The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism

The doctrines that together form what we call “Calvinism” have always been controversial. Since the time of the Reformation, they have brought out both the best and the worst in Christians. Critiques of Calvinistic theology tends to focus upon certain areas, certain questions that continue to confuse and continue to cause people to insist that Calvinism cannot be biblical. In The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism, a short book published by Ligonier Ministries, author Craig R. Brown turns to five of the most common questions and seeks to show that these are not true dilemmas but are, rather, simple misunderstandings. “This book has two purposes,” says the author. “First, I want it to be a resource for people who are struggling with the answers to the five ‘dilemmas’ that I have put forward. Second, I want it to be an incentive for thought. In other words, I hope it will be an encouragement to Christians to think through what they believe about these issues and attempt to come to God-honoring conclusions about them.”

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After a Preface by R.C. Sproul, a brief Introduction, a look at the historical basis for Reformed theology and a quick outline of the differences between Reformed and Arminian theology, Brown turns right to the heart of the book. The questions he addresses are these:

  1. The Dilemma of Responsibility: If God is in complete control of everything, to the point of predetermining all human actions, how can man be held accountable for what he does?
  2. The Dilemma of Motivation: If we are saved by grace and not by works, why should we do anything good? What purpose do good works serve? Are there rewards in heaven for what we do here on earth?
  3. The Dilemma of Obedience: If God has predetermined everything that comes to pass, why should we spend valuable time in prayer or evangelism?
  4. The Dilemma of Evil: Since God created everything and He cannot sin, how did evil come into being?
  5. The Dilemma of Mercy: If people are born totally depraved, as Calvinism says, where do babies go when they die?

The author’s strategy is simple: he turns to Scripture and carefully, deliberately debunks the false portrayals of Calvinistic theology. From there he turns to Scripture to prove that Calvinistic theology is, in reality, nothing more than the theology of the Bible. He shows that each of these five dilemmas is based not on a factual understanding of Calvinism and its interpretation of the Bible, but rather a simple misunderstanding. The obvious conclusion he reaches is that Calvinistic doctrine is biblical doctrine.

I believe Brown attains the purposes for which he wrote this book. It will give much to think about for those who struggle with these five dilemmas and will reassure them that the Reformed understanding of these issues is not only consistent with Scripture, but is more consistent than the alternatives. And it will certainly be an encouragement for all Christians to ponder these things and to come to conclusions that bring glory and honor to God. If the book has a mis-step, I believe it lies in the final chapter where Brown is perhaps a tad too dogmatic about the Bible’s teaching on what happens to infants when they die. Though no Calvinist I know of would suggest that all infants who die are condemned to hell, neither would they be unanimous in believing, as does Brown, that all who die in infancy are taken immediately to heaven. We would all like to believe this, but many do not find that such an understanding can be sustained from Scripture. In the end, though, we cast ourselves in the same place Brown does—on the mercy and wisdom of God, knowing that He will do only and ever what is best.

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism is a short book, but one that proves biblical answers to good questions. It is winsome and easy to understand. I recommend it!

At this point I believe the book is available only through Ligonier Ministries.