Friday, October 18, 2013

James Anderson on Calvinism and the First Sin

James Anderson was kind enough to share a chapter of an upcoming book he’s working on.  (link)  The chapter is titled Calvinism and the First Sin and the book will be titled Calvinism and the Problem of Evil.  Dr. Anderson will remove the online version once the book is published, so read it while you can.

Dr. Anderson addresses the challenges unique to Calvinism regarding the problem of evil including: 1) God’s determining the first sin makes Him the author of sin, 2) Calvinists must be compatiblists and there are some fairly strong arguments against compatibilism, and 3) and given Adam’s good nature, there’s no causal explanation for the first sin. 

To his credit, Dr. Anderson openly embraces the idea that Calvinism is indeed divine determinism.  Now in true Van Tillian fashion, he spends a great deal of time explaining what this does not mean without elaborating on what it does mean.  Dr. Anderson argues that Calvinists need not be causal determinists.  Curiously, his reason is that God can cause events directly (i.e. miracles).    Dr. Anderson then argues that God’s causal activity in the world is absolutely unique – and this becomes the foundation for his primary response to the three arguments against theological determinism.  Put another way, the differences between God and man on causation are essential (not just accidental) to causation itself, such that we run the risk of equivocating when we speak of God and man’s causation.  Thus we should not expect responsibility to work the same in divine verses human causation.  Dr. Anderson explains God’s causation via the analogy of an author of a book and while he acknowledges this supports the idea that God is the author of sin, he argues that since we don’t blame authors who write in crimes for their characters, we shouldn’t blame God for writing sin into His plan.  However, I don’t think this response works, because when an author writes a crime into a book, nothing bad has happened – so of course we don’t blame the author.  A closer analogy would be someone writing a screen play for a pornography.  In cases like that we should blame the author.

One minor pet peeve.  Dr. Anderson separates Molinism, Arminianism and Open Theism as the three primary alternative accounts. I would have preferred the categories Molinism, Simple Foreknowledge and Open Theism, to leave room for the fact that many Arminians are Molinists.  Overall it was a pleasant read and very clear, and I would recommend folks read it and consider the issues.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pope says "Who am I to judge Gays?"

Thought this was coming, but it was quicker than I would have guessed.  This will of course lead to corruption in society, but also to the purification of Christ's Church, as many will now see their choice is between their Pope and God's word.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review - Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall

The book begins with a brief but helpful account of the life and times of Jacob Arminius, but points readers to Bangs work for a more detailed biography (Bangs, Carl.  Arminius – A Study in the Dutch Reformation.  Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998).  Then it dives into the foundation of Arminius’ theology - his explanations of God’s attributes.  On the simplicity of God, Aquinas taught God’s attributes are distinct only in the way we think about them, but are really united in God, but Arminius disagreed and rather followed John Dun Scottus who taught God’s attributes really are distinct in God even though they are absolutely inseparable.   On omniscience, Arminius followed Luis De Molina in affirming middle knowledge – and this book is the first I have seen to acknowledge that Arminius’ view of predestination is based on God’s middle knowledge of faith rather than so called simple foreknowledge.  Then in a rare low point in the book - Arminius is accused of denying Christ aseity (i.e. denying passages like John 8:58), but the accusation is based on what the authors see as the implications of Arminius beliefs even though Arminius denies the implication.   The chapter closes with Arminius’ view of creation; which Arminius sees as God’s freely communicating His goodness to whatever He creates.  Thus the idea that God creates people for hellfire troubles Arminius.

Arminius sees God’s providence as meticulous.  God provides for what He created through preservation, concurrence and governance of all that happens.  God permits rather than causes sin – Arminius is concerned with making God the author of evil.  Arminius holds to what we call libertarian free will and offers a free will defense similar to Plantinga’s account (Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil.  Eerdmans Publishing, 1974); using middle knowledge to reconcile God’s plan with man’s freedom.

On predestination, Arminius’ main opponents (Gomorus & Perkins) said that election logically precedes the fall (i.e. supra-lapsarian Calvinism).  Arminius is concerned that this doctrine wasn’t taught by the Church Fathers or in the early councils.  Arminius sees supralapsarianism as contrary to God’s justice, wisdom and love, since God subjects the innocent to hell.  This also removes man’s free will and makes God’s offer in the gospel insincere.  Rebellion against God isn’t really rebellion if God wants it to happen and acts to make it necessary.  Grace is resistible and it restores man’s nature in a way suitable to accomplish God’s purpose in creation: for us to know and love God.  Supralapsarianism subordinates Christ’s election to ours – making Him just the means rather than the foundation of election.  It implies Christ didn’t die for all, which is unbiblical.  Arminius sees Jacob and Esau in Romans 9 as types for justification by faith and pursuing righteousness through works.  Arminius sees predestination as Christocentric and conditional on foreknowledge. This harmonizes with God’s love us His own justice and His love of us and it wards off overconfidence and despair.

Arminius held that God permitted the fall and Adam was able to avoid sinning.  He understood Adam to be the recipient of grace, which God removes after the fall.  All of mankind received all the penalties Adam received, leaving us unable to think will or do anything truly good, including believe.  Without grace we are free from external and internal necessity, but not from our slavery to sin. God must take the initiative through prevenient grace, and if we don’t resist, through subsequent grace.  God’s grace is sufficient meaning He gives us everything we need to be able to respond.  Romans 7 describes a pre-regenerate state.  Both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith.  Final apostasy is possible but Arminius denied teaching that it ever actually happens.  Arminius disagreed with Calvin that assurance is part of the definition of faith.  Arminius had pastoral concerns that Calvinism leads to overconfidence and despair.  

Overall, I really enjoyed the book.  The authors made good decisions on what to include and provide a wealth of footnotes and references for further study.   It joins Bang’s bibliography, Stanglin’s first book on Arminius and Assurance and Muller’s God, Creation and Providence in the thought of Jacob Arminius as one of the premier accounts of Arminius and his theology.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

James Arminius on the Aseity of the Son

I recently was reading a book that accused James Arminius of a Trinitarian heresy:  denying Christ’s aseity (self existence).  This relates to the “auto-theos” controversy in which Arminius denied a specific sense in which Christ is God “from Himself”.  (Works of James Arminius.  Apology Article 21)  That is to say, Arminius defended the doctrine in the Nicene creed: ”And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds , Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father”. In short, Arminius defended the Father’s eternal generation of the Son.  In this post, I will briefly provide the biblical basis for eternal generation and then defend it from a specific charge: that affirming the eternal generation of the Son implicitly denies the aseity of the Son.

