Sunday, May 30, 2010

Formal Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate, Conclusion

This is the first "formal" debate in which I've participated (with rules and such). For readers who are on facebook, they may find both sides of the debate here. If others are interested, they may email me for a word document. The format, set by my opponent, will be as follows:

"Opening Statement period (~1,000 words each)

First Rebuttal period (really depends on the opening statement, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Second Rebuttal period (really depends on the first rebuttal statements, and you can provide as much rebuttal as possible)

Cross Examination - each side asks 10 questions (there is no limit to the response word count)

Closing Statement period (~2,000 maximum, otherwise below that number is fine)"

Concluding Statement

Since Robert has decided to abandon the debate, this will function more as a commentary on Robert’s logical and exegetical fallacies in his thirty page second rebuttal, most of which I could not have otherwise hoped to address, given its inordinate length and the number of mistakes it contains. A careful reader will observe that many objections Robert makes in his second rebuttal are the same one’s I either refuted or anticipated in my opening statement and two rebuttals:

- Choice isn’t incompatible with Calvinism, contrary to Robert’s opening “joke.” (see: my opening statement).
- Robert’s implicit understanding of Ezekiel 18 would suggest that God works out things which are not according to His good pleasure (see: my first rebuttal and Robert’s evasive answer to my first and seventh cross-examination question).
- One’s will is not forced if one acts according to desires determined by God (see: opening statement). That these desires are determined by God are irrelevant to the point in question, viz. whether or not God actually does determine our desires. Robert assumes the answer is no and uses this to pit man’s will against God’s determinative decree, as though man possesses autonomous desires which God negates. That, obviously, is question-begging.
- Robert’s opinion of the potter-clay motif is utterly without exegetical support (see: my first rebuttal).
- I wrote “God cannot do certain things like rape, murder, lie, deceive, et al.,” and Robert replied that this is contradictory [essentially] because a God who predestines people to Hell cannot love them. Firstly, that a red herring. It has nothing to do with my statement. Secondly, it is unfortunate Robert did not stick around to explain my ninth cross-examination question. That God has a special love for a particular, unconditionally chosen group of people does not imply God is deceitful. Would Robert love another’s child as much as his own?
- Throughout the debate, Robert consistently exhibited no idea what it biblically means to be a respecter of persons (see: my second rebuttal). Furthermore, Robert constantly conflated the distinction between the unconditional nature of decrees like election and reprobation as opposed to conditional decrees like justification and condemnation (see: my second rebuttal).
- Robert could offer no solution to the question of God’s eternal omniscience (see: first rebuttal). In fact, Robert’s analogy of the parent who predicts his child’s behavior works against Robert, because in it he writes that “but the parent’s knowledge of the child does not [cause] or force the child to fulfil the prediction, because the child might do something quite alternative with which the parent does also equally know.” If that’s the case – if God’s knowledge is not a function of His “prediction” – the only remaining conclusion is that, like Arminius, Robert believes God’s knowledge is a function of His foresight of “free will” (as defined in my opening statement) choices. God’s knowledge, if it is contingent on temporal creatures, is necessarily not eternal. Hence, Robert logically must admit God learns. The alternative is that the parent knows the child because he created (caused) the child to be as he is.
- Robert attempts to interact with Romans 8:32 but ignores my rhetorical questions: “Did Paul not write that those for whom Christ died will freely be given all things (Romans 8:32)? Would “all things” not include the desire to come to and remain in Christ? If Christ died for all men, then, would Robert not have to purport the false doctrine of universalism?”
- Robert never seemed to grasp that I believed that Christ’s atonement was sufficient for all but made only for the elect. Despite his illegitimate appeals to passages which say “whoever does believe will be saved” – as though that implies all could be saved if all believed – I wrote in my opening statement “it is counter-factually true that “if the Father desired to save all men without exception, Christ’s sacrifice was such that all men without exception could have been saved.”” Robert’s misunderstanding and refusal to give me the benefit of the doubt until further clarification was, in this case among others, the cause of straw man argumentation.
- John 1:11-13 distinguishes between adoption and regeneration, and Romans 1:16 is a reference to justification, not regeneration. Robert needs to study different soteriological terms. I can’t simplify the arguments I’m making any further than that.
- Robert ignored my exegesis of 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 2:1. It is almost as if he didn’t read it at all. My parallel of 1 John 2:2 to John 11:51-52 was seemingly for naught (“What if [I was] one of the scattered children?” is an irrelevant question), and my explanation of the meaning of “agorazo” was likewise ignored.
- Robert ignored my argument from Romans 8:29-30 concerning predication of predestination and the fact unconditional election and reprobation aren’t arbitrary (see: my second rebuttal).

