The Hermeneutical Implications of Leighton Flowers’ Podcast “Calvinism’s Contradictions Explained by John MacArthur”

Written by Stephen C. Marcy © June 2019 / Revised April & September 2020

Leighton Flowers examines a program hosted by Calvinist Todd Friel and aired on the Wretched TV Network in which Friel plays clips of Calvinist John MacArthur speaking on the “paradox” in his Calvinist theology.

The Todd Friel program is titled “John MacArthur: Calvinism vs. Arminianism.”  It was published on YouTube on April 11, 2018 and can be found here.

Leighton’s podcast titled “Calvinism’s Contradictions Explained by John MacArthur,” in which he critiques Friel’s program was published on YouTube on April 4, 2019 and can be found here.

Here are my observations and reflections on the hermeneutical issues raised by Friel’s program and Leighton’s critique of it.  I recommend viewing both programs to give context to this paper.  All podcast quotes and time stamps below are from Leighton’s program.

Introduction to a Hermeneutic of Incoherence

            Leighton’s program points out the logical and moral incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions in John MacArthur’s and Todd Friel’s Calvinist thought.  If Leighton’s observations are correct, they present a hermeneutical crisis point for Calvinist exegesis and interpretation.  What are Calvinists to do with the various arguments that demonstrate that their interpretations of Scripture, especially regarding God’s sovereignty defined as a theistic determinism, generate incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions with other biblical truths and doctrines Calvinists also affirm as the teachings of Scripture? 

            The answer is that Calvinists will insist on maintaining their doctrines in the face of these acute logical and moral difficulties.  Why do they do this?  They do so because they insist that their doctrines are what Scripture teaches.  This is, of course, the reason why any Christian should hold to what they believe.  But how do we know the Scriptures truly teach what we or anyone else says they teach?  We would all agree that the application of the grammatical-historical method and sound hermeneutical principles are necessary for performing proper exegesis and interpretation.  But for all the methods and principles that make for good interpretation, shouldn’t logical and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction be among them?  Or, when we find it to our doctrinal advantage can these be deemed hermeneutically and interpretively insignificant?  Do interpretive claims need to evidence logical and moral coherence, consistency and be non-contradictory for them to be valid interpretations of Scripture?  Should philosophical reflections and moral intuitions be taken on board as essential for a sound hermeneutic?  Isn’t it by such a hermeneutic that we come to know with more clarity and certainty what the Scriptures teach and what we are to believe?  Are logical and moral reasoning essential for determining legitimate exegesis and interpretations of the text?  You are probably answering with a resounding “Yes, of course!”

            But Calvinists maintain that their deterministic exegesis of the texts on divine sovereignty, predestination, election, etc. take precedence over any philosophical or moral objections non-Calvinists bring against Calvinism in light of human freedom and moral responsibility – truths which Calvinists also affirm are taught in Scripture.  So Calvinists ultimately answer “No” to the above questions.  That is, exegesis does not have to be rationally and morally coherent, consistent and non-contradictory for it to be an accurate exegesis of the text.

            Now, I think that Calvinists would vehemently deny this conclusion.  But I also think it has been proven over and over again that the Calvinist interpretations and the doctrines derived from them prove to be, not a “mystery” or “incomprehensible” as they are wont to claim, but real incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  I will seek to demonstrate this below.

            Now, if the Calvinist merely asserts “that’s what the exegesis of the text reveals and therefore that’s what the Bible teaches” regardless of the rational and moral difficulties raised, then from a hermeneutical and interpretive standpoint that would not only be question-begging, but it would be endorsing a certain type of hermeneutic, that is, a hermeneutic of incoherence.

            On the other hand, if Calvinists answer “Yes” to the above questions, as we hope they would, and agree that one’s interpretive conclusions need to be coherent, consistent and non-contradictory, then Calvinists are confronted with the fact that their exegeses of the controversial texts are not valid.  And this would be the first step towards a resolution to this long lasting controversy.  Given that all other interpretive methods and principles would be responsibly applied, they would have to return to the text in search of alternative interpretations that exhibit rational and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  Those alternatives are available.  More on this below.

Can The Calvinist Justify a Hermeneutic of Incoherence?

            But given the Calvinist’s present stance that exegesis does not have to be rationally and morally coherent, this leads us to ask a more probing question at the hermeneutical level.  That is, is it a responsible hermeneutic that allows one to dichotomize philosophical and moral reasoning from their exegesis and therefore from their interpretive claims about the meaning of biblical texts?  If the Calvinist maintains that such a dichotomy is hermeneutically legitimate, that is, that the interpreter can dispense of logical and moral reasoning with respect to exegesis and its interpretive conclusions, then they would have to justify their hermeneutic of incoherence.  They would have to demonstrate how it is that an exegesis that results in incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory interpretive conclusions is still a legitimate exegesis of the texts.  They would have to explain why these are dispensable with regard to determining the validity of their exegesis and interpretations.  Again, they just can’t claim “That’s what the Bible teaches” because that is the question at hand.  That is to beg the question.  I don’t know how a Calvinist could justify a hermeneutic of incoherence and remain rationally convincing.  They, of course, can and do assert “explanations” like “apparent contradiction,” “antinomy,” “tension,” “mystery” and “incomprehensibility,” but I submit these are rationalizations that are also either incoherent, question-begging or ad hoc and thus unconvincing.  They add nothing toward a resolution of this controversy.

            Now, Calvinists must relabel these difficulties as “tensions” or “mysteries” or declare them “incomprehensible” to insulate their theology from the substantive critiques of philosophical and moral reasoning.  They must insulate their theology from the charge of irrationality.  But this tack smacks of an implicit admission that these problems are real incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  Calling them something else does not make them go away or change their true nature. 

            In light of the nature of the problems raised against Calvinism, it seems that the hermeneutically responsible thing for the Calvinist to do is go back to the text to identify and correct whatever exegetical missteps were made and be open to a more accurate exegesis that results in coherence, consistency and non-contradiction.  But again, Calvinists are unwilling to do this because they are convinced the Bible teaches a divine sovereignty defined as theistic determinism and their “doctrines of grace” regardless of the philosophical and moral incoherence they generate.

            In the absence of alternative, hermeneutically sound interpretations of the relevant texts, these Calvinist “explanations” would have had to suffice as the last word on these matters.  But there are alternative interpretations that prove to be more hermeneutically sound in that they intentionally incorporate logical and moral reasoning.  They are making better sense of all that needs to be considered in exegeting and interpreting a text, especially with regard to contextual considerations – both immediate and canonical.  For we should note that the hermeneutical principle of context just is the attention to the coherence of one’s interpretations.

