Before I begin, let me express my gratitude to Dave Miller for his willingness to let me post here at Voices. He has been generous with space while allowing me to offer perspectives at variance with his own. This is the true spirit of constructive debate. This post is my response to his response to my response to Nathan Finn’s response to the “Traditional Statement” (TS) on Southern Baptist (SB) soteriology, which is our response to New Calvinism in the SBC, which is the Calvinist response to non-Calvinism in the SBC. I imagine that this sort of back-and-forth is off-putting to some who see it as a distraction from the greater tasks of missions and evangelism. I certainly acknowledge the importance of keeping this conversation in a kingdom context. I believe, however, that this dialogue, if the basic rules of Christian discourse are followed, is essential to fruitful theological construction. My own understanding of the relevant concepts has grown immensely through this type of interchange. I am responding here to Miller’s reply because it is illustrative of the fundamental issues and dynamics of the debate. He makes two concessions with which I absolutely agree, although I am certain that we would disagree about their implications.
First, Miller concedes the point that Calvinism is predicated on determinism. He doesn’t like that word and makes mention that Calvinists would prefer something different. But he doesn’t propose an alternative because there isn’t one (Calvinists often offer the term “compatibilism,” but it is actually a subcategory of determinism*). That is really, really, really my main point. All SBs need to be crystal clear on this issue. If you’re going to be a Calvinist, you, like Miller, like Finn, like Piper, you, too, must be a determinist. If you’re going to affirm determinism then you must affirm its necessary implications, the main one being that God could have just as easily determined that all people “freely” choose Him instead of only some. This deep reality of determinism is seriously problematic.
Second, Miller concedes that the only way to slip out of the problematic implications of the determinism of 5-point Calvinism is to opt for a position that is logically contradictory. It is his belief that this offers a “middle ground” where most SBs, like him, want to stand, a middle ground that he feels I am denigrating. First (and I’ll touch on this later), I believe most SBs are not determinists. Therefore, most SBs are not like Miller. Indeed, Miller simply assumes a “Calvinist continuum,” presumably one to five points, to which all comers are bound. For some time, I’ve been arguing that SBs should stop operating with reference to that continuum because our rejection of determinism demands it. Second, Miller’s “middle ground” between “5-point Calvinism and Traditionalism” is actually sinking sand.
Here is his case :
My quarrel with Dr. Hankins has to do with his treatment of the middle ground views. As he differentiates between the libertarian free will views of the Traditionalists and the “determinism” of Calvinists, he dismisses the worth of middle ground viewpoints. It appears that he wants to set the discussion between the extremes (not to describe the views as extremist – both are mainstream Christian and Baptist viewpoints – but as the ends of the Calvinist continuum) of 5-point Calvinism and Traditionalism. One must logically hold to either libertarian free will or to deterministic Calvinism, according to Hankins and there is little value in the middle ground.
Miller’s basic point, with which I agree, is that the only logically coherent positions to hold on the question of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom are determinism and libertarianism. Miller’s “middle ground” position, which he dubs the “Amyraldian Antinomist,” opts for that which is logically incoherent: “An antinomy is something that is against the laws of logic – a logical contradiction.” Such logical contradictions, when affirmed in the Bible, must be believed by faith. For clarity’s sake, it is important to note the difference between paradox and antinomy. In a paradox, claims that appear to be contradictory actually are not. For an antinomy, the contradictions are real but undeniable. Antinomy is what Miller is affirming, and, while sounding attractive, it is actually disastrous. Miller is saying that the Bible and Christian doctrine sometimes violate the law of non-contradiction. Ligonier Ministries outlines why such a move is impermissible:
Faith and reason . . . belong together. Apart from faith, reason leads to futility. Without reason, faith becomes a blind leap that embraces contradictions. We see how this happens when people accept contradictory interpretations of Scripture as being equally true.
But God cannot contradict Himself. If He did, we could not believe what He says or know how to follow Him. If two people give a contradictory understanding of a text, either one of them is wrong or both of them are wrong. Both, however, cannot be right. Otherwise, the concept of truth loses all meaning. . . .
The law of noncontradiction is vital to the intelligibility of faith and life. Without it, the concept of truth loses all meaning.
If Miller is right, therefore, the possibility for knowledge of anything evaporates. No truth is possible because any truth could, at the same time, be false. Abandoning the law of non-contradiction is simply not an option.
Miller offers the doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union as examples of such antinomy, but these examples fail because neither is logically contradictory. Miller states, “Either God is One or Three.” That sentence is logically contradictory, but it’s not what the doctrine of the Trinity affirms. God is not one God and three Gods at the same time; He is one essence and three persons at the same time. There is certainly some mystery as to what that means and how it is so, but it is not logically contradictory. Miller makes the same mistake in offering the example of the two natures of Christ. The hypostatic union does not state that Christ has one nature and two natures at the same time. It states that Christ is one person with two natures. The status of being both fully human and fully divine, while mysterious, is not logically contradictory.
Miller then goes on to apply the concept of antinomy to the issue of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This assertion, while quite common, makes two significant mistakes, mistakes that simply must be grasped to rightly understand the contours of the debate.
First, Traditionalists are not, I repeat, not arguing against the coherence of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This must be understood. We affirm God’s real sovereignty and man’s real (therefore, libertarian) freedom. We are arguing against Calvinism’s attempt to reconcile determinism and human freedom. Miller’s substitution of sovereignty at the end of his post for determinism at the beginning is a common category error. When forced back into the proper arena of determinism, Calvinists like Miller have only two options: a philosophical coherence with serious theological problems or a theological coherence with serious philosophical problems. Miller opts for the latter, but it cannot be called the “middle” because it is still determinism, and it cannot be called “ground” because it offers no rational basis for belief.
Second, Traditionalists make the case that there are solid arguments for affirming the biblical concepts of true sovereignty and true freedom that do not violate the law of non-contradiction or the clear teaching of Scripture. These arguments, however, demand that theistic determinism be abandoned. The problem this poses for Calvinists is that dropping determinism eviscerates the system. Traditionalists argue that the middle ground most SBs have occupied is a non-determinist, libertarian middle ground that retains the strongest conceivable views of sovereignty, sin, security, Scripture, and the good-faith offer of salvation to every person. We believe that the vast majority of SBs reject theistic determinism. In doing so, they are affirming something very much like the TS. This is not a viewpoint at the extreme; it is the middle ground.
*The definition of “compatibilism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed in terms of a compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.”