Chapter 3 – The Calvinist Theological and Soteriological Doctrines


In order not to critique a “straw man,” that is, something that Calvinists would not recognize as their theological and soteriological[1] beliefs, we have to clearly and fairly explain these doctrines.  Only then can we fully grasp the concerns they raise and what is at stake in the doctrinal differences between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Calvinist theological and soteriological doctrines, I provide this brief survey.  Fuller treatments are given in the scholarly literature found in the bibliography, but this summary treatment will suffice to provide the essential information for understanding the problematic nature of Calvinism.  This, in turn, will require that we pursue the question as to whether these types of problems reliably indicate that those doctrines cannot be valid interpretations of Scripture.

A Brief Summary of Calvinist Theology and Soteriology

In Christian history there has been a clash between Calvinist and non-Calvinist theology and soteriology.  At the heart of Calvinism are the doctrines of an eternal divine decree and sovereignty.  Non-Calvinists also affirm these doctrines, but the crucial characteristic for the Calvinist is their universal divine causal determinism.[2].  Non-Calvinists claim that Calvinist determinism stands in direct contradiction to a biblical theology and soteriology which are characterized by contingency, genuine freedom of the will and human responsibility.  But Calvinists also claim their theology and soteriology are what the Bible teaches.  These mutually exclusive positions require us to grapple with how we determine the validity of one’s interpretations.

Although these issues were debated as early as Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) and Pelagius (c. A.D. 360–418), it was the influential reformers John Calvin (1509-1564) and Martin Luther (1483-1546), following in the footsteps of the later Augustine, that established the theology and soteriology we find today in the Calvinistic Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist traditions.  Other non-denominational churches may hold to different versions of Calvinism or “moderate Calvinism” with many pastors and teachers keeping their beliefs private – which in itself raises questions about the nature of these doctrines. Nevertheless, the Calvinistic traditions hold to a theological understanding of an eternal divine decree and sovereignty that are deterministic along with their predestinarian soteriology that follows from this.  But first we need to lay out the Calvinist doctrines of the eternal divine decree and the Calvinist’s unique conception of the sovereignty of God that teach this universal divine causal determinism or theistic determinism.

The strongest and clearest expressions of this theistic determinism are found in the Reformed creeds like the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Heidelburg Catechism (1563), the London Baptist Confession (1689) and the ecclesiastical traditions mentioned above.  I’ll primarily use the Westminster Confession of Faith, a standard of Reformed Calvinist teaching, in our examination.

God’s Eternal Decree and Sovereignty

In this controversy our terms need to be clearly defined.  Words such as “decree,” “sovereign,” “control,” “govern,” “providence,” “faith,” “grace” et al. are defined very differently by Calvinists and non-Calvinists.  The failure to make clear what we mean by these terms is the cause of much confusion.  Dr. David Allen has said Calvinists and non-Calvinists have the same vocabulary but use a different dictionary.  The Calvinist definitions of an “eternal decree” and “sovereignty” as deterministic point out how important it is to define our terms.  So how do Calvinists define the divine “decree” and “sovereignty?”

Let’s begin with the Reformed doctrine of the eternal divine decree.  Chapter 3 of The Westminster Confession, a standard for Calvinist doctrinal beliefs, is titled “Of God’s Eternal Decree.”  Section 1 provides a clear statement of the Reformed position.

“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…”[3]

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, another standard of Reformed Calvinist doctrine, adds the phrase “all things.”  It reads,

“God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;…”[4]

If you are going to properly understand Calvinism and the non-Calvinist’s critiques of it, it is essential to grasp the import of these words.  The Reformed doctrine of God’s eternal divine decree maintains that before God created the world, all the minutest details of whatever happens – past, present and future – have been predetermined by God’s will alone to occur as they do.  God plans, predetermines, wills and causes all things to occur as they do. For the Calvinist this is what it means for God to be “sovereign.”

It is important to grasp the source, scope and fixity of this Reformed doctrinal teaching.  This decree is the expression of a) God’s will alone, b) it is comprehensive or exhaustive, c) it is unchangeable, and d) it is causal.

First, as to the decree as the expression of God’s will alone, the confession states, “God from all eternity did of his own will ordain whatsoever comes to pass…”  Hence, the “whatsoever comes to pass” is the outworking of God’s will and nothing other than God’s will.  The determinations and decisions of God and their outcomes are not conditioned upon anything or anyone other than God himself.  God does what he does “according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Eph. 1:5)

Secondly, what God’s will has preordained is comprehensive or exhaustive.  It encompasses “whatsoever comes to pass.”  It encompasses “all things.”  The word “whatsoever” and the phrase “all things” are clearly universal in scope.  It means that all things have been predetermined to be and occur as they do by God’s will alone – from the existence and precise motion of every sub-atomic particle to every person’s thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, desires, actions and eternal destiny.

Thirdly, therefore, since “whatsoever comes to pass” has been ordained by God’s will and it is of the nature of a decree, it is unchangeable.  It cannot be altered.

Fourthly, by logical implication, God is the ultimate and efficient cause of all that occurs.  According to Calvinist thinking, if this were not so, what God wills to occur might not occur and therefore he would not be sovereign. 

