An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

, posted by Ben Henshaw

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Patton: To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. This creates a problem. It creates great tension.

I agree that this creates a problem, but it is a Calvinist problem based on the Calvinist interpretation.  It is not an Arminian problem, so the Arminian does not need to solve the problem by altering or fixing anything.  It simply does not exist in Arminianism since the Arminian interpretation does not create such “problems.”

Patton: For the Calvinist, this tension cannot be solved and should not be solved. So how does the Calvinist live with this? How does the Calvinist answer the Why? question?—Why does God choose some and not others? Why does he still find fault?—What is the Calvinist answer to the How? question?—How can there be true freedom when God is the one sovereignly in charge of election?—We have no answer.

So Mr. Patton admits that his Calvinist interpretations create problems for which there are no answers.  That’s fine.  If he wants to embrace and “live with” the unanswerable problems that his theology creates, more power to him.  I don’t have a problem with that, though I would prefer that such “problems” would prompt him to carefully and cautiously re-evaluate whether or not his interpretation might be in error.  However, it is wrong for Mr. Patton to try to make himself feel better about his theological and interpretative problems by making the argument that Arminians do not have these problems because they improperly try to make things “fit” and try to answer questions that should not be answered or cannot be answered.  Again, Arminians do not have the same problems as Calvinists, simply because Arminians do not interpret the Bible as Calvinists do.  Arminians like me would appreciate it if Calvinists like Mr. Patton would leave us out of their problems.

Patton: We get off of our stool and punt to apophatic theology. The tension is left intact since we place our hand over our mouth here and say, “Though we have no answers to why God did not choose people he truly loves, we will trust him without judgement.” We will neither redefine divine election or human freedom to make it fit a more rational or logical system.

And here we go again with the blatant question begging and false assumptions concerning how and why Arminians do not have the same “problems” that C. Michael Patton has, along with seeming back slapping concerning how theologically brave he is to put his hand over his mouth in the face of such “problems” and “tensions.” [5]

Patton: While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation.

Indeed.  Does Patton ever do this?  Well, let’s play his game.  I will just make a few counter assertions and see if that helps clear things up.  You see, the reason why Calvinists hold to limited atonement is because they cannot reconcile unconditional election and penal satisfaction with unlimited atonement. [6]  Rather than just admit that the Bible teaches both and live with the “tension”, they try to make atonement “fit” their system, and redefine the scope of atonement by limiting it to the elect alone, despite the many clear Biblical declarations concerning the universal scope of the atonement.

Likewise, the reason why Calvinists reject the idea that true believers can abandon the faith to their own destruction is because this creates “tension” with their doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.  Rather than just embracing the “tension”, Calvinists try to make things “fit” by rejecting and “redefining” the Biblical teaching that true believers can abandon the faith and forfeit salvation.

Furthermore, Calvinists reject conditional election because they cannot reconcile how election can be conditional and not be meritorious.  Rather than just living with the “tension”, Calvinists “redefine” election and make it unconditional in order to make it “fit” and to make their theology more “consistent.”  This is the same point I made to Patton long ago in the second part of my comment (quoted above) on his previous post, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option” :

Let’s take another angle. You say the Bible teaches unconditional election (and you appeal to certain Scriptures) and I say the Bible teaches conditional election (and I appeal to certain Scriptures- and surprisingly some of the same Scriptures you think teach the opposite). Now, can’t I just as easily say that you reject conditional election due to the tension it creates for your view and your unwillingness to embrace those tensions? Maybe you reject conditional election because it creates too much tension for the Calvinist. (link)

Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bible (supposedly) teaches both God’s exhaustive sovereign control over all things, including our wills, and that we have freedom of will in the true (libertarian) sense.  But rather than embrace the “tension”, most Calvinists “redefine” freedom from the true sense of freedom to a “freedom” that leaves no real control of the will to the person at all.  This “solution” to the “tension” is called compatibilism.  Does compatibilism with regards to freedom and determinism leave the “tension” in tact, or does it eliminate it?  It clearly eliminates the tension by redefining freedom to mean the “freedom” to do as one must.  It becomes the “freedom” to choose what we have no choice but to choose.  They haven’t embraced the tension, but rather whittled away at the square peg of freedom until it is “compatible” with the round hole of determinism.  So in the end, their redefinition of “free will” to conform to determinism only succeeds in making determinism “compatible” with determinism and jettisons real (libertarian) freedom in the will for the sake of relieving unpleasant “tensions.” [7]

It is strange that much of the thrust of Mr. Patton’s post has to do with how Calvinists simply embrace this tension between determinism and free will with hands over their mouths, and yet Mr. Patton holds to compatibilism which plainly “redefines” freedom so that it is no longer freedom in any real sense at all, all for the sake of relieving the “tension.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches both human freedom and sovereign election, we leave the two intact.

