God Can Know the Free Acts of Man without Making Them Determinatively Necessary | Part Three

November 17, 2015

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Click HERE for Part One.
Click HERE for Part Two.

Simply said, what man could do (range of available options) and what he will choose to do from the God-given range of options, has forever been known with inviolable certainty by God. He knows this with the same certitude that He knows those things He would directly cause. God’s knowledge of the actual, potential, and what potential realities He will actualize are inherent in His perfection and omniscience, which does not require microcausality of every act of man. This understanding is in fact a more biblically reflective and grander portrayal of God than the Calvinist painting. The God of Scripture can cause or permit (permit allowing results from libertarian free beings), and He can know with certainty (without necessity) the acts of efficient causes—agent causation. He even knew the influences and the intricacies of the deliberative process of each free being. This represents man as having objective liberty in contrast to believing that man’s liberty is merely subjective (objective meaning that man’s sense of choosing between accessible options is actual rather than merely subjective, imaginary).

God’s certainty of man’s choice within the range of options given by God does not mean that man could not have chosen to do other than what he did in fact choose. The act in time is both free and certain. It is free as to choose between options afforded man in time, and it is certain as to God’s eternal knowledge of what said choice would be. Some ask, if God believed in eternity that man would act a certain way, and then at the last second he acted differently, would God have believed wrong—been mistaken. The answer is no. Regarding man, William Lane Craig notes, “He has the power to act in a different way, and if he were to act in that way, God would have believed differently.”[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer notes, “If the question be asked whether the moral agent has freedom to act otherwise than as God foresees he will act, it may be replied that the human will because of its inherent freedom of choice is capable of electing the opposite course to that divinely foreknown; but he will not do so. If he did so, that would be the thing which God foreknew. The divine foreknowledge does not coerce; it merely knows what the human choice will be.”[2]

To wit, God always knew what a person would freely decide (so the decision is in fact free and could have been otherwise had the free agent so chosen), but it is certain in that God’s knowledge of such choice is perfect. Had man chosen otherwise, God would have always known that. Thus, Extensivists believe that man will act in a certain way, whereas Calvinism believes man must act in a certain way. Extensivists believe man will certainly act a definite way when he could have truly done otherwise, and therefore man’s deliberative process, freedom, and liberty are objective. The free act of man is certain, but it is not necessary. The only thing that is necessary about man’s choice is that if he would have chosen otherwise, God would have known that choice because God knows everything and cannot be mistaken.[3] Therefore, the concept of liberty is objective rather than merely subjective. Further, the belief in libertarian free choice does not mean that God cannot override man’s freedom when He so chooses, and to postulate such is an egregious misrepresentation of Libertarianism.

Calvinism teaches that God foreknows because He decreed that man would act a certain way, and thus man necessarily acts a certain way and God can be certain of that. Extensivism says God foreknows because infinite knowledge of the actual and potential (including new event sequences resulting from otherwise choice of humans), is an essential property of His foreknowledge. Thus, it seems that Calvinism inadequately portrays and comprehends the biblical representation and facts regarding what man could, should, might, and will do whereas Extensivism does encompass these in foreknowledge. In both perspectives, there is never a nanosecond that God does not know with certainty the outcome of every act. The difference is that Calvinism permits God to know because He decreed such to be a certain way, whereas Extensivism makes liberty objective and known by God simply because He is God.[4] The latter is more reflective of the numerous biblical encounters of man with God wherein man is commanded to act a certain way, reprimanded and punished for not doing so, and blessed when he does; thus, making man responsible for his actions against grace very clear.

Of course such understanding does not make sense to a Calvinist. Part of the reason is that their definitions are derived from and lead to micro predetermination. I understand this does not fit the grid of Calvinism because I am not a determinist with all of its horror; however, my argument is that it does fit Scripture. It makes both foreknowledge (omniscience) and otherwise choice more consistent with Scripture without theoretical accoutrements. Calvinists strongly demur to man possessing such freedom, God being able to create such, and I understand that position. I would argue that their conclusions are largely reliant upon speculative theology and unnecessarily restrictive definitions of terms, which require auxiliary concepts, whereas Extensivism seems to be more reflective of the biblical portrayal of God’s knowing and man’s freedom than some speculation that God is incapable of knowing what He permits without necessitating such by causality.

