A Response to Miller’s “Amyraldian Antinomy” (by Eric Hankins)

Before I begin, let me express my gratitude to Dave Miller for his willingness to let me post here at Voices. He has been generous with space while allowing me to offer perspectives at variance with his own. This is the true spirit of constructive debate. This post is my response to his response to my response to Nathan Finn’s response to the “Traditional Statement” (TS) on Southern Baptist (SB) soteriology, which is our response to New Calvinism in the SBC, which is the Calvinist response to non-Calvinism in the SBC. I imagine that this sort of back-and-forth is off-putting to some who see it as a distraction from the greater tasks of missions and evangelism. I certainly acknowledge the importance of keeping this conversation in a kingdom context. I believe, however, that this dialogue, if the basic rules of Christian discourse are followed, is essential to fruitful theological construction. My own understanding of the relevant concepts has grown immensely through this type of interchange. I am responding here to Miller’s reply because it is illustrative of the fundamental issues and dynamics of the debate. He makes two concessions with which I absolutely agree, although I am certain that we would disagree about their implications.

First, Miller concedes the point that Calvinism is predicated on determinism. He doesn’t like that word and makes mention that Calvinists would prefer something different. But he doesn’t propose an alternative because there isn’t one (Calvinists often offer the term “compatibilism,” but it is actually a subcategory of determinism*). That is really, really, really my main point. All SBs need to be crystal clear on this issue. If you’re going to be a Calvinist, you, like Miller, like Finn, like Piper, you, too, must be a determinist. If you’re going to affirm determinism then you must affirm its necessary implications, the main one being that God could have just as easily determined that all people “freely” choose Him instead of only some. This deep reality of determinism is seriously problematic.

Second, Miller concedes that the only way to slip out of the problematic implications of the determinism of 5-point Calvinism is to opt for a position that is logically contradictory. It is his belief that this offers a “middle ground” where most SBs, like him, want to stand, a middle ground that he feels I am denigrating. First (and I’ll touch on this later), I believe most SBs are not determinists. Therefore, most SBs are not like Miller. Indeed, Miller simply assumes a “Calvinist continuum,” presumably one to five points, to which all comers are bound. For some time, I’ve been arguing that SBs should stop operating with reference to that continuum because our rejection of determinism demands it. Second, Miller’s “middle ground” between “5-point Calvinism and Traditionalism” is actually sinking sand.

 

Here is his case :

My quarrel with Dr. Hankins has to do with his treatment of the middle ground views. As he differentiates between the libertarian free will views of the Traditionalists and the “determinism” of Calvinists, he dismisses the worth of middle ground viewpoints. It appears that he wants to set the discussion between the extremes (not to describe the views as extremist – both are mainstream Christian and Baptist viewpoints – but as the ends of the Calvinist continuum) of 5-point Calvinism and Traditionalism. One must logically hold to either libertarian free will or to deterministic Calvinism, according to Hankins and there is little value in the middle ground.

Miller’s basic point, with which I agree, is that the only logically coherent positions to hold on the question of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom are determinism and libertarianism. Miller’s “middle ground” position, which he dubs the “Amyraldian Antinomist,” opts for that which is logically incoherent: “An antinomy is something that is against the laws of logic – a logical contradiction.” Such logical contradictions, when affirmed in the Bible, must be believed by faith. For clarity’s sake, it is important to note the difference between paradox and antinomy. In a paradox, claims that appear to be contradictory actually are not. For an antinomy, the contradictions are real but undeniable. Antinomy is what Miller is affirming, and, while sounding attractive, it is actually disastrous. Miller is saying that the Bible and Christian doctrine sometimes violate the law of non-contradiction. Ligonier Ministries outlines why such a move is impermissible:

Faith and reason . . . belong together. Apart from faith, reason leads to futility. Without reason, faith becomes a blind leap that embraces contradictions. We see how this happens when people accept contradictory interpretations of Scripture as being equally true.

But God cannot contradict Himself. If He did, we could not believe what He says or know how to follow Him. If two people give a contradictory understanding of a text, either one of them is wrong or both of them are wrong. Both, however, cannot be right. Otherwise, the concept of truth loses all meaning. . . .

The law of noncontradiction is vital to the intelligibility of faith and life. Without it, the concept of truth loses all meaning.

