Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bad Roman Catholic Arguments

Ben Douglass, a traditional Roman Catholic, did a good post on bad RC arguments against Protestantism (with some focus on Calvinism).

Ben is not one of those Roman Catholics who is on the fence thinking about converting. Instead, he is a traditionalist who has thought things through...quite thoroughly. A worthy opponent indeed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confused Arminians

Well, I noticed this comment under one of my posts just a week or two ago and decided not to respond to it since had been awhile since Ben posted it. I thought that he probably wouldn't return since it had been so long.

Then I saw that one of Ben's fellow bloggers posted on the same verse, here. So, I thought that I'd respond first to Ben's comment and then give a brief response to kangaroodort's post:


arminianperspectives said:
"So you do not believe that there were ever any "tribes" or "people groups" that existed and eventually ceased to exist that were not reached with the gospel?"

You're importing your 21st century American definition of "tribe" or "people groups" into the 1st century term "tribe." The 1st century term was more general than that.

Also, you have the same problem since the text (Revelation 5:9-10) states: "...and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

The "them" who have been made "a kingdom and priests to our God" and who "shall reign on the earth" are the same group that Christ has ransomed for God in verse 9. To say that they are not coterminous would require you to insert the term "some of" before the "them" in verse 10.

If you decide that the "people for God" (v.9) is not every single last human being, then you too are forced to admit that not all tribes (assuming your 21st century definition) are in view here since some were destroyed before the gospel reached them.

arminianperspectives said:
"And do you not see how much further you are forced to qualify "all" and "world" here?"

I don't have to qualify the term "all" or "world." That simply IS what they meant in their historical contexts. You, however, are reading your 21st century American cultural assumptions into a 1st century Jewish context.

arminianperspectives said:
"So when Scripture says that God desires all men to be saved it is really saying "God desires some men to be saved from among all people groups at some point in history.""

The term "all" must be interpreted in light of its immediate context. No, I don't give that interpretation every time I see the word, "all," especially in the case of 2 Peter 3:9 (which I don't want to get into here). But in the other contexts, you are again confounding quality and quantity. (More on that below.)

arminianperspectives said:
"All men without distinction fits nicely with all men without exception so you must further qualify "all" to "some"."

Let me illustrate:

Zoologist: "Look Dr. Peterson, every kind of bird can be found in that tree!"
Peterson: "Yes, isn't that amazing?!"
[An Arminian walks up to them.]
Arminian: "Well, since every single last bird fits into every kind of bird, then you must mean that every single last bird is up in that tree."
Zoologist: "Um...what?"
Peterson: "No, sir, you don't understand. We don't mean that every single last bird is up there but only that there are some from every category of bird that are up in the tree."
Arminian: "Ah ha! Now you have to qualify the term "all." But that's not what all means since all means all all the time. What you should have said is, 'Some of every kind of bird are in the tree.'"
Zoologist: "No. But that would mean that not one of every kind of bird could be found in this tree. But as you can see, there is one crow, one peacock, one raven, one bluebird, one..."
Arminian: "But that's not what 'all' means!!!!!!!!!!!"
Peterson: "Why does this man just not get it?"
Zoologist: "He must be an Arminian..."
Peterson: "Oh."


Now, I will move on to kangaroodort's post. He quotes one, Robert Picirilli:

"Instead, they mean that God wills for the elect among all peoples and classes and ethnic groups in society be saved: God loves and saves the elect whether Jew or Gentile, whether in one nation or another, whether rich or poor, old or young.I think that such attempts fail to grapple seriously with those verses, and in conclusion I want to emphasize 1 Jn. 2:2.1 John 2:2, “This verse is one good example of the final reason, above, for universal atonement: “And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”What does John mean by “world”? He uses this word 23 times in this short letter, consistently indicating the very opposite of the people of God. Consider 2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1-5; 5:4,5, 19. The people of God and “the world” are two different peoples, hostile to each other. Surely John uses “world” in 2:2 in the same way, and not as a reference to the rest of the elect in the world.The other places in this letter where “we” or “us” stands in comparison to “the world,” as here in 2:2, also make this clear. There are four such places: 3:1; 4:5,6; 5:4,5; and 5:19: “We are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil one.” This seals the point beyond argument. “We” and “the world” are two different realms. But we must not be proud: Jesus died not only for us, but for those who hate us, not only for us but for those who are in the grip of the evil one. Not only for us, but for the wicked world that has rejected Him."

Well, Picirilli starts off well, but still fumbles the ball in the same place that Arminians do quite frequently, by confusing quality and quantity (or by trying to have the term mean both referents at the same time).

