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Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998


Calvinism's View Of "The Heart Of A King"

In this chapter I intend to deal with the subjects of evil and freedom. Concerning freedom I want to show how close I am to joining the Calvinists in their view of it. Concerning evil I want to show two things. First, the need to define it and distinguish between meanings of evil and second, to see if there is an answer to the classical "problem of evil".


I have taken the title of this chapter from the often quoted Proverbs 21:1; "The King's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases." The Calvinist will often quote this verse to show that God is the origin and cause of all that happens. Here is what I think the proverb actually teaches.

We are taught that even those human beings who are least answerable to others are not outside of God's control. Kings represent the most sovereign of all men and yet, they too are manipulated by God. We see some examples of it in Ezra. The very first verse tells us that God, in order to fulfill prophecy, stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus to do His will. Also, chapter 6:22 says explicitly that the LORD had "turned the heart of the King" of Assyria to help the returning Israelites.

The second part of Proverbs 21:1 makes a remarkable comparison which I think reveals how God accomplishes the "turning". It is after the manner that a watercourse is directed. The mechanics of a stream or an irrigation ditch are dependent on the effects of gravity which induce water to "seek" the lowest level. Since the fall of man, men also have a bent toward sin and suppression of the truth about God. This downward bent is what God channels and directs. He frustrates certain movements of men in one direction much as an engineer would dam up the irrigation flow in one direction to have it go in another direction.[1] The engineer accomplishes his desire even though the flow continues to be downward. It is uncanny that the metaphor used should be water rather than the imagery of "command" or "dictation" of these men.

God, however, is able to present necessities to man in a way which causes him to obey whichever necessity is the most urgent. Because man inevitably seeks to avoid conflict and tensions, and because he cannot escape the mastery over him of his lusts and pride, he is in a position to be manipulated by God (c.f. Jer. 13:23).

A further illustration of God exploiting this phenomenon would be Genesis 50:20 where Joseph tells his brothers "you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

To the extent that Calvinists say that God is the very origin of evil intent in a heart; to that extent I think they are wrong. God, however, directs men's "downward" intent to accomplish His good and just intent. The account of king Ahab of Israel ( 1 Kings 22:19-23) is an illustration of a king's evil heart being manipulated by God who used among "all the hosts of heaven" those spirits that were not good (i.e. "a deceiving spirit"). Downward was the bent of both king and spirit.


God also has full control of a believer's heart (while he is believing). This is because the believer is persuaded by God (by reason of his belief) to "walk in the Spirit" and be obedient. Philippians 2:13 says, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." God's work in us is not of coercion but of persuasion. Revelation 3:20 indicates that He stands at the door and knocks and that He will come in with those who will open it.

As the verse previous ( 3:19) indicates, Christians may sometimes behave in unbelieving ways from which they need to repent. Such a person's heart is "in the hand of the LORD" in a different sense than the repentant person's heart. The unrepentant Christian is "rebuked" and "disciplined" by the Lord. This would indicate that God directs the course of men's behavior in three different ways. Unbelievers' hearts by reason of their downward bent, believers' hearts by reason of their belief and consequent affection, and wayward Christians by reason of the attention-getting value of negative reinforcements.

This arrangement seems to leave nothing outside of God's control regarding what humans do. This is not precisely true, however. In spite of His negative reinforcements, some believers become apostate unbelievers which is not God's will. Moreover, though the heart of an unbeliever may be turned some ways, God's self limitation does not allow every conceivable turn. One such "turn" (among others that might exist) that God has put beyond His absolute control is our faith and repentance. It's true we cannot have faith in Him merely by our own willing, for as Romans 9:16 makes clear, our faith must be preceded by God's mercy. When in His mercy God grants that we should hear the gospel of our salvation, we are granted opportunity. This opportunity is not of our doing.

At this point, the Calvinist who rejects any self- limitation on God's part must also reject that God grants opportunity in the sense that all hearers may receive or reject the gospel. Because he has presupposed a God fashioned by Greek philosophical ideas, he must also believe in irresistible grace (TULIP) and in a God who has absolute control of whether or not a man has faith. They don't see grace as opportunity, but as force, as it were. They would have to see Colossians 2:13, for instance, as defining that force as God making us to come alive ("regeneration") before we have faith so that we can then have faith. But, verse 12 explains that through our faith we are "raised" with the Christ who was raised from death. [2] This faith is what is commonly called "saving faith". It teaches us that our regeneration is through faith. It shows that faith is first exhibited and that new spiritual life follows.


