Archive for the ‘Paul Manata’ Category

Reviewing Roger Olson’s "Against Calvinism"

November 4, 2011

Dr. James White reviewed Roger’s Olson’s “Against Calvinism” on the November 3, 2011, Dividing Line.  Meanwhile, independently Paul Manata has prepared a detailed written review.

I think both reviewers would agree with the following from Manata:

In any event, Olson’s book leaves much to be desired. It isn’t anything like a “case” against Calvinism. Rather, it’s more of a constantly repetitious list of unargued for complaints. There is weak theological argumentation, zero exegesis, unfamiliarity with critical issues discussed, and one self-excepting fallacy after another. 

The two reviews make many of the same points, but ultimately the problem is that Olson demonstrates a lack of serious engagement with the subject matter.


Calvinism is Wrong Because Love Must Be Free?

November 2, 2011

I’ve heard an objection to Calvinism along the lines of the title of this post many times.  The argument is that “irresistible grace” is at odds with the nature of God, since God wants us to love Him freely.  Paul Manata has a succinct answer to that kind of argument.

I would like to build a little on my friend Paul’s point.  Often we are told that Calvinism’s teaching on irresistible grace is some equivalent to divine rape.  This analogy is necessarily wrong.  First, rape involves violation of the will of the rape victim.  However, God’s efficacious grace does not violate man’s will, it transforms it.  God’s transforming act of regeneration is not coercion of the will (like a rapist), nor is it a fooling of the will (like a hypnotist).  God actually changes the desires of a person so that they not only no longer hate God, nor imagine they love God, but actually love God.

Second, in addition to the fact that God commands love (which is my friend Paul’s point, and he makes it effectively), God also threatens punishment to those who do not love.  Roger Olson technically may be able to maintain his position that “it must be factually possible for both [parties] to a possible loving relationship to be able to say ‘no’ to the other” (p. 167 per Paul’s post) even in the face of a command.  After all, people in fact do say “no,” to God’s commands that we love God and love our neighbor.  However, if this escape is employed the analogy breaks down.  After all, we would still consider someone a rape victim if they gave consent only after a gun was pointed at their head, even if they technically could have said “yes.”  But the coercive power of the message of Jesus is even stronger than that: “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” (Luke 12:5)

So, on the one hand, irresistible grace is not coercion and on the other hand God does (undeniably) employ coercion.  So, the objection posed by Olson cannot stand both because it misses the mark and because it strikes a point that Olson must accept as true.  Olson (and other non-Calvinists) have to admit that God employs coercion by threatening punishments on those who do not do as they are told.  Yet irresistible grace is a means that God uses that does not itself involve coercion, but transformation.


Ponter and Paul on Sincerity (revisited)

August 25, 2011

David Ponter is a Unicornucopia of error in his attempt to challenge the “sincere offer.” My friend Paul has already provided a general response pointing out that a flaw of Ponter’s analogy is denial of omnipotence. Let’s take it a step further.

Ponter’s idea is expressed through this analogy:

David says to his friend Paddy,

Paddy, if God were to say to me, “David, I want to offer you a green polka dotted unicorn for your next birthday, all you have to do, David, is to believe and embrace my offer, you will get a green-spotted unicorn for your birthday,” God would be thoroughly sincere in this offer.

Paddy, the Irish Leprechaun, says to David,

But that would be impossible David, because everyone knows that green spotted unicorns don’t exist in this world. God could not sincerely offer to give you something that does not exist.

Ponter has tried to bias the example by picking something very fanciful. Let’s pick something less fanciful. Suppose that God simply promises 1 ounce more gold than currently exists. Well, in that case, I think we would all recognize that God would not be challenged to fulfill that offer simply because of the present non-existence of the last ounce of gold, since God can easily make more gold. It doesn’t even require omnipotence to make a finite amount of gold. So, the intuition that God cannot offer what he doesn’t presently have is mistaken.

Moreover, Ponter’s analogy seems flawed for another reason. The gospel (in its primary sense) doesn’t promise to give you a thing or object. It promises salvation from your sins. God is saying that if you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, you will be forgiven, adopted, justified, and so on.

Maybe you will say, “but what about our heavenly mansions?” Maybe you have something there! Will heaven be a ghost town of empty mansions of folks who were offered the gospel but didn’t accept? Or does God actually only prepare mansions for those who trust in Christ? Intuitively, one would not expect heaven to be full of unoccupied mansions. But is that what Ponter thinks is necessary to make God’s offer sincere?


Sincere Offer, Election, and Limited Atonement

August 24, 2011

My friend Paul has posted a response to David Ponter’s response to James Anderson’s comments on Limited Atonement and the Free Offer. It’s a very detailed and worth reading. Allow me to post some shorter thoughts on the topic, namely the objection:

Is the “free offer” of the gospel really “sincere” if Jesus only died for some men and not all? If there is no atonement available for them, the offer seems insincere.

