The issue of predestination: God's determination of who will get to Heaven and who will go to Hell, is another divisive issue in the Church. It is a tough debatable issue, but some people claim their position is the whole truth and denounce other views as tantamount to heresy.
Many Christians see the various passages telling people to choose for or against God, and commissioning those already following God to go and lead people to Christ (and salvation), as teaching that man has free will to choose God and Heaven or reject God, which will condemn them to Hell. One often quoted scripture says that it is not God's will that any should perish, but that all should come to everlasting life (2 Peter 3:9, See also 1 Tim.2:4 ). But another camp, naming themselves after reformer John Calvin, emphasizes God's sovereignty in saving people. The generic term for this view is monergism, as God alone ("mon-", one) does the work ("-erg-") in saving, without any act of the will on the part of the one being saved. The generic term for the other view is synergism, as man essentially cooperates with ("syn-") in being saved.
In other words, to the one view, if people could just choose or reject Him, then they must have some sort of power over God; power to save themselves by the "work" of turning to Him. (And salvation by works is universally rejected in Protestant (and Biblical) theology). Since it is obvious that many are not choosing God, then it looks like God, who desires none to perish, is losing out to man's free will and the devil. So to maintain God's sovereignty, they teach that God selects those who shall be saved. They point out that we are so "totally depraved" that no one is able to even choose God on their own, and a couple of scriptures clearly say that God chooses us("unconditional election") rather than us choosing Him (John 6:37, 15:16, Acts 2:47).
There are many scriptures mentioning people being "predestined" or "long ago" marked for salvation or condemnation; sometimes even specifying "before the world (age) began"! So in their theology, it seems people are actually born just to die and go to Hell. Christ did not even die for these people, but only for the elect ("limited atonement"), and that for them, grace was irresistible.
They insist that God commands all to repent, but many He did not grant the ability to repent, but still "holds them responsible" for sinning and not repenting, and thus will "justly condemn them" for all eternity. Why? Because they are "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction", and God has the "sovereign right" to create these people for this purpose.
Then they argue that it doesn't seem fair, but God owes no one salvation anyway, he only gives it
by grace, and therefore can withhold it to some if He so chooses (we all deserve Hell, and those who aren't elected to Heaven aren't being deprived of anything; they're getting what they deserve; and those elected to Heaven are getting what they don't deserve).
This even though you may wonder how anyone who 1) had no choice in being born a sinner, and 2) now has no choice even in repenting from his sin and receiving God's forgiveness, can even be morally accountable. God is punishing people for something they couldn't help. Isn't punishment something earned from making a willful wrong choice? Isn't that what the whole concept of guilt is based on? But all such reasoning aside, the Calvinists still figure "they broke God's Law, that is enough for them to be held accountable." How they love to glibly remind us that it is only our sinful nature that makes us want to 'usurp God's right to be sovereign' and to 'be the masters of our own destiny'. (Isn't it understandable to desire a choice to escape Hell?)
Indeed, people seem to get some pleasure in the idea, musing at how "hard" that is, and how it "confounds our limited human minds". (as if just the fact that the teaching is so "hard" alone proves it's right, and that free will makes sense to our notions of justice proves it's wrong—even though our basic notions of justice come from God—His image, also general revelation (our minds are corrupted by sin, but, we still know what justice is) and also scripture, such as Proverbs 2:6-9; so you can't just dismiss our ideas of justice and then appeal to "above your comprehension" to justify questionable theories).
The free-will advocates, named after Jacob Arminius, a later contemporary of Calvin, are then accused of Pelagianism, an ancient heresy named after a man who taught, that the Fall had no real effect on man, and that man could thus be sinless if he chose and thus not need redemption. While the logical conclusion of the message of some Arminians may lead to this, it is not what they officially believe. So Arminianism is often called "semi-Pelagianism". So this is another issue that divides evangelical Protestants, with some virtually anathemizing others. A few, such as groups like Outside the Camp, and some Baptist "Briders" even claim non-Calvinists aren't even saved, nor Calvinists who accept non-Calvinists as brothers, or do not hold all the points of Calvinism. Most Calvinists reject this, but alot of the rhetoric they use ("Arminianism is a 'false gospel' in which we 'save ourselves'"; "its god is helpless over man", etc) would lead to this as a natural conclusion.
Battles rage on in churches such as the Southern Baptists, with Calvinists trying to gain power, and even in other churches, Calvinists often come into Bible classes and other meetings, much like cultists or "Full Gospel" teachers insisting that the church's "gospel" is not complete without this other teaching they are bringing.
Many Calvinists still believe in evangelizing, even though their belief seems to render it unnecessary. They just do it out of "obedience" and don't question why God wants to use us to bring people to Him, who He foreordained to come to Him without our help. There is also what is known as
supralapsarianism: the belief that God caused the Fall to justify "reprobating" the non-elect (basically, to give them sin to punish them for, since they had already been predestined for damnation). Obviously, this raises many questions, such as making God the author of sin, but the Calvinists maintain that the only alternative is that sin came up against His will, "taking Him by surprise", which further erodes His sovereignty, and they even cite Isaiah 45:7 to show that God is in fact the author of "evil"! But sin is the falling short of God's standard (a negative), not some [positive] "thing" that He must have created along with everything else. "Evil" in that passage (Strong #7452) has several different meanings, such as "adversity", "affliction", "calamity", "displeasure", "distress", "trouble", plus some morally "evil" meanings such as "bad", "hurt", "wicked".
So with God, it is obviously the non-moral meanings. It is Satan and fallen man who create sin, and then God punishes them in calamity or adversity, thus "creating evil", but not the same as creating "wickedness".
A softer version of this is infralapsarianism, which at least places the decree of reprobation after the Fall. The two sides argue even amongst each other, with endless philosophy, and the supra adherents claiming the infra position is still half way to Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism.
Many even believe that this election and "reprobation" extends to babies, including those who were stillborn or aborted! To the idea that babies are not held accountable, they argue "Does a child at 'some point' become a sinner? If so, that would mean that at some point in time he fell from innocence. The only problem is that he, like David, was a sinner in the womb. If they did not become a sinner, they were born a sinner. Sin must be punished otherwise God is unjust." and "They are sinners volitionally, or else they are less than human". But "volition" means "choice". Isn't the corollary of this doctrine that man has no choice? How does a child consciously know what "choice" they are making? The question is does God hold them responsible when they could not even understand what right and wrong are? This is supported by Jesus Himself, who while not denying that they are by nature sinners, holds up little children as possessing a sort of innocence that He associates with the Kingdom. (Matt. 19:14). The Bible defines sin as: "to him who knows to do good but does it not; to him it is sin" (James 4:17). This is where the concept of the "age of accountability" comes from.
They continue: "Consequently, babies are sinners by their union with Adam" They refer to
Romans 5's teaching about sin and death coming through Adam. In other words, sin is not just
actions, but a condition, a point I have used that Calvinists rightly emphasize. But is it being used right in this case? There isn't enough in this text to support this. This leads to what they call "federal headship": "We all chose to sin in Adam ... and therefore we are responsible for that sin." This now seemingly gets us around the problem of God sending people to Hell for something they could not help, including even the unborn. Then it is repeated how everyone is doing what they want, and running from God, so rather than being unfairly consigned to an eternity in Hell, they are actually quite "free". Their whole argument (regarding man's real guilt) hinges on this point, because if we all "chose sin", then as they repeatedly say "The question is not why He does not save all, but why He saved any" or "...me"!
This is actually the heart of the whole issue, because it is why non-Calvinists think unconditional election and preterition are so unfair, and why Calvinists think it is not unfair, but quite "just". (An important note: the reason many think it is unfair has more to do with the "inability" of those who are still condemned because of it, moreso than some being offered salvation but not all, which Calvinists often assume is the main objection).
But this is almost like God sees it as if our minds/souls were consciously present in Adam and made the choice for/with him. But does anyone remember consciously making this choice? No, but we shall be consciously punished for it! (While Adam himself may go to Heaven as most believe) This would make sense in an Origenic framework which held that all men preexisted in union with God, and that all fell from this state except for Christ. (In fact, Origen's teachings may have helped influence this doctrine). In that case, there would be no problem. Everybody had their chance and like Lucifer and his angels (who are offered no chance of redemption), made their conscious willful choice to leave the perfection and bliss of union with the Father (Christ was the only such soul who didn't, and this is what lead to him becoming the Son of God[!!]), so God will give the "grace" of [another] chance to "whomever He will". Calvinism makes perfect sense, then.
But "in Adam" was simply an analogy based on lineage. The only proof-text for this idea is Hebrews 7: 9, 10: "And if I may say so, Levi, also, who receives tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him". The point here was that the line of Levi was supposed to receive tithes, but in that case, Levi's line (represented by Abraham) paid tithes instead. It is not saying Levi's soul was actually, personally present in Abraham. Since the seed does come from the ancestor, then a part of a person was seen as being there "in" the ancestor, but not the whole conscious entity in the sense that is being implied in Calvinism, where people are actually "guilty" of Adam's individual sin. (Perhaps this misinterpretation is where Origen got his "preexistence of souls" theory from).
But we can begin to see that this is basically putting man on God's level (as much as Arminianism is accused of that)! In other words, man is more than a frail creature born into time. Man transcends our world of time just as God does, so he can be judged on His level. (In fact, one even said "To be responsible is to be held to a higher standard. Because all have sinned in Adam as well as individually, all are responsible.") So this "federal headship" with its "legal imputation of sin" is the means God uses to damn the whole race (apart from actual acts of sin) and then only elects to save some out of this and pass over the rest. Many Calvinists deny that God actually damns the reprobates (they do it to themselves), but if this was because sin was imputed to them, and a chance of pardon denied to them, who did all of this to them? There is no escaping God's intentional condemnation of the helpless in this theory. And as we'll see more, it makes condemnation some sort of good goal in itself rather than an undesired reaction to sin. But notice how non-Calvinists never pity the fallen angels whose fates are sealed. Why? Because "to whom much is given, much is expected" as Luke 12:48 tells us. The whole problem with this position is it actually has God being harder on men than on these angels who actually were consciously present at their own fall.
Romans 9 will supposedly prove this is God's "prerogative", but as we will see, the chapter is not talking about any such thing. Others interpret federal headship as "Adam was our 'perfect representative', meaning he represented all of us in the garden, and meaning he only did the same thing we would have done if we were there. It would be highly "arrogant" to think otherwise (i.e. "I wouldn't have done that"), we are told. But then if all of us would have done the same thing, then what principle guided unfallen man to make all and any one of him make the choice to sin? Of course, we would do it in our condition now after being affected by the fall, but we're talking about before the fall and the resulting sin nature. This "sin in Adam" is said to be "imputed to us" [i.e. without any action on our own] just like our "righteousness in Christ". But this is contradictory, because they just told us that we "chose" to sin "in Adam", and "responsibility" assumes the person could have done differently, but didn't, out of free will. Also, Calvinists will later claim that God does not "respond to man's choice" in saving or damning, yet here they are trying to say that it is by "man's choice" after all.
What Romans 5 tells us we get from Adam is "sin" and "death", not somebody else's "choice" of sin pinned on us. We can't do anything about this, but what we do with this knowledge is where we are responsible. many try to say that just the fact of physical death is the legal "guilt" imputed to us. But this is just the effect of the original punishment, and punishments do affect those who did not commit the sin being punished, all the time in the Bible and life in general. There is nothing in the passage about "CHOICE" or "RESPONSIBILITY". To say "chose sin in Adam" or "held responsible for Adam's sin" is to blatantly add to the text of scripture! It also doesn't distinguish "original sin" from sin as individual acts. For one thing, look again at v.12: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. It's not "all sinned because they were charged with the sin of the first man". It's not some abstract "legal imputation" to otherwise neutral individuals. We received from "one man", Adam our sin nature. This causes us to break God's law. The breaking of God's law then brings us death, but "one man", Christ brings us life. I don't see two sets of penalties: 1)one for "Adam's sin" apart from 2) our own sins. One leads to the other, so it is one penalty. Original sin is what causes actual sin.
The Law we are condemned for violating condemns us for actual sins, (killing, lying, etc.). It does not say "Thou shalt not have a nature that makes you sin", it just says don't sin, but since we do have that nature, and can do nothing about it, He saves us by grace. Eph. 5:5-6 and Col.3:5-6 are clear, mentioning "your members which are on earth fornication: uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of THESE things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience". Not simply because they were from Adam, or charged with his sin.
Another important scripture is Rev. 20:12,13, a picture of the actual judgement to Hell. Here, we clearly see that people are judged by their WORKS, not their 'condition' or the sin of Adam. The condition causes us to commit those "works", but it is clearly those works that violate the Law, which forbids what else, but certain works.
I think a lot of the problem is overgeneralization. We know we are not saved by works, but rather the condition of Righteousness imputed to us from Christ, so we also think people must not really be condemned by works either, but rather the imputation of a condition of sin from Adam. But it is not that symmetrical. The Bible clearly says condemned by works; saved by grace. Acts are what God condemns people for, and in no case can a miscarried or aborted fetus, for instance, be "judged according to their works".
Calvinists have rightly criticized making sin acts only, but they too actually have done it without realizing. Since sin is a condition, as well as the acts, it was "sin" [in both senses] that Christ died for. Limited Atonement would assume that it was only acts of certain individuals that were paid for. But if all have a condition of sin, and Christ died for a condition of sin, then Christ died for all. This is made more clear in v.18: "Therefore as through one man's offense, judgement came to all, resulting in condemnation; even so through one man's righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification to life". The following verse reiterates this in terms of "many", in which "all" is a type of "many", though many is not necessarily "all"; and that "many will be made righteous, so here we have the distinction which Calvinists deny, that all (or "many") are sinners, the gift extends to all ("many"), and "many" (but not all) receive the gift (justification). (Calvinists, once again taking a symmetrical approach, insist that "if 'all' and 'many' are the same, then 'all' would be justified". Yet they believe both "many" and "all" means "all" when talking about judgement coming to all. But the difference between "many" and "all" in v.19 is qualified by "will be", showing that this is not a one time selection of who will be justified, like all were condemned at one time. Justification is on a person by person basis).
Likewise, regarding "federal heads", nowhere is it insinuated that Christ is made the head only of a group of predetermined individuals. As "the second Adam" (1 Cor.15:45-47) he has become the new representative of the human race, as Adam was. But if people reject Him, it is they who choose to remain in Adam (And just think of all the unsaved's appeals to "I'm just human" to justify their sin. Without knowing it, they are directly appealing to the headship of Adam). Not because God appoints only some to Christ's headship.
Can you imagine such a person (the unborn), in Hell, possibly never having seen a day on earth (as someone aborted, stillborn, etc), charged with some sin that they never even lived to commit, wondering what they are really there for? What were they supposed to do? (a better question since "why does He find fault" is applied to this and shot down— which will be discussed later) This is then just dismissed as an "emotive" argument. Just the thought of things like this would naturally make one angry. But they charge this is just an "affront" on "God's prerogative" to "Have mercy on whomever He will". Your anger seems to be the ultimate proof that you are wrong, and some will even "rebuke" you for your "stubbornness". "Your problem is not with us but with God" they will tell you. How can you argue with that? God could do whatever He wants, right? Suppose He really did decide to create people for Hell? How dare you get angry at the idea! But it is highly unfair to work up people's emotions with such a "hard" hypothetical premise like this (knowing how offensive it would be in people's minds), and then use it against them and try to silence them with God's prerogatives. Suppositions about God's prerogatives mean nothing if they don't square with the entire scriptural revelation. His "sovereignty" is defined as Him "doing as He pleases" (Psalms 115:3, 135:6), but if He has already said in His Word that it is or is not His will to do something, then we can expect Him to do or not do it. Sovereignty dictates this, not overrides it. Rather than some wild unfounded fantasy people believe in just to be stubborn or think they saved themselves, as Calvinists often protray it, there are strong evidences of free will in salvation, or at least contradict unconditional reprobation or "passing over" in the scriptures.
They continue, telling you what your position is, and posing supposed dilemmas with it: "Consequently, infants dying in infancy do not need the imputation of the righteousness of Christ since they are not yet culpable as infants. Will the Bible support this? If you were to argue that infants do need the righteousness of Christ, then you must also agree that they are hell-bound without it. You can't have it both ways. You can't say that infants need the grace of God in Christ, but are not worthy of damnation."
But no one is saying any of these things. —that they don't manifest fallen nature, or that they do not need the righteousness of Christ). The sins of the "elect" are still worthy of being punished, but aren't they "unpunished"? (other than being borne by Christ). How are they pardoned? By total unmerited GRACE. Why would not God extend His grace to people who don't even know what sin or righteousness is? (I know what you're thinking. Remember, even though grace is not earned by works, "not living long enough to be accountable" is NOT a "work". It is something totally out of control of the person.). Many people point to Christ's appraisal of children in Mark 10:14,15 as evidence that they are innocent in His sight, despite their possession of the sin nature, and it is His sovereign right not to hold them responsible, just as he no longer holds us responsible for our sins.
Still, they argue "One's sin condition when laid upon Christ is grace. This, however, suggests that the sin condition of the infant must be laid upon Christ, which is no longer grace but necessary-justice. In other words— they get this righteousness not by grace but by necessity, OR ELSE God is being unjust! When one puts obligations upon grace he is no longer speaking of grace - by definition."
But once again, the answer to these questions is that the acts of sin are what God judges people for, not the condition that causes them. Individual acts we can help, the condition we cannot. As God is the one who established that acts would be punished, He is the one who of His own will does not hold responsible those who can not understand sin and righteousness despite this charge of "necessary justice". This is why [many Arminians] believe infants who die below an age of accountability will be saved.
The problem in all of this, is that there are two biblical definitions of "sin"; one building upon the other, that are being confused. The basic legal definition is "transgression of the Law" (1 John 3:4). This is what the Calvinists focus on. So looking at it that way, one says "that baby covets something that is not his. He has tantrums. He cries deceptively, often. So he has 'broken the Law', and is condemned as a sinner!" To them, since they were born with the nature, they do things that are considered "sin" for adults, and they have the condition; they do the acts; therefore they are judged/charged as sinners (and therefore elected and reprobated like sinners), and if you don't say God holds them "responsible" like adults, you have denied sin, as we see with the people I dealt with above.
But the other definition, which goes beneath the first, is "to him who knows to do good but does it not; to him it is sin" (James 4:17). Related to that is "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:23-- e.g. if you are not sure it is right).
Then there is Paul's discussions in Romans about how "by the Law is the knowledge of sin" (4:20), "where there is no law, there is no transgression" (5:15). People are looking at legal guilt only, but the Gospel teaches that God is not operating on Law (in which no one could ever be saved). He judges by conscientious guilt. Legally they are sinners, so that the universality of sin is not denied. Conscientiously, they are not charged with sin yet, and where there is no charged sin, there is no reason for God to condemn them. Babies cannot understand "sin", "repentance", or "faith" (even the adult person who has never heard the Gospel has a conscience and knows right and wrong), and of course, for the unborn this is altogether moot. If elect & nonelect extends to the infants and unborn, then you have the issue of salvation without faith. But that is actually a debate among the different types Calvinists themselves; both accusing each other of being unscriptural, as we shall see. So yes, they are sinners, whose sins need to be paid for and covered, legally, but in an infant or unborn state, they do not have the knowledge that brings judgment. They do not "know to do right". They cannot have "faith".
Remember, He and only He knows when a person knows enough to be held accountable for sin. He is not looking to send as many people to Hell as He can. Calvinists will here claim then that it would be safer for everyone if they died as an infant. Why fight abortion then? Why not kill babies? Of course, God does not give anybody that authority (effectively making the decision for the person), so that is completely ridiculous!
In all of this talk of God "doing as He pleases", we forget that God doesn't do everything just because He can, or not do everything because He doesn't have to (the whole basis of the "whom He will" interpretation of Romans 9— discussed below) If He did, Christ wouldn't have died at all, and we would all be in Hell. Yes, God hypothetically could go on and create people in Hell (the virtual corollary of this teaching regarding the stillborn), and still be "right" (since He is the one who determines "right" in the first place), but the question we've missed is, is this "His good pleasure", or apart of "the character of His being" as revealed in the Bible"? Does He get pleasure sending people to Hell just because He can? Their position seems to assume that He does.
One one hand, one site says "How can we be responsible for sin when we can't resist God's will? [to decree sin] Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because God can punish him for his disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for the simple reason that there is no power superior to Him, no greater being can hold Him accountable, no one can punish him. There is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws which he could disobey. So what that sounds like is "yes, it may be wrong, but God can get away with it because He's God". But on the other hand, others will even admit: "There are many things that are right (and wrong) not because God says
they are, but because of His very character. To lie is not wrong because God says so, as if he
could make a world where lying was not wrong. Simply put, God cannot do many things such as
deny Himself. Accordingly, God cannot make certain things right simply by saying so. In a word,
he cannot (and I do not mean may not) do certain things. Consequently, certain things are right
not because of God's law but because of who he is."
So we see here a conflict as to whether God is even subject to His own will or not. But our argument is that God's character is what determines to us that infants will be in Heaven, (as well as Him giving the rest of the unregenerate a choice). The idea of predestinating people to Hell, and especially infants, would seem to be in the same category as God lying or denying Himself. People who disagree with limited atonement/reprobation are accused of going by "their own" sense of justice or "fairness", "emotive arguments" etc. but it is based on the idea, presented in scripture of God's justice. Scriptural principle shows that punishing someone eternally because of nothing they themselves did, but only because of who they are, is just not the way God will judge, and it is not accepted in civil human societies (such as racism). And the same argument used to show God could do this because of His "rights" could also be extended to say that He could lie if He decided to, and still be just. (e.g. "You're saying that He CANNOT do things? That destroys His 'sovereignty'!"). I don't know how Calvinists can so boldly claim He cannot lie, then turn around and use "He does as He pleases" to justify another act which is just as much contrary to His revealed will as lying. It's an endless round of conjectural assertions. If we insist on God doing whatever He will, just because He can, because He owes nobody anything, then how do we know that God hasn't been telling us all this time that we are going to Heaven, and then send us to Hell anyway? Remember, He doesn't OWE us anything. He would still be right and just because of who He is. "But He promised us...". So? He isn't bound by any promise. Remember, He's sovereign. "But, He said He wouldn't lie...". Oh, who are you O man, to charge God with "lying"? Your limited mind is judging by your fallible notion of "truth". I repeat, God owes you nothing!
