Calvinists deny God His full sovereignty
This is a comment that just begged to be spoken! I am weary beyond measure of the extent to which calvinists mouth off concerning the higher level of sovereignty they give to God. They also claim that their teachings are Sola Scriptura – the Scriptures alone – yet they cannot support their teachings without a significant dose of rhetoric from that revered document – Calvin’s Institutes – which, to them, overrules the truth of the Bible. That is, instead of the Bible alone being the truth that determines the status of all other truth, Calvin’s Institutes are used to determine the truth of the Bible! Hardly Sola Scriptura!
Yes, the Bible makes it clear that God is sovereign. We do not need the Institutes to define that for us when the Bible already makes this abundantly clear. You cannot have a higher view of God’s sovereignty than that clearly taught throughout the Bible!
Isaiah 42:8 – I [am] the Lord: that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
Colossians 1:16-18 – 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence.
Psalm 97:9 – For thou, Lord, [art] high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.
1 Chronicles 29:11-12 – 11Thine, O Lord, [is] the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all [that is] in the heaven and in the earth [is thine]; thine [is] the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. 12Both riches and honour [come] of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand [is] power and might; and in thine hand [it is] to make great, and to give strength unto all.
Therefore, if any teachings concerning God’s sovereignty are totally consistent with the Biblical record of His sovereignty, then no other teaching at all can ever be considered a higher view. You just cannot have a higher view of God’s sovereignty than that taught throughout the Bible! The Bible will always overrule any other document with regard to the truth! Of course, calvinists then claim that their teachings are totally scriptural. And that’s where the dispute really lies here: in what way is the calvinist view of God’s sovereignty higher, and higher than what? Higher than the Biblical view? Hardly, for if it’s allegedly higher than the Biblical view, then it’s most certainly not from the Bible!
The calvinists say that God has total control over all things by not permitting the free will of man, especially when it comes to salvation. Of course, this then assumes that God’s foreknowledge (defined as His perfect knowledge of the future) is either irrelevant or non-existent. After all, if man has no free will, then what is the need for foreknowledge. As Piper says, “God does not foreknow the free decisions of people to believe in him because there aren’t any such free decisions to know.” (What We Believe about the Five Points of Calvinism, Piper, 1998)
But how does God lack sovereignty in any way by allowing free will, especially in salvation? The calvinists then attempt to teach that any pleading by man for God to have mercy on them (commonly known as the sinners’ prayer) cannot save that person because that would be a work of merit in their salvation and a sovereign God cannot allow man to have any such work of merit. It is worth noting, however, that Calvin acknowledged that the pleading of man for God’s mercy could not be considered a work of merit in salvation, that a man could be fully justified by God through Christ after pleading with God to be propitiated for his sins.
Thus, when the publican is said to have gone down to his house “justified,” (Luke 18:14), it cannot be held that he obtained this justification by any merit of works. All that is said is, that after obtaining the pardon of sins he was regarded in the sight of God as righteous. He was justified, therefore, not by any approval of works, but by gratuitous acquittal on the part of God.
(Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3 Chap 11 Section 3)
The publican here prays what has to be considered a classic example of the prayer of the penitent sinner pleading to be saved (justified).
Luke 18:13-14 – 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner (= God propitiate me, a sinner). 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Calvinists teach that God is only sovereign if there is no other opposing will in the universe. That is, God makes all decisions; then and only then can he be totally sovereign; that God publishes, from before the foundation of the world, the complete script of creation from start to finish. Man has no free will, but must simply follow that script from the time he is born to the day he dies. But who is man that he should dictate to God whether or not He should give man free will? If God is truly sovereign, He makes those decisions for Himself; if God should give man free will and then judge man for every decision of free will ever made, then how is that less than absolute sovereignty? (2 Corinthians 5:10)
But give them their due, those calvinists are, if anything, very persistent! If a verse can be manipulated to support their false teachings, then go for it! If their listeners are not of a mind to test all things, then all too often they’ll meekly accept the “scholarly” teaching of someone who proclaims himself to be a teacher of the Word. But, be warned: when a calvinist claims a verse or passage to be clear evidence of the truth of calvinism, be very careful indeed. For quite often, as good lawyers (like Calvin was), they will teach their weaknesses as strengths, a bluff that often works against those who do not consistently test all things.