We must remember that according to knowledge—finite vs. infinite—we are similar to ants (metaphorically speaking) under the microscopic lens of omniscience, which sees the deliberative process, influences, and degrees of struggle. All of which has been eternally known by God before the event in time better than man knows his choices after the event. Consequently neither the slightest aspect of the deliberative process nor the final choice is ever unknown to God. With man having true libertarian freedom, God could always have written Genesis 3:1—6, and there was never a point that He could not. Both the actualization of the event and Moses’ writing of it were dependent upon the start of time, whereas God’s knowledge of such is eternally a part of His being. Thus, foreknowledge establishes certainty without determinative causation.

Although all human examples of God’s foreknowledge break down at some point, e.g. humans never can know the future perfectly and humans know perceptively whereas God’s knowledge is essential; the following does serve to illustrate the difference between foreknowing and causing even though the foreknowledge is not absolute. I tell people that I know whom Gina (my wife for over 40 years) will vote for when she goes into the voting booth. I know this with mathematical certainty. I can tell you whom she voted for before I ever see her or talk with her after she has cast her vote. Why? Is it because I forced her, I coerced her, or that I somehow rigged the booth to cause her to vote a certain way (so that her freedom was merely subjective)? Absolutely not! I know how she will vote because I know her intimately. My knowledge of how she would vote actually has no bearing on her choice of whom to vote for, but rather I know because I know her. Simply put, knowledge and causation of certain actions are not synonymous. With regard to man, God’s knowledge does not necessarily prejudice outcomes.[5] Chafer notes, “Divine prescience of itself implies no element of necessity or determination, though it does imply certainty.”[6] God is not informed by looking beyond Himself, nor is He informed sequentially even though he distinguishes the sequence of events.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 71.
[2] Chafer, Systematic Theology. vol. I, 196.
[3] See William Lane Craig’s book The Only Wise God for a fuller explanation and illustration of certainty and necessity, pages 69—73.
[4] Craig, Only Wise God, 74. Craig says of logical priority, “To say that something is logically prior to something else is not to say that the one occurs before the other in time. Temporally, they could be simultaneous. Rather, logical priority means that something serves to explain something else. The one provides the grounds or basis for the other. For example, the premises in an argument are logically prior to the conclusion, since the conclusion is derived from and based on the premises, even though temporally the premises and conclusion are all simultaneously true….this does not mean that there was a time at which certain events occurred without God’s knowing about them. The priority here is purely logical, not temporal.” 127—128. See also where he demonstrates the fallacy of the fatalistic argument, 72—74. I think the term explanatorily prior may be more helpful.
[5] The action does not cause (chronologically prior) God’s foreknowledge, but it is logically prior like “four is an even number because it is divisible by two.’ The word because expresses a logical relation of ground and consequent….Once we understand the logical priority of the events to God’s knowledge of them, we can see more easily why the fact of God’s foreknowledge does not prejudice anything.’” Craig, Only Wise God, 73—74.
[6] Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. I, 194.

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Bill Mac

Ronnie: What do you see as the main differences between Extensivism and Molinism? I drifted towards Molinism from Calvinism not because I found the Molinist arguments more persuasive but because I discovered much of it was what I already believed, even while considering myself a Calvinist. Thanks.

    Robert

    Bill Mac,

    You asked:

    “Ronnie: What do you see as the main differences between Extensivism and Molinism?”

    Allow me to take answer your question.

    First consider where there is overlap and agreement. Ronnie in agreement with Molinists believes (1) that man has free will (in the ordinary sense and also in the way presented by libertarians, and (2) that the atonement is provided for all, but applied only to those who believe. Thus extensivism and Molinism **are** non-Calvinist positions with much in common.

    But that is not your question, you want to know what are the main differences between the two. The differences relate to different things being emphasized.

