Excusing Sinners and Blaming God

What are the most common philosophical objections to Calvinism? Arguably these:

  1. Calvinism makes the problem of evil even more intractable.
  2. Calvinism implies that God is culpable for the sins of his creatures (the “author of sin” objection).
  3. Calvinism undermines human moral responsibility by denying free will.

They aren’t completely independent objections, because the first is typically predicated on the second and third, which means that the latter two objections are the linchpins of the philosophical case against Calvinism.

Excusing Sinners and Blaming GodSo are these objections decisive? Far from it. They’ve been rebutted in various places over the years, but nowhere more directly and rigorously than in Guillaume Bignon’s new book, Excusing Sinners and Blaming God.

Dr. Bignon is a French analytic philosopher and computer scientist, a former atheist who ended up embracing the Christian faith through a remarkable series of providential events. The book is essentially Bignon’s doctoral thesis at Middlesex University and the London School of Theology under the supervision of Paul Helm (who also contributed a foreword to the book). Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a doctoral thesis, though; it’s quite readable and accessible, despite its technicality. (I have to say that Bignon writes in clearer English than many scholars who claim English as a first language.)

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book:

Calvinist determinism destroys moral responsibility and makes God the author of sin. These two accusations are not new, and were arguably anticipated by Paul in Romans 9, but they remain today the most important objections offered against Calvinist/determinist views of human free will. This book is a philosophically rigorous and comprehensive defense of Calvinism against these two families of arguments. With respect to human moral responsibility, it discusses whether determinism destroys “free will,” turns humans into pets or puppets, and involves or is analogous to coercion and manipulation. It responds to the consequence argument and direct argument for incompatibilism, the principle of alternate possibilities, the “ought implies can” maxim, and related claims. With respect to the authorship of sin, it discusses whether Calvinist determinism improperly involves God in evil. Does it mean that “God sins,” or “causes sin,” or “wills sin” in problematic ways? “Does God intend our sin, or (merely) permit sin?” In each case the coherence of the Calvinist view is defended against its most potent objections, to reject the claim that Calvinism is “excusing sinners and blaming God.”

Guillaume shared a draft version of his thesis with me, and I was very impressed with his work, so I was happy to provide the following endorsement for his book:

If God determines all things, including the evil actions of his creatures, doesn’t it follow by irrefutable logic that God must be culpable for those evil actions rather than the creatures? Au contraire, argues Calvinist philosopher Guillaume Bignon in this engaging yet rigorous work. Conversant with state-of-the-art literature on free will, this is one of the best defenses of theological compatibilism available today.

In short: highly recommended.

It’s not too late to get it as an extra stocking-filler for your Arminian brother-in-law! In fact, for a powerful one-two punch, couple it with a copy of Calvinism and the Problem of Evil. (Since they’re both published by Wipf & Stock, you might even save some money on shipping charges.)

6 thoughts on “Excusing Sinners and Blaming God”

  1. Hi James,

    This reply is in response to your post: Why I Am Not a Pantheist.

    I thought that the traditional Christian view is that God is both immanent and transcendent?

    If God is wholly Other, this would mean that any time a person experiences God’s presence, this would be a delusion.

    How could anyone experience a relationship with a God who is wholly Other?


    1. Bruce,

      Yes, the traditional Christian view is that God is both immanent and transcendent. But the traditional Christian view is also that there is a clear Creator-creation distinction. There is no ‘overlap’ of being between God and his creation. The creation is not a part or an aspect of God. God is immanent in the sense that he is omnipresent and actively involved within his creation, and he can be personally known and experienced by his creatures. I don’t claim that God is “wholly Other” in any sense that denies God’s immanence, properly and biblically understood. I only claim that God is “wholly Other” in the sense that he is absolutely ontologically distinct from his creation (and even then I don’t use the term “wholly Other” because of its ambiguity and association with some unorthodox modern theologies).

  2. James,

    I think it was Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote about there being pockets of darkness in the universe… places where God is not (which would partially explain an event like the holocaust).

    I think I first came across the term “wholly Other” in the writings of Martin Buber.

    There’s that old saying that God is this being whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is no where. Might God be ontologically distinct from us while at the same time being spatially immanent?


    1. Yes, if by “spatially immanent” we mean present at every spatial location. God himself, being an infinite spirit, is not spatially extended or located.

  3. present at every spatial location, but not spatially extended or located?

    You mean to say that God is spirit but not matter?

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