FACTORS BEYOND THE AGENT’S CONTROL?

by Leighton Flowers

We all intuitively know that it is morally wrong to condemn people due to factors beyond their control.

For example, this is why racism is so detestable. A person has no control over their skin color and thus it would be completely unjust to condemn or mistreat people on the basis of this factor. I think we can all agree that is a reasonable conclusion that can be intuitively affirmed.

But, what if that factor isn’t external but internal? For instance, what if someone is born with a mental disorder which prevented them from carrying out normal human functions but outwardly they looked normal? I think we all intuitively know that it would also be completely immoral to condemn the mentally disabled for their inability to function normally. Why? Because it is a “factor beyond the agent’s control.” Are we all in agreement so far?

But what if the factor isn’t external, like one’s skin color, or mental, like a inborn ailment? What if the factor is spiritual? Does this principle change? If so, on what basis?

If the reason one is condemned is for “factors beyond the agent’s control” (ie born spiritually dead, guilty of sins committed by ancestors, not savingly loved by their maker, not granted faith, etc) on what basis can we call their condemnation just?

How would condemning the reprobate within the Calvinistic worldview be in any significant way different than condemning all people born with blue eyes, for instance? Does making the condition a physical feature in any way change the principle regarding the condemnation of someone due to “factors beyond their control?”

Here are some passages to consider:

“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” -John‬ ‭12:48‬

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” -2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:10‬b

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” -John‬ ‭3:14-18‬

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17-21‬

According to the verses above it seems those who are condemned are condemned for refusing to believe and accept the truth God makes clearly known. And those who are saved are reconciled by replying in faith to God’s appeals for reconciliation.

The bad news is that we all would be condemned if not for His Provision of grace but it is our responsibility to confess our sin and trust in Christ so as to be saved, something that is not outside our control, which is what makes it such good news for the whole world.

To my Calvinistic friends: Before objecting please give a rational explanation as to how the reprobate (non-elect) within your world view are not ultimately being condemned due to factors beyond their control, or admit that is true and give a rational explanation as to how and why that is any more just than condemning people due to race or mental disabilities.

Also, before committing the “you too fallacy,” answer the charge brought against your position first and then we can discuss any charge you’d like to raise about our position.

Thank you.

24 thoughts on “FACTORS BEYOND THE AGENT’S CONTROL?

  1. Leighton,
    Our Calvinist friends will say something like, “We know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s what the Bible says so we believe it!”

    But that’s the beauty of it!!!

    The Bible only says that if you INSIST on a certain interpretation of a few certain verses. Otherwise, the Bible does not seem to be saying that at all!

    So yeah, chuck that idea that God is prejudice, immoral, or a “respecter of persons” and see in the Bible that He loves all men (not just “all kinds of men”) and that Christ gave His life that anyone can call on Him.

  2. I have nearly completely abandoned my “neo-reformed” doctrinal positions, so I’m generally in agreement with you. But on this point, I was taught a somewhat different perspective. The idea, based in part on Romans 3:10-11, was that everyone is under wrath because of sin (generally our own sin, although we inherit the sinful nature because of Adam). In my version of “Calvinist light”, as you’ve called it, Grace is freely offered to all. So if any sinner would turn in faith, they could be saved. However, no sinner ever does, because they love their sin. So for anyone to be saved, the Father must first draw him (John 6:44) and work a change in his heart. Therefore, He chooses some to save, and lets the rest continue on the path they’ve already chosen.

    I still partly believe it this way, with some adjustment. Since I’ve never believed in Limited Atonement (because it’s a position based more on logic than scripture), I really believe Grace for salvation is available to all. In John 3:16 Jesus says “WHOSOEVER believeth”, and in John 12:32 He says “I will draw ALL men unto me.” I still believe people will continue in sin until they have a heart change, but I believe that happens to everybody who hears the Gospel, “for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16) (also reference Rom 10:14). But while I believe everyone hearing the gospel is also given the Grace to respond, I believe they are also free to turn away from the truth (2 Tim 4:4; Heb 12:25).

    Now, I’m still in transition, so my thoughts on these things aren’t fully developed. I appreciate the help I’ve received through both your blog and your podcast.

    1. Welcome Everett! Enjoy!

      What if God’s light is powerful enough to draw anyone and everyone sufficiently to an opportunity and enablement to make a free decision… what’s the problem?