    Extensivism is primarily concerned with soteriology (how a person is saved) while Molinism is primarily concerned with providence (how God accomplishes his will when humans and angels with free will are present along with God’s purposes and plans and guidance and intervention and miracles; using his natural and middle knowledge) and omniscience (how does God know future free choices of men and angels/via middle knowledge).

    Molinism is also very concerned with how does God know what future choices people/angles will make? Molinism is concerned with ***elaborating on how God can be and is omniscient***.

    Extensivism as it is primarily concerned with soteriology takes God’s omniscience as a given (it assumes that God is omniscient without attempting to explain how God knows future events).

    I believe that if you keep in mind what the two concepts are emphasizing (Extensivism = soteriology, Molinism = providence and omniscience) you can then understand how they overlap in some areas and are emphasizing different things in other areas.

    Hope that helps.

Ronnie W Rogers

Hello Bill Mac
“What do you see as the main differences between Extensivism and Molinism?”

First I very much respect the idea of Molinism, and believe that it offers a perspective that actually balances sovereignty and true otherwise choice.

I am not sure what the main differences between Extensivism and Molinism are, but I am sure there are points of convergence.

I use the term Extensivism to encapsulate my soteriological understanding. I gave considerable thought in choosing the term. Although only used by me (so the need to continuously define for others), it does not seem to have negative connotations, and appears to me to be a suitable parallel for discussing soteriology within this Calvinist/non-Calvinist theological milieu in which I live. That is, consistent Calvinism is Exclusive (unconditional election, efficacious call, limited atonement etc.) in soteriology. Whereas, those who disagree with that Exclusive approach do so because we believe the Scripture teaches an Extensive soteriology.

I use the term in two ways. Broadly, I use it to include all who believe that God salvifically loves everyone and has evidenced such by provisioning sufficiently for everyone to have an opportunity to believe and be saved. This includes Traditionalist, Arminians, and Molinists with all their variations so long as they believe that—they might not believe in eternal security of the believer. In this sense it serves as an unencumbered positive term for non-Calvinists.

More particularly, I use the term to precisely express my view of how this may come about, answering tough questions posed by Scripture and Calvinism (which may be a little different or worded differently than others who agree with me broadly speaking, e.g. my belief in eternal security of the believer, depravity, inability etc.). I am presently writing a book on Extensivism, in order to describe my beliefs for fully, reasoning and answers, while also probing deeper into the underlying problems (theological, philosophical expressions and entailments etc.,) that led me out of Calvinism, and that I believe are irreconcilable with Scripture; if not properly understood serve as fecund soil for inconsistencies within Calvinism.

Consequently, I really do not seek to exclude anyone from Extensivism broadly understood, and yet, I do not desire to make someone an Extensivist nor spend time defending nuances of others with whom I agree on many things. My disagreement with Calvinism is at its most basic, non-negotiable, fundamental level, which means that I reject all five points and more as properly defined by Calvinism—including significant assumptions about God, sovereignty, etc., that lead to such.

Although at this time I cannot give a definitive answer to your question, I hope this helps to understand my use of the term Extensivism. Thank You

Steve Williams

Ronnie, you stated in your reply to Bill Mac: “consistent Calvinism is Exclusive (unconditional election, efficacious call, limited atonement etc.) in soteriology. Whereas, those who disagree with that Exclusive approach do so because we believe the Scripture teaches an Extensive soteriology.”

My question is this: When do you feel the SBC departed from its founding doctrines, the so-called doctrines of grace? I am not arguing a theological position here, just merely asking for information. It is correct that “consistent Calvinism is Exclusive (unconditional election, efficacious call, limited atonement etc.) in soteriology” and that is exactly what the founders of the SBC and the first seminary held. Wondering when the SBC began to move away from that conviction.

    Andy

    The simple answer is that even in the days of Boice, his soteriology and that of the Seminary did not necessarily reflect that of the whole convention, one that was diverse even from the outset containing both general and particular baptists. So for some in the convention, they haven’t “moved” at all. Others have moved one way, or another…As for SBTS, It is now about where it started…except add skinny jeans…

    Scott Shaver

    Pretty quickly after the Civil War and just prior to the Industrial Revolution.

    Broadus and Boyce kinda the first and last.

      Scott Shaver

      Correction, paralleled industrial revolution and dissipated most visibly just after American Civil War over here.

David R. Brumbelow

I know you didn’t ask me, but, I’ll give my view.

When did the SBC begin moving away from 5-point Calvinism?
I’d say beginning in about 1846.
The main writers in the SBC may have been 5-point Calvinists, but I believe even then most preachers and laymen were less than 5-pointers.
You see that in may ways in the last half of the 1800s and early 1900s.

David R. Brumbelow

David R. Brumbelow

Concerning the question of when Calvinism began to wane in the SBC and among Baptists in general:

Francis Wayland on Calvinism in 1856
http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2012/10/francis-wayland-on-calvinism-in-1856.html

David R. Brumbelow

    Steve Williams

    Thanks David.

    Scott Shaver

    Thanks for link David. Enjoyed that.

Robert

Steve Williams has effectively changed the topic of this thread. I have no problem if people want to debate about when people stopped being Calvinists in the SBC, IN ANOTHER THREAD.

THAT has nothing to do with this thread or Ronnie’s post here. I would appreciate people discussing Ronnie’s post, not wondering off on the rabbit trail of SBC history regarding Calvinism.

    Andy

    To get back on topic, just for Robert:

    1. I think most of Ronnie’s main ideas have been hashed out in the first two parts, hence less discussion here.

    2. I think overall, ronnie has done a good job showing that rejecting calvinism does not require rejecting omnicience. Those calvinists who think they are all going to end up as open theists are simply dreaming.

    3. I don’t know how helpful his last illustration is, about knowing how his wife will vote. It seems stretched, even he admitted as much. The fact is he doesn’t REALLY know for sure how his wife will vote, especially on every issue/election, unless they have talked about it, and even there she may change her mind after their conversation. This is not really how God knows what we will do, simply by knowing our character and past actions and tendencies. Better to simply say God knows what we will do. He has told us he know it, and his actions in scripture prove that he knows the future.

      Robert

      Andy,

      “To get back on topic, just for Robert:”

      Thanks I appreciate that, as I am sure Ronnie does as well! :-)

      “2. I think overall, ronnie has done a good job showing that rejecting calvinism does not require rejecting omnicience. Those calvinists who think they are all going to end up as open theists are simply dreaming.”

      Nice to see that you get it: Ronnie has demonstrated quite well that one can believe in both free will as ordinarily understood and God having omniscience (i.e. God knows what we will freely choose to do before we do it, and yet our freely made choices are not necessary but are genuinely and truly free).

      “3. I don’t know how helpful his last illustration is, about knowing how his wife will vote. It seems stretched, even he admitted as much. The fact is he doesn’t REALLY know for sure how his wife will vote, especially on every issue/election, unless they have talked about it, and even there she may change her mind after their conversation. This is not really how God knows what we will do, simply by knowing our character and past actions and tendencies. Better to simply say God knows what we will do. Better to simply say God knows what we will do.”

      “This is not really how God knows what we will do,”

      Regarding HOW God knows what he knows, we really do not know this nor would we understand it if he revealed it to us (e.g. He knows what billions of people are thinking now, before they had the thoughts, we simply cannot keep track of billions of bits of information simultaneously).

      “Better to simply say God knows what we will do.”

      Yes, in fact I would go further, we don’t have to know HOW God knows what he knows (whether it is the present, the past or the future): what we have to affirm is THAT He knows everything (every possibility as well as every actuality).

      It is similar to knowing HOW God acts in the world. I have no clue how a Spirit who is everywhere present, knows everything, has no brain or sense organs, and yet acts in the world, actually acts in the world. I know THAT He acts in the world, but not HOW. And it is not necessary for me to know HOW he acts in the world: what is needed is that I trust Him and His actions in the world.

      “Better to simply say God knows what we will do.”

      Amen, hopefully all of us here, regardless of our convictions on soteriology (i.e. Calvinist or non-Calvinist) can agree with your statement here.

