Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

The imperfect God of classical Calvinism

One thing has always perplexed me about classical Calvinism — it so strongly insists on God’s perfection (I love that theme within the Reformed tradition) and yet it simultaneously insists on a God who is, despite their protests to the contrary, less than perfect. This is not a new criticism, but it bears repeating.

Anselm insisted that God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” But it seems that, in Christian terms, it is easy to conceive of a God greater than the God of classical Calvinism.

Consider: for Christian theology “God is love.” Which, at very least, means that in his very essence God is love. He is not loving by some happy accident but by virtue of being who he is.

Now, if you love someone you desire the best for them. Not necessarily what they think is best for them, but what is actually best for them. So if God loves someone then God will desire what is actually best for them. In a Christian view of things, what is actually best for creatures is for them to be united with God in eschatological glory. That is the fulfillment of the human telos.

Further, if God is loving in his very essence then God cannot not love his creatures without ceasing to be the God that he is—which is, of course, impossible.

So if God is love in his very essence then he must love all his creatures and must desire to actualize what is best for them. For humans that entails a desire to unite them to himself in glory (which, given sin, requires that he desire to save them from sin).

The Calvinist God, however, does not desire to unite all humans to himself in glory, and thus does not desire to save them all from sin. This can only be because he does not love them enough to desire what is best for them. He may love them somewhat (offering them common grace), but not perfectly (refusing them saving grace).

But surely, if love is a divine perfection then loving all creatures perfectly is greater than loving only some creatures perfectly.  The Calvinist says that God only loves some creatures perfectly. I can imagine something greater than that. Imagining something greater than God is impossible. So the Calvinist vision of God is, in Christian terms, impossible, because it falls short of divine perfection.

At least, that is how things appear to me.


  1. Scott E. Graybill

    June 14, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Dear Gentlemen,
    Sadly, I find your post “un-loving.” However, I also found it grossly one-sided. The various points that one can make in rebuttal are that GOD is love and holy, GOD loved Jacob, but hated Esau according to Scripture, and the non-doctrinaire Calvinist, Karl Barth, always talked about the freedom of GOD to love. Your short presentation takes an attribute of GOD and turns it into an axiom. Therefore, if you are correct, than none of GOD’s creatures should suffer or go hungry. You should define love by GOD’s standard, not one of our own making.
    Thanks, though, for your wonderful publishing business. I do hope that your somewhat shoddy understanding is not translated into an editorial bias.


  2. So the God you imagine loves everybody the same. That’s great, except so many perish in hell. So your God loves people but can’t save them. You haven’t solved the problem. Either he can’t or won’t. If he can’t he is useless. If he doesn’t, its because he has his reasons.

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