Can a Calvinist Embrace the Free Will Defense?

In 1955, atheologian J. L. Mackie argued the logical problem of evil renders belief in God “positively irrational.” [1]  Mackie claimed the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence of the God of traditional theism are inconsistent with the existence of evil in the world.  Rebutting this claim, Alvin Plantinga proffered the response known as the free will defense.  Articulated in his 1977 work God, Freedom, and Evil, the free will defense is the most effective defense the theist has against the logical problem of evil.  Upon reviewing the defense, Mackie conceded the following in 1982:  “Since [the free will defense] is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not after all show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.” [2]  Thirty-five years later, opponents of theism still fail to sufficiently respond to the free will defense.

Alvin Plantinga

While Plantinga’s work delivered a heavy blow to atheologians, his conception of human freedom also troubled reformed theologians.  The metaphysical libertarian conception of human freedom, on which the defense relies, is often conflated with Arminian theology.  Believing the defense to require the adoption of an Arminian theology, many reformed theologians consider the free will defense inconsistent with Calvinism.

Accepting the importance of the free will defense as the only conclusive rebuttal of the logical problem of evil, and acknowledging Calvinist’s concerns for the defense’s employment of libertarian freedom, ample evidence suggests a thoroughgoing Calvinist has grounds upon which to embrace the free will defense.  Further, it can be said that many historical Calvinists have held the very conception of freedom necessary to coherently adopt the free will defense into reformed theology.

The Requirement of Contrary Choice

Plantinga contends that for any moral good to exist, it is required that a creature has the ability for meaningful choice in at least one morally significant decision.  Removing the creature’s ability to choose evil simultaneously eliminates any ability the creature has for choosing good, and thus, ethical choice both good and bad are consequently lost. [3]

Calvin and Hobbes…named after theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes…weighing in on determinism.

This type of meaningful choice requires a conception of freedom that grants human agents the ability for contrary choice, also referred to as libertarian freedom.  This means that in at least some actions an agent performs he could have instead refrained from performing the chosen action.  Stated another way, in at least some choices an agent could legitimately perform either A or not-A.  Therefore, to embrace the free will defense, a person holding a reformed soteriology must embrace a view of human freedom that grants agents the ability for contrary choice.  Many modern Calvinists will argue the adoption of this understanding of freedom is not possible for the reformed theologian.  This position is, however, misinformed.

Traditional Calvinism and Paradox

The historic Reformed tradition honors the simultaneously affirmed biblical truths of God’s meticulous sovereignty and human responsibility.  This is what J. I. Packer calls the “antinomy” of Scripture.  Packer writes, “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught to us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text.  Both are thus guaranteed us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true.” [4]  As Charles Spurgeon articulates, “The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. . . These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil . . . but they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God.” [5]

While convincing a Calvinist to accept the predestination of God is rarely an issue, there is considerable debate regarding the manner as to how Calvinists define human freedom and subsequent moral responsibility.  Most adherents of modern Calvinism are committed to a view of freedom called compatibilism, most notably championed by Jonathan Edwards.  Put simply, compatibilists state that “we are free when we choose to do what we want.  But it stands to reason that if we choose to do what we want, then at the moment of that choice, we are not ‘free’ to do otherwise.” [6]  Compatibilists explicitly deny this human ability for contrary choice.

freeWillHowever, Calvinist historian Richard Muller points out, that unlike Edwards, Calvinists historically saw human responsibility as requiring the same contrary choice adopted by Plantinga in the free will defense.  Muller writes, “[Historically] the Reformed deny chance . . . but affirm contingency as something that could be otherwise given that its causality is contingent and, in the cause of human choices, defined as contingency by potencies of will to more than one effect.” [7]  This ability to “will to more than one effect” is contrary choice. [8]   According to Muller, the Reformed position of the 16th and 17th centuries, whether one looks to Calvin or to Turretin or to the Westminster standards, involves a conception of human will that can choose between A or not-A. [9]  The potency of the will to multiple effects, and freedom of contrariety appears throughout reformed writings until Jonathan Edwards associates this language strictly with Arminianism in Freedom of the Will. [10]  “This shift in language and understanding between the older Reformed orthodoxy and the teachings of Edwards was identified by both proponents and opponents of his views.” [11]

Working from Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, Muller shows that at least one prominent Genevan professor held a freedom of “simultaneity of potencies,” such that the “otherwise” does exist as a pure potency not actualized in this world, but pushed back into the divine mind and resident in a possible world that God does not will to actualize.  For Turretin, this yields contingency defined by a multiplicity of potencies. [12]  In his own words Turretin insists, “The will of itself is so prepared that it can either elicit or suspend the act (which is the liberty of contrariety and of specification).” [13]  Turretin was not alone in Geneva.  Samuel Maresius, who studied at Geneva at the time of the Synod of Dort, agreed that indifference persists “as long as the intellect remains doubtful and uncertain where to turn itself.” [14]  Both Turretin and Maresius affirm alternativity and place free choice in the last determinate judgement of the practical intellect. Hence, these men of the 17th century Academy of Geneva, conceived of reformed theology as including contrary choice.

