Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”

A while back I did a five part series responding to a post by C. Michael Patton entitled, “The Irrationality of Calvinism.” I recently noticed that some of the posts in the series did not have links at the bottom directing the reader to the next post in the series, leaving the impression that there were only two parts to the series, rather than five. I have gone back and added in those links to the bottom of those posts. I will also post links to all five parts below:

Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations 

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton


It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most…Isn’t this ironic? I have never had a call from an Arminian (or any other believer in conditional election) about this. In my experience, it is only Calvinists who doubt their faith in such a way with such traumatic devastation. Why? From: Doubting Calvinists.

This article is interesting in a lot of ways and should be carefully considered by all Calvinists.  I have always maintained that Calvinist doctrine undercuts Biblical Assurance.  Patton finds assurance in his present belief (though he admits that assurance is not total).  However, Calvinist doctrine makes present assurance impossible, while Arminian doctrine fully comports with that possibility:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Ironic And Telling Tweet by John Piper on Waking up in The Morning as a Believer 

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance, and Anxiety?

[some of the material below was recently added]

Not only that, but the Calvinist cannot even have assurance of final salvation as he cannot be certain that his faith will endure to the end until it in fact endures to the end.  Only when his faith endures to the end will it prove to be a genuine saving faith.  Since the Calvinist cannot know that his faith is genuine till he endures in that faith till the end, he cannot have even present assurance of salvation as mentioned above.  But the Arminian has a strong basis for present salvation assurance.  Not only that, in knowing that God desires his salvation and will give him all the power he needs to continue to trust in Him, the Arminian has a strong basis for assurance in final salvation as well.  A commenter in one of the posts linked to above, put the matter well when he wrote,

But I would add that Arminians do have substantial assurance of future final salvation, simply not absolute or unconditional whereas Calvinists, as you point out, can have no present assurance and therefore no future assurance whatsoever and be consistent with their own doctrine. In everyday life, people have substantial assurance of future benefit which is nonetheless conditional on their continuing to meet the condition for that future benefit, for example continuing to consent to receive it. So Arminians can have solid assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation, which is contingent on them continuing to meet the condition, which is faith. Put another way concerning future salvation, we have full assurance of future salvation on the condition of faith. And wonderfully, God promises true believers the ability to persevere in faith and that nothing can tear them away from him. So with present salvation we have the absolute assurance that God will enable us to persevere unto final salvation and that God is for us. He simply does not gaurantee that he will *make* us persevere. Arminian theology gives far more assurance than Calvinism: In Arminianism, full assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation (i.e. full assurance on the condition of faith) vs. in Calvinism no assurance period.

Now it is important to note that many Calvinists have assurance *despite* their theology. But the important point is that it is despite their theology, which puts their theology at odds with Scripture, which teaches that we can know that we are saved….let me restate one of my points in stronger language: in everyday life, assurance of a future benefit is almost always conditional on at least the continuing free consent of the receiver of the benefit. Hardly anyone ever thinks of such assurance as minimal or meaningless. It is simply a given that receiving a future promised benefit remains contingent on consenting to it. Here’s an illustration: if one is on a train that the company assures will get you to your destination (and it has never failed a customer), one can have assurance that one will arrive at the destination (and assurance is accordingly greater with the reliability of the one promising the result; in salvation it is God, so assurance is certain). But that does not mean that one cannot decide to jump off the train. The company’s assurance to take you to the destination does not include forcing you to stay on the train. So saying Arminians don’t have absolute, unconditional assurance for final salvation verges on being a red herring or perhaps irrelevant instead. It is not the type of assurance people ever normally have with respect to future promised benefits. We have seen that Calvinists don’t have such assurance from their theology anyway. But it is good to underscore the very real and profound assurance of future salvation that Arminian theology gives in harmony with biblical teaching from which it is draw and that Calvinistic theology can never deliver. [link to comments]

As noted above, a believing Calvinist could still have salvation assurance based on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that their fundamental doctrines negate the Biblical basis for salvation assurance.  But as Patton’s post reveals, it can serve to put the knowledgeable Calvinist in great tension between what the Holy Spirit might be communicating to him and what are the unavoidable implications of the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.

I Am Just More Committed to Being Biblical Than You

In lieu of my recent interaction with C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism”, I thought I would highlight a relevant post from a while back:

I ‘ve Finally Come to Embrace Open Theism

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 5: Taking The Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

[updated with some necessary corrections on 2/5/13]

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

Patton: These two issues, human freedom and sovereign election, are not contradictory when put together, but they are a mystery.

