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  • « Easy Believism and Semi-Pelagianism | Main | Profoundly Bad Theology Promoted with Such Certainty »

    Answering a Critic of Reformed Theology

    Pastor Jim McClarty - an ex-rocker, current preacher, saved by astounding grace (and my friend) provides very good (biblical) responses to a critic of Reformed theology:

    Because I am a very public advocate for Calvinism (which is a nickname for the historic theology that lays at the heart of the Protestant Reformation), I occasionally hear from critics. Sometimes, their arguments are logical and well-presented. Other times, they’re little more than rants. Usually, they’re somewhere in-between. And I answer most of them — avoiding the really silly or truly angry ones.

    The reason I’m sharing this particular exchange is because it includes assumptions and arguments that are typical and that show up in my in-box with increasing frequency. Some folk simply cannot conceive of God being absolutely sovereign so they attempt to argue against it by insisting that such sovereignty would necessarily make God evil. And that’s where we’ll jump into the exchange –

    The Critic writes:
    When the philosophy that drives Calvinism is projected to its logical conclusion, even Satan’s activity is an extension of God’s sovereignty. God sovereignly controls Satan’s every move.

    Jim:
    Not only is that the logical conclusion of Calvinism, it’s the logical conclusion of Biblical sovereignty. The alternative is to have an uncontrolled devil running roughshod over God’s creation. But, the Bible is full of examples of God limiting and binding Satan. Consider Job. Or Satan’s desire to sift Peter, but Christ intervened. Even Legion could not take the herd of swine without Jesus’ consent.

    Or, to look at it another way, we know that in the book of Revelation Satan is bound and put into an abyss for 1000 years. Afterward he is released, vanquished, and placed in the Lake of Fire. Now, since we know that God has the power to do that, why has He not done it yet? The only rational answer is: Satan plays a part in God’s economy. When God is done with him, He will judge him and seclude him eternally.

    Remember, God’s way are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. As high as the Heavens are above the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Just because we struggle with the idea of God’s absolute power, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or that God cannot exercise it.

    Critic:
    This makes God the author of everything evil, and the most wicked sinner of all.

    Jim:
    The Bible repeatedly declares God’s holiness and righteousness. So, if Calvinism led to the idea that God was not only the “author of evil,” but the most wicked of sinners, the whole theology would have been abandoned by thoughtful churchmen years and years ago. The reason Calvinism continues to thrive is that it recognizes God’s sovereignty and His holiness. Straw man arguments about how that makes God sinful are just banal.

    Theologically, God does not have to be evil in order to create evil in His universe. Just as darkness is the natural state of all unlit matter and energy is necessary to produce light, God can produce evil in His creatures simply by withholding His goodness. He does not have to be positively evil to do this. He merely has to withhold Himself and allow the natural darkness to have its way.

    Critic:
    Some Calvinists actually admit what I said and seek to defend it from Scripture. If ultimately God sovereignly is in control of everything, and if free will of man, angels, or even Satan, is ultimately under the control of God, then the responsibility for all wickedness and evil must be placed at the feet of God Himself.

    Jim:
    There are no Calvinists who “actually admit” that God is “the most wicked sinner of all.” Please attempt to present our position in a manner consistent with what we ourselves say about it.

    Volumes have been written on this topic. God is the creator, sustainer, and purpose behind all things. But, that is not tantamount with being the author of evil. That’s why Satan exists. Satan is the instrument through which necessary evil occurs in God’s universe. Think, for instance, of how God used Satan to bring calamity to Job. God allowed it and limited the extent of it. But, it was Satan who performed it.

    Or, who brought about the fall in the Garden of Eden? Satan. But, was that God’s design? Yes. Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) Why have a sacrifice prepared prior to creation unless the Fall is ordained and inevitable? But, God did not sin in ordaining the lapse. He used an intermediate cause: Satan.

    Everything God does is designed to bring Him the greatest glory. And that includes His control over the events of human history and celestial eternity. The responsibility for everything that occurs in God’s universe can rightly be laid at His holy feet. But, that is not the same as charging Him with evil, which no man can do.

    Isa 45:5-7 — “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”

    If you are going to attempt to limit God’s sovereignty, then what exactly will you use as your plumb line? How far is God capable of going before He reaches the edge of what men will allow? What events is God involved in and what events require His absence? And how will you discern between the two? Where exactly is the limitation on the One who calls Himself “Almighty”?

    Critic:
    Are Satan’s actions of his own free will? If so, then God has obviously limited His own sovereignty regarding Satan’s activities.

    Jim:
    Of course not. The book of Job (arguably the oldest book in the Bible) proves that. Satan was not free to interact with Job, his family, his possessions, his health, or his life without God’s consent and restrictions. The truth of the text is just the opposite of your conjecture. God limited Satan’s will and activity in keeping with His own purposes and design.

