Calvinists: How do you reconcile determinism with moral responsibility?

The debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is one of the biggest in the Protestant community, and one of the main questions surrounding it is how we could be justly held responsible for an action if we could not have done differently.

Say 100 swimmers are drowning in the ocean after a shipwreck, and I have 100 lifelines that I can throw to anybody or not. I decide that I will throw out the lifeline to 25 of these swimmers. Now, would it be appropriate in any way for me to yell out to the other 75 swimmers about how they should be grabbing onto my lifelines, and condemn them for not grabbing on to them? Of course not. They couldn’t have grabbed onto the lifelines no matter what, and thus commanding them to grab onto them and condemning them for not doing so is nothing more than an act of cruelty on my part.

Now, on the Calvinist view, there is no concept of prevenient grace; the only way that anybody can ever make a decision in their heart to repent of their sins is by Divine coersion. But yet God still commands them to repent, and eventually condemns them for not doing so. How, exactly, is that not analogous to the lifeline thought experiment I just proposed? How is God’s commanding of people who can’t repent to repent, and then condemning them for not repenting, anything more than an act of cruelty on God’s part?
There have been many attempted Calvinist responses, but I find that they don’t answer the question, and create more problems than they attempt to solve.

If there are any Calvinists reading this thread, I invite you to attempt to answer this problem. You can use one of the answers which I attempt to respond to in the next post, which were the popular ones that I thought of when I was making this, and attempt to interact with my response to them, or you can use another answer.

God can punish us for our actions, even though we couldn’t have done differently, because we do them willingly.
This just pushes the problem a step back; the same dilemma can be applied to our wills. If we do not control our wills, then we have the exact same problem.

Why are you judging God? God judges us, not the other way around.
I am using the biblical concept of God as grounds to judge Calvinist soteriology, not the other way around.

The way that determinism and moral responsibility intertwine is very complex.
This doesn’t work and here’s why. The only way that a counterargument like that could work is if it is in reply to an argument which has a premise which gives the arguer the burden of proof that would require knowing the effects of everything we do, God’s providence, etc. Most formulations of the problem of evil have a hidden premise like this, that God can’t have any morally sufficient reasons to allow evil. But that isn’t what this argument does:
P1: In order for an agent to be morally responsible, he must have been able to do otherwise.
P2: On Calvinism, the nonelect are not able to repent of their sins.
C: On Calvinism, the nonelect cannot be morally responsible for not repenting of their sins.

As you can see, there are no premises that put the burden of prood on me which would require me to know the inner workings of Divine providence. The logic is also ironclad, and there are no hidden premises which are required to make the conclusion follow. So no, the complexity of God’s providence won’t help you here.

Read Romans 9.
The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is not only not the only one, it is anachronistic and misreads Scripture with western eyes, rather than understanding how Paul’s original audience would have understood it:

We can’t let philosophy influence how we read the text of Scripture.
That you shouldn’t let philosophy influence how you read the text of Scripture is a philosophy that influences how you read the text of Scripture.

If your understanding of logic and Scripture contradict, then it is your understanding of logic that is wrong, not Scripture.
There is a key part of this dilemma which we need to add in, and it becomes pretty clear what the Calvinist is trying to do:
If your understanding of logic and my understanding of Scripture contradict, then it is your understanding of logic or my understanding of Scripture that are wrong, not logic or Scripture.
Truth does not contradict truth. As a theist, I believe that God is inherently logical and created everything else to be logical as well, so there cannot be a contradiction between a conclusion validly drawn from logical inference and a conclusion validly drawn from Scripture. If we draw two contradictory conclusions from both, what we need to look to do is see which conclusion was invalidly drawn, not to try to discredit logic or Scripture.
Now the typical Calvinist line of argument from here is to argue from the noetic effects of sin, and to say that since human reasoning is inherently flawed, that we have to have a clear revelation like Scripture to straighten us out (basically sola scriptura on steroids.) However, the astute non-Calvinist will immediately see that this is self-referentially incoherent, because we are hopelessly bound to human reason when drawing conclusions from Scripture even in the most basic ways. Even if we grant that the Calvinist interpretation of Scriptural text X is the right one, they need to make a simple logical argument to get from there to affirming X:
P1: If something is taught in Scripture, than it is true.
P2: Calvinism is taught in Scripture
C: Calvinism is true.

So the Calvinist is using human reason to counter human reason, which is self-refuting.
Also, if something like God’s decree transcends human logic, we cannot make an argument based on huamn logic to establish anything about God’s decree, even the most basic ones like the one above.
What this amounts to is the taxi cab fallacy; human reasoning is flawed where I want it to be, and it isn’t where I don’t want it to be.

God can do what He wills with huamns for His own glory.
This objections does to God’s justice and benevolence what many Muslim arguments do to God’s justice when they say things along the lines of “why did God need to send Jesus? Couldn’t he just forgive us?”
You can’t just disregard one of God’s attributes on a whim, as if one of God’s attributes, namely His freedom, can override another, like His justice.
The more I look through this, the more I think that a Molinistic view of soteriology is the only view that answers all of the tough questions related to these issues (why is there evil, how do we reconcile Divine sovereignty with human responsibility, etc.) while maintaining all of God’s attributes.

