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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mike Horton's False Dilemma: Deism, Determinism, And Occasionalism

Dr. Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary, California
In other words, if you are big on God "controlling" everything, then it makes sense to put him in direct, immediate control, rather than standing back and pulling levers, so to speak. There is an urge to have God "on the ground" getting his hands dirty doing the actual work, rather than just sitting remotely up in heaven and pushing over the first domino.  --  Rupert Pupkin


I am continuing to work my way through Michael Horton's systematic theology:  The Christian Faith:  A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2011).  [See: Part 1].  Along the way I discovered many deviations from classical Calvinism in Horton's discussions.  He continually praises paradox and analogy and disavows "fundamentalism" and only obliquely endorses the fact that Scripture contains propositional truth claims.  For Horton what matters most is not the written Word of God but rather God's acts in history and God's speech, whatever it is that God says.  For example, God speaks creation into existence, according to Horton and this demonstrates that God is a speaking and acting God.  (See pages 345-346).  But one has to ask, how does this speech come to be known to us as creatures?  The answer is that all that we can know about God is directly revealed through special revelation in the written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Psalm 119:89).

During my reading I came across Horton's disavowal of both deism and occasionalism in favor of what he calls concursus (Christian Faith, pp. 356-362). For further clarification of what is at stake let me quote from a discussion blog:

Just to clarify something: determinism and occasionalism are two quite distinct doctrines. Occasionalism does not entail determinism, nor vice-versa. It is quite possible to believe in contra-causal free-will, but still be an occasionalist: all this means is that if I choose X, it is then God who brings X about (that is, it is God who makes the choice of my will to be causally efficacious). For example, say I will to raise my arm: a free-will occasionalist would then say that God makes my arm rise, in response to my (free) choice willing it to rise.

Occasionalism is an interesting doctrine that involves complex issues concerning the nature of causation, and the particular version of occasionalism which a given thinker holds to will depend on broader metaphysical concerns. Some Calvinists have been occasionalists as well as determinists; indeed, at least one, Jonathan Edwards, was a Berkeleyian idealist, a fact that is not well known amongst his theological admirers, who seem to know next to nothing about his philosophical writings (indeed, this is ironic, since Berkeleyian idealism is considered quite heretical by mainstream evangelicals, who nonetheless hold Edwards in high regard). Occasionalism is logically close to Berkeley; it does to the created causal nexus and contingent causal relationships what Berkeley did to all of the created order. This is, perhaps, its greatest weakness: it is a kind of half-way house between realism and idealism, and like all half-way positions, is inherently unstable: consistent thinkers will tend to go one way or the other. If we start stripping the physical world of causal efficacy - which is a considerable portion of the purpose it serves metaphysically - why not keep going and strip it of existence? If material objects don't do anything and can't do anything, why have them at all? According to occasionalism (combined with some form of mind-body dualism, which it seems to always presuppose), then if God is causing a perception of a physical object in me, having the physical object existing out there does not actually contribute anything to the perception. I do not actually see the physical object - I only have a visual perception created directly in me by God which he makes to look like the physical object. I do not "see" the world; I "see" what God makes me to see directly, but that just happens, happily, to be in accord with the way the world is. But if that is so, what purpose does the world serve? Is it a reminder to God of where things currently are located? It is obvious why Berkeleyian idealism is a short stepping-stone away from this position.

But I do think that many scriptures which are interpreted by Calvinists as implying that God is the first cause of natural phenomena, are actually more naturally interpreted along occasionalist lines that God is the immanent and direct cause of natural phenomena. These are verses which speak of it being God who makes the grass grow, brings the weather (storms etc), and so forth. Indeed, Berkeley appealed to these verses to support his own subjective idealism. I am not sure that the author of these OT scriptures really intended any precise metaphysical claims, but insofar as they did, I think what they intended was much closer to occasionalism then [sic] to some concern with affirming that God is back at the origin of a long causal chain. It is not sovereignty per se that is the issue in these passages - although that is obviously entailed - but the immediacy and directness of the exercise of divine sovereignty.


This is only a valid criticism of occasionalist versions of determinism. I think you will find that most Calvinists on this site will disavow occasionalism, in which case the criticism doesn't hold. All they would say is that God is the first cause in a chain of causation, which has as its end result the deceptive, false beliefs in question.