    Critic:
    God allows Satan free will.

    Jim:
    No He doesn’t and you’ll be hard pressed to produce any Biblical evidence that He does.

    By the way, if Satan does indeed have a free will, then I think we could make pretty good argument that free will leads to evil. Then again, that’s precisely what the Bible teaches; the human will is limited by its incapability to be righteous and natural proclivity for sin.

    Critic:
    If Satan’s actions are ultimately under the control of God, then Satan is merely God’s puppet, or “dark side.” The God of the Bible does not resemble this kind of god.

    I John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

    James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

    Jim:
    I smell straw. Do you smell straw? It’s like someone is building straw men …

    This is not good argumentation. You cannot accuse us of holding a position we do not hold and then blame us for holding that position.

    Is Satan God’s puppet? I’d say yes. And when God’s done with him, He will put the devil away permanently. But, to posit a form of dualism in which God has a dark side and a light side is rank heresy. So, no respectable Calvinist has ever claimed it — despite your effort to assert it.

    The problem is your misunderstanding of God’s character and actions. The problem is not the consistently Biblical theology of the Calvinist.

    We agree that God has no dark side. But, the Calvinist sees no discrepancy in allowing the Bible to say what it says. God is the absolute ruler and authority who empowers everything in His universe, the whole time remaining absolutely holy and just. Remember, God is not held to a standard higher than Himself. Whatever He does is right by virtue of the fact that it is a completely holy God doing it. Whether that boggles our human sensibility is of no consequence. It’s still how God portrays Himself.

    Critic:
    We must keep in mind that Satan’s ultimate ambition is to usurp God’s position, (Isa. 14:13-15, 2Thes. 2:3,4). Satan cannot make himself holy, but he can make God appear to be unholy, closing the gap between man’s perception of God and Satan. Satan simply assumes the dark side of God. Calvinism’s philosophical merging of God and Satan in effect fulfills Satan’s ultimate aspiration.

    Jim:
    This is really sad argumentation. You are ascribing to Calvinists a position that they themselves never advance. You are attempting to equate Calvinism with a form of Satanic darkness or blindness. But, since this is a philosophical position you’ve invented and not anything to do with the systematic theology of Calvinism, it does no damage to our position at all.

    Anyone can claim that God is on their side and those who oppose their side are under the control of Satan. The important ingredient in this discussion is whether or not the Bible states what you’re stating. And, since it doesn’t, I don’t plan to worry over it.

    Critic:
    The danger for Christians is that only one baby step separates the Calvinism taught in mainstream Evangelical churches from the logical philosophical conclusion that God is both good and evil. Calvinism leads to the conclusion that God is Satan and Satan is God. In the last days this philosophy will facilitate Christians worshipping the Beast.

    Jim:
    God is Satan! Satan is God! And my cat is the Antichrist!!!!

    A tad hysterical, eh? Don’t worry. Calvinism has been around for hundreds of years and has never led to satanic rituals and devil worship. You’re getting wwaaayyy too wrapped up in your emotionalism. Painting one of the major theological streams in the history of Christendom with the broad “it’s from the Beast!” brush does nothing to advance your argument. It just makes you sound like an alarmist. Perhaps studying and replying to the actual doctrines of Calvinism would serve you better.

    And, just for clarity’s sake, no Christians will be “worshipping the Beast.” Why? Because God is sovereign.

    Critic:
    I am very troubled by the logical implications that the Calvinist philosophy forces Christians to embrace. And I’m also concerned about the image of the Christian “God” presented to the world.

    Jim:
    Ummm … if “the Calvinist philosophy” forces Christians to embrace these logical implications, then why is it that no Calvinist I know teaches or believes this?

    You’re arguing about a position that does not exist. Take a step back, take a breath, and try to argue about the things we actually do say … as opposed to your unwarranted conclusions.

    I am equally concerned about how the Christian Church presents God to the world. The world does not need a God who has the power to save but who is hampered by the apparently superior will of His own creatures. Why would anyone worship such a weak and powerless Deity? The concept of freewill, and the supposition that God will not or cannot encroach on human freedom, leads to creature worship. It places human decisions above God’s decrees. Worse, there is no such God found in the pages of Scripture. So, if you’re truly concerned about the image of God we’re presenting, take a moment to consider the alternative you’re offering and ask yourself two things: (1) is your conception of God biblical and (2) does it promote worship and admiration for God or does it emphasize the superiority of the creature?

    Critic:
    Calvinism, when consistently taken to its logical conclusions, implies all of the following:

    1. God’s offers of salvation to “whosoever will” are insincere. God is not completely honest in Scripture.

    Jim:
    There is no Greek equivalent for the English term “whosoever.” Consequently, God never offers salvation to “whosoever will.” Look it up. And please make sure to include specific texts that prove your contention that God actually offers salvation universally to anyone who wants it.

