A comment about God's "passing over"…

A comment about God's "passing over"… August 17, 2010

Only occasionally will I take the time to respond in  a post to a specific respondant’s challenge, question or critique.  Normally I won’t be able to as the purpose of this blog is to share my theological musings and let others discuss them as they wish. 

However, a recent poster here claimed that an Arminian should not object to the Calvinist idea of God unconditionally passing over many people whom he could save.  The “passing over,” of course, refers to what is known as “reprobation”–a concept debated even among Reformed theologians.  It is what Calvin himself God’s God’s “horrible decree.”  (Some Calvinists claim the original Latin term is better translated “awesome,” but that would hardly fit the context in which Calvinis admitting this decree of reprobation is offensive to human minds.)

My point in objecting to the doctrine of reprobation is that it determines many people to spend eternity in hell when God could save them from hell because salvation (in the Calvinist scheme) is always absolutely unconditional.  (To be technically correct, election to salvation is unconditional, but to me that amounts to the same thing as salvation being unconditional.  Let’s not get into a debate about this.  Yes, in Calvinism actual salvation itself is conditional, but God provides all the conditions.  Election TO salvation is unconditional and it predetermines that the elect person’s conditions for salvation will be met by God himself–for example in regenerating the person before they exercise faith.)

I’m surprised that anyone fails to see the difference between God “passing over” people for eternal salvation (when he could save them) and God “passing over” certain groups or individuals for service.  Even though the Bible does not always tell us the conditions, Arminians assume that God saw some potential for conditions being met when he chose a person like Abraham (e.g., an implicit faith in the God whose identity he did not yet know) and passed over his relatives or tribal cohorts.

But the main point is these are entirely different “passings over.”  The Calvinist soteriology says God passes over people causing them to go to hell for eternal suffering when he could save them.  Arminians object to that as making God morally ambiguous if not morally monstrous.  We do not object to God choosing certain people and groups for service and passing over others.  This does not call into question God’s goodness as does the doctrine of reprobation.

Classical Arminians do not object to God’s sovereignty; it is a thoroughly biblical doctrine which Arminius upheld.  We object to God’s sovereignty being taken to the extreme of God predestining individuals to hell–even if that is (weakly) explained as their deserving it because he could predestine them to salvation as that predestination is unconditional.

This doctrine of double predestination, of course, raises a question a satisfying answer to which I have never heard: on what grounds or for what reason does God choose one person for salvation and pass over another person when, in Calvinism, that choice is absolutely unconditional?  It portrays God as arbitrary.  Between “conditional” and “unconditional” there is no middle ground.  Appeal to mystery simply won’t work here because there’s no conceivable reason why God would choose one person and reject another person once you have said election is absolutely unconditional.  It simply has to be arbitrary and some Calvinists have admitted it (e.g., Jonathan Edwards).  Why won’t most contemporary Calvinists admit it?  Yet, R. C. Sproul and most I have read reject arbitrariness and appeal to mystery.  They simply say that God has his reasons but has not chosen to reveal them to us.  That won’t work.  There can’t BE any reason once all conditions have been rejected.  It has to be “eenie, meenie, miney, mo.”

But I recognize and admit that few Calvinists believe that.  So I am charging them with inconsistency at this point and asking that IF they are going to accuse Arminianism of inconsistency they admit it in their own belief system.

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  • W B McCarty

    Dr. Olson: “[O]n what grounds or for what reason does God choose one person for salvation and pass over another person when, in Calvinism, that choice is absolutely unconditional?”

    For one who professes concern that the respective parties to this discussion correctly depict the arguments of their counterpart, I am surprised and disappointed that you phrase the question as you do. Contrary to your statement, Calvinists do not hold that election is “absolutely unconditional.” The Calvinistic doctrine is that God’s election is unconditional with respect to “foreseen faith or good works of man” but entirely conditional with respect to the “sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works” [L. Berkhof. Systematic Theology, 1941, p. 115).

    Moreover, the Arminian doctrine of conditional election entangles its adherents in no small difficulty: Why does God, who has foreknowledge of all things, create those humans whom he foresees will lead sinful lives, reject the Gospel, and suffer eternally in Hell? The Arminian problem in respect of the lost is greater than the Calvinistic problem. On the Calvinist’s view, the ones whom God creates, knowing they will be lost, are the non-elect who quite willingly choose sin and thereby serve God’s purpose in manifesting his justice. But, on the Arminian’s view, their suffering has no purpose whatsoever.

    To paraphrase an objection offered against Calvinism, if I were an Arminian, I’d have difficulty distinguishing such a needlessly cruel God from Satan.

    • Robert

      McCarty says:

      “For one who professes concern that the respective parties to this discussion correctly depict the arguments of their counterpart, I am surprised and disappointed that you phrase the question as you do. Contrary to your statement, Calvinists do not hold that election is “absolutely unconditional.””

      That is odd, then why do determinists themselves call their own doctrine UNCONDITIONAL election?

      “The Calvinistic doctrine is that God’s election is unconditional with respect to “foreseen faith or good works of man” but entirely conditional with respect to the “sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works” [L. Berkhof. Systematic Theology, 1941, p. 115).”

      Oh I see, with respect to man it is unconditional but with respect to God it is conditional, the condition being the “sovereign good pleasure of God.”

      I don’t buy that for a minute.

      In exhaustive determinism (which the soft determinist McCarty espouses), God conceives a total plan which encompasses every detail of history (he does this in eternity, determinists call this His sovereign decrees, the Westminster confession calls this “he ordains whatsoever comes to pass”): he then actualizes this total plan by ensuring its fulfillment using his sovereignty (history is the actualization of the total plan formed in eternity).

      What this means is that an individual’s election or reprobation is not arbitrary but is based solely on what total plan God decides to carry out.

      Say in total plan A, God decides that McCarty will be a believer. So as history is actualized according to total plan A, McCarty will become a believer. He is *****lucky***** that God chose total plan A, rather than another total plan. McCarty becoming a believer in total plan A has nothing to do with anything that McCarty does in his lifetime (it is just luck on his part, he is lucky that in this particular total plan God picked him to be a believer).

      But what if instead of total plan A, God picked another total plan, total plan B? In total plan B, McCarty gets unlucky. In this total plan he is picked by God to be a “reprobate”. God decides that McCarty will think that he is saved, think that he is a believer, but in fact he never will be. And McCarty will commit sins (all of which are also part of total plan B) that he will then find out on the final judgment day that he is going to hell for. In “total plan B” McCarty got unlucky. It just happens that in this total plan, God picks him to be a reprobate and go to hell and suffer eternally for doing the very things God decided beforehand that he would do.

      What this all means is that being saved or being reprobated is ***all a matter of luck***.

      It has nothing to do with merely being a sinner (because in all of these calvinistic total worlds people are predetermined to be sinners, God can save any sinner that he wants to, the fall is predetermined to occur, some people are chosen to be saved and all others are chosen to be reprobated, recall in calvinism God has to have the reprobates to manifest his attributes fully).
      It also means that the only basis for a person being saved or damned is WHAT PARTICULAR TOTAL PLAN that God decided to choose.

      If he picked a total plan where you are a believer, then you will be a believer: if he picked a total plan where you are an unbeliever, then you will be an unbeliever. Your individual destiny is based ****solely upon what total plan God chose****. And there are some total plans where you may not have even existed (which would be better than being unlucky and being picked to be a reprobate!).

      McCarty goes on to caricature the Arminian view yet again (something that he does repeatedly throughout Olson’s blog):

      “Why does God, who has foreknowledge of all things, create those humans whom he foresees will lead sinful lives, reject the Gospel, and suffer eternally in Hell?”

      Well let’s see if he only allows perfect sinless humans to exist, then none of us would make the cut.

      My bible says that committing one sin is like breaking the entire Jewish Law! My bible says that one sin is sufficient to condemn you to hell if you do not repent and turn to Christ for salvation. Speaking of foreseeing humans “he foresees will lead sinful lives”, that includes everybody except Jesus. So perhaps God should not have created Adam and Eve since he knew they would sin. Oh but God has a plan of salvation to cover their sins. Oh but I forgot that according to theological determinists that plan includes an atonement that is not intended to cover the sins of the world.

      Or let’s consider another option that McCarthy seems to be suggesting (i.e. God should not allow humans to live “whom he foresees will lead sinful lives, reject the Gospel, and suffer eternally in Hell”). Well in that case what about those of us whose parents or grandparents were not believers, should they have not been allowed to live (and thus we were never allowed to live as well since our ancestors did not live and procreate and so we never arrived on the scene). And this logic goes even further: what about Jesus coming in the flesh? If God prevented all humans whom he foreknew would be sinners from ever living how would Jesus have ever come in the flesh? Are you going to tell me that none of the people who were Jesus’ ancestors lines of descent ever sinned? That all of them were believers. (that everybody in both Mary and Joseph’s lines were all believers, all sinless persons, none of whom rejected God and ended up in hell).

      Or let’s make an exception for Jesus, what about all the apostles and prophets, were all of their descendants believers? I mean where are we going to draw the line as to who gets to live and who is not allowed to live? If the criterion is that God not allow sinners who end up in hell to ever live, seriously how many of us would be left?

      “The Arminian problem in respect of the lost is greater than the Calvinistic problem.”

      Not even close. In the Arminian view he gives people a chance and they have to keep rejecting Him for their entire lifetimes. God truly loved them but they rejected God and did so freely. In the determinist view, the reprobates never had a chance they were set up to fail, God hated them before they were ever born, set them up to go to hell, spiritual ENTRAPMENT by God Himself to ensure that they go to hell. Deterministic reprobation is the most evil thing that you can do to a person.

      “On the Calvinist’s view, the ones whom God creates, knowing they will be lost, are the non-elect who quite willingly choose sin and thereby serve God’s purpose in manifesting his justice.”

      Reprobates do not sin willingly, they do not freely choose their sin, because in the total plan their every sin was decided beforehand (in the total plan world they ****never have a choice*** their every action is decided beforehand they just play their pre-assigned role). They are just following the prewritten script, they have no choice, their every action is already decided beforehand.

      “But, on the Arminian’s view, their suffering has no purpose whatsoever. “

      No, on the Arminian view if someone rejects God for a lifetime their punishment is just and it is based upon what they freely chose to do.

      “To paraphrase an objection offered against Calvinism, if I were an Arminian, I’d have difficulty distinguishing such a needlessly cruel God from Satan.”

