Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Calvinistic Theological Determinism: Review of Theodore Zachariades’ Hard Determinism

My interest in Dr. Zachariades’ view of theological hard determinism lies in a debate that he and I will be involved in later this spring in Charlotte, NC. He and I will be on opposing debate teams as we take up the question, Is Arminianism Heresy? The issue concerning theological hard determinism is somewhat related to this question in my opinion. What we are attempting to do as theologians and Christian philosophers is to ensure that our understanding of God accurately reflects the God that is revealed in Scripture. In particular, we are attempting to make sure that our view of God as sovereign ruler over all that exists, is compatible with our view of God as good or just or righteous. Furthermore, we are attempting to synthesize these doctrines within the framework of a reality that undeniably involves evil. God is good. God is sovereign. Evil exists and is judged by God. How do we square our view of God with the state of affairs that has obtained in the world?

In a recent post directed at James White, Theodore Zachariades provides us with a glimpse into his view of free will and human responsibility. The aim of this blog article is to help you think a little more clearly about these issues.

Dr. Zachariades admits that he affirms a view of determinism called “theological hard determinism.” It is theological because it is derived from his view of God and of Christian theology. It is hard determinism because it denies any definition of freedom whatsoever. What makes Zachariades’ position interesting is that hard determinism in the philosophical literature denies human responsibility. This is because it is generally accepted that a necessary condition for human responsibility is free will in some sense. Zarchariades must affirm human responsibility, but he wants to harmonize that view with theological hard determinism.

Zachariades claims that “Free will in a compatibilist-determinist worldview is only free in name. Libertarians, of all stripes, renounce these arguments by compatibilists, and thereby they win the argument by the definition.” I confess that I am not at all sure what he means when he says they “win by definition.” I think they would only win by definition if their definition was indisputable. But that is the point. That is why there is a definition of free will called compatibilistic free-will. This version of free will rejects the libertarian definition. Hence, winning by definition is not open to the libertarian side as far as the compatibilist is concerned. It assumes what it has failed to prove. Zachariades then asks the question, “If free will is compatible with determinism, why not claim that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism?” This question seems to me to reveal that Dr. Zachariades is out of step with the literature on this subject. He does not appear to understand libertarian free will or compatibilistic free will, or both.

Libertarian free will is defined as contra-causal free will, meaning that regardless of the circumstances, the decisions of the will are uncaused by anything external to the will itself. Since determinism holds that everything, including decisions of the human will are caused, determinism is incompatible with libertarian free will. Hence, one cannot hold to libertarian free will and determinism, not if they care about being rational. Zachariades does not seem to understand that libertarian free will is only one kind of free will found in the literature. Compatibilistic free will is compatible with determinism. That is why it’s called compatibilistic free will. And that is why this form of determinism is called compatibilistic determinism. It rejects the idea that determinism is ipso facto incompatible with human freedom.

Christianity teaches that human freedom is a necessary condition for human responsibility. We see this throughout the Scripture. In Luke 12:47, Jesus makes this very clear: And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. The servant freely chose to act contrary to his master’s will. Two things at a minimum seem to be necessary in this text. First, the servant knew his master’s will. Second, the servant chose to act contrary to his master’s will. These combine to form the basis for the servant’s judgment. This theme appears everywhere in the NT. Another location that is worth mentioning is Romans 1 and 2. Romans 1:18 tells us that the ungodly suppress the truth of God with their unrighteousness. In other words, their behavior, their actions, their choices are the basis for God’s righteous judgment. Again, in Roman 2:15, Paul argues that the Gentiles are condemned by the works of the law that are written in their heart because of the choices they make regarding that law. They know the law and they act to either do what is right or to do what is forbidden. They are fully aware of the law in their conscience, but it is the act of the will that produces the condemnation and guilt. This will come into play below.

