“Is the God of Calvinism a Moral Monster?”

That’s the title of an interesting and thought-provoking post by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.  Justin embedded a video interview left on the cutting-room-floor of the forthcoming documentary Hellbound.  In the video (embedded below), Justin grapples with a question I often receive — is a God who only saves some of His children a moral monster?

I’m not going to pretend to be a theologian and wholeheartedly recommend watching Justin’s response (as well as reading his blog), but I will make an observation or two through the prism of my legal training.  First, much of what we believe is right or fair for a sovereign is derived from legal, moral, and political systems created precisely because we are not God and then imputing from that system moral laws that should govern God’s conduct towards man.  In other words, reverence for individual liberty, equality of opportunity, blind justice, the moral autonomy of the individual, and many other concepts that have widespread (indeed, overwhelming) support in our culture are born out of distrust for the sovereign.  In other words, man — after thousands of years of experience with despotism — understands that power corrupts, concentrated power creates terrible consequences for that corruption, and that fallen men must always be accountable to someone.

Second, the cultural and legal constructs created to keep our earthly sovereign honest simply do not apply to our Heavenly Sovereign.  To take a controversial example — just war theories I endorse and have lived are incompatible with the conquest of Canaan.  The Israelites were not acting in self-defense but as conquerors, and their God-directed methods were extreme.  This analysis applies to any number of Old Testament conflicts, where God directed His people to carry out His will through extreme violence.  In other cases, God himself acted violently on the world — killing even children — from the Flood to Sodom.  His actions in the Book of Job can seem inexplicable — and the only answer He gave to Job’s repeated entreaties was a lengthy, vivid version of “Who do you think you are to question Me?”

For generations many Christians have struggled to reconcile Christ’s commands to love our enemies with God’s quite frequent smiting of His enemies.  But given the vast and impenetrable gulf in our own understanding and God’s understanding, is this alleged inconsistency really so hard to comprehend?  After all, if we are fallen (and we are) and limited in our understanding, how can we even be sure that our “enemies” are wrong?  How can we know what God has purposed for them?  And let’s not forget that even as we love our enemies God has created and established agents of His own wrath in our earthly governments, providing a means for executing even violent judgments agains wrongdoers on this earth.  Simply put, God’s judgment is perfect.  Ours is often ridiculous.

We love ourselves and our own reasoning so much that it’s easy to forget:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

If this sounds like a bit of a punt, well . . . it is.  After all, we see through a glass darkly and will never achieve full understanding during our time in this fallen, groaning world. But it is God who defines virtue, His Word hardly indicates that he’s an egalitarian as we understand the term, and I’m a sinner — depraved in every aspect of my being.  Thanks be to God for His gracious and inexplicable rescue of my lost soul.


  • Arminian

    Arminians don’t actually think God owes anyone at all salvation , here are the quotes from Calvin that do demonstrate the actual monstrosity.

    By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms , but SOME ARE PREORDAINED TO ETERNAL LIFE , OTHERS TO ETERNAL DAMNATION ; and , accordingly, as each has been created for one or the other of these ends, we say that HE HAS BEEN PREDESTINED TO LIFE OR DEATH . John Calvin the Institues 3.21.5

    “Paul does NOT inform us that the RUIN OF THE UNGODLY IS FORSEEN BY THE LORD , but that it IS ORDAINED BY HIS COUNSEL AND WILL . Solomon also teaches us that not only was the DESTRUCTION OF THE UNGODLY FOREKNOWN , BUT , THE UNGODLY THEMSELVES HAVE BEEN CREATED FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF PERISHING (Prov. 16.4).” John Calvin (The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, William B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, 1995, pp.207-208,

    “Here they recur to THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN WILL AND PERMISSION ,the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the WILL OF GOD. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and NOT BY THE ORDINATION OF GOD ; AS IF GOD HAD NOT DETERMINED WHAT HE WISHES THE CONDITION OF THE CHIEF OF HIS CREATURES TO BE .” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 8

    “Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that GOD NOT ONLY FORESAW THE FALL OF THE FIRST MAN , AND IN HIM THE RUIN OF HIS POSTERITY ; BUT ALSO AT HIS OWN PLEASURE ARRAGNED IT “” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7,

