Dialogue: Double Predestination, Total Depravity, & Limited Atonement

Dialogue: Double Predestination, Total Depravity, & Limited Atonement February 12, 2018

It’s possible for Catholics and Calvinists to dialogue and to even be friends!


This is drawn from statements made by my Reformed, Presbyterian (OPC) friend Tim Roof (words in blue throughout). Tim’s a great guy, who was charitable and fair to me on one notorious anti-Catholic web page, when virtually everyone else was slanderous and hostile. He requested that I make some sort of answer. As a sort of preamble, I was asked by a Catholic in the discussion what I thought of the Reformed opinions on predestination, etc. I wrote:

I think there are insuperable difficulties in the Calvinist position, including things having to do with God’s very nature.

But on the other hand, the problem of evil and existence of hell do raise very difficult questions for every Christian position, even if one accepts free will. Why did God allow the fall? Why did He ever allow evil to get off the ground, knowing what was to happen? Etc. No position, in my opinion, offers completely satisfying answers. It is ultimately beyond our understanding.

We can only say (and this is how I have argued) that He knew what would happen and thought that free will was better than all-good robots who couldn’t choose otherwise. But emotionally and at a gut level it is still very difficult to comprehend.

In the end we must all exercise much faith.

* * * * *

As far as pleasing God with good works, we have to adopt His definition of what good is:

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God (Luke 18:19).

Now by the human definition of good, all kinds of human beings do all kinds of good things all of the time, relative to our own varying definitions of good. But that is not what the doctrine is speaking to. 

So often believers fall into the trap of comparing themselves with other people and think in terms of relative “goodness” when compared with them. But that is not the standard. The standard for goodness is God Himself, which is perfection. 

This is classic fallacious Calvinist doctrine. The reasoning is that “only God is good; therefore nothing [unregenerate] man does is good.” It’s the old, tiresome “either/or” mentality again. God is absolutely, perfectly good, so man must be a worm, with absolutely nothing good in him, due to this rebellion in the fall.

The trouble is that this is a basic misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom and how comparisons were made. Jesus was saying that only God is perfectly good. He was not trying to imply that there were no good men. He couldn’t, because that contradicts Bible teaching. Jesus also said “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45, 7:17-20, 22:10). He was merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense.

The Calvinist reads this and interprets: “God is [completely] good, therefore man is [completely] bad.” But Catholics reason from it: “God is perfectly good; therefore, man is good by His grace.” Calvinists see in that works-salvation. But we’re not denying that man can’t save himself; only that he is destitute of any truly good thing whatever before he is regenerated (total depravity).

I explored this at great length in my paper, Total Depravity: Reply to James White: Calvinism and Romans 3:10-11 (“None is Righteous . . . No One Seeks For God”) ; also to a lesser extent in my piece, “All Have Sinned . . . ” (Mary?). I need not reiterate all that. Let me just highlight a few points presently, citing the former paper:

Paul doesn’t teach, in context [Romans 1], that absolutely all unregenerated men know that God exist but deny Him anyway, for in the very next chapter (and the chapter right before our text under consideration): Romans 2, he talks about “righteous” people who can do “good” and who are capable of “well-doing” even without the Law, let alone the gospel of Jesus Christ:

6: For he will render to every man according to his works:
7: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

10 . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
14: When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15: They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

26: So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
27: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

How fascinating. All of this is about Gentiles who don’t even have the law. They haven’t heard the gospel at all. The New Testament has not yet been out together. They (obviously) don’t yet have the benefit of Romans itself. Paul never says that they have heard the gospel. . . .

And Like Psalm 14, we see other proximate Psalms refer to the “righteous” or “godly” (e.g., 52:1, 6, 9; 55:22; 58:10-11). David himself eagerly seeks God in Psalms 51, 52:8-9, 54-57, 61-63, etc. Obviously, then, it is not the case that “no one” whatsoever seeks God. It is Hebrew hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. And this is, remember, poetic language in the first place. Therefore, it is fairly clear that there — far from “none” — plenty of righteous people to go around.