This is a frequent objection, particularly from Amyraldians and Arminians. If you think that the gospel is “Jesus died for you,” then this objection makes a lot of sense. If we’re supposed to tell people indiscriminately that Christ died for them, but he didn’t, that doesn’t seem very sincere.

Scriptures, however, don’t present the gospel that way. In Scripture, the gospel is expressed in terms of repenting of your sins and believing on (i.e. trusting in) Jesus Christ for salvation. If you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, God will have mercy on you.

There is a world of difference between those two messages. One message makes an unconditional assertion regarding what Christ has done. The other message makes a conditional assertion about what God will do.

Yet, even among those who will grant to us that the gospel is not, “Jesus died for you,” some people still don’t like the idea of salvation being offered to those for whom God has not made any provision. Indeed, our Amyraldian and Arminian friends sometimes urge on us the idea that such a conditional offer is not “sincere” unless God has made preparations for those people.

The mere absence of enough provision for everyone to be saved, however, doesn’t explain this objection. Suppose a company offers to “anyone who is willing to come down here and listen to us explain the benefits of our new tractor,” an incentive of “$5, just for coming down and listening to the talk.” No one would consider it “insincere” if the company doesn’t actually have $5 times the number of people who will hear the offer, so long as they have $5 times the number of people that they think will accept the offer.

So, as long as the provision is sufficient for those who will “accept” the offer, we don’t view the offer as insincere. Since, under the Calvinist framework, God has made provision for all who will come to Christ, the offer of the gospel should also be considered to be sincere by this standard.

The intuition behind the objection that remains, however, is that an “offer” doesn’t seem sincere, if you have no intention of giving the offered thing to the person to whom you are offering it. For example, when a child offers to share an ice cream cone, it sometimes happens that this is simply an imitation of a parent’s offer to share the parent’s cone. If the parent were to try to accept the child’s offer, the child might greedily refuse to allow the parent to have a bite. So, the child has only offered to share the cone because the child thought the offer would be refused. Such an offer is insincere.

Of course, by this time we are now dealing with the kind of objection that an Amyraldian, or someone like Ponter, cannot consistently make. After all, the problem with the child’s offer is not that he doesn’t have a cone to share, but that he does not intend to give up the cone. The Amyraldian admits that God does not intend to save the non-elect. Therefore, whether or not a provision is made seems utterly moot.

Nevertheless, for those who insist that God must intend to save, we may still legitimately question the weight of this objection. Isn’t it enough that God intends to save everyone who “accepts” the “offer”? The idea that God must intend to save all those whom he knows will refuse seems absurd when expressed that way. Thus, we may conclude that while such an objection may have some limited intuitive appeal, it does not hold up to intellectual scrutiny.


Common Man Argument for Libertarian Free Will (rebutted)

June 26, 2009

Paul Manata has an interesting, if somewhat philosophical, post that seems to sum up most of the major arguments responsive to the “Common Man” Libertarian Free Will (LFW) argument (link). It’s a good article, and I encourage folks who think that there is some merit to the “common man” argument for LFW to read it and be disabused of such an idea. I have a couple minor nitpicks.

1) Manata mentions, but I would more heavily emphasize, that the common man’s definition of “choose” is better represented by essentially the Least Common Denominator of dictionary definitions than by simply the first entry of the most popular dictionary. As such, the common man’s definition does not have as a core aspect the “possible” element that is so key to the Libertarian (in the philosophical sense) argument.

Thus, for example, if one goes to Princeton’s Wordnet and punches in “choose” one gets:

# S: (v) choose, take, select, pick out (pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives) “Take any one of these cards”; “Choose a good husband for your daughter”; “She selected a pair of shoes from among the dozen the salesgirl had shown her”
# S: (v) choose, prefer, opt (select as an alternative over another) “I always choose the fish over the meat courses in this restaurant”; “She opted for the job on the East coast”
# S: (v) choose (see fit or proper to act in a certain way; decide to act in a certain way) “She chose not to attend classes and now she failed the exam”

Notice that none of these definitions included the word “possible” or an equivalent concept.

Likewise, Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary provides:

transitive verb chose, chosen cho′·sen, choosing choos′·ing

1. to pick out by preference from what is available; take as a choice; select to choose a book at the library
2. to decide or prefer: with an infinitive object to choose to remain

Etymology: ME chesen, cheosen < OE ceosan L gustare, Goth kausjan

intransitive verb

1. to make one’s selection
2. to have the desire or wish; please do as you choose

Same thing. “possible” is not part of the definition, although in one case the word “available” is there, which might arguably be an equivalent concept.

One certainly can find dictionaries that include “possible” in the definition of choose (The first – and only the first – definition in the American Heritage dictionary, for example, has this feature: “To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out” – I’ve added the emphasis), but such a feature that is not found in most dictionary definitions of a word can hardly be viewed as the actual “common man” meaning of the term. A better way to assess the “common man” meaning is to look for the commonalities and overlap of the many dictionary definitions.