      And John 6:44 is not a gotcha verse if one recognizes that the one drawn is not logically guaranteed in that grammatical construction to either come or to be raised up just because he is drawn. Only the one drawn and who comes is promised to be raised up. Even if “drag” is used here or in John 12:32… the meaning is only to drag to a location… There is no guaranteed change made in the person’s nature just by being drawn. Once they are brought to the location or before the person, like Christ… they have to make a decision what to do next and how to respond to the options and information they now have in that location or before that person!

      The same Greek word for “drawn” is used in the LXX in Neh 9:30… and that group of Israelites, though drawn by God to the opportunity to obey Him, did not do it. The Hebrew word for “drawn” used in Neh 9:30 is also used in Hos 11:4-5, which again is showing that Israel was “drawn” by God with love to Himself, but they refused Him. Paul recalls this kind of drawing with love, using the words of Isaiah where God said – “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people” Rom 10:21. Does God only play act His love already knowing it only can and will be rejected? Not my God.

      Paul and Silas were “drawn” before the rulers of Philippi and then thrown into prison (Acts 16:19)… There they were free and able to either groan and complain or pray and sing! We know what they freely chose to do! I actually prefer the idea of “drag”. God graciously “drags” us to a place of decision. We cannot escape that “grace”, and we are now able and responsible for how we freely respond to it… making us clearly without excuse at the final judgment of God!

      *********
      Are you familiar with identifying distributed and non-distributed terms when premises are being evaluated as to what is logically valid to prove from them? In 6:44 the “no one can come” is a distributed term… but “the Father draws” is a non-distributed term. The “will be raised up” is non-distributed also.

      In brief Jesus is saying that all who come will be raised up. But the verse is not logically proving that they are the only ones to be raised up (deceased infants maybe also).

      And being drawn is necessary to enable coming, but the premise doesn’t prove it is the only thing necessary to enable coming (the context reveals looking at the Son and believing is also part of those coming). Nor does the verse guarantee that all who are drawn, and therefore enabled to come, will actually come.

      The emphasis on coming and believing is throughout this passage. It fits the purpose of the book…that unbelievers reading would be enabled/drawn to come and believe and then receive the everlasting life of the new birth (20:31). But reading doesn’t cause coming and believing.

      Reading determinism into these verses that don’t clearly prove it and whose purpose even contradicts determinism is just sad!

    2. Hello Everett and welcome!

      I’m very heartened by the degree of sincerity and integrity you express.
      And I must however acknowledge, from my experience, that that degree of sincerity and integrity is an indicator that you have not progressed into full Calvinism.

      Full Calvinism embraces what is commonly called “Universal Divine Causal Determinism”
      The thesis that all things without exception are determined by the THEOS at the foundation of the world.
      In Reformed vernacular – they are RENDERED-CERTAIN at the foundation of the world.

      Calvinist; Dr. James N. Anderson, of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte NC, in his published work Calvinism and the first sin, states it this way:

      “It should be conceded at the outset, and without embarrassment, that Calvinism is indeed committed to divine determinism: the view that everything is ultimately determined by God…..take it for granted as something on which the vast majority of Calvinists uphold and may be expressed as the following: “For every event [E], God decided that [E] should happen and that decision alone was the ultimate sufficient cause of [E].”

      Calvinist theologian R. C. Sproul states it this way:
      “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, God is not God”.

      Calvinist Paul Helm states it this way:
      “Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire, kept in being by God, but every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God”.

      Dr. William Lane Craig explains how determinism makes all things outside of our control:
      -quote:
      The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. “

    3. Great to hear from you Everett!

      Please read the whole context of Romans 3.

      He starts with

      “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”

      Then he says , “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.”

      The whole setting is to show that all have sinned and all are equal in meriting death. So no one does enough right to undo the wrong….but not that no one can ever do even one tiny right/ good/ nice/ patient thing.

      His meaning is …dont count on a bit of credit for being a Jew.

      But 10-11 are used far too liberally by Calvinists. The verses go on to say this about ALL:

      “Their throats are open graves;
      their tongues practice deceit.”
      “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
      14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
      15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

      Do we literally all have the poison of vipers on our lips? Or is this his poetic way to make a point?

      We all have feet that are swift to shed blood?

      Nah….. these verses do not mean what Calvinists (in their NEED to prove Total Depravity) make them mean. Context!

      Stick around Everett and join some of us former Calvinists!

    4. After reading the replies to my comments, I thought I should clarify a couple of things.

      First, I think I may have been confusing about what I mean by “heart change”. I wasn’t taking into consideration that the Calvinists you normally encounter on this forum actually believe the person is essentially converted before he even makes the choice to repent and believe. I don’t believe there’s any “pre-decision” conversion like that. What I mean by “heart change” is that by the preaching of the gospel the fallow ground of the heart is broken up so that the person is able to receive the seed being sown by the preacher. It’s that person’s choice whether to reject it, or to allow that seed to take root and grow.