All Calvinists affirm this understanding of their doctrine of the eternal divine decree and God’s sovereignty. For instance, Calvinist Edwin H. Palmer states,

“Nothing in this world happens by chance.  God is in back of everything.  He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen.  He is not sitting on the sidelines wondering and perhaps fearing what is going to happen next.  No, he has foreordained everything “after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sin.”[5]

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.”[6]

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.”[7]

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.” [8]

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.”[9]

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.”[10]

We must also note that God’s foreknowledge is based upon his comprehensive decree.  It is because God decreed everything that will occur that he foreknows everything that will occur.  What God has decreed is not based upon his foreknowledge of the free actions of his creatures.  The Westminster Confession states,

“2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[11]

God foreknows all things because God has predetermined all things.  He knows what will happen in all circumstances because he has predetermined them to happen that way.  Therefore all things will happen as God has predetermined, and that is why he has foreknowledge of what is to occur.  As such, his foreknowledge cannot be mistaken.  The actions of all creatures, being encompassed in “whatsoever comes to pass,” are decreed to occur as they do and therefore are foreknown by God.  Martin Luther states this clearly when he writes,

“It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will…Do you suppose that He does not will what He foreknows, or that He does not foreknow what he wills?  If He wills what he foreknows, His will is eternal and changeless, because His nature is so.  From which it follows, by resistless logic, that all we do, however it may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, is in reality done necessarily and immutably in respect to God’s will.  For the will of God is effective and cannot be impeded, since power belongs to God’s nature; and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived.  Since, then His will is not impeded, what is done cannot but be done where, when, how, as far as, and by whom, he foresees and wills.” [12]

Therefore, on Calvinism, it is not that God can remain sovereign over his creation despite endowing his human creatures with substantial free will, or that he is sovereign on the basis of his foreknowledge of what men would freely do.  The Calvinist maintains that God predetermined and causes all things to happen as they do.  God determines every thought, desire, belief and action of every person all the time.  This includes all evil actions.  According to the Calvinist, if this were not so, it would make God subject to something outside himself, that is, some contingency or the will of his creatures.  And therefore, if God has not predetermined all things, God would not be sovereign. 

Hence, “whatsoever comes to pass” has been, is being, and will be brought about according to what God alone has willed by an eternal decree through the exercise of his sovereign power.  And again, by logical implication, this means that God is the sole causal agent regarding all that happens, both good and evil.

It is imperative that we fully grasp what is being taught here, along with its logical and moral implications.  Calvinism is a universal divine causal determinism.  The question we will have to answer is whether a proper interpretation of Scripture supports this theistic determinism.  That will require us to think through what constitutes a proper interpretation of Scripture on these matters.  This will take us into the discipline of hermeneutics, that is, and examination of those established principles by which we can determine the validity of one’s proposed interpretations.  I will ask the hermeneutical questions of Calvinism to see if their interpretations can be considered valid or whether they show themselves to be misinterpretations of the relevant texts.

First, let’s briefly examine the soteriological implications of the Calvinist’s theistic determinism and then the full complement of doctrines known by the acrostic TULIP.

Predestination, Unconditional Election and Effectual Calling

On Calvinism, the doctrine of unconditional election or predestination refers to the working out of God’s absolute decree and sovereignty as it applies to every individual’s eternal destiny.  These doctrines entail that every person’s eternal destiny has been predestined by God alone.  Some are predestined to everlasting life and others to everlasting death.  The Westminster Confession reads,

“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.”[13]

Calvin 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.”[14]

John MacArthur, an influential Reformed Calvinist pastor and 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…”[15]

According to Calvinism, the term “the elect” or “chosen” refers to those particular persons God has predestined to everlasting life.  Those particular persons he has foreordained to everlasting death are called “the reprobate.”

 The salvation of the elect is realized by an “effectual call” or “irresistible grace” that God works in them.  In section X of the Westminster Confession titled “On Effectual Calling” we read,

“1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”[16]

“2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man; who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.”[17]

Hence, there are absolutely no “conditions” or “causes” or anything “in the creature” – not even the exercise of “faith” as an act or response that springs from the individual’s will or decision in and of themselves – by which one can become one of those “chosen in Christ” and have “everlasting life.”  The elect individual is “altogether passive therein” and at some point receives an “effectual call” which “is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man…”

            The confession continues,

“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.”[18]

“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.”[19]

Here the confession consistently carries through with the implications of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  Since the decree is all-encompassing it also determines the ultimate destiny of all angels as well as all men.  Note that the eternal destinies of these angels and men are fixed.  They are “unchangeably designed” and “can not be either increased or diminished.”  No angel or man can change what God has predetermined to be their eternal destiny.  This is so because one’s eternal destiny rests solely upon what God has willed for that particular individual.  It is based only on the divine eternal decree and sovereign will of God.

It is also important to note that God’s predeterminations are so absolutely comprehensive that all the “means” by which the elect are brought to salvation have also been foreordained by God.  This is logically entailed in the theistic determinism that results from the Calvinist’s doctrines of an eternal decree and the sovereignty of God.  Therefore nothing happens that has not been caused by God.  In the true sense of the word “agency,” God is the sole agent in the universe.  Any “means” or “second causes” by which God accomplishes his predeterminations are of course also encompassed in those predeterminations.  They too are determined by God’s will to occur.  These predeterminations and decisions of God along with their outcomes are not conditioned upon anything or anyone other than God himself.

The confession goes on to state,

“Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[20]

Here is not the place to discuss what are called subjunctive conditionals, that is, what would happen if x were the case.  Suffice it to say here that genuine conditionality is not an option within a universal divine causal determinism.  The authors of the confession seem to acknowledge this when they speak of these as “supposed conditions.”

Furthermore, Calvinists will say that God decides who will be saved and who will not for “reasons taken from within himself.” (Eph. 1:5)  The one’s he has “predestinated to life” he has done so by his “free grace and love.”  God predestines to life “according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will.”  He makes this decision “according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Eph. 1:9)  All this is “to the praise of his glorious grace.”  The confession states,

“5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”[21]

Calvinist Phillip Ryken writes the following about Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6:1-8,

“What Isaiah saw, therefore, was a vision of God’s sovereignty.  The God enthroned in heaven is the God who rules.  From his throne he issues his royal decrees, including his sovereign decree of election, and also executes his plan of salvation, drawing sinners to himself by his efficacious, persevering grace.”[22]

He also states,

“The doctrines of grace teach that, in salvation, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  This is true every step of the way.  Long before we could choose for God, the Father chose us in Christ (unconditional election).  When we were unable to remove our guilt (radical depravity), the Son died for our sins (particular redemption).  When we would not come to God in faith, the Spirit drew us by his efficacious grace and he will keep us in the way of salvation to the very end (perseverance).  The doctrines of grace thus require the sinner to accept God sovereignty in salvation.”[23]

A person’s salvation, therefore, is not conditioned upon anything other than God’s will.  These concepts – predestination, unconditional election and the effectual call or irresistible grace – are therefore the inevitable outworking of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  For the Calvinist, to speak to a sinner about salvation requires that they accept “the doctrines of grace,” that is, to accept “God’s sovereignty in salvation.”  This raises the question of whether Calvinists believe these “doctrines of grace” are the gospel message and whether they actually proclaim them or avoid them in witnessing and evangelism.  More on this later.