This is the same claim Mr. Patton made in his first post called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”

We have already begun to highlight the problems with this claim.  Mr. Patton makes an assertion here and nothing more.  If human freedom and sovereign election is understood in the Arminian sense, then there is no mystery.  If “human freedom” is to be understood in a compatibilist sense (which Mr. Patton holds to), then there is still no mystery.  The mystery is removed by redefining “human freedom”.  The only reason we would have for seeing this as a supposedly “apparent” irrational “mystery,” would be if “human freedom” was taken in the true libertarian sense, and if “sovereign election” were understood against the backdrop of exhaustive determinism.  But Mr. Patton rejects human freedom in the libertarian sense, so his claim here is puzzling.

Patton: This is one of the mistakes that I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity.

Again, Mr. Patton quickly turns the “unanswerable problems” that his Calvinism creates into an attack on Arminianism.  We have already shown how this is an easily reversible argument in Part 4.  It is also interesting to see Mr. Patton imply that Arminians handle the tension (that only Calvinism creates) by giving up on interpretive integrity.  Again, this would seem to be easily reversible when one considers the way that Calvinists typically try to “interpret” the many passages that seem to plainly contradict their system, since it seems to us that Calvinists very quickly jettison interpretative integrity for the sake of making such passages “fit” with their Calvinism. [8]

Patton: There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not formally irrational, just don’t make sense.

Fair enough, but how do we determine what is “formally” irrational and what is only “apparently” irrational?  My guess is that if it is part of a Calvinist claim, then it can only be “apparently” irrational, regardless of whether or not the Calvinist can in anyway show how the irrationality is only “apparent”.  Let’s see…

Patton: The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and creation out of nothing all fit this category. All of these are beyond our ability to comprehend.

True enough, but none of these doctrines are illogical.  To say something is beyond our ability to comprehend does not mean it is irrational.  But Mr. Patton knows that the claim against his Calvinist “tensions” is that they are actually illogical. So how does reference to mysteries that are clearly not illogical help him to explain illogical “tensions” in his system?

It is quite true that we simply do not know how God could create things out of nothing, but there is nothing illogical about that.  That is an example of a true Biblical mystery and no Christian has a problem with that mystery.  Likewise, there is nothing illogical about one Being existing in three persons.  It is beyond our comprehension because we have no examples to look to in our finite experience (in our experience, all beings are both one being and one person, so it is very hard to imagine a single being who is also three persons).  It would be a contradiction if the doctrine said that God is one person and three persons, or one being and three beings, but the doctrine doesn’t say that.  If it did, Christians would be right to reject it as “real” and not just “apparent” irrationality.  So the Trinity is likewise an example of true Biblical mystery, and no Christian has a problem with such mysteries (when properly understood). [9]

Patton: Once we fit them into a rational box and figure them out, we have entered into heresy (although I do not believe the Arminian view is heretical).

This is a bizarre statement.   Surely Mr. Patton knows that Arminians, like all Christians, fully affirm the Biblical mysteries he just described (the Trinity, creation ex nihilo and the hypostatic union) and therefore, do not need to “fit” such Biblical mysteries into a rational box, since there is no indication that these mysteries are irrational in the first place.  All of this just deflects and confuses the issue.  While it is true that both mystery and contradictions cannot be “figured out”, they cannot be figured out for entirely different reasons.  “Mystery”, as Patton has so far demonstrated, cannot be “figured out” because it goes beyond human capabilities and comprehension, but does not contain contradiction.  Contradiction and irrationality cannot be “figured out” because it reveals error.  To say a contradiction cannot be “figured out” is simply to say that it is false and, by definition, cannot be made true.

Patton: The issue of human freedom and unconditional election is in the same apophatic domain.

No it isn’t.  It is not the same at all, and Patton hasn’t shown that it is.  Instead, Mr. Patton has given us examples of legitimate mystery and then just asserted that the tension involved in his system is likewise legitimate.  But examples of true mysteries do nothing to prove that contradiction is mystery.  Again, all we get from Mr. Patton on this is baseless assertion.

Patton: We can’t make sense out of them and once we do, we have entered into error.

Rather, we can’t make sense of them because they reveal error. Talk about twisting things out of shape.  Mr. Patton has now essentially claimed that to allow contradictions to reveal error is itself an error.  What a mess Mr. Patton’s polemic is creating.

Patton: There are many things that God reveals that confuse us and baffle our thinking.

True, but irrelevant.

Patton: Theyseem irrational.