Note the following passage, one the calvinists push at unsuspecting Christians who then can be bullied into believing that it really does support calvinism!
Romans 9:20-21 – 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? 21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
Calvinists make a great song and dance about these verses, claiming that God created vessels of honour (the elect) and vessels of dishonour (the non-elect). They say that this proves that God creates one group of mankind for heaven (the elect – their term for those who are saved) and another group of mankind for hell (the non-elect – their term for those who are lost). But, look at it carefully. Where does it say that God actually creates (on purpose) one vessel for honour (the elect) and another vessel for dishonour (the non-elect)?
In order to interpret this passage correctly, we have to recognise the difference between what sovereign God has authority to do and what he is actually doing here. What this passage does say very clearly is that God has the authority to make of His creation whatever He wills for it, and not one of His creatures may question it. God has the authority to condemn every person on this earth to eternal punishment right at this very moment in time, and not one person would have any right to argue with God or to ask Him, “Why have You done this to me?” If God creates all things, then He has the sovereign right to dictate His terms to all things, and none may dispute! If He wants to, He can create a whole world of people with the sole intention of tormenting all of them forever in hell. Who is there who could argue this matter with God?
But, even though God has the authority to do whatever He wants to do, He has also made great and precious promises concerning His grace and mercy to all mankind, if only they would partake of His freely-offered salvation to all. That God honours all His promises to mankind is an indication of the infinite measure of His faithfulness toward His creation: that even though He could destroy it in a moment without any unrighteousness at all, He is faithful and will carry out faithfully that which He has promised. We must never confuse God’s infinite authority (that which He can do) with His will (that which he wills to do).
Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? – (Isaiah 45:9)
Observe very carefully that Romans 9:20-21 doesn’t actually say that God purposely creates one vessel for honour (election) and another for dishonour (election). What it does very clearly say is that God may choose to make of His creation whatever He wills, and not one of His creatures may question it. It is a challenge to mankind concerning God’s absolute authority, not necessarily a statement of fact concerning His will!
Nor does it say that if God were to make vessels of honour and dishonour, that such vessels cannot be permitted to change their state. Nowhere does it say in this passage that vessels of dishonour cannot become vessels of honour. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that vessels of dishonour may, by purging (by thorough cleansing), be made vessels of honour.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 – 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, [and] prepared unto every good work.
However, what all these verses do teach is that the Creator, and not the creature, has the right alone to determine what He desires, and it’s His right alone also to have all the glory for all things. Man cannot question why God should do what He does!
Isaiah 55:8 – For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
It’s a long stretch from God having the right to choose how He creates, to God actually forcing man to be saved or lost (elect or non-elect). Calvinism teaches that their God, by the kind intentions of his will, has chosen some people unconditionally to be saved. They don’t have to do anything to be saved; God will cause this to happen some time during their lifetimes, independently of whether they have been good or evil people (that is, unconditionally; no conditions required). This is the calvinist predestination; the calvinist God predestines this group to live in heaven for all eternity. Calvinists also call this the unconditional election; they have been unconditionally elected (or chosen) for life.
Because there are only two options for man’s future, according to the Bible – heaven or hell – then those not going to heaven will certainly end up in hell (Purgatory is not a Biblical option!) According to the calvinists. the latter group (the non-elect, the lost, the unsaved) is by far the larger of the two groups. It is only logical, therefore, to believe that the calvinist God, by not electing a person to heaven, has instead condemned that person to hell. This is termed “double predestination”: that the calvinist God predestines all people to one or the other eternal destination, heaven or hell. Sovereignty demands double predestination of the calvinist God! To the calvinist, anything less is less than sovereign! If the calvinist God by the kind intentions of his good will elects some to salvation, then the calvinist God also by the kind intentions of his good will elects most of mankind to an eternity in hell.