      In Arminianism God is not “needlessly cruel”. He gives the unbeliever chance after chance to be saved. For someone to end up in hell they had to have freely and willingly rejected God repeatedly and for a lifetime. The determinist should talk about “needless cruelty” since in their view, God decided and desired for every evil and sin to occur, it’s all part of the total plan. Just hope you get lucky and you get picked to be saved and not unlucky and picked to be damned, in this particular total plan!!!

      Speaking of “needless cruelty” in the “total world theology” of the determinist, does God really need to reprobate so many people to demonstrate his attributes? Now THAT is “needless cruelty”!

      Robert

      • W B McCarty

        Robert, you raise a large number of issues. Though it is easier to state a claim that defend or refute it, I had originally thought to answer them point-by-point in a series of replies. But, frankly, having read a more recent comment by you, I don’t find within me the patience to deal with the invective and personal smears you pepper throughout your comments, here and elsewhere. So, I will answer only your first challenge and then discontinue this conversation until one or both of us obtains a greater grace. In the meantime, perhaps another Calvinist–one with more patience than I–will do you the courtesy of responding to your claims.

        Robert: “That is odd, then why do determinists themselves call their own doctrine UNCONDITIONAL election?”

        Probably the best answer is that, if we really did mean “unconditional election” in the absolute sense (please bear in mind that, as I’ve explained, we don’t) and therefore used the longer term “_absolute_ unconditional election,” our system of doctrine might popularly be referred to as TALIP, which is not as picturesque a term as TULIP. 🙂

        More fundamentally, we use the more compact term “unconditional election” for the same reason Arminians use terms such as “free will” or “total depravity.” These are what are called “technical terms.” Technical terms are abbreviations of a sort. They derive their meaning from formal definitions and from context of use rather than from merely the words themselves.

        For instance, as Dr. Olson has explained, classical Arminians do not believe that the will is entirely free in the strict libertarian sense. Instead, they affirm that God may direct, but does not control, the decisions of humans. In their view, the human will, therefore, is not entirely free but subject to direction. Nevertheless, they commonly speak of “free will.”

        As another example, neither classical Arminians nor Calvinists believe that humans are as evil as they might be. Yet both speak of “total depravity.” The word “total” is understood as referring to the extent, not the intensity, of depravity. I have never heard anyone speak of “extensively total depravity,” though that is the proper sense in which the term “total depravity” is to be understood.

        Similarly, when Calvinists speak of “unconditional election,” they mean election that is conditioned solely upon God’s preferences, not in any degree conditioned upon the nature or action of man. I will grant that some popular treatments of Calvinism are not explicit on this point. But I find none that dispute it. And every one of the many Calvinist theologies that I own seems to me quite clear on this point. Moreover, the Canons of the Synod of Dort–which all acknowledge as the definitive source, at least in the historical sense, of Calvinistic doctrine–are equally clear.

        So, here’s the bottom line. If you insist on telling Calvinists what Calvinism teaches, you’re going to have to adduce a great deal more evidence than the fact that our doctrine is popularly styled “unconditional election” and that it follows from these two words that the Calvinistic system is incoherent. Frankly, I would be disappointed in an undergraduate student who offered such a facile argument. I should hope that Dr. Olson would feel the same.

        Peace and Blessings,

        • Robert

          McCarty wrote:

          “Similarly, when Calvinists speak of “unconditional election,” they mean election that is conditioned solely upon God’s preferences, not in any degree conditioned upon the nature or action of man.”

          Election then of both believers and “reprobates”/unbelievers is “solely upon God’s preferences.”

          I made this point and explained that it comes down to which total plan that God decided upon.

          If he decided upon a total plan in which you are a believer, then you are lucky and you will be a believer. If he decided upon a total plan in which you are an unbeliever/”reprobate”, then you are unlucky and you will be a “reprobate.” It has nothing to do with you, it only has to do with which particular total plan did God decide upon. In total plan A McCarty gets lucky and is saved: but in total plan B McCarty is unlucky and gets damned. It all depends upon which total plan God decides upon. From our perspective it is just a matter of luck that you get saved, God could just as easily have chosen a total plan where he delighted in damning you (held you as a spider above a fire with glee as one famous determinist put it). It does come down “solely upon God’s preferences”, specifically which total plan did he decide upon.

          McCarty also wrote:

          “you’re going to have to adduce a great deal more evidence than the fact that our doctrine is popularly styled “unconditional election” and that it follows from these two words that the Calvinistic system is incoherent.”

          My problem with the so-called “Calvinistic system” is NOT that it is incoherent.

          I understand it perfectly, which is why I reject it so strongly.

          It is all quite logical based upon its premises: the problem is these premises are false and unbiblical.
          My problem with unconditional election is not that it is incoherent. NO, I understand exactly what it logically entails. It makes perfect sense that God decides everybody’s eternal destiny before they ever existed, if God has a total plan that predecides every detail. This is easy to understand.

          It makes God into a person playing with humans like a child playing with toy soldiers setting them up arbitrarily totally at the discretion of the child playing a game. Or it is like one of those gigantic dominoe set ups involving thousands of dominoes (where the whole things is set up from the beginning to follow a fixed and preplanned path: Calvinists believe in a “domino world” but instead of dominoes it is people who are set up).

          People who get lucky in this game get saved, people who get unlucky in this game, get damned. It has nothing to do with us, everything to do with ****what particular total plan God decided upon****. Which domino set up did He decide upon. If he decided upon one in which you will be saved: then you got lucky. If he decided upon one in which you will not be saved: then you got unlucky. Now if this were just a child playing with toy soldiers it would not matter much. But the stakes are much, much higher. Instead we are talking about eternal destinies and real human beings. We are talking about a theological system that blatantly contradicts clear scriptures such as John 3:16 (actually not only contradicts but “reinterprets” them away from their intended meanings, eliminates them or reworks them to force them to fit the system) and reduces everything to “Domino World”.

          Robert

  • Al House

    Likewise, the supposed election of infants who die and people who are, by reason of mental capacity, not able to clearly understand the difference between right and wrong is conditional on its face. Similarly, the belief that the children of elect parents are more likely to be, or always are, elect is a condition plain and simple. I have asked Drs. Mohler & MacArthur about this in an email and have not received a reply. The Apostle Paul talks about being granted mercy because his sins against the body of Christ were committed in ignorance; again, plainly a condition.

    • W B McCarty

      Al, please bear in mind that, in Calvinism, election occurs before the foundation of the world. Thus, election is prior to contingencies such as death in infancy or mental incapacity. So, for instance, death in infancy, which occurs post-creation, cannot/does not cause election; that is, the election of those who die in infancy is not conditioned upon their death. It is at least possible that the reverse is true: that among the elect there may be some whom God allows to die in infancy. It is also at least possible that all whom God allows to die in infancy are elect. Similar argument can deal with mental infirmity and the children of the elect.

      With respect to 1 Tim. 1:13, Paul’s main point is that, as a persecutor of the Church, his salvation was undeserved. Paul’s mention of having acted ignorantly is intended as a contrast to the false teachers who are mentioned in vv. 3-11, who do not act in ignorance. Paul does not mean that his ignorance was an excuse or ground of favor with God. To hold otherwise would contradict the doctrine of total depravity, which classical Armianians claim to affirm.

  • What is wonderfully refreshing about Dr. Olson is that he takes the time and makes the effort to understand what Calvinists really believe. That is so commendable, and in my discussions with Arminians I have found it unfortunately rare.

    A quick point or two in response to the part about unconditional election and arbitrariness. As I understand it, the “unconditional” part of election refers to the fact that there are no conditions in us that warrant our election unto salvation. But God has His own reasons for His choice. He elects – and passes over – based on what will bring Him the greatest glory. I don’t understand all (or even most) of His reasons, but I trust Him to make those choices.

    I used to believe particular and unconditional election was inherently unjust. But in light of the fact that all of us are hell-deserving sinners, I now view it as God’s pure mercy that He saves even one lost human being. Every one of us has turned from Him, and every one of us deserves to bear the eternal ramifications of Eden’s curse. Yet, amazingly, He saves some to the praise of the glory of His grace.

    • @But God has His own reasons for His choice. He elects – and passes over – based on what will bring Him the greatest glory.

      It seems that would actually be election conditioned upon man, since God would be electing person X over person Y because X will bring God the most glory if saved while Y won’t, making salvation contingent upon some ‘glorification factor.’

      • J.C.,

        No, I’m not saying election is conditioned upon anything in man. Rather, the “glorification factor” is conditioned solely on God’s choice to do what only God can do in, for, to, and through the person He saves. This includes everything from conception and birth to the pre-conversion and post-conversion events in a person’s life. Each one of us exists under the unique circumstances which God Himself has ordained. For example, His providence has brought me to a certain city in Florida. Somehow my saved soul living in this particular city, within my particular life situation, brings Him greater glory than my unsaved soul living in this particular city, within my particular life situation, would bring Him. My life situation is as dependent on His sovereign will as my salvation is. He chose my parents, my time of birth, etc. He sovereignly ordains whatever circumstances result in the greatest glory to Him, from start to finish, and we are not consulted. So we can do nothing to influence this “glorification factor” for better or worse. We can’t even understand it, since it is in the hidden counsels of God. However, as saved individuals, in the coming ages we will glory in all that He has done.

        All things were created for His glory. I still marvel that He saved me, because I can see no greater glory going to Him for saving me than He might have for saving another sinner and letting me perish. But that was a choice made in His wisdom, not mine, and I can only praise Him for it.

        Again – I am elected, not because I met the conditions, but because God unconditionally ordained the conditions that would bring Him the most glory. He didn’t foresee that I would believe. He elected me, and in doing so ordained that I would come to faith.

        Blessings,
        Derek

      • Correction: He didn’t foresee that I would believe, and therefore elect me. He elected me, and in doing so ordained that I would come to faith.

        Of course He foresaw my faith, but as an effect – and not as a cause – of election.

        • Derek,

          @So we can do nothing to influence this “glorification factor” for better or worse.

          I wasn’t talking about free will.

          @Again – I am elected, not because I met the conditions, but because God unconditionally ordained the conditions that would bring Him the most glory.

          But again, if His saving you rather than someone else was to achieve His greatest glory, then you’re conceding that He saved you rather than the other person because doing so brings Him the most glory in that scenario. Therefore whatever factor that glorifies God through saving you must be greater than that which the other person possesses.

          • J.C.,

            No, in my view we possess nothing but blame and condemnation. God possesses everything good and shares it with whom He pleases, as He pleases, to the praise of His glorious grace. And in the coming ages we will stand in awe of His wisdom, even in passing over those He passed over.

            I know you disagree and I know why. But we agree on lots of things, too – and thanks be to God for that.

            Blessings,
            Derek

    • Jim G.

