TULIP: Is it Biblical?

T - Total Depravity U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints

The Bible says that none who believe shall be ashamed: "For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 10:11). . .and the Bible also says that none but the holy shall see God: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:" (Hebrews 12:14). Some perceive herein a conflict. How do these things fit together? No doubt what may seem to conflict in time harmonizes in eternity, but attempting to harmonize them down here below can lead into a maze. When the Protestant Reformation lifted high the banner of salvation by faith, this was beyond question a return to the Bible. But gaps soon developed, and fissures appeared in their united front. Salvation is by faith, but where does faith itself come from? In some aspects it is spoken of as a gift: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only [ου μονον το] to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me." (Philippians 1:29-30). Is this gift of God offered without possibility of refusal or rejection, or is there some looked-for response of human origin? To the extent that it is a gift, how is this gift distributed? John Calvin, a sixteenth century theologian, crafted a self-consistent system emphasizing God's sovereign choice. How far the popular formula 'TULIP,' invented later, mirrors his views is open to question, though it does aptly summarize what his teachings became in the hands of his followers. Yet for all its impressive internal consistency, is this system, summarized by the mnemonic TULIP, Biblical?

Return to Saved by Faith...

T - Total Depravity

"Depravity, total as to ability and merit."

"If whatever our nature conceives, instigates, undertakes, and attempts is always evil, how can that which is pleasing to God, to whom holiness and righteousness alone are acceptable, even enter our minds?" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter II, Section 25). Is this Biblical?

Not a Just Man Be Ye Holy
Guilty of All All have sinned
Nature of Sin The Flood
The Mean No Such Animal
Internal Consistency

Not a Just Man

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned..." (Romans 5:12).
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5).
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:8-10).

Some commentators distinguish between total depravity and utter depravity, between radical human sinfulness and sinfulness so complete that every lost person is wicked in every way it is possible for a human being to be evil. The Bible teaches the former, but not the latter, at least not since the flood:

See, for example, how the Lord explains that men whom He adjudges "evil" nevertheless are capable of caring for their children:

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matthew 7:11).

If these people abused or neglected their children, we would blame them for it, because these are certainly moral faults. And so these evil men, though they cannot find favor or win acquittal before God, can nonetheless do something good, namely care for their own children. Thus, absolute or utter depravity fails, by the Bible, and yet all men are sinners, none is righteous in God's sight.

Some Calvinist authors seems to want to have it both ways:

"In Reformed theology, we distinguish between total depravity and utter depravity. We say that fallen humanity is totally depraved, meaning that depravity penetrates the whole of our humanity — our minds, our wills, our hearts, and our bodies. But we are not utterly depraved, in which case we would be as bad as we possibly could be. The reason we are not as bad as we possibly could be is because God has placed restraints on us." (R. C. Sproul, The Promises of God, pp. 96-97).

This would seem to suggest that we will never encounter any natural man at all, only those 'restrained' by God's hypothesized 'common' grace, not otherwise known to the Bible. In other words, absent God's grace, our state would indeed be utter depravity. But since we will never encounter any human being not thus 'restrained,' therefore this theory can never be disconfirmed. Be watchful for the substitution of this unbiblical, never seen 'utter' depravity for the Biblical diagnosis.

To summarize: a.) absolute depravity is not encountered, either in life or in the pages of the Bible, therefore God forbid we should claim absolute or utter depravity b.) however, for purposes of analysis, we will proceed as if absolute depravity were real, because c.) absolute depravity would be real, if not for common grace: "One man does not commit all possible sins. We all violate God's commandments in thought, but not all of them in action. Everybody has hated, for example; but not everyone has murdered. Almost everyone has lusted, but not all have committed actual adultery. The reason for this moderation of sin is that God, through his common grace (that is, grace that is extended to unbelievers), restrains the evil that people would do." (Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 13). The Calvinist God is in the business of 'moderating' sin, in order that we may both assume, and also deny, utter depravity, as appropriate. Follow their line of thought and see if you can catch it.


Be Ye Holy

"Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." (Leviticus 19:2).

The standard to which we are called is no low one! We are depraved, by comparison with what? With God's holiness.


Guilty of All

"For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." (James 2:10-11).

God does not grade on the curve. When we observe the pagans performing noble acts, we often also observe their motives in so doing are less than noble. For instance, the pagan heroes who threw themselves into the breach to save the city often wanted, and said they wanted, to win a name for themselves, to hear their praises chanted by their people. But this is, by Christian lights, the vice known as vain-glory. Nor does God want grudging obedience, service which is not heart-felt. His children are not to follow His law while they really wish they could be doing something else. Absent the Holy Spirit animating the sinner, none can make the grade.

All have Sinned

God's indictment of straying humanity builds and builds:

"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one...'Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God...For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:9-23).

The Bible teaches the radical sinfulness of human nature, that all are lost and in need of a Savior, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If this were the sum and substance of 'Total Depravity,' any Bible-believer could heartily concur. However, as will be seen, what the Calvinist means by 'Total Depravity' does not stop with the Bible diagnosis.

As we shall see, there is a substitution going on here: we do not ever see the natural man. What we see is masked by 'common grace,' or so they tell us. If we were ever to catch a glimpse of the unvarnished truth, the natural man unassisted by 'common grace,' we would start back in horror, seeing nothing but evil. This we do not see, neither in the Bible nor in common experience. The Calvinists do not so much convince us to see what they see, but rather they explain why we do not see it. But in explaining why we do not see what should be there under their theory, they do not demonstrate that it is there. Nevertheless they move on to the next step as if they had.


Nature of Sin

The civic-minded deeds of a pagan like Camillus, whom Calvin mentions, excite admiration. But they are flawed. Some of the pagan heroes confessed they did their noteworthy deeds in the hope that generations to come would sing their praises: an aspiration known to Christian moralists as the vice of 'vainglory.'

   "By a parity of reason, all works done before justification are not good, in the Christian sense, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; (though from some kind of faith in God they may spring;) “yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not” (how strange soever it may appear to some) “but they have the nature of sin.”
   "Perhaps those who doubt of this have not duly considered the weighty reason which is here assigned, why no works done before justification can be truly and properly good. The argument plainly runs thus:—-
  1. No works are good, which are not done as God hath willed and commanded them.
  2. But no works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done:
  3. Therefore, no works done before justification are good.
   "The first proposition is self-evident; and the second, that no works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, will appear equally plain and undeniable, if we only consider, God hath willed and commanded that all our works should be done in charity, in love, in that love to God which produces love to all mankind. But none of our works can be done in this love, while the love of the Father (of God as our Father) is not in us; and this love can not be in us till we receive the “Spirit of Adoption, crying in our hearts, Abba, Father.” If, therefore, God doth not justify the ungodly, and him that (in this sense) worketh not, then hath Christ died in vain; then, notwithstanding his death, can no flesh living be justified.
   "But on what terms, then, is he justified who is altogether ungodly, and till that time worketh not? on one alone; which is faith: He “believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly.” (John Wesley, Sermon 5, Justification by Faith)

While a pagan who throws himself into a chasm to save his country is not acting to glorify God, he is nonetheless acting bravely and selflessly. John Calvin in his Institutes lifts such a pagan out of the realm of human nature and into the realm of grace. He declares such civic-minded pagans recipients of "special graces of God" not otherwise known to the Bible (Institutes, Book II, Chapter III. 4). While it is certain that all good comes from God, what is gained by defining 'nature' away? Human nature is concluded to be totally depraved by defining anything not totally depraved as outside the realm of human nature: begging the question.


The Flood

There is one incident where the Bible does seem to confirm the Calvinist thesis in its most extreme form,

"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart." (Genesis 6:5-6).

'Only evil continually' is 'utter depravity,' which, as we shall see, disclaimers to the contrary, is the functional Calvinist thesis. But look outside your window, dear reader; do you see water? If there's a big old wave rolling in, your might want to abandon your computer screen and decamp. Head for higher ground. Since "only evil continually" was the state of affairs that triggered the flood, and there is no flood going on right now, is it to be taken as a timeless truth, universally true in all states and conditions of the world? Did this circumstance survive the flood and subsequent Noachide covenant?

The flood cleansed and purified the earth: "Let me give an illustration. When the Creator was minded to purge the earth by water, and determined that the soul should receive a cleansing from its unutterable wrongdoings by washing away and purging out its defilements after the fashion of a sacred purification, He charges the man who proved righteous, who was not swept away by the oncoming of the deluge, to bring into the ark, which was the body or the vessel that contains the soul, 'from among the clean beasts seven, male and female' (Gen. vii. 2). . ." (Philo Judaeus, The Worse Attacks the Better, Chapter XLVI, Loeb edition p. 315). Had the flood lacked any cleansing power, it would be a maladroit emblem of baptism. While the survivors and their descendants remained sinners, fallen children of Adam, it would not be accurate to say that nothing had changed from before to after the flood.

We should not make general statements in the Bible more fine-grained than as written. The Bible says if you're lazy you'll be poor: "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man." (Proverbs 6:10-11). But surely we can all think of exceptions: the heiress who never worked a day in her life, the ne'er-do-well who bought the winning lottery ticket, or a shiftless lazy-bones living in a modern welfare society where people are protected from want no matter what. Proverbs are true as generalizations, they are not intended to be categorical statements which admit no exceptions. A proverb is not invalidated if we can find an isolated exception to the general rule. And our statement here turns out to be less categorical than at first appeared. Keep reading and almost immediately we stumble upon an exception to the rule, "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. . .The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth." (Genesis 6:9-12). Certainly Noah's righteousness is not intrinsic but borrowed from the sole source, God, as is all good. "All flesh" were corrupt, except Noah a righteous man; eight souls were saved out of that catastrophe, a righteous remnant, descendants of Adam born into sin but not counted by God with sinners. The Lord's condemnation of "the wickedness of man" fell upon the world, those outside the ark, the drowned; should it be seized as a heritage by the righteous who were saved?

The antediluvian world is a lost world: "For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. . ." (2 Peter 3:5-6). It is hard to imagine the kind of corruption then extant, with the cultures of the world ordered toward evil rather than good. Let us see whether its statistics are still applicable. In the Mosaic law, things soiled are cleansed by three means, fire, blood, and water. Peter likens Christian baptism to the flood: "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. . ." (1 Peter 3:20-21). To Peter, the flood is like baptism. If so, was nothing accomplished by it, nothing cleansed, nothing renovated? A statement which, when uttered, was intended to be true of millions save eight, applicable to a lost world since sanitized, may not be a stable enough foundation upon which to rear such a weighty edifice as total depravity.


The Mean

The Bible teaches we are all sinners unable to look upon a holy God without a mediator. The Bible does not teach, though, that all of us sinners are wicked in every way it is possible for a human being to be wicked. Not only does the Bible not teach this, it is a logical impossibility. One who falls short of the mark by being a 'miser' cannot also be a 'spend-thrift.' Though both are moral failings, they cannot co-exist. Likewise a 'coward' who is bold to the point of being reckless; there ain't no such animal. The pagan moralist Aristotle built a system upon these pairs, theorizing that virtue is the mean between. Carrying out his system required him to invent novel and artificial vices, but there is a kernel of truth to the insight that some vices cannot co-exist.

Introspection shows that not all struggle equally with temptations toward pedophilia, much less necrophilia, or bestiality. In fact upon first encounter with these aberrations in a text-book some cannot shake the suspicion that someone is pulling their leg; do people really do that? So be alert to this version of 'total depravity' which sometimes turns up in Calvinistic argument. John Calvin himself admitted that a man subject to all the vices by which human nature can be infected would be a logical impossibility: "Indeed, I grant that not all these wicked traits appear in every man; yet one cannot deny that this hydra lurks in the breast of each." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter III, Section 2).

