Here is my refutation of Mr. Andrew Payne’s paper. As we mentioned earlier, critical examination of ideas is imperative at the scholarly level (or in our case the graduate level). This is not intended to be a personal attack upon Mr. Payne or necessarily his work. This paper expounds upon two problems that I see with “extreme” Calvinist doctrine. May God bless you on your search for truth.
Two Major Problems with the Ideas of John Calvin
by: Pastor Brian Chilton
Calvinism can be a beautiful doctrine. Calvinism has strengths, undoubtedly. Calvinism excels at showing God’s love through adoption and shows the favor of God upon the elect. However, Calvinism loses its’ luster when you look at the negative side. What of those who were not elected? What of them? But, deeper issues threaten Calvinism at its’ core. Those deep issues are the problems emerging from determinism and that of evil.
Before we begin, let me add one addendum. As this is a technically a refutation of Mr. Andrew Payne’s paper on “The Ideas of John Calvin,” I must add that this paper does not mean to insult or insinuate anything about the character and/or intelligence of my friend Mr. Payne. We will go on as Christian brothers regardless of our differences. This paper is not an attack upon him or even the Calvinist in general. Rather, this paper serves to expose some of the deeper problems emerging from Calvinism. With that in mind, let us examine the two major problems of Calvinism.
The Problem of Determinism
Calvinist doctrine leads to determinism. What is determinism? Determinism is the belief that everything is a matter of fate with no human free will. By human free will, we are indicating the ability for human beings to choose. It is a matter of the will. The Calvinist doctrines of predestination (unconditional election for you TULIP fans) and irresistible grace lead towards determinism belief system.
Theological Problems of Calvin’s Determinism
For me, there exist at least two theological problems with Calvinism: the negation of love and the problem with evangelism. Let us take time to evaluate these issues.
Negates the Essence of Love
Love is a reciprocated act. If love is forced, it is no longer love. Have you ever had a person who was infatuated with you, but you didn’t feel the same? Ladies, how would you feel if a guy really wanted to date you, but you didn’t care a thing in the world about him? What if that person said, “You’re going to go out with me and you’re going to like it”? You would probably smack him upside his head. We all know that is not the essence of real, genuine love. As Dr. Peter Kreeft said in Lee Strobel’s classic book “The Case for Faith,” “Real love—our love of God and our love of each other—must involve a choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate…The point to remember is that creating a world where’s there’s free will and no possibility of sin is a self-contradiction—and that opens the door to people choosing evil over God, with suffering being the result. The overwhelming majority of the pain in the world is caused by the choices to kill, to slander, to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.”
When you reach to shake a person’s hand, you initiate the handshake and the second person responds, either accepting the shake or refusing it. This is the essence of a true handshake. It is a reciprocated action. Love is the same thing. God initiates the action. It is always His to give. The person responds either positively or negatively to the initiated act demonstrated by God. This is the essence of love and this is the essence of John 3:16-20.
Herein lies a huge problem for Calvinism; why evangelize? Mr. Payne writes, “Simply put, Christianity is not universalism or inclusivism or anything of the like. The salvation of God is meant for the elect—those whom have been chosen for salvation.” But, may I kindly ask, what is the point of evangelism? Why should we witness? If God decides without any human responsibility, then why tell people about Jesus?
Now many Calvinists will state that evangelism is done in order to obey the commands of God. But that argument itself implies the human capacity to choose or reject the commands of God. If God determines human action, then why does God not automatically make us keep His commandments? But if God did cause us to keep His commandments, then why is it so difficult to keep His commandments. Furthermore, if God makes humans choose Him, then why did God allow Adam and Eve to fall from His grace in the first place? Adam and Eve knew God fully, but were given a choice. They chose to reject God. Doesn’t the story of the Fall seem to indicate that humans can freely reject the grace of God? This would have consequences even in salvation. If God causes humans decide or reject God’s grace, then why did Jesus need to come and atone our sins in the first place? Why not cause the elect to live perfectly and without sin so that the elect would not need a Savior? But the great missionary Paul shows the difficulty in keeping the law of God, “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.* I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
Now the Calvinist will say, “Yes, but the passage claims that it is the sin within Paul that does causes this problem.” That is true. But, Paul shows that his sinful nature causes a rift in his relationship with God. In the end, he still has the decision to listen to the sin nature or to God’s law. The Calvinist will say, “Yes, but with his sin nature, Paul would not be able to know God without God revealing the truth to him.” The Arminian would agree with that, too. But, Paul expounds on this later in Romans. He states, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” Here is Paul living in the Spirit who is making a choice. Allowing sin to control your life leads to death. However, letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace, as Paul writes. Again, a decision process in the Spirit is shown in this case.