Responding to a Hermeneutic of Incoherence

            In our present day, Leighton and many other scholars are convincingly demonstrating that true incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions are inherent within Calvinist thought and doctrine.  In this critique of John MacArthur’s theology, Leighton clearly points out that when one’s interpretive conclusions violate the laws of logic, for instance, when A can equal not A, then those interpretive conclusions must be false.  He is standing firm on the canons of reason as essential in assessing the truth or falsity of theological propositions.  This is precisely what is needed to get at the core issue in this controversy, expose it, evaluate it, and come to definite hermeneutical conclusions about it.  What needs to be done is to apply this reasoning to the Calvinist’s exegesis at the hermeneutical level because Calvinist’s are keen on resting their case on the claim that their doctrines are derived from the correct exegesis of the texts, and this fact takes precedence over any philosophical and moral objections raised regarding the incoherent or contradictory nature of their exegetical and doctrinal conclusions.  So the crux of the issue becomes whether the Calvinist’s claim of correct exegesis should stand divorced from the philosophical and moral objections raised against that exegesis with regard to its validity.

            Although Calvinists themselves will acknowledge there are significant logical and moral problems in their theology, they do not view them as relevant for determining the validity of their exegesis.  Calvinists dichotomize exegesis from philosophical and moral reasoning about that exegesis.  But is this good hermeneutics or not?  In contrast, Leighton demonstrates that philosophical reflection and moral intuitions are relevant for determining the validity of the Calvinists doctrinal beliefs.  If that is the case, then I contend that these are also relevant for determining the validity of the exegesis that underlies those doctrinal beliefs.  We need to make clear that when one’s interpretive conclusions violate the laws of logic then the exegesis that is the basis of those interpretations must be deemed incorrect.  Again, this is important because Calvinists rest their case on having an exegesis that they believe correctly reflects the meaning of the relevant texts despite the fact that their exegesis entails logical and moral incoherence.

            Therefore, we need to begin to clarify the implications of incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction for determining whether the Calvinist, or any one else, has correctly exegeted and interpreted Scripture.  Either we need to view coherence, consistency and non-contradiction as speaking to the validity of one’s exegesis or not.  Thus, this question of coherence is a hermeneutical question.  And the non-Calvinist’s acceptance that coherence is necessary to determining exegetical validity, and the Calvinists rejection that coherence is necessary to determining exegetical validity, is the hermeneutical divide.

            Even when Leighton points out MacArthur’s contradictions, I suspect that MacArthur’s Calvinist audience, and even perhaps most other believers, are not thinking this through and drawing the conclusion that should go something like this. “Well, if, as it seems to me, MacArthur’s theological position is contradictory and he is ultimately talking nonsense, then his exegesis of Scripture must not be correct.”  But we usually reason something more along these lines, “Well, to me MacArthur is talking nonsense, but if he says his propositions are based on exegesis then we just have to leave it at that.  He has his theology and I have mine.  We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”  This kind of thinking is somewhat acceptable to the Calvinist, but what they are really hoping for is a response like this, “Since Calvinists exegete the relevant texts in a way that results in their doctrines, but these seem contradictory to other verses they also affirm Scripture teaches, and they explain this as Scripture teaching both points of view in tension or a mystery, I guess that’s a possibility since both are found in Scripture.”  But these latter two responses shy away from making a judgment as to the validity of the exegesis – whether it must be erroneous and false precisely because it is incoherent or contradictory.  These responses reflect an interpretive relativism that is pervasive in the evangelical church today.  We should be asking “Since Calvinists exegete the relevant texts in a way that supports there doctrines, but these seem contradictory to other verses they also affirm Scripture teaches, how would I know that both are taught in Scripture?”  Given all the other factors that are requisite to good exegesis, like the application of the grammatical-historical method, we should also be asking, “Can we conclude that precisely because Calvinism is marked by contradictions and incoherencies this is proof positive that Calvinists are not exegeting Scripture properly?” 

            My point is that if the Calvinist exegesis can be judged to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory with other exegetical conclusions they also affirm – and that certainly is the case – then instead of forfeiting the deliberations of reason, logic and our moral intuitions to acquiesce to mere assertions of “mystery” or “incomprehensibility,” we should rather conclude that the Calvinist’s exegesis is wrong at some point.  Given the indispensability of the laws of logic and the interpretive and theological incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction of Calvinism, the more likely and plausible conclusion would be that the Calvinist’s exegesis is flawed.  That being the case, as we will see below, Calvinists do not want to be pressed on this issue of the logical and moral incoherence of their interpretations and theology.

            The corollary to this is that if non-Calvinist scholars are presenting exegetical treatments of the relevant texts that reflect sound hermeneutical principles and do not engender incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction – and they certainly are – then those interpretations are more plausibly the correct interpretations.  This also raises the question as to why in light of such interpretations, Calvinists remain Calvinists?  They do not need to, nor should they remain Calvinists, at least for exegetical, interpretive and hermeneutical reasons.  And these are the most important reasons as to why we should believe what we believe.

The Why’s and How’s of a Hermeneutic of Incoherence

            So this is an intriguing question that requires an answer.  Why do Calvinists remain Calvinists given the logical and moral problems inherent in their doctrines?  I submit that the main reason is to protect and defend their definition of divine sovereignty as theistic determinism which they have given the status of an a priori biblical truth.  But as Leighton points out in his assessment, the Calvinist’s deterministic interpretation of such texts is, after all is said and done, the main culprit here.  But the passages Calvinists cite to support divine sovereignty as deterministic need not entail determinism.  MacArthur, and those listening to him, remain Calvinists because they will not relinquish a deterministic understanding of divine sovereignty despite the exegetical, theological, philosophical and moral evidence brought against that interpretation.  For them, that God has predetermined and causes “whatsoever comes to pass” is just what it means for God to be sovereign.  But the inconsistencies and contradictions of Calvinism vanish when such passages are not interpreted deterministically.  And there is no reason to believe that God’s sovereignty is at all threatened or diminished when it is not defined deterministically.  Therefore, we need to ask whether those inconsistencies and contradictions are reliable indications that the Calvinist is misinterpreting such passages.  I think we are compelled to answer in the affirmative, otherwise, untethered from the rules of logic and our moral intuitions that make the interpretation of a text a rational exercise, one’s proposed interpretations could not be assessed as to their validity.  Absent the hermeneutical anchors that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction provide for determining the validity of one’s exegesis, interpretative conclusions and one’s theology as a whole, we would be at a loss to discern whether or not the exegete has grasped the author’s intent.  We would be endorsing interpretive relativism.

