Sunday, April 13, 2008

Responses to Three Common Objections to Calvinism

The following is a response to three common objections to Calvinism that are made by non-Calvinists. As mentioned below, these are not objections that everyone could make (for example, one calls into question the doctrine of original sin), but they are objections that frequently are made, and to which an answer should be ready. There are, of course, other objections. Those too, by God's grace, we hope to answer in due course.

Objection 1: Calls to Repentance Invalidate Calvinism


"To me, the most convincing point that God has not predestined all events is His constant plea for man to change. If passages were taken out of context, then one would expect to find only one or two references to man's need to change. However, repentance is the underlying theme of all prophetic and gospel messages, which by definition implies man can change. These messages are not addressed to the Holy Spirit but to people, from whom action is demanded." (source)

Response to Objection 1

Calvinism, of course, agrees that man is commanded to repent, and that some men do repent. It's not the Calvinist's claim that the calls to repentance are taken out of context. Instead, we simply believe that at an improper inference is being drawn from them.

This objection does not take the form of a rigorous argument. The underlying problem with the argument is the statement, "which by definition implies man can change." Calvinism does not deny the statement that men can change. In fact, since Calvinism claims that God changes men, how could Calvinism possibly deny that men can change?

What the objector seems to want to say is that man can change on his own, i.e. of his own power. Scripture, however, nowhere teaches such a doctrine, and actually denies it. For example, the prophet Jeremiah explains:

Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

And Jesus himself explains:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Some non-Calvinists (such as historical Arminians as well as Molinist Catholics) assert a doctrine of pre-venient grace. If one holds to such a doctrine, one cannot make objection 1, because it applies equally to one's own position.

Objection 2: God's Justice Invalidates Calvinism

"Calvinism teaches that God unfairly condemned the human race for sins that He prearranged and predetermined. Can God fairly condemn man for sins that He made Him do? Calvinism blames God for man's mistakes. It teaches that the guilt for the original sin was unfairly passed down through all generations, condemning children for sins they did not commit. This is also unfair. How can we use the words "equity", "fair", "right", and "just" to describe God's judgment according to Calvin? Compare Calvin's vision of God's judgment with the Bible's description:

"For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity." Psalm 98:9

The Lord despises injustice and unfairness. How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person's actions." (source)

Response to Objection 2

This first two lines of this objection are the classic objection of Romans 9: if God predetermined that we sinned, how can he hold us guilty, for who has resisted his will? Paul's answer is that the question itself is impudent. It assumes that God lacks the freedom to create certain people for purposes that include their destruction. The number of times I have seen this objection defies counting, and it is already clearly and emphatically answered in Scripture. In short we learn from Scripture that God creating men unto destruction is not "unfair": it is the Potter's freedom.

The second objection regarding original sin is a bit more odd. Of course, many non-Calvinists cannot make this objection, because they acknowledge that the guilt of original sin passed upon all men. Scripture also speaks clearly to this matter:

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Furthermore, the underlying premise that it is not fair for God to punish people who did not sin personally is not Scriptural either. In fact, it conflicts directly with the words of God written in stone by the finger of God:

Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

Deuteronomy 5:9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

And repeated again and again:

Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Numbers 14:18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

The moral law is the very definition of justice: if a man will claim that it is not fair or just for God to punish the children for the sins of the parents, then one has to reject or to come up with ad hoc interpretations of the very Decalogue.

This complaint, though, is not a new one. It is recorded by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom reject it. If anyone does what God commands, he will live. Even if the wicked man himself repents, and turns from his wickedness, he will live. Ezekiel in Ezekiel provides an extended discussion of the Jewish proverb (not inspired): " The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?"

In the end, both prophets are making the same point: how can you possibly complain about the guilt of your fathers. God can judge you for your own guilt, and you'll still die. First live perfectly in God's sight and then see whether you are judged for someone else's guilt.

Ezekiel 18:25-32
25Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? 26When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. 27Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. 28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? 30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Some actually go so far as to imagine that Ezekiel should be read as though God never brings about harm to children because of their fathers, but just read on to the sobering words of the twentieth chapter:

Ezekiel 20:25-26
25Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; 26And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.

See how God takes responsibility for the child sacrifices of these wicked men? He even gives his reason: to make the men desolate. That is a punishment on the firstborn children for the sins of their fathers. What else does that remind one of? Why of Egypt on the day of Passover, of course. The Angel killed all the firstborn of Egypt in a single night: as many as did not have the blood of the Paschal lamb on their door-posts.

