If the notion of universal Divine causal determinism is to be believed to the extent that God causally determines “the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sin”, indeed, “every thought, word, and deed in all of history”, as Palmer says, can it be rationally affirmed that the Scriptures are any more inspired than the works of Arminius, or Calvin’s Institutes? Wouldn’t this very question be just as ‘inspired’ as the Scriptures? If God has indeed causally determined “every thought, word, and deed in all of history”, wouldn’t that reduce the inspiration of Scripture to a redundant doctrine?
10 More Questions for Calvinists
1. If it is true that before a person can respond to God, God must irresistibly cause that person’s regeneration, why is God long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9)? What’s He waiting for? Is God long-suffering with Himself, as He waits for Himself to irresistibly and unfailingly bend the human will to faith and conversion? Isn’t it incoherent to believe that God would actively withhold the grace that man needs in order to respond the Gospel, while at the same time be long-suffering toward mankind, not willing that any should perish? As an aside, the verse in question states that God is long-suffering “to us-ward”. Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?
2. Is there any discernible difference between God “powerfully and unfailingly bend[ing] the human will to faith and conversion”, as the Canons of Dort teach, and God forcing someone to be saved?
3. Is Calvinism essential for salvation? Does one need to believe Calvinism in order to be saved? If not, was Spurgeon wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”? Was Engelsma wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the Gospel. Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel. Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ”?
4. Is there anything that the reprobate can do to avoid eternal punishment? If not, would it be accurate to say that the reprobate do not have a Saviour to save them from their sins? Would it be accurate to say that Christ did nothing to save the reprobate? Would it be accurate to say that the Gospel is for the elect alone, and that the reprobate therefore have no Gospel to believe, even if they could believe? Further, would it be just to condemn them for rejecting the Saviour, when they had no Saviour to save them from their sins?
5. If Christ did nothing to save the reprobate, are the reprobate to be commended for their unbelief? For example, if a reprobate flat-out denies that Christ died for him, isn’t he simply believing the truth that Christ’s death was not for him? Suppose that the reprobate were to say, “I don’t believe that Christ did anything to save me.” If Christ did not die for the reprobate who said this, then what he said is accurate, and should he not be commended for his unbelief, insofar as what he believes is the truth?
6. Regarding Jesus’ dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25)? If Irresistible Grace is true, isn’t it just as true that man’s will would immediately and unfailingly be bent to faith and conversion upon hearing God’s effectual call? Why would it be harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s unfailingly irresistible calling than what it would be for any other sinner? Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?
7. God specifically states that “he himself tempts no one” (James. 1:13). If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass to such a meticulous extent that “the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless insofar as he permits, no, unless insofar as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service”, as Calvin said, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed absolutely everything to that extent, yet somehow does not cause temptation? As an aside, does the fact that temptation occurs without God causing it mean that the temptation is not under God’s sovereign rule?
8. If regeneration precedes faith, is faith necessary for salvation? Even Calvinist Charles Spurgeon argued that once a man is regenerate, he is saved, and that it is therefore “unnecessary”, “ridiculous”, and “absurd” to preach Christ to him and bid him to believe in order to be saved. Assuming that a regenerate man is a saved man, and vice versa, doesn’t this “axiom of Reformed Theology”, as R.C. Sproul put it, undermine the necessity of faith? Further, is there any discernible difference between saying ‘regeneration precedes faith’, and ‘salvation precedes faith’?
9. Is belief in the doctrine of Limited Atonement more of a deduction from the T, U, I, and P of the TULIP, rather than a clear truth of Scriptural revelation? Is Limited Atonement embraced because of clear Scriptural reasons, or is it embraced because the logic of the Calvinistic worldview requires it and the thought that the Scriptures allow it?
10. If God wanted to convey in the Scriptures the idea that Christ died for the elect and no one else, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what? Conversely, if God wanted to convey the idea that Christ died provisionally for the whole world, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?
Related: 10 Questions for Calvinists
Here is Dr. Michael L. Brown’s debate with Pastor Bruce Bennett on the subject of Who Makes the Final Choice in Salvation – God or Man?
