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.

Preface

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.]

. . .

Theology

What are the logical implications of all will coming directly from God?

Source Contradiction

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.

. . .

Philosophy

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]

. . .

Hermeneutics

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).]

. . .

Alternative

Imago Dei

“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.

Predestination

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]

. . .

Conclusion

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).

Quotes

“[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.)

-John Calvin

Verses

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]

 


 

Comments
  1. S. D. Zehr says:

    This is well thought out David but please bear with this Reformed Christian…1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9 are comon verses that confuse people. These verses speak of God’s revealed will (telling us what we should do), not His hidden will (His eternal plans for what will happen). The verses simply tell us that God invites and commands every person to repent and coe to Christ for salvation, but they do not tell us anything about God’s secret decrees regarding who will be saved. Nowhere soes Scripture says that we are “free” in the sense of being outside of God’s control, or that we can do right on our own apart from God’s power. An absolute freedom totally free from God’s control is simply not possible in a world providentially sustained and directed by God Himself. The decrees of God are the eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, He determined to bring about everything that happens. (Ps.139:16;Job 14:5) Our salvation was determined long ago because God “chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the owrld, that we should be holy and blameless before Him”. (Eph.1:4) He knows the the end from the beginning, and He will accomplish all His good purposes. God has ordained that our actions, or lack of actions do have effects, events will come about by our causing them. Paul puts action in the light of God’s providence into a single sentence in 2 Timothy 2:10. ” I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain salvation in Jesus Christ with His eternal glory. Combining complete trust in God’s providence with a realization that the use of of ordinary means is necessary for things to coe out the way God has planned them to come out. So we do have free will , real choices with real consequences. But not apart from the sovereignty of God.

    • I agree with just about all of that. We can’t live without God and He does uphold all reality by His providence. In fact, I personally believe that it’s unlikely that anything we do in this world is not of the angelic agency mentioned in Ephesians 6:12 (though I could be wrong).

      The only thing I have to disagree with is the idea that God chose out destiny for us. One might say that people are just misinterpreting 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, but at that point you are saying, “What does ‘all’ and ‘will’ really mean?” Once you go there, a person could question the meaning of any word that doesn’t fit their ideology. The strong Arminian could do the same to say theirs is true. At that point, we must use a hermeneutic proof. That’s why I added that section.

      God did predestined us from the beginning, but (like it says it in the article) it is because He is Omniscient and does have ultimate Sovereignty to allow things to happen.

      I love Bob Sproul (he’s definitely in the top 3 of my favorite theologians), and almost all of the teachings behind Reformed Theology, but I just can’t believe in something that isn’t there. If God did choose our destiny for us, there is no way around the logical / Scriptural contradiction.

      • S. D. Zehr says:

        God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on amy forseen responce or obeience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. God gives faith and repentance to eacj individual whom He selected. thes acts are the result, not the cause, of God’s choice. Election was not determined by or conditional for any virtuous quality or foreseen act in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Look at every covenant between God and His chosen people for redemption, it was never honored by man. He had to remove us out of the New Covenant and use Christ to complete the work of redemption. It was an agreement among the embers og the Trinity. The Father agreed to give His Son a people that He would redeem for His own possession (John 17:2,6) to send the Son to be their representative (John 3:16;Rom.5:18-19) to prepare a body for the son to live as a man (Col.2:9;Heb.10:5) to accept Him as a represenative of His people He had redeemed (Heb.9:24) and to give Him all authority in heaven and earth (Matt.28:18) and to pour out the Holy Spirit in power to apply redemption to His people. (Acts 1:4;2:33) The Son agreed He would come into the world as a man and live as a man under the Mosaic law (Gal.4:4;Heb.2:14-18) and He would be perfectly obedient to the comands of the Father (Heb.10:7-9) obedient to death, even on a cross.(Phil.2:8) The Son also agreed that He woould gather for Himself a people in order that none that the Father had given Him would be lost.(John 17:12) The role of the Holy Spirit was to do the will of the Father and fill and empower Christ to carry out His ission on earth (Matt.3:16;Luke 4:1,14,18;John 3:34) and to apply the benefits o9f Christ’s redemptive work to His people after Christ returned to heaven. (John 14:16-1,26;Acts 1:8;2:17-18,33) It is like the covenants ade with man with the eleents specifying the parties, conditions, and proised blessings. This covenant is different with the ones made with man, because the parties enter as equals. The sovereign Creator imposed the provisions by His own decree.This is the eternal covenant in Christ, in which we shall be forever have fellowship with a holy God. (Heb.13:20)

      • There are various verses which God states that He wills one thing and yet something else happens. In His covenant with Jerusalem He even said that He would have gathered them if ‘they’ were willing.