1 John 5:18 says “ We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

The “he who was born of God” is Christ.  The Son truly is a Son in relation to the Father, in that in some sense the Son is born of the Father.  This is not to say the Father/Son relationship is in every respect like a human Father/Son relationship since they are Divine and perfect and we are not.   So the Son was eternally generated – there was never a time when He was not. 

Likewise, John 6:57 says “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

Since the Father eternally generated the Son, the Son lives because of the Father. 

We also have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17, Revelation 3:12, Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:17, Colossians 1:3.  This is a non-reciprocal relationship.  The bible never says the Father was born of or lives because of the Son or the Son is the Father’s God.

Arminius strongly establish this is how the Early Church Father explained the scriptures by quoting Basil The Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustine, and  Hilary in his letter to Hippolytus (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).

Now none of this detracts from the ideas that Christ is God and one with the Father (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1, John 5:17-18, John 10:30-33, John 14:9-11, John 20:28, Philippians 2:5-7, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:8-9).  And this is because the Son eternally receives the Father’s divine essence.  This is what the Nicene creed means by “being of one substance with the Father”.

More to our purpose, the Son’s divine nature has aseity, as He claims explicitly:

John 8:58 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

This is so because the Son’s divine nature is not derived from anything outside itself.  This was Arminius assertion of the Son’s aseity as well, when he said: "Because the essence of the Father and of the Son is one, and because it has its origin from no one, therefore, in this respect, the Son is correctly denominated Autoqeon that is, God from himself."  (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).  Mysterious as it may be; God is one in nature and three in persons.  Indeed, were we to deny this and affirm three divine natures each with their own aseity, we have arrived at tri-theism. 

In the end, I fear Arminius was collateral damage in the battle for feminism.  Some deny eternal generation, because they believe submission in roles implies inferiority in nature.  The Son had to be able to choose not to submit to the Father, so wives can choose not to submit to their husbands.  But the argument is completely unsound - eternal generation is the very basis of the Son’s aseity rather than being contrary to it.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Obama on Faith and Reason

Obama argues we should keep Christ out of politics in the ironically titled The Audacity of Hope.  The following is a block quote from chapter 6 on faith, interspersed with my responses.

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason.

This is ambiguous.  Is Obama saying democracy demands Christians drop our values in politics or just drop them to be more persuasive?  On the one hand, the government does not demand that we drop our values - it grants freedom of religion.   (Notwithstanding the fire religious freedoms comes under from time to time, like the US government's seeking to deport a German family on the grounds that homeschooling is not a religious freedom (link) - generally the government grants religious freedom).  So I doubt Obama means the government is demanding Christians to drop our values.

On the other hand, if quoting scripture is simply unpersuasive, why doesn't Obama just let us continue with our unpersuasive tactic?  It's hard to believe Obama is just offering some friendly advice on how Christians can better defeat his policies on abortion and homosexuality.  That would make his statement a sort of  cry for help – “please stop me”. 

More likely he just wants us to put down our weapon that's been giving him so much trouble.  Christianity is not just amenable to reason – God Himself is the foundation of reason. It's painful all-around to be reminded that your opposing God.

If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This assumes Christianity is unreasonable – that God’s commands are not a valid and persuasive point about what’s right and wrong.  But God's word is powerful.  Abortion is immoral because it violates God’s law of “thou shalt not kill” and unless someone completely hardens their heart, they know or can know abortion is wrong. Romans 9:11 calls Jacob and Esau children while in Rebecca’s womb - so unless you like the killing of kids, vote against abortion. If you don't like that answer, take it up with Him.

The problem isn't access to God's laws, but rather accepting them and submitting to them.  Wisdom calls out loud and clear, but if we refuse to listen, she will abandon us even when we seek her.  (Proverbs 1:20-30) Now I am not saying we can think up the Trinity through natural theology alone, but I think we can figure out we are not suppose to kill kids.    

For those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, such rules of engagement may seem just one more example of the tyranny of the secular and material worlds over the sacred and eternal. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Almost by definition, faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth.

Different domains?  Both faith and reason tell us murder is wrong, so they are on in different domains.  My faith and my reason are under the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How can Obama say the world is sovereign and tyrannical over Christ?  He made the world and He came to save the world.  If you believe the world popped into existence out of nothing, you might as well live for nothing and have the audacity to hope you return to it when you die.

Scripture calls those without faith both wicked and unreasonable. (2 Thessalonians 3:2).  It’s unreasonable not to believe God exists and that He created and upholds the world and has given us His commands and has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.  There’s no other way to account for the origin of the world, the basis of morality, or scriptures unified message about who God is.  

Reason—and science—involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding—the “belief in things not seen.”  When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.

Evolution is not science; it’s bad theology.  No one observers one species evolving to another or the world popping into being.  Those are examples of science trying to pry into theology.  But theology alone explains origins.  That’s why it’s the prince of the sciences.   Scripture says atheists are fools and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Descartes, after reasoning "I think therefore I am", says His knowledge of God is more certain than his observations, because God must have created him and put the idea of God in him.  (Descartes.  Meditation 3) Indeed, scientific observation alone (watching apples fall) cannot ascend to a general principle (gravity) without first believing in a God who holds things together.  Without knowing God is the origin of gravity, you are left post hoc fallacy of deriving causation from correlation. 

In a pluralistic democracy, the same distinctions apply. Politics, like science, depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. Moreover, politics (unlike science) involves compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Obama equivocates between moral and logical impossibility.  There's nothing absurd or self-contradictory about God's standards, even if we can't be morally perfect in this life.  Obama says God's laws are dangerous; he knows better than God what is good for people. But of course, the real danger is ignoring rather than obeying God's laws.

Science doesn't depend on our ability to persuade each other. It's an organization of what we learn through repeatable observations.  Science describes objective reality; whether others are persuaded to believe it's claims or not.  Evolution is spread through persuasion rather than observation, showing yet again that it's not science.  

