“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
People often quote 2 Timothy 4:3-4 to oppose theology contrary to their own. “Sound teaching” is always defined as whatever doctrines the person quoting these verses believes in. Because of this, these two verses offer no help in refuting specific theological doctrines, but only describe some of the characteristics of those who turn away from good doctrine. There are two main characteristics these people display: (1) They listen to doctrine that “suits their own passions”, and (2) they “wander off into myths”. My favorite quotations from John Calvin’s institutes are his descriptions of those who conform doctrine to their own passions, rather than conforming their passions to good doctrine just as 2 Timothy 4 says. These people,
“do not conceive of [God] in the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.” (Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1)
By conforming (i.e. distorting) doctrine to suit their own passions, they accept erroneous ideas and reject true ones. Soon, people try to fit these erroneous ideas into a consistent theological system, smoothing out blatant contradictions, and inventing new categories to better explain themselves. These new categories take this fabricated theology one step further, and eventually necessitate the development of even more categories to explain the original ones. The end result is a theological structure whose component parts are based upon a foundation of erroneous doctrinal assumptions, which were first invented for the purpose of suiting one’s own passions. This exercise of systematizing and expounding upon these invented doctrines is a mythologizing process. When a person believes false doctrine to suit their passions – if they have any degree of self-awareness at all – they will subject these beliefs to this reasoning process, drawing out implications, denials, conclusions, invent new categories, produce new speculations, and by doing so, they wander off into myths.
Don’t misunderstand me, I admit we are all prone to biases. We all, in some form or another, conform ideas to suit our predispositions. This is unavoidable until we appear with Christ in glory. But, there are degrees of theological myth-making. The Gnostics began with the assumption that material things are evil. From this they concluded that Jesus couldn’t have truly become flesh since this would make him evil. Because of this, they denied the incarnation, excluding themselves from the faith, and were denounced by the apostle John as antichrists in 1 John 4:3. They began with an assumption that suited their intellectual predispositions, drew conclusions from this false assumption, and wandered off into theological myths. In this post, I want to talk about similar case of theological myth-making more relevant than the gnostic heresy.
I’m talking about the process of myth-making that stems from a belief in human free will. An article called, ARE EVANGELISM AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIN RATIONAL IN CALVINISM?, posted on a website called “Wintery Knight”, exemplifies this mythology. However, the author’s assumption of free will, and subsequent consideration of Molinism, begins with an even more basic assumption than free will. That assumption is this:
“If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do.”
Since God clearly holds people responsible for what they do, and people hold other people responsible for what they do, our actions must be self-caused – not caused by anything external to ourselves. This self-causation means that the will causes its own decisions. Since the will is self-caused, it is free from other constraints, and is a free will.
Since all humans have this free will, that must mean God does not control or cause our wills. Rather, “God respects [people’s] FREE WILL.” Because God lets people have free will, he doesn’t force his love on them, even though he is trying to save them. After all, “God wants [all people] to be saved, and it is their free choice that prevents it.” And so, human free will thwarts the will of God in salvation.
Many more implications of human free will could be cited, but the basic picture has been drawn. The original assumption, “If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do”, leads to a whole series of other conclusions. It proves human free will, disproves divine determinism, shows how God doesn’t force his love on us, that salvation is a matter of human choice… And yet, for all of the article’s reasoning and philosophizing, it fails to justify, or even critically consider this basic assumption. The only supporting evidence the author gives us is the following analogy:
“Just think for a minute. If I push you into someone and you fall into them and then they fall off a cliff, then are you a murderer? No – I would be, because I am the cause.”
The analogy fails, because it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that God is the Creator and not a creature. The same analogy could be used to disprove Noah’s flood and hell. What if a family of eight created a world-wide flood that killed everyone except for them? What if I pushed someone into a pit of everlasting torment? We would all be worse than murderers for doing these things, but would God also be a murderer? Of course not, since all Christians agree that God is righteous for doing these things. Many actions that are unjust for us to do are righteous for God. Another example is that it is sin for us to take vengeance on others, but righteous for God to do so (Romans 12:19-20). Wintery Knight’s analogy fails because it compares God to a man who pushes another man into someone who then falls off a cliff. It is certainly unjust when a person does this, but to extend the analogy to God is fallacious and simple-minded.
The only justification the article provides for believing free will is necessary for moral responsibility is based on a false analogy. This assumption has not been proven. In fact, it cannot ever be proven because scripture does not ever teach it. This assumption is a case of Wintery Knight believing false principles to suit their own passions, and by drawing conclusions from these false principles, they wander off into myths.
Before I say more about how free will is not necessary for God to hold us accountable, I want to analyze more of the article’s claims. It references D.A. Carson’s list of 9 supposed problems with the Calvinistic view and the Bible’s teaching on free will. The writer of Wintery Knight then reformulates these 9 points in their own words.
