Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What is pre-suppositionalism? What is presuppositional apologetics?

The Messianic Drew has a post up where he explains seven reasons, and I’ll add a still more important reason below.

His introduction:

While most Christians will agree that there is a need to defend the faith, many will not realize that there is a debate regarding methodologies. This paper will address the various apologetics methods, and then analyze before critiquing the relatively new method of presuppositionalism. While this method has a lot to offer from a practical apologetics standpoint, it cannot be held rationally as a worldview. This paper will give seven reasons why this is the case.

Before addressing presuppositionalism, an introduction to other apologetic methodologies is in order. The main form of apologetics used historically is called Classical Apologetics. Under this method, the apologist gives arguments for the existence of God, and then proceeds to develop Christian evidences for the Christian worldview. Arguments like the moral argument, and other reason-based argumentation tend to dominate this method.

If classical apologetics is a two-step method, evidentialism is a one-step method. The evidentialist will usually forego rationalistic argumentation and will simply bring out evidences for the Christian worldview. The method of Gary Habermas is an example of evidentialism.

Those methods as well as presuppositionalism are the main methods of apologetics. There are others as well, such as fideism, which tells people to just believe without argument. Polemical apologetics seeks to attack other worldviews. There are cumulative case methods of apologetics, where two worldviews face off for which one better answers life’s deepest questions. There is also eclectic apologetics, which seeks to borrow methods from other schools of apologetics depending on the need.

This brings the discussion to presuppositionalism, which seeks to examine the underlying assumptions of any worldview. In short, presuppositionalism states that one’s foundational views are the only truly relevant factor in discussing worldviews. The founder of modern presuppositionalism is Cornelius van Til.

Here are his 7 points:

  1. Presuppositionalism is circular reasoning
  2. Presuppositionalism minimizes common grace
  3. Presuppositionalism confuses ontological priority with epistemic priority
  4. Presuppositionalism presupposes a highly controversial theory of knowledge
  5. Presuppositionalism often forgets that Christianity is, at least in principle, falsifiable
  6. Van Til’s apologetic might not even be Christian, but may be merely theistic
  7. Presuppositionalism faces the problem of incommensurability

And here is #6 in detail:

John Johnson gives a devastating critique as to why Van Til’s system is wholly inadequate when addressing other faiths, such as Islam. Van Til argues from Romans 1:18-21 that non-Christians suppress the truth, and that a presuppositional technique is necessary. However, this section of the Bible deals with knowledge of God, but not theological issues about the Trinity, Jesus, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. [12] Instead, it only says that unbelievers are without excuse for denying monotheism. Paul reinforces this in Acts 17, when he talks about the statue to an unknown God. Paul deals with the Athenians on their own ground.

A more practical example is what I call Artscroll Judaism. This is a fundamentalist sect of Orthodox Judaism, with its own think tanks which can give you an answer to anything. Anyone who is willing to take the leap into the system will find it every bit as coherent as one would find the Reformed Christian view.

John Warwick Montgomery gives a fable about a conversation between two presuppositionalists from two different religions: the Shadok religion, and the Gibi religion.

Shadok: You will never discover the truth, for instead of subordinating yourself to revelational truth (The Shadok Bible) you sinfully insist on maintaining the autonomy of your fallen intellect.

Gibi: Quite the contrary. [He repeats the same assertion substituting the Gibi Bible for the Shadok Bible.] And I say this not on the basis of my sinful ego but because I have been elected by the Gibi God.

Shadok: Wrong again! [He repeats the exact same claim, substituting Shadok Election for Gibi Election.] Moreover, the sovereign election of which I am the unworthy recipient has been the very work of God the Shadok Holy Spirit. And all of this is clearly taught in the self-validating Scripture of our people, which, I should not have to reiterate, derives from the true God and not from sinful, alledgedly autonomous man.

Gibi: How dare you invert everything. [He laboriously repeats the preceding argument, substituting Gibi election, the Gibi Holy Spirit, and the Gibi Bible.]

Shadok: Absurd! This is the inevitable result of your colored glasses.

