Chapter 5 – The Nature and Scope of the Calvinist Difficulties

The following are succinct statements of many of the major problems with Calvinist theology and soteriology.  They are problems of logical, moral, epistemological,[1] and practical ministerial incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.  They arise from the Calvinist’s interpretations of the biblical doctrines of the eternal divine decree and divine sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism.  This determinism dictates their soteriological doctrines, including predestination or election as unconditional, which are also inevitably deterministic.  As such, and this is my primary concern, these doctrines negate the message of the gospel as “good news.”

So, are incoherent interpretations valid interpretations?  In merely outlining these points I seek to stimulate thought and discussion on the broader theological and hermeneutical issues involved in these matters.  That is how this chapter may be used.

Anyone who has given some thought to Calvinism has run across the problems I delineate here.  Hence they are familiar to many.  I would encourage you not to ignore these problems, but seriously consider that they are signs of the misinterpretation of Scripture.

Many laypeople and theologians are convinced that clear thinking born of philosophical reflection and our moral intuitions should be included in what constitutes a sound biblical hermeneutic.  These are necessary considerations for properly interpreting Scripture.  We believe these need to be incorporated into exegetical claims about the meaning of the disputed texts.  Only then will we achieve a more accurate understanding of the doctrines of sovereignty, election, predestination, faith, grace and the nature of salvation and the biblical definition of the gospel.

I presuppose here a working knowledge of the Calvinist beliefs as to the eternal decree, divine sovereignty and the TULIP soteriology that I provided in Chapter 3.  Although I expand on some of the crucial points below, it is not my intent here to provide complete explanations of these propositions.  Nor do I attempt to provide biblical references or exegetical expositions against Calvinist soteriology or in favor of any non-Calvinist view.  That will be done later, and I would also refer you to the scholarly literature in the annotated bibliography.

Those Calvinists who assert that non-Calvinists merely object to Calvinism on the basis of its logical and moral difficulties are being short-sighted.  As important as these difficulties are – and in and of themselves they can be decisive against Calvinism – non-Calvinists also have full exegetical treatments of the passages that pertain to this controversy (Eph. 1; Rom. 9; Jn. 6; et al.), but they do not interpret them in conflict with the overwhelming witness of Scripture to contingency, freedom of the will and human responsibility.  In contrast, Calvinists give themselves permission to ignore these non-Calvinist interpretations in preference for their deterministic incoherent rendering of these texts.  But it is precisely because they do not feel the need to interpret such passages as coherent with the overwhelming witness of the Scripture to contingency, freedom of the will and human responsibility, which they are also forced to acknowledge, that this controversy exists.  The Calvinist’s deterministic interpretations generate incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction with the balance of Scriptures that speak of contingency, free will and human responsibility, but the Calvinist does not take this incoherence as indicative of misinterpretation of those controversial passages.  These logical and moral difficulties of the Calvinist’s interpretations have no interpretive significance for the Calvinist.  Therefore, as long as coherence, consistency and non-contradiction do not play a significant role in the Calvinists hermeneutic this controversy will continue.  Calvinism remains insulated from the probative force of rational and moral critique and Calvinists remain very introverted in their thinking and teaching.  Therefore, the question to be posed to Calvinists is whether they believe that logical reflection and moral intuitions play an essential role in interpretation, or whether one’s interpretations can exhibit incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction and still be valid interpretations of Scripture.

            It is only by addressing this hermeneutical issue that a consensus can be reached regarding what the Bible actually teaches about God, salvation and the gospel. Calvinists will have to either continue to dismiss the logical and moral problems in their interpretations, or concede that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential to a sound hermeneutic and serve to determine true from false interpretations.

            I submit that the non-Calvinist view incorporates a more adequate hermeneutic, that is, one that takes on board logical, moral, and theological coherence as essential to determining whether a proposed interpretation of the biblical text is valid or not.  This is what Henry Thiessen is referring to by the phrase, “fewer objections,” when he comments on the doctrine of election.  He states that the non-Calvinist position,

        “…has fewer objections than any other, and best commends itself in the light of what we know of the righteousness and holiness of God on the one hand, and of human responsibility on the other.”[2]

In short, for Thiessen, and non-Calvinists in general, coherence is hermeneutically significant.

We should not be under any illusions that this is a “secondary” or “non-essential” issue.  The very gospel as a message of “good news” is at stake in this controversy.  In addition, the sincere and honest proclamation of that gospel, along with a true, meaningful knowledge of the character of God are at stake.  What is at issue is whether we can obtain true and reliable knowledge of the nature and character of God and what his actual disposition and salvific will is towards each of us.  That is, I contend that the character of God along with the biblical gospel message and its effective proclamation are at issue here.  There are two diametrically opposed “gospels” being taught in the “evangelical” church today.  They both cannot be true.

Most people, when they are exposed to Calvinism, go away scratching their heads saying, “That just doesn’t make sense” or “God can’t be like that” or “How can I know for sure that I can be saved?” and “How can I know if I’m one of the elect?”  These are legitimate reactions and questions that should not be suppressed.  What causes them should be brought to light and carefully examined.  In short, I submit that Calvinism asks us to accept interpretive conclusions that are ultimately exegetically and hermeneutically unsustainable precisely because they are unreasonable, that is, incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory.  As such they do not warrant our belief.  My thesis contends that interpretations that generate significant contradictions and incoherencies – like those listed here – are not likely to be accurate interpretations.  In contrast, interpretations that exhibit logical and moral consistency are more likely to be correct.  As non-Calvinists Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell point out,

“While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”[3]

This issue of the necessity of logical consistency is what divides the Calvinist from the non-Calvinist.  Logical and moral consistency are essential for the non-Calvinist.  But this is not so for the Calvinist. This is what I call the hermeneutical divide.

My purpose here is to categorize and lay out in summary the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions generated by theistic determinism so that we get an overview of the nature and scope of the problems inherent in Calvinism.  Below I point out the substantial contradictions and incoherencies that Calvinism generates which force many to conclude that Calvinism is in error.  The thesis presented here is that once we take philosophical reflection (i.e., clarity of thought and the reliability of the laws of logic and logical inference) and moral intuitions on board as essential to a proper hermeneutic, we are provided with good reasons to conclude what the texts cannot mean.  We come to see that the biblical text cannot be teaching what the Calvinist claims with respect to divine sovereignty as theistic determinism and election as unconditional because of the logical, moral, theological, and practical incoherencies and contradictions these conceptions generate.  Granted, coherence is not the only factor to be considered in determining the correct meaning of a text, but it is a necessary factor.  Incoherence is a reliable indicator that tells us what the text cannot mean.

Therefore, if exegetically sound alternative interpretations of the relevant texts exist that are not incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, it is highly likely that they better reflect the true meaning and authorial intent of those texts.  Such interpretations do exist.  Again, I refer you to the annotated bibliography.

Given that a proper biblical hermeneutic maintains that the Bible does not contradict itself, nor is it incoherent in its teachings, hence when a theology generates such contradictions and incoherencies these are clear indications that something is amiss.  Therefore I concur with the modest statement of I. Howard Marshall regarding passages Calvinists use to teach unconditional election.  He writes,

“I am going to suggest that the election statements may be in danger of some misinterpretation.”[4]

Also Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell observe that,

               “Calvinists who believe election is unconditional in this sense do not serve anyone well by obscuring this claim with confusion, ambiguity or inconsistency.  Nor does it serve the cause of clear thinking and truth to confuse contradiction with mystery or to suggest that it is a mark of superior piety to be unworried about logical consistency. While the truth about God is beyond our full comprehension it doesn’t contain contradiction.  Calvinists can’t eliminate the contradictions in their theology by fleeing into mystery or appealing to notions like antinomy.  To the contrary, the contradictions we have identified are a telltale sign that something is profoundly awry at the heart of Reformed theology.”[5]

The number of the types of problems along with the severity of their incoherence generated by Calvinism’s determinism, when viewed cumulatively, make a strong case against it.  When Calvinists read Scripture as teaching a universal divine causal determinism but also must admit to its overwhelming testimony to contingency, human freedom and personal responsibility, they then attempt to pass this off as an incomprehensible mystery rather than a real contradiction.  But the advice of I. A. Richards is in order here when he states,

“We cannot have it both ways, and no sneers at the limitations of logic…amend the dilemma.”[6]

If the canons of reason are indispensable for determining interpretive validity, then to the degree that the Calvinist interpretations are marked by incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, is the degree to which we must, if we want to preserve an intellectual responsible hermeneutic that is faithful to Scripture, declare them false.[7]

Here is a summary listing of these problems generated by Calvinism.  Some of these problems overlap into other categories.  Again, they are listed here for the purpose of fostering thoughtful reflection, interaction, and discussion.  They can be categorized as follows:

A. Logical Concerns

  1. The Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism is in direct contradiction with the overwhelming testimony in Scripture to human volition, contingency, potentiality, possibility, invitation, exhortation, warning, judgments and rewards.  As such, this determinism has Scripture contradicting itself.  Scripture cannot contradict itself. Therefore, Calvinist theistic determinism is false.

The foremost logical contradiction in Calvinist theology is the insistence that all things are predetermined by God while also maintaining that all things are not predetermined by God.  It is spoken of in terms of an eternal divine decree and divine sovereignty that is deterministic while also maintaining contingency, genuine human freedom and responsibility.  Calvinists assert that people make their own real, genuine decisions that affect themselves and others for which they are responsible and for which they will be held accountable by God, and yet they also assert that God has predetermined all things – even every thought, desire and decision of every person.   These are in real contradiction.

According to the Calvinist, God’s eternal decree by which he unalterably predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass” before he created the world, includes the minutest details of history and each person’s every thought, attitude, desire, belief, decision, action and eternal destiny.  God is therefore the cause of all that occurs.  According to the Calvinist this meticulous predetermination enables God to be sovereign over all of his creation, but it also precludes any meaningful sense of human freedom and responsibility thereby failing to coherently account for an overwhelming amount of the biblical witness to contingency and human freedom.

Hence, the fact that the Calvinist doctrines of the eternal divine decree and sovereignty understood as a universal divine causal determinism lead to logical and moral inconsistencies with the testimony of Scripture as to the nature of human freedom and responsibility, experiential reality and God’s interactions and relations with individuals and groups of people as being genuinely contingent, is sufficient to show that Calvinism is false and a misinterpretation of the relevant texts from which it is supposedly derived.  Determinism and contingency are logically contradictory.  Therefore, the Scriptures overwhelmingly testify to a non-deterministic worldview that is logically and morally incompatible with Calvinism’s theistic determinism.

This judgment rests upon my proposed thesis. The above conclusions, and those to follow, are reached only when rational and moral coherence are incorporated into one’s hermeneutic.  The Calvinist ignores this matter of interpretive rational and moral coherence.  Proof-texting, or even providing a detailed exegesis of a text, while ignoring the rational coherence of one’s exegesis with other texts and doctrines, is a flawed hermeneutic.  It begs the question as to whether such interpretations rightly disclose the true intent of the human and divine authors.  We can see that incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction cannot be an acceptable result of our exegesis and interpretations of Scripture.  The human and divine author’s do not and cannot contradict themselves.  Coherence, consistency and non-contradiction need to be incorporated into our hermeneutic.

2. Calvinism is self-defeating and rationally unaffirmable.

            Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig correctly observes that,

            “Determinism is literally self-defeating – it is rationally unaffirmable – because its very affirmation would undermine the rationality of that affirmation.  In affirming determinism to be true, you are in effect affirming that that decision is not rationally made but simply determined to be true.  So universal causal determinism, it seems to me, cannot be rationally affirmed.”[8]

3. Calvinists are being inconsistent when they condemn, critique, bemoan, rebuke or regret anything that happens in the world, including the evil things.

            On Calvinism, God foreordained all these things to occur, therefore, on what rational or moral basis does the Calvinist ground his complaints, rebukes or regrets?  When he does make these condemnations, he is being inconsistent with his belief that God has predetermined and caused those very things for his own glory.  The Calvinist is in effect speaking out against the plans and purposes of God and against him glorifying himself through these things – even the evil that occurs on a daily basis.  Logically speaking, the Calvinist ought to rejoice in all that occurs – even the most horrendous evils, for God has ordained them for his own glory.

4. If Calvinism is the truth of God’s Word, then God has predetermined that most Christians resist and reject Calvinism and thereby reject his truth.