Picirilli is correct that in John, the term "world" frequently refers to the world-system or people characterized by that world-system opposed to God (in terms of worldview), and this term can vary with a few nuances. [Of course, the term 'world' does not always have that meaning (e.g. John 21:25 where it refers to the space on the earth between the surface and outer space). I would assert that 1 John 2:2 has the same meaning as its parallel in John 11:51-52 which would make 'world' in 1 John 2:2 refer to some from every people group.]

The problem comes when he tries to make 'world' refer to *everyone in* that world system. For example, how can such a definition reconcile 1 John 2:15 with the Sermon on the Mount?

Or what does John 1:10 mean? Every single last person did not know Jesus?! That obviously contradicts John 1:12.

No, the Arminian is committing basic logical fallacies in order to come up with his proof texts.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Darwin's Predictions

There's a new website put up by Cornelius Hunter, author of Darwin's God and Science's Blindspot, two books that I highly recommend.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Second Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage responded to my first response here. I will be interacting with this response as well as one of the comments he made to Bnonn over at Triablogue.



First, I am not going to spend any more time on the issue of theological terminology except to say this: there is specialized terminology in any discipline whether it is in science, engineering, cosmetics, journalism, etc. Frequently, that terminology will take well-known words and change their meaning slightly to fit the situation. For example, in the oil industry there is a device called a “pressure bomb.” Is it really an explosive? No, it is simply a pressure reading device that is lowered into a well that records pressure over a period of time. This linguistic situation is no different in theology.

Second, I’m not going to say anything on the philosophy of metaphysics in regards to free-will. The guys over at Triablogue are better at that than I.


Next, the main body of this post will be on theodicy.

Perhaps I need to make a few qualifications on orthodox Calvinist theodicy:

1. God did not (nor does He) create any of His creatures morally evil.
2. God does not tempt men to do morally evil actions.
3. God does not Himself do any morally evil actions.
4. God does not prescribe (i.e. give laws for) morally evil actions.
5. God does not get pleasure from morally evil actions.
6. God does not coerce men to do any morally evil actions (though Bnonn made a point in his comment to you that “determined” is not necessarily the same thing as “coerced” given compatibilist free-will).

And specifically:

7. God does not coerce men to disbelieve.
8. God does not prevent men from coming to true repentance which results in justification and eternal salvation (but this is to be differentiated from temporary or superficial repentance).

You’re right that the word “ra‘” in Lamentations 3, Isaiah 45, Amos 3, Jeremiah 4, and (to add one to the list) Job 2:10 should probably not be translated “evil” as in moral evil, and it does refer to the punishment God is meting out upon wicked cities and nations. However, I do believe that it should be translated “calamity” instead of simply “punishment” (though it includes that idea in these texts), and although God’s intentions for destroying the wicked were righteous, the actions and intentions of the nations that did the destroying were not. Thus, the calamity that was brought upon those cities should be considered morally evil (or at least it involved moral evil in carrying it out).

While I neither believe that God Himself coerced the Babylonians to bring calamity nor that God Himself was the proximate cause of drawing the Babylonians south to invade Judah (i.e. God probably willingly permitted the demonic host to do that), I do think that it is theologically proper to say that God was the ultimate cause of the event. This becomes clear when you simply read the verses in which God states that *He* was the one who did it (see also Daniel 1:2).

As John Oswalt, himself an Arminian, notes in his commentary on Isaiah 45:7:

7 The climax of the particular statement being made in this segment appears in this verse. Here the prophet spells out exactly what he means when he says there is no other than the Lord. If any question yet remained about the degree of uniqueness and exclusivity that he was claiming for God, this verse should lay it to rest. He chooses two areas in which to make his claims: nature and history, and in both of them uses the figure of antinomy, or polar opposites, to make his point. In each of the parallel pairs he begins with a verb which expresses specific, concrete action by God (form, make) and closes with one which is even more theologically expressive, the same one in both cases (create). What Isaiah asserts is that God, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to dark, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other beings or forces are responsible for anything.
Without question such a sweeping assertion raises some serious problems, especially as we try to puzzle out issues of justice and fairness. At the same time, we must take into account the point being made and the alternative. The point is that everything which exists, whether positive or negative from our perspective, does so because of the creative will of God. The alternative to this view is that things happen in the world of nature or history that have their origin in some being or force other than God, things that he is powerless to prevent. If that alternative is correct, then God is but one of the gods and is as powerless to save us from ourselves as they are. Furthermore, he is no more the expression of ultimate reality than they are. Since he is limited, we must look beyond him for whatever is final in this world. Given that alternative, it is easy to see why Isaiah makes qualifications, given the rest of Scripture. But that is the correct direction to move: from principle to qualification. If we start with qualification, we will never reach the overarching principle.
An important qualification is already implicit in the text. The Hebrew word ra‘ has a wide range of meanings, much like the English word “bad.” Like “bad” it can refer to moral evil (“Hitler was a bad man”) or to misfortune (“I’m having a bad day”) or merely to that which does not conform to some potential, real or imagined (“That’s a bad road”). This is not the case with the common English equivalent for ra‘, “evil,” which almost always refers to moral wickedness. Thus if we read “I…create evil” (AV), we conclude that God causes people to make morally evil decisions. That this is not the correct translation of ra‘ in this circumstance is shown by the opposite term used, which is salom, “health, well-being, peace, good relations, good fortune.” The opposite of these would be those connotations that we most commonly ascribe to “bad.” What the prophet is saying is that if bad conditions exist in my life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual grandfather-god, who would like me to have good conditions but cannot bring them about. They are there solely as a factor of my relations to the one God. They may be there because I have sinned against his natural and moral laws, or they may be there because by their means I can become more like him, or they may be there for reasons that he cannot explain to me. But they are not there in spite of God. He is the only uncaused cause in the universe.”
-John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), pp.203-205.