Not really. You “redefine” human freedom to make it “fit” with your view of “sovereign election” and “exhaustive determinism.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches that God loves everyone more than we can imagine and that God desires all to be saved yet he does not elect some, we trust God’s word and live with unanswered questions.

Not really.  Instead, you “redefine” what it means for God to “love everyone more than we can imagine” and how it is that God “desires all to be saved” in order to avoid “tension” and make such plain Biblical concepts and declarations “fit” with your doctrines of reprobation, irresistible grace, and limited atonement.  And again, it needs to be pointed out that all of what Mr. Patton says here hinges on “if the Bible teaches” such things as unconditional election.  Arminians contend that the Bible does not teach such things.  They simply do not see unconditional election anywhere in the Bible.  So again, Arminians have no need to “live with unanswered questions” that their reading of Scripture does not produce in the first place.  For us, unconditional election is a fiction, and there is certainly no need to reconcile fictions with Biblical truth (like the truth of an unlimited provision of atonement reflecting God’s love for all in His desire for all to be saved).

Link to original post and comments

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[5] However, there are moderate 4 point Calvinists who, unlike Mr. Patton, seem to have the guts and fortitude to live with the “tension” in affirming unconditional election, penal satisfaction and unlimited atonement.  Why do they do this?  Because they find unlimited atonement to be so clearly taught in Scripture that it would be exegetically dishonest to deny it.  For examples of some of these more noble and brave-hearted Calvinists, see here  and here.   It would seem that if Mr. Patton truly finds tensions to be so desirable as likely markers for Biblical truth, he should become a 4 point Calvinist.

[6] This seems to primarily be an allusion to Job’s response to God in Job 42:1-6.  But Mr. Patton’s allusion to Job is strange, since Job did not shut his mouth in the face of blatant contradictions.  Rather, Job shut his mouth in the face of numerous divinely relayed examples of things that are beyond his comprehension or power to control (like creation, the mysterious nature of the creatures that God created, God’s control over the elements, and many other such things, Job 38-41).  These are legitimate mysteries and not contradictions.  Even the main “mystery” in Job concerning why Job is suffering is actually plainly revealed in the first few chapters, and that mystery has nothing to do with any sort of contradictions or mutually exclusive concepts.  Again, the tactic seems to be using examples of real Biblical mystery to legitimize Mr. Patton’s Calvinist “problems.” But what Mr. Patton needs to do is demonstrate that his Calvinist “tensions” and “problems” can rightly be called Biblical mysteries, rather than unacceptable contradictions that reveal error rather than Biblical truth (or mystery).  Unfortunately, this task is never taken up by Mr. Patton.

[7] Compatibilism fails to account for real freedom as described in Scripture, or account for accountability as described in Scripture.  For more on this, see The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.  See here  for more.  But Calvinist compatibilism does more than to just claim that two mutually exclusive ideas are actually compatible.  It actually works to make them logically compatible (and in the process eliminate the supposedly desirable mystery and tension of the whole thing).

An example of mutually exclusive concepts would be a bachelor and a married person.  You simply cannot reconcile these two concepts.  They are not compatible.  One cannot rightly be a bachelor and married at the same time.  But if you can cleverly redefine “bachelor” to mean  “a married person”, then Viola! “married” and “bachelor” are now compatible!

But if one doesn’t like the compatibilist “solution”, one can just say it is an “apparent” and not “real” contradiction, with no “apparent” burden assumed or required to actually demonstrate how this is the case.  When it comes to Calvinism, bare assertion regarding such sensitive and difficult issues will just have to suffice.  After all, since Calvinism is so obviously true, it simply can’t be a “real” contradiction, no matter how real it seems.  And if you find that unacceptable, then perhaps you just don’t have the fortitude to deal with the hard truths of the Bible.  You probably just aren’t willing to do the right and noble thing and “put your hand over your mouth” in the face of such profound “mysteries.”  You probably just don’t have enough room for “tension” in your hyper-rational theology.  For this reason, Calvinism becomes essentially impossible to falsify on logical grounds.  How nice for Calvinism.