Calvinists don’t believe in determinism.

Um, yes they do. The reason why compatibilism is called as such is because it attempts to argue that determinism is compatible with free will.

All men are condemned in Adam (our corporate representative). This is just because Adam is our best possible representative. In him we failed God’s test and fell into sin, the wages of which is death. God is a just and holy God. So without Jesus’s death everyone justly is punished for their sins eternally in hell.

God chooses to spare his justice for the elect, out of mercy rather than any duty, and punishes Jesus for their sins at the cross.

The elect receive mercy and the non-elect receive God’s justice. Nobody who gets justice (hell) doesn’t deserve justice, and nobody who gets mercy (heaven) deserves mercy. So both God’s justice and his mercy are perfect.

The problem here is that at what point do those who end up in Hell have the ability to choose good rather than evil, or the ability to make a choice to repent of their sins? If they never do, then the argument is that it is therefore unjust for God to condemn them for not repenting of their sins. You haven’t answered anything.

Determinism means that we are forced or coerced to do things by external forces (Sproul, Chosen by God, pp 43-44). Calvinism does not teach that. Calvinism teaches that man after the fall, having fallen corporately in Adam into sin, has “free will” to fulfil his desires, but that his desires are infallibly ungodly and wicked.

Similarly, man who has been quickened by God the Holy Spirit also has free will, but he now desires God.

This is not determinism. God does not force our hand in what we choose.

But you see, the agent cannot choose to change the desires, or to go against them. So our actions are still determined sufficiently so that this is still a problem, even if it isn’t God who is doing the determining per se.

They were represented corporately in Adam. He was their best representative. That is why we all inherit original guilt justly. Everyone who is born after Adam is guilty of the sin of Adam and can be justly condemned by God. We, in Adam, had the ability to choose good rather than evil, and chose evil instead.

We praise God, therefore, that he has graciously provided a new corporate head for his people, Christ, who bore our curse so that we could be reconciled to the God we had no desire to come to ourselves.

Forgive my confusion, please. Does that last paragraph mean that all Jews in the OT went to Hell?

Richard Feynman

OT believers were justified by grace through faith, just as NT believers are, but their faith was in the promise of the Saviour, starting with God’s declaration of the gospel in Gen. 3:15 and revealed from then onwards. Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness - so even Abraham’s sins were taken to the cross.

Thanks for the explanation!

Send me back to the link if it has. I am not specifically Calvinist but I grew up steeping in reformed theology.

I think that we can agree on these points though you may have not put it exactly like this
(1)God didn’t/doesn’t/willn’t need to redeem anyone and he is still just.
(2)but It’s God’s will that all be saved
(3)Yet not everyone receives justification

I pulled these definitions from
Redemption=The restoration of man from the bondage of sin to the liberty of the children of God through the satisfactions and merits of Christ.
Salvation=In a sense is the liberation of the human race or of individual man from sin and its consequences
Justification is the work of God alone, presupposing, however, on the part of the adult the process of justification and the cooperation of his free will with God’s preventing and helping grace

I think on the definition of justification is where most calvinist will disagree. Many would view it as a form of neopelagianism.

I also think that you may exchange one of the words in my premise for another. Most likely you would switch word or totally emit the first premise. Though I think that all the premises need to exist in some form to deal with the problem of why people are not saved.

Most of the time when I here a form of this from a protestant they just put saved in every premise which sounds ridiculous /it is. I think you need to realize that they have not had thousands of years to make such clear distinctions between words.

We should start here before I say more. I am sure that I have errors somewhere in here and or someone will not understand. Maybe I don’t really like the first but this is basically how I have heard it said before.

The problem with this view of infused righteousness is that you can never actually have any confidence that you are acceptable in the sight of Almighty God and before the judgement throne.

Whereas in Reformed (biblical, Rom. 5) theology, we can, because our sin has been imputed to Christ and his righteousness, alien though it is, imputed in its fulness to us though undeserving we may be.

How are his mercy and justice perfect if some get mercy, and others don’t, and some get justice, while others don’t?

Calvinism teaches that some are created for salvation, and others for destruction. That is determinism. Whether or not God decides all the little things you do to get there, Calvinist doctrine is pretty explicit that this was decided by God at the time of creation.

Because those who receive justice pay the price for their sins, while those who receive mercy have had their sins paid for by Jesus Christ our Lord.

That’s not determinism. Adam had real free will. You may as well argue all divine foreknowledge equals determinism. Which means that in your own belief system, since you (presumably) believe in an all-knowing God, you also believe in “determinism”.

I suggest looking up “determinism” in the dictionary. “Determinism” and predestination are not the same thing.

That isn’t justice though. Justice means the law applies equally to everyone. That is arbitrarily letting some off.

You’re playing in semantics here. God explicitly creating some for destruction, and some for salvation is determinism. Their fate is sealed before they have a chance to exercise free will.

Yes, I understand that Calvinism accepts freewill when it comes to things not pertaining to God, I think everyone understands that Calvinism doesn’t have God dictating whether or not I will have pizza or salad for supper tonight. No one is using it in that sense.

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