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?
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”?
During a conversation with a Calvinist friend (who believes that God can know the future only if He has meticulously predetermined and caused every minute detail of it), I was challenged to explain the mechanics of how God can have perfect knowledge of the future if humans have free will.
My answer: I can’t explain the mechanics, but I have confidence that God has absolute and perfect knowledge of the future, even while we have free will, simply because He is God.
My Calvinist friend offered the following retort: “That’s not good enough. You’re reading a false Bible*, and you worship a false God.”
I’m at a loss as to how my answer is not good enough though. Sure, I don’t understand the ins and outs of how God can have perfect knowledge of the future if humans have free will, and to some, that may sound like a cop-out answer, but if we refuse to admit that a particular theological stance is even a possibility because we are not able to comprehend how God is able to do that which is supernatural and miraculous, then I think we have become either too concerned with peripheral issues at best, or have totally lost the plot at worst.
If we refuse to admit that a particular theological stance is so much as a possibility, simply because we are unable to comprehend how God is able to do that which is supernatural, then I would suggest that to remain consistent, we need to throw out Christianity as a whole. After all, our faith and salvation rests upon supernatural acts of God that we cannot comprehend.
I would bet my bottom dollar that my Calvinist friend wouldn’t be able to explain to me the mechanics of how God created the world out of nothing, or how a virgin conceived a child, or how Jesus walked on water, or fed five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish, or how a man can rise from the dead, and so on and so forth – the list is almost endless.
I fail to see why the issue of divine foreknowledge and human freedom should be any different, considering that we are not dealing with an issue that has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, but with a supernatural attribute of God Himself. To say that I don’t know how God can infallibly foreknow my free actions is to say nothing more than I am a fallible human being and God is the infallible Almighty Being. If God chooses to reveal His ways, all well and good, but if not, then we should be content to just let God be God.
It has not been revealed how God can have a perfect foreknowledge of our free actions, and we can therefore conclude that the answer is not essential to our salvation, our life, or our godliness, for in the Scriptures are all things which pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). I may be going out on a limb here but I think that if God saw fit to not reveal something in Scripture, then whatever it is that isn’t revealed isn’t all that important to us. It certainly isn’t that big of an issue that we can go around telling people that because they cannot explain the mechanics then they are worshipping a false God.
We can argue until the cows come home about simple foreknowledge, middle knowledge, hard determinism and soft determinism or compatibilism, but if we make these peripheral issues our focus, we will obscure the fundamentals of the faith and lose sight of what really matters, things such as fearing God and keeping His commandments, which is the whole duty of man (Eccles. 12:13), or perhaps displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
May we never lose sight of what’s really important; may we forever continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel (Col. 1:23); may we forever run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and may we forever strive for holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
* Which was odd, because we were both using the same version.