In Alvin Plantinga’s autobiography he states, “These five points [of "Calvinism"] summarize the declarations of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619); they essentially distinguish one kind of 17th century Calvinist from another kind (and do not at all obviously represent what John Calvin himself had in mind).” I take the same position.
Before I begin, let me state two things:
- First, I do not believe that those who believe in Neo-Calvinism (and other rising churches of reformed theology) are not saved. They are probably the closest thing you can get, in terms of Biblical doctrine, when it comes to an organized church (not non-denominational).
- Second, there are a couple Biblical truths which are taught in Calvinistic doctrine which are usually glossed over in most other churches (if taught at all). These teaching include the Sovereign Authority of God and the Predestination of man; which I will go into detail later.
To begin, I think I’ll start with the crux of the matter: Neo-Calvinism and certain schools of Reformed Theology believe that man does not have free will or that God’s will is synonymous with man’s will. This is evident in the highly regarded “5 Points of Calvinism” (T-U-L-I-P). It is a claim that I reject on Philosophical, Theological, and Scriptural grounds. That being said, the points do contain much scriptural truth.
1) We are deprived without God, [Jer 17:9]
2) we are predestined by and for God, [Rom 8:29]
3) we are atoned for by Jesus Christ, [Rom 5:11]
4) we are called by God and moved by the Spirit, [Jn 15:16]
5) and God does preserve His saints for eternity. [Heb 9:15]
Those truths, however, are taken without foregoing free will.
[I will also note that not all Neo-Calvinists and schools of Reformed Theology reject the idea of man's free will. This article is only a criticism against determinist/fatalist theologies.]
. . .
What are the logical implications of all will coming directly from God?
Strong Calvinists believe that God is the only one with a will and that He is the One who moves you to act the way you do. This is a partial truth which can be seen in verses such as Exodus 10:27. It says,
“But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.”
If it is the case that only God has a will, this would mean He is directly responsible for every action any man takes. Since no man has any will of his own, anything he does is actually God’s will. Any evil man commits (rape, murder, idolatry, fornication) is actually God’s doing. Though this is in direct contrast to Scripture. God cannot be both evil and wholly good at the same time. He maintains that the two are separate and distinct from one another.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” [1 John 1:5]
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” [Isaiah 5:20]
In defense, the strong Calvinist may argue that God may have set creation in motion, but the actions which ensue are not His responsibility. But is a man not responsible for the collapse of the final domino if he were to push the first? It is akin to those who say, “People don’t kill people. Guns kill people.” Of course the gun kills people, but it is only the instrumental medium of the man’s intent. Likewise if God were to will a man to commit an act, it is God’s will to commit that act.
As a last resort the strong Calvinist may say that God is able to denote responsibility to man because He is the source of meaning. And though this may seem like a solid argument philosophically, it would have to suggest that what we believe to be free will is actually just an illusion. This leads me to my next point.
. . .
Self is an Axiom (Who am “I”?)
If free will were just an illusion, it would bring up 2 problems: 1) the fact that we are able to comprehend such a concept and 2) the fact that God would be the One putting the concept in our minds.
Ever since Old Testament days, people had this concept of self. “Self” is even a main component of the Hebrew word “soul” (נָ֫פֶשׁ). But why should they (in the Old Testament) or we (in the present) take notice of such a concept if it were not real? As C. S. Lewis has said concerning meaning,
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
The same thing goes for “self”. If it were not there, we should be acting as a dog or cat without taking notice of self at all; acting purely on the impulse of whatever stimulates us. Why should we reflect on something that isn’t there? The Deterministic Theologian must answer by saying God put the false idea in man’s mind. But this course of action would make God deceptive, and Scripture states that God cannot lie.
“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” [Heb 6:18]
. . .
2 Peter vs. Romans 8?
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not willing (μὴ βουλόμενός) that any (τινας) perish, but all (πάντας) to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
This verse is probably used the most when rebutting determinist doctrine because it’s in direct contradiction in two ways: 1) The words “any” and “all” are comprehensive and specific words, so that would seem to indicate that sinners are able to repent as well. 2) The words “not willing” indicates that things are happening that God does not want, but which He allows anyway.