        - If God gives men free will and tells them He would do something knowing that He won’t, that’s deception.

        - If God doesn’t give men free will and makes them believe that they have it, that’s also deception.

        You can’t say God would force people to hell and heaven (or to even enact something on earth) without implicitly removing free will and evoking a contradiction (logically and Scripturally).

  2. cassestes says:

    Hi David,

    In Isaiah 46: 8-10 (below which you used to support “- God is Omniscient, so He already knows the choice we’ve made in the end. [Isa 46:10]” It doesn’t support this idea. I clearly supports what throughout the Bible saying, that God is completely in charge.

    “Remember this, and show yourselves men;
    Recall to mind, O you transgressors.
    Remember the former things of old,
    For I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like Me,
    Declaring the end from the beginning,
    And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
    Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    And I will do all My pleasure,’
    Calling a bird of prey from the east,
    The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
    Indeed I have spoken it;
    I will also bring it to pass.
    I have purposed it;
    I will also do it.

    Calvinism seeks to answer this question, “why do some people want to come or want to believe and others do not?” The only reason Calvinism is interested in that question, actually, is because many passages of Scripture speak to that very issue. For instance John 6:37 (a & b) says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” The Calvinist sees this verse as teaching that anyone who comes to Jesus was first given to Jesus by the Father. They also were first drawn by the Father (Jn. 6:44). And further they were enabled to come by the Father (Jn. 6:65).

    http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2006/04/02/whosoever-will-and-calvinism/

    I will leave you with:
    John 6:44
    No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
    And I will raise him up on the last day.

    Your sister in Christ,
    Cass

    • Hey Cassandra,

      Awesome to see you have your own site going. :} If you run into problems or want a few tips about working around some WordPress glitches, just let me know. I don’t know too much about all the coding, but there are a few things that I come across regularly (which make me have to rewrite whole articles sometimes DX). :P

      Okay, back to the article now:

      . . .

      Isaiah 46:10

      I agree, I added some exegesis to that verse. There are other verses that shows God’s perfect knowledge exclusively, but the reason I used that verse is because it shows both: it presupposes that God knows the end as well as is in control. The comment, “God is Omniscient, so He already knows the choice we’ve made in the end” wasn’t solely based on that verse, but cumulative reasoning from the previous arguments.

      . . .

      Calvinism

      I half agree with the question, “why do some people want to come or want to believe and others do not.” Calvin based his theology on that aspect of God (His Sovereignty) that most theologians were lacking. Though I believe it’s more an answer to “how” instead of “why” though. Each person has their own reason as to why, but God’s in control of the whole operation.

      On John 6:37, I also agree that it must first be the Father’s will for us to be even able to come to Jesus, but that doesn’t take away the “him that cometh” part. When a strong Calvinist says that “God the Father has a will, therefore man does not have a will”; that part of the verse is just not there. The Father’s prevenient will is necessary, but it doesn’t change the fact that both wills are mutually exclusive.

      I think that’s the heart of the matter for most strong Calvinists. R. C. Sproul and his son are borderline strong Calvinists. They believe each person is personally responsible because God gave them free will. I don’t disagree with that. I only disagree with the idea that man’s will is synonymous with God’s will. Everything works toward His purpose, but not everything is His purpose.

      Calvinism may seem like it’s only there to answer a few “hows” but there are some major logical implications in saying God does not give us the will to disobey His. I just wrote this article to show where the contradictions are.

      . . .

      John 6:44

      I love all the verses concerning the Father’s will, the Holy Spirit’s movement, and Christ’s atonement (and John 6:44 is an awesome verse because it encompasses so much within it). :}

      I also love Calvinism, but only as John Calvin originally intended it. When new Calvinists start to take away meaning from other verses, that’s when it starts to bother me. If God meant for us to have our independent choice in the matter it is unglorifying to God to say we don’t. That’s not pride speaking or me trying to take credit, that’s me trying to find God’s original intentions and giving thanks.

      . . .

      Your brother, David.

      P. S. – Don’t take these specific theological disagreements between me and Sharon or anyone too seriously. These things don’t keep us from salvation, they’re just interesting to talk about. The great thing is we’re all just trying to find the truth to give God the glory. :}

  3. [...] Critique of Neo-Calvinism & Reformed Theology (TULIP vs. SEEDS) (dayvidnightowl.wordpress.com) [...]

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