In this episode, Kurt speaks with Dr. Jerry Walls of Houston Baptist University on what Calvinism and Arminianism are.
Listen to “Episode 10: What is Calvinism/Arminianism?” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining me here on another episode of Veracity Hill. I’m really excited about today’s show. I haven’t yet done a show on a topic that I’m really interested in. If you’re a Facebook friend of mine you can see I get into these debates from time to time, more often when it’s not an election season, political election season, you’ll see me having these types of debates. Today’s topic is the order of salvation, or the Latin phrase ordo salutis and the order of salvation looks at the issues with the sovereignty of God and human free-will. That is in a nutshell. There’s so much more to say on that so we’re looking at here, the issues of predestination, which you do see in the Bible. You see that term a number of times.
On the doctrine of grace, how and in what ways God gives grace to humans. The Fall that we read about in Genesis 3. What happened at the Fall and what did Adam pass on to his posterity, to his children and what did that mean for humanity? Do we still have free-will? If so, what’s that free-will like? Can we do any objective good or is everything we do evil without God’s efficacious grace, so a grace that has a regeneration of the will? So there are a lot of issues at stake here and it goes from those preliminary issues I just mentioned to certain entailments as well, so things that follow, for instance, does God desire all humans to be saved? If when God gives grace to you, are you able to resist it? Are you able to lose your salvation?
Those are some issues that then follow from those other initial ones. Again, I haven’t done a show on this yet and I could do fifty episodes I’m sure on all the different issues at stake here and the history of theological thought behind them and we’re going to get a little bit into that today, but in case you haven’t heard of these terms, today is going to serve more as an introduction to the camps, just an overview, but I do have some quotes from some church fathers that I’d like to share with you and hopefully that will do justice to some of the camps. I know some of my friends are concerned whether or not I’ll be presenting straw men to their camps and it’s an interesting situation because as much as people want to think that their view is monolithic, that is, that there’s just one way, it’s always been that way, the reality is that there are a variety of camps within those main camps and so when we’re going to talk about Calvinism, there are different forms of Calvinists.
There are different positions on those sub-issues as well so there’s a lot of variety and so sometimes when we speak in these categories, people might feel like we’re not doing justice to their view and so I just want to apologize ahead of time in case you feel like that’s what I’m doing today, but I’m going to try my best here. I’m just a fallen human. I’m not reading off of a script here. Part of the thing that I do with the show, I try my best to do it off the top of my head. If it were scripted, it would be less enjoyable to listen to, but the benefit of a script is you can take the time and prepare and refine the arguments. That’s what academic writing is about and so this is more off-the-cuff and especially if I get some callers today. I’m not going to be forming arguments, or at least formal arguments, there right in our discussions so I may end up botching some topic or you may feel like I’m doing an injustice.
There’s a little give and take in trying our best to understand each other and so I am going to try and do that and yet at the same time let me also say this. I’m an opponent of the position that’s called Calvinism and often times people think “Well if you’re not a Calvinist, then you’re an Arminian.” That’s one of the other main camps. Now these two camps we’re going to be talking about today, these are the most vocal positions within ordo salutis, the order of salvation. There are other positions as well such as the Catholic view, there’s even a Lutheran view, and other minority positions but when I say we’re going to be talking about these two camps, Calvinism and Arminianism, I’m talking about the two most vocal camps in Protestant theology today.
Back to what I was saying about Calvinism or Arminianism. While I was at BIOLA, my undergrad. This is what I was told. You’re either a Calvinist or you’re an Ariminian and I’m not so much of a fan of that dichotomy. I think that’s a false dichotomy for a number of reasons, but I am sympathetic to many of the points within Arminianism. I’m just not quite comfortable enough to camp myself there with the Arminians and so we might get into a discussion on that today as well and we had a late guest add to the show today and it’s Dr. Jerry Walls. He is a professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University and he’s the author of numerous books, including Why I Am Not A Calvinist, and so joining me here is Dr. Walls. Thank you for coming on the show today.
Jerry: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Kurt: Let’s just start with, and usually this is the way it goes and even in your book Why I Am Not A Calvinist, you sort of start off the introductory chapel, not with an explanation of what Arminianism is, but with an explanation of what Calvinism is, so maybe that’s the best place to start the show today for our listeners to understand what is the TULIP which is the summary of Calvinism?
Jerry: Are you referring to my new book actually Does God Love Everyone?
Kurt: No. Not yet. I’m referring to the older book Why I Am Not A Calvinist.
Jerry: Okay. Okay. Yeah. Well Calvinism really comes down to the famous TULIP and again that is not exhaustive of Calvinism, but it’s a good way of summarizing Calvinist soteriology. Calvinism is more of a soteriology. It’s a soteriology that particularly distinguishes it from Arminianism and other variations of Christianity so the famous TULIP is the T stands for total depravity, which is the doctrine in Calvinism that all human persons are completely fallen, depraved, incapable of doing anything good on their own. They are dead as Calvinists like to emphasize, dead to God, cannot possibly please Him, cannot do His will, cannot do His Law, invariably and inevitably….Interestingly Calvinists mitigate this with their doctrine of common grace so even they have this idea that God gives these depraved, helpless, utterly wicked people a common grace that enables them to be good citizens, enables them to be good parents, this sort of thing, so really even the Calvinists don’t assume that every person is a loser doing every wicked thing he can possibly do because again they think common grace is operative otherwise it’s hard to see there could be anything even remotely like civilization or government or anything like that, so total depravity.
