging the question.
The point I want to stress here is that even though Carson admits that his textual interpretations produce “certain unresolved tensions,” these are never cause for him to revisit the text in search of sound alternative exegetical interpretations that would free him from these insurmountable difficulties that haunt his interpretations. Carson could never alter his Calvinist deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty that causes these incoherencies, inconsistency and contradictions. Lennox perceives this when he writes the following,
“Commenting on John 6:44 (No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day), Carson writes,
Yet despite the strong predestinarian strain, it must be insisted with no less vigour that John emphasizes the responsibility of people to come to Jesus, and can excoriate them for refusing to do so (e.g. 5:40).
Carson’s view is that “John is quite happy with the position that modern philosophy calls ‘compatibilism’”.
If what Carson means is that John believe in both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, and that both must be held equally firmly, however paradoxical the resulting tension may appear to us, that would be fine. However, the term “compatibilism”, as mentioned earlier, is normally used by philosophers who hold that human freedom and responsibility is compatible with determinism – a very different matter; unless, of course, one interprets sovereignty as determinism.” 
And that is precisely how Carson interprets sovereignty – as determinism. True paradox or tension are one thing, but as Lennox warns us, determinism is “a very different matter.” Again, the point is that we either take logical and moral coherence and non-contradiction as indicative of valid interpretations or we do not. We cannot just foist upon John the contradiction that results from defining ‘sovereignty’ as theistic determinism in the context of his gospel that is chock full of accounts that can only be made sense of given libertarian human freedom. If the presence of this contradiction between theistic determinism and human responsibility does not indicate that eisegesis is going on here instead of exegesis, then I don’t know what will. What Carson and Calvinists do, and would like us to acquiesce to, is to call it a “tension” and not what it really is – a contradiction. And of equal import, is it really the case that there are no other interpretations of this passage that responsibly relieve this contradiction? Of course there are. Carson just doesn’t want to admit to them because he refuses to embrace a hermeneutic of coherence. If he did embrace such a hermeneutic he would have to alter his Calvinist definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism. But traditional doctrines take on a life of their own and just will not be altered. And as long as Carson rejects a hermeneutic of coherence he can abide the illogical and immoral results of his theistic determinism.
Therefore, the non-Calvinist sees this as willfully ignoring logical and moral considerations which are indispensable to the interpretive task and essential elements of a sound hermeneutic. For the Calvinist, the problematic logical and moral implications of their theistic determinism have no input as to the validity of their interpretations of the texts on divine sovereignty or human responsibility. For the Calvinist, no matter what the logical and moral implications, universal divine causal determinism is the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty. That is non-negotiable. It cannot be forfeited. According to the Calvinist, if God has not predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass,” then God is not the God of the Bible and the Calvinist is left without a God to worship. This is why Lennox says, “We shall be interested in what Scripture teaches about determinism.” The Calvinist’s theistic determinism is the crux of the problems in their theology, and their rejection of a hermeneutic of coherence is the crux of the continuance of this controversy.
Therefore, to push Carson’s “certain unresolved tensions” into the light of logical reflection and moral intuition is the greatest threat to his Calvinist position. Logical reflection and moral intuition hold much weight in discerning true from false propositions, positions and interpretations. Logical and moral difficulties in one’s interpretations cannot be shaken off or dismissed. As non-Calvinists press home this issue of the logical and moral incoherence of Calvinism, the Calvinist becomes more threatened by it and resistant to it. Note what Carson says we must not do to “correct” him. He states, “But to correct me you must not claim to resolve all the tensions…” What he is saying is “do not put the search light of logical consistency and moral intuition on my theology because it won’t endure such scrutiny. I need you to not mess with my “tensions” because I need to preserve my definition of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism.” We have to leave his theology alone in this regard for it to remain intact.
And why is it a “delusion easily exposed” to “resolve all the tensions?” Where are the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Arminian, Traditionalist or Molinist soteriologies? And if there are such, where do they reside and what precisely are their implications? Are they the same or worse than the Calvinist’s “tensions?” Perhaps these other interpretive options can “resolve all the tensions” in Carson’s theology, or at least a majority of the most troubling ones. Why then wouldn’t these alternative soteriologies b the more biblical soteriologies? And if these soteriologies do have less “tensions” why wouldn’t they reject Calvinism because of its incoherence and contradictions? I believe these alternative interpretations do not suffer from the incoherencies of Calvinism and therefore they are the more exegetically responsible interpretations. As such, they are the interpretations that more faithfully communicate the meaning of the Scriptures. Pointing out the incoherence of Carson’s theology may not move Carson to alter his position, but it is necessary for others to know what is stake here. Lennox affirms,
“The issues at stake are not simply questions of abstract theology. They have to do with our concept of God’s person and character, and of ourselves as human beings, and they go to the heart of the gospel itself.”
Lennox knows what’s at stake here – the person and character of God and also the very gospel itself! And whether the Scripture teaches theistic determinism, that is, Carson’s definition of sovereignty, is the crucial question here. Lennox knows this. Recall that he says, “We shall be interested in what Scripture teaches about determinism.” He is also aware of the issue of validity in interpretation. He states, “What I shall try to do is to discuss Scripture and the validity of different interpretations…” But one of the ways by which we can evaluate the validity of an interpretation has been placed off limits by Carson. This is understandable because Calvinism’s logical and moral incoherence is its Achilles heel. To deflect this logical and moral critique of Calvinism guarantees the survival of its deterministic interpretation of divine sovereignty. But if the Scripture does not teach this Calvinist determinism, we do not have the “tension” that Carson as a Calvinist needs to preserve and would have us acquiesce to here.
But the non-Calvinist will not acquiesce to the Calvinists “demands.” And he should not. To do so would be intellectually and hermeneutically irresponsible. Neither do non-Calvinists feel it is necessary to acquiesce given alternative ways of interpreting the text, not only on divine sovereignty, but also election and predestination. The non-Calvinist is not afflicted with the problems raised by Calvinist determinism and therefore does not need to acquiesce to embracing what the Calvinist calls a “tension” in their theology. Indeed, we cannot acquiesce, for to do so would be to compromise the gospel. Lennox is right. These matters “go to the heart of the gospel itself.”
And of course the same willingness to entertain logical and moral critique also applies to non-Calvinists. They too must not shy away from Calvinists and others pressing them regarding the validity of their interpretations. If there is incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction these need to be pointed out and addressed. But the non-Calvinist position simply does not have these “certain unresolved tensions” that Carson has inherent in his theology which he would like us to acknowledge as legitimate so he can preserve his interpretations and his Calvinism. Carson would have all Christians accept that his “tensions” are to be the expected result of interpreting Scripture as divine revelation. He would also have us believe that for the most part these “tensions” should be at least tolerated by all other theological perspectives. On the far end of the spectrum Carson would like his fellow Christians to believe that his deterministic definition of sovereignty is the correct teaching of Scripture and if they do not embrace it with its “certain unresolved tensions” we would not be doing justice to Scripture and would be diminishing the majesty and glory of God. But this is question-begging. Non-Calvinists see no exegetical reasons to define sovereignty as theistic determinism, let alone embrace the philosophical and moral incoherence (i.e., Carson’s “unresolved tensions”) this definition creates.
Furthermore, Carson writes, “Rather if you wish to convince me that your theology is more essentially Christian than my own, you must show me how your shaping of the tension better conforms to the biblical data than mine does.” Here again, he wants to draw us into accepting that there are incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions – the “tension” his position produces – between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He presumes we have the same problem of “tension” that he does, but we do not. We do not have these “certain unresolved tensions” that plague his theology because we do not believe Scripture teaches theistic determinism. When we reject theistic determinism we do not inherit Carson’s main “tension” (contradiction) which in turn produces the even more acute “certain unresolved tensions” (inconsistencies and incoherencies) that he is required to embrace. Therefore, if Carson is not going to take logical and moral coherence on board in his hermeneutic, no one could ever convince him that their theology is “more essentially Christian” than his own. How can one be convinced of such a thing if they have jettisoned logical reflection and moral intuition in the interpretive task? Once he has chosen to ignore the philosophical and moral difficulties of his interpretations as reliable indications that he has misinterpreted the texts, he just presumes that the non-Calvinist needs to accept that these “tensions” are the norm and that there needs to be a better “shaping” of these tensions to convince Carson of the biblical validity of a non-Calvinist interpretations and theology. But this is wrong-headed from the start. Carson’s presupposition should be rejected. This is not a matter of “shaping” tensions. It is a matter of determining a proper hermeneutic by which to interpret and discern the validity of ones interpretations. This is not a battle of “tensions.” It is a matter of discerning the true nature of these Calvinist “tensions” and deciding whether incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are acceptable as part of a responsible evangelical hermeneutic, because that is precisely what these “tensions” amount to – interpretive incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.
We do offer Carson an interpretation that better conforms to the biblical data, but it doesn’t start from the presupposition that divine sovereignty means divine determinism. We offer Carson better conformity to the biblical data that does not generate these “certain unresolved tensions” that plague his interpretations. So we do not need to be “shaping the tension” as Carson presumes we all need to be doing as if theistic determinism is an interpretive and theological given. It is his own deterministic theological grid that produces this “tension.” Then he attempts to impose that “tension” upon us as if we need to “shape” it in a more intellectually palatable way. By using the word “tension,” Carson is soft-selling what in reality is a contradiction. He can attempt to “shape” his contradiction all he wants, but it cannot be done. The contradiction remains a contradiction because the laws of logic will not be manipulated. The contradiction in Carson’s theology remains a contradiction until he resolves it at its source – his determinism. The non-Calvinist, rather, starting with the biblical data as Carson claims he also does, has no need to “shape” any “tension” because we are incorporating logical reflection and moral intuition in our interpretive process. Hence the biblical data itself does not allow for theistic determinism. It certainly speaks of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but not an interpretation of sovereignty as deterministic. That is imported from other Calvinist religious sentiments. Other responsible exegetical options that do not compromise divine sovereignty or human responsibility or cause incoherence and contradiction between them are to be preferred as the more accurate understandings of Scripture. The Bible does teach divine sovereignty and human responsibility but it does not teach divine sovereignty as a theistic determinism. We should not embrace this determinism because it wreaks logical and moral havoc throughout the Scriptures. We need not embrace it because a proper interpretive method will not allow it. In short, Scripture does not demand it. We should not embrace it because intellectual and moral integrity demand we reject the contradiction between theistic determinism and human responsibility.
Applying pressure on the Calvinist at this point is necessary if this controversy is to be brought to resolution, or at least gain clarity as to what is the actual problem. To remove the denial over the mutual exclusivity of the soteriologies and to face the hermeneutical divide will require each side to take a stand as to whether or not logical and moral coherence are indispensable to proper interpretation and the lack of such coherence a reliable indicator of faulty exegesis. Pointing out the incoherence of Calvinism strikes at the interpretive nerve of Calvinism. But it is necessary to do so to bring us all to our senses in this controversy. The perpetuation of Calvinism requires non-Calvinists to acquiesce to the euphemism of “tension” when incoherence and contradiction are more precise and honestly define the problem inherent in Calvinism. Calvinists would have non-Calvinists suspend logical and moral judgment on their theology. Calvinists do not want to be assessed with respect to the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in their theology. A passive indifference is preferred and accommodation is expected in the name of Christian love and unity. Hence, reason is problematic for Calvinist interpretation.
If we are going to affirm sola scriptura, we cannot affirm it apart from a hermeneutic that requires logical and moral coherence, because to affirm sola scripture without coherence is to affirm interpretive relativism. It is to pass onto the Scripture our own interpretive incoherencies and contradictions. This is both a deficient hermeneutic and doctrine of Scripture. If divinely inspired Scripture is our sole authority, and especially if the proclamation of the gospel as “good news” is our primary message and mission, then Calvinism becomes an untenable theology for the Christian church that bears the name evangelical. We must maintain the biblical message of “good news,” but there is no good news in Calvinism.
Recall our discussion as to how Schreiner and Ware dichotomize exegesis from philosophy or clear thinking. We can now see that the “logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology” are integral to determining the legitimacy of the interpretive method and conclusions proposed by Augustinian-Calvinism. Such is the nature of interpretive thought. We see that Schreiner and Ware’s statement that “People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems” is short-sighted. And when they add, “Rather, the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture” they merely beg the question. The question has always been how do we know which doctrines are really taught in Scripture? The question has always been how do we know one has correctly interpreted the text if they are free to dichotomize logical reflection and moral intuition from their exegesis? Therefore, when Schreiner and Ware state, “…the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture,” what this amounts to is “people become Calvinists because they can accept this dichotomy of logic and morals from the exegesis we offer.” And that is precisely what the Calvinist must do for someone to become a Calvinist. They must reorient the person’s thinking to pay no attention to what rational reflection and moral intuition will sooner or later tell them about the nature of the Calvinist doctrines – that they are incoherent, inconsistent, and contradictory.
Now it needs to be said, counter to Schreiner and Ware’s claim, that people don’t become non-Calvinists only because they observe that the Calvinist position has substantial logical difficulties. People should become and remain non-Calvinists because they believe there is an integral relationship between reason and exegesis which makes for a better hermeneutic which in turn leads to interpretations with more explanatory power, depth and scope. People should be non-Calvinists because the Scripture teaches it and they know that Scripture teaches it because they are working from a better hermeneutic. As such, they become and remain non-Calvinists because they believe the non-Calvinist soteriology is “taught in Scripture” in a fuller sense of the phrase. The non-Calvinist believes that Scripture doesn’t teach the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” because that soteriology is both exegetically weak and logically and morally incoherent. These must be taken together. The non-Calvinist believes that Scripture does teach the non-Calvinist soteriological doctrines because that soteriology is both exegetically strong and logically and morally coherent. The fundamental reason people should embrace a non-Calvinist soteriology and gospel message is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.
Thus Calvinism raises several hermeneutical concerns, and there is a dire need in the evangelical church for hermeneutical reflection and precision in this regard. One catalyst for this reflection should be the incoherence inherent in the Calvinist position. This needs to be reckoned with. The hermeneutical concerns raised by Calvinism serve to verify that all theological models do not have the same interpretive validity. Some interpretations are closer to the truth than others and certainly the law of non-contradiction teaches us that mutual exclusive positions cannot both be true. These laws of logic help bring resolution to the question of validity regarding proposed interpretations and theological paradigms. It is the same with our moral intuitions. They can be trusted as reliable guides in these matters.
Finally, let us think about this controversy in light of the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture. It is safe to assume that evangelical Christians do not believe the Bible contradicts itself (philosophy at work again!). Therefore, no evangelical Christian would expect or want their theology to contradict itself. If Calvinism is what Scripture teaches, we may expect that its doctrines exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. But I think that I, and many non-Calvinist scholars, have clearly demonstrated that Calvinism is plagued by logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions. Calvinists admit as much. So what are we to do? Are we to think that the Calvinist doctrines are correct interpretations of Scripture, but the logical and moral difficulties are problems on the human receiving end and occur due to our logical and moral inability to fathom those doctrines? Are we really to think that the problem is not in the exegesis but in the exegete’s inability to comprehend the results of the Calvinist’s exegesis? But how would we know that is the case? If it can be concluded that the non-Calvinist’s interpretations, being mutually exclusive to the Calvinist’s interpretations must therefore be incorrect, then haven’t we just employed the law of non-contradiction to argue the Calvinist interpretation is correct? But furthermore, if we do not employ logic and moral reasoning in this process, if the non-Calvinist interpretations suffer from logical and moral incoherence then we can no longer expect such incoherence to be an indication of erroneous exegesis. We would be left only with an interpretive relativism. Whether Calvinist or non-Calvinist, each could say, “My interpretation is just as valid as yours.” Moreover, suppose the non-Calvinist were to claim that although their doctrines seem incoherent or contradictory with other biblical doctrines, they really are not, but that they would be logically and morally harmonious if we could only understand things from God’s point of view. Would the Calvinist accept that as a justification of the validity of the non-Calvinist’s interpretations? Given that non-Calvinist “explanation,” could the Calvinist determine that the non-Calvinist position is not the biblical teaching? How would the Calvinist do this? How would the Calvinist know that the non-Calvinist interpretations are false? Why wouldn’t it be a legitimate explanation for the non-Calvinist to claim that any type of logical or moral difficulties leveled against their exegesis should be considered to be the result of our failure to understand things as God does? They are biblical mysteries that we just have to learn to live with. After all, that is precisely what the Calvinist does.
We can see that the Calvinist position leads us into interpretive and theological relativism. If we are to avoid endorsing this relativism we would expect to have some common hermeneutical criteria by which we may detect which of two mutually exclusive interpretations and soteriologies is the more accurate reflection of the intent of the biblical text. Surely harmony and consistency, lack of contradiction and the presence of coherence must be included when seeking to justify our interpretations as accurate or show another interpretation to be erroneous. How else would we justify one interpretation over another? It is not sufficient justification of a theological position to simply state that one’s exegesis need not resolve its logical and moral difficulties. And it is mere question begging to assert that one’s theological position should be embraced because one believes it is what the Scripture teaches. We would simply like to know on what basis, once logical and moral consistency and coherence are rejected, that one can substantiate their claim that their position is what the Scripture teaches. Rather, the canons of reason and our moral intuitions are indispensable for discerning good from bad interpretations.
It is surprising that this even needs to be said at all. But for reasons I’ve tried to bring to light evangelical Christians turn a blind eye to the Calvinists disregard of the laws of logic and their moral intuitions in their theological constructs. As such Schreiner and Ware’s approach smacks of the same sacrificium intellectus we identified in Packer in chapter 7 and will identify in both Luther and Packer in chapter 10. Can all sides on a doctrinal matter propose their interpretation as biblical no matter how much they are marked by incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction? Is the last word always simply “we believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture regardless of inconsistency and contradiction?” And is the appropriate response the hermeneutical and intellectual irresponsibility typical of most evangelicals in which they simply deny anything of substance is at issue here, and believe that it is more important that “we all get along” rather than defend the truth of gospel? Certainly one should embrace the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” because “they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” Yet how would they know they are taught in Scripture if they generate incoherence and contradictions? If one’s exegetical method does not include logical reasoning coming through the discipline of philosophy, then one’s exegetical method is susceptible to the charge of irrationality. Such irrationality should not be touted as a spiritual virtue. When philosophical reflection is allowed to play its proper role in exegesis and theology the validity of a certain exegesis and theology can be either affirmed to be the teaching of Scripture or not.
