Regarding the love and justice of a God who unconditionally elects only some to save

Regarding the love and justice of a God who unconditionally elects only some to save October 21, 2011

Over the past year, some of my Calvinist interlocutors here have challenged my claim that a god who unconditionally elects only some to save and saves them irresistibly, thus condemning others to eternal damnation (double predestination), is not worthy of worship because he cannot be good in any meaning of “good.”  They have often offered illustrations and analogies.  The most recent one was of a man who unconditionally pays the fines of some inmates, setting them free, but does not pay all of them even though he could.  Wouldn’t such a man be considered good for paying the fines of some inmates even if he left others to their deserved sentences?

I don’t think that analogy quite matches what Calvinists believe God does.  But let me work with it for a little bit before showing how it really doesn’t illustrate the Calvinist view.

Who would consider the man good (if this is all they know about him)?  I suspect most people would not consider him good for this action UNLESS there was some other mitigating factor that qualified the “unconditional” part.  Some people MIGHT consider the rich man good IF the inmates whose fines he paid were somehow more deserving than those whose fines he did not pay.  But that would ruin the analogy completely because Calvinists insist God’s choice of the elect is absolutely undeserving.

I suspect MOST people who hear about the rich man paying the fines of some inmates unconditionally would insist on knowing why he paid those particular inmates’ fines and not others before judging whether his action was praiseworthy.  I’m SURE the families of the inmates whose fines he did not pay would not consider his action praiseworthy (who could blame them?).  To them it would seem the epitome of unloving and unjust action because it would be arbitrary.  I think many would agree with them.  I would.

Does the fact that they ALL deserve their punishment change the estimation of the rich man’s goodness in this action?  I don’t think so–again, unless there was some reason why he paid some inmates’ fines and not others’.  Just to say “it pleased him to do it” wouldn’t satisfy most fair-minded people or people considering whether the rich man is of good (i.e., loving) character.

Let’s change the analogy a bit.  Suppose the rich man is the judge who sentenced all the inmates and has the legal authority to free them; he actually paid their fines himself!  The judge goes to the jail and unlocks all the cell doors and announces that they are all free to leave.  The only condition for leaving is opening the cell door, signing a document admitting guilt and acknowledging that someone else paid his fine.  Some inmates do it and some don’t–remaining to serve their sentences even though that is wholly unnecessary.

I think most people would consider that rich man, judge, loving and good.  SOME might say “Well, by making the inmates admit guilt and state that someone else paid their fine, the judge is making them earn their freedom.”  Few would agree.

Now, let’s go back to the original analogy.  Calvinists claim the rich man who paid the fines of some and not of others is good because he showed mercy to some and left the others to their deserved punishment.  Again, I doubt most people would think him good insofar as his choice of whose fines to free was arbitrary (as it would have to seem if it was absolutely unconditional).  BUT!  Suppose it turns out that the rich man paying SOME of the inmates’ fines (and not others) actually caused (whether directly or indirectly doesn’t matter) ALL of the inmates to commit their crimes.  Suppose it comes out in the newspaper the next day that, in fact, although all the inmates broke the law willfully, the rich man had orchestrated their actions by putting them in situations where he knew they would “freely” break the law and be arrested and put in jail.

Then suppose the rich man publishes a column in the newspaper explaining that it doesn’t matter because all of the inmates broke the law freely and therefore all deserve their punishment and he was simply merciful to some and therefore worthy of praise.  He admits that in some way he won’t explain he rendered it certain that all the inmates would “freely” break the law.  His defenders explain that these are men and women who needed his help NOT to break the law and he withheld it, but he was not obligated to help them so they are all still guilty and he is not.

This is the right analogy to what high federal Calvinists believe.  (See Against Calvinism where I prove this by quoting leading Calvinist theologians.)

Now, I ask, who would rightly consider that rich man “good?”  Few.  None should.

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  • Tim Reisdorf

    It leads me to wonder, what (from a Calvinist point of view) is heaven all about? Will God continue to manipulate us? irresistibly causing us to enjoy a close relationship with Him?

    A puppeteer is neither good nor evil, but neither are the puppets alive. If they were, the puppeteer would be the author of all the good and the evil.

    The Unconditional Election seems more modeled on Newtonian Physics or Skinner Behaviorism than one with genuinely free people who can do something they themselves choose. I can’t/don’t argue with this – I merely dismiss it. If it is true, then all my (illusory) desires, wants, and choices have no consequence and no significance because they were never really mine.

    • Scott Ferguson


      I’m not sure of the other calvinists you’ve encountered, or what other reading you’ve done, but I think you have a mis-conception about how we understand the will.