      Hi Derek,

      I appreciate your response, but I see a difficulty with your reasoning to accept unconditional election based on the fact we are sinners. While it is true we are sinners (I certainly won’t debate that! :0) ), that should not matter in unconditional election. Humanity was created “very good.” Humanity did not become sinful until the fall, thus human sinfulness has a fixed beginning point in time. To say that unconditional election is merciful based on the premise that “we all deserve hell” is anachronous. “When” (I put this in quotes because I can’t think of a better way to say it) God chose, no one deserved hell. Mankind had not yet fallen.

      Furthermore, and this is speculation on my part, since I am not intimately familiar with the original source writings on this subject and I freely admit that, it would seem to me that the functional election to reprobation (I know classical Calvinism shies away from double predestination, thus my use of the word “functional.” If there are only two end-game possibilities–salvation and reprobation–and election is to salvation, it is obvious that the “passing over” amounts to an election to reprobation whether the actual work of election occurs in reprobation or not–thus “functional.” ) is conditional upon the future fall of humanity. Otherwise, why would reprobation exist? I think to think other than conditionally on this point raises serious issues in both theology proper and anthropology.

      I’m not sure we can have our cake and eat it too. I have no doubts God foreknew Adam’s choice at the Tree of Knowledge. But at the point in eternity (I’m uncomfortable with my own language, but again, I don’t know how to express it) when God chose the elect, there was no such thing as sinful humanity, otherwise Adam and Eve would not have been “very good.” If we look at “what we deserve,” we are speaking of something occurring in space-time, not in eternity. Further, if we say reprobation (at least as far as God’s “passing over” some in eternity past) is “what we deserve,” we may have to admit at least the possibility of conditional functional reprobation. I hope this makes sense.

      Jim G.

      • Jim,

        I appreciate the cautious tone of what you wrote. The trouble with trying to reason chronologically about eternal decrees is we are forced to speak in time-constrained terms about matters that are not temporal, but eternal, in nature. We are reaching beyond revelation into the deep recesses of God’s unrevealed reasoning. But I will try to give a semblance of an answer to your questions based on what has been revealed. The decree of election took place in eternity, and was made with a full knowledge of the fall, which God foresaw (otherwise, how could He elect anyone to salvation?). As I understand it, election is only a positive decree, and not a negative one. One might leap to the apparently logical conclusion that God’s non-election of certain persons is the same as intentionally damning them to hell. But can one say that by willing good God was also willing evil? Can one say that by willing salvation God was also willing damnation? It’s dangerous to combine these ideas with an equal ultimacy, as this ends up accusing God of injustice on the very points where He is revealing His justice, and of evil on the very points where His mercy shines brightest. Let’s say I see two men who are guilty of murder and are about to be executed. My son decides to jump in at the last second and intercept the bullet, and I agree to the plan. The man who should have been executed falls down in a heap at my feet and thanks me profusely for saving his life. But the other murderer is successfully executed. Am I to blame for the death of the man I didn’t choose to save? By not electing some people to salvation, God was simply consigning them to the pure justice due to their own choices. Surely He cannot be accused of evil for exercising justice, and He cannot be called unfair for showing mercy.

        By your reasoning, could God make any decree at all about people and events that did not yet exist? Can’t He decree an event based on His foreknowledge of the events leading up to it?

        Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “conditional functional reprobation.” Can you elaborate?

        Blessings,
        Derek

    • Aaron

      Why wouldn’t he save all then? Because he is all good isn’t he? And he is perfect love right? And he is powerful enough to do it right? And the price Jesus paid was sufficient correct? So why wouldn’t he save all?

      • You’ll have to ask Him. Neither Calvinists, nor Arminians, nor the Bible itself, propose a situation where all are saved. I’d like to know the answer to these questions, too, but I’m not gifted with knowing the mind of God so intimately.

        • Aaron

          I agree that we are not all saved – I’m just saying that it seems to me the only way to be able to say that God is all good, all powerful, perfect love and Just than how could we say that this God then would pass over people. Not even give them a chance to come to him? Simply leave them in their damned state where really have no choice but to sin? Where is the love in that? How is that Justice if we are all just as sinful as the people God presumably passes by? Does God show favoritism? This calvinistic view betrays any sense of Love that I can understand.

          • Aaron,

            I responded to your questions, but it looks like it ended up way down at the bottom. Please scroll down.

            Thanks,
            Derek

  • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll look into it. Right now I’m not sure I want any commentators (who I call responders or respondants) automatically approved. But I will consider it.

  • Aaron

    WB Mcarty says:

    “On the Calvinist’s view, the ones whom God creates, knowing they will be lost, are the non-elect who quite willingly choose sin and thereby serve God’s purpose in manifesting his justice. But, on the Arminian’s view, their suffering has no purpose whatsoever.
    To paraphrase an objection offered against Calvinism, if I were an Arminian, I’d have difficulty distinguishing such a needlessly cruel God from Satan.”

    Give me a break this is not true at all! Arminians believe in Gods foreknowledge and can use people he knows will reject his offer of free grace for his purposes. But for someone to be justly condemned they must have a real choice! In refomed theology they can not but choose against him and God never lifts a finger to help them even have a choice. That is much scarier!

    • W B McCarty

      I grant that just condemnation requires moral responsibility. But, is moral responsibility the same as “real choice?” If you think that it is, I’d be curious to see how you support your view from Scripture.

      As to God never lifting a finger to help the reprobate, I have these objections:
      1. God is not morally obligated to extend mercy. The wonder is that he extends mercy to any, not that he does not extend mercy to all.
      2. In his common (that is, non-saving) mercy God provides rain, in many forms, to the unjust as well as the just. At the judgment no one will have grounds to complain that God acts unjustly in condemning the reprobate.

      Most pertinently, I affirm that the reprobate cannot come to God. But their failure is not due to a defect in God. It is due to their rebellion against God. In asserting the contrary, you implicitly blame God for the sin and the just condemnation of the reprobate. That calls to mind Adam’s attempt to shift blame, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Do you now see my point?

      • Aaron

        I do see your point but really – Who cares if I get a little comfort here on earth (rain falling) if I am going to spend an eternity burning in hell? It is like fattening the cow for slaughter – how is that mercy? How can that be called Love – Now I grant that God is not obligated in the least to save anyone, but he is all loving and all good and powerful enough – Why wouldn’t he? The only way forward that maintains any sense of Love and justice is that God Gives all people the possibility of coming to him. The arminian view of prevenient Grace.

        • W B McCarty

          Aaron: ” Who cares if I get a little comfort here on earth (rain falling) if I am going to spend an eternity burning in hell?”

          Yes, exactly! You’re thinking as one of God’s sheep. 🙂

          But a reprobate, by definition and owing to corruption of nature, _does_ prefer a life of sin and an eternity of Hell over trust in God. Of course, God is not _ultimately_ merciful toward those who express final unbelief. They are condemned to Hell. But, please don’t characterize the lifetime of blessing that God extends to the reprobate as lacking in mercy. With respect to their eternal destiny, they are given what they want. And with respect to their time on earth, they are given much more than they deserve. That is truly merciful and consistent with the character of a loving God.

          Aaron: “The only way forward that maintains any sense of Love and justice is that God Gives all people the possibility of coming to him.”

          I don’t see how the offer of a mere possibility can accomplish all that you claim. Please consider, does everyone receive an equal possibility, including those who never hear the Gospel? If not, is the smaller possibility given by God to some really adequate?

          And, if everyone _does_ receive an equal possibility (which I find difficult to affirm based on either observation or Scripture), how do we account for the fact that the possibility is actualized for some but not others? Doesn’t acceptance always entail, at the least, superior judgment or some equivalent virtue on the part of the recipient?

          Provision of a possibility of salvation seems to me, at best, to partially displace the responsibility without really solving the problem.

      • Robert

        McCarty wrote:

        “Most pertinently, I affirm that the reprobate cannot come to God. But their failure is not due to a defect in God. It is due to their rebellion against God. In asserting the contrary, you implicitly blame God for the sin and the just condemnation of the reprobate.”

        Here is a classic illustration of the determinist semantic con game in action. McCarty attributes the failure of the “reprobates” to come to God in faith to “their rebellion against God”. He simultaneously tells you that their condemnation is “just” (“the just condemnation of the reprobate”). Third, he seems bothered that someone else attributed the sin of the reprobate to God (“you implicitly blame God for their sin”).

        Now let’s bring out INTO THE OPEN, let’s shout if from the house tops, the dirty little secret of exhaustive determinism, of Calvinistic soft determinism. Let’s read the fine print before we buy this defective merchandise and get conned by the salesman.

        If God predecides EVERYTHING, if God predecides ALL, and ALL means ALL events: then that means that God not only predecides everybody’s eternal fate before they ever exist (some get lucky and get saved and some get unlucky and get damned) he also predecides every desire, thought, action, of every single person including the unlucky reprobates.

        That means that that when McCarty refers to the reprobates and refers to “their rebellion against God”: THAT REBELLION AGAINST GOD IS ALSO SOMETHING GOD DECIDED THEY WOULD ENGAGE IN BEFORE THEY EVER EXISTED!!!!!!!

        Get the picture?

        God first decides that say “Joe” will be a reprobate. God also decides every detail of “Joe’s” life including his thoughts, desires, actions that he will do. That means that God decides that “Joe” will REBEL AGAINST GOD. That means that every thought, desire, or action that “Joe” engages in related to his rebellion against God, is a thought, desire or action that God decided beforehand that “Joe” would have!

        The dirty little secret is that God creates people, having predecided their every thought, desires or action, so when they rebel against God in their thoughts, desires, or actions, they are doing exactly what God WANTS THEM TO DO.

        According to the determinist then, everything is predetermined, predecided by God (*****including***** the rebellion of the reprobates!).

        And God then condemns these reprobates for doing and being precisely the people that God wanted them to be, that God created them to be. And that is “justice”? That is “mercy”? That is “love”? No, it is pure hatred. It is the most hateful thing that you could do to a person as one honest determinist puts it.

        We have to get behind the rhetorical ploys of determinists (e.g. the reprobate is justly condemned for his rebellion against God) to the real truth: that very rebellion is what God forces them to engage in. They cannot help it and God wanted them to engage in that rebellion and sin. He wanted them to do everything they do and he makes sure they do exactly what he preplanned for them to do.

        Compare it with a character in a novel, having the thoughts, desires, and actions that the novelist decided they would have (the character cannot do otherwise than what the novelist conceived and decided he/she would do in this particular story). The character cannot decide in the middle of the novel to have different thoughts or desires or act differently than the novelist decided they would do. No, the character has to do everything according to the novelist’s plan. Likewise whatever we are, whatever we do, whatever thought, desire or action that we engage in, all of them were preplanned by God according to determinists/calvinists.

