Responding to the Movie “Calvinist” (Part 5): Perseverance of the Saints

Jonathan

Thompson

(The Holistic Apologist)

|

March 3, 2018

Summary: In the movie Calvinist the interviewees (ostensibly) argue in favor of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints (hereafter, PS). Since the interviewees are compatibilists, I presuppose that they intend to argue in favor of a model of PS according to which Christians persevere through the means of determinism (hereafter I shall refer to this determinist model of PS as PS*). In this essay I offer undercutting defeaters to PS* demonstrating that the interviewees beg the question in favor of it.

Introduction
The movie Calvinist includes a section which is dedicated to articulating and (ostensibly) defending 5-point Calvinism. This article is the fifth of a five part series responding to this movie. Being the final essay, the focus of this one will be on the doctrine of PS. Since the interviewees are compatibilists, hereafter I assume that the model of PS they aim to articulate and defend is a model according to which we persevere through the means of determinism. This essay further purports to demonstrate that the arguments given by the interviewees simply do not prove such a model.

Clarifying Preliminary Concepts & The Compatibilist’s Burden of Proof
Prior to discussing the argument given in favor of the doctrine of PS* we must first understand the concepts of compatibilism, determinism, libertarian free will (hereafter, LFW), as well as clarify the PS* adherents burden of proof. Compatibilism is the thesis that “. . . both freedom and [causal] determinism are true”.1 Moreover, the freedom to which we refer is “freedom of moral and rational responsibility”.2 Thus, compatibilism entails the thesis that our being morally and rationally responsible for our actions is consistent with them being causally determined. Causal determinism is the thesis that “[f]or every event that happens there are [causal] conditions such that, given them, nothing else could have happened.”3 Finally, LFW is the thesis that the freedom we possess that is necessary for responsible action is not compatible with causal determinism.4

It’s also important to distinguish how compatibilists and libertarians understand how an agent possesses the ability to do otherwise. This is important because these distinctions will be essential to understanding the burden of proof the adherent of PS* bares. According to compatibilism, it is metaphysically impossible to do otherwise given the prior conditions that led up to a particular act of the will. Notwithstanding, had the prior determining conditions leading up to that action had been different we would have done otherwise. In this case, the ability to do otherwise is what is known as a hypothetical ability. In contrast, certain versions of libertarianism affirm that at least in some cases we could have done otherwise given identical prior conditions.5 In this case, the ability to do otherwise is what is known as a categorical ability.6 In short, on compatibilism an agent cannot do other than what they, in fact, do given prior causal conditions. Instead an agent merely would do differently given a different set of causal conditions. Certain versions of libertarianism, in contrast, affirm that an agent could do otherwise.

Now, since it is the doctrine of PS* which the interviewees purport to argue for, notice that it will not be sufficient for them to demonstrate that Christians will not fall away from the faith tout court. This is because fact that one will not apostatize tout court does not necessarily imply that one cannot to do so. And if it is not necessarily the case that one will persevere, then it follows that one can apostatize (but won’t). But if one can apostatize, then the doctrine of PS* is false since compatibilism rejects the notion that agents possess the categorical ability to do otherwise given the set of prior causal conditions. Thus, the PS* adherent will have to argue in favor of something stronger.

Perhaps then the PS* adherent will think it better to argue in favor of the notion that one cannot apostatize tout court. This position is also problematic. This is because the notion that one cannot apostatize tout court is consistent with Frankfurt-libertarianism. To elaborate, Frankfurt-libertarianism does not require that alternate possibilities be (or always be) available to libertarianly free agents. It only requires that some actions not be causally determined by something external to the libertarian agent themselves. So, for the Frankfurt-libertarian it simply doesn’t matter if one does not possess the ability to do otherwise by apostatizing. On this view, so long as the agents actions are not causally determined by something outside of the agent themselves, then the action is libertarianly free.

At this point what the PS* adherent will have to argue for is the idea that the reason a Christian cannot apostatize is because they were causally determined to persevere. It is this thesis that meets the necessary and sufficient conditions for adherence to PS*, consequently ruling out the hypothesis that Christians persevere through the means of their own LFW.

One final note: If the PS* adherent wants to further demonstrate that PS* implies the truth of universal divine causal determinism, then it won’t do for them to argue that the reason one cannot apostatize is because they were causally determined to do so. This is so because LFW, as we have defined it, does not assert nor does it imply that we are morally responsible for all of our actions. Thus, LFW is consistent with the notion that there are at least some actions which we commit which we aren’t morally responsible for and so are causally determined.