Think about what are the summary conclusions of our discussion thus far. The present attitude and practice of the evangelical church in this matter is telling the world that we cannot know what worldview Scripture means to communicate – determinism or non-determinism – and that we cannot achieve meaningful clarity on what is certainly its central message which is the gospel defined as “good news.”
This is truly a sad state of affairs for believers and churches that call themselves “evangelical.”
Philosophy as the Handmaid of Exegesis
One important point I hope you see from this lengthy discussion is that “raw” exegesis or merely conducting the “technical” aspects of the grammatical-historical method, as necessary as this is to proper interpretation, does not in and of itself necessarily guarantee an accurate understanding of the text. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists provide exegetical support for their positions, yet their positions are polar opposites on these major theological and soteriological issues. Of course a proper exegetical method must include not only the meaning of words and the grammatical relationships within the text, but also consideration of the so-called “introductory” matters along with identifying the literary genre and ferreting out the social, historical, literary and theological context. All of these are summarily referred to as the grammatical-historical method. And when done correctly this method goes a long way to getting at authorial intent and the true meaning of a text.
But interpretation is not only a “science.” It is also an “art.” And the “science” of exegesis is not always sufficient to accurately disclose the meaning of a text. It is necessary, but it is not always sufficient. The art of exegesis and interpretation involves knowledge of one’s own personal and theological predilections and biases, and most importantly sensitivity to consistency, coherence, harmony, theological integration and the reading of a text within the canonical context or Scripture as a whole. This is precisely what I have been demonstrating by the many examples in this chapter. The non-Calvinists include these principles in their hermeneutic and therefore they play an essential role in their exegeses and interpretations while, as I have also demonstrated, the Calvinists do not include these principles in their hermeneutic. These essential principles help safe-guard us from interpretive errors that might occur from a more short-sighted exegetical method that is constrained by one’s traditional theology.
Even Calvinist D. A. Carson affirms this to some degree. He chides those who think they can glean their theological grain from the exegetical field to the exclusion of the input of other disciplines. For instance, he believes the discipline of historical theology plays an essential role in exegesis and the interpretive task. He writes,
“One well-known seminary insists that proper exegetical method will guarantee such a high quality of exegesis that historical theology may be safely ignored. I can think of no better way of cultivating the soil that sprouts either heresy or the shallowest sort of traditionalism.”
Here “proper exegetical method” would seem to refer to the more technical aspects of exegesis like the study of the definitions of words, grammatical and semantic relationships in the original languages and even context and authorial intent. So, is “proper exegetical method” really all that is needed to safeguard us from interpretive error? Carson says no. For Carson, “proper exegetical method” would include the input of historical theology. He says historical theology cannot be ignored in the process of exegesis. And rightly so.
But then what about philosophical reflection and moral intuition? I submit that these also cannot be “safely ignored” without “cultivating the soil that sprouts heresy or the shallowest of traditionalism.” But these disciplines are ignored by Carson and other Calvinists like Schreiner and Ware as I have demonstrated in previous sections in this chapter. But philosophical and moral reasoning are also crucial elements in a “proper exegetical method.” The deliberations and deliverances of philosophy and morality are as essential to exegesis as is the input of historical theology. These also serve o safeguard our exegesis from “either heresy or the shallowest sort of traditionalism.” And this is what Carson’s Calvinism amounts to when he ignores philosophical reflection and moral intuition – if not heresy (and that is issue to be dealt with), certainly the shallowest sort of traditionalism. This is so because when all is said and done, we find that Calvinists, including Carson, will ignore logical and moral reasoning as essential to their exegesis. Why can these be ignored while historical theology remains an essential element in good exegesis? It is because philosophical reflection and moral assessment lay Calvinism bare as to its insurmountable problems which show it to be a wrong-headed interpretation of Scripture. Calvinism simply cannot endure or overcome the probative force of logic and morals that the discipline of philosophy has to offer in this matter. I would argue that “proper exegetical method” includes the deliberations and deliverances of philosophy, which also includes those of ethics and morality. To “safely ignore” these, as Calvinists are wont to do, is to remove from the Calvinist hermeneutic the penetrating eye of rational and moral analysis that reveals that the Calvinist exegesis is incoherent, and as such, is not what the Scripture teaches.
I have said that Calvinists resist philosophical and moral assessments of their Calvinism. Recall Schreiner and Ware’s false dichotomy in their claim that Calvinism rests upon exegetical support whereas the non-Calvinist objections to Calvinism are mainly philosophical and moral, as if to say these do not necessarily play a crucial role in exegesis. Schreiner and Ware dichotomized exegesis from philosophical reflection and moral intuition as if exegesis alone guarantees accurate interpretations and which just happen to be the Calvinist’s interpretive conclusions. Schreiner and Ware maintain that exegesis holds priority over philosophy despite the fact that input from philosophy identifies substantive “logical difficulties” inherent in the Calvinist’s exegesis. But if good exegesis requires consideration of the data from other disciplines, certainly good exegesis would not reject the input of philosophical reflection. This too would be necessary for doing sound exegesis and preventing heresy and shallow traditionalism.
Christian philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig affirm this position. They maintain that the neglect of philosophy certainly leads to intellectual shallowness. Commenting on the need for doing philosophy they write,
“…philosophy departments are an endangered species in Christian colleges and seminaries, and serious philosophical reflection is virtually absent from most church fellowships. This, in turn, has contributed to intellectual shallowness and a lack of cultural discernment in the body of Christ.”
I would add “a lack of interpretive discernment” too. What each side needs to do in this controversy is to subject their exegesis to the intellectual rigor that only philosophy can offer. Moreland and Craig also stress the need for the input of philosophy with respect to living the Christian life and the proclamation of the gospel. They write,
“The history of the church reveals that philosophy has always played a crucial role in the nurture of believers and in the proclamation of a Christian worldview in general and the gospel in particular. The first universities in Europe were, of course, Christian, and the study of philosophy was considered of central importance to the health and vitality of the university and the Christian life. This is no less true today. In fact, there are at least seven reasons why philosophy is crucial to the texture, curricula and mission of the Christian university and the development of a robust Christian life.”
The third of those seven reasons is that,
“…philosophy is a central expression of the image of God in us. It is very difficult to come up with an airtight definition of the image of God, but most theologians have agreed that it includes the ability to engage in abstract reasoning, especially in areas having to do with ethical, religious and philosophical issues. God himself is a rational being, and humans are made like him in this respect. This is one reason humans are commanded to love God with all their minds (Mt. 22:37). Since philosophy, like religion, is a discipline that chiefly focuses on ultimate questions near the very heart of existence, then philosophical reflection about God’s special and general revelation can be part of loving him and thinking his thoughts after him.”
Moreland and Craig state that “…philosophical reflection about God’s special…revelation can be part of loving him and thinking his thoughts after him.” The reference to “special revelation” has direct application to exegesis. Philosophical reflection on our interpretations of Scripture is an aspect of what it means to love God and to be thinking his thoughts in accord with how and what he thinks. God is a rational being who thinks and acts logically. We would expect Scripture, as the revelation of the mind and heart of God, to reflect this logical character.
Therefore Carson, Schreiner and Ware’s dichotomizing of philosophy from exegesis reveals a serious theological and exegetical shortcoming. Indeed, the Calvinist propensity to dismiss the logical and moral incoherence in their theology ignores this bedrock theological principle that God is a rational being and therefore his thought processes work according to the canons of reason. These are of his very nature as a rational, thinking being. This has profound implications on our view of what constitutes a proper exegetical method. An exegesis that marginalizes philosophical reflection in its processes and from performing logical and moral assessments of its conclusions is a deficient exegesis and hermeneutic. It is to place traditionalism – the preservation of a certain theological viewpoint in willful disregard of its incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with other Scriptures – above the authority of the Scripture for faith and practice. The fact that Calvinism cannot be made to be rationally coherent when coherence is reflective of our being made in the image of a God who thinks and acts coherently, indicates that the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture has gone awry and remains in the service of Calvinism per se and not the authoritative Scripture.
Moreland and Craig go on to state the fourth reason “why philosophy is crucial to the texture, curricula and mission of the Christian university and the development of a robust Christian life.”
“…philosophy permeates systematic theology and serves as its handmaid in several ways. Philosophy helps to add clarity to the concepts of systematic theology. For example, philosophers help to clarify the different attributes of God; they can show that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are not contradictory; they can shed light on the nature of human freedom, and so on.”
Exegesis needs the handmaid of philosophy in that philosophy serves to clarify our interpretations, theological concepts, assures logical reasoning on the part of theologians, presses for rational justification for interpretive conclusions and identifies incoherence and contradictions so at to get at the true meaning of a text. The Calvinists dismissal of the necessity to subject their exegetical conclusions to the canons of reason wielded by philosophy and the deliberations and deliverances philosophy has to offer is the main reason this controversy persists. The Calvinist’s interpretive mind has been made up and nothing can shake it from its deterministic moorings, not even the fact that it is logically and morally incoherent with the very same Scripture it is supposedly an accurate interpretation of. Calvinism cannot survive the scrutiny of philosophical and moral reasoning so the Calvinist must do whatever is necessary to insulate his interpretations from such reasoning.
Good interpretation consists of doing one’s duty in the hard work of technical exegesis, but it also requires a sensitivity to seeing the exegetical data as part of a whole that is rationally and morally coherent and non-contradictory. Philosophy is essential in this regard and therefore indispensable for doing proper exegesis. A “proper exegetical method” would include philosophical assessment. Moreland and Craig state that,
“Philosophy can help someone form a rationally justified, true worldview, that is, an ordered set of propositions that one believes, especially propositions about life’s most important questions.”
If a theology is more than this, it certainly is not less. As a Christian, one’s theology constitutes one’s worldview. And therefore this controversy is a prime candidate for the application of some good philosophical thinking. They also state,
“When philosophers examine another discipline to formulate a philosophy of that field, they ask normative questions about that discipline (e.g., questions about what one ought and ought not believe in that discipline and why), analyze and criticize the assumptions underlying it, clarify concepts, within it and integrate that disciple with other fields.
…Thus, by its very nature philosophy is, perhaps, the most important foundational discipline in the task of integrating Christian theology with other fields of study.”
Philosophy’s analytical, critical, clarifying and integrative functions are sorely needed in the areas of Christian theology, soteriology and hermeneutics today. These functions of philosophy need to be applied especially to the discipline of hermeneutics to help resolve the theological and soteriological differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. As theologians they have a hard time seeing anything but their presupposed theologies in the text. They also believe that exegetical processes are total sufficient for coming to the correct meaning of the text. This is to be expected, but for lack of philosophical training in clear thinking, the principles of logic, matters of objective truth and falsity, etc. their interpretations can suffer from a spiritualized anti-intellectualism and short-sighted traditionalism. I submit that Carson, Schreiner and Ware’s dichotomizing of exegesis from philosophical reflection is a Calvinist case in point.
Given the issues involved, such as whether Calvinism is a theistic determinism, whether there are two mutually exclusive soteriologies at work here, whether theistic determinism can be reconciled with human freedom, what is human freedom, whether Calvinism is self-defeating, defining the meaning and content of the gospel, preaching and teaching with consistency and integrity, whether Calvinists and non-Calvinists are employing different definitions for the same words, whether there are transcendent moral values that apply to this controversy, what are the implications of all these for biblical hermeneutics, along with the many other substantive concerns non-Calvinists and Calvinists have about each other’s positions, a good dose of philosophical thought is in order here.
Theologians on both sides need to be open to the input of philosophy in this controversy. This would go a long way to unravel these problems. In that I believe the most fundamental issue is the acceptance of incoherence in biblical interpretation, not only on the part of Calvinists regarding their own interpretations but also the non-Calvinist’s tolerance of Calvinism’s incoherence, I believe that an honest look at the problem by clear thinking minds, will bring it to its resolution, or at least identify where the problems lie and what their resolution will require. It certainly seems that the application of rigorous philosophical thought would go a long way to discerning which of the differing exegeses, soteriologies and theologies in this controversy is closer to the truth. The controversy is ripe for philosophical and moral assessment.
The intellectual untenability of Calvinism is an aspect of this controversy that is being side-lined by Calvinists and ignored by non-Calvinists. A crucial missing element that would resolve this matter is an intellectual accountability that prevents the cavalier dismissal of incoherence and contradiction when it comes to claims about the meaning of texts that are supposed to be the results of responsible exegesis. An exegesis that takes us into a cul-de-sac of inconsistency, incoherence and contradiction is an exegesis that is flawed in some respect. Some aspect of the exegetical task has been neglected or missed or misunderstood. When incoherence in a theological position is dismissed as mystery, then Christian theology is suffering from a hermeneutical subjectivity. This is probably due to two factors.
The first is that when dealing with written literature that the interpreters maintain is ultimately inspired by God, inconsistent and incoherent interpretations can be “justified” on that basis. The rationale is that because we are dealing with a divinely inspired text it is bound to contain things we cannot fully understand. Since we cannot fully understand God, we should not expect to fully understand God’s Word. But this is usually meant to justify or excuse the incoherence in one’s interpretations and theology. Once one associates the “mystery” of God himself with one’s interpretive incoherencies, labeling these also a “mystery,” it is easy to marginalize the “logical difficulties” generated by one’s exegesis as less important than the exegesis itself. As God is a mystery, so are his doctrines. The problem is that the Calvinist has just dismissed an essential hermeneutical element that would indicate to him that his exegesis is flawed.
The second factor is that theology and theologians can become isolated in their own traditions and therefore only read certain texts with the meanings that are constantly reiterated in that tradition. Although this problem of continually exegeting, reading and understanding particular texts only in the light of certain theological presuppositions and traditions is a strong, habitual propensity, it can be identified and addressed. This is not to presuppose that just because one holds to a position for reasons of tradition that this must mean it is wrong. We do not want to commit the genetic fallacy. But we do want to know how to clearly interpret and understand the Scriptures so that our traditional beliefs might be checked and altered if necessary. But again, the problem becomes one of a vicious cycle if the tools available to us in philosophy are rejected as exegetically unimportant. “People ought to believe x because we believe Scripture teaches x despite the logical and moral difficulties of our teaching.” To immerse oneself in the text is required of the good exegete. But the good exegete must check his exegetical findings against other exegetical findings for their rational coherence. Exegesis is not carried out in an intellectual vacuum irrespective of rational justification. Clear thinking about a proposed meaning of a text and its relationship to other texts along with established theological themes is a requirement of good exegesis. The biblical authors deserve to be understood as communicating coherently. Exegesis and the resultant interpretive claims and conclusions cannot be brought forth in a rational and moral vacuum or remain there in abeyance. Logical difficulties cannot be ignored as to their bearing on the validity of one’s interpretation. The challenges philosophy raises regarding our interpretive conclusions, especially when these are “logical difficulties,” can cause us to go back to the text in search of a more coherent exegesis leading to a more consistent theological framework. So the question needs to put out there. Calvinists, do you agree with this? If not, why not?
Both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist exegeses of the relevant texts have clearly been made known in the voluminous published literature on this controversy, and yet there has been no movement towards a consensus regarding what the biblical author’s meant in their writings on this subject. Why is this? I submit that what becomes clear from the many scholarly writings about this controversy is that the decisive matter is not exegetical but has to do with whether or not the interpreter considers coherence, consistency and non-contradiction to be hermeneutically significant or not. The non-Calvinist considers it very significant, but the Calvinist does not. Why hasn’t the exegetical task, which we all agree is the basis for discerning the truth in these matters, been successful to produce a consensus on the meaning of the texts relevant to what are arguably the most important doctrines of Scripture and the Christian faith? The answer is that in the end there is a divide as to whether or not rational coherence and moral intuitions play an essential role in determining the validity of one’s exegetical conclusions. The non-Calvinist believes that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are indispensable for determining valid exegetical conclusions while the Calvinist does not. The non-Calvinist believes that we can determine whose exegesis best explains the text by whether or not the exegesis exhibits logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. For the non-Calvinist, good exegesis requires attending to the rational and moral coherence of an interpretation with other texts and the total biblical witness. Not so for the Calvinist.
Certainly we need to explain the meaning of a text, but “explaining” implies giving better reasons for one’s position. Arguing that a text means such and such on the basis of one’s exegesis alone when that exegesis leads to inconsistency, incoherence and contradiction will not suffice unless and until the cannons of reason and moral intuitions are deemed essential and indispensable in the exegetical process and the resultant theological and soteriological claims built upon them are assessed accordingly. If the Calvinist can summarily dismiss philosophical reflection and moral scrutiny of their position in the confidence that their position is based in biblical exegesis, then such a claim is hermeneutically deficient and evasive of the devastating critiques that philosophical and moral reflection level against their exegesis. Logical reflection and moral intuitions are givens for discerning the meaning of a text, otherwise the text can mean whatever the exegete says it means. The theology remains untethered from the reasoning by which we discern the validity of an interpretation. This is how Calvinism survives. It is not by demonstrating a superior exegesis. It is by touting an inferior hermeneutic of incoherence that insulates their exegesis from logical and moral critique.
