Category Archives: Theology

Is It Arrogant to Claim to Know God?

In a debate with Rabbi David Wolpe in 2008, the late Christopher Hitchens inveighed against Wolpe’s claim to have knowledge of God:

By what right, rabbi, do you say that you know God better than they do, that your God is better than theirs, that you have an access that I can’t claim to have, to knowing not just that there is a God, but that you know his mind. You put it modestly, but it is a fantastically arrogant claim that you make — an incredibly immodest claim.

I was reminded of Hitchens’ objection, and similar ones in his exchanges with Douglas Wilson, when I saw the following tweet by proselytizing atheist Peter Boghossian (retweeted, presumably with approval, by Richard Dawkins):

I take it Boghossian doesn’t mean exactly what he says here, because as a matter of fact some people have made both claims. Rather, his point is that one cannot consistently make both claims. Why? Apparently because he thinks it’s inherently prideful or arrogant to claim to know God’s will. The same would go for the claim to know other things about God, such as his purposes for us and for the universe as a whole. And of all things what could be more arrogant than the claim of Christians to know God personally?

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Molinism and Libertarian Free Will (Again)

I received the following query from a reader (hyperlinks added):

Hey there! So I’ve followed your Molinism posts, comments and interactions with JW Wartick on his site. I took your question and asked it to my Molinist friend and he gave me an answer that seems pretty straightforward. The conversation goes something like this:

I want to hear your thoughts as to why a Molinist could not simply respond to your question with the following:

Calvinist: Given that God has decreed that S will choose A in W1 is it possible for S not to choose A in W1?

Molinist: No, because then it would have been a different world. S cannot choose ~A In W1. Therefore God’s decree could not be wrong.

Calvinist: How does that not invalidate LFW?

Molinist: It does not invalidate libertarian free will because S chooses ~A in W2. The libertarian view of free will does not believe that you are free if you can choose A or ~A in the same world. Rather, we believe that it should be simply possible to choose A or ~A. But of course these will both be in two separate worlds.

Doesn’t LFW simply means it needs to be possible for the action to be different, but that possibility would generate a different world other than W1 right?

I think this response evidences a confusion about what libertarian free will (LFW) involves. LFW requires more than the mere possibility of (freely) choosing otherwise. If S freely chooses A in W1, it’s not sufficient for LFW that there be some other world W2 in which S freely chooses ~A. After all, a compatibilist can make exactly the same claim! I believe there are possible worlds in which I make free choices other than the ones I make in the actual world, but that doesn’t make me a libertarian about free will.

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Libertarian Reformed Baptists?

This is a follow-up to the previous post in which I argued that “libertarian Calvinism” (a view recently explored by Oliver Crisp in his book Deviant Calvinism) is not compatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith. Not all Presbyterians hold to the WCF, although it is arguably the most widely-adopted Reformed confession among Presbyterians in the English-speaking world. Moreover, Reformed Baptists have their own parallel confession: the 1689  London Baptist Confession of Faith. Since the WCF and the LBCF are very similar (often word-for-word identical) in their statements on major points of Reformed doctrine (see here for a side-by-side comparison) I thought it would be interesting to quote the relevant sections from the LBCF to show that libertarian Calvinism isn’t a live option for Reformed Baptists who take the LBCF as their doctrinal standard.

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Libertarian Calvinism?

Can a confessional Calvinist affirm a libertarian view of free will? Is “libertarian Calvinism” a live option? I suspect most Calvinists today would say no, but in chapter 3 of his book Deviant Calvinism, Oliver Crisp argues for the affirmative.Deviant CalvinismOne of Crisp’s central claims is that the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the most widely endorsed Reformed confessions, doesn’t rule out a libertarian (i.e., incompatibilist) view of free will. In this post I want to take issue with that claim on two fronts. (What I say here overlaps to some extent with the criticisms raised by Paul Manata in his series of blog posts: here, here, here, and here.)

Let’s begin by understanding how Crisp defines libertarian Calvinism (hereafter, LC). LC is Calvinist because it affirms (1) that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass (i.e., comprehensive divine providence) and (2) that God determines (indeed causally determines) that his elect will come to Christ for salvation (i.e., unconditional election and effectual calling). So LC is strictly monergistic with respect to salvation. But LC is also libertarian because it affirms (3) that free choices require the ability to do otherwise and therefore cannot be determined by prior factors (such as God’s decree) and (4) that some human choices are indeed free.

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Paradox in Theology

IVP’s New Dictionary of Theology is an outstanding reference work. (Just look at the original editorial team and you’ll see why!) So I was delighted not only to learn that a second edition is in the works but also to be invited to contribute an updated entry for ‘Paradox in Theology’. The editors of the new edition have kindly granted me permission to reproduce the article here.

