On Sam Storms' Concession of Favoritism in Calvinism

Calvinist scholar Dr. Sam Storms responded to Arminian scholar Dr. Roger Olson on the subject of God showing favoritism to the alleged unconditionally elect -- an act which the Bible explicitly commands we not take part (cf. Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 13:10; Ps. 82:2; Prov. 18:5; Sir. 7:5-7; Mal. 2:9; Sir. 4:22, 27; Matt. 5:45; 1 Tim. 5:21; 3:17; James 2:1). I think Dr. Storms' answer fails to consider that:

  1. we are commanded not to show favoritism based on certain qualities within people, such as race, gender, economic status, etc., a command that is not contextually salvific in nature, but that differs significantly from that of God being partial in the framework of the novel theory of unconditional election;
  2. God does not show favoritism (cf. Sir. 35:15, 16; 1 Es. 4:39; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25), and especially with regard to election unto salvation -- a notion out of which the novel theory of unconditional election cannot sufficiently wiggle;
  3. God has elected to save those who believe (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20), a biblical truth that is neither arbitrary in nature nor salvifically partial, as with the hypothesis of unconditional election;
  4. if the theory of unconditional election were true, then God would be showing partiality, which Dr. Storms concedes, and thinks all should affirm, which I think calls into question God's character and justice;
  5. God's partiality in Calvinism demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the novel theory of unconditional election; and
  6. both notions -- favoritism and the arbitrary nature of Calvinism's unconditional election -- are contradicted throughout Scripture. 

Dr. Storms, when asked whether the theory of unconditional election charges God of being guilty of showing favoritism, admits: "Of course he is! That is what unconditional election is all about. But we should refrain from saying that God is 'guilty' of being partial toward the elect because this kind of partiality is a virtue, not a vice. It is a divine prerogative for which God should be praised, not vilified." (link) (emphases original) God's alleged partiality toward the supposed unconditionally elect cannot properly be named a virtue -- a moral excellence or righteousness -- since a person is not deemed moral or righteous for not saving an individual he or she could have saved; and especially is this the case with the novelty of the decree of unconditional election.

Calvinists like Dr. Storms would have us believe that God necessarily decreed the fall, thus decreeing and fixing the fallen state of sinners, yet unconditionally elects to save only some of them -- without any known reason or purpose. This, he posits, is a virtue. That Calvinists cannot comprehend the inherent problem in such a view is telling. We have, on the one hand, a theology which confesses God is actively working in the hearts of all people, not showing salvific favoritism to some, but desiring that all be saved. His grace is sufficient enough to generate faith in Christ for the salvation of those who hear the Gospel through the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit. He has declared that He will save, and is most freely willing to save, any who will by grace trust in His Son Jesus Christ. This is Arminianism.

On the other hand, we have a theology which confesses that God claims He desires the salvation of all people, in some esoteric sense, but has unconditionally elected to save only some people, but that this favoritism is a virtue. Yes, Jesus' blood is sufficient for atoning every individual, and God is more than capable of unconditionally electing every single person, but has secretly and unconditionally elected to save only some; and this, they believe, is virtuous. No, this is deplorable, claiming to love all people yet choosing to save only some unconditionally. This is Calvinism. This theology is unworthy of our most glorious God.

Moreover, naming unconditional election "a divine prerogative" suggests a conditional and not an unconditional character in the very option mentioned. In other words, if unconditionally electing one person unto faith and salvation and not another is a divine prerogative, then there must exist a reason or a purpose for this prerogative. More on this below.

Since Christ's atonement is capable of appeasing God's wrath for every individual to have ever existed, then God could have unconditionally elected every single individual to have ever existed to an eternal bliss in His presence. If God the Father truly did pour out His wrath, in full, upon His Son, as all Calvinists affirm, then, in theory, He could have unconditionally elected every single person unto faith and salvation and brought Himself glory (salvation is qualitative, not quantitative, in nature). This, according to Calvinists, He chose not to do, and one is led to ask why, and what effect it has on His character. A typical response proffered from Calvinists is present in Dr. Storms' answer:
What is it, then, that dictates and determines God's [unconditional] choice? God. He [unconditionally] chooses one, but not another, because it pleases him to do so. Why that particular [unconditional] choice is more pleasing to God than another, or neither, is not revealed in Holy Scripture. That is simply the way God wants it, and so it shall be. (link
But if Scripture is silent on the "Why?" question then Dr. Storms cannot even know that "God wants it" this way. Perhaps God is conflicted. He, then, is speaking where Scripture is silent. But his answer is entirely insufficient in its own right; and I think that it is very telling of how Calvinism creates its own philosophical and scriptural problems.

