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Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Recently I attended a debate on the topic, “Should Christians trust Darwinism?” Representing the Intelligent Design side was probably its most well known defender, Dr. Stephen Meyer.  Representing the Theistic evolution side was Dr. Karl Giberson, who has written extensively on the topic as well.

The debate was very good, each side representing their positions in a capable way.  All in all I think Dr. Meyer won the debate, though that was largely due to his greater charisma and debate experience.

The debate prompted a lot of thought for me.  This topic used to be my big issue and I gobbled down tons of books from all perspectives for a few years.  As worldview comes in so clearly in this topic there tend to be many arguments riddled with cliche terms and arguments that don’t really connect with the target audience. So I really appreciated learning some new things and hearing some new perspectives at this debate.

Here are some thoughts prompted by the debate.

There are massive worldview issues underneath each camp in the creation/evolution debate.  To not deal with these presuppositions is to miss the most important issue in the debate.  I am taking for granted a young earth view of the scriptures as I believe that is the proper interpretation.  The point of this article is not to challenge the presuppositional nature of the debate, but to point out the weaknesses and strengths the various movements have as they have approached the raw data with their theories.

In every field of science there are theories that are debated. The method that is used to determine the acceptance of a particular theory is to ask how much of the raw data we have is explained by this particular theory.  We have multitudes of little facts about our world that need to fit into a theory.  For instance, the fact that we can get in a plane and around the world is deemed to be a strong argument against the flat earth theory.  That theory cannot interpret the raw data we see in a consistent way.  Thus it falls.  In the area of creation/evolution as well, there are theories proposed and each of them have their strengths and weaknesses.

The view of common descent held by neo-darwinism has been around for several hundred years. I could be mistaken, but as I understand it, neo-darwinism began with the finding of the DNA code by Crick and Watson in the 50’s.  This revolutionized evolutionary biology.  But all the same the basic premises of the theory have been around for several hundred years with more or less acceptance within the scholarly fields.  Darwinism has had time to develop a clear cut theory of how things came to be.  The sheer weight of the volumes that have been written applying this theory to the data we see in nature is astounding.

On the other hand the Intelligent Design movement does not have a theory to apply to the data.  There is very little consensus amongst this movement over what actually happened.  What they do share in common is a distrust of the Neo-evolutionary paradigm.  And in that one area they are very strong.  Their critiques of darwinism are, in my humble opinion, shattering.  But, as they have not proposed a theory of their own (amongst other presuppositional reasons) their cries have gone unnoticed and the army of evolutionary scientists just moves on to damage repair.
And then we have the Creationism movement.  They have a theory to propose but have a long, long way to go in working out the kinks and applying this theory to the data.  The modern movement itself is only 60-70 years old and has been plagued with the normal issues new movements face; lack of direction, lack of deep thorough thinking about the relevant data and much infighting.  Because of these issues and presuppositional differences the modern scientific community scoffs at the YEC movement.  We are beginning to see, however, changes in the movement and attempts to be systematic, to work out solid models and to apply those to the data.

I am a young earther.  This is because I think this is the natural reading of many biblical texts.  Yet, I still think the YEC movement is riddled with issues and I disagree with a lot of their “scientific” argumentation. There are many areas we need to work hard on.

As I see it, the darwinist camp has a several hundred year jump on us on working out the kinks and working thru the data.  We are the young David marching on to the field to face off with the huge Goliath.  The giant has been dealt a death blow by the ID crowd and he is teetering.  But there is some fight left in him.  We have a long ways to go.

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Apologetical methods

There are five basic methods Christian apologists have taken to defend the faith. In this post I will outline these methods briefly and then go more in-depth perhaps in future. Here they are in order of popularity and importance historically.

Classical Apologetics

This method generally begins with philosophical arguments for God’s existence and works from there to establish Christianity in particular. They would use historical arguments (the resurrection and reliability of the bible) later on in their arguments but do not deem them sufficient to establish God’s existence. Typically classical apologists use the Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological and Moral arguments. One could list Anselm and Aquinas as holding to this view in the past and Geisler and Craig as its modern Representatives.