How about those who “seek God”? Can “none” of those be found, either, according to White’s and Calvinism’s literalistic interpretations? How about King Jehoshaphat? Here is a very interesting case study indeed. He was subjected to the wrath of God, yet it is stated that he had some “good” and sought God:

2: But Jehu the son of Hana’ni the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehosh’aphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD.
3: Nevertheless some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Ashe’rahs out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” (2 Chronicles 19:2-3)

Not only the king, but many people in Judah also sought the Lord:

3: Then Jehosh’aphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
4: And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)

How can this be? Was he (and all these multitudes who “came to seek the Lord”), therefore, regenerate? The text doesn’t say. He hadn’t heard the gospel, though; that’s for sure. Nor had the people of Judah. According to White (and Calvinism as a whole?) no one can do any “spiritual good” (as opposed to a merely natural good or natural moral virtue) whatsoever unless they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Were all these people “good men and women”? Did they seek God or not? And how can this be if the passages in Psalms 14 and 53 says that no one does so; “no, not one”?

[much more along these lines in this paper]


* * *

They are totally unable to save themselves, yes.

Catholics completely agree with this. It is not at issue.

No man wants God’s true salvation plan, nor do they seek it; they pursue evil continually and do not fear God

This is not what the Bible shows, as I showed at great length in one of my papers, cited above. Paul casually assumes that at least some Gentiles “who have not the law do by nature what the law requires” (Rom 2:14). The law is even lower in the scheme of things than the gospel, but Paul says that some men are able to fulfil it (i.e., be righteous). He again assumed that it was possible for people to “seek God” in his sermon on Mars Hill to the pagan Greeks (Acts 17:27; cf. James in Acts 15:17). 

Romans 3:9-18 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. 13 Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. 14 Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:11-18)

I dealt with this in the old paper. It can’t possibly be taken in an absolutely literal sense, or the Bible would contradict itself. Elsewhere I wrote:

We find examples of a non-literal intent elsewhere in Romans. . . . Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved,” (11:26), but we know that many will not be saved. And in 15:14, Paul describes members of the Roman church as “….filled with all knowledge….” (cf. 1 Cor 1:5 in KJV), which clearly cannot be taken literally. . . .

One might also note 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” [NIV]. As far as physical death is concerned (the context of 1 Cor 15), not “all” people have died (e.g., Enoch: Gen 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5, Elijah: 2 Kings 2:11). Likewise, “all” will not be made spiritually alive by Christ, as some will choose to suffer eternal spiritual death in hell.

And in the paper on total depravity, I observed, regarding Romans 3:

St. Paul appears to be citing Psalm 14:1-3:

1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good.

2: The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.

3: They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.

Now, does the context in the earlier passage suggest that what is meant is “absolutely every person, without exception”? No. We’ve already seen the latitude of the notion “all” in the Hebrew understanding. Context supports a less literal interpretation. In the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God. Indeed, the very next Psalm is entirely devoted to “good people”:

1: O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

2: He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart;

3: who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

4: in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

5: who does not put out his money at interest, and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved(complete)

Even two verses after our cited passage in Psalms David writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5). In the very next verse (14:4) David refers to “the evildoers who eat up my people”. Now, if he is contrasting the evildoers with His people, then obviously, he is not meaning to imply that everyone is evil, and there are no righteous. So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance. Such remarks are common to Jewish poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23, 12:2, 13:22, 14:14,19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Ps 14:2-3.

And references to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9, 22:19, Ps 5:12, 32:11, 34:15, 37:16,32, Mt 9:13, 13:17, 25:37,46, Rom 5:19, Heb 11:4, Jas 5;16, 1 Pet 3:12, 4:18, etc., etc.).

There are many biblical counter-examples to this Calvinist mythology. The Bible states that King Uzziah did truly good things:

2 Chronicles 26:4-5 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amazi’ah had done. [5] He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechari’ah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

Yet he went astray: “when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the LORD his God” (2 Chron 26:16), and died out of favor with God; he seems to likely have been lost:

2 Chronicles 26:20-21 And Azari’ah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the LORD had smitten him. [21] And King Uzzi’ah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