And again, Mr. Patton does nothing to help us know how we can tell the difference between real (formal) irrationality and only “apparent” irrationality.  The best we can assume is what I mentioned earlier: any irrationality in Calvinism must, by definition, be only “apparent” rather than real.  How do we know that?  Because Calvinism is true, of course!  This is a wonderful situation to be in as a Calvinist.  The Calvinist system is now entirely safe from falsification of any kind.  You can’t point to irrationality to disprove Calvinism.  In fact, that itself would be “error” and lead to “heresy.”  Ah…but how nice that the Calvinist can still use rational arguments to disprove opposing systems like Arminianism.  It must be so nice to be a Calvinist!  This is another point I made to Patton way back in 2008,

“Also, when you affirm tensions that seem to me to be plain contradictions (though it seems you would deny that or at least try to “reconcile” it) you give up all rights to criticize an alternative theological system on rational or coherent grounds. You forfeit the right to point the finger at Arminian theology and say, “that doesn’t make sense with what the Bible says”, etc. You put your system in a position of being impossible to falsify and yet attack other positions based on incoherence.

Now maybe you have never done this. Maybe you have never said that Arminianism leads to conclusions that simply do not make sense or are incoherent, etc. But if you have attacked Arminianism on logical grounds with respect to what you perceive as Biblical realities, then you have no right to affirm “apparent” contradictions within your own system and even go so far as to make the acceptance of such “apparent” contradictions (“tensions”) into a pious act for the sake of just trying to be more honest with the Bible etc. Do you see where I am coming from? Hopefully I am misunderstanding you on this.” (Link)

…But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Patton in the least, and based on many more posts criticizing Arminianism on logical grounds, I am confident I have not misunderstood him.  Again, it must be nice to be a Calvinist.  If you disagree, you are just afraid to embrace tension.  You are just trying to make the Bible “fit” your man made system, traditions or false common sense assumptions.  If you point out inconsistencies, they will just appeal to mystery and shame you for not being willing to embrace Biblical mystery as they do.  Indeed, you might even be told that you are actually committing error (being irrational) in expecting things to be so rational.  You are just so hung up on your western thought and American common sense.  You just want things to be fair.  You just want to get your way.  You just want to be sovereign over God.  You just want to talk back to the Potter. You might even be told that you are just trying to satisfy the desires of your sinful nature.  And on and on…

Patton: Yet we find God saying, “Chill. Just trust me. I got this under control. While I have revealed a lot and I know you have a lot of questions, this is a test of trust. I love everyone but I did not elect everyone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Will you trust me or will you redefine things?”

And so we can add “you just don’t trust God” to the list of why anyone would dare criticize or reject Calvinism.  My goodness, who wouldn’t want to be a Calvinist at this point?  And notice again the blatant question begging in that, for Mr. Patton, the only possible reason for rejecting Calvinism would have to be an attempt to redefine Biblical teaching.  Does Mr. Patton really believe that Arminians have no Biblical grounds at all for rejecting Calvinism?

Patton: God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction.

So Mr. Patton keeps asserting.

Patton: We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

But if such issues are false, God certainly does not know how to reconcile them.  The One who is Truth cannot reconcile falsehood.  Their “collective truthfulness” is certainly taken away if they cannot co-exist at all (i.e. they are false).  Assertions and question begging do not prove co-existence.

Patton: I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.

Funny, that’s what I think about Calvinism!

Patton: The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to abide for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

Well, allow me to counter-assert that the Calvinist system improperly labels irrationality, contradictions and error as “mystery” for the sake of Calvinist fidelity and to render Calvinism unable to be falsified, even by reason and truth.  And let me point out again that Calvinists will often go to great lengths to try to remove such “tension and mystery”.  The doctrine of compatibilism is just one such example.

Patton: As I said before, I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think that it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human intelligibility.  I think it is a good illustration where the West meets the East. Revelation meets mystery. Cataphatic theology meets apophatic theology. While Calvinism is not formally irrational, it is emotionally irrational. I get that. But I think we need to take both pills.

Translation: Calvinists are brave and noble because they accept “tension”.  If you reject Calvinism, that is probably because you are just too western, too rational, too intelligible, too Cataphatic, too emotional and just not brave or tough enough to “take both pills.”  Shame on you!  And note again that while Mr. Patton never tires of asserting that Calvinism is not formally irrational, he has still not taken up the task of demonstrating why this is so.  Why should we just take his word on it, especially when it is the main point in dispute? The question begging continues.

