Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Five "Conundrums" of Calvinism - A Second Response

Following are Scot McKnight's sketches of Roger Olson's objections to Calvinism and a few brief responses.
CONUNDRUM #1 - How can God have absolute divine sovereignty and humans be genuinely responsible?
Is this really a conundrum? If God is absolutely sovereign, surely He is able to create beings that are genuinely responsible! His sovereignty can't be construed as hindering Him from being able to do this. The question fails to take its own premise into consideration. A less-than-sovereign God would be limited this way, but not the supremely sovereign God of the Bible.
Furthermore, how can God be GOD and not have absolute divine sovereignty? Could He truly be God and possess only limited or partial sovereignty? The question seems absurd and unworthy of God.
CONUNDRUM #2 - How can God determine everything and anything be evil? That is, if everything is God’s will, and God is good, everything is good or at least nothing is evil. This includes rape, child abuse and hell.
This question presents a false dichotomy. Why can't God will both good and evil in different ways and to different ends? If God wills that an evil thing should occur (not from Himself directly, but through a creature acting freely), and then acts with just judgment to remedy the situation, isn't this good? It does not mean the evil was good, but the evil was a means to a greater good that could not have existed if the evil had never happened. Once this is understood, the rest is a matter of trust.
As a side note, hell is not necessarily evil. Inasmuch as it is a just judgment against actual crimes (such as rape and child abuse), hell is an expression of God's goodness. Hell is the place for evil to be judged, but that does not make it evil. Hell is a just (and therefore good) response to evil. There can be no doubt that hell is a sad reality, but it is neither unjust nor evil in and of itself. The very fact that someone would label God's just judgment of sin as something "evil" reveals a deep misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching.
CONUNDRUM #3 - How can anything injure God’s glory if God wills everything? Even unbelief, even heresy, even sin.
In one sense, nothing can possibly "injure" God's eternal glory. This is the meaning of the doctrine of impassibility. In another sense, there is a kind of theology that fails to reflect the true glory of God because it credits man for God's work. The effect of this theology is to hinder the soul of man from reaching its highest attainment: loving and glorifying God. Such theology can harm man, but it does not injure God. God's ordination of any theology that is less than Biblical can be regarded as an act of judgment against those who do not love the truth. It doesn't hurt or diminish God's glory; rather, it hurts those who embrace it. The same is true of heresy and sin and unbelief. We help our own souls by abandoning such things - yet we are not somehow "helping" God in the process. We are simply acknowledging the Truth about Him - and this is to our own benefit as well.

Bad theology only injures God's glory in the minds and hearts of those who hold it. It doesn't bring actual harm to God. So, be an Arminian if you want to hurt yourself. But don't ever believe that any Calvinist thinks you are hurting God by doing so.

CONUNDRUM #4 - How can God’s saving some and passing over others and [sic] be good and loving and gracious? [Olson thinks God chooses on the basis of foreknowledge.]
Can we sum up "good and loving and gracious" as equivalent to "merciful"? If we can, then God answers the question this way: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." God doesn't owe any sinner anything, so His just judgment in releasing sinners to judgment is good. He gives generously to all - even those who reject Him - so His love cannot be called into question. He forgives all of His enemies who turn to Him in faith, so His grace is beyond doubt. I don't see how the Calvinistic approach leaves any room for a believer to question God's love. Perhaps it leaves room for an unbeliever to question God's love, but that is the very reason the person remains an unbeliever: he doesn't trust in the love God has for him, therefore he doesn't turn his heart toward God and benefit from the provision God has made for his salvation.
CONUNDRUM #5 - How can God be good and ordain evil actions in this world?
How can God be GOD and not ordain all that exists and all that occurs? How can God be just and save a hell-deserving fool like me? Only by the cross. Before the cross God forgave sin, and how could those Old Testament saints ever explain the apparent contradiction in this? They didn't need to explain it. They needed to trust God. And those who trusted Him were justified on the basis of a sacrifice that hadn't yet occurred. Yet God ordained the evil actions that would lead to the sacrifice of His own Son in order to save all who trust in Him. Arminians should trust God more and stop asking silly questions. There are many things not yet revealed.
Don't get me wrong. I love Arminians, used to be one myself, and think there are many godly brothers in that camp. I have great admiration for certain Arminians. I also think a lot of Calvinists are wasting their great theology on loose living and apathy. May God resurrect the Calvinistic power and passion of men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Newton, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan in our day! But perish the thought that anyone should abandon the clear teaching of Scripture over these supposed "conundrums" presented by Drs. McKnight and Olson.
As I see it, the bigger conundrums belong to Arminians:

How can a mere man tell God that He can't have absolute sovereignty without robbing man of responsibility?

How can a mere man tell God that He can't ordain evil for His own good purposes?

How can a mere man tell God He isn't allowed to choose whom He will mercifully save and whom He will justly condemn? (Isn't it ironic that Arminianism takes away God's freedom of choice?)

How can a mere man tell God that His goodness renders His ordination of all things impossible? As if God is not permitted to ordain certain things, and as if some things have to occur quite apart from God's sovereign ordaining.


  1. Just skimmed over this, planning on reading it more thoughtfully later :) . Thanks!

  2. Derek,

    Thanks for this. Here's a couple of other thoughts. How can anyone (esp. those who hold to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture) read Romans 9:19-24 and not see it for what it is? (Akin to your point at the end of the post). Not to mention Deut 29:29.

    In my view, Olson represents well the thought of many Arminian evangelicals today. 'If it runs counter to what I think should be the case, it must not mean that!'--which is a (very slight) paraphrase of what Wesley once said (and I've heard Olson quote it).

    They thereby reverse the very thing that Scripture is meant to do, which is to shape all that we do and who we are. Scripture is the lens through which we should see the world (Calvin?). If we are messing around with the prescription of the lenses, that will affect our view of God and everything else! Anyone else think that's a bad (and dangerous) idea?



    1. Richie,

      Great points! Thanks for adding these valuable thoughts. A friend shared a short list of Scripture verses to complement this post. I hope I have time to post them as a third response.

  3. Blaine,

    Thanks for reading thoughtfully. Do share any thoughts or constructive criticisms you may have.


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