Calvin, being a lawyer, clearly recognised this necessary point of logic.
All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.
(Calvin’s Institutes Book 3 Chapter 21 Section 5)
Of course, Calvin being a false teacher means that such logic, being based upon false premises, is misplaced. According to Scriptural truths, no-one is predestined for either heaven or hell without any say in the matter!
Calvinists don’t like to think of their God as condemning the non-elect to hell (even though Calvin clearly taught such) because it makes their God look like a vindictive ogre. However, since there are only two options for eternity, heaven or hell, then if the calvinist God doesn’t choose you for heaven, then he has certainly chosen to send you to hell. Therefore, to teach that the calvinist God is not responsible for condemning the non-elect to hell is a frank admission that the calvinist God has sovereignty only over those he has determined to be his elect! And they claim that their teachings take a higher view of God’s sovereignty! Rubbish! If the calvinist God refuses to take responsibility for sending the non-elect to hell, he is no different to Pilate who washed his hands of any responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Without double predestination, the calvinist God predestines the elect to heaven and refuses to have anything to do with the rest. He just doesn’t want to know them! It’s their fault they are going to hell, even if the calvinist God created them with no other option for eternity! This isn’t sovereignty. Sovereignty requires responsibility, and the calvinist God is seriously lacking in that area! Of course, the calvinist can claim that their God does predestine the lost to hell (and some do teach this), but then that would mean that the calvinist God creates most of mankind merely for the purpose of sending them to hell. Seriously, this is not the God of the Bible!
Their God may also have foreknowledge only of the elect, those with whom God has a love relationship (according to MacArthur’s definition of the foreknowledge of God – When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person. (Grace to You, “Considering Election (Not Politics)” – Article 132).) Thus, this calvinist God is forced to foreordain everything the non-elect do, simply because he hasn’t any idea what they will choose until they choose it! Again, the calvinist God is revealed as less than sovereign. The God of the Bible knows all things from beginning to end, and has known for all time. But the calvinist God does not know things beforehand unless he has already fore-ordained them.
Or, as Calvin taught, that it was vain (futile) to discuss the notion of foreknowledge simply because God knows all things that are going to happen because he has already decreed what will happen from the beginning.
…. since he foresees the things which are to happen, simply because he has decreed that they are so to happen, it is vain to debate about prescience (foreknowledge), while it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.
(Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3 Chapter 23 Section 6)
That is, this calvinist God doesn’t need foreknowledge because he has already written out the complete script for all time before the world began. According to Calvin, we are just following a play script and cannot deviate from that script. If it’s not written into that script, then it just won’t happen! No free will at all to alter even one word or action of that script.
Thus, foreknowledge, if it does exist for the calvinist God, is an irrelevancy!
Another much-quoted calvinist, Lorraine Boettner, pictures the calvinist God as disappointed and unhappy if he cannot foreordain the actions of man.
Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.
Furthermore, if the acts of free agents are in themselves uncertain, God must then wait until the event has had its issue before making His plans.
To deny God the perfections of foreknowledge and immutability is to represent Him as a disappointed and unhappy being who is often checkmated and defeated by His creatures.
…. for foreknowledge implies certainty and certainty implies foreordination.
(excerpts from The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Ch.6 “The Foreknowledge of God” – Lorraine Boettner)
So the calvinist God cannot know any future event unless it has been predetermined (that is, foreordained) by God? Boettner’s God cannot know what a man’s decision is until it is made? Boettner’s God can only be certain of the future if he has foreordained it? Clearly Boettner’s God has a serious problem with knowing all things. On the other hand, the God of the Bible does know all things, including the future; He is omniscient – all-knowing (along with omnipresent – all-present, and omnipotent – all-powerful).
