Secularists are sometimes surprised when they learn about the long-standing intellectual tradition of the Christian church. There are thousands of books that have emerged containing our different philosophies, theological points of view, critical reviews, and rigorous intellectual content. Today, Christians owe much of the way that they think to these great philosophers and theologians. Arguments that were penned thousands of years ago are recited today on blogs, in modern books and on social media. While some of these arguments truly are insightful, others lack the muscle to withstand serious scrutiny. There are good and bad arguments on both sides of every debate, and both are used almost without reservation. Arminians are just as guilty of this as Calvinists. A few of the worst arguments in Arminian theology that oppose Calvinism still circulate and are parroted as though they had the potency to overturn a point of view.
Since this article will primarily focus on Arminian objections to Calvinism, it would be prudent for me to summarize what Calvinism is by way of an analogy. Imagine that all of the tenants of a building gambled away their rent money. They all deserved to be evicted. If the landlord evicted everybody, nobody would condemn him. He was perfectly within his rights. However, suppose that the landlord had immeasurable wealth and would not suffer any financial ruin if he were to pay for the debts of all of his tenants. Would he be under any ethical obligation to pay for their debts? Unless you supported the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, then you will probably say that he does not. It is his money to do with as he pleases. But suppose the landlord is also a very merciful man, and he wants to pay for their debt. If he paid for all of their debts, they would think that there were no consequences for their actions. So instead, he chooses to pay for only some of their debts. That is what is stated by the doctrine of unconditional election. God chooses to pay for the debts of some of his people. On the other hand, Arminian theology is the view that God offers to pay the debt to everyone and some freely choose to reject it. Now that we have a very basic understanding of these two points of view, we may consider proceed into a few of the worst arguments in Arminian theology.
God Is Forcing People To Sin
Apart from God himself, anthropology is the centerpiece of Reformed Theology. We believe, like our Arminian brethren, that man is dead in his sin. Sin is so reprehensible to God that he cannot have it in his presence. God is a righteous judge, and he must condemn the wicked. The one who justifies wicked men is an abomination (Proverbs 17:15). This is where the Arminian will mount their attack. For if God is condemning the wicked, the wicked need to truly be morally responsible. If God determines who will go to Hell, then he is forcing people to sin and then condemning them for the sin that he forced them to do. At face value, this may seem like a compelling argument. But that is only when you load Arminian presuppositions into Calvinist theology.
The Arminian is assuming that man has libertarian free will (the freedom to choose something other than what God has ordained). If man has libertarian free will, then God’s election would be a forced election, and sin would be forced, against the will of the transgressor. It is almost as though the wicked desperately want to do what is right, but they are struggling against the will of God who is forcing them into sin. That is not Reformed Theology. On Reformed Theology, man only wants sin. He hates righteousness. To say that God is forcing man to do something implies that man is being carried along against his will.
The second point worth noting is that this is a moral objection to biblical account of God. It presumes to say that God owes some debt to man, and he is not fulfilling that debt. God could only create a world in which everyone had a fair chance. There is no way around denying that this objection assumes that at the very least, God owes a fair chance to everyone. The landlord owes all of the tenants a free choice, that he will pay their debt on their behalf. Think of how much more significant the sacrifice of Christ is than the sacrifice of the landlord. The Son of God was slaughtered. If God owes everyone a fair chance, if he owes us an indeterministic universe, then it would follow that the cross was something owed to us. The Son of God was paying a debt not for mankind, but to mankind. So even if we concede the point (on the basis of my first objection, we ought not), this is still among a few of the worst arguments in Arminian theology.
Whatever It Means, It Cannot Mean That
I do not know how many times that this has happened in church history. An Arminian mounts the moral attack against God in the last section and a Calvinist responds by directing the Arminian to Scripture. They read through some of the seminal texts of the Protestant Reformation, such as John 6, Romans 9, or Ephesians 1, and the Arminian waves dismissively. He redirects you to his moral objection, and around and around you go. He might tell you the old Wesleyan slogan, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” That entails that a passage like Romans 9 absolutely cannot mean that the landlord is choosing to pay the debt of only some tenants because of the moral objection to that premise. The only solution is to reinterpret the text until you come across a viable, Arminian alternative.
The problem with this approach is that it is not honest exegesis. The reader is not asking what the author is saying. He has determined what the author is saying before going to the text. He is like the scientist who assumes scientific conclusions before going to the data. That scientist would not be conducting true science. Similarly, the theologian who starts with the assumption that the Bible can never teach Calvinism is not conducting true exegesis. But isn’t the task of biblical theology to understand what the Bible is actually saying? Isn’t the task of the apologist to understand the Christian faith so that he can relay an accurate presentation to others?
Suppose for a moment that while reading through the Bible, a theologian named Johnson came across challenging texts about God taking the lives of human beings. But Johnson was in denial. He said, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” When Johnson is confronted with an atheist, he recites his favorite slogan and the atheist prevails in the argument. If Johnson were honest in his exegesis, he would have allowed the text to speak for itself and developed a more robust understanding of theodicy. The Arminian who recites this slogan is making precisely the same mistake. If he were honest in his exegesis, he would allow the text to speak for itself. When Calvinism is established, then you develop an understanding of theodicy. This Wesleyan slogan makes my list precisely because it disallows honest exegesis and takes an atheistic methodology to the text of Scripture.
