By Spencer D Gear
This is a typical Calvinistic line against Arminians: ‘Why did God send Christ to die for those He foreknew would not believe?’ On of the key differences between Arminians and Calvinists is their understanding of free will. Roger Olson explains:
The nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism.) When an agent (a human or God) acts freely in the libertarian sense, nothing outside the self (including physical realities within the body) is causing it; the intellect or character alone rules over the will and turns it one way or another. Deliberation and then choice are the only determining factors, although factors such as nature and nurture, and divine influence come into play. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self.
Calvinists, on the other hand, believe in compatibilist free will (insofar as they talk about free will at all). Free will, they believe, is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will (Olson 2006:75).
Courtesy IVP Academic
Olson’s comment was that ‘it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created’ (Olson 2006:75).
My immediate response to the post on Christian Forums was: You are giving me your Calvinistic presuppositions with that kind of question.
I could ask you: Why did God send Christ to die only for the elect who he coerced into the kingdom by irresistible grace and damned the rest? Why did he bother to create them when he knew they would be damned eternally?
I added: ‘To give them the opportunity, through unlimited atonement, prevenient grace and free will, to say yea or nay to the Gospel offer. Isn’t that simple enough to understand?’
I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).
Dr John E Sanders, open theist, (photo courtesy Hendrix College, AR, USA)
The comeback was:
“”’Why can’t you just answer the question? Consistent Arminians are Open Theists. Open Theists deny that God is omniscient. Therefore, they escape the question.
But you cannot escape the question because you believe that God foreknows all things. So, if God foreknows who will not believe, then the only reason for Christ’s dying for them would be to provide a basis for their judgment, not to provide an opportunity for salvation’.
My reply was:
Consistent Arminians are Reformed/Classical Arminians who maintain the integrity of Scripture and that includes the omniscience of God, unlimited atonement, prevenient grace and free will in relation to salvation.
You have misjudged the ‘only reason for Christ’s dying’. He died for them to provide the opportunity for salvation through prevenient grace and free will. God in his wisdom and omniscience knows that salvation should be offered to all and that ALL have the opportunity to say yea or nay to salvation.
That’s what the Scriptures teach and that’s why I maintain such a position. We have debated this over and over on Christian Forums and I don’t plan to go through the verses again.
I refer you to my articles:
The Calvinistic reply was:
First, the scripture no where says that Christ died to give men the “opportunity” to be saved. It consistently says that He died “TO SAVE” men.
Second, your position is totally illogical. If God foreknows who will not believe, then there can be no “opportunity” for them to be saved. Christ’s dath [sic] is nothing more than the basis of their judgment.
My Arminian response was:
Mine is the logical position for these reasons:
- God loved the world (Jn 3:16) and not your view of only loving the elect;
- God gave all human beings free will as they are part of the ‘whoever believes’ (Jn 3:16). To be ‘whoever believes’, they must have the ability to say, ‘No to the offer’. The corollary this is that this is the ‘opportunity’ to be saved that is offered to ALL people.
- Jesus died for the whole world (1 Jn 2:2).
- To have the opportunity to receive Christ, people must hear the Gospel (Rom 10:17);
- The omniscient God has determined that only those who choose to believe receive eternal life (Jn 3:16).
- Those who choose to reject this offer are damned/they perish (Jn 3:16).
- The final destiny of all human beings is based on how logically God has provided such salvation as here explained.
You promote an illogical Calvinistic position where
- God’s injustice is exposed. He does not love the whole world (contrary to John 3:16) and does not offer ALL people the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.
- Instead, people are coerced into the kingdom by unconditional election and irresistible grace. And for some Calvinists, the rest are actively damned by an act of God (hardly the actions of the God of love for the whole world).
I don’t fall for the line that mine is the illogical position and yours is the paragon of logic.
Calvinists: God caused kidnap, rape and murder
Roger E Olson, an Arminian, wrote:
As I read Mark Talbot’s chapter on God and suffering in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor) a thought occurred to me:
Since most Calvinists are harshly critical of the novel The Shack (which takes a similar approach to theodicy as Greg Boyd in Is God to Blame?) because of its alleged undermining of God’s glory and sovereignty, why don’t they (or one of them) write a similar novel in which God explains to Mack (or someone like him) why his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered–and avoid language about God permitting or allowing it (which is really Arminian language)? I challenge a consistent “high Calvinist” such as Piper or Talbot to produce such a novel. I would like to see what the popular Christian reaction would be to what God would have to say about such atrocities in such a novel. Talbot pulls no punches; he says that God foreordains such events and is their ultimate cause; they are willed by God and not merely allowed or permitted by God (although even he occasionally uses such language–as do all Calvinists in my experience). At crucial points he pulls back a little and uses language such as God “governs” such events, but the context makes clear he means God renders them certain because they fit into his plan and purpose and are necessary for the full accomplishment of his will.
I look forward to the publication of such a novel; I think it would go far toward turning people away from Calvinism (Olson 2013).
Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths & realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.
Olson, R E 2013. A challenge from Roger Olson for Calvinists, Society of Evangelical Arminians (online), March 2. Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/a-challenge-from-roger-olson-for-calvinists/ (Accessed 27 April 2014).
Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
 The Boxer#381, Christian Forums, ‘Soteriology DEBATE’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7815138-39/#post65479174 (Accessed 27 April 2014).
 At this point Olson footnoted Peterson & Williams (1992:136-161).
 Ibid., OzSpen#383.
 Ibid., OzSpen#386.
 Ibid., The Boxer#384.
 Ibid., OzSpen#387.
 Ibid., The Boxer#389.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.