Examining arguments (particularly exegetical) Robert made in his second rebuttal which I had not space to address:

- Robert cites 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16 as passages which state God does not wish any should perish. Aside from the tangential biblical problems with this (again, see my first and seventh cross-examination questions), 2 Peter 3:9 is written to the elect and about the elect (to whom has God made promises in verse 9? to whom is God patient in verse 15?) and John 3:16 only states that God loves the world (which has a multiplicity of meanings in Johannine literature; cf. 1:29, 6:33, 17:9, &c.) and that those who do (not “can”) believe will not perish.
- 1 John 2:15-17 is not relevant to Romans 8:7-9. Obedience per the former presupposes regeneration per the latter. And, even when we are commanded to follow a certain precept, it is as Luther observed: “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?” God commands what we cannot do so that such may be the occasion by which we learn we must absolutely depend upon God.
- Robert cites Genesis 3:9-10 and asks how, if Adam was totally depraved, he could hear God’s voice. Of course, no consistent Calvinist denies men can understand the gospel; we just deny men can believe it. Men are not neutral to the gospel, they are negative, unable to respond positively prior to regeneration. As for why God asked Adam what He was doing (almost as if Robert thinks God didn’t know!), the answer is simple: God often uses questions to prompt a certain line of thought. Example: when God asked Job whether he knew the intricacies of creation, he was indirectly rebuking Job by reminding him of the Creator-creature distinction. Similarly, asking Adam what he did required Adam to address his sin.
- Robert states all men possess “the image of God and his law resides in [all] of mankind’s hearts.” Since mankind’s image is corrupted (hence, we must be conformed to Christ’s image) and only believers with whom God has covenanted have God’s laws written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 10:16), Robert is simply wrong.
- That Robert says he would defect to Luciferianism or Gnosticism if he believed Scripture affirms what I believe (which he falsely alleged to be HyperCalvinism) is representative of the fallacies Robert must insert into what is supposed a rational discussion to score emotional points with those who agree with him, thus begging the question as to whether or not he realizes that apostates are never truly saved.
- Robert completely misses the point when I asked him to explain how the fact that faith is pleasing is harmonious with that fact that, prior to regeneration, one cannot please God (Romans 8:8-11).
- Proof-texting (e.g. Robert’s use of Matthew 23:37) is not equivalent to exegesis.
- No explanation was provided as to how I took Arminius “out of context.” Arminius clearly taught one only “might” be saved by Christ’s death, clearly showing the uncertain, unintentional nature of the Arminian’s conception of the atonement.
- All men without distinction (1 Timothy 2:4) is not equivalent to all men without exception.
- I am aware Arminians teach prevenient grace. What Robert never established is how such grace can enable us to choose good with an unchanged, unregenerate nature. I wonder, given Roberts allusion to Acts 21:4-14, if Robert is aware “irresistible grace” only pertains to regeneration.
- Robert’s explanation of imputed guilt is convoluted. Romans 5:18 explicitly teaches men (plural) are condemned for one (singular) transgression. How Robert imagines this to mean men’s guilt is erased is not comprehensible. In context, the free gift of grace lies in the fact Christ merits the justification of the believer, not in some idea that all men without exception are cleansed of the guilt of Adam’s sin. That is opposite the point Paul is making.
- Instead of explaining the meanings of the majority of the passages I cite (e.g. Job 23:13-14), Robert relies on an unsubstantiated assumption (Calvinists deny men can choose) to explain what the text can’t mean rather than explain what it does.
- Robert replies to Lamentations 3:37 as though God passively predestines, i.e. allows. But that concept nowhere appears in the text (nor in Psalm 33:9, for that matter). Also, 3:38 does refer to moral evil, per 39. Sins are moral evil, not natural disaster. Isaiah 10:15 (a context Robert references) indicates God is active, and Robert never responded to that fact Isaiah 45:7 says God creates wickedness.
- Robert anachronistically applies his “multiple wills of God” thesis to Ephesians 1 without further ado.
- Obviously, I could not exegete Romans 9 within the short space I am allowed, but I actually agree with most of what Robert says: chapters 9-11 (the whole of Romans, really) serve to vindicate God’s righteousness per 9:6, God is attempting to display His freedom to sovereignly harden and mercy when He exercises His power over Pharaoh, men who question God’s blameworthiness do overstep their bounds as creation, &c. These points Robert makes are points any Calvinist would agree with. However: Paul does not say men are hardened because they are lost, nor that God actually “makes” and “molds” (certainly not “allows” or “permits”) reprobates like Pharaoh to be as they are (Romans 9:19-20); the idea that Paul’s primary concerns is “national election” in light of (9:6, 24-10:21) is absurd; that Paul uses the middle voice in 9:22 (true enough) is irrelevant, since it is God ho is doing the demonstrating, not man, effectively reversing the point Robert is trying to make; it is unfortunate Robert is so flippant in his referencing of which verb is in the passive voice in verse 23. I don’t know what he is referring to, as both verbs are in the active voice.
- That men are able to choose and that God accordingly responds does not imply man’s wills are autonomous of that God did not decree such should be the case from eternity; likewise, responsibility does not presuppose a “free will.”
- Rejecting universalism does not mean that the logical end of Robert’s position does not lead to universalism. He didn’t seem to understand that, especially with regards to John 6 and the fact that if God draws all and gives all to Christ, all will come and be raised the last day.
- Calvinists don’t deny one can know one is elect; if one believes, one knows he is saved and will remain saved. John wrote so that men would know they possess eternal life. But to know that means one knows he will never perish. Robert’s assertion is vacuous.
- Calvinists teach the need of a general call because no man knows who are among the elect. This should be obvious.
- Robert argues Matt 25:41 proves Hell was not made for men. That hell is said to have been prepared for a particular group does not imply it was prepared for them exclusively. Using the same type of argument, I could say John 10 shows Jesus was died for the elect exclusively (cf. Jude 4).