Therefore, what must be assessed is whether the dismissal of logical and moral coherence in exegesis and interpretation constitutes a legitimate biblical hermeneutic or not. Once coherence can be done away with by the flight to “mystery” or “incomprehensibility,” then that person’s interpretations become insulated from reasoned critique. Any exegetical critique against Calvinism can always be withstood because such critiques will ultimately be pointing out logical and moral incoherencies that the Calvinist has put out of court as hermeneutically and interpretively insignificant. And as far as exegesis is concerned the Calvinist will always simply disagree with the non-Calvinists interpretation of the relevant texts. The non-Calvinist is offering critiques of Calvinism on the basis of providing an alternative, detailed, responsible exegesis of the disputed texts and interpretive incoherence of the Calvinist exegeses, while the Calvinist does not consider any alternative exegesis to be correct, nor do they consider the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in their own exegesis to be hermeneutically significant. As far as the Calvinist’s exegesis is concerned, any exegesis that claims it is a better interpretation of the text because it presents a more coherent and consistent interpretation of all the data that needs to be considered will not matter to the Calvinist. For the Calvinist, their exegesis will always stand as the correct meaning of the text because it is not subject to the tests of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. Even a divinely inspired Scripture that we would think must be coherent as the product of a rationally coherent God is inappropriately used as justification for Calvinist incoherence via the claims of “incomprehensibility” and “mystery.” The Calvinist therefore claims the ultimate and final resolution to this controversy is a “mystery.” But I think we can see that when logical and moral incoherence are set aside in the name of “mystery” or “incomprehensibility” we are left with no rational means by which to confirm the validity of an interpretation. There is nothing left to either affirm the Calvinist interpretations as the correct meaning of the text or dislodge them as the incorrect meaning of the text. A rational vacuum has been created in which any interpretation can survive. This always has been and remains the essence of the problem in the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy.
I know this has been a laboriously very long chapter. Indulge me a bit longer as I providing more examples of how reason is problematic for Calvinists.
Eric Hankins and Leighton Flowers: Logic Demands We Reject Calvinism
According to Calvinism, unconditional election is God’s predetermination of who will be saved. The logical corollary to this is called the doctrine of reprobation or preterition. The reprobate are all those who are not unconditionally elected to salvation and therefore will not be saved. Calvinist R. C. Sproul describes reprobation as God “bypassing” a sinner and “simply letting him go his own way.” God “does not do anything to them; he simply leaves them alone.” Yet, in what sounds inconsistent with the above, Sproul states that God’s decision to save some is also a “decision not to save others.” He writes,
“God does not put forth an effort to cause people to sin. When God chooses to bypass a sinner, He does not work to create unbelief in that person’s heart. Rather, God simply lets him go his own way.
…Election is an act of God; reprobation is simply the reflex of that action, the fact that God has not elected everybody.
…we have to say that God’s action of deciding to save some is simultaneously a decision not to save others. The decision to save is called election, and the decision not to save is called preterition. Since this is one action, it can be seen as two sides of one coin, and “equally ultimate” in that sense.
But, and this is most important, when God implements election by calling the saints, He saves us apart from anything we have done. When God implements preterition by reprobating the wicked, He does not do anything to them; He simply leaves them alone. In this important sense, the work of God in condemning the wicked is not the reverse side of His work in saving sinners.”
But reprobation or preterition cannot logically be as Sproul describes it because Sproul maintains that God predetermines all things, which would include the sinner’s sin and the unbelief in that person’s heart. Sproul confirms this when he writes,
“…if we don’t say that God predestines all things, we don’t have a God at all. If He is not totally sovereign, He is only a “big man” like Zeus or Baal.”
Therefore, on Calvinist determinism there is no such thing as “letting him go his own way.” There is no way that is “his” to go. God determines everything about the sinner, including the sin and the fact that a certain person will be reprobate. God is just as active in the reprobation of the non-elect as he is in the salvation of the elect. Hence, “letting him go his own way” is incoherent on Sproul’s determinism.
Speaking about Calvinist Wayne Grudem and his doctrine of reprobation, non-Calvinist Eric Hankins writes,
“Calvinists themselves acknowledge that reprobation is enormously problematic and that the problem is compounded by a lack of biblical support. Grudem notes, “…the doctrine of reprobation is the most difficult of all the teachings of Scripture for us to think about and accept because it deals with such horrible and eternal consequences for human beings made in the image of God.” The repugnance of reprobation is why Calvinists like Grudem come up with philosophically incoherent fixes like “single predestination,” God’s “asymmetrical relationship” to election and reprobation, God’s “two wills,” “two loves,” and so on. Grudem concedes that it seems disingenuous to speak of God’s sorrow over the reprobate if he decrees it. His answer is that “God can decree something that causes him sorrow yet ultimately will bring him glory.” But God’s decreeing something sorrowful is not the problem with reprobation. It is God’s decreeing something evil. Jerry Wall’s observation at this point it apt:
[T]heological compatibilists [like Grudem] often make claims and engage in rhetoric that naturally lead people to conclude that God loves them and desires their salvation in ways that are surely misleading to all but those trained in the subtleties of Reformed rhetoric…Such language loses all meaning, not to mention all rhetorical force, when we remember that on compatibilist premises God could determine the impenitent to freely repent, but has chosen instead to determine things in such a way that they freely persist in their sins. God’s refusal to determine the repentance of sinners when it is within his power to do so can be called nothing other than immoral. Damning certain people by withholding something freely given to others is not glorious. It is indeed a horrible decree.”
The point is that Hankins and Walls view what God is doing in reprobation as “immoral” and “decreeing something evil.” But Grudem and other Calvinists do not. Why not? The Calvinist’s answer to this will be that they are only stating what the Scriptures teach. Grudem presumes this when he says, “the doctrine of reprobation is the most difficult of all the teachings of Scripture for us to think about and accept.”
This is telling us that the difficulties raised by this doctrine of reprobation that Grudem recognizes and admits has “such horrible and eternal consequences for human beings made in the image of God” do not play any role in him concluding that it is “what the Scriptures teach.” Even the force of the doctrine that these reprobate human beings are “made in the image of God” provides no check upon Grudem’s conclusion that reprobation is the teaching of Scripture. But surely being made in the image of God has bearing upon discerning the validity of Grudem’s doctrine of reprobation. If it doesn’t, what will? Is God about eternally condemning and punishing those he has made in his own image for no known reasons, except that he has foreordained and caused them to commit the sin he is now condemning and punishing them for? This confirms that Calvinists do not allow the full scope of the biblical teaching to inform their exegesis on God’s eternal decree, divine sovereignty, election and predestination. Grudem’s hermeneutic does not include the doctrinal, logical and moral considerations Hankins and Walls raise against his compatibilism and doctrine of reprobation.
Therefore, it needs be carefully observed and acknowledged that there are two diametrically opposed logical and moral sensibilities at work here which represent two diametrically opposed hermeneutics. The non-Calvinist hermeneutic incorporates the doctrinal truth of humans being made in the image of God, logical reflections on the Calvinist “fixes” which Hankins deems “philosophically incoherent,” and the moral intuitions that indicate that Calvinist compatibilism and the doctrine of reprobation are “repugnant,” “immoral” and “indeed a horrible decree.” But Calvinists don’t see their attempted “fixes” (e.g., ““single predestination,” God’s “asymmetrical relationship” to election and reprobation, God’s “two wills,” “two loves,” and so on”) as “philosophically incoherent.” Indeed, Jerry Walls views the God of Calvinist compatibilism as “nothing other than immoral,” because as the compatibilist argument goes, God saves the elect without violating their free will. The elect come to Christ freely. But Walls then raises the logical and moral question as to why God wouldn’t save everyone if he can do so without violating their free will and have them come to him freely? For Walls, reprobation in light of this compatibilism is “not glorious.” But it is “glorious” for the Calvinist. The point to note is that for the non-Calvinist these Calvinist “fixes” as well as Calvinist compatibilism just won’t work because they are “philosophically incoherent.” But this philosophical incoherence ultimately holds no interpretive weight for the Calvinist. Hankins writes,
“The burden is on Calvinist theologians to assemble significant and unassailable biblical support for reprobation…” (64)
But when Hankins continues with the following observations, he has already proved that the Calvinist never could “assemble significant and unassailable biblical support for reprobation.” Hankins states,
“The burden is on Calvinist theologians to assemble significant and unassailable biblical support for reprobation because it runs against the grain of what the Bible clearly teaches about God’s character and purposes, and because it is philosophically impossible both to affirm reprobation and deny that God causes evil.” (64)
Hankins has given two hermeneutical reasons why reprobation cannot be the teaching of Scripture. The first is that it is inconsistent (i.e. “runs against the grain”) with the clear teach of the Bible about the character of God and his purposes. God loves all his human creatures and wants their salvation. The second hermeneutical reason is that “it is philosophically impossible both to affirm reprobation and deny that God causes evil.” Now, if we have run up against a philosophical impossibility, that is, if we find ourselves violating the fundamental laws of logic and our moral intuitions (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, red propositions, God reprobates yet God is good and wants to save all people, etc.), then we know for sure that our interpretation is not what the text means to tell us. To affirm reprobation logically entails that God causes evil, which is another aspect of the character of God the Bible clearly teaches cannot be the case.
The point here is that once a doctrine can be shown to logically entail things about God that are clearly contrary to what we are told about him in Scripture, then we can conclude that that doctrine is a misinterpretation of the text. We can say that when reprobation can be shown to be philosophically incoherent, then reprobation cannot be the meaning of the text in Romans 9. It is enough to show that an exegetical conclusion is incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory to conclude that it is not an accurate exegesis of the text. So Hankins has already stated two reasons why Calvinist reprobation must be rejected as an accurate interpretation of the text and they have to do with the incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction inherent in the doctrine. Philosophy is essential to exegesis and for evaluating the validity of exegetical claims.
Now we see the hermeneutical divide here. For the Calvinist, these two reasons, which have to do with the incoherence and inconsistency of their doctrine with other biblical truths, are not taken to be interpretively significant. The incoherence and inconsistency with other biblical truths mean nothing to the Calvinist as to determining the validity of their interpretation of Romans 9 and their doctrine of reprobation. The incoherence, inconsistency and/or contradiction of their interpretations are pushed aside and deemed inconsequential to their exegesis. Thus, the Calvinist is approving of and practicing a hermeneutic of incoherence.
But it is completely the opposite for non-Calvinists like Hankins and Walls. They cannot ignore the incoherence and inconsistency of an interpretive claim. These are indicators of flawed interpretations.
We can see that given the Calvinist’s ouster of the discipline of philosophy from hermeneutics that even the Calvinist “fixes” mentioned above ultimately don’t have to work in the defense of Calvinism because as long as logical and moral coherence are viewed as nonessential to one’s hermeneutic, then the laws of logic and our moral intuitions do not serve to determine the validity of the Calvinist’s exegesis or interpretations. The defenses of Calvinism don’t have to be coherent, consistent or non-contradictory. If interpretive coherence is not essential to their hermeneutic it is not essential to the defenses offered to explain Calvinism. The Calvinist can feel good about putting forth a valiant effort at trying to make his doctrines logical and morally consistent and coherent by proposing ““single predestination,” God’s “asymmetrical relationship” to election and reprobation, God’s “two wills,” “two loves,” and so on”, but when, as Hankins points out, these are shown to be “philosophically incoherent,” this is irrelevant to the Calvinist. The Scriptures teach the Calvinist doctrines regardless of the types of difficulties those interpretations raise. And besides, in the end the Calvinist can always fall back on “mystery.”
Schreiner and Ware are emphatic that the Bible teaches Calvinism regardless of Calvinism’s logical and moral incoherence. Yet, most Calvinists will be the first to declare that Scripture cannot contradict itself or be incoherent in its witness, and that God cannot do anything contrary to his nature. What is interesting here therefore, is that in defending the coherence and consistency of Scripture, Calvinists are implicitly affirming the proper basicality of the laws of logic and our moral intuitions, and yet, they will not allow these to arbitrate as to the validity of their interpretations. They affirm them regarding the nature of Scripture but do not affirm them in their interpretation of that Scripture. This too is inconsistent.
When Calvinism is subject to logical and moral critique, Calvinists must fall back on “mystery,” otherwise they would have to revisit the text in search of coherent interpretations. But that would ultimately require they abandon their universal divine causal determinism which is the source of their incoherence. The Calvinist does not allow the logical and moral difficulties raised by their exegesis and interpretations to be determinative for evaluating the validity of their exegesis and interpretations. But, if these logical and moral difficulties are inherent in Calvinism, and Calvinism is the correct exegesis and interpretation of Scripture as Calvinists claim, then these logical and moral difficulties are inherent in Scripture. But what is the Calvinist to do at this point? To make their position appear credible they assert that “the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.” They must categorized their problems as “mystery.” But in rightly protecting the Bible from incoherence and contradiction, they are simultaneously affirming logic’s authority and hence its suitability and reliability to lead them into valid interpretations as well as arbitrate this conflict.
Recall Schreiner and Ware’s own point that “the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” But Schreiner and Ware’s statements and position become all the more baffling when they write,
“The theology that should be accepted must provide a plausible explanation of all the scriptural data.”
Shouldn’t Grudem therefore take the scriptural data of humans being made in the image of God into account in formulating his soteriological doctrines, especially that of reprobation? Schreiner and Ware also state that,
“Too many biblical scholars today, even among evangelicals, reject any attempt to discern how Scripture fits together theologically. Such a course is exceedingly dangerous because it is a tacit admission that Scripture does not speak a unified word…”
Given Schreiner and Ware’s own testimony about the logical problems in their Calvinist theology, which are certainly acute, it does not seem that their Calvinist doctrines score very high on the basis of their own criteria about why a theology should be accepted. Does their Calvinism “provide a plausible explanation of all the scriptural data?” Does their Calvinism “fit together theologically?” Does Calvinism represent Scripture as speaking “a unified word?” I think we are providing overwhelming evidence that it does not. Schreiner and Ware have just argued the case for why belief in Calvinism is not warranted.
Again, these statements presuppose the ability and reliability of reason to discern what is “a plausible explanation” from an implausible one. They presuppose the ability and reliability of reason to discern a “unified word” or the “fit” of one’s interpretive propositions, which are just other ways of referring to exegetical and interpretive coherence. They affirm that our reasoning faculties and moral intuitions provide reliable means by which to arbitrate this conflict. But the Calvinist will not allow them to serve this function with respect to their own theology.
Moreover, I would say that the theology that should be accepted must provide not merely “a plausible explanation” but “the most plausible explanation.” It must have explanatory power. In addition, good interpretations should also provide the most plausible explanation of “all the scriptural data.” That is, they should have explanatory scope and comprehensiveness. They should also demonstrate “fit” and a “unified word.” That is, they need to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory. Finally, good interpretations should be able to incorporate as many of these in a cumulative case for one’s theological paradigm. I have been attempting to provide the evidences that show that Calvinism fails in these respects. Indeed, by their own admission, Schreiner and Ware’s theology certainly has serious problems with the plausibility and hermeneutical principles mentioned above. Recall they state that,
“It should be granted that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism.”
In light of their own criterion of plausibility, “fit” and a “unified word,” that is, explanatory power, explanatory scope and coherence, we wonder why Schreiner and Ware do not abandon their Calvinism for the alternative interpretations that do fulfill these criterion. Any objections Calvinists raise against non-Calvinist interpretations seem to pale in number and severity to those raised against Calvinism. And those objections raised by Calvinist would have to be dealt with by non-Calvinists without fleeing to mystery when those objections can be demonstrated to be real contradictions and incoherencies and not merely legitimate biblical mysteries.
Recall that Schreiner and Ware reviewed some of the critical logical and moral objections non-Calvinists levy against Calvinism. They are,
“If God chooses only some, then how can he be loving? If God’s grace is irresistible, then what happens to human free will? If God saves those he has chosen, why pray or get involved in missions? If God is in control of the world, then why do anything at all? If God is sovereign, then why is there suffering in the world? If God governs all events, then why is evil our responsibility, not his?”
Schreiner and Ware added their own list of logical and moral problems they face as Calvinists. They stated,
“God is completely sovereign, and yet human choices and responsibility are not a charade. God ordains all that comes to pass and is good; and yet evil exists, and it is really evil. God chooses only some to be saved, and yet there is also a true sense in which he desires the salvation of all. Those who are elect will never lose their salvation, and yet those who do not persevere to the end will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
These are serious conflicts. But note how the Calvinist refuses to deal with them. They refuse to entertain that these serious conflicts could possibly be the result of their misinterpretation of the text. In addition, any Calvinist resistance to alternative interpretations offered by non-Calvinists isn’t based on any incoherence, inconsistency or contradictions in the non-Calvinist interpretations. Rather they seem to reduce to either the failure of non-Calvinists to “understand” Calvinism, or a failure to exalt God’s sovereignty and seek the glory of God in all things. But the first charge amounts to the non-Calvinist refusing to dismiss logical and moral coherence as essential to good interpretation at the expectation of the Calvinist. We see no reason to forfeit logical and moral reasoning so we can “understand” Calvinism. We cannot “understand” Calvinism as the Calvinist would like us to, for they require us to put aside our logical and moral bearings to do so. So they are not really asking to be understood. They are asking for permission to remain interpretively incoherent. What they are asking amounts to “Please ignore the incoherence in our theology for the sake of mutual Christian coexistence.” But the non-Calvinist will not and should not sacrifice philosophical or logical coherence and moral intuitions in the exegetical task or its conclusions. Too much is at stake here, especially pertaining to the definition of the gospel, its content and the sincerity of its proclamation. The second charge translates into failing to accept Calvinism’s definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism and thus “give God all the glory for salvation,” which again, is question-begging. Non-Calvinists believe that God is sovereign and that a coherent, consistent and non-contradictory soteriology and gospel message that is truly “good news” magnifies and exalts God and gives him all the glory in salvation.
The fact that there are alterative non-Calvinist interpretations of the relevant texts which fulfill the Calvinists own standards for sound interpretations, and yet Calvinists reject those interpretations, raises the question as to whether a Calvinist is really a Calvinist because he believes Scripture teaches Calvinism. Schreiner and Ware confess that the theology that is to be accepted is the one that exhibits explanatory power, explanatory scope and coherence. That is the theology that would reflect what Scripture teaches. Why then do Calvinists remain Calvinists if by their own admission their theology lacks these qualities and rather exhibits serious logical and moral difficulties? How can they be what Scripture teaches if these doctrines are logically and morally problematic? In light of how logic and morality tenaciously assail Calvinism, and in light of other alternative exegetically coherent interpretations, the Calvinist needs to meaningfully reckon with his problems of plausibility, “fit” and coherence, rather than fleeing to “mystery.”
