Monday, December 5, 2011

Does Calvinism produce a God who is a moral monster?

Michael Horton asks and answers the question, "Does calvinism make God a moral monster?" His article was probably wrote to give a sneak peek of his new book "For Calvinism" which is one of two books on the debate for and against Calvinism; the author of "against calvinism" is Roger Olson. Horton sets up the article saying that Calvinism and Arminianism have to answer the question "Is God a moral monster?" He writes that both camps have to answer such questions such as: "If God knew that Adam and Eve were going to transgress his law, why didn’t he change the circumstances so that they would have made a different choice? and Why would God create people he knew would be condemned for their original and actual sin? Both camps have a view of predestination, so neither camp is free from the challenge or weaker than the other. Horton writes, "...the only difference is whether it is determined without purpose or with purpose." That is the main issue. 

I haven't read Olson's book, but I take Horton's word when he wrote the following:

"Roger Olson states his own view: “God is sovereign in the sense that nothing at all can ever happen that God does not allow” (100). So, if the fall happened, then God allowed it. The fall “was not a part of [God's] will except to reluctantly allow it” (99). OK, but then the fall was in some sense a part of God’s will. Calvinists acknowledge that it was not part of God’s revealed (or moral) will, but that he willingly permitted it as part of his plan. Yet Roger is looking for something in between: God “permits” it, but it is not a “willing permission” (64). Aside from the fact that any act of God in permitting something is already an act of will—a choice, my main point here is that Roger’s weaker claim is still strong enough to get him into the same hot water with the rest of us. Roger agrees that God knows everything that will happen. God even supervises everything that will happen. Nothing escapes his oversight. “I believe, as the Bible teaches and all Christians should believe, that nothing at all can happen without God’s permission” (71). 

And yet, Roger rejects R. C. Sproul’s statement, “What God permits, he decrees to permit” (78). Now, what could be more obvious than the fact that when someone with the authority to do otherwise permits something contrary to his revealed will, he is deciding, choosing, decreeing to allow it? Here again, Roger’s notion of a presumably unwilling permission is an oxymoron. To permit something is to make a positive determination, even if it in no way makes the one permitting it responsible for the action. So what is the substantive difference between saying, with Roger, that “nothing at all can ever happen that God does not allow,” and with R. C. Sproul, “What God permits, he decrees to permit”?" 

I think Roger's view is weak and gets him into the same trouble as the Calvinist, albeit, a different route of course. Granted, I haven't read Olson's book, but I am confused with his statement that "nothing can ever happen that God does not allow," and his disagreeing with Sproul on God decreeing to permit certain things to happen. He also notes that there are fringes Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism that teach God is the author of sin, i.e., God creates fresh evil in the hearts of man and directly causes man to sin, which is not only against scripture, but also against the teachings of reformed theology. God does not create fresh evil in man, nor does he directly cause our sinful or un-sinful actions. Horton finishes his article with the next three paragraphs. 

" The real difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is whether God has a purpose when he allows sin and suffering. Again, both views affirm that nothing happens apart from God’s permission. However, Calvinism teaches that God never allows any evil that he has not already determined to work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Nothing that he allows can terminate in evil. What would we say of a deity who “reluctantly permitted” a terrible disaster or moral tragedy, without a determination to overcome that evil with good? But that takes a plan and that plan must necessarily comprehend the evil that he is to conquer. 

Any view that makes God the author of sin does indeed turn the object of our worship into a moral monster. However, any deity who merely stands around reluctantly permitting horrible things for which he has no greater purpose in view, is equally reprehensible. In the one, God is sovereign but not good; in the latter, God is neither. Once you acknowledge that God foreknows a sinful act and chooses to allow it (however reluctantly) when he could have chosen not to, the only consolation is that God never would have allowed it unless he had already determined why he would permit it and how he has decided to overcome it for his glory and our good. Mercifully, Scripture does reveal that God does exactly that. Roger agrees that God “chose to allow” suffering and sin (72). The Calvinist says that God chose to allow them for a reason. It’s permitting rather than creating, but it’s permission with a purpose. Permission without purpose makes God a “moral monster” indeed. 

Reformed theology has maintained consistently that Scripture teaches God’s exhaustive sovereignty and human responsibility. God does not cause evil. In fact, God does not force anyone to do anything against his or her will. And yet, nothing lies outside of the wise, loving, good, and just plan “of him who works all things after the council of his own will” (Eph 1:11). That God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are true, no serious student of Scripture can deny. How they can be true is beyond our capacity to understand. As Calvin put the matter, following Luther, any attempt to unravel the mystery of predestination and human responsibility beyond Scripture is a “seeking outside the way.” “Better to limp along this path,” says Calvin, “than to rush with all speed outside of it.” 

You can read Horton's full article here.

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  1. why did god put the forbidden tree in the garden in the first place IF he wasn't going to allow some sort of free will or choice? because he wanted true worship and love an that can ONLY come about with choice and will. god had to allow for the potential to do evil. evil is good gone bad cause god made the world good. choice is what gives LOVE its force.

  2. choice is what gives LOVE its force.

    By "choice" I assume you mean the ability to do otherwise, and by "force" I assume you mean something like genuineness? The problem is, this commits you to some very problematic views about God. Look:

    1. God cannot fail to be what he is (principle of metaphysical necessity)

    2. God is, among other things, a relationship of perfect love within himself (1 John 4:8 etc)

    3. Therefore, God cannot fail to be a relationship of perfect love within himself (1, 2)

    4. Therefore, the Father cannot fail to love the Son & Spirit, the Son cannot fail to love the Father & Spirit, the Spirit cannot fail to love the Father and & Son (expansion of 3)

    5. If one cannot fail to do something, one has no choice in doing it (your definition)

    6. Therefore, God has no choice but to love within himself (2, 3)

    7. Therefore, God's love has no force or is not genuine (by your stipulation)

    Obviously (7) is absurd, since God's love is not merely the most genuine, having the most force—but is in fact the essence of love. It is where all other love derives from.


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