Determined to Believe: Chapter 3 - The Moral Argument Invalidates Theological Determinism

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 3! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • this debate has been going on for much of Church history
  • the ‘greater good’ argument is a form of utilitarianism
  • in Lennox’s view, it is irrational to say both that God loves the world and that He predestined part of it to go to Hell. I agree. But I recognize some of our readers may not and I want you to know your perspective is welcome and appreciated :slight_smile:
  • belief in predestination can create uncertainty about whether or not you yourself are predestined - how could you know?

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is John Lennox’s critique of the ‘greater good’ argument? (the view that the main purpose of suffering is to be used by God for some greater good)
  2. In what ways does the moral argument invalidate divine determinism?
  3. What is the significance of recognizing that this debate between free will and determinism has been going on for a good portion of Church history?
  4. What are your thoughts on this Chesterton quote?

G. K. Chesterton was forthright in his assessment: The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God, and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon.

Quotes

It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

It is not surprising to meet people who say they have become atheists because the version of theism presented to them was deterministic and contradicted their moral sense.

The moral argument is surely entirely sufficient to invalidate theories of divine determinism. The problem is, however, that those theories are often so wrapped up in biblical quotations and Christian terminology that many of the clearly unacceptable logical implications of divine determinism are shrouded in mystery – a mystery that we are not allowed to question.

Another, less charitable way of putting it is that the unacceptable implications of determinism get shrouded in intellectual fog and contradiction, in an intractable obfuscation.

the contribution suffering can make to the development of character and so on – the so-called “greater good” argument. This view is a version of utilitarianism.

must be crystal clear about the fundamental distinction between causation and permission.

astonishing position held by some that God directly causes the human evil that he expressly forbids. No amount of special pleading or theological sophistry can make such a view anything less than grotesque and completely unacceptable to a morally sensitive person.

how can we say that God loves the world if he created a good portion of it to go to hell?

Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century; Luther and Erasmus, Calvin and Arminius in the sixteenth century; and Whitefield and Wesley in the eighteenth century.

Austin Fischer, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. Fischer tells his story with clarity, honesty, and without bitterness.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints § in the TULIP scheme is closely connected with the doctrine of unconditional election (U) – for obvious reasons: if God predetermines, if God elects, then (essentially by definition) the elect cannot become the non-elect; genuine believers cannot become non-believers. They will persevere.

It is one thing to believe that God predestines some to salvation and some to rejection; it is quite another to know where you yourself stand.

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Right away, to start off this chapter, Lennox writes about former atheists who converted to Christianity over the “bleakness of atheistic determinism” but that there are other Christians who believe that God’s absolute sovereignty is “the most glorious of divine attributes and must be protected at all costs, even if it inexorably leads to the (to my mind, appalling) conclusion that God is the direct cause of disasters, tragedies, and even sin itself.” What I get from this is that even though some people leave atheism because of hopeless determinism, converting to Christianity means one is still making the commitment to (divine) determinism, in the eyes of some Christians. I have come across a blog post by a Calvinist who points out a distinction difference between the two kinds of determinism here.
In response to the David Bentley Hart quote on page (p 62), I’d have to say I agree. Can we really conclude that God is the author of abortion and sexual immorality because he determined it to be so? Yet everyone is still morally responsible for their actions? Even so, I’d wish he would quote more Calvinists that respond to this issues. I’m sure most of them are well aware of these implications. I would love to have a more balanced perspective on theistic determinism, not just Lennox quoting at length those who agree with him.

I am sympathetic to his two hypothetical scenarios on page 63 of the son and daughter coming to their parents with objections to divine determinism. I’m not sure how I’d react to being taught divine determinism in Sunday school (but I’m not sure if it actually is). I’m sure it wouldn’t be very positive.

With this next Lennox quote, I’m in relatively in agreement.

The moral argument is surely entirely sufficient to invalidate theories of divine determinism. The problem is, however, that those theories are often so wrapped up in biblical quotations and Christian terminology that many of the clearly unacceptable logical implications of divine determinism are shrouded in mystery – a mystery that we are not allowed to question. (p 63)

Then we goes into two wills of God argument, which Lennox characterizes like this: the first one being secret, reserved only for the elect. The second one being revealed, God wishes all people to be saved. I’ve heard this argument before, but differently. The way I heard it is that God wishes everyone to be saved in the same way he wishes everyone to be sinless, but obviously that isn’t possible here on earth, so out of this we have two wills God in what God decrees and what He permits (I might have this wrong, so don’t take my word as concrete fact here). RC Sproul explains it better here:

(Then again, Lennox quotes him later: “What God permits, he decrees to permit.”)

William Lane Craig, a Molinist, doesn’t understand the point of the revealed will of God if it basically contradicts his secret will. Why reveal it at all?

I like Lennox’s distinction made between God permitting and God as the direct cause, especially in evil acts. Christians do believe that God is the direct cause of the good we do, but when it comes to sin, We are the cause and God only permits it (meaning he doesn’t stop it even though he could). Like CS Lewis says, evil is only spoiled good, not a substance in itself.

His G.K. Chesterton quote was really good:

The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of absolute knowledge and power of God, and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon. (p 64)

I’m not sure how a Calvinist would respond to this kind of quote. I could imagine they wouldn’t feel flattered by it.

