MikeL,

The suggestions you are making are definitely interesting, and I understand your worries about Calvinistic teachings. I want to say something about free will.

There is the claim that humans have a free will. What it is to have a "free will" is very difficult to understand. Some philosophers think that having a free will involves (i) having some sort of ability to do otherwise than one does while others think that (ii) it simply involves having a certain kind of control over one's actions (whether one could have done otherwise or not). Surprisingly, Calvinists can endorse either of these positions. For instance, suppose a Calvinist wants to believe that someone exercises her free will only if she could have done otherwise than she does. Now, suppose we individuate "options" in a fine-grained way. For instance, here are Bill's options when he hears the gospel (we could think of many more, but we don't need to):

1) Outright reject it because it annoys him.
2) Choose to ignore it.
3) Lie to himself and say that he has already believed it.
4) Receive it.

Relative to Bill's sinful nature, any of options 1 to 3 are legitimately available to Bill. Accordingly, if he chooses option 2, it is true of him that he could have done otherwise than choose to ignore the Gospel. After all, he could have simply lied to himself (option 3) or outright rejected it (option 1). So, he has a strong sense of freedom on this picture.

Furthermore, according to the Calvinist picture, it is also possible for Bill to choose 4--not relative to his being a child of Adam, but relative to his being a human being. Humans are the kind of beings that can believe propositions and trust persons. Bill, therefore, is the kind of being that can believe the Gospel and trust Jesus Christ. (Dogs, for instance, cannot do this.) Accordingly, relative to his being a human being, he could have chosen any of options 1 to 4. Accordingly, when Bill in fact chose 2, he is morally responsible for not receiving the Gospel (option 4).

Now, endorsing this kind of picture is open to the Calvinist, and in fact this kind of picture of human freedom is plausible given our common sense understanding of humans. Consider the following common sense case:

Jim is a very arrogant person, and he has done something very bad (say, he had an affair). Jill confronts him about this, and says, "Did you do have an affair?" He has these options (among others):

1') Become enraged and offended at the question, thus redirect blame to Jill.
2') Lie, tell Jill that he would never have an affair, and give her a sympathetic hug.
3') Hedge a bit, and ask why she might think that he had an affair?
4') Confess that he had an affair, and attempt to work it out.

Now, since Jim is a very arrogant person, option 4' is in some relevant sense impossible. He would first have to lose his arrogance a bit before it was within his power to confess his affair. Given his character, however, any of options 1' to 3' are realistically on the table for Jim. Suppose he chooses option 2' and lies. When it is discovered that he lies, people will still blame him for not choosing option 4' and confessing his affair. Why? Because he, as a human being who has the responsibility to be humble and honest, "should have" chosen option 4'. Furthermore, despite Jim's bad character, if he was receiving counsel from a friend, it wouldn't have been stupid or unreasonable for his friend to counsel him to choose option 4'. (Analogously, preaching the Gospel to Bill in the above case is reasonable, too.)

Now, when someone resists Calvinism, what they are resisting is that humans since the Fall are universally bad enough that they can't choose to repent and believe the Gospel without first having a relevant character transformation. (We call this 'relevant character transformation' by the following name: 'regeneration', and we believe the Holy Spirit causes it.) Notice, you should not be worried about whether or not deliberation is relevant. It clearly is in the above cases. In fact, deliberation regarding one's options is necessary, and an unwillingness for Bill to consider seriously option 4 or Jim to consider seriously option 4' is an indication of very bad character which needs to be removed before one can 'have a chance'.

In fact, your own case at present is similar to the above cases insofar as, realistically, there is an option that you probably consider impossible to choose. Consider a simplified version of your case. (This is not intended to be offensive.)

You are confronted with the teachings of Calvinism and its teaching concerning the depravity of humanity. You have these options (this list isn't exhaustive, and it probably doesn't include the actual option you took):

1*) Get enraged and offended, and yell at Calvinists.
2*) Try to vent your frustration with Calvinists by engaging them in a closed-minded way.
3*) Ignore the teachings of Calvinism.
4*) Accept Calvinism as the truth.

Now, my suspicion is that you could realistically see yourself choosing options like 1* to 3*, even if not any one of them in particular. (If you don't typically get angry, then option 1* may be 'impossible' or almost impossible for you.) On the other hand, you probably don't view 4* as something you could conceivably do right now. Why? Because it is so opposed to your personal character and background beliefs about God, the Bible, the world, human freedom, etc., that it is impossible for you to choose 4*. Of course, this impossibility is relative to your character and background beliefs. These could change, though, and then 4* would be possible. (This is what happened to most people on this board, and this is probably what happened to your sisters.)

I say all of this in order to show that Calvinism is not only theoretically possible, it is psychologically plausible. It is compatible with our experience.

I hope you found this helpful. In case I don't get back to the board for a while, though, I should clarify something for the other Calvinists on the board. I am not claiming that, relative to God's providence, we have lots of options when acting. Relative to our character, though, we do. There are various different ways to explain God's providence so that it entails (1) that we can only do whatever it is that in fact do, yet (2) what we do isn't coerced and is truly free. The understandable stumbling block to Calvinism, however, is the character issue, and that is what I am addressing in this post.

Regards,
John P.


"He that hath light thoughts of sin, never had great thoughts of God." ...John Owen