So, while God did not intend moral evil by bringing about those actions, He brought those actions about knowing full-well that the proximate causes (e.g. the Babylonians) would be morally evil or would commit morally evil actions in the process. Let’s take an example:

Job 2:10
In this passage, Job says, “Should we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Of course, the word, “evil,” should be understood as “disaster” or “calamity,” but the calamity in Job’s case took the form of the murder of his children by Satan and the murder of his servants and theft of his flocks by the Chaldeans. Yet, Job ascribes both well-being and the disaster that fell upon him ultimately to God. Is God then accountable for the moral evil that was brought upon Job? No. He willingly permitted Satan to do that. Nevertheless, God set the boundaries of what Satan could and could not do and even knew exactly what Satan would do given God’s foreknowledge, and thus, Job correctly ascribed these actions ultimately to God.


You continue to say things like:
“However, all the many passages of Scripture (and there are more) that say that God allows and makes use of evil that exists, never say that God made it exist, ordained it to exist, or caused it to exist. God uses evil, yes. But God ultimately causes evil? No.”

You are completely missing the force of the texts that were cited. You are probably reading the verses too quickly, assigning a meaning that will fit your theology, and not really paying careful attention to the exact words used or their order. Theses texts don’t simply say that God uses (already-existing) evil or calamity and makes good out of it. They name God as the ultimate cause of the evil act.

Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Here, the “it” that God meant for good refers back to the evil actions of the brothers. It was not as if God saw the evil actions of the brothers and proceeded to clean-up their mess. Rather, the event was ultimately caused by God Himself. God meant the actual event itself for good. But if God “meant” the actual event of selling their brother into slavery, then God must be the ultimate cause.

1 Samuel 2:25
Again, the very act of choosing to disobey their father ultimately came from God. The act of disobedience to their father was sin! Did God Himself do this? No, He probably willingly permitted a demon to harden their heart against obeying their father. Nevertheless, God should be and in fact *is* described as the ultimate cause.

Revelation 17:17
Again, the act of the kings in giving their royal rule over to the beast is itself a sinful act (probably the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2), and yet, God is specifically described as the ultimate cause of that act: “He has put into their hearts to carry out His purpose.”

I could go list every text that we discussed, but I think that you get my point.


Next, I’d like to deal with your interpretation of the events in Exodus.

You write:
“…although in Pharaoh’s case, it very specifically says that he hardened his own heart…”

While it is true that Pharaoh did harden his heart, there are a number of problems with your statement:

1.) In a compatibilist scheme, there is an ultimate cause and proximate causes. God is the ultimate cause, and a demon (that God willingly permitted to do the act) as well as Pharaoh himself were the proximate causes. So, you’re committing a fallacy (i.e. begging the question against compatibilism) in saying that either God hardened Pharaoh OR Pharaoh hardened himself but not both.

2.) Psalm 105:23-45 recounts the events of the Exodus. It states that God “turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants,” before Moses and Aaron are sent to Pharoah in v.26! So, God did hearden Pharaoh’s heart in the first place.

3.) As G.K. Beale has shown, whenever Pharaoh hardened his own heart, it is always in fulfillment of a previous passage where it says that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart (cf. 4:21 with 5:2, 7:3 with 7:13, etc.) or a passage after the event commenting on the past (cf. 9:34 with 10:1, etc.). Furthermore, Beale shows that the phrase “as the Lord had said” (Heb: ka’aser dibber YHWH; 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 19, 9:1) is a statement used frequently in the Pentateuch to denote a promise-fulfillment where God acts in behalf of His people. Thus, even in the passages where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, this should be seen as God having heardened it as the ultimate cause.


