(This Article was written back in April of 2017 and is worthy of a Callback.)
I will criticize Dr. Leighton Flowers based on bad argumentation and faulty reasoning. I have talked to him and he seems like a nice guy. He just has the strangest way of being obsessed with Calvinism. This will hopefully be a good resource for those who deal with Dr. Flowers or any of the flower patch kids. They seem to defend things I believe they don’t comprehend and this will be an article to share with them to be more informed on issues of the reformed faith.
1. Always conflating Calvinism with determinism
Every time I listen to Leighton Flowers speak, he conflates Calvinism with determinism. Calvinists tend to be divine determinists, but the view itself doesn’t necessitate a view of causation. I do hold to divine determinism and I am willing to defend it. I just find that Dr. Flowers is not being precise and overstates his case.
2. Unrealistic expectations
He seems to think that if the Bible isn’t professing Calvinism or Divine Determinism in every verse, then those beliefs are unbiblical. This refutes his own belief system as well. These are double standards that arise in his talks and other works that simply make him hypocritical and difficult to listen to.
3. Burden shifting
He believes his view is clearly laid out in the Bible and, as such, acts as though he doesn’t have to prove it. This ties in with the previous point. It makes conversation nearly unbearable and completely useless.
4. Tu Quoque
He thinks Calvinists commit this fallacy when showing the freewill theist bears a double-edged sword in some of his criticisms of determinism. The issue is whether the Calvinist reconciles the problem on his own system and if the indeterminist wishes to present self-refuting criticisms.
5. Incoherent Doctrine of God
He holds rather problematic views that cause much confusion in his own doctrine of God. For instance, he can’t figure out how God can think if he is a timeless being. He believes that if God does think, it would require a temporal process (as if he needs time to move to new thoughts). This is rather incoherent. God knows all things from a divine perspective in a logical moment and this requires no time. But while maintaining God is timelessly eternal, he also believes in Divine Passibility and denies a strong form of immutability. The issue is that if you accept the proposition “God is timelessly eternal”, then you can’t maintain God is a changing temporal being. Dr. Flowers should look at why scholars maintain these beliefs, what those beliefs entail, and why his beliefs leave him with an inconsistent doctrine of God.
This was also apparent in this conversation with Brother Chris Harris. He imputed to God human emotions. That would entail that the creation at certain times makes God sad and at other times makes him happy. That God changes based on what creatures do. At one moment he is x and at the next moment, he is ~x. So, is God timeless or is God temporal? How can Leighton maintain divine timelessness and still have God being temporal? He wants to have his cake and eat it too.
6. Bad philosophical responses
He presents philosophical ideas that he is not willing to defend, but only to appeal to when challenged on issues regarding foreknowledge and the problem of evil. The only defense for such doctrines he has is to chalk it up to “mystery”. Promises that these contradictions fade into the mist without any justification. The arbitrary appeals to the mystery are quite annoying and make any serious claim to mystery indistinguishable from either being an arbitrary claim or an actual mystery.
7. God and Causation
He will ask if God ordains (or causes) evil and the Calvinist will usually answer as the Westminster Confession of Faith states:
I. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
– Schaff, P. (1882). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (Vol. 3, p. 608). New York: Harper & Brothers.
He argues that if in Calvinism is true, then God causes evil, and he, therefore, is evil as anyone who would cause evil would be evil. This isn’t a new response to Calvinists. The Calvinist will try to distinguish between primary and secondary agency as a possible solution to this conundrum. Leighton knows this common response and will point out that David was the primary cause of the death of Uriah, but isn’t the secondary cause that brought about his death. He then points out that God held David accountable for his actions which is correct of Leighton to do. This is why when Dr. Flowers and I spoke, I adopted Dr. James Anderson’s view: we need metaphysical categories for God himself and that creaturely causation is not designed for the way God causes events. God isn’t a being like creatures and we need to remember the Creator-Creature distinction. This is nothing new to the issue of causation, as philosophers have long differentiated between different types of causation. Aristotle, for example, distinguished between material cause, efficient cause, formal cause, and final cause. The discussion needs to turn to what type of causation is used by the Creator of all things. Calvinists suspect that divine causation is such of a type that would not read moral culpability back into God’s causation, as we do for other types of causation.
