Is God hidden in the book of Esther?
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Does Jeremiah 19:5 count as a substantive critique of Reformed theology? Did sin really never enter the mind of God?
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In this episode I discuss if the objections that Calvinism undermines Christian assurance or makes Paul's statement on the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3 a "lie."
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In a recent blog post, Christian Huls gives a litany of reasons for why he is not a Calvinist. Ostensibly he believes that these are valid, reasonable, and Biblical objections to Reformed Soteriology, namely Calvinism. In responding to these comments, I hope to show that his comments do not provide any real substantive objections to Calvinism or belief that Calvinism is the Biblical view. I should note here however that I am not attempting to prove Calvinism is true or Biblical. I am simply responding to his objections. This means that to defeat his objections I merely need to show that they are either not accurate to Calvinism, incorrectly evaluate an entailment of Calvinism, presuppose Huls own view and thus rely on question begging, or incorrectly interpret a Biblical passage as teaching something that Huls thinks that it does. For this last kind of response, since Huls is often making the harder claim that Calvinism is contrary to the Bible, in these cases, I do not even need to show that Calvinism provides the best understanding of the passage(s) in question (though I think it does), but rather I must merely demonstrate that there is nothing contrary to what the Scripture teaches. That is, that there is no possible way to read the passage in a responsible manner inline with Calvinistic theology. Due to the fact that Huls has made the much stronger claim in these cases, it make my job enormously easier, so I’ll thank him in advance for trying to shoot for the stars here. Due to this, I will often not need to make my case from the scriptures. Some will have a problem with this, but remember, I’m not even attempting to here show that Calvinism is true and Biblical. That’s not the burden that I bear in this series. I am not providing a positive case for the truth of Calvinism. I am responding to claims made against it. So Scripture will be used to cross reference points, show inconsistencies with Huls’ own comments with other passages, etc. but readers should not expect me to be presenting the Biblical case for Calvinism in this project. To that end, I also readily admit that at the end of this, even if all my rejoinders go through and every one of Huls’ objections is defeated, this will not show that Calvinism is true or Biblical. Rather, all it will demonstrate is that is not falsified by the kinds of objections that Huls provides.
Procedurally, I have put Huls’ comments in bold typeface and have offset his “reasons” numerically. My comments follow his. His article begins with a single statement that I would like to address first. Huls writes,
I reject Calvinism because it is riddled with contradictions, most especially about the nature of God.
Here is the first case where Huls radically overstates his case, even by his own arguments that follow. Most of Mr. Huls’ own list would not even qualify as contradictions since they do not entail that Calvinism affirms both a proposition and its negation. A contradiction is X and ~X. It is not that X entails Y and someone thinks Y is false. What Huls seems to mean is that Calvinism, on his view, just contains falsehoods. We will see shortly that his objections often beg the question, border on the trivial, redefine or equivocate on terms, proof text without any exegetical reflection or engagement with Calvinistic exegetical scholarship, etc. While I appreciate my discussions with Huls and consider him to be a brother and commend his zealous defense of the Word, in this case, his own theological presuppositions have led him to some rather superficial and myopic engagements with Reformed thought and theology in how we understand what the Bible teaches.
Now, let us proceed to the first five reasons that he gives.
1. Calvinism makes God partial in arbitrarily selecting some for salvation and not others, when Scripture says that there is NO partiality with God (Deuteronomy 10:17; 2Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19; Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; 1Peter 1:17).
“Arbitrary” is a word with various uses. IF we mean it in the sense that it is done based on the choice of one person rather than due to a law dictating something, then sure. In that sense of the term, election is arbitrary. God chose it and it was not the necessary outcome of some law imposed upon him.
However, this is clearly not how the objection means the term since even on most non-Calvinist views God is not bound by laws external to himself and they do not think that God acting for his purposes apart of laws is a bad thing. So this objection that somehow the supposed arbitrariness of God in election given Calvinism would be a bad thing, cannot mean such an innocuous sense of the term.
