Example 9 – Erwin Lutzer’s Inconsistency on Election and Predestination


Back to Chapter 11 – Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence


Calvinist Erwin Lutzer is pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago.  Writing on the doctrine of election he states,

“First of all, we must affirm that all Christians believe in election; if you believe the Bible, you believe in election since it is taught both directly and indirectly in so many passages. So the question is not whether we believe in election, but rather how we understand the meaning of the word.”[1]

I agree.  He continues with this exposition of Ephesians 1:4.

“Ephesians 1:4 reads, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Such verses—and there are many others—teach that (1) God made the choice as to who will be saved, and that (2) it was made before the creation of the world.  Attempts to soften such verses by saying that the choice was not related to salvation and only refers to God’s decision for us to be “in Christ,” or to say that the choice was that we be “holy and blameless,” but not the choice of salvation—such attempted interpretations ignore the plain implications of the verse and the other passages that teach that God does the choosing unto salvation.”[2]

Lutzer is clear about what he means by “election.”  It is the standard Calvinist understanding that before God created the world “God made the choice as to who will be saved.”  For Lutzer election does not mean that God chooses who will be saved because he foresaw a person’s free will response of faith “in Christ” and therefore God elected them.  I believe he is correct in this and as a non-Calvinist I would not hold to such a view either.  But for Lutzer neither is “election,” or being among “the elect,” a description Paul assigns to believers as defined in the libertarian sense as those who, of a decision of their own free will, believe “in Christ.”  Nor does “election” refer to characteristics or privileges that God has chosen to bestow on those who in a libertarian sense freely believe “in Christ.”  As Lutzer states, “such attempted interpretations ignore the plain implications of the verse and the other passages that teach that God does the choosing unto salvation.”  The point is that in Lutzer’s definition of election there is no room for libertarian free will.  The elect persons themselves are totally passive in the process of their salvation.  Therefore, one would think, that the persons themselves are not responsible for their belief or unbelief, or for accepting or rejecting Christ.  We might think that they cannot be held responsible because of their “total inability”, which is another essential Calvinist soteriological doctrine in play here.  God determines who believes and who does not believe, and God works irresistibly and effectually upon the elect only to give them faith because as totally depraved they cannot believe.  God determines which individual persons will be saved and which individual persons will not be saved and is the sole agent efficaciously at work to bring the elect to salvation. 

So let’s think about Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:1-4 at the hermeneutical level.  Lutzer maintains that his definition of election constitutes “the plain implications of the verse.”  That is, in writing this text the apostle Paul meant to communicate to his original readers and us today that before God created the world he predetermined who would be saved and, at least by default, who would not.  According to Lutzer that is what Paul meant to convey.  With respect to the thesis I am examining, we need to ask whether Lutzer’s interpretation is valid if it can be shown that the “plain implications” of many other texts, or Lutzer’s own claims and preaching, are incoherent or in direct contradiction with Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4.

In a sermon titled “Jesus, The Gift of Freedom” Lutzer states,

“…the bottom line is that truth has to be received, doesn’t it?  As you go through the rest of this text you’ll discover that there are those who rejected Jesus, and they wanted to stone Him and kill Him all in the name of religion, by the way.  And so there were those who went their way, and then the disciples of Jesus went another way, and so it is that Jesus is constantly dividing people.  And that’s what He does today too.

You must confront this Christ.  The question is are you going to receive what He has to say?  You’ll notice that Jesus said that truth has to be received.  He said back in verse 31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth.”  It isn’t just simply making a decision for Jesus, important though that is because there is a time when you cross that threshold, but that you abide in the truth…”[3]

Here Lutzer talks about how “truth has to be received” and the importance of making “a decision for Jesus” and “a time when you cross that threshold” and the need to “abide in the truth.”  All this speaks of a contingent reality involving what certainly seem to be free decisions which is in contradiction to Lutzer’s Calvinist theistic determinism.  And Lutzer also says,

“You think of the astounding claims that Jesus Christ made, and yet you have people today who say, “To me He’s a good teacher.” Well, good teachers normally don’t exalt themselves and tell people that their eternal destiny is totally determined by what these people do with Him. No, but Jesus did that…”[4]

Lutzer contradicts his own theology here.  And it certainly seems that Jesus himself refutes Lutzer’s deterministic Calvinist soteriology when Lutzer tells us that Jesus told people “that their eternal destiny is totally determined by what [they] do with Him.” On Calvinism, people’s eternal destinies have absolutely nothing to do with what people “do with Jesus” in the libertarian free will sense implied here.  Each person’s eternal destiny has been completely and unalterably determined by God alone.  For Lutzer to present salvation as if it is an open question that depends upon the person hearing the message of salvation and “doing” something with Jesus with respect to their decision, will, humility, submission, etc., is both incoherent and misleading.  The point is that this incoherence is not hermeneutically significant to Lutzer.  Should it be?

In a sermon on predestination Lutzer states,

“…today we’re going to begin with the difficult doctrine of predestination, which means exactly what we think it means, that God predetermines what happens on earth. And He predetermined you and your salvation as a believer.” [5]

So Lutzer, in line with mainstream Calvinism, maintains the Calvinist understanding of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty in his definition of predestination.  This includes unconditional election, but he also broadens predestination to mean theistic determinism.  He clearly states “that God predetermines what happens on earth.”  I take this to mean “whatsoever comes to pass” or everything that occurs.  I think this conclusion is warranted by Lutzer’s affirmation and attempted resolution of some problems only a theistic determinism raises.  Lutzer knows that his position raises significant logical and moral difficulties and that it runs contrary to what the Scripture teaches in other places.  So he attempts to answer the questions that arise given his theistic determinism.  He continues,

“Does this mean that we are simply robots without free will?  No, because God works in the hearts of those He has chosen to bring them to salvation; thus, they believe in Christ because they want to.  God does not bypass their wills but overcomes their blindness and grants the faith that they might believe.  In answer to the question: did God choose me or did I choose God, the answer is that God chose you, and in response to His grace, you, in turn, chose Him.  Without His choosing and calling, no one would come to Him (John 6:44).   Despite the obvious tension between the two truths, the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty over our wills, and also teaches human responsibility.

So first of all, we have to see that God takes the initiative in salvation.” [6] 

To avoid the logical common sense question raised by Lutzer’s definition of unconditional election, that the elect are “simply robots without free will,” Lutzer finds an answer in compatibilism.[7]  Lutzer argues that the elect are not “simply robots without free will” because “God works in the hearts of those He has chosen to bring them to salvation; thus, they believe in Christ because they want to.  God does not bypass their wills but overcomes their blindness and grants the faith that they might believe.” 

We can relate to the Calvinist position here when we just view things from “the outside” so to speak.  It certainly looks like God is not running roughshod over the human will because we see person’s functioning “as usual.”  If God is overriding human wills (which presupposes the existence of a libertarian free will to override!) we don’t see it in others and we do not detect it in ourselves.  So if God is determining all the thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions of us each of us all the time, he certainly seems to be doing it in “a personal way” and therefore unconditional election and predestination are made more palatable.  There is none of this taking people “by the scruff of the neck” as Lutzer puts it, and making them believe or doing things contrary to their “wills.”  For all that we can know and all that we can see it seems “business as usual” with people.  That is, they seem to be making free-will decisions to believe or not believe, to freely do this or that, and inconsistently, Calvinists present the gospel as if that is the case.  Thus the Calvinist will counter the robot and puppet analogies by pointing out how God takes a human will, which robots and puppets don’t have, and changes it to desire and do his will.  To the Calvinist’s mind the whole process is more “personal” because it involves “persons” with wills.

In chapter 8 I carefully examined this Calvinist explanation as to how God works his will in people.  It is called compatibilism.   I showed that it is an unconvincing attempt to demonstrate that human freedom is logically compatible with theistic determinism.  Despite the fact that each of us can identify and feel the wants and desires we have, and we not only perceive that we feel these but sense that they are our own, the Calvinist claims that they are all God-determined, God-willed and God-instilled.  Despite the fact that we perceive that our wants and desires originate from within us and by us, the Calvinist claims otherwise.  They may be in us, but they are not of us.  Despite the fact that it certainly seems that we will to do what we do – whether good or evil – the Calvinist teaching is that God has ordained “whatsoever comes to pass” and therefore must be continually and meticulously causing all human actions to be what they are.  If there is an independent will that belongs to a human person, God controls that will in every respect and in every instance according to what He alone has willed.  People are always doing what God wills, desires and therefore causes them to do.  But, as I say, all this looks to us like the actions of the persons themselves, and the Calvinist rests upon this appearance as demonstrating the truth of human responsibility.

But is it the case that as long as God avoids taking people “by the scruff of the neck” to believe and be saved that the robot and puppet analogies fail?  I’m not convinced.  And I am not convinced because any genuine concept of human freedom and moral responsibility, which the Calvinist claims they maintain, is logically and morally mutually exclusive with Calvinist theistic determinism.  The same perennial problem resurfaces.  And it resurfaces because the root issue of determinism has not been addressed.

To state “God does not bypass their wills” but “God works in the hearts of those He has chosen” such that they “want to” believe in Christ does nothing to change the inquirer’s conclusion that we are like robots in the sense that we are without “free will.”  On Lutzer’s answer we still have wills and desires but they are not free in the sense that those wills and desires are directed by us.  Whatever God does as a free agent to “work in the hearts of those he has chosen”, when he does so, it is no longer the person themselves that is the agent that is deciding upon what they want and subsequently what they will do (i.e., a free moral agent).  Hence, in this regard, it is no different than being a puppet or robot.  People are like robots, only more sophisticated, doing what the programmer (God) has determined for them to do, or puppets, only more sophisticated, doing what the puppeteer has determined that they do.

We can see the crux of the matter here.  It is not a matter of merely having a will by which we act, but a will by which we act.  The robot has software by which it acts, but that software is programmed by another.  So the software serves to direct the robot according to the will of the programmer.  Hence, the robot is nothing more than an instrument for what the programmer desires to accomplish.  The puppet has strings by which it acts, but those strings are pulled by another’s hand.  The strings serve to direct the puppet’s movements according to the will of the puppeteer.  Hence, the puppet is nothing more than an instrument for what the puppeteer desires to accomplish.  Human beings have wills by which they act, but on Calvinism those wills are determined by God.  So the will serves to direct the human being according to the will of God.  Hence, the human is nothing more than an instrument for what God wants to accomplish. 

For the human condition to be truly “free” and substantively different from these analogies it would require not merely the employment of the human will by the “work” of another to do what the other wills the human to do (that would be the same as these analogies), but there would have to be a self-determining aspect to what the human person does, free from the meticulous determinations of the will of another.  It does not follow that as long as you want to do something you therefore do it freely.  It does follow that as long as you want to do something, and that wanting is of your own self, and you are able to do what you want, it can be said that you, therefore, do it freely.[8]  Doing something via one’s will as determined by another, and doing something freely willed by oneself are very different things.

Of course the robot or the puppet could never want to do anything.  But that is just the point.  Human beings are different in that they are persons.  And what comes along with being a person is a living-will so to speak.  And we are not just different from the robot or the puppet in that we are living beings, we are different from these in that we have life as beings made in the image of God who is a freely reasoning, willing and acting being.  The Calvinist assigns an all determining will to God and yet we too are made in his image.  Why then would we not have free, independent wills as God does?  Furthermore, being created in God’s image allows for us to be in personal relationship with God.  By God’s design we too have the qualities that enable us to realize such a relationship.  Love requires such reciprocal free giving on behalf of those in the relationship.  Being a human therefore includes a capacity to reason or think and then decide or will to follow a certain course of action based on what we have reasoned.  Because of the rational component, this is not merely instinctive action, but rather deliberate action.  And this deliberation/action complex is derived from our God given selfhood or personhood.  It is who we are and what we do.  God freely willed it to be that way and therefore this is no threat to his sovereignty.  So Calvinism lacks explanatory power and scope.  We can see that the robot and puppet analogies hold true when the “we-ness” is rendered null and void by having what were once our thoughts, desires, wills and actions (or were they ever ours on theistic determinism?) overcome to perform the thoughts, desires, and will of another.