Some "beliefs" that men come to are compelled by God, but such "beliefs" are not the same as "saving faith" in God. In Exodus 3:19, for example, God reveals that He compels Pharaoh's belief and in 4:8,9 God has contingency plans for compelling the elders of Israel to believe that Moses had been sent by Him (Ex.4:8,9). It says, "Then the LORD said, 'If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."' God knows that it is not inevitable that they would believe the first two signs. Even the contingent nature of God's plans concerning "non-saving belief", however, tends to show God's self-limitation with regard to the issues surrounding man's faith. Nowhere does the Bible teach that God compels man's "saving faith". Passage after passage, however, shows that God grants the possibility of our faith but not an irresistible necessity. [3] Our faith is therefore of both God and man in this sense: It is of God to grant the possibility where none had existed and it is of man to respond. Grace is from God; faith, in an environment of grace, is from man (c.f. Acts 5:31, 11:18).


Freedom may be viewed from different aspects. For example, the man who refuses to accept God's law, which questions his behavior, does so believing himself to be free. He truthfully has freely done what he has wanted to do ("compatiblism" to the Calvinist). He claims that he has performed an act of freedom. He claims to have liberated himself from the law. That man, however, is not ultimately free because he could not have done otherwise but transgress God's law. He has no real freedom of his will. His passions, instincts, and "needs" are liberated, but not himself. He shows in what he does that he cannot master them but is completely enslaved to them. How then can such a person be free to have faith in Christ? Apart from God's grace he cannot, but by God's grace he is granted freedom toward believing Christ to be his Savior when he is confronted with the gospel. He is not granted freedom from his passions (even after conversion!). He is not granted that he will not sin (but the truth sets him free from having to continue in it-- Jn.8:32). He is not granted that works should save him. The only freedom he is granted is opportunity to trust a Savior outside of himself. This singular opportunity is the only real freedom of the will ever granted to men.


"Solo gratia", meaning "only of grace", is a phrase often used as a slogan among Calvinists to emphasize their contention that man contributes nothing to his salvation. The Bible makes it clear that man can contribute no "works" toward his salvation ("not of works lest any man should boast" -- Eph.2:9). But the Bible also makes it clear that a man's salvation is, in part, conditional upon faith ("by grace through faith" -- Eph.2:8). The Calvinist will insist, without clear proof, that faith is not a condition proposed by God but is one of His instruments over which He has absolute control. We must conclude, however, that a man's faith is of man and not a work and that it is essential to salvation. The word "contributes", which Calvinists use, is not easily dissociated from the concept of "work". Therefore I wouldn't say that my faith "contributes" to my salvation. We ought to say, however, that our salvation is "conditional" on our faith and that our salvation is "only of grace" as opposed to any good works being involved.


Sometimes the word "work" in the Bible is used in a sense that does not denote earning something. When it is used in the earning or meriting sense, the writers have in mind good deeds, good works, or "works of righteousness" ( Titus 3:5). This type of action does not contribute toward our salvation.

On the other hand, when the word "work" is used in the sense of "functioning", it is even applied to the action of faith. Some examples are Galatians 5:6 which states, "for in Christ Jesus [nothing counts] ... but faith working through love." And, James 2:22 which says, "you see that his faith and his actions were working together." This illustrates that our faith functions (operates) for us without it being a work of righteousness in the earning sense. Faith involves an action, but it is not a "good" action in the earning sense.

For this reason we cannot boast about our faith even though by it we pursue righteousness ( Rom. 9:32, 1 Tim. 6:11). I once used a scheme while teaching in church to illustrate the nature of faith. Before the teaching I hid a fifty dollar bill in one of the shoes I was wearing. During the lesson I explained to the group of about 25 that the appeal to believe the gospel might be likened to what I was about to do. I explained that I had a fifty dollar bill in my right shoe and that whoever would come up and get it could have the fifty dollars. After a pause of several seconds a sixteen year old suddenly came and got the fifty dollars. Most everyone else was stunned. That person had exhibited faith in my word. I continue to see that person, but not at the time of the incident nor ever afterwards have I heard boasting concerning the faith that was had. The faith was accompanied by an action, but the faith itself was not a "good" work even though the person was responsible for having the faith.

