Which is Worse?

A common objection against our traditional free will theology is that “it exalts mankind and denigrates God.”  For instance, Calvinistic apologist James White wrote:

“Indeed, it must be remembered that the tradition Hunt proposes so exalts the autonomous will of man that the very work and intention of the triune God is left subject to abject failure. Not only can God’s love fail, but the attempts of the Father, Son, and Spirit to save each and every individual person on earth also fail on behalf of those who enter into eternal punishment” (Debating Calvinism, p.270).

We regularly hear Calvinists accusing our view of “stealing God’s glory and exalting humanity,” but is this a fair accusation?  Let’s objectively examine the natural (lost/un-regenerate) man of each system and you decide which perspective really has the “higher” view of God and the “lower” view of man:


On Calvinism:

The Non-Elect Unbelievers (“reprobate”) who die in rebellion:

  • Were born hated and rejected by God (speaking salvifically)
  • Were born incapable of morally accepting God’s own appeals to repent
  • Were born with a nature that could only hate God, just as he was first hated by God
  • Live their entire lives incapable of willingly repenting in response to God’s revelation

The Calvinistic view of God in relation to those (“reprobate”) who die in unbelief:

  • Hated and rejected the reprobates before the creation of the world
  • Refused to grant the reprobates the ability to repent to His own appeals and then judged them for their unwillingness to repent in light of Christ’s word

On Traditionalism

The Unbelievers who die in rebellion:

  • Were born sinners under wrath, but loved and wanted by God nonetheless
  • Were born capable of morally accepting God’s gracious appeals to repent
  • Were born with a nature that could either respond in love or hatred to God’s provision of self-sacrifical love and atonement
  • Live their entire lives freely rejecting God’s revelation though they have no excuse for doing so because they had the capacity to morally respond in faith

The Traditionalists view of God in relation to those who die in unbelief:

  • Loved and provided the means of salvation for them all
  • Graciously granted all the ability to repent to His own appeals and then judged them for their choice to rebel or repent in light of Christ’s word (see John 12:47-48)


One can only feel pity for the non-elect reprobate of the Calvinistic system. They are born victims of God’s eternal decree and without hope of salvation. The only thing more devastating than a lost soul is a lost soul without anyone looking for her or providing her hope of being found.

In many ways, the reprobate is like the clinically insane in our own judicial system. The unfortunate people born with mental illness who literally cannot control their behaviors due to tumors, chemical imbalances or other similar ailments may be declared “insane” and hospitalized, but our judicial system still recognizes their “innocence” due to their incapacities. The court’s ruling of “innocent by reason of insanity” relates to this contrast because it points to the true nature of what makes a man responsible and thus blameworthy.

How do you feel about a judge who sends a mentally ill criminal to the electric chair for committing a crime that he literally could not have refrained from committing? How do you view that criminal?  In this scenario the judge is painted in a very bad light and the criminal is seen as a victim of sorts. In contrast, if the criminal is shown to have committed a premeditated crime with malice and full responsibility as a sane person, the judge seems much more just and the criminal far more guilty.

For this reason, a good District Attorney seeking a guilty conviction would vehemently argue that the defendant was of “sound mind” and “had the capacity to refrain from the criminal behavior” for which he stands trial.

So too, the Traditionalist, like myself, stands to make a parallel argument against all unbelievers who end up in Hell. The lost unbeliever cannot resort to the defense of “Total Inability.” Those perishing in Hell cannot rightly say, “I was born hated and rejected by my Maker, unable to choose otherwise,” or “The revelation of God, even through the powerful truth of the gospel, was insufficient to enable me to willingly respond in faith.” The lost do not have any excuses for their unbelief (Rom 1:20). And I cannot think of any better excuse than that provided by the teaching of Calvinists regarding the incapacity of man’s nature to respond willingly to God Himself.

Unbelievers are guilty of unbelief because it is their responsibility (read “ability to respond”) to believe God’s gracious and abundantly clear revelation. To remove that ability (moral or otherwise) is to undermine their guilt and God’s justice.

This is not a new argument against deterministic views, by any means.  In fact, in the first and second century we have record of the Earliest Church Fathers making this same case:

Irenaeus (AD120-202): (He was a student of Polycarp, who in turn was traditionally a disciple of John the Evangelist.)

“God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honor, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.

