Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Calvinism

WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised. 

In Protestant Christianity, there is a division between people who accept Calvinist doctrines and those who don’t. Both groups think that the other group are genuine Christians, but the debate has more to do with the human free will, human responsibility and who God loves.

About Dr. Jerry Walls:

  • BA in Religion and Philosophy, Houghton College
  • MDiv, Princeton Seminary
  • STM, Yale Divinity School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame

He is a professor at Houston Baptist University. You can find a more detailed profile here.

Dr. Walls is Protestant (like me). He is a substance dualist (like me). And he believes in a real eternal Hell (like me). And he is very, very assertive. Definitely no confidence problems here. And you’re not going to have a problem keeping your attention on this lecture!

Note that I do not agree with or endorse Dr. Walls on all of his views.

Here’s the lecture: (64 minutes)

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • What are the main doctrines of Calvinism? (TULIP)
  • A look at the Westminster Confession
  • The nature of freedom and free will
  • Calvinist doctrine of freedom: compatibilism
  • The implications of compatibilism
  • Who determines what each person will desire on Calvinism?
  • Who does God love on Calvinism?
  • The law of non-contradiction
  • Does God make a genuine offer of salvation to all people on Calvinism?
  • Does God love “the elect” differently than the “non-elect” on Calvinism?

He quotes at least a half-dozen Calvinist theologians in this lecture, including John Piper, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson. And he also mentions 3 videos at the end of the lecture where he goes over specific Bible verses that seem to support Calvinism (part 4, part 5, part 6 are the ones he mentioned).

This lecture is very strong stuff, and I think that he could have been nicer when presenting it, but he hit on every single objection that I have to Calvinism, and he worked through my reasoning too! So I really liked that he validated all of my concerns about Calvinism. I’m not as bothered about the problems with Calvinism as he is, though. I don’t think it’s a big divisive issue. I almost always read Calvinist theologians when I am reading theology. I just conjoin Calvinism with middle knowledge and resistible grace, and it’s fine. Calvinists are some of the best theologians, they are just wrong on the things he discusses in his lecture.

You may also be interested in these debates on salvation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist.

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51 Responses

  1. Jody says:

    Up to 18:00, I was very impressed with Dr. Walls’ description of “Calvinism.” What he described as “Calvinism” is what I understood the Apostles Paul to be expounding on in Romans when I read it as a child – some 30 years before I read anything by Calvin or Calvinists.

    What Dr. Walls glosses over is the fact (as described in Paul’s writings) that we are dead in our trespasses and sin, and only have free will AFTER we have been made alive in Christ.

  2. Will S. says:

    “Calvinists are some of the best theologians, they are just wrong on the things he discusses in his lecture.”

    IOW, they’re great in everything but the things you happen to disagree with them about. :)

    Funny how that goes…

  3. eMatters says:

    I listened to it in spots — probably 15-20 minutes total. Apparently I listened to the wrong parts, because I saw nothing that refuted Calvinism, just some examples of where some Calvinists were inconsistent. Because Arminians and Middle Knowledge people are always 100% consistent.

  4. Jody says:

    Dr. Walls seems to be missing a category for slave to sin, and free in Christ. It seems that he credits nonbelievers with the freedom that is only found in Christ. He not one time distinguished between the will of the redeemed and the will of the reprobate. Paul certainly makes the distinction.

    Also, Dr. Walls never relied on Scripture to support his argument.

    • He says at the end of the lecture that he addresses the specific Scripture passages in the 3 video clips. And he spent about 20 minutes discussing the concept of will on Calvinism.

      • Jody says:

        It is striking that he could speak for a full hour without discussing Scripture, though. That is one thing I find compelling about, so called, “Calvinism” – it always flows from Scripture very naturally. Lutheran theologians quote Luther. Arminians… quote everybody, except Scripture. “Calvinists” rarely quote Calvin, but always quote Scripture.

  5. eMatters says:

    I still find it amusing that Arminians and Middle Knowledge people get upset with Calvinists for their interpretations. But don’t all three camps agree on the simple timeline where God knows ahead of time — that is, before He creates people — who will end up in Heaven and who will end up in Hell? Regardless of how you define predestination you can’t get around that fact. So how does the Calvinist interpretation make God a big meanie and the others let him off the hook? He knew, then He created knowing who would go to Hell.