Finally, for the Calvinist, predestination and sovereignty are practically synonymous and define what it means for God to be God.  For instance, the popular Calvinist teacher R. C. Sproul writes,

“…if we don’t say that God predestines all things, we don’t have a God at all.   If He is not totally sovereign, He is only a “big man” like Zeus or Baal.”[24]

For the Calvinist, the definition of God requires that he have predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass.”

These are the core deterministic teachings of Calvinist soteriology.  These, along with the “five points” to be delineated below are often referred to by Calvinists as “the doctrines of grace” or more briefly “sovereign grace.”  It’s what they believe with respect to how the world functions.  And it is critically important to understand that it is the full and final explanation as to why and how a sinner becomes saved or remains unsaved.  It is crucial to ponder and grasp this point to understand the substance and reasoning of the critiques brought against Calvinism.

What is to be noted with respect to the thesis I defend here is that these Calvinistic creeds include statements on the divine decree and God’s sovereignty along with a predestinarian soteriology that are in contradiction or inconsistent with their own statements, and those of Scripture, on human freedom and responsibility.  Therefore the matter for our consideration is whether or not this logical and moral incoherence is indicative of flawed interpretations.  I will argue that when interpretations show themselves to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, this is a sure sign of a misinterpretation of the text.

Based in the historical-critical exegetical methodology, along with incorporating philosophical, moral and apologetic insights, I seek to defend what I believe is a more biblically accurate understanding of divine sovereignty and the good news of salvation than is presented in Calvinism.  I submit that the Calvinist theology of an eternal divine decree and sovereignty sets up a universal divine causal determinism that is at odds with the biblical witness to contingency and human freedom.  The Calvinist’s soteriological “doctrines of grace,” which many Calvinists equate with “the gospel,” follow in due course from this determinism.  This theistic determinism is highly problematic exegetically, theologically, hermeneutically, philosophically and morally.  The doctrines of an eternal divine decree and sovereignty also undermine key Christian apologetic arguments.  Let us now examine the typical expression of the Calvinist soteriological doctrines.

The Calvinist’s TULIP Soteriology

In contrast to the theistic determinism of Calvin’s doctrines of the eternal decree, sovereignty, predestination and unconditional election, the Dutch pastor and theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) argued for human freedom of the will and personal responsibility, God’s loving character and the universal salvific will of God, that is, that God desires that all people be saved.[25]  Hence the debate is commonly referred to as the Calvinist / Arminian debate.

John Calvin, the 16th century Reformer, was perhaps the most influential theologian to promote the soteriological doctrines at issue here.  Many theologians at the time of the Protestant Reformation, including Martin Luther, embraced this doctrinal system which today Calvinists label “the doctrines of grace” or “sovereign grace.”  Those individuals and churches holding these doctrines are described as “Calvinistic” or “Reformed.”  These Calvinist soteriological doctrines have been summarized in the acrostic – TULIP.  Although many Calvinists nuance these doctrines as they believe the Bible warrants (e.g., several deny the “L” of limited atonement), nevertheless these are the doctrines Calvinists believe the Bible teaches.  This acrostic is a helpful starting point for learning about Calvinist soteriology.

The “T” stands for the “total depravity” or “total inability” of man.  Calvinists maintain that as fallen sinners no one is able to respond positively to God in any way.  Since man is totally depraved and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), he neither “seeks God” nor can he respond to God without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  This includes the inability to believe or exercise faith in Christ as presented in the gospel.  According to “total inability” no one can exercise faith in God or Christ for salvation.  God must give the sinner the gifts of regeneration and faith. 

Given the fact of “total inability” it is therefore only through an “unconditional election” (the “U” in TULIP), that a person experiences this work of the Spirit that produces true repentance and faith.  Unconditional election means that God alone has chosen whom he will save and not save.  God alone decides who will receive salvation.  This divine decision to save the elect as opposed to the non-elect is not based upon any conditions outside God’s own will.  Therefore, those who are among the elect and those who are among the reprobate (the non-elect) remain unknown to us.[26]  One is either chosen by God to receive salvation as having already been predestined to eternal life, or one is not chosen by God to receive salvation as having already been predestined for eternal death.  The reprobate are “passed over” by God and left in their sin.  God’s decision of who will and will not be saved was made from before the creation of the world[27] and is uninfluenced by anything or anyone.  The individual sinner is “altogether passive therein.”[28]  Ultimately, nothing and no one, including yourself, has anything to do with your eternal destiny.  God saves or damns for reasons taken from within himself.  The reasons why God chooses one person and not another are unknown to us except to say it is “according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” (Eph. 1:5-6)  The Calvinist claims this choice is “by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will”[29] and “for the manifestation of his glory.”[30]  But as to reasons other than “to the praise of his glorious grace,” why God has decided to predestine a particular sinner to salvation over another is a mystery inaccessible to us.  The number of the elect, and therefore also the non-elect, is limited and eternally fixed.  It cannot be changed.  Therefore, the death of Christ is also limited in that it applies only to those God has predestined to save.

Thus the “L” in TULIP stands for “limited atonement.” Christ did not die for every sinner, but only for the elect.[31]  Christ’s death is efficacious only for them, that is, it unfailingly accomplishes its intended purpose which is the salvation of the elect.  The rationale behind a limited atonement is that if Christ died for all, then all sinners would be saved.  This would result in universalism.  In that God’s decree to save his elect is unfailing, he therefore works irresistibly by his Spirit to bring about salvation only in those he chose to save.