But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it, — some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets. … No doubt, if any one is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power [to reject it], but it is not expedient. For it is in man’s power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but [such conduct] brings no small amount of injury and mischief. … But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. IV, 37)

Justin Martyr (AD 110-165)

“But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” (Justin, First Apology, XLIII)

Tertullian (AD145-220)

In order, therefore, that man might have a goodness of his own, bestowed on him by God, and there might be henceforth in man a property, and in a certain sense a natural attribute of goodness, there was assigned to him in the constitution of his nature, as a formal witness of the goodness which God bestowed upon him, freedom and power of the will, such as should cause good to be performed spontaneously by man, as a property of his own, on the ground that no less than this would be required in the matter of a goodness which was to be voluntarily exercised by him, that is to say, by the liberty of his will, without either favor or servility to the constitution of his nature, so that man should be good just up to this point, if he should display his goodness in accordance with his natural constitution indeed, but still as the result of his will, as a property of his nature; and, by a similar exercise of volition, should show himself to be too strong in defense against evil also (for even this God, of course, foresaw), being free, and master of himself; because, if he were wanting in this prerogative of self-mastery, so as to perform even good by necessity and not will, he would, in the helplessness of his servitude, become subject to the usurpation of evil, a slave as much to evil as to good. Entire freedom of will, therefore, was conferred upon him in both tendencies; so that, as master of himself, he might constantly encounter good by spontaneous observance of it, and evil by its spontaneous avoidance; because, were man even otherwise circumstanced, it was yet his bounden duty, in the judgment of God, to do justice according to the motions of his will regarded, of course, as free. But the reward neither of good nor of evil could be paid to the man who should be found to have been either good or evil through necessity and not choice. In this really lay the law which did not exclude, but rather prove, human liberty by a spontaneous rendering of obedience, or a spontaneous commission of iniquity; so patent was the liberty of man’s will for either issue. Since, therefore, both the goodness and purpose of God are discovered in the gift to man of freedom in his will, it is not right, after ignoring the original definition of goodness and purpose which it was necessary to determine previous to any discussion of the subject, on subsequent facts to presume to say that God ought not in such a way to have formed man, because the issue was other than what was assumed to be proper for God. We ought rather, after duly considering that it behooved God so to create man, to leave this consideration unimpaired, and to survey the other aspects of the case. It is, no doubt, an easy process for persons who take offence at the fall of man, before they have looked into the facts of his creation, to impute the blame of what happened to the Creator, without any examination of His purpose. To conclude: the goodness of God, then fully considered from the beginning of His works, will be enough to convince us that nothing evil could possibly have come forth from God; and the liberty of man will, after a second thought, show us that it alone is chargeable with the fault which itself committed.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, ch. vi)

HERE we also discuss the glory of God and the accusation of that Traditionalism seeks to steal it somehow.

18 thoughts on “Which is Worse?

  1. Thanks Leighton! Keep hammering against such obvious inconsistency in Calvinism with such obvious truth… maybe some of the hard-shell defenses of our Calvinist friends will finally break one of these days! Yours did, Praise His Name!

    I can’t help but be reminded of another such inconsistency, right from their own pens – “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westm. Conf. Shrt. Cat.). How can the Calvinists say God came up with such an end planned for mankind and then also say only relatively few of mankind, according their theological thinking, will ever experience that end?

    Do God’s set plans fail? Maybe the chief end of man was predetermined as “to glorify God by burning in hell forever,” and the WCSC just hid the real truth of their theological, unbiblical thinking from the children they were wanting to catechize in their error!

    1. brianwagner writes, “…“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westm. Conf. Shrt. Cat.). How can the Calvinists say God came up with such an end planned for mankind and then also say only relatively few of mankind, according their theological thinking, will ever experience that end?”

      Is this not essentially what the Scriptures tell us?

      “The LORD works out everything for his own ends–even the wicked for a day of disaster.” (Proverbs 16:4)

      “…[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

      “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever!” (Romans 11:36)

      “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)

      1. I like those verses too Roger, but you are ignoring the “elephant” in my questions. Don’t you believe that most of mankind will end up in hell, not enjoying God forever? Yet the WCSC says God’s plan was for mankind to “enjoy Him forever.” I am sure you see the inconsistency of holding both premises simultaneously!

      2. brianwagner writes, “Don’t you believe that most of mankind will end up in hell, not enjoying God forever? Yet the WCSC says God’s plan was for mankind to “enjoy Him forever.” I am sure you see the inconsistency of holding both premises simultaneously!”

        Perhaps, you can explain the inconsistency – I don’t see one. It was God’s plan that Adam and Eve serve Him and be fruitful and multiply. It was God’s plan for Israel to worship and serve Him. It is God’s plan for all Christians to love one another. Guess God doesn’t always get what He wants – especially when He gives man the right to refuse.

        I don’t think we really know how many people will end up in hell. Maybe God will honor the prayers of the saints and save a great many people on their deathbed. Who knows! Hope He does.

