An Assessment of Kevin DeYoung’s Review of Austin Fischer’s book, "Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed"

By Stephen C. Marcy © March 2016 / Revisions – 9/2019, 1/2020, 3/2020.


            An interesting feature of Fischer’s book[1] is that it is a personal testimony of a former Calvinist.  It gives us insight into the reasons why he embraced Calvinism and why he left it.  As to why he initially embraced Calvinism, Fischer saw it as offering a more in-depth theological alternative to the superficiality that marks the Evangelical Church in America these days – “theology lite,” anti-intellectualism, the therapeutic emphasis of a relativistic Bible study method, self-centeredness, the priority of personal comfort and prosperity, materialism, the worship entertainment mindset, shallow discipleship, etc.  Fischer was “restless” for something better.

            Others are attracted to Calvinism for the internal consistency of its soteriological doctrines.  But of course that system is built upon prior interpretive conclusions, the interpretive validity and credibility of which need to be examined, as Fischer’s book attempts to do.

            Many seem to find in Calvinism the explanation as to why and how they came to believe in Christ.  Their conversion experience and the transformation of their lives is processed in light of the doctrines offered in Calvinism and these seem to provide a plausible description of that experience.  Granted, a true theology will have explanatory power, that is, the ability to coherently explain the experiential realities of life.  Yet there may be other biblical texts and teachings that need to be taken into account that provide alternative explanations to the nature of reality as we experience it along with the many other conversion testimonies.  We cannot ignore our own experiences and what we learn about the nature of this world from those experiences, but it is incumbent upon us to process our experience in light of the teaching of God’s Word.

            Ultimately, I presume that all those who embrace Calvinism do so because they believe it is what the Bible teaches.  It is, or should be, the same for those who reject Calvinism.  Both Fischer and DeYoung believe the Bible is the final authority in matters of faith and practice.  Therefore, what is it that constituted Fischer’s change from embracing Calvinism to rejecting it?  What is it regarding the interpretation of Scripture that causes one to leave Calvinism and embrace a non-Calvinist theology and soteriology?  Is it, as Calvinists are wont to say, the search for human autonomy from God’s sovereignty or the exaltation of man’s free will over God’s will?  Or does it involve real issues and differences regarding one’s hermeneutic or principles of interpretation?  Fischer will show us that it is the later. One rejects or leaves Calvinism as they become convinced that logical and moral reasoning are essential factors in a sound hermeneutic.  When one reflects upon the teachings of Calvinism from within a hermeneutic of coherence, Calvinism is found wanting.  That is Fischer’s testimony in this book.  It is the critique that is brought against Calvinism by non-Calvinist scholars and laypersons. Therefore the crucial question will always be, “Is Calvinism an accurate reflection of what the Bible teaches?”  But, therefore, the even more fundamental question is, “How will we know?”  Fischer answers that question by pointing out the logical, moral, and biblical/theological incoherence inherent in Calvinism.

            Therefore issues of proper interpretation will be of ultimate concern here.  Fischer will present evidences that the Bible has been wrongly interpreted by Calvinists like DeYoung.  Those evidences will reduce to the incoherence of Calvinism with other Scriptural truths.  Those evidences will culminate in the fact that the Calvinist does not find logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction to be hermeneutically significant.  The Calvinist does not view the logical and moral incoherence of their doctrines and beliefs as indicative of exegetical and interpretive error, whereas the non-Calvinist does.  This is the hermeneutical divide that Fisher very eloquently and succinctly reveals.

            Let’s examine DeYoung’s critique of Fischer’s arguments.  Perhaps we will gain insight into how DeYoung, as a Calvinist, reasons and responds to the points Fischer raises that compelled him to leave Calvinism.  We are curious as to whether DeYoung’s critique will show itself to be biblically and intellectually satisfactory.

A Review of Calvinist Sovereignty and Predestination

            Fischer has focused his critique on two basic Christian doctrines as Calvinists define them – divine sovereignty and election or predestination.  Let’s do a quick review of how Calvinists define these to be clear about Fischer’s critique and DeYoung’s review.

            Regarding God’s sovereignty, the Calvinist maintains that before God made anything, he predetermined that all things would be as they are and take place as they do.  Chapter 3, sect. 1 of the Westminster Confession, a standard of Calvinist doctrine, states,

               “1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;…” (Emphasis mine)

            On Calvinism, it is not enough to say that divine sovereignty means “God is in control of all things.”  That would be true, but it would not be clear as to what is meant by “control.”  The non-Calvinist would also affirm that general statement as a description of God’s sovereignty.  But rather, what the Calvinist means by “control” is that God has, by his own will, predetermined what is to occur in all of creation through all of time down to the minutest details.  Therefore, on Calvinism, divine sovereignty is, to use William Lane Craig’s description, a universal divine causal determinism.[2]  That is, God predetermined everything that is to be and everything that is to happen and therefore he is the ultimate source and cause of all things and events – both good and evil.  Fischer calls this “a bedrock belief of Calvinism.”  It is,

               “…that God is the all determining reality: that is, that every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause.” (9)

            This absolute “control” that God retains over all that happens is by virtue of his eternal decree.  God’s sovereignty is his ability to unfailingly bring about his will expressed in his eternal decree which encompasses “whatsoever comes to pass.”  In that he has decreed “whatsoever comes to pass” according to his will alone, he not only controls all things by the exercise of his power, but must also be the ultimate sole cause of “whatsoever comes to pass.”  This needs be clear before I ask several questions for you to consider as to whether Fischer has raised substantive issues that make his views more plausible as compared to DeYoung’s Calvinist theology.

            It should also be noted that God’s foreknowledge is based upon his comprehensive decree.  It is because God decreed all that will occur that he foreknows all that will occur.  God foreknows all things, including the actions of his creatures, because God has predetermined all things, including the actions of his creatures.  Therefore all things will happen as God has predetermined, lest, according to the Calvinist, his foreknowledge of what is to occur be mistaken given the actions of human persons that are free in the libertarian sense.[3]  The actions of all creatures, being encompassed in “whatsoever comes to pass,” occur as decreed and thereby are foreknown by God.  Hence, “whatsoever comes to pass” has been, is, and will be brought about solely by God’s will through the exercise of his sovereign power and control.  Albeit the Calvinist will attempt to avoid the negative implications of their determinism by insisting that God does all this in a personal manner, because God is a “personal” God.[4]

            Subsequently, the doctrine of election or predestination becomes unconditional and refers to the working out of God’s decree by an absolute sovereignty as it applies to every individual’s life experiences and eternal destiny. These are uninfluenced by and not dependent upon anything apart from God’s will.  You have nothing to do with your eternal destiny. Every person’s life, including our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, desires, choices and actions, whether good or evil, have been predestined by God alone to occur as they do in every detail, including our eternal destinies.  The Westminster Confession of Faith clearly states these propositions as follows:

               “3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.”

               “4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.”[5]

               “6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”

            Here the Confession consistently carries through with the implications of God’s eternal decree and needs no comment.  It is very clear.

            So what did Calvin believe?  He defines predestination as follows,

               “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[6]

            John MacArthur, a well-known and influential Reformed Calvinist theologian, has defined election as,

               “…the doctrine that says God chooses those who will be saved.  And He does so sovereignly, according to His own will and His own purpose, uninfluenced by any other person, or by anything anyone does.  That is to say the choice is apart from any action on the sinner’s part…”[7]

            The Calvinist scholar J. I. Packer affirms that,

               “…all things do in fact happen under the direct dominion of God, and that God has already fixed the future by His decree, and resolved whom He will save, and whom not…”[8]

            B. B Warfield states,

“All things without exception, indeed, are disposed by Him, and His will is the ultimate account of all that occurs… It is He that… creates the very thoughts and intents of the soul.”[9]

Writing on sovereignty and the decrees of God, the late Calvinist pastor and teacher R. C. Sproul states,

“God in His sovereignty actively controls all that happens in creation, and He does so according to “the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).  In other words, our Creator has a wise plan for His creation, and He works in His creation to bring this plan to pass. As we will see, this plan governs everything that happens, from the most significant events of history to seemingly random events like the roll of a pair of dice…

In the categories of systematic theology, we often refer to God’s plan as His eternal decree.  God has planned or decreed all things and thus they surely take place as He has planned, decreed, or ordained them.  We can speak of God’s plan in its entirety as His decree, or we can speak of individual elements, plans, or purposes within the overarching plan as His decrees.  Our Lord’s eternal decree for creation contains within it several individual decrees, each of which governs a specific event.”[10]

Preaching on the decrees of God, Calvinist pastor Erwin Lutzer explains,

“…the decrees of God have to do with the decisions that God made in eternity past regarding everything that will come to pass, that has come to pass and will come to pass.

…It is an eternal decree as long as God existed.

…The decree includes all things… All things are encompassed by the divine decree.” [11]

Calvinist John Piper defines divine sovereignty as follows:

“…when we talk about the sovereignty of God we are referring to his total control of all things, like the roll of the dice in every human game (Proverbs 16:33). Or like the fall of every bird from the branches in the forest in every jungle in the world (Matthew 10:29). That’s my assumption about the definition of the sovereignty of God.”[12]

Calvinist Christopher M. Date gives his definition of God’s sovereignty.  He sates,

               “I prefer the phrase “meticulous divine providence” because of that word “meticulous” – I think it’s helpful.  Because what I mean is that God in eternity past decreed absolutely everything that would take place in time.  The unfolding of history is the manifesting of God’s decree down to the tiniest detail.  So God doesn’t merely know the future because he foresees what people are going to do, he knows the future because he has chosen precisely what it’s going to be, and he’s predetermined everything people will do.”[13]

            These determinations and decisions of God that directly decide every detail of our lives and eternal destinies are not conditioned upon anything or anyone other than God himself.  Hence, the Calvinist understands sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism and election as referring to God’s unconditional choice of a limited unchangeable number of particular individuals to salvation and all others to eternal damnation.

The Initial Shock and Skepticism

            Fischer speaks about “the initial shock and skepticism” people experience when they first hear about this universal divine causal determinism.

               “God is the all-determining reality: that is, that every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause.” (9)

            The logical and moral incoherence this determinism creates with the testimony of Scripture and what we experience of human freedom and responsibility jumps out at us, and this incoherence should not be ignored or cavalierly dismissed.  Fisher writes,

               “We certainly experience ourselves as free if nothing else, which is why no one starts out a Calvinist.  It just doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glance, and for many this is enough to dismiss Calvinism and never bother giving it a second look.” (7)

            Against this backdrop of our experience of free will[14] Fischer is pointing out that there is an “initial shock and skepticism” about the determinism of Calvinism.  Fischer observes that “it just doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glance.”  This common sense reaction should not be ignored.  It is telling us something.  It is telling us that people innately recognize the incoherence and contradiction produced by a deterministic definition of divine sovereignty in relation to how they experience willing, choosing, deciding, acting, etc. as something they actually do and that these are occurrences that are not determined for them or in them by something or someone else – even God himself.  Influenced?  Yes.  But not comprehensively determined.  People recognize and acknowledge that they have a responsibility for and rightly reap the consequences of their own willed thoughts, desires and choices – whether right or wrong, good or evil.  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7, cf. 8, 9).  Such realities are in direct contradiction to Calvinist determinism.

            Therefore, people’s “initial shock and skepticism” at Calvinism raises the issue of the role of logical and moral reasoning in determining legitimate biblical interpretations.  Granted, both libertarian free will and the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of sovereignty are up for grabs in this discussion, but they must be up for grabs in a way that includes coherence and non-contradiction.  Does the common observation that Calvinism “just doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glance” tell us something that holds up even after the “first glance?”  Is it identifying a hermeneutical principle that is binding on us all?  That is, whether logical, moral, and theological consistency, coherence and non-contradiction are essential to good interpretation and must be brought on board as interpretively significant, or whether they will be jettisoned to maintain the Calvinist view that universal divine causal determinism is the biblical teaching on divine sovereignty and the “doctrines of grace.”[15]  That will be the ultimate issue in determining whether Calvinism has got it right. 

            For instance, the biblical witness to libertarian human freedom and responsibility is impossible to ignore.  Calvinists know this and see the contradiction with their universal divine causal determinism.  Therefore some Calvinists try to maintain both a determinist definition of divine sovereignty and libertarian free will.  But they implicitly acknowledge their doctrinal inconsistency and contradiction when they ultimately flee to “mystery.”  For instance, the Calvinist J. I. Packer appears to accept that the Bible teaches free will in the libertarian sense and recognizes that this is incompatible with his deterministic sovereignty.  So instead of letting the incompatibility act as a check on his determinism and send him back to the text to seek possible alternative interpretations of the relevant texts, he labels his problem an “antinomy.”  This is an attempt to persuade us that the inconsistency and contradiction are only “apparent” and not real.  In the face of this “antinomy” here is Packer’s advice.

               “What should one do, then, with an antinomy?  Accept it for what it is and learn to live with it.  Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but in some way that at present you do not grasp, complimentary to each other…teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence, remembering that reality itself has proved actually to contain them both.”[16]

            But this is nothing more than the suppression of one’s reasoning faculties and a reorientation to a new way to “think” about the incoherence and contradiction.  It is not an explanation of the problem within his theology.  That new way to “think” about the incoherence of Calvinism is not to think much at all about it, that is, not to employ your logical and moral reasoning in assessing the interpretive validity and truth the Calvinist doctrine of sovereignty as a theistic determinism.  Packer is requesting we turn off our minds and stop thinking about these issues.  By a shear act of the will “refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding…”  Tell yourself that “in some way that at present you do not grasp” determinism and free will are “complimentary to each other.”

            I submit that this is to present a distinctive type of hermeneutic.  It is a hermeneutic of incoherence.  It rests upon the suppression of one’s logical and moral reasoning.  Therefore, I also contend that the only way a person will be able to initially embrace Calvinism and remain a Calvinist is through this suppression of reason.  You have to be taught to ignore your logical and moral reasoning in order to embrace Calvinism and remain a Calvinist.  These are not allowed to play a role in determining the validity of the Calvinist’s exegesis and interpretations.

            But let’s not presuppose the truth of Calvinism as Packer is doing here, nor take Packer’s advice.  Let’s keep our minds in gear as we continue to assess DeYoung’s review.

What Does God Say?

            Fischer acknowledges, as we all do, that Scripture is the final authority in these matters.

               “Theology cannot start from human reason or experience, and if it does you will find that we have merely created God in our own image…

               So when it comes to free will, the question is not “Do you think we have free will?” but “What does God say about free will?” (62)

               Fischer wants to be careful here about human reasoning or experience being the source of our thoughts about God and human freedom.  But if Scripture is our authority in these matters, this, again, raises the question of how we are to properly interpret Scripture.  We still have to answer the question “What does God say about free will?”  That will take interpretation, and that will involve our hermeneutic.  How do we know what the relevant Scriptures in this controversy are really meaning to say given the incompatible Calvinist and non-Calvinist interpretations?  Are we going to accept the principle that interpretations that lead to logical and moral incoherence and inconsistency are valid interpretations?  I take it that when Fischer says “theology cannot start from human reason” he means to say we need God to reveal himself to us for us to rightly understand who he is and what he is about in this world.  We need God’s revelation to know about the fall, sin, our lost and hopeless predicament and God’s remedy of salvation in Christ.   But to say “theology cannot start from human reason” surely cannot mean that the interpretation of divine revelation does not involve human reason or that one’s interpretations are not subject to human reason.  No theologian worth his salt would take such a position.

Apologist and philosopher Greg Koukl would agree.  Although writing in an apologetic context on the virtues of argument, his comments on the role of reason in biblical interpretation are applicable here.  He writes,

               “Imagine living in a world in which you couldn’t distinguish between truth and error… Such a world would be a dangerous place.  You wouldn’t survive long.

               What protects us from the hazards of such a world?  If you’re a Christian, you might be tempted to say, “The Word of God protects us.”  Certainly, that’s true, but the person who says that might be missing something else God has given us that is also vitally important.  In fact, God’s Word would be useless without it.

A different thing is necessary before we can accurately know what God is saying through his Word.  Yes, the Bible is first in terms of authority, but something else is first in terms of the order of knowing: We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly.  Therefore, the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.

For some of you this may be a controversial statement, so let’s think about it for a moment.  In order to understand the truth of the Bible accurately, our mental faculties must be intact and we must use them as God intended.  We demonstrate this fact every time we disagree on an interpretation of a biblical passage and then give reasons why our view is better than another’s.  Simply put, we argue for our point of view, and if we argue well, we separate wheat from chaff, truth from error.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  Loving God with the mind is not a passive process.  It is not enough to have sentimental religious thoughts.  Rather, it involves coming to conclusions about God and his world based on revelation, observation, and careful reflection.

What is the tool we use in our observations of the world that helps us separate fact from fiction?  That tool is reason, the ability to use our minds to sort through observations and draw accurate conclusions about reality.  Rationality is one of the tools God has given us to acquire knowledge.

Generally, sorting things out is not a solitary enterprise.  It’s best done in the company of others who dispute our claims and offer competing ideas.  In short, we argue.  Sometimes we are silent partners, listening, not talking, but the process is going on in our minds just the same.

