Some thoughts of Calvinism and Free Will

There have been at least at least two blogs I’ve come across that tries to harmonise Molimism and Calvinism in the last 48 hours. This is a great time to capture some of my thoughts as one who is, for the most part, a Reformed Thomist (Amyraldian). Some may chose to call me a “Moderate Calvinist”.

A) What Calvinism is not

Normally, it is weird to start out defining something as what it is not. But when dealing with things of grave consequence (like apophatic theology!), starting with what something is not is helpful.

i) Calvinism is not only Augustinianism.
The New Calvinists love their Augustine: Luther was an Augustinian monk. But it was important to know that the Reformers were not monolithically Augustinians. Vermigli and Zwingli were educated as Thomists, and John Owen (English Puritan) was a Thomist. Calvin was educated as a Scholastic Lawyer so he may have a mix of Thomism and Scotism – not entirely sure.

What does this mean? At the minimum, there were nuanced (but important) differences between Augustinian and Thomistic Predestination and notions of depravity, and disagreement with Augustinianism cannot be a carte blanche denial of Calvinism proper.

ii) Calvinism is not just TULIP
Yes, the stock standard contemporary New Calvinist response is to say there is TULIP from the Synod of Dort. But consider the following from Calvin’s commentary

On his commentary on Acts 7:51 (“You stiffed-neck people, you resist the Holy Spirit.”)

“Whereby it appeareth what great account the Lord maketh of his word, and how reverently he will have us to receive the same. Therefore, lest, like giants, we make war against God, let us learn to hearken to the ministers by whose mouth he teacheth us.”

On his commentary on 1 John 2:2:

“Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ [63] suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.”

Prima Facie, Calvin both rejected Irresistible Grace (in favour of Irresitible Grace *for the willing*), and Limited Atonement (in favour of Available Atonement: Christ died potentially/sufficiently for the world, but efficiently/actually only for those who were in Him.) in his commentary.

This site/blog is also excellent in sustaining that Available Atonement, in rejecting Limited Atonement that Christ died only for the elect, is not a prerequisite of the Reformed tradition. Note that Available Atonement, to me, is not the same as Universal Atonement – that Christ died universally for everyone in now everyone can universally enter heaven.

In short, if anyone who consider those who reject any of the five point of TULIP is no longer a Calvinist, you’ve just out-Calvin’ed John Calvin himself.

iii) Calvinism is not just Christian Idealism
Jonathan Edwards was a philosophical idealist. Cornelius Van Til and Herman Dooyewaard were Idealists who paved the way to Presuppisitional Apologetics. Those two were the precusors to the Neo-Calvinists and the New Calvinists.

But on the Classical Theist side of the Reformed Spectrum, you also have Bavinck and Louis Berkof. R C Sproul himself is a Classical Theist who rejected Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and spoke highly of Aquinas. 

The sharpest distinction between the two is the issue of Divine Simplicity. Calvin, Baxter, Owen, Bavinck etc. were Divine Simplicitists. The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms simplicity. But When is the last time you heard McArthur and Piper wrote on Simplicity?

In fact, my thesis is that TULIP and Divine Simplicity clash. Reason being: if you hold strongly to simplicity, God’s power is His Knowledge is His Mercy: simultaneous to God’s will of appointing the believers is God’s knowledge of them individually and whether they would have chosen God if God had effused them with healing grace and the quiescence of the will, without which all would reject the Gospel carte blanche. If any person knew of some way to save someone but chose not to, that is far removed from the concept of mercy and grace which we understand to be positive qualities, which hence must apply to God via positiva/eminentiae. The Canon of Dort appeared to favour God’s Power over His Mercy and His Knowledge rather than dealing with Divine Simplicity first and the entailment of co-equalness and simultaneity of those qualities. And if God’s power is co-equal with his omniscient and omnibenovolence,it is impossible for God to “pass anybody up” if he could have inclined them to believe in the first place, “however obstinate.” God has to determinately know and knowingly determinate simultaneously: that’s why “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48). Salvation has both an intrinsic factor (which leads to joyness) and extrinsic factor (God’s appointment and election) that is simultaneous.

B) What then is Calvinism/Reformed Theology?

Since it can be demonstrated that Calvinism is not just TULIP, Augustinianism, and the sort of Christian Idealism that Van Til (maybe Schaeffer even) expouse, the definition of Calvinism/Reformed will need to be evaluated. Furthremore, the issue of simplicity within the Reformed circles is also looming in the background.

What drew an Augustinian Monk (Luther), a lawyer trained in Scholasticism (John Calvin)    , a Thomist-Anabaptist (Zwingli), and many other of disparate background together? The key doctrine appears to be “Salvation by faith through Grace” that is through God alone, and the key approach to their theology is a love of expositional preaching and teching for the laity.

