Answering Common Objections to Calvinism

 

If you’ve spent more than a millisecond in a theologically diverse group, you will know that Calvinism is the satanic puppet religion who thinks God is evil, muahahahahaha.

Now, the thinking person knows such a claim is from some over-the-top pseudo-spiritual folks who think discernment blogs are a good idea. However, there are even these types of ridiculous claims on the popular level. Since I believe Calvinism accurately represents what the Bible teaches, I thought to address these popular level absurdities that have come out of the mouths or the books of popular level anti-Calvinists. Let’s get started.


If Calvinism is true, Why Evangelize?

This point is repeated ad nauseam as if it was a serious objection. The question itself is malformed, it assumes a disconnect between the outward call of the gospel and the inward election by God. There isn’t one, the Sovereign God of the Universe tells us to preach the gospel and doesn’t let us know who the elect are. Instead of make-believing that I “win souls” or getting someone to recite this pre-written prayer that does nothing, I pray and know God is in control of whether or not the person will respond, this gives me confidence, for I know the salvation of people doesn’t depend on my ability as a speaker or persuader.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14 ESV)


There is no inconsistency with the idea that:


1.) Only God can save a person, my own efforts unaided by the Spirit of God would inevitably fail.


2.) I should preach the gospel to everyone, as it is a means God uses to bring His Elect to Himself.


The difference is I don’t place my ability to “win souls” on how many people I tell, how many people I get to pray some pre-written prayer, or how many people take a tract from me. At the end of the day, God Saves sinners. We are beggars showing the others where the bread is.


Actual historic Calvinism hasn’t had a problem with Evangelism.


We see figures like Jonathan Edwards leading the first great awakening, the thunderous preacher George Whitefield (who labored alongside Arminian John Wesley) had no problem preaching the gospel to everyone.


Furthermore, there is William Carey the father of modern missions, William Farel the French evangelist, David Brainerd the young evangelist who gave it all to evangelize to the Native Americans and Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers.


As you can see, Calvinism breeds Evangelists, it doesn’t hinder Evangelism.


God doesn’t Hate Esau, He hates a Whole Nation of People


This argument makes no sense since the initial objection is that God doesn’t hate a specific person because that’s mean and inconsistent with God’s omnibenevolence. Yet, their counter interpretation is that God hates a whole nation of people. It also misunderstands what God means when he says he hates Esau. You see, Jesus wasn’t commanding you to sin when He said you must hate your Mother and Father more than Him because He didn’t import 21st-Century lingo in how He spoke.

Romans 9:13 can be related to the idea of the elect and reprobate, the point isn’t that God hates the reprobate, but that the reprobate are not in the Covenant with God. Romans 9-11 is speaking of both corporate and individual election, it doesn’t make sense to exclude one over the other. The typical Non-Calvinist will say God has elected a group and individuals become a part of that group by faith. Schreiner while responding to an Arminian Scholar states [1]


He thinks God chooses the group, and then individuals become part of the group by believing. It still seems to me that this group or entity is an empty set or an abstract entity without any reality, for on Abasciano’s terms when God chooses the group, individuals are not yet part of the group. The participation of individuals in the group is based, he assures us, on faith. But then it must follow that when God chooses the group, no one is yet in the group. One cannot be part of the group before it is formed! And corporate election cannot mean that God simply recognizes those who believe, for then the word “election” is completely stripped of its meaning, and the notion of God choosing is erased from the word. Corporate election, in Abasciano’s scheme, works as follows. God chooses that there would be the Church of Jesus Christ. Then individuals choose to be part of this corporate group, that is, the Church. But let us imagine for a moment that no one chooses to believe, which is logically possible. If this were to be the case, the corporate group would have no one in it. The Church would be an empty set. God has chosen a thing, but there is no substance to what he has chosen. In fact, if no one believes it would not even exist. Indeed, until individuals believe on Abasciano’s scheme, there is no one in the corporate group at all. If the corporate group is filled up on the basis of individuals believing, then it follows that the corporate group God has chosen is a nullity until people believe


Taking the individual aspect out of election and reducing it down as some do seems to contradict the indication Paul gives that God’s election is personal in Romans 8:28-30.


John 3:16

The most popular verse cited to “disprove” Calvinism is John 3:16.




“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.””— John 3:16 (KJV)


The Problem with popular verses is that they are often quoted out of context. I want to focus on “Pas Ho Pisteuwn” which means “all the believing ones”.The Non-Calvinist will look at the English translation “whosoever” and emphatically declare victory, the common declaration upon discussing this verse is “WHOSOEVER! You see, Jesus died for everyone!”