The Bible does teach the radical sinfulness of unregenerate human nature, but does it teach this?: "Therefore let us hold this as an undoubted truth which no siege engines can shake: the mid of man has been so completely estranged from God's righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter III, Section 19). There seems to be an agenda of exaggerating what is, in its kernel, a true Bible teaching. In truth, the Calvinist doctrine should be denominated as 'total inability' rather than total depravity: "Another way of describing total depravity is to call it total inability. As a matter of fact, many prefer this term to total depravity, since the latter term leads some to think that man is as bad as he can be." (Edwin H. Palmer, Five Points of Calvinism, p. 17). What they mean by this, "So when the Reformed tradition refers to 'total depravity,' it does not mean that we do as many bad acts as we possibly could. It means that we are totally unable to trust Christ and do the 'work of faith' (1 Thess. 1:3, 2 Thess. 1:11) without the decisive intervention of God's enabling grace." (John Piper, Bloodlines, Part Two, p. 134). They wish to find that no sinner can respond even by one finger-flick to the gospel call, even if awash in God's grace, but must be made to do so against his wishes, against his nature. This they consider a simple inference from the latter condition. But total inability is no Bible doctrine; it is a supposition built upon Bible doctrine. Recall, we must avoid 'utter depravity' because the Bible clearly does not teach this, nor does our common experience in the world in dealing with pagans teach this. The Calvinists admit we do not see 'utter depravity,' although they claim we would see it, were it not for 'common grace.' Because the real situation is masked, they then proceed as if it were conceded that 'utter depravity' had been demonstrated. 'Total inability' is just 'utter depravity.' See, once we have swept aside 'common grace' as an irrelevance and the "natural man" stands revealed in his true colors: "He does care: he hates the good and its source, namely, God." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 19). 'Inability' is Biblical, for which the cure is grace, inserting 'total' is an innovation.


No Such Animal

This shell game goes back to the founder. After painting the character of the natural man in the blackest possible dye, John Calvin helpfully informs us that. . .we've never seen such a monster, nor ever will! You see, if men were really that bad, they would gnaw away at each other, and God has providentially supplied His 'common grace' to keep that from happening. This 'common grace,' not known to the Bible, is spilled out so liberally that no one has ever seen a natural man:

"If every soul is subject to such abominations as the apostle boldly declares, we surely see what would happen if the Lord were to permit human lust to wander according to its own inclination. No mad beast would rage as unrestrainedly; no river, however swift and violent, burst so madly into flood." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter III, Section 3).

But lucky for us, God restrains these evil-doers; how otherwise could human civilization or any sort of communal life endure:

"Here, however, is the surest and easiest solution to this question: these are not common gifts of nature, but special graces of God, which he bestows variously and in a certain measure upon men otherwise wicked." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter III, Section 4).

What a furious kind of tail-chasing, to paint human depravity, admitted by the Bible, in such dark colors as to require the invention of a form of grace unknown to the Bible to keep it from devouring us all! Better to keep within the Bible bounds in describing the problem. Both 'grace' and 'nature' are realms under God's sole sway; what we receive from one we receive from the hand of God, as also the other. If human nature were as ruined and depraved as Calvin's case requires, civil society would be impossible. . .so therefore, manifestly, it is not so utterly ruined. There is no Biblical warrant to invent an otherwise unknown species of grace.

'Common grace,' a commodity not known to the Bible, is needed to remedy a defect in Calvinist 'Total Depravity,' namely its failure to conform to observed experience:

"Now I proceed to consider the dogma of 'common grace'. . .Sin places before us a riddle, which in itself is insoluble. If you view sin as a deadly poison, as enmity against God, as leading to everlasting condemnation, and if you represent a sinner as being 'wholly incapable of doing any good, and prone to all evil,' and on this account salvable only, if God by regeneration changes his heart, then it seems as if of necessity all unbelievers and unregenerate persons ought to be wicked and repulsive men. But this is far from being our experience in actual life." (Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, Lecture 4, p. 104).

With one slash of William of Ockham's razor, we rid ourselves of two unnecessary entities: the man-made theory of 'Total Depravity,' and the man-made theory of 'common grace.'

Certainly there are men of appalling evil, like Genghis Khan and Osama bin Laden, who murder with no more pangs of conscience than we would suffer swatting a fly. But just as none is so good as to leave no room for improvement, so none is so wicked as could not be made worse in thought. Adolf Hitler was a mass murderer, but he did not murder his mother, as did Nero Caesar. Before he and his companion Eva Braun did away with themselves, they married; he could have omitted to do that, and been worse. He was affectionate to his dog, although "It [election] denies that the unregenerate are capable of predicating a right thought, generating a right affection, or originating a right volition." (Arthur W.  Pink, The Doctrine of Election, p. 11). He was not evil in every way he could possibly have been evil. Was the reason for this 'common grace:' a special, secret type of grace not known to the Bible? There is no reason to think so, other than to salvage 'Total Inability.'


Internal Consistency

According to advocates, 'T' is the entire system in embryo: "The Five Points of Calvinism all depend on each other. If T is true, the[n] U is true, and so are L, I, and P. They all hang or fall together." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 72). To see how, let us recapitulate the argument: Apparent Depravity = Innate Depravity counteracted by Common Grace. Think, Gray = mixture of Black and White. Apparent, or Observed, Depravity is far from utter depravity. Nothing like utter depravity is either experienced in life or taught in scripture, except in connection with the flood, and was the flood inefficient in its stated mission of cleansing the earth? John Calvin, a classicist, was well aware of exemplary pagans who displayed civic and patriotic virtues. Although the sources which describe these heroes are propagandistic and slanted, we all know from our own experience, and the Bible confirms, that the pagans are not all bad all the time. Of course these people are 100 per cent unsaved, as they have no covering for sin and cannot stand in the presence of a holy God. Contra the Bible, these model citizens are described in this system as masterpieces of grace not nature, because nature is obliged to be 100 per cent bad.

Since Common Grace is not ordered to salvation, it cannot be relevant to a discussion of salvation. So we leave it behind; it is cancelled out from the equation. Out with the gray, which we agreed is what's sometimes seen in scripture and in life, in with the black. Cancelling out 'common grace,' what is left?: "The biblical doctrine of total depravity emphasizes that natural, unregenerated man is never able to do a single good thing for even a fraction of a second. He is dead to good actions." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 99). So 'utter depravity,' driven out the front door, returns through the back door. (What Calvinists mean by 'nature' is fallen nature, ruined by the fall.) Now we are left with natural, or innate depravity, which from this point forward will be equated with utter depravity: hating God, behaving as wild beasts, etc., although these same rambunctious wild men are simultaneously dead. As anyone who's ever lived near a cemetery can tell you, dead people are prone to rest there peacefully. They are quiet neighbors. Perhaps we have strayed into the territory of mixed metaphor. This being so, salvation cannot be accomplished except under compulsion.

This argument is internally consistent, but be alert to 'common grace' being inserted, then removed. The skeptic should ask, where is the Bible proof there is any such thing as 'common grace'? If we never see man except veiled by this heavenly shower of grace come down from above, though the Bible does not characterize the pagans in quite this way, then how can we say anything about a nature which is always concealed and unseen, never seen naked? The Bible says the pagans are people "without God in the world:" "That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:. . ." (Ephesians 2:12). They are αθεοι, without God, not recipients of His grace. By their system, this universal common grace has rescued man from his own nature, but we then must imagine him without this covering, without which we never encounter him. Ask them how they know anything about the natural man, who is, in their system, never seen?

A chemical company wanted to use a process patented by a competitor, but without paying any royalty. So they employed the same procedure, but added aspirin, salicylic acid. . .and then took it out at a later stage. This was a different process, they said. Shame, shame; the courts were not fooled. Adding aspirin and then taking it out was a diversion. When they tell you that utter depravity is not seen, because common grace masks its effects, tell them that since you know they are going to drop this ingredient later, they need not bring it up to begin with. Either prove utter depravity, or if you cannot, cease troubling people with an unbiblical notion.


All Have Sinned

U - Unconditional Election

Things to Come John Calvin
Before the Foundation According to Foreknowledge
Not of Works If not Merit, then what?
Bum on a Park Bench Encyclopedia Salesman
Sitting in a Chair Things Which are Despised
Known and Unknown False Arminians
All Possible Worlds Flatland
Not a Marxist Denying the Bible
Spiritual Poverty Hen and Chicks
All Men

The principle:

"Out of his lavish grace, the Father chose out of the fallen race a people from every race to be redeemed through his Son and united to his Son by his Spirit. This determination was made in eternity, apart from anything foreseen in the believer." (Michael S. Horton, For Calvinism, Introduction, Kindle location 58).

Notice that the principle does not say, 'apart from any MERIT foreseen in the believer,' which would be both Biblical and uncontroversial, but "apart from ANYTHING foreseen in the believer." Indeed one can show from the Bible that God's choice is not premised on any merit in man, of which there is none apart from grace; but the Calvinist goes further, he makes the progression from no merit to no thing: "God never bases His choice on what man thinks, says, does, or is. We do not know what God bases His choice on, but it is not on anything that is in man." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 31). Be alert for this substitution: for 'no MERIT,' which is Biblical, we shall substitute 'no THING,' which is not.

Things to Come

Isaiah advertised as the dividing line between the true God and the idols that God foretold the future to His prophets:

"Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together." (Isaiah 41:22-23).

The living God sent His prophets to tell His people what would happen in time to come. How? To God the 'future' is not a topic of speculation and surmise, as it is to us. God is not bound by time, He inhabits eternity:

"For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." (Isaiah 57:15).

There is a modern-day aberration called open theism that denies perfect foreknowledge to God. The open theist fully concedes that God knows His own intentions. We all do! Inventorying the contents of our mind is something even we with finite minds can do. Like the open theist, the Calvinist believes that God can foreknow and 'predict' His own intentions. . .but not much else, claiming that in principle it is not possible for God to foreknow, for instance, free will choices by other agents. But the Bible teaches God's perfect and complete omniscience.


John Calvin

John Calvin did not in any way deny God's perfect foreknowledge; he just denied that it had anything to do with His decree of predestination:

"No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death. But our opponents, especially those who make foreknowledge its cause, envelop it in numerous petty objections. We, indeed, place both doctrines in God, but we say that subjecting one to the other is absurd.
"When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things always were, and perpetually remain, under his eyes, so that to his knowledge there is nothing future or past, but all things are present. And they are present in such a way that he not only conceives them through ideas, as we have before us those things which our minds remember, but he truly looks upon them and discerns them as things placed before him. And this foreknowledge is extended throughout the universe to every creature." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XXI, 5.)

Before the Foundation

God counts by number His flock before the foundation of the world:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:3-6).

How could He not? He knows the number of hairs on every one's head: "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." (Matthew 10:30). If there were some state of affairs that God did not know before the foundation of the world: say, the names of His elect -- He would not be omniscient.

According to Foreknowledge

As shown above, John Calvin considered it "absurd" to link predestination with God's foreknowledge. But, absurdly or not, the Bible explicitly links God's election of the saints with His foreknowledge:

"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied." (1 Peter 1:2);
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29).

"According to," 'kata,' implies a downstream relationship. So this point, 'U': Calvin's contention that God's predestination and election of His saints is unconditioned by His foreknowledge — is not Biblical and must be rejected by the Bible-believer.

They can grasp the concept; some of them make reprobation according to foreknowledge, of sin. Repeating the objection to Supralapsarianism, that it regards reprobation as purely an act of God's sovereign good pleasure, not as an act of punitive justice, Berkhof objects: "But this is hardly correct. . .while they regard preterition [the determination to pass by some men] as an act of God's sovereign good pleasure, they usually regard precondemnation as an act of divine justice which does take sin into consideration." (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 2547). They understand, in this case, that foreknowledge is not the same thing as foreordination. It does not seem right to say that people are consigned to an eternity in Hell on grounds of God's good pleasure. Of course predestination cannot be the inverse of Berkhof's 'precondemnation,' as if God foreknew our sinlessness, because sanctification is itself a work of God! But they see here no inherent, theoretical objection to foreknowledge, at least not when they wish to employ the concept, as indeed there is none. Since Peter did say, elect according to foreknowledge, not according to foreordination, we should repeat what he said, not explain why it's wrong.

Some Calvinist apologists maintain a view of God's omniscience reminiscent of open theism. They query, how can God possibly foreknow anything other than His own decrees? We also know, and are intimately familiar with, the experience of knowing our own plans and intentions. This reasoning asserts that God cannot know in any way which is not familiar to us. . .or else He would be different from us, not exactly the same!

