A graduate of Bethany College of Missions, Stan Schmidt and his wife Vangie worked with various churches in south India for one year. Presently working for the Bethany House Publishers, Stan has published three books in India for distribution among the pastors and other Christian workers, all with the focus on understanding and following the Word of God. Stan has written a large number of poems. Stan's poems speak about the saving grace and the glory of the Lord, and exhort the people to put their total trust in Him. A collection of his poems titled TELL ME IT'S TRUE ... A BOOK OF POEMS was published in Christian Literature and Living recently.
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Copyright © 2001
"Calvinism is the gospel" -- Spurgeon
I want to do a short treatise on Calvinism. This will not encompass all the issues, obviously, but it will give a mini-perspective of mine on some of the relative topics. I do not like scattered miscellaneous comments on things I believe in, but want to gather them succinctly into a coherent essay, hence this paper. I am no expert on this dialogue, but I feel I have some relevant coals to add to the fire.
CALVINISM AND TULIP
The difference between Calvinism and other views is that Calvinism holds to a view of sovereignty that is misguided. The problem comes because all points of Calvinism rise and fall on that misguided view of sovereignty. Calvinists have built an edifice where all their theology must fit into that house. Be it any of the TULIP doctrines -- they all start with a hyper-sovereignty perspective.
The TULIP is an acronym for the five major points of Calvinism: T--Total Depravity, U--Unconditional Election, L--Limited Atonement, I--Irresistible Grace, P--Perseverance of the Saints (eternal security).
Furthermore, Calvinists seem to say that those who do not adhere to their view of sovereignty must not believe that God is sovereign. How is that for building a straw man?
I do not believe the hyper-sovereignty view is biblical, nor is it practical, nor is it rational. They assume they are somehow "protecting" God's glory by fending off other views. They are not defending God, they are defending their own system.
I think God is much more worthy of praise when viewed with a different perspective of sovereignty. For the record, Calvinism has a view of sovereignty, but not the view of sovereignty. That word is not limited to the Calvinist's definition of it.
AUGUSTINE AND CALVIN
Most of Calvinism comes from Augustine, some 1600 years ago. Some people say we need the balance between Calvinism and Arminianism. Augustine's fight was with the Pelagians, who overemphasized free will and thought the Fall of Adam did not really affect us and that we were created basically the same as Adam before the Fall. Therefore, in reality, the two ends are Calvinism and Pelagianism, and Arminianism is the balance. (I do not call myself an Arminian, however, because he believed in some things I do not.) It is also interesting to note that besides Augustine, there were virtually no notable hyper-Calvinists for the first 1,500 years of the church. Again, Calvin apparently came up with some of his radical views reacting to either Pelagians or the Donatists who broke away from the Catholic Church (Geisler 161-163). Why did he not just get his theology from the Bible? When Calvin wrote his famous Institutes, he was 27 years old and a young Christian with a lot of Catholic baggage. We should not consider that work a main treatise on Christian truth.
Augustine, a Catholic, taught the teachings of Catholicism on infant baptism, the sacraments, killing of heretics, acceptance of the Apocrypha, etc. So, how could Calvin, who was a big fan of Augustine who was so wrong on these issues, be trusted on his views of predestination, election, and sovereignty? Apparently Calvin "held infant baptism to be of such value that it transformed an infant into one of the elect" (Hunt 305). Calvin also thought similar to Constantine and Catholicism in regards to church and state as Hunt points out,
One of those ways was his acceptance of the church as Constantine had molded it and Augustine had cemented it: a partner of the state, with the state enforcing orthodoxy (as the state church defined it) upon all its citizens. Based upon this misunderstanding, Calvin applied his legal training and natural brilliance to the development of a system of Christianity based upon an extreme view of God's sovereignty, which by sheer force of its logic would compel kings and all mankind to conform all affairs to righteousness. Indeed, in partnership with the church, kings and other civil rulers would enforce Calvinistic Christianity. (61)
This is a part of the history of Calvinism -- forcing its views on all Christians. Can you imagine today if Christians were beaten, imprisoned or even killed because they held to a different view of sovereignty or predestination or free will? The arrogance of forcing your particular style of 'Christianity' on others is repulsive. It appears that people were not even supposed to speak negatively about Calvin. He "imposed his brand of Christianity upon the citizenry with floggings, imprisonments, banishments and burnings at the stake" (Hunt 64). And precisely because you couldn't speak negatively about him brings it dangerously close to Muhammad and Islam or the Pope and Catholicism, not the body of Christ.
Some say Calvin was called the "Protestant Pope," who would only tolerate one person's opinion -- his own. Is it not interesting that Calvin would try to impose his theology on others? I mean, if Calvin's irresistible grace and election are true, why would he need to force it upon others? If they were elect, they would come. If they were not one of the elect, they would never come, regardless of the force. Hunt remarks pointedly,
It is staggering, in view of his tyrannical and often brutal role of Geneva, that anyone could defend Calvin as an outstanding Christian. Could there be any question that his dictatorial conduct which was so un-Christlike was a direct result of his view of God as a harsh Sovereign more ready to condemn than to save? (312)
Piper defends this Calvin when he said, "But it is not clear that most of us, given that milieu, would not have acted similarly under the circumstances....the times were harsh, immoral, and barbarous and had a contaminating effect on everyone" (17). That is like excusing Muhammad because his times were harsh. Did Jesus act barbarous because His times were similar? Please!
As an aside, why would you consider it a virtue that God meticulously controls everything? Think if a husband was like that -- he would be very insecure and not praiseworthy. I don't understand how Calvinists see meticulous control as a virtue and not a vice. From a purely rational angle, humans are more impressed by a democracy than by a dictatorship. Why did God give humans a natural desire for freedom if He has not set up His kingdom that way?
I am not saying that people who believe in Calvinism do not love God and follow Him greatly, certainly they do. The problem is that their system of theology creates more problems than it answers. Another problem comes when these "champions" of the truth think their doctrines are the right ones and judge the rest of Christendom as "off the beam."
2. TOTAL DEPRAVITY
If man cannot not sin, he is free of guilt. (Author)
INABILITY OR ABILITY
Calvinism believes that total depravity means that man does not have the ability to come to God unless God first regenerates that person. Is not salvation a gift? What kind of ability does it take to receive a gift? Furthermore, if we do not have the ability to believe, what do we do with Acts 17:30 and other verses that say man should seek Him and repent and believe? Or the pleadings of God with man? What about all the commands to obey in the Old Testament with either blessings or curses to follow? Does not this doctrine of inability make a mockery of all God's dealings with the human race? God spent the Old Testament longing for and calling to a disobedient people. That alone disproves inability and irresistible grace.
One of the key works supporting this "inability" is Luther's Bondage of the Will of which Hunt says, "contains so many contradictions and so much fallacious reasoning that one wonders how it obtained the reputation of being such a logically drawn treatise" (181). Hunt goes on to add that throughout Luther's Bondage he "continues to confuse the ability to will with the ability to perform and mistakenly imagines he has disproved the former by disproving the latter" (182). I will say it more than once that the Bible never says that man is incapable of responding to God's gracious call. It is merely a man-made doctrine formulated upon the edifice of the hyper-sovereignty theology.
GUILTY AT BIRTH?