So you see here, that this hypothetical logic's natural conclusion completely erodes away not only "our limited sense of justice", but also our eternal security, God's trustworthiness, and the entire Gospel message. There are scriptures that seem to lead to one teaching, and there are others that seem to lead the other way. To resolve this, we must take the scriptures as a whole, and God gives us our rationality to comprehend scriptures, so just snatching up one or two chapters and then doing away with all human reason is setting us up for any heresy to charge into our midst and reign unchallengeable. One argument even suggests this whole opposition to hell and reprobation stems from "contemporary cultural representations of human pain as the ultimate evil to be avoided, when sin against God is a more heinous thing". But where does the Bible ever lay man's pain and the offense of God side by side and compare them, like competing interests? The same thing to an assertion that "God loves Himself first and foremost, more than He loves us". But where in scripture is God's love for us and Himself contrasted as such? They are complimentary, not conflicting. Calvinists maintain that everything doesn't have to be laid out clearly; that "inferential" doctrine is just as authoritative as clear doctrine, but what happens is that we wind up reading way too much into the scripture. So many arguments and hypotheses people come up with were not even thought of by biblical writers and the rest of the Church or Israel from those times. People forget that God "knows our frame; that we are dust" (Psalms 103:14) Why do they think He must judge us on His level, beyond time and frail flesh? So it does not do any good to be arguing on about His prerogative, which is seems to be apart of "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). This is just causing unnecessary conflict and even grief.
The Different "Wills" of God
Look at its effect on one person who came to a Calvinistic Internet message board. He had accepted Calvinism as the "Biblical teaching", but then rejected God:
I ask you to really see what I'm saying: I cannot get happy about a God who creates many humans ultimately so He can hurt them, so that He can torment them in the most horrible fashion (so horrible that no-one can really grasp it right now).
I look at the beauty of Nature and the complexity of the human body as well as other joys of life, such as romance and family, and think that there must be a GOOD Creator who actually desires goodwill toward His creatures. Then I look at the Bible and Reformed theology and realize that is not really the case.
I look at the suffering and pain and injustice in this life, as well as the brevity of life itself, and think that there must be more to life than just this existence; there has to be a remedy where things work out and true meaning is found. But then I realize that this Creator decided before the world began that He would shut many, many people out from it.
Calvinists reject this as human reasoning. To this person, one person responded that his questions were "way out of line" and selected statements from Deuteronomy 29:29, along with Job 38 and 42 to suggest that this is "knowledge too wonderful" for us. (But when I suggested this, but simply took it back a step, I was told I am neglecting a most important doctrine). But this touches on an important point. If all the other points are not proof enough against double predestination, then the biggest strike is the fact that God and Jesus show sadness for man's stubbornness, as in Matt. 23:37, Luke 19:41, and especially note Ezekiel 18:30-32 and 33:11! If God does not delight (gets no pleasure) in the death of the wicked, and pleads with them to repent, why would he create them to choose the way of death and not be able to repent, "for His good pleasure" as the Romans 9 argument goes? This would make God not only contradict Himself, but also add masochism to the sadism this doctrine is often charged with. He predestines people to condemnation as His own sovereign prerogative, and then laments it. It's almost like some sort of split personality.
In fact, on another board, one person even says "This would be consistent with his moral makeup. Thus it is not referencing his decrees. They are altogether separated". This would explain a lot. God's moral makeup (as evidenced by the passages mentioned above) is the reason people believe He would not send people to Hell without any chance for salvation. But that means nothing, because His "decree" overrides that. So His decrees are separate from (do not stem from) His moral character! One even warned us not to have God's decrees be "forced" by His character. (That makes the "Potter" bound, while the "clay" is "free" to choose Him "contrary to their [fallen] nature"). So once again, God has some sort of split personality with a conflicting character and mind (that passes decrees contrary to His character). Then His "justice" is added to the formula. It is supposed to be apart of His character, but here it is seen as being "satisfied" by the contrary decrees, upon punishment. This is creating more problems than it purportedly solves. If you say something like this sorrow is from His "offended holiness", this brings Him down to the level of a child crying because someone hurt his feelings. Once again the final resort is to try to chalk it up to His infinitude and accuse the opponents of "impugning" God, but this conflict between God's character and decrees cannot be reconciled with Scripture. People point out that God says in Isaiah 46:
My counsel shall stand
I will do all My pleasure
I have spoken and will bring it to pass
I have purposed it and will do it
So if God's counsel was to save everyone, why aren't all saved? If God will do all of His pleasure, why aren't all saved? If God has spoken and will bring it to pass, why aren't all saved? If God has purposed it and will do it, why aren't all saved?
So what this would mean, is that God said that He was not willing for any to perish, (and gets no pleasure in the death of the wicked) but didn't mean it. One person tried to suggest that "Apparently at times His nature and decrees do conflict. He decreed to allow Job to undergo tremendous suffering. He decreed that his Son should be brutally murdered and killed. He decreed that Paul should have a thorn in the flesh. The problem here again is our inability to comprehend the infinite perfection of God." But He never said it was not apart of His nature for people (including His Son) to suffer here on earth, because that leads to a much better end. (Romans 8:28; 2 Cor.12:9, 10, etc.) The problem once again is a failure to distinguish earthly pain from eternal Hell. Calvinism assumes Hell is some sort of desired goal of God, just like Heaven. But like here on earth, jail and other forms of punishment aren't desired by anyone. They are necessary accommodations for people who will not obey the law, not ends in themselves. Likewise, Hell was not a desired end in itself, but was first created for rebellious angels. Then when man fell, those who refused to repent would also end up there. The Calvinist will argue that if He didn't decree all of this, then He was "helpless" as sin crept in and "took Him by surprise". But this is when we confess "our inability to comprehend the infinite perfection of God". Scriptural observations like this are the reason why people believe in free will, despite all the logic the Calvinist tries to use.
Calvinist writer John Piper stated:
There are two possibilities as far as I can see. One is that there is a power in the universe greater than God's which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian affirms this.
The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. This is the solution that I as a Calvinist affirm along with Arminians. In other words both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvinist and Arminian answer that God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.
The difference between Calvinists and Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is. What does God will more than saving all? The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God's glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).
First of all, it's not "human self determination" that is said to be more important than saving all, but that is the way God chose to work with man. Whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed on the name of the Son of God, (John 3:18) not because he was decreed to be "passed over" from believing. His answer of what the overriding principle really is uses the old standby of Romans 9, which is not describing individual reprobation to eternal hell, but rather another example of an earthly event with a then future fulfillment. How God actually gets "glory" from people being in Hell is not explained, although he does seem to suggest that it is for us to witness all the people in Hell, so we could be more thankful for what we were saved from (i.e. His "mercy")— (i.e. he does go on to mention this "full range of His glory through the sovereign demonstration of His wrath and mercy" as being " for the enjoyment of His elect..."! "Are There Two Wills In God?" in Still Sovereign, Baker Books, 2000). Others do boldly declare this. Johnathan Edwards in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is even more explicit in affirming this: "You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty". (He then quotes Isaiah 66:23,24, and note the reference to Rev.14:10, which is referring to the seven last plagues on earth, not Hell (see context). Hell is separation from God, not torment in His presence. Sin shall be "remembered no more" in the eternal Kingdom).
The Bible speaks to both Israelites and Christians who endured generations of persecution and mockery of their God by the godless people in the world. God promises that He will bring ruin to these people's kingdoms, and to their souls in Hell if they still do not repent. It's the act of God righting their wrongs (against Himself and His people, and His creation) that is connected with the praise there given, not the act of the actual tormenting of the individuals, (let alone "decreeing" them to that end with no chance of salvation) just for the "spectacle" of it! You can even see this in the seven last plagues (Rev. 16:4-7), where the focus is the particular punishment matching the sin, not punishment just for the sake of punishment. Once again, this makes Hell and wrath desired ends in themselves, just as much as Heaven. In other words, we can't really appreciate how great God is unless we see Him condemning people to Hell (and sparing us). One website even says
God prepares the non-elect for destruction in order to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known in destroying them. If God did not prepare vessels of wrath, God could not fully display His wrath. But if God did not fully display His wrath, then the vessels of mercy—those who are saved—would not fully appreciate, see, or understand the riches of God's glory. It seems that in order for the elect to fully appreciate the greatness of God's mercy, they need to see and understand the wrath that God's mercy had saved them from. Therefore God prepares vessels of wrath to endure His wrath in order to highlight to the elect the riches of His mercy that couldn't otherwise be highlighted. As a result of there being "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction," Christians will have a greater appreciation of God's mercy, thank Him more deeply for their salvation, and have a wonderful and more complete delight in the riches of His glory forever.This is apparently what Calvinists are looking forward to. It's a great event, not a horrible one. (You wonder if people are sick in order to be anticipating this as a good thing, or if they have really thought about this doctrine they parrot). Yet this is all purely speculative philosophy, that is nowhere elaborated in scripture. On the other hand, in Luke 9, when the apostles asked Christ to rain down fire on a city that rejected Him ("just like Elijah", as many preachers today want to copy Elijah!), that was the perfect time for Him to "show them His glory". Instead, he scolds them You do not know what manner of spirit you are. For The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives; but to save them" And this was temporal fire we are talking about here! Perhaps the pinnacle of this treatise; Calvinism completely contradicts this principle given by Jesus by having Him actually create men just for destruction, and coming NOT to save them, but rather "leave" them for the destruction they were created for, for the "sake" of the "elect"! Not only denying this clear scripture, it demeans God's glory by saying that all of the wonders of the good things He has created, plus salvation in itself are not enough to make us fully appreciate Him. It's like He is no god at all without someone to hate and destroy.
The Bible reveals that God is primarily love, and hatred and wrath are reactive to people's spurning of His love. Calvinism (attempting to prevent God from ever being reactive instead of always being causative) seems to be making/assuming God to be primarily hatred and wrath, with love being little more than some exception He bestows on a select few (or "all" only in some very loose general sense among those who are not hyper-Calvinists). But is this really compatible with all the scriptures declaring God's lovingkindness and tender mercies to man; that He is "Father of the fatherless, defender of widows..." (Ps.68:5), etc.? Do such passages make it appear that many are unconditionally 'left out' of this or "hated" by God, other than those who reject His love, but could have accepted it? Some will protest how the world or "contemporary Christianity" (the scapegoat of all who have some unbiblical radical "traditional" position) focuses only on God's love and not on His wrath. Perhaps this was a reaction toward the old Christianity's focusing only on God's wrath, which only scared people, and may have created some sort of "revival" for a while, but in the end, scaring people doesn't lead to true regeneration, but fearful pretense, rebellion, and softening down of the doctrine. (God wants people to serve Him out of love, not be terrified into submission) Regardless, one extreme does not justify the other.
|Jesus "came not to DESTROY men's live, but to "Save". If Calvinism were true this statement would be contradicted|
One Calvinist said "God's most important definition is not love, but 'Holy Holy Holy'" (i.e. thrice emphasized). Holiness, of course, is connected with hatred of sin. But you cannot take this to contradict love by saying God creates these people who He does not even intend on loving and saving because He made us all guilty of Adam's sin and holds all responsible, and leaves some in that state just to have someone to hate; for that is making Him primarily hate in opposition to love. He is not then reacting to sin, but scripting sin in a predetermined plan to destroy creatures for some supposedly hidden purpose. "God is love" means that God's primary moves are of benevolence, in creating, and to Creation. He created a beautiful realm for us to enjoy, and I've always said that He could have created a colorless stick figure world, and we would have had to appreciate that and try to make the best use of it we could, and still praise Him for creating it. But instead, it seems He went if it were possible, "out of His way" to provide a magnificent universe for us. (This is one of the things that the disoriented bulletin board poster I quoted above was trying to get at). Yet Calvinists consistently fail to see where their opponents get their idea that "God wouldn't do that" [i.e. trap people with preterition] from; as if we just made it all up off the top of our heads out of pure "emotional sentiment", based on "the way we think God should be", in total contrast to scripture!
Even though most of these Calvinists insist God only punishes sin, the corollary of this is that God condemns people for some other reason besides sin. Sin is just a part of a bigger cause by which God damns people unconditionally, simply because of His "sovereign pleasure". This changes the whole picture of how God reveals Himself in scripture-- as primarily love, with wrath or hatred being reactive to sin. Even though God "has the right to do whatever He wants", He is still revealed as one who does not do harm to anyone unless they are sinning against Him. That is the only thing that ever brings His wrath, and He does not conceive of a person from eternity and charge him with sin just so the person could "condemn himself", which is basically sheer entrapment. This is what people oppose, and it becomes more a defensive argument about what scripture does not teach, than about what it does teach. This is then interpreted as simply a human objection of "that is not fair".
Furthermore, just think about how relatively safe we have been kept from all of the dangers in the universe. How more than half of His Laws protect us from the sin of other humans so we can live together with some semblance of peace. When someone steals from another, or hurts another, God is just as offended as we are, or as He is of someone worshipping other gods. When the Israelites worshipped other gods such as Molech, God was just as upset that they were making their children pass through the fire as He was at the fact that it was another god. He forbade copying the practice even if they were using it to worship Him. (Deut 12:30-31), which He probably wouldn't have done if receiving undivided worship was all He cared about. He is not selfish like we are, but it appears that this is what Calvinists are projecting onto Him under the premise of "sovereignty". Imagine if He only gave the first four commandments, because our worship of Him was all He was concerned about! The whole point of the Christian life is for us to "become like Christ"; to "develop God's character", etc.; and what are we always commanded? Goodness, peaceableness to others, etc. No one is encouraged to raise children badly, so they can bring wrath on themselves and thus "deserve" it. God may exercise the right to do things He has commands us not to (such as taking a life), because of His supreme wisdom, but still, in general, the principles we see Him working in us are a far cry from what Calvinism attributes to Him.
Calvinists point out, "no all of this goodness to man is only for His glory", but His glory obviously is beneficial to us. Once again, His glory, or "love for Himself" is not in opposition to our well-being or pleasure. You could say, He has tuned our senses to perceive the wonders of His creation pleasurably. He most certainly did not have to do this. Yet because of sin, it's man (and certain angels) who have set themselves in opposition to God. Calvinists try to argue that "if God allowed sin and the Fall, and foreknew that people would end up in Hell, then you are in the same predicament you say we are in". But not really. The difference is in the orientation. That is not the same thing as Him unconditionally hating people, and then fixing life so that they would be born in sin, die in sin, and go to Hell for that sin. The reason sin was allowed to exist will be covered later, in the discussion of scriptures pertaining to this. Suffice to say now, God deemed it more of a pleasure to be redeemed from a fallen state than to have been created in a perfect world with no sin or fall. (This is perhaps why man will ultimately be higher than angels). Yes, God "knew there would be a chance that people would reject Him and end up in Hell", but He has fixed it so that it is entirely their own decision.(Calvinists claim this, but in the end, people were totally helpless). So in this sense what the quote above on God's wills was saying had some truth. But it is still quite a different orientation than the way that statement makes condemnation almost a central goal or starting point in God's plan to show us His glory.
|The Calvinist portrayal of God does not match the picture of "goodness" and "peaceableness" we ourselves are to take on in "Becoming like Him"|
As for the "two wills", where many people will contrast God's eternal will (in which he desires good and for all to be saved) with His permissive will (which allows evil and people to reject Him and perish), the Calvinist replaces that "eternal" will with what they call a decretive will. The difference is that while the non-Calvinist places the destruction of people in Hell in God's permissive will (in contrast to His eternal will for all to be saved), the Calvinist places people's consignment to Hell in His decretive will (The realm of His decrees, which overrides His other desires). Where does this place His desire that none should perish or not taking pleasure in the death of the wicked? In His permissive will? That wouldn't make sense. Of course, most Calvinists don't speak of a "permissive will" (generally seen as an Arminian invention), but have dubbed the other will, the preceptive will. But it seems that in practice it is not much different from the decretive will. This is where the irreconcilable and unjustifiable contradiction of their position lies. I have also seen mention of a desirative will, and I guess this is where they place all men being saved. But all they have done is shuffle around the concepts so that people's damnation moves from a passive "permissive" will to an active "decretive" will. This once again makes damnation a positive goal rather than terrible consequence. They think in addition to "eternal" and "permissive", we would need a third will which cannot be "thwarted". But no such special "will" is needed. God is free to allow His wills to be thwarted in particular instances. That is what grace is all about, and in the end, it will always serve a greater purpose which cannot be thwarted. This seems to better reconcile God's sovereignty/man's responsibility than to have, essentially two non-permissive wills that will opposite things.
Much of the arguments the Calvinists use are based on philosophy and not clear scriptural teaching (except as interpreted in light of the philosophy and confessions that support it). In debates you see all of these earthly words and concepts, and we try to answer the other position's philosophy with more philosophy to show that that position cannot be true (If you say this, then this happens, and if God allowed sin then He determined it, etc). I began debating with one of them on the board (beginning with the infants issue, above), and he kept throwing a whole bunch of hypothetical questions, such as "what is redemption? Does it occur before the Cross, after the Cross?" Please tell us when someone is redeemed; is it when they believe, or before or after?"; "Were men that perish also 'redeemed,' but just didn't cash in on their redemption?"; "You have not explained from the scriptures why spiritually dead people believe"; "Did the cross redeem everybody, the elect, or nobody?"; "Did the work of the Savior on the cross actually accomplish redemption, or did it simply make men redeemable? Are certain men who Christ died for not going to receive their salvation, which was purchased for them? Did God pay for all their sins, accept their sin of unbelief? In a word, what is the gospel? What does it mean that Christ died for sinners? Does God hold men accountable for their sin even if the Savior paid for their sins? Does God go along with double-jeopardy — i.e., two payments for the same sin? (i.e by Christ, and then again by themselves because they didn't receive Him). When were you redeemed and were all men redeemed then? What DID the Savior do on the cross for you? Was Jesus' life vicarious and on your behalf, or only potentially so". "Do infants sin or do they not sin?" etc) to try and trap me and prove that Calvinism must be true. The questions would always lead to some other question or "dilemma" for non-Calvinism, and I began sweeping them aside, as Jesus did the Pharisees, to stick to the main point. But then I was accused of being "evasive" in "dodging" these "exegetical questions". But that was precisely the point. In other debates, the Calvinist would pose their hypothetical question (such as those who never heard), the non-Calvinist would try to answer it from the Bible as best as he can, and the non-Calvinist is then accused of "using human reasoning". In such case, the Calvinist brings unscriptural reasoning into the debate, and if you "bite", the "human reasoning" accusation is somehow transferred to you!
Questions like these are part of a technique of argumentation, which includes bogging your opponent down with hard to readily answer questions and "dilemmas" that would require much thought and research that you do not have time for in the heat of the argument. (especially since they are not under Biblical authority). None of these questions are posed by the Bible, so how could one even answer them "from the scriptures"? Not that scripture leaves it open as to whether the atonement "actually" accomplished anything for instance, but the comparisons between "accomplished" versus "made possible" as well as "redeemed" versus "redeemable", "when" and "why" people actually believe, what made one thief on the cross ask for forgiveness and not the other, were the sins of the damned paid for twice, whether they were redeemed and didn't "cash in", etc. were unheard/not thought of in the Bible.
|Calvinism tells us not to use "human philosophy", but then itself uses it in speculating on God's decrees and his entire frame of reference, which is above anyone's comprehension. They are the ones who think they "have it all figured out"!|
A person can actually win an argument like this, but still be dead wrong, as I have had similar
arguments with agnostics, Muslims, Oneness Pentecostals (modalism) and others. Paul cautions
us about getting caught up in philosophy and endless arguments that have no real merit (Col.2:8,
1 Tim.1:4), and just distracts from the simplicity of the Gospel and draws us away from the inspired Word of God and causes unnecessary issues.
Both the Jews and Greeks were doing this to the Christians, and it's funny, because Calvinists are often the quickest to "rebuke" others for posing such questions to their ideas of God's "sovereign rights". It's not that such issues are not important or merit discussion. But we can't allow ourselves to get lost in endless debates and dogmatize certain positions in issues that will not be fully understood this side of eternity. Calvinist often make much of these and other "unanswerable questions" (such as "why did you believe and not others, if you were not saved by some merit within you?") as being a "stumper" for the other side thus proving that their view must be true, because "only we can answer these questions". But no Biblical doctrine is proven by "unanswerable questions". That is not how we exegete the scriptures and build our doctrine! The problem results from a lack of understanding when to be use logic or to conclude something is above our understanding. And a lot of this debate is based on a total misunderstanding of non-Calvinist beliefs, or generalizations based on the unfortunate words of certain non-Calvinist leaders in the past. This was my issue, as I shall elaborate soon.
The Paradoxes of God's Eternity vs. our World of Time
Suffice it to say, that we all know that God knows the "end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10). Even Augustine in his "Confessions" (p.286-7) acknowledged that since God invented time along with the created world, the question of what God was doing before Creation is nonsense and merely betrays the time-bound perspective of the questioner. 'Before' time, there is only eternity, and eternity for God is a never ending present. The problem comes from the wide difference between God's realm, and our realm of space and time. The Bible spans this gap by portraying spiritual realities both from God's point of view, and ours. This is where apparent paradoxes may seem to come up. On one hand, God knows how everything shall turn out, and even if man does have free will, He would therefore know who will be saved in the end already. Augustine, as the originator of much of Calvinistic doctrine, would still try to build a theology that explained salvation from both perspectives, but unfortunately, his theology often confused both realms, effectively treating God as if He were in time, (A Calvinist would argue then that those He knew would be saved are simply the ones He elected) and man as if he were in eternity. (All individual men "made the choice to sin" "in Adam"). But as Augustine said and should have realized himself better, it is our time bound perspective that limits us. God knows the end, but we, the people choosing or rejecting God, are in a world of time. We cannot even look at it from God's point of view, so we have to deal with the issue from our point of view: as mortals who have to make a choice. Somehow, God knew his elect, yet, those who are not elect will be in Hell by their own choice. (Many Calvinists will affirm this, but at the same time still insist in some way, shape or form God initially decreed them there for His own "sovereign pleasure"). It is contrary to the nature of a loving God to send people to the torments of Hell who had no other choice. Remember, Hell was made for willfully rebellious angels (Matt.25:41), which rules out a past eternal "decree" of individual men being sentenced there because it would be "made for" them too.
Even this explanation brings up the questions "does God know this will happen because he looked down the corridors of time and saw that it would come to pass? Does God know this will happen because he is in the future and observing it?" which would supposedly destroy God's omniscience by saying He "learns" things He didn't already know. But as inadequate as these phrases may be, the point we are trying to bring across is that God sees things very differently than we do. We are looking at eternal things like this through our time bound minds, and then confounding the two realms. (These questions reflect this). That is why Calvinists can say: "YES people do die in Adam because they choose to resist the Spirit." "Yes, men 'choose Christ freely', but only because God has given them a new spirit and made dead bones live!" "Calvinism teaches that men exercise faith and repentance willfully".
