To The Point: Calvinism
Claim: God only ever intended to save certain people, which he determined in eternity past before they were ever born.
Rebuttal: Where in scripture does it even imply that there was such a decree in eternity past? Certainly something so pivotal to our understanding of sin would be spelled out clearly, rather than left to a complicated systematic theology.
Claim: Adam and Eve had free will before they sinned, but afterwards they and all their descendants would be spiritually dead and have no free will.
Rebuttal: This is the fallacy of “special pleading”. Since Adam and Eve could sin without a “sin nature”, then what caused them to sin? And if we cannot blame God or their nature for their sin, then we cannot blame them for ours. But where does it say that sin caused Adam and Eve’s spirits to die? “You shall surely die” does not specify anything at all, and the only obvious literal meaning is to be mortal (“to dust you shall return”). A figurative meaning is possible as well: that there was separation between God and mankind. Both these concepts are consistent with the rest of scripture. But a literal spiritual death is not. And how could spiritually dead Adam and Eve produce more dead spirits? Can the dead reproduce? Conversely, do saved parents produce saved children with living spirits? Why not? Either spiritual attributes are inheritable or they are not. See also Ezekiel 18 where God himself states that children do not inherit the sin of their parents.
Claim: Eph. 2:1 says that people are dead in sin, and the dead can do nothing on their own; they have to first be regenerated.
Rebuttal: Rom. 6:11 says that we who are saved are dead to sin; does that mean we are incapable of sinning? And since we all clearly sin, we are not as literally dead as Calvinism claims; after all, “the dead can do nothing on their own”. It is ridiculous to argue that we are too dead to accept the Gospel, but not dead enough to be incapable of sinning. Could Lazarus sin while in the grave?
Claim: Jesus only died for the elect, not the whole world. John 3:16 means all people without distinction, not all people without exception.
Rebuttal: 1 John 2:2 states that Jesus was “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world”. And there is nothing in John 3:16 to put restrictions or qualifications on “whoever”. In fact, 1 Tim. 2:4 states that God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. How many times must “whoever” and “any” and “all” be redefined in order to argue that it doesn’t mean what it says in those passages? Look also at Rom. 5:12–15, and try to define “all” and “many” consistently. If righteousness only came to certain people, then sin and death only came to certain people; Calvinism cannot have it both ways.
Consider also the implication of saying that Jesus did not die for the whole world: it cheapens his blood and sacrifice. The quantity was irrelevant; one drop of blood, one minute of suffering, would have sufficed, because the Sacrifice was perfect and sinless. It is not possible that any of this could be “wasted”, as Calvinism alleges would be true if Jesus died for the whole world but the whole world did not get saved.
Claim: But if God wants everyone to be saved, and everyone is clearly not saved, then God’s will is being thwarted.
Rebuttal: Calvinism believes that whatever happens is God’s direct will, and since not all are saved, then it cannot be his will. But then it must ignore the indisputable scriptures that say God does indeed want everyone to be saved, and that Jesus died for the whole world (not just the elect “without distinction”). So at least at this point, Calvinism admits that it is against scripture and makes it contradictory. Either scripture is true or Calvinism is true; it cannot be both.
Claim: Free will is impossible, because otherwise God is not sovereign.
Rebuttal: God is not free to give his creatures free will? Calvinism distorts the sovereignty of God to the point of absurdity, ignoring God’s other attributes such as love and mercy. In fact, without free will, people could never love God. A robot that “loves” its creator was programmed to do so, and no one who made such a robot would accept that love as genuine. God is worthy of only the highest and most genuine love from us, so it must be free and not “programmed”. Calvinism tries to say that God gives us a change of will so that we do indeed “freely” choose to love him. But this is merely moving the line in the sand. Regardless of the distance or number of steps involved, God would still be forcing a person to love him, and this is unworthy of him. Therefore, free will is absolutely necessary, and this in no way impinges on the sovereignty of God.
Responsibility and free will cannot be separated. If one is held responsible for sin, one must have had the capacity not to sin. And since Calvinism holds people responsible for sin, then it must also grant them the ability not to sin. It is fallacious to argue that God gave us a “sin nature” yet isn’t responsible for what we do with it, which we cannot help but do. If I make a robot designed to destroy all plant life, can I become angry with it for doing so, though I did not personally move the robot and make it destroy plants? Absolutely not; I was the cause of the robot’s actions. Likewise, if we had no free will, then God could not hold us responsible for what we do or shift the blame for what he himself created us to do.
