I recently came upon very insightful Facebook discussion with Richard Coords, of www.examiningcalvinism.com, and asked him if he would mind turning it into a blog article for this site. Here is the result… enjoy!
Can Parallel Lines Cross?
By Richard Coords (guest blogger)
Merrill F. Unger explains:
“Divine foreordination and human freedom are humanly irreconcilable, but like two parallel line that meet in infinity, they have their solution in God.”
This quote troubles me.
(1) Logic: By definition, truly parallel lines never meet, not even in eternity, or else by definition, they would no longer remain parallel. The illogic of a Calvinist’s “sovereignty / responsibility tension” is very troubling to me. The “tension” is essentially the marriage of Hard Determinism and Free-Will, and whose offspring is “Compatibilism.” Accepting an illogical tension mocks logic, and mocking logic is a slippery slope, because once initiated, where does it end? If one endorses illogic in one instance, is not a defense against illogic elsewhere now forfeited? What if the discussion transcends from theology into ethics? Where is the defense against questionable ethics, if while being irreconcilable with Scripture, it somehow alleged to have a solution in eternity with God?
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
Why would God invite us to reason together with Him, if such things are beyond human reason? On the other hand, I can accept mysteries regarding the nature of God Himself, in terms of being eternal and triune, as I don’t see that as an “illogical contradiction,” but rather as a logical mystery that simply awaits revelation.
God is a complex Being; I’m sure that He can explain it someday. Complexity and illogical are not the same. Furthermore, I don’t understand the 6-day Genesis creation, but I’m sure that God will be able to explain how He did it, in just so many days. So I don’t see that as a contradiction, but just something that awaits explanation. However, insisting that man is compatibilistically “free,” while having their every single thought, from cradle to grave and into eternity beyond, all thought for them by decree, is a logical contradiction that now carries the danger of inviting any other illogical statement into Christian orthodoxy. Once opened, the door of illogic cannot be closed, except by “Special Pleading.”
(2) Presumption: Unger’s quote assumes that divine predestination goes beyond the simple concept of “that which God does, and prepares to do in advance,” into meaning that “God does everything.” So why must God be made to own everything? “Sovereignty,” we are told, with theism in general, including divine omniscience, left hanging in the balance.
Calvinist R.C. Sproul insists that “foreordination” of “whatsoever comes to pass” is a “necessary tenet of theism,” and that non-Calvinists should otherwise “embrace atheism.” (Chosen by God, 1986, pp.26-27) Also insisting that God is “neither surprised nor caught off guard,” is often deftly leveraged to support Sproul’s sort of sovereignty. Nevertheless, it is a curious leap of logic to take that which God positively affirms to having performed, to then suggesting that God performs whatsoever comes to pass.
In a perfect world, it would be far less scandalous to defend Hard Determinism, but in a fallen world, Hard Determinism certainly would scandalize God. So this is the point at which subtle nuances of Special Pleading are employed. John Calvin cites of Augustine:
“To this opinion of this holy man I subscribe: in sinning, they did what God did not will in order that God through their evil will might do what He willed.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 1997, p.123)
Anticipating the obvious objection, Calvin adds:
“If anyone object that this is beyond his comprehension, I confess it. But what wonder if the immense and incomprehensible majesty of God exceed the limits of our intellect? I am so far from undertaking the explanation of this sublime, hidden secret, that I wish what I said at the beginning to be remembered, that those who seek to know more than God has revealed are crazy. Therefore let us be pleased with instructed ignorance rather than with the intemperate and inquisitive intoxication of wanting to know more than God allows.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 1997, p.123)
In this way, Calvin seeks to turn the tables against logic, whereby logical thinking is scandalized as “crazy” with “inquisitive intoxication.”
(3) Consistency: I read where Charles Spurgeon tried to take a middle position on this topic, and his fellow High Calvinists took him to task to explain it, and ultimately, Spurgeon concluded with this: “My answer is, I am bound to make it as plain as I can, but if you have not any understanding, I cannot give you any; there I must leave it. But then, again, it is not a matter of understanding; it is a matter of faith. These two things are true; I do not see that they at all differ. However, if they did, I should say, if they appear to contradict one another, they do not really do so, because God never contradicts himself.” So Spurgeon is basically leveraging God’s consistency to stabilize his own inconsistency. Why not instead question the accuracy of his own inconsistent position, and therefore himself being inconsistent, it cannot be true, because God is consistent?
(4) Cop Out: “People resort to quotes such as these when they want to accept the Calvinistic premise of God effectually electing a particular number of souls to save but not deal fully with the biblical texts that indicate otherwise. It’s the Calvinists way of appealing to mystery, but it’s simply not a mystery afforded by the scripture,” says Flowers.
I’ve noticed that a Calvinist’s reluctance to fully and honestly deal with texts contrary to Hard Determinism often manifests itself in a subtle form of “Scripture Pitting” (which the Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for), whereby one verse is pitted against another, and without damaging the orthodoxy of ultimate biblical authority, the only option left is an appeal to “mystery,” and since biblical mystery is a mystery that await revelation, a Calvinist must therefore defer to a revelation in eternity, which would be fine for divine complexities, but not for logical contradictions.