The Petals Drop: Why Calvinism is Impossible

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

April 6, 2015

One of the greatest debates behind the doors of the church today regards God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Typically, this debate is divided into two camps: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Calvinists are quick to defend the providence of God; however, in the process, their case eradicates human freedom and genuine responsibility. Arminians are usually quick to defend human responsibility for sin as this makes sense of hell and prevents God from ultimately being charged with evil. However, many Arminians diminish God’s sovereignty in the process.

Years ago I struggled between these two ideas, as the Bible seemed to affirm both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I ultimately adopted the Calvinist position because all of my pastoral influences at the time were Calvinists and face value readings of biblical passages like Romans 9 seemed to seal the deal.[1] I went on to not just label myself a Calvinist, I embraced it wholeheartedly; I believed it, bought it, taught it, preached it, prayed it, and lived it! I became an ardent “5-Point Calvinist.”

If you are not familiar with “5-Point Calvinism,” it is based on the acronym T.U.L.I.P. The five points are the following:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Freethinking & Rethinking

After teaching these points to my youth group students several years ago, this philosophy became unsettling. Moreover, at the same time I began to study apologetics. Ironically, a Calvinistic pastoral colleague of mine introduced me to the work of Dr. William Lane Craig. I started watching his debates and in November of 2010, I watched a video of Dr. Craig debating Christopher Hitchens at Biola University.[2] I was starting to love this guy until he made a passing comment that he did not agree with Calvinism.

WOAH! Stop the presses! Did this guy who is systematically destroying all of these atheistic arguments just denounce Calvinism? I immediately did what any good aspiring theologian would do and turned to Google! Pretty soon I stumbled upon the doctrine of middle knowledge and Molinism. In a nutshell, this view attempts to logically reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility by stating, “God chose to create a world in which He knew with omniscient certainty how humans would freely choose.”[3]

It soon occurred to me that the dichotomy between Calvinism and Arminianism is a false one. That is to say, there are other possibly true options to consider; namely, Open Theism and Molinism. I began studying all four of these views while comparing and contrasting their claims and affirmations.

Initially, I was bent on disproving these other views because of my commitment to Calvinism. I honestly studied them almost every single day for over a year to demonstrate why they were wrong and why Calvinism was true. One day I was driving home from the church office, after scrutinizing Molinism all day, and I called me wife and said, “I think I’m losing my faith – in Calvinism!” I freely chose to label myself a bona fide Molinist!

Since that time, I have grown to abhor the Calvinistic teachings as the view is not only logically incoherent, but unbiblical as well! This is primarily due to the “I” in TULIP and the belief that humans are not genuinely responsible for our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. That is to say, a consistent Calvinist denies that humanity possesses libertarian free will to choose or do anything and that includes the freedom to resist the grace of God. Calvinists typically affirm that God creates all humanity with a spiritually dead nature — we are not responsible for this — and only God can change our nature to be spiritually alive — we are not responsible for this either.

Logical Deduction

The focus of my master’s thesis was to prove atheistic naturalism false by logically proving the human soul exists. I accomplished this task by logically proving that humans possess libertarian freedom, and this is only possible if we are more than merely physical beings. That is to say, there must be some immaterial aspect of our existence (i.e., the soul) that allows us this freedom in an otherwise deterministic cause and effect material universe.[4]

My thesis systematically destroyed atheistic naturalism just as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:5, but there was also significant collateral damage to Calvinism. In fact, Calvinistic determinism was destroyed in the process of destroying naturalistic determinism. I developed several logic-based arguments demonstrating the fallaciousness of Calvinism and I plan on sharing them in the future, but for now I will specifically focus on one called the Omni Argument Against Calvinism. It looks like this:[5]

1. If 5-point Calvinism (and “Irresistible Grace”) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffer eternally in Hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that 5-point Calvinism is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

The structure of my argument is valid and the conclusion logically follows from the premises. If one is committed to reject the logical conclusion, they must demonstrate which premise is false to show my argument is unsound. A Universalist (one who denies eternal Hell exists) could reject (3) and thus deny the conclusion. That would lead to a debate where I would demonstrate that eternal Hell probably does exist. I am more than happy to use not only Holy Scripture, but straight-up logic alone to demonstrate the truth of the third premise (stay tuned for an upcoming article on the untruth of Universalism).

