Calvin’s Dilemma

A few mornings ago, I was reading one of the gospel accounts that pertains to the oft referenced Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10). But, as is not uncommon, there were a few things that ‘bothered me.’ That is, a few things that bothered me in regard to Calvinism. First, it clearly states that Jesus loves the young man.

Now, I am often told by my Calvinist (or Reformed) friends that one must read the text, allowing the text to interpret (and frame) his theology, as opposed to allowing one’s theology to interpret (and frame) the text. Of course, I do not necessarily disagree with this hermeneutical principle. But I do not believe that they are quite as passionate about using such a method as they often proclaim. This seems to be one of those passages, along with others, that their theology is employed to interpret the text, as opposed to simply allowing the text to “say what it wants to say on its own merit.”

A Dilemma:

For the time being, let us simply overlook the possible argument concerning Jesus’ love for the young man (which has to redefined to mean a different ‘love’ than the ‘love’ Jesus would have for the ‘elect’) and move on to what I see as a dilemma that any person taking the text at face-value (what we are told we are supposed to do) would also notice. However, the dilemma is not friendly to Mr. Calvin.

A dilemma is a logical problem. That is, “in syllogistic, or traditional, logic, any one of several forms of inference in which there are two major premises of hypothetical form and a disjunctive (“either . . . or”) minor premise.”* Now, this dilemma is not one in this strict sense. It is simply a dilemma in the lay-sense of the term that there are very nasty implications for either choice of which one is left to choose between.

We know the story. The young ruler asks Jesus how he is able to inherit eternal life. Jesus (paraphrased) states that the young man be obedient to all ten commandments, to which the young man claims he has been obedient. Christ then (paraphrased) tells him to sell his possessions and then “come follow Me.” The young man walks away, disheartened, unable, or unwilling, or both, to do such a thing.

Now, let us set up the problem:

According to the “I” within the acronym “T.U.L.I.P.,” (Irresistible Grace) God’s grace is literally irresistible. That is, if one receives a true invitation from the Almighty, then one is literally unable to turn away from the invitation, thus being made regenerate and “saved.” Now, the first question before us is:

Does Jesus offer a true invitation to the young man to “follow Me”? If Jesus does actually offer a true invitation to the young man, then the doctrine of Irresistible Grace is necessarily false – simply because the young man is able to decline/resist/turn away from the offer to follow Christ. So, this first option does not seem to be acceptable to the Calvinist.

Yet, the second question is no better an alternative for the Calvinist:

Was Christ’s offer to “follow Me” not a true invitation to actually follow Him? If Jesus gives an invitation to follow Him, yet it not being what Calvinist’s call an effectual call** (unbeknownst to the young man, of course) then Christ is deceiving the young man in thinking that he could actually follow Him. But, of course, the young man cannot. Jesus is a “deceiver.” So, the Calvinist must reject this second option, as well. But, again, the Calvinist cannot accept the first, either.

Now, in order to “get out” of the dilemma the Calvinist must find a third option, split the horns, of the dilemma. But what might those options be?

The Calvinist might suggest that Christ’s invitation was merely to follow Him – as in, “hang out”, “learn from”, “be with”, etc. “The invitation had nothing to do with salvation and eternal life.” But that will not work because the very context of the question asked was very specifically centered on how to obtain eternal life, which is salvation. Also, we see throughout the Scripture that to become a Christian is usually interchangeable with answering Jesus’ call to follow Me. Or, even ask yourself, “If I were to tell an individual to ‘follow Christ’ aren’t I actually inviting them to surrender their life to Him, and be saved?'” Of course. So that option seems to be a serious example of “biblical gymnastics”, to say the least.

Another option that the Calvinist might employ might be to suggest that this “invitation” by Jesus was merely what the Calvinist would define as the “general call” for salvation. That is, not the “effectual call” for salvation. Had it been the “effectual call” the young man could not have refused the invite. But we have already noted the problem with this option. Namely, Was Christ’s offer to “follow Me” not a true invitation to actually follow Him? If Jesus gives an invitation to follow Him, yet it not being what Calvinists call an effectual call** (unbeknownst to the young man, of course) then Christ is deceiving the young man in thinking that he could actually follow Him. But, of course, the young man cannot. Jesus is a “deceiver.”

Therefore, if the Calvinist accepts the first option, so that Jesus is not deceiving the young man, then the doctrine of Irresistible Grace is not true. Yet, if the Calvinist desires to save Irresistible Grace, then Jesus is, in some sense, a “deceiver” in that the young man was led to believe that he could have actually followed Jesus – but Jesus knew all along, though “going through the motion” of inviting him to follow, he could not actually do so.

Lastly, after this interaction with the rich young man, why does Christ go on to imply that being “rich” is any more an impediment to receiving the gospel than anything else? After all, if Christ calls a man “effectually” it just doesn’t matter what state one may be in – rich, poor, fat, ugly, tall or skinny. Nothing, literally, could stop the effectual call. Yet, according to Scripture, there are states in life that one may find themselves that seem to hinder one’s ability to follow Jesus (being rich, being self-righteous, pharisaical, etc.).

But that is for another post.

For a very serious logical critique of Calvinism, see: “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” – Dr. Walls. Then see James White’s response. In my view, White’s response is seriously lacking, but judge for yourself.

*Encyclopedia Britannica
**The ‘effectual call’ is simply that “call” that theologians deem the “call” that is specific and *always* results in salvation of the one “called.” This is contrasted with the “general” call, which is a call for, apparently, all people to be saved, but does not end in salvation for an individual apart from the more specific effectual call.