            Therefore we must also ask, How it is that Calvinists remain Calvinists given the logical and moral problems generated by their theistic determinism?  I submit the answer is by jettisoning the role of logical and moral reasoning in hermeneutics and substituting “tension,” “mystery,” “incomprehensibility” and at times suggesting “the sinful search for human autonomy” and “pride.”  This indifference to the role of logical and moral reasoning, accompanied by these unsubstantial, red-herring “explanations,” insulate Calvinism from the devastating critiques of logic reflection and moral intuition.  Calvinism survives, not on the basis of its exegesis of the biblical texts, but on the basis of its exegesis of the biblical texts minus the probative force and essential function of getting at the truth that logical reflection and our moral intuitions play in that exegetical task.  This is, of course, faulty exegesis because it springs from a faulty hermeneutic. This allows the Calvinist to present their incoherence as something that arises from the scriptural texts, but to avoid indicting scripture in incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction they offer up the “explanations” mentioned above.  But when rational and moral coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are incorporated into our hermeneutic as necessary for discerning valid interpretations we come to realize that Calvinism contains real incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, that is, that Calvinism is not a “tension” or a “mystery” or “incomprehensible.”  It is quite comprehensible and is found wanting in this regard.  When we come to realize that the deliverances of our logical reasoning capacity and our moral sense are integral to a sound hermeneutic, then intellectual responsibility and moral integrity will require us to conclude that the Calvinist’s exegesis cannot be what the Bible teaches.  It is precisely because Calvinism is incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory that the Calvinist’s interpretations of Scripture, especially on divine sovereignty, must be wrong.  On a hermeneutic of coherence such a conclusion is unavoidable.  Non-Calvinist scholars affirm the role of philosophical reflection and moral intuition in the interpretive task.  Indeed, they argue that our capacity to reason according to the laws of logic is a God-given gift and a hermeneutical essential.  For instance, David Baggett and Jerry Walls state,

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

               There are aspects of God that transcend our reason to be sure, but God doesn’t call us to believe anything opposed to reason.  This distinction is one that some popular postmodern Christian writers often fail to grasp, and they thereby tend to make a virtue of incoherence.”[1]

Two Incompatible Hermeneutics

            The point is that there are two very different, incompatible hermeneutics at work here.  A hermeneutic of coherence and a hermeneutic of incoherence.  And each of these will produce very different interpretive results.  If the Calvinist is allowed to avoid the fact that their theology is incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory, and that this is a sure sign that they have incorrectly interpreted the text, then the debate will continue at a superficial level and there will be no movement towards a resolution to this controversy.  The rational and moral ground of responsible exegesis, let alone thought as thought, has been kicked out from under us.  Our hermeneutic is now absent any rational and moral grounding.  It is a hermeneutic that, although it may be “technically” correct in some respects, can be seen to be flawed in other respects precisely because it finds itself untethered from the input of rational reflection and moral intuition.

Incoherence and the Hermeneutical Principle of Context

            Now this is very important because rational reflection and moral intuition are constitutive elements of a fundamental hermeneutical principle – context.  Insensitivity to context in its various forms (i.e., grammatical, historical, social, religious, literary, canonical, etc.), is the cause of much misinterpretation.  Properly attending to context is a weakness in the Calvinist’s exegesis of the texts at issue in this controversy.  For the essence of the hermeneutical principle of context just is the reading, observing and integrating of the various thoughts of the author in a coherent manner.  Context consist of the rational and moral coherence of the relations of an author’s thoughts given to us in his written words.  This can refer to those thoughts and words in the immediate literary context, or in the case of the divine authorship of the Bible, in the broader canonical context.  The Calvinist, who claims exegetical support for their position apart from the need for their exegesis to be consistent, coherent and non-contradictory will either miss or dismiss important contextual issues and relations and therefore see nothing wrong with their exegesis.[2]  In other words, an indifference to or rejection of logical and moral reasoning in one’s hermeneutic amounts to a blatant violation of the principle of context.  It is to maintain that what an author has written need not have been coherent either with himself or to his original readers.  An exegete who is violating the principle of context will continue to claim their exegesis is what Scripture teaches despite its logical and moral incoherence.  But absent a rational and moral assessment of that exegesis, the interpretive claims reduce to a mere assertion.  Absent a rational and moral assessment of that exegesis we are left with no way to see that it may possibly be flawed.  Furthermore, non-Calvinists who do value rational and moral reasoning, are left with no way to either understand or refute Calvinism as it is perceived by Calvinists as not needing to be logical or morally coherent.  By not bringing rational and moral coherence to bear on their exegesis as indicators of its validity, Calvinists allow themselves the luxury of exegeting Scripture nonsensically, hence, the non-Calvinist’s attempts to reason with Calvinists on logical and moral grounds will of course prove futile.  Let’s examine this phenomenon further from the podcast.

An Example of a Hermeneutic of Incoherence

            MacArthur asks the following questions as to his own and his audience’s Calvinist beliefs.

               “Do you believe that God is sovereign in salvation?  Of course. ..Do you believe God chooses who will be saved?  Of course.  Do you believe the Father draws?  Yes. Do you believe the Son keeps?  Yes. …. It’s all sovereign.  It’s all predestined.  It’s all established.  Absolutely.  That’s what the Bible says.” (3:11 – 3:23)

And yet MacArthur also affirms the following as biblical truths to be believed.

               “Do you believe whosoever will may come?  Yes.  That’s what the Bible says.  Do you believe God finds no pleasure in the death and judgment of the wicked?  Yes.  Do you believe that Jesus wept because sinners wouldn’t repent?  Of course.  Are you willing to call all sinners to repent, and do you believe they are responsible if they don’t come?  Yes.  Well, how do you harmonize that?  I don’t know.  I don’t know how to harmonize that.  Well you’re expecting or asking too much of me.  I’m not God.” (3:43 – 4:09)

            Here we have a stark example of a Calvinist isolating the deliberations of reason and moral intuition from their role as determiners of the validity of his exegesis and interpretations.  Note that MacArthur is certainly cognizant of the logical and moral difficulties of his position.  He admits they are out of “harmony.”  He is even concerned about this disharmony or incoherence, which implies that he takes it seriously.  But he does not see this problem as hermeneutically significant.  That is, he does not consider these difficulties as reliable for determining the validity of his interpretations.  Rational reflection and moral intuition play no role in his hermeneutic with respect to these contradictory interpretive propositions.  MacArthur dismisses the rational and moral entailments of his interpretations when he states, “I don’t know how to harmonize that… you’re expecting or asking too much of me.”  He is also able to insulate his interpretations from substantive critique and retain them by asserting they are “what the Bible says.”  But this begs the question.  What he also presupposes is that only God can fully understand how these belief claims can be “harmonized.”