This is not rationalism, a kind of idolatry of the mind that place’s man’s thinking at the center of the universe.  Rather, it’s the proper use of one of the faculties God has given us to understand him and the world he has made.”[17]

            My point here is that when reason or “philosophical analysis” (i.e., more popularly expressed as using our “common sense”), is applied to the controversy, Calvinism is found wanting.  In response, the Calvinist prematurely, and somewhat cavalierly, dismisses the overwhelming evidences given above that their soteriology is marked by contradiction and incoherence.  Therefore they fail to incorporate the “more basic philosophical processes at play.”  They fail to incorporate what reason is telling them.  And even when such incoherencies are acknowledged, the Calvinist does not question the accuracy of their interpretation. 

            Moreover, those things revealed that may be beyond our knowledge are surely not against our logical and moral reasoning faculties, otherwise we would have no bearings left by which to exegete, interpret and understand divine revelation in any reliable or objective fashion.  All would be lost in a sea of subjective relativism.  We agree that we cannot start from our own reasoning capacities and come to a comprehensive knowledge of God, our true nature as sinners and our need for reconciliation with God and the way of salvation in Christ. These need to be revealed. But we must read and interpret this revelation by employing or logical and moral reasoning.

            When these faculties are engaged in assessing Calvinism and its interpretations, people find themselves baffled by Calvinism’s universal divine causal determinism in relation to the reality of human freedom and responsibility.  They are using their logical and moral reasoning to correctly understand authoritative Scripture.  And rightly so.

            So what does God say about free will?  Fischer observes,

               “Looking for free will in the Bible is like looking for gravity: it’s assumed everywhere and holds everything together, so you probably won’t notice it until it’s missing and you float away.” (62)

            The scriptural witness to human free will, as far as interpretation goes, is obvious.  Turn to almost any page of Scripture and you will have the fact of human freedom and responsibility presupposed and affirmed.  But this is incoherent with universal divine causal determinism.  Therefore, we ought to ask whether such a determinism is biblical because this issue of interpretations that result in incoherence has to be addressed, that is, whether or not one is going to take coherence to be hermeneutically significant.  If an interpreter does not take coherence to be hermeneutically significant, then logical and moral coherence do not come into play and their interpretations will stand despite their incoherence.  But for those of us who think incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are tell-tale signs of misinterpretation, we must reject the interpretation and ask where the problem really lies.  In light of the biblical evidence for libertarian human freedom, along with our own experience, does the Bible also mean to teach theistic determinism? Or, by virtue of the contradiction between these propositions, should we conclude that there is a misinterpretation of the relevant texts here?  The non-Calvinist would say there is a misinterpretation, and it lies in the determinism of Calvinism. But the Calvinist does not think so.

            So the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of sovereignty causes this contradiction with the biblical witness to human freedom.  So what does God say about his sovereignty?  Fischer states,

               “…we see that from beginning to end and everywhere in between, the Bible is the story of a graciously peculiar God who, fittingly, exercises a peculiar kind of sovereignty over his creation: “the divine sovereignty in creation is understood, not in terms of absolute divine control, but as a sovereignty that gives power over to the created for the sake of the a relationship of integrity.”[18]

               Although God has every right to issue only commands, he often issues invitations.  God is always sovereign, but that means he – not we – gets to decide what shape that sovereignty takes.  And apparently God’s sovereignty makes room for human freedom so that God and humans can have a personal, and not merely causal, relationship…And it is only once we have anchored ourselves in Scripture that we can speak meaningfully and biblically of free will.  Far from being an invention of human logic and deduction, free will grounds and permeates the biblical narrative.” (66-67)

            So once we grasp that our experience of libertarian free will is affirmed in Scripture we have to assess whether a deterministic definition of sovereignty is compatible with it?  Note that Fischer points out that human freedom is no threat to the sovereignty of God.  It is misconceived to think that genuine human freedom could be a threat to divine sovereignty. And it would be to compound the error for the Calvinist to deny any genuine human freedom which is the only basis for a relationship with God that is “personal” and “a relationship of integrity” and not “merely causal.”   So we are asking hermeneutical questions here like, what are the logical, moral, and theological implications of sovereignty defined deterministically?  Is Calvinist theistic determinism coherent with the biblical presentation of free will?  Does a deterministic sovereignty generate logical, moral, and theological inconsistency, incoherence and contradiction?  If so, is this a reliable indicator that the Calvinist interpretations have gone amiss? 

The Role of Reason in Interpretation

            Calvinists are quick to dismiss non-Calvinists as bringing logical and moral objections against their Calvinism, while they claim their doctrines are based in biblical exegesis.  This reaction tends to ignore the very sound exegetical basis for the non-Calvinists interpretations which have the interpretive advantage of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. So, again, we have to be clear as to the role our logical and moral reasoning play in the interpretive task.

            We employ human reason to discern the meaning of the divine revelation given to us in a divinely inspired text.  For if we do not incorporate consistency, coherence, and non-contradiction within our hermeneutic we will have dismissed the only reliable and trustworthy arbiter left by which we can come to know what the Bible teaches.  Who among us would argue that Christianity can be irrational and that’s just fine?  Calvinist E. H. Palmer would.  He confesses that his Calvinism is “illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical and foolish.”[19]

            More generally, Calvinists will assert that the problem is a “mystery” and therefore not ultimately a real problem of logical, moral, or theological incoherence or contradiction.  But “mystery” is used in two senses in this controversy.  One sense is employed illegitimately to avoid the incoherence in one’s theology.  The other is used to describe where we land when the proper use of reason can simply go no further.  The Calvinist uses the word to describe what is against reason and the non-Calvinist limits it use to describe what is beyond reason.  You can see the difference.  One use of “mystery” is an excuse to dismiss reason at a certain point because reason has clearly identified the inconsistency, incoherence and contradiction in one’s theology.  The other use reflects the biblical sense in which unaided reason cannot plumb the depths of divine realities. At some point what we need to know must be revealed. And this revelation is coherent with reason’s deliberations and deliverances upon that revelation. Mystery is not to be equated with the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in one’s interpretation of divine revelation. That is just poor interpretation. So the issue is not that we know too little and therefore we need to accept that God’s revelation will come to us as incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory, but that we know quite enough to see that the Calvinist’s interpretations are in error because they lead us into incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.

Note also that the Calvinist knows that their problems cannot be left in abeyance in that they feel the need for some kind of “explanation,” albeit “mystery.” This is an implicit admission that incoherence cannot be ignored even if they deny it is a sign of misinterpretation.  The non-Calvinist’s use of “mystery” acknowledges the legitimacy of reason and uses it to the fullest extent to appreciate the transcendent nature of God and his ways.  It acknowledges the limitations of reason for fully comprehending God, but this is very different than maintaining that what we do know of God from Scripture may very well be characterized by incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.  There is a vast difference in our inability to comprehend all and know that what is clearly apprehended is of the nature of a contradiction.  The former is not an interpretive or hermeneutical matter, the latter is.  With respect to the utility of human reason, the laws of logic and our moral intuition, these are essential to a sound hermeneutic.  To excuse incoherence in one’s interpretations by “mystery” betrays a faulty, unsound hermeneutic.

            What Fischer points out is that the incoherence inherent within Calvinism which fosters that “initial shock and skepticism,” ultimately surfaces again if you give Calvinism some serious thought.  It is what you do with these recurring problems that will enable you to live with Calvinism (e.g., J. I. Packer’s advice is to suppress your reason and ignore them), or will compel you to go back to Scripture to read and study it without presupposing the truth of Calvinism to see if there are interpretations that do not result in logical and moral incoherence.

            So what should one do with these problems?  Should we take Packer’s advice?  I don’t’ think so, because Packer is asking us to forfeit the very reasoning that enables us to discern that something is amiss in his theology and the very reasoning we will need to discern the scriptural truth in these matters.  He is also begging the question by presuming his view is correct and telling us what we must do in order to accept it.  But whether his view is correct is the very question before us.  And to answer that question we will need our reasoning wits about us.  We must attend to what our reason is telling us as related to the interpretative process and its results.  How will we know Packer’s interpretation of Scripture on God’s sovereignty is correct if not on the basis of whether it exhibits coherence and non-contradiction or exhibits incoherence and contradiction with other biblical truths?  Packer advises us to reject the very reasoning by which we can know whether his view is biblical and whether we should accept or reject it.  I submit that this is bad advice.

            My thesis is that after all the “proof-texting” is said and done, one will come to see that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction come to the fore as the necessary arbiter of the accuracy of one’s interpretations of the text and the plausibility of the theology built upon them.  Simply put, the issue is whether ones hermeneutic accepts or rejects logical, moral, and theological consistency, coherence and non-contradiction as reliable indicators of the validity of one’s interpretations and the theology built upon them, or, whether one ultimately dismisses coherence, consistency and non-contradiction as hermeneutically insignificant, refusing to let the incoherence and contradiction in one’s interpretations and theology be a check to those interpretations and theology.  I submit the Calvinist does the latter and that is a bad hermeneutic and interpretive methodology.

Why Should We Believe Calvinism?

            And here we can ask why we should believe this Calvinism.  The Calvinist would say because Scripture teaches it.  But how do we know that’s true?  The answer Fischer would give is that it is not what the Scripture teaches and we shouldn’t believe it because of “the obvious baggage” that attends it. (9)  What is this “obvious baggage?”  It is the logical, moral and theological, inconsistencies, incoherencies and contradictions of Calvinism that Fischer points out throughout his book.  Establishing that Calvinism is inconsistent, incoherent, and contradictory is what his book is all about.  As such it is a very good example of the hermeneutical divide.  These incoherencies constitute the reasons for Fischer’s journey out of Calvinism.  Here are some of those problems.

               “…if God has determined everything, hasn’t God also determined the sins that he is going to send people to hell forever for?  Hasn’t God made sure that people will commit the sins he will then judge them for?  If so, how is that just?  And then there’s the question that pulls together these issues of love and justice: how is God good?  If – before the creation of a single human being – God chose to send people to hell for sins he ordained they would commit, how is he good?  If that question doesn’t make you count out a crowded flock of sheep on a sleepless night, I’m not sure what will.” (10)

               “…as a Calvinist, I found hell left me with a lot of explaining to do.

The reprobate

               This is the technical term used to describe those humans who, according to Calvinism, have been unconditionally predestined to hell.  To say it another way, the reprobate are those humans who, before they existed, were chosen by God to spend eternity in hell.  And to be clear, the reprobate will spend eternity in hell for sins God ordained they would commit.  In summary then, the reprobate are all those humans who will experience a fate dreadful beyond comprehension (hell) as they are eternally punished by God for sins he ordained they would commit before they existed – they were created so they could be damned.  If you don’t cringe a little, you don’t have a pulse.

               Some Calvinists find this idea abhorrent and attempt to label it extreme Calvinism, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t think it’s extreme so much as it is consistent.  It is what any Calvinist should believe if she adheres to the notion that God is the all-determining reality (a fundamental tenant of Calvinism).  You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too.  If God is the all-determining reality, then “all” means “all,” and those in hell are there because God made certain they would be.[20]  I would also note that Calvin, Edwards, and Piper stand by it, insisting that those who shy away from it are wimping out.”[21] (22-23)

Tears of the Reprobate

               Auschwitz is a problem, but not an unsolvable problem because we can always posit that the suffering God inflicts will be eclipsed by an even greater good for those who trust him.  As John said from Patmos, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.[22]  The end of the story will be so precious that all the hurt will finally make sense.  And this is well and good as far as it goes…

               But how does God wipe away the tears of the reprobate?

               What greater good could God bring about for them?  How does the final chapter make sense of all the hurt and suffering of the earlier chapter when it ends with a scene of cruelty infinitely beyond anything that has gone before?  How are the saints to sing forever of the glory of God while the reprobate whimper and wail because God created them for hell?

               As noted earlier, it was not as if this was the first time I had considered the issue of the reprobate.  It was a bullet I had long ago bitten: the reprobate are there for the glory of God.  But the thing about complex issues is, well, they’re complex.  They demand continually consideration and reflection: second, third, and fourth looks.  And as I began to mull these things over afresh, I didn’t like what I saw.  I saw someone (me) focusing on the grace shown him to avoid considering the animosity shown others.  I saw someone singing the grace of God over the cries of the reprobate.  And try as I might, I could no longer muffle their wailing.

               When pushed into such a corner in the past, I had leaned on mystery, transcendence, and the Bible, but as I fell back on them, they began unraveling.” (23)

            Here we see both the suppression of Fischer’s logical and moral reasoning that had to take place for him to be a Calvinist. He states, “…it was not as if this was the first time I had considered the issue of the reprobate.  It was a bullet I had long ago bitten: the reprobate are there for the glory of God.” And also, “When pushed into such a corner in the past, I had leaned on mystery, transcendence, and the Bible, but as I fell back on them, they began unraveling.” We also see here the force of Fischer’s moral intuitions at work.  Regarding the reprobate, Fischer states, “…try as I might, I could no longer muffle their wailing.”  He cannot suppress his moral sense. He should hot have to do so.

            Regarding the Calvinist doctrine of the reprobate, interestingly enough Fischer’s moral sense seems to be greater than that of God himself.   Fischer is left at a loss to see how from what he knows about God’s justice, goodness and love from Scripture, that such a God could ever create a large portion of humanity so he could predestine them to hell.  He points out that some Calvinists complain that this is an “extreme” view. But Fischer rightly responds that “I don’t think it’s extreme so much as it is consistent. It is what any Calvinist should believe if she adheres to the notion that God is the all-determining reality (a fundamental tenant of Calvinism).  You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too.” The point is that the Calvinist does sense the inconsistency in their view, but they find ways to suppress and ignore it while refusing to take it as interpretively significant.

Fischer continues.

“The Unraveling of Mystery and Transcendence

Granted, God is above and beyond and need not stringently comply with our moral expectations.  Our ideals of love, justice and goodness do not directly correspond to God’s because our ideals are, in a sense, tainted with humanity.  That was well and good, but now I as being forced to do some more explaining.

               It’s fine to say that God’s goodness does not directly correspond to human notions of goodness,[23] but what exactly could I mean when I said God was good?  In what sense was God good if he had done something like creating people so he could damn them?…[24]

               And in what sense was God just if he had done something like punishing people eternally for sins he made certain they would commit?  How are those in hell merely getting what they deserve when God ordained that they commit their sins?  How can humans be held responsible for their sins when God is the ultimate cause of their sins?  Can I come up with a single analogy or illustration that makes the slightest sense of this?

               And how can we say God loves the whole world when he created a good portion of it to go to hell?” (23-24)

            Note that Fischer is holding Calvinists to a standard of logical and moral reasoning when talking about God.  Logical and moral consistency is important. Fischer is not allowing the Calvinist to escape the logical and moral entailments of their theistic determinism by rationalizations like attempting to label the stark abhorrent implications of the Calvinist doctrines “extreme Calvinism.”

            Now, DeYoung points out that Fischer “struggled with the implications of some Reformed doctrines.”  Fisher talks about these struggles in the following ways. Note Fischer’s expectations that a genuinely biblical understanding of these doctrinal issues should exhibit logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.

               “We certainly experience ourselves as free if nothing else, which is why no one starts out a Calvinist.  It just doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glance…” (7)

               “I knew there were a few bullets that needed biting before I could sign off on the bottom line of Calvinism.  (9) “…eventually I bit the bullet…” (11)

               “…the God revealed in Jesus, the crucified God, did not appear to jibe with the God of Calvinism.” (54)

               “And while a good bit of rational logic brought me here, it was the biblical logic of the crucifixion that brought me to my knees.  We can lob verses and logic back and forth until Jesus comes back, but when we gaze at that picture, the real action begins.  And as I watched, I realized it was something too big and generous for Calvinism to make sense of…” (50)

               I had become a Calvinist because I did not think the Bible left me much of a choice.  I began walking away because Calvinism made both the Bible and God impossible.” (50)

            “…neither Jesus’s teachings or actions make me feel very comfortable believing in Calvinism.  This does not mean there is no way Jesus taught it.  But for me, it meant I found it very difficult to believe in something that Jesus did not – in my opinion – clearly teach or live out, and indeed seemed to outright contradict…And as noted earlier, believing in something that is difficult to reconcile with the God revealed in Jesus is not merely logically inconsistent: it’s unbiblical.” (48-49)

               “I’m not saying Calvinism can’t produce faithful disciples (again, it can and does).  I’m saying that in order to do so, it must talk and think about our wills as if they matter (have a choice) even though its theological underpinnings have already made it clear they do not. Plenty of people nevertheless do it, but it makes me dizzy – like a dog chasing his tail.  And in the end, I don’t know that this sort of cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics organically produces disciples of the kingdom.” (98)

            “It was a place where the ultimate absurdity and meaninglessness of the universe came to a head: the God who loves so much as to suffer crucifixion loves so little so as to glorify himself in the damnation of humans he created to damn.  But I was supposed to stand before the cross and worship this ultimately unknowable God of ambiguous morality as if I knew what it meant for him to love me.  And if you no longer know how to worship the crucified God, no longer know how to kneel before the cross and say, “Thank you,” what do you know?” (46)

               “No one can make you make sense – you can believe whatever you want. But why believe something that, as far as we can tell, isn’t a paradox but an outright contradiction?” (108)

            It is clear that Fischer could no longer suppress his logical and moral reasoning in thinking through what the Scripture was saying in light of his Calvinist doctrines. For example, he began to realize that Calvinist’s “…must talk and think about our wills as if they matter (have a choice) even though its theological underpinnings have already made it clear they do not.” Fischer began to see Calvinism as disingenuous, incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory, and for him that had interpretive significance.  It was telling him that Calvinism is a misunderstanding of Scripture.  On that basis he concluded that it is unbiblical. We should also note that in relation to the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and reprobation, Fischer had to presuppose that God loved him, that is, that he was among the elect. This is something all Calvinists must do,

            Do you feel these same intellectual and moral struggles when you think about the Calvinist doctrines?  You are not alone.  Listen to what Martin Luther himself has said about his own deterministic soteriology.  He writes,

               “Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offence to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of his own mere will abandon, harden and damn men, as though he delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such poor wretches.  It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down the ages.  And who would not stumble at it?  I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wished I had never been made a man.”[25]

            And here we touch upon the crucial issue that needs to be reckoned with.  That is, does the presence of logical, moral and theological incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in one’s theology indicate that the text has been misinterpreted?  Fischer thinks so.  Now Luther, who believes the Bible teaches his doctrines would have to find a way to suppress these thoughts and feelings.  But note that Luther does not think the “offence to common sense or natural reason” or what “seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God” or his stumbling at it “down to the deepest pit of despair” has hermeneutical significance.  Therefore, the Calvinist must learn to suppress these observations and indications of logical and moral disequilibration. In contrast, Fischer places a high value on logical, moral and theological coherence as indicators of accurate interpretations of the biblical text and the biblical legitimacy of one’s theology.