Hard Determinism denies human responsibility. To reinforce what Steve Hays has already said, “Hard determinists are incompatibilists who take a harder line: since determinism is true, free will does not exist in the sense required for genuine responsibility, accountability, blameworthiness, or desert. Robert Kane, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (Oxford 2002), 27.” See the Hays article here: Triablogue on Determinism  

It seems pretty clear to me that Theodore wants to ignore the literature already in place regarding the definition of hard determinism and to come up with one of his own. This is not surprising since he does the very same thing with free will, ignoring the literature and forcing his own definition on the rest of us.

Now, one might ask, if human responsibility is not grounded in some sense of free will, then what does Theodore ground it in? He grounds responsibility in knowledge: “The criteria for judgment is knowledge, and that based on the explicit prescriptive will of God.” Theodore tells us that Adam’s choice was inevitable. And he seems to be using ‘inevitable’ in the strongest possible sense. In so doing, Dr. Zachariades finds himself opposing Augustine and every other church father for that matter,  from Luther to Calvin and even the great reformed confessions and catechisms, not to mention, the overwhelming majority of reformed theologians and philosophers on this question. That Adam was free to obey the command and ratify eternal life had he chosen to do so has enjoyed a place of prominence in Christian history from the beginning. But that doesn’t seem to bother Dr. Zachariades because he has Gordon Clark on his side, or at best, apparently, on his side. I am not convinced that Clark would agree with Zachariades.

Gordon Clark writes, “Free will Is not the basis of responsibility. In the first place, and at a more superficial level, the basis of responsibility is knowledge.” But Clark went on to say, Responsibility, therefore, must be so defined as to make room for imputation, as well as to account for our everyday voluntary actions.” What are voluntary actions if they are not human beings acting without coercion, manipulation, or force? Clark seems somewhat vague here. However, he does go on to define responsibility as follows: a person is responsible if he can be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. Now, Clark argues that God, being sovereign, by definition can always punish someone for their deeds and that is the end of the matter.

Clark says, “God is sovereign. What he does is just, for this very reason: Because he does it.” Clark offers no additional qualifications for this view. Clark says that if God punishes a man, the man is justly punished; and hence the man is responsible. Well, this is really not the end of the matter. What this argument does is make it impossible for anyone to challenge this particular understanding of the divine nature. First of all, the basis for God’s moral actions is not God’s sovereignty. It is logically possible for a god to be sovereign and infinitely immoral. God’s goodness is not subsumed under his sovereignty.

The Bible uses human language to reveal God to us. God has accommodated us in that he has stooped down in order to speak to us in a way that we can understand. When the Bible talks about God’s infinite power, we understand that God’s power has no limitations. When the Bible talks to us about God’s goodness, his justice, his righteousness, we understand what it is communicating because we understand what it means for something to be good. This is where the concept of analogical knowledge must come into play. We know that God is good in a way that we can know and understand but his goodness is also different, both qualitatively and quantitatively, but not in a way that makes it impossible for us to understand. Human knowledge is analogical, not univocal and certainly not equivocal. When we say that God is good and just, we have something in our minds to which he can be compared. Because this is the case, we understand that God is good and know what it means to say that God is good.

Whatever God does is not good simply because it is God doing it. Yes and no, sort of. It is good because God is a perfectly good God and would not do anything that is evil. If Theodore is understanding Clark rightly, then God could create a group of women and a group of men and then have the men brutalize and rape those women for eternity and that would be right simply because God did it. And the women would deserve the torture simply because it is God doing it. I find such a hypothesis to be outrageous and far removed from the biblical revelation of God. Now, I am not convinced that this is the sort of Argument that Clark is really making. There is room to understand Clark as saying the same thing I am saying, but in a different way. I can say that it is right because God does it. But that only means that God has revealed himself as being good and only does what is good. It does not mean that rape becomes sanitized if God is doing it. That is a complete distortion of biblical truth. However, it does seem to me that Theodore’s argument actually turns on this point because of his openly avowed theological hard determinism.

