The message of the gospel as “good news” is at the heart of the biblical revelation. It certainly is the crux of biblical soteriology. It is important to understand that Calvinists and non-Calvinists hold to two mutually exclusive soteriologies which entail two mutually exclusive gospel messages. These different soteriologies have profound effects on the content of the gospel message. This should give each Christian and the church as a whole great concern – especially if they call themselves evangelical.
The confusion that two incompatible soteriologies cause regarding a clear proclamation of the truth of the gospel, let alone the intellectual and interpretive relativism fostered by this situation (i.e., “What the Scripture means to you is just fine, even though it means something contrary to me; the important thing is that we all get along”), can no longer be ignored or rationalized away. It is why this debate must be had, the essential problem identified and the issue resolved.
According to Scripture the word “gospel” has a definite meaning. “Gospel” means “good news.” The Greek word is euangelion, from which we get our word “evangelical.” Therefore, one’s soteriology and gospel message will either be consistent with the biblical definition of the gospel as “good news,” or it will be, as I submit it is in Calvinism, inconsistent with that word so defined. In other words, I contend that the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” have no “good news” to proclaim to sinners. A brief summary of Calvinism may be helpful here.
Many Calvinists understand the “gospel” to be that set of soteriological doctrines they have labeled “the doctrines of grace” or “sovereign grace.” The foundation for this understanding of salvation is the doctrine of the eternal divine decree by which God has “ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” He has determined, before creation, all that occurs and therefore is the cause of all things that occur. This includes every thought, desire, attitude and belief that every person has ever had, is having and will have. It includes all the actions that every person has ever performed in all history – both good and evil. This is the Calvinist understanding of God’s eternal decree and sovereignty.
This theistic determinism logically also includes each person’s eternal destiny. Some are chosen or predestined to everlasting life and all others to everlasting punishment for their sin. Each sinner’s eternal destiny was fixed by God before creation. Who the elect are remains unknown to us. Therefore, the Calvinist understands the “good news” as the exercise of divine “grace” defined as God’s premundane decision to save certain particular individuals chosen out of the mass of sinful humanity, all of whom are undeserving of salvation. For the Calvinist “grace” refers to God’s choice to save a particular sinner when he did not have to do so. “Grace,” therefore, may be equated with God’s predestination of certain persons to salvation. This “grace” or decision to save, affects only those particular elect individuals. The “gospel” or “the gospel of grace” is that God, from eternity past, out of the sinful mass of humanity, chose which particular individuals he would unfailingly save. This choice or election is unconditional. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the person themselves nor anything or anyone else. It is solely of God’s will and work. Those predestined to be saved are “altogether passive therein.”
Furthermore, because of their sinful nature all persons are “dead in their trespasses and sins” and unable to respond to God in faith. God therefore must effectually call them to himself and salvation. Regeneration is required for the elect to believe. Faith therefore is a gift given by God to the elect. This work of God’s Spirit which produces faith is irresistible. Only those he has chosen to save will unfailingly believe. All others cannot believe. Even the elect cannot believe but must wait for the gift of faith to be given to them. The elect must be regenerated first in order to believe. To these elect alone he gives eternal life. God irresistibly regenerates those he has unconditionally elected to salvation and grants them faith simultaneous with or subsequent to regeneration. Christ dies on the cross only for those particular persons God has chosen for salvation. The efficacy and worth of the atonement is therefore limited to the elect.
All that is involved in the saving work will unfailingly have its effect in the life of the elect. For all the non-elect, God does not effectually work in them upon the hearing of “the gospel.” God does not will that they be saved. Therefore they remain in their sin and unbelief for which they will receive God’s judgment and eternal damnation. The identity of the elect and non-elect remains unknown to us. The number of both is fixed and unchangeable.
These are the Calvinist soteriological doctrines. They are the full and final explanation as to why and how a person becomes saved. These doctrines are what the Calvinist means by “the sovereignty of God in salvation” and that “salvation is all of grace.” For many Calvinists these “doctrines of grace” constitute the biblical gospel message.
I will draw out the negative implications of Calvinism later, but in contrast here, suffice it to say that the non-Calvinist understands the gospel as the message of the way of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross to be received by faith. As good news, it provides to every individual sinner the assurance of God’s love for them, the forgiveness of their sins and communicates that God has provided for their salvation and desires that they be saved. Hence it is the basis for the forgiveness and cleansing from sin, personal human dignity, meaning and purpose in life along with freedom from despair and hopelessness. It offers knowledge of the true and living God and the way of salvation which allows any person to have personal fellowship with God both now and for eternity. A person’s eternal destiny is decided by their response to the salvation God has provided for them in Christ. They either accept or reject the offer of salvation. God has not predetermined who will be saved and who will not. He desires that all sinners be saved. I think we can see how the gospel as “good news” is affected by these very different soteriologies.
If there is no “good news” to preach in Calvinism, then that has profoundly negative implications for the truth of Calvinism and whether we are warranted in believing it. The gospel as “good news” is grounded in the coherent and consistent expression of the Bible’s soteriology. If our soteriology is biblical, then “good news” should be the natural and coherent result and expression of our soteriology. When one’s theology and soteriology cannot coherently support the gospel as “good news” then our soteriology is unbiblical. There should be consistency between what is good in the “good news” and one’s soteriology. One’s soteriology should not negate what is good about the “good news.” Therefore, as one’s soteriology goes, so goes the gospel.
The influence of Calvinism on the meaning and message of the gospel, along with its loss of clarity in the evangelical church should be a concern for that church if it wants to remain evangelical. The evangelical church needs to be concerned with preserving the gospel as good news. We cannot let the gospel message be distorted or eroded in the evangelical church.
We have reached a point where the phrase “the gospel” is bandied about by Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike, but their incompatible soteriologies dictate very different understandings of what “the gospel” is. The phrase, “the gospel,” is used by these incompatible soteriologies as if each entailed the same content and message. But they do not. “The gospel” is used without discerning or caring to clarify what each means by it. It is used so commonly that it has become rote. It has become a vague and undefined term. Its meaning is taken for granted so much so that it has become nebulous. If “the gospel” can be the message derived from two incompatible soteriologies, then what do we mean by it?
We must think carefully about the implications of mutually exclusive soteriologies on the gospel message. We should be concerned with whether or not the biblical definition of the word as “good news” is being maintained and is consistent with one’s soteriology. Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike all use the word “gospel,” claiming its proclamation to the world to be the ultimate purpose of their local churches, para-church ministries, Christian colleges, radio programs, internet sites, etc. The word is used in every bible study, Sunday sermon and adult and children’s Bible study class. It is the ultimate reason for the existence of all Christian enterprises. We hear Calvinists and non-Calvinists speak of doing “gospel ministry,” promoting “gospel literature,” “sharing the gospel,” “bringing the gospel to the world,” working for “the spread of the gospel” and having as their purpose “that the whole world may hear the gospel.” But what “gospel” are they talking about? In the context of two mutually exclusive soteriologies, what do they mean by “the gospel?”
After approximately 30 years of studying Scripture and theology, reading the standard Calvinist and non-Calvinist literature and being intentional about listening for the implications of each theology in what is being preached and taught in our evangelical churches, I cannot escape the conclusion that Calvinism embodies serious misinterpretations of Scripture. Therefore, the differences between Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies and theologies are not points of doctrine that can be passed off as secondary matters or assigned a non-essential status. This is so because these doctrines involve the expression of the very heart of God as recorded in his written revelation. The gospel as “good news” is at stake in this controversy and that is of utmost importance.
If you do not think this is the case, or you think this debate unimportant, I suspect it is because you have forgotten your thoughts and reactions when you first learned of the Calvinist doctrines. You probably thought them to be logically and morally problematic. For those who have sidelined these issues as unimportant differences among believers, hopefully the evidences I provide will spark your interest again and convince you that Calvinism is not a tenable biblical theology. Calvinism has insurmountable logical, moral, soteriological, theological, apologetic, ministerial and practical difficulties. I hope that by reading the articles on this site you will come to see this is no small matter for the credibility of the Christian church and the effectiveness of its ministries and evangelism.
It is inevitable that the parties involved exhibit passion for their positions. This need not be an obstacle to getting at the truth. By presenting arguments for a position through the presentation of reasoned evidences there need be no quarreling. And if an uncompromising defense of other essential doctrines is justified (e.g., the trinity, the virgin birth of Jesus, the deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, etc.), then surely soteriology, that is, the nature and way of salvation, is at the top of the list. Given two incompatible soteriologies and gospel content we must be in pursuit of the truth of the gospel.