You then quote Greg Boyd who quotes Ezekiel 18 and 33 (same with Lamentations 3:33). However, those texts simply mean that God is not sadistic, not that God has a universal salvific will. It does not mean that God had not reprobated (i.e. ordained to not elect) the wicked in His eternal decree. You also have to couple those verses with others such as Deuteronomy 28:63 which states that God does take pleasure when justice is done and the wicked are destroyed:

“It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.”

In other words, God is not sadistic in punishing evil, but He does take pleasure when justice is done.


You then quote Greg Boyd on Proverbs. I’ll have to wait on commenting on this until I obtain Bruce Waltke’s commentaries on that book which may be awhile since they’re quite expensive.


As to Habbakuk 2:12-13, I believe that I have over-extended the meaning and implications of that passage. It simply means that the rise of evil empires through bloodshed and other evils is futile since the omnipotent God will punish them and bring all of their gain to nothing. Oops.


You stated:
“John 12:40 is a difficult passage often misinterpreted. A more full description of the same thing is found in Matthew 13:13-15 where the author is explaining how Jesus and Israel’s rejection of him is fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah. Some people use this passage to say that God doesn’t want some people to understand the truth and repent. That is inaccurate when you read the whole story.”

I am not going to argue (nor did I) with your statement that God does not cause unbelief ***except*** to make the qualifications that I made above (see #8 under the Calvinist theodicy). Here’s what I actually said:

“God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.”

Scripture most certainly does teach that God is the cause of the hardening. Once someone first rejects the gospel, the result is that God pours out His wrath by giving them over to believing falsehoods. This is the plain meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2:11, Romans 11:7-10, Isaiah 63:17, etc.

You’ve told both Peter Pike and I what those passages don’t or can’t mean, but you have never actually told us what they ***do*** mean.

Next, you used Acts 17:30. However, Acts 17:30 is a command for all men to repent. You’re assuming that if God gives a command, then man must be metaphysically (and not just physically) able to obey those commands. But this again assumes the Principle of Alternative Possibility and Libertarian Free-Will.


I’ll get around to dealing with your posts on the actual TULIP at a later date.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Term 'World' in the Johannine Corpus

This was in the comment box over at this Triablogue post:

G said, "All individuals would still be included. We need to suppress the next steps of logic so that you can say "all men", without reaching the more desired Calvinistic ending of "some men"."

Actually, it wouldn't. "All men without exception" would necessarily entail "all men without distinction" but not the other way around.

The word, "world," as it is often used in the Gospel and Epistles of John, has reference to quality, not quantity.

Sometimes it has reference to the evil nature of human society. John 3:16 does not mean that God had so much love that He loved every single last human being, but rather, it means that God had so much love that He loved humans (but not necessarily every single human) in spite of their sinfulness. The quantity of that group can only be determined by the context.

Sometimes (as in 1 John 2:2), it has reference to all people groups (a universal of qualities), i.e. both Jews and Gentiles, and is used to oppose the 1st century Jewish idea that God would only bless the Jews, Gentiles were sub-humans, and other assorted racist ideas.

Thus, God chooses men out of *every* (universal) tribe, tongue, people, and nation, but *not* *everyone in* every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

It is all men without distinction (i.e. *some* from *every* people group), not all men without exception (i.e. *everyone in* every people group).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage wrote:
“But I have to tell you man, if that is all Calvinism means by the word “ordain” then I don’t have a problem with the Westminster Confession when it says that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There’d only be a small annoyance that the men who wrote this worded it poorly and could have eliminated a lot of confusion if they just wrote “whatsoever comes to pass is in God’s plan.””

Well, I think that you have again misunderstood what I said. The decree is a simple plan. However, God is the one who writes all of history including the actions of men in it. It is *not* that God looks ahead of time, sees what man does, and fits his plan around what He foresees man will do. My only point in writing this definition was to dispel the straw-man of Calvinism that God winds-up all humans like a toy at the beginning of creation, and they simply move and do what He wants them to do.

In other words, I do not deny that God actually wanted (in the decretive sense) all the actions of men in history to come to pass since He planned them.

Persiflage wrote:
“I looked up ordain in the Webster Dictionary, and it defined it as “to establish or order by decree or law.””

That is a dictionary of the modern English which has nothing to do with *Theological terms*, especially ones that originated during the times of the 17th century Protestant scholastics. You might want to purchase and use a Dictionary of Theology or a Calvinistic Systematic Theology instead.

That you are using secular definitions of terms instead of theological definitions is a constant problem throughout your response.

Persiflage wrote:
“In one sense I absolutely agree with you, in the other sense I start to worry about other Scripture that says how things happen against God’s will (even if he’s philosophically the “first cause” of everything. So I won’t argue or agree with your interpretation of these Scriptures until I understand this better.”

