The Petals Drop: Why I am NOT a TULIP kind of Calvinist!

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

April 20, 2015

In my last article I offered an argument called, “The Omni Argument Against Calvinism.”[1] I mentioned that I was a committed Calvinist for many years and eventually, after scrutinizing the Scriptures along with the laws of logic, I concluded that “5-Point Calvinism” was false for several reasons. It was hard for me to let go of something that I embraced so tightly; however, I finally came to the realization that I was more committed to Christ than I was to Calvin! Hence, I broke up with Calvinism and embraced Molinism as it seemed to be the inference to the best explanation after considering all of the biblical and logical data.

My article caused quite a stir and notable theologians, apologists, and philosophers contacted me asking questions, providing encouragement, and some even challenged me to debate my argument. To be clear, the fuss of my previous article is probably in regards to the subtitle: “Why Calvinism is Impossible.” By “impossible” I mean logically impossible. That is to say, if the Calvinist affirms that God possesses all of his “omni” attributes maximally and that eternal hell is a reality, then they must drop the “I” (irresistible grace) of the Calvinistic acronym, “TULIP.” Let’s review my argument:

The Omni Argument

1. If 5-point Calvinism 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.

My passion (and calling) is to help all people see God for who He really is! I spend much of my time arguing with atheists and other non-Christians because I desire all people to come to a knowledge and realization of God. According to 1st Timothy 2:4, God seems to desire the same thing — for all to come to “the knowledge of the truth.” I want them to realize who God really is and how maximally awesome He is!

As a pastor, I see so many church-attenders who have an incorrect and dreadful view of God’s character. This leads to a weak faith and a lack of trust in God. I believe that when people see God correctly — as a Maximally Great Being — their lives are radically transformed![2] Therefore, I will reject any view that rejects one of God’s “omni” attributes! Since I affirm God is maximally great and that eternal hell is a reality for some people, I will reject one of the key ingredients of Calvinism – Irresistible Grace – as it is logically contradictory to these other essential Christian doctrines.

I think Molinism makes better sense of all the Biblical and logical data.[3] I label myself a Molinist, as it is the inference to the best explanation. Be that as it may, I am not blindly committed to Molinism; in fact, I am more than willing to drop it if provided good reason. However, even if Molinism were proven false, it does not logically follow that Calvinism would be true. Even if Molinism failed, I would still reject Calvinism, as it is both unbiblical (as it cannot make sense of all the Biblical data)[4] and illogical (as it cannot be logically reconciled with other essential Christian doctrines).

With that said, let me be clear: I am more committed to truth than I am to Molinism. If one could demonstrate to me that Calvinism is both completely Biblical and logically coherent, I would be more than happy to convert back to Calvinism and write a new article explaining why. The first thing one needs to do is clearly demonstrate where my argument fails.

Common Objections

Many have objected to my argument for several reasons. Some reformers make it clear that they disagree with (2) and reject the omnibenevolence of God. These Calvinists “bite the bullet” and actually declare that God hates some people and therefore my argument falls flat.[5] Some have said they reject the doctrine of Hell (3) altogether and affirm universalism.[6] Thus, since they deny the existence of Hell, they simultaneously deny my conclusion. One person even rejected (2) and stated that God was not omnipotent and he denied the conclusion because of it. There are others who deny (2) and state that God does not know all things, and thus, it is implied that perhaps God just does not know how to get this irresistible grace to all people, even if He had the power to do so.