            Calvinists list some reasons why most Christians don’t believe Calvinism.  Three of these are a) lack of Bible knowledge, b) pride and arrogance and c) that God is arbitrary or not good or fair.[9]

            But as theologian Leighton Flowers points out, there can only be two reasons why people resist or reject Calvinism.

a) If Calvinism is in error, then most Christians are astute enough to see that it doesn’t make sense logically, morally or theologically.  They stand their theological, intellectual and moral ground in this regard and reject Calvinism.

b) If Calvinism is true, the reason why most resist or reject it is because “God sovereignly and unchangeably decreed their resistance for his own glory.”  Leighton explains,

               “ …So, if Calvinism is true, then God has predestined most of his own children to resist his truth so as to glorify himself.  The very idea that God unchangeably predestines his own children to reject his own truth for his own glory is so intuitively false that I don’t need to refute it.  I just need to make sure everyone understands that’s what Calvinism entails so they know to reject it.” [10]

            It is important to note what Leighton is doing here.  He is employing a hermeneutic of coherence. He is not discounting what his logical faculties and moral intuitions are telling him about what is entailed by universal divine causal determinism, i.e., Calvinism.  What is entailed by Calvinism is that God causes his own children to reject his truth.  Does that sound right to you?

            The Calvinist will protest, “Whether it sounds right to you is not the issue.  Indeed, that is the problem here.  What the Scripture teaches is the most important thing, not what sounds right to your human reason or moral intuition.”  But what the Scripture teaches is just what we are grappling with.  Does the Scripture teach Calvinism when Calvinism lands us in logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction?  Does the Scripture teach Calvinism when such teachings are incoherent with that same Scripture tells us about God being a God of truth and that he “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).  Yet, according to the Calvinist, God has predetermined that many people be assigned to eternal death and that even his own children reject the truth of God’s Word, i.e., Calvinism.

            Therefore, what role do you think logical reflection and coherence, along with your moral intuitions, play in the interpretive process?

5. We can know a contradiction when we see one.

            My contention is that human reasoning, although affected by sin, is still capable of discerning contradictions in interpretation.  It will not do to use the divine inspiration of Scripture as an excuse for incoherence in one’s interpretations.  One cannot cavalierly dismiss incoherence by quoting “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”  Rather, this is a matter of what principles are to be employed to determine the validity of one’s interpretation of that divine revelation.  And that is a different matter of a literary nature. Merely to claim that we cannot understand the Calvinist’s interpretations because we would expect any revelation that is from God to be incomprehensible to our finite minds misses the point of the hermeneutical principles involved in interpreting a written text and gives license for any and all interpretations.  It opens the door to interpretive relativism and the question begging claims that because an interpretation is mine is must be correct.

            The fact that Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike detect a contradiction here cannot be cavalierly dismissed as irrelevant for discerning the validity of the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture. They cannot be dismissed by “mystery.”  Granted, Scripture is complex and often difficult to understand, yet it is not difficult at all with respect to most of what it says about God, man and salvation.  I submit that the issue is not one in which we are left with too little information or too much that is unknown.  Rather, it is a situation in which we know quite enough to see that we are not dealing here with an incomprehensible mystery at all.  We are left with a very obvious real contradiction and therefore a misinterpretation. 

Hence, if we conclude that the biblical witness is to be interpreted coherently, and we take at “face value” the Scripture’s witness to contingency, human freedom and responsibility, then we must reject Calvinism’s determinism in favor of other interpretations of the Scripture on God’s sovereignty and election.  The more promising interpretations will be those that evidence a more responsible examination of the text according to accepted evangelical grammatical-historical methods and hermeneutical principles that include coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.

6. Calvinism is a real contradiction, not an apparent contradiction.

            Calvinists claim that the contradiction created by their determinism with human freedom is only an “apparent contradiction.”  We might ask, what is an apparent contradiction?  Can there be such a thing?  Why does one need to designate something as an “apparent” contradiction?  If they have to label it a “contradiction” then perhaps it is a real contradiction?  But we should also ask, how does one discern between a real and an “apparent” contradiction? 

            Obviously we perceive the nature of the propositions as contradictory.  Therefore, on what basis does the Calvinist justify declaring the contradiction only “apparent?”  To merely label the contradiction “apparent” does not make it not a contradiction or make the problem go away.  To merely assert something does not make it so.

            The Calvinist has a burden of proof here.  He needs to provide an argument as to how his universal divine causal determinism is logically compatible with libertarian freedom and therefore why the contradiction is only “apparent.”

7. Some Calvinists attempt to be logically consistent here and therefore state that there is no such thing as human freedom.

            Logically, if it is God who determines, and therefore must ultimately be the cause of all the thoughts, desires, beliefs, decisions and actions of all persons, then persons are not free moral agents who cause their own actions in any meaningful sense.  And at least some Calvinists recognize this.  They acknowledge the non-negotiability of the laws of logic for rational thought and communication.  They are therefore honest enough to “bite-the-bullet” as to the logical entailments of their determinism.  That is, they conclude that there is no such thing as human freedom.  Do you agree?

8. Most Calvinists claim that “the Bible teaches both” divine determinism and human freedom.

            As to this human freedom, Calvinists state that all persons can and will be held morally responsible by God for their actions, including their acceptance or rejection of the gospel.  Calvinists claim these two truths are divinely revealed in Scripture but how they cohere is incomprehensible to us.  They are, therefore, a divine or “high mystery.”

The question before us is, of course, whether or not this Calvinist understanding is really what the Bible teaches and how we can know that.  I argue that the logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions in Calvinism are tell-tale signs that it is not the teaching of Scripture.  Calvinists must ultimately dispense with coherence, consistency and non-contradiction to maintain their theological position.  Although they present exegesis to support their deterministic definitions of sovereignty and unconditional election while attempting to acknowledge the biblical witness to human freedom and responsibility, the resulting incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions generated are not sufficiently or convincingly addressed.[11] 

9. Despite attempts to logically reconcile their deterministic definition of sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, ultimately Calvinists will flee to “mystery.”

Calvinists ultimately claim their position is a mystery.  But this is to beg the question.  Calvinists provide no logical or moral justification for the problematic nature of their interpretive conclusions.  Justification and validity in interpretation involve logically and morally reasoned thought and evidences, but by claiming their interpretations are ultimately a “mystery” these are abandoned by Calvinists as hermeneutically irrelevant to their exegetical and interpretative conclusions.  I contend that this is an explicit admission that Calvinism is logically contradictory and morally deficient.  Again, the Calvinist maintains the blatant contradiction that all things are predetermined and caused by God while also claiming that all things are not predetermined and caused by God but also by the will of the human creature themselves[12] 

      Hence, it is only on pain of irrationality that we can embrace Calvinism.  Something is wrong at the heart of its exegeses and interpretations.  Therefore, one must first embrace a hermeneutic of incoherence in order to become and remain a Calvinist.  The logical and moral reasoning by which we made the above determinations must be suppressed for one to accept and remain within Calvinism.  Logical and moral reasoning must be substituted for “glorifying God in a mystery.”  But this is to fail to deal with the question as to whether exegeses and interpretations of Scripture that lead to incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction can ever be valid.  The Calvinist dare not answer this question in the affirmative lest he indict the determinism that is at the very heart of his theology.  I will argue that on the basis of a hermeneutic of coherence, this determinism, and the “doctrines of grace” that flow from it, are misinterpretations of Scripture.

  1. Calvinist attempts to incorporate genuine, significant human free will into their theistic determinism through “compatibilism” are unconvincing as well as incoherent.

      Human free will is an undeniable reality.  Substantial, meaningful free will (and by implication culpability, responsibility, praiseworthiness, blameworthiness, etc.) entails a) that you are the sole author of your actions and, b) that you could have done otherwise.  Such a definition is supported everywhere throughout Scripture.  Calvinist’s claim that as long as you are acting out of your beliefs, thoughts, desires and wishes you are acting freely while also claiming that it is God who determines all your beliefs, thoughts, desires and wishes[13], is not a coherent concept of human freedom.  It reduces to “God can predetermine and cause you to do something freely.”  But this is incoherent.  It is a logical impossibility.  God cannot predetermine and cause someone to do something freely.

      C. S. Lewis writing on God’s omnipotence makes a point that is pertinent here.  He states,

        “His omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible.  You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense.  This is no limit to his power.  If you choose to say “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can.”…It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”[14]

      Furthermore, neither can human beings be justly judged as responsible for doing things they are not responsible for doing; that is, for things God has predetermined that they do.  The person is unable to respond (i.e., they are not “response-able.”)

B. Theological Concerns

  1. Calvinism amounts to a universal divine causal determinism.

                    Calvinists define divine sovereignty as God having ordained from eternity past “whatsoever comes to pass.”  God has actively willed that all things, down to the minutest detail, occur as they do.  Therefore, God ultimately causes all things to occur as they do.  For the reasons given above and below, the Bible does not support the Calvinist’s universal divine causal determinism.

2. As a universal divine causal determinism Calvinism misconceives the sovereignty of God.

            God’s sovereignty is his ability to reign over all that he has made to bring about his plans and purposes.  It is important to realize that his many attributes of wisdom, foreknowledge, love, justice, mercy, compassion, holiness, etc. are engaged in God’s sovereign ruling of all his creation, including his rule over his human creatures.  God’s sovereignty entails him doing as he pleases, not that he is pleased to dictate “whatsoever comes to pass.”  God’s sovereignty entails him doing as he pleases, but whatever he does cannot be inconsistent with or contrary to his divine nature. He is not – in thought or act – arbitrary, as if, all things being equal, no reasons can be known for what he does for one person but not another. Neither does he act with respect to human persons as if their genuine choices and responses do not in some significant ways and at some significant times determine their relationship to God, their salvation and their eternal destiny. A deterministic definition of divine sovereignty is a misunderstanding of the biblical data on the sovereignty of God.

3. Sovereignty is not an essential divine attribute.

            Divine sovereignty arises from God’s other essential attributes once God freely decides to create a universe.  Once he creates a universe, including this world and human creatures in his image, he then, by virtue of all that he is as to his divine nature and the Creator, is its sovereign ruler.  Nothing can change that, even if he sovereignly decrees to create beings in his own image with wills that are substantially, but not absolutely, free.

4. As a theistic determinism Calvinism is incoherent with the giving of the moral law.

            God’s moral law expresses God’s moral nature.  In that it provides assurance to us of God’s moral character, we can then determine that Scripture is being misinterpreted when an interpretation requires we turn our moral sense upside-down with respect to understanding God. Calvinist interpretations of the divine decrees and sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism require the reversal of our moral sense and reasoning.  In having God predetermining all evil, Calvinism makes him the author and cause of all evil and therefore evil himself. Theistic determinism has God acting against his own moral law. Other doctrines inconsistent with God’s moral character as revealed to us in his moral law are unconditional election and reprobation.  To act in such an unloving manner to the non-elect is not only an arbitrary “justice” but to hate a multitude of his human creatures.  These are evil things that God condemns from us as moral agents.  We can therefore be confident that he does not think, will or act in such evil ways himself.

            Another entailment of the giving of a moral law is the necessity of free will.  Philosopher C. A. Campbell observes the mutually coherent and necessary relationship between the biblical truths that God is the creator and source of the moral law, that man the creature exists in a relationship of dependence upon God, and that in light of the existence and promulgation of the moral law, God in his freedom did create a creature with a degree of genuine independence or “free will.”  He writes,

               “When we reflect on the fact that the supreme being is the source of man’s existence and of the moral law binding upon him, and when we further appreciate that a moral law is completely meaningless for beings who are not free agents, we come to see that man’s relation of ‘dependence’ upon the supreme being must be of a very remarkable sort.  It must be somehow at once an absolute dependence, and yet carry with it a genuine independence.  Now there would seem to be only one way in which we can think a relationship of this kind, and that is as a relationship of creature to creator, where the creator had endowed the creature with a ‘free will’”.[15]

            What we need to observe here is that in attempting to construct a proper understanding of Scripture, Campbell operates on the basis of a hermeneutic of coherence.  For instance, his reasoning that “a moral law is completely meaningless for beings who are not free agents” is a statement born of coherence.  A moral law given from the Creator to his human creatures entails that those creatures are substantively free moral agents.  It would not be coherence to give a moral law to creatures whose every thought, attitude, belief, desire and action is determined by the law giver. A moral law entails freedom of the will.

5. A significant degree of self-freedom or genuine volition is inherent in any meaningful definition of genuine love. 

            Theistic determinism precludes any self-freedom or genuine volition and therefore leads to an incoherent concept of love.  Any meaningful sense of love for God, whether as a reciprocal response of his love for us or the command to love him, makes no sense when the person is predetermined by God himself to love him.

  1. Calvinist soteriology is dictated by the Calvinist’s theistic determinism.

            God has, apart from any conditions other than his own will, predetermined who is to be saved and who is to be eternally damned.  Calvin gives expression to this Reformed doctrine of predestination when he states,

“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.” [16]

            As such, Calvinism inherits many of the logical and moral problems of any deterministic system.

            Calvinists will assure us that God is loving and gracious to all people.  But any talk about how God loves or grants “common grace” to the non-elect by temporal, physical blessings is not only trivial but ultimately negated by their eternal damnation.  It is precisely in that they are damned, and that for eternity, that the Calvinist’s assurance of God’s love and grace to the non-elect is vacuous.  Given such an end, the boast of temporal blessings, graces and comforts are not only trivial but also a mockery.  There is no way to comprehend God as loving or being gracious to a person that he has predestined to eternal damnation.