Gibi: It is you who have the glasses cemented to your face. Mine have been transparent through sovereign grace and Gibi election, as proclaimed by the Gibi God’s word.

Shadok: Your religion is but the inevitable byproduct of sin—a tragic effort at self-justification through idolatry. Let’s see what the Shadok God really says about his word.

Gibi: I will not listen to your alleged “facts.” Unless you start with the truth, you have no business interpreting facts at all. Let me help you by interpreting facts revelationally.

Shadok: Of course you will not listen to the proper interpretation of facts. Blinded by your sin, you catch each fact as you would a ball—and then you throw it into a bottomless pit.

Gibi: That’s what you do with what I say—a clear proof of your hopeless, pseudo-autonomous condition. May the Gibi God help you.

Shadok: May the Shadok God help you![13]

As Montgomery notes, this encounter is hopeless, since neither side can appeal to neutral facts to solve the dispute. Both sides are reduced to chest-thumping, loud assertion, and empty fideism.

It’s funny but it’s true! This is presuppositionalism in action. It’s arguing without appealing to any facts.

And here is my eighth point from my post on presuppositionalism.

Excerpt:

My view of presuppositional apologetics is that is as a system, it is circular reasoning. It assumes Christianity in order to prove Christianity. But there is an even worse problem with it. It’s not a Biblical way of doing apologetics. It’s man’s way of doing apologetics, not God’s. I think that the best way to understand Van Til’s apologetics is by saying that it really just a sermon disguised as apologetics. The problem is that Van Til’s sermon has no basis in the Bible. Wherever he is getting his view from, it’s not from the Bible. When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that people can learn about God’s existence from the natural world.

Romans 1:18-23:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

And in Acts, Peter appeals to eyewitness testimony for the resurrection, and Jesus’ miracles.

Acts 2:22-24, and 36:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And finally from the same chapter:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Professor Clay Jones of Biola University makes the case that the use of evidence when preaching the gospel was standard operating procedure in the early church. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Intro:

In 1993 I started working for Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law School) which offered an M.A. in Christian apologetics (Craig Hazen was the director). Much of my job was to promote the school and although I had studied Christian apologetics since my sophomore year in high school, I decided I needed to see whether an apologetic witness had strong Biblical precedence.

It does.

As I poured through the Scripture I found that Jesus and the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ as the sign of the truth of Christianity.

What follows are some of the passages which support the resurrection witness.

Here is my favorite verse from his massive list list of verses in favor of the evidential approach to Christian apologetics:

Mat. 12:39-40: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection was deliberately given as a sign to unbelievers to convince them. (“The Sign of Jonah” = the resurrection)

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific and historical methods. Can anyone find me a clear statement in the Bible that states that only pre-suppositional arguments should be used? I could be wrong, and I am willing to be proven wrong. I think we should use the Biblical method of apologetics, not the fallen man’s method of apologetics.

Presuppositional arguments, like the ontological argument from reason or the epistemological argument from reason are good. Presuppositionalism as a system is not good. It’s good to learn presuppositional arguments, but as part of a quiver of arguments – not in isolation.

By the way, Eric Chabot posted a fascinating discussion between presuppositionalist James White and Richard Howe on this topic, where the point about how presupositionalism cannot prove Christianity in particular came up.

Presuppositionalism is not a Christian methodology. It’s neither Biblical, nor can it be used to prove Christianity. It’s man’s system of apologetics, not God’s.

UPDATE: David Haines posted a couple of criticisms of presuppositionalism here.

UPDATE: A rebuttal to the first of Messianic Drew’s points is here.

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Three debates on divine sovereignty, predestination and free will

The two views being debated below are Calvinism and simple foreknowledge. Calvinism is the view that God unilaterally predetermines a selected group of individuals who will know him – the “elect”. Foreknowledge is the view that God draws people to him who he foreknows will freely respond to his overtures and come to know him. What does the Bible teach about these issues?

