Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

About Answering Error Freedom & Foreknowledge

Constructive criticism of The Unseen Realm #4: predestination and foreknowledge

By on

14 minutes to read In which I offer a friendly critique of some elements of Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm—in this instance, his comments in chapter 9 on how God foreknows without predestining.

Before I begin my critique, I want to make something clear: In this section of Unseen Realm—chapter 9—Mike is advancing an argument against God’s predestination, and as a Reformed Christian I obviously disagree with him. However, I am not critiquing his argument because I think it is unsound—i.e., because I disagree with one or more of the premises. If that were the only issue, I could simply say, “I disagree with Mike on this point.” Rather, my critique is motivated by the fact that his argument is invalid for a number of reasons.

As with my previous post, I’m not worried that Mike teaches something I disagree with; I’m worried that he commits logical fallacies in arguing for his position—and he does so early in the book, which has significant ramifications: informed readers begin to doubt his competence, and this throws doubt on everything he says; including his later material I’d want to endorse.

A real-world example

This is not a theoretical concern. At the Bible study I attend for our church, I suggested we work through Unseen Realm. For a while we did; but people got so disenchanted by the discussion in chapters 8–9 that we dropped it before we reached the content that actually matters. I felt embarrassed to have to keep apologizing for stuff in a book I myself had recommended, and the general feeling of the group was basically, “This is too much of a mixed bag to be worth it.” Most of the members are not highly educated, but they could tell that something was fishy with what Mike was saying. This is probably the most common scenario you’d find with readers in the Reformed churches I know: they’re accustomed to reading discerningly, so they know there’s something wrong, but they’re not philosophically able enough to clearly pinpoint the problems.

But this is the worst possible outcome, because it is exactly the lack of clarity which will cause maximum doubt about Mike as a teacher in general, and prompt people to abandon the book.

It’s relatively easy for someone like me to separate Mike’s discussion on freedom and foreknowledge from his discussion on linguistics and comparative mythology: I have decent familiarity with both, and can recognize that one deals with philosophical theology—where Mike lacks competence—and the other deals with something else entirely—where Mike has a great deal of competence. But typical Reformed readers are not as equipped for this task, and so the distinction is blurry to them. Their uncertainty about the one creates an overarching doubt that extends to the other.

I add this lengthy preface not merely to justify my critique, but because in the official Lexham Press forums where Mike discusses Unseen Realm, one of his defenders states that the whole purpose of these chapters is to “disarm” Calvinists in order for Mike to be able to advance his main thesis. If so, it’s important to have a Calvinist “on the ground” relay his own experience:

This chapter achieves the opposite of this stated goal.

I can’t see the need for such a disarming in the first place; Calvinists like me will have no problem with Mike’s central arguments; Calvinists of the dogmatically confessional variety will reject them and his argument about predestination anyway. So this entire part of the book seems completely counterproductive to Mike’s aim, as I understand it.

The critique proper

I feel like I should have made that a separate post, but never mind—here goes. I see four main fallacies in Mike’s argument against predestination:

1. False dichotomy

Mike begins with a rehearsal of the previous chapter, which acts as a bridge to set up his comments about predestination. The general issue is one of theodicy—why does God not do away with evil and suffering on earth? Mike’s answer is that he can’t—because that would require elimination of all his imagers (loc. 1104; all emphases are original).

In other words, this is a greater-good defense:

God’s decision was a loving one. Understanding that requires only a consideration of the two alternatives: (1) not having life at all, and (2) being a mindless robot, capable only of obeying commands and responding to programming.