They clearly mean it in the more common usage of the term that for something to be arbitrary is for it to be random or on a whim, rather than for any reason. However, if that is the way the objection must use the term, then it fails to be an objection that works against Calvinism. On Calvinism, election is unconditional in the sense that it is not based on a character or action that we do – it is not because we are rich or poor, Jew or gentile, slave or free, man or woman, strong or weak, smart or…. not. However, that does not mean that God does not have reasons for his selection for his own purposes (as we are told in Eph. 1:5; 1:11). The Calvinist view is not some kind of random cosmic lottery or dart board. That just is not our view. It merely means that God’s election of individuals is not conditioned by anything that they will or work (Rom. 9:14).
This means that in a banal sense election would be arbitrary, but in such a way that it would be unobjectionable even to non-Calvinists like Huls. Yet it would not be arbitrary in the sense that the criticism means the term.
2. Calvinism makes God inequitable in irresistibly saving some, and not the rest, when God says that He established equity (Psalm 99:4), “delights in uprightness/equity” (1Chronicles 29:17), and “will judge the world… with uprightness/equity” (Psalm 9:8; 75:2; 96:10; 98:9; see also Psalm 17:2; Isaiah 45:19). Note that the Hebrew word for “uprightness/equity” is מֵישָׁרִים (MYShaRIM), which means “level, order, or fairness.” Isaiah even says that “the way of the righteous IS equity,” and then he prays and asks God to make the path of the righteous LEVEL (or equal)” (Isaiah 26:7).
This objection is found in the pages of Scripture! I really like when this happens because if we all agree that the Scripture is our authority on these issues, then we should believe it when it expressly says something right? So where is this found? In Romans 9, after Paul says that God chose Jacob over Esau before “the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls…” Paul repeats in FOUR ways that it had nothing to do with the twins or their actions or choices. God chose Jacob:
a) before they were born
b) before they had done good or bad
c) so it would be God’s purpose according to his choice / because it is his choice to call
d) NOT because of their actions
What does Paul say next? Well, he anticipates and objection from his reader to the idea that God’s election is based on his purposes alone and not based on anything we will or work or want. And what is that objection? It is the exact objection that Huls provides – well that is unjust/inequitable! Paul writes, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? Far from it!” (9:14) So I am greatly encouraged that my theological commitments get the exact same objections that Paul’s did. Think about it. If Paul was teaching that God elects those who choose him first and repent and believe, would anyone object to it as being unfair/unjust? There are plenty of objections against that view, but it being unfair/unjust isnt one of them. So, if Paul believed and was teaching in line with Huls, the objection just would not make any sense whatsoever.
We can also answer further that since all humanity is in sin, that all humanity deserves wrath. So, for God to chose to save the ones that he chooses for his purposes is not unfair/unjust. He does not owe salvation to anyone. Thus, the fact that he saves any at all is mercy, not justice.
In addition, Calvinists affirm that salvation comes to all – Jew, gentiles, slave, free, rich, poor, powerful, oppressed, man, woman, young, old, etc. When the Bible speaks of equity/uprightness it speaks of using equal scales, treating all people fairly, etc. For the criticism to be valid against Calvinism, we would need to be saying that God will save the rich but not the poor, or he will save men but not women. Those kinds of inequitable scales are simply not what is affirmed by Calvinism and thus the claim of inequity or injustice simply reveals a lack of understanding of Biblical concepts and of Calvinistic thought.
3. Calvinism makes God unloving to the majority of His creation as He did not sacrifice His Son for them, when Scripture teaches that God is infinitely loving (Exodus 34:6; Isaiah 63:9; Jeremiah 31:3; Micah 7:18; Luke 11:42; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 8:37; 2Corinthians 13:11, 14; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 2:4; *3:19; 5:2; 2Timothy 1:7; Titus 3:4; *1John 4:8-10, 16, 19), that He loves all men (John 3:16; Titus 3:4), and He defines love as sacrificial and unconditional (1John 3:16; Romans 5:8; see also John 3:16).
This objection has numerous problems. First, it does not follow that because the atonement of Christ is not effectual for any but the elect that therefore it is not sufficient for the reprobate or that God is unloving to them. This would be like saying that because God only provided a means of atonement for his chosen people Israel in the Old Covenant, that the Old Covenant makes God unloving since God is infinitely loving and yet did not provide sacrifices for the Moabites or the Amorites or those living on the Asian Steps or in what is now Madagascar. Does that make God unloving because he set his special redeeming covenant love on his chosen people? Of course not.
