By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His own glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death – Westminster Confession of Faith, III:3
Unfortunately there are a huge number of Christians including many friends of mine who believe the above tragic doctrine. Any church with the word “reformed” in it, such as any Presbyterian church, teaches that most people from eternal past were foreordained by God for hell! Ironically many members of these churches don’t know about this, because for those who do its subconsciously such an embarrassment it seldom comes up. There are many popular Christian authors, such as R.C. Sproul, John MacAuthur, James White, and John Piper who believe this doctrine and tragically have caused it to spread among believers whose own home church does not necessarily espouse this belief. It’s also the position of the popular website gotquestions.org.
Now they will not say a person was specifically chosen for hell, but will claim that those who end up in hell were by eternal decree passively bypassed for salvation and thereby left for hell. They don’t like to talk about it, but when you pin them down this is what they believe. This theology has its roots in what is commonly called Calvinism, which itself has roots in Augustine, which many will be surprised to hear indisputably has its roots in Greek pagan philosophy. My goal in this post is to show that scripture not only resoundingly rejects this theology, but also show that its a very destructive belief to hold. While there is a long history and volumes written about this, I’ll keep this post as short and simple as possible, a view from the trees.
Destination – Hell
I think it is safe to say that most Christian churches, be it non-denominational or denominational, adhere to the belief that God specifically chose (predestined) those who are saved. The Calvinists take it one step further that God therefore also predestines people to hell (referred to as reprobation or double-predestination). They’ll massage this a bit by claiming God simply bypasses them for salvation. While this view is wrong, as I hope this post shows, it is at least logically consistent. Luther called it “resistless logic”. That is, those who hold to individual predestination for salvation have to do extra-biblical calisthenics to get around the converse, that it logically follows that the same must be true for condemnation. More on this later.
What is Calvinism?
There is much written on the internet about Calvinism, and like any belief system there will be a variety of what one adheres to within its realm. For example, there are some who are 5 point Calvinists, 3 point Calvinists. etc. At the core of the Calvinist realm is what is referred to as the TULIP (5 points of Calvinism):
Total Depravity – Man is totally depraved. I had one Calvinist insist that even if an unsaved person helps an old lady across a street, the person was still totally depraved and sinning since they were not giving glory to God. [I mention this because such a response represents a very common characteristic when one is forced to defend Calvinism – irrational calisthenics. This is harsh, but many of their defenses truly are not grounded in sound reasoning. Anyone without an a priori bias for Calvinism would easily recognize that the good Samaritan alone in Luke 10:33 easily refutes this.]
Unconditional Election – God in eternity past predestined some people for salvation, unconditionally. He chooses who He pleases.
Limited Atonement – Christ’s death paid the price of sin only for those who were predestined, the elect. The Calvinists assume that elect = saved.
Irresistible Grace – Those who are predestined will not be able to resist God’s grace. Resistance is futile!
Perseverance of the Saints – When someone is of the “elect”, God will not allow them to fall away from the faith. They will persevere to the end.
I once read on the Theology Online (TOL) forum someone effectively promote that the TULIP stands and falls on all 5 points. That is, if any one part of the TULIP is right, the others must be right, and if any one of the TULIP is wrong, the rest must be wrong. There is much wisdom in this as I could not find a hole in the logic. So while wholly unbiblical in their thinking on this doctrine, at least the 5 point Calvinist is for the most part logically consistent.
Refuting Individual Predestination
It’s not enough to merely refute each TULIP of Calvinism, since most churches will still espouse individual predestination for salvation while denying they are Calvinist. So we’ll knock over the individual predestination domino to bring the whole house of cards down.
Here are the key refutations of individual predestination:
- Whenever you find the word “predestined” in any form in the Bible, the context is always plural. This is an important truth to grasp! For example, in Ephesians 1:5, “…having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…”. Since everywhere predestination is mentioned is in a plural context, its entirely reasonable to hold that predestination is corporate, not individual. In those Bible passages where God chose an individual for some purpose, such as when He chose Jeremiah in the womb to be a prophet (Jer 1:5), it does not necessarily mean the person was guaranteed or predestined by eternal decree to be saved. Let’s not forget that God also chose the Jews and called them the elect (Isa 45:4), which has led some to fall into the false doctrine that all Jews are saved. Simply stated, election does not equal salvation. God specifically elected (chose) Saul to be King, and would have allowed Saul’s kingdom to reign forever, but Saul messed up (Sam 13:13). Verses like Samuel 13:13 make no rational sense in a Calvinist framework. God predestined the church, similar to a company predestining a train to go from Cleveland to Denver. You can accept the free ticket to Denver, or decide to stay in hell (Cleveland). 🙂 The bottom line is that God predestined the church, a body of believers, not specific individuals.