For the robot and puppet analogies to fail, the reality must be that it is you who do what you do, not just instrumentally, but of your own will.  To claim that when God causes the elect to want to believe in Christ and free will is retained because the person is doing the believing, we can see that this is only a partial explanation that involves the person merely as the physical entity functioning as a believer.  That is, the person believes, but does so merely as a physical entity and only in the instrumental sense.  It is the same as saying the robot or the puppet speaks or moves.  This is so because they are being irresistibly acted upon to do the will of another, namely, the programmer’s will.  It is the same with God and “the believer.”  It is hard to see, given the source of their wanting to believe, that we can honestly and forthrightly say the person is believing of their own “free will” or voluntarily.  If this can be said at all it is only in a superficial or instrumental sense.  I contend that Calvinist compatibilism is ultimately meaningless with respect to claiming the person is believing freely and voluntarily.

Sure the Calvinist will retort that the person’s will has been “freed” to do the will of God.  In one sense this is to avoid the issue entirely, while in another sense it makes the point clear.  Even if the person has their own will that God is “freeing-up” so that they must “will” to do God’s will. It is not the person doing the willing from there on out because what once was a genuinely individuated will under the person’s control has now been “freed” or co-opted by God who will now work in that “person” according to God’s own desires and will for them.  So “freed” is at best a euphemism and at worst a mischaracterization of what is actually going on here, that is, the will has been commandeered.  For God to merely employ the individual’s will in the service of doing what God, by his will alone, predetermined for every person to do does not constitute “free will.”

Thus the Calvinist view cannot reasonably or convincingly support and affirm that such individuals are morally responsible for what they do.  How could they be morally responsible when “God predetermines what happens on earth” and compatibilism is the explanation as to how that works.  On Calvinism how can God justly condemn the unbeliever for his or her unbelief when they could not do otherwise, which is the dark side of Lutzer’s statement that “…He predetermined you and your salvation as a believer.”  Speaking on our human propensity to self-defensiveness or self-protection, Lutzer states,

“Throughout the years I have become very interested in human behavior, because I know something about my own heart.  And I’m endlessly fascinated that [sic] all of the different ways we have to self-protect ourselves…I read about five or six different ways that you and I will not reveal who we really are.  All of the defense mechanisms.  Because nobody is to really understand who we are, the image must always be better than the reality.  And one of the ways that people do it is they blame others for what they’ve done. In fact, if you’re an addict, you’ll actually get to the point where you will not accept any responsibility for what you do.  It will be automatic.  It is your employer’s fault, it is your wife’s fault, it’s the kid’s fault, it’s the cat’s fault – it’s somebody else’s fault – because you have made yourself immune from blame.  The very same can be said by those who have destroyed their conscience.  Sociopaths take no blame and no responsibility and see the evil that is their own heart as belonging to someone else.  It is not theirs.”[9]

So we must ask Lutzer why statements like these – which place moral and salvific responsibility on the persons themselves – are not incoherent with his doctrinal claims about God having predetermined all things and elected unconditionally certain persons to salvation.  Lutzer adheres to “the difficult doctrine of predestination, which means exactly what we think it means, that God predetermines what happens on earth.  And He predetermined you and your salvation as a believer.”   On Lutzer’s Calvinist determinism his assessment of the human condition and assignment of blame and responsibility to persons for their actions is contradictory.  How does Lutzer’s theistic determinism not make everyone immune from responsibility and blame?  Moreover, how does it not ascribe to God all the actions, addictions and evils performed by human beings?

Now, it is crucial to point out here that even though Lutzer claims there is an answer in compatibilism to the logical and moral problems his definitions of election and predestination raise, he admits that this is really not a sufficient answer because he goes on to acknowledge “the obvious tension between the two truths.”  Why is there still a “tension” between these two truths – “God’s sovereignty over our wills” and “human responsibility” – if compatibilism is the solution to this problem?  Compatibilism was supposed to remedy this “tension” between God’s sovereignty in election and predestination with human free will and responsibility.  Compatibilism supposedly reconciles and resolves God’s sovereignty (according to Lutzer’s deterministic definition) and human free will.  Recall that Lutzer emphatically denies that his doctrines of unconditional election and predestination negate free will.  When the question was asked, “Does this mean that we are simply robots without free will?” Lutzer’s answer is an emphatic, “No.”  If as Lutzer states, that there still exists “the obvious tension” between “God’s sovereignty over our wills” and “human responsibility,” then compatibilism has failed at its purpose. 

 So what is the problem here?  I think it is that Lutzer and Calvinists are wrong about these being “two truths” that “the Bible teaches.”  Perhaps one of them is false and not what the Bible teaches.  Perhaps the Bible does not teach unconditional election, predestination and “God’s sovereignty over our wills” in the deterministic sense Lutzer claims it does.  Why do I say this?  I say it on the basis of observing the Calvinist’s intellectual struggle to maintain this position coherently and their failure to do so.  This is what compatibilism attempted to do but failed to do as Lutzer himself had to finally admit when he conceded that the “tension” remains.  The problem here is that the Calvinist is attempting to be coherent about their incoherence.  They are trying to solve an incoherence by “reasoning” around it.  But this is futile.  It is like searching for a solution to a logical fallacy without admitting to or addressing the cause of the fallacy.  You will only generate more fallacies and confusions.  You must correct or abandon the proposition that is causing the incoherence instead of trying to argue the incoherent propositions into coherence.  That is impossible.  Reason, rightly employed, will never cooperate in defeating itself.  You cannot reason around a contradiction while maintaining the contradiction.  Reason cannot simply ignore or reason you out of what reason identifies is a violation of itself.  Reason cannot ignore its own deliverances by use of reason itself.  Reason must maintain its integrity if it is to remain useful at all.  

So when Lutzer and Calvinists in general continue to speak about “the obvious tension” their doctrinal understandings create, what becomes equally obvious is that not even they are convinced by their own attempts to resolve these “tensions.”  The point is that when Lutzer states that God is sovereign “over our wills,” and admits this to be an “obvious tension” with human responsibility, he is acknowledging that his theology is contradictory and his compatibilism does nothing to solve this contradiction.  Let’s call this “tension” what it really is – a contradiction. Therefore, the two are, and will always remain, incompatible.  He is admitting that he cannot escape the logic of the “robot” and “puppet” analogies and he cannot escape the vortex of his theistic determinism.

Note also the words used here.  He says “God takes the initiative in salvation” and “in response to His grace, you, in turn, chose Him.”  On Calvinism, “grace” must mean the irresistible work God does “in the hearts of those he has chosen to bring…to salvation.”  It is irresistible grace and is akin to the unconditional element in unconditional election.  So when Lutzer says “God takes the initiative in salvation” and “in response to His grace, you, in turn, chose Him” he does not mean that the elect person may respond negatively to that “initiative?”  What then is the meaning of “initiative” or “grants the faith that they might believe” along with “in response to His grace, you, in turn, chose Him” in a process of salvation that is unconditional?  The vocabulary here leads us to think that there are conditions here.  “Initiative,” “response,” “chose Him,” and God “grants the faith that they might believe.”  Thus “in response to His grace, you, in turn, chose him” seems to be incoherent with election as unconditional.  It appears that Lutzer thinks so too, for he has to resort to “tension” and the question begging “the Bible teaches both.”  He states, “Despite the obvious tension between the two truths, the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty over our wills, and also teaches human responsibility.”  So Lutzer vacillates between the compatibilism that is supposed to take care of this “tension” and the human freedom that he attempts to retain in an unconditional process of election to salvation.  It’s just not working out as it is supposed to.

While the Calvinist continues to hold to their theistic determinism the problem of its incoherence with human responsibility remains because we all do what we will to do, that is, what we want or we desire to do.  This is evident in that we often do what is contrary to the will of God, that is, what God would not have us do.  We fail to do what he would have us do and we do what he would not have us do.  Are actions contrary to the will of God motivated in us by God himself. I don’t think so and I don’t think you do either. Therefore it is legitimate and necessary to make a distinction between “the will of God” and “the will of man.”  The Bible supports such a distinction throughout its pages.  The freedom of the human will which grounds personal culpability and moral responsibility cannot be defined as merely the change in desire a person experiences due to the actions of someone else (in this case, God) who has the ability to both determine and change that person’s desires accordingly which in turn causes them to irresistibly and inevitably do the will of the other.  If a person is an individuated moral agent with a will of their own, they can, in most, if not all circumstances, do otherwise, that is, do other than what others would have them do or even what they themselves do not desire to do, for instance, overcoming fear and acting with courage and self-sacrifice.  By virtue of exercising their own will they can determine their desires, wants and subsequent actions.  To be able to do so is just what we mean by “free will.”

It needs to be said that free will is not absolute in a universe in which God is sovereign.  But divine sovereignty does not necessitate divine determinism.  The Scripture is witness to the fact that God, in his sovereignty, has decreed genuine human agency, that is, that persons themselves can decide to do one thing or another.  They may believe to salvation or they may not believe and remain in condemnation.  Their eternal destiny is dependent upon what they decide in light of all the God has accomplished in Christ on the cross.  God initiates and accomplishes salvation.  We accept or reject it.  And this is all that is needed to refute Calvinism.  There need be no flight to mystery, mental gymnastics or verbal legerdemain.  We can see from Scripture straight away that God is sovereign in and over his creation.  We also see straight way that that same God created a unique being made in his image which included bestowing upon him something we call a “will” by which he functions in genuine relation to God and others and carries out his cultural mandate.  This unique quality of a will in the human being is their own just as it is in God. The will is a part of their self, and as such these human creations are in that way substantially individuated and free beings.

So I can agree with Lutzer regarding salvation when he says, “So first of all, we have to see that God takes the initiative in salvation” but not in the deterministic way he means it.  For him to use the word “initiative” here is misleading.  It implies that at some point a person is left “on their own” implying they have a will of their own and may exercise it as they will, which is not the case because as Lutzer himself has told us “God predetermines what happens on earth.”

We should not fall prey to the idea that God cannot be sovereign if man has substantial freedom, especially when it is given to man by God himself.  Sovereignty should not be defined as comprehensive predetermination.  Neither should we fall prey to semantic legerdemain here.  When the Calvinist says that although God is determining all the desires of all persons, and yet because it is the persons themselves that experience the desires and act upon those desires that they are therefore acting “voluntarily” or “freely” and thus determinism is compatible with human freedom and responsibility, we should see this for the weak attempt that it is to retain the dignity of personhood within their theistic determinism.  It is the physical being that happens to be human that experiences the predetermined plan from the divine determining source, that is, the physical being that happens to be human is made to “desire” to do what they do.  But is that a satisfactory definition of being human?  Also, the physical being that happens to be human, irresistibly, inevitably and precisely acts in accord with the divinely predetermined plan from the divine determining source.  Given this description, which I believe accurately depicts the Calvinist theological and soteriological doctrines, how is it that we could ever think these are “voluntary” or “freely” performed actions?  Is this a satisfactory definition of the human person?  Given theistic determinism, the same could be said about human beings that can be said about puppets and robots.  When the Calvinist protests “we are not robots or puppets,” they would have to justify the protest on other grounds than their compatibilism which they themselves admit does not relieve the logical and moral problem in their theology.  Another indication of the failure of compatibilism is that most Calvinists will ultimately flee to “mystery.”  Compatibilism doesn’t really provide an answer here.

These are matters involving how human personhood and the character and will of God are portrayed in Scripture.[10]  We cannot rationally escape the analogy and conclusion that persons are like mere puppets or robots when it is God alone who determines what persons will want to do and God alone who causes them to do it.  Just because robots are made of electrical circuitry and metal, and puppets are made of wood and cloth it does not mean that something more complex, say made of flesh and blood with a mind, will and emotions, cannot fit into the same category of predetermined entities when it is particularly stated that the flesh and blood entity is comprehensively predetermined to think, desire, will, believe, feel and act as it does by another’s will and power to do so.  Human personhood which is constitutive of many things, including the human will along with personal moral responsibility, all get swallowed up in the vortex of Calvinist determinism.