1. On Calvinism, when God or his agents exhort or command people to perform good actions, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so that they can perform the good actions.
The author contends that God’s commands are meaningless unless God presupposes human free will and ability to fulfill his commands. This is absurd. This assertion demonstrates the author’s misunderstanding of the purpose of God’s law. The purpose of God’s commands are not so that we can fulfill them, but for increasing our trespass (Romans 5:21), so that we have no hope of salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22). I wrote about the purpose of the law already in my post called Ministry Of Condemnation. God’s commands establish a standard beyond our abilities; they are not made to conform to our abilities. The purpose of God’s commands under the Old Covenant were to condemn, but now in the New Covenant, Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. And those who believe are God’s elect, called according to his purpose.
2. On Calvinism, when God or his agents tell people to obey, believe and choose God, it’s meaningless because God has to unilaterally regenerate them first, so they can obey, believe and choose God.
This objection is indistinguishable from the previous, so I will just expand upon what I have already said. How human inability could possibly make God’s commands meaningless is not explained. Through God’s commands we know what God requires of us, but imperatives say nothing about human freedom. It is horrifying that D.A. Carson and William Lane Craig would make these basic errors that Martin Luther has already addressed centuries ago in his Bondage of the Will:
“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done.”
These people jump upon God’s imperatives, but imperatives do not state whether or not the individual can fulfill the imperative. Martin Luther calls those who think this “twice as stupid as schoolboys”. Here is an example of an imperative from scripture:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezekiel 18:31)
The free will theologians absurdly conclude, “Look! This means that we have the ability to make ourselves a new heart and spirit!” However, Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 explain that it is not the people who make themselves a new spirit, but God:
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”
So, even though the people do not and cannot make themselves new hearts, and even though it is actually God who must give them new hearts (regeneration), God still commands them to make themselves new hearts. Why? Because this is what God demands from each one of us. Even though it is God who must “work in us, to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), this does not render God’s commands meaningless. God is the one who causes us to obey. In the very next verse in Ezekiel 36:27, God says that he gives them a new heart to “cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God causes his people to obey, and he does this through controlling our wills. We know his standards through his commands, and it is God’s decision whether or not he causes us to obey.
3. On Calvinism, when people sin and rebel against God, it’s like people are soda cans that God shakes up some of them, and then pops the tabs on all of them and the ones he shook up fizz.
This is a perfect example of how analogies are able to obscure ideas that are otherwise easy to understand. This is supposed to be an explanation of the fact that “people sin and rebel against God”, proving free will exists. To the contrary, God causes people to sin, so human sin does not prove that we are outside of God’s control. God causes people to sin and to be stupid everywhere in scripture (e.g. Jeremiah 13:13, Job 12:24, Acts 4:27-28). Sin is not a case of human autonomy, but of human rebellion against God’s law. God commands us to do things and then causes us to disobey his commands whenever we disobey. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 states that God causes some people to believe what is false so that they will be condemned. See, when we just start quoting scripture, and when we stop drawing irrelevant, rationalistic conclusions from biblical themes (like imperatives imply free will), then free will is immediately disproved, and all of these objections are exposed for the vacuous counterfeits they are.
4. On Calvinism, when God judges people for sinning, it’s like God sends the cans who don’t fizz to Hell for eternity, even though he unilaterally chose not to shake them, which is the only way they could fizz.
Yeah? So what? Restating the Calvinist position with a weird soda can analogy does not amount to an objection. God causes the reprobate to sin and then he punishes them for the sin he caused them to commit. Now to clarify, these people did not sin contrary to their own wills, as if they were “forced” to sin. We cannot ever fight back against God’s control, but rather, to give an example, God controlled Pharaoh’s will to such an extent that Pharaoh wanted to pursue the Israelites. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would pursue Israel, and then God killed him in the Red Sea to glorify himself (Exodus 14). If this is not your God, then you do not know God.
5. On Calvinism, when God tests people, it’s meaningless, because there is no way they can pass the tests unless God unilaterally regenerates them first, so they can pass the test.
The word “meaningless” is once again not explained, but is assumed within a false theological paradigm. I could as easily say that God’s testing is meaningless unless purple dragons exist. Why? God knows all things and determines all things, including all outcomes. God doesn’t test to gain knowledge, but to refine his people through the means of fire and trial, which he places in our paths in the first place. There’s nothing self-contradictory or problematic about any of this, and calling it meaningless is not an argument. You may dislike it, but to say it is meaningless is not an objection.
6. On Calvinism, when people receive divine rewards, it’s meaningless, because all the credit goes to God for regenerating them. They are just fizzing because he shook the can.