Therefore, to say we have no free will is to blame God for sin and evil. It is only if we are free to choose between good and evil that we can either be capable of loving God or responsible for sinning against him.
Claim: But what about the other scriptures that indicate God choosing or predestinating people?
Rebuttal: Then Calvinism has a problem to solve regarding the scriptures that say the opposite, frequently telling us to choose. But here are a few responses:
- The Greek of Acts 16:14 says that Lydia’s mind (the heart was believed to be where thoughts occurred) was opened to pay attention to what Paul was saying; it does NOT say God forced Lydia to believe what he said. Is it “quickening” or faith that comes from hearing the word (Romans 10:17)? God can limit or increase a person’s perception (see also Luke 24:31–32), but this does not violate free will because a person is still responsible for what they understand. The choices may be few or many, broad or restricted, but we are responsible for whatever those choices are.
- Acts 11:18 also does not say God forced the Gentiles to believe; it says he granted them the same opportunity as the Jews. The whole sequence from Peter’s vision to this statement teaches the fact that, as Paul would later say in Gal. 3:28, “in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile”.
- 2 Peter 1:10 tells belivers to confirm that they were called and chosen; they are elect because they are saved, not saved because they are elect.
- 1 Cor. 2:11–14 is not speaking about the ability to accept the Gospel message but about spiritual truths in general.
- John 1:13 is illustrating the difference between physical procreation and spiritual birth, not that people are incapable of making spiritual decisions. Verse 12 says “to all who received him he gave the right to become children of God”, which is shown in opposition to those of physical birth. So this right to be spiritually born (regenerated) follows reception, yet Calvinism claims it precedes it.
- John 5:21 says “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will”. But to whom does he will? As already mentioned, the answer is found in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. To read anything else into that verse… that any and all refer only to those chosen by God to be saved… begs the question.
- John 6:39 refers to the security of the believer, which has no bearing on the issue of predestination. Verse 44 is presumed to mean that the Father doesn’t draw everyone, even though Jesus said that he would draw “all” to himself (John 12:32). Verses 63–65 show his foreknowledge. The “enabled” of verse 65 are those of verse 12, the ones who are receptive. 1 Peter 1:3 is not a proof of predestination, since no one argues that birth is anything but a gift.
- In John 10:29–30 Jesus says not only that “the Father has given them to me”, but also “I and the Father are one”.
- The order of salvation is faith and then life, not the opposite as Calvinism claims. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess… and believe… you will be saved”. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God”, yet Calvinism proposes a regeneration without faith. In John 3:15 Jesus says that whoever believes has eternal life. Therefore, whoever does not believe does not have life. In other words, to not believe is to be figuratively dead, so life (the new birth) cannot precede belief.
Claim: If we can choose to be saved, then we are saving ourselves by works.
Rebuttal: Faith is not work, and a gift is not a wage (Rom. 4:4–5). A person stuck in a well does not save themselves if they take hold of a rope lowered to them by someone above; it’s their choice whether to accept the offer, and yet no one credits them with saving themselves. Instead, the person is grateful.
Everything Calvinism believes (see articles on the TULIP) hinges on man being born spiritually dead, and on a distorted definition of the sovereignty of God. Because of that foundation, a very complex theological system is required in order to explain away clear passages about the love of God, the free will of man, and the fact that salvation is a gift received by the free exercise of faith. Most of its proof-texts depend upon extensive and inconsistent definitions and reading into the text whatever its theology requires; that is, it is circular and fallacious. Taken to its logical conclusion, Calvinism maligns the character of God to the point where he more resembles the raw sovereignty of Satan… a fact which is not lost on critics of the faith.
But what is the point of arguing about the lack of free will? Isn’t that self-defeating for Calvinism, since the will of God cannot be resisted or changed? What difference does it make whether anyone believes in Calvinism, if God will do as he has predetermined regardless? The fact that Calvinists argue, and with such ferocity, is proof that they really do believe in free will. Otherwise they would have to admit that God is forcing them, and their opponents, to do something utterly pointless. The truth is that Calvinists make belief in Calvinism a salvation issue, or they would not treat non-Calvinists with such disdain.
Now look at Luke 5:32… “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Why would Jesus refer to the elect as “sinners”, but the non-elect as “righteous”? See also 11 Questions on Calvinism, and this debate on the link between Calvinism and Universalism.