The Calvinist debater is Dr. James White:

James White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a professor, having taught Greek, Systematic Theology, and various topics in the field of apologetics. He has authored or contributed to more than twenty books, including The King James Only ControversyThe Forgotten TrinityThe Potter’s Freedom, and The God Who Justifies. He is an accomplished debater, having engaged in more than one-hundred moderated, public debates with leading proponents of Roman Catholicism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism, as well as critics such as Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and John Shelby Spong. He is an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, has been married to Kelli for more than twenty-eight years, and has two children, Joshua and Summer.

The Foreknowledge debater is Dr. Michael Brown:

Michael L. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, the King’s Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity. He has contributed numerous articles to scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Dr. Brown is the author of twenty books, including, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the “Church” and the Jewish People, which has been translated into more than twelve languages, the highly-acclaimed five-volume series, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, a commentary on Jeremiah (part of the revised edition of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary), and several books on revival and Jesus revolution.

Now, let’s get ready to rumble!

First debate

A nice friendly debate that introduces the topic. This is the best debate for casual listeners and non-Christians.

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • Introduction to Calvinist James White and some of his 90 debates
  • What is Calvinism and why is it important?
  • Does God love all people the same way in Calvinism?
  • Does God desire the salvation of all people in Calvinism?
  • Is the offer of salvation to all people a genuine offer on Calvinism?
  • Does Calvinism diminish or augment God’s sovereignty?
  • Can God accomplish his will by permitting evil creaturely actions?
  • Did Jesus die only for the “chosen”, or for the possibility of salvation for all?
  • Does a person’s responding to God’s offer of savaltion detract from Gods glory?
  • Does our ability to resist God’s grace mean that we are “stronger” than God?

There is a little static in the audio for a few seconds every time they come back from a break, but nothing major.

Second debate, on specific passages in the Bible

Same two guys, but this time they tackle the meaning of specific Bible passages.

The MP3 file is here.

The passages being disputed:

  • John 6
  • Romans 8, 9
  • Ephesians 1
Each person gets 8 minutes to exegete the text, followed by 4 minutes of cross-examination by the other debater, followed by 3 minute conclusions by each debater. These texts were chosen by the Calvinist debater.

Third debate, on specific passages in the Bible

Same two guys, but this time they tackle the meaning of specific Bible passages.

The MP3 file is here.

The passages being disputed:

  • Luke 13:34-35 (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)
  • Ezekiel 18:21-32 (Jeremiah 3:19-20; Ezekiel 22:30-31)
  • 1 John 2:1-2 (2 Pet 2:1).
Each person gets 8 minutes to exegete the text, followed by 4 minutes of cross-examination by the other debater, followed by 3 minute conclusions by each debater. These texts were chosen by the foreknowledge debater.

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Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Reformed theology (Calvinism)

WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised. 

In Protestant Christianity, there is a division between people who accept Calvinist doctrines and those who don’t. Both groups think that the other group are genuine Christians, but the debate has more to do with the human free will, human responsibility and who God loves.

About Dr. Jerry Walls:

  • BA in Religion and Philosophy, Houghton College
  • MDiv, Princeton Seminary
  • STM, Yale Divinity School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame

He is a professor at Houston Baptist University. You can find a more detailed profile here.

Dr. Walls is Protestant (like me). He is a substance dualist (like me). And he believes in a real eternal Hell (like me). And he is very, very assertive. Definitely no confidence problems here. And you’re not going to have a problem keeping your attention on this lecture!

Note that I do not agree with or endorse Dr. Walls on all of his views.

Here’s the lecture: (64 minutes)

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • What are the main doctrines of Calvinism? (TULIP)
  • A look at the Westminster Confession
  • The nature of freedom and free will
  • Calvinist doctrine of freedom: compatibilism
  • The implications of compatibilism
  • Who determines what each person will desire on Calvinism?
  • Who does God love on Calvinism?
  • The law of non-contradiction
  • Does God make a genuine offer of salvation to all people on Calvinism?
  • Does God love “the elect” differently than the “non-elect” on Calvinism?

