Critiquing Calvinism

On the strength of David Allen's book "The Atonement", I bought a copy of "Calvinism". The book beings with a critique of the five points of Calvinism, usually known by the acronym "TULIP". Allen wrote the chapter on the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" and I found his work here to be as well done as in his other book. He "steelmanned" his analysis, that is, he looked at the doctrine of Limited Atonement as it is actually presented by Calvinists, instead of assessing a caricature, and did a competent job stating the case against it. In fact, I'm only aware of one additional argument for limited atonement that he did not address1. However, the chapters on Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace aren't as well done. They are target rich environments that, were they to accurately depict Calvinism, would deter me from being a moderate Calvinist. Yet, instead of a lengthy rebuttal, in the remainder of this post I want to address one, and only one, part of the response to "Irresistible Grace" in chapter 4 by editor Steve Lemke. He writes:
... the Remonstrants were concerned about the teaching that God forces his grace on sinners irresistibly. [emphasis mine]
Bending the will of a fallible being by an omnipotent Being powerfully and unfailingly is not merely sweet persuasion. It is forcing one to change one’s mind against one’s will.
God changing our will invincibly in irresistible grace brings to mind phenomena such as hypnotism or brainwashing.
Note the striking contradiction—God will “overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible,” and yet “irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will.” No attempt is made in the article to reconcile these apparently contradictory assertions.

I will try to reconcile these allegedly contradictory assertions. The idea that God forces the spiritually dead to awaken to life in Christ is common in Arminian arguments. But it simply isn't what God does. "Aha!" moments, "Eureka!" moments rise from the recesses of our minds and present to us a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, and that new thing is so obvious that we wonder why we never encountered it before. Of course we embrace it. Why would we not? It has positively transformed a part of our life.

Lemke asks:

Why would there be a need to persuade someone who had already been regenerated by irresistible enabling grace?

God works through His word: written, oral, or otherwise. He gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf (Ex. 4:11). He gives transforming inspiration. Regeneration and persuasion go hand in hand. He regenerates through persuasion and persuades through regeneration.

I am reminded of the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy opens the door of her house and sees Oz in color. Before then, everything was in black and white. The external change of location which brought color into her life is a parallel to the internal change that brings new sight to the Christian. What Dorothy saw on the outside the Christian sees on the inside.


[1] The "marriage" argument. It is argued that Christ died for His bride, the Church, to "sanctify it, having cleansed it." [Eph 5:25-27].

There is an inseparable unity between Christ's death for the church and his sanctifying and cleansing it. Those from whom he died he also sanctifies and cleanses. Since the world is not sanctified and cleansed, then it is obvious that Christ did not die for it.
    – Edwin H. Palmer, "The Five Points of Calvinism".

I don't think this argument survives Isaiah 54:5:

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; ...
    – NRSV

Which makes 1 Cor 7:15 all the more interesting.


2022 Reading List

1Space ChantyR. A. Lafferty
2The Witches of KarresJames H. Schmitz
3The Wizard of KarresM. Lackey, E. Flint, D. Freer
4The Sorceress of KarresE. Flint, D. Freer
5The Shaman of KarresE. Flint, D. Freer
6The Idea of Israel in Second Temple JudaismJason Staples
7Do Android's Dream of Electric SheepPhilip K. Dick
8Miami BluesCharles Willeford
9New Hope for the DeadCharles Willeford
10SideswipeCharles Willeford
11The Way We Die NowCharles Willeford
12The HobbitJ. R. R. Tolkien
13The Burnt Orange HeresyCharles Willeford
14A Canticle for LeibowitzWalter M. Miller, Jr.
15Gospel CoachScott Thomas & Tom Wood
16SolarisStanislaw Lem
17Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are LostTraci Rhoades
18The Mountain of SilenceKyriacos C. Markides
19He Is There And He Is Not SilentFrancis A. Schaeffer
20The Region BetweenHarlan Ellison
21True SpiritualityFrancis A. Schaeffer
22The Orville: Sympathy for the DevilSeth MacFarlane
23The Word for World is ForestUrsula K. Le Guin
24Believing PhilosophyDolores G. Morris
25The Epic of EdenSandra L. Richter
26Five Ways to ForgivenessUrsula K. Le Guin
26The Westminster AssemblyRobert Letham
27Old Testament Theology in a Canonical ContextBrevard S. Childs
28The Year's Best Science Fiction, First Annual CollectionGardner Dozois
29The Martian ChroniclesRay Bradbury
30What Did The Cross Accomplish?S. Gathercole, R. B. Stewart, N. T. Wright
31Howard Who?Howard Waldrop