A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 4: The Revelatory Nature of the Gospel Invitation

September 14, 2012

by Dr. Michael A. Cox, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Pryor, Oklahoma,and author of Not One Little Child: A Biblical Critique of Calvinism

 

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This is the seventh of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child.
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Calvinism does not seem to account for the fact that God has promised to reveal Himself in one way or another to everyone. Many Scriptures bear clear testimony to this fact. Isaiah said that people will see what they had not been told, and will understand what they had not heard (Isa. 52:15). The Apostle John announced that the true light enlightens every man, suggesting that God’s redemptive scope is inclusive (John 1:9). The Apostle Paul proclaimed in Rom. 1:19 that what is known about God is evident within man. This means that knowledge of God is innate. God makes Himself known in them (en autois), that is in the human consciousness.1 The present tense verb “it is” (estin) denotes the permanency of this knowledge of the personal God. Moreover, God has stamped knowledge of Himself once for all time upon human consciousness, which is denoted by the past (aorist) tense verb for “manifested.”2 No human being has ever been without this knowledge. This implies that one has the ability to know, thus eliminating infants and the mentally challenged. All people have received at least general revelation within and, with the exception of infants and the mentally challenged, are accountable for it.

Romans 1:20 declares that the truth about God is evident without. This means that divine truth about God as Creator, Judge, and Redeemer is evident outside each person. The invisible attributes of God’s character are seen in creation through the medium of nature. Note carefully the paradox – the invisible is seen. How are these unseeable attributes observed? Through the heavens, the expanse, and through day and night God’s glory is declared (Ps. 19:1-4). And God’s care is proclaimed by way of rains and fruitful seasons in order to feed man and provide gladness (Acts 14:17). What is clearly seen is that God is God and that no created thing in the universe is God. God’s eternal power is seen through creation, for things that are made cannot make themselves. He has the might to make something out of nothing (fiat creation). God’s divine nature is seen through creation and the Creator transcends the creation. So, the existence of something as tremendous as the universe demands a Being of eternal power and divine attributes.3 That Being deserves worship and total allegiance. The result of this knowledge and manifestation of truth is that mankind is without excuse for rejecting God and for falling into sin. God is the revealer and nature is the medium of his self-disclosure. However, His disclosure does not guarantee a positive response from people; yet, it establishes the minimal ground of human responsibility.4 Moreover, it is terribly imprecise to say that nature reveals God, for it is only the medium through which God reveals Himself. In other words God reveals, nature does not; nature is merely a medium.

Further, all people have received at least general revelation without and, with the exception of infants and the mentally challenged, are accountable for it. Therefore, our responsibility before God is based upon our response to the disclosure that God has made available to us.5 Those who have general revelation are accountable for responding in faith to the biblical triune God who provides the general revelation. Yet, mankind suppresses, restrains, or holds back, meaning he refuses to obey the truth. Observation of created life sufficiently demonstrates that creation does not provide the keys to its own existence.6

Also, Rom. 10:18 explains that Israel had plenty of messengers and many special revelations from God. Thus, all receive general revelation. All have heard of God. The voices of the prophets go out into all the earth and their words extend to the ends of the world. Hearing is not the problem. Heeding is the problem. Knowing is not the issue. Responding to the light one has is the issue. Israel is without excuse, and so is the world.

Then, in Rom. 15:21 the Bible teaches that Paul wanted to reach out to those who had heard no specific news of Christ. Paul wanted to impart understanding to those unaware of the gospel and he viewed his work as fulfillment of Isa. 52:15, which he cited. Isaiah’s words suggest that those who have no news of Christ shall see and understand. However, God is not obligated to work through people, He may work through angels or simply through His Holy Spirit, but He will reveal Himself. It is a privilege to be allowed to participate in God’s redemptive activity. The evangelistic work of man is an honor granted by God, not a right. He does not need us, yet He has opted to let us take part in revealing Him and His word to the masses.

All of this revealing implies that a decision either for or against Him, the Revealer, must be made by everyone, otherwise, why reveal? I am compelled to agree with the assertion that “around every soul there swirl the winds of sin and grace.”7 Further, I believe that, if indeed there are those who were never privy to the gospel message, due either to infancy, retardation, or insanity from birth forward, Jesus becomes “proxy” (not proxy faith but proxy person) for them and they will be admitted into heaven. In support of this view, remember the tragic case of the death of David and Bathsheba’s son conceived as a result of adultery. King David said that he will go to his deceased infant son (2 Sam. 12:23). Now, David could have meant that he would join his son in the grave. But he could have meant heaven too, which suggests that the baby went to heaven, because David was certainly headed there, and David was declaring that he would go to his son. I believe God has made a way for Jesus to become “proxy” for those who never reach a stage of accountability, although much debate will surely be had determining what constitutes accountability.

