An objection to Calvinism remains unanswered
I am not and never have been of the Calvinist persuasion. But since my understanding of the view is limited and the pool of wise and respected Calvinists impressive, persuasion is not and has never been out of the question. I’m open to the possibility that the doctrine of election as Calvinism teaches is accurate.
So when presented with a short paper addressing common objections to Calvinism from one of today’s leading proponents of it, I read it carefully and as objectively as I could. But I was surprised by how unpersuasive it is.
Tim Keller, as many will recognize, is the well-known and well-respected pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City as well as a best-selling author. As every Calvinist must do, Keller acknowledges the number one objection to their interpretation of election is that God is unjust if he sovereignly chooses which individuals will be saved and leaves those who are not chosen to suffer eternal damnation though they had no chance to believe.
What about free will?
Mr. Keller expresses the objection this way: “If you believe in election, doesn’t that leave you with the problem of why God doesn’t choose to save everyone?” Keller responds that this is a problem for every Christian because God doesn’t save everyone even though he wants all to be saved. He then acknowledges the common appeal to free will as that which constrains God from saving everyone because he will not violate it. And he responds, “But why is freedom of choice sacrosanct? I try to honor my child’s freedom of will, but not if I see he is about to be killed by it! Why can’t God “insult” our freedom of will for a moment and save us for eternity?” But I don’t believe the analogy to protecting our children works here. As parents we can keep guns out of our young children’s hands or deny them harmful substances, but our temporary overriding of their free will does not involve the necessary and undesirable existential consequences of God overriding our free will to choose or reject him.
It seems to me that God saving even those who deny or reject him would mean either, 1) sharing heaven with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and other evil, murderous tyrants and terrorists, which seems completely unjust and incoherent in light of what heaven is promised to be like, or 2) “insulting” our freedom of will not just for a moment but eternally and completely so that we are all God’s pre-programmed pets, fit for heaven only by his predetermination and power, and no more able to genuinely love him than if we were soulless robots.
Because God knows, do we even have free will?
Tim Keller’s second answer to the objection appears to make the mistake of correlating foreknowledge with determinism. He says that, suppose election were not true and all have “an equal ability to accept or reject Christ.” Then because God knew before the foundation of the world who would and wouldn’t accept him that he would be “de facto electing some and passing over others.” But this seems to presume that because God foreknows something he therefore is decreeing that it must happen, which just doesn’t follow.
But the objection itself really is more critical than how Keller puts it. The problem on Calvinism is not so much “why God doesn’t choose to save everyone.” It’s that he decrees some will have absolutely no chance of being saved and be damned eternally, though it was impossible for them to respond to him in faith. It’s that his universal calls to believe and be saved are essentially disingenuous…a sham…an offer of hope not to be taken seriously. How can such obvious injustice and deceit be the work of a perfectly holy, righteous, and loving God?
Can God contradict his own nature?
Keller concludes, as many Calvinists do, with a plea to our ignorance in light of God’s greatness. “When we finally see the whole plan and answer,” he says, “we will not be able to find fault with it.” But though I can say a hearty Amen to the unsearchable ways of an infinitely great and wise God, I cannot reconcile a perfectly just God who acts unjustly. That is a self-evident contradiction that no light nor sight can resolve.
So I remain open to persuasion to Calvinism, but I have yet to hear or read a persuasive defense. Next time I’ll give what I believe is the better interpretation of the doctrine of election.