“All I have tried to do here is show how clearly, succinctly and simply that Calvinism does NOT charge God with the authorship of sin and so (to employ the somewhat aggressive language of Scripture) to shut the mouths of the gainsayers. If any have a case against Calvinism, then let it be based on truth and not on falsehood and slander.” – Colin Maxwell, Do Calvinists believe and teach that God is the Author of Sin?
Colin Maxwell put up the page linked to above showing various quotes from prominent Calvinist sources indicating that they do not believe or teach that God is the author of sin. His point apparently, judging from the content and page’s title, is to stop non-Calvinists from ‘slandering’ them by claiming they teach such a thing.
Problems with this logic
This is something of a red herring, as it’s not widely claimed that Calvinists (apart from some exceptions) directly teach or are willing to connect the dots of their own doctrine to conclude that God is the author of sin. That’s probably the biggest hole in high Calvinism, why would they admit to it -much less openly teach it? Whether they’re willing to accept the ramifications of their beliefs is quite beside the point. The real problem is that making God out to be the author of sin is what their exhaustive determinist doctrine inescapably amounts to.
What is meant by ‘author of sin?’
The term ‘author‘ as employed by Arminians/Synergists in this case, is used in an originative sense to describe where the evil ultimately arose from. If we can identify, “whose idea was this?“, then we’ve found the author. Calvinists will often equivocate and say that it means “actually committing the sin,” or some such, but the ‘author’ of an action doesn’t necessarily describe someone directly committing that action, rather it denotes the one who came up with the action to begin with. A reasonable summary of how decree and authorship are related might be worded:
If a decree is made and its intentions carried out as a result, then the author of the decree is the author of the decree’s fulfilled intentions.
Looking at an example from scripture, this concept stands up quite well.
“So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born [to the Hebrews] you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”(Exodus 1:22)
As a result, Pharaoh’s men went and carried out his cruel order. To be sure, such a devilish scheme was an inexcusable crime against the people of God; our question then is who authored this crime?
Let’s assume for sake of argument that Pharaoh didn’t actually do any of the dirty work himself. So who authored this crime? The Hebrews? Hardly. The soldiers carried it out. Was it then his soldiers’ idea? Whether they did so willingly or unwillingly under threat of death doesn’t make a difference; they weren’t the ones that came up with the order, Pharaoh was. His subordinates’ level of willingness is irrelevant. His not lifting a finger in helping them perform it is irrelevant. Pharaoh was the one who made the decree, and it was Pharaoh’s intent that was carried out as a result. Pharaoh was the one who ultimately masterminded the act. Pharaoh authored the crime.
High Calvinist Theodicy
It can be fairly said then that whoever makes a decree that is carried out is the author of its intended action. Without fear of being charged with oversimplification then, high Calvinist theodicy can be easily broken with the questions:
Did God author sin?
Did God decree sin?
Did God not author His own decrees?
It’s as simple as that. If God specifically decreed that people sin, then God is the one who came up with the idea and is therefore its author (and the de facto mastermind behind it). Trying to deny the problem by redefining ‘author’ amounts to nothing more than playing word games. One need not ‘charge’ God with being the author of sin to give just such an implication from one’s doctrine. Hence Maxwell’s attempts to put down supposed slander are wholly misaimed and inconsequential, since what he and other Calvinists aren’t directly teaching doesn’t change what they’re effectivelyteaching.
What About Arminian Theodicy?
The Calvinist might try to confuse the issue by claiming that God decreed that man have free will, which man then turns to sin; therefore for the Arminian, sin is also a result of God’s decree. The answer to this charge is simple. Sin did indeed result from God’s endowing man with free will, but that result hinged upon the creatures’ independent wills, not by necessity of divine decree. In other words, God created good but somewhat independent agents who add their own independent choices to the mix, so that some parts of the outcome (e.g. their sin) are not what God decreed specifically. Or to put it more simply, creatures independently choosing to rebel doesn’t make God the author of their rebellion by virtue of His giving them free will.
For a hypothetical example similar to that cited in Exodus, what if Pharaoh had instead ordered his men, “Make sure the Hebrews don’t start a rebellion,” yet one of the officers assumed he could then commit infanticide and so misused his power? Would Pharaoh have then been the author of the crime? No, had it happened that way, the author would have been the subordinate officer who misused his authority in giving the order. In the same way, God has given us free will, but not necessitated that we misuse it in rebellion against Him.
Didn’t God intend Christ’s death?
Yes He did. God fully intended to offer up His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for sin. This doesn’t imply that He authored every evil intent used to obtain that result. If for the sake of others, one were to deliver his child into the hands of wicked men to do with as they please (even knowing their murderous intent), this would only imply that he was the author of offering up his child, the authors of the wicked schemes carried out are the evil men themselves. And as all sides would agree, God can turn the results of mens’ self-authored wicked intentions to accomplish His own purposes.
Another Red Herring
Calvinists will often try to dismiss the problem by saying that sin is something man does of his own will and motivations. For instance, Maxwell on this page cites a quote by Calvin:
every evil proceeds from no other fountain other than the wicked lusts of man
This sort of defense by an exhaustive determinist is a subtle attempt to draw attention away from where they believe man’s choices and motivations arise: What they’re not telling you is that they also believe that every choice, motivation, ‘wicked lust,’ vice, and evil imagination is specifically and immutably decreed by God. If you want to know where they think the sin actually originated, just pose the question,
“Has any creature who has ever sinned (unbelievers, believers, Adam, Eve, Satan, the fallen angels etc.) ever made that choice with some degree of independence so that it could have chosen differently, or have they always chosen exactly as God irresistibly and immutably decreed they choose?”
Unless you’re talking to one of the very rare free will Calvinists (such as Greg Koukl), the answer will always be the latter (or “I don’t know / it’s a mystery” if they’re feeling squeamish). It always ends up being unconditionally due to God’s decree. Clearly, all the rhetoric about sin proceeding from man’s evil motives is simply an evasion of the real issue, since to the high Calvinist, even the evil motives themselves don’t come from man’s abuse of his independent will, but irresistibly arise from God’s decree.
Given this determinist dogma, Calvinists simply denying that they believe God is the author of sin is hardly relevant. That’s akin to someone claiming that he doesn’t deny the physical resurrection of Christ while at the same time claiming that Christ’s body is still dead and buried. The two claims are mutually exclusive, thus to make them simultaneously is self-contradictory.
The Bible doesn’t directly state that “God isn’t the author of sin;” but the fact that the wickedness that exists in our world didn’t originate from within Him barely even needs be stated.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
If one claims that God exhaustively and unconditionally predetermines every motive and thought, this is equivalent to saying that God is the originator every motive and thought, which inescapably includes God being the originator of every evil motive and thought. “A heart that devises wicked imaginations” is an abomination to God (Prov. 6:18), yet if high Calvinist dogma is to be believed, we’d have to conclude that God devised all of their depraved imaginations for them! Far better to believe the scriptures that testify both of God’s absolute Holiness as well as the choices that He in His sovereignty allows men to freely make, rather than Calvinism’s incoherent train wreck of a doctrine that (wittingly or no) makes Him into the mastermind behind every evil scheme.
[Link to original post and comments at the Arminian Perspectives blog. This post is part of a 14-part series that was previously posted here on our website, but is being republished. The old posts are being replaced by updated versions (though the content is the same) to bring extra attention to this excellent series.]