Infralapsarian (Moderate) Calvinism’s Doctrine of Unconditional Election

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from The Arminian site.

Did God create some souls for hell and others for heaven, as John Calvin1 insisted? Calvinist C. H. Spurgeon, quoted from Kenneth D. Keathley, Professor of Theology and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in his book, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, writes the following: “Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly — it is the same thing — created that man, with no other intention, than that of damning him? Made him, and yet, for no other reason than that of destroying him forever? Well, if you can believe it, I pity you, that is all I can say: you deserve pity, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth forever.”2

What Spurgeon (and Keathley) are arguing against is not Calvinism per se but a Supralapsarian model of high Calvinism — the belief that God first decreed (logically) to elect and to damn, and then decreed to create human beings in order to carry out that decree. Thus, as Calvin explicitly states, some people were created for heaven and the rest were created for hell.

But does not Spurgeon’s complaint also work to the favor of the Arminian to complain about the Infralapsarian model of low or moderate Calvinism — the belief that God first decreed to create human beings, to then permit their fall into sin, and to then unconditionally elect to save some of them? Could not the Arminian ask the Infralapsarian Calvinist, “Do you believe that God unconditionally and arbitrarily elected, sovereignly — it is the same thing — that man, with no other intention, than that of unconditionally damning the rest?”

We understand that God is not obligated to save anyone. But this truth does not diminish in the least the fact that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11 NASB). Infralapsarian Calvinists (by far the majority of Calvinists today, in my estimate) would have us believe that God proclaims, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die . . . ? (Ezekiel 33:11 NASB), but has no intention of enabling those sinners to turn from their evil ways. Why? Because God has not unconditionally elected to save them from eternity past. The problem here is not in the doctrine of Election but in the doctrine of Unconditional Election.

How then does this affect the nature and character of God? Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell write: “Still, the question persists: can God’s offer of salvation to all people be genuine if he unconditionally elects some and not others to salvation?”3 John Piper would have us believe that God’s pity for the non-elect is real but is, in Walls’ and Dongell’s words, “restrained by superior motives.”4 They continue: “However, we think it [Piper’s analogy of George Washington refusing to pardon the traitor Major Andre, though he did so with great reluctance] fails badly as analogy for the notion that God has deep compassion for and even makes a bona fide offer to save sinners he has not elected for salvation. The analogy breaks down at so many points that it does not begin to illustrate the relationship between God and the damned.5

Many moderate Calvinists (including those of the Southern Baptist stripe) would have us believe in a God who genuinely offers the non-elect salvation, when in fact God never had any intention of gracing or enabling them to trust in Christ, as He does to His unconditionally elect. And the decree of reprobation (damnation), which consequences the non-elect shall experience, was unconditional in nature. As is stated on John Piper’s Desiring God website:

    Just as God chooses whom He will save without regard to any distinctives in the person (Ephesians 1:5-6; Acts 13:48; Revelation 17:8), so also he decides whom He will not save without regard to any distinctives in the individual (John 10:26; 12:37-40; Romans 9:11-18; 1 Peter 2:7-8). By definition, the decision to elect some individuals to salvation necessarily implies the decision not to save those that were not chosen. God ordains not only that some will be rescued from his judgment, but that others will undergo that judgment.

Piper’s explanation brings us to the issue of God’s decrees. The reprobate, strictly taken, were not decreed unto reprobation because they are sinners, nor because He foresaw them as sinners (again, strictly taken — though other Calvinists disagree). God’s foresight or foreknowledge is not considered. They are reprobate because God decreed for them to be reprobate. Stating things in this manner, Piper, Calvin and others incur the label of Supralapsarian: i.e. the reprobate were created by decree for hell. But both high and low or moderate Calvinists have been known to suggest (even if ignorantly) the following: God, out of one side of His mouth, calls out to the lost: “Everyone, turn from your evil and wicked ways, trust My Son Jesus Christ and I will save you.” God, from the other side of His mouth, actually means: “I will turn My unconditionally elect from their evil and wicked ways, cause them to trust in My Son via regeneration and the alien ‘gift’ of faith, and thereby save them.”