The combination of occasionalism and determinism is not required by logic. The only reason some theistic determinists are also occasionalists - and one finds this amongst Islamic thinkers as well (occasionalism was highly developed by early medieval Muslim thinkers) - is a function of the "spirit" or "vibe" of the two positions being similar, not a function of the letter of one logically entailing the other. In other words, if you are big on God "controlling" everything, then it makes sense to put him in direct, immediate control, rather than standing back and pulling levers, so to speak. There is an urge to have God "on the ground" getting his hands dirty doing the actual work, rather than just sitting remotely up in heaven and pushing over the first domino.  [From:  Rupert Pupkin, Determinism And Occasionalism].
As the above author admits, the implication of a Calvinist reading of the Bible is both deterministic and occasionalist. What is amazing to me is that modern "neo-Calvinists" wish to distance themselves from both propositional truth and from the implications of divine sovereignty. Horton's discussion of sovereignty leaves one wondering if Horton is really a Calvinist at all?

I was particularly troubled by Horton's attempt to reconcile modern science with theology.  Not once does Horton deal with the issue of a literal six day creation or even Augustine's day age theory of creation.  For Horton to believe that the Bible is the literal words of God, the inspired Word of God in propositional form, is heresy.  For Horton the speaking God speaks only in an existential encounter and that God is ultimately merely a stranger, not a God who can be known through univocal revelation in Holy Scripture:

Only in biblical covenantalism is the God-world relation truly analogical. Especially in French poststructuralism (associated with Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida), the point has been well made that all of the philosophical systems we have considered contain with them the seeds of their own de(con)struction.  As the Reformed apologist  Cornelius Van Til recognized, modern rationalism is grounded in irrationalism. 152  Although at first blush antithetical, the two non-Christian paradigms we have considered share more in common than either does with "meeting the stranger."  They are united by the view that being and knowledge  are univocal for God and creatures.  In other words, they confuse the Creator with the creature, either by divinizing humanity or by humanizing deity.  Whether by seeking to deepen Platonism or overturn it, modernity does not know how to treat a stranger, especially if that stranger is God.  Thus, the liturgy of two voices--the speaking Lord and the answering servant--is aborted.  All we hear are the clashing voices of competing wills--humanity talking to itself, creating itself, and fulfilling itself through its own speech.  (Christian Faith, pp. 78-79).

We see Horton making this same categorical confusion between liberal theology--which he identifies as seeking univocal knowledge of God--and the fundamentalism of Gordon H. Clark, Carl F. H. Henry, Gordon Lewis, and Robert Reymond continually throughout his book.  Horton has to make this strawman  attack against fundamentalism by falsely linking it with liberal theology via what he falsely attributes to liberal theology, namely univocal revelation.  But this is merely a clever smoke screen.  It is actually Horton's entire system of theology that is liberal and paradoxical.  He tries to make the fundamentalists look liberal in order to hide the fact that Horton himself does not believe that Scripture is univocally the very words of God in written form.  While he continually uses the term analogical revelation to describe his view of Scripture what Horton really means is that he agrees somewhat with the neo-orthodox contention that Scripture is only the "framework" for revelation but is not revelation itself.  Ultimately for Horton any idea of revelation is impossible because of the Creator-creature distinction.  God is so totally other that communication between God and the creature cannot take place.  Scripture is basically one big analogy or "story" for Horton.  It is not direct, special revelation from God.  For Horton, the "Word of God" is preaching, not the Bible:

Either way, we refuse to hear and receive our existence and knowledge from the Sovereign Creator who speaks.  One is reminded of Paul's contrast in Romans 10 between "the righteousness that is based on the law" and "the righteousness based on faith":  the one ascends to the heavens as if to bring God down; the other descends into the depths as if to bring Christ up from the dead--when all the while God is as near as the Word of God;  in Christian epistemology, we interpret God and the world through this same Word, either as rebels in the covenant of works or as children of God and co-heirs with Christ in the covenant of grace.  (Ibid., p. 79).

Did you hear that?  Not once does Horton identify the "Word of God" with Scripture.  There is a good reason for that.  Horton does not believe that Scripture IS the Word of God but rather only an analogy of it.  For Horton God speaks existentially through the "preached Word", a doctrine of neo-orthodoxy, not Reformed theology! 