    • Yes! But you have to listen to the lecture and answer the problem. The issue that he is raising is “does God love everyone?” Arminians say yes, and that it is humans who are responsible for where they end up. Calvinists say no, and that it is God who is responsible for where humans end up. Arminians think God is all loving, and Calvinists think that God is not all loving. That’s his view. And all he is saying is that Calvinists need to admit that – that God is not all loving on Calvinism.

      I am on Skype with a Calvinist right now and she is telling me YES! God doesn’t love everyone the same. And if you think that, then that’s fine – that’s consistent Calvinism. We just want Calvinists to be open and up-front that God does not love everyone on their view, and that God does not offer salvation to everyone equally.

      • eMatters says:

        I’d distinguish between God’s perfect love and the apparent definition of the speaker when he says “all loving.”

        Again, I don’t think the Middle Knowledge guy going to Hell in the “real” scenario God picked — even though the guy would have chosen Heaven in other scenarios — would buy into the speaker’s definition. He would rightly question if God “really” loved him if he would have chosen to follow Jesus in other universes but not this one. God obviously loved the people in the real universe more than Mr. Tough Luck — or He loved his goal of maximizing the entrants into Heaven over the individuals chosen.

        Seriously, thanks for putting these things out there. They make me think about the particulars more, and, oddly enough, make me more Reformed ;-).

        • Well, my view is that the people who are damned in this actual world would not be saveable in any world with any amount of drawing by God, so they can’t complain at all.

          But I’m really not sure about exactly what was done.

    • Seth says:

      The difference between arminianism and calvinism on predestination? Determined with purpose or without purpose. :D
      Does Calvinism produce a God who is a moral monster? http://reformedseth.blogspot.com/2011/12/does-calvinism-produce-god-who-is-moral.html

  6. eMatters says:

    Yes, we should be consistent, and she was. But I have yet to hear a non-Calvinist speak this truth when sharing the Gospel: “If you don’t trust in Jesus, then God knew you wouldn’t. He created you with full knowledge that no matter what happened in your life — no matter whom you met, no matter what you read or heard, no matter how many debates you listened to on Wintery Knight’s blog, etc. — you would NOT believe in Jesus and you would spend an eternity in Hell. His carefully crafted Middle Knowledge universe left you on the outs. Yeah, sure, one of the other possible universes had you believing, but this universe maximized the total believers. Sorry about that, champ! Or maybe He’s the Arminian God who is super-powerful but just not persuasive enough to convince you that He exists and that you should trust in Jesus. But He created you anyway, because He wanted to, even though He knew you’d never turn to him. And He loves you thiiiiiiiis much.”

    ;-)

    • Yes, but if his carefully crafted middle knowledge universe left YOU on the the outs then it’s YOUR FAULT. God is good. I am fully OK with God creating people whom he knows will not be saved, because it’s their persistent resisting of him that causes it. He is not responsible for where they go, they are. He wants them to be saved, and the reason why they’re not saved is because of them.

      • eMatters says:

        We agree that God is good and that if we end up in Hell that it is well-deserved. That’s one of the main things, and why I don’t get all worked up when people disagree on these views.

        My point is simply that the other views aren’t as far from Calvinism as their adherents like to think they are (“That old meanie Calvinist God who knew which people would go to Hell but created them anyway is nothing like our loving Arminian/Middle Knowledge God who knew which people would go to Hell and created them anyway!!!”).

  7. Jeff Messenger says:

    God “knowing” who is saved, isn’t the same as God predetermining who is saved.

  8. Dina says:

    This lecture doesn’t really apply to consistent Calvinists. I have no issue with saying God does not love everyone equally. What says the scriptures?
    God chose Israel unto salvation and rejected the other nations. Moses tells Israel, “…the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you… (Deut 7v6-8).
    Jacob (Israel) have I loved, Esau (Edom) have I hated, (Mal1v3). These examples show God choosing to bestow blessings on some and not on others; and the responsibility of those who are in receipt of the favour of God.

  9. Bernie says:

    I’m a practical kind of guy. I ask myself – what difference does it make to me on a day to day basis which of these doctrines is true or partially true. I want to understand an infinite God as best I can with my little very finite mind. So, I want to hear all of this, compare it to scripture as best I can. I am familiar with Middle Knowledge but have not examined it much yet. I tend to lean Reformed. But, in my day to day contacts with high school students, college students or others who may or may not have decided to give their lives to Christ and accept His payment for sin, I have to evangelize like an Arminian. Just in case.