      To begin with, having a free will does not mean one is completely autonomous or capable of doing everything he wants/desires/wills (or not being able to either). There are many things we all want to do but are not capable of doing for a variety of reasons. I may want to breathe underwater like fish, but I’m not capable of spontaneously growing gills and changing my circulatory system. This does not somehow take away from my free moral will. It simply has limits.

      God has the freest will of all beings in the universe; He can do whatever He wants and is capable of doing. He’s just capable of doing a lot more than me — like generating matter spontaneously. But the Scripture says that He also cannot (and I would add does not want to) sin. Further more His will/nature is not changeable. Yet God is still the freest moral Being of all.

      Adam and Eve had wills that were originally untainted by sin — they were morally sinless. However, they were mutable (changeable) or corruptible wills. Adam and Eve were completely free to do what ever it was that they wanted to do and were capable of doing — to choose to obey God or not, to choose to obey Satan or not, to choose to eat from the tree or not. In Eden, w/out sin-corrupted wills/natures, they freely chose to believe Satan over God, to disobey God, and to freely eat from the tree. There was no external coercion, no forcing, no hand up their back, no string-pulling. They exercised their as-of-yet unadulterated free wills and chose sin/disobedience over righteousness/obedience. They received God’s fair — and fore-warned — punishment; spiritual death.

      Since then, every human has been cut from the same cloth. Each of us carries a sin-stained soul & will. It still does what it wants and is capable of doing — sinning freely. Again, there is no coercion from the outside, no one is pushing the stone up hill against the forces of gravity. We swim with the current. Gladly, and freely. If the sin-free will of Adam (and Eve) chose to sin, how much less can we hope not to sin?

      Even so, unregenerate sinners are free to be “good moral people” (e.g. “They don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with girls who do.”). Many un-saved / non-Christian people I know are really good “moral” people — according to their personal standards of morality. They are even have the free will to read the bible, attend church, read Christian books and hang out with other believers. But a fallen soul/will will never choose to obey God in faith on it’s own accord (cf. Isaish).

      Enter grace. God has chosen to not leave the entire human race in its current condition as rightfully under his wrath (Eph. 2 opening verses) and thus sets His love especially on some by doing what they cannot do for themselves — change their wills — or giving them a new nature. This new nature wants to obey God, and does so freely. God does not drag me kicking and screaming to church every Sunday; or to pray for my hurting brothers and sisters; or to teach others about Him. I do so freely & willingly, out of this new nature. But I still retain vestiges of my old sinful nature, which also still freely disobeys God (sins).

      And then once fully glorified, our wills will be perfected and sealed immutably (1 Cor. 15). We will be better than Adam in that we won’t be able to sin once in heaven! We will be like our Savior in that sense, as He always wanted to do — and did! — the Father’s will. That is something to rejoice about, not buck against! Hallelujah! Thus, heaven will be filled with people who are literally eternally grateful for the work of grace & mercy He performed in their lives when they would not & could not do it themselves. “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev. 22:3-4, ESV).

      • rogereolson

        I’m sure Tim knows all this about the Calvinist view. I suspect you took the opportunity of responding to Tim to challenge me, also. Well, maybe. In any case, you overlook some flaws in this account of God, free will and sin. Where did the first evil intention come from? If you say from the creature, then you’ve given the creature a degree of autonomy classical Calvinism absolutely rejects. Augustine and Calvin and Edwards all affirmed in their doctrines of providence that creatures have no autonomy and never had it. Adam’s free will was, according to all of them (and all Calvinists I know of) compatibilist free will, not libertarian free will which simply means (to me, anyway, and to all Arminians I know) power of contrary choice. According to classical Calvinism, God foreordained and rendered the fall of Adam and Eve certain by withdrawing the grace they needed not to sin. In other words, the whole horrid universe of sin that followed their fall was in the plan and will of God–including the eternal suffering of the wicked in hell. Another thing you don’t mention is God’s love for all people and his desire that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). What kind of God would choose to save only a portion of fallen humanity IF grace is irresistible? Such a God would be a monster, IMHO.

        • Michael

          Dr. Olsen was the Fall not in God’s plan? was He just reacting to a surprise event? If it’s not in God’s plan then how did it ever occur? If features have any kind of autonomy, free from God’s will, than they can thwart God’s plans and are essentially God’s themselves.

          It simply is not enough to criticize another’s system without providing answers from you own system.

          • rogereolson

            Oh, c’mon. Calvinists do it all the time! Are you answering my criticism of Calvinism about God’s character? I don’t see it.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Hi Michael,

            I’d suggest that the Fall was not in God’s plan. While He knew it was a possibility, He did not want it to happen. (What parent wants the children to disobey??? or plan it out that way!)