Getting back to the point of evangelism, if God does the saving completely without human interference, then why does God not just tell everyone Himself? Why use human beings? What then would be the point of the Great Commission?
Philosophical Problems of Calvin’s Determinism
Two philosophical problems emerge from Calvin’s determinism: the elimination of human responsibility and the essence of participating in this very examination of doctrine. Let us examine them now.
Eliminates Human Responsibility
I will keep this brief at this point as I expound on this issue later. But, the problem in Calvin’s determinism is that is can easily create lazy Christians. Being of the freewill Baptist persuasion (meaning that I am Arminian with the sole exception of the perseverance of the saints doctrine of Calvinism), we met a woman who was of a more holiness background. She said to me, “There is one problem I have wit’ you Baptists. Y’all hold that a person can git saved and then live like the Devil. I don’t git that.” I told her, “Ma’am, I would not be a Baptist either if that is really what Baptists believed.” Obviously, there are some who hold that as long as they are saved, they don’t have to worry about doing anything else. But is that a true mark of a disciple? I think not.
Calvinism in its’ extreme form could lead to belief in justified Christian laziness. However, the Bible clearly teaches about the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers. That’s right…believers. It is not a judgment that leads to condemnation, but a judgment that evaluates one’s deeds done in the Body of Christ. Why would this be necessary if all of our deeds were enacted by God with no human responsibility?
Why Engage in This Process?
It was classic! On a podcast of CrossExamined with Dr. Frank Turek, a caller chimed in and said, “Science has proven that people do not have free will and everything is predetermined.” Dr. Turek responded, “Okay, do you and the scientists who did that investigation have the free will to decide the findings were true?” The caller mumbled and murmured as he knew that Dr. Turek had him in his tracks.
In the end, it is logically inconsistent to claim that humans do not have free will when we are employing are freedom reading this article. You are choosing to read this article and you are choosing to decide which track to take. Yes, God has to illumine our minds to His existence and to His salvation that He gives. But, to negate the freewill is to negate an aspect of character that God gives to us.
The Problem of Evil
Perhaps one of the greatest problems with Calvinism and many Calvinists would concede is the problem of evil within the framework of Calvinism. How does one deal with evil in the world while holding that God predetermines every action? At the outset, that would conclude some difficult things about God. Let us look at the theological and philosophical problems concerning Calvinism and the problem of evil.
Theological Problems of Evil with Calvinism
Two theological problems exist with the problem of evil concerning Calvinism: the essence of God’s holiness and evil and the negation of human responsibility.
God’s Holiness (Causes God to be the Source of Evil)
Many view Saint Augustine as a Calvinist which is highly anachronistic. Yet in Augustine’s classic work City of God, Augustine takes what I would consider an Arminian position although that too is anachronistic. Augustine understood the natural end of assuming God’s absolute sovereignty with the absence of human free will. It causes God to be the author of sin. As Augustine writes about the beliefs of Cicero, who seemed to be more in line with Open Theism, Augustine writes, “Cicero chooses free will. To support this, he denies foreknowledge and thus, in seeking to make men free, he makes them irreverent. For the religious mind chooses both, foreknowledge as well as liberty; it acknowledges both, and supports both in pious faith.” Augustine continues later in his book with these words,
“It does not follow, then, that there is nothing in our will because God foreknew what was going to be in our will; for if he foreknew this, it was not nothing that he foreknew. Further, if, in foreknowing what would be in our will, he foreknew something, and not nonentity, it follows immediately that there is something in our will, even if God foreknows it. Hence we are in no way compelled either to preserve God’s prescience by abolishing our free will, or to safeguard our free will by denying (blasphemously) the divine foreknowledge. We embrace both truths, and acknowledge them in faith and sincerity, the one for a right belief, the other for a right life. And yet a man’s life cannot be right without a right belief about God. Therefore, let us never dream of denying his foreknowledge in the interests of our freedom; for it is with his help that we are, or shall be, free…The fact that God foreknew that a man would sin does not make a man sin; on the contrary, it cannot be doubted that it is the man himself who sins just because he whose prescience cannot be mistaken has foreseen that the man himself would sin. A man does not sin unless he wills to sin; and if he had willed not to sin, then God would have foreseen that refusal.”