Why’s this meaningless? God glorifies himself, and if you think God’s self-glorification is meaningless, then you are not a Christian. John Calvin specifically replies to this nonsense:
“They add, that unless virtue and vice proceed from free choice, it is absurd either to punish man or reward him…[They say] ‘If grace acts in us, grace, and not we who do the work, will be crowned’…In regard to the rewards of righteousness, is there any great absurdity in acknowledging that they depend on the kindness of God rather than our own merits? How often do we meet in Augustine with this expression,—’God crowns not our merits but his own gifts'”
God does not reward us for our own merits. That’s the point! This is theology 101. Salvation is by grace through faith. And if it is by grace, then this means that we are not rewarded according to our own merits, but according to God’s merits which he graciously gives us through Christ. Salvation is not rewarded to me as if I worked for it, because this would make salvation no longer a gift: “to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Romans 4:5). But rather, I am rewarded for the work of another – Jesus Christ. If you think that our salvation is meaningless because God gets all the glory, you are not a Christian. The very purpose of our salvation is first and foremost the glory of God. God saves his elect primarily to glorify himself, and secondarily because he loves us. God is glorified; we are not. To the contrary, we will say,
“We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
7. On Calvinism, when people respond to God’s initiative, it’s meaningless, because God’s regeneration is irresistible and irrevocable. They can do nothing other than fizz when he shakes the can.
Why’s it meaningless? To put the author of the article on the defensive, how does believing in a powerless god make human decisions meaningful? This is never explained, so we can ignore this.
8. On Calvinism, when people pray, it’s meaningless, because God unilaterally decides whether to regenerate people or not, and all their fizzing comes solely from his decision to shake or not shake the can.
God’s control of all things is the very notion that gives prayer meaning. It is meaningless to pray to a powerless god to change somebody’s heart when that god doesn’t interfere with human free will. Number 8’s assertion stems from a misunderstanding of prayer. The purpose of prayer is first an foremost to bow to the will of God. I talk about the purpose of prayer in another blog post. In comparison, praying to a powerless god who doesn’t even have the capabilities to answer your prayers makes prayer meaningless, not the Calvinist position.
9. On Calvinism, when God pleads with sinners to repent and be saved, it’s meaningless, because God has to unilaterally regenerate them before they can repent.
This is the same objection as in case 1 and 2. God commands believers everywhere to repent and believe (Acts 17:30), yet he ordains those who will believe. This doesn’t make his commands meaningless, but communicates to us what his standards are.
Now that I have responded to some of the content of the article, I want to address the author’s assumption:
“If you do not cause yourself to act, then you are not responsible for what you do.”
I have already written about this topic in a few blog posts: Arbitrary and Unjust, Enthymeme, and Leighton Flowers Takes Advantage of Reformed Teachers’ Confusion on Compatibilism.
The article’s assumption is false. God holds us morally accountable for the actions he causes us to do. It’s that simple. God doesn’t bow to moral standards external to himself, but rather God is the standard of morality. Since God is the standard of morality, God does not sin when he causes us to sin. When he causes us to sin, he holds us accountable, not because we are free, but because God is sovereign, and he has the right to call us to account for our actions. This is what Romans 9:19-21 explicitly teaches:
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”
Romans 9 teaches that God is justified for doing what he wishes with his creation. You might say, “But this is unfair!”, but God is the one who defines what is fair. “This is immoral!”, but God defines what is moral. “God has no right!”, but no, he actually does. To object to God’s actions is to assume that God is not who he says he is.
Scripture demands, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” or “What have you done?” (Job 9:12, Daniel 4:35). But free will theologians demand this of God to no end. They inquire of God and demand him to conform to their passions and predispositions. They form entire mythologies called “Molinism”, “middle knowledge”, and “prevenient grace” to escape from the teaching of scripture, and to establish human autonomy. They writhe in intellectual pain at the thought that they are not ultimately in control of their own lives and destinies, but were rather created by the Creator according to his own purposes, for through him and for him all things were made (Colossians 1:16). They do not accept him as he has manifested himself, but consider him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.
The result of their rebellion leads to philosophical incompetence, and theological myth-making. An example of their philosophical incompetence is claiming that imperatives imply human ability to fulfill the imperatives, and free will is the zenith of theological mythology.
In closing, to restate my answer to the article’s title, ARE EVANGELISM AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIN RATIONAL IN CALVINISM?, of course it’s rational. It isn’t rational if we assume free will is necessary for responsibility, but once we reject this false assumption and let scripture speak for itself, we see that free will is irrelevant. God directs our minds and decisions in whatever ways he sees fit, and he calls us account for our actions. God is glorified as the potter, and we are the clay. This is what it means for God to be God. God has the right to do as he pleases, and we must not object to his decrees, for, “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’” (Isaiah 45:9). Rather, let us be thankful to the one who has saved us by his grace, and rest in his promises to restore us back to himself through Jesus Christ. Stop demanding that God fit within the framework of your own mythologies, but accept the Lord as he has revealed himself to us in his holy word.