The reformers from Augustin to Calvin to the great confessions and catechisms were all very careful to caution us about not making God the author of sin. The language they used repeatedly concerned itself with not making God the author of sin. But this makes no sense if Zachariades is right in his theological hard determinism. If whatever God does is right just because God does it, then why do we need to bother with insisting that human beings are responsible? Why make knowledge the ground of responsibility if God could damn to hell without knowledge and still be a good God? When Scripture tells us, there is no injustice in God, it isn’t telling us that God behaves badly but because it is God acting, it is actually good behavior. Nonsense. When Scripture says that there is no injustice in God, it is saying something meaningful. It is saying something we can understand.

Knowledge is not enough to ground human responsibility. While knowledge is a necessary condition for responsibility, it is not sufficient. The Scriptures mentioned above clearly ground responsibility in the choices of agents who are in some sense free to choose as they do. Responsibility is grounded in the acts of the agent, not just facts that one knows. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

Theological hard determinism is incompatible with all stripes of free will. This is not only true for the fallen will, it is just as true for the will of our first parents. Christianity has always taught that human beings are responsible for their actions before God. Any view that leads to a denial of human responsibility should be rejected as incompatible with Christianity. If it is the case that human freedom is a necessary condition for human responsibility, then it seems to me that hard determinism of any kind, including theological, is incompatible with Christianity and as such, it should be rejected.

Compatibilistic free will defines free will as the ability to act according to one’s desire, one’s nature, without force, coercion, or manipulation. Free will is essentially doing what you choose to do. It is compatible with determinism because it does not see the divine decree as a causal agent. It views the divine decree as the blueprint for the state of affairs that is to obtain. The idea of causality turns on the doctrine of analogical knowledge, never making God the immediate cause of immoral actions, contrary to Theodore’s view where he actually argues that God creates moral evil. Such teaching should be repudiated. Imagine the blueprints for a house and then think about all the causes that have to actualize before the house is complete. James 1:13-16 locates sin within human desire. John tells us that evil or sin is a privation, a lack of law. Reformed theology has a long history of affirming divine sovereignty and human responsibility without making God the author of sin. It has a long history of claiming that men are responsible for their choices. Dr. Zachariades is in the slim minority of reformer thinkers who affirm a hard determinism. It makes me wonder if he is really a hyper-Calvinist who has just not come out yet.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Prejudicial Polemics: The Michael Browns(ville) Revival

Prejudicial Polemics: The Michael Browns(ville) Revival

I have been hesitant to jump into the fray regarding the James White – Michael Brown matter. However, I discovered this morning that Michael Brown is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Light the Fire Again conference this April in Toronto, Canada. The tagline for that event is, We Are Believing God To Begin Anew The Might Movement Of His Holy Spirit That Swept Across The Earth At The Close of the Last Century. What I want to do is draw your attention to the speakers at this conference on the one hand, and the goal of the conference on the other.