- “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2. Among other similar verses, this clearly refutes limited atonement and by extension individual predestination. As is the common theme for the Calvinist defender, they are forced to use an irrational argument to try to explain how Christ really didn’t die for the whole world. R.C. Sproul attempts to explain this by saying “if Christ has satisfied the wrath of God for the whole world, then is the whole world going to be saved?”1 This is not only a non sequitur but also a strawman argument. The logical and common sense answer is that Christ died for the whole world, just as the verse says, but that man is free to accept or reject His gift of atonement. Christ died for everyone, but this doesn’t mean that everyone will accept His gift!
- If God ordained certain individuals to be saved outside of their own free will, then surely nothing should surprise God regarding man’s behavior. Yet the Bible tells a narrative opposite from the Calvinist view. For example, in three different places God laments that “they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind” (Jer 7:31, 19:5, 32:35). Calvinists famously respond with their god-of-the-gaps favorite word, anthropomorphism. You’ll see this word thrown around regularly by a Calvinist who can’t explain God’s plain words (Prov 8:9).
Greek Pagan Roots
“That many prominent evangelicals today are still under the spell of Augustine is evident—and astonishing, considering his numerous heresies.” – Dave Hunt2
Its an indisputable fact that Augustine, who laid the foundation for the Calvinist belief system, was heavily influenced by Greek pagan philosophy3. I would hope this fact alone would at least raise an eyebrow in the Calvinist reading this. Nobody disputes this fact of history, its extremely well documented. Central to this philosophy is the dictum that “God does not change”. The platonic belief is that if God is perfect, then there can be no change because any change renders God imperfect. Any well-educated Calvinist will gladly tell you that “God does not change” is the bedrock of their belief system. They will point to verses such as Malachi 3:6 that says “I am the Lord, I do not change”, or James 1:17 where God “does not vary or change like the shifting shadows.” The Platonists and the Calvinists by logical extension will then argue that God can have no emotion whatsoever, since such would also constitute change. This is referred to as “Impassibility” and is held not only by strict Calvinists but also taught in Catholicism.
But what does “change” mean? After all, there are numerous verses in the Bible where God not only changes his mind, but also shows emotion. Both are conveyed precisely in Genesis 6:6, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” The solution is actually very simple. God doesn’t change in his holy attributes (e.g. Deut 32:4, Rom 11:33, 1 John 4:8, etc), and doesn’t change his mind like a man (1 Samuel 15:29), but He can certainly change His mind as it pertains to our actions (Ex 32:14, Jer 26:19, numerous others). He also most certainly shows emotion, such as we read from the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
But the grandest change of all is the biggest and most important change in all of human history, when God became man. This returns us to that familiar characteristic of defending Calvinism, the inevitable irrational response. James White is a widely regarded apologist and Calvinist, and when challenged in a debate on whether or not God the Son became man, he responded in the affirmative. In the aftermath of the debate, realizing the contradiction in logic to his dearly held belief that “God does not change”, he refined his comment to “God the Son did not become man, Jesus did”. This is the very essence of irrationality, and an obvious heresy by anyone with any theological background. White’s irrational and heretical argument was defended by none other than R.C. Sproul Jr. If you have trouble believing this, watch the video below. I don’t know how anyone can defend White’s irrationality. But please realize this – he is forced into an irrational statement because he is defending the irrational platonic strict position that “God does not change” (even though Jesus clearly did!).
Predestination isn’t a Mystery
The Council of Trent called predestination a “hidden mystery”4. Theologians have raged over predestination for centuries. So isn’t it arrogant or presumptuous for me to assume this mystery is solved? Maybe so, but what if this was NEVER a mystery in the first place? Its certainly not referred to as a mystery in the Bible. Perhaps instead “mystery” is the method used to shroud a false doctrine, satanic in its origin, that has reverberated throughout the centuries. What we know for certain is not a mystery is that Satan is very clever and will do anything he can to steer people away from the truth. The Bible tells us its words are plain and God is logical (e.g. Prov 8:9, Matt 22:37, Rom 1:20), and in the end plain words and logic overwhelmingly and thoroughly refute individual predestination. I’m surprised and saddened that so many of my Christian friends have fallen for this belief.
A Dangerous Doctrine
Jesus is the rock of offense, even to believers. I have many Calvinist friends who I know are undoubtedly fellow believers, but the doctrine they believe is without a doubt in my mind satanic in origin. What I’ve noticed of many false doctrines is its implicit goal to prevent the spreading of the gospel. Like the “All Jews are saved” doctrine gives the believer a reason to not witness to Jews, Calvinism provides a reason for the believer to not witness to anybody. Why proclaim the gospel to an unbeliever with the knowledge that their salvation has already been decided in eternity past? The Calvinist is only left with what most people without a stake in the debate would easily agree is an irrational response – typically something like “Jesus commanded us to do so”, or “I don’t understand it, but I’m simply following Jesus’ command”. I suppose its their way to try to comfort themselves in the face of a clear contradiction in logic. Now there are many Calvinists past and present who without a doubt led many to Christ, but this was despite the impediment their false belief of predestination laid before them. What we can’t measure are the number of opportunities lost by those who were impeded subconsciously or otherwise by this tragic and heretical belief.