A Calvinist Critique
A Message from Pastor Hale
Calvinism – meaning double predestination, a limited atonement, and once saved always saved teachings – is logical to sinful reason, but not strictly biblical. It goes beyond what the Scriptures actually say. For example, a Calvinist writes: “God ordained the fall in His perfect plan for the world.” This implies that everything that happens is ordained and intended by God, and therefore must be good, “since God does all things for his glory and our good.” But Scripture does not say all things are good that we do and neither do all things work for everyone’s good. Murder and adultery are not good, nor are they caused or promoted by God. This promise of ultimate good only applies to those who have the Gospel and believe it: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) We cannot apply this promise to unbelieving sinners who are purposely rejecting God’s will.
The other side of this is that God’s commands and Law are technically false, if God wanted there to be sin in the world. “And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death” (Jer. 21:8). Or: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him ...” (Dt. 30:19-20). God really means what He says. Sin is not willed by God, or else it would not be bad or He would not be good. The true God hates sin and cannot will or cause it to happen: “you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness’’ (Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:9).
The Fall of Adam was the entrance of sin into the World. It was Satan’s tempting of Eve that led to our current state. If God intended the Fall, and ordained it from eternity, He is not really truthful. He commanded Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17). God meant what He said and does not delight in or will sin and death. He does not desire death and hell for anyone – Scripture is clear. Our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And: “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez. 33:11). We must take God seriously, that He wants us to repent and live. There is no glory for God in the suffering or death of an unbeliever. We do not rejoice at these, and neither does the perfect Lord. He does not rejoice at the sin we see or do. Sin itself is lawlessness and a rejection of the living God. God never wanted us to be separated from Him and His life.
If God ordains everything, then every accident, sickness, and disaster is to God’s glory. While God foreknows all things, the Bible does not say that He directly causes all things. While He allows (in some sense, because He is all-powerful and all-knowing) the Devil and evil people to cause havoc, we only find a loving God in Christ. To look outside of Jesus’ death in time, in a real human body, is to find a God we cannot know or love: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
God does not truly hate sin if He intended and caused us to be sinners, meaning we bear no responsibility. The Law is not the problem, rather, it is we who are sinful and rebel: “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:10-12). The evil and guilt we confess is truly ours – not the Lord’s, who never winks at or sanctions sin. Sin is our problem, not God’s fault. Christ died to save us from sin and wills that we do not sin anymore. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:1-3). Did not Jesus, our true God, say: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (Jn. 8:11)?
There are most dangerous side-effects to thinking that because God chooses some to be saved, He must choose others to be controlled by sin and condemned to hell. If this were the case (thankfully, it is not), the Gospel would be an empty word, because God cannot love or forgive, in time, those He has damned in eternity. But we know the Gospel is how we are called. We do not go behind the Word to some hidden judgment we cannot know. We do not have access to eternity or God’s hidden will. God always calls through the Gospel of Christ. This Gospel is not just to be preached to some, but to the whole world. We were chosen in Christ to believe, there is no other salvation than in the name of Christ. This message, like Christ’s death, is for all people.
God does not truly intend people to not believe the message of Christ: “In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (1 Cor. 4:4). Sinners willingly reject the message, just like Judas did. It was prophesied that he would betray Jesus, but he was not a puppet controlled by God. He willingly sinned and betrayed our Lord. The problem is never the seed of the Word. Jesus did not make Judas do this or the Pharisees reject His message, they bear all the blame and are justly condemned for their own sin. God does not intend or cause sin, because He is holy and just. We cannot judge the evil and unbelief that happens on earth among sinners, and reason that must be God’s will. The Father’s gracious will is revealed in His Son, and given to us today by His Spirit in Christ’s life-giving Word.
If God does not mean for all to hear the message and believe, then Christ did not die for all people. This is a central tenant of strict Calvinism: the Gospel only applies to those for whom Christ died – the elect chosen to have salvation. But this is not a comforting gospel – it is a false one. Unless Christ died for all sin and for the whole world, we cannot know He died for us. Our comfort is in Christ, not something behind the Gospel that we cannot hold on to. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The Father wants all to believe in Christ. The Gospel which forgives all sin is not false advertising. It is meant in seriousness by God to everyone it comes to.
Scripture is clear, that though many do not believe, they willingly sin and reject life in Christ. Hell was not meant for people, though that is the unfortunate result for unbelievers: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Mt. 25:41). A God who damns for His glory is not a good God and not one we can love. We cannot answer in detail the “why” questions in the midst of tragedy and suffering, but Scripture does not blame God for evil. No, the Father hated sin enough to require His only Son’s death for it. Now His Spirit comes to us in the Gospel, so we believe our Father can use sin and evil (like in Jesus’ betrayal and death), for our good. But death is an enemy, the last one to be defeated (1 Cor. 15:26). It is not God’s will for any to die; death (physical and eternal) is always punishment, the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).
A result of this kind of logical thinking (that God must actively choose everything that happens) is that it doesn’t matter what we do. We are either saved or condemned and nothing can be done to change God’s mind. Then the Gospel of Christ would be a lie, if it is spoken to those who are not being saved. It bypasses Christ and His Gospel. But forgiveness is truly offered to everyone who hears it, because He really paid the price with His own life. We can fall away though, and sin is a rejection of God, so we must be diligent. “Once saved, always saved,” is another false teaching of Calvinism. King David did lose faith and had to be brought to repentance by the prophet Nathan. We do not rest on our own faith, but Christ who was cursed in our place. There is no election, choosing, or salvation outside of Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3-5).
The Gospel is the reason the world still exists and evil is allowed to seemingly rule the day. But everything that happens now is not the ultimate will of God, who desires all to be saved: “They will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The believer is not fatalistic, thinking: “If God saves me I must be saved, no matter what I do.” No, Christ is to be trusted in as a true Savior and sin actively resisted. “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Heb. 4:2). The problem is never Christ, but our lack of faith.
To give into the power of sin and be ruled by it is to reject the promise of life and the Spirit: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6). Rejection of the Gospel is always man’s fault in Scripture, not God’s or the Gospel’s – or else God is a liar.
Lutherans don’t answer the questions of why there is specific evil or why not all are saved. We know God desires the Gospel to be preached to all, so that all may come to a knowledge of Christ. But we see that not all are saved. We do not try to solve this dilemma, but we have a promise that in Christ all things work for the good of those who love Him. But we can only love Him who first loved us, as Christ did in His death. The Gospel is a message of pure love for everyone. This is God’s gracious will and how He has revealed Himself to us for our faith and knowledge. Because of Christ’s death for us, we can be sure of what the Lord thinks of us and that salvation is ours. Look to the Gospel of Jesus and believe that God’s love is for you. This is sufficient for us and it is what Scripture teaches us. Amen.
Published: 15 January 2019 15 January 2019
Last Updated: 15 January 2019 15 January 2019