Evidential Apologetics

Evidentialists attempt to argue from historical arguments to the existence of God and the reliability of the scriptures. They would look to the biblical texts as well as secular sources of antiquity and try to establish that the best explanation of the data is the intervention of God. Evidentialists agree with the classical arguments but do not deem it necessary to get into them. History is clear enough, they would say. Though I know this view has its historical reps I do not know enough about it to cite them. Montgomery and Habermas would be its modern reps.

Presuppositional Apologetics

This view stands in stark contrast to most other methods in that it holds that unless we take the God of the Bible as our foundational presupposition we cannot know anything, let alone defend Christianity. Their arguments deal primarily with epistemology, attempting to show how other worldviews self-destruct and Christian theism alone stands. Calvin and Luther defended this view in the past. Van Til and Clark in the modern era.

Cumulative case Apologetics

Within this view the apologist does not look to any single form of argumentation or even any order in presenting the case. He takes elements from many views and believes that Christianity is proven cumulatively. The case cannot be made thru one argument or one strain of argumentation but all the arguments together form a very convincing case. Lewis and Feinberg would be in this group.

Reformed Epistemology

According to one of these guys there are truths that are ‘properly basic’. That is they are so obvious that one does not need to prove them to be. Amongst these would be your memory, the external world, basic morality and God. Since God is a properly basic truth one does not need to argue for Him so we find that reformed epistemology is mostly a defensive apologetic, defending itself from its critics. It is, I think, the new kid on the block. Its foremost defender would be Alvin Plantinga.

I think it would be helpful to do a little comparing between the various camps. Perhaps that would clarify further what the distinctions are.

Typically the Classical, evidentialist and cumulative case apologists have been thought of as being within the same strain of thinking. The chief difference would be that the evidentialist thinks a case can be made from history to God while the classical apologist does not think that case strong enough. Hume, an atheist philosopher said this; “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. The evidentialist is attempting to argue for the resurrection and God’s existence from history and the classical apologist just doesn’t think the evidence to be enough to argue that way. The evidentialist on the other hand would critique the classicalist for wasting time on complex philosophical argumentation when the history is clear. Cumulative case apologists take both positions in stride and incorporate them into their apologetic.

None of the aforementioned three have any tolerance for either Reformed Epistemology or Presuppositional apologetics. There is a chasm between them and also another chasm between these two. Reformed Epistemologists are as previously mentioned quite defensive in their apologetic, not thinking it the business of an apologist to try to prove God. It is quite sensible to believe in Him without proof, they would say. The presuppositionalist takes this quite a few steps further and in a sense comes against all the other methods by claiming that their foundational axiom is off and thus their argumentation is faulty. The presup guy would not agree that any of the other methods have sufficiently made their case for Christianity. Only when we start with the triune God of scripture can we know anything, is their claim.

Hopefully that was enough to show that there are real differences between these apologetic methods. I think though that the term differences is an understatement. Some of these methods deny the foundational assertions of others. Some of them would call the argumentation of others fallacious. There have been many books written from each of these camps but far and away the group with the most representation amongst Christians has been the classical apologists. Classicalists can be found in the ranks of the early church till today. The next post will be an attempt to outline this methodology further, present its arguments and then to critique them.

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This will be the first of a few posts (hopefully) about apologetics and properly defending Christianity.  Some of the thoughts I share may seem as if I am shooting at my fellow Christians when I critique their arguments.  My intent is not merely to knock everyone else down in an attempt to exalt my own theory but to show that in our defense of the faith we have made errors and must critique ourselves as well as our opponents.  If we are seekers of truth then we should be willing to change when our own failures are shown.

Now, after my usual disclaimer has been made (sorry, don’t know why I always do that) let’s get to the meat.

Before discussing how to do apologetics correctly it should be established that it is our duty to defend the faith.  By the way that is what apologetics is.  A defense of the faith.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this because I don’t think there are many who would disagree with the statement that when the faith is attacked we should defend it.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” 1 Pet. 3:15

“Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Cor. 10:5

So giving a defense for our hope when asked is a command.  Also these scriptures show that our warfare is to cast down the arguments that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God and thus against God Himself.  Beyond this we do see a theme in scripture that commands us to stand fast on the side of our God when He is attacked.  I would extend that to the realm of the intellect.  When an atheist advances an argument against God we are to cast that argument down.

