Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anderson, Calvinism and the First Sin

In this paper (here) Dr. James N. Anderson, Associate Professor of Reformed Theological Seminary, has masterfully taken up the subject of Calvinism (with its respective doctrines of God, providence and sin) to address those that charge it of implicating God as the author of sin.

I do not wish to give a complete summary here. I’d prefer to commend readers to it. I wish only to discuss some of the paper with comments.

Dr. Anderson begins with a familiar discussion in Christian Theology of the devastating nature and effects of sin brought by Adam’s transgression. God created Adam and Eve after His image good--with the ability to choose good or evil. Adam for unknown reasons chose to violate one of God’s commandments. Subsequent to Adam’s transgression, sin was imputed, inherited and imitated, by all mankind.

Dr. Anderson asks the deep and difficult questions we are confronted with, as Calvinists, in light of Adam’s transgression. It is the very same questions believers in the past have had to struggle with such as St. Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. Dr. Anderson states, “the most perplexing question of all is simply this: If Adam was created good, why did he commit evil?”[1]

Dr. Anderson stresses that it must be admitted, from the start, that all theological traditions face difficulties. Nevertheless, all theological traditions must each attempt to construct a coherent model to make sense of God’s providence in relation to Adam’s sin. As we take Calvinism to be the most faithful theological tradition to Scripture. We affirm: (1) God either directly or indirectly determines all things (which includes Adam’s transgression), (2) man freely determines actions and acts, and (3) God is neither the author nor approver of sin. Yet it is precisely these affirmations that require us to construct a coherent model. But many from other theological traditions deem this as an impossible task. Dr. Anderson in the rest of his paper directly addresses objections to the possibility of a Calvinistic model, critiques alternative models, and then offers a Calvinistic model, which best affirms (1), (2), and (3), with less (severe?) philosophical difficulties than alternative models.

Dr. Anderson states that Calvinism is committed to divine determinism in which God is the sufficient cause of all things. But how God precisely determines and causes all things does not necessarily entail physical or causal determinism. So then, in what way are we to understand “God determines all things” and “God is the cause of all things?” Dr. Anderson points out that Calvinism essentially is not committed to any specific view of causality. Therefore many views are open to Calvinism. In this paper Dr. Anderson takes cause generally in its ordinary sense, namely, to bring about a state of affairs. With this definition in mind, Dr. Anderson distinguishes between creator and creature causation. There is a creator/creature distinction that vastly separates God essentially from His creation. For example, God can cause things to exist from nothing. But creation cannot cause things to exist from nothing. By this distinction, Dr. Anderson argues that divine causation can be properly understood as analogical. Thus God determines C by X and man determines C by Y. Divine causation is not transitive to human causation. Things in creation do not cause Y by Z and God causes creation to cause Y by X where XYZ are equivalent. There are two levels of causation that must be kept in tact. The first level is divine causation and the second is creation causation. On the latter we experience daily in creation. It is a linear perspective of causation. However, the first level, God causes the creation to exist; He sustains its existence and concurs with its causation precisely in accordance with His will. I think Paul Helm reinforces Dr. Anderson’s model when he writes,

“(9) Wherever one person X causes another person Y to do moral evil X does moral evil.
 (10) Wherever one person X upholds another person Y and knowingly that Y will do evil does not prevent Y from doing evil, X does moral evil.
… it is by no means clear that even if X does moral evil he is doing the same moral evil as Y. Moreover, whether or not X is guilty of moral evil is presumably a matter of what rule or law X has broken or whether his upholding and permitting of X to act in an evil manner is in furtherance of some greater good for which X’s evil act is a logically necessary condition. It is not obvious that either a law has been broken in such a case, or that X’s evil act is not a logically necessary condition for the achieving of certain further goods.”[2]

Dr. Anderson gives helpful insight to divine determinism with discussion on particular models of providence. The first he calls the Domino Model and the second Authorial Model. The first takes causation as straightforwardly causal determinism. The world and everything in it is like a giant game of dominos. In the game of dominos, each individual domino is placed face to face with another domino. Typically a long chain of face-to-face dominos is spread out like a train. And once the first domino of the chain falls, it causes the adjacent domino to fall, continuing on from domino to domino. Eventually, through the chain of causes and effects, all the dominos fall. In the same manner as dominos the Domino model of providence views everything that happens in the world as a chain of causes and effects. God just taps the first domino to fall, as it were, and everything happens precisely in accordance with His will. The Authorial Model takes providence much like an author writes a book.[3] The author controls every element in the story; he can even write himself into the story. But how the author writes the story is not the same as how the characters act in the story. The author can write that a particular character commits a wicked deed, without approving or applauding it, but the author does not thereby commit a wicked deed.[4] Moreover, there is a one-way streak of moral accountability in the Authorial Model. Since the author can rightly hold its characters accountable for their actions. But the characters have no right to hold their author accountable for their actions.[5] Furthermore, to the least extent, the author is merely telling a story with characters that participate in evil, but the author himself does not participate in evil. Dr. Anderson sees that Calvinism with this Authorial Model of Providence is most helpful in understanding divine determinism.