Upon its founding, Princeton University adopted Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology as the primary textbook for systematic theology.  Turretin’s text remained Princeton’s staple until it was replaced by the systematic theology of 19th century reformed heavyweight Charles Hodge in the 1870s.  In his Systematic Theology, Hodge follows Turretin’s lead by affirming the freedom of self-determination.  Hodge writes, “Concursus . . . contradicts the consciousness of men. . . To act freely implies that we originate our own acts.” [15]  This evidences that the two primary theological texts of orthodox Princeton both affirm, and were written by theologians who affirmed, human self-determination in contrary choice.

Further, regarding the determination of choice, many of the earliest reformed theologians build out the landscape of the earliest reformed notions of freedom.  Girolamo Zanchi (16th century Italian Calvinist) and Lucas Treclatius (16th century Dutch Calvinist) placed alternativity in both the will and the intellect and identified freedom as the free agreement of the will with the judgment of the intellect. [16]  Gulielmus Bucanus (16th century Swiss-French Calvinist) argued the will as a rational faculty and possessor of alternativity that can will, or not will the object presented to the intellect. [17]  John Wemyss (early 17th century Scottish Calvinist) advocated for an “initial act of will that induces [the] intellect to deliberate, followed by the act of freely accepting the determinate judgment.” [18]  17th century Dutch theologian Petrus van Mastricht wrote that “choice occurs according to an inward counsel that is neither intrinsically determined nor determined extrinsically by compulsion.” [19]  Dugald Stewart, Sir William Hamilton, Franco Burgersdijk, Robert Baron, Adriaan Heereboord, and Gijsbert Voetius were also members of that older Reformed tradition [20] that, according to Philip Doddridge, consisted of contrary choice, and when explicitly implicated, distanced itself from compatibilistic definitions of the will. [21]

Evidenced by their theological works, many historical Calvinists divided the activity of free choice into (1) an adjudication of intellect between multiple potentialities, and (2) a free willing upon the choice the intellect has chosen.  Like Aquinas’ account of intellect and will, the willing is free because it is a matter of rational willingness or spontaneity in following the determination of the intellect. [22]  Such assertions of intellective power of choice, two volitional liberties, and contradiction and contrariety seem to very closely resemble the self-determining power and power of choosing differently that Edwards, and compatibilists by extension, vehemently deny.  There is no shortage of early Reformed theologians who affirm a genuine inward alternativity grounded in an interchange of intellect and will.  Thus, for early Reformation theologians, in the case of judgments of the intellect it is possible that a person willing A could have likewise willed not-A.  Further, these men explain the choice in selecting A or not-A as itself belonging to the adjudication of the intellect which provides the last judgment upon which the will follows.  Muller suggests that Edwards’ predecessors have “an interaction of intellect and will that begins in an actus primus indeterminacy and yields a determination, which is also concurrently willed by God from eternity as an aspect of the possible world that he has decreed to actualize.” [23]

19th century theologian John Lafayette Girardeau (Southern Presbyterian author of The Will in its Theological Relations – a 485 page rebuttal to Edwards’ Freedom of the Will) was a confessionally Reformed theologian who insisted that elements of human willing must include the determinate choice of action, whether for one thing or another. [24]  Girardeau was a vehement opponent of Jonathan Edwards’ dismissal of contrary choice, and argued the case for mutability of will from Calvin’s Institutes and the Reformed confessions. He records that Edwards’ thesis that God’s causal determinism is compatible with human free will, “was attended by singular and apparently contradictory results.” [25]