We may note at this point that Lutzer’s interpretations – what he claimed were the “plain implications” of Scripture and what “the Bible teaches” – have turned out to be logically and morally incoherent with themselves and with what we know of God and other things the Bible teaches (e.g., God is good, human freedom, moral responsibility, the universal offer of salvation, faith as a decision, etc.).  Lutzer’s interpretations become isolated soteriological and theological propositions that are logically and morally problematic.  They cannot be harmoniously integrated.  They lack explanatory power, explanatory scope, consistency and coherence.  This serves to highlight the hermeneutical issue of whether or not things like explanatory power, explanatory scope, consistency, coherence are essential for properly interpreting the Bible. And if these are cobbled together or completely ignored in an ad hoc fashion whether that is a reliable indicator of the invalidity of one’s interpretations.  Given these problems, Lutzer’s claims about these being the “plain implications” of Scripture and that “the Bible teaches both” are not plausible.  As a Calvinist, Lutzer embraces a hermeneutic of incoherence.

Lutzer continues to apply his compatibilism to other questions that arise due to his theistic determinism.

“Secondly, very important now, God works through the human will.  When we preach on matters of choosing and predestination we should never give the impression that God says, “Now, you don’t want to believe, but boy, you are predestined to believe, so I’ll take you by the scruff of the neck, and you will believe!” No!

Nor does the scenario ever happen where someone says, “Oh, I want to be saved but I’m not elect.” That never, never happens! Why? God works in the human heart to bring about His purpose, so people voluntarily receive Christ as Savior, but behind that voluntary decision there is God who has birthed conviction in their hearts. He has shown them their sin. He has shown them why they need Jesus. And then He even gives them the faith by which they need to believe. He does it all. Amen.”[11]

It is very difficult to accept Lutzer’s attempt here to preserve “the human will” in light of unconditional election.  He describes the compatibilist work of God as “God works through the human will.”  But what does Lutzer think “the human will” amounts to?  Is it merely the motivating force within the human rational animal, which as long as it is functioning can not only be directed, moved and influenced, but also fully and exhaustively determined by any outside persons or forces?  Does the “human will” just passively abide internally somewhere in this advanced creature waiting for any sort of external stimulus which when it occurs we may say the human rational animal is acting “freely” or “voluntarily?”  Perhaps there are other criteria that define “the human will” beside it being merely present and ready to function according to whatever and whoever “works” it from outside the creature?  Perhaps the will of the human rational animal is moved by that animal itself in a way other animals cannot.  Perhaps a crucial element of what it means to be a human rational animal is that they may resist the will of another or resist forces outside themselves from a capacity within themselves called “the will” which is integral to “the self.”  It seems that given Lutzer’s unconditional election and predestination a more accurate description of what is going on here is the substitution of the will of the creature with the will of God.  This seems to amount to an extinguishing of the human will and therefore the human person.

Lutzer states, “God works in the human heart to bring about His purpose, so people voluntarily receive Christ as Savior, but behind that voluntary decision there is God who has birthed conviction in their hearts.  He has shown them their sin.  He has shown them why they need Jesus. And then He even gives them the faith by which they need to believe.  He does it all. Amen.”  Lutzer’s determinism causes his thoughts here to be muddled, confusing and disingenuous by the use of words and phrases like “people voluntarily receive Christ…”, “behind that voluntary decision…” and “they need to believe.” Lutzer’s theistic determinism is evident, not only by Lutzer’s clear statement on predestination but by phrases like “God works in the human heart to bring about his purpose,” “behind that voluntary decision there is God who has birthed conviction in their hearts,” “he even gives them the faith” and then in a clear affirmation of the comprehensive nature of his theistic determinism – “he does it all.”  This last phrase captures what Lutzer really believes as a Calvinist.  When all is said and done it is God who “does it all.”  Again, the robot and puppet analogies seem inescapable and appropriate. 

Regarding the two scenarios Lutzer gives above, in the first scenario of course there is no resistance among the elect given that God “does it all” (changes their minds and hearts so that they desire, think, say and do what he predetermined for them) so that they will be saved.  God puts them through these motions, so to speak – motions, by the way, described in ways incoherent with theistic determinism – and in the end they are saved.  But how about this scenario as a more accurate description?  “Now, you don’t want to believe, but boy, that’s because you weren’t predestined to believe, so even if someone preaches to you the “good news” of salvation, I, God, will never work in your heart to cause you to believe it.”  That’s the flip side of unconditional election.  It’s unconditional rejection.

The second scenario is “Oh I want to be saved but I’m not elect.”  According to Lutzer that never happens.  Why is it that this never happens?  It is because whether one is elect or not is not only unknowable but irrelevant.  If the man wants to be saved and only views his salvation in terms of his election or non-election, as he would on Lutzer’s soteriology, what should Lutzer, as a Calvinist, tell him?  Well, I think Martin Luther’s approach here is consistent with unconditional election, that is, “Just wait.  See what happens.  If you believe, fine.  If you don’t, that’s just the way God wants it.”  Lutzer certainly cannot make this man any promise of salvation because Lutzer doesn’t know the ontological salvific status of this person.  He may have been chosen, but then again it is always a real possibility that he has not.

This is the problem with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  It has distracted us from the focus of salvation for all men which is found in Christ himself, his work on the Cross for all sinners and the assurance that those who choose to trust in that work done on their behalf will be saved.  Salvation is found in Christ.  Yes, God has done it all! But this does not mean there is a hidden, mysterious choice God makes as to who and who will not be saved. Rather, since God has done all the work of salvation in Christ, this is a public demonstration of the love God has for all sinners. God’s love and salvation as expressed in Christ’s death is by virtue of this public display a divine love and salvation that is for us all to which all can come by faith and be saved.  It is because Christ was publically crucified and the cross proclaimed that we know God’s love for us and his desire that we be saved.  There is no mystery about it.  It calls all sinners to be assured and believe in the love God has for them demonstrated in the provision of salvation by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross.  Lutzer, inconsistent with his doctrine of unconditional election and predestination, must ultimately tell this man what he must do to be saved.  Below we will look at the issue of “whosoever will may come” where Lutzer states, “We should plead with sinners to come to Christ to be saved.”  But he doesn’t say that here.  He just leaves it an open issue and as a Calvinist he probably surmises that because this person is so inclined to want to be saved this must be an indication of his unconditional election.  For according to unconditional election he wouldn’t even have the desire unless he was among the elect.  But again, to inject this doctrine of unconditional election into the way of salvation is to cause all kinds of doubt and confusion.   It distorts the simplicity, universality, definition and content of the gospel as “good news.”

So Lutzer has to remain “evangelistically distant” if he is going to be consistent with his doctrinal determinism.  He can’t and shouldn’t tell the man things like “God loves you,” “God wants you to come to Christ and be saved,” or “You need to believe in Christ or you will die in your sins,” and “you need to make a decision to receive Christ today, your eternal destiny is up to you.”  Lutzer knows nothing of this man’s salvific status, whether he is predestined to life or death, even given the man’s inclination to want to be saved.  So he should make no disingenuous statements about salvation to him.  So what gospel does Lutzer have to tell this man?  What will he say to him?  We can see how the “good news” of the gospel vanishes when its universal applicability is removed by the Calvinist deterministic doctrines of unconditional election and predestination.

Basically, on Calvinism, the elect will just appear on the Christian scene and in the Christian church.  And although Lutzer will say “we should plead with sinners to come to Christ” and talk about an “invitation” that should be “proclaimed to all who are willing to listen,” in general there is little to no invitation or calling to come to Christ and to believe in Calvinist churches.  To them this smacks of manipulation.  Attempting to be consistent with their “doctrines of grace” all this is not really necessary, after all, Lutzer has stated that it is God who “gives them the faith by which they need to believe.  He does it all.”

Might the Calvinist conclude that if a person has the desire for God, and even believes in Christ and attends church for any length of time, then they are probably among the elect?  Yet Calvin and the Westminster Confession both talk about indications of the Spirit’s work in the lives of the reprobate which for a time seem to indicate their unconditional election, but only then to have the Spirit abandon them to their predestined reprobation.

The problem here is the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and predestination compel people to attempt to rely on and read their own experiences (and perhaps those of others) to determine their salvific status?  From what I observe of my own religious experience, might I conclude that I am among the elect?  But is there nothing more objective that we can trust in for our assurance of salvation?

According to Calvinism there are only two kinds of people in the world and they cannot change their predetermined status or eternal destiny.  But this is obviously a serious distraction from and distortion of the gospel as “good news” to all who hear it.  People need to know that they are included in God’s saving work and that they can and must receive by faith the gift of salvation offered them in the gospel of Christ.  In the death of Christ on behalf of all sinners, salvation is objectively grounded and made available to them so that they may put their trust in him.  It is not based on manifest religious experiences, but relies on the keeping power of God. And the believer who puts their trust in Christ has the divine promise that God will not fail to keep them in his saving love.  That is what makes the gospel “good news.”  Which leads to our last point.

 Lutzer continues,

“And finally, the objection is often raised: does not the Bible teach “whosoever will may come” to Christ? The answer is, yes. Of course this is what the Bible teaches, and this invitation should be proclaimed to all who are willing to listen.  We should plead with sinners to come to Christ to be saved, even as we humbly acknowledge that although the invitation is to all, only those who hear the voice of God—only the elect—will respond to His call.”

So, when the objection, “Does not the Bible teach “whosoever will may come” to Christ?” is raised, Lutzer unequivocally responds, “The answer is, yes. Of course this is what the Bible teaches…”[12]  One would therefore think this certainly seems contrary to what Lutzer said about election because we take the words “whosoever will may come” at face value to mean anyone and everyone may believe and come to Christ and be saved.  “Whosoever will may come” is a statement of universal potentiality and contingency regarding salvation.  It is an invitation for any sinner to come to Christ and be saved – that is, that they themselves, by willing to do so, can respond positively to the gospel invitation or reject it.  The “whosoever” conveys the message that no one is excluded.  The “will may come” conveys the message that it is up to the individual to accept the gospel, believe it and come to Christ for salvation or remain in unbelief and condemnation (Jn. 3:16-18).  But this is inconsistent with unconditional election. 

Now the Calvinist will engage in verbal legerdemain here.  They will say something like “whosoever will may come” is an invitation for any sinner who desires to come to be saved.  And here we have compatibilism smuggled in with the word “desires.”  As we have seen only the elect will be given the “desire” to come to Christ and be saved.  “Whosoever will may come” gets translated into the Calvinist exclusivism of unconditional election.  Recall that when defining election as unconditional Lutzer clearly stated, “(1) God made the choice as to who will be saved, and that (2) it was made before the creation of the world.”  So unconditional election is exclusive and particular, not inclusive and universal.  So given Lutzer’s definition of election, when he affirms “whosoever will may come,” that must mean that only the elect will be made to “will” to come to Christ.  So on Calvinism, the “whosoever will” just is a designation of “the elect.”  The “whosoever” are the elect “whoever they are.”  These elect will be moved to “will” to come to Christ.  On Lutzer’s compatibilism, the elect “whosoevers” will be willed by God into coming willingly.  So on Calvinism, “whosoever will may come” is not a dynamic invitation or statement of universal offer of salvation, but rather a static description of the predestined elect.  “Whosoever will may come” means, “when the elect are effectually made willing by God, they come!”  How the “may,” as a concept of contingency (they may or may not come), is understood by Lutzer in the context of his determinism I’m not sure, but the point is that on Calvinism this is not, and cannot be, a universal invitation to be freely received as I take to be the plain meaning of “whosoever will may come.”

