The Calvinist God as “Bully”
In his critique of the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, Munoz asserts that “God, in traditional five-point Calvinism, is a bit of a douchebag, the sort of person that on playgrounds we call bullies and in political offices we call tyrants and dictators.”
The problem with this loose analogy, of course, is that playground bullies are flawed individuals who habitually harm others for no legitimate reason. Tyrants and dictators, also unlike God, are characterized by a total disregard for restraint by any rule of law. Almighty God, on the other hand, is bound by His own nature to carry out justice in accordance with his eternal, divine law. The force of this analogy remains incredibly weak.
To bolster his point, however, Munoz uses an additional analogy. He seeks to illustrate how God’s being merciful to only some people is the same thing as actively damning other people:
“After all, if God didn’t choose everyone for salvation, then He still in essence damned the unchosen to hell. It would be like if I brought enough food to feed a starving village, but I only gave the food to some of the villagers and not all. You might say, ‘why are you condemning some of the villagers to starvation?’ To which I might reply (in four-point fashion), ‘I’m not condemning any of the villagers to starvation. They were all going to starve anyhow. I’m just choosing to feed some of them.’”
A version of this sort of illustration has been used even by Norman Geisler in his book Chosen But Free, where the cold, unfeeling food provider is instead a farmer who lets boys drown in his pond because they swam without respecting various warning signs. But just like Geisler’s version, Munoz’s illustration is a kind of argumentum ad misericordiam. The illustration falls incredibly short in that it contains hidden assumptions about the key players and overlooks what would be far more appropriate parallels with the Scriptural account of Christ’s atonement and humankind’s response.
It would be more like if there were a starving village that used to have countless farms with bountiful crops that were planted by the village’s founder. But over time, the villagers have continually destroyed all of their own crops as well as those of their neighbors. And even while they are now starving on a daily basis, they have actively chosen starvation because of their intense hatred for the founder of the village, the same one who has given them literally everything for the entirety of their lives. The village leader has never actively condemned anyone to starvation—he gives them over to their own desires by passively allowing them to condemn themselves to starvation. This is a punishment that is more than justly deserved because of their hatred and rebellion.
But even more than this, the village leader still demonstrates an unfathomable level of love by eventually requiring his own son to starve to death so that some of these obstinately rebellious, hateful villagers will have the opportunity to have something to eat and thereby live. The son freely gives his food to these people, even though they have acted in disgusting and completely reprehensible ways toward him and his father, and he dies in the process.
In time, the attitudes and minds of many of the villagers are changed to not only understand the magnitude of this act, but to finally turn to the village leader by asking for his forgiveness and acceptance. The village leader embraces these transformed people in love, even dressing them in his dead son’s own clothes and adopting all of them into his family.
Meanwhile, the rest of the villagers continue hurling insults at the village leader and his son, maintaining that they will continue starving themselves to death in spite of what was just given to these others. Each of them continues to violate all of the established laws that are part of living in the village under the leader’s jurisdiction and protection, and they encourage everyone else to do the same.
Now, we’ve included sin! Now, we’ve spoken of actual rebellion! And now, we’ve also reflected in a much more accurate way the context in which Christ’s atonement took place.
Obviously, this scenario is not only completely different, but it is at least far more analogous to the situation as Scripture describes it.
We frequently see Munoz and others in his camp pressing us to accept God’s ontological nature of love in an all-affirming and non-exclusivist manner. What we rarely see them talk about, however, is the retributive justice of God, which is rooted in His holiness and has been expressed through the historical revelation of his perfect law. Like the village leader, God is under no obligation to offer grace or mercy to anyone, lest “grace” and “mercy” be entirely robbed of their essential meanings. It was a demonstration of love beyond comprehension that the village leader allowed his son to die for even a single one of these villagers to eat and live, just as it was for the Father to allow his son to die for rebellious, God-hating sinners.
Bear in mind that I’m not pulling my description out of thin air. In fact, there’s a somewhat similar version of this illustration in Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Banquet. which appears in Matthew 22:1-14. This is also where we get the idea, from His conclusion to the story, that “many are invited [called], but few are chosen” (v. 14).
What’s most insulting (and truly indicative of a lack of serious, respectful engagement with his Reformed opponents) is that Munoz sinks to describing this type of response to people’s rebellion as that of an “asshole” or a “douchebag.”
To me, this is an amplifier turned up to “11” showing much of the spirit in which his argumentation is being made. I hope and pray that he and others would at least reflect on the idea that this is unnecessarily harsh, insensitive, and uncharitable, even if they never change their views with regard to Calvinism.
Munoz’s Final Objections: Useless Missions, Unlucky Children, and Dubious Justice
The standard, logical response to Munoz’s idea that “Limited Atonement means that the work of Christian missionaries is incredibly wasteful” is this: Missionaries have no knowledge of who the elect are, and the act of preaching itself is what brings many of the elect to faith in the first place (Rom. 10:14-17). Thus, doing away with missionizing would not only defy the Great Commission commands of Jesus—it would also take away an essential part in the chain of events that have been decreed by God in the bringing about of people’s redemption.
And yet, there is no reason to insist anyway that the majority of people in some particular area are not elect, since God’s sovereign choice in saving individuals could theoretically include 99% of Cape Town and 3% of Paris if this happened to be His will!
“If nothing else, one would think that God would give missionaries some clear indication of who the elect are so as to mitigate the amount of time wasted on trying to convert the reprobate. It seems kind of wasteful (even at times cruel) of Him to just make it a guessing game where unimaginable amounts of time, energy, money, and health are thrown away chasing an impossible outcome.”