Arminians are not suggesting that God is being unfair concerning whom He will save. He has already told us whom He will save: He will save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). If all sinners got what we deserved then we would all spend eternity in hell. That is a given in Classical Arminianism. God was never obligated to save anyone. However, since God has declared Himself and His Son a Savior (Luke 1:47; 2:11; Acts 13:23; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10), and has also declared His love for the whole world (John 3:16; for whom also Jesus died, John 1:29; 1 John 2:2), promising to save the one who would by His grace and enablement trust in His Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 6:44; 1 Cor. 1:21), and even declaring His desire that everyone be saved (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), then we can trust what He says at face value. God’s character is at stake here. He does not suggest one thing and then do something else. He means what He says. There is no hidden agenda. There is no secret decree of unconditional election and reprobation (which would not be secret if we knew it).

Since God is genuine in His desire to see all saved and to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:4), then the doctrine of Unconditional Election must be rejected as false. And if Unconditional Election is false then there is no need for Calvinism as a system.

John Piper suggests that God can only be fully glorified if there are persons who are unconditionally decreed or consigned to damnation.6 Therefore, if God had unconditionally elected to save every single individual ever to be born (from the Calvinist’s perspective), then God could not be fully glorified. But how is this proven from Scripture? Piper’s mantra is, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Walls and Dongell respond:

      He [God] is fully glorified when his holy love is manifested most clearly, and it is precisely this love that seeks our fulfillment and happiness. Given that Piper heartily affirms this, it’s puzzling why he believes God isn’t fully glorified unless some are consigned to damnation. Does God have a duty to damn some persons in some sense analogous to Washington’s duty to sign Andre’s death warrant [see above]? If so, to whom could he owe such a duty? Washington’s authority is not even remotely analogous to God’s sovereignty, and God is beholden to no one and nothing higher than himself. How could he be duty bound to damn some persons?7

Calvinists operate under the assumption that if God is rejected, dismissed, denied, rebuffed, or discounted then God is not sovereign. Yet, God Himself admits the following of Israel: “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, like a prostitute sprawls out before her lovers. I planted you in the land like a special vine of the very best stock. Why in the world have you turned into something like a wild vine that produces rotten, foul-smelling grapes?” (Jeremiah 2:20-23 NET Bible)

Again, the prophet Isaiah records these words of the LORD to Israel: “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?” (Isaiah 5:1-5 NASB)

I do not see how anyone could read the Old Testament and not conclude that Arminianism is right (which is a borrowed and contorted statement of mine from a Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, about Calvinism in the Old Testament). From Scripture we deduce that God has granted mankind a measure of freedom (the freedom to resist, disobey, and rebel against God). But this freedom does not belittle God or detract from His sovereignty one iota.

The same is true concerning God and the salvation or damnation of sinners. God does not need or require a decree to unconditionally reprobate billions of people so that He could be fully glorified. Spurgeon, concerning reprobation, declared, “but when I come to preach damnation, I say, damnation of man, not of God; and if you perish, at your own hands must your blood be required.”8

We believe that God will rain down His just judgment upon the wicked. Of that there can be no doubt. But to suggest that He will do so from a mere decree is a serious error which brings God’s character into question. Calvin’s successor and son-in-law (Arminius’s mentor) Theodore Beza suggested: “Those who suffer for eternity in hell can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God.”9 That is a very small comfort, to say nothing of inconsistent on Beza’s part, if he thought that sinners in hell cared in the least for or could take the least comfort in “the greater glory of God.” Conclusions such as Beza’s are initially derived from an aberrant theological system.

1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 3:21:5.

2 Kenneth D. Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 138.

3 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 175.

4 Ibid., 176.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 177.

7 Ibid., 178.

8 C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit (Pasadena: Pilgrim, 1981), 119.

9 Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 459.