All the World's a Stage: Responses to Omnicausality

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I will now summarize the objections to Paul Kjoss Helseth's view on divine providence, discussed in my previous post.

William Lane Craig (Molinism)

Before getting into the Reformed view as stated by Helseth in the chapter, Craig comments that he thinks AA Hodges' six point summary fails to give an adequate account of the "radical distinctives"1 of that view. The Molinist has no problems with any of the points, except maybe the last because it "punts to inscrutability rather than provides an account of the nature of divine action in the world."2 Helseth's own explanations, as well as his characterization of the view as "omnicausality," are preferable because they better describe the divine, causal determinism that the view entails. While God could causally determine all things, it is hard to see why we should think that God does do this. "Why should we think that our experience of indeterministic freedom is illusory?"3 After this introduction, Craig takes two different approaches to his criticism of the chapter. First, he argues against each of the reasons that Helseth gives for his view, and second he offers five arguments against the view itself.

Helseth's first reason for holding the Reformed view of providence is because he believes it to be unambiguously taught by scripture. But if we refer to several works by Don Carson, himself a Reformed Christian, we see that there are plenty of biblical passages that affirm both God's sovereignty and human freedom. As for the former, Carson lists passages which show God to be: the creator, ruler, and possessor of all things; the ultimate personal cause of all that happens; the elector of His people; and the unacknowledged source of good fortune and success.4 As for the latter, Carson shows that the conviction that human beings are free moral agents also permeates scriptures in verses showing that: people face many divine exhortations and commands; people obey, believe, and choose God; people sin and rebel against God; people's sins are judged by God; people are tested by God; people receive divine rewards; the elect are responsible to respond to God's initiative; prayers are not scripted by God; and God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved.5 These latter passages rule out an understanding of God's sovereignty that precludes human freedom. Helseth, quoting the early Reformer Turretin, said that both human freedom and divine determinism are indubitable conclusions and that they must be held in mysterious tension. However, "When one's interpretation of scripture leads one into this sort of cul-de-sac, it is a good idea to reassess whether one has, indeed, rightly interpreted scripture."6 Additionally, it does not seem as if Helseth takes Turretin's advice to hold these two concepts in mysterious tension, but rather he holds divine causal determinism at the expense of true human freedom and responsibility. For example, contrary to the promise given in 1 Corinthians 10:13, the Christian really has no way out of temptation under the Reformed view. Molinism, Craig argues, offers a different interpretation of the same scriptural data, but succeeds in reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom while the Reformed view fails.

Helseth's second reason for holding the view of omnicausality is that he believes the concept of libertarian freedom to be theologically and philosophically problematic. I will refrain from explaining Craig's responses here because they will be covered in his own chapter.

Next, Craig gives five reasons to reject the view that Helseth defends in the first chapter:

1. The Reformed view cannot offer a coherent view of scripture. It upholds divine determinism at the expense of true human freedom. This faces a similar but opposite problem as the view of Open Theism which denies God's meticulous providence for the sake of human freedom.

2. No form of determinism can be rationally affirmed because it is self-defeating. If one believes determinism to be true, and it is true, one holds such a belief because one was determined to do so, not because one has good reasons. Such a belief is therefore a-rational and unwarranted.

3. The Reformed view makes God the author of sin and evil, and denies true human responsibility.

4. The Reformed view holds that real human agency is an illusion and that humans are really just tools or instruments used by God to bring about some end. In such a case, can it really be said that more than one agent (i.e. more than just God) exists, since all actions and decisions could then be reduced to God's having caused them?

5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. If all beings are causally determined by God, then the whole history of the world is just one vain and empty spectacle.7

Ron Highfield (Christocentric Reformed)

Ron Highfield admits up front that his views are very similar to Helseth's, and so he does not spend much time responding. The one criticism he does offer is that Helseth's view of providence is too theologically generic. Aside from using passages from Scripture to defend his view, Helseth's argument could also apply to any other monotheistic religion-- Islam, Judaism, Deism, etc-- because they are abstract in nature. Any account of God's providence from a Christian point of view needs to be more Christocentric and more Trinitarian in nature. Highfield writes, "Christian theology should think from a center in Christ back to creation and the decree and forward to the eschaton. Because of the revelation of God in Christ, we confess that God is Father, Son, and Spirit and that everything that comes from God is accomplished from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. This conviction should animate and permeate all Christian theology, including the doctrine of providence."8

