Objections to the Doctrines of Grace
Varied objections to Calvinistic soteriology are often raised, especially in typical western evangelical circles. These objections generally fall into two categories. Some have genuinely grappled with the texts of Scripture and struggle mightily to reconcile all or parts of the doctrines of grace with other biblical teachings. The objections of others are not borne out of a personal study of the Scriptures but rather out of an unfamiliarity or discomfort with these teachings. Our goal must always be to evaluate all teaching in light of the Scripture à la the noble Bereans. Thus, I am not as much interested in producing agreement with my conclusions as I am in motivating Bible students to personal discovery. In any event, it is helpful to identify and briefly respond to some of these objections. I have dealt elsewhere with some objections to the individual tenants of soteriology. What I present here is, rather, an overview of general objections.
1. The doctrines of grace should not be taught actively because they are for mature Christian audiences only.
a. If this is true, then who determines what parts of Scripture should be taught publicly and what should brought out only in guarded situations? Who determines what is profitable and what is not profitable?
b. To practice this selective teaching is to take the first step toward liberalism in theory and/or practice. It is also an obvious form of pragmatism—doing only that which has favorable results or that which is popular and doesn’t cause problems.
c. Perhaps the reason the church as a whole is generally powerless is that the great foundational truth of the grace of a sovereign God is not widely declared.
d. Scripture itself clearly rules out this approach.
i. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).1
ii. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
2. The doctrines of grace are simply fatalism.
a. A vivid contrast exists between predestination and fatalism:
Ultimate Goal: Predestination = glory of God. Fatalism = none.
Final Cause: Predestination = God. Fatalism = no relationship between cause and effect.
Human Freedom and Responsibility: Predestination = ordained and required. Fatalism = none.
Perspective: Predestination = confident hope. Fatalism = despair.
Objects of Predetermination: Predestination = both the end and the means. Fatalism = end only.
b. Fatalism teaches that men will be saved or lost no matter what they do. Predestination teaches that men will be saved or lost as a direct result of what they do.
3. The doctrines of grace make God the author of sin.
a. It is true that God’s plan includes everything. It encompasses both the good and wicked acts of all human beings at all times. Therefore, God does foreordain sin. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
b. It does not follow, however, that God is the blameworthy cause of sin. God permitted and planned for sin, but He is not accountable for sin. The death of Jesus is an example of this phenomenon: “…this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27,28)..
c. Wicked men freely serve God’s purposes all the time, even by their most wicked acts, for which they are accountable. From his experience, Joseph knew it worked this way. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Hence, two things are true: man is responsible for his wicked actions and God is not the author of sin. Isaiah clearly states this truth in conjunction with God’s use of the Assyrians against His people (Isaiah 10:5-15). The New Testament clarifies what our perspective must be when we sin: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
d. The more difficult issue is how God could have ever allowed sin to enter the world. This is a problem for everyone; human beings undoubtedly cannot discern the definitive answer.
4. The doctrines of grace are not fair.
a. Paul assumed this protest and addressed it in Romans 9:10-22: “… What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!…So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?...”
b. God is not obligated to save anyone. No one merits salvation. Therefore, it is not germane to claim it is unfair for God to save some and not save others. The only fair action on God’s part would be to save none at all. The question should be not why more are not saved, but why any are saved. Why even one?
c. God does not treat everyone alike. This is obvious in the areas of birth, health, wealth, intellect, stature, etc. In fact, God did not distribute spiritual gifts to His people uniformly either: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Unfortunately, God’s dealing with men according to His pleasure is not so readily accepted in the spiritual realm. Nonetheless, some people never hear the gospel during the entire course of their lives. However, God is not unjustly partial in His treatment of human beings, as the parable of the laborers illustrates: "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ ” (Matthew 20:13-15).
5. The doctrines of grace preclude a genuine offer of the gospel.
a. Christ indiscriminately called men to repentance even though He knew that not all would believe; therefore, so must we. It is as simple as that. We do not know who His chosen ones are, and we do not need to know in order to invite people to Christ. Furthermore, those who deny the doctrines of grace still have the same problem. In their scheme, God foreknows who will believe (but does not foreordain); therefore, how can a genuine offer be made to those He knows will reject?
b. So, it must be that the offer of the gospel is no less genuine simply because some will refuse. There is historical evidence of God’s dealing with men in this way.
i. Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus 3: "They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.' But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion” (Exodus 3:18,19).
ii. Ezekiel’s ministry to God’s people in Ezekiel 3: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel, nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house.’ Moreover, He said to me, ’Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, “Thus says the Lord GOD” ’ ” (Ezekiel 3:4-11).
6. The doctrines of grace contradict human accountability.
a. Some ask how God can hold a person accountable for not responding to the gospel if he is not capable of choosing Christ by his own free will. This is a variation on the “it’s not fair” objection.
b. However, we must understand that God holds us responsible not only for our wills and choices, but also for our whole nature. As long as our nature remains what sin has made it, we will never come to Christ, and the issue of what we can or cannot do is irrelevant.
i. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
ii. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:18-21).