Having just delineated several criterion for determining what the Scripture teaches and the theology that is to be accepted, Schreiner and Ware tell us “that the full and final resolution” of the logical difficulties in their theology are “a mystery.” This flight to “mystery” communicates that in the final analysis the criteria they propose ultimately hold no hermeneutical weight for the Calvinist. The very criteria Schreiner and Ware affirm is necessary for a good theology are ultimately not an essential element in their hermeneutic.
Fleeing to “mystery” is not an intellectually responsible move here for two reasons. First, it is simply ad hoc. “Mystery” is made to be an “explanation” for the problems of Calvinism without further justification as to why these problems should be understood as falling into the category of true biblical mystery. True biblical mystery is not the same as Calvinist incoherence and contradiction. Secondly, if the Calvinist claims, “That’s what he Bible teaches. It’s a mystery!”, then that is just to beg the question.
What I have done so far in this very long chapter is demonstrate where the real issue lies in this controversy between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist interpretations and doctrines. We have uncovered the hermeneutical divide and also are beginning to see that this divide is the terminal issue in the controversy. The fact that non-Calvinists include coherence in their hermeneutic and Calvinists do not causes all productive discussion to cease. We may continue to talk about the issues, but we will find ourselves going around in circles. This is why in a section below I will call upon the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) to become engaged in this matter at the hermeneutical level according to the arguments I have presented, not only in this chapter, but in other chapters on this website. We all agree that this controversy must be decided at the exegetical level, that is, that its resolution rests upon the proper exegesis of the relevant texts. But I think we can also see that a proper exegesis of the relevant texts is integrally bound up with the matter of the logical and moral coherence of that exegesis. Indeed, the philosophical coherence or logical implications of one’s exegesis cannot be dismissed by “mystery” precisely because apart from philosophical coherence all meaningful thought and speech collapses. Thus, this becomes a matter for evangelical philosophers to weigh in on.
Just a few more examples and I will be done.
Hankins and Grudem: Reprobation as a Necessary Implication and Ways of Avoidance
Recall Eric Hankins quoting Wayne Grudem as saying that,
“…the doctrine of reprobation is the most difficult of all the teachings of Scripture for us to think about and accept because it deals with such horrible and eternal consequences for human beings made in the image of God.”
Many Calvinists therefore don’t want to affirm reprobation. In a podcast discussion between Leighton Flowers and Eric Hankins on the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation they point out that a logical implication of the Calvinist doctrine of election is the doctrine of reprobation. They make the point that the doctrine of unconditional election necessarily implies the doctrine of reprobation. Grudem, along with other Calvinists like Lorraine Boettner, also recognize this logical implication. Boettner states,
“The doctrine of absolute predestination of course logically holds that some are foreordained to death as truly as others are foreordained to life.” 
“When we understand election as God’s sovereign choice of some persons to be saved, then there is necessarily another aspect of that choice, namely, God’s sovereign decision to pass over others and not to save them.”
When Grudem uses the word “necessarily” he is affirming a function of logic. He acknowledges that to affirm x may necessarily entail affirming y. Therefore, those Calvinists who try to avoid affirming the doctrine of reprobation are trying to avoid a logical necessity or logical implication of their doctrine of unconditional election.
The important hermeneutical point to understand is that you cannot just ignore a logical necessity or the logical implication of something else you hold to be biblical and claim to be true. Neither can you logically work your way out of it. That is what makes something a necessary implication of other propositions that one holds. If you ignore the logical or necessary implications of your views then you are being incoherent.
Eric Hankins states that Calvinists employ three “strategies” to try avoid reprobation as the necessary implication of unconditional election. The first strategy is just to deny it and say “that’s a part of Calvinism I don’t believe.” Hankins states,
“This is real typical of the poorly informed Calvinist whose adopted it because they have scholars that they like or authors that they like. They have not thought critically about the system and so – I call it cafeteria Calvinism, you just pick the parts of it that you like, and so – and that flows into this idea of three point Calvinism, two point Calvinism, that sort of stuff, and I would say, just for those who are listening, we really got to stop accepting that…it’s incredibly inconsistent. But a lot of conversations I had it’s just, ‘Oh well I just don’t accept that part.’ What I’ve tried to demonstrate in my paper is that’s a necessary part of the system. …So that’s strategy one. Just be internally inconsistent. ‘I just like that part of Calvinism.’”
Hankins contends that Calvinists who deny reprobation are being “incredibly inconsistent” and ignoring “a necessary part of the system.” Note that ignoring this inconsistency and dismissing the idea of logical necessity is not an intellectual option for the non-Calvinist, yet it seems to be an intellectual option for the Calvinist. The point is that this certainly has hermeneutical implications. For the non-Calvinist, a doctrine they might hold that would produce problems on the order of those that reprobation produces for the Calvinist, would cause the non-Calvinist to return to the text in search of a more logically consist and less morally troubling interpretation. Not so for the Calvinist.
The second strategy the Calvinist employs to avoid the logical necessity of reprobation is “a series of work-arounds.” (See Chapter 8 – Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism) These are,
“God has two loves, God has two wills, God’s desire to elect is asymmetrical in its relationship to God’s desire to reprobate, salvation is all of God and damnation is all of man…one of the ones that I love is equal ultimacy – it’s this high-sounding rhetoric that doesn’t mean anything…that God’s…responsibility for reprobation is somehow different from his responsibility for election. So, there are those work-arounds that are just…an attempt to give a logical account for reprobation. But at the end of the day all of those attempts are logically contradictory.”
Note what these “work-arounds” reveal about the inconsistency in the Calvinists approach to this controversy. First, they do have a moral intuition that is providing a substantive critique of their own doctrines. The fact that Calvinists struggle to relieve the moral problem in their theology through these “work-arounds” is evidence of their logical reasoning and moral intuitions at work. So the Calvinist certainly seems to be affirming that logical reasoning and moral intuitions play a role in interpretive matters. Secondly, the Calvinist is employing philosophical thought in concocting these “work-arounds.” They use philosophy – the same philosophy they reject when it is applied to critiquing their doctrines – to think up these “work-arounds.” They feel the need to provide rational justification to their interpretative conclusions. So the Calvinist who ultimately rejects philosophical and moral critiques of their Calvinism is being incoherent by attempting to logically and morally “explain” or defend his Calvinism.
And yet, Hankins mentions a third strategy, which is,
“…just to accept that their system is logically contradictory…They’ll say things like God does not have to submit to our logic. Or, they won’t adopt or admit to the term “logically contradictory,” and so they’ll say well it’s a paradox, it’s a mystery, it’s antinomy…Packer, Spurgeon, you know the two parallel paths that cross somewhere in eternity, why should I have to reconcile friends, all that sort of thing. But that is just a failure to grasp the very clear and simple claim that we are making, that really can’t be denied, that Calvinism at this point is logically contradictory, or, God really is the cause of evil, and that’s where you get to consistent Calvinists or hyper-Calvinists which say ‘Yes, God causes the damnation of the non-elect.”
Once again, Hankins’ conclusion is that the Calvinist system is logically contradictory, and all these Calvinist attempts to avoid that conclusion are a failure to admit to the logical and moral incoherence and contradiction in their system. The point is that the logic of the problem cannot be denied. Calvinists innately know this. Recall that Schreiner and Ware who echo Hankins’ observations when they state “It should be granted that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism.” But then they also predictably flee to mystery when they write, “All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems.” What this ultimately means is that the observations and deliverances of philosophy and logic have nothing of consequence to say about the nature of Calvinism or the validity of its interpretations of Scripture.
Hankins points out that hyper-Calvinists attempt to be more consistent than their moderate Calvinist brothers and sisters. Hyper-Calvinists are less inclined to offer the “work-arounds” of the moderate Calvinists. The hyper-Calvinist will just bite the bullet and say “God predetermined everything that ever happens, both good and evil” and “Human free will is a myth” and “God does not love everybody” and “Jesus didn’t die for all persons,” etc. But this position solves nothing of the Calvinist’s difficulties and seems to stray further and further away from anything resembling the teaching of Scripture. Such a view can only survive and thrive when one completely divorces the input of clear philosophical thinking and their moral intuitions from their exegesis. It is true that when one’s hermeneutic becomes so fragmented and compartmentalized to where one’s technical and traditional exegesis stands as a priori biblical truth, then all else can be ignored. Hyper-Calvinists are still as inconsistent as their non-hyper fellow Calvinists, only that the focus has just shifted from a logical contradiction to a moral incoherence. The incoherence is now the moral problem of how to understand God’s loving and gracious character given the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, reprobation, etc. Reprobation was a logical necessity or logical implication of unconditional election which is a doctrine that the Calvinist, by definition, cannot deny. If you deny unconditional election, you are not a Calvinist. But when the hyper-Calvinist admits that “God predetermined everything that ever happens, both good and evil” and “Human free will is a myth” and “God does not love everybody” and “Jesus didn’t die for all persons,” etc., he does not extricate himself from his contradictions and incoherence. He only exacerbates them by implicating God in evil.
What is the bottom-line here? The Calvinist feels perfectly comfortable dismissing logical and moral coherence, or the role of the discipline of philosophy, from their hermeneutic. Whereas the non-Calvinist cannot. This is not because the non-Calvinist is seeking to exert his human autonomy over God, but rather wants to interpret Scripture with intellectual responsibility and moral integrity as required because it is the Word of a rational and moral God.
Flowers, Hankins and Craig: Logical Contradiction is Proof That a Doctrine is Wrong
Dr. Flowers and Dr. Hankins go on to explicitly state that what can be shown to be logically contradictory is simply wrong. Dr. Flowers asks,
“…do we need to just call this logically inconsistent because that’s what it is and therefore dismiss it as a blatant contradiction? If something is contradictory, by the way, in logic if you prove something to be contradictory, you’ve proven it incorrect. You’ve proven it wrong. So you can’t say I believe a contradiction and then continue to say that you’re believing truth. That’s an oxymoron, that’s like I believe a lie, I believe something that’s untrue to say you believe a contradiction. And true, thinking Christians cannot, I think, give that argument over to the atheistic world. Just to say, ‘Hey we believe in a blatant contradiction.”
Flowers is pointing out the negative implications of the Calvinist holding to a “blatant contradiction.” He is stressing the fact that if something is contradictory then it is incorrect. To prove something is a contradiction is to prove that it is just wrong. He touches upon the fact that the laws of logic are what the Christian apologist employs to counter and disarm the atheist arguments against the existence of God, the supernatural, the spiritual, etc. For instance, the atheist uses the existence of evil and suffering in the world to doubt or disprove the existence of God. They say if a good God exists, and he is all-powerful, why is their evil? If he is good he does not want it and if he is all-powerful he can eradicate it, therefore it does not seem that an all-powerful and/or good God exists. Note that in making this argument the atheist is affirming the reality of evil. There are logical and probabilistic forms of this argument that have been convincingly rebutted by William Lane Craig. But another form of the Christian’s defense and rebuttal against the atheist’s argument here is one that Ravi Zacharias gives which is built upon a series of logical implications. They are as follows: If you believe there is such a thing as evil, you must logically believe in good. If you believe in good, then you must believe in a moral law. If you believe in a moral law, you must believe in a moral lawgiver. Who might that be? The Christian answer is God. The point is that the atheist is expected to follow the logic of his fundamental complaint and belief as to the reality and presence evil in the world. If he refuses to follow the logic that his affirmation of the existence of evil entails a transcendent standard of goodness, he can be accused of being logically incoherent, which we all presuppose renders his position invalid. The same applies to Christian theology and the interpretation of Scripture – or at least it should. The laws of logic are unavoidable for both the atheist and Christian. But this is the problem in this Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy. The Calvinist is taking it upon himself to dismiss the laws of logic in the preservation of his Calvinist doctrines that he a priori holds to be the truth of Scripture.
So Flowers’ point is an important one. He is saying that if the atheist world sees that we have accepted a theology and soteriology marked by contradiction and incoherence, then our use of logic in apologetics becomes a farce. But we have done the same with Calvinism. Theologically and soteriologically we have accepted a blatant contradiction and therefore as Christians we lose intellectual credibility.
So the crucial problem facing the Calvinist still remains, that is, whether or not they will adopt a hermeneutic of coherence. Will they acknowledge the role of the laws of logic and moral intuitions as essential elements in a sound hermeneutic that serve to arbitrate the validity of competing interpretations or ignore the input of philosophical thinking and continue with their ad hoc question-begging flight to mystery? Will they acknowledge that interpretations that are logically contradictory or morally incoherent cannot be accurate and true interpretations of Scripture, or, against all reason, simply ignore reason and logic, banishing these from their hermeneutic?
Hankins exhorts Christians to carefully think this matter through.
“…I would really encourage those of you who are listening, you need to spend some time, do a little research, and get very clear on what the difference is between that which is logically contradictory and that which is mysterious or paradoxical. I’m not saying there aren’t aspects of Christian faith that are mysterious and paradoxical – trinity, hypostatic union – but those are in a different category of thing than what Calvinists are claiming. Calvinists are claiming that which is actually logically contradictory. And then you need to get yourself familiar with what are the implications of affirming something which is logically contradictory. Calvinists will say, ‘Well God just doesn’t have to submit himself to our logic’ – that kind of thing. If God can do that which is logically contradictory, then all knowledge collapses. If God can both lie and tell the truth, if something can be both true and false at the same time, then there is nothing to be known about God or God’s world. It all goes away. And so that which is logically contradictory is…an impermissible move. It’s actually wrong, false. Not to be believed.” 
William Lane Craig sees this as the fundamental problem with Calvinism. Answering a questioner on the matter of divine determinism and human free will he states,
“The problem is that I don’t think that the Reformed theologian can give us a coherent interpretation of Scripture…the Reformed divines…typically say that the reconciliation of these texts is just inscrutable. They can’t put them together; it is a mystery.”
Flowers, Hankins and Craig state that in philosophy or apologetics, when an argument or proposition can be shown to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, it has been shown to be false. The same applies to biblical exegesis and interpretation. Unless the Calvinist wants to justify the irrationality of their position, the inescapable conclusion is that since Calvinism holds to an interpretation of Scripture that is incoherent or logically contradictory, it is certainly false and not to be believed. The various “work-arounds” by which Calvinist’s seek to justify their doctrinal positions and defend them from irrationality merely beg the question as to whether their exegesis is correct and how we would ultimately know that, or these “work-arounds” simply defer the problem and land us in more incoherence in a different place (e.g., compatibilism).
The Calvinist may assert that “at the end of the day, the argument will stand or fall at the exegetical level,” but this really has no meaning if at the exegetical level the laws of logic and our moral intuitions do not hold. An illogical exegesis of the biblical text is no exegesis at all. No one can claim his interpretation of the doctrine of sovereignty or any other doctrine springs from a proper exegesis of the biblical text if that exegesis is incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory to the interpretations of other doctrines that he also claims are derived from an exegesis of the biblical text.
Therefore it is incumbent upon the exegete not ignore the logical and moral problems inherent in their interpretations. They should not seek to retain logically and morally incompatible doctrines, but should rather honestly question the exegetical accuracy of one or the other or both of their doctrinal claims. To claim that “the argument will stand or fall at the exegetical level” cannot be divorced from its standing or falling at the logical and moral level, for logical and moral coherence are essential to a good, plausible argument and a good plausible interpretation of a text. If one’s interpretive argument does not demonstrate logical consistency, then the claim that that interpretive argument “stands” at the exegetical level becomes implausible. Any exegesis that leads us into logically incompatible or morally irreconcilable conclusions is poor exegesis. It makes the exegetical enterprise meaningless. One must be willing to question their exegesis if it finds itself implicated in incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction. Rather than merely asserting that “at the end of the day, the argument will stand or fall at the exegetical level,” the Calvinist must be willing to ask on what basis they can determine success at the exegetical level. Is blatant contradiction a sign of exegetical accuracy or a sign of exegetical misinterpretation? Non-Calvinist believe it is the latter. Calvinists do not.
If one holds to a doctrine of divine inspiration that maintains that the Bible is not incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory because the laws of logic and moral principles as we know them are of the very nature of the divine Author, then when the interpreter lands in incoherence and contradiction he must go back to the text and allow it to inform him as to its coherent message. He should beware of imposing upon the text his own theological predilections regardless of the incoherence they generate. Again, although logical coherence is not a sufficient condition for determining exegetical accuracy and the biblical truth of a particular doctrine, it is a necessary condition. In other words, we know that one’s exegetical propositions and their doctrinal implications are wrongheaded if their logical entailments are incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory.
Moreover, a false definition at one point of doctrine (e.g., sovereignty) even when carried through logically to other doctrinal conclusions will show itself up in incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions down the theological road. I submit that this is what is happening with the Calvinist understanding of the biblical doctrines of “the divine decree” and “the sovereignty of God.” Defined deterministically, these logically produce the TULIP soteriological system. But the whole system runs afoul of the clear witness in Scripture to a non-deterministic reality and soteriology. Ultimately, we can discern the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions of Calvinism which are reliable indications that it rests upon a flawed exegesis of Scripture.
The Matter of Western v. Eastern Logic: Schreiner Both Affirms and Denies Logic
Calvinist Thomas Schreiner wrote an essay titled, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election unto Salvation?” In it he demonstrates on the one hand how he, as a Calvinist, affirms the authoritative role of logic in human thought, let alone for biblical interpretation, but then he denies its role when it comes to assessing his own theology. Allow me to explain.