The story of Abraham and Isaac offers a simple but powerful example. According to the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his "only son, Isaac, whom you love," as a burnt offering. Without argument, Abraham takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded. Of course, we know the happy ending—God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute. Abraham has passed God's test of devotion. He becomes a model of fidelity to God, and his great faith is rewarded through future generations. And yet it is fair to say that if any of us saw a 21st century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would call the police; we would wrestle him down; even if we saw him lower the knife at the last minute, we would expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away and charge Abraham with child abuse. We would do so because God doesn't reveal Himself or His angels to all of us in a single moment. We do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, understanding that a part of what we know to be true—as individuals or communities of faith—will be true for us alone.

Islam says Ishmael, not Isaac, was placed on the alter.

God tested Abraham.   We do hear what Abraham heard, because it's recorded in scripture.  There's no reason to believe that anyone within earshot of Abraham wouldn't also have heard God's voice or have seen the angel.  God ensured that everyone who need to hear the message did hear it. It's true and billions know it's true; it's not true for Abraham alone.  It's surprising to hear Abraham as grounds for denying absolute truth and for moral relativism - where's the connection? 

It's true some receive more revelation from God than others. But this is generally true of Christian doctrine rather than morality.  We all have a God given conscience; everyone knows it's wrong to kill, steal or lie.  

As for child abuse, according to Josephus, Isaac was 25 years old.  (Antiquity of the Jews Book 1, Chapter 13)  So we need not think of Isaac as an impressionable 4 year old - scarred for life dispute being rescued in the end. While it's true we shouldn't legislate God's tests, that's because tests are not normative, not because moral relativism is true (or false or true-false or whatever nonsensical truth status moral relativists assign to moral relativism).  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The New Living Translation and Calvinism

The New Living Translation (the most popular English version of the bible) has numerous translation errors that favor Calvinism and oppose standard Arminian or Traditional Baptist interpretation of the texts.  For example, Ephesians 4:30 in the ESV states “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  However the New Living Translation has “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”  There's no basis in the Greek for the NLT's additions and it appears to be more of a commentary than a translation.  The attached study documents these errors.

The New Living Translation and Calvinism

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not of My Sheep

In John 10:26 Christ says “you do not believe because you are not of my sheep”.  A good friend of mine said this was the clincher for him; the reason he became a Calvinist.  Calvinist argue that Christ’s sheep are the unconditionally elect and the reason some don’t believe is because they are not unconditionally elect.  But there’s good reason to think this is not what the passage means.  In this post I will argue that Christ's statement should be understood as providing reasons to know the Jews have rejected Him rather than stating reprobation causes unbelief.  

John 10:24 says: Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

About two months had passed since Christ’s Good Shepard discourse in John 10:1-19.  Now the Jews try to trap Jesus by asking if He was the Christ. The NKJV translates “τὴν ψυχὴν ἡμῶν αἴρεις” as “keep us in doubt”.  The ESV renders it: “keep us in suspense”.  Literally the phrase is hold up our souls.  As John Gill puts it:

and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt? or as the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions literally render it, "how long dost thou take away our soul?" that is, deprive us of the knowledge of thee; Nonnus renders it, "wherefore dost thou steal away our minds with words?" so Jacob when he went away privately, without the knowledge of Laban, is said to steal away the heart of Laban, as it is in the Hebrew text, in Genesis 31:20. In like manner the Jews charge Christ with taking away their soul, or stealing away their heart, or hiding himself from them; not telling them plainly (see Gill on John 10:24)

Now perhaps this is overstated a bit, and the phrase is just a manor of speaking, but non-the-less, I think the point stands that the Jews statement was a bit sharp and accusatory. They are saying Christ is doing something wrong; hiding who He really is.  The NKJV captures this sense well by “keep us in doubt”; in that the Jews were blaming their unbelief on Christ.  παῤῥησίᾳ has been translated “plainly”, or “boldly” or “openly”.  The idea is that Christ has been hiding who He is and He should clearly and confidently tell the truth about Himself. 

Now let’s look at how Christ answers this charge: John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 

Twice Christ says He already explained this and twice He says they don't believe.  The repetition seems to be for emphasis.  The Jews are saying "speak boldly" and Christ is saying "I already did".  He also cites the evidence backing up His assertion: the miracles He does in the Father's name.  Not only has He already spoken boldly, but He has provided evidence.  So He is not to blame for hiding the truth; they are to blame for not believing it.

But how does Christ back up His claim that they do not believe?  They say Christ is holding them in suspense - but Christ says no, you have already rejected me by not believing.  He says you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.  For some reason the NIV drops the ek (of or among).  Contrast the ESV's "you are not among my sheep" withe the NIV's "you are not my sheep".  The ESV is clearly correct given the Greek is ek ton probaton. This point is bolstered by verse 16 "other sheep I have which are not of [ek] this fold".  The ek makes it clear that the idea is not simply one of individual identity, but also identification with the group.  So the idea in verse 26 is they were not among or with Christ's sheep.  Anyone could see they were not following Christ.

The Jews are not in some neutral territory between accepting or rejecting Christ; no they have rejected Him in the face of bold claims and strong evidence.  Their accusation that Christ is keeping them in suspense or making them doubt is false; they have rejected Christ's words and the Father's witness.  Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  The fact that the Jews don't follow Christ is evidence that they don't believe and they are not on neutral ground.

The gar translated "because" or sometimes "for" often is used to settle questions, provide evidence or explanatory material like when people say I know there's a fire because I see the smoke. For example, in Mark 14:70, when Peter is called out “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it”, the "for you are a Galilean" is evidence the statement is correct, not an assertion of causality.  See also (Matthew 2:20, 3:9, 4:18, 6:31-32, Romans 13:11, 14:10, 16:17-18, John 4:45, Luke 6:32, 1 Corinthians 9:10, Mark 2:15 and in many other places).  And the contexts presses for this usage of gar, since Christ is denying and refuting the Jews accusation that He is making them doubt or holding them in suspense.  No, they are lying about being in suspense; they have already rejected Christ, otherwise they would be among His sheep and following Him.