Why do apologetics?  It is surely not to convince them of God’s existence.  Romans 1 clearly teaches that they already know that. In that same vein it is not to convince the honest agnostic that perhaps He is mistaken.  We must understand that biblically man knows God is real and even more than that.  “Knowing the righteous judgment of God”, Romans says, teaching that man knows that God is Righteous and the judge they will be held accountable.  So the position of apologetics is not to convince men of these truths but rather I believe to silence their mouths before the truth of the gospel.  They are without excuse and our job is to proclaim the gospel to them.  That is the means that God has chosen to save men.  But when they move to attack the God that made them our job is to shut their mouths by showing the bankruptcy of their position.  Then all the more clearly the truth of God will shine.

So now we have been thru what I see to be the biblical mandate and our general motivation in doing apologetics.  The next post will outline the Classical method Christians have taken to defend the faith and some of the problems with that methodology.

 

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Apologetics Resource

Just wanted to refer this site on to my five or six readers.

I really enjoy reading and studying Christian apologetics and so finding this site was awesome.  There are tons of mp3 downloads of debates between christians and others as well as lectures on many topics available for free download.

Check it out if you can (or if you care)  🙂

One disclaimer.  I think they are more classical rather than presuppositional in their apologetics.  So take it with a grain of salt.

http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/

For the King who was tortured!

For the King who died!

For the King who conquering death and sin reigns triumphant!!!

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Oftentimes when speaking of doctrine someone will say something like this, “Well, there have been many brilliant theologians out there that disagreed with each other.  We need to be real careful of being too dogmatic.”  This is usually said to caution those that are taking a strong stance on a particular doctrinal point.

While this is true in a sense we must also be very careful of falling into the pit on the other side; straying so far from offending man that we offend God.  Let me flush out a little of what I am getting at.

The implied undertones to this statement are often that the scriptures are not sufficiently clear to justify us coming to strong opinions.  Man disagrees over what the scriptures say so they conclude that there are just some issues that the Bible just doesn’t answer clearly enough.  Instead of looking at the situation biblically and recognizing the wickedness of men’s hearts as the root of this problem instead the finger points at the scriptures as the problem and then it takes only half a brain to see the implications.  God wasn’t very clear in His word.  Thus we can push doctrine to the back burner and avoid serious study of these issues.

For example, I can’t count how many times I have heard fellow believers say that since there are so many good men on both sides of the debate between calvinism and arminianism that we can relegate this doctrine to the realm of the mysterious and un-understandable.  Now, to put this as nicely as i can, this is hogwash pure and undiluted.  Scripture bears on this from beginning to end and no confusion among men justifies us in throwing it over our shoulder and disregarding it.

I don’t think I need to make a scriptural defense of this when I say that when scripture speaks of a doctrine we are duty bound to study that out.  God gave us His word to lead and guide us and has clearly commanded us to be diligent in our study of it.  Now if God is the all-knowing God that scriptures tell us He is it stands to reason that His word is clear and He knows how to communicate to us what we need to hear.  Biblically the finger must point to man as being responsible for his twisting of scripture to suit his own fancies.  God’s word is clear.  Man is selfish and prone to error.  It is man’s fault that there are so many ridiculous and unbiblical imaginations masquerading as God’s truth floating around out there.

Let us be extremely careful that we do not impugn God with our own sin.

All for the King!!

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He was the greatest defender of Christianity in his day.  He was one of the greatest writers of Christian fiction of all time.  He was a brilliant literary critic.  And he is one of the most puzzling contradictions of a man that I have ever run across.

Clive Staples Lewis was born on Nov. 29, 1858.  He grew up in an outwardly Christian home.  During his teens he rejected the concept of God and moved on to a strong atheism.  He remained in this state for a few years but slowly began to realize that there was strong evidence for the God he had rejected.  This is a quote from the book ‘Surprised By Joy’ which is an account of his early years and conversion:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.  I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.  The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet.  But who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?   The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused b wicked men that we shudder at them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy.  The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Lewis after his conversion went on to write many polemics for the Christian faith.  His book ‘Mere Christianity’ has been acclaimed by some as being the greatest defense of Christianity written.  He also wrote many books and essays on how Christianity relates to the various parts of our culture and world.  On a general level his works resound with a clear and witty presentation of the truth in a very succinct and powerful way.

