Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Reformed theology (Calvinism)

WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised. 

In Protestant Christianity, there is a division between people who accept Calvinist doctrines and those who don’t. Both groups think that the other group are genuine Christians, but the debate has more to do with the human free will, human responsibility and who God loves.

About Dr. Jerry Walls:

  • BA in Religion and Philosophy, Houghton College
  • MDiv, Princeton Seminary
  • STM, Yale Divinity School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame

He is a professor at Houston Baptist University. You can find a more detailed profile here.

Dr. Walls is Protestant (like me). He is a substance dualist (like me). And he believes in a real eternal Hell (like me). And he is very, very assertive. Definitely no confidence problems here. And you’re not going to have a problem keeping your attention on this lecture!

Note that I do not agree with or endorse Dr. Walls on all of his views.

Here’s the lecture: (64 minutes)

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • What are the main doctrines of Calvinism? (TULIP)
  • A look at the Westminster Confession
  • The nature of freedom and free will
  • Calvinist doctrine of freedom: compatibilism
  • The implications of compatibilism
  • Who determines what each person will desire on Calvinism?
  • Who does God love on Calvinism?
  • The law of non-contradiction
  • Does God make a genuine offer of salvation to all people on Calvinism?
  • Does God love “the elect” differently than the “non-elect” on Calvinism?

He quotes at least a half-dozen Calvinist theologians in this lecture, including John Piper, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson. And he also mentions 3 videos at the end of the lecture where he goes over specific Bible verses that seem to support Calvinism (part 4, part 5, part 6 are the ones he mentioned).

This lecture is very strong stuff, and I think that he could have been nicer when presenting it, but he hit on every single objection that I have to Calvinism, and he worked through my reasoning too! So I really liked that he validated all of my concerns about Calvinism. I’m not as bothered about the problems with Calvinism as he is, though. I don’t think it’s a big divisive issue. I almost always read Calvinist theologians when I am reading theology. I just conjoin Calvinism with middle knowledge and resistible grace, and it’s fine. Calvinists are some of the best theologians, they are just wrong on the things he discusses in his lecture.

You may also be interested in these debates on salvation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist.

6 thoughts on “Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Reformed theology (Calvinism)”

  1. Afthe listening to half the lecture, I have enough to make comment.

    I am a Primitive Baptist and that’s within his definition of a Calvinist. I am impressed by Walls’s accurate description of TULIP so far (30:40).

    It is odd to hear it described as he does. There is a central point that he leaves out. That he is able to describe the doctrine as well as he does is amazing, and revealing to me. He’s like Ptolemy describing the motions of the planets. I have often wondered what I sound like to a non-Calvinist that left them so confused and angry.

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  2. I was not impressed. Walls begins with TULIP, but genuine Reformed theology begins with very careful prolegomena and the doctrines of God and Scripture. If an Arminian wants to try to score an easy win against Calvinists, I guess a caricature of TULIP is a good place to start. But if an Arminian really wants to understand the genuine Reformed faith, he must start way earlier in Reformed systematics.

    As it is, Walls’s big trump card is “the character of God”, but without an analysis of the Reformed Doctrine of God, Walls’s “character” is something of his own making.

    I would disagree, too, that his description of TULIP was accurate. It was accurate within the bounds of stereotypes, but I think his whole simplified message is wrong-headed.

    What I find most alarming is that he gets an audience for this kind of thing among evangelical Christians.

    For just one response, see Steve Hays’s critique of Walls’s article in Philosophia Christi: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/10/impugning-god.html

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    1. But look how well he does without ever taking up God’s … I’ve forgotten the word, but to substitute, revivification of one’s soul.

      He does much better than most of the salvation-through-faith crowd.