            The only way out of this for you is to say that God made a plan that he didn’t really want to. Yet, that is full of problems as well – trying to distinguish between God’s will (plans) and His wish (what He hopes will happen). Your determinism is hopeless. Either you are correct and everything that has happened was planned out (determined) before hand or God is acting in a way very unlike the way He asks us to act. Roger is correct.

        • Scott Ferguson

          Hi, Dr. Olson,

          I knew you’d read my reply because you moderate the comments, but you suspect wrongly; I was not taking this opportunity to challenge you at all. I really was just trying to answer Tim’s questions about what calvinists think about heaven. But I don’t know Tim’s background, and so I thought the background on the will was important to my conclusion. If I repeated what he already knows ( which I don’t know), my apologies. I meant no disrespect.

          Regarding the “flaws” in my response; I readily admit my response is in no way complete (could there ever be one?). But I also wasn’t attempting to answer the question of the origin of sin, or evil. I had to make some choices about what to write because of limits on space here and my time (and my brain).

          In the end, regardless of our theological label, I would hope we all agree that heaven will be a spectacular place where we worship our God and Savior, and a place free from sin.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          What makes you think Michael wanted to talk to you and not to me? Michael is very kind to engage me in conversation. 😉

          Quick question, how do you combine Ez 18 (“The soul who sins shall die”) with the notion of The Fall and ensuing spiritual collapse of mankind? It seems to me that there is a tension within Scripture between punishment for “sin of/in the group” and “sin of the individual”.

          So will any children who might be born in heaven … how might Original Sin impact their lives? 🙂

          • rogereolson

            Are you asking me or Michael? It’s difficult for me to tell whether a comment is directed at me or someone else.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          According to classical Calvinism, God foreordained and rendered the fall of Adam and Eve certain by withdrawing the grace they needed not to sin.

          It seems to me, that if you have a person walk out onto a plank (think pirate ship), then withdraw the plank, it is no moral fault of the person that they don’t fly. My wife and I try hard to keep our children from situations where they cannot win. They may indeed fall down or be overwhelmed, but hopefully it wasn’t because we put them in circumstances they reasonably couldn’t handle.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Hi Scott,

        When I was referring to puppets, I was indeed treating people like puppets from the perspective of Calvinism. You and I would both assume some sense of Total Depravity – but there is also the notion of Irresistible Grace. If grace is irresistible, where is free will, in the grand scheme of thing? It seems like a Hobson’s Choice: “This person can only make a choice about receiving salvation as long as they positively choose to receive salvation.” It is no choice at all, and any free will that might be exercised is limited to only one path. To me, this is a contradiction and negates any kind of freedom in “free will”.

        Of course, the person that God does not bless with His irresistible grace is also “free” in the same kind of Hobson’s Choice scenario. “This person can only make a choice concerning God’s salvation as long as they reject it.” Again, no real choice.

        Now, I’m not saying that the world is not like that. I’m saying that if the world is like that, then it would be completely irrelevant if I believed it or not. So I assume that I really do have a choice that matters – as to others. And I love God back out of the love He poured in me because I want to. If it is all an illusion and what looks like free will is really “fore-ordained”, then consider me fooled.

        btw, it seems strange to me that you reference tobacco use with morality. Did you get that from a Biblical text or are you just making that up? (Disclosure: I’ve never smoked nor chewed, but I see it as having nothing to do with morality.)

      • Steve

        Lotsa holes as usual. I know many people who are not claiming to be Christians who live Christian lives. They don’t go to Church or play any games they actually do what God wants. That is, they love their neighbours, they control their tongues (never speak about other people – gossip) they look after widows and orphans in their distress (you know ….James) etc etc. Thats why Paul in Romans 2 says that God will give to each person according to what each has done. You see they are not moreal ‘according t their own standards’ but actually God’s standards. So they will be saved. They actually do it not just talk about it. You have missed the point in your religious theorising.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Hi Steve,

          I’d respectfully take issue with your use of the phrase “who live Christian lives”. I’d propose that people who are not claiming to be Christians cannot be living Christian lives. Living a Christian life is much more than a set of behaviors – crucial to the Christian life is a vital and active relationship with God.

          For you to make conclusions about Romans 2 – that really good people will be saved because of their goodness – without reading Romans 3 is short-sighted. All have sinned and none are worthy of salvation by their own merits. Steve, it is you who have missed the point. One, no matter how gentle and kind, cannot be saved because of their own righteousness. Rather, it is God’s righteousness that makes the way open to salvation.

