The Arminian Cause

This post serves as a follow-up to my last post, in response to the comments that my new Arminian friend posted here (on-site) and then here (off-site). (Since he goes here by the username ‘Arminian1’, I will use that name below.) I’m not going to respond point-by-point to his second set of comments, because (i) I simply don’t have the time and energy at the moment, (ii) it would end up so long that I doubt anyone else would have the time, energy, and interest to actually read it, (iii) Steve Hays has already raised some excellent points with which I concur, and (iv) I’m confident enough that anyone who reads Arminian1’s second response, and understands the metaphysical problems I raised for his position, will recognize that  his rebuttal consists largely of hand-waving non-answers (e.g., appeals to divine transcendence, eternity, and omnipotence that somehow function like magic wands to dissolve away, without any further explanation, the paradoxes raised by backward/circular causation).

So for now I will simply address the issue he raised in his first comment. (Since he repeats this point several times in his second response, I suppose this will count as a partial reply to that too!)

Arminian1 commented:

It is true that James responded that Piper was not making the claim “that Calvinism is incompatible with the claim that our prayers can be ‘genuine causes’ of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers”. However, my response to this pointed out that while I did speak of the issue in terms of God’s decision, I also spoke of the issue in terms of God’s doing the thing requested by the prayer (i.e., answering the prayer). In fact, I went so far as to say that “it is illegitimate to claim that in a Calvinistic/deterministic system that prayer is a cause of anything”. So my response already pointed out that this distinction is meaningless in the context of our conversation. James has chosen to focus on the decision aspect and missed my direct challenge to what he says Piper was talking about—answer to prayer.

Okay, let’s recap. Arminian1’s original objection was that Calvinism can’t accommodate the idea that our prayers can be the causes of God’s answers to those prayers, because on the Calvinist view (1) God has decided in advance how to answer the prayer and (2) God predestines the prayer itself. I pointed out, first of all, that (1) is also true on the classical Arminian view. Does Arminian1 disagree here? Some real progress might be made if he were to make clear his position on this point.

As for (2), this is precisely the point that Piper’s dialog addressed. I haven’t read anything yet from Arminian1 that shows Piper’s claim to be incoherent. Arminian1 originally wrote, “the person’s request for God to do the thing cannot reasonably considered a cause of God doing the thing. God had already decided to do it, and then irresistibly causes the person to ask him to do it.” So which is the problem for the Calvinist? That God had already decided to do it? Well, I’ve addressed that point at great length. Why is Arminian1 now complaining that I did so?

Or is the real problem that God irresistibly causes the person to ask him to do it? Well, why should we think that is incompatible with the claim that the person’s prayer (e.g., for healing) is a cause of the answer to that prayer (e.g., the actual healing)? I’ve yet to hear a good argument for any inconsistency. If I’ve missed it among all the back-and-forth, I’d be grateful for a concise restatement.

Arminian1 is apparently unhappy because I chose to “focus on the decision aspect” rather than his “direct challenge to what he says Piper was talking about—answer to prayer.”  But here’s the thing: the “decision aspect” and the “answer to prayer” are not distinct issues. As I see it, an answer to prayer has two components: (GD) God’s decision about whether (and how) the prayer request will be granted and (GI) God’s implementation of that decision in the events following the prayer. I’ve addressed (GD) and I’ve seen no cogent objection to Piper’s claim that the prayer can be considered a cause of (GI). So I’m at a loss to see why Arminian1 thinks I’ve somehow missed the point.

Ironically here, where he characterizes my argument, he quotes me as directly framing the issue with the idea of God answering prayer! (He quotes me: “the person’s request for God to do the thing cannot reasonably considered a cause of God doing the thing”; how else would one descrbe God answering the prayer?) So having made what seems to him to be a critical distinction between God’s decision for how he will answer prayer and God’s answering of prayer, and charging me with mischaracterizing Piper’s point as being about God’s decision, James now characterizes my argument with a quote of me addressing the issue in the sphere of God answering prayer. It seems that James practically refutes himself on what he represents as one of his two main points of response to me.

As I’ve explained, I didn’t ignore Arminian1’s framing of the issue. Rather, I made some important distinctions and then tried to focus in on the precise point at which the Calvinist view was alleged to be problematic. If Arminian1 is now claiming that wasn’t the point he was making after all, so much the better! But in that case I’m left genuinely confused as to what the point really was.

I’m quite willing to accept correction if I’ve misunderstood the objection Arminian1 meant to raise. However, I’ve re-read his original comments several times and I’m finding it hard to make out what the objection was, if it wasn’t that a human prayer can’t be a “genuine cause” of a prior divine decision. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that Arminian1 seems intent on conflating (GD) and (GI) when speaking of “God’s answering of prayer” while I’ve made a point of distinguishing them and treating them separately.

5 thoughts on “The Arminian Cause”

  1. James,

    Do you endorse Steve Hays’ comments en toto? (That’s the impression I get.) If not, which ones are you endorsing by way of response to me? It would be helpful for me to know as I put together my response to you. As it stands, I plan to take all of Steve’s responses as yours. I am going away next week, but I would like to respond before then, though I am not sure if I will have time. If I get the chance to put together my response before hearing back from you, I will just assume you agree with all of Steve’s comments. But hopefully, you will be able to respond here soon about your intention in pointing readers to his comments.

    God bless.

    1. You can take it that I agree with all the points Steve raised about your latest responses.

      But what I’m really interested in is your response to the above. I’d like to get some clarity on what your original objection was, if it wasn’t what I took it to be. Or it is that you’re abandoning your original criticism in favor of a new one?

      BTW, I’ve just updated the post so that it refers to your WordPress username, to avoid confusion on the part of any passers-by.

  2. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to respond until after I get back from being away this week. So my respond might not come euntil the following week or even the week after that.

  3. Pingback: Magic Hand-waving in the Calvinist Cause (Comments) « Arminian Perspectives

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