Calvinism Is A Prideful Theology
Ah, so you are the special one. You are your parent’s favorites. The rest of us are on the outside, looking in, unable to come to God, unable to elevate ourselves to the upper echelons of spirituality. God has chosen his favorites and they may lift their heads in pride. That is essentially what Arminians will lodge against Calvinists. It is a prideful theology for people who need to feel like they are better than someone else in the world. Their ego is manifesting itself. While some may use Calvinism as an outlet for their ego, this would be an abuse of the theology. It would be a malfunction, not a function, of proper Reformed Theology.
In fact, Reformed Theology leaves no solace for the man of pride. In addition to outrightly condemning the prideful heart, Reformed Theology teaches that there is nothing in yourself that caused God to move on you. There is no worth, esteem, or merit that beckoned God to you. God did not recognize that you were better than everyone else and therefore elected you. He did not recognize your intellect or performance or zeal and elect you. He only saw a pitiful, worthless, wretched creature whose days are marked by a sinful heart pursuing the lusts of the world. You are saved only by the regenerating grace of God. That is a proper way to view Reformed Theology. It is only in Arminian circles that one will hear Reformed Theology characterized as a manifestation of pride.
In fact, ironically, one could see how Arminian theology could also manifest as a source of pride. If you are going to point out how Reformed Theology is vulnerable to abuse, it is probably appropriate to point out how Arminian theology is vulnerable to abuse. If the landlord offered to pay the debt of all of the tenants and some refused out of pride, but you accepted the gift, that will make a significant statement about you. It will say that you were wise enough to see that accepting the gift was in your best interest. If you are drowning and somebody throws you a rope, to those who refuse to grab the rope, you may say, “What is wrong with those people?” Accepting the free gift of God can be a source of pride if you were wise enough to accept it. If you are going to point out the way that Reformed Theology can be abused and count it as a demerit, then it seems equally valid to point out the way Arminian theology has been abused and count it as a demerit.
You’re Not A Robot, Are You?
Since the free will theodicy has been popularized, many people will use it as sort of a reflex against Calvinist theology. God does not want robots, so he created a world in which there was free choice. When people hear about Calvinism, they will think that it does not contain a model of free will. So, they will suggest that if Calvinism were true, then God must have created a world of robots. In a world of robots, there is no love, moral responsibility, meaning, and the cross would have ultimately been for nothing because everybody just does as they are programmed. Is that the case?
Unfortunately, many Calvinists do not have a thorough understanding of their own theology. They presented an anthropology that only discusses the doctrine of total depravity, wherein we do what is in accord with our greatest desire. While that is certainly the case, it is not broad enough to encompass the entire doctrine of compatibilism. Compatibilism is the doctrine that determinism and free will are compatible with one another. This is the majority view among Reformed thinkers and the prevailing view among the Reformed Confessions of Faith. So, Calvinists do believe in freedom of the will. But we also believe in determinism. We believe that these two concepts can be maintained fully and consistently. So, when an Arminian says that Calvinists believe in a world of robots, they are essentially misunderstanding Reformed theology. They have not apprehended that we do have a doctrine of free will.
Now, before you suggest that there is some problem with the doctrine of compatibilism, I must point out that this is irrelevant to the discussion. The objection that Calvinism creates a world of robots is an objection to what Calvinists believe. It is based on poorly expressed and bastardized versions of compatibilism. But if you assess what Calvinists believe, you cannot say that it entails that we live in a world of robots. You might be able to raise logical problems with the doctrine of compatibilism, but these logical problems would not salvage the robot objection.
God Is Still Sovereign
If you are a Calvinist visiting a strange town and you want to find a suitable church, you could probably find a Reformed church by conducting a Google search for the words “Sovereign church near me.” Calvinist churches often emphasize the concept of sovereignty. That is because sovereignty very much centralizes Calvinism. It emerges in our discussion, piety, and study of the Bible. God is sovereign over all things, from the movement of a quantum particle, to the falling of a leaf from a tree, to the wicked decisions of men, to the salvation of men. One of our major objections to Arminian theology is that it seems to compromise the sovereignty of God. He is not in control of all things. He allows the free will of mankind to even contradict his will and his decree. But, still, Arminians will still say that God is sovereign. This is among the worst arguments that Arminians will apply.
If we were to discuss a text like Genesis 50:20 with Arminians, they will likely propose an alternative view of sovereignty. While the text says, “What man intended for evil, God intended for good,” Arminians will suggest that what man intended for evil, God merely used for his good purposes. He is being reactive rather than active. But to say that this is an act of sovereignty would seem to raise serious questions about what sovereignty is. Arminian theology often focuses on God’s foreknowledge. God knows what men are going to do and he reacts to that, planning to use it for his purposes. But in this case, God would not be sovereign as much as he would be a fortune teller. Just consider the question: is God sovereign over man’s wicked heart? Is he sovereign over sin? If the answer is no, then one must say that God is not sovereign over all things. Therefore, God is not sovereign.
If the answer is yes, then the Arminian probably means to communicate that God knows how to use what man did for his own purposes. With that being the case, then God is not truly sovereign over what man did. It is an old cliche that disaster will serve as an opportunity for growth. If a governmental force exploits that opportunity, generating good out of some evil that occurred, you would not say that they were sovereign over the evil that occurred. You would say that they were shrewd opportunists. To say that God is simply taking advantage of what is happening is to either deny his sovereignty or to redefine it as something that is not even recognizable. To the Arminians reading: keep your theology, but please, do not say that God is sovereign on your theology. Own your theology.