Now, if the committed Calvinist affirms eternal Hell does exist (as most do), since the structure is valid and the conclusion follows, they must either deny one of God’s omni attributes, or argue that one of his omni attributes does not imply what I think it implies. The premise typically attacked by those committed to their Calvinistic presuppositions is (2). Namely, committed Calvinists would rather deny the perfect goodness and the maximal love of God instead of dropping their Calvinistic philosophy.

It is intuitively obvious (a properly basic belief) and we simply know that good judges do not give death sentences to people as a punishment for crimes these individuals are not responsible for. Moreover, I do not even need to appeal to logical intuition to support premise (2) as I can appeal to Holy Scripture itself. Paul affirms this premise in 1 Timothy 2:4 “[God] desires ALL people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I do not know how it can get much more clear than that!

Therefore, if one affirms that God possesses His omni attributes maximally, and that 1st Timothy 2:4 is true, and that some people do suffer eternal Hell, then it logically follows that they must reject 5-point Calvinism. That is to say, if God is a Maximally Great Being and eternal hell is a reality, then Calvinism is necessarily false. To affirm all of these things simultaneously is logically incoherent. If we care about TRUTH, and if we claim that Christianity is TRUE, then we must avoid logical incoherence like the plague as affirming that Christianity is logically incoherent is the same as stating, “Christianity is NOT true!”[6]

Conclusion

After understanding God’s omniscient middle knowledge and the difference between logically possible and feasible worlds, one can (and should) logically drop the “I” of TULIP and Calvinism itself.[7] Molinism provides a far superior explanation of reality. According to my friend, Randy Everist,

“If you believe you have free will and that God does not force you to do all that you do, and if you believe God knows everything that could happen, will actually happen, and would have happened in any other circumstances, then you are a Molinist” [whether you realize it or not].

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton


NOTES

[1] Here is an article I wrote regarding hermeneutical interpretation of Romans 9 and other scripture

[2] Craig vs Hitchens debate: https://youtu.be/4KBx4vvlbZ8

[3] Read more on Molinism vs. Calvinism from William Lane Craig here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism

[4] Read more about my Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism

[5] Here is my original formulation of this argument:

1- If Calvinism is true, whomever God provides “irresistible grace” to will go to Heaven and not suffer eternal Hell.
2- If God is omnibenevolent, He would not desire to, nor would He, send anyone to suffer eternal Hell for choices they were powerless to make without God’s irresistible grace.
3- If God is omnipotent, he could provide irresistible grace to all people.
4- If God is omniscient, he would know how to provide irresistible grace to all people.
5- Some people suffer eternal Hell.
6- Therefore, either God is not omnibenevolent, or not omnipotent, or not omniscient (pick at least one), or irresistible grace (and Calvinism) is false.

A special thanks to Steve Williams and Randy Everist for helping me translate my argument into logical symbolic form. Randy mapped it out in much more depth and detail, but this form saves space:

1 – C –> ∃P: I & ¬ H(P)
2 – G ≡ OB –> (desire) ∀P ¬ H(P)
3 – G ≡ OP –> (could) ∀P I(P)
4 – G ≡ OS –> (know how) ∀P I(P)
5 – ∃P H(P)
6 – ∴ ¬OB v ¬OP v ¬OS v ¬C

[6] “Christianity is Not True!” http://freakengministries.com/christianity-is-not-true/

[7] I’d like to thank Mike Licona for giving me the idea of the title of this article (and maybe a future book).

[8] I would like to thank Peter Byrom and Sean Hays for helping me strengthen this argument. Indeed, “As iron sharpens iron, one man (or two) sharpens another!”

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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