Honestly, this comment is not just an objection to missionary work among Calvinists, but also to missionary work in general. Essentially, the argument would have to be that any mission work that produces insignificant numbers of visible converts ought to be abandoned, since it represents an enormous waste of time, energy, money, and health with low returns on investment.
But this is ridiculous. The Scriptural paradigm is completely different, since it is said to be “neither he who plants nor he who waters [who] is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:7). Preaching is essential to the outgrowth of the gospel, regardless of whether we know who will ultimately receive it in faith or not.
I guess that’s just the way God wanted it to be, some might reply. God is good, even if we don’t understand how or why He would do such things. This is the reply that I often hear from my Calvinist friends.
I suppose that this could be a typical default response, but it doesn’t have to be the only one by any means (which, we must admit, is how Munoz characterizes it). Yet the question is not whether God should have done things more efficiently from a human perspective, but rather what God has already chosen to do in accordance with his perfect wisdom.
Regardless of one’s soteriology, we still don’t have any knowledge of who will ultimately be saved. Logically, then, this critique ought to also be applied to non-Reformed perspectives. Even the staunch Arminian will preach with the confidence that only those who are willing to believe will do so, and this blind preaching for the sake of reaching even one single person could be said to make it all worth it (compare Luke 15:1-7, 8–10).
The peculiar thing is that every (and I do mean every) Calvinist I have ever met assumes that they are part of the elect. There seems to be no reprobate Calvinists.
This suggestion is just silly. No one, not even the Calvinist, is suggesting that everyone who accepts Reformed theology is elect by default. There’s no doubt at all that it’s incumbent on all believers, even Calvinists, to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Although Paul suggests that someone could “fail the test” by not truly being a believer, he still qualifies his statement with an expression of “hope [that] you will realize that we have not failed the test” (2 Cor. 13:5-6).
Beside this, it’s incredibly ironic that a theology viewing man as being “inclined to deluded self-admiration” could be criticized on the grounds that it’s arrogant in some way. Now, I’ll admit that any Calvinist could be arrogant in thinking that he or she is absolutely correct in believing one thing or another about salvation or God’s will or whatever else. But there’s still no built-in mechanism that makes Reformed theology more inherently arrogant as an understanding of Scripture than any other system of thought.
Munoz’s most cutting and provocative point, however, is in the following two paragraphs:
But what if it’s not like that? What if many Calvinists are actually part of the damned? Think about it. It’s easy to see a system as just, or at least justified, when it doesn’t affect you negatively. But what if it did? What if you, who think you are safe because you are a good Christian, were actually determined by God before your birth to spend eternity in hell? In fact, what if it were one of your kids? What if your child—whom you love, and you kiss, and cuddle while reading bedtime stories, and taught to walk and talk and use the potty—what if God’s divine intention is that they suffer unending agony, and neither you nor they could genuinely choose to do anything about it?
Would you still call God just? Would you still call Him good? You could certainly fear that God. But could you genuinely bring yourself to love Him? And, even if you could, wouldn’t there be something psychologically unhealthy about loving a being who was so single-handedly abusive toward you and your children?
I have one question in response: What kind of “loving Father” would God be to leave every single one of His own creatures alone to carry out their own destructive free will choices, and to do all of this when He could freely use His own power to transform their evil desires and give them eternal life?
You see, Munoz doesn’t accept the concept of Total Depravity either. He instead accepts the idea that every human has total ability within himself or herself to accept the gospel and live according to it. But since only some will still choose to do so under Arminianism, I fail to understand how rejecting Calvinism exonerates God in any way. Even if Arminianism were true, all I could then blame an unbelieving son or daughter for is being too stubborn or stupid to believe, or whatever else I might decide to offer as an excuse.
Another question is whether we truly love God more than our own flesh and blood, or even whether we trust “the Judge of all the earth” to “do right” (Gen. 18:25) with regard to their eternal fates. It is crucial that the true Reformed perspective on this is understood. A consistent Calvinist who is also a Christian would not only be compelled to praise God for saving a child as an example of His grace, but also to praise God—even though it would be in tears and with total heartbreak—for carrying out His righteous justice by leaving a child to reprobation.
If someone could only love God because of his ensuring a child’s salvation, I daresay that this person does not love God at all, but rather loves a self-constructed image of God. He or she is infatuated with an idol.
Scripture, in fact, already tells us how we ought to respond to suffering, all of which comes from God’s purposes that have been decreed from eternity. Even if my firstborn child were to be irreversibly damned and cast into hell, my only reasonable response would be to hold my son in my arms, look upon his precious face, and pray, as Christ did before his crucifixion, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
The last consideration (for this post at least) is the question, on what reasonable basis could God even make such a damning distinction? If we allow for the idea that God is ultimately the one who calls the shots on who is saved and who is damned, we must wonder by what standard He makes this decision. What rule of law or love could be so clearcut as to give God a just way of determining people’s eternal destinies before any of them can even take their first breath?
That’s the best part. There isn’t one. It’s kind of just random. But we’ll talk about that more in the next post when we examine the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
Here, Munoz’s last mistake is one of equivocation. God’s sovereign and perfect purpose in personally extending mercy to individuals—especially individuals who don’t deserve mercy at all—is considered the same thing as a purposeless roll of a die. Munoz would have us view God’s intimate, personal choice in saving people as indistinguishable from the scratching of a cheap lottery ticket.
Is this truly the most appropriate description of Unconditional Election? I would maintain that it isn’t even close to an accurate reflection of the doctrine. For the next post, we’ll turn to this very point: the “U” of Calvinism’s T.U.L.I.P. acronym.