          • Steve

            Lets take the reverse. What about people who claim to be Christian but are not living the life that would demonstrate they are actually Christians (Matthew 7:21-22). There are numerous warnings about this in scripture. Respectfully, the Christian life is ALL ABOUT BEHAVIOURS. Your so-called ‘active relationship with God’ is FOUNDED ON behaviour because if you don’t behave in a certain way then how can you say you have a ‘relationship’ with God. Your use of Romans 3 is interesting also. Romans 3 does not say as you put it “All have sinned and none are worthy of salvation by their own merits” does it? I find it strange that you would render it this way. You not only misuse it you also take it out of context. Romans 3 goes back to ‘a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ’. What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ if it is not given meaning by behaviours? And here we are at James 2 again. We have come full circle. Also you misquoted me when you said “that really good people will be saved because of their goodness”. I didn’t say that did I? I simply quoted what scripture says. So if I have faith in Jesus Christ it will be because my behaviour demonstrates it. These days I suspect I am closer to THE point than I ever have been although I am a lot less religious.

  • Aaron

    Those last two paragraphs nail it.

  • Randall

    Yes, I think you nailed it with this one, too many times the analogies that I’ve seen advanced to defend calvinism simply seem either dishonest or I’m not smart enough to actually understand what calvinists really mean. If someone is the cause of another’s trespass then that person is culpable is the usual sense of the word, denials of this just strike me as so much intellectual sophistry.

  • Scott Ferguson

    “Let’s change the analogy a bit. Suppose the rich man is the judge who sentenced all the inmates and has the legal authority to free them; he actually paid their fines himself! The judge goes to the jail and unlocks all the cell doors and announces that they are all free to leave. The only condition for leaving is opening the cell door, signing a document admitting guilt and acknowledging that someone else paid his fine. Some inmates do it and some don’t–remaining to serve their sentences even though that is wholly unnecessary.”

    This may surprise many coming from a “calvinist”, but I actually think this is a fine analogy. I would have no hesitation using it now (although a few years ago I would have).

    The reason I don’t have a problem with it is because underneath it I detect what I’ve come to believe is a necessary distinction (but not separation) between atonement & redemption–the atonement being the sacrifice/propitiation itself, redemption being the application of that atonement to individuals (cf. the ark, the Exodus Passover, the serpent on the pole, the Day of Atonement, etc.). Sadly, this distinction has been lost on us calvinists over time mostly because we don’t know our own history well enough (just take a trip down history lane over at David Ponter’s excellent blog for proof). This was true of me until a few years ago, and I’ve been raised in calvinism my 46-year life.

    Anyway, within the context of this analogy, I do have a question: How would you expand the analogy to explain why some inmates left and others didn’t?

    • rogereolson

      There is no explanation for it–other than some exercise their free will to leave and some exercise their free will to stay. Any explanation other than that would make them not responsible.

  • Kent

    The rich man would not be good because he masterminded it all.

    This is what I did not understand about Calvinism before. God decreed that I fall into sin in eternity past and then when I actually commit the sin, it would still be my fault. “It’s a mystery” they say. And then He comes and pays all my sins to show that He is a good God.

    • rogereolson

      But is not truly good because he punishes those for whom he did not pay and who are in jail because he manipulated it to be so.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Dr. Olson,

    I continue to love your blog, thank you for taking the time. Had a quick look at the appendix in “Against Calvinism” before getting into the text proper – very useful. As I was reading it a thought came to mind that probably is in the category mentioned by N.T. Wright of good ideas being mostly things for which we have forgotten the reference – maybe it’s from an old preacher in the holiness movement in which I was raised. In any case, it may be helpful, so I’ll pass it on: “The grace of God is sufficient forever, one day at a time!”

    Keep writing, you are helping many.


  • JohnD

    Well put. All Calvinist analogies break down eventually, running headlong into the truth of what Scripture teaches us about the character of God. The sad part is that instead of acknowledging the truth, they head off in another direction, seeking another analogy or concocting verbiage to get around the clear cut teaching of Scripture. Start with the character of God, as revealed fully in Jesus, and let that be a hermeneutical filter. The Calvinist system is to install an extra-biblical filter, which is quickly encrusted with so much gunk it’s useless for anything but the Dumpster behind Pep Boys.

  • Ben

    The only way the reasoning and logic used by calvinists can be true and still make God good would be IF all people are somehow responsible for their own existence, (which nobody is). The two things no person on earth can be responsible for in any way whatsoever are 1) the fact that they were born, and 2) if they are or are not ‘elect’.

  • Zach

    I think it would be a fascinating psychological study to see how these folks believe this stuff in the very face of reason. What makes almost entirely counter intuitive assent so appealing? Maybe something related to postmodernism? I would also be curious to see how it relates to the young, restless (and predominantly white male) demographic.

  • Rob

    I’m not saying that I buy it but I think a Calvinist could argue that it just turns out that every possible person God could create just would fall and so it is not as though God is making them fall, God is just using the fact that they would for a purpose. Since they deserve punishment anyway, God does not do anything wrong to them by creating them and preordaining that they will not be saved.