The purpose of this site is to preserve or restore the gospel message as “good news” in the evangelical church. The preaching of that message needs to be encouraged where it is presently proclaimed as “good news” and restored where it is falling into obscurity. I contend that the gospel as “good news” is being eroded in what should be distinctively evangelical churches where the gospel would otherwise be preached in accord with its biblical definition as “good news.” The gospel as “good news” is being eroded in Evangelicalism due to a felt need to accommodate a rising tide of Calvinism. Evangelical churches and their pastors and teachers who would not otherwise identify themselves as Calvinist in their theology, nevertheless feel compelled to accommodate Calvinism and its soteriological “doctrines of grace,” i.e., a deterministic definition of divine sovereignty, total inability, unconditional election and predestination, reprobation, limited atonement and irresistible grace. I submit that in doing so they are not only being intellectually and hermeneutically indifferent, but they are also in danger of losing the biblical clarity of the gospel as “good news.”
I support the above contention that Calvinism is not “good news” by the repeated observation that when Calvinists seek to do “evangelism” and preach “the gospel,” they default to a message that is inconsistent with their “doctrines of grace.” Even in their regular preaching and teaching they adopt a non-Calvinist soteriology and a libertarian, free-will worldview. Furthermore, the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” are never found in the context of evangelism and the preaching of “the gospel.” Although many Calvinists claim their “doctrines of grace” are the gospel, they do not preach them as the gospel. Again, when Calvinists seek to do “evangelism” and preach “the gospel,” they preach and teach a non-Calvinist message. They will invite sinners to come to Christ or make a decision or speak as though their eternal destiny is an open question and that they should save themselves from God’s judgement and hell by making a radical decision and believe in Christ. But all this presupposes human free will or contingency which are in conflict with the Calvinists theistic determinism and soteriological doctrines. Consistent Calvinists will therefore avoid statements like “God loves you” or “Jesus died for you” and direct appeals or invitations to “come to Christ and be saved.” In an effort to be consistent with their “doctrines of grace” they omit these statements and calls to salvation. God will take care to effectively and irresistibly bring his elect to salvation. There is no need for calls to decision.
But where has the gospel gone? We can see how theistic determinism and the exclusivity of the doctrine of unconditional election remove what is good from the “good news” of salvation and from the evangelical church. In order for the “good news” to be good, the sinner has to be told and know that it is God’s will that they be saved, that they are not possibly excluded but definitely included in the salvation God accomplished through Christ on the cross. They need to know that they can be saved by a simply response of faith in Christ.
But the “doctrines of grace” hold no “good news” for sinners, and because they are incompatible with the biblical definition of “the gospel” as “good news” they cannot be considered a biblical soteriology. Hence the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriological differences bear directly upon the content of the message of the gospel as “good news.”
Again, this problem with the Calvinist soteriological doctrines not containing good news requires that they speak, teach and preach inconsistent with their Calvinist doctrines. For instance, a Calvinist like Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, can preach a sermon series titled “Making the Best of a Bad Decision.” Each sermon in the series contains subject matter and statements that are incoherent with Lutzer’s underlying Calvinist universal divine causal determinism. Lutzer preaches as a non-Calvinist would according to a non-Calvinist soteriology, theology and worldview. He presupposes genuine human freedom, contingency, possibility, potentiality and personal moral responsibility, accountability, culpability and divine judgment for unbelief and rejection of the gospel. These are all incompatible with his Calvinist determinism. Lutzer also never presents his Calvinist soteriological “doctrines of grace” as a message of “good news.” He always defaults, as most Calvinist do, to a non-Calvinist soteriology and gospel message.
Due to the rising influence of Calvinism, it seems to me that many pastors and teachers are confused about the meaning of the doctrines of election and predestination along with divine sovereignty and how these cohere with human freedom and responsibility, faith, grace, etc. They also are not clear as to how to interpret passages like Ephesian 1 and Romans 9. They struggle with these texts that seem to support Calvinism because they readily see that such interpretations are not logically and morally coherent with what they find in other parts of Scripture. It is not that they don’t know what is troubling them, but rather what they know all too well. Perhaps they are not convinced that what can be known to be logically and morally incoherent should be declared a mystery as Calvinists are wont to do. Calvinists and those lacking clarity on these doctrines ultimately flee to mystery to deal with the interpretive incoherence or their personal perplexity. But mystery does not help in determining the validity of interpretations that can be seen to be inconsistent and contradictory. Thinking that these texts certainly sound like they teach the Calvinist doctrines, and yet not being able to fully embrace them intellectually and morally, causes many pastors and teachers to simply ignore them or explain them away with equally problematic rationalizations. But to avoid these texts is to fail to teach the whole counsel of God’s Word and deprives believers of the spiritual instruction and encouragement contained in them. Also, to have no conviction one way or the other may suffice for a time, but it seems that the development of clarity and conviction is necessary in time, especially for the sake of the gospel. When these soteriological doctrines are obscured or ignored so as to avoid controversy or division, the gospel as “good news” also becomes obscure, distorted or altogether absent. If you are confused about your soteriology you will confused about the gospel. And to be confused about the gospel is to have no gospel at all.
Many church leaders have also embraced these Calvinist doctrines but do not make their beliefs clear to their congregations in their preaching or teaching. They therefore circumvent or obfuscate on the passages they believe support their Calvinism. This is disingenuous. Some do make their Calvinist beliefs clear. They present the Scriptures as supporting their Calvinism, which is legitimate and to be expected. But usually they do so without engaging the alternative non-Calvinist interpretations of the relevant texts. In extreme cases they categorize anything other than Calvinism as Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. Whatever the various responses to Calvinism, I submit that the “good news,” as understood in light of the full scope of the biblical witness and developed by the apostle Paul in his epistles and as received and believed in the early church, is in conflict with Calvinist theology and soteriology.
This is not a statement about all Reformed Calvinist theology. There is of course much in Calvin and the other Reformers with which we can agree. As protestant Christians we affirm many of their teachings as well as their courage to stand against the unbiblical teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of their day. But a similar courage is needed in our day to carefully examine the teachings to those Reformers with respect to their soteriology and its relationship to the gospel as genuinely good news.
Not only is the gospel at stake in this controversy, but Christian intellectual integrity and sound, biblical hermeneutics are also at stake. In that there are two mutually exclusive soteriologies being taught in the evangelical church today as acceptable interpretations of Scripture – both claiming to be the truth about God, the gospel and salvation – I would hope that there is one thing both Calvinists and non-Calvinist can agree on, and that is the indispensability of the laws of logic and our moral intuitions for rational thought and discourse and therefore also for doing biblical exegesis and interpretation. But this is precisely what is not agreed on. If there were agreement on the indispensability of the laws of logic and moral intuition as determinative of valid interpretation, the controversy would end. But the Calvinist’s hermeneutic allows for jettisoning logical reflection and moral intuition in favor of question-begging mystery to retain their universal divine causal determinism. The Calvinist’s hermeneutic of incoherence is at the root of the division in this controversy.
Therefore, I submit that the crux of the controversy has to do with hermeneutics, that is, the principles by which we know we are doing proper interpretation. My main thesis is that the Calvinist operates on a hermeneutic that does not consider logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction as essential for determining the validity of an interpretation of Scripture. In contrast, the non-Calvinist considers logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction as necessary to come to an accurate interpretation of the text, and therefore these logical and moral considerations are hermeneutically significant. Our logical and moral faculties, which are gifts from God to us as made in his image, are required for discerning the validity of a proposed interpretation of the biblical text. To put it bluntly, ultimately Calvinism just doesn’t make sense logically or morally, and for them this has no bearing upon determining the validity of their interpretations. For the non-Calvinist, incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction do have hermeneutical significance. They are indicative of flawed interpretations. The Calvinist’s disregard for interpretive coherence reveals a flawed exegetical and interpretive methodology. Take care. What I am not saying is that an interpretation must be correct if it evidences coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. That would not be necessarily true. An interpretation can exhibit coherence and still be in error. Other factors are involved in good exegesis and interpretation. But what I am saying is that when an interpretation shows itself to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory then we can be sure that it cannot be a valid interpretation of the Scripture. Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell stated this hermeneutical truth when they wrote,
“While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”
This is not a conclusion reached only by non-Calvinist biblical scholars. It is also the observation of regular folks. Even though there are exegetical, philosophical and theological complexities to be teased out here, the initial reaction of bewilderment from Christians and non-Christians alike when introduced to Calvinism is telling. Their perplexity is expressed in statements like, “You can’t read Scripture that way! It doesn’t make any sense!” or “God can’t act like that! It’s not in his nature to be like that!” or “God is loving and just, not unloving and unfair!” Reactions like these should not be cavalierly dismissed. To the common man’s common sense, the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in the Calvinist soteriological “doctrines of grace,” especially reprobation which is the corollary of unconditional election, are obvious and troubling. They were even troubling to Calvin himself. Calvin called his own doctrine of predestination and its corollary of reprobation a “horrible” or “dreadful” decree. Luther too struggled with believing unconditional election and reprobation. He wrote the following about his own theology.
