I’ve been thinking about this question for a little while now, but what actually determines when the day ends? I don’t mean physically, but rhetorically, like when someone says, “At the end of the day … .” Now why exactly is that the end of the day?
Sometimes this is obvious, but I’m not wondering this in a vacuum. I’m really wondering this when it comes to Calvinists. One of the major claims that they make is, “At the end of the day, Arminians believe they are responsible for their salvation.” Now, I’ve heard arguments that they’ve made to that effect, but for the life of me I don’t really know what they mean by “At the end of the day” in that sentence. It seems to simply be there to say, “Now I’ve thought about this really really hard,” but it doesn’t tell us anything about their actual thought process.
So how do we determine who is responsible for salvation “at the end of the day”? How do we determine what determines responsibility for something? Well first, why do I think that God is responsible for salvation “at the end of the day”? For me, the answer is that He is not obligated to save us. Even if I have the faith of Abraham, He could still choose to not save me, and He would be completely justified in doing so. I’m confident that He won’t, but this is because He promised. My assurance is therefore grounded in His promises, not my faith.
But Calvinists don’t see it that way. They claim that what makes us responsible for salvation is that our faith is the thing that differentiates us from those that are not saved. Now, as an Arminian, I cannot deny that that is the differentiating factor. After all, that is simply what it means for something to be a condition. However, that factor doesn’t strike me as determinative because, like I said earlier, it isn’t obligatory.
So which of us is right? I could say that it’s me since Arminianism is my theology. Since the claim regards consistency, then it is what I consider determinative that actually matters, not what they consider determinative. And, yeah, I think that’s right, but it’s also an easy answer and so lazy. Maybe we can think a little deeper.
Getting a Job
Let’s start with an analogy and just see where that brings us. Let’s say that there is a manager for a job named Mr. Smith. Smith is hiring for some well-paying position. He has two applicants. One comes in wearing a red tie, and the other comes in wearing a blue tie.
Now Mr. Smith isn’t much of a thinker and he takes leadership books a little too seriously. One of the things that these books say is that red ties give a better impression in interviews, and so he believes that he ought to judge someone on whether or not they have a red tie. Now neither applicant knows this beforehand, but Smith tells them afterwards that he has chosen the applicant with the red tie for this reason.
So, what do we think? Why did Red Tie get the job? Was it because he wore a red tie when the other applicant didn’t? Or is it because Mr. Smith is a kook? At the end of the day, who determined who got the job?
I think it is rather obvious that this falls on Smith. After all, he set the qualifications, and neither applicant was even aware of that qualification. Indeed, I think this becomes all the more obvious if we change tie color to skin color.
But let’s alter the scenario. Instead of a red tie and a blue tie, the two applicants came in with completely different apparel. The first wore a black suit with a red tie, but the other came in with blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and underneath, a torn blue t-shirt with the words “Put Another Dime in the Jukebox, Baby.” Once again, Mr. Smith chooses the man in the red tie.
But do we still completely credit Mr. Smith? Well no. Now we see the guy in blue as a schlub, and as such we know that he should have expected to have gotten a “No,” coming dressed like that.
So, it seems that predictability is a major determining factor of the “end of the day”. However, do we really think that Red Tie earned the position? Well, generally not. Rather we think that Blue, well, blew it. While we may think that Blue is responsible for rejection by not wearing a tie, we don’t think that Red Tie earned it simply by wearing a tie. Rather, we just agree with Mr. Smith’s evaluation and recognize that Blue should have known better.
So, What Should Determine Things?
I think that when we are talking about a process, we should take seriously the actual language of the phrase, “At the end of the day … .” What determines the “end of the day” is that which is at the actual end of the process. But I don’t think it is the final event, but it is the final decision made by all parties involved. After all, at the end of the day, Mr. Smith could have rejected both applicants.
I think where Calvinists are coming from is how predictable God is in the process. If we have faith in Christ, then God will save us. Because He will save us, His actions after that don’t really factor in. They aren’t decisions, but just reactions to what our decision was.
But I think this is a fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians, because, for personal beings, reactions are decisions. Even though God’s actions are enactments of things that He promised, He still has to make the decision to do what He promised. Therefore, for us Arminians, those decisions do count.
Now I can speculate as to exactly why Calvinists don’t think they count. It might be because they view God’s will as compatibilist, so they don’t see His reactions as real choices. But again, the complaint is a complaint of consistency, and they of course know we hold a libertarian view of God’s will. Perhaps it is because Calvinists are causally-centered in their thinking, as I have argued elsewhere, and simply view predictability as the same as an effect. It simply doesn’t occur to them to view His actions as choices. This is my hypothesis, but it’s only a hypothesis. In either case, I don’t think they’ve really thought through this problem from our perspective, but have merely isolated one bit of our theology, and deemed it inconsistent with their beliefs. Quite frankly, that’s an inconsistency I can live with.