The Calvinist cannot know why God would unconditionally elect one person unto faith and salvation and not another (nor even that he or she is one of the unconditionally elect), not merely because one cannot know the mind of God, but because there actually remains no possible answer. The unconditionally elect and the alleged non-elect -- those whom God could have saved by an unconditional decree but elected not to -- are equal with regard to sin: both are depraved; both need Christ's atonement for salvation; both could have been saved; therefore there can be no reason for God to elect one unto faith and salvation and not another -- a fact that raises the inherent problem of the arbitrary nature of the novel theory of unconditional election.


No reason or purpose can be given for why God would unconditionally elect one person and not another, as Calvinists themselves concede to some degree, yet Scripture insists -- as Calvinists often remind us, and in which truth we rejoice -- that God "accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will" (Eph. 1:11). God is and continues to be working (accomplishing), ἐνεργοῦντος (present active participle), everything according to His counsel, βουλὴν, and will, θελήματος, purpose, determination (not predetermination). So, God is always working, and He is working toward a purpose.

If, then, God accomplishes all things, including salvation, according to a purpose, yet Calvinists cannot provide us with even a modicum of a sufficient answer as to why He would unconditionally elect one person unto faith and salvation and not another, then we cannot accept the novel theory as a viable, biblical option. In other words, unconditional election cannot be true, cannot be biblical, because it is a decree of God absent of any genuine purpose: the essence of its premise is arbitrary and, hence, contrary to Scripture.

Further, if election unto faith and salvation is unconditional in nature, then its corollary, reprobation, must also be unconditional. Hence God does not reprobate anyone by decree on the condition of their sin but by an arbitrary choosing tantamount to the children's game Duck, Duck, Goose.

If there remains no aspect of a human being that would lead God to unconditionally elect one person unto faith and salvation, and not another, then there cannot be, not if one is to be consistent, any aspect of a human being that would lead God to decree one's reprobation. Therefore supralapsarian Calvinism is the Calvinist's only consistent option; and supralapsarianism was condemned as heresy and anathema at the Council of Orange in 529 CE. But I digress. What I want to know is why God unconditionally elects one person unto faith and salvation and not another.

The response given by some Calvinists, that He unconditionally elects some people unto faith and salvation "for His glory," or, as Dr. Storms posits, "God chooses one instead of another because it is pleasing to God, and that is all the reason he needs" (link), only further justifies the complaint of their detractors as being inherently insufficient as a proper philosophical or biblical position. In short: those responses are deflective, not just defective, and fail to actually answer the core of the question. "For God's glory" and "Because it is pleasing to God" are not actual answers to the "Why?" question because they fail to address God's purpose in unconditional election.

But, as already mentioned, there can be no purpose for God unconditionally electing one person and not another since all sinners are on an equal, sinful footing. God could have unconditionally elected every single person unto faith and salvation and received glory. So to suggest by way of response "For God's glory" or "Because it is pleasing to God" is a failure to actually answer the question. One could still ask "Why does unconditional election bring God glory?" or "Why does unconditional election please God?" One will wait for infinity for an answer as to its purpose.

How is the matter different in Arminian theology? The answer is quite simple: Since God has conditionally elected to save those who by grace believe in Christ; and since God grants this wonderful gift to all -- and is in actuality available to all -- who by grace believe in Christ; then God cannot be charged or thought of in any way as being partial or showing favoritism salvifically. God being salvifically partial, based on an unconditional decree, is a grievous concept which we find questions God's integrity, character, and justice.

It questions His integrity because He Himself has indicated His desire for all to be saved, which cannot be true if He, quite contrarily, unconditionally elected only some unto faith and salvation; it questions His character because He would have no reason not to unconditionally elect every single, helpless, depraved sinner when He is quite capable of doing so; and it questions His justice because He is in a sovereign position to provide atonement and ultimate, eschatological salvation to the helpless but refuses to do so. In Arminianism, the Holy Spirit is actively working through the Gospel by the grace of God the Father to exalt the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; He enables people to freely trust in Christ; and this lavish grace is freely extended by the Godhead for the salvation of all.

Scripture could not be any more clear in outlining the fact that God loves this world of sinners (John 3:16); that Christ died for this world of sinners (John 1:29); that God was in Christ reconciling to Himself this world of sinners (2 Cor. 5:19); and that He desires all in this world of sinners to be saved by, in, and through Christ (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 3:16, 17, 36; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). If unconditional election were true then these passages of Scripture cannot be true. If God's desire is genuine, and He Himself states that it includes a genuine desire that all be saved -- and "all" refers to every single person ever to exist -- then unconditional election cannot be true, given that there can exist no contrary desires within God: a desire to save all and, at the same time, a desire to unconditionally save only some by an arbitrary decree.


Post a Comment


My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.