This is how it is with our salvation. We may boast in Christ in the sense of the greatness of the gift, but we don't boast in our faith as some good accomplished. That is why I agree with Dr. John Piper (in a message on "Preaching as Worship") when he says, "Faith, more than any other human act, glorifies God and humbles man." When people believe God (or me, above), it honors Him. But if human faith were the irresistible result of God's working, it would not have the distinction of being any more glorious than the creation of any other thing in the universe. All things that God has created are truly glorious, but, apart from faith itself, they have been irresistibly created. In the human act of faith, God triumphs. He does not have the glory of "triumph- over-resistance" in any other matter (c.f. 2 Cor. 2:14, Col. 2:15).

I conclude that the work that effects our salvation is only of grace (it is God's work). Also, the function that our faith plays is only possible because of grace.


An "arbiter" is someone who decides what will or should be accepted; he is someone who controls (as in controlling destiny). Is God, therefore, the arbiter of man's destiny or is man? By God's design in making man, He decided that faith would be accepted for a destiny of life with Himself. This makes neither God nor man the sole arbiter, for God decides upon whom He will have mercy, but He has designed the situation such that those granted mercy are granted an arbiter-like function. The only viable decision for man, of course, is to agree that God's decision be the one that should be accepted. I count the Calvinist's harping about me "wanting to be the final arbiter of my destiny" as specious. The fact that the Bible teaches that God limits His control of some human decisions makes their complaint moot.


Since faith is a condition for salvation, it is therefore man's action made possible by God. The action of faith is the only truly free thing that men ever do. The rejection of such faith (being part of the same action) is also free ( Rev. 2:21). Men may be free to do what their carnal desires dictate but only concerning faith are they allowed by God to be actually, metaphysically free. When man rejects having faith or acts in faith he is imaging, in a sense, God's freedom. God is free to do or not to do a thing if there are no overriding reasons for it being against His nature. God gave Adam that ability concerning faith. [4] Adam fell and man lost that ability to have faith. Through the work of the second Adam (Christ), man can once again hear the call to faith and, in hearing, be granted the freedom to respond.


Part of the Calvinist's teaching about the "heart of a king" has to do with the extent of God's responsibility in the actions of His creatures. To what extent has God "concurred" or cooperated with actions that are sinful? Does He initiate such actions or is He the author of sin?

I agree that the power to do anything that we do comes from God; even the power to sin. But, like a battery that powers an automatic device, God's operation in the things we do is morally removed from actions that initiate sinning. God does not set man's heart going in a sinful direction ("initiate sinning") rather, He "turns" man's heart. He forestalls man from doing one sinful thing which results in man turning to another sinful action. Neither sinful action is God's perfect will, but the resulting sinful action is used by God to accomplish His purposes. God is not responsible for the man's resulting new sin since there is nothing wrong with prohibiting the original sinful intention.

God is also not responsible for determining whether or not men shall respond to Him in faith since He has made our faith to be an absolutely free response. This does not negate passages like Romans 11:36 which states that "all things are through Him." Even the results of man's response to God are "through Him" to the extent that He gives the ability (the power) to man to make the response.

Calvinists, however, would make the totality of creaturely activity wholly and utterly at the disposal of the divine. To do this they resort to the concept of "antinomy" of which I addressed in chapter four. The Calvinist's antinomy argument states that God determines what men will do and that man is responsible for what he does; that both God and man are 100% responsible (that 100% plus 100% is 100%). They say we don't know how this mystery can be, but that both are true without God being responsible for man's sin. Appeal is sometimes made to the mystery of the union of God and man in Christ, but in doing so they have not established the need for an antinomy mystery regarding God's determinism and man's responsibility. Calvinists' profound agnosticism is necessary to keep them from reforming their faith.


