Christian Theology and Apologetics

Calvinism and the Unknowable Commands of God

confused-personThere are several passages in Scripture affirming the doctrine of predestination. The primitive church prayed “. . . do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

Paul stated,

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Predestine (GK προορίζω) means “to come to a decision beforehand—‘to decide beforehand, to determine ahead of time, to decide upon ahead of time.’” Thus, when Paul is talking about God predestining those he foreknew to become conformed to the image of His Son, Paul is saying God decided beforehand who would become conformed to Christ’s image. Few Christians would disagree with this doctrine. However, there is considerable divergence of opinion as to how predestination is to be filled out.

Predestination and Creaturely Freedom

The traditional determinist believes God elects those he chooses in advance and that human freedom plays no part in the matter. One will or will not be elected, based on God’s good pleasure. Compatibilists posit that free will is compatible with causal determinism. They affirm the principle of universal causality, which is to say; everything that occurs did so through sufficient prior conditions in a way that nothing else could have occurred. It would be like a chain of dominoes falling; one event falls on another.

For the compatibilist system to work, a redefinition of freedom must be acquired. Kenneth Keathley remarks that compatibilists redefine freedom as freedom of inclination. That is to say, one has the ability to do what they want, but not the power over their inclination. Bruce A. Ware agrees with this definition and states that “we are not constrained or coerced but rather we do exactly what we most want to do.” This means the choice of a person is dictated by their desire, but the individual does not determine the desire themselves. Ware would agree with this assessment.

Ware remarks:

. . it stands to reason that if we do what we most want at any given moment, then it cannot be the case that when we choose what we do, we could have chosen otherwise. That is, given the exact conditions that pertain when we make a choice, our wills give the expression to the one thing that we most want in that situation, so in that situation we do what we have to do., i.e., what we most want to do.”

This is a very telling comment. Compatibilists like Ware think we choose what we have to, which elicits the question how can one have freedom in any genuine sense if they must have a certain choice? What Ware is advocating is the causal necessity of choices. This position has great difficulties to overcome. Namely, if all choices are causally necessary, then where does ultimate responsibility end? If a man brutally kills a person in cold blood how could he in any sense be held responsible if his choice was causally necessitated by circumstances outside of his control? If a person contributes nothing to the decision, then it seems to me they should not be held responsible for the decision, as they truly did not make a decision at all. I agree with Jeremy Evans and Robert Kane, that the ultimate cause is what bears ultimate responsibility, in the case of compatibilism, the ultimate cause is God. This is the principal reason I reject determinism it grounds responsibility for evil in God, who by his very nature is not evil.

King David speaks of the character of God:

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.

Jeremy A. Evans thinks only soft libertarianism makes sense:

If I am never the original force behind my choices, then I am not responsible for the contents of my choices. At some point in the causal chain, I must have contra-causal freedom (the ability to do otherwise). My responsibility for my current volitional state may be the result of previous decisions that I have made, character-forming decisions that perhaps narrowed the likelihood that I would ever choose differently in the course of my natural life. My previous choices as a part of the narrative of personal responsibility are significant. Only then can prior causes become connected with current choices (immediate causes), and personal responsibility makes sense.
I agree with Evans that soft libertarianism is the best option and the only one that makes sense of responsibility.

Causal determinism has enormous implications on the doctrine of election. If one is elected to salvation it is because God placed that desire in the person, but if one is not elected to salvation (reprobation) it is because God did not desire that person to be saved. If this seems like it flies in the face of passages calling for all to be saved (Jn 3:16; 2 Pt 3:9), it is because it does. If passages such as those are to be taken at face value, God’s desire for all to be saved must seriously be taken into consideration and Calvinism and its two tenets (hard and soft determinism) cannot take these passages at their true worth.


Calling, Commands, and Intent in Calvinism
What sense is there to be made of God’s calling sinners to repentance in Calvinism? Most Calvinists believe that regeneration precedes conversion—this is their ordo salutis. They believe that we are unable to choose Christ without him doing a supernatural work on our souls. This is what is called the “Regeneration-precedes-faith” position. Naturally one wonders if regeneration precedes faith, then what is to be made of passages making salvation contingent upon faith? For instance, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” Here it is through faith that one receives grace and salvation, not the other way around as the Calvinist would have it.