He quotes at least a half-dozen Calvinist theologians in this lecture, including John Piper, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson. And he also mentions 3 videos at the end of the lecture where he goes over specific Bible verses that seem to support Calvinism (part 4, part 5, part 6 are the ones he mentioned).

This lecture is very strong stuff, and I think that he could have been nicer when presenting it, but he hit on every single objection that I have to Calvinism, and he worked through my reasoning too! So I really liked that he validated all of my concerns about Calvinism. I’m not as bothered about the problems with Calvinism as he is, though. I don’t think it’s a big divisive issue. I almost always read Calvinist theologians when I am reading theology. I just conjoin Calvinism with middle knowledge and resistible grace, and it’s fine. Calvinists are some of the best theologians, they are just wrong on the things he discusses in his lecture.

You may also be interested in these debates on salvation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist.

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William Lane Craig and Paul Helm discuss Calvinism and Molinism on the Unbelievable radio show

I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:

  • If God exists, then he controls everything and I don’t have free will
  • If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
  • If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
  • If God has to choose me to be saved, then I am not responsible for my damnation

Details:

If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that  God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.

MP3 of this show: http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/molinism%20full%20show-1.mp3

For William Lane Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org

For Paul Helm: http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.co.uk/ 

I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that. Anyway, there’s a commentary on the debate over at Michael’s Theology blog.

UPDATE: Remington has a podcast review in parts. Part 1 is here.

Summary: 

JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?

Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work

JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?

Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view

JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?

Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him

JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?

Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics

JB: What is Molinism?

Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will

Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission

JB: What about open theism?

Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism

JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty

Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances

Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen

Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility

JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?

Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading

Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances

JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?

Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself

JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?

Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians

JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?

Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers

Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them

JB: Are creatures free on your view?

Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will

Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature

Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do

Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee

Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose

Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free

Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements

Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)

Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do

Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will

Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved

Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved

Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God

Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will

Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved

Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”

JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?

Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible

Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it

Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel

Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading

JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?

Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin

Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God

Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism

Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness

JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?

Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions

Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge

Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading

Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him

Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God

Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of

JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?

Helm: Many are called but few are chosen

Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation

Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious

JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?

Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you

Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?

Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked

JB: Doesn’t Romans 8 teach Calvinism pretty clearly?

Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism

Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists

Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him

Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances

JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?

Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty

Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do

JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?

Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people

Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people

Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God

Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job

Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)

Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy

Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible

Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will

Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals

Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will

Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary

Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge

Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals

JB: Make your conclusions!

Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom

Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical

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William Lane Craig and Paul Helm discuss Calvinism and Molinism on the Unbelievable radio show

I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:

  • If God exists, then he controls everything and I don’t have free will
  • If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
  • If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
  • If God has to choose me to be saved, then I am not responsible for my damnation

Details:

If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that  God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.

MP3 of this show: http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/molinism%20full%20show-1.mp3

For William Lane Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org

For Paul Helm: http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.co.uk/ 

I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that. Anyway, there’s a commentary on the debate over at Michael’s Theology blog.

UPDATE: Remington has a podcast review in parts. Part 1 is here.

Summary: 

JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?

Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work

JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?

Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view

JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?

Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him

JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?

Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics

JB: What is Molinism?

Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will

Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission

JB: What about open theism?

Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism

JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty

Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances

Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen

Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility

JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?

Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading

Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances

JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?

Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself

JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?

Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians

JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?

Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers

Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them

JB: Are creatures free on your view?

Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will

Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature

Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do

Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee

Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose

Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free

Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements

Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)

Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do

Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will

Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved

Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved

Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God

Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will

Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved

Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”

JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?

Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible

Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it

Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel

Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading

JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?

Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin

Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God

Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism

Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness

JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?

Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions

Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge

Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading

Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him

Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God

Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of

JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?

Helm: Many are called but few are chosen

Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation

Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious

JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?

Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you

Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?

Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked

JB: Doesn’t Romans 8 teach Calvinism pretty clearly?

Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism

Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists

Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him

Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances

JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?

Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty

Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do

JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?

Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people

Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people

Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God

Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job

Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)

Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy

Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible

Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will

Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals

Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will

Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary

Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge

Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals

JB: Make your conclusions!

Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom

Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical

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