The implications of a Van Tilian approach to theology and apologetics becomes increasingly problematic, especially given the whole tenor of Horton's work.  For example, in his refutation of deism Horton winds up advocating a form of semi-deistic providence.  In other words, Horton pretends to believe in divine sovereignty but in the end agrees with the Arminian that God is not really in control of human choices.  Rather God is only indirectly influencing the environmental factors.  Horton's biases become apparent in his discussion of divine providence, which he prefers to call "common grace".  There is good reason for this since Horton's doctrine of "common grace" has more in common with Arminianism than anything else.  In fact, this is probably why Horton has no problem accepting Christian fellowship with Arminians who actually hold to a form of semi-pelagianism and even deism.

Citing the Westminster Confession of Faith, Horton rightly points out that God does not violate the wills of His creatures in either election or reprobation (p. 362).

 The principle feature that distinguishes the classical view from these rival accounts is its presupposition that being is analogical rather than univocal.  As we have seen from the examples of Pharoah, Joseph's brothers, and Jesus' crucifixion, God's intention and action are qualitatively distinct from those of human agents--even in the same event.  Understood analogically, God's activity in providence never threatens the reality of human agency, nor vice versa.  Navigating between these extremes is the classical Augustinian, Thomistic, and Reformed view that God is directing all of history toward his purposes without in any way canceling the ordinary liberty, contingency, and reality of creaturely causes.  36 

This all sounds great but what does Horton mean?  Surely the Reformed view cannot be reduced to Thomism?  There are similarities at points between Augustinian theology and even Thomistic theology but no absolute identification even with Augustine's theology.  Horton's reference to the Westminster Confession reads:

Chapter 3: Of God's Eternal Decree
1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:1 yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,2 nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.3
See also: WLC 12 | WSC 7

1 Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18.
2 James 1:13,17; 1 John 1:5.
3 Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33.

In short, Horton seems to think that any identification between what has actually happened in time and history is not directly God's hand at work but rather a synergistic cooperation between human beings and God's secret decrees.  He appeals to his paradoxical theology of analogy to refute any idea that God is actually in control of all that happens.  But the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism have no such reservations:

12. What are the decrees of God?
Answer: God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will,1 whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time,2 especially concerning angels and men.
See also: WCF 3.1 | WSC 7

1 Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Rom. 9:14, 15, 18.
2 Eph. 1:4, 11; Rom. 9:22, 23; Ps. 33:11.  Larger Catechism.

Now Horton wishes to distance himself from the absolute sovereignty of God by appealing to the secondary causes section of the Confession.  However, as we can see from the Larger Catechism that in no way ameliorates the fact that God "hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning men and angels."  This phrase is an allusion to Luther's statements in his treatise against Erasmus in the Bondage of the Will.  In fact, for Horton Luther is more Calvinist than the Calvinists.  I would suggest that even Calvin was too Calvinist for modern Calvinists!  Luther says:

Sect. 167.—I SHALL here draw this book to a conclusion: prepared if it were necessary to pursue this Discussion still farther. Though I consider that I have now abundantly satisfied the godly man, who wishes to believe the truth without making resistance. For if we believe it to be true, that God fore-knows and fore-ordains all things; that He can be neither deceived nor hindered in His Prescience and Predestination; and that nothing can take place but according to His Will, (which reason herself is compelled to confess;) then, even according to the testimony of reason herself, there can be no "Free-will"—in man,—in angel,—or in any creature!  Bondage of the Will, Conclusion.
Ironically, Horton dismisses even Luther as too deterministic:

God therefore can be considered neither the author of evil nor the passive spectator of evil.  He only actively determines to permit evils that he has already, at great personal cost, determined to overcome for his greater glory and our ultimate good.  Even the Counter-Reformation theologian Robert Bellarmine acknowledged that the Calvinists as much as Roman Catholics deny that God is the author of sin. 23  And the Reformed confessions confirm this. 24  (p. 359).
In footnote 24 Horton says,

Turretin charges Bellarmine with "impiety and blasphemy" for asserting that God actually "twists and turns [the wicked] by his invisible operation," determining their wills to evil ([Elenctic Theology] 1:530).  In his Bondage of the Will, Luther speaks of God's activity in hardening the hearts of sinners "in far stronger terms than our divines" (1:531).  (Ibid., p. 359).