            Again, don’t miss the logical and moral coherence theme running through the above quotes.  Also, don’t miss the fact that Fischer thinks coherence, or incoherence as the case may be, is hermeneutically significant.  Fischer is acknowledging that consistency and coherence are important hermeneutical elements.  They are guides in the interpretive process.  They are reliable indicators of the validity of one’s exegesis and interpretations.  They are not to be cast aside.  Fischer says that he would not have moved away from Calvinism to a more biblically accurate theology if he had not taken formal logic, moral knowledge and intuition, or theological consistency and harmony seriously as hermeneutically significant. [26]   For Fischer, rightly discerning the teaching of the Bible requires logical and moral reflection, consistency, and coherence.

What If God Is Not Good As We Know Goodness?

            As to our moral thinking and intuitions about God and his ways Fischer lays out this challenge,

“Can we agree that in light of what God does to the reprobate (creating them in order to damn them), he does not appear to have any of these qualities in any sense analogous to what we (as human beings) understand them to mean?  Can we agree that this act so deeply violates our human understandings of love justice, and goodness that they appear to mean the exact opposite of what we think they mean?  Can we agree that God appears to ask us to be more loving, just, and good than he is?  If anyone except God did something this brutal and malicious, could you ever bring yourself to call him loving, just, or good?  Of course not.” (32, 33)

            I would certainly agree with Fischer here.  What about you?  C. S. Lewis puts it like this,

“Any consideration of the goodness of God at once presents us with the following dilemma.

On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil.  What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.

On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our “black” may be His “white,” we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say “God is good,” while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say “God is we know not what.”  And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying him.  If He is not (in our sense) “good” we shall obey, if at all, only through fear – and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.  The doctrine of Total Depravity – when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing – may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil worship.

…Beyond all doubt, His idea of “goodness” differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards…This doctrine is presupposed in Scripture.  Christ calls men to repent – a call which would be meaningless if God’s standard were sheerly different from that which they already knew and failed to practice.  He appeals to our existing moral judgment – ‘Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?’ (Luke 12:57)” [27]

Fisher then writes,

“But to be fair, Calvinism has all along been relentless in its affirmation that all this should come as no surprise because God is God and we are humans, so we can’t put God in our moral boxes.  This is what the Bible teaches, so we have to believe it – but herein lies the rub.

If believing in the inspiration and the authority of the Bible requires belief in a trustworthy God who tells the truth about himself, can Calvinism deliver such a God? …

If Calvinism is right and we are so unbelievably wrong about God’s love, justice, and goodness due to our humanity, why would we think we are right about God’s integrity and truthfulness in revealing himself in the Bible?  In fact, in light of how wrong we (apparently) are about love, justice, and goodness, is it not only possible but probable that we are equally wrong about God’s truthfulness and integrity?  Why would our ability to understand things like God’s integrity and truthfulness be an exception to our otherwise complete rational depravity?  Why should they receive a pass?  Sure, the Bible says God is truthful and cannot lie, but who are we – as human beings – to assume we know what these things mean?  Hasn’t it already been proven that we haven’t the slightest clue?… In a strange turn of events, my Calvinism had taken back the very Bible it had once given me.  The theology that had trumpeted the Bible’s inspiration and authority had now discredited both.  And I realized that if I were to stay a Calvinist, I would no longer know what to do with my Bible.  Because if I were to go on treating it like a truthful, reliable revelation of God, it would only be because I didn’t have the spine to live out my convictions with consistency.”(33)

            Point being that God, on Calvinism, is morally bewildering.  Not only that, it requires a reversal of our moral intuitions. And if we can’t know what God is like as to one aspect of his character, or worse, if what he is like is the opposite of what we perceive to be the definition of those attributes (e.g., love, justice and goodness), then who’s to say we can know what God is really like with respect to other aspects of his character?  What then do we know about God if what his very revelation leaves us perplexed on the matter of his love, justice and goodness?

            We should be clear about what Fischer is not saying here, that is, that the Bible teaches Calvinism but for reasons other than biblical authority he had to walk away from it.  It is clear that Fischer has a high view of the authority of Scripture because he argues that Calvinism placed this authority in doubt due to the fact that on Calvinism the God of the Bible was made out to be the complete reversal of what he knew of what it means to be loving, just and good.  If the picture of the God of the Bible given us on Calvinism is the complete reversal of what we know to be loving, just, and good, then in the end God is, as C. S. Lewis put it, “we know not what.” 

            DeYoung claims that he found Fischer’s arguments “ultimately unpersuasive and, in several instances, full of significant weaknesses.”  Of course there are Calvinist responses to the problems Fischer has raised with their theology.  But are these responses convincing or do they only amount to more examples of incoherent thinking?  DeYoung admits that in a limited book review he can’t make a fuller case for his Reformed position and will only “highlight a few serious shortcomings” and introduce a “few categories of critique.”  Fair enough.  But what DeYoung does relay to us of his Reformed position and his critiques of Fischer’s points, let’s see if these are really amount to “serious short-comings” or amount to more incoherence in the Calvinist position.  Let’s examine these weaknesses and see if DeYoung’s Calvinist responses are any more persuasive.

Serious Short-Coming? #1 – Fischer’s Exegesis Is Not Rigorous Enough

            DeYoung protests that Fischer didn’t provide a “rigorous exegesis of specific texts.”  But even though that was not Fischer’s purpose in this book, he certainly does provide enough of a biblical exegetical picture to make substantive theological points against Calvinism.

            In the chapter “The Crucified God,” Fischer supports his case from passages in John 1:1, 14, 18; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 3:16; Gen. 1:26-28; Phil. 2; Col. 2:1-3; Rev 5 and other texts that support the idea that God freely and sovereignly loves at all costs (58).  He closes with a fine summary of a non-Calvinist view of Romans 9 where he admits,

               “Again, offering a verse-by-verse exposition of Romans 9-11 is above my pay grade – and has been done many times – but these are some orienting thoughts that I have found helpful…I’d encourage you to read it now and see for yourself.  For a more in-depth analysis from people with credentials to do so, see any of the following works.

               -William Klein, The New Chosen People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).

               – Ben Witherington III and Darla Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

               -N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 10 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994).”(104-5)

            Calvinists are wont to claim the exegetical high ground against the backdrop of the philosophical and moral critiques non-Calvinist bring against Calvinism, as if these are not part and parcel of good exegesis and interpretation. So DeYoung’s criticism here is predictable. But it ignores the fact that there are very many non-Calvinist exegetical treatments of the relevant texts that refute the Calvinist’s exegesis. And that is what Fischer wants to bring to his reader’s attention here. I too would recommend the above scholarly works that present sound exegetical alternatives to the Calvinist interpretations of the relevant texts. And as far as I can see, Fischer’s theological reflection is biblically and philosophically sound, christologically focused, and his scholarly sources are, for the most part, squarely orthodox.[28]  He is being intellectually responsible in directing us to where we can find exegetical responses to the Calvinist interpretations.  So DeYoung’s critique here is ignoring the massive amount of non-Calvinist scholarship that does provide rigorous exegesis of the texts and comes to completely different, coherent, consistent and non-contradictory conclusions.  Hence, one could argue that they are the better exegeses and interpretations of the texts.

            Certainly Fischer’s argument is on solid ground with his christological emphasis.  He notes that “Across the theological spectrum, there is remarkable agreement that “the cross is the absolute center of God’s revelation to humanity…”[29](45) He offers other Scriptures to make his point that God shows no partiality (46), and that Jesus is shown to be a person who “without exception, enters into the sufferings of others so as to heal and transform them.” (47) Furthermore, his treatment of discipleship in chapter 10 certainly seems to be a faithful exposition of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 16:23-25, Mk. 8: 34-38 and Lu. 9:23-26.

            DeYoung’s criticism of Fischer in this regard lacks weight in persuading us to doubt Fischer’s views or criticisms of DeYoung’s Calvinism.  Indeed, Fischer points us to three other books that provide the “rigorous exegesis of specific texts.”  Also I take it that Fischer would have us read the authors he mentions like C.S. Lewis, Karl Barth, N.T. Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, Dallas Willard, etc. just like DeYoung encourages us to “pick up any number of books by John Piper, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, or one of a bazillion resources you can find on sites like The Gospel Coalition and Monergism.” (2)[30]  But I submit, and Fischer testifies to this fact, that a careful reading of these Calvinist authors will not lead you out of the incoherencies and contradictions that are inherent in Calvinism.  Rather, they will only immerse you in them.  That is Fischer’s point.  You will have to either reject Calvinism or enter the “black hole” of logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction by taking J. I. Packer’s advice – which is worth repeating here –  when he says,

               “What should one do, then, with an antinomy?  Accept it for what it is and learn to live with it.  Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but in some way that at present you do not grasp, complimentary to each other…teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence, remembering that reality itself has proved actually to contain them both.”[31]

            But even fellow Calvinists appropriately question Packer’s advice.  Calvinist philosopher and theologian Paul Helm rightly holds Packer in check by raising the essential hermeneutical question we have been dealing with throughout this discussion.  Helm writes,

               “In these circumstances, what is the difference between an apparent inconsistency and a real one?  How do we know that what is called an antinomy might not turn out to be a real inconsistency?”[32]

            This is a profound question and one that all Calvinists must come to grips with.  I. A. Richards’ advice is more intellectually responsible than Packer’s.  He states,

               “We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”[33]

            DeYoung, for all his criticism of Fischer for a lack of detailed exegesis seems to downplay the theological and philosophical points Fischer is pressing home.  But this is typical of the Calvinist.  They’ll claim they have exegeted the text, but ignore the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions that result from that exegesis.  For if what the Calvinist is proposing is a real contradiction, which certainly seems to be the case, then when the Calvinist claims their doctrines are the product of an accurate exegesis of Scripture they would be affirming that logical and moral incoherence and contradiction are inherent within Scripture; something I think they would also want to deny.  So they have to obfuscate the inconsistencies and contradictions their theology generates by asserting “antinomy,” “mystery,” “tension,” “incomprehensibility,” etc.  Fischer observes this problem with regard to the character of God.

               “When you come to the bottom of the rabbit hole, this is the mystery waiting for you.  How is God loving, just, or good when he sends people to hell for sins he ordained they commit?  While there are countless attempts to explain this dilemma, the responsible answers eventually capitulate to the mystery.  We cannot know exactly how God is loving, just, good in light of his electing some and not electing others.  But we can know that God is completely sovereign over his creation, is the all-determining reality, holds us accountable for our sins, and does everything for his own glory.”[34] (11)

            And this is just the point.  Calvinists can’t make their universal divine causal determinism to be consistent with the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to a non-deterministic reality and the character of God.  The alternative to Calvinist incoherence is to acknowledge that coherence is hermeneutically significant, and since Calvinists are interpreting Scripture in a way that creates real incoherence and real contradiction therefore there interpretations cannot be right.  They need to go back to the exegetical drawing board.

            The advantage of the non-Calvinist position is that its biblical exegesis remains faithful to the grammatical-historical method and as such leads to rationally coherent interpretations.  It doesn’t forfeit exegetical rigor and it doesn’t forfeit the use of logical reflection and moral intuition in performing or evaluating that exegesis.  In a sound hermeneutic, exegesis and philosophical / moral reasoning are not to be dichotomized.  The non-Calvinist’s exegesis has the admirable hermeneutical quality of producing sound interpretive conclusions precisely because their exegesis do not violate the canons of reason and moral intuition.  This is a more sound and convincing hermeneutic.

            This leads to a critical observation and conclusion.  The Calvinist does not value coherence and non-contradiction in their interpretative method.  That is, their hermeneutic dismisses incoherence and contradiction.  Fischer has convincingly touched upon this nerve within Calvinism.  So the question is, not only whether Calvinists can explain exegetically what they believe the Bible teaches, but how can we know theirs is the correct exegesis if it results in inconsistency, incoherence, and contradiction?  Can we trust a hermeneutic that dismisses these as unimportant to the interpretive process or its result?  How will we know a valid interpretation except that we use our logical and moral reasoning to discern its validity?

            Let’s return to the moral incoherence of Calvinism and the problem of the reprobate.  Speaking about the suffering in this world and using the example of Auschwitz, Fischer concludes that God can bring about a greater good from such evils for those who trust him.  That is the problem of evil for which Christianity has a coherent answer, and I believe the best answer.  This includes that in the end God will wipe away all tears.

            But what do you do with the reprobate?  That is a legitimate and very different problem of evil that involves the very nature of God.  Fischer asks, “But how does God wipe away the tears of the reprobate?  What greater good could God bring about for them?” (23)  This finality of an eternity in hell for the reprobate, a destiny predetermined solely by God’s will, is a serious problem for Calvinism. Fischer writes,

               “It was a bullet I had long ago bitten: the reprobate are there for the glory of God.  But the thing about complex issues is, well, they’re complex…And as I began to mull these things over afresh, I didn’t like what I saw.  I saw someone (me) focusing on the grace shown him to avoid considering the animosity shown others.  I saw someone singing the grace of God over the cries of the reprobate.  And try as I might, I could no longer muffle their wailing.

               When pushed into such a corner in the past, I had leaned on mystery, transcendence, and the Bible, but as I fell back on them, they began unraveling.” (23)

            Fischer didn’t take Packer’s advice, and I think rightly so.  One ought to think long and hard about Calvinism and its implications, not suppress “the initial shock and skepticism.”  And although the Calvinist will employ their doctrines of deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election as a litmus test for humility, that is not only question-begging but may be a tell-tale sign that something is very wrong within Calvinism, so much so that the Bible itself does not support the Calvinist views.

            Note also that as someone who believed in unconditional election, Fischer had to presuppose his own election – taking it as a surety – while suppressing the flip-side of his presupposed unconditional election.  He had to suppress thinking through whether it was theologically and philosophically credible to believe it is merely the will of God that determines who is elect and who is not and yet how this coheres with God’s will if that will is grounded in his nature.  Point being that if God is essentially good why would he create people for the purpose of predestining them to an eternity in hell?  If he creates people for the purpose of consigning them to an eternity in hell merely by willing that it be so, then the conclusion that God is arbitrary in this choice is hard to avoid, for it is no longer grounded in God’s essential nature as good, at least as we know “goodness.”

            If the Calvinist protests that God having willed to create people for the purpose of consigning them to an eternity in hell is not arbitrary, then they must say how it is not.  They must say what constitutes such a divine decision other than his mere will – after all, God does have some sort of identifiable nature.  The more accurate alternative, that “the good” is rooted in God’s nature as revealed to us and therefore we can know what it actually means for God to be good, is not what the Calvinist is saying and not an option available to them.  They claim that it is merely because God has willed that certain people be consigned to an eternity in hell.  But how is this consistent with God’s love, justice and goodness?  How is such “willing it to be so,” good?  What then makes it not arbitrary?  The character of God?  If so, how then is God good when he creates people for the purpose of consigning them to an eternity in hell?[35]

Serious Short-Coming? #2 – Not Enough Time Exploring the Depths of the Reformed Tradition

            Now DeYoung critiques Fischer as to the amount of time Fischer has had to “explore the depths of the Reformed tradition.” (2)  And although DeYoung cannot provide us with a “rigorous exegesis of specific texts” in a book review, he does tell us where the “rigorous exegesis of specific texts” can be found. They can be found in the writings of the three John’s – Calvin, Piper and Edwards. These men have surely explored the depths of the Reformed tradition. But note where these men land us after all is said and done in exploring those depths. Note what we are left with in the end.  DeYoung states,

               “I think in the end the best thing the Calvinist can say is “who are we to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) and “who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34).”