I was first exposed to Lewis as I expect many were, thru his fiction series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’.  From the very first I loved them.  Later I read ‘Mere Christianity’ and to be honest I was not very impressed.  ‘The Screwtape letters’ came next and I found them to be humorous but also not as captivating or interesting as ‘The Chronicles’.  Then there followed a gap of a few years in which I read nothing of his.

Upon coming here to china I realized that the brother I am working with here, Eugene, is a huge Lewis fan.  So I decided to give the guy one more try and picked up ‘Till we have Faces’, his retelling of the ancient story of Psyche and Cupid (don’t jump to any premature conclusions).  And to say that I was blown away by it would be an understatement.  His brilliance in weaving together a compelling plotline astounded me.  After that I moved on to his retelling of his own early life and conversion.  ‘Surprised By Joy’ is chock full of insight on our search for what we really want in life.  And it was in this book that I found just how deeply he understood what Christianity is all about.

Lewis describes this deep-seated longing that we have that we are constantly seeking to fill.  We feel right down to our core that there is a purpose for our being here and we are desperately seeking this to try to fill that emptiness we have.  What we so often do is try to fill or at least drown it out with sensual pleasures.   But Lewis came to realize that we can only find this ‘joy’ in the pursuit of God.  Joy is not so much the total satiation of that thirst as it is the continual deep hunger that causes us to run after God.  This longing and love for the King of kings is itself what we seek.  And it is the only thing that will satisfy a human being.

This teaching is what we see ratified clearly in scriptures and echoed by the men of God thru the ages.  So it is surprising to then learn what else Lewis believed.

Lewis was not by any stretch a fundamentalist Christian.   His ideas would probably land him not quite in the liberal camps but probably outside of those we would view as conservative.  Among other things Lewis…

Denied the inerrancy of Scripture

Believed in Theistic Evolution

Denied the legitimacy of OT miracles

Believed that some could be saved thru other religions

In the light of these grievous errors many have thrown Lewis to the side and rejected him as ‘just another liberal’.  Now I do not desire to downplay the problems he had.  They were many and some of them extremely important.  But what confuses me is to see the deep love for God that flows out of his writings and his understanding of the center of the gospel.

These truths are rarely seen amongst the writings of others of his era.  And just as rarely seen amongst those who are considered the liberals of any era.  We do not see the German higher critics or the members of the Jesus Seminar defining what it means to know and love God in a clear biblical way.  These truths are among the first to be rejected as one begins to ride down the highway of liberalism en route to the city of Humanistic thinking.  This is because they are predicated upon a universe in which God is the center and everything revolves around Him.  The absolute antithesis to all modern attempts to combine humanism and theology.

So why we see them in Lewis I am not sure.  I don’t understand how he managed to keep a grip on this central truth all the while rejecting many others.  I believe he was a real Christian.  This seems obvious from his writings on the believer.  There is such a depth of understanding seen here that to deny personal experience seems absurd.

So after all this is considered it leaves me quite confused about the man.  A Christian?  I believe so.  A conservative?  I would not consider him so.  A fundamentalist?  Definitely not!  But thru all the confusion from his other beliefs is a clarity shining forth about the reality of the Christian God.  The Christian life is painted in such terms that unmistakably suggest personal experience.

What should his place be in modern Christendom?  Well that I will mostly leave to the individual to decide.  Different people based on differing understandings of scripture place different emphasis on different doctrines.   For me, I will continue to read the man.  I find the meat there too great to run past though I admit there are quite a few bones that must be spat out.

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First off I must say that this is a topic I am still working thru in my personal studies and so though the conclusions that I draw here are my beliefs I am very open to critique. Indeed I actually would love to hear some, especially from believers of different persuasions than I. As iron sharpens iron so a critique from one older and wiser in the faith can do much to ‘grow up’ a young man entering in upon theological debates.

The basic crux of the debate

Is God sovereignly controlling everything or is man free? Are these two compatible perhaps? Is man just a robot in the hands of God? Has God given man such freedom that man can disrupt God’s plans? Is man free or is God free? Or both?

These issues have been debated for as long as there have been Christians. From Augustine and Pelagius all the way up to the reformation debates of Luther and Erasmus and then on to modern times the discussion has continued. They are inseparably linked to the Calvinism/Arminianism struggle and are thus extremely hard to treat without delving into that can of worms but I will attempt to steer clear as that is a topic I do not wish to get into at this time.