“Doubtless it gives the greatest possible offence to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of his own mere will abandon, harden and damn men, as though he delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such poor wretches. It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wished I had never been made a man.”
The incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in Calvinism stem from its universal divine casual determinism. Calvinism is incoherent and contradictory because it is a determinism. Even though this determinism is theistic, this makes no difference as far as the logical and moral problems that are produced by determinisms per se. Whether theistic or naturalistic, determinism wreaks havoc with logical thought, our moral intuitions and reality as we know and experience it. Nothing escapes the incoherence produced by the vortex of determinism. Human freedom and responsibility, culpability, justice, genuine contingency, possibilities, potentialities, faith, hope and love all become absurd and meaningless. They all get swallowed up in the vortex of determinism.
Moreover, given the added dimension that Calvinist determinism claims to rest on a proper exegesis of Scripture, it is thereby claiming that the biblical worldview is deterministic. Just on the face of it this seems wrong. It is wrong because of the interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions theistic determinism generates with that same biblical witness to contingency, potentiality, possibility, human free agency, responsibility and culpability along with the expression of divine love in the accomplishment of our salvation, the nature of faith, and the divine commands, warnings and final judgments. These are logically and morally incompatible with the Calvinist’s theistic determinism. If Scripture cannot contain contradictions or inconsistencies – something the Calvinist would readily admit – then the Calvinist deterministic interpretation of Scripture is mistaken.
If the Calvinist claims that Scripture, because it is divine revelation, will contain matters that appear to our flawed, fallen, sinful human reasoning to be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory but actually are not, this would amount to question-begging, because discerning how to come to the true meaning of the text is precisely at issue here. And we can see that we are at a loss to continue any discussion or investigation as to the meaning of the text or how we can know its meaning because the logical and moral grounds that are necessary for the task have been knocked out from under us. Those rational and moral faculties that are essential to hermeneutics have been put out of court in favor of an a priori belief that God’s sovereignty must be defined as a universal divine causal determinism. This determinism is maintained regardless of the logical and moral difficulties it generates. The determinism causes the incoherence but the incoherence is dismissed as hermeneutically insignificant on the basis of the failure of our human reasoning to see how the Scripture is really coherent in these matters. Only God knows that they are. Hence, Calvinism is beyond exegetical critique because it is beyond rational and moral critique.
We can see, therefore, that the controversy survives due to an inability to decide what constitutes a sound hermeneutic when it comes to interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. The evangelical church is either going to reject the interpretive incoherence of Calvinism or accept both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist interpretations which would be to admit that we cannot determine the meaning of the central tenet of Scripture – the gospel message. Are incoherence and coherence both legitimate hermeneutical options for the interpreter of Scripture? May we adopt a hermeneutic of incoherence or must we accept a hermeneutic of coherence? Not only must each Christian decide this for themselves, but the evangelical church must decide on this matter. The very gospel this church is supposed to defend and proclaim hangs in the balance.
We’ve reached the core of the controversy. If Calvinist determinism does indeed wreak logical and moral havoc, that is, produce real contradiction and incoherence in its interpretations as to God’s character and divine sovereignty, human freedom and responsibility, salvation and the gospel, then we must face the fact that this is hermeneutically significant. It tells us the Calvinist interpretations are flawed. The other option is to embrace a hermeneutic of coherence in which coherence plays a significant role with respect to determining the validity of one’s textual exegesis and interpretations.
Again, the Calvinist will aver at this point that fallen human reason is untrustworthy and the divine revelation is incomprehensible with regard to the Calvinist’s doctrinal interpretations. Therefore, the reliability and the role of human reason along with our moral intuitions is a key issue in this debate. A defense of human reason in the interpretive task will be necessary for coming to a resolution to this controversy. Calvinists distrust our human reasoning capacities. The Calvinist’s confusion about the role of reason in interpretation is a crucial issue that must be addressed. Suffice it to say here that a) it is obvious that the Fall did not disable our reasoning ability to the degree that it is unreliable in this regard, b) the incomprehensibility of God shouldn’t become justification for incoherence in one’s interpretations of the written text of the Bible, c) neither should the divine inspiration of the text be used as an excuse for accepting incoherent or contradictory interpretations of it, and, d) God is in his very nature a rational and moral being and is therefore the source and pattern for our rational and moral reasoning as being created in his image. These are his gifts to us. By use of these reasoning capabilities and moral intuitions, when they are functioning properly, and we can safely say they are in most people, we come to know what is true from what is false. This also applies to the interpretation of the Bible. Rational and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are essential elements for discerning valid from invalid interpretations.
The non-Calvinist position on the role of reason in interpretation should not be confused with 18th century rationalism that could not abide the possibility of supernatural interventions on the basis of the inviolability of natural law. Rationalism should not be confused with defending the role of reason in the interpretive process. And rationalism should not be used as an excuse to justify irrational interpretations of Scripture. So this Calvinist objection about the confidence placed in human reason fails to make an important distinction between what is beyond our understanding and what is a contradiction given the laws of logic. It is the distinction between what is beyond reason and what is against reason. I contend that the Calvinist confuses the legitimate use of reason with rationalism to support of their interpretations that go against reason. The Calvinist interpretations do not merely go beyond reason, they go against reason.
The most fundamental critique of Calvinism that we find in all the non-Calvinist scholarly literature has to do with the incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions produced by Calvinist interpretations. As such, this controversy is about vastly different hermeneutics. This is what I call the hermeneutical divide. Therefore this is not just a matter of pointing out the many difficulties of Calvinism, presenting different interpretations and giving the exegetical reason for those interpretations, as much as that is necessary. But it is also a matter of deciding whether or not the type and number of difficulties inherent in Calvinism are determinate of its interpretive validity or invalidity. Can interpretations with such acute logical and moral difficulties properly reflect the author’s intent? Non-Calvinists point out that the Calvinist’s exegesis of the biblical texts and the system developed from those interpretations are incoherent, inconsistent and/or contradictory. To them, this is proof positive that Calvinism is false.
If Calvinism is logically and morally problematic, then how does it survive? It does so by the suppression of one’s reasoning and moral faculties in its teaching and preaching. If the Calvinist will not remedy their logical and moral difficulties at the hermeneutical or interpretive end, then they must alter the logical and moral faculties on the receiving end. They must suppress and reorient the person’s logical and moral perspective for them to accept Calvinism or remain in it. But we should reject Calvinist attempts to suppress our logical reasoning and our moral intuitions. If these problems of logical and moral reasoning inherent in Calvinism are real, then we will need these faculties to get at the truth of these matters. They cannot be dismissed as malfunctioning and untrustworthy due to the fall of man into sin. Furthermore, if human reason was so detrimentally effected by the fall, then why should we trust the Calvinist’s interpretations?
Therefore, Calvinists seek to convince people that their contradictions are only “apparent” and their inconsistencies a “mystery.” They also offer “explanations” to extricate themselves from these difficulties (e.g., compatibilism, “two wills in God” “God works through means,” “secondary causes,” etc.) which only offer up more logical and moral perplexities. To attempt to reason out of a position which is fundamentally incoherent or contradictory without addressing the fundamental incoherence or contradiction, will only compound the logical difficulties. This is because one cannot extricate oneself from a real incoherence or contradiction without dealing with the real incoherence or contradiction itself. Reason won’t allow itself to be employed to circumvent what violates it in the first place. It cannot be manipulated or used against itself. It is impossible to reason out of what is already unreasonable. In order to do so you must alter your original problematic position. Reason is brutally honest and inflexible in this respect. That is because it is grounded in universally applicable laws of logic. As laws they cannot be circumvented. God established thought to proceed on the basis of these laws of logic. They are an expression of his own way of reasoning, and as made in his image we reason accordingly. You can attempt to “reason” around illogical interpretations so as to maintain your theology, but you will not be able to do so unless you alter the interpretations themselves. Such “reasoning” is mere rationalizing. It is to attempt a defense of a position or interpretation that just won’t hold up under further rational or moral scrutiny. Therefore, the incoherence piles up until one of two options must be taken. The first is to convince oneself that that the incoherence can and should be ignored. The second is to acknowledge the role reason plays in interpretation and go back to the text to find an exegetically responsible interpretation which must be defined as including rational and moral coherence. Calvinists have taken the first option for reasons to be discussed later. The second option is the one non-Calvinists employ in their hermeneutic. The laws of logic are humbling. They tell us when we are reasoning wrongly. Our logical and moral reasoning are the faculties by which we make sense of any written communication including the scriptures. To proceed by ignoring what logical and moral reasoning are telling us will only further distort the scriptures, for one is attempting to get from them what they cannot give. To attempt to reason around illogical interpretations without addressing the logical and moral incoherence or contradiction is to sacrifice intellectual integrity.
