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A Movie Illustration of What’s Wrong with Calvinism | Roger E. Olson

A Movie Illustration of What’s Wrong with Calvinism

A Movie Illustration of What’s Wrong with Calvinism November 18, 2012

A Movie Illustration of What’s Wrong with Calvinism

Spoiler alert! If you intend to watch “Ruby Sparks” (a 2012 movie now on DVD) and you don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading now.

I make no claim to being a movie critic. I know nothing about production values and often like movies critics hate. This one is probably not a very good movie—in terms of what critics like. It’s sappy, maudlin, unbelievable, etc. Nevertheless, my wife and I enjoyed it. It’s a decent little story somewhat along the lines of “Lars and the Real Girl.” Just sweet and kind of silly and utterly impossible (like all those time travel movies).

I seriously doubt the movie’s writer or producer had theology in mind, but many movies have what I call theological analogies, even when it seems highly unlikely their makers were thinking about theology. Usually I try to block out my analytical mind when watching a movie and just enjoy it (as much as possible). At the end of this movie, however, I declared (probably much to my wife’s dismay) “That’s a great analogy to Calvinism and why it doesn’t work!” (I have to say, though, that she then joined in the conversation and made some great observations.)

Here’s the plot summary. A young writer wrote a blockbuster best seller that, like Catcher in the Rye, caught on especially among young people and has been used in high school literature classes. He’s a hero to his many fans, but his private life is a mess. He has several afflictions including social phobia and writer’s block. (I observed early on that the movie’s writer was no doubt comparing him with J. D. Salinger and, indeed, that comes out at the end when Catcher in the Rye is specifically mentioned.)

What torments him the most, however, is his utter inability to find a girlfriend. He was in a relationship, but it ended badly. Now he can’t seem to talk to women at all. His therapist assigns him to write about his ideal girlfriend. So he reluctantly does. He begins to dream about the young woman he is inventing in his mind and on paper. Then, by some kind of magic, she appears in his house—acting as if she were his girlfriend and had been for some time. His reaction is amazing to watch. (The lead actor is actually quite good.)

To make a long story short (as they say), the writer discovers that he can control the girlfriend by writing about her. Whatever he writes, she does. His brother doesn’t believe it, so he demonstrates by writing that the girlfriend speaks French. Suddenly, within moments, all she can speak is French. Eventually, the writer becomes disillusioned with this magical phenomenon. He comes to think of the young woman as real which, in the movie, in a sense, she is. Physically, she’s “there.” But he controls her completely. She becomes whatever his momentary whim causes him to write about her.

Finally, he has a kind of nervous breakdown and starts furiously writing sentences that cause her to be like a puppet—just to demonstrate his power over her. Then, in a moment of utter despair, loving her so much, he writes that she is real and free. At that moment she leaves him. He is devastated, but seems to realize it’s better to let her go than keep her as his marionette. Whether she returns to him is left somewhat unclear at the end. The movie leaves the viewer with reason to hope.

So what made the “magic” of being able to control the girlfriend ultimately unsatisfactory? In the denouement scene, which is pretty intense, you see two things happening in the writer’s mind and heart. First, he has compassion on the “girlfriend.” He finally sees her as real, or potentially real. He sees that she is miserable even when he “makes” her joyful. Her “joy” isn’t genuine. It’s manufactured. (Actually, the actress playing the girlfriend does a magnificent job of acting toward the end of the movie. You can see both joy and suffering on her face when the writer is making her “joyful.”) Second, the writer finds that he gets no real satisfaction out of controlling her. Her “joy,” for example, doesn’t give him joy because it’s not really hers, provoked by him through love. He produces it in her by putting it there.

I’m not treating this movie as an allegory. By no means do I regard the writer as “God.” (Unlike, perhaps, in “The Truman Show” where “Christof” is clearly supposed to be God and it’s fair to treat his character that way—as meant to be a God-figure.) Rather, I’m treating “Ruby Sparks” as a parable and it was clearly intended to be such. I take it the writer had in mind the old saw “If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, it never belonged to you.”

So about what do I see “Ruby Sparks” as a parable?

In his book The Providence of God Calvinist philosopher-theologian Paul Helm says: “Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire, kept in being by God, but every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God.” (p. 22) Yes, of course, he goes on throughout the book to attempt to demonstrate how this is a good thing. But, in the end, it’s unsatisfying for the same reason as the writer’s control of Ruby in the movie.