    I think the problem is not with whether or not God is unjust towards the damned, because God seems to give them exactly what they deserve, but that God is not perfectly merciful. God could have saved one more. Why not? It seems like we could imagine a being almost the same as God but with just a little more mercy. That being would be closer to perfectly merciful.

  • Nicolas

    very tricky, but you made it clear! thanks.

  • Roger, I need a little help understanding Calvinism.

    I judge his doctrine of election to be error (in the context of my own faith in the nature of God) but don’t know his system very well otherwise. However, I was reading a good bit in his chapter on Prayer today (the chapter immediately preceding Election), and at first glance I’m not sure the two doctrines impact each other.

    My question is, what other ‘pillar’ or post of Calvinism is compromised by a rejection of his Election doctrine? Does it shake the whole system?


    • rogereolson

      I am confident Calvin would say that his whole theology would be shaken by a rejection of his doctrine of election; that’s the nature of a system. However, many Calvin scholars argue (perhaps rightly) that Calvin was NOT as systematic as post-Calvin Calvinists (scholastics) such as Theodore Beza. They say that Calvin did not make election the foundation or linchpin of his whole doctrinal system and that he was much more willing to appeal to mystery than his followers. Perhaps. However, it seems to me that ALMOST everything one can find in the Reformed scholastics such as Beza and Gomarus can be found in Calvin (except limited atonement!). That doesn’t mean that everything Calvin wrote is automatically wrong just because his doctrine of election is wrong. However, I think his idea of God’s sovereignty (basically the same held by Augustine earlier) permeates everything. If you don’t find it in his doctrine of prayer, go back and look again. Does he believe prayer can actually affect God? I doubt it. Then prayer can only be a “foreordained means to a foreordained end” as later Calvinists explain. There goes the urgency of prayer!

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Indeed, there goes urgency of anything.

  • John O’Connor

    If in your analogy “the only condition for leaving,” namely “opening the cell door, signing a document admitting guilt and acknowledging that someone else paid his fine” is simply belief in Christ and repentance from sin, would you not agree that Scripture explicitly denies us the power of doing these things (John 3:1-8)?

    • rogereolson

      Have you read any of my blog posts or writings on prevenient grace? An analogy is only to make one point; to include everything of Arminian soteriology would require a much longer and more detailed analogy. The one and only point of my analogy is that God wants all to be saved and has provided the wherewithall for that.

  • Steve Rogers

    While it may be so that some whose fines have been paid by the good judge who opened their cell doors may be slow to respond to such mercy and choose to remain in their prison, I find it implausible that any person of sound mind would persist for eternity in stubborn refusal of such grace. One must either assume that the opportunity to step into freedom has an end date, (Which if so invites the question what happened to the goodness of the judge?), or hold out for the hope that eventually at the name of Jesus EVERY knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father whose
    objective was to free them in the first place. I’m holding out for that hope.

    • Jason

      One word, pride.

      God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Conversely the proud resist God and the humble accede to him.

      I believe Dante coined the phrase, “better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

  • Scott Ferguson

    “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.” (Peter, as recorded in Acts 2:23). God planned what men freely did. I don’t know how the 2 are simultaneously true, nor am I required to know how or be able to explain how. But it is so. God says so, and I am required to believe that.

    • rogereolson

      Surely you know there are non-Calvinist interpretations of that passage! Don’t you? You’re not required to believe the Calvinist interpretation which is but one possible (but not the best) interpretation. Nowhere in that passage does Peter say or imply that God chose certain individuals to sin. If he did, then God is the author of sin. Are you willing to say so?

      • Scott Ferguson

        Surely you know there are non-Calvinist interpretations of that passage! Surely I do.

        Nowhere in that passage does Peter say or imply that God chose certain individuals to sin. Nor did I say it does. But it does affirm, at least to me, that God plans and men freely act and are held responsible for their actions. I admit this is well beyond my ability to fully comprehend or explain.

        Surely you’re not suggesting that non-calvinists believe God plans nothing, or that He has no ability to bring His plans to pass, or that His plans can effectively amount to nothing because they can be thwarted with any single autonomous decision?

        • rogereolson

          Of course not. But God can bring about necessary events in salvation history without foreordaining or rendering certain that (notice how carefully I am using language so as not to impute to Calvinists ideas in which they do not believe) specific human persons sin. For example, Jesus’ triumphal entry guaranteed his arrest and execution. God did not have to foreordain or render certain that certain individuals sin. He simply knew that SOMEONE would be so threatened by Jesus’ action that he would have to die.