        So according to the theological determinist like McCarty, God decided beforehand that most of the human race would be reprobates. God also decided beforehand what every thought, desire, and action of these unlucky folks would be. And not only did God decide all of this beforehand, he is using history to actualize every one of these preplanned details.

        It sounds quite just and biblical to speak of reprobates being condemned for their rebellion against God: until you pull back the curtain that the Wizard of Calvinism is hiding behind. Then instead of a harmless old man, you’ve got a person that delights in pre-deciding and ensuring every sin and evil that humans commit. A person who talks about how much he loves the world (cf. John 3:16) and yet look behind the curtain, look at the reality behind the façade. A hateful person who delights in condemning most of the human race before they ever exist and then forcing them all to play their pre-assigned roles.

        Robert

        • W B McCarty

          Robert: “Here is a classic illustration of the determinist semantic con game in action.”

          Robert: “. . . the dirty little secret of exhaustive determinism, of Calvinistic soft determinism. ”

          Robert: “Let’s read the fine print before we buy this defective merchandise and get conned by the salesman.”

          Robert: Etc.

          It’s apparent that you are unable to converse about these subjects without engaging in invective and personal attack. That being the case, I find no reason to continue to participate in dialog with you.

          Peace,

  • Aaron,

    I understand your point well because I have argued the same point myself. I’ll delineate two important changes in my thinking that led me toward Calvinism.

    1. God does not leave us with no choice. When He does not save us, He allows us to choose and have exactly what we want. It is what we chose in Adam. Unless and until He works in us, we do not want Him at all. We’re not seeking Him, but running away and/or fighting Him. When He effectually calls us, He gives us a new desire which leads us to turn to Him. From the human side, this choice is as free as the choice of which toothpaste to use or which pair of socks to wear. From the divine side, it’s ordained and brought about by God. That’s the paradox of compatibilism.

    2. When God leaves us in our sin, He is exercising justice. Pure, perfect, praiseworthy justice. We are that bad, and we deserve to perish. When God saves us, He is demonstrating mercy (but a mercy rooted in the justice of Christ suffering as our substitute). This is why as a Calvinist I am so grateful for His mercy AND His justice. I was not His favorite, but a hell-deserving and hell-desiring sinner. There was nothing in me that made me worth saving. But there was something in God that moved Him to save me: sovereign mercy, exercised in perfect wisdom. God is not obligated to show this saving mercy to everyone. Neither love nor justice obligates Him to do this. If He saved one person, that would be amazing mercy. But He does much more – He saves a great multitude! I’ll never call that unjust or unloving in any sense. It is underserved love for the saved, and He also exercises providential care for the reprobate, which is a further expression of mercy.

    I’ve concluded that the Reformed approach, in Biblical balance, answers the most questions and agrees with the most Scripture. I understand why it might not look this way to you. I’ve been there.

    Blessings,
    Derek

    • Aaron

      Derek the way you put it certainly makes calvinism easier to swallow. The only problem is that its not as simple as God just giving sinners what they want. In Calvinism he controls every molecule, the people are sinners because God wants them that way & they have no choice to be otherwise for his own glory. Compatibilism or not, God has determined that they will Go to hell and has no saving love for them. Its like creating a person with blonde hair and then punishing them for having blonde hair, they can’t help it. How is that perfect Justice? I just can’t believe this due to the statements found in scripture about God that I made above.

      • Aaron,

        I understand the difficulty you have with this. Day to day I go back and forth trying to get my mind wrapped around it, and I never get all my questions answered. But ultimately I ask myself: does what I described above match the way God presents Himself in Scripture? If it does, then we have to deal with it the best way we can, and I find the best way is to propose an overarching paradox or mystery in His ways (Scripture seems to emphasize this in a few places). I see Scripture affirming what seem to be incompatible propositions, and if He doesn’t reveal a solution I choose to leave the resolution with Him (while still trying to work through the problems and move toward a better understanding). This process never provides all the answers I want, but it is always fruitful and always humbling. I try to be as Biblical as possible, and as coherent as possible – but in the end my brain just can’t quite get all the pieces together and I am forced to leave the solution with God.

        I’ve found I can force the logic into an artificial sort of coherence, but that inevitably ends up with a denial of some essential aspect of God’s self-revelation. God wants us to be overwhelmed and humbled by how vastly great and mysterious He is. His ways are too infinite and incomprehensible for us to contain. But we can understand at least the basic outline.

        The best attempt I’ve seen at a resolution of the sovereignty/choice dilemma is Jonathan Edwards’ work. But as Dr. Olson has pointed out, Edwards may have gone a little too far in certain respects. There’s just too much greatness in God for even the most brilliant human minds to fully comprehend.

        So, ultimately, I propose we view God exactly as He reveals Himself in Scripture – even if that leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. Secondarily, I propose we try to work through the questions with the minds God has given us, but at the same time copiously guard ourselves from over rationalizing or prying into the unrevealed mysteries.

        Blessings,
        Derek

        • Aaron

          Once again Derek I really appreciate your thoughtful and understanding responses. That is not the tone I get from many calvinists I run into. Which I think is truly my rub with Calvinists in general. I too see the paradoxes and mysteries both in Calvinism and in Arminianism. But its like so many calvinists talk like it is just so obvious from scripture and that their theology is so clear, consistant, and obvious that people like me must be ignorant, or rebelliously heretical. To be honest for me the only reason I would become a calvinist is out of fear. I long sometimes to be in the calvinist camp sometimes as an arminian I am made to be a second class christian – or as a calvinist famously quoted “they are christians, but just barely.” But the God I see in scripture lines up more with Arminianism. It may just be that I emphasize certain verses that calvinists don’t and vice versa. But thank you again for your honesty about the paradox and mystery that you know even in Calvinism.

          • Aaron,

            I’ve enjoyed conversing with you, and I apologize that some of my Calvinistic brethren have treated you ungraciously. The issues we disagree on are deep issues that all of us feel very strongly about. We can easily turn harsh in these discussions, and it’s always unfruitful when we do. This reminds us that we all alike need a Savior.

            If your honest and sincere study of Scripture leads you to Arminianism, you should stand firm in it – at least until you’re truly convinced otherwise. I’d rather fellowship with a kind, humble Arminian brother than an arrogant Calvinist who thinks he has all the answers! But I’ve mostly had great experiences with both over the years.

            Thanks again for conversing graciously.

            Grace & peace,
            Derek

      • Aaron,

        Reading over what I wrote, I guess I didn’t really answer your question.

        The conventional Calvinistic answer is along this line: the same problem is faced by Arminianism. If God has complete foreknowledge and creates people He knows will never choose to be saved, can even Arminians say He is loving (by their own standard)? He knew these folks would never choose Him and He created them anyway, knowing they would choose to go to hell. Why not create only the people He knows will choose to be saved?

        So in light of divine foreknowledge we’re left with these choices: a free will that is strong enough to nullify grace, or a grace that is strong enough to change our stubborn wills. It’s a hard decision, but in the final analysis I go with the effectual grace (making me a Calvinist). Believe me, I avoided this conclusion as long as I could!

        Blessings,
        Derek

      • Robert

        Hello Aaron,

        From your comments you clearly understand some of the problems with theological determinism/calvinism.

        “Derek the way you put it certainly makes calvinism easier to swallow.”

        I have a friend that whenever he hears or reads a calvinist trying to make things seem better, calls it “softening” language. It is like euphemisms where we say things in a nicer way so that the truth we are declaring is easier to take. Like the children’s medicines with the flavors kids like to make the medicine go down easier: it **is** nevertheless medicine.

        “ The only problem is that its not as simple as God just giving sinners what they want.”

        Right because, if all is predetermined then the “wants” or “desires” that sinners want is only and always the desires that God wanted them to have: and makes sure that they have.

        “In Calvinism he controls every molecule,”

        In consistent theological determinism/calvinism, Yes. Fortunately not all determinists are consistent with their determinism.

        “ the people are sinners because God wants them that way & they have no choice to be otherwise for his own glory.”

        Exactly.

        That is a major problem with exhaustive determinism: it means that God who reveals himself to be holy and hates sin and evil, in reality decided beforehand that every evil and sin would occur according to his total plan and that most of the human race would be created to be hell bound sinners.

        “Compatibilism or not, God has determined that they will Go to hell and has no saving love for them.”

        Yes.

        Actually it is even worse.

        I listened to a calvinist/determinist who holds John Calvin’s views very consistently and he openly acknowledges that what God does to unbelievers (what they call “reprobates”), if exhaustive determinism is true: is the ******most hateful thing***** that you could do to a person (Aaron if you would like to see some quotes where he says this I will provide them here if you ask). It is not just that God “has no saving love for them”: it is that God hates reprobates from eternity, throughout their lives on earth and then through eternity when he punishes them for doing and being exactly what they do and are. Which brings up your next line:

        “It’s like creating a person with blonde hair and then punishing them for having blonde hair, they can’t help it. How is that perfect Justice?”

        Exactly. God in exhaustive determinism punishes the “reprobates” for being exactly what God Himself planned for and created them to be. As a blonde person myself your analogy makes the point very well. And in exhaustive determinism it is as if God decides beforehand to create two and only two types of persons (blondes and brunettes). He then plans for all brunettes to be saved and all blondes to be damned. Why are all the blonds damned? Because they were unlucky and God decided beforehand to create them to be blondes and then punish them eternally for being blondes.

        “I just can’t believe this due to the statements found in scripture about God that I made above.”

        It is **not** due to statements found in scripture.

        Which is why for the first four hundred years of church history no one held to calvinism or held Calvinistic beliefs. Augustine invented some Calvinistic beliefs which then got injected into the church blood stream. The Reformers later came along and systematized these beliefs into the system of calvinism that we see today. The vast majority of Christians throughout all church traditions (including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Independents), in the past as well as today, have all rejected calvinism. The bible has some clear passages that completely contradict the Calvinistic system (e.g. John 3:16 “for God so loved the WORLD . . . [not just the preselected elect who got lucky to be brunettes, :-)]).

        Robert

    • Robert

      Hello Aaron,

      Aaron you need to carefully evaluate what Derek says, look behind the façade to the real truth behind the mask. Determinists use certain language attempting to evade the real truths of their false system of theology. Most are neither forthright nor honest about what their beliefs entail. If they were, most Christians would quickly disregard these false ideas. So the bad medicine is given a nice taste to mask it, make it go down easier.

