Perhaps the most central of the five so-called points of Calvinism is the doctrine of unconditional election. This is the idea that God has from eternity past chosen who will be saved and who will be lost. It is called unconditional because, as Calvinists understand it, God did not base this choice on a foreknowledge of who would freely choose to believe in Him and who would not, but rather it is God’s choice that determines who will end up willingly choosing to believe in Him and who will not.
The charge is often made that this doctrine severely misrepresents the character of God. In particular, many non-Calvinists argue that if unconditional election was true, then God would not be a God of love at all, but rather an unthinkably cruel, arbitrary, hateful monster. (For example, this is essentially the primary charge laid out by Dave Hunt in his book What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God, from which the title of this paper is derived.)
Let us imagine a conversation between two Christians who respectfully disagree on this subject. Follow along and see which one (if either) you identify with:
Mr. Will: I have something I’d like to talk with you about, Mr. Pick. Is it true that you believe God has unconditionally chosen who will be saved and who will be lost?
Mr. Pick: Yes it is, Mr. Will. That is what I believe John 6, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, and many other Scriptures teach. I want to emphasize that I do not believe this choice of God is inconsistent with human responsibility, though. The fact that God has sovereignly determined what each person will end up believing or not believing does not mean He somehow coerces them to believe or not believe contrary to their own wills. Rather, I hold that it is His sovereign choice that determines what they are willing to believe in the first place. I think Scripture teaches that none of us really even have the ability to will to believe apart from God’s sovereign work in our hearts. So it’s not as though any unbeliever could ever say he wanted to believe, but God’s sovereign choice prevented him from doing so. No, his unbelief is willing unbelief, and so he is justly accountable for it.
Mr. Will: Well, I certainly agree that men are justly held accountable for their own beliefs, and I believe that God in His omniscience foreknew from all eternity who would believe in Him and who would not. But to say He actually determined this from all eternity is more than I can accept. It seems to me that this teaching would imply that God does not really desire to save all people, and I think that is very close to blasphemy! Have you forgotten that 2 Peter 3:9 clearly says that the Lord is not willing that any should perish? And yet your doctrine says He freely chose that some would indeed perish without ever even having the ability to believe. How do you explain that, Mr. Pick?
Mr. Pick: I do not disagree with 2 Peter 3:9, Mr. Will, in the same way that I would not disagree with you if you told me you really didn’t want to go to work today. I didn’t really want to go to work today, either. But I went anyway, not being coerced against my will, but because my desire to stay home was subordinate to a more ultimate, greater desire of mine to stay in good standing with my employer. I can assure you, this does not mean that my desire to stay home was in any way not real. In the same way, I think 2 Peter teaches that God has a very real desire to save all people. But it is subordinate to His ultimate will, or greater purpose, which evidently must include the plan that some people would be lost, in spite of His real desire for all to saved.
Mr. Will: Well, I hate to be so blunt, Mr. Pick, but I think your interpretation of 2 Peter is just ridiculous! You say God’s ultimate desire is actually not for all to be saved, but rather for some to be lost. That doesn’t sound like a God of love to me! A God of love would not purpose from all eternity to save some and damn others. His love would compel Him to give everyone a real ability to believe, so that any who do not believe are ultimately lost only because of their own choice, and not in any way because of God’s choice. Don’t you see that your theology turns the love of God for all people into a complete farce? Your talk of God having an ultimate will or greater purpose for some to be damned is a horrible slur on His character, and I can’t help but think of how it must hurt His loving heart for you to say such things!
Mr. Pick: No, sir, Mr. Will, I have to disagree with you! If you believe that God does not have an ultimate will or greater purpose for some to be damned, then I must respectfully suggest that it is not my theology that turns His love into a farce, but yours! Let me explain. You believe that God foreknew from all eternity that certain people would choose not to believe in Him and would therefore end up in hell, correct?
Mr. Will: Yes, absolutely. God knew they would not believe, but He didn’t choose that they would not believe. There’s a huge difference.
Mr. Pick: Indeed there is, but that is not the point. The point is, in your theology, God knew that certain people would end up in hell, but He had absolutely no greater ultimate purpose or will for this to happen, yet He created them anyway. Do you see where this leads? We may not fully understand God’s ultimate purpose for His sovereign choices including the eternal existence of those who will ultimately be lost, but we dare not suggest that He does not have one! Otherwise, His choice to even create these people would be in complete contradiction to His character of love. It would be the utmost in cruelty for Him to go through with the creation of someone who would end up in eternal judgment in hell if He did not have a sufficient reason for doing this, or in other words a greater ultimate purpose or will that would be served. But if He does indeed have a greater ultimate purpose for the existence even of eternally unrepentant sinners, then His character of love is preserved even if He chooses to act in accordance with this greater purpose in the process of unconditional election.
Mr. Will: Well, this debate has been going on for hundreds of years, and nobody has solved it yet, so I guess there’s not much point in trying to reason it through now. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one!
Does this imaginary conversation seem far-fetched or biased? Perhaps a little, but I don’t think it is unreasonably so. From my experience, I think it is a fairly accurate representation of the reasoning of many, at least, on both sides of the debate. At any rate, my hope is that it is thought-provoking enough to spur people on to a deeper investigation of the Biblical teaching on this rich and important subject.
This page copyright © 2008 Edward A. Morris. Created October 13, 2008. Last updated October 13, 2008.
Back to noble-minded.org home page