Reinhard Bonnke – False faith healer that has manipulated Africans for decades. See the HBO Special here.
Daniel Kolenda who claims to have led 77,044,674 to Christ at his last count. Astonishing!
John Kilpatrick – the former pastor of the Brownsville Assembly of God who was at the center of the Brownsville Revival and the blasphemous worship exhibited in that event.
John Arnott – the pastor of the Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Canada made famous by the Toronto Blessing. The worship practices were bizarre to put it mildly.
Lou Engle – A leading charismatic leader and a proponent of the Latter Rain blasphemy.
Claudio Freidzon – Charismatic Pastor of the King of Kings church is Buenos Aires. Freidzon received an impartation of the anointing from Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard-Browne. Freidzon’s services were characterized by the Holy Laughter so called. John Arnott and his wife Carol traveled to Argentina and received the impartation from Freidzon.
Heidi Baker – this woman’s shenanigans are well documented all over you tube and the internet. See more outrageous blasphemy here:
Rick Joyner – a last days restorationist is documented by Hank Hanegraaff as saying that the exploits and miracles of the last days church is going to tower over what happened with Peter, Paul, and John.
Randy Clark – another charismatic leader from the Toronto Blessing’Laughing Revival movement that got his impartation directly from Rodney Howard-Browne.
Jeri Hill – wife of Steve Hill who was the evangelist responsible for starting the Brownsville Revival. Mr. Hill passed away in 2014 at the age of 60 after a 7-year bought with cancer.
Lila Terhune – an intercessory prayer guru who was once asked by John Kilpatrick to come to Pensacola from Mississippi to head up the intercessory prayer team in Brownsville.
Oh, yeah, I left off one of the speakers. Supposedly this speaker is one of the few Charismatics that rebukes his own for their abuses and outrageous tendencies. I will come back to that. As one examines this list, it looks like a class reunion for the who’s who of the outrageous, blasphemous, and heretical Toronto Blessing over the late 90s. We have the pastor of the Brownsville Assemblies of God, the pastor of the Toronto Vineyard, John Arnott, the wife of the evangelist who got Brownsville started, Jeri Hill, the pastor who imparted the anointing to the Arnotts, Claudio Freidzon, Rick Joyner, Randy Clark, and even the prayer warrior, Lila Turhune. Gee, I wonder why they didn’t invite Rodney Howard-Browne. I am sure someone in the know, knows the answer to that question. So all these leaders from the abusive and embarrassing movement known as the Toronto Blessing are having a reunion. What is the purpose for this reunion? Oh, that’s right, let me state it clearly one more time: We Are Believing God To Begin Anew The Might Movement Of His Holy Spirit That Swept Across The Earth At The Close of the Last Century.
Well, golly, I wonder what they mean. I say we pretend we have no idea and give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are going for a mulligan. You think? Maybe they all agreed, boy, we really screwed that up the last time so let’s see if we can keep this one on the fairway!
And lest I forget, they have called in their favorite Laughing Revival, Toronto Blessing, Brownsville chicanery apologist, Michael Brown in order to deal with the anticipated criticism which inevitably will be produced by what is about to take place up there in the north country. Now, some people think that Michael Brown’s friendship with and worse, his endorsement, defense, and approval of these people is simply a light-hearted affair, not anything worthy of uproar. In fact, those who express serious reservations about Brown and who expect his friend James White to hold him accountable as Dr. White is so incredibly good at doing with everyone else involved in the same level of error, are now being labelled as heresy hunters. What an interesting label. In fact, Dr. White thought that a recent address of this issue by Chris Rosebrough was painting Brown in the worse possible light. I have followed Brown since the mid-90s when I was still a Pentecostal pastor. I have his book defending the Brownsville Revival. I have watched Brown defend this foolishness for over 20 years. Trust me when I say, Chris did NOT paint Brown in the worse possible light. In fact, not even close. SO much more could be said about Brown, but Chris was being kind as was Todd and Phil. Very kind indeed.
This conference is a bold proclamation from the former Toronto Blessing Leaders and here is what we should be hearing them say LOUD and CLEAR:
Now, let me remind you of what you are in for in case you forgot what the Toronto Blessing and Brownsville Revival were like or in case you weren’t around to grapple with them at the time.
And finally, what would this reminder be without our favorite Toronto Blessing, Laughing Revival, Brownsville Revival Apologist, the one, the only, Michael Brown:
The funny thing is that I haven’t even talked about the incredibly dangerous teachings coming out of this movement. The egregious errors and heresy that was promulgated by these leaders was and is not just disturbing, it was and continues to be outrageous and intolerable. And here is Michael Brown, in hindsight, defending it. He defended it on the Dividing Line recently as well. Now, I have not said that Michael Brown is not a believer. I will not say that. I have not even said he is a heretic. But I will say that he keeps company with and shows a public hearty approval of those who are heretics and he does so with bold confidence. Should we shun a man like this or provide cover for him to continue to do what he does? Worse, should we extend his reach into our audience by defending him and perhaps leading others to believe that he isn’t that bad when he himself is leading many to believe that his heretical friends and associates are not that bad? What do you think? Personally, I wouldn’t give Dr. Brown an inch of space or a second of time if doing so mean that others could be duped into entering his warped world of charismania. This “fire” nonsense is just that, nonsense. None of these people have any sort of anointing or any kind of fire. Not one of them. Todd, Phil, and Chris are absolutely right to classify Michael Brown as a dangerous man who should be avoided if for no other reason than that he holds the gate open for the wolves. And it is just as contemptible to hold the gate for the wolves as it is to be one.
Listenig to Michael Brown address these issues feels a little like this:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Privation Theory of Evil: Introduction

