Seven-Point Calvinism and the Scarcity of Grace

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the rise of those calling themselves ‘seven-point Calvinists,’ John Piper being the standout example. If there were ever a theological system that exemplifies what Walter Brueggemann called ‘the myth of scarcity’ as it relates to God’s grace, it must be seven-point Calvinism. I have never encountered a theology that does a better job of reinventing the wonders of God’s grace and glory as a lot of ethically barren pseudo-mathematics.

Seven-point Calvinism, which differs from its five-point counterpart only by taking a harder stance on two supplementary doctrines, effectively transforms human salvation into a sordid little equation. Before we look at this unsavoury piece of theological algebra, however, it bears clarifying what sets the seven-point Calvinist apart from their five-point opposite number.

In addition to the traditional five ‘TULIP’ points of Calvinism (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints), a seven-point Calvinist explicitly affirms (6) double predestination. This is the doctrine that before you were born, God chose whether you would be damned or saved and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. They also hold (7) a belief that God will keep the tape of human history rolling long enough to damn enough people and to save enough people to demonstrate God’s glory as fully as God can possibly express God’s glory. It is these two adjunct points, incidentally, which spell disaster for seven-point Calvinism when this highly questionable theology comes under scrutiny.

What is being assumed in these latter two points? Seven-point Calvinists assume that God’s glory would not be fully attested were God either to damn or to save all of God’s creatures; rather, for the seven-point cohort, the divine glory is most fully revealed when some are damned and others are saved. In seven-point Calvinism, both universal damnation and universal salvation are inadequate manifestations of God’s glory. They will often present this unsettling assertion as if it were self-evident. It is a claim which implies a trade-off; in order to prove God’s glory, God must damn souls that God could have saved and God must save souls that God could have damned.

There are, at this juncture, three more things to observe: (1) for the seven-point Calvinist, God must choose every soul’s eternal post-mortem destiny between the two possibilities of damnation and salvation; (2) if God is omnipotent, it is as easy for God to damn a soul as it is for God to save one; and (3) each soul must end up somewhere in the final analysis.

Let’s think about how all of this aligns the contentions of seven-point Calvinism with the scarcity model of God’s grace that Brueggemann has observed. This will involve borrowing a graphical technique from economics known as the production possibility frontier in order to depict the cosmic soul trade-off in seven-point Calvinism in a visual format.

A production possibility frontier depicts the cost of variable X (on the bottom axis) in terms of variable Y (on the side axis). In other words, it is a graph which depicts a trade-off which arises due to the scarcity of some resource or another; in this case, that resource is divine grace. The chart below could, therefore, be titled, ‘a production possibility frontier showing the cost of the saved in terms of the damned.’

Let’s assume that a cumulative total of around 100 billion people have lived, and that it is at the final judgement when the everlasting fate of each will be decided:

Every point along the blue line represents a scenario in which everyone’s ultimate fate is accounted for: all the goats (if any) have been damned, and all the sheep (if any) have been saved.

Seven-point Calvinism holds that scenario A (everyone damned) and scenario B (everyone saved) are impossible because God is compelled — by whom? — to damn some and to save others maximally to manifest God’s glory.