No one denies the depravity of man, but Calvinism again has put an unbiblical definition on that term and expects everyone else to follow suit. Certainly Adam's sin had its influence on mankind, but the extent of that influence is not agreed upon by all. Mankind is sinful, but even that has it's differing definitions. Geisler points out that "depravity involves corruption of life but not its destruction" (58), and that the image of God in "fallen humans is effaced but not erased" (ibid).
The Bible says we have all sinned, but does that give us a clear view of our state at birth? The view that says we are born sinful and under God's wrath is an interpretation, not a translation. The view that says babies need to be baptized otherwise they are condemned grates against the conscience. How grown human beings can believe that doctrine is beyond me. The Bible does not even come close to promoting such a disturbing theology. If God threw babies into hell because they were not baptized I would not follow Him. I follow a God worth following not some Hitlerite. We do, however, have some telling words from Mr. Calvin himself,
even infants, bringing their condemnation with them from their mother's womb, suffer not for another's, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt. (2:1:8 Shank 102)
Is that not interesting? Infants being odious and abominable to God! That is odd since the kingdom of God belongs to children (Mt. 19:14), and we are to become like children (Mt. 18:3). Furthermore, the angels of children behold the face of the Father in heaven (Mt. 18:10). Where Calvin comes up with this "odious and abominable" doctrine I do not know. God's heart in Scripture is always mercy towards children, not judgment.
JUSTICE OR INJUSTICE?
Furthermore, if man were born sinful and could not help but sin and the only way he could get out of that is that God would elect him -- but God did not elect him so he went to hell for his sin -- would that be justice? That would not be justice, because man was born behind the 8 ball and could never get out unless God gets him out, but God chooses not to. So the man goes to hell to suffer forever for something he had no choice in. The God of the Bible does not operate that way. Think about it--being condemned by a just judge for something you had no part in. An oxymoron, indeed.
Sin is an act, not a mysterious guilt at birth. If not, then we need a whole new definition of sin. Sin is a transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). The Bible always sees sin as a rebellious act, not some involuntary state at birth (Gen. 6:12, Ps. 14:3, Rom. 1, 2 Pet. 3:5). Morality has to do with choices, so if we are born sinful and have no option but to sin -- we are no longer moral beings. We would actually be innocent, similar to retarded people, because we cannot choose not to sin. God judges us because we can choose otherwise, but do not. In other words, God's judgment is just precisely because we could choose not to sin but we don't -- we are voluntary rebels, not innocent victims at the mercy of some mandatory sinful nature.
The only reason people say "sinful nature" is because they are regurgitating something somebody told them. Take an unbiased novice to the Bible and have him or her read it and they would not come away believing in a sinful nature. No one denies that man is sinful, but is sin rebellion or some part of our nature (muscle and bones, etc.)? To apply sin to matter and not to the will is an inappropriate combination. If sin is part of our nature then we cannot not sin and God's judgment is unfair.
I have read all the verses and heard the arguments, and they do not suffice. Believing in a sinful nature is reading into the text what is not there. The burden of proof is not on me, but on the one who claims that doctrine is in the Bible. It is even held as an essential of the faith, i.e. we must believe it. You would figure that if a doctrine were essential, many Scriptures would support it. The verses to support it are minimal at best, so how can it be an essential?
Another point is that I may be accused of not believing man is sinful. On the contrary, my view makes man more sinful because all his sin is voluntary--he chose to do it. It is not something involuntary from Adam. In my view, the person is directly responsible for his sin.
Let us not forget that Jesus was human as well, He, "partook of the same [nature] ... made like His brethren in all things" (Heb. 2). The Word became flesh (John 1:14), born of a woman (Gal 4:4), according to the flesh (Rom. 1:3). Contrary to what Catholics believe, Mary was not sinless. Therefore, Jesus was born from a sinful woman. How could He come and show us how to live the life when He (allegedly) did not have a nature such as ours? He would have an unfair advantage. I believe He had a nature like ours, i.e. human nature. Shanks adds,
Jesus came to the cross "without spot," not as the consequence of having lived 33 years in sterile isolation from sin--immune to temptation and impregnable in righteousness, but because He had met every temptation common to man -- and temptations beyond those of all other men--with unwavering commitment to righteousness (Heb. 1:9), striving mightily against sin (12:4) and learning obedience to the Father's will through the things He suffered (5:8). (69)
It is not our nature that brings God's judgment, but our sin. We can never pass off guilt by saying "my nature made me do it," or "I cannot help myself," or "I am only human." Therefore, if the sinful nature doctrine is true, then Jesus either had a sinful nature or He was not human.
OCCASION VS CAUSE OF SIN
Satan, as well as the angels sinned without a sinful nature. So the argument that says that universal sin proves a sinful nature, stands on straw legs. The answer to the universal sin problem is universal temptation. Appetites are not sinful in and of themselves. In other words, they are the occasion for sin but not the cause of sin. Being hungry is not a sin, but gluttony is. Sex is not a sin, but to satisfy that appetite in an unbiblical manner is. God gave us appetites, so let us not confuse those with sin. It is only the stepping out of God's boundaries to fulfill those appetites that constitute sin.
I repeat, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to children (Mt. 19:14). How is that possible if those children have a sinful nature? Again, sin in the Bible, is about our voluntary actions, not some mysterious nature passed on from Adam. The Bible never says babies and infants are sinful, but infers that we are sinful from "youth," not birth (Gen 8:21, Deut. 1:39, Is. 7:16, Neh. 8:2, Ez. 18:20, Rom. 9:11, Jer. 3:25). Certainly we have all been affected by Adam's sin in many ways I am sure, be it physically, phsychologically, environmentally and so forth. The problem is when it is asserted that Adam's sin brought guilt and a sinful nature on his posterity.
THE TWIN TOWERS: PSALM 51:5 AND ROMANS 5
At this point I could go into the hermeneutics of Psalms 51:5 and Romans 5, the twin towers of the sinful nature defense, but I will not. Suffice it to say that properly interpreted, those verses do not promote a sinful nature theology. Psalms 51 is a poetic genre and must be interpreted in that way (and so does Psalms 58) as Doug Stuart explains,
Who of us in singing the song, 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' would assume that God is in fact some kind of a fortification or impenetrable building or wall? We understand that 'Mighty Fortress' is a figurative way of thinking about God. In the same way, when the psalmist says, 'In sin did my mother conceive me' (Ps. 51:5) he is hardly trying to establish the doctrine that conception is sinful, or that all conceptions are sinful, or that his mother was a sinner by getting pregnant, or that original sin applies to unborn children, or any such thing. The psalmist has employed hyperbole--purposeful exaggeration--in order the express strongly and vividly that he is a sinner. When you read a psalm, be careful that you do not derive from it notions that were never intended by the musical poet who was inspired to write it. (190)
Finney agrees when he says, "If the Psalmist really intended to affirm, that the substance of his body was sinful from its conception, then he not only arrays himself against God's own definition of sin, but he also affirms sheer nonsense. The substance of an unborn child sinful! It is impossible!" (255)
The Romans passage, if the parallel in that text is taken at face value, does not support a sinful nature. It is only preconceived baggage brought to the text that makes them seem to say so (or as with the NIV, an interpretation, not a translation). If the passage is forced to say that all are automatically condemned in Adam, it also says that all are automatically righteous in Christ. We know, however, that only those who partake of Christ are righteous. In the same way, it is only those who partake of Adam, by sinning, who are condemned in Adam.