  • Timothy

    Can I suggest one area where Calvinism may be stronger than many forms of Arminianism? One of the problems of Arminianism is the extent to which it is anthropocentric. It becomes pretty much all about how I get to heaven. Now Calvinism ‘corrects’ this tendency by asserting that salvation is all about Christ, from first to last, excluding nothing. What Calvinism doesn’t do is correct the basic notion that it is all about people getting to heaven. One of the contributions of neo-calvinism and of Tom Wright and Scot McKnight is precisely in this area. The story ceases to be about people getting to heaven (except perhaps as a staging post) but about redemption of creation. There is no reason why Arminianism cannot make the same move and I am sure parts have done so a long time ago.
    The problem with the Calvinist solution is that the cure of the anthropocentrism inherent in many accounts of Arminianism (which in all fairness it inherited from Calvinism) is that the cure is as bad as the malady.
    But this would also account for the similarity (yes I mean this) between Tom Wright and John Piper. The latter is as concerned as the former about relocating the centre of the gospel in God rather than Man; he just goes about it in a perverse way.

    • rogereolson

      Well, I reject that classical Arminianism is anthropocentric. Popular semi-Pelagianism is, but classical Arminianism is not. Neither Tom Wright nor Scot McKnight is a “neo-Calvinists.” I know Scot personally and he has recently affirmed to me he is an Anabaptist with Arminian leanings. He used to be a Calvinist (in his student days) but has abandoned it. What many people call “neo-Calvinism” is actually Arminianism! See my article “Arminianism is God-centered Theology” posted here some months ago. It should be in the archives.

      • Timothy

        I was not suggesting either Tom Wright or Scot McKnight were neo-calvinistic. Read carefully what I said distinguished betyween neo-calvinism and NTW and Scot McK. For me it is Kuyper and Dooyeweerd who are neo-calvinist.
        I fully accept the selfdesignation of Scot as anabaptist but this is my point. Anabaptism predates Arminianism and it might be considered anachronistic to see anabaptism as Arminian.
        My thesis is that the scheme that the Reformation world inherited was so much patterned after a ‘how do I get to heaven’ that Calvinism adopted this this largely unthinkingly and then tried to adjust for its anthropocentrism by emphasising the sovereignty to the point that it became obnoxious. Arminius attempted to change this and to a large extent succeeded but whenever the basic scheme reverts from the story of Israel (to use Scot’s language) to the story of how I get to heaven, even Arminianism suffers.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Anthropocentrism is bad? Now people aren’t the only concern of God, but isn’t God really really really concerned about people? When Christ died, wasn’t that primarily about redeeming people? When the Spirit moves on the earth, isn’t it primarily motivated to change people? (Even the event with the donkey was concerned primarily about people!) The Good News was delivered to people. The pinnacle of creation was people. The earthly creatures said to dwell in heaven are people (as opposed to fish or cows or flies or rocks). And in addition to loving God we are commanded to love other people. This is a cure without a problem. The gospel is about God centering His love on people.

      I think you use the term “how I get to heaven” equated with selfishness. It doesn’t have to be used that way. If God, who loves me and gave Himself up for me, is in heaven, then I want to find out how I get to heaven as well.

  • Kyle Carney


    I think that I had two main reasons to running to Calvinism years ago (I am no longer a Calvinist and consider myself a reformed Arminian).

    First, the first theological books I read were by Calvinists, Piper and MacArthur. Piper especially provided a theological shot of growth for my walk with the Lord primarily in the cognitive realm. I just hadn’t read any solid Arminian theologians that really write well. So, we as Arminians need to do a better job at encouraging theology.

    The second reason, I believe may have been for selfish therapeutical reasons on my part. This is something I want to think more about and perhaps write a paper or book about. My parents divorced, I wandered away from the Lord for some time emotionally and got into a lot of immorality, then I came back to the Lord dramatically (from my perspective) as he did indeed continue to pursue me during this whole time. Thank God he is so merciful and gracious. However, as I began to read Calvinist theology later in high school, something felt good to me about the idea that God decided and specifically arranged my parents’ divorce and the messy details involved therein. I think this motivation is selfish, not God-centered; however, many Calvinists appeal to leaving horrible things “in God’s hands” as the most peaceful way of thinking about things. Then, as I immersed myself in Calvinist literature, I couldn’t see another way for a long time because my lenses for reading scripture had become so colored by Calvinism and determinism. However, I got involved with Calvary Chapel, and their commitment to preaching verse by verse and letting the Bible speak for itself helped to cure me of this conditioning (not that Calvary Chapel doesn’t have its own lenses, but there is a balance of different views or lenses across the population of Calvary teachers). As I matured, I have been able to look back and see that God was indeed sovereign and in control over the situations in my life; however, I wouldn’t say any longer that my parents divorce had to happen in order to fulfill God’s purposes or that He rendered it certain or caused it to happen in any way other than knowing that the sin would occur and sovereignly allowing it to happen within his plan (which is good, and bad things happen because of our sin). So, God graciously brought good out of evil, but I have grown enough to see that the specifics of my life did not have to be that way (that is the nature of looking at evil and recognizing it is ugly and needs to end).