This is, of course, not possible in the Calvinist schema. If he was not regenerated and saved, he had to be (in this flawed thinking) completely evil and incapable of good. But the Bible says that he at one time “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” and ” sought the LORD.” But he died unrepentant. One must, therefore, make a choice: the inspired revelation in the Bible or the very fallible mere tradition of men: Calvinism. I choose the Bible. It’s clear, and it decisively refutes Calvinism. I gave another fascinating narrative example in my paper on total depravity: that of King Asa

Many of the people of Judah in the reign of King Asa, determined that anyone who didn’t seek God would be put to death! So what did they do: commit mass suicide, like the Jonestown cult, because no one is righteous, and no one did or could seek God?:

12: And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul;
13: and that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)

The case of King Asa himself presents yet another difficulty for Calvinists and their sometimes unbiblical doctrines. We see his initial zeal for God in the above passage. We are informed that “all Judah” (huh? all? everybody?) “had sought him [God] with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest round about” (2 Chron 15:15). He destroyed idols (15:16) but not the ones in the high places (15:17a), “nevertheless the heart of Asa was blameless all his days” (15:17b). “Blameless”? “All” his days? Huh? How can this be? The Bible says here he was blameless “all his days” yet in the next chapter it proceeds to deny this very thing:

7: At that time Hana’ni the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you.
8: Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.
9: For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.”
10: Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.
11: The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
12: In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. (2 Chronicles 16:7-12)

Does it sound like this guy was regenerated and saved? Not much . . . so how could he be “blameless all his days”? Even when it is said that “he did not seek the LORD,” it seems apparent that the writer is assuming that it is possible to do so (or else why would it be necessary to point out that one man didn’t, when no one  could do so?). No one says that someone didn’t do something that was impossible from the outset. We don’t say, for example, that “Sam didn’t swim from San Francisco to Hawaii.”

How does one harmoniously interpret all this? It’s really rather simple. I’ve already provided the only sensible answer: always interpret Scripture in context, and understand Hebrew idiom; especially hyperbole, used constantly in Hebrew poetry. Paul was citing Psalms; that is poetry. It cannot always be taken literally. But when we look at narratives like the two books of Chronicles, then we see that there are exceptions to the rule. And we see that Paul doesn’t even follow his own supposedly all-inclusive, universal statements.

In fact, there is no contradiction here at all. The contradiction lies in the erroneous interpretation of Calvinism, and the superimposing onto Scripture doctrines that are foreign to it.

 And what of Ezekiel 3:20?:

Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. (cf. 3:21-26; 18:24, 26; 33:18; 2 Pet 2:20-22)

The false Calvinist system forces folks to play all sorts of special pleading games with the Bible. I love Calvinists; they’re some of my favorite Christians; they have a lot of things going for them, but I can’t agree with these false, literally anti-biblical elements of their doctrines and teachings. In my older paper, I noted that the word “righteous” appeared 346 times in the prophets and writings alone. Then I observed:

But the Calvinist will find a few verses of hyperbole and typical Hebrew hyper-exaggerated contrast and conclude that the overwhelming consensus of the other instances must all be interpreted in light of the few: wrongly regarded as literal. They don’t even abide by one of their own supposedly important hermeneutical principles: interpret less clear biblical passages in light of more clear related cross-references.

Perhaps you think St. Paul is speaking hyperbolically? For my own part, I am going to take St. Paul’s descriptions and admonitions very seriously and literally.

I think I have shown the many considerations involved in interpreting these Pauline statements about the universality of sin and rebellion. They have to be qualified in a sensible manner, according to cross-referencing and Hebrew idiom.

The free gift of grace we receive is freely accepted by us. No one forces us to take it. 

And it is also freely rejected by those who don’t want God and His grace. Calvinists deny this by asserting that those who are saved are saved because of a grace that they can’t resist, whereas those who are unfortunate enough to not be among those whom God has chosen to save, cannot possibly freely choose to reject God, since they could not have done otherwise, in any event. If some are irresistibly chosen, apart from their will, then others are, by logical necessity, irresistibly lost, also apart from their will. But this is not what the Bible teaches (a small problem, perhaps, but one at least worth worth pondering, I submit).

He gives us the gift of replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh so that we will want toaccept His free gift of eternal salvation in Christ.

We agree with this, but we deny that it is impossible for either the damned or the saved to do otherwise.

Why doesn’t your concept of the love of God preclude anyone from going to Hell? 