C) Calvinism and Free Will

If Salvation by faith through grace is a necessary foundation of Calvinism/Reformed theology, what then of free will?

Contemporary Calvinism (e.g. John Feinberg) has casted free will as the freedom to do as one desired by nature. As long as God can predestine things without violating your freedom/nature, both divine sovereignty and human freedom is compatible. When you slip in the doctrine of Limited Atonement, well, unless God supernaturally intervene, you are really just going about your merry way into condemnation. This fits well into the Synod of Dort, and why many of the New Calvinists embrace it:

“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. “Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will,” Ephesians 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, and merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.”

The issue here is that it rejects moral culpability. IF it’s in your nature to sin, how can you be held respondsible for sinning? Can Scripture legitimately even ask  “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” per Joshua 24:15?

This is another kicker: this modern adoption of compatbilistic free will that seemingly divorce moral culpability is not from Calvin: it is from Jonathan Edwards, and differs from Calvin.

Now, many of those who wish to affirm moral culpability in humanity in accepting or rejecting Christ, in their move to deny the Edwardsian compatibilism, would then embrace Libertarian Free Will, and often using Molinism as a platform to harmonise God’s grace with human decision. I used to be one of them. Libertarian Free Will, for the purpose of this article, is defined the following way citing from the SEP:

“A libertarian is an incompatibilist who believes that we in fact have free will and this entails that determinism is false, in the right kind of way (van Inwagen 1983). Traditionally, libertarians have believed that “the right kind of way” requires that agents have a special and mysterious causal power not had by anything else in nature: a godlike power to be an uncaused cause of changes in the world (Chisholm 1964). “

There are at least two issues at stake:

1) If, in Calvinism/Reformed Theology, you already affirm that there is such thing as a human nature warped by sin, then our human actions already has a trajectory pre-configured by our sinful nature. Romans 7:15-30 even suggest that our nature causes us to do what we don’t want:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

2) What exactly does it mean by the word “will”

The Edwardsian compatibilists would equal the “will” as the “desire” and define free will accordingly so. What does the “will” in LFW means?  Molinists certainly associate LFW with creaturely freedom, so LFW has something to do with freedom. But just because I want to be free to fly like a bird does not mean I can. So what does that mean for LFW since our nature has causally determined what we can and cannot do?

In fact, without the Aristotelian-Thomistic differentiation of causes, can LFW actaully tease out the formal causation that our nature denies vs the efficient/agent causation that we still have in our powers as perscribed by our nature? I am personally inclined to say they Kant.

C) A sketch towards Thomistic Compatibilistic Free Will

In (A), lots were said about Thomism and its participation in Reformed history. The following is my brief sketch of what the Thomistic view of free will entails, as a neophyte Aquinian:

1) Our understanding and our nature interrelates with our will
Aquinas in S.Th 1, Q82 A4:


In this way the intellect moves the will, because the good understood is the object of the will, and moves it as an end.

2) Our will is free to decide what is good for us, but that understanding of what is good for us is an interplay between intellect* and our apettite, and our apetite can bent our reasoning:

By intellect, Aquinas does not mean “the leaning of our own understanding” (as I can see the Augustinians objection from a mile away). Instead, “Intellect, paraphrasing from S.Th 1Q54 and Q79, is merely the “power of understanding” – specifically, the ability to understand potentiality and actuality, form and matter ,essence and existence which comprises of being. In short, the intellect is “the knowing of anything.” in Aristotelian-Thomistic speak.


Block quoting Aquinas from S.Th 1 Q84:

I answer that, Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would be in vain. In order to make this evident, we must observe that some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.
Reply Obj. 1. As we have said above (Q. LXXXI., A. 3, ad 2), the sensitive appetite, though it obeys the reason, yet in a given case can resist by desiring what the reason forbids. This is therefore the good which man does not when he wishes—namely, not to desire against reason, as Augustine says (ibid.).
Reply Obj. 2. Those words of the Apostle are not to be taken as though man does not wish or does not run of his free-will, but because the free-will is not sufficient thereto unless it be moved and helped by God.
Reply Obj. 3. Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.
Reply Obj. 4. Man’s way is said not to be his in the execution of his choice, wherein he may be impeded, whether he will or not. The choice itself, however, is in us, but presupposes the help of God.
Reply Obj. 5. Quality in man is of two kinds: natural and adventitious. Now the natural quality may be in the intellectual part, or in the body and its powers. From the very fact, therefore, that man is such by virtue of a natural quality which is in the intellectual part, he naturally desires his last end, which is happiness. Which desire, indeed, is a natural desire, and is not subject to free-will, as is clear from what we have said above (Q. LXXXII., AA. 1, 2). But on the part of the body and its powers man may be such by virtue of a natural quality, inasmuch as he is of such a temperament or disposition due to any impression whatever produced by corporeal causes, which cannot affect the intellectual part, since it is not the act of a corporeal organ. And such as a man is by virtue of a corporeal quality, such also does his end seem to him, because from such a disposition a man is inclined to choose or reject something. But these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason, which the lower appetite obeys, as we have said (Q. LXXXI., A. 3). Wherefore this is in no way prejudicial to free-will.
The adventitious qualities are habits and passions, by virtue of which a man is inclined to one thing rather than to another. And yet even these inclinations are subject to the judgment of reason. Such qualities, too, are subject to reason, as it is in our power either to acquire them, whether by causing them or disposing ourselves to them, or to reject them. And so there is nothing in this that is repugnant to free-will.

