Arminian Suicidal Tendencies
How to Answer the Arminian Charge that Calvinism is Fatalistic
by John Hendryx
[Some of the following material is drawn from other sources or materials I have previously written. But here it is used in a way that we may be able to use when presenting a intelligible argument for salvation by grace alone when challenged by those who charge Calvinism with being morally repugnant. I hope you find it useful.]
This short essay is a response to some rash comments about Calvinist soteriology made by Malcolm L. Lavender, Litt.D. This sadly confused man has spent a great deal of wasted energy building a website with article after article that attempts to refute Calvinism. With ad homonym attacks sprinkled with Greek lessons, Calvinism is portrayed as an evil heresy and utterly apostate from true Christianity. In reading his article in which he attacks James White for his exegesis of John 3:16, I came to recognize that we need to deal firmly but with much patience toward these perhaps well-intended but deluded brothers. His whole article needs to be challenged at some point, especially for the lengthy straw man he sets up which erroneously alleges that Calvinists exegete the term "world" in John 3:16 to mean "elect" (I discuss John 3:16 elsewhere). That is another battle though. I am not yet sure how you go about refuting a straw man. It would be easier if he actually attempted to refute a position Calvinists actually held. But first, in the following I want to respond to the charges he made in the first paragraph of his essay. A common by Arminians but charge but thrusts a self-inflicted wound (SIW) that is fatal to their own belief system:
Referring to Calvinism and how we supposedly misinterpret the Scripture, Lavender says,
" hybrid paganism comes to expression in their doctrines as at no other place. Here fatalistic, predetermination reaches its uttermost extremity. Here the imagination is strained, utterly, as the Calvinistic gospel tells multiplied millions and billions of Adam's fallen race: "You have no hope because God has abandoned you." This is the gospel? This is good news? And to adapt Dave Hunt's title: What Love Is This! This Calvinistic message is as cold as a snake and as deceitful as Lucifer. So, the revolt against God continues. Dr. Norman Geisler powerfully describes the fallacies of the Calvinistic system as "theologically inconsistent, philosophically insufficient, and morally repugnant." Amen!"
When I read the above text several analogies came to mind. Lavender (1) "paints himself into a corner" (2) he calls in a missile strike on his own coordinates and (3) he bites the hand that feeds him.
I make these three analogies because if there is any validity in his objections to Calvinism, then, by his own standards, it equally applies to Arminians (synergists). He calls Calvinism "fatalistic predetermination", a "cold" and loveless God and "morally repugnant". My question is, how can he claim that his system of theology is not subject to the same fatalistic criticism he levels at Calvinists? This baffles me. Actually the Arminian system is both impersonal and fatalistic, while the Calvinist believes in a personal determinism (Compatibilism). Let me explain.
Paints Himself into a Corner
No Arminian (synergist) can consistently teach that God foreknew who would be saved (as Malcolm does) and then turn around and preach that God is trying to save every man. It is obvious that if God knows who will be saved by a foreseen choice, then how could one claim that He is attempting to save more? It would be nothing less than absurd to assert that God is trying to do something which He knew never could be accomplished.
Similarly no Arminian (synergist) could, without being inconsistent, say that God foresaw which sinners would be lost and then, without blinking an eye, teach that it is not within God's will to allow these sinners to be lost. Why did He create them? God could have just as easily refrained from creating those that He knew would go to Hell. He knew that such persons would freely choose hell even before He created them. And since God went ahead and created them with full knowledge that they would be lost, it is evidently within God's providence that some sinners are lost, He ostensibly, therefore, has some purpose in it that human beings cannot fully grasp.
Keeping this in mind, the Arminian recognizes (1) that God foreknows the future exhaustively, and (2) that He has created the world knowing what the future will bring. In other words, before the foundation of the world, the Arminian believes God knew that, in 2004, Joe Smith would make a free decision to become a Christian. But before Joe Smith was born, the Arminian concedes that God knew of his free decision. God chooses him based on his foreseen faith. But even before creation, Joe Smith's free decision was inevitable. Why? Well it is not because of Joe Smith's free will, for Joe was not yet born. And certainly not because of God's predestination, because the Arminian denies that possibility from the outset. The inevitability in question was therefore, by necessity, some source other than either Joe Smith or God. For if God can look into the future and see that a person #1 will come to Christ and that person #2 will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed, they are already determined. God's foresight of believers' faith and repentance implies the certainty, or "moral necessity " of these acts, just as much as a sovereign decree. "For that which is certainly foreseen must be certain." (R.L.Dabney) If we assume that God's knowledge of the future is true (which evangelicals all agree upon), then it is absolutely certain that person #1 will believe and person #2 will not. There is no way their lives could turn out differently than this. Therefore the Arminian position paints itself into a corner by being forced to conclude that their destinies are determined, for they could not be otherwise. But now the question is, by what are their destinies determined? If God Himself determines them then we no longer have election based on foreseen faith, but rather on God's sovereign will. But if God does not determine their destinies then who or what determines them? Of course no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people's destinies. That is a scary possibility! In rejecting "divine determinism," the Arminian by default must embrace an impersonal determinism coming from some mysterious other source. And to be sure, this idea certainly does not leave much room for their much-boasted free will. The only possible alternative is to say their destinies are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do. But of what benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal and compassionate God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
Missile Strike on His Own Coordinates
The only viable option left for the Arminian is God's predestination as the key element in a persons salvation. So Lavender, by calling the Calvinist conception of God evil, morally repugnant etc., is actually calling in a cruise missile on his own coordinates. He must be forced to admit that his vision of how people are saved is not only deterministic but also impersonal. To one who honestly deals with the evidence, it forces an admition that Arminian theology teaches salvation by fate.