  10. TMD says:

    Calvinists delude themselves into thinking that they have Scripturally-derived beliefs, when in fact, they are guilty of the exact same type of atomistic prooftexting that is often used to show Jews that Jesus is Messiah.

    One can use this method to prove almost anything. Open theism can be proven no less effectively through this method: http://openviewtheology.com/95_verses.html

    Calvinists might respond that there are responses to these verses. Sure, but the Arminian, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox responses to Calvinist prooftexting are no worse. The different parties are in exactly the same boat, but the Calvinists are in denial of this.

    Our interpretation of Scripture must be shaped by outside factors, such as archaeology. The population size of ancient Egypt, for example, was so small that we cannot rationally hold to a literal interpretation of the numbers of people in the book of Numbers. Archaeology MUST take precedence over philology.

    As Angus Menuge has demonstrated (along with Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga) it is logically impossible for any deterministic entity to reason. Therefore, any argument for determinism, including a Biblical argument, is self-refuting. The job of the exegete will then be to interpret Scripture in such a way that is consistent with the undeniability of libertarian free will. To do otherwise is like trying to prooftext that pi=3. It it futile to try.

  11. Seth says:

    disclaimer: I haven’t listened to the lecture by walls. My response is to the discussion here in the comments on is God “all-loving” and why would God create someone who won’t believe?

    William Lane Craig gives an answer to “why create Fred in the first place if he won’t bend his knee to God under any circumstances?” http://reformedseth.blogspot.com/2011/11/trusting-in-gods-sovereignty.html

    From the comments, I understand Walls to have said that on Calvinism God isn’t all-loving to all human beings but Calvinists act as if God is and that on Arminianism and Middle Knowledge God is all-loving. If that is the view being held here by non-calvinists then I have some disagreement with them. I don’t think that it’s just calvinism that holds that God loves his elect differently than the non-elect. Do non-calvinists truly contend that God loves all the same, elect and non-elect? Are we as Christians going to argue that point? Is Jesus the good shepherd to non-Christians? No he isn’t. Being a good shepherd to his sheep is an act of love, a love that is different than the love of what we may call common grace. Reformed theologians (I dare say Christian theologians in general) argue for God’s common grace to all creation. I might have a wrong understanding of common grace given I’m not a theologian, but I understand common grace to be God showing grace/love to all creation by not giving creation, specifically human beings, what it deserves which is damnation/death. That is what human beings deserve from God, but God doesn’t do that. He loves his creation, rebellious or not rebellious/elect and non-elect in that he is gracious and doesn’t give us what we deserve. He is patient. He has extended the gospel to all human beings.

    In all of this I understand God to be showing a common love to all people and quite a different love to those who have bent the knee to their Sovereign. Those who have done so are now guarded by the good shepherd (salvation is guarded), they are being sanctified by God, they now have access to the Father through Jesus Christ (prayer, worship); are we going to say there isn’t stronger love in all of this list of benefits the Christian has with God? (I only listed a few benefits there are more) Do these benefits not show that God has a stronger love for those people than those who will never trust in him for salvation? Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t think this is just a problem for the reformed crowd.

    • If I may be of some help. The problem for the Reformed is this: God’s in charge of who is saved; if God loved X enough to save them, then they would be saved. Therefore, God doesn’t love X enough to save him. It’s not a similar problem with middle knowledge, Arminian, or other non-deterministic soteriologies precisely because of determinism.

      • That’s right, Randy! We agree.

      • Seth says:

        Do you agree or disagree that God loves his own (those who are saved) more than those who aren’t his own (those who aren’t saved)?

        • Suppose I have no opinion on the matter. Then one would notice the problem still applies. This is because the question is not relevant to the problem!

          • Seth says:

            Well, I understood the speaker said something like: Does God love “the elect” differently than the “non-elect” on Calvinism? My answer is that God loves “the elect” or the saved differently than the “non-elect” or unsaved regardless of anyone’s theological persuasion. That is just a part of Christianity. Anyway the speaker seemed to indicate this is a “problem” for calvinism. No, it’s not a problem for cavlinism it’s just the way things are. I don’t understand why it would be a problem at all.

            Determinism has nothing to do with the “all-loving” thing. That is a different issue. I was bamboozled that this speaker seemed to act like this “all-loving” was a “boom, pow, right in the kisser” move against calvinism when it’s not at all. It’s just Christianity: God loves his own differently than those who aren’t his own. So it seems until someone persuades me otherwise.