            So, do “the depths of the Reformed tradition” answer Fischer’s substantive criticisms?  No, they do not.  DeYoung’s question-begging answer concedes they cannot.  So, even though one takes the time to explore the depths of Calvinism, “in the end” one surfaces again only to face the problematic issues that confronted them at the very beginning when they were first introduced to Calvinism and experienced that “initial shock and skepticism.” (9)  It is as Fischer says, “When you come to the bottom of the rabbit hole, this is the mystery waiting for you.  How is God loving, just, or good when he sends people to hell for sins he ordained they commit?” (11)  The Calvinist’s answer?  The question-begging proof-texts, “Who are we to talk back to God?” and “who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

            Fischer has raised many questions and problems that the Calvinist simply cannot answer.  Recall Packer’s advice and DeYoung’s deferral to mystery.  It is merely question-begging.

            Here are a few questions to ask yourself.  Might the Calvinist interpretations of the important texts at issue in this controversy be incorrect?  Do you think the Bible teaches theistic determinism and unconditional election?  How would you know if it does or does not?  Do you just take the answer DeYoung gives above as the final truth in these matters? Do you acknowledge the logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction these doctrines generate with other Calvinist teachings, with other texts of Scripture and other theological themes and doctrines?  Do you incorporate consistency, coherence, and non-contradiction into your method of interpretation or feel they can be dismissed in the process?  Is there a biblically sound interpretation and theology that does not create these problems?  Many Christians think so.  Non-Calvinist scholars have provided them.  Fischer is attempting to get Calvinists to see the flaws in their own theology and understand the alternatives.

Serious Short-Coming? #3 – Fischer Inadequately Represented Reformed Theology

            DeYoung asserts that Fischer has inadequately represented Reformed theology.  DeYoung writes,

“…Fischer’s arguments suffer from a lack of familiarity with important distinctions frequently cited in the Reformed tradition. For example, Fischer suggests that Calvinists believe that when people are raped, maimed, murdered, and tortured that God ultimately did those things to them (p.21). What’s missing here is an awareness of the distinction between remote and primary causes.” (Emphasis mine)

            Let’s recall the Calvinist views of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  That is, before God made anything, he predetermined that all things would be as they are and take place as they do. Therefore God causes all things to be as they are.  Hence I take it that DeYoung would say God is the “remote” or ultimate cause of all that occurs.  We, or other things, are the “primary” causes.  Our role is usually put in terms of “secondary causes.”[36]  

            Now let’s ask ourselves a question regarding DeYoung’s “important distinction.”  If God is the remote or ultimate cause of all that occurs, is it not reasonable for Fischer to say regarding the problem of evil that,

               “As it pertains to the Calvinist explanation, many find great comfort in the belief that the evils they suffer have been inflicted on them by God so they might learn to cling to God in a way they did not and could not before.  History is replete with the lives of people who had egregious evils perpetrated against them – rape, maiming, torture, murder – and yet steadfastly believed that it was God who had ultimately done these things to them and that God was still good in doing so.”

            Fischer is merely telling it like it is on Calvinism.  Recall the Calvinist quotes on God’s sovereignty above.  This one is worth repeating.  John Piper quotes Calvinist Mark Talbot in agreement when Talbot states,

               “God…brings about all things in accordance with His will.   In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11: James 1:2-4).  This includes – as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem – God’s having even brought about the Nazi’s brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”[37]

            On Calvinism it is perfectly correct to say it is God who ultimately causes these things.

            DeYoung makes the point that it is important to distinguish between “remote” and “primary causes” so we do not come to the conclusion that God is the doer of evil or that God did those things to them.  Hopefully DeYoung is not placing the weight of his critique of Fischer on the choice of his words “inflicted on them by God” and “it was God who had ultimately done these things to him.”  That is, we hope DeYoung is not construing Fischer as saying that God performed the acts himself, as if he came down from heaven in physical form to actually plunge the knife or sexually abuse the young child.    DeYoung certainly suggests this when he writes,

               “No Calvinist I know would say God rapes people. God is never the “doer” of evil.” (3)

            For DeYoung to make this the point of his criticism of Fischer here is disingenuous.  “No Calvinist I know would say God rapes people. God is never the “doer” of evil.”  Well, no non-Calvinist would say that either.  That would be silly.  And it appears that DeYoung is attempting to place a red-herring in our path.  He is completely missing the point, and that is, one of ultimate responsibility.  Let’s stick to the point.  Is God ultimately responsible for the evil acts or not?  Sure he is. DeYoung quotes Fischer as saying.  “…that God ultimately did those things to them (AF 21/DY 3).”  But again let’s not follow DeYoung’s red-herring here.  It is not Fischer’s point to say that Calvinists believe that God actually performed the acts himself.  Again, we all, including Fischer, take it as an obvious fact that it was not God who actually came down from heaven in some physical form and did the evil act.  I take it that DeYoung does not think so either, but he certainly suggests it.  It sounds disingenuous and uncharitable – as if to distort the point Fischer is making.[38]

            So let’s get back to the more substantive issues.  Ask yourself a question.  Does this “important distinction” between “remote” and “primary” causes really do much to vindicate God from responsibility when God is the ultimate cause of all that occurs in the world, even if the Calvinist wants us to understand that he works his will through “secondary causes?”  After all, aside from him coming down in physical form and doing the act himself (the proximate or primary cause), he therefore must be working his comprehensive will through secondary causes or instrumental causes or what DeYoung calls primary causes.  Does it really relieve the problem for the Calvinist to say, “Well God is not the primary cause but the remote cause and therefore the primary cause is responsible for the action, not God.”  How so?  On Calvinism it is God who determines every person’s every thought, belief, desire and action. So haven’t we just pushed the problem back a step?  How is it that if God irresistibly works to determine a person’s thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions so that the person does exactly what God has willed them to do – rape a child for instance – that God is not responsible for the rape of that child?  How so?

            So DeYoung’s “important distinction” is a distinction without a difference and does nothing to blunt Fischer’s point that if God is the ultimate cause of all that occurs as Calvinist’s maintain, then God is responsible for evil.  On Calvinism all things were caused by God.  Period.  Recall the statements of the Westminster Confession, Calvin, MacArthur and Packer above.  DeYoung’s distinction is meaningless.  The fact that God employs secondary or instrumental causes (i.e., us) to accomplish what he has predetermined by his own will with regard to the smallest details of reality does not relieve God from being responsible for the acts committed.  Rather, the opposite is the case.  This also makes God out to be the sole agent in the universe.  We are just the physical beings through which he does his will – both good and evil.  This is Fischer’s main point.  And it is a legitimate point.  If the phrases “the evils they suffer have been inflicted on them by God” or “it was God who had ultimately done these things to them” have too much of a physical connotation, use the phrase “it was God who caused these evils to happen to them.”  Same problem.  On Calvinism that is the fact of the matter.  And that is Fischer’s point.

So Fischer’s arguments do not suffer from a lack of familiarity with important distinctions frequently cited in the Reformed tradition as DeYoung contended. Rather Fischer’s arguments make all too clear that those distinctions frequently cited in the Reformed tradition hold no weight. They too are incoherent with the underlying Calvinist determinism.

            And DeYoung does not help us here when he writes,

               “Arminians may not find the distinction compelling, but Reformed theologians have always made clear there is a difference between God ordaining what comes to pass and the role of human agency in actually and voluntarily performing the ordained action.” (3)

            Correct.  Arminians don’t find this distinction compelling because the Calvinist has not been able to reasonably explain the distinction.  Ask yourself another question.  How is this not a mere assertion about what “Reformed theologians have always” done?  They have always maintained there is a difference between God ordaining what comes to pass and the role of voluntary human agency.  So what?  Does that make it true?  Furthermore, ask yourself whether this statement is incoherent or not?  Read it again.  Ponder it.  Meditate upon it.  Think carefully about it.  It claims that God ordained what comes to pass and that human agents voluntarily perform the ordained action.  Now, don’t suppress your logical and moral reasoning.  Does that make sense to you on the common meanings of the words “ordained” and “voluntary?”[39]  If this view strikes you as incoherent, that is that God ordained what you do, yet you do it voluntarily, you should not summarily dismiss it as J. I. Packer advised you to do.  Rather, take I. A. Richards’ advice,

 “We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”[40]

Serious Short-Coming? #4 – The Human Will Is Only an Illusion

            DeYoung asserts that Fischer assumes that in Reformed theology the human will is only an illusion.  DeYoung writes,

               “Likewise, Fischer assumes several times that in Reformed theology the human will is only an illusion.  The picture painted is of a God who makes people do what he wants, whether they will to do so or not (p. 46, 71)…But Dort makes it clear that divine sovereignty “does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force.” (III/IV. 16).  Calvinists may believe there is a divine will prior to all human willing and they may deny that our wills are free in the libertarian sense, but they do not deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter.” (3)

            So ask yourself why isn’t the human will only an illusion if God has predetermined all things, including everything you think, desire, believe, will and do?  On Calvinism, how is you’re willing so-and-so not an illusion?  That is, other than merely being the instrumental means by which God accomplished his will through you, did you will the action in any meaningful sense of the word?  If so, how so?

            Of course the Calvinist can say divine sovereignty “does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and coerce a reluctant will by force.”  But it is not a long way from “people” to “blocks and stones” when universal divine causal determinism acts in human creatures in a way to cause them to comprehensively and absolutely will and do what God has predetermined them to will and do.  So I guess we can agree with Dort that technically “the will” has not been abolished, but it does not seem to be a “will” in any meaningful sense by which we understand “the will” as one’s own.  Whether it abolishes its “properties” depends upon whether you think a property of a “will” is that the person themselves is the source of whatever willing is all about (i.e., deciding what to think, intending, deliberating whether to perform a certain action or not, etc.).  Essential to what it means to have a will seems to be that the person can freely chose to do otherwise – something eliminated on Calvinist determinism.  Surely the Calvinist can say it is the will of that person that is at work, but that is only in an instrumental sense because the person’s will has been completely preempted by God’s will in all things.  And as far as coercion goes, I guess the Calvinist can claim that technically speaking, a person’s will is not “coerced.”  Of course it would not be “coerced” because it has been totally preempted by God’s will. “Coercion” only makes sense if there is a will involved that can will contrary to God’s will, and that has been eliminated on Calvinist determinism.  For there to be coercion there must be an independent will involved and therefore the potential for resistance by the person’s own will to the one attempting to coerce it.  Divine sovereignty does not “coerce a reluctant will by force?”  On Calvinist determinism, what is a “reluctant will?”  Do people have wills of their own that are free to be “reluctant?”  Who is doing the resisting in a “reluctant will?”  Doesn’t this presuppose another substantively free individual will, that is, a self, that is both active and distinct from the will of God?  Doesn’t this presuppose libertarian freedom?  Do you see the incoherence in DeYoung’s explanations and statements?[41]

            For “coercion” and “reluctant will” to be meaningful they presuppose that the person’s will is acting not merely instrumentally, but meaningfully as that person’s will.  But given Calvinist theistic determinism there is no free, independent will to “coerce” or be “reluctant.”  Recall that God’s determinations are exhaustive.  Everything and everyone is encompassed in what God has predetermined by his own will for everything and everyone to be and do.  Therefore, the fact that “coercion” is not going on does not mean that the will has not for all practical and theological purposes been annihilated.  Therefore, we all just “willingly” do what God has predetermined we do by God having irresistibly affected our thoughts, beliefs, desires, attitudes and hence our actions.  The reason one person is a Calvinist and another person is an Arminian and the pedophile molests the young girl or boy and the policeman fights crime is because God has willed and caused them all to do what they do.  They may not be doing it by being “coerced” but they do it by being determined by God in thought, desires and actions.  We all are just doing what God has willed and determined for us to do.  But in no meaningful way can we say the person’s will is still intact and operating as that person’s own will. I think Fischer is correct. On Calvinist determinism the human will is illusory.

            Finally, DeYoung points out that the Calvinist does not “deny the reality of human choice.”  Again, on Calvinism, technically speaking it is the “human,” merely as an instrumental, physical entity, that is making the “choice.”   DeYoung also claims that Calvinists do not deny “that our decisions matter,” which is to say that what God has predetermined that each of us do as the instrument of his will matters in this world as God wants his world to be.  But when we say “what we do matters” we mean that what we do can change the outcome of what happens for good or for bad.  We do not mean that God causes something to occur deterministically for good or bad.  But that is what the Calvinist must mean. We mean to say that the choices we make are real and meaningful with respect to things being one way or another.  If we make a certain choice, things will go a certain way.  If we choose to make a different choice in that same circumstance, things will go differently.  That’s what it means to say “our decisions matter.”  They are our decisions and they are of a contingent nature.  As “our decisions” we could have done otherwise.  And in that the “matter” they really are significant in influencing the course of events.

What all this tells us is that DeYoung, as a Calvinist, is using language with different connotations and definitions than would normally be understood by that language. But it is language that can be confusing in light of his theistic determinism. Indeed, the language is tailored to obscure the logical and moral incoherence his theistic determinism generates.

            Therefore DeYoung’s protests and explanations do not address Fischer’s points and seem to me to be somewhat disingenuous.  DeYoung may sincerely believe what he is saying given his definitions, but those definitions are not able to address the problem of his universal divine causal determinism.  So the question is whether the canons of Dort or the other Calvinistic confessions and Calvinists like DeYoung are speaking coherently or incoherently when they make these theological statements and claims. The issue is not merely that Calvinist theologians have answered them in a certain way or that some authoritative body has codified them in a confession.  These does not address the interpretive matters involving their incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. I contend, as Fisher ably demonstrates, that these Calvinist “explanations” are not convincing precisely because of their incoherence.

            To accept DeYoung’s explanations as to why Calvinists “do not deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter,” we would have to force our minds to ignore the logical and moral incoherence of those explanations with the Calvinists deterministic worldview. So what the Calvinist must do is obfuscate with their terms and definitions the problems their determinism creates. DeYoung doesn’t elaborate on the connotations he brings to the terms he uses here, but they are not the meanings that a plain reading convey to most of us.  You need to be filled in on the Calvinist’s nuanced definitions to begin to see how they reason around their incoherencies here.  There is a “Calvinist-speak” that attempts to provide a rationale for Calvinism.  But those nuanced rationalizations, when examined carefully, become somewhat duplicitous and disingenuous.  One of those rationalizations is called “compatibilism.”  I will examine this below.

            Furthermore, is the human will made less illusory just because “Dort makes it clear that “divine sovereignty does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force.”” (III/IV. 16)  How so?  What Dort needs to address is how it is that their universal divine causal determinism does not abolish the human will?  And again, how it is that Dort, given their determinism, can speak coherently of a “reluctant will?” 

            But DeYoung might be right that Fischer is painting a picture of a God “who makes people do what he wants, whether they will to do so or not.”  Fischer writes,

               “And here we find a bit of an irony.  As a Calvinist, I labeled free-will theism humanistic.  I thought the God of free-will theism was merely a projection of human ideals and concepts, and this is often the case.  However, the same accusation can be made of Calvinism.  A ruler who absolutely, unequivocally exerts the full measure of his control at all times, leaving no room for dissension or contrary wills?  That’s not the most divine thing I’ve heard…” (71, emphasis mine)

            What Fischer could have pointed out is that it is the Calvinist who is painting the picture of God who makes people do what he wants – period!  Fischer perfectly understands the implication of Calvinist determinism – all people always and in every way do what God wants.  DeYoung’s objection against Fischer’s description about a God who makes people do what he wants “whether they will to do so or not” is unsubstantial.  “Whether they will to do so or not” cannot even coherently be brought into the discussion because this thought makes no sense and is irrelevant given universal divine causal determinism.  Of course God is going to make them willing to do what he wants.  And that is the bottom-line truth of the matter that inevitably draws all other considerations about the human will into its deterministic vortex.  God is a God who makes people do what he wants; and that with regard to each and every occurrence of doing.  DeYoung is disingenuous to introduce “whether they will to do so or not” as if it were a substantive point against Fischer.  It is, rather, a point against DeYoung’s determinism. God causes all people to perform his will all the time.  And that is where the problem lies no matter what Dort asserts about God not abolishing the will or coercing a reluctant will or that Calvinists “do not deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter.” Not denying it is one thing. That these affirmations are incoherent with their determinism is quite another.

            In the following conclusion Fischer has got his Calvinism right.

               “The God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried is the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he made sure they would do?” (46, emphasis mine)

            Calvinism is as simple as that.  The incoherence is not hard to grasp.  God is redeeming the sins of his own making.  He is redeeming his own determinations.  Fischer need not add “whether they will to do so or not” because that is incoherent given Calvinist determinism.  There is no question as to God bringing to pass that which he has predetermined for a person “whether they will to do so or not” because that is not even a possibility on theistic determinism.  God wills what everyone wills so there cannot be a situation in which a person “wills to do so or not.”

            Should we even ask whether DeYoung recognizes the incoherence his own determinism creates in his theology?  I think he does.  The more probing question is whether he acknowledges this incoherence as hermeneutically significant, that is, whether he will also acknowledge that it is indicative of the invalidity of his interpretations of Scripture.