The problem with that is that it’s not at all what the verse says. The HCSB translates John 3:16 better




“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”— John 3:16 (HCSB)


This captures precisely what John 3:16 is saying. The Calvinist believes this! Now let’s look at John 6:44 who is the same John who wrote John 3:16



“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.“— John 6:44 (HCSB)


There doesn’t seem to be a break between those whom the Father draws and those he raises up. So we have a couple of options for interpretation here. We can either say that everyone is drawn and raised up, everyone is drawn and not everyone is raised up, or not everyone is drawn, but those who are drawn are raised up on the last day. The first one could make sense because even unbelievers are raised up on the last day, however, the context of John 6 seems to not allow this interpretation because Jesus says ” No one can come to me unless” so the drawing seems to indicate salvation. (Think Romans 8)


The Non-Calvinist interpretation makes no sense in light of the context of John 3, how are you condemned already if God is still trying to save you and will accept anyone if they use their free will to choose him? (John 3:18)


Perhaps you could say, “God has foreknowledge of who will choose him”. Okay, then why does he try to save those who he knows won’t accept him, no matter what He does? Why did He die for them? I know some responses will be “Well, God is love”. I agree He is, but what does Christ’s death accomplish when the majority of people He died for won’t accept him? It seems as if this view makes Jesus a failure, instead of the perfect atonement the Bible describes. That God came to save his people, not make salvation possible.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”— Matthew 1:21 (ESV)

SERVETUS!

In discussing with many Non-Calvinists you will discover a common lie that is held as cold hard truth by those who don’t adhere to Calvinism. This lie is that the Protestant Reformer John Calvin is responsible for the death of Michael Servetus. Michael Servetus was an intelligent man, he was the first doctor to correctly explain pulmonary circulation. Despite his amazing comprehension of science, Servetus denied the Trinity, which is the biblical and historical position of the Church. In Geneva in the time that Servetus and Calvin were around, it was a crime to be a heretic and Geneva did not have a separation of Church and State, so theology crimes were actual crimes


Calvin did not “rule” Geneva, The Council that condemned Servetus were not fans of Calvin, and denied Calvin’s request for a more merciful punishment. (Calvin wasn’t even a Citizen of Geneva at this time!) Calvin also visited Servetus in Prison and prayed for him. This isn’t something a ruthless tyrant who wanted him dead would do, now is it? Calvin responded to one of his accusers by saying…

“For what particular act of mine you accuse me of cruelty I am anxious to know. I myself know not that act, unless it be with reference to the death of your great master, Servetus. But that I myself earnestly entreated that he might not be put to death his judges themselves are witnesses, in the number of whom at that time two were his staunch favorites and defenders”— John Calvin[2]

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Now, another point they will bring up is that Calvin in his later writings shows his approval of the council’s decision to execute Servetus. Indeed, He did. Consider the context, though. Calvin supported the death penalty, If you’re a Non-Calvinist and support the death penalty, you’re being hypocritical in judging Calvin’s approval over the execution. This was the law of the land of the day and it seems unreasonable to think Calvin would think like a 21st-century person about laws. While many Christians would disagree with this execution, whether it was just or not, Calvin didn’t do it, the little Council did. If you don’t support the death penalty, was God’s judgment unjust in the Old testament? Calvin himself referenced this verse in support of his approval.

“Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”— Leviticus 24:16 (ESV)


My prayer is that there would be more caution and thought put into criticisms. Calvin is not exempt from criticism, but we must be truthful and not engage in falsehood (Exodus 20:16, Psalm 34:13) just because you don’t agree with him theologically.

Master Of  Puppets

This is a common objection for non-Calvinists and is one of the silliest as well. Though, I will not put the whole blame on the objector’s ignorance, but rather, some very excited new Calvinists who may scream “We have no free will” thus leading to the misunderstanding. Calvinists believe in free will, we just don’t typically believe in libertarian free will (Some strains in Reformed theology do). Most Calvinists are compatibilists, that is, the idea that free will and Determinism are compatible. I think acting according to my desire is sufficient for freedom. I’m doing whatever I want. An example of how this works. Zachary doesn’t like taking selfies, it’s not something he desires to do normally. However, when his girlfriend wants to take pictures with him, he willingly does it, because his desire for her happiness is stronger than the desire to not take selfies. This is freedom. I find it odd when some say we are free from the determinism of God but can’t even get away from their biological and environmental effects on their will.


God is the primary cause,  we are the secondary causes.


God’s Omnibenevolence


For all properties F, if F is a deficiency when had by a human, then F cannot be a great making property when had by God. [3]


Non-Calvinists assume that to be all-loving necessitates that God owes them salvation, that an all-loving perfect being will try his hardest to save every person who is justly condemned. You won’t see this argument ever applied to a human, in fact, a human who did this would be viewed as evil. If President Trump released every single prisoner held in the United States, regardless of what they’ve done, would you view that as a righteous action? Regardless of what you think about prisons politically, a rapid influx of murderers and other types of criminals would not benefit society and would be viewed as a bad thing.

Yet God is obligated by this definition of omnibenevolence, to try and save every single person, and he will of course, ultimately fail because of free will. God is not free to love in this view. Think about this. In Ephesians 5, the elect are referred to as the bride, and Christ is the bridegroom. Yet, Christ is demanded to love those who are not his bride with the same type of love he gives his bride. Do you see how absurd that sounds? If a man loves another woman the same way he loves his wife he’s an adulterer, but if God does it he’s omnibenevolent?

