When God Decrees Everything

A Calvinist friend of mine was instrumental in the constructing of this post. We were thinking about the movie 20th Century Women, featuring Annette Benning, and the question was posed from my friend: Do you think there are people who really live like this? The reason for the question derived from a mild horror that people could actually live in this fashion. I admit that I pushed back on this issue. If God decrees everything (cf. Eph. 1:11) then God decreed that these people live in said fashion. Instead of being mildly horrified that some people live their lives in a certain manner, be horrified in a theology that insists God is the one who decreed, rendered certain and brings to pass a horrifying reality.

I want to present this primary argument without quotes and references and scholarly footnotes to Calvinist theologians. I want this particular piece to be devoid of rigorous academia and address you, personally, a bit more conversational. If you require academics, or exegesis, then investigate the sidebar of this site in order to find what you need.

Whether one person remains in her evil, pathetic, depraved state or is converted and inwardly changed is, according to Calvinist ideology, the arbitrary decision of God. This decision is arbitrary by nature since there can be no known reason why God should, alone, change (and save) one person and not another; all are equally depraved. But God decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass our depravity. If God decrees everything, in a strict Calvinistic sense, then God decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass our depravity. Recall that God decreed our reality thusly based solely on His decision to do so.

Some Calvinists, uncomfortable with the implications of believing in a God who would decree, render certain, and bring sin and evil to pass, soften this harshness by insisting that people want to do what God has decreed for them to do. Somehow this compatibilistic concept is supposed to alleviate God from being wicked by decreeing, rendering certain, and bringing to pass that we commit sin and evil acts. But this concept fails, miserably, because if God decrees everything, in strict Calvinistic theory, then God even decreed that we want to commit the sin and evil that God first, from eternity past, decreed we enact. This softer version of Calvinism still renders God decreeing, rendering certain, and bringing sin to pass. The idea that we want to do what God decreed us to do is rendered moot. We only want to perform the evil because God decreed it. This is Calvinistic philosophical-theology 101.

Consider, also, that strict Calvinists (determinists) insist that soft Calvinism (compatibilism) is no less deterministic than hard Calvinism. Those "hard Calvinists" agree with us Arminians: soft Calvinism is merely lip service, nothing more substantial than double speak, to getting God "off the hook" from having decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass throughout time every single minutiæ of whatever occurs. Do you know what is the most tragic consequence of this theology? First, God is not glorified, and that is paramount! Second, people who encounter this erroneous philosophy-masquerading-as-biblical-theology respond negatively to the character of God, a God of justice, mercy, love and grace. Third, this error influences the manner in which we view the entirety of the scriptures.

Is there not a superior theological option than what is proffered by Calvinists? Yes, indeed, and that theology is the summation of early Church teaching that we name Arminianism. Is God sovereign? Absolutely! Does not the sovereignty of God, then, demand that we embrace determinism (or compatibilism)? Absolutely not! But does God not exist and always operate "according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will"? (Eph. 1:11) Yes, He does, and in this very text, often used as support for Calvinistic determinism, we are not informed regarding the counsel and will of God. Did God prescript every detail of our existence before the world was created? That is the Calvinistic presumption but that is not what St Paul was inspired of the Holy Spirit to actually convey.

MEDIEVAL PUPPET THEATRE

What I am trying to wrap my ahead around is the notion that God decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass all of the distorted, sin-glorifying, Satanic occurrences we witness among mortals, some Calvinists even insisting that God did so in order to bring Himself more glory, but that, at the same time, Calvinists are granted license for complaining about the reality that God decreed. No, you are not granted that license, but are obligated to embrace and own what you confess about the purposes, counsel, and will of God. Either own it or abandon it. If you do not like a given situation, then either wait quietly and without protest for God to deterministically change it, or forsake the errors you have been taught. Yet, given my prior Calvinistic context, I already know the ready response.

"But what if God will use my complaint to alter the thinking of someone who committed evil and lead him to repentance?" (cf. Rom. 2:4) Well let us contemplate your response. So, your version of God insists that God decreed, from eternity past, that someone will, by necessity (he could not do otherwise), commit an evil deed. God also decreed your negative reaction to that evil. By your decreed reaction God also decreed that the individual would repent of his evil. Your decreed reaction was the impetus for what -- the repentance? God decreed your response to his evil as a means of his repentance? So God decreed that the man would commit evil, and also decreed that he should repent of the evil God decreed for him to commit, and also used your decreed reaction as a means of the man's decreed repentance?

All this decreeing, all this sin-manipulation, and Calvinists still attempt to convince us that God is not the Author (Originator, Scribbler, Founder, Designer, Decreer) of sin. Without the Calvinist God decreeing, rendering certain and bringing to pass all the sin and evil in the world (as well as actually inventing sin and the myriad methods through which sin should be manifested), and we would not even experience sin (in a Calvinistic universe). You cannot lay the blame for sin on mortals when you give us a God who has decreed, rendered certain, and brings to pass for mortals to sin. You cannot decry a depraved mortality among your friends and your family members when your God brought this to pass. Well, I suppose that you can, but you do so at your own contradictory embarrassment.

The fact that depraved sinners want to sin is really just an indictment on your God who decreed, rendered certain, and brings to pass that these people are depraved sinners in the first place -- to say nothing of God decreeing that the consequence of such a reality is that they want to sin. If this (what I consider as unbiblical) theology makes you uncomfortable, questioning the integrity and character of God, then return to an early orthodox theology that by any other name is Arminianism. God is sovereign; God is just and holy. People freely sin; and people can, by the proactive grace of the inwardly-working Holy Spirit, be changed through faith in Jesus Christ. These teachings comprise a God-glorifying theology and respectable theodicy. The early Church fathers anachronistically believed as much.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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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.