      Derek wrote:

      “1. God does not leave us with no choice. When He does not save us, He allows us to choose and have exactly what we want. It is what we chose in Adam. Unless and until He works in us, we do not want Him at all. We’re not seeking Him, but running away and/or fighting Him. When He effectually calls us, He gives us a new desire which leads us to turn to Him. From the human side, this choice is as free as the choice of which toothpaste to use or which pair of socks to wear. From the divine side, it’s ordained and brought about by God. That’s the paradox of compatibilism.”

      Start with the first line. If God has a total plan which predecides every detail of history, then IN FACT God leaves us no choices at all!

      In fact He alone has choices, He makes all the choices beforehand, and then we come along and just carry out the choices he has already made (e.g. if he has already decided that you would be a hell bound sinner, then when you come upon the stage of this play, that is precisely what you will be, a hell bound sinner, and make no mistake God chose that for you and it is impossible for it to be otherwise). In determinism we have no choices as God has already made them all.

      Note Derek’s next line: doesn’t it at first glance sound as if God permits or allows you to freely choose? But again that is not the reality. Derek speaks of the nonbeliever “He allows us to choose and have exactly what we want.”
      Aaron you need to ask: and if everything is predecided by God and is part of his total plan, then doesn’t that include all of my desires? So all of my desires to sin, and every particular sin that I commit is something that God predecided that I should desire and then commit. Remember that for the exhaustive determinism, every detail is ordained, preplanned, predecided by God, with no exceptions.

      Derek continues: “We’re not seeking Him, but running away and/or fighting Him.” And if we are not seeking Him and running away and fighting him, WHO predecided as part of the total plan that we would be not seeking Him and running away and fighting him? He did. He desired for it to happen, planned for it to happen and then controls things in such a way to ensure that it happens.

      Derek went on: “From the human side, this choice is as free as the choice of which toothpaste to use or which pair of socks to wear. From the divine side, it’s ordained and brought about by God. That’s the paradox of compatibilism.”
      Free as the choice of which toothpaste to use or which pair of socks to wear?
      Hmm, if everything is predecided by God, then doesn’t that also include what toothpaste that we use and which pair of socks we wear? This is where the determinists are both dishonest and not forthright: if God decided beforehand, ordained, whatever term you prefer, that I wear red socks today, then do I really have a choice about what socks I will wear today? Ask the determinist: if God predecides that X will occur, will it occur? If they are consistent they have to answer “Yes”. Then the follow up question becomes : did God pre-decide EVERYTHING that will occur? If they are consistent they have to answer “Yes” to this as well. But if they are consistent then that will include what toothpaste you “choose” and what socks you wear.

      Notice he says from the human side versus from the divine side. Actually there are not two different sides. From the human side if Derek’s determinism is true then we never have any choices (God already chose what we would choose), the idea that we have choices is false and illusion. From the divine side, we choose what God has already decided we would choose. And it is no “paradox”, rather we never have a choice as God has already made all of our choices already.

      “2. When God leaves us in our sin, He is exercising justice. Pure, perfect, praiseworthy justice. We are that bad, and we deserve to perish.”

      Hmm, watch the sleight of words trick here Aaron. “God leaves us in our sin”? No, God decided beforehand every sin that we would commit and then makes sure they happen. “We are that bad”? And Aaron who decided beforehand every detail about us? Who decided our every thought, desire, action, and then ensured they would occur as history? Who created us to be bad or good or whatever? Who made all of these decisions beforehand and then actualizes them all as history?

      “We deserve to perish”?

      Notice God chooses who will be an unbeliever before they exist, he then causes them to commit all of their sins, He then judges them as worthy of hell at the final judgment FOR BEING AND DOING EXACTLY WHAT HE PREPLANNED AND PREDECIDED THEY WOULD BE AND DO!!!

      “When God saves us, He is demonstrating mercy (but a mercy rooted in the justice of Christ suffering as our substitute). This is why as a Calvinist I am so grateful for His mercy AND His justice.”

      It is easy to speak of God’s mercy if you were lucky and He picked a total plan in which you will be saved. But what about the majority who were picked to be damned? Where is God’s mercy for them? In calvinism it is not there, instead God has only hatred for them (unless you call damning someone without a chance and ensuring their damnation “love”).

      “ I was not His favorite, but a hell-deserving and hell-desiring sinner. There was nothing in me that made me worth saving.”

      There is nothing in sinners that merits salvation that is true. But again who made sinners to be sinners? Who made unbelievers into unbelievers?

      “But there was something in God that moved Him to save me: sovereign mercy, exercised in perfect wisdom. God is not obligated to show this saving mercy to everyone.”

      That is not quite accurate.

      Say that Derek is saved and say that this actual world in which Derek is saved is called total plan A. God saved Derek not because of “something in God that moved Him to save me” but because in total plan A Derek was picked to be saved. But what if in another total plan, say total plan B, God instead chose Derek to be damned? And say that instead of total plan A, God chose total plan B. What would Derek’s fate be then? He would be a hell bound sinner with no chance to be saved, a person that God desired to damn from the beginning. So whether Derek is saved or not has nothing to do with “something in God that moved Him to save me” and in reality has only to do with WHICH TOTAL PLAN DID GOD CHOOSE? If it is a total plan in which Derek gets saved, then Derek gets saved. If it is a total plan in which Derek gets damned , then Derek gets damned. It is pure luck whether you get saved or damned in this deterministic system.

      That phrase “there was something in God that moved Him to save me” is also particularly troublesome. Assume that Derek is right, that there **was** something in Derek that moved God to save Derek. What is it in God that moved him to save Derek and damn others? Was Derek more spiritual then them? A nicer guy? More worthy of salvation than others? Did he do more good things and so that moved God to save him?

      Precisely **what in God** moved him to save Derek?

      “Neither love nor justice obligates Him to do this. If He saved one person, that would be amazing mercy. But He does much more – He saves a great multitude!”

      This sounds nice until you consider what is left out here. What is left out is that in determinism God can save everyone, but instead of doing so, he intentionally damns most of the human race before they are ever born. Again, if you were unfortunate enough to be chosen to be a reprobate/unbeliever, then there is no mercy for you only an eternal hatred from a God who hated you from eternity and takes pleasure in ensuring that his plan of damnation for you is fulfilled.

      “I’ll never call that unjust or unloving in any sense. It is underserved love for the saved, and He also exercises providential care for the reprobate, which is a further expression of mercy.”

      Now there is a truly amazing statement! God exercises providential care for the reprobate! Oh I see, he may on occasion prevent them from being in a car accident or losing their job, ALL THE WHILE, carrying our his plan to damn them and punish them eternally. Wow that is comforting! A few years in which God occasionally is good to them, with an ETERNITY OF PUNISHMENT still coming for them. An eternity of punishment that God decided beforehand they would experience and guarantees will occur to them.

      Aaron, I have a question for you: assuming that this exhaustive determinism is true, that God preplanned every detail of history: what kind of character would God have to have to be dealing with nonbelievers as he treats them (i.e. pre-deciding their every thought, desire, action, making sure they cannot be saved, making sure they go to hell, judging them at the final judgment for doing and being exactly the persons that God preplanned for them to be, and then being eternally punished for doing and being exactly the persons that God wanted them to be)?????

      Robert

      • Wow, Robert, you’ve poured gasoline all over that straw man and burnt him to a crisp.

        You’ve accused me of dishonesty and falsely labeled me a determinist, in spite of my repeated clarifications and gracious interactions with you. This doesn’t make your arguments very persuasive (at least not to me).

        I recommend you read Calvin and some of the moderate/Evangelical Calvinists from history and let them teach you what Calvinists actually believe.

        Blessings,
        Derek

        • Robert

          Derek wrote:

          “Wow, Robert, you’ve poured gasoline all over that straw man and burnt him to a crisp.”

          What straw man?

          Demonstrate that I was attacking a straw man, that I was attacking something not believed by Calvin himself.

          I attacked the theological determinists’ (such as Calvin) ****key and controlling presupposition*** accurately stated by the Westminster confession that “God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass” (i.e. that God has a total plan in which every detail of history is predecided by God, and then history is simply the actualization of this total plan).

          Now if you don’t believe or hold to the claim that presupposition (“God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass”), then you are neither a calvinist nor a determinist.

          If you do in fact hold to this presupposition, then you are **both** a determinist and a Calvinist.

          Derek, I don’t think that you really understand the differences between someone who is a determinist as you are, versus someone who is an indeterminist as I am.

          You most certainly are not an indeterminist if you hold to calvinism as Calvin believed, that makes you by simple process of logical elimination: a determinist(because people are either determinists or indeterminists).

          Perhaps you should describe what a determinist believes and then show that you do not hold to determinism: that in reality you are an indeterminist.

          But if you show you are not a determinist then you would be an indeterminist, which is hard to believe, since you also profess to being a “compatibilist” (compatibilists ****are**** “soft” determinists who claim to also hold to free will, versus hard determinists who hold to determinism and freely admit that determinism rules out and excludes free will as ordinarily understood).

          “You’ve accused me of dishonesty and falsely labeled me a determinist, in spite of my repeated clarifications and gracious interactions with you.”

          I didn’t say you were dishonest, most determinists are merely inconsistent with their own presuppositions or trying to hide the more gruesome implications of their determinism with euphemisms and “softening language”.

          And I have not “falsely labeled” you a determinist, because you are one, you have to be if you are a compatibilist.

          “I recommend you read Calvin and some of the moderate/Evangelical Calvinists from history and let them teach you what Calvinists actually believe.”

          You don’t think that I have read Calvin?

          What makes you say that?

          In fact I have read Calvin, and read him extensively and know that he did hold to the key presupposition (i.e. that God has a total plan in which every detail of history was predecided by God, that includes the eternal destinies of every person, that includes every thought, desire, action of every person, IT INCLUDES EVERYTHING).

          Do I need to quote Calvin directly on this?

          Or can you agree that he believed that God has a total plan which includes every detail and every event, which is being fully actualized as what we humans refer to as history???

          Now perhaps you don’t really believe as Calvin did, but no mistake he did in fact hold to this controlling presupposition/assumption/ERROR.

          Calvin was a determinist (no one in their right mind would ever refer to Calvin as an indeterminist) and if you follow his teachings then so are you.

          Referring to someone as a determinist helps in discussing people’s views. I have no problem if someone says I am an indeterminist, it merely differentiates me from determinists such as yourself.