The three in the middle are really what distinguish Calvinism particularly because total depravity is also held by Arminians as well as by many other Christians who are not Calvinists although as you noted before the Eastern Orthodox would not view this doctrine as true, at least not the way Calvinists dictate it, but the real heart of what makes Calvinism distinctive are the three letters in the middle of the TULIP. The U is unconditional election which is the idea that God out of the mass of fallen, depraved, dead humanity chooses without any, as the Westminster Confession puts it, without any foresight of faith, good works, perseverance, etc. chooses to save some people and to pass over others and leave them in their depravity, which means they will inevitably be damned, so if you’re past over, you will inevitably be damned. If you are chosen, you will inevitably be saved. Again, the point is God simply chooses some for reasons known only to Him. He chooses to save some but not others unconditionally. It’s not like He looks ahead and sees that you’re going to have faith and He chooses you because He foresees you will exercise faith in the future and that you will persevere. No. If you are elect, you will have faith. If you are not elect, you cannot possibly have faith, so that’s the unconditional election.
The next letter is perhaps the most controversial even among contemporary Calvinists. In fact even some Calvinists today are also uneasy about this and this is the doctrine of limited atonement, which is the doctrine that Christ died only for the elect, so the basic point is that He died for all your sins, past, present, and future, and if He died for you in that way you will inevitably be saved so if you’re not one of the elect, it doesn’t apply to you, so only those who are given unconditional election are those persons for whom Christ died in the sense of making grace and salvation freely available to them. Now again I emphasize, there are some contemporary Calvinists who are a little squeamish about that because it seems so clear that the Scripture teaches that Christ died for all persons and they’re a little person to say that, that Christ didn’t die for all, so some of them qualify that, but at least traditional Calvinism in its classic scholastic formulation held that Christ died only for the elect.
Now U,L, I. The next one is irresistible grace, which is the idea that if you are chosen, you will not be able to resist the grace of God. You will come. You will not want to resist it because what irresistible grace does, it changes your heart, it changes your will, it changes your desires, regenerates you, and so on so that you see the truth, know the truth, and gladly come, but God makes you want to come. Okay? So if you are one of the chosen, you will not be able to resist His grace, and again you won’t want to because He will change you in such a way that you will want to come and here’s where the Calvinist idea of freedom is really important. Freedom means doing willingly what God causes you to do so God causes you to have certain desires, and since He’s given you those desires you willingly do what He wants you to do. You can’t do otherwise given His sovereign action on your life, but again, you’re not acting against your desires because you’re acting exactly as God determines you to want to do. Alright?
The final letter of the TULIP is perseverance of the saints, which is simply the doctrine that if you are truly one of the chosen, if you are truly elect, if you are one of that God gives irresistible grace, you will inevitably persevere to the end. You may fall away briefly, you may have lapses in your faith, go through difficult periods where you don’t seem to believe, but if you are truly one of the elect, you will persevere. It’s worth noting that a number of Christians who are not full-fledged Calvinists affirm this in what is often called in its popular term, eternal security. So many southern Baptists who are not full-fledged Calvinists, they affirm the T and they affirm the P so they believe in total depravity, but they also believe that once you’re saved, you’re always saved, but they do not believe in the heart, the core of what I call unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace, so that’s it in a nutshell.
Kurt: Right. Right. I’ve got a couple of questions on that before we get into sort of the Arminian response. On the T, isn’t it true that there is sort of issues related to the doctrine of original sin here, right? There’s the issue of whether we’re guilty? Did we inherit the guilt of Adam? Would you qualify that in the T or would you say that that’s almost like an O which precedes the T?
Jerry: I think what we inherit from Adam is not his guilt. I think we inherit his proclivities, tendency to sin, so the view that Arminians typically hold is that prevenient grace enables us freely to respond to Christ and accept His grace and to be transformed and if we freely reject that, what we’re responsible for is our own sin, we are enabled by grace to be regenerated, to be transformed, to become wholly righteous persons and so our sin is due to the fact that we refuse to avail ourselves of that grace of God, so it’s Adam’s guilt. I’m not guilty for Adam’s sin. I’m guilty for my own sin, even though I do receive and am born with his depravity that is passed along.
Kurt: The view that you and I would be sympathetic with that we do not inherit the guilt, so we see this for instance at least in my own studies that I’ve gone through, you see this more in the Eastern tradition, the Eastern theological tradition, and so one of those theologians that I’ve been looking at a little bit is Gregory of Nyssa who’s one of the Cappadocian Fathers. For instance, let me just provide a couple of citations here from him. He wrote a work called On Infants’ Early Deaths because people were concerned about this issue long ago, back in the 300’s, 400’s, they thought about this as well and they were wondering what happens when infants die? Do they die because of their own or someone else’s sin? So for Gregory he writes, “Whereas the innocent babe has no such plague before its soul eyes obscuring its measure of light and so it continues to exist in that natural life and it never admitted the plague into its soul at all.”
Also he writes “But the soul that has never felt the taste of virtue, while it may indeed remain perfectly free from the sufferings which flow from wickedness, having never caught the disease of evil at all.” So there he presents an interesting view about what humans inherit from Adam, but contrast this with the more, I mean, I know Arminianism falls within the Western tradition, you have Calvin and Augustine and here with Augustine, he writes “While to those whom God has predestined to eternal death, He also is the most righteous awarder of punishment, not only a count of the sins which they add in the indulgence of their own will, but also because of their original sin, even if as in the case of infants, they added nothing thereto.” So here Augustine is well-known amongst theologians for affirming the idea of inherited guilt he was willing to bite the bullet and said that infants that did not receive baptism go to hell.
Kurt: So that’s an interesting view. Calvinists, they affirm a different model of inheriting guilt, the guilt of Adam, what’s called the federal headship view.
Kurt: But they seem to try to get around that. Have you experienced that?
Jerry: You mean Calvinists trying to get around the federal headship view or are you talking about infants?
Kurt: About infants. So like the Westminster Confession of Faith says that infants are regenerated if they’re going to die.
