Calvinism and Catching Clouds
Suppose someone said, “I can lift cars over my head.” Well, there is an easy way to falsify that claim. “There is a car, go pick it up.” If they can’t lift the car over their head, you know the original claim was false.
What if, when faced with the counterevidence they cannot lift the car if they simply readjust, “I did not say I could lift a car over my head with my hands. There are different ways to lift a car, you know,” and then they proceed to press a button as a hydraulic lift whirs and the car rises. The original claim is still false even with the readjustment.
Similarly, Calvinism makes claims that cannot hold the weight of biblical evidence and so must make readjustments to the claim. That would be fine, we all must adjust our claims based upon the evidence, except that the Calvinist insists the original claim is still true even after the radical alteration.
I would like to apply two worldview tests to Calvinism from Christian Philosopher and Apologist Dr. Douglas Groothuis:
10. Radical ad hoc readjustment: “When a worldview is faced with potentially defeating counterevidence, an adherent may readjust its core claims to accommodate the evidence against it. Various theories and worldviews can legitimately refine their beliefs over time, but radical ad hoc readjustment reveals a deep problem…”
5. Falsifiability: “Worldviews which cannot be found to be false cannot be found to be true either.”
I put #10 before #5 above because I will argue the proponents of Calvinism use radical ad hoc readjustments to render Calvinism unfalsifiable. That is, to protect Calvinism from any possible counterevidence.
I will argue that when faced with evidence against their claims, Calvinism simply re-adjusts off the fly, and this is evidence their original claim is false. I’m going to confine my evaluation to the Reformed doctrines of the two wills of God and the two meanings of dead.
TWO KINDS OF WILLS
The following is from this article, written by John Piper, on Desiring God
1. God does all things according to his will (sovereign will).
“He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand” (Daniel 4:35).
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalms 115:3).
2. Some things happen that are not God’s will (moral will).
“Whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17)—implying some don’t.
“The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)—yet some do perish.
For this article, I’m putting aside my arguments on how we should properly understand the sovereignty of God such that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” does not necessitate “God wills all things.” Instead, I’m focused on the question of what methods Calvinists use to shield their view from falsification.
To that end, I am going to do my best to state Piper’s argument as a truth claim in such a way that Piper would agree with it. According to Piper, Calvinism’s truth claim is (my paraphrase):
The Bible teaches that God’s will is to determine all things that come to pass.
In order for this truth claim to be considered true, it must be able to be falsified according to Groothuis’ Worldview Test #5. In other words, I should be able to find counterevidence to this claim.
As counterevidence to the claim, a non-Calvinist such as myself might quote exactly that kind of passage that John Piper does. For example, as Piper puts it: “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9)—yet some do perish.” Exactly. If Calvinism is claiming that God’s will is to determine all things that come to pass and I can find Biblical evidence saying “The Lord is not willing that X should come to pass” and yet we know X comes to pass, that would falsify the truth claim.
So, does Piper acknowledge the counterevidence he just quoted? Does he re-orient his understanding of God’s sovereignty such that some things do come to pass that God does not will? No. He just asks us to accept a direct contradiction as true. Don’t take my word for it, Piper explains:
One of the clearest evidences of the difference between God’s sovereign will and his moral will is the fact that God morally forbids murder:
“Do not kill the innocent” (Exodus 23:7).
And yet he willed the murder of his Son:
“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28).
Piper admits there exists direct counterevidence of “God willed murder” yet claims both are true. Instead of re-working the original truth claim to fit the Biblical evidence, Calvinists simply make a radical ad hoc readjustment (#10 from Groothuis’ worldview test) to relieve the tension. The readjustment is asserting a different kind of will.
But the counterevidence does not go away just because the Calvinist asserts a different kind of will. Nevermind, for now, the biblical validity of the category. My point is: If direct counterevidence is not evidence enough to disprove a truth claim, then what is? The answer: Nothing. If ad hoc category-creation is able to push aside direct contradictions that the Calvinist admits are contradictions then there is no possible biblical evidence that could be mounted to falsify the truth claim.
So when attempting to nail down exactly what the Calvinist believes about God’s will, you will get answers that are direct contradictions.
“Do you believe God wills all things that come to pass?”
“Yet the Bible says there are things that happen God does not will”
This can leave you feeling like you’re trying to pin a cloud to a wall.
Even if I come up a dozen pieces of counterevidence to the Reformed worldview, all the Reformed folks have to do is come up with a dozen new categories and the worldview can truck along. This isn’t an exaggeration. Ad hoc category creation is not a bug in the Reformed worldview, it’s a feature.
