The 6th Point of Calvinism
When it comes to the doctrine of providence, Calvinism is often linked to theological determinism, which is the model of providence that affirms that God causally determines all events that will come to pass. I’ve come across many individuals who desire to espouse Calvinism as a soteriological system, while at the same time seeking to reject the providential system of theological determinism. In this article, I will seek to demonstrate that theological determinism maintains a logical connection to Calvinism and it would be difficult to maintain Calvinism under a different model of providence.
Under Calvinism, there are generally five "points” that make up the structural framework of Calvinism. They are best known under the acronym, TULIP, though in recent years there have been attempts to adapt some of the terms. The five “points” of Calvinism are listed below.
T: Total Depravity. This is the assertion that, due to the fall, humans are depraved to such a point that they that are in a condition that does not allow them to respond with faith to the gospel without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
U: Unconditional Election. This is the assertion that, prior to His act of creation, God determined who would be saved and who would not be saved and this determination was not based on anything the individual would do, hence it is unconditional.
L: Limited Atonement. This is the assertion that in His salvific act on the cross, Jesus’ death was only “for” those who were unconditionally elected for salvation. By this it is meant, that Jesus did not die “for” all, but only “for” the elect. There is a lot of baggage with the word for, hence the quotation marks.
I: Irresistible Grace. This is the assertion that God’s saving or effectual grace in the life of those that are unconditionally elected will complete its intended purpose without fail or impediment. If one is elect, they will without fail, express faith in Jesus Christ.
P: Perseverance of the Saints. This is the assertion that all that are the elect will persevere, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and they will not “fall away” from the faith. Once saved, always saved, so long as the individual is actually saved (elected).
This system is often highly regarded as a monergistic system, in that it emphasizes God’s active role in salvation and eliminates the role of man in the actualization of salvation. While examining the scriptural data and theological support for the above theological assertions is not within the scope of this article, I will make an attempt to argue that there is an additional “point” of Calvinism that is intrinsic to the system, though it is not stated above.
A brief review of the assertions above can demonstrate that theological determinism is not explicitly stated within the system, which is why many individuals who are Calvinists feel free to reject theological determinism. However, a quick examination of God’s foreknowledge as it relates to salvation in Calvinism can help to demonstrate the logical connection between theological determination and Calvinism.
In Romans 8:29-30, a verse frequently used to support a Calvinist soteriology, says that, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His son...and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” In these verses, it is clearly stated that those whom God “foreknew” would be glorified. There have been different speculations and discussions both theologically and philosophically on the nature and the source of God’s foreknowledge.
The question that is often asked is, if God has this foreknowledge of those who will be saved, how does He have this foreknowledge? Some have speculated that God has this foreknowledge because He is able to foresee those who would respond with faith in their lifetime and so armed with this foreknowledge, He predestined, called, justified, and glorified those individuals. Calvinist’s explicitly reject this theory of foreknowledge on theological and exegetical grounds. Instead, Calvinists assert that God has this foreknowledge, because He determined those who would be saved, and under the assertions of Calvinism, He caused them to be saved since salvation is strictly monergistic.
It is on this point of foreknowledge where we can connect theological determinism to Calvinism. For, if God has foreknowledge of those who will believe because He determined them to believe and subsequently caused them to believe, this leads to the question, what about the other things that God foreknows? For, if God foreknows that at 8:44 pm on September 26, 2021 that I would be writing this sentence, the question, “How does God have this foreknowledge?” resurfaces. At this point, a Calvinist would be consistent by saying that God has this knowledge because He determined that I would write that sentence at that time and He subsequently caused me to write the sentence. This of course is the doctrine of theological determinism. A Calvinist that does not want to commit to theological determinism is left in a really difficult position if they desire to maintain God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, because there is only one other system of providence that allows for exhaustive foreknowledge, which is Molinism. I will demonstrate below that this system of providence which rejects theological determinism and affirms exhaustive foreknowledge, is incompatible with Calvinism.