      Second, I’m aware that universalists often quote passages containing the words “all men” to support their errant doctrine. I don’t believe when Jesus said he would draw all men they would automatically be saved without their conscious decision to respond, repent, and believe.

      Third, I’m very aware of the warped view of the Sovereignty of God held by strict 5 point Calvinists. In fact, as I was experiencing the deconstruction of my own “Calvinist light” beliefs, I learned more about what “full Calvinists” believe than I had known prior. I remember being surprised, even shocked, by John Piper’s weird assertion that even when he’s playing Scrabble with his wife, God controls the tiles in the bag! I was equally surprised to learn that some of my friends actually believed that God in his sovereignty causes people to sin, contrary to James 1:3. I remember being appalled by a discussion in my men’s Bible study group where it was stated that God caused David to sin with Bathsheba. What???!!!! So, God then punished him in judgement for the sin that he had no choice or control over committing? Ridiculous, and highly offensive to malign God’s character that way! I spent enough years in deep sin myself to know that consequences I’ve reaped are my own fault.

      As far as the 5 points of the TULIP, I never believed in the “L”. The “I” fell apart when I couldn’t find that in scripture (in fact plenty of scripture in opposition). The “U” fell when I heard Leighton discussing the idea of Corporate Election, and just looking at the Election proof texts in context! The “P” went down while studying Hebrews (although I still don’t believe people just “lose” their salvation. I do believe people can renounce it, though.) So the “T” is the only one still standing, and it’s on really shaky ground as I’ve gained more understanding of what Calvinists actually believe on that topic, which seems to be quite different from my definition!

      Since that last bit was me going off on a tangent, allow me this last indulgence. I’ve been amused when watching Leighton debate a Calvinist as they assert that he somehow doesn’t understand the Calvinist position! I chuckle when he informs them of the number of years he spent as a Calvinist. But what really amuses me is that as they explain what they actually believe, I find more reasons to reject it. That’s right! I just didn’t understand what I was saying when I said I was Calvinist! Now that you’ve explained it, I’m pretty sure I don’t wanna be that anymore! LOL!

      1. Everett,
        That is music to my ears that you are farther than you think away from Calvinism!

        Hard-core Calvinists would say that means you are leaving the Gospel.

        Harder-core Calvinists will say that God determined that you would determine that Calvinism is not true!

        Average Calvinists will say that you are just preferring a different tradition/interpretation within the church (that’s nice).

      2. Everett, if you read here much you will find that many here once held to what they thought was Reformed Theology (Calvinism). It is usually a fuller understanding of the necessary doctrines to the system that leads people to begin doubting its veracity. I know many loving, God-fearing, bible -revering individuals who call themselves ‘Calvinists’, but would be appalled at these very necessary doctrinal assertions. They have been told, by pastors, authors and others that that is not ‘true’ Calvinism, or that it is Hyper-Calvinism, or that some things simply cannot be resolved so must be ‘held in tension’.

        In other words, rather than confront the assertions of the theological system honestly, head-on, many are reassured, distracted and encouraged to focus on more helpful things. It is this lack of transparency, of honestly addressing legitimate questionable assertions inherent to Calvinism that has led many of us to comment here, in hopes of informing, assisting and encouraging others who struggle with these issues.

        May God continue to bless and lead you – along with all of us – into more and more understanding as we spend time in his Word and learning from our life experiences.

      3. Haha! “Hyper-Calvinism” – yeah, that sounds familiar! And the constant appeal to mystery, all while concurrently being taught about “the plain meaning” of scripture!

      4. Everett
        I remember John Piper’s weird assertion that even when he’s playing Scrabble with his wife, God controls the tiles in the bag!

        br.d
        Its clear to me that John Piper is an expert at damage control language – what I call “cosmetic” language .
        Mostly he does this by using language that is strategically misleading and especially NOT truth-telling.

        As you can see from the quotes I provided from R.C. Sproul and Paul Helms – not only does Calvin’s god control which tiles are in the bag which Piper will pull out – he also controls every neurological impulse that will ever appear in Pipers brain – so that Piper cannot even have one single thought that he can call his own.

        ALL things without exception are determined (including every neurological impulse and every body movement) at the foundation of the world – millennia before Mr. Piper existed.

        The fact that John Piper cannot tell the truth – the whole truth – and nothing but the truth – when he speaks
        Should be a red flag that something is wrong with the doctrine.