  1. On Calvinism the claim that “God is good” is incoherent.

            Inherent in Calvinist unconditional election is the belief that whatever God wills and commands is morally good solely because God wills and commands it.  For the Calvinist, merely God’s inscrutable will issuing forth in his command defines what is morally good and obligatory. For instance, the Calvinist maintains that God has assigned a multitude of persons to spend eternity in hell merely because he wills it to be so.  If he has reasons for doing so they are beyond our understanding.  The Calvinist asserts that we are obliged to believe this because Scripture teaches it.  But this seems to go against what is foundational to our moral intuitions and what we know from those same scriptures of God’s character as good, just, and loving.  The point is that Calvinism inevitably places an absolutely ‘sovereign’ divine willing over and against an absolutely immutable divine character of love and justice.  Such “goodness” is not beyond our moral understanding but against it.

            Regarding the logical entailment of unconditional election which is unconditional reprobation, philosophers David Baggett and Jerry Walls observe,

“For if God’s command renders something obligatory, and there’s nothing higher than God’s will, then there’s nothing in principle preventing God from commanding the torture of children for fun.  His command would render such behavior not just morally permissible, but morally obligatory!  If the Calvinists counter that God never would command such a thing, they are implicating themselves in an inconsistency, for they have already accorded primacy to God’s will over his character.  That maneuver of gesturing toward God’s character, right as it is, is not available to them any more; their appeal to God’s nature stands at odds with classical Calvinism’s exclusive focus on God’s will…Unconditional reprobation…already constitutes an example of something we are unable to square with anything remotely recognizable as goodness and love.”[17]

It is important to note that the Calvinist makes God’s will the determining factor in unconditional election and reprobation and they therefore are left to merely assert that he is good, compassionate and loving even though he wills the salvation of some persons unconditionally and the eternal damnation of myriads of others.  But again, this is a mere assertion.  It is incoherent with what we know of goodness, compassion and love as Scripture talks about these in reference to God and what we intuitive know and experience of these qualities in and among ourselves.

Therefore, Calvinism removes from us any reliable knowledge of what God is truly like. 

C. S. Lewis summarizes the issue well when he writes,

“…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 standard…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)”[18]

As Lewis struggled with the nature of God’s goodness in light of the death of his wife Joy, he made these observations,

“Or could one seriously introduce the idea of a bad God, as it were by the back door, through a sort of extreme Calvinism? You could say we are fallen and depraved.  We are so depraved that our ideas of goodness count for nothing; or worse than nothing – the very fact that we think something good is presumptive evidence that it is really bad.  Now God has in fact – our worst fears are true – all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty.  But all these blacks (as they seem to us) are really whites.  It’s only our depravity that makes them look black to us.

And so what?  This, for all practical (and speculative) purposes sponges God off the slate.  The word good, applied to Him, becomes meaningless: like abracadabra. We have no motive for obeying him.  Not even fear.  It is true we have his threats and promises.  But why should we believe them?  If cruelty is from his point of view “good,” telling lies may be “good” too.  Even if they are true, what then?  If His ideas of good are so very different from ours, what he calls “Heaven” might be what we should call Hell, and vice-versa.  Finally, if reality at its roots is so meaningless to us – or, putting it the other way round, if we are such total imbeciles – what is the point of trying to think either about God or about anything else?  This knot comes undone when you try to pull it tight.”[19]

  Baggett and Walls continue,

               “…God’s goodness must be recognizable.  Otherwise we’re using the word “good” to refer to something that isn’t recognizably good, and that sort of equivocation is irrational.”[20]

            Arminian scholar Roger Olson writes,

               “If God’s goodness is so mysterious that it is compatible with willing and actively rendering certain the Fall and every other evil (even if only by withdrawing the power necessary to avoid sinning) of human history, it is meaningless. A concept that is compatible with anything and everything is empty.”[21]

  1. Calvinism restricts the freedom of God to ordain that salvation be conditioned upon faith.

            Scripture portrays faith as a sinner’s decision to believe for which they are responsible given the content of the gospel message which calls them to believe in God and Jesus.  Faith is characterized by humility, surrender, trust, and reciprocal love to God for his saving grace shown to them in Christ.

            The Calvinist feels compelled to safeguard the concept of “divine sovereignty” defined deterministically, by removing faith as a genuine decision and response of the sinner to God’s grace in Christ.  Rather, in that sinners are “dead in trespasses and sins,” faith is an impossibility for anyone, and therefore it needs to be bestowed by God, and that, only on those he has predestined to salvation and therefore only upon those he has already regenerated so that they may believe.

            But we must ask whether this amounts to the Calvinists own personal spiritual predilection to protect and exalt God’s sovereignty as the Calvinist understands it, or whether it is an accurate interpretation of both the nature of divine sovereignty and the nature of faith.

            We also need to ask how or why is it that the exercise of such freedom on God’s part both to create humans with free agency and condition salvation upon their response of faith in God and Christ, is somehow a threat to God’s sovereignty, which it would not be if understood non-deterministically. Why would faith require divine determinism, and, how does divine determinism affect the nature of faith? We would also have to ask why being a sinner entails a “total inability” to respond to God and Christ when that same God and Christ both adjure sinners to humble themselves, believe the gospel and be saved. “Total depravity,” or our pervasively sinful condition, obviously doesn’t preclude us as sinners from coming to Christ to have our sins forgiven. More on this below.

  1. Scripture nowhere speaks of a person being predestined to faith or belief.

            Sinners themselves are responsible for their eternal condemnation because they refuse to believe. (Jn. 3:16-18.)

  1. Calvinism’s claim that faith is granted by God only to a limited number of elect persons predestined to salvation contradicts the biblical testimony to the nature of faith as an open issue involving a genuine personal response to God, Jesus, and the gospel message. 
  1. Calvinism’s claim that faith is granted by God only to a limited number of elect persons predestined to salvation is inconsistent with the content of the biblical gospel and its nature as a call, command, invitation, and challenge to believe, etc. that goes out to all individuals.
  1. Calvinism’s claim that faith is a gift of God bestowed upon a limited number of elect persons predestined to salvation and can only be exercised once the sinner is first regenerated, makes the call to believe irrelevant and a redundant element in salvation. It reverses the biblical order that the response of faith is prior to regeneration.
  1. The Calvinist’s claim that the response of faith is subsequent to regeneration is without biblical support.

            Many Calvinists, due to their view of total depravity or total inability, claim that man cannot respond to the gospel message and therefore God must regenerate the elect before they can believe.  Regeneration must precede faith.  Faith must be subsequent to regeneration.

            But first, this seems to contradict the Reformation tenet that salvation is by faith alone – sola fide.  What could this mean if it is the case that regeneration occurs first and faith follows?  How can salvation be coherently described as “by faith alone” if regeneration, which just is salvation, must precede faith?  On Calvinism, salvation “resulting in” faith would be the more accurate and truthful description – something like “salvation is evidenced by faith alone.”

            Secondly, what is the nature of faith if, as the Calvinist claims, regeneration occurs first and then one is irresistibly caused to believe as the result of God having predetermined such belief?  If God is the cause of regeneration which irresistibly issues forth in faith, then faith seems to lose its meaning and become a redundancy.  It becomes an adjective to describe those predestined to salvation, not a verb that tells the sinner what they must do to be saved.

            For the Calvinist, the sinner is caused by God to both be regenerated and believe.  But the biblical dynamic and order is believe and be saved, with one’s regeneration and salvation being dependent upon their believing.

            Every sinner who is “dead in trespasses and sins” who hears the gospel is enabled to respond to God and the gospel, precisely because the Spirit attends the gospel message, which, by virtue of its definition (“good news”), its content (“God loves you and Jesus died for you”) and its call to salvation (“Come to Christ, put your faith and trust in him for your salvation and be saved”) indicates that salvation is inclusive, not exclusive as in Calvinist predestination and unconditional election.

  1. The Calvinist understanding of faith destroys individual personhood in the dynamic of salvation. 

            God interacts with us as persons, and responding freely to God is essential to personhood.  Therefore, faith is everywhere in Scripture spoken of as the responsibility of the sinner and the only appropriate response to God’s saving work on their behalf.

  1. The purpose of the nature of faith is to make salvation accessible to each and every sinner.

            Faith is humble trust and surrender to God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ on behalf of all sinners as proclaimed in the “good news” of the gospel message.  In that salvation is appropriated by simple faith, God is expressing his universal salvific will.  Precisely because salvation is by faith by God’s design, it allows for that salvation to be obtained by any and all sinners.

  1. Calvinists misconceive the response of faith as a meritorious “work.”

            Faith is trust in the work of Christ on one’s behalf.  Driven by the assumption that their doctrine of total inability is correct, Calvinists think that if faith is actually a response to the gospel message that sinful people can have of their own accord, that is, that upon hearing the gospel in which the Holy Spirit is present to work according to the content and purpose of that message of “good news,” sinner themselves may and should exercise their own will to believe the message, then this amounts to man contributing to or assisting God in the work of salvation.

            The Calvinist reads their presupposed doctrine of “total inability” into the text.  Given the Calvinist interpretation of Paul on “works of the law” as referring to earning one’s salvation by obediently performing what the law requires, Paul always sets faith in contrast to “works,” thereby disassociating faith from works with regard to one earning a righteous standing with God or contributing to their salvation.  Faith is not included within “works” or considered a “work” as if a sinner’s free response of faith would amount to contributing to or meriting their salvation. The Bible never treats the ability and responsibility of the sinner to believe in Christ as meritorious.  As Dr. Leighton Flowers puts it, “By saying I can’t merit salvation, the Calvinist thinks that itself is a merit.”[22] 

  1. Calvinism asserts an unbiblical definition of grace with respect to salvation.

            Calvinist soteriology defines “grace” as the decision of God in eternity past to unconditionally save a limited number of elect persons undeserving of that salvation.

            In contrast, the biblical witness to God’s grace is the kind disposition of God to do for us what we did not deserve and could not do for ourselves in sending Jesus to die so that we could be saved by faith.  There is no limitation on this grace as is imposed upon the concept by the Calvinist deterministic “doctrines of grace.”

            Grace, biblically understood, is not an eternal divine decision to unconditionally save some out of all who are undeserving of salvation while, for reasons unknown to us, “passing over” all others for the express purpose of assigning them to eternal damnation.  Rather, God’s grace is his disposition to favor all sinners – none of whom deserve or can merit such favor – with salvation in Christ.  Therefore, because God’s grace is found “in Christ,” all sinners have access to this divine grace and favor through faith (Rom. 5:1-2).  God’s grace is therefore universally extended, that is, available to all sinners, precisely because it is found “in Christ” who is proclaimed in the gospel message.  As such, it cannot be defined as an unknowable decision of God made in eternity past to predestine to salvation a limited number of elect persons (Jn. 1:14-18).

  1. Calvinists misconstrue the word “free” in “free grace”.

            The “free” in the Calvinist phrase “free grace” is incorrectly construed to mean that nothing outside of God moves him to elect unconditionally some persons to salvation and pass by all others.  If there are reasons, they remain unknown to us and are taken from within himself.

            This raises again the moral and epistemological problems of a sure knowledge of what God is really like as to his nature.  Rather, free grace should be thought of as God’s love and salvation that is offered to all sinners “without cost.”  It is not earned grace or deserved favor.  Apart from a response of humble trust in God himself, God’s grace does not depend upon anything that a person might think has influence with God or to put God in their debt.  It is “free” in the sense that it is not contingent upon human works, status, privilege, etc.  It is of God’s nature to be gracious.  Therefore, grace being free in this sense includes it being offered to and obtainable by all (Rom. 5:1-2; Titus 2:11, 3:4; 1 Tim. 2:4-5, 4:10).

  1. Calvinist soteriology is christologically deficient.

            To reduce the historical revelation of God’s salvation plan in Christ to the mere implementation of the decree of God regarding the salvation of a predetermined, limited, unconditionally elect number of people is a deficient Christology.  The Bible does not teach that there are “two wills” in God – the revealed will of God’s love and salvation publically demonstrated “in Christ” to whom the sinner is adjured to look to for salvation by faith, as opposed to a secret will of God which unalterably decreed in eternity past the eternal destiny of every individual. The latter is inconsistent with the former and makes the former a disingenuous falsehood as spoken to the non-elect.

