Calvinism and the Knowledge of God

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In this brief post I intend to engage a thought experiment I had when I suggested that God, in Calvinism, cannot foreknow the future; hence that is why God, in Calvinism, must decree or foreordain every minutiae of what shall occur throughout history-future. Yes, God can foreknow the future that He has decreed, but He cannot foreknow future free will acts apart from having already foreordained those acts. Some were confused by my argument but, in actuality, the argument primarily belongs to the Calvinist who constructs theological statements in this manner.

For example, Calvinist James White insists that he and others must agree with John Feinberg regarding a proper knowledge belonging to God, “[D]oes God foreknow because he foreordains or does he foreordain because he foreknows?”1 All Calvinists concede the former while non-Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists and Open Theists maintain mediating positions regarding the latter. If God possesses the cognitive ability to foreknow an event apart from decreeing or foreordaining or determining the event, because of His relationship to the individual, then, according to the Calvinist, God “becomes a mere servant of the creature, reacting rather than reigning.”2 So, for the Calvinist, any theology that rejects exhaustive and meticulous determinism by divine fiat diminishes the sovereignty of God, exalts the creature, and relegates God to an impotent faux king. The knowledge of God is derived strictly and solely from the foreordination of God of all events.

So, when I suggest that God, in Calvinism, cannot foreknow the future, I mean just that: He can foreknow what He has decreed to take place, whether good or evil, but the God of the Calvinist does not possess the ability to foreknow an event that He did not decree, render certain, foreordain. One might even argue that, at least in Open Theism, God can foreknow an event that He desires to bring into the future without exhaustively foreknowing every minutiae of that event because He has not decreed every minutiae of said event, thus allowing for creaturely freedom, and alleviating God of decreeing wickedness. This, I think, is commendable. So then, Open Theism is a much more welcomed position than any form of Calvinism, whether strict determinism or compatibilism; the latter of which, according to strict determinists, is merely inconsistent strict determinism. (link)

What does the Calvinist position look like practically? For our everyday lives, let us consider former Sunday School teacher Melissa Huckaby, who is guilty of “poisoning [eight-year-old] Sandra [Canto], and sexually assaulting her with a foreign object, before killing her [by forming a noose out of cloth and hanging her] and dumping her body in an irrigation pond.” (link) Melissa, who pleads guilty in order to avoid the death penalty, states to Sandra Canto’s family: “I should not have taken her from you. I owe you an explanation. But I still cannot understand why I did what I did.” (link) The Calvinist has a ready answer as to why Melissa sexually assaulted and then killed eight-year-old Sandra Canto. The Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith states:

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away [yet they are also decreed], but rather established.

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions [but merely because He decreed said action]. (link)

Now, this will undoubtedly unsettle Calvinists who read this, yet facts are facts. But Calvinists will not get away with insisting that God has decreed every detail of our history and then blame an event like that of Melissa Huckaby raping and murdering an eight-year-old on the “free will” of Huckaby. Especially not when the likes of John Calvin (and other consistent Calvinists) insist: “Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself devise, God holds the helm, and makes all their efforts contribute to the execution of His judgments.”3 Calvinist Wayne Grudem concurs: “God influences the desires and decisions” of people.4 But there is more evidence from the pen of John Calvin.

Calvin argues, in no uncertain terms, “What we formerly quoted from the Psalms [referring to Psalm 115:3], to the effect that He does whatever pleases Him, certainly extends to all the actions of men.”5 According to Calvin and his consistent Calvinist followers, people do not even choose what conversations they will engage themselves in, or what they will utter: “That [people] do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what He has previously decreed with Himself, and brings to pass by His secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture.”6 (emphases added) Melissa raped and murdered eight-year-old Sandra Canto because the God of Calvinism decreed it and brought it into reality.