"But I say, that if God certainly foresaw Saul's faith, it must have been certain to take place, for the Omniscient cannot make mistakes. Then, if this sinner's faith was certain to take place, there must have been some certain cause insuring that it would take place. . .Then, whatever made God think that this sinner, Saul, would ever be certain to believe and repent? Nothing but God's own sovereign eternal will to renew him unto faith and repentance." (Robert Lewis Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism, Kindle location 335).

Certainly it is a limitation in us that we can only 'count on' those future events which we ourselves intend to bring to pass. But it is blasphemous to project our own imperfections and inadequacies onto God. Dabney is stating that God cannot foreknow future (of course to God they are not future) contingent events, but only those with a "certain cause insuring that it would take place." No such restriction can be placed on God's omniscience.


Not of Works

According to the Bible God's election is not premised on foreknowledge of merit: "And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger.'" (Romans 9:10-12).

If not Merit, then What?

As seen, in Romans 9, the Bible flatly denies that God's election is premised on merit. Reading this, John Calvin concluded that God's election cannot be premised on foreknowledge. But the Bible speaks of election as "according to...foreknowledge!" If all choice (election) were premised on merit, Calvin's equation of the two would be valid. But a choice may be made on a basis other than merit. See what John Calvin considers an exhaustive rebuttal of the idea that God's foreknowledge conditions His eternal decree of election:

  • "The last subterfuge of Pighius in reference to the scripture before us is this: that God predestinated none unto salvation, but they were those whom He foreknew. But this way of escape I have already blocked up against these opponents; where I have shown that God could have foreseen nothing in man but what was worthy of eternal destruction, until He Himself should have created him anew by His Spirit. If, then, no one man has anything good which he hath not received from God, what can one man bring into God's sight more than another in which he can excel his fellow man?"
  • (John Calvin, A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God, Section IV.)

Here is Calvin's argument:

  • A.) There is nothing God can foreknow in a man which would interest Him except merit worthy of salvation.
  • B.) But no man has any merit worthy of salvation lacking God's grace.
  • C.) Therefore, God's eternal decree of predestination can in no way be conditioned by any foreknown quality, even though the Bible so states.

As John Calvin himself expresses his demands,

"Still, the matter can be explained to fuller satisfaction. Do they ask how it happens that of two men indistinguishable in merit, God in his election passes over one but takes the other? I, in turn, ask: 'Do they think that there is anything in him who is taken that disposes God to him?' If they admit that there is nothing, as they must, it will follow that God does not consider the man but seeks from his own goodness the reason to do him good." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XXIII, Section 10, p. 958).

This is legalism on steroids: There is no human characteristic of which God can take cognizance other than merit! God cannot be any other than a laser-guided merit-seeking missile. Surely God is a judge; but is He only a judge, never a friend? Can He not pity? Certainly merit cannot be the basis of salvation, because salvation is a gift to sinners: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Timothy 1:15).

B.) is correct and Biblical, but A.) is invented. Or is A.) obvious, a universal principle which can be imposed on God even though not stated in the Bible: are all choices made on the basis of merit sufficient to justify the outcome? No, as it so happens; this principle is confirmed neither by the Bible nor by experience. Some time ago I watched a foolish TV show in which a Vermont inn-keeper (played by Bob Newhart) tried out for a local chorus. No matter how hard he worked at improving his singing voice, he could not make the grade. Finally he asked the lady who ran the glee club why she wouldn't accept him...and it turned out her criterion for admitting new members was height. He had merit to spare, but did not fit into her vision of a row of singers in ascending and descending line.

Certainly this is a silly and frivolous example; who, after all, would choose vocalists for a chorus, irrespective of singing ability, on no other basis than height? But it does show that one can make a choice (election) based on factors other than merit. Calvin's analysis is not exhaustive. Which of us choose our friends based on merit? When God makes up His jewels, why is He assumed to have no interest in any human quality other than merit? Suppose that God chose for His elect those persons with red hair, leaving receipt of this gift to natural assortment of genetic material. People's mating choices do fall after all within God's permissive will, they are not necessarily under constraint. This is a choice, an election, which is not premised on merit. Certainly it is not 'fair,' but then some people say neither is Calvinism. Yet it would be conditioned by foreknowledge. You have not proved election is unaffected by foreknowledge when you show it is not merit-based, as Calvin assumes he has done.

Here is the problem: "What is unconditional election? . . .Unconditional election asserts that God elects or chooses us for salvation, but it  denies that this choice is on the basis of works or foreseen faith." (Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, edited by Brad J. Waggoner and E. Ray Clendenen, Kindle location 4832). Notice: what has been asserted is 'no conditions,' that is what 'unconditional' means; what has been proved, if anything, is the absence or futility of two conditions, namely foreseen works,— the good works of the believer being the gracious gift of God,— and foreseen faith, faith as a completed whole being in part the gift of God. Between this gap falls the whole erroneous discussion. If you succeed in showing that God cannot base His decree of election on foreseen works, you have not thereby also shown He cannot base this decree, in part at least, on anything foreseen. While 'red hair' is fanciful, other circumstances and/or some precursor, antecedent or contributory condition to faith need not be. There is a shell game going on here; 'no conditions' is hidden under the shell, then switched out for 'not this condition.' But if not this condition, then perhaps some other condition; the Bible does after all say that election is according to foreknowledge.

According to some authorities, a gift is not free if the giver finds anything attractive in the recipient, "Gifts are given without cost or price. . .The freedom of the gift is intimately connected with the freedom of the giver. . .If there is anything in the person that merits or attracts this gift, it is no longer free, nor is it a gift." (James R. White, The God Who Justifies, p. 175). ". . .or attracts. . ."!!?? If this is so, there are no free gifts in the world other than in that subset of 'Secret Santa' regimes in which the giver is not told who will be the recipient. In all other gift-giving regimes, it may be that the giver kind of likes the recipient! This means that the gift is not free? As will be seen, there may be characteristics in the recipient, not attractive, but rather repulsive, by the standards of the world, but by the agenda of the 'Great Reversal' attractive to God, such as poverty. This agenda is not unknown to us, it has been laid out in detail in the Bible. God forbid any should suggest the redeemed are chosen at random, as if they had won a lottery; even the unbeliever Albert Einstein understood that God does not play dice. Perhaps God chose this agenda to prove the world wrong. Perhaps. But does somebody think they can prove that God doesn't kind of like poor people?

To the Calvinist, love is self-evidently merit-based, love itself is a merit-sniffing-out operation:

"Why does not God love the Devil? Because there is nothing him to love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 25).

Therefore God's love must be sovereign, i.e., dependent in no respect upon its object, related in no respect to its object, because nothing is lovable but moral merit, of which the sinner admittedly has none. This gets closer to home when you realize what the Bible does not count as meritorious...namely, faith. Notice that our author classifies faith as a 'good work:'

"'A remnant according to the election of grace.' Here the cause of election is traced back to its source. The basis upon which God elected this 'remnant' was not faith foreseen in them, because a choice founded upon the foresight of good works is just as truly made on the ground of works as any choice can be, and in such a case it would not be "of grace;" for, says the apostle, 'if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace;' which means that grace and works are opposites, they have nothing in common, and will no more mingle than oil and water. Thus the idea of inherent good foreseen in those chosen, or of anything meritorious performed by them, is rigidly excluded." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 52).

This is very common amongst Calvinists: "But that is not the way God works. He did not give us saving grace because he foresaw that we were going to do good, such as believe on Christ. For we are by nature totally depraved." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 85). Notice that 'believ[ing] on Christ' has been repositioned as 'do[ing] good.' Can the Bible be made to agree with the Calvinist's classification of faith as a 'good work?' Faith is always distinguished from meritorious works in the Bible, never identified as itself belonging to that species:

"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:2-5).

Though John Calvin had inherited a tradition which counted faith as one of the three theological virtues, the Bible does not so class it. Nor is it obvious that faith is meritorious as the schoolmen reckoned it. Is it all one whether a beggar cadges a dollar from a passer-by or if he earns it by laboring in the heat of the day? Is it all the same whether the defendant stoutly maintains his innocence or if he throws himself on the mercy of the court? When the publican cries "God be merciful to me a sinner," (Luke 18:13), this is taken as proof of his virtue; but when a ruined sinner in hell cries to Abraham for mercy (Luke 16:24), of what is that proof? A sinner can cry for mercy as well as a saint.

This error is endemic to Calvinism, going back to the founder. The category of 'works' expands until it swallows and engulfs, not only faith, but according to this Calvinist author, "anything in us:" "Our salvation is not 'according to our works;' that is to say, it is not due to anything in us. . ." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 55). They are justified in saying salvation is not by works, because so the Bible teaches; they are not justified in saying that 'works' mean 'anything in us,' because this is precluded by the Bible, which specifically categorizes 'faith' as not a work.

See how naturally this (mis)characterization comes to Calvinist authors: "The earlier church fathers placed chief emphasis on good works such as faith, repentance, almsgiving, prayers, submission to baptism, etc., as the basis of salvation." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 531). "[G]ood works such as faith"?: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9). If faith is itself a work, Paul's distinction is made meaningless.

The speculation that foreknowledge of faith may be at the heart of God's eternal decree of predestination undergirds a rival to Calvin's scheme:

"But if it [Election] signifies “the decree by which God determines to bestow salvation on some one,” then Faith foreseen is prior to Election. For as believers alone are saved, so only believers are predestinated to salvation." (James Arminius, Nine Questions, Question 1.)

To the Calvinist, against the Bible, faith is a work, indeed anything human: thought, word or deed,— is a work: "In the final analysis, any movement of the will is a work: it is something from me, something which I do." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 204). This is simply not Biblical. However, adding foreknowledge of 'perseverance' to this alternative scheme does seem to entail foreknowledge of merit or works, which, as we've seen, is precluded by the Bible:

"St. Augustine says, 'God has chosen to salvation those who he sees will afterwards believe by the aid of his preventing or preceding grace, and who will persevere by the aid of his subsequent or following grace...'" (James Arminius, Nine Questions, Question 8.)

Mutable creatures that we are, we stand in need of continuous conversion, as surely we are in need of constant grace. Our perseverance is no less a miracle of God's grace than our initial conversion. While faith is not described in the Bible as meritorious, it is described in large measure as the gift of God:

"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." (Romans 12:3)

Would it not be trivial, even circular to assert that God foreknows His own gifts? This rival Augustinian school may be dipping their toe in the water too far down-stream. Faith is a complex whole, the product of a process of thought and feeling; it is not a simple 'decision;' who, having lost faith, can will it back into existence? But while faith as finished product is substantially the gift of God, the Bible does not preclude either some precursor condition or some human response to this gift which interests God. What is it about those men who are known to have been friends of God, like Abraham and David, that touches God? It is certainly not merit, because these men were sinners. Yet the Calvinist answer, 'nothing,' is not adequate to the evidence either: "There is nothing within us that could be the minutest, most microscopic cause of his loving us. Rather, everything within us would cause him to hate us." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 85).

To the Calvinist, God's love is absolutely impersonal; there is nothing at all in the beloved which touches Him, because all He is allowed to care about is merit, and there is no merit. Whatever touches us in our friends: the crooked smile, the ready wit,— cannot touch the Calvinist God, who loves, ultimately, only Himself and His sovereign will to love the unlovely. Certainly it is true and Biblical that sinners are unlovely; and yet it is not the Bible which rules out any personal interest by God in His creatures. "We need preaching that exalts God and declares the sinful depravity of man, that man is God's enemy, that nothing in man is desirable to God, and that we are abhorrent and ungodly in HIs sight. God loves us because of His greatness, not because we are lovable." (Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, edited by Brad J. Waggoner and E. Ray Clendenen, Jeff Noblit, Kindle location 2138). I cannot confirm from my reading of scripture that God noticed nothing in His friends, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which appealed to Him on any level. Did He not even chuckle at Jacob's schemes? Certainly it's true that these man had no moral merit beyond what they had received at His hands.

