My Problems With Calvinism
By: Steve Shirley
OK... up to this point I have completely avoided this topic on JesusAlive because it is SO divisive. Some people become downright offended when someone doesn't hold their viewpoint, and I am not seeking to cause division over something that I believe should be a secondary issue amongst Christians. However, since you asked, I will share my problems with Calvinism.
First off, let me say that I honestly believe I could make a convincing Biblical argument for either Calvinism or Arminianism. On the other hand, I also see questions that each side needs to answer. However, as I weigh these questions, and compare them against what I see in the Bible, I find my Biblical objections to Calvinism significantly outweigh my objections to Arminianism. In fact, I find some tenants of Calvinism quite disturbing. But, before I share my objections, let me first describe the 5 main tenants of each position.
|1. Free Will: Man has the ability to believe, repent, and call upon the Lord to be saved. When man makes this choice, he is regenerated.||1. Total Depravity: Man is unable to seek God, and has no ability to make a choice to believe or repent to be saved. When God regenerates man (His elect), he WILL then believe and repent.|
|2. Conditional Election: We are elect based on God's foreknowledge that we would choose Jesus. God knew from the beginning who would choose Him.||2. Unconditional Election: We are elect based only on God's decision to choose us. We do not need to do anything. He chose some people from the beginning and rejected others solely on who He wished to save.|
|3. Unlimited Atonement: Christ died for everyone||3. Limited Atonement: Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone.|
|4. Resistible Grace: We can choose to not accept salvation when God draws us. God's will can be resisted.||4. Irresistible Grace: Anyone God has elected to salvation WILL come when God draws them. God's will cannot be resisted.|
|5. Salvation Can Be Lost: Falling from grace.||5. Perseverance Of The Saints: Salvation can never be lost.|
Now, to my Top 10 list of objections.
#1. Calvinism makes God the author of sin: The Bible says in (Jn 16:9) that unbelief in Jesus is sin: "of sin because they believe not on me." However, if a person is UNABLE to believe in Jesus because God has not regenerated or chosen that person, then God has caused that person to sin (as opposed to a person who has sinned because he decides to reject Jesus of his own free will).
#2. Elect angels: The Bible says in (1 Tim 5:21) that there are elect angels. In other words (from a Calvinist viewpoint), God chose some angels and rejected others. Satan (Lucifer) is an angel who was obviously not one of the chosen (along with one-third of all the created angels: Rev 12:4). Most scholars agree that there are two places in the Old Testament which tell us why Satan was kicked out of Heaven: because of pride (Ezek 28:12-19) and because he wanted to become like God (Isa 14:12-15). So, I ask the question: WHO is responsible for Satan's fall from Heaven (and the one-third of the angels who followed him)? Keep in mind (Ezek 28:15) says that when God created Lucifer, he was perfect (as I am sure ALL of the angels were) until iniquity was found in him. This iniquity was connected with his rebellion which is why he was "cast out" of God's presence. It is not said that Satan was "cast out" because he wasn't "elect," but rather, he was "cast out" because of a choice he made to reject God.
So, if we assume that God made two-thirds of the angels "elect" before He created them (just as He did man), then didn't God have to base His "election" on the fact that He knew (had foreknowledge) the two-thirds would decide to follow Him (free-will), and "reject" Satan and the one-third because He knew they would rebel (also free-will)? Either that, or they had no free-will to make the choice, thereby making GOD the author of Satan's rebellion.
*** Note: Foreknowledge is the main component of the Arminian position of "Conditional Election." Two verses in the New Testament are the primary support for this position:
(1 Pet 1:2) elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
(Rom 8:29) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren.
In addition, we know that God is omniscient "all knowing" (1 Jn 3:20)(Isa 42:9)(Ezek 11:5)(Ps 147:4-5). The past, present, and future have always been known to God. He certainly has ALWAYS known who His "elect" would be. It simply comes down to whether He knew who He would choose or knew who would choose Him.
#3. "Whosoever": The New Testament uses this word in 16 verses in conjunction with salvation in Jesus.
"Whosoever believeth" (Rom 10:11)(Rom 9:33)(Jn 3:15)(Jn 3:16)(Jn 11:26)(Jn 12:46)(Acts 10:43)(1 Jn 5:11)
"Whosoever shall call" (Rom 10:13)(Acts 2:21)
"Whosoever shall confess" (Mt 10:32)(1 Jn 4:15)
"Whosoever drinketh" (Jn 4:13)(Jn 4:14)
"Whosoever acknowledgeth" (1 Jn 2:23)
"Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17)
"Whosoever" indicates to me that salvation is for all of mankind, not just "the elect." Other verses also appear to back this up:
God desires that ALL men would be saved: (1 Tim 2:3-4)(2 Pet 3:9)(Ezek 18:23,32)(Titus 2:11)(Mt 18:14).
