Thursday, October 25, 2012

Calvinism and Arminianism: The Basic Difference

This is in reaction to this post by Dr. Roger Olson: it is excellent in showing how an Arminian can speak of Salvation by faith alone in very similar terms as Calvinists. I decided to respond to it because the amount of similarity in language makes it very clear where the actual disagreement is, which shows up in two places.

First, at the bottom of the third page he says "Free will is simply a God-given capacity for choosing the true freedom offered by God's grace, or else rejecting it through our own self-centered obstinacy." Second, on the fourth page after his analogy about the hose, he says "there can be grace blockers—wrong attitudes and habits, hidden resentments and selfish motives. My "job," as it were, is to find them—with the Spirit's help, of course—and work them out through a process of repentance and submission. Free will is a necessary precondition in that process, but not the end result." These two show how Arminians are different from Calvinists both in how they view salvation and in how they view sanctification. Both an Arminian and a Calvinist can say that if x is good, I choose x by the power of the Holy Spirit, whatever x is, but they mean different things by it, at least as regards salvation (and, I would argue, therefore sanctification). The Calvinist means that the Holy Spirit is both the necessary and sufficient cause of my choosing x. The Arminian means that the Holy Spirit is a necessary cause of my choosing x, but not sufficient, as is my own freely willing to choose x, and that only together are they a (the, since they are both necessary) sufficient cause of my choosing x.

The Arminian says that I freely choose salvation, I agree. I merely argue that I would never have chosen it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Arminians agree. The part that I argue for that Arminians disagree with is that the Holy Spirit working in me for my salvation is what causes me to freely choose salvation. The problem being, so far as I can see, that an act necessitated solely by what is outside of me is not my free act. If it is mine, it is not free, and if it is free, then it is not mine. There is a sense in which I can agree with the objection, but not that it is a valid objection. I believe that the Holy Spirit causing me to choose salvation takes the form of the Holy Spirit causing me to desire salvation to the point that my desire for it, for God, overrules any objecting desires for earthly safety or happiness, and that I, because my desire for salvation is so strong, choose it based on my desire that has been caused by the Holy Spirit. I say that this act is free because it is an act caused--necessitated--by my will, which is to say, the strength of my desire for it being greater than the strength of my desire for not-it.

I claim that there is no causal path that cannot be traced back to God, but the Arminian seems to believe that some causal paths, while partially traceable to God, may be traced back to a different first cause, i.e., the will of a human. Not to say that the cause is not caused, but that the cause was not caused to be what it is, apart from, generally, a will. To make sense of this with respect to God, I argued that God must be in some sense atemporal, such that he might be the cause of his being how he is. This option is not open with regard to humans, yet the Arminians still seem to be arguing that we cause ourselves to have the sort of wills that we have. But what caused our will to cause itself to make itself the way that it now is? It must have had an original state, which must have been caused to be that way for some reason, and if there was the possibility for it to cause itself to change in some way other than it did, then it would seem it is still called upon to cause itself to be a certain kind of will, the kind that changes itself in this way or that way.

Thus it seems to me that the Arminians are forced to throw away the principal of sufficient reason, which says that for any state of affairs there must be a reason that it is this way and not some other. However, to do this is to throw away the basis of the cosmological argument for the existence of God, which seems to me to be the strongest argument we have. It also means we have no reason to ask why the world exists, or why the physical laws are as they are. Indeed we can no longer look at an action and be sure that there was a cause for it. A book falls, why must I look for gravity? Why can't I say "Books just do that, why should there be a cause?" Of course, Arminians may be able to say that the principle of sufficient reason applies wherever there are not free willed beings, but then why did we begin to study the social sciences with the perspective of science? Not that we cannot do so, necessarily, of we are free willed, but we have no reason to go looking for any tendencies. Perhaps, then, we are like quanta, very random at low levels, but when we get to a macro scale, it all evens out. But how is it that our actions being random is any better for calling our actions our own than determinism? I'm sorry, you rolled a 6 three times in a row, that is punishable with hell. What? Why? Is there no cause to expect consistency? Oh, each person starts out totally libertarianly free, but they lose that over time. Oh, so I roll the dice all at the start. Fine, at least we have consistency, but now I'm lost ahead of time again, why not from the very beginning? Besides, if it is random, then why does that not mean that God is in charge of it? He determines every outcome of the dice, why not all the other random things? But if the soul is random, then the soul is determined by God.

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