Reward and Punishment Necessitate Libertarian Freedom

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As is stated in previous posts on this site, libertarian free will is assumed throughout the tenor of the entire Bible, and determinism is exposed as not merely flawed but erroneous and damaging to the character and integrity of God. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Hosea teach us as much. Further biblical arguments regarding reward and punishment also lend to the credibility and truth of libertarian free will. In his book, Neither Necessary Nor Inevitable: History Needn’t Have Been Like That, Udo Middelmann rightly notes: “In a world where everything is necessary and inevitable [as in a Calvinist theodicy grounded in a deterministic Calvinist theology] there remains no room for either praise or blame on the basis of a person’s actions or the response given.”1 Indeed, the notion of response would be metaphysically manipulated, and certainly inauthentic.

The very word response connotes a reaction that demands an authenticity from the one who is the recipient of an action. If God promises reward to the believer, who diligently works toward the building up of His kingdom, why should we imagine that He somehow decreed or predetermined our thinking and actions if we are motivated to the building up of His kingdom? By what biblical a priori notion? Moreover, why would God reward someone for doing something that he or she was decreed to do and had no other choice but to the doing of the action rewarded? That makes no sense in reality.

Calvinistic logic makes no rational sense even in language. Middelmann contends that, in a closed and deterministic system like Calvinism, “All language would be descriptive, not prescriptive, factual, not persuading.”2 So much assumption must be exercised when reading Scripture in order for Calvinism to maintain any semblance of rationality, given that words and promises and threatenings assume entirely different conceptions when the reader is engaged using Calvinistic lenses.

For example, if unconditional election were true, and it is not, then all of the promises of salvation should be read as, in the words of Middelmann, descriptive and factual: God will regenerate His unconditionally elect in His own timing — that individual will then believe in Christ. There is no faith-response required prior to this salvation. There is only an immediate change. One is transformed from unbeliever to believer in a nano-second in time apart from prior response to the grace of God by means of faith in Jesus. Thus the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:8) is not prescriptive and persuading — e.g., if one will by grace trust in Christ then that one will be saved — but is descriptive and factual — e.g., God will regenerate His unconditionally elect. But Scripture is not written in descriptive and factual language with regard to the promises of God in Christ but as prescriptive and persuading. As Dr. F. Leroy Forlines argues: The message of salvation is not one of cause and effect but of influence and response.3

But there is something else horribly wrong in the Calvinist system: If Calvinism is true, and at its core (including its view of God’s sovereignty) it is not, individual people do not actually make their own decisions at all. Calvinist scholars like Wayne Grudem contend that people make meaningful choices. But then he undermines his own belief by insisting that God unilaterally, exhaustively, and meticulously influences our desires and decisions.4 In what sense, then, can he or any other Calvinist suggest that human beings make meaningful choices? They clearly do not, but, like a puppet, utter words and perform acts that the Puppet Master has decreed for them to speak and to enact, and to suggest otherwise is to blithely hold an obvious and embarrassing contradiction.

Another inescapable fact about Calvinism is the manner in which the system inevitably even if innocently charges God as being the Author, Originator, albeit secondarily the Instigator of sin and evil. If God has exhaustively decreed every minutiae of our existence, which by necessity includes our sin and evil, then sin and evil were first His idea from eternity past before the same ever entered our minds to perform. Think on it: A pure, righteous, and holy God conceived every form in the minutest detail of our sin and evil and the manner in which we would bring such to pass by His eternal decree. To suggest that this inescapable fact attributes not an ounce of culpability to God is to admit insanity.

So, when I read a Calvinist critique, in tu quoque fashion, regarding Arminian theology and the character of God — because He is capable of preventing more sin than He actually does, assuming that He actually does — I find accepting the criticisms a bit difficult in light of what the Calvinist actually claims to believe and teaches others to believe. God permitting evil is worlds apart from God decreeing evil from eternity past; especially when that evil was His idea, and He, according to Calvinism, decrees that evil in such a fashion that the victim of God’s decree to the performance of said evil has no other choice but to enact the evil. That is not a just God. Calvinists can argue otherwise, but they do so at the expense of their own credibility, as well as to the very character and integrity of God Himself.

Compatibilistic Calvinists will have us believe that God foreordained by decree that the Israelites “freely” rebelled against Him (cf. Jer. 2:5-9, 13-17, 20, 29; 4:3-4, 14; 5:19, 23, 28, 29; 6:16; 7:3-7, 31; 13:11), yet they could not have chosen any other path but rebellion, while the LORD stood by and commanded them to “choose” the righteous path. Either the God of Calvinism is schizophrenic, or bipolar, or we are insane. This view is unacceptable and unworthy of a just and holy God. The truth, justice, and righteousness of God requires Him to communicate with His creatures in a manner commensurate with His divine and perfect attributes. To suggest that God has secretly decreed for human beings to rebel against Him, while He then responds by punishing the person(s) for rebellion, is to contradict the moral attributes of God. This is what Calvinism accomplishes in its deterministic doctrine: undermining and demeaning the absolute perfect attributes of God.

An Arminian theodicy and an Arminian theology is, in our opinion, the only biblical, rational, and authentic expression for the believer in and follower of Christ Jesus. Only this theology grants to human beings the dignity of their creation-right: maintaining their inherent position as an image-bearer of God. Atoms and molecules may be governed in deterministic fashion, and animals may behave according to their kind, but human beings are “an open secret, a surprise, for better and for worse, a pain and a relief.” When God created human beings “according to their kind” He did so “with the openness of genuine and often original choices.”5 Though there are realities in which we exist that we did not choose, like the color of our eyes, hair, or skin, there are moral choices we make that were not decreed or foreordained by a deterministic God because a deterministic God does not exist. Such a God only exists in the minds of the ones who created Him.

In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We live in the relative freedom with which God has bestowed upon us. Life for us is more “alive” within the context of this gift.6 We have “open minds, a willingness to be humbled in our relative ignorance, and hopefully, also an artistic, inventive attitude towards the things we do not yet understand. Without that, our interest would be dull, the questions we ask too narrow, our expectations too limited. There would be no stimulation for and satisfaction from the art and sciences.”7 Arminianism presents to the believer a stunning and fascinating wonder of our Triune God, an authentic expression within which to worship and love this Creator, and a life of astonishing bewilderment and expectant uncertainties, as we trust in Him from day to day, and seek His face and His ways for an eternal reward of life in Him.


1 Udo W. Middelmann, Neither Necessary Nor Inevitable: History Needn’t Have Been Like That (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Inc., 2011), 12.

2 Ibid.

3 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2010), 50.

4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), I.18.1; see also Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.

5 Middelmann, 14.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.