Even more striking is when they do try to "witness" to somebody: "My plea to you is to cry out to Him who is able to save your body and soul from sin's destruction." "Hear His Word, repent of your wickedness, submit to His yoke, lest you perish." This is one of the major contradictions. These two statements make it appear that the person's destiny is not yet decided (as is many other examples, such as Calvin himself being lead into the ministry "with threats of hellfire" by Farel). Yes, you can say "if he repents, it is because he was chosen, and of he doesn't repent, it was because he was not chosen". But the very fact that you're putting the ball in his corner— you're going to perish/your soul will be destroyed, but if YOU [in contrast to God] do something, this won't happen— i.e. you will prevent this if you believe; rather than putting it in terms of God's predetermined action all along. Calvinists somehow see no contradiction, but it seems their own words even give evidence of some amount of free will.
Better yet, on the issue of evangelizing, one said: "We do not affirm free will but human responsibility (John 1:12-13). God has ordained us as instruments to proclaim his Gospel. There are even warnings that if we fail to witness that their blood is on our hands (Acts 20:26-27,31). Calvin warned that those who refuse to evangelize in his commentary on Acts 20:26 that 'if anything perish through their negligence, an account may be required at their hands; yea, that unless they show the way of salvation without guile and crooks, the destruction of those who go astray may be imputed unto them.'" This almost completely affirms that salvation is affected now, by our actions!
The same with prayer. It is an obvious criticism that Calvinism seems to render prayer futile since everything is predetermined by God, but they actually claim that it is only in their system that prayer has meaning, and is futile if God does not override a person's free will. In Calvinism, supposedly, God is "free" to answer a person's prayer to save someone, which involves changing his will, (which is only inclined to unbelief).
But the only way to harmonize all of this with Calvinistic "decrees" is to have a world where God has scripted people to fulfil or neglect their responsibility, and be "responsible" for people being saved or lost in the "story". Else, we must admit that the true harmonization is above our world of time. In our time frame, people choose freely (which presupposes everyone has that choice if it can be called "free" in any real sense). But in God's realm He is in control of everything. But still, they can't admit that the full knowledge of how the two realms fits together is beyond our comprehension, (I was told this assertion was the "height of arrogance", being this issue is so "basic"), and not set up a purely time-bound scenario confused with an eternal frame of reference and call it "freedom", when it in reality turns into nothing more than pre-programming any way you look at it. (I know they are tired of such "caricatures", but what else is one to make of it, unless they admit the full knowledge of this is above us). Calvinists frequently claim "Oh, if God knew who would be lost, and still went and created that person anyway, then there's still nothing that person could do to go against God's foreknowledge, so you're still in the same bind as us; —only God is not in 'control' of it in your case." But this still puts God in our time frame. It still assumes a timelike sequence of A: God foreknows something. B. It comes to pass in time. This does not fully appreciate the idea of God existing completely outside of time; that His "foreknowledge" is "past" in our frame of time, but not in His realm. You're just placing Him in another time line. We can only think in terms of "past, present and future", so the scripture uses such language. But the way God sees it is above our comprehension.
In another debate between two others, the Calvinist states: "THAT God determines the free actions of men [and hold them responsible for it] is not a mystery. Precisely HOW He is able to direct the consciences of men and women to carry out His purposes, even when they include freely chosen sin, is something of a mystery to us. Not entirely, but we certainly don't have comprehensive understanding of it." So they do concede that this is ultimately above our knowledge, but only AFTER stating their highly scandalous premise, which is said not to be a mystery. But any issue of how an eternal God saves people in a world of time is a mystery to us. As with the idea of God weeping for sinners he decreed to be condemned, Calvinists should not try to appeal to God's infinitude when it is convenient for them just to get around the problems in their theories, when the Calvinist has been relying on having logical answers for the whole issue all along (and insisting that this is so "clear", and so important that it shouldn't be considered unknowable). If you're going to insist now that we can't completely understand God, then you must admit that perhaps reprobation or preterition or whatever else you call it may have been a mistaken speculation caused by our limited understanding of certain scriptural statements pointing to God's eternal frame of reference. When we start talking about God's "foreknowledge" and how it pertains to salvation, THAT is where we say "OK, this is getting above our comprehension. Let's just do what He says" (the Great Commission). That is all that is entrusted to us. Not try to reason "well, if He knows it, He must have decreed it", and then try to read this into scripture. What is the purpose of that?
It's obvious that we have paradoxes in scripture. Just like Christ being God and man, there are opposing polarities whose resolutions are beyond our full comprehension. Scripture shows that God is sovereign and elects people, but there are evidences that anyone can be saved, such as the passages discussing Christ dying for "the World" (It is a stretch to make "the world" mean "only the elect in the world"), and His telling us to win souls (which would be unnecessary since man could in no way affect the decree of election), and that He weeps for the lost (why would He do this if He predestined their eternal fate?) The Calvinists push back the mystery by taking one side of this polarity, reinterpreting the other, and then building this "hard truth" and then claiming it is ultimately a mystery, using Romans 9 to silence everyone (see below). What we are saying is that you have already crossed the line into the unsearchable in positing this idea. Why can't we just leave it at we don't know how exactly it fits together? Why is there so much stock being put in the one point of God not wanting to save certain people from Hell? It's almost like people get some kind of kick out of that ("just as long as it wasn't me").
Basically, the two paradoxes we have here are:
"Yes, The Bible speaks of election of the saints"
+ "But God does not desire death of the 'non-elect' and did not leave them without chance to get saved"
= above our comprehension due to God's incomprehendable perspective
"Yes, God does not desire death of the non-elect, and does not elect them to Hell; they go only by 'their own choice'"
+ "But they are 'vessels of wrath' God deliberately 'fitted for destruction' [i.e. as individuals], and God is responsible for their going to Hell"
= above our understanding due to "God's unsearchable plan".
First of all, while "election" and "God not desiring the death of the wicked" are direct Biblical statements, "God is responsible for them going to Hell" is not, but is a deduction made from assumptions about the full implications of election. "Vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" is a biblical statement, but as will be shown later, does not apply to individual "reprobation" or "preterition" in the context. So the latter is not a biblical paradox at all, because only one of its polarities is biblical! As Dave Hunt says, "There is no paradox except that which has been created by a distortion of sovereignty" (What Love Is This, p. 134). Also, the latter has nothing to do really with anything unsearchable about God. What you have is two sets of plain, but entirely contradictory statements. The former deals with God's perspective, which is one of His unsearchable characteristics, so this must be the true paradox. The former statements are not even mutually exclusive, but the latter are. You cannot substitute total illogic for scriptural paradoxes. We cannot try to squeeze "she's pregnant, but she's not pregnant" into the Bible, even if we try to credit God with it. Calvinists have actually tried to accuse non-calvinists of "trying to have it all figured out", but their answer boils down to "God leaves people dead in their sins, but still holds them accountable", and this "God's sovereignty" and "man's accountability" are supposed to be the "mystery" or "tensions" that are apart of the "Secret counsel of God".
But if you really look at it, there is nothing mysterious at all. God leaves men helpless, but condemns them for their sin they couldn't repent of. This seems unfair to us, but our minds are corrupted, and God "does as He pleases", so they are responsible and He is righteous to judge them simply because He is God and He has declared it so. (Ultimately, He needed people to damn to show His glory, some will add, and this is how He does it). But all of this is logically possible! What is mysterious about that? It is all understandable, even if our 'fallen minds' think it is unfair. They are the ones who "have it all figured out", and suggesting that the true mystery is that man can choose or reject God and God is still sovereign and in control, (as Arminius and the Remonstrants confessed to "not having all the answers" regarding) is simply dismissed as a contradictory impossibility. But this precisely identifies it as the true mystery.
I have noticed on one hand, the Calvinist telling us to throw out all our ideas, logic, (never mind whether some of them might be the conscience God gave us, plus by principle we read about in the scripture), on the premise that we cannot "comprehend" God's ways, but then often cite as proof of this "Passages that were once impossible to comprehend become amazingly clear". Maybe it's by your "logic" that you have made them easier to comprehend. This works two ways, so it is tiring seeing Arminianism always accused of being driven by logic, when the Calvinist is the one talking the most about how he has God's methods all figured out. (except for the scandalous "why's" of course)
As one has said to me: "You are saying that unless you can reconcile God's sovereignty in salvation with man's responsibility, you must reject that sovereignty. I say you must submit to God's greater wisdom, power and holiness, and be like Job."
But it is really they, who cannot understand how man can have a free will in choosing, and God still be sovereign, so they deny that we believe God is sovereign. They pose that He MUST choose some and pass over the rest, in order to be "sovereign", and that is IT! That then, becomes all "sovereignty" is about. Then, unfortunately, other free will believers speak in terms that make it seem God is limiting Himself. The problem is, no one can completely understand it, so both sides speculate on how it fits together, and then we spend all the time arguing on which theory fits best.
Instead, you should submit to God's greater perspective (not trapped in time like we are) and not try to neatly package it and intellectually master it and then present it in the "God plans it and it works out" fashion. That is from our limited frame of reference, not God's.
Plus, we have never said "EITHER sovereignty OR "responsibility"! It is the Calvinists who deny that we have God as sovereign, because of their preconceived DEFINITION of "sovereignty" as "God chooses this one unconditionally, and therefore passes over that one". To support that, you must overgeneralize the effects of sin to a "total inability" to repent. Then, to try to make it fit the scriptural teaching that God only condemns people for sin, you have to go into this whole teaching of man "freely" rejecting, but it's not really free. He somehow imposed it on himself, but he has absolutely no sayso/control over it. Now, you turn around and try to tell us "Ok, THIS is all we can know, that is the mystery, just accept it..." and accuse US of "reasoning" when we scrutinize it in light of all the scriptures. I'm sorry, but you cannot pin the "reason" on us. It is the Calvinist side that started that, trying to figure out HOW God is "sovereign" in light of man's "responsibility". This side thought it was more exalting God's glory by teaching that, but all it has done is create confusion. God's eternal realm of decrees, foreknowledge, predestination, etc, (the "how's") is what is beyond our realm, not just the "why's".
It's human logic that says that if God doesn't decree everything, He is weak and not in control; or that if He paid for all, and some are still lost, He "mocks atonement by forgiving their sins at Calvary and them condemning the sinners anyway." (Some even call this "unfair") That is not scriptural reasoning. And in answer to that question about sins being paid for twice, those who did not receive Him, their sins will not have been paid twice, but Christ's payment will not have been applied to them, because they were not covered by the blood. In the original Passover, God had warned that the blood of a lamb must be applied to the doorpost in order for the death angel to pass over them. The blood was not effective if it was not applied.
Many non-Calvinists fall into a trap of trying to argue that no one will be condemned for their sin, but only for rejecting Christ. But the Bible is clear that those who reject Christ are still "in their sins" (John 8:24), (condemned for the acts, not just the condition). Christ's blood (like the original Passover blood) must be applied for those sins to be forgiven.
Calvinists can go into their argument that this blood then did not "actually" save anyone. But this was the very shadow of Christ's work, from which the whole concept of Him as "the Lamb" who sheds His blood for sin comes from, and the principle is the same. (In the Calvinist scheme, God would only provide lambs for certain people, yet still hold the others "responsible").
Now instead of a physical work (applying blood), the blood is spiritually applied when one simply believes. And instead of every person sacrificing their own lamb, one Lamb was sacrificed once for all. But each person's application of that blood is still in their own time. And this argument that if Christ had died for the unsaved's sins, it would be "double-payment", and thus "unjust" (So Christ must not have paid for his sins at all) betrays Calvinism's belief (whether an individual Calvinist acknowledges it) that God "gets something" (i.e. positively) out of people's suffering in Hell. One person insisted a person in Hell is actually "paying" God back! But the one owed the "debt" (the victim, survivors or "society") does not "receive" anything in cases like murder. Like the warning "you'll pay" if one does something wrong; payment in that case simply indicates a negative consequence for the violator, not a positive reward for the victim. I guess in such cases the abstract ideal of "justice" is what "receives" the payment. Like with God, we say it is His justice that is paid by either Christ's death or the sinner's punishment; not that He personally "receives" anything Himself. (Of course, Calvinism does often justify its doctrine of reprobation on God "receiving glory" by preordaining individuals to wrath (perhaps this is the whole problem in this question), but then is God really exacting justice for being "violated" in that scenario, or is it all His script anyway?)
The purpose of Hell is not for God to get enjoyment out of it, but because the person has rejected Him all his life, so where is he going to go for eternity? Not in God's presence. So out from God's presence, away from all that is good, he suffers eternally. He is separated (the "outer darkness") from God, the source of all things good. So what is there but misery? Some argue that since God is the source of life, He must be the one "keeping them alive to suffer His wrath", thus supposedly proving their points that He does "get something" out of it, His goal for them is "wrath", and that it must be "in His presence". But the main purpose and proof of consciousness is the purpose of Justice for different measures of sin. (Luke 12:47,8) The different levels of suffering are measured out to match the gravity of his sins and refused opportunities to yield to whatever light he was shown. That is the justice part of it. So he "pays" for both his sins, and rejecting the only way of escape. (Others will reason that the purpose of keeping them alive is because annihilating them would "deny their freedom" or something like that. In any case, all of this is getting more and more speculatory, and cannot be used to argue Calvinism). The suffering actually isn't payment TO God, because one of the things all sides agree is that the reason he is there is because he can't "pay" God back. Else, you have a contradiction: The eternity (infinity) of the duration would then equal the debt, and it would be paid. But if it's paid, he shouldn't be in hell, then. His holiness is vindcated just by the removal of sin from His presence. What people owe God is eternal service and worship, not that OR "suffering". He is not getting that in those punished, but they are removed from His presence, thus vindicating God's justice and holiness.
We are in a world of time, not in God's timeless realm. Some Calvinists will go into a discussion of "primary and secondary causes", meaning that yes, we have free will, and we go and win souls for God. But this is only a secondary cause. The first cause must be God's eternal decrees, which play out in our "free" movements (which would only be to evil, unless God overcomes our nature and regenerates us first so we can believe). While this is logically possible; and shows that our beliefs ultimately are not that different, still the problem is their insistance on holding onto reprobation or preterition as a necessary part of these decrees, and using the same proof-texts as the double predestinarians, which lead to double predestination if interpreted that way; yet they deny double predestination, once again insisting on the primary and secondary causes. Thus it still makes the world of time a script, the way they try to put these first and second causes together. ("Script" is actually a more accurate analogy than the commonly charged "puppet show" or "robotics").
To get a better idea of the world of "God's sovereignty and man's responsibility" as the Calvinists seem to be pointing to, just think of a TV show or play. One person kills another, and the killer "really" is "guilty" and "responsible" for a "free choice", even though the fictional character could not have done other than what was written. For "guilt", "responsibility" and "choice" are determined by the rules of the outside world, where the writers and directors dwell, and everybody watching will say "yes, that 'person'[character] really is guilty"! The only difference is that this "script" is now "real life", and the characters, real souls.
So picking up the scenario I earlier alluded to, basically, God has written a story of a world where the future is open, and in the story people have choice and if they believe the Gospel they are saved. But God is really the one who wrote everything that happens, as well as the means for it happening. So one Christian prays for God to save some people he knew of who he couldn't reach. God listened to him and then sends two other Christians their way. The first obeyed and shared the Gospel with two of the people, saying "...IF you receive Christ, you will be saved; if not, you will be lost...". It appears either has a choice, but that is only in the story. So one accepts Christ, the other doesn't. Another Christian doesn't obey, and passes another person without sharing the Gospel. That person dies without Christ.
In reality, God had decreed from eternity that the first person was elect, and He scripted him into the world as the first person witnessed to, while the others were the "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction", who are punished for their "free choice" of rejecting God. That was all they could do, given their inability, but in the story, it was "freely" made, so they are now punished eternally for it. Also in the story, God had effectively responded "yes" to the prayer for the first person. But in reality, this was simply the "means" He used to accomplish in time what He had decreed from eternity (the others were an automatic "no" since they were not "elect"). The obedient Christians were thus "used by God" to bring one of His "sheep" "into the fold". God could have done it without them, but in this story, He wants people to be saved after responding to the Gospel, even though it is by his election rather than their response. The disobedient Christian was not used of God to win anyone, and will answer to God for that, but the person he neglected to witness to was not decreed to be elect anyway.
Once again, the Calvinist seems to have it all put together, and this is supposedly the only way the "Potter" could be "free" and the "clay" be under His control. But obviously, this world is presented in scripture as more than a script, and these are real living souls, not actors playing a role who are involved; or literal lifeless matter. We must admit that the way the primary causes of a God in a timeless realm and the "secondary causes" of a real, living realm of time fit together are above our understanding. You cannot read salvation history like it is completely outside of time, because in dealing with us, God interacts with the world of time, even though He is not confined in it. He has not asked any of us to try to tell it from His viewpoint where everything has been said and done. Now I can't completely explain this, but that is the only way to square with all the scriptures and not wind up with a god who creates reasons to damn people or looks to trap them in sin and death by sending people to Hell He withheld an opportunity to repent (while giving them a "call" for them to damn themselves by "refusing"), yet still holds them accountable for not repenting, (and takes pleasure in this, yet pretends to weep for them); and then try to force this theory into scriptures like Romans 9. That seems a lot worse than the things Calvinists accuse the "Arminian god" of, and contradicts many scriptures.
Statements like "deserve" and "ought" are human words that we use for certain meanings. What you are doing is taking tham and giving them new meanings for God. In other words, basically, God is just pronouncing people as "deserving" (user defined word) hell, and to justify this, declaring that they "ought" to repent, though He witholds an "ability" from them. The rest of the script of "means" is just another roundabout way of accomplishing this single goal of just damning people. Then it is sealed off with "It is God's right to do that", and scriptures bent to fit it.
All of this leads us to the question of what exactly "deserve" means in the first place. They take one definition from the Webster's dictionary: "to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital", then adds:
"If you build something fit for the trash heap, then it deserves to be tossed in the trash heap. If you do anything else with it, you are granting it undeserved mercy (grace). If you give half your objects grace and don't give the other half grace, that is not unfair, because ALL of them deserve the trash heap. If anything is unfair, it would be to give ANY of them anything but the trash heap - hence the need for a redeemer.
Likewise, if -- hypothetically -- God purposefully creates a wicked people, then those wicked people deserve what wicked people deserve. God tells us what they/we deserve - we don't have to make it up or imagine it."
But this ignores the other definitions (from Random House Unabridged); "to merit, be worthy of, be qualified for, or have a claim to reward, assistance, punishment, recompence etc. because of actions, qualities, or situations. I think this clarifies it more than what was said above. Looking at it legally only, the Calvinists focus on "actions" (our sins), and "qualities", (our sin nature), but ignore "situation" (depravity, inherited from a parent, not consciously chosen by the individual). And this is basically where the whole "fairness" debates revolve.
It should be quite clear that there are no simple answers to this, unless one is biased towards a particular view. The fact that the argument goes on like this is the ultimate proof that this issue is not as cut and dry as they make it out to be. (But of course, the Calvinists just accuse non-Calvinists of stubbornly "rejecting clear scriptures" after being "shown time and time again"!) Any issue we must prove by crafty questioning and philosophy is theory at best, not a sound biblical teaching. But suffice it to say, both sides are talking past each other with assumptions of what the other really believes or their supposed logical conclusions, especially the Calvinist side.
Faith, Works, and Responsibility
For example, where does one get the idea that choosing God or accepting an offer of salvation
from Him is tantamount to a "work" by which we "save ourselves", and that man's depravity
must be "overcome" in order to be able to do such a thing? The Bible says no such thing! In the Bible, faith is never pictured as some "work man must add to make salvation effectual". It is treated as the very opposite of works instead, and to insist that faith is really a work is only for the purpose of arguing for Calvinism. We must stick with biblical defnitions, not interpret the Bible in light of our own logical ones.
Primitive Baptists make a point that Gal.2:16 says that it is the "faith OF Christ", rather than "in" Christ (as rendered in modern translations) that saves, meaning Christ's own faith, imparted to us by unconditional election. But the verse still mentions our believing in Him, so "Faith of Christ" is just another way of saying faith in Christ. [See end note] Just as His righteousness is imparted to us, so then our saving faith comes from Him, but this does not assume unconditional election, and total inability to ask to receive this faith.
One argument goes: "how can dead men while still dead in their sin and trespasses incline themselves toward God? You would say that they are brought under conviction and then they IN THE FLESH desire Christ. Man in his enmity must choose to follow the King. This has unregenerate men choosing to pick up their cross and follow Christ - in the flesh. Man's faith and desire to trust in Christ is supposedly generated from his fallen nature"; He "causes himself to 'differ from' the reprobate"; "A dead man who hates God cannot change his desires any more than the Ethiopian can change his color or a leopard can change his spots - no matter how much the Spirit convicts him. The Spirit must quicken the man (make him alive) and give him new affections - sovereignly" (this is called the "holy rape" of the soul), and (from Christianity Today article "Free to Be Creatures Again", 10-23-00 p.41): "how prideful for the human being to think he can step away from his sins for a minute and make a good choice about God? As John says in 8:34, 'Everyone who sins is a slave to sin'".
But one, who ever said that in choosing God, man was "stepping away from his sin"? (Calvinists consistently plug in their own definitions like this and then knock them down). The whole point of the necessity of choosing God, is the realization that you are hopelessly dead in sin, not that you yourself are "stepping away from it" just in realizing that. Another person states: "If EVERYONE has a equal opportunity to 'choose' God but some do and some don't, what is the difference? Why do some say yes and others no? Do the ones that say yes do so because they are better, because they have contributed to their own salvation, and if so can they boast. 'Wow, look at me!!! We both had an equal chance to choose God and you didn't and I did. Ha, Ha, Ha, aren't I something, you pagan you.'"; "I have learned, through years of experience, that it is almost impossible for man to give up CONTROL of his own salvation, even if that control is to God. ONLY Christianity humbles man and says, sorry people, you depraved, lost people can't do A THING to earn your salvation. Now, that is humbling and awesome and truly wonderful, and I thank God for it."