But at the same time Lutzer seems to take the phrase “whosoever will many come” as universal and even seems to affirm it is universal.  Lutzer emphatically states, “Of course this is what the Bible teaches, and this invitation should be proclaimed to all who are willing to listen.”  I say seems because I know Lutzer cannot take the phrase as universal and remain consistent with his doctrine of unconditional election.  And if he wants to speak honestly he needs to be concerned about this.  So what is going on here?  What is Lutzer so emphatically affirming here?  And what does Lutzer mean by adding the phrase “who are willing to listen?”

Given the plain sense of Lutzer’s words here we would think him to be saying the invitation applies to everyone but some who hear it will walk away and do not want to hear it, that is, they are not “willing to listen.”  This would be coherent with a non-Calvinist view.  But is Lutzer saying this?  Possibly.  But then that would be inconsistent with his Calvinist determinism. By proclaiming to his listeners the invitation “Whosoever will may come,” Lutzer would seem to be affirming each individual’s genuine free will.  Furthermore, in adding the phrase “all who are willing to listen” Lutzer is affirming libertarian freedom.  He is highlighting the difference between those who are “not willing” to listen and those who “are willing” to listen.  And this is a difference that presupposes the truth of libertarian freedom.  The message is that “whosoever wills” to come may come.  Some don’t will to listen, so they don’t will to come.  Others will to listen and they may will come, or, having listened they may not will to come.  Some who are willing to listen will come or refuse to come.  This is precisely what is meant by “whosoever will may come.”  Whosoever wills to come can come.  The invitation goes out to all and all may respond positively to it.  Others reject it.  The reason they don’t respond positively to it is because they will to reject it.  This is the plain sense of the words “whosoever will may come.”  But this is compatible with the non-Calvinist’s soteriology and incompatible with Calvinist’s soteriology.

Lutzer has emphatically stated that “Of course this is what the Bible teaches, and this invitation should be proclaimed to all.”  So why not just stop there?  Because Lutzer doesn’t believe the invitation is universal in scope as indicated in the biblical word “whosoever.”  Lutzer does not believe that the invitation applies to “all” and involves the person’s free will decision to accept or reject it.  So Lutzer qualifies the words “this invitation should be proclaimed to all” with “who are willing to listen.”  So what does Lutzer want to convey by attaching “all who are willing to listen?”  Could it be as plain as what I described above or do we have here again a description of “all the elect” smuggled in disingenuously through a back door, that is to say only the elect will be made “willing to listen” by God?

Lutzer must attempt to interpret this “invitation” consistent with his doctrine of unconditional election.  But how do you invite the non-elect to a salvation which God does not will that they obtain and therefore never can obtain?  So Lutzer must be engaging in Calvinist verbal legerdemain here in which by “all who are willing to listen” he means “the elect who were made willing to listen” by God.  In other words, by his use of the phrase “all who are willing to listen” he is referring to his compatibilism in which God works to give the willingness or desire to listen to those he has chosen for salvation.  These are those who God makes willing, not only to listen but believe.  Although he calls it an “invitation” the underlying meaning of “invitation” here is “an effectual call to the elect.”

But then he adds, “We should plead with sinners to come to Christ to be saved.”  This implies that he affirms the universal applicability of salvation. Any sinner can be saved.  But this presents a problem for Lutzer.  Given his doctrine of unconditional election, it is not an invitation that is genuine and truthful if taken as universal as Lutzer seems convey.  He would be pleading with the non-elect “to come to Christ and be saved.”  That would be contrary to his unconditional election.  This is an example of the ethical problem the Calvinist faces in evangelism and how his own Calvinist soteriology fails in the service of a gospel of “good news.” 

Lutzer seems oblivious to his ethical problem here and the logical inconsistency in his position.  That is clear when he affirms “whosoever will may come” and that “the invitation is to all” and “we should plead with sinners to come to Christ to be saved,” and yet he states “only those who hear the voice of God—only the elect—will respond to His call.”  In summary he states, “…even as we humbly acknowledge that although the invitation is to all, only those who hear the voice of God—only the elect—will respond to His call.”

So Lutzer does not think the “whosoever will may come” “objection” to his doctrine of unconditional election is a substantive objection.  He seems to accept that “whosoever will may come” in the plain universal sense of those words, and yet holds to a doctrine that states that it is not the case that “whosoever will may come.”  Given unconditional election it is not true that “whosoever will may come.”  So Lutzer is contradicting himself here.  But what it is imperative to note, in confirmation of one of my main theses, is that Lutzer does not acknowledge that he is stating a contradiction.  Lutzer is suppressing his reason.  This is what his a priori doctrinal beliefs require of him.  It is what he must do to get himself through his biblical, intellectual and ethical quagmire.  As a Calvinist, he must suppress his logical and moral reasoning. I discuss this fully in “Chapter 10 – The Calvinist Suppression of Logical Reasoning, Moral Intuition and Common Sense.”

Lutzer’s “the invitation is to all” statement is both disingenuous and inconsistent with Lutzer’s doctrine of unconditional election.  But Lutzer affirms that the “invitation is to all,” which, given unconditional election also makes God out to be disingenuous.  So what does Lutzer do with his inconsistency?  He labels it a “tension.”  Recall his statement that, “Despite the obvious tension between the two truths, the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty over our wills, and also teaches human responsibility.”  And again, “We should plead with sinners to come to Christ to be saved, even as we humbly acknowledge that although the invitation is to all, only those who hear the voice of God—only the elect—will respond to His call.”[13]  But what of the non-elect who hear that invitation?  After all, Lutzer affirms that “…the invitation is to all.”  So lurking in the shadows and negating the genuineness of his seemingly universal call and promise of salvation is the fact that “only those who hear the voice of God—only the elect—will respond to His call.”

But we also need to inquire as to the content of the message that the “all” were hearing in their “invitation.”  What were the “all” hearing in this “invitation” to come to Christ and what did they understand from the words “whosoever will may come?”  Wasn’t God speaking an invitation to them “all?”  If God was speaking, were these not words of truth to all those hearing?  If they were true words then all those hearing could obtain the salvation they were invited to receive by faith.  Is God a liar and deceiver towards the non-elect?  For those who did not come, what prevented them from coming?  After all, they were invited by God himself to come.  Was it the fact that they were not elected, that is, God decreed that they would not be saved yet invites them to be saved, or that they refused of their own will not to come?  I submit that it is the latter that is the reason given in Scripture for why a person will not come to Christ.  What is this “voice of God” or “His call” that only the elect will respond to as distinguished from the “invitation to all?”[14]  Are there two different messages here or one message that “all” hear but only certain one’s respond to by virtue of hearing “the voice of God” and “His Call?”

In his sermon on predestination Lutzer states,

“There are some of you to whom I am speaking today, and even while I am speaking, though you are having problems with some of the things that are taught in God’s Word, you might find that your heart is open to God.  Even now listen to that voice because it is God that opens the human heart, and you and I can’t do that on our own.  And this leads, I think also, to a very important fact.  Of course, whosoever will may come.  Of course, if God has worked in your heart you can come.  Whosoever!  Many are called.  This is a general call.  Few are chosen.  But many are called and few are chosen, and you can find out whether or not you are among the chosen.  So don’t complain.  I know you’ve got all kinds of questions about the unchosen, but I’m talking to you now, and I want you to understand that if you want to know whether or not you are chosen, predestined, that you are within the will and the purpose of the eternal God who grants life to those who believe, well then find out. Come to Jesus, and He will receive you, and He will welcome you into His kingdom, because “whosoever will may come.” Certainly!” [15]

So we have here the problem generated by the “general call” and a “special” or “irresistible call.”  The same “call” goes out to both the elect and non-elect, but it only has an effect in the one’s God predestined to salvation and therefore God puts in them the desire to respond to that call.  To the non-elect the words of the call and the invitation “whosoever will may come” are not applicable and therefore disingenuous and ineffective.  So Lutzer is contradictory here.  He is telling any and all persons that they can come to Christ and be saved and also telling them they cannot come unless God has elected them and causes them to come and believe the Gospel.  Lutzer teaches that only those who are among the elect and predestined to salvation can “come to Jesus,” but then he says “whosoever will may come,” which certainly means anyone may come.[16]

Lutzer is trying to synthesize his doctrine of unconditional election with what he knows is the plain meaning of the biblical texts that speak of the universal scope of salvation, that genuine invitation to all to come to Christ to be saved and, as such, presents the assurance and possibility to all that they can be saved.  But this synthesizing cannot be done.  The two are mutually exclusive.  Lutzer ends up with the incoherent position that anyone who wills to come can come to Christ, and yet only those who are elect will come to Christ.  In the end Lutzer has altered the biblical “whosoever will may come” to “whosoever comes is elect.”  The gospel becomes encumbered by the sinner’s concern as to whether or not they are among elect. They become preoccupied with attempting to determine their elect or non-elect status.  They are being instructed that they need to wait for God to open their hearts or identify his working in them which will cause them to believe.  The biblical gospel, that the sinner can come to Christ and be saved by believing, is taken away from them and put upon God who must cause them to believe, that is, only if they are among the elect.  The gospel as good news is eliminated.  Satisfying yourself that you are among the elect becomes primary.  This can only be achieved by presupposing your own election.  It is a “gospel” of wishful thinking.  One’s elect status becomes primary because it is the determining factor as to whether you end up in heaven or hell.  Your eternal destiny has nothing to do with you or anyone else.  It has nothing to do with you believing.  Believing is something God causes you to do is you are elect.  But this turns the biblical witness to the role of faith in salvation on its head.  Recall Lutzer’s confused statement, “He even gives them the faith by which they need to believe. He does it all.”  It is not as though God gives you the ability to believe.  That would require that at least at some point it would be you who does the believing.  In contrast, Calvinist’s make it clear that as sinners we are characterized by a “total inability” to respond in faith to God’s call – his invitation for us to put our faith and trust in Christ and be saved. Sinners are spiritually and morally totally disabled and can do nothing with respect to our eternal destiny.  God causes you to believe, that is, if you are among those chosen to salvation.

Lutzer then says “…you can find out whether or not you are among the chosen.”  How?  By believing and coming to Jesus.  Lutzer tells everyone to “Come to Jesus, and He will receive you, and He will welcome you into His kingdom, because “whosoever will may come.” Certainly!”  So what purpose does this doctrine of unconditional election or predestination serve? It serves no purpose because in the end the test of one’s unconditional election is to “Come to Jesus, and He will receive you.” But this simply is the message that non-Calvinist insists is the “good news” that applies to everyone. For all the Calvinist’s insistence on unconditional election and predestination, irresistible grace and effectual calling, the bottom-line of Calvinism is “Come to Jesus, and He will receive you, and He will welcome you into His kingdom, because “whosoever will may come.” Certainly!” If there is anything certain about Calvinism it is that it is confused, incoherent, duplicitous and has only served to distort and erode the gospel message as the “good news” that it truly is.  The “good news” Lutzer so desperately wants to provide to people is expunged by his theistic determinism and “doctrines of grace.” And he himself, as Calvinist, cannot carry through with his Calvinism.

The “invitation” he gives at the close of a different sermon not only confirms the contradictory nature of his preaching that I have pointed above, but also the erosion of the gospel as “good news.”  In a sermon on the gospel account of the great catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11, cf. John 21:1-8) Lutzer offers these closing words.