Why doesn’t your concept of the love of a father for his son or daughter God preclude them from going astray and possibly forsaking the Christian faith? Obviously, they have free will, and can decide to spurn even a very good Christian upbringing. So it is also with God and is children (even the extent of hell existing, since it is the place where a man can remove himself from God forever). God can love us and at the same time allow us to reject Him without ceasing to love us. Just because He judges sinners and the reprobate doesn’t require a cessation of love. That simply doesn’t follow. When an earthly judge sentences a man to hanging, he doesn’t necessarily have to hate the man. Chances are he pities him, which is as much an aspect of love as anything else. Why should we think that God has less mercy and pity in Him than even a virtuous pagan does? This is one of the things we find so objectionable and incomprehensible about Calvinism.

In fact, why is there a Hell at all?

Because God gave men the free will to either accept Him and be saved entirely by His grace or to reject Him and suffer the eternal consequences. It was originally for the devil and his fallen angels, but it seems that many human beings would rather go there than follow God’s commands and accept His free offer of grace and salvation and be with Him forever.

If you answer “people choose to go to Hell,” that still does not answer why God will still be putting some people there.

Sure it does. Both things are simultaneously true. The damned have made their fatal choice. God simply calls a spade a spade and makes it irrevocable by his judgment. Their time to repent has run out, and so God judges them. And His judgment is just. But justice is not antithetical to love. They are not opposite characteristics. They are complementaries.

Is it a loving thing for God to do that He sends people to Hell?

It’s not a function of love, but of justice. But in a sense He loves men so much that He honors their free will even to the extent that they choose to deny Him. God allowed men to utterly reject Him in His Passion and Crucifixion: all the while asking the Father to forgive them in their ignorance. He kept loving them. What sense does it make to believe that God stops loving men who choose to reject Him and therefore end up in hell?

I’ve gotta think that most people in Hell really don’t want to be there and won’t think that God loves them and that’s why He put them there.

I think they do want to go there: at least at first. Even during this life we hear jokes about parties in hell, and all the fun and the best rock and roll and women, etc. being present there rather than in heaven. Sure, they are deceived, but they don’t want God, and hell is the utter absence of God and all that flows from Him. No doubt they will regret their choice of going there after not too long of a time (“time” used loosely). But will they think God “sent” them there because of a lack of love? They might (since a distorted self-image and notion of God ties into all this), but I think part of the “hell” (no pun intended) will be to realize for eternity that God did indeed offer them a free gift of salvation, and they refused to accept it.

They will be made aware of this (if they didn’t already know, down deep) at the judgment. Bitter regret is no fun at all. I’ve had some experiences of that sort and I would rather go through almost anything else. It’s extremely hard to take. And that will be part of the horrific experience of hell: “I never had to end up here at all, but I chose to reject every overture that God and Christians made, to urge and help me to change my evil ways.”

Your concept of the love of God must honestly address the concept of Hell.

I think I have.

Do you think God has an equal love for Hitler as He does for Saint Paul, for example? 

He does in the sense that He wanted the best for Hitler, just as for anyone and everyone else (the essence of love). Love is a matter of the will: wanting the best for another person. This is why we proclaim the gospel and desire to see men saved. Its certainly my motivation in devoting my life to Christian service by way of apologetics and evangelism. That’s not to say that no distinctions whatever can be made, as if I love some guy in the wilds of Mongolia as much as my daughter or something. No. God loves all men. What does the Bible say?:

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Compare the above two passages with the following three:

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48] You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luke 6:27 But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you

Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.

Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality. (cf. Gal 2:6)

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:3-5 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Ephesians 6:9 . . . there is no partiality with him. (cf. Col 3:25)

1 Timothy 2:3-6 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, . . .

1 John 4:8, 11 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (cf. 4:16)

Note how in the following passage (as in Rom 5:8 and Eph 2:3-5 above) God loved the sinners who did not love Him back or decide to follow Him and do His will (by tanalogy, many of those who would end up in hell):

Matthew 23:37-38 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! [38] Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.

God loves and is merciful, but He is also just. The two are not opposites. They exist side-by-side.

