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Richard Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice: First Impressions

Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Baker: 2017), is Richard Muller’s latest, and most comprehensive, addition to the literature on Reformed thought on freedom. Dr. Muller (Calvin Seminary) is a highly regarded historical theologian, and his influence is strong, especially among younger Reformed academics. Muller is a prolific author and there is no doubt that he has provided the Church in general, and the Reformed church in particular, a great service with his detailed historical work on early Reformed thought on all dogmatic loci. Despite this, his involvement in the debate on early Modern Reformed thought on freedom has always perplexed me. In this area, at least, and in my estimation, his work suffers from several defects, many of which I have discussed on this blog (use the search feature). Unfortunately, his latest book appears to be more of the same. This post will catalog some of my first impressions. These are gleaned from his introductory chapter, and so these criticisms must not be taken to necessarily reflect the overall quality of Divine Will and Human Choice.

McCall on Theological Determinism & Compatibilism part 2a

(This is part two of a series that began here. In this series I am interacting with Tom McCall’s section on theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Introduction to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015).)

Key: I will let FW&MR stand for Free Will and Moral Responsibility. I will let TD stand for the Theological Determinism, where God is said to, in some sense, determine all human actions.

In my last post, I made the point that the standard approach to dealing with the claim that FW&MR is compatible with TD is to cite some standard arguments against compatibilism. As I understood it, the standard arguments refer to those arguments that employ the standard definition of determinism as a premise. As I understood it, and as I demonstrated from the definitions McCall enlisted, the standard definition of determinism includes, as an essential component, among other things, the claim that the determining conditions lie in the “remote past.” Call this determinism, D+P. I then argued that many theological determinists—Calvinists, say—would not count as determinists at all on this understanding, since God’s determinative decree is timeless. However, once we allow this feature of classical TD to enter into the picture, the standard arguments are otiose for the purpose of showing that FW&MR is incompatible with TD. One upshot here is that those who argue against Calvinists (of the sort envisioned above) need to restate their argument for it to be relevant.

In the light of this, one might get the impression that I think the standard arguments for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P are good (sound and persuasive), while allowing TD to escape out the back door. However, this is false. Even here, I don’t think incompatibilists have made their case. So in this post and the next, I would like to comment on some of the arguments that McCall employed for the incompatibility of FW&MR with D+P. (more…)

McCall on Theological Determinism & Compatibilism part 1

(This is the first entry in a series of posts on Tom McCall’s discussion of theological determinism and compatibilism in his book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. I am not sure how many parts it will be, but I assume less than five.)

I had the pleasure of picking up Tom McCall’s recent book, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP 2015). It appears to be a fine work, and it seems to accomplish its goal of being an introduction to analytic theology for nonspecialists. Though what follows in this post is largely critical of one small section of McCall’s book, I hope that it won’t detract readers from its overall quality. I encourage you to get a copy, if you haven’t already. We need more (lay) analytic theologians (read the book to find out the content of that term!). (more…)

The Glory Principle and the Humanity Principle

According to some versions of what I’ll call Augustinianism, God wills all things for his own glory. Call this principle, the Glory Principle (GP, hereafter). On a first read, the GP sounds perfectly pious; but, when we add that it includes God’s willing some proper subset of humans to hell, a non-insignificant subset of contemporary Christians strenuously object. I’ll call these objectors, Arminians. Now, Augustinians will say something like, “God’s willing some people to hell allows for his justice to be glorified.” There are of course many objections an Arminian could, and does, raise to the GP. One objection finds its root in Kant’s principle that we should never treat our fellow humans as a mere means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves. Call this principle, the Humanity Principle (HP, hereafter). It’s important to note that, for Kant, ‘human’ in the HP doesn’t mean only human persons like you and I, i.e., persons identical to or constituted by or associated with a human animal. It basically refers to beings that can engage in rational behavior and direct themselves toward ends of their choosing.