If Miller is right, therefore, the possibility for knowledge of anything evaporates. No truth is possible because any truth could, at the same time, be false. Abandoning the law of non-contradiction is simply not an option.

Miller offers the doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union as examples of such antinomy, but these examples fail because neither is logically contradictory. Miller states, “Either God is One or Three.” That sentence is logically contradictory, but it’s not what the doctrine of the Trinity affirms. God is not one God and three Gods at the same time; He is one essence and three persons at the same time. There is certainly some mystery as to what that means and how it is so, but it is not logically contradictory. Miller makes the same mistake in offering the example of the two natures of Christ. The hypostatic union does not state that Christ has one nature and two natures at the same time. It states that Christ is one person with two natures. The status of being both fully human and fully divine, while mysterious, is not logically contradictory.

Miller then goes on to apply the concept of antinomy to the issue of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This assertion, while quite common, makes two significant mistakes, mistakes that simply must be grasped to rightly understand the contours of the debate.

First, Traditionalists are not, I repeat, not arguing against the coherence of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This must be understood. We affirm God’s real sovereignty and man’s real (therefore, libertarian) freedom. We are arguing against Calvinism’s attempt to reconcile determinism and human freedom. Miller’s substitution of sovereignty at the end of his post for determinism at the beginning is a common category error. When forced back into the proper arena of determinism, Calvinists like Miller have only two options: a philosophical coherence with serious theological problems or a theological coherence with serious philosophical problems. Miller opts for the latter, but it cannot be called the “middle” because it is still determinism, and it cannot be called “ground” because it offers no rational basis for belief.

Second, Traditionalists make the case that there are solid arguments for affirming the biblical concepts of true sovereignty and true freedom that do not violate the law of non-contradiction or the clear teaching of Scripture. These arguments, however, demand that theistic determinism be abandoned. The problem this poses for Calvinists is that dropping determinism eviscerates the system. Traditionalists argue that the middle ground most SBs have occupied is a non-determinist, libertarian middle ground that retains the strongest conceivable views of sovereignty, sin, security, Scripture, and the good-faith offer of salvation to every person. We believe that the vast majority of SBs reject theistic determinism. In doing so, they are affirming something very much like the TS. This is not a viewpoint at the extreme; it is the middle ground.

*The definition of “compatibilism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed in terms of a compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.”

 

 

Is Jesus a Liar?

So I posed the question in the title, so let’s discuss, is Jesus a liar?  Let me put it another way, who is the liar, us or Jesus?  Ok, more specifically, do we have free will, or is Jesus a liar?  Some of you just became very angry, but today I am going to get on my soap box about the issue of free will.  Please read the entire blog before you shoot me, I can hear you loading.  Free will, that oh so popular belief that we as humans are free to choose whatever we wish.  God created us, put us on earth and told us to choose.  Many who believe in free will say that man is free to choose to do good or evil.  We can pick, we can be the good guy or the bad guy.  We can do right or wrong, right?  Well, Jesus says “no one is good except God”.  If we look in Luke 18:18, Jesus says it.  In Matthew 19 He says not to ask Him about WHAT is good, only God is good.  So, Jesus said “nope, no one good but God, not you.”

I know what you are saying, surely Jesus didn’t mean that NO one is good, just that guy, right?  After all, that guy Jesus was talking to was arrogant and sort of a jerk.  So, was Jesus lying to the guy?  He said “no one is good”, so does that mean that we can choose to be good, but Jesus lied to make a point?  Free will says I can be good, so who is lying?  Jesus or free will?

Maybe Jesus was talking about us being right with God, and no one can do that apart from Jesus, but we can still do good things right?  We can still choose to make the right choices, right?  In Romans 3, Paul says no, one one chooses good.  Well, maybe Paul just means that no one does good ALL the time, and we still do good sometimes, right?  What about our good deeds.  Paul calls those filthy rags, but that just means we can’t earn salvation, right?  We can still choose to do good, and ultimately we can choose God.  Right?  Maybe Paul was lying too.  Maybe they just don’t understand free will.

