Calvinism self-refutation?

When I was a Protestant I would have considered myself a Calvinist-leaning Evangelical. I liked people like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and James White a lot. I’ve listened to a number of debates from James White, but something I listened to again recently jumped out at me.

James White was defending the limited atonement, and he was challenged with 1 Tim 2:3-4, which contradicts limited atonement by stating that God desires all men to be saved. Under James White’s Calvinism this simply isn’t true. So Mr White reinterprets 1 Tim 2:3-4 to mean “all KINDS of men.”

Likewise James White believes in the Calvinist concept of predestination-- a person is predestined to salvation or damnation as part of God’s timeless infinite plan. That is, a person is predestined to salvation or damnation before they are even born. So before a person experiences being “born again,” while he was still a sinner, he was still one of the Elect, predestined to come to salvation. That is, the sinner was not reprobate and then BECAME Elect, rather, he was elect before he was even born, but simply experiences salvation at a certain point in his life.

So according to James White,

  1. People who are Elect or Reprobate are either elected or reprobate before they are even born. (That is, one does not somehow start off Reprobate and then become Elect, but rather, the person is Elect before they are even born, and the salvation of Election is simply experienced when they are Born Again.)

  2. Likewise, people that are Reprobate are predestined to damnation.

  3. Again, James White believes that God desires “all kinds” of men be saved.

  4. Clearly the Elect and Reprobate are both “kinds” of men.

  5. Therefore, God desires that the Reprobate be saved.

This is obviously a contradiction in James White’s theology. The only way for him to get out of this is to 1) accept the Catholic position or 2) state that people start off Reprobate and then become Elect, which would deny other aspects of pre-destination or 3) state that the Elect and Reprobate are not “kinds of men.”

James White, John Mac Arthur and others need our prayers for conversion. And I don’t even mean to Catholicism but to true Christian humility.

I truly believe men like these two care only about their pride, ego’s and their self made authority.

I know plenty of Christ seeking Calvinists, but these two don’t seem to fall into that and they break my heart with their presentations of Christ. :frowning:

I am a Calvinist and that “all kinds” argument doesn’t hold water…

The Greek there is πάντας ἀνθρώπους (pantas anthropous) Lit. “every man.” There’s simply no way around the fact that the words there mean every single man (and by extension woman and child) individually is the scope of this statement. It could mean “all men” collectively, but that doesn’t really help our case, does it?

That having been said, for me, the key word is θέλει (thelei). That word is slippery. It can mean “He wishes” or “He desires” in the sense of, “Well… I’d like to see this happen even though it’s isn’t going to happen,” or it can mean “He purposes” or “He intends” as in, “This is part of my plan and I am going to make this happen.”

For me the argument hinges on whether or not God is powerful enough to make what He wants to have happen happen or not. Some people go to heaven and some people go to Hell so God is either incapable of doing what He wants to do or He does not want to see everyone in Heaven (or at least not in the sense that He is actively going to make that happen.) A God who cannot work His will is not God, so that only leaves us with God wants some people to to heaven and some people to not.

At that point, the question of whether or not Christ died for everyone is academic. Clearly His merit is sufficient for everyone and it is also clear that that merit is efficient only for those who end up actually getting saved.

Now… that all having been said, I’m not a very good Calvinist. I have decidedly Molinist leanings, so I’m comfortable with the idea of a Single-Predestination Election wherein God has chosen to actualize the best of all possible worlds wherein the maximum number of souls who can be saved are saved, but every time I bring that idea up with my Calvinist buddies they start getting twitchy and wondering who let this guy in the room.

That is a very interesting argument that I don’t believe I have heard before. I imagine James White or R.C. Sproul’s reaction would be to deny that Elect and Reprobate are kinds of men in this sense, saying instead it means Kind’s in the sense of there earthly status, not kinds in the sense of there standing in an eternal decree of God. It’s interesting however.

They could also go the John Piper route which is to posit two contradictory wills of salvation.

OR, it could be that God wants all people to go to Heaven, but won’t force them to go. And that God can want all people to go to Heaven, but ALSO wants this to be a free will choice, a choice that we make, and so He allows His wish for all to be saved to be subsidiary to His love of us by giving us free will to make the choice our own.

