An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

, posted by Ben Henshaw

For part 1, see Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

Patton: However, I think we need take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The central core of Calvinism primarily centers on one doctrine: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands.

This is highly debatable among Calvinists. This may be Mr. Patton’s opinion, but I think that he is probably in the minority. Sovereignty (defined as God’s exhaustive control over everything) is what leads to the Calvinist understanding of predestination in many Calvinist’s minds. However, it is true that the Calvinist view of predestination can lead back to such a view of sovereignty, but it does not demand it. Unconditional election and predestination can just as easily fit within a system that does not hold that God exhaustively determines all things. Also, for many Calvinists, “predestination” is essentially synonymous with the doctrine of God’s exhaustive determinism and is not limited only to matters of salvation (like unconditional election and reprobation). In other words “predestination” simply means that God “predetermines” everything in reality (i.e. exhaustive determinism, the Calvinist version of “Sovereignty).

Patton: An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

This is a confused statement. The Arminian view of sovereignty is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty just as the Arminian view of predestination is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty. Mr. Patton’s distinction here is not really accurate.

Patton: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination.

Just as both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s sovereignty (which Mr. Patton happily admits here ), which is why Mr. Patton’s previous comment is awkward and strange.

Patton: In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen.

We need to stop right here, as Mr. Patton’s comments wrongly imply that Arminians base “predestination” on “merit”, simply because Arminians hold that predestination (more appropriately, election) is conditional. Mr. Patton should know this is not the case. Arminians hold that election is conditioned on faith, and faith holds no merit (Romans 4). It is also simply an obvious non sequitur to assume that if something is “conditional” it means it is “earned” or “merited”. This is a common Calvinist mistake and a misrepresentation of Arminian theology that is still perpetuated, despite Calvinists (like Mr. Patton) being continually corrected on the matter.

Also, it must be pointed out that Mr. Patton is conflating election and predestination, as Calvinists often do. Unfortunately, even Arminius seemed to conflate the two based on his ties with Reformed thinking. But many (if not most) Arminians today do not see election and predestination as the same thing, because the Bible doesn’t view them as the same thing. Election has to do with God’s choice of His covenant people to belong to Him and bear His name. Predestination has to do with God’s predetermined purpose for His covenant people. Predestination is not about God predestinating some sinners to become believers. Rather, predestination has to do with God’s eternal purposes for believers (to adoption as sons, to an inheritance, to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc.). Calvinists, like Mr. Patton, will likely disagree with that important distinction, but it is a distinction that should not be overlooked, especially when trying to compare the Arminian view with the Calvinist view.

Patton: This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditional. It has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

This is not a very good description of Arminian election. The Classical view would better be expressed as God’s election of “believers” in Christ. Jesus is the “elect” and only “in Him” is anyone “elect” (note again Mr. Patton’s conflating of terms). Arminian election has its “founding” in Christ, not “the faith of the predestined.” So God foreknows those who are joined to Christ in faith and therefore it can be said that election is “according to foreknowledge.” It is not so much a foreknowledge of an act of faith, but a foreknowledge of people (“believers”), joined to Christ. Faith is how one comes to be joined to Christ (Eph. 1:13), but it is the person “as a believer” who is in union with Christ that is the proper Biblical object of foreknowledge, not just the act of faith that joins one to Christ. God foreknows and elects “believers” because they are joined to Christ (Eph. 1:4). To be fair, some Arminians have expressed it as Mr. Patton does, but that is not the best way to express it. It ignores the main focus and purpose of election in Arminianism, an election based on Christ and those who come to be in faith union with Him.

The corporate view is even more robust and even more Biblically accurate in my opinion, but it is not the Classical approach. The corporate view does not rely on foreknowledge as the Classical view does, either. Mr. Patton doesn’t even mention the corporate view, so I will not spend time delving into it at this time. [4]


[4] For more on the corporate view of election, which I believe to be the Biblical view, see “Corporate Election Quotes” and “Corporate Election (Resources)

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