In a section of his article Schreiner draws the conclusion that “it is hard to separate corporate from individual election, for logic would seem to require that the individuals who make up the group cannot be separated from the group itself.” He then refers to non-Calvinists William Klein and Clark Pinnock who hold to a corporate view of election and who accuse Schreiner of imposing “western logic” upon Paul’s thinking in Romans 9 because Schreiner emphasizes the individual in his understanding of election. Klein and Pinnock maintain that Paul is thinking purely in terms of corporate groups, which a more eastern understanding, and not at all about individuals; especially with regard to why one individual is saved and another is not. They are pointing out that Paul writes out of his context of an eastern mindset which emphasizes the group or community instead of the individual which, again, according to Klein and Pinnock is more in accord with a western way of thinking which according to Klein and Pinnock constitutes the flaw in Schreiner’s understanding of the text.
Schreiner first reiterates Klein and Pinnock’s critique of Schreiner’s understanding of Paul in Romans,
“Klein responds by saying that this amounts to an imposition of modern Western categories upon biblical writers. He goes on to say that it requires a “logic that is foreign to their thinking.” Clark H. Pinnock also says that the Arminian view is more attractive because he is “in the process of learning to read the Bible from a new point of view, one that I believe is more truly evangelical and less rationalistic.” Those who cannot see how election is corporate without also involving individuals have fallen prey to imposing western logic on the Bible.”
So Klein and Pinnock have accused Schreiner of “imposing western logic on the Bible.” It is important to point out that Pinnock should not have used the word “logic” here, not only because we might ask what’s wrong with being logical in our Bible reading, but that the use of this word will become a central issue here. Schreiner picks up on the word logic and proceeds to turn the tables of “western logic,” so to speak, upon Klein and Pinnock in that they emphasize the corporate view of election to the exclusion of the individual view election. Schreiner will accuse them of imposing their “western logic” on the text in that they do not consider that both corporate and individual election could be true, they emphasize individual choice in salvation and they claim that “the logic of consistent Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness.” Schreiner explains,
“This objection [imposing Western categories upon the biblical writers] strikes me as highly ironic. For example, Klein also says that it makes no sense for God to plead for Israel to be saved (Rom. 10:21) if he has elected only some to be saved. But this objection surely seems to be based on so-called western logic. Klein cannot seem to make sense logically of how both of these can be true, and so he concludes that individual election is not credible. Has he ever considered that he might be forcing western logic upon the text and that both might be true in a way we do not fully comprehend? Indeed, one could assert that the focus upon individual choice as ultimately determinative in salvation is based on “western” logic inasmuch as it concentrates upon the individual and his or her individual choice. And on the same page that Pinnock says he is escaping from rationalism, he says he cannot believe “that God determines all things and that creaturely freedom is real” because this view is contradictory and incoherent. He goes on to say, “The logic of consistent Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness.” These kinds of statement from Pinnock certainly seem to reflect a dependence on western logic.”
It is unfortunate that Klein and Pinnock have introduced the word “logic” to make their point here. It seems that what they wanted to emphasize is that Schreiner’s view is imposing upon Paul more of a “western cultural mindset” but to describe this as the use of “western logic” is something very different, and Schreiner is using this “slip-up” against Klein and Pinnock who critique Schreiner’s Calvinism on the very basis of its logical entailments. Klein was more accurate when he described Schreiner’s error as “an imposition of modern Western categories upon biblical writers.” But what Schreiner does is turn Klein and Pinnock’s “logic critique” of Schreiner back on them. As Schreiner rightly points out, “Indeed, one could assert that the focus upon individual choice as ultimately determinative in salvation is based on “western” logic inasmuch as it concentrates upon the individual and his or her individual choice.”
The point is that Klein and Pinnock’s critique of Schreiner here was that Schreiner was failing to view the text through Paul’s mindset, who we all can safely presume thought as a first century Jew who was steeped in eastern ways of thinking which were more corporate than individual. Their emphasis here is not primarily the problematic logic of Schreiner’s Calvinist interpretation of the text, although they will point out that Schreiner’s “view is contradictory and incoherent.” Klein and Pinnock’s emphasis here is more along the lines of avoiding reading “Western categories” or a “western cultural mindset” into the text and failing to appreciate the eastern Jewish thought of the biblical writers that should inform and direct our interpretation of the text. For instance, perhaps we need to read Romans 9-11 as Paul’s theological reflections on the present particular situation in salvation history that Israel as a nation finds itself in with respect to their rejection of Jesus and God’s plan for the salvation of the Gentiles, and not Paul’s explanation as to why certain individuals are saved and others are not. Perhaps Romans 9 is not Paul’s dissertation on unconditional election but rather what God has the right to do with his chosen people Israel in light of their stubborn rejection of their Messiah. Paul may be thinking in terms of groups – Jews and Gentiles – in addressing several profound historical and theological questions and protestations that have arisen about whether God’s word to Israel has failed, what it means for Israel to be God’s elect or “the chosen people of God,” how God is presently dealing with them in judicial hardening and how the Gentiles fit into God’s saving plans and purposes. And yet, the individual comes into focus when Paul talks about how Jews and the Gentiles are to receive salvation in Christ by faith. Paul needs to address and answer these larger historical questions and protests which involve Jews and Gentiles, but he also tells us about how Jews and Gentiles, as individuals receive salvation.
We should note that regarding Romans 9-11 Klein and Pinnock do not need to define election only in corporate terms to the exclusion of the election of individuals. This may be an over-reaction to the fundamental problem of Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 9. What makes Schreiner’s position untenable is not the individual aspect of election per se but the determinism in Schreiner’s definition of election as applied to individual’s unconditionally and how that runs logically and morally roughshod over the immediate context of chapter 10 and 11. This deterministic unconditional election of individuals is the cause of the logical problems in Schreiner’s position and this is what Klein and Pinnock are pointing out. In context, Schreiner’s Calvinistic interpretations are contradictory and incoherent. Paul may speak of the election of the individual when election is rightly understood as God choosing or predestinating what is to become of those who do believe, viewed either corporately or individually, and not God having predetermined which individuals would believe. For Paul, election may not be referring to God’s unconditional predetermination that certain chosen individuals will believe and be saved to the exclusion of all other individuals.
But in turning the table of logic on Klein and Pinnock, Schreiner needs to be careful in that he does not distance himself from the utility of logic itself to either affirm the truth of a theological proposition or expose its falsity, which is Klein and Pinnock’s fundamental objection to Schreiner’s Calvinism. The misstep being made by everyone here is to (mis)use the word “logic” in connection with the intention to warn about reading into the text our own present day cultural predilections. So the logic of the matter is not the problem here, it is rather reading into the text one’s own more contemporary cultural mindset. Note that logic is not subject to cultural mindsets. The law of noncontradiction is a universally applicable rule of thought at every time in every culture. Ultimately, logic is not “western” or “eastern.” Nor is it the prize possession of any other cultural context. Klein and Pinnock have caused Schreiner to equivocate on the word “logic” here. He is confusing it with something like a “western cultural mindset” which is very different than the concerns of logic itself as applied to the Calvinist doctrines.
So if logic is neither “eastern” or “western,” and if according to Schreiner Klein’s view is false or nonsense, he wouldn’t arrive at it by “forcing western logic upon the text,” because according to the essential nature of logic as the means whereby we discern what is true from what is false, the use of logic would only serve to clarify the interpretive problem and suggest its solution. And that is precisely what Klein and Pinnock are doing in their critique of Schreiner’s Calvinist difficulties. Klein and Pinnock maintain that it is logic that allows us to discern that “it makes no sense for God to plead for Israel to be saved (Rom. 10:21) if he has elected only some to be saved,” and it is contradictory and incoherent to claim that “that God determines all things and that creaturely freedom is real”, and that “…consistent Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness.” These decisions are within the purview of logic. Pinnock argues that “the logic of consistent Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness.” It is the application of logic that would tell us whether the Calvinist doctrinal propositions are coherent or whether they are nonsense. This is different than Schreiner suggesting that Klein and Pinnock are basing their critique of Calvinism on the very same “western logic” that they accused Schreiner of falling prey to in interpreting Romans 9. “Logic’ is the wrong word for Schreiner to latch onto here. Klein and Pinnock, as much as they also refute Schreiner’s view on the basis of logic, were referring to “western values” or the like in defending a corporate view of Paul’s statements in Romans 9.
The point is that even if Schreiner is imposing “western logic” upon a text that should be interpreted from the social and religious context of Paul as an Eastern Jew, that surely does not negate the validity of applying logical reasoning to assess the truth or falsity of Schreiner’s Calvinist exegesis of Romans 9. For Schreiner to justifiably critique Klein and Pinnock for the points they made against Calvinism, Schreiner would have to show us why logic and it deliberations on the Calvinist doctrines don’t apply. For Klein and Pinnock to accuse Schreiner of importing “Western categories” of thought foreign to Paul into Romans 9 is one thing. They may be right or wrong on that score. But for Schreiner to latch onto Klein’s use of the word “logic” in Klein’s phrase “logic that is foreign to their thinking” and then associate this with logic itself to defend his Calvinist doctrines by suggesting that Klein and Pinnock’s use of logic is them imposing “Western categories” of thought onto Schreiner’s Calvinism, is to fail to see the vast difference between the two and to distance himself from logic as an ultimate principle of thought by which we can determine the truth or falsity of exegetical conclusions. Again, logic itself is not a Western category of thought as if it does not apply to the interpretation of the biblical text. Klein and Pinnock’s critiques of Calvinism as incoherent and contradictory hold true precisely because these observations are based in logic even if they may be wrong about Schreiner imposing “Western categories” upon Paul in Romans 9 to arrive at the conclusion that the passage teaches individual unconditional election. That is a separate matter.
What Klein and Pinnock are doing is attempting to process Schreiner’s position of unconditional election of individuals to salvation with Paul’s other statements in the context that speak of God’s universal salvific intent and will. These statements of Paul that affirm that God desires all people to be saved are inconsistent and in contradiction with Schreiner’s view on election. This acknowledgement of the need for coherence and the role it plays as a determiner of the validity of one’s interpretations is the difference between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist hermeneutic. In their exegesis and interpretation of Romans 9, Klein and Pinnock cannot abide incoherence and contradiction. The evidence of incoherence and contradiction that are the deliverances of logic, will send them back to the text in search of a more coherent interpretation, hence, their corporate view which coheres with Paul’s clear meaning in chapters 10 an 11 that God has purposed salvation to be by faith and as such no one is excludes from being saved on the basis that God has not chosen them to it. But when Schreiner’s Calvinist views are assessed and exposed as untenable by the principles of logic, which are essential to the principle of context, Schreiner will ultimately have to maintain that the various inconsistencies Klein and Pinnock have pointed out in his position “…might be true in a way we do not fully comprehend.” This is all Schreiner can do when his views are subjected to the canons of reason. He flees to mystery.
So what would Schreiner have Klein and Pinnock do? Give up using their “western” logic? That would be convenient for Schreiner as a Calvinist because then Klein and Pinnock could no longer use the logical inconsistencies in Schreiner’s Calvinism as a reason to think Calvinism is false. And yet, in the quotes to come below, Schreiner will admit that the law of noncontradiction is an inviolable law of logic and determiner of what is true from what is false. But again, as a Calvinist, Schreiner will ultimately have to maintain that the inconsistencies in his theology – “that God determines all things and that creaturely freedom is real” and that “Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness,” along with God universally pleading for Israel to be saved even though he has unconditional elected only certain people to salvation, is a “mystery,” that is, “that both might be true in a way we do not fully comprehend.”
“Most Calvinists would affirm that logic should not be jettisoned, but they would also claim that the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is finally a mystery. The admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not dominated by western logic. In fact, those who insist that human freedom and individual faith must rule out divine determination of all things are those who end up subscribing to western logical categories.”
Schreiner concludes that it is Klein, Pinnock and all non-Calvinists who “end up subscribing to western logical categories.” But Schreiner’s position is baffling. He agrees that “logic should not be jettisoned,” but then he avoids the deliberations of “western logic” and chooses to hide behind a curtain of mystery. What could Schreiner mean by “western logic?” Is there a difference between logic and “western logic?” Of course not. And in the history of thought, if the principles of logic were initially recognized and formulated and not invented in “the west” (Aristotle), then this distinction is meaningless. Logic is not “western” or “eastern” but stands on its own principles. There is nothing wrong with “western logic.” If as discussed above, logic itself, the kind “that should not be jettisoned” is not “western,” “eastern” or any other kind, and if Klein and Pinnock did not mean to disparage logic in and of itself but were referring to culturally influenced categories of thought, then logic applies equally to Calvinist and non-Calvinist theologies. We are all “dominated” by logic. And that is a good thing if we are seeking to remain rational in our interpretations and discourse. When Schreiner admits that the “Calvinist would affirm that logic should not be jettisoned,” then Schreiner’s Calvinism would also be subject to logic. Hence, for Schreiner to distance himself and Calvinists from “western logic,” is inconsistent with him saying “logic should not be jettisoned.” We need to ask Schreiner, which is it? If “logic should not be jettisoned” and there is not difference between “eastern” and “western” logic, then we should “subscribe to western logical categories,” which just means we should subscribe o logic in our interpretation. What Schreiner and all Calvinists want is the privilege of employing logic when necessary or jettisoning it when it exposes their interpretations as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory. What Schreiner is doing is giving himself permission to not be dominated by logic, which is just to say “I can be irrational if I need be.” To “not be dominated by western logic” is an impossibility if one is to remain rational. To boast that one is not “dominated by western logic” is to admit that one can be irrational. But this is to be untethered from knowing what is true from what is false. It was Issac Watts (1674-1748) the great English divine and hymn writer who said, “It was a saying of the ancients, that ‘truth lies in a well’; and to carry on the metaphor, we may justly say, that logic supplies us with steps whereby we may go down to reach the water.” What Schreiner is doing here is attempting to free Calvinist exegeses, interpretations and theology from rational assessment. To label his Calvinism a mystery doesn’t make it so, especially when the application of logical reasoning to his Calvinism reveals it is incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory. If Schreiner is affirming that there are logical principles “that should not be jettisoned” and that the label “western” does not take away anything from the utility and applicability of those principles to do what they do best – reveal to us what is true and what is false – then he is ultimately saying that “Calvinists need not be logical in their interpretation of Scripture.” And this is a stunning and troubling admission. In contrast, it is a good thing that non-Calvinists like Klein and Pinnock are dominated by western logic, for it is the way of reasoning by which we can discern good interpretation from bad interpretation. For Schreiner to state that “the admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not dominated by western logic” is to use mystery as an excuse for ignoring the logical incoherence of his interpretations and reveal that his hermeneutic is flawed at its very core. Once Calvinists like Schreiner brag about not being dominated by western logic they have effectively confessed that their interpretations need not be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory, but may very well according to “western logic,” that is, logic itself, be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory. For Calvinists that is just fine. For most of the rest of us it is intellectually and hermeneutically irresponsible.
We can conclude that Schreiner is seeking to avoid the negative judgments logic levels against his Calvinism. Schreiner commits what in apologetics is called the “taxi-cab” fallacy. Schreiner affirms and employs logic when it suits his purposes, but then, like a hack, he just gets out when logic threatens his theology. If most Calvinists would affirm that logic should not be jettisoned, then why do they jettison it by fleeing to mystery when the relationship between their deterministic divine sovereignty is found to be logically incompatible with their affirmation of human responsibility? Did logic fail us or is it being conveniently ignored?
It seems that given Dr. Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism that I provided in chapter 4, logic has not failed us but rather served us quite well. If Dr. Craig is correct and the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture, cannot be rationally affirmed, makes God the author of sin, denies human responsibility, nullifies human agency and threatens to make reality into a farce, then the Calvinist, who affirms that logic should not be jettisoned, must either provide logically sound arguments that address these problems, or, accept alternative non-Calvinist interpretations of the text that are exegetically responsible yet do not generate these philosophical, moral and doctrinal incoherencies. To keep insisting that one’s exegesis requires believing contradictory propositions re-designated as “mystery” is to beg the question. To relabel these problems a “mystery” is not an intellectually or interpretively responsible option. As long as there are alternative interpretations of the text that are exegetically sound, that is, they apply to the text the historical-grammatical interpretive methodology, attention to literary genre, immediate and broader literary and canonical context, and authorial intent by the demonstration of explanatory power, explanatory scope, consistency, coherence, etc., then these interpretations should be preferred as closer to the true meaning of the texts. While such interpretations exist, the Calvinist’s assertion of “mystery” remains merely ad hoc and continues to beg the question.
So here we have more evidence of the hermeneutical divide. Schreiner clearly reveals the interpretive thought process of the Calvinist which is very different from that of the non-Calvinist. Again, Schreiner states that “logic should not be jettisoned” and yet he also states that “the admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not dominated by western logic.” This is astonishing. Is this freedom from “western logic” something laudable? Is his boast that the Calvinist is not “dominated” by logic a spiritual or interpretive virtue? Is the rejection of logic at some point in one’s interpretive process or conclusions the inevitable result of correct exegesis on the relevant texts on sovereignty and human responsibility? Is it a sign of theological courage to ignore the logical implications of one’s interpretations? If Schreiner affirms logic, then why does he also spurn it? Because it is “western logic?” But again, logic itself is neither “western” or “eastern” or anything else. What type of “logic” does Schreiner endorse? No kind of logic? Can Schreiner remain logic-free? What does it mean and what would the implications be of not being “dominated” by logic? How would he avoid interpretive relativism? Does he not affirm the universal applicability of the basic cannons of reason? If not, then what kind of logic does he employ in his exegetical and interpretive process? Is Schreiner’s “logic” something different than the logic Dr. Craig applies in assessing Calvinism? How would Schreiner respond to Dr. Craig’s critique? Can Schreiner justify jettisoning logic on the basis that his exegesis of certain biblical texts demands it? How then could we know the truth or falsity of that exegesis? How would this not be merely question-begging?
Schreiner anticipates these questions and realizes he needs to clarify his statements. He writes,
“My own view of the role of logic needs to be clarified so that what I have just said will not be misunderstood. The law of noncontradiction was not invented by Aristotle. It was articulated and defended by him and is characteristic of all meaningful human thought and speech. That which is contradictory cannot be true. Thus it is legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical. The law of noncontradiction cannot be dismissed as western, for all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true.”