It should also be noted here that Calvinism does not claim that there was no general or common grace elements accomplished on the cross. The claim is merely the atonement accomplished in Christ’ blood was effectually won only for the elect, and not for the reprobate. So, it is false if one thinks that a Calvinist believes that the only thing accomplished by the cross was the effectual atonement for the elect.
4. MANY Calvinists claim that God actively hates the lost, when hating is a deed of the flesh, contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:19-20) and He commands us that rather than hating our enemies, we are to love them (Matthew 5:43-44) and do good to them (Luke 6:27; see also Proverbs 25:21; Romans 12:20).
Simply because some Calvinists claim it does not mean it is a feature of Calvinism. I do not even see how this means that Calvinism is not true simply because some people claim this. This is like the atheist who says that they cannot be a Christian because their aunt was a Christian and she said something racist at Thanksgiving once. I’ll take it that this suffices as an answer since this isnt even really an objection to anything exclusively Calvinistic.
5. Calvinism claims that God does not desire the salvation of all men, when Scripture says God is not willing that ANY should perish (Matthew 18:14), but rather that He desires that ALL would come to repentance (2Peter 3:9), that ALL men be saved and for ALL to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Timothy 2:3-4).
Context matters. As I will show, simply proof texting these verse as if they say what Huls wants them to simply does not engage with the Calvinistic exegetical case and does not present a clear exegetical case for the view espoused by Huls. He needs to demonstrate his case in the face of the exegesis of Calvinist theologians and not merely beg the question of his view.
- MATTHEW 18:14. The text simply does not say that God is not willing that any should perish, full stop. It is speaking of children specifically and it is why Jesus says that “it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.” In addition, this falls on the heels of the warning to not cause child to stumble and sin or it would be better to have a stone tied around your neck and thrown in the sea, and then the command to cut off your hand or gouge out your eye if they cause you to sin. After that, he then gives the parable about a man going to find his lost sheep and rejoicing more over the one who was found than the 99 who stayed. Only then does he say “it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.” This is an expression of what Calvinists call the moral or prescriptive will of God – it is a tragic evil when children are forced or wander off into sin. It is simply a mistake to think that this is a soteriological passage, at least not directly. There may be indirect applications and allusions to salvation, but that is not the primary point of the passage.
- 2 PETER 3:9. Starting in v8 we read. “8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
Notice here that the issue is responding to those who are mocking and saying that Jesus will not come because it has taken too long already. Peter is saying that they should be patient and he says this for two reasons. First, time is not the same for God as it is for us. So for his audience which may have already waited a few decades (a full lifetime for many of them) they may think that it has been a long time, but Peter reminds them that is has not and that with God a day is like a thousand years so they may have waited 30 years but that isnt even like a day with God. Wait until a 1000 years and that may be like one day in the providence of God.
Second, Peter then reminds them that God is not slow but is patient. And who is he patient toward? “You” (ὑμᾶς). This is the second person plural pronoun – “y’all,” This is the object of the verb – God is not willing that any of y’all perish, but for all (πάντας) to come to repentance. The promise that Peter has for the church is that God is patient, not wanting any of y’all to perish but for all y’all to come to repentance. The πάντας in the final clause is not a universal all to every person.
would be like me talking to a handful of my friends who are getting worried
that dinner at my house might be cancelled because I don’t seem to have started
serving it yet. They know I invited over more of our group of friends too. So I
tell them that I’m waiting to start dinner because I’m patient toward my friends,
not wanting any to miss dinner.
To supporting pronoun in the final clause modifies the object in the main clause. It simply does not mean that I am patient toward my friends because I want ALL PEOPLE EVERYONE IN ALL TIME to have dinner at my house. That just is not how grammar works.
- 1 TIMOTHY 2:3-4. Here the context is that Paul is commanding Timothy to pray for all. But while all means all, all isnt all that all means. That is, just because πάντας is used here for “all men,” just like in the previous example context matters. Paul commands Timothy to prayer for all and then he mentions expressly kings and those who are in authority. It is in this context that we find the statement referenced, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
However, Paul follows this by saying “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed as a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
Notice that this desire for all to be saved is explained by Paul’s appeal that there is one God of all, and one mediator, and that it is because of that fact that Paul was appointed to the gentiles. This is an example of the fact that God was not just the God of the Jews. Jesus is not a Jewish mediator who only brings Jews to God – God and Jesus are for Jews and Gentiles! This is why Paul was commissioned as a teacher to the Gentiles. This verse fits the ubiquitous New Testament them, not that Jesus died for every single person or that God wants every single person to be saved, but that God and Jesus and the gospel are for all nations, tongues, tribes, and peoples. It is not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.