Bum on a Park Bench

Suppose one observes a bum and a businessman in three-piece suit sharing a park bench. A passer-by flips the bum a quarter. Did either merit a quarter? No, the passer-by owed neither of them one red cent. So is it shrouded in impenetrable mystery why one received a quarter and the other did not? Yet John Calvin will tell us the bum's woebegone look was itself meritorious. But this is casting the merit net too wide. John Calvin sets up these rules: 1.) God does not save sinners based on merit (this is true and Biblical), and yet 2.) God can take notice of no human characteristic except merit, and therefore 3.) predestination cannot be premised upon foreknowledge. 2.) is the clunker; it is completely unbiblical, and somewhat inhuman.

You will always see this in presentations of the argument:

"The sole difference between the person who is lost for eternity and the saint in glory is the grace of God and absolutely nothing else. No man deserves even the notice of God let alone His mercy and grace. There is nothing in the creature man that draws the mercy of God, nothing that makes God take notice of one man over another." (The Fatal Flaw, James R. White, Kindle location 1806)

How did we make the leap between the assertion of no difference between sinner and saint, and the explanation that "No man deserves" God's grace? Of course we do not deserve God's grace! Point out to them that they have not exhausted the alternatives. It is true that God notices no merit on the part of the unsaved, because they have none. But the Calvinist goes on to conclude there is nothing about the unsaved of which God can take notice, because there is, admittedly, nothing meritorious. They are invoking, as minor premise, 'there is nothing human of which God can take notice except merit.' Ask them to prove it. Of course they cannot!

Coasts of England: Strayed Sheep, William Holman Hunt
Strayed Sheep, William Holman Hunt

Encyclopedia Salesman

If we were to posit a clairvoyant encyclopedia salesman who pitches his wares to all those and only those whom he foresees will buy, we would see a 100% success rate. Suppose our salesman has a well-documented aversion to casting pearls before swine; we need not expect to see him pitching his goods to those he already knows are not interested.

Observing this salesman's invariable success, the police may wonder, is he coercing these people into buying? If they are free to refuse, why do none do so?

There is no such encyclopedia salesman, because no human being knows like this: "Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether." (Psalm 139:2-4). Not only does God know what we think, He knows what we will think: "Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:..." (Ezekiel 38:10).

Sitting in a Chair

I see you sitting in a chair and say, 'I know that you are sitting in a chair.' If I know this for a fact, then you are inevitably sitting in a chair. Yet my knowing did not cause you to sit nor compel you to remain. Knowledge doesn't do that.

To God, all things are present at hand. His foreknowledge that you will be sitting in the chair no more coerces you to do so than does my present knowledge. Time itself is a created thing, it is not a condition of God's life: ". . .to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 1:25 NRSV). In this case the modern translation is faithful and literal: the Greek text does say 'before all the ages' (εις παντας τους αινωνας). God was before there was time; how, then, can it be the condition under which He exists?

Notice how some Calvinists make time, a thing which God created, into a condition of His life and knowledge, in order to rule out creaturely freedom:

"Foreknowledge does not make future acts certain but only assumes them to be so; and it is a contradiction of terms to say that God foreknows as certain an event which in its very nature is uncertain. We must either say that future events are certain and that God knows the future, or that they are uncertain and that He does not know the future." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 316-317).

Notice how this author imposes the limitations of our life and knowledge upon God. We can only predict those future events, which indeed are future to us, which are highly determined, such as that the sun will rise tomorrow; it's just the same way with God, they say. God is situated just as are we, they assume, and can only know what we could know. Thus they go wrong from the start.

Others are aware of traditional doctrine on this point:

"Our existence is marked off by days and weeks and months and years; not so the existence of God. Our life is divided into a past, present and future, but there is no such division in the life of God. He is the eternal “I am.” His eternity may be defined as that perfection of God whereby He is elevated above all temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses the whole of His existence in one indivisible present."
(Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 1228-1231). GLH Publishing.).

We must not project our creaturely limitations back on to God, as if they applied to Him rather than only to us. We are like myopic caterpillars crawling along the time-twig. We do not see what is behind us or before us, only the small patch of twig which we can grasp beneath us. Indeed, the present, the graspable part of time, is a point, a boundary-line, a limit between two bins, past and future, whose contents are imponderable and not within our grasp. He is not like that. And His mere knowledge does not constrain, any more than our does.

Things Which are Despised

As noted, the Bible does not altogether preclude God's foreknowledge of the human response to faith as a possible influence on His decree of predestination. However, it is nowhere so described. What is mentioned is God's choice of the poor and lowly, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence."

It cannot be the case that God chose all the poor, or only the poor, as experience shows. But that He calls the poor in disproportion to their numbers in the populace may be detected by Gallup polls which indicate people of low income are likelier to pray during the week than those of higher income. Other things being equal one would expect the elect to pray more than, say, atheists. For every psychological reason one might invent why the poor would be likelier to turn to God, one can also think of a psychological reason why they'd be unlikelier, such as resentment at missing out on the good things in life. Rather, this is God's choice, for His stated reasons. And there is nothing meritorious about involuntary poverty.

But what if one pushes it back and says, the poor are poor because God ordained they would be so born. But the Bible speaks otherwise of poverty. The Biblical picture of poverty is multi-faceted, with good reason, because so is the phenomenon. Some are poor because they're shiftless, like the sluggard: "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat." (Proverbs 13:4). But the inhabitants of Bangladesh are not poor because they're shiftless, to a man. Some are poor because they're oppressed: "What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts." (Isaiah 3:15). Human oppression is foreknown by God but not foreordained. What He allows by His permissive will, He also foreknows, and vindicates His poor as stated in 1 Corinthians.

Known and Unknown

One oddity about John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is the rigor with which a Biblical principle of God's choice is uncovered. . .and then advanced as evidence that God foreknows nothing outside Himself which influences His eternal decree of predestination. We know what we know, and we know, if we read the Bible, that God likes to choose the younger over the elder: "It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger." (Romans 9:12). There are many instances of this, for example little David chosen from watching the sheep in preference over his elder siblings. It is not an invariant rule, but a pattern, a regularity careful observers can pick up. And of course, God must foreknow who is the elder and who the younger to exercise this preference.

What joy, we have discovered a principle of regularity, a definable preference! We begin to discern the outlines of an agenda of compensation, of upending, of turning the world upside-down. To add to our excitement in discovery, we notice this principle stated explicitly, that the first shall be last and the last first. We know, we are starting to learn, we begin to think God's thoughts after Him! Or rather, we know nothing at all, and this consistent preference God exercises for the younger over the elder proves that He foreknows nothing outside Himself which could possibly interest Him or swerve His eternal decree. How this conclusion follows from the demonstration of a known regularity is the greatest mystery of Calvin's Institutes. Birth order is neither chosen nor meritorious. We know that the world likes to choose the elder, and God likes to choose the younger. How can the fact that we know something prove that what we know is unknowable?

They say it is a mystery which we cannot fathom: "The reason for preterition is not known by man. It cannot be sin, for all men are sinners." (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 2424). 'Preterition' is "the determination to pass by some men." But if He told us, then we ought to know. Why not take His explanation at face value?

Here is a typical Calvinist reaction to God's consistent pattern, in both Testaments, of choosing the poor over the rich. Now this consistent and well-defined preference is certainly not the whole story; not all the poor are His people, nor only the poor. However we do not discard a puzzle piece that's been handed to us because it does not bear on its surface the entire design. Look at what this Calvinist author, rather typically, does with this crucial and significant evidence. We are expected to notice the pattern. . .and then look right through it as if it weren't there!

  • "Note particularly the two classes to whom the birth of the Savior was made known, namely, the most unlikely classes — illiterate shepherds and heathen from a far country. . .What a display of divine sovereignty — the illiterate shepherds singled out for peculiar honor, and he learned and eminent passed by!. . . See in this a wonderful foreshadowing of God's dealings with our race throughout the entire Christian dispensation — sovereign in the exercise of His grace, bestowing His favors on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy."
  • (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 27).

Notice that the Calvinist's mind is not God's mind. God consistently chooses the poor, the downtrodden, the lowly, the small, over the showy, the successful, the prosperous. The Calvinist does not think like this: to him this choice is "most unlikely"! The "most unlikely" to whom? Not to God, but to the Calvinist. Thus we substitute the Calvinist's disdain for the poor for God's anomalous and strange liking for this group. We minimize the consistent pattern: God did not choose to pass by the sumptuous palaces only in this instance, nor is this only "often" his preference as our author seeks to reduce the problem. The take-away is that, God does not choose the poor because He likes the poor or anything like that,— how could He? Although we know that when He makes up His jewels, the seats at the Messianic banquet are taken up by the poor, the obscure and the uncelebrated disproportionately. Rather, He is only choosing an "unlikely" group to display His arbitrary might and sovereignty!

As a historical factor in corporate human life, Calvinism had a lot to do with the rise of the modern economy. This has been no doubt a great boon to humanity, though the demolition work required to make a smooth place for this brave new world involved more than sweeping away a few medieval cobwebs. Moses' dislike of usury had to go. And the well-known and well-documented Bible fact that God especially loves the poor had to go. Some people, learning that this is a favored group in God's sight, felt disturbed, realizing that they did not belong by native right. Therefore they went and sold their belongings, thinking this would 'fix' the problem. This depressed the GDP! So no more of that. But in their erasure of the Bible truth that God loves the poor, Calvin's heirs have made mince-meat of His own explanation of why He chooses the people He chooses. They will not let God be sovereign, because He has explained it to them, and they say: 'No! Not that!'

False Arminians

Calvinists routinely identify all who disagree with their views as 'Arminians:'

"It must be evident that there are just two theories which can be maintained by evangelical Christians upon this important subject; that all men who have made any study of it, and who have reached any settled conclusions regarding it, must be either Calvinists or Arminians." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 496).

This dichotomy will hold true when the laws of logic have been repealed. Unfortunately, many naive non-Calvinists 'learn' from their encounters with Calvinists to call themselves 'Arminians,' when they are not. As noted, traditional Arminians make God's predestination contingent upon His foreknowledge: "1.) Election and condemnation, conditioned upon the faith or unbelief of men." ("Five points of Arminianism," An Encyclopedia of Religion.). They differ on this point from Calvinists, who deny that God's predestination is in any way contingent upon foreknowledge. But it is not uncommon to encounter today 'Arminians' who flatly deny that God has any more prior information in this matter than the rest of us. Not only do they not contend God's predestination of the elect is conditioned upon His foreknowledge...they don't think He has any foreknowledge! This low conception of deity is not confined to confessed 'Open Theists;' I've encountered 'Oneness' Pentecostals who believe God is every bit as surprised as anyone else when their ministers open the envelope and reveal the names of the baptized.

Even if God were as passive in the salvation process as they claim, He would still have to know the names of His elect before the foundation of the world. Why? Because if there were some state of affairs in the world of which God did not know, such as the names and number of the saved, He would not be omniscient. Yet God is omniscient: "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." (1 John 3:20). The clueless godlet they describe is not the living God.

Nor is it fair to servants of God like James Arminius and John Wesley to allege that their system entails denial of a fundamental attribute of God. At a bare minimum one must concede that God foreknows His elect from the foundation of the world, or else God is nescient rather than omniscient:

"And, First, let us look forward on the whole work of God in the salvation of man; considering it from the beginning:, the first point, till it terminates in glory. The first point is, the foreknowledge of God. God foreknew those in every nation who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things. But, in order to throw light upon this dark question, it should be well observed, that when we speak of God’s foreknowledge, we do not speak according to the nature of things, but after the manner of men. For, if we speak properly, there is no such thing as either foreknowledge or after knowledge in God. All time, or rather all eternity, (for time is only that small fragment of eternity which is allotted to the children of men,) being present to him at once, he does not know one thing before another, or one thing after another; but sees all things in one point of view from everlasting to everlasting. As all time, with everything that exists therein, is present with him at once, so he sees at one, whatever was, is, or will be, to the end of time. But observe: We must not think they are because he knows them. No; he knows them because they are. Just as I (if one may he allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God) now know the sun shines: Yet the sun does not shine because I know it, but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in anywise cause it." (John Wesley, Sermon 58, On Predestination)

That God foreknows His own from the foundation of the world is the bare Bible minimum; what might allowably be built upon it? Recall that the same Bible which links God's foreordination with foreknowledge also expressly denies that God's choice of Jacob over Esau was premised on merit. So when these authors add works to the list of God's relevant foreknowledge, or when they describe faith itself in language such that it could not be classed as other than a meritorious work, they've wandered from the Bible path.

