JohnCalvinI have a high regard for Calvinism, since it saved me from (hyper)-Arminianism, experience by me as the Holiness movement, the child of Wesleyan Holiness, whose major error is the idea of Total Sanctification (that we can reach complete sanctification before death through devotion to God).

Interestingly, if you study the teachings of Arminius and Calvin, they are not that far apart at all. My understanding of the critiques from the increasingly extreme camps is as follows.

Basic Views on Free Will

Hard Determinism – There is no free will, our choices are determined by previous causes or our own nature.

Compatibilism (soft determinism) – Causal determinism is true, but we still act as free, morally responsible agents when, in the absence of external constraints, our actions are caused by our desires. (God’s action does not count as coercion)

Libertarianism (free will) – our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God.

Classical Calvinists and Arminians are not that Far Apart

Interestingly, Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians are all Compatibilists. Differing views on how compatibilism works in concert with our will is what makes them different, however. On the extreme fringes, though, hyper-Calvinists are hard determinists, either consciously or not, and hyper-Arminians are libertarian.

Hyper Calvinism

Hyper Calvinism (I would say that much of the modern neo-reformed movement is in this camp) is so dedicated to election that they subscribe to double predestination (God chooses the elect and chooses the damned), to the point of failing to logically explain how God holds sinners responsible for *rejecting* the gospel.

In fact, Paul the Apostle makes one of the Bible’s few appeals to mystery when playing out this argument in Romans, seemingly supporting the Calvinist’s simplistic claims:

So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.

For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.”

So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:16-20)

In the eyes of Arminians, Calivinsts’ exclusive emphasis on predestination is problematic on both logical and practical grounds. Logically, it makes God the author of evil, and in it God chooses to damn people, thereby contradicting God’s goodness. Practically, it leads to an anemic, if not absent and confused doctrine of the role of the will in spiritual living.

Having rightly placed grace and our inability as the foundation for salvation, it then goes on to deny that any exercise of will in response to or atop that foundation is a reality. Calvinism is essentially deterministic when it comes to salvation AND sanctification. Cooperating with God is an illusion.

Both Arminians and Calivinists admit that there is a mystery here, but Calivinists typically double down on this, following it to its logical conclusion:

When we say God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom He chooses. God does not love everybody. ~ Aurthur W. Pink 1

Compatibilist Free Will

Calvinists sometimes respond with the doctrine of compatibilist free will, but in my estimation, it is nothing more than hand waving over an appeal to mystery – it doesn’t say HOW such things could logically co-exist or work, it just claims that they do. 2

Essentially, the claim is that determinism and free will are magically compatible. Jerry Walls does a nice job of explaining why this is not coherent. And because it is incoherent, they then turn around and accuse Arminians of violating the sovereignty of God because any free will becomes independent of the saving power of God.

Molinism’s Compatibilism

While Calvinism gives no logically coherent model for the appearance of some sort of free will, Molinism gives a perfectly working model that preserves both the goodness and sovereignty of God.

The model works this way – God, having seen all possible worlds and their counterfactual details (what would happen in each), creates a world in which he controls the circumstances of life, but within those, people are free to choose, and God already knows what they will choose. So while he ordains the outcome, it is arrived at with free choices that preserve the responsibility of the individuals.

Arminian Compatibilism

Arminians agree that we need the prevenient grace of God, but God moves in us, not to make us choose, but to liberate us to be ABLE to choose. And even within this model, there are at least two levels of God’s enablement – but in either case, we are still, dependent on God to get us to the place of a libertarian freedom.

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient grace, sometimes called enabling grace, is not necessarily sufficient to save, but only to free the person from the power of sin ENOUGH to freely respond to God’s offer of regeneration. At this point, they can reject or accept it. In this model, the Arminian preserves both the sovereignty of God and free will of man. Almost. Lacking middle knowledge, God would not know how the individual would choose (which is why I think Molinism’s requirement of middle knowledge is better than either Calvinism or Arminianism).

Efficacious Grace

In some cases, God can choose to move beyond merely sufficient grace (granting libertarian free will) to essentially overriding the inability of the person to choose what is right when they are free, thereby giving them salvation in an almost deterministic manner. This is close to Calvinistic compatibilism, but some Arminians would grant this as an exception, not the norm for all conversions.

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned in The Two Great Mysteries of the Bible, the dilemma of predestination v. free will is an unsolvable mystery which can only be partially unraveled before logic is no longer capable of explaining the reality hidden within. Calvinism claims to be the most biblical, and in a wooden way, it is. However, it fails miserably as a logical philosophy. Arminianism, on the other hand, while acknowledging prevenient grace (God reaches out to us first), may violate the sovereignty of God unless it includes the possibility of efficacious grace. And it may require Molinism’s middle knowledge to bridge that gap.

Notes:

  1. The Sovereignty of God (gracegems.org)
  2. Compatibilism (plato.stanford.edu)