Leighton Flowers wrote a blog attempting to refute four different passages of Scripture that are commonly used by Calvinists to prove divine determinism. I found it while searching specifically for Dr. Flowers’ interpretation of Acts 2 and 4. Thankfully, those verses were the last ones addressed in the blog, and I would like to refute his commentary.
A Calvinist Interpretation:
Allow me to begin with the argument from a Calvinistic perspective.
[T]his Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.(Acts 2:23; 4:28)
According to these verses, Jesus’ crucifixion was predestined by God. Certainly it was men who crucified Him, but these texts teach us that it was God who decreed it and brought it about. Jesus was crucified just as God planned it and therefore God knew it from before the foundation of the world. It was the “definite plan of God” that delivered Jesus up and His foreknowledge solidified it. In fact, all of the evil men involved merely did what God’s “hand and plan predestined to take place.” Jesus’ crucifixion could not have been otherwise. Yet, the texts clearly establish the men involved were not held blameless since, after all, they were “forced” to do what God decreed, what He planned. Rather, the texts hold them as blameworthy for their evil.
What has been established so far? First, God can predestine men’s actions and “cause” them with His powerful hand to do what He so desires (a deathblow to the libertarian free-will position). Maybe libertarian freewill sometimes exist, but these men did not posses it. They were categorically unable to not crucify Jesus. In spite of that the men who crucified Christ were nonetheless held responsible for their evil. The second thing established is that libertarian free-will is not necessary for men to be responsible for their choices. Keep in mind, these were not just any set of choices, these choices were exceedingly evil. God predestined evil decisions of men, yet God is never impugned in these texts. The texts never accuse God of being evil by predestining evil. This means that the third and final established point is that God can predestine and cause evil, but not be “the author of evil.”
To summarize, here are three established relevant facts from Acts 2 & 4:
- God can decree and cause a person’s actions.
- Libertarian free-will is not necessary in order for men to be held responsible for their choices.
- God is not made the author of sin when He decrees an evil action.
This is relevant because it nullifies most of the reasons Provisionists/Arminians reject divine determinism. They claim determinism makes God responsible for sin, that it removes responsibility from men, and that freedom to choose otherwise is necessary for a choice to be true. But Acts 2 & 4 refute all of those reasons.
Let us now read what Dr. Flowers has to say on the subject:
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Dr. Flower’s argumentation is utterly irrelevant since he is not attacking the true argument from the Reformed.
Many Calvinists argue something like this: “If God determined the worse evil of all time without blame then we should be able to accept that God can determine all evil events without blame.” This is a common error of Calvinists. They take unique examples of God working to bring about a good purpose through the evil intentions of mankind as proof that God (1) “sovereignly brought about” the evil intentions themselves and (2) that He “sovereignly works” in this same way at all times throughout history… While I agree that God did determine the cross by actively intervening in our fallen world to ensure it came to pass, by means of judicial hardening, I fail to see how that proves God likewise determined and actively worked to bring about all the sin that needed redemption on that cross.
Leighton misunderstands the argument, as if we said “God predestined one thing therefore He predestined all things.” Perhaps some Calvinists in his life have argued this way. If so, Flowers is right – it’s a terrible argument. But that is not the argument we typically make. In fact, even the argument as he characterized it is not guilty of what he claims. “[W]e should be able to accept that God can determine all evil events without blame” is not equivalent to “This proves all events are determined without blame.” Acts 2 & 4 do not prove that God “determined and actively worked to bring about all the sin that needed redemption on that cross.” That’s not been the argument (at least not without other premises). Rather, what we claim those passages do refute that vast majority of the objections to determinism, meaning a person should be “willing to accept” it.
Ironically, because he misrepresents us, he fails to see how quickly he fell into our trap. He immediately goes on to say:
In other words, if Calvinism is true then God worked to “sovereignly bring about” the redemption of a child abuser in the same way that He worked to “sovereignly bring about” the abuse of that child. This flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God.
For Leighton it is absurd to claim God could predestine child rape because “This flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God.” There you have it. He does not reject determinism because of positive proof from Scripture arguing for libertarian freewill. Instead, Leighton rejects determinism because it attacks God’s character. In other words, he assumes that God predestining evil makes Him less than good and holy. This is when Acts 2 & 4 comes in to save the day.
How does God predestining the cross (significantly more heinous) not also “fly in the face His character”? If anything, killing His perfect Son is the far greater evil! Why is God blameless to decree the death of Jesus, but blameworthy when He decrees the death of a child? That is the question Leighton has failed to answer by instead taking aim at a strawman. Acts 2 & 4 do not prove God predestined all evil, but they do disprove the notion that God’s holiness is offended if He does predestine evil.
