I like to watch posts over at The Lighthearted Calvinist. Recently, in the FAQ post a commenter by the name of Arthur Adam Haglund made the argument that Calvinists are heretics. His argument, as I was able to ascertain, is that Calvinists teach a different gospel (one that requires belief in Calvinism for salvation) and that Calvinists make God into the author of evil. I wanted to post a reply to him for a while, but I never found the time to do so, and now, unfortunately, he has been asked not to post at that site anymore (I leave it to you, dear reader, if you want to peruse the comments in the FAQ to determine why, the issue is moot to me). Therefore, I have decided to post my reply to him here, at my own site and invite him to reply if he would like to.
My goal in this post is not to bring shame to anyone, nor to attack anyone. My goal is to honestly engage the question as to whether or not Calvinists are heretics. I do this because I think there are many who believe as Mr. Haglund does, and I would like to offer an honest and logical argument to the contrary. I do not wish to argue that those who holds opposing view points are heretics, but rather to demonstrate that there is sufficient room within the borders of orthodoxy and logic that the two groups may both recognize one another as Christians. This is not to say that there are not those who are heretical within Calvinism, but rather that Calvinism in and of itself is not necessarily heretical.
In order to address the issue I begin first with the allegation that Calvinists teach a separate gospel. In this I would agree with Mr. Haglund, with an "if". If someone were to teach that without a strict belief in Calvinism one cannot be saved, then that man is presenting a different gospel. The gospel is that we are sinners who have offended a holy and righteous God, and that because of our sin we are damned to hell and in need of a savior. Because we cannot save ourselves we find ourselves in a horrible predicament, which can only be rectified by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. Because Christ was the perfect offer for our sins, the only Son of God, and because he died for sin, those who place their faith in him will not die but will have everlasting life. Because Christ rose from the dead, we therefore have hope that we too shall be raised from the dead. This is what we are called to have faith in, not any specific set of doctrines that discusses issues like "irresistible grace" or "perseverance of the saints," "total depravity" or any other point of Calvinism.
If anyone teaches that without a thorough grasp of Calvinism that one cannot be saved, that man is foolishly making the work of man a necessary part of salvation. The idea of election is not in Scripture to save the lost, it is there to comfort the saint. Growing in grace in knowledge is what happens after we are saved, as we walk with Christ. And even then there are those who disagree with Calvinism. Calvinism is not necessary for either salvation or orthodoxy. There are many, both Arminian and Semi-Pelagian who are saved and in the family of Christ, and there are probably Calvinists who know the 5 points and could argue them convincingly who are as damned as anyone because they do not truly know nor have a relationship with Christ who is their Lord and only savior.
But, the more interesting argument, in my opinion, comes from the question as to whether or not Calvinists are heretics because they make God the author of sin. Here Mr. Haglund notes that, strictly speaking, Calvinists argue that God has ordained everything that happens, including sin. This is because Calvinists see God as totally sovereign, so that nothing happens without God willing that thing to happen. Therefore, if God has ordained sin, Mr Haglund argues, God is responsible for sin.
Now, the Calvinist would respond that God uses secondary Causes, and therefore God is not responsible for sin. That is to say, God ordains what will happen, but he also ordains how that event will happen. In regards to sin God so acts so that the secondary cause (either men or angels) do what they want without him being morally responsible for what they are doing. So, when a man commits murder, God has ordained the death of the man, and the manner of the man's death, and even the one who would kill him, yet at the same time God is in no way responsible for the moral decision the man made to sin by committing murder.
It seems Mr. Haglund's response to this is that it is foolishness to argue that God is not morally responsible. In the case of any primary cause acting so as to bring about the event through a secondary cause, we always hold the primary cause culpable for the event. To use an example from Mr. Haglund: Suppose I shot a man and fatally wounded him. He is rushed to the hospital where the doctor realizes the man has very little blood left and so orders an immediate transfusion. For whatever reason the doctor orders the wrong type of blood and so the man goes into shock as his body rejects the blood that has been forced into his body, and thus dies. Now, the cause of the man's death is that the wrong blood was given to him, but this is only the secondary cause. The primary cause of the man's death, the one responsible for the man's death, is the fact that I shot the man.
However, in the case of God we are not so arguing from unintentional secondary causes, but rather what we are arguing is that God acts in such a way that men choose to bring about the very events which God desires. And God does this without over riding the moral autonomy of those men. Such an example is seen in Scripture where we read: "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23) And, "for truly in this city were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:27-28) Thus we see that the disciples themselves argued that the crucifixion occurred according to God's plan, but was carried out by evil men acting in their own will.
