Compatibilism and Christian Thought – It Bugs Me

Someone defined compatibilism as a reconciliation of the theological proposition that every event is causally determined, ordained, and/or decreed by God in conjunction with the free will of man. Well, that makes about as much sense as when I’d take my toddler to a shopping mall, put her down and let her roam “free”. I was in fact directing her to the next store I wanted to shop at. It’s a non-sequitur within compatibilism that people make free-will choices in anything as very event and action has already been predetermined by God and for his reasons alone.

Within the doctrines of Calvinism, nothing happens which hasn’t been causally determined, decreed or ordained by God. John Piper references the “no maverick molecule” concept wherein if any molecule or spec of dirt only moves through the air as it does because God determined it would. Someone came up with the nice little acronym “EDD” (exhaustive divine determinism) to best express this concept in which God causally determines every single thing and nothing happens which He didn’t determine would happen.

So, if you believe God causally determines everything and people don’t have libertarian free will, then consider the logical consequence to that belief – which is no one can know if they have the truth. If a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist are each offering strong and opposite perspectives, only one can be correct. But, per Calvinism’s EDD, were both individuals were causally determined by God to believe what each one believes. Therefore, what you believe was not your choice.

Along those lines, how could any Calvinists then state that LDS or JW beliefs are not valid if, after all, God insured that some people accepted those beliefs? Or, what about, non-Christian entities i.e. Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist – can it not accurately be said, per Calvinism, that God gave some people those beliefs? Or move beyond theology into, say, politics. So, some people are made to be conservative and others into liberals. Or climate change – some are made into ardent supporters of global warming and others into deniers. And the list, obviously, would go on and on.

But Jesus stated in John 8:32 that you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. However, within the constructs of Calvinism, it’s not possible for one to know the truth because God apparently gives to truth to some and error to others. As I contemplate this, I can only conclude that this line of reasoning is utter nonsense. God gave everyone a brain. God also gave us Proverbs to guide us in decision making. Does it then not follow that God allows people to discuss, debate and root out error within varying theological constructs? And to infer that God not only chooses some for salvation but also causes error in people breaks whatever spiritual spine I had.

Some time ago a friend gave me his perspective:

The Protestant church looks like windshields at a car accident scene with so many shards of glass strewn across the pavement. I’ve now arrived at the Beetle Hypothesis. God likes it this way. There are about 4000 types of mammals on the planet. But there are roughly 350,000 – 400,000 types of beetles on the planet. Why? God likes it this way. What good are all those Protestant denominations for? What good are all those beetles for? I don’t know. I read this quote from a Roman Catholic priest: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.” Right now, I’m comfortable with a lack of certainty. I’ll take faith with its messiness and discomfort for now. I don’t have advice, but I do have some sympathy or for your struggles. Maybe my attitude or outlook should bother me more than it does. But it doesn’t. For now, I’m okay with lots of beetles.

Two things come to mind:

First – the opposite of faith is not doubt. I’ve known many others who’ve experienced those proverbial trials and tribulations. I’ve known others who’ve pondered and tried to make sense of various concepts within Christianity. For whatever reason, I’m bothered not only by the disconnect of people’s beliefs and the dichotomy of Calvinism within Christian faith.

Second – discordant instruments create beautiful music. A classical guitar and a mandolin, for instance. Each has its own unique tone and timbre and is lovely to listen to individually. But something all-together wonderful happens when those two instruments are put together. The mandolin with its high pitch and bright sound carries the melody. The guitar with its fuller, deeper and more resonant sound fills in that which the mandolin on its own can’t do. Together, the music is altogether more balanced, beautiful and even more satisfying.

I can appreciate the beauty of small ensemble with individual instruments. But I’m struggling to glue the cognitively dissonant aspects of Calvinism into a more “satisfying theology”. I can accept that God, in his own great, grand and glorious ways is okay with a lot of beetles. I can accept that God created each variety of beetle. But man has been elevated into a cognitive and thinking entity. God has given us parameters in which to make decisions. And God expects people to make decisions.


Author: Bob

I’m an upper Midwestern guy who has recently entered the "Buick stage" of life and decided to migrate to Florida. This blog is an attempt to rectify discordant aspects within my Christian faith ... or what often feels like my lack of Christian faith. Things which make life more enjoyable include strong black coffee, charcoal grilling anytime of the year, putz'ing at a table saw, playing chess, a good orthopedic surgeon and an occasional IPA. Please feel free to poke around and comment as you wish. I welcome discussion and the insights of others.

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