Toward the end of “Ruby Sparks,” the writer character discovers that what he is having with Ruby is not a relationship but a condition. Ultimately, she is not yet real. Or, if she is real, she is not a person. What he is having with her is not a personal relationship—from either his or her perspective. His perspective that he was having a personal relationship with her was an illusion. And his power to control her was not in any way glorifying or magnifying of him (as he seemed to think at some points). It was not only unfair to her (since he could cause her to be real and free); it was demeaning to him. What he was doing was unethical.

Now, let’s adjust the movie, the parable, just a bit and see what would happen “if.” Imagine that the writer finally decided that controlling Ruby was better than giving her reality and freedom. Better for whom? Well, for both him and her. After all, he could then protect her from the many dangers of being real and free. And he could show off his magical power to his brother (a character in the movie) and his therapist (he does reveal it to both of them). But who would think he was “protecting” her or revealing real ability? All people in their right minds, decent, reasonable people, upon realizing what he was doing to her, would condemn him for it. (In the movie his brother comes to think what he is doing is wrong. His therapist never really believes it.)

Here is my question to Calvinists: even if the writer in the movie treated Ruby with kindness, would you ever agree that he is doing something good—either morally or in terms of showing his greatness? I can’t imagine it. What’s great about using a magical power to control things compared with using persuasion to influence them? And what’s morally good about controlling another person compared with giving them freedom and entering into a real relationship with them?

Of course, Helm, and most Calvinists with him, goes to great lengths to try to show that God is different. It’s okay for God to control his human creatures whereas it would never be okay for humans to do so (except, of course for small children or hopeless imbeciles).

Christian philosopher Vincent  Brümmer (in Speaking of a Personal God) demonstrates conclusively (in my opinion) that “personal relationship” cannot be controlling. To the extent one person in the relationship is being controlled by the other, we must call it a “condition” and not a “relationship.” “For the realization of a personal relationship the initiative of both partners in the relationship is necessary.” (p. 75) (By “initiative” he clearly, in context, is not talking about semi-Pelagianism; he’s talking about consent and reciprocal agency.)

With Brümmer and the vast majority of Christians throughout history, I consider Helm’s view of God’s sovereignty reductive of personal relationship to condition. What the writer in “Ruby Sparks” was experiencing in his “relationship” with Ruby was a condition, not a true relationship. She was merely his puppet. There is nothing truly loving about such a condition. A ventriloquist may claim to “love” his puppet, but anyone hearing that claim would laugh or cry—considering the ventriloquist either joking or crazy. That would be even more the case if the ventriloquist claimed the puppet loved him!

Philosopher Brümmer also demonstrates, rightly, I think, that strict Calvinism (he uses the Canons of Dort as his foil) is ultimately incoherent insofar as it claims that God is so different, so unique, that somehow it’s good and right for God to control humans in such a manner that would never be considered right or good in human experience. If God is so “wholly other,” such that there are no analogies, then, he says, we really do not know anything about God. This is what I’ve been saying here for a long time—almost since the blog’s beginning. Ultimately, strict Calvinism, divine determinism, must posit a “hidden God,” a voluntarist God who has no nature or whose nature is so radically different from ours that we can’t even conceive of it. And, in light of hell, such a controlling, manipulative God cannot be conceived as “good” in any meaningful way.

When Helm says (or anyone says the same even if in other words) that “Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire…every twist and turn of each of these, is under the direct control of God” nothing he says later can ameliorate the determinism of that or avoid the good and necessary consequence that, in light of the Holocaust and hell, God is not good. He can and does assert God’s goodness (nevertheless!), but he cannot explain how such a God would be good or how one could have a genuine relationship with him. No matter what else he says, having said that, the fact remains that, in his view, at least when he wrote that sentence, God is a ventriloquist and we are his puppets—some of us destined by God to be burned up to demonstrate his power and “glory.” There is no way in which this can be considered “good” in any sense of “good” in our ordinary languages.

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  • Jackie Kaulitz

    Hi Roger, thank you for the interesting article and good challenging questions for us Calvinists. You say that it is unethical for God to control humans and you state: “It’s okay for God to control his human creatures whereas it would never be okay for humans to do so (except, of course for small children or hopeless imbeciles).” So then, I must ask, “Why is it okay for adults to control children or imbeciles?” And you’ll probably answer along the lines of, “Because they’re lost without us and a danger to themselves and need help.” How are unbelieving humans without God any different than imbeciles? It is a real imbecile who rejects God and loves Satan, knowing one will receive the wrath of God in hell for all eternity. Would you allow your child the free will to run into the street and get hit by a truck? Or would you (like God), snatch them out of the street against their “free will” but in agreement with their “actual will” if they knew better? Once they grow up (get smarter) and could see the truth, they’ll be glad you snatched them out of the road. It’s only a foolish blindness and short-sightedness that would make them upset that you snatched them out of the road. This is how I view God. If we were smarter (See? We’re imbeciles), we would be happy to throw our “free will” out the window if only God would save us and we would be spared from hell.