Admittedly, Patton would probably not put things as gruffly as I have here, but this is exactly what his arguments amount to when simplified and taken to their logical conclusions, and it is time that Calvinists like Patton are taken to task for such claims.  They have gotten away with this stuff too long, and it has made fruitful and honest discussion nearly impossible.  The Calvinist and Arminian debate is first and foremost a debate about Scriptural interpretation, and interpretation involves reason just as any other thing that looks to discover truth.  Calvinists need to stop making the outlandish claim that Calvinism is superior because it accepts mystery where Arminianism does not.  They need to stop talking like they are just tougher and braver for accepting hard truths that Arminians are just too afraid to face.  They need to stop telling Arminians why they believe as they do, when they really haven’t a clue. They need to stop demonizing logic and reason while, hypocritically, using logic and reason against those who disagree with them.  They need to stop telling Arminians that Arminianism is all about philosophy, when their arguments are extremely philosophical.  They need to stop talking about accepting “tension” when they are not willing to accept “tension.”

Nobody is perfect, and none of us are fair or right or consistent at all times when debating tough issues.  However, such silliness as this has really gone on for far too long.  From now on, let’s try to play by the same rules and stop assuming that if people reject Calvinism it must be for some sinister spiritual or emotional reason, and cannot possibly be because we simply find Calvinism unbiblical.  I can honestly say that if I could find Calvinism in the Bible, I would happily accept it.  However, I cannot find Calvinism in the Bible, and so I find no reason to accept it or live with the supposed unanswerable questions that Calvinism apparently creates.  Hopefully, Mr. Patton and Calvinists like him will begin to accept this fact.  The sooner they do, the sooner we can have an honest, respectful and fruitful dialogue on these important issues.

Go to Part 1


[8]  Obviously, Arminians find Calvinist attempts to deal with passages that express a universal scope to the atonement,  God’s love for the world, desire to save all and desire that all come to repentance, as contrived.  Such attempts by Calvinists to reconcile such Biblical declarations with their doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement would seem to be anything but an exercise in interpretive integrity.  The same holds true for the many warning passages in Scripture and passages that seem to plainly teach the possibility of apostasy.  For a detailed exegetical examination of such passages, see my 13 Part series on Perseverance.

[9] Patton might be interested to know that some Calvinists are Calvinists because they apparently cannot deal with the supposed “tensions” and “mysteries” in Arminianism.   F. Leroy Forlines cites John S. Feinberg as one such example.  He cannot deal with the “mystery” of how God can foreknow anything without predetermining what it is He foreknows.  Forlines quotes him as follows:

“If indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future.  If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies.” (Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, pg. 32)

Forlines cites J.A. Crabtree as another example,

“No one, not even God, can know the outcome of an autonomous decision that has not been made, can he?  To assert the possibility of such knowledge is problematic.” (The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol.2, pg. 436)

Likewise, Loraine Boettner echoes the same distaste for such “mystery”,

[Arminianism’s rejection of divine foreordination constitutes a rejection of] “the theistic basis for foreknowledge.  Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 42; All quotes taken from F. Leroy Forlines’ Classical Arminianism , pg. 44)

[I wonder what Mr. Patton would make of Boettner’s appeal to “common sense”?]

As we can see from these quotes, foreordination (determinism), for most Calvinists, takes the mystery out of foreknowledge.  For them, God cannot possibly foreknow what he does not decree and predetermine will take place.  Therefore, God simply cannot foreknow truly free will choices or contingencies.  God’s foreknowledge must, therefore, be entirely dependent on his decree.

It has been pointed out by Arminians that this leads to the unfortunate and unavoidable logical implication that God can only foreknow our sinful thoughts, desires and choices, because God first thought them up and decreed them from eternity, making God the responsible author of all sin.  It is interesting that Calvinists will swallow this horrible implication under the guise of “mystery” and “tension”, but cannot bring themselves to accept the mystery of God’s ability to foreknow the truly contingent free will choices of His creatures.

Calvinist James Oliver Buswell, Jr. is an interesting exception.  He finds no problem with affirming God’s ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices,

“To the question then how God can know a free act in the future, I reply I do not know, but neither do I know how I can have knowledge by analysis, by inference from reason or from causes, or from statistical data reported by intuition, or (if it is insisted upon) by innate ideas.  Knowledge is a mystery in any event, and God’s knowledge of free events in the future is only one more mystery, revealed in Scripture.  We have good and sufficient grounds to accept, and no valid grounds to reject, what Scripture says on this subject.” (A Systematic Theology, 1:60, quoted in Forlines’ Classical Arminiansim, pg. 74)

Arminius, like Buswell, was happy to leave the mystery of how God can foreknow the future as a mystery.  There are plenty of other mysteries in Arminianism that Calvinists simply cannot tolerate (like how we can have alternative power in the will).  One doesn’t need to read too much from popular Calvinist writings to see that.  I guess Calvinists just cannot deal with a system that has so much mystery and tension.