Some of the things the Bible tells us that God does, seem at first to be so harmful and distressing that we may wonder how He could avoid being the author of sin. Here are three examples: ) "The LORD said to him 'who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" ( Ex. 4:11)

2.) "Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD has bidden him." ( 2 Sam. 16:11)

3.) "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster [evil]; I, the LORD, do all these things."( Is.45:7) My considered response to all this is not that it shows God to be the author of sin, but that there are major differences between sin and evil and even distinctions that need to be made in the use of the word "evil".


Calvinists and others often use the word "evil" in two or three different senses without being clear about which sense is being employed. "Evil" is a broad word that covers meanings such as sinful action, harm, and judgment. if used indiscriminately it could lead to confused thinking about God's role in the origin of sin. God, for instance, may rightfully cause harm or judgment but will not do what is wrong since wrong defines what is opposed to His nature. Sinful action is both opposed to God's nature and it is wrong, so we can say that God does no sinful thing (c.f. Hab 1:13).

Verse 3.), above, states that God creates evil. The context clearly excludes, for instance, that God determined that Adam should sin. The "evil" spoken of in Isaiah 45:7 is used in the "harm" and "judgment" sense. God is revealing that He is the One who allows kingdoms to rise and that He is the One who judges them ("create calamity").

Verse 2.) is an example of the outworking of God's "judgment" on David's bloody guilt in killing Uriah the Hittite. The Benjamite was, in part, announcing the fulfillment of the curse promised of God in 2 Samuel 12:11.

Evil has further distinctions because there can also be a distinction between harm that is judgment and harm that is remote from judgment or incidental. The Bible often speaks of God sending evil in the sense of judgment upon nations by sending other nations to conquer them. One example, however, of incidental harm in this connection is found in Isaiah 54:15. God says there that "If anyone does attack you [future Israel], it will not be My doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you." Here the harm is incidental because it is action that is removed from God's immediate judging activity. The harm is incidental from Israel's point of view, but results in judgment on the evil intent of the attacking nations.

I think that even in a sinless world there might be "evil" in the sense of incidental harm. I can imagine that even sinless Jesus may have at times gotten a speck of dust in His eye ( Matt. 7:3) or harmful splinters ( Heb. 5:8). Such occurrences would not be the outworking of judgment. They would be mere instances of evil in the sense of harm for which greater skill and triumph ahead was planned.

With verses like 1.) above, we have examples of what men call "evil" when they ask the question, "How can a good God allow (or cause) evil in the world?"

We have already established that God does not cause sin (initiate sinning) in the world. We also know that He does cause harm in the form of judgment. We can see where, by the results of our disobedience to God's covenant (e.g. Deut. 7:12-15), we may suffer. Two things remain that may not be clear about evil:

a.) How could a good God allow sin (evil) to begin in and exist in the world? b.) If some harm (evil) that God causes is not clearly linked to the judgment of an individual's sinful actions (as in infants born blind), how can it be of God's goodness?

Jesus gives one answer to b.) in John 9:3 where the cause (at least the overriding cause) of the man born blind is that the glory of God's working in him might be displayed. From another point of view, the harm God causes anyone born blind (for example) is only classified "harm" because of viewing that condition in relation to others that are not blind. Were everyone in the world born blind such a condition would not be viewed as an undeserved "evil", or harm. This is sort of how we view the "harm" of death. God gives and takes life. Since everyone. dies, we are not struck with notions of unfairness (in relation to others) unless the death seems to occur too soon. But if everyone died "too soon" we would not even classify such deaths as undeserved evil.

Therefore, so called "harm" caused by God can be done to glorify Himself and also it may be wrongly viewed by us as injustice, whereas, in reality the problem may be our sinful resentment that arises out of comparison and jealousy (e.g. The "workers in the vineyard" parable or Cain). By right, none of us should get to work at all in the vineyard.


I have tried to reduce the classical problem of evil to question a.): How could a good God allow sin to begin in the world?

I think the answer is similar to a situation involving "good" parents and their children. They choose to give birth to their children and as parents they remain good even though they have procreated a "situation" of possible evil. The parents remain good because they have not made it necessary that their children be evil. In fact, they have given them every opportunity to turn out good and the responsibility for evil rests with the children. Imperfect though this illustration is, it is similar to what God "allowed" in the creation of Adam. It is the free-will defense of the "problem of evil". The problem of evil is not one of divine weakness, meaning that God does not prevent "evil" because He can't. It is rather a result of self limitation on God's part in creating the kind of creature that Adam was.