            Because Jesus is a historical person who is the foundation and manifestation of the message of the “good news” of salvation, there is therefore no limit to his saving work and to whom it applies.  Precisely because “in Christ” we have the salvific will of God revealed to every individual there is no secret, unknowable will of God whereby he has predetermined to save some and not others.  If “in Christ” we have the salvific will of God revealed to every individual, then every individual is encompassed in the saving work.  God means what he says when he speaks the message of salvation through Christ on the cross.  That is a public proclamation. And as such the salvation Christ accomplished on that cross is for all who hear of and look to that cross. God is not duplicitous.  Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel are both public declarations of the work and grace of God and therefore that work and grace are of the nature of a universal call to repentance and faith.  The full and complete expression of the will of God regarding the salvation of every individual sinner is found “in Christ.”  This is the essence of the gospel.  In the historical person and work of Jesus of Nazareth we see and know the expression of God’s love and desire to save (Rom. 5:8; Jn. 3:16).  In that an historical Savior – Jesus of Nazareth – is presented to all sinners, therefore the full expression of God’s salvific will and the way of salvation for all persons is revealed.  Each and every sinner has access to the historical Jesus and thereby has access to the grace of God and his positive salvific will for each and every sinner.  Since Jesus, who was full of grace and truth, came and dwelt among us and showed us to Father’s love, in other words, precisely because he is God incarnate, anyone may therefore know God’s love as true for them and that salvation is also for them. Any sinner can be saved by faith in what Christ did on the cross for them.  The way one knows that God loves them and is kindly disposed towards them is found “in Christ.”  God’s love and salvation are therefore accessible to all who look to Christ and respond to him in faith.  God’s salvific will and expression of love to all is demonstrated “in Christ,” and as such, it is a gift that is there for the receiving.  (Rom. 5:2, 8ff.) 

  1. There is nothing either in God’s nature or in sinners themselves since we are all sinners by nature and equally under the condemnation of God, whereby we would expect God to differentiate an elect class of mankind from a non-elect class apart from their response to the “good news” of the gospel.

            The Scripture teaches that it is at the point of the gospel message and the sinner’s response of faith to that message or their rejection of it that God differentiates between sinners as to their eternal destiny.

  1. Calvinism is incoherent with man being made in the image of God.

            Precisely because all persons are created in God’s image we deem it theologically sound to think that God loves and cares for all human persons equally and therefore does not desire that any “perish” but that all have “everlasting life.”  Hence, because God has created every person in his own image, he has not predetermined any person to eternal separation from himself. Sinners themselves do that by their rejection of the gospel.

  1. Calvinism is incoherent with the providential care of God for all persons.

            Precisely because God’s providential care is exhibited towards all mankind – that he provides everyone with all good things and that his “rain falls on the just and the unjust” – we deem it theologically sound to think that God loves and cares for all human persons equally and therefore does not desire that they “perish” but have “everlasting life.”  We think it incoherent to believe that God would show his kindness and provision to all persons in this temporal life, only to also will to condemn and alienate many from himself in the next life for all of eternity.  In the grand scheme of a person’s life, no matter how blessed by God the non-elect person might be, it is one’s eternal destiny that matters most. Therefore, this divine providential care or “love” shown to the non-elect holds no weight in a Calvinist defense of God’s goodness and love. 

  1. That there is one God who is God over all mankind is incoherent with Calvinism.

            Since there is one God, and he is the God of all mankind (biblically speaking, Jews and Gentiles) we think it theologically sound to believe that he has designed the way of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles, that is, all individuals (Rom 3:28-30). The God who is the God of all men desires all sinners to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4-5).

  1. Calvinist determinism and unconditional election are incompatible with…

            (1) the biblical definition of the gospel as “good news,” and

            (2) the content of the “good news” that “God loves you and Jesus died for you,” and

            (3) the call to salvation which goes out to all people implying that salvation is for all who hear this “good news.”    No one is excluded by God.  Everyone may respond in faith and appropriate to   themselves the offered salvation.

As to (1), there is no good news in the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  There is merely be ‘news’ that God has unconditionally, irresistibly and unalterably chosen an unknown limited number of specific people to be saved and has passed over, or not elected, all the rest. For these non-elect or reprobate persons, there is no possibility of salvation.

As to (2), the content of the gospel message includes the proclamation to all individuals of the love God has for them “in Christ” and about Jesus’s death on their behalf.  God means what he says. He cannot lie. The message of God’s love and salvation in Christ as spoken to all is applicable to all.

As to (3), there is a call to respond in faith, the command to repent and believe, the offer of forgiveness, the element of invitation, the metaphor of salvation as a “gift” to be received, the exhortations to “come” to Christ, the warnings for remaining in unbelief.  All these presuppose God’s universal love and affirm substantial human freedom of the will which is incoherent with theistic determinism.

As such, Calvinism’s theistic determinism is inconsistent with the definition, content and call of the gospel.  Calvinism is not the gospel, but rather, antithetical to it.

  1. Calvinist soteriology cannot provide an assurance of salvation.

            In that Calvinism teaches that every person’s eternal state is the result of a hidden, eternal, divine decree that is unknown to anyone, Calvinist soteriology cannot provide an assurance of salvation.  In that one’s eternal destiny rests upon an unknowable decree of election that is unconditional as far as the sinner is concerned, and not the basis of Christ’s person and work on behalf of each and every individual to be received by faith, one cannot be assured of their unconditional election to salvation.  In that this election is unconditional it cannot be assuredly known by any evidences nor on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross on the person’s behalf.  And if it is not known on the basis of the latter, it cannot be known.  One’s hearing and acceptance of the “doctrines of grace” or present spiritual experiences are no sure indicators of either one’s election or non-election.

            In the Westminster Confession of Faith article 10, “Of Effectual Calling,” in section 4 we read,

               “Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.”

            Calvin also writes,

               “There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death [cf. 2 Cor. 2:16], and as the occasion of severer condemnation.  The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believer alone, which by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts.  Yet, sometimes he also causes those whom he illumined only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with even greater blindness.”[23]

  1. Calvinist soteriology divorces the biblical meaning of election from its Old Testament historical context and paradigm.

            Rather than a theistic determinism, biblical election involves the historical out-working of God’s eternal plan of salvation via divine selection(s) and decisive actions to demonstrate that salvation is to be provided solely through the means and on the basis that God deems best, that is, through Christ’s death on the cross and appropriated by faith. God’s electing decisions serve the purpose of disclosing that a saving relation to God would be by God’s promise of grace in Christ to those who will believe and not by any national privilege (being a child of Abraham) or performing “works of the law” (adhering to the Mosaic covenant). Neither would it be by any social, economic, or intellectual status, or by any other fleshly mode, human reasoning, contrivance, means, or invention (“the will of man” in Jn. 1:13). The “elect” are those who believe, just as “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” (Rom. 9:6, 7) Believers are deemed to be among “the elect” because by faith (as Abraham’s faith was counted to him righteous, Gen. 15:6), they are placed by God “in Christ” the “Elect One.” (See Ephesians 1 and 1 Pet. 2:6) “The elect,” i.e., believers, or “those who love God” (Rom. 8:28), are foreknown, even as defined in Calvinism, that is, God places his love upon them as his special children, but he did not predestine them to salvation or predetermine that they should believe. God loves those who put their trust in him. They are, as a group, designated “the elect.” They are now “the people of God” in the way that believing Israel constituted “the people of God.”

            “Election” therefore is both a corporate and individual concept with respect to service for God and salvation, but it also has special reference to unique individual cases (e.g., Saul/Paul) and especially with reference to Jesus Christ himself.

            To be among the “elect” does not refer to God’s premundane predestination of a limited number of particular persons to salvation out of the mass of humanity in the Calvinist deterministic sense of these words.

  1. Predestination does not refer to a limited number of particular individuals whom God preordained to save while passing over all others.[24]

            Predestination refers to the working out of God’s unfailing promises that were divinely determined from before the foundation of the world for those who believe.  Believers are predestined to be “holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4), “for adoption through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5), to receive “an inheritance” (Eph. 1:11, 13) and “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Rom. 8:28)

  1. Calvinism perceives foreknowledge redundantly by equating it with foreordination.

            Calvinists state that it is because God has foreordained all things he therefore foreknows all things.  Rather, God can foreknow the free will decisions of free creatures. Divine foreknowledge of a free choice or event does not determine or cause the thing foreknown to occur as it does.

  1. God’s wrath is not an inherent, essential attribute of God.

            Calvinists state that the purpose of having the reprobate or the non-elect is for God to be fully glorified in demonstrating his attribute of wrath upon sinners.  They say that divine wrath is essential to the nature of God and that in salvation God must express his various attributes.

            But God’s wrath is not a divine attribute or essential to his nature.  Rather, God’s wrath is a reaction to sin rooted in his nature as holy and just.  It is an expression of his holiness and justice.  As such, God’s wrath doesn’t need to be expressed by God predestining persons – the reprobate – to eternal damnation for him to be fully glorified.

            The concept of the “reprobate,” that is, those whom God has not chosen to save so that he might exercise his wrath upon them, is christologically deficient in that the Christ took the wrath of God due all of us as sinners upon himself on the cross.

            It also fails to account for biblical teaching on the just expression of God’s holiness and justice – his wrath – that will someday be brought upon those who as a result of their rejection of the salvation offered them in Christ, will suffer this wrath.

30. The Calvinist’s doctrine of “total inability” cannot coherently take into account the biblical teaching on the “hardening of the heart.”

            The “hardening of the heart” is meaningless in the context of Calvinist total inability in which the heart is already completely unresponsive to God.  What could a “hardening of the heart” mean except that there is a human freedom of the will to respond to God positively or negatively?  To do so negatively leads to a “hardening of the heart.”  When God hardens a person’s heart, it is implied that there is the freedom and the responsibility to have responded differently to God.

  1. Calvinism misconceives that God is glorified in unconditionally electing certain individuals to salvation and predestining the reprobate to eternal damnation.

            Rather, God is glorified in the person and work of his Son – Jesus Christ – and the proclamation of salvation to all in his name.  God is not glorified in predetermining the damnation of his human creatures.  When the “good news” of the gospel is preached and Christ is “lifted up,” it is then that God is glorified (Jn. 12:27-28; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1-5).

  1. Calvinist theistic determinism inevitably makes God responsible for evil, sin, and all human sinning – including the sin of unbelief.

            This is the logical and therefore the inevitable result of universal divine causal determinism.  It makes God responsible for all the evil that occurs. It impugns the character of God.  Calvinism is incoherent with the call that goes out to all people as sinners to believe and be saved.  God causes unbelief while calling for faith and trust.

C. Ethical and Moral Concerns

  1. Calvinist universal divine causal determinism makes God the author and cause of all evil.  God is responsible for all evil.

            Given the Calvinist understanding of an eternal decree of God by which he ordained “whatsoever comes to pass,” and a definition of God’s sovereignty in accord with such a comprehensive decree which logically requires the conclusion that God directly causes all things to occur as they do, God is thereby made the author and cause of all evil.  This is, of course, incoherent with God’s sinless nature, holiness, purity, goodness and love.

2. On Calvinism God is evil.

            Consistent with Calvinist universal divine causal determinism which has God the author and cause of evil, this entails that God is evil.

            Little more needs to be said here.  Scripture and our moral intuitions tell us that God cannot be the author and cause of evil thoughts, desires and actions.  The divine predetermination of evil acts that is a logical requirement of Calvinism is obviously inconsistent with the biblical witness to the just, pure, good, loving and holy character of God in whom “there is no darkness at all.”[25]

            We are not referring here to the suffering that God may cause due to his just judgment upon sin.  This is not the same as portraying God as the predeterminer and cause of all evil thoughts, desires and actions.

3. Calvinism removes our moral frame of reference making God capricious and arbitrary.

            Calvinists believe that out of all sinners undeserving of salvation God has chosen some and not others to be saved for reasons unknown to us.  Why God chooses one over another when all things are equal with respect to all sinners is unknown to us.  That God would actually intend that certain persons he predetermined to exist would exist for eternal damnation is not only beyond reason, it is against both reason and morality as rooted in the nature of God himself.  If our moral intuitions about what God must be like in his moral nature and reasoning is mistaken, then as C. S. Lewis puts it “God is we know not what.” [26]

            This is ultimately and inevitably to maintain that God is capricious and arbitrary in his moral nature and reasoning.  Of course there are times we need to be reoriented to the will and ways of God, but we expect them to always be in accord with his revealed nature.  Perhaps we even need to have the faith to believe in circumstances that contain unknowns.  But faith is not blind trust in a capricious being.  As Lewis reminds us, we do not expect a complete reversal of our moral bearings.  Struggling with the goodness of God as a result of the death of his wife Joy he asks,

               “Or could one seriously introduce the idea of a bad God, as it were by the back door, through a sort of extreme Calvinism? You could say we are fallen and depraved.  We are so depraved that our ideas of goodness count for nothing; or worse than nothing – the very fact that we think something good is presumptive evidence that it is really bad.  Now God has in fact – our worst fears are true – all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty.  But all these blacks (as they seem to us) are really whites.  It’s only our depravity that makes them look black to us.