            The above statements are an example of the very incoherence DeYoung simply ignores while merely asserting that Calvinists “do not deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter.”  Here again we respond, “So what?”  Merely asserting that Calvinists “do not deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter” does nothing to make what they affirm or deny less incoherent.  Affirmations and assertions do not relieve the Calvinist’s problems.  The problem is that what Calvinists “do not deny,” that is, “the reality of human choice” and “that our decisions matter” – is incoherent with what they affirm about universal divine causal determinism.

            Note that DeYoung admits that Calvinists “deny that our wills are free in the libertarian sense.” (3) What does he mean by “in the libertarian sense?”  It is the sense in which most people think of free will.  Philosopher Jerry Walls describes a free will action in the libertarian sense.

               “A free action is one that is not determined by prior causes or conditions.  As he makes the choice, the agent has the power to choose A and the power to choose not-A, it is up to him how he will choose.”[42]

            This is pretty straight-forward.  It is the way we experience our willing, what we do and what happens in life.  When DeYoung quotes the Canons of Dort which claim that divine sovereignty (deterministically defined) does not “abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force” nor “deny the reality of human choice or that our decisions matter,” he is most likely referring to compatibilism.  That is the view that determinism and free will are logically compatible.  It is the means by which the Calvinist attempts to preserve his determinism and a concept of “free will.”  Is this means successful?


            You might wonder how it can be that universal divine causal determinism can be logically and morally compatible with human free will?  In short, on Calvinist compatibilism, as long as you are able to act according to your internal desires, you are acting freely.  But note what the Calvinist does here.  They say it is God who gives you your internal desires. In turn these desires produce your beliefs, thoughts, and actions.  Thus the determinism is preserved.  For the compatibilist, the fact that God determines what you internally desire, and you subsequently act according to that internal desire, means that you are freely acting according to your will. According to the Calvinist, this type of interaction between God and men does not constitute a violation of their free will.[43]  So, are you convinced?

            There is a significant difference between libertarian freedom and compatibilist freedom.  Libertarian freedom is most likely the view you hold to about free will.  If so, you simply cannot accept theistic determinism.  But does compatibilism sound convincing?  Does it really help to redefine free will as doing what you desire to do while all along it is God who determines your desires?  This seems to be just determinism in a different garb.  Philosopher and theologian Jerry Walls talks about “philosophically sophisticated Calvinists” like John Feinberg admitting that if they are going to hold to determinism they must either give up freedom altogether like A. W. Pink does, or embrace compatibilism.[44]  So ask yourself, does compatibilism help relieve the incoherence between a deterministic sovereignty and human free will?  What do you think of your alternatives if you want to be a Calvinist – give up libertarian freedom or embrace compatibilism? 

Serious Short-Coming? #5 – Jesus Heals Suffering and Sickness, He Doesn’t Cause It.

            DeYoung’s criticism here is partially justified.  Regarding the question, “Does God cause suffering?” in light of the larger biblical picture, Fischer should not have locked himself up to the account of Jesus’s ministry in the gospels.  We get Fischer’s point, but we also of course accept DeYoung’s point too. 

               “If you have, like Fischer does, a doctrine of hell and if you have penal substitutionary atonement – not to mention the whole history of divine judgment in the exodus, the conquest, the exile, and in the consummation – you have a God who causes suffering and is just to do so.” (4)

            But note the issue of justice that even DeYoung feels compelled to mention in his criticism.  This matter of justice is precisely what Fischer has demonstrated that Calvinism muddles up.  It is not that God cannot cause suffering in just judgment, but rather whether he causes the type of suffering entailed in the doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation, that is, creating people for the very purpose of sending them into eternal torment in hell.  The retort will be that they deserve justice because of their sin and God does no injustice in not saving them.  But this raises an incoherence with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9:11.  The Calvinist’s claim that Jacob was elected and Esau reprobated before they were born and “had done nothing either good or bad.”  How then do the reprobate get what they deserve because of their sin if their reprobation occurred before they were even born to do anything good or evil?  Another Calvinist incoherence.

            Anyway, the justice DeYoung falls back on to make sense of the suffering God causes, is brought into question on Calvinism.  Predestination and unconditional election make God’s justice arbitrary in the same way we could not grasp a God who is love and a God who is good given the doctrine of reprobation.  Again, what does it mean for God to be just?  Is God’s justice analogous in any way to how we perceive justice?  Should it be?  If not, where does that leave us regarding a true knowledge of God’s nature and our own administration of justice?

            Moreover, isn’t Fischer correct?  As far as God is in Christ, and as far as the ministry of Jesus is concerned, “never once do we have any indication that Jesus is the source behind the suffering of others.” (47).  Even if he were, the nature and purpose of that suffering would be important to consider.

Therefore, a distinction has to be made here between God causing suffering precisely because he is just (which presupposes that those he judges are responsible for what they did to receive that divine judgment, which also presuppose libertarian freedom), or God causing temporal suffering as in the torture and murder of the Jews in the Nazi holocaust, and the eternal suffering of the reprobate on the basis of theistic determinism or “the good pleasure of his will.”  It is the difference between the suffering of divine justice meted out on the basis of true blameworthiness, or God causing horrendous evil, temporal suffering and arbitrary eternal suffering.

The Fairness Issue

            Let’s go back to the “obvious baggage” that comes along with this “bedrock of Calvinism” which produces the “initial shock and skepticism” most people feel on hearing about the Calvinist versions of sovereignty and election.  We can ask ourselves “Is Calvinism really credible?  Is this the way God really is?  Is that what the Bible teaches?”  Fischer puts it this way.

               ““So you’re telling me that God has already determined everyone who will be in heaven and hell?”  This big ugly question is what anyone who wrestles with Calvinism must square off with sooner or later, and it was a tough question for me to get a handle on.” (9)

            You probably feel the same way.  You most likely are asking, “How is it fair that God just willed that some would receive eternal salvation and all others eternal damnation from before the creation of the world?”  And by “fair” you probably are thinking in terms of having reasons for doing so, other than merely “the good pleasure of his will” (which, again, begs the question as to whether that is a correct application of that verse and certainly seems to make such a decision arbitrary.)  Good question!  Fischer struggled with this and addresses the Calvinist response to the fairness inquiry.

               “How was that fair?  How was it fair for God to choose to save some and then send everyone else to hell?  I should have seen the answer coming: you don’t want fair.  Fair would mean we all get what we deserve and what we all deserve is hell.  Fair = hell.  Well that’s fair enough, I suppose.” (9)

            But wait.  The issue is not that we object to the fact that we all deserve God’s judgment and assignment to hell because of our sin.  The issue is rather whether or not God, in his very nature, is fair.  The Calvinist warning, “We don’t want fair because we would get the judgment and eternal punishment we deserve” is a different issue altogether than asking whether God need not be fair at all or God need not be fair as we understand fairness.  These are the deeper senses in which people struggle with this issue, and it’s certainly not fair to muddle people’s thinking or lay a guilt trip on them for even raising the question by quoting Romans 9:20 at them as they try to get to the bottom of the implications of Calvinism for the nature of God.

            It seems to me that the “fairness” issue, as the Calvinist wields it, totally misses the point and is precisely what casts doubt on the credibility of the Calvinist views.  Certainly we all deserve God’s wrath and eternal punishment for our sins.  And there is no distinction with respect to our guilt before him.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)  But if that is so, why would there be a divine distinction with respect to receiving his mercy?  One would think that given the nature of God as just and fair, and that justice and fairness issues forth in the same judgment for all sinners on account of their sin, then the same justice and fairness would issue forth in his extending the same mercy to all sinners.  And that is the point.  On what basis or reasoning does God decide that eternal damnation should fall on some and his mercy on others barring any conditions external to himself when we also know that we are all in the same hopeless condition and he is by nature loving, merciful and compassionate?  What is it about the nature of God that would cause him to be loving, merciful and compassionate to some sinners and not others?  Equitable or arbitrary?  To merely assert God has his reasons while vehemently denying he is arbitrary and affirming he is just and fair, both acknowledges the problem and presupposes that God’s justice and fairness is analogous to what we know of justice and fairness.  But as a mere assertion it does not help us here.  It only confirms that God’s justice should be recognizable to us, but on Calvinism it is not.

            On Calvinist predestination and unconditional election God does not mete out equal justice on equal sinners and it is a legitimate question to ask why not if we think the Bible teaches that God is essentially and perfectly “fair,” that he does not show partiality and that he is not arbitrary.  Either God is “fair” in a way contrary to how we understand and practice fairness, which would, as far as it concerns us, make him arbitrary (especially if as the Calvinist claims that God merely wills that particular individuals are elect and all others are not elect), or God is “fair” in a way we can understand fairness, which means we can know what God’s justice must be like and we can discern a departure from his nature as just.  Rather than our understanding of God’s justice being left without ground or substance, we are able to have a real insight into it; an insight that can serve to discern the validity of a proposed interpretation of Scripture in these matters.

            Hence, to inquire into divine fairness given Calvinism is a legitimate and important question because the Calvinist’s understanding of sovereignty as deterministic and election as unconditional muddles what we also believe Scripture teaches to be essential to the character of God – that God is equitable, just, fair, and impartial, let alone, merciful, compassionate and loving.  Therefore, the fairness question is an inquiry about the nature and character of God. It is asking whether or not we can know what God is really like. And when the Calvinist uses fairness to say “You want fair?  Then you will get what you deserve – eternal damnation!” that is to miss the point completely.  Getting what is fair is one issue, but knowing what fairness is when it comes to the nature of God is quite another.  And that is what the questioner is getting at.  It is an inquiry into what God is really like.  What the Calvinist is doing is taking advantage of the truth that as far as our relationship to God is concerned we all deserve his judgment. But the Calvinist is also dismissing the legitimate question their unconditional election raises regarding the fairness of dividing humanity in to two unalterable groups before creating anything – persons predetermined to eternal salvation and person’s predetermined to eternal damnation.   Whether or not we want fairness in not the issue.  What we want to know is the true nature of God in light of these doctrines which, as far as we can tell from what we know about equity and justice, seem to impugn his character.  The Calvinist’s stress on the “deserved” side of “fairness” is a red-herring to get us off the trail of the deeper issue of rightly discerning the nature and character of God that Calvinism throws into question.

            Note that the Calvinist is acknowledging something about what it means for God to be fair in the above example.  When the Calvinist speaks of the divine judgment that each sinner deserves this presupposes some idea of what it is to be fair.  Being “fair” is assessed as all sinners deserving the same punitive response from God for their sin, not that some deserve it and others do not.  In other words, as in Calvinism, judging on the basis of fairness and God’s will alone, if God were not to give us all what we as sinners deserve, we would have to conclude he is being arbitrary or unfair.  The Calvinist uses the “fairness response” on those who take issue to their doctrine of unconditional election, but in doing so the Calvinist claims to know what “fair” means when it comes to God.  God is a God of justice and impartiality which entails that God would give each person what they deserve.  Fairness entails that no one is left out and all would receive what is due them.

            But then why doesn’t this divine fairness work the same way with respect to God’s mercy?  On Calvinism it does not.  But why not?  Why would God, seeking to be merciful to sinners, not extend his mercy to all sinners, that is, in a way in which each and every sinner could experience that mercy in salvation? (cf. Rom. 11:32)  It would seem that would be fair in a way that is consistent with what is fair regarding deserved wrath and condemnation.  It would also be consistent with his love and goodness.  It seems that Calvinists help themselves to the “fairness” issue when it is useful to deflect our thinking away from pondering the truth or falsity of unconditional election in relation to the character of God, but not when it involves God’s mercy.  They do not employ the principle positively with respect to God’s nature as merciful and proportionally in that his mercy would then extend to all sinners.  They employ “fairness” with respect to what God has the right to do to sinners – judge and damn them to hell for all eternity – to defend their doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation. But that is to distract us from asking about whether God is fair in his very nature and recognizably so as we know fairness.  The inquirer is asking, “If God is not fair as we know fairness, what are the theological and existential implications?”  Fair question! 

            Justice, equity and fairness all become unrecognizable to us given unconditional election and reprobation.  These doctrines reverse what we understand these virtues to be.  And the response, “Well this is something that is beyond our comprehension, but ultimately God must be fair even though we can’t understand it right now.  When we get to heaven we will come to see that God was fair after all,” only confirms what we know to be true about God’s fairness, that is, that it is ultimately akin to what we presently understand fairness to be.  But that leaves Calvinist’s with a huge problem of presenting God in a way contrary to what we understanding fairness to be. If you have to put off understanding how God is fair, then you either admit that your understanding of equity and fairness is muddled in the here and now, or you have misinterpreted the text because you are left with a God that is identifiably unfair. I submit that this kind of incoherence ought to be a red flag that tells us that the Calvinist has misinterpreted the text.  This is one of those incoherencies that we have to pay attention to and seek to resolve.

            Therefore, the Calvinist must attempt to protect God from the charges of being unfair and arbitrary, both as to who he condemns and to whom he shows mercy.  But the theology of unconditional election leads us smack into the conclusion that God is unfair and arbitrary.  And to quote Paul’s words, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?”, as if these words are meant to address this issue or provide an answer to the Calvinist/Arminian controversy is simply to intimidate the inquirer and beg the question.  Whether Paul could have been addressing the responses of people to his teaching on unconditional election of individuals to salvation in Romans 9 is the issue we are trying to discern.  It’s the Calvinist’s interpretation of Scripture that compels us to rightly ask, “Is there injustice on God’s part?”  The insistence that God is fair in unconditional election although we cannot understand how, is indeed very troubling and problematic.

            What the Calvinist means to say when he says “You don’t want fair” is that we don’t want to be judged by God as we deserve according to our sins.  We agree.  In that sense we don’t want “fair.” And the “good news” is that God has in justice and fairness taken care of that for us in Christ (cf. Rom. 3:21-30)  So, if God decides to be merciful, then why shouldn’t we think that his mercy should also extend to all?  The Calvinist cannot continue a question-begging recitation of the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9.  The point is that he may be completely misunderstanding that Scripture.  And if the Calvinist quotes God’s words to Moses as Paul used them in Rom. 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” as if God can have mercy on some and not on others, that is to see the passage through Calvinist eyes and still begs the question.  But suppose Paul was meaning to stress the freedom of God’s mercy in the context of Jewish boasting and privilege?  Then the passage is meant to point out that God can have mercy on others whom his privileged chosen people thought lay outside the scope of his mercy, that is, the Gentiles.  Such an interpretation changes the whole dynamic and meaning of the passage. Paul would be correcting a faulty mindset within Israel, not expostulating on unconditional election regarding how an individual becomes saved.  This would speak against unconditional election, as does the context of chapters 10 and 11 when read valuing coherence and consistency with chapter 9, while affirming God’s fairness – both in judgment and mercy.  Paul’s point is to show that God’s mercy has been extended to all who deserve his wrath.  “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32).

            So, we can see how coherence is important for checking our interpretations.  Indeed, God is fair.  He is fair in his justice and judgment upon sinners for their sin.  He is also fair in his compassion, mercy, and love.   As we all stand under his wrath, we have all been extended his saving mercy in Christ.  But “fair” and “fairness” as the Calvinist uses them to defend their definitions of sovereignty as determinism and election as unconditional only amounts to a deflection away from the deeper issue of God’s nature and is unsuccessful in guarding God from arbitrariness.

Monsters in the Basement

            I would agree with DeYoung that this is the weakest part of Fischer’s book.  DeYoung is right when he says,

               “Fischer falls back on mystery, which feels a bit awkward considering how much he criticized the Calvinist for appealing to mystery when it comes to the difficult doctrine of reprobation.” (4)

            Fischer does not do a good job defending his non-Calvinist position.  For instance, he too prematurely flees to mystery to answer the question, “How does a sinless human [Adam] in a sinless world choose to sin?”  He answers, “Indeed, in the end the best thing we can say is, “It’s a mystery.” (75)

            But much more can be said in answer to this question.  For instance, Fischer could have made application of the very nature of the libertarian freedom he is defending as the biblical view of free will, or reflect upon the nature of the will of the angels that sinned prior to the creation of Adam and Eve.  What was the nature of their wills and freedom?  He may want to include the fact that Satan was present to tempt Adam and Eve and that Adam and Eve sinned via a tempter, or consider the nature of man as created in the image of God for personal communion with God and what that entails.  Or perhaps he could talk about types of possible worlds that God was free to create in light of the worlds it was not feasible for him to actualize once he decided to make a world with free creatures.  He may want to reflect upon how the nature of God plays a decisive role in the kind of world and the kind of creature God would create with respect to the possibilities of the will of that creature, especially being made in the image of God.  My point is that much more can be said, even if briefly, in defense of the non-Calvinist position than Fischer deals with here.[45]

            But even if the non-Calvinist position has its “mysteries,” there are other considerations to keep in mind in coming to the truth on these matters, and certain apologetic principles may help us here.  One is that we may not have certainty on some of these questions, but certainty is not essential for discerning the correct position.  Rather, we may reach a point of confidence as to the plausibility of one position over another based on the available evidence.  Plausibility on the basis of evidence is what we are seeking, not certainty in all respects.  But here again, we are presupposing rational coherence is essential to good interpretation.