If our decisions were all coerced, how authentic would those “decisions” actually be? If love is coerced or programmed, is it really love? … It isn’t. For a decision to be real, it must be made against an alternative that could be chosen. (Ibid)

Although I’ve dealt with the issue of freedom in part 3, Mike’s very specific concern to preserve the nature of love bears comment, because this is an objection I hear a lot from uninformed freewill theists. The problem is that the very nature of God himself refutes this understanding of love. Here’s a basic version of the argument:

  1. God exists necessarily (standard Christian doctrine)
  2. God is love (1 John 4:8)
  3. Therefore, love exists necessarily

To rephrase the conclusion slightly, the Father cannot fail to love the Son, the Son cannot fail to love the Father, and so on. If they could, love would not exist necessarily. This seems like an obvious enough truth, but it directly implies the falsity of Mike’s claim that love is not really love unless it can “be made against an alternative that could be chosen.” If, in the paradigm nature of love, there is no alternate possibility; if the “most real” kind of love does not admit of other live options; if love himself is not “free” as Mike defines freedom…then Mike’s definition of freedom is just wrong.

Notice that I am not claiming the Father does not choose to love the Son. The most robust, complete kind of love certainly is volitional; it is something that requires an act of will. The point is not that God does not choose, but that God cannot choose otherwise.

So Mike’s whole case falls apart right here, because he sets up a false dichotomy between libertarian freedom on the one hand, requiring other live options, and coercion or programming on the other, where no choice is made at all. But in fact both of these are wrong. Choice does not require other live options, yet the alternative is not coercion or programming; it is simply choice without other live options.

There are two sides to this false dichotomy’s dirty penny; two major errors which are going to leave a very poor impression with the Calvinists this chapter is supposedly trying to disarm:

  1. Mike begs the question by assuming that “choice” means libertarian choice—the exact point under dispute;
  2. Mike burns a strawman of the Calvinist view by equating compatibilist choice with “coercion” and “programming”—a category error that I can assure you Calvinists get very tired of correcting.

2. Non-sequitur or hasty generalization

Depending on how you want to cash out the problems here, you could name a couple of different fallacies. We could even call it a false dichotomy, but then I would have two headings with that name, and that would be Bad Writing.

The overall claim is that God cannot do away with evil and suffering on earth, because that would require the elimination of all his imagers. In other words, the only way to eliminate evil is to eliminate all free agents who can commit evil. But even if we grant Mike’s tendentious definition of freedom, this is just an assertion in lieu of an argument. It simply doesn’t follow without further reasoning. But what would that reasoning look like? Consider:

Does evil exist necessarily?

In order for Mike’s claim here to find ultimate traction, we would have to say that there is no possible world—no other state of affairs God could have brought about instead of this one—in which all free agents are always virtuous. But that is a truly staggering claim—directly equivalent to saying that evil exists necessarily given free will. In other words, if free agents exist, evil cannot fail to exist, and so God could not have created a world of free agents without also creating a world of evil. What possible reason could there be for believing that?

If you’re not familiar with modal logic, let me expand a little: possible worlds describe different ways that things could be; different possible states of affairs. If there is no possible world in which X exists, then X is metaphysically impossible: it necessarily cannot exist. Alternatively (and this is the easier way to understand it), if Y exists in every possible world, then Y is metaphysically necessary; it cannot fail to exist in this world or any other. A good example is God: under the Christian view, there is no possible world in which God does not exist, because God exists necessarily. But by the same token, if there is no possible world in which free agents exist but evil does not, then evil is necessitated by free will—which contradicts Mike’s very idea of freedom as the ability to choose live options, some of which are good. (Btw, it also won’t do to try cashing this out statistically, because that misses the point: even if there are few possible worlds in which free agents never sin, just as there are few possible worlds in which I toss heads a thousand times without ever getting tails, those worlds are nonetheless possible, and God could therefore choose to instantiate them, instead of the one he did.)

The alternative is to go the open theist’s route and claim that God cannot know in advance how free agents will act; in other words, that he has no knowledge of what Molinists call the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. But that option isn’t open to Mike, as we’ll see under fallacy 3, below.

Much evil versus all evil

Aside from this, Mike’s statement is also broad in a rather weaselly way—hence my suggestion that this is a hasty generalization. Even if God cannot eliminate all evil given free will, it is manifestly false that he cannot eliminate much evil. There are a staggering number of awful, horrific sins that God could prevent without interfering with free will at all.