iii) We need God’s grace to rise above our sinful nature and to do good. (That put Aquinas in the Augustinian tradition. Semi-Augustinian at the very least)

S.Th I-II Q109

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Hæres. lxxxviii.) that it is part of the Pelagian heresy that they believe that without grace man can fulfil all the Divine commandments.
I answer that, There are two ways of fulfilling the commandments of the Law.—The first regards the substance of the works, as when a man does works of justice, fortitude, and of other virtues. And in this way man in the state of perfect nature could fulfil all the commandments of the Law; otherwise he would have been unable to sin in that state, since to sin is nothing else than to transgress the Divine commandments. But in the state of corrupted nature man cannot fulfil all the Divine commandments without healing grace. Secondly, the commandments of the law can be fulfilled, not merely as regards the substance of the act, but also as regards the mode of acting, i.e., their being done out of charity. And in this way, neither in the state of perfect nature, nor in the state of corrupt nature can man fulfil the commandments of the law without grace. Hence, Augustine (De Corrept. et Grat. ii.) having stated that without grace men can do no good whatever, adds: Not only do they know by its light what to do, but by its help they do lovingly what they know. Beyond this, in both states they need the help of God’s motion in order to fulfil the commandments, as stated above (AA. 2, 3).


S.Th I,II Q110

For one is common, whereby He loves all things that are (Wis. 11:25), and thereby gives things their natural being. But the second is a special love, whereby He draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation of the Divine good; and according to this love He is said to love anyone simply, since it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature.
Accordingly when a man is said to have the grace of God, there is signified something bestowed on man by God. Nevertheless the grace of God sometimes signifies God’s eternal love, as we say the grace of predestination, inasmuch as God gratuitously and not from merits predestines or elects some; for it is written (Eph. 1:5): He hath predestinated us into the adoption of children … unto the praise of the glory of His grace.


The concept of healing grace is unique in Aquinas. While not immediately obvious, it is is closely related to how God ultimately moved the will to choose God without forcing it:

S.Th. I Q105, a5


We proceed thus to the Fourth Article:—
Objection 1. It would seem that God cannot move the created will. For whatever is moved from without, is forced. But the will cannot be forced. Therefore it is not moved from without; and therefore cannot be moved by God.
Obj. 2. Further, God cannot make two contradictories to be true at the same time. But this would follow if He moved the will; for to be voluntarily moved means to be moved from within, and not by another. Therefore God cannot move the will.
Obj. 3. Further, movement is attributed to the mover rather than to the one moved; wherefore homicide is not ascribed to the stone, but to the thrower. Therefore, if God moves the will, it follows that voluntary actions are not imputed to man for reward or blame. But this is false. Therefore God does not move the will.
On the contrary, It is written (Phil. 2:13): It is God who worketh in us (Vulgate—you) both to will and to accomplish.

I answer that, As the intellect is moved by the object and by the Giver of the power of intelligence, as stated above (A. 3), so is the will moved by its object, which is good, and by Him who creates the power of willing. Now the will can be moved by good as its object, but by God alone sufficiently and efficaciously. For nothing can move a movable thing sufficiently unless the active power of the mover surpasses or at least equals the potentiality of the thing movable. Now the potentiality of the will extends to the universal good; for its object is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal being. But every created good is some particular good; God alone is the universal good. Wherefore He alone fills the capacity of the will, and moves it sufficiently as its object. In like manner the power of willing is caused by God alone. For to will is nothing but to be inclined towards the object of the will, which is universal good. But to incline towards the universal good belongs to the First Mover, to Whom the ultimate end is proportionate; just as in human affairs to him that presides over the community belongs the directing of his subjects to the common weal. Wherefore in both ways it belongs to God to move the will; but especially in the second way by an interior inclination of the will.
Reply Obj. 1. A thing moved by another is forced if moved against its natural inclination; but if it is moved by another giving to it the proper natural inclination, it is not forced; as when a heavy body is made to move downwards by that which produced it, then it is not forced. In like manner God, while moving the will, does not force it, because He gives the will its own natural inclination.
Reply Obj. 2. To be moved voluntarily, is to be moved from within, that is, by an interior principle: yet this interior principle may be caused by an exterior principle; and so to be moved from within is not repugnant to being moved by another.
Reply Obj. 3. If the will were so moved by another as in no way to be moved from within itself, the act of the will would not be imputed for reward or blame. But since its being moved by another does not prevent its being moved from within itself, as we have stated (ad 2), it does not thereby forfeit the motive for merit or demerit.

