Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Does Calvinism render apologetics superflous?

A while back, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason posted a video blog dealing with the issue of how to reconcile Calvinism with the use of tactics to defend Christianity. You see, in Calvinism, God determines from the beginning of time who will and who won't embrace the gospel. But that raises the question of why we should evangelize at all since presumably, if God intends somebody to be saved, then that person will get saved whether we witness to them or not.

A lot of Calvinists, I've noticed, have sort of adopted this view, too. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries sometimes corrects people he thinks are mistaken to think that they can persuade anybody to become a Christian by the power of their arguments since it is God who determines whether people will be saved or not. In answer to the question of why we should be engaged in apologetics, he says we should do it because we are commanded to in such passages as 2 Peter 3:15. I've also noticed that a lot of Calvinists make little or no effort to defend the faith with gentleness and respect since they don't think their delivery has any influence whatsoever on whether somebody else will convert or not. Only God can change the heart, so they say, and no argument of ours can have any persuasive power.

In the discussion section of Greg's blog, I mentioned that Jonathan Edwards had specifically addressed this issue in his book on The Freedom of the Will. Somebody asked me to summarize his arguments. Since I don't blog much anymore, I thought I'd cheat and just cut and paste what I wrote there. Here ye go...

Greg agrees with Edwards that not only is the final event (e.g. somebody being persuaded) ordained, but the means are also ordained. In the analogy of Abraham and Sara, not only would it have been ordained that Sara get pregnant, but it would also have been ordained that Abraham have sex with Sara. Abraham having sex with Sara is just as certain as Sara getting pregnant since God guarantees them both.

Edwards argues for the compatibalist view of freedom, which is the view that all of our actions are determined by our strongest motivation, desire, inclination, bias, or mental predisposition. God can guarantee human action because he has causal influence over the persons heart.

In the case of defending the gospel, I suppose one might argue that if God has already guaranteed the end result, then the means are superfluous. But the means are only superfluous if they have no hand in bringing about the end result. But just as it is plain to see that there is a causal connection between Abraham having sex with Sara and Sara getting pregnant, so also is there a causal connection between one person arguing for a point of view and the other person being persuaded by the arguments. The arguing itself is just as much determined by God as the other person's response to the arguments.

Unless there is a causal connection between means and ends, it would be superfluous for God to ever ordain means. But if God ordains means to accomplish ends, then those ends would fail to take place if the means also failed to take place. The reason God can guarantee ends, even though they are accomplished by means which could theoretically be removed, is because God guarantees the means as well as the ends.

If it happens that we live in a completely deterministic world, and if all ends were determined by the initial conditions of the universe when the universe began, that would still not render means superfluous. The reason is that the means themselves would be part of the causal chain. Remove one link in the causal chain, and you alter everything that comes after. So determinism does not render means superfluous either.

In libertarian free will, acts of the will are not determined by any antecedent causes and/or conditions--not even our motives, desires, or inclinations. Motives can influence acts, but they can't determine acts.

The stronger a desire is, the more difficult it is to resist. It is theoretically possible, then, for a desire to be so strong that it renders the person incapable of resisting. In that case, the person does not have libertarian free will. It follows that the weaker a desire is, the more freedom a person has in the libertarian sense. And a person can only have complete freedom if they are under no influence of desire whatsoever.

So contrary to arguing being pointless under the Calvinist view of God's sovereignty, arguing is actually more effective under the Calvinist view than the Arminian view. Under the Arminian view (libertarianism), there can only be a loose connection between means and ends, whereas under the Calvinist view (compatibalism), there is a necessary connection between means and ends.

Arguments can only work if they are effective in changing the opinion or heart of another person. But the more influence the argument has in persuading the other person, the less libertarian free will the other person has. It follows that if a person has perfect libertarian free will (i.e. if their choice is not so much as influenced by anything external) then arguments can have no persuasive power whatsoever.

But besides all this, we have a moral obligation to defend the gospel (1 Peter 3:15), and Solomon said that whatever you find to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). So we ought to make the best arguments we can, and excel at making our arguments with gentleness and respect, as Peter says.


At 9/26/2009 2:01 AM , Blogger njcooley said...

This was really challenging. Thanks for posting this, it's helped to clarify my thoughts on apologetics. I haven't read Edwards yet, but I am looking forward to it. John Frame's Doctrine of God is also great on the issue of human autonomy.

This is kind of a random thought...but it brings to mind one of things I struggle with and that's if our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, I think I spend a lot of time enjoying studying God, but not as much time enjoying God himself.

I was wondering how do you make your studies an act of adoration of God?

- Nathaniel

At 9/26/2009 8:01 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I struggle with the same thing, so I'm probably not the best person to ask. Jonathan Edwards and John Piper both wrote books on the subject, though. Edward's book is called Religious Affections and Piper's book is called Desiring God. I haven't read either one of them, but maybe I should.

For me, studying God is enjoying God himself. It's probably my primary way of enjoying him, and I find myself in deepest adoration when I'm studying. I haven't always had the same view of God's sovereignty as I have now, but I've come to enjoy God more since my views have changed.

But as far as enjoying God apart from studying him, I sometimes envy people I see in church who raise their hands when we sing and things like that. I'm just not like that. Worshiping God in music is rarely ever an emotional experience for me, and sometimes it feels downright artificial. I suppose apart from studying God, I enjoy God most when I'm out walking. I use that time to pray.


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