by Duane Waller
In keeping with Calvinism having “the same vocabulary but a different dictionary” – this is one of Calvinism’s most pronounced examples.
Here is where we should introduce the understanding of normative vs non–normative use of language.
When we say we have the normative understanding of [X] – we are referring to the understanding of [X] which the preponderance of a people world-wide understand.
Something that is normative within one sub-culture may not be normative for a different sub-culture. But there are things that are normative for the preponderance of all human beings worldwide.
Determinism is a non-normative belief system.
So, it should be understandable to us that the Determinist is going to have non-normative conceptions. And he is therefore going to have non-normative senses in which he uses words.
The normative definition for the term “Permission” is found within the etymological dictionary:
The term “permit,” derived from the Latin permettere is defined as: To let pass, to let go, to let loose, to give up, to hand over, to allow, or to grant.
Calvin’s conception of God has a unique characteristic – that God does not let anything. For Calvin, the concepts of God letting something pass, letting something go, letting something loose, or handing over something, is simply anathema.
Calvin follows the mode of Augustine in creating a non-normative definition for the term “permission”
“When he [Augustine] uses the term permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear from a single passage (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4), where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary *cause* of all things….” (Institutes, emphasis added)
So the sense in which Calvin is going to understand “Divine Permission” is not going to be the normative sense in which the word “permission” has been historically understood. Calvin, and especially his modern-day followers, want to use the word “permission” even though he rejects the normative definition – as it applies to divine permission.
Being a good Augustinian means re-defining the term “permission” making it synonymous with the term cause. We will then find Calvin using the term “permission” as a replacement word for cause (much like modern-day Calvinists will use the word ‘grant’ or ‘enable’ a replacement for the word cause).
This makes perfect sense from a Deterministic perspective – if we lay out the following formula
1) What is divinely caused is permitted
2) What is not divinely cause is not permitted.
We understand that if [X] is infallibly decreed to come to pass – then [X] must be permitted to come to pass – or else we have a house that is divided against itself.
We understand that no alternative of that which is infallibly decreed is permitted at pain of falsifying the infallible decree.
So Calvin now has an altered definition for “permission” which essentially means cause.
However – Calvin now faces debates with non-Determinist contemporaries who are arguing against his Institutes; arguing that sin and evil are “permitted”. Calvin rejects this and says:
“Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because too many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his judgments” (Institutes 18.1, emphasis added).
Here Calvin refuses to acknowledge the sense in which the term “permission” is being used by his detractors, which is in fact the normative sense for the word “permission”.
Augustine is actually the one who invents a new sense for the term “permission”. Calvin argues that Augustine’s ad-hoc definition of “permission” is now the normative definition for the term “permission” and claims the normative definition to be an “invention”.
In order to be able to use the word “permission” then – Calvin has to add a new qualifier for the term “permission” so as to distinguish it from the normative sense in which it is understood.
Calvin uses two qualifiers, “bare” and “mere”, to describe the non-determinist sense of the word “permission” as it is historically understood.
Following in the Footsteps
Following Calvin’s lead – Phil Johnson of John MacArthur’s Grace to You Ministries now claims the Arminian (i.e. Non-Determinist) has a certain sense for the term “permission”. What Johnson is failing to divulge, however, is that the Arminian sense for the term “permission” is in fact the normative sense.
So what we see then – is the Arminian (i.e. non-Determinist) sense for the word “permission” is actually the normative sense in which everyone in the world uses this term. Everyone, that is, except for Calvin and his followers but only when speaking about soteriology—because when they aren’t speaking about soteriology they too will often resort to the normative use of this term leading to much confusion.
The problem then arises when Calvinists are inconsistent in the way they use the term permission. They use it within statements – to infer the normative sense in which it is used. And they do this strategically because unconsciously they are internally uncomfortable with the logical consequences of Determinism – making God the author of evil.
So they quietly equivocate when they use the term “permission” allowing non-Calvinists to be mislead by the way they use the term within their statements.
In this way, the Calvinist sneaks a non-Deterministic sense for the term “permission” into his statements – in order to evade language that would infer a god who is the author of evil.
Dr. Flowers did a broadcast on this topic recently!