It seems one of the biggest misunderstandings of the Calvinists regarding free will is the assumption that those who believe in it and reject Calvinism do so because they have some wish to think they earned their way into Heaven, or "controlled their destiny" in order to pride themselves, as these statements imply. Some even blame some "American spirit of independence", as if the doctrine were invented in this country within the last three centuries. Some even joke "The Four Spiritual Laws principally teach, that God's entire plan for history and the universe centers on me, and that I am powerful enough to thwart His divine purpose if I refuse to let Him pursue His Wonderful Plan for my life". Others say that we "are trying to control God/fashion Him into what we think He should be", or that we see faith as "positive thinking"; "...a 'faith' which is worked up by 'free-will' from within an unregenerate person...sort of like a kind of burp, or indigestion", and "'believe' earnestly in a 'Jesus' which is not real, like a sort of 'Super Tooth-fairy'. The childish notion that if I only believe hard enough, I can lift myself by my own boot straps". I know of none who think that way, and I certainly don't. All of this is just a straw man conceived for this argument. The reason we oppose Calvinism is the implications this has regarding God's character and purpose for man.
|Calvinists often mistakenly assume that people believe in free-will because they have some wish to think they earned salvation. But the issue is the character of God|
Premise is stacked upon premise to support the whole system, yet we are now moving further and further from biblical revelation into pure speculation. (This would definitely contradict John 3:17 that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world, and despite the argument as to whether "world" means all people, still, His purpose was not to "condemn" the supposed "reprobates"!) We have created a completely different gospel message from reading certain interpretations into handful of texts.
I was also told "The problem is that in the flesh no man can please God! Yet, picking up one's cross is pleasing indeed to God." Right here is a prime example of an unfounded definition. What do we mean by "pleasing God"? Doing one single act that by itself might be "pleasing" to Him? Or is it pleasing Him totally, as in someone who ALWAYS does His will (i.e. is sinless). The Greek word (Strong #2100) means "please entirely" which in our case speaks of propitiation. Of course, it's only through "faith" in Christ (who paid to propitiate our sins) that we can be "pleasing" to God in this way. Us choosing to have this faith is, according to tbe Bible, not such a "work", but is contrasted with it as I shall shortly show. (And no one is saying it begins with picking up one's cross. That comes after you've accepted him). So the answer as to why one person believes and not another would be the same as why one person murders and not another. "What made one thief on the cross ask for forgiveness and not the other?"(a common example) Well, what made them wind up on the cross as thieves in the first place and not others? It is not the point in the scripture. 1 Cor.4:7 "Who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive?" is sometimes used to pose this question, but this is talking about believers within the church, not believers vs. unbelievers. (Yes, the principle that we have nothing we didn't "receive" would extend to salvation, but nobody is denying salvation is received from God). The parable of the seed and sower (Matthew 13) does attribute different people's rejection to various causes, within the hearts of the people themselves, however. Not due to reprobation or "passing over" (in which case the different states of the ground mentioned would be irrelevant). It is not a better heart of the one who becomes saved, but rather the worse heart of the one who doesn't that makes the difference. And no, you can't say "that still makes the other one 'better' in comparison", because the standard we are judged by is not each other, but rather God's infinite holiness, and from there man gets bad and worse, not some better than others.
Whatever goodness man has did come from God, but man can squelch what wasn't already marred by the fall. The others cannot say they are "better", because they are to look up to God, not down to the others, so that whole issue is moot. This does not make the one who does not murder or steal good or righteous when he has committed a host of other sins in his life, as the scriptures show. But the whole point in having faith once again is realizing you have no righteousness in yourself, rather than faith being an act of righteousness in itself.
Many Calvinists insist that their position of "total depravity" does not mean man "is as bad as he can be", yet when it comes to choosing God, it seem he is as "bad" as he can be! They have overgeneralized sin and depravity to an inability to simply believe something. (Ultimately, if God chooses one and rejects another, even though Calvinists say it is not because of anything in the person; the fact that one is chosen and not another IS creating a difference. When they say the reason is is only known to God, they are affirming that there must be something about the chosen that made God choose him, only we can't know what it is!). Another commonly used scripture is "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5), which is then used to deny that man could even call out to God without being regenerated first. But it doesn't seem that this account of the period right before the flood is a universal description of man for all time. That period, man had gotten particularly wicked. It was so bad that God decided to destroy the whole world. Man's nature is always wicked, but as many scriptures show, it does get worse, and man is often given over to sins, as Rom. 1 shows. So you can't use that to say that man cannot even see his sin and repent, especially given passages saying that God is drawing all men. This is taking one statement from one instance in the Bible, and using it to build a case for total inability to an extent that the Bible does not really support. Once again, most Calvinists deny that man can't ever do anything good ("is always as bas as he can be"), but that is what that reading of that passage would suggest. Why wouldn't man be as bad as he can be, if you take that verse that way? (He almost was that way in the time that passage was recording). Sin is sin, and there is no such dichotomy of man's relationship to man and man's relationship with God, with man being able to do some good to one, but not the other. Once again, the only thing man cannot do before God is save Himself, by keeping the Law perfectly. That was the purpose of Christ and the promise of salvation by faith.
At one point in the debates, I had compared salvation to a person drowning. (which is a common illustration that comes up from both sides). They are doomed, at their own hands (playing too close to the water, etc.) Someone tosses them a rope. Some take it and some refuse for whatever reason. I don't see how this compromises grace alone, because they in no way "saved themselves" just by taking the rope. If no one was there to toss the rope, they would have been doomed, totally unable to save themselves. The Calvinist position is that the rescuer lassoes some people, but just decides not to lasso others for whatever reason. This is hypothetically possible, but this just does not seem to square with the scriptures (taken as a WHOLE, even though there may be some passages taken to suggest it). I was then told that "this is a classic Arminian analogy. The Reformed/Calvinistic response to this kind of thing would be: the image of a drowning man suggests that apart from God's grace there is life. Well, there isn't. You have your drowning man, we have the dead man at the bottom of the sea because THAT'S man in his natural state. This DOES compromise grace quite thoroughly. Taking the rope teaches that 'God does His part, now you do yours', thus the reinvention of Romanistic notions of the sacrament wherein Christ is sacrificed all over again in 'altar calls, decisions'. And now they have saved themselves, yes? They grabbed hold, threw open the gates of heaven for themselves."
They see it that way, but once again, where do these definitions come from? This all hinges upon "Do your part". Is just accepting His call "doing our part" like observing a sacrament? Is this "throwing open the gates of Heaven themselves?" That sounds like a far stretch to me, and here lies the problem— we have different definitions of what constitutes "works" or "saving ourselves". The Calvinist includes anything that we will, while others think of physical WORKS (rituals, moral acts, etc.) How do we know which view is right? It's not the Bible supporting these definitions, it's the Calvinist trying to explain and philosophize. Even in the example of people drowning, or the classic "beggar telling others where to find food", those who accept the offer and live are by no means ever seen as having more merit than those who don't, especially if they all had gotten themselves into those dangers by their own fault. Those who refuse may be seen as "foolish", but then so does the Bible portray those who refuse the offer of salvation (Matt. 25, Luke 12:20, Tit. 3:3, etc.), so it's the added sin (stubbornness) of those rejecting, not the goodness of those who believe that "causes them to differ". As the Calvinist admits that people do sin more than others, there should be no problem in acknowledging that this can include rejecting a free offer of salvation made to all. But the Calvinist insists that this makes the one who does not persist in rejecting good or less "[totally] depraved".
Passages like Romans 4 (especially v.5 "But to him who worketh not but believeth, his faith is counted as rightesousness", and Gal.2:15, 3:2, 5 clearly set "believing" and "faith" as the diametric opposite of "work"! Regarding the "will" which Luther and the Calvinists claim is completely in "bondage", in Romans 7:18, Paul is even more clear: For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. Here the will and work are clearly contrasted regarding 'ability'. For the Calvinist to claim faith is a "work" that we would be "saving ourselves" by if we could do it on our own, he is directly contradicting scripture's own definitions! So basically, we see that this reasoning DOES suggest that we ARE saved by "works", only God gives us the ability to do the works! We then forget that "Whosover calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21). Because Calvinism didn't want that to be in reach of man, it came up with this total inability of man. God must cause man to do that one thing which saves. So they point to passages like Isaiah 64:7 and Hosea 7:7 "No one calls on Your Name". But these are talking about the national hardening of Israel, which will be discussed in light of Romans 9, which draws partly on the Isaiah passage! Some even cite John 6:28, 29: "Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do that we might work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent.'" But what He is saying is that in order to do the works of God, one must first believe in His Son, who they saw doing those works. And as a "work" it is still credited to God, rather than the man doing a "work" in order to "save himself" or otherwise contradict grace alone. First of all, nobody denies that salvation is initiated by God, and without any type of call on His part, man would be unable to find life, let alone do God's works. Plus, in Mark 9:24, a man asks "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief", showing that God does give people "faith", and this is a "work" of His, but this does not mean that the person could not have asked for it first. Plus, in Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the son who was "lost" or "dead"(v.24) yet he "came to himself" and returned to the father, without the father coming to drag him back(v.18-20).
This is a good time to address what is definition of "election" in the first place. Election does mean choosing, but choosing does not mean total inactivity on the person being chosen. In election to political office, the person must be in the race in order to have any chance to be elected. In the political or corporate practice, people can be selected to run for office by others, but this is nomination, not election. They still must accept the nomination to be elected. Many non-Calvinists try to explain election purely in terms of foreknowledge, but this is taking the Calvinistic concept of election and trying to remove the unconditional timelike element from it. The Calvinists then just point out how either it is the same thing as their doctrine, (God knows who will be saved, and the rest can't choose contrary to God's foreknowledge and are still without hope) or that God is choosing based on "something He saw within the person that would make them accept". But it's nomination that is unconditional and totally out of control of man, yet God has nominated all for salvation, and those who accept are then elected. "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Pet.5:5/James 4:6) is obviously telling us that we should choose to be humble, but what we would then receive from God is still considered to be "unmerited favor" rather than a 'reward' that is 'deserved'.
The various straw man clichés Calvinists pose ("This is 50% God, 50% man", "God's part/your part", etc) may be technically accurate, but the Bible does not speak technically; this is what the Bible defines as what saves, so Biblically, it is NOT "our work". (John 6:29) The person responded "Well, according to your analogy, the drowning man will not be saved UNTIL HE TAKES THE ROPE, with nothing given by God in order to do so except the command, yes?" But God gave the rope! Man could not have gotten the rope by himself. So God is totally responsible for that person's rescue. Perhaps a better analogy is that God does lasso people, but some resist and throw off the lasso, while others "accept" it. That gives the person saved a more passive role. Plus, the "dead man" analogy can only be taken to a certain point, because in my analogy, physical death at the bottom of the sea represented what happens from not being "saved" (i.e. corresponded to Hell), and we are spiritually "dead", but not already in Hell. Now for someone in Hell, nobody is arguing that He can get out, so their concept of "dead" can fit better that situation. This shows there are at least different levels of "spiritual death", which are being confused. (Others point out that if you're going to push spiritual "death" to the point of having the propeties of physical death (a state of total inaction), then the "dead" person can't sin and reject God either!) Also, by saying this, the Calvinist is admitting that in his scheme man is just a lifeless "puppet" who is just pulled along on a string.
Someone else then gave me another scenario: "There is a mother in her kitchen. Her infant needs food. The Pelagian mother expects her baby to get up, walk over and the food from the pantry himself. The Arminian (semi-Pelagian) mother says that's too rough. So she gets the food herself and puts it in front of him, telling him to grab it, prepare it and eat it. The Calvinistic mother says that's the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard. An infant can't do any of this, it's utterly and completely helpless! Any good mother knows that she must take the food, prepare it, take the child in her arms and make him eat. It's all her."
BUT, the rest of the Calvinistic view. She has other children, and decides as her "prerogative" not to feed the others. She would be considered unfit and cruel, or perhaps she only had enough for one child. But this is a limitation. This is where the other camps have a problem. Of course, they'll say "but this is really God; that's His sovereign right". That means then, that the analogy is no good. The person then told me that this particular analogy was not meant to explain reprobation/election, but that's the center of the whole debate. All of these questions and arguments about God saving people without any action of their own is to support the idea of people being left to reprobation (judged for what they cannot help). You cannot separate it, as they themselves keep making that the defining definition of true redemption.
Later on, someone stated: "Every man is responsible to repent and love God. The totally depraved sinner cannot. Man is addicted to sin. A cocaine addict is unable to choose to move out of his addiction, and choose clean, healthy living. Yet he is responsible before man and law to do so, and if he doesn’t he will pay the penalty of the law. Yet he cannot sober up without intervention. SO it is with the depraved sinner. Sinful man is much worse than the drug addict. He is not only addicted to his sin, he is dead in it. The dead sinner cannot keep the law of God nor does he want to. He cannot please God."
This is where the whole error is. The addict CAN "choose" to move out of his addiction, but will fail on his own. This is where he needs intervention. He may not even want to follow the path necessary to overcome the problem, but still can cry out for help. Addicts are not healed because someone came and "healed" them or made them want to be healed while passing over others. The lawmakers did not program anyone to be addicted and never want help, and then penalize him for it. (Well, it is highly suspected that the Govt. did help bring in drugs to destroy certain groups of people and justify punishing them among other things, but that is a different discussion —more fitting for rightwing.html, and it is vile wickedness if it's true). To take man's "deadness in sin" to mean he cannot even want to do what's right is adding an interpretation to the scripture, with the sole purpose of justifying Calvinistic doctrine, as is including this act as "pleasing God".
We are even told that "Faith" is a "gift", based on Eph 2:8 "For by grace are you saved through faith...it is the gift of God". This is the logical extension of faith being a "work" that could save, being that we can't save ourselves. But grace ("by [what]...) is the subject and salvation (...are ye saved") is the predicate. How is salvation achieved? If through faith, then IT (the grace that leads to salvation) is a gift, but if by works, then the same IT is not, but rather an earning one could "boast" of. Faith and works are simply the means, not the subjects. It is "grace" that is defined as "unmerited favor, not "faith". Some acknowledge that it is the whole process— Salvation by grace through faith, that is the gift. As Dave Hunt says, it is not saving faith, but being saved that is God's gift. Not faith by itself. This thinking would make faith like some sort of ticket to Heaven that God gives; basically an end in itself. (Why would such a ticket even be needed if salvation is the issue?) Christ would be the real "ticket to Heaven", and is of course the end in Himself. Faith is only our due acknowledgement of Him and His power to save. If saving "faith" is granted only to the "elect" who were foreordained to salvation from eternity anyway, then it becomes questionable whether they were ever "lost" and needed "salvation" to begin with! (what really is that "faith-gift" for, then?) The whole plan of salvation becomes a farce.
All of this insistance on man's inability forces Calvinists to say that regeneration or the new birth precedes faith and the actual salvation that accompanies it. That has a person for a certain period of time being born again, but not saved!! (i.e. from the time he begins "seeking God" which was the beginning of his "regeneration" to the time he actually "finds" Him through hearing the Gospel and "accepting" him) Once again, the "faith-gift" then just becomes a ticket to the state of "saved"; just an uneeded formality. Not only that, but Old Testament saints, up until Christ also must have been "regenerated". But while the prophets were given the Holy Spirit for inspiration, it was not until Pentecost that the Holy Spirit (the agent of the new birth) began to regenerate all true saints (the Church). Some even try to prove this by Christ's telling Nicodemus that as a "ruler of Israel" he should have known about the new birth.
They even take verse 8: "The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" to teach unconditional election, (and one person implied to me that this was [just another instance of] Christ telling someone "the reason you do not believe is because I have not called you"). All of this is to get "world" in verses 16 and 17 to be referring to the "elect". But the new birth was prophesied in the Old Testament (Is.54:13, Jer.31:34, Micah 4:2), and this was what Nicodemus should have known.
What Christ was telling him and the rest of them was that while they were trusting in the Law and inheritance, (all concerned with the "flesh"), "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (v.6), yet, one must be born of the Spirit (as the prophecies foretold) to see the Kingdom (v.5). As in so many other places, there is nothing here about unconditional election or preterition. Also another ridiculous argument is "You had no choice in your first birth, so how could you have one in your second birth?" But this is another case of overgeneralization. Who said that one had to be exactly like the other? In fact, Romans 5:15 (part of the passage used to teach "legal imputation of guilt") says "The free gift is NOT like the offense". The whole point here was that the second birth is different from the first, because while no one could help being born into this state of sin, one could choose God's offer of a new birth that would do away with the condemnation of the first birth.
At the bottom of it all, Calvinists also operate on a totally different definition of God's sovereignty. They seem to make "fitting" people for "destruction" the defining mark of "sovereignty"; and assume He MUST do it in order to exercise His "prerogative" and not to waste any of His Son's blood (on those who will reject Him). But we forget that He lays aside His sovereign rights to save us, otherwise He would never come down as a flesh and blood man, and let alone die for our sins, taking them upon Himself. (Muslims would say that this denied His sovereignty, but unlike their and others' concepts, God can accomplish His will through weakness— 1 Cor. 1:25). The idea of Christ's blood being "wasted" is ridiculous, because of it saved just one person, it would mean everything to that person. Because a person rejeccts the blood, has no bearing on its effectiveness for everyone else. Calvinists' favorite expression is "God is sovereign over men's choices". But the true meaning of this is that they cannot thwart His eternal plan. No matter what happens, all things will be worked out to His glory. Sovereignty over choices does not mean He makes those choices for them, or fix it so they would not be able to help but make those choices (that's not really sovereignty over something, as much as it is doing it yourself). One person says "I do not believe in a disappointed saviour, a defeated Holy Spirit. EVERY SINGLE PERSON WITHOUT EXCEPTION THAT JESUS DIED TO REDEEM, IS REDEEMED. I believe in an atonement that atones, a redeemer that redeems, a savior that saves. I DO NOT believe in a Sovereign God of the universe that can be thwarted in His plans by the "choice" of a fallen, depraved, God-hating, rebellious, utterly spiritually dead sinner. Do you?" Only Calvinists claim this. It's like "either God saves and atones the way we says He should (with people left out) or he does not save at all." The Bible does say that God is disappointed, by Israel's rebellion, they "limited" Him (Ps. 78:41), the Holy Spirit, while not "defeated" can be grieved and quenched, and and Christ weeps and God delights not in man's destruction, rather than taking "good pleasure" in it as the Rom.9 mis-citation goes. People are making up their own mind what a "sovereign God" is, thinking that just because the concept is "tough" it is true.
Others I debated with claimed "you will not defend the attributes of the God who you claim has saved you! For some reason, you have fashioned the Sovereign God of Scripture into your own making. Calvinism does not make men out to be puppets; it is non-Calvinism that makes God out to be one." So either He predestines some to destruction, or He is a puppet. That's the "basic rudiment" of His "sovereignty", and without it, He is not sovereign at all. SAYS WHO? They set up such "dilemmas" that are not in scripture. That is their own straw man. They should question themselves for dictating how God and His attributes must work, based on their limited understanding. This is why I am saying there is too much conjectural philosophy. Many people see no such conflict, but of course, they're all wrong, they just don't see. What Calvinists need to recognize, is that a certain amount of free will does not compromise God's sovereignty. God made us in His image, with choice and reason, one of the main features that sets us apart from the animal kingdom. He does want people to freely love Him, not to have robots He programmed to love Him (a common charge against Calvinist theory, even though they deny this). So he can set before us life and death and tell us to choose life (Deut. 30:15, 19), knowing that we may decide not to. Notice, He is not just setting before us a good choice over a bad choice, but rather life itself. If man were unable to choose life because of his nature, then to the non-elect, this would in no way, shape or form be an offer of "life". Life is just not being set forth before them. But this is contrary to what passages like this say. As God is the one who set it up like this (not man), you can in no way say that He is not sovereign under such a scheme. If He in His sovereign will decided to give people a choice, can't Calvinists see that their position is what actually degrades that sovereignty.
To show that free-will, as I understand it is not the works-salvation the Calvinists label it, I can give my own testimony. In my late teens I was one who "ran" from God, associating Him with racist right-wingers and control freaks who used Hell to scare people into submission and financial manipulation; who try to limit everybody's sexual freedom due to their own hangups (while some of them themselves indulge themselves on the sneak). Some God (almost always drawn as some old white man) sitting in a literal "throne" judging everyone, and recent Creation story (with this manlike God, patting together Adam like a clay figure) seemed stupid compared to the complex evolutionary hypothesis. All fundamentalists did was attack others' beliefs, it seemed, and I had heard the horror stories from my parents and others about the so-called "Christian morality" and racism of the past.
This prefectly fits with the scripture that "Noone seeks God".
But then through a series of circumstances, God gradually began showing me the follies of the world. Being a quiet and highly intellectual loner, I didn't even have all the friends, women, parties, etc., and I believe God used this as well. He even used some false stuff to finally bring me in— the Plain Truth, in Armstrong's final years, where he was excerpting both Mystery of the Ages and his writings on Revelation. The fulfilled and unfolding endtime prophecy made me start to see the validity of the Bible, and then it all fell into place— man's sin, including my own; why the world is the way it is; why the Church is that way it is, and that my loathing of Christian morality and doctrine before was my old nature's hostility towards God, and the discomfort I felt when God was mentioned was the conviction of the Spirit. Reading the Bible on my own, I saw that Armstrongism was full of false doctrines on other issues, and I avoided them. I sat on the fence for a while, but finally was convicted into making a decision, and prayed to God for Him to show Himself to me, and "I believe; help my unbelief".
It's obvious that God was the one doing all the work. I, in the resistant state before, did not just one day wake up and say "Oh, I must now will myself to believe in order to be saved". I felt like that at times, but then came to learn to rest in God's finished work. Sometimes I wish I could have gotten saved earlier, but it would have been impossible. In the mindset I was in, I was "blinded" and could not simply change my mind. God was drawing, but I still had a way to go before finally being led to Him. I did not go down to any altar, at the prompting of some evangelist. I did not fill out a tract or card that said I was now saved if I did this. (All the type of evangelical stuff Calvinists criticize). I just came to believe after years of God gradually drawing. At no point did I say "OK, so now I am believing, so now I am saved." In fact I always feared something was wrong because I didn't express my conversion as a definite event, like so many others did. I learned that it is not about an event of my doing, because anyone can do that and still not even be saved. I never felt "God did His part, now it's time for me to do mine", or that I "closed some deal" with God. Never did I "boast" of anything. I have probably not done 1% of anything, let alone the "50%" I keep seeing thrown around. Even today I struggle with many internal problems, and sometimes feel I shouldn't even be writing or arguing this stuff. Sometimes I wonder if I really believe. But then I remember that salvation is all of God, and none of my striving (including trying to "believe" when I feel doubt)(Romans 4:5).