          Robert

      • Aaron

        Hey Robert,

        becuause I am more of an arminian I understand and share many of your concerns. The only thing I would caution you about is that you seem to be a bit antagonistic to the calvinists here. I thought Derek was pretty sensitive and understanding in his response, even though I disagreed with it. But you seemed like you wanted to attack (which I can understand after feeling beat down as a non-calvinist myself on the blogosphere). I have a couple more questions for you but would we talk over e-mail?
        -merrittown@gmail.com

        Thanks

        • Robert

          Hello Aaron,

          “becuause I am more of an arminian I understand and share many of your concerns. The only thing I would caution you about is that you seem to be a bit antagonistic to the calvinists here.”

          My problem is usually not with Calvinists per se (calvinists can be believers and godly people like any other Christians: though there are some exceptions some who display real lack of character, but this is true of all groups as well), my problem is with deterministic/calvinistic ideas. I have no respect for the ideas or the system and the false ideas it contains and the false implications and practices that it results in.

          “But you seemed like you wanted to attack (which I can understand after feeling beat down as a non-Calvinist myself on the blogosphere).”

          I was going after the system and the ideas of the system. Derek may be a perfectly nice guy in “real life” rather than in the blogosphere. But my concern here is not with attacking him, but with attacking the false and unbiblical ideas of the calvinistic/deterministic system that he is promoting here.

          Robert

    • Jim G.

      Hi Derek,

      I first want to apologize because I have not yet responded to your reply to me earlier in the week. I always seem to get interrupted.

      I really do appreciate your desire to be biblical in your approach. I think Roger Olson, in his “Arminian Theology,” puts it best when he says (my paraphrase) that Calvinists tend to magnify the greatness of God and non-Calvinists tend to magnify the goodness of God. I honestly think we can benefit from one another.

      I have a few comments about some things you wrote.

      I think the Calvinist view of T(otal depravity) says more than it should. There IS something in humanity, from God’s point of view, that is worth saving. It is not something that we have done, but something God has placed in all of us. It is his investment in us of his image. In spite of our sinfulness, his creation of humanity in his image is worth redeeming. I don’t see anything wrong with admitting that. You may have been a “hell-deserving and hell-desiring sinner” but that is not all you were. You were still a human being made in the image of God. Even though the image was marred, it was not eradicated.

      Also, we know that God is love. The Bible tells me so. :0) And a fully trinitarian view of God (which I know you share) must posit that in eternity, Father, Son, and Spirit co-exist in a perfect perichoresis of love and harmony with one another. There is no reason to think otherwise. And so God is love in himself. It is who he is, as he is triune.

      Therefore, there are no “obligations” with love. Love can never be earned or deserved. (We agree on this, by the way) Love is a reflection of the deepest truth of the character of God. Love naturally entails sharing and acceptance.

      The idea of God’s character as love is stretched pretty thin by unconditional election. Because the logical conclusion of unconditional election maintains that God has chosen to eternally withdraw himself from a large portion of humanity for no other reason than his “good pleasure,” that creates a real tension between God’s “good pleasure” and his loving self. He cannot accept the reprobate, because he has chosen to reject them. Without said acceptance, it would be awfully difficult to maintain that God loves the reprobate.

      This brings up a deeper problem. If God does not love the reprobate (or even if he loves them “less”), why not? As far as I can tell, there are only two answers to this question, neither of which are satisfying.

      1. God’s love is conditioned on our future choices based on his already-completed choice. This is untenable, since that makes love something deserved OR

      2. God’s choice of electing some can be seen as a direct result of his overflowing love within his triune God-self. But what is it about God that would cause him to reject others in eternity? Where does the idea of rejection come from in the first place? If God’s election to salvation is a direct result of his triune life, does God’s non-election of others imply a similar rift in the triune life? Recall that we are speaking of eternity, before creation. There is nothing but Father, Son, and Spirit. We cannot appeal to future events in space-time, because it is God’s choice and will that bring them about. God’s providence assures that there will be a fall after creation, and that all humanity will come under a curse.

      Either way, that whole unconditional non-election to reprobation tends to reveal something very disturbing in our faith. As you said in an earlier post, (and I disagree), we MUST view them with equal ultimacy. The elect are ultimately saved and the non-elect are ultimately damned. The idea that God ultimately wants and engineers the eternal destruction and desolation of a large portion of his human creation does tend to fly in the face of several texts of Scripture. If God had just not have revealed himself as love and one whose mercy endures forever….

      As I write this, my two sons are outside riding bikes and playing in the dirt – things little boys do. I just cannot even conceive of the possibility of consigning any of my children to eternal banishment from my presence, just because it suits my own “glory.” Now I am aware that God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than mine. But as a simple, earthly father, I just cannot imagine anything that would lessen my love for my children or how it would bring me “good pleasure” to banish them from my life and world. His love is more perfect than mine could ever be. I cannot imagine him doing so either.

      I hope this is received in the spirit with which it is intended. God never stopped loving humanity after the fall, and it is his love for us that motivates him to save. If he loves some and not others (due to nothing more than his unconditional choice) we have some theological problems that we should not ignore, but try to solve.

      Jim G.

      • Jim,

        I’m not the best representative Calvinist to be having this discussion with, but I’ll offer a few thoughts in response to what your wrote . . .

        First, I agree that Arminians and Calvinists can benefit from one another. Double amen to that. I believe God has ordained our disagreement. 

        Second, I very much appreciate the tone of your comments and the spirit of the delivery. I don’t sense any antagonism or harshness in your words. Quite the opposite.

        Third, overall I think your comments assume some things about God’s “causing” of reprobation, the nature of His will, and the way He accomplishes His will. Historically, Calvinists have gone to great lengths to delineate the differences between first and second causes, direct and indirect causes, permission vs. authorship of evil, the multiple senses of God’s “will,” the various possible meanings of “decree,” and the implications of “ordain,” “foreordain,” etc. Calvinists see these things very differently than what you are describing. The relation between time and eternity, foreknowledge and fore-ordination, predestination and permission, etc. all have bearing on how we understand these things. Of course, at this point we’re forced to become deeply speculative and reduced to conjecture. Rather than try to split all of these hairs precisely, I am inclined to paint “unrevealed mystery” and “paradox” over these matters. If we are faithful to Scripture (which should be our primary focus – as I know you agree), I don’t think we have to be able to meticulously explain all of the logical implications of our doctrine. The further we go down that road, the more philosophical we become and the less directly dependent on Scripture. Our words lose their authority because, while they may be logical, their Biblical content is diluted by human reasoning. We end up trying to explain the minute details that God hasn’t even addressed. So I would refer you to the major Reformed authors who have tried to dissect the implications of Calvinism (Calvin, Berkhof, Edwards, some of the Puritans, Bruce Ware, Piper, Sproul, etc.), but at the same time I say, “trust God’s own Word (and His omissions) more than any of those theologians.” Some will say I’m just dodging, but for me this is an essential conviction that calls for humility and caution. John Calvin warned against futile speculation into the unrevealed – a warning too many of his followers have not heeded.

        Fourth, I agree that the image of God in us is significant. But your arguments go against the very doctrine of hell, not just Calvinistic soteriology. The reality of hell says that sinners are worthy of eternal condemnation, that it is just and somehow it glorifies God. I can’t begin to explain that, other than to say it proves God has been faithful to His promise to Adam and Eve: you will surely die.

        Fifth, classical Calvinists strenuously deny that there is an equal ultimacy of election and reprobation. We would say something like this: God directly causes the salvation of particular souls, but He permits the others to condemn themselves by their willful rejection of His mercy. Indeed, He has set the entire race – including the elect – under the sentence of condemnation (a display of His justice), but He has individually elected certain sinners to receive pardon and mercy through Christ’s sacrifice, and escape from their deserved fate (a display of His saving mercy).

        Sixth, I agree that God is love (how could I disagree?). But I disagree with projecting our human ideas of love upon Him and thinking this obligates Him to save any of us. Your illustration about your two sons is touching, but I think it minimizes what we have become as a result of sin (sin we freely chose in Adam – even in God foreordained the choice). Similar illustrations have been used by universalists to ward off the doctrine of hell. I agree that this is disturbing, but God apparently wants us to be disturbed by certain realities – especially the reality of our wretchedness.

        You used the phrase: “unconditional non-election to reprobation.” This phrase unites several of the categories Calvinists have strained themselves to separate. Reprobation is conditional, not unconditional. We say someone is saved because God directly caused it through election and effectual calling. We say someone is lost because God allowed them to be a sinner in rebellion against Him. But they, not He, are the direct cause of their condemnation. The doctrine of election merely says God directly and unconditionally chooses the elect for salvation. We shouldn’t read double predestination into that.

        Remember, Calvinism doesn’t have God lining up the uncreated souls and arbitrarily choosing some and rejecting others. It portrays God as lovingly creating human beings with free will, allowing them to voluntarily fall into sin, judging the entire race for its choice, and then saving a remnant which He elected from eternity according to His own wise counsel.

        This is a long comment (I might even have outdone Robert), but I offer it as my best understanding of the issues you raised. Don’t take my words as the official position of all Calvinists, but this is the best answer I have as a learning and growing Calvinistic believer who is paying attention to these issues.

        Blessings,
        Derek

        • Jim G.

          Hi Derek,

          The replies are getting longer, aren’t they? Mine might be just as long.

          By the way, do you know what the Calvinist said after he fell down the steps?

          “Thank God that’s over.” :0)

          I understand that Reformed thinkers have greatly expanded upon sixteenth century thinking in order to soften the hard logical conclusions of the system. I am wondering aloud if we are not seeing the theological equivalent of the “epicycles” to explain retrograde motion in the heliocentric theory. That poor theory needed so many explanations and props to work out its weaknesses that it could not stand long. Granted, Calvinism is stronger than heliocentrism, but it has its share of fine tunings to lessen the impact of its logical conclusions. I wonder if there isn’t a more biblical way to package the truth with less baggage? Just musing there….

          And one must admit, both Calvin and Beza did a lot of speculating into the unrevealed – especially Beza with his supralapsarian logical ordering of the decrees.

          I think you missed my point about the image of God. I did not say (or mean to imply) that the image of God is a “get out of hell free” card. I meant that BECAUSE God created us in his image, he sees salvation as a worthwhile undertaking for himself. The image, which all humans share, does not guarantee salvation.

          I understand that Classical Calvinism’s denies the ultimacy of election to salvation and of passing over to be equal. I know that denial is there. I just don’t think there is any warrant for it, except to remove God’s responsibility for evil. Double-predestinarians (Hyper-Calvinists) are much more consistent here, and they will say so. The distinction between “election to salvation” and “permission to damnation” in this case is truly only one of semantics. And isn’t making that distinction in itself “speculation into the unrevealed?” It is only a softening of language to try to remove from God the responsibility for evil. The outcome is the same. Reformed scholastics saw the problem and tried to semantically fix it, all the while ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.