“And now I can’t conclude this message unless I speak to all of you and those who have never trusted Christ as savior.  Perhaps today God is causing you to swim into the net of the kingdom, as Peter put down his net at the day of Pentecost and three thousand souls were saved.  Would you at this moment say, “Jesus, I see you to be the savior.  I come now to receive you as my own.”  You tell him that.”[17]

Lutzer then states,

“My friend I can’t help but think that that invitation that I gave here at the Moody Church is extended to you.  This is Pastor Lutzer.  There are many of you who are listening today who’ve never transferred your trust to Christ.  And even as I spoke about fishing and how Jesus used it as an illustration of winning souls, your heart was touched.  Oh, today, if there is within you a desire to receive Christ, respond to that desire, swim into the net so to speak, because God will be there for you as you come and become one of his followers and one of his disciples.”[18]

We see here that the language is carefully chosen to reflect Lutzer’s Calvinist determinism, unconditional election, effectual calling or irresistible grace and compatibilism. “Perhaps today God is causing you…”  This is affirmation of a universal divine causal determinism or unconditional election in salvation in which only the elect will be caused by God to come into the kingdom.  All others cannot.  I submit to you that this is the not the gospel with respect to its content and biblical definition as “good news.”  It is a perversion of the gospel as “good news” for the sinner because it redirects the sinner from a faith decision that needs to be made upon hearing the good news of their salvation in Christ, to an introspective examination as to whether they are experiencing some kind of vague, nebulous “desire” within them to receive Christ. This desire, according to Lutzer’s soteriology, is indicative of one’s elect or non-elect status. But the gospel is not a call to examine yourself to see if you are being moved by a “desire to receive Christ” or that “Perhaps today God is causing you to swim into the net of the Kingdom,” but “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The gospel contains the imperative to believe and the promise of salvation upon believing. All that God wants to communicate to the sinner, and all that God needs to do within the sinner, is contained in that gospel message of the “good news” of their salvation in Christ.

What Lutzer is doing here is also in conflict with the gospel message Lutzer himself has presented as an “invitation to all” and that “whosoever will may come,” implying that salvation can be had by all who hear the truly good news that God has accomplished salvation for every person in Christ.  Certainly the Spirit accompanies that message to drive it home to the sinner’s mind and heart, leaving them without excuse for their rejection of the truth and unbelief.  But God does not cause them to believe.  The biblical witness to the nature of faith everywhere speaks of it as the response God requires from the sinner themselves to receive or appropriate to themselves the gift of salvation being offered.  The gospel of “good news” is not “perhaps God is causing you…” to come to Christ, with the corollary that “perhaps God is not causing you…” to come to Christ.  Lutzer’s words, and the doctrines behind them, are not the “good news.” They place the assurance that salvation is for each and every sinner in doubt by inserting the strange doctrine of unconditional election based on an erroneous extrapolation of the sinful nature of the sinner – whose sins Christ took upon himself on the cross – to another doctrine foreign to Scripture, that of “total inability.”  Rather, the “good news” is that God, in his love for all sinners, is inviting, calling and commanding them to come to Christ and be saved from their sin.  Being a sinner doesn’t disable the sinner from responding in faith to Christ’s work on their behalf when it is God himself who invites them to do so.  Sin does not preclude the ability to go to God for the forgiveness that he offers for that sin.  That is what salvation by faith is all about.

Erosion of the good news is evident when Lutzer says, “…if there is within you a desire to receive Christ.”  The assurance of God’s love for all (Jn. 3:16) and that he “desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), and that Christ died to take away the sins of every person (Jn. 1:29) and that all may believe (Jn. 20:31), are placed in doubt by these words.  The proclamation of salvation that assures the hearer that they are included in God’s saving work in Christ is being diluted.  The sinner does not know whether God has chosen them and therefore whether he even desires their salvation.  Lutzer clearly communicates that doubt by the word “perhaps.”  This lack of assurance is inherent within the deterministic doctrine of unconditional election.  It forces Lutzer to shift from genuine invitation to mere information.  All Lutzer can say to his listeners is that your eternal destiny – whether you end up in heaven or hell – is rooted in what God has decided concerning each and every one of you.  Therefore, it is God who causes whatever needs to happen in the elect only.  This is expressed in the words, ”Perhaps today God is causing you…”  Instead of proclaiming to all that “God loves you and Jesus died for you and is your savior.  Come now and receive the gift of salvation he offers you.  Put your trust in him and be saved,” Lutzer has to put it in these vague words, “Jesus, I see you to be the savior.”  That “seeing” is caused by God only in the one’s he has chosen to save.  There is nothing for anyone to “see” unless they are among the elect and until God causes them to “see” Jesus “to be the savior.”  But that is wrong-headed. Their is always something to see for all sinners, and that is what the preacher of the gospel is to proclaim. It is Christ crucified and risen on the behalf of all sinners. Lutzer cannot proclaim to all his listeners that “Jesus is your savior.”

In order to maintain the priority of unconditional election or predestination, Lutzer, for all practical and theological purposes, dismisses the biblical “whosoever will may come” and reinterprets it to “whosoever comes is predestined to do so.”  This is clearly a case of eisegesis.  Lutzer has to read into the text his a priori Calvinist soteriological doctrines.

I want you to be aware that Calvinist’s employ certain linguistic nuances which are veiled references to the Calvinist soteriological doctrines.  I want you to recognize them in the future as you listen to Calvinists talk about and present “the gospel.”  I want you to see what they actually mean by “the gospel,” and the corrosive effects their “doctrines of grace” (TULIP) have upon the gospel as “good news.” That the Calvinist cannot with clarity and forthrightness employ his soteriological doctrines in an evangelistic context or when bringing the gospel to people, clearly demonstrates that these doctrines are not the truth of the gospel.  They contain no good news. And when the Calvinist attempts to account for them in speaking about and presenting “the gospel” they erode and distort the message as the “good news” that it truly is.  And as much as they attempt to maintain their determinism while also affirming human freedom and responsibility in regard to believing in Christ and receiving salvation, it cannot be done and they end up in incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.

Now, the verbal gymnastics that result from this “the Bible teaches both” hermeneutic are indicative of the problem of determinism in the Calvinist’s soteriology.  This determinism distorts the gospel.  It has shut down the “good news” that God loves all sinners as demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross as their substitute, and that each and every sinner is being invited to receive the gift of salvation by faith.  But on Calvinism, the “good news” has been reduced to just “news” about the elect.  The love of God and his salvific will expressed in the universal applicability of Christ’s death for all sinners has been distorted by the theistic determinism inherent in the doctrines of unconditional election and Calvinist predestination.  These doctrines eliminate the assurance for all sinners that the invitation “whosoever will may come” explicitly applies to them.  The Calvinist “doctrines of grace” eliminate the hope that can only be found in the gospel as “good news” which entails the universality and the well-meant offer of salvation.  The Calvinist deterministic doctrines cannot coherently incorporate these biblical invitations, admonitions, urgings, pleadings and commands to be saved.  To speak of a salvation that has been predetermined for certain individuals and not others, and is unconditional even with respect to the matter of believing, is a distortion of the “good news” as presented in Scripture.  This is not the good news and therefore it is not evangelical gospel preaching.  It is the sowing of seeds of confusion.

Losing Your Mind and Soul: Intimidation, Confusion and the Suppression of Reason

In the sermon, “The Gift of Predestination,” cited above, Lutzer warns us,

“You know, it’s a very difficult doctrine in some regards, but what we have to do is to remember, as one person said, “Explain it, you might lose your mind.  Explain it away, you might lose your soul.”  So here we are.  It’s a doctrine with a lot of mystery.  I’m going to be scaring up a lot of rabbits that I’m not able to shoot, but at the end I am going to answer some questions that will be in your mind.” [19]

So what is going on here?  As I see it, Lutzer’s statements reflect a degree of intimidation along with the suppression of reason characteristic of Calvinism.  We have the latter in “Explain it, you might lose your mind,” and the former in “Explain it away, you might lose your soul.”

Regarding the latter phrase, Lutzer is making agreement with the Calvinist definition of predestination the litmus test for salvation.  You might “lose your soul” if you don’t accept it.  But will you “lose your soul” if you think long and hard as to whether or not deterministic predestination has biblical support?  Will you “lose your soul” if you find that it is incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory to other biblical teachings and you cannot “bite the bullet” and accept this as “mystery” but rather become convinced that these are sure indications of misinterpretation?  If you even attempt to “explain it away, you might lose your soul.”  This is intimidating.  Note also that for Lutzer the explanatory difficulties of his doctrine are not hermeneutically significant.  When Lutzer states, “You know, it’s a very difficult doctrine in some regards” and “Explain it, you might lose your mind,” that is him witnessing to the fact that his doctrinal position is incoherent.  But Lutzer does not consider that the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in his doctrinal position may be a sure sign of misinterpretation.

Now, if you do accept the Calvinist definition of predestination, you should know that you cannot explain it.  “It’s a doctrine with a lot of mystery.”  This is yet another example of the suppression of reason.  The word “mystery” here is employed to deflect from what we otherwise identify as contradiction. Calvinist’s “reason” about their difficulties as follows.  “Don’t try to explain our doctrines because you may find that they don’t makes sense and that would not be good for us Calvinists.  We might have to go back to the text and reconsider our exegesis and interpretations.  Rather, let’s just label our key logical problem an “apparent contradiction” and any and all other incoherencies and inconsistencies a “mystery.””  Hence, “Explain it, and you might lose your mind” tells us that the doctrine generates incoherence and contradiction.  That’s precisely what the mind cannot do with incoherence and contradiction.  It cannot explain a contradiction.  But it knows one when it sees one. And that is how we know we are dealing with incoherence and contradiction and not “mystery.”  You cannot try to explain an incoherence or contradiction until you have dealt with the underlying cause of the incoherence and contradiction.  Until you have done that, the mind reels to and fro, finding no resting place.  So to the degree that the Calvinist refuses to deal with the underlying problem causing these logical and moral difficulties and continues to attempt to “explain” his doctrines, we will continue to see them as nonsense.  They don’t make rational sense to our minds, and therefore, rather than lose our minds we can use our minds to discern that they are nonsense.

Furthermore, why accept as true something you cannot explain?  Because it is taught in Scripture?  How do you know that it’s taught in Scripture?  How do you know that this is the correct interpretation of Scripture?  If it is so baffling and inconsistent and contradictory isn’t it more plausible to think that there may be an error in interpretation somewhere? 

Certainly Calvinists can clearly expound their doctrines of sovereignty, unconditional election and predestination.  But what Calvinist’s cannot do is rationally explain the logical and moral implications of their doctrines in relation to other biblical doctrines (e.g., a non-deterministic worldview, human freedom, the nature of faith, the character of God as loving and just, etc.) and experiential realities (e.g., human responsibility, culpability, contingency, etc.).  What they cannot explain are the logical and moral entailments of their doctrines.  These are the “rabbits” that Lutzer is “scaring up” but admits he’s “not able to shoot.”  This is also what was meant by the comment “Explain it, you might lose your mind.”  This is testimony to the rational and moral incoherence inherent in Calvinism.  This is an indication that the Calvinist teachings on sovereignty, election and predestination are faulty interpretations of Scripture.  It appears to me that this whole statement is just an admission that these doctrine generate real incoherence and contradiction. We should not merely shrug these problems off by an “Oh, well, Christianity is full of mysteries we just won’t be able to understand.”

Lutzer says, “…at the end I am going to answer some questions that will be in your mind.”  Can Lutzer really provide answers and address the incoherence in his theology?  What does Lutzer do with the acute problems in his theology?  Rather than have him question the biblical veracity of his doctrines and the validity of his interpretations, Lutzer states, “So here we are. It’s a doctrine with a lot of mystery.”

Note that Lutzer ends up where all Calvinists end up, they flee to mystery rather than face the fact that their doctrines suffer from the incoherence and contradictions generated by their determinism.  The interesting thing here, despite Lutzer’s assertion of “mystery,” is that we can clearly identify the logical and moral problems in his theology.  There is no mystery when reason is constructively applied to Lutzer’s doctrines and their entailments.  His position can be clearly understood to be incoherent and contradictory with other biblical data and doctrines and with what we know and experience in the real world.  But this is not a problem for Lutzer or any Calvinist. By definition, a Calvinist is one who is required to ignore these rational and moral difficulties.  Theistic determinism trumps the canons of reason.  Indeed, to embrace interpretive incoherence and contradiction is essential to both becoming and remaining a Calvinist.  You must suppress your logical and moral reasoning.