Why or why not? Was Paul just luckier than old Adolf? Did he make better decisions? Did Paul hate Jesus Christ less than Adolf did before Paul had his conversion experience? Why was Paul converted and Der Führer was not?

You had fun with your questions (I’ve already provided my answer and rationale, with Scripture), now let me try a few of my own:

Why did Jesus love the rebels of Jerusalem Who rejected Him? Why did He mention this desire and love with an analogy of a mother hen and her chicks, even in the midst of a jeremiad against Pharisaical hypocrisy? How does this square with the Calvinist notion that God loved and died for the elect only and not also the ones who are lost in the end? How can Asa do such good things (as the Bible clearly states) and yet die unrepentant as a leper? You tell me. I’d love to hear your replies (and any other Calvinist’s replies, who wants to give it a shot) to all my arguments.

No, we must let God speak to this matter of the nature of His love for His creation and understand that there are different degrees of love, just as He designed differing kinds and degrees of love for human beings. 

I have let God speak by citing His inspired word. I didn’t see you citing much of it in this regard (perhaps it is yet to come).

God wants me to love my wife as Christ loved the Church, right? He doesn’t want me to love my neighbour’s wife as Christ loved the Church, does He? Yet, I am to love her, am I not?

I agree that there is this sort of distinction. Familial and marital love will obviously be greater in the sense of affinity, affection, specific commitment, etc. Eros or romantic love is obviously appropriate only with one’s spouse. None of these truisms demonstrate that God doesn’t love all men or that He doesn’t want them to be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that He does. That is good enough for me. I see what God is like, especially, in observing Jesus and getting to know Him the longer I walk as His disciple.

Hitler has no power or ability to send his own spirit to Hell; Christ as judge must perform the actual act of sending him there, yes?

Sinners certainly do have the power to resist God’s grace (which means hell in the end). Scripture teaches this:

Mark 7:9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!

Acts 7:51-52 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,

Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel — [7] not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

1 Timothy 1:19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith,

Titus 1:14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.

Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled;

Jude 1:4 For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we say of the convicted criminal, “he is in jail because of the jury [or the judge]”? We could say that (it is true in terms of verdict and sentencing), but we are much more likely to say he is there because of the crime he committed. We place the blame and the cause back on him, not on the ones who were executing justice and protecting society. Likewise, by analogy, we can say that people choose to go to hell, and they are there through their own fault and choice. There is nothing inconsistent with saying that while at the same time asserting that there was such a thing as sentencing and legal justice, too.

Was it a loving act of God toward Hitler to send his spirit to Hell?

It was an act of a just God Who is also a loving God and does not cease to be so in exercising His just wrath and punishment and judgment, just as Jesus did not cease to be loving when He cleared the temple or excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It’s a false dichotomy. We reject the premise, that somehow the justice of God contradicts His lovingkindness. That is what this whole line of questioning is trying to imply: as if it is supposedly a dilemma for the non-Calvinist.

Before the foundation of the earth, God looked down the corridors of time and knew who would choose Him and who would not, according to your point of view, correct? So God knew that, for example, John Smith would choose Him but John Doe would not, though He loved them exactly the same?

Yes; God knowing everything and being outside of time.

Was it loving of God toward John Doe to create John Doe although He knew before the foundation of the earth that John Doe would not accept Him and would end up in Hell? If so, why?

Yes, because it is better to exist than never to have existed, and because God gave him a chance to be saved, had he so chosen. The lack of love is entailed by the Calvinist position, which requires God to create the damned from all eternity, knowing that He was predestining them to hell from all eternity and that no choice of theirs could possibly overcome that decision.

If God knew ahead of time that John Doe would be in Hell but created him anyway, how does God “respect his freedom” in John Doe’s decision to accept or reject Him?

This confuses foreknowledge and predestination. God can know what men will do and what they choose, without necessarily causing it. The example I always use is the sun coming up tomorrow. I “know” that it will happen. At the same time I didn’t cause that act to happen, just because I knew about it. Likewise, God can know that John Doe will reject Him, without causing that.

How does God’s decision to create a person who He knows will end up in Hell differ to any degree from the Reformed understanding that God determines who will be in Heaven and who will be in Hell?