All Possible Worlds

Not only does God know what will actually happen from the beginning of the world, He knows all possible worlds: "Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down." (1 Samuel 23:11). Note the Lord does not say, 'He might,' or 'It's 50-50,' but "He will come down." Did the Lord know that Saul would come down because the event was necessary? No, the foretold event was a true contingent, how do I know? Because it didn't happen: "Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth." (1 Samuel 23:13). Thus the Bible; compare man's blindness:

"In the nature of things there cannot be anything known as what shall be unless it is certain to be, and there is nothing certain to be unless God has ordained it shall be." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 102).

How such knowledge is possible escapes us, it's not possible to us, but God has it: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." (Psalm 139:6). Compare this Bible reality with Calvinist expectation:

"The Bible is full of it; all of God's prophecies imply predestination, because, unless he had foreordained the predicted events, he could not be certain they would come to pass." (Robert Lewis Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism, Kindle location 463).

Is it reasonable to follow Dabney in projecting human weakness and nescience onto God? After all, we only know for certain what we intend to do, not what other agents might do. Surely God must share our limitations, otherwise He would be greater than we are! No, because God did not, in the event, intend that Saul "will come down". . .after all, that never happened! His sources of knowledge, and His ways of knowing, are beyond our ken.

In a like vein, the Lord said that, if His works of power and might had been done in Sodom, they would have repented:

"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." (Matthew 11:21-23, see also Matthew 12:41-42).

This statement is a conditional contrary to fact: these mighty works were not done in Tyre and Sidon, nor in Sodom; but surely even a Calvinist would not venture to say of the Lord, 'He's just guessing!' More respect than that is demanded; God knows things we do not know. In any case, He cannot know these things only because He intends to make them so; He does not intend to make them so, they never happened. Calvinist Robert Lewis Dabney asked, "Nay, what ground of certain futurition is there, save that God purposes it?" (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 3, Divine Attributes, Kindle location 1403). So how did Jesus know what the outcome would be had His mighty works been done in Sodom, when God purposed no such thing? He does not lay 'odds.' Surprisingly, you will find people who want to make man's ignorance the standard for God's omniscience:

"Speaker: 'I'd love to do that, but if I'm not able, that's certainly in keeping with first century Jewish thought. For example we have a famous statement from the second century or early third century, but probably goes back earlier, where the Rabbis said that everything is foreknown and free will is given and you say how can those both be true. . .'
"James White: 'They can't be!'"
(The Dividing Line, May 28, 2013, 30:40-31:02)

This protocol, if followed diligently, would establish atheism rather than Calvinism. How does God create the world? We can't do any such thing! So therefore, He couldn't either. We can't provide a methodology which would enable us to know the future (to us, unlike to God, it really is future). We can, of course, know what we intend to do. So therefore God can only know the future (to Him it is not future) insofar as He intends to bring it about. But this is to make man's nescience the measuring rod by which to shrink and contract God's omniscience down to our size.

The following argument in favor of Calvinism is offered by mainstream Calvinist authors:

"Now if future events are foreknown to God, they cannot by any possibility take a turn contrary to His knowledge. . .Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Chapter VI, p. 90).

The Bible view is, "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place,..." (Isaiah 57:15). But in this Calvinist view, God is our neighbor trapped right next to us on the time-line, looking forward to the future and remembering the past: "Furthermore, if the acts of free agents are in themselves uncertain, God must then wait until the event has had its issue before making His plans. . .He would then be ignorant of much of the future and would daily be gaining vast stores of knowledge." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Chapter VI, pp. 92-93).

Dear Reader, please do not think I am exaggerating or misstating the views of these people; this is exactly what they say. They 'trap' God right next to us on the time-line, and then announce that He, like us, can only reliably 'predict' those future events which are highly determined, i.e., would always turn out the same way no matter how many iterations were tried:

"Well, Rich and I have been working together for a long time now, long time now. . .But he can predict pretty well how I'm going to respond to certain things, because we've known each other for a long time. But there are times that I surprise him. . .
"Or might the actual reason for that be, that I'm a human being and sometimes, you know, if it had been a different day. . .I object to the idea that, given certain circumstances, I would always act in the same way. Because I know that's not the case."
(James White, The Dividing Line, January 16, 2014, at 75:08).

This is offered as if an argument in favor of Calvinism: failing determinism, God, like us, can only foreknow events which would happen the same way every time. Why? Because we can only predict that sort of event, for instance 'the sun will rise tomorrow,' with any degree of certainty, and surely He cannot be more capable than we! The Biblical corrective for this error is, "And the LORD said, He will come down." (1 Samuel 23:11).



In the child's fantasy 'Flatland', two-dimensional beings bound to a plane are mystified when three-dimensional creatures invaded their world. These beings could do 'impossible' things, like touch a square on its 'insides': something no square could do to another, they could only meet up at their boundaries. God is not bound by time as we are, to Him the future is not far away but at hand; that's how it's said,

"Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." (Acts 15:18).

Human beings can only predict with a fair chance of success those events which always or for the most part happen in just the same way. We can predict, with some hope of success, that the sun will rise tomorrow,-- because it always has before. Because the laws of gravitation always work in the same way, we can predict events such as eclipses. Those events which do not always happen the same way: whether a flock of birds will fly to the left or to the right,-- we cannot predict at all.

We unthinkingly impute these creaturely limitations to God and assert that He, too, can only know the birds will fly to the left or to the right if some necessity has been laid upon them by a prior inexorable law. But we can at the present moment see the flock fly this way or that, and thus know that they have done so. To God, all things are present. We cannot imagine ourselves into the position of knowing what God knows as He does, but must remember that,

"God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent." (Numbers 23:19).

Does God 'look down the corridors of time?' No, because He is not situated in the corridors of time. "Our existence is marked off by days and weeks and months and years; not so the existence of God. Our life is divided into a past, present and future, but there is no such division in the life of God. He is the eternal 'I am.'" (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 1224). Take off the roof and look down, and you are closer to His perspective. God's perspective may be compared to that of a camera crew viewing a parade from some lofty perch, say atop city hall. They see in a moment the front of the parade and the end of the parade; not by magic, but on account of their viewpoint. The spectator down on street level watching the parade go by cannot see both the end and the beginning simultaneously. This Calvinist argument drags God down to our level, placing Him within the time-stream, as if time were a condition of His existence, not merely that of the creature:

  • "If the will were contingent, there could be no scientia media, and we should be compelled to the low and profane ground of the Socinian; that God does not certainly foreknow all things and in the nature of things, cannot. For the definition of scientia media is, that it is that contingent knowledge of what free agents will do in certain foreseen circumstances, arising out of God's infinite insight into their dispositions. But if the will may decide in the teeth of that foreseen disposition, there can be no certain knowledge how it will decide. Nor is the evasion suggested by modern Arminians. . .of any force, that it is incompetent for our finite understandings to say that God cannot have this scientia media, because we cannot see how He is to have it. For the thing is not merely among the incomprehensible, but the impossible. If a thing is certainly foreseen, it must be certain to occur, or else the foreknowledge of its certain occurrence is false."
  • (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 7, Kindle location 3358.)

Notice how this Calvinist author is assuming, for all the world like an Open Theist, that the future is future for God, not merely for us. If they can get out of their habit of ascribing our creaturely limitations onto God, their confusion will vanish like the mist. Theodicy is the project of reconciling God's ways with our human demand for justice. Many people join the narrator of the song, 'I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy,' in wanting to see Jesus. . .but first and foremost to demand why the Lord allowed their aunt Betty to die slowly and painfully of cancer. Should the Lord answer in the format, 'Had aunt Betty not died slowly and painfully of cancer, her oncologist never would have heard the gospel,' the Calvinist cries foul! To God, knowledge about the 'past' cannot be intrinsically different from knowledge about the 'future,' because these are not categories of God's experience, but only of our own. God willingly and without embarrassment answers questions about conditionals contrary to fact in the Bible, and this type of question almost demands an answer in that format. If, as they claim, Jesus has no possible way of knowing what would have happened had aunt Betty not died slowly and painfully from cancer, He is hindered from explaining why this tack was taken. God's way of knowing creates a problem for certain man-made theories, that's all.

It is on the basis of their erroneous attribution of ignorance of the future, except for His own intended actions, to God that they deny human free will. The recalcitrance of the human will, and of the creaturely will of the rebellious Satan and his armies, is a Bible fact for which this ill-founded philosophical determinism leaves no room. To the Calvinist, it is a zero-sum game; either God is free or man is free:

"Two alternatives confront us, and between them we are obliged to choose: either God governs, or He is governed; either God rules, or He is ruled; either God has His way, or men have heirs." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 41).

Desderius Erasmus
Scriptural Basis
Seek and Find
Adam and Eve
Glorious Liberty

As best I can ascertain from his sometimes wavering writings, John Calvin did not deny human free will altogether, as do his successors. His diagnosis of the human condition was not that man's will, since Adam's fall, is constrained or determined, but that it is corrupt. Man's problem is that, given the choice between good and evil, he will not choose the good. There is a Biblical foundation for this diagnosis, for instance in John 8:34: "Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." But this same passage which diagnoses the unregenerate sinner as a slave, not a free man, does not say that all men in all circumstances are unfree, but "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36).

This is the other side of the Biblical coin: some men are free, others are unfree. The a priori arguments offered by contemporary Calvinists intending to show that God's omniscience cannot be reconciled with man's freedom, may be compatible with the unfreeness of the unregenerate, but in no sense with the equally Biblical fact of the freedom of the regenerate. Does not God foreknow the thoughts and actions of the regenerate free? However He does it, that's how He does it.

Some contemporary Calvinists retain this Biblical view, that both Adam before the fall and the redeemed are free indeed: "As created, human beings were completely free to choose good or evil, truth or error, God or idols. God's freedom is not a threat to human freedom, but the very presupposition of the latter's existence." (Michael S. Horton, For Calvinism, Kindle location 502). Adam's real and actual freedom did not short-circuit God's perfect and comprehensive knowledge of past, present and future. After the fall, Adam's children were oppressed by a kind of 'voluntary servitude.' As the Pharisees set a hedge around the law to protect it, some modern defenders of Calvinism seem to think they are protecting the crucial issue, that the unregenerate sinner is not free and cannot get out from under his contract with Satan except by divine liberation, by denying freedom to all and sundry: Adam before the fall, the redeemed in heaven. But exploding this thermonuclear device invalidates also God's great promise that the truth shall make you free: if human freedom is conceptually impossible from the get-go, then none ever had, or ever will have, it.

Given that the transaction wherein the unregenerate sinner comes to Jesus is the most important decision in life, determining our eternal happiness or misery, it is understandable that it would suck up all the available oxygen and dominate the debate about free choice. Yet simply to state the rubric: as election to eternal life goes, so go all the choices of life; if the choice to repent made by an unregenerate sinner is not a free choice but requires such as degree of divine assistance as to leave uncertain who is the agent, then there are no free men and no free choices,— is to show its bankruptcy; it is patently wrong. The Bible does not say there are no free men, but that some men are not free.

Not a Marxist

Karl Marx once said he was not a Marxist. What the next generation does with an idea is often a surprise to its founder, and 'Calvinism' became a school of philosophical determinism in the hands of John Calvin's successors. This is the sort of 'Calvinism' which denies not only all effectual freedom but even all possible freedom, not only to unregenerate men but to regenerate men, and not only to men but to angels, and not only to angels but to animals, as if God had created sentient beings who would have the illusion of freedom, but never real freedom, because He is the only free agent. This is the 'Calvinism' people object to by saying, 'But you're making everybody into robots,' and indeed that is just what they do, contradicting both the Bible and common human experience.

