Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

Theology Corner


The tentacles of Reformed Theology reach out to every subatomic particle in the universe and into the deepest recesses of the human mind. Reformed Theology teaches, for example, that, to somehow glorify Himself, God "willed" into being a violent, terrifying and carnivorous "mother nature" dominated by disaster, disease, suffering, decay, corruption and diabolical cruelty. Many of the insidiously evil aspects of Calvinism are discussed in Section 2.1 of Theology Corner under the title, "Can God's Will be Thwarted?" This Section addresses only the issues of free will and salvation.

As the issue relates to human free will and salvation, Calvinists claim all reality is interlocked in a causal chain leading back to God as the first-cause of all things; but humans are "free," even though they are pre-determined, because their choices are executed "willingly." The Calvinist defines man as a second-cause agent incapable of choosing a path different from that which God would have him choose. Because man doesn't know he is being manipulated, he believes himself to be a first-cause agent making free will decisions. This is the historic Calvinist concept of "free will." It leads to the idea that absolute determinism by God is compatible with the exercise of free will by man; this concept is sometimes called compatibilism or soft determinism.

Arminians agree much of reality is part of a causal chain but claim God does not determine the free will decisions of men or angels. The idea that men and angels are first-cause agents of choice, is a central concept of Arminianism and is sometimes called libertarian freedom. The Arminian believes "free will" makes you a first-cause agent of decisions. The compatibilist believes "free will" makes you a second-cause agent; you have simply been tricked into thinking of yourself as a first-cause agent. These two definitions of free will are mutually exclusive.

Consider a man who beats his wife, sexually abuses both his daughters and sons, steals from and abuses his parents and subsequently dies without confession of sin, without remorse for his brutality, without repentance and without asking for the mercy of God. The compatibilist claims each one of these events is God's will because God's sovereignty requires complete determinism of all things; God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. The man may think he is acting freely but he is actually executing a sinister puppet dance, with God pulling the strings from behind His transcendence. However, the man is fully responsible for his second-cause sins since they were executed willingly.

The Arminian claims not one of these sins was God's will and God grieves deeply over each of them. Each sin represents a free will decision by a first-cause agent and is contrary to God's will. God permits, within limits and for a time, the consequences of rebellion but He is deeply grieved by the evil world in which we live.The Arminian believes the Calvinist concept of compatibilism is actually incompatible with God's attributes of holiness, justice, goodness and truth and with the clear teaching of Scripture:

  • If God credits the unsaved with second-cause sins then, in conflict with Scripture (Eph 2:8-10), He would credit the saved with second-cause good works.
  • A just God would not hold a man responsible for a sin which God made him commit.
  • If salvation were simply a matter of God exercising His free-will, then a good God would save all men.
  • The idea that free will can be exercised by a second-cause agent is logical nonsense. Free will can only be exercised by a first-cause agent. Consequently, the thesis (determinism by God is free-will by man) violates the logical rule of contradictories (b is-not not-b). Such a statement is called a paradox.

The historic Calvinist responds that we must not expect the holiness, justice and goodness of God will always make sense to our limited intellect. Furthermore, true free will can be exercised by second-cause agents; this central concept of historic Calvinism may be logical nonsense to man but not to God who reasons on a higher level using a different kind of logic. As a source of confusion on this issue, some modern Calvinists seem to view man as a first-cause agent of choice thereby abandoning the historic Calvinist concept of compatibilism. Once again, however, God is viewed as operating with some higher level of logic so the thesis (God as first-cause agent corresponds to man as first-cause agent) only seems to be a paradox but is not a paradox to God.

Finally, the Calvinist asserts the full weight of Scripture is on his side. However, the Arminian believes the character of God, which emerges from the Bible taken in its entirety as opposed to text out of context, is inconsistent with Calvinism. For example, the Calvinist contends regeneration precedes faith because God elected only certain specific persons for salvation. These persons alone are unconditionally and irresistibly regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit and subsequently demonstrate repentance, faith and obedience. The rest of mankind is condemned to everlasting punishment. This brutal plan somehow allows God to glorify Himself as He rejoices in its execution. To keep this theology afloat, however, the Calvinist must twist Scripture, including the text around the following verses, like Third Reich clergy twisted the Cross into a Swastika.

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
  • Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34-35)
  • They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. (Mark 12:14)
  • This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive) that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:9-10)
  • This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)
  • The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)
  • Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezek 18:23)
  • Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? (Ezek 18:25)
  • Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (Ezek 33:11)
  • For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3:33)
  • For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deut 10:17)
  • Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery." (2 Chron 19:7)
  • Is he not the One who says to kings, 'You are worthless,' and to nobles, 'You are wicked,' who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands? (Job 34:18-19)
  • For God does not show favoritism. (Rom 2:11)
  • And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph 6:9)

Scriptural support for Reformed Theology is generally limited to collections of Bible verses taken out of context. Arminians agree that some verses seem to support the Calvinist position if read in isolation from the rest of the Bible. But Arminians deny that the Calvinist position makes the best sense for the whole of Scripture. Text out of context is a pretext! For example, the words elect, predestined and chosen frequently designate those persons who God foreknew would respond to the call of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2; Rom 8:29). But, when read in isolation, they can seem to mean foreordination and not just foreknowledge. Here is a partial list of Scripture verses frequently used by Calvinists to support Reformed Theology. However, the Calvinist interpretation of these isolated verses has been shown to be implausible or at least unnecessary when viewed against the backdrop of the Bible taken in its entirety.

Gen 45:5, 50:20; Ex 4:11, 21:12-13; Jos 11:19-20; Judg 9:23; Ruth 1:13; 1 Sam 2:25; 2 Sam 16:10, 17:14, 24:1; 1 Chron 21:1; 1 Kings 8:57-58; Job 1:21; Psalm 105:24-25, 135:6; Prov 16:4, 16:9, 21:1; Isa 6:10, 14:24-27, 45:7; Lam 3:37-38; John 6:44; Acts 4:27-28, 13:48, 17:26; Rom 9:11-13 (cf Mal 1:2-3), 9:18, 11:36; Eph 1:11; 2 Thes 2:11-12; 2 Tim 1:9.