So Schreiner affirms what I have stated above about the utility, universality and abiding nature of logic. But recall Schreiner’s previous statements that “…those who insist that human freedom and individual faith must rule out divine determination of all things are those who end up subscribing to western logical categories” and that “the admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not being dominated by western logic.” And yet here he states, “The law of noncontradiction cannot be dismissed as western.” And furthermore he affirms that “all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true.” The contradiction here is simply astonishing! And this is precisely why non-Calvinists reject Calvinism – it violates the law of noncontradiction and everybody knows it! So this is not an issue of subscribing “to western logical categories,” rather it is just to apply to Schreiner’s theological beliefs the type of logic Schreiner himself affirms. So Schreiner is inconsistent here, but from what he has said he cannot dismiss “those who insist that human freedom and individual faith must rule out divine determination of all things” as “those who end up subscribing to western logical categories.”
So, I agree with Schreiner that because “That which is contradictory cannot be true” it is “legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical.” And if it is legitimate to ask this then it must be the case that we can discern whether or not a “particular theological position is contradictory or illogical.” Furthermore, Schreiner affirms that “all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true.” Note that this implies that common folk can discern a contradiction when they see one. But why then the Calvinist’s flight to mystery when their exegesis and theology most certainly seem to be presenting a contradiction? Schreiner will insist that on the basis of exegesis we end up at mystery. But why isn’t it the case that on the basis of Schreiner’s exegesis we can say with conviction that he ends up in a contradiction? Why doesn’t the law of non-contradiction apply to his exegesis?
All this is incoherent with what Schreiner stated previously when he says that “The admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not dominated by western logic.” But this “western logic” is not any different than the law of noncontradiction that Aristotle articulated and defended which Schreiner himself recognizes is “characteristic of all meaningful thought and speech.” This again raises the question as to whether the Calvinist is “dominated” by any logic at all or whether it is convenient for Schreiner to dismiss logic when it indicts his theology. What all this actually proves it that Calvinists are dominated by an interpretation of Scripture that violates the laws of logic. And these are the very laws of logic Schreiner has affirmed for meaningful thought and speech. In short, Calvinists and their Calvinism are incoherent.
The Calvinist will respond that he is dominated by Scripture and its authority. But this, again, not only begs the question and presents the false dichotomy between logic and exegesis. One does not have to choose between incoherence, contradiction and inconsistency or “the mystery” of the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture. There are other alternatives that uphold Scripture’s authority and yet do not require us to embrace interpretations that are incoherent or contradictory. In fact these alternatives uphold the Scripture’s inspiration and rational integrity while Calvinism does not. And this, in turn, is to either affirm or deny certain things about the nature of God. The Calvinist God is a very different type of being than the God the non-Calvinist finds on the pages of Scripture. Scripture does not contradict itself, because God does not contradict himself. God and his Word – written or “made flesh”- is not incoherent or inconsistent. What Schreiner is revealing to us is, that for the Calvinist, logic can be jettisoned in the preservation of the Calvinist doctrines and the whole logical and moral problem be reassigned to the category of “a mystery.” The Reformed Calvinist tradition holds absolute sway even in the light of logical and moral incoherence and contradiction. This, I propose, is bad interpretation and an unacceptable hermeneutic.
Schreiner’s statements reveal that his Calvinism cannot escape the death-grip of the canons of reason. He, of course, wants to avoid the charge of irrationality. Yet, as much as Schreiner affirms the universal nature and crucial role of logic for discerning truth and that what is contradictory cannot be true, he does not acknowledge the fact that contradiction and incoherence characterize his Calvinist theological and soteriological doctrines which he claims are derived from textual exegesis. He is blind to his own conclusions when it comes to his theology. But if Schreiner did not flee to mystery and would acknowledge the implications of his own conclusions for his position, he would have to provide a substantive defense of his doctrinal beliefs on logical and moral grounds so as to convince us that they are not incoherent and contradictory. This, of course, is asking for something more than merely providing a Calvinist exegesis of the various relevant texts. It is to require something more from one’s exegesis. It requires that one’s exegesis make sense. Simply to provide an exegesis of a text does not definitively confirm the accuracy of that exegesis. Interpretive validity is not merely a matter of producing an exegesis of various texts, as necessary as that is, but requiring that they be coherent and non-contradictory. If Schreiner is going to claim that his doctrines are the biblical teaching then in light of his statement that “that which is contradictory cannot be true,” he must show us how it is that his doctrines are not contradictory. Therefore, in addition to providing an exegesis of the texts, he would have to provide a substantive argument as to why his exegesis and his theological conclusions based on that exegesis are not contradictory when our logical reasoning faculties are telling us that they are. This to he affirmed when he stated “all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true.” Hence, since “most Calvinists would affirm that logic should not be jettisoned” and Schreiner affirms that “it is legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical,” we therefore do so. We are asking whether Calvinism is contradictory or illogical. It certainly seems to be! In that Schreiner also affirms that “The law of noncontradiction cannot be dismissed as western, for all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true,” we therefore trust our logical reasoning and common sense and require from the Calvinists a logical explanation of their exegesis, interpretations and theology. Schreiner would have to tell us why what “all people intuitively sense” about his Calvinism – that it is logically and morally untenable – are mistaken.
Moreover, if we cannot discern whether or not the Calvinist doctrines are contradictory then of what value is it to say that “the law of noncontradiction is characteristic of all meaningful human thought and speech?” What is meant or gained by affirming that “it is legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical” if our rational faculties cannot sufficiently detect whether a particular theological position is contradictory? Given the truths about logic that Schreiner has affirmed above, his flight to mystery smacks of evading the real issues here.
To provide a logical explanation of his exegetical conclusions would be to defend his exegesis against those who, on the basis of the law of noncontradiction “insist that human freedom and individual faith must rule out divine determination of all things.” But what would Schreiner say to convince us otherwise? If there is a real contradiction here, which it seems evident that there is, as far as I can see there is nothing for the Calvinist to say, and there is no defense of his theology. This is a real contradiction here. It is not merely an “apparent” contradiction. I submit that the Calvinist has no response or defense of their theological propositions on the grounds of reason and logic. Calvinism is not logical or reasonable and therefore can confidently be deemed irrational. Schreiner himself has led us to this conclusion.
It is inconsistent for Schreiner to affirm that the law of non-contradiction (and I assume the other laws of logic), and accept that “That which is contradictory cannot be true” yet state, along with Calvinist Bruce Ware that,
“…we are convinced that the central reason that the doctrines of grace are questioned is not because of scriptural exegesis, although we grant that those who disagree with us would interpret many Scriptures differently. But their fundamental objections are certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we affirm. It should be granted that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism. The objections go something like this: If God chooses only some, then how can he be loving? If God’s grace is irresistible, then what happens to human free will? If God saves those he has chosen, why pray or get involved in missions? If God is in control of the world, then why do anything at all? If God is sovereign, then why is there suffering in the world? If God governs all events, then why is evil our responsibility, not his?
…We suggest that the answers to the preceding questions are often complex because the reality of life as portrayed by the Scriptures is complex. God is completely sovereign, and yet human choices and responsibility are not a charade. God ordains all that comes to pass and is good; and yet evil exists, and it is really evil. God chooses only some to be saved, and yet there is also a true sense in which he desires the salvation of all. Those who are elect will never lose their salvation, and yet those who do not persevere to the end will not inherit the kingdom of God. All Calvinists we have ever read acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. People do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems. Rather, the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture. Our attempt to solve the problems posed by our theology, then, is an example of “faith seeking understanding.” 
In light of Schreiner’s affirmation of the indispensability of laws of logic to think or speak meaningfully, this objection no longer stands. The thinking and language here are evasive of the central problem with Schreiner and Ware’s interpretive methodology and hermeneutic. They refuse to face the negative implications of the laws of logic for their exegesis and theology. They refuse to face the fact that those very laws of logic that they affirm establish that their interpretations of certain texts are mistaken. They will not allow logical and moral reasoning to be determinative factors regarding the validity or invalidity of their interpretations and theology. They insist on separating philosophical and moral reflection from exegesis and interpretation. But philosophical objections are substantial objections that need to be addressed. Given Schreiner’s own support of the law of non-contradiction such objections are enough to invalidate Schreiner’s exegesis. It may well be that “people do not become Calvinists because Calvinism solves all such logical problems,” but people ought not to become Calvinists unless “all such logical problems” are solved precisely because they are logical problems. Logic either holds in biblical interpretation or it does not. One cannot pick and choose when and how logical and moral reasoning apply and when they do not. Schreiner and Ware state, “…the fundamental reason people should embrace the Calvinist doctrines of grace is because they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” But how will we determine if that claim is true? How will we determine whether or not “these doctrines are taught in Scripture?” I have argued that any exegesis that claims to be biblically faithful also needs to be logically consistent and non-contradictory otherwise it is safe to say it is not taught in Scripture. We have shown, and Schreiner admits, that “that which is contradictory cannot be true.” Therefore, as contradictory, the Calvinist doctrines cannot be true. People ought not to “believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” There is no rational warrant for us to “believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” An exegesis that leads to logical and moral incoherence and contradiction is a misinterpretation of the text. People ought not to become Calvinists because Calvinism has not, and I contend, cannot solve its logical and moral problems and therefore is not what the Scripture teaches. Schreiner and Ware are simply making a bold assertion when they say this. They may honestly believe that these doctrines are taught in Scripture, but they only way thy can do so is to ignore their logical and moral reasoning in the process. The Calvinist cannot solve “all such logical problems” because they are real contradictions inherent in their exegetical conclusions. All this should send him back to Scripture to reconsider the exegetical alternatives that make better sense of the relevant texts. The only way you can solve a contradiction is to back off from it to an interpretive alternative that produces textual and theological consistency and coherence. But that takes a bit of humility and the Calvinist would have to give up his Calvinist determinism. That he will never do. He would rather flee to mystery. But this is not an intellectually responsible option, and as such it is not an exegetically responsible methodology. In light of all that has been said, Schreiner and Ware’s assessment of their problem merely shows itself up as ignoring logic’s condemnation of their position.
With all that he has said above, Schreiner attempts to offer further explanations in defense of his position. He continues,
“Nevertheless, to subscribe to the law of noncontradiction does not mean that logic can resolve every problem in theology. There are times when Scripture strongly affirms two realities that cannot finally be resolved logically by us. For example, the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures in Christ are theological constructs that are rightly derived from the Bible, and yet we cannot ultimately explain how there can be three persons and yet one God. This does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity is irrational. It means only that it is above our present rational capacities. Such mysteries should be adopted only if that is where the biblical evidence leads. I believe the biblical evidence compels us to see such a mystery in the case of divine election and human responsibility. A mystery is not required, however, in the case of corporate election, and so there is no need to postulate a discontinuity between corporate and individual election. In fact individual election cannot be dismissed, since it is taught in too many texts (John 6:37, 44-45, 64-65; Acts 13:48; 16:14; etc.)
Biblical exegesis requires us, then to see a mystery in the case of divine election and human responsibility. Romans 9 teaches that God does elect individuals and groups unto salvation, and he determines who will exercise faith. Nevertheless, Romans 9:30-10:21 teaches us that those who do not exercise faith are responsible and should have done so. How can both of these be logically true? We cannot fully grasp the answer to this question, for as with other mysteries in Scripture we affirm that our human minds cannot adequately grasp the full import of divine revelation.”
Several observations should be made at this point. First, affirming the Calvinist’s stress on exegesis, this is not primarily a matter of logic resolving this problem in Calvinist theology. Rather, it is more fundamentally a matter of logic identifying a problem in Calvinist exegesis. The resolution, as Schreiner and most Calvinists are careful to point out, will ultimately be at the exegetical level. But what does “resolving” or “identifying” a problem at the exegetical level mean? What does this entail except that we employ the canons of reason to do so? We might agree when Schreiner states, “…the law of noncontradiction does not mean that logic can resolve every problem in theology,” but we would, in stark disagreement with Schreiner, affirm that our reason can identify a violation of the law of noncontradiction in Calvinist theology and therefore establish that theology as mistaken in its interpretations. The law of noncontradiction would indicate that there is a problem that needs to be resolved. Furthermore, logic can serve to continually assess the validity of the suggested resolutions. Just because we are dealing with “the study of God” (theology) and divinely inspired Scripture does not negate the canons of reason being applied to determine the validity of one’s textual exegesis. Therefore, I disagree that “Biblical exegesis requires us, then to see a mystery in the case of divine election and human responsibility” precisely because “our rational capacities” which work with the law of noncontradiction require us to reject that particular exegesis. When Schreiner states, “Romans 9 teaches that God does elect individuals and groups unto salvation, and he determines who will exercise faith” he is simply wrong because these statements are in contradiction with Paul’s teachings in Romans 10 and 11. Romans 9 does not teach what Schreiner says it teaches because “our rational capacities” message that this conjunction of thoughts is of the nature of logical contradictions and therefore they are not a biblical mystery. Our “rational capacities” do apply to those problems in theology that are truly contradictory. Logic certainly can resolve this type of problem in theology because it is a problem that logic is perfectly suited to identify and point us in the right interpretive direction.
Schreiner again states, “I believe the biblical evidence compels us to see such a mystery in the case of divine election and human responsibility.” It certainly does not. There are non-Calvinist interpretations of the same texts that do not lead to contradictions and therefore require this flight to mystery. Rather, I believe that when we keep clear thinking before us, that is, we keep our logical and moral faculties engaged, the biblical evidence compels us to see a contradiction between human responsibility and the Calvinist definition of divine election as unconditional.
Schreiner suggests that deterministic election and human responsibility are akin to the doctrine of the Trinity which he states is a mystery. But is the relationship between Calvinist determinism and human freedom and responsibility a mystery like the Trinity or a contradiction? Can the “mystery” of the Trinity be made to be analogous of the relation between deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election and human freedom and responsibility? I agree with Schreiner that it can be determined that the doctrine of the Trinity is not irrational. But how can we determine that it is not irrational? Only by the use of our logical faculties. So, if those faculties can discern when something is not irrational or illogical then they can also discern when something is irrational or illogical. With our reasoning faculties in play we can conclude that deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election are logically incompatible with human freedom and responsibility. So these Calvinist doctrines do not create a genuine biblical mystery, they create a contradiction. That is not the case with the Trinity. Is the Trinity even a mystery as Schreiner claims? Why should we believe Schreiner when he says that “we cannot ultimately explain how there can be three persons and yet one God?” Dr. Craig observes,
“The doctrine of the Trinity is often obscured by Christians in mystery. Sometimes they will say that the doctrine of the Trinity is logically inconsistent or it is an affront to reason and something that can be held only by faith. It is a mystery. But I think this really does the doctrine a disservice. The doctrine of the Trinity is not even apparently logically contradictory. The doctrine of the Trinity is not the self-contradictory doctrine that three gods are somehow one God, or that three persons are somehow one person. Rather, the doctrine states that there are three persons in the one God. Another way to put it: God is tri-personal.”
But even if the Trinity has an element of mystery to it, the question is whether these two theological issues – determinism and free will – are even close to being the same as any mystery in the Trinity. Are they both “mystery” in the same sense that they are merely “above our present rational capacities?” Is this just a matter of not being able to “ultimately explain,” that is, fully comprehend, some theological point, or, is this a matter of seeing clearly enough that a certain theological proposition is in contradiction or incoherent with another theological proposition? Even if the Trinity has an element of mystery to it, how is it that deterministic unconditional election and human responsibility fall into that category of “mystery” in the same way? Again, our “present rational capacities” tell us they do not. The claims of Calvinism are contradictory.
When Schreiner claims the Trinity is a “mystery” he confirms the distinction I have been making, that there are things that are “above our present rational capacities” and these need to be distinguished from things that can be known to run against our “present rational capacities” or laws of thought. It is the difference between things that are beyond our reason to fully comprehend (genuine biblical mystery) and things that are against reason when sufficiently comprehended (genuine exegetical contradiction or incoherence). That is the difference at issue here. I believe Calvinism falls into the latter category and as Dr. Craig points out, it does the doctrine of the Trinity a disservice to deem it logically inconsistent and contradictory and therefore shouldn’t be employed as analogous support for the contradiction between Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism and human freedom and responsibility.
For instance, Schreiner’s textual exegesis maintains that God unconditionally elects certain individuals to faith. Only the elect will believe and be saved. Yet, Schreiner’s textual exegesis also maintains that those who are not elect should have believed and will be held responsible by God for their unbelief. In addition, Schreiner’s textual exegesis maintains that God meticulously predetermined all that occurs, including the thoughts and choices of all individuals. Yet, Schreiner’s textual exegesis also maintains that human beings make their own choices, including evil ones, and are responsible for those choices while God is not implicated in the evil they do and that occurs throughout the world. For Schreiner these doctrines either are not or cannot be contradictory or incoherent, otherwise, according to his own words, they could not be true. Recall that Schreiner states, “The law of noncontradiction…is characteristic of all meaningful human thought and speech. That which is contradictory cannot be true. Thus it is legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical.” So, we have asked and investigated whether the Calvinist theological position is contradictory or illogical. I am compelled to conclude on the amount and weight of the evidence I have presented above (and in the many other chapters on this site) that the Calvinist position is contradictory and illogical. I have found no way to avoid this conclusion. And the Calvinist has not provided any evidence or argument to avoid this conclusion. As far as I can tell, these Calvinist doctrines are contradictory.
The Calvinist might claim that his position cannot be contradictory because then these doctrines would implicate Scripture in a contradiction or incoherence. But that again is to beg the question and reiterate that the Calvinist has a real problem on their hands. We have to make a judgment on the validity of an interpretation on the basis of the coherence of the propositions. We cannot assume they are the correct interpretation of the text and then reason that since the Bible cannot contradict itself the propositions are not really contradictory – that they are just apparently contradictory. To avoid the problem of contradiction this way is ad hoc. I assume that Schreiner’s doctrine of biblical inspiration will not allow for contradictory interpretations. But note that for him to reason thus would be to confirm that he trusts his rational capacities enough to be able to identify contradiction and incoherence and that would indict his interpretations as invalid.