So, to recap, it will not be sufficient for the PS* adherent argue for the notion that a Christian will not fall away tout court since that is consistent with libertarianism that allow for alternate possibilities. Neither will it be sufficient for the PS* adherent to argue that a Christian cannot fall away tout court. For that is consistent with Frankfurt-libertarianism. The PS* adherent will instead have to argue for the following: (1) a Christian cannot apostatize and (2) the reason a Christian cannot apostatize is because they were causally determined to persevere. Furthermore, if the PS* adherent wants to argue for the more ambitious thesis that PS* implies universal divine causal determinism, then they will have to argue for the additional thesis that no actions we make are ever libertarianly free.7

Shai Linne Begs The Question in Favor of PS*
We shall now move to the first proof-text given in favor of PS* as it appears in Calvinist. First there is John 6:38-39 that is quoted and then elaborated upon by Shai Linne. Linne comments,

“‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’

So those who have been given from the Father to the son, the son says ‘I’m not going to lose any of them. I’m gonna, I’m gonna [sic] keep them, I’m gonna maintain them, I’m gonna preserve them, and I’m gonna raise them up on the last day'”. (43:30-43:58)

Notice that Linne makes no attempt to demonstrate that the reason why Christ should not lose any Christians is because God causally determines them to persevere. Instead, Linne merely states that the elect will be preserved and resurrected. Thus, if Linne is using this verse to prove the truth of PS* he is simply begging the question in favor of it by assuming to be true what he is supposed to be proving (i.e. that the reason Christ should not lose any Christians is because God causally determines them to persevere).

One way the PS* adherent might attempt to respond to this objection is by asserting that the Father’s will which Jesus is referring to in verse 39 is God’s decretive will as it is understood through the lens of Determinist-Calvinism. To elaborate, on Determinist-Calvinism God’s decretive will consists of his bringing about any and all events in the actual world as well as His decreeing of the truth value of counterfactuals. Furthermore, God brings about the events in the actual world through the means of causal determinism.8 Hence, since the act of one’s persevering in the faith is an event occurring in the actual world, that act will therefore be causally determined by God given the truth of Determinist-Calvinism.

The obvious problem with this response is that it assumes the truth of the Calvinist understanding of God’s will without argument. This understanding of the text thus begs the question against all other non-Determinist understandings of God’s will. Moreover, even if we were to grant that Determinist-Calvinism is true, then, if the Determinist-Calvinist9 accepts distinctions within the will of God, then they will still be begging the question in so far as they are assuming without argument that the will that Jesus is referring to is God’s decretive will. To spell it out further, recall that Calvinists have traditionally posited distinctions within the will of God. For example, Calvinists such as R.C. Sproul have posited that in addition to God’s decretive will, He also possesses a preceptive will and will of disposition.10 Thus, if Calvinists accept distinctions within the will of God, then they will need to provide further justification for the claim that Jesus was referring to God’s decretive will.

Paul Washer Begs the Question In Favor of PS*
Moving forward, the second and final proof-text given in favor of PS* is Philippians 1:6. Paul Washer alludes to it by stating the following:

“That he who began a good work in me will finish it – that I will make it to the end, because in some sense the reputation of the one who saved me is riding on my salvation. He will not let me fall.” (44:51 – 45:05)

It should be evident that Washer has presented no challenge to those that separate from his view. For he merely paraphrases a portion of Phillipians 1:6, applying the verse to himself while providing no argument explaining exactly how this verse implies the truth of his view. Washer therefore commits the fallacy of question begging by assuming to be true what he is supposed to be proving (i.e. that the teaching of Philippians 1:6 implies the truth of PS*). Of course Washer’s view could be correct, but unfortunately no one in the movie pursues the task of providing any further details explaining how Phillipians 1:6 implies the truth of PS*.

Also of note, is Washer’s claim that God’s reputation depends upon the perseverance in the faith of those whom he saves. Washer doesn’t state why God’s reputation depends upon this, but for the sake of a more interesting discussion I shall construct an argument in favor of Washer’s view. One way a Calvinist could provide justification in favor of Washer’s view is to argue that our failing to persevere somehow undermines our belief that God possesses the attribute of omnipotence. To elaborate, it would seem to be absurd for Christians to claim that God is all-powerful, yet also maintain that He is unable to preserve Christians in their faith. Thus, God’s being omnipotent and Christians falling away from the faith would seem to be mutually exclusive.

How might one respond to this argument? First, we should understand the concept of omnipotence. Traditionally omnipotence has been construed so as to entail that God can only actualize metaphysically possible states of affairs. Thus, if a state of affairs turns out to be metaphysically impossible, then there will be no attenuation of God’s omnipotence since that attribute doesn’t entail Him being able to perform incoherent tasks. Now, since I take it to be the case that most Christians accept the traditional account of omnipotence, hereafter I will assume the truth of this model.

