By Dr. Leighton Flowers
Calvinistic scholar, Dr. Greg Forester, just released an article titled “Five Myths about Calvinism” through Crossway and I would like to provide a critique here. I’ve listed Forester’s myths followed by my responses below each one:
Myth #1: We don’t have free will
Is this a myth about Calvinism? Calvinists affirm “compatibilistic free will,” but they deny we have “libertarian free will” which is what most people think of when they talk about “free will” in general (i.e. the ability to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action, self-determination, a choice determined by the responsible agent, not someone else). For instance, “The person who rejected Christ and remained lost could and should have willingly accepted Christ so as to be saved.”)
Compatibilistic Calvinists have redefined “free will” to mean “acting in accordance with one’s desire,” but it should be noted that those desires on Calvinism are determined by Divine decree, which are factors beyond the agent’s control (i.e. a fallen man cannot desire to accept the gospel appeal due to an inborn nature inherited from Adam, so he rejects Christ because that’s “his desire” and since it’s his desire it is “compatibilistically free” not “libertarianly free.”) If most people understood this is what Calvinists mean by “free will,” would they agree this is a myth?
Myth #2: We are saved against our will
As noted in the first point, on Compatibilistic Calvinism our wills are determined to act based upon factors outside the agent’s control. God, by divine decree, decides man’s nature and circumstances to be such that they will always choose that which God has decided they will choose. <read a Compatibilist’s explanation here>
On Calvinism, there is no such thing as what the human really wants apart from God’s desire in the matter (i.e., God’s desire as to what the human agent will desire). In the compatibilist scheme, human desire is wholly derived from and wholly bound to the divine desire. God’s decree encompasses everything, even the desires that underlie human choices.
This is a critical point because it undercuts the plausibility of the compatibilist’s argument that desire can be considered the basis for human freedom. When you define freedom in terms of ‘doing what one wants to do,’ it initially appears plausible only because it subtly evokes a sense of independence or ownership on the part of the human agent for his choices.
But once we recognize (as we must within the larger deterministic framework encompassing compatibilism) that those very desires of the agent are equally part of the environment that God causally determined, then the line between environment and agent becomes blurred if not completely lost. The human agent no longer can be seen as owning his own choices, for the desires determining those choices are in no significant sense independent of God’s decree. <for more on this point READ THIS>
Myth #3: We are total depraved
The author is simply explaining why Calvinists don’t mean by this phrase that mankind is “as bad as they could be.” Calvinists affirm that even lost people can do relatively good things. I take no issue with this point.
But, Calvinists do teach that people are born as completely disabled to see, hear, understand and turn to Christ “as they can be.” They affirm what is called “Total Inability,” which means that fallen people cannot respond positively even to God’s own inspired appeals to be reconciled from the fall.
I don’t find this Calvinistic doctrine taught within the scriptures, do you?
Myth #4: God does not love the lost
Many Calvinistic brethren, when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seem to distance themselves from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of their own systematic. While attempting to maintain some semblance of divine love for those unconditionally rejected by God in eternity past, they appeal to God’s common provisions such as rain and sunshine as a type of “love.” But can such provisions be deemed as genuinely loving given the Scripture’s own definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13?
It should be noted that some “higher” forms of Calvinism do not even attempt to defend the idea that God sincerely loves everyone. In a work titled, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, he wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word “world” in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.’”
The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.” One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in consideration of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.
Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).
The meaning is undeniable. We are to self-sacrificially love our enemies because God loves all His enemies in that way perfectly. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.
In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worst enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself. Is that what Calvinists consistently affirm? It does not appear so.
Myth #5: Calvinism is primarily concerned with the sovereignty of God and predestination
Granted, John Calvin as a theologian certainly taught on a wide variety of doctrines, but his teaching on predestination and election were the most controversial and thus what he has become most known for throughout church history.
<See the quotes from John Piper and John Calvin HERE for examples of their most difficult and controversial doctrinal statements.>
I am not suggesting a “Calvinist” must agree with John Piper or even John Calvin on every theological point in order to be considered a “Calvinist.” But if you are going to proudly promote this label shouldn’t you at least affirm the basic theological claims over the issues that made Calvinism such a heated topic in the church? The major reason we even know of John Calvin and “Calvinism” is because of these self-described “dreadful” doctrines concerning predestination, election, free will, sovereignty, etc. If you cannot affirm his statements on at least those issues, then may I suggest you stop promoting the label “Calvinist?”
In conclusion, one must ask why these doctrines have been so controversial within the church if indeed mankind’s beliefs are always in accordance with what God has decreed for them to believe? Has God decreed/determined His church to be divided over these doctrines, or are our differences truly a result of free, yet fallible, human wills? Just something to consider.