Now here’s the problem (or one way of putting it, at any rate). If God wills that some person S ends up in hell, and the end (purpose) of God’s so willing is his own glory, as the GP would have it, then, the objection goes, God has used S as a mere means to an end, and this is contrary to the HP. In what follows I want to push back against this objection. It will be my contention that this objection ultimately begs the questions against Augustinianism. (more…)

Continued Calvinist Confusions

Oliver Crisp mentioned that Donald Macleod endorsed “Libertarian Calvinism.” I briefly searched around the Interwebs and found this blurb by Macleod,

Neither of these statements is more careful or more evangelical than that of the Westminster Confession: ‘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.’ This allows (indeed, requires) us to distinguish sharply between predestination and determinism. It also relates suggestively to the open universe described by modern physics. An event can be predestinated, yet free: indeed, it is predestination that guarantees freedom. Similarly, an event can be predestinated and yet contingent. Such, at least, was the perspective of Westminster Calvinism, leaving its adherents to be libertarians and indeterminists if that was where their phisophical predilections and scientific investigations led them.


Libertarian Calvinism – 4 Wrapping Up

This will complete my series on Libertarian Calvinism. Part one is here part two is here, and part 3 is here. I tried to argue that the case for libertarian Calvinism has not yet been made, and that it’s not clear that it can be made. Now, that’s not to say that one couldn’t severely limit one’s scope, and by ‘Calvinism’ mean, say, “the five points.” Then, supposing the some suitable, libertarian friendly, definition of ‘irresistible’ could be given, one could say that LC is the conjunction of LFW and TULIP. Yet, I do think that LC is incompatible with a sufficiently robust Calvinism, where this is defined as confessional (which can be understood broadly as including various dogmatic/systematic theologies). In this post I simply want to make some brief closing remarks. (more…)

Libertarian Calvinism – 3

This is the third installment of a series on Oliver Crisp’s “Libertarian Calvinism,” a chapter in his new book, Deviant Calvinism. Part one is here and part two is here. In this post I’ll engage directly with libertarian Calvinism. I hope to show that even if the issues I raised in the first two posts could be addressed—which, I think, is by no means an easy task—libertarian Calvinism faces problems that not even Hal Jordan (a.k.a the Green Lantern) could overcome.1 (more…)

Libertarian Calvinism – 2

This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on chapter 3 of Oliver Crisp’s new book, Deviant Calvinism (part one here). First, to summarize the main point of the previous post: Crisp wants to argue that libertarian freedom is consistent with Reformed Theology, specifically as elucidated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. I argued that Crisp’s argument is incomplete, choosing to focus only on chapters 3 and 9 of the Confession. However, there are other chapters that confess propositions that arguably don’t support libertarian free will. Specifically, I cited the Confession’s teaching about the nature of God and his knowledge, and made the case that these claims are prima facie inconsistent with libertarian free will. I then argued that several standard ways of resolving these troubles may not be open to the libertarian Calvinist, since the Confession plausibly rules them out. There are other portions of the Confession that will be shown to spell trouble for Crisp’s case, and they will make an appearance in the next post. In that post (part 3 of the series), I will interact directly with Crisp’s case for libertarian Calvinism. But before I do that, I want to discuss two terms Crisp employs in the chapter but doesn’t elaborate on. These terms show up in debates over free will and the kind of necessity theological determinists have wanted to say attaches to free human actions. (more…)

Creating a Calvinist T-Shirt


My friend James Anderson recently wrote two nice posts on theological determinism and compatibilism. I direct the reader to those posts for all the nitty-gritty details. The purposes of his two posts were to chop up the conceptual space surrounding the theses of divine determinism and compatibilism. In this post I want to add to his work of conceptual carving. I will add to the distinction between hard and soft determinism that James drew, the further distinction between hard and soft compatibilism. Before continuing, I want to add a caveat up front: I don’t take it that I’m offering any substantive criticism of James’ posts. I merely hope to add to his project of carving conceptual space. However, as you’ll (hopefully) come to agree in the end, I think my t-shirt will be both conceptually and aesthetically superior to James’! (more…)

The use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as an Argument for LFW: Caught between a rock and a hard place


I’ll make this quick. I won’t document my claims, though I can document them with ease. Consider:

1 Corinthians 10:13

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Some Christians have suggested that this text teaches that we have libertarian free will. Given a certain flat-footedness, this is plausible. The idea is that, for every temptation you may face, God provides a way of escape such that you do not have to give into the temptation. You can endure it or not. This is supposed to suggest that the principle of alternate possibilities is true. It is then argued that this would be false given theological determinism. Then, on the assumption we either resist or succumb to the temptation freely, and the text entails the falsity of determinism, then the text implies the freedom we have is libertarian. (more…)