These are by no means an exhaustive picture of Thomistic Free Will, but they contain important sketch of what it is no less than and where it is superior to the contemporary options of LFW and Edwardsian Compatibilism.

In short: Aquinas’ picture has a complex interplay of many components. There is the complexity of the human will – that it is capable of knowing what is good and bad (“God’s law written on their heart”), but does not necessary incline to do good and incline to The Good all the time because of a warped nature that has a warped propensity to decide for the immediate good vs the Ultimate good.  Given this nature, God has to step in in Grace to provide Healing grace for us to rise up against our nature. This healing grace paves the way to… Quiescence of the will: in short, unless we actively refuse God’s grace, God is actively intervening to bring us to Salvation (not just Arminian woo-ing).

Dwight Stainslaw has also done an excellent job here in explaining the Thomistic conception of the human will and its compatibility with divine soverignty.






A review of Jim Marjoram’s Autobiography (“It’s life Jim…”)

The full title of the book is “: “It’s Life Jim…. A journey to sexual and spiritual reconciliation via  the road of fundamentalist religion””, Amazon link here.

To review a controversial  book as such, first of all, will not be easy. No one comes into the homosexuality issue empty-handed: everyone has a perspective which is itself coloured by philosophical presuppositions and worldview.

At the same time, I come to the table as someone who has in the last 8 months just underwent a battery of philosophical ideas via the courses at SES that shape the contemporary societal climate. That has illuminated largely to my perspective on how the Christian church ought to handle the homosexuality issue.

I will start out by saying this: this book is by itself an autobiography, and so any critique on it has a high likelihood of being perceived an attack on the author himself, even if you are attacking his belief and not his being. Why? Because the intellectual climate in Western world is that of (Secular) Existentialism. Those in the church has to realise that those in Christ has a vastly different set of ontology of identity to those who’re not. Existentialism is essentially that: you existence precedes your essence. What your existence is right now is defined by what you do. In attacking the act of homosexuality itself, many often do not realize that they are indirectly attacking someone’s being because the world coloured by existentialism cannot move beyond that fact that there is more than you as a person than what you do.

The “rough” sketch of his life looks like this: he’s an Australian who grew up in a nominalist Anglican home, and roundabout 15 y.o. he had a religious experience that cause him to be a Christian. Then he grew up, moved around a bit, found himself to be artistically inclined, did drugs before his 21st, struggled as a musician, “jumped” denomination into the Pentecoastal movement,. All sounds “normal”… except underneath the hood, he has Same Sex Attraction (SSA).He mentioned that he had to put up a facade with friends, struggled with suicide and eventually got married for 3 years before separation. It was hinted that he engaged in homosexual activity during ministry even. After moving between NZ and Straya and involved in various Pentecoastal music ministries and Vineyard movements (3rd Wave Pentecoastal) eventually he “settled” in Auckland, managed to find a teaching job.

Then followed the “Job” moment of his life: late diagnosis of ADD/ADHD which made him felt ripped off, the dying process of of his second wife due to cancer, failure of Pentecoastal healing conferences in restoring his wife, lost his job, bankruptcy. He ultimately came to a series of epiphanies at the conclusion of the book:


All religious systems have a mix of healthy and unhealthy beliefs. By that I mean, beliefs that are built on love and benefit the whole society, or beliefs that are based on power, control and greed. In the end, it’s not important what religion you believe so much as the integrity of your heart and how it resonates and contributes to the universal heart of love – to God – who is all in all, and the expression of that love. Is the fruit of your religious belief healthy or unhealthy!

“Although I still call myself a Christian, it’s a very loose label. I have shed so much of the religious package that Christendom has constructed to maintain its security, exclusivism and power, that I get labelled a heretic more often than not!