Drawing Out the Hermeneutical Conclusions of Incoherence

            Given this situation, what we as non-Calvinists need to be doing is not merely pointing out these contradictions and incoherencies generated by Calvinism, but also drawing hermeneutical conclusions about the validity of the Calvinist’s exegesis and interpretation in the light of such contradictions and incoherencies.  We should not ignore the hermeneutical implications of claiming that a proper exegesis of the Bible has the Bible teaching contradictory doctrines.  We need to be asking whether incoherence is a legitimate hermeneutical principle or not.  And to the degree non-Calvinists are not pressing the necessity for our hermeneutic to take philosophical reflection and moral intuition on board in determining the validity of interpretations, we are accommodating a “hermeneutic of nonsense.”[3]

             As I have already discussed above, we must not diminish the importance of context for determining the meaning of a text.  Context is king.  Yet, also, many isolated verses can be offered up as proof-texts in this debate.  There is a danger to this, but it must be admitted that some verses are clearer in their meaning than others, and therefore proof-texts should not be discounted per se.  But I think we can recognize that proof-texting cannot resolve this controversy because it does not attended to how all the texts brought forth by each position cohere with each other.  So, in effect we are back to the hermeneutical principle of context which, if it is anything more, is certainly not less than the hermeneutical principle of coherence.  And as necessary as it is for Leighton as a Provisionist to explain how the relevant texts (e.g., Eph. 1, Rom. 9, Jn. 6, etc.) can be interpreted differently, which he and others have done very convincingly, my point is that once one demonstrates that Calvinism is contradictory and incoherent, that is sufficient to conclude that Calvinist’s have incorrectly interpreted the text.  Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell state a hermeneutical truth when they write,

               “While logical consistency may not be a sufficient condition to show that a theology is true, it is a necessary condition.”[4]

            The point here is that logical consistency is a necessary condition to show a theology is true. Therefore, without logical consistency we know a theology is false. Philosophical and moral reflection are adequate for telling us what the Bible cannot mean with respect to this debate.  

            For instance, I refer you to William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique and conclusion about Calvinism.[5]  Dr. Craig provides no exegesis of a biblical text.  He does not even quote a Scripture verse.  But simply by laying out the logical and moral entailments of the Calvinist’s “universal divine causal determinism” he demonstrates that it is false and concludes “the Calvinistic view of universal divine causal determinism is one that is unacceptable for Christian theology.”  Can such observations as to the logical and moral incoherence of Calvinism be cavalierly dismissed?  The Calvinist would have to reject outright that any logical and moral reasoning could ever be employed in determining the invalidity of proposed meanings of biblical texts or the theology built upon those texts so as to avoid Dr. Craig’s conclusion about Calvinism being “unacceptable for Christian theology.”  Calvinists would also have to defend the contention that exegesis alone can deliver the meaning of a text regardless of any incoherencies, inconsistencies or contradictions that logical and moral reflection can identify in the results of that exegesis.  To do this, and safeguard their exegetical interpretations, Calvinists would have to dichotomize exegesis from the deliverances of the philosophical discipline and their moral intuitions.  And this is precisely what they do.  That is what the flight to “mystery” is all about.

            Now, if Calvinism’s “universal divine causal determinism” can be shown to be false through sound philosophical reasoning and our fundamental moral intuitions, it must also be a false exegesis and interpretation of Scripture, that is, unless one wants to maintain that sound reasoning and fundamental morality do not apply when interpreting Scripture.  And that is just my point.  Does the Calvinist want to explicitly maintain that Scripture, correctly interpreted, may contradict itself or be found to be incoherent or assign to God illogical and immoral thoughts and actions which certainly seem to impugn his reason and character?  I don’t think they would explicitly state this, but it is, in effect, the result of their exegesis and doctrines. There hermeneutic of incoherence allows for it.

            Where then do the Calvinist’s contradictions and incoherencies fit in?  On the basis of a hermeneutic of coherence they don’t.  They are signs of misinterpretation.  The Calvinist functions on the basis of a hermeneutic of incoherence that suppresses the logical and moral problems in their exegesis and interpretations.  But I contend that this is a flawed hermeneutic.  Calvinism rests upon a flawed hermeneutic that divorces from the exegetical task and its interpretive conclusions the input and correcting or affirming role of philosophical and moral reflection.  And that is what is at the heart of this controversy.  And until this issue is addressed the controversy will continue.  The reason no progress can be made in this debate and that Calvinism continues to survive is precisely because Calvinists are not held to account for their hermeneutic of incoherence.

            So in addition to merely delineating the contradictions inherent in Calvinism, we also need to draw out and clearly articulate the hermeneutical conclusion that if one’s interpretations of the text lead to nonsense, then their exegesis and interpretations cannot be what the Bible is teaching.  We need to be clearly stating that interpretations that lead to nonsense are not accurate interpretations of the relevant texts.  We need to be convinced that contradiction and incoherence in one’s interpretations are reliable indicators that one has incorrectly interpreted Scripture.  Intellectual responsibility demands it.  A responsible hermeneutic also demands it.  Furthermore, the gospel demands it.  For this is ultimately a gospel issue.  The gospel is at stake in this controversy.    

            MacArthur retorts.

               “You want my peanut, pea, pusillanimous brain to grasp that?  Gimme a break!  It’s not my problem.” (4:09 – 4:16)

            Since we can identify the contradictions and incoherencies in MacArthur’s interpretations of Scripture, it is his problem.  Leighton picks up on MacArthur’s “problem” while identifying the main culprit which is MacArthur’s theistic determinism.  Leighton states,

               “It is your problem if you’re making a claim that is not founded biblically.  Now obviously he thinks it’s founded biblically.  I’m not saying that he doesn’t.  But why not question what you front-end loaded – the claims of Calvinism, i.e., God has predestined your very thoughts, desires and actions in such a way that you couldn’t do other than what you do.  If you simply remove the deterministic aspects of your systematic that you’ve read into the text, then you don’t have this dilemma.  You don’t have this insurmountable problem as he’s painting it.” (4:24 – 4:58)

            Note what is driving Leighton’s objection to MacArthur’s interpretation of sovereignty and human freedom.  It is what Leighton calls the “dilemma” between the two doctrines that the determinism creates.  So for Leighton this matter of interpretive coherence, or ridding ourselves of the “dilemma,” is essential to rightly interpreting the Scripture on these matters.  This “dilemma” or contradiction created by MacArthur’s determinism is an “insurmountable problem” for Leighton that transfers to a misinterpretation of Scripture. But that is not so for MacArthur.  When Leighton presents MacArthur with the challenge “…why not question what you front-end loaded – the claims of Calvinism,” he is saying, “Your logical and moral incoherence should cause you to question the validity of your interpretations of Scripture, that is, as to whether or not they really teach your deterministic Calvinist doctrines.”  What Leighton is pointing out is that the Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty defined as theistic determinism is a misinterpretation of Scripture because of the “dilemma” or “insurmountable problem” this doctrine produces.  These phrases refer to MacArthur’s doctrinal incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions.  Yet MacArthur insists his theistic determinism is the correct interpretation of Scripture when he states,

               “The one thing I cannot do is deny what Scripture says.” (4:59 – 5:02)