For a concise article on how divine foreknowledge is completely compatible with libertarian free will, see here.

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Patton: To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. This creates a problem. It creates great tension.

I agree that this creates a problem, but it is a Calvinist problem based on the Calvinist interpretation.  It is not an Arminian problem, so the Arminian does not need to solve the problem by altering or fixing anything.  It simply does not exist in Arminianism since the Arminian interpretation does not create such “problems.”

Patton: For the Calvinist, this tension cannot be solved and should not be solved. So how does the Calvinist live with this? How does the Calvinist answer the Why? question?—Why does God choose some and not others? Why does he still find fault?—What is the Calvinist answer to the How? question?—How can there be true freedom when God is the one sovereignly in charge of election?—We have no answer.

So Mr. Patton admits that his Calvinist interpretations create problems for which there are no answers.  That’s fine.  If he wants to embrace and “live with” the unanswerable problems that his theology creates, more power to him.  I don’t have a problem with that, though I would prefer that such “problems” would prompt him to carefully and cautiously re-evaluate whether or not his interpretation might be in error.  However, it is wrong for Mr. Patton to try to make himself feel better about his theological and interpretative problems by making the argument that Arminians do not have these problems because they improperly try to make things “fit” and try to answer questions that should not be answered or cannot be answered.  Again, Arminians do not have the same problems as Calvinists, simply because Arminians do not interpret the Bible as Calvinists do.  Arminians like me would appreciate it if Calvinists like Mr. Patton would leave us out of their problems.

Patton: We get off of our stool and punt to apophatic theology. The tension is left in tact since. We place our hand over our mouth here and say, “Though we have no answers to why God did not choose people he truly loves, we will trust him without judgement.” We will neither redefine divine election or human freedom to make it fit a more rational or logical system.

And here we go again with the blatant question begging and false assumptions concerning how and why Arminians do not have the same “problems” that C. Michael Patton has, along with seeming back slapping concerning how theologically brave he is to put his hand over his mouth in the face of such “problems” and “tensions.” [5]

Patton: While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation.

Indeed.  Does Patton ever do this?  Well, let’s play his game.  I will just make a few counter assertions and see if that helps clear things up.  You see, the reason why Calvinists hold to limited atonement is because they cannot reconcile unconditional election and penal satisfaction with unlimited atonement. [6]  Rather than just admit that the Bible teaches both and live with the “tension”, they try to make atonement “fit” their system, and redefine the scope of atonement by limiting it to the elect alone, despite the many clear Biblical declarations concerning the universal scope of the atonement.

Likewise, the reason why Calvinists reject the idea that true believers can abandon the faith to their own destruction is because this creates “tension” with their doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.  Rather than just embracing the “tension”, Calvinists try to make things “fit” by rejecting and “redefining” the Biblical teaching that true believers can abandon the faith and forfeit salvation.

Furthermore, Calvinists reject conditional election because they cannot reconcile how election can be conditional and not be meritorious.  Rather than just living with the “tension”, Calvinists “redefine” election and make it unconditional in order to make it “fit” and to make their theology more “consistent.”  This is the same point I made to Patton long ago in the second part of my comment (quoted above) on his previous post, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option” :

Let’s take another angle. You say the Bible teaches unconditional election (and you appeal to certain Scriptures) and I say the Bible teaches conditional election (and I appeal to certain Scriptures- and surprisingly some of the same Scriptures you think teach the opposite). Now, can’t I just as easily say that you reject conditional election due to the tension it creates for your view and your unwillingness to embrace those tensions? Maybe you reject conditional election because it creates too much tension for the Calvinist. (link)

Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bible (supposedly) teaches both God’s exhaustive sovereign control over all things, including our wills, and that we have freedom of will in the true (libertarian) sense.  But rather than embrace the “tension”, most Calvinists “redefine” freedom from the true sense of freedom to a “freedom” that leaves no real control of the will to the person at all.  This “solution” to the “tension” is called compatibilism.  Does compatibilism with regards to freedom and determinism leave the “tension” in tact, or does it eliminate it?  It clearly eliminates the tension by redefining freedom to mean the “freedom” to do as one must.  It becomes the “freedom” to choose what we have no choice but to choose.  They haven’t embraced the tension, but rather whittled away at the square peg of freedom until it is “compatible” with the round hole of determinism.  So in the end, their redefinition of “free will” to conform to determinism only succeeds in making determinism “compatible” with determinism and jettisons real (libertarian) freedom in the will for the sake of relieving unpleasant “tensions.” [7]