Because Calvinism (having denied human free will to choose damnation or accept God’s free grace of salvation) makes the decision wholly God’s, whereas the biblical view makes it a decision of the person who has decided to reject God. He could have been saved; God offers all men sufficient grace to be saved. But they have free will and God chooses to not override that (so that we don’t become, in effect, robots). For the Calvinist, then, the ultimate cause of why a man ends up in hell, is God’s choice to send him there from all eternity. But for the non-Calvinist Christian, the ultimate cause is the man’s rejection of God’s free grace.

To put it another way, if God does not intervene in the life of John Doe that he might be saved, is He not then determining what will happen to John Doe? 

In the Calvinist system, this follows. But since we reject certain premises therein, it is not a difficulty for us.

Aren’t God’s knowing and His determining essentially the same thing since He has the power, as God, to intervene in the lives of people that they may be saved or not?

No. Foreknowledge is distinct from predestination. The latter necessarily involves direct cause whereas the former does not.

In what ways did God “respect” Saul’s freedom to choose Him or not?

Paul wasn’t forced at swordpoint to go into Damascus or consort with Ananias. He chose to, and that opened up the doors to regeneration (by baptism). He could have refused to cooperate. So by that reasoning his freedom of choice was still intact.

* * *

Christ died for His Church:

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Of course He did, because He died for all men:

John 4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 12:32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Acts 17:22-31 So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op’agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. [23] For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. [24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, [27] that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, [28] for `In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.’ [29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. [30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Romans 5:18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.

Romans 11:32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

Ephesians 3:8-9 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

Saying that Christ died for the Church (as Paul does in Ephesians) is not at all contradictory to saying that He died for all men, or for the world. But to maintain that He died only for the Church or only for the elect (Limited Atonement) does indeed contradict the passages above. Therefore, on the principles Scripture aids in interpreting itself through cross-referencing, and that inspired Scripture does not contradict itself, Limited Atonement is disproven from Holy Scripture. Another tradition of men has gone by the wayside . . .

* * *

I can’t imagine the mechanism by which we are able to send ourselves to hell after we die. You must know something I don’t.

You miss the point. We don’t send ourselves in the way that a judge passes sentence and a guy is carted off to jail against his will. We send ourselves in the sense of having made the choice to reject God, which in turn consigns us to hell by default, so to speak. We set the wheels in motion that lead to the end result of hellfire for eternity.

I don’t disagree with you that we are responsible for our behaviour and that our sins send us to hell. How you can remove God entirely from the equation, though, is a mystery to me.

The Catholic position (and indeed any non-Calvinist Christian position on these matters) does not require moving God out of the equation. God passes sentence and judges. But He judges based on how a person has behaved and whether the person accepted His free gift of salvation or not. That is the criterion. But the criteria in Scriptural accounts overwhelmingly emphasize the works that a person did or didn’t do. I collected 50 such passages. This strongly suggests that the person’s free will decisions led him or her to hell, in that terrible event that they are damned, not God’s choice from eternity, so that they were essentially created from the beginning to wind up in hell (a notion that is perfectly senseless and outrageous to me and always has been).

I have explained over and over again that no one attains heaven who does not want to be there. 

Nor does anyone attain hell who did not choose to go there and to reject God. They may very well be deluded about what it is like (a large part of the devil’s job is to foster that very illusion and self-deception). But it is their choice.

God draws, He inclines their wills toward Him, those whose wills are inclined to evil. We are not conceived and born in a “neutral” state. We are conceived and born in sin, that is, we have a sin nature from the start, prone toward transgressing God’s laws. Something has to happen for that to change. 

Exactly. I and Catholics agree 100% with this.

Only the non-elect will never come to Him in faith to receive His precious gift of salvation.

That’s right. The difference lies in why this is. In some senses it is a deep unexplainable mystery for every Christian position, as I stated at the top. But the non-Calvinist at least doesn’t fall into the serious error of implicating God and making Him the primary cause of a person going to hell, since (by the same premises) he could not have done otherwise because God didn’t ever give Him the grace to act in a different fashion had he chosen to do so.

I think I have exhausted this topic, at least for myself.