    • rogereolson

      That’s a predictable response and one I’ve encountered often. First, we talk about having a “personal relationship with God” which, I take it, implies something more than being controlled like children or imbeciles. When you compare us to children or imbeciles, of course, then you have to deal with the fact that God DOES NOT rescue us. Why not? We would–our own children or mentally disabled people in our care. And if that’s the comparison you choose (I don’t), you have to deal with why God unilaterally decides to save some and not others. Are children and imbeciles so depraved and guilty that they deserve hell? It seems to me you Calvinists have more problems to deal with when you adopt that analogy. I prefer to think of us, mature human beings, as persons God wants to be in relationship with and not control as puppets. If we are his puppets, or even little children or imbeciles, to him, then why does he foreordain and render certain that some significant portion of us go to hell?

      • Chris

        To your last sentence, even though I’m not satisfied with this answer I’m sure the canned Calvinist response would be “potter and clay”.

        • rogereolson

          Sure, but that still doesn’t explain how, using that as a holistic analogy for the entire God-person relationship it is a “personal relationship.” My point to them is they must give up calling our relationship with God a “personal” one.

  • Joshua Wooden

    I wonder if you have ever watched the television series “Lost” (six seasons of about 24 50-minute episodes), now on Netflix.

    There are many different themes, but one of them is issues concerning fate, choice, coincidence, etc. from the point of view of naturalism, omni-causal determinism, etc.

    • rogereolson

      I never got into it. I had a teaching assistant who was addicted to the series and kept me informed about it, though. These are, of course, very common themes in literature and entertainment. I just thought the Ruby Sparks movie was particularly lucid about one point–that controlling others is never a good thing.

      • Joshua Wooden

        It was a very interesting perspective. I was only curious because you always seem current on material in popular culture, be it through literature or television, concerning theology in general, and the ongoing Calvinist-Arminian, in particular.

        • rogereolson

          I’ll take that as a compliment and admit that I may not be as current as I seem! 🙂

  • Eagle

    Interesting Roger… Did you see “The Adjustment Bureau?” I don’t think John Piper would like that one either…

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I saw that. I think I may have blogged about that, too. It’s a good illustration of open theism’s view of God’s flexible plan.

  • Eagle

    Roger what do you know about the John Piper fundementalism penetrating the Evangelical Free Church of America? I popped up at one today in the DC area and I noticed Acts 29 influence. The men’s ministry had compliemntarian/patriarchy infleunce. Then I noticed this in the EFCA website.

    Since when does TGC and Acts 29 do church plants together with the EFCA? Reason why I ask is that I am an agnostic looking for a venue to seriosuly discuss the problem of evil and other doubts. I was baptized in an an EFCA years ago….and I thought it would be fine. But I was stunned by what I heard and saw…

    • rogereolson

      First, that’s not the EFCA web site. It’s that particular church’s web site. Yes, many EFCA churches have gone to the Gospel Coalition and Calvinism. I see that as a step away from the EFCA’s tradition of permitting real diversity on beliefs about predestination. I recently discussed that here. You might find my comments in the archives. (It was part of the follow up discussion after my list of approved denominations.) My grandparents were EFCA. My mother grew up in the EFCA–until she became Pentecostal in early adulthood. So when you say you are an agnostic looking for a venue to seriously discuss the problem of evil and “other doubts” do you mean you have doubts about your agnosticism in light of the problem of evil? I hope so, because if there is no God there is no problem of evil.

      • Rob

        Sure, there is no problem of evil if there is no God, but that’s the point. Right? The problem is that there at least appears to be inherent tension between the existence of God and the existence of evil. If there is no God, there is no more problem. Just evil.
        Some might say that if God does not exist then there is no evil, but even if we accept that, we can change it to ‘little kids drowning’ or maybe just generically ‘suffering’. Those things suck whether or not God and/or evil exist. So we could say that these things are real and bad and then say that were God to exist, then they would count as evil and so be opposed to God’s very nature. God, being inherently good, would be opposed to anything evil and so might be expected to prevent them.

        • rogereolson

          When I said that if God does not exist there is no problem of evil, I was thinking primarily of moral evil. Without God or something like God, “evil” becomes “what I dislike” or “what society dislikes.” Evil is then reduced to “bad.”