            But when Calvinists claim that their incoherence is just a by-product of what a good exegesis produces, that is a clear testimony to their adoption of a hermeneutic of incoherence.  In light of Calvinism’s “insurmountable problem,” and in light of the hermeneutical issue being raised here pertaining to the validity of an exegesis and interpretations that are incoherent or contradictory, not only is this question-begging, but MacArthur is stating a hermeneutical principle.  That principle is that Scripture can be incoherent, inconsistent or contradict itself.  He clearly states that Scripture teaches the contradictory propositions of theistic determinism and human freedom and responsibility.  To put it more acutely, God determines all things and humans determine some things.  As such, this is forcing us to confront this issue and come to grips with our hermeneutical principles.  We are back to the question as to whether or not logical reflections and moral intuitions are integral and indispensable contributors for determining the validity of MacArthur’s interpretive claims.  MacArthur is in effect presupposing that his theistic determinism is the correct interpretation of Scripture despite its rational and moral difficulties, and that these difficulties are hermeneutically insignificantHe has raised his belief in the hermeneutical insignificance of logical and moral reasoning to a hermeneutical principle in and of itself.

            But are MacArthur’s theological conclusions really “what Scripture says?”  I pose this question.  Can we know that MacArthur has incorrectly interpreted Scripture because we know his position is incoherent and contradictory?  Non-Calvinists would answer “Yes.”  Calvinists would like to dodge the question and obscure the issue by asserting “mystery,” “incomprehensibility,” etc.  Along with providing alternative exegeses of the relevant texts, non-Calvinists insist that coherence is an indispensable hermeneutical principle.  Hence, the hermeneutical divide.

            Leighton of course points out the incoherence and contradictions generated by MacArthur’s determinism.  And in the end Leighton will draw out the subsequent hermeneutical implication that needs to be brought to the fore in this controversy.  That is, that because we can identify MacArthur’s theology as incoherent and contradictory, we can also conclude that MacArthur has incorrectly interpreted the text.  In other words, we can confidently state that it is a sound hermeneutical principle that theological contradictions and incoherencies betray faulty exegesis.  Leighton is getting at this when he says, “If you simply remove the deterministic aspects of your systematic that you’ve read into the text, then you don’t have this dilemma” or “this insurmountable problem.”  The Calvinist will argue that they have not read determinism into the text (eisegesis) but gotten it from the text (exegesis).  But Leighton views “this dilemma” and “insurmountable problem” (i.e., the incoherencies and contradictions created) as the result of the determinism, and therefore the very presence of “the dilemma” or “insurmountable problem” indicates a misinterpretation.  Of course Leighton’s conclusions that Calvinists are mistaken is also based in his own alternative exegesis of the relevant passages that don’t lead to the Calvinist’s conclusions.  But the point to be stressed here is that Leighton views the Calvinist’s determinism as a misinterpretation because it causes “the dilemma” and “insurmountable problem.”  And if it causes these it must be unbiblical.  And if it is unbiblical then it is not something gotten (exegeted) from the text.  The point is that Leighton takes these problems as indicative of a flawed exegesis of the passages Calvinists use to establish a deterministic view of God’s sovereignty.  The incoherence or contradiction produced by that exegesis indicates that the exegesis is incorrect.

            If Calvinists would accept the principle that our interpretations cannot be incoherent and correct, then the remedy to such a problem would be to revisit the text for alternative interpretations that are reached by a responsible application of the grammatical-historical exegetical method and that do not land us in incoherence and contradiction.  Non-Calvinist’s like Leighton are offering such interpretations.  That one’s interpretations exhibit coherence, consistency and non-contradiction would just be what it means to have performed a responsible application of the grammatical-historical method.  It would just be what it means to do good exegesis.  This would require the Calvinist to reexamine the text without a priori assuming their determinism and other traditional doctrines are the teaching of Scripture.  And the same hermeneutical principle applies to the non-Calvinist.  We are, after all, wanting to establish a sound hermeneutic, and if we have established a sound hermeneutic it must apply to everyone.  Both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist would be required to have their exegesis make logical and moral sense for any claim that the text has been correctly interpreted.  To be sure, such coherence would not be a sufficient condition for determining interpretive validity, but it would be a necessary condition.  For the Calvinist to find relief from their logical and moral difficulties there must be an alternative interpretation that is both exegetically sound and does not result in incoherence.  I submit that there certainly are such interpretations.  Yet, if the Calvinist’s determinism is the fundamental problem here, and Calvinists will not alter their determinism, believing it is how Scripture defines God’s sovereignty regardless of the acute logical and moral difficulties this definition creates, then there is no hope of a resolution to this controversy.  The Calvinist is doing exegesis and interpretation from within an altogether different hermeneutic than the non-Calvinist.  The Calvinist has adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence.  Given the Calvinist’s hermeneutic, the rational and moral grounds which are needed for the resolution of this controversy have been put out of court.  The hermeneutical divine remains intact.

The Suppression of Reason

            Now, if it is the situation for Calvinism that there are real contradictions, inconsistencies and incoherencies inherent in it because of its theistic determinism, and if the Calvinist must a priori retain his theistic determinism despite these logical and moral difficulties, he must therefore also suppress a person’s reasoning faculties for them to either become or remain a Calvinist.  This suppression of reason is a serious issue and a troubling aspect of Calvinism.

            Recall how MacArthur’s deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election generated an incoherence with the biblical teaching that “whosoever will may come.”  MacArthur’s response was to state, “Well, how do you harmonize that?  I don’t know.  I don’t know how to harmonize that.  Well you’re expecting or asking too much of me.  I’m not God.”  Note that MacArthur also states,

               “This is the divine mystery.  And it’s all of me and all of him, and what’s wrong is me and what’s right is him.  In every major doctrine of the Bible – in every major doctrine – you have an apparent paradox that you cannot resolve. …I know I can’t be saved unless I’m chosen and called.  And I know I can’t be saved unless I’m willing to repent and believe.  I don’t have to harmonize it.  But nor can I deny those things.” (12:04 – 12:35)

            Here we have the suppression of reason and moral intuition.  According to MacArthur, what you might think are real incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions within Calvinism are not.  They are actually a “divine mystery.”  They are “an apparent paradox that you cannot resolve.”  We should see what is going on here exactly for what it is.  It is nothing less than being required to put aside the deliverances of our reason and our moral sense so we can ultimately embrace theistic determinism.