Why all the fuss?

Many Christians look at theological issues such as this and think that it is just a bunch of old farts sitting around quibbling over nothing. In their view these issues are not merely a waste of time to discuss but probably sinful as well because of all the strife and separation that arises.

While there are some theological disputes that I think this could be said of this is most definitely not one of them. The issues at hand have huge implications on how we live out our life on a day to day level. David and Randall Basinger brought up a few examples in their book, ‘Predestination and Free Will’. The following is theirs:

“…Take the missionary candidate who is having difficulty raising her support. She may believe God is closing the door to her present plans and leading her in another direction. After all if God wants her on the mission field He will bring in the money. Another candidate however, might conclude that he is not working hard enough to raise the money. He might schedule more meetings or work up a better slide presentation. If failure continues he might conclude that other people’s decisions not to give have thwarted God’s will.”

Another example from the book:

“Consider a married couple in which the husband carries a genetic defect. Should the couple have children? Some might choose to have children believing that each child is a special and direct creation of God. Hence if God wants them to have a healthy baby, then they will. If He does not they will joyfully accept their special child as a gift from God. Other Christian couples might argue that, in view of the high probability that their child will inherit the defect, the responsible thing would be to adopt children or to use their childlessness to offer service to the church.”

We could line up more examples of this problem from here to the moon. It strikes at the core of how we relate to God thru our daily actions and choices. Our beliefs in these areas will greatly affect our decisions when faced with similar problems.

In view of how deeply these beliefs affect us I think it necessary that we each evaluate the scriptures and think these things thru. It is not that we are building an opinion where nothing stood previously. We all have a structure that we run our issues thru and there is a divine sovereignty factor and a human freedom factor in each of our minds. The question we all face is: Is our understanding of these two concepts true to the facts? In other words is it true to scripture?

Now I do recognize as I just implied that scripture is the final authority in all matters of truth. However this is not meant to be primarily a scriptural paper. I am not intending to give an exhaustive scriptural defense of any position. There will be scriptures quoted and a biblical case made. This will be toward the end after the positions have been defined adequately. But the purpose is more to shed light on the philosophical underpinnings of the debate. With a structure in view the reader will hopefully be better able to understand what all the fuss is about and where they believe the scriptures point. May God be glorified in all everything we do especially in our teaching and beliefs about Him.

Basic definitions

I do not believe that there is a definition for either side of this debate that fits like a glove. The best I think I can do is to give some basic beliefs that each side would hold to. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, throw it at the next guy.

One point that should be made is that you will notice significant areas of overlap when defining the various camps on the various issues. This really cannot be avoided as this whole debate is one over which system of looking at freedom is correct. Each view in each category of definitions only fits with one or at most two of the definitions in another category. They fit together with them in a very tight way and stand or fall together so it is hard to entirely separate them when defining the issues. Sorry for any confusion that arises from this.

Indeterminism

As best I understand it indeterminism is the belief that when man is faced with a choice, option A or option B, there are no causal influences (internal or external) that would necessitate that he choose either one. Put another way he is not constrained by any influences to choose option A or B. He has total freedom to choose either one. For example, John Doe walks up to the food stand on lunch break. He has the option of a hot dog or a cheeseburger. Let us say that John typically chooses the hot dog because he is not a big fan of cheeseburgers. The indeterminist would state that though there is a prior influence on John to choose the hot dog he is still completely free to choose the cheeseburger because no influence no matter how strong is sufficient to cause us to choose one way or the other.

So man is completely free (to do that which is possible) in every choice. Influences exist but they never constrain the will to act in any particular way.

Determinism

On the other hand Determinism is the “general philosophical thesis which states that for everything that ever happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.”1 As we are here looking at this issue from a Christian standpoint I will not venture into defining the non-Christian views of determinism.

Within the Christian determinists two camps arise (as best I can see it). As the reason a Christian would hold to this belief is because of a strong view of God’s sovereignty the disagreement stems from this doctrine. Is divine sovereignty compatible with human freedom? Some say no and thus deny human freedom. These are generally classified as hard determinists. Others would answer yes. These are known as the soft determinists. Among these soft determinists two other camps arise. Camp 1 affirms Divine sovereignty and human freedom but says that it is a mystery we will never understand but must believe. Camp 2 states that the seeming mystery is understandable. They say that the two are compatible but one must carefully define freedom. These are known as the Compatibalists and this is the position I will be defending throughout this paper. Another question flows logically out of this. What is freedom?