For instance, why doesn’t God cause all the rounds that end up killing people to misfire? Why doesn’t he cause thick fog to blanket an area where refugees are being hunted by rape gangs? Why didn’t he make the brakes fail on Ted Bundy’s car, so he hit a pole and lost the use of his legs? And consider all the evil that happens by accident. Why can’t God nudge people to remind them to close the gate to the pool, so their toddler doesn’t wander in and drown? Why can’t he nudge them to remember to lock the gun safe, so their kids don’t play with the pistols and blow their own heads open? How is directly putting those thoughts into their heads notably different from another person reminding them verbally? And even if it does override free will, wouldn’t these people prefer he did that if it means saving their children from tragic, preventable deaths that wreck the lives of their families? Wouldn’t they freely choose that if they could?

Ultimately, this is just the standard failing of the free will theodicy. Mike wants to say that creating free agents was the loving thing to do—but he doesn’t mention (or doesn’t realize) that what he gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. God loves people enough to give them free will; but not enough to stop all manner of preventable evils that result from that free will.

Now, I don’t want to be unduly hard on Mike here, because obviously Unseen Realm is not a book about theodicy. But that is kind of my point. These chapters don’t add anything to the main purpose of Unseen Realm. Mike’s main thesis for the book is completely independent of his argument here. Whether you accept the one is completely irrelevant to whether you accept the other. So why include content that only turns off a sizeable reader-base, and makes the book harder to follow for everyone?

3. Category error

Let me step back to remind you that I like Mike and really want Unseen Realm to succeed. That is the context in which I say that this next fallacy is the most awkwardly egregious and embarrassingly inept of the lot, okay?

Citing 1 Samuel 23:10-13, Mike argues:

David asks the Lord two questions: (1) will his nemesis Saul come to Keilah and threaten the city on account of David’s presence? And (2) will the people of Keilah turn him over to Saul to avoid Saul’s wrath? Again, God answers both questions affirmatively: “He will come down,” and “They will deliver you.”

Neither of these events that God foresaw ever actually happened … This passage clearly establishes that divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination.

The theological point can be put this way:

That which never happens can be foreknown by God, but it is not predestined, since it never happened. (Loc. 1173–1192)

I quote at length because the bungle here is so remarkable that any informed reader would suspect I was misrepresenting Mike’s case. Unfortunately, as you can see, he really does try to get around a careful treatment of the genuine philosophical issues with predestination and freedom through a mere sleight of hand: by pretending that God’s counterfactual knowledge is the same as his foreknowledge.

This is simply not the case, and you won’t find any informed theologian who says otherwise (feel free to try; I’ll wait). Counterfactual knowledge is God’s knowledge of what would happen under some other conditions than actually occur in this world. His foreknowledge, by contrast, is his knowledge of what will happen.

These are two distinct types of knowledge. One is of possible worlds, and one is of the actual world; conflating them is therefore an outrageous category error.

Now, it’s true that under Calvinism God’s counterfactual knowledge is the same kind of knowledge as his foreknowledge: both are parts of what is called his “free knowledge,” which is his knowledge of contingent truths. Under Calvinism, God knows what he would cause to happen given the conditions of any possible world; and he knows what he will cause to happen given the conditions of the actual world. But clearly Mike is not making this kind of conflation; he is not simply using foreknowledge as a mistaken synonym for free knowledge. He is not a Calvinist.

The only alternative he can turn to is Molinism, where God’s knowledge of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom is part of his so-called middle knowledge (falling between his free knowledge and his natural knowledge of necessary truths). But Molinism affirms what Mike denies: that the future is settled. The whole point of Molinism is that God is able to know what free creatures would do in any possible world, and he then chooses which possible world he wishes to instantiate, so that free creatures will do those things. But this makes the future settled, even though Molinists argue (wrongly) that it does not make our actions necessitated.