CHILDISH OR SINFUL
Some may bring up children and wonder why they act the way they do if there is no sinful nature. Again, what is a sinful nature? How can those two terms be made to harmonize? Human nature, yes. Fallen nature, yes. Beyond that is mere speculation. A child knows nothing but to make sure their needs are met. Meeting those needs is not sin. We call it childish at first. However, at the dawn of moral agency when we realize that we are meeting those needs at the expense of God's will and the good of others, we are sinning. Finney had these words on children,
Some may ask why all children adopt the principles of selfishness without a sinful nature. They practice selfishness because they possess HUMAN NATURE and because they enter a fallen world, surrounded by temptation. All the desires of body and mind are IN THEMSELVES INNNOCENT, but they can be strongly excited by powerful temptations to prohibited satisfaction. So many temptations are made to these natural desires that all human beings are led to sin. Adam was created in the perfection of manhood, certainly not with a sinful nature; and yet, an appeal to fulfill his innocent desires in a sinful way brought him into sin. If adult Adam, without a sinful nature, even after a period of perfect obedience, was led to change his mind by an appeal to his innocent desires, then we can see how infants with the same human nature, but surrounded by still greater temptation, so quickly fall into sin. This does not mean that their nature is sinful. It is absurd to maintain that the infant's choice to sin is proof of the sinful nature; but even more incredible is the belief that sin is part of the body instead of voluntary action. This is impossible! (168)
I do not find the sinful nature idea in Scripture but many people do. Some of those who do also are against the Calvinistic idea of "inability." In other words, most non-Calvinists believe in a sinful nature but they believe that people still have the ability to repent and believe without some "irresistible grace" imposed on them from God. Once we prove "inability" to be false, the rest of Calvinism crumbles.
3. UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37)
It is thought that because people are so depraved that they cannot respond to God, that God elects people unconditionally. That would certainly call into question God's gracious gift of salvation to all. So, not all will get saved because God does not want all to be saved.
If that is an unfair evaluation, please tell me where I am wrong. If the only way anybody gets saved is if God elects them, then why does He not elect everybody? If I had enough food to feed all the starving people in the world, why would I only choose to feed a small portion of them and let the rest die? Certainly God is not under obligation to mankind to save anybody -- He owes us nothing. But, as Hunt adds, "Grace and mercy, however, do not flow from obligation but rather from God's love" (133).
ELECTION AND MAN'S ABILITY TO SEEK GOD
Calvinist Edwin Palmer said that, "Reprobation is God's eternal, sovereign, unconditional, immutable, wise, holy, and mysterious decree whereby, in electing some to eternal life, He passes others by." What does God do with those He passes by? He, "justly condemns them for their own sin--all to His own glory" (95). Need I say more?
What should we say about Acts 17:27, "that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us"? The context is mankind, not the elect. This verse shows not only that man has the ability to seek God, but that God's salvation is open to the "whosoever."
In Acts 13:48, a favorite verse of Calvinists, the King James follows the Latin Vulgate, "and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Hunt says this is at best "a questionable rendering, and many Greek scholars call it a wrong translation" (210). The focus here is on the Greek word tosso. Other usages of this Greek word tasso don't carry the meaning of an eternal decree of God. Other optional meanings include "determined," or "decided," or "were disposed to eternal life."
The context allows these meanings as well if we look at verse 46 where Paul said the Jews rejected the Word so it went to the Gentiles, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles." Obviously, the context shows that free choice is behind the rejection and/or acceptance of the Word. So, as Hunt points out, the verse could read, "as many as were disposed to eternal life believed" (211). I think that is fair if we take this verse in context of the Bible as a whole.
In Galatians 3:24 it says that the Law "has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." First of all, how can the Law lead an unregenerate person to Christ when that person cannot respond to God until he has been sovereignly regenerated? It is an easy verse if one does not follow Calvinism. The Law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior so we cry out to Christ to save us. Simple!
Regardless of the "mystery" talk of Calvinists, their theology is quite ghastly. They have accepted a view of sovereignty that requires all their doctrines to fit into it. It reminds me of evolutionists who cannot accept a Creator, so no matter what evidence is brought forth contrary to their view -- it just cannot prove a Creator. They make everything fit into their puzzle, even if it doesn't fit. Hunt profoundly adds,
Calvinism drives us into an irrational dead end. It is both useless and senseless for God to plead with the elect. He has already predestined them to salvation and will effect it sovereignly before any faith is exercised on their part. Nor does it make any sense for God to present the gospel to and plead with the non-elect who cannot believe it until they have been sovereignly regenerated--but that won't happen because they are damned by God's eternal decree. Yet He continues to plead and blame them for not repenting even while He withholds from them the essential grace which He gives only to the elect! Such is the unbiblical and unreasonable misrepresentation of God by Calvinism. (105)
SALVATION BY DIVINE DECREE?
If salvation was only by the Divine decree of election we should then see God choosing people from different age groups and social classes. But it seems that most people get saved when they are young, and poor people get saved more than rich people. I believe this clearly supports the fact that human choice is involved in salvation. Young people get saved more because they are not so set in their sin and poor people come to Christ more because they see their need of Christ more than the rich. This reveals that God draws all men to Himself but the final decision is in our hands. It does not show that God is any less sovereign, but it does heighten man's guilt.
Even in the Calvinistic manifesto of Romans 9-11, human choice, resistible grace and universal salvation is weaved throughout:
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed (9:33)
for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:4)
for all who call upon Him (10:12)
Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord (10:13)
All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people (10:21)
if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them (11:14)
Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief (11:20)
if you continue in His kindness (11:22)
if they do not continue in their unbelief (11:23)
but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience (11:30)
In 11:25 it speaks of a hardening coming upon part of Israel. Is that some sovereign decree with no part played by humans? If we go back to 2:5 it says, "But because of your stubbornness (hard) and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself." It is cleary voluntary on man's part. I believe God may take an already hard heart and harden it more, but I don't think He will harden a heart that is soft and receptive. That would be against the whole theme of who He is. God used Pharaoh's rebellious and power-hungry heart to judge the gods of Egypt. Pharaoh was already 'given' to that disposition, so God took advantage of it and glorified Himself (Ex. 3:19). Hunts says that Calvinists make a big deal out of Pharaoh's heart being hardened by God as if it proves Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement. He states, "On the contrary, the hardening of his heart had nothing to do with whether or not Pharaoh would go to heaven." I think we all concur. The hardening had to do "with God's use of Pharaoh at the time of Israel's deliverance from Egypt" (266).