It has also been pointed out that this objection (that God causes evil) refutes free will theism as well. In free will theism, God is also the “Cause of Sin” and “Author of Evil” which I have addressed before:
8. Love Potion
His objection to compatibilism is as follows: Imagine a love potion that a man would give to a woman. This potion has the effectual ability to make someone love another. So while the women utterly despise the man, she is nevertheless in love with him because of the potion. The greatest inclination of that woman’s heart is the man and by Calvinism’s definition, she is in love. But it seems rather obvious that isn’t love.
I think this objection suffers from a few issues. It assumes Calvinist is forced to accept only Classical Compatibilism. That is an arbitrary restriction on a Calvinist. We could accept Semi-Compatibilism. I don’t think a Calvinist would say that acting freely entails that an agent is acting responsibly. It contains a contradiction: it maintains that the woman both loves and does not love the man. The fact of the matter is that the compatibilist considers whether that individual is in their right mind. If Leighton was right, then it seems that anyone not in their right mind is morally culpable. What would Dr. Flowers do with the man on mind-altering drugs that rapes a child? They wouldn’t do that under normal circumstances. I doubt that Leighton is going to say they weren’t morally culpable. Here is more on this topic.
9. Eternal Now
Dr. Flowers maintains that God is timelessly eternal and, for him, this answer fixes the foreknowledge issue: If God is not in time, then nothing is “future” to Him and thus, He can’t foreknow anything. He presents this without any inclination to defend such beliefs. But I have been over this before and here and here.
10. Is God merely determining to redeem His own determinations?
This objection is put forward to make God’s redeeming work a pointless task because He has determined everything, so then He is only redeeming His own determinations.
This is a rather odd objection. It is like the atheist who mocks Christians because of the cross: God knew we would sin and needs to save us from Himself. But Dr. Flowers accepts the following with no problem: God knew we would sin, that he would have to die for our sins, and that work is God redeeming us from His own determination.
Calvinist philosopher and theologian Steve Hays wrote concerning Flowers’ objection:
Some people make statements that seem self-evidently true to them because they don’t consider obvious counterexamples. For instance, drama is typically defined in terms of conflict and conflict resolution. A novelist or dramatist or screenwriter or director first creates a dramatic situation in order to then relieve the dramatic tension. There’s nothing counterintuitive about a creative agent who intentionally causes a problem in order to solve the problem. That’s because the problem is a source of dramatic potential. And the resolution leads to enlightenment. The characters undergo a transformative experience that raises them to a higher plane than before the crisis.
11. Why does God predestine us to be wrong? Does God love Calvinists more?
I don’t know if this is a desperate attempt to criticize Calvinism or just a misunderstanding. The answer to the latter is no. But the answer to the former is a more complicated answer. The fact of the matter is mistakes play a central part in God’s plan. Steve Hays, again, has an excellent article addressing this.
12. Free will
LFW (or contra-causal freedom) is “the categorical ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action.”
– Leighton Flowers, The Doctrine of Free Will (emphasis original)
I think this definition of free will is ambiguous and even Calvinists hold to it in a sense. I believe the will can refrain or not refrain in any given moral choice. This definition doesn’t tell me why the will refrains or indulges in each state of affairs. When pressed on the “why”, Dr. Flowers will simply respond, “That is assuming a determinative answer.” That doesn’t make sense.
Imagine you were on a jury for a murder trial. During the trial, the prosecution makes its case by presenting several facts, some of which that show that the defendant had a motive to kill the victim (whether that be life insurance policy, greed, or sex). The prosecution rests and the defense presents their case. In response to the claim that the defendant had a motive, the defense responds that the prosecution is “assuming a determinative answer”.
This odd claim seems to keep Dr. Flowers committed to the idea that man makes uncaused choices, which he doesn’t affirm. He believes we choose from a selection of our desires and the one we pick becomes the cause of the choice. In other words, the will is self-caused and the will wills itself. However, that becomes problematic quickly. If the will caused the will, then the will to will the will comes from a prior will. Or if we choose the causes of our choices, then that choice comes from a previous one. This goes back as an infinite regress. He may return to the will being completely uncaused, but this would mean he walks the tightrope of Good and Evil with everything he does: he could become a serial killer spontaneously at any moment with no sign and no reason. Where ever he goes, problems will always arise.