I was told several times by the Calvinists that I only believe things based on whether I like it, but there are many "hard teachings" (the fact that any people, including those I love go to an eternal Hell, period) and rules the Bible tells me to obey, that I wish I didn't have to. But it is God who has given me the ability to believe and obey. Despite all of my shortcomings, there has been a great change in my life, not of my own doing. So I testify that my conversion was all of God, but the difference between me and some is that I do not assume that because it was God who led me like that, then everyone who was not so led is "passed over" or "reprobated". (Yet, I'm told if I don't believe this, then I'm ultimately "boasting" of "saving myself" by the "work" of "conjuring up faith from my old nature". But that does not match what I experienced.) They resisted; the cares of this life were more important, etc. It is a choice just like any other, as people can either choose to do a particular sin, but even with their depravity, can refrain from it for some reason, even though their "nature" may be leading them that way. We cannot see into another person's heart, so making a comparison of why one person believes and another resists, is above our scope of knowledge. The resistance is an active "work" that "earns" something (death). My acceptance was passive, so was not a work that saved me or made me "better" than anyone else. So man's choice is not simply that he's walking around wallowing in sin and then one day just suddenly snaps out of it on his own willing. If this was what we were arguing, then perhaps the Calvinist objections regarding man's "inability" would be warranted. God does all the drawing, but man at one point must decide to follow or continue in rebellion.
Several Calvinist sites (such as gty.org, opc.org and trinity-baptist-church.com articles on "hyper-Calvinism") and other statements are even trying to lump Arminianism and "Hyper-Calvinism" together now, and accusing both of using "reason". Isn't it possible that the moderate Calvinists took an unbiblical position and modified it to make it more biblical, and then called the contradictions that remained "quiet tensions"? (as the first site's "Presupposition #1: God's Decree — God's Desire, and concl." mentions)
From "Presupposition #2: The Love of God":
Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists both believe God's love is restricted by his intent to save. Arminians believe God loves the whole world, therefore he is prepared to save the whole world. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since God only saves the elect he only loves the elect. But, Calvinists believe that in some way God loves even those he does not intend to save.
What difference does this make when God is laughing at their torment in Hell, as "true" (moderate) Calvinist Edwards and others taught? Since eternity is what ultimately matters, why not say He only hates them?
"Presupposition #3: Ability and Responsibility":
Arminians suppose that since all are responsible to exercise saving faith, all must be able. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since only the elect are able only the elect are responsible. But, true Calvinists believe that even though many are not able to exercise saving faith, all are responsible to exercise saving faith.
Hyper Calvinists still agree with moderate Calvinists God did not want to save many people, so what difference does "responsibility" make? It is only a means of condemning helpless souls.
Presupposition #4: The Extent of the Atonement and the Free-Offer of the Gospel
Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists both believe that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is necessary for the proclamation of the gospel. Arminians say that since the gospel must be proclaimed to all the atonement must be extended to all. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since the saving benefit of the atonement only extends to the elect, the gospel offer is really only for the elect. Yet, Calvinists believe that though we know the benefits of the atonement will not extend to all in a saving way, the benefits are to be offered to all in the preaching of the gospel.
the second site adds: It is sometimes expressed this way, that the Hyper-Calvinist does not believe in "duty faith" and "duty repentance"; he does not believe that all men should be invited to come to Christ. In contrast to this, the historic Calvinist does most certainly believe that it is the duty and responsibility of all men to repent and believe even though they have, through sin, lost the ability to do so; and the Calvinist does not hesitate to bid all men everywhere to repent, and to invite every man to trust the Saviour.
But this "call to repentance" also only serves to "leave them without excuse" and thus appear to make it look just. What's the difference between this and God just creating them for Hell, not offering the Gospel to them, and not holding them "responsible" for anything? All of Calvinism uses these passages, yet now this moderate Calvinist position is trying to distance itself from other Calvinists and not only that, but even lump them in with the dreaded Arminians. But you too are using just as much reasoning as you accuse everyone else in your trying to modify the position a bit to answer some scriptures it ignored. (such as the call to all, responsibility, etc)
Hyper-Calvinism is also characterised by the view that God's decree of election is viewed without reference to the Fall of man, that is, the Hyper-Calvinist believes that God created some men with the express purpose of damning them simply as creatures, not as sinful, fallen creatures.
Historic Calvinism, on the other hand, has always presented God's decree of election as a most gracious decree against the background of the Fall of man. Out of a race already on the way to hell because of its own sin. God graciously wills to choose a great multitude out of sheer mercy and grace. God does not damn men for nothing says Calvinism. He damns them because of their sin.
But if "grace" and "wrath" are "for His glory" as all Calvinists explain, then the Fall must have been a means to that end, and still there is no essential difference from the "hyper" position. This is also why the The hypers, supras and Primitives will claim that this "true" Calvinist position is the same as Arminianism. Just like you are accusing them of using "reason" like us, it seems you are trying to remove the offense of the doctrine, also just like us supposedly, only not going as far.
From Tom Ascol, "From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva to Do with Nashville?" (Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, & Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists)
The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition: Man's ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.This completely ignores God's principle of "To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48) . In the Calvinist scheme, to whom NOTHING is given, EVERYTHING is expected (i.e. "nothing" being in the sense that they are not even given the ability to repent.) This is ultimately where non-calvinists' opposition comes from (even if we don't think of referring to this verse), not any "rationalistic presuppositions" of "rationalistic minds". (And one could call 1+1=2 "rationalistic presupposition" if someone tries to defy this rational reality, as well). It's the Calvinists who are using rationalistic presuppositions in assuming that if one is "called" by God, then others must have been "passed by". But with God, this does not necessarily follow. Another writes "Sin itself is a moral issue, and since sin is the cause of our inability, it is, as Jonathan Edwards said, a moral inability, not a natural one. The defect in man is his own fault, not God's. Therefore man's own inability is something he is guilty for, and that inability cannot therefore be seen as something that relieves the sinner of responsibility." This would apply to an individual told to stay away from a pit. If he disobeys and falls in, he is then unable to save himself, but it's his fault for winding up in that position. But this so-called "moral inability" is a very different matter as it involves individuals who did not make the initial choice in the first place. Think of the person falling into the pit spawning a whole race of people, who are now trapped, and someone comes and saved only a few of them. The rest would just be "out of luck", but still, no one would say they were "at fault" or "morally responsible". Of course, "fault" in this case has nothing to do with an actual causing of a situation, but is rather something charged to individuals regardless of their actions.
In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, "Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfuill his duty to repent and believe." And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches.
So they think God holds [individual] people responsible who don't have the ability (even though the individuals did not individuallty choose to wind up in this state of inability). "God's sovereignty; man's responsibility" is the chant; some even put it as "God ordains sin, man is to blame", being the "awesome asymmetry" (Edwin Palmer) that Calvinists seem to delight in, though some will shrink from putting it exactly like that. Responsibility means precisely the ability to respond. It has no meaning without ability. If there's no ability, what is the "responsibility" for? Just a reason for God to trap some helpless person on a path to Hell and make it look like their fault and not His? Perhaps, as Luther claimed that God calls us to do what we cannot do is "trying us, that by His Law He may bring to us a knowledge of our impotence...and deservedly taunting and mocking...His proud enemies" (Bondage of the Will)(The first part is basically true, but where does God ever say His Law is to taunt sinners?) Words are to communicate meaning, and we can't just apply new meanings to them to support an assertion. This dismissal as "rationalistic" is just to justify a speculative interpretation of scripture. Likewise, many will even try to justify this "responsibility without ability" on the fact that God commanded the Law knowing people couldn't keep it, and punished them for not keeping it. But this is taking instances where God commanded something to a group, (Israel or humanity in general,) and the punishment was on earth, and using this to support an argument that God must also leave individuals indebted with no chance to escape eternal punishment (i.e. —limited atonement) by holding them "responsible" for something they couldn't possibly help, and decidedly not wanting to save them. But those are two very different sets of circumstances. But just think: the command to repent and believe was part of the New Covenent, and the Law, which man could not keep was the Old Covenant. Calvinists making this argument seem to think one works the same as the other. But what was really the purpose of the Law in the first place? The only reason it was given was because of sin (Gal.3:19). It was never even really expected to be kept, since its whole purpose was to point out where we fall short (Romans 7:7)
Precisely since it could not be kept, and therefore couldn't save, but only condemn, Paul calls it "the Law of sin and death" (Rom.7; 8:2 cf. 1 Cor.15:56), "the Law works out wrath" (Rom.4:15), "the Letter [of the Law] Kills" (2.Cor.3:6) and "The ministration of death (7,8) as opposed to "the ministration of the Spirit", "which gives life" (ibid. ff). Of course, in Gal. 2 & 3 we have the classic passage contrasting the Law with Christ, who can be received by simple faith. The period of time when man was under the Law He couldn't keep, "...God winked at, but now commands all men, everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30) The difference between Law and grace was faith, which anyone could have. This is what Paul is pointing out when he says that he can will, but not perform (Rom.7:18) Man could not be saved by performing, so he needed something in reach of his will, and that is to believe. So God gives people a way around this "inability" caused by sin. The Calvinist is saying He is "withholding" the way around itself, by including it as one of the things man could not do in the first place. (i.e. it's apart of the "Law" that man rebelled against). That defeats the whole purpose, unless once again, you conclude that the purpose is just trapping people in condemnation.
To equate faith with the Law as people are doing, and make it just another command God gives that man cannot keep, is to reduce the New Testament Gospel to just another "Law of sin and Death"!
That is why so many men are still left without hope in that system, and that is why we oppose it, not simply because something else seems "nicer" to us, or whatever Calvinists charge! To the non-elect, it is as if Christ had not come at all (except as something else from God for them to reject and wind up even deeper in condemnation). What "good news" is this, except to a relative few in the world?
The Gospel had been proclaimed as "tidings of joy to ALL men" (Luke 2:10, 11), not only a limited elect class, ultimately known only to God. (It creates the same dillemma for man as the Law, except that now God gets only some around it. If God was working by unconditional election, He could have just 'enabled' the OT "elect" to keep the Law, and Christ would not have even been necessary). Some will claim "The Gospel is not good news to the unregenerate, but rather death (2 Cor.2:16, 1 Pet.2:7)". But it's death because of "disobedience"; rather than because of some preordained state they are put into.
These passages, like Rom. 9, "the offense of the Cross", and others, originally referred to those who were rejecting Christ in favor of "their own righteousness, which is of the Law". The Gospel of Christ swept all of that away and left them naked as condemned sinners (without Christ) like everyone else, so to them, it was certainly "death". The way of escape is by nature good news to all, but to someone who doesn't want to escape, because they would have to leave something valuable to them, then they are rejecting the good news, rather than the danger they are in being apart of the "good news" because others are rescued from it. The "death" is the warning of danger (which they refuse to accept), which is apart of the message, not the message (pointing to a way of escape) itself. Now, if part of the message was that certain people have been appointed to be left behind and perish; then it would not really be good news to all, and the message itself would include the death, not just the person's refusal to accept it and leave.
|To equate "faith" with "Law", in which man is "totally unable", is to reduce the New Testament Gospel to just another "Law of sin and death"|
To try to explain God's "call" to all men, Calvinists have divided it into a "general" and "effectual" call. It's only the effectual call that saves (has the effect); rendering the general call to all, once again, to be just a means to leave the non-elect "without excuse". It seems the most reprehensible aspect of this doctrine; even more than the simple "reprobation" of [individual] "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction", is the way this is accomplished— through pretense. God pretends to expect these people to repent and follow Him, even though He has decreed that they can't, and this only as a means of ultimately damning them through "their own" guilt rather than seemingly for no reason at all. In other words, He comes across as the victim of these "wicked sinners" He "endures", when in reality they are just helpless clay He has "fitted" to this end. Basically, He isn't just ordaining them to Hell, but scripting life to look like they condemn themselves to that state. He basically traps them in a state of eternal condemnation, and treats them as if they had the very ability that He was withholding them. This goes way beyond simple "sovereignty" and "divine prerogatives". It is deceptive, and this is why people say it is contrary to His nature. He would not charge all with Adam's sin, rescue some out of this, and then leave the rest to condemnation claiming "they did it to themslves", and even make their consciences condemn them as if they did it to themselves when He knows good and well that it was ultimately His determination, (as "the Potter") whether or not they would be saved or spend eternity in Hell, and they couldn't have done otherwise. He would just say that He "created them to [fill a role of sin on earth and] go to Hell", rather than "But I really gave them a chance, and they could have accepted me".
Because while hypothetically, He "had the right" to do things like this, He has already described how He exercizes His sovereign rights, and He tells us that He is truth, light and love, and desires salvation for people, not damnation. Even in Luke 12, with people not knowing His whole will still receiving stripes, still, they are held responsible for doing things worthy of stripes, which people know is wrong (and therefore it would have been possible for them to repent from it and ask forgiveness, even if from the "unknown God" who they could ask to reveal Himself); not because God withheld something from them (when people who were "given" still were able to reject it).
Calvinists respond "whatever God does is right simply because He does it". This may make hypothetical sense, but if you take that without His definitions of what He WILL or will NOT do, than you could have Him "lying" or "sinning", and this made right simply because He does it. They even cite "Shall not the God of all the earth do right" (Genesis 18:25). We can conclude that saying such would not be right is just "fallible human reasoning", driven by "emotion", but then in that case, God is speaking to us in terms we (including the regenerated) cannot understand (i.e we apparently have no clue what "right" is).
Remember, that verse was spoken by Abraham, reasoning, guess what; why God should not condemn certain people —according to his own prior understanding of "good" (didn't they all really "deserve" it anyway?), so I think our objection is valid as well . He is straightforward, and in Him is "no variableness nor shadow of turning" (James 1:17, in the context of God not tempting anyone with evil, v.13) God does not do things that way!. One of the points of God's coming into the world as a man is to experience our existence as one of us with all our pains and temptations (e.g. Heb.4:15). The whole idea of a God who decides to pass over people in the way that the Calvinists insist (pass over in eternity, and have it play out that they reject Him in time, but are helpess to do otherwise because of the eternal side of reality) may be compatible with "sovereignty", but not with the way God has revealed Himself in scripture. Remember, in His sovereignty, He can choose not to do things that way as well.
The whole thrust of wickedness and the just condemnation of it is that the person could have repented of it and didn't. If the wicked who die in their sins are just helpless drones scripted to that end, the entire concept of wickedness loses its meaning. Wickedness was then just a role ultimately written by God, even though He also wrote that He wasn't "to blame" for it. Judgment of sin seems to lose it's meaning if people hadn't spurned an offer of salvation they really could have accepted on their own, and are simply characters playing a script where it only appears that they are punished for "willful sin" of their "free choice", but they were purely helpless. Remember, even if you insist that God is judging them for sin, and that they are "responsible" for it, and God "owes nobody salvation", still, if you attribute this "sin" to a decree of God before people were even born, then the condemnation is ultimately not because of sin.
Does God's Glory rest on this?
Calvinists seem to think the Glory of God rests on one thing— His "sovereign right" to condemn people for sins they couldn't repent of (and as long as it's not me, praise Him). It's like their whole view of Him as worthy of their love and honor (i.e. for His "sovereignty" and "mercy") rests on this. This they need to examine in themselves. (What's striking is that they don't even show any pity for these predetermined "lost" souls. They just glibly "tell it like it is", as if it were no skin off anybody's nose; almost like Hell isn't really so bad; if one is decreed to go there, so what; it is almost good. They object "but we love the lost, and make great effort to preach the Gospel to them so they can be saved". But still it's only a predetermined elect you believe this "love" and mercy is really being extended to, and insist that everyone else, God did not want to save.)
One person, commenting on Pharaoh and the Egyptians comments "God stomped them like the ants they were". Of course, this is in light of Romans 9, where supposedly Pharaoh (among other "wicked") are singled out and chosen to do evil and be destroyed just for show. But what glory is it for God to stomp ants (as if His power to do so was ever in question). When someone on earth shows off by doing something like that, the first thing that comes to mind is "pick on someone your own size!", not any true "glory" to the person doing that. So we must look at why people would like to believe in this, and later when we examine Romans 9, we will see how God was glorified in Pharaoh.
Where they may attribute belief in a God who loves everybody and gives them a choice to "human sentimentality" (while they are supposedly so objective), there is also an element of man that looks up to "tough", sometimes ruthless authority figures. When man finds he cannot be number one, he does the next best thing and looks up to what he sees as number one. This comes from a God-shaped void created in us, that has been distorted by the fall like everything else. So some people apparently like the idea of a God who's so "bad" (as in the slang sense, which carries a positive connotation) He creates people he sends to Hell with no choice of their own just to show that He can do as He pleases. Of course, they, the believers in this, were not apart of this class, but were shown "mercy" and spared this fate. This is the type of figure many people in the world (Christian and non-Christian) see as worthy of their love and admiration. ("Certainly good to be on his side!")
People with certain deep internal problems may also feel the need to be "chosen" over others. Especially if they are angry at people who have done evil, either to them, or otherwise. It is tempting for us to think "HA, well, I'm elect; you're not" (in contrast to the charge cited above that free will advocates think "HA, I chose Christ and you didn't"). I have seen some of the proverbial "frozen chosen", and you wonder why people who believe they were so fortunate to be saved by the "sovereign grace" of a limited atonement wouldn't have more joy and not be so cold and even mean spirited.
Just accepting such a "hard" position can be a source of pride. How strong one must feel to swallow something like this (even if he does credit God for "opening up his heart" to it), while others follow the "natural" course and reject it out of "offended emotion".
Also, some frustated over how difficult it can be to convince people of Christ may find some relief in this position. Many use as an argument "This takes all the pressure off of us in winning souls. It must be terrible thinking you did not witness right and the person is still lost". Talk about a pragmatic man-centered reason to believe something!
Some seem to be jealous of people who have slid back into sin, and thus didn't "persevere until the end", and must not be elect then. (Laurence Vance The Other Side of Calvinism provides an example of a Calvinist writer who seemed to have this attitude).
Of course, none of this proves whether or not the people in question will ultimately die in their sins, as the person who is in sin now may repent later, and the person responding now may not "persevere to the end", which is actually a big loophole in the theory I will discuss later. Calvin, Luther and the other Reformers themselves found in the doctrine relief from the bondage they felt under the Roman Catholic system of works, which could not even grant you the certainty that you would "make it" in the end. All of these are equally human emotional reasons one may believe in Calvinism. This is not to try to reduce every Calvinist's faith to some psychological quirk, but they should be aware that these are human tendencies, affected by the Fall, that could be coloring their picture of God's sovereignty just as much as sentimentality may color other peoples' views of His love.
"I have no problem looking at it from the free-will side. I've done that many times. I find it so depressing, once I go beyond the initial feel-good of everyone starting with a 'real' chance to to be saved. It's when it comes to face the Biblical picture of man and the actual reality of man around me that confirms that dark picture, that I despair of free-willism. It is evident that most go through this life without any real knowledge of the gospel, many imprisoned by their sins and ignorance. Where is the love of God in this, if man is the free-will creature you depict? No, only the love of God for His elect, a love that reaches them wherever they are and however they are, that breaks their evil will and changes it to love Him and have eternal life - that is the sovereign God I love and see declared in the Scriptures. Once you truly come to terms with this truth and respect it instead of treating it with disdain, you'll start to see that the Bible really does teach election, and that election is liberating and an insurpassable source of comfort and security to us, the elect.
Most of all, it is infinitely humbling, because we have to face the fact that we had absolutely NOTHING whatsoever to do with becoming the elect. We are what we are due entirely to God's mercy, having nothing whatsoever to do with our environment, character, works, desires or will (free or otherwise). If I could tell the elect from the non-elect, I could truly say of a non-elect person, 'there but for the grace of God go I'."
So all of this is still basically the Calvinistic counterpart to the "Fairness" and other "human reasons and emotion" Arminians are accused of. It seem to make more sense, it gives you a bigger sense of security, and makes you more grateful, because: Wow! God leaves others in this moral trap, but rescued me.
Yet all of this can be turned right back on Calvinism. Face it, whichever side is true, there are a definite number of people getting saved, and not getting saved. Neither view changes that, despite this supposed "dark picture" you get from free-will where irresistable grace is not assumed. The difference is whether God intentionally shuts people out, and then says that they did it to themselves; or whether they really did do it to themselves.
God is exalted, sovereign, majestic and worthy of everyone's worship without such acts attributed to Him. We must not make up our own concepts to try to exalt Him, only to have Him ask us at His judgment seat "Did I ever ask you to deduce that?"(see Prov.30:6); "You have not spoken of me what is right"(Job 42:7), and then we confess in shame "I have uttered what I did not understand; things too wonderful for me which I did not know"(v.3). Think about which position is more impugning to God's character if it is wrong: reprobation/preterition to Hell and decrees of evil, or not believing He does that.
Proof Texts Examined
Romans chapter 9 is the number one proof-text for the doctrine, since it discusses "vessels of wrath" (people made for "destruction"), and that God "has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardens whom He will harden". Then, anyone who questions why God would even create such a person, for instance, are blasted away with a quote of verse 20: "O man, who are you that replies against God?" In other words, this is the "truth" of God's sovereignty, so nobody has the right to question it, not even the poor "vessel of wrath" himself!
James White, in the typical "rub it in" type of emphasis states "The Potter's Freedom pulses through these verses, flowing inexorably into the sea of sovereignty, rushing any would be proponent of free-will out of its path. God has has the perfect right to do with His creation (including men) as He wishes... [These 'vessels of wrath'] are said to have been specifically 'prepared for destruction'. That is their purpose." (The Potter's Freedom, p.213,4)
But people don't even bother to check the CONTEXT. This passage is discussing Israel, a nation of people God was judging as opposed to Gentiles whom He was spreading His grace to, not individual people or everyone in a particular group being predestined for wrath as opposed to other individual people being elected for grace. (Obviously, many Israelites have gotten saved, so this can't be treating individuals as vessels of wrath).
The passage also mentions God's hardening of Pharaoh, but this is still not talking about salvation or ETERNAL punishment. Paul uses the example of Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh to show how the people were chosen ("elected") by God for His purpose and not by their own will in the first place, and how God raised them up to show his power, and then hardens, all according to His will, and chooses others (and once again, individual salvation is not even mentioned. The very context of Jacob and Esau from Malachi 1:1-4, 3:6, and even the original Genesis 25:12 account is discussing nations!).