7. The doctrines of grace discourage ministry.
a. Historically, this is simply not true. Whether Andrew Fuller or Charles Spurgeon or George Whitfield or Russ Schelling—history is filled with consistent Calvinists who have worked diligently for Christ.
b. A sub-point of this objection is that those who espouse the doctrines of grace are slackers in evangelism efforts. Without consideration of what qualifies as biblical evangelism and what does not, it is true that there are Calvinists who are not zealous for the gospel, even some who mistakenly hide behind their doctrinal system. However, to argue that the doctrines of grace per se lead to a lack of biblical evangelism is fallacious reasoning. The exact objection could be raised against anyone who denies the doctrines of grace: this person is not zealous for the gospel; this person is an Arminian; therefore Arminianism discourages evangelism. Moreover, we could cite boatloads of Arminians who are slackers in evangelism efforts. However, this does not necessarily establish a cause and effect relationship between a specific belief and specific practice, even though practice is indeed driven by belief. Rather, it is more likely that a person is uninterested in biblical evangelism because of personal dispositional considerations or plain disobedience rather than because of a particular belief system.
c. It is helpful to focus on the fact that God foreordained the means as well as the ends. Therefore, God has foreordained our work in order to accomplish His end. We are the means. This can become muddled because we do not know the future. We do not know the ends that God has foreordained; but we do know that we must work. In this vein, we pray. We pray because God invites us to pray; we pray because God instructs us to pray; we pray knowing that God ordains prayer as a means to His ends; we pray because from both His and our vantage points, prayer does change things.
8. The concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are contradictory.
a. It is impossible to reconcile rationally and fully the two concepts. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches both. The only option for those committed to the authority and inspiration of the Scripture is to accept both in spite of not understanding both. This holds true even if one or the other teaching is particularly troublesome to us personally. Humans must never forget that the Creator’s ways often do not make any sense to the creature. “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
b. We must conclude that these two truths are only apparent contradictions. We see them from a finite perspective; however, God is infinite.
c. Our authority must always be the Bible, not our own reason, or our feelings, or our experience, or our tradition.
d. It is appropriate to conclude, “I don’t know.” Scriptures draw the same conclusion:
i. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
ii. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
iii. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
e. Thus, a number of true statements are apparent antinomies:
i. God grants faith; yet it is up to people to believe.
ii. God foreordained everything; yet He commands and answers prayer.
iii. God predetermined the end; yet people must work.
iv. God did not choose all; yet He gives the gospel indiscriminately.
9. Scriptures that employ universal language rule out the doctrines of grace.
a. This is an objection leveled against the concept of particular redemption. In other words, if a passage suggests that Christ died on behalf of the whole world (John 3:16) then how is the particular redemption position tenable? Indeed, there are several passages in which universal terms such as “all,” “every,” “world,” or “whosoever” appear in conjunction with salvation in general or with certain aspects of salvation in particular. Most often cited are John 1:29, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:6, Hebrews 2:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 John 2:1-2. Others cited are 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 4:10, Hebrews 10:29 and Titus 2:11.
b. Many fail to understand that the general redemptionist who claims that Christ died on behalf of all men must grapple with these universal passages as well. It may be argued that the universal passages prove too much, namely that if Christ died for all without restriction, then all will be saved—i.e., universalism. Of course, this is not acceptable to the evangelical general redemptionist. Therefore, both the general redemptionist and the particular redemptionist must harmonize these universal passages. This is akin to how both views handle the actual language found in salvation passages such as Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…”
c. The choice is between an effective atonement limited in breadth to the redeemed (limited atonement) or a universal atonement limited in depth to the point of ineffectiveness (unlimited atonement). The unlimited atonement advocate solves these passages by making them provisional. Unfortunately, there is no Scriptural warrant or precedence for this; it is pure inference. On the other hand, the limited atonement advocate solves these passages by restricting the scope of the terms. There is Scriptural warrant and precedence for this in such passages as John 3:17, John 6:33, John 12:31, John 13:1 and others.
10. Scriptures implying that genuine believers can fall away from faith make the doctrines of grace dubious.
a. This is an objection leveled at the concept of perseverance of the saints. The passages most often alluded to are Hebrews 5:11-6:12 and Hebrews 10:26-31.
b. Discerning the meaning of these passages is difficult. Whatever the meaning is, however, it is not that genuine believers can lose their salvation; this does not square with too many other passages of Scripture. Further, in both passages, there is no hope of restoration; therefore losing and gaining back and losing again one’s salvation is an impossibility.
c. Perhaps the best explanation is that these are simple warnings intended to illustrate the seriousness of apostasy. If it were possible for the genuine believer to lose salvation, here would be his fate.
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible – Updated Edition (Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications, 1999).
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2014. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.