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Open Theism and Past-Directed Prayers

A past-directed prayer is one that petitions God either (1) to have brought about some state of affairs at some time in the past or (2) to bring about some state of affairs (now or in the future) that would require God to have brought about some (other) state of affairs at some time in the past.

Praying HandsIn this paper (submitted for publication in this forthcoming book) I argue that past-directed prayers can be answered by God only if God has foreknowledge of our future free choices, and therefore any evidence of answered past-directed prayers constitutes evidence against open theism (which denies God’s foreknowledge of future free choices). I also suggest (to complete the argument) that there appear to be actual cases of answered past-directed prayers. In the penultimate section of the paper, I make reference to a remarkable story related by Helen Roseveare in her book Living Faith. Her account is too long to quote in full in the paper, but since it’s such a striking (and encouraging!) testimony I thought I would reproduce it here instead (see below).

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Determinism: Soft or Hard?

This post is a short follow-up to the earlier one on Calvinism and determinism. I realize I should have said something about the distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ determinism, and how that relates to Calvinism. So here I remedy that oversight.

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Calvinism and Determinism

Are You a Determinist?It’s often claimed that Calvinists are determinists. The claim is true as far as it goes; the trouble is that it doesn’t go very far, and it can lead to a lot of confusion and unwarranted conclusions. For there are many different types of determinism. Some of those types seem to be entailed by what Calvinists believe; some are consistent with Calvinist beliefs but not entailed by those beliefs; and some types are inconsistent with what Calvinists believe. (By “what Calvinists believe” I’m referring to mainstream historic Calvinism, as represented by the teachings of John Calvin and the major Reformed confessions and catechisms. I recognize, of course, that there’s diversity within the Calvinist tradition, but here I plan to focus on typical Calvinist claims.)

Along with the claim that Calvinists are determinists goes the assertion that Calvinists are committed to a compatibilist view of free will, where compatibilism is defined as the thesis that determinism is compatible with freedom. Again, this claim is true enough, but it’s rather vague as it stands because in theory there are as many versions of compatibilism as there are types of determinism: for every type of determinism we can formulate a corresponding compatibilist thesis (viz., that freedom is compatible with that type of determinism). Indeed, there are even more versions of compatibilism than there are types of determinism, because there are also various kinds of freedom. For any particular type of determinism, that type may be incompatible with some kinds of freedom (e.g., the freedom to have chosen otherwise than one did in fact choose) but compatible with other kinds of freedom (e.g., the freedom to act according to one’s desires in a way that is responsive to reasons).

All this to say, the idea that Calvinists are determinists and compatibilists is rather more complicated than many people recognize. My purpose in this post is to try to clarify matters (at least to some degree!) by distinguishing various types of determinism and briefly commenting on whether or not Calvinists are committed to each type. (Understand that I’m not aiming here to defend Calvinism, compatibilism, or determinism, but only to shed some light on the relationship between them.)

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Where Are the Muslim Doctors and Nurses?

For a couple of years now, I’ve taught a course entitled Christian Encounter with Islam. One of the major themes of the course, as you might expect, is the contrast between the Christian worldview and its distinctive view of God, and the Islamic worldview and its distinctive view of God. In light of that contrast I was particularly struck by the following section (pp. 220-22) from the recently published book Dispatches From the Front, a missions travelogue by Tim Keesee. (Pay close attention to the third paragraph.) Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of Relativism?

Here’s the longer version of my review of Who’s Afraid of Relativism? by James K. A. Smith. Edited versions were recently published by The Gospel Coalition (here) and Reformation21 (here).


For some time now James K. A. Smith’s agenda has been to enter into critical but charitable conversation with postmodernist writers, looking for points at which their arguments resonate with Christian claims and undermine the common enemy of modernism. I believe this is a worthy and worthwhile project, although I have questions about whether Smith is sufficiently critical, as I will indicate below. Smith’s 2006 book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? purported to “take to church” three leading postmodernists: Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault. He argued that some of the distinctive claims of these writers have been misunderstood and misrepresented by evangelicals; properly understood they offer epistemological insights that ought to be affirmed by Christians. The hope was to introduce a lay Christian audience to “the real postmodernism” and to foster, if not a close friendship, at least a fruitful mutual acquaintance.

Who's Afraid of Relativism?Who’s Afraid of Relativism? is a follow-up to Smith’s earlier book. On this occasion Smith seeks to play the role of defense attorney for ‘relativism’; more precisely, the philosophy of pragmatism as propounded by the controversial American philosopher Richard Rorty. His central thesis is easily identified, since it is repeated in different forms throughout the book: pragmatism is a philosophy centered on the recognition of our dependence, finitude, and contingency; thus Christians, who acknowledge the dependence, finitude, and contingency of the creation, ought to be sympathetic rather than hostile toward pragmatism. As Smith puts it, “My thesis is that Christians should be ‘relativists,’ of a sort, precisely because of the biblical understanding of creation and creaturehood.” (p. 12)

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