Refusal to take incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions as a reliable indicators of misinterpretation, so that one returns to the text seeking an exegetically responsible interpretation that is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory, not only reveals an a priori commitment to one’s traditional beliefs rather than the authority of Scripture, but will also only lead to greater incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction. This is precisely what happens in Calvinism. But there is a way out. The non-Calvinist is offering alternative interpretations that are both exegetically sound and coherent. And as such we are warranted in thinking them to be the better interpretations of the text.
Calvinist’s suggest that incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions are signs of genuinely “spiritual” realities revealed in the text. But again, we are faced with the hermeneutical question whether such difficulties cast doubt on the veracity of the Calvinist’s interpretations. I think so. Does the fact that Scripture is divinely inspired presuppose that it will contain teachings that are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory? Some Calvinists make it seem that way. But if that is the case, how would we discern the true meaning of a text given conflicting interpretations? If it is the case that our reasoning and moral capacities are so unreliable then we cannot be sure the Calvinist’s or anyone else’s interpretations are true. In contrast, our logical and moral faculties provide us with the intellectual and moral capacities to do good interpretation while also providing warrant to conclude that Calvinism is not what the Bible teaches and should therefore be rejected.
If the Calvinist seeks to persuade us to accept their theology as biblical on the basis of a reasoned discussion, exegesis, and sound principles of interpretation, then they must presuppose that our logical and moral faculties are functioning reliably enough to consider their evidence and arguments. They must also presuppose that non-Calvinists are not predetermined to be non-Calvinists, otherwise persuasion makes no sense here. Seeking to persuade someone to change their position as if they are not predetermined to one or the other would be inconsistent with their universal divine causal determinism. So why do Calvinists lament the resistance and rejection of Calvinism, for God has predetermined and causes such rejection. Calvinists will claim “God works through the means of persuasion to bring about his predetermined ends.” But this is to employ a concept (persuasion), which only makes sense on the basis of libertarian freedom. But libertarian freedom is antithetical to theistic determinism. So this is to employ a concept, the basis of which for it to make sense, requires a contingent reality and libertarian freedom, but that contingency and freedom stand in contradiction to theistic determinism.
Hence, what I am attempting here, that is, to persuade you to think and decide for yourself regarding these issues, I do so from the only position in which it makes sense, that is, on the basis of libertarian freedom. You will make up your own mind on this matter based on the evidences and arguments presented. You are not predetermined to think and believe one way or the other.
But on theistic determinism this whole endeavor is self-defeating. It is self-defeating because each of us is determined to think as we do on the matter, and again, any claim that God predetermined the present thinking but also a change of mind by the “secondary cause” or “means” of persuasion only presupposes a contingent cause or means in bringing to pass a predetermined reality, which is to state a contradiction. Contingency cannot exist within the Calvinist’s theology of universal divine causal determinism.
One would think it goes without saying that biblical interpretations should be characterized by logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. But it is not so for Calvinists. And given Calvinism’s resurgence and what I contend are its corrosive effects upon the “good news,” this issue becomes urgent for any church, ministry or believer that goes by the name “evangelical.” Although there is no doubt that Calvinists have historically exhibited theological proficiency and depth, producing thoughtful, mature theologians with whom any conservative Christian can agree on many theological issues, nevertheless, the detrimental effects of Calvinism on the gospel as “good news” and the suppression of reason in today’s evangelical church need to be clearly demonstrated. Again, because the gospel as “good news” is at stake, these matters are of utmost importance. After all, to the degree that we take the inspiration of Scripture seriously and believe that it is the sole authority for faith and practice, and that the gospel message is arguably its central message, we therefore want to be interpreting and understanding it aright.
This question of the interpretive validity of Calvinism is heightened by their dismissal of their logical and moral difficulties by proposing them to be a “tension” or “antinomy,” “incomprehensible” or a divine “mystery.” But if these difficulties are deemed hermeneutically significant, then they are telling as to the invalidity of such interpretations. If the Calvinist interpretations may be deemed invalid because they generate logical and moral incoherence, other responsible interpretations would need to be sought. If other interpretations which are exegetically sound and do not produce these logical and moral difficulties can be offered, these would be the more likely candidates for accurately representing the authorial intent of a passage. If the Calvinist’s logical and moral interpretive “havoc” is ultimately deemed interpretively insignificant, then one would be taking the position that the Calvinist understanding of sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism is the teaching of Scripture regardless of the logical and moral problems it engenders. In fact, any other interpretive claims that prove to be incoherent can also be justified as the teaching of Scripture on the same hermeneutical grounds – that is, that logical and moral coherence can ultimately be dismissed as “incomprehensible to human reason” and a “mystery.” They can be labeled a “tension,” a “mystery” or only “apparent contradictions.”
When Calvinist’s stress that they have done their exegetical homework and that the non-Calvinist’s objections to Calvinism are mainly philosophical and moral, which is to suggest that these are dispensable as lesser hermeneutical concerns, they are in effect dichotomizing philosophical reflection and moral intuition from exegesis. It’s as if logical and moral reasoning about the text can take a back seat to the task of exegesis rather than these being incorporated into it. What the Calvinist has done is to create a false dichotomy. They are creating a flawed exegetical methodology because they are creating a flawed hermeneutic. They are divorcing philosophical and moral reflection – which just is clear thinking – from their exegetical methods and practices. They are not allowing philosophical reflection and moral intuition to perform their evaluative function with regard to the validity of their exegetical process and conclusions.
This is a crucial matter to be reckoned with in this controversy. This dichotomizing of logical and moral reasoning from the interpretive process is what allows Calvinism to avoid the probative force of the deliberations and deliverances of logical reflection and moral intuition which serve to determine the validity of anyone’s exegetical conclusions. This dichotomizing of philosophical and moral reflection from their hermeneutic and therefore their exegesis, allows the Calvinist to continue claiming exegetical support while asserting their exegetical conclusions to be “incomprehensible” to human reason and a biblical “mystery.”
But when we take philosophical reflection and moral intuition on board as essential to a sound hermeneutic and the exegetical task, we run up against sufficient defeaters for Calvinism. Calvinism defeats itself because it is a theistic determinism. As is the case with all determinisms, it is enough that they are self-defeating. If all things are determined, whether by God or mere physical processes as in naturalistic determinism, including the way we “reason” and “think” about things, and there exist diametrically opposed thoughts and beliefs, as within this theistic controversy or any other, then what each of us believes is what we have been determined to believe. We do not reason. What we think has been determined for us. Now, if that is that case, how can we ever know the truth of the matter? In theistic determinism God determines what everyone thinks and believes, even that we think these conflicting views.
Unless there is a common, objective standard by which men reason among themselves both logically and morally as independent agents, and such logical and moral reasoning sufficiently and accurately reflects how Gods’ logical and moral reasoning works, then God has predetermined this world in what certainly seems to be a capricious and arbitrary manner. Some believe and act one way, others in the opposite way or another way – even their evil thoughts and actions are determined by God. On Calvinism, the ultimate reason why anything occurs as it does is because God’s will alone has predetermined and caused it – again, this applies to even the most horrendously evil acts.
Calvinism is indeed a tough row to hoe logically, morally, interpretively and experientially. I submit that it is impossible. You most likely believe that you are a free moral agent, making genuinely real decisions that affect the future one way or another – decisions for which you are ultimately responsible. You operate that way in daily life, and so does society. You probably do not believe you think or act because you are predetermined to do so. And this lack of “fit” of Calvinism with our practical living is a weighty enough reason to reject it. It cannot be coherently put into practice in real, everyday life.
And we can also see how Calvinism impugns the character of God by making him the author and cause of all evil and therefore evil himself, and that the exclusivism of Calvinist unconditional election and reprobation distorts the gospel as “good news.”
Therefore, the foremost motivation for this site is to define and defend the biblical gospel message because it is through that message we come to know the love God has for each of us and his desire that we be saved. This message allows us to know God as he truly is, love him freely as a genuine response for the love he first showed us, and be with him for eternity to receive from him everlasting joy and give to him the glory and praise he deserves. It provides meaning and purpose for life and freedom from guilt and despair.
It is in light of a full realization of the importance of the gospel that I must agree with the non-Calvinist scholars and contributors to the book Grace Unlimited who contend that,
“…we are opposing a powerful effort in Protestant orthodoxy to limit the gospel and to cast a dark shadow over its universal availability and intention, manifesting itself most overtly in classical Calvinism. This theology which, in its dreadful doctrine of double predestination, calls into question God’s desire to save all sinners and which as a logical consequence denies Christ died to save the world at large, is simply unacceptable exegetically, theologically, and morally, and to it we must say an emphatic “No!”