They say that hard cases make bad law. From the start, this debate has fluttered, like a moth around the flame, around the very hardest of hard cases: "By freedom of the will we understand in this connection the power of the human will whereby man can apply to or turn away from that which leads unto eternal salvation." (Desiderius Erasmus, Discourse on Free Will, Chapter II). And how on earth would anyone know there is any such human power, to turn the ship toward harbor or into the tempest? Of course to Erasmus, salvation was a long march, not a single dramatic inflection point, but the summation of a thousand small life decisions, aided by drips and drabs of grace flowing through multiplied sacramental channels. Instead of focusing on the one hard case: the case of the unregenerate sinner who cannot by any exercise of his diseased will pull himself up by his boot-straps, whom the Bible itself calls a slave — the Bible student should examine the easy cases which are incompatible with philosophical determinism. Focusing on the easy cases will clearly show the fallacy involved in pro-Calvinist arguments.

In morally indifferent choices, even unregenerate man enjoys freedom, albeit of a feeble sort. The sinner is free to go to the bar-room or the race-track, because these are morally equivalent; what he is not free to do, absent grace, is to go to the prayer meeting. He is free to eat a ham and cheese or tuna for lunch, a morally neutral decision; there is nothing in the Bible to the contrary. To be sure real freedom requires also the ability to choose the good, which is why Jesus describes these men as 'slaves' not as free men. Merely shuffling amongst bad alternatives is a useless enough sort of freedom, but it is enough to rebut the philosophical determinism which 'Calvinism' became under the successors. They are guilty of over-generalizing: because the Bible teaches that some men,— unregenerate sinners,— are unfree and require grace to be sprung from their chains (which all schools of thought admit), it does not therefore follow that all men are unfree at all times and under all circumstances. Are even the redeemed in glory unfree? This Calvinist dystopia the Bible itself rules out. They have made a Biblical diagnosis of one human dilemma facing one cross-roads into a global, all-encompassing system of philosophical determinism. Their reasoning is that, if one choice is like that, then all choices must be the same, or else they would be different.

But the same Bible which teaches that the unregenerate sinner is a slave teaches also (in the very same passage) that the regenerate man is free. God promises to perform heart surgery on the sinner, "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19). This would suggest something of the same nature as what he now has is given to the sinner, only made new. Some people seem to think that God absent-mindedly walks away while the sinner is in the midst of his heart-replacement surgery, having removed the old, diseased will, but left only a blank space there, as if God had promised to lobotomize the sinner, not remake him.

To say nothing of his ability to choose the good, when the regenerate man makes a morally indifferent choice, say whether to have pancakes or waffles for breakfast, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest this is not truly a free choice. It is certainly not the result of Godly coercion. The regenerate man is free to wear his blue shirt or the green, both being neither immodest nor inappropriate. When the regenerate man chooses between two equally wholesome options, such as whether to enjoy a picnic in the park or to attend the model train convention, God does not make this decision and leave him with the illusion he made it.

Even John Calvin never denied that there was once one free man, Adam, who was created free but fell into bondage: "On the other hand, when we come to speak of man, he will be found to have sinned voluntarily, and to have departed from God, his Maker, by a movement of the mind not less free than perverse." (John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Chapter 3). Adam fell, he was not pushed. Nor does John Calvin resort to the Soviet device of redefining freedom. Adam's freedom was real; he was created good, and "able not to sin" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter II, Section 13). God would have granted him perseverance if he had asked for it: "The grace of persisting in good would have been given to Adam if he had so willed." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter II, Section 13). It was left to the successors to cross this Rubicon. In the wake of the success of Isaac Newton's physics, philosophical determinism became popular, and this worldly system of philosophy was wedded to the Bible. This is the 'Calvinism' which still lives today and pokes its head out through the teaching of popular Calvinist preachers, though when challenged, the challenger is rebuked for raising a straw-man. It is no straw-man, but a bad, unbiblical, man-made system of thought. When those who subscribe to it insist on finding, in the interwoven fabric of time, eternity and God's knowledge, some incompatibility with the very concept of human freedom, point out to them that John Calvin did not deny that Adam was free, and free in the truest sense: he was created good, and able to choose both good and ill.

The erroneous idea that God foreknows the future (though to Him, of course, it is not future) only insofar as He inventories the contents of His own mind and discerns His own will, is so far an integral part of the modern Calvinist system as to be advanced by them as an 'argument' in favor of their ideas:

  • "The same truth is evinced by every prediction in which God has positively foretold what free agents should do; for had He not some way of securing the result, He would not have predicted it positively."
  • (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 12, Kindle location 5165.)

God, they say, can only foreknow what He can 'secure' by force. Does God's foreknowledge rule out man's free will? No, because knowledge is never coercive, and with God it isn't really even 'fore.' God does not 'remember' the past, He doesn't reminisce about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Calvinists, surprisingly, agree with open theists on what is possible for God:

"How...if you want the mystery bucket, listen to Leighton Flowers explain how God can know for certain all future events in light of autonomous free will.
I would argue He can't. I would argue that He can't. If you actually believe in autonomous free will God could not...The open theists are right. If autonomous free will exists, God could not know what people are going to do. and if God does know what people are going to do, autonomous free will does not exist. I agree. The open theists are right. But there's the difference."

(33:15-34:00, James White, The Dividing Line, Radio Free Geneva, Stanley/Flowers Concluded, December 31, 2018).

There's a difference, for sure, and they are not right:

Calvinists protest, but there is nothing God could possibly foreknow about a dead man, as are all sinners:

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." (Ephesians 2:1-4).

It is certainly true that sinners are "dead in trespasses and sins," and moreover are disabled by inert hearts of stone. Grace gives new life, and implants a new, beating and living, heart. However, it is possible to overwork this simile; while it is certainly true that a dead man cannot repent, it is also true that a dead man cannot sin. The Bible teaches that the law holds no sway over a dead man, "Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?" (Romans 7:1), so where is the decedent's condemnation? What it is that God foreknows we can't be sure, but we can be sure that God does foreknow something He perceives as relevant, because the Bible tells us so.

Denying the Bible

"In Scripture there is not the slightest reference to an election of God whereby one person is chosen to be saved and another is not...It is the plan of God that is elected, chosen, foreknown, and predestined -- not the individual or national choice of man to conform to that plan. The plan is the same for all alike; and everyone without exception is invited, chosen, elected, foreknown, and predestined to salvation, on the sole basis of the individual's choice and total conformity to the gospel to the end of life; otherwise, one will be lost, and there can be no exception to this divine plan. God's part in salvation for all men has been completed, and whoever meets His terms will be saved." (The Dake Annotated Reference Bible, Finis Dake, p. 1259, Election.)

Why did Cleopatra go into therapy? Because she was Queen of de Nile. Perhaps she will have to cede her crown to Finis Dake. The Bible knows of no "plan" of God which is predestined to glory,-- what glory might a "plan" enjoy?-- but of human individuals:

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30).

As we've seen in Ephesians 1:3-6, adoption as sons belongs to human beings, not to a 'plan.'

Belief belongs to human beings, not to a 'plan:'

"Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48).

Salvation belongs to human beings, not to a 'plan:'

"But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Names belong to human beings, not to a 'plan:'

"All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Revelation 13:8).

These references are inherently personal; and what can be the point of denying a plain Bible truth? But however bad some of the popular Arminianism out there may be, that is no reason to adopt Calvinism; we mustn't select the least bad of two bad alternatives, but aim for perfect conformity to the Bible standard.

Poor in Spirit

"Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5).

Calvinism portrays God's decree of predestination as grounded solely in His free sovereignty, on a basis unknowable to man, looking to nothing outside Himself. Yet Jesus and His followers spoke at great length about whom God had chosen and whom He had not. In some cases the qualities mentioned are fruits of grace displayed by the elect, in other cases the qualities mentioned are neither meritorious nor produced by grace:

"Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger." (Luke 6:20-25).

Physical, literal poverty is neither chosen nor meritorious, nor is it simply ordained by God, inasmuch as the Bible finds human oppression one of its causes. John Calvin's solution is to 'spiritualize' and 'meritorialize' all Biblical references to poverty and riches. In some cases this seems to be warranted, as when Matthew speaks of the "poor in spirit": at other times it plainly is not. In John Calvin's mind, God can have no possible reason for preferring one sinner over another, because both are wholly, and thus equally, bad. Yet God plainly has His own ranking system; He loves the poor, though they are no better than the rich.

Sociologists credit John Calvin with helping to invent the capitalist ethic, which is a good thing in its way. Too bad he did it only by turning a blind eye to much of what the Bible plainly teaches.

Hen and Chicks

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).

If there is no factor involved but God's good pleasure, then it is not obvious why He expresses disquiet and displeasure, at times, over the outcome of His dealings with men:

"Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’" (Ezekiel 33:11, 18:23, 32).
"How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred." (Hosea 11:8).

If there is no factor involved but only God's sovereignty, then why does God insist on making Himself unhappy?

All Men

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).
"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. . ." (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

The Bible says that God wills all men to come to repentance and be saved, yet not all men repent and are saved. There must therefore be some factor at play outside of God's will. Since there is no force in the universe which can overturn or defeat God's will, it must be that He allows the working of some extraneous agency, whatever it may be.

Some people say that the "all men" of these verses are not "all men" but rather "all" of those to whom these letters are addressed, that is the saints of God. Does scripture allow imposing contextual limitations to God's promises? The Psalmist exhorts the people, "Today, if you will hear His voice: do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion..." (Psalm 95:7). What day is 'today' by the reckoning of the author of the letter to Hebrews? A thousand years ago? No, the day when the hearers of scripture hear the verse: "...but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today...'" (Hebrews 3:13). Paul endorses this principle of interpretation in Romans Chapter 3. The Psalmist cries out against violent men: "They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips." (Psalm 140:3). Who are these awful people? The hearers of the law: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law..." (Romans 3:19). What a strange principle of interpretation, cutting so far against the grain for modern readers, who are urged to ask, 'What did this mean to those people back then?' But by God's own principle of interpretation, His words are not addressed to those people back then, but to those who hear, whoever they may be; 'we' are 'you,' the day when we got up this morning is 'today.' God's own principles of interpretation do not allow limiting the promises of God by narrowing their context to those originally addressed.

It is objected that sometimes 'all' does not mean 'all,' as for instance when Luke says all the world was to be taxed: "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." (Luke 2:1). South America was not taxed, China was not taxed. The Mediterranean was not even all the known world, what about the Scythians, the Ethiopians, the Persians? This is true but seems a slender reed on which to lean. What if that was the precise wording of Caesar's decree? Ambitious rulers have claimed what they have not held; only God's reach does not exceed His grasp. Latin historians like Tacitus use similar language: "There was the Roman Emperor, lord but a few days before of the whole human race, leaving the seat of his power, and passing through the midst of his people and his capital, to abdicate his throne. Men had never before seen or heard of such an event." (Tacitus, The Histories, 3.68). Perhaps they dismissed as a temporary inconvenience the fact that the entirety had not yet been brought into proper order. If Caesar had used this language in his decree, then it says nothing about Luke's, or the Holy Spirit's, sense of propriety as to the meaning of 'all.' It is not the lexicographer's job to make valid every boast.

I don't know whether there is any other man-made doctrine which encounters the conundrums with one simple world as do the Calvinists with 'all.' Like other quantity words, 'all' can be used in approximation, meaning, not 'each and every one,' but only 'the vast majority.' However this helps the Calvinist's case not at all, because he does not understand 'the elect' to be 'the vast majority' of men. Instead, he prefers, 'all the elect,' or sometimes an otherwise unattested sense of 'all,' in which it means a representative sample of each sub-group:

"The word all must be understood to mean all the elect, all His Church, all those whom the Father has given to the Son, etc., not all men universally and every man individually. The redeemed host will be made up of men from all classes and conditions of life, of princes and peasants, or rich and poor, of bond and free, of male and female, of young and old, of Jews and Gentiles, men of all nations, and races, from north to south, and from east to west." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 429).

Why "must" 'all' mean 'all the elect'? Because otherwise Calvinism is disconfirmed.

L - Limited Atonement

"Atonement limited to the elect."