Yes, when I used the term, ‘ultimate cause,’ I meant it in the sense that God *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not in a prescriptive sense). God set in action a chain of events that He knew would result in whatever would happen, *and* He *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not necessarily in a prescriptive sense). When it says that “God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled,” (Revelation 17:17) God specifically *wanted* the kings to give their power over to the beast (which would no doubt include idolatrous worship).

This does not mean, however, that God wanted them to worship the beast in the prescriptive sense since God specifically forbids false worship. Rather, the way that this event would probably happen would be like that described in Job 1 or 2 Chronicles 18:18-22. God would bring Satan before Him and specifically permit Satan to “entice” and influence the minds of those kings and tell Satan to “prevail” in doing so (2 Chronicles 18:18-22). God *wanted* Satan to “prevail” in the decretive sense so that God’s purpose might come about.

When God *wants* (decretively) a certain evil event to happen, He willingly permits an evil spirit or man to do evil in order to bring about His purpose. God is never the one who entices to sin (James 1:13). He always *permits* it to happen. However, He never gives demons open reign everywhere and in all cases. God specifically sets the parameters of what He will allow the demon to do, sets the goal, and allows no more. God *wants* the evil event to happen so that it will fulfill His righteous purposes.

I know that I’m being a bit repetitive, but I don’t know how else to show you the distinction between God’s prescriptive (i.e. law) will and His decretive (i.e. providential) will. In essence, what I am saying is that defining the term, “God’s will” or “God wants this to happen,” in the sense that God prescribes a law for mankind is far too narrow for how the Biblical text uses it.

Persiflage writes:
“Do you see the problem here? If the “free choice” is caused by something, then it wouldn’t be a “free choice” in the first place.”

But that is the very issue under dispute, and it won’t be solved by a simple appeal to your intuitions. This has been debated back and forth by philosophers of metaphysics for many years now.

Persiflage wrote:
“A moral agent’s free will doesn’t cause choices, instead free will is the power through which the moral agent makes his choices. The fact that God gave him this “power” does not mean (a) that he is suddenly omnipotent, or (b) that God caused the free choice.”

But self-causality simply assumes one’s own self-existence, i.e. aseity. If God creates and sustains their very ontic existence, from where does their power come from to bring into being their self-generated choice? I don’t know how else to explain it to you. Sorry.

You go on to quote Geisler, but compatibilists of all stripes have pointed out that that is far too simplistic and creates all sorts of problems. Philosophy isn’t my best field, and so, I can only recommend some works:

J.M. Fischer’s The Metaphysics of Free Will

J.M. Fischer’s My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility

John Frame’s No Other God

John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (pp.138-145)

Persiflage wrote (concerning 1 Samuel 2:25):
“Why did God desire to put them to death? Because they were already wicked in the first place - wicked enough for God to want to put them to death sooner than later (as opposed to the entire human population). And there is no reason for us to conclude that God preordained for them to reject him in the first place.”

Again, you’re missing the force of the passage. The passage states:

“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.” (1 Samuel 2:25)

They chose to disobey BECAUSE *GOD WANTED* them to. Again, this is not in the prescriptive sense as if God told them to do so or God Himself controlled their minds, but nevertheless, the text names God as the *cause* of their disobedience.

He was the ultimate cause, not in the sense that He simply set in motion a chain of events that “just happened” to result in their choice, but rather, it was a *calculated* move on His part. They chose exactly what He wanted them to chose, not because they just so happened to chose it, but because He knew that the events that He set in motion would be the *effective cause* of their choice.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Eternal Decree of God

I am continuing my response to Persiflage on the 5 points of Calvinism. However, most Calvinists (including myself) would agree that there is another point of Calvinism that is more fundamental than the TULIP: the belief that God has decreed all that comes to pass.

Persiflage has taken issue with this over at Triablogue, and Peter Pike has been interacting with him for some time now and has made this the subject of a post.

Pike has already made most of the points that I am about to make, but I intend to use a few more examples that I believe will make those points a bit less controversial. First, let’s start with the basic statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” WCF 3.1

I. Ordain/Decree-
First, let us take the term “ordain” (alt. ‘decree’, WLC 12, WSC 7). Ordain, here, simply refers to God’s plan of what shall occur in history. It is not causal in itself. It is not as if God simply wound-up creation like a toy and all history simply unfolds on its own power. Indeed, the WCF specifically denies such a form of determinism:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” WCF 9.1

John Frame notes that the Confession, here, supports the notion of “the independence of human choices from sequences of cause and effect within nature, a freedom from natural causation.” (The Doctrine of God, p.145) Instead, God fulfills his decree in history by interacting with His creatures, placing the boundaries to their movements (Job 14:5, Acts 17: 26), permitting certain acts by spiritual forces (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12), etc. This brings us to certain other points that need definition.