Hence the “I” in TULIP stands for “irresistible grace”.  In that the elect must be brought to salvation as God has predetermined, the Spirit therefore works irresistibly in them to regenerate them and give them faith.  The Spirit gives “the gift of faith” only to the elect upon their being regenerated or being “born again” by the Spirit.  God simply passes by the non-elect who justly remain under the condemnation of their sin.  Thus the elect will unfailingly be brought to eternal salvation, will be preserved and will persevere in faith until the end.

Therefore the “P” in TULIP stands for the “perseverance and preservation of the saints.”  God will guarantee that all his elect ones will persevere in faith through all of life’s dangers, troubles and trials, until death.  They will gain their final inheritance and reach their final place of rest in heaven with God.  Their eternal destiny is secure.

These are the Calvinist soteriological doctrines.

A Preliminary Critique of Calvinist Determinism

Above I pointed out that this Calvinist soteriological scheme begins with a certain definition of mankind as “total depravity” or having “total inability.”  Many Calvinists and non-Calvinists see this as the foundation of Calvinist soteriology.  The idea that man cannot respond to God in any way whatsoever dictates the “logic” of the subsequent deterministic doctrines as summarized.  Although I will argue that this idea of “total inability” is not the accurate teaching of Scripture on the nature of man as a sinner or the nature of faith, nor is it consistent with the nature and content of the gospel message, nevertheless, more foundationally and prior to this doctrine stands the Calvinist concepts of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  These take precedence over and give definition to these other “five points of Calvinism.”

Indeed, the Calvinist doctrine of “total inability,” while itself being subject to substantial critique given the Bible’s testimony to the nature of faith and the precise content of the gospel message, only diverts our attention away from the more critical problem generated by the Calvinist doctrines of the eternal decree and divine sovereignty.  That core problem is the universal divine causal determinism inherent in these Reformed Calvinist doctrines.  Indeed, the doctrines of an eternal decree and divine sovereignty defined as a universal divine causal determinism are, despite the efforts of Calvinists to evade this issue, the prior cause for man’s “total depravity” or “total inability.”  God predetermined it to be this way.

Therefore, I submit that Calvinism is a problematic theology and soteriology due to its intrinsic theistic determinism.  The source of the complex issues before us arise from the Calvinist doctrines of an eternal decree and divine sovereignty as defined deterministically.

In my brief description of the Calvinist position above, which I believe is accurate and sufficient for the sake of our discussion, we can already detect perplexing logical and moral incoherencies regarding God’s nature and saving ways with man.  We can already sense the contradiction between divine sovereignty defined deterministically and what we know of human freedom.  We daily make myriads of choices and decisions both large and small which issue in actions right or wrong and good or evil.  And in contrast to God having predetermined what we will think, desire, and do in every detail and thus causing all our thoughts, desires and actions, most of us believe these are rooted in and come from wills that are truly ours and under our control.  This capacity to think, deliberate, decide and act substantially independent from the influence or determinations of another, even God, is what it means to be a person created in the image of God.  This seems to be required for responsibility and culpability to make sense.  This does not entail that God is not sovereign in all things.  It just means that sovereignty is not to be defined as theistic determinism.  Given the Calvinist determinism described above, God is responsible for what people desire and do.  Yet the Calvinist will also state that persons are responsible for what they desire and do and will also be judged by God for their choices and actions.  Calvinists have ways of dealing with these problems that I will examine later.  Suffice it to say here that Calvinism requires that we believe that God is responsible for what people do and people are responsible for what people do.  Hence the contradiction.

Of course, nothing is outside the scope of God’s sovereignty in terms of his ability to rule over and direct the affairs of men and history when and where he chooses to do so.  The biblical witness affirms divine wisdom, omnipotence and omniscience which all play into what it means for God to be sovereign.  Therefore the scope of divine sovereignty is unlimited, but it is not to be understood as the exercise of mere power and will divorced from his other attributes of love, mercy, justice and grace.  The Bible also testifies to the fact that God chooses to be in a real-time-dynamic reciprocal relationship and in responsive involvement with his human creatures who were created with genuine human freedom.  This is no threat to God’s sovereignty or divine freedom.  Sovereignty, if it is to remain coherent with the whole witness of Scripture regarding the divine / human relationship must not be defined as a universal divine causal determinism.  That definition of sovereignty is mistaken precisely because it is incoherent with the overwhelming majority of Scripture. 

These are the types of problems Calvinism raises in thought and practice.  Now the Calvinist will claim that Scripture teaches the Calvinist doctrines.  Therefore, not only do we need to provide alternative interpretations of the relevant texts, we need to grapple with whether or not interpretations that lead to incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions could ever be valid interpretations.  We should not think that proposing inconsistent and contradictory interpretations of Scripture is unimportant.  We need to know whether such interpretive results disqualify those interpretations as correct.  And that is a hermeneutical issue.[32]  It requires us to look into what makes for sound principles of interpretation.  The significance at the hermeneutical level of the logical and moral incoherence of Calvinism is what we seek to examine.  Are these problems a violation of an indispensable hermeneutical principle and therefore speak to the validity, or invalidity as the case may be, of the interpretations?

I contend that the Calvinist interpretations lead us into a divine determinism that is incoherent with the biblical testimony of a real-time-dynamic[33] contingency which includes real human freedom, possibility, potentiality, moral responsibility and culpability.  It is the fact that Calvinism is incoherent with these realities that makes it implausible.  It is my contention that theological or soteriological propositions or interpretations that violate the law of non-contradiction or other laws of logic, landing us in logical or moral incoherence, inconsistency or contradiction must be false.  Coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are necessary elements in a sound hermeneutic.  The Calvinist interpretations therefore lack hermeneutical justification and therefore do not warrant our belief.  Hence they are to be rejected as valid interpretations of Scripture.

