Paul Helm: Providence of God

Image result for paul helm providence

Thesis: “In summary, the essential elements of divine providence are these.  God preserves his creation and all that it sustains” (Helm 22).

Providence: Risky or Risk-Free?

Is God’s knowledge limited by man’s free actions?   

Risky: Open theist view.  God can’t be omniscience on this view, per Richard Swinburne.  Or rather, his omniscience is only to actions in time

God’s Knowledge

If the “risky” view obtains, then it appears that God has a number of beliefs which are false (given the free actions of humans).

God’s will.  We have to make a distinction between God’s will of command and will of decree (47).  On the ‘risk’ view God’s decreeing any human action is inconsistent with that actions being indeterminately free (49).

There is even a problem with God’s goodness:  given that God wishes to be good to people, how intense can this goodness be, given the free actions of humans?  I don’t think this objection is particularly strong. Part of the battle in our spiritual life is that we often resist God’s blessings.

Solution of divine accommodation.  Per Calvin, the movement of direction is from God to mankind, and not vice-versa (52ff).  It’s not simply that we are choosing the “sovereignty” passages at the expense of the risky ones.  Rather, it “is a logically necessary condition of dialogue between people that those people should act and react in time” (53).  However, omnipotence and omniscience are essential properties in God; therefore, they have priority.

Middle Knowledge

Necessary truths: logic, mathematics, stuff related to God’s essence.  

Free knowledge: things as a result of God’s freely willing them.

Middle knowledge: among the conditional propositions that God knows “are those which indicate what would happen if an individual performed a free (ie. non-deterministic) action (57).  God only actualizes the outcomes necessary to his plan. The rest are human possibilities (which God knows).

Difficulties:  it looks like on the MK account that the universe has a “shadow picture.”  Another problem is that God seems to only have knowledge of a mirror account of the universe, and never an actualized account (59).

His argument against MK seems to be that on MK’s own admission, people have indeterminist freedom.  Therefore, God can’t know what they would do because what they would do is precisely what isn’t known.  There seems to be something to that charge.

God-World Relationship

When we say God existed “before” the universe, we are using “before” in a hierarchical, not temporal sense.

Pantheism:  if the universe is God, and an individual performed a certain action, then logically God performed that action.

Deism: few today would hold to Deist temptations, and it is a diabolical worldview, but it is a much tougher opponent than pantheism.   If the universe was created good, then why does it need miracles?  Indeed, in a nice phrase, miracles are “a metaphysical first aid kit.”  There are some obvious problems with Deism.  Helm lists a few:

a) it is an obvious dogmatism (76).  Why don’t miracles exist?  Because they don’t.
b) it is not obvious why the Spirit-filled believer must define miracles as “violations” or “interventions” of nature.  Indeed, in an open-universe why wouldn’t we expect miracles?

Prayer and Providence

This is the familiar problem if God knows all things, then why pray? Helm doesn’t really solve it, but he does provide a number of clarifying insights that allow us to better approach the issue. Our praying to God exists within a personal matrix within which are a number of smaller issues.  If I take out one of those issues, then the matrix changes.

Further, there can be legitimate inter-personal interaction yet there be pressures, limitations, and givens, even in human-human relationships.  Why not so in God-man relationships?  Therefore, I can pray, and it be real prayer, and God answereth it, yet it still be ordained.


This is more of a philosophical than a theological text.  As such, there isn’t much exegesis of key passages.  To be fair, though, that would have made the text unwieldy.  Nonetheless, Helm nicely covers the issues and provides a number of clarifications.


Time and Eternity (William Lane Craig)

Image result for time and eternity william lane craig

The best tool for understanding what is meant by God’s being eternal is not poetry but analytic philosophy (Craig 11).

Divine eternity: God exists without beginning or end.  But is God temporal or timeless? We will come back to this question, as Craig himself revisits it at the very end of the book.  We see much about time and eternity, and the numerous tortured arguments from all sides, but little on (T/E’s) relation to God, per the book’s subtitle.  That shouldn’t detract from the fine scholarship, though.