          Both “choices” (to election and passing over to reprobation) must therefore differ in ultimacy, because to make the ultimacy equal would make God responsible for evil. We can’t have that, so, the ultimacy must be stronger with election. Give the Hyper-Calvinists credit on this one. They see the semantical game for what it is.

          God is indeed love, and on that we agree. I also may be slightly guilty of projecting my human thoughts of love onto God, but he is the one who made me capable of loving in the first place. The fall may have distorted my sense of love (and justice!) but it did not eradicate it.

          Derek, as kindly as I can say this, you and I are thinking in two completely different paradigms here. I realize love does not obligate God to do anything, but since when are love and obligation even in the same universe? God is not obligated, but obligation is not the point. God saves because God loves.

          What have we become because of sin? You will want to answer this carefully, and probably not with the word “deserve” in it. I will answer that we have become sinners by both nature and choice, and that we continuously do that which is against the will of God. Despite all of that, God does not hate us and his love has never wavered. The father of the prodigal illustrates this well. The love of the father remained strong even though the child was far from him. God wants to reconcile us to himself because of himself. While I agree that somehow we all sinned in Adam, isn’t it just as true that by the last Adam we are made alive?

          As to your next-to-last paragraph, your brand of Calvinism does not have the arbitrariness, but some do. Supra-lapsarianism sure does, and possibly so does infra-lapsarianism. Yours, if I read you correctly, is sub-lapsarian. It is a somewhat milder, non-deterministic brand of Calvinism that assumes Adam and Eve had free choice. You also say that God lovingly created human beings (I will modify that to “humanity” since all humanity is definitely “in” Adam). Why did God stop loving some? Is sin really strong enough to change God’s fundamental disposition toward humanity?

          Jim G.

          I’m not a universalist, so don’t go there. I sadly affirm the reality of hell. But this is where the God of Calvinism and I part ways. I am sad about hell. He is not. He wants it that way. Maybe I will see it all differently in glory, but right now, that’s where I am.

          • Jim G.

            Hi Derek,

            The last paragraph is a little unkind, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to post that. Honestly, I was interrupted several times while writing the post and I lost my train of thought. It is true I am not a universalist, but I think they raise (a few) good points with which we should all deal. In all honesty, universalism and deterministic (notice my distinction) Calvinism are two sides of the same coin. They both maximize the will of God while minimizing or removing altogether the idea that God’s will might include meaningful human response to his saving love.

            And I do believe God is sad about hell. He is not willing that any should perish and takes no pleasure in the death of the unrighteous. Jesus, as God enfleshed, reveals God’s heart as to how he feels about unbelief. The weeping of Jesus was more than merely human weeping. Hope this clears up that last paragraph.

            Jim G.

          • Jim,

            Thanks for your humility and sensitivity in clarifying that last paragraph. I didn’t take it as offensive or attacking, but maybe a bit frustrated, like, “Why can’t Calvinists see what their view of God looks like?”

            I love that old joke about the Calvinist falling down stairs. 🙂

            You’ve raised some great points, and I think further dialog will be beneficial to both of us (and others), so I am crafting a response. It may take a few days to get it written, so please be patient while I carve out time to continue this worthy discussion. As a preview, though, I’ll just say I am going to agree with you on several points – then offer counter arguments on a couple of things.

            Blessings,
            Derek

          • Jim,

            Jim said: I understand that Reformed thinkers have greatly expanded upon sixteenth century thinking in order to soften the hard logical conclusions of the system. . . . I wonder if there isn’t a more biblical way to package the truth with less baggage?

            Is it the hard logical conclusions of the system that are being softened, or is it the overstated logic of hyper Calvinists that is being countered by application of Scripture? I like to think of it as “Semper Reformanda.” Reformed theology certainly isn’t perfect. But I think it provides an accurate Biblical and historical framework within which we can acknowledge and deal with the philosophical “problems” of theology. I haven’t found Arminianism to be that “more Biblical way” with less baggage. Calvinists have historically responded to these philosophical problems in two ways: RATIONALISM, and PARADOX/MYSTERY. I’m putting my cookies in the paradox basket, not because Calvinism forces me into a philosophical corner, but because Scripture does (as best I can understand it presently).

            Jim: And one must admit, both Calvin and Beza did a lot of speculating into the unrevealed – especially Beza with his supralapsarian logical ordering of the decrees.

            I agree. Calvin didn’t always follow his own advice. But it was Beza who really messed up. Beza got Calvinism going in a rationalistic direction from which it has been difficult to recover. Difficult, but not impossible. Calvin, for his part, was more cautious and affirming of divine mysteries. I personally think Calvin was almost a compatibilist, since he clearly affirmed both meticulous sovereignty and human responsibility. He at least had the compatibilist goal posts in place, even if he came across as more of a hard determinist.

            Jim: I think you missed my point about the image of God. I did not say (or mean to imply) that the image of God is a “get out of hell free” card. I meant that BECAUSE God created us in his image, he sees salvation as a worthwhile undertaking for himself. The image, which all humans share, does not guarantee salvation.

            Good point.

            Jim: I understand that Classical Calvinism’s denies the ultimacy of election to salvation and of passing over to be equal. I know that denial is there. I just don’t think there is any warrant for it, except to remove God’s responsibility for evil.

            That’s a good reason to posit the distinction, isn’t it? In a moment, I’ll make a Scriptural case for it.

            Jim: Double-predestinarians (Hyper-Calvinists) are much more consistent here, and they will say so.

            They are more consistent with the logic of certain propositions, but far less consistent with Scripture. A hyper-Calvinist is a theological rationalist who can’t take paradoxes (but needs them desperately). He has to explain away a lot of Scripture to make his system work. But many Arminians do the same thing with Romans 9, John 6, etc. I like an Arminian (or a Calvinist) with a paradox – it means he’s not willing to put his system above the clear teaching of the Word. : ) He’d rather be stuck with a mystery than fight against the current of divine revelation.

            Jim: The distinction between “election to salvation” and “permission to damnation” in this case is truly only one of semantics. And isn’t making that distinction in itself “speculation into the unrevealed?

            Election to salvation is Biblically revealed, so no speculation is required in affirming it. The working of reprobation is not revealed as clearly, but it’s also there. And the distinction itself is Biblical. The Greek words used in Romans 9:22-23, for example, indicate a sharp difference in the workings of election and reprobation. “Prepared” for destruction in v. 22 is Katartizo (to strengthen, mend, render fit – tense is perfect passive participle). “Prepared” for glory in v. 23 is Proetoimazo (to prepare beforehand – tense is aorist active indicative). The verbs and tenses chosen would seem to scream that there is not an equal ultimacy between election and reprobation.

            Jim: Both “choices” (to election and passing over to reprobation) must therefore differ in ultimacy, because to make the ultimacy equal would make God responsible for evil. We can’t have that, so, the ultimacy must be stronger with election. Give the Hyper-Calvinists credit on this one. They see the semantical game for what it is.

            Not at all. As shown above, the argument is Biblical, and the hypers go directly against Scripture here. The distinction is not only a matter of philosophical integrity, but also of Biblical exegesis. Biblically, we can’t say God authors evil – but we have to say He is entirely sovereign over it. This is a great mystery, but it flows from the Bible itself, and is not inherent to Calvinism per se.

            Jim: God is indeed love, and on that we agree. I also may be slightly guilty of projecting my human thoughts of love onto God, but he is the one who made me capable of loving in the first place. The fall may have distorted my sense of love (and justice!) but it did not eradicate it.
            Good point.

            Jim: Derek, as kindly as I can say this, you and I are thinking in two completely different paradigms here. I realize love does not obligate God to do anything, but since when are love and obligation even in the same universe? God is not obligated, but obligation is not the point. God saves because God loves.

            Agreed. But all are not saved. So, does He ultimately decide whom He saves – or do we decide whom He saves? We human beings have chosen to condemn ourselves, and will keep on doing so unless and until He intervenes (says total depravity). Arminians say he intervenes by giving us an even choice. Calvinists say He intervenes by regenerating particular sinners so that they will infallibly choose Him.

            Jim: What have we become because of sin? . . . I will answer that we have become sinners by both nature and choice, and that we continuously do that which is against the will of God. Despite all of that, God does not hate us and his love has never wavered. The father of the prodigal illustrates this well. The love of the father remained strong even though the child was far from him. God wants to reconcile us to himself because of himself. While I agree that somehow we all sinned in Adam, isn’t it just as true that by the last Adam we are made alive?

            I substantially agree with you here. But again, who decides who is saved? God does hate sinners, condemns them, and expresses His wrath against them. At the very same time, He loves all of His creatures. Yet He does not save all those He loves. Remember, though, that in classical Calvinism (per Eph. 2), even the elect are under God’s wrath prior to their conversion. The entire race – including the elect – is condemned. God loves all mankind in spite of sin, and mercifully chooses to save some from among the condemned.

            Jim: As to your next-to-last paragraph, your brand of Calvinism does not have the arbitrariness, but some do. Supra-lapsarianism sure does, and possibly so does infra-lapsarianism. Yours, if I read you correctly, is sub-lapsarian. It is a somewhat milder, non-deterministic brand of Calvinism that assumes Adam and Eve had free choice.

            As a decidedly moderate Calvinist, I’m saddened by the fact that there are supra- and infra-lapsarians, and Calvinistic hard determinists. Fortunately, these aspects don’t play a huge role in Reformed theology and piety, though they are sometimes present. My view is not so much sub-lapsarian as eterna-lapsarian or perhaps agnosti-lapsarian. We don’t understand enough about the relationship between time and eternity to even start the discussion. There’s a reason they are called “secret” decrees. Lapsarian debates force us to try to peek behind the curtain, and these are the speculations we should carefully avoid, as a number of moderate Calvinists have urged. The Canons of Dordt wisely ignored these issues.

            Jim: You also say that God lovingly created human beings. . . . Why did God stop loving some? Is sin really strong enough to change God’s fundamental disposition toward humanity?

            God’s fundamental disposition has not changed. He has always loved His creatures and continues to love them. But this fact does not preclude wrath. One expression of His love is a firm commitment to justice. Again, there is some measure of mystery in this, but it is a mystery faced by both Calvinists and Arminians (and by all non-universalist Christians).

          • Jim G.

            Hi Derek,

            Thanks for responding kindly to my last post. I have some comments below.

            I think you MAY have a right to appeal to mystery, but I think the appeal to paradox is off the table. Johnabcdarian in the post below brings up something that I would like to build upon. Here is the difference between a contradiction and a paradox:

            A contradiction is a conjunctive (“and”) logical statement where one proposition is true and one is false. An example of a contradiction is “A and not A.”