It is regretful that this opposition needs to be so resolute, but when interpretive claims become “unacceptable exegetically, theologically, and morally,” which is to say incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory, and impugn the character of God and distort the “good news,” then we have an intellectual, spiritual, and moral Christian duty to “say an emphatic “No!” to those interpretive claims. Moreover, Calvinists are as equally resolute, if not more so, against the non-Calvinist position as I will demonstrate.
I contend that apart from the few churches that have a clear understanding of the gospel as “good news,” that is, where it is actually clearly proclaimed to any and all sinners that “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you” and he both wills and has made a way for you to be saved by faith in Christ, and that they are called to come, believe and be saved, we have reached a point where most “evangelical” churches are pressured under the growing influence of Calvinism and are therefore either exhibiting inconsistency between their gospel preaching and the Calvinist soteriology they have embraced, or, they remain soteriologically confused and therefore have become silent about the gospel. I contend that the good news that salvation is for each and every person is necessarily distorted and eroded given the Calvinist teachings of a universal divine causal determinism and unconditional election.
The content of one’s gospel message is grounded in one’s soteriology. An honest look at what is being taught and preached in the evangelical church today will reveal the presence of two mutually exclusive soteriologies. If two mutually exclusive soteriologies cannot both be true, then the gospel messages entailed by those soteriologies cannot both be true. One or the other, or both, are not the gospel as Scripture presents it. One or the other, or both, is a false gospel. This is a very serious matter. If it rises to the highest of concerns for the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (1:6-9; 2:5, 6, 14) then the defense of the gospel should be our highest priority. Indeed, Calvinist D. A. Carson writes,
“The objective truth of the gospel, Paul insists, enjoys an antecedent authority; if even an apostle tampers with that, he is to be reckoned anathema (Gal. 1:8-9). So an authoritative gospel must be passed on.”
Not inconsistent with the submission we need to have for the godly leadership in our churches, it is appropriate to inquire into their soteriological position so as to know and possibly address the matter of the preservation or restoration of the gospel as good news in our evangelical churches. D. A. Carson also writes,
“Whereas Christians are encouraged to support and submit to spiritual leadership (e.g., Heb. 13:17), such encouragement must not be considered a blank check; churches are responsible for and have authority to discipline false teachers and must recognize an antecedent commitment not to a pastor but to the truth of the gospel.”
“…the church is not at liberty to ignore or countermand or contravene the authority of the gospel itself, now at last inscripturated, without sooner or later calling into question its own status as a church.”
The gospel is at stake in this controversy. That is why these differences need to be discussed in the light of the root cause of the division, that is, whether rational and moral coherence are essential to a sound, evangelical hermeneutic or not.
The Calvinist will insist that the central purpose and message of divine revelation has to do with the glory of God. The Calvinist sees divine sovereignty defined deterministically as requisite to such glory. But I submit that God is glorified in the way he has chosen to be glorified, and this is in the person and work of Christ, his laying aside of the glory he had with the Father, his condescending to become a man, his humility and self-sacrificial death on the cross, and his resurrection in power from the dead for our salvation. God is most glorified in Jesus and the accomplishment of salvation for a world of helpless and hopeless sinners.
God certainly is and always will be sovereign. But the contours of that sovereignty are informed by the full complement of his attributes. So this sovereignty is the sovereignty of God. The God of the Bible is not presented as an absolute despot who controls all events and persons by raw power. Nor is his absolute determinism worked through the more benign determining of every human desire. Impersonal or personal, the determinism is the problem. Determinism is neither essential nor appropriate to divine sovereignty in reference to the God of the Bible. God has the sovereign prerogative to create human creatures with freedom of the will. This is no threat to his sovereignty rightly understood as his rule and reign over his creation – a rule and reign that cannot be wrested from him. These creatures are free to respond to his love and salvation shown them in Christ, or reject both his saving love and sovereign rule over them. And in that every person is a sinner and salvation is for sinners, therefore salvation is for every person. It is made so by the simplicity of a response of faith and trust in God and belief in this “good news.” The scope of sin is the scope of salvation. That God in his sovereignty granted to us libertarian freedom makes sense of a larger portion of the biblical data that needs to be accounted for (e.g., human decisions, contingency, faith, responsibility, culpability, judgment, etc.)
Moreover, Calvinists represent the “acceptance” of theistic determinism as the litmus test for humility. It is only the most humble persons that are able to accept the fact that God has predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass.” For the individual Calvinist, humility requires not only accepting the fact that God brings about all evils, but also the possibility that he has determined them to eternal damnation in hell. If God has not predestined the Calvinist to salvation, that is fine with him. He still maintains that God is loving, just and good. Wherever such sentiments come from and however they are developed, they are reflective neither of the God nor the “humility” spoken of in Scripture. Such perspectives reveal serious misunderstandings of the nature of God and salvation.
But note that this “response” of “humility” is also predetermined. To possess and exhibit this spiritual disposition as determined by God makes the Calvinist a “special” person, chosen by God for this radical “humility” which in an odd way seems to contain the seeds of pride and privilege when thinking about others not so chosen. This is ironic in that it is reminiscent of the mindset of special privilege of the Old Testament Israelites and the Jews of Jesus’ and Paul’s day that precipitated Jesus’ ire and Paul’s arguments, as for instance in Romans 9-11. Calvinists ultimately must presuppose themselves to be among the elect, the chosen elite, special and privileged. It must be a gracious act of God which prevents any pride on the part of the elect individual, but nevertheless, the Calvinist presupposes himself to be one of a number of chosen individuals in contrast to the reprobate who are not chosen. The Calvinist may say he leaves this all to God, but the fact still remains that the Calvinist, presupposing his own election, must view himself in contrast to those not so “graced.” And that is where the distortion of God’s character with respect to his impartiality, grace, love and mercy begins. There is no reason given in Scripture as to why in the nature of God he is not impartial, loving, gracious and merciful to every sinner, not just an elect number. Indeed, the Scripture in many places plainly states that he is universally inclusive in his character and actions and not exclusive, especially regarding salvation.
This radical “no-matter-what-God-does, even-if he-hates-me-I-will-love-him” type of “humility,” also confuses true humility with the annihilation of the person and personhood. Biblical humility is the proper response to God as both sovereign and savior, but it presupposes God’s loving care for the individual. More on this latter. But suffice it to say here that a proper humility presupposes genuine personhood defined along the lines of libertarian freedom. The Calvinist understands their “no-matter-what” humility as exalting God to his highest place as God. But this is an exaltation of the Calvinist’s own making. It is the result of the flawed, impersonal concept of God’s sovereignty as theistic determinism. In this extreme form it backfires on the nature of God, making his justice, love, mercy, grace and judgment unintelligible to us, and reveals a kind of pride in the Calvinist’s humility. It is the Calvinist who has achieved the degree of humility that is able to affirm “although God sends me to eternal torment and separation from himself for all eternity, I will still love him.” But true humility causes God to be gracious. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. True humility is not disregarded by God. Perhaps the spiritual “pride” or confusion, is evident in that it seems the Calvinist’s love is greater than God’s love. Whether the Calvinist dogmas of deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election can ironically become a source of pride in the defender of these doctrines is up to each individual Calvinist to monitor and check within themselves.
God, as he is revealed to us in Scripture, is not exalted or glorified by annihilating our personhood, for we are made in his image as free moral agents with wills of our own to humbly accept his offer of salvation in Christ or in willful pride reject it. As persons made in his image we genuinely love God in response to his love for us or ignore that love and remain in condemnation.
Furthermore, the issues of whether Calvinism is a “post non-Calvinist conversion theology,” that is, one has to hear a non-Calvinist gospel message to become saved and only subsequently do they embrace Calvinism which is inconsistent with the message they first heard when they believed will be discussed elsewhere. But be that as it may, the point is that according to the Calvinist any other understanding of divine sovereignty which is less than a universal divine causal determinism is to exalt man above God and to evidence our sinful lust for human autonomy from our sovereign Creator.
What the Calvinist considers an accurate interpretation of Scripture need not be a coherent or consistent interpretation. It won’t do for the Calvinist to beg the question by asserting that God is sovereign and that we need to bow to that sovereignty regardless of the logical and moral incoherence that a deterministic sovereignty generates with what else we know from Scripture. This kind of indifference to coherence has profound interpretive implications and prevents the resolution of this controversy. Hence, what is the cause and sustainer of the Calvinist / non-Calvinist controversy (putting aside the fact that on Calvinism God has predetermined it – which again reveals the dizzying self-defeating nature of determinism)? It is this hermeneutical divide in which the Calvinist does not countenance logical and moral coherence as essential to a sound hermeneutic, whereas, the non-Calvinist does.
