Dilemmas of Calvinism

, posted by SEA

Some problems with Calvinism based on the book, The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Calvinist Craig. R. Brown:

First, the chapter on Responsibility emphasizes that God decrees everything, controls everything and is the primary cause of everything. Brown says that God “pre-determines all human actions.” (p. 43) Then, in his chapter on Evil he says that God “allows” sinful men to do evil deeds. How do those assertions fit together? Given what Brown said before, must not Calvinism say that God not only “allows” but also “pre-determines” men’s evil deeds? It would seem so. Why slip back into Arminian language of God “allowing” something when he had already said (together with all Calvinists generally) that God decrees and pre-determines them? Is this a failure of nerve?

Second, how consistent is it to say that we simply do not know the origin of evil (p. 98) when Brown already said earlier that God is the primary cause of everything without exception? Doesn’t this make God the origin of evil?

Third, related to that, if Brown’s Theory of Opposites is true (pp. 100ff), then evil is necessary per simpliciter. That is, it isn’t just necessary so that God can bring good out of it, but it is necessary to God who is Goodness Itself. If it is true that goodness cannot be recognized without evil, then there must have always been evil. But how can that be? That would import evil into God himself! Also, this theory would make creation less than truly good because evil would be a necessary part of the creation. This notion was considered and rejected by many theologians throughout church history because of these implications. Also, this would make evil necessarily part of heaven itself. How could heaven be good without the presence of evil (even as a privation of the good)?

Fourth, the book overlooks THE major dilemma of Calvinism: Why would a perfectly good God, who “is love” (1 John) foreordain some persons to eternal damnation and pre-determine their evil thoughts and deeds so that they would go to hell? Why would a perfectly good God, who could save everyone because salvation is absolutely unconditional, not save everyone?

It won’t do to appeal to mystery here–unless Calvinists are willing to allow Arminians (and other non-Calvinists) to do the same (which most Calvinists are not willing to do). As an Arminian I could say “God is absolutely sovereign but we are able to resist and thwart his will.” Calvinists would say “Wait just a minute. That’s a contradiction.” Then I could say “No, it’s a mystery.” What would the Calvinist say then? Calvinists are constantly accusing Arminians of falling into contradiction (e.g., by believing God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly even though we have libertarian freedom). (By the way, we Arminians don’t embrace contradictions because we believe God is sovereign over his sovereignty and limits the use of his power in order to give us freedom of will and that God’s foreknowledge does not cause or determine what we do but is caused and determined by what we do because God has chosen to allow that.)

So, Calvinists need to explain what sense “good” and “love” have in the Calvinist account of God’s character when he is also said to foreordain and decree the sins of people and their consequent eternal damnation even though he could save them because salvation is unconditional and irresistible but he doesn’t. I can’t think of a single instance in human experience where “good” or “love” would be compatible with such contemptible actions such as pre-determining a person to commit a crime and then condemning him to death for it.

By the way, in chapter 2 Brown claims that Arminians have a flower representative of their system just like Calvinists, the daisy, because according to him, the Arminian doctrinal system says, in effect, “He loves me, He loves me not.” But this is a grossly false charge. We Arminians do not believe that God says “I love them; I love them not”. We say that God loves everyone and is grieved by people’s disobedience and refusal of his forgiveness. This canard is terribly unfair and should be discarded by Calvinists if they are interested in truth. For an excellent and fuller consideration of the “Daisy charge”, see “The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 3: Who’s Really Holding the Daisy?”. It turns out that the daisy is probably a better fit with Calvinism than Arminianism.

For a series of essays critiquing Brown’s book, see these posts at Arminian Perpectives.