The Bible teaches that he or she who hears (understanding is implied) becomes accountable, not he or she who does not hear (John 5:24). Hearing leaves man without excuse (John 15:22). So, because God has revealed Himself, His Word, and His Son, the accountability and the response of mankind to God’s revelatory overtures are bound up in God’s disclosures. In other words, God is not playing some cosmic game, revealing the necessity of faith and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, without also simultaneously establishing levels of accountability on behalf of the recipients and eliciting their response. Calvinism does not do justice to the point of God’s revelatory activity, therefore, Calvinism has a flagrant revelatory weakness.

 

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The next article in this series will explore the deterministic weakness of Calvinism.


1Dale Moody, Romans, in The Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen, vol. 10, Acts – 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1970), 170.

2J. P. McBeth, Exegetical and Practical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Dallas, TX: by the author, 1937), 52.

3Kenneth S. Wuest, Romans, in Wuest’s Word Studies, vol. 1, Mark – Romans – Galatians – Ephesians and Colossians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955; reprint, 1973), Romans, 30.

4John William MacGorman, Romans, in Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, vol. 20, Romans – 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1980), 26.

5Ibid.

6C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), 35.

7Clark H. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984), 176.

 

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Shane Dodson

“All of this revealing implies that a decision either for or against Him, the Revealer, must be made by everyone, otherwise, why reveal?”

A man-centered query. Can not God reveal Himself for His own glory?

Your argument starts with man, then goes to the motives of God. You have it completely backwards, my friend.

Jason G.

I don’t believe this article proves that calvinism “does not do justice to the point of God’s revelatory activity”. It asserts it, but it does not provide any explanation of HOW it “does not do justice”. Can you explain specifically how calvinists deny God’s revelatory activity?

Further, it seems to me your “proxy” argument is not really an argument against calvinists, but an argument against people who believe that anyone who does not hear the Gospel is condemned. I would hope you are not trying to equate calvinism with those who believe infants who die go to Hell (and extreme minority view among all believers). Is that your intent?
Moreover, I believe your “proxy” argument has some weaknesses, or at least lacks clarity. Can you clarify this statement: “I believe that, if indeed there are those who were never privy to the gospel message, due either to infancy, retardation, or insanity from birth forward, Jesus becomes “proxy” (not proxy faith but proxy person) for them and they will be admitted into heaven.”
What about those who are adults of sound mind, who were, of no fault of their own, “never privy to the gospel message”? What becomes of them? Is Jesus a proxy due to a person’s inability or their lack of hearing? Your next paragraph seems to show you believe the problem is their lack of hearing, and that God holds people accountable for what they hear and reject, but not for what they do not hear. Am I reading that correctly? If so, that opens a new level of issues and questions.

Thanks for your response.

Casey

According to Calvin, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. Ever renewing its memory, he repeatedly sheds fresh drops.” (Institutes 1.3.1).

Closely related to this sensus divinitatis is an external witness or revelation of God in creation. “…this conviction, namely, that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow…From this we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother’s womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to this end.” (Institutes 1.3.3)

and…

“Not only,” writes Calvin has God, “sowed in men’s minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him” (Institutes 1.5.1.).

Calvin accounts for the fact that God has revealed himself to all of creation which rejects him, thus necessitating the doctrine of election.

    Robert

    Hello Casey,

    You shared some good examples from Calvin which show that he believed that God reveals himself to all men and concluded:

    “Calvin accounts for the fact that God has revealed himself to all of creation which rejects him, thus necessitating the doctrine of election.”

    I have some problems with the claims that you make here.

    First, why would God reveal himself to all men, if as Calvin believed, God had already chosen for most of them to be damned?

    Why reveal yourself to people you have no intention of saving and in fact are desiring to see hell bound?

