From Where Did the First Evil Inclination Come? A Dialogue with a Calvinist
written by Roger E. Olson, PhD
What follows is a blog visitor’s response to my blog question to Calvinists about the source of the first evil inclination. It comes from Alan Steele who I assume is a Calvinist (because my challenge was to Calvinists):
“Wow. A lot of ground being covered here. I think it’s great to see such active engagement in such weighty topics – and in such gracious fashion toward each other. I would like to respond to Dr. Olson’s excellent question, “From where did the first evil inclination come?” Someone once posed this question to me during a small group discussion on sin. Up to that point, I had typically brushed aside the question with superficial responses like, “Great question. This might be the first question I ask when I meet my Savior face to face.” It was an honest answer, but on this occasion it felt terribly inadequate and I felt I owed this individual and the group a better answer. I also felt it was time to finally confront this question and do some digging. I think times of growth are generally accompanied by a good deal of personal discomfort. Care is needed in exploring this topic since as far as I know, the Bible does not directly address this question.
Let’s start with sin since sin would seem to be the linchpin for this discussion. Did sin exist in Adam as he was created? The answer, I believe, is “no”. God is not the creator of evil. God is not capable of evil. So, if Adam was without sin, how did sin enter into him? Another way to phrase the question is, “How did Adam, not possessing a sinful nature, slip, or ‘fall’ into sin?”
We must also recall that there was a “tempter” present with Adam in the Garden. Described as a serpent, the account in Genesis does not specifically mention Satan, although most interpreters make this assumption. The efforts of the tempter seem to have evil intent, defined as against God’s commands and in opposition to God’s will. So, the next question is, “Beginning with the assumption that the tempter was not created evil, for the same reason that Adam was not created evil, how did the tempter fall into sin?” If the tempter fell into sin, it seems to logically follow that he had a will as part of his created nature that was free enough to allow him to do so.
I think it is safe to conclude that both Adam and Satan were given a will by God as part of their created nature. As I stated earlier, since God created both the creatures, Satan and Adam, we can safely conclude that they were created without inherently sinful natures. In this way then their wills, as created attributes, were free – that is to say free in the sense that they were unfettered by the corruptive influence of sin – but, not free from the possibility of corruption. Apparently, that last attribute belongs solely to God. My best attempt at an explanation of this difference between us and God is to say that the Creator is infinite and we, the created beings are finite – meaning, we are limited. Part of the finite nature of Satan and Adam was their susceptibility to corruption.
So, the created beings Satan and Adam were finite creatures with wills and were susceptible to the possibility of corruption as part of their created nature. So, what caused the created beings, Satan and Adam, to fall into sin and become corrupted?
One attempt I have read that seeks to address these matters has to do with another created attribute: desire. God also has this attribute. He desires, for example, that we place all of our trust in him and that we obey his commands. God’s desire is not corruptible. Satan and Adam’s desire was.
One theory postulates that it was through desire that both Satan and Adam eventually slipped into sin and became corrupted. Their desire for the coveted thing, power and glory on a par with God, eventually overcame their desire to trust God completely, to obey God’s commands and to be content with their status, thus causing the slide into sin. This is what I offered to the guys in the small group and it resulted in some really interesting discussion.”
Here is my response:
“This is constructive and helpful. Thank you. My first question (not to you necessarily) is why John Piper didn’t answer with this very Augustinian view when I put the question to him. His response instead was that he didn’t know. Most Calvinists I have asked simply decline to respond. So I find this response a good starting point for dialogue. In fact, I agree with everything in it. It’s a very good Arminian answer! But I assume a Calvinist is offering it. What I wonder is how consistent it is with the classical Calvinist/Reformed doctrine of providence. Surely Calvinists want their doctrines to be consistent with each other. I have demonstrated in Against Calvinism that many, I would say most, classical Calvinists have been and are what I call divine determinists who believe in meticulous providence. (I realize they don’t like the term “determinism,” but I can’t think of any better term for what they say they believe.) Sproul, for example, loves to tell audiences (and has written into some of his books) that (paraphrasing) if there is one maverick molecule in the universe God is not God. The context makes clear that he isn’t just talking about molecules; he’s talking about everything. Paul Helm nails it down by saying (again paraphrasing) that every thought is controlled by God. I take it (and have argued in Against Calvinism and elsewhere) that the classical Calvinist doctrine of divine providence admits no non-God-determined events. To be sure, all kinds of explanations are given of ways in which God determines without directly causing (e.g., secondary causes). Nevertheless, the idea is (and one can find this clearly spelled out in Calvin’s Institutes) that God never, ever merely observes what happens and never, ever finds that what happens is not what he planned to happen. God is, that is to say, the all determining reality. Thus, the first evil inclination (and what followed from it) MUST have been determined by God. Sure, the creature (Satan, Adam) formed the evil intention within himself, but the issue is why? Did he form it independently of God’s will and intention? Was God’s permission that he form it antecedent or consequent in relation to the creature’s free will? Was God’s permission that he form it effectual? That is, did God, for example (as Edwards says) withhold or withdraw the divine influence the creature needed not to sin? These are question that arise from the very Augustinian response of Mr. Steele. As I understand it, any claim that the creature who first sinned, who first formed an evil intention, did so independently of God’s will, plan, purpose and control falls into conflict with the classical Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty as expressed in the classical Calvinist doctrine of divine providence. In other words, so it seems to me, the answer Mr. Steele gives is inconsistent with Calvinism but consistent with Arminianism. Of course, a Calvinist might hold it by adjusting his or her doctrine of providence, but that would be to make a huge concession to Arminianism (free will theism). (I am using “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” throughout this response as place holders for broader beliefs. Luther and Zwingli, for example, both believed in divine determinism but can hardly be called “Calvinists” without anachronism. Similarly, Erasmus and Menno Simons seem to have denied divine determinism but can hardly be called “Arminians” without anachronism.”)
For the original post with comments, go to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/01/from-where-did-the-first-evil-inclination-come-a-dialogue-with-a-calvinist/