With both the Jews, as well as in later racism, people thought that their group was "chosen" by God over others because of some type of "superiority" they had within themselves, whether moral, intellectual, genetic, or otherwise. This is precisely what Paul is debunking, as the Gospel tells us there is no such superiority; for all have sinned and are under the same condemnation. Therefore, salvation must be purely by God's grace.
The Jews, of course, would be offended by this, and one of them might ask "why does He find fault" [i.e., with the people], and then Paul says "Who are you O man, to reply against God"? The Jews had been opposing the Gospel and the apostles all along, for among other things, criticizing the Jews for their hardness in rejecting Christ, as well as opening up to the gentiles; yet, possessing the Law (v.4), they should have known better, so this is why Jesus and the apostles were often harsh to them, criticizing their "stubbornness".
|The entire context of Romans 9 is the election and rejection of physical Israel, (The "original "vessels" of scriptural language, and the "children of the flesh"), and those from all nations who come to God in faith being the children of promise. This was certainly "offensive" to the Jews!|
Think about it: who would ask Paul such a question in the first place? One of the "non-elect"? But who could know now that they are ultimately non-elect? Or is it just any arbitrary listener who happens not to like God's election process?
Do you think the Jews would really care if all unbelieving Gentiles and apostate Jews were preordained to destruction? They probably already believed that. Would Gentiles care whether individual Jews were "vessels of wrath"? If anything, some may have hastily presumed something like that, but then Paul corrects them, as we will see shortly. But otherwise; what would that have to do with them?
People back then were concerned primarily about themselves and their own group. No one thought about such universal "humanitarian" questions like this as we do. The whole notion of the "dignity and worth of human beings" that makes people so offended at this doctrine now is more a modern Western mindset. A first century reader who just grasped the context regarding Israel and inheritance versus faith would get the point and have no reason to be so offended.
But an Israelite in the Church who still had not fully submitted to the Gospel (as we see in the Gospels, Galatians and elsewhere), was another story. The Jews saw their national identity (physical inheritance) as an extension of themselves. It was everything to them, including their salvation. So to suggest they were no longer "chosen" in the sense they were used to was a great affront to them. But the entire Gospel is showing that "chosen" groups one had no choice belonging to did not solve the problem of sin, and thus could not save. Many such people did not even really love God. He was just their mascot and the doorman to Heaven (or national supremacy on earth) if they paid Him with their works, done purely in "the letter" in order to get themselves over. It was their stubborness that prevented them from admitting this (which meant that they too were sinners as much as they tried to keep the Law), so then they were hardened along with the rest of them, just like Romans 1:24 and 2 Thess.2:10-12. (not because God "decreed" the individuals to be initially stubborn in the first place).
Calvinists argue that the entire book of Romans is a "long argument on [individual] salvation, so why would he now be discussing groups?" Let's review the context by further examining the "why does He yet find fault; for who has resisted His will?" question.
WHAT is really being asked here? "Yet" find "fault" for what?
"Why would God unconditionally choose someone else and not me/[others], and save them by 'enabling' them to repent, yet leave me/[others] in this helpless state, dead in sin, unable to repent, yet still hold me/[them] responsible [i.e. 'find fault'] for my sin, and send me/[them] to Hell when I/[they] couldn't even 'resist His will' to place me/[them] in this state (before I[/they] were born, even) in the first place?".
This is what people are asking Calvinists today, who then in turn simply project this into the text. But is it in the context of what the hypothetical person was asking Paul? It looks like it at first glance [doesn't it?], and Calvinists assume so; so everytime someone questions or challenges "God holding helpless, 'totally unable' sinners responsible for their sin they couldn't repent of", the Calvinists just throw up the next verse as the quick magical answer.
But "ability to repent" is not being discussed here. Neither is any inescapable state or fate.
Paul had just mentioned Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. These may be individuals, but what were they being used to illustrate? Step back another few verses: "not the children of the flesh are children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for a seed." (v.8)
Paul argues that simply being "Abraham's children" does not make one a child of promise, because for one thing, Abraham had other children beside just the Jews. But God had declared that "In Isaac shall your Seed be called." (v.7) Being from Isaac also wasn't enough, because Esau also was his child. But God had still unconditionally chosen Jacob (v.12, 13), not because of any righteousness of his (Jews thought that their forefathers must have been chosen because of being more righteous, thus "works" rather than "Him that calleth"), for they were not even yet born when God made this decision.(v.11)
So the whole point here is that it must be more than physical lineage from Abraham.
The next step is that even being of Jacob's physical lineage is not enough.
To further demonstrate God's choice of men for these purposes was not "unjust" (v.14) Paul goes into the whole story of Pharaoh. No Jew thought of what God did to Pharaoh as being "unjust" (after all, it was for their sake, and that's what mattered to them!) So then what Paul is getting to nobody also should think is unjust. The whole context is two groups "the Children of the flesh", and "the children of promise". It says nothing about the individuals in either group being unconditionally elected or preteritioned into those groups. It just assumes two groups, and emphasizes that what many thought was the class that mattered (Jew as opposed to Gentile) was actually not the right one.
Before one jumps to the clay "vessels", let's for once look more at the second part of v.20 (the beginning of Paul's answer to this question): "Shall the thing formed say to Him who formed it, 'Why have you made me this way'?".
Made them what way? Predestined to Hell? Sinners who "chose to sin in Adam" (legally charged with the choice of a 'federal head') and are "allowed to go the way their 'totally depraved' nature takes them"? Helplessly unable to repent, yet "held responsible" to repent and left in that state? Passed over for "saving grace" and therefore doomed to suffer the eternal "justice" for their sins?
Most Calvinists I argued with deny with a passion that God "makes" anybody that way (since they, through their federal head, really did it to themselves somehow); and if one of us even addresses that, they claim we are misrepresenting their position and don't know a thing about it. Yet the next verse clearly does credit God as "making" these "vessels" the way they are.
And even to those who do confess God "makes" the reprobates that way, still, once again, none of the above concepts are what was being discussed! (A reader would have no reason to even assume they were any of those things in the first place!).
So you just can't say "Paul was answering the objection to God's unconditional election and preterition process"!
The focus is on "children of promise" as opposed to "children of the flesh". Calvinists also take these two groups of "children" as classes of predetermined individuals. (For instance, the "seed of Satan" or the "tares" of Matt.13 are assumed to be an unconditionally reprobated class of "non-elect". Right away, if you are going to take it this way, then did Satan create them (since he is said to "sow" them)? No, he is the instigator of sin, and whoever continues to follow him makes themselves "tares")
According to Ephesians 2:3, we all started out as "children of wrath" (which would be synonymous with "vessels of wrath", "sons of disobedience"(Col.3:6), "seed of Satan" (Matt.13) and also "children of the flesh" for the Jews), and John clearly defines "children of the devil" and "children of God" as "he that commits..." or "...does not commit [practice] sin" (1 John 3:8-10). Thanks to our "depravity" (sin from Adam), nobody is born in the latter state, and so the former, as an eternal state of condemnation, is not what God unconditionally "makes" anybody.
This should prove once and for all that the question and Paul's answer have nothing to do with Calvinistic reprobation or preterition.
God has declared that there are two groups: Physical Israel (which is in the same spiritual status as the rest of humanity) and spiritual Israel (Romans 2:28, 29). "Why did God make us physical Israel only if that doesn't make us the true children of promise? As much as we try so hard to keep the Law He gave us, why is he still finding fault or not accepting us as we are? Didn't He create us as His people? Could we have resisted His will to create us this way, if this is not what He counts?" THIS is what is being asked!
HERE is where Paul says "who are you to reply back to God?" He as "the Potter" sovereignly laid out a plan, involving two categories of people; the first had a purpose, but this purpose is not the salvation of the individuals in the group, but to pave the way for the second. It's this second group one must be apart of, and who are we to question this plan? (This still says nothing about a person's inability to cross from one group to the other.
The people were stubborn and refused to give up their notion of inheritance, which they would have to do to become apart of the children of promise. This also would be analogous to modern unbelievers saying "Why are you saying one has to be a born-again Christian to be saved?". "Why does God find fault with me as I am? I'm a good person! I am a 'child' of his since he created me! He made me this way (by his own will), so he should understand!" But to them too, it's not "children of the flesh" who are counted, and neither by our own self-justification!). All of this is apart of the theme or "long argument" Paul is making throughout the whole book of Romans.
|All of us started out as "children of wrath", but could be saved, so that is not a class of predestined individuals|
Calvinists claim that this interpretation removes the "sword" or "offense" of the Gospel, and the fact that Paul "anticipates objection" is the ultimate proof that their position is true. But their hypothesis is not the only doctrine in the world that is "offensive" to people. They also claim "If you haven't struggled with this passage, you don't understand it properly", but this "sword" was not intended for believers, who are the ones opposing the doctrine. Yet it is truly a sword and offense for those it was intended for. (It is certainly offensive to unbelievers, as in the above illustration!) And this was the way the Church had read the passage for the first four centuries before the idea of unconditional "reprobation" was first posed.
Also, "vessels" is like a plural unity in this case— Israel consists of individual "vessels" as all creatures can be likened to vessels, but Israel as a whole was the "vessel", as shown in Isaiah 29:16 & 45:9 and Jer. 18:4-6ff & 25:34 which are the very passages Paul is drawing upon here.
Further proof that even as individual "vessels", one is not preordained, in 2 Tim.2:20, 21, the 'vessels' of honor and dishonor are mentioned again, and a person chooses to be a vessel of honor, rather his choice being because he was preordained as a vessel of honor.
And likewise, "mercy" and "wrath" must not be assumed to have only eternal meanings. People suffer mercy and wrath all the time here on earth, having nothing to do with whether they wind up saved or damned in the end. "Mercy" means more along the lines of "beneficience" to one "under someone's power", whether it is from the penalty of their own sin or not. The passage does NOT say "He shall have saving mercy on who He shall have saving mercy", but it is made clear elsewhere that it is offered to all.
Furthermore, as one studies the gruesome fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and how this fulfilled much of scriptural prophecy regarding the judgment of Israel; it becomes quite clear that THIS was the immediate "wrath" and "destruction" the passage is referring to, and which the Israelites were the "vessels" of!. The "vessels of mercy": the Christian Church composed of people of all nations (including Jews who crossed out of the former group!), was spared this horrific event, and continued on with God's grace to the present.
Likewise, with Christ's "The Son quickens whom He will" (John 5:21). That means it's His choice who to give life to, but doesn't mean that He necessarily doesn't offer it to all. Ultimately, everyone was stubborn and deserved hardening, but God obviously doesn't harden everyone who deserves it. Every person who dabbles in perversion doesn't suffer what Romans 1 describes. But it was their choice to be in that position in the first place.
Still, there was nothing stopping individuals in Israel, plus maybe even Pharaoh himself, (AFTER God's "purpose" was fulfilled), from eventually coming to faith. So this is the proper understanding of "vessels" and God "hardening or having mercy on whomever He will".
So we cannot just lift a statement out of its context like this and just move it over and apply it to something it was never intended for.
Now that we clearly see that Paul is not answering any objection to reprobation or preterition, the Calvinistic theory of people being held responsible for sins they couldn't repent of must stand the same scrutiny as any other idea men come up with. (So the question remains [as it is not addressed here], why would God do that?)
Calvinists I spoke to pointed to the verse "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" and "children of the flesh, not children of God" (v.6ff) to try to prove this is talking about the "elect" and "non-elect" within Israel. But the distinction between those who obtained salvation and those who didn't was whether they sought it by faith or works. Verses 6 and 8 are simply supporting this, proving that faith is what makes one the faithful remnant, not physical inheritance. This is why Isaac is mentioned. All of the Jews were Isaac's seed also, but where Abraham represented the physical inheritance, Isaac was the child of promise through whom Christ came. Yes, there were both true believers as well as non-believers in Israel, and that's all this is saying; once again there is no assumption of preordained states of individuals. Lest one says "but faith was granted through 'election'", the passage pictures people having sought salvation. They did have choice.
The whole debate here was "faith" versus "inheritance", NOT "election" versus "free will"! (The claim that "faith" is the "gift" of "election" was answered above).
So the plan of salvation and its carrying out is not of "blood" (inheritance); or "him who runs" or "the will of the flesh" (strives to be good through the Law); or of "him who wills" or "the will of man" (human schemes and ideas of how to be saved; demanding from God), but of God who shows mercy. (v.10/John 1:13). None of this has anything to do with ability to believe.
Ironically, many more radical Calvinists hold to what is called "covenant theology" which means something to the effect that the children of saved people are guaranteed to be saved. But this type of inheritance is precisely one of the main things this chapter is speaking against, saying clearly that being a child "of the flesh" does not make one a true spiritual heir. Calvin himself taught this, with infant baptism regenerating and saving!
It is incredulous that he and others are the ones making such an argument against "works salvation" and accuse others of that, when he taught something like this! It's amazing these people can take this chapter and read into it something totally foreign to the context (eternal reprobation), and then turn right around and blatantly teach the very things it is speaking out against: salvation by inheritance and works (baptism)!
This whole first part of the chapter is further interpreted by the last part. V.25-33 is discussing groups that did not pursue righteousness but found it, or who did try to pursue it through the Law but didn't. Paul is simply supporting his argument that in contrast to the Israelites thinking they were all automatically saved by inheritance, many if not most were not saved, because salvation is by faith, not going through the motions of following the Law. Since every single Israelite was not lost, this must be talking about the group as a whole. Meanwhile, gentiles who didn't even know God (let alone be trying to earn His favor) would be the ones who would in large numbers receive the Gospel, having no inheritance to pride themselves on. Why try to read anything else into this?
The message of the New Covenant is that it is no longer the Law or physical inheritance, but faith, and neither some luck of the draw you could do nothing about, but in believing. One person asked "Who are the ones prepared beforehand for glory?" The Church, consisting of those who did convert from Judaism, such as Paul (v.24), as well as in general, gentile nations, who would be responsive to the Gospel and make up most of the Church. Once again, not that every single gentile would be saved, but you have to remember, the Jews thought of everyone else as dogs and that God loved only them. Paul's whole message is breaking this down and showing that inheritance (or the Law) was not what saved, because the people's hearts were still wicked. On a side note, I have also heard "shouldn't God be able to choose His own Bride", which once again confuses a group concept with individual salvation. Christ's Bride is the Church, a whole entity comprising all of us who are saved. No individual is said to be the Bride of Christ by himself; nor a particular combination of individuals. Now if someone insisted God had to save practicers of other religions, (as much of the pluralistic secular world now does) then you can talk of God choosing His Bride (the body He is working through in saving man).
Amazingly, many infralapsarians, while employing the same "individuals fitted for destruction" interpretation of the "vessels", will insist they do not believe in election to Hell. "God does not elect people to hell. He simply does nothing to change their course (preterition). He simply lets them go the way they want to go. Election involves an active choice to change something." one person describes to me. They insist that this is really that person's own "free choice". "God does not determine who the reprobates are. No one is prevented from repenting and believing by God" another says.
But that is precisely what they are reading into this chapter! Think about "vessels of wrath fitted for destruction" ("election to hell" is but a word for word paraphrase of this, if referring to individuals), and "hardening" (as well as "blinding" in other commonly used passages); these ARE deliberate "active choices" ascribed to God, and this is what is thrown at us everytime someone asks why God would create such people. A few even tried to claim that the vessel of wrath "fitted himself" for destruction (and God only "endures" them), and this is ultimately true, but for those who insist that this passage is teaching the "preterition" of individuals, there is no escaping the active participation of God in the process described here.
Verse 21 says that it is God who made the vessels that way, and I thought the whole idea was God being the "Potter". So all of this is pure double-talk. This group of Calvinists is playing both sides of the fence; using the language of free-will, while repudiating free-will in favor of the ultimate Calvinist theories of inescapable damnation for certain individuals.
But while these "single predestinarians" deny "election to Hell", the phrase— trapping people on a path to eternal condemnation fits all stripes of Calvinism, no matter how much they try to water it down, and this is basically their universal point of agreement.
Some even acknowledge that "Election to hell would assume the neutrality of man, something Scripture repudiates. Man is not neutral with God electing some to heaven and some to hell."
This actually becomes one of the biggest strikes against Calvinism, for Romans 9, taken this way does put man in precisely a neutral position! The entire analogy of "clay vessels" conveys NEUTRALITY! A lump of clay is quite neutral. The items made from this neutral material are then assigned for "good" or "bad" purposes ("honor"/"mercy" or "wrath"/"destruction"), for reasons totally outside themselves (the oft cited v.16: "not of him who wills [the vessel]...but of God who shows mercy" which determines whether they receive "mercy" or "destruction"). In fact, v.11 clearly tells us that Jacob and Esau's callings had nothing to do with any good or evil on their part, and this is precisely what the predestinarians keep emphasizing! Here, the parties did start out neutral! That's what the passage says. To take this and then claim "they were chosen to suffer eternally for their evil while others are saved" is surely wrenching the scripture. YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!!! One or the other!
It's precisely the use of this passage that naturally raises the sentiment of the "poor neutral vessel" in the mind of the unlearned questioner in the first place! To take "before they were yet born and neither having done any good or evil" to refer to a decree of reprobation, God is ultimately not punishing people for what they do (sin), but for what they are (since what they do only stems from what they are); and what they "are" is what He made them (for His "purposes"). So these would be essentially neutral creatures who really did not of themselves do anything worthy of condemnation!
But if man is not neutral then this passage cannot be describing [individual] man in the sense that he is a fallen sinner. It is describing a neutral aspect of humanity, namely a particular group that was "raised" by God (chosen) at first (and then a couple of individuals are used as examples), but now punished while another is now "chosen" to fulfil the plan of God. [i.e. "vessels of honor"] A group is a neutral entity, no better or worse than any other, while it is individuals who are not neutral, but are sinners and deserve punishment. You can't claim "they only receive the just punishment their sins deserve", and then turn around and rub everyone's face in "It was not because of any wrongdoing; it was just God's 'sovereign pleasure'". Israel is the focus of the whole passage, why would they be representing anything else (let alone, the non-elect)?
So v. 11-23 is NOT describing people being "allowed to go the way they want"! It is describing neutral entities (v. 11, 16, 21) being assigned to "wrath"/"destruction" or "honor"/"glory". Just think; If individuals are already incapable of repenting, and only continuing on the path they want to go in, why would it be necessary to "harden" or "blind" them ?
One Calvinist on one of the boards kept pointing out "Most have this view of Calvinism where there are all kinds of people out there dying to choose God but because they are not elect, they can't. The truth is that the people who reject God do so because they want to do so. They do not want to do anything else. They hate God, they are turned away from God, they ignore God, etc. Do they have a choice? Absolutely. They can choose anything consistent with their nature and they make that choice joyfully and without remorse. They can see the demands of God and they make the choice to reject them. They are doing what they want to do. God is not forcing them to disobey him". He and others will sometimes even go as far as saying "They can come/are free to come if they want to"! One of Hunt's manuscript critics (quoted, p.112) even says the same thing, adding that it has nothing to do with God witholding anything; nor does he prevent man from coming to Him.
The catch of course, they will not want to come because of their "nature", (oh, and then He does withhold one thing after all: "His mercy", as the writer qualified), but then this is more double talk. Why try to say they really can come, then? Another said "God does not stand in their way and say, 'This is not for you'. It is their wicked nature that refuses - and always will refuse, unless God grants them repentance, gives them a new heart."
Much of this debate is because this view is trying to butter up what is really a trap people are put into, and make it look like they did it to themselves just because they happen to be blind enough now to like their state and reject the alternative. But that's apart of the supposed "inability", not any active "choice" in itself. Yes, we are born enemies of God, and are responsible for this in that God has given everyone the ability to repent. The implication here is "He does not give the reprobates the ability because they didn't want it". But then they didn't want it because they were unable to want it. God's purpose for leaving them in that position is not simply because they wanted to be there. They could NOT repent "if they wanted to", because "wanted to" is MOOT in this case; not a real viable "choice".
In fact, the first person I mentioned, when responding to someone else in a later discussion said "Nothing 'makes' a sinner believe. When the Holy Spirit opens his mind, he realizes the futility of his own way and responds in faith. A sinner may resist grace to be sure. We all admit that. But that is a sign that his mind has not been illuminated and that Satan is still blinding him (2 Cor. 4). Until God opens the mind, he will continue in that path". On one hand, he earlier denied that people are naturally willing to come to God, but God prevents them; because they naturally gravitated away from God, and God has to change their course. Yet now, he's saying that God does not actually "make" them do anything. He just "opens their mind", and then, they seem to suddenly, naturally come by themselves. That does make it sound like people tend to gravitate toward Him, but are "prevented" from coming by something.
Then, you take into consideration, the interpretation of Rom.9 and others, that it was God who so "blinded" or "hardened" them (even indirectly by "giving them to/leaving them under satan"), then we see the objection from Arminians that God is the one shutting people out who could otherwise come is quite valid.
So you should admit that predestination is double, and God just chose certain people for Heaven, and others for Hell, and fixed it so they would have a sin nature to justify it. But that seems too "unfair" even for this brand of Calvinists.
Yet another said: "They cannot blame the decree of God (election/preterition) because this decree did not make them sinners", yet it was clearly another of His decrees (federal imputation of sin) that did! I'm sorry, but there's no escaping this. Even the phrase that the "non-elect" had "no chance to be saved", some reject because we are to preach the Gospel to all indiscriminately (i.e. God's "offer" is to all), and He does not "bar" any, but they "of their own" choose sin.
So in this world of time, God offers salvation to all, but many reject it of their own free will. But in the grand scheme of things, as Calvinists will admit, it is God who deliberately passed over those who therefore "chose" to remain in sin, and then judges them for what they could not repent of.
From eternity, when God first conceived of the person as a living entity, it was decided whether he would be saved or not, as is constantly mentioned when citing verse 11's discussion of Jacob and Esau. So, in that realm, the non-elect actually "had no chance to be saved", even though to us looking at them in time, they are just as potentially elect or "savable" as we are, but simply reject of their own will. (Also, then, their being saved or not saved had nothing to do with sin or Christ's righteousness, which were just later scripts added into the story).
A great example of this is a person who lives in a land where he never hears the Gospel. His being born in such a circumstance, according to this teaching, would jut be another means of ordaining another vessel to "wrath". But then how could you then say the Gospel is really "offered" to him then? If a person MUST 1)be in a place where he can hear the Gospel, and 2) be enabled to accept it, and God withholds one of those steps, then it IS "not for you"!
Remember; as Calvinists insist; none of this was by chance, and that includes the Fall of man into sin and a "wicked nature". If this was done with the purpose of only saving some, then it is simply not for the others; no matter how much you say it is "offered" to them.