Now many strong Calvinists have rebutted and said that 2 Peter seems to be a letter targeted specifically to the Church and not to sinners, so “all” would only be comprehensive in the sense that it is talking about believers. Though there’s a problem with this methodology. If you say Peter is just to be taken in context of the Church, then Romans 8 (a chapter many Neo-Calvinists hold essential to their doctrine) is also.
A widely quoted verse of this regarded chapter states,
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
Using the same methodology this verse is targeted solely to believers as well. If that’s the case, then the Bible says nothing about whether non-believers can come to believe. Either they are both meant for the Church (so Romans 8 doesn’t apply to non-believers) or they are both direct to non-believers as well (so Peter really means “all”).
[This is just one instance in the Bible where God calls on "all" to repent and allows things to happen against His "will". God may allow actions, give man the power to perform actions, and foresee man's actions, man's choices; but nowhere in the Bible does it say that He makes those choices for man. Jesus even states what He would have done if Jerusalem were "willing" to change its ways (Mat 23:37). Verses such as this show that God's action is conditional to the response of others (at least when He makes a promise anyway).]
. . .
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [Gen 1:27]
In the beginning God made man in His image. Being made in His image, it is not unusual that man also inherited God’s volition (ability to choose). In our fallen state (and perhaps since the moment Adam was created), we are limited as to what we can choose. But just as we are able to discern logic and state things which are wholly true while we are fallen, we are able to make decisions as free agents though it be a dimly mirror of what God intended.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. . . . Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” [1 Co 13:9-10,12]
If there is a direct connection from God to each individual (with no other agency in between), then there would be a source contradiction. It’s more likely that everything does happen according to His purpose, but not immediately nor directly. If we did inherit His volition (in being made in His image), then we are free moral agents and there is no contradiction.
One concern that always arises is predestination. How can it be that God says our decision is already set in eternity?
Well God does predestine us, but it is in the sense that:
- God is eternal (outside of time). We’re within time and able to alter our eternal estate. [Mat 6:19-20] [Mat 16:19]
- God is Omniscient, so He already knows the choice we’ve made in the end. [Isa 46:10]
- God places us into His appointed time for us so that His work may be accomplished eventually. [Ecc 3:1]
- God allows the will of other agents to accomplish His will ultimately. [cf. 1 Chr 21:1; 2 Sam 24:1] [Gen 50:20]
. . .
So here’s my 5 points of “Sovereign Delegation” (SEEDS)
S) We are deprived, but we do have a sense of what’s right. [Gen 3:10]
E) We are predestined by God, but that is because He is eternal; we choose within time. [Isa 46:10; Mat 16:19]
E) We are atoned for by Christ, but it is we who accept the expiate of grace. [Rom 10:13]
D) We are called by God and moved by the Spirit, but we first decide which direction. [1 Sam 10:10, 16:14]
S) And God does preserve His saints, but it is we who decide if we want to be saints. [2 Pet 1:10]
Faith comes from God, but that is mutually exclusive from the will (which comes from within us).
“[Paul] had commanded Timothy that prayers should be regularly offered up in the church for kings and princes; but as it seemed somewhat absurd that prayer should be offered up for a class of men who were almost hopeless (all of them being not only aliens from the body of Christ, but doing their utmost to overthrow his kingdom), he adds, that it was acceptable to God, who will have all men to be saved. By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men; that, on the contrary, he had manifested his mercy in such a way, that he would have none debarred from it.” (Institutes, 3.24.16)
“It is no small matter to have the souls perish who were bought by the blood of Christ.” (Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness, 83)
“I do testify that I live and purpose to die in this faith which God has given me through His Gospel, and that I have no other dependence for salvation than the free choice which is made of me by Him. With my whole heart I embrace His mercy, through which all my sins are covered, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of His death and sufferings. According to the measure of grace granted unto me, I have taught this pure, simple Word, by sermons, by deeds, and by expositions of this Scripture. In all my battles with the enemies of the truth I have not used sophistry, but have fought the good fight squarely and directly.” (May 27, 1564, Calvin’s dying words as recorded “An Account of the Life of John Calvin” Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.)
Hell was not originally made for man, but for Satan and his angels. We decide if we want God’s grace or His judgment.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [Matthew 25:41]
Our emotion is mutually exclusive from our will. God moves our spirits, but we decide the direction it’s going.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” [Heb 4:12]
Salvation is from Christ alone. The responsibility for the acceptance is from us alone.
Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
The work of the world is sown in Heaven eternal.
“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” [Rev 13:8]