Your error is in seeing God’s will as being a dichotomy: he either wills something, or he does not. Rather, God can will different things to different degrees. That’s why evil exists. God detests evil, but allows its existence for the sake of cultivating a greater good from it. So, if we can prioritize it in this way:

  1. God primarily desires the greater good cultivated from the allowance of evil;
  2. God secondarily hates evil;
  3. God thirdly loves good in an absence of evil.

Evil is dogmatically contradicted by 3, but 1 is only possible IFF evil exists. Hence why evil can exist despite being hated by God, per 3.

The same reasoning applies to salvation:

  1. God primarily desires the salvation of the elect, who have chosen him by their own free will.
  2. God secondarily desires that free choice is allowed to those who choose damnation.
  3. God thirdly desires the salvation of all creatures, regardless if they have made any choices.

Damnation is dogmatically contradicted by 3, but 1 is only possible IFF it is possible for one to be damned. Hence why Hell can exist despite God willing nobody to it, per 3.

Not really, because election and reprobation aren’t qualities that inhere in a person, but depend solely on God’s mercy (at least election does, in not only the Calvinist but also the Thomist/Augustinian perspectives).

Aquinas interprets 1 Tim. 2:3-4 in the same way, so I would be cautious about saying that this interpretation is self-refuting. (He has two other solutions as well, of which the distinction between the “antecedent” and “consequent” wills of God is the most complex and interesting.

Yes, I think this would be their reaction too. But where would he get the definition for “kinds of men” from? If his source is scripture alone then 1) the phrase clearly says all men and not all KINDS of men and 2) it’s hard to define a term that’s not even there.

But even if he tries to argue that it’s about kinds of men from different Earthly status, that’s still easily refutable. I would wonder about his interpretation of Rev 5:9 and approach him with both in mind. Rev 5:9 says "purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

So Jesus died for every Kind of man, but also there are saved people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation?

What about tribes that never heard the Gospel? There are people from thousands of tribes and tongues that went extinct throughout history that had never heard the Gospel. They were wiped out by plagues, diseases, wars, natural disasters, etc.

So does that mean there are Elect African Tribal leaders, who had an Earthly position that existed only within their culture, from tribes that never heard the Gospel before they went extinct? What about Native American tribesman, who had their own Earthly “kinds” of men within their own culture, and went extinct before European’s arrived with the Gospel? How about Australian Aborigine tongues that went extinct before they heard the Gospel?

If you define “kind” as different social classes (kings, peasants, painters, architects, prostitutes, etc), then what about “kinds” of men that existed only within these extinct tribes that never heard the Gospel?

If they never heard the Gospel then they’d all be damned, according to Calvinism. Yet Rev 5:9 says there would be people saved from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. And the strange definition of “kind” read into 1 Tim 2:3-4 could be applied to a multitude of non-Western cultures with their own distinct categories, each of which never heard the Gospel. So the interpretation of 1 Tim 2:3-4 still couldn’t be accurate, because there are all “kinds” of men who never heard the Gospel and weren’t saved.

I don’t think you can say that the Elect and Reprobate aren’t “kinds” of men. In fact, from a truly Calvinist standpoint, there are truly only 2 “kinds” of men-- the Elect and the Reprobate. Whether you’re a policeman or a prostitute, the only thing that truly matters is if you’re Elect or Reprobate.

Unfortunately 1 Tim 2:3-4 doesn’t even use the word “kind of men” there, and it’s inserted in because the original text contradicts Calvinism. So it’s hard to interpret a word that doesn’t even exist in the text.

This argument also falls short because it assumes that James White is insisting on an absolute reading of the passage when he has already denied the literal sense and believes instead in a figure of speech. Ever man is unique in some measure and could be classified as a unique class. If we were absolutists, saying all kinds of men are saved would mean all men are saved. But what James White meant by “all kinds” is an exaggerated figure of speaking. If a pastry chef said that he made all kinds of desserts, he would only mean that he has made many kinds of deserts. Same thing here.

Ah interesting. So you’re saying that you disagree with James White’s interpretation of 1 Tim 2:3-4?

For me the argument hinges on whether or not God is powerful enough to make what He wants to have happen happen or not. Some people go to heaven and some people go to Hell so God is either incapable of doing what He wants to do or He does not want to see everyone in Heaven (or at least not in the sense that He is actively going to make that happen.) A God who cannot work His will is not God, so that only leaves us with God wants some people to to heaven and some people to not.