It is strange that much of the thrust of Mr. Patton’s post has to do with how Calvinists simply embrace this tension between determinism and free will with hands over their mouths, and yet Mr. Patton holds to compatibilism which plainly “redefines” freedom so that it is no longer freedom in any real sense at all, all for the sake of relieving the “tension.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches both human freedom and sovereign election, we leave the two in tact.

Not really, you “redefine” human freedom to make it “fit” with your view of “sovereign election” and “exhaustive determinism.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches that God loves everyone more than we can imagine and that God desires all to be saved yet he does not elect some, we trust God’s word and live with unanswered questions.

Not really.  Instead, you “redefine” what it means for God to “love everyone more than we can imagine” and how it is that God “desires all to be saved” in order to avoid “tension” and make such plain Biblical concepts and declarations “fit” with your doctrines of reprobation, irresistible grace, and limited atonement.  And again, it needs to be pointed out that all of what Mr. Patton says here hinges on “if the Bible teaches” such things as unconditional election.  Arminians contend that the Bible does not teach such things.  They simply do not see unconditional election anywhere in the Bible.  So again, Arminians have no need to “live with unanswered questions” that their reading of Scripture does not produce in the first place.  For us, unconditional election is a fiction, and there is certainly no need to reconcile fictions with Biblical truth (like the truth of an unlimited provision of atonement reflecting God’s love for all in His desire for all to be saved).

Go to Part 5

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2

Go to Part 3


[5] However, there are moderate 4 point Calvinists who, unlike Mr. Patton, seem to have the guts and fortitude to live with the “tension” in affirming unconditional election, penal satisfaction and unlimited atonement.  Why do they do this?  Because they find unlimited atonement to be so clearly taught in Scripture that it would be exegetically dishonest to deny it.  For examples of some of these more noble and brave-hearted Calvinists, see here  and here.   It would seem that if Mr. Patton truly finds tensions to be so desirable as likely markers for Biblical truth, he should become a 4 point Calvinist.

[6] This seems to primarily be an allusion to Job’s response to God in Job 42:1-6.  But Mr. Patton’s allusion to Job is strange, since Job did not shut his mouth in the face of blatant contradictions.  Rather, Job shut his mouth in the face of numerous divinely relayed examples of things that are beyond his comprehension or power to control (like creation, the mysterious nature of the creatures that God created, God’s control over the elements, and many other such things, Job 38-41).  These are legitimate mysteries and not contradictions.  Even the main “mystery” in Job concerning why Job is suffering is actually plainly revealed in the first few chapters, and that mystery has nothing to do with any sort of contradictions or mutually exclusive concepts.  Again, the tactic seems to be using examples of real Biblical mystery to legitimize Mr. Patton’s Calvinist “problems.” But what Mr. Patton needs to do is demonstrate that his Calvinist “tensions” and “problems” can rightly be called Biblical mysteries, rather than unacceptable contradictions that reveal error rather than Biblical truth (or mystery).  Unfortunately, this task is never taken up by Mr. Patton.

[7] Compatibilism fails to account for real freedom as described in Scripture, or account for accountability as described in Scripture.  For more on this, see The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.  See here  for more.  But Calvinist compatibilism does more than to just claim that two mutually exclusive ideas are actually compatible.  It actually works to make them logically compatible (and in the process eliminate the supposedly desirable mystery and tension of the whole thing).

An example of mutually exclusive concepts would be a bachelor and a married person.  You simply cannot reconcile these two concepts.  They are not compatible.  One cannot rightly be a bachelor and married at the same time.  But if you can cleverly redefine “bachelor” to mean  “a married person”, then Viola! “married” and “bachelor” are now compatible!

But if one doesn’t like the compatibilist “solution”, one can just say it is an “apparent” and not “real” contradiction, with no “apparent” burden assumed or required to actually demonstrate how this is the case.  When it comes to Calvinism, bare assertion regarding such sensitive and difficult issues will just have to suffice.  After all, since Calvinism is so obviously true, it simply can’t be a “real” contradiction, no matter how real it seems.  And if you find that unacceptable, then perhaps you just don’t have the fortitude to deal with the hard truths of the Bible.  You probably just aren’t willing to do the right and noble thing and “put your hand over your mouth” in the face of such profound “mysteries.”  You probably just don’t have enough room for “tension” in your hyper-rational theology.  For this reason, Calvinism becomes essentially impossible to falsify on logical grounds.  How nice for Calvinism.