The frequent citing of "God does as He pleases" and "it's apart of His secret knowledge, and above our comprehension" then seems like an admission of all they are denying; that yes, He did condemn these people for no reason, and left them without any hope, but it is His right to do that. Yes He does ultimately condemn for other reasons beside their own sin, but it is His right to do that. So which is it?
Also, what is the meaning of Him being "sovereign over or in control of salvation" then? (as opposed to Arminianism not having Him "sovereign" or "in control") Calvinists seem to be spanning both realms, initially emphasizing God's realm of eternal drecrees, but then when people question it, then they fall back on our realm of "free choice". When it still doesn't add up, they they shift back to God's realm with His "unsearchable counsel".
But man did not sin in eternity, but rather in time, so why keep emphasizing an eternal perspective?
One person on the board speaks of a "moral inability" which means that man is to blame for his own inability to repent. Once again, when did anybody decide to make themselves unable, then?
From what I have seen, it is basically man's guilt from Adam that God has imputed to each individual, making him "just plain guilty because God said so" apart from any choice of his own (or the bad choice itself is "imputed" to him as well). So this "guilt" is "moral" and causes the "free" will to only reject God. But since this is "imputed" to him, it is that person's own fault and not God's, once again, simply because God said so, even though the person could not have done anything to not wind up in that position, and now can't do anything to get out of it.
Being that there are many different Calvinists who put things many different ways, I hope this covers the basic idea I have gathered.
But still, since man is bound by time, and is ultimately powerless over all of this, it seems more consistent and simpler to me just to say that God has written a script, with the non-elect as preordained to destruction, rather than "they can choose if they want to", which in all practical matters [i.e. how it actually works out in "practice"] is not the case.
But this jargon does seem to have been constructed so that moderate Calvinists can maintain particular election and the preterition of the non-elect, while deflecting criticism for/disclaiming the harder implications of God essentially damning helpless people for nothing they could have helped.
But people see though this and are attacking the underlying implications, and that is why it seems they are being "obstinate" as Calvinists like this complain.
But despite all of this, the Calvinist's use of the passages describing "blinding/hardening" and "vessels of wrath" suggests precisely what is being denied here, and when you ask them why those people are decreed to "go the way they want", then here comes the "And yet you say 'why does He still find fault?'"/"Potter has the right over the clay" quote again.
For instance, Calvinists, referring to Pharaoh keep insisting "God hardened him first before he hardened his own heart", and quote the scriptures on how God blinded Israel "...so they may not see".
But did Pharaoh start out good or neutral, and then God made him evil to show His purpose? No; even though Pharaoh's whole life is not recorded in scripture, it's obvious he had already been evil and thus was useful for the role God assigned to him. He then hardened him into oppressing Israel to fulfil His purpose. (It is pointed out that "harden" in this case means to give the strength or courage to persist in one's evil, despite the fear from the judgment).
Were the Israelites good or neutral and would have "seen" if God hadn't blinded them? No, the individuals were already stubborn and God hardened the group as a whole for His future purpose. (If they take "that they may not see" as "yes", they've blatantly denied their own concept of "total depravity").
Once again, nothing here about eternal reprobation or preterition.
In connection with this then, is this passage teaching that God "raises" each non-elect person for the specific purpose of sending him to Hell "in order to make known the riches of his glory" to the saved and "proclaim His name throughout the earth"?
NO, we don't even know who will finally end up in Hell here on earth, so that wouldn't "show" anybody anything. Or better yet; what about the tribesmen way off in the bush who have never even been seen by Christians. If they never hear and are lost, then did God "raise" them too, like Pharaoh, for our sake? We do not even know they (as individuals) exist! How are they "raised" up, then? ("raise" meaning brought into a believer's path for a specific purpose). So clearly, this passage is not suggesting any such thing.
As for the idea that the "riches of His glory" in reprobation is to be made known to the redeemed in Heaven, the context is clearly a display of God's power in the present world, so this passage must be a specific earthly example of God's purpose.
Israel is the whole focus of the chapter, not "all the people who will be in Hell". Since nobody knows who will ultimately die in their sins, there is no such "group" designated, as there would be no point in discussing it. Israel is who Paul says he wished he could be accursed for in v.3, not some new "hardened" group. (And contrast this attitude to "he hardened them but saved me, and that's what's important.")
Still, when you point all this out, all they can do is reiterate verses 19-21, (even after it has been proved that this is not it's proper context, and this interpretation of those verses assumes that God did force them to disobey!)
This scheme, in the eternal context assumed here, cannot be justified as simple "withholding of mercy". It is a purposeful act of hatred.
Many Calvinists go on to insist that God does in fact "hate" certain people. In the case of Jacob and Esau, for instance, "hate" means to "love less", just as in Christ's statement about us "hating" our parents. Other scriptures mention God's "hatred" of the "wicked", but once again, this does not necessarily mean each individual eternally, but rather the "wicked" in general, which individuals can cross out of.
Infralapsarians who affirm "God's perfect eternal hatred" of certain people (along with "vessels of wrath") yet deny "election to Hell" (double predestination) are in a double bind. Supralapsarians who affirm both are just consistently (doubly) mistaken.
Chapter 11 also appears at first to support the idea that all but the "remnant according to election" are individually "hardened" unto reprobation, but as verse 11 and on shows, once again, this is speaking of God's earthly plan of reaching out to the Gentiles, and also, the "hardening" would be undone, as Israel is restored!.
Also, (v31), even so these also have now not believed, that through the mercy shown to you they may be shown mercy.
Here we're clearly shown that those now being "hardened" will also be shown mercy, so the contrast of 9:15 is not an irreversible decree of eternal abodes (perhaps this is why this passage is not cited as much, even though verses 5 and 7 might really look like they support the reprobation interpretation of chapter 9!)
Verse 19 seems to be directed at those who think that their redemption rested on others being cut off. (Proving once and for all that they were not "offended" at Paul "teaching" preterition in ch.9!)
Just like he anticipated a certain response from Jews in 9:19, he now counters to the gentiles: "You will say then, 'the branches were broken off that I might be grafted in'. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be high-minded, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, fear lest He also may not spare you either! Behold then the kindness, and the severity of God; on those having fallen, severity; but on you, kindness, if you continue in the kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
And those also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in. For God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the natural wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more these being according to nature will be grafted into their own olive-tree?"
Even if you could argue that God grafts them in by unconditional election/irresistable grace, still this conclusively shows that those who are "hardened" or "cut off" are not necessarily eternally reprobated/preteritioned. It's a general category regarding the group.
Verse 32 then explains both chapters by saying that the very reason He concluded all in unbelief in the first place was so he can have mercy on all, (give all a chance to come to Him) not have mercy only on some and leave the rest trapped. THIS is why sin was allowed to exist, not for the purpose of the punishing as an end in itself!
Another strong scriptural principle is James 1:13-14 and 1 Cor.10:13-- God does not tempt man, and when a man is tempted, God always "makes a way of escape". Now, one may argue that this is for the "elect" only, but it is in reference to what is "common to man". So yes, God may have ordained for sin to have occurred, but He provided every man a way to escape, and this means actually provided; not held something out to them that they cannot reach (remember, the Law was teaching them about sin and need for a sacrifice; and they still were provided a way to be saved back then).
If "hardening" is taken to mean the God-decreed reprobation of all non-elect, why would Hebrews 4:7/Psalms 95:7,8 tell individuals "Today, IF you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts..."? Calvinists claim this is just to "give the non-elect no excuse" when He condemns them to Hell for their inability to repent! But where in scripture is this?
Another hint is in verse 22: God, though willing to show His wrath and power, "endures" with "much longsuffering" the "vessels of wrath". Once again, the group as a whole is hardened, yet God is actually showing mercy— to the individuals in that group, which suggests each one does have a chance to repent, apart from the direction of the group.
To recap this part of Paul's "long argument of salvation" in the book of Romans, chapter 7 is showing how we have natures that can only break the Law, even though we may will differently. Chapter 8 shows how Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit free us from the condemnation of the Law. Chapters 9 and 10 discuss this from the viewpoint of Israel, who is largely still trusting in the Law. Chapter 11 shows how they too rather than being cast off for good, can be grafted back in by faith. Nowhere is there any hint of anything like unconditional preterition. So yes, God "does as He pleases", but let's not distort or misunderstand what it is He actually "pleases"!
Isaiah 6:9, 10, Deuteronomy 29:4, Romans 11:8, and others regarding "blinding"are also similarly misused, but once again, are describing a groupwide "hardening". "But a group consists of individuals, so your reasoning is contradictory" they will say. But still, a group in general can be blinded, and individuals still have the choice to either go along with the group or repent. Just look at how this modern society has been portrayed as "blinded" and coming under God's judgment (including by Calvinist preachers). Does that mean none of us can repent? Truly, Western society is much like the Israel of Bible times, taking pride in a heritage of the religion of God. But like in the Bible, man had corrupted it, and people rebelled, and now people have made up their own minds about God and the way to live, and want to hear nothing about the truth of the Bible, as morality plunges ever further and further. So we are truly "hardened" and "blinded" and it can once again be said that the truth is not "given" people, but this is not from God not wanting to save people and witholding any chance or ability to believe to each individual, (based on a decree from "before they were born") but just the general state of the society at large, and people do have a choice to follow it or turn to God.
The blinding and its conditional nature for the individual is shown at work in 2 Cor. 3:13-16: "And we are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of what was passing away. But their minds were hardened [blinded]; for until the present the same veil remains on the reading of the Old Testament, not taken away, because this veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless, whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away". Jews, reading the scriptures, in which they thought they had eternal life, but testified of Jesus (John 5:39); by rejecting Jesus, were defying God's revelation in the scriptures, so God gave them over to their blindness, and as long as they kept rejecting Him and reading the scriptures (of course, interpreting them to justify their rejection of Him), they would not get it. This was most of the religious establishment leading Israel; the "blind leading the blind". But if one of them recognized their sin and turned to Him, then the veil would be removed.
Remember, the two groups God through his prophets and Paul is addressing are "the children of the flesh" and "the children of promise". One is the group God has given His truth, so what is the other? Blinded! (2 Cor.4:3,4) Matt.13:11-15 where Jesus quotes from Isaiah, note v.12 "whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, but whoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he has", and the second part of the quote in v.15 where "lest at anytime they should see...and should be converted, and I should heal them" is explained by "for this people's heart is waxed gross...and their eyes they have closed"; not God's initial action. They reject Him, and He finalizes that rejection; not He blinds them unconditionally for some "hidden purpose". In none of these scriptures where God is chastising them is He saying "the reason you are doing the things I am condeming is because I have blinded you, yet I hold you responsible anyway, and all of you are eternally lost". Look at the contexts.
So where Romans 9 looks at the hardening of Israel from the "unconditional" (according to a foreordained purpose) viewpoint, there is also the element, seen here where this is simply because of the fact that they [as individuals] had ample opportunity to repent, but went beyond the time God had given them, and were "given over". It's the principle Jesus earlier gave in Matt. 7:6— "Do not give that which is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and tear you". Once again, this is regarding a person's state at that given time, not necessarily for eternity. Still, not all were like this, and some did repent. In Matt.13, right after quoting Isaiah, Jesus points out that the "prophets" and "righteous men" also weren't granted seeing and hearing what was granted to the disciples (v.17) but they were by no means "reprobates".
If these passages were referring to the unconditional reprobation of a group as the sum of all of its individuals, it would preclude any righteous people in Israel. So even if some are "elected" out of this, it must be the group in general that is hardened, and only certain individuals specifically. And the clear intent of these passages to prevent people from seeing clearly contradicts Calvinistic "Total Depravity" if the "blinding" is the cause of eternal reprobation, because that would assume once again, that the people were possibly coming to God on their own, but God had to move to stop them. Where individuals are already sinners and wouldn't need to be "hardened" or "blinded" in order to be condemned, still, groups can hold a lot of truth and righteousness (even if every member doesn't obey it), or God can allow them to be completely darkened. Of course, God's "purpose" in blinding and hardening Israel is to show that having a nation under His Law did not make people righteous. This was for preparing the way for the Gospel of Christ, not reprobating individuals to Hell (which is not even the point).
John 6:37, 44/65 and 15:16 (none can come unless "drawn"/"chosen"/"given" to come, or "given" to Jesus by the Father) are also big proof texts for Calvinism. In the context, this was before the crucifixion and outpouring of the Spirit. 6:45 gives us the reference to several Old Testament passages prophesying God's outpouring of His Spirit on "all flesh" (Is.54:13, Jer.31:34, Micah 4:2). Before, God had only called Israel, and only the prophets had the Spirit. But now, Israel was "hardened" as Romans 9 teaches, so that's why they (who should have been first in heralding the Messiah) were not being called then. (It seems once you understand Romans 9 properly, the rest of these scriptures fall into place). Christ was beginning His following with the disciples, and no one could become apart of this group unless called, but this doesn't say that only certain (and relatively few at that) people would ever be called when salvation was opened up after His death and resurrection. All would be drawn then (ch.12:32), as His convicting Spirit would be poured out on all. (This does not mean that all would come, as we will see).
Calvinists will then make an argument "what about those who weren't called before or during Christ's ministry", but just as God accepted gentiles who joined Israel and kept the Law, everyone has some sense of God's Law as Romans 2 shows, people had a chance to follow God by faith and would be saved the same way faithful Israelites were saved by Christ's death reaching back to them. And even though the Jews He was speaking to were apart of the "hardened" Israel, as individuals they could could still come to Him, and in this same chapter (6), He is still reasoning with them to believe. God is not playing some game with men by telling individuals to believe when He knows they can't; just to have a reason to condemn them (trap them in sin). Verse 37 goes on to say that "all that are given by the Father will come to me, and the one who comes will by no means be cast out", and v. 45 continues "Therefore, everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me". The Calvinists take this to mean "whoever is called WILL come!". "Are all saved? No, so it's only the elect who are called".
But one thing that has been missed, (by both sides, as I have seen Arminians interpret this as a special class who are "guaranteed to come") is that the first "come" in 6:37 is a different word from the others, including even the second one in that verse!. Rather than "erchomai" (come) it is actually "heko", meaning "to be present". So "all who are given of the Father" in this case will "come" (physically, that is) to be "present" before Him, but not all will "come" spiritually and be saved. Those who do, are the ones who will "in no wise be cast out". And notice, "THE ONE who comes to me..." Clearly, that is not the same as (is CONTRASTED WITH) the "all that are given", being someone OUT OF that whole! Judas is the prime example of one who was "chosen" in that former sense, but still ended up lost! (v.70, 17:12) And in verse 45, it says "heard AND learned". It's not those who are "taught" or just hear who are justified. (James 1:22-25).
Even in v.64, 65 "But there are some of you who do not believe...Because of this I said to you that no one can come to Me unless it was given to him from My Father" it still doesn't mean that God reprobated or preteritioned those individuals. God did "harden" Israel in general, and these particular people chose to go along with the group, so God did not call them. Just because the Bible says that God initiated both salvation and Christ's following, and hardened Israel to it "based on His sovereign will", doesn't mean that God never determined to choose someone based on his prior choices.
Once again, nomination is unconditional, but God has nominated all.
Many Calvinists even sink to the level of reading the supposed "offense" of the doctrine into verse 60: "many of His disciples said, 'This is a hard saying, who can hear it?'", Christ's reponse in v.61: "Does this offend you?" and 66: "From this time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" and applying them to "no one can come unless the Father draws him", to prove "the hard truth of unconditional election". But obviously from the context, it was Christ's statements about "eating His flesh" and "drinking His blood" that were totally scandalous to the Jews. It's in that context that He refers again to no one coming to Him unless "given him" of the Father (v.65). This refers to the blinding that would prevent the Jews from understanding Christ's parabolic language (Mt.13:11-15), and instead, only take such things as this literally and thus get offended.
Further showing the fact that all "called" do not come, is the familiar passage "For many are called, and few are chosen" (Matt.20:16, 22:14). Calvinists have "called" and "chosen" being the same thing, and both unconditional. But while "called" is an unconditional invitation (to all), being "chosen" is based on the person's choice (having the "wedding garment", symbolizing becoming apart of the Bride of Christ, which is by faith). Then there's "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:" (2 Thess 2:13), but this too shows that people who are saved were "chosen", but does not specify unconditionally, or all else being "passed over". In the context, this is contrasted with "those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved", (who are then hardened in this state!) (v.10-12).
Similarly, Romans 8:30 "whom He predestined, those He also called; and whom He called, those He also justified; and whom He justified, those He also glorified" is taken to prove "all called are "justified and glorified" (saved), so only those who are saved were ever ofered salvation (i.e. "called" as used in that sense) to begin with. As with "election", we should also examine what exactly "called" means. In this case, "called" is "kaleo", which is "used in a variety of applications" (Strong), including "bid", "call (forth), and even "name", as it is used many other places. So this is not the initial, general "calling" as we have been using it (i.e. the universal "nomination"), but rather is describing someone already being "named" as among the saved. Now, the form "kletos" is the word translated in v.28 "...called according to His purpose", and this means "invited" or "appointed", as well as "(spec.) a saint". Once again, this may be comparable to "election" as discussed above. It still does not say this "invitation" or "appointing" is unconditional.
In Acts 13:48, "Those 'ordained to eternal life' were the Jews and gentile proselytes whom Paul and Barnabas persuaded to "continue in grace"(v.43), as contrasted with Jews who were "filled with envy" (v.45) and note v.46: "It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to you first. But since you put it far from you, you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles".
It does not say that God decreed or preteritioned them to reject the Word, while giving only some a chance to repent. It does not say He wanted to not save them.
It is also pointed out how "ordained" was a mistranslation ("praeordainati") by the Latin Vulgate and the Greek word ("tasso") was closer in meaning to "disposed". This is important in helping to understand concepts such as "sheep and goats", and "wheat and tares", and various other passages describing the "blind", "them that perish", etc. as a person's "disposition" can be from their own choices. People can either remain open to truth (even when they don't know what it is), or harden themselves through stubborness, so the Calvinist assumption that these are eternal states predetermined by God is misguided.
The man Christ told was "not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34) is a great example of one of these people "disposed" towards eternal life. He wasn't in the Kingdom yet, but was open to it. In the calvinist theory, he would have had to have been already regenerated (basically "in" the Kingdom)!
Not realizing that "hardening" and "blinding" had different degrees (God hardens the group for a temporal purpose; or individuals harden themselves; or God hardens individuals further after they harden themselves), is what causes this assumption of unconditional, eternal reprobation whenever passages like this are encountered. A person's disposition can be changed (and this in itself is not changing their "sin nature"!).
It is then responded that the perfect participle in Acts 13:48 is passive, and that is something that was done to those who believed. But this doesn't specify who did it or how, so it cannot be assumed to be a divine decree, beyond the fact that these were people who were already beginning the process of regeneration; responding to God's calling to all men, rather than those who were still completely rejecting it. New birth, like the physical birth has its "begettal" by a "seed", as is shown by the parable of the sower.
This process is also instrumental in understanding disposition, and how the person really is more passive in this scenario than the Calvinists charge (i.e. he's no "better" than anyone else, and not "saving himself").
|Even "sheep" conveys the current state of someone following Christ, not a predetermined state of an individual (even before they believe)|
In ch. 2:47, "such as should be saved" was "those who were being saved".
God had prophecied the hardening of Israel (which included making them envious of the gentiles!), and those who kept on trusting in their inheritance judged themselves unworthy, rather than God judging them unworthy.
The same with Jesus' "sheep" that always hear His voice. (John 10) Since the "elect" do receive Christ at some given time, did they hear His voice all the years before they received Him? No. So then were they really His sheep at that time? Only in the sense of foreknowledge.
The Calvinists turn the world into a script again at this point, arguing about "God's decrees playing out in time". (i.e. God, before they were yet born, chose these persons as "sheep", and though they were born into sin, and lived like everyone else, not hearing His voice, etc. for a while, at the right time, God "enabled" them, then they lived like sheep). But then still, they did not fit Jesus' description of "sheep" before then. He did not say "My sheep begin to hear My voice when I enable them", but the very definition of the "sheep" was the act of following.
So you at least have to admit that nobody is born a sheep; even if unconditional election is true, all sheep must at some point in our realm of time become sheep. (It is futile to then try to appeal to God's timeless realm to maintain an eternal decree, because that approach simply fixes that realm to ours as if they are continous—God writes, and then it plays out; and we could understand it just as easily as any other sequence in our own time).
So sheep too is a group (of a certain disposition) that one can become apart of who was formerly not apart of it. (The "other sheep not of this fold"(v.16) were other believers in Christ who had not yet joined His following (as in Luke 9:49,50), and perhaps also those Jews who believed from the reports that Christ had come but had not yet seen that Jesus was that Christ. It does not seem to be describing "all who will ever become saved in the future" as a Calvinist might argue.)
The ultimate proof is that many of the people Jesus was speaking to would repent later on, most probably after His death and resurrection, such as at the preaching of Peter in Acts. Many of those people (as in "...whom ye crucified...") had been some of the ones who were told they were not sheep. But they changed.
On the flipside are the scriptures mentioning people ordained to wrath.
The biggest such proof-text is Proverbs 16:4: "The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil (doom)". "Make" in this passage (strong #6466) can mean "commit" or "ordain". This suggests that it is not necessarily each individual evildoer that is "made" to be condemned, but just the category of evildoers in itself. The proof of this is that all of us were evildoers, and thus "ordained" for destruction, but the point was to warn us to get out of that group! So this, like Romans 9, is not talking about individuals being inescapably foreordained to destruction, because then that would be all of us.
Regarding 1 Pet.2:8, leading Calvinist writer Arthur Pink gave the classic response "Here God expressly affirms that there aresome who have been 'appointed' unto disobedience'." "Our business is not to reason about it, but to bow to Holy Scripture. Our first duty is not to understand but to believe what God has said" (Sovereignty, p.98,9).
But if we just "bow" and "believe" without even understanding, we would never see the proper context of Holy Scripture; which is once again, "you who then were not a people, but now the people of God, those not pitied then, but now pitied." (v.10), meaning Israel as compared to the church, once again. Also, v. 6 & 7 identifies "unbelief", contrasted with belief, as the disobedience. People who do not believe are still in their sins and thus appointed to stumble; not appointed to be disobedient (or unbeliveing) in the first place!
Also, 2 Pet. 2:12, 17 and Jude 4 as well. Once again, this isn't saying that it was the specific individuals who were ordained or "appointed". God decreed that those who did certain things would face a certain judgement, whoever may do it. Jesus had said that "It is impossible but that offenses will come. But woe to him through whom they come!" (Luke 17:1) The evil may have been set, but not the particular evildoers.