I now see the beauty in real spirituality instead of the religious constructs that cultures build to try to understand and shape their beliefs. I see common threads through all religions that point to our real identity and relationship with God. I can still relate to a lot of Christian theology because it’s only a particular way of expressing and interacting with universal truths. So many of the arguments over doctrines, biblical inerrancy and rituals are completely irrelevant. The true nature of God is so much bigger and so much more awesome than any religion could contain. All religions are just one particular culture or society’s way of expressing spirituality in a way that they have found to work for them.” (page 155)
“Doctrines don’t matter. Was he God incarnate? Born of a virgin? Died for sin in our place? Resurrected from the dead? Who knows!! And really, if we make these doctrines the “make or break” for our eternal security, we have completely and utterly missed the point. You can believe them if you want, if they help you find the peace and security you need to grow. But they are a simple starting point, and just one option on the way.” (page 161)

“All religious systems have a mix of healthy and unhealthy beliefs. By that I mean, beliefs that are built on love and benefit the whole society, or beliefs that are based on power, control and greed. In the end, it’s not important what religion you believe so much as the integrity of your heart and how it resonates and contributes to the universal heart of love – to God – who is all in all, and the expression of that love. Is the fruit of your religious belief healthy or unhealthy! “(page 163)

The following details are worth mentioning especially:

1) At one point, he mentioned he “found himself on the cynical side, questioning and rebellious.” He even penned these words:

I even thought I must be “repressed by a “spirit of rebellion”! ( a favourite diagnosis for anyone who struggled with questioning the Pentecoastal way) But I couldn’t really put my finger on it in any succinct way. The biggest problem was they appeared to have solid biblical support for everything they preached. It was all so clear and straight forward because that’s what The Bible says. I found myself being drawn into fundamentalism and biblical literalism. Even though my heart could see the holes in it all, my head had to accept what The Bible seemed to say!” (Page 55)


2) (After he got married to his 2nd wife) This is where life got really difficult (as if it hadn’t been before!) The real hidden, silent me, the one that no one really saw, was still the same suicidal mess from his teens. The one who found he could only survive by pretending to be something else. The one who, through all this, only had God to hold on to, because only God could possibly understand. I was alienated from the rest of the world.

The shame, humiliation and guilt of living a lie, of being “found out”, of repressing, faking, covering up, was never far from the surface. The loneliness and frustration of never being able to really love someone with all my heart and body was crippling. People would often see me as a failure. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t commit to things, despite huge potential. I’d often come across as lazy, but how could I share that I was really paralyzed with shame, fear and indecision that seeped through nearly every area of my life – it was much easier to read a book, watch a movie; anything that was a distraction.

I was stuck with me – and God. Not the God that performed the Pentecostal two-step every Sunday and demanded endless rules of holiness, but the God who found me when I was 15. The one who secretly told me he loved me, despite all the noise in my head. I had two Gods really, and they never seemed to meet… (page 61)


3) We had plenty of prayer and counselling. Perhaps the most outrageous was VMTC (Victorious Ministries Through Christ). We all really wanted to be holy, pure, anointed and passionate for God, no matter what it took. So we got on board with this process that required us to fill out a form first, listing all our sins and potential areas of demonic oppression. Then we would go to a very long, closed door session with an experienced “prayer counsellor” and an “intercessor” who would sit there and quietly pray (mostly in tongues) for the whole session. I had to list every sinful activity, name every guy I had ever had (or even thought about) sexual contact with, as well as renouncing a huge list of books I’d read and films I’d seen, Masonic influences etc, and then we even looked at hereditary lines of oppression! By the time I was finished, I realised this was the biggest load of bullshit ever created. It achieved absolutely nothing in anyone we knew who did it. It was traumatic, invasive, impersonal, belittling, shaming and guilt inducing. I would go so far as to say it was “evil”, in that it produced the opposite of all I understood the love of God to represent. (page 67)

4) Anyway, things started to get difficult in the church after a while as the intensity of seeking and craving more anointing, spiritual power and miracles, began to turn to performance driven legalism. By that I mean we began to judge ourselves and others by that intensity and determination. We made it the standard by which all Christians were to be judged. Some of us started to see the levels of control that had crept in, the pressure to conform and perform. We would “encourage” everyone to spend at least an hour a day speaking in tongues, locking ourselves in our “prayer closet” (a quiet place somewhere) to intercede and sweat it out with God.

The reasons why I highlighted these quotes is that they give way to certain points that one cannot help thinking after finishing this book:
a) the portrait of his life showed a huge absence of apologetics: from the experiential-seeking side, to hoping toward supernatural healing, to his existential struggle, to his “epiphany” of Jesus Christ minus all the true doctrines around Christ concerning him being the only way, coming to save us from everlasting judgment, etc.  In fact – and this is no fault of his, the very people accountable for watching over him seems to reject apologetics!

And by apologetics, I mean both the conventional understanding of the branch of Christian knowledge that defends the truth of the Christian message, as well as the original Greek Apologia,  with the root words apo logos : “With Reason”, the clear thinking through of theology systematically.