And we can see this understanding is better than thinking of Christ's sheep as the elect and all others as reprobate.  First, if the passage is about reprobation, then Christ isn't answering the Jews.  He's wouldn't be giving a reason why He is right in disagreeing the the Jews claim that Christ is making them doubt.  Second, if sheep are the unconditionally elect, then it's not true the sheep are following Christ. They will eventually, but they are not currently.  Before the elect convert they don't hear Christ's voice and follow Him and they are not among Christ's flock.  Third, Christ's statements shame the Jews, but there is no shame in not being unconditionally chosen.  Finally, Christ is inviting the Jews to believe, especially in verse 38 "but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." But nothing could slam the door in the Jews face greater than being told by God they are reprobate.  

Now let's head off a possible objection to this interpretation.  Suppose someone grants Christ is giving reasons to think the Jews are unbelievers, but continues pressing the causal relationship.  After all, fire causes smoke so the reason we know there is fire is because we see smoke.  So while it's true Christ provides reasons to reject the Jews claim He keeps them in doubt, He does so by providing a causal connection between reprobation and unbelief.  However, what such an objection would miss is that following Christ is a "condition of" not a "condition for" salvation.  We do not earn or cause our salvation by following Christ - that would be works salvation.  Christ makes this distinction in verse 9 between entering the door and going in and out for pasture in verse 9:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Likewise, when Christ speaks of hearing Christ's voice and leading and not following strangers in John 10:3-5,  He's talking about Christian walk.  Christians do these things, but they don't become Christians by doing them.

So the idea is not that being sheep causes faith, but rather we can know they are unbelievers because they are not following Christ, since believers follow Christ.

One final argument that Calvinist bring up is based on John 10:16 "other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."  Calvinists argue that the other sheep are elect Gentiles who God will convert at a later time.  Frankly there's little to go on here.  Mormons claim they are the other sheep.  People tend to find their pet theology in ambiguous statements.  To me, it's far more likely that Christ is talking about others who were saved under the Old Testament system but hadn't yet heard about Christ because they were geographically remote.  But I won't be dogmatic about that, because Christ doesn't get into the details.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 11:21-23 - why were the People of Sodom Lost?

Steve recently asked: "I've been thinking about Matthew 11:21-23 as a non-Calvinist. If God knew the people in Tyre and Sidon (or other places) would repent under certain circumstances, why did not God bring about those circumstances? E.g. do the mighty works there."

The passage states: 21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Christ is rebuking Bethsaida and Chorazin for their stubborn unrepentance in light of His mighty works and witness among them.  So the question amounts to, why did the Father send Christ to the Jews knowing the people of Sodom would have repented had Christ been sent there?  One of my professors once said  he thought God sent Christ when He did because the Roman roads and Koine Greek helped quickly spread the gospel.  I don't know; if He waited until now, it could have been posted on youtube.  In any event, the point is we shouldn't just look at Capernaum vs. Sodom but rather Christ's whole ministry vs. what it would have been like at an earlier time.  And while we will not know the full reason in this life, we can trust God's reasons were good.

More generally, God gives everyone sufficient grace for salvation but that doesn't mean He gives all people the same amount of grace.  Consider Arminius' claim that God doesn't use all means possible to save:  The form of vocation is placed in the very administration of the word and of the Holy Spirit. God hath instituted this administration so, as He knows to be suitable and becoming to himself, and to his justice tempered with mercy in Christ; always reserving to himself the full and free power of not employing, for the conversion of men, all the methods which are possible to himself according to the treasures of his wisdom and power, and of bestowing unequal grace on those who are [in every respect,] equals, and equal grace on those who are unequal, nay, of employing greater grace on those who are more wicked. (Romans 9:21-26; 10:17-21; 11:25, 29-33; Ezekiel 3:6; Matthew 11:21, 23) (Public Disputation 16.7)

Consider also, God sometimes lets the horrendously wicked live long lives and end up repenting, while the less wicked die young and unrepentant.  Some unbelievers live all their lives in Churches while others are born in Muslim or other countries with little to no access to the Gospel).  Despite what some might have you believe, Arminians don't believe God is a Care Bear sitting on a cloud in the sky.  Grace is not a given - it truly is amazing.  

Some try to avoid the force of this verse by saying Christ was exaggerating.  They say it's not that the people of Sodom  really would have repented; Christ is just saying how bad the people of Capernaum were.  Unfortunately, some folks who I respect a lot, William Lane Craig and Max Andrews (link), take this approach, and it just so happens to support their theory of trans-world damnation. I disagree because unintentional exaggerations seems like careless mistakes and intentional exaggeration seems like lies. Neither seem worthy of our Lord to me.  No, the rebuke only works if the charge is true: the people of Sodom would have repented and the people of Capernaum did not. 

Other Molinists like Thomas Flint hold to unconditionally elects or something like it. (see Flint. Divine Providence.  Especially Chapter 5, the section on the Principle of Predilection starting on page 117)  Max Andrews seems to think any Molinist that takes Matthew 11 at face value ends up stuck with this view.  But there's a huge difference between God wanting to save everyone but still choosing when and where to send Christ while knowing who would and wouldn't be saved and God choosing not to save everyone.  If the Father had sent Christ to Sodom, it's true they would have repented; but probably others would have been lost.  If unconditional election is true, God could have elected both the people of Sodom and the people of Capernaum and simply didn't want to save them.

God still loved the people of Sodom and He wanted them to repent and enabled them to do so.  They rejected and resisted His grace.  That's why they are lost. So one can agree with all four of Max's points and still take Matthew 11 at face value.

Max says: "( 1) God genuinely desires that all men come to repentance and be saved (Ez. 33.10-11, 1 Tim. 2.3-4; 2 Pt. 3.9), 2) God judges based on revelation (Rom. 1-2), 3) God determines the time and place of man so they may seek God (Acts 17.26-28), and 4) that humans are damned because of their sin)" 

Sure God loved and wanted to save the people of Sodom as He loves and wants to save all men.  Lack of love is not why the Father sent Christ when and where He did.  Sure God judges the people of Sodom based on revelation and He set the time and place for them to seek the Lord.  He gave them sufficient grace and revelation for salvation.  They chose to reject Him and the grace and revelation He gave them and that's why they are damned.  They are not damned because God didn't love them, want to save them, send His Son to die for them, reveal Himself to them, provide sufficient grace for them or the like.   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Misrepresenting Calvinism

I was recently told that I was misrepresenting Calvinism when I said they interpret Romans 9 to mean God hated Esau before he was born or did anything evil.  However, this is exactly what Calvin said:

