Deterministic Necessity Undermined

Must records of history have been as we know them now to be? In other words, could certain events -- or even most events -- have been different than how they unfolded throughout history? The answer, of course, will depend upon one's view of God's sovereignty -- and this subject is a do-or-die issue between Arminians and Calvinists, the former insisting that God interacts with people throughout history, though He has decreed or rendered certain various events, most especially the Cross event; the latter insisting that God decrees what people shall think, say, and do throughout history -- the latter of which implies that God is not only the Author of sin and evil but also the divine Conductor of all events brought about by mortals, animals, and other means of creation.

In his book, Neither Necessary Nor Inevitable, Udo Middelmann correctly notes that history is "neither made up of hypothetical situations nor of necessary choices into which personages are pressed by some higher purpose."1 Most of history is not a record of events divorced from the decisions made by human beings which either directly or indirectly caused those events. While unnatural disasters (such are unnatural and not natural since God's original created order has been negatively effected by our sin) cause some of the evil that human beings experience, including some of the good, people are the predominant and primary cause of most of the evil we experience.

More importantly, the records of history are not intended to cause us to question all of "the what if riddles of life," since there is no possible way to "know the course and consequences of hypothetical decisions" and situations; a logical truth that leads Middelmann to argue the following:
What if you had done another thing, made another choice, stopped in your tracks, put away your whim or first impression: all that is the stuff of novels, of dreams, and of imagination. There is no history to that, because the what if never took on form, since it was precisely not carried out. We must leave that behind. Instead, we need to see that once real choices have been made [freely made] their consequences are real, whichever choice [or decision] was made.2
I prefer to use the word "decision," in lieu of "choice," given that "choice" more properly connotes options from which to render a choice, thus informing one in the making of a final decision -- one that inevitably includes consequences. This is semantics, yes, but I prefer the word "decision" (a conclusion or judgment reached after reflective consideration). Middelmann accurately concludes: "Neither fate nor the will of God determine what authentic choice we can make."3 Not because God cannot determine what action or thought or word we shall decide to enact but because He Himself has determined not to do so. Why? We have both a philosophical and a biblical argument.

If we render our own decisions, apart from a decree of God, then "we can be blamed or praised" for such decisions, and "later remembered for the hurt we caused or the benefit we brought freely into existence."4 If, however, God "influences our desires and decisions," as taught by Calvinists such as Wayne Grudem,5 then hyper-Calvinists are correct and we cannot be held accountable for our sins. Why? Because decreeing or foreordaining a person to sin, or to commit an evil act, lays the blame for the act at the feet of the One who decreed, rendered certain, or foreordained such.

While some Calvinists, like Wayne Grudem, attempt to use the theory of compatibilism to free God of the charge of sinning, for the decreeing or the foreordaining of sin and evil, they inconsistently maintain the notion that the person could not have rendered any other decision than the one God decreed for the individual to choose, imagining that free will is a reality, while denying the reality of free will. For the Calvinist, free will threatens a sovereign God, but not so in Arminianism. In other words, had God not decreed, rendered certain and brought to pass by his so-called sovereignty the sin and evil of any creature, then such would not have necessarily come to pass, the key word being "necessarily." The contrary notion still insists that sinners will sin, but they sin not by divine necessity, or by God's decree, but by their own freedom to commit the sin.


John Calvin argues that all people are created on unequal terms: "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death"6 (emphases added), death, meaning an eternal hell. The language of "created for" is supralapsarian in nature and is condemned by the early Church at the Council of Orange in 529 CE: "We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil [i.e., reprobation] by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema." (emphasis added) This indicates that scholars such as John Calvin, his successor Theodore Beza, John Gill, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Jr., James White, Steve Hays of Triablogue and all other supralapsarian Calvinists are categorical heretics: those at the Council of Orange, in their Conclusion, pronounce an anathema on supralapsarians. But I digress.