Paul then follows his normal motif of expanding this basic gospel consideration that it is not just for Jews but that it is also for men and women. Throughout his corpus, Paul regularly moves from “Jew/Gentile” to “man/woman.” And this is precisely what he does here. In 2:8-15, Paul moves from praying for kings and those in power to live dignified lives and mentioning Jews and Gentiles, to then talking about the having men pray and how men and women live dignified lives.
This verse does not demonstrate that God desires all people to be saved in the same kind of effectual saving way as he does the elect. It is about that the gospel is not an in-group / out-group exclusive club for the rich and powerful Jewish men of the world. It is for literally all kinds of people!
6. Calvinism teaches that God condemns people for His good pleasure, but God says that He takes NO PLEASURE in the death of the wicked but would rather they repent and LIVE (Ezekiel 33:11).
This is a simple equivocation on the term “pleasure” based on a misunderstanding of Reformed theology. The term חָפֵץ used in Ezekiel 33:11 is the term which means something like to delight in. This is a kind of pleasure used in delighting in good food or wine or a spouse. There is a secondary meaning of the term however that does mean to desire to do something and this is typically what the Reformed confessions and professions mean when we say that it was by God’s good pleasure. We mean it was by the counsel of his will, his plan, his purposes. We do not mean that he takes some kind of personal delight in their deaths (the first sense of חָפֵץ). We do mean the second sense. And this is in fact precisely how this term is used in the Old Testament to describe God wanting the death of the wicked. We see in 1 Samuel 2:25b after Eli rebuked his sons for their wickedness, the narrator tells us that Eli’s sons “would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired (חָפֵץ) to put them to death.” This is precisely the same term used in Ezekiel 33:11. In fact, notice here that the causal arrow goes from the consequent to the antecedent. Why do the sons not listen? For/because God planned to put them to death.
So, if Huls would like us to think that Ezekiel 33:11 means that God can have no desire whatsoever for the death of the wicked by his plan and counsel, then he would be forced to admit a true Biblical contradiction. Thus, when Calvinists say that it is by God’s pleasure (his will/plan) for the wicked to perish before being able to repent and believe, we mean it precisely in the 1 Samuel 2:25 sense and not the Ezekiel 33:11 sense.
7. Calvinism makes God ungracious to the majority of His creation, when He says that He is the God of ALL grace (1Peter 5:10) who gives grace to all (John 1:14-17; Romans 5:15-21; Titus 2:11; Ephesians 4:7).
God is certainly the God of all grace. But where does it follow from that that not giving grace to every person is being ungracious? The term in the New Testament for grace is χάρις and means grace or favor and typically refers to something unearned, unmerited, and not required on the part of the giver. If we follow Huls’ understand, for God to be gracious he must show grace to all people without exception. This would then mean that giving grace would no longer be gracious! It would just be required. This certainly cannot be the case for God does not show the same grace to those in hell as he does to those in heaven. Now for Huls, those in heaven may have met the condition of believing, sure. But then if God shows all grace to all people, this would mean that he would show even conditional grace to all people. Certainly, such universalism is not what Huls would go for, but his argument here seems to necessitate it.
In addition, we have the same issue as before with the universalizing of the term of the term “all” to be “all without exception” when time and time again, the majority use of the term is something like “all without distinction” which fits far more comfortably with the Biblical theme of the inclusivity of the gospel.
This seems also to run afoul of Romans 9 where we are told that God sovereignly chooses whom he will have mercy on (the flip side of grace needed to make grace just) and that this is done before people are born and is not based on who wants/wills or works. Do we say that God is unmerciful because he tells us that he does not show mercy to all? Obviously not and this would result in one affirming the “that’s not fair/that’s unjust” objections which Paul’s interlocutor protests with in 9:14 and 21.
8. Calvinism makes God unmerciful to the majority of His creation, when Scripture reveals that He is abundant in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), His mercy is over ALL His works (Psalm 145:8–9), and He desires to show mercy to ALL (Romans 11:32).