            Another consideration of equal importance is that the resulting plausibility arises from the cumulative case made for each position.  Some parts of a position may be weaker than other parts, but added together they may make a compelling case.  We should strive to incorporate as many sound logical, moral, and biblical considerations as we can to come to the best possible position.  And of course by “come to the best possible position” we mean one that exhibits consistency, coherence and non-contradiction.  All positions have their strengths and weaknesses, but the better position will be the one that explains more of what needs explaining in a coherent fashion.  The position that has more coherent explanatory power and scope is likely to be closer to the truth.  I believe the non-Calvinist position better reflects these criteria, both biblically and philosophically, than Calvinism can.  But if we adopt the Calvinists hermeneutic of incoherence, we can see how all this unravels and the truth of Scripture will allude us. We are left with redefining incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions as “mysteries.”

            Furthermore, it is also a matter of the type of “mystery” we are left with in the end that is significant.  All “mysteries” do not have the same import, implications or content.  We would rather have our mystery located in how God does what he does in providentially bringing about his plans and purposes in this world, rather than in beliefs that impugn the character of God as loving, merciful, compassionate and just.  It seems to me that the Calvinist “mysteries” have greater negative ramifications logically, morally, and theologically upon the character of God and are the result of the logical and moral inconsistency and incoherence of their deterministic doctrines which are problems the non-Calvinist position avoids.  Granted each view has their “struggles,” but the nature, scope and implications of these “struggles” need to be evaluated as to their severity and plausibility so that we can recognize those interpretations which better represent the meaning of the texts and are therefore closer to the biblical truth.

God and Glory

            This is an important issue to address because it is one that Calvinists stress as a strength of their theology and a weak point in non-Calvinism.  Fischer is not diminishing the glory of God, he is merely relocating it in Christ where he argues it belongs.  And again, this seems to be a more biblically sound theological shift precisely because of the logical, moral and theological incoherence that is generated when we center God’s glory in a deterministic definition of sovereignty.  We do not disagree that God is glorified in his sovereignty throughout the Old Testament, we just do not see how sovereignty in the Old Testament can be defined as theistic determinism or how such a definition serves to glorify God.

            Suffice it to say here that the Scriptures testify that “in Christ,” particularly in the event of the crucifixion, we behold the glory of God; whether it be Jesus’ glory as God incarnate, or the glory of the Father himself.  In John 1:1 we are told that “the Word,” that is, Jesus, is God.  And John tells us “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:1, 14)  Theologian C. H. Dodd comments,

               ““The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”  All the sense of finality that eschatology strove to express is in that amazing declaration, which is at once a comprehensive summary of the life of Jesus, and contains in itself all that the highest hopes of man can aspire to; for beyond the vision of God we cannot aspire.”[46]

            Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn. 14:9)  In John 12:23 Jesus speaks of his own glorification when he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  And in 12:27 and 28, troubled in soul as the time of his crucifixion drew near, he deliberates about his purpose in having come to “this hour.”  “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  God is glorifying himself in Jesus Christ.  Again Dodd comments,

               “The Passion itself is set forth as the event in which Christ is more fully “glorified” than in any of his words or works (xii. 23-33), because on the one hand it is the most complete revelation of his love for His friends, and on the other hand it is, as the kerygma had insisted from an early date, the means by which He finally effected the salvation of man.”[47]

            We can add that Christ’s death is the most complete revelation of the love of the Father for all sinners.  Paul affirms this in Romans 5 when he writes,

               “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6-8, NIV)

            The whole life and ministry of Christ is the means by which God is glorified.  It is in this sovereign purpose, in this Jesus who was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), that we see the glory of God and where God is most glorified.  Divine revelation serves our understanding of the glorious gospel of God, the proclamation of this “good news,” and highlights the importance of this gospel as the central theme in Scripture.

            Certainly the “glory of God” has other aspects to it and is central to biblical revelation, but “the glory of God” is nebulous without further definition.  And among those definitions provided by God himself in Scripture we do not find a mysterious, salvific determinism that only introduces incoherence, inconsistency, and contradiction into biblical theology, but rather definitions that center in “the gospel of God.”  God glorifies himself in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Again, Dodd observes,

               “In prophecy the promise of the future was associated with the knowledge or vision of God… Ideally, Israel knows God as God knows him; but actually such knowledge is, in any full sense, reserved for the glorious future.  The Fourth Evangelist takes up the idea, and declares that now, as never before, authentic knowledge of God is available for men in union with Christ, the Son who knows the Father as He is known by Him; and such knowledge is eternal life[48]…Now for John the whole life of Jesus is in the fullest sense a revelation of His glory.”[49]

            Again, we glorify God when we accurately understand and proclaim the gospel in all its purity, offering salvation to all sinners who may respond to it in faith and be saved.  That is why this issue is so important.  The truth of the gospel and its proclamation with integrity and Holy Spirit power is at stake in it.

            What then of the preservation of “the truth of the gospel?” (Gal. 2:5)  The search for truth is at the heart of this debate, and when that search involves preserving “the truth of the gospel,” nothing greater can be done “to give God all the glory for his grace in the gospel.”

Discipleship: An Example of Incoherence and Contradiction

            Fischer cites Christian discipleship as an example of Calvinist theological incoherence.  He writes,

               “At the heart of gospel-driven discipleship, there is the decision, by grace through faith, to surrender self and follow Jesus – that is, at the heart of gospel-driven discipleship, there is the belief that you have a choice and therefore a will that matters.

               In the human mind, choice is deeply tied to meaning, so much so that we don’t know how to find meaning without choice. …We find meaning in Jesus dying for us because we believe he did not have to.  If Jesus had no choice, I’m not sure what we would find in the cross, but I don’t think we would find any meaning in it.  It didn’t mean anything – it just happened.

               And far from being some human evolutionary construct invented to add significance to our existence, I believe Jesus shows this connection between choice and meaning lies at the heart of the gospel – of kingdom, cross, and discipleship.  Daily Jesus challenges you to follow him up on the cross so your old self can continue to be crucified, and daily you must decide if you will do so.  Daily Jesus invites you to join him on mission, reaching out to the lost and the least, and daily you must decide if you will do so.  “What will you, by the grace of God, do with your will?” – Jesus asks us again and again.

            And in Calvinism, you simply do not have a choice and therefore do not have a will that matters.  So the questions, “What will you do with your will?  What will you do with your kingdom?” are rendered unintelligible.

You may have the illusion of a will that matters, but if you pull back the curtain, God’s will is the only game in town.  Regardless of the passion of the rhetoric you crank out to make sense of it, the fact is that God has already decided whether or not you will follow Jesus, share the gospel, deny yourself, and surrender your kingdom.  Your will does not matter – at least not in the sense that we can make sense of.

          And yet you are expected to act as though it does.  You’re supposed to run on the treadmill and pretend you’re running the race of faith.  This forces you into the awkward position of seemingly suspending your theology to live faithfully – because living faithfully requires living with meaning and living with meaning requires choice.  You believe God determines all things, and yet act as though your will is not completely determined.

          To be clear, I’m not saying Calvinism can’t produce faithful disciples (again, it can and does).  I’m saying that in order to do so, it must talk and think about our wills as if they matter (have a choice) even though its theological underpinnings have already made it clear they do not. Plenty of people nevertheless do it, but it makes me dizzy – like a dog chasing his tail.  And in the end, I don’t know that this sort of cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics organically produces disciples of the kingdom.” (97-98)

Fischer adds,

               “So not only does discipleship fit into the narrative of free-will theism; it seems to be the thread that holds it all together.  From being created in the imago Dei, to the trees in the garden, to the tree upon which the crucified God of self-giving love was hung, to the tree of life in the resurrected kingdom of God, we are invited to submit our rule to God’s by following Jesus in discipleship, and reign with him “forever and ever.”  There is a deeply organic relationship here.  Free-will theism provides discipleship a fitting home.” (98)

            That the issue of coherence as necessary for determining the validity or invalidity of the Calvinist interpretations of Scripture is obvious here.  Fischer observes that the theological underpinnings of Calvinism do not cohere with the biblical teaching on Christian discipleship.  Fischer notes a “cognitive dissonance” and the presence of “mental gymnastics” in the Calvinist position.  He also observes the suppression of reason and disingenuousness that are characteristic of Calvinism when he states “Your will does not matter – at least not in the sense that we can make sense of. Yet you are expected to act as though it does.

The point is that the Calvinist’s deterministic theological foundations are incoherent with the superstructures of discipleship and ministry as presented in Scripture. Hence, these matters of consistency and coherence come to the fore again.  Whether one’s theology needs to be consistent and coherent or not is what divides the Calvinist from the non-Calvinist.  Calvinists do not find observations like Fischer’s hermeneutically significant.  Calvinists do not take the incoherence and inconsistency in their positions as reliable indicators of a flawed exegesis or textual misinterpretations.  And it seems that they must train themselves to ignore these logical and moral difficulties. This is a serious issue for the intellectual, moral and hermeneutical integrity of Evangelicalism.

The Hermeneutical Divide

            So we have come up against what I call the hermeneutical divide.  It is the divide that must be bridged if there is to be any productive discussion and resolution to the Calvinist/Arminian debate.  The Calvinist will either acknowledge that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential to a proper biblical hermeneutic or they will not.  Fischer, and many non-Calvinist scholars and lay people, are challenging Calvinists to take the incoherencies and contradictions in their theology seriously as reliable indicators that something is very wrong in their interpretations of the relevant texts.  If Calvinists do not take this challenge seriously as hermeneutically significant, they will never be convinced or care to leave their soteriology for what Fischer claims is a more biblically accurate picture of God, his sovereignty, and election.

            The problem is that the very thing that would compel them to reevaluate their interpretations and theology, that is, attending to its incoherencies and contradictions, the Calvinist puts out of court.  And Fischer is trying to make the case that these problems inherent in Calvinism are so profound that they should lead one out of that theology and into a more intellectually and morally consistent interpretation of the texts – a consistency which is a necessary condition for discerning a proper interpretation of the text and for identifying a sound biblical theology.

            Why doesn’t the presence of incoherence make the Calvinist reflect upon whether or not they are correctly exegeting and interpreting the biblical text?  They will say that because Scripture teaches their doctrines.  But if we dig deeper here, it must be that they believe that they have correctly interpreted the text using a method that does not necessarily concern itself with whether their interpretive conclusions exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  And that is the hermeneutical divide between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist.

            Calvinists persist in such a hermeneutic because they have been trained to think in ways that enable them to accept the incoherencies of Calvinism (recall J. I. Packer’s advice), while stressing that to embrace the Calvinist doctrines is a sign of humility and a desire to exalt the sovereignty and glory of God.  If the interpretive alternatives are presented as either God’s glory exercised in his sovereignty over all things defined deterministically or man’s search for autonomous freedom, who wouldn’t choose the former over the later.  But this is a false dichotomy.  God’s glory or sovereignty are not at stake if man has genuine libertarian freedom.  Indeed, it is an expression of God’s sovereignty that he deemed it to be so.

            As stated before, other reasons might be that a person sees their own conversion experience explained by Calvinist sovereignty and unconditional election.  But should one’s conversion experience be the sole criteria by which we determine the truth of a soteriology and theology?  Does not that put my subjective experience above the authority of Scripture?  Others cherish the logical system of Calvinist doctrine more than the hermeneutical endeavor that seeks to explain more of the whole scope of biblical text harmoniously and coherently.

            Hopefully we would all agree that Scripture is the ultimate authority, and yet the evangelical church is divided into these two theological and soteriological camps.  Therefore the question still remains how do we know what the Bible teaches?  Fischer’s answer?  You are on the right track when you value coherence, consistency, non-contradiction, theological harmony and employ clear thinking and moral intuition in your hermeneutic.

The Deep Problem of Contradiction

            Now, we must come to grips with whether or not there is a real contradiction inherent in Calvinism.  For if there is, Calvinism would have to be declared nonsense.

            Fisher points out that most people want to be neutral on the question of the truth of Calvinism or Arminianism.  They want to live in a theological “Switzerland,” borrowing from each perspective as needed.  But that does not help us know the truth of the matter, and the logical, moral, theological and practical implications of each are so profoundly different that the two cannot both be true.  We are dealing with two mutually exclusive soteriologies.

            Fisher focuses in on this problem of contradiction at the end of his book.  He writes,

               “…but does Switzerland really exist in this case or do you just wish it did?  You can believe God unilaterally controls every single particle of reality and yet God doesn’t control every single part of reality, just like you can believe God created the world and didn’t create the world (I suppose).  No one can make you make sense – you can believe whatever you want.

               But why believe something that, as far as we can tell, isn’t a paradox but an outright contradiction?” (108)

            You get his point.  Sure we can believe whatever we want, but what ought we to believe?  Surely we ought not to believe a contradiction.  I think we can all agree that things that show themselves to be contradictory must be judged to be false.  Rational thought requires this.  Now, in that we ought to believe what is true, we cannot believe what is contradictory.  Therefore, whatever else is required in coming to know and believe what is true, it must include coherence and non-contradiction.  This would also apply to biblical interpretation.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us, if we are to have intellectual integrity, not to believe a contradiction.  This is the deep problem that the Calvinist faces.  “Either God is the all-determining reality or he isn’t.” (108)  You can’t have it both ways.  And if the Calvinist claims God to be the all-determining reality, that too has to prove to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory with other biblical truths and realities.

            Interestingly enough, DeYoung seems to agree wholeheartedly.  I appreciate what DeYoung says in his “Conclusion” section about the importance of these issues and the value of this debate.  He writes,

               “… I agree with his [Fischer’s] insistence that what we make of Reformed theology is tremendously important.  I love this line at the end of the book: “I wish there were middle ground, but . . . where would it be?” (108).  Amen.  It’s not possible to be a Calviminian.  If you care about theology and care about consistency – like Fischer does – you’ll see how different understandings of God’s sovereignty set you on markedly different intellectual, devotional, and practical trajectories. …These are not small issues we are dealing with.  It’s no wonder, then, that the Calvinist-Arminian divide is so wide and deep and that becoming Reformed or becoming no longer Reformed is such a big deal.  So even if I find Fischer’s book unconvincing – and actually reinforcing for my Calvinist convictions – I can be thankful that unlike many Christians, he believes the debate is worth having.” (5)

            Note that DeYoung states we ought to care about consistency in our theological reasoning.  He writes, “If you care about theology and care about consistency – like Fischer does – you’ll see how different understandings of God’s sovereignty set you on markedly different intellectual, devotional, and practical trajectories.” This is perplexing because, as Fischer points out in his book and I have attempted to point out above, and many other more capable scholars have demonstrated, DeYoung’s Reformed Calvinist theology is plagued by inconsistency.  And it is baffling as to how DeYoung simply can ignore the inconsistencies, incoherencies and contradictions in his own theology.  He affirms consistency yet it ignores in his own position.  So DeYoung is even inconsistent here, he affirms consistency but doesn’t apply it to his own interpretations and theology.  But as I have pointed out, he must engage in this suppression of reason to remain a Calvinist. He must do this for his Calvinist deterministic interpretation of God’s sovereignty to survive.  This is an example of “Packer syndrome.”  Just ignore the inconsistencies and chalk them up to your limited understanding.  As I have been arguing, consistency and coherence are not important for the Calvinist.  Here is yet another example.

            Fischer’s book is all about raising our awareness of the presence, nature, and magnitude of the incoherencies and contradictions Calvinism generates.  And of course many very capable philosophers and scholars have seen the gravity of these issues.  They care about theology and they care about consistency.  It’s precisely because they do care about these that they reject Calvinism.  I concur with the contributors to the book Grace Unlimited who contend that,

               “…we are opposing a powerful effort in Protestant orthodoxy to limit the gospel and to cast a dark shadow over its universal availability and intention, manifesting itself most overtly in classical Calvinism.  This theology which, in its dreadful doctrine of double predestination, calls into question God’s desire to save all sinners and which as a logical consequence denies Christ died to save the world at large, is simply unacceptable exegetically, theologically, and morally, and to it we must say an emphatic “No!”[50]

            Calvinism suffers from inherent problems of logical, theological and moral incoherence and contradiction. This is a deep problem because logical, theological and moral inconsistency, incoherence and contradiction not only tell us what is false and not to be believed, but ultimately clash with the very nature of God.  The Calvinist reality is not even possible for God to create because God cannot create logical contradictory states of affairs.  This is due to the fact that logic itself is rooted in the nature of God and God cannot violate his own nature.  It is as William Craig points out, “it is logically impossible to make creatures freely do something.”[51]  So to the degree that Calvinism generates real incoherence and contradiction is the degree to which we must reject it because it is impossible on the grounds that God himself could not realize a contradictory state of affairs, either logically, theologically or morally by virtue of the fact that he cannot act contrary to his nature.

            Now the Calvinist’s dismissal of the most fundamental principles of logic and moral intuition in their hermeneutic is substantial evidence that Calvinism has erred in its interpretation of Scripture. These are the indispensable first principles of reality (e.g., the law of non-contradiction) that are the ground of knowledge and without which no rational thought or discussion can be had or true conclusions reached.  They are the very rules of thought that make thought meaningful.  These rules of thought are clearly indicating that Calvinism is to be rejected.  What the Calvinist chooses to do, rather, is reject these first principles with respect to his hermeneutic.  Hence, they will never have any reason why they should believe differently than they do about God, sovereignty or salvation.  They may insist the Bible teaches it, but the means by which we come to know and affirm that claim have been put out of court.  If they claim that the Bible teaches it is reason enough to believe it, as I have already pointed out, that is mere question-begging.  I submit that this is a falsely secure and an intellectually irresponsible place to be.

