Wednesday, March 12, 2014
On The Young, The Restless, and The No Longer Reformed
I would rather live in a cardboard box than to worship the God of Calvinism. That is a paraphrase from Austin Fischer during his discussion with James White that took place on a recent program of Unbelievable. This is the not the first time I have heard statements like this made by Arminians like Fischer over the years. However, I do have to say that every time I hear them, I cringe and fear for the person saying it. My initial thought is "but the God of Calvinism is the only God that exists. He is the God of Scripture, the God Who became flesh."
Fischer makes two very basic moves in his discussion with Dr. James White that I think are worth consideration. Fisher's first move is to bring in analogical knowledge to try and show that the God of Calvinism cannot be meaningfully good in any sense of how human beings understand good. That is to say, there is nothing analogous to God's kind of goodness in the human experience. Second, Fisher argues that creation is prior to God's foreknowledge. In other words, God chose to create without having the slightest idea how things would work out. It was not until after God created, that He learned how things would go. Mind you, Fischer makes no attempt to inform us how God could know the future acts of truly free creatures other than implying that God is an incredibly fast learner. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder how Fischer knows that God learns or that God is a very fast learner. He offers little by way of exegesis to support his view that God actually learns.
This basically means we should deal with three basic issues of revelation in this case: 1) is God good in the sense in which we understand goodness? 2) Did God know man would fall prior creation? 3) Does God actually learn?
Is God Good?
In Mark 10:18, Jesus Himself said that no one is good except for God. According to Jesus then, there is only one being who is good and that being is God. How can we begin to compare God's goodness with human goodness when Jesus says there are no humans who are actually good? In Romans 3:12, Paul quotes Psalm 14, which reveals that there is no one who does good not even one. Clearly, there is a fundamental flaw in Fisher's understanding of human goodness. According to Scripture, humans are not good.
Fisher extends an unwarranted demand to the Calvinist by holding up a standard no one could possibly meet. Fischer insists that Calvinists must provide a human analogy for the kind of goodness that God is. Since no human is actually good, such a standard could never be met. However, we should explore this a little further. We should ask Fischer if wicked humans are capable of good acts? I think he would have to admit that even Hitler, as wicked as he was, was capable of good deeds here and there. An occasional good deed does not make a man moral. It follows then that morally bad people are capable of good behavior from time to time. Conversely, it also seems quite plausible that morally good people, speaking entirely in human terms, are capable of wicked behavior from time to time. Even in human terms then, the overall nature of a person is not necessarily the cause of their every act. People sometimes do things that are out of nature for them to do.
Now, what we have to establish is the fact that God's choice not to elect everyone to eternal life is not a wicked act nor is it indicative of a God who has a wicked nature. In order to establish what is morally acceptable and what is not, we must have some standard. What standard does Fischer employ to measure goodness? Clearly he uses a human standard. Worse than that, he uses his own finite standard. Fischer employs fallen, imperfect, finite reasoning to establish a standard for goodness and then proceeds to measure God by that standard. I wish to provide two clear examples for why Fischer is terribly mistaken.
Jesus, in His prayer in Luke 10, reveals that the Father purposely hid divine truth from the wise and the intelligent and rather revealed it to babes. (Lu. 10:21) How is this act good in any sense of how fallen humans understand goodness? Jesus is revealing that God deliberately hid truth from certain groups of men. How could such an act ever be construed as good when measured by any human standard? Paul informs us in Romans 9:18 that God has mercy on whom He chooses and whom He chooses, He hardens. If this is the case, why does God still find fault with men, like Pharaoh for instance? Seems like a reasonable question. But it is NOT a reasonable question. It is a dangerous and blasphemous question that earns the inquisitor a stern rebuke from Paul. The retort is "How dare you answer back to God?" It is clear then that God hardened Pharaoh so that he would not let Israel go, and then He punished him for doing exactly what He Himself hardened his heart to do. What is the Christian response? To God be the glory! He is God and He does whatever He pleases. Fischer is terribly unsatisfied with the "God's own glory" reply. God is not good because we can see it. He is not good because we can understand it perfectly. God's goodness does not rest upon the analysis and assessment of the ideas and reasons of fallen man. God is good because Scripture affirms His goodness and that is all we need to know. We do not need to be able to reconcile God's sovereignty and His goodness perfectly in our finite minds before accepting them as true. All that is needed is clear, authoritative revelation. And that is precisely what we have in Scripture.
Divine Foreknowledge and Open Theism
The second element in Fischer's argument concerned divine foreknowledge. Fischer thinks that God created prior to knowing the outcome. This is a very elementary misunderstanding in Fischer's doctrine of God. It seems obvious that Fischer thinks that divine knowledge is identical, not just analogical to human knowledge. God's knowledge is not something He decides to know or not know. Just as God cannot by definition decide NOT to be perfect, He cannot decide NOT to know all things perfectly. Any lack of knowledge on God's part is lack in the divine essence. Lack in the divine essence is an imperfection. Fischer's god is an imperfect being, not the God revealed in Scripture. God knows the end from the beginning and He is not capable of not knowing the end from the beginning any more than He is capable of sin. There is no lack in God. Hence, God cannot learn. If God could learn, then there would be lack in God. This god is not perfect. This god is a human projection devised for the sole purpose of protecting the idol of human freedom.
Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ before even the very first part of the beginning of the creation of the world. (Eph. 1:4) All things are being worked according to the counsel of God's will. (Eph. 1:10-11) Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world. (1 Peter 1:20) William G.T. Shedd argues for singularity of decree based on the unifying principle of God's purpose. Since God's purpose is not divisible, His decree should be viewed as a single act. This is true even though there is sequencing in the execution of the decrees. The divine decree is formed in eternity, but executed in time, or so says Shedd.
Fischer appears to be sorely mistaken in his understanding of analogical knowledge, especially as it concerns God's goodness as compared and contrasted with supposed human goodness. Clearly God is good, not because He meets the criteria for goodness as dictated by imperfect, fallen, sinful human standards, but because Scripture reveals that He is good. Moreover, our inability to reconcile sovereignty and responsibility does not warrant our abandonment of either. We cannot reconcile the trinity, the incarnation, and many other mysteries of Scripture and yet we continue to embrace them. Finally, Scripture nowhere describes God as an imperfect being who created the world without knowing what the consequences would be beforehand. Scripture never describes God as a being that learns despite some anthropomorphic language here and there that some may misunderstand to mean just that. Accommodative language is easily recognizable throughout Scripture. Besides, it isn't exegesis that gives rise to this controversy from the start. Rather, it is philosophical conjecture about the kind of God we want to exist as opposed to the one God that actually does exist. Fisher's issue seems to be one more Romans one perversion of the natural revelation of God in the world.