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

[Updated with some additional material on 1/28/13]

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Patton: Therefore, [according to Arminianism] God’s predestination of people is “fair” and makes sense. After all, there are too many questions left unanswered when one says that God chooses who will be saved and who will not. Why did he choose some and not others? Did God make people to go to hell? Is God fair? “Why does he still find fault, for who resists his will?”

The Arminian chooses this position because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile human freedom and God’s election.

Here is where Mr. Patton really missteps.  First, Patton assumes that the Calvinist view is the Biblical view.  This assumption is essential for his further argument regarding why Arminians hold to Arminianism and reject Calvinism.  Since he assumes the Calvinist view is the Biblical view, he assumes the only reason an Arminian would have for rejecting that view would be a matter of desiring fairness, answers to questions Calvinism can’t answer, emotional reasons, or a need for consistency.

But what if Calvinism is not the Biblical view?  In that case, none of this would follow.  Even if it is the Biblical view, none of this necessarily follows.  Arminians might reject the Calvinist view simply because they do not find it Biblical! Why should they be called on to accept Calvinism just because Calvinists think it is so Biblical?  And why should they be thought to reject it for the reasons Patton describes, if it can simply be the case that they do not think the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is correct?  Mr. Patton’s assumptions are rooted in blatant question begging, in assuming that since Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, one can only have non-Biblical reasons for rejecting it.

Patton: Both [human freedom and God’s election] are clearly taught in Scripture.

Amen!  They are indeed, and there is no “tension” there, because Biblical election is not Calvinist election!  So the problem of “tension” is a Calvinist problem, and not a Biblical problem, unless it can be proven that Calvinism is entirely Biblical, which is the very issue in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians.

Patton: Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistent theology, one or the other must be altered.

Again, here is where Mr. Patton’s argument against non-Calvinists entirely breaks down.  Arminians don’t need to alter freedom or election since Arminians are convinced that the Bible does not teach Calvinist unconditional election.  Patton assumes that the Arminian starts with an assumption and then “alters” what the Bible teaches in order to get the Bible to fit that assumption and remain “reasonable and consistent.”  But on what basis can Patton make such an assumption?  On the basis of his “assumption” that Calvinist election is Biblical election.  But again, that is the very issue in dispute! I pointed this out to Patton in a comment in a similar post he wrote called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  (I corrected some typos to make it more readable)

Mr. Patton,

Just a few quick comments with regards to two of your statements:

In the end, my argument is that the Arminian tradition attempts to reconcile tensions that are best left in tact for the sake of a rational understanding.


This post is primarily focused on the issue of unconditional election. This concept creates too much tension for the Arminian.

I can only speak for myself but I do not reject unconditional election because it creates too much tension for me. I reject unconditional election because I do not see it in Scripture. I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible. Now you may say they exist but that brings us back to a matter of exegesis and interpretation.

I also reject Calvinism because I see so many Scriptures that seem to plainly contradict it as a system. And I do mean contradict (I am not referring to creating “tension”).

Now it seems that you became a Calvinist because you found some tensions in the Bible that you could not resolve without becoming a Calvinist but then you also affirm that you see Calvinism as superior because it holds to so many tensions. Strange.

Anyway, I am fine with you being a Calvinist but I get a little frustrated when Calvinists tell me why I hold to Arminianism and it seems that the two statements above get quite close to that. You are welcome to your tensions and you are welcome to see them as evidence for the truthfulness of your system but I think it is pushing it to tell Arminians that they are Arminians because certain concepts “create too much tension” for them, etc.

You can see my full comments here.  Unfortunately, Mr. Patton did not really interact with my comments at all.  He  did make some general comments that might have partially been in response to me here.  I left some follow-up comments here.

Therefore, it is not a matter of Arminianism not “allowing” inconsistencies and Calvinism “allowing” them (which apparently appeals to Mr. Patton).  Rather, Arminianism simply does not “create” the same tensions that Calvinism does.  Arminianism doesn’t need to “allow” for inconsistencies that are foreign to Arminianism (i.e., since they are foreign to how the Arminian understands and interprets the Bible).  Only Calvinism needs to do that. So it is inaccurate and question begging to paint Arminianism as a system that “cannot allow” inconsistencies, simply because it does not interpret the Bible in the same way as the Calvinist.  This is also an easily reversible argument (as we shall see in Part 4).

