The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

Related Fallacies:
Equivocation

John Hendryx, who we’ve noted has employed numerous fallacies in defense of Calvinism and distortions against Arminianism, is at it yet again. This time he’s trying to prove that it’s conditional election, not unconditional election, that makes God into a “respecter of persons.” Before I address his points, I believe that the idea that God is impartial has to be defined and qualified carefully: God being impartial does not mean that He treats everyone exactly the same in every respect, nor does it imply that He gives the same circumstances or blessings to everyone. Scriptural references to God’s impartiality appear to refer primarily to how He makes His judgments of men’s hearts and actions, and how He accepts people who fear Him. It doesn’t imply God having some kind of warped, hyper-egalatarian mentality where He ensures everyone’s lot in life is exactly on par. Having examined the issue myself, I think it would be difficult to make a solid case for either conditional or unconditional election violating the principle of God’s impartial judgment in scripture, since election isn’t really the same thing as judgment. However, Hendryx seems to think this does make a good case against Arminianism, and so he tries to paint Arminian doctrine as making God into a respecter of persons, while exonerating his own doctrine. As we shall see, this is one of the worst possible maneuvers, and backfires on him badly.

Redefining Partiality

Hendryx cites Leviticus 19:15, Proverbs 24:23, 1 Peter 1:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and James 2:1-9 among others, to prove that God is impartial. Quoting him,

They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus ‘respecter of persons’ means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.

Hendryx’s definition of “respecter of persons” is too narrow: to show respect to persons extends beyond just showing favoritism due to superficial personal traits, it implies special treatment based upon any unobjective, uneven or irrelevant criteria. Let’s give an example: Suppose a judge renders his verdict in a case, but bases his decision not upon guilt or innocence, but upon how much he personally likes the plaintiff and defendant. Is that showing partiality? It most certainly is. Keep that in mind as we continue….

So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No.

We’re agreed on that point.

By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us.

This is also technically correct. Judgments are to be based upon what is actually done (guilt, innocence, or other objective criteria pertaining to action), not personal traits.

God does not stand to gain from currying anyone’s favor … even those who are in high positions … because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen “in Christ” not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.

This is something of a non-sequitur: having a motive of personal gain is one way to show partiality, but is by no means the only way. Proving that God has need of nothing and that He doesn’t judge on the basis of material gain or influence doesn’t automatically establish impartiality. Looking at our example of the judge above, if asked why he rendered the verdict that he did, which responses would indicate partiality or impartiality?

“The evidence that came out in the proceedings made it overwhelmingly clear.” – impartial
“Multiple eyewitness accounts establish this beyond reasonable doubt.” – impartial
“The argument was logically sound and airtight.” – impartial
“I rendered judgment strictly as the law dictates.” – impartial
“I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine!” – partial (motive of personal gain; but there are plenty more than just this)
“He looked guilty.” – partial
“I just had a feeling.” – partial
“He’s my nephew.” – partial
“The other guy made his case much more eloquently.” – partial
“I don’t like his type.” – partial
“I just wanted to do it that way.” – PARTIAL

Note that the last example is unconditional, a verdict rendered simply by arbitrary fiat (hereafter, just “fiat”). It is not objective, and it therefore doesn’t really matter what other reasons he has for declaring one guilty and the other innocent in such a case, such a ruling is partial. Hendryx refers back to the quote from James 2:1-9,

James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world … i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves… S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. … So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons.

Hendryx again displays a misunderstanding of what impartiality is. The quote he cited above from Leviticus declares,

“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15, NKJV)

Which plainly indicates that it is partiality to show favoritism in judgment to a poor man simply because he is poor. I would instead interpret James as referring to correlation and contrast: people are seldom granted riches in both spiritual and material possessions. Hendryx also unwittingly argues for conditional election in stating,

“[So] God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished.”

If God elected on that basis, that would still be conditional election, since being empty and impoverished would be a condition to being elect.

So far, Hendryx’s major errors have been in equating partiality as being based upon,
1.) personal traits
2.) motive for personal gain

And in concluding that judgment that isn’t for personal gain must be impartial (which is not necessarily true, since judgment based upon fiat is also partial).

