The Silver Bullet?

You may have heard it said that there is no silver bullet argument that penetrates the heart of the Calvinistic system of salvation. I used to think the same thing. (Good night, I used to be a Calvinist and felt quite secure in my unsinkable Titanic of logic and Scripture.) Even as I began to question the Reformed views, I still doubted that any one single argument would be able to settle the issue.

I’m not so sure now. There may actually be one. I have yet to hear a viable answer to this objection.

There are two simple texts of Scripture that I must have read dozens of times without realizing their implications, as they relate to the fragile inner core of the Reformed Mother Ship. I recently saw the following words on a sign in front of an oil change shop in SW Ohio, which read:

I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was blaming you.

I had a chuckle, and thought of the poor schmucks who have had that sort of thing dumped on them by an insecure upper management, a parent who favors a sibling, a corrupt judge, or a reckless news media. I also thought of the Westminster Confession of Faith, where it says that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity by ordinary generation. (Chapter 6; Section 3) The writers of the Confession are accusing God of blaming Adam’s posterity for a sin they did not actually commit. In real Calvinism, (Baptistic and Presbyterian) every new baby is said to be born guilty of Adam’s sin; they deserve eternal punishment by the time they take their first breath. This is included in the Calvinistic understanding of the term Original Sin. They find their tenuous support for it in Romans 5 and Psalm 51. Most Calvinists feel that they must teach this level of injustice in order to justify their assumption that Esau, and possibly millions of others, are born reprobate, that is, without any actual hope in the gospel. In their view, Jesus did not die for the sins of the reprobate and/or they will never be given the grace needed to repent and believe in Jesus. They had their chance as it were, and blew it, in the Garden of Eden, according to their theory. (Rom 9)

Two practical implications of their teaching:

In his commentary on Romans 5, Calvinist Matthew Henry teaches that the reason some children are born with handicaps and diseases is because they are already guilty of sin. Likewise, in a message entitled “Method of Grace,” George Whitefield declared that it would be just of God to damn us to hell even if we never actually sinned once in our entire lifetime. This would be because we are, allegedly, already culpable for Adam’s sin. Now most people find this troubling, if not bizarre; and this is one reason the majority of professing Calvinists typically dance around this aspect of their system. Clarity, here, can be costly to one’s ministry or church. (I tend to think the most practical difference between Calvinism and so-called hyper-Calvinism is the willingness to be clear on their doctrine of irresistible reprobation.  One is reluctant to go there – the other is not.)

First, in response, we must note that it would be hard to find an instance where a father commits a crime and a judge sentences his kids, as if they had done the crime. (Especially, if the kids hadn’t been born yet!) Any judge who tries to pull a stunt like that, in some places, better leave town, or get a gun and a big dog. It might be time for some good old-fashioned vigilante justice. To be sure, the man’s crimes may cause his kids to suffer, consequentially, but they are not held accountable for their father’s sins.

Second, we can note the obvious, which would immediately cast a shadow of doubt on their view: The word for impute is never used in Romans 5, or anywhere else in Scripture, in the context of Adam’s sin and its effect on the rest of us. This must be read into the texts. (Scholars call this kind of interpretation: eisegesis). This relegates their teaching into a doctrine of inference at best; it cannot be understood as an explicit teaching of Scripture. Now “imputation” is all over Romans 4 in the context of God’s imputing righteousness (the “alien” righteousness of Christ) to the account of believing Abraham, and by implication, to all believers in all times. But the guilt of Adam’s sin is never said to be imputed to his descendants. We all suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin – not the culpability. We are born with a sinful nature and in a sinful environment but Scripture never states that we are born guilty. The “condemnation” that Paul mentions in Romans 5 is the fact of physical death to all who sin. Everyone sins – therefore everyone will suffer physical death, at least. Adam opened the door that leads to hell but he didn’t push anybody in!

Lastly, and this may be the silver bullet that drops historical Calvinism. There are two texts that make it impossible to assume that Adam’s sin can be imputed to his descendants via natural generation. One is Romans 4:15:

… because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

The second is like it but clearer still, Romans 5:13:

For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

In other words, we won’t be (can’t be) held accountable to a law that we were never given.

The Westminster Confession and virtually all Calvinists teach that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity via ordinary generation. But sin is not imputed via ordinary generation. Scripture insists that sin is not imputed where there is no law. Infants could not be held accountable for knowingly breaking God’s commandments, especially one that was only given to Adam, before they existed.  For my professing Calvinist readers, who understand the implications here, this could be the beginning of the end of your time as a Calvinist. We are “made sinners” with sinful natures, thanks to Adam, but we are not born guilty. That would be both absurd and contrary to Scripture.

Holding people accountable for unpreventable sins and irresistible unbelief is a hallmark of real historical Calvinism.

It is better and more biblical to understand that when we each knowingly and deliberately break God’s law – we become dead in trespasses and sins. We are guilty before God and unforgiven, like Adam after he ate. He “died” that day. Also, in Romans 7:9, Paul explains that he was alive once without the law. This could only have occurred when Paul was a child. He was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. He said when the law came – sin revived (or came to life) and “I died.” He did not say, “I thought I was alive and then I died.” (You can’t die if you are already dead.) He was alive before his sin was imputed to him, thus, he would have been in a state of grace, during his childhood. He became dead in trespasses and sins when God imputed the guilt of his own sin to his own account. After that, he would have to be restored to life by being forgiven. He needed to be born again, which is to enjoy the washing of regeneration. (Col 2:13; Titus 3:5) This quickening, or washing, does not come through baptism but through a contrite faith that works by love. The just shall live by their faith. He needed to repent and believe the gospel.

Thanks to Adam, no one will ever be able to live without sinning; but thanks to Jesus, everyone can still go to heaven, by faith. Penitent faith – the kind you can’t brag about.