Often Dr. Flowers speaks to the issue of ability. This is another place where ambiguity crops up. The point is ability has to mean only in reference to something else. So, does the non-elect can do right and believe in God? That is a yes and no answer. The words can, could, and able are only meaningful in certain senses in certain states of affairs. Can you get to Texas in a few hours? That is a yes and no answer. On the one hand, you couldn’t get there by running there. Your physical ability to get there is impossible. Your ability would change if I added a plane. Then, you can answer yes. Just like the question asked about the non-elect. The non-elect can repent. They have the psychological, Epistemological, and physical abilities to do such. They have all the cognitive faculties to place faith in Christ and choose not to. They have knowledge of God and natural law. We also must ask whether he is spiritually able. The non-elect not being regenerated cannot place faith in God. This is why Calvinist shouldn’t use the term Total Inability.
Does Dr. Flowers believe in Total Ability? Another type of ability is the Existentialist ability to choose which norms are morally binding. Does Leighton accept that kind of ability?
14. Hardening vs total depravity
A while ago, I asked Steve Hays the following question: “If we are born in a state of being totally depraved (having an inability of responding to God, like 1 Cor 2:14), then why does Jesus have to speak in parables to them in Matthew 13:13-15, Acts 28:26-28, John 12:39-40? If we are born spiritually unable to come to God, then why does the text say that God had to blind them so they won’t turn and be healed?”
i) There’s a difference between inability to understand and inability to believe. A person can understand something, but be unreceptive to the truth.
ii) Blinding and hardening are metaphors. By themselves, they don’t explain how God blinds or hardens people. It could be direct divine action on someone’s mind. Or it could be providential: sin, social conditioning, demonic influence.
What is Total Depravity?
“III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” WCF, Chapter 9
Dr. Vern Poythress said:
“Total depravity” does not mean that every human being is as bad as he could be, but “radical” depravity, reaching to the root, and contaminating every aspect of human nature. Moreover, when the word of God comes to someone, it has the effect either of leading to repentance or hardening, in case it is resisted. No one simply remains the same. There is a dynamics to historical development. And this dynamics is superintended by God, so that if someone hardens his heart, it is also true that God is in charge of the hardening. There is both divine sovereignty in human affairs and human responsibility, as is illustrated by the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ. So, the language of hardening is quite consistent with radical depravity being there even from the womb.
We can turn it back on Dr. Flowers as well and point out if a man has such a freedom of contrary choice he would be able to simply always choose contrary. But if he can simply choose contrary, then hardening is pointless as a man could always choose contrary and would render the hardening pointless. The hardening wouldn’t accomplish anything. Here’s an article that goes further into this issue.
15. Massive Modal Mistakes
Dr. Flowers believes that all Calvinists commit a modal fallacy when arguing that foreknowledge implies the future is necessary. He is right to criticize some Calvinists as committing that fallacy, but some do not. This argument is fallaciously written as such:
P1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen
P2. God foreknows X
C. Therefore, X will necessarily happen
This confuses the necessity of the consequence with the necessity of the consequent. You can’t transfer the necessity of the inference to the conclusion. For example:
Nec(If I run a mile, then I ran a mile.). This is an example of the necessity of the consequence. But it does not follow from this that if you run a mile that you have necessarily ran a mile. Or to simplify further, it does not follow from the fact that you run a mile that it is true in all possible worlds that you ran a mile.
That is why I am happy to say that the argument from foreknowledge Dr. Flowers presents is fallacious, while the true argument from foreknowledge is as follows:
P1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen
P2. Necessarily, God foreknows X
C. Therefore, X will necessarily happen
This is the argument from foreknowledge. Dr. Flowers may disagree with it, but this isn’t fallacious. As it completely lines up with the distribution axiom of modal logic:
Nec(α → β) → (Nec(α) → Nec(β))
16. Oversimplified view of Providence
Most problems arise in Dr. Flowers’ criticisms based on this. He doesn’t imagine an entire timeline actuated where each part has a purpose throughout. He can’t conceive of reality in that way. Instead of purpose, his libertarianism gives him chance. By contrast, in compatibilism reality has many different perspectives rather than a monolithic perspective. We will try to use triperspectivalism to elucidate the concepts of Calvinism using the 3 different perspectives to illustrate this as the Normative, Situational, and Existential perspectives. We will only change the names to fit our situation. The names will be the Decretive, Locational, and Volitional perspectives.
The decretive perspective is mainly the divine perspective. God has decreed and divinely caused all events in time to play their parts in the timeline he actuates of the possible worlds he could’ve brought into being. This perspective is over-focused upon by that of fatalists and libertarians. The libertarian uses it to try to make Calvinists into fatalists. But the fatalist believes this is the only perspective. Both fatalists and libertarians make the same mistake, but for different reasons.