Freedom

This concept is defined in two different ways but the camps are not split in the same way here. The indeterminists agree with some of the hard determinists on the definition of freedom (Again this is to the best of my knowledge. What I say here should not be taken as gospel truth but rather the thoughtful ramblings of one trying to figure this out). This definition of freedom is known as contra-causal freedom. It is the ability to choose anything that is possible (possible in the sense of anything that we possess the physical, mental or spiritual means to do).

The opposing definition, the one held by the Compatibalists is that freedom is the ability to do what one wills to do. One is not free to do, in this view, what one does not will to do. Though you may possess the means you do not have the desire to do so and thus it will not occur. The Compatibalist believes that genuine freedom is not the freedom to do whatever one possesses the means to do but the freedom to do what you want to do.

Divine Sovereignty

It is on this point that I am the most confused at this stage of my studies so bear with me as I attempt to lay out the positions. If I err I would love to hear from you so I can correct it.

As best I understand it there are two major camps and then two much smaller ones among Christians. The smaller ones are positions A and D. The camps I have lined up in order of how much control God has in this world from least to greatest. The first two can be either deterministic or not. The last two are deterministic. Each of these positions holds to the statement that God is sovereign but the definition of this differs greatly.

Position A is that God is sovereign in the sense that he is creator and is thus in authority over everything. He is God and thus is to be obeyed. Sovereignty does not entail, according to this view, that God is in control of everything. They would state that he most certainly is not else there would be no sin. If God is in control and there is sin then we cease to have a good God. So God is sovereign but not in control of everything and man rebels against God and does things that are not his will. There is no distinction between the decretive will and the, for lack of a better term, perfect will of God for all that exists is the perfect will (though some would believe in the permissive will of God). This view places God at the helm of this world not overriding any person’s individual choices and desires but still accomplishing His purpose in the end though His purposes are often confounded by wicked men. How God actually can accomplish anything in this world without affecting someone’s freedom is the question I would ask them.

Position B holds to God’s sovereignty in the same sense as position A, that He is creator and thus in authority but not in control of everything. The difference is that they will open the door to God overriding or guiding the will of man in some cases to accomplish His will. This is not the way God usually works but occasionally He does and to prove such they will point to instances in scripture such as Pharaoh. This is I believe the most widely held of all four of the camps and is by far the most popular in Arminian circles.

Position C is the second most widely held though it does trail B at a distance. Its defendants would hold that God is in total control of and wills everything that occurs in this world. They define this control over free actions according to the Compatibalistic definition of freedom and thus declare that God set up the initial conditions of this world so that His designs would be accomplished all throughout its history. The charge of God thus having willed sin is answered by their distinction between the decretive, preceptive and perfect wills of God. God’s decretive will is what He has decreed from all eternity will take place. But among this are some events which violate His preceptive will (that which He commands) and thus violate His perfect will (those things that are in accordance with His holy character). A helpful way to see this is to distinguish a narrow view of things, meaning a close up look at individual situations, from a broad view of the purpose of creation. God while He does not desire the individual sinful actions to occur in the narrow sense does in the broader sense will that sin exist. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, “It is not sin in God to will that sin be.” This view obviously opens up criticism of God’s holiness. But numerous verses can be brought up that show that God is indeed active in guiding situations that do indeed involve sin.

Position D is held by those in the hard determinist camp. God is in complete control of every action including all of our sins. The difference between them and position C is that they do not bring in Compatibalism as an answer but merely as stated before proclaim that God did the act but is not responsible. Thus with no place for human freedom it is no wonder that they are attacked as throwing sin on God. And rightly so I believe.