Jerry: Right, but again the Westminster Confession explicitly says elect infants are saved and those are not elect will be damned so the elected are persons for whom Christ died and consequently His limited atonement applies to their sins completely so they’re among those who are chosen and will be saved. The infants who are not elect, they are born with Adam’s sin and as you said guilt, and consequently since Christ did not die for non-elect infants, yes, they will end up damned so that’s an interesting issue, yeah. So some Calvinists, my memory’s here, I’m not absolutely positive about this, but a number of Calvinists feel a little squeamish about this and I think Benjamin Warfield, a classic Princeton theologian of the 19th century, I believe he taught that all infants were elect, and that all infants would be saved and he tried to argue that Arminians would have no similar grounds for believing that all infants would be saved, but Calvinists with their doctrine of predestination and election could hold that all of them are elect. To me that’s just sentimentalism. Why assume that just because you died as an infant you’re elect? That strikes me as simply a way of trying to blunt the hard edges of Calvinism which in the Westminster Confession, they don’t try to blunt it. They frankly say that there are elect infants and the implication that there are those who are not so traditional Calvinism, yes, if you are not one of the elect, even if you die as an infant, you are condemned forever.
Kurt: Yeah, and it seems like special pleading, right?
Kurt: Because you can’t really know.
Jerry: Yes. It strikes me as a kind of a pastorally motivated way that is really giving into sentimentalism rather any kind of principal theological motivation to be honest.
Kurt: Alright. So let’s move along a little bit there from the concept of guilt, more to the idea of inability, because this is really the heart of the difference between Calvinists and Arminians and then other, shall we say, non-Calvinists, so here I just want to play, it’s a three-minute clip from John Piper. Here’s he’s going to describe exactly what the Calvinist believes on total depravity and responsibility and I don’t think he’s going to sufficiently make his case, but here is that case nonetheless.
Jerry: Let’s hear it.
Piper: You might think well if a person is not able to do something, he can’t be held accountable to do it. That’s the usual response to total depravity. If you say that a person is so depraved, so depraved that he’s unable to submit to God then for you to require that he submit to God is both foolish and he’s not responsible for responding since he’s not able to. Here’s the problem with that. The Bible simply doesn’t assume that’s the case. It assumes the opposite to be the case, that the fact that you are so much in love with evil that you can’t choose good does not excuse you from choosing good. In fact, it intensifies your guilt, but this assumes that the kind of ability or inability we’re talking about is what Jonathan Edwards calls a moral inability, not a physical inability. So if I am chained to a chair physically, and you command me to get up and everything in me wants to get up and I make every effort to get up and then you punish me for not getting up, I’m being treated unjustly, but if I’m sitting in the chair and its vibrations and its warmth and everything about it and there are no chains on me, it’s just everything about this chair feels so good and you say “Now I want you to stand up,” and you say “I don’t want to stand up,” and you love sitting in that chair so much, that so much can rise to a level of moral inability. That’s the kind of inability being spoken of here.
You have to ask yourself do you believe in such a category of thought that there is a kind of bondage of the human heart to sin that makes it unable to choose good and it’s a real unable and a real responsibility. There’s one of the mysteries that you have to face. Do you believe that human inability at the moral level can go hand in hand with human responsibility at the moral level? And if you can’t, nothing I say in this seminar will work for you. That is a prerequisite for embracing anything sensible about this whole way of understanding life is that we have to agree with the Biblical assumption, we have to agree with the Biblical assumption that I am so sinful I cannot see or savor Jesus Christ as my supreme value and I am guilty for my failure to see Him and savor Him because its owing to a moral inability, not a physical inability.
Kurt: So there we have, that’s Dr. John Piper who is a long term pastor of Bethel Church up in St. Paul, Minneapolis area and so there’s the Calvinist view that free-will is really tied to this concept of inability. Now, some Calvinists would say “Well, you’re still free. You still do have free-will, but you’re stuck doing only what your will can do and your will is so corrupted that it can only and always do evil action.” And so Dr. Walls, before I get your thought on that, I’ve got a quote here from John Calvin that I like to reference for people because this is so, I think, provocative, and I do not think it fits with the Biblical text, and it sums up the Calvinist view on the T so well, so this comes from John Calvin Institute of the Christian Religion. This is book 2, chapter 5, point 19.
“Therefore let us hold this as an undoubted truth which no siege engine can shake. The mind 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, but if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity.”
So that’s from John Calvin and he really lays it on there.
Jerry: That’s a good description of a condemned person in whom there is no grace and no hope but again, I don’t think that’s the condition of people in the actual world because I think God’s grace has counteracted our Fall and has enabled us, given us the ability, to respond to His grace to accept Him and again, like I say, even the Calvinists typically say that God gives common grace because if people were like this, our society would be absolute utter chaos. Everybody would be killing each other. It’s bad enough as it is, but it would be far worse than it actually is if everybody were that bad all the time, so I think the view of prevenient grace or the Calvinist view of common grace or the Eastern view which has a less extreme view of the nature of the fall is much more realistic or true to what we experience in human society and human culture, but the whole notion is really problematic about this Hyperion view that he’s just laid out here. How do people get in this condition in the first place? Did God determine the Fall? Did God determine things so that persons would be born in this condition? If people are born this way because God determined them to be that way, then again, I think there’s no plausible convincing way you can say that they are responsible for the fact that they sinned and they cannot do otherwise, they’ve never been able to do otherwise, they’re irresistibly compelled by their nature to be sinful from the word go. What’s really interesting is again, a modern Calvinist tries to sneak in libertarian freedom at the Fall, so a lot of Calvinists even say “Well, Adam was free. He really could have done otherwise and he made the choice to go against God,” so they try to salvage all of this stuff by one act of libertarian freedom of Adam after which nobody else has any. Definitely everybody else is guilty and again this federal headship is a sort of a way of saying “Well you made that choice in Adam yourself so when Adam fell, you freely made some kind of libertarian choice”, but now you’re responsible for being in the condition you are because you made that choice in Adam somehow, so Calvinists have various ways of trying to sneak in Libertarian freedom to make some kind of moral of how people can be accountable and blameworthy for their actions even though they’re utterly incapable of doing otherwise.
