What Arminians and Atheists Have in Common

While I was cracking open a cold one with the boys, one of my friends told me about a time when he was explaining  Calvinism to Atheists. He told me that the Atheist objections to Calvinism, limited atonement, in particular, was called “cruel” by the Atheists. This got me thinking. This is exactly what Arminians think about Calvinism as well. We see even Arminian scholars who say if Calvinism is true, they refuse to worship God. Isn’t it interesting that the unregenerate heart and Arminian theology produce the same answers to certain questions?

Before you misunderstand me, I’m not implying that Arminians are not saved. The point I want to make is that a lot of the Arminian objections to Calvinism are also Atheist objections. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, however, I think it stems from the Arminian having a very similar anthropology to the Atheist.

So What Do They Have in Common? 

Two ideas in Christian theology that almost every Atheist tends to believe in my experience is free will and God has to die for everyone to be just. Now, Arminians might say he doesn’t have to, but when they argue that God is unjust for choosing some and not others, they contradict themselves.  Free will in itself is an interesting topic, however, it is used far too much as an easy way out of hard questions. “Want a theodicy? Nah man, I’ll just take free will!”

The Arminian and Atheist both seem to assume that if God is going to save someone, he has to try to save everyone. Besides the fact that try to save is not biblical terminology and is actually the exact opposite of how the Bible phrases it.(He WILL save, Matthew 1:21) Dr. Roger Olson states

The God of Calvinism scares me: I don’t know how to distinguish him from the devil.

This rhetoric is an old meme at this point. “I can’t distinguish primary and secondary causes or an all-powerful being from a mere fallen servant of that being”.

Here is an 11-hour loop of Mermaid Man from Spongebob saying EVIL! This is what I hear in my head when this type of rhetoric is used. The Calvinist is the old fish shaking his head.

So we have two groups of people calling us cruel for what we believe. The Arminian is not out of hot water just yet. Free Will can be used for really wacky conclusions. Let me illustrate If an Atheist asks your standard internet Arminian “Why does God allow evil?”  they will most likely respond, “Free will.” But do you realize what you’re saying here?

You’re saying that God allows purposeless evil that he could easily stop because he has respect for the autonomy of an individual. I don’t want to do the same to you as you do to us, but that seems a bit cruel, huh? To use the emotionally-charged argument that popular Arminians label against us, let me show you why the Arminian answer is by far worse. Let’s take a morally reprehensible evil act like rape and apply your free will theodicy to it. God allows a rape to occur, could stop it, doesn’t, has no purpose for it, and allowed it because he respects the autonomy of the rapist.

Lazy Free Will

Now, if you want to provide an actual theodicy that doesn’t involve Calvinism, look to Dr. William Lane Craig on his argument of morally sufficient conditions instead of lazily applying free will to every hard question. In the same way, some atheists lazily use epicurean arguments as if they haven’t been addressed since Augustine. We can all be emotional at times, especially if someone is berating something we love. However, it is clear that the same hostility towards Calvinism that the Atheist has is almost mimicked by the Arminian.

It’s always been a meme that Calvinists are the mean ones, and for sure we have earned that reputation because we have some cagey people in our denominations and Calvinist groups. The difference is I admit that we have cagey people, why the Arminian pretends that they’re representing God’s love. (Keep in mind I’m speaking anecdotally here, this won’t apply to every Atheist or Arminian).

I’ve been called stupid, a heretic, and even attacked for the way I look because I wrote a post against Arminianism. I expect these insults from an unregenerate heart, not from a Christian saved by the grace of God.  To my Arminian brothers and sisters, let me say, let us not pretend that Calvinists are the only ones that spew vitriol against their opponents, Arminianism has their own track record of heinous things said to a fellow Christian. (a la Wesley)

Then you come to the “impossible” argument. In my opinion,  a lot of the articles that will say Calvinism is impossible are simply “I believe X, so Y is Impossible.”. Of course, when you presuppose certain starting points that aren’t accepted by both sides you will come to a different conclusion. However, presupposing impossibility is not reasonable. Instead, when it comes to the truth value of an idea or concept say that idea X is more probable to be true than Idea Y. That’s the more intellectually honest way to present your arguments.

Conclusion

In summary, Atheists and Arminians seem to share a similar anthropology, similar emotional arguments and similar standards of justice. I ask my Arminian brothers and sisters to reconsider their arguments used against Calvinism and focus more upon the text of scripture than their opinion on moral agency.  We can talk about all the surrounding philosophical issues but it isn’t helpful when some say that Calvinism is impossible, such a claim, of course, cannot be demonstrated cogently. In the same way, a naive person might say there is no evidence for Jesus’ resurrection because it’s impossible for the Bible to be true, you would call that person out right away for their illogical reasoning because even if they’re correct about the evidence, their conclusion simply doesn’t follow.


Recommended Reading
Going On A Worship Strike by Douglas Wilson

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