TWO MEANINGS OF “DEAD”
In a sermon entitled “The Doctrine of Absolute Inability”, MacArthur is speaking of Lazuras when he says:
Now what interests me here is that Jesus gave a command to a dead man. . . Dead men can’t hear. Dead men can’t think. Dead men can’t respond cause they’re dead and dead means the absolute inability to do anything in response to any stimulus. There’s no will. There’s no power to think or act.
A few paragraphs later, still referencing this description of Lazarus as dead:
Now, from there I want you to go to Ephesians chapter 2 and here we see the depth of this problem. Ephesians chapter 2. This is not a description of Lazarus. This is a description of everybody. Ephesians 2:1. “And you were dead.” “You were dead in your trespasses and sins. In that condition you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air – ” Satan “ – the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience.”
. . .We were all dead. Dead to what? Dead to God, dead to spiritual reality, dead to the truth.
Man’s basic problem is not. . . that he needs to make a few adjustments to sort of get God on his wavelength. Man’s problem is he is absolutely dead, and he is incapable of relating to God at all – God’s person, God’s truth, or God’s commands.
As MacArthur makes abundantly clear, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” means total, absolute, corpse-like inability to relate to God at all. Dead men can do nothing spiritual.
So how could a non-Calvinist refute such an idea? Biblical evidence of dead men doing something spiritual would do. Enter Romans 6:
How can we who died to sin still live in it?
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Christians have died to sin and yet can and do still sin.
In a transcript from a sermon, you can listen to here, regarding the Rom 6 phrase “died to sin” John MacArthur says:
You have died to sin. That is fundamental to his whole argument. And the question immediately is going to come, how, in what way, what does that mean to me? Does that mean that I’m dead to sin? No, it didn’t say that. Didn’t say you’re in a state of death, which would mean that you’re utterly unresponsive to sin, sin can’t move you, sin can’t motivate you, sin can’t awaken you, sin can’t stimulate you. It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say you are dead to sin.
He goes on to explain several paragraphs later:
It means basically [sin is] deprived of its strength. In fact you could translate it this way: Deprived of its controlling influence. But then he defines exactly what he means in the next phrase, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. That’s the issue. It is rendered inoperative only as the sovereign of our lives. It loses not its influence altogether but its controlling influence, its sovereign influence, its mastery, its dominion. You remember how he says in 7 that sin will no longer have dominion over us. He’s not saying there won’t be sin; he’s saying sin isn’t in charge any more. The tyranny of sin is broken.
So, for MacArthur:
Dead = a corpse.
Dead also = not a corpse.
Dead = cannot do the thing you’re dead to (Eph 2)
Dead = can totally do the thing you’re dead to but it has less strength (Rom 6)
A = not A.
The crazy part is that I agree with MacArthur’s explanation of “dead” in Rom 6. In fact, that entire sermon is great, I recommend you listen to the whole thing for your own edification. What I cannot fathom is how he cannot see that is exactly how Paul means it in Eph 2 as well. But that’s an article for another time.
Dead means you cannot do anything spiritual. Dead also means you can absolutely do something spiritual. MacArthur is comfortable using a radical ad hoc readjustment of what “dead” means that renders Calvinism unfalsifiable. Instead of adjusting the original truth claim “Dead means corpse-like inability in Eph 2” when faced with counterevidence from elsewhere in Scripture (Rom 6), they just claim “dead” means the opposite.
A FEATURE OF THE SYSTEM
Once you see this Game of Adjustments that Calvinists play you will see it everywhere. I have listened to lengthy conversations, and read lengthy dialogues, that are almost completely an exercise in the Calvinist effortlessly and expertly switching from category to category without ever dealing with a single piece of counterevidence. It is like trying to catch a cloud.
There are many other examples of these invented categories. In order to get around the “For God so loved the world…”-type passages so that they can say God hates an individual, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”, the Calvinist has invented two kinds of love; general love and salvific love. There are also two kinds of calling; a general call to salvation to all men even though they cannot answer, and a specific call to specific men which they will irresistibly-every-time answer. Because the Calvinist has backed himself into a corner which says that ontologically, universally there is not a single man who is righteous nor seeks God, they must make for themselves two ways to receive regeneration. Namely, one way the saints/prophets in the Old Testament received it and one way we receive it in the New Testament. Of course, there are also two kinds of grace. One type of grace that is extended to all men which will never-any-time-ever lead them to faith in God and another type of grace which will every-time-always-irresistibly lead them to faith in God. Have you come into contact with any more of these invented categories that I missed?
And the Calvinist isn’t being malicious. This is not purposeful. It is a feature of the system. Throwing every piece of evidence into unfalsifiable categories is as easy as inhaling to the learned Calvinist, of which there are many. The only way I can see to get away from chasing them from category to category is to call out this practice for what it is; irrational, radical ad hoc readjustments that render evaluating the truth of Calvinism impossible