        These unspoken truths are such that John Pipe will not allow himself to even enunciate them.
        That should tell you something!

  3. Leighton
    If someone is born with a mental disorder which prevented them from carrying out normal human functions…I think we all intuitively know that it would also be completely immoral to condemn the mentally disabled for their inability to function normally.

    br.d
    Personally – I wouldn’t automatically assume this for a *CONSISTENT* Calvinist.

    Calvin’s god makes the rules for the creature – and he remains remiss from complying to those rules himself.

    As Jesus related concerning the Pharisees:
    “Do what they say – but not what they do -for they do not do what they say”.

    This is actually the *CONSISTENT* conception of Calvin’s god – who specifically designs each vessel for a given purpose.

    You’ve heard of “designer” jeans?

    Calvin’s god creates each individual as a “designer” person
    Who is born to commit “designer” sins.
    So that Calvin’s god can condemn these individuals to eternal torments which he designed.

    And Calvin’s god cannot be held accountable or conformable to any humanly known system of ethics.

    So yes – that Calvin’s god creates “designer” persons with mental disorders – specifically so that he can condemn them – is perfectly *CONSISTENT*

    Now in regard to Calvinists acknowledging this:
    Calvinists are ultimately highly calculating pragmatic utilitarians in nature.
    Everything they acknowledge or not is ultimately dependent upon whether or not doing so benefits or hurts the future of the doctrine.
    And Calvinists leaders are not going to allow the doctrine to which they are so heavily invested – go the way of the dinosaur

    So how a Calvinist responds to the *CONSISTENT* conception of Calvin’s god – simply reflects the current psychology of each individual Calvinist – as well as the current popularity (or unpopularity) of Calvinism as a whole.

    Calvinist leadership will acknowledge and promote *CONSISTENT* Calvinism if doing so makes the doctrine more popular.
    As we normally see on other related issues – they will typically otherwise deny, mislead, equivocate, and evade.
    All for the sake of the doctrine.
    That’s just the nature of the beast.

  4. Leighton,
    Dont forget that Calvinists declare that not only does God judge a person for things done beyond their control…. but He makes the judgement eternal, conscious torment. I would consider that a miscarriage of justice in any other scenario

  5. Dr. Flowers
    You had an interaction with James White on youtube – in which you (using consistent logic) responded to an accusation – by pointing out that the Calvinist in accusing you of doing something wrong is quite literally complaining about what Calvin’s god RENDERED-CERTAIN you do. And did so at the foundation of the world before you existed. So you had no say in the matter. And thus what he complains about was determined by factors beyond human control. In effect – Whites accusation amounts to complaining about god’s will.

    When you pointed this out – White’s response was to get demanding and posturing a parent-child relationship. As if he were playing the role of a parent scolding the child and telling him to STOP IT. His reason for this demand was to appeal to the “so called” PRESCRIPTIVE will of god.

    When one thinks this through logically what one finds concerning Whites argument – he is arguing that god requires people to communicate AS-FALSE what they inwardly know to be TRUE. In other words the PRESCRIPTIVE will requires a certain degree of dishonest testimony from the Calvinist.

    Jesus teaches: “But let your communication be yea yea – or nay nay – for anything else comes of evil”
    So obviously – to obey the “so called” PRESCRIPTIVE will – forces the Calvinist to disobey Jesus’ command.

    Being caught between two masters – he must cleave to one and compromise the other.

  6. I just posted this on another thread, but thought it applied here:

    Calvinism, sadly, portrays God as an angry, bloodthirsty monster who demands a blood sacrifice to slate his furious anger at sinful man. This ‘angry God’ image has been cleverly used to manipulate and control the masses through fear by the institutional church through the ages. I view it as an utterly false, man-made image in marked contrast to the genuine revelation of God, through Jesus, as a loving, gracious, merciful Father, abounding in goodness, patience, and longsuffering love.

    We will not arrive at a true picture of God and salvation until we cast off the old traditions of men, and begin to see God as Jesus presented him. Calvinism and all of its curses, wrath and blood sacrifices remains forever locked into the ancient pagan perspective which Jesus came to overthrow.

    Rather than being born under the curse of an angry God, who is only driven by a narcissistic desire for glory to spare a select few from his fierce wrath, scripture weaves the story of men being repeatedly seduced and deceived by empty promises and lies by the masterful deceiver. Man’s only hope is to trust in God and his ways, to forgo his self love and learn to live in humble service to God and others. Contrary to Calvinism’s ugly penal substitution or the similar divine satisfaction theories of atonement, I believe that Christ came to conquer sin and death, not to abate God’s wrath.

