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.
10 thoughts on “Is God a Cop?”
Comparing predestining child rape to predestining the cross is not in any way comparable. The cross was for the purpose of redemption. Child rape is not. God is sovereign and man’s free will both exist. It’s a matter of seeing what is in play in each situation. Sovereignty trumps free will at times, but never extinguishes it. So absolute divine determinism is false. “How often I would have gathered you… but you would not.” Absolute foreknowledge is true.
Where do you get that God can only predestine redemptive evil? Especially since the Bible says God works all things for the good of those who love him? If a Christian was abused, God works that for her good. Why can’t God then predestined that like the cross?
If you think God is sovereign AND men are free, then welcome to Calvinism. That’s a Reformed doctrine known as “compatibilism”
Are you the objective Seer who knows “what’s at play” in every situation?
What does it mean to trump freewill without distinguishing it? That’s a contradiction. When free will is trumped, it’s momentarily extinguished. Otherwise it’s not been trumped.
Ann Vandersteel, a US Constitutional expert has stated: that constitutional law is above the statutory law of the government bureaucrats and that the government is created by the people through statutory law.
Now contrast the difference between how the B’hag, Rif and Rosh halachic codes differ from the Rambam, Tur, and Shulkan Aruch halachic codes – Common Law as opposed to statute law. The latter makes no distinction if a halacha comes from a Mishna or Gemarah source. The Gemara learns the Mishna as Common Law. I submit to you that Rabbi Yechuda named his Mishna based upon דברים having a second name משנה תורה, and that this 2nd name means: Common Law.
The Baali Tosafot commentary exists as a Common Law commentary on the Talmud. Because the Gemara commentary to the Mishna, the latter continues the Mishnaic Common law. The Mishna – a Case/Rule system of Common Law. The Difficulty/Answer style of the Gemara reflects the Prosecutor/Defense role of a 3-man Torts court.
The Capital Crimes Sanhedrin courts likewise split into a Prosecution and Defense organization. The opposing judges argued their prospective case in order to persuade an opposing justice of the court to switch sides. If no justice switched from prosecutor to defence or vice versa, then the Nassi would decide the Case. When I sat as a Sanhedrin judge in Jerusalem, my rabbinic peers did not understand the “Order” of a Sanhedrin courtroom. They wanted to base that court upon a Rambam “statute law” model!
The Yeshiva world fails to address that publication of the Rambam halachic code threw the Jewish world into total anarchy and chaos. The Spanish rabbis highly assimilated to the recent discovery of ancient Greek philosophy. Sa’adiah Gaon too embraced and assimilated to the recent rediscovery of ancient Greek philosophy.
Contrast the Hannukah story. The Perushim rejected Greek culture, specifically the logic developed by Plato and Aristotle. The Tzeddukim, like the later Spanish rabbis (Ezra’s son converted to Islam) highly assimilated to ancient Greek philosophy. I submit that Maccabeans dedicated the lights of Hannukah – to interpret the Written Torah restricted to Common Law precedents. I can prove that any sugia ס, or parek פ in the Chumash can learn directly from the משנה תורה of the Oral Torah Book of דברים.
Order סדר defines both the Siddur and the Sha’s Mishna. Common law completely different from Roman statute law. The Rambam code – – bases itself on an Arabic/Greek statute law system. The Rambam based his halachic code, as did Sa’adiah Gaon upon the Arabic numerical system. Arab philosophers, how they learned Aristotle’s logic format, highly influenced both assimilated scholars!
What causes antisemitism? Jewish assimilation and intermarriages, emphasized in the Book of Ezra. The Torah through a direct negative commandment forbids assimilation to any culture or customs of Goyim who do not recognize the revelation of the Torah at Sinai & Horev. The generation of Shoah Jewry, what percentage of assimilation describes that generation lost?
The beit din of Rabbenu Jonah placed the Rambam into charem and burned his books in Spain in the early 1230s. In 1242 the king of France and the Pope burned all the Talmud in Paris. The Civil War between the Common Law Jewish scholars vs the Statute Law Jewish scholars best identified between the Rosh and his son the Baali Turim.
The halachot within the Common Law codes of the B’hag, Rif, and Rosh – – they serve as precedents to study and learn the expansive nature of the language of the Mishna. That’s why those common law scholars always open with a Mishna before bringing the Gemara precedents of הלכה למעשה. Assimilated Rambam’s code, despite having the name משנה תורה, his code bases its halachic rulings upon Roman statute law. The difference between British vs French and German law. British courts – common law; French and German courts – Roman statute law.
The Almoravids invasion of Spain in 1086. Followed by the Crusade war crimes in Germany, clearly enhanced Jewish chaos and anarchy, in 1096. The Rambam Civil War followed this absolute disaster. The chaos and anarchy which divided Jewry, invited as a consequence foreign intervention. Just as has happened in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan today!
The Rambam code, first published in approximately 1180. That code burned in Spain in the early 1230s. All the Jews of England, expelled in the early 1290s. The school of Talmudic common law scholarship, the Baali Tosafot, all Jews expelled from France in 1306. The German kings impose taxation without representation upon all Jews in the German kingdoms. This destroys virtually all Jewish business in Germany. The church imposes the decree which imprisons all Western European Jewry to exist in ghetto prisons. A huge population transfer follows, 10s of thousands of Jews flee from Western Europe to Poland and the Ukraine.
Following the victory of the statute law Rambam school over the French common law Baali Tosafot school, all Jewish scholarship made on the Talmud and halachic codes switched to statute law. From the Ron’s commentary to the Rif to all commentaries made on the Rambam Tur and Shulkan Aruch codes – all statute law.
