The Confusion of Calvinism

A painting of John Calvin holding a book

I’m subscribed to the Desiring God mailing list and I often read John Piper answering questions about Christian doctrine from curious believers. While I don’t think that peddling the term ‘Christian Hedonism’ is necessarily helpful, I appreciate Piper’s lengthy ministry, his biblical knowledge, and the insights he gives on theological subjects.

This week I read an interesting post on Piper’s website entitled Does God Control All Things All The Time? Aha! I thought. This is right up my street. I was genuinely interested to read what Piper had to say about this question which cuts into the heart of Christian theology.

As I read through the article I found myself in almost total agreement. I do agree with a lot of what Calvinists like Piper have to say about God’s sovereignty. But just as Piper was concluding, he made a statement that I think highlights why I could not ultimately describe myself as a Calvinist:

God’s sovereignty does not diminish our accountability.

Alarm bells immediately started ringing in my mind and my heart sank as I read these words, which represent a confusion that is at the heart of Calvinist thinking. Earlier in the article, Piper had made another statement along the same lines:

Even in situations where God is permitting, He is permitting by design.

Are you able to see the contradiction that exists in both of these quoted statements? You see, Calvinists want to strongly state God’s sovereignty and insist that salvation is solely a work of God. But the trouble is, we only need to be ‘saved’ because of rebellion against God, and this rebellion implies freedom of the human will.

Without God’s sovereignty, Calvinism doesn’t make sense, but with God’s sovereignty, Christianity doesn’t make sense.

It’s simple. If we are free to sin, then God is not in control of our lives, and so we cannot call Him sovereign. If we are not free to sin, and our lives are under God’s control, then the need for salvation, and therefore the whole Christian gospel, evaporates.

Calvinists would have to deny what I affirm, which is that we are merely puppets in the hands of God. I believe all of creation is part of God – He is omnipresent – and this is what true sovereignty means. We have to be able to affirm this truth about God and then deal with the implications for our theology, which are far-reaching, and which I have discussed at length in my paper entitled An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity.

What’s your understanding of the divine sovereignty / free will predicament? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

32 Comments on “The Confusion of Calvinism

    • Starting with sin is, I think, the wrong place to begin a discussion on relating to God. We need to think what it is that will enable us to love, obey, and worship God. The ability to have God with us and in us and for us is what we are obligated to acquire if we are going to have eternal life. We cannot totally end our affliction by sin in this life but it can be reduced by the work of the Holy Spirit in us so we can rejoice in what God has done in us through his Son, Jesus Christ, which in the end is all that matters.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have had many conversations and debates with a good friend of mine on this topic and after all of that we are far from settling it. The bible seems to present to us these two pictures without resolving it philosophically – God is sovereign and humans are free. What does it mean for God to be sovereign?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Its actually quite simple if we just look at the written text.

    We are all naturally born sinners with the will to sin but are given the chance to have it changed by choosing to accept Christ as our Savior, Repent of our sin (actually feel guilty and remorse and obey the words of Jesus), Be baptized for the washing of our sin then receiving the manifestation and sanctification (reborn) of the Holy Spirit that Convicts us, Guides us and leads us into all truth and ultimately Gods eternal kingdom (AFTER the tribulation and the first death of the flesh). And therefore no longer able to sin, and this is why we have the debate, because we cannot fathom the reality of an actual spiritual change in our hearts and minds aka free will, because we don’t acknowledge the spirit within.

    Free will is a reality in the flesh, but an illusion in the spirit because it is the will of our spirit that guides us. While in the flesh we have a choice, but in the spirit we ARE PRE- Destined. I know, it blows the carnal mind to pieces.

    1John 3:4-9
    4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
    5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
    6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
    7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
    8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
    9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

    1John 5:18-21
    18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
    19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
    20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
    21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Steven,
    As you, I read John Piper’s ( Desiring God). Free will and no free will, I suppose will always be a mystery. This would be a good question to send to John Piper for a answer, but what’s the chances of getting it answered out of the millions of people that follow him?. I follow him on Facebook also and it’s astounding the likes he receives. I also wrestle with the same thoughts. It always brings theses verses into mind.
    Romans 7:19 “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

    Romans 7:20 “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

    Romans 7:21 “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”

    Is this free will or not free will?

    Greas article!
    Cathey Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

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