II. Human Freedom-
Human freedom is defined, here, in a compatibilist sense. In other words, compatibilist free-will (CFW) is a view of metaphysics that states that human freedom can be both free (and thus responsible for its actions) and determined at the same time. In the case of Calvinism, the determinism comes not from a material determinism (as it is in Stoicism or modern secular thought) but from a Divine determinism.

CFW is opposed to Libertarian Free-Will (LFW) which states that human freedom is incompatible with determinism of any form. If an action is determined, then it is not considered to be free (and thus the person is not responsible). This is called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) which states that given any situation, a free creature must be able to instantiate different possible worlds. This is not to say that there cannot be any influences but that given all those influences, the will must be able to instantiate alternative choices. [Note: this is not just the existence of a choice, the condition of responsibility in CFW, but is the actual ability to instantiate a different possible world.] LFW usually takes one of two forms: 1) causal-inderminate which says that the choice of someone is uncaused or 2) self-causal which says that someone creates their own choices ex-nihilo.

I will be citing several portions of Scripture on this point later. For now, I will note that Causal-Indeterminism completely destroys human freedom and responsibility as it makes the origin of choices random and uncaused. This was the original form of LFW that the WCF speaks against when it says that CFW (in opposition to causal-indeterminism) actually establishes human freedom since the proximate cause of someone's choice originated with that person rather than it being random and uncaused. Self-causation, on the other hand, is completely absurd in a theistic system (being defined in the classical/Biblical sense) since it grants creatures (whose continual existence in dependent upon God) the ability to create ex nihilo as if they posessed aseity and omnipotence.

The next three distinctions are closely related to each other, and an example will be cited after all of them have been defined:

III. Ultimate and Proximate Causes-
Calvinism also makes the distinction between ultimate and proximate causes. As noted above, Calvinism declares that God is the ultimate cause of all things and has decreed all that comes to pass including the sinful actions of mankind. However, Scripture also states that God in no way forces man to sin, tempts him (James 1:13), or prescribes sinful actions for him (Jeremiah 32:35; again, see below).

Thus, while God may be the *ultimate* cause of everything, He is not the *proximate* cause of everything.

IV. Ends and Means-
In Calvinism, God ordains all that comes to pass, but Calvinism is not fatalism. In fatalism, someone’s fate has been determined no matter what choices they make. In Calvinism, someone’s ‘fate’ has been determined through the means of the choices that they make. Thus, King Hezekiah must pray a prayer of repentance for the nation of Judah during the seige of Jerusalem in order to obtain deliverance (Isaiah 37:14-35) even though God had already promised deliverance for Judah through the prophet Hosea several decades before (Hosea 1:7). God’s decreed end happened through the means of the human free action (remember: defined in a compatibilist sense) of the king. Fatalism would say that God would have saved Judah no matter what choice the king made.

Another example would be God’s promise to deliver Paul and the crewmen of the ship from the storm (Acts 27:23-24). However, Paul tells the crewmen that unless they remain in the ship they cannot be saved (v.31). Thus, the salvation from death is decreed by God through the means of staying on the ship. They would not have been saved no matter what they had done (as it would have been if fatalism was the case), but only through the means of Paul’s warning.

In Calvinism, God has decreed both the means as well as the ends so that the end result never comes about except through the means.

V. The Two Wills of God: Prescriptive and Decretive-
A distinction between God’s prescriptive will and His decretive will should also be made. God’s prescriptive will is that set of laws which God has prescribed for man to do or not to do, i.e. God’s Moral Law. The Ten Commandments are an example of God’s prescriptive will.

God’s decretive will is that which God wants to happen in history. Both the ends and the means (cited above) are God’s decretive will.

VI. Biblical Analysis
An analysis of a few Biblical texts will prove that these distinctions can be made and that Scripture clearly selects for the Calvinist view:

a.) Did God Will that Jesus Die at the Hands of Wicked Men?
Clearly God never prescribed that men should kill His Messiah, and in fact, it is just the opposite (Exodus 20:13). However, Scripture also says that “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). Again, Peter declares that Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) and that the Jews and the Romans did “whatever [God’s] hand and [His] purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28).