Compare this Civil War to the American Civil War which switched America from a Republic to a Democracy to the Jewish Civil War which switched Common Law to Statute Law! States rights economic autonomy and control over Senators and Congress persons sent to Washington to serve the interests of the States which sent them there … to Party discipline which determines how Congress persons and Senators vote on any and all Bills presented to Congress!
Now recall how this letter opened: “Ann Vandersteel, a US Constitutional expert has stated: that constitutional law is above the statutory law of the government bureaucrats and that the government is created by the people through statutory law.”
The difference between מלאכה and עבודה, the former a skilled labor. The Talmud of ראש השנה refers to the blowing of the shofar as a מלאכה/חכמה permitted on shabbat. The families of Levi who transported the Tent of the Mishkan by contrast referred to as simple labor/עבודה. Comparable to the עבודה of Egyptian slavery.
Shabbat observance: Shabbat can mean both a day and also a week. In this sense, Shabbat compares to the Common vs. Statute law Civil War and to the States Rights vs. Political Party domination over elected officials sent to Washington Civil War. I submit that a person commits to not doing acts of מלאכה on the day of shabbat to not doing forbidden acts of עבודה on the 6 days of Chol/shabbat! This depth analysis the Rambam and all other statute law codes totally ignore! Just as most Americans today, oblivious to the distinctions between a Republic or a Democracy.
Today Karen and I got married 25 years ago.
There is so much illogic here. I will take just the first one.
“What gives me the idea that God can only predestine redemptive evil.” His character, which is revealed all through the Bible. He uses evil, He foreknows it, He can control it, but He does not predestine evil. He predestined the delivering up of Jesus, that was necessary for redemption, but He did not predestine the specific evil of the perpetrators, He simply foreknew it. To say God predestined such things as the abuse of a woman is slanderous of the character of God. Your quote from Romans 8 is incorrect. That verse in the original says “in” all things God works for the good of those who love Him. The emphasis is not on God doing the things, but on Him working “in” the milleu of those things.
//He can control it, but He does not predestine evil. He predestined the delivering up of Jesus, that was necessary for redemption, but He did not predestine the specific evil of the perpetrators, He simply foreknew it.//
1) The text simply doesn’t make the distinction. It’s a pretty silly one any. How did God predestine the crucifixion but not the actions of the crucifixion?
2) To say God does not predestine evil, and then turn around and affirm He predestined the cross is a contradiction. The fact is that you are granting God can predestine evil if He means it for good. And if, as I maintain, God uses all evil for good, then God, by your own admission, can predestine all evil and not have his character rightly impugned.
//And if, as I maintain, God uses all evil for good, then God, by your own admission, can predestine all evil and not have his character rightly impugned.//
God does not use all evil for good. He simply allows it and foreknows it, He will always gain the ultimate victory over evil, but He is not the author of it. Allowing and foreknowing are different than authorship. I think our world is the way it is simply because knows it is the best way to His plans, not that He predestines all the evil acts in that world. He allows them and foreknows them. To say God predestines evil and thats OK because He turns around and uses it for good, is sadistic IMHO. He did predestine the cross but not the assailants. He simply foreknew that and of course used it. Calvinism is robotic, and compatibilism is a semantical exercise that simply doesn’t work.
“God does not use all evil for good. He simply allows it and foreknows it.”
— Well He does use all evil for good for those who love Him. And if you reject that there is any evil God never uses for good, then you’ve forfeited the most important theodicy free-will theists employ. So do tell, if there is purposeless evil, why did God allow it?
“He did predestine the cross but not the assailants. He simply foreknew that and of course used it.”
— It’s astonishing how incoherent this sentence is. First, please tell me how God could possibly predestine the cross but not the assailants? Would the cross come to life and crucify Jesus itself if the Jews repented and asked Pilate for Barabbas? How can God predestine a crucifixion but not predestine those who crucify?
Second, what is the purpose of “predestining” something already foreknown? If God foreknew the cross, that means it was already an inevitable future God foresaw. So why predestine to take place what’s already going to take place? What did God’s act of “predestining” do?
//YOU: Well He does use all evil for good for those who love Him. And if you reject that there is any evil God never uses for good, then you’ve forfeited the most important theodicy free-will theists employ. So do tell, if there is purposeless evil, why did God allow it?//
What? If I reject that there is any evil God never uses for good? I just previously said there IS evil God never uses for good, unless you are looking at the macro picture of Him allowing evil in the general larger picture. Evil is evil and for those who *are* evil it serves no purpose other than to confirm their choice to be evil, which is sad for them to say the least, and certainly not God’s perfect intention. Scripture says God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.
You are still comparing the cross to God “predestining” abuse. I find those two entirely incompatible. Why? To equate those violates the Scripture’s revelation of who God is. Yes, He can use it for good. But that is a far cry from predeterming it. Calvinists are stuck on total divine predetermination. Sovereignty and free will are two sides of the same coin. Sovereignty is heads, but without tails the coin is not real. It’s a fantasy. It’s only a theological doctrine and not a real coin. God has foreknowledge of evil, but He did not predetermine the fall. Or abuse. Those are products of free will. You also did not respond to my Scripture quote. Jesus clearly was moved by Jerusalem’s failure to obey. You don’t logically predestine disobedience and then become moved by it. Foreknow it yes. Compatibility doesn’t solve it either, because the end result of that is it’s still predetermined.
I’m just giving my Arminian view here, I know we won’t agree 😃
In the larger picture, I believe God *foreknew* the fall, and if there was a better way to accomplish His purposes than to create our world as it is, He would have done so. But free will is part of that equation. Considering His ultimate purposes of love and relationship, this world was the best way to achieve that. That is a far cry from, for instance, predetermining a rape. That totally violates God’s revelation of His own character.