Calvin’s Quandary

Daniel Denham

The French theologian John Calvin (A.D. 1509-1564) built the system known as Calvinism on two basic inter-related assumptions. First, he assumed that God maintained complete, active, and sovereign control over even the most trivial of minutia in His government of the Universe. Everything that happens God directly causes to happen. He held to a view of God that portrayed Him as a rigid and rigorous micro-managing Deity. Calvin also had a severe turn of mind himself (His classmates dubbed him “The Accusative Case”) and ascribed such an attitude to God. This severe view of the divine nature saw a Deity who was just waiting for man to get out of line so that He could punish him! Second, Calvin believed, like his mentor Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430), that man was morally, totally depraved from conception (hence hereditary total depravity). The doctrine of original sin was a cornerstone in his view of man, which Calvin came to hold due to his erroneous assumption mentioned earlier relative to the nature of God. If man was totally depraved, then he could do nothing at all to save himself, and, by extension, once saved he could not do anything at all to be lost, but would surely persevere in his faith regardless. From these basic assumptions arose the key tenets of the T-U-L-I-P by way of the synod of Dort (A.D. 1618-1619), which formally codified the teachings of Calvin in opposition to Arminianism.

The basic problem of Calvinism and the subsequent quandary in which Calvin and his successors found themselves lies in these two assumptions. If man can do nothing at all to save himself because he is totally depraved (assumption #2), then he has no genuine free will. Without genuine free will he is nothing more than an automaton—doing only what he is made to do. If God is the One who makes him do it, then God must be the author of every action in which men engage and this includes sin! Thus, Calvinism implies that God is the active author of sin. He made the Devil and his angels to sin, and He made man to sin. Every evil deed ultimately God willed to occur! If everything happens because God makes it happen (assumption #1), then even sin is actively caused by God who then punishes the sinner who complied with His fiat to sin! Thus, Calvinism in turn implies that God is not really a just God. He is reduced to a meta-physical monster responsible for every evil act and thought that men and angels may commit. Every murder, including Hitler’s murder of six million Jews, and every sexual deviancy, including incest and pedophilia, God is culpable for as to its causation.

Calvin himself wrestled with the question of free will, but ultimately came down on the side of Augustine’s view of depravity that precluded any ability to choose to counter. The result is a tragic doctrine that impugns the character of God and enslaves Calvinism’s adherents to a system that corrupts man’s understanding of himself and cripples the cultural ethos. Edward Palmer, a noted Calvinist, stated that God “has foreordained everything” to such an extent that it includes “the moving of a finger, the beating of an heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist—even sin.” The implications of such a doctrine are immense and devastating. The Christian system bears no semblance to Calvinism!

Calvinism also cannot provide any effective and compelling answer to atheism’s argument from evil. God, according to Calvinism, is the author of evil: so any attempt at an answer from its premises is doomed to failure from the start. Calvinists are forced to talk inanely about “the mystery of suffering,” etc. They say that rather than focusing on the pain and evil in the world, men should focus on the good things that God has ordained, which sounds nice on the surface, unless one is faced with the anguish of watching a loved one being tortured to death by a sadistic murderer or a child crushed by car driven by a drunkard. Calvinism implies the murderer murders because God makes him do it, and the drunkard and his driving are as much God’s handiwork as the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the air! Atheism rejoices at the prospect of confronting the failures of Calvinism.

Calvinism’s implication that God is unjust is seen especially in the frequently ignored doctrine of double predestination, also called preterition. Not only are the elect ones individually, unconditionally, and unchangeably predestinated to be saved as per Calvinism, but the non-elect are equally individually, unconditionally, and unchangeably predestinated to be lost! God, according to classic Calvinist teaching, predestinated the non-elect to sin, and to remain in sin, and thus to be forever lost in Hell fire. He would make them sin, and then would punish them for it. This He determined to do before the world even existed. He would elect them to be lost in order to damn them. Calvinists, not surprisingly, do not like to talk about this aspect of their view of predestination, which is founded upon the two false assumptions John Calvin made several centuries ago!

Calvinism is a false and pernicious system. Yet some of our brethren have become enamored with its view of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Let us oppose it with every fiber of our being. It is a monstrous lie against the very nature of God. The wooden theology of Calvinism feeds the stream of atheism in our nation today!

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