So if Schreiner would conclude that the Scripture would be implicated and impugned if it contained contradictory and incoherent teachings, why doesn’t he apply the same logic in implicating and impugning God in evil given his universal divine causal determinism. Why does he ignore this. Schreiner would have to give an answer here. But this is difficult once one adopts a kind of “selective reasoning” where reason is affirmed when it helps one’s position and distanced by “mystery” when it imposes upon and begins to unravel one’s position. Recall that he stated, “The admission of mystery demonstrates that Calvinists are not dominated by western logic. In fact, those who insist that human freedom and individual faith must rule out divine determination of all things are those who end up subscribing to western logical categories.” In this Schreiner is incoherent for he has also affirmed that “The law of noncontradiction…is characteristic of all meaningful human thought and speech. That which is contradictory cannot be true.” Calvinists admit to “certain logical problems that are provoked by the Augustinian-Calvinist theology we affirm” but then simply choose to ignore their hermeneutical implications.
So, does Schreiner’s Calvinist doctrines really fit the category of “mystery” or can they be discerned to be logically contradictory and incoherent? Our inability to “adequately grasp the full import of divine revelation” is different than our ability to discern a logical incoherence or contradiction. The latter should not be confused with the former and if the latter is the case it should not be labeled a “mystery.” Schreiner’s exegesis of the biblical texts leads him to conclude that “God determines who will exercise faith” and yet “all individuals are responsible to exercise faith and should have done so.” He obviously recognizes that there is a logical problem here because he goes on to ask, “How can both of these be logically true?” His answer is that “Biblical exegesis requires us…to see a mystery in the case of divine election and human responsibility.”
But of course another answer can be given to Schreiner’s question “How can both of these be logically true?” And that answer is that, “They are not both logically true as Schreiner has defined “divine election.” A moment’s logical reflection tells us they are contradictory. Therefore, Schreiner has misinterpreted the text regarding divine election to mean divine determinism.” It seems to me, and to all non-Calvinists, that we certainly can fully grasp the problem here and the necessary solution. The problem is that we have a contradiction on our hands. This is because, as Schreiner states, “the law of noncontradiction was not invented.” It is something inherent to the warp and woof of human thought as thought. As Christians we would claim that the principles of logic are a fundamental part of God’s cognitive life, a basic element of his rational nature. As made in the image of God we too are rational beings that function on the pattern of God’s principles of logic. We discover these and employ then as reliable for discerning what is true from what is false. Recall that Sir William Hamilton stated a metaphysical truth when he said,
“Logic is the science of thought as thought, that is, the necessary conditions to which thought, in itself considered is subject.”
And Schreiner along with all Calvinists must take the advice of I. A. Richards who said
“We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”
If what Schreiner also states is true – that “all people intuitively sense that what is contradictory cannot be true” – then it is plausible to think that we can know a contradiction when we see one. Schreiner admits as much when he states that the law of noncontradiction “is characteristic of all meaningful human thought and speech” and “thus it is legitimate to ask if a particular theological position is contradictory or illogical.” All this implies that we can know and are governed by the canons of reason and that we can also discern contradictions or incoherencies when they are present. We know when human thought and speech are meaningful and when they become nonsense.
Therefore I submit that we can certainly identify the problem here to be one of logical contradiction and incoherence. This is not hard to grasp. We can confidently say that the Calvinist’s exegetical conclusions are logically incompatible and therefore we know, as Schreiner himself admits, the position cannot be true. It is false at some point or another. Therefore, the problem is not inherent in the text but in the exegete’s handling of the text. The exegesis is flawed. And therefore the solution is to go back to the text and do a better job at all that good exegesis requires. For instance, as to an exegesis of Romans 9, this chapter needs to be coherently interpreted within the broader context of Paul’s thought in Romans 10 and 11. It is incumbent upon Schreiner and Calvinists to do so.
These problems are meaningful with respect to the accuracy of one’s exegesis and interpretation of the biblical text. The logical implications of one’s exegesis and theological system given the full scope of related issues that need to be considered cannot be ignored, and Calvinism’s theistic determinism is at the root of most, if not all, of the Calvinist’s logical and moral difficulties. If, and only if, we take logical and moral coherence on board in our hermeneutic are we able to see that the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of sovereignty is not a valid interpretation of Scripture. That is why the Calvinist must hide behind the curtain of mystery. It allows them to avoid the negative logical and moral ramifications of their theology. If they were to integrate logical and moral considerations into their hermeneutic as definitive contributors for discerning valid interpretations then they would have to abandon or radically revise their theology. What the Calvinist does by ignoring the problematic logical and moral implications of their interpretations and declaring them a mystery is justify any and all interpretations, no matter how severe their incoherence. Therefore, the question has to be asked and answered. “Are logical and moral coherence essential to a sound biblical hermeneutic? If not, why not?” I submit that these problems ought to be deemed hermeneutically significant such that they should cause the interpreter to reconsider whether their interpretations are actually what the Bible teaches.
Recall that Schreiner and Ware state, “It should be granted that the logical difficulties raised pose legitimate and difficult questions for those who embrace Calvinism.” So they acknowledge that the logical problems inherent in Calvinism are legitimate problems. Yet they say “All Calvinists …acknowledge that the full and final resolution of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery.” But if these difficulties involve logical reasoning and moral principles well known to us and by which we discern truth from error in all other matters, why not here? If they are properly discerned to be of the nature of logical and moral difficulties, is it therefore inappropriate and disingenuous to label them a “mystery.” Such labeling becomes a mere assertion based on presupposing Calvinism to be biblical truth. Thus the “reasoning” is circular. It is not clearly reasoned as to why or how this is a truly biblical mystery. What is legitimate for logic to discern is declared “a mystery” on the basis that “they believe these doctrines are taught in Scripture.” This is not only question-begging, it is to say the Scriptures present to us doctrines we can identify as logically incoherent, but are at the same time told to believe they are not; rather, they are a “mystery.” They are at one and the same time incoherent or contradictory and a “mystery.” But is this really the case? Why declare what can be identified as a logical problem a “mystery?”
At this point we suspect eisegesis to be going on instead of exegesis. One seems to be allowing their traditional reading of the text to stand despite the radical logical and moral ramifications of that traditional reading in relation to all other truths that need to be considered. Are all biblical interpretations marked by incoherence or contradiction to be considered mysteries? Can these questions even be asked?
I am pressing the point that what is a contradiction must be acknowledged to be a contradiction and not to unjustifiably asserted to be a “mystery.” Mystery does not provide a satisfactory explanation of one’s exegetical conclusions while those conclusions exhibit contradiction and incoherence. Consistent, coherent and non-contradictory exegetical conclusions are necessary for declaring those conclusions valid interpretations of the text. Exegetical procedures must show themselves to be sound procedures by also being marked by coherence and non-contradiction. Rational coherence must be a hallmark of our exegesis, interpretations and hermeneutic. The importance one assigns to rational coherence in their exegetical interpretive process and theological conclusions is the central difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Rational coherence is dispensable for the Calvinist. It is indispensable for the non-Calvinist. This hermeneutical divide is at the heart of this controversy. As long as the Calvinist can resort to excusing interpretive incoherence or contradiction by the flight to mystery, no resolution will be found between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions. The Calvinist must state a position on this matter that is neither ad hoc nor question-begging. The words of I. A. Richards are worth repeating, “We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”
The Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) to the Rescue
We should not overlook the most important ramification of this Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy. These two mutually exclusive theologies result in two mutually exclusive soteriologies which in turn places the gospel message as “good news” in jeopardy. That is, given Calvinism the gospel as “good news” is eroded. So given the arguments presented in this chapter, who can assist the church in resolving this confusion over the gospel? In that I have pointed out that the Calvinist, practically speaking, rejects philosophical reflection in his hermeneutic, then perhaps the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) is suited to the task. The ultimate end of the Evangelical Philosophical Society is to bring glory to the Triune God and spread the Kingdom of God. I would think therefore that the EPS has a vested interest in defining and defending the biblical gospel and promoting its proclamation as “good news.” The first “value” in the profile for an Evangelical Philosophical Society Executive Committee Member reads,
“First, an Executive Committee Member should value excellence in philosophy. He or she should exhibit a life of philosophical growth, a commitment to the discipline, and a desire to serve the field of philosophy both because it is intrinsically good to do so and for the honor of Jesus Christ.”
This statement affirms the intrinsic goodness of serving the field of philosophy which implies the importance of its reflections, thoughts and principles for sound thinking in all areas of life including biblical interpretation. Philosophy is not something that can be brushed aside when one’s theological position runs afoul of sound philosophical thinking. Indeed, such thinking is “for the honor of Jesus Christ.”
The second “value” for an Executive Committee Member is that they,
“…exhibit a real sense of faithfulness to the teachings of the inerrant Word of God, along with an eagerness to identify with the Evangelical community.”
Faithfulness to the teachings of Scripture requires bringing philosophical reflection to bear upon one’s interpretations of Scripture to determine their faithfulness to the text. And to identify with the community as “Evangelical” is to identify with a community that holds to the Scriptural definition of the term “evangelical” which means “good news.”
This second “value” continues to stress an important caveat that I think is applicable to this controversy. It states,
“The EPS is an Evangelical society and it should manifest a desire to be loyal to and defend views of that community unless, of course, that loyalty or those views are suspect for some reason or another.”
What will determine whether a view is “suspect?” What constitutes “for some reason or another” in determining whether a view is faithful to the teachings of the inerrant Word of God? Surely it must involve the application of philosophical reasoning which I have argued for throughout this chapter and was clearly set out in the first “value.” Calvinists forfeit sound philosophical and moral reasoning in order to hold to their interpretations of Scripture. Surely the EPS has a crucial role in deciphering and resolving this hermeneutical divide.
The fourth “value” states that an,
“Executive Committee Member should be strongly committed to being an activist for the cause of Christ…to promote a Christian world view in the world and the church, strengthen the faith of believers, and help to fulfill the Great Commission.”
All these involve one’s understanding of soteriology and the implications of that soteriology for the gospel as “good news.” What is “a Christian world view?” What is it to be “an activist for the cause of Christ” and “to fulfill the Great Commission?” What is “the cause of Christ?” I submit that all these questions and commitments are answered in drastically different ways depending upon whether one is a Calvinist (that is, one who is consistent with his Calvinism) or a non-Calvinist. These commitments certainly involve knowing the content of the gospel message. So what is the content of gospel message as truly “good news?” Calvinists and non-Calvinists have mutually exclusive understandings of soteriological doctrines and this bears upon the gospel they have to bring to the world. In that they are mutually exclusive understandings demands the involvement of the EPS in discerning truth from error. That is an important role of philosophy. So alas, the interpretive problem remains and it is also an acute philosophical problem. Good philosophical reasoning indicates that there are two mutually exclusive soteriologies in the evangelical church today – the Calvinist and non-Calvinist. And as we continue to deny this fact we cannot come to grips with what is the truth of the gospel, and we prove to be violating not only this fourth value but also the first two values and our commitment to the philosophical endeavor itself. Responsible evangelical Christian philosophers cannot continue to ignore this issue. The “Vision Statement” of the EPS reads,
“The Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) is a professional society of Christian philosophers who are committed to a high view of biblical authority and who believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true…”
But what gospel are they talking about? Which “gospel of Jesus Christ” is the true gospel? Does it matter to the EPS that there are two mutually exclusive soteriologies, each with its correspondingly different “gospel” message? If not, why not? Can either soteriology produce a message the content of which is truly “good news?” Can the two incompatible soteriologies both be the teaching of Scripture? Does the Calvinist’s theological and soteriological determinism produce a message of “good news” for sinners? We must cease using the word “gospel” without showing a proper concern for discerning its meaning and content. We must reject a mindless acceptance of two mutually exclusive views on soteriology and what constitutes “the gospel.” That is not befitting the responsible evangelical philosopher. If we hold to the first two values for Executive Committee Members and the EPS Vision Statement, that is, that we have a commitment to doing good philosophy, that the philosophical discipline has intrinsic worth, that philosophy is essential to honoring Jesus Christ, and that philosophy serves to identify views in the Evangelical community that are “suspect for some reason or another,” then we cannot allow two mutually exclusive soteriologies and “gospels” to stand. The EPS, for one, needs to make this matter a high priority, not only because it directly involves the purposes of the discipline of Christian philosophy but it also bears directly upon the intellectual integrity and credibility of the society, especially as an evangelical society. This issue has crucial ramifications for both the church and the EPS as “evangelical” – that is a church and society whose central message is “the good news.” The EPS “Mission Statement” emphasizes this point. It reads,
“The mission of the Evangelical Philosophical Society is to glorify God through the faithful practice of philosophy, fostering a deeper understanding of God and the world he created while both encouraging and enabling Christian philosophers to engage philosophical and spiritual issues in the academy, church, and culture.”
Therefore, I put the following questions and challenges to the EPS. Do evangelical Christian philosophers actually believe that their discipline has little or nothing to contribute to discerning the validity of certain interpretations of Scripture? Do the functions and purposes of philosophy – its ability to discern the relevant information and issues, logically reflect on them, assess them in relation to other information and issues and draw true conclusions – have no bearing upon the interpretation of biblical texts or the discipline of biblical hermeneutics? Can we say that the philosophical assessment of Calvinism does not and cannot lead to any reliably true conclusions as to its biblical validity or invalidity? For instance, does William Lane Craig’s philosophical assessment given in chapter 4 have no relevance as to discerning the interpretive validity of the Calvinist doctrines and teachings? Can philosophy provide any decisive conclusions in this regard? Can philosophy tell us anything true about the nature and plausibility of determinisms, including theistic determinisms? In addition, and more pointedly, does the EPS have a concern for the truth in this matter, especially if the gospel is at stake? I think it should.
The faithful practice of philosophy needs to be brought to bear on this gospel controversy because the perpetuation of the controversy, and therefore its resolution, is essentially a matter of whether one believes philosophical reflection and moral intuition are indispensable elements in a sound hermeneutic or whether one believes that exegesis exists in a dichotomous relation to philosophical reflection and moral intuition. What does the EPS believe in this regard? Does the EPS take the stance that two mutually exclusive theologies, soteriologies and gospel messages can both be biblical truth? Has the EPS been influenced by the interpretive and soteriological relativism so pervasive in the evangelical church today?
As an Evangelical Philosophical Society the EPS is suited to play a key role in discerning and affirming the biblical gospel in our day. The EPS can play a key role here because the controversy involves whether or not a sound hermeneutic requires that we view rational and moral coherence as essential for determining the validity of biblical exegesis. We are in desperate need for Christian philosophers to weigh in on this particular question. They have in the past, but I challenge evangelical philosophers and the EPS to rise to this occasion in the present.
This controversy highlights the need for the application of philosophical principles to biblical interpretations that bear upon the definition and content of the gospel as “good news.” We need a deeper understanding of God and the world he created as it relates to the gospel defined as “good news.” As it stands now, the evangelical church, with its neglect of the life of the mind and interpretive relativism, is discouraging Christian philosophy. As this happens we lose the ability to do good interpretation and Scripture loses its authority and interest. Good, sound thinking is being banished from our churches and the perpetual nature of this controversy results from our failure to come to grips with whether or not we are going to adopt a hermeneutic of coherence or continue in the present state of intellectual denial that allows two incompatible soteriologies and gospels to exist under the assertion that “the Bible teaches both.” Surely such a state of affairs is intellectually unacceptable for the EPS, as it should be for any church that claims to be “evangelical.”
The probative force of sound reasoning and moral intuition is truly problematic for Calvinist interpretation. Clear thinking needs to be restored and the hermeneutical divide addressed. Will the EPS rise to the occasion, if for no other reason than the restoration and preservation of the truth of the gospel as the “good news” that it is? By doing so, it will be affirming that truth matters and that defining and defending the true gospel is at the heart of its mission and the ultimate purpose for its existence. Recall the “Vision Statement” above which I quote in full here. It reads,
“The Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) is a professional society of Christian philosophers who are committed to a high view of biblical authority and who believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, intellectually persuasive, and rationally defensible in the marketplace of ideas.”
So if the “gospel of Jesus Christ is true” and there are two mutually exclusive gospels, how is this not be the most important issue that should occupy the hearts and minds of the members of the EPS? How is it that the true gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be definitively identified? Is the Calvinist or non-Calvinist gospel message the true gospel? If “the gospel of Jesus Christ is intellectually persuasive, and rationally defensible,” how is it that Calvinism remains an acceptable Christian theology when it shows itself to be intellectually incoherent and not rationally defensible? We need to revive not only the issue of truth in a relativistic age, but we need to revive the issue of the truth of the gospel in a relativistic evangelical church so as to be proclaiming the message the Holy Spirit can, in power, bring conviction of sin and impress upon each and every sinner their need to believe and be saved.
The involvement of the EPS is even more essential because things get even worse within Calvinism. I have demonstrated in previous chapters that the Calvinist rejects the deliberations and deliverances of human reason and moral intuitions which provide substantive, weighty critiques of their biblical interpretations and deterministic theological system. To avoid the fact that these deliberations, along with non-Calvinist exegeses, defeat Calvinism’s core doctrines and show them up as unbiblical, we therefore find Calvinists taking the next troubling step to perpetuate Calvinism. That is, the Calvinist must suppress our logical reasoning and moral intuitions so as to diminish the force these have in revealing Calvinism as untenable. In the next chapter I will provide evidence of this suppression of reason by Calvinists and give further examples of their rejection of logical and moral coherence in interpretation.
 C. S. Lewis, “The Funeral of a Great Myth,” Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 93.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
 Ibid. 18, 19.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 18.
 Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 203-204.
 Ibid. 203-204.
 Ibid. 180.
 Ibid. 203-204.
