Dr. Ivan Spencer, my Apologetics professor, lectured on the problem of evil this week. He said that atheists often like to throw in “hidden premises,” implicit premises that can easily confuse a person if he or she fails to see what those implicit premises are. When atheists formulate premises and conclusions to attack theism (and the existence of God), they like to throw in hidden assumptions a lot.
But in the last year, I’ve come to see that Calvinists are guilty of the exact same thing. Revisiting “Debating Calvinism” by James White and Dave Hunt got me to see this once more.
James White writes in his section on “Unconditional Election”:
“Unconditional Election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that GOD IS FREE IN THE MATTER OF SALVATION. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of ‘the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:5). THERE IS NOTHING IN THE CREATURE THAT MERITS, EARNS, OR ATTRACTS HIS FAVOR. His election is unconditional in that IT IS BASED SOLELY ON HIS PURPOSE AND HIS PLEASURE AND NOT IN ANYTHING WHATSOEVER IN THE CREATURE. This belief, of course, is most unpopular, since IT LEAVES NO ROOM FOR MAN’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS, WORKS, RITUALS, SACRAMENTS, or (AND THIS IS THE MAIN ISSUE), THE EXERCISE OF HIS ALLEGEDLY AUTONOMOUS WILL” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, pages 91-92).
We can present James White’s argument in the following syllogism:
1. God is free in the matter of salvation.
2. God chooses to show mercy and grace on “the good pleasure of His will.”
3. The creature cannot merit God’s grace and mercy.
4. God does not show mercy and grace due to man’s “autonomous” will. Therefore, God's "good pleasure" is in opposition to man's will ("autonomous" according to White).
The issue for James White, at least, is free will. A little later in his exposition of Ephesians 1, White writes:
“Why one man and not another? Man’s religions and traditions put the answer to that question firmly in the realm of human choice and accomplishment, but the Bible gives a very different answer. Upon what basis does God choose one and not another? ‘According to the kind intention of His will.’ It is God’s will, God’s purpose, God’s intention that determines the issue...if the crux of the matter lies IN MAN’S SUCCESSFUL ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, OR EVEN IN THE EXERCISE OF ‘FREE WILL’ TO EFFECTUATE GOD’S GRACE, how can the very next phrase speak of the praise of the glory of His grace?” (“Debating Calvinism,” pp. 93-94)
What White doesn’t understand, however, is that his attempts to separate free will from God’s sovereignty do not make his case; rather, it breaks it. Notice that in the syllogism above, White calls the human will “autonomous” and then separates the free will from God’s good pleasure in his quote on Ephesians 1. Why does White do this, when he knows that there is no such thing as an “autonomous” will? The word “autonomous” means to be one’s own law; so an autonomous will is one that answers to no one, where each human is their own God. But is that how God made man? No. Man has a will (which is a part of what it means to be “like” his Creator), but the will itself was created by God. Therefore, man can NEVER have an autonomous will; and for White to contribute the will to man himself robs God of His glory. If God made the will, then He made it originally good (not evil) and deemed it worthy of existence.
Secondly, he states that “the exercise of ‘free will’” is not what makes the grace of God effective. When White says this, though, he pairs up man’s “exercising of free will” with “man’s accomplishments,” etc. In White’s mind (as in the minds of Calvinists), faith is a work. The Scriptures, however, distinguish the two (Romans 4:2-3).
Sadly enough, White’s syllogism above links free will and the human decision. This is an implicit premise, but White finally decides to not hide it anymore:
“Every WORKS-ORIENTED system must deny God His kingship over the creature and must give to man’s abilities and powers beyond his sinful state, so that in the final analysis God’s power can be ‘channeled’ through human structures, whether they be rituals, sacraments, or even the very popular concept of ‘DECISIONALISM,’ THE IDEA THAT MAN, BY HIS AUTONOMOUS WILL, CONTROLS THE VERY WORK OF THE TRIUNE GOD IN SALVATION” (“Debating Calvinism,” page 99).
So now we all know White’s hidden premise: since God does not save on the basis of merit or accomplishment, He CANNOT SAVE ON THE BASIS OF FAITH! But as I said earlier, faith is not a work.
What White doesn’t comprehend about Ephesians 1 (a classic Calvinist passage) is that God saves by “the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5). But if this is true, then a question must be posed: WHAT seems good to God? What does He will in salvation? In an earlier quote in this post, I quoted James White saying that it is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” that He selects individuals to be saved. However, the key to the passage is “the praise...of His GRACE”! And why is His grace to be praised? Paul answers this question in Romans 4:16ff---
“Therefore it is of faith THAT IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to THOSE WHO ARE OF THE LAW, but also to THOSE WHO ARE OF THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’)” (Rom. 4:16-17, NKJV).
Why is God’s grace to be praised? Is it because He does whatever He wants? Yes! But what is the “whatever He wants”? Is it unconditional election, where He chooses some to be saved and leaves others in their damnation? NO!! Instead, God is to be praised for His grace because His grace “made room” for Gentiles; for, without it, all the Gentiles would still be in their sins. The fact that God did not just grant salvation to the Jews presents a God who is willing to bestow grace and faith on all of His human creation, not just some of it.
Calvinists will continue to write, produce books, and win many converts. But the Bible presents the truth; and I am convinced that the truth will win out in the end.