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illogical or capricious, what do you choose?

No issue entangles my soul with such fervor as free will and determinism. I have read and studied enough to come to the following conclusions:

Arminianism is logically incoherent. It simply doesn’t add up. Probe beneath the surface a bit and a scenario allowing for truly free will is quite difficult to imagine. If God is ultimately in control of the circumstances which determine our exposure to Him, He is in essence in control of the results. In this case, our salvation. Even if a logical argument could be found, what kind of father would place the incredible responsibility of our eternity on the damaged and short sided brains of a fallen human?

Calvinism, though perhaps logically coherent, leaves God a capricious despot. Tulip would have us believe God created billions of people for the sole purpose of eternal suffering. Not only must they suffer forever, we are taught they had no say in the matter. Writhing in eternal torment they are confronted with the even more horrendous idea that God derives glory from their agony.

Neither of these are acceptable, leaving me in the frustrated middle. Yet I take heart, knowing such intellectual giants such as Ravi Zacharias and C.S Lewis found either end distasteful as well. It is not a dispassionate middle. Calvinists and Arminians, like good politicians, are quick to paint you as indecisive and uninformed unless you pick a team. Is there no room for a spirited defense of the unknown? Not some perfectly articulated combination of the two, I doubt that is possible. But a firm and profound belief that it is unknowable. Odd, because it feels as if you are planting a flag in the ground and then quickly explaining that you find the whole exercise ridiculous.


Comment from Jeff Lesan
Time July 27, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Great job. I am with you on this. Both camps can pull verses to support their view. Both sides make good points and I don’t think you can completely dismiss. I don’t believe we can make a nice tidy box for something the Bible doesn’t explicitly explain. Just like Jesus was 100% man and 100% God; not everything we believe makes total wordly sense. We have to believe that God is in control but at the same time we have a total responsibility and choice while we are here. Good work Mallory.

Comment from John Calvin
Time July 28, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Knew you would write this. Chalk another up for calvinism.

Comment from scott johnson
Time August 3, 2008 at 7:06 am

Although God is sovereign (in control) of our actions, he isn’t responsible. Since he isn’t responsible for our actions, he is neither illogical or capricious. Is it impossible that God is sovereign but not responsible? Wayne Grudem explained that it’s much like a character in a play. We don’t hold Shakespeare responsible for MacBeths actions, although certainly he is sovereign over them. Of course I can’t be sovereign over something and not responsible, but which of us is to say that God can’t be…when it seems his word says he is (Acts 2:23).

Comment from Wyatt Houtz
Time December 20, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Have you read Jonathan Edward’s “On The Freedom of the Will”? It’s easier to read than most of his other works, and the second half is more clear than the first half of the book. Lewis and Ravi are great, calvinism isn’t their expertise. You have to engage Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Edwards to get the best answers. I’d be interested in dialoging with you on this topic if you’re interested. -wyatt

Comment from jrmallory
Time December 21, 2009 at 10:36 am


It’s a bit scary to reread these old posts. My views on Calvinism have changed dramatically since I wrote this piece. I’ve actually moved quite a ways in the direction of reformed theology. Though the question remains, did I choose Calvinism out of my own free will??

Comment from Wyatt Houtz
Time December 21, 2009 at 12:49 pm

We are culpable for every choice we make, and we desire every choice we make – otherwise we would have chosen an alternate. What does free will mean? Say, do I have the free will to fly like a bird? Clearly no, but among the options presented to me, I chose the one that is more preferable to me. So you are a calvinism because you freely chose it, and therefore are responsible for it. What ultimately caused you to choose calvinism over alternates? That was the Holy Spirit.. whatever he reveals to you, for his purpose is what causes us to chose what we choose, and we then fully embrace it. So if the Holy Spirit hadn’t revealed calvinism to you, then you would think its foolish. This is just like salvation, people who do not know God have not had the truth of Christ revealed to them, so they are incapable of understanding salvation. :)

Comment from jrmallory
Time December 22, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Ahh, interesting. I think it must come back to original sin. Otherwise we’re left with a God assigning culpability to those with no other option but to commit the transgression in which He is the ultimate author. Either each one of us was individually present, in some sense, at the original fall of man, and therefore guilty, or we must retain a true freedom of the will in our present state. Now, you can say, ‘ah, but that is such a modern, individualistic mindset’, but it is this very same personal decision and mindset under which He calls us to repentance and belief.

If you say that the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the superior choice, we must conclude the other choice instantly became so inferior as to no longer register as a viable choice. Therefore, the revealing of the Holy Spirit is ultimately irresistible and entirely efficacious.

And here is where I see inconsistency. You begin by stating that we have a choice, but you end with pointedly outlining how the work of the Holy Spirit nullifies or supersedes our choice. This may be some cerebral action, but it isn’t a choice by any definition. Piper may say choice is overrated and delusional, but if that is so, Christ clearly made a blunder when He made pleas for personal repentance.

The only way out of this circular argument is to assume that in some tangible and real way, we have individually chosen rebellion over faith. Whether this occurred in some supernatural sense, beyond our conscious history, is outside of our conjecture.

This is where I think the deepest chasms of Calvinism fall short. It attempts to explain the inexplicable. And even more, it attempts to bend the mind away from the very sensibilities which were the focus of Jesus’ message. If we are to operate with only a delusional facade of decision and free will, the gospel is not good news, but rather a simple unveiling of capricious mastermind.

And because we have no memory or sense of Adam’s original sin, I believe God reveals a shade of this transgression through the choices we make today.

Comment from Wyatt Houtz
Time December 23, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Edward’s Freedom of the Will explains this much better than I do. Consider this verse:

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

God forordained Joseph’s brothers to hate Joseph, in order that the brothers would be saved from the famine. The brothers truly desired to murder Joseph, yet God put it in their hearts in order to save all of Israel. God himself does no evil, but he ordains evil such that good may come. Not necessarily in this life, or for everyone, but for the glory of himself which the people of God receive by grace.

Another example of this is here:
John 17:12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Judas was predestined to betray Christ, long before it had even happened, so that Christ would go to the Cross to save the Godly.

Hence we explain suffering as Romans 8:28

So evil exists to bring glory to god, not that god does any evil. According to the She’ma, God is one, so how is that evil ever came to be, even in original sin… how did adam receive the capacity to sin even in the first place. Arminianism doesn’t solve this problem.

This is where calvinism shines, in the eternal generation of the son. Before the world was made, it was ordained that christ would create the world and be crucified such that the Father would glorify him, and show its wonderful, and raise christ back to life. The fall wasn’t a big Ooops… that god said, oh I have to fix it now.

The bible teaches over and over, that we die for our own sins, and the soul who sins is the soul who dies, and none are righteous. We inherit the original sin of adam, but it is our sin that we die for.

Ezekial 18:1-4 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

We are ultimately culpable for what we do. Ez 18:20 You know a tree by its fruit, etc. Mt 12:33. cf. 1 John 4:20, James 1:22, etc.

So I’d challenge you to think about, what causes you to choose what you choose? So do I have a Free Will that is different than my actions? Then my actions must be totally determined by my Free Will, so therefore my actions are not free. You may say that your choice is actually your free will, then what is it that caused you to will one thing opposed to another? Because if there is a history or cause of your will, then your will is dependent on something outside itself, and is not totally free. There is in face a cause and effect, and an unending chain of events that goes back to the very beginning.

So you are also suggesting that it is impossible for God to do evil? So are you saying its okay that God doesn’t have the ability to do evil, but it is okay that man has the ability to do evil? So Free Will to do evil is better than no free will to avoid evil?

I don’t know if any of these suggestions answered your questions.

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