Did God create people just to send them to hell? If God elected some people and not others, doesn’t this mean that the others were elected for hell? Doesn’t Calvinism necessitate that God is the author of evil?

There are common questions/objections that Calvinists such as myself have to answer. They are good questions. But the problem is that so many people assume the answers before studying the issues. I do not believe that God created people to send them to hell. I do not believe that God is the author of evil. And, yes, I am a Calvinist. In fact, I am representative of most Calvinists.

Like so many belief systems, Calvinism is subject misunderstanding, stereotyping, and the propagation of misinformation. In fact, apart from dispensationalism, I don’t know of any other belief system in Christianity that is more misunderstood on a popular level and attacked more furiously.

My purpose here is not to enter into an exhaustive defense of the system, nor to set the record straight at every turn, but to deal with one particular issue that is, at first glance, very difficult and lofty, but, in reality, simple and down to (theological) earth. It is the issue of divine decrees.

Most simply put, the “divine decrees” are those theoretical declarations and decisions in the Godhead concerning the arrangement of the enacting purposes of God in the creation and redemption of man. Yeah, I know… Let me try again. The divine decrees describe how God went about planning salvation. There, much better. Each decree represents one part of how the plan is carried out.

Theoretically, there is an “order” of divine decrees. The order of decrees implicitly tell a story about not only the what of redemption, but the why. This is where things get a little dicey. For example, when Kristie and I got married, we had a certain order of arrangements about what our marriage would look like and how it would function. First, we decreed to get married. We had an understanding that we might have children (Lord willing), but we also might not have children. Either way, the decree to get married was set, children or not. Once we had children, we decreed to bring them up in the Lord. But, we might have done things differently. We might have first decided to have children who we would bring up in the Lord. But, as this scenario goes, we needed to get married in order to accomplish this purpose. Therefore, the marriage served as a means to an end to another purpose (i.e. having godly children) in the latter, while the former, the marriage was the purpose, and the children were a contentious possibility that would be a result of the first decree (i.e. getting married). Notice how the two situations produce the same result, but reveal different “ultimate” purposes. Put that in your back pocket for a minute.

The divine decrees produce similar effects with regard to God’s purposes. Here are the different decrees, in no certain order and stripped bare of many of the implications of purpose:

  • God’s decree to redeem the elect and to reprobate/”pass over” others
  • God’s decree to create man
  • God’s decree to allow for the fall
  • God’s decree to send Christ as the redeemer
  • God’s decree to apply salvation

Our next goal is to put these in a certain order (like with the marriage). However, this is not necessary a temporal order, since the divine decrees are before creation and hence timeless, but a logical order.

Supralapsarianism

Supralapsarianism literally means “before or above the fall” (supra=”above”; lapse=”fall”). This is the form of Calvinism that is often called “hyper-Calvinism” (“hyper being an adj not a noun) because of its radical nature. It is held by very few Calvinists, and does not represent so-called “Evangelical Calvinism.” The belief here is that the decree to elect happens before the decree to allow for the fall. So, the order of the decrees would go this way:

  1. God’s decree to redeem the elect and to reprobate/damn others
  2. God’s decree to create the elect and reprobate
  3. God’s decree to bring about the fall as a means of reprobation
  4. God’s decree to send Christ as the redeemer only for the elect
  5. God’s decree to apply salvation to the elect

Although there are some other modification that can be made, this is good for now. Notice the radical nature of this system. Like the decision to have children that proceeded the decision to get married, here the decision to elect and reprobate comes before the decision to create the individual, meaning that the reprobate were created for the very purpose of damnation. Creation is the means to an end of reprobation. In the supralapsarian scheme, God becomes the very author of damnation for its own sake. Supralapsarians have trouble separating God from evil as God seems to be the very creator of evil. A defense would be made of this position by referring to Romans 9:22 and the potters right to prepare people for destruction. In the end, according to supralapsarians, God is glorified in his decree both to elect and to reprobate.

However, let me make this very clear. This is not representative of mainstream or normative Calvinism. In other words, most Calvinists, historic and contemporary are not supralapsarians.

Infralapsarianism

Infralapsarianism literally means “after or below the fall” (infra=”below”; lapse=”fall”). This form of Calvinism is representative of normative and Evangelical Calvinism. There are many different forms of infralapsarianism and much debate on what is actually representative of historic Calvinism (both of Calvin and of Dort, another issue for another time), but the most important element is stable: most Calvinists are infralapsarian in their theology.

Normative Calvinistic Infralapsarianism

  1. God’s decree to create man
  2. God’s decree to allow the fall
  3. God’s decree to redeem the elect and to reprobate/pass over all others
  4. God’s decree to send Christ as the redeemer only for the elect
  5. God’s decree to apply salvation salvation to the elect

Notice the difference here. God’s decree to create man is the first priority, not his decree to elect or damn individuals. Like in the marriage illustration. In this case the decision to get married was the driving factor, not what might happen as a result of the marriage (i.e. children). Of course in all scenarios God knew ahead of time that the fall would happen, but what God knew and when is not the issue with the divine decrees. Once God allows for the fall, then and only then does he decree what to do as a result of the fall. In other words, infralapsarians do not believe that God purposed the fall in order to elect or condemn. Therefore, God is not the author of evil or of the fall.

Here are a couple of other options (with the distinctives in bold) to help you get your mind around this a little more:

Modified Calvinistic Infralapsarianism (Amyraldism/”4-point Calvinism”)

  1. God’s decree to create man
  2. God’s decree to allow the fall
  3. God’s decree to send Christ as the redeemer for all people
  4. God’s decree to redeem the elect and to reprobate/pass over all others
  5. God’s decree to apply salvation salvation to the elect

Arminian Infralapsarianism

  1. God’s decree to create man
  2. God’s decree to allow the fall
  3. God’s decree to send Christ as the redeemer for all people
  4. God’s decree to redeem the elect those who trust in Christ and damn all others
  5. God’s decree to apply salvation salvation to those who believe (i.e. the elect)

I don’t want to spend too much time on the details here. My purpose has been to give a basic introduction to the divine decrees, but more importantly to correct a very common misconception about Calvinism. Most Calvinists have a theology that makes it very clear that God is not responsible for the creation of evil and did not institute the fall in order to accomplish his purpose of reprobation. In other words, he did not create people for hell. I know that there are some that do believe this, but they are very much the exception, not the norm.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

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