  • Eagle

    Roger…I sent you an email the other day. I hover around a number of blogs reading, and chewing on what I read. I used to be into reformed theology and loved John Piper. This was years ago, before all my fundamentalist experiences caused me to reach a tipping point. I’ve really found evangelicalism to be a mile wide and an inch thick. In my case I can’t understand why Christians say God is good in spite of all the evil that exists. What type of loving God allows a 3 year old to be abducted, raped, and murdered? It’s even sicker when you think of God knowing what was going to happen but choosing not to stop it. I’m not trying to be difficult but I don’t see why this God who allows this kind of evil should be worshipped.

    Here in Washington, D.C. Several years ago I mostly severed ties with many Christians/fundamentalists and fled. However as I moved in agnostic circles I haven’t been satisfied with some of what I have heard there, plus I realize that there are also problems with agnosticism. For example….something must have created all this beauty that I see in the world. But it’s difficult to be in a position where you have no one to thank.

    Last year I went to the Reason Rally and listened to a number of prominent atheists. I kind of had an a-ha moment when Richard Dawkins was speaking. When I was listening to Dawkins I realized that it was almost like listening to John Piper. Fundamentalism knows no barriers and you can encounter fundamentalism in different forms. So here I was I fled fundamentalism and I found myself in another form. I felt sick….

    It’s ridiculously hard to find a church these days. It’s much harder than in the past. Growing mega churches which reflect more of American culture than Christianity, Neo-Calvinism, etc… make it much more difficult. So I hover around online and read your blog, Internet Monk, Wartburg Watch, etc.. and read and discuss. While I also avoid most Christian authors and fundamentalists there have been a few gems who I do respect. I have a friend of mine who went to Bethel and encouraged me to read Greg Boyd, and I’m reading his “Letters to a Skeptic”. When I was tossing a lot of my Christian material for some reason I didn’t trash Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment with God.” I’ve read and re-read that a few times…when I read the Chapter about the Graduate student Richard….I felt I was reading about myself. But I’ve read other Philip Yancey books.
    So I’m just trying to figure myself out.

    • Eagle,

      Don’t give up hope my friend.


  • Jon Altman

    I’m cerrtainly as Wesleyan/Arminian as Roger and I concur. I would like to point out that the lead actress in the movie was also the writer of the screenplay/creator of the story.

  • “If we are his puppets, or even little children or imbeciles, to him, then why does he foreordain and render certain that some significant portion of us go to hell?”

    First, God does not consider us to be his “puppets,” but he does consider us to be incapable of extricating ourselves from our fallen condition; including our ability to make ALL the right choices to merit salvation. If we could, then, who needs Jesus? Secondly, God has not foreordained that anyone of humanity will go to a so-called hell. The traditional hell of eternal conscious torture is a myth. Consider below the following statement:

    “Those who insist on the concept of human free will often say that ‘God didn’t create us to be robots.’ But is this statement too simplistic? Of course he didn’t create us to be robots, but for our own good he did cause us to be subservient to his divine will and power. We don’t call him “ALMIGHTY” for nothing! Is it conceivable that God would create anything or anyone he couldn’t ultimately control? Ask yourself this simple question: is the human will sovereign or servant in relation to its Creator? Here is the obvious answer from scripture: “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; [God] does according to HIS will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Dan 4:35 NKJ).

    • With regards to this:

      “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; [God] does according to HIS will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan 4:35 NKJ).

      Who can restrain His hand? He can — and I believe He does– restrain His own hand. We cannot take from this verse the idea that it’s part of God’s will to control each and every thing that happens. Otherwise what do we do with a verse like Jeremiah 16:17 – “They have set up kings, but not by Me; they have made princes, and I knew it not”?

    • Bev Mitchell


      Instead of saying, “Is it conceivable that God would create anything or anyone he couldn’t ultimately control?” wouldn’t it be better to ask “Is it conceivable that God would create anything or anyone he couldn’t ultimately love?” Or to ask, “Is it not possible that perfect love is able to accomplish all of God’s will?” There is a sin fin of scripture about the efficacy of love, but John 3:16 will do.

  • Timothy

    Can Calvinism be seen as a ‘big tent’? Thus only parts of the Calvinist ‘tent’ would attract Roger’s opposition.
    Also and I hope related, there is a recent book on “Evangelical Calvinism” Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Wipf and Stock, 2012). In it, it is asserted that Evangelical Calvinism is covenantal and not contractual. What is the distinction? And does it make a difference to Roger’s critique of Calvinism?