  12. Jody Harris says:

    I watched it because I think it is good to challenge what I believe and to listen to good arguments against what I believe. I figure that if WK posted it, it was probably really good.

    I figured wrong.

    In an hour, not one time does Dr. Walls appeal to scripture. Also, Dr. Walls apparently has no category for the difference between the dead-in-sin and the made-alive-by-the-Spirit. He seems assume that the human cognitive machinery is as unaffected by sin as it is unaffected renewal by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (He does not indicate that the man changes at all!)

    What surprised me was the honesty with which he presented what “Calvinists” believe, even though he is missing key theological categories to understand them.

    • I’m sorry that you didn’t like it Jody!

      • Jody says:

        Oh, quite to the contrary, I liked it very much. I was disappointed that Dr. Walls thinks he has defeated “Calvinism,” but fails to understand biblical categories. I do not have a problem with you guys rejecting biblical soteriology.

        • “I do not have a problem with you guys rejecting biblical soteriology.”

          I hope this was a joke, for several reasons. But if it wasn’t, I’d just like to say this kind of rhetoric is unhelpful.

          • Jody says:

            it was said in just, but the truth is one of us is wrong or both of us are wrong, but we cannot both be right. We hold necessarily incompatible views.

            It is critical here to note that soteriology is NOT salvation. It is the MODEL that we use to seek understanding about how God saves.

          • Jody says:

            Oh, yeah: if I believe that I am right, it necessarily follows that I must believe that your model is unbiblical. The same must be true for you if you are honest.

  13. Also, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t aware Jerry Walls believed in middle knowledge. I was under the distinct impression, from “Good God” with Dave Baggett, that he did not believe it. I only mention this because a number of commenters mention middle knowledge.

  14. “if I believe that I am right, it necessarily follows that I must believe that your model is unbiblical. The same must be true for you if you are honest.”

    Thanks for the clarification! :) I am fine with jokes, but there is a clear distinction between ontology and epistemology, and a clear distinction between entailment and purported belief. What you are describing is entailment/ontology, but the joke conflated that with epistemology. While if you are correct and your model is biblical, it necessarily follows all models opposed to it are false, and hence unbiblical, it does not follow necessarily that one is rejecting biblical soteriology from an epistemological sense. So, there is one sense in which it is true, and one in which it is false. Unfortunately, I’ve just seen too many debates in which something like this line is used as evidence. People find it easier to demonize their opponents. After all, it’s easier to reject so-and-so’s line of thinking if they are evil. It happens too much in the Calvinist-non-Calvinist debates.

    I’m glad to see that you are not among those people! God bless.

  15. I added an MP3 link to the main post:

    [audio src="http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1701569/Walls_Jerry_Whats_Wrong_With_Calvinism.mp3" /]

  16. Mark says:

    Thanks for posting this, WK. I must admit, I thought I understood Calvinism, before the lecture, then, after the lecture, I thought I understood it better, but now, after reading the comments from your other readers, I think I don’t understand it at all. I am still, obviously, very confused, but allow me to encapsulate, if you will, what I understand about the subject. It seems to me (uneducated as I am), that it all comes down to this thought:

    Calvinists believe we are elected to be saved. Arminians believe we are saved to be elected.

    Am I close?

    • Both believe that humans do not want anything to do with God and that they are in rebellion and cannot save themselves.

      Both believe that God is the one who takes the lead and acts in order to save anyone who is saved.

      Calvinists believe that God chooses who will be saved, and that decision CANNOT be resisted or influenced by anything humans do. In short, he creates a group of people and saves some and does not save the others. Nothing that humans do in this life affects his decision. Full Calvinism is deterministic and implies double-redestination – since God decides where everyone goes by act or omission. Calvinists call this unilateral, irresistible decision of who will be saved and not saved “monergism” which means that God decides without our response or participation.

      Non-Calvinism says that God loves everyone equally, and the only reason that all are not saved is that not all are willing to respond to God’s drawing of them to him. In fact, non-Calvinists think that God arranges everything in the universe, including the time and place of each person’s birth and life (Acts 17:26-27), in order to get them to freely choose to respond to God’s drawing them to him. He knows in advance exactly who will respond, because he knows what they will freely do in any situation. He is sovereign over everything that happens, but everyone is making their own free decisions. Anyone who resists is responsible for resisting. Those who never hear the gospel, etc. are those who God knows would not respond under any circumstances. God is sovereign to choose who do draw, but humans are free to resist, and therefore they are responsible.