See the answer above as this is precisely what I anticipated. If Huls wants to press passages like Romans 11:32 to mean that God must be merciful to all in the same way or else he is unmerciful, then he must admit to a direct contradiction of Romans 9 where Paul categorically shows that God is intentionally unmerciful to many. So Huls here can either press his anti-Calvinistic rhetoric and affirm a Biblical contradiction, or he can abandon his objection.
9. Calvinism makes God uncompassionate to the majority of His creation, when God says that He is compassionate (Deuteronomy 4:31), and His compassion never fails (Lamentations 3:22, 32).
Here Huls seems to merely be on a copy and paste binge, replacing grace for mercy for compassion. Must I go through the litany of examples where God is demonstrably and expressly not compassionate to persons? Was he compassionate during the flood? Was he compassionate to Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities on the plain? Was he compassionate to Pharaoh? What about the innocent first born of the Egyptians – was he compassionate to them? Was he compassionate when he placed various nations under חָרַם (holy war/the ban) to wipe out all their men, women, children, pregnant women, nursing infants, etc.? Was he compassionate to the Israelites when he brought in Assyria and Babylon to slaughter, rape, pillage, plunder, and carry them off into exile? To pretend as if God is not savingly compassionate to all persons equally somehow makes God uncompassionate is to simply reveal one’s complete and utter lack of reading and reflection on Biblical passages and to focus on such a myopic, romanticized concept of YHWH as being a butterfly rather than a holy hurricane. God’s wrath and justice and holiness simply do not stand in opposition to his compassion. God showed compassion to Noah and his family but not to the other inhabitants of the land. Does that make him uncompassionate? According to Huls romanticized concept of God, maybe it does. But that is not the holy God of the Bible. That is not YHWH. Does Paul tell us expressly in Romans 9 (citing from Ex. 33:19) that God will have compassion on whom he has compassion, and this is contrasted with those whom he hardens (i.e. does not show compassion to) in v16-19.
10. Calvinism makes God unjust for condemning people to hell for something they have no control over, when God is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18).
This objection begs the question that it would be unjust for God to condemn people to hell for something that they “have no control over”. Notice that this is exactly the objection that Paul anticipates from his interlocutor in Romans 9. After saying that God chose Isaac and not Ishmael and that he chose Jacob and not Esau, and that this was done completely out of their control (see again my answer to objection #2), the objection comes “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?” (9:14). To which Paul replies, “Far from it!” And this is clearly an example of mercy and hardening in judgement since he expressly applies this divine prerogative to choose apart from human control to mercy and hardening. “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” This follows with a similar objection,
“You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
Notice again Huls’ voice in this objection to Pauline theology. How is it fair for God to find us at fault (i.e. condemn) when people cannot resist his will (have no control)? Here I would much rather stick with Paul and the Biblical view of God as the sovereign rather than try to prop up humans as a sovereign ones and have the objections to Paul come from my lips. I would rather bend the knew to Paul than shake my fist at the heavens, quoting Invictus, and demanding God respect my autonomy and captainship of my own soul.
In this episode I respond to an interaction I had with Tim Stratton from Free Thinking Ministries concerning his Free Thinking Argument Against Naturalism and why I think it not only does not work against naturalism, nor Christian Compatibilism, but also why the defenses of it typically fail as well.
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In this discussion with my friend Colton Carlson, we discuss Tim Stratton's article about robots that he wrote in response to us... We talk about heaven, freedom, robots, and why it all matters.
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Leighton Flowers responded to my episode on the fragility of Libertarian Freedom... after much demand I respond to him here.
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My original episode: https://freedthinkerpodcast.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-fragility-of-libertarian.html
Leighton's Response: https://youtu.be/Kum_VxM6ft8
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In this episode I try out a new "live" discussion format for the podcast - think highly structured audio version of a Facebook wall...
In this we discuss topics ranging from double predestination, equal ultimacy, the Reformed understanding of two wills, the nature of freewill, Christian assurance, cage-stage Calvinism, and even Spiderman makes an appearance.
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Study on the folk intuition of freedom which I discuss: Forget the Folk: Moral Responsibility Preservation Motives and Other Conditions for Compatibilism
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