11. We come now to the reprobate, to whom the Apostle at the same time refers (Rom. 9:13). For as Jacob, who as yet had merited nothing by good works, is assumed into favor; so Esau, while as yet unpolluted by any crime, is hated. If we turn our view to works, we do injustice to the Apostle, as if he had failed to see the very thing which is clear to us. Moreover, there is complete proof of his not having seen it, since he expressly insists that when as yet they had done neither good nor evil, the one was elected, the other rejected, in order to prove that the foundation of divine predestination is not in works. Then after starting the objection, Is God unjust? instead of employing what would have been the surest and plainest defense of his justice—viz. that God had recompensed Esau according to his wickedness, he is contented with a different solution—viz. that the reprobate are expressly raised up, in order that the glory of God may thereby be displayed. At last, he concludes that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God. Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will.  (Calvin's Institutes 3.23.11)

Further, it's taught in contemporary Calvinism as well:

God’s passing some by was not conditioned by their unbelief.  God did not foresee which ones by their own will would not accept Christ, and on that basis reject them.  Just as election is unconditional (God did not choose anybody because he foresaw that they would believe in Jesus), so also is preterition unconditional.  It is no more based on God’s foreknowledge of what an independent human being would do with Jesus than is election.  As the reason for election is found in God alone – and never in man – so also is the reason for preterition found in God alone and not in man.

The only reason given for the election of Jacob and the passing by of Esau is: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13).  The reason was in God and not in the foreknowledge of the good or bad that either one would do. Edwin H. Palmer.  Five Points of Calvinism, The: A Study Guide.  Baker Books, Apr 1, 2010 page 129

Now this charge of misrepresentation is not limited to "internet Calvinists".  Take for example, James White's accusing Norm Geisler of misrepresentation:

James White: On page 83 [of Geisler's Chosen but Free] an endnote appears that challenges Piper on the issue of the rejection of Esau. It is a classic example of out-of-context citation that should not appear in a work by a scholar of the rank of Norman Geisler. Here is what it says:

Geisler Quoted by White: John Piper, widely held by extreme Calvinists to have the best treatment on Romans 9, makes this mistake. Piper claims that “the divine decision to ‘hate’ Esau was made ‘before they were born or had done anything good or evil (9:11).’ But, as shown on the previous page, the reference here is not to something said in Genesis about the individuals Jacob and Esau before they were born.

James White: One might thing that this is being taken from the section of Piper’s work specifically on the topic of Jacob and Esau. It is not. Instead, this short snippet is a partial sentence from a summary of a completely different topic, as we will show by providing the full (and useful) quotation:

James White Quoting John Piper: In sum then I have tried to demonstrate with three arguments that the phrase, “whom He wills he hardens”, describes God’s freedom to choose the recipients of his hardening apart from any ground in their willing or acting. First, the parallel between 18a and 18b shows that the freedom of God to harden is parallel to his freedom to show mercy, which according to 9:16 has no ground in a person’s willing or running. Second, the correspondence between the pairs, mercy/hardening (9:18) and love/hate (9:13), shows that Paul does not intend for us to view the hardening as a “divine reaction” to sin, since the divine decision to “hate” Esau was made ‘before they were born or had done anything good or evil (9:11).’ Third, Paul’s selection and adaption of Ex 9:16, which summarizes the theme of Ex 4-14, shows that he understands God’s activity to be grounded in his own purposes, not in the plans or actions of men.

James White: Does CBF attempt to respond to the actual argumentation Piper provides regarding 9:13? No. Does it attempt to respond to even this summary of Piper’s argument which, if true, is utterly devastating to Geisler’s entire thesis? No. Unfortunately, Piper is misrepresented yet again within just a few pages…(James White. The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and the Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free. (2nd edition) Calvary Chapel Press. 2007. page 218)

James White claims Geisler misrepresented Piper and took him out of context, but Geisler quotes Piper accurately and conveys his idea correctly.  One searches in vain to find the out of context quotation.

My guess is that Calvinist simply do not like it when non-Calvinists point out God's treatment of the non-elect and it's easier to cry misrepresentation than face the distasteful parts of Calvinism.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I pray the Pope will not meet Atheists there!

Pope Francis recently said:  “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ. All of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” he declared. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”

“And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace,” Francis continued. “If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter. We need that so much.”

“We must meet one another doing good,” the Pope asserted. “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good. We will meet one another there.”

The Pope is of course equivocating two vital terms ("Sons of God" and "meeting there") to teach universalism or at least an extremely wide inclusivism.  The Bible names us God's sons in at least two ways: 1) via creation and 2) via adoption (contrast Acts 17:28-30 with Romans 8:14).  Likewise, the Pope's saying "meeting there" at one point means agreement about charitable works and at another point it means heaven.  (In this posts' title, I am using there in a third way - I mean hell.)  So by a play on words, conservative Catholics can take the Pope's words to mean Christ died for everyone, God created everyone and we can work along side atheists for good and liberal Catholics can take the Pope's words to teach all paths lead to heaven.

For James White to link the Pope's comments here with Arminianism is basically to teach it's OK to take Arminianism out of context.  (link)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Discussion of Texts used to support Unconditional Election

Last night I discussed unconditional election with a few friendly Calvinists.  For the most part, they picked the texts we discussed in their making a case for unconditional election (i.e. we didn’t discuss 1 Timothy 2:4-6 or the like).

While rehashing the whole discussion isn’t possible I wanted to at least summarize the major points of disagreement on each text we discussed at length.

Matthew 11:20-30
20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
  • On verses 21-23, I argued that given Christ’s work, the people of Tyre and Sidon really could have repented, so the grace given was sufficient to enable repentance. They disagreed arguing that Christ was exaggerating in verses 21 to 23. 
  • On verse 25, the Calvinists argued the Father’s hiding the Gospel explained why the Jews had been rejecting Christ (and John the Baptist) in the past. I disagreed, arguing that the hiding of the Gospel was a punishment for their past rejections and God was removing the light He previously gave them. More generally, Christ was repurposing His ministry away from the Jewish leadership that was rejecting Him and towards those struggling under the law (verse 28). 
  • On verse 26, we disagreed that “or so it seemed good in Your sight” refers to a condition for God’s choice (i.e. God choosing to do something because He saw something good about what He was choosing). 
  • On verse 28, I argued laboring and being heavy laden (i.e. struggling under the law) is a preparatory step to receiving the Gospel and those who do will not have the Gospel hidden from them. The Calvinists disagreed.