    Second, it is not rejection of God that “necessitates the doctrine of election” as you claim. Again, according to Calvin and calvinists, God preplanned everything before he created the world. So God preplanned the fall, preplanned every sin that every person would commit. Preplanned who would be saved (i.e. election) and who would be lost (i.e. reprobation). According to this scenario God also preplans every rejection of Himself. So it’s all preplanned, predestined, exhaustively ordained. In such a scenario, the rejection by creatures does not necessitate election. Rather, election is necessitated by which particular world history God desires to actualize. In one world history he may want you to be saved and in another damned. Your salvation or damnation then, will not depend on you, but will solely depend on what particular world history God chooses to actualize. If you get lucky you get elect, if you get unlucky you get damned. It all depends upon which total plan that God decides to actualize.

    Third, in your words here you seem to think that election was a response or reaction of God to persons who had rejected him. This would mean that the rejection came first in time, then God responded in time by coming up with election. But as far as I know, no one who holds to any form of election, whether it is Calvinistic, Arminian, corporate, Molinist, believes or teaches that election is a reaction of God to what happens in time. They all view election as occurring in eternity, before God created the world, as preceding even the existence of those who do the rejecting. So election comes first, later the rejection by persons comes. So the rejection of God (as it comes after election) could not have necessitated election.

    Robert

      Casey

      Robert,

      The objections you raise may stem from my lack of clarity. Of course, reading Calvin and his commentaries might clear the confusion as well. I’ll take the blame for this one. I’ll also encourage you to read Calvin on this issue.

      IMHO, the sticky-wicket comes with the question that Calvin raises to himself, namely, this: How can the solution come before the problem in that Christ was ordained a savior before the world began even though Adam did not sin until after the world began? This is not the place to explicate the 17th century canons, but background is helpful.

      There were two camps on the ‘orthodox’ side of Reformed dogmatics–Infralapsarians and the Supralapsarians–and they differed on precisely how to make sense of Christ’s being foreordained before creation and Adam sinning after creation. The Supralapsarians were the more technically consistent of the two [as you seem to be hinting at in your response]. They basically argued that God set the whole thing up so that Adam would sin and so that the elect could be saved through Christ. The Infralapsarians, on the other hand, didn’t like the sound of that. They didn’t want to say that God caused evil and the Fall in such a direct manner. So, they accounted Christ’s foreordination pre-Fall to God’s foreknowledge. That is, God knew what Adam would do with his free will, and established a means for restoration even before the fact. Now, where the Supralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God would cause the Fall, the Infralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God foreknowing the Fall isn’t the same as God causing it, since (presumably) once God foreknew it there could be no change. Incidentally, Francis Turretin is a good person to go to if you want further explication of the Infralapsarian position.

      Whenever we consider absolute predestination, we discover just how much is left of our lack of utter humility and abasement before a God that has this kind of right over his creature. The whole Potter and clay thing. No back-talk, or reconsideration of his goodness and justice is permitted. The question is: will we accept that the Lord alone is Judge, and right and good by definition. A perfectly subservient creature (and perfect in everything!) would, as Christ did, accept what seemed to a mere creature’s perceptions like an unfathomable injustice. As the author in Genesis writes, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

      Job’s example is probably the closest a sinful man can get to apprehending true submission to God’s sovereignty. He deals with these very questions, he fights through to a resolution that will never satisfy the proud man, so confident of his judgments in law. Job has those judgments to begin with, and he sheds them by story’s end. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Who can say such a thing?

      To my mind, Calvin wants to anchor our consideration of predestination not in the secrets of God’s absolute decree, but in the concrete and historical–which is why he describes himself in both Infra and Supra terms in his commentaries. The infralapsarian description removes one more obstacle that the proud man raises to the notion of God’s sovereignty, by showing that election can be understood as God’s first considering all men together as ill-deserving, yet exercising his right to grant or withhold mercy as he pleases. The supralapsarian position lets that obstacle (and all the others) stand when God is considered in his absolute position. Creatures have no claims whatever on their Creator. A hard pill to swallow.

      I consulted Calvin’s 1 Peter and Malachi commentaries before posting, just for reference sake.

      I don’t know what to make of Calvin on election at every point, but I can say that that Calvin’s desire to be comprehensibly biblical sometimes pushes him in multiple and conflicting directions.

      Personally, I find that tension a comfortable place to be.

      -Casey

        Robert

        Hello Casey,

        I was a bit disappointed that you did not make any effort to deal with my points and questions. Instead you say:

        “The objections you raise may stem from my lack of clarity.”