Final observations:

- Regarding the cross-examination, I think it speaks for itself.
- Quoting apocryphal literature, pagan philosophers, Christian opinions, and writing more than the agreed upon restrictions is not a sufficient substitute for actual exegesis and logical argumentation.
- Copying and pasting the Greek text into a debate doesn’t mean you made a good point (speaking of, it is remarkable that Robert questions the canonicity of Proverbs 16:4, but not Mark 16:16?).
- Compare these two statements Robert made in the debate:

“…TULIP is completely non-biblical, despite apparent scriptures to back up the five points, however the five points associated with Arminianism is completely biblical.”

“It is this final point (the P in TULIP, or as Ryan would name it to be “Eternal Security”) with which I must contend that the Calvinist [may] indeed have a point of truth here.”

Is it not unfortunate that Robert left before he could be fully persuaded of the error of Arminianism? But God works out all things in due time according to His pleasure, even this.
- I truly believe this debate has evinced God as sovereign as Reformed theologians have taught and as deserving of glory as He has declared.

(Word count: 2,280)


Nick said...


You told me to get back to you when this debate was finished, and since your opponent seems to have dropped the ball, I assume this is the right time to ask.

Are you up for a debate against a Catholic? Subjects such as justification, sola scriptura, tulip, etc, etc, often don't get a fair look, especially when it comes to an *informed* Protestant discussing/debating with an *informed* Catholic. Too often the debate is between Calvinists and Armenians, which unfortunately forgets that the Catholic view is neither of those.

I'd prefer a debate format that is relatively short in both time-frame and word-limit. For example, something in the form of:

- Essay length depends on the topic. The goal is to not have to read tons of pages (esp risk rambling, repeating) but have enough room to make substantial arguments. I'm thinking 3-5 pages in Word, which is something like 3-5k words.

- Timeframe:
First Week: Both present Opening Essay.
Second Week: Negative rebuttal of Affirmative Essay.
Third Week: Affirmative rebuttal to all Negative's remarks.
Third Week Week: Both ask 5 questions to the other.
Fourth Week: Both respond to the 5 questions.
Fifth Week: Both submit Concluding Essay.

(The time frame can extend 1-2 weeks, if the Affirmative prefers not to have to submit two essays the Third Week, and/or if the Affirmative wants to have the 'last word' he can add a week after the Negative Concludes the week prior.)

- Essays are submitted via email by midnight on the Saturday of the week they're due. Essays can then be posted to blog publicly.

- I don't like debates to be won on technicalities, so I'd be open to some flexibility to the suggested guidelines. For example, maybe add a provision that each side is entitled to a 1-week grace period in the event they cannot finish an essay due to personal time constraints like work or family.

- I'm open to any suggested modifications of the above timeframe or word limit.

Ryan said...

Hi Nick, sorry to get back to you so late. I don't check comment boxes as often as I should.

What with work and preparation for an essay to be submitted to the annual Trinity Foundation contest, the next few months aren't good for me. The format you've suggested looks fine to me and I certainly would like to have some sort of formal debate (undecided about the topic), but if you don't mind, could we put this on hold until September? I would like some time to think about what would be most beneficial to myself and others.

Nick said...

Holding it off until September sounds fine to me. I'm booked most of August, so only July and September onward is open. I'll put it on my calendar.