Arminius: Determinism Renders God the Author of Sin

The Reformed scholastic Dr. Francis Junius (1545-1602), author of De Vera Theologia, who studied theology briefly under John Calvin (1509-1564), and then under Calvin's successor and Jacob Arminius' mentor, Theodore Beza (1519-1605), also corresponded with our Arminius (1559-1609) regarding various theological issues. The theological subject covered in this post is the Calvinistic notion of God's meticulous providence or, rather, the decrees of God regarding salvation, reprobation, sin and the problem evil under "the sovereignty of God."

For Arminius, in the supralapsarian schema, that God is the direct Author of all sin and evil is the only conclusion one can form. In essence, as outlined by Drs. Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall, supralapsarianism is a system demanding that "God creates the reprobate only as a means for their destruction [creates them for hell]."1 In dismantling the arguments of supralapsarian Calvinist Francis Gomarus (1563-1641), Arminius insists that God "loves before He hates, loves good before He hates evil," and thus He "hates evil because He loves good, and wills the reward to obedience before the punishment to disobedience."2 God hates sin, and He loves justice.

In other words, God's reaction to disobedience and sin is derived from His perpetual love for obedience and righteousness. Wrath is not an attribute of God: wrath is a response to sin and wickedness. "As such, God hates no creature, except because of sin."3 Hence God cannot be framed as decreeing, by necessity from eternity past, sin and wickedness prior to its occurring if His nature is one of love, justice, and righteousness. The supralapsarian model of God's decrees de facto renders God the direct, explicit, and emphatic Author of sin and evil.

Moreover, supralapsarian Calvinism, unapologetically according to Arminius and many Arminians, "inverts the order of the gospel of Jesus Christ." In his Declaration of Sentiments, which, according to Dr. Kenneth D. Keathley of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the most competent refutation of supralapsarian theory in print, he argues that, in the gospel God
requires repentance and faith on the part of man, by promising to him life everlasting, if he consent to become a convert and a believer (Mark 1:15; 16:16). But it is stated in this [supralapsarian] decree of Predestination, that it is God's absolute will to bestow salvation on certain particular men, and that He willed at the same time absolutely to give those very individuals repentance and faith, by means of an irresistible force, because it was His will and pleasure to save them [the ones He unconditionally elected to save].4
Yet, in the biblical gospel, God "denounces eternal death on the impenitent and unbelieving (John 3:36): and those threats contribute to the purpose which He has in view -- that He may by such means deter them from unbelief and thus may save them." However, argues Arminius, by this [supralapsarian] decree of predestination it is taught that God wills not to confer on
certain individual men [i.e., those whom He has not unconditionally elected to save] that grace which is necessary for conversion and faith, because He has absolutely decreed their condemnation. The gospel says, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should have everlasting life." (John 3:16) But this doctrine declares: "that God so loved those whom He had absolutely elected to eternal life, as to give His Son to them alone, and by an irresistible force to produce within them faith on Him."5
This, we see, is an inversion of the plain gospel of Jesus Christ. Out of character, Arminius' polemic against supralapsarianism is heightened and emphasized by his insistence -- and some of us agree -- that such an erroneous doctrine is "false and profane, in no manner contrary to the kingdom of Satan, but very well adapted for establishing and confirming it." Still, he argues, "I trust that the good God has pardoned [supralapsarians] this very thing, as having done it in ignorance, and as being prepared to submit to those who may teach them better things."6 But what of infralapsarian Calvinism? Is that system, too, guilty of rendering God the Author of sin?


JACOB ARMINIUS (1559-1609) AND FRANCIS JUNIUS (1545-1602)

Without critically explaining and carefully parsing what is directly or indirectly referred to as God being the Author of sin, John Calvin and the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith insist that God is not the Author of sin and evil. By "author," we often refer to an "originator," though the originator need not be involved in any event. But, more specifically, "author" often also refers to "one who writes or constructs a document or system." (link) Thus, when we charge Calvinism as inherently leading one to conclude that God is the Author of sin or evil, we do so on the support of God meticulously, exhaustively decreeing all events without qualification.