Compatibalism further defined

As this is the position I am defending I thought it necessary to say a few more words on what exactly it holds to. First, according to its definition of freedom when one is presented with a choice whatever is your strongest inclination to do at the moment will be the option you will choose. To go back to our previous example if John is given the option of a hotdog or a hamburger then John will choose the one that has the most ‘pull’ on him so to speak. Whichever one he desires (and desires are formed partly on the basis of your nature, partly on the basis of past experience and also, the Compatibalist would argue, some desires are given by God so he can freely guide an individual into the action he wishes of them.) is the one he will choose. If his dislike of cheeseburgers is as deep as an utter abhorrence then he will never choose the cheeseburger.

The original definition given for determinism sheds some light on the major difference between the hard determinist and the Compatibalist. Once again determinism is the “general philosophical thesis which states that for everything that ever happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.” The hard determinist will argue that God’s sovereign will and choices override and deny human freedom and thus nothing else could happen because God’s will is always done. The Compatibalist says that, yes, God’s will is always done but this is done not through overriding human freedom but through using and guiding it.

Implications on Moral responsibility and other moral issues

Each of these views has major implications on the responsibility of man for their sin. I will lay out the arguments on each in the order that I first introduced the views.

Indeterminism

One of the main points argued by the indeterminists is that man is not responsible for doing something that he was caused to do (by either an internal or external force). In other words if he did not have the ability to do otherwise (in the contra-causal sense) then his actions were forced and he is not to be held responsible.

I will examine the implications of this argument on the various forms of determinism but first want to point out that the standard of freedom they hold to destroys responsibility as well. If there were nothing, not even something internal that is causally sufficient for man to make a choice in one way or the other then how and why does he choose? This question is one that out of the very nature of their position the indeterminist cannot give an answer. If he chooses based upon what seems the greatest good at the time then the indeterminist has become a determinist. Welcome to the camp. If on the other hand he chooses randomly (without any internal cause dictating why he chose) then how can he be held responsible? If all the choices we make are entirely random and no desire in us dictated the choice then we cannot be viewed as morally responsible for these choices. It can be likened to a computer which according to its hardware is only designed to place random numbers on the screen. The inventor then congratulates and rewards the computer when it runs an even number and punishes it when it runs an odd. Moral responsibility is entirely lost if something in our nature is not the cause of why we choose one way or the other.

Hard determinism

The effects of the argument I laid out above at the beginning of the indeterminist section are very strong against hard determinism in particular. In my opinion if one is to be logical its effects are fatal.

The hard determinist states that because God is sovereign over this world this rules out the possibility of human freedom. Man is not free but is a puppet that God moves according to His will. The question then is obvious. How can God punish a puppet? The picture this gives of the biblical God is frightening. A God who is angry at Israel for doing exactly what he caused it to do. A God who destroys Sodom because its inhabitants did exactly as he caused them to do in attempting to rape the two angels. Such a God as this is surely not the biblical God for this view very clearly throws sin on God’s lap.

The proponents of this view are not blind to these critiques. Their counterargument is that we cannot use our fallen logic to critique the justice of God. They use scriptural arguments to conclude that God is in complete control of this universe including our actions thus man cannot be free but in answer to those who attack this view as making God the author of sin they quote Rom. 9:20 “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” They conclude that God is not evil and man is responsible though we do not understand how this is possible. The argument, while it is true in a sense, is twisted and warped in the present context. Though God is in control of everything in our universe the scriptures they cite do not necessitate that we throw aside human freedom and thus come so close to blaming God. This is I believe a very dangerous position to take in treading so close to throwing the ‘credit’ for all the world’s sin on God.

Mystery determinism

This view if you recall states that, yes, God is sovereign and, yes, man is free but as to how these views fit together it is beyond our comprehension. So it is very hard to lay out any moral implications on responsibility because there are no real substantial claims to critique. The only moral implication I can see is not a responsibility issue but an issue nonetheless. There is a discouragement of studying the word to find the answer to the question. It is not possible to find so don’t waste time trying. To relegate divine truths to the realms of incomprehensibility is not I think very scriptural. Granted, there are many things that we cannot understand fully but I do not believe there is any truth that God has given us in the scriptures that we cannot at least grasp a bit of or understand the basic principles of how it works.

Compatibalism

The argument of the indeterminists that I believe struck down hard determinism is also a hard one for a Compatibalist view. Remember the argument was how a man can be held responsible for an action if it was caused by either an internal or external force. If there is no freedom then there can be no responsibility. And if humans have no responsibility then it lands on God.