Jesus gave His life for ALL people (not just a few): HE:
Died for the sins of the world (Jn 1:29)(1 Jn 2:2)
Reconciled the world unto Himself (2 Cor 5:19)
Draws all men unto Himself (Jn 12:32)
Tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9)
Is the Savior of all men (1 Tim 4:10)
Is the justification of life to all men (Rom 5:18)
Gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6)
Is the true Light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man (Jn 1:9).
Came to save the world (Jn 12:47)
(2 Pet 2:1) says Jesus even died for false prophets.
These verses tell me the Calvinist position of "Limited Atonement" is wrong.
#4. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:39)(Mk 12:31)(Rom 13:8-10)(Gal 5:14)(Jas 2:8) (Lev 19:18): Who is our neighbor? If "yourself" is a Christian, is our neighbor only Christians, or is it non-Christians too? If our neighbor is both, are we supposed to love both equally, or are we supposed to love our Christian neighbors more? You may disagree, but I personally believe these verses mean "We should love EVERYONE as much as we love ourselves" (Christians and non- Christians alike). Here is my logic: if a neighbor is all people, if you are a Christian, then you must love a non-Christian neighbor as much as you love yourself who is a Christian (equally) Make sense? (I honestly don't think many of us do this.) Do you believe this as well?
Therefore, my question for the Calvinist is, "Does God apply this standard
to Himself?" If God has arbitrarily chosen someone to be His child and live
with Him for eternity, and another to a torturous eternity apart from Him,
He clearly doesn't love equally. This would indicate that God is asking us
to follow a standard of loving all equally that He clearly does not follow
(A majority of Calvinists do indeed believe God loves His "elect" more than the "non-elect." Based on a few verses, some even believe God "hates" the "non-elect.")
#5. How did David know his infant son was with the Lord?: (2 Sam 12:18-23) speaks of David and the loss of his baby with Bathsheba. In (2 Sam 12:23), David says, "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." David clearly believed that after his infant son died, he was with the Lord. How could he make this claim? What if his child was not elect? Many Calvinists believe that all children who die are elect. I would agree on this point. However, as I see it, this creates a logical problem for the Calvinist. If all children who die are elect, then one of two things must be true (unless I am missing something). Either God makes them a part of His "elect" after they die OR God made them "elect" before they died. If the former is true, then this contradicts the Bible teaching that God elected ALL of His chosen people at "the foundation of the world" (as is taught in: Eph 1:4, Rev 13:8, Rev 17:8). If the latter is true, then it must mean that God "elects" infants who die with the "foreknowledge" that they would die. I believe the latter position to be the case. David may have as well.
#6. God's will can be resisted: Contrary to the Calvinist position that God's will (or "grace") is "irresistible," the Bible has a number of verses showing that man CAN resist God's will: (Jn 5:40)(Mt 23:37)(Lk 13:34)(Acts 7:51)(Mt 21:42)(Acts 4:11)(Lk 7:29-30)(2 Th 1:8-9)(Rom 10:21)(2 Kin 17:14-18).
***Update (6-2018): I just completed a study on Jesus' words to Paul in (Acts 9:5)(Acts 26:14) "it is hard for thee to kick against the goads / pricks." In studying this, I came to the conclusion that Jesus was telling Paul that he was fighting against the "drawing" of the Father, and the "conviction" of the Holy Spirit. He was "resisting" God's grace! More on this study here.
#7. The Marriage Feast: The Marriage Feast, found in (Mt 22:1-14), speaks of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. Jesus says that guests were sent invitations by the king (God) to the Marriage Feast but "THEY WOULD NOT COME." How could they refuse to come if God's will is irresistible? Verse 14 concludes the parable saying, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Also see: Mt 20:16). From a Calvinist standpoint, shouldn't ALL who are called become chosen?
#8. The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15): At this judgment,
unbelievers from all of history will be judged for their "works" and then
cast into the Lake Of Fire. From a Calvinist viewpoint, these "unbelievers"
never had a chance to believe in the one (Jesus) who could pay for their
sins because God never "regenerated" or chose them. In other words, God will
hold them accountable and punish them for something they could do nothing
(It is hard for me to imagine being a believer in Heaven and knowing [or watching?] an unbelieving loved one is being thrown into the Lake Of Fire because God decided not to choose them [and rejoicing that we were chosen instead].)
#9. I do not understand (2 Th 2:10-12) in regards to Calvinism: These verses say, "and with all deceivableness of righteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. (11) And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: (12) that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Who are these people? I think we can agree they are not God's elect. Verses 10 and 12 both say these people will fail to RECEIVE and BELIEVE the truth (this is a prophecy of a future event). It is a choice they will make. Because of this choice, verse 11 says God will send them a strong delusion so they will believe a lie. In other words, because they rejected Jesus previously, they will be unable to accept Him later, because God will prevent it. If these people are not elect, why would God need to make them believe a lie? Were they not already condemned from "the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4)(Rev 13:8)(Rev 17:8)?