Kurt: So I’ve got a question for you here. You’re very well researched on this issue. You’ve written multiple books here. When Calvin here says in the passage I cited “But if some men occasionally make a show of good,” would you say that Calvin thinks that’s a good from their natural state or is that a good from the common grace that they posit?
Jerry: I would assume that’s a sort of passage that would motivate the common grace idea.
Jerry: So a husband can be a good husband
Kurt: Buy their wife flowers.
Jerry: It’s possible that even a non-regenerate husband have adultery every change he gets. It’s possible that even an unregenerate father can actually care for his children, it’s possible that even an unregenerate citizen can his land reasonably and so forth.
Kurt: I think that’s the common grace, but even for Calvin, when there is that common grace again he continues, that there minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft and their hearts bound by inner perversities, so even with this common grace men are still.
Jerry: They’re badly motivated.
Jerry: They’re perversely motivated even when outwardly they perform what appear to be decent, kind, maybe even loving actions.
Kurt: And it’s that appearance that’s key so Edwin Palmer who’s the author of The Five Points of Calvinism, he talks about how this is just a relative good and you need to understand how it’s good because in reality, he writes, it’s nothing else but only evil, so it’s an interesting take. We’ve got to take a short break here. If you’d like to have your voice heard, if you have a question for myself or Dr. Walls give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Dr. Walls, let’s continue our discussion after a short break from some of our sponsors.
Jerry: Sure thing.
Kurt: Alright, so in the first half of the show we’ve been speaking with Dr. Jerry Walls from Houston Baptist University. We’ve just briefly introduced the TULIP which are the five points of Calvinism. Before we get into that discussion today here Dr. Walls, I want to just briefly talk about your new book that’s come out and it’s called Does God Love Everyone: The Heart of What’s Wrong With Calvinism? So tell us a little bit about what that book is about.
Jerry: Well the heart of what’s wrong with Calvinism is it has no intelligible account of how God loves all persons and in fact it’s striking even in the conversation today how often Calvinists want to cast the issue in terms of simply legal categories of moral responsibility and blame and guilt and obligation and things like that, and so you know Piper will have this claim that we just heard awhile ago that these people are morally guilty because they wanna do this and if they want to do it, they deserve what they get. They can be blameworthy you know, so it’s all about thinking in terms of legal terms, of blameworthiness, guilt, etc. etc. etc. But what I think is completely wrong is that this utterly fails to cast the conversation in light of the New Testament picture of God which is God is a God of perfect love so instead of asking questions, can you show how God could justifiably blame people? Ask yourself this question, would a loving God leave people in this condition if He could give them grace, irresistible grace as Calvinists see it, that would determine them instead of sinning inevitably, He would give them irresistible grace such that they would come to Christ willingly and gladly, but chooses not to do so. Let’s put the conversation there. So is God perfectly good? Is God perfectly loving with people in this condition because He determined them to be in this condition, a) and He could if He wanted to give them irresistible grace and make them just as willingly, just as inevitably, exercise faith, love Him, love their neighbors, and instead of doing all these treacherous things total depravity is all about, they would do the things that express the fruit of the Spirit, that would reflect our best as creatures made in the image of God. Why would God not do that if He could? So the issue is, is this compatible with the goodness of God, the love of God? And Calvinists simply have no intelligible way of making sense about how God loves everybody and some of them just out and out say God doesn’t love everyone and I begin the quote with a book from a famous Calvinist theologian Arthur Pink, who just out and out says God doesn’t love everyone, but Calvinists aren’t usually that out and out blunt. They usually say God does love everyone and then they have to engage in some really fancy footwork to explain how God loves the very people He has unconditionally chosen not to give the irresistible grace which if it was given would bring them to Christ and save them forever so it’s all about how Calvinism utterly fails to be true to the God of love.
Kurt: So to that though, wouldn’t they say that it seems like your view, the Arminian view, doesn’t do justice to the sovereignty of God. Right? Isn’t God in charge? He has created the world so He can choose how He wants His creation to function and so He’s the one that decides what goes so how would you respond to that? That your view leads to God being not sovereign?
Jerry: I absolute and totally believe in the sovereignty of God. I just don’t think sovereignty should be understood in terms of a will that is detached from perfect love. John Piper wrote an article actually, interestingly years ago. The title of it was How Does A Sovereign God Love? And in that article he told an interesting story that was quite personal about his own son and how at bedtime he would go and pray with them and pray for their salvation and he would pray that God might even call them into ministry and that they would share His work of ministry with them and so forth, but then he said in this article, which was quite memorable, I never forgot it, “But God may not have chosen my sons as His sons and if He has not chosen them, He is God. I am not.” Okay. So here is Calvinist piety at its best. That’s the apex of Calvinist piety is God may not love my children and that’s what God is all about. He can love anyone He wants, so this Calvinist sees that love is a prerogative. God can choose to love you or not. Okay? I think that’s just absolutely and completely mistaken so the question we should be asking is not “How would a sovereign God love?” The question we should be asking is “How would a God of perfect love express His sovereignty?” God can do anything He wishes to do, but there are some things God can’t do. He can’t lie. He can’t be unloving. It’s not a strength. So Calvinists sometimes make it sound like it’s a strength. So sometimes in these Facebook debates on Calvinism, some of my Calvinist friends mock the idea of God loving everybody as if it’s some Barney view of God. Ah. Barney God loves everybody. As if that’s somehow pitiable, contemptible, to love everybody. That’s astounding to me that Calvinists say stuff like this mean it. Their God is glorified by, and Calvin says this most expressly, He simply chooses not to save people and that’s what makes Him God as Calvinists see it, is that He chooses not to save some people.
Kurt: Well, now, let me ask a follow-up here, sort of a response. Does Calvin say that God just sort of passes over or chooses not to save people or doesn’t he take a bit more firm stance on the matter.
