Hows vs. Whys: Apologetics from both sides


Dr. Flowers has guest Steve Fraley on for a Sound of the Saints episode where they discuss:

1. Dealing with difficulty and doubts

2. The Apologetic approach from the Calvinistic perspective as contrasted from the non-Calvinistic apologetic.

3. Each perspective appeals to mystery, but what mystery does the bible afford? Steve graciously provided the article below in order to more fully expound on this topic:

How and Why?

by Steve Fraley

All Christians agree that God is great, yet when it comes to His greatness, we struggle to even begin to understand it. There is much about God we are incapable of knowing. As His creation, we are subject to the limitations of the universe in which we are created. We are bound by time and space. God, on the other hand, is not limited by such restraints. This leaves us as finite creatures at a great disadvantage in trying to describe a God who is so much greater than we are able to comprehend. Consequently, Christians are left with a great deal of confusion and disagreement as to how we understand God and the ways in which He has interacted with His creation. In particular, much disagreement is found when we look into the issue of salvation. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists ultimately appeal to mystery to fill in the gaps of what we cannot know, and rightly so. However, I would like to make the case that Calvinists do so in places where God gives us clear revelation about Himself, while non-Calvinists appeal to mystery where it is properly meant to be found. The difference is between the “hows” and the “whys” of God.

For both Calvinists and orthodox non-Calvinists, God is sovereign over the universe. However, as Calvinists define sovereignty, God is in complete control of every detail of His creation at all times. To put it clearly, God is not only in control, but He controls. Therefore, all that happens in all of His creation is ordained by His decree, and nobody can act contrary to His will. What this means is that any questions regarding how God has made this or that event come to pass can be answered by saying that God has made it so by His will. Since He is the only free agent, He is the only one who truly acts. Therefore there is no mystery about how God has done anything. He simply has done it, according to Calvinism if consistently applied.

This raises questions of why. Why has God ordained evil in this world, or why has He allowed so much pain and suffering? We are told that God is good and we must not question His motivations, but we do not find any justification for His goodness in an absolute sense apart from the simple declaration of it. We are pointed to Isaiah 55:8-9 where God says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.'” Therefore, by the Calvinistic reading of this passage, God’s goodness is a mystery. Yet, if this is true, do we then discard the idea of a moral law written on our hearts? How can we make sense of goodness if it’s something we know nothing of? This would then serve to defeat the moral argument for God’s existence, and would also seem to offer a pretty good excuse to the sinner for violating God’s moral standards if they are unknowable. Most relevant to the issue of Calvinism, we must also ask, “why has He chosen to save you but not your neighbor?” The Calvinist will answer by saying that it is not for any merit of their own, but that they were chosen unconditionally. When pressed as to why, it is left to the secret counsel of God’s will. In other words, it is a mystery.

John Calvin wrote that “God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever He wills, by the very fact that He wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because He has willed it.” This may give the appearance of an answer to the why questions, but it turns out to be a deference to the hows. It is basically saying, “God has done what He has done because He has done it.” Or to put it another way, “God has expressed His omnipotence because He has expressed His omnipotence.” If we simply ask why He has willed it so, we are left without an answer, just a restatement of how. So it seems clear that Calvinists have a simple answer for all the how questions (God willed it so), and appeal to mystery for the whys.

For non-Calvinists like myself, the situation is reversed. We believe that the Bible clearly answers the big why questions and leaves a great deal to speculation about the hows. We are left to wonder, “how does God do what God does?” For example, we have a clear understanding that God is in control and that He knows the future. Yet how is it that He can orchestrate the actions of creatures blessed with free will in such a way that His purposes will be accomplished? We can speculate as to how He knows the future or how He acts to ensure that certain events come to pass, but can we really wrap our heads around it? Even if I embrace a philosophy like Molinism or the “eternal now” view of God, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions, even creating new ones. When it comes to God’s interactions with free agents, it can be hard to make sense of how He retains His sovereignty, but we know that He does. For answers to such things we must appeal to mystery, but we believe that is where they are properly found.

On the other hand, we believe the why questions find clear answers in Scripture. Why is there evil in the world? Because God created creatures in His image with free will, and they chose to sin, bringing its consequences of suffering and death along with it.

Why has God chosen to save some and not all? Because God desires a loving relationship with His creation, and He saves those who desire that relationship in return. The truth He has revealed to us in Scripture is that He desires to be with each individual for all eternity and has made that possible by paying the penalty for our sins, but many reject Him. This has been His purpose from the beginning. He promised to Abraham that he would make from him a great nation so that all the families of the earth would be blessed.

Galatians 3:8 clarifies that it has been God’s purpose all along for salvation to come to all who have faith in Him, whether Jew or Gentile. In John 3, Jesus declares that He would be lifted up just as Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, so that all who look to Him in faith will be saved.

Ultimately, why God has done anything in this world is because He desires to be with us in a loving relationship that lasts for all eternity. He could have created beings who were incapable of rejecting Him, but they would not truly love Him. Real love requires the possibility of its negation because love is ultimately a choice. This is why human relationships based on the feeling of love do not last. Love must be a choice, and a loving God knows that those who truly love Him will choose to love Him when they could have done otherwise. All the whys find their answers in His love.

The non-Calvinist has clear answers to these why questions because we haven’t committed to a systematic that brings confusion to what is made plain in Scripture about God’s love. On the other hand, we do not have clear answers for what God cannot clearly express to us in human language about how He makes it all work. He gives us clues that lead to philosophical speculations, but they can only go so far. There is much that remains mysterious, and rightly so. Our God is greater than we can imagine. Let’s embrace the mystery of His greatness in how He can do what does, and accept the truth of what He has revealed to us about why He has done it this way.


Link to the Young Minds Big Questions podcast referenced by Dr. Flowers: CLICK HERE.

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