"The Calvinist, on the other hand, says that Christ died only for the believer, the elect. . ." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 50). This point is directly contradicted by the Bible:

"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2).
All and Some History
Fair Warning Unmerciful Servant
Died for All Thwarted Desire

All and Some

There are times when words like 'whole' and 'all' are not meant literally, but there is no reason to think this is one of them, nor would anyone so think unless seeking to save the hypothesis. John repeats the thought, "And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14). That Jesus is Savior of "the world" is several times stated in John's writings; he records the Baptist's testimony as, "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29), and also witnesses to the Samaritans' testimony, "And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." (John 4:42).

Is it God's will that any should perish?: "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:14):

Hen and Chicks
He Marvelled
My Mind
Blot Me Out
Bad Calvinists

Paul sketches out a similar concept, "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. . .To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:14-19). The object of reconciliation and atonement is "the world," not a subset of the world's population, 'the elect.' It is unclear how Jesus could taste death for "every man:" "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Hebrews 2:9);— if He did not die for "every man," ('pantos,' all), but only for 'some' men. It is always true that words,— all words, not just 'all,'— can be used loosely, not in their strictest signification. However if a theory has nothing bolstering it but the hope that the Bible's words are used carelessly, then why adopt it?

The gospel call is universal, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31).

Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22).

Jesus gave the call: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). The invitation goes out to "all you who labor and are heavy laden." Is this a bona fide offer, or is it said with a snicker, like those carnival games where no one can possibly ever win the stuffed animal, because it can't be done? The Calvinist concedes it must be a bona fide offer, to deny it is monstrous, and then explains, "We believe that God “unfeignedly,” that is, sincerely or in good faith, calls all those who are living under the gospel to believe, and offers them salvation in the way of faith and repentance. . .The offer of salvation in the way of faith and repentance does not pretend to be a revelation of the secret counsel of God, more specifically, of His design in giving Christ as an atonement for sin." (Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 8281-8285). GLH Publishing.) The Lord throws out this invitation, knowing that not "all," but only "some," of those who labor can possibly respond! That's the "secret counsel:" that to some of those who labor and are heavy-laden, the message is really, 'I'm not talking to you.' Why, then, is the invitation made to "all?"

All who thirst can freely come to the waters of life: “And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). The pagans assigned to Tantalus the torment of watching what was offered flee away as he reached for it; surely no such fraudulent offer can be suspected of God.

'World' presents problems, for the Calvinist, similar to 'all' and 'every.' A word with several meanings in scripture, it must unconvincingly be wrested to mean 'the elect:'

"As to whose 'sin' (i.e., guilt, as in 1 John 1:7, etc.) has been 'put away,' Scripture leaves us in no doubt — it was that of the elect, the 'world' (John 1:29) of God's people!" (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 58).

Go back a few verses and give that interpretation a test drive: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." (John 1:10). His own elect knew Him not? Yet so they insist: "In like manner, the 'world' in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God's people." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 191). Let us test and see whether the 'world' of John 3:16 can mean 'the elect world:'

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:16-18).

This means the world of the elect, they tell us: "It was just because God so loved the world of elect sinners that he sent his only begotten Son that the world might be saved through him." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p 53). Try to work that out in detail: 'For God so loved the elect. . .For God sent not his Son to the elect world to condemn the elect; but that the elect through him might be saved.' Who, then, is condemned? Someone who lives elsewhere than the world? Plainly someone is condemned: 'he that believeth not.' And why say later, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19), where 'the world' [κοσμος] cannot possibly mean 'the elect.' Taking 'the world' to mean 'the elect' (when it needs to, not otherwise) is an evasion that fails to convince; let words take their natural meaning, and draw conclusions accordingly.

A passage like John 6 indicates a concern for "the world:" "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. . .If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." (John 6:33-51). If all that is meant is only, 'that portion of the world which I care about,' perhaps this restriction should have been stated. In response, the Calvinists point to instances where 'world' means considerably less than the whole entire world, for example, in the decree mandating Luke's census. But this establishes less than they world like. The Romans used to refer to the sphere of their sovereignty as 'the world,' even though they not only did not rule over, but did not know the existence of, Sumatra, New Zealand, Pantagonia, etc. All the Bible is guaranteeing in an indirect quotation of an imperial decree, is that, yes, the emperor, or those acting in his behalf, did say that, not that he said it and it's true:

At this, they will point to Acts 11:28, "Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar." Can it be thought the penguins in Antarctica suffered dearth during these years? These people knew nothing about penguins! And so, indeed, one must concede 'the world' can sometimes mean the known world, or the inhabited world, not the entirety. But I think this grants them less purchase than they think to plant their lever and eject the troublesome 'world' and 'all' verses from the Bible. It's a quibble.

Suppose God really does mean 'all'? Why not simply take Him at His word? It is a bit of a come-down when a system which advertises itself as the Bible truth turns out to lean upon the hope that God doesn't mean just exactly what He says. In some cases the Bible's 'all' is 'all' by approximation, virtually all, say 95 percent; in no case is 'all' a 'small fraction' of the total, nor a representative sample of each constituent group. A willingness to 'bend' words as needed pulls in a different direction from a willingness to learn from God's word. It matters in evangelism because people have been saved when they heard that God loves them, even in Calvinist churches: “An ungodly stranger, stepping into one of our services at Exeter Hall, was brought to the cross by the words of Wesley’s verse—“Jesu, lover of my soul.” 'Does Jesus love me?' said he: 'then why should I live in enmity to him?'” (Spurgeon, Charles H.  Lectures to My Students (p. 81). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.) Why indeed? However the greeter cannot stand at the door of churches which subscribe to limited atonement and tell all and sundry, 'God loves you,' because He does not; in Calvinism, He loves only the elect. They must rephrase; if done skillfully, only the alert will notice.



There is controversy whether John Calvin himself believed in 'L.' Sometimes he does not sound like it:

"Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, 'the sin of the world,' he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist, therefore, by speaking generally of the sin of the world, intended to impress upon us the conviction of our own misery, and to exhort us to seek the remedy." (John Calvin, Commentary on John, John 1:29).

See also his Commentary on Hebrews 9:28, "To bear, or, take away sins, is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that all receive no benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them." (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 9:28). The founder's uncertainty on this point is no recommendation in its favor.

Calvinists generally rebut the Bible's 'all' verses with 'many' verses, which they take to mean 'only many;' Calvin himself here shows their error. The pastor who tells the congregation, 'Christ died for you and  me,' isn't ruling out the billions of human beings he has not mentioned. John Calvin himself seems undecided on this crucial point, 'L.'

Although this point is widely accepted by Calvinists today, its history generally is rather sparse. Augustine, for example, who pioneered some of John Calvin's viewpoint, does not accept this one; he considered Christ's atonement as having covered Judas's sin:

"To suffer indeed He had come, and He punished him through whom He suffered. For Judas the traitor was punished, and Christ was crucified: but us He redeemed by His blood, and He punished him in the matter of his price. For he threw down the price of silver, for which by him the Lord had been sold; and he knew not the price wherewith he had himself by the Lord been redeemed." (Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms, Psalm LXIX, Chapter 27, p. 674 ECF 1_08.)

While the novelty of a given viewpoint is no conclusive argument against it, the fact that this view is first found in certain of Calvin's successors is no recommendation either.

Fair Warning

Christ died for the weak brother, but not only for the weak brother: "And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (1 Corinthians 8:11).

"Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died." (Romans 14:15).

If the possibility exists, and plainly it does, that the weak brother might "perish," be lost, even though Christ died for that now destroyed weak brother, then it is not only for the elect that Christ died. Some claim this is a hypothetical case which cannot occur: "In the second place, these passages are, in some cases at least, hypothetical. . .The passage neither asserts nor implies that any actually perish for whom Christ died. None perish whom He came to save. . ." (Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 22101-22104). GLH Publishing.) If so why bring it up?

A similar situation is found in Hebrews 10:26-29:

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:26-29).

If this willful sinner was sanctified by the Lord's blood, but is on his way to a fearful judgment, then the power of the blood extends even to the non-elect, though without benefit to them.


Unmerciful Servant

The Lord told a story about forgiveness. When the king forgave his Hell-bound servant; he did not tell him, 'There are insufficient funds in the royal treasury to cover your debt:'

  • "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
  • "The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
  • "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
    And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
  • "And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
  • "So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?
  • "And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him."
  • (Matthew 18:23-34)

The unforgiving servant is not one of the elect, but there were ample means in the treasury to cover his debt nonetheless.


Died For All

Instead of focusing our efforts on explaining why "all" does not mean "all," it would be better to say what the Bible says the way the Bible says it:

"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Calvinists must have 'all' to mean, not all, but a sampler including different kinds and types, etc. If 'all' does mean all, not always but most of the time, then this viewpoint is indefensible. The false teachers cannot be assumed to be numbered among the elect, if they are indeed bringing destruction upon themselves, yet God's blood "bought" them: "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction." (2 Peter 2:1).

The Bible says that the iniquities of us all were laid upon Him, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6). Again, they commonly deal with scriptures like these by arbitrarily whittling down their context, but why should any who do not have a vested interest in defending the system accept this?

One may view the failure of 'L' as the reductio ad absurdum of the Calvinist system insofar as it is a system and not a buffet. "Prove any one of them false and the whole system must be abandoned." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 125).


Thwarted Desire

The Calvinist God, it would seem, suffers from unfulfilled desire:

"In some inscrutable sense, God's desire for the world's salvation is different from His eternal saving purpose. We can understand this to some degree from a human perspective; after all, our purposes frequently differ from our desires. We may desire, for example, to spend a day at leisure, yet a higher purpose compels us to go to work instead. Similarly God's saving purposes transcend His desires." (John MacArthur, Jr., Alone with God, p. 178).

Certainly we all know the feeling, but what demanding boss prevents God from realizing His desires, the Calvinists do not say: "But God's choices are determined by nothing other than His own sovereign, eternal purpose." (John MacArthur, Jr., Alone with God, p. 178). We know that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth because He told us so. Yet not all men are saved. According to the Calvinists, there is no factor at play except God's own will, thus leaving, for them, the problem of unfulfilled divine desire. Their god is not self-indulgent. In the end, it is "a divine mystery." (ibid., p. 180). Such mysteries we can do without.


I - Irresistible Grace

Stiff-Necked Drag and Drop
Internal Consistency Happy Atheists
Call and Response


Some means of grace are readily resistible:

"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." (Acts 7:51).

A face-to-face encounter with a prophet of God can be resisted, as the Sanhedrin resisted Stephen, to his death. At this, some people would drop the matter. But in Calvinism, if the Bible indicates that God's grace can be resisted, we do not stop there. Instead: 'Sure, that kind of grace can be resisted; but then there is the irresistible kind!' We simply proliferate kinds, types and species of grace, as per usual: "The work of the Holy Spirit upon or towards men is always 'resisted' by them; His work within is always successful." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 195). Thus, there is the general call, and then there is the effectual call.

But Biblically, the longsuffering of God which is resistible, and originates in common grace not saving grace, is not distinguished from the longsuffering intended to eventuate in repentance: "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). Those who make this distinction are not following the Bible in so doing, because the Bible fails to make this distinction when it would be relevant, if it were real.


Drag and Drop

 Indeed there are various ways God works upon His children; outwardly, as shown above. But God also works on our 'insides':

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. " (Ezekiel 36:26).

With what heart will we resist God then? John 6:44 is sometimes brought in to prove this point:

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44).

The word "draw" is ελκυω, to draw or drag. 'Draw' has the sense of pulling toward oneself: "To cause to move continuously by force applied in advance of the thing moved; to pull along; to haul; to drag; to cause to follow. . ." (Webster's, 1). People are dragged here and there, with or without their consent: "But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw ['ελκυω'] you before the judgment seats?" (James 2:6); "And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew ['ελκυω'] them into the marketplace unto the rulers. . ." (Acts 16:19). Here the sense is of people coerced, dragged along by a mob they are unable to resist.

This, some say, shows that grace is irresistible. But are there any cases in scripture of 'drag-and-drop'? There is one in the Septuagint, Nehemiah 9:30: "Yet thou didst bear long ['ελκυω'] with them many years, and didst testify to them by thy Spirit by the hand of thy prophets: but they hearkened not; so thou gavest them into the hand of the nations of the land." (Brenton Septuagint). God dragged them along for a while, but ultimately dropped them. So perhaps too much is made of this verse and this word.