  2. But, but, but… Leighton! Who are you to question God? Don’t you know He mercies who He wants to mercy and hardens who He wants to harden?! Lol 😛

  3. Dr. Flowers writes, “One can only feel pity for the non-elect reprobate of the Calvinistic system.”

    Those who die unbelieving can be labelled as “reprobate” under each system and the same people are in view in each case. Regardless how one understands the dire situation of the unbelieving who die in unbelief, it is still true that God knew when He created the universe that their end was destruction. One can only feel pity for those who are lost under each system simply because they are lost eternally.

    Paul said in Galatians 1, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?” Could we not conclude that the Traditionalist is seeking to please men since the complaint seems to be that the Calvinist system is said to be too harsh for men to handle?

  4. Dr. Flowers writes, “The lost do not have any excuses for their unbelief (Rom 1:20).”

    In context, “unbelief in God,” and not unbelief relative to the gospel. The lost do not have an excuse for not believing in God and thereby for not seeking Him – which if they did would bring them to an understanding of their sin and their need for salvation.

  5. I think it’s a bit imprecise to say unbelievers “were born loved and accepted by God” if they are born under the wrath of God into their sinful nature, as Scripture forcefully instructs us.

  6. In this article you article you argue that God should do something out of a human sense of fairness. How can you use that logic, when every human being coming into a cursed and sinful world with a sinful nature, is not fair to a single one of them. Also, I assume you mean to argue the doctrine of Universal Opportunity, that all get a chance at saving grace in Christ. But certainly you could not argue for completely equal amounts of grace from God for all people, because it is said that if the ancient evil cities of Tyre and Sidon had the benefit of seeing Christ’s miracles, they would have repented in dust and ashes. How do you reconcile this glaring and obvious yet clear Biblical indication of unfairness and injustice by God according to our own sense of fairness? And how then, do you justify using that as an argument to build doctrine upon? God bless.

  7. Dizerner writes /How can you use that logic, when every human being coming into a cursed and sinful world with a sinful nature, is not fair to a single one of them. / It seems you ignore what Christ did on the Cross becoming the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

  8. Rhutchins you seem to ignore the differences between God as portrayed by Calvinism who desires the destruction of men in order to be glorified and God as portrayed by the Traditionalist who desires all to be saved and is glorified by giving His life as a ransom for all.

    1. erneststrauss writes, “…God as portrayed by the Traditionalist who desires all to be saved and is glorified by giving His life as a ransom for all.”

      Even the traditionalist agrees that God is omniscient Thus, when God created the earth, He knew every person who was to live from the beginning to the end and God knew who would be saved (the elect) and who would not (the reprobate). When they say that God desires all to be saved, they are seeking to appease people so as to keep the crowds coming and the money flowing (at least, that’s what it appears like to me). The Calvinists admit the obvious – God has no intent to save all, else He would, and Christ gave His life as a ransom only for those whom God intended to save.

      So, do you have an out for the Traditionalist on the issue of omniscience?

  9. the way in which glory is taken away from God by the traditionalist view is that salvation ultimately hinges on the choice of man and not the choice of God. God can put forth all the effort He can to save a sinner and it will all amount to nothing in the end if the autonomous man by his powerful will decides to reject.

    1. It doesn’t take any glory away, Yudo, from God if His ordus salutis (each part very necessary) includes the free-will active acceptance of His grace! There is not one hinge! To God be all the glory for His plan of salvation which includes freeing man’s will enough to accept or reject God’s grace when man hears God calling, so that man is without excuse in the judgment!

  10. Hi Yudo! Good to hear from your again! You may want to consider if just because your theology defines “failure” for God, without any Scripture support, that it does not make your premise true! What if I say that defining God and man as not having free-will to change their minds in the course of human history, based on real contingents found in the Scripture, clearly presents God as being a deceiver in His Word?

    I think you need to consider if God has revealed Himself in Scripture as someone who can suffer loss and still be perfect! The Son was forsaken by the Father. That sounds like suffering loss to me! His willingness (humility, if you will) to suffer loss, including the loss of those created in His image, who freely reject His sufficient offer to them of His salvation, is not a failure… it is a demonstration of His nature for which we should praise Him forever!

  11. To foreknow is not to foreordain. To foreknow is not to foreordain. To foreknow is not to foreordain.

    Foreknowledge is not foreordination or predestination; foreknowledge is just foreknowledge. Different words, different meanings.
    Romans 8:29, “whom he foreknew (προέγνω, proegnō), he ALSO predestined (προώρισεν,proōrisen)”

    Different words, different meanings.

    1. Jeff D. writes, “To foreknow is not to foreordain. To foreknow is not to foreordain. To foreknow is not to foreordain.”

      That which God foreordains (or just ordains) is that which God foreknows (or knows). As God ordained all things before He created the universes and set in motion all that would happen, God thereby had knowledge of all that was to happen.

      Can you identify another way for God to know all things regarding the future (i.e., to be omniscient)?

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