If we suppose that "really good" parents wouldn't even have children, knowing that evil was a possibility, then I think the defense for the "Problem" could best be answered in the manner that St. Paul does in Romans 9 concerning the "problem of the evil of unbelief". Paul basically says that God is God and should be trusted and not questioned. John Frame summarizes well that argument. He explains that Paul appeals to God as being the standard for His actions. "God, as sovereign Lord, is the standard for His own actions. He is not subject to human judgment; on the contrary, our judgment is subject to His word." Once we correctly understand how we know what's what about God, "we can be assured, despite our questions, of God's good character, for on that matter the word of God is clear." [5]


I have argued that God has at His disposal all things except whether or not an individual will have faith. This exception is not because of God's impotency but because of His chosen self-limitation in the nature of the case. This is what I call a higher view of God's sovereignty than that held by Calvinists. I realize that to the Calvinist I have necessitated that a man's faith be causeless and that seems incoherent to them. My answer has been that our faith is a response provoked by God's word to us but that it is not irresistibly caused.

When asked, "What causes successful resistance in one who resists?", I respond that men have made a cause-less choice. I am able to postulate such a choice on the grounds of God having made us in His image. When we speak of God being free, we mean that He is free to do or not do a thing, provided that there are no overriding reasons in His character to prevent it. It should not be thought of as accidental for God to freely do something. God can be the first cause of anything He decides to do because His free decisions have their origin in an absolute personality. Being made in God's image, Adam was created with a likeness to that absolute personality and that ability to make a causeless free choice (provided there were no overriding reasons in his immature character to prevent it). [6]

Dr. R.C. Sproul tells the story of a horse that has set before him two types of food that are desired exactly equally. Sproul says that because the horse has no superior inclination for one over the other, that the horse will never eat because the circumstances will never allow for a decision of one food over the other. By this anecdote Sproul would show the impossibility of a cause-less choice. I have shown that God is free to create a cause for His choice out of nothing, as long as it is consistent with His character. God is not under necessity to do the things He does (e.g. bring about the creation of our universe). God is free and does not do what He does out of necessity, mechanistically. When He chooses to do one thing out of several equally possible (and consistent with His nature) options, there is no reason to call His action arbitrary. To do so would be slanderous. If the anecdotal horse decided that He would demonstrate the glory of his freedom by choosing brown over yellow food (though both were equally appealing), he would have been moved by a desire to demonstrate his glory. The actual choice of brown over yellow, however, was created out of nothing.

By reason of man being in God's image, I have shown that God has created one who, like Himself, may create out of nothing a free response to God. Adam's response to God was consistent with the free aspect of his nature. Our response to God's grace will be made with the freedom Adam had. This is possible because of God's grace in Christ, and God's grace is not a force.

After all is weighed, compared, and harmonized we see that God turns the heart of a king away from things by forestalling him, and, as a consequence, He turns the king's heart toward other matters and circumstances, but He does not turn it irresistibly toward Himself.



Cyrus, himself, and his accomplices had diverted the flow of the Euphrates to conquer Babylon. c.f. Edwin Yamauchi, _Persia and the Bible_ (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids,p.86)

I think this faith operates even in people who cannot speak or think. It is likely a springing up of a desire in a person to trust the Savior when they sense His appeal. Such faith would be a disposition to hear and obey the gospel, even though the person is not yet able to understand it. He is raised to life by grace through faith.

e.g. Rev. 2:21, Jn. 1:7, Jas. 1:21, Deut. 5:29, Rom. 5:2, Matt. 8:10, Jn. 5:34, Jn. 7:17, Acts 17:27, Rom. 16:26, 1Tim. 2:4, Heb. 11:6, 1 Jn. 2:2, Rev. 22:17

Adam was good but his nature was not holy like God's. Adam's nature had the "imperfection" of needing maturity_it was not that he was flawed. God's design was to make Adam mature and holy like Himself by grace through faith.

op. cit. Frame p.178

I think man's mature character in the resurrection will prevent unholy choices for all eternity.


* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.