In case you’re wondering why I don’t canvass classical Arminianism here, it is because there is no place for counterfactuals of creaturely freedom there. Classical Arminianism affirms the doctrine of simple foreknowledge, which says that God only knows what will happen in the world; it tries to get God off the hook for sin by denying that he foreknew the fall until he had already decided to create the world. So there are no counterfactuals of creaturely freedom here for God to know in the first place—in contradiction to 1 Samuel 23.

Thus, when Mike says that, God foreknew a possibility—but this foreknowledge did not mandate that the possibility was actually predestined to happen, he is simply talking nonsense. God does not foreknow possibilities; he simply knows them. Foreknowledge refers specifically to future events in the actual world. God knew what would happen in the possible world that David was asking about. But that world was not the actual world, and God was not relaying any foreknowledge to David.

It’s hard to track what Mike is actually angling at here, because of his conflation of foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge; but what it sounds like he is saying is that the future is not settled. That seems to be what he means by “predestined.” In other words, he seems to be trying to take a piece of Molinism—middle knowledge—and a piece of open theism—an open future—and mashing these incompatible theologies together to create a fiendish hybrid that will do everything he wants: preserve God’s omniscience, and human freedom.

But this is not a project for Unseen Realm. It’s not really a project for anything, because any theologian conversant with these issues would know that bird won’t fly. But it’s definitely not a project for a single chapter of a book about a completely different topic; and all Mike really achieves here is that he leaves most Christians as unknowingly confused as he is about a topic whose philosophical complexities he doesn’t understand or appreciate.

4. Self-contradiction

To explain a little further, let me turn to the final fallacy Mike commits: Ultimately, the view he is advocating is incoherent because it contradicts itself. Mike wants to affirm the following two inconsistent statements:

  1. What free agents would do in any possible world is settled (because otherwise God would not know counterfactuals like those in 1 Samuel 23)
  2. What free agents will do in the actual world is not settled (because otherwise the future would be predestined)

The problem should be obvious: since the actual world is a possible world, what free agents do in it must be settled according to statement (i). But that contradicts statement (ii). You can’t eat your cake and still have it too. Either God knows what free agents will do in a given situation, or he doesn’t. If he does, he knows what free agents will do in the actual world, and the future is settled. If he doesn’t, then he couldn’t know that Saul would come to Keilah, or that its people would hand David over to him.


To round out an already exhausting review, I want to briefly deal with the implications Mike draws out of chapter 9:

There is no biblical reason to argue that God predestined the fall, though he foreknew it. There is no biblical reason to assert that God predestined all the evil events throughout human history simply because he foreknew them … God does not need the rape of a child to happen so that good may come. His foreknowledge didn’t require the holocaust as part of a plan that would give us the kingdom on earth. God does not need evil as a means to accomplish anything. (Loc. 1208–1216)

Let me summarize the issues here, because they really summarize the whole problem with this chapter and the one before:

  1. What this amounts to saying is that there is no good reason for the rape of children. There was no good reason for the holocaust. God didn’t intend for those things to happen; they weren’t necessary parts of his plan. They were just tragic side-effects of free will. I don’t see how that is supposed to be a compelling alternative to a broadly Calvinistic view, in which God works all things for good—even things as appalling as the holocaust.
  2. Mike fails to anticipate obvious counterexamples to his overreaching claims. God doesn’t need evil to accomplish anything? Really? Come on, get serious—surely Mike agrees that God actually did need evil in order to accomplish his plan of redemption. He might disagree that glorifying Jesus through redemption was the original plan for creation—though that leaves God originally creating the world for a lesser reason!—but it is a simple matter of logical necessity that there must first be sinners if God is to redeem them. By the same token, if God wishes to manifest his perfections (aka glorify himself), and one of his perfections is wrath, he cannot do that without creating sinners to drink from that cup. Does Mike not think that God’s wrath is a perfection worth manifesting?
  3. Finally, Mike simply asserts his whole confused view in the teeth of the exegetical evidence that has brought people like me to Calvinistic convictions. He doesn’t interact with any of that evidence; he doesn’t even acknowledge it; rather, he simply takes a couple of passages, runs them through his very obviously modern, philosophical filter, and confidently asserts that, An ancient Israelite would have embraced this parsing of foreknowledge, predestination, sovereignty, and free will (loc. 1208). If I didn’t have good reason to think Mike was trying to disarm Calvinists here, I would think he was trying to infuriate them by rehashing all the trite old tropes we’re already familiar with: tropes which cannot be exegeted from Scripture, and which we’re confident can be refuted with exegesis from Scripture—as well as by simple, careful thinking like that I’ve tried to demonstrate here.