If it can be shown that logical and moral coherence are essential for doing proper exegesis and reliable for distinguishing valid from invalid interpretations, then the Calvinist dismissal of coherence along with their tendency to suppress reason in defending and promoting their interpretations, would be, rather than a mark of the spiritual virtue in wanting to exalt God above all things, indicative of a flawed hermeneutic. Interpretations exhibiting logical and moral incoherence would be misunderstandings of the texts.
Above I stated bluntly that Calvinism just doesn’t make sense. I think this is plain to most people. Therefore, another motivation for this work is to show that this common sense observation is legitimate and should not be ignored. In fact, Chapter 1, Section VII of the Westminster Confession affirms this. It states,
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
The common man’s common sense that detects the logical and moral problems within Calvinist soteriology, that is “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation,” cannot be cavalierly dismissed. If Scripture “so clearly propounds” what is “to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation,” then anyone – “learned” or “unlearned” – “in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” If this is so, then we ought to take the logical and moral problems Calvinist soteriology generates as a sign that it is not the teaching of Scripture on salvation. Calvinism’s theistic determinism is logically perplexing. Calvinism’s unconditional election creates doubt as to God’s salvific disposition and will for any of us. If the things pertaining to salvation are “so clearly propounded” such that all may “attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” and yet, due to Calvinism, people are left perplexed about the nature of salvation and their eternal destiny, might not Calvinists have misunderstood the salvation that they themselves confess is “clearly propounded” to most people? Since “they may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them,” might it not be that the common folk’s common sense reaction that Calvinism just doesn’t make sense, is a reliable sign that the Calvinist has misinterpreted the text in these matters? I submit that is precisely what this indicates.
Therefore, based on their own confession, Calvinist pastors and teachers (and indeed every pastor or teacher), should not encourage, let alone instruct people to ignore their logical reasoning and moral intuitions, nor stifle the questions their logical reasoning and moral intuitions raise. Do not let this happen to you. Be good Bereans. Test the spirits. This suppression of reason and moral intuition by Calvinists is another important matter that needs to be addressed.
Theologies and soteriologies that can’t make sense of the Scriptures as a whole may be either lacking in knowledge, interpretive perspective or holding onto errors that may even rise to the level of heresy. Responsible interpretation requires a coherent accounting of the full scope of what is taught in Scripture, and that means an incorporation of the different sides of this controversy. Good interpretation evidences explanatory power and explanatory scope. It is marked by coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. It is free from ad hoc contrivances and complex rationalizations. Furthermore, within their own positions, each side must address with coherence and consistency those texts the other side claims support their position against the other’s position. The full scope of the biblical texts need to be accounted for by each side, but in a way that evidences coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. The accuracy of an interpretation, and therefore one’s theological position, is judged by its ability to coherently incorporate those texts their opponent claims support his position. When one cannot do this they show their interpretations and theological paradigm to be flawed. Texts cannot be left in the limbo of logical and moral inconsistency or contradiction.
I submit that the non-Calvinist position has the advantage of accounting for more texts coherently, consistently and without contradiction – even the texts that Calvinists claim support their Calvinism – and therefore the non-Calvinist position reflects the more credible interpretations of the disputed texts. But obviously the key word here is coherent. Without coherence – and by that I mean to include consistency and non-contradiction – as a hermeneutical essential one interpretation is just as good as another. There is more to getting at the author’s intended meaning than having performed isolated, technical exegeses of various passages and putting them together to form interpretations that are expressed in certain doctrines. What is also essential is that those various exegeses, interpretations and expressions of doctrine form a coherent theological position. The science of exegesis needs the art of interpretive sensitivity and hermeneutical principles. To throw coherence to the wind will of course guarantee the survival of your interpretations and theological doctrines among those who do not consider coherence hermeneutically significant, but it will not tell you if your interpretations are valid. For those who do value coherence, such interpretations will be considered flawed, and for good reasons – they evidence incoherence, inconsistency and/or contradiction.
Moreover, I submit that to interpret with an eye for coherence, consistency and non-contradiction just is to interpret according to the principle of context. If you value the hermeneutical principle of context, you must value the principle of coherence. The two are inseparable. If the principle of context is more than coherence, it certainly is not less than this. Think about it. Interpreting in context just is attending to the coherence among the thoughts of an author in the surrounding text or the subject matter of the Bible as a whole. This is especially applicable given that there is a divine author over the whole of Scripture whose intent we also need to glean from a comprehensive reading of the Bible. I submit that it can be shown that Calvinism is born from and survives by insufficient attention to the important hermeneutical principle of reading and interpreting in context. This also applies to the principle of authorial intent. Coherence is essential there also. More on this later. Suffice it to say that the fatal hermeneutical flaw of Calvinism is incoherence which amounts to a disregard for context and authorial intent. And Calvinism’s fatal interpretive-philosophical flaw is its universal divine causal determinism.
Hence, if Scripture does not contradict itself, and it is not inconsistent or incoherent in its teachings, as most conservative Calvinists and non-Calvinists will affirm, then our interpretations ought to reflect that. This is especially important with respect to soteriology. When there is incoherence among one’s exegesis and interpretations of passages related to soteriology, then we must be suspect of such interpretations. If our exegesis and interpretations can be shown to result in conclusions that distort or destroy the gospel biblical defined as good news, then these cannot be the proper interpretations or teachings of Scripture.
The Calvinist soteriology (TULIP) is highly problematic in this regard. A careful assessment of its soteriological claims will show that it has no good news to offer its hearers. It may be news, but it is not good news. And that is because these “doctrines of grace” can provide no assurance that salvation applies to the one hearing it. They offer no assurance of God’s love or the personal applicability of salvation to the hearer. And because one’s soteriology dictates one’s gospel content and message (or at least it should), the gospel as truly “good news” is at stake in this controversy.
It is certainly strange that the evangelical church cannot come to a consensus about what is arguably the essential message of Scripture. For it to be confused and divided on the “evangel” is for it to be less than effective in its most fundamental purpose – evangelism. If it cannot discern the truth of the gospel it has diminished its evangelistic witness in the power of the Sprit and is hindering the spread of the “good news” of salvation.
The only consolation non-Calvinists have in this regard is that most of the time Calvinists speak and evangelize inconsistent with their fundamental Calvinist soteriology and theology. A “happy inconsistency” so to speak. But this too is troubling. It means that Calvinists are leaving a trail of hypocrisy, inconsistency and disingenuousness in thought and speech when they attempt to evangelize while saying nothing about their “doctrines of grace” which are for them the full explanation as to why and how particular individuals believe and are saved and others remain in unbelief and are not saved. And explaining to people the why and how of salvation is, of course, what evangelism and preaching the gospel is all about. Why then, do they not preach and teach their “doctrines of grace” for the purpose of bringing people to Christ? Why don’t they proclaim their doctrines of “sovereign grace” as the gospel message?
Since the very gospel as good news is at stake here, it is the responsibility of Christians to be educated in this controversy and be about working towards its resolution. It is not a “non-essential” or “secondary issue” for any believer or church that calls itself “evangelical.” If I am right, and this hermeneutical divide lies at the heart of this controversy, then this controversy can be resolved. But it will only be resolved when a consensus is reached as to whether logical and moral coherence are indispensable to a sound hermeneutic and reliable and essential for determining interpretive validity. As long as interpretations can be incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory, there can be no resolution. Calvinists will hold to their deterministic doctrines while also holding to human responsibility and justify the incoherence and contradiction by fleeing to the ad hoc explanations of mystery and incomprehensibility, or to the question begging “the Bible teaches both.” Non-Calvinists will insist that in order for an interpretation to be valid it must at least exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction. If we cannot agree that logical and moral coherence are necessary to valid interpretations and reliable indicators of such, then the debate will continue ad infinitum.
Therefore, this site seeks to grapple with the reasons for the differences and why no agreement can be reached. I will offer arguments and provide detailed examples as to why Calvinism is neither tenable nor “good news.” I will also argue for and defend the biblical gospel as “good news.” I will highlight the problem of the hermeneutical divide through practical examples that reveal the differences in the interpretive thought-processes of Calvinists as compared to non-Calvinists. And if that is where the problem lies, so therein also lies the solution. I will demonstrate how the hermeneutical divide is the cause of this controversy and therefore how the controversy can be resolved.
As I have said, my ultimate purpose here is the preservation and proclamation of the message of truly “good news.” In this regard, biblical scholar F. F. Bruce draws lessons from the first century apologists. He writes,
“…in polemic and apologetic, as in every other form of Christian witness, the object must always be to commend the Saviour to others. A victory in debate is a barren thing compared with the winning of men and women to the cause of Christ. If at times we are inclined to forget this, the Christian apologists of the first century will refresh our memories.
