Calvinism and Predestination

One of the most important concerns for any Christian is the doctrine of salvation (called “soteriology” by academics). The subject raises important questions: What is salvation? How do I get saved? Can I ever lose my salvation?

In this brief article I want to look at salvation from the point of view of Calvinism and the associated doctrine of predestination. Calvinism is the Protestant school of thought associated with the reformed theologian John Calvin. Predestination is the idea that long before we are born God decides whether or not we will be one of His “elect” who will be saved by His grace during our earthly lives.

I want to discuss five key points of Calvinism, and criticise them with specific reference to my own ideas about free will. I am not going to include scripture references here, but if you want to know whereabouts in the Bible the Calvinists get their ideas from you may like to read this helpful article. I am not claiming to get my ideas from the Bible.

1. Total Depravity

This is the idea that due to original sin we are born sinners and that during our human life we are slaves to sin, which affects our minds, bodies, wills, and emotions.

I have always thought that original sin is a strange idea; that through the disobedient actions of God’s first created man we have all become sinners from our very conception. I know that I am in a sense separate from God, as clearly I am living through an embodied experience with a human consciousness, whereas I believe God has attributes that I don’t possess, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. But Christians tend to understand sin as disobedience, rather then mere separateness.

As I have argued in this article, the ultimate truth is that it is not possible for humans to have fallen away from God as God is, and always has been, in control of everything that happens. We are not free to act in any way that is contrary to the will of God, as God is everywhere. This is a simple attribute of the nature of God.

We do possess the illusion of free will, as God is able to hide His ultimate nature from us during our earthly lives so that many do not realise that we are like puppets in a puppet show and God is the cosmic puppeteer. When I breathe, move, think, grow, digest, or act in any way, it is because God is controlling these activities in the present moment. God is a living God – He didn’t create the universe and then sit back and watch it unfold; but rather He is actively sustaining and developing this vast universe which is not ontologically different from Him. God is all that exists and therefore nothing can happen outside of His will. It seems to me that the idea of Total Depravity in Calvinism ignores this reality.

2. Unconditional Election

This is the idea that we can do nothing to earn our salvation. From a certain perspective this makes a lot of sense to me as if God is always in control, then we do not have free will, and therefore how could we possibly do anything freely to warrant election or damnation? It makes more sense that our cosmic puppeteer would choose whether we are saved based on His will, rather that our own free will which is illusory.

The whole purpose of creation is for God to experience possibility (His own vast nature) in all its fullness; the yin and yang; light and darkness; good and evil; heaven and hell. I have heard it said by one Calvinist that this is indeed the purpose of creation, but to me it seems terribly unfair that some people would have to suffer in hell just so that God can experience that part of His nature.

I have speculated in my book Ultimate Truth that I believe God is ultimately merciful and would never let anyone suffer too much, although I believe the Calvinist would argue that those who are not among the elect are damned to hell for all eternity. Would a merciful God really punish people in this way, even though they have done nothing freely to warrant such treatment? It is not for me to judge God, of course, but nevertheless I think it’s an important point.

3. Limited Atonement

This is the idea that Jesus died only for the elect. If life is God’s game and we are all puppets in God’s hands, then I can see that it is possible that as part of the game Jesus came to shed His blood as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, as most Christians believe. The Arminians believe that Jesus died for everyone in the whole world, and that each individual has a free choice as to whether to repent and believe and in doing so to get saved.

The Calvinist idea that Jesus died only for the elect seems to make sense only if we embrace the idea that we don’t have free will and that God is controlling all things. You see, if God is in control, then He knows who will be saved, so therefore it becomes possible to say Jesus died only for them. Free will is again the central issue here.

4. Irresistible Grace

According to Calvinism, when God calls the elect, they cannot resist. The implication here is clearly that they don’t have free will. But what confuses me here about the Calvinist position is that they argue the Gospel message is offered by God to all people. I would have to argue that because God is in control, those who reject the Gospel are only doing so by the will of God. Another problem is that in reality there are millions who will live and die without ever hearing the Gospel (unless of course God brings the Gospel to them in another realm that we don’t know about), so in ultimate reality they are damned by the will of God who has not chosen to impart His irresistible grace to them. We might call this “irresistible damnation” (I believe it is also called “double predestination”).

5. Perseverance of the Saints

The idea here is that the elect are eternally saved and can do nothing to lose their salvation. This is a very comforting thought, but in reality our present moment living God can change His mind in any moment, and as He is in control of all things, there is always the possibility that our destiny could change. It may well be that God does choose to save the elect eternally, but we shouldn’t deny that it is within God’s power to change His mind at any moment.

Conclusion

The central problem within Calvinism, and I would argue within the whole of Christian theology, is free will. With an omnipresent God there can be no free will (the two ideas are logically incompatible) and therefore Calvinists are misguided if they combine their doctrine of election, which implies a God who is in control, with the idea that we are free to act independently of God’s will (which is the very definition of what free will is).