            We even have here a fantastic claim that deepens MacArthur’s incoherence, or what he mischaracterizes as “apparent paradox,” into “every major doctrine.”  This is an astonishing statement.  It is almost as if this is an attempt to “normalize” throughout the theological spectrum the logical and moral problems MacArthur knows are inherent in his theology and soteriology so that these problems will not appear as troubling as they are.  After all, if “every major doctrine” suffers from incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, we should not be surprised that we find the same regarding the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human freedom.  Didn’t you know that “every major doctrine” has the problem of being incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory?  That is news to many of us.  We grant true mystery as to some doctrines.  We do not grant incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction.  It is as if MacArthur wants to implicate “every major doctrine” in the same incoherence that marks his soteriology so as to make such incoherence commonplace.  If incoherence and contradiction are to be expected of “every major doctrine,” it is therefore no surprise then that his Calvinist “doctrines of grace” evidence this same “apparent paradox.”  Yet, surprisingly, he explicitly admits his position is confused when he jokingly states,

               “So, rather than answering the question by removing your confusion, I just spread your confusion over a wider area.”  (15:52 – 15:59)

            But this cavalier admission of confusion and the spread of that confusion is no joking matter.  It not only has hermeneutical implications, but also at stake here is the preservation of the Christian mind and the truth of the gospel.

            Moreover, when MacArthur states, “I don’t have to harmonize it,” we have here the willful refusal to consider that perhaps Calvinism suffers from real incoherence and contradiction and therefore has misinterpreted Scripture.  Such a consideration would require MacArthur to either “harmonize” his interpretive conclusions, or, if he cannot “harmonize it” – which he obviously cannot – then face the fact that he has misinterpreted the text.  The only other option is that MacArthur has correctly interpreted Scripture.  But how will we ever know that?  This is just what we have been grappling with here.  Shall we admit to a hermeneutic of incoherence and contradiction?  Can we consider a “raw” or “technical” exegesis legitimate when it does not take into consideration the rational and moral consequences of its interpretive conclusions, especially in relation to other descriptions and teachings also found in Scripture?  Is this a failure to bow before the sovereign God and thus glorify him in that sovereignty, or is this a legitimate interpretive issue that needs the application of clear thinking?

            MacArthur would have us admit he has rightly interpreted Scripture because his interpretation glorifies God in his sovereignty.  Now no true Christian would want to detract from God’s glory or sovereignty – if we can even think that is possible or what it would look like.  Anyway, for the Calvinist, if sovereignty defined as ruling and reigning in all things glorifies God, then sovereignty defined as universal divine causal determinism glorifies God even more.  Therefore, determinism gives God the most glory precisely because it does the most to reduce man’s propensity of glorying in himself.  To prevent such self-glorification and human autonomy, man’s autonomy must be completely removed from the scene.  Theistic determinism does just that.  But, in a very ironic way, this is to make too much of man and too little of God.  It in effect is saying God could never successfully rule and reign as sovereign over creatures he has endowed with freedom of the will and moral responsibility as free moral agents without having predetermined their every thought, desire, belief, word and deed. For God to be sovereign he must predetermine all things.  For God to be glorified he must predetermine all things.  Recall Leighton’s description of Calvinist sovereignty, “God has predestined your very thoughts, desires and actions in such a way that you couldn’t do other than what you do.”  Therefore, rational and moral concerns go by the wayside when God’s glory and his sovereignty are being magnified.  And for the Calvinist it would be the height of hubris to refuse to bow to such sovereignty and give God the glory in his sovereign determinism (actually the proud are predetermined to be proud and not to bow, at least at present). Hence to question this definition of sovereignty is to rebel against God himself.  If he doesn’t rule deterministically he doesn’t rule at all.  God foreknows because he has predetermined, and as far as the Calvinist is concerned, all humble Christians accept this as a fundamental fact of their faith even if it engenders incoherence and contradiction.  Indeed, to accept this incoherence and contradiction becomes the litmus test of a true humility, reverence and faith.

            But doesn’t this smack of a kind of inverted pride that is boasting that, “I am humble enough to accept whatever incoherence, inconsistency and contradictions result by exalting God’s deterministic sovereignty and giving him all the glory in all things.  And I am humble enough to accept the fact that God may have unconditionally and unalterably predestined me and/or any number of my loved ones to eternal separation from himself in the sufferings of hell, yet I will continue to love, trust and worship him.”  Ironically, perhaps they think that mustering up and exercising such a degree of will-power in humility will impress God.  After all God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  And therefore, Calvinist’s would likely believe that to raise any questions about such an interpretation of sovereignty is merely to betray a stubborn, rebellious heart that refuses to bow to that Sovereign.  Which is just to say, “I am humble enough to accept theistic determinism.”  And that is the bottom-line here.  But with all due respect to Calvinists, perhaps the solution to these problems is as simple as the interpretation of God’s sovereignty as theistic determinism being wrong.   Perhaps these problems are indicative that MacArthur has misinterpreted the text as to God’s sovereignty.  That is more likely the case when we maintain a hermeneutic of coherence. 

            MacArthur continues with the suppression of reason.

               “And you rest in the fact that you don’t need to grasp the mysteries that are clear in the mind of an eternal God.” (16:48 – 16:57)

            Here we are actually being instructed about how to “think” about the Calvinist’s logical and moral difficulties.  You should believe that they are “mysteries,” not incoherencies.  “You don’t need to grasp the mysteries,” that is, “you need to put aside your reason with any of its observations and questions.”  But if it is true that our rational and moral faculties are God-given and functioning well enough to perform their intended purposes, especially in all other of life’s demands that require the use of our logical and moral reasoning, then MacArthur’s instructions here are seriously wrong-headed and to be firmly rejected.

            We should also ask, if human reason is God-given, then doesn’t this reflect how the mind of God works?  I take it that our reasoning faculties function upon laws of logic and moral intuitions that are patterned after how God himself reasons and is morally constituted.  God’s thinking is coherent, consistent and non-contradictory.  He always does what is good, right and just.  And therefore, even if God contemplates and understands things well beyond our capabilities in this regard, as he certainly does, it is not likely that a theology is truly biblical that in the end has it that God’s thought processes are against the laws of logic and that he can act in a way that amounts to the complete reversal of our moral intuitions.  If God provides the pattern of logic and morality to which we answer as made in his image, then what’s “clear in the mind of an eternal God,” as far as it is revealed to us, is also clear in our minds.  We work along the same lines of thought and ethics as God because God determined it be that way.  If all this is even somewhat accurate, then Calvinism, because it is incoherent, is not the teaching of Scripture.

            Todd Friel, host of this program, comments about the reconciliation of unconditional election and genuine human responsibility.

               “God elects.  It’s clear.  Man has genuine human responsibility.  It’s clear.  How do you reconcile friends?  You don’t need to.  They’re already reconciled even if we cannot grasp it.” (16:58 – 17:01 and 19:28 – 19:40)

            This too is the suppression of reason.  To tell us unconditional election and human responsibility are “friends” and that “we cannot grasp” how they are “reconciled,” that is, how they are coherent, non-contradictory and consistent with each other, is merely a superficial assertion.  How does Friel know “they’re already reconciled” when he “cannot grasp” how they are reconciled?  If by saying “It’s clear” he means the Bible teaches both, then he is presupposing the truth of Calvinism and begging the question.