Lennox’s distain of the Calvinist position is quite evident in his strong-worded mini rant at the bottom of page 65:

The depth of the resulting intellectual fog is shown by the astonishing position held by some that God directly causes the human evil that he expressly forbids. No amount of special pleading or theological sophistry can make such a view anything less than grotesque and completely unacceptable to a morally sensitive person. (p 65)

I really wish Lennox would quote both sides. He can say how much he hates the thought of theological determinism all he wants, but it won’t change anyone’s position if he doesn’t give us both sides of the argument. If Calvinist apologists like James White have adequate answers (or if they don’t) to Lennox’s objections, I’d like to see them for myself. In D.A. Carson’s review of this book in The Gospel Coalition, he basically accuses Lennox of “preaching to the (anti-Calvinist) choir.” Now, maybe I’m being impatient here and he will get into both sides later into the book and appease my inquiry, but until then I’ll be wishing for an even-keeled approach to this issue.

Anyway, how did you respond to the Gordon H. Clark quote on page 66?

I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do so…” (p 66)

I guess it would depend what he means by “the will of God” right? Either God permitted it to happen or he determined (decreed) it to happen.

By the way, I found this article by a Reformed Christian which I believe balances things out a lot more evenly in this conversation:

https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2010/03/09/god-and-evil-the-trauma-of-sovereignty/

I believe both perspectives need to be heard, not just one side.

Lastly, I’d like to express my distain of the terms “Calvinist,” “Arminian,” and “Molinist.” This reminds be of 1 Corinthians 3:

1 Corinthians 3:3-9 NIV

[3] You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? [4] For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? [5] What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. [6] I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. [7] So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. [8] The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. [9] For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Do others feel the same way, or is being labeled a Calvinist a soft label while we are all adopted sons of God? I’d to hear more thoughts on this.

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@O_wretched_man I believe Lennox will address the issue of labels in the next chapter. In fact, here is a sneak peak if you have not already read ahead a bit :slight_smile:

for many people it really boils down to deciding whether one takes the label of Calvinist or Arminian (or Molinist or Reformed, or…). However, I would like to suggest that the very labels themselves are a big part of the problem… John Lennox

I agree that Lennox was a bit heavy handed in this chapter, which is part of the reason I posted the other discussion on Piper’s accusations against Arminians (that they begin with philosophy and bring it to the Scriptures). I believe that Lennox is reacting against exactly that type of generalization, which may be one reason he seems to be so one sided. He may, though I would obviously have to confirm with him to know, see this book as a corrective. His target audience might be those people who have found themselves unable to come to Christianity / are struggling in their faith because they are so offended by the idea of God choosing to damn some people from birth. Lennox may be trying to help them see that there is another Biblical view - that the Bible is not necessarily at odds with their moral outrage in this instance.

I don’t get the feeling that Lennox wrote this book to try to convert Calvinists to his perspective. Rather, I think he wrote it to help those who find Calvinism morally reprehensible to understand that you do not have to be Calvinist to be Christian. Honest, godly, intelligent Christians can interpret the Bible in a non-Calvinistic way…

Hence my post :slight_smile:

What do you think???

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To be honest, @SeanO I was not aware of your post. I’ll check it out right away.

By the way, yes I have read ahead and am aware that Lennox addresses this in more detail in his next chapter, but i wrote this just after I finished the chapter and wanted to keep my thoughts on the chapter authentic and not tweak it in light of what comes next. At the time I did not know and thought that if was going to bring it up, it would be sooner than 74 pages in. It would have made a better preface, in my opinion. Thank you @SeanO for the extra post. I’ll definitely look through it now.

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@O_wretched_man I think that is a valid point that it would have been wise to include a statement along the lines of “we all belong to Christ and should not be divided by our view on this topic” in a more extended fashion in the preface.

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I really like question 3. So I will try to tackle it.

This may or may not be anecdotal evidence, but I have personally seen and experienced this and it allows me to show more grace and understanding. That is, Hansen’s comments about the fact that there is this intellectually and historically weighted position that is attractive to those who may find themseleves in superficial churches.

Most of my friends who love the word, are calvinists. When realizing how superficial sermons or churches can be, they started looking online for better material and teaching (me included). When guys like MacArthur, piper, Sproul come up, and you watch them like we did, it’s easy to agree based on authority. Intellectual? Check. Historically based? Check. Scriptural? These giants are saying so and so, and understandably, like most things, we take it on authority. Therefore, check.

These comments made by Colin Hansen are important. And so I agree with Lennox that “it is very encouraging to see young people taking scripture seriously and spending time on finding out what it says”.

More than a mere debate, it encourages me that we are willing to dig deeper. The fact that people can notice the superficial is encouraging to me! I don’t agree with what it produces but the fact that the motive is there is deeply encouraging.

The significance of its historicity shows me that:

  1. it may go on for a great deal longer, possibly forever. If the greats struggle to resolve it, how am I going to?
  2. the reason so many follow calvinism is because of this historicity. When perceived superficiality pushes you to the limit, it’s easy to cling to the past perceived solid theology in hopes of bringing you back to the center.
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@c3vanzyl I think that is a very healthy and helpful perspective :slight_smile: We can be encouraged that our brothers and sisters want more than a superficial faith and are seeking to really live out a deep, Biblically rooted life. In conjunction with seeing the good in our fellow Christians, we also recognize humbly that these two perspectives both have historical roots and their own ways of making sense of the Scriptures.

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@SeanO,

I did not forget about you all or the book study, but I did lose my book over Easter week.

I always keep what I am reading on my person. I have no idea where it is at the moment, it could be anywhere.

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@scottdockins27 Oh no - hope you find it soon and can jump back in :slight_smile:

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@SeanO

Me too. I was certainly enjoying the read.

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