God could force people not to be evil, but He doesn't. Furthermore, once people are so given to their wickedness, sometimes He uses that for His own purposes and "endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom. 9:22). We see in 2 Thes. 2:10-12 that God sends certain people a "deluding influence so that they might believe what is false." Why is that? Does God just arbitrarily choose to deceive people? Perish the thought. The context says God sent them a delusion because "they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." In other words, they were already given over to their sin--voluntarily. They wanted to believe a lie so God gave them the desire of their hearts. Shank says profoundly,
God does not exercise His right to be arbitrary, but instead is governed in all His dealings with men--both Jews and Gentiles-- by something of much more concern to Him than His sovereign right to be arbitrary: His gracious purpose to have mercy on all. (194)
As an aside, if people are elect from all eternity without their choice, why are they not born elect as opposed to getting saved later in life? Furthermore, how about Isaiah 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Is it only the elect who have gone astray and turned to their own way? Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Is it only the elect who are sinners? Christ died for the ungodly. Is it only the elect who are ungodly?
JACOB AND ESAU
Even the verses about loving Jacob and hating Esau before they were born (9:10-15) and having mercy on whom He will have mercy are in a corporate context--not individual salvation. Jacob was the Israelites and Esau was the Edomites (Gen. 25:23, Malachi 1:1-4, 3:6). The Bible says that the older (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob). First of all, Esau never served Jacob during their lifetime which further proves that it is the nations in view and not the individuals. Secondly, it says Esau shall serve Jacob, not that Jacob will be saved and Esau damned.
(I also do not think it is relevant to bring up that God said that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. It is certainly a Jewish way of stating a preference of service as when Jesus said we must "hate" our father and mother in order to follow Him. Again, it is not a verse about individual salvation or damnation.)
Along that same line we could say that God chose to have mercy on the Gentiles even if the Jews did not understand it at the time. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. That mercy is not some arbitrary decree from all eternity but a mercy on which we can make no demands because God is free to be God. God is sovereign and has all power and is not accountable to His creatures, but I believe mercy triumphs over judgment--which means we can trust our Creator to be good, not just powerful. We need to read these chapters in the context of Romans, whose thesis is "the just shall live by faith," and in the context of the entire Bible.
FATALISM AND THINGS OUTSIDE GOD'S WILL
It is asserted by some Calvinists that God decrees or foreordains all things (to keep in line with their view of sovereignty). It appears that they somehow get around the logical end of that reasoning--God ordains sin and evil--but I don't know how. Just because God foreknows something does not mean that He ordains that same thing. Foreknowledge is not synonomous with predestination. God may know that Hitler would arise and kill 6 million of His people, but God most certainly did not decree or ordain such evil.
It is so ludicrous to think that if something happens outside God's will then somehow God must not be sovereign. That argument is for kindergartners. Things happen everyday outside of God's will, but that does not make Him any less sovereign. Calvinist's need a reality check on their view of sovereignty. The Bible says that the one who does unrighteousness is not of God (1 John 3:10). So how can all be God's will? Besides, that type of sovereignty is akin to Islam. Calvinist Edwin Palmer had these comments,
Nothing in this world happens by chance. God is in back of everything. He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen ... He has foreordained everything 'after the counsel of his will' (Eph. 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist -- even sin. (Hunt 221)
Sproul concurs with Edwin Palmer when he says, "God desired for man to fall into sin. I am not accusing God of sinning: I am suggesting that God created sin" (from Almighty Over All, page 54). Morey adds something similar, "He hated the reprobate and planned their sin and damnation" (296). This is what happens when you create a view of sovereignty that is not biblical. Would this not make some non-Christians laugh at Christianity? Sin is the antithesis of God as seen by verses such as, "the one who practices sin is of the devil" (1 John 3:8), "anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:10), and "the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). Sin and the world are not from God but from Satan and Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). To even insinuate that sin is part of God's will is shocking.
In 2 Cor. 4:4 the Devil blinds the minds of the unbelievers so they will not believe. Why does he bother? The elect will be saved and the non-elect never will, regardless of what the Devil will do. Besides, the God of Calvinism has already made sure the majority of people end up in hell. The devil might as well take a vacation. It appears Calvinism confuses much of Biblical theology just to fit all their squares into round holes. They have 1/2 inch bolts they are trying to fit into 1/4 inch nuts.
MISUSE OF THE TERMS "ELECT" AND "PREDESTINATION"
The words "elect" and "predestination" are misused. First of all, predestination has more to do with blessings like Christlikeness, not in regards to personal salvation or damnation. Secondly, Christ is the "elect" One and we are elect insofar as we are in the "elect" One. Furthermore, the Church has been elect from eternity past and we are elect insofar as we are in the Church. If salvation is tied in with election, it is a corporate idea, not an individual's personal salvation. So to speak of being predestined to be one of the elect in regards to personal salvation is a misnomer.
Furthermore, did God elect Israel so He could damn the rest? No, He chose Israel so Israel could be a light to the nations. Likewise, God elected the Church, not so He could damn the rest, but that the Church could reach the lost of the world. Again, election has more to do with purpose and service than it does with personal salvation.
1 Timothy 4:10 says that Jesus is the Savior of all men, "especially of those who believe." Obviously, those who believe are the elect. But the verse also says He is the Savior of "all men," besides the elect (see also Galatians 6:10).
Several verses used in the election and predestination issue are Romans 8 and Ephesians 1,
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren, and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons....(Eph. 1:4-5)
Shank adds his comments on these verses,
found it to be not a decree of unconditional election and reprobation marking certain men for salvation and all others for damnation, as Calvin and his disciples have assumed, but rather God's predetermination of the purposes and objectives and eternal circumstances of election: sonship, inheritance, and glorification with Christ. We have observed that the election is corporate rather than particular and comprehends all men potentially, no man unconditionally, and the Israel of God (all the faithful) efficiently. (162)
Again, predestination has to do with the inheritance of those who would believe in the Son, not that some have been predestined to heaven and some to hell. How is it that God knows who will have these blessings and inheritance--by foreknowledge. It is not determinism, it is free will. In other words, God can foreknow something a person will do without decreeing it to be so. So if a man chooses to reject Christ, God knew he would, but He did not determine (cause) it to be so. Furthermore, all those who believe in Christ will have certain blessings because God determined it to be so -- it was predestined.
To close this section I want to appeal to common sense. If I see my neighbor or co-worker and long for them to come to know Christ, be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life; where does that compassion come from? It comes from God. He longs for that through me. But according to Calvinism, if God has not unconditionally elected, limitedly atoned, and irresistibly graced that person, then He plans on doing nothing for that person's salvation. Therefore, all our longings and compassion and prayers for them are useless. I rest my case.
4. LIMITED ATONEMENT
Is Christ's sacrifice only powerful enough to save
This flower may very well be the most obnoxious of the 5 points of Calvinism. It is taught that Jesus only died for the elect. Consider that if someone on the street asked you if Jesus died for them and you could only say, "I don't know," because you did not know whether that person was one of the elect. So much for the Jesus being the "good news," and "glad tidings for all the earth."
It is taught that if Jesus died for everybody, then everybody would get saved. Otherwise, God's atonement was not successful and He is not able to carry out His plan, therefore He is not sovereign. Wow, what a line of reasoning.
Does everybody obey the Ten Commandments? No, but does that mean God is not sovereign because people do not obey His top ten? Or did God fail when He gave the Ten Commandments?