One of the most popular and serious objections to Christianity is the argument against God from the existence of evil. If God is all-powerful, he could prevent evil. If God is perfectly good, he would prevent evil. Evil exists. Therefore, the God does not exist. That is to say, the sort of God that Christianity claims exist, a God who is all-powerful and perfectly good, does not, in fact, exist. This argument is basically claiming that there is a contradiction with the Christian worldview. For the Reformed Christian, this argument is particularly sharp because of the deterministic nature of Reformed theology. If the Reformed doctrine of predestination is true, and God, in fact, ordains all that comes to pass, then doesn’t this entail that God is the author of sin? This issue is one that Christians have had to grapple with throughout each generation of the church.

Daniel M. Johnson says “the mainstream of Christian philosophy has resisted Calvinism because of a general sense that Calvinism makes the problem of evil – far and away the most serious philosophical challenge to theism – harder to solve.” [Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, 19] Christian doctrine clearly affirms that God is not the author of sin and any view that leads to such a conclusion is highly objectionable to the Church. Gen. 1:31 says that all that God created was very good. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone else with evil. John 1:5 says that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 1 Cor. 14:33 says that God is not the author of confusion. In a recent blog post, Theodore Zachariades postulated that the Hebrew word Isa. 45:6-7 rāʿ meant moral evil as well as physical evil. Zachariades writes The word evil here is sometimes used for wicked immoral actions of men. [Click here for Source]

John Calvin would have disagreed with Zachariades on this point. Calvin wrote, A little before, the Lord had declared that “everything that he had made … was exceedingly good” [Gen. 1:31]. Whence, then, comes that wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put his stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall he drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity—which is closer to us—rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. And let us not be ashamed to submit our understanding to God’s boundless wisdom so far as to yield before its many secrets. For, of those things which it is neither given nor lawful to know, ignorance is learnèd; the craving to know, a kind of madness.” [Institutes III.XXIII.8] Not only is Calvin careful to blame man for his own evil intentions, he rebukes that who insist on looking into what he thinks are things that are not lawful to know and says that we are engaging in a kind of madness when we attempt to harmonize what God has placed beyond our reach.

Christianity has a long history of dealing with the problem of evil from both the external charge as well as the internal challenges. It was Augustine, probably the greatest Christian theologian to have ever lived and without a doubt the greatest in his day and before him there was no greater until we come to the apostles. Augustine, taking a page from Aristotle argued that evil is not itself a thing, but rather a lack of something, a privation. The privation theory of evil says that evil is the lack of good, or being, where being and good are understood as convertible. Evil is not a substance or a property, but a lack of some substance or property. Scripture provides greater support for this view than one might at first imagine. What is sin? After all, moral evil is sin. 1 John 3:4 tells us that sin is lawless. In other words, sin is the absence of law. It is the negation of law. Sin is to lack law. So the argument goes thusly: Evil is lawlessness. Lawless is a privation of law. Therefore, sin (evil) is a privation of lawlessness. I remind you that we are talking about moral evil, not natural or physical evil. A person who is not righteous is one who is unrighteous. Again, an unrighteous person is a person who lacks the property of being righteous.

Gen. 1:31 says that God saw everything that he made, including man, and that it was ṭōwb mĕʾōd, very good. It lacked nothing. Reformed theology has always taught that Adam was created possessing original righteousness. He was very good. He possessed all he needed to obey the command, to serve God, and to live forever. But Adam exercised his freedom contrary to God’s imperative and as a result, fell headlong into sin. This brings us to the letter of James.