Psalm 139:1-4 – 1 O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known [me]. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted [with] all my ways. 4 For [there is] not a word in my tongue, [but], lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Yet the calvinist God only knows things if he experiences them? Truly the calvinist God is greatly limited in sovereignty!
In fact, far from calvinism holding to a higher view of God’s sovereignty, in reality it devalues the calvinist God’s sovereignty to one who cannot know any future events unless he has already decreed it beforehand. He is also one who refuses to take responsibility for the vast majority of mankind he allegedly condemns to hell for eternity, because he doesn’t wish to look like a dictator with a phobia for control.
The calvinists refuse to allow that man could have any free will in anything, especially in salvation. Of course, no free will means greater control; that’s exactly how dictators stay in office, by reducing or removing all free will of their subjects. If the calvinists can reduce or completely remove man’s free will, placing all decision-making in the hands of their God, then they claim that their God is more sovereign than the God of the Bible who permits mankind some free will, yet requires a full accounting for it in judgment.
But, it is not a straightforward exercise to teach from the Bible that there is no free will, especially in salvation, for the Bible consistently and frequently asks man to choose between the options God has given him, including salvation. The calvinists do claim, however, that the Bible clearly teaches no free will for mankind, yet rarely do they offer relevant verses to demonstrate such. (In fact, there is no verse in the Bible that makes a clear statement that mankind has no free will, especially in salvation. So they choose verses that are open to manipulation, in order to put their own spin on the interpretation.)
So, instead of trying to teach no free will when so many verses actually support free will, calvinists attack God’s foreknowledge. If they can get away with teaching that God’s foreknowledge is either irrelevant or non-existent unless foreordained, then that helps them to oppose the truth of the free will of man. Free will requires God to have foreknowledge of the future, so if they can teach that man has no free will, then they can also teach that the calvinist God doesn’t really know the future unless he writes the full script beforehand.
As noted above, MacArthur even redefines foreknowledge as a love relationship or an intimate predetermined relationship between God and his people. MacArthur teaches that: When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person. (Grace to You, “Considering Election (Not Politics)” – Article 132) They’re the only ones with whom I (God) have an intimate predetermined relationship. (“Chosen by God” Part 2 – John MacArthur Pages 5 & 6) (https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/60-3/chosen-by-god-part-2)
So the foreknowledge of MacArthur’s God can only be applied to the saved, the elect. Thus, no foreknowledge of the non-elect, the lost, means that the calvinist God is forced to foreordain everything the non-elect do, with absolutely no free will options at all, or else the calvinist God could not know what they would do until they decided what to do. As Boettner says, “Furthermore, if the acts of free agents are in themselves uncertain, God must then wait until the event has had its issue before making His plans. ….”
And this is a higher view of God’s sovereignty!?!
As Boettner also says, “To deny God the perfections of foreknowledge and immutability is to represent Him as a disappointed and unhappy being who is often checkmated and defeated by His creatures. ….”
That is, if the calvinist God is denied the perfections of foreknowledge (which is a perfect knowledge of the future), then he may be represented as a disappointed and unhappy being who is often checkmated and defeated by his creatures. Yep! Sounds like an accurate definition of the calvinist God! Folks, I didn’t say this; rather, an eminent calvinist teacher taught this! I merely quote the “experts”.
So, I ask the question again: in what way is the calvinist view of God’s sovereignty higher? What is it higher than? It is certainly not higher than the Biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty, nor is it even equal to such. The calvinist God, while claiming greater or superior sovereignty to that of the God of the Bible, is really less than sovereign. He cannot know anything of the future unless he dictates all actions beforehand. Or else he can only apply his foreknowledge to his elect people, and forget about the rest of lost mankind!
Truly the calvinists should teach that they take a lower view of God’s sovereignty. This would be quite consistent with their other theology. And, at least they’d be truthful for once!
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