Why I’m Not A Calvinist, Even Though I Should Be: Total Inability

The following, the second in a three-article series, was penned by a friend of the ministry, Dale. W. Decker. You can find him at the Theogineer. Thank you, Dale.

Total Inability: The Island of Dr. Moreau

In H.G. Wells 1896 book, The Island of Dr. Moreau, the doctor, in his secluded laboratory, uses vivisection to create semi-human creatures out of animals. The creatures he produces in attempting to mimic free and rational human beings inevitably succumb to their inherent instincts and revert back to animals. The Calvinist understanding of the workings of the human will attempts to do the opposite, turn free and rational (though fallen) human beings into creatures of mere instinct, capable only of following their strongest desires.

To explain theistic determinism in a way that preserves God from being responsible for the sin of humanity, Reformed theology defines freedom of choice as doing what you want to do without external coercion. According to Calvinism, the human will does not possess a libertarian nature with the power of otherwise choice, at least not since Adam sinned in the garden. Instead, the human will is controlled by its greatest desire.  And, though a human being always compulsorily chooses according to his greatest desire, he is free, even though he could not have chosen differently given his theistically determined antecedent state. I am going to call these distinctions of will “libertarian will” versus “compulsory will”.  The compulsory will is used to define human freedom as “compatible” with theistic determinism.

According to Calvinism, because human beings possess a compulsory will as well as a sin nature that desires only evil, then human beings are totally unable to come to God without a change in their desires. Constitutionally, one cannot respond to any offer of the Gospel unless one’s desire has been divinely changed first. This state of the fallen will, as it were, comes under the rubric of Total Inability in Reformed theology

However, whether humans currently possess the power of otherwise choice is not the most crucial question to ask, but rather how does the Calvinist understanding of the compulsory will affect the doctrine of the Incarnation? Let’s look again to the Westminster Confession and see its description of Christ The Mediator (Ch 8.2):

The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin…

So, the Son of God took upon himself man’s nature with all its essential properties, yet without sin. What kind of human will did Jesus possess, libertarian or compulsory?  I think we can agree that the human will is an essential property of being human. Some Calvinists maintain that humanity’s will was created libertarian and became compulsory and others say it has always been compulsory. However, both cases render human beings as now possessing compulsory wills, and each has a deleterious effect on the understanding of the Incarnation.

Taking the first case, that humanity was created with libertarian will and came to have compulsory will after the fall, is the essential human nature from pre-Fall to post-Fall the same or different?  Pastor Ronnie Rogers answers this question this way:

If one proposes a change in this essential component from pre-fall to post-fall, it is to change the very nature of man.  This to the point that the man who fell in the garden is not the same (essentially) as mankind after the fall; to wit, the being before the fall may be classified as human, or the being after the fall may be so classified, but they cannot both be so classified since they are essentially dissimilar.  We can understand one of them as being human, but not both of them since their natures are mutually exclusive.

Ronnie W. Rogers, Does God Love All Or Some, Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2019, p. 32

If the essential nature of humanity is different pre-Fall to post-Fall, then which type of will, libertarian or compulsory, did the Son take upon himself? If libertarian, then he is essentially different from the ones he came to save. This would seem to call into question a crucial element of the Incarnation, that Jesus was like us in all ways, except for sin, unless one is willing to state that there is no essential difference between libertarian and compulsory wills.

However, the alternate view doesn’t solve things.  If Jesus took upon himself a compulsory will, what does that look like? If all that Jesus did was because he could not do otherwise given his determined antecedent state, how would that change our understanding of just the following small sampling of scriptures?

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. ~ John 11:17-18

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.” ~ Mark 14:36

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:8

[Jesus] gave himself for us… ~ Titus 2:14

I’m not sure anyone would be comfortable saying that Jesus only had the illusion of choosing obedience to his Father, the illusion of choosing to lovingly give himself as an atoning sacrifice, but all the while was really only acting in a pre-determined way without otherwise choice. As I see it, the Reformed understanding of humanity’s compulsory will creates severe problems for the doctrine of the Incarnation.

12 thoughts on “Why I’m Not A Calvinist, Even Though I Should Be: Total Inability

  1. Great points. Any claims Calvinism makes about the ‘sin nature’ allegedly imposed upon mankind after ‘the fall’ must affect Jesus as well. Which perhaps explains the emphasis on PSA, rather than Jesus accomplishing victory over sin and death. If Jesus, being like all men, was able to overcome sin and death, we too, in him, have such hope, which I allege is the true message of the gospel. By turning into a mechanistic, legal procedure, Calvinism removes the power of salvation to free men from sin, and turns it into a mere ticket to heaven.