            Again, the Calvinist will insist the Bible teaches Calvinism.  But to be beholden to Scripture as your sole authority for faith and practice requires that you also love the Lord your God with all your mind.  Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive.  The only way you can give the Scripture its rightful place of authority is by reasoning rightly about what it means to interpret it correctly.  Correct interpretation incorporates coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction. 

Will Calvinist’s Discuss Fischer’s Arguments?

            Hopefully Calvinists have taken up McKnight’s admonition in the introduction.

               “If I were a Calvinist, I would not only want to read this book – I’d want to read it with my Calvinist friends.  Not only is it too good to read alone – I’d want to parse our way through it, pondering each point Austin Fischer makes.”[52]

            But if you can’t read it with your friends, at least read it for yourself.  I think DeYoung would agree that you should do so for two reasons.

            First, because he says that although he finds Fischer’s book unconvincing, he is thankful “that unlike many Christians, he [Fischer] believes the debate worth having.”  Do you think the debate is worth having?  If not, why not?  I submit that if you think through Calvinism and its implications you will come to conclude that there are fundamental hermeneutical, theological, logical, and moral issues at stake here. Nothing short of the character of God and whether the God of Calvinism is even “the God of the Bible” (xi) are at stake here.  Nothing short of the gospel message and whether the “doctrines of grace” can be considered the biblical “good news” are at stake here.  Nothing short of acknowledging that logical and moral coherence are indispensable for proper interpretation and essential to a sound hermeneutic is at stake here.  The thinking Christian who cherishes truth can’t help but conclude that this debate must continue for the sake of coming to a knowledge of the truth of salvation and the gospel.  Reading Fischer’s book and others like it, along with the Calvinist literature, will reveal that the stakes are indeed very high.

            The second reason I think DeYoung would want Calvinists to read this book is because he wants non-Calvinists to read the Calvinist literature.  When he supposes that non-Calvinist pastors, professors, and churches will energetically pass Fischer’s book around, he comments,

               “I don’t suppose many of those pastors, professors, and churches also read this blog. …If you want to read the case for Reformed soteriology, you can pick up any number of books by John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, or one of the bazillion resources you can find on sites like The Gospel Coalition or Monergism.”

            DeYoung seems doubtful that non-Calvinists will read the Calvinist literature, but I for one would certainly encourage them to do so.  Non-Calvinists should be reading Calvin, Luther, Piper, Sproul, MacArthur, and others.  You should read first-hand what Calvinists believe and more importantly how they think.  You should read the original sources.  See if what they say and how they reason makes sense to you and squares with Scripture.

            But then “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”  Calvinists should be reading books like Fischer’s, being sure to “parse your way through it, pondering each point.”  Intellectual integrity demands it.  Yes, there are complex issues involved, but there’s no need to forfeit the simple elements of common sense and clear thinking.  We all need help with the more complex theology and philosophy involved, but don’t discount or dismiss your logical and moral intuitions.  Read both sides of the debate to help clarify your thinking.

            DeYoung is expressing a frustration many of us feel, that is, the difficulty of getting each side to read the better literature on the other’s side, and to get Christians who call themselves “evangelical” to engage on this crucial question: “What is the biblical gospel?  If it is biblically defined as the “evangel” or “good news,” what are the implications of that biblical definition for the soteriology you embrace?  Does your soteriology entail a gospel of “good news?”  How so?

            I submit that there are two incompatible soteriologies and gospels being taught in our evangelical churches today, so it is imperative that we ask ourselves, “What is the biblical gospel?”  So take up and read!


            Note that Fischer has placed before us a readable account of the essential problems that are inherent in Calvinism – the logical, moral and theological inconsistencies, incoherencies and core contradiction.  These problems are inherent in Calvinism because of its universal divine causal determinism.

            Fischer has pointed out that a proper biblical hermeneutic must include a concern for logical, moral, and theological coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction.  These are essential to good interpretation.  Fischer’s testimony demonstrates that it was imperative that his theology be logically and morally coherent.  We see his argument for theological coherence in chapter 5, “The Crucified God.”  At the end of that chapter he has a section titled “Crucifixion Logic.” (50)  Each Christian must ask themselves, “Can one have a sound, biblical hermeneutic while dispensing with logical, moral, and theological consistency, coherence and non-contradiction?”  That is the question the Calvinist must answer.  Flights to mystery, antinomy, incomprehensibility, etc. only presuppose the truth of their interpretations and thus beg the question.  They are ad hoc and do not bring us to ask or answer how we would know their interpretations are correct.  Even after they have exegeted the text, Calvinists must ultimately flee to mystery, antinomy, incomprehensibility, or the assertion that “the Bible teaches both.” But this is a tell-tale sign of a flawed exegesis. Calvinists jettison logical and moral reasoning before we can ask whether coherence and non-contradiction are necessary components of a sound, biblical exegesis and hermeneutic and whether they are essential to arriving at an accurate interpretation of the text.  Therefore Calvinists do not address this issue.  They dismiss logical reflection and moral intuition as interpretively significant.  The Calvinist does not believe that these are necessary components of a sound, biblical hermeneutic.  But if they are essential, then they must inform the interpretive process.  They cannot be summarily dismissed when one sees that their interpretations won’t survive their scrutiny.  If consistency, coherence and non-contradiction are hermeneutically essential then the Calvinist hermeneutic is flawed and we can conclude their interpretations are also.

            DeYoung claims that he found Fischer’s arguments “ultimately unpersuasive and, in several instances, full of significant weaknesses.” (DY, 1)  I have examined those “general categories” where DeYoung has said Fischer’s book suffers from “serious shortcomings” and demonstrated how DeYoung’s responses to Fisher’s arguments suffer from the same incoherence inherent in DeYoung’s original Calvinist doctrines.  That is, DeYoung’s responses to Fischer’s arguments do not exhibit logical, moral or theological coherence.  But this was to be expected.  If the original Calvinism is not subject to a criteria of coherence, then DeYoung’s responses to Fischer need not be subject to that criteria.  DeYoung admits to the ultimate morally incoherent nature of his theology and his agnostic conclusion.

               “There’s no doubt that double predestination is a tough pill to swallow and that reprobation can feel like a “horrible decree” (to use Calvin’s phrase).   I think in the end the best thing the Calvinist can say is “who are we to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) and “who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34).  Fischer eventually comes to find this response untenable.  For my part, I resonate with Bavinck’s appeal that Calvinism “invites us to rest in him who lives in unapproachable light, whose judgments are unsearchable, and whose paths are beyond finding out” (Reformed Dogmatics, 2.395).” (DY, 3)

            The important point to note here is that even though he confesses that double predestination “is a tough pill to swallow” and reprobation “can feel like “a horrible decree,”” these do not motivate DeYoung to question whether he has accurately interpreted the Bible in these respects.  Rather, he merely presupposes the accuracy and truth of his interpretations and goes on from there.  This is a prime example of the suppression of reason integral to the acceptance and propagation of Calvinism.  All the legitimate questions and responses of our minds and hearts when we learn about Calvinism are summarily dismissed by stating that “Calvinism invites us to rest in him who lives in unapproachable light, whose judgments are unsearchable, and whose paths are beyond finding out.’”  What this really means is that Calvinism is requiring from us the suppression of our logical and moral faculties with regard to the discipline of hermeneutics.  Both DeYoung and Calvin himself admit to this logical and moral incoherence inherent in their interpretations, but that is never seriously considered with regard to DeYoung’s or Calvin’s hermeneutic.  DeYoung’s dismissal of logical, moral and theological coherence is clear.

            Furthermore, we should have anticipated that DeYoung would never find Fischer’s or anyone else’s arguments persuasive precisely because the only means by which he could do so (aside from God having predetermined their change of mind), has been set aside for mystery, antinomy, and incomprehensibility.  You would need to apply your logical and moral faculties to your hermeneutic to find someone’s arguments persuasive or not with respect to the biblical text.  If you do what DeYoung and Calvinists do, you may propose your alternative interpretation, but there would be no way to determine its accuracy if logical and moral reasoning are excluded from the process.  DeYoung simply implies that his theology “invites us to rest in [God]” (can we refuse?), and employs the characteristics of God as “unapproachable,” “unsearchable” and is “past finding out” in defense of Calvinism in light of its logical and moral difficulties.  God is “past finding out” is used as an excuse for dismissing the Calvinist’s incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory doctrines. But neither the character of God nor the authorial intent of a text is “past finding out” with respect to this controversy. The problem for the Calvinist is that these are all too well understood and Calvinism cannot provide a coherent explanation of what we do know and can quite sufficiently comprehend. This invitation “to rest in [God]” as “unapproachable,” “unsearchable” and “past finding out” only serves to divert our attention from the problematic nature of Calvinism itself. It neither explains nor persuades. Being persuaded of something means that substantive logical, moral, and theological coherence are valued as essential in the process of deliberating between interpretive options.  But DeYoung has excluded from his hermeneutic the logical tools and moral intuitions by which persuasion occurs.  And even though God is incomprehensible to us, that is, we cannot fully grasp with our mental, emotional and spiritual faculties all that he is, he is not unintelligible to us, that is, he does not ask us to reverse our logical and moral reasoning and flee to mystery so we don’t have to deal with whether such a reversal is interpretively legitimate.  Logical and moral reasoning are prematurely excluded by the Calvinist with respect to the interpretive enterprise.  We need these faculties to discern the meaning of the Scripture that reveals this transcendent God.  Again, for God to be beyond our comprehension does not mean he may be portrayed as the reverse of our logical and moral standards as to his very nature.  Until DeYoung acknowledges that coherence is essential to a proper hermeneutic he could never be persuaded that Calvinism is not the biblical view of sovereignty, election or the gospel.  And neither can he persuade others of his position as long as they maintain a hermeneutic of coherence. The non-Calvinist refuses to believe that incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretations are correct. The non-Calvinist exegeses of the relevant texts, which deal responsibly with these texts as far as the grammatical-historical method is concerned, and in addition are able to preserve the harmony and coherence of the full scope of what needs to be explained regarding sovereignty, election and predestination, human freedom, faith, the image God, etc., are arguably the more biblically responsible and faithful interpretations.  But note that they are arguably the more biblically faithful interpretations only for those who value coherence in the interpretive task.  And that is the hermeneutical divide between Calvinist and non-Calvinist.  And that is the point of this controversy by which it will either be resolved or continue until the Lord’s return.

            Having read the “depths of the Reformed tradition” I submit that Calvinists have a non-negotiable definition of divine sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism that is inconsistent and contradictory to the biblical witness to the nature of God, man and salvation and the gospel.  Rather than face the hermeneutical implications of these inconsistencies and contradictions, Calvinists choose to flee to mystery to circumvent this problem.  The “explanations” of “mystery,”  “incomprehensibility,” “antinomy,” “apparent contradiction,” and “the Bible teaches both” while applying the characteristics of God as “unapproachable,” “unsearchable” and is “past finding out” to the hermeneutical issues here, is an attempt to blunt the force of the logical, moral and theological havoc wreaked by Calvinism’s theistic determinism. Fischer has made the particulars of that havoc clear.  The Bible teaches God’s sovereignty in all things, but Scripture cannot abide an all-encompassing determinism when one includes logical, moral and theological coherence in their hermeneutic.  The Calvinist position is maintained by ignoring this fact. But many of us think that is too high an intellectual and theological price to pay.  It is not even necessary given the exegetically responsible alternative interpretations of the controversial passages non-Calvinists can provide.  Calvinists need to carefully attend to these interpretations as DeYoung exhorts them to do.

            By summarily dismissing logical, moral and theological coherence the Calvinist is adopting a distinctive type of hermeneutic.  It is a hermeneutic of incoherence.  It is the hermeneutic Calvinism is based on and needs to maintain to survive.  It is a hermeneutic that discounts consistency, coherence, and non-contradiction as essential to discerning the validity of one’s interpretations.

            But if the Calvinist is going to default to such a hermeneutic, then the Calvinist needs to defend such a hermeneutic.  “Mystery” will not do.  Moreover, it is a hermeneutic that the evangelical church has come to accept as legitimate.  But these Calvinist and non-Calvinist hermeneutics, theologies and soteriologies are mutually exclusive. They both cannot be the biblical truth in these matters. Therefore, by embracing both as legitimate biblical positions, the evangelical church is endorsing interpretive, soteriological and theological relativism.  The evangelical church is in denial of the fact that there exists within it two mutually exclusive hermeneutics, soteriologies and gospels.  This is both intellectually and interpretively irresponsible.  The only way the evangelical church will resolve this problem in their midst is if the hermeneutical divide is dissolved.  The only way that can happen is if the Calvinist incorporates consistency, coherence and non-contradiction into their hermeneutic and practical exegesis.

As much as we need and long for a spiritual revival that will lead to the spread of the gospel in the power of the Spirit, we need to know what gospel we are talking about.  Therefore the prerequisite to a spiritual revival may just involve the sorely needed revival of the life of the mind within Evangelicalism.  Only when we first admit that two mutually exclusive soteriologies cannot be the biblical truth and address the hermeneutical divide that is the cause of this age-old controversy, will we see its resolution.

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[1] Austin Fischer, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014).

               DeYoung’s review was written in February of 2014.  It can be found at “The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals: Reformation 21” website.  Here’s the link:  It should be read before reading this paper so you will have both the information I presume in the paper and the sense of the differences in perspectives that only the context of the review itself can provide.

[2] This is the phrase William Lane Craig uses to describe Calvinism.  I think it advantageous because it specifically highlights the universal and causal elements in Calvinist determinism.  It is important to realize that the Calvinists definition of the divine eternal decree and sovereignty are deterministic in a way that encompasses all things down to the minutest detail (universal) and makes God out as the cause of all that occurs (causal).  Dr. Craig uses this phrase in his five-fold critique of Calvinism in which he comes to conclude that “the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”  If, as a Calvinist, you can dismiss Dr. Craig’s critique of Calvinism, you will only be confirming the point that the deliverances of logical and moral reflection do not play a role in your hermeneutic.  Incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction have no interpretive significance as to the validity, or invalidity as the case may be, of the Calvinist’s interpretations.

               See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link.  Last accessed June 9, 2018.

[3] The Calvinist alternatives of either divine determinism or God is “out of control” or can be “mistaken” as subject to human freedom is a false dichotomy.  There are other biblical alternatives.

[4] The Calvinist will point out that God’s sovereign decree is worked out personally.  But this only raises other perplexities.  How does this predetermination of all things by God’s will alone, even if it is the out-working of a “personal” God, relieve us of the essential problems and implications inherent in the determinism itself?  It is the fact that we exist and function in a predetermined reality that is the issue here. This raises issues with what it means to be a person and for God to act in a “personal” way with us as human beings created in “the image of God.”  How does the idea that God brings about his comprehensive will in a “personal” manner with us as human beings change the problems that are inherent in the determinism itself?  Indeed, it only makes them worse.  How is it personal to predetermine everything a person thinks, desires, believes and does?  Can the impersonal nature of a deterministic reality be overcome by claiming God is “personal” and therefore his comprehensive predetermination of all things, including each person’s eternal destiny is personal?  Does theistic determinism, even if worked out by a “personal” God, leave room for “personhood?”  How so?  What does it mean for God to be in a “personal” relationship with us as “persons” made in his image?  Isn’t a substantive and meaningful degree of human freedom and free will necessary for such claims to be credible?  Can the Bible be read coherently on the belief that God has predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass?”  These are the kinds of problems Calvinism generates.  See Kevin Vanhoozer’s First Theology and Remythologizing Theology on the attempt to reconcile these Calvinist deterministic doctrines with the acts of a personal God.

[5] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978.)

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[7] From the radio broadcast transcript “Answering The Key Questions About The Doctrine of Election”, by John MacArthur.  Found at © 2005-2007. Grace to You. All rights reserved.

[8] J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 94-95.

[9] B. B. Warfield, “Biblical Doctrines” art., “Predestination,” p. 9, quoted in L. Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 1971, pp. 31-32.  From John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 54.

[10] R.C. Sproul, “God’s Decree and Creation.”  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[11]Erwin Lutzer, “The Mysteries of God” Series, Sermon 3, “The Decrees of God.”  Oct. 18, 2015.  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[12] John Piper, “Why Does God’s Sovereignty Make Some Ambitious and Others Apathetic.”  Desiring God Website.  Last accessed Jan. 11, 2018

[13] “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything?”  April 26, 2019.  (12:09 – 12:47)

[14] We might say Fischer is pointing out the proper basicality of libertarian free will.  There are certain fundamental beliefs we have that cannot be demonstrated to be absolutely certain (e.g., the reality of the past).  Fischer says free will is one of them.  As Fischer pointed out, there is no way to “prove” we have libertarian free will, but we are certainly warranted in believing that we have it.  Libertarian free will is most likely the type of free will you believe in.  I submit it is the only type of free will that it is meaningful to speak of.  It includes you being the sole source of your actions and having the ability of contrary choice.  It is the definition of free will in which you actually determine your actions and have the ability to do one thing or another.  You are a rational and moral agent, and such agency entails an individuated will by which you are the originator of your own thoughts, desires and actions.  It is the way we experience reality, and until we have a sufficient defeater of our experience of libertarian free will we are justified in believing that it is true.  The Calvinist can also adopt a definition of free will that attempts to avoid the only other option open to them which is to declare the matter a “mystery.”  They can be compatibilists.  Compatibilism maintains that you are free as long as you have the ability to act upon your internal beliefs, desires, thoughts, etc.  To do so is to act freely.  The hitch is that it is God who determines your internal beliefs, desires, thoughts, etc. 