    We Arminians also have to say that we appeal to mystery in that God is good and we can’t understand why it was better to create us and allow for so much evil rather than not create us at all. However, this appeal to mystery is acceptable to me because I know that God sees more than me and far better and higher than me, but I cannot accept what seems to be a contradiction in Calvinism (I believe Calvinism equals a view of God that demands we say God is good in essence and not good in essence at the same time.)

    • Kyle, thank you for your testimony. It helps me immensely to listen to others describe the internal whys and hows that rationalize their belief in this subject manner, one way or the other.

  • DR. Olson,
    I think your post is absolutely correct.
    It reminds me of the scripture: “Divers weights are an abomination to the LORD; and a false balance is not good.” Proverbs 20:23

    Why would God give this strong sentence to his people in the Canon of scripture?
    Only then to to act in discontinuity against it arbitrarily?
    Why bother to teach people about justice?
    Why bother to give a commandment “love your neighbour as yourself” when He Himself breaks His own precepts (supposedly) “for his good pleasure”?

    We understand from these very precepts given to us by God in scripture that “ALL” have sinned and fall short. To relate this to the prison: “ALL” are deserving of their sentences. So this makes them “ALL” at balance. And a just balance is a what God desires. But He who has the ability to pay the price for “ALL” of their sentences, but does not do it, is described in James 4:17. “He who knows to do good but does not do it, SINS. And that, as Dr. Olson so well states is to distort the wonderfully beautiful nature and character of God, and paint him into a Zeus or a Pan or a Hermes. All pagan deities world-wide have a dualistic nature (i.e. a good side and an evil side).
    If the medieval Christian intellectuals (Augustine et-all) had known better than to worship at the alter of Plato, a theosophic double-headed god would have never been embraced into any stream of Christian thought.

  • ryan

    What I find surprising is no biblical texts cited whatsoever . How does this philosophical meandering even come close to what the bible or Calvinism teaches? It doesn’t even address man’s inability to believe i.e. open the door, sign the paper, etc…… The bible teaches that unless a man is born again he can’t even see (John 3). man is dead in sin (Ephesians 2). The fall is so encompassing that man no longer has the ability to understand the spiritual things. see Romans 3;11 and 1 Cor. 2:14. Whether you consider yourself Calvinist or Arminian, do yourself a favor and let the Bible correct your traditional flaws. Don’t use logical fallacies or straw men arguments to support your view. sola scriptura and tota scriptura.

    • rogereolson

      With all due respect, please notice that many Calvinists here have used analogies to support their beliefs without mentioning Scripture. Apparently you think Scripture has to be quoted in every post. My analogy was meant to illustrate Scripture’s clear teaching about the love of God and God’s desire that all be saved and I mentioned the relevant verses in an earlier post in that thread. I’m simply not going to post anymore messages here that break into a thread like this and accuse me or someone else of “not quoting Scripture” when Scripture is exactly what is being discussed in the discussion thread.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Ryan,

      I think it is safe to assume that all (most) discussions here are about our understandings that we get from Scriptures – even if we don’t explicitly state them or reference them. To not have a scripture reference does not negate the truth of an argument – it simply must stand on its own (or not). Neither does quoting a Scripture nullify other arguments because of various complexities within and without the Bible. There is a passage in the Bible that says “The Lord is like an enemy.” Yes … well … what does that prove? It means something, but not everything. It does not trump other parts of reality. It’s in Lamentations if you care to check it out.

  • Jon T

    “Some people MIGHT consider the rich man good IF the inmates whose fines he paid were somehow more deserving than those whose fines he did not pay. But that would ruin the analogy completely because Calvinists insist God’s choice of the elect is absolutely undeserving.” And it occurred to me that if the rich man didn’t in fact base his decision on some form of deserving merit then it’s possible he would be releasing those who’d been deemed violent and likely to re-offend. In this case we certainly wouldn’t consider him to be doing good. The analogy breaks down at all sorts of levels.

    • rogereolson

      Only if you push it too far–something no analogy is capable of bearing. Like a parable, an analogy is meant to make one main point. Critics can jump on any parable or analogy by trying to make it into an allegory.

