Calvinists say some of the darndest things. In debates with Calvinists, some of these things can be very annoying and contribute to an unfruitful discussion. When I press my objections against Calvinists, I usually get one of three possible answers, none of which refute the argument I’m trying to make. It can get exhausting and frustrating to try and get Calvinists to give a decent answer. In this article, I’m going to list 3 things Calvinists say and the reasons why they should stop saying them. They don’t help anything in the conversation and the person walks away from Calvinism just as bothered as he was before the conversation.
1: “Who are you O Man To Question God!?”
To say “Who are you to question God” does nothing to resolve the non-Calvinist’s objections to the morality of God on Calvinism. The thing is, we’re not questioning God. We’re questioning whether your theology accurately portrays God as good, loving, just, and fair as scripture portrays Him to be. We are not accusing God of being immoral; we are accusing your theology of painting Him as an immoral being. Obviously no Arminian or Molinist believes God is immoral. If we did, we would not worship Him. Rather, we want you to show how it isn’t unspeakably evil for an omnipotent being to causally determine all the evil and suffering in the world and not be evil himself. We want you to help us understand how God could be even the slightest bit good if He had planned the eternal torture of most of the human race before the universe was even created, to plan human being’s sins, ensure that humans commit those sins and then choose to leave most of the human race in that sinful condition? How is God good if He caused most people to fall into a state of sin and then not do anything to get them out of it? He got us into this mess (according to your view), so the least He can do is have the common decency to get us out of it, right? We’re not questioning God. We’re questioning whether your view doesn’t impugn the moral character of God.
On Calvinism, God planned peoples’ sins and their torment even before the events of Genesis 1 occurred. He was sitting in eternity thinking “I’m going to cause humanity to sin and then not offer the majority of them any hope of getting out of the terrible situation I put them in.” On Calvinism, God is like a fire fighter who sets a building on fire and then chooses to save some individuals in the burning building while purposefully leaving others he could have saved to die.
I agree with Rodger Olson that if Calvinism were true, I’d see little difference between God and Satan. The only differences would be that God is infinitely powerful while Satan has finite power, and also that God wants most people to perish while Satan wants all people to perish (and by “all” I do not mean “all kinds” of people).
DISCLAIMER: I do not believe Arminians and Calvinists worship different Gods, just that the theology of Calvinism paints an awful picture of the God we both worship.
Calvinists need to do better than simply point out that we’re in no position to judge God. They need to show how their theology doesn’t paint God as something He’s not. No Calvinist believes that God is evil. However, I don’t see how their soteriology makes Him anything but. It seems to me that you can either believe that God is good or you can believe that Calvinism is true. You cannot believe both. Yet no Calvinist has ever been able to show me how one can consistently affirm both.
Here’s something to chew on: If merely saying “Who are you O man to question God?” was enough to resolve such difficulties, why did Paul Copan write an entire book called “Is God A Moral Monster”, answering criticisms to God’s moral character from atheists? Why couldn’t this over-used Calvinist slogan be enough? When atheists say that God is morally flawed by unleashing His judgments in the Old Testament narratives, why couldn’t every single page of Copan’s book say in big bold letters “Who are you O man to question God!?” Why couldn’t that be enough? Maybe because it isn’t enough. The critically thinking mind wants answers, not slogans.
2: “Straw Man Argument!”
For some reason, when I point out the moral implications Calvinism has on God’s character, often times I get accused of commiting the straw man fallacy. The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent the beliefs that your opponent holds and then refute that belief. It’s called “Straw Man” because of the analogy of it being easier to win a fight against a scarecrow than it is against a real flesh and blood individual. In the same way, it’s a lot easier to provide a refutation against an argument your debate opponent never made or a belief your opponent does not hold than it would be to refute the actual argument/belief.
The problem is, is that my concept of Calvinist theology originally and mostly comes from the statements Calvinists themselves make. The first time I ever learned that there was such a thing as Calvinism was in an online discussion with a Calvinist. Despite this fact, I get accused of creating caricatures of Calvinism even though I’m merely saying the same thing Calvinists themselves say. This is very odd. This doesn’t happen with any other viewpoint that disagree with and criticize. Young Earth Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists, Roman Catholics, Atheists: I don’t have this problem with any of these views. I only get accused of a straw man with criticizing Calvinism. What gives?
Of course, it is sometimes legitimate that non-Calvinists caricature Calvinist theology. For example, it would be wrong to say that Calvinists believe God forces people into Heaven against their will. That’s not what they believe. Instead, they’ll say that God irresistibly changes the will of man so that he wants to be saved.
