“Ninth, evangelical Arminians share with Calvinists the belief that even though God, in some sense, wills the salvation of all people, they are not all saved. They simply differ concerning what it is that God values more highly than the salvation of everyone, which accounts for the fact that some are not saved...John Piper puts the point succinctly: ‘God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.’ For Arminians, this higher commitment by God is to ‘human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God.’ To Calvinists, it is ‘the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29)’” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 99).
For all the differences between Calvinists and Arminians, there are a few similarities. For one, we believe that five-point theological systems should be logically consistent: that is, that each point logically leads to the next. In addition, both Classic Calvinists and Classic Arminians hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation. Classic Arminians believe that God can do what He pleases; we just don’t believe, like the Calvinist, that God damns people to Hell. After all, He did not create Hell for one single individual (Matt. 25:41).
Today’s post, however, will deal with the issue of sovereignty. Because God is sovereign over all things, nothing happens unless God allows it. Therefore, if God allows many to not be saved, He must have a reason as to why He allows many to go to Hell. Matters are made worse when one considers that the Lord desires that “all men be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
This puzzling question requires an answer from both Classic Calvinists and Classic Arminians. As Dr. Tiessen notes in the above quote, Classic Calvinists claim that God sentences individuals to eternal damnation for His glory; Classic Arminians argue that God allows many to go to eternal damnation because He is committed to libertarian freedom. God will not force Himself on a person or make an individual believe. After all, He has stated that man has two choices: either belief or unbelief (John 3:18). I mentioned in an earlier post that Christ Himself is rejected on earth, particularly by the Pharisees. He faces rejection by the rich young ruler and others as well...but the main reason why Classic Arminians argue for libertarian freedom is because of the fact that Christ Himself was rejected by those, like the Pharisees, whose salvation He desired. John 1 tells us that Christ came to the Jews and yet the Jews rejected Him. If Christ is rejected, it is because Christ allows Himself to be rejected. This, however, takes nothing away from His sovereignty; and this is the point that Classic Arminians try to get across to Classic Calvinists all the time.
Dr. Tiessen, however, seems to waver a bit. In the quote above, he argues that God’s glory is the reason why some are damned, quoting John Piper: “To Calvinists, it is ‘the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29).’” According to Thiessen (and Piper, whom he quotes), God is not fully God until He damns certain individuals. This is to display “the full range of God’s glory.”
But then, Tiessen turns around and commits a gross inconsistency. When discussing the evangelized, he takes the stance of a five-point Calvinist and argues for damnation as a manifestation of God’s glory; when he discusses the unevangelized, however, Tiessen breaks from this and argues for the divine character:
“If we portray God’s judgment in ways that run counter to everything we expect in proper human jurisprudence, we will have to provide good explanation for doing so. God’s ways are often beyond our comprehension, but God’s justice is the standard of human justice, and I fail to see why we would attribute to him something that we would never accept from a human judge” (142).
Now, all of a sudden, the divine character matters, and God is not allowed to damn the unevangelized. But what happened to “the full range of God’s glory” that Tiessen was so willing to acknowledge in the damnation of the evangelized? Does Dr. Tiessen want us to believe that God cares more for the unevangelized than He does the evangelized? Is God “a respecter of persons”? In this last quote, he says, “I fail to see why we would attribute to him something that we would never accept from a human judge”; however, would we expect a judge to sentence an individual to life in prison simply because he wanted to enhance his glory and reputation? Would that be okay with anyone watching the criminal proceedings? No. We would expect the judge to have ample evidence before he would make such a ruling. To sentence for life without evidence would make the judge unjust. And yet, in Tiessen’s theology, God is allowed to damn if it manifests His glory...that is, only some of the evangelized. The unevangelized are untouchable.
Is it right for God to damn someone simply because He wants to, without any blame or guilt on the part of the individual? In five-point Calvinism, the answer to this question is “yes.” But, if we wouldn’t expect a judge to rule in this manner without proper evidence (as Tiessen states), then why would we expect God to damn without evidence? If the Judge of the earth will do what is right, and it is right to reward the good and punish the wicked, why would God damn someone simply because He wanted to?
This is where some Calvinists would say, “Well, mankind is already condemned because of his sin...so it’s okay if God only pulls some out of Hell fire.” However, if someone is drowning, and a person came along, saw the man drowning, and turned and walked away, would he or she not be guilty for doing so...even if the man decided to swim despite his inability? Calvinists focus on the fact that sin has already been committed, but the issue is not the sin (which is a given) but the ability of the aider to help. If Christ is the only one that can help lost humanity, and He only pulls some out of the pool of damnation, is God not responsible for those reprobate souls? He is responsible---He, and He alone.
Calvinists have to learn to own up to their Calvinism with all of the good as well as the horrific. If God is sovereign enough to damn a portion of the evangelized, He is sovereign enough to damn some (if not all) of the unevangelized. If God is "sovereign" in one area (and can do what He wants), He is "sovereign" in all areas (concerning those who have never heard the gospel). When all the chips have fallen, Calvinism cannot stand the weight of its own claims. At some point within the system, Calvinists must talk of God’s character---something that does not matter if the Sovereign God of Calvinism commands us to do what is right while breaking His own rules.