I think that hard-deterministic Calvinism -- and that includes compatibilism, or so-called soft determinism, since, according to Calvinist John Hendryx, compatibilism, or soft determinism, is no less deterministic than is hard determinism (link) -- demeans human beings, defrauding image-bearers of their God-given humanity, and thus instrumentally causes Calvinists to objectify human creatures, i.e., to treat people as mere things or expendable objects. Middelmann argues:
God created a real world, but left it deliberately unfinished [the ground needed tilling, cf. Gen. 2:15]. It was perfect, but neither complete nor fixed in time. Man, male and female, the creature made in God's image to think, create, choose, imagine, was mandated to add to, alter, and have dominion day after day over creation, firstly, and, secondly, his own choices. That is the will of God, the purpose of creation: Man should be a human being and make history!7
Bereave human beings of their own inherent ability to render authentic yet sinful decisions and their humanity is destroyed. Render their sinful or evil decisions necessary, in any causative or influential sense at all, and their humanity is undermined, relinquishing them to being organic machines controlled by an evil Overlord, contributing to their objectification. Or, stated another way, if God influences our evil desires and decisions, as noted by Wayne Grudem above, then human beings are organic robots controlled and manipulated by God; which, inevitably, exhibits the kind of God one is advancing -- a God who invents, authors, and renders certain sin and evil.

Such a God seems threatened by free will and, since He cannot assume His own sovereignty in concert with free will, then He must influence our desires and decisions so that history will be played out exactly as He decreed. This is the God of Calvinism. I do not believe this characteristic advanced by Calvinists of God represents the God of the Bible -- the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the exact imprint of God's being (Heb. 1:3); and, in case you find that comment too difficult to accept, consider that many Calvinists admit the same regarding the portrait of God as proffered by the Arminian as being the biblical Triune God. (link)

As I read Middelmann's book, I notice that he clearly demonstrates how "the Bible frees us from a closed destiny," as promoted by the theology of Calvinism, and "expects us to reform history."8 So much of this work has already been accomplished from my brief exegetical pieces on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Hosea -- that even God Himself confesses that He has not decreed or influenced our desires and decisions toward evil in any sense, but that we, each one, render our own decisions, for the good or the evil -- concluding that only a micro-minded God micro-manages the creatures in His own universe, which is a weak view of the sovereignty of God. An omnipotent being can control anyone and anything; but an omnipotent being who allows others to express themselves, even when such undermines His desires and commands, demonstrates an immense measure of integrity, self-control, self-restraint and power. The all-determining and all-controlling God of the Calvinist is weak, weak-minded, and threatened by free will.

Moreover, Middelmann underscores the fact that the notion of a closed system, as we view the theology of Calvinism, is actually a pagan idea commensurate with concepts of an impersonal deity. The reality of the matter is this: "With our minds, we see a larger world of past choices that have contributed to our untidy, often disturbing experiences, like a stone thrown into a pond causes a sequence of ripples across a wide surface."9 What we do not see is the events of history, caused primarily by the free decisions of relatively free individuals, explicitly attributed to the decree or will of God, or to the science of our biology. The God of Scripture "informs, loves, exhorts, argues, pleads, and delights," all attributing to the truth that He has not decreed every minutiae of our existence. "In that perspective, the calling of each human being to be God's agent in the world, to act intelligently on sound moral foundations, undergirds the command to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and also each neighbor, made as much in his image as ourselves."10


1 Udo W. Middelmann, Neither Necessary Nor Inevitable: History Needn't Have Been Like That (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011), xxiii.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., xxii.

4 Ibid.

5 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), III.21.5. Thomas Aquinas, regarding the heresy of decretal determinism, states: "But this is a heretical opinion, for it takes away the very notion of merit and demerit from human acts. For what someone does necessarily and cannot avoid doing, seems to be neither meritorious nor the opposite. Therefore this should be numbered among the opinions alien to philosophy, since not only is it contrary to faith but it subverts all the principles of moral philosophy as well. If there is nothing free in us, but we are moved to will necessarily, deliberation, exhortation, precept and punishment, praise and blame, in which moral philosophy consists, are swept away." See Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Ralph McInerny (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 556-57.

7 Middelmann, xxiii.

8 Ibid., xxiv.

9 Ibid., xxv.

10 Ibid., xxvii.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.