Am I being a little sarcastic?  Ya, I am, I know it’s bad and I’m sorry.  Let me tell you why I struggle so much with free will and why I think it’s the most deceptive tool Satan has come up with since he gave a lady of piece of fruit.  Free will has it’s roots in the enlightenment, the same starting point as psychoanalysis.  You know the names form school, guys like BF Skinner and Pavlov and his drooling dog.  There is one guy named Abraham Maslow who came up with a pyramid thing called the Hierarchy of Needs.  The theory was simple, people want to be the best they can be and obtain their highest potential and level of good, called Self Actualization.  The only thing that stops them is needs, either felt or perceived needs.  If they are hungry, they may steal.  If they feel unsafe, they might lie.  If their self esteem is low, they will do bad things.  If a child is ignored, they will act out for attention.

As a result, we stopped having “losers” and we stopped grading tests, we don’t spank anymore.  We have a host of social services life welfare, because if people have their needs met, they will achieve more, or so the theory goes.  If we meet the qualifications in the hierarchy of needs, people will do the right things.  Ultimately man has the ability to choose to do the right thing, as long as he is not pressured to do the wrong thing.

Secular Humanists have taught us that man is the highest of all creatures, that nothing forces us to do anything, and we have, of course, free will.  Satan whispers “you can choose to be like God, you have free will and you can be good if you’d like”.  Now the Bible calls us slaves.  We are either slaves to sin or to Christ, compelled by the flesh or by the Spirit.  We are not free to choose, but we convince ourselves we are free, more than that, we choose to think we are free to do good.  See what I did there?  Sorry.

The rich young ruler, he probably thought he was free to choose and that he chose to do all the right things.  He made the right choices and now he and God were good.  In the end, we are not free, and our wills are not free.  They are bound and we are bound and wrapped in feeble and weak flesh.  Most of our choices that we think we are making freely are made because we are selfish and ego driven.  Most of our fight to maintain our free will is driven by the fact we are ego driven and want to keep the ability to call our own shots.

Why do I say this is a trap?  Scores of people believe they are free to do good and will be in Heaven when they die because they are a good person.  They have equated sin to something they did on accident when they weren’t looking, but they said they were sorry and it’s ok.  They are free to do the right thing.  It’s a lie, you aren’t free, and as a believer you wouldn’t want to be.  If you are free and have free will, you are not under control of the Holy Spirit.  Having free will is direct disobedience to be controlled by the Spirit.  Of course, if you are not controlled by the Spirit, you go right back to be driven by the flesh.

Yes, this has salvation implications, no I have no desire to start another C vs T battle (which will probably happen anyway) but we have to stop saying things like “God gives you free will because He doesn’t want you to be a robot”.  We are not even free enough to realize that we have simply created two extreme categories, neither which are accurate.  We are not robots, we are sinful humans controlled by selfish flesh until Christ sets us free.  We must be set free from sin to have the freedom to be controlled by the Spirit.

In finishing up, I do want to say, and please listen WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO MAKE CHOICES.  I grow weary of the extremes that either we can do whatever we want or we are total robots.  We can choose to wear a red or blue shirt.  We are free to eat steak or fish or chicken.  We are free to do a lot of things, but those choices are still subject to the bondage of our flesh.  In our flesh, we cannot do good.  Good as God defines it, not good as society defines it.  Society does good things because it makes them feel good, thus making good things done for selfish reasons.  I digress, let’s make sure we don’t set out to make a liar out of Jesus and Paul and . . .well God since He wrote the book in the first place.  You are now free to comment.

Program # 3304 Frank Novak Classic

3304 Frank Novak Classic: (Immigrant, Crime, Prison) Frank speaks little English when he goes to a film with friends and perceives that robbing with a gun is easier than working. He descends into crime; then he shoots and kills a man in self-defense. He runs, is captured but found not guilty. Drunkenness and robbery lead to a prison term. He's given a New Testament and reads it three times, hoping to be pardoned. Then he hears the Gospel and is saved. When he's pardoned Frank spends the rest of his life preaching Jesus.

Program # 3304 Frank Novak Classic

3304 Frank Novak Classic: (Immigrant, Crime, Prison) Frank speaks little English when he goes to a film with friends and perceives that robbing with a gun is easier than working. He descends into crime; then he shoots and kills a man in self-defense. He runs, is captured but found not guilty. Drunkenness and robbery lead to a prison term. He's given a New Testament and reads it three times, hoping to be pardoned. Then he hears the Gospel and is saved. When he's pardoned Frank spends the rest of his life preaching Jesus.