Girardeau used the prelapsarian couple as his model in arguing that the historical church universally believed the couple had the ability of deliberate election.  He references the fourth chapter of the Westminster confession which says, “[God] created man . . . with reasonable and immortal souls . . . having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it . . . being left to liberty of their own will,” as well as the ninth chapter which states that “Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will . . . mutably.”  Girardeau finds agreement in his interpretation of the Westminster Confession from William Cunningham.  Considered by many as the ablest defender of Calvinism in the first half of the 19th century, Cunningham mediated a balance between libertarians and compatibilists.  He asserted that while “nothing precludes men from holding the doctrine of philosophical necessity . . . there is nothing in the Calvinistic system of theology, or in the Westminster Confession, which requires men to hold the doctrine of philosophical necessity.” [26]  Stepping into Cunningham’s opening, Oliver Crisp points out that a reading of the Westminster Confession (chapter 10 most specifically), through the lens of contrary choice, highlights that “the Confession does not say that God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . God certainly knows all future conditionals,” but “this does not mean God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . What is more, the Confession does not deny that humans have libertarian free will in [non-salvific] choices. It denies only that humans can freely choose salvation absent prevenient divine grace.”[27]

John Girardeau made the further claim that Calvin had in mind a libertarian conception of freedom.  Calvin himself wrote, “We allow that man has choice that is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing.  We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of will and cannot coexist with it.” [28]  This alone does not conclusively demonstrate that Calvin affirmed contrary choice, but that man has “self-determination,” agent causation in morally significant acts.  In the Institutes, however, Calvin says, “We admit that man’s condition while he still remained upright was such that he could incline to either side” (2.3.10), and “Adam could have stood if he wished . . . his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other” (2.15.8).  This seems to indicate that Calvin considered Adam capable, in the power of his own determination, of choosing A or not-A prior to the fall.  If this is correct then Calvin allows for a libertarian free will for prelapsarian man – an allowance Edwards and compatibilists deny.  Further, Unitarian priest Joseph Priestley elsewhere states that in the time before Edwards, “none of the Calvinists had ever concluded that, prior to the fall, Adam had been under any necessity of sinning.” [29]

These examples find themselves in agreement with the thinking of Martin Luther as well.  Timothy George suggests that Luther “never denied that the free will retains its power in matters that do not concern salvation. . . Understood as the God-given capacity to make ordinary decisions, to carry out one’s responsibilities in the world, free will remains intact.  What it cannot do is effect its own salvation.” [30]  Luther wrote, “Free choice is allowed to man only with respect to what is beneath him. . . In relation to God, or in matters pertaining to salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice, but is a captive.” [31]  Like his Reformed successors, Luther believed that it is only when the will has been acted upon by grace that “the power of decision really become[s] free, in all events in respect to salvation.” [32]  Regarding ordinary decisions “below” or not “pertaining to salvation,” however, Luther held that man has “free choice.”

Conclusion

It should be evident from the historical survey that it was well within the breadth of the historic reformed tradition to honor both the meticulous sovereignty of God and the contrary choice of man.  Therefore, a Calvinist should feel he has full warrant to embrace the contrary choice necessary to adopt the free will defense.  The appropriation of the free will defense need not require the abandonment of Calvinism, but merely the abandonment of compatibilism and the determinism on which it depends.  In so doing, the Calvinist finds himself in good standing with the rich tradition of reformed thinkers.  In abandoning compatibilism, Calvinists lose the theologico-philosophical reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and human freedom that a system of philosophical necessity provides, but is instead allowed the embrace of the greatest defense against the argument that evil disproves God’s existence.  This exchange requires a value judgment that weighs the importance of reconciling determinism with human freedom against defending God’s existence and thwarting arguments that depict Him as unknowing, unloving, and powerless in the face of (or causally responsible for) evil.  Whether one chooses to adopt contrary choice or the free will defense, it should be clear that those Calvinists who do are well within the confines of the historic reformed tradition.

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Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer from Houston Texas – a husband, father, church deacon, and Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

 

 

[1]J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” in Mind, New Series, vol. 64, no. 254 (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, April 1955), 200-212.

[2]J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 154.

[3]Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).

[4]J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 23-27.

[5]C. H. Spurgeon, “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility” (sermon 207, Royal Surrey Gardens, August 1, 1858), www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0207.htm.

[6]Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory:  The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 80.

[7]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin on Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom of Will.  In Response to Paul Helm,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies, vol. 4/3, (2014), 272.

[8]For this study, it is important to note that libertarian freedom is not a term uniformly used by historic theologians.  Prior to recent discussion there was no uniform terminology used by theologians to refer to libertarian freedom and contrary choice.  The terms contrariety, alternativity, freedom of deliberation, simultaneity of potencies, multiplicity of potencies, contingent causality, self-determination, and determinate choice are all variations used to refer in some capacity to a freedom that involves contrary choice in at least some decisions.

[9]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice:  A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies:  vol. 1/1 (2011), 3-22.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 21.

[12]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 276.

[13]Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae (Whitefish, MT:  Kessinger Publishing, 2009), X.iii.4.