An essential concern in this discussion has to do with defining the nature of God and the possibilities and impossibilities that follow.  Some things are impossible, even for God.  God cannot lie.  God cannot do evil.  God cannot make a square circle or have 2 + 2 = 5.   God cannot change his divine nature.  God is love.  God is good.  God is just.  God is merciful.  God is gracious.  God is compassionate.  And for these to be meaningful, what we perceive as loving, good, just, merciful, gracious and compassionate, must be an accurate reflection of these qualities in God.  What we know of these qualities cannot be reversed when applied to God, as if God can be love in a way that certainly would be for us the opposite of love, or just in a way that certainly would be unjust to us, and good in a way that for us is simply not good.  If this were the case, if God’s love, justice, and goodness were so different from our perceptions of them we would not know what God is truly like.  We need to know what these things mean and the only way we know this is when our conceptions of these are substantively the same as God’s.  We know what love is because we know what it is for God to love.  The same goes for justice and goodness.  This is not to pattern God after our own image but to acknowledge the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei, that is, that we are made in his image. 

What God predetermines and wills is always reflective of some aspect of his nature.  God is a free, intentional, rational being with a will.  What God does, he freely wills to do.  He makes choices and decisions of his own free will.  I submit that when God determined to create creatures in his own image it was a free decision and reflective of his own nature.  Therefore, his human creatures must have been bestowed with individual wills that remain substantially and meaningfully free of his own will.  We have the capacity to will freely, that is, to think and decide to act of our own accord.  This bestowed freedom does not threaten the sovereignty of God or diminish the accomplishment of God’s ultimate purposes for mankind and the world.  The reasons for this are at least twofold.

First, God is a personal being and therefore his will is accomplished similar to the way we, as personal beings, accomplish the things that we desire to see realized when they involve other people with other wills.  That is, we accomplish our will primarily through personal interactions and persuasion.  And many times we do not and cannot make the other person think and act as we would like.  Similarly, God is a personal God and we are personal beings.  Therefore, God works with those who are willing to listen to him, submit to him and live according to his will.  By his Spirit he personally interacts with the willing and humble and accomplishes his purposes in and through them.  They become a force for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10).  This is one way his purposes are accomplished.  But this of course also means that what he desires to see realized in many respects does not come about.  Generally speaking he does not cause people to be and do what they do.  This is obviously true unless we are willing to make God the author and cause of all the evils of this world, which is entailed in the Calvinist’s deterministic worldview.  And it must be quickly added that as much as God accomplishes his will through those willing to hear and obey him, his sovereignty also entails his ability to accomplish his plans and purposes through those who are not willing to hear, obey and submit to him.  Both types of persons and any and all types of responses and situations remain within the confines of the wisdom and power of God to be employed to accomplish his purposes, or left alone (“given up” – Rom. 1) for future judgement.

This leads us to the second way God accomplishes his purposes.  This involves the exercise of his uncontestable authority, or sovereignty.  Divine sovereignty implies a sovereign or king who reigns over a kingdom with absolute authority.  But this does not necessarily entail determinism.  In fact, divine kingship involves God’s final eschatological conquering of evil and unbelieving evildoers.  There will be a day of reckoning that involves God exercising his sovereign power and authority by force against those who declared themselves enemies of his kingdom purposes and his people by rejecting the eschatological intervention that has already occurred in Christ bringing salvation to all (Ex. 15:12; 23:22; Ps. 7:6; 37:20; 68:21; 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 10:26-31; Rev. 6:2; 11:15-19).  It makes no sense for God to finally judge people for the evil deeds he predetermined and caused them to commit. Rather, they should have bowed the knee to the King and become part of the kingdom of God that was among them, but they would not (Phil. 2:9:11).  Indeed, the biblical themes of kingship and eschatological judgment presuppose substantial, genuine human freedom.  It is incoherent for God to predetermine and cause the performance of the evil deeds and rejection of his saving grace and yet one day judge those people for what he predetermined them to be and do.  Neither is God’s ultimate authority and judgment inconsistent with free will, but rather is the just result of a person’s free decision to reject the divine revelation of God in nature and conscience (Rom 1) and his saving grace in Christ (Jn. 1:1-18).  God’s first intervention in this world offers grace and salvation.  At his second intervention – the return of Christ – God will simply overcome the deeds of evildoers and unbelievers and give them what they ultimately willed for themselves, that is, to be left outside his saving grace and assigned eternal separation from God. 

These two dynamic aspects of the biblical witness are incoherent with Calvinist theistic determinism.  When the Bible is read and interpreted from within a hermeneutic of coherence, consistency and non-contradiction, it is obvious that God has not predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass.”  Biblical sovereignty need not entail what is expressed in the Westminster Confession, that “God from eternity past has ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”  By rejecting this proposition we do not limit God’s sovereignty, will, freedom or glory rather, we affirm non-determinism as the more accurate understanding of his Word, the world as he himself sovereignly determined it to be, while also refusing to impugn God’s character by making him the author and doer of all evil thoughts and deeds – something that is abhorrent to think about God but is entailed by Calvinist determinism. Such a theology fails to glorify God.

If exegesis needs to be logically and morally coherent, the Calvinist interpretation of “sovereignty” as a comprehensive theistic determinism shows itself to be based in a flawed exegesis.  If the Bible presents no theistic determinism there need be no logical or moral incoherence or contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  Calvinist determinism is unsustainable exegetically because it sets up a contradiction between God’s sovereignty and what the Bible everywhere testifies to as genuine human freedom and responsibility.

There are responsible, sound exegetical alternatives to the Calvinist’s exegesis that do not lead to logical and moral incoherence.  The Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy has been created by the Calvinist interpretation of “sovereignty” as a universal divine causal determinism while also positioning it as the ultimate touchstone of theological orthodoxy.  This has serious ramifications for soteriology, the gospel and practical ministry.