19 comments

  1. Interesting thoughts, Steven. As you’re aware, there are Scripture verses that seem to support free will as well as election. I believe God draws us but we can reject Him.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment, Tom. I realise that to say all will is God’s will is quite unusual, and it’s certainly not the position that most Christians would take. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be true, and I believe it with such certainty that I can’t help but argue for it! My Christian walk would be a lot easier if I thought differently.

  2. If, as you suggest, there is only God, then there is only one will, right? All will is then God’s will. The only difference then, can be in relation to the degree of God consciousness executed by any particular ‘aspect’ of God. Perhaps God chose to go unconscious of Himself. In this sense, separation implies unconsciousness, rather than being a matter of proximity as such. Therefore, all will is free, because there is only God’s will, which is free. In human beings, one could say that God’s will focalises in each person as ‘I am’. ‘I am’ is God’s name, as He declared to Moses when Moses asked, “Who shall I tell them has come?”, and God says, “Tell them, ‘I am’ come.” That which exists as ‘I am’ in human beings is God. This indeed is God’s will. Therefore, human beings say ‘I am’, and they have the power to execute the will of ‘I am’, which of course, is free. The only question is in the degree to which one knows ‘I am’. When each of us says, ‘I am’, who, or what, do we refer to? How much do we embody ‘Iamness’? ‘Iamness’ implies a direct and conscious experience of the outpouring of God’s will. I suggest the degree to which we know that the ‘I am’ in us is God, determines our degree of power to function as a direct outflow of divine grace. It is not so much, therefore, the illusion of free will that is the issue, but rather the unconscious use of will. So we do not so much act independently of God’s will, as we act unconscious of it. The will most of us execute, is a will unconsciously motivated (by the Wound of Separation, or what Christians might refer to as, Original Sin), that is, unconscious of God’s will, and unconscious that our will is God’s will. This then implies, that in the full glory of our own consciousness, we are God, and in our limitation, we are simply God functioning without full realisation of Himself. Why? Perhaps the unlimited knows itself in a new way in contrast to the limited? Who knows. Perhaps God wanted to create and we are His creation. Perhaps we are here to recreate God. Recreation is fun, is it not? So free will is free will, it just depends who’s using it.

    1. I agree with much of what you are saying, but I take issue with this: “Perhaps God chose to go unconscious of Himself”. I believe this is impossible because I believe omniscience is an attribute of God.

      I believe “I am” is a good way of encapsulating the essence of God, and the essence of all creatures who are playing out their various roles “in God” 🙂

      1. Just a further thought in relation to our discussion of the phrase “I am”. Isn’t it interesting that we say “I am moving my arms” or “I am growing my hair” but we don’t say “I am flowing my blood” or “I am beating my heart”. Why do you think we draw this distinction? Surely God is in control of all our bodily processes, and not just some of them?

      2. God’s omniscience is expressed through His choice to go unconscious of Himself. It’s a similar issue to what we were discussing in relation to Jesus’ omniscience vs His humanity. Let me try to express that clearer. God creates an evolving universe. By evolving, we mean, evolving in consciousness. The universe evolves through becoming conscious of itself. God’s gift to life is allowing Himself to go unconscious of Himself, in the form of human beings, for example, so He can then experience the process of becoming conscious of Himself again. We call this process spirituality, revelation, or a Christian may call this process salvation. The wholeness of God never loses its experience of omniscience, but a ‘part’ of God is able to experience uncertainty, mystery and the unknown. This is God playing with Himself by His unlimited perfect freedom. He draws a veil of unconsciousness, what has been called, the primordial sleep, in order to provide Himself with the gift of consciously evolving growth. His creatures, i.e. human beings for example, are gifted with the experience of a personal identity. Initially we believe, “I am moving my arm”, or, “I am growing my hair”, but as we deepen upon the path of God realisation, we realise that what we have previously identified as ‘our’ will, has really been God acting all along. In this sense, God, as God, remains fully conscious and omniscient, but God, as human beings, experiences unconsciousness of Himself, in order to be gifted with the experience of divine revelation. This revelation, is directly proportionate, to our experience of ‘who’ is really moving our arm, growing our hair, beating our heart, flowing our blood. From our perspective we may call this experience surrender to God, or divine knowledge, but either way, ‘we’, as human beings, end up lost in God’s love.

        1. Thanks, Gregg.

          “God’s omniscience is expressed through His choice to go unconscious of Himself.” I think I understand, if you’re saying that God keeps His omniscience while the human experience (of which He is in control) is partial and limited. I can understand this as I perceive there to be a difference between God consciousness and human consciousness as I discussed in this post: https://perfectchaos.org/2014/07/28/dimensions-of-reality/

          “The universe evolves through becoming conscious of itself.” Are you able to explain how in order to help me to understand? Is the universe more conscious of itself today than it was 1000 years ago? Will there be a time when the universe will be fully conscious of itself, and if so, what has led you to believe this? In any case I don’t think this idea equates with the Christian idea of salvation which is about repentance for sins and faith in the Messiah?