[14]Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, X.iii.4; with Samuel Maresius, Theologiae Elenchticae Nova Synopsis, Sive Index Controversiarum Fidei ex S. Scripturis, vol. 2 (Groningen:  Joannes Nicolaus, 1646-1647), 12.

[15]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1 (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publisher, 1981), 604.

[16]Girolamo Zanchi, De Operibus Dei Intra Spatium Sex Dierum Creatis, in Operum Theologicorum D. Hieronymi Zanchi (Heidelberg:  Stephanus Gamonetus, 1605), III.iii, col. 706; with Lucas Treclatius, Jr., Scholastica et Methodica Locorum Communium s. Theologiae Institutio Didactice & Elentice in Epitome Explicata:  in Qua, Veritas Locorum Communium, Definitionis Cuiusque, Loci per causas suas Analysi Asseritur:  Contraria Vero Argumenta, Imprimis Bellarmini, Generalium Solutionum Appendice Refutantur (London:  John Bill, 1604), 208, dist. 3.

[17]Gulielmus Bucanus, Institutiones Theologicaue, Seu Locorum Communium Christianae Religionis, ex Dei verbo, et Praestantissimorum Theologorum Orthodoxo Consensu Expositorum (Bern: Iohannes &Isaias Le Preux, 1605), Xi.2, 109.

[18]John Weemse (Wemyss), The Portraiture of the Image of God in Man, in His Creation, Restauration, and Glorification, in The Workes of Mr. John Weemse of Lathocker vol. 1 (London: T. Cotes, 1637), 98.  

[19]Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretico-practica Theologia, IV.iv.10 (Sumptibus Societatis, 1715), XVII.4.

[20]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 12, 20.

[21]Philip Doddridge, A Course of Lectures on the Principal Subjects in Pneumatology, Ethics, and Divinity; with References to the Most Considerable Authors on Each Subject vol. 1 (London, 1794), 50-59.

[22]Eleonore Stump, “Aquinas’s Account of Freedom:  Intellect and Will,” in The Monist 80/4 (1997), 576-597.

[23]Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 285.

[24]John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations (Columbia, SC: W. J. Duffie and New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1891), 43-44.

[25]John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations, 18.

[26]William Cunningham, “Calvinism and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity,” in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh:  Banner of Truth, 1989), 483.

[27]Oliver D. Crisp, Deviant Calvinism:  Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2014), 94-95.

[28]John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will:  A Defense of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 1996), 69.

[29]Joseph Priestley, The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated; Being an Appendix to the Disquisitous Relating to Matter and Spirit (London, 1977), 157.

[30]Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, TN:  B&H Academic, 2013), 76.

[31]Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus:  Free Will and Salvation (London: Westminster, 1969), 111.

[32]Wilhelm Pauck, Luther:  Lectures on Romans (Philadelphia: WJK, 1961), 252.

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Is the Universe Interconnected by a Supernatural Force?

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Is God in all of us? Are all of us in God? Is there a universal spiritual or quantum force that binds all of existence? Are we all one with each other in the universe? These are the questions that quantum spirituality and Eastern mysticism have introduced to the Western worldview. Popularized by movies like Star Wars and Avatar, and brought into the church by authors like Leonard Sweet, some Christians – consciously or not – mingle these ideas with the teachings of Scripture. The question is, “Do these views align with the Bible’s revelation of God and the cosmos?”

Use the force Luke.

God is omnipresent within creation, but metaphysically beyond His creation. Simply stated, God is a being separate in substance from the universe. Created entities are not forged from the substance of God, nor is God Himself comprised of creation. That said, transcendence for the purpose of this article, should not be understood as meaning God is not actively present in the world. Quite the contrary, “Judeo-Christian religion does not picture the universe as a spatial box with God overflowing it or standing outside it.” [1] Transcendence here is intended only to mean that God is substantively different from His creation, not that He is absent from creation. This article will explain and defend the position that, while immanent, God remains concurrently transcendent. While permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, God is ontologically distinct from His creation. God is not in any way dependent on the created order, neither is God the sum of all creation, nor is God present within every created entity or being. Citing modern philosophers, theologians, and Scripture this article will outline the prominent examples of, and reasons for, the diminishing of transcendence as an attribute of God. This article will address the traditions of monism, in their primary forms, where they most directly interact with the Christian faith. Using a logical, theological, and philosophical defense of the church’s orthodox position on the transcendence of God, held in balance with God’s immanence, this article will affirm the necessity of upholding the historic view of transcendence, and will outline the ramifications of pantheistic views such as those depicted in Star Wars, Avatar, What the Bleep Do We Know, Lucy, etc., which conflict with the biblical understanding of God as a transcendent being.