I contend that due to the many logical and moral contradictions and incoherencies generated when divine sovereignty is rendered as a universal divine causal determinism, such an interpretation cannot be the result of a thorough and accurate exegesis of Scripture.  When one incorporates in their hermeneutic logical and philosophical reflection and moral intuition, then the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism cannot be a proper interpretation of Scripture.  Rather, divine sovereignty refers to God’s prerogative to determine the events of history and our personal lives when and where he deems it necessary to do so to accomplish his plans and purposes.  Hence, human freedom of the will is not absolute, but nevertheless it is genuine and substantial because divine determinations are not exhaustively comprehensive.  Divine sovereignty therefore allows for and includes the bestowal of substantial freedom of the will upon human beings.  This is God’s prerogative as the sovereign Creator.  It is precisely because God is sovereign that he may decide to create beings made in his image and therefore with substantial freedom.  He has nothing to fear from human freedom.  That’s what it means to be sovereign.  A. W. Tozer puts it this way,

“Another real problem created by the doctrine of the divine sovereignty has to do with the will of man.  If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice?  And if he cannot exercise freedom of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct?  Is he not a mere puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the strings as it pleases Him?

The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly into two camps that have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin.  Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man.  It appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing violence to either, although the effort that follows may prove deficient to partisans of one camp or the other.

Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it.  If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign.  A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures.  He would be afraid to do so.”[34]

Tozer states that “freedom and sovereignty do not contradict each other.”[35]  This is so because Tozer does not define sovereignty as theistic determinism.

Note that Tozer turns-the-tables on the Calvinist’s understanding and definition of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism.  Tozer contends that God, being absolutely free to do what he wills, within the constraints of his nature of course, is free to give man limited freedom.  And that is what we would expect from a God who is loving, good and sovereign.  In fact, “man’s will is free because God is sovereign.”  Tozer emphasizes that “A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures.  He would be afraid to do so.”   So according to Tozer, God’s sovereignty can handle the free will he has given to his human creatures.  In fact, it is because God is sovereign that he can grant such freedom.

Tozer also places back upon the Calvinist their response to non-Calvinist complaints about the problematic nature of Calvinist sovereignty as theistic determinism.  Calvinists will usually quote Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God.”  Tozer would simply respond to Calvinist’s who object to a God that grants genuine freedom to his creatures “Who are you to stay his hand or say “What doest thou?””  Isn’t God free to bestow genuine freedom upon his human creatures?  If not, why not?  Would such freedom really threaten the sovereignty of God?  How so?  It seems that Calvinism is based on an irrational fear that somehow God would lose his sovereign status if he were to create man with genuine, meaningful freedom.

Tozer says that “God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began.”  Calvinists will point to text in which God has sovereignly predetermined what is to occur. This is God’s prerogative. But their mistake is to take these unique examples as the divine norm and extrapolate that God works that way in “all things.” But for God to predestine a particular event does not require an exhaustive determinism.  After describing the broad outline of God’s purposes Tozer states,

“Toward all this God is moving with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of action.  No one can dissuade Him from His purposes; nothing turn him aside from his plans.  Since he is omniscient, there can be no unforeseen circumstances, no accidents.  As He is sovereign, there can be no countermanded orders, no breakdown in authority; and as He is omnipotent, there can be no want of power to achieve His chosen ends.  God is sufficient unto Himself for all these things.

In the meanwhile things are not as smooth as this quick outline might suggest.  The mystery of iniquity doth already work.  Within the broad field of God’s sovereign, permissive will the deadly conflict of good with evil continues with increasing fury.  God will yet have his way in the whirlwind and the storm, but the storm and the whirlwind are here, and as responsible beings we must make our choice in the present moral situation.

Certain things have been decreed by the free determination of God, and one of these is the law of choice and consequences.  God has decreed that all who willingly commit themselves to His Son Jesus Christ in the obedience of faith shall receive eternal life and become sons of God.  He has also decreed that all who love darkness and continue in rebellion against the high authority of heaven shall remain in a state of spiritual alienation and suffer eternal death at last.

…There is freedom to choose which side we shall be on but no freedom to negotiate the results of the choice once it is made.”[36]

God has not predetermined the “obedience of faith” for certain unconditionally elect individuals and the “love of darkness,” “rebellion,” “spiritual alienation” and “eternal death” for all others.  No doubt, the Bible teaches that there are special divine predeterminations made as to God’s plans and purposes for the world, especially with regard to salvation history.  God is personal.  Therefore we would expect God to act personally in his world with creatures made in his image.  These divine predeterminations apply in special ways to certain individuals and groups.  These individuals are divinely appointed to certain tasks, as in the case of Jesus himself to be the Christ, our Savior.  The nation of Israel was established by God through the revelation of himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e., Israel) and was therefore “chosen” by God to fulfill certain roles in salvation history.  Israel is spoken of as God’s “chosen people” and yet the group was obviously comprised of individuals with free moral agency.  The Church is also comprised of individuals designated as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” (1 Pet. 2: 9) in that they believe in God and Christ as the way of salvation.  These believers are spoken of in ways corresponding to the Old Testament theological context and language of Israel and salvation history. The relationship God had with Israel, of which Abraham’s faith is paradigmatic, is now applied to Gentiles who believe as Abraham did.  Only now Christ has come and New Testament believers live on this side of an unfolding salvation history.  Therefore, these New Testament believers – both Jew and Gentile – are now among “the elect” by virtue of being “in Christ” by faith; a faith like that of Abraham, exercised freely upon hearing the gospel message.  These believers, spoken of in language reminiscent of Israel’s status in the Old Testament, were once “not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Pet. 2:10)  Sinners are among “the elect” because they believe in Christ who is the Chosen One, that is, as they “come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…” (1 Pet. 2:4)