            The problem is not that “we cannot grasp it.”  Rather, the problem is that we can grasp it all too well!  These are real incoherencies, inconsistencies and contradictions caused by the Calvinist’s theistic determinism.  But Friel would have us just ignore them.  He is in effect telling us not to think about his theological position.  He is suppressing our reason.  He is telling us “we cannot grasp it.”  Why is unconditional election “clear” in Scripture?  What MacArthur and Friel are doing here is teaching people that they shouldn’t question their Calvinist interpretations of Scripture despite their incoherent and contradictory nature.  To be told “you cannot grasp it” is to place out of court the logical and moral reason that would otherwise allow you to grasp it very well. The reason why the Calvinist does this is because the probative force of the laws of logic and our moral intuitions present an insurmountable challenge to his Calvinism.   It is not that there are any mysteries here that need to be let alone and just accepted. Rather, it is that MacArthur and Friel do not want their interpretations challenged by the probative force of philosophical or moral critiques.

            This reorientation of the Christian mind to ignore reasoned reflection and moral intuitions, dichotomizing them from the exegetical task, and sequestering them from performing their God-given function of evaluating the validity of interpretations that claim exegetical support, is the way Calvinists insulate their theology from being dismantled by logical and moral critiques.  They need to make sure their theology stays intact no matter what the intellectual or moral cost.  But we should recognize that they do so at too high an intellectual and moral cost.  This suppression of logical and moral reasoning is necessary for the propagation and maintenance of Calvinism.  It is a very serious matter for the life of the mind and ultimately the gospel message.

            Leighton points out this Calvinist attitude towards reason when he encapsulates Friel and MacArthur’s answers to the problems in their theology.  He states,

               “Ok.  So the answer to the dilemma is “Stop Trying!”  A equals not A.  There ‘friends.’ …Is anybody who knows anything about logic going to let you do that? …Married bachelor.  There’s no reason to reconcile there’s a married bachelor.  Just friends.  Just stop questioning they’re a married bachelor.  And if you’re questioning whether they’re a married bachelor it must be because you just can’t see the emperor’s clothes. …Don’t you believe the Bible?” (19:40 – 20:33)

            Leighton is pointing out that when we hold onto our knowledge of basic logic it will not allow us to accept either the Calvinist doctrines or the answers they give in defense of those doctrines.  Leighton is revealing the Calvinist’s suppression of reason which is necessary to both circumvent and maintain their contradictory theology.  And when he asks, “Don’t you believe the Bible?” he using sarcasm to point out the dichotomizing of exegesis from logical and moral reflection.  He is highlighting the hermeneutical issue that the Calvinist can divorce their exegesis from the need for it to be logically and morally coherent.  The Calvinist claims the Bible teaches Calvinism despite its incoherence.  Leighton is exemplifying the hermeneutical divide.

            I submit that this program makes clear that for a person to be a Calvinist, it is essential that they suppress, at least in this matter, their logical capacities and moral intuitions.  In order to be a Calvinist one has to learn to ignore what their reason and moral intuitions initially and continually tell them about the problematic logical and moral entailments of the universal divine causal determinism at the heart of Calvinism.

The Hermeneutical Divide

            Leighton continues with these important hermeneutical observations and conclusions.

               “Listen, when you accept A equals not A, you have just nullified the Bible.  You have just confessed that the Bible is contradictory with itself.  When you say that something is contradictory – A equals not A – then you have proven it false.” (20:33 – 20:52)   

            Here we have a clear enunciation of the hermeneutical divide.  Leighton takes logical and moral coherence to be essential for determining the validity of one’s exegesis and interpretation of the text.  He clearly believes that due to their theistic determinism Calvinists are caught up in a contradiction, and in that they claim that this is what the Bible teaches they are implicating the Bible in that contradiction.  But if contradictions prove things false, then the Calvinist’s interpretations of the Bible on these matters is false.

            Hence we have a hermeneutic of coherence versus a hermeneutic of incoherence.  Both are claiming to be legitimate hermeneutics.  But if Leighton is correct, then Calvinists need to address this issue of contradiction and its hermeneutical implications.  Non-Calvinist’s need to confront Calvinists on this very issue. Sure, the Calvinist can continue to ignore these problems, but they would also have to admit they have adopted a hermeneutic of incoherence and would need to justify how that is a valid biblical, evangelical hermeneutic.  If Leighton is correct, the Calvinist’s interpretations make the Bible contradictory, and if that is the case then the Calvinist’s interpretations are either wrong or we need to know why that conclusion is unwarranted.  If Leighton is correct, and we should not jettison sound reasoning and moral intuition from our hermeneutic and both sides can agree to this hermeneutical principle, then this controversy would be moving towards its historical resolution.

            Movement towards resolution would require both sides to come to firm conclusions as to whether or not incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction are sure signs of misinterpretation.  This issue needs to be explicitly brought into the discussion.  Again, non-Calvinists need to press this matter to the Calvinist. We can no longer allow two mutually soteriologies and the gospel messages they entail to be accepted as biblical truth. This hermeneutical issue can no longer lie implicitly in the background while we continue to point out the incoherence of Calvinism with the Calvinist responding “the Bible teaches both” and “it’s a mystery we cannot understand.”  Again, the first response is question-begging.  The second, in light of what we do know, is ad hoc.

            The more fundamental hermeneutical questions here cannot be ignored.  This issue needs to be grappled with and firm decisions need to be made that lead to universally accepted hermeneutical principles being delineated.  Calvinists can no longer hide behind their exegesis if that exegesis results in contradictory and incoherent interpretive and theological conclusions.  As Leighton points out, this implicates the Scripture in incoherence and contradiction.  Rather than dichotomize philosophical reflection and moral intuition from their hermeneutic, preventing these from acting as a check on their exegetical method and conclusions, Calvinists will have to integrate philosophical reflection and moral intuition into their hermeneutic, thereby allowing these to exercise their guiding and corrective functions in their exegetical method and interpretive conclusions.  This is essential for establishing validity in interpretation.  To think this is exalting human reason above Scripture is to misapprehend the divine gift of reason and its role as it applies to the interpretation of Scripture as written revelation.

            I can think of no more basic hermeneutical principle than that interpretations that produce nonsense cannot be legitimate interpretations of the text.  If a hermeneutic that allows for interpretive incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction remains acceptable in biblical exegesis and theology, then all bets are off for coming to a resolution to this controversy.  And those that adopt it will be set adrift on a sea of exegetical, interpretive and theological subjectivity.  Will the Calvinist insist we all adopt their present hermeneutic that divorces the role of philosophical reflection and moral intuition from determining whether one’s proposed exegesis and interpretations are what the text actually means?  Why should we do that?  Can the Calvinist defend such a hermeneutic of incoherence?  And if they attempt to defend it, shouldn’t their defense need to be a reasoned defense?  Moreover, why would Calvinist’s reject a hermeneutic of coherence?  I am curious as to how Calvinists would answer these questions.