There is a huge presupposition here that Calvinists seem to not notice. A huge tenet of their theology is built upon the questions of 1) whether or not God “wants to” save a person and 2) if a person He “wants to save” isn’t saved then hasn’t God has failed?

But the whole problem is their questioning about what God “wants” to do is built upon a misunderstanding of God’s entire purpose for creating the world. If we were both in New York and I “wanted” to drive to Kentucky, but you believed I “wanted” to drive to Quebec, then your question of whether or not I’m “failing” in what I “want” to do would be wrong.

This connects into a huge Calvinist presupposition-- God’s purpose and plan for the world. Calvinists believe that God’s purpose for creating the world was to display His attributes of Mercy and Justice. He displays His mercy by saving the Elect even though they didn’t want to be saved in the first place, and He displays His justice by damning the Reprobate.

But if your understanding of WHY God created humanity in the first place is wrong, then your asking of if God “has failed” in His plan is wrong too.

Rather than seeing Creation as a means for God to display His attributes, why not recognize that the purpose of God creating humanity was to form a people who would freely respond to His Grace and love Him? And if these people freely reject Him, then they actually fulfill God’s plan, not stifle it.

So if God’s primary purpose was to bring free creatures into communion with Himself, then a person rejecting God’s grace doesn’t mean “God failed.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s exactly God’s plan. God wants free creatures who will accept Him, which also means there will be free creatures who reject Him.

So when a person rejects God’s grace, His grace hasn’t “failed.” His grace did what it was supposed to do-- let a person choose to freely love Him or freely reject Him.

God’s attributes of Mercy and Justice are then played out, not as His purpose to create the world, but as the inevitable results of creating free creatures. He will inevitably display His mercy to those who accept Him, and He will inevitably display His Justice by condemning those who rejected Him. He doesn’t need to ‘seek out’ displaying His attributes.

At that point, the question of whether or not Christ died for everyone is academic. Clearly His merit is sufficient for everyone and it is also clear that that merit is efficient only for those who end up actually getting saved.

I guess I can agree with that. I think the reason Calvinists insist upon Limited Atonement is because they believe in Penal Substitution. If Jesus took everyone’s punishment, then that must mean everyone is saved. The problem is that Penal Substutionary Atonement isn’t true.

But I think other Protestants believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement and don’t reject the concept that Jesus died for everyone. I guess they can understand that Jesus can objectively die for someone, but that His payment or “punishment” isn’t applied to a person unless they believe and repent.

Now… that all having been said, I’m not a very good Calvinist. I have decidedly Molinist leanings, so I’m comfortable with the idea of a Single-Predestination Election wherein God has chosen to actualize the best of all possible worlds wherein the maximum number of souls who can be saved are saved, but every time I bring that idea up with my Calvinist buddies they start getting twitchy and wondering who let this guy in the room.

Hahaha interesting. I wonder if one can be a Catholic molinist? I remember Dr William Lane Craig expressing this belief.

Hmmm… it seems you didn’t read the passage or listen to James White’s arguments?

There isn’t an absolute reading, because the phrase “all kinds” doesn’t even appear in the text. I still find it amazing that James would read this into the text.

And James White WAS saying that “all kinds of men” would be saved.

KEP,

I read your post and understand what you’re saying. What I’m saying is that James White is interpreting the phrase “all men” not according to the letter, butas an exaggeration (like the “all kinds of desserts” example I gave earlier), and he also intends “all kinds of men” as an exaggerated figure of speech. That’s why your argument wouldn’t have any effect on him. He has already made his mind not to read the passage according to the letter.

Now, I believe that James White is incorrect and that God does will all men be saved in a certain sense, but his interpretation is not new. I believe Augustine said the same thing as James White on this verse.

I agree, I thought the same thing.(1 Timothy 2: 3-4) “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Indeed. Molinism is from Fr. Luis de Molina, SJ, who formulated it as a kind of “compromise” or “middle way” between historical Catholic Orthodoxy and the Jansenist heresy (which was a kind of Catholic Calvinism.)

William Lane Craig is indeed a proponent of Molinism, as have been others within Evangelicalsim, although they usually use it as an apologetic for some kind of Arminianism, or at the very least as a refutation of Calvinism.

I use it to neither praise nor bury Calvinism but as a means to try to understand how the ideas Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints work themselves out in the real world.