The point is that the Scripture testifies to the fact that divine sovereignty cannot mean that God predetermined the minutest details of all human thought and action along with each person’s eternal destiny so as to land us in an inevitable theistic determinism.  This is not the biblical meaning of “election” or “predestination.”  We know this by virtue of the logical and moral incoherence of the Calvinist interpretations.  An objective, rational and moral assessment of Scripture and human history, from the past to the present, makes it evident that theistic determinism is false..  Rather than looking through the lens of theistic determinism, we can see rather that God’s purposes are realized through his divine actions in relation to submissive and cooperative persons as well as through indifferent or hostile persons.  All that occurs is not decreed to happen as it does by the will of God and therefore caused by God, for this would logically indict God as the author and doer of evil.  Rather, certain actions and events occur by the free decisions of human beings, especially evil doings.  But God is still sovereign.  He is able to incorporate what he sees fit into his ultimate plans and purposes for the world and mankind by either his direct intervention and spiritual activity and influence, or his final judgment.  But the believer has this promise – that God works all things for the good for those who love him. Those who love him are those who put their faith in God and Christ as savior.  Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, NIV)  Those “called according to his purpose” refers to those who have heard the gospel, believed and have received eternal life, all as a result of God’s purpose to save mankind in Christ.  It has been God’s purpose to save sinners by sending Christ to die and bring this good news to all.  “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.” (Rom. 11:32)

In addition, God will also bring about a final conquering of all his enemies.  All things are not good, and God is not responsible for evil acts.  Therefore God has not ordained “whatsoever comes to pass” as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  This is evident in that at Christ’s second coming, he will judge, punish and rectify evil and injustice.  Again, to believe that God predetermined and is the ultimate cause of the evil he will one day judge, punish and rectify would be incoherent.  It impugns the character of God.

The point to note is that divine sovereignty, election, predestination and foreknowledge do not require theistic determinism.  The many biblical theological themes and historical accounts affirm substantial human freedom of the will.  Therefore, God’s sovereignty, biblically defined, should be understood as God’s personal and authoritative involvement in human affairs and his creation.  The scope of divine providence certainly extends to the minutest details regarding his care and concern for his creatures, especially believers.  But divine providence is not divine determinism.  Providence includes God’s ability to intervene in the affairs of this world and on behalf of believers as he wills.  This certainly is the biblical testimony regarding divine sovereignty and providence.  But this sovereignty and providence does not entail the universal divine causal determinism of Calvinism.  Indeed, it cannot.  For again, that would make the Scripture incoherent and contradictory with itself.  God’s sovereignty or providence should not be defined as or confused with the worldview of determinism.

Conclusions

We have seen that the Calvinist’s interpretation of the eternal divine decree and God’s sovereignty amounts to a universal divine causal determinism.  Hopefully you may have begun to grasp the negative logical and moral implications of this theistic determinism.  In a world that is predetermined by God down to the minutest details, which includes everyone’s thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions, what happens to human freedom, decision-making and choices?  What happens to personal moral responsibility, culpability, justice and judgment?  And what do we do with the fact that everyone’s eternal destiny is already decided unilaterally by God himself and has absolutely nothing to do with you, me or anyone else?  Furthermore, who are among the elect and who are among the non-elect remains unknown to us.  The Calvinist will respond that regardless of these problematic implications, we just need to accept these Calvinist tenets because the Bible teaches them.

But how do we know the Bible teaches them especially when they do not square with the fact that the Bible overwhelmingly testifies to a contingent reality and human responsibility?  How do we know this is what the Bible teaches when theistic determinism wreaks logical and moral havoc with other things that same Bible teaches, especially regarding the definition of the gospel as “good news,” the nature of faith and God’s character as loving and just? You may also be asking if God is the sole agent and cause of everything that occurs, doesn’t that make him the source and doer of all evil?  If not, why not? Moreover, if you cannot know that God loves you, desires that you be saved and has provided for your salvation, how does that influence your relationship to God and the meaning and purpose of life?  These questions need answers. Calvinists need to answer them. We will deal with them in due course.

            Having reviewed the Reformed Calvinist doctrines, we can conclude that Calvinism amounts to a theistic determinism.  That theistic determinism, by virtue of being a determinism, has certain logical and moral entailments.  I will now provide an enumeration of these doctrines with their logical and moral entailments.


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[1] Soteriology is the study of the biblical doctrine of salvation.  How one defines the content of the gospel and what should consistently be communicated in the proclamation of that gospel is entailed by their soteriology.

[2] This is William Lane Craig’s description of Calvinist determinism.  Craig’s phrase correctly emphasizes the universality and divine causality inherent in Calvinist’s definition of divine sovereignty.  Dr. Leighton Flowers uses the term “meticulous divine determinism.”  I will use these phrases along with the shorter phrase “theistic determinism” interchangeably.  They all should be understood to include these universal and causal elements.  I think they are all encompassed in the concept of determinism.  We can distinguish naturalistic determinism from theistic determinism, but it is the determinism per se that causes insurmountable logical and moral problems for both naturalism and Calvinist theism. See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  Last accessed Aug. 24, 2018.

               Here Craig offers a five-fold philosophical critique of Calvinism.  I will defend the idea that although this critique does not involve an alternative biblical exegesis to counter the Calvinist’s exegesis of the relevant texts, it nevertheless provides, due to the nature of reason as reliable for discerning truth from error, a sufficient defeater of Calvinism.  Even one’s exegesis must exhibit rational coherence.  Exegesis cannot occur in a rational vacuum.  We cannot ignore the cannons of reason and our moral intuitions in doing exegesis, while claiming to have arrived at the correct interpretation of a text.  The process of exegesis and one’s exegetical findings need to be justified as valid interpretations of the text.  The establishment of the validity of an interpretation must include the ability to withstand a rational, philosophical assessment of those claims.  In other words, the interpretation needs to make sense in light of the full scope of the biblical data that needs to be considered.

[3] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.1, p. 30. (Emphases mine)

[4] The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, https://www.the1689confession.com/1689/chapter-3  Last accessed 2/4/2019.