One might complain: “But God, in Arminianism, could have prevented the act but chose not to do so. The Arminian God is no better than the Calvinist God.” I disagree. The issue at stake here is not God allowing free people to freely commit even the most heinous and deplorable acts known among mortals and devils, and this without being necessitated to an action by God’s decree, as in Arminianism. The issue at stake here is that God, in Calvinism, decreed, rendered certain, and brought into reality every minutiae of the above tragedy. The Calvinist can argue for all eternity that God “had a purpose” for decreeing the event but that does not change the fact that God conceived of the plot from eternity past, the Calvinist God influenced the sinful thoughts into the mind of Melissa Huckaby to commit those heinous acts, and rendered the event so certain from eternity past that she could only do but that which God had foreordained she do.

Am I being fair in suggesting that God, in Calvinism, influenced Melissa’s sinful thoughts to commit those crimes, sins, unspeakable and terrifying acts? When Calvinists insist that God decrees even our desires (emotions), conversations (cognitive patterns), and actions, noting that “free will” is a farce, as does John Piper (link), then Calvinists themselves are the ones who are to be held accountable for the practical implications of their theology — not Arminians and other non-Calvinists who challenge them. So, you will forgive me if I remain unconvinced of Calvinist arguments to the contrary, such as that of “Reconstructionist89,” as the individual responds to my post, “In Calvinism, God is the Problem of Evil.” The individual writes: “[He] avidly describes any Calvanistic [sic] view of God as being morally bankrupt when it comes to reconciling the problem of evil. He alludes to what he believes are two illogical premises inherent in Calvinism’s view of God and His attributes.” The reader will note how the Calvinist balks at his own theology when he is confronted with its inherent weakness: God decreed all reality related to “the problem of evil.”

In Calvinism, God did not merely foreknow acts of evil, but He concocted evil acts in His mind to be carried out by certain persons, He decreed them from eternity past, and He then brings them into reality by His own secret methods. This is the view of John Calvin quoted above; and this is the view, when expounded upon by Calvinist detractors, Calvinists writhe in agony in attempts to alleviate the character of God that is smeared by their own confessions. “Reconstructionist89” posits: “For the Arminian, in hopes to relinquish God from being the author of evil, he has created a godling.” Note carefully the wording: “in hopes to relinquish God from being the author of evil.” Is this Calvinist conceding that God actually is the Author of sin and evil?

His post is, overall, a misunderstanding of Arminian theology proper — neglecting entirely the Arminian doctrine of divine concurrence with regard to the sovereignty of God. From the perspective of “Reconstructionist89,” only strict determinism properly defines God as sovereign, and Arminian theology and others who reject determinism have created a godling. “So, the Arminian cannot present this problem of evil arguement [sic] against Calvinism, due to not being able to account for an omnipotent God.” His presuppositional framework maintains that God has two wills: God’s so-called revealed will is a benign sense of what God wishes to occur among fallen mortals. God’s so-called will of decree is that will by which all events occur among fallen mortals. In effect, however, this novel theory still does not alleviate the Calvinist God from decreeing and bringing into reality sin and evil acts. Consider this carefully: the reason why you and I and everyone else in the world sins is because the Calvinist God has decreed that we sin. This deplorable view of our holy and just God must be rejected at all cost as it is unbiblical.

The Calvinist blogger is confused: the issue here, as addressed in the original post as well, is not that God and evil co-exist; the issue is not about God’s sovereignty in relation to evil acts; the issue is that the God of the Calvinist insists that He is holy and just and yet has concocted from His holy and just mind the most deplorable and heinous acts throughout history, decreed who should commit those acts, and then brings them to pass in time. The Calvinist blogger grandiloquently writes: “The Arminian displays a lack of faith in God by refusing to accept that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists in the world.” What “reason” might God have in decreeing the rape and murder of eight-year-old Sandra Canto by Melissa Huckaby? Try selling that explanation to the parents and family and friends of the late Sandra Canto. The Calvinist imagines that, as long as God has a purpose for the evil He brings into our reality, then He is alleviated from all the complexities and difficulties regarding the evil offenses. We disagree. We think that this speaks very unholy and unjust volumes about the God of Calvinism.

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1 James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 57.

2 Ibid., 56.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 1.18.1.

4 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

5 Calvin, 1.18.1.

6 Ibid.