“I don’t see how anyone could read the Old Testament and not conclude that Calvinism is right,” was the assessment of one Calvinist professor recently. By “Calvinism” he meant the notion of God’s exhaustive predeterminism of all things by decree.
This professor was merely being consistent and honest about his own beliefs. He has done nothing immorally or ethically wrong with making such a statement to his students. My only hope is that his students do not take their professor’s word on the matter but study, like a good Berean, for themselves (consulting opposing ideas and exegesis) to examine Scripture every day to see if what the professor says is true (Acts 17:11).
This professor is also defending a confession nearly four centuries old: “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, but rather established.”1
Given the statement above, we then ask, In what manner did God foreordain whatsoever comes to pass ~ by foreknowledge of what free creatures would do? The Confession answers: “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”2 So, everything which comes to pass does so because God has preordained for it to come to pass. And when creatures behave in a certain manner, they do so “freely” by God’s foreordained decree. God preordained what they should do; they do it “freely” and they will be held accountable for what they “freely” do (even though it was God who preordained what they should “freely” do).
Now this, according to the professor and all Calvinists, is affirmed in the Old Testament so much so that one wonders how anyone can read it and not conclude that Calvinism is right. If this is true, then there are certain ideas, certain conclusions, consistent affirmations, which should not appear in the pages of the Old Testament. Remembering that all events were strictly foreordained by decree, not by foreknowledge of future free will acts but by the exhaustive determinism of God’s plan, note the following from the prophet Jeremiah:
- This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’ I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 2:5-9 NIV).
But if The LORD has “unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” then why is the LORD complaining about Israel’s unfaithfulness? Did He not foreordain their unfaithfulness? Yes, He must have foreordained their unfaithfulness if God “unchangeably ordains whatsoever comes to pass.” Is the LORD not the Sovereign? Can any person or group of people do anything which the LORD has not foreordained for them to do? Hence if Israel was unfaithful, it is due to God’s foreordaination.
And yet we find the LORD declaring:
- My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head. Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way? (Jeremiah 2:13-17 NIV).
Even the LORD Himself confessed that the reason why He had acted thus with Israel is due to their own stubbornness and unfaithfulness ~ unless one is willing to admit that it was God who foreordained their unfaithfulness so that He could punish them for the sins that He foreordained for them to commit. But yes, that is exactly what Calvinism teaches. God did not foreknow the willing unfaithfulness of Israel and thereby decree whatsoever should come to pass. No, in order to be considered sovereign (according to Calvinism), God must have foreordained all things by decree, not by foreknowledge.
A question needs to be asked: What exactly is rebellion? For if the Israelites were rebelling against the LORD, then that means that they were rebelling against a command which God had ordered to be kept. If God is sovereign, in the manner in which Calvinists define sovereignty, then no one can ever disobey God’s foreordained plan ~ which by necessity must include rebellion. By their rebellion, they were actually, “freely,” obeying God’s strict, foreordained decree.
Yet we find God Himself admitting that human beings have the ability to reject His authority. The LORD said: “Indeed, long ago you threw off my authority and refused to be subject to me. You said, ‘I will not serve you.’ Instead, you gave yourself to other gods on every high hill and under every green tree” (Jer. 2:20 NET Bible; cf. Jer. 2:29). But how could the Israelites reject God’s sovereign authority? How could they refuse to be subject to Him, since He has strictly foreordained all that comes to pass? God (allegedly) foreordained their rebellion, which they (allegedly) “freely” committed, and then God punished them for it.
But even God’s punishment for their sins did not result in their repentance: “In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction” (Jer. 2:30 NIV). Respond to correction? But Calvinism teaches that God sovereignly grants repentance to whom He pleases. How could God complain about their lack of response to repentance when He did not grant them repentance (nor foreordain their repentance)?
What we discover is that God made Himself vulnerable to Israel: “Indeed they have followed sinful ways; they have forgotten to be true to the LORD their God. Come back to me, you wayward people, I want to cure your waywardness” (Jer. 3:21-22 NET Bible). But was God genuinely granting them repentance?
- Yes, the LORD has this to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: “Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives. Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done” (Jer. 4:3-4 NET Bible).
Is God sovereign? Yes, God is utterly sovereign. Has He foreordained what every person should do by a mere decree? No, absolutely not. If so, then, as the Old Testament proves, God would certainly be schizophrenic ~ foreordaining that a person rebel against Him and then complain and punish the person for obeying His foreordained decree to rebel against Him.