Lutzer continues with the usual Calvinist tactics and responses to these questions.  On the matter of being chosen he states,

“…Now some of us haven’t been chosen for much of anything. Right?  I remember how difficult it was for me in grade school, because whenever they were choosing teams to play softball or some other sport, I was always the last to be chosen.  I was not a great athlete.  And it hurts to be passed over.  You may be passed over in your job. But think of this.  God choosing us!” [20]

But also think of this.  God not choosing you!  Think of this.  God not choosing your children or other loved ones or your neighbor, etc. for eternal salvation, but predestinating and thus assuring their eternal damnation. And astonishingly, Lutzer even admits that “it hurts to get passed over.” In typical Calvinist fashion, Lutzer gives a one-sided presentation of his doctrine.  It has to present only one side – the good news side – because the down-side of unconditional election cannot be employed in the service of the gospel defined as “good news.”  Lutzer does not address the negative corollary of his doctrine of unconditional election or predestination.  This less than forthright presentation of his doctrine is disingenuous.  What about the hurt of being passed over?  Not that those who are passed over have any “hurt” because they don’t want God or salvation.  But they don’t want God or salvation because God does not want them.  Where has the gospel gone?  You have to tell people something.  The gospel has a particular content.  What will you tell them?  Issues of incoherence regarding the character of God and the content of the gospel are the essence of the problems raised by theistic determinism and unconditional election.  These need to be dealt with.

God’s Love and Human Value

Lutzer goes on to affirm Martin Luther’s perspective here.

“I like what Luther said, and I want you to follow it carefully.  Luther said, “God loved us not because we are valuable (follow carefully), but we are valuable because God loves us.”  In other words, even our value is so high on God’s Dow Jones Industrial Average that He’s willing to send His Son to shed His precious blood.  Even our value is conferred to us by God.  We do not have it innately.” [21]

According to Luther “We are valuable because God loves us.”  So the non-elect are not valuable to God for surely he does not love them.  Therefore, the Calvinist believes that only the elect are valuable persons.  And, on Calvinism, surely that must also be God’s perspective.  In that God saves on the basis of an unconditional election, God must only love the elect.  Therefore, only the elect are valuable to God.  A person’s value hinges upon whether or not God loves them.  God certainly loves the elect and certainly does not love the non-elect.  Therefore, God does not love all people.  Why this is the case, we don’t know.  But one thing seems sure – that all people are not of equal value to God.  Calvin was clear on this.  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.”[22]

How this squares with the doctrine of man being made in the image of God is another problem for Calvinists.  Nevertheless, many Calvinists who hold to limited atonement maintain that Jesus did not die for the non-elect.  Therefore, it is hard to see how these non-elect persons have any value to God.  God was not “willing to send His Son to shed His precious blood” for them.  Note that for many Calvinists, it is only the elect for whom “His Son shed his precious blood.”  We can agree that there is no good in fallen human beings that would cause God to love us and for Christ to die for us, but that there could possibly be no value in a human life, even after the fall into sin, is not a biblical anthropology. We are all created in the image of God. This bestows dignity and value upon every human life.

This issue also reflects the struggle the Calvinist has due to his doctrine of “total depravity.”  Luther championed total depravity and the bondage of the human will.[23]  There cannot be anything in man that would move God to act in a manner towards him other than what God’s own will has predetermined.  Man cannot seek or respond to God in any way.  No man can believe in God or Christ.  God must produce in each individual any spiritual motions that will cause and create a proper relationship with him.  If it were any other way God’s sovereignty would be diminish and man would be a contributing factor to his own salvation and thereby have reason to boast and perhaps impinge upon God’s glory which he will share with no one.  God’s glory is compromised if salvation is anything but “all of God.” 

Calvinist determinism and exclusivism negates the free and gracious universal offer of salvation which is the demonstration of the love God has for each and every one of us.  Calvinist exclusivism stifles the sinner’s reciprocal response of love for God.  We cannot return our love to God if his love towards us is in doubt and we lack the assurance that he is kindly disposed towards us, values us and has accomplished salvation for us all as needy sinners.

So only those people whom God has chosen to be saved and for whom Jesus died, are the persons that God values and loves.  The theological and practical implications are profound.  They involve what it means to be made in God’s image, what the Bible means when it says that “God is love,” the ability for a person to respond positively to God in love, what it means for God to command us to love our neighbor and even our enemies and what is the heart and message of the gospel.

Lutzer continues with an attempt to address the issue of the arbitrariness of unconditional election.

“Now you say, “Was it arbitrary?  Was it like a lottery?  Did God blindfold Himself and say, ‘Here’s a big jar with all these numbers.  I’m going to go down and I’m going to see who I choose.’  ” Obviously not!  And the reason for that is because God had to create an entire context – where you would be born, who your parents would be, all kinds of contingencies regarding who would share the Gospel with you.  It was not an arbitrary choice.” [24]

So how does this answer the question?  It doesn’t.

Lutzer then attempts to address questions involving God’s character given unconditional election – what he calls “the basis upon which he did the choosing.”

“You say, “Well, what was the basis upon which He did the choosing?” Good question! The Apostle Paul, struggling with that in Romans 9, gets to that point and basically says (I’m sure he says it kindly, and this is a paraphrase), “Keep your mouth shut.” That’s the answer. He says, “We’re now at the edge of mystery, and God has not revealed that.” So we have to accept that the potter has power over the clay to make one lump to honor, and another to dishonor, so we stand in the sovereignty of God, and we allow God to be God, and we don’t understand it all.” [25]

Here we have the suppression of reason, the claim of incomprehensibility and the flight to mystery based on the Calvinist’s interpretation of Romans 9.  But Romans 9 should not be used to dismiss inquiries about the validity of the Calvinist doctrinal claims when they raise serious questions about the nature, character and ways of God.  Romans 9 should not be employed to dismiss the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions produced by theistic determinism and the doctrine of unconditional election.  Lutzer is saying that in Romans 9 Paul is addressing those people who question God’s unconditional election.  And even though he admits that Paul might think it is a good question, the answer that Paul and Lutzer give is,

“Keep your mouth shut.” That’s the answer. He says, “We’re now at the edge of mystery, and God has not revealed that.” So we have to accept that the potter has power over the clay to make one lump to honor, and another to dishonor, so we stand in the sovereignty of God, and we allow God to be God, and we don’t understand it all.”

Suffice it to say that there are alternative interpretations of this text that, in context, both require and present a more coherent and very different message and purpose than what Lutzer gives here.  The non-Calvinist would say that the contextually coherent interpretation is the better interpretation.  The Calvinist ignores the incoherence of their interpretation.  Coherence is not essential to their hermeneutic. 

Natural Disasters: We Escape Judgment by Repentance

Now, even though Lutzer maintains that God predetermined all things and that he chose who would be saved from before the world was created, yet, when speaking on the lie that “God Is Not Responsible for Natural Disasters,” Lutzer states that “nature reveals both the love of God and the judgment of God” and that “we escape judgment by repentance.”  Having referenced Luke 13:1-5[26] he goes on to state,

“We escape judgment by repentance.  Look at the text.  “Unless you repent you shall likewise perish.”  Judgment is coming…God is telling us today that unless you repent you shall likewise perish…So what do we do?  What do we do?  We take this business of natural disasters and we say to ourselves we don’t understand it all but we believe that God is using his megaphone to get the attention of the world.  And people are beginning to think about their death and their mortality…Yes, he stands behind natural disasters.  Yes, he is trustworthy.  Yes, unless you repent, you shall likewise perish.   By the way, have you repented?  I’m talking now to those of you who have never trusted Christ as savior.  Could you image [sic] standing before God having heard this message, and giving him an explanation as to why you didn’t believe.”[27]

Obviously Lutzer is here presupposing the sinner’s responsibility to believe in Christ and therefore affirming their freedom to do so, a freedom presumably due to the fact that they really do have “freedom of the will.”  It is astounding how Lutzer simply ignores the inconsistency of his invitation here with his underlying doctrine of unconditional election.  He states, “Could you image [sic] standing before God having heard this message, and giving him an explanation as to why you didn’t believe.”  I think I can.  Let’s try to imagine this given Lutzer’s doctrine of unconditional election.

First, would God, the One who knows that the explanation as to why this unbeliever didn’t believe is because He didn’t elect him to salvation, ask such a question?  If God would ask such a question, then God would be affirming free will, and the fact that God affirms free will is good enough for me to settle the matter once and for all!  The question presupposes the ability to believe or not believe which is contradictory with Lutzer’s Calvinist determinist soteriology.

Secondly, if God would make such an inquiry of the sinner, then given Calvinism, the simple answer the person must give is that, “You did not chose me for salvation and therefore I couldn’t believe.”  On Lutzer’s Calvinism, that’s precisely why the person didn’t believe upon hearing Lutzer’s message.  And that would be the truth.  Therefore, God, as the God of truth, would accept that answer.

Moreover, as one who holds to divine determinism and unconditional election it is very odd that Lutzer would even think of this scenario of divine inquiry.  It makes no sense. If God has predetermined all things, why the need for inquiries, questions, judgments, rewards, etc.  Furthermore, even thought Lutzer says God employs natural disasters and other means “to get the attention of the world.” But for what reason? Is God really in a dynamic and contingent relationship with human beings?  Lutzer’s determinism and unconditional election go by the wayside when he says, “Yes, unless you repent, you shall likewise perish.   By the way, have you repented?  I’m talking now to those of you who have never trusted Christ as savior.  Could you image [sic] standing before God having heard this message, and giving him an explanation as to why you didn’t believe.” On Calvinism the perfectly true and legitimate response would be, “Yes, because you predetermined that I would not believe.”

I think Lutzer’s statements show just how much Calvinists can divorce themselves from their fundamental determinism and soteriological doctrines when it comes to reasoning, biblical interpretation, preaching and evangelism.  It also confirms how the Calvinist “doctrines of grace,” the doctrines that many Calvinists claim are the gospel message, cannot be brought into the service of the gospel and evangelism if the gospel is going to remain “good news” for the hearers.

So how will the unbeliever be held responsible by God for not doing something they could never do unless God “overcomes their blindness and grants the faith that they might believe” – that is, unless they were among the elect?  Lutzer realizes the logical contradiction and moral problem here and softens it by previously calling it a “tension.”  But the problem here is not a “tension,” it is a true contradiction.  Either way, the problems created by Lutzer’s theistic determinism still remain.  He cannot escape, logically or morally, from the vortex of his determinism.

Proving Your Unconditional Election

Lutzer ends his sermon on predestination with the following prayer,

“Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that Your word might go out in such a way that people across this nation who are listening to this message, and here in the sanctuary at The Moody Church, may say to themselves, “I get it,” and believe the Gospel, and thereby prove that they were chosen, they were predestined, they were part of Your will and part of Your plan from all of eternity. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”[28]

Let’s examine Lutzer’s prayer.  Notice that unconditional election comes into play as a concern here.  Upon being taught that there are only two types of persons in the world as far as salvation is concerned – the elect and non-elect – people would naturally want to know which category God has put them in.  Lutzer’s basic message here is that God’s word might go out “in such a way” that people “may say to themselves, “I get it,” and believe the Gospel, and thereby prove that they were chosen, they were predestined, they were part of Your will and part of Your plan from all of eternity.”   So those upon whom the word of God works “in such a way” so as to cause them to believe the Gospel are among the elect.  This response that God produces in them, the “I get it” response, proves to them that they are the elect.  Now note that on Calvinism this cannot be a call for the hearer to believe or suggest doing anything that has to do with the person themselves.  That being the case we wonder what the gospel content is for Lutzer.  If we are to be consistent with his Calvinism, basically his message to the people would be to inform them that if it happens that you experience belief in Christ, if that happens to you, then that proves you are among the elect.

This is a very strange “gospel.”  The problem here is that we can see how unconditional election has distracted us from the preaching of the “good news” which in order to be “good news” must be universally applicable to all sinners; it must apply to everyone hearing about Christ, the cross and salvation. Lutzer is having a hard time giving people assurance that God loves them as demonstrated in the death of Christ on their behalf.  He is having a hard time with telling people that they must respond to this “good news” by faith.  The doctrine of unconditional election has become a preoccupation that has distorted the gospel as “good news.” Lutzer has to “back into” a knowledge of election through an examination of the sinner’s experience. His prayer is that “…Your word might go out in such a way that people…may say to themselves”, “I get it,” and believe the Gospel, and thereby prove that they were chosen, they were predestined, they were part of Your will and part of Your plan from all of eternity.” A very strange message indeed!