Not till you reply to all this! :-) I eagerly look forward to those replies. If you truly have a more compelling biblical case, then surely you will find it easy to shoot down everything I have offered. Be my guest! I don’t think you or any other Calvinist can do so. That’s how confident I am in the Catholic position. It can withstand everything thrown against it because it is ultra-biblical, thoroughly biblical, exhaustively biblical, and doesn’t ignore large portions of the Bible, as Calvinism is forced to do, being untrue, in terms of TULIP.


[more in comments]

For the Calvinist, then, the ultimate cause of why a man ends up in hell, is God’s choice to send him there from all eternity.

No. That is a caricature. It is man’s sin that causes him to go to hell. From the moment of conception we are all on our way to hell because of having inherited Adam’s sin nature. We, all of us, are separated from God and need to be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ alone. Unless God intervenes and saves us, we should all end up in hell. Even the elect, though their ultimate salvation is secure, are just as lost as the others until God does His salvific work in their hearts in time and history.

I would argue that all men are predestined to hell from the beginning–except those for whom God intervened and predestined to glory.

Think of two groups (types) of people: one group receives justice, the other group receives mercy. No group (or individual) receives injustice.

It still goes back to God, because if all men are to be damned, but for His grace (which we totally agree with), and He positively ordains the predestination of damned persons just as He positively ordains the predestination of the elect (double predestination), then He treated the damned unfairly and unjustly, since they were just as guilty of sin and rebellion as the elect.

This casts doubt on God’s justice, mercy, and love. Therefore, we must reject it. And indeed, the vast majority of Christians in history have done just that.

If in this life we have a court case scenario in which two persons were equally guilty and one gets sentenced to jail for life without parole and the other gets a paid vacation to an island paradise, there isn’t a soul in the world who would say that the sentence was grossly unjust, and indeed, as ridiculous as it was unjust.

Yet Calvinists want to view God in precisely this fashion. He chooses from two groups of people: both equally guilty and worthy of condemnation: picking out some to be saved and positively damning the others, from eternity.

Now, I freely admit that it is a deep mystery — ultimately — why some are saved and some aren’t, in any Christian system (it’s arguably the deepest mystery in Christianity), but in the Catholic system we don’t have God predestining people to hell, even before the fall (supralapsarianism, which, I argue, was Calvin’s position) or after (infralapsarianism).

In my Molinist Catholic position (fully permitted by the Church), I believe that God takes into consideration how a person will respond to His grace in all conceivable scenarios, by His Middle Knowledge. He still elects the saved, but it is not without this consideration, so that free will still plays a role, too, and is not wiped out, as in Calvinism.

Our wills became enslaved to sin and hence were no longer free. God removes the sinner’s heart of stone and gives him a heart of flesh that he will be inclined toward God freely of his own renewed will. This is what that doctrine teaches.

Note that some opponents of Reformed doctrine teach that Calvinists claim that our will has been “extinguished,” “snuffed out” or “destroyed.” We do not believe or teach that. That is a misrepresentation.

Also, it is rigourously believed by non-Reformed folks that we teach that God “forces” us against our wills into heaven. That is not what we teach or believe. God renews us through the grace of regeneration, which He is not obligated by Himself nor by anyone nor by anything else to extend to anyone at all (and yet does to His chosen ones, the elect, His Church) to the place where we want spiritually to belong to, to worship and adore, and to serve, Him.

Catholics accept the predestination of the elect. It’s a dogma; not optional. I object to the fate of the damned being predetermined from all eternity, so that they have no choice in the matter. How can they choose to be saved if God has decreed that they are damned, and if Jesus didn’t even die for them in the first place? They can’t.

If I as a father somehow had a way of knowing that a son of mine would be absolutely miserable his whole life and would (without question) go to hell for eternity, to be tormented forever, I would, out of love, decide not to participate in the procreation of such a child.

Yet this is the Calvinist God. I don’t see a God like that in the Bible, and the Bible is an inspired standard of truth: not the speculations of Calvin and his followers, where they go against received tradition.

All of this is the straightforward logical reduction of the Calvinist position. Calvinists themselves know that this is a very difficult position to defend (Calvin himself noted it), and no doubt it causes them distress, too, intellectually, but there is no way out of it. All five tenets of TULIP stand and fall together, and the logic cannot be avoided once those premises are adopted.


(originally 4-14-10)

Photo credit: Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license.


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