  17. eMatters says:

    (sorry if you get this twice — just delete this if so — didn’t get a message after posting the first one)

    “Well, my view is that the people who are damned in this actual world would not be saveable in any world with any amount of drawing by God, so they can’t complain at all.

    Hey WK — been meaning to ask a follow-up to this. Is your view about them not being savable in any world the mainstream Middle Knowledge view, or are there different camps?

    Seems like it would be a liability either way. If God created someone with “free will” that would not be savable in any possible universe, that sounds kinda like Reformed theology. And if some people would be saved in possible worlds and not in the real world then that would have all sorts of ramifications about God choosing.

    • I’m not sure if it is part of the mainstream middle knowledge view.

      I don’t think it’s a liability because I am fully OK with God creating these people who are freely resisting him in every situation as “vessels of wrath”. He has some reason for it and he’s got the potter’s freedom to create them if he wants, since they are damning themselves of their own free will.

      • eMatters says:

        OK, thanks. I don’t disagree with your position, I just don’t see how it is much different than the Reformed view. If God created someone who wouldn’t convert in any one of an infinite number of universes — even if they read nothing but the Wintery Knight blog, watched nothing but WLC debates and experienced nothing but Bible-based, loving Christians — then it seems indistinguishable from Calvinism on that point. They would have been created such that it would be impossible for them to believe. Unless I’m missing something . . .

  18. John Ferguson says:

    WK: Thanks for posting this. I was super excited to see this b/c I’ve picked up his book though haven’t had time to read it yet. Also, b/c he has some good credentials.

    Alas, how disappointed I was. I was surprised that he didn’t deal with any of the Scriptures (which on one level is fine).

    He quotes Packer and then follows up with a quote from a Calvinist philosopher on how Packer is confused, and then the lecturer continues to mount his attack using….Packer (!) as his example. Classic straw man fallacy.

    He says that Calvinists believe God “needs eternal evil to be fully God.” Wow, just wow.

    Also, he says Calvinists believe that God “damns people unconditionally.” I’m not even sure the most ardent supralapsarian would say this.
    Again, this is just sad. I’ve studied Calvinism for 22 years and have moved in Calvinist circles for just as long, and I don’t know anyone who would say God damns people unconditionally.

    When your argument is weak, speak loud, assertively, poison the well, erect straw men, and make statements that you wish your opponent would say, but no one actually says. And position yourself as the true defender of the idea that God is loving and your opponents as warped and twisted.

    Yeah, great argument there.

    I did a quick index check of his book to see if the speaker dealt with verses such as Acts 13:48, “…and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Though he includes it in a footnote without acknowledging what it says, he completely ignores it.

    Anyways, I enjoy you blog WK. Just wishing I could have that hour back of my life.

    • Well, I’m sorry that you didn’t like it… :(

      • imhavoc says:

        WK, Why do you say, “Well, I’m sorry that you didn’t like it?”

        That is the same response you left after my original comment. I think that John and I both enjoyed it very much.

        Rather than take our responses seriously, you redirect them with emotional judo.

        Very odd for you.

      • Jody Harris says:

        I misspoke yesterday. Your response is not “emotionalism,” but “subjectivist.”

        I apologize.

  19. Paul says:

    This was not an objection to Calvinism but rather to a caricature of Calvinism.

    You seem WK to have a problem with irresistable grace. Let me illustrate with an example. Imagine a soldier returning from Afghanistan and walking into a room where he sees his wife whom he loves dearly and another woman who is a stranger to him. Is this soldier perfectly free to try and greet either woman with a warm and prolonged hug? Could we predict which woman he would greet in this manner? Is his action free, determined or both?

  20. Marc says:

    I liked it overall, I actually felt like he represented Calvinism rather fairly and accurately for one who is against it. I wish he tried to refute Calvinism with scripture rather than more emotive appeals to whether God is truly loving under Calvinism.
    I though it was pretty hilarious that he spend so much time describing compatibilist freedom and knocking it as unintuitive and accusing Calvinists of inevitably resorting to libertarian views of freedom, but then he himself cannot help but assume compatibilism in his closing remarks from around the 1 hour mark and on when describing God’s freedom and his own freedom towards his granddaughter. It seems like in reality, compatibilism is much more natural than he is willing to admit.

  21. Thoughts on this reply to Walls’s interview? http://wp.me/p2DOKP-1G

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