They will remind us, too, that while Jesus remains the same, and the gospel is unchanging, the means adopted to defend the faith may vary widely according to the situation in which the apologist finds himself, and the public with which he is confronted. The New Testament apologists were men who had understanding of the times; the kingdom of God calls loudly for such men today.”
And it is precisely because “the object must always be to commend the Saviour to others” and that “the gospel is unchanging” that this controversy is so important. What is it to “commend the Saviour to others?” If that is the object of our endeavors as Christians and apologists then we need to know what we mean by “commending the Saviour to others.” It is to proclaim the “good news?” If it is, then we need to know the precise content of that “good news.” What is this the content of this “gospel” that “is unchanging?” What “faith” is “the New Testament apologist” reminding us that we are “to defend?” What is it to win men and women “to the cause of Christ?” What is this “cause of Christ?” What is the truth of the gospel?
We need to face the fact that the church is embracing two diametrically opposed answers to these questions. So which one is the biblical truth? Which one is the biblical gospel? Perhaps we find ourselves in a situation where polemical engagement of the constructive type needs to be adopted to defend the truth of the gospel in our day.
Note that F. F. Bruce states that polemic and apologetic are a “form of Christian witness.” Hence, given the mutual exclusivity of the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriologies and gospels, to engage in this controversy should be understood as a form of Christian witness and a delineation and defense of the unchanging gospel. To clarify and present the unchanging biblical gospel so that men and women may be won to the cause of Christ should be our ultimate goal.
I contend that a non-Calvinist soteriology best reflects that Christian witness to the biblical gospel while Calvinism does not. Therefore, even though my examination of these soteriologies will seek to avoid being polemical in the negative sense of the word, to the degree it is necessary I consider it a form of Christian witness and essential for the preservation of the gospel as good news.
A sure way any interpretive proposition or philosophical position, including biblical exegesis and theological paradigms may be shown to be false is by demonstrating that they violate the laws of logic or require a reversal of our moral intuitions. This is the problem Calvinism faces. Now, what evangelicals must come to grips with is whether this test for validity is true and applies to the interpretations of Scripture. In other words, is this a hermeneutical principle that all evangelical scholars, pastors, teachers and laypersons should affirm, or is dichotomizing logical reasoning and moral intuition from the results of one’s exegetical claims a valid hermeneutic.
The question before us is whether these laws of logic also apply to biblical interpretation. I believe they must. I think you do to. But that is what is so fascinating about this controversy. What we all take as logical and moral givens which apply to everyday life and other academic disciplines are allowed to be jettisoned when it comes to the Calvinist theology and their interpretations of Scripture. I contend that despite all the biblical exegetical support one can marshal for their theological positions, if it occurs at the expense of violating the tenets of logical reasoning and moral intuitions then our conclusion, if it is to maintain intellectual integrity, must be that the Bible has been misinterpreted in some respect. An interpretation that leads to incoherencies, inconsistencies and/or contradictions, even when it claims exegetical support, is incorrect. In other words, even if we do not have an alternative exegesis of a text, we can surely know that an incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory interpretation is not what the author of a text is meaning to communicate.
The fact that in biblical interpretation we are dealing with the comprehension of divine revelation as to the nature and ways of God does not alter the applicability of reason for discerning the truth or falsity of an interpretation of that divine revelation. There are several reasons for this. One is that we are dealing with that revelation as written text. As such, we expect the authors to have thought and penned their thoughts in a coherent manner. They did not write in contradiction to themselves. The rules of logical thought apply. Second, God himself is the source of these laws of logic by which we reason. I suspect that most, if not all evangelical philosophers and theologians agree on this. I also suspect that they would agree on the functionality of these laws and that we have a sufficient capacity to employ them, not only because we use them every day in all areas of life, but because we were made in the image of God. As such, even though our reason has been impaired by sin, we still retain that image and the reasoning capacities that come to us by virtue of having that image. Our logical and moral reasoning capacities are God’s gifts to us. Therefore, when our human reason and moral sense are functioning properly, they are reliable enough in the service of discerning the truth of a matter, especially when it involves the interpretation of the divinely inspired text of Scripture. For the reasons given above, divine inspiration only affirms a reasonable, coherent text. Divine authorship and inspiration cannot be used as an excuse for incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction in one’s exegetical conclusions and the theology one constructs upon those conclusions. Couple this with the fact that God cannot violate his own nature, which includes these canons of reason and moral standards, then his divinely inspired revelation will demonstrate coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.
Evangelical scholars agree that the Bible does not contradict itself, therefore it should not be interpreted incoherently, inconsistently or in a contradictory manner. Thus, we have inviolable principles of thought that apply to all thought – even biblical interpretive thought. As C. S. Lewis put it, “…nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” The late R. C. Sproul states, “Alternative interpretations which are contradictory and mutually exclusive cannot both be true unless God speaks with a forked tongue.”
Therefore, when these laws are violated by the doctrinal claims of any theology and soteriology, we can confidently say those doctrinal claims are flawed interpretations of Scripture. When these laws, along with other interpretive principles provided by the grammatical-historical method are not violated in one’s interpretations and theological claims, we have good warrant to conclude that those claims are closer to the biblical truth. Coherence does not guarantee the truth of an interpretation, but it is a necessity for an interpretation to be true.
A moments thought will show that ignoring these soteriological differences betrays attitudes that are detrimental to Christian faith and life. First it demonstrates a low view of Scripture. A high view of Scripture incorporates principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) that foster diligent study that reflects a concern for its proper interpretation as to the whole counsel of God. Second, it demonstrates a low view of doctrine and theology. It denigrates the importance of doctrinal and theological education. This reflects the lack of emphasis on the life of the mind in the church in preference of sentimental stories, superficial worship and music, and passive entertainment. Thirdly, it deprives the people of God of the truth these doctrines contain – truths that teach us about God while encouraging and sustaining us in this increasingly troubled world. This is some of what we have lost due to our indifference to and confusion about biblical interpretation in the contemporary Church.
As I will contend, these doctrines as understood in Reformed Calvinist terms, cannot be preached or taught in the service of the gospel and evangelism and they are therefore relegated to the theological sidelines. We find this to be the case even in Reformed churches where they come to realize it is impossible to proclaim the doctrine of unconditional election, for it is antithetical to the “good news” of salvation. Indeed you cannot even mention this doctrine without receiving reactions of either silent indifference or heated debate. I believe the main reason for this extreme sensitivity is that many Christians see its logical and moral implications and are not able to ultimately dismiss those logical and moral difficulties as the Calvinist is able to do. The Reformed Calvinist version of unconditional election is exegetically and intellectually perplexing and morally objectionable. Some Calvinists and non-Calvinists will rise to defend what they believe to be the biblical truth, while most others will not bother their minds about it. “Ignorance is bliss” is their approach. On the Calvinist side it is presented as glorifying God in all his sovereign power, yet in doing so by virtue of a theistic determinism others object that it has annihilated the hope of salvation by wreaking doctrinal havoc with the biblical witness to human freedom, the nature of faith and the gospel as “good news.”
Election is indeed one of Paul’s teachings that for us who are distant from Paul’s religious and historical context is “hard to understand.” (2 Pet. 3:16) Yet the degree of difficulty corresponds to the degree of magnificence when it comes to the biblical doctrine of election. This is truly an astounding biblical concept that opens up the mind and heart of God expressed not only in his historical saving activity but gives us a glimpse of God’s purposes “in Christ” as having been eternally within the heart and mind of God. Rather than being ignored due to an interpretation that renders knowledge of salvation a mysterious unknown and rationally and morally perplexing in relation to other biblical truths, it is to be explicated and appreciated by every pastor, teacher, evangelist and layperson so it may be proclaimed to every believer and unbeliever in the service of the gospel.
Therefore, much effort is still needed to bring a right understand of this doctrine into the evangelical church, and any effort put forth should reap good spiritual and intellectual dividends. I will attempt to understand the doctrine of election as informed by a sound biblical hermeneutic and provide a sufficiently informative and fair treatment of both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriological doctrines to inform the reader of the issues involved.
Therefore, I especially intend it to be helpful to those who are familiar with the meaning and implications of the doctrine of election as presented in Calvinism yet continue to question and wrestle with it. My own quest to make logical, moral and biblical sense of the Calvinist understanding is why I set to writing about it. Grant Osborne’s interpretive methodology of “the hermeneutical spiral” that I affirm here demands continually working through these issues to come to truth. I hope this quest will be intellectually and spiritually helpful to others.