               And so what?  This, for all practical (and speculative) purposes sponges God off the slate.  The word good, applied to Him, becomes meaningless: like abracadabra. We have no motive for obeying him.  Not even fear.  It is true we have his threats and promises.  But why should we believe them?  If cruelty is from his point of view “good,” telling lies may be “good” too.  Even if they are true, what then?  If His ideas of good are so very different from ours, what he calls “Heaven” might be what we should call Hell, and vice-versa.  Finally, if reality at its roots is so meaningless to us – or, putting it the other way round, if we are such total imbeciles – what is the point of trying to think either about God or about anything else?  This knot comes undone when you try to pull it tight.”[27]

  1. Calvinism’s exhaustive theistic determinism undermines personal responsibility and culpability for one’s actions.

            In a deterministic universe, whether theistic or materialistic, real human freedom, defined as a person being the sole source of their actions and having an ability to do otherwise, is gone.  The “ought = can” which is inherent in the concepts of responsibility and culpability is rendered meaningless.  “Ought” implies “can,” but the freedom necessary for the “ought” and “can” to be meaningful is rendered logically impossible within theistic determinism and a compatibilist view of “freedom.”  Objective morality, and therefore responsibility and culpability, are all undermined by determinism.

  1. God predetermines and causes Christians to sin.

            If God has predetermined and therefore causes “whatsoever comes to pass,” then what do we make of God causing Christians to sin (contrary to clear passages such a James 1:13), and yet exhorting them to avoid sinning, along with the promise that they will not be tempted beyond their ability to resist sinning? (1 Cor. 10:13)  And how is this coherent with the “unpardonable sin” which we take to be an unbelieving rejection of Jesus and the salvation God accomplished and offers in him by faith?  (Mt. 12:31-32; Lk. 12:10)  God causes people to commit the “unpardonable sin” of unbelief.

  1. Calvinists are disingenuous when they state they can tell unbelievers “God loves you,” “Jesus died for you” and “Come to Christ, believe and be saved!”

            These statements are either false or meaningless as they are heard by the non-elect.  These statements and their connotations about an offer of salvation to the non-elect, are disingenuous given their underlying theology that salvation is only for a limited number of predetermined, chosen ones.  For it to be true and a sincere offer of salvation, no non-elect person could hear that offer.

            On Calvinism, if the offer of salvation and the call to faith inherent in the gospel message is a word from God to the sinner, and the sinner hearing it is not among the elect, then God is being disingenuous and false to that person.  God is offering them something he does not will that they receive.  God is lying to them.

  1. Calvinism is indifferent to the correspondence theory of truth with respect to the gospel.

            What is true corresponds to the way something really is.  When we speak the truth we are telling it like it is.  In light of the Calvinist doctrines of an eternal decree and predestination, either what is being said is true or it is not true with respect to the hearer.  And there are only two alternatives.  The hearer is unalterably either among the elect or the non-elect.  He will either be granted faith or not.  He will either experience the “effectual call” or not. The ethical concern here lies in the fact that it is God speaking in the gospel message and he is the God of truth and his word is truth.  Therefore, if the words “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you” can be said to any man then they must indeed be true for them.  If they can be said to all, then they must be true for all.  God’s word must correspond to reality for it to be true.  So if God says “I love you” or “Jesus died for you” or “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” then these must be true statements with respect to the hearer; they must be a real possibility.

  1. The Calvinist claim that in some sense God loves the non-elect is not only unconvincing, it is absurd.

            Some Calvinists assert that God loves the non-elect as well as the elect.  For God to create certain persons for the very purpose of assigning them to an eternity of punishment and separation from Himself can in no way be understood to be the expression of love to those persons.  It is impossible to define loving a person with predestining them to eternal separation from one’s self and eternal punishment in hell.

  1. Calvinism is not the gospel as biblically defined as “good news.”

            It is impossible to find “good news” in a message that tells sinners that there are only certain people that God has chosen for salvation while all others he has predestined to eternal death.

            Given our total inability, no sinner can respond positively to God.  For you to be saved you must be among those unconditionally elected.  Therefore, Jesus died only for the elect. The atonement is limited.  There is nothing you can do to be saved.  God must effectual work in you by an irresistible grace, causing you to be regenerated or “born again” and then believe.  You will then be preserved by God and persevere in the faith to the end.

  1. The Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are not “good news” for the non-elect.

            If the biblical definition of the “gospel” is “good news,” then the gospel message is not “good news” to the non-elect who hear it.  The “good news” is at least that God loves you, that Jesus died for you and that through believing in Christ you can be saved.  There is a sure hope for you in this life and the next.  It is found in the person and work of Christ who died for all of us as sinners that we might be redeemed and reconciled to God.  Those who believe in him have everlasting life.  To all who hear the gospel message there is the imperative to repent and believe.  God invites, calls, and offers eternal salvation to all.

            But when this message comes to the non-elect, they cannot receive what God is offering them because he has not chosen them and therefore will not cause them to be saved.  Therefore, the “good news” does not apply to them.  God is being duplicitous. Therefore, it is not “good news” for the non-elect, and therefore, as such, it cannot be the gospel message.   

D. Existential and Epistemological Concerns

  1. The universal divine causal determinism of Calvinism negatively affects the most important issues and questions of life.

            The matters before us are not inconsequential.  They have to do with the most important questions and issues a person will deal with in this life.  They are not matters simply to be bandied about in the “ivory towers” of philosophers and theologians, but rather have very practical implications for the mental, physical, spiritual and psychological well-being of every person.

            The popular superficial dismissals of these issues will not do, as in, “We’ll never figure out these questions this side of heaven,” or “You cannot know the mind of God,” or “Be warned of the pride that claims ‘This is the answer to…’”   These are shallow denials of all that can be and needs to be said about these matters.

            For what is at stake is the most important thing in a person’s whole existence, that is, the nature of their relationship to God.  More particularly, that they can be assured that God loves them personally and individually, which entails that God has made provision for their salvation, has not excluded them from eternal life, that he desires they receive the saving gift of God in Christ by faith, and that they indeed can actually be saved.

            Salvation and the gospel are at the core of biblical revelation because they are at the core of the heart of God and of human need.  The story of our creation, fall and redemption by God’s grace in the person and work of Christ is the story that is essential to our very being as creatures made in the image of God.

            The question Calvinism interjects into this history casts doubt on God’s love and salvation for each person.  That question is, “Am I included?”  By dividing mankind into two ontological realities – the included and the excluded – the Calvinist soteriological doctrines insert doubt into an otherwise clear message of “good news” for each and every sinner.  Therefore, the truth of the biblical gospel is at stake in this controversy.  The existential and epistemological[28] problem before us is that given the Calvinist’s interpretations of divine sovereignty as deterministic and election as unconditional, any assurance that God loves me or you, such that he positively intends our salvation and that we can actually be saved, is put beyond our knowledge. Having been divinely preordained and established as unconditional, we cannot know which salvific ontological reality or category we fall into – the elect or the non-elect. It must be one or the other.

Yet, one’s purpose, meaning, and value in life, along with our hope for eternity, requires that we know that God loves us and desires our salvation.  If it turns out that God does not love me and you – and that is a real possibility given Calvinism – there is no hope for either of us in this life or in death.

Hence, the simple children’s song “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” is as profound a theological, existential, ontological and epistemological statement as any that can be made.  It presents a very different paradigm, as does the Scripture, than Calvinism offers regarding the knowledge and assurance of God’s love, the source of the knowledge of that love, and the possibility of salvation.  So, does the Bible really tell us that “Jesus loves me…?”  And if so, what does that entail?  What are the personal and psychological ramifications for each of us?  What are the ramifications for Calvinism?  “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Can everyone know and be assured here and now that God loves them, desires that they be saved, and has made a way for them to be saved?  If they can, then Calvinism is false. In contrast to Calvinism, we certainly can know of God’s love and salvation.  The Bible tells us so.  That is what is at stake in this controversy.  As such it is a debate worth having and one that must continue so it can be brought to resolution.

If indeed “the Bible tells me so” yet Calvinism fails to provide such assurance, as I submit is the case, then the ultimate issue here is an interpretive oneHow does the Calvinist end up with an interpretation is which the Bible does not “tell me so” regarding the love God and Jesus have for me, you and every person?  How is it that the Calvinist interprets Scripture in a way that has Jesus loving only certain person’s predestined for salvation?  This involves us in the interpretation of the text of Scripture and therefore the question of what constitutes a proper, biblical hermeneutic.  That is, what principles constitute a sound hermeneutic by which can we discern an accurate interpretation of the biblical text.  We are ultimately asking what the Bible really tells us regarding the content of the gospel and the nature of salvation.

  1. We cannot respond to God in love and trust if we cannot be assured that he loves each of us and is kindly and graciously disposed towards us for our eternal good.

            A moment’s reflection will reveal this to be true.  How are we to respond lovingly to God if it is a real possibility that he does not love us and has even predestined us to an eternity in hell?

            To state that God has a fixed number of elect persons he has unconditionally predestined to save is vacuous as to its relevance to us personally and as far as the “good news” is concerned.  Calvinists merely presume their unconditional election and move on. But C. S. Lewis grasped the importance “how God thinks of us,” and knowing that, for us to respond in love to God. We can love God because we can know with assurance what God actually thinks about each of us personally and individually.  Lewis writes,

“In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.  I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God.  By God Himself, it is not!  How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important.  Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how he thinks of us.  It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected.  The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive the examination, shall find approval, shall please God.  To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.  But so it is.”[29]

We sense both the joy and dread in these alternatives that Lewis describes.  But he places the realization of one or the other not on God’s predetermination of some to that joy and all others to that dread, but holds forth “the promise of glory…only possible by the work of Christ” that can be had by “any of us who really chooses.”  Those who believe in this work of Christ “shall actually survive the examination, shall find approval, shall please God.”  God wants us to be able to please him. “To be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son.” In Christ we are “loved by God.”  But Calvinism places that love in doubt.  Therefore, one’s personal relationship to God and ability to positively respond to God are at stake here.  We need to know that God does not merely pity us, but again, that “by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive the examination, shall find approval, shall please God.” We need to know that God genuinely loves us in order to respond to him in love.  The very ontological[30], epistemological, and psychological grounds, motivation, and potential to respond to God in love is undermined by Calvinist determinism.

Those who claim they would love God even if he has assigned them to eternity in hell have an ill-conceived understanding of God, love, and themselves.  They are claiming that their love is both qualitatively different than, and indeed quantitatively greater than God’s love.  It is hard to see how they would not consider the nature of this kind of reciprocal relationship to be dysfunctional and unloving in any other circumstance.  Indeed, I submit they would consider it abnormal.  God is the only one who can love initially with an agape type of love.  We, in turn, love him because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:7ff.).

  1. The only coherent basis for us to obey the command to love our neighbor and our enemies is if God loves them too.

            How is it that God commands me to love my neighbor or my enemy, yet it is a real possibility that God himself does not love them?  That is, that they may not be among the elect.  God would be saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  God’s disposition and command to love would be incoherent and hypocritical with respect to the non-elect. (See 1 Jn. 3:16-18; 4:7ff.)

4. In actual practical living, no Calvinist lives consistent with their doctrinal theistic determinism

            Calvinists live on the basis of a non-Calvinist worldview of libertarian freedom and human responsibility.  Despite Calvinism’s eternal decree that determines all things and the doctrine of unconditional election, Calvinist’s live their Christian lives on the the same exhortation to continuance in faith and trust in God’s provision of salvation in Christ as found in non-Calvinist theologies. The Calvinist deterministic doctrines introduce no practical differences and have no practical effects in living the Christian life and believing that one is saved.  Hence, other than being interested in Calvinism as a theological matter, most believers give little attention to the Calvinist doctrines and their implications.  Theistic determinism is unlivable, and an unlivable theology is a sign of a flawed theology.

5. The common man’s common sense reactions to the Calvinist doctrines should not be ignored.

            The common reactions and observations of most people when they learn about the Calvinist doctrines are telling as to the implausibility of those doctrines.  Most people conclude “That simply doesn’t make sense” or “God can’t be like that!”  People just intuitively know something is amiss here and these “common sense” observations should not be ignored.  The words of Calvinist Kelly M. Kapic are fitting here.

“Theologians with advanced academic degrees must beware of a pompousness that would dismiss their brothers and sisters in the pew.  More than others, we are required to listen to, learn from and incorporate their faithful reflections into our living theology.  This does not mean uncritical acceptance, but it does mean genuinely treating those who walk with God as our fellow pilgrims.  These saints often see what we have missed or neglected.  They can instinctively detect errors missed by those sometimes isolated in their studies.”[31]

            Note that these common sense reactions to Calvinism of these “brothers and sisters” in the pew who “can instinctively detect errors missed by those sometimes isolated in their studies” are ultimately not considered important, persuasive or hermeneutically significant for the Calvinist.  