    • rogereolson

      I reviewed that book here a while back. See if you can find that and the ensuing discussion (including some back and forth with Bobby Grow) in the archives. Yes, “Calvinism” is a big tent, but not all Calvinists think so. Most of the time, here, I am referring to the kind of Calvinism I wrote “against” in Against Calvinism when I use the term “Calvinism.” I suppose one could speak of paleo-Calvinism and neo-Calvinisms or something like that. I tend to use “Reformed theology” for the “big tent” and “Calvinism for belief in the TULIP scheme.

  • Craig Wright

    I have been teaching the book of Job at church, and it occurred to me that in God’s challenge to the accuser, that if God was controlling Job there would be no validity to the challenge. It certainly appears that God expects Job to have a free will.

    • rogereolson

      Good point!

  • Marshall

    Knowing nothing about the movie except what’s here, apparently the girl does have existence/desire apart from the writer, since she actually miserable even when he “makes her” happy. I suppose that’s how determinists think of them “selves”, as that stratum of misery underneath all the illusory choices. Seems excessively negative to me, as well as a category error.

    So can we say that Adam and Eve were not cursed, but set free with sadness and benevolence?

    • rogereolson

      Perhaps that depends on what “free” means. This is going beyond the movie analogy, but, as I explained in my Christianity Today article, true freedom is being what you are meant to be and free will is a gift of God by which we are intended to move, together with grace, in that direction.

  • Dave O’Brien

    I have been following John Piper since he was just a local pastor making life miserable for certain faculty members at Bethel Seminary. It struck me while reading this blog – is the Calvinist view of God just projection of highly controlling individuals?

    • rogereolson

      I try to resist the temptation to psychologize theologies and theologians, but I am also tempted to think along those lines…about some Calvinists (but certainly not all).

  • Jack Hanley

    First Let me say, I cannot agree more with the first respondent, Jackie. I was thinking the exact same things as I read the article. I like how you respond to Jackie by saying,

    That’s a predictable response and one I’ve encountered often.

    Of course it is a predictable response, it jumps right out at you as you read the article, especially when you consider the bible tells us that, “there is no who seeks God, we have all gone our own way. Now if you had a child that you dearly loved, that continued to go there own way, headed down the wrong path for a lifetime in prison. They not only hate your discipline, but also hate you as well, would you not, if you could in some way change their will, even if it was force against their free will. Certainly you would do anything the keep this child safe, and out of danger, even if it was force against their free will. In other words you would change their will however you could even by force, to keep them safe.

    However, God does not control us as the supposed Calvinists you quote, rather He changes our will, because we are His children, the same way you and I would change our children’s will if we could. This is not control, rather it is a change of the will.

    Now the question arises, why does God only save some and not all? However this is not the right question, the right question would be. Why does he save any? We who have been saved, deserve the same fate as the rest of the human race, however God chose to save the creation that He loved through His chosen children, otherwise we would all go our own way, and perish. Does God not have the right to save His creation any way He chooses, especially when we as His creation have all gone our own way by our own will and choice? How would God be at fault here? Who would have a legitimate complaint?

    • rogereolson

      Nope. The question is why does he save only some. We’ve been here before many times and you still don’t get that the primary issue is the character of God.

  • J.E. Edwards

    I know you’re using the movie as an analogy, but it’s just too hard to make the analogy that lengthy. Possibly is small fragments points could be made, but as a whole, there’s just too much left out. That analogy in no way dealt with the holiness of God and the fallen nature of man. That would really be the only thing I would say. Those 2 things cannot be left aside in that conversation.

    • rogereolson

      I said its an analogy to one point, not everything. But that one point is crucial in defeating CAlvinism insofar as it claims we are having a “personal” relationship with God.

  • Jack Hanley

    Sorry but I now see at least one typo,

    Certainly you would do anything THE keep this child safe,

    This sentence should read, Certainly you would do anything TO keep this child safe,

    • rogereolson

      Again, but the Calvinist God doesn’t, does he? In fact, Helms’ God controls even the reprobate such that they end up in hell. Calvin also said that God “compels” the reprobate.

  • The misunderstanding here is on the understanding of “predestination” and “control”. Calvinists dont believe God “controls” us against our wills.
    “He sees that she is miserable even when he “makes” her joyful. Her “joy” isn’t genuine. It’s manufactured.”
    See. He tries to make her joyful, but he fails. No Calvinist would you ever agree that he is doing something good, that is not a “calvinism” issue.

    Im not trying to argue “for Calvinism” here, just saying that its not fair to put the allegory against Calvinism, as this is not actually what Calvinists believe either, aside, maybe for some extremist/hypercalvinist/cultish individuals.