Jerry: That’s ambiguous. Okay? Let me put it this way. There are Calvinists who emphasize that He just passes over people passively. Calvin by contrast is much more emphatic and says let’s just be consistent.” He says some people are ashamed to say about reprobation what we say about election. Calvin says I’m not one of them. God actively chooses to reprobate people, and moreover He appears to say the same thing about Adam so some people who want to slip in Libertarian freedom for Adam, Calvin himself is not scared to be one of them so Calvin says let’s not hesitate. Let’s not worry fearing that we’re not doing justice to God’s goodness. God sovereignly chooses to save some people and the same for the condemned. Yes. I think that’s correct. Again, these are contentious issues of interpretation and there’s possibly passages in Calvin that may not be as stark as some of those that could be read the other way, but there’s certainly a number of passages you can cite in which he emphatically insists that God actively choose to reprobate some people and he says He does it simply because He chooses to exclude them for no other reason. Again, He has reasons of His own that we have no idea what they are but, again, that highlights His sovereignty and that’s what Calvinists are impressed with. They’re intoxicated by power and what they mean by power is God’s ability to love people if He wants to, save who He wants to save, and condemn who He wants to condemn. That’s what makes Him impressive in their minds.
Kurt: Yeah. So if you’re a Calvinist and you’re listening to this or if you’re an Arminian and you feel like maybe Dr. Walls is exaggerating here on what Calvinists believe, he’s creating a straw man, although we have referenced Augustine and Calvin and we’ve cited them a couple of times, John Piper as well, if you want to call in, you’ve got a question or comment for us, give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Now Dr. Walls, I’ve got one more question on Calvinism before we get into sort of the Arminian response. On the concept of predestination, you mention this briefly a little bit. On Calvinism, does God choose people based off of what they will do. How does God’s choosing of which people to save and either passing over or actively choosing which people not to save, how does that work?
Jerry: Are you asking on Arminianism?
Kurt: I’m asking on Calvinism? What do Calvinists say on that?
Jerry: So say that again. On what basis does He choose who to save? Say that again.
Kurt: Correct. Given Calvinism, how does God predestine people?
Jerry: How does He predestine people?
Kurt: Yeah. What’s the basis? Does He sort of look into the future at their actions?
Jerry: No. No. No. In fact, that’s explicitly what the Westminster Confession explicitly denies in that it is not based on a foresight of faith, good works, or perseverance, so it’s not that God looks and says, and this might be more like a Molinist view, that God sees who will have faith and He chooses those persons who will have faith, and again Arminians and Wesleyans would say something very similar, that election is conditional, so all those who are in Christ are elect so everyone who exercises faith is in Christ and if you are in Christ you are one of the elect. Whether you’re in Christ is conditioned upon your free response to His enabling grace, but for the Calvinist it’s explicitly not based on something foreseen, so again if you are elect, you will have faith. It is not that if you have faith, you are elect, so that’s where things are just absolutely fundamental and different, so God does not in any way look ahead and say “Ah. Kurt. He’s gonna have faith. Kurt is gonna respond to my author of salvation. He’s going to believe the Gospel, therefore He’s one of my elect.” No. He looks out of all the mass of humanity and says “I choose Kurt and I’m going to therefore give Him unconditional election, irresistible grace, regenerate him, cause him to have faith, cause him to believe, cause him to persevere, and because of His choice to do all of that, that’s why you are one of the elect who will be saved.
Kurt: And it seems like when someone ever, when I read Calvin and I even read Augustine on this, you see sometimes a response, an anticipated objection, so the anticipated objection is “Why would God pick this one over that one?” and the Calvinist or the Augustinian would say “Well, who are you to question the secret and mysterious will of God?” and so I’ve never been satisfied with that response, especially given that we’re doing theology here, we’re studying God, so to sort of say “Well, we can’t really go beyond this.” It just hasn’t been…
Jerry: And again notice how the conversation is cast. It’s cast entirely in terms of sovereignty and God’s right to do what He wants to do and He’s got no obligation to anyone. Again, it’s all a matter of legal terminology in which God owes nobody anything and the like and so okay, differently is the question cast if you truly believe God is a God of love in His essential nature and He cannot fail to love persons, that’s who He is. Again, His freedom comes into play and His freedom to create or not, but there are certain necessities of love and they’re not weaknesses, so if God is a God of love by His very nature chooses to create people in His image, He cannot fail to love them, and again, the inability to do some things is a strength so am I somehow stronger if I am incapable of loving some people? No! It’s a weakness on my part if there’s some people I don’t love. God tells us to love even our enemies and if I don’t do that, that’s weakness on my part. It’s not a strength, and so the same thing is true of God. God cannot fail to love all persons, so if persons are condemned, it is they who have selected themselves, So God elects as it were everybody. He elects to love everybody. He prefers to save everybody. He’s provided salvation for all persons. We elect ourselves for condemnation. It is the condemned who select themselves out of God’s love by their free choice.
Kurt: Dr. Walls. We’ve got a caller here and this is Omar and Omar, what would you like to say?
Omar: Yes. Sorry I just jumped in the middle of the discussion so if you can just bring me up to speed real quickly, what’s the main issue right now that’s being under dispute?
Kurt: We’re talking about Calvinism and Dr. Jerry Walls is with us and we’re talking about God’s, how He elects people, it seems like it’s capricious of sorts and really there seem to be some untenable positions to the Calvinist sort, but what would you like to say on the show?
Omar: Yeah. I mean the whole mystery is pretty complicated I think. I definitely agree with a lot of what Dr. Walls says, but there has to be a lot of nuances made. If we concentrate on one issue that would help tease out some of the main concerns. That way we can concentrate on something pertinent and that would be more fruitful.
Kurt: We’ve just been giving an overview of the views today and this is the first time Veracity has been talking about Calvinism, but perhaps Omar if you want to stay with us in the conversation I do have a couple more questions for Dr. Walls and maybe that’ll spark some question for you.
Omar: Yeah. Definitely. Go for it.
