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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On Worldviews (Tabletalk)

A short article I wrote for Tabletalk magazine, entitled “On Worldviews”, is available online, along with some other articles from the December 2014 issue. Check them out! (And while you’re at it, consider a subscription to Tabletalk. It’s an excellent resource.)

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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Philosophy and The Edge of Tomorrow

The Edge of TomorrowI just saw the latest Cruise blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s my kind of movie: sci-fi alien-blasting action with a smart plot that delivers satisfyingly on an intriguing premise. (Plus, I just enjoy Tom Cruise movies. Is that so wrong?)

If you liked Minority Report, Inception, and Looper, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick out of this movie. But what I want to write about here are some of the interesting philosophical issues raised by the movie. It seems to me that the storyline makes at least five substantive (and often disputed) philosophical assumptions.

SPOILER ALERT: Some plot details are revealed in what follows. If you plan to see the movie but haven’t yet, don’t read any further! (But do come back later.)

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Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction

[The following review is forthcoming in the Expository Times. It is reproduced here with permission.]

Craig G. Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction, Baker Academic, 2013. £14.99/$22.99. xii + 289 pp. ISBN 978-0-8010-3911-9

Finding a reliable and engaging one-volume introduction to the history of philosophy from an orthodox Christian perspective is rather like finding an empty taxi on Hogmanay, but Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen have significantly eased the task with this new offering.

Christian PhilosophyIn the opening chapters the authors set out their vision for Christian philosophy. Foundational to this vision is the doctrine of creation; thus philosophy is “the attempt to discern the structure or order of creation, and to describe systematically what is subject to that order.” From this base, the authors discuss the importance of philosophy for various elements of the Christian mission: apologetics, practical ethics, cultural engagement, and Christian scholarship. They reflect on the relationship between faith and philosophy, focusing on the concept of a worldview, grounded in the biblical metanarrative, which plays “a vital mediating role between Scripture and philosophy.” A worldview is unavoidable, and while a worldview is not equivalent to a philosophy, it can be “developed into” a philosophy.

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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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