The ultimate absurdity, of course, is that it is only sinful men who make the objection that God is unequal because he punishes the children for the sins of the fathers. But those who make the objection overlook God's mercy: if they will repent and turn to God they will not be punished, but if they simply continue their father's sins, they can expect the same condemnation.

There is a third part to the objection here, expressed as: "How can He arbitrarily choose who will go to heaven or hell regardless of their actions? Punishment becomes cruelty if it is inflicted independent of a person's actions." This part is wrong for several reasons.

1) Election is not arbitrary, it is wise and based on God's special love, which is called foreknowledge. The fact that the choice is not based on consideration of things we have done does not make the choice arbitrary, because God is the creator.

2) Making election dependent on man's actions is clearly contrary to Scripture, especially to Romans 9.

3) Punishment is not inflicted independent of a person's actions: God decrees both a man's actions (such as Pharaoh hardening his heart) and the consequences (punishment). God raised up Pharaoh to demonstrate God's power in the destruction of Egypt, but God did not do so independent of Pharaoh's actions. Pharaoh refused to obey God, and God punished Pharaoh for that, even though God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and even though God interacted with Pharaoh specifically for the purpose to perform that punishment. In short God ordains not only the ends (punishment) but the means (sin), the two are not independent.

Objection 3: God's Love invalidates Calvinism

"Although these words may seem shocking, please consider the following implication. Not only does Calvinism make God to be an arbitrary Savior, but it necessarily implies that God was motivated by glory rather than love. According to Calvin, God never sought man's best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race. Instead, He arbitrarily selected some, condemning others. Why did God do this? According to Calvinism, it was performed for God's glory." (source)

Response to Objection 2

The "arbitrary Savior" (instead, apparently, of a merits-based Savior) objection is already addressed above. Furthermore, the objection raises a false dichotomy.

God was motivated by love for the elect, as noted above. Nevertheless, God had his own glory in mind, as Scripture says.

John 13:31-32
31Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

The statement, "God never sought man's best interest, else He would have extended salvation to the entire race," is of course not Calvin's own statement. God did not, of course, intend the best interest of each and every individual person. Instead, God intended each and every person for His (God's) best interest.

The objector seems to think that God needs to have the same humility as a man. This is just so odd. God is God. He destroys the glory of man, so that He will receive glory. Remember the tower of Babel? Remember Tarshish?

Isaiah 23:6-10
6Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle. 7Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. 8Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth? 9The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth. 10Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

But God loves his elect. Indeed, it is written:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Therefore, God - in his love - does save some men. God is not helpless to save those he loves. He is not some modern Casanova attempting to woo as many as possible, but reliant only on external means. No, he is a powerful and gracious king who will take the bride of his choice. He does so, not according to our desert, but according to his grace, as it is written:

2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

Conclusion

The foregoing objections were all drawn from the same web site, but are all objections that I've heard before. There are certainly other objections that have been made, and responses that have been given to those other objections. (Consider this excellent response to this other objection.) I'd never suggest that anyone should accept the doctrines of grace simply because the three objections above had been defeated: instead one should accept those doctrines because they are the consistent teaching of Scripture: God saves.

Therefore, we need to preach the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, not according to him who wills or runs, but of God who shows mercy.

Let us do so!

-Turretinfan

4 comments:

Turretinfan said...

yacoob: thanks for your comments.

Turretinfan said...

John Lofton:

Thank you for your comment.

-TurretinFan

Charlene said...

Hi! I just came across you looking for some good teaching about Ezekiel 20:25-26. I didn't read this as God punishing the children for the parent's sin, but more as God's punishment on the parents being giving them over to such a defiled state (similar to how Romans 1 describes God giving men up to practice homosexuality etc). What do you think about this? I also want to understand better about God punishing children for parents sins because just two chapter prior in Ezekiel 18 God seems to clearly say that each will be punished for His own sin and that it should no longer be said "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?" Any thoughts? Anyways thanks for the post. I am by the way happily a calvinist:) If interested you can visit my blog at charlenemnelson.wordpress.com. My last article was actually based on a chapter from Ezekiel.

Turretinfan said...

Chalene,

Thanks for your comment. You may want to read my comments on Ezekiel 18: (link).

But very briefly, if Ezekiel 18 is is understood as providing a discontinuity, I think it will be hard to understand this:

Luke 11:47-51
Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.

- TurretinFan