Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Assuming The Definition Of Choice

Our new friend Chris has left another comment on another thread. I'm addressing it here because this latest comment was posted on a rather old entry I made back in May and it has nothing at all to do with my previous response to him. This aside, Chris' latest comment seems hinged on the notion that the mere fact of choice defeats Reformed theology. But as every professing Calvinist already knows, this simply isn't the case. Added to this is the fact that Chris nowhere defines just what a 'choice' is. He, like so many non-Calvinists, seems to believe that there is only one way to define 'choice' (if a definition is even pondered at all). So again, without any further ado, let's look at what Chris has to say about choice.

I never said God was powerless over the decisions that men make.

Chris doesn't have to spell it out. His theology does it for him. See, Chris' theology affirms that God cannot or will not violate the so-called free-will of man. If God does, then Chris' theology judges God as being unjust because God is said to be making a man into a robot (which is an argument that Chris mentions below). So, since God cannot be unjust, then God cannot be in control of the decisions of His creatures.

My theology believes in a God that chooses to allow mankind to make his own decisions.

So does mine. That is, in Reformed theology, man not only makes choices, but does so according to his strongest inclination at the moment the choice is made. Thus, man chooses what he desires most at any given moment. Now, I don't know about Chris, but this sure sounds to me like mankind does indeed "make his own decisions".

Key word being "Chooses".

It would have been helpful if Chris would have taken the time to define what he means by "chooses". As it is, this statement is meaningless since Reformed theology more than accounts for the reality of choice.

Sure God could have created a world full of robots who move, speak, make decisions etc... whenever He turns the key but that idea absolutely defeats the purpose of so many things such as faith; whenever He turns the key...

Ah, the old "Calvinism turns man into robots" argument. What Calvinist hasn't seen this one or has taken the time to respond to it? Indeed, Calvinists have written extensively on this. In fact, I have yet to see an introductory work on Calvinism that hasn't addressed it. Thus, I'm forced to ask if Chris has read even one? If so, then why is he not interacting with what Calvinists have to say in response? If he hasn't, then, yet again, Chris has alot of studying to do if he wishes to refute Reformed theology.

...but that idea absolutely defeats the purpose of so many things such as faith; Who needs faith to believe when the decisions are being made for them?

The Reformed definition of 'choice' that I gave above is enough to refute Chris' statement about "decisions being made for them". That is, if man chooses according to his strongest inclination at any given moment, then no one but man is making his decisions. But what of Chris' reference to faith? Does Reformed theology undermine the need for faith? Not in the least. See, Chris' statement has the underlying assumption that faith in God is not an efficacious and divine gift. But scripture teaches otherwise (see Ephesians 2:8). Scripture further teaches that man is spiritually "dead in trespasses and sin" and that man's will is enslaved. Now, if these all be true then one is forced to ask how a man's will is free in the libertarian sense. And since faith in God is a spiritual act, how can a spiritually dead sinner who's will is enslaved to sin, perform a spiritual act such as excercising saving faith? This question is made even more problematic for Chris' theology when 1Corinthians 2:14 tells us that a sinner cannot accept or understand spiritual things. The Calvinist's solution to this scriptural dilemma is to simply accept scripture's teaching that faith is indeed a gift from God. Thus, Reformed theology does not undermine faith but confirms it.

God's omnipotence is reflected in the fact that He can do whatever He wants to do.

And I can agree with this. In fact, I submit that Reformed theology does more than give lip service to this definition of omnipotence. That is, Calvinism affirms that if God chose to create a world where everything that happens has a purpose, including evil, God has the right to do so. Calvinism also affirms that if God had chosen to create a world where He has predestined some to eternal glory and chooses to leave the rest in the sin that they love (reprobation), then He has the right to do so. In stark contrast, given his theological pressupositions, Chris' theology does not give God these rights. Thus, Chris' theology does not affirm the definition of omnipotence that Chris himself has offered.

If He chooses to allow a man to make a choice, it occurs that way because God chose it to be.

Here again, Chris has as his underlying assumption that Reformed theology does not account for the fact of choice. But since this is patently false and has been shown as such here, this statement is rendered meaningless.

If I allow my children to use their own free will to make a choice, does that make me an impotent father? No it doesn't.

A few points here:

1) Chris' analogy of a father allowing his son to use his free-will is itself inaccurate. There is not a father/son relationship between God and all mankind. Only God's elect enjoy such a relationship.

2) The analogy has as it's starting assumption that libertarian free-will is a fact. But this just begs the question in favor of the analogy.

3) Granting just for the sake of argument that the analogy is accurate, God would still be impotent because it is a self-imposed impotence. That is, God may have the power to override the free-will of His creatures but He does not. Thus, within the context of Chris' theology, God cannot override the supposed free-will of His creatures no matter how much He would want to because of a self-imposed limit of His power.

Now, this wraps up my response to Chris' latest post. I don't believe however, that Chris will take the time to respond to what I've written since he has yet to respond to my previous entry. In fact, Chris hasn't deemed my last entry to him as worthy of response so it is unlikely that he'll respond to this entry as well. One can always hope though...


Anonymous said...

Is something good or bad just because God says it is, or does good and bad have any meaning outside themselves?

Can Jesus in the flesh be in two places at once? Such as working simultaneosly on planets far apart that have intellegent life?

J. Matthew Cleary said...


You seem to be asking the age old question of "does God love the good because it is good, or is it good because God loves it"? If so, then my answer is the latter rather than the former. As for your second question, I don't believe in intelligent life on other worlds so it would be pointless to speculate on it.

Joel said...

Matthew, isn't it amazing how they always come on the scene with the same set of strawmen to knock down? Good response. And good response to anonymous also. Very restrained. Admirable.


J. Matthew Cleary said...

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to post your thoughts!