God is free to love anyone how he pleases, God loves everyone, but this does not necessitate Jesus will be their bridegroom. In the same way, just because  I love someone that doesn’t mean I will marry them. This view of omnibenevolence ignores God’s righteousness like humans are somehow the poor victims of God’s wrath. Calvinists believe God loves everyone, but they allow God freedom in distinction in his love, just as humans do because humans aren’t more free to love than God.  An undistinguished love is not a coherent love.


God is a Gentleman

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? Perhaps these words have left your own lips before. We assume that God is this gentleman, who won’t force anything on you. The question is, Why do we think that? Are we convinced by sacred scripture, or does it make us feel good?


It sounds simple enough, “God is in Control, Of course, every Christian would agree with that statement!” While that may be, how consistently do they apply it in their development of theology? For example, King Abimelech had the hots for Sarah, we can assume his desire was to lay with her, for we read



“And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.”— Genesis 20:6 (KJV)


God tells the king that He withheld him from sinning, and that sin was “touching her.” So, if God can prevent this sin, it is logical to assume He can stop every sin. Again, I think both sides would agree here, however, our reasons are far different.


The Calvinist such as myself would say that God decrees everything that comes to pass and uses every action, good or evil, for His own glory. The Arminian would assert that God does, in fact, use evil actions for good[1], but a lot of evil is due to the free will of man. This is where the Gentleman part comes in.


It is asserted, that perhaps God doesn’t “force” someone to be saved, because as a true suitor would, he wants his bride to love him of her own will. This objection misunderstands the Calvinist’s emphasis.


What the Calvinist is saying is that we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:5) and we need a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This old stone heart will never love God, in fact, it will eternally hate God, for it will produce blasphemy even at the end.

“And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.”— Revelation 16:9 (KJV)

We need a new heart, otherwise, we’d never love Him. We keep hearing about this choice we are supposed to make, but here’s the question, if this resistible prevenient grace is true, is your heart a heart of stone or flesh at the time you make the decision? Does it go back to stone if you say no somehow? Does the heart turn to flesh, and does God give you a new heart based on you saying yes to Him? I couldn’t affirm so without contradicting Ephesians 2:8-9. If you can choose God, you have a heart of flesh, what we don’t see in Scripture is anyone with a heart of flesh going back to stone by saying No to God. There will not be one person who truly desires fellowship with God that will be in Hell, For that desire itself comes from Him.


God isn’t The Force


This objection usually happens because of Calvin’s favorite Church Father, Augustine, was a Manichean before his conversion. So, they reason, he imported his gnostic ideas into his doctrine because of his pagan background. However, anyone with a basic understanding of Manicheanism will laugh at this objection, the Non-Calvinists are really grasping at straws with this one.

Manicheanism teaches that there is a Prince of Light and a Prince of darkness there were eternally co-existent, The Prince of Darkness invades the realm of light and they fight. Calvinism however, is the exact opposite of dualism. Unlike synergists, we don’t believe Satan is a competent fighter, winning the fight against God for souls as more are damned against God’s will than saved. Instead, Calvinism teaches that the Devil is God’s devil, God owns him, and the devil can’t do anything apart from God’s permission. Truly, God is greater than Satan in our system, because we recognize God’s wrath is a necessary attribute for a perfect being because his wrath is a subset of his perfect righteousness. A Righteous God would give some people what they deserve, wouldn’t he?


Author of Sin



“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.” – Jonathan Edwards  [4]

Willing sin to exist is not the same as sinning, this is classical theistic thinking. Sin does not come to pass because of God’s positive agency.  


The Non-Calvinist wants to have his cake and eat it too in this objection. God is against murder (Exodus 20:13) Yet ordains the murder of his Son (Acts 4:28). I’m not a low-energy liberal so I won’t presuppose that the word of God is contradicting itself here, but rather, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil secondary causes in his decree.


This discussion brings up an interesting point, what about natural evil? The Bible says



I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it (Amos 3:6 KJV)

The Hebrew word for evil is rah, and can be translated in a variety of ways. The context of Isaiah 45 is natural evil, i.e. earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, things of this nature. So, reason with me for a moment, in the typical libertarian free will model, you have God as the primary cause then the free moral agent acts freely, so as not to trace the evil action back to the primary cause. However, the same argument cannot work for natural evil, since we have biblical evidence that God creates these disasters and calamities, and because the tectonic plates or ocean are not free moral agents, they simply act on God’s command, we see this in the New Testament when Jesus rebukes the wind and waters and they instantly become calm. (Luke 8:24) So, is God the author of sin in this case?


Conclusion

My hope and prayer is that my answers to these popular level objections to Calvinism will help Calvinists better understand their theology, help Non-Calvinists understand us better, and restore the faith of someone who may possibly be thinking of leaving Calvinism or Christianity in general because of similar claims made by non-believers. May God be glorified! Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Thomas Schreiner: Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano

[2] The History of Protestantism by James Aitken Wylie p. 339

[3] Calvinism and the Problem of Evil p. 151

[4] The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards p. 246

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