So, in my view (and I’m in a camp of one on this, I recognize that) God’s Election is truly unconditional in that it is not contingent on anything we do or any intrinsic attribute within us but it is not arbitrary or random. I do not believe that God plays “duck, duck, damned” with human beings.

Likewise, the calling and keeping of the Elect is, in my view, just as effectual as it is in classical Calvinism, but I allow for and emphasize indirect, mediated means of saving and sanctifying grace (what we in the Reformed camp usually refer to as “Providence”) whereas classical Calvinists usually emphasize the direct supernatural act of the Holy Spirit directly on the heart and mind of the Elect.

To put it in more practical terms: I believe that God knew, from before the foundation of the world, each of us better than we know ourselves. He knew exactly the precise sequence of events that it would take for each of us to make a truly free decision for Him and to keep making that truly free decision for Him every day until we finally arrive in Heaven. He chose to create the world in which those events happen for the maximum number of people. He chose to create (and to continue to create) the best of all possible worlds in which the absolute most people who could be saved are saved.

Yes, I believe, in opposition to what is normally considered Calvinism, that each of us has a truly free choice to make and that making that choice for Him is by no means a “one and done” thing, but I still consider myself a Calvinist because the net effect is the same: Some are Elect from before the foundation of the world and some are not and the eternal destination of each of those souls was fixed by God’s eternal decree before He ever uttered His first “Fiat,” and that the choice of who is Elect and who isn’t is entirely God’s and that He made it for His own good purposes and not because of anything I would someday do or anything inherent in my own nature.

I still consider myself a Calvinist because I still see salvation as being entirely about Jesus and not at all about me. I still see myself as a Calvinist because I still hold the to the bedrock view that my whole life is hung on the peg of “Jesus” and no one has ever been able to show me anything else that doesn’t boil down to “Jesus and…”

Now, please, whether you (or anyone) here be a Calvinist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Liberal, Evangelical, or whatever, don’t take that to mean that I think I’m Elect and you’re not. I don’t know that answer and I would never presume to try to make that distinction. Nor do I think that “Elect” automatically means “not Catholic” or “Evangelical.” I consider each of you by brothers and sisters in Christ and I pray daily for the salvation of all of you. I ask that you would do the same and look forward to the day when we can all sit down in glory together and finally get the answers to these questions right from the mouth of our Lord.

Interesting couple of posts, thank you. You shouldn’t get much argument over the above quoted piece. Salvation by definition with roots from ‘save’ would mean ‘saving’ is not about us. The saved can’t do the saving.

However, when a lifejacket is thrown our way as we tread water, and the captain says “put it on, until I can get to you”, to follow those instructions is our choice as we tread water.

I am curious if you believe in what the CC calls the “Final 4” - Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell?

If so, how do you define / explain Judgement? and / or - What is your view of the foundation of Judgement?

I see the foundation of Judgement being the instruction from the captain. My choice with the life jacket then is what is judged against that foundation

The captain knows his actions / instructions (foundation) from which to determine the proper course to take considering the treader’s ‘reaction’ (Choice) to the instruction.

Thank you.

For those interested:

A TIPTOE THROUGH TULIP
by James Akin
ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/TULIP.htm

Mr. Akin is a former Calvinist who is now the head of apologetics here at Catholic Answers.

This is where I’ll go “full Calvinist” and paraphrase R.C. Sproul: It’s not that we’re drowning and God throws us a life preserver. It’s that we’re already long dead and God brings us back up from the depths and breathes entirely new life into us.

As far as the “Final Four” of Eschatology… I, regardless of my Calvinism and along with every “capital-C” Christian of every stripe from the entire history of the Church, affirm a belief in the Resurrection of the Dead, the Final Judgement, and the eternal destiny of the just in Heaven and the unjust in Hell. I held to all four of those before I was a Calvinist, and I will (good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) hold to them until I die. Indeed, believing in all four of those things was an important pre-requesite for me first coming to faith in Christ.

As far as the basis for the Final Judgement, let me first quote the main relevant biblical passage on this:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV, emphasis mine)

This is something that, in my mind, is too often missed on the topic of the Final Judgement and indeed in the whole “salvation by works” vs. “salvation by faith” debate: There are two books (which is to say, two sets of criteria) in play here.

The one that I highlighted in red contains everything that we’ve done and all of us are judged according to that. The clear implication of the text here is that everyone who gets judged on that standard is condemned. Nobody gets into heaven on the basis of that book.

