Christian Philosopher Lydia McGrew on Calvinism

, posted by SEA

This conversation took place in the comment section of one of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s posts at her blog Extra Thoughts:

C. M. Granger said…

Hi Lydia, why aren’t you a Calvinist?

11/26/2015 6:25 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

Any Christian tries his best to figure out, putting together Scripture with reason, what theological views make the most sense. Calvinists and Arminians and Molinists all do this to the best of their ability. Let’s just say that when I do that, what I come up with isn’t Calvinism.

11/26/2015 7:54 PM

C. M. Granger said…

Fair enough. What do you come up with?

11/28/2015 12:41 AM

Lydia McGrew said…

Some version of Arminianism or Molinism. I usually say that I’m a Molinist, but a friend tells me I’m not doctrinaire enough about the order of decrees to be a real Molinist.

11/28/2015 8:45 AM

Anonymous said…

Hi Lydia, could you direct me to any helpful resources on the Calvinism debate? Thank you!

11/28/2015 9:42 AM

Lydia McGrew said…

Not really. It’s something I mainly think through on my own and in conversation with others rather than a topic I read a lot on. I believe William Lane Craig has some useful material on Molinism and soteriology. You might google that up.

(My own soteriology has been strongly influenced by C.S. Lewis’s _The Great Divorce_. It was through reading that book that I first started asking myself why, as a good Baptist, I put such a huge emphasis upon the importance of a person’s decision to “receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior” but nonetheless insisted in an a priori fashion that a person could never lose his salvation by his own decision to reject Christ if he had _really_ “received Jesus Christ as personal Savior” in the first place. The position I had been raised with–a kind of semi-Calvinist point-in-time salvationism, came to seem to me ad hoc when it came to the issue of apostasy.)

11/28/2015 9:48 AM

C. M. Granger said…

Thanks Lydia,

. . . What’s your objection to Calvinism? Let’s say, the primary one? And I’m not referring to hyper Calvinism.

. . .

11/28/2015 12:39 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

. . . My primary objections to Calvinism are that compatibilism is philosophically incoherent, while strict determinism (of humans) is inconsistent with the evidence of introspection, philosophical reflection, and Scripture. Libertarian free agency is, in my opinion, the only tenable game in town.

11/28/2015 2:09 PM

C. M. Granger said…

Thanks Lydia. I wish I could pick your brain with regard to why you think compatibilism is philosophically incoherent, but I’m sure that would push the conversation beyond the pale of this post. I don’t see how introspection, et al, is inconsistent with compatibilism.

11/28/2015 3:37 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

I think the “freedom” postulated by compatibilism is not real freedom. I suppose one could say in that case that, rather than being incoherent, the position collapses into a version of determinism after all–just determinism in which the one doing the determining manipulates things at some earlier, but nonetheless irresistible, level, thus (as in all determinism) reducing the agent to a conduit of causes other than himself. I would accept that as a way of seeing what is wrong with compatibilism. But to the extent that the compatibilist insists that he is talking about real, robust freedom, the position is simply incoherent.

11/28/2015 7:01 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

Although I didn’t actually claim (in the above comment) that introspection shows compatibilism to be wrong (that was what I said about determinism), introspection works well with real-life examples to undermine the sufficiency of the compatibilist account of freedom. For example, if I am breaking my diet and eating too much because I am enslaved to my passion for a particular type of food (and will later regret having eaten so much), to some degree I am unfree, even though at the moment that I’m eating I’m acting upon my genuine desires. So the compatibilist notion of freedom as acting upon one’s own desires is radically insufficient.

11/28/2015 10:35 PM

C. M. Granger said…

But your objection doesn’t undermine a person’s free agency. A free agent may pursue any decision his heart desires and from his own perspective be as free as a feather in the wind. However, given compatibilism, God is operating on a higher plain (e.g. Acts 2:23)

I don’t think compatibilism equals determinism. [Editor’s note: Compatibilism is indeed considered a form of determinism. According to the Calvinist website Monergism.com, “this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced.”]

11/29/2015 7:52 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

I disagree that doing what you desire to do is a sufficiently robust and meaningful notion of freedom. That was my point.

11/29/2015 8:00 PM

C. M. Granger said…

Hmmm. What would you say is a sufficiently robust and meaningful notion of freedom? would that be “the freedom to do otherwise”? If so, how could free agents act in ways that are contrary to their nature?

Also, how do you square libertarian free agency with Acts 2:23?

11/29/2015 9:51 PM

Lydia McGrew said…

I would say that agent causation is a sufficiently robust and meaningful notion of freedom.

I see no tension at all between libertarian free agency and Acts 2:23 or any verse in the Bible that mentions the plans of God, the foreknowledge of God, the counsel and purpose of God, etc. As to foreknowledge, as has been shown philosophically time and time again, there is not the slightest problem with God’s knowing, with certainty, everything that will happen, and the freedom of the actors in the fullest, most “Arminian” sense of freedom. As to plan, I see no reason to take a term like “counsel” or “plan” or “purpose” of God to mean that God literally controls what happens–whatever term the compatibilist wants to use for his notion of God’s sovereignty. We can see this at the human level. If I plan for Bob and Ann to get married because I think they are well-suited and even nudge this plan along by introducing them, I can say later when they get married that it all happened according to my plan, but there is no tension at all between this and libertarian free agency on the part of Bob and Ann. Similarly, God the Father sent God the Son to be incarnate. God the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, taught certain things and said certain things to the Jewish rulers. He knew what they would do and what Pilate would do. It all happened “according to God’s plan.” But this no more means that God was controlling their acts at a higher level or that they were not agent causes, free in a non-Calvinist sense, than it does in the case of my introducing Bob and Ann. The biggest difference is God’s perfect knowledge of what will happen (and also his perfect knowledge of counterfactuals about free creatures), but perfect knowledge in no way requires a Calvinist view.

11/30/2015 10:32 AM