Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Leviticus Principle

I’m going to comment on this post:

It is part of the essence of Calvinism that there are two distinct groups of individuals in God’s overall economy: the elect and the non-elect. The elect are the grateful recipients of God’s irresistible, unmerited grace and are thereby saved. The non-elect, by sad contrast, receive no such grace; they are passed over. Consequently, they are damned for all eternity.

To be damned for eternity is hardly unique to Calvinism.

Now even Calvinists admit that this scenario makes it at least appear that God is being unjust or unfair.

No, I don’t grant that this scenario makes it at least appear that God is unjust or unfair.

After all, why not just give irresistible grace to both groups?

In that case, they wouldn’t be two groups.

First recall that according to the Calvinist story, God gives irresistible grace to some (the elect) but not others (the non-elect). If that’s the case, then some individuals are shown favor that others are not. The question at once arises: Is this just or fair?

Arises for whom? Arminians?

Notice that in asking this question, we’re not asking whether it is just of God to punish those who deserve it. Of course it is. Nor are we asking whether it is generous of God to bestow grace on those who don’t deserve it. It most surely is. Rather, we are asking whether it is just or fair for these two (spiritually) qualitatively identical groups—i.e., the elect and the non-elect—to be treated differently.

The standard answer is that it is just to treat spiritually identical individuals differently if both parties have no rightful claim to better treatment. 

If two debtors owe me money, I can justly forgive the debt of one but not the other. I owe them nothing: they owe me something. Since both of them are in debt to me, I’m not wronging one of them if I require him to pay me back. 

But there is a further, truly fatal difficulty. The Calvinist proponent of (3) faces the following dilemma. Either God has a basis for his differential treatment of the elect and non-elect or he doesn’t. If there is no basis, then God’s decision to award irresistible grace to the one but not the other of these groups is wholly arbitrary; in which case God is a reckless, unprincipled decision-maker–a conclusion which is at once both manifestly unfair (to the non-elect) and theologically appalling.

i) To begin with, the inference is fallacious. Even if God’s discrimination were “wholly arbitrary,” that wouldn’t make it unjust.

ii) Moreover, unconditional election doesn’t entail that God has no basis for choosing to save one sinner rather than another.

a) For instance, God might save one sinner but not another, even though it’s within his power to save everyone, to demonstrate the sheer gratuity of grace. What better way to demonstrate that he’s under no obligation to save anyone than by only saving some rather than all?

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom 4:1-5).

b) God might also reprobate some sinners to manifest his justice. If God is good, then it is good for God to reveal his nature.

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22).

iii) God might reprobate some to illustrate the fact that, left to their own devices, sinners love evil.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19-20).

iv) If God saved everyone, then some people who would go to heaven in this world won’t go to heaven in that world, for they won’t exist in that alternate world–where everyone is saved.

The elect make different choices in life than the reprobate, and vice versa. Lead different lives. That alters the course of history, including who is born.

Like time-travel stories which involve changing the past, the earlier in time you change the past, the more you change the future.

Many heaven-bound sinners exist due to various choices the reprobate made upstream. If everyone upstream were elect, that would change the course of events downstream.

If God elected everyone, he would be erasing many who are otherwise elect in this world. Saving everyone in that counterfactual future would come at the expense of the elect in a world where everyone is not elect.

Each scenario has tradeoffs. If everyone is elect, many people miss out. For that comes at the cost of another world with a different set of elect sinners.

If you don’t think it’s appalling, just ask yourself how you’d like it if your professor used a similar method to grade your term paper. Without a doubt, this horn of the dilemma is squarely on the broad road leading to destruction.

If it was a fair test, and several students flunked the test, the professor could justly discriminate. It would not be unjust for the prof. to give some, but not all, failed students a second chance.

Arminians never appreciate the culpability of sin. They treat sin as misfortune rather than guilt. Bad luck rather than just desert.

Well, let’s suppose instead that God does have a basis for his differential treatment of these groups. Then according to the Leviticus Principle, it must be contextually relevant. Now the context for giving or withholding irresistible grace is spiritual or salvific. Therefore, according to LP2, it will be just or fair for God to favor the elect over the non-elect only if God’s basis for doing so is a spiritually relevant one. By hypothesis, however, there is absolutely no spiritually relevant difference between the elect and the non-elect: they are all dead in their sins; they are all incapable of recommending themselves to God. On this horn of the dilemma, then, God has favored the elect but on a purely context irrelevant basis. By LP2, therefore, he has acted unjustly.

Here’s their prooftext:

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Leviticus 19:15).

The Leviticus Principle is that (ceteris paribus) a judge ought treat the guilty as guilty and the innocent as innocent. If the poor are innocent, they should be acquitted; if the great are guilty, they should be convicted.

It follows logically and inescapably that God’s treatment of the elect and non-elect is either arbitrary and unprincipled or it’s contextually irrelevant. Either way, the unhappy outcome is that God has unfairly and unjustly favored some with irresistible grace while withholding it from others. But given the Leviticus Principle, the elect and non-elect should have (i) all received an installment of irresistible grace, or (ii) no one of them received an installment of irresistible grace. That’s what biblical justice or fairness demands.

The Leviticus Principle is dealing with defendants. Guilty defendants ought not be acquitted: innocent defendants ought not be convicted.

It’s dealing with strict justice rather than mercy or grace.

And since God, if he exists, is essentially just and fair, but Calvinism implies that he’s not, it follows that Calvinism actually entails atheism: the non-existence of God.

If Calvinism entails atheism, then atheism has gotten a bump rap.

That’s why we’re not Calvinists; it’s because we’re theists.

Not Christians–just theists?

The solution, of course, is simple. We must recognize that because God is supremely fair and just, the grace he gives is universal but resistible. This explains why although God wants everyone to be saved, some aren’t. It’s not because God passes over some poor, wretched souls, refusing to give them the irresistible grace they so desperately need.

According to Arminianism, some sinners are born with every spiritual advantage while other sinners are born with every spiritual disadvantage.

Some sinners are born to wonderful Christian parents. They hear the Gospel under the most propitious circumstances.

Other sinners are born under circumstances which poison them to the Gospel. Even if they had a chance to hear it, their personal experience has conditioned them to be very hostile to the Gospel.

Universal resistible grace doesn’t level the playing field. According to Arminianism, both the son of Charles Hodge and the son of the Grand Ayatollah have universal resistible grace. But the formative experience of A. A. Hodge predisposes him to accept the Gospel whereas the formative experience of the Grand Ayatollah’s son predisposes him to reject the Gospel.

Likewise, a child of wise and kind Christian parents has been given a far more appealing introduction to Christianity than the child of hypocritical, legalistic churchgoers.

Universal resistible grace doesn’t erase damaging memories, doesn’t reverse prejudicial social conditioning, doesn’t nullify cultural deterrents.


  1. Good Thoughts Steve,

    Was wondering, do some Arminians posit an equitable resistable grace?
    Posit that all these predisposing factors are put on a level playing field?

  2. If anyone is interested, here's a link to the debate on Predestination between Dr. Michael L. Brown and Dr. James R. White that took place at Southern Evangelical Seminary, February 14, 2013. Posted on YouTube by Dr. Brown.

  3. I can understand the "emotive reasoning" by Arminians as well as their usage of proof-texts, but understanding and sympathy are not enough to budge me from the biblical position of Gospel Calvinism.