Monism

Philosophies that champion a God who has a diminished transcendence result in what is referred to as immanentism. Immanentism is manifest in a broad array of philosophical and religious ideologies qualifying as monism. The simple definition of monism is: any belief or philosophy that sees all things connected or unified in universal one-ness. For the purposes of this theological discussion, this paper will focus only on the two forms of monism that most commonly interact within Christianity. These more specific variants of monism are pantheism and panentheism.

Monism in its most straightforward form is pantheism. “The word pantheism derives from the Greek word pan (=’all’) and theos (=’god’). Thus, pantheism means all is God. In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence … ‘nature is my god.’” [2] By eliminating transcendence entirely, pantheism holds that God is fully immanent and encompasses all. Pantheism holds that all people are connected to one another, to nature, and to God, whose physical body is the universe. President of the World Pantheist Movement, Paul Harrison, puts forth the following: “God is said to be the creator: overwhelmingly powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, infinite, and eternal. Indeed [the universe] is indeed the only thing we know to possess these qualities.” [3] The very elements that compose our bodies are the same elements found in nature, and the universe has the ability to end our lives, at which point, those elements return to nature. This is the pantheist’s “circle of life,” which is an existence that is easily observable, congruent with science, and does not depend on any transcendent “mythical” place or being. In pantheism, life the universe, and the interactions between the two can all very clearly be perceived and experienced.

A person indoctrinated in orthodoxy might not quickly pinpoint the locus where the worlds of pantheism and Christian doctrine mingle, but the rallying point in scripture clearly falls at Acts 17:28 where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran Theologian, managed to propose a formidable case for God being, “not a being” but “being itself.” Tillich wrote in his Systematic Theology, “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being itself.” [4] Tillich goes on to say that entities themselves are the manifestation of God as the “power of being.” The power to resist non-being, which is inherent in everything that exists, is that being’s acknowledgement that God is the power of being within it allowing it to be. From this one can conclude that in Tillich’s philosophy, God is the “universal essence” within all things, which makes up being itself.

As quoted previously, Tillich states, “The being of God is being itself.” Tillich argued that what he referred to in saying this is not pantheism as it is understood to mean, “God is everything,” but rather that God is the “ground and unity of everything.”  Tillich makes his defense of his position saying,

Pantheism asserts that God is being itself.

This idea [that God is the static divine ground of the world] was founded on the principle of identity over against the principle of detachment and depths of everything. [God] is not everything, as this much abused term “pantheism” says. Nobody has ever said that. It is absolute nonsense to say such a thing. It is better to avoid the term itself, but if it means anything at all, it means that the power of the divine is present in everything, that He is the ground and unity of everything, not that He is the sum of all particulars. I do not know any philosopher in the whole history of philosophy who has ever said that. Therefore, the word “pantheism,” which you can translate as “God is everything,” is down-right misleading. I would wish that those who accuse … [me] of using it would define the term before using it. Whenever some people hear about the principle of identity, they say this is pantheism, which supposedly holds that God is this desk. Now, of course, [Martin] Luther would say that God is nearer to everything than it is to itself. He would say this even about the desk. You cannot deny that God is the creative ground of the desk, but to say that God is the combination of all desks and in addition all pens and men—this is absolute nonsense. The principle of identity means that God is the creative ground of everything. What I dislike is the easy way in which these phrases are used: theism is so wonderful and pantheism so horrible. This makes the understanding of the whole history of theology impossible.[5]

Regardless of whether Tillich would consider himself a proper pantheist, his detractors voiced significant concern for his intriguing argument for the essence of God in all things. Interestingly, William Paul Young, #1 New York Times Best Selling author, borrows Tillich’s exact terms to define God. In Young’s most acclaimed work, The Shack, the Jesus character, referring to the Father, explains, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things … and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.” [6]

Quantum Spirituality

Arriving at similar conclusions, yet coming from a different approach, is leading Emergent Church theologian (and former Rick Warren colleague) Leonard Sweet. Sweet, along with other quantum mystics, proclaims that, in a world where science and religion are increasingly at odds, quantum spirituality bridges the gap between science and God. Quantum physics is the viable scientific basis for innovations in technology such as lasers, computer chips, and nuclear power, [7] and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” [8]

Quantum physics has taught scientists that particles at the subatomic level communicate with one another at speeds faster than light. Whatever is done to one particle has an immediate effect on another remotely located particle. [9] This transfer of information from one particle to another, at a speed faster than light, is seen by some as proof that all things are indeed connected. This leads to a theory that the universe is somehow one, an undivided whole.

