A Biblical Critique of Calvinism

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Predestination of the elect and non-elect was taught by the Jewish Essene sect, [4] Gnosticism , [5] and Manichaeism. The controversy caused Augustine to radically reinterpret the teachings of the apostle Paul , arguing that faith is a free gift from God rather than something humans can choose. Double predestination is the idea that not only does God choose some to be saved, he also creates some people who will be damned.

Modern Calvinists respond to the ethical dilemma of double predestination by explaining that God's active predestination is only for the elect. God provides grace to the elect causing salvation, but for the damned God withholds salvific grace. Calvinists teach that God remains just and fair in creating persons he predestines to damnation because although God unilaterally works in the elect producing regeneration, God does not actively force the damned to sin. Scholars have disagreed over whether Heinrich Bullinger accepted the doctrine of double predestination.

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James says that he rejected it, preferring a view called "single predestination" where God elects some to salvation, but does not in any way predestine to reprobation. As a disciple of Augustine, John Calvin also taught double predestination. He wrote the foundational work on this topic, Institutes of the Christian Religion , while living in Strasbourg after his expulsion from Geneva and consulting regularly with the Reformed theologian Martin Bucer.

For the world, without providence it would be "unlivable". For individuals, without predestination "no one would be saved". Calvin's doctrine of providence is straightforward.

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Calvin opened his exposition of predestination with an "actual fact". The "actual fact" that Calvin observed was that even among those to whom "the covenant of life" is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance. Calvin turned to the teachings of Jesus for a theological interpretation of the diversity that some people accept the "covenant of life" and some do not. Pointing to the Parable of the Sower , Calvin observed, "it is no new thing for the seed to fall among thorns or in stony places". For Calvin's biblically-based theology, this diversity reveals the "unsearchable depth of the divine judgment", a judgment "subordinate to God's purpose of eternal election".

God offers salvation to some, but not to all. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it "incongruous that However, Calvin asserted that the incongruity can be resolved by proper views concerning "election and predestination". Thus, Calvin based his theological description of people as "predestinated to life or to death" on biblical authority and "actual fact".

“A Biblical Critique of Calvinism” (Dave Armstrong): Introduction

Calvinists emphasise the active nature of God's decree to choose those foreordained to eternal wrath, yet at the same time the passive nature of that foreordination. This is possible because most Calvinists hold to an Infralapsarian view of God's decree. In that view, God, before Creation, in his mind, first decreed that the Fall would take place, before decreeing election and reprobation. The WCF uses different words for the act of God's election and reprobation: "predestinated" and "foreordained" respectively.

This suggests that the two do not operate in the same way. The term "equal ultimacy" is sometimes used of the view that the two decrees are symmetrical: God works equally to keep the elect in heaven and the reprobate out of heaven. This view is sometimes erroneously referred to as "double predestination", on which see above.

Sproul argues against this position on the basis that it implies God "actively intervenes to work sin" in the lives of the reprobate. Reymond , however, insists on equal ultimacy of election and reprobation in the divine decree, though he suggests that "we must not speak of an exact identity of divine causality behind both.

Calvinists hold that even if their scheme is characterized as a form of determinism, it is one which insists upon the free agency and moral responsibility of the individual. Additionally, they hold that the will is in bondage to sin and therefore unable to actualize its true freedom. Hence, an individual whose will is enslaved to sin cannot choose to serve God. Since Calvinists further hold that salvation is by grace apart from good works sola gratia and since they view making a choice to trust God as an action or work, they maintain that the act of choosing cannot be the difference between salvation and damnation, as in the Arminian scheme.

Rather, God must first free the individual from his enslavement to sin to a greater degree than in Arminianism, and then the regenerated heart naturally chooses the good. This work by God is sometimes called irresistible , in the sense that grace enables a person to freely cooperate, being set free from the desire to do the opposite, so that cooperation is not the cause of salvation but the other way around.

Here it appears that, for Lennox, God's action and human action do not operate in the same event at different levels - it must be one or the other. This framework is also evident where Lennox tell us that Calvinists believe that God causes people to sin then cruelly blames them for it [19] and says that repentance has no meaning if God causes people to sin. It will therefore be unsurprising that Lennox never mentions the doctrine of 'concurrence', a major part of the classical doctrine of providence which explains how God can sovereignly guide creation without overriding the real responsibility and will of human beings.