Much of the book is a sustained analysis of Einstein and the various debates concerning relativity.  I’m going to skip those. The heart of Craig’s argument is setting forth two views of time

Tensed time (A).  This is the common-sense view of time (and the one Craig upholds).  We can speak of past, present, and future. However, if God is timeless, as he must be if we deny that time is eternal, then it’s hard to see how he can relate to time.

Tenseless time (B).  Time is an illusion, or at least speak of a past and a future is meaningless.  This fits well with some models of relativity. If time is actually space-time, and space is a 3-D coordinate, and if space isn’t tensed (and it isn’t), then time is tenseless.  While this is quite bizarre, and Craig offers a number of rebuttals, but its strength lies in its ability to comport with God’s eternity.

In conclusion, Craig argues that God is eternal before Creation but has a temporal dimension with respect to creation.  And that’s my problem with his conclusion. I think there is something to it, but he does very little to develop it (Craig, 217-235, and much of that discussion is a summary of his Kalam argument). He adds a fine discussion on God’s foreknowledge as an appendix.

Divine Timelessness


  1. God is simple


(1’) God is immutable.

(2) If God is simple or immutable, then he is not temporal.

(3) Therefore, God is not temporal.

(4) Therefore, God is timeless.

This argument, though, depends on certain Thomist formulations.  Craig doesn’t pursue this line of thought.

Relativity Theory


Absolute time: time without relation to anything external.

Absolute space: 

Relative time: time determined by clocks.

19th century experiments on speed of light.

Light’s measured velocity is the same in all inertial frames.


Simultaneity becomes relative.  There is no absolute space.

What does this mean for God, Time, and Eternity?  If God is in time, then whose time is he in, for time is relative to the observer? The argument becomes thus:

  1. STR is correct in its description of time.
  2. If STR is correct in its description of time, then if God is temporal, He exists in either the time associated within a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  3. Therefore, if God is temporal,He exists in either the time associated within a  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  4. God does not exist in either the time associated witha  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  5. Therefore, God is not temporal.

Craig is going to challenge (1).  Einstein’s relativity already presupposed that there couldn’t be Absolute Space.  But this was because Einstein held to verificationism, which has since been debunked.

Outline Turretin, Topic 3 (Doctrine God)

Part 1 Here.

First Question: The Existence of God

(Turretin goes through the standard pre-modern reasoning).

Third Question: The Unity of God

Turretin clarifies the question by saying God is one in the sense that there is nothing else like him.  It is a question of essential numerical unity.

Fifth Question: Can the Divine Attributes really be distinguished from the divine essence? We deny against the Socinians.

Definition: The divine attributes are the essential properties by which he makes himself known to us who are weak and those by which he is distinguished from creatures” (III.5.1). Attributes are not superadded to his essence. They are distinguished virtually and eminently (section 5ff). A virtual distinction is that which contains distinct effects

Seventh Question: The Simplicity of God: Is God most simple and free from all composition? We affirm against the Socinians.

Simple is used in two senses, either absolutely or relatively.  Absolute means not mixed with anything else. God is simple because he is not dependent.  If something is of composition, then it was composed by another (or depends on something else for its existence).

  1. Also proved from the nature of subsistence.   Persons and essence are not related as real component extremes from which a tertium quid may arise.  This would create a quaternity.
  2. Modes/subsistences only modify, they do not compose. Modes distinguish the persons but do not compose the essence.
  3. God’s relative attributes are attributes of relations, which is “to be to,” not “to be in.”

Tenth Question: The Eternity of God: Does God’s eternity exclude succession according to priority and posteriority? We affirm.

Def. = “The infinity of God in reference to duration is called eternity to which these three things are ascribed:

  1. Without beginning
  2. Without end
  3. Without succession. (experiencing past, present, future)


  1. His essence cannot admit succession.

Twelfth Question: Do all things fall under the knowledge of God, both singulars and future contingencies?