CALVINISTS' DEFINITION OF SOVEREIGNTY AND
The point is that this hyper-sovereignty view of God gets the whole thing started on the wrong foot. Calvinists need to go way back to the beginning and start with a new definition of sovereignty. Some Calvinists think that if the atonement was for all, then God would be dissatisfied because not all are saved. So what? What is wrong with God not being satisfied? He is probably the most disappointed Person in the universe anyway. Everyday, sinners sin. Everyday, His people fail Him. All throughout the Old Testament the Jews disobeyed Him. Of course He is dissatisfied -- but that has nothing to do with whether He is sovereign or not.
GOD'S DESIRE TO SAVE ALL
We all know the verses in the Bible that speak of God wanting all people to be saved and that whosoever believes in Him will be saved:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him....(John 3:16)
who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11)
that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9)
If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink (John 7:37)
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Mt. 11:28)
Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth (Is. 45:22)
not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9)
How could God not wish that any should perish if Calvinism were true? In Calvinism, their salvation is guaranteed. The only way 2 Peter 3:9, as well as the rest of the above verses make any sense is if God's offer of salvation is open to the whole world. Shank sarcastically states,
The import of all the above passages with respect to the extent and sufficiency of the atonement is so obvious that it could be called into question only by those whose theology makes it necessary for them either to ignore the passages or to "interpret" them in some ingenious manner to accommodate them to the necessities of their theology. (84)
DID JESUS DIE FOR THE NON-ELECT?
How about 1 John 4:14, "the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world"? Or 1 John 2 where Jesus' atonement was for the sins of the whole world? It seems clear enough, but somehow Calvinists have used some hermeneutical gymnastics to get around the clear teaching of Scripture and think those verses are only talking about the elect. It raises another question, "If Jesus did not die for the 'non-elect,' then does God even love them?" If He does not love the unsaved, then He is no different than the Allah of Islam.
Does the Calvinistic God love the lost? Does He want all to be saved? Is the Gospel "good news" for all mankind? Why would God "foreordain the vast majority of humans to eternal destruction?" And for His glory? Hunt makes the point that "There is no escaping the fact that in Calvin's entire Institutes of the Christian Religion there is not one mention of God's love for the lost!" (151). How were the disciples to interpret Jesus' words when He told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel if He actually only meant a select few would believe and not the "whosoever?"
SALVATION FOR ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE
We all know Romans 3:23 where it says "all" have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Well, the very verse preceding that says, "even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift...." We would all agree that the "all have sinned" means everybody, so we must also conclude that salvation is for everybody and not just some select "elect."
There are verses that speak of Jesus dying for the redeemed. That is fine, because He did. But just because certain verses say that does not mean that He died only for them. Obviously, if He died for all people, the redeemed would be included. So the general is not excluded when speaking about the specific.
From Genesis to Revelation we have a God who seeks man and longs for all to know Him. For the Calvinists to try and use Greek to say "world" and certain other terms like "all," and "whosoever," refers only to the elect, misses the thrust of the entire Bible. We need to let the Bible speak for itself and not read into it our own agenda.
God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, yet Calvinism asserts that God damns most of the human race to the praise of His glory. One must certainly put on a different pair of glasses to read the Calvinistic bent on Scripture. They try and connect all the dots in their systematic theology but the dots do not connect. Why would God demand that we be merciful and love our enemies when He does not even do the same? He leaves the majority of the human race in bondage. That is not mercy. What about all the saints through the ages who agonized over the lost? Is it not their God who is agonizing through them?
The heart that causes missionaries to want to reach every soul is inspired by the God who lives in them because God wants every soul to be saved. We are to love our neighbor and forgive our enemies --but does God hold to a lower standard by only loving and saving a select few while damning the rest? Why would God ask us to do something that He Himself does not even do (James 2:13-16, Mt. 18:14, Rom. 11:32, 1 John 3:17)? What does Calvin say?
Those therefore whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children. (3:23:1 Shank 141)
Does anyone struggle with that view of God? Does it not stand against the entire thrust of the Bible and of God's character? Paul agonized over his kinsmen according to the flesh so much that he was willing to be accursed in order that they may be saved (Rom. 9:1-3). It is that passion for the lost and for every soul that we do not find in the theology of Calvinism. As Hunt points out, it cannot be Calvin's elect who Paul is agonizing over--they have been predestined from eternity past and need not any prayer for salvation. Furthermore, is it an affront to God to pray for those who He has determined for damnation from eternity past (302)? Would we not be praying against His will?
Does God practice what He preaches in the "good Samaratan" story, if He just passes by the hurting person? 1 Corinthians 16:14 says that whatever we do should be done in love. Why would God ask us to do that if He does not live up to it? Shank puts it dramatically,
If God simply "passes by" the mass of humanity in unconcern, His creation of man was the most dastardly act of infamy ever perpetrated, for He thus damned into irremediable perpetual misery and despair the great mass of mankind created in His own image, and He is Himself the greatest curse that could be imposed on His own creation. (193)
INFLUENCE OR COERCION?
Sproul says, "Was his divine plan to make redemption possible or to make it certain?" How can God make it certain without using coercion? Involuntary salvation is meaningless. He says again, "If God planned to redeem all men, did his plan fail?" (168, G). I counter by saying, "was His plan to redeem all men or to make redemption available to all?" Did all of God's desires come true in the Old Testament? Of course not. He spent the entire Testament dealing with a stiff-necked and rebellious people. Calvinists would ask, "Do we want a God who makes salvation certain or who makes salvation possible?" I would side on the latter because it leaves salvation open to anybody whereas the first not only makes salvation certain to the elect but makes damnation certain for the rest. Which one is better and fosters more confidence in the character of God?
Hunt makes a great point also in regards to God not desiring to save all mankind and Christ having no intention of dying for everybody, "This doctrine is repugnant even to unbelievers because it contradicts the conscience and sense of obligation and fairness God has implanted in every one of us" (303). Even the unregenerate person understands the concept of mercy. Their conscience would also be repulsed to know that God could save them but won't. It does not take a regenerated person to see that Limited Atonement is offensive.
God is so ready to forgive, so ready to have mercy on any and all who come to Him. The Bible habitually refers to God as merciful and gracious. Why did Jonah struggle with going to Nineveh? He knew God was gracious and merciful and would spare that evil city if they repented. Jesus did not die so God would forgive us but that God could forgive us. In other words, God did not need His arm twisted to be merciful, He only needed His justice satisfied so He could do what He wanted the most--forgive.
Calvinists need to realize that sovereignty does not mean that God meticulously controls all aspects of His universe. He has allowed free will to play a major role in His plan. Otherwise, how could He have what He wants more than anything(?) -- people freely loving Him from their hearts.
IS THE BLOOD OF JESUS WASTED?
Some think that if Jesus died for all and all are not saved then His blood was wasted on those who do not get saved. I can only shake my head at such reasoning. It is not the amount of blood that Jesus shed, but that He shed His blood. Whether it was one drop or five pints of blood, the point is that He was the sacrifice and that sacrifice is sufficient to cover the sins of any who come to Him -- be it one person or six billion. Is not Christ's blood enough for the sins of the whole world? The Calvinist would argue that propitiation satisfied God's wrath against sin. Therefore, if Jesus died for everybody, then their sins have already been punished. So if people went to hell they would be punished a second time.The problem with that is that Jesus' death did not automatically save anybody, until they partake of Christ by repentance and faith. I think God would rather have one person in heaven voluntarily than one billion people who were regenerated against their wills.