Redefining Synergism

…it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God’s decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it.

This is entirely incorrect for one simple reason: election based upon whether one does (or will) believe is not rooted in traits, but action: belief in Christ. Hendryx’s reasoning falls completely apart when applied to actual cases of judgment. If a judge discerns from the evidence that a man is innocent, and declares him “not guilty,” is he showing favoritism because of the man’s “good sense not to commit the crime?” Not at all, his judgment is based upon action, not character. Whether the man is smart, stupid, sensible, foolish, etc, is irrelevant. A just and impartial verdict is based upon the objective criteria of his actions.

The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16).

Simply having the right to do what one wishes doesn’t make on impartial, those are separate issues (as supreme power allows for fiat). God is both sovereign and impartial (and therefore doesn’t rule by fiat).

If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God’s criteria in order to be chosen.

In synergism God’s love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition… i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn’t that favoritism?

Here is Hendryx’s third major error: basing decisions upon objective and relevant criteria (such as action) is not showing favoritism. Complaining about objective criteria as a basis for decisions is directly analogous to (and exactly as ridiculous as) accusing a judge of partiality in his rulings because he’s “biased in favor of the innocent.” Decisions based upon objective conditions (rather than merely who the persons involved are) are the very epitome of impartial judgment. In labeling that as “favoritism,” Hendryx has the issue completely and totally backwards.

God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so? The Arminian would have us think so.

This is also a bit strange, nothing makes God love anyone; He does so freely, and extends saving grace to those who freely believe. And Arminians don’t believe in anything “above” God, so Hendryx seems very confused in his verbiage at this point.

Redefining Conditionality

It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him.

To define believing as a “meritorious” act goes completely against the theology of all major Synergists. Something being a condition does not make it meritorious, as even demeritorious things can be conditions (sin is a condition for damnation). As orthodox Synergists maintain, faith is a condition to salvation, but is of itself of no intrinsic worth or merit. Hendryx is in such a fervor to promote his Calvinist agenda that he’s stooped to badly misrepresenting Synergist theology.

Redefining Context

Hendryx drones on with his ridiculously Westernized canard about parents unconditionally loving their children and making sure they don’t get hit by oncoming traffic (apparently while making sure that the children they don’t like do get run over). He tries to use this analogy to establish that God’s love for His children isn’t conditioned upon things like faith. This is countered easily enough: first, God does love all men in the world unconditionally, which is why Christ was sent (John 3:16, which also specifies the condition of faith for eternal life). Secondly, trying to frame God’s relationship to His children as being strictly analogous to the relationships between human parents and our children is fatally flawed: none of us (apart from Christ) are His children in any sense pertaining to salvation, but we’re rather children of wrath. But the scriptures declare,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

So faith is a condition to even being His child to begin with; Hendryx’s analogy, contrary to Galatians 3, incorrectly assumes that the elect are God’s children in some special sense apart from faith.

So now God is partial?

He leads into this with some minor issues, noting that God is not obligated to save anyone and his choices are always good (I agree). He cites people’s varying circumstances and stations in life, people treating their own children differently from their neighbors, Jesus’ selective healings & resurrections of the dead (e.g. Lazarus), and so on, to prove that in actuality, God does show favoritism. As I pointed out at the beginning, God’s impartiality is descriptive of His judgment and acceptance, trying to twist it to mean that people should have identical circumstances in the world is stretching it well beyond its intended meaning. Nonetheless, we now start to see a subtle shift in Hendryx’s argument: he was just arguing that condtional election (as opposed to his view of unconditional election) makes God out to be playing favorites, but now he’s actually acknowledging that he believes God is showing favoritism, and that he extends it to election as well. He argues,

…everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.

The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people’s of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, nor because he earned God’s favor, but because God chose to.