God’s intellect: the mode and object.  “The mode consists in his knowing all things perfectly, undividedly, distinctly and immutably:

  1. Perfectly: he knows all things by himself or by his essence, not by forms abstracted from things.
  2. Undividedly: He knows all things intuitively and noetically, not discursively.
  3. Distinctly:

The object of God’s knowledge is both himself and all things extrinsic to him whether possible or future (III.12.3). He knows both universal and singulars as to:

  1. Quality: good and bad
  2. Predication: universals and singulars.
  3. Time: past, present, and future.
  4. State: necessary and free or contingent.

Proof:  all things are naked and open to God (Heb. 4.13).  He knows hairs on our head. Etc.

The Real Issue: Does God Know Future Contingencies?

There are two ways a thing can be contingent: either it is produced by God (true by definition; all things contingent in this sense) or it depends on the prior causes of other contingent events.

Proof: “Lord, thou knowest all things” (John 21:17; 1 John 3:20).  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world; God knows all his works from eternity.  All things are naked and open to his eyes (Hebrews 4). This includes future actions. God predicts future contingent things.

Things can happen necessarily as to the event (per the decree) and yet contingently as to the mode of production (section 23).

Thirteenth Question: Is there a Middle Knowledge in God between the Natural and the Free?  We deny.

God’s natural or simple knowledge: God’s knowledge of all things merely possible.  It is called indefinite. It is founded on God’s omnipotence

God’s knowledge of vision (Or free): Knowledge of future things.  Definite because fixed by his will.

Middle knowledge seeks to be about hypothetically possible things.

Statement of the question: all admit that God knows future contingencies. Is there a special decree concerning the certain futurition of this or that thing preceeds so that God may see things antecedently to such a decree. We deny.

Proofs: natural and free knowledge embraces all knowable things and entities are not be multiplied unnecessarily (sec. 9).  2) Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. 3) Such a knowledge posits a reason for predestination apart from God’s purpose and good pleasure (eudokian).

1 Sam. 23:11 no proof of MK. This is more of a revelation of “circumstances on the ground” than a hypothetical future contingency.

Fourteenth Question: The Will of God: Does God Will some things necessarily and others freely? We affirm.

There is a twofold necessity.  Absolute necessity, that which can’t be otherwise.  Hypothetical necessity, a necessity from a contingent source. There are two kinds of things willed: that which is willed to the ultimate end, and that which is willed in the relation of the means.  Therefore, we say:

“God wills himself necessarily, not only by a hypothetical necessity but also by an absolute necessity.”

Fifteenth Question: May the will be properly distinguished into the will of the decre and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret, and revealed?  We affirm.

God’s will is simple but it may be apprehended as manifold.

  1. Decretive will: futurition and event of things; rule of God’s external acts.
  2. Preceptive will: that which we should do. It has a twofold object
  3. Will of eudokias (good purpose): that which seems good for the Father to reveal. Also our predestination.
  4. Will of euarestias:  frequently referred to the preceptive will. That which we are to conform to.

Will of sign and pleasure:

  1. Beneplacit will: answers to the decretive will.
  2. Will of sign: answers to the preceptive will.

There aren’t contrarieties between the two because they do not will the same thing in the same manner and respect (sect. 18).

Eighteenth Question: Is the Will of God the primary rule of justice? We distinguish

The will can be called the primary rule of justice extrinsically in reference to us, but not intrinsically in reference to God. In other words, some things are good because God wills them (e.g., the ceremonial laws)  God’s natural justice is antecedent to his free act of will.

Nineteenth Question: Is Vindicative Justice Natural to God?

Divine justice can be considered either absolutely in itself or relatively with respect to its exercise. Question: Does God have the right to punish?  Is this natural to God? We prove:

  1. Scripture. Ex. 34:7. Hab. 1:13. If hatred of sin is necessary to God, then penal justice is equally necessary because the hatred of sin is the constant will of punishing it.
  2. Dictates of conscience
  3. Sanction of the law
  4. Our redemption through the death of Christ.

Twenty-First Question: The Power of God?  What is the omnipotence of God and does it extend to those things which imply a contradiction? We deny.

Power of God: The divine essence productive outwardly

  1. The object of God’s power is nothing other than the possible (sect. 6).
  2. A contradictory is logically impossible.
  3. God can do contraries, but not contradictories.