Another example we see of God using secondary causes would be the story of Joseph in Genesis 37. Joseph first has a dream where he sees his brothers bowing down to him. Then he has a dream where he sees his brothers, his mother, and his father, all bowing to him. He tells these two stories to his family and the dreams make his brothers hate him even more than they already did. In fact, the two dreams seem to be the tipping point that leads to his brothers eventually selling Joseph into slavery.
When Joseph goes to see his brothers in Shechem (he actually finds them in Dothan) they see him coming from far off and say to one another, "Here comes this dreamer." It is the dreams that finally caused Joseph's brothers to determine that they can stand him no longer and want to kill him. We even see them mocking Joseph's dreams by commenting on how his dreams will come to nothing after they have killed him.
However, after Joseph was sold into slavery, God used the same gift that so angered his brothers to lift him up in Egypt. Joseph was able to rise to great power in Egypt because he understood dreams and had been given wisdom by God in how to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. And, just as God used that which angered his brothers to lift him up, so God also used the famine of the land to bring Israel to Egypt. Once in Egypt, Joseph became the one who provided for his family by telling them what they should say to Pharaoh in order to get the grazing land they desired.
Finally, after Israel dies, Joseph's brothers come to him and tell him that their father asked him to forgive them of their cruelty to him. Whether or not his brothers were lying is left unmentioned by the text. However, Joseph has no intent to harm his brothers because of what they did to him, but loves them very much. So Joseph addresses them with a powerful line and says to them: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good."
What this story shows us is that God was using secondary events all along in Joseph's life. First, God used Joseph's pride as he recounted the dreams he had, which came from God, to bring about the anger of Joseph's brothers. Then, God used the anger of Joseph's brothers to bring Joseph into Egypt. Then, God used Joseph in Egypt to save his brothers and his family. Thus, God ultimately used Joseph's pride, his brothers' anger, and Joseph's slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, all as a means to accomplish his goal of bringing Israel into Egypt to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years.
As to the counter argument: God does not ordain sinful events, however, he looks through time and uses those events as part of his plan. This argument seems good on its face, but there are logical problems with the argument. Bear with me and I'll explain.
First, let us assume the argument is true. God looks through time and simply knows what people will do in the world he has created. He does not ordain the sinful actions of man, but he does know them and he so arranges the world and his plans so that the things he does ordain take into account the sin of humanity. In this case God still brings about events such as Joseph entering Egypt, but he never ordained that Joseph's brothers would enslave him or hate him.
Yet, there is a problem with that argument. If God ordains that Joseph will rise up into Pharaoh's service out of slavery, but does not ordain that Joseph will be a slave, then there is a logical failure there. That is to say, if God ordains that Joseph will rise up out of slavery then it becomes logically necessary that Joseph must first be enslaved. Thus, while we may argue that God does not ordain that Joseph will be a slave, in fact God makes it logically necessary for his plan that Joseph be a slave.
Thus, while we're saying God is not ordaining Joseph be slave, at the same time we are saying it is logically necessary and part of the required plan of God that Joseph will, in fact, be enslaved. It seems thus that God must necessarily ordain that Joseph be enslaved as he has ordained his response to Joseph being enslaved. The only way to avoid this conclusion would be to say that God has ordained what he will do "if". But, the problem is that if we say God's plan is only "if" then we must assume that God is not all knowing. As soon as we allow that God is all knowing we must also admit that God has planned every event that will ever happen, and that every event that happens must happen as part of God's plan.
Thus, God ordains every event that happens. God does not override the moral decisions of his creations in ordaining what they will do. God does not become the author of sin in ordaining that certain sins will, or must take place. Man is still fully responsible for the choices he makes, and God still, rightly, holds him responsible and judges him according to those choices. And yet, the choices of man are not outside of the dominion of God.
Are there other ways that one can interpret the passages of Scripture I chose to look at? Perhaps, but I would be interested to see how anyone would be faithful to both the text of Genesis and Acts and still argue that God did not ordain the specific sinful choices in view of those texts. This is not an easy to wrap our minds around, it is not an easy doctrine to agree to because it makes us nervous about what we are claiming, and it certainly makes me want to defend the character of God. However, if God so chose to reveal himself in this way, and chose to make it clear that he ordained the choices of Joseph's brothers and the men of Israel who crucified Christ, and yet he also holds them accountable for the actions they took and the sin they committed, though it brought about his purposes without their knowing it, if this is the God of Scripture and his power, then who am I to complain against him? He is God, I am man, and his ways are above mine, his power is not for me to complain against, but rather to trust in, knowing that in his goodness he will accomplish every good purpose he has intended, all to his glory.