Two theologians just finished the final part of a webcast exchange concerning the age-old debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. It was conducted in Christian brotherly love and mutual respect, and both the participants were learned Bible scholars, James R. White taking the Calvinist position, and Michael Brown taking the other. I just want to say a few things about the subject myself (and, after all, what are blogs for?).
The more I learn about the God of the Bible, the less tenable the Arminian view of God becomes. However, I am in no way optimistic that Arminian theology will become extinct through Bible study, because of aspects of the Biblical description of God’s freedom and rule that are naturally objectionable to the human mind. But this is not what I wanted to comment on.
I want to say this: God has ordained human freewill as a means of accomplishing his predetermined plan. Now, Dr. Brown made a statement very similar to this, but by it I and he mean different things. I believe that God’s predetermined plan is (and has to be) absolutely exhaustive of all actions in history, from the movement of galaxies to the direction and velocity of quantum particles, human choices included. Dr. Brown believes, instead, that God’s plan includes punctuated points along the course of history (such as the crucifixion), but the path taken to accomplish them may take whatever form human decisions dictate; there is wiggle room in regards to means, but God has determined certain ends. But every “end” is preceded by a web of millions of freewill actions and then, once done, becomes a means itself to some following end. All actions are both effects and causes and are interrelated. There would be no way of guaranteeing a given end unless one had control over what came before and lead up to it. Dr. Brown’s response is that, well, that is the awesomeness of the God we serve, that God can take human actions, even sinful actions, which he did not intend and manipulate what he’s dealt to somehow get his purposes done. As one Calvinist pastor remarked, “Well, it’s a good thing God has a fast backhand!” My problem with this is twofold: first, it makes God reactive, not proactive, and his plans dependant on creatures who, the Bible says, “live and move” because God himself sustains the created order (Acts 17:82, see also Daniel 5:23). Who’s dependent on whom? Or is this a dance in which God and people are dependent on each other? Dr. Brown’s position does not deal with the impassibility of God. Second, Dr. Brown’s position (in which God frustrates the evil plans of men and uses them for good) is absurd due to Dr. Brown’s other position that people control their own thoughts and actions independent from God’s plans. You have to ask, When God “turns evil around” and makes some good out of it, what is he doing? If human beings have total autonomy, how does God use their free actions for his goals? What say or influence can God possibly have? On the other hand, if God “steps in” then someone’s autonomous free will is being violated, isn’t it (according to Dr. Brown’s own view)? How often and to what degree may God “step in,” and when does he overstep the bounds placed on him by Arminianism’s idea of autonomous free will?
These questions are serious. I am compelled to believe instead that human free will was established by God as a means of accomplishing his predetermined ends in such a way that all the free choices human beings make are not independent of God’s plan, but rather a part of it. They are at once fixed and free, and you can, depending on how you look at it, call them either, with the understanding that no matter what happens, it was predestined to happen exactly that way, and happened according to the normal laws of cause and effect, with human beings (and other animals) making choices which they were not compelled to make by any force outside themselves. God’s decree is exhaustive, and human beings are volitional free agents, not robots. The Bible, as I see it, teaches both, and I have no problem with that. I believe in a God who is not constantly figuring out how to straighten out what humans have screwed up, but is acting in history as his eternal decree unfolds precisely according to plan. The Bible so much as tells us this in black and white, for “God works all things according to the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11). All things. Thank God!