In his conference with Junius, Arminius argues that, for God to decree sin, in a strict sense -- meaning, God renders sin and evil necessary because He decreed for sin and evil to occur -- then the "execution following upon sin does not excuse from blame Him who by His own decree ordained that sin should be committed, which He might afterwards punish." Arminius argues:
Nay, He who decreed and ordained that sin should be committed, cannot with justice punish sin when perpetrated: for He cannot be the avenger of a thing done of which He was the ordainer that it should be done: He cannot be the ordainer of the punishment, who was the ordainer of the crime. And rightly does Augustine say, "God can ordain the punishment of crimes, but not the crimes themselves;" not ordain them, that is, to be committed. And I have already shown that man does not become wicked by his own fault if God has ordained that he should fall and become wicked.7 (emphases original)
How wicked would God have to be to render, as necessary, the sin of a person, by eternal decree, even bringing it about, as Calvinists insist, and then punishing the individual for enacting the very sin he or she committed but was decreed to commit? But this is the very underpinning of Calvinism regarding "the sovereignty of God," as defined by Calvinists. Calvin himself argues that all the "counsels, wishes, aims, and faculties [of the wicked], are so under His hand, that He has full power to turn them in whatever direction, and constrain them as often as He pleases."8 The "wicked" are decreed to perform their wickedness, used by God in whatever manner He has from eternity decreed, and then punishes them when they act wickedly. This they call just?

Keep in mind that God does not decree any event because He foresaw future free will choices contributing to an event. God, in Calvinism, cannot foreknow any event: He has, instead, exhaustively decreed every event (rape, incest, murder, drug abuse, child abuse, infidelity, acts of terror, objectification and emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse); and, as John Piper insists, He has decreed all these horrors so that "the glory of Christ may," somehow, we fail to see how, "shine brighter."9 Brighter? Sin and wickedness brings Christ more glory?

Arminius detects in the Calvinist's wrangling over the so-called efficacious vs. permissive decrees of God, that God, by "a permissive decree," has foreordained all events, a reckless implausibility: "For they say that God does not cause, but decrees and ordains sin," which is an attempt to escape a logical deduction that God is, thereby, the Author of sin. God, so the infralapsarian Calvinist might suggest, merely fails to grant "to a rational creature that grace which is necessary for the avoidance of sin." Arminius responds: "This action, conjoined with the laying down of law, comprehends the full cause of sin in itself. For He [God] who enacts a law impossible to be performed without grace, and denies grace to him on whom the law is imposed; He [God] is the cause of sin by means of removing the necessary hindrance."10 (emphases added) Why is this view unacceptable? How does even infralapsarian Calvinism, i.e., compatibilism, also necessarily render God as being the Author of sin and evil? Because God 1) creates, with exact detail, the very environment conducive for the necessity of a sinful act, which He has rendered certain to occur from eternity; 2) is charged as bringing sinful, evil, wicked acts to fruition through various means; and 3) has also, allegedly, decreed not to grant sufficient grace for the avoidance of sin.

Creating a concept of a so-called permissive will, or even John Piper's philosophical two-wills-in-God theory, is merely a red herring. Whatever one may name the particular will in God which renders sin and evil necessary is entirely irrelevant. The primary question remains the same always and for all time: Must sin or evil have occurred?

The only answer the Calvinist can, with any semblance of integrity, give is yes: sin and evil must occur because God, from their own confessions and theological constructs, has decreed for such to occur; again, not due to His foreknowledge of events caused by free will choices, but simply according to His desire of how He wanted the future to unfold. Try as they may, Calvinists cannot avoid charging God as the Author of sin and evil, and, perhaps, as Arminius himself is noted as insisting,11 that God is the only real sinner in the universe. God Himself forbid the thought!

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1 Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 185-86.

2 "Examination of the Theses of Dr. Francis Gomarus Respecting Predestination," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 3:574-75.

3 Stanglin and McCall, 186.

4 Arminius, 1:632.

5 Ibid., 1:633. "To embrace the whole in few words, the gospel says, 'Fulfill the command and thou shalt obtain the promise; believe, and thou shalt live.' But this [supralapsarian] doctrine says, 'Since it is my will to give thee life, it is therefore My will to give thee faith;' which is a real and most manifest inversion of the gospel."

6 Ibid., 3:658.

7 Ibid., 3:82-83.

8 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), I.17.6.

9 Bruce A. Little, "Evil and God's Sovereignty," in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, eds. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 290.

10 Arminius, 3:83.

11 Ibid., 1:630. "From these premises we deduce, as a further conclusion, that God really sins. Because (according to this [supralapsarian] doctrine), He moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to His own purpose and primary intention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit in man.

"From the same [supralapsarian] position we might also infer that God is the only sinner. For man, who is impelled by an irresistible force to commit sin (that is, to perpetrate some deed that has been prohibited), cannot be said to sin himself." In such a scenario, then, sin cannot really be sin, since sin is so very contrary to the nature and character of God, and since God cannot sin. To name such a philosophy as being absurd is an understatement.