Leighton Flowers is a Southern Baptist pastor who describes himself as a former Calvinist who has started the Soteriology 101 podcast in order to refute Calvinism. In a recent episode Flowers addressed John MacArthur’s statement against “social justice.” John MacArhur has given a mainstream conservative response to the rise of SJWism in evangelicalism as witnessed by the recent Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. Flowers alleges that MacArthur’s Calvinistic views inadvertently fuels the very victim mentality that underlies the social justice movement.
The gist of Flowers’ argument is that the Calvinistic view of determinism and compatibilism produces the very feelings of helplessness and victimhood that Calvinists like John MacArthur are combating. Determinism refers to the notion that God determines whatsoever comes to pass, and compatibilism refers to the idea that man is free to make choices within the circumstances determined by God such that we are completely free to choose as we do, but we are unable to have chosen otherwise. This is contrasted with libertarian free will (the view espoused by Flowers) in which man is free to have chosen what he did do but also could have chosen otherwise. Flowers agrees with MacArthur about the responsibility of people for their own actions, but Flowers maintains that the Calvinist theodicy provides a valid excuse to those who persist in their sin because God decreed that this would happen.
Flowers fails to account for biblical teaching on the meticulous nature of divine providence. At one point Flowers calls Ephesians 1:11 vague. Additionally the Bible affirms that God has ordained the evil actions of evil creatures both generally (Prov. 16:4) and in specific instances for His own purposes (Gen. 50:20; Deut. 2:30-32; 2 Sam. 16:5-10; 1 Ki. 22:20-23, cf. 2 Chr. 18:18-22; Lk. 22:22; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28; 2 Thess. 2:11-12; Jude 4; Rev. 17:17, etc.). Would Flowers suggest that the individuals mentioned in these passages have a legitimate excuse before God for their evil actions? Of course not. Any view of human responsibility must take into account God’s sovereignty over evil human actions. I believe that Flowers’ error lies in his conflation of divine determinism with fatalism.
Flowers maintains that Calvinistic determinism inherently leads to fatalism or at least a fatalist mentality. To understand why this is incorrect we need to understand what fatalism means and why divine determinism does not qualify. Steve Hays and B.B. Warfield have written excellent essays on the distinction between the Christian conception of providence and predestination and the pagan concept of fate. The gist of the distinction is that fate is determined by some force of nature that will come to pass even when it is known. The classic case of this is Oedipus who is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, and this is inevitable even though Oedipus knows his fate and tries to avoid it. Oedipus could rightly blame his circumstances on fate. The same cannot be said in the Christian conception of providence. God has ordained “whatsoever comes to pass,”1 but this does not eliminate the importance of secondary causes “either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”2 God ultimately determines and has a specific purpose for whatever comes to pass, but God brings about His eternal decree by using the free actions of his creatures. God does not compel anyone to act sinfully contrary to their own desires. God uses the evil that is already in men’s hearts to accomplish His purposes.
A common theme of Flowers’ videos on Soteriology 101 is that Calvinism can’t denounce anything that is wrong because God determined it to be so. The correct understanding of determinism is to understand that God uses specific secondary causes to accomplish His purposes. The free choices of sinners are used by God. No one is forced to sin against his will. This allows God to use sinful creatures while maintaining His holy disdain for sin. At the same time we recognize that God has specific intentions and purposes for all the sins that He allows to happen. Flowers insists that he does not recognize “purposeless evil,” and that any Calvinist accusing Arminians of believing thus are misrepresenting them and creating a false dichotomy. Flowers often appeals to God’s purpose in allowing libertarian free choice to His creatures, but this can only be a generic purpose at best. On Flowers’ view, God is passively aware of the free choices of His creatures and often chooses not to intervene.
The best Flowers can say is that God will hold men accountable for their actions, but this view cannot allow God to have specific purposes for every evil that happens. No one would presume to know or even guess God’s purposes for many of the things that have happened throughout history, but there are biblical antecedents that allow us to ruminate on why God has allowed contemporary social justice to rule the day. I believe that modern left-wing social justice is a strong delusion (2 Thess. 2:11) that God is using to judge the apostate West. It’s easy to interpret social justice as a manifestation of judicial hardening which has caused the post-Christian West to seek its own destruction through mass non-white immigration, socialistic redistribution of wealth, affirmative action, etc. Social justice is a temporal consequence of white Europeans abandoning the Christian faith, and this scourge will remain until whites are humbled, repent, and return to Christ.
Theological issues aside, I am skeptical that Calvinism could actually promote the victim mentality that underlies the social justice movement. And even if it could in some rare circumstance, it certainly in fact does not in our circumstances today. Those at the forefront of the left-wing social justice movement are not reacting to a Calvinistic understanding of determinism but are motivated by egalitarianism. The belief that most defines our modern age is that everyone is equal, therefore any two people can be considered interchangeable and we ought to expect equal results to flow from equal opportunities. When equal results aren’t realized in the real world some explanation is necessary in order to maintain the ruse of equality.
The most popular explanation is to place blame on a scapegoat, and this is almost always straight white men who aren’t confused about their sexual identity. White men are blamed for virtually all problems in society. If someone doesn’t enjoy the standard of living to which they believe themselves entitled they can easily blame “systemic racism,” “heteronormativity,” “colonialism,” or “implicit biases” for all of their shortcomings. If Flowers is serious in his desire to confront the problems of social justice, then he needs to confront the blame-shifting tendencies of those who promote an unbiblical view of justice, including in those who he identifies as his friends, such as Matt Chandler. The problem is that this isn’t Flowers’ aim. Flowers has an axe to grind against Calvinistic determinism because he believes that this view provides an excuse to anyone caught up in any particular sin, whether that is social-justice-styled blame-shifting or homosexuality. Calvinism is the boogeyman behind virtually every problem facing Christianity. Consequently Flowers can’t offer any substantive criticism of the leftist social justice in teachers like Matt Chandler or David Platt. Leighton Flowers has missed an opportunity to join MacArthur in a clearly articulated rejection of the errors in the modern-day social justice movement when such a stance could help his fellow Southern Baptists reject this error that continues to plague their denomination.
- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III: Of God’s Eternal Decree, Paragraph I ↩
- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter V: Of Providence, Paragraph II ↩