  2. Very nice article Eric!

    Personally – I see the Reformed doctrine of a loss of Libertarian Freedom as the consequence of a Libertarian choice – just another example of Calvinism’s DOUBLE-SPEAK.

    It simply follows the model of claiming [X] as a square when they need [X] it to be a square
    And then later claiming [X] is a circle when they need [X] to be a circle.

    The scholarly understanding of the Reformed conception of Theological Determinism it is PRE-CREATION.

    Calvin’s god – at the foundation of the world – determines *ALL* things without exception.

    And since Theological Determinism and Libertarian Freedom are mutually exclusive – then at no time POST-CREATION – or POST-SALVATION does Libertarian Freedom exist for creatures.

    How this is enunciated in the Westminster Confession:
    Paul Helm’s notes that since the confession – in regard to human agency – utilizes the terms “free”, “freely”, and “liberty”, that these for some Calvinists are seen as references to Libertarian Freedom.

    But he sees this interpretation as IRRATIONAL given the following:
    1) Calvinism is 100% predicated on Theological Determinism
    2) The only freedom which exists within Theological Determinism is “compatibilist” freedom.
    3) Compatibilist Freedom and Libertarian Freedom are mutually exclusive – (i.e, the existence of one excludes the existence of the other – making it a logical impossibility).

    Therefore Helm’s concludes that at no time does Libertarian Freedom exist within creation – whether pre-fall , post-fall, pre-salvation or post-salvation.

    And Helm’s understanding as to the NON-EXISTENCES of Libertarian Freedom within Theological Determinism is consistent with all academia – because a circle is not a square – and a square is not a circle.

  3. 1. At Pre-Fall Adam and Eve possess in them the freedom to decide whether to obey or to dis-obey the command of God concerning the forbidden fruit from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Although God has the capability to intervene to prevent them and not to give clearance to satan to enter paradise, yet God choose not to intervene and just watched them by allowing them to exercise their freedom.

    2. At Post Fall – God did not cancel nor remove that freedom of man. However, that freedom becomes tainted with the virus of sin and becomes compatible with evil. It is for this that even if the fallen man tries to make use of his freedom to access God on his own this become impossible and is not recognized by God. Man is viewed as dead in sin and is morally incapable to come back to God on his own.

    3. For the fallen man to be restored and to come back to fellowship with his Creator, God must do the first initiative to reach out the fallen man at Post-Fall by: (a) Seeking after them in the garden and (b) Provide them a garment made of the skin of the Lamb (Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away sin…) before they were expelled in Paradise.

    4. Adam and Eve’s acceptance of the garment provided to them by God is a proof that they did not resist by accepting the garment offered to them for free. Why they did not resist? Bec. God’s intervention to them has been there already for them to fully understand what they have done.

    5. Regarding the doctrine of Incarnation of Christ. Let us remember that Christ’s physical body does not originated on earth nor a product of sexual intercourse. His body was prepared by the God the Father in Heaven before Jesus Christ has been sent to go down to earth to reveal the Father. A mortal body that is subject to death on the cross, tempted in all points but did not sin. Christ’s body cannot be equated with human body that is a product of sexual union of parents that is subjected to return to dust. Jesus’ Body did not return to dust at the grave. There was no traces of dust that was left but the linen clothes used in His burial. In addition, the blood circulating in Christ’s body is different from the blood of mortal human beings that has no power to cleanse Sin.

    1. Jt, why don’t you talk scripture and stop speculating! There is nothing inherently wrong or evil in man’s physical body, or nature. Stop with the nonsense. Let me give you some good advice: Speak where the scriptures speak, and be silent where the scriptures are silent.

      1. Aidan, It’s not speculation as you say… What I say is being backed up in the Genesis account as well as in other passages such as : Hebrews 10:5, Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20; John 20:4-5

      2. JT,
        We’ve already seen 101 scriptures quoted – claiming to say something they don’t actually say.

        How many times have I asked you to provide a verse that EXPLICITLY states what you claim?

        Calvinists remind me of the man who claims that people who don’t shave their heads are going to hell – because of 1 Corinthians 11:14.

