Calvinism’s Inconsistency Revealed

June 3, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

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John Calvin wrote:

…how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be, not by His will but by His permission…It is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing, but the author of them…Who does not tremble at these judgments with which God works in the hearts of even the wicked whatever He will, rewarding them nonetheless according to desert? Again it is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as he will, whether to good for His mercy’s sake, or to evil according to their merits.  (John Calvin, “The Eternal Predestination of God,” 10:11)

Yet, as Albert Mohler testifies, John Calvin does not avoid using the word “permit” in his pastoral ministry to those who suffer great loss. Is this an inconsistency of Calvinism? I believe it is.

John MacArthur, a notable Calvinistic pastor, wrote:

But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good (Romans 8:28).

John Piper, another notable Calvinistic pastor, has written:

God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his “positive agency.” God is, Edwards says, “the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted . . . will most certainly and infallibly follow.

Contrast the statements of Edwards, Piper and MacArthur with the one from Calvin above and the inconsistency becomes quite clear.

Calvinistic theologian, RC Sproul, addresses the heresy of “equal ultimacy” by giving this warning:

[Equal ultimacy is the belief that] God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are the monergistic work of God. This distortion of positive-positive predestination clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do. Such a view is indeed a monstrous assault on the integrity of God. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.

Is Calvin’s first quote in support of “equal ultimacy” or not? If not, how are they different in any meaningful way? And what practical difference is there with the Calvinistic claims and that described above as “equal ultimacy?” Can anyone clearly define a distinction with a difference between a world where God is said to hate one brother and love another before the creation and the world described by Dr. Sproul under the label of “equal ultimacy?” Is God merely permitting or allowing anything according to Calvinism’s teaching?

For a Calvinist to affirm divine permission in any sense of the word is for them to affirm contra-causal (or autonomous) creaturely free will, for what is there to permit in a deterministic worldview except God’s own determinations? Likewise, for Calvinists to speak of God restraining evil is also an affirmation of autonomous freedom, for what is there to restrain outside of God’s own determinations? Is God restraining that which He determined? If not, then there must exist something that He did not determine, which is itself an affirmation of creaturely autonomy.

As most theologians regularly acknowledge, the doctrine of the fall of man is quite complicated and mysterious. The root question boils down to this: If mankind was created good and not inclined to evil, then how could he choose to do other than what is good?

The Calvinist has to appeal to mystery on this question, as evidenced here in the words of John Piper:

I have not removed a mystery, I have stated a mystery. God hardens unconditionally and those who are hardened are truly guilty and truly at fault in their hard and rebellious hearts. Their own consciences will justly condemn them. If they perish, they will perish for real sin and real guilt. How God freely hardens and yet preserves human accountability we are not explicitly told. It is the same mystery as how the first sin entered the universe. How does a sinful disposition arise in a good heart? The Bible does not tell us. (http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-hardening-of-pharaoh-and-the-hope-of-the-world)

The answer for those of us who do not affirm meticulous divine determinism is relatively simple: Free will: The albeit mysterious function of the moral creatures will to refrain or not refrain from any given moral action (CLICK HERE for more on free will). So, do not be fooled, both camps appeal to mystery on this point. “Our side” just does so while affirming contra-causal freedom and determinists leave God “holding the bag” (so to speak.) (CLICK HERE for more on the weakness of compatibilism)

The inconsistency of  the theist determinist is evident in the quotes above and in examining of writings from their scholars, such as Jonathan Edwards.

On the one hand, Edwards argues that mankind always chooses according to their greatest inclination which is ultimately determined by their God given nature, yet on the other hand Edwards preached that Adam “was perfectly free from any corruptions or sinful inclinations,” and that he “had no sinful inclinations to hurry him on to sin; he did it of his own free and mere choice.” (Edwards, ‘All God’s Methods Are Most Reasonable’, in Sermons and Discourses: 1723-1729, ed. by Kenneth P. Minkema, Works 14 (1997): 168.)

How does this not violate Edwards own definition of human will and choice? For Adam to choose to sin he must violate the law of his own nature, as defined by Edwards. Thus, the determinist rejects the mystery of contra-causal freedom only to adopt another even more difficult mystery. One that arguably brings into question the holiness, righteousness and trustworthiness of our God….i.e. the theory that God is actively involved in the determination of moral evil (see Calvin’s original quote).

For more on this topic listen to Dr. Albert Molher illustrate the inconsistency of Calvin himself: HERE.