    I’m still in the process of throwing off the old programming, but I no longer buy the wrath, anger and fear that orthodox christianity has so long traded in. I no longer fear their bogey man god, but believe him to be a mythological creature crafted from twisted scriptures. If one could strip off the preening masks of haughty Calvinists, and get his view of god in street vernacular, I imagine it would sound something like this:

    “So you think God is a Mr. Nice Guy, eh, a real Mr. Rogers? Some lilly-livered coward, who comes crawling to men and begs them to love him, and cries when they say ‘no’. Well you don’t know nothing about the sovereign, omnipotent ruler of the universe. God is fierce and all-powerful, and your childish little songs will not stop him from chewing you up and spewing you out of his mouth. Even now, he holds you over the fiery pit, ready to drop you in, and you deserve it. He could destroy this planet with one blow of his fist, and he doesn’t have to answer to you or anyone. Unless he elected you, draws you and regenerates you, you are doomed, and ain’t nobody going to rescue you with their goody two shoes ‘God so loved the world’. He’ll love whoever he wants to love, and cast the rest into the pit of hell where they belong.”

    But of course, it sounds so much better couched in pious, grandiose terms.

  7. Dr Flowers I’m certainly glad (they) haven’t decided the reprobate are those with blue eyes considering that is my eye color😁 this article makes sense and I know personally that it would have helped me at a certain point in my life. I know there are people out there surrounded by this aggressive systematic that need these very words to remind them they’re not alone. It clearly gives pause to the very fact that we are all created in His image!!! I’m sure it isn’t always easy going up against such an imposing opposition who don’t seem to even care if they serve a just God while maintaining it’s for His glory that they hold fast. I did have my sister (who is a calvinist) tell me about 2 1/2 years ago that God loves the mentally handicap.. sounded good, but since that time I’ve wondered why she can stop there with His provision and love instead of it being for all people🤔
    I agree with the verses you’ve given and love this statement you wrote;
    (According to the verses above it seems those who are condemned are condemned for refusing to believe and accept the truth God makes clearly known. And those who are saved are reconciled by (relying) in faith to God’s appeals for reconciliation.)
    It is clear that this is a God who not only is just, but perfect in love! We are all without excuse thanks be to God for the perfect sacrifice His One and only Son Jesus Christ to Him all honor and glory forever and ever!!! Thank you for what you are doing..

    1. Reggie writes:
      “It is clear that this is a God who not only is just, but perfect in love! We are all without excuse thanks be to God for the perfect sacrifice His One and only Son Jesus Christ to Him all honor and glory forever and ever!!!”

      Amen! How overjoyed I was to trade in my cruel, determinist god and restore my faith in the real thing – a God who loves all men, and neither decrees nor rejoices in evil. The apparent meaning of scripture is true – God loves and calls to all men to turn from rebellion, self-serving and wickedness and follow him! So glad you have discovered this too.

      1. Thanks Leighton for all your work in these issues. I do sense that we are getting some traction in the tug of war over the nature of grace.

        Enjoying the new book. Hope we can meet up again sometime.

        Doug S

  8. “To my Calvinistic friends: before objecting please give a rational explanation as to how the reprobate (non-elect) within your world view are not ultimately being condemned for reasons beyond their control, or admit that is true and give a rational explanation as to how and why that is any more just than condemning people due to race or mental disabilities.”

    If a person is born without legs, he cannot run. If a person is born without faith, he cannot enter heaven. As it is impossible for a person without legs to run, so it is impossible for a person without faith to enter heaven. Everyone seems to recognize this. Dr. Flowers has mischaracterized the issue.

    1. Dr. Flowers
      “To my Calvinistic friends: before objecting *PLEASE* give a *RATIONAL* explanation as to how the reprobate (non-elect) within your world view are not ultimately being condemned for reasons beyond their control,…..”

      rhutchin
      If a person is born without legs, he cannot run. If a person is born without faith, he cannot enter heaven. As it is impossible for a person without legs to run, so it is impossible for a person without faith to enter heaven.

      Everyone seems to recognize this. Dr. Flowers has mischaracterized the issue.

      br.d
      And that is supposed to be a *RATIONAL* explanation! :-]

      So we know Calvin’s god RENDERS-CERTAIN persons to be vessels of wrath – born without legs – without faith – etc.

      My question:
      Why does Calvin’s god RENDER-CERTAIN all Calvinists void of RATIONAL thinking and truth-telling. :-]

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