What is Reprehensible about Calvinism

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According to The Oxford American College Dictionary, the word reprehensible means “deserving censure or condemnation.” While there are aspects regarding Calvinism which are orthodox, overall I find its analysis of God’s character, and at times actions or decisions attributed to Him by some forms of the system, to be both worthy of censure and condemnation.

In view of Calvinism’s many errors, there are three primary doctrines which warrant “censure and condemnation.” Those three are supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, and the Calvinist’s distorted view of God’s sovereignty. Though I have little to no sympathy for Open Theism, using John Piper’s words in response to that system demonstrates my own thoughts regarding those three errors of Calvinism: They “dishonor God, distort Scripture, damage faith, and would, if left unchecked, destroy churches and lives. Its errors are not peripheral but central.”

SUPRALAPSARIANISM

Though consistent in form, the theory of supralapsarianism is utterly repugnant. According to the Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, the system holds “that God decreed both [unconditional] election and reprobation from all eternity without respect to the merits or demerits of persons. . . . [The] object of predestination in supralapsarianism was the human race as not yet created and not yet fallen. . . .”1 Why God first decreed to unconditionally elect and reprobate (those whom He had not yet decreed to create — those who had not yet fallen into sin) is left unanswered and unanswerable by those who hold to this error. Truth be told, God needed to create human beings in order to fulfill His decree to unconditionally elect some persons unto faith and salvation and reprobate the majority.

This heinous philosophical-theological error places one’s salvation in a cold (seemingly arbitrary) decree, apart from one’s faith in Christ, or Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross. In the supralapsarian scheme, the reprobate (those who will spend eternity in hell because that is what God decreed) are suffering eternally for the glory of God. Arminius’s mentor and John Calvin’s successor and son-in-law, Theodore Beza, himself a supralapsarian, comments: “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.”2 Beza’s primary error is neglecting the fact that there is no comfort in hell! I wonder if Beza himself could have taken such comfort in that decreed eternal torment for the greater glory of God? John Calvin was also a supralapsarian:

    By predestination [or better, unconditional election] we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death [emphasis added].3

The internal and controversial debate between Calvinists in the seventeenth century resulted in the majority of them holding not to supralapsarianism but infralapsarianism.4

INFRALAPSARIANISM

This view holds that when God decreed to unconditionally elect some unto faith and salvation, while reprobating the rest, He “had in view sinful humanity.”5 Still, supra- and infralapsarians agreed on many things. Their major disagreement centered around “whether God’s first (ultimate) purpose was to glorify himself through predestination or through creation.”6 Supralapsarians admit the former, while infralapsarians the latter. At least in the infralapsarian scheme, God had already decreed to create human beings, permitted their fall into sin, and then unconditionally elected to save some of them.

On the surface, this view seems like a gentler, kinder Calvinism — one which still maintains that God is not angry with sinners merely by decree. (In the supralapsarian scheme, what could God be angry about, since sinners had not yet sinned? Hence they are reprobated for nothing else except God’s decree.) Yet, upon closer examination, we discover that infralapsarianism is no less deterministic than is its supralapsarian counterpart. (This view also, by necessity, promotes a fair amount of mystery or antinomy in order to alleviate itself from holding contradictions.)

God was not obligated, strictly taken, to save His creatures who willingly and freely disobeyed His command(s). Yet, in His own words, God has also promised to save any person who hears the powerful gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) and believes on Christ Jesus (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35; 12:44, 46; Rom. 10:10, 11, 13). God has chosen or elected to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 7:25). Nowhere in Scripture are we informed that God has unconditionally elected to save one person and not another.

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

Both supra- and infralapsarian Calvinism inherently confess that God is the author of sin, though most Calvinists deny it. By “author of sin” I mean that sin comes to pass by the decree of God, not by God’s decreeing what free creatures would choose to accomplish. The Westminster Confession (Chapter III) makes this distinction clear:

    • 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, 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.

Notice how animated the Calvinist becomes when confronted with his or her own implications regarding God’s decreeing all events. Immediately the Calvinist adds: “yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures.” They assume that God is not the author of the sin which He alone authored or decreed to come to pass. Many of them also adduce that human beings still achieve acts of their own free will. Yet, those acts were decreed by God, and those creatures are not free to do otherwise. Hence, God authored and decreed what His creatures would do, they would by necessity do what He has decreed for them to do, and they could not have done otherwise.

Whence cometh sin? R. C. Sproul, Jr. admits that God “created sin.”7 This confession is, of course, heretical and blasphemous. If God can neither be tempted by sin nor tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13), it goes without saying that He is not capable of “creating” sin. The LORD is too pure to even look at sin (Hab. 1:13). Thus He could not “create” sin. Moreover, the Psalmist commands us who love the LORD to hate evil (Ps. 97:10). The Psalmist hated every false way (Ps. 119:104, 128). How much more God?

Supra- and infralapsarians affirm that God has pre-scripted every event that comes to pass, and that all events are brought to pass by God’s activity and decree. Wayne Grudem inconsistently maintains: “God influences the desires and decisions of people. . . . But we must guard against misunderstanding. . . . We do have choices, and these are real choices that bring about real results.”8 These statements need special attention.

God has decreed what shall come to pass. He has done so without regard to future free will decisions (there could be none, nor could God be “dependent” upon human beings for His knowledge), according to standard Calvinist confession. Grudem inconsistently argues that God, in deterministic fashion, “influences the desires and decisions of people,” but that people “have real choices,” which “bring about real results.” He then has the audacity to call determinism an error.9 Do you see the elephant in the room? If God has decreed what shall come to pass, and only that which He has strictly decreed can come to pass, then it is incongruent to suggest that people “have real choices.” The only so-called “choice” a person genuinely has in a Calvinistic scheme is to do that which God has decreed for him or her to accomplish.

There is no mystery here. Either people are genuinely free to choose for themselves what they shall achieve, even if said choice is foreknown and thus decreed by God, or there is no genuine choice because God has already strictly predetermined what shall be. Bruce Little, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, writes:

    • The logical end of the Calvinist position on the question of sovereignty leads to a strong form of determinism, which is not the necessary outcome of biblical sovereignty. In addition, moral responsibility for sin must find its final causal agent to be God. The protest against drawing this conclusion involves an argument that commits the fallacy of equivocation (particularly with the word “will”) and the fallacy of explaining by naming — just saying it is so makes it so. . . .

While Calvinists such as John Piper can be respected for their desire to honor the Lord, in this issue, they are simply wrong and their position incoherent. Unfortunately, being wrong in this area has some serious implications for areas of theology beyond the question of evil. At the end of the day, if they wish to hold to their view of sovereignty, they should be willing to accept the logical conclusion of their position and acknowledge that God is morally responsible for evil.10

Admitting such seems more than most Calvinists are willing to accept.
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1 Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, ed. Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster / John Knox Press, 1992), 360.

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

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 3.21.5, 610.

4 Reformed Faith, 360.

5 Ibid.

6 Olson, 459.

7 R. C. Sproul, Jr., Almighty Over All: Understanding the Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 54.

8 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146.

9 Ibid., 151.

10 Bruce A. Little, “Evil and God’s Sovereignty,” Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 296-97.