E. Ministry Concerns

  1. Calvinist soteriology cannot be put into the service of a biblical, evangelical gospel ministry.

            Properly defined, evangelical ministry, at a minimum, consists in “the proclamation of the good news.”  The Calvinist “doctrines of grace” (i.e., total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace or effectual calling, and the perseverance and preservation of the saints, that is, “TULIP” or variations thereof), are not “good news” to sinners.  They are “news” but not “good news” because on the basis of these doctrines the sinner cannot be assured of God’s love for them, Christ’s atoning death on their behalf, or that they have been predestined to salvation and eternal life.

            Although some Calvinists claim their “doctrines of grace” are the biblical gospel, they do not preach these doctrines as the gospel message to sinners.  Although some Calvinists will claim their “five points” are the gospel message, they restrict the teaching of their “gospel” theology to “mature” believers while attempting to keep it from non-believers, new believers, and children.  A message that has to be kept from non-believers can hardly be the true gospel. A message that has to be kept from new believers raises the question as to what “gospel” message they heard to become a believer. It must have been the truly good news of a non-Calvinist gospel message. And if all little children must be assured of God’s love for them and that they are “precious in his sight,” then again, that message is disingenuous to those who are among the non-elect. The point is that the Calvinist doctrines cannot be put into the service of evangelism as the preaching of “good news.”

            Other Calvinists do not claim their “doctrines of grace” should be equated with the gospel message.  As such we wonder how it is that one’s soteriology, which contains the full and final explanation of how and why a person becomes saved, can be separated from their gospel content and message.  As such, when these Calvinists do give present gospel message that is truly “good news,” they end up speaking disingenuously and inconsistently with their fundamental soteriological doctrines.  They end up presenting a non-Calvinist message of “good news” to all. This demonstrates once again that Calvinism has no coherent place within a genuinely evangelical gospel ministry.

2. Calvinists are inconsistent and disingenuous in their preaching and teaching.

            When not specifically teaching on their Calvinist doctrines, Calvinists preach and teach inconsistent with their Calvinist deterministic theology.  Calvinist preaching, writings, lectures, and expositions of Scripture are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory with their fundamental deterministic doctrines of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.  They preach and teach as though reality were contingent and there exists genuine human freedom and responsibility.  They completely dismiss the inconsistency between their words and deterministic theology.  Thus Calvinists are disingenuous in their preaching and teaching.

3. Calvinists must ignore the incompatibility between their theology and the non-Calvinist gospel as they attempt to work together with non-Calvinists for the cause of evangelism and the gospel in ministry.

4. Calvinism is a post-Arminian-conversion theology.  Calvinists are saved by hearing and responding to a non-Calvinist gospel message. It is only afterwards that they adopt Calvinism and must presume that they are among those unconditionally elected to salvation.

            Sometime after they have first heard a non-Calvinist gospel message by which they were brought to salvation by believing it, that believer, who for certain reasons becomes a Calvinist, must thereafter presume his own unconditional election.  It is only by hearing a non-Calvinist gospel that they could know that God loves them personally and individually, that Christ died for their sins, and that they can have the assurance that they can be saved.  This is the message they first heard and had to hear for it to be “good news” to them so they could respond positively in reciprocal love to God for his love and grace expressed to them “in Christ.”  But this “good news” message is inconsistent with their subsequent Calvinist soteriology.  They therefore presume that they are among the elect only after they have been assured that they are included in God’s love and salvation in Christ and therefore can assuredly be saved. 

5. Calvinism requires the suppression of a person’s reason and moral intuitions.

            Given the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions in Calvinism, in order to embrace it one has to be “educated” out of their confidence in their fundamental logical reasoning and their innate moral intuitions by which they know specific propositions and concepts to be contradictory and incoherent.  There is a suppression of reason that one must acquiescence to so as to become a Calvinist and remain a Calvinist.  A troubling example is the advice J. I. Packer gives when he asserts his inconsistent, contradictory theology should be thought of as an “antinomy.” He states,

“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.”[32]

6. Calvinist are inconsistent regarding the death of infants.

            Most Calvinists would hold that those who die in infancy, and the massive numbers of unborn that are victims of abortion, are taken to be with God and Christ in heaven.  These therefore must all be among the elect.  If at one time all infants are among the elect and would be taken to heaven if they died, when do those who do survive infancy become one of the non-elect?  At some point in their life?  How is this coherent with God having predetermined who will be saved and who will not before they are even born?

            Furthermore, on Calvinism, God predetermined and caused the Roe v. Wade decision and the killing of approximately 52 million babies since that 1973 decision.  As Calvinists protest abortion they protest the will, plans and purposes of God for these lives.  They protest against God’s glorifying himself through the actions of these doctor’s and parents. These acts are, of course, murderous and heinous. Gratuitous abortion is a crime against humanity. Yet, on Calvinism, each one God ordained and caused to occur. The logical and moral incoherence of Calvinism is insuperable.  It is a sure sign of biblical misinterpretation.

In addition, Calvinists believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life because we are all created “in the image of God.” Yet Calvinism is inconsistent with the sanctity and dignity of human life in that God himself condemns the vast majority of those made in his image to eternal damnation and death. The life he calls us to cherish and protect he predestines to eternal condemnation and separation from himself.

7. Calvinists believe there are two ways to be saved.

The first way is, of course, by the unconditional election of the individual sinner. But those who are parents (who presume their own unconditional election and cannot endure the thought that their children may be among the reprobate that God has not chosen for salvation), also believe their children are among the elect and will be saved. They believe this because election in the Old Testament involved the whole family. As children of Abraham, each descendant was among the elect of God. Therefore, the Calvinist parent who believes that they are among the elect of God also believes their children are among the elect of God. By virtue of the parents being among those unconditionally elected by God and upon whom God has bestowed faith, their children too are among the elect of God. They too will be given faith and be saved. Therefore these Calvinist parents believe there are two ways of being saved. The first is unconditional election, and the second is by parental spiritual privilege or lineage. The children of such parents are automatically deemed to be among the unconditionally elect and therefore receive salvation by virtue of the parents being unconditionally elected to salvation. The child of course must believe, but that is a foregone conclusion as a result of their being born to parents that are among the elect of God. Recall that election is unconditional, so the response of faith is impossible for these children to exercise. It must be given to them by God (as it was for their parents) in light of their being unconditionally elected to salvation. Faith and salvation are guaranteed these children because their parents are among the elect of God.

F. Hermeneutical / Interpretive Concerns

  1. Rational and moral coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction are necessary for determining valid interpretations of Scripture. 
  1. Rational and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are sufficient characteristics for determining invalid interpretations of Scripture.

            The logical, moral, epistemological, practical, and theological incoherence and contradictions generated by the Calvinist interpretations on divine sovereignty and soteriology are reliable indicators that something is interpretively amiss.  The presence of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction is sufficient to declare a proposed interpretation to be incorrect. A biblically sound hermeneutic does not generate incoherence and contradiction among the meanings of various texts and theological concepts.  It is a faulty hermeneutic that accepts conflicting interpretative results, especially when in conflict with the meanings of the clearer, universally affirmed texts and theological truths of Scripture.

  1. There is a hermeneutical divide between non-Calvinists and Calvinists.

            The Calvinist does not acknowledge that rational and moral coherence, consistency, and non-contradiction are essential to a proper hermeneutic.  The non-Calvinist acknowledges these as essential to a proper hermeneutic.  This is the hermeneutical divide that is the cause of the differences in interpretation between the Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions.

  1. The Calvinist’s soteriological interpretive conclusions are non-negotiable.

             Calvinists presuppose that their soteriological interpretations are the true and accurate interpretations of the relevant texts.  They do not consider that the incoherencies and contradictions that their interpretations generate may indicate that they are misinterpretations of the texts.  Rather, they explain away these incoherencies by simply resorting to divine mystery, apparent contradiction, the Bible teaches both (determinism and human freedom), the incapacity of sinful human reason, incomprehensibility, lack of faith, the desire for human autonomy, human pride, compatibilism, etc.  But these are mere assertions or philosophical “end runs” that do not lend insight into the truth of these matters or address the hermeneutical issues involved.

  1. The principle of coherence is integral to the essential interpretive principle of context.

            To interpret in context is in principle and practice equivalent to interpreting coherently.  The principle of context presumes that the author intended to be coherent in what he wrote.  Therefore to interpret in context requires that our interpretations demonstrate how they are coherent with the thoughts in the immediate vicinity (context) and in light of the truths gleaned from the broader context or full scope of the cannon of Scripture. 

  1. To accept incoherence in interpretation is to violate the universally accepted fundamental hermeneutical principle of context.

            In that Calvinist interpretation is characterized by logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, Calvinists must ultimately ignore the essential hermeneutical principle of context.  They are in effect setting different contexts at odds with each other.

7. By resorting to divine mystery, apparent contradiction, the Bible teaches both, the incapacity of sinful human reason, incomprehensibility, lack of faith, the desire for human autonomy, human pride, etc., the Calvinist fosters an anti-intellectualism which shuts down responsible thinking and inquiry into what constitutes a sound, biblical hermeneutic and a reasoned examination of their own exegetical conclusions.

8. Philosophical reasoning and moral intuitions must be included as a part of a responsible exegesis and sound hermeneutic.  These must not be suppressed.

We must maintain that interpretations that can be deemed valid should take seriously the deliberations of our logical faculties and moral intuitions.  We acknowledge this to be the case in all other inquiries and conclusions we come to.  We believe things to be true based on clear logical and moral reasoning.  The law of non-contradiction is one of these laws of logic that if dismissed leaves us without rational means to discern what is true from what is false; what is rational from what is irrational; what constitutes valid thought and conclusions from invalid thoughts and conclusions.  It is no wonder that the Calvinist must then flee to “mystery” or “incomprehensibility.”  They are required to do so because their theology has generated contradictions, and to insist that such a theology is the truth requires eliminating from one’s hermeneutic the intellectual tools that make for discerning true from false interpretations.  Given interpretations that generate logical and moral incoherencies and contradictions, in order to preserve those interpretations, reason must be suppressed.

The point is that the Calvinist uses reason to do exegesis, but then jettisons it when their exegesis produces interpretations of divine sovereignty as deterministic and election as unconditional that contradict what we know of human freedom and the nature and character of God as good which are also gleaned from a responsible exegesis of Scripture. Deterministic sovereignty and election as unconditional also contradict our logical and moral intuitions about justice and love which are also informed by both natural and special revelation.  Adherence to fundamental laws of rational thought and our best moral intuitions, informed by and continually interacting with Scripture, are the basis upon which we must discern the validity of our interpretive conclusions, otherwise one could never determine a valid interpretive conclusion from an invalid one.

Granted, human reason does not have the capacity to discover all truth about God.  But that is not the issue at hand.  The issue is whether what is claimed to be true about God as revealed in written Scripture is incoherent with what is claimed to be also true about many other revealed biblical and theological doctrines in that same written ScriptureIt is a matter of discerning the truth among things that have already been revealed.  And being that this revelation has been given via a written text, identifying and practicing proper textual interpretation based on sound hermeneutical principles becomes essential.

Conflicting Scriptural interpretations need an arbiter.  What is in question is whether it can be legitimately asserted that Scripture itself warrants the conclusion that Scripture contradicts itself logically and morally as when the Calvinist claims “the Bible teaches both determinism and free will” or teach “unconditional election, effectual call and irresistible grace” while also teaching “the sinner is responsible for either accepting or rejecting the gospel.”  Or, whether it can be legitimately asserted that God’s nature and actions can be the complete reverse of our logical and moral reasoning, our sense of justice and equity, our understanding and experience of love and goodness, etc., as when it is claimed that God loves every person and yet created certain persons to be predestined to eternal damnation and punishment in hell for the sole purpose of glorifying himself by displaying his wrath on them.  If that is the case, then it is as C. S. Lewis put it, “God is we know not what.”

Certainly God must reveal himself and his ways to us because they are beyond our capacity to discover and know due to the limitations of our finite reason.  Yet his revelation is not incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory within itself.  Reason is given to us by God to be the sufficient arbiter for accurately understanding what God has already revealed in nature and his Word.  David Baggett and Jerry Walls observe,

“There are aspects of God that transcend our reason to be sure, but God doesn’t call us to believe anything opposed to reason.  This distinction is one that some popular postmodern Christian writers often fail to grasp, and they thereby tend to make a virtue of incoherence.”[33]

When the Calvinist dismisses as “mystery,” “antinomy,” “human incomprehensibility,” “the Bible teaches both,” etc., what we know to be in conflict with properly basic logical and moral beliefs, then no sufficient arbiter remains to discern whether the proposed interpretations are correct or not.  The mind is left suspended in conflicting and contradictory thoughts and can find no sufficient grounding; no resting place in a suitable resolution – not even in God himself!  That is the very essence of a real contradiction.  For all things, including our reasonings, ultimately must find their grounding in the character and works of God.