Why do I bring this up? Because in reading this particular book, one cannot help but draw the parellels between Jim and Rozariah Butterfield. In her book “Secret thoughts of an unlikely convert”, there was a particular exchange that ultimately led a tenured, feminist lesbian professor to shed herself to become a follower of Jesus Christ and forsake her homosexual identity:

“I said something like, “You have one book that claims itself to be true, which is in philosophy called an ontological fallacy, and I have about 50 on my shelf that says you’re wrong. So it all comes down to how and why you claim that the Bible is true.” I hoped this would burst his bubble and send him packing and out the door. But it didn’t. Ken clapped his hands with a big toothy smile that seemed to imply that we were on the same page. (We were not.) He said with great joy and delight, “Exactly!” Ken’s enthusiasm for opposition annoyed me to no end.

We agreed that next time he would tell me how and why the Bible is true. ” (Loc 934 of 2808)

Two incommensurable worldviews clashed together: the reality of my lived experience and the truth of the word of God. In continental philosophy, we talk about the difference between the true and the real. Had my life become real, but not true?The Bible told me to repent, but I didn’t feel like repenting. Do you have to feel like repenting in order to repent? Was I a sinner, or was I, in my drag queen friend’s words, sick? How do you repent for a sin that doesn’t feel like a sin? How could the thing that I had studied and become be sinful? How could I be tenured in a field that is sin? How could I and everyone that I knew and loved be in sin? In this crucible of confusion, I learned something important. I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin. How much greater? About the size of a mustard seed. Repentance requires that we draw near to Jesus, no matter what. And sometimes we all have to crawl there on our hands and knees. Repentance is an intimate affair. And for many of us, intimacy with anything is a terrifying prospect.When Christ gave me the strength to follow him, I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian. I’ve discovered that the Lord doesn’t change my feelings until I obey him. During one sermon, Ken pointed to John 7:17, and called this “the hermeneutics of obedience.” Jesus is speaking in this passage, and he says: “If anyone is willing to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” Ah ha! Here it was! Obedience comes before understanding. I wanted to understand. But did I actually will to do his will? God promised to reveal this understanding to me if I “willed to do his will.” The Bible doesn’t just say do his will, but “will to do his will.” Wanting to understand is a theoretical statement; willing to do his will takes action.I knew I didn’t have that! I prayed that the Lord would give me that whole-hearted will. I learned that the Lord wants all of our loyalties under submission to him. He wants us to identify ourselves, to call ourselves by name, in his name for us. In my case, my feelings of lesbianism were familiar, comfortable, and recognizable, and I was reluctant to give them up. I clung to Matthew 16:24, rememberingevery believer had to at some point in life take the step that I was taking: giving up the right to myself, taking up his Cross (i.e., the historicity of the resurrection, not masochism endured to please others), and following Jesus. The Lord made it clear to me that I had to make some serious life changes. (Loc 486 of 2808)

It seems to me that quite often, in the “How Christians should deal with X problem of sexuality”, that too often the place of Christ ontologically in our lives are forgotten, the part where we are asked to kill the very core of our being in order to be restored to who we are meant to be (over time). When you contrast Rozariash Butterfield’s walking out of homosexuality vs Jim’s stay in it, this point just seems glaring.

This quote by Michael Ramsden is especially relevant here to finish off this thought:

“Christ did not simply come to give us a new system of thinking, even though there can be nothing more profound than knowing Him. Christ did not come to give us a new feeling of God, even though there is nothing more life changing than meeting Him. Christ did not come to simply tell us how to live, even though we are told we should be known for the things we do. Christianity is ultimately rooted ontologically, in being.


b) the absence of corporate accountability. This is perhaps the Thomistic influence, backed by my experience with Open Brethren (and sister churches that stemmed from them), comes into play. Ed Feser, in The Last Superstition, made the charge that Ockham’s particularism coupled with the Reformation  resulting into a very individualistic sort of Protestant Christian faith. I agree. While salvation certainly is individualistic, we are also called into a new body (Romans 12:5). But because of the radically individualistic nature of modern evangelicals, one of the interesting things I have consistently noticed is the lack of corporate involvement in addressing persistent sin problem.

Take the problem of pornography addiction. Statisically, the number of Christians who are pornography addicts mirror that of national statistic. Scientifically, we know pornography addiction is not very different from drug/substance abuse. Yet how often do we here some sort of discipleship programme that stand with people in their walk out of sexual behaviours as such? How often do we hear people in the ministry fall to sexual behaviour and temptations? When you look at passages like James 5:6, Galatians 6:1, etc. there is this feeling that somehow some sins are one that will require the corporate to continually watch over you at your weakest moment, something not too different than the AA – and this is something that I have repeatedly heard or observed from within the (Open) Brethren or Brethren-affiliated churches, one that doesn’t condemn you but at the same time stand with you in saying that there is a problem. Yet how many churches actually openly foster this? And if this was the sort of environment that is necessary for people to walk out of the homosexual lifestyle, how many churches are actually prepared to do this?