The Calvinists, citing Acts 4:27-8 respond "Well, what if no one decided to participate in the crucifixion?" (for instance). But with enough wicked in the world, including people being hardened for persistant sin and refusal to repent, God would not have to preordain individuals to engage in the crucifixion or any other prophetic wicked act. And like Pharaoh, their blinding that Christ spoke of beforehand was in part to give them the courage to carry it out.) This is when we should confess that we don't completely know exactly how this can be certain; not conclude from this that so many people are withheld salvation, and only then claim that that is what's above our understanding.
Some Calvinists will point to passages like Matthew 7:22,23 where Jesus tells people in the end I never knew you!, as proof it is not the person not "knowing" (accepting) Jesus, but rather unconditional election that saves. But "knowing" goes both ways; referring to an intimate relationship. If a person does not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, then it's not that Jesus doesn't know who he is; it's that He doesn't "know" them in a saving relationship. In the context, the reason He doesn't know them is because they are "workers of iniquity"; not they are workers of iniquity because He didn't know them.
Rom 3:11, where Paul quotes from Psalms 53:2,3— "None seek after God" has been cited many times, but "seek" in the Hebrew and Greek word translated here means to "frequent" or "follow" ("for pursuit or search"), or "search out", "investigate", "crave", "demand", and ultimately "worship". God giving an offer of salvation to man, and man accepting (of his own will) does not violate this, as that does not constitute things like "craving", "demanding", or even "pursuit", "search" and "investigate" in a sense that man initiates it. Man certainly doesn't on his own worship God (which these senses are really pointing to, for one "craving" Him would worship Him [properly]), and that is the point of the Psalm Paul quoted from. Paul's own context was the sinfulness of all men in general, Jew as well as gentile, not an individual's inability to repent. (Because the Jews thought only gentiles were "sinners", yet the Psalm is pointing out their sin as well). It has nothing to do with man responding to a call.
Another passage commonly cited is "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil." (Jer.13:23) In the context, God is declaring the condition of Israel, and this is not talking about the nature of every individual. It was speaking specifically of Israel, who as a whole refused to repent. And remember, it's not "doing good" that we are saying man is capable of. We know that man can't do good enough to please God, but believing in Christ is sharply contrasted with any "work" that one may try to save himself with. (Rom 4:5)
In Romans 2:4, "God leadeth thee to repentance" is being spoken to someone Paul is warning about "treasur[ing] up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath..." (v.5), so this right here is someone who could still wind up lost, even though he is being "led" (drawn) and has to choose to accept the repentance God is offering.
In Timothy 2:25, this is not just 'any unsaved', whom "perhaps God will give them repentance", but rather, "those who oppose themselves" means "those who set themselves against", or are "disputatious" (Strong; and this we see in the context regarding "strifes"). So this seems to be people who argue against the truth so much that they are hardened, and thus "in the snare of the devil" (v.26). This is not saying that they were never given any choice to repent before.
Even Matthew 11:20-26 "But woe unto you Chorazin...Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes", it is posed "Why did God not wrought saving faith in the hearts of the Sodomites? The only palpable answer lying in the sovereignty of God".
But the qualification for them repenting is them seeing His mighty works, not electing them, because the people who were seeing those works were not repenting, and His point was that they were more hard hearted then those heathens (whom they liked to despise a lot), not "God could have elected them, but passed them over instead".
Once again, I do not argue that everyone has received equal chance or that some could not have repented if God had done more to reach out to them. But that is quite different from saying that He completely refused any opportunity for repentance because He didn't want to save them at all. They had enough light that they could be judged, and plenty would "believe" if "they could only see", but God guarantees nobody any such special revelation.
|Since Romans 9 and other passages are not answering any "objections's to God's unconditional election and reprobation scheme", this doctrine must stand the same scrutiny as any other doctrine men come up with, and can no longer deflect the questions of why God would script men in to what amounts to a trap. It also makes concepts such as "unpardonable sin" meaningless|
Conclusion on Proof Texts
So we see that a lot of unbiblical assumption is involved regarding the meaning of various scriptures. Nearly all of the proof texts for individual reprobation are discussing the hardening of Israel and the grace opened up to the rest of the nations.
Once again, the teaching, while appearing to explain some scriptures, contradicts the revelation of God taken as a whole regarding the meaning and purpose of human life. The people elected to Hell would then have virtually no worth as creatures or reason to exist. This is what the confused writer I cited before was alluding to. It's depressing enough to look at a world of sin with man in this condemned state, and to realize that beautiful creatures that God made in love are lost. But to think that many of them are "hated" by him eternally and have no purpose but to live, die and go to Hell, calls into question the beauty of creation altogether. (What else that God created is "evil" in itself? God says He created everything "good", and that it was corrupted by sin. But, He, as the "Potter" can create it "evil", and then script "sin" as a means to fulfil its evil designation). It makes it seem more useless than saying they were just an accident of random chance.
This once again is because of the scriptural and conscientious revelation God has given us of Himself, not just "our fallible human emotion".
In fact, the CT article goes on to suggest that "salvation all too often becomes an idol [that is] all about us", and quotes the Shorter Westminster Catechism's reminder that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". But this further disproves the Calvinist position, because now most men's sole purpose for existence is not to "glorify and enjoy God forever", but to reject God and suffer Hell forever.
In light of the rest of the scriptural evidence of God's love for all (including those who will perish), using Romans 9 and the rest of these passages to teach individual souls as "vessels of [eternal] wrath" created "just to show His glory" and then be discarded when finished being used would be a bit more palatable if eternal annihilation were true. It would make even more sense if we just concluded the non-elect didn't even have souls. (They could have been zombies or demons in human flesh or something). Then there, you have your visible "objects" God can use for His plan and dispose of, and it would be no loss to the "good news". This would certainly be more compatible with the "neutral vessels of clay" analogy.
And keeping in mind that those who will be saved are the few, not the many, this doesn't seem like a Gospel ("good news") at all. It sounds like God is unable to save most anyway, or He gets pleasure in damning most. Either way, we have serious problems, so we should admit that we cannot completely understand why individual people will be saved or not saved in the end. We should just follow our commission to win who we can. (Some Calvinists respond that it's not really the few who shall be saved; many stillborn people may be elect, etc. But this too is speculation, and Christ seems to be clear that not many find the "narrow path".)
So in these passages on Israel, one cannot say "they were simply chosen to receive the eternal destruction they deserved for their sins", but rather "they were chosen by God out of sinful man as an earthly example for God's glory". The whole focus in these passages is to teach us "the riches of His glory"— that salvation is not in the keeping of the Law, in which Israel failed. Pharaoh was an individual example— a sort of prototype of God's act of "raising" and "hardening" Israel in this age.
Even if you may think these answers may seem "weak", and you may have other passages like this that seem to prove your point, it still creates more problems with the revealed character of God and purpose of man than it solves. This shows as I have said that we have crossed a bound regarding God's realm where all of this stuff fits together.
Once again, we have to take scriptures as a whole, not grab dozens of isolated passages (particularly hard to understand ones we were cautioned about) and say "see, I don't know how you people can deny this; it’s so clear" when what you're proposing contradicts the message of the rest of the scripture, and clear statements. (Every cult does the same thing, and so do the Muslims even).
In fact, many Calvinist "testimonies" I have seen go something like "I was raised in an Arminian church...but then one day, I was reading the Bible and came across these passages clearly teaching election" (primarily the ones discussed above). Then they usually continue "I struggled with the idea...but God eventually helped me bow to His sovereignty". This makes it look like they are totally objective, further proving that this is just the "hard truth of scripture" that is only spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). But as we see, taking a verse; even a bunch of them; and at what they appear to say, without checking the contexts, and the rest of the message of the scriptures, can still lead to erroneous conclusions.
One key to understanding scripture that is frequently cited by apologists is to interpret less clear scriptures in light of clearer ones. By focusing on passages discussing foreknowledge/predestination, or blinding and calling as the ultimate proof and then redefining the scriptures on God's will to save all in light of the former, Calvinists are reversing that order. Because as I show above, those interpretations are at best debatable, and lead to a conclusion that has God deliberately leaving people condemned for some hidden purpose that (of course!) is not discussed anywhere. Why not accept the clearer teaching that He did will for all to be saved, and view the hard to understand concepts of predestination, foreknowledge and calling in light of that?
More Scriptural Points
Non-Calvinists point out that God is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). Calvinists also claim this as proof for their position, on the basis that if man could choose to believe, God would be "showing partiality" to certain people for their belief ("something in themselves"). But the context is once again that God does not choose people based on national inheritance "...but in every nation he that fears him...shall be accepted by Him" (next verse). Simple "belief" is what is made the criteria, and cannot be put in the same category as inheritance as showing "partiality" towards someone.
Calvinists also claim partiality would be shown towards those in Christian cultures where they can hear the Gospel. But being in a Christian culture a person may also be more likely to rebel against it (especially since he sees the imperfections of it which he sees as "hypocrisy"), or instead, take pride in it as if heritage alone saves him. As I said before, the modern "Christianized" world is very much like the Israel Jesus, Paul and the others dealt with in the Bible. (I look around at people, especially kids around the city today, and say "and these people have 'more chance to be saved' than others in the world? Just tell them about God and repentance and they'll spit at you, because they've heard it all before, and don't want anyone "telling them what to do"!)
Those in other cultures hearing it for the first time may be more responsive, because it is new and different; rather than an old established system distorted and watered down by centuries of prominence; which they have long ago already rejected. This is precisely what happened with the Israelites as opposed to the Gentiles, and this was the whole point of Romans 9. God had raised them before others, but now they are hardened, while the others are opened up to.
A big proof of this and also a big proof of disposition is Matthew 21:31 "the publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom before you", "not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble, according to the flesh are called"(1Cor.1:26; cf Matt.11:25), and "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven"(Matt.19:23,4). Calvinists cite v.26: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" to suggest election. But if they are unconditionally "elected", then how does it work out this way?
Wouldn't God randomly elect more people from both the religious leaders, and the "sinners"; or from both the wise and the unwise, or from the rich and poor; or is God deliberately favoring the "sinners", "unwise" and "poor" over the leaders, wise, and rich? This would definitely be "showing partiality"!.
In fact, Calvinists I see frequently use I Corinthians 1: 26-29: "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God" to prove "unconditional" election.
But this is not saying that God particularly goes after non-wise people, because for one thing, that would contradict their own point of God's choice not being of something within the man! All that passage means is that people who are wise tend to think they are too smart for the things of God. As other scriptures say, "the things of God are foolishness to them that perish". People who are rich don't want to give up all they have, as we see elsewhere, and neither do most of the talented in the world. Someone who does not have all of this may be more likely to see his need and come to God.
That is the point of this passage. You may be "foolish", but then you are what God uses more, and He will use you to confound the wise.
So this shows us, once again, the point that so-called "sinners", "unwise" and non-rich may be in more of a disposition to receive Christ than the religious leaders, (hence Christ's statements about coming to Him "as a child"— Matt. 18 & Luke 18) because they in all of their sin and ignorance and need will be more likely to see their need of a savior and have no pretense of righteousness or worldly power to falsely trust in. Of course, "with God" it is possible for a person to turn in faith despite his disposition. Just not necessarily in the way Calvinists insist.
[See Note below] In the vein of "no partiality", some Calvinists have even toyed with the idea that God's election saves independently of faith in Christ and repentance. Many Calvinists reject this, but it is consistent, as, if election is what saves before faith takes place (it is what makes faith possible), then in reality faith is not needed and God can (and in fact does) save without it. From here, the different brands of Calvinists will fiercely debate among themselves as to whether the Gospel is even needed for salvation or whether "gospel regeneration" or "Gospel-assisted regeneration" or "duty faith" and "duty repentance" is valid. The latter group sees the necessity of the Gospel and duty of man to believe and repent mentioned throughout scripture, and insists that the Gospel is necessary. The former actually is consistant with unconditional election, by God's work alone without human effort, as both groups profess. (They argue that it is not one's "faith in Christ", but rather the "faith OF Christ" imputed to them that justifies, even though Romans 4:5 clearly says that a person's faith "is counted to him for righteousness". The latter tries to harmonize this with scripture. Both then accuse each other of being "unscriptural", and even "using the logic of the Arminians"! In other words, the Primitive Baptist will accuse the "true Calvinist" as they call themselves (who accept the "Gospel call to all") of still maintining that "1% man's work" (preaching or accepting the Gospel), rather than 100% God, just like the Arminians, (the Gospel is only to "feed the sheep", not bring them in) and the "true [moderate] Calvinist" will respond that the Primitive Baptist is ignoring scripture that "conflict with his system" just as much as the Arminian. (Then the supralapsarian, double-predestinarian Reformed will come and accuse both of denying God's sovereignty just as much as the Arminian, for not confessing that God is responsible for evil, and the former will accuse the latter of "hyper-calvinism" and making the same type of "rationalistic" errors as the Arminians!)
For anything any given Calvinist says about non-calvinism, another type of Calvinist can say the same thing about him! This is all quite hilarious, and shows that the only thing they agree on is the damnation of individuals whom God did not wish to be saved, and beating up on the non-Calvinists for rejecting this! Who's right? None, as their point of agreement is precisely where they're the most wrong.
While non-Calvinists are accused of rejecting doctrines because they don't like them, I would really like to believe in such hope for those who've never heard. There is a theory called "Comprehensive Grace" which picks up on the "faith of Christ" idea and takes it to its consistent conclusion of a near-universal salvation. But this will rely on a radically "preterist" view of eschatology.
Calvinists are trying to say that in the free will scheme, it would seem just as unfair to those who die without hearing the Gospel being damned because they could never hear, or because they were not elect; but with election (either God specifically sending the Gospel to that person, or just saving him without the Gospel), there is no such "partiality", and God is at least 'in control' of it. This provides an easy answer regarding those who never hear. They were all simply of the "non-elect" (or to the Primitives, God might save them without [duty] faith and repentance). It also disproves Calvinism's claim that "all" means "all kinds of people", because there are still several "kinds" (tribes, etc) who have not been "drawn".
But once again, this is a difficult teaching, regarding those who seemingly have no chance (most non-Calvinists would say if they pray sincerely for the true God to show Himself, He will make sure the Gospel gets to him so he can believe. Some point to Romans 1 and John 1:9, and suggest that every person has enough light by which they can repent and ask God to be saved. Everyone religion had somewhere in it's pantheon or at least history, an "unknown God" (Acts 17:23) who was believed to be the Most High, and they could ask Him to reveal Himself. Supporting this is the fact that people like Abraham and Job were found "righteous through faith" even though there was no evidence of any special prior revelation to them by God, or even knowledge of God in their lands. The same with the Persians, including the Kings mentioned in Daniel, and the Wise Men who came to see Jesus. They had a monotheistic faith, and these people acknowledged the true God AND (the latter) even His plan of salvation when they came in contact with the Israelites, but they did not get this from Israel. By this all men could be held "responsible".
And don't forget, the mitigating factor in the difference in opportunity to hear the Gospel is that people will still be judged according to "to whom much (or little) is given..."(Luke 12:48), which Calvinism doesn't seem to take into account), So I am not arguing completely "equal chances", as some other non-Calvinists do. The Luke verse shows not all are given the same amount. But God does take that into consideration when judging.
This also answers the common Calvinist claim about prayer for the lost (friends, neighbors, loved ones or the unevangelized around the world).
While rebuffing the natural criticism of their unconditional election as rendering prayer futile (the person is already predestined to salvation or damnation no matter what anyone does), they fire back that it's really "free will" that renders prayer futile ("You're asking God to violate that person's free will, when you claim that He doesn't!"). But it is possible for prayer to move God to reach or touch a person even more than He may have been doing. The same for the many in the world that have had opportunity to repent, and are hardened. God is free to leave them hardened, or perhaps grant them repentance upon the prayers of others. So in this way it does work out somewhat like the total depravity/unconditional election scheme, when God undoes this hardening for people. This may not seem like an "equal chance for all", but this is quite different than God deliberately completely passing over others and not even wanting to save them.
Others in the opposite extreme have proposed "Openness theology", where God does not even know the final outcome of who will be saved (or at least chooses to ignore it). Calvinists claim this is the "consistent" free-will position, and of course, it denies that God is really in control. All of this stems once again from our inability to piece together our world of time with God's eternal realm, and it's all still speculation. We are called to get the Gospel out to the world, not argue what will happen if we don't. And it is funny to see Calvinists making an argument of "fairness" (i.e. God not showing 'partiality' to a group and some "not having an 'equal chance'"), when they've criticized non-Calvinists for their "human notions of fairness" all along.
In a similar vein as those who've never heard; people, trying to build a principle of God not always reaching out to everyone (and therefore not offering salvation to everyone), will even appeal to Luke 4:25-27, where Jesus says "many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land. But Elijah was not sent to any of them, except to Zarephath, a city of Sidon, to a woman, a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." (and they could add the people's being filled with wrath and trying to kill Him after that). But the context was "a prophet not being accepted in his own country" (v.24) So those two prophets were sent to single individuals, rather than healing the whole land.
Another big point is the fact that the Bible speaks of an unpardonable sin, and also statements like whoever betrays Jesus, it would have been better for him if he wasn't born. There are different interpretations of what unpardonable sin is. Based on the contexts, it is generally accepted as a resisting the Spirit's conviction to the point that one's conscience becomes totally "seared with a hot iron", and one can no longer be led to salvation; or attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the Devil. (Both ways of "blaspheming" Him). Many claim anyone can do this; some claim it was only those who observed Jesus and His miracles that faced the danger.
But in the context of the election/free-will debate, to the "non-elect", all of their sins are technically "unpardonable", because Christ did not die for them. It would have been better for ALL of them if they hadn't been born (that's the whole point in the opposition to reprobation/preterition). So then why this specification then? Is He just proclaiming to those Pharisees in a roundabout way their non-election? (Since it has been said by some that the preaching to the non-elect is only to pronounce their judgement)? Is the unpardonable sin ultimately simply being of the non-elect? (Blasphemy against the Spirit is said to stem from hardening (of the heart), and in the Romans 9 debate, "hardening" is associated with the reprobation process ascribed to all "non-elect").
Once in Hell, it won't make a difference that the person's sins were unpardonable, or were pardonable, but the pardon wasn't "cashed in" (just like the charge leveled at unlimited atonement). These are more points that make it look like everyone who will be in Hell does not fit in the category of simply "passed over". Actually, Christ's warning to the Pharisees about unpardonable sin shows that though they (as part of Israel) were "blinded", they (as individuals) were still not at a point where it was impossible for them to be saved (as in unconditional reprobation).
At least one Reformed clarified the issue in an interesting way. Shirley C. Guthrie, in Christian Doctrine(Westminster/John Knox Press, 1968) lays out the points for and against double predestination, along with universalism and Pelagianism/Arminianism. While using the typical argument against Pelagianism, he also shows that a consequence of double predestination is that history becomes the predetermined, unalterable, unwinding of a long film, that God Himself has retired from after setting it in motion, and therefore is not even really involved in it now! Of course, many other Calvinists are disclaiming double predestination now, but as we have seen, this "script" model fits their position just as much, and thus actually degrades the sovereignty of God just as much as Pelagianism!
Someone else on the boards pointed out by asking "do you believe that it God is UNABLE and
POWERLESS to allow humans genuine choice, over which God does not exert causal determination? Is it impossible for God to give a certain, very limited, and precisely bounded sphere of control to beings other than himself, the boundaries set and determined by God Himself? Or are you saying He is impotent in that regard? It seems like your notion of sovereignty actually LIMITS God's abilities and power, because you FORCE Him to be the causal agent of everything, including a person's belief, instead of allowing Him the ability to delegate limited authority to others."
As Guthrie continues, we also cannot bring a completely good message to the world. Ultimately, our message to the world can be no more than "God loves you—maybe. Christ died and lives for you—maybe...".
The good news (Gospel) is a positive message, not negative (i.e. some are to be left out or rejected). This doctrine is not "Good News", except in a very selfish sense— "many people have no choice to escape Hell, but thank you Lord I am not one of them". This "I'm happy so long as I got mine" attitude I see in this teaching is not compatible with the attitude Christians are supposed to have to the world. Doesn't it even sound a bit like Luke 18:11? On one hand we say we're no better than anyone else because of a choice for God, but since God determines reality, if He has chosen us OVER others, doesn't that in the long run make us "better", even if after the fact, rather than before? To the helpless people in the world, who gets into Heaven basically boils down to luck. One may say their "total depravity" keeps them from even caring, but in Hell, their saved relative will sure seem to have been "lucky" they were "chosen".
Guthrie also points out that it is ultimately a mystery. Both sides, but especially the Calvinists (who tend more to think that their position has claim to all the truth), need to take into consideration the fact that we are spanning two totally different realms (one of time, and one not marked by time) when we think of God, predestination and eternity.
Hugh Ross also gives a good treatment on the timelessness of God, in relation to predestination and other doctrines in Beyond the Cosmos, (Navpress, 1996). The lapsarian schemes may appear to better explain why some people just can't seem to be converted, or how sin can exist in a world over which God is in control, but in light of the problems cited above and the biblical evidence otherwise there must be a missing dimension to our knowledge and comprehension of these things. So we need to not divide or criticize one another over this issue.
If we want to dismiss human reasoning, then we must remember, as I've said, that ultimately, the whole picture is above our total comprehension, as it involves God's timelessness. We can't just take one little side of the issue, build this questionable "hard" doctrine upon it and assert it dogmatically, and then say "it's above your reasoning", just to win the argument. We need to question whether the doctrine, as stated has already crossed the line into the realm of the unsearchable. Deut. 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law."
Calvinism is a lot of tough talk, (about God's will; about the other side and its beliefs and motives, etc.) but this still cannot make up for the same limitations all human theories face.
Many people, from the boards I was on, to a letter writer in the Christian Research Journal (vol.24 # 2) make much of the Calvinists' abundance of "scripture", and the non-Calvinists' supposed "lack" of it in favor of emotion or our own reasoning. The reason it seems like this, is because, unfortunately in many cases, those who tend to use scripture the most are eisegeting things into it, rather than exegeting its true meanings (the cults are like this as well, furnishing much "scripture" to support their views, and claiming orthodox Christians only go by "tradition").
The Calvinists are the ones who aggressively approach the debate, telling us what the Bible says about election and reprobation and how our views neglect all these "scriptures". (And they are the ones who actually emotionally charge the debate with their emphasis on how "tough" it is). This leaves the non-Calvinists, in defense, essentially emphasizing what is not in the Bible. