The Bible is clear that God loves righteousness and holiness, abhors sin, and desires His creation to choose righteousness and holiness. This is evident prior to the fall (Genesis 2:17), immediately subsequent to the fall as seen in His swift judgement upon sin (Genesis 3:14–24), the repeated calls for holiness to those prior to His covenant with Israel (Genesis 7:1, 15:6, 18:19), from Israel (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:7), the gospel (Matthew 3:2, 11:20, 5:48), and the church (1 Peter 1:15–16). Now Calvinists unwaveringly claim to believe this as much as Extensivists do. However, their commitment to decretal theology and compatible freedom of mankind with its resultant micro-determinism, upon closer scrutiny, does seem to eviscerate such obvious teachings of Scripture.
Their reliance upon secondary causes is insufficient to distance God adequately from being the ultimate reason for sin because if God endowed man with compatible freedom, then He did in fact have to desire to create man to inevitably sin. To wit, while according to compatibilism it is technically true that God did not cause sin, it is equally true that He did in fact desire for man to sin. At the outset, I am rejecting “it is a mystery” as a satisfactory answer to this inevitable dilemma generated by consistent Calvinism. Consider the following commitments in Calvinism.
Calvinism’s commitment to decretive theology and compatibilism means that God’s foreknowledge consists of that which He foreordained rather than including actual contingencies of libertarian free beings (the results of otherwise choice). Given that man did in fact choose to sin, and that God endowed man with compatible freedom, we can say that God created man so that he would unalterably choose to sin. This assurance is evident in light of a proper understanding of compatibilism. In point of fact, according to compatibilism and consistent Calvinism, God did not have to create man so that he would freely choose to sin. Nevertheless, He did so choose to create man where he would inevitably freely choose to sin, and such choice was by God’s design to disallow the freedom to have actually chosen not to sin in the moral moment of decision, given the nature and past God gave to Adam and Eve.
Accordingly, Calvinists’ references to the Scriptures that teach God abhors sin, desires man to live holy, abstain from sin, and holds man responsible for his sin and that he should have chosen not to sin are, in a substantially significant way, inconsistent with the essential elements of consistent Calvinism. While Scripture does portray all of the aforementioned elements that Calvinism proclaims, it also includes the teaching that man’s choice to sin was against God’s desire and will for him, and was an incalculably egregious misuse of his freedom. Such is the result of God comprehending the permission to misuse libertarian freedom in His coextensive creation/redemption plan without desiring that man would so choose.
For example, Calvinist William T. Shedd says that permission to allow sin “is one that occurs by a voluntary decision of God, which he need not have made, had he so pleased. He might have decided not to permit sin; in which case it would not have entered the universe” (emphasis mine). He goes on to quote Augustine as speaking similarly of such permission, “and of course his permission is not unwilling but willing.” He bolsters the case by referencing Calvin as saying with regard to voluntary permission, “God’s permission of sin is not involuntary, but voluntary.”
We all agree that nothing, including sin, is outside of the sovereign governance of God, and therefore, nothing can exist apart from His will, which includes permitting things that are contrary to His consistent desire for holiness. The difference is that in Extensivism, God created man knowing that he would choose to sin, but had so designed man that it was not predetermined that he would ultimately choose to sin, and it also includes that God surely did not desire for him to sin; however, in Calvinism the word desire is determinatively impregnated well beyond God’s mere knowledge of libertarian contingencies.
If one is unfamiliar with the unflinching determinism of Calvinism and the compatible freedom of man, this distinction can be easily missed in such statements as Shedd’s statement seems to communicate. Importantly, note that Shedd says nothing of God’s decision to disallow sin in the universe necessitating disallowing the existence of man or Lucifer. Such might be the case when the same consideration is made in light of man being endowed with libertarian freedom, but that is not the case if man is endowed with compatible freedom, as Calvinists believe.
Rather it seems (in light of compatibilism) that Shedd is quite clearly advocating that God could have created angels and man without sin entering into the universe. Such statement is an accurate portrayal of the presence of sin if man has a compatible freedom. That is to say, God desired to create beings so they would freely choose to sin, but they could not have chosen to refrain from sinning, given the nature and past that He gave them. Thus, most precisely, Adam and Eve’s sin, as well as everyone’s, is the consequence of God’s predetermined decision to create beings with compatible freedom, which inviolably leads to beings making a free decision to sin. It is true that compatibilism entails the truth that the person does freely choose to sin according to his greatest desire that emanates from his nature or past. It is equally true of compatibilism that man could not have freely chosen to not sin in the moral moment of decision—given the same past. This is true both before and after the fall.
This is not to say that Shedd and other Calvinists do not speak in terms that seem to argue the opposite, but rather that such talk is inconsistent with compatibilism. For example, Shedd says, “Leaving the unfallen will to its self-determination would not make its apostasy certain; because it was endowed by creation with a power to remain holy as created, and there was no punitive withdrawal of any grace given in creation until after apostasy. How, under these circumstances, a permissive decree which does not operate by direct efficiency can make the fall of a holy being certain, is an inscrutable mystery” (emphasis mine).
It is only a mystery because Shedd attempts to absolve God of involvement and proximation to sin contrary to the way that decretal theology (God knows what He predestines and not contingencies from otherwise choice) and compatibilism require; consequently, rather than resolving this dilemma, Calvinists neatly place their calvinistically-generated quandary behind the veil of “inscrutable mystery.” Because, if left unveiled, one must face the entailments of compatibilism, and its incoherence with Scripture and the nature of God becomes all too apparent. This problem does not exist with libertarian free humans.
1.Extensivists, Extensivism, used here as a descriptive for those who reject Calvinism.
2.William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed – A Defence of the Westminster Standards (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893) online at http://www.archive.org/stream/calvinismpuremix00shed#page/n5/mode/2up, 94.
3.William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed – A Defence of the Westminster Standards (New York: Charles Scribner’s sons, 1893) online at http://www.archive.org/stream/calvinismpuremix00shed#page/n5/mode/2up, 94.
4.William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed – A Defence of the Westminster Standards (New York: Charles Scribner’s sons, 1893) online at http://www.archive.org/stream/calvinismpuremix00shed#page/n5/mode/2up, 95.
5.William G.T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed – A Defence of the Westminster Standards (New York: Charles Scribner’s sons, 1893) online at http://www.archive.org/stream/calvinismpuremix00shed#page/n5/mode/2up, 95.