In Dr. Flowers broadcast, embedded above at the 9:00min mark, Chris Date addresses some of the objections against Calvinism. I’m hopeful that dialogue with Chris Date’s ideas and answers will prove fruitful because Date is particularly consistent in his Calvinism, cordial in his demeanor, and accurate in his representation of Non-Calvinism.
However, Chris Date has a doctrine of God’s transcendence that not only does not allow him to address our actual criticism but leads him into a self-defeating worldview. Let me show you what I mean by this: I will be transcribing his paraphrase of our objection, comment on it, and then transcribing his answer, which I think completely misses the point of the objection.
The Objection Stated
I think the most common objections that I hear to Calvinism is the notion that in our view humans are something like puppets or robots, or something like that, that we don’t have any meaningful freedom or moral responsibility if God foreordains all that takes place in time or even if He just predestines who is going to believe.Chris Date
This is pretty good! I would add the caveat that I don’t need the analogies of puppets or robots to object to God foreordaining all that takes place in time as removing human freedom and moral responsibility. I can have any number of analogies or ways of speaking about it; as long as it ends in human beings being unable to do otherwise my objection has teeth.
The Objection Answered
There are a couple of things I think that worth noting: First, when non-Calvinists compare human beings to puppets or robots in our view, they are, first of all, using analogies that flatten out the reality of things. And here is what I mean by that: in our view, God isn’t on the same plane as us, he’s not in the same stream of time, he’s not just one in a long chain of causes and effects.
He transcends us, the relationship I’ve often compared God and creation to is to an author and his novel. You know, the entire story inside an authors novel is right there in the hands of the author, it’s not like the author is in the timeline of the story. The author has written the story and the author is not in some sort of cause-and-effect type chain; causing the characters in the story to do what they do, he’s…foreordaining…if you will, that the characters in the story do exactly that they do but if you were to ask that character “why did you do this or that?” they’re going to tell you, “because I wanted to, that was what I wanted to do, that was the decision that I thought was the best given all the factors involved”.
They wouldn’t say “I felt this inexplicable pull that caused me to do this or that” that’s not the relationship between God and creation. So, I think the problem with the [robot and puppet] analogies is that it takes this reality in which God is transcendent, human beings are imminent, and these objections flatten that relationship, and make God just another actor in time.Chris Date
Let’s see if I can summarize this answer in a way Chris Date would agree with. He makes 3 points:
- God is on a different plane of existence than humanity and is, therefore, not restricted to cause-and-effect
- On Calvinism, human beings are like not robots or puppets, but they are like characters in a story and God is the author that foreordains (writes) their every thought and deed
- Human beings’ perception that their choices are real means that the analogy of a robot or a puppet is inaccurate
Did Chris Date Address the Objection?
Let’s look at the objection again and I think you’ll see he did not address it. Here is the objection as Chris Date himself stated it:
Human beings do not have meaningful freedom or moral responsibility if God foreordains all that takes in place in timeObjection to Calvinism
Do Chris Date’s three replies address this objection? I don’t see how. If these next three statements are true, then Chris Date’s answer is a series of red herrings.
I can see God as transcendent and, at the same time, the foreordination of all things removes meaningful freedom and moral responsibility.
Human beings can be like characters in a story, with God as their author, and the foreordination of all things removes meaningful freedom and moral responsibility.
Human beings can perceive their choices are real, ie. they wanted to do what they did, and still the foreordination of all things removes meaningful freedom and more responsibility.
So, Chris Date’s three answers point at something else that does not address the objection as he stated it; that’s a red herring.
I’m going to take a crack out sussing out Chris Date’s doctrine of God’s transcendence that informs his defense of Calvinism. In so doing, I hope to lay a foundation for productive dialogue moving forward because it seems to me, so far, Dr. Flowers and Chris Date are like two ships passing in the night; simply missing each other. So here it goes:
In the broadcast, from 19:39 to 22:04 Dr. Flowers, using Chris’s author analogy, explains well the criticism that the person with a magic pen irresistibly writing what the other person will do is obviously and intuitively the one morally responsible for what his character does. I encourage you to listen to the full two-and-a-half minutes.
The presumption behind this criticism, of course, is that objective moral values exist and are intuited from God. That is, since we are made in the Image of God, God gave us the intuition of objective moral values so that we would know and be able to discern right from wrong so we are without excuse for doing what is wrong (Rom 1). These objective moral values give us natural revelation that God is just and good. From our own moral experience of simply knowing, deep in our bones, intuitively, that certain things like thievery, rape, and murder are wrong we can know that God must exist, must have given us these intuitions, and His character must take that shape as well; otherwise, where did we get these ideas?
Now, Chris Date explicitly admits that God ultimately decrees the evil desires of men but, when asked if this makes God, therefore, morally responsible for the evil then says, “I don’t see any teeth in the objection”. Chris’ defense of God on this point has the unintended, and devastating, consequence of removing all rational basis for knowing and trusting in God’s good character. But let’s walk through Date’s thought and demonstrate this.