The Locational perspective is that which focuses on where we are and what is around us. This is because these things play a major part in what we do and why we do it. The causal determinist isolates this and destroys moral culpability. The reality of this is found in the fact that we tend to be affected by our external circumstances. I tend to be very thirsty in a desert and winter seems to affect my choice of clothing when I go outside. If I am in a place where no footballs are, then I won’t be playing football.
The Volitional perspective deals not with external factors so much but turns to the interior inner workings of man’s will. It focuses on the fact that the timeline God actuates contains moral agents in given circumstances that make real choices. The man does his greatest intention at the given moment. Anything less would entail him acting because of something he does not intend on doing. He does actions and is affected by blinding and hardening that arise in God’s providential plan. The libertarian isolates this perspective and makes an idol out of it.
Only on Calvinism and compatibilism can these perspectives be reconciled to one another to the Glory of God.
We also have another example in that of Motive, Standard, and Goal. These are the necessary and sufficient conditions for Good works. The Standard is God’s Law. This is what all men are obligated to do(1 Cor. 7:19, Rom.7:12). You can do the right action for the wrong reason. So, it is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for a good work. The Motive is that which impels the action. We are to do acts with the right motive such as love and faith(1 Cor.13, Rom.14:23). The Goal is the direction of the action. A loving parent can be motivated by love raise their child, but not for the Glory of God and to further his kingdom(Col. 3:17, 1 Cor. 10:31, Matt. 6:33). The Standard is the Normative perspective. The Goal is the Situational perspective. The Motive is the Existential perspective. Dr. Flowers simply operates on a faulty view of Ethics.
17. Original Sin
18. Self-serving grace?
He recently attacked Calvinists who think that God has an incompleteness to him and God needs our glory to become complete. Dr. Flowers rightly rejects this naïve idea but claims it is the logical outcome of Calvinism. By doing so, he oversteps his case once again. I couldn’t figure out if any coherent proof was given for such an incoherent claim. If any system fits with the aseity of God, it is Calvinism. For example, Calvinist philosopher Steve Hays wrote:
Pain and suffering don’t exist due to God’s desire to be glorified. Rather, pain and suffering are a means by which his redemptive wisdom, mercy, and justice are manifested to his rational creatures for the benefit of the elect. God is not doing something for himself at someone else’s expense. Rather, he’s doing something for someone else at his own expense (the Cross). In its theodicean dimension, God is not bringing glory to himself. Rather, God is revealing his glorious wisdom, justice, and mercy, so that his people may glory in God.
My recommendation for those confused about this issue would be to read Steve Hays’ article about God’s glory.
19. Divine Love
Leighton, in a hangout with Council of G+ on his channel, argued that God loves everyone and believes Chris Harris’ and my position is the only consistent Calvinistic position. I would agree with him on this, but of course, he maintains that God loves everyone. For a case against the idea of universal love, read the following: here and here.
20. Leighton strikes back
First, can you demonstrate they are poor rebuttals? An ounce of proof is worth a pound of presumption. Second, I think I did quote you at least once. I quoted you in point 12 and 20, for example, and Steve Hays quotes you in some of his articles I referenced. Do you find any misrepresentations? If not, then why complain?
21. I was born this way
This is something Leighton uses against Calvinists. He argues that if a man is predestined by God to do some action, then God is responsible for what the man will do. This is technically true but Leighton suffers an equivocation on the word “responsible”. He means morally culpable and the Calvinist means the divine cause(or primary cause). Paul Helm has written:
But this counter-argument clearly rests upon an ambiguity regarding ‘responsibility’, as between ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘causal responsibility’. These phrases are not equivalent, of course. On some versions of atheistic general determinism my beliefs and desires and my character are solely the product of my genes and my environment. It is certainly true that it makes no sense to wag one’s finger at my genes, or to look disapprovingly at my early upbringing, to charge them with moral failure or to punish them because of it. … Nevertheless, determinists must assign causal responsibility to them; too many strawberries are responsible for my stomach ache, being high up brings about giddiness, my genetic structure is responsible for my maleness, and so on.
