Growing in the Lord

Determinism (Part 1) – Rejected by Early Church

Is it possible for you to live a more holy life? Does God want you to sin? Does God grant grace to live in closer communion with Him? These questions are central to the Yield To God website.

In this two-part series, I briefly present a sampling of the united church testimony against determinism and a sampling of the scriptural evidence against it.

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CHRISTIAN DETERMINISM SUMMARIZED

There are some popular mega-church leaders and their friends who are beginning to be more outspoken about their belief that God has prescripted every act of pain, sickness, and moral horror that has ever occurred in the universe.  For instance, RC Sproul Jr wrote “[God] created sin,” naming Him “The Culprit” who implanted the first desire of sin into Adam and Eve’s hearts so that they would sin, so that millions of their progeny would be damned to Hell. God allegedly has determined every single minutiae of every desire, so that people only feel, think, and act in the ways that God has prescripted them to do, because ultimately that is exactly what He wants.  Sproul Jr uses mostly logic to arrive at this conclusion, but don’t be taken in – Arians or Jehovah’s Witnesses use logic to make their errors sound like the only sensible option, too.

Sadly, this view is gaining popularity, and what used to be spoken of only in vague terms is now being preached more openly and with a strange fervor, as though it glorifies God by Him being powerful over sin, of having purposeful sin. One can imagine the book now: “40 Days of Purpose-Driven Sin – Finding God’s Glory in the Scripting of your Depraved Acts.

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DIVINE DETERMINISM ASSERTS THAT GOD CONCEIVES, SCRIPTS AND RENDERS CERTAIN EVERY HUMAN ACT; EVERY SIN YOU COMMIT.

Obviously Sproul Jr’s view rejects the very heart of this website, because our emphasis is on yielding to God as the source of all goodness and only goodness, and that that we can truly yield to Him, or truly resist His work in our hearts. Determinism makes nonsense of this – positing both that we cannot actually resist God’s work, and that every sin we commit is just as much a part of God’s will for us as every act of prayer and worship.

THEOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL BACKGROUND OF MODERN CHRISTIAN DETERMINISTS

It doesn’t take much probing to discover that virtually everyone in Sproul Jr’s group shares a theological allegiance to the 19th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards and to a very small and relatively modern group of other theologians. This group extols Edwards as a kind of genius and guru of spirituality. The reality is that his longevity, purported genius, and authority are negligible when compared to the depth and width of the Christian church over the last 2,000 years. Edward’s first revival was cut short by a wave of despondency as converts and allegedly revitalized Christians realized from his (erroneous) teaching on determinism and election the following hard realities: that it was essentially impossible to know if one was saved, any lack of fervor was a likely indication one was reprobate; their conversion false; their salvation impossible (Edward’s own uncle, a parishioner under his teaching, was among a wave of people who committed suicide in the wake of Edward’s “revival”).  I would no sooner embrace the totality of Edward’s deterministic paradigm than I would Nietzsche’s – another eminent philosopher – or Sam Harris’ – a well-known atheistic philosopher who denies the freedom of the will on similar grounds to Edwards.

This group of Christian-determinist writers and preachers are also experts at self-promotion through mutual promotion; praising one another effusively, keeping all publicity flowing to their fellow determinists whom they know will reciprocate it, adept at cultivating mega-churches, and even distorting book sales to climb the best-seller lists. This encloses their followers in a carefully crafted echo-chamber.

After I journeyed out of this echo-chamber, I was astonished at how the rest of Christendom interacts with one another: they may disagree, but they do so honestly and with respect. Not so the Edwardians.


EARLY CHURCH CONSENSUS CONDEMNS DETERMINISM

This issue was already been dealt with by numerous early church fathers and councils. It had reared its head in the secular determinism of their era, and in religious heresies outside the church. The Christians were united in their opposition to it. It is fundamentally unChristian. It denies the relational love and freedom inherent in being made in the image of the Trinue God and invited into relationship with Him.

Ultimately, my condemnation does not rest upon my own opinions but upon the united front of all Christians across the world for centuries of Christianity – a unanimous voice in the first 350 years.

In 529AD the Council of Orange declared,

We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

RC Sproul Jr and those who would support him unfortunately place themselves under this anathema.

CS Lewis echoed this abhorrence when he wrote:

“Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”  (I mean exactly what I say: nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will, apart from God’s grace, lead those who believe it to eternal death.)  For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world … But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”    – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Within the paradigm of divine determinism, spiritual war and the sin in your life is no more than God fighting against Himself.

In response to a claim that “whatever happens in the universe, whether it be the work of God, of angels [or] of other demons…is regulated by the law of the Most High God,” Origen (~225AD) replied:

This is…incorrect; for we cannot say that transgressors follow the law of God when they transgress; and Scripture declares that it is not only wicked men who are transgressors, but also wicked demons and wicked angels… When we say that ‘the providence of God regulates all things,’ we utter a great truth if we attribute to that providence nothing but what is just and right. But if we ascribe to the providence of God all things whatsoever, however unjust they may be, then it is no longer true that the providence of God regulates all things.  –  Against Celsus 7:68.  

The historic Christian view is that God is the source of all goodness (James 1:17), and that God does not even tempt people with evil – much less then, prescripting the temptation to sin and for them to desire and submit to it!

John of Damascus wrote:  

…it would not be right to ascribe to God actions that are sometimes base and unjust; nor may we ascribe these to necessity …We are left then with this fact, that the man who acts and makes is himself the author of his own works, and is a creature endowed with free-will. – (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith chapter 25 Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers 2nd Series vol.9 2nd p.40)

There are many dozens of other quotes I could supply, but for the sake I brevity I will stop for now and direct the reader to Part Two: a brief overview of the scriptural evidence against divine determinism. 

Categories: Growing in the Lord

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