Here is Dr. Michael L. Brown’s debate with Dr. James White on the subject of Predestination, Election, and the Will of God:
When Reformed Christians are questioned on whether God is the “author of sin,” they are too quick to say, “No, God is not the author of sin.” And then they twist and turn and writhe on the floor, trying to give man some power of “self-determination,” and some kind of freedom that in their minds would render man culpable, and yet still leave God with total sovereignty. On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my reaction is “So what?” Those who oppose me stupidly chant, “But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin.” However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a decent explanation as to what is wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective. The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin. (p.4)
Although God must actively cause evil thoughts and inclinations in the creature, and then he must actively cause the corresponding evil actions, he does not create new material or substance when he does this, since he is controlling what he has already created. It is true that a person sins according to his evil nature, but as Luther writes, it is God who “creates” this evil nature in each newly conceived person after the pattern of fallen Adam, whose fall God also caused. And then, God must actively cause this evil nature to function and the person to act according to it. Luther writes that God never allows this evil nature to be idle in Satan and in ungodly people, but he continuously causes it to function by his power… As for God’s purpose for sin and evil, first, as we acknowledge the biblical teaching that God is the sovereign and righteous “author of sin,” even if we cannot say why he causes sin and evil, it would not undermine what I have said. Even if we do not know the reason, our view does not contradict Scripture or itself. It would only be a matter of incomplete information. (p.10)
My position is a consistent application of divine sovereignty over everything. It is a denial of any form of dualism or deism. I affirm that God controls everything about everything that is anything, including every aspect of every detail of every human decision and action, in such a way that man has no freedom in any meaningful or relevant sense. (p.14)
Things are more determined in divine determinism than in any other scheme. Under “fatalism,” an event is predetermined in such a way that the same outcome results “no matter what you do,” that is, regardless of means. However, under divine determinism, although it “matters” what you do, “what you do” is also predetermined. And it “matters” because there is a definite relationship between “what you do” and the outcome, although this relationship is also determined and controlled by God. So I affirm divine determinism and not fatalism, but not for the reason that people often shun fatalism. I affirm divine determinism not because things are less controlled in this scheme – they are more controlled – but I affirm it because it is the revealed and rational truth. I cannot be charged with teaching fatalism, because the term means something different from what I teach, and also because I consider fatalism far too weak to describe God’s control. (p.25)
The Bible teaches that God’s will determines everything. Nothing exists or happens without God, not merely permitting, but actively willing it and causing it to exist or happen… God controls not only natural events, but he also decides and causes all human affairs and decisions… If God indeed designs and causes all natural events and human affairs, then it follows that he also designs and causes evil. (pp.58-60)
God controls everything that exists and everything that happens. There is not one thing that exists or that happens that he has not decreed and caused – not even a single thought in the mind of man. Since this is true, it follows that God has decreed and caused the existence of evil. He has not merely permitted it, because nothing can originate or happen apart from his will and power. Since no creature can make free or independent decisions, evil could never have started unless God decreed and caused it, and it cannot continue for one moment longer without God’s will for it to continue or without God’s power actively causing it to continue. Those who see that it is impossible to disassociate God from the origination and continuation of evil still attempt to distance God from evil by suggesting that God merely “permits” evil, and that he does not cause it. However, since the Bible itself states that God actively decrees and causes everything, and that nothing can exist or happen apart from his will and power, it makes no sense to say that he merely permits something – nothing happens by God’s mere permission. In fact, when it comes to ontology, “God’s permission” is an unintelligible term. (p.61)
– Vincent Cheung, The Author of Sin (2014)
10 Questions for Calvinists
1. Can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He, from eternity, unconditionally determined not to save, and is, in the words of Calvin, “pleased to exclude” and “doom to destruction”? Or in the case of those who eschew the more passive doctrine of preterition and opt for the more active doctrine of reprobation, I ask: can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He has specifically created for the express purpose of destroying, who are, to quote Calvin, “doomed from the womb to certain death, whereby God is glorified by their destruction”?
2. If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to think that our prayers influence God’s answers to our prayers? Further, wouldn’t prayer be like someone putting on a sock puppet, and then having the sock puppet ask him to do something? And to extend the analogy even further, wouldn’t God’s answer/s to prayer be like someone answering a request that he had his own sock puppet ask himself?
3. Regarding the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Satan actively stealing away the Word of God (the ‘seed’) from people to prevent them from believing (Luke 8:12)? In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to steal the Word from people, when these very people whom he is attempting to prevent believing cannot believe anyway, due to Total Depravity, and indeed, cannot believe until after they are already regenerated?
4. Regarding Luke 22:14-23, is the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement compatible with the fact that Judas Iscariot – who would have been better off had he never been born (Mark 14:21), and whom Jesus called a ‘devil’ (John 6:70) – was among those for whom Jesus Christ said He gave His body and shed His blood? If so, wouldn’t that mean that Judas Iscariot is among the elect?