Patton: However, the Calvinist is not satisfied with a redefining of God’s election to make it fit.

Could the question begging be any more blatant than this?  Patton assumes the Calvinist definition of election is correct, and then says that Arminians “redefine” it to “make it fit.”  But that is not the case.  The Arminian does not see Calvinist unconditional election in Scripture, and therefore has no need to make anything “fit.”  As I said to Mr. Patton in the comments quoted above, “I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible.”

Go to Part 4

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

See Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

 Patton:  However, I think we need take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The central core of Calvinism primarily centers on one doctrine: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands.

This is highly debatable among Calvinists.  This may be Mr. Patton’s opinion, but I think that he is probably in the minority.  Sovereignty (defined as God’s exhaustive control over everything) is what leads to the Calvinist understanding of predestination in many Calvinist’s minds.  However, it is true that the Calvinist view of predestination can lead back to such a view of sovereignty, but it does not demand it.  Unconditional election and predestination can just as easily fit within a system that does not hold that God exhaustively determines all things.  Also, for many Calvinists, “predestination” is essentially synonymous with the doctrine of God’s exhaustive determinism and is not limited only to matters of salvation (like unconditional election and reprobation).  In other words “predestination” simply means that God “predetermines” everything in reality (i.e. exhaustive determinism, the Calvinist version of “Sovereignty).

Patton: An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

This is a confused statement.  The Arminian view of sovereignty is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty just as the Arminian view of predestination is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty.  Mr. Patton’s distinction here is not really accurate.

Patton: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination.

Just as both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s sovereignty (which Mr. Patton happily admits here ), which is why Mr. Patton’s previous comment is awkward and strange.

Patton: In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen.

We need to stop right here, as Mr. Patton’s comments wrongly imply that Arminians base “predestination” on “merit”, simply because Arminians hold that predestination (more appropriately, election) is conditional.  Mr. Patton should know this is not the case.  Arminians hold that election is conditioned on faith, and faith holds no merit (Romans 4).  It is also simply an obvious non sequitur to assume that if something is “conditional” it means it is “earned” or “merited”.  This is a common Calvinist mistake and a misrepresentation of Arminian theology that is still perpetuated, despite Calvinists (like Mr. Patton) being continually corrected on the matter.

Also, it must be pointed out that Mr. Patton is conflating election and predestination, as Calvinists often do.  Unfortunately, even Arminius seemed to conflate the two based on his ties with Reformed thinking.  But many (if not most) Arminians today do not see election and predestination as the same thing, because the Bible doesn’t view them as the same thing.  Election has to do with God’s choice of His covenant people to belong to Him and bear His name.  Predestination has to do with God’s predetermined purpose for His covenant people.  Predestination is not about God predestinating some sinners to become believers.  Rather, predestination has to do with God’s eternal purposes for believers (to adoption as sons, to an inheritance, to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc.).  Calvinists, like Mr. Patton, will likely disagree with that important distinction, but it is a distinction that should not be overlooked, especially when trying to compare the Arminian view with the Calvinist view.

Patton: This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditional. It has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

This is not a very good description of Arminian election.  The Classical view would better be expressed as God’s election of “believers” in Christ.  Jesus is the “elect” and only “in Him” is anyone “elect” (note again Mr. Patton’s conflating of terms).  Arminian election has its “founding” in Christ, not “the faith of the predestined.”  So God foreknows those who are joined to Christ in faith and therefore it can be said that election is “according to foreknowledge.”  It is not so much a foreknowledge of an act of faith, but a foreknowledge of people (“believers”), joined to Christ.  Faith is how one comes to be joined to Christ (Eph. 1:13), but it is the person “as a believer” who is in union with Christ that is the proper Biblical object of foreknowledge, not just the act of faith that joins one to Christ.  God foreknows and elects “believers” because they are joined to Christ (Eph. 1:4).  To be fair, some Arminians have expressed it as Mr. Patton does, but that is not the best way to express it.  It ignores the main focus and purpose of election in Arminianism, an election based on Christ and those who come to be in faith union with Him.

The corporate view is even more robust and even more Biblically accurate in my opinion, but it is not the Classical approach.  The corporate view does not rely on foreknowledge as the Classical view does, either.  Mr. Patton doesn’t even mention the corporate view, so I will not spend time delving into it at this time. [4]

Go to Part 3


[4] For more on the corporate view of election, which I believe to be the Biblical view, see “Corporate Election Quotes” and “Corporate Election (Resources)