    Steve Williams

    It was an sincere question Robert. I thought I was clear in why I was asking when I said, “I am not arguing a theological position here, just merely asking for information.” I wasn’t able to find a detailed explanation such as David provided above. A gentle rebuke/correction would have been more appropriate. You assumed much in your response. I think I’ll just excuse myself from the site. Obviously this is not the place to ask a sincere, honest question.

      Robert

      Steve,
      Ronnie is in the midst of a ***multiple part*** posting on the subject of whether or not God is able to know the freely chosen actions of people, foreknow these actions without determining them. THAT is the subject. It has nothing to do with whether or not the original SBC folks were Calvinists or if they were when they started departing from Calvinism.

      You claim that your question was sincere, and yet it had nothing to do with the subject of Ronnie’s postings. There is nothing wrong with sincere questions, as long as they are on topic, on the subject under discussion.

      The subject of whether or not the SBC started as Calvinist or not Calvinist, and if so, when and why they departed from Calvinism has been discussed many times on this blog. If you had been reading this blog before, you would have come across it before. In fact, this is often an argument of Calvinists trying to “prove* that the SBC was Calvinist and has departed from its roots.

      As this is an argument coming from many Calvinists AT THIS SITE, when I saw your post and how others responded, it appeared to be taking the discussion completely off the subject that Ronnie was writing about.

      Now if this is your first time posting here, sorry about my misunderstanding. I just want the topic to be discussed not for people to go off on some rabbit trail that has nothing to do with Ronnie’s postings.

Bill Mac

I’m wondering if any of the Calvinists posting here actually believe that the only way God can know man’s choices is to determine them? Even if you think God does determine a person’s every action, do you think that is the only way God can foreknow those actions?

    Les Prouty

    Bill Mac,

    No I do not think that God has to determine man’s choice (if by determine one means cause man’s choice) to know man’s choice.

    SDG!

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Bill Mac

    You said, “I’m wondering if any of the Calvinists posting here actually believe that the only way God can know man’s choices is to determine them?”

    Many times Calvinists seek to assuage the deterministic nature of Calvinism, which may be due to not fully understanding the deterministic nature of Calvinism. If the Calvinists understands the issue, the answer for Calvinism is (as shown above) God cannot know contingencies (choices of Libertarian free beings) because they do not exist. Thus, God knows what He predetermines. As such, there is very little difference between foreknowledge and foreordination, and permit and determine. Calvinism at its core is deterministic by its decretal theology and Compatible freedom perspective—the latter does not allow even the possibility of any breakout or change in the continuum from start to finish; hence, it is micro-determined.

    Les Prouty commented with regard to your question “No I do not think that God has to determine man’s choice (if by determine one means cause man’s choice) to know man’s choice”

    Les is correct that man’s choice is not caused (if he is meaning directly) by God, but it is the result of determinative antecedents. The nature or past from which the free choice emanates is in fact unalterably determined; hence, while the choice is considered free so long it is what the person desires, given the same past it could not be different, which means it is a determined free choosing. That is the essence of compatibilism—moral responsibility and determinism are compatible. What makes them compatible is that free choice is defined as man choosing what he desires, but the choice is the unalterable fruit of determinative antecedents. Additionally, in Calvinism, God does not directly cause everything, but rather employs secondary, tertiary causes etc., but this does not change; first, that the knowledgeable (knowledgeable about the issue of what God can know) Calvinists that I am aware of argue that God knows what He predetermines (not contingencies); second, that according to compatibilism and Calvinism, everything, and I mean everything is unalterably determined. Even our discussion and your thoughts about this are determined if compatibilism is true.

    That Calvinism talks and seeks to assuage the inflexible determinism of their perspective does not change the fact. It is God’s ability to know contingencies that is argued from the libertarian freedom perspective and that brings a mixture of new sequences to the unfolding of time. Which is what determinism rejects—whether it is religious or secular determinism.

    Thanks, sorry for the hurried answer

      Bill Mac

      Ronnie: Thanks. Are you using contingencies in same way Bill Craig uses the term counterfactual? I’m curious about your use of the phrase “new sequences”. Can you expand on that? New to whom? Since we all agree that God has exhaustive foreknowledge there is certainly nothing new to him.

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