Twenty-Third Question: The Holy Trinity.  What are the meanings of the terms essence, substance, subsistence, person, Trinity, etc.?

ousia/essence: the “whatness” of a thing

Substance: we do not mean in this in the sense of God’s having accidents, but rather from subsisting (through himself and in himself)

Subsistence: “marks a mode of subsistence or personality” (sect. 5).

Person: it is properly concrete and not abstract.

Property: the mode of subsisting by which this or that person is constituted (sect. 14).

Twenty-Seventh Question: Can the Divine Persons be distinguished from the essence, and from each other, and how?

They differ not essentially, but modally (sect. 3).

Turretin vol 1, Review

Recent (that is, pre-1992 A.D.) Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not Turretin.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Turretin’s categorical form of argumentation was one of those “things.” Turretin’s strength is in identifying precisely the issue in question. This allows him to accept and acknowledge points of agreement with his opponents,rather than simply seeing everything as “Arminian.” Recent Reformed (and Arminian-Rome) polemics have all focused on a few issues: predestination, free will, assurance, the Canon, etc.

Turretin understood that there were other issues, too: anthropology, middle knowledge, etc. which also need to be addressed. The English translation of Turretin fills a woeful lacuna.


While it might be anachronistic to label Turretin’s epistemology as “Common Sense Realism,” one can see similarities. Reason is not ultimate, but it is a reliable guide not only in matters of “nature” but also in “grace.” In using reason in theology, Turretin distinguishes between two extremes. Unlike the a-rationalists (Anabaptists, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox), reason can function as a principium in theology. It is not the fundamental principia upon which all theology rests (that is the principium essendi); rather, it is an instrumental principle (I: 24).

Turretin does ascribe a functional role to “natural reason.” Natural man, whatever that phrase means, can understand axiomatic truths (29-30). Reason is of particular instrumental use in terms of inference and middle premises. For example, Christ’s ubiquity denied in the following way: “Besides, while the theologian uses arguments drawn from reason, he does it rather as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. As to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, we reject this doctrine both philosophically and theologically, because it is absurd and contradicts the first principles of theology and philosophy.” In other words, the definition of a human nature is that it isn’t ubiquitously extended into space. The Lutheran (and EO) view of the communicatio extends it ubiquitously in space. Therefore, such view is wrong.

Turretin explains:[T]he middle term [in the theological syllogism] is not taken from reason, but scripture…For example, I deny that the glorified body of Christ is everywhere, having taken from Scripture this mean, that it is a real body” (26-27)

Canon and Scripture

So did the Church create the canon? If so, doesn’t that mean the church has authority over the canon? Turretin meets this challenge head-on and notes, given what everyone accepts about principia, proves that the Protestant position is the only feasible one. If the Scriptures come primarily from God—as all must concede—then they bear God’s authority. If they bear God’s authority, then they get their primary authentication from God (85ff). That the church was instrumental in delivering aspects of a canon (I still dispute that the church gave a neat canon) no one denies. That is precisely the point: the church was instrumental, not original. Only the Protestant doctrine of magisterial and ministerial authority can make sense of this point.

Decrees of God

God’s Foreknowledge of Future Contingencies:

Middle Knowledge: God’s foreknowledge about future contingent events whose truth depend not on God’s free decree (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). As Turretin clarifies, Whether besides the natural knowledge of God (which is only of things possible) there is in God a middle knowledge of men and angels where he knows what they may without a special decree preceding (I: 214).

Turretin responds: things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now, conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will; for example, the Sidonians would have repented if the powers had been supplied to them, for they would have been indifferently disposed in their nature to repend or not repent, those powers being given. ..No effect can be understood as future without the divine decree, so no future conditional can be knowable before the decree.
Again, knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain…
A thing may be contingent in two ways:
• by depending on God as first cause (as all of creation is thus contingent, since God didn’t have to create)
• by depending on prior second causes (which produce or not produce their effects).
Turretin is speaking of these contingents.