Interpretations must be reasonably and responsibly established exegetically but also reasonably and responsibly defended philosophically, that is, demonstrate clear, coherent thought.  Therefore, when real contradiction and incoherence is the result of the exegetical interpretive procedure, that procedure and its conclusions must be revisited.  Performing exegesis in accord with the laws of logic and our moral intuitions is the real non-negotiable here, not the Calvinist understanding of sovereignty as divine determinism and election as unconditional.  To equate the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” with the unerring, non-negotiable teaching of Scripture, and to claim the non-Calvinist is relying on fallen human reason, seeking human autonomy and refusing to bow to the authority of God and Scripture, is question-begging.  Rational coherence and moral norms provide a way to discern the validity of interpretive claims.

  1. Reason, revelation and exegesis should not be dichotomized.

            Does my thesis that our interpretations must exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction place human reason above revelation and the grammatical-historical method of exegesis?  No.  Rather, it is to make a much needed clarification of the relationship among reason, revelation and exegesis in the interpretative task.

            Baggett and Walls state that logical reasoning, our moral sense, and theological coherence are God-given aspects of his general revelation to us.  Therefore these faculties have a degree of reliability to discern the truth about reality.  This would include claims about the meaning of biblical texts and the theological paradigms built upon them.  Therefore, coherence and non-contradiction must be brought to bear in discerning the validity of textual interpretations along with their theological propositions and constructs.

Each side in the Calvinist/non-Calvinist debate can produce their “proof texts.”  Each claims that a proper exegesis of these texts supports their doctrinal conclusions.  Yet, they also result in contradictory views.  This problem cannot simply be ignored.  What will adjudicate between conflicting, contradictory exegetical conclusions?  The solution to the problem must be found in a fuller consideration of what constitutes a proper hermeneutic.  Therefore, this is ultimately a hermeneutical issue.

Baggett and Walls submit that a proper hermeneutic must incorporate what we have been given in general revelation, what they call “philosophy,” which simply is the use of our God-given reason for the purpose of thinking clearly about interpretive claims.  They write,

“We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored in the process of figuring out the answers to such questions.  The Protestant principle of sola scriptura is sometimes today misunderstood to imply that clear thinking and good reason play no part in figuring out God’s revealed truths.  The primacy of the Bible in terms of its theological truth is taken to imply that exegesis, biblical interpretation, carefully isolated from any other sources of insight, ought to be able to answer any and all theological disputes that may arise.

Skepticism toward philosophy often reaches fever pitch in the Calvinism / Arminianism debate, where disputants on both sides of the divide often eschew the deliverances of philosophy and insist that the question must be settled on biblical and exegetical grounds alone.  Any hint of even bringing philosophical analysis into the conversation is thought to be anathema, abandoning the authority of Scripture to provide reliable revelation.

Here we need to draw an important distinction.  Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology….take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation.  Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically.  The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth.  But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy.  Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally.  It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.

…When someone suggests that we “don’t need philosophy,” either in this debate or more generally, their words at best reflect a huge misunderstanding.  The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think.  Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought.  Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be a people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic.  It’s just not that simple.  We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of Scripture.  If, in addition to building a strong biblical and historical case against Calvinism…we can also build a strong philosophical case, that’s significant.  Indeed, it’s essential to the very process of biblical interpretation…Philosophy can and ought to help adjudicate this intractable debate among Christians.”[34]

There is an important point to grasp here. It is that the deliverances of philosophy and the observations of exegesis cannot be separated in the process of interpretation. Exegesis alone does not necessarily lead to an accurate understanding of a text. There are issues in interpretation that cannot be settled on biblical and exegetical grounds alone. To ignore the deliverances of philosophical reflection as essential to one’s hermeneutic, that is, the need for coherence, consistency and non-contradiction, is to expose oneself to the possibility of seriously misinterpreting the text.

Even the Calvinist 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.”[35]

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 too 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.  Yet, Baggett and Walls argue that these incoherencies should be weighty indicators that something is amiss in Calvinist textual interpretations.

The Calvinist obviously implicitly admits some validity to the non-Calvinist soteriological interpretations that acknowledge a non-deterministic sovereignty and significant human freedom, otherwise they would not have to strive to reconcile their own deterministic views with human freedom by attempting to argue that theistic determinism and genuine human freedom are compatible (i.e., compatibilism).  Other indications that they feel the force of the reality of contingency and human freedom are the need to assert that the problem is a “divine mystery,” an “antinomy,” an “apparent” contradiction, “the Bible teaches both,” or that it is “incomprehensible to the sinful human mind.”

Calvinists also claim that those who reject their theistic determinism are merely exhibiting their desire for creaturely autonomy from the sovereign, Creator God.  They say it is an evidence of a lack of humility and stubborn pride on the part of the non-Calvinist to refuse to embrace their “doctrines of grace.”  Yet, of course, this too is incoherent and self-defeating for it presupposes genuine human freedom.  The consistent Calvinist would simply have to say that God has determined such to be the case with these people.  But then what is there to reconcile or even discuss.  All this is to say that if the biblical teaching were as clearly deterministic as Calvinists make it out to be, there would be no problem here to reconcile.  Each is determined by God to believe what they believe.  Consistent Calvinists will leave it at that, and that is perhaps the reason why they feel they can simply ignore in silence those who challenge their theology.  But if Calvinism is indeed self-defeating in this way, given that we do take logic on board in our hermeneutic, then we must conclude Calvinism is false.

The main point I wish to make is that rather than questioning the accuracy of their interpretations because of the contradiction and incoherence generated by Calvinism, they would rather dismiss that possibility and find refuge in the above “explanations.”  But all that the Calvinist has done is to merely assert that we cannot comprehend divine sovereignty, human freedom, election, etc. as they have interpreted them.  But that is not a convincing defense of neither their exegesis nor, more fundamentally, the hermeneutic involved that brought them to that position.  What they are making very clear is that their hermeneutic does not include the light shed upon the issues by philosophical deliberations and moral considerations.  What the Calvinist has done is incorporate incoherence and contradiction into his hermeneutic and interpretive/theological method.  Once that move is made, there seems to be no rational means by which the issue can be addressed, let alone resolved as to the biblical truth of the matter. The Calvinist has created and adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence.

There is no disagreement from the non-Calvinist that exegesis of the biblical text is foundational, only that good exegesis rests upon the acceptance and adherence to sound hermeneutical principles. There are considerations that stem from a sound hermeneutic by which the validity of one’s exegesis is to be evaluated.  When we insist on coherence and non-contradiction as crucial to our hermeneutic – letting their light shine bright upon the Calvinist doctrines and their reasonings offered in defense of those doctrines – one can better see the full scope of their logical, moral, epistemological, theological, and practical incoherence and contradiction.  I attempted to do this above.  It is only then that Calvinist theistic determinism shows itself as an extremely problematic theology.  As long as evangelical Christians continue to foster vague notions of what it means for God to be “sovereign” or subjectively pick and choose theistic determinism or human freedom according to what best fits the circumstance facing them at the time, and as long as they are willing to suppress their rational and moral faculties for the sake of a frail and false “evangelical unity” while turning a blind eye to the Calvinist’s linguistic legerdemain, disingenuousness and inconsistency with their underlying theology, then no advance towards the solution to this problem can be made. Lest we delude ourselves into thinking that two mutually exclusive theologies and soteriologies can both be true, accurate interpretations of Scripture, we must demand intellectual responsibility and honesty in the interpretive task. We must adopt a hermeneutic of coherence.

Baggett and Walls think these additional God-given “philosophical” considerations (i.e., use of our logical faculties and moral intuitions) are essential to a sound hermeneutic.  They state,

“Using rationality and logic and our best philosophical tools and moral insights isn’t contrary to God’s plan for Christians.  It’s all part of our God-given nature and his general revelation to us, by which we can determine in the first place that the Bible is God’s special revelation to us and by which we can best interpret it in a way that accords with God’s morally perfect and recognizably good nature.”[36]

            Philosopher J. P. Moreland states,

“We are committed to Christianity in general, or some doctrinal position in particular, because we take that commitment to express what is true.  And we are committed to the importance of our God-given faculty of mind to aid us in assessing what is true.”[37]

            Philosopher and apologist Douglas Groothuis writes,

“There is no doubt that human reasoning and human reasoners have been adversely affected by the fall.  However, reason itself – the logical structure of being and argument – is based on the eternal character of God as the Word (the Logos [John 1:1]), and on his bestowal of reason to creatures made in his image and likeness.[38]  In that sense, reason is not fallen.  Reason in itself cannot be fallen and remain reason.”[39]

            C. S. Lewis summarizes the issue well when he writes,

“…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 standard…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)”[40]

            Lewis identifies the existential and epistemological problem of Calvinism.  That is, “…an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying him.”  It seems that the kind of “fear” that springs from the unknowns of Calvinist theistic determinism and unconditional election is the same kind of “fear” that one would have in the presence of “an omnipotent Fiend.”  Lewis’ reflections at the death of his wife Joy are worth repeating.  Lewis struggled with the nature of God’s goodness.  He wrote,

               “Or could one seriously introduce the idea of a bad God, as it were by the back door, through a sort of extreme Calvinism? You could say we are fallen and depraved.  We are so depraved that our ideas of goodness count for nothing; or worse than nothing – the very fact that we think something good is presumptive evidence that it is really bad.  Now God has in fact – our worst fears are true – all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty.  But all these blacks (as they seem to us) are really whites.  It’s only our depravity that makes them look black to us.

               And so what?  This, for all practical (and speculative) purposes sponges God off the slate.  The word good, applied to Him, becomes meaningless: like abracadabra. We have no motive for obeying him.  Not even fear.  It is true we have his threats and promises.  But why should we believe them?  If cruelty is from his point of view “good,” telling lies may be “good” too.  Even if they are true, what then?  If His ideas of good are so very different from ours, what he calls “Heaven” might be what we should call Hell, and vice-versa.  Finally, if reality at its roots is so meaningless to us – or, putting it the other way round, if we are such total imbeciles – what is the point of trying to think either about God or about anything else?  This knot comes undone when you try to pull it tight.”[41]

            Baggett and Walls state,

“God’s good can’t be our evil…We may not always see what God’s goodness entails, but we can be confident of some things it precludes.” [42]  “…it is not just hard to reconcile unconditional reprobation with a morally perfect God, but simply impossible.”[43]

That has been the crux of the summary points listed above.  We can tell what the Bible cannot mean when interpretive results generate real contradictions and incoherencies.  As such these results are logically and morally impossible and therefore may be deemed not to be what the Bible actually teaches us and therefore what is not to be believed.  The presuppositions of logical thought we all employ to reason and communicate cannot be dismissed when we read and interpret the Bible.

Where do certain interpretations lead us with respect to their logical and moral implications?  One must take that question seriously and discern how the answer comes to bear upon their hermeneutic.  Logical and moral reasoning, along with a consistent application of what we know of the nature and character of God are essential to hermeneutics.  They are elements in God’s general revelation to us and therefore they cannot be dismissed in discerning the validity of the proposed interpretations of his special revelation (i.e., the Bible) and our subsequent theological constructs built upon it.


            So herein lies the source of the exasperation experienced when the non-Calvinist and the Calvinist attempt to communicate.  The Calvinist and non-Calvinist are operating on two very different hermeneutical criteria.  The non-Calvinist believes that logical, moral, epistemological, and theological coherence and non-contradiction are essential elements for sound interpretation.  He finds “positive moral significance”[44] as well as positive logical significance in the incoherence and contradictions raised by Calvinism.  In contrast, this logical and moral significance is discounted by the Calvinist because their interpretations of sovereignty as deterministic and election as unconditional are forever fixed, being deemed a priori to be the proper interpretation of Scripture.  This is the hermeneutical divide.

            Rather than view contradiction and incoherence as interpretive “red-flags” indicating that their interpretations may be incorrect and employ them to reconsider their interpretations, the Calvinist dismisses them through the various conceptual and rhetorical devices mentioned above.  Rather than using logical, moral, epistemological, and theological coherence and consistency as interpretive tools that would either affirm one’s interpretive conclusions or cause one to re-evaluate them, they are explained away with the reasonings cited.

Coming to the biblical teaching on these matters does not yield to simplistic “proof-texting,” intellectual sloth, or fragmented and limited theological thinking on either side.  Yet, the logical, moral, epistemological, theological, and practical incoherencies inherent in Calvinism, when cumulatively considered, presents formidable evidence that something is seriously wrong there.  There is a strong cumulative case against Calvinism.

The Calvinist will insist, as does the non-Calvinist, that the ultimate issue is whether one has accurately interpreted Scripture.  Both hold that the Bible is the ultimate authority.  Both can produce texts to support their positions.  But how can one claim they have accurately understood their supporting texts when the interpretive results are mutually exclusive?  The Bible is authoritative, but it is we human beings who must interpret it.  The question we are always left with is how to know whether one has accurately interpreted the Bible.  That is what we must grapple with.  That is ultimately a hermeneutical issue.  And we have a crucial hermeneutical issue here in this controversy.  The human beings who interpret the Bible are rational and moral beings.  This is a gift of God given to us as part of his general revelation.  Hence it seems necessary that we bring in sound logical and moral reasoning to arbitrate between disparate interpretations so as to discern which one reflects the most plausible meaning of the text.

