Tag Archives: Arminius

Jeffrey Simon on Calvinism, free will and moral responsibility

I spent some time last night chatting with some of my readers on Facebook, and Jeffrey Simon was one. He wrote this essay on Calvinism versus Molinism which I thought was good enough to post. I am in agreement with Jeffrey on this issue, BUT I did include some debates featuring Calvinist James White at the bottom of the post. I just wanted to present an excerpt from his essay that makes a point that I thought would get lots of responses from Calvinists. Jeffrey is quite aggressive.

The essay is here, but you have to be his friend in order to see it.


When harmonizing man’s perspective and God’s perspective, the Calvinist embraces what is known as theological fatalism.  They redefine free will and embrace compatibilism.  Essentially compatibilism says that determinism and free will are compatible, hence the name compatibilism.  In the same way that the wind blowing causes the trees to move, our desires and environment produce an effect which would be our action.  When we make a decision, we could not have chosen otherwise.  The Calvinist likes to say that we choose according to our greatest desire.  This would explain how God is in control of everything and more specifically our salvation.  How does God ensure the salvation of certain individuals? He changes their desires so they will freely choose Him.  This brings up an objection though.  If God desires that all are saved (1 Tim 2.4) and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze. 33.11) and God “can save all whom He chooses to save”, then why are not all saved?  The Calvinist responds by making a distinction in God’s will.  While it is God’s revealed will and desire [thelo] that all men are saved, it is not His decreed will [boulomai] that all will be saved.  Essentially, God desires that all are saved and has a general love for the reprobate, but He has predestined them to Hell because His will [boulomai] trumps His desires [thelo].  Within Calvinism, there is a smaller section that claims regeneration logically precedes faith.  Because we are “dead” in our sin, we must be made alive or regenerated before believing.  How can a dead man believe and make himself alive?  In the same way that Lazarus was commanded to be raised from physical death, we are commanded to be made alive (through regeneration) from our spiritual death.

In my estimation, the main problem with Calvinism is that it embraces a causally deterministic system.  How can we freely make decisions yet God determined them for us?  It is not a mystery, but rather a contradiction.  In fact, at this point Calvinists are in agreement with naturalists because nearly all naturalists embrace compatibilism or determinism due to the fact that naturalism implies physicalism or materialism.  Now, imagine reading through the Bible with the idea that free will does not exist.  It is rather dizzying to imagine such a thing!  Dr.  William Lane Craig sums it up nicely when he says,

”Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom” (The Only Wise God).

If God has determined our every thought and action, yet those nine things hold true, then it turns the Bible into a charade.  How can anything be expected of us if we can’t make decisions?  In response to this, the Calvinist may say “so what”.  It may violate our fallen sense of justice, but God can do as “He pleases and no one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4.35).  God can determine us to do immoral things and hold us responsible because He is God.  In fact, in the Book of Acts when Peter and John are talking about Christ’s crucifixion, they say that God “anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever His hand and His purpose predestined to occur.” Even though God predestined them to crucify Christ, they were held responsible.  While this is possible it surely does not seem plausible.  Turning to the book of Judges, for example, we would find ourselves asking why God determined Israel’s rebellion so many times.  One only has to retort, so God is the author of evil, then?  If I were to pick up a stick and use it to move a rock, what moved the rock? Technically the stick moved the rock; however, no one would say that.  I moved the rock by picking up the stick and using it.  It is no different with God.  Surely those men crucified Christ, but it was really God behind the scenes.  This intrudes upon the holiness of God because He cannot stand sin (Psalm 5.4) and cannot even tempt man (Jas 1.13) yet alone causally determine evil.  Continuing, let’s take this causally deterministic system and God’s will as described by Calvinists to its logical conclusion.  First of all, as I just mentioned, the biggest problem is that God becomes the author of evil.  Second of all, there can be no “well-meant offer” of the Gospel to all persons if God has determined their destruction in hell.  In regards to God’s will, a better way, I think, to understand it would be that while God desires all men to be saved, His will is to save those who believe.  This does well with texts that say that God desires that all men are saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) (and it also does not make God look hypocritical).  There are numerous texts where God exhorts people to believe, yet they reject Him.  For example, in Isaiah 5 God is disappointed with Israel because of their continuous sin and He asks what more could He have done for them.  God had provided all the means for godly living, yet Israel rejected Him.  Why would God waste His time with people whom He predestined to Hell and had no chance of salvation?  Also, if it’s God’s “secret” will to save some and damn some, then how can anyone know about it?

Is there anyone on the Calvinist side reading this who can explain how people can be responsible for sinning if they have no way to avoid it? I am not sure if a person can be responsible in that case because the only way that they can not sin is if God does something, and he chooses not to do it. It’s like giving a person a final exam but locking them out of the classroom all semester long.

Actually, I can see how that might actually be offensive to atheists, as in this debate between William Lane Craig and Edwin Curley of U of Michigan Ann Arbor.

Probably the best way to settle this is with debates. But I think that the only Calvinist who has debated on this issue is James White. So I put his debates below. I don’t think that famous Calvinists like Mark Dricoll and even Wayne Grudem defend Calvinism in formal public debates. Can anyone point out any debates that I may have missed? I want formal debates with good scholars on either side so I can make sure that my mind was made up based on evidence.

Related posts

Is God the cause of human evil in Calvinism?

Wes over at Reason to Stand thinks so.

The problem:

A Calvinist friend of mine recently asked me the difference between “unwilling” and “unable” and why I consider the two to be mutually exclusive when talking about mankind’s ability to sin or not.

And here is his reply to his friend:

If I am unable I cannot be unwilling because my inability precludes my willingness either way.

[…]If I am unable then I am no better off than a robot preprogrammed to run a certain course and as such I cannot rightly be held accountable for that which I have no control over.

On the other hand, if I am unwilling then I logically have the ability to act in a manner other than that which I choose.

If I am unable to not sin then I cannot logically be held accountable or responsible for choices that are, by definition, beyond my control.

If I am unwilling to not sin then I am not only responsible for my choice but, in light of the holy standard of God, I am unable to bridge the gap I freely created.

[…]The bottom line is that we are either free and responsible or else we are not free and therefore not responsible.

And William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga also like middle knowledge. Hmmmn. Wes and Bill Craig and Alvin Plantinga are pretty smart guys.

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Phil Fernandes explains his view of free will and divine sovereignty

It also happens to be MY view, pretty much.

This is SPOOKY! I could have said 99% of this myself!

The only thing we differ on is that I think you can lose your salvation, but only by committing “the unforgiveable sin”, which is rejecting God’s grace intentionally. You can’t lose your salvation by sinning, because you are forgiven. But every sin will cause damage in your life.

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Response from a Calvinist