            A paradox is a proposition where assuming a truth value for that proposition will yield the opposite truth value when deductive reasoning is applied. An example of a simple paradox is the following:

            “This sentence is false.”

            If one assumes the sentence to be true, then the sentence, by its own admission, is therefore false.
            If one assumes the sentence to be false, then the sentence, by its own admission, becomes true.

            A contradiction cannot be true. A paradox cannot hold a consistent truth value.

            The “hard logical conclusions” of the double-predestinarian are not paradoxical. They are just deductive reasoning applied to the premises. I agree such conclusions contradict Scripture. That is why I reject U(nconditional election as stated by the Calvinist) – the logical root of the conclusions. U plainly entails that God wants some people in hell. This is his will and his desire. He could reconcile them, but chooses not to. It becomes contradictory (not paradoxical) to say that God loves these people, because it is obviously not the nature of love to banish away from one’s presence forever for one’s own pleasure. That is hate, not love.

            You and I both see where the logical road of U leads. Where we part company on the issue is what we do with that knowledge. You claim “mystery” or “paradox” and continue on the road. I choose not to go down the road in the first place, because I can’t reconcile the destination with the consistency of Scripture.

            Moreover, U presents a God who, from the outset of time, does not even obey his own rules. We are commanded to forgive seventy times seven, but God does not forgive and banishes people to hell to show his greatness. We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who despise us, but God obviously hates his enemies (if U is true) and will not relent. Even you, in your own post, say that God hates sinners and God loves his creation. Which is it? He can’t both love and hate the same thing, can he? If a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, we certainly do not want to give the impression of a double-minded God.

            The results of U are not paradoxical. They are contradictory. And it is not some abstract philosophical rationalism. It is the eternal destinations of real people, perhaps people we love; and certainly people God created who bear his image.

            You say that his love does not preclude his justice. I would have to disagree, with scores of biblical examples as evidence. The woman brought to Jesus’ feet who was caught in adultery deserved to be stoned, according to the “justice” of the law. Jesus forgave her without her even asking. Love trumped justice. The same happened with the paralytic lowered through the roof. Love trumped justice in the ministry of Jonah. The ultimate example of love trumping justice was the cross. That was the most unjust event in human history. And Jesus prayed that those who killed him would be forgiven! Time and time again we see a loving God suspending justice because of his love. I know he is just, but his fundamental orientation toward humanity has been love.

            I think this is the great Christian message. Jesus came and (among other things) showed that God (for that is who Jesus is/was) is NOT fundamentally against the sinner. He desires his creation reconciled to him. Jesus ate and drank with the very people (“sinners”) that God supposedly hated. His reading of the scroll in Luke 4 is a clarion call of his mission. If (as I see it) we are to believe Jesus, we must believe that God does love us all, and that our disobedience grieves him. If we posit U, then there would be no room for the grief of God, because all would be as he willed it. I hope all of this makes sense and furthers the discussion.

            BTW, nice exegetical work on Rom 9. I had not seen that before, but of course I see the election to salvation and the condemnation to hell as unequally ultimate, since sinners reject God and create their own destruction. I reject the Reformed idea of U, and my reply to your exegetical work is “Of course.” You accept U, which logically infers an equal ultimacy, because in each individual choice there are only two outcomes. U actually works against you in the Romans 9 text, because it logically entails the opposite conclusion. Again, I don’t think it is a paradox. It has a consistent truth value – one of contradiction.

            I enjoy our discussions and hope they can continue. One more point I hope we can explore – what if the cross has fundamentally re-oriented humanity just as the fall did? That would seem to be the argument of Romans 5:18, and those who see this re-orientation and take hold by faith will reap the benefits discussed in the previous verses of Romans 5. I have some ideas on this and would be willing to share.

            Thanks again for being a great discussion partner.

            Jim G.

  • John abcdarian

    Jim G. wrote, “1. God’s love is conditioned on our future choices based on his already-completed choice. This is untenable, since that makes love something deserved OR”

    However, the two alternatives presented do not exhaust the alternatives or possibilities, and so it is a false dichotomy. It could also be said, (as in John 3:16 and other scriptures), that God has loved the whole world and done all that is necessary on his part to demonstrate and give love. What is necessary is that we not reject his love and his drawing of us to himself in love. If we reject his love, by which otherwise we would be saved, then we will not live in his love, being loved and loving him back, for eternity.

    regards,
    John abc

    • Jim G.

      Hi John,

      Thanks for pointing that out. But notice I was operating under the assumption that God has chosen unconditionally to pass some over. Given that assumption, the result is the dichotomy that follows, so it is not a “false dichotomy” given the assumption of reprobation to start with.

      The choice you give is certainly another alternative in the grand scheme of things, but your alternative (which is a whole lot closer to what I believe anyway) does not follow from unconditional election. I’m not sure there are any other than the two alternatives I list IF unconditional election (as the Reformed state it) is true. If it is not as the Reformed state, then there are several other possibilities, including the one you mention.

      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

      Jim G.

      • John abcdarian

        Thank you for your reply. However, it was your assumption that I was responding to. If your assumption is incorrect, then what follows is incorrect as well.

        regards,
        John abc

        • Jim G.

          Hi John,

          Yep. That’s my point. I agree the assumption is incorrect. I was using the old proof technique from logic – reductio ad absurdem. Thanks!

          Jim G.

  • John abcdarian

    There is a significant and critical difference between a paradox (an apparent contradiction) and an actual contradiction. Calvinists appeal to paradox, but such an appeal is unavailable to them because they are dealing with a real contradiction.

    Furthermore, Calvinists avoid the inherent logic of their system by declaring that what is inherent is not, and that it is not because of “paradox”. That is, reprobation or double predestination is not part of Calvinism, even though it cannot be divorced logically from its system. The basis for this claim, is of course, the clear scripture against it. The only way forward, therefore, for Calvinists is to hive of this issue as a “paradox”. That is, hocus pocus, we save our system by declaring that the unacceptable but logically included aspects of it are “not” part of it–and why not? It’s a mystery. It’s a by fiat declaration of “paradox”.

    The wider implications of such an approach are typically not noticed by either side of the debate. With such an escape route (anything that is difficult for us is a paradox) they cannot rationally prevent any other system from taking the same route / making the same retreat. Anytime a Calvinist points out a difficulty with the Arminian system the response need only be “it’s a paradox”; end of discussion; we won / it’s a tie.

    The broader implications are evangelistic, missiological and apologetic. How can one argue with a Mormon, Jehovah’s witness, Moslem, Hindu, cult, etc. about the irrationality of any of their beliefs? All they have to do is claim “paradox” or “mystery” just as the Calvnists do when faced with the inherent logical outcomes of their system. The use of “paradox” is a discussion ender with other religions–one cannot point out the internal inconsistencies of their system if one covers one’s own inconsistencies with “paradox”s. One has to let the other side do the same.

    Ultimately, though, the Calvinist cannot be concerned since preaching plays no role in the effective salvation of the elect; it is merely a contemporaneous event that is benefits of the preacher because it is a means of demonstrating obedience.

    regards,
    John I.

    • John,

      Your last sentence betrays a rather gaping misunderstanding of Calvinism. But I want to address your comments about theological paradoxes, since I am prone to resort to paradox as an explanation for many things hard to understand. I can’t speak for other Calvinists, but I can speak for myself. My interaction with fellow Calvinists tells me that they are much less prone to appeal to paradox than I am, and in fact many of them reject the concept outright.

      My use of paradox is very specific. I try diligently to reserve the designation of “paradox” for those instances when clear statements of Scripture have logical implications that seem to contradict. You could read some of the articles at my site, THEOparadox, to see what I mean. Far better, James Anderson’s book “Paradox in Christian Theology” would help you understand why and how a Calvinist might propose paradoxes in theology. There are valid and compelling reasons for taking this stance, it’s not simply to avoid conceding defeat to Arminians. Interestingly, though, Anderson’s book doesn’t directly address Calvinistic paradoxes, but mainstream orthodox ones (the Trinity and the Incarnation).

      Your account of theological paradox makes it sound pedantic and irrational. True, there are some who use it that way. But most Calvinists who believe in paradoxes have much more sophisticated and highly developed reasons for doing so. We don’t find a philosophical problem with our system and say, “Oh well, it’s just a paradox.” We find Scripture telling us things that our minds can’t fully comprehend, that even seem contradictory in their implications, but we refuse to water down the clear testimony of God, and so we have to say, “He is wiser than we are. He can reconcile these things.”

      Incidentally, I know of at least one Arminian thinker who strongly appeals to paradoxes: Dr. Bob Utley.

      Blessings,
      Derek

      • In my experience, however, many Calvinists who appeal to “antinomy” or “paradox” argue against Arminianism for allegedly being inconsistent (e.g. with regard to God’s foreknowledge and human free will). I believe many of them use a double standard: embracing paradox (apparent contradiction) while criticizing Arminians of doing so.

      • John I.

        Thanks for your comment.

        A paradox can be understood as a real contradiction (therefore making the paradoxical proposition false), or it can be a proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd. Our beliefs about God can only be of the latter type, not the former (like two parallel tracks seeming to meet in the distance).

        Hence a Calvinist could not adhere to both libertarian free will and decretal determination of all happenings (and so Calvinists define free will differently than Arminians, Molinists, and open theists). Nor could an Arminian believe that free will is both determined by the state of the universe prior to the making of a choice and also that it is libertarian.

        The trinity and incarnation are not paradoxes in the seens of logical contradictions; they may be difficult to understand or explain (and impossible to fully do so), but they do not contain inherent logical contradictions. Logic reflects the ordered nature of the mind of God and his word does not reveal contradictions. If it were so, then what basis would we have in arguing with other religions, cults or beliefs about the illogic of their beliefs?

        My comment “preaching plays no role in the effective salvation of the elect; it is merely a contemporaneous event” does not indicate a misunderstanding of Calvinism. In Calvinism salvation is completely monergistic. Thus two people may both hear the same sermon but only the one irrestiably drawn by God because of election will be saved; the preaching will do nothing to save the other. Of course, God has decreed that he will exercise his election and irrestable grace in the context of preaching the word (“without hearing how shall they be saved”), but the preaching is not the cause of the effect–only God’s grace is. The person experiencing salvation may feel that the preaching pierced to their heart, but only because of the foreordained election and the working of irresistable grace; the person next to him feels nothing, but not because of the nature of the preaching but because he/she is not elect.

        Calvinists sometimes describe this as “God also ordaining the means”, but such a statement misuses the term “means” or else broadens it in a way that is not explanatory.

        regards,
        John I.