And God was by no means finished in His complaining: “Oh people of Jerusalem, purify your hearts from evil so that you may yet be delivered. How long will you continue to harbor up wicked schemes within you?” (Jer. 4:14 NET Bible). Calvinism must answer: As long as the decree of God has already foreordained.
Why did God punish Israel? “So then, Jeremiah, when your people ask, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all this to us?’ tell them, ‘It is because you rejected me and served foreign gods in your own land'” (Jer. 5:19 NET Bible). Were they not just fulfilling that which God had foreordained? “But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned aside and gone their own way” (Jer. 5:23 NET Bible).
Gone their own way? So, they did not go the LORD’s way but their own way? Does that, then, mean that there were two ways: the LORD’s way of obedience and righteousness and their own way of disobedience and unrighteousness? “‘There is no limit to the evil things they do. They do not plead the cause of the fatherless in such a way as to win it. They do not defend the rights of the poor. I will certainly punish them for doing such things!’ says the LORD” (Jer. 5:28-29 NET Bible). “The LORD said to his people: ‘You are standing at the crossroads. So consider your path. Ask where the old, reliable paths are. Ask where the path is that leads to blessing and follow it. If you do, you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not follow it!'” (Jer. 6:16 NET Bible).
Calvinism would have us believe that God foreordained by decree that the Israelites “freely” rebelled against the LORD (and that they could not have chosen any other path but rebellion), while the LORD stood by and commanded them to choose the righteous path. More specifically than that, Calvinists would have us believe that “God influences the desires and decisions of people. . . . But we must remember that in all these passages it is very clear that Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil, but rather as bringing about evil deeds through the willing actions of moral creatures.”3
But the question begging to be asked is, How does a “free” agent “freely” do something which God has foreordained for him or her to do? How can God be guaranteed that a “free” agent will “freely” decide to do that which He has foreordained, unless He eliminates all choices, thereby guaranteeing the outcome which He decreed? And if God eliminated all choices, in order for the “free” agent to “freely” do that which God decreed, then the agent was not “free” to choose the contrary whatsoever. Hence genuine “freedom” is a farce.
Arminians do not need to rely on philosophy as a crutch: Scripture clearly supports Arminian theology ~ or rather, Arminian theology affirms the truth of Scripture. God told the Israelites: “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. . . . Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live!” (Deut. 30:15, 19 NET Bible; cf. Jer. 6:16; 7:3-7). Why would God grant the Israelites these choices if He had already foreordained by decree that which He had predetermined they should choose? How unjust would God have to be in order to foreordain that a person should “freely” choose rebellion, when that person had no other choice but to rebel against God? And how unreasonable would God have to be to then complain about and punish the person who carries out that which He unchangeably and predeterminately decreed for him or her to do?
Do not be fooled into thinking that Arminians deny the sovereignty of God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What Arminians deny is the Calvinist’s erroneous and philosophical insistence that God exhaustively determined everything that comes to pass merely by a divine decree. We do so because the Bible does not teach it.
God will certainly “accomplish all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NET Bible). But we are not permitted to go further and affirm that God has decreed all things, not from foreknowledge of genuine free acts, but according to His own counsel and will. He told Israel: “Obey me. If you do, I will be your God and you will be my people. Live exactly the way I tell you” (Jer. 7:23 NET Bible). Israel disobeyed the LORD, and He responded: “I have rejected them because the people of Judah have done what I consider evil” (Jer. 7:30). They even sacrificed their infants by fire to a false god. The LORD responded: “That is something I never commanded them to do! Indeed, it never even entered my mind to command such a thing!” (Jer. 7:31 NET Bible; cf. Jer. 19:5). And yet they did it! How? By God’s predetermined decree or by their own wickedness? Arminians affirm the latter, biblical response, while Calvinists espouse the former error.
The Old Testament even affirms that some of God’s intentions did not come to fruition, despite Calvinism’s promotion to the contrary. The LORD said: “For, I say, just as shorts cling tightly to a person’s body, so I bound the whole nation of Israel and the whole nation of Judah tightly to me. I intended for them to be my special people and to bring me fame, honor, and praise. But they would not obey me” (Jer. 13:11 NET Bible).
The prophet Isaiah confessed the same thing concerning the LORD building His vineyard: “What more can I do for my vineyard beyond what I have already done? When I waited for it to produce edible grapes, why did it produce sour ones instead?” (Isaiah 5:4 NET Bible)
I don’t see how anyone could read the Old Testament and not conclude that Arminianism is right, and Calvinism is wrong.
1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, in The Life in the Spirit Study Bible, ed. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 3.1:2176.
3 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146-47.