The Dark Underbelly of Calvinism: Double Predestination

Standard disclaimer: Calvinism/Arminianism is minor doctrine and should not result in disunity in its discussion. Many of the greatest Christians I know differ with my position on this matter, and yet it is important to discuss these differences openly, disagreeing with but not  dishonoring any brother/sister in the Lord.

Calvinist teachers often proclaim how glorious it is that Christians have been personally chosen by God before the foundation of the world, not because of anything they have done, but because God chose to love and save them, and how this truth should make Christians stand in awe of God’s great generosity and compassion.

What rarely gets preached is the flip-side of this coin: how “glorious” it is that unbelievers are predestined to eternal torment, though they are no more or less deserving than those being saved, so that God may be glorified.

Here I should mention that there is a debate within Calvinist circles. Some argue that double predestination (the notion that God predestines some to hell) is the only logical conclusion, and some say that it is best to leave it a mystery, so as not to give the appearance that God is the author of sin (though they offer no real logical alternative – hence the “mystery”).

The fact that there is such a debate should demonstrate how terrible this point of doctrine is. How exactly does the eternal torture of billions glorify God? Why couldn’t God predestine all to be with Him in heaven? There’s no good answer. No less a Calvinist authority than John MacArthur posts on his website:

[A very young Child]: I listened to your sermon last Sunday, and I was wondering, why didn’t God choose everybody to be saved?

John MacArthur:
Kids always ask those questions. Adults don’t ask them because they’ve learned there’s no answer.

“Why didn’t God choose everyone to be saved? You know something, honey? I don’t know. I don’t know. But, I’ll give you a basic answer, Ok? And the basic answer–and I hope you can understand this–the basic answer is: because He got more glory for his own name by doing it the way He did it. God does what He does for His glory. And somehow, in some way, God is glorified in what He did, and that’s why He did it.”


This is the answer of someone forced to say something he doesn’t want to, because the “truth” doesn’t seem good at all, to him, or to anybody.

I contend that telling Christians that they should praise God because he has predestined them for salvation is like telling 18th century white slave owners that America is great because of slavery. When the natural rebuttal is presented–but it doesn’t seem so great for the damned/slaves–the answer is usually something like, “don’t look at them, look at yourself! See how merciful God is to you and how great you have it, and be thankful. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth son.” The poor neophyte Calvinist is herded away from such “childish” questions (as MacArthur would seem to think) and back to the mysteriously “great” sovereignty of God.

Now let me say that I understand why many Calvinists say what they do–because they are trying to be faithful to what they understand Paul to be saying in passages like Romans 9. When Paul says that God predestines some to hell in order “to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy” (Rom 9:23 – Calvinist reading), it’s understandable why devout Christians would feel obligated to celebrate something that doesn’t seem all that great. It’s like God is some crazy football coach who forces his family to cheer for his team whether they want to or not.

Or… we can consider that maybe we’ve misunderstood passages like Romans 9, and perhaps for very understandable reasons. In fact, the Bible itself foretells the very reason why this happens. In Romans 11, Paul warns Gentile believers that if they become arrogant towards the Jewish people on account of their rejection of Christ, that God will cut them off.  (v13-24) And this is exactly what happened. The early Church started to stray from honoring Israel, eventually began to persecute Jews, and were in many ways “cut off” from grace during the Dark Ages. Some of the Church’s deepest misunderstandings of New Testament passages are a result of arrogance towards Israel, thinking that we can rightly interpret Jewish writings without understanding the culture from which they came. Election is a prime example. Most Calvinist interpretation of passages like Romans 9, Ephesians 1, and John 6/10 flows from a misunderstanding of Jewish concepts of election.

In truth, God does actually desire that all people be saved. There’s no “secret” will; he commands all men to repent and believe in Jesus whom he sent to die for the sins of the world. He created the world without sin, and man, through his own free choice, chose to sin even though he was warned that if he did so death would be the result. Despite this well-deserved condemnation, God still desired reconciliation with man and sent his own Son to die for the sins of humanity.

Understand how different this picture is from Calvinism’s. In Calvinism, the overarching picture is one where God condemns many people (and saves a few) to glorify himself. He–essentially–uses people for his glory. In “Arminianism,” God condemns himself–he uses himself–to glorify people. He humbles himself to exalt us. It’s very easy to see how God is glorified in the latter. He shows himself the great loving King, worthy of praise and emulation.

Calvinism’s portrayal of the gospel only works if we emphasize the beneficial side of the coin. Aren’t we so lucky (at their expense)? Isn’t God so good (to us)? But a God who is only “good” to some is not truly good. Would it make sense to your unbelieving friend that God very well could have predestined him to hell so that you would be more thankful? Such a notion seems ridiculous when stated so baldly. Could it be that such a concept of election is not at all what the biblical authors intended to communicate?

In fact, there are very good Arminian explanations for all Calvinist “proof texts,” and I shall be going over some of the major ones as I did with Romans 9 earlier. It seems that in the vast majority of cases when I do explain Arminian counter-arguments to Calvinist talking points, that it is the first time that many have even heard the argument. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that Calvinists today have so dominated the conversation (at least in my circles) that most have not even heard the other side of the argument. These rebuttals should ideally stand, in the hearers mind, next to the great preponderance of biblical texts that assume that readers actually do have free choice, and that one’s decisions do truly matter.

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