What about Jesus asking His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him? Were Jesus' words wasted because those people would not repent and therefore not be forgiven? Rational dialogue needs rationality.
It is ridiculous to assert that people are born sinful with no chance to do anything but sin and the only way out is for God to choose them and regenerate them. If He doesn't, then they are damned. Furthermore, to add more salt to the wound, Jesus did not even die for them. That is not the God I follow. Robert Shank puts it well,
The doctrine of limited atonement (limited by arbitrary decree of God) is a reproach to the Saviour of the World and impugns the majesty of Him who stood one day in old Capernaum and declared, 'I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man feed on this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (87)
5. IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
Grace imposed is not grace (Author)
DO WE HAVE A CHOICE?
Some people think that we are so dead in sin that we cannot come to God unless He not only chooses us but actually imparts 'the very act of willing' upon us. The Calvinist would say that we cannot resist God's work (i.e. it is irresistible). That view of sovereignty makes people a mere pile of rocks--choiceless pawns. Shank sums it up well, "In the Calvinist definition, man can never act authentically. Instead, in reality he is only acted upon, and whatever he "does" is only symbolic" (209). Dick Sanford concludes, "Man isn't responding to a loving God's grace, he is simply doing what he was programmed to do" (3). After Adam sinned he was dead in sin but he certainly knew he sinned and that God was not happy with him. In other words, he was not so "dead" that he could not understand sin and condemnation. Being a slave to sin does not mean you have no ability to know about sin and a Savior, especially after the Holy Spirit has brought it to your attention.
I do believe that man comes to God by the prior initiative of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit only goes so far. He influences us but does not force us. He makes Christ irresistible, but leaves the final choice in our hands. So we never come to God on our own strength, but we also do not come to God without our willingness. The very basis of a relationship is voluntary action. God does not want people to follow Him because they have to, but because they want to. What value is our relationship to God if it is not voluntary? Think if a man forced a woman to marry him. Would it not be better if he made himself irresistible, won her heart and left the choice to her?
Some think that if grace is irresistible it is more gracious. That is a strange kind of logic. It is the fact that grace is resistible that makes it gracious. It is because we are voluntary rebels who choose to hate God rather than love Him, yet He still pursues us--that makes it gracious. Calvinists also think that irresistible grace keeps the converted sinner from boasting. Again, we have these childish arguments. Tell me what converted sinner boasts that he saved himself? This is not mixing apples and oranges, it is mixing apples and broccoli.
Besides, Romans 3:27 says that is it faith that excludes boasting, "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith." Also, is it not the giver who gets credit for a gift and not the receiver? Do we boast at Christmas when we open our gifts or do we give thanks to the one who gave?
Furthermore, it is odd to believe that when God gives the grace of irresistible grace for someone to become a believer that it is called "grace." For God to provide the means to do what He commands is not grace, it is justice. It is as if God commands us to fly, but does not give us the ability to fly, and thus condemns us for not flying. And to call it grace to give us the ability to fly is, again, a misnomer. It is grace and all the more grace when we have the ability to fly but choose not to and yet God still loves us and helps us to fly nonetheless. Mercy and grace are something beyond justice. It is doing something He does not have to. That is why He is praiseworthy.
FAITH AND REGENERATION
The debate goes like this, "does faith precede regeneration, or does regeneration precede faith?" In other words, does God regenerate us first, then we believe, or do we believe and therefore are regenerated? Obviously, Calvinism says regeneration comes first because we cannot come to God unless He first regenerates us. Irresistible grace means that God puts His grace on you and you will get saved--your choice means nothing in the transaction. In other words, you are dead and only come to life after God brings you to life. That all sounds interesting but it is not accurate.
After God draws us to Himself and shows us our sin and His love--the ball is then in our court. Nowhere does the Bible say that man cannot respond to God. Nowhere does it say that man cannot incline his heart to God (with the help of the Holy Spirit) unless he is sovereignly regenerated by God. And as Geisler points out "'dead' persons can believe....since 'dead' means separation from God, not annihilation" (227).
Let us look at some verses that clearly show faith preceding regeneration or as the condition of salvation:
that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (John 3:15)
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31)
He who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36)
he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life (John 5:24)
Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38)
it it the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)
Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away (Acts 3:19)
that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life (John 6:40)
There is no supposed irresistible regeneration in these verses. Nevertheless, Sproul says that "A corpse cannot revive itself. It cannot even assist in the effort. It can only respond after receiving new life" (184, G). First of all, the corpse analogy is questionable, since we are not physically dead and we make moral choices everyday--not to steal, kill, lie, cheat, etc. Secondly, if a corpse cannot revive itself, then it can neither sin, do evil or reject Christ, so the analogy breaks down (Hunt 119). If people dead in sin cannot even respond to God, what do we do with "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord and He will have compassion on him" (Is. 55:7)? Yes, we are dead in sin, but not dead to choice making. In Luke we have, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children...." (11:13). So here we have unregenerate evil people doing morally good things.
It is a strange sequence in Calvinism where they have the person being sovereignly regenerated and then the person excercises faith in order to be saved. So we have regenerated people who have not even believed the Gospel or trusted Christ or are saved or are justified. An odd string of events. It makes much more sense to say that God convicts of sin, shows us His love and persuades us. Then we repent and put our faith in Him and are regenerated, saved and justified. He gets all the glory because all we did was say "yes."
MORALITY PRESUPPOSES VOLUNTARY CHOICE
If we can only sin no matter what, then we can no longer sin because we would not be moral beings. The foundation of morality presupposes voluntary choice. Do we condemn a murderer because he had to kill? No, we condemn him because he chose to kill. If we have no choice, we have no morality.
Isaiah 1:18 has God speaking to a disobedient people and said, "Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together." Again, we have God assuming that these people can do something without being sovereignly regenerated.
The onus is on the Calvinist to prove that man cannot say yes to the Savior. Why would Paul try to persuade men to believe, if those men could not believe without being regenerated (2 Cor 5:11, Acts 18:4)? From cover to cover, the Bible continually assumes that man can say yes to God, not without the Holy Spirit, but without first being regenerated. It is believing/faith that initiates regeneration. The word of God is quick and powerful (Heb. 4:12) and with the Holy Spirit can convict and draw people's hearts before they are saved. If not, then the word of God and the Holy Spirit must not be too powerful or convincing. I think they are, however, and we are won over by God's love and mercy.
Calvinism would say that man can do good things, but not the things of God. They can love their mothers and give to the poor, but they cannot say yes to God's call to salvation. What is wrong with that logic? I would say that both are moral choices and that man can do either. God habitually calls man to repent and believe and it would be ludicrous to say that man cannot repent and believe. Otherwise, God is mocking the human race. Why would Jesus urge people to "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction," (Mt. 7:13) if the only way those people could do such a thing is by a sovereign act of regeneration?
Some would look to Ephesians 2:8-9 to say that faith is a gift from God as proof of irresistible grace, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." The problem is that the verse does not say that faith is a gift, but that salvation is a gift from God. I am not an expert on feminine and neuter nouns in Greek, but the experts (like A. T. Robertson, F.F. Bruce, etc.) say that salvation is the gift being spoken of in the verse and not faith. That stands to reason anyway, because all of Scripture states that salvation is a gift from God.