    Critic:
    2. God offers to save the non-elect IF they will do what is utterly impossible. God taunts the damned.

    Jim:
    Again, where do you find God’s universal offer of salvation to “whosoever will”? If that does not exist (and it doesn’t) then there is no basis for claiming that the Calvinistic position results in God taunting the damned. Saving faith is utterly impossible among all people. There is none who does good, there is none who seeks after God (Rom. 3:11). Therefore, only those whom God graciously enlightens will be drawn to God. It takes more than merely an offer. It takes empowerment, enlightenment, and regeneration.

    But, since you bring up taunting, what do you make of texts like this? —

    Psalm 59:7-8 “Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear? But thou, O LORD, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.”

    Psalm 2:1-5 “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”

    It turns out that God is perfectly comfortable laughing at His enemies and treating them derisively.

    Critic:
    3. God created most people for the purpose of torturing them forever. God is cruel and sadistic.

    Jim:
    So, you’re saying that God will eventually save absolutely everyone? That’s the only way around what you’ve charged here. Because, whether God elects people on the basis of His own free choice or whether He saves them on the basis of their own faith, either way God ends up making people for the purpose of judging and condemning them. I mean, if He is truly all-knowing, then He realizes who is going to reject Him. Yet, He makes them anyway.

    The Arminian has no advantage over the Calvinist on this point. Your God is every bit as “cruel and sadistic” as the God of the Calvinist.

    But, the question is not whether God lives up to human notions of cruelty. The question is whether or not God describes Himself as absolutely sovereign over the affairs of men. And, since the Bible is emphatic on that point, our human estimation of His relative cruelty is of no consequence. Hell is a pretty cruel concept, humanly speaking, but it’s still a reality.

    Critic:
    4. God CAN save all, and DESIRES to save all, but chooses to damn many for no apparent reason. God is insane.

    Jim:
    Anyone whom God judges is fairly and rightly judged. He does not condemn people “for no apparent reason.” They are sinners and they have rebelled against the righteousness of an eternally holy God. Their judgment is just.

    Agreed, God can save as many as He is pleased to save. But, there is no verse in the Bible that says He desires to save everyone. Sure, people misread and misunderstand texts like 2Peter 3:9 and 1Timothy 2:4 (as I assume you have), but straightforward exegesis demonstrates that those texts are perfectly in league with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty that permeates Scripture. Please allow me to offer you two videos that I think will be helpful:

    http://youtu.be/GIPabz-01lY

    http://youtu.be/aLla5rHmpO4

    If you truly want to know what God’s will is concerning the salvation of people, Jesus stated it quite plainly – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39)

    Far from desiring the salvation of all, God’s will, according to Jesus, is that all that the Father gave the Son will be saved and none will be lost. That’s not universalism or whosoever will-ism. It’s sovereign election.

    And please restrain yourself from verbal histrionics such as “God is insane.” If you truly believe that Calvinism leads to such conclusions, then we are genuinely heretics of the lowest order and you should not even be engaging in this discussion with me. Try to keep a civil tone.

    Critic:
    5. God controls Satan’s every move, and every wicked act of the most vile sinner. God is the source of all evil.

    Jim:
    This appears to be the heart of the matter for you. You cannot seem to disassociate God’s sovereignty from the conclusion that it makes Him evil. But, God can control every action of every creature while remaining sinless, holy, and separate from the evil He deigned for His creation. The reason I know that is because it’s what the Bible actually teaches. God is undeniably good and holy. And He is equally Lord over the armies of the Heaven and the inhabitants of the earth.

    Critic:
    The bottom line is that Calvinism, when carried to its logical conclusions, implies that God is a lying, taunting, sadistic, insane, wicked, tyrant who demands our worship!

    Jim:
    No. What you’ve presented is a series of misguided statements and straw men, accompanied by sub-biblical notions of God’s soteriological intentions. You’ve drawn the very conclusions you intended to draw when you began constructing your argument. This is not logic, it is simply a foregone conclusion. And rather than deal with the actual teaching of Calvinists, you simply throw around epithets and emotional language as if that undermines the whole system of Calvinistic theology. But, in order to do any real damage to anyone else’s argument you must deal with the actual content of their own presentation, which you have failed utterly to do.

    Critic:
    But, what kind of God are Calvinists presenting to the rest of mankind?

    Jim:
    The Biblical one.

    Critic:
    I strongly believe that Atheism thrives largely because of the Reformed – Calvinist model.

    Jim:
    No, atheism thrives because people are wicked and depraved. They hate God in their hearts and, as Jesus said, they hate Christ without a cause.

    Oh, and that’s exactly what Calvinism states: Men are wicked, depraved God-haters.