Dr. Anderson after developing the Authorial Model to understand divine determinism, he moves his attention to addressing possible objections to such a model of providence as it relates to the first sin. Dr. Anderson then critiques alternative non-Calvinistic models of providence in the face of Adam’s sin.

I think Dr. Anderson brings great clarity to the difficulties for those who wish to affirm libertarian freedom. First, he points out that such a view violates a moderate principle of sufficient reason (ironically the very law many Arminians vehemently defend in the Cosmological argument).[6] That is to say everything has an explanation for its existence either by necessity or contingency. But Dr. Anderson points out that if libertarian freedom is true there is no explanation for any given person’s decision. Since reasons merely influence any given person, but decisions are made, if any given person wills them. Thus why any given person chooses to will one decision over another remains inexplicable. I think Arminians and Molinists alike would respond to Dr. Anderson that Adam sinned simply on the basis he willed it. So in that sense there is something in Adam. But such a reply does not escape Dr. Anderson’s criticism.

Dr. Anderson concludes with “…five significant virtues of the Calvinist account:

1. Unlike its competitors, the Calvinist account does full justice to the divine perfection of aseity (God’s self-existence and absolute independence). There are no events in the creation that take place apart from God’s will, and God’s knowledge isn’t dependent on brute facts or on anything in the creation.

2. Unlike its competitors, the Calvinist account doesn’t require God to take chances or to rely on “good fortune.” (Even the Molinist account subjects God to some degree of chance insofar as God has to play the hand of feasible worlds that is dealt to him, so to speak, by the counterfactuals of freedom.)

3. Calvinism affirms the doctrine of meticulous providence, which receives strong support in both the Christian scriptures and the Christian tradition.

4.On the Calvinist account there is an ultimate sufficient explanation for the first sin, namely, the good and wise decree of God. God has authored a creational story in which human sin plays an integral role. While the first sin may have been irrational in terms of Adam’s nature, character, and circumstances, it was not irrational in terms of God’s decree. The first sin was not ultimately an irrational brute event in God’s universe. God worked out his sovereign plan through Adam’s sin rather than around it.

5. Calvinists can affirm that the first sin considered in itself was a supremely evil act while at the same time affirming that God decreed Adam’s sin for his good and wise purposes—ultimately, for his own glory manifested in his mercy and his justice—as part of the overall storyline of the history of creation.”[7]


[1] James N. Anderson. Forthcoming in Calvinism and the First Sin in Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson (Wipf & Stock, 2014) http://www.proginosko.com/docs/Calvinism_and_the_First_Sin.pdf p.3.
[2] Paul Helm. Eternal God: A Study of God without Time (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010)pp.161-162.
[3] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of God. (Philipsburg, N.J.,:P&R Pub., 2002)p.p.154-159. See also Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s discussion of cause and authorship in Christian Philosophy, vol 4. (Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2004)p.p. 268-269.   
[4] Dr. Anderson even points out that most, if not all, good stories must contain some amount of evil. http://www.proginosko.com/docs/Calvinism_and_the_First_Sin.pdf; p.11. See also Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Richard Francks, and R.S. Woolhouse. Philosophical Texts (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998)p.252.
[5] I see no reason why a moderate divine command theory of ethics cannot be incorporated in this model. See Edward John Carnell. An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1981. pp.302-303. Gordon H. Clark. Christian Philosophy, vol 4. Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2004. p. 269. Paul Helm. Eternal God: A Study of God without Time. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.pp.161-162.Morland, J.P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview.Downers Grove: Intervarsity P, 2003.pp.531-532.
[6] William Lane Craig. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/leibnizs-cosmological-argument-and-the-psr


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R.C. Dozier said...


The problem is, simply, sin. Man's toxic self-asserted autonomy and independence from God. This is manifested in selfishness, greed, lust, and pride. Sin makes us enemies of God that deserve His wrath (in hell). The only way to be reconciled to God is through the necessary advocate He provided. Jesus Christ, the infinite God-man, who absorbed the wrath of God on the cross, and rose from the grave, to save people from their sins. Salvation, from sin that deserves God's wrath, is a free gift of God that is received by faith. It is continually trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. This entails turning away from sin and trusting in Christ alone.