Gregory Boyd (Open Theism)

Gregory Boyd divides his response into four distinct sections. Since the first section deals with Helseth's comments on Open Theism, which I intentionally ignored in my last post, I will also neglect to discuss this subject here. The view and its criticisms will be expounded on in two specific posts dedicated to it. The other three sections in Boyd's response deal with how one understands the greatness of God, the mysterious "in such a way" clause often used by Reformers, and the Problem of Evil.

Boyd begins the second section of his response by discussing what he perceives as a misunderstanding of the greatness of God by Reformed thinkers like Helseth. The Calvinist tradition often seems to equate God's greatness with the amount of control he exerts over his creation. Under this view, any measure of autonomy granted by the Creator to the creature actually undermines the sovereignty of the Creator. Two points are offered against this one. First, the conclusion does not seem to follow logically from the premises. Why does "God granting some measure of autonomous power to agents" lead to "God being governed by the course of events?"9 Second, while it would be fitting for a pagan to define a god's greatness by his level of control over others, it is surprising that a Christian would do likewise! The most real and comprehensible manifestation we have of God is in the person of Jesus Christ, who revealed that God's greatness lies in the weakness and foolishness of the cross. Jesus chose not to exercise his power and authority to defeat his enemies, but instead laid down his life in humility to save those who hate him. This view of God seems to stand in stark contrast to the view of a God who desires to micro-control everything.

Boyd's third section criticizes the mysterious "in such a way" clause used by many Reformed Christians. Theologians like Helseth will assert that God "determines all things in such a way that 'the real activity of second causes' is both affirmed and maintained, and for this reason [God] is neither the 'sole cause' of everything that transpires in the universe that he has made, nor is he the author of evil."10 Helseth admits that this is a mysterious and inscrutable claim to make, but that it is justified because the relationship between God and human beings is an entirely unique one. Boyd remarks that words only have meaning insofar as they connect, even analogically, with our experience. If some concept is entirely unique, then it would be impossible to speak about it at all. But Helseth obviously does speak about God's relationship with man quite a bit, so he must think there is some sense in which we are able to comprehend it. As such, to claim that God is the cause of all things "in such a way" that man is still responsible for secondary causes, is really without meaning and is unintelligible.

The fourth and final point made by Boyd is related to the third, and deals with the Problem of Evil. The view put forth by Helseth is that God is the ultimate cause of everything that happens, in that he ordains every action and event in the universe. Boyd's criticism here uses a very specific hypothetical, so it is probably best to let him speak for himself:
We need to think concretely about the implications of this teaching. Imagine for a moment: The innocent, happy world of a nine-year-old girl is instantly transformed into an unthinkable nightmare when she is kidnapped by a demented, sadistic pedophile. For years she is imprisoned in a dark cell while being tortured and raped daily. The psychological hell her parents descend into as they for years ponder their beloved daughter's unknown fate is as diabolically dark as the hell experienced by their daughter. Based on Helseth's account, this is all exactly as God ordained it to be! Every single perverted impulse the sadistic pedophile has, every sadistic action he afflicts on his tortured victim, every sobbing plea and terrified scream that comes out of this abused child's mouth, and every anguished speculation of what might be happening to their daughter that slowly erodes the sanity of this child's tormented parents-- all of this is exactly as God wills it to be, "moment by moment by moment." And as is the case with all evil, we are told that every horrific detail of this macabre episode is willed by God "for the good of his children and the glory of his name."11
So Boyd ultimately finds some lack of active control on God's part (whether intentional or not) more likely than God specifically willing any particular evil.


1. Craig, Four Views of Divine Providence, 2011, p. 53
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, 1981, pp. 24-35
5. Ibid., pp. 18-22
6. Craig, 55
7. Ibid., pp. 59-62
8. Highfield, Four Views of Divine Providence, 2011, p. 68
9. Boyd, Four Views of Divine Providence, 2011, p. 72
10. Ibid., p. 73
11. Ibid., pp. 76-77
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