The Inglorious God of Uncomfortable Calvinists

Listening to a Calvinist answer challenges from an atheist can be very painful. Often, some Calvinists demur from consistent Calvinism, which results in a distorted theological system. In one video, to which I am responding, the Calvinist answers this question from an atheist: Q. "So, if I don't have the ability to change myself [the larger context being repenting and trusting in Christ for salvation], then how do I get the ability or desire to do so?" A. "From God." (mark 1:52-2:04) The atheist acknowledges that the Calvinist has answered correctly; and then the inevitable happens.

The atheist is baiting the Calvinist because he already knows the answers. The atheist acknowledges that, from a Calvinistic point of view, the "ball is in God's court and not mine." (mark 2:05-2:09) The answer is given by the Calvinist: Yes, God saves whom He wants, and He regenerates whom He wants. To which the atheist responds: "So, really, there is nothing that I can do." (mark 2:21-2:23) The Calvinist answers: "But man is still responsible." Here is where the Calvinist senses that his theology impugns the character and integrity of God. The Calvinist's God holds people responsible for trusting in Christ even though the Calvinist's God has already, from eternity past, unconditionally pre-selected whom He will monergistically cause to trust in Christ.

This particular Calvinist claims to be a compatibilistic Calvinist -- i.e., the notion that, though God decrees what we think and say and do, we want to think and say and do what we think and say and do and so we are, therefore, held responsible. Never mind that God has decreed for us to want to think and say and do what we were decreed to think and say and do. Never mind that we could only think and say and do what God decreed from eternity past we think and say and do. This makes no never mind to the compatibilist. The compatibilist sees nothing wrong in the character and justice and integrity of God to render certain from eternity past what we shall think and say and do, like puppets or robots, and then God judge us for thinking, saying, and doing what He eternally decreed we think, say, and do. Perhaps we should rename compatibilistic Calvinism the head-in-the-sand theological system.

But the atheist intuits the inherent problem in this unbiblical theory. He asks the Calvinist: "Do you think God predestined my suppression -- that I wouldn't believe?" Here is the one and only consistent response a Calvinist, whether compatibilist or hard-determinist Calvinist, should answer: "Yes. Your non-belief was decreed and predetermined by God. Moreover, should you remain in this eternally-decreed atheistic state, this too was decreed, predetermined, rendered certain and brought about by God -- for His glory." How does the compatibilist Calvinist answer? "Ummm ... Was it decreed? Absolutely. It's the very thing that happens when man falls." (mark 2:38-2:47) Do you see how the Calvinist wants to cast the blame on "man" when, in fact, God is the one who decreed "man" to fall? Why is this? Why deflect?

The atheist responds: "So, if God predestined my unbelief, am I still free to choose God?" (mark 2:49-2:54) The notion of "freedom" is tricky for the compatibilist: he is tempted to concede some semblance of freedom but he already confesses that God has decreed, renders certain, and brings to fruition whatever happens -- in the cosmos, on the earth, and among mortals. The Calvinist asks: "What do you mean 'free to choose God'?" He answers: "In other words, is there something in me that I can choose to do to become a believer? Am I free to choose God?" (mark 2:52-3:06) Again, the answer should come quickly from the Calvinist, as his own theology informs him that no one is free but God, God has unconditionally pre-selected whom He shall save, and thus no one is "free to choose God." That is merely consistent Calvinism.



How does the Calvinist respond? "Ummm ... Yeah, you can choose ... people have the ability ... I think we discussed this [previously]." (mark 3:07-3:13) No, this answer is wrong, and does not rightly represent Calvinism. Sadly, I find this contorted theological mixed-bag too often among self-proclaimed "Calvinists," and such leads me to question why. Oddly enough, however, the Calvinist then walks back the comment about freedom and alleges that the reason why the atheist does not believe is because that is what God has decreed. That statement is troubling enough, theologically, but I want to focus on why some Calvinists, particularly compatibilistic Calvinists, balk when being asked the hard questions about their theology.

My opinion is that they shy away from being consistent in their theology because they intuitively know that what they are saying to others, and particularly to non-believers and atheists, impugns the character, justice, and integrity of God. A Calvinistic portrayal of God is tantamount to judging and then condemning a little girl for falling down a flight of stairs -- a flight of stairs that you made certain she fall down. How is that justice? How is that righteous? How does that bespeak to a holy character and a blameless sense of integrity in God? Because some self-pronounced "Calvinists" are uncomfortable with a consistent Calvinism, we are introduced to about as many Calvinisms as there are Calvinists, which results in a theological system that dies the death of a thousand qualifications. What is the solution?

One might imagine that I will insist Calvinists either be painfully consistent with their theology or opt out of the system altogether. No. My suggestion is that more and more Calvinistic believers wrestle with the inescapable reality that Calvinism cannot be consistently lived out and at the same time honor the character, justice, and integrity of the God of the Bible, as displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God Almighty (Heb. 1:3) -- a God who laments over the lost (Luke 13:34) and desires the salvation of all (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 3:16, 17; 1 Tim. 2:4, 6; 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9). Believers are supposed to be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). Telling the lost, non-believers and atheists, that God has decreed their non-belief and their subsequent eternal damnation -- and that allegedly for His glory -- is any other notion than adorning the gospel with the glory of God.

A Puppet-Master God who has eternally decreed, renders certain, and brings about your fall and your sin and your evil and your wickedness -- none of which you could have executed otherwise -- and then judges you for the same is not a God worthy of worship. This is the God of Calvinism. If this portrayal of God is unworthy of the God of the scriptures, then this theological portrayal presents an inglorious God, for glory refers to worth. Uncomfortable Calvinists should think seriously, biblically, and with an eternal perspective as to whether their portrayal of God corresponds to the very nature and character of God as full of integrity, justice, and holiness.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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.