Acts 13:48
46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
  • On verse 48, I argued that the appointing was God arranging the hearts of the people right there on the spot. They disagreed arguing that the appointing is related to predestination from eternity past. 
  • I argued that if appoint refers to predestination, then all elect persons were saved right then and there and anyone who didn’t believe on the spot never would because they are not among the predestined. They disagreed arguing there is an implied “as many as had been appointed to eternal life [for that time] believed. 
  • I argued that verse 46 parallels verse 48, and that’s evidence that the appointing happened on the spot rather than in eternity past. They disagreed.

Romans 8:28-30
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

  • On verse 28, I argued that loving God is a condition for God’s promise that all things will work for your good. They disagreed, arguing that loving God is a condition of the people for who all things work out for good.
  • On verse 29, they argued that foreknew means chose. I disagreed arguing it means foreknowledge and that foreknowledge is within the semantic range of the term. 
  • I argued that if foreknow means chose, then this passage and 1 Peter 1:2 have the redundancy of “whom He predestined, He predestined” or “chosen according to the choice of God”. They disagreed arguing that since in 1 Peter 1:2, proginōskō is in a noun form rather than a verb form, we shouldn’t draw a parallel between the two and Romans 8:29 is saying those whom God chose He predestined.

Romans 9 10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
  • The Calvinists argued God’s election of Jacob was unconditional. I disagreed, arguing God chose Jacob because he was younger and didn’t have the natural birthright and to use Jacob/Esau as an object lesson that salvation is based on God’s grace rather than works or nationality.
  • The Calvinist argued that grace must be unconditional. I argued that grace may be conditional, only it must be unmerited.
  • I argued that faith does not merit salvation and even believers would end up in hell, were it not for God’s choice to have mercy on the believer. The Calvinists disagreed, saying faith merits salvation but it’s OK that it does, since God gives us faith. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Some thoughts on Mental Illness and Regeneration

Rick Warren has been heavily criticized over his son’s suicide.  I agree that only jerks would use this tragedy as a chance to attack the Warrens, but I would also like to address the reasons why the complaints are invalid, not just rude.  One specific complaint I would like to address is the idea that since Christians are supposed to be different, how can this happen in a Christian home?

When God regenerates a sinner, he does change their lives resulting in great moral reform.  So how is it that a regenerate person can suffer from chronic mental illness?  Science tells us that those with mental disorders have differences in their brains:

Regeneration takes place in the person’s soul, not their body or brain.  Sure, Christ healed the sick in the past and he could heal a person’s brain.  But just as regeneration does not normally result in removing physical blindness, so also it does not normally resolve mental disorders.  So when a person with mental disorder dies, their disorder brain will remain in the grave while their soul lives on. 

To be sure, when God created Adam from the ground and breathed life into him, Adam couldn’t have had a mental disorder.  What God created was very good.  Likewise, in the resurrection, none will have mental disorders.  But because of the fall and until Christ makes all things new, mental illness exists.

Now I am sure that God has a stunning array of good reasons for not healing all mental disorders, but I would like to explore one.  The suffering mental disorders causes can be a suffering for Christ.  1 Peter 2:20 says But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  Even if your struggle is with your own mental illness, if you are fighting to live the Christian life and suffering for it, God will reward you.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism

This post is a response to Scott Christensen’s article “Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism”. (link) One of the main aspects of Mr. Christensen’s article is calling Arminians Semi-Pelagian. Pelagius was a heretic condemned by the early church for teaching man does not need God’s grace to repent and believe. Semi-Pelagianism (a watered down form of Pelagianism which might be characterized as God helps those who help themselves) was likewise condemned by the early church. So calling someone Semi-Pelagian is serious and unwelcome. It’s the mirror image of calling someone a hyper-Calvinist. Both “Semi-Pelagian” and “hyper-Calvinist” are pejorative terms. Worse real Semi-Pelagians and hyper-Calvinists exist, so one does not want to get lumped in with those crowds. So this post will defend Arminianism from the charge by defining Semi-Pelagianism, addressing arguments that Total Depravity is undone by Prevenient Grace, that free will procures God’s grace, that Libertarian Free will acts contrary to our Nature and that Prevenient Grace is libertarian free will. Finally, I will attempt to show that Calvinism is closer than Arminianism to Semi-Pelagianism.

Defining Semi-Pelagianism

Mr. Christensen defines Semi-Pelagianism as synergism, which he explains as the idea that “free will triggers the grace of God whether strictly in the initiation of the process or… in the continuing invocation of further supplies of grace.” Mr. Christensen is aware Arminians maintain the priority and necessity of God's grace from the very first moments of our conversion, but since Arminians say man's response to God’s grace leads to further grace, he sees them as Semi-Pelagian.

Mr. Christensen makes three arguments defending his definition of Semi-Pelagianism. First, John Cassian (among the best historical examples of Semi-Pelagianism) said sometimes God's grace comes before faith. So the Arminian belief that God's grace comes first is not enough to get around Semi-Pelagianism. But Arminians maintain the absolute necessity of grace. Prevenient grace is not something God provides for convenience or for really obstinate sinners. We need it. Without prevenient grace, no one can believe.

Second, Mr. Christensen points out that in some of Cassian's writing he said grace precedes faith. But here we have to be careful by what Cassian means by grace.

Cassian said:
unless in all these there is a declaration of the grace of God and the freedom of our will, because even of his own motion a man can be led to the quest of virtue, but always stands in need of the help of the Lord? For neither does anyone enjoy good health whenever he will, nor is he at his own will and pleasure set free from disease and sickness. But what good is it to have desired the blessing of health, unless God, who grants us the enjoyments of life itself, grant also vigorous and sound health? But that it may be still clearer that through the excellence of nature which is granted by the goodness of the Creator, sometimes first beginnings of a good will arise, which however cannot attain to the complete performance of what is good unless it is guided by the Lord, the Apostle bears witness and says: “For to will is present with me, but to perform what is good I find not.” (See Works of John Cassian, Conference XIII, Chapters 8-12)

By grace, Cassian means God giving us an excellent nature and keeping us alive. This is not the type of grace Arminians talk about when it comes to total depravity and resistible grace. In Arminius’ words, grace illuminates our minds and inclines our wills. Because our minds are blinded by Satan and our hearts love darkness rather than light (2 Corinthians 4:4, John 3:19), prevenient grace overcomes problems in our hearts and minds; it doesn't just keep us alive or give us opportunities to hear the Gospel.