Here we see that Augustine solves the problem, but not the mystery. There will always be a mystery on how sovereignty and free will merge. However, to reject God’s sovereignty (in this case “foreknowledge”) is blasphemous and to reject human free will is irresponsible. So, foreknowledge is the answer. This is missing in Calvinist doctrine, but not in Augustinian doctrine, at least according to the passage formerly mentioned. Yes, Augustine would agree that God is working in the person to bring salvation. The Arminian would agree. But, Augustine would also claim that free will is engaged in the process, as well. As such, the Arminian would also agree.
To deny human freedom in at least some sense is to purport God as the initiator of sin. This would go against God’s holiness at its core. With all due respect to my Calvinist friends, the issue of human will is something that has not been explained in Calvinist doctrine. To deny the will is to make God the originator of sin. God could not be holy if God caused sin. So, herein is a great problem that the Calvinist must seek to solve. To claim that it is a mystery that God forces a person to be saved without making God the reason for evil without seeking a solution, while I would submit that Arminianism gives a solution, is disastrous for the Calvinist cause. For the Calvinist, this is an issue that must be worked out.
Although coming from a Molinist perspective, Drs. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland show the difficulty of Calvinism. Although Arminianism would be considered compatibilist, it would be more in line with Molinism than would Calvinism. They write, “Compatabilists have a more difficult time with the existence of evil because, on their view, God determines everything that happens, including the sinful acts of his creatures.”
Negates Human Responsibility
Many naturalists do not believe in the human soul. But, a severe internal problem exists when one denies the human soul; mainly, the denial of human responsibility. If we our being is only that of neurons and neurotransmitters, then how is it that anyone can take personal responsibility? Our bodies constantly change. We lose molecules and cells and are replaced with new ones. You are literally not the physical person you were ten years ago. So then; if there is not a constant of the being (separate from the brain), then how do we hold anyone accountable for anything? How could you condemn a person for a crime committed earlier when their body is not the same as it was? We all can clearly see the ridiculous nature of such an argument. The fact that we consistently stay the same person gives credence to the belief of a soul.
However, we can hold a person responsible in a court of law because of the conscious decisions that mind/soul person committed. Why? We do so because we realize that people have the inherit ability to make decisions. If we take extreme Calvinism to its natural end, how then could we condemn anyone for a bad decision that was made? Would it not be God’s fault instead of the person’s? This leads to some dangerous ends. Consider the Sandy Hook tragedy. Would any rational Christian claim that God desired the events of that infamous day? How then could we call God a God of love as John proclaims?
Some would say, “Well, you shouldn’t question God.” Is it not the whole enterprise of philosophy and theology to examine and question what the attributes of God are? But look at Habakkuk and Job. That is exactly what they did. Look at the Psalmists. They did the same. It is true that God uses all events to bring good for God’s children. But, God causes events to happen while allowing for human response. The Arminian recognizes that God knows beforehand what a human decision will be and works through those decisions. God absolutely knows what will happen because God is not restrained by time. However, that does not mean that God takes away human will to do so. Perhaps one of the greatest theological problems with Calvinism is this issue: it takes the responsibility of evil from the human and places it on God. If I am wrong on this issue, I beg the Calvinist to explain it further. But, I cannot see how this does not occur.
Philosophical Problems of Evil with Calvinism
For me, there exist three philosophical problems to Calvinism in the realm of evil. We must ask if God predetermines human actions, why is there anyone who winds up in hell. Also, if God predetermines human actions, why should we concern ourselves with injustices? Finally, we must ask ourselves why there is evil in the first place.
Why Some to Hell?
Let us examine the following verse of Scripture: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” In the Greek text, it reads, “οὐ βραδύνει κύριος τῆς ἐπαγγελίας, ὥς τινες βραδύτητα ἡγοῦνται, ἀλλὰ μακροθυμεῖ εἰς ὑμᾶς, μὴ βουλόμενός τινας ἀπολέσθαι ἀλλὰ πάντας εἰς μετάνοιαν χωρῆσαι.” Trying to keep this response as brief as possible, let us examine the last segment. “μὴ (not) βουλόμενός (wishing) τινας (any) ἀπολέσθαι (to persish/die) ἀλλὰ (but) πάντας (ALL) εἰς (to) μετάνοιαν (repentance) χωρῆσαι (to reach/to go).”
I have heard some claim that “any” represented the elect. However, I cannot see that as exegetically viable. Herein is the problem: if God desired everyone to come to repentance (which implies that God does not desire anyone to go to Hell) and forces one to come to repentance, then why is there some people who go to Hell? Something is fishy here. But, if we take the viewpoint that Augustine gave in the earlier text in “The City of God” and that which Jacobus Arminius gave, the problems subside.