[15] Here we must raise the question as to whether on Calvinist determinism a person is reasoning.  If a person’s thoughts are predetermined by God, then it is God who is doing the thinking through a “person” and not the person themselves.  On Calvinism are we reasoning or merely parroting the thoughts of God? See C. S. Lewis, Miracles, (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 12-33. See also C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), chps, “De Futilitate” and “The Funeral of a Great Myth.”

[16]  J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 21.

Yet of course several questions persist.  Is this problem of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction really “an antinomy” as Packer claims?  Why is it not possible that this “antinomy” is rather an indication of an error in his interpretations?  Can we determine if it is a real contradiction or only an “apparent” contradiction?  How so?  What is an “apparent” contradiction?  Is there such a thing?  What determines that it is not a real contradiction if that is the way it presents itself to us?  If it turns out to be a real contradiction, what are the implications for our interpretative methodology and the Reformed doctrines?  These questions Packer does not address.  He simply assumes his interpretation to be accurate and therefore he dismisses the problems it generates.  But our concern is with coherence and contradiction as indicators of whether or not the Calvinist interpretations are correct.  So Packer is merely begging the question.

[17] Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 31-33.

[18] Terence Fretheim, Genesis,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 356.

[19] E. H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 105-106.

[20] There are lots of linguistic gymnastics used to explain the nature of God’s ordaining the damnation of the reprobate.  Some Calvinists would prefer to say God merely “passes over” the reprobate – he does not actively choose their damnation.  But this is a distinction with no difference, a euphemism.  Regardless of how it is couched, Calvinism must affirm that every single person in hell is there because God rendered it certain they would be there. See Eric Hankins, “Romans 9 and the Calvinist Doctrine of Reprobation”, Last accessed 1/14/2020.

[21] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Library of Christian Classics vols. 20-21, ed. John T. McNeill, trans, Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 3.24.17 (985).  Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees in General and Election in Particular” in ed. Edward Hickman, The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume II, (Carlisle, PN: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 525-43.  Piper, The Pleasures of God, 313-40.  For a great discussion on how Calvinism logically necessitates double predestination see Roger Olson, Against Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 104-5.

[22] Rev. 21:4.

[23] Or in philosophical terms, God’s goodness must not be univocal, but neither can it be equivocal.  It must be analogical.

[24] Fischer’s next sentence is, “And pardon the pun, but if that is good, what the hell is bad?”  I think Fischer would have been better off to not engage is such rhetoric.  One may think it drives home his point, but I suspect it risks turning off some readers.  Nevertheless, I would encourage everyone to ponder the substance of Fischer’s arguments and “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

[25] Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, trans, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, (Revell, 1957), p. 217.

[26] But I would disagree somewhat with Fischer here when he says we can “lob logic back and forth” and presumably get nowhere.  Rather, it is mere proof-texting that gets us nowhere.  We certainly should get somewhere when we “lob logic back and forth.”  Logic doesn’t change with the user or in relation to the different texts than need to be considered.  Only if one or the other or both of the parties jettisons logic do we “get nowhere.”  Therefore, I agree with DeYoung’s critique that Fischer could have phrased his points more clearly, but that does not affect the substance of his arguments.  That substance is what needs to be addressed by the Calvinist.

[27] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 37-39.

[28] Greg Boyd contributes fine points to consider but I would disagree with his open theism.

[29] Gregory Boyd, Is God to Blame?  Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 35.

[30] Note that a “rigorous exegesis” of a text is no guarantee that one has provided an accurate interpretation of the text.  There is good exegesis and bad exegesis.  The point being that good exegesis requires attention to the context such that one’s interpretation of a text in one place is coherent with one’s interpretation of the text in another place.  My point is that Calvinism ultimately fails on this matter of interpretive coherence.  It therefore fails regarding one of the most fundamental principles of hermeneutics – context. The principle of context just is a synonym for the principle of coherence.

[31]  J. I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 21.

Yet of course several questions persist.  Is this problem of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction really “an antinomy” as Packer claims?  Why is it not possible that this “antinomy” is rather an indication of an error in his interpretations?  Can we determine if it is a real contradiction or only an “apparent” contradiction?  How so?  What is an “apparent” contradiction?  Is there such a thing?  What determines that it is not a real contradiction if that is the way it presents itself to us?  If it turns out to be a real contradiction, what are the implications for our interpretative methodology and the Reformed doctrines?  These questions Packer does not address.  He simply assumes his interpretation to be accurate and therefore he dismisses the problems it generates.  But our concern is whether or not the Calvinist interpretations are correct.  So Packer is merely begging the question.

[32] Paul Helm, The Providence of God, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 65

[33] I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv.  (from C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chap. III.)

[34] “For a wonderful explanation of this see Mark Talbot, “All the Good That Is Ours in Christ”, in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 31-77.”

[35] Thus we have the Calvinist ultimately embracing one of the false horns of the Euthyphro dilemma – something is good because God wills it, as opposed to the other horn which is God wills it because it is good.  But this is a false dilemma.  Neither horn is correct.  The Christian defense against the atheist’s protest that morality is either arbitrary as rooted merely in what God wills, or, that the “good” stands apart from God and is therefore greater than God, is that something is good because it accords with God’s nature as good and that good is expressed in his will.  So the “good” is neither merely what God wills which would be arbitrary (i.e., if God willed us to murder little children then it would be right and our moral duty to do so), nor is the “good” outside of God as something to which he refers to know what is good and command it.  Rather, the good is grounded in the character of God and from that character the good is defined and commanded.  The character and nature of God then become our definition of moral values and duties.  The Calvinist position rests on the first horn of the dilemma and as such is impaled there.  The first horn of the dilemma does make God out to be arbitrary.  It cannot be plausibly held to be good to create people for the very purpose of consigning them to an eternity in hell simply on the basis that God willed it to be so.   Something is not good merely because God wills it.  Something is good because it is a reflection of the good and loving character of God.

[36] DeYoung’s terms are confusing here.  He is mixing a spatial term with a non-spatial term.  Is God the “remote” cause in the sense of primary or ultimate cause?  Yet, is he not the “primary” cause of things and agents that produce “secondary” causes?  I take it that he means to say God is the “remote” cause and that other causes of events and things are “primary,” meaning that they are the causes immediately prior to the events or actions.  For example, I am the primary cause of the typing of these sentences.  God is the remote cause of the typing of these sentences.  On Calvinism I was determined by God to type these sentences.  Fischer would have us think about the theological, logical, and moral ramifications of that view.  What say you?

[37] Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77.  As found in Leighton Flowers, The Potter’s Promise: A Biblical Defense of Traditional Soteriology (Trinity Academic Press, 2017), 77.

[38] It would be like me thinking I would be making a substantive argument against Fischer by pointing out his use of the word “option” when he says, “But I believe we best say yes to God’s glory and sovereignty by saying no to Calvinism.  I believe that I – along with many others, past and present – have found an even better option.” (p. 2.)  The use of the word “option” here is wrong-headed because it suggests that there are alternatives to the true, biblical gospel – as if we can “pick and choose” one or the other and either is just fine.  I would not have expressed the point that way.  But a charitable reading seeks to focus on the substance of the point, not the less than perfect way it may have been expressed.  Fischer’s point is that he had become convinced that the biblical view of the gospel was not to be found in Calvinism.

[39] You have to be clued into the Calvinist’s redefining of terms to understand what DeYoung means here that would make the statements, at least for him, somewhat coherent.  Whether he succeeds of not is another issue.  Calvinists and non-Calvinist have the same dictionary, but use different definitions!  By “voluntary” DeYoung means “what a person desires to do.”  But then the Calvinist will insist that it is God who determines those desires.  Does that sound like “the role of human agency in actually and voluntarily performing the ordained action?”  It is an attempt by verbal obfuscation to make us believe the two are compatible.  But we can see through it for the verbal nonsense that it is. 

[40] I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv.  (from C. S. Lewis, Miracles, chap. III.)

[41] Perhaps another way to think about this is to ask whether God can make a world as described by the Calvinist, that is, a world in which theistic determinism and genuine libertarian free will exist. But if these are in real contradiction and God cannot violate his nature or logic (i.e., he cannot lie, make square circles, or make 2+2=5), then God cannot make a world as is depicted by Calvinism.  If theistic determinism and libertarian free will are logically contradictory (i.e., one person cannot predetermine and therefore cause another person to freely do what they do) and God cannot violate his nature or logic by realizing a state of affairs that is inherently contradictory, then this world is not one in which God has predetermined all things and yet humans have free will.  Again, that would be for God to violate his nature and logic, which is something that he cannot do.  Now Calvinists define divine “sovereignty” as theistic determinism.  Hence, if Calvinist sovereignty/theistic determinism and libertarian free will (the only kind that is meaningful) are logically contradictory, and God cannot create a contradictory state of affairs due to his nature, then reality is not as the Calvinist claims it to be.  Dismissing the incoherence as “mystery” or claiming that “God’s ways are beyond our ways” just begs the question, resolves nothing and holds no weight.  As C. S. Lewis put it, “…nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” – C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (Macmillan: New York, 1962), 28.

The problem for the Calvinist is that they do incorporate in their theology the full scope of the nature of God, but rather locate its center merely in his will.  And to make the will of God the ground of your theology without rooting his will in his nature, is to delimit the will of God and make God arbitrary.  Link this deficiency with his power under the rubric of “sovereignty and you have the recipe for determinism.  And any type of determinism, whether naturalistic or theistic, is biblically untenable.  The reprobate exist simply because God willed they exist.  Consideration of the texts that teach us about the nature of divine love and goodness take a back seat to the passages put forth that supposedly teach this distinction between persons on an unconditional basis.  God could will that 2+2 equal 5 and it would be so, just like he can will that one person be eternally saved and another eternally damned simply for no other reason than he willed it to be so.  This is precisely what the Calvinist maintains.  But this is to circumvent God’s nature and reason as the source from which his will flows and I expressed and revealed to us. Recall the Euthyphro dilemma.  Calvinism is impaled on the horn of an arbitrary will.

[42] Follow his argument in his lecture “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” given during the Evangel University Philosophy Guest Lecture Series published on YouTube on Feb. 19, 2013.  You can find it at:   Read the fuller arguments against compatibilism in Jerry L. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist”, Philosophia Christi, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011.

[43] The compatibilist would argue that free will is defined by three things.

  1. A free act is not caused or compelled by anything external to the agent who performs it.
  2. It is, however, caused by something internal to the agent, namely a psychological state of affairs such as a belief, desire or some combination of these two.
  3. The agent performing the act could have done differently if he had wanted to.

               Number 1 addresses being physically forced into an action against your wishes – what Dort described as “coerce a reluctant will by force.”  This would not be a free act.  The libertarian would agree.  Note that the key word here is “external.”

               Number two maintains that acts that spring from your internal psychological states of affairs, such as your beliefs and desires, constitute free acts.  These can be and are formed by factors and experiences external to you, but once you have formed these internal thoughts, beliefs, desires, wishes, etc. you will act according to them – you will do what you desire and want to do and although you cannot act differently you are still acting freely.  The point to grasp is that for the compatibilist, acting according to your beliefs and desires is to act freely, even though you cannot act otherwise.  The key term here is “internal” and the key point is that those internal states of affairs cause your actions which the compatibilist claims that by virtue of being internal they are therefore free will actions.

               Number three states that if you had been caused to have other internal thoughts, beliefs, wishes, and desires then you could have acted differently.  But of course since you do not have other internal beliefs and desires than you actually do have, you cannot act differently.  So this point is stated as a counterfactual.  It is true that if you were to have other beliefs and desires you could act differently than you do, but you can’t act differently because you do not have other beliefs and desires.  You could act differently if you wanted to, but you don’t want to, so you can’t act differently.  So, for the compatibilist, free will is defined as being able to do what you internally desire and want to do.

               So reflecting on the Westminster Confession section X.1 we see how God acts upon those he has “predestined to life.”  He a) enlightens their minds, b) changes their hearts, and c) renews their wills.  In all this he, “by his almighty power,” is “determining” them “to that which is good.”  And yet it is said that “they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”  Those who do good and come to Christ do so freely because they are “made willing by his grace.”  And here we have the essential phrase in this compatibilist view.  “They are made willing…”  This is the definition of “free will” for the compatibilist.  As long as someone is acting out what they will to do, they are acting freely, but what they will to do is predetermined by God.

               See Jerry Wall’s lecture “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” given during the Evangel University Philosophy Guest Lecture Series published on YouTube on Feb. 19, 2013.  You can find it at:

               Read the fuller arguments against compatibilism in Jerry L. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist”, Philosophia Christi, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011.  In the lecture and this article Walls demonstrates how compatibilism contains a contradiction.  In that it is contradictory it is therefore surely false.

[44] Arthur W. Pink falls into a category that Jerry Walls calls “consistent Calvinists.”  They are those who will admit that determinism and free will, understood in libertarian terms, are not compatible.  Pink seems to hold that God cannot determine who will be saved while also describe persons as having free will or as freely accepting a right relationship with God.  But in order to remain an honest Calvinist, that is, to admit that by unconditional election God does not desire the well-being of all persons or desire that all persons be in a saving relationship with him, he must maintain the following,

               “When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of his love, we mean that he loves whom he chooses.  God does not love everybody.”[44] (Italics mine)

               So Pink is, to his credit, a “consistent Calvinist.”  He understands the logic of Calvinism and is willing to “bite the bullet” as to the definition and scope of God’s love.  He does not try to make determinism compatible with human freedom or claim that God loves those he has predestined to eternal damnation.  Walls points out that Pink understands the implications of his Calvinism, and consistent with it concludes that “God does not love everybody.”  To be an honest, consistent Calvinist, Pink is willing to deny that God loves all people.

               This honesty is to be admired.  The problem is that we would need to be shown from Scripture how it is that all those texts that speak of the universal and inclusive love of God and the several theological doctrines – like being made in God’s own image – don’t really mean that God loves every individual sinner.  Very few Calvinists are as forthright as Pink on this matter, probably because they cannot deny the overwhelming biblical evidence to the universal love of God for all persons.  And as Walls notes, we would be shocked if someone taught or preached “God does not love everybody!”  This raises the ethical specter of insincerity due to the moral disconnect between what most Calvinists teach and preach – that God loves everybody – with their underlying theological belief that God predestines a vast number of people to eternal damnation – that God does not love everybody.  A clear contradiction if there ever was one!  Given the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation, it is impossible to define unconditional election as an act of love.  This is a prime example of the incoherence we are talking about here.  And if Calvinists are going to be honest and not disingenuous, they should be as consistent as Pink, unless they want to indict Scripture in a contradiction, which they know they cannot do and that is why they flee to mystery.  One other option they should consider but refuse to do so is that they have misinterpreted the text when they end up at a universal divine causal determinism. 

[45] DeYoung writes, “Fischer objects to Calvinism because it suggests that “the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried is the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he had made sure they would do (p. 46).”  DeYoung claims, “…the sharp disjunction put forward by Fischer could just as easily be constructed out of the Arminian position: “how can the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried be the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he knew they would do when he created them and could have easily prevented?”  The Arminian position doesn’t really gain any theodicy points.” (4) But surely there are substantial differences between “things he made sure they would do” and “things he knew they would do.”  Furthermore, DeYoung just assumes that God “could have easily prevented” the evil things “he knew they would do when he created them.”  Well, not if God decided to create a certain type of world – one with free creatures.

               I think reflection on the issue of possible worlds and worlds that are feasible for God to realize once he decided to create creatures with free will can provide a substantial and satisfactory answer to DeYoung’s retort here.  Once God decided to create this world there are things he could not “have easily prevented.”  Indeed, there are things God decided not to prevent.  That is quite obvious!  This is not for any deficiency in his power or sovereignty, but because, as Fisher has pointed out, God is sovereign over his sovereignty and wants a world in which his human creatures are substantially free.  Even given his foreknowledge (which we maintain does not determine things to occur as they do), he created a world that could not have this much good without having this much evil.  Therefore I do not see DeYoung’s reversal of Fischer’s criticism of Calvinist determinism as at all analogous.  And how does DeYoung’s theistic determinism gain him any “theodicy points” when it is God that wills and causes the sexual molestation of young children.

[46] C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments, (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1936), 174, 175.

[47] Ibid., 172.

[48] Jn. x. 15, xvii. 3.

[49] C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments, (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1936), 158 – 164.

[50] Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), 12.

[51] For a discussion of the paradoxes of God’s omnipotence and the distinction between possible and feasible worlds, see Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith website for his Defenders 3 class lecture, Doctrine of God, part 16.

[52] Austin Fischer, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism, (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014), ix.

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