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ULTIP: How Calvinism Undermines God’s Justice Part II

April 1, 2010

Warning:  This will be a long post. 🙂 In the last post I argued that if we accept the starting point of Total Depravity, then Calvinism makes perfect sense.  In other words, if in the sequential ordering of God’s redemptive plan, we begin with Adam’s fall—with that fall being complete so that man is utterly unable to respond to God—then God is the only one who can intervene in the process.  Therefore, Calvinism proposes that because man has sinned against God, God would be perfectly just to condemn mankind to eternal punishment.  He could have chosen to let mankind stay in its state and justice would be accomplished.  However, God offers free grace unconditionally to those whom he elects.  We may think it is “unjust” for God to choose some over others, but God didn’t have to choose anyone, and so for him to save even one person is an act of his unmerited grace.  This is why Calvinists call TULIP the “Doctrines of Grace.”  Justice would be to judge all of humanity under sin, but grace is given freely to those whom God decides to give it to.

For this reason, Calvinism emphasizes the justice of God and the free grace of God.  The Belgic Confession states it like this:

“We believe that– all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man– God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their own ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.”[1]

Calvinism desires to establish its foundations on man’s sin and guilt.  If it is established here, then one cannot blame or accuse God for being unfair, because it would have been fair for him to condemn all of humanity.  It is with this understanding that Calvinism establishes the idea of God’s grace and election.  And to be honest, under this schema it works.  If it all begins with “T”, then God is perfectly just to condemn all people to hell:

“The reality of hell is God’s clear indictment of the infiniteness of our guilt. If our corruption were not deserving of an eternal punishment God would be unjust to threaten us with a punishment so severe as eternal torment.”[2]

I know I’m taking the risk of sounding repetitive here; however, that is simply because I want to emphasize that for Calvinism to be taken seriously, one must believe that man is guilty of sin, dead in trespasses, and deserving of punishment (i.e., justice), and that this is the reason that God sovereignly judges all of humanity and bestows his grace on some of humanity; if the whole system hang on judging sin (all of humanity) and showing mercy (on some of humanity), then we can admit that God has the right to “show mercy on whomever he will.”  Justice would still be served.  John Piper makes the point succinctly:  “If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, and if this particular grace is purchased by Christ on the cross, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God’s election.[3] (Notice how he uses “if” to establish his point.)

Unfortunately, even according to Reformed theology’s own tradition, this process does not begin with man’s fall, but prior to even the creation of the world in God’s eternal decree—“Total Depravity” is not the starting point, but rather “Unconditional Election.”  The Westminster confession states it like this (emphases will be mine):

  1. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
  2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.
  3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
  4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.
  5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.[4]

God’s sovereign decree could be summarized like this:  God determined all things before the foundation of the world (“whatsoever comes to pass”) including the salvation and damnation of mankind.  This decree was not based on any foreknowledge (“[He] hat not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future”) but simply based on his choice.  Therefore works have nothing to do with salvation or damnation (the Westminster Confession says “good works” but based on the eternal decree, no works have any bearing).

So here’s the deal, while Calvinism seeks to defend the notion that salvation is given by God’s grace and that people cannot earn their salvation based on good works (which is something I agree with), based on God’s unconditional election, no works good or bad (i.e., sin) has anything to do with whom God saves or damns.  People are chosen to damnation before they ever committed a sin!  One could argue that God foreknew that mankind would sin, but that is contrary to Calvinism’s own profession that God’s election has nothing to do with foreknowledge.

It is for this reason that I argue that the correct acronym for Calvinism is not TULIP but ULTIP.  Calvinism begins with God’s eternal decree of election, then applies Christ’s atonement (ahead of time) to those who become totally depraved, etc.  Man’s total depravity and rebellion is a formality in this system; it’s really inconsequential.

But do you not see the problem here?  If sin has nothing to do with salvation or damnation, then justice has nothing to do with it either.  People’s sin is not what damns them, but God’s eternal decree (sequentially).  God does not consider justice when he’s electing some to heaven and others to hell, because he elected them before anyone ever committed any act—good or bad.  And so, Calvinism’s understanding of unconditional election ultimately undermines God’s justice, because salvation and damnation are not a result of God judging humanity for rebellion, but were decided before there was ever even a rebellion to begin with.

I applaud the attempt of Reformed theology to emphasize God’s grace to fallen creation and to resist the tempting idea that our “good” works can merit us salvation.  However, in attempting to establish grace, Calvinism has undermined justice in the process and should therefore be rejected as incompatible with the righteousness and goodness of God.