          My problem with the term “surrender” is that it seems to imply freedom to act independently of God’s will, or would you argue that ultimately God is in control of our surrender? I think this is really important.

  3. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance. Since this is true, and recorded in 2 Peter 3.9, it is clear that God’s will is not always accomplished. Otherwise everyone would come to repentance, what God wishes and wills.

  4. Yes, in relation to the first issue of God’s omniscience, it’s a divine paradox, that God can be both human and divine. The universe, through evolving conscious forms, such as humanity, becomes conscious of itself and learns to experience itself in ever more revealed (revelation) ways. What actually evolves? It is consciousness that evolves. As forms become more complex, they become more conscious. To be conscious is Gods domain isn’t it? Unconsciousness implies ignorance. Through evolving universal form, God essentially comes into ‘relationship’ with Himself. Through differentiation, God experiences variety. The One becomes Many, and the Many becomes One. The One is Many and the Many is One. This is the paradox. It can only be resolved as a matter of experience, not as a matter of intellect. So I would say yes to your question, the universe, through human beings for example, is more conscious of itself today than it was 1000 years ago. I believe the universe will become fully conscious of itself, and thus fulfil the purpose for its creation: God realisation. When every particle of matter is divinely translated into God consciousness, resonates with the conscious pulsation of divinity, it may experience itself in its embodied fullness as the glory of God embodied in form. The form itself evolves to realise its true nature as God. What a divine paradox indeed. Jesus is perhaps a good example of this, no? It is just my instinct that has led me to these thoughts, I claim no authority or truth in regards to them, they are simply ideas that resonate with me. So, now let’s look at how this idea does indeed equate “with the Christian idea of salvation which is about repentance for sins and faith in the Messiah?” Salvation implies salvation from sin. What is sin? If sin is understood, as I understand it to be, unconsciously motivated action, then repentance is an act of conscious action, which is the beginning of salvation. It’s a statement which says, “I’m sorry for all of the action I have committed unconscious of You, God.” This is the beginning of our surrender to God. Of course God is in control of this, He is in control of everything. But the mystery is that through divine cooperation, ‘we’ may align with God and still retain an experience of our individual form consciousness. Yes, the freedom to act independently of, and this is important, not God’s will, since everything is God’s will, but independently of conscious experience (i.e. denial, avoidance, supression, addiction etc. which, by the way, are a product of the primal wound of separation, which was God’s chosen wound to begin with), is a possibility, but this is also God’s will, so therefore, God Himself is responsible for surrender. But what about individual effort one may say? This effort is also by the grace of God. The effortless surrender into God’s love is a bonafide path to His grace and realisation. Is this not the teaching of Jesus?

    1. Thus, is atonement, at-one-ment. This is repentance, the return to oneness (God), or the purification of sin (separation from God). To atone means to be at-one. Therefore, faith in the Messiah, is a means to crucify that which is separate from God, which is atonement. Jesus sacrificed Himself for God, in order that the sin (separation) of mankind could be crucified and born again as the resurrection of divine consciousness. We all must eventually be moved by this divine motif, as God’s will is realised as our every breath. As we become conscious of the wound and bleed through the pain, we are brought closer to His feet. Is this not the meaning of the crucifixion?

    2. The Christian teaching as I understand it is that grace is an unmerited gift to sinners. Sin is disobedience to God’s law as it was revealed in the Old Testament (for instance in the 10 Commandments and all the law that was given to Moses). In the Old Testament, God required His chosen people to make regular blood sacrifices (of animals) to atone for sins, but as human beings continually found it impossible to obey God’s law, Jesus came and died as a ‘once for all’ blood sacrifice, atoning for all the sins of mankind forever (if we repent and put our faith in him).

  5. I wanted to share articles from R C Sproul. A Pastor of Ligonier Ministries. He preaches on reformed theology and has many free sermons and blogs and videos on his blog and YouTube. I think he goes more in depth to some of the beliefs and confusions that many of us have. I belive God is Sovereign over all things as many Calvinistic believe. I think this will always be a big ??????? as long as we live on this earth. Only then will we have the answers to our all knowing God.
    I liked this post earlier but had not the chance to comment.
    Great Article Stephen!!😀

    1. Hi Cathey! Thanks so much for this 🙂 I had to edit out the RC Sproul article from your comment because it was way too long for a comment, but I copied and pasted it into a document on my computer so I can read it. If you’d like to comment again with a link to the article (I’m not sure whether that’s possible) then feel free to do that so others can read it. God bless you and thanks also for reblogging this post 🙂 Steven 🙏🏻

      1. Hello Cathey! Brilliant, thank you for posting the link 🙂 No worries about the name misspelling, I forgive you! 😉 Hope you have a wonderful day. The R.C. Sproul article is on my reading list for today, looking forward to it! 👍🏻

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