The most common objection has probably been a rejection of (2) by denying God’s omnibenevolence. However, these Calvinists will affirm that God does desire all people to be saved; however, God has greater a competing desire for His glory, which supersede his little desire for universal salvation. I think this is a horrible response and it ultimately denies God’s omnipotence and makes a mockery of the power of the atoning life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[7]

One of the other objections to my argument, and the one I would like to focus on now, is that if we lose the “I” of TULIP, then we lose the other four points of TULIP. This is not the case if one has a proper understanding of God’s omniscient middle knowledge. After understanding middle knowledge and the difference between logically possible and feasible worlds, one can logically drop the “I” of TULIP. However, as a Molinist, I can actually affirm the other four points of the acronym; albeit, defined slightly differently than my reformed friends are used to. Consider the following four points:

Affirming Four of the Five

1- Total Depravity: There is not one aspect of my existence which is not infected by sin. However, the image of God I have been created in has not been ERASED, but rather, EFFACED. Think of a little drop of black ink being dropped into a tall glass of pure water. Every single particle of the water is now “infected” by the droplet of ink; however, it is still a glass of water. In fact, it is still drinkable (although your teeth will turn black). The water needs to be cleansed and purified.

2- Unconditional Election: I affirm predestination and election, but logically, this is not the same thing as causal determinism. God elects to create a world in which he knew with omniscient certainty, exactly how all things will happen. All things means all things, from all movements of subatomic particles to all actions of free creatures. God does not move my limbs or force my thoughts or choices (that is causal determinism); I am genuinely free to make my own choices, and logically speaking, I could have chosen otherwise. God simply elects a world in which he omnisciently and perfectly knows how we will freely choose. Thereby, he elects, guarantees, and predestines EVERYTHING, including our free choices that are not causally determined. We are logically free to choose otherwise as there are no causal strings attached (knowledge does not stand in causal relation). Now, to be candid, perhaps this is not “unconditional” in one sense, as it seems that our election is conditioned upon God’s middle knowledge of how we would freely choose in these circumstances.[8] Perhaps instead of unconditional, we can call it, “Ultimate Election!”

3- Limited Atonement: God created a world in which he knew all people would not freely choose the marriage proposal offered by God. Therefore, God actualized and elected a world in which he knew the atonement was logically sufficient for all mankind; however, he also specifically knew what individual humans would freely choose to reject it (although they did not have to). It follows that God created a world in which he knew that the atonement would only be freely experienced by a limited number of humanity.

4- Perseverance of the Saints: God created a world in which he knew what persons would freely choose to love God for eternity. This is easy if God is truly omniscient! Therefore, God actualized a world in which he knows what persons will choose to love God and persevere into the infinite future. True love never fails (1 Cor 13:4-8).

I know some who claim to be “3-Point Calvinists.” I can affirm four of the five points of TULIP, thus, in some respects, I am more “Calvinistic” than many Calvinists! Theologians will tell you, logically speaking, as soon as one affirms two of the five points, the other three logically follow. That is true, unless one replaces the “I” of TULIP with the “M” of middle knowledge of God. This is exactly what I have done; however, I don’t think TULMP is going to stick.

Since I can affirm four of the five points of the TULIP acronym, sometimes I label myself as a, 4-Point middle knowledge Calvinist!” That’s exactly what a Molinist is. If you’re still confused as to whether you should embrace Molinism or not, consider the words of 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” [if you realize it or not].[9]

Anything is better than affirming that God is NOT a Maximally Great Being! That is why I am not an Open Theist or a TULIP kind of Calvinist!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5)!

Tim Stratton


NOTES:

[1] Here is my original article: Why Calvinism is Impossible

[2] Here is a short video of William Lane Craig explaining why God is a Maximally Great Being: https://youtu.be/zde-bgmXtyc

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

[4] Here is an article I wrote regarding common misinterpretation of Romans 9

[5] Jerry Walls makes a great case against Calvinism and quotes the Calvinist, Arthur Pink. Walls states that Pink “bites the bullet” and admits the Calvinistic view of God is that God does not love all people. Walls encourages all Calvinists to come clean and be as honest as Pink. https://youtu.be/Daomzm3nyIg (46:20)

[6] Stay tuned: In a few weeks I will be making a logic-based case against universalism.

[7] Stay tuned: In two weeks I will provide an article on the problems with the “competing desires” objection.

[8] Thank you Steve Williams for pointing that out to me!

[9] Randy Everist made this comment to me during a Facebook conversation.

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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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