Dr. Greg Welty in his recent article written in response to Tim Stratton made the same point:
Stratton seems to think that if God exhaustively determines all events (‘omni-causality’), then “God made the Holocaust happen – not Hitler!” But this last phrase – “not Hitler!” – is unmotivated by divine determinism. For there is no reason to think, either logically or biblically, that divine causation precludes human causation, such that if God makes something happen then human agents don’t make it happen. Logically, if God causes X to cause Y, then obviously X is a real cause. Perhaps Stratton has some subtle argument according to which unless an agent satisfies incompatibilist sourcehood conditions, he cannot be a genuine cause. But in the absence of such an argument, there’s not much for the Calvinist here to worry about, logically speaking. Able defenders of libertarian free will, such as Robert Kane, make this point for me: “Determinism… does not imply that we have no influence on how things turn out, including the molding of our characters. We obviously do have such an influence, and determinism alone does not rule it out” (Kane [summarizing a point made by John Stuart Mill], A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, Oxford Univ. Press, 2005, p. 20).
He also seems to assume that it makes God only responsible and no other agent. That exceeds his premise. I drive a friend home, and they get in their house and accidentally breaks their lamp. I am the primary cause of my friend’s activities at home. But I am not morally responsible for the lamp breaking. If a choice is choosing to one’s strongest intention at the moment, then a meaningful choice isn’t eliminated. If that type of liberty is what makes us morally accountable the objection fades away. I think Dr. John Frame had a good point on this:
If we have difficulty here, it may be because we fail to understand the nature of the sinner’s bondage. It is a moral and spiritual bondage, not a metaphysical, physical or psychological bondage. If, as in my robot-machine illustration, someone is physically forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, then of course his bondage removes his responsibility for the act. Confronted with his “deed,” the person would have a valid excuse: “I couldn’t help it; I was physically forced to do it.” But imagine someone coming before a human judge and saying, to excuse himself of a crime, “I couldn’t help it, your honor; I was forced to do it by my nature. Since birth I’ve just been a rotten guy!” Surely there is something ironic about appealing to depravity to excuse depraved acts! If our defendant really is a “rotten guy,” then, far from being an excuse, that is all the more reason to lock him up! My point, then, is that although physical (and some other kinds of) bondage can furnish valid excuses for otherwise bad actions, moral bondage is not such an excuse. I can’t imagine anyone disputing that proposition once they understand it.So there are several different concepts of freedom: libertarianism, compatibilism, moral transcendence of environment, freedom from sin. Indeed, there are many others, too. We speak of “freedom” whenever there is an ability to overcome some potential obstacle. Economic freedom is the ability to purchase and invest, despite the difficulties of achieving it. Physical freedom of various sorts exists when the body is not restrained, e.g., by ropes or prison bars. Legal freedom is the ability to do something without being guilty of a crime, and so on. It is a good idea for us to remember how ambiguous the term “freedom” is. When someone makes an issue of it, we may legitimately ask that person to define what concept of freedom he has in mind. And we ourselves should try harder to be clear. When you preach evangelistically, noting the proper Calvinist and biblical emphasis on the sinner’s inability, how do you present that? Simply to say that the sinner “cannot” receive Christ is misleading. In many senses he can, and should: he is physically and mentally able; he is not forced to remain a sinner contrary to his desires; nor is he “unable” in the sense that we have some knowledge that divine grace will forever be denied. The sinner’s inability is moral and spiritual; indeed, as we have seen, it is an inability for which he is himself responsible. Simply to say “you cannot receive Christ” is to motivate a passive response at best, one which simply waits for God to do something. But that is not the response required by New Testament preaching, or by Reformed preaching at its best. The response required is “repent, believe and be baptized.” The sinner is to act, not to wait for God to make him act. Of course if he does act, then we know that God has acted too!
– John Frame, Free Will and Moral Responsibility
Leighton seems to have the total inability to understand that time is dynamic. That God can unchangeably predetermine actual change in the world.
22. The First Sin
Dr. Flowers brings up the entrance of sin into the world as a knock-down argument. He simply ignores the responses Calvinist have given to such an argument.
23. “My God is more Sovereign than yours!”
Here is another silly objection that is ripped apart by Mr. Hays.
24. Reformed Circles
Dr. Leighton Flowers once told me that he rejects the Reformed apologetic of “presuppositionalism” because he thinks it engages in circular reasoning. The fact of the matter is everyone has their circles and Leighton needs to show presuppositionalist beg the question. He should interact with what presuppositionalist literature states on the issue of circular reasoning.