If this argument in chapter 9 is supposed to disarm Calvinists, then either Mike doesn’t understand Calvinism, or he just needs to go back to the drawing board and enlist the help of an actual Calvinist to write something that won’t piss us off. I’ve spoken with Doug Van Dorn about this; he is a Reformed Baptist who works closely with Mike and I am certain he would be willing to help. As would I. But as it stands, there’s nothing compelling or surprising here to disarm Calvinists.



I have also read Unseen Realm and Reformed and also struggled with those aspects of the book. Thank you for writing this! It raised a lot of questions for me about authority of the believer, our role as God’s agents. Can you help sort this out? Quote from Unseen Realm, “But Yahweh’s decisions in the original Eden meant that he would not overturn human (or divine) freedom in his imagers. Yahweh had chosen to accomplish his ends through imagers loyal to him against imagers who weren’t. This commitment to humanity, his original imagers on earth, is one often-missed reason why, when humanity (Israel) failed to restore God’s rule” (p. 216) –Can we miss God’s potential for our lives? As one author wrote, “God is committed to his promises, but we can miss God’s potential for us.” Can we fall on plan B? Can we miss healing if we don’t pray hard enough, and miss bringing in the kingdom in a neighborhood (obviously not the entire kingdom) if we don’t cooperate with God and witness and work and share the gospel? How much does God limit himself to his imagers? What is our role in building the kingdom and his role? Can the kingdom not “break in” into a neighborhood today because we aren’t doing our role?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

How much does God limit himself to his imagers?

A great deal. God could raise up believers from the rocks if he wanted to. But he has chosen to raise them up through our preaching the word.

What is our role in building the kingdom and his role?

Our role is preaching the word. His role is changing hearts. This is the great comfort which Mike would actually deprive us of: in his view, God is not responsible for whether someone believes the gospel or not. It’s all on us. That’s incredibly daunting—and incredibly disheartening if we don’t see fruit. On the Reformed view, we simply do our part, and wait to see if God does his. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily reflect a failure on our part. As long as we preach the word faithfully, we’re doing everything we can. If people don’t respond, it’s because God did not draw them; not because we weren’t persuasive enough.

Can the kingdom not “break in” into a neighborhood today because we aren’t doing our role?

Of course. God works through us. But equally, if we do our role, the kingdom might still not break into our neighborhood, if God didn’t choose those people for it.


My friend sent me this link since I’ve been reading some of Heiser’s materials online. I read your testimony and am praising God for his work in you. Are you familiar with Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s works? I think you would like him. May God bless you!


Hello Bnonn,
The more I read of Dr. Heiser’s work, the more I am uneasy about his theology. Dr. Heiser does not believe that Moses is the author of the Torah. See this video by him.
Quoting Dr. Heiser: “ I’m a supplementarian “ Mosaic Core” material gets added to and edited and rearranged to form what makes up the Penteteuch. I’m not a liberal etc…. I’m not an everything is by Moses guy.”
Also this:
“1. It is reasonable to think that at least some of the Pentateuch, perhaps substantial portions of it, were written by someone other than Moses.
2. It is unreasonable to think that it’s “unbiblical” to think the above thought.
3. If we are going to discuss who wrote the text of the Pentateuch, then we ought to derive our arguments from the text of the Pentateuch.
4. The authorship of the Pentateuch is a whole lot more complex than saying, “Hey, I know this Bible verse over here that uses the phrase ‘law of Moses’ so that settles it.”