        Clarity is not the problem, in my opinion, the errors of calvinism are the problem.

        “Of course, reading Calvin and his commentaries might clear the confusion as well. I’ll take the blame for this one. I’ll also encourage you to read Calvin on this issue.”

        I have already read plenty of Calvin, so reading more will not eliminate the problems of calvinism. Actually the more I read Calvin, the more problematic I find calvinism to be. Read his statements about how everything is predestined without exception, how he ridicules the concept that God permits things (though scripture itself includes this language of God permitting things!), etc. etc. You find a person completely committed to the erroneous premise that God predestines everything. I also find his interactons with those he disagreed with on this issue, to be particularly reprehensible (i.e. no evidence of grace, or love, instead the works of the flesh, hatred, hostility and condescension).

        “IMHO, the sticky-wicket comes with the question that Calvin raises to himself, namely, this: How can the solution come before the problem in that Christ was ordained a savior before the world began even though Adam did not sin until after the world began?”

        The fact the solution (i.e. the death of Christ) was planned for before the problem (i.e. Adam and everyone else’s subsequent sin) is not much of a problem under noncalvinist premises.

        It only **becomes** a problem for the calvinist who claims that God ordains or predestines everything (as the Westminster Confession succinctly puts it: “He ordainether whatsoever comes to pass.”).

        For the noncalvinist, the fall of Adam was foreknown by God but not caused or brought about or even desired by God. In contrast if you claim that God predestines everythng, then you have God both causing and desiring the fall of Adam (as well as all events for that matter, without exception). So for Calvin and other determinists their own premise causes the problem. This is why it becomes such an “in-house” debate between infras and supras.

        “There were two camps on the ‘orthodox’ side of Reformed dogmatics–Infralapsarians and the Supralapsarians–and they differed on precisely how to make sense of Christ’s being foreordained before creation and Adam sinning after creation.”

        Both affirm the exhaustive predestination of all events, so **both** have the problem.

        “The Supralapsarians were the more technically consistent of the two [as you seem to be hinting at in your response].”

        Supras are more consistent with the controlling presupposition that God predestines all events. They take it to its logical conclusion, and so they are in fact more consistent calvinists than infras. If you want to see genuinely consistent calvinism in action, look at a supra such as Robert Reymond.

        “They basically argued that God set the whole thing up so that Adam would sin and so that the elect could be saved through Christ.”

        The problem with the supra position is that not only does God “set the whole thing up so that Adam would sin”, he sets up ****everything**** in this way.

        So whatever occurs, occurs because God set it up that way. Kinda like a giant dominoes series, with every event being a domino in the causal chain. This is determinism with a vengeance! Outsiders, i.e. noncalvinists view this extreme determinism as eventuating in a “puppet world”where only one person’s will is really being done (the divine puppet master God) while everyone else functions like a sock puppet.

        “The Infralapsarians, on the other hand, didn’t like the sound of that.”

        They at least realize how problematic sin and evil become in the supra scheme, so they at least **try** to evade the logical implications of claiming that God predestines everything in relation to sin.

        “They didn’t want to say that God caused evil and the Fall in such a direct manner.”

        And they shouldn’t, because he doesn’t!

        The problem is, if you affirm that He predestines everything, then he does cause everything “in such a direct manner.” This is inescapeable and has been brought up by noncalvinists innumerable times.

        If I ***am the author*** of a story (whether it be a play, a movie, or a book) then I decided everything about my story. If there are “heroes” or “villians” they are whom they are because I decided for them to be so. And their every individual action is also decided by me. So if you find objectionable elements or persons or events in my story, you cannot claim that I was only responsible for the good parts of the story, while the **characters themselves** were responsible for the evil and sinful actions in the story. That is what infras try to do. They want us to believe that God is only causing and responsible for the good parts of history (and they want us simultaneously to blame the characters in the story who commit evil acts for those evil acts rather than the author of the story who preplanned every evil act).

        That “bait and switch” may fool some, but it does not fool all. Others will immediately see that as **author of the story**, I am responsible for every character and every action of every character. The characters in fact, like puppets in a puppet show, are only carrying out my intentions.

        “So, they accounted Christ’s foreordination pre-Fall to God’s foreknowledge. That is, God knew what Adam would do with his free will, and established a means for restoration even before the fact.”