Since I do not own a copy or have access to Turretin's Elenctic Theology at the moment I cannot verify that quote but assuming it is accurate it is not the teaching of the confessions as a whole.  Obviously the Larger and Shorter Catechisms do uphold the absolute sovereignty of God.  The fact of the matter is that even if we over-emphasize Westminster Confession chapter 3, paragraph 1, God is in absolute control of all that happens.  Horton dismisses both deism and occasionalism as false choices between two extremes.  But however we emphasize secondary causes and contingencies, ultimately it is God who causes everything to happen and to come into being in time, creation, and history.  The Westminster Standards state this unequivocally.  Although God is not the author of evil, He does create evil and is in fact in absolute charge of every evil event and all to His own glory.

According to Horton all evil is just meant for good in God's secret plan ( (Deuteronomy 29:29).  But is this true?  Absolutely not.  For one thing, Romans 9 makes it clear that God decrees reprobation for the purpose of demonstrating His justice, not to bring about good for His elect:

 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." (Romans 9:17 NKJ)
 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, (Romans 9:22-23 NKJ)
Basically, removing God from being the direct cause of evil solves nothing.  As Gordon H. Clark said, if we picture God as a lifeguard who sits back as a spectator while people are drowning then it does not remove God's ultimate responsibility for evil.  Why not?  It is because God is sovereign and omnipotent.  God could rescue people if He so chose to do so.  Even worse, God created the oceans and the depths and controls nature such that even natural catastrophes are in His control.  (Isaiah 45:7).

God can and does control the wills of men by either hardening them or softening them (Romans 9:18; Acts 16:14).  For Horton double predestination and equal ultimacy are reprehensible, though:

In permitting evil, God does not simply let it happen but determines how far he will let it go and how he will overcome it for good.  "The orthodox hold the mean between these extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose), but efficaciously to order and direct it." 18  [Footnote 18 shows the quote from Turretin, 1:515].  . . . Yet God's sovereign agency is not the same in hardening hearts as it is in softening them.  (p. 358).
 Unfortunately, Calvin disagrees with Horton's views and with Horton's prooftexts from Turretin and Beza:

3. Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, 17 contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand ( [Deut. 2:30] ). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.  Institutes, 2:4:3.
I could go on but due to personal time limitations I will stop here for the moment.  Be that as it may it would appear that Horton's biases against classical Calvinism ironically makes him a neo-Calvinist who is against the Calvinists.

As the author above so aptly points out:

In other words, if you are big on God "controlling" everything, then it makes sense to put him in direct, immediate control, rather than standing back and pulling levers, so to speak. There is an urge to have God "on the ground" getting his hands dirty doing the actual work, rather than just sitting remotely up in heaven and pushing over the first domino.  Determinism And Occasionalism


Addendum:  AZTexan has checked the reference to Turretin's quote about Luther and the Bondage of the Will.  Apparently Horton misread Turretin out of context.  You can check out AZTexan's comments here:  Horton Misreads Turretin.

May the peace of God be with you,

Charlie





3 comments:

Charlie J. Ray said...

Calvin most definitely taught that reprobation is a decree of God, not merely a "passing over" or "permission":

11. We come now to the reprobate, to whom the Apostle at the same time refers (Rom. 9:13). For as Jacob, who as yet had merited nothing by good works, is assumed into favor; so Esau, while as yet unpolluted by any crime, is hated. If we turn our view to works, we do injustice to the Apostle, as if he had failed to see the very thing which is clear to us. Moreover, there is complete proof of his not having seen it, since he expressly insists that when as yet they had done neither good nor evil, the one was elected, the other rejected, in order to prove that the foundation of divine predestination is not in works. Then after starting the objection, Is God unjust? instead of employing what would have been the surest and plainest defense of his justice—viz. that God had recompensed Esau according to his wickedness, he is contented with a different solution—viz. that the reprobate are expressly raised up, in order that the glory of God may thereby be displayed. At last, he concludes that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:18). You see how he refers both to the mere pleasure of God. Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. When God is said to visit in mercy or harden whom he will, men are reminded that they are not to seek for any cause beyond his will.

3:22:11

Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

aztexan said...

Over at my place I've posted a response nitpicking Horton's questionable interpretation of Turretin's position. :-)

Charlie J. Ray said...

AZTexan has checked Turretin for accuracy in Horton's footnote comments and it would seem that Horton misread Turretin:

Horton Misreads Turretin

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