Third, Mr. Christensen points out that Cassian was a synergist and so are Arminians.1 But this was not the aspect of Cassian’s theology that got him condemned by the Second Council of Orange. Here’s an analysis of James Arminius’ theology showing his full compliance with the cannons of Orange. (link)

But the early church in general didn’t embrace Augustine’s monergism over synergism. First, the cannons of Orange are noticeably silent on election and determinism except when it anathematizes the idea that some are foreordained to evil. Second, the Synod itself seems to affirm synergism when it says “According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul.”(link) Third, Celestinus, the bishop of Rome put space between the church and Augustine’s monergism when he said: "but as we dare not despise, so neither do we deem it necessary to defend the more profound and difficult parts of the questions which occur in this controversy, and which have been treated to a very great extent by those who opposed the heretics. Because we believe, that whatever the writings according to the forementioned rules of the Apostolic See have taught us, is amply sufficient for confessing the grace of God, from whose work, credit and authority not a little must be subtracted or withdrawn" (Quoted in Works of James Arminius Volume 1, Declaration of Sentiments - Predestination. 1853 page 219).

In short, Mr. Christensen’s anachronistic definition has Semi-Pelagians condemning Semi-Pelagianism at Orange.

Total Depravity undone by Prevenient Grace

For me, Mr. Christensen’s most thought provoking point was that for some Arminians, prevenient grace undoes total depravity, so no one's actually totally depraved. Arminianism allows a number of explanations of how prevenient grace works, so probably some Arminians will respond to this argument differently than others. But however grace works, it’s a matter of grace, not depravity; so even if Mr. Christensen’s point is accurate, that does not make Arminianism Semi-Pelagian.  Also, I think most Arminians would agree that the hardening of hearts is at least sometimes a case where a person actually cannot please God or trust in Christ.

But some Arminians, like Arminius and myself, see the second half of Romans 7 as the premier example of prevenient grace. God uses the law to teach man about his sinfulness and need for salvation. So prevenient grace shows man that he cannot obey rather than enabling him to obey - at least in this case. Likewise, as Mr. Christensen himself notes, many Arminians see prevenient grace working in iterative stages (more on this below). So man may be unable to obey in some areas but able to obey in others.

Calvinists themselves often hold to a common grace that restrains man’s sinfulness. For example, Charles Hodge argues based on Genesis 6:3, Acts 7:53, Romans 1:25-28 and Hebrews 6:4 that "the Influences of the Spirit is granted to all Man." He goes on to list: virtue, fear of God, religious experiences, conviction of truth, temporary faith based on the moral evidence of the truth, and reformation of life as effects of the influence of the Spirit on all men. (link) In some of these cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between Calvinist “common grace” from Arminian “prevenient grace”, unless we get into God’s intentions behind His actions.

However, in fairness to Mr. Christensen, I have seen Arminians push “ought implies can” farther than I would. For example, Thomas Edwards takes passages like Romans 8:7 or 1 Corinthians 2:14 and explains them as we can’t obey while we put ourselves into a certain evil frame of mind, but at other times we can obey. Similarly Edwards takes passages like Ephesians 2:5 as applying only to the worst of godless heathens rather than most people. (link) But I still would not call Thomas Edwards a Semi-Pelagian, because he does not deny the priority and necessity of grace. I cite him as an example of the type of Arminian that would likely follow a different line of response to Mr. Christensen’s arguments.

Free will Provokes Grace

Mr. Christensen's core argument against Arminianism is that man’s response to God’s grace “prompts”, “provokes”, “procures”, and “invokes” additional grace. Procures is not the right word – in no sense do Arminians believe we procure God’s grace. Likewise, we do not prompt God, as if He needed a reminder or nudge to give grace.

Invokes is closer, but I wouldn’t use that term without clarifying that we do not invoke God’s grace in the sense I fear Mr. Christensen means. We could call for grace all the live long day and not get any, were it not for God’s choice to give it – a choice He could omit at His liberty.

Matthew 18:32 is a good example. “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.” The servant had not paid the debt nor was the king obligated to cancel the debt. But the king did take the request into consideration. Contrast this with Romans 4:4 “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation”. In a similar way, additional prevenient grace is God’s gift, not something we earn.

Although we do not earn or cause God’s grace, it is true that God chooses to give grace to those who respond – grace that He would not otherwise give. Here’s how Arminius explain the difference between a gift and something earned: Christ says, "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Not, indeed, because such is the worthiness and the excellence of the use of any blessing conferred by God, either according to nature or to grace, that God should be moved by its merits to confer greater benefits; but, because such are the benignity and liberality of God, that, though these works are unworthy, yet He rewards them with a larger blessing. (link)

And while I do think this answer is sufficient, I do think Middle Knowledge provides helpful additional insights into this issue (link).

Libertarian Free will acts contrary to our Nature

Mr. Christensen explores the question of whether libertarian free will amounts to an uncaused effect. Behind this discussion is his assumption that causes only operate deterministically and there can be no agent causation or indeterministic causation. Thus he concludes libertarian freedom amounts to acting contrary to our nature and randomly. But didn’t God have libertarian freedom when He chose to create the world or say elect Mr. Christensen? Very few Calvinists would openly deny God’s libertarian freedom and say “God had to elect me”. Arguments that attempt to prove libertarian free will is illogical contradict passages that ascribe libertarian freedom to God (Genesis 1:1, Exodus 9:15).

What then is the connection between who we are and what we do? Our desires arise in part from our nature and they lead to but do not determine our choices. While we always desire the things we choose, we don’t always choose things we desire. Put another way, desiring something is necessary for choosing it, but not sufficient for choosing it.  When a person desires two things, they can choose either. For example, Paul in Philippians 1:23-24 talks about his having two competing desires and in Romans 7:15 he talks about not doing something he wants to do. So our nature and desires act as a perimeter fence setting the boundaries of our freedom, but they do not eliminate freedom altogether. We can still choose between the options before us and between the various desires that we have.