            The fact that many Christians are indifferent to this matter and that the Calvinist presumes the truth of theistic determinism and embraces the incoherence that results, are the reasons the controversy continues.  Christians need to think this issue through more deeply to come to realize its profound implications, not only for theology but the gospel and practical ministry.  They need to resist the suppression of reason and theological relativism that are pervasive within our evangelical churches today.

            What will arbitrate the issues in this controversy so that it can move towards a resolution?  I submit that it is necessary to bring philosophical reflections and moral intuitions – in a word, coherence – to bear upon our interpretations.  Reason and moral intuitions are gifts God has granted to us to successfully navigate through to theological, soteriological and gospel truth, while leaving behind what is false.  They are essential, reliable arbiters in the matter of whose interpretations better reflect the meaning of the biblical text.  The issue is not whether Leighton has an exegesis of the text with his derived interpretation and MacArthur has an exegesis of the text with his derived interpretation and we know the two interpretations are substantially different.  Rather, the issue is whether or not the resultant coherence or incoherence of one’s exegeses and interpretations are significant in determining the validity of one’s exegeses and interpretations.  That is a hermeneutical issue.  That our interpretations be coherent is either a principle of interpretation or it is not.  And it is on that point where all these discussions end up.  And it is on that point that the controversy can be resolved.

            We must allow rational reflection and moral intuition to play their part in our hermeneutic and therefore inform us as to the validity or invalidity of our exegesis and interpretive conclusions.  The resolution to this controversy will depend upon coming to agreement that coherence is an essential hermeneutical principle; something I believe should be so obvious to all that it need not be a cause of division.


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

[2] Calvinists will boast that since they have done a “technical” exegesis of the text therefore the propositions and doctrines they derive from that exegesis must be what the text means.  But one can offer a “technical” exegesis yet err in their logic.  Surely that is significant.  My contention is that even some “technical” exegeses are better than others.  Just because one has subjected a text to the “technical” elements of exegesis does not mean that in the end they have correctly reasoned about the meaning of the text.  I submit that when the interpretations derived from such an exegesis prove to be incoherent, inconsistent or contradictory, these are indicators that the exegesis is flawed, even in some “technical” way that is being overlooked but can be identified through a more careful and thorough application of the principles and practices of hermeneutics and interpretation.  An exegesis that takes into consideration more of what exegesis should observe and consider, including logical and moral coherence and consistency with other texts, would be considered a more “technically” adept exegesis.  For instance, with respect to the principle of context, when the Calvinist interpretations of Romans 9 fail to coherently account for the content of chapters 10 and 11 we have a violation of the principle of context and therefore a less adept “technical” exegesis.  When the text of Romans 9 is interpreted in contradiction with its context of chapters 10 and 11 then that is one way we know the exegesis of Romans 9 (or possibly Romans 10 and 11), is flawed.  Coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are what it means to read a passage in context.  When these are ignored, whether in relation to the immediate context or broader contexts of the epistle or the biblical canon as a whole, we can conclude that the interpreter has not properly interpreted the text.  And to the degree that incoherence is stubbornly maintained, being raised to the level of a hermeneutical principle itself, that person has devised a hermeneutic of incoherence and as such maintains and is promoting a flawed hermeneutic.

[3] More can and must be said about the implications of two incompatible hermeneutics operating and being accepted within the evangelical church today.  Suffice it to say here that these differing hermeneutics produce mutually exclusive soteriologies and that one’s soteriology dictates the content of one’s gospel message.  Therefore, we have two mutually exclusive soteriologies and gospel messages in the evangelical church.  And yet, both soteriologies and their gospel messages are said to be viable options.  Both are accepted as biblical truth.  But two mutually exclusive soteriologies cannot both be the truth of Scripture.  As such, this is nothing other than the church’s embracing and promoting an interpretive and theological relativism.  This, in turn, has profound effects upon the content and proclamation of the gospel as “good news,” which I contend should be our primary concern in this whole controversy.

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

[5] See William Lane Craig’s five-fold critique of Calvinism at:   Last accessed on 4/13/2019.

6 thoughts on “The Hermeneutical Implications of Leighton Flowers’ Podcast “Calvinism’s Contradictions Explained by John MacArthur”

  1. Let me provide my redneck summary: The Bible says “all things are lawful.” I say that I make my living as a bank robber. I also assert that in doing so I am in the center of God’s will. You point out a verse that says, “Let him that stole steal no more.” I say, “I don’t know how to harmonize that. Gimme a break. I’m not God, me and my pea brain.” You would conclude that I seriously don’t submit to the authority of Scripture, and you would be right. Ditto for Dr. MacArthur.


    1. Hi Cannier, In saying, “God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts,” your friend seems to be maintaining that God’s thoughts can be contradictory and/or incoherent. You could ask him whether he believes that God is the source of the laws of logic and rational thought. If so, how is his interpretation of Scripture correct if it produces contradictions and incoherencies? How can these be “God’s thoughts?” His theological conclusions certainly seem to be contradictory and/or incoherent. Would he say that the problems in his theology are real contradictions and incoherencies? If not, why not? To say God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts does not address the issue of contradiction and incoherence in his theology and neither does it address the real possibility that his Calvinist interpretations of Scripture are flawed. Perhaps it not a matter of God’s thoughts being higher than ours, but his Calvinist interpretations being incorrect. If he will admit that these problems of contradiction and incoherence are real, then he needs to face the prospect that these are, therefore, reliable indications that his Calvinist interpretations of Scripture are incorrect. I argue that the Calvinist’s dismissal of the contradictions and incoherencies in their interpretations is a sign, not only of faulty interpretation, but a faulty hermeneutic. That our interpretations ought to be non-contradictory and coherent is a basic principle of a sound hermeneutic. The fact that the Calvinist interpretations of the relevant passages are not coherent cannot be dismissed as “incomprehensible,” or a “high mystery,” or “antinomy” etc. It is perfectly obvious that they are contradictory and incoherent. The Calvinist cannot conveniently side-step the problematic nature of their interpretations and theology with these mere assertions. Your friend cannot continue in his Calvinism without addressing the issue of the contradictory nature of his interpretations of the Bible. You might ask him if he believes the Bible contains contradictions and/or incoherencies, for it certainly seems that is what his interpretations of Scripture produce. Hope this helps. – Steve


  2. It seems that Calvinist refuse to believe that an almighty God doesn’t have enough power to create a man with total 100% free will , that for some reason he had to preprogram our every thought and deed because that’s the only way He could make things work . It seems in doing just that they really have a smaller view of our creator .


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