CAN MAN SEEK GOD?
What about Moses who spoke to God face to face, and Enoch who walked with God, and God's friend Abraham, and the man after God's heart, David and Daniel, who would rather die than forsake His God? Did these people seek God? Of course. Were their wills irresitsibly "graced" so they sought God? Was there no voluntary choice on their part?
The Bible does say that man does not seek God. That is generally true, but the Bible does record people who did seek God. Furthermore, it does not say that man cannot seek God, but that he does not. The inability theology of Calvinism is a stretch to say the least.
Calvinism assumes that outside of their position, one must believe that man comes to God on his own. That is not the case at all. The Holy Spirit is the initiator with convicting man of his sin, persuading him and showing him the Savior, but at the end of the day, man must surrender to Christ. Hunt sums it up well,
That no sinner can 'break the bondage of sin' cannot be disputed. But it is a quantum leap beyond that fact to declare that the prisoner of sin cannot with great joy receive the deliverance Christ freely gives. What prisoner would not welcome freedom? (120)
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE COMMANDS IN THE BIBLE TO REPENT?
I say again, if we can only come to God after He regenerates us, what do we do with all the commands in the Bible to repent and believe and seek Him (Acts 17:30, Mark 1:15)? From front to back, the Bible has God convicting, persuading and calling to the human race. There is no "irresistible regeneration" theology in the Bible, not even by inference. It is only reading into the text what is not there naturally. Nowhere does it say that the sinner cannot say yes to the Gospel! It is the exact opposite--the entire testimony of God's Word is God asking the world to come to Him to be saved. If irresistible grace is true then why does God plead and beg people to be reconciled to Himself (2 Cor. 5:20)? Obviously, the human will plays a role in salvation. Romans 4:15 says, "For this reason, it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace," i.e. faith is the condition and precedes regeneration and that is grace. God made salvation available, not by us working for it, but by simply believing--saying yes to the Savior.
DISSECTING JOHN 6
Hunt (334) helps us as we look at a key passage used by Calvinists to prove their theories (the words in brackets are the responses to the Calvinistic thought),
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me (John 6:37) [All who repent and believe are given to the Son by the Father, which proves nothing Calvinistic.]
And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39) [Again, this does not prove inability, limited atonement, irresistible grace or unconditional election.]
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have etenal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40) [This proves that those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life, period.]
No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44) [It is true that no one comes to Christ unless drawn by the Father, i.e. all who come are drawn but it does not say all who are drawn will come. Furthermore, it says those who are drawn are able to come, not unable.]
For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father (John 6:65) [We all agree that no one comes to Christ unless granted by the Father, i.e. God gives us the opportunity for salvation. That proves neither inability, or irresistible grace or that God predestines some to heaven and some to hell. Preconceived notions have a bad way of coloring everything we read.]
It is interesting that right in this very chapter are many verses challenging Calvinism,
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger (6:35) [salvation is open to all]
he who believes has eternal life (6:47) [no irresistible grace]
I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever (6:51) [no limited atonement]
RESISTING THE IRRESISTIBLE OFFER?
In my own life God spoke to me for years before I repented. If His grace is irresistible, why did I resist it for years (Is. 1:19-20, 30:15)? He certainly does make a strong offer that is hard to refuse, it is almost irresistible. However, to make the relationship of any value, He must leave us with the final choice. The very essence of relationship with God assumes our consent. If salvation is a gift, then it would not be a gift if you did not receive it by an act of your will. As an aside, how could the power of choice threaten God's sovereignty when it was God's sovereignty which gave us the gift of choice in the first place (Hunt 140)?
GOD WITHHOLDING GRACE?
If we can do nothing but sin, is God to blame because He has not regenerated us? If God has mercy on all He has made, why does He not choose everybody? In Calvinism, God has not shown mercy to all because He chooses to leave them in their sin with no chance of salvation. So basically, man is in darkness, not because of his sin, but because God withholds the light he needs, "the lost are kept out of heaven not by their sin, but by God withholding the grace they need for salvation, because He has already predestined them to eternal torment" (107 Hunt). So my neighbor, who is not saved, never will be because God will never move on him to get saved. He was born a sinner, cannot help but sin, and will be judged eternally all because God chose to overlook him. What a "God!" What "justice!"
DOES MAN SAVE HIMSELF?
I want to address the accusation that non-calvinists think man somehow saves himself. Sproul says that faith being either from God or from man leaves Christianity as a "religion of utter reliance on God for salvation and all things necessary to it, or of self-reliance and self-effort" (23, W). I so tire of people like Sproul accusing people of believing that they save themselves. That is unfair and biased and not worthy of a man of his stature. Show me a quote from a non-calvinist who takes credit for his salvation. It is not there. The accusation from Calvinists is unfounded. (We can, however, find many comments from Calvin himself that are worth accusations). If a man sees his desperate need for Christ and cries out for mercy, that is not saving himself--it is asking Christ to save him. If God convicts us and draws us to Himself and we respond--how is that "self-reliance and self-effort?" Even Piper does the same, accusing Arminians of believing that we regenerate ourselves or accompish our own new birth or save ourselves or depend on our own initiative to overcome our depravity or to quicken ourselves (13-14, 20 TULIP). It is maddening when Calvinists use ridiculous arguments like that. There is not an Arminian alive who thinks those things. Mr. Calvinist Piper adds confusion when he says, "We must meet the condition of faith in Christ in order to inherit eternal life" (19 TULIP). So we must do something to have eternal life? That sounds odd coming from a hyper-sovereignty preacher.
Furthermore, for the record, non-Calvinists believe that man is fallen, they believe in God's powerful grace and they believe that God is sovereign. Just because they do not believe in these things the same way the Calvinist does, does not mean they do not believe in them. The accusation that they do not is mere propaganda.
God deserves all the glory in our salvation. We only love because He first loved us. When I say, "Jesus died for me and I need mercy," that is not a statement of strength, but of weakness. There is no works-salvation mentality in the non-calvinist position. But Sproul goes on to accuse non-calvinists of performing some "righteous act of the will" to get saved and of having "merited the merit of Christ" (26, W). One can only shake their heads at such tactics. It is mixing apples and oranges only to augment one's own position. I would expect more from Sproul, but he does not deliver. Furthermore, this is not the only instance in Sproul's book on free will where he uses such arguments. So the next time someone accuses non-calvinists of believing that we make ourselves come alive in Christ, give ourselves spiritual vitality and somehow earn our salvation--tell them they are grossly misrepresenting the position and that their bias is clouding their reason.
ARE WE STRONGER THAN GOD?
I don't see a problem in saying that our destiny is in our own hands. God is not so insecure that He needs to dictate every detail of His universe. Is not God capable of handling a world where people have freedom to choose or reject? Geisler puts it well,
Irresistible force used by God on his free creatures would be a violation of both the charity of God and the dignity of humans. God is love. True love never forces itself on anyone. (69)
If Calvinists think that if we can resist God's will then we are somehow stonger than God, that leaves me agreeing totally with Hunt that "such arguments are an embarassment to sound reason" (291). It is not a matter of God having the power to save anyone He wants, of course He has the power. The point is, that is not the way He runs His universe. So are we to assume that those who resist His will and end up in hell are actually stronger than God? A rhetorical question indeed. If they were stronger than God they would probably have God in hell instead. Let us be rational in our arguments. Are we to assume that when a child resists his/her parents that makes the child stronger than the parent? Calvinists need to get away from the thought that sovereignty means only power (how about grace and love?). Irresistible grace is an oxymoron and a contradiction of all the Bible reveals about God.