    • rogereolson

      I quoted what Helm said. My point is that Helm cannot have it his way (his quoted statement) and claim that we are truly joyful because, given his interpretation of God’s control of us, we aren’t real persons.

      • Well, yes, thats why I said it. The problem is not in this interpretation of God’s control of us, it is that, as he cannot explain how one could have a genuine relationship with God, but he believes it anyway. You assert that it can not be possible that way.
        That is why its false to say this movie is a illustration of whats wrong with Calvinism – because its not what calvinists say. That way, movie would better be suited as a illustration of why Arminians don’t understand predestination.

        • rogereolson

          You are ignoring the Paul Helm quote I included in my post. Apparently SOME Calvinists DO believe what I said they believe.

  • Jack Hanley

    The question is why does he save only some. We’ve been here before many times and you still don’t get that the primary issue is the character of God.

    I understand, you seem to think we need to protect God’s character. It seems your perception is that God would be a monster if He was in control. I believe God is in control, however I do not believe this causes Him to be the monster you seem to think. You seem to think that if God only changes the will of some, this would not be fair on God’s part, however as I am sure you will agree we all deserve death. If this is true then how is God a monster if He decides to save His creation that He loves, by changing the will of some? You go on to say.

    Again, but the Calvinist God doesn’t, does he? In fact, Helms’ God controls even the reprobate such that they end up in hell. Calvin also said that God “compels” the reprobate.

    Again, I am not a Calvinist so I will not speak for them, however as to the quote you cite by Calvin, is this not what the bible tells us in many places, such as with Pharaoh, and when Jesus says “to some it has been granted, but to others it has not?” In other words the bible tells us that God turns the reprobate over to their own desires, however He has done all it takes to save His children, sheep etc. In my view God saves because HE……… your view seems to be He saves because WE. In other words I believe God saves us in spite of ourselves not because of ourselves.

    • rogereolson

      But who controls the reprobates’ desires? If Calvin and Helm are to be believed it seems God also does that. You know, you’ve been coming here regularly enough that I am confident you have read me say before many times that the issue isn’t “fairness.” So please move the conversation forwards rather than backwards.

    • gene

      Isn’t it your refusal to address Roger’s point that God doesn’t simply give up sinners to their own desires but actually causes sinners to desire evil, thus making them culpable, what makes these discussions so frustrating. Calvinism endorses that the sinner’s desires are controlled by God.

      I can appreciate Calvinists as much as they admit that – at least there’s a fruitful discussion under such conditions. But when Calvinist’s simply try to dodge the bullet its just silly games.

      A) God makes the sinner desire evil .
      B) The sinner now desires evil.
      C) God gives up the sinner to that evil desire.
      D) The sinner pursues their evil proclivities by acting upon them (thus sinning).
      E) God condemns the sinner.

      In your response to Roger you make it sound like it starts with B – that man is culpable because he’s already a sinner. Roger is pointing to A – men are sinners because God makes them desire such things.

      Therefore trying to say, God controls “some” sinners as to save them hardly gets God off the hook because God made everyone sinners.

      • rogereolson

        Thanks for this, but now some Calvinist is going to jump in and say “God doesn’t cause sinners to have evil desires; they develop and harbor and act on those themselves without any help from God.” I know because I’ve heard this many times right at this point in the conversation. But, of course, that is to overlook or ignore the Calvinist idea of meticulous providence in which the fall itself was planned, foreordained and controlled by God. According to classical Calvinism (eg., Edwards) God rendered the fall and all it’s consequences inevitable by withdrawing the grace Adam and Eve needed not to sin. Thus, God’s “permission” is effectual and sin is what God actually desires and he renders it certain. So, by a circuitous route, under the cloak of “permission” language, Calvinists like Helm make God the author of Sanand evil even as they deny it. But, as I showed in Against Calvinism, Edwards admitted that, in a sense, yes, God is the author of sin.

        • gene

          Agreed, Calvinists indeed fall back to no. 2 in order to try to get their system to pass through the fallacy radar. However, that’s why I’m asking Jack – can’t he see that in making such a maneuver as you’ve articulated, they are reverting back to no. 2 when Arminains are asking about no. 1.

          Most Calvinists I talk to these days openly state that God authors sin. They’ve also stated to me that they don’t even know if God loves them because they can’t be certain if they’re elect – this one in particular claimed he didn’t have such authority to make such a claim.

