The differences in these two theologies may be the most important issue in classical vs. presuppositional apologetics. I do not think that I can add anything to the debate except point out its relevance in this debate. Geisler has taken the position of “moderate Calvinism.,” stating his problems with limited atonement.[1] David Haines takes a similar position in calling Total Depravity “an extreme understanding of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity.”[2] However, these doctrines are not “extreme,” but central to the Calvinist and Reformed position.

Here is a quote from Calvin which states his “extremism.”

For since man lost the favor of God, his mind is so completely overwhelmed by the thralldom of ignorance, that any portion of light which remains in it is quenched and useless. This is daily proved by experience; for all who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God possess some reason, and this is an undeniable proof that man was made not only to breathe, but to have understanding. But by that guidance of their reason they do not come to God, and do not even approach to him; so that all their understanding is nothing else than mere vanity. Hence it follows that there is no hope of the salvation of men, unless God grant new aid; for though the Son of God sheds his light upon them, they are so dull that they do not comprehend whence that light proceeds, but are carried away by foolish and wicked imaginations to absolute madness.[3]

Unfortunately, TULIP rather than the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) is often the summary that is presented as Calvinism. The WCF confirms and “S” before the other letters of this acronym. “S” is the Sovereignty of God–in everything.

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[4]

Thus, I would prefer STULIP, as Total Depravity starts with man and with a negative. The proper sequence should be God’s priority in creation and in salvation.

The WCF is the most commonly stated profession of the Reformed position. Thus, God has ordained “whatsoever comes to pass” which includes the salvation of men. Gordon Clark has clearly explained the teaching of God’s sovereignty in his book, Biblical Predestination.[5] For some reason, many Christians claim to be Reformed, but fail to accept a coherence of that position in the salvation of men. I would recommend watching the DVD, “Amazing Grace,”[6] in which Arminians by profession, describe the sovereign work of God in their being saved.

Briefly, Gordon Clark answered what troubles most almost-Calvinists in his article… [7] the resolution of “free will” and man’s “responsibility.” There is no higher court of appeal in right and wrong (ethics) than God Himself. Thus, if God declares that man is responsible, even though man is unable (total depravity or total inability) say that this act of God is “unfair,” is to appeal to an ethical standard higher than God. In this sense, a defense of free will in man is to acknowledge that God is not wise, sovereign, or omnipotent. If He does not have these attributes then He is not the God of the Bible.[8] Sovereignty means omnipotence and omniscience within His being “all-wise.” I am convinced that these attributes refute man’s free will (in the sense of opposing choice). Thus, the belief that man has free-will compromises belief in these attributes.[9]

Certainly, I am not about to resolve the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism which has existed for centuries with far more able scholars that I on both sides of the debate. Here, I am just pointing out that that the dispute between classical apologetics and presuppositionalism is a Biblical-theological debate, as well as philosophical. And, that the former is far more important than the latter, although they are inextricably linked.

[1] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free.. His book answered by James White
[2] JISCA, Vol. 10, No. 1
[3] (Calvin’s Commentary on John 1:5)
[4] WCF: Chapter 3, Section 1.
[5] Trinity Foundation.
[6] Ligonier Ministries.
[7] paper in 1936 or so
[8] For all of Howe’s defense of God’s attributes in his “God Fading Away,” if he defends Arminianism, then he has denied the very position that he valiantly tried to assert.
[9] If I am correct, then Howe is contributing to “God Fading Away.”