How about the irresistibility of God for sanctification? If God uses irresistible grace so people will get saved, why does He not use irresistible grace so they will not sin?
Calvinism says that man cannot resist God's will, therefore they will get saved if they are one of the elect. We also know that God's will for Christians is sanctification, "this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thes. 4:3). The problem arises when we see that Christians do not live perfectly and habitually do not live up to Christlikeness (God's will). So, apparently, Christians resist God's will habitually. Is God's sovereignty threatened? Hardly! So we have unregenerate people unable to resist God's grace for salvation, but we then have regenerate people able to resist God's grace for sanctification. Hunt continues by asking "If disobedience to God's will by the elect poses no threat to God's sovereignty, why would a rejection of the gospel by some of the unsaved pose a threat?" (307). An odd paradox indeed.
Furthermore, holiness in the Christian life is a joint effort between God and man, "we are God's fellow workers," (1 Cor. 3:9), "I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:29), "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work" (Phil. 2:12-13). God is in the motivating and persuading business, but not the coercion business.
What do we do with those in Acts 7:51 who are stiffnecked and are "always resisting the Holy Spirit?" I thought we could not resist God. If those people are not the elect and are predestined to be damned, what is the Holy Spirit trying to do with them that they are resisting?
I will close this section with a verse from Jeremiah which clearly shows that man can resist the will of God,
But this is what I commanded them, saying, "Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people....Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart....Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets....Yet they did not listen to Me....(7:23-26)
6. PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
If you wanted to go, would God force you to stay? (Author)
IS THERE SECURITY IN CALVINISM?
There are those who believe in eternal security but are not Calvinists. They believe all the Gospel promises in the Word to believers concerning their salvation--and there are many. The security of the Calvinist, however, is not in the Gospel but in whether they are one of the elect, whether they have been predestined from eternity past to salvation.
The strange thing is that even though the Calvinist believes in eternal security they can actually have less security than the non-calvinist. The reason being that they do not know for absolute certainty whether they are one of the elect. The Bible does not help them to know either. To answer their question they may look at their works to see if they are one of the elect.
The obvious problem is that how does one know if their "works" warrant being one of the "elect?" We all have doubts about how well we are living "the life." So, to base our hope on our works does not foster security. Furthermore, there are non-saved people who have impeccable lives and saved people who do not. If we are basing our security on some mysterious election and not on the Gospel, we are left with little assurance.
DO PEOPLE LOSE THEIR SALVATION?
With that said, there is another belief--that people can lose their salvation. I want to stress that God can and does keep His people. He does all He can, except coercion, to keep us on the path. But to say that we cannot fall, again, denies the validity of human choice. In other words, if we cannot fall, we basically have no say in the matter and our choices are meaningless. Again, the hyper-sovereignty view obliterates human freedom. God would be the dictator and we would be the peasants. Why would God run His kingdom that way? It stands to reason, though, because if Calvinism believes that man has no say in his attaining salvation, he must then, have no say in the retaining of his salvation.
I must emphasize that we are secure in the Lord. Verses such as 2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5 and Ephesians 1:13-14, "the Holy Spirit of promise who is given as a pledge of our inheritance with a view to the redemption of God's own possession...." cleary show that we are secure in the Lord. God is committed to His people and will never abandon them. We can take that to the bank. Does that, however, also assume that man cannot abandon God?
I do not doubt our security in the Lord. He is passionately committed to us to the end. He works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). With His continual influence in our lives, why would we want to leave Him? I think falling away is rare because those who are truly His have no desire to leave and also are kept by His power (1 Pet. 1:5). However, I must leave a small doorway for the possibility of falling away because membership in God's family must be voluntary.
If I choose to leave God at some future point, why would I then still hold out hope for heaven? Heaven is for people who love God. Would I be so presumptuous as to think I can live in rebellion and still be ushered into His presence upon dying?
What about Solomon? Where was he at at his death? Then there was Demas, who once was a companion of Paul's, but later Paul said that Demas who "loved this present world, has deserted me" (2 Tim. 4:10). Ezekiel says that if a righteous man turns away and lives in sin, "for them he will die" (18:24). We also know about the verses that speak about if we persevere unto the end,
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal. 5:4)
if indeed you continue in the faith....(Col. 1:23)
For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. (1 Thes. 3:5)
be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness (2 Pet. 3:17)
Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.... (Heb 3:7-8)
Take care brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12)
Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. (Heb. 4:1)
Even Piper seems a little foggy on this issue. He talks about persevering in the faith and not to be entangled in things that could strangle us and result in our condemnation (25 TULIP). Why should we worry if we are eternally secure? He even brings up the parable of the sower where some seed is sown, sprouts for awhile and falls away. So, apparently the person heard the Word, believed and bore fruit but eventually fell away. What does that do for irresistible grace and eternal security?
It appears that Piper is saying that in the final analysis you only know you are one of the elect if you persevere until the end. This does not foster much confidence along the way. There is actually more assurance in Arminianism because they believe the promises of God today and know they have eternal life. Piper says that "our final salvation is made contingent upon the subsequent obedience which comes from faith" (25 TULIP). That is odd in a theology of eternal security. He goes on to say that those who do not obey until the end reveal that their first act of faith was not genuine. I struggle with that because people can serve God for years and if they fall away they are accused having a salvation that was not real.
IS IT SEMANTICS?
I do believe in the security of the believer. I know the verses that speak about security far outweigh the ones that speak otherwise, but I bring the above verses to light to tone down the absolutism of eternal security. To a degree, it is mere semantics. You see, for the Calvinist, a person who is a 'Christian' that falls into sin and dies in that state was never a true believer. For the non-calvinist, the same person was a Christian, but fell away. Either way, the person is lost for eternity. Likewise, for the Calvinist, a christian cannot fall away and so will be with the Lord forever. For the non-calvinist, a person who remains faithful will spend eternity with God. Either way, they are both saved. So, in the final analysis, he who endures to the end will be saved.
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Finney, Charles. Systematic Theology. Bethany House: Minneapolis, 1994.
Geisler, Norman. God Knows all Things. From Predestination and Free Will. IVP: Downers Grove. 1986, p. 69.
Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free. Bethany House: Minneapolis, 1999.
Hunt, Dave. What Love is This? Loyal Publishing; Sisters OR 2002.
Morey, Robert. Studies in the Atonement. Crowne Publications, 1989.
Palmer, Edwin. The Five Points of Calvinism. Baker Books, 1999.
Piper, John. TULIP. Bethlehem Baptist church booklet.
Piper, John. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. Crossway Books, 2000.
Sanford, Dick. Predestination and Election, ed. John Cross. (self-published monograph, n.d.)
Shank, Robert. Elect in the Son. Bethany House: Mpls., 1989.
Sproul, R.C. Grace Unknown. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1997.
Sproul, R.C. Willing to Believe. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1997.
Stuart, Doug. How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth (with Gordon Fee). Zondervan, 1993.
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