Compatibalism’s response is that they are begging the question in assuming that their definition of freedom is the only one possible. Man is free but that does not mean that his actions are not sufficiently causally influenced by various factors. In other words man causes his own action but the reason he chose A and not B is caused by his own nature, desires and past influence. Defining freedom in such a way escapes their attack and their only recourse is to insist that their definition of freedom is so.

Thus the responsibility is on man because man freely (compatibalistically) made the choice and God is sovereign and in control because He decreed this from all eternity by planning everything and setting up the original parameters so that He could accomplish His own ends thru that same freedom.

A Scriptural case

The two main areas that scripture touches on in this debate are human responsibility and divine sovereignty. There is ample biblical evidence for each. God places the responsibility for sin squarely on man’s shoulders while also claiming for Himself control of everything that comes to pass.

Regrettably there is not much light shed by scripture other than by inference from the doctrine of sovereignty what type of freedom man has. One’s understanding of His role in the affairs of this world will deeply affect whether you end up a determinist or an indeterminist (terms defined below).

So below I will list a few verses defending divine sovereignty. I do not think it necessary to defend human responsibility for sin as no one would dare question that it is a consistent theme throughout the bible. Man sins and is blamed and punished for it. Divine sovereignty on the other hand is much more tricky not because of the lack of scripture to clarify the matter but more because there are many philosophical presuppositions that have greatly influenced our thinking in these areas. As our axioms and thinking as well as our day to day lives need to submit to the truth of scripture let us try not to force any alien concept onto it but merely let it speak for itself.

Divine sovereignty

Ezra 6:22 And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Job 5:10 He gives rain on the earth, and sends waters on the fields.

Job 14:5 Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with you; you have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass.

Ps. 115:3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.

Ps. 135:6-7 Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings the wind out of His treasuries.

Prov. 16:9 A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

Prov. 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is from the Lord.

Prov. 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

Isa. 26:12 O Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us.

Is. 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’

Is. 45:7 I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create calamity. I, the Lord, do these things.

Jon. 2:3 For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

Amos 4:13 he who forms mountains, creates the wind, declares to men what his thought is, forms morning darkness.

Eph 1:11 works all things according to the counsel of his will.

How to read the extravagant claims of these verses is confusing for the modern Christian mind so influenced by humanistic teaching of total independence. We love to think of ourselves as in the driver seat with no one to tell us what to do. But if we read these verses in their plainest sense we see a far different picture. We see a God who does all that he pleases, who is in some way in control of our actions and at this sovereign God’s whim He orders all the natural element to do as He bids. These are not just a few verses scraped together. This is the theme of all scripture. In deciding which to include there were many that would have fit very well here but for lack of space could not be included.

There are also many more verses that speak of God as being active in hardening and softening the human heart. There are those that speak of His work thru the evil in this world, with the classic example being the statement by Joseph to his brothers, “You meant this for evil but God meant it for good.” Another could be seen in the very crucifixion of Christ. Acts 4:27, 28 say:

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”

The acts of those who killed Christ were in some sense planned by God. Thus we see God working in nature. We see His hand in everything that comes to pass. The picture here is not of a God who winds the world up and sits back and watches it go. Not either do we see a God who, as it has been put, “waits with baited breath” to see what man will do so He can respond. We do see a God who directs our steps, makes peace and creates calamity, turns our hearts as the water, sends the rain, accomplishes all our works IN us and who works all things according to the counsel of His will.

Now I must venture off into my belief regarding these passages. As stated before I am still working thru these doctrines but in my opinion there is simply no way these scriptures and the many more like them can be fit into any other system of freedom but the Compatibalist one. All forms of indeterminism with their hard stance on total human independence do not have space for God being in any sense in total control of the goings-on in this world. Likewise though hard determinists recognize God’s control they then overlook how God does blame man and thus in some sense man must be free to choose his way. The only view I see that links these three truths, divine sovereignty and human freedom and thus responsibility together in a biblically consistent and logical way is Compatibalism.

No matter what side of the current topic you come down on I pray that you walk with our King in righteousness and set your heart on loving Him with everything you are. Theology and study apart from this love of God is naught but a waste of time. May God bless you as you continue to love and serve Him.

All for the King who works all things according to the counsel of His will!!!

1. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Determinism, Richard Taylor

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