Arminian Today

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Cause and Effect or Influence and Response?

The following comes from Dr. F. Leroy Forlines book, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (pp. 47-50).

Calvinism has oversimplified the way that God carries out His sovereignty.  In so doing it has oversimplified the relationship of God to man in the application of redemption.  It is very important to distinguish between cause and effect relationships and influence and response relationships.  In the relationship of the physical to the physical, or the relationship of the parts of a machine to one another, we are dealing with cause and effect relationships.  The concepts of active and passive apply in their simple meaning.  When a hammer hits a nail, the hammer is active and the nail is passive.  The hammer causes the nail to be driven into the wood.  The nail had no choice.  A force outside the nail caused the nail to be driven into the wood.

Interpersonal relationships do not submit to such a simple analysis.  Influence and response are more appropriate terms.  A person is one who thinks with his mind, feels with his heart, and acts with his will.  In the simple sense of the terms cause and effect, one person cannot cause another person to do anything.  This does not depend on the lack of ability that one person has to influence another.  Rather, the inability of one person to cause another person to do something grows out of the nature of what it means to be a person.  When an appeal is made to a person, it is inherit within the nature of a person to consider the appeal and then make a decision.  There is no such thing as a person’s doing or not doing something without having made a decision.  This is true regardless of how strong the influence may be upon him or her.

Calvinism’s approach to irresistible grace (or effectual call) sounds more like cause and effect than influence and response.  When the appropriate time comes with regard to the elect, God regenerates him or her.  As a regenerated person, he or she is caused by God to have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  In such a view, faith is considered a gift.  It is problematic for faith to be considered an individual’s choice, act, or response.  The possibility of a negative response does not exist.  It was a guaranteed response.  The fact that it was guaranteed makes the terms cause and effect appropriate.  Calvinism considers all of this necessary if salvation is to be a gift.

In explaining the gift of faith in that way, the Calvinist is thinking along the lines of cause and effect.  The only problem is that, if being a person means anything beyond being a smoothly operated puppet with conscious awareness, it is impossible to describe the experience of a person in such a manner.  We must keep in mind that human beings are personal beings because God has made them that way.  This is necessary to the very notion of being made in the image of God.  Can anyone really deny that faith is a personal response to the working of God with that individual?  At least in some sense, the response of faith is a decision in which that person who believes actively participates.  Even Calvinism must admit this.

In my opinion, it has been a mistake over the centuries to focus the conflict between Calvinists and Arminians on whether fallen or redeemed man has a free will.  The real question is: Is fallen man a personal being, or is he sub-personal?  (The same question can be asked concerning redeemed man.)  Does God deal with fallen man as a person?  If He does, He deals with him as one who thinks, feels, and acts.  To do otherwise undercuts the personhood of man.  God will not do this – not because something is being imposed on God to which He must submit, but because God designed the relationship to be a relationship between personal beings.  Human beings are personal beings by God’s design and were made for a personal relationship with a personal God.  God will not violate His own plan.  The nature of the case does not demand that God work in a cause and effect relationship with human beings.

We dare not take the position that God is unable to work with human beings within the framework of influence and response.  Are we going to settle for the thinking that the inability of fallen man results in the inability of God, that is, the inability of God to work with fallen man and redeemed man in an influence and response relationship?  I hope not!  Are we going to say that the very nature of God’s sovereignty requires Him to work in a cause and effect relationship and prohibits Him from working in an influence and response relationship?  I hope not!

I am sure that Calvinists would want to say that they do not believe in “mechanical” cause and effect as it relates to the way God deals with human beings.  While they would object to the word “mechanical,” if they opt for any form of determinism, they cannot successfully reject the words cause and effect.  My reading of Calvinistic writings suggests that classical Calvinists would not object to these terms.  If anyone doubts this observation, I would suggest that he reread the quotations above that are taken from Calvinistic writings.  I think the description of God’s relationship to man that Calvinism would give would be much like my description of influence and response.  However, the result is thought to be guaranteed.  When the result is guaranteed, they would simply have a softened form of cause and effect.  Any time the result is guaranteed, we are dealing with cause and effect.  When the guarantee is gone, Calvinism is gone.

From a Calvinistic viewpoint, it will not do to say that cause and effect describes God’s relationship to us, but influence and response describes our relationship to one another.  The entirety of that which falls within the scope of determinism falls within the scope of cause and effect.  There is no influence and response.  Yet, I get the impression when I read Calvinistic writings that they are trying to persuade me.  Persuasion is a form of influence.  I get the impression that they think I could and should agree.  I do not think they have any different idea about persuasion than I do.  I have a statement that I make sometimes, “Calvinists are Arminians except when they are making Calvinistic statements.”

I need to point out that in common speech we frequently tend to use the terms influence and response and cause and effect somewhat interchangeably.  We may say, “He caused me to do it.”  To be technical, we should say, “He influenced me to do it, and I chose to do it.”  Though the terms may be interchangeable, (to a certain extent) in common speech, I do not believe any confusion will develop from my using them the way I do in a theological work.

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