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  3. So far I’ve just listened to the first 15 minutes. I’ll share my thoughts so far. When I get a chance to listen to more, I’ll provide some more thoughts (if I feel like it):
    i. The first thing he makes a big deal out of is the claim in the WCF regarding limited atonement that God determines people do a thing and yet they do it “most freely.” But Jerry doesn’t provide any serious critique at this point. It’s just theatrics. He repeats the claim several times in a strained voice.
    ii. He claims the deepest issue is not the nature of freedom. He says he will come back to the deepest issue later, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that he will claim the deepest issue is the nature of God. So I’ll make some preliminary remarks about this now and come back to it again later: Jerry’s beliefs about the nature of God are driven more by his moral “intuitions” and his philosophical commitment to libertarianism than Scripture. I’m not just saying that from listening to 15 minutes of his lecture here. I’ve read several of his books. But it’s these same intuitions about what God must be like and what freedom must be like that drive Jerry towards positions that I doubt many here would be willing to adopt (postmortem salvation, purgatory, flirting with Open Theism). And it seems to me that once the Arminian lets his “intuitions” and philosophical commitments drive his doctrine, I can easily argue him into universalism, or at least the idea that God shouldn’t be sending people to Hell (or that Hell must be radically different than how it’s been conceived in traditional Christian theology). This is why others who share Jerry’s starting points are also flirting with Universalism and denying inerrancy (e.g., Randal Rauser).
    iii. He claims the common sense view of freedom is Libertarianism. This isn’t true. To my knowledge, one of the only empirical studies on common sense notions of free will is Shaun Nichol’s “Folk Intuitions on Free Will” and what he found was that there is no consistent common sense intuition.
    iv. He defines libertarian freedom as the ability to choose A or not-A in the same circumstance. But it’s not clear to me how a Molinist can affirm the power of contrary choice. Oh, I know that the Molinist will repeat the line they’ve memorized from William Lane Craig about the can claim and the backtracking conditional, but after having several back-and-forths with smart Molinists on this issue, I’ve never seen one who was able to cash it out in a way in which even the most staunch determinist could do the same.
    v. He has a problem with Compatibilism’s claim that you could have done different if you had wanted to, but given these other conditions (the thoughts, desires, feelings you have) you cannot act differently than you do. It seems to me that the Molinist has to be committed to the same sort of claim. For isntance, here is what one popular Molinist blogger (J. W. Wartick) told me: “it is incorrect to hold that once a world has been actualized, then the creatures world may bring it about that that world is not brought about.” And every Molinist I’ve talked to has grounded PCC in possible worlds. But what this means is that you could have done otherwise, if God had actualized a different feasible world. But *given these other conditions* (God’s decree to actualize this world) you cannot act differently than you do [insert Jerry Walls’ smug chuckle]. Now I’m sure *Jerry Walls* may not care too much about this, since he’s not sold on Molinism (and has said that he thinks Open Theism and Calvinism will be the two positions left when the dust settles). But I mention this since Wintery Knight and many of his readers are Molinist.

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  4. Here are my observations on the next 15 minutes:

    vi. Walls says that under Calvinism God could have created a world where people freely did only what was morally right. But it’s not clearly the case that this isn’t also true in Arminianism, with libertarian freedom. Why doesn’t God only create those persons which he knew would freely do what is right? That’s possible. I know that Arminians will claim that it may not be feasible, but at this point the Arminian arguments are pure speculation. They say that for all we know everyone is transworld depraved. But they have to admit that it’s also true that, for all we know, most people are transworld saints (or non-depraved). One speculation is just as good as the other. The Arminian can speculate about what’s feasible, but he can offer us nothing which would itself make those speculations plausible. So the Arminian says “For all we know, God can’t make a world where eveyone does what is right.” But the Calvinist could do the same: for all we know, God can’t create a world where people freely did only what was morally right. If the Arminian wants to ask the Calvinist why we should think that, I will ask the Arminian why we should think people are transworld depraved.

    vii. The Calvinist Conundrum – Walls says (to paraphrase) that to truly love someone you must do what is in the best interest of the flourishing of the creature. What is in the best interest of the creature is salvation. Since God doesn’t do what is in the best interest of the damned, even though he could, he doesn’t truly love them. I present to you the *Molinist Conundrum* – God, according to Molinists like William Lane Craig, creates some persons that he knows will be damned for the sake of those he knows will be saved. In other words, God isn’t acting in the best interest of the damned–he’s acting in the best interest of those who will be saved.