One can easily base their Calvinist convictions on select verses and dismiss the problems listed above as not ultimately relevant if the Bible actually does teach both Calvinist deterministic sovereignty and genuine human freedom.  But the “if” is what we are attempting to discern.  Therefore, merely to flee to “divine mystery” or label the acknowledged contradiction as only “apparent” is to beg the question.  It assumes that the Bible does actually teach Calvinist determinism and genuine human freedom and halts all further inquiry into whether or not that is indeed the case.

Hence the one who embraces Calvinism must be willing to embrace a hermeneutic that fails to find positive logical and moral significance in the substantial problems listed above.  To me, that failure is baffling and both intellectually and morally irresponsible.  It is also hermeneutically deficient.  Therefore, I contend Calvinism is an unacceptable theology for the biblical Christian. As far as I can see the Calvinist theology and “doctrines of grace” are not morally nor intellectually sustainable and therefore not reflective of a biblically adequate hermeneutic.  Hence, to embrace Calvinism requires too high an intellectual, moral, and theological price to pay.

This is what makes discussion with Calvinists on these matters very difficult.  It is that they remain unconvinced that logic and moral “givens” play a definitive role in discerning the validity of their interpretations and the theology derived from them.  They acknowledge the importance of logical and moral concerns in general, but in the end these hold little to no weight with respect to evaluating the validity of their theological claims.  Non-Calvinists who have attempted to engage Calvinists regarding the problems within their theology have experienced this.  At a predictable point the discussion tails off into “mystery” and the Calvinist asserts that these things cannot be understood by fallen, sinful human minds.  Of course the claim that we cannot understand the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture ends all discussion.  How are we going to dialogue about something neither of us can understand?  At this point the response of many Calvinists is to completely disengage in a “deafening” silence.  They may even take this posture prior to any discussion.  After all, no explanations are necessary because it is the sovereign will of God that he does not show the non-Calvinist the truth of Calvinism. But “mystery” in the face of incoherence is not a satisfactory hermeneutic for the non-Calvinist.  The non-Calvinist wants to reason about Scripture whereas for the Calvinist their propositions that are deemed contradictory, inconsistent or incoherent by the non-Calvinist are for the Calvinist only “apparently” so.  They are not really so.  So as long as the Calvinist insists that his Calvinism is a “mystery” of the biblical revelation on these matters nothing more can be said.

I submit that this is a controversy in which the truth is to be discerned in the manner by which we discern it all other matters where there are conflicting perspectives, that is, on the basis of the evidence and information available to us we make inference to the best explanation.  This presupposes the veridicality of reason and moral intuition.  And given the fact that there are non-Calvinist interpretations of the relevant texts that are exegetically sound, foster doctrinal coherence, and that by establishing the nature and character of God as morally recognizable remain christologically centered and epistemologically transparent as to the salvific will of God for each of us, thereby affirming the gospel as “good news,” I see the weight of evidence favoring non-Calvinist theologies, and no substantive reasons to embrace Calvinism.

These matters are especially pressing in that they converge on the gospel itself as to its actual biblical content and its ethical proclamation in Holy Spirit power.  One would think that the central theme and message of the whole of Scripture – the gospel – would be clearly discernible by the evangelical church.  Therefore, it is indeed a curious and troubling phenomenon that there are two contradictory soteriologies and gospels presently accepted in the “evangelical” church today.  Indeed, I contend that the very content of the gospel as “good news” and the nature and effectiveness of a truly evangelical ministry is at stake here.  With all the books that are presently being written on “the gospel,” especially by Calvinists, there is one essential question that demands a definitive answer and that is pressing itself upon the Christian church in our day.  That question is “What is the biblical gospel?”  If the church is to be truly evangelical, that is, be the guardian and proclaimer of “good news,” then it must come to grips with the truth of the gospel.  In order to do that it must come to grips with this hermeneutical divide.

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[1] By epistemological I mean whether or not you can know God aright and his salvific will for each of us.  Can we know what the character of God is truly like and can you know you can be saved?  These are critical issues at stake in this controversy.

[2] Henry C. Thiessen, Introductory Lessons in Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 347-348.

[3] Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.

[4] I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, 3rd ed., (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 270

[5] Jerry L Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 185.

[6] I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, chap. xxv as found in C. S. Lewis, Miracles, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1947), 12.

[7] Here I refer you to chapter 4 and William Lane Craig’s critique of Calvinism.  In his Defenders Bible study class Dr. Craig offers a five-fold critique of Calvinist theology which he describes as “universal divine causal determinism.”  It should be noted that the reasons Dr. Craig gives for rejecting Calvinism rest upon the logical and moral entailments of the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture as deterministic.  Calvinists claim that this determinism is the result of proper exegesis of the relevant texts.  But how can that be?  What Dr. Craig does is examine the logical and moral entailments of what Calvinist’s conclude from their exegesis of the biblical text to see if those entailments are logically consistent and non-contradictory and morally coherent.  On the basis of the problematic logical and moral entailments of Calvinism, Dr. Craig concludes that the Calvinist’s “universal divine causal determinism” is “unacceptable for Christian theology.”  The point is, that on the basis of logical and moral reasoning we can know that the Calvinists exegesis is not what Scripture teaches.  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.

[8] 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.

[9] Leighton Flowers, “Why Do Most Christians Resist Calvinism?”  Nov. 15. 2019,  (01:38 – 03:35)

[10] Leighton Flowers, “Why Do Most Christians Resist Calvinism?”  Nov. 15. 2019, (00:31 – 01:24)

[11] I will critique the Calvinist’s attempts to alleviate their logical and moral problems later.  Suffice it to say here that they have an their arsenal of “explanations” that fail to convince – “the Bible teaches both” determinism and human freedom and responsibility, compatibilism, “God has “two wills,” God works through “secondary causes” and “means,” “apparent contradiction,” “incomprehensibility,” “paradox,” “antinomy,” “high mystery” and “faith seeking understanding.”  All these are either ad hoc or question-begging.  What these “explanations” demonstrate is that ultimately Calvinists realize their difficulties are insurmountable as far as logic and morality goes.

[12] The logical quandaries run deep for Reformed thought.  For instance, in light of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty, let me ask this question.  If I do not embrace the Reformed position, was I predestined to do so?  The answer must be “Yes.”  Furthermore, would a Calvinist be concerned that I do not embrace the Reformed doctrines as biblical and true?  On what basis would they have this “concern”?  The word “concern” presupposes the real contingency of a genuine freedom and ability for me to choose what is good or something other than what is good.  It presupposes that things may and should be otherwise with regard to some matter by virtue of the choices a person makes or fails to make.  The concept of wisdom presupposes genuine human free agency.

               Furthermore, in what reality would the Calvinist’s “concern” for me be grounded?  If the Calvinist is “concerned” as a mere sinful man, would not God, who is the God of truth, perfect love and compassion, also be “concerned” that I walk in the truth?  Would he not then desire that I embrace the Calvinist doctrines?  But why would God then not predetermine my acceptance of those doctrines?  Yet given the Reformed doctrines of God’s sovereignty and election, how can I be or do otherwise?

               Moreover, many Calvinist’s state that their “doctrines of grace” are the very gospel message.  That would include unconditional election.  And therefore, since it is the Calvinist’s gospel, it must be their desire that all embrace those doctrines and be saved.  Would the Calvinist not say then that it is God’s desire that I embrace the “doctrines of grace” since He “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also vs. 6 and 4:10)?  Can the Calvinist’s desire, as an expression of God’s desire, be in opposition to God having ultimately determined that I do not embrace the truth of the gospel?  Can the God of truth will and determine something other than what is good and true?  Can God desire something to be other than what he has predetermined and decreed it to be?  Is God’s “desire” (what he wants to happen) in conflict with his “sovereign will” (what he has decreed and predetermined to happen)?  And hence is the Calvinist’s desire that all believe their “doctrines of grace” appropriate and accurate?  It would seem to me that the Calvinist’s determinism ultimately ends in an all-round practical and spiritual indifference.

               Bringing this down to the level of human actions – is the Calvinist trying to persuade me to embrace Calvinism or simply to inform me of it?  What meaning does the word “persuade” have for the Calvinist?  Is it just another “means” through which God accomplishes what he has already predetermined to occur?  If so, if the “means” have therefore also been predetermined, doesn’t that render words such as “persuade,” “convince,” “command,” “invite,” “offer” etc. meaningless?

               Most importantly, can we know the answer to these questions?  Can we know from Scripture that God wants me (and you and everyone) to live in the truth and be saved?  What is the biblical definition and nature of “hope?”  Even if I come to accept the Reformed view in the future by “sovereign grace,” how would a Calvinist explain my present rejection of the doctrines?  What is the meaning and implication of this “rejection?”  Would the Calvinist say that I am presently exercising what they must admit to be something like “free-will” in opposition to God’s desire for me that he has predetermined and will realize in my life in the future?  Surely one’s stubbornness is not ordained by God…or is it?  According to Calvinist sovereignty it must be.  But does God work against himself?  Is it in his nature to will not only good but ultimate evil?  Where is such a conflicted dynamic found in biblical teaching?  It boggles the mind!  The real “mystery” lies in the Calvinist thought process not the biblical doctrines of sovereignty, election and human free-will.

               I maintain that all these questions are better accounted for from a non-Calvinist perspective.  I can honestly admit that what I appear to be doing is actually what I am trying to do, that is, persuade you!  Your present and eternal situation is not fixed but open to genuine possibilities and influences.

[13] This is a summary of compatibilism.  It is the position that God’s sovereignty as an exhaustive determinism is compatible with human freedom.  What the compatibilist does is qualify human freedom to mean doing as one desires.  As long as you want to do what you do you are doing it freely.  Yet, the compatibilist maintains that it is God who determines your desires.  For a full critique of this position see Jerry L. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist”, Philosophia Christi, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011.  See also Wall’s lecture on You Tube, “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” given during the Evangel University Philosophy Guest Lecture Series published on Feb. 19, 2013.

[14] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1962), 28.

In this book Lewis deals with the topics of divine omnipotence and divine goodness as they relate to the pain and wickedness we observe and experience in the world.  “If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”  Lewis goes on to examine under what conditions God made the world which entailed the consequent possibility of pain and wickedness.  Divine omnipotence and divine goodness are further defined; exhibited in a world of fixed laws, divine self-limitation, and the free will of creatures.  The book is pertinent to our topic.  It is also important to note that on Calvinist determinism Christians lose the force of the “free-will defense” against the problem of evil and suffering.

[15] C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 413.

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

[17] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 75.  Those familiar with apologetics will recognize that the Calvinist is impaled on the “God wills the good” horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

[18] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 37, 38.

[19] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), 36-38.

[20] Ibid., 65.

[21] Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 99,100.

[22] Dr. Leighton Flowers, “Acts 13:48: Response to Dr. Sean Cole,” September 25, 2017 podcast at 1:14;25.  The podcast can be heard here.  Last accessed 2/15/2018.

[23] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.24.8; see also 3.2.11. (Italics mine.)  See the full discussion of the above quotes in Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 164-69.

[24] As Calvin states, “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.”John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[25] 1 John 1:5.

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

[27] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), 36-38.

[28] Epistemology is that branch of philosophy that deals with questions of knowledge and how we know what we know.  Here it refers to whether or not we can assuredly know what is God’s disposition and saving will with respect to every person and whether we can know God’s true nature and character.

[29] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 10-12.

[30] Here what I mean by “ontological grounds” has to do with the way things actually are in reality.  We know from Calvinism that there is a limited number who are elect to salvation and all others God has determined not to save.  Hence, it is a real possibility that God has not elected you to salvation.  Therefore, if that is the case, he certainly does not love you or have your good in mind.  I take it that our response of love and thankfulness to God, for it to be at all coherent, will accord with the surety of our knowledge of his love and saving disposition towards us personally and individually.

[31] Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 103.

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

[33] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80.

[34] Ibid., 67, 68.

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

[36] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80.

[37] J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 99.

[38] The meaning of logos in John 1:1 is wider than reason alone; it also indicates verbal communication.  See Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), pp. 54-55.  The apostle John uses logos in a manner that goes far beyond its use in Greek philosophy, since the logos is personal, moral and transcendent.  For a thorough development of these themes, see Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1976-1983), 3:164-247.

[39] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 177.

[40] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 37, 38.

[41] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), 36-38.

[42] David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80

[43] Ibid., 77

[44] A phrase taken from Jerry L. Walls, “Divine Commands, Predestination and Moral Intuition” in The Grace of God, The Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 261-276.

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