          It seems apparent to me that Calvinism has it’s defects. I’d love to hear Jack answer your question without retorting Romans 9 “who are you to talk back to God” or as he stated “whom are you to question God?” – they just don’t get it – we’re not questioning God, we’re questioning your interpretation or model of God.

          Great stuff Roger and thanks once again.

  • Jack Hanley

    Well, you can say that fairness is not the issue if you like, however you do seem to think God’s character is somehow at stake. If, as you say, fairness is not the issue then what is the issue? God owes nothing to anyone. Who are we to question God?

    Now as far as who controls the reprobates, again, I cannot speak for Calvin, or Helms, however I believe the reprobate are in control of their own desires, if God turns them over to these desires, this does not therefore mean He controls them, rather He is allowing them to simply do as they desire. With this being said, those that God has set His affection upon, are saved from their own desire, because God has now acted upon them to change their desires, not control them.

    I want to make clear here, that I am not defending the Calvinists, rather I am agreeing with Jackie above. Now Jackie may be a Calvinist, however just because I agree with a Calvinist on a certain point, does not make me Calvinist, and it also does not mean I agree with the system as a whole. In the same way, just because I see what I believe to be a weakness in the movie analogy you make above, does not therefore mean, I agree with ALL those who oppose your view, such as Helms or any other. The point I am attempting to make here is, for you to say,

    If Calvin and Helm are to be believed it seems God also does that.

    This is irrelevant, because I am not in any way saying, Calvin, or Helms, are to be believed.

    • rogereolson

      See my response to another commenter about your objections to my movie analogy. I shouldn’t have to say what the real issue is because I’ve done so here many times before.

  • Jack Hanley


    You are exactly right I begin with

    B) The sinner now desires evil.

    Beginning here, does not get God off the hook, because what you fail to realize is that God could never be on the hook, rather, He can do as He pleases, He does not have to answer to anyone no matter what He decides to do. However beginning with B) does make man responsible for his own desires and actions. If God goes on to find a way to justify the ungodly while they are still ungodly, so as to save His creation, please explain how, those who are left to their own desires would have a complaint. As I see it they have no complaint, because they are simply allowed to do as they desire.

    As I stated above I am not defending the Calvinists, therefore when you state,

    Roger is pointing to A – men are sinners because God makes them desire such things.

    You seem to assume here I am defending the Calvinists position. I am not, rather I am attempting to say there may be another position that neither the Calvinists or the Arminians consider.

    • rogereolson

      It sounds like nominalism is your preferred alternative, but, as I have argued here many times before, nominalism is the hidden poison within much of Calvinism.

    • John I.

      RE “He can do as He pleases”

      Um, yes and no. God cannot lie, so he could not do so even if it pleased him to do so. However, that raises the question of what God can do. God is not contradictory in nature and character, and so it cannot “please” him to both lie and tell the truth on different occasions, or even on the same occasion. Once can start running around in circles with such questions and follow-up questions unless one clarifies one’s terms and premises.

      So I ask, what do you mean by “God can do“?

      If God can only do what pleases him, then your statement is a tautology: i.e., God can do whatever he can do.

      Furthermore, what God can do is limited, according to Scripture, by his nature. This is all the more true if God’s nature and character are consistent–if God is truth, indeed The Truth, then he cannot lie. It would not be within his character to lie; it would not be possible for him to lie. Hence it could never please him to lie. So it is not true that God can do anything we can conceive of or imagine.

      And what do you mean by “please”? That he can do whatever is within his power? That he can do whatever he desires? That he can be pleased to do differently? i.e., lie or tell the truth?

      At first blush, your statement could mean that God can do anything we can imagine, and that whatever he does depends on what pleases him from time to time. But if you are answering this question from within a broadly orthodox theology, then that cannot be what you mean. And so it is not clear to me what it is that you mean.

      And what do you mean by “God does not have to answer to anyone.” Surely he does, if he makes promises or claims to tell the truth. He has to answer to those to whom he makes promises, or to whom he claims to have told the truth. God also has to answer to himself, not only because he is a unitary being, but also because he is in three persons who are in relationship with each other.

      It is also not clear to me what is meant by people being “simply allowed to do as they desire” if you are trying to achieve a position that is neither Arminian nor Calvinist.

      Lastly, why should we be trying to achieve a position that is neither Arminian nor Calvinist? Wouldn’t have to determine that both are unscriptural?


  • Orthodoxdj

    I haven’t seen the movie you’re talking about, but it reminds me of two Twilight Zone episodes. One is the final episode of season one (I don’t recall its name). The second is called, “A Nice Place to Visit.”