Internal Consistency

What is plain is that God's grace in some forms is eminently resistible, and is resisted. But, they say, this is not saving grace. That kind is irresistible. And they know this how? Because they have so defined it; their definition of Total Depravity as Total Inability leaves this as corollary. One must admit it all hangs together:

"The parts of this scheme are not only harmonious, but they are also connected in such a way that the one involves the others, so that if one be proved it involves the truth of all the rest. . .There can scarcely be a clearer proof that we understand a complicated machine than that we can put together its several parts, so that each exactly fits its place; no one admitting of being transferred or substituted for another; and the whole being complete and unimpeded in its action. Such is the order of God's working, that if you give a naturalist a single bone, he can construct the whole skeleton of which it is a part; and such is the order of his plan of redemption, that if one of the great truths which it includes be admitted, all the rest must be accepted." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 18032-18049).

Given a bone, they've given us a system. In fact the skeptic is entitled to demand Bible proof in detail, not of portions only. This internal coherence only means subtle errors snowball and distortions of emphasis grow. Once the system is complete, the enquirer is entitled to ask, 'Does the system as a whole cohere with scripture?' If the answer is no, the response should become, not a retreat to mystery, but rather a search to discover which small error has been allowed to propagate unchecked.

To summarize the doctrine: "Although the general outward call of the gospel can be, and often is, rejected, the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made. This special call is not made to all sinners but is issued to the elect only! The Spirit is in no way dependent upon their help or cooperation for success in His work of bringing them to Christ." (D. N. Steele, C. C. Thomas and S. L. Quinn, quoted in Whosoever Will, David Allen and Steve Lemke editors, p. 111). But there is no reason to bifurcate grace in this manner except to 'save the hypothesis' of Calvinism.


Happy Atheists

When Paul cries out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24), the Calvinists hear the voice of a redeemed man, because who, absent God's irresistible grace, would inspect his own condition and find it "wretched"? Do they think, then, that atheists are happy? Atheists object when Christians talk about how there is a God-shaped hole in the human heart, an empty place which only God can fill. They angrily protest that their lives are perfectly fulfilling, thank you very much, there is nothing wrong with them, and nothing lacking to their happiness.

But social statistics tell a different story. Atheists score higher in bad things, like suicide rate and incidence of depression, and lower in reported satisfaction with one's life. Atheism, in fact, does not 'work,' for very many people. Both sides of the debate, I think, put too much stock in the testimony of converts. It stands to reason that people who are on the verge of leaving will express the lowest levels of satisfaction with the organization to which they presently belong. Atheists over-estimate the dissatisfaction of Christians when they assume that, because those who left the church to become atheists say that their fellow pew-sitters are hypocrites and pastors phonies, all Christians feel the same way. And likewise, those atheists who find their way to the altar and confess how miserable was their life as an atheist, are not necessarily speaking for those who haven't left. The 'leavers' are the group with the most dissatisfaction, versus the 'stayers.' Still, there does seem to be a surplusage of unhappiness on the atheist side; why else do more of them kill themselves?

As we've seen, Calvinists 'meritorialize' a lot of things which are quite pointedly not described as meritorious works in the Bible, like faith and repentance. No doubt they also meritorialize godly sorrow. Now godly sorrow,— contrition and unease over an ill-spent life,— might be worth meritorializing. But what of the sorrow that sends the atheist plummeting through the upper-story window of the sky-scraper down to the pavement below? It cannot have been awoken by irresistible grace: a miserably unhappy man who dies an unbeliever is no recipient of irresistible grace, if there is such a thing. It may be that the demon who inhabited him found sport in casting off its host. But had he bounced off a canopy instead of smacking onto the pavement, might he have sought, and found, a remedy for his unhappiness?

From time to time Christians speak up, expressing outrage that their community is not more 'open' about mental illness. They think they are showing compassion in encouraging their depressed fellows to look to the pharmaceutical industry for an answer. Meanwhile, the church is sitting on a very effective cure for mild depression in the form of the gospel. It is difficult to avoid the impression that there really is a God-shaped empty space in the human heart, as Blaise Pascal thought. Calvinism requires erecting a Chinese wall between the misery that leads the atheist to the altar and the misery that drove him, three years prior, out the sky-scraper window. Practically and experientially, there may be little discernible difference.


Call and Response

Scriptures like Proverbs 1:24 describe a futile quest,

"Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity. . ." (Proverbs 1:23-26).

What is the Calvinist translation of this? 'I called, but not effectuality; you disdained, like you could have done any differently'? It seems better to take it at face value.


P - Perseverance of the Saints

Failure to Persevere Falsification

Failure to Persevere

It's a matter of common observation to watch people who appeared to accept the gospel with great enthusiasm turn away. They may even end by blaspheming God. How does the Bible itself describe these people: as saints who failed to persevere...or as "not of us"?

"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (1 John 2:19).

This is the Bible vocabulary, we should use it too.

Those who are truly "of us" are not lost but persevere till the end. So it is said, and believers should not argue with their instruction sheet. A more pointed question might be, how to determine group membership? Who are these individuals? Alas, they do not wear name tags. Whether introspection might help determine membership in this class is one speculative possibility. We can rest assured in His promises, which are solid; but how do we stand in relation to these promises? Have we seized hold of them? Several verses to study:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand." (John 10:27-29).

Is this just a truism: that those who persevere to the end will persevere to the end? At salvation time meets eternity and mutable, changeable creatures are stamped with our eternal destiny. The New Covenant is instantiated with a promise that God remakes our very nature:

"And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me." (Jeremiah 32:40).

The same work He began, He will finish:

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, . . .being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;. . ." (Philippians 1:3-6).

It is the "power of God" which keeps the believer:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:3-5).

This supernatural preservation is the work of God, not a testament to the fidelity of the believer. The turgid, filthy water we might draw from our own well will not cleanse us, only the fountain of God. On this point Calvinists are on to something: "It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres." (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 11464), because "the believer would fall away, if he were left to himself." God does not leave the believer only forensically 'justified,' i.e., found innocent though guilty as hell; the Holy Spirit sanctifies and makes new this declared-innocent-though-guilty miscreant. It is the power of God working in man.

Since the question is not about the facts but about how to describe a category of people, one wonders why there need be such controversy.



There is a vernacular form of 'Once Saved Always Saved,' which runs like this: 'Johnny answered an altar call when he was ten years old. Although he subsequently became a second-story man and died in a shoot-out with police, he must have gone to be with the Lord in spite of everything, because he certainly was saved when he answered that altar call.' But this is not, as far as I can gather, what Calvinists believe. There is a kind of 'faith' which is more apparent than real; Simon the Samaritan, the heresiarch, 'believed' after a fashion, but it was not counted to him for righteousness, he was too ambitious.



When we look about us at church life, we see a spiritual muddle. It may be that the person sitting to your right side in church will, in ten years' time, be a Wiccan or a Buddhist and thus lost for eternity, while meanwhile the atheists outside, railing against God, will be on the inside. If one wrote down the names of the 'elect' on a list, as best as can be determined by the outward observer, and then stored it in a safe-deposit box, retrieving it ten years later, the list would require considerable editing. Does either side, the Calvinist or the Wesleyan, actually predict the confusion we see? If so, this would be an admittedly weak, empirical verification of their view. It might seem that they do so; Calvinists, in their polemics against other viewpoints, will often describe the church in a binary mode seldom heard from Arminians. If, however, these binary, light/dark descriptions of the church are heard only in polemics and what is heard elsewhere is far less dramatic, or different from what is observed, this may be less of a determining factor.

Sometimes people who are angrier with Calvinism than familiar with it will complain, my God does not sit in stony silence while sinners plead with Him for mercy, which He will not grant because they are not of His elect! Calvinists indignantly reply that this never, ever happens in their system, because the carnal mind is at enmity with God, and the elect are the only people who mourn for their sin. Since these are two distinct, non-overlapping populations, the ready conviction of the Calvinist that he is of the elect is understandable: "'It is impossible, that a believer in Christ should not be elected of God, because it is only by the election of God that one becomes a believer in Christ. . .'" (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 458).

But we all know of cases where a sinner has turned to God with great apparent enthusiasm, studied the Bible diligently. . .and then ended his race a hardened atheist shaking his fist at God on his death-bed. The Arminian has a ready answer, finding fault with the apostate's faith; he never truly believed. But according to the Calvinist, there is nothing within the repentant sinner to which God looks with any interest.

"What causes some men to repent and believe, while others, with the same external privileges, reject the Gospel and continue in impenitence and unbelief? The Calvinist says that it is God who makes this difference, that he efficaciously persuades some to come to Him; but the Arminian ascribes it to the men themselves." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 251).

Actually Arminians, fewer in number than counted by Calvinists, ascribe it to God's grace, though they do situate saving faith within the human heart. In this case, what happened? Certainly this person objectively threw himself down before God, begging His mercy. Is repentance after all within unaided human capability, as Arminians do not believe it to be? Are they Pelagians after all? But haven't they said, "In the nature of the case the first movement toward salvation can no more come from man than his body if dead could originate its own life." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 252). Or was God playing, toying with him, experimenting? Although according to Calvinist theory the complement of sinners who begged for mercy and did not find it should be an empty set, empirically, it would seem, it is not.

As seen above, Calvinist doctrine demands a particular order of events. First comes regeneration, then faith. Once regenerated, the believer is free to pray for. . .what he has already received!:

"A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 175).

Again: "All Christians believe in the new birth, but Calvinists believe that it is a gift that God gives us so that we will believe, not because we believed." (Michael S. Horton, For Calvinism, Kindle location 258). Can this sequencing requirement be defended, consistently and in detail, against the Bible? Or is it one-sided and unbalanced? In John 20:31, believing is the ground and source of life, not its after-effect: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Or, "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." (1 Timothy 1:16). These show faith as the basis of new life. Compare also Acts 2:38: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." To be sure this verse cannot give a hard-and-fast rule either, because scripture says, "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Corinthians 12:3). However one would expect that if regeneration-repentance-belief were indeed the invariant rule, it would be so stated, but this is not found to be the case:

Return to Saved by Faith...


Having examined the five petals of our tulip in detail, we discover this man-made system cannot be fully substantiated by Bible study. We don't have exhaustive knowledge, but neither have we so little to go on as to say, 'We don't know:' "Why God selected these particular individuals rather than others, we do not know." (Arthur W. Pink, The Doctrine of Election, p. 5). Perhaps we do not like God's upside-down system, but it has been adequately explained.

The Synod of Dort pronounced that salvation was "unconditional," i.e., not contingent upon anything foreseen by God, but no Calvinist has ever delivered proof that there is nothing God foreknows which is relevant. Rather they have concentrated their scrutiny upon only one point, or at most two: that God cannot foreknow merit, inasmuch as human merit is his gift. Indeed, but far from exhausting the category 'everything about an individual human being which God can foreknow,' these one, or two, points, barely scratch the surface! Given that the Bible explicitly teaches God's election is according to foreknowledge, it does not fall to the duty of the Bible-believer to point out what God foreknows which is germane, but only to repeat, with the Bible, that he does foreknow something or another which informs His decree of election. While helpfully cueing the inquirer not to confuse 'total' depravity with 'utter' depravity, they themselves make the switch, implying that our status is really the latter, only this reality is masked, by the extra-biblical gift of 'common grace,' and thus no one actually ever sees an utterly depraved person, nor are such described in the Bible. 'Just as we predicted!' they exult. Limited atonement is verbally contradicted in the scriptures. And so it goes. This man-made system is not the Bible explicated, but a speculative addition thereto.

Evaluation Equal Hatred
Over-Generalization Adam's Free Will
The Bridge is Out Neo-Platonism
Beggar's Cup Douglas Wilson
Regeneration God is Love

The Calvinist is right to insist his system be evaluated on conformity to the Bible, not by comparison with abstract principles of God's nature, even if these principles are themselves taught in the Bible, such as "God is love." (1 John 4:16). However, realizing that the system is not in fact altogether scriptural, requiring considerable 'bridging' over the gaps, the fact that it contradicts known and revealed principles of God's character and activity is certainly no further recommendation.