James 1:13-16 says, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. The problem began with Adam. He was capable of his own desires. He was to order his desires after God’s desires. But he was lured and enticed by his own desire, that is, he was lured to consider elevating his own desire over God’s desire. It is not evil to be tempted. It is not a sin to be tempted. The fact that Adam could be tempted was not due to some defect in him. God has already said that Adam was created very good. Yet, Adam was lured by his own desire. And regrettably, Adam permitted his desire to conceive. He took the forbidden fruit and broke the command. As a result, Adam’s desire brought forth sin, and sin brought forth death.

Adam’s decision to follow his desire created a privation of being, a privation of goodness, or better, godliness, within his entire person. Once the door was open, the foul infection of privation touched every part of his person. Adam surrendered his righteousness for unrighteousness. He allowed his desire to move him from law-keeping to lawlessness. Adam deprived himself of righteous standing before God.

To recap, we see that Adam was created not lacking anything. We also see that Scripture does actually affirm that sin or evil is a privation, specifically, a privation of divine law. Divine law is the expression of God’s perfect nature. Sin is the privation of godliness, the lack of being like God. We see that man sins when he is lured and seduced by his own desires. If man permits his desires to actualize, sin, or privation of godliness is the result. The loss of godliness brings forth death.

The charge against God then is mitigated when the Christian takes this path. God is under no obligation to create anything in the first place. Since evil is a privation of good, it is not something created. It is a lack of something. Now, the charge will come that it is true that God was free to create or not to create, but if God chooses to create, then he is not free to create just any world willy-nilly. Which world God creates will be determined by God’s purpose for creating. Moreover, God’s purpose for creating will be a purpose that is perfectly consistent with his nature. This brings us to the objection that God is culpable for creating a world in which privation was not only possible but ordained by him from the beginning. This does not remove the original objection after all.

In answer to this charge, the Christian can bring in the doctrine of analogy. Man’s knowledge is analogous to God’s knowledge, which means that there is a point of contact but there is also a point of discontinuity. God is like man and he is unlike man. God’s knowledge is similar to man’s knowledge but not identical to it. There isn’t just a difference of degree in God concerning his attributes, but there is also a difference in quality. So, when we say that God causes x, we do not mean that God causes x in the same way that a creature causes x. God has already said that his ways are higher than our ways. (Isa. 55:9) If we say that God is, in some sense, the cause of everything that comes to pass, we must be careful to distinguish between this divine causality and our creaturely causality. This bring us to the question, “Is God under any obligation to bring about the sort of world where the privation of good or godliness is actualized?” I cannot see why he should be. What God is obligated to do is to actualize the sort of world that is in accord with his purpose. And we know that his purpose flows from his perfectly good nature. So if the purpose of God is to actualize a world in which divine glory is maximized for example, and the maximization of God’s glory is indeed the highest possible good, then it seems to me that if such a world entails privation of good, or the presence of evil, that God is fully justified (as if God needs to justify himself to anyone) to actualize such a world.

This returns us to the charge that God is the cause of sin. God ordained a world in which the privation of good would occur. And at the end of the day, that makes God the cause of sin. And this is a charge that Christians have sought to avoid for centuries. God did not walk into the garden and tempt Adam. God did not work in Adam in order to coerce Adam to act in accord with the decree. We say that it is true that God has ordained everything that comes to past but that the cause of sin is located in Adam himself who acted in a way that was contrary to the divine imperative. God is sovereign over all creation and man is responsible. God is not the author of sin. We can say then that God is both sovereign and just in ways that are meaningful, that we can understand, but also in ways that far exceed our ability to fully understand. The tension is unavoidable.

The final objection is that paradox is an illegitimate move in hermeneutics and Christian theology. The whole point is to show that Christian belief is rational, or reasonable. But if the existence of paradox in theology is grounds to reject a Christian doctrine, then we had better abandon the Trinity and the Incarnation just for starters. The rejection of paradox is essentially the rejection then of biblical Christianity.

Mr. Ed

A Calvinistic Theological Determinism: Review of Theodore Zachariades’ Hard Determinism

    My interest in Dr. Zachariades’ view of theological hard determinism lies in a debate that he and I will be involved in later this s...