Bratcher and Nida comment on Eph. 2:8-9:

It is not easy to distinguish between the cause of salvation, that is, by God’s grace, and the means, namely, through faith. It is God’s grace which produces the salvation, but it is the faith of people which makes this possible. Faith, therefore, may be described technically as “contributing circumstances,” for without faith on man’s part God will not impose his grace and salvation.

How might the Calvinist respond? The typical response would come in saying that Ephesians 2:8-9 says faith is a gift, not a virtue. The problem with this assertion is the Greek text does not justify this interpretation. In the Greek, the noun “faith” (pistis) is in the feminine form as designated by the definite article (τῆς). In order for someone to say faith is a gift from God the pronoun “it” (to) would have to be the feminine form as well, but it is in the neuter form which means the “that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” does not refer to faith. Therefore it refers to the whole clause, meaning salvation is not of our doing but is a free gift.

Another difficulty with this position is that it renders God’s commands nonsensical.

Paul remarks God’s command:

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

What sense does it make for God to give the command that all people everywhere should repent if it is not genuine call? If God does not will the salvation of all as the Calvinist insists, then why command everyone to repent? If God’s divine speech acts are to make sense, there must be a connection between God’s command or intent (illocution) and the desired effect of that command (perlocution). This is to say, if God commanded everyone to repent, his intent was just that. The intent of that command was to bring about a state of affairs in which everyone repents and puts their faith in him. It is hard if not impossible to take this command and other like it and interpret it through a Calvinistic lens. Both hard and soft determinist’s would affirm the sovereign control of God over all things, including damning some to hell. But, if God commands everyone, everywhere to repent, and yet predestines some to hell for his good pleasure, then what sort of command is it?

The Calvinist must try to make a distinction between what God wills, and what God commands; this is their only game. That is to say, God, when he gives the command that people should repent, has two intents (illocutions) that he intends that some people repent, and others do not. Also, if God has two intents, he must have two desired effects (perlocutions); namely, that some repent and others do not. Thus, the command God gives is not intended to bring about a state of affairs in which all people repent. Thus, from a Calvinistic view, what God commands and what God intends are very different. But, if this is true how could a person know what God wants them to do, for what God desires to happen, isn’t commanded to the person. Even worse, God will hold that person responsible for not doing what he was commanded to do, that God did not intend for him to do in the first place.

It seems to me that if God’s command was not intended to bring about a state of affairs in which certain people repent, then God should not hold them accountable for not repenting, as it was not God’s intent. So what we have, is one command with two illocutions and perlocutions. With that being said, how are the commands of God to make sense if he says one thing and intends another? Thus, Calvinism renders God’s commands absurd and arbitrary. I wait patiently awaiting this issue to be addressed.

The issues addressed in the above are substantial and I am not the first nor last to bring them up. However, I think it’s important to readdress them in the hopes that a proper response will be formulated. The issue of predestination in Calvinism has been one of its hardest objections from its inception until now and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Discussions between Reformed, Arminian, Molinist, and others are in-house and as such must be done with charity, love, and respect. In the next post, I will apply Molinism to the biblical doctrine of predestination.


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2 thoughts on “Calvinism and the Unknowable Commands of God

  1. holisticapologist on said:

    I appreciate you quoting compatibilists regarding their appraisal of their own view.!It really serves to highlight the fact that compatibilism is qualitatively no different than hard determinism.

    I’m also on board with the idea that the Regeneration-precedes-faith position renders God’s commands non-sensical. God asking everyone to repent while not desiring some of them to repent and even going as far as causally determining them not to do so makes about as much sense as expecting the worlds fattest person to be able to complete a triathlon in under three minutes – it’s functionally impossible.


    • Thanks, Jonathan. I appreciate your replies to my posts! I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of compatabalism as well. Calvinism, whether it’s hard or soft deterministic, renders the Gospel absurd. God gives commands that he knows people cannot respond to and then punishes people. If I knock over a chain of dominoes, each domino isn’t responsible for falling, rather it’s the person that pushes over the first thus causing kinetic energy to continue until the last one falls. Causation in a determinist scheme is much like that of dominoes. The ultimate responsibility lies with the ultimate cause, in the case of Calvinism, it’s God and that is just unacceptable.


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