His view on the atonement and his undermining the authority of Scriptures are quite problematic. He is embracing and promoting NT Wright’s unorthodox views. He is very proud of his book being “peer reviewed” but the peers who do the reviewing are the compromised Evangelical Theological Society. Do a search and see that this organization has been sadly compromised. Dr. Heiser’s friend Ronn Johnson did a guest blog on Heiser’s site called “The Bible’s big Story” . In that series, Ronn Johnson throws out bricks which represent doctrines that are Biblical but which he judges to be false. The noble Bereans evaluated the words of Paul by comparing them with Scripture to see if they agreed. It is obvious from the first post on the Bible’s Big Story that they are challenging Luther and Calvin’s reformation teachings and viewing the Bible through the lens of N.T. Wright, siding with the Higher Critics against the reformation doctrines. Penal Substitution gets thrown away by Ronn Johnson with his other “bricks” but there is no salvation without the substitutionary atonement. I am not impressed by peer reviewed articles or books that devalue or make unnecessary the sacrificial death of the Suffering Messiah on the cross. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. The archive for Ronn Johnson’s series:
Here is a quote from the Bible’s Big story page 4 by Ronn Johnson so you know I’m not making this up.
“Me (Ronn Johnson): Five things come to mind: 1) I do not believe that Jesus had to die for a “great” reason in my understanding, nor even his. He may have died for no understandable reason at all, in his own mind, but just because the Father wanted him to. That may have been the “great” reason Jesus died. I have to leave that option open. 2) I do not think Jesus died to get people out of hell, nor into heaven. I believe people could be right with God before Jesus died, and so the effect of Jesus’ death could not have been to make them righteous. 3) I do not believe that my unpaid for sin sends me to hell, nor that forgiven sin allows me to go to heaven. My afterlife is not dependent on issues of sin management. 4) I believe that Jesus’ death dealt with our sin, but I see him doing what a priest did in the OT—handling sin or uncleanness in a ritualistic sense—in the end sanctifying us so that we could approach God’s presence in worship (think of the veil tearing). Since we don’t believe that priests made people righteous in the OT, it follows that Jesus’ priestly work was not making people righteous while on the cross. 5) I don’t think that God “having to punish sin” is therefore anywhere on the radar map of what we have just talked about, including the purpose of Jesus’ death. I feel like you are arguing backwards, taking your specific view of the cross and interpreting the entire story of the Bible through it.

(RJ’s) Friend: Well, you haven’t convinced me either. I just think that if God could have forgiven our sin without Jesus dying, he would have. I guess we’ll agree to disagree.”…

Dr. Heiser’s own comments about the Bible’s Big Story series about substitutionary atonement: Johnson
Dr. Heiser:
“Death was a problem that needed solving—for everyone. This makes the focal point of God’s plan the resurrection, not the violent death. In other words, it ultimately wasn’t the death of Jesus that brought about redemption for lost humanity. It was the resurrection. Think about the meaning of “redemption” and you’ll see the point. To “redeem” something is to “buy it back”. In our case, the death of Christ enables us to come back into relationship with God. It cures the death problem, which is/was brought on by sin (my own view of Rom 5:12 helps here — that we are guilty before God not because of what someone else did [even Adam] but because of what we invariably and inevitably do — we sin). Christ wasn’t God’s chance to vent his anger on his Son. It was his chance to defeat death with resurrection and so secure eternal life for all who believe in the work of Jesus on the cross. So does “substitution” really work to describe this?”

So why did Jesus tell us to “do this in remembrance of me” when speaking of The Lord’s supper and to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again? Phil Johnson’s article warns about Steve Chalke’s unsound teachings and it sounds like Dr. Heiser, Ronn Johnson and Chalke are all on the same page.
scroll down to: The Lost Message of Jesus, by Steve Chalke
A Christian’s salvation depends on both the Lord’s death as well as His resurrection.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.–Romans 6: 3,4
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.–1 Corinthians 1:18

What people believe and teach about the cross tells volumes about their theology. Paul warned us that savage wolves would come in, not sparing the flock. There are seducing spirits out there. These men are teaching false doctrine in the area I have shown which is the heart of the gospel. Judge what they say against what the scriptures teach.