  • Kyle Carney

    The point, Calvinist friends, is that if you think about yourself compared to all other humans, you find two things in common: the mark of God’s image and the marring of it by sin. Now, we all agree upon this. We both agree that only the grace of God, whether irresistible or prevenient, is necessary for the sinner to respond in faith. The issue, for us Arminians, is that we view ourselves as no better than any other human being, not especially peculiar in any sense that would attract God to us (we agree on that, but we come to different conclusions). So, if we are no better than any other person and God’s grace can restore any sinner, then how can it be good that God chooses arbitrarily? Keep in mind, this is not an accusation of eeny-meeny-miney-moe. If God chooses someone for any purpose completely up to himself, completely unrelated to the someone before this someone or any other someones are born, then that makes the choice arbitrary. The only appeal you have here is mystery, and the Arminian case uses scripture soundly and accurately just landing on mystery in a different place that leaves us going, “Wow, I don’t know how God knows all this and sovereignly chooses in Christ Jesus and works things all things together for the good of those who love him! But, we know he is good, loving and just.”

    We also must appeal to mystery; our mystery just doesn’t seem to contradict God’s basic character. I know this sounded harsh, but, keep in mind, I’m just presenting the case from the perspective of how Arminians view the situation. We know Calvinists love a loving God, too. We just don’t believe their beliefs support that at its logical conclusion.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Dear Dr. Olson,

     It must have been hard to have the negative assignment to write “Against Calvinism” compared with Dr. Horton’s assignment to write ” For Calvinism”. I’m sure you will understand it when I say it was much more enjoyable to read Horton’s book! Thank you for taking on the more difficult task. After reading both books in the same week, many thoughts were going through my mind. As you point out, when one is considering the more extreme expressions of Calvinism this long-running controversy is not a simple disagreement among brothers as sisters. Rather, it goes to the heart of the relation between the Creator and creation. The following observations fell into place while thinking about some of the conclusions you reach regarding divine determinism. Hopefully it’s helpful and not, in it’s own way, extreme.


    Temptation of Christ

    Satan said to mankind (Adam and Eve)
    “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it (disobey God) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”

    Satan said to God (the man Jesus)
    “I will give you all their (earthly kingdoms) authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

     Satan was deceiving Adam and Eve with respect to the consequences that would flow from disobeying God. He was telling the truth about humanity’s eyes being opened to the knowledge of good and evil, and by extension, to the need to choose between the two. He concealed the fact that while like God in the “knowledge of good and evil” a created being is incapable of always making the right choices. Apart from God’s intervention, the human situation, in disobedience, becomes hopeless, and we die.

    Satan was completely truthful in his temptation of God (the man Jesus). Even the great deceiver understands the futility of lying to God. Instead, Satan was prevailing upon God to finally ‘see the dark’ and do things Satan’s way. Thus was a long-standing argument between God and his powerful angel Lucifer. At least since the time when God moved by the Spirit over the waters and turned darkness, chaos and emptiness into light, order and life, God’s will regarding the management of creation was directly opposed by Lucifer. The choice was between creation being controlled completely by the Creator or creation willingly submitting to the Creator’s control. Both options were possible. Satan hated the second option, God insisted on the second option, in spite of the lengths He had to go to make it a reality. 

    We cannot forget or overlook the fact that, there in the desert, God was once again being asked by Satan to control things completely, to give up on the idea of having a people, drawn from creation, who willingly and freely choose God as Lord. Satan argued that it’s far better to just control everything and have done with it! The text makes clear that God would consider this way of doing things as worshiping Satan. 

    God’s answer, through Jesus, was clear “It is written: worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

    It is interesting to observe, but probably predictable (natural), that following to the full extent of the deceiver’s advice leads to a 180 degree turn from God’s advice, not to minor course deviations. As Greg Boyd puts it in discussing the story of the potter and the clay “the point…….is not God’s unilateral control, but God’s willingness and right to change his plans in response to changing hearts.” Using Boyd’s phrasing, The choice is between the “the wisdom of God’s loving flexibility” or “the sheer determinism of God’s power.” Satan wants God to engage in the latter and God, through the Spirit in Christ, refused to do so, all the way to the cross!

    Biblical quotes,  NIV, Zondervan, 2011
    Boyd, Greg. “How do you respond to Romans 9?”

  • Phil

    “For God has shut up all in disobedience that he might show mercy to all.
    “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and unfathomable his ways!
    “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:32-36.

    • rogereolson

      A good example of what I was talking about earlier. Some people think just quoting a few Bible verses proves something. I’m sure your intentions are good, but these are isolated verses taken out of context and need interpreting insofar as they are intended to prove a controversial theological point.

    • John Inglis

      If all of God’s ways are so unfathomable, how can we know anything at all about him? More to the point, given that you seem to believe (or, at least come across that way) thinking about God is somehow arrogantly claiming to know the unsearchable, unfathomable and unknowable, how can you be sure that your take on those scriptures and your take on God’s nature is correct?