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The danger of equivocating on predestination

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A standard response by non-Calvinists to the Calvinist belief in absolute predestination involves asking why God still condemns the reprobate for their rebellion even though they do not have free will. The common Calvinist response is that such a response constitutes a misunderstanding of our position, and that Calvinists in fact do believe in free will, but that this 'freedom' only consists in acting in accordance with our nature.

This typical Calvinist response is an example of what we refer to as the logical fallacy of equivocation. This occurs when the same word is being used in totally different ways. The non-Calvinist is not talking about nature determinism. He is asking about the power of contrary choice relative to God's absolute sovereignty. This must be very frustrating for the non-Calvinist. We can summarize a typical instance of this sort of conversation as follows:

Non-Calvinist: How can we be held accountable for our sins if God's sovereignty is such that even our very sins for which He punishes us are preordained?

Calvinist: Humans are totally depraved.

It is obvious that the typical Calvinist response not only totally evades the question, but fails to offer a response that is even relevant to addressing the question. This is more than aggravating for the non-Calvinist, philosophically inept, and disingenuous (though it is those things too): it is outright dangerous.

But why? Because it seems to disavow belief in God's absolute sovereignty. In rejecting the typical non-Calvinist response, it is intuitively acceptable to interpret the Calvinist as denying that God actually ordains everything. I myself originally thought, for example, that Calvinists did not believe that God had ordained the Fall. If the only sense in which 'free will' is problematic among Calvinist involves the inability of wicked humans to do good, then it follows that pre-Fall, Adam really could have obeyed. God was not sovereign over Adam's Fall. He is only sovereign over the salvation of the elect, and leaves the rest of fallen humanity in their sins according to His punitive justice.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Calvinist not sidestep this legitimate inquiry by the Arminian. It is certainly counterintuitive that we can be held responsible for humans which we could not have helped but commit. We must therefore point to Rom. 9:19-23, which points out that it is unbiblical to suppose that moral accountability presupposes the power of contrary choice. Indeed, this is precisely the Arminian's point. To rephrase the question:

Arminian: Doesn't moral accountability presuppose the power of contrary choice?

Calvinist: No, not according to the Bible.

Simple! It is honest, direct and straightforwardly answers the question, which is unfortunately more than can be said of the typical Calvinist response to Arminians, which sidesteps their sincere question about our beliefs. Furthermore, it prevents the kind of very dangerous misunderstanding to which I myself was initially subject concerning whether or not God had ordained the Fall. Contrast this with:

Arminian: Doesn't moral accountability presuppose the power of contrary choice?

Calvinist: Humans are totally depraved.

The equivocation lies in this: When the Arminian speaks of "free will", he is defining it as the power of contrary choice. When the Calvinist responds, he is defining it as the irresistible tendency to make choices in accordance with our natures. When the Calvinist wrongly denies that he repudiates free will the way the Arminian is presupposing, the Calvinist may as well be implying that he does not actually believe that God is sovereign over our choices.

If Calvinists want to be taken seriously, we need to address such questions seriously, and initiate a cute theological rodeo in which we confuse the Arminian by engaging in the logical fallacy of equivocation.

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