 Ronnie W. Rogers, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2016), 71.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 132.
 Ibid. 132-133.
 Ibid. 133.
 Ibid. 134.
 Ibid. 135.
 E. H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009, pp. 105-106.
 Ibid. p. 85.
 Ibid. p. 87.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 144-145.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 19.
 Ibid. 20.
 Ibid. 19.
 Ibid. 16.
 Ibid. 18.
 Ibid. 18. All quotes in this section are from p. 18.
 Ibid. 19.
 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.
 David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 67, 68.
 Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 31-33.
 John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, ed. Paul Helm, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 21.
 This may also be called his prescriptive will in the sense that God prescribes what we are to do and not to do. The term preceptive will refers to God’s precepts or commands regarding what we are to do or not to do.
 Ibid. 23-24.
 Ibid. 24-25.
 Ibid. 26.
 Ibid. 27.
 Other matters of concern can be brought up here. For instance, the fact that God permits evils, that is, that he has not predetermined, decreed and caused those evils, does not entail that evil acts have no reason or purpose. That God has to decree and be the cause of evil for it to have a reason or purpose is a non-sequitur and impugns the character of God. God can redeem evil that he has not decreed; that is, make purposeful, have reasons for and finally judge the evil he allows to occur. The free will defense would argue that a reason God has for allowing evil is that God wanted to create moral free agents – creatures with freedom of choice. This introduced the possibility that they may go wrong and do evil. He does not stop all evil, and the reason or purpose an evil doer does an evil act lies within them. The act remains an evil act done by them for which God will hold them responsible. But God’s reasons for creating creatures that can do evil is that they may also love him freely.
Also, given the moral contradictions above, the Calvinist’s claim that God is equitable and just is based on what? Certainly not on our sense of equity and justice! And if God’s equity and justice are in no sense like ours, or rather, if our moral intuitions of equity and justice, although incomplete, are in no sense true reflections of God’s, then God is we know not what. We have no true knowledge of God. God may truly be a moral monster.
 John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, ed. Paul Helm, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 27.
 Ibid. 25.
 Ibid. 28-29.
 Ibid. 29.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 19.
 John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, ed. Paul Helm, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 25.
 John Piper, “Is Knowing God’s Sovereignty Important to My Daily Life?,” Ask Pastor John, Episode 1105, Oct. 11, 2017. The audio program and transcript can be found at https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-knowing-gods-sovereignty-important-to-my-daily-life Last accessed Sept. 6, 2018.
Also listen to the critique of this podcast by Leighton Flowers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=b-p4ROXESx0&feature=emb_title
Flowers makes the point that Piper and Calvinists in general view God’s sovereignty in terms of a false dichotomy between all things being random or all things being predetermined. Either all things occur randomly or they must be predetermined by God. There are no other alternatives. But this a false dichotomy in that God may allow certain events to occur without having to have predetermined them and therefore cause them to occur. God’s sovereignty can just as well be defined as his ability to rule over and govern the affairs of this world such that his plans and purposes cannot be thwarted even though he has granted persons substantial, genuine freedom and moral responsibility. This is true divine sovereignty as opposed to divine determinism. We cannot accept determinism on exegetical/biblical, logical and moral grounds, therefore we can understand sovereignty as God’s ability to actively rule, and overrule when the circumstances warrant it, in relation to the genuine freedom the Sovereign has bestowed upon his human creatures over which he rules. This allows for a degree of authentic reciprocal and personal relationship to occur between the Sovereign and his subjects. This then provides true meaning and purpose for their existence and upon historical events. This better accords with the biblical testimony. Whereas the other view of God’s sovereignty as a meticulous divine determinism reduces all human action and history to merely the expression of a monolithic divine will marked by static control. The former is coherent with all that the Bible testifies to about the character and attributes of God along with the moral agency and responsibility of sinful human persons, the latter is not. Given that one takes logical and more coherence on board in their hermeneutic, the former exceeds the latter in explanatory power and explanatory scope and therefore is the better explanation.
 What does Piper do with the fact that if God determines all things, then God also determined Piper to believe that God determined that Piper believe that God determines all things? Well, first, if Piper himself, as an independent thinking being, can do anything with that fact, then Piper is not determined by God to think what he thinks and therefore all things are not determined by God and Piper’s theology of sovereignty fails.
Secondly, if God has determined Piper’s belief that God has determined all things, then how does Piper know that God has determined all things? God may have just determined that Piper believe that God has determined all things. God might be the type of God that could care less about truth in certain situations, perhaps depending upon his mood?! Perhaps God does not determine all things, but only Piper’s belief that he does. The point is that Piper wouldn’t be “thinking” in any meaningful way to discover or know the truth about whether God has really determined all things. Piper’s thoughts are completely dictated by what God wants him to think. Indeed, how could it be said that Piper is reasoning at all in any meaningful sense when his every thought is predetermined by God to be what it is? How would Piper know that what he believes is true? The truth of the matter would completely elude him. If he says “Well, God is always true. I read that in his Word. But then how do you know that that thought about God’s sovereignty from God’s Word is true in the light that someone else claims a different view of God’s sovereignty – a thought which God has also determined? According to Piper, God has determined both, but which it true? It is obvious that God has predetermined one person to believe one thing and Piper to believe something different. So what is God really like? Maybe he isn’t good after all, but evil? After all he has predetermined and caused all the evil in the world too.
William Lane Craig’s observations here are worth repeating. “…universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. When you think about it – there is a sort of dizzying self-defeating character to determinism. For if you come to believe that determinism is true, then you have to believe that the reason you have come to believe it is simply because you were determined to do so. You haven’t been able, in fact, to sift through the arguments and the evidence and to freely weigh them and make up your mind on the basis of the argument and the evidence. It is just that you have been causally determined to believe in determinism. So, the difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and becomes a determinist and the person who weighs those arguments for determinism and rejects them is simply that the one was determined to believe in them and the other one was determined not to believe in them. So when you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and even your present realization of that fact – you come to realize that your belief in determinism is itself determined – then there is a sort of vertigo that sets in. Everything you think – even the very thought that you are thinking about that – is itself determined. It is outside your control. You were just determined to believe in it. So while it would be the case that determinism could be true – maybe determinism is true – nevertheless it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed. Determinism is literally self-defeating – it is rationally unaffirmable – because its very affirmation would undermine the rationality of that affirmation. In affirming determinism to be true, you are in effect affirming that that decision is not rationally made but simply determined to be true. So universal causal determinism, it seems to me, cannot be rationally affirmed.” — 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/ Last accessed June 9, 2018.
 James W. Burdick, “James”, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 197.
 James 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:17 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
 James W. Burdick, “James”, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 197.
 Calvinist John Hendryx writing for the website Reformation Theology states,
“Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. Our choices are not coerced …i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God’s sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11)…
In light of Scripture, (according to compatibilism), human choices are exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about [sic] occur through divine determinism.”
http://www.reformationtheology.com/2007/08/compatibilistic_determinism.php Last accessed 9/13/2018
 James W. Burdick, “James”, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 172.
 Ibid. 172-173.
 https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/has-god-predetermined-every-tiny-detail-in-the-universe-including-sin “Has God Predetermined Every Tiny Detail in the Universe, Including Sin?” April 24, 2010. Last accessed 9/13/2018
 Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77. As found in Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 77.
 It is worth noting that Calvinists do employ their determinism for this purpose and in a subtly nuanced way this may reveal a kind of pride of their own. Calvinists think that theistic determinism, stated theologically as “the absolute sovereignty of God,” is the doctrine that is able to crush human pride and remove all human autonomy from salvation thereby eliminating all potential for boasting. What could accomplish this total dependence upon God for salvation more than the doctrine that “God is sovereign in salvation?” That is, informing a person that they have absolutely nothing to do with their salvation. They do not repent in the sense that it is ultimately up to them to repent or not. They do not believe in the sense that it is ultimately up to them to believe or not. If they would be called upon to do these as if they had a choice to do them or not to do them, then according to the Calvinist they would be contributing to their own salvation and have cause to boast. Indeed, the elimination of pride has to be absolute. Hence, the absolute sovereignty of God defined as universal divine causal determinism achieves that. And it achieves more than that. None of us has anything to do with anything. God is completely “sovereign” in the sense that he has predetermined all things.
To be confronted with either accepting or rejecting this doctrine (which again is incoherent with holding it), is the sign that pride is either vanquished or remains in the heart. But that is not only logically self-defeating, but possibly a self-deception for the compulsion to completely eradicate pride in oneself or in others is a kind of pride in and of itself. I would also submit that the Calvinist can be proud of the fact that they have the disposition to accept theistic determinism. But of course they haven’t accepted it, it was irresistibly worked in them by God. But how does this not reduce to “I thank you God that I am not like other men…” To accept this doctrine is like a rite of passage which indicates the utmost humility and submission to God. To the degree that the Calvinist inconsistently presents predestination as something to be accepted by others, as they have already accepted it, is the degree to which they are patting themselves on the back for doing so. If they say it was granted to them by grace, then they ought not use it as a litmus test for humility regarding others since they may not have been granted this humility because that may not be among the elect. Moreover, it seems the Calvinist’s thinking that when a Christian can look past rational and moral incoherence and contradiction in the cause of “giving God all the glory in salvation and all things” then they have reached the pinnacle of “humility.” One has indeed sacrificed all for God. Even sound reasoning. They are the ones who are humble enough to admit that if God were to have created them or their sons or daughters or a loved one for eternal damnation and separation from himself for no reasons that accord with our sense of love or justice, they will continue to love God. And that is what it will have to be, a matter of sheer willpower despite the logical incoherence with the biblical witness to the character of God and their own intuitions. (Although this reference to “willpower” cannot be correct on Calvinism!) The highest expression of humility is found in accepting this Calvinist doctrine regardless of the logical and moral incoherencies entailed by it. It seems the Calvinist believes that God designed it for that very purpose. This may indeed be a form of pride and arrogance. This is the highest degree of humility to be attained. It is spiritually laudable. It is spiritual pride. But all this is just what God has predetermined for them and the way things ought to be. Hence, the incoherence of Calvinism.
Hence, concerns about the doctrine’s incoherence and contradictions become vulgar attempts at human autonomy; attempts to understand things that are not for us to understand. I submit that the alternative may be true. That due to the ability of sinful man to deceive himself, something about which we agree with the Calvinist, to have passed the litmus test for pride by embracing Calvinist determinism certainly may be an indication of personal pride. Others of us see humility as a personal disposition freely rendered to God because of God’s love and grace demonstrated to all of us in Christ, not because of a crushing determinism. What God is looking for is a heartfelt response to the divine love and grace as revealed to us in Christ. Because of his love and grace shown to us in our salvation in Christ, we are humbled before him for having done something for us he did not have to do, we could not do for ourselves and we did not deserve. Affirming the dignity of free will, something God sovereignly bestowed upon his human creatures, allows us to not only explain the biblical witness coherently, but allows for sinners to accept the love of God in the way God would have it accepted – freely by faith.
 See Leighton Flowers, “John Piper on Sovereignty in Daily Life,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-p4ROXESx0 Last accessed on 9/16/2018.
 Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77. As found in Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 77.
 Paul Helm, The Providence of God, Leicester, IVP, 1993, p. 22.
 R. C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2016, p.172. Sproul elsewhere says that the person who does not believe this should be an atheist. Ironically, with God replaced by Nature, it is exactly what atheistic determinism does believe!
 The reader interested in more on my views on mind and matter is directed to my chapter in R. A. Varghese (ed.), Missing Link, Lanham, University Press of America, 2013. John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 54-55.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 45-46.
 Ibid. 52-53.
 Ibid. 53.
 Ibid. 53.
 Ibid. 61.
 T. Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, Epsom, Good Book Company, 2015.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 278-279.
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 9, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1991, p. 285.
 See the section titled “Hankins and Grudem: Reprobation as a Necessary Implication and Ways of Avoidance.”
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 63.
 Ibid. 64.
 Ibid. 64-65.
 R. C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2016, p. 173.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 65..
 Ibid. 70.
 It seems to me that a more responsible hermeneutical approach would be to incorporate concepts that we all use in everyday life and in other decision making endeavors (historiography) to aid us in biblical interpretation and theology. Here are some principles as to how to adjudicate between competing theologies and soteriologies. These principles are gleaned from Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010). In that the Scriptures are historical texts – albeit of different genres – these principles also apply to their interpretation.
- The problem of presuppositions (the historian’s or interpreter’s horizon).
- The nature of truth. All conflicting propositions cannot be true.
- The correspondence and coherence nature of truth
- A rational basis for believing the theological proposition or scheme
- Argument to the best explanation
- Explanatory scope
- Explanatory power
- Less ad hoc
- Accounting for and incorporating theological bedrock
- Cumulative case
- Acknowledge provisionality of one’s case
- Effectively address counter-arguments
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 63.
 Ibid. 63.
 Ibid. 100.
 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Leicester, IVP, 1991, p. 293.
 Ibid. 291.
 John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 101.
 Ibid. 103.
 Ibid. 102.
 Ibid. 103.
 See chapter 10 – “The Calvinist’s Suppression of Logical Reasoning, Moral Intuition and Common Sense”
 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 137.
 See Chapter 4 and Chapter 7 – “Craig and Moreland on the Indispensable Role of Philosophy.”
 J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 12.
 J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 14.
 Ibid. 15.
 Ibid. 15.
 Ibid. 13.
 Ibid. 13.
 Given the universal divine causal determinism of Calvinism, we wonder what “simply letting him go his own way” could possibly mean. This will be discussed presently, but recall Sproul believes that “The movement of every molecule, the actions of every planet, the falling of every star, the choices of every volitional creature, all of these are subject to his sovereign will. No maverick molecules run loose in the universe beyond the control of the Creator. If one such molecule existed, it could be the critical fly in the eternal ointment.” – R. C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 172. Let’s be clear. By “subject to his sovereign will” Sproul means “predetermined by God’s will.” By saying, “simply letting him go his own way,” of course Sproul is not now changing his position and affirming genuine human free will. Rather, what we have here is yet another example of inconsistent Calvinism.
 R. C. Sproul, “The Doctrine of Reprobation” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-doctrine-of-reprobation/
 R. C. Sproul, “The Doctrine of Reprobation,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-doctrine-of-reprobation/ Last accessed July 9, 2018.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 685.
 Eric Hankins, “Romans 9 and the Calvinist Doctrine of Reprobation” JBTM, 15.1 (Spring 2018), 62-75.
 See Chapter 9, the section, “Helm, Calvin and Castellio on Reason and Common Sense” where Calvin does not think logical and moral coherence are essential to interpretation.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 20.
 Ibid. 18.
 Ibid. 19.
 This should not be misunderstood to be saying that the non-Calvinist does not acknowledge that there are genuine mysteries in the Bible that are a result of responsible exegesis. But it is to say that the non-Calvinist maintains that these genuine mysteries are not logically or morally incoherent or contradictory. This evaluating of biblical exegesis or interpretations on the basis of logical principles and moral intuitions should not be confused with affirming or embracing rationalism which is the denial of any supernatural intervention due to one’s naturalistic worldview presuppositions. What is at issue here is the rejection of the role of logic itself in the interpretive task and as evaluative of one’s exegetical conclusions, not that what is recorded in the Bible cannot be counter to only what naturalism deems possible. The claim is that what is recorded in the Bible cannot be counter to what the rules of logic and a common moral sense allow. Simply put, one’s interpretations ought not be inconsistent, incoherent or contradictory.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 685. As found in Eric Hankins, “Romans 9 and the Calvinist Doctrine of Reprobation” JBTM, 15.1 (Spring 2018), 63.
 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932; Woodstock, Ontario: Devoted, 2017), 47. From Hankins, Romans 9, footnote 2.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 684. As found in Eric Hankins, Romans 9, footnote 2.
“Does Romans 9 Teach Calvinistic Reprobation?” https://soteriology101.com/2018/04/09/romans-9-and-the-calvinist-doctrine-of-reprobation/ Time: 7:19 – 8:28
 Ibid. Time: 8:33 – 9:35
 Ibid. Time: 9:35 – 10:50
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 18, 19.
“Does Romans 9 Teach Calvinistic Reprobation?” https://soteriology101.com/2018/04/09/romans-9-and-the-calvinist-doctrine-of-reprobation/ Time: 15:12 – 15:53.
 Ibid. Time: 15:58 – 17:06
 As found in Leighton C. Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017, 57. William Lane Craig’s quote is from the transcript of Defenders 2 class, The Doctrine of Creation, Part 10. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/
 Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “The Sovereignty of God: Case Studied in the Old Testament,” in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), footnote 5, p. 27.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election to Salvation?”, Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 89-106.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 103.
 Klein, Chosen People, 264; see also 260.
 Ibid. 264.
 Pinnock, “Augustine,” 21. He goes on to say, “Of course, there will be some nostalgia when we leave behind the logically and beautifully tight system of determinist theology.” (28, italics added.).
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 103.
 Klein, Chosen People, 267.
 Pinnock, “Augustine,” 21 (italics added).
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 103-104.
 As Jack Cottrell would argue, I’m inclined to think that Paul does include in his argument in Rom. 9 – 11 reference to the individual in both election and salvation. But as Cottrell also points out, election is not to be understood in deterministic Calvinist terms.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 104.
 Ibid. 18, 19.
 Ibid. 104-105.
 William Lane Craig, Defenders 3 class, Doctrine of God: Trinity, Part 1. See the transcript or listen to the lecture here: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-god-trinity/doctrine-of-god-trinity-part-1/ Last accessed June 30, 2018.
 Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856) was a Scottish metaphysician in the tradition of Common Sense Realism.
 I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv. (from C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chap. III.)
 This is especially so given the persistence of the problem throughout Christian history. This persistence is not necessarily testimony to its character as biblical mystery but to a failure to identify and address the hermeneutical divide – which again, is the refusal to allow the principles of logic and our moral intuitions to play their proper role in discerning the validity of one’s exegesis and doctrinal conclusions.
 Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 18.
 I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv. (from C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chap. III.)