So, did God want Jesus to die at the hands of wicked men?
Prescriptively, no.
Decretively, yes.

b.) Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
According to Genesis 37:18-27, Joseph’s brothers were the ones who plotted Joseph’s demise. However, according to Genesis 50:20, Joseph, who was a prophet, informs us that it was God’s plan the whole time. God’s prescriptive will said that what Joseph’s brothers did was evil, but God’s decretive will decreed that Jacob’s family be saved from the famine through the use of the brothers’ evil (i.e. the proximate cause). Thus, God was the ultimate cause of what happened to Joseph so that His plan might be fulfilled and Abraham’s descendents saved.

It was not as though Jacob’s brothers first acted and then God came in to clean up the mess they made. No, the “it” in “God meant it” refers back to the first clause, namely “you meant evil against me”. There is one action present with two separate motives referring to that one action, one originating with the brothers and one with God.

c.) Judges 9:23
“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,”
From what we know about God’s use of evil spirits (i.e. demons) from other passages of Scripture (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12, Luke 22:31, etc.; see these and other Scripture passages below), evil spirits ask God to allow them to do evil acts to men. God then allows (or disallows) them to do specific acts to accomplish His plan. Here, God sent an evil spirit to start a war between two evil groups so that, in the end, they might destroy one another (Judges 9:56-57).

Here, God is the ultimate cause of the suffering and death inflicted by the two parties so that God’s plan would be fulfilled. However, the demon and the two groups were the proximate causes of the sin that occurred.

d.) 1 Samuel 2:25
“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.
The sinful human free act of disobedience to their father (Exodus 20:12) ultimately came from God “for the LORD desired to put them to death.” They chose X because God wanted Y. This cannot be self-causal or causal-indeterminate LFW since the ultimate origin of their choice was not in themselves but in God.

e.) 2 Samuel 12:11
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.
Although it was Absalom who committed these evil acts of adultery (and was held accountable for such), God was the ultimate cause of these acts and used them for good (i.e. David’s punishment).

f.) 2 Samuel 17:14
“Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.”
To quote Robert Morey: “This passage is remarkable. It answers the questions, “Why did Absalom and all the men of Israel choose not to listen to Ahithophel when he was the clearly the wisest counselor in their midst? Why did they choose to take Hushai’s advice instead?” The text states that God caused them to choose Hushai because He had ordained to defeat Absalom. They chose what He ordained them to choose.” (emphasis his) –Dr. Robert A. Morey, The Nature and Extent of God’s Knowledge, 2nd Edition (Las Vegas, Nevada: Christian Scholars Press, 2002), pp.65-66. Again, they chose X because God wanted Y.

g.) The Comparison of 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1
“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.””
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
There is no contradiction here. Just as in passages like Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14, Job 1:12, and 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, God uses fallen angels to accomplish His will. God was the ultimate cause of David’s sin (by willingly permitting Satan to tempt David), but Satan was the proximate cause (as well as David himself) and thus responsible. As the Puritans said, “The devil is God’s lackey.”

h.) 2 Chronicles 18:18-22
“Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘How?’ He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”
In this amazing passage, God uses an evil sprit to commit an evil act (i.e. lying) to false prophets so that they would give false prophecies of victory to the evil King Ahab which would result in his death (i.e. good). Prescriptively, God hates lying (Exodus 20:16), but here, God providentially ordains that the lying spirit “prevail” in its deceitful actions in order to bring about good in the end. Again, this is not a bare permission but a willing permission since God ordained the ends and the means whereby His purpose should be accomplished.

i.) Job 1:21
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job recognizes that the evil acts of the Sabeans and Chaldeans which God hates and will judge them for (Exodus 20:13, 15, 17) have their ultimate cause (through secondary means, of course) in God.

j.) Psalm 105:25
He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”
Psalm 105 summarizes Biblical history from the time of Abraham through Deuteronomy. Here, the inspired psalmist informs us that the evil intentions of the new Pharaoh, recorded in Exodus 1:8-10, had their ultimate cause in God. God purposefully sent Israel down into Egypt and caused them to multiply so that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would become jealous of the Israelites. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but at the same time, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

k.) Proverbs 16:9-10
“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment.”
A man’s actions may have been willed freely, but they were ultimately foreordained to come to pass by God. This is the essence of compatibilist free-will (as opposed to the non-Calvinist’s version, libertarian free-will).

l.) Proverbs 20:24
Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way?”
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

m.) Proverbs 21:1
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
This passage could not be clearer. (See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

n.) Ecclesiastes 7:14
In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.”
(See Job 1:21 and Proverbs 16:4 above.)

o.) Ecclesiastes 9:1
“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

p.) Isaiah 10:5-7
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nationsIs the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame.”
Here, God says that He is sending Assyria to punish Israel. In verses 12-14, the Assyrian king thinks that he has and will conquer the lands of his empire by his own might and for his own reasons. In reality, God is the ultimate cause of the king’s desire for conquest. God wields the king and his army like one wields a wood axe and a war club. God will send Assyria to punish Israel and then turn around and punish Assyria for their evil intentions and pride. This is similar to Genesis 50:20 in that there is one action with two different motives for that one action, one with the Assyrian king and one with God.