Kurt: Dr. Walls. I wanted to get into the Arminian response to Calvinism. We haven’t got into that all that much although you mentioned it a little bit throughout your answers here. So what is Arminianism?
Jerry: What is Arminianism? Arminianism is the view that essentially says Christ died for all persons. Christ unconditionally offers His love. He provides prevenient grace so Arminians traditionally agree that humans beings are disabled by sin, incapable of responding to God, in fact one of the charges often leveled against Arminians by misinformed Calvinists is that we are Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians or some such thing as that which is a doctrine named after Pelagius that we are capable of our own volition or of our own resources to respond to grace. Arminius and John Wesley emphatically agreed that without prevenient grace, without God taking the initiative and enabling us to respond in faith we could not possibly do so. So the Arminian believes that grace, prevenient grace, is provided to all persons, but that grace is resistible, so God does not determine anybody to respond. He enables, empowers, encourages, draws everybody to respond, but does not determine to respond. Whereas the Calvinist believes that grace is irresistible, we believe that it’s resistible. Whereas the Calvinist believes election is unconditional, we believe it is conditional upon faith. Whereas the Calvinist died only for some, we believe He died for all. Whereas the Calvinist that once you have been regenerated you will inevitably be saved, Arminians traditionally, typically believe it is possible to break the relationship so you can be truly regenerated, truly in a relationship with Christ, but you don’t have to continue the relationship to its ultimate consummation. You may choose to back away and turn away from the relationship. Those five points where Arminians agree with the first broadly speaking of the other four points, they reject.
Kurt: Except for those Southern Baptist types that might be Arminians but want to affirm the P.
Jerry: some kind of Arminian Baptists who reject the ULI, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, but they do believe in the P, the perseverance, which is typically called again eternal security.
Kurt: You mentioned a historical figure, Pelagius. For our listeners who may not have heard of him before, what was his view and he was ultimately deemed a heretic but why? Why should we stay away from his view?
Jerry: Pelagius believed that we are capable of responding. He did not take seriously enough the effects of the Fall and thought that we were capable with our natural resources to grace without God’s taking the initiative and enabling it and empowering it. That just doesn’t seem to do justice to the New Testament account of the Fall and of grace. It’s universally condemned. It’s one of the earliest condemnations in the history of theology was Pelagian theology and again there’s…Pelagianism. There’s various nuances on it, but the basic idea is that it emphasizes human ability even apart from God’s grace to believe and respond in faith.
Kurt: I don’t know how much you studied so part of my doctoral work is studying John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, and Faustus of Riez and those three monks from France from the 5th century are often called still today Semi-Pelagian. Now you mentioned that term and so what is it about Semi-Pelagianism? Is it sort of an attempt to bridge the gap between Augustine and Pelagius? What is it exactly that they hold that’s different than Pelagius?
Jerry: Yeah. Yeah. As you put it and the exact nuances of it I’d be hesitant to say because I haven’t reviewed that lately, but they do believe that grace is necessary but the priority of that is not clear in terms of their emphasis upon human ability.
Kurt: Whether humans can make the initiative.
Jerry: You can probably spell it out better than I can in terms of the details of it.
Kurt: Yeah. So there’s some. Omar!
Omar: I have just a quick question. Is the term semi-Pelagian, does that have historical connotation or is that a modern made-up term, a position that wasn’t existent in a historical sense?
Kurt: That’s a great question. I’ll go ahead and take that because I just read an article on this. The term semi-Pelagian first appeared not in the fifth century nor even in the sixth century, but it appeared in the sixteenth century from
Kurt: So semi-Pelagianism first appeared, the label first appeared in the writings of Theodore Beza. Now a lot of theologians formally believe it first appeared in the Catholic debates towards the end of that century, the Molina and the Jesuits and debating on grace and free-will, but believe it or not it does first appear in Beza who was a disciple of Calvin.
Kurt: So interestingly enough, it’s strange to use a label a thousand years removed from those debates.
Jerry: Right. Right.
Kurt: There are a number of theologians today that say that the monks that I’m studying, Cassian, Vincent, and Faustus, held to Eastern Greek theology of their day and so we can’t really look at them through the Western lens so it’s not so much that they created a bridge between Augustine and Pelagius but they just held to the Eastern theological tradition, but that’s what I’ve been studying. Go ahead Omar. You’ve got a comment or question.
Omar: Yeah. That’s interesting. My follow-up is there’s a distinction between the concept and the term. One might think that the term hasn’t been used till the 1600’s or whatever date we want to put on it but perhaps the concept has been used and it’s been named something differently? Do you think that’s the case or do you think not only the term but the concept also goes to the 1600’s.
Kurt: That’s an excellent question. Then there’s debate as to what exactly these three monks believe. Did they believe something that was a moderated position, was it a created position between Augustine and Pelagius or did they just affirm the Eastern view? A lot of theologians today are beginning to be sympathetic to the view that they just held to the Eastern view on grace and free-will. I’m still studying it myself. It’s a little difficult because Cassian does say some things about the initiative being on the human part, however if you look at the broader context of what Cassian writes about, he does talk about how everything is because of God’s grace and that’s something that even Calvinists would be sympathetic with and so I think the debate just gets pushed back to nuancing those positions and how it is that nature and grace work together.
Jerry: Often it’s the case that historical conditions are misconstrued because they’re interpreted in light of later categories centuries later that simply do not do justice to them so some of the people that are written of as heretics are simply judged in light of categories that really do not understand them in the original context and that may well be the case with some of these semi-Pelagians.
Kurt: even with Pelagius, it’s difficult. Yes, he was condemned as a heretic even by ecumenical councils, but it’s hard for us to see what he believed today because his writings only survive through Augustine’s responses to what he
Jerry: Through Augustine and he may not have fairly represented him.
Kurt: Which is arguably the case on and what not so
Omar: I have a naïve question. What’s the epistemic merit of a council condemning somebody? Why does that matter to us?