In closing of this post, do I recommend Jim’s book? I think if you have $ to spare, and if you have read Rozariah Butterfield’s book, sure. But on its own, it is a book that will provide you with plenty of food-for-thought… and a stern warning of what happens, when the role of apologetics and loving God with your mind is lacking in the church.

The Last 9 months/Year in review

Wow, 9 months. What a roller coaster ride.

Utter crushing rejection because a role in Fonterra that I was eyeing got stolen right underneath my nose in the form of internal applications, just when I thought I was seeing my  Canaan from across the Jordan river. Then it turned out to be a genuine blessing in disguise because the guy who interviewed me moved on 2 months later from where I would have ended up (South Island) back up to the Waikato anyway.

Finding out through television news that my workplace was on fire and all hard work and aspirations for the past 13 months turned to ash that night.

3 months later, acquired a new job – still operations in the dairy industry doing 4 on 4 off with 12-hour shifts starting at 4 am and 4pm, much to my disappointment, but with a 50% pay hike and with a pay packet that is probably the equivalent income of many families after tax with the one diary company in New Zealand that was not shy about doing extremely well, sometimes you have to be contended even if you did not get what you want.

The big move. Church-hunting. Existential crunch due to shift-work and what faith really means. Eye injury due to caustic burn because work was too hectic causing you to take that one short-cut at the wrong time. Juggling working 48 hours a week with seminary study. Dropping out a paper. Almost quitting seminary study completely this semester altogether. Final exam. 18 page term-paper on Medieval philosophy that I initially entered thinking “do I really have to do this” to “Dear God, this makes so much sense! Thank you for Thomas Aquinas!”. Getting what the doctor thought was shingles (residual chickenpox virus in your body)  and going through a few weeks thinking that I’m about to die of a heart attack only in my late 20s. Did I mention 48 hours a week of shift work? And the half a day lost because your body clock is all messed up?

Yet I got through all of it at the very end, and not because of my own ability nor control. Came out appreciating John 15:5 more and more: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Came out fully convinced that Thomism is makes sense and is the way bridging theology and philosophy together. Most important of all came out feeling that sometimes faith in God requires you to walk the path that will not be clearly lit – you just gotta walk holding onto the light that you have.

Far more than ever, how important apologetics is in my life is making more and more sense:  by knowing and then rooting your being in The Truth – The Word is Truth (John 17:17) and the truth also being discoverable by human reason , as much as you may rock and sway in the tidings of life you will hold firm and you will get to the end.

Big, big shout out to Dr Brian Huffling at SES- you have far more faith in me than I do at my worst moments.

I’m still hoping that normal 8-5 job will come. I’m still hoping that something more befitting of an engineer’s qualification will come along. I’m still hoping that I can be part of some big apologetics project in a church somewhere. Maybe start that Ratio Christi chapter even, to not leave those who were akin to me in my boat during my university years to fend for themselves.

The crucible of life does have a tendency to remind you that when all else fails and when none of the pieces in your particular moment in life makes sense at all , you either find an answer of who you are that anchors you or you burn away. I have that answer. I came close to the flame and the brink of myself and I didn’t turn to ashes.

Bring on 2015, and onto whatever God has fore-ordained.

What is philosophy?

  "Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human
pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest
vistas. It 'bakes no bread,' as has been said, but it can inspire our
souls with courage; and repugnant as its manners, its doubting and
challenging, its quibbling and dialectics, often are to common people,
no one of us can get along without the far-flashing beams of light it
sends over the world's perspectives. These illuminations at least, and
the contrast-effects of darkness and mystery that accompany them, give
to what it says an interest that is much more than professional." - William James

Currently very busy juggling full time work with my MA in Philosophy.

Alvin Plantinga on Apologetics

Shamelessly taken from

“Perhaps the main function of apologetics is to show that…[we] have nothing whatsoever for which to apologize.”

The problem with “Evolution” in Christian Apologetics (Part 3): Dealing with the evolution question in conversation

This has been a post that I’ve pondered about for weeks. I think what ultimately made me “kicked the bucket” is
1) The Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate
2) a discussion between amateur apologists in Christ Sanctuary PN
3) The Unbelievable podcast between Rice Broocks and David Beebee

Now, the urge to have an answer to prepare for this sort of situation stem from me having been asked twice during conversational apologetics as well as needing to tackle the topic on a QA panel as well as seeing Rodney Lake being grilled on it during a QA session in 2013. After much thought about ways to make the answers efficient, I think I have come up with a couple of meta-game ideas and strategies.

A) Remember that the Gospel is key in all things.

What is the first portion of 1 Peter 3:15? “In your heart set apart Christ as Lord”. This is very important: because if the Ken Ham debate has shown anything, it is that Christians can make the mistake of putting too much effort in defending certain interpretation of the Bible rather than, say, defending the historicity of the New Testament or the reliability of the Bible as a whole.