    *”Again they object: were they not previously predestined by God’s ordinance to that corruption which is …now claimed as the cause of condemnation? When, therefore, they perish in their corruption, they
    but pay the penalties of that misery in which ADAM FELL BY THE PRDESTINATION OF GOD , and dragged his posterity headlong after him.Is he not, then, unjust who so cruelly deludes his creatures? Of course, I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, ALL OF ADAM’S CHILDREN HAVE FALLEN BY GODS WILL . And this is what I said to begin with, that we must always at last return to the sole decision of God’s will, the cause of which is hidden in him.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.23.4).

    individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to GLORIFY HIM BY THEIR DESTRUCTION .” -John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion)(Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)

    “Another prophet also exclaims, “Our God is in the heavens: he has done whatsoever he has pleased,” (Ps. 115:3). I have already shown clearly enough that GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF ALL THOSE THINGS which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he CREATES light and darkness, forms good and EVIL (Is. 45:7); THAT NO EVIL HAPPENS WHICH HE HAS NOT DONE (Amos 3:6). Let them tell me whether God exercises his Judgments willingly or unwillingly. – John Calvin , Institutes Book 1 Chapter 18, paragraph 13

    “How foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that EVILS come to be, not by His will but by His permission. . . . IT IS QUITE FRIVOLOUS REFUGE TO SAY THAT GOD INDIRECTLY PERMITS THEM , when Scripture shows Him not only willing, BUT THE AUTHOR OF THEM . . . . It is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that GOD WORKS IN THE HEARTS OF MEN TO INCLINE THEIR WILLS s just as He will, whether to good . . . OR TO EVIL.” (John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God [1552], trans. J. K. S. Reid (Louisville:WJK, 1961), pg. 176-7

  • http://www.hellboundthemovie.com Kevin Miller

    Hi David: I just posted a response to this piece over at the “Hellbound?” blog: http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/what-i-dont-get-about-justin-taylor-and-david-french/

  • Patrick

    Here’s how I view these seeming contradictions. God had a job to do redeeming us. He had to deal with sinful humanity in varying degrees of evil to achieve that goal. He did achieve that goal and IMO, to a great extent, it was by killing off the implacable enemy of the Jews or God’s people pre Israel.

    BTW, it isn’t popular anymore to say it, but, the OT text(Gen 6) clearly teaches that a hybrid human/angelic creature(nephilim) was the main opponent of the Jews entering the land. Goliath was the last one in the text. That’s who was getting massacred in Joshua mainly. Check it out, everywhere you turn, giants are there.

  • K. Cisco

    David, what if it was not “God” who directed His people to carry out His will through extreme violence?
    “Jewish and Christian scholars alike have both noted that the Old Testament view of God differs SIGNIFICANTLY from the New Testament view in one key aspect– the way Satan is viewed. THE WAY SATAN IS VIEWED explains all discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments.” (From “The Forgotten Key To Understanding The Old Testament,” by Richard K. Murray.)
    I assert that God is not violent. Nor does God use Satan as his instrument of wrath. Although it raises as many questions as it answers, please read this fascinating essay by Richard K. Murray:
    PS to “Arminian”: I was an Arminian for 32 years. Granted, there are verses that seem to support both Calvinism and Arminianism, but if you just camp out on 1 John 4:8,16 (God IS love), things start to open up, and you can let go of both Calvinism and Arminianism. Once I really saw that “God is love,” I could begin to fully accept and rest in verses like, “[I] died, and [my] life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). I no longer believe a Christian can lose his salvation. Fear in my life has been rapidly diminishing ever since. We do not serve a schizophrenic God–nice one minute, and then angry the next. After all, He is omniscient, so He can never be surprised or disappointed.

    • David French

      Don’t forget that God often dispensed with the intermediary (say, the Israelites) and administered his justice directly (the Flood and the destruction of Sodom come to mind). If we’re arguing that these things didn’t happen, then we have a different dispute entirely — over the authority of scripture — and we’re not even speaking the same theological language. We’d have to jump back a step or two to discuss our views of scripture before we jumped ahead to our interpretation.

      • K. Cisco


        So what about The Flood, the destruction of Sodom, tsunamis, et al? No argument here that these violent events occur. The discussion in Murray’s indispensable article centers on the nature of God versus the nature of Satan.

        There is confusion about Satan in the Old Testament. Many Christians do not recognize and resolve this fundamental confusion, and it corrupts their other doctrines and their very relationship with the Lord.

