The Central Message of Why I Am Not a Calvinist by Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell
Note: Jerry Walls was kind enough to read and approve this summary of their book’s message.
Jerry Walls (a philosopher) and Joe Dongell (a biblical scholar) of Asbury Seminary have teamed up to write a provocative book entitled Why I Am Not a Calvinist. Their central message is:
The character of the Calvinistic God is severely maligned by the fact that His need to glorify Himself comes at the expense of the damnation of a significant percentage of His sinful human population throughout history, whom He could save (with their compatibilist freedom intact) with the same relative ease that He exercises in the saving of other sinners, from whom they differ in no significant way. Such a God, who arbitrarily subjects endless misery on creatures for failing to love Him when they could not possibly do otherwise, cannot be worthy of our reverence, awe, and adoration.
Four key aspects of this message:
I. Compatibilism makes the general offer of salvation insincere, since (a) the non-elect are unable to affirmatively respond; (b) it cannot genuinely be said that Christ died for everyone; and (c) God is unwilling to save all. Given these difficulties, Calvinists are (unconsciously) inconsistent in their message, suggesting that the gospel offer can be responded to by all (when it cannot), and that God truly wants everyone to be saved (which apparently He does not). The pervasive acceptance of such inconsistencies makes Calvinism’s credibility unwarranted.
II. Calvinism argues that God must display wrath in order to show forth the full spectrum of His attributes, and so God, though able to save all, has ordained some to experience wrath (Rom. 9:20-24). But this makes God (ironically) dependent upon man; He needs evil creatures to be the just recipients of wrath in order to glorify His Name. By implication, God cannot be said to love the non-elect in any meaningful way. The Arminian God truly does not want to display wrath on any of His creatures; He is doing everything He can to see them repent and be saved (short of coercing their will, which would render a genuine relationship impossible).
III. Accountability and responsibility only extend as far as human ability. Since God is love, He is obligated (not by man’s merit, but by His own internal nature) to try to do all He can to help humans flourish. If hell is a consequence of rejecting God, then He must enable man to at least have the ability to accept Him. But Calvinism’s view that electing grace is withheld from the non-elect makes God cruel and arbitrary when He later condemns them.
IV. Scriptural passages that assert the universal saving will of God (I Tim. 2:4, II Pet. 3:9, Ezek. 18:23) and the general love of God (John 3:16, I John 2:2, Luke 15:1-7) imply that God must be making genuine efforts to save everyone from everlasting wrath (rather than helping just a select few with electing grace, and leaving the rest to persist in their sins).
Note: Compatibilism is the view that God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency are not contradictory, but compatible. God’s sovereign will is accomplished by the means of humans acting according to their desires. Effectual grace means that God woos sinners to Himself in such a way that they freely come. God does not reject people who come to Him (John 6:37). Nor does He drag people into heaven against their will.
In my next post, I’ll give my response to Walls and Dongell.
Related: Previous posts on Calvinism vs. Arminianism (Part 1, Part 2)