Kurt: Well let me ask, Omar. Are you a Protestant, a Catholic, or an Eastern Orthodox maybe?
Omar: I come from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Yeah. I can see the importance, but I’m just thinking from a kind of mere Christianity perspective. Is the importance merely that some smart people said something so we should take them seriously and then go off and see what the right answer is or is it something more than that?
Kurt: Dr. Walls. Why don’t you take that question?
Jerry: I think there’s more than simply a matter of smart people. I do think that when there is something that is a matter of consensus, it certainly has the presumption in its favor and the burden of proof is against it and so if you think that Scripture reveals God’s truths successfully. If you think revelation has succeeded in other words, revelation hasn’t succeeded unless its recipients understand it, otherwise you only have attempted revelation. So here’s the point. If there is something that is teaching that is really central to the Gospel which I think this matter of grace is and if the recipients of the revelation making their best effort to understand it completely misunderstand it then you have to raise the question of whether revelation really succeeded. So if it’s a matter that it’s truly central to the Biblical message and the church father are trying to sort of if they can otherwise you raise questions as to whether revelation even successfully occurred so the very idea that revelation occurred would imply that the central message of the Gospel would be understood correctly by the recipients of the revelation and given the centrality of the whole idea of grace, the very idea of the Gospel, it’s certainly and unlikely the case that the consensus of the church would be mistaken about that so that’s why those classic claims to heresy in the early centuries of the church should be taken quite seriously.
Omar: So do you think that the fact that the church had a consensus about some proposition P shows that we have good evidence for P unless we have even better counter-arguments against?
Jerry: Yeah. I would say if there’s a consensus among all the branches of the church with respect to a doctrinal claim and it’s a matter that is clearly central to the Biblical message, you have overwhelming reason to think they probably got it right.
Omar: That’s interesting. Thanks.
Kurt: Gents. We gotta wrap up the show here. Omar. Thanks for giving us a call and asking us some questions. I appreciate you doing so.
Omar: Okay. Yeah. No problem. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Kurt: Alright. You take care.
Omar: Have a good one.
Kurt: So Dr. Walls, we’ve got a question here from someone here online, from James. So he asks, Descartes famously or infamously held the view that God could do anything whatsoever including doing the impossible. You might think that Descartes started his thinking about omnipotence with an intuition about what omnipotence entails. Without arguing for what the entailments of omnipotence are, boy James is asking a complex question here. He continues.
Jerry: Yes he is.
Kurt: You say that Calvinists are unable to come up with any intelligible account of God’s love. Whether Calvinists can come up with such an account is different from rather they have, but suppose you are right with they have not come up with an intelligible account, you think this is a problem because you think that God’s nature being loving entails that God would desire the salvation of every single person. The only arguments I can think of for this are 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Peter 3 and so on, and so here it looks like he’s concluding, but these passages aside do you have any additional arguments for this entailment that Calvinists exegetes have not already addressed or is this account of love you press against Calvinists held in an a priori way, akin to how Descartes thought about omnipotence. So I guess basically he’s asking what sort of good arguments do we have for thinking God is oh so loving if I had to sum up James’s question here.
Jerry: I guess I would say the whole Biblical revelation in the New Testament is about revealing that God is love. C.S. Lewis famously pointed out the reason we can say God is love is because He has to contain at least two persons and we didn’t know that God contained more than one person until the New Testament so how do we know that? Because of the incarnation and then the resurrection of Jesus and then the coming of the Holy Spirit. That’s how we came to know that God is a Trinity and that God has been love in His essential nature before the world was ever created so the most fundamental truth about God, the eternal truth about God even before there was a world over which He was sovereign, so sovereignty, God was not exercising sovereignty before all eternity in any reasonable sense because there was no creation and there was no world over which He was Lord, but even when there was no world over which He was sovereign Lord, He was still love because there was love between the persons of the Trinity as Jesus said in John 17, before the world existed, you loved me before the creation of the world, so the point is that God is love in His very nature. It’s not simply a matter of a couple of passages here and there. It’s about how God has revealed Himself with utter clarity in the New Testament as a triune God whose nature is love from all eternity and who as such, that’s who He is and that’s how He relates to all persons as a God of love so the question is, is there any meaningful sense in which God can love people He has chosen to condemn? Again, I urge Calvinists to just forthrightly admit that they don’t believe God loves everybody. I would like them to just forthrightly say this or to make clear that what they mean by love is, “Hey. He gives you rain on your garden. He gives you air to breathe before He condemns you forever.” If Calvinists would forthrightly tell the world what they mean by God’s love, I think Calvinism would be undermined and discredited fairly shortly, but Calvinism lives off of misleading rhetoric where Calvinists even say God loves everybody and they’re talking about, you know, Piper’s talking about our heart should go out to every single person. Well God’s heart apparently doesn’t because He chooses not to save all of them, but our hearts should, so again God may not have chosen His sons, but he would die for them, you know Piper said, so we’re to be more loving to all persons than apparently God is because God tells us to love our enemies. Right? To do good to those who despitefully use us and in the Calvinist view God could give these people irresistible grace apparently and cause them to love Him and love each other, but He prefers them to hate Him and to hate each other and to do despicable abominable things for some mysterious reason.
Kurt: Yes it seems like
Jerry: It’s not simply a matter of a couple of texts here and there. It’s about the whole picture of God revealing Himself in the New Testament as love in His very nature for all eternity.
Kurt: It seems, yeah, they’ve got some difficulties there, say the different loves of God that seem to have thus far gone unstated so I guess we’ll have to bring on a Calvinist maybe to answer some of your objections another time. Well, Dr. Walls thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate having you on the show and for helping to understand the basics of Calvinism and Arminianism and if you’re interested to get his book it’s called Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What’s Wrong With Calvinism and it’s put out by Cascade books, an imprint of Wipf & Stock books so thanks so much Dr. Walls.
Jerry: Thank you, Kurt. My pleasure.
Kurt: Take care.