How Does Flowers Interpret Texts Like These?
Flowers failed to refute the Calvinist position, and to make matters worse, provides little in the way of a positive case. It’s almost impossible to determine how we should interpret Acts.
Leighton offers a brief analogy but it’s hard to know what exactly he means, not only because it is still hacking away a straw man, but also because it lacks any specifics. It is veiled behind great ambiguity.
Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do.
Is God a cop performing a sting operation? If so, then it appears Leighton has adopted a semi-molinist view, which makes the crucifixion a probability, not a guarantee. Using this analogy, God is invisibly using evil intentions to bring about what He wants. How does that work exactly? What does it mean to “use” intentions? Was it possible for the men to change their intentions? could they have never had them? In a real life sting, a police department sets up circumstances which increase the likelihood of a person breaking the law, and those stings fail more often than they work. It would be nice to get more specificity on how that correlates to God.
More importantly a word study would be handy. I am most interested in how phrases like “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” and “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” vindicate Flowers’ sting operation analogy.
The texts specifically credit Jesus’ crucifixion to a “definite plan” and to the “hand” of God, and say it was “predestined.” Anything dealing with autonomous beings cannot be definite or predestined. As soon as a person has to do something without the ability to do other wise, you’re no longer dealing with absolutes, but probabilities. No sting operation is a “definite” plan.
By way of a side, Flowers still has a need to vindicate God. Even if we accept the “sting operation” theory, is God free to use that method to bring about child rape? Can God use the evil intentions of men in a divine sting operation to bring about the rape of a child? I assume Leighton’s answer would sound something akin to, “May it never be! That flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God.” Thus, if it’s morally wrong for God to use freewill to bring about child abuse, why is God justified to use freewill to bring about murder? The closest we get to an answer is this:
We must understand that God, like the police department in the analogy above, may be hiding His identity at times and working to use the evil intentions of bad men for a greater good, but that in no way impugns His character by suggesting He is “the cause of all things that are.”
Flowers thinks he has rescued God from hanging on the Determinism hook, but he has done nothing to get God off the “author of sin” hook. Certainly making God the author of all sin impugns the character of God. But His character is still impugned when He is the author of some sin. The god who sometimes sins is no more worthy to be God than the god who always sins.
But I digress. We must press on, for Flowers not only gave us a non-sensical interpretation of how God’s plan and hand brought about about Calvary, he also contradicted that interpretation with a different one:
While I agree that God did determine the cross by actively intervening in our fallen world to ensure it came to pass, by means of judicial hardening, I fail to see how that proves God likewise determined and actively worked to bring about all the sin that needed redemption on that cross.(Emphasis mine)
Now we have a different answer, a new theory nothing like a divine sting operation (in which God is manipulating circumstances increasing the probability of Jesus’ death). Leighton is now postulated that God “actively intervenes” to “ensure” Calvary through “hardening” men’s hearts. This theory entails activity rather than passivity, this new theory presents a guarantee, not a probability, and this one involves revoking a person’s freewill, unlike the sting theory which retains it.
The question must now be: will the real Provisionist exegesis please stand up? It’s easy to tear positions down, it’s harder to construct them. Not only did Flowers fail to tear our position down, he provided no help in building up the true meaning of Acts 2 & 4!
Also observe how this interpretation undercuts many core Provisionist principles. This interpretation appears to cast libertarian freewill to the wind as well. Apparently God is willing and able to sometimes remove a person’s freewill and cause them to sin. So what about God being the author of sin? Can God sometimes be the author of sin? What about holding men responsible? Why does Peter call them “lawless men” if it was God Who caused them to sin through hardening their hearts? If God blamelessly hardens hearts, causing men to responsibly sin, isn’t that determinism? It sounds like Flowers agrees that determinism is sometimes true.
Flower’s explanation of these texts is ambiguous, contradictory, and self-refuting. Is God a cop or not? Is God sometimes a determinist or never a determinist? Flowers does not seem to know the answers to those crucial questions.
It seems to me that there are four reasons in total to reject Determinism:
- It makes God the author of sin.
- It excuses the sinner for their sin.
- It’s illogical
- The Scriptures positively teach Autonomous Libertarian Free Will will will in other places.
Acts 2 & 4 refutes the first three of those reasons. They prove God can predestine sin without being its “author.” They prove that sinners are still responsible for the sin God predestined. It therefore cannot be illogical since Acts 2 & 4 teach it. All that is left is whether the Scriptures anywhere indicate that God only sometimes, and for unique, predestines choices or if he does this for all of history. But what you cannot deny is that He is capable of predestining evil and not being blameworthy, while the perpetrators retain their guilt. We know that has happened at least once.