The system of Molinism is a complicated system of providence built on the idea that God has middle knowledge and I will not be able to do justice in explaining the full system in brief here. If you are unfamiliar with middle knowledge and Molinism, I suggest that you read on the topic, perhaps from Willian Lane Craig, to understand it in greater depth. In simple terms, God has knowledge of future events because He knows what free creatures would do if they were in a particular set of circumstances. For example, in 1 Samuel 23, David asks God if the people of Keilah would surrender him if Saul were to come down. This verse is often appealed to in order to demonstrate that God has this type of contingent knowledge of what would happen in a particular set of circumstances. From the narrative, David then proceeds to leave from Keilah, and so then the people of Keilah do not in fact turn him over, but it appears they would have, according to God’s middle knowledge, if David would have stayed. Related to providence, it is through access to this middle knowledge that God then is able to actualize different circumstances to accomplish His purposes, ordering the world through the different circumstance outcomes that He has available to Him. The scope of this article is not to address the viability of Molinism itself, rather, it is to demonstrate that Molinism as the only way out for a “non-deterministic Calvinist” is not a viable option.
This option is problematic for the main tenets of Calvinism, though there have been a small handful of Calvinist thinkers who have attempted to combine Calvinism and Middle Knowledge. The biggest problem is that Molinism, while seeking to maintain libertarian free will, limits God’s maximal freedom in effectuating salvation, which is something that a Calvinist typically seeks to affirm. The only way to syncretize Calvinism and Middle Knowledge is through the limiting of God’s freedom in salvation and making his salvation contingent on free actions which is disastrous for a monergistic system.
1. God’s Limited Choice in Election
It is a major tenant of Calvinism that God’s election of individuals to salvation is unconditional, in that it has no reliance of what an individual would or would not do. However under Molinism, God’s election would have to be conditional because He would only be able to elect those who place faith in God in a particular set of circumstances. Under Molinism, necessarily there exists a set of individual in every possible world, who would never express faith in any circumstances, and thus, they are virtually unable to be saved by God.
2. God’s Dependent Salvation
Molinism would also make God’s salvific efforts both limited and dependent on the available outcomes. This would mean that at T1 God would not be able to provide the necessary circumstances for John to be saved, God would have to wait until T3 when John would freely choose to express His faith in God. This means that God is limited to effectuating salvation at T3. Under Molinism, God orders the world with these available possible outcomes, which necessarily implies that there are outcomes that God cannot actualize, thus limiting His salvific activity only to the circumstances where salvation is a possible outcome.
3. The Problem of Perseverance
If humans maintained their libertarian free will under Molinism, God could not guarantee perseverance after someone has expressed faith. This leaves God with the option of either only electing those individuals who He knows would also persevere in the faith by their own volition or electing individuals who God knows would not persevere in the faith. Either way there is no way for God to guarantee that an individual who will at one point express faith in God will also maintain in the faith for the rest of their life, since necessarily with libertarian free will, there exists an individual who would at one time freely express their faith yet at a later time freely choose to reject that faith. This makes perseverance entirely dependent on the free choices of man, not on the work of God.
While there are many other difficulties with combining Calvinism with a Molinist system of providence, I believe that these three are the most critical as they directly undermine the core tenets of Calvinism, namely unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. I believe these three objections adequately demonstrate that Molinism is not a viable option of providence for Calvinists who want to reject theological determinism. With this being the case, and there not existing any other adequate models of providence that affirm exhaustive foreknowledge, the individual must either embrace theological determinism, reject exhaustive foreknowledge, or reject Calvinism.
While Calvinists may desire to separate themselves from the doctrine of theological determinism, it will be incredibly difficult for them to do this while affirming the core tenets of Calvinism and exhaustive divine foreknowledge. There are too many problems that arise from attempting to maintain Calvinism with the only other viable option for exhaustive foreknowledge, Molinism.
I do believe that it can be adequately shown that there is in fact a 6th point of Calvinism, namely theological determinism, that is intrinsic and necessary for the function of the system. With this 6th point of Calvinism being shown to be present, an individual is left with either embracing theological determinism, rejecting exhaustive foreknowledge, or rejecting Calvinism as a soteriological system. Each one of these options carries it’s own set of implications that are worthy of consideration and there must also be even greater consideration given to what Scripture has to say about all of these options. Regardless of what route one takes, I think it can be stated clearly, theological determinism is a necessary entailment of Calvinism based on God's foreknowledge.