Do you know how much did it cost to build the Creation Museum? U$ 27 million. Do you know how much does it cost to print a Bible for distribution in China? U$1.50-2. It’s time for Christians to realize that when we put too much emphasis on trying to defend something not relevant to the Gospel what they’re doing runs a high risk of being afoul with the Biblical Instruction of setting apart Christ as Lord.

Now, at this point I’m sure some YECs will be irked. “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FALL, YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISTS DEFEND THE FALL! WE DEFEND BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY”. Well, so does OEC. So does BioLogos. So does Non-Concordists.

Imagine that I am a hypothethical evolutionary creationist. Now imagine that I am an evolutionary creationist who believes in substance dualism a.k.a. each living organism is imbued both with a material and immaterial aspect (consistent with the Biblical application of “nephesh chayah”). What is the outcome of my belief then? That Darwinian evolution is a physical mechanism to deliver a physical form but which God still has to step in to “inject” a soul to create a new living thing. Now, while I find this view leaky and has flaws, does it reject the view of a literal and physical Adam? Not at all – in fact, this is roughly the view of Francis Collins . So Darwinian Evolution by itself does not compromise The Fall – It is Darwinian Evolution armed with a Physicalist view of human nature that does so.

B) Remember that the Gospel message is about our individual brokenness before God.
C) Remember that the Gospel message does not require Biblical Inerrancy, only NT reliability
D) Authority of Scripture is not something that non-Christian affirm and using it to justify a belief on them is the same as preaching the Gospel in Latin to the Chinese people in the 15th Century.

Let’s, for a moment, imagine that Darwinian Evolution with Physicalist theory of mind works and that compromises a literal Adam. So what exactly has been compromised?

Let’s look at the 5 Greek words translated into “sin” today

1) hamartia – missing the mark
2) adikia- Unrighteousness

3) Porneia – evil of a degenerated kind

4) Parabasis – trespassing the law 

5) Anomia – Lawlessness

Does denying the Fall destroy any one of this words in describing the human condition as it is right now? My contention is no.

So while The Fall may be an important explanation of the broader picture of how the human race got into our quagmire, it does not affect the “is” part of the human condition – that we are genuinely broken and in need of a Saviour because we cannot bootstrap ourselves out. And only Christ had been, can be, and ever will be that only saviour. And the key to that assurance of the reliability of the New Testament and the various arguments for Christ’s existence.

E) Most importantly, recognise that the “Creation/Evolution” debate is a 3rd order Philosophy of Science question
– 1st order scientific question is “what is science”, “what is biology”, “what is evolution”
– 2nd order questions are questions about science, e.g. “what are the best methods of science”, “is science real or just a coherent product of our mind”
– the evolution/creation debate is grounded in answers from 1st and 2nd order questions – it requires plenty of prior assumptions and conclusions to reach a standpoint.

With these few points in mind, let’s come up with a meta-game:

Hypothetical situation:
– You are in the middle of discussing the case of God. Person you are talking to asks “what about evolution”

A) Force him to define evolution. This is where the 5 definitions of evolution by Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas come in: those definitions encompasses both academic and popular definitions for evolution. At the end of the day, even Common Ancestry does not challenge the The Fall especially if guided evolution (a.k.a guided change from a common ancestor) is possible.

B) Get him to clarify just how exactly does evolution refutes/undermine the Gospel message
– At the end of the day, it is important to realise that while evolutionary naturalism requires evolution, evolution does not require evolutionary naturalism. The key here is to expose the naturalistic presuppositions and attack those.

-Ask him how does evidence for Darwinian Evolution compete or conflict with the historical evidences and arguments for Christ. Evolutionary naturalism is a retrodiction as a product of science under presuppositions of naturalism. At face value, Darwinian Evolution (as an outcome of science) should not conflict with Resurrection of Jesus (which is a historical space-time event). To say that there is a conflict almost certainly requires either a presupposition that only naturalism is true or Christianity is not an evidence-based religion.

C) If you have to, focus on the origin of life and substance dualism
– Stephen Meyer’s “Signature of the Cell” is a powerful book because it essentially reduces the origins of life down of either a random process, via natural law, or via an intelligent agent (who, for a theist, is also the Lawgiver of natural and moral laws.) A living organism’s DNA is packed full of specified information – a.k.a functional instruction necessary for life. The prima facie source for information is an intelligent agent.
– one of the most serious threats to evolutionary naturalism, IMO, is substance dualism. If you can give good arguments while we should believe we are soul-ish beings, evolutionary naturalism quickly becomes an inadequate theory of origin. To use JP Moreland’s argument:
1) We are physical beings with an immaterial substance
2) Darwinian Evolution is a physical process
3) To argue that a physical process can produce an immaterial substance is an argument for something out of nothing
*4) Something cannot come out of nothing