I agree that not everyone gets an equal lot in this life; I don’t believe that’s what the Bible’s teachings about God’s fairness and impartiality are in reference to. But Hendryx has turned it into a problem for himself: No sooner has he finished arguing that conditional election implies God playing favorites, than he takes supposed examples of God’s “favoritism” in regards to people’s life circumstances and tries to extend them to election. As the saying goes, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It’s a stunning display of cognitive dissonance for him to condemn one view of election for allegedly being partial (and therefore inferior to his view), then holding up alleged examples of partiality, and proceeding to use those to promote his own view of election! This inconsistency is Hendryx’s fourth major error. First he tries to blast conditional election for making God partial in His choosing, yet now he’s backpedaling and making the claim that God is partial in His choosing, He’s just partial in a different way.

If God doesn’t satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it?

No one’s arguing that God needs to explain all of His reasons, we’re discussing how God’s revelation of His impartiality relates to divine election. Despite his decrial of condemning God based upon not understanding His reasons, Hendryx himself is quick to condemn the Arminian understanding of God as partial, and he does so without even understanding what partiality in judgment means.

Sanity Check

The issue of people having different circumstances in life doesn’t necessarily denote God being partial at all. As a counter-example, if I give my children different chores according to their ability, different bedtimes appropriate to their ages, different gifts to fit different interests, and different rewards and punishments fitting for differing behavior, I’m not playing favorites. However, if both are equally guilty of willfully disobeying a rule that carries a standard penalty, it would be playing favorites and partial judgment for me to unconditionally punish one and unconditionally pardon the other. The last major underlying error apparent in Hendryx’s reasoning is the idea that everyone being guilty makes God’s choosing some unto salvation impartial. Everyone being guilty of offending the supreme God would make His treatment, at the very least, equal to or less than what we deserve. I must stress though that this is not the same thing as impartiality. The issue is not fairness to just an individual, but partiality between individuals.

Take for instance a judge who is rendering his judgment against two men who have been proven to be equally guilty of the same crime. If he unconditionally shows leniency to the one, but condemns the other, his judgments are at worst, what the men deserve, but they are not impartial, as he is showing favoritism to one over the other. While this example pertains to judgment, not election, it is nonetheless exactly analogous to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. Hendryx condemns conditional election as making God partial, yet himself proposes a scheme of election that is partial by definition. By that token, conditional election would be akin to the judge offering both men an opportunity for acquittal: say he offers that if one or both of them will sign a pledge of loyalty and service to their rightful ruler that apologizes for and renounces their evil acts, then the judge will show undeserved leniency to whoever signs it. One signs it and goes free, the other does not and is condemned. Was the judge showing favoritism in giving a different verdict? Not at all. The conditions were laid out; he judged them worthy of condemnation by the same standard to both, and showed undeserved leniency (or not) based upon the same objective (yet non-meritorious) condition to both. This is likewise analogous to how election is conditional per the Arminian view, and plainly demonstrates that God shows no respect of persons, but rather shows leniency based upon the objective standard of faith in Christ.

If God’s impartiality does apply to election, then unconditional election will invariably be shown wanting. The only options when choosing impartially are,

1.) Everyone is chosen unconditionally.
2.) No one is chosen unconditionally.
3.) Only some are chosen, but upon an objective basis.

The only way for God’s choosing to be impartial is if only some are chosen unconditionally, AKA unconditional election. If God is impartial in election, and only some are elect, then conditional election is the only game in town.

Bottom Line:

* The impartiality that the Bible attributes to God has to do with His righteous judgments and acceptance of righteous men; it doesn’t follow from this that everyone will have identical life circumstances.
* Hendryx’s definition of partiality is too narrow. There are more ways to be partial than simply judging based upon personal traits or for personal gain.
* The act of choosing one over another by fiat is, by definition, showing favoritism.
* That all men are guilty of sin is irrelevant to the issue of God’s impartiality: choosing one over another unconditionally is still being partial.
* God choosing according to one’s belief is not basing His choice upon a personal trait.
* God choosing based upon objective and relevant criteria (like faith) is not showing personal favoritism.
* Something being conditional is not the same as it being obtained by merit.
* If God’s impartiality does extend to election, then conditional election is the only impartial method by which some (not all or none) can be chosen. Thus such an argument ultimately backfires on the Calvinist.