That in mind, the relevant objection errs by assuming without argument that God’s being omnipotent and creatures having apostatized represents an impossible state of affairs.  If God desires a world of libertarianly free creatures and can create a world such that some of them will apostatize, then it will be impossible for God to causally determine the creatures within that world to persevere in the faith. This is because it’s analytically true that a libertarianly free decision not be causally determined by anything other than the libertarian agent themselves. Here’s another way of putting it: For God to create a world of libertarianly free creatures according to which none of the actions in that world, including the act of perseverance are not libertarianly free exemplifies a self-contradiction and so is impossible for God to create. As we’ve already acknowledged, omnipotence precludes God from actualizing metaphysically impossible states of affairs. Thus God’s being unable to preserve the faith of a libertarianly free creature in certain possible worlds does not preclude God from being omnipotent (hence, his reputation is preserved). Rather it is God’s omnipotence which precludes him from persevering the faith of libertarian creatures in those possible worlds.11 So, if the PS* adherent wants to maintain that an act of apostasy precludes God from being omnipotent, then they need to provide some further argument for thinking that the worlds I’ve described are really impossible.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I began this essay by clarifying the PS* adherents burden of proof. Specifically, I argued that it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate that the reason Christians cannot apostatize is because Christians are causally determined to persevere in their faith. Moreover, if the PS* adherent intends on demonstrating universal divine causal determinism, then they will have to also prove that none of the actions we make are ever libertarianly free. Neither Linne nor Washer successfully fulfilled either of these tasks. Instead both men presented proof-texts in such a way so as to beg the question in favor of the doctrine of PS*.

In light of the aforementioned question-begging, I constructed arguments on behalf of both Linne and Washer based on my belief of how Calvinists might respond to my objections. On Linne’s behalf, I argued that Calvinists could construe John 6:39 as referring to God’s decretive will as it is conceived Calvinistically which would subsequently imply the truth of PS*. It’s difficult to see, however, how Calvinists could prove this assumption without begging the question. Similarly, on Washer’s behalf, I argued that the act of apostatizing could damage God’s reputation if it were to somehow undermine His omnipotence. To the dismay of Calvinists, we saw that this is only so if we assume that it is impossible for God to create a world of libertarian free creatures – an assumption which we’ve been given no reason to believe. So, with respect to Linne and Washer’s cases and the arguments I’ve constructed on their behalf, these arguments don’t even begin to demonstrate the truth of PS*.

As I’ve stated in my first response to this movie, it’s possible that the reason there is so much question-begging occurring throughout this movie is because it really didn’t intend to prove Calvinism, but just explain the Calvinist position. In my defense, it’s not uncommon that I see Calvinists attempt to prove their position via question-begging and so it can be difficult to interpret what Calvinists are trying to accomplish with their proof-texting. If, however, my suspicions are correct and the purpose of this section of the movie was to demonstrate the truth of PS*, then this section of the movie simply missed its mark.


Notes

1William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p. 269

2Ibid. p. 268

3Ibid. p.268

4Definition adapted from William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview. p. 270.

5Peter Van Inwagen affirms such a version of libertarianism. In page 82 of Thinking About Free Will Van Inwagen describes his preferred conception of free will as saying that it is the view that “. . . at least some human beings at least sometimes have it within their power to (are able to) act otherwise than they do”. On the same page he then articulates his preferred conception of LFW, explaining it as “the conjunction of the free-will thesis and incompatibilism”.

6For a more comprehensive treatment of hypothetical vs categorical abilities see William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p. 271.

7One way a Determinist-Calvinist might argue that none of our actions are libertarianly free is to argue that total depravity somehow excludes our possessing LFW. I already discussed a certain form of this objection in part 1 of my response to this movie here: http://freethinkingministries.com/responding-to-the-movie-calvinist-part-1-total-depravity/

8Calvinists may or may not concede that the scope of all events only includes events external to God as some Calvinists are willing to grant that God possesses LFW.

9For ease of reading hereafter I shall suppress the use of the phrase ‘Determinist-Calvinist’ in favor of ‘Calvinist’. Just know that when I refer to Calvinists, I am referring only to those Calvinists who are determinists.

10For an explanation of the distinctions that Sproul posits in God’s will see: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/wills_sproul.html

11To be clear, I am not claiming that the existence of libertarian free will precludes God from preserving the faith of libertarianly free creatures. Being a Molinist, I do think that God can preserve the faith of Christians through the means of his middle knowledge so that there are perhaps possible but infeasible worlds according to which one apostatizes. What I am instead claiming is that a Christian persevering through their faith through the means of exercising their LFW is incompatible with God preserving their faith through the means of divine causal determinism.

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Jonathan

Thompson

(The Holistic Apologist)

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