I also hope these writings will be read by Calvinists. I wish to challenge Reformed Calvinists to consider whether the negative implications of their Calvinist beliefs must be indicative of textual misinterpretations. I presently believe the Reformed position invites its own critique, reveals its own weaknesses, and with careful, sustained examination betrays itself as an untenable expression of biblical soteriology. If this is true, a firm and forthright case needs to be made, not only to reveal these problems and assess the weight of the evidences, but also persuade readers of the truth of the matter. Both Grant Osborne and E. D. Hirsch recognize the value of this “advocacy system in interpretation as in law.” Hirsch writes,
“The advocates have the task of bringing forward evidence favorable to their side and unfavorable to their opponents. In doing so, that may bring to light evidence which a judge might not have thought to consider. But without a judge all those relevant pieces of evidence float uselessly. Advocates are needed to discover subhypotheses capable of sustaining decisions, as well as other sorts of evidence capable of favoring an interpretation. However, unless advocates sometimes serve as judges, none of this activity will actually contribute to knowledge.”
I will offer what I believe to be solid evidence “capable of sustaining decisions” and “favoring an interpretation” in the midst of a theological situation that would rather ignore the “relevant pieces of evidence” and let them “float uselessly” about.
In contrast to Calvinism I will present the more biblically consistent view of the gospel defined as “good news.” I hope Calvinists will read what is said here because I welcome a hermeneutical/biblical critique of my own views. These are offered in the spirit of assisting each other to spiral upwards towards the truth of Scripture regarding these doctrines.
To this end I have included “An Annotated Bibliography for Readers of Reformed Theology.” It is a list of books I would hope every Calvinist would read because it has been my experience that Calvinist laypersons are not very interested in reading the more scholarly non-Calvinist literature. They have limited exposure to the non-Calvinist’s exegesis of the text and explanations of their views. The Calvinist scholars and popular speakers who do read this literature have responded in ways that I believe, and will attempt to demonstrate, are unconvincing and even intellectually dangerous. Also, the Calvinist layperson hears non-Calvinist theology explained by these prominent Calvinists in a manner prone to mischaracterization. They often conclude that anyone that is not a Calvinist is a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian and may therefore be summarily dismissed.
Therefore, Calvinism has an insular and therefore self-affirming quality about it that does not encourage reading or interaction with those outside their tradition. If you are a Calvinist, I encourage to read these works. There should be no fear in doing so. They will either confirm your Calvinism as biblically accurate, or cause you to reflect on your doctrines in ways you may not have been encouraged or allowed to when you first embraced Calvinism. Adjustments to your beliefs may be necessary to the degree you are persuaded of the truth of the non-Calvinist position. But, as a Calvinist, that is the first hurdle to overcome. You must first believe you can be “persuaded” of a position and that you are not predestined and caused by God to believe as you do. Do you think you – as an independently thinking and willing person – are not only actively involved in what you think and believe, or do you believe God is determining and causing you, in an instrumental manner, to think and believe as you do? Are you free to change your mind, or are your thoughts, desires and beliefs predetermined by God? Is what I am now pointing out to you stimulating you to think about the implications of your Calvinism? Do you know yourself to be a substantially free agent that is making choices of your own, or are you merely an instrument by which God does what he has predetermined for you to think, believe and do? Which do you think is closer to the biblical witness in these matters, or do you do any of this “thinking” at all?
Again, no doubt these are sensitive and challenging issues, but careful, objective and honest reasoning applies to any and all theological models. And the challenge here is unique because the controversy reveals there are two diametrically opposed ways of interpreting Scripture going on. One adopts a hermeneutic of coherence (non-Calvinists), the other a hermeneutic of incoherence (Calvinists). The challenge here is to press the Calvinist as to whether a hermeneutic of incoherence can ever be one that can be trusted to disclose the meaning of the biblical text so as to arrive at the truth. Is a hermeneutic of incoherence a legitimate, responsible method of interpretation? Now the Calvinist is free to press the non-Calvinist on the same issue and even attempt to persuade non-Calvinists that incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are legitimate results of valid interpretations of Scripture. Non-Calvinists would be open to that. So this controversy requires disclosing and examining one’s hermeneutic, while also coming to terms with whether a hermeneutic of incoherence could ever assure us that its interpretations are valid.
Finally, and most importantly, what is written here is for those who need to hear the “good news” of salvation in Christ Jesus but have been perplexed and perhaps alienated by the deterministic Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” I pray that every reader, being assured of the love God has for them individually in Christ Jesus, will understand that biblical Christianity is a matter of the truth about life and not simply another religion among which we have the luxury to pick and choose according to our personal preferences. What is true is what ultimately matters. Only what is true is worthy of our belief. And I recall the Christian philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer stating that, “Reality necessitates the Christian answers.” It is because the Bible’s claims ring true in the context of all of reality and reveal the God of truth, love and grace that we should and can believe them.
Thus, being in search of the truth from God’s written revelation, we are inevitably engaged in hermeneutics, that is, what makes for good and proper interpretation. I pray that many would think through the Bible’s claims about God, man and the salvation found only in Christ Jesus and be added to the “whosoever believes” of John 3:16 and therefore be among those who “will not perish but have everlasting life.” This is truly good news! Today, right now, you can believe and receive God’s greatest gift – Jesus Christ – and be saved from your sins and have eternal life in the presence of God.
 Soteriology is the study of the biblical doctrines pertaining to salvation. The gospel, or “good news,” is the message of salvation. As such, one’s soteriological doctrines should support and reflect the biblical message of “good news.”
 These are the TULIP doctrines I will elaborate on later – Total inability or depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and the Preservation and Perseverance of the elect.
 See G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 3.3.1. p. 30.
 Ibid., 10.10.2. p. 88.
 Calvinists differ on whether the atonement is limited or unlimited, but this does not alleviate the insuperable logical, moral, theological and gospel problems their theistic determinism and unconditional election generate.
 Calvinists like Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, teach that one can know whether or not one is elect by believing. This demonstrates the practical irrelevance of the doctrine of unconditional election. See the example in a later chapter.
 For those Calvinist who deny their “doctrines of grace” as their gospel message, one wonders why, because they are the full and final explanation as to why and how a person becomes saved. Moreover, what they do preach and teach as their gospel of “good news?” Is what they preach and teach consistent with these doctrines they claim to believe, or do they contradict these doctrines in their evangelism?
 This series includes sermons that are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory with Lutzer’s theistic determinism as presented in his Calvinist doctrines of the eternal divine decree, God’s sovereignty and unconditional election. These sermons are titled, “The Worst Decision Ever Made,” “When You Choose the Second Best,” “When You Make a Foolish Vow,” “When You Make a Selfish Choice” and “When You Run From Responsibility.” Of course all these occur because God has predetermined and causes them to occur; an inconvenient truth Lutzer chooses to ignore. I would encourage you to listen to these sermons with discernment as to whether they are consistent with the underlying Calvinist theology that Lutzer espouses. https://www.moodymedia.org/radio-programs/running-to-win-15/worst-decision-ever-made-part-1/#.XYpnD1VKipo Last accessed 9/24/2019.
 This is the phrase William Lane Craig uses to describe Calvinism. I think it advantageous because it specifically mentions the universal and causal elements in Calvinist determinism. It is important to realize that the Calvinist’s definition of the divine eternal decree and sovereignty are deterministic in a way that encompasses all things down to the minutest detail (universal) and makes God out as the cause of all that occurs (causal), including evil. I will often use this phrase for clarity, but I also use the phrase “theistic determinism” by which I mean to imply universal divine causal determinism. Dr. Craig uses the phrase in his five-fold critique of Calvinism in which he concludes “that the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”
I examine this critique in a separate chapter.
See William Lane Craig, Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10. Oct. 21, 2012. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/ You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link. Last accessed October 8, 2019.
 Besides those offered by Calvinist, like compatibilism, “two wills in God,” “second causes” and “God uses means,” we have “the gate of heaven reads on the outside ‘whosoever will may come’ and on the inside ‘elect before the foundation of the world.’” Another is, determinism and free will are like the two rails of a railroad track, here they seem separate or incompatible, but they meet or are reconciled in the distance of eternity.
 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 156.
 Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, trans, J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, (Revell, 1957), p. 217.
 Clark H. Pinnock, “Introduction,” in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), 12.
 D. A. Carson, “Church, Authority in the,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 249.
 Ibid., 251.
 Ibid., 251.
 G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Phillipsburg: Puritan and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), I.7, p. 12.
 F. F. Bruce, The Apostolic Defence of The Gospel: Christian Apologetic in the New Testament, (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1959), 10.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (Macmillan: New York, 1962), 28.
 R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 39.
 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1991).
 E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity In Interpretation, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 197.
 Ibid. 197.