If you reject meticulous providence: congrats, you’re not a Calvinist

Credit: Jan Wynants, Parable of the Good Samaritan, at Wikimedia.

Calvinism is a theological system advanced by John Calvin (for whom Calvinism is named) that says that God is so sovereign that everything is guided by His hand: nothing happens without God’s approval. Even sin has a place in the world, and the sin that occurs is ordained by God and is necessary for God’s sovereignty to exist. If God doesn’t ordain sin and evil as He ordains good, then God is not “sovereign” (according to Calvinism).

I’ve always assumed meticulous providence is a necessary doctrine of Calvinism (as it’s likely you’ve believed the same), but I recently stumbled upon the words of someone who said that he is a Calvinist who doesn’t believe in meticulous providence. “I am a Calvinist but I reject the idea of meticulous providence,” he wrote. That made me do a double-take because I have to admit: I’ve never read such a statement before as coming from a Calvinist. Having studied Calvinism for over 11 years, and having studied Molinism for the last 5 or 6 years, it’s safe to say that all Calvinist and Molinist theologians (including Molinist advocate Dr. Ken Keathley, author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach; he happens to be my former mentor) affirm meticulous providence. Here’s a quote from Keathley’s Molinist work:

The attractiveness of Molinism is that it presents a logically coherent view of providence, which holds that God is meticulously sovereign, while at the same time humans are genuinely free. (Ken Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville, Tennesse: B&H Academic, 2010, page 9)

Name the greatest Calvinist theologians ever (including Charles Spurgeon), along with Molinist theologians Keathley and William Lane Craig (even go as far back as Luis de Molina, the founder of Molinism himself), you’ll find that Molinists (who are really Calvinist compatibilists; compatibilism is, truthfully, a cop-out from those who see responsibility and choice in Scripture but don’t want to do away with their Calvinist notion of sovereignty), like Calvinists, all affirm meticulous providence.

This individual, a self-proclaimed Calvinist, said he doesn’t hold to meticulous providence; if he doesn’t, he isn’t a Calvinist. If you reject meticulous providence, congrats: you’re not a Calvinist.

Let’s read John Calvin’s own statements on meticulous providence:

After learning that there is a Creator, it must forthwith infer that he is also a Governor and Preserver, and that, not by producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe as well as in each of its parts, but by a special providence sustaining, cherishing, superintending, all the things which he has made, to the very minutest, even to a sparrow. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Signalman Publishing, April 2008, Kindle Location 3562; emphasis mine)

Calvin’s words here about animals, natural phenomena, and so on don’t disturb as much as his words on the divine providence concerning mankind:

If one falls among robbers, or ravenous beasts; if a sudden gust of wind at sea causes shipwreck; if one is struck down by the fall of a house or a tree; if another, when wandering through desert paths, meets with deliverance; or, after being tossed by the waves, arrives in port, and makes some wondrous hair-breadth escape from death – all these occurrences, prosperous as well as adverse, carnal sense will attribute to fortune. But whose has learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered (Mt. 10:30), will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God. With regard to inanimate objects again we must hold that though each is possessed of its peculiar properties, yet all of them exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God. Hence they are merely instruments, into which God constantly infuses what energy he sees meet, and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure. (John Calvin, Institutes, Kindle Locations 3582-3591; italics mine)

There’s more to the story. Calvin now focuses on man, and says that God has meticulous providence over man in the same way that He has meticulous providence over inanimate objects:

But as we know that it was chiefly for the sake of mankind that the world was made, we must look to this as the end which God has in view in the government of it. The prophet Jeremiah exclaims, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” (Jer. 10:23). Solomon again says, “Man’s goings are of the Lord: how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24). Will it now be said that man is moved by God according to the bent of his nature, but that man himself gives the movement any direction he pleases? Were it truly so, man would have the full disposal of his own ways. To this it will perhaps be answered, that man can do nothing without the power of God. But the answer will not avail, since both Jeremiah and Solomon attribute to God not power only, but also election and decree. And Solomon, in another place, elegantly rebukes the rashness of men in fixing their plans without reference to God, as if they were not led by his hand. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord,” (Prov. 16:1)…Scriptures, moreover, the better to show that every thing done in the world is according to his decree, declares that the things which seem most fortuitous are subject to him. For what seems more attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and kills the passing traveller? But the Lord sees very differently, and declares that He delivered him into the hand of the slayer (Exod. 21:13). In like manners who does not attribute the lot to the blindness of Fortune? Not so the Lord, who claims the decision for himself (Prov. 16:33). (Calvin, Institutes, Kindle Locations 3682-3693; bold mine).

Calvin says above that, if someone falls among thieves, if a person dies because a tree or house falls on them, the events are meticulously ordained by God. That is, God causes every death, even deaths that many of us attribute to accidental causes. He quotes from certain Bible verses to make his claim, but he overlooks other verses. Take the following example from Jesus Himself in Luke’s Gospel:

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5, NKJV)

Calvin says that every thing, down to the “minutest” detail (his words), is directly and immediately governed by God. And yet, the Lord says that those who suffered at the hands of Pilate (who were killed and their blood mixed with sacrifices) and those 18 persons who died when the Tower of Siloam fell suddenly on them, were not harmed because they were more sinful than anyone else at the time. In other words, God did not cast righteous judgment on these individuals. They did not die because of the righteous judgment of God. If they didn’t die due to the righteous judgment of God, then they died because of accidental death, random occurrences for which God is not the cause. This contradicts Calvin’s claims that, if a tree falls on a person, that tree is directed by God.

The person above who said he’s a Calvinist but doesn’t believe in meticulous providence hasn’t thought through the words of Calvin carefully. The day he does (and the day that so many self-proclaimed Calvinists do), they’ll all realize they’re not Calvinist.