Bnonn, this is a review I tried to post on Amazon under book reviews for the Unseen Realm. They would not publish it so I posted it under another review that was negative . I have posted on several blogs but noone wants to hear this, unfortunately. Please read it even if you decide to delete it afterwards. I posted on the Highway forumand I trust Pilgrim’s verdict about this teacher.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I’d assume the reason Amazon wouldn’t publish your comments is that you aren’t reviewing Unseen Realm with them.

I’m aware of these issues with Mike’s theology. I think you’re overstating the situation on Mosaic authorship, and I found Ron’s Big Story series was a bit more of a mixed bag than you apparently did. That said, any opposition to classic Reformed theology isn’t a great surprise coming from freewill theists.

I haven’t talked about these other questions here as they’re not relevant to Unseen Realm. But I suspect if you poke around my blog, you’ll find plenty to disagree with here as well.

Jacob Cochrane

I appreciate this series. I’m a big fan of Heiser, and haven’t found a lot of folks familiar enough with his material to thoughtfully disagree.

Over the past couple years, really getting into the Calvinism vs. Non-Calvinism issues, I’ve noticed something. It seems that Calvinists tend to claim scriptural authority based on careful exegesis. (That makes sense, and the claim has weight since non-Calvinists tend to approach the scriptures at surface level, attempting to generalize based on “the character of God.”) However, the Calvinists often end up creating philosophical categories “based on scripture” and then working with/from those categories to defend and define their positions. I’d say they don’t see it that way, because they often fault non-Calvinists with using “philisophical” arguments over against “biblical” arguments. And many are probably not familiar enough with the field/history of philosophy to notice when their approach gets so sophisticated it sounds more like classical philosophy than something that started out as bible reading.

Here’s the point. I think Mike could be failing to interact with the well-established discussions on some of these topics on purpose. He’s attempting to describe what the original authors probably had in mind. I think it’s safe to assume the original authors were educated and careful thinkers, but did not think in the distinct categories some of us do. And they still conveyed truth. So do we really need to account for all the definitions and categories we’ve created in order to arrive at truth?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Jacob, philosophical theology has a strong and recognized place in Reformed theology. The question isn’t whether we’re engaging in philosophical reasoning, but whether that reasoning is attached “by good and necessary consequence” to Scripture, as the Westminster Confession puts it. I talk about this more in the beginning of my series on Molinism.

I don’t have a problem with Mike not interacting with Reformed theology. My problem is with him attempting to describe what the original authors probably had in mind, and making the kinds of mistakes that I document here.

Melissa Taylor

I am not a theologian or a philosopher. I am having a hard time understanding this statement:

“Choice does not require other live options, yet the alternative is not coercion or programming; it is simply choice without other live options.”

In what way is that a choice? (Def. an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.)

If there are no other live options, than there is/are not two or more possibilities, therefore there can be no choosing.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Melissa, I’d distinguish between actual and epistemic possibilities. The fact that you believe you can choose A or B doesn’t mean B is an actual possibility, for instance. You’re able to choose A, yet you never could have chosen B.

I have some other posts that may help clarify this for you. Probably these two would be a good place to start:


J Waltz

Thanks for this short series of friendly reviews. I just finished “The Unseen Realm” and found it very helpful, but I balked at several of the problems you’ve highlighted in these posts – especially the awful philosophical theology in chapters 8&9 which you have exposed here.

I’m curious if you know whether Dr. Heiser has interacted with your reviews – or if he’s even aware of them. I would like to think he’d take your feedback into consideration and sharpen a future edition of the book. I’d like to recommend this book to others as you did, but I’m certain many of my friends would run into the same objections raised by those in your Bible study group.