    But once again you’ve taken the easy route. I could also say that atheism is a direct result of man’s libertarian freedom to reject the God who loved them and desperately wanted to save them. But, the great, eternal God is powerless against the superior will of the almighty atheists. If only men had not been raised to believe in their own free will, atheism would never have gotten such a foothold.

    See how vacuous that argument is? Is cuts both ways, but proves nothing.

    Critic:
    Calvinism’s portrayal of God is one of the major reasons that many thinking people reject God. They are rejecting the Calvinist’s God.

    Jim:
    And I’m certain you can back this claim up with solid research, right? You have long lists of confessing atheists who say that it was Calvinism that did them in, right? I mean, it wasn’t Catholicism or science that convinced them. It wasn’t Darwinism or TBN-style fundamentalists they’re rejecting. It was their deep study of Reformed theology that produced their atheism, right? And it wasn’t their sin or their natural hatred of God. It wasn’t the fact that the natural man is at enmity with God (Romans 8:6-8) or that people by their flesh cannot subject themselves to Him. That has nothing to do it with it, right? No, it can’t be the depravity of evil, sinful men. It’s the theology of Calvinism — that same theology that led the greatest revivals and missionary campaigns in history, that lays at the heart of American civil liberties, that produced outpourings of Christian piety and devotion to the Bible — that’s what produced the atheists.

    Yeh, that makes sense. No, really ….

    Critic:
    While I do not agree with all of Dave Hunts’ points in his book, “What Love is This?”, I think his title is far too tame!

    Jim:
    Trust me, I knew that you were stumping for Hunt’s book very early on. He likes to argue from emotion rather than facts, too.

    Critic:
    The real mistake of Calvinists is elevating God’s sovereignty at the expense of His holiness. They have failed to see that sovereignty does NOT demand God’s micromanaging all His creatures. That God has the power to control everything is without question. But, His purpose in creation would not be realized if He did so. Free will and allowing natural consequences to follow human choices is a major component of what God is accomplishing with His creation.

    Jim:
    Since you have yet to demonstrate any actual grasp of Calvinistic thought or doctrine, I doubt that you are able to lay your finger on “the real mistake of Calvinists.” It is Calvinstic theology that advances God’s holiness as His primary attribute against the Arminian who insists (as Hunt does) that God is primarily love. There is not a whit of Calvistic doctrine that elevates God’s sovereignty over His holiness. In fact, His sovereignty is sustained by His holiness.

    Please do not pretend to define what we believe when you cannot represent us fairly or even-handedly. Do not pretend to tell us where we’ve failed when you have reduced our entire body of divinity to name-calling. And if you insist on limiting God’s sovereignty — so that He is not “micromanaging” His creation — then you must be prepared to explain biblically where the perimeters are. Where does His control start and stop. In what circumstances is He active and in what circumstances is He passive? Be exact. Be specific. Or, be quiet.

    Since you’ve expressed knowledge of God’s purpose in creation, please explain that purpose, with adequate chapter and verse, and explain how it precludes absolute sovereignty. Or, be quiet.

    And show us one verse that plainly states what you contend concerning free will and natural consequence being a “major component of what God is accomplishing with His creation.” I’d love to see it. And please, make sure the Bible passage includes the phrase “free will” and “natural consequences.” Or, be quiet.

    Finally, since you have demonstrated an alarming lack of knowledge concerning Calvinism overall, I would suggest refraining from any further discussions of this type until you have spent some serious time in study. Here’s why:

    I don’t know anything about heart surgery. But, I know enough to know that I don’t know anything about heart surgery. So, if I were to confront a heart surgeon and start offering my opinions and criticisms, he would instantly recognize that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’d come across as little more than a verbose fool.

    No Calvinist will ever be affected by your current line of argumentation. Most won’t take the time I’ve taken to reply. They will recognize instantly that they are dealing with someone who is ill-informed and relying on emotion rather than intelligent, educated information. You’re not doing yourself, or the cause of Christ, any favors when you attack our position ignorantly.

    I hope that your future interactions with the Christian community will be more productive.

    In Him,

    Jim Mc.


    Posted by John Samson on December 13, 2012 06:08 PM

    Comments

    Dear Jim,
    Thanks for this primer on Calvinism vs. critics. My question is on the "whosoever will" segment:

    Is there a better way to translate the "whoever" word in John 3:16? My thinking is that a critic could quote this passage to refute the position that there is no Greek term for "whosoever."

    One way to go about this issue is to understand that Jesus, in a later exchange, clarifies that those who believe are those who are drawn by the Father. Do you have any other thoughts?

    Thank you,
    Jeff
    Carmel, Indiana

    Jeff, more than a year has passed since your posting of this question. Perhaps you have already found the answer to your question, but anyhow here is my million cents worth: the Greek does does not say "whosoever" (in English meaning "all those who choose") but "the one believing."

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