The notion of a non-competitive, compatible relationship between God's action and creaturely action, which has had some excellent attention in modern theology in the work of Katherine Tanner and Rowan Williams, has no place in Lennox's scheme. This comes out further in Lennox's description of Reformed notions of sovereignty as suggesting 'dictatorship' or 'depotism'.

Whether intentionally or not, Lennox appears to think of God as a being who is 'within' the cause and effect nexus of creation, whose will and action competes over the same space as human will and action. Suffice to say this is an utterly different framework than the classical theistic approach of the Reformed and other 'deterministic' theologians and, I would argue, the Bible itself, eg.

Acts This wider 'competitive' framework significantly impacts upon Lennox's exegesis. We can see this most clearly where he treats examples of human responsibility in scripture as evidence against a Reformed interpretation. Of course, this only works as evidence if we presuppose the position that we have to choose between God in some sense causing someone to do something or that person choosing for themselves. For example, Lennox presents Jesus' appeals to people's minds and moral sensibilities in John 7 and 8 as positive evidence for libertarian free will.

He concludes that 'Christ treated them as responsible moral agents who were capable of making moral decisions'.

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism

If we do not assume this framework, these examples from scripture are of little relevance to the debate. One of Lennox's other major arguments is that he understands scripture to teach that faith comes before regeneration. He writes, 'Jesus says: the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone believes in him may have eternal life. He does not say "so that everyone who has eternal life may believe"'.


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Indeed, Lennox appears to expect that, if the Reformed position were true, every relevant verse would lay out a fully formed ordo salutis package. His argument on this point is ultimately compromised by the fact that he does not engage with several of the most important texts used to demonstrate that regeneration precedes faith: there is no discussion of John 'the wind blows where it wishes' John , nor Acts 'The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message' or 1 Corinthians 'no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit'. One of the major sections of the book offers an exposition of Romans It is a good statement of a non-Calvinist interpretation of these chapters, taking cues from N.

Wright and the dispensationalist theologians Griffith Thomas and H. Lennox pays special attention to the Old Testament background to Paul's arguments, not least when it comes to examples of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, and the image of the clay and the potter in Romans 9. However, he does at times seem to place an emphasis on his own interpretation of the Old Testament texts, rather than the specific ways that Paul is using them.

This is evident where Lennox interprets Jeremiah 18 as saying that 'the clay is living and what the potter does with it is in part dependent on its response to him'.


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This section could have done with interacting with modern commentaries in the Reformed tradition, such as those of Schreiner, Kruse, Morris, Murray and Moo. This all said, we have here a good, clearly explained presentation of a non-predestinarian in the Augustinian sense interpretation of Romans The final argument we shall examine has its own chapter, but is also the pervasive argument of the whole book.

Predestination in Calvinism - Wikipedia

This is the moral objection to 'theistic determinism', which is that God condemns people for not believing, despite the fact that they cannot believe unless he determines it. This again reflects Lennox's 'competitive' framework, but it also carries the assumption that a failure to believe in Christ is the basis upon which God condemns people.

We might respond by pointing out that the Bible suggests that humans are already condemned on the basis of sin prior to hearing and responding to the gospel Colossians What is more troubling at this point is the methodology. It is striking how often Lennox appeals to us to judge what would be right or wrong for God to do by using our own sense of moral reasoning.

We see this implicitly where he describes an argument made by the late R. C Sproul as 'callous, hard and even cruel'. Lennox later dismisses an argument made by Lloyd Jones on the basis that it does not conform to 'moral logic and common sense'. Lennox's book is ultimately let down by his lack of engagement with a full presentation of the Reformed position. Reading it is rather like watching an accomplished boxer take on a punch bag.

The boxer is strong, fast and skilled, but the opponent does not look much like the real thing and we do not know how he would fare against someone who can hit back. This absence leads to his major theological error, that of assuming that God's will and human wills compete over the same space, rather than operating in the same events at different levels. It is also the root of the main problems with his exegesis. The great irony is that this failure to properly represent the opposing view was precisely one of the major problems with the New Atheists, to whom John Lennox has responded and engaged with so brilliantly.

Despite the shortcomings of this book, my hope is that we will continue to support and encourage him in the area of addressing the relationship between science and religion, where he still has an enormous amount to offer. See James Anderson Systematic Prof. Follow us.