[5] E. H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009, p. 30. As found in John C. Lennox, Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human Responsibility, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 54.  Lennox footnotes “We should note, however, that the Westminster Confession explicitly states that “God is not the author of sin”; Art. 3, Para. 1.”

[6] 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.

[7] R.C. Sproul, “God’s Decree and Creation.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/gods-decree-and-creation/  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[8]Erwin Lutzer, “The Mysteries of God” Series, Sermon 3, “The Decrees of God.”  Oct. 18, 2015. https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/mysteries-god/decrees-god/#.XD5GEo-WxD8  Last accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

[9] John Piper, “Why Does God’s Sovereignty Make Some Ambitious and Others Apathetic.”  Desiring God Website.  https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-does-god-s-sovereignty-make-some-ambitious-and-others-apathetic  Last accessed Jan. 11, 2018

[10] “Unbelievable” with Justin Brierley – “Does God Predetermine Everything?”  April 26, 2019. https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Does-God-predetermine-everything-Chris-Date-and-Leighton-Flowers-debate-scripture

 (12:09 – 12:47)

[11] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.2, p. 30.

[12] Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, trans, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, (Revell, 1957), 80, 81. (Italics mine)

The irony here is that Luther applies “resistless logic” when speaking about God’s foreknowledge and will but does not apply the same “resistless logic” in contemplating the logical, moral and epistemological problems this understanding creates with other biblical truths and doctrines.  From within his own Reformed presuppositions he applies “resistless logic,” yet he dismisses such logic when it critiques his system in light of other biblical doctrines that create logical incoherence with his Reformed doctrinal system.

[13] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), III.3, p. 32.

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

[15] From the radio broadcast transcript “Answering The Key Questions About The Doctrine of Election”, by John MacArthur.

Found at http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=transcripts&aid=GTY106_T

© 2005-2007. Grace to You. All rights reserved.

[16] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978.), X.1, p.88.

[17] Ibid., X.2, p. 88.

[18] Ibid., III.4, p. 32.

[19] Ibid., III.6, p. 35.

[20] Ibid., III.2, p.30.

[21] Ibid., III.5, p. 33.

[22] Phillip Graham Ryken, What is a True Calvinist? Basics of the Reformed Faith Series, (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing, 2003), 9.

[23] Ibid., 17-18.

[24] R. C. Sproul, “The Doctrine of Reprobation,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-doctrine-of-reprobation/   Last accessed July 9, 2018.

[25] Although presently there are nuanced departures from the basic Arminian soteriology that require new labels like Leighton Flowers’ “Provisionism,” and the resurrection of the “Molinism” of Luis de Molina (1535-1600), the debate has traditionally been describe in broad terms as the Calvinist / Arminian debate.

[26] Calvinists like Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, teach that one can know whether or not one is elect by believing in Christ for salvation, which seems to make unconditional election conditional.  It is to say that salvation is conditioned on the response of faith.  This is not only incoherent with unconditional election, but is precisely the non-Calvinist’s position.  See the examples of Calvinist incoherence in a later chapter.

[27] Calvinists reference Eph. 1:4, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”

 Supralapsarian is the term describing those who maintain that God made the decree of election and predestination before the fall of man.  Infralapsarian is the term given to those who hold the decree was made after the fall.  These distinctions do not impact the more fundamental concern of the fact of the decree and the resultant theistic determinism which I will argue is incompatible with the testimony of Scripture because it makes God the author and cause of the minutest details of all that happens in the world, including the eternal destiny of all persons and all evil thoughts, attitudes and actions.

[28] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), X.2, p. 88.

[29] Ibid., III.1, p. 30.

[30] Ibid, III.3, p. 32.

[31] Calvinist vary on this point.  Some say Jesus died for the non-elect persons, as well as for the elect.  But this difference does nothing to overcome the incoherence and contradictions that result from the determinism of their doctrines of an eternal decree, sovereignty and predestination or unconditional election.  It should be noted that Calvinists are not a monolithic group as to this point and other minor points of their theology and soteriology.  But all Calvinists hold to deterministic definitions of an eternal decree, divine sovereignty and election as unconditional.  This results in what William Lane Craig describes as “universal divine causal determinism” in his five-fold critique of Calvinism.  See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  Last accessed Aug. 24, 2018.

[32] Generally speaking, hermeneutics is the study of how we know we have correctly interpreted a text.  It is the discipline of coming to know the interpretive principles that if followed lead to a correct interpretation of a text.

[33] I use the phrase “real-time-dynamic” to point out what I believe is the flaw, not only in Calvinist determinism – the “flattening out” of all historical reality into the static will of God – but possibly Molinism.  Molinism’s flaw, as I can best understand it, is that it is a “front loaded” pre-creation determinism that removes the “real-time-dynamic” with which God interacts with human beings and human beings interact and respond to God in time.  The Bible presents this personal interaction as genuinely happening in temporal-historical moments, not as the result of God’s determination to create the world with the persons that he foreknew would do certain things if placed in certain circumstances.  I submit that reality is constituted of interactions which involve human decisions that can be otherwise at the very time they are occurring. God does not place us in certain circumstances to achieve what his will has predetermined should occur.  On Molinism,given God’s foreknowledge of all possible worlds and what humans will freely do in them, God chose to create world B instead of A in that in world A the free-will of the humans that exist in that world would bring to pass what God wanted to be brought about.  But do human free decisions occur under what seems to be the “constraint” of God having chosen to create the B world of circumstances in which certain free decisions would occur as opposed to the A world which contained a different set of free decisions?  Did God’s foreknowledge of all possibilities inform his decision, so as to avoid creating a world simpliciter, but to create a world in which free decision makers would bring about divinely willed outcomes in every respect?  Or, does God accomplish his will by his own personal intervention into the world he created containing creatures who act freely?  It may be obvious to Molinists that I need to do much more thinking on this matter!

[34] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961), 117-118.

[35] Ibid., 118.

[36] Ibid., 119.

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