        In other words, they borrow from the ideas of the noncalvinist to try to hold up their Calvinism. The idea that God did not cause or bring about the fall though he foreknew it, is the noncalvinist’s view on the fall.
        According to the noncalvinist, God sometimes foreknows things that will occur, though he neither planned them, caused them, brought them about, instead other personal agents did these things. Put simply, just because God foreknows it, does not mean it was His will. Or put it even more starkly: God’s will is not always done in this world (which is why Jesus during the incarnation told us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, it is perfectly done in heaven, not perfectly done here).

        “Now, where the Supralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God would cause the Fall,”

        And they never have. Their “solutions” to their own problem are only “preaching to the choir”, convincing to themselves not to noncalvinists. And not even to infras.

        “the Infralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God foreknowing the Fall isn’t the same as God causing it, since (presumably) once God foreknew it there could be no change.”

        While some determinists want this to appear to be a worse problem than it is, it is really not that difficult. Foreknowledge is not causative. God’s foreknowledge does not operate as a causal force in the world. Instead, foreknowledge means that God’s beliefs about the future in fact correspond with what will in fact occur in the future.

        “Whenever we consider absolute predestination, we discover just how much is left of our lack of utter humility and abasement before a God that has this kind of right over his creature. The whole Potter and clay thing. No back-talk, or reconsideration of his goodness and justice is permitted.”

        This statement while it may sound nice, is not biblically accurate. In the bible, especially in the prophets, the prophets are repeatedly engaging in “back-talk” and questioning why God is or is not doing something (God inspired all of scripture, and some of that scripture includes “back-talk” and questioning God). Your statement thus does not correspond with what is actually happening and being presented in various bible passages.

        “To my mind, Calvin wants to anchor our consideration of predestination not in the secrets of God’s absolute decree, but in the concrete and historical–which is why he describes himself in both Infra and Supra terms in his commentaries.”

        So Calvin is trying to play both sides of the fence? :-)

        “The infralapsarian description removes one more obstacle that the proud man raises to the notion of God’s sovereignty, by showing that election can be understood as God’s first considering all men together as ill-deserving, yet exercising his right to grant or withhold mercy as he pleases.”

        I don’t agree with you here at all. Objections to the false calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election does not stem from pride. Instead it stems from knowing the character of God and properly intepreting the bible passages often used as proof texts for erroneous notions. Take one example, some calvinists will quote Romans 8 “Predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” as a proof text for unconditional election. But the passage is not discussiong unconditional election at all. And that “predestination” spoken of there refers either to (1) being conformed to Christ and is speaking eschatologically, or (2) speaking of santification, that the believer is to be Christ-like. Either way, it is not talking about individual people being pre-selected for salvation. It also must be kept in mind that the vast majority of believers throughout church history have rejected theological determinism/calvinism. When believers reject calvinism it is not out of pride but because they think it a mistaken view. Because they believe it is not biblical and in fact error.

        “The supralapsarian position lets that obstacle (and all the others) stand when God is considered in his absolute position. Creatures have no claims whatever on their Creator. A hard pill to swallow. “

        You don’t have to be a calvinist to believe that “Creatures have no claims whatever on their Creator.” You only need realize that He is God and you are not! :-)

        “I don’t know what to make of Calvin on election at every point, but I can say that that Calvin’s desire to be comprehensibly biblical sometimes pushes him in multiple and conflicting directions.”

        So he contradicts himself. “multiple and conflicting directions” is not a description of truth but of error, specifically of engaging in contradiction.

        “Personally, I find that tension a comfortable place to be.”

        I disagree with you here. I don’t find it comfortable affirming contradictions because if I do so I know my thinking is wrong somewhere. I also believe that calvinists bring these contradictions/”tensions” upon themselves as they operate by the false premise that God predestines everything. Once you operate by that premise, you end up affirming contradictions and you also end up contraditing what scripture properly interpreted presents. Take one example. The bible properly intepreted clearly and simply and unequivocally presents “unlimited atonement.” But if you affirm that God predestines everything, then it logically follows that God decides who is saved and who is lost before they ever exist. And if that is true, you end up, if you are logically consistent, affirming limited atonement. In affirming limited atonement you are contradicting the bible though you are fully consistent with your controlling premise that God predestines everything.

        Robert

          Casey

          Robert,

          Instead of parsing your entire response, I will humbly agree to disagree. :)

          Cheers!

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