Note that Lutzer cannot preach his unconditional election as “good news” to the hearers.  It is not part of the gospel message.  It has to be awkwardly wedged in and given its due.  But it finds no logical or proper place in what is otherwise “good news.”  Unconditional election is simply mentioned and presupposed as what is really happening behind the scenes, with no “proof” of its truth.  Attempting to learn of one’s elect status is not consonant with the gospel content.  It is hard to see what “good news” there is in unconditional election.  How is this doctrine part of a message of “good news” to those gathered?  The presupposition that unconditional election is at work here seems to conflict with the believing in the Gospel that Lutzer talks about.  But Lutzer cannot even proclaim such believing consistently and forthrightly.  For Lutzer, believing in “the gospel” (whatever that might be) and salvation is something that God effectually and irresistibly works in the elect only.  Indeed, on Calvinism, you need to be saved before you believe! And that is they way Lutzer orders his “invitation.” You know your chosen if God works in your heart the “I get it.” That proves your elect. But what about all the others gathered who also need salvation? Since they are not elect they will not prove that they are elect and indeed can do nothing so that they may be among the elect and be saved. So we must ask, what is the content of “the Gospel” Lutzer refers to here?  Where is the good news fro sinners? It has been buried by a theistic determinism in the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and unconditional election. So what happens in these elect people prior to when they “get it?”  Lutzer must be thinking in terms of pre-faith regeneration.  God gives “it” – faith – to them so when they “get it” – faith – then they “believe the Gospel.”  This is bizarre in its redundancy.  So what would that gospel message be as to its content taking into account Lutzer’s doctrine of unconditional election?  And when a person says, “I get it,” and believes why would that confirm the doctrine of unconditional election?

Testing Deterministic Unconditional Election by Contingent Conditional Faith

Now if Lutzer tells us that the person themselves must believe, in the sense that it is they who make a decision to do so on the basis of the “good news” that they hear, then this is incoherent with his theistic determinism. It is incoherent because the way Lutzer’s is telling us that his deterministic unconditional election to salvation is evidenced, tested and becomes known to the individual is by means of an instruction or admonition that is contingent in nature.  Lutzer will say to people they need to believe to know they are elect.  But isn’t this just reasoning in a circle? The elect will irresistibly be caused to believe by God, and yet, it is only those who choose to believe who can know they are among the elect! Lutzer is merely presupposing that from a person’s response that unconditional election is the cause of that response, and yet he talks about believing as a contingent matter – a person decides to believe or not.   Lutzer is teaching that a person should presuppose that unconditional election is the explanation for what happens when people “say to themselves, “I get it,” and believe the Gospel.”

So in the end, on Calvinism, what Lutzer is praying for is that those whom God predetermined to believe would believe.  Lutzer is praying that a foregone conclusion would be realized.  So when the elect are caused to believe, their believing is evidence of the divine predetermination to save that person.  So that person can know they are elect.  What kind of “gospel” message is that?

But all this seems to me to be mere conjecture based on Lutzer’s a priori belief in Calvinist soteriology.  As far as I can see from Scripture, the content of the gospel and it’s proclamation as “good news” does not accord with this preoccupation with “testing” one’s unconditional election or predestination to salvation.  Neither does the biblical testimony to the nature of faith accord with Lutzer’s approach here.  If people believe because God causes them to believe and others don’t believe because God doesn’t cause them to believe then this is in direct contradiction to the biblical testimony to the nature of both faith and unbelief as a person’s own response to the gospel for which they are responsible and for which they are either commended or found culpable.  And it must be stated firmly that faith is never presented in Scripture as meritorious – a serious error in Calvinist thought and doctrine.  Since faith is not meritorious or considered “a work,” it is therefore the God ordained means by which a sinner appropriates the offered salvation to oneself.  It is the person’s own willed response of trust in Christ, just as the person remaining in unbelief is their own willed response to reject the offer of salvation.  They are responsible for their unbelief.  There is no merit, work or contribution to salvation from the sinner who humbly puts their trust in the merits and work of Jesus on their behalf. That is precisely what faith is. It is putting one’s trust in the saving work Jesus has already accomplished for them. So it is baffling for Lutzer to talk about faith as proving unconditional election in that God must give a person faith and yet also talk about faith the way Scripture speaks of it as the command and invitation to believe for which the person is responsible to do.  Lutzer’s doctrines of total depravity, irresistible grace and unconditional election wreak havoc with the biblical witness to the nature of faith. The exercise of faith is always depicted as the exercise of the person’s will.  Faith is nowhere predestined for an exclusive number of elect persons.

Therefore, we are left perplexed as to what Lutzer means by “the gospel,” that is, if it is to be consistent with his “doctrines of grace.”  As far as I can see there is no “good news” in the Calvinist’s “doctrines of grace.”  On Calvinism God is the cause of a person’s believing or remaining in unbelief.  On Calvinism it is God who is the sole agent in a person’s salvation and indeed the only player on the stage of world history.

What I think we learn from all this is that substantial theological, gospel and practical confusion is being preached from so-called “evangelical” pulpits.  This confusion is eroding the clear proclamation of the gospel and the power of that gospel for the salvation of sinners and the encouragement of believers.

Lutzer has highlighted the problematic nature of his soteriology here.  Lutzer’s “tension” and “the Bible teaches both” solution is evidence of the rational and moral incoherence in his theology.  The problem of incoherence and contradiction is rooted in his theistic determinism.  Serious logical and moral problems are raised because of this determinism.  These insuperable problems persistently confront him despite his efforts at relief through “compatibilism” and other rationalizations.  The incoherence is left in abeyance and pinned on Scripture as teaching these “two truths.”  But, if we are to take rational coherence on board in our hermeneutic, then as mutually exclusive propositions one of these two “truths” must be false.  Lutzer, like most Calvinists, do see these problems as related to their hermeneutic. Indeed, they seem to refuse to see the problems in their theology as hermeneutically significant.  These problems do not indicate to them that their interpretations of Scripture might be mistaken. 

But the resolution of the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy is to be found in acknowledging that these logical and moral inconsistencies and contradictions are hermeneutically significant.  They indicate a flawed exegesis and interpretation of the biblical texts.  Unless the Calvinist acknowledges this he will continue to contradict himself in his preaching and teaching and fail to resolve his own conflicts.  If he does acknowledge this it will free his theology from its incoherence and end the controversy with non-Calvinists who find logical and moral coherence to be essential to determining the validity of one’s biblical exegesis. And as I have tried to show, if we do not resolve this issue the gospel will continue to suffer distortion, be relegated to the status of a “non-essential” or completely vanish from our “evangelical” churches.


Go on to Example 10 – Erwin Lutzer on How You Can Know You Are Among the Elect


Back to Chapter 11 – Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence / Table of Contents / Home


[1] Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Doctrine of Election,” Moody Church Media, Accessed 10/11/2018. https://www.moodymedia.org/articles/doctrine-election/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Erwin Lutzer, “Jesus, The Gift of Freedom” Sermon Transcript. December 23, 2012.  Accessed 1/2/2018.  The sermon texts were Matt. 1:21 and John 8:31-47.  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/gifts-jesus-brought-us/christ-gift-freedom/#.XC0fPo-WxD8 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Erwin W. Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Inheritance of the Redeemed,” Sermon 1 “The Gift of Predestination.” Accessed 10/15/2018.  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/inheritance-redeemed/gift-predestination/#.W8S7qo-WxD8 

[6] Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Doctrine of Election,” Moody Church Media. Accessed 10/11/2018. https://www.moodymedia.org/articles/doctrine-election/ 

[7] Leighton Flowers provides logical reasons why this “puppets” or “robots” analogy is appropriately applied to Calvinism in his YouTube podcast “Do Calvinists Believe People are Like Puppets?”  June 25, 2018. Accessed 10/11/2018.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujmqzM-rF-Q

[8] I realize there are influences upon all of us and that these certainly do influence our choices.  But the point is that these influences are not absolutely determinative.  There is something in the human creature, put there by God, by which we can make decisions that are not merely determined by external influences.  We actually have a capacity to reason, will and then act – with these being substantially of ourselves – because we are made in the image of God.  The capability to act on the basis of our reason and will are important aspects of what it means to be human.

[9] Erwin Lutzer, Running to Win Broadcast, “Miles Apart In The Same House, Part 2” January 2, 2019. Last accessed February 2, 2019.  https://www.moodymedia.org/radio-programs/running-to-win-15/miles-apart-same-house-part-2-1/#.XCzX34-WxD8  (7:19 – 8:50)

[10] See Chapter 8, “Calvinist Attempts to Justify Sovereignty as Theistic Determinism” for a critique of compatibilism.

[11] Erwin W. Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Inheritance of the Redeemed,” Sermon 1 “The Gift of Predestination.”  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/inheritance-redeemed/gift-predestination/#.W8S7qo-WxD8  Last accessed 10/15/2018

[12] The exact phrase “whosoever will may come” is not found in Scripture, yet the truth of its elements of universality (“whosoever”), genuine human agency that entails freedom of decision (“will”) along with assurance, acceptance and invitation (“may come”) are taught in passages like Rev. 22:17; Rom. 10:11-13; John 3:16-18; 3:36; 5:34, 40; 8:24; 9:35-41; 12:32, 44-48; 19:35; 20:27-3, et al.  The Scripture abundantly teaches and affirms the universal invitation to come to Christ and that this involves a decision of the will from persons as free moral agents.  It is not a definition of “free will” based on a misunderstanding of human “depravity” as the complete inability for the sinner to respond to God’s “good news” of salvation.  Human freedom is not God predetermining everything that every person will do and therefore giving them the desire to do it.  Determined desires are not equivalent to the free decisions of personal agents.  The word “whoever,” as used throughout Scripture, is a term of unlimited universality.  It does not connote the understanding required of Calvinism of certain designated persons “whoever they are,” but means simply “whoever” as in “anyone who…” or “everyone who…”  And implicit in the nature of the “whoever” is this human free will agency such that whatever the predicate it is what is believed or performed from the person’s own will and choosing.

[13] Note the phrase “humbly acknowledge” here.  It is characteristic of Calvinists to subsume the logical and moral difficulties of their doctrine of unconditional election under the umbrella of humility.  It is the humble man or woman that does not question “God’s ways” in unconditional election and is willing to accept the doctrine despite its logical and moral incoherencies and contradictions.

[14] In his sermon series on “The Mysteries of God,” sermon number 3 “The Decrees of God,” Lutzer states, “All things are encompassed by the divine decree.” Also, “The decree includes all things” and “the decree of God encompasses everything.”  Then he states, “Now I have to deal with one objection, which, of course, is in your mind, and I can’t do this in detail.  I’ve actually written about this because in the history of the church there’s a great deal of debate and discussion regarding free will.  It’s a complicated topic and not as easy as you may think.  So how does this relate to man’s free will?  Well, the point is, first of all that God typically works through his human creatures to bring about His purposes.  He looks for those whose hearts are inclined to him. He never violates the will as in Calvinism.  God will work in a person to bring about a disposition to do something, but He never violates the will. So that person may cooperate of resist the will and ways of God with them. We aren’t puppets.  On the other hand, the Bible is very clear, and this is where we are on the edge of mystery, and certainly even beyond the edge of mystery, that God does hold people accountable for their actions.  There’s no question about it. If you ask exactly how that relates with His sovereignty, nobody has ever been able to satisfactorily figure all that out.  We know that both are revealed in the Bible.