q.) Isaiah 45:7
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
Clearly, God is the ultimate cause of evil as well as good.

r.) Isaiah 46:9-10
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
God has actively foreordained everything in history to come to pass for His purpose and His good pleasure. Notice that what is purposed is comprehensive: the end from the beginning.

s.) Isaiah 63:17
Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”
(See the Exodus passages above as well as Ezekiel 14:9 and John 12:39-40 below.)

t.) Jeremiah 4:6
“Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, for I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction.
God was the ultimate cause (though not the proximate cause) of the evil that happened to Judah.

u.) Lamentations 3:37-39
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?”
The author of Lamentations (thought to be Jeremiah) informs us that evil’s (in this case the Chaldean invasion’s) ultimate cause is God’s decree.

v.) Ezekiel 14:9
But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the LORD, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.
This is an example of God’s use of false prophets in hardening the hearts of idolaters. These idolaters are seeking a prophet who will give them what they want to hear, something that affirms their lifestyle. God informs us that He Himself will cause (probably through the secondary means of an evil spirit) the false prophet to give a false prophecy (see especially 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 above). This will harden the hearts of the idolaters and strengthen them in their apostasy, resulting in greater judgment (see especially the Exodus passages above).

w.) Amos 3:6
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
Amos reveals that the destruction of a city and its inhabitants by invading armies is ultimately caused by God’s decree.

x.) Habakkuk 2:12-13
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?
This passage tells us that the ultimate cause of the destruction of evil empires (usually by other evil empires with evil motives) is God. Of course, God probably does this through the secondary means of willingly permitting a demon to influence kings and their armies to do such. Nevertheless, God is still considered to be the ultimate cause.

y.) John 9:1-3
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus reveals the reason for this man’s blindness. It was not for the reason of his sins or his parents’ sins (such as Pharisees had taught), but rather, God decreed from the beginning of time that he be born blind (probably through the secondary means of a genetic defect) and be put in that place for the purpose that Jesus would work a miracle on him. See also Exodus 4:11.

z.) John 12:39-40
God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.

aa.) Romans 9
I’ll deal with this one when Persiflage gets around to unconditional election.

bb.) Romans 11:7-10
“What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.” And David says, “LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.”
(See the comments on John 12:39-40.)

cc.) 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Once a man has rejected God’s truth, God hands them over to the dominion of Satan so that his thoughts will be highly influenced by “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). See also 2 Corinthians 4:4. Prescriptively, God wants men to obey His gospel, but decretively, God ordains that those who reject His gospel be given over to further unbelief (Romans 1:21-28).

dd.) Revelation 17:17
For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”
Is it God’s will for the nations to worship the beast? Prescriptively, no (Exodus 20:3-7), but decretively, yes so that “His purpose” should “be fulfilled.” Of course, this probably involved willingly permitting Satan to influence their minds, but this was not a “bare permission” since the verse identifies God as the ultimate cause of their actions.

VII. Conclusion
If God has ordained the end from the beginning to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10), makes men blind, mute, or dumb in order to accomplish His purpose (Exodus 4:11, John 9:1-3), is the ultimate cause of the death of every man (1 Samuel 2:6, Job 1:21), is the ultimate cause of sins such as disobedience or not accepting wise counsel so that He can destroy someone through their own actions (1 Samuel 2:25, 2 Samuel 17:14), is the ultimate cause of evil spirits causing men to sin so that God can accomplish His purpose in destroying those men (1 Samuel 16:14, 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, etc.), uses wicked men for the purpose of the evil that they would do so that it would result later in good (Genesis 50:20), directs the steps of men, the decisions of kings, and ultimately controls the deeds of wise and righteous men (Proverbs 16:9-10, 20:24, 21:1, Ecclesiastes 9:1), creates both prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14, Isaiah 45:7) and good and evil (Jeremiah 4:6, Lamentations 3:37-38), is the ultimate cause of the rise and destruction of empires and their cities (Isaiah 10:5-7, 37:26-27, Amos 3:6, Habakkuk 2:12-13, Acts 17:26), is the ultimate cause of false prophecy so that He can judge wicked men (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Ezekiel 14:9), is the ultimate cause of heart-hardening and thus unbelief and/or disobedience (Joshua 11:20, Psalm 105:25, Isaiah 63:17, John 12:39-40, Romans 11:7-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Revelation 17:17), is the ultimate cause of the Messiah’s death at the hands of wicked men (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23, 4:28), and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11), then it follows that that covers just about everything under the sun. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.