Nevertheless, some do avoid Hell, but only on the basis of their names being written in the other book - The Lamb’s Book of Life. Now, who’s names get written down in that book and on what basis is the heart and soul of this entire issue, and I won’t rehash that here.

The point I’m trying to make is this: We all deserve Hell when we are judged on the basis of what we do; but, in spite of that, some of us get to go to Heaven on the basis of what Christ does for us.

I hope that that would be something that we could all agree on, even though I know we can’t. People seem to really want some kind of symmetry in the Final Judgement but there just isn’t one. Some people invariably cry, “That’s not fair!” and to them I say, “You are absolutely right that’s unfair and I couldn’t be happier that God isn’t fair because a fair God would never have put His own Son on the Cross for my sin.”

It sounds like there more than two books. St. John first says, “books were opened.” Then he says of the Book of Life, “and another book was opened,” as if it were in addition to multiple books. This must mean that the names of the damned are written in multiple books. Thanks for pointing this out to me. I would be interested what difference there is between these different books. Perhaps there is a book for every kind of sin. Or maybe there are so many books just because of the sheer number of the damned.

The one that I highlighted in red contains everything that we’ve done and all of us are judged according to that. The clear implication of the text here is that everyone who gets judged on that standard is condemned. Nobody gets into heaven on the basis of that book.

Nevertheless, some do avoid Hell, but only on the basis of their names being written in the other book - The Lamb’s Book of Life. Now, who’s names get written down in that book and on what basis is the heart and soul of this entire issue, and I won’t rehash that here.

The point I’m trying to make is this: We all deserve Hell when we are judged on the basis of what we do; but, in spite of that, some of us get to go to Heaven on the basis of what Christ does for us.

I agree, two points.

First, everyone is judged according to their works in the determination of their eternal destination, not just the damned (not that I think you disputed this): “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). However, I don’t think the elect’s names are written in the other books since their sins are forgiven. How can they be judged for sins if they are forgiven? When it says “every man” in Revelation 20:13, it is only referring to the dead which were in death and hell and the sea, which are the damned.

Secondly, and we are in total agreement on this point, the Catholic faith also holds that justification is totally unmerited on the part of the justified.

“And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 8).
history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html

Thanks for taking the time.

Going backwards with the above quote - with regard to the point you are trying to make - 100% agree. Recently here I had to respond to a Catholic who thought fair could be argued as Heaven, but of course, if ‘the wage of sin is death’ and we are sinners, only death is fair. (hell)

Therefore it’s mercy we hope for, but, the fact we hope doesn’t equate to not having to do what was taught (you quoted the bible showing this). Spiritual sustinence is provided to help us stay on the narrow path. Jesus isn’t just giving busy work, it has an effect. How do we know? - Judgement will come.

With regard to the books and two sets of criteria, we are dealing with two subjects, names in or not in a book (The book of life) and criteria, that which is used by the Judge to make a decision (the first books mentioned).

In those first books, we could probably agree that there is all of revealed Truth since the Bible says “dead were judged by what was written in the books”. All the info revealed to humans throughout time- getting kicked out of Eden, through Abraham’s test, the 10 commandments, etc., through Jesus’ teachings. Anything regarding revealed truth. The foundation of judgement.

Now we come to your comment I bolded. - How do you come to the conclusion that the first set of books are anything more than the criteria?

The first books are the criteria, rules, foundation, reference so God can say, ‘I asked this of you, see right here on page 1023, line 345, welcome home good and faithful servant.’

Or God might say ‘I asked this of you, see right here on page 1023, line 345, you chose to do that instead. Let’s move on to the next page, see if it gets better’.

Your clear conclusion that this passage states that those judged are condemned, is not really clear to me since some of the judged might find their name in the book of life. Logically, one’s name would be found in the book of life after judgement, or what would be the purpose to go through judgement? (God’s holding the pen as well as the gavel at judgement).

I agree, let’s leave the who is in that good book of life up to others, the JW’s seem to know.

With regard to the quote from R.C. Sproul - let’s evaluate the two parts of the quote to really see the difference:

'we’re drowning and God throws us a life preserver’
‘long dead and God brings us back up from the depths and breathes entirely** new life’**

I see a quote from a person who is saying the same thing twice using different verbiage.

Take care,

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.