Libertarian Free Will = Prevenient Grace?
At times Mr. Christensen assumes prevenient grace is synonymous with libertarian free will. But this confuses the questions of “can we choose between alternatives” and “is trusting Christ one of our alternatives”?  A depraved person can choose between sinful options or non-moral options, even if they can't choose to trust and obey God. Granted, being able to choose to repent or not is more interesting than the ability to choose between shoes; so prevenient grace that enable us to repent is an important topic, but it’s not conceptually identical to libertarian free will.

Mr. Christensen then asks if unbelief is a gift.2 He reasons that if faith is a gift due to prevenient grace, then unbelief is a gift, since prevenient grace also enables unbelief. But prevenient grace does not enable unbelief. We have that ability naturally - prevenient grace opens up good alternatives. By nature we desire evil, by grace we have a competing desire for good. (Galatians 6:7-9)

Similarly, Mr. Christensen asks if prevenient grace is even grace if it's resisted. He says "In fact, it [prevenient grace] is non-existent for those who resist it. Grace is only present and effective (i.e. successful for leading one to salvation) for those who do not resist, but this is what Calvinists have said all along." Minimally, prevenient grace existed in that it enabled the person to obey, even if the person didn't in fact obey. Moving from unable to able is a real change in the person. But likewise the drawing influence of prevenient grace is real. The desire for good is real. Unless we resist, we will be converted.

Probably, Mr. Christensen is just faulting prevenient grace for not being irresistible grace. Arminianism is wrong for not being Calvinism. But that's like saying a steak is bad for not being chicken. I am sure Mr. Christensen prefers chicken, but that's not a argument that something is wrong with steak.

Is Calvinism Semi-Pelagian?

Given Mr. Christensen’s definition of Semi-Pelagianism, does Calvinism avoid the charge of Semi-Pelagianism? I will argue that it does not and that Calvinism has serious problems with affirming total depravity. Mr. Christensen states: "The freedom to choose to love God and exercise saving faith is not a problem. Calvinists agree with this in substance as long as freedom of choice is defined as acting willingly or voluntarily in accordance with one's regenerated nature." But this admits that on Calvinism, faith is our act – God does not believe for us. And on Calvinism we are responsible for our actions. So on Calvinism, we are responsible for our faith. So if Arminianism has a problem because man is responsible for faith, so does Calvinism, but in other ways we can see that Calvinism is worse.

On Calvinism, an unregenerate man would believe if they wanted to.3 This sort of freedom (sometimes call compatibilist freedom; other times called natural freedom does not require the man to be regenerated, nor is it dependent on supernatural grace. Rather, man by nature has the ability to act on his desires. So long as the man is not handicapped or compelled, he is free in this sense and therefore responsible per the Calvinist's own description of responsibility. So Calvinists end up with the unwanted but unavoidable conclusion that unregenerate man is able to repent and believe (in what they hold to be the morally relevant and common man’s sense of ability) 4.

This conclusion is unwanted, because Calvinists insist that one of the foundations of their theology is the idea that unregenerate men cannot repent and believe. But what we have is a conflict between Calvinists’ theology (total depravity) and their philosophy (compatibilism). Compatibilism constrains what Calvinists mean when they say man is unable to believe and whatever they mean by it, they do not mean man cannot believe in what they consider to be the common man’s notion of ability, nor in the sense of ability relevant to moral responsibility.5
To insist that God’s giving man good desires makes Him responsible for our faith, undermines the compatibilist idea that we are responsible so long as we act on our desires. Sure unconditional election and irresistible grace settle the big picture, but this settling operates above the level of moral responsibility, per compatibilism. We still act on our desires whether those desires come from our depraved nature or the new nature God gives us in regeneration; so since we are acting on our desires we are responsible in either case.  So to claim God is alone responsible undermines compatibilism.

Arminianism avoids the problems that attaches to Calvinism, by embracing Total Depravity in a deeper and more persistent way. When our Lord says "no man can come to me unless the Father who sense me draw him" (John 6:44), we take that to mean that without grace, we do not have libertarian freedom to believe. We understand Christ’s statement using the common man’s notion of ability, a sense relevant for moral responsibility. But on compatibilism, Christ is not denying compatibilist freedom, or man’s ability to believe where ability is understood in the common man and morally relevant sense. If Christ were denying compatibilist freedom, that would amount to saying we are compelled to unbelief or mentally handicapped.

So on Calvinism, without God's drawing man can believe (using the definition of ability they deem to be the main one in discussing freedom, ability and moral responsibility. And on Arminianism, without God's drawing man cannot believe (using our definition of ability, which we deem the main one for ability, responsibility and freedom). So which is Semi-Pelagian? Nevertheless, this result exposes errors in Mr. Christensen’s way of defining Semi-Pelagian, rather than identifying Calvinists as real Semi-Pelagians.

1If synergism means both God and man’s libertarian free will is involved in conversion, then yes Arminians are synergists. But synergism is often uses in other contexts such as justification by works or does man regenerate himself and Arminianism is not synergistic in these senses.
2 Faith is a gift of God in some sense and like most gifts it can be rejected, but for a discussion on Ephesians 2:8-9, see
3For example, Turretin affirms that man has "the essential freedom from coaction and physical necessity" and "natural power or faculty of the will" and even grudgingly concedes that in this sense an unregenerate man can be said to "be able to believe if he wishes". (See sections 2 and 4 on page 669 and section 40 on page 682 of Volume I, Tenth Topic, Question 4 of Institutes of Elenctic Theology).;
4 Per Calvinism, moral responsibility attaches to just compatibilist freedom (what Edwards calls moral freedom). For example, John Frame says: “An alternative concept of freedom, one consistent with Reformed theology and held by a number of philosophers (the Stoics, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Hobart, Richard Double et al) is often called “compatibilism,” for on that basis, free will and determinism (the view that all events in creation are caused) are compatible. …
Reformed theology recognizes that all people have freedom in the compatibilist sense… I believe that compatibilist freedom is the main kind of freedom necessary to moral responsibility”. (link)
5According to Edwards, “But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be ever so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present”. (Edwards. Freedom of the Will. I.4)