Is the Calvinist God a Pupeteer? (and so what if he is?)

On his blog, Roger Olson recently reflected on the movie Ruby Sparks as an analogy for Calvinism (see his post here). In the movie, the main character, a writer,  wishes to have the ideal girlfriend. While thinking and writing about her, she suddenly appears in his house. Amazingly, he discovers that whatever he writes about her becomes reality – he can sovereignly control all of her thoughts, feelings, and actions simply by writing her script. As the movie progresses, both he and the girl find the relationship deeply unsatisfying (though for her this is subtle, below the surface, since she doesn’t have free will). Finally, because he loves her, he decides to write that she is real and free. Once free, she leaves him (but there are hints that she might return).

Olson points us to the movie as an analogy for Calvinism (all but the last bit about setting the puppet free, of course). His point is that a God who controls everything that human beings think, feel, believe, do, and say (analogous to how a puppeteer controls a puppet) cannot truly be said to have personal (i.e., I-Thou) relationships with human beings. Moreover, when we consider things like the Holocaust, such a God cannot be understood in any intelligible way as being truly loving and good.

I have three questions in light of Olson’s post (do read his post if you want to comment):

1. Olson cites Paul Helm as his representative of the Calvinist God-as-Puppeteer position. How common is this view of God amongst Calvinist and Reformed people?

2. If you are a Calvinist, how do you respond to Olson? (Both to his depiction of Calvinism and to his challenge that if the Calvinist view is correct then God cannot truly be loving and good)

3. Many Arminians say things like “God is in control” (or “still on the throne”) or “it’s all part of God’s plan.” What do they mean by this? Are they consistent with their Arminianism?

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3 Responses to Is the Calvinist God a Pupeteer? (and so what if he is?)

  1. John says:

    Well, since I am Wesleyan/Arminian I can only speak to point #3. In the first place, it depends on what situation you are attributing “God is in control,” “God is still on the throne” and/or “it’s all a part of His plan” to. When attributing evil done by random events and/or people who are not submitted to/influenced by God in our world, to God being: “in control,” “on the throne” and/or “all a part of His plan,” I believe this is inconsistent with an Arminian view. When attributing good and/or good that comes from and/or through the people who submit themselves to God’s will, it is consistent with an Arminian view of God. Example: Not consistent with Arminian point of view = Saying of the Holocaust, that “God is in control,” “on the throne” and/or “it is a part of His plan.” Consistent with an Arminian point of view = Saying the transformation and continual strengthening of a brother or sister out of alcoholism, “God is in control,” “He is on the throne” and/or “it’s all a part of His plan.” Obviously, Arminian and Calvinism see “good” and “evil” very differently; but I am speaking of “goodness” (and ultimately God) which was perfectly revealed through Jesus Christ.

    Also, the sayings “God is in control” and “God is still on the throne” mean two entirely different things to Arminians as opposed to Calvinists, who see these saying to mean almost exactly the same thing. Arminians see “God is in control” only when a person submits themselves to Him, to follow Jesus; not as meticulous providence, as Calvinism sees it. Even then, these followers of Jesus, are always in the process of sanctification and still are not perfect and may still stumble and/or struggle with sin (their committing sin is out of God’s control). We only see “God in control” in a person or group to the extent that the person/group submits themselves to God and is becoming like Jesus. Arminians see “God is still on the throne” in relation to God’s overall plan for humanity not being able to be completely defeated by people, evil and/or Satan; not as meticulous providence, as Calvinism sees it.

    Although, I admit that many people who profess Arminian-type beliefs and even myself (mostly before I learned more about theology, Arminian and Calvinist), have used these phrases in a way that is inconsistent with our theology. I believe this is because at the time of stress/worry they are afraid and want some type of security in “knowing” “God is in control,” “on the throne” and/or “a part of His plan.” Following Jesus does not necessarily bring security in a “worldly” sense. It brings eternal security but does not necessarily guarantee “worldly” security, happiness and/or comfort. We can be secure, happy and comfortable in any situation when we have a view of our life in an eternal way. I am not talking about in an “escapist,” fire insurance, get out of jail free card, way of viewing eternity; but in a “these sufferings will pass soon” (Rom 8:18) and “God will use evil for good” (Rom 8:28) way of viewing eternity. Knowing also, that God did not cause the sufferings or evil in the first place.

    We can debate the rest of Romans 8 and what “cause evil” mean but this is not the subject of this post. I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree about these things my Calvinist brothers/sisters.

  2. Jeff Martin says:

    Saying “God is still on the throne” is consistent with Arminianism, but not “part of God’s plan” part. His character is magnified by giving us free will. How else could love and election co-exist? By love I mean being fair to all His children in giving them the chance to be elect. As we would deem normal with our children, giving them the same chance if we had the ability

  3. jwheels says:

    I can’t speak to the first two points, but for the third: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (particularly as I read Gregory Boyd’s books on Open Theism), and I think that we’re being somewhat inconsistent with our Arminian beliefs when we say things like that. I think that we do it for the same reason that Calvinism is attractive: because we want someone to be in control, to imagine that there is a deeper purpose in our suffering. And because we’re trained to see sovereignty and control as the same thing.

    My wife disagrees. She doesn’t see it as being necessarily inconsistent with an Arminian viewpoint to suggest that God is still in control. I imagine she’s drawing from a position in which God, in his infinite foreknowledge, creates the conditions for the best possible world, allowing us choice but knowing what the results will be anyways. I haven’t challenged her on it, but I’m not convinced.

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