Why Stand Up for Injustices?
As this article is getting longer by the moment, I will briefly summarize the last two points to be made. The Calvinist states that man cannot know to do good or certainly would not know God without God causing him or her to do good or know God. Taking this to its natural end; if this is the case, then why should the people of God stand up for injustice? The prophet Isaiah writes, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”
These are powerful words the prophet gave from the mouth of God. From God’s breath to Isaiah’s lips to the pen’s ink, we learn that the child of God should stand up against social oppression and defend those who cannot defend themselves. We should be real life Avenger, but without the cool suits of Captain America, the mechanics of Iron Man, and the rippling muscles of the Hulk. But we do have a hammer that strikes far deeper than Thor’s…the Bible. Nonetheless, this whole enterprise would be lost if we did not recognize the fact that humans have the response to accept God’s grace that God gives or to freely reject. Injustice should make us angry. But, that anger is not directed at God, the source of love and grace. It is directed at the offenders. Why would this even make logical sense if human will did not exist?
Why Even Evil?
All of these problems escalate to an issue that has been indirectly ascribed with Calvinist thought: the existence of evil. If God maintained control over wills like a benevolent dictator, then why does evil exist? Jesus brought it out and John confirmed the fact that God is love. It is found all throughout the Bible: God is love. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Why then is there evil? Well, I think Jesus tells us why. “And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” Why does the atheist get so angry with the Christian? I think much of it is due to conviction. I really think that everyone has a knowledge that God could at least possibly exist. But many atheists concede the fact that they do not WANT God to exist. Why? Maybe it is due to what Jesus referenced. Evil could not be known unless there was a standard for good. Evil is the absence of good. Or, evil is the absence of God.
Consider this. Back in the forties and fifties (laying aside the racial prejudices that are inexcusable), a belief in God resonated strongly in the atmosphere of the general populace. Guns were as accessible, if not moreso, than today. Yet, you did not hear of school shootings and random massacres as prevalent as you do today. Why? It was because that people allowed God to be the central focus for the most part. This does not mean that times were perfect…far from it. But, there existed a desire to help a fellow person in deed much more than today. When you take God out of the equation, bad things follow. Why? People CHOOSE to reject the grace of God and go their own way. The absence of God brings forth evil.
In my estimation, many more problems exist in Calvinism that does in Arminian doctrine. I clearly admit that it could be that I am wrong and that Calvinism is right. So for my Calvinist friends, don’t grab the ropes and seek to hang me. It may very well be that the Calvinist holds answers to these great dilemmas. But, to the extent that I can tell, none of these issues have ever successfully been defended. I do not seek to negate the authority or the intellect of the Calvinist. Quite frankly, I have many friends who are Calvinist and I highly respect them. But, in this paper, I have sought to show the problems that come forth from Calvinism. It is for the reasons that I have mentioned that keep me from accepting Calvinism in its’ entirety.
***NOTE: It is my great hope that you have taken the time to read both sides and both rebuttals. Essentially in the end, it is up to you the reader to decide where the evidence lies. May the Sovereign God bless you and keep you…and lead you to freely choose the right decision (wink…wink). God bless. ***
Craig, William Lane and J.P. Moreland, “Free Will and Determinism,” Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
Holmes, Michael W., The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010).
Payne, Drew, “The Ideas of John Calvin,” www.pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/the-ideas-of-john-calvin-by-j-andrew-payne/.
St. Augustine, Book V.9.4, The City of God (London: Penguin Classics, 1972).
Strobel, Lee, “Objection #1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot,” The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).
Turek, Frank, “Can Science Rule Out God,” www.crossexamined.org.
 Lee Strobel, “Objection #1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot,” The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 37-38.
 Drew Payne, “The Ideas of John Calvin,” 3.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ro 7:18–20.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ro 8:6.
 Dr. Frank Turek, “Can Science Rule Out God,” www.crossexamined.org.
 St. Augustine, Book V.9.4, The City of God (London: Penguin Classics, 1972), 191.
 Ibid, V.10, 195.
 William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, “Free Will and Determinism,” Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 282.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 2 Pe 3:9.
 Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2 Pe 3:9.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Is 1:17.
 Avenger characters owned and are copyrighted by Marvel Comics…all rights reserved.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Dt 7:9.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Is 30:18.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 13:34–35.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Jn 4:8.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 3:19.