#10. The Bible tells us that God has "chosen" people based on certain qualities: Here is a quote from one Calvinist: "You will find nowhere in Scripture where God looks upon an individual and bases His choice of election and predestination based on some quality in the individual." In other words, the Calvinist believes that God "elects" some people and "rejects" others based on absolutely nothing. The Bible pretty clearly seems to contradict this to me. Here are a few verses:
(James 2:5) God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.
(Mt 5:3)(Lk 6:20) God said the Kingdom of Heaven is for the poor in spirit.
(1 Cor 1:26-28) God has not chosen the noble, wise, or mighty, but rather the weak, foolish, and lowly.
(Job 22:29) God will save the humble.
(Mt 19:23-24) It is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
(Mt 21:31) Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes would get into the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of the religious leaders.
Don't these say that God has "chosen" (or rejected) people for the "Kingdom Of Heaven" based on some quality they possess? And, if this IS the case, how did God do so? Wouldn't it obviously have to be based on "foreknowledge" He had "from the beginning of the world" as to what the person would become? Based on this, and other examples of possible "foreknowledge" that I have shared above, it seems logical to me that God could "elect" people based on His "foreknowledge" of who would accept Jesus as Savior.------------------
The primary issue in all of this revolves around the "sovereignty" of God. For the Calvinist, if one holds any Arminian position, it means that God is not TOTALLY in control, thus God is not sovereign. For example, regarding "Unconditional Election," the Calvinist says that if God gives man the "free will" ability to choose Him or not, then He is not "sovereign." I fail to understand this reasoning. I think of it like this:
Does God want unborn children to be murdered by the millions (abortion)? Of course not! Does the fact that it occurs on a daily basis mean God is not in control? No. Tragedies like these occur because God has given man free will, and free will means having the ability to choose evil over good. Could God stop ALL abortions? Yes, but He does not. Does any Christian believe that God isn't in control because He doesn't stop all abortions? So, if God gives man a choice to choose Him (good) or reject Him (evil), why does that mean He isn't in control?
It appears to me that the Calvinist puts God's "sovereignty" above all else, including His love, mercy, and grace. Sticking with the "Unconditional Election" theme, let me (loosely) paraphrase an example I heard from Dr. Norman Geisler regarding this. It is like saying a farmer has a big pond with a fence around it and a sign warning people not to swim in it. Three boys ignore the sign and climb over the fence to swim. The farmer comes to the pond and sees them out in the middle drowning. He has some long ropes beside him that he could throw out to save them, but instead he chooses watch them all drown (Unconditional Election). This is in contrast to "Conditional Election," where the farmer sees the boys drowning and throws three ropes out to save them. One boy grabs the rope and the farmer pulls him in. The other two refuse to grab the ropes and yell to the farmer, "We don't need your help, we can pull ourselves out." They drown. Which farmer sounds more like the God of the Bible to you? I know my answer.
In addition, doesn't "true" love demand that a choice be given to love or not? For example, let's say that some single guy out there decides that he wants a woman in his life that he can shower with blessings and pour out his love upon. He is walking down the street and randomly picks a lady he sees for this purpose. She does not love him, but he has a supernatural ability to MAKE her love him (like say Iron Man supervillain "Hypnotia" can do), so he does just that, and she totally loves him. Yes, her life afterwards is SO much better than it was before he came into it, but is it really fair to her that she was supernaturally coerced into this new life? And, for the single guy, wouldn't he feel a bit empty knowing that the only reason she is with him is because he imposed his will upon her? Is this "true" love on either side? While this is a crude example, isn't this exactly what the Calvinist believes God does with "Irresistible Grace?" God imposes His will upon people who would otherwise not choose Him?
Of course, I have also found unsatisfying answers from Calvinists to the most common questions that are asked of them such as:
Why do we even need to evangelize or send out missionaries if God has already "chosen" who is going to be saved? (A Calvinist response is generally because God "commands" it. To me, this answer seems cold and uncaring for the people to whom the Calvinist is evangelizing. Actually, a little like Jehovah Witnesses...)
Why does the Bible tell us in a number of places we can be used by God to help win souls (1 Cor 9:22-23)(Prov 11:30)(1 Cor 7:16)(Prov 14:25)(Rom 11:13-14)(Jude 1:22-23)(Prov 23:14)(Ezek 33:8-9) if God has already chosen the elect ahead of time?
Is there even any point in praying for people to be saved?
*** Note: I should clarify here that while both Arminianism and Calvinism believe God "elects" or "chooses" people, in Arminianism can God use man to play a part in who is "chosen," while in Calvinism man can have no role.
There are also many other verses in the Bible that just don't make sense to me as well in light of Calvinism such as: (Heb 6:4-6)(Rom 1:18-20)(Rom 2:12-16) and more. I am well aware that the Calvinist also has dozens of verses to back their position, and we could go back and forth for days debating the issue. However, as I said above, I personally have far more trouble reconciling Calvinism with the Bible.
P.S. It is sad that no Calvinist can walk up to a stranger and say, "Jesus loves you and died for you."
***Related: I go much deeper into the problems with "Total Depravity" in this study: "Are Babies Born Sinners."