        Satan is the death-dealer (John 10:10, Hebrews 2:14). Jesus is the Author of life (John 10:10, Acts 3:15).

        Murray’s mind-blowing article counters the traditional viewpoint that God is violent or vindictive. I cannot recommend it strongly enough:


  • Tim


  • Bob Seidensticker

    God is beyond our ability to know him? I can accept that. What I can’t accept is Christians who play this card when it suits them but them happily judge God as “good,” “just,” “merciful,” and so on at other times.

    You can either judge God or not. Christians, please be consistent.

    And God isn’t Good, Either

    • David French

      God is God, and His descriptions of Himself are the ones that matter. Our descriptions of Him are invariably flawed to a greater or lesser extent. Many contemporary Christians can’t seem to handle the God they see in the fullness of scripture because they’re caught up in one of his characteristics (grace) to the exclusion of others (like justice) and participate in a fruitless and strange competition to establish Christianity as the “nicest” or most peaceful religion out there. We should seek truth — wherever it takes us.

  • prince arellano

    John Calvin’s God is false.

    • Christopher

      Yes. The God of Calvinism is a lie. Better Bible translations (and there are more and more of them coming out) are correctly translating some of the Greek words that Augustine failed to understand. Jesus and the Bible says something very different from Cavlinism which was influenced by Augustine’s misunderstanding of these words along with his pagan neo-Platonic and pagan Gnostic influenced thought.

      Calvinsists are so enslaved to their false system that they can’t see what the Bible, when correcty translated, plainly says.

      • R.C.

        Maybe. But are you so very sure that Calvinists give a fair interpretation of Augustine? If Calvinists were so very Augustinian, they’d probably be Catholic, like Augustine….

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  • Deborah

    Jesus is exactly like the Father. The Father is exactly like Jesus. Jesus came to show us what the Father is like.
    If God is violent- Jesus failed.
    Are we really willing to say that?

  • R.C.

    I think one of the chief difficulties is Calvinist culture.

    In Calvinist culture, for example, it is commonplace to say that Arminians and Catholics believe in salvation by works, which is false: In both cases it is all about the grace and sovereignty of God. I think Calvinists don’t know this because their tradition follows the early Reformers in so badly caricaturing their polemical opponents. (In this I include the Reformed “Particular Baptist” Calvinist Baptists, who’re odd ducks inasmuch as they borrow sometimes a little and sometimes a lot from the Calvinist tradition, but would not be recognized by a true “Institutes” Calvinist as being really Calvinist on account of their wildly nontraditional ecclesiology and the insistence on rejecting pedobaptism.)

    I think therefore that when Christians discuss such matters, it is important that we distinguish between what others claim are the logical implications of their theology, and what we through our own logic conclude are the logical implications of their theology. When we disagree with Group A, it’s okay for us to say They Preach X if they do. It’s okay for us to say We Think X Logically Requires Y, as well. But if Group A doesn’t preach that X requires Y, then we should be honest and admit that.

    For example, Calvinists claim all sorts of things (both within the 5 “TULIP” points and beyond them) which an Arminian or Catholic or an average non-denom onlooker would analyze as logically requiring that God is a moral monster, and that human free will doesn’t exist (or in some cases, “agency” or “choice”; you get some debates about the exact correct terms). But Calvinists repeatedly and insistently deny that these nasty conclusions are logically required by Calvinism.

    So I think it would be morally wrong for, say, a Methodist to claim that “Calvinism preaches a false gospel involving a morally monstrous God governing helpless automatons who needn’t bother evangelizing one another or exhorting one another to persevering in holiness, since it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.”

    And in fact I’ve never heard a single Methodist claim that. But I have heard and read Calvinists who dispute whether Catholics and Arminians and other “strong free-will” folk really believe that the individual is saved by grace. I see that accusation all over the relevant websites, and the tone of contempt reminds me of the horror stories I’ve heard about what backwoods fundamentalist types say about Catholics.

    So when this kind of accusation is leveled against Calvinists by those who doubt the existence of hell, I find I am of two minds. On the merits, I agree with the Calvinists that hell exists. But I find myself less than sympathetic when the Calvinists protest that their beliefs are more loving and reasonable than they’re being made out to sound. Perhaps it’s a case of “he who lives by the calumny dies by the calumny?” Or perhaps just “sauce that’s good for the goose…?”