  • Jeff

    Just curious…
    Is God sovereign?
    If so, shouldn’t the logical conclusion be that He is in control?
    If not, then my logical conclusion is that all of this (Christianity) is really pointless…b/c sovereignty is the operating principal of all the attributes of our holy God.

    • John I.

      Whether it’s a logical conclusion depends on one’s definitions, premises and entailments.

      I believe that God is sovereign, but don’t see how that leads to a conclusion of pointlessness.

  • Soler

    Eagle said: ” I’ve really found evangelicalism to be a mile wide and an inch thick. In my case I can’t understand why Christians say God is good in spite of all the evil that exists. What type of loving God allows a 3 year old to be abducted, raped, and murdered? It’s even sicker when you think of God knowing what was going to happen but choosing not to stop it.”
    Why did this go unanswered by the op?

    • rogereolson

      Because it’s been answered here so many times before. I don’t have time to repeat myself over and over and over…:)

  • Michael Schirmer

    Another comment based on your statements. You said, “God is so different, so unique, that somehow it’s good and right for God to control humans in such a manner that would never be considered right or good in human experience.”

    Yes, but the problem is in your tone. It sounds as though God is not capable in His love to know how to do this in a perfectly just way. We certainly aren’t capable of that, and is one reason the movie is a poor analogy. All of man has sinned against God. He is just to carry out any just due punishment at will.

    You said, “If God is so “wholly other,” such that there are no analogies, then, he says, we really do not know anything about God. This is what I’ve been saying here for a long time—almost since the blog’s beginning. Ultimately, strict Calvinism, divine determinism, must posit a “hidden God,” a voluntarist God who has no nature or whose nature is so radically different from ours that we can’t even conceive of it.”

    But we do know about God from Scripture. All that God wants us to know about Him is sufficiently taught in Scripture.

    • rogereolson

      Scripture is always interpreted–and not least by Calvin. And Scripture does not settle every important question directly. Some questions and problems have arisen since Scripture was written that the writers, apparently, didn’t even foresee. One is nominalism/voluntarism. When one approaches Scripture with that set of assumptions, God can be and do absolutely anything–something Scripture does not say and that is contrary to the spirit of revelation.

  • Michael Schirmer

    Roger, this is my first time here but i have heard of you through aomin ministries and Dr. James White. I hope you will hold some more debates with him in the future. Anyway, from your post i wanted to get clarification based on a question and Scripture events.
    1. Do you believe a person can lose their salvation? If so, what verse do you refer one to? If not, (since i do know the verses to go to) why do you say people have a choice to believe but cant reject God.
    2. Do you believe Pharoah had a choice to resist God’s 10 plagues, Noah could have resisted building the ark, and John could have resisted being the one making way for the Lord from his mother’s womb? (Potter/clay argument)

    • rogereolson

      I detect that you are just here to debate, not to engage in constructive dialogue. I do not allow hostile people to back me into corners on my own blog. As I have stated numerous times before, this is not a forum for Calvinists (or others) to come to harass me (or anyone else). These questions have been answered many times by others and I will point you to them for your answers. In other words, you strike me as like Jesus’ hostile interlocutors who were not interested in learning but came only to trick him into saying something they could use against him.

  • Michael Schirmer

    I deeply appreciate your response. I certainly imagine you have answered the questions. One thing i’ve learned is to be honest about yourself, and your position about me is probably not far from the truth though my intention is to get into the thought process of an open theist to figure out their logic. I’ll take a step back and read, as well as i hope you can point me to your answers to my question. Thanks for your time.

  • Dave

    Wow, just had a chance to catch up on the blog posts. My personal opinion is that Compatibilism, the view that we can have free will and be causally determined to act and the philosophical view of free will (most) Calvinists take, is inconsistent with other key biblical concepts. I think showing this, as opposed to saying it does not jive with our moral intuitions or our ideas of what constitutes a “loving relationship”, is the most rhetorically powerful way to win over a Calvinist friend. If I can shamelessly self-promote here, I have done just that in my book, Coffeehouse Compatibilism. The main argument of the book, which has been called by a friend and theology professor, “the best argument for free will I’ve ever heard” is, namely, that a believer’s freedom in Christ from sin (a doctrine taught even in the Westminster Confession) is logically inconsistent with determinism. There is no way for your Calvinist friend to deny free will without denying a clear teaching of scripture, noted by Calvinists down through the ages.

  • Barry Fernelius

    I thought that it was interesting that the name of the protagonist in the movie was Calvin. Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby, is the movie’s screenwriter. All of the characters in the movie are, in a sense, her puppets, characters that she created.