A future contingent implies both certainty of event and mode of production. As future it is certain, but as contingent in its mode of production. It has the former from the decree of the First Cause, the latter from the constitution of the second cause. The mode of production is clarified by the Westminster Confession of Faith V.2: It identifies God as the First Cause, corresponding with the first point made by Turretin, but notes that the First Cause orders the events to happen in three modes: freely, necessarily, or contingently.
An event can be both infallibly certain yet contingent. Thus, all things take place by the necessity of consequence, not the necessity of the consequent. Turretin notes that man’s actions can be free because they are spontaneous and follow rational judgment, but necessary because of God’s decree (I: 211).

Free Will

(Turretin, I: 502). God does not compel rational creatures to act by a physical necessity, he only effects this–that they act both consistently with themselves and with their own natures (508). This necessity is one of consequence–it secures the action and result of a cause. It is necessary according to the eternal premotion of God, but it is spontaneous according to the mode of acting (509). The premotion does not take away the mode proper to the nature of things.
For example, the harp player is the cause of music, but not of the dissonance plucked from the strings. Quoting Alvarez, “It does not follow that God is the cause of sin because he determines to the act; because the deformity follows the act, not as in the genus of nature, but as it is in the genus of morals and as it is caused by the free will (510). Relating the concourse of God and the free will of man 1. The concourse of providence and the human will is not of collateral and equal causes, but of unequal and subordinate (512). This follows on anyone’s gloss since God is by definition the First Cause.

2. God moves secondary causes according to their nature and mode. Thus, it is necessary according to the source (as coming from the First Cause), but free as to the mode. 3. Absolute liberty belongs to God; dependent liberty belongs to the creature. “The subject of free will is neither the intellect, nor the will, but both faculties conjointly” (I: 660). Here Turretin examines the Scholastic problem of the priority between intellect and will. Viewed in different lights either one can work. Practically speaking, people do not separate these two in their actings so we can speak of them together.

Turretin gives his famous discussion concerning the “necessity of necessity.” Non-Reformed positions, while prating long about free will, rarely interact with the hard questions it raises. Only the Reformed position does justice to both necessity and liberty. “Choice” belongs to the intellect; …

The will is determined by God with respect to decree but only in a concursive sense (God determines the actions but leaves the modes of acting free). We deny indifference of will but affirm rational spontaneity (665). Concourse and concurrence: When God and man’s will overlap. The question is how may we best explain man having liberty while being under the control of God’s providence? Turretin follows Aquinas: second causes are predetermined by God; When the free will moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from whom it receives the very power to move itself (ST, 1, Q. 83, Art. 1)
1. God gives second causes the strength and faculty to act
2. God keeps and sustains them in being and vigor.
3. He excites and applies second causes to acting
4. He determines them to acting
5. he rules them to accomplish the ends.

Anthropology and Sin

Original Sin: Those who deny original sin have to explain why death is prevalent even among infants and imbeciles. Romans says the wages of sin is death. If the curse of death is universal, it necessarily follows that the wages of sin is universal. Yet, how can they be held accountable for sin before the giving of the law (Romans 5:12-13)? Only something like the Covenant of Works can really answer this question. Yes, the curse of death is imputed to us (as our Eastern friends tell us). Yes, death is the enemy. But as Paul makes clear, how can there be death without the wages of sin?

Rome and the Superadditum

Rome, pace Bellarmine (“De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29, quoted in Turretin, I:471), viewed in natural man a contest between flesh and spirit, and God’s superadded gift is like a “golden bridle” to reign in the flesh. By contrast, Turretin notes that if original righteousness were an added gift, then man’s nature would have been inherently lacking. Rome places concupiscence before the fall; Protestants place it after the fall. At this point Rome cannot escape the age-old stereotype that it views matter as “not quite bad.” If concupiscence is natural to man’s created state before the fall, then ultimately man’s problem isn’t sin but finitude. The inevitable conclusion is that God made man’s very matter one of disorder (472). Protestants do believe in concupiscence, though. We see it as an inclination to sin after the fall. Still, we reject a positive principal of sin in the human nature. This rejection, plain and simple, precludes any possibility of a so-called Manicheanism.

If Reformed seminaries are not teaching through this book, then their students will not be prepared to face challenges from Rome and neo-Socinians.  I seend it with my own eyes at RTS.