Why doesn’t he see the teeth of this objection?
God and Transcendence
Short answer? God is transcendent. Here is the long answer:
We can say, “Well gosh God caused the desire and so He’s at fault” or “the person can be excused because God is the ultimate cause of that desire” and I just do not think that is trueChris Date
So he admits the criticism is accurate, he admits that God is ultimately causing the desire but God is not at fault because…
Going back to my analogy if an antagonist, a serial killer in a book, is tried in a trial, no one is going to say, “Oh, that person should get off the hook because the author made them do it” <laughs>, right?Chris Date
This gave me a moment’s pause and I made a scoffing noise with my mouth as a I listened because…that’s exactly what I would say. That the serial killer is not culpable precisely because the author made him do it. But then I listened to his answer two-to-three more times and I realized…he means no one still in the novel would consider the serial killer innocent. None of the characters who still don’t realize they’re characters in a novel would consider the serial killer innocent.
You see, our criticisms of what an author (God) would have an antagonist (evil person) do have no bearing, no teeth, no ground to stand on because we’re still characters. God is still so other, so above, so transcendent, as transcendent as an author over his characters, that our qualms about God’s behavior, our questions like “Is God culpable for the evil He ordains?” are nonsensical. We might as well be asking “Is a farfignoogen a hephalump?”.
That’s why I keep referring to this transcendent relationship between God and creation because I think it nullifies a lot of these objections.
<example of Joseph’s brothers and “the evil you meant for me God meant it for good” and he makes an argument about the verb structure>…and here we have one example among many, I would argue, where it is both the human beings who intend evil and God who intends that evil…
So #1, we have to wrestle with the fact that God does foreordain evil desires in this way, but #2 I would say, often, what determines whether an act is righteous or not is the motives behind the act…both the humans and God are devising, designing, intending whatever this evil calamity that befalls Joseph.
But what is the difference? Well the text says that God’s intentions behind it were good. If we were to say that if a human being were to cause someone’s desires to be this or that there is going to sinful selfish intentions wrapped up in that. But if it’s God who’s doing it then the motives may indeed be pure and don’t, in any way, make God culpable.Chris Date
Let’s put away for a moment the dubious claim that the moral value of an act is determined by the motives behind the act. That does not seem obviously true to me but, instead, let’s look at the real crux of Chris’s argument. Which is this: Unlike human beings, God can plan, intend, and design evil things in a morally pure way.
You may be shouting at your screen “That’s impossible!” but follow Chris Date’s thought further. He would agree with you that is impossible for human beings, but God is transcendent and so all things are possible with God, including intending evil things in a morally pure way. Including fore-ordaining all things without causing all things, ie. being outside the chain of cause effect we humans are bound to. God is transcendent. God can square that circle. Therefore, human beings’ criticisms of what He intends are fundamentally invalid.
Put another way, God is so other, so above, so transcendent that we cannot fathom His moral world. Could the characters in a novel fathom the moral world of the author?
What, Then, Does “God’s Goodness” Mean?
Fascinatingly, Chris Date goes on to say something utterly self-defeating
I’m a big believer that a big reason why God foreordains evil is that so we can emulate aspects of God’s character that we could not emulate if it hadn’t been for reality of evil and sin. If hadn’t been for the reality of evil and sin, no one could show mercy, nobody could show grace, or forgiveness.Chris Date 30:00
This conclusion seems inescapable to me: Chris Date’s doctrine of transcendence removes any rational or moral basis for knowing what God’s character is. He emphasizes and re-emphasizes the utter otherness of God. God can do what seems morally impossible to us, God doesn’t play by our objective moral standards, God is outside of cause-and-effect, our moral intuitions have no basis in reality when contemplating the transcendent God of the universe; just as the character in a story cannot comprehend nor reach its author. But yet, now, when Chris wants to justify the reason God intends evil, all of a sudden I can emulate this God? I can know His character and even copy it? I can behave like this God?
What does God’s goodness mean when God is a Being who’s morality I cannot comprehend?
Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.“The Problem of Pain”, C.S. Lewis
On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.
On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white,’ we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what.’ And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him.
Lewis’ argument is poignant and powerful here. His description of the problem, “On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil” seems to me exactly what Chris Date is claiming about God, that He can design evil in moral purity, something we cannot do, and that which seems evil to us. And so when Chris says that he can emulate God’s goodness, it would be more accurate and rational for Chris to say he can emulate He-Knows-Not-What.
I would be interested to hear Chris Date flesh out these presuppositions, specifically how God’s transcendence renders God outside of the rules of objective moral values.
Why does Chris Date think non-Calvinist criticisms are made invalid simply by stating that God is transcendent?
What IS God’s character and how do you know? If He can cause evil with a good motive because He’s transcendent…if God’s transcendence renders Him outside of our notions of objective moral values, what do evil and good mean in the transcendent realm and, more importantly, how could you possibly know?