Blessings.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconditional_election#cite_note-1 (actually note #2)

[2] John Piper, see <http://www.theopedia.com/Total_depravity&gt;

[3]http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByTopic/105/1487_What_We_Believe_About_the_Five_Points_of_Calvinism/

[4] See Chapter 3, http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Hunter Harper permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:16

    Well done! I think you need to take this further and show the logical conclusion that all of this leads to. Under this view, God created many of us FOR damnation. He predestins genocide at his whim at pleasure, and not based on any redemptive purpose. Etc.. etc…

  2. April 1, 2010 10:15

    Hmmm….I have to chew on this for a few days

  3. Matt Bohlman permalink
    April 1, 2010 10:42

    “But do you not see the problem here? If sin has nothing to do with salvation or damnation, then justice has nothing to do with it either. People’s sin is not what damns them, but God’s eternal decree…”

    That remark is the clincher. Very good insight Jon…I never bothered to notice this. Because nothing was considered logically prior to God’s selection of individuals God’s alleged “sovereign pleasure” collapses into nothing more than a synonym for arbitrariness. Moreover, Calvinism’s insistence that God be omni-causative in order to be sovereign, powerful and worth of glory is the foul root that produces bad fruit. God’s glory and power are not in such a fragile state that their retainment would require God’s will to be shielded and protected against all human freedom that is contrary to his divine desire. It is the Calvinist that puts God’s attributes in such a tenuous, flimsy relationship with human freedom—not the Bible.

  4. Matt Bohlman permalink
    April 1, 2010 10:58

    If Calvinism were an accurate reflection of the Divine Mind playing favorites with human souls irregardless of sin, rebellion and justice it seems we must jettison some bedrock verses, such as:

    “But the wisdom that is from above is…easy to be entreated, full of mercy…without partiality…”(James 3:17)

  5. Matt Bohlman permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:11

    One last comment 🙂 The Scriptures teach that hell was never created for man but rather for the demonic hordes who rebelled. “Depart from me…into everlasting fire PREPARED for the devil and his angels.”(Mt. 25:41) It was never God’s desire, nor was it ever His intent that man should go to hell (2 Pet. 3:9). Therefore, man must go there by his own willful disregard of God’s invitation to partake of the Kingdom (Luke 14:23). To insist, as Calvinists do, that logically prior to God’s appraisal of the Fall, rebellion and sin, the same God whom scripture affirms as being a God who “shows no partiality,”(Acts 10:34) decreed some to go to hell and others to enter the Kingdom is to say that God created, prepared and intended a hell for man. This is irreconcilable with Scripture and is a libel against God’s just and holy character.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 5, 2010 1:59

      Matt, good posts. Thanks for the scriptural references to add to the discussion. I’m obviously on your side. 🙂

  6. April 2, 2010 10:53

    You’re absolutely right that Calvinism is actually not

    TULIP

    but

    UTLIP.

    If the greater good served by the existence of sin is the exertion of God’s mercy and wrath then the question arises what mercy and wrath are based on? Answer: They presume or are based on guilt. But on what basis is any man guilty to begin with, if his sin exists BECAUSE mercy and wrath are to be exerted?

    Calvinism puts the cart before the horse. They put guilt at the beginning, making man guilty by definition and so rob the concept of culpability of meaning.

    The Reformed Circle goes like this:

    –Humans are guilty because they sin.

    Why do they sin?

    –They sin because a divine greater good is served thereby.

    What is this greater good?

    –That mercy/wrath shall be exerted, thereby demonstrating God’s holy attributes of mercy and justice.

    What are mercy and wrath basically?

    –Mercy and wrath are divine responses to human guilt.

    Why are humans guilty?

    –Because they sin

    –CIRCLE CLOSED–

    Thus, in Calvinism, the demonstration of God’s mercy and justice cannot be a “greater good”, because they aren’t genuine. For mercy and justice to be genuine, the underlying culpability must be genuine to begin with. Yet in Calvinism it isn’t! Calvinism is a folly from start to end.

    -a helmet

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      April 5, 2010 2:00

      a helmet,

      Thanks for stopping by to read. I enjoyed looking at your site as well. Yes, Calvinism seems to very circular when you try to get at the foundation of the system.

  7. August 26, 2012 1:46

    Reblogged this on You can take everything I have.. and commented:

    Part II

  8. August 26, 2012 7:57

    This dismisses supralapsarianism (predestination before the Fall). But I think a lot of Calvinists would agree that this form of Calvinism is suspect. Do you have a favorite argument for infralapsarian Calvinism?

    • August 26, 2012 10:00

      My goal was to show how the Westminster Confession–which is the main confession of Calvinistic theology–shows that all the predestination has been done prior to any actions of human beings. Thus, it implies that God’s predestination happens before the fall or even before creation. While Calvinists may not want to take that hard line form today, it’s the implied theological stance of their heritage (i.e., it’s consistent Calvinism).

      My argument for the softer form of infralapsarianism would simply be to show the inconsistency of a God is who omni-causal and a Fall as somehow being outside of that omni-causaility of God’s supposed sovereignty.

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