Quantum physics theorizes the interconnectivity of the universe.

Scripture has also been used to qualify such a thought. The Apostle Paul uses variations of the expression “in Christ” over 160 times in His epistles. The most notable scripture used to support a quantum spirituality is Colossians 1:17 which says, “In Him all things hold together.” On the basis of these unfolding discoveries in quantum theory, Leonard Sweet, speaks directly to postmodern Christian thinkers saying, “Quantum spirituality is nothing more than your ‘new account of everything old’—your part of the ‘I Am’ that we are.[10] Sweet ties this quantum spirituality, also termed New Light, directly to pantheism when he says:

Quantum spirituality bonds us to all creation as well as to other members of the human family. New Light pastors are … earth ministers who can relate the realm of nature to God, who can help nurture a brother-sister relationship with the living organism called Planet Earth. This entails a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation. New Light spirituality does more than settle for the created order, as many forms of New Age pantheism do. But a spirituality that is not in some way entheistic (whether pan- or trans-) that does not extend to the spirit-matter of the cosmos, is not Christian.[11]

Panentheism

Another form of monism, which espouses God’s presence in all, is panentheism. This view has long been present in the literature of the monastic Catholic mystics and has increasingly found its way into Evangelical streams via the Emergent Church movement. Where pantheism defines God as the comprisal of all, panentheism asserts “the belief in a personal creator God who transcends the world, but is intimately and actively present in the world and within each [person].” [12] In panentheism, God interpenetrates every created entity, while also timelessly and spatially extending beyond creation. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, for which Thomas Merton Square in Louisville, KY is named, is famous for the story of his standing at that very corner when he came to this realization:

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart … where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. … If only we could see each other that way all the time. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. … This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of god  in us. … It is in everybody. … The gate of heaven is everywhere.[13]

Similarly, another Trappist monk, an architect of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating said, “The second commandment of Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is rooted in the recognition and acceptance by faith that the Divine Presence dwells within every human being.” [14] The Catholic mystic movement maintains that God is present in all creation, sustaining every creature. They believe this is what Jesus referred to specifically when he prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (John 17:21). Emergent Church leaders within Evangelicalism, embracing (in varying degrees) the theology of Leonard Sweet, have also been identified as teaching mystic practices and panentheistic views, similar to the Catholic mystics.

Theological Support for Transcendence

The transcendence of God is most readily evidenced in Scripture by God’s immaterial “spirit” nature, His authorship in creation, His perfect holiness, and the unique dual divine-human nature of His Son. There is no better place to launch the theological case for the transcendence of God than in the study of the words of His son, the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the mediator between God and man.

In the Gospel of John, in a discourse with the woman at the well, Jesus makes clear, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Here Jesus affirms what other biblical authors say, which is that God is not finite, nor material, but “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17), “invisible” (Col 1:15), living “in unapproachable light,” and not capable of being beheld by man (1 Tim 6:16). God further warns His people that viewing or portraying Him as anything in material creation is an egregious sin, and a violation of His second commandment. In Exodus 20:4-5 God instructs that man shall not worship anything that is in heaven above, on earth, or in the waters below. Any such thing is not God, but an idol. “God forbids His people to think of His being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. The creation language of [the second] commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created … To picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.” [15]

The Bible is also clear that God existed before all things, was the creator of all things, and brought all things into existence from nothing. Jesus Christ Himself affirms the biblical creation account by directly referencing the opening chapters of Genesis 7 times in Scripture. The most notable reference being, “Have you not read … at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4) If a person believes Christ is God, they must also agree with Christ’s view of Scripture and the creation. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” makes clear that before heaven and earth existed, there was God. Hebrews 11:3 goes a step further and says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Even more directly, the faithful Jewish adherent writing in the second temple period instructed, “Look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing” (2 Maccabees 7:28). These verses identify creation as the finite work, of the infinite God, brought into existence from nothing, and certainly not from any material contained within His preexistent self.

At this point it is important to note the distinction between the Bible’s telling of God’s involvement in creation and the monistic idea. C. S. Lewis poignantly clarified this difference when he wrote the following:

Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. 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 realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense. [16]

 

Patheism entails that cigarrette butts, cancer, and all evils are equally manifestations of God.