Thus, even Arminianism implicitly concedes the Calvinist point of predestination and yet suppresses it so that the average person cannot see it. The system collapses in on itself, however, because neither man nor God end up determining whether one is saved or not. So the Arminians' theological problems become much more complex than the Calvinists' at this point. Recognizing this unassailable logic that arises out of Scripture, a growing number of Arminians have abandoned the premise that God foreknows everything and have moved to a philosophical view more akin to that of open theism or process theology. But such a view cannot be validated or derived from the Scriptures and is sub-Christian at best. Many hate the God of Scriptures so much that they create an extra-biblical system that fits their humanistic agendas.
Bites the Hand that Feeds Him
Lastly, I believe Arminian brothers who speak as Mr. Lavender does are ultimately calling God morally repugnant, because the Scriptures, teach predestination from cover to cover. This is very dangerous ground he is treading on. To say such things is really to presume on God. If God chooses to save some and not others for His own purposes, that should be enough for us. Although He has not yet revealed His secret will as to why He chooses some and not others, but we trust in God's perfect character that He will always do what is right. The Arminian here assumes the worst of God's character. They reason that if God chooses some and not others He must have an evil unloving purpose. But why should anyone so easily draw this erroneous conclusion? It does not follow. Simply because God does not give us a reason does not mean that we must demand one or else charge Him with evil. If He chooses not to save some sinners He is perfectly in His right.
Remember in the Old Testament, God would speak of his graciousness toward His covenant people but then in other passages spoke of his just anger toward them. It was likely that justice and love was hard for many of them to reconcile, seeing them side by side in the Scripture. They had to trust in God that He would bring a solution. The solution was in Christ Jesus when he fulfilled the covenant from our side by living a sinless life and died the death we justly deserve for all who would believe. Justice and love were thus both served, probably in a way that most did not expect. What once seemed to be a mystery became clear when the Word became flesh. My point is that those things which we do not fully understand now (the secret will of God), He will make clear to us in His time and we will bow before Him in shame for out doubts. Arminians who manipulate the Scriptures to make God the way they want Him to be, while calling the true biblical God morally repugnant as Geisler has done, I believe, will have some serious answering to do.
Malcolm L. Lavender appears to doubt God's goodness by charging that God has no right to choose whom He will. Isn't that what the Arminian position really comes down to? It is an accusation against God. But who are we to tell God what He can and cannot do or to tell Him what would be loving and what would not?
The denial by Arminians that we are saved by grace alone is also a proud intrusive humanism which wants to assert itself. John Piper once said that the last bastion of pride is belief that we are the authors of our own faith (Heb 12:2). To think that our faith pays part of the price of our redemption is error beyond words. God clearly tells us that our salvation is not because of something He sees in us which sets us apart from others. It is His grace alone that sets us apart, His covenant which He initiated with us simply because it was His good pleasure. This grace gives rise to our faith. But Malcolm's position ultimately denies the need of grace in our salvation. It ends up being human monergism. We must forcefully ask our Arminian friends, "Why does one man choose God and not another?" One person, because he was more wise or more humble, made a decision for Christ that his neighbor could not come up with? The Arminian here is teaching either a salvation by fate, or a salvation by merit. But grace is nowhere to be found.
Go to Part II of this article
Regarding Lavender's Straw Man Caricature of Calvinist's understanding of John 3:16
The Sole Consideration, That God Is God, Sufficient To Still All Objections To His Sovereignty by Jonathan Edwards
Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God's Desire for All to be Saved by John Piper
If God is Soverign, Why Do Anything? by Matt Perman
The Consistency of Divine Sovereignty and Human Accountability by Matt Perman
In Light of John 3:16, How can Election be True by John Hendryx