        And then on top of that – there is all of Calvinism’s DOUBLE-MINDENESS
        And they want scripture to affirm that! :-]

      3. Jt, I know what you are saying about Christ is highly speculative, because its based on the speculation that man is born with a corrupted nature inherent from his birth. But one false premise only breeds another.

        Hebrews 2:14-17:
        “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, HE HIMSELF LIKEWISE ALSO PARTOOK OF THE SAME, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.Therefore, HE HAD TO BE MADE LIKE HIS BRETHREN IN ALL THINGS, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

        Notice, since those who are being saved share in flesh and blood, Jesus also partook of THE SAME. Therefore, if we are born with a corrupted nature or flesh, He too was born with a corrupted nature and flesh; For He partook of THE SAME flesh and blood as ours. Otherwise, how else could He have been made like His brethren IN ALL THINGS, for which he explains why? And how else could Jesus be able to come to the aid of those who are tempted, had He not Himself been tempted in that which He suffered? In fact, we are told that He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, He is truly able to sympathize with men’s weaknesses (Heb 2:18; 4:15).

        This is a far cry from what you have said, namely, that Christ’s body and blood cannot be equated with ours. Other than the fact that He never sinned, His human side was every bit the same as ours.

    2. jtleosala
      1. At Pre-Fall Adam and Eve possess in them the freedom to decide whether to obey or to dis-obey the command of God..etc

      Another good example of Calvinism’s DOUBLE-MINDEDNESS.

      Calvin’s god – at the foundation of the world – determines *ALL* things that will come to pass PRE-CREATION.
      So it LOGICALLY FOLLOWS – Adam and Eve’s every neurological impulse were determined *FOR* them by Calvin’s god – before they existed.

      John Calvin
      Men may not even agitate anything in their deliberations but what He inspires.
      (A Defense of the secret providence of god – PDF version pg 190)

      Calvinist Paul Helm’s
      Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire……every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God (The Providence of God pg 22)

      John Calvin
      For it did not take place BY REASON OF NATURE that, by the guilt of one parent, all were cut off from salvation.
      (Institutes pdf version pg 765)

      2. At Post Fall – God did not cancel nor remove that freedom of man. ….etc

      The freedom in this case is “compatibilist” freedom
      The freedom to be/do what one is DETERMINED by Calvin’s god – to be/do.

      John Piper
      Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism.

      John Calvin
      It is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them [sins and evils], when scripture shows Him not only willing but the *AUTHOR* of them. (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God pg 176)

      Author in the Old French of Calvin’s day: Auctor – meaning Originator, Creator, Instigato

  4. Nice article I liked the comparison of Jesus’ obedience to the Father as well as thinking of the Scriptures where He showed compassion and authentic love!!! Most importantly the cross without that love we all remain dead in our sin.

    This statement you say here;
    “one cannot respond to any offer of the Gospel unless one’s desire has been
    divinely changed first.”

    If this statement were true then it renders the Gospel foolish and unnecessary and that is why I won’t/can’t be silent, because it has as the Bible says power!!

    Romans 1:16 NASB — For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

  5. The impeccability of Christ: “Impeccability is the absence of sin. Christianity teaches this to be an attribute of God (logically God cannot sin, it would mean that he would act against his own will and nature) and therefore it is also attributed to Christ.”

    Not a mere unwillingness or reluctance to sin. As the God-Man had no sin nature. And it was said in the Gospels “that the Prince of this world has come and has found nothing within Me (Jesus)

    Christ was tempted, but not with an internal evil desire like us. Nor could Christ was God in the flesh be tempted with sin or evil.

    More on the temptations of Christ and what it means that he learned obedience later.

    It is impossible for God to cease being God.

    Time to go get the wife.

    1. I think on this point – you’re going to need to interact more with the “human” side of Christ.

      For example – it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to say “not my will but your will be done” if it is the case that there is no such thing as two wills that can be in opposition to each other.

      So one question that should be addressed is did Jesus’ humanity entail an AUTONOMOUS will?

      Or as the Christ – does his humanity function like the first Adam – .according to Theological Determinism
      In which
      1) Nothing is UP TO Christ
      2) Christ is not given any alternative possibilities
      3) Christ is not permitted to be/do otherwise than what the father pre-determines.

      If those conditions exist – then Christ functioned as a TRUE representation of the first Adam.

      However if those conditions did not exist – then Christ functioned in a level of AUTONOMOUS functionality that was not permitted or made available to the first Adam. And if that is the case – then Christ’s humanity cannot be considered a TRUE representation of the first Adam.

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