Kurt: Alright. So we’ve got to wrap it up here on the show but before we do so, I love hitting this button.
Kurt: Alright. So that is the mail bag soundtrack. It’s just so groovy. So the question that we have this week comes from Cody and I told people ahead of time that I was gonna be taking questions on this topic here so Cody asks “Why do you think Augustine was so determined, I don’t know if that’s a pun intended, to affirm that man can do nothing toward his own salvation? People have reasons for believing what they do, especially the big things.”
Well Cody, I would say this. Augustine does talk about free-will in numerous works, both in his earlier works and his later works and a lot of theologians think that there is what’s called the Augustinian shift, that he changed his view and he admits as such that he does on the doctrine of grace so the question is, and my interest in him is in the later writings especially, chiefly because I want to see what he wrote that may have set off the Gallic monks that I’m studying and so in these works he does talk about free-will so the question is whether his comments about free-will are compatible with other statements about the priority of grace. Now let me read just a short thing here from one of his letters and this gets a little bit into the concept of predestination. So he writes to Sixtus who was a priest at that time in Rome and later to become Pope. He writes, “Or is there anything for which we ought to give more abundant thanksgiving to God? His grace is so ably defended by those to whom it is given against those to whom it is not given or by whom when given it’s not accepted because in the secret and just judgment of God, the disposition to accept it is not given to them.”
So before I comment on that let me say there are different interpretations to Augustine, so Calvinists are going to interpret him in a light that’s more favorable to their position, but also you have Catholic interpreters who maybe aren’t as sympathetic to the seemingly Calvinistic passages. It’s strange to say Calvinistic passages because that’s again a label, an anachronism 1,000 years down the line, so the Catholic interpreters may have a different way of understanding him. Trying to reconcile those seemingly difficult passages that he makes and in some of his writings, so I can think of one of his works called On The Predestination of the Saints, he has certain seemingly contradictory views on how nature and grace work together. He talks about how man should not attribute anything to himself but to the grace of God, but then elsewhere he talks about the and, that it’s both God and man doing things so you sort of get that contrasting view that it’s a difficulty and whether that difficulty can be reconciled I think is ultimately the question. In the passage here that I just read to you he seems to suggest that last part, that when God’s grace is given, it’s not accepted. The reason why that’s the case is because in the secret and just judgment of God, the disposition to accept it is not given to them, so there in that passage it seems like he’s saying men can only accept, can only do a good out of whether God has first determined or given that thing to them and so there again that seems a bit more Calvinistic, or here you have “Why do you think Augustine was so determined to affirm that man can do nothing toward his own salvation?” So the answer to that would be perhaps he believed in his interpretation of Scripture that that’s what it was saying and that God is in charge of these things, so I hope that answers your question.
Now to the interpretation of Scripture as I had previously mentioned at the beginning of this show, there’s that word predestination. It is there. You see it especially in Ephesians 1. How do we understand these things? Let me say we shouldn’t come to the text with our own hermeneutical assumptions. So when we see a word, sometimes a word has multiple meanings or it could have multiple meanings and that’s logically speaking. I don’t mean in terms of how Paul writes it that he means to be ambiguous. What I mean is do we know that predestination means that God predetermined individuals unconditionally before the fall or did He predetermine them conditionally based off of the foreknowledge of what they would do or will do. There is also the issue briefly brought up about Molinism and that’s the view that on God’s providence that God in His foreknowledge looks at feasible worlds and so, worlds that He might be able to make but that aren’t logically impossible to make, and then looking at those feasible worlds He chooses to actualize one of those worlds, so based on that type of foreknowledge He sees what creatures would do in a given situation so this is regarding counterfactuals of creaturely freedom so a number of philosophers are interested in this view. One of the larger proponents of this is Dr. William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and so they try to see this as a middle ground between the Calvinist and Arminian views of providence, so that’s the key, providence.
So back to predestination here. There’s different ways of understanding it. My own view on Ephesians 1 is this. I’ll just be brief. It’s that I don’t interpret Ephesians 1 to be about the priority of individual election. I think it’s about corporate election. There you see pronouns. We. Us. Our. Those are plural words. Now when we go back and read in Deuteronomy that God chose Israel, they are the chosen people, we don’t infer from those passages that God therefore chose each specific individual to be in Israel. We just don’t make that inference and rightly so, but when we come to Ephesians 1 and we see God predestined us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless, then we make that inference, we make that jump and that is, in the absence of evidence, a logical fallacy to make that jump from a whole, that what is true of a whole is true of a part, so you need evidence to get there, and there are other reasons why I think it’s about corporate election as well but perhaps we’ll get into that in another show.
So, boy, this has been exciting. We’ve gone over on our time by fifteen minutes because we were having such a good time. Thanks to Omar for calling in and asking us some questions and thank you Dr. Walls for coming on the show as well. This week we will be recording an interview with Dr. Paul Copan and we’re gonna be talking about whether God commanded divine genocide so you can look forward to that next week. We’ll still come to you live, but we’re gonna play the interview for you and I’ll still take your questions if you’re interested so that does it for the show today. I’m continually grateful for the support of our patrons. If you want to learn more about how to become a patron and the perks of that, you can check out our web site Veracityhill.com and I’m also thankful for you listeners and if you’ve got questions for me, if you’ve got comments, you can give us a call at any time. The numbers is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So when I say any time, we’ve got a box that’s set up so you can ask your questions. We’ll play it over the air if you want or if you don’t want to have your voice aired just say that as well and we’ll still answer your question during our mail bag time.
I want to thank the partnership of our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and just recently who joined our team of sponsors, Fox Restoration. I’ve been so blessed by the continued partnership of those organizations for their help and it’s growing as well which is just awesome so it’s a real blessing. Thanks to our tech team. Chris. You’re here today. Joel is not. So thank you Chris for the work that you do and to our guest today Dr. Jerry Walls and thank you for listening in and for striving truth on faith, politics, and society.
Please login to comment