5. God specifically states that there were sins that He “did not command or decree” (Jer. 19:5). Indeed, these sins did not even “come into my [God’s] mind” (Jer. 19:5; cf. Jer. 7:30-31; 32:35). If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed sins that He did not command or decree, indeed, sins that did not even come into His mind to command or decree? Further, does the fact that these sins occurred without God first decreeing them mean that the sins were not under God’s sovereign rule?
6. In 1 Samuel 23, David learned that Saul was plotting harm against him (vv. 7-9), and so inquired of God as to 1) whether the people of Keilah would surrender him into Saul’s hand, and 2) whether Saul would indeed come to Keilah. Regarding both inquiries, God answered in the affirmative: Saul would come to Keilah, and the people of Keilah would surrender David into Saul’s hand (vv. 10-12). David and his men swiftly fled from Keilah (v. 13), and even though Saul sought David every day, God would not surrender David into his hand (v. 14). According to this passage, it would appear that God had foreknowledge of events that, in fact, never came to pass. Doesn’t this passage contradict the Calvinistic tenet that God can foreknow the future only if He has already causally determined said future? On the Calvinist view, if the above-stated events never came to pass, then surely God did not foreordain (or even permit) them to come to pass, so how then could God have foreknowledge of events that never came to pass?
7. The Apostle Paul states that “those who are perishing… refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thes. 2:10; emphasis added). Even the Hyper-Calvinist John Gill said of this passage, “the reason therefore of these men’s perishing is not the decree of God, nor even want of the means of grace, the revelation of the Gospel, but their rejection and contempt of it” (emphasis added). Isn’t the obvious implication that those who are perishing, in spite of the fact that they do ultimately perish, had a legitimate chance of being saved?
8. In the Bible, Christians are described as having “died to sin”(Rom. 6:2; cf. Rom. 6:7, 8, 11; 7:4-6; Gal 2:19; Col. 2:20; 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:11). Before conversion, the unregenerate are obviously described as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. Col. 2:13). Calvinists (eg., Boice and Ryken) describe the spiritually dead as having “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse” in that “like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God”. If being dead in sin entails not being able to make a single move toward God or even respond to God, does being dead to sin entail not being able to make a single move toward sin or even respond to sin?
9. Regarding the Apostle Paul’s warning to be sober-minded, watchful, and to resist the devil (1 Pet. 5:8-9), is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (which entails ‘inevitable perseverance’, ‘once saved, always saved’, and if anyone apostatizes, they were ‘never saved to begin with’) compatible with Satan actively prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8-9)? In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to seek to devour people whose salvation cannot possibly be put in jeopardy? And even if he actually does successfully ‘devour’ someone, wouldn’t that be sure proof that the person was never saved to begin with, and thus render the act of ‘devouring’ futile?
10. John Calvin taught what is known as ‘evanescent grace’ (Institutes, 3.2.11). Calvin thus taught that God bestows grace on the reprobate (or non-elect) and implants faith in them that is “so similar to the elect” that sometimes, there is virtually “no difference” between the elect and the non-elect. Calvin further taught that, “In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end”. In other words, true saving faith only proves to be truly saving if it perseveres to the very end. In light of this, is it possible for a Calvinist to have true assurance of salvation? Doesn’t this doctrine actually undermine the Biblical markers for assurance? How can someone know that his present faith is genuine, if genuine faith only proves to be genuine if it perseveres to the very end? How can a person be sure that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not an “inferior operation of the Spirit” which “afterwards proves evanescent,” the “better to convict them, and leave them without excuse”? Can a person even have assurance by producing fruit, considering that Calvin taught that the reprobate, through evanescent grace, “may for several years… produce fruit”?
A short while ago I was having a discussion with a Calvinist on the issue of determinism. As a result of my own studies into this topic (i.e., my reading of leading Calvinists themselves), I have come to the conclusion that though there may be a few individuals from the Reformed crowd who reject the notion of exhaustive determinism1, the predominant view among leading Calvinist exponents has been that of exhaustive, theological determinism – so much so that in one sense, ‘Calvinism’ is virtually synonymous with ‘theological determinism’.
Imagine my surprise, then, when this particular Calvinist, taking it upon himself to speak for all Calvinists, cried misrepresentation and stated, “Since when do Calvinists hold to strict causal determinism? Calvinists are not hardcore determinists. We do not think God causes everything to happen.”
The purpose of this post is to simply provide documentation that universal Divine causal determinism is not some ‘fringe view’ held by a minority of Calvinists, but is (or was) affirmed by some of the ‘major players’ in Calvinism.
Indeed, the notion of universal Divine causal determinism is so predominant within Calvinism that many of its high profile advocates (such as Calvin, Boettner, White, Palmer and Feinberg) view it as a necessary doctrine, as they see this as the only way that God can have infallible foreknowledge (i.e., foreknowledge implies determinism). But that’s a subject for another post.
“Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. For it is said, not that he foresaw how far the life of each individual should extend, but that he determined and fixed the bounds which could not be passed … Still, in relation to our capacity of discernment, all these things appear fortuitous. How will the Christian feel? Though he will consider that every circumstance which occurred in that person’s death was indeed in its nature fortuitous, he will have no doubt that the providence of God overruled it and guided fortune to his own end.” 2
Furthermore, Calvin argued that “no wind ever rises or rages without his [God’s] special command.”3 To get an idea of how strong Calvin’s view of sovereignty was, consider the following:
“The sum of the whole is this – since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.” 4
“But… call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless insofar as he permits, no, unless insofar as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service…” 5
“Hence we maintain, that by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.” 6
Edwin H. Palmer
“Nothing in this world happens by chance. God is in back of everything. He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen. He is not sitting on the sidelines wondering and perhaps fearing what is going to happen next. No, He has foreordained everything ‘after the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sin.” 7
Palmer goes on to affirm universal Divine causal determinism to the extent that God causes “all things that happen in all the world at any time”, indeed, “every thought, word, and deed in all of history”.8
B. B. Warfield
“All things without exception, indeed, are disposed by Him, and His will is the ultimate account of all that occurs … It is He that… creates the very thoughts and intents of the soul.” 9
R. C. Sproul Jr.
Sproul Jr. affirmed theological determinism to the point of calling God the “culprit” who “introduced evil into this world”.10
Though some Calvinists consider Cheung to be a ‘Hyper-Calvinist’ (most likely because he explicitly declares that God is the author of sin, and that there is no sincere offer of the Gospel to all men), his affirmation of exhaustive, theological determinism is hardly outside the bounds of ‘orthodox Calvinism’, so to speak, as his language is scarcely stronger than that of Calvin’s:
“This is Calvinism – it is a consistent application of divine sovereignty over everything. It is a denial of any form of dualism or deism. Thus I affirm that God controls everything about everything that is anything, including every aspect of every detail of every human decision and action, in such a way that man has no freedom in any meaningful or relevant sense.” 11
“By ‘determinism,’ I specially refer to theological or divine determinism. It is the teaching that the personal God of the Bible has intelligently and immutably predetermined all events, including all human thoughts, decisions, and actions, and that by predetermining both the ends and the means to those ends.” 12
Paul Kjoss Helseth
In the recently published addition to the Counterpoints series, Four Views on Divine Providence, Paul Kjoss Helseth, representing the ‘Reformed’ view (in the context of the book, ‘Reformed’ is synonymous with Calvinism), affirmed theological determinism to the point of admitting that God is “the efficient cause of sin,”13 and that God actively causes people to act as they do.14 To substantiate his views, Helseth goes on to quote Francis Turretin, saying that God “not only decreed but most certainly secures the event of all things”.15
Some more of the more well-known Calvinists who either affirm or affirmed exhaustive, divine determinism are:
Ulrich Zwingli, Jonathan Edwards, R. C. Sproul, Loraine Boettner, Paul Helm, John Piper,16 and Francis Turretin (briefly quoted above).
In summing up, though there may be a few individual Calvinists (like the one I dialogued with) who reject exhaustive, theological determinism, their position should in no way be accepted as the norm.
It could also be helpful to point out that ‘soft determinism’ (aka Compatibilism) is no less deterministic than hard (exhaustive) determinism. The Calvinists speak for themselves:
“Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, not free from the bondage to the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)” 17
“The compatibilist says that we are not free if our actions are externally caused, but that we are free if our actions are internally caused. However, the truth is that all our internal ”causes” are themselves externally caused. All our thoughts and actions are in fact externally caused by God, so that our so-called internal causes are merely externally caused effects that lead to other effects (such as our actions).” 18
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.16.9
3 Ibid., 1.16.7
4 Ibid., 1.18.2
5 Ibid., 1.17.11
6 Ibid., 1.16.8
7 Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (27th Printing, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI: 2009), p. 25
9 B. B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines. Art. Predestination, p. 9; quoted in Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 31-32
11 Cheung, Vincent The Author of Sin, p. 16 (<http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/authorsin.pdf>)
12 Ibid., p. 27
13 Paul Kjoss Helseth, in Four Views on Divine Providence (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI: 2011), p. 28 (footnote 14)
14 Ibid., p. 31
15 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:512; quoted in Four Views on Divine Providence, p. 41
16 For documentation see Olson, Against Calvinism, pp. 72-83