               And if you are listening to this today, and you say, “Well, you know, the Bible talks about election and predestination; I don’t know whether or not I am predestined, so if I’m predestined, well, then, let Him come and tell me.”  I have a better idea for you.  Why don’t you find out whether or not you are predestined?  You can find out, you know, so don’t argue with God about this.  All that you need to do is to come to Jesus.  Humble yourself. Admit your sin.  Receive Him as your substitute and your Savior, and you will know that you have been welcomed by God because “Whosoever will may come,” and therefore you then know that you are elect.  You can’t go wrong doing that, can you?  Just receive Christ as Savior, and then you’ll know that you are a child (a son or a daughter) of the Most High. So let us rejoice in the fact that the invitation is open to everyone.” 

               See Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Mysteries of God,” sermon number 3 “The Decrees of God,” Oct. 18, 2015.  Accessed May 1, 2020.  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/mysteries-god/decrees-god/

               I think the inconsistency and confusion is evident here regarding both free will and predestination.  Lutzer presents a compatibilist definition of free will which reduces to doing what you desire to do but it is God who predetermines your every desire. This still amounts to determinism and is therefore not coherent as a definition of free will.

               As to finding out whether or not you are predestined to salvation, to say “all you need to do is come to Jesus” is incoherent with Lutzer’s determinism and compatibilism.  Lutzer is telling us that a contingent act – an act of libertarian free will – is what is required to know the divine predetermination of that same circumstance. So it is by a libertarian free will decision by which we come to know that the very same situation is one that God has irresistibly predetermined. God has predetermined your salvific status as elect or non-elect which is evidenced by your libertarian free will decision.  This makes no sense in that Lutzer is stating a method of becoming one of the elect that presupposes human free will which is incompatible with the theistic determinism of the unconditional election he also claims is the cause of one’s saving faith.  You can’t tell a person to exercise their free will in believing to see if they have been predetermined to salvation.  That is nonsense.  According to Lutzer’s deterministic soteriology you don’t become one of the elect, let alone become one of the elect by believing.  You believe because you are one of the elect and God gives you that faith.  God has already predetermined what the person will do – either “come to Jesus” or not.  But this is incoherent with how Lutzer presents finding out whether or not you’re predestined to salvation.  He presents this as a free act of the person – “humble yourself.”  “Admit your sin.”  If you do this you are among the elect (at least for now), and if you don’t do this you can conclude that you are not among the elect.  This is to make the gospel as “good news” vacuous.  It is to devise a test for election rather than call people to salvation in truth and assurance.  There is no “good news” here.  It is antithetical to the “good news” to talk about the sinner doing something to find out if they are among the elect and have been included in God’s salvation in Christ.  The “good news” is that all sinners have been included in God’s salvation in Christ and they can be saved by believing that message.  There are no doubts or concerns about anyone being excluded.  The true gospel is that God proclaims that because he has provided for your salvation and welcomes you to receive it, you should do so by trusting in Christ.  Unconditional election and predestination wreak havoc with the gospel as “good news.”

[15] Erwin W. Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Inheritance of the Redeemed,” Sermon 1 “The Gift of Predestination.” January 17, 2016.  Accessed May 1, 2020.  https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/inheritance-redeemed/gift-predestination/#.W8S7qo-WxD8 

[16] “The expression, “whosoever will,” is evidently applicable to the case of every human being without exception; and is plainly demonstrative of the freeness with which the gospel invitation is addressed to all, without reference to character, or circumstance, or condition.” – James Bannerman https://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/bannerman/the_last_message_of_god_to_men.htm

[17] Erwin W. Lutzer, “Running to Win” program, “Come and See His Disciples, Part 3,” April 24, 2020.  Accessed May 1, 2020.  https://www.moodymedia.org/radio-programs/running-to-win-15/come-and-see-his-disciples-part-3-2/#.XqLv2ylKipo  (11:18 – 11:47) 

[18] Ibid., (12:11 – 12:56).

[19] Erwin W. Lutzer, Sermon Series “The Inheritance of the Redeemed,” Sermon 1 “The Gift of Predestination.” January 17, 2016.  Accessed 10/15/2018 https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/inheritance-redeemed/gift-predestination/#.W8S7qo-WxD8

[20] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

[21] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

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

[23] Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, trans. James I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1957).

[24] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

[25] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

[26] Luke 13:1-5: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (NIV)

[27] Erwin W. Lutzer, “Ten Lies About God and Why You Might Already Be Deceived” Series, “#6 God Is Not Responsible For Natural Disasters,” Part 4, August 9, 2018.  Accessed 10/11/2018.  https://www.twr360.org/programs/view/id,665174/  (2:17 – 6:22)

[28] Erwin W. Lutzer, “The Gift of Predestination.”

               In another prayer Lutzer says, “Help us to rejoice in your mercy toward us; to offer the gospel to all men, and yet to understand clearly that no man can come except the Spirit draw him.  And now even before I close this prayer, I would not want to end this message without giving you an opportunity to believe.  Because even while I preached it may well be that the word of God was speaking to your heart and the Holy Spirit was quickening your mind and urging you to trust Christ.  Even in your seat would you do that?  Would you say “Lord Jesus I’m a sinner, I don’t understand it all, but I thank you that you died for me, and because you died for me I receive the gift of eternal life, because I want to know I’m one of your chosen ones.  Would you do that right now?  Father help us to rejoice in your loving kindness toward us.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”

               See Erwin W. Lutzer, “Calvin in Geneva,” Sermon 4.  Accessed May 1, 2020. https://www.moodymedia.org/sermons/reformation-and-revival/calvin-geneva/#.W8Y2MY-WxD8  (35:42 – 36:53)

               He just finished preaching on Calvin’s doctrine of predestination which makes a distinction between those God desires to save and those he does not.  Yet Lutzer leads people to presume Christ died for them, implying that God desires that they be saved – “I thank you that you died for me.”  For Lutzer, it seems that the purpose of this prayer must be as a test of one’s unconditional election.  Those who can say this prayer should know that they are among the elect.  But this is to introduce into the gospel a concept that detracts from it as a word of God’s love demonstrated in Christ to all and therefore his saving intentions for all.  Knowing whether one is among the elect takes priority over the gospel assurance that Jesus certainly did die for them and God wants them to be saved.  Given other sound exegetical interpretations of the texts Lutzer surveyed in this sermon in support of unconditional election, Lutzer is wrong to teach that there are two classes of people in the world with respect to God’s intent to save.  Ironically, this universality and assurance of God’s salvific desire for all is something Lutzer could not avoid.  He speaks of God’s “mercy toward all of us,” that we should “offer the gospel to all men.” But then quickly adds “yet to understand clearly that no man can come except the Spirit draw him” – something a non-Calvinist would not take issue with – but which Lutzer must understand as somehow consonant with unconditional election and an effectual call or irresistible grace.  He pits the two against each other – the offer of the gospel to all men and the Spirit’s drawing, which for him means the drawing of the elect.  He speaks of “an opportunity to believe,” the Spirit’s “urging,” that they ought to thank God that “Jesus died for me,” that eternal life is a “gift” that needs to be “received,” giving them an invitation to receive that gift of eternal life and speaking about rejoicing in God’s “loving kindness towards us.”  Much of this presupposes the universal love of God and human freedom and contingency which are inconsistent with unconditional election.

               So what is the purpose of this “prayer?” It must be to confirm one’s election by one’s acceptance of it.  Lutzer says this is the goal, “…because I want to know I’m one of your chosen ones.”  On Calvinism, that is what a person needs to know because that is the very essence of their salvation.  Election by God equals salvation. No election by God equals damnation. But the problem here is that they are being told that they can know that by means that are in contradiction to what one is attempting to prove.  They prove their predetermined election in which they have no role whatsoever to play by being told to believe, confess they are a sinner, thank God that Jesus died for them, trust Christ and receive the gift of eternal life.  According to Lutzer this is what they have to do.  But all this is inconsistent with unconditional election. Even the Spirit that is supposed to work effectually is only spoken of as “speaking,” “quickening,” and “urging.”  The concept of unconditional election intrudes upon the gospel here as a distraction and distortion of the “good news.”

               In this prayer, and elsewhere in his preaching, Lutzer uses words and presents concepts that are theologically and soteriologically nuanced.  Some are consonant with “good news” but others are not.  If Lutzer responds that he is giving the gospel, then he is also telling all the people listening things about God and Christ that are inconsistent with his doctrine of unconditional election.  As a Calvinist, Lutzer cannot proclaim to all those gathered there or listening to him throughout the world – “to all men” – that Christ died for you, that God loves you and you can come to Christ and be saved and also remain consistent with his soteriological doctrines.  That is not what his soteriology teaches.  So this is very confusing and disingenuous.  Lutzer is giving the genuinely good news to all men that God loves you and Jesus died for you as proof of a soteriology in which God doesn’t love everyone or Jesus didn’t die for everyone.  The goal must be to lead people in a “sinner’s prayer” with the idea being to test one’s elect status.  This is ironic in that Calvinists decry the use of a “sinner’s prayer” as Arminian manipulation.  But that is precisely what Lutzer does here, with the extra doctrinal add on that if one prays such a prayer they can know that they are one of God’s chosen ones.  Those who say the prayer are elect because they wouldn’t be able to say it otherwise.  But I ask you, is this primary concern as to whether one is among the unconditionally elect or not the gospel message?  Is it a concern that could ever be consonant with preaching “good news” to all men?

               So what purpose does this prayer serve except to confuse the hearers as to the truth of the Gospel.  If “it may well be that the word of God was speaking to your heart and the Holy Spirit was quickening your mind and urging you to trust Christ” then what more need be done?  Those who are elect will trust Christ.  And any promptings for them to believe, confess that they are a sinner, thank God that Jesus died for them, trust Christ and receive the gift of eternal life, being contingent actions dependent upon the sinner to perform of their own wills, are inconsistent with the determinism of their unconditional election.  And for those who are not elect, nothing will move them to trust Christ. That is the sad news of Calvinism.

2 thoughts on “Example 9 – Erwin Lutzer’s Inconsistency on Election and Predestination

  1. Both saved calvinist and arminians long for the things of God…holiness, obedience, relying on Christ and cling to God’s Word as our standard of life, and so forth. Both are regenerated. Calvinist give God the glory and Arminians, out of a dead and polluted heart, share the glory with God. So they think.

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    1. Edward,
      Thanks for reading on my site and for your comments. I see you are responding to “Example 9 – Irwin Lutzer’s Inconsistency on Election and Predestination” in Chapter 11 “Examples of Calvinist Interpretive Incoherence.” In this example I point out several ways Lutzer is inconsistent in his statements as compared with his Calvinist theology, especially as it has to do with his theistic determinism and compatibilism. I challenge the reader to examine whether these are real, genuine inconsistencies in Lutzer’s position, and if so, whether from this we should conclude that Lutzer and Calvinists are failing to interpret the relevant scriptures correctly. At the beginning of this piece I raised this hermeneutical question with respect to Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4. I wrote, “So let’s think about Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:1-4 at the hermeneutical level. Lutzer maintains that his definition of election constitutes “the plain implications of the verse.” That is, in writing this text the apostle Paul meant to communicate to his original readers and us today that before God created the world he predetermined who would be saved and, at least by default, who would not. According to Lutzer that is what Paul meant to convey. With respect to the thesis I am examining, we need to ask whether Lutzer’s interpretation is valid if it can be shown that the “plain implications” of many other texts, or Lutzer’s own claims and preaching, are incoherent or in direct contradiction with Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4.” I go on to demonstrate that Lutzer’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4, which he believes teaches his Calvinist theology and soteriological doctrines, is incoherent and at times in direct contradiction with Lutzer’s own statements and preaching along with the “plain implications” of many other scriptures. I believe Lutzer’s incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions are reliable indicators that he has misinterpreted Scripture on the matters of God’s sovereignty and the meaning of election and predestination. I also point out how these misinterpretations have negative implications for the gospel as “good news.” That is why this is a serious matter for individual Christians and the evangelical church. For all the similarities that there are between Calvinists and Arminians which you point out in your brief comment, it certainly appears that you have not interacted with the evidences I offer and the substance of my arguments regarding the pertinent issues I raised in this piece. A more substantive engagement with those evidences and arguments is always welcome. Thanks again for reading.

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