Problems with Calvinism: Blake Ostler

The following is by LDS thinker and author Blake Ostler. I pulled this from a larger essay that discusses the book “How Wide the Divide?” by Stephen Robinson and Craig Blomberg. The quoted portion can be read at the very end of the essay (just before the footnotes, of course) here: http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=11&num=2&id=319

Below is Ostler:

For Calvinists, God’s prevenient grace moves the human will to accept God’s efficacious grace. According to Calvin, persons can accept the saving grace only because God has predestined them to salvation and causally determined their will to accept efficacious grace through his prevenient grace. Moreover, God’s prevenient grace is irresistible—it cannot be rejected by an evil will. Those who do not accept God’s efficacious grace, or grace that accomplishes their salvation, fail to do so because God has decided in his arbitrary election to leave them to damnation. That is, in the Calvinist view God has decided not to grant irresistible prevenient grace to some and thus has decided to abandon them to damnation.76

This concept of prevenient grace makes God an arbitrary and evil tyrant. He could save all persons, but he has decided not to. This is not the God of love taught by Jesus. This view of grace makes God unjust, unfair, unloving, and loathsome. Blomberg adopts a notion of salvation by grace alone (by which he apparently means that human will has no role in salvation);77 God’s election alone explains who is saved and who is damned (see p. 185).78 Blomberg responds to the argument that (at least this view of) grace is unfair in the same way as did Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther: “We should not want God to be fair” because we all fall so short of God’s holy standard that we cannot hope to make it on our own (see p. 185). According to Calvinists, because of sin all persons (including little children) “deserve eternal death” (p. 171). But this response is a dodge; it evades the central issue: if God can save everyone, and he desires to save everyone out of love, then why has he decided to leave some persons to damnation? It just won’t do to observe that we all deserve to be damned, so we should be grateful that God has decided to save some of us. What would we think of a parent who could pull both her children safely from a burning car, but decides arbitrarily to save one and not the other?79 We should be morally outraged. We should be even more outraged if we learn that the parent’s decision is based on the judgment that the child who burned deserved it because the child supposedly was guilty for sins of an ancient ancestor—even though she was only three years old! Of course, the child who was saved deserved salvation or damnation equally, so this supposed justification is not the reason for salvation or damnation at all—the decision is purely arbitrary and capricious. I cannot worship such a “god.” I wouldn’t even want to spend the weekend with such a person—let alone an eternity.

This blog doesn’t get tons of traffic, and it certainly doesn’t get lots of non-LDS traffic. But just in case a Calvinist comes along and reads this, I only ask one thing. You are more than welcome to comment, even debate, but please don’t try and prove Calvinism from the scriptures. Ostler does not try to debunk it from the scriptures, but deals with the theoretical and philosophical problems of it. Please, stick to discussing only those aspects of it. I’m interested to know if you think Ostler correctly describes Calvinism, and what, if any, objections you may have to it. Thanks.

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8 comments on “Problems with Calvinism: Blake Ostler

  1. I’m an Arminian, so I disagree with both Calvinism and LDS theology. :)

    I think the description of Calvinism is pretty much spot on, however, it is obviously phrased in such a way that the Calvinist would not agree. They would deny that God is evil, and would appeal to mystery for the apparent contradiction. The Calvinistic Westminster confession states that: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

    So Calvinists would say that God decrees everything, but does not cause evil. The way these are compatible is a mystery.

    The question “if God could save everyone, why doesn’t he?” is an excellent question. I’ve never heard a good answer by a Calvinist. They also appeal to mystery on this one, and state that it is not our place to question God on such matters.

    If you’re curious, the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism on grace is related to scope and resistability. Scope – Arminians believe that God give prevenient grace (drawing grace) to all. Calvinists believe it is only given to some. Resistability – Arminians believe that grace is resistible, man can reject it to his own detriment. However, it is still necessary. Man is evil, and if God didn’t draw man in the first place, none would ever respond. Calvinists believe that God gives irresistable grace to the elect. Those who receive this grace will certainly respond, because God works in their hearts in such a way to ensure a positive outcome. The non-elect (reprobate) receive common grace, which is a type of grace, but of such that it will not enable repentance.

    God bless,
    Kevin

  2. James says:

    Thanks for commenting Kevin. As for Ostler’s phrasing, fair enough. A Calvinist certainly wouldn’t use the same adjectives.

    I’m no expert, but I’ve studied enough to know that Arminianism and Mormonism are quite similar. Some LDS thinkers have even described Mormonism as “Hyper-Arminianism.”

  3. Robert Boylan says:

    On Mormonism and Arminianism, Mark Hausam of Christ Presbyterian Church gave a paper on this topic at the 2005 Sunstone Symposium, and Blake Ostler responded. It is a terrific paper, as it is spot-on. The URL to the MP3 of this talk can be found at:

    [audio src="http://sunstonemagazine.com/audio/SL05265.mp3" /]

    FWIW,

    Robert Boylan
    Ireland.

  4. Blake says:

    I agree that Mark’s presentation was excellent and balanced — and ought to be commended for stating the various positions in a way that the proponents of those views is very likely to accept as fair and accurate.

  5. James says:

    Thank you Robert and Blake, I’ll definitely check it out.

  6. Excellent blog post, I will bookmark this post in my Digg account. Have a good evening.

  7. […] Arminiast rejects and protests the Reformed position of election.  I pulled this quote from a blog by an LDS member.  This protestation was chosen because it clearly and passionately states the […]

  8. […] Arminiast rejects and protests the Reformed position of election.  I pulled this quote from a blog by an LDS member.  This protestation was chosen because it clearly and passionately states the […]

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