The only way I can see that I can avoid this overly used accusation is to ask “What DO you believe”?
It’s come to my attention that there isn’t one thing called “Calvinism”. Moreover, sometimes Calvinists say that you’re misrepresenting their view when you’re merely pointing out the logical implications of their view. They’ll respond “I don’t believe that”. “I don’t believe in double predestination”. Well, you can say you don’t, but I think the Calvinistic understanding of predestination entails double predestination regardless of how many times you verbally deny it. The thing is, there’s a difference between “You believe X” and “Your view entails X”. There are many atheists who are not nihilists. Nevertheless, I think that atheism entails nihilism. I think that if atheism is true, then that means that life has no meaning and that objective morality does not exist…despite the fact that many atheists claim that life does have meaning and that they do believe that there is objective good and evil. It would be illegitimate for the atheist to say that I’m misrepresenting their view when I’m not saying that this is their view. I’m saying their view logically entails nihilism. In the same way, Calvinism entails that God is not good.
In my post “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Were True”, I attempted to criticize Calvinism from all possible differing views. I made sure I looked at it from a hard determinist point of view as well as a compatiblist point of view. I also pointed out that I wasn’t saying that Calvinists believe in double predestination but that the fact of the matter is that many Calvinists do believe in double predestination and even the ones that don’t affirm it, nevertheless affirm of a view of predestination which logically entails double predestination. I wanted to make sure I got it from all angles so that the chances of some Calvinist commenting on that thread and saying “What a gross misrepresentation of Calvinism” would diminish.
Here’s what Calvinists should do. If someone actually does misrepresent their view, they should
1: Describe what they do believe.
2: Acknowlege that even if that’s not the view you personally hold, it may be the view other Calvinists hold.
3: Make sure you define your terms. Often times Calvinists and non-Calvinists have very different ideas when they use terms like “Free Will” (Calvinist meaning it in a compatiblist since, the non-Calvinist meaning it in a libertarian sense) or “Sovereignty” (Calvinists take sovereignty to be synonymous with divine determinism often times, which is why they accuse Arminians of denying God’s sovereignty). Defining your terms can help eliminate confusion.
3: An Appeal To Mystery
I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me. I ask a question about Calvinism to a Calvinist and he replies with an appeal to mystery.
Me: “How can God be good if He causally determined all evil? Everything from Satan’s rebellion to 9/11?”
Calvinist: “I don’t know, man. That’s just one of the mysteries of God.”
Me: “Why would God determine people to sin and then refuse to save them from the sins He determined them to do?”
Calvinist: “I don’t know. That’s one of the mysteries of God.”
Me: “Why would God send infants to Hell when they’re not even old enough to know right and wrong?”
Calvinist: “Beats me. That’s a mystery, dude.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I concede that there are theological mysteries. There are things I don’t think I’ll ever understand in this life; such as how people can be happy in Heaven if they get there and find out one of their loved ones is in Hell. Nevertheless, my soteriological position has far, far, far, far fewer mysteries than the Calvinist position. Look, when over half of the objections often raised to Calvinism is met with an appeal to mystery, that in itself should make the position suspect. While I concede that there are theological mysteries, you should be able to give a rational answer to at least 70% of them. Yet no Calvinist can provide a plausible solution to the problems I bring up? None of them can show me, for example, that it’s even possible for God to be just in condemning infants to an eternal Hell (I wrote a blog post arguing from scripture that He does not do this by the way). I cannot get them to tell me why God would causally determine me to disagree with their soteriology! I can’t get them to give a plausible answer as to why, if God really does determine all things, why we don’t live in a world without evil and suffering (it makes since from a libertarian free will perspective, but not from a compatiblist one).
The majority of objections I bring up to Calvinists, they can’t seem to answer.
Someone once posted this in a Facebook group I’m in:
“To say that God hates sin while secretly willing it, to say that God warns us not to fall away even though it is impossible, to say that God loves the world while excluding most people from an opportunity for salvation, to say that God warmly invites sinners to come knowing all the while that they cannot possibly do so—such things do not deserve to be called mysteries when that is just a euphemism for nonsense.”
As C.S Lewis put it “Nonsense is still nonsense even when we talk it about God.” The Fact of the matter is; not everything is a mystery. Sometimes things that appear to be nonsense really are nonsense.
I think I would enjoy soteriological debates far more than I do if Calvinists would stop saying these three things. The Calvinists’ responses are beyond predictable.