    Yes, Jerry says he rejects the premise that God could determine the free salvation of persons. But that route doesn’t help the Molinist, or even Jerry Walls. For God could simply not create the persons he knows will be damned. Molinists say that God creates these known-to-be-damned persons anyway so that he can maximize the salvation of *other people*. But then God is acting int he best interest of *other people* and not the damned. So the Molinist doesn’t escape the conundrum… and unless Jerry finally commits himself to Universalism or Open Theism, he can’t escape it either. Jerry has to answer the question: why did God create persons he knows will be eternally damned? How does creating that person work in their best interest? Scripture clearly indicates that for some people it’s better that they were never born. How is God acting in the best interest of those persons by creating them?

    Since Calvinists admit that God doesn’t love everybody and since Arminians like Jerry Walls are caught by their own (Jerry’s own) argument that God doesn’t love everybody, but instead want to maintain that God does… then really Jerry has just pointed out that Calvinists are at least able to own up to the logic of their systems. The only difference between Arminians and Calvinists at this point is that Arminians want to have their cake and eat it too. Jerry says Arthur W. Pink understands the logic of Calvinism perfectly, which is more than we can say for Jerry Walls and non-Open Theism, non-Universalism Arminianism!

    Maybe I should try publishing an article in Philosophia Christi… I could either title it “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Be A Molinist” or ” Why No Molinist Should Be Relying on Jerry Walls To Refute Calvinism”

    viii. Walls quotes Piper where Piper says God may not have chosen his sons. Piper also says that he (John Piper) would have chosen to save his sons, but God may not have. Walls says, in response to this, that this means John Piper may love his sons better than God. Again, I can turn this against the Molinist: William Lane Craig may pray for his children’s salvation every night, but God may not have chosen to instantiate the world in which his sons are saved. I’m pretty sure that William Lane Craig would have chosen to instantiate the world in which his children are saved, but God may not have. So, according to Walls, this means William Lane Craig may love his children better than God.

    ix. He says J. I. Packer is inconsistent simply because J. I. Packer says God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is a mystery. But then why can’t I accuse Molinists of being inconsistent since the conditions of feasibility or transworld depravity is a mystery under their system? Walls might be saying Packer is inconsistent because he affirms libertarianism and determinism… but that’s not what Packer said. Jerry assumes Packer must either be operating on either the model of compatibilism or libertarianism. But it’s possible Packer simply doesn’t understand the issues or doesn’t try to select a model of free will.

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  5. Ive seen this before, and it always struck me that even after spending so much time insisting that libertarian freedom is the form of freedom people find more intuitive, and after he tries (but fails, IMO) to show that even Calvinists end up assuming libertarian freedom, he then assumes compatibilism at the end with his example of his granddaughter whom he could never choose to strangle. I mean, clearly he has the strength to overpower her, so its not like it is impossible, but it isn’t in his nature, he can’t will to do so.

    Then I look back where he rails on Calvinists for using this sort of logic, say when looking at the call of God, implying that it is some sort of contradiction to claim that the call is freely given to all, yet not all have the ability to respond to it. Yet, clearly sinful man should have no lack of ability to answer the call of God in the sense that there is plenty of evidence for God, and there isn’t any demanding requirement, just come as you are. But yet, it just isn’t in the nature of sinful man to come to God without God intervening to impute Christ’s righteousness onto the guilty sinner, and graciously gift the sinner with a heart of faith.

    Just as something quite radical would have to happen to Wells for him to will to hurt his granddaughter, something quite radical needs to happen to the sinner for them to will to follow Christ.

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