In returning to the words of Jesus, it is made clear that God cannot be the sum of both good and evil. Being accused, by the Pharisees, of operating under the authority of evil, Jesus quips, “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). This is to say good and evil cannot successfully cohabitate. One will always overrun the other, and they will never be harmonized. Jesus also instructs His followers, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this it is clear that the omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, and transcendent God of the Bible is a holy God. The word holy specifically means “different from the world,” “set apart,” and literally, “a cut above.” God is perfect, creation is not, and God is therefore different from the world. Conversely a monistic, materialistic, and impersonal God cannot be a holy God because this God is not different from the world. Wayne Grudem explains, “If the whole universe is God, then God has no distinct personality.” If all is God, then what is holy? If all is God, what is evil?

The Bible teaches that not only is God holy, He also calls His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). God has not called His elect to embrace unity with the fallen world, nor has He promised fellowship with unrepentant sinners who live outside of a consecrated relationship with Jesus Christ. Psalm 4:3 says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” In John 15:17 Christ informs His hearers that they are to be “not of this world.” In Romans 12:2 Christians are instructed to resist conformity to the world. James 1:27 says to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” and 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from [unbelievers].” The Apostle John offers a clear warning to those who have not consecrated their life to Christ when he writes, “Whoever does not believe [in Christ] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

These scriptures do not suggest in any way that God desires His chosen to seek one-ness with people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Christ followers are instead to flee from conformity to the world because God cannot have fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). God is a just God of wrath toward wickedness (Isaiah 11:4, Revelation 19:5), and promises the future destruction of this fallen world (2 Peter 3:11), and eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous inhabiting it (Matt 25:46). A monistic God who embodies the fallen world and all evil contained therein cannot fulfill His eschatological promises without waging war on Himself.

Further troubling within the monistic belief systems is the difficulty in finding a proper place for the inclusion of Satan. If God is both perfectly good, and the combination of all created beings, a paradox arises when God must be made to be one with the adversary, Satan. In monism, Satan must be considered to be part of God, inhabited by God, or non-existent. A non-existence of Satan would leave God to be the author of all evil. Each of these scenarios is equally blasphemous. Unacceptably, the biblical doctrines of Satan and Hell eventually escape every monistic belief system.

In Monism Good and Evil interplay as one.

The most damaging blow, however, the neglect of God’s transcendence deals Christian faith ultimately strikes at the heart of Christianity Himself, Jesus Christ. “Monism believes that the real problem [in faith] is lack of knowledge–the knowledge of ourselves as divine.” [17] This assertion does nothing short of rob Christ of His very essence, His unique divinity among men. Monism takes the divinity of Christ and essentially applies it to every person. If all people are in God, or the divine essence of God is in all people, Jesus’ dual nature, fully God-fully man, is in no way unique to Him, but exhibited by all. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” God is Spirit, and Jesus is the Spirit of God born into human flesh, the tabernacle of flesh in which the Spirit of God dwelt visibly among the ungodly creation. “The Bible never speaks about God’s presence in unbelievers in a direct way. In Christ, God’s own nature is present.” [18] In the most exclusive verse in the Bible Jesus teaches, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus states point-blank there is no access to God apart from faith in Him (John 3:17). This makes abundantly clear that Christianity is not a matter of finding a fully immanent God at the center of our being. Christianity is God’s saving gift of faith in the Man who lived the sinless life and died on the cross to reconcile the wicked condition of sinners before the righteous, holy, and transcendent God. The Christian’s connection to God is not found buried within the self, it is found only in the “one mediator between God and Men,” Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).

In the same way immanentism sees a diminished need for a Savior, the person who disregards transcendence also fails to rightly understand the person and work of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The pantheists, and panentheists believe the Spirit of God is inherently existent within every human being from birth. This is not the teaching of Christ. Jesus promised His followers, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (John 14:16). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and the “Spirit of Truth … the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17).  As has been demonstrated, Monistic mystic and quantum Christians, rejecting a proper necessity for God’s transcendence, misunderstand the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. This improper view of God nearly unanimously leads to engagement in interfaith practices, the borrowing of elements from other false religions, and the encouraging of members of false religions that they have access to God apart from Jesus Christ.

Scientific Support for Transcendence

While it has been sufficiently demonstrated that disregarding transcendence cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy, it is worth noting that science also fails to support a God who is both eternal and material. Where the Bible calls God “the King eternal” (1 Tim 1:17), the modern cosmological consensus is clear that the universe itself is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics dictates that, while infinite in space, the universe is finite in time. A large majority of cosmologists agree that the observable data indicates that the universe has a beginning and an end.

Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative – that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die.  The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. [19]

God cannot be both eternal, and comprised of the natural entropic universe. “According to the second law the whole universe must eventually reach a state of maximum entropy. This supposed future state of the universe, which will also be its last state, is called the heat death of the universe.” [20] Thus, the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe faces an inevitable extinction. Where monism cannot reconcile Christianity and science, interestingly the orthodox Christian view of the eternal transcendent God and His finite creation are compatible with modern cosmology. In the Bible, the earth is described as having a creation point (Genesis 1), and a final heat death (2 Peter 3:10). Therefore, a striving to use monism to reconcile Christianity and science is an unnecessary failure.

Concerns for an Over-emphasis on Transcendence

It must be stated that, while this paper refutes immanentism and champions for transcendence, a hyper emphasis on transcendence is equally dangerous to its neglect. Transcendence and immanence must not be understood or applied apart from one another. As attributes of God, transcendence and immanence must be held in proper balance. Where an over-emphasis on immanence leads to monism, the juxtaposed over emphasis on transcendence results in deism. Deism is the belief that “God … created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.” [21] Deists believe that creation provides evidence to affirm that God created the universe, but that God limits His activity only to the maintenance of the general laws of nature. A. H. Strong, writing in 1907, states that deism reached its prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen out of favor because it “regards the universe as a ‘perpetual motion,’” and “modern views of the dissipation of energy have served to discredit it.” [22]

Deists believe that God wound up the universe like a clock, then left it to run on it’s own.

Conclusion

Proper regard for God’s transcendence is essential to proper knowledge of God. A failure to acknowledge God’s transcendence leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. The inclusive one-ness of monism leaves man with no recognition of his need for reconciliation to his Creator. In monism there is ultimately no need of a Savior; no need for a Spirit induced conversion; no need for Spirit wrought sanctification; and no need for a God-Man intercessor. In monism, humans lack the autonomous agency to fear culpability for wicked actions, and have no fear of the righteous judgment from a god who is also comprised of evil. Monism leaves man with no fear of judgment for sins and eternal separation from God. Monistic beliefs exalt man as divine, and deny the unique divinity, and necessary work of Jesus Christ.

It is important that monism’s influence on the church not be underestimated. Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary states that, “In general terms, pantheism is at the root of all non-biblical religions, which worship creation rather than the Creator.” It would seem that if there is a tangible threat of a false religion that could unite the world it is monism. Romans 1 teaches that there is one place in which the entire fallen human race continually meets in unity to worship, at the throne of the idolatry of creation. Whether monists believe all people are in God, or God is in all people, what monists are really positing is a worship of self. “They exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The monistic view of God can neither be held in tandem with Christian orthodoxy, nor can science support the notion of the temporal created order being the eternal God. Thus it must be concluded that an excessively immanent, monistic God is not consistent with the God of the Bible, and God therefore must be transcendent.

The monistic view of God has been consistent among Eastern religions for several millennia, and has ventured in and out of vogue in the West since the 5th century BC. The most recent group to propagate the monistic teaching among the Evangelical church is the 21st century Emergent Church movement. One leader of the Emergent Church recently said, “Some people say the Emerging Church is dead, other people say the Emerging Church has spread so far it’s just been absorbed into the fabric of the American church.” [23] While leaders of unbiblical monistic movements are consistently refuted, the hooks of their teachings often land in the hearts of undiscerning churchgoers, and have long lasting effects within the Body. By being educated in the attributes of God, and holding a proper understanding of transcendence, these false teachings can quickly be discerned and dismissed as, what Leonard Sweet appropriately coined, “nothing more than [a] new account of everything old.” [24]

[1]William E. Horden, Speaking of God: The Nature and Purpose of Theological Language (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2002), 121.

[2]Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe, 2nd ed. (Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2004), 1.

[3]Ibid., 36.

[4]Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 235.

[5]Paul Tillich and Carl E. Braaten, Perspectives on 19th & 20th Century Protestant Theology (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967), 94-95.

[6]William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 112.

[7]William E. Brown, “Quantum Theology: Christianity and the New Physics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, 4 (December 1990): 480.

[8]Ibid., 477.

[9]Ibid., 480.

[10]Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991), 261

[11]Ibid., 125

[12]Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.

[13]Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 140-142.

[14]Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (New York: Lantern Books, 2000), 14.

[15]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 187.

[16]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37.

[17]P. R. Jones, “Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-Pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 261.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.

[19]Paul Davies, “The Big Bang – And Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series (Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA: March 2002), cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics: third ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 144.

[20]P. J. Zwart, About Time: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976), 136.

[21]G. DeMar, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 274.

[22]A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 415.

[23]Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Values Voter Summit Session Claims Emergent Church, Satan, and Islam are Bringing Down America,” Huffington Post (August 28, 2013).

[24]Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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