2) What’s up with the gratuitous reference to Michael Sudduth? :)


Epistemic Certainty – Competing Warrants

May 27, 2009

I really don’t Mr. Manata’s fascination with Sudduth.

Sudduth’s fundamental problem in his attempt to bolster his thesis that “theistic belief (and belief in other theological propositions) is not epistemically certain” is his essential relativism. This is seen in his frequent appeals to consensus authority at critical junctures (“Most accounts of epistemic certainty are tied …” “A baseline requirement is typically that …” “It is generally held that these sorts of beliefs have …”).

I understand, of course, that Sudduth is writing to the academic crowd: a crowd in which such consensus appeals will be well received (and are even standard fare). Such an approach, however, is at odds with a Christian (i.e. Biblical) view of truth. The truth (including the truth about how we know and are certain of the truth) is not determined by what most people accept, what is typically thought to be necessary, or what is generally held in the world.

No, truth is an objective reality and it is communicable reality. Scripture informs us plainly that God conveys truth to us in Scripture (John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

We can know the truth. (see, for example, 1 Timothy 4:13 “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”) Of course, knowledge is not bare coincidence of our mental state and the objective reality of the truth.

Instead, knowledge is belief that rests on a proper foundation. This is not really disputed. What is disputed, evidently, is what constitutes certainty.

Certainty is connected with the foundation for the belief. People assign their own rankings for what constitutes a good foundation for belief, and this is reflected in the Sudduth article that Manata posted. It is also observed in popular culture. Thus, it is a joke when one of the Marx brothers asks, “Who are you going to believe, your own eyes or me?” It is a joke, because (of course) the person is going to believe his own eyes rather than the man.

This popular ranking, however, is flawed. Our Grandmother Eve is a perfect example: she ranked the word of the serpent over the word of God as a foundation for belief. As her children, we have often made similar mistakes.

As a matter of objective fact, however, God’s word is the most sure foundation upon which belief can be based. Can this be shown to the satisfaction of every atheist, gnostic, Romanist, or Mormon? Not necessarily. If Eve before the fall could be deceived, even more so men who are fallen can (and frequently are) deceived – and furthermore their minds are darkened.

But this inability of proof to the satisfaction of the skeptic does not negate the objective reality of the solidity of revelation. As a matter of fact, not opinion, God’s word is truth and God cannot lie. Furthermore, God conveys truth to men. Thus, when God conveys truth to men (whether it be in propositions provided innately to man or propositions provided in Scripture) such truth has better warrant for belief than the testimony of our own eyes, even while it informs us of the general reliability of our senses.

Sudduth’s article fails because it fails to recognize (at least explicitly) that the issue is a battle of warrants, and that in the battle of warrants, there is (and can be) no stronger warrant than divine revelation. As such, it is divine revelation (even though it is widely rejected) that brings epistemic certainty.


Determined Choices

March 22, 2009

Paul Manata at Triablogue has a fascinating post on Determined Choices (link). He provides a reasonably concise explanation of how God’s declaration that he decides when we die (John 14:5) and the fact that people sometimes choose to kill themselves are compatible, not contradictory. Thus, he reasonably concludes that the nature of free will is at it is described in Calvinism.


Pharisees and Jesus – A Study in "Arminian" Logic

January 22, 2009

First Caveat: I’m using “Arminian” here to refer to a broad range of non-Calvinists – and specifically to refer to those representative of the population of non-Calvinists that regularly criticize Calvinism. I realize that there are Arminians out there who take a very different approach. This is not directed to them.

Spurred on by Triablogue’s amusing posts “Prominent Arminian Blogger Denies that Jesus is Human” (link); “Why Freewill Theism makes God the author of Evil” (link); and “Why Jesus was a Sinner” (link), I thought I’d throw my own variant of their theme onto the stack.

Did you know that all the Pharisees followed Jesus? Yes, it is a little known fact.

1) World means World (This is an important tenet of “Arminianism.”)

2) John 12:19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him. (Bold added to assist one’s vision.)

3) Therefore, by “Arminian” logic, it follows that the Pharisees were saying that they themselves followed Jesus!

Remarkable, eh? And totally bogus.

Second Caveat: Yes, it is totally bogus. This post is satire (as were the Triablogue posts), trying to humorously show how the argument that “World means World” like the argument that “All means All” is easily abused. The “world” in John’s gospel doesn’t necessarily mean (and perhaps rarely if ever means) “each and every person on the face of the earth considered as individuals.”


Myths and Realities about Arminianism

January 8, 2009

Paul Manata of Triablogue has provided a thorough and detailed (and consequently lengthy) review of and response to Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, by Roger E. Olson (link to review). Olson is a self-described Arminian responding to what he views as various misconceptions about Arminianism both those of Calvinists and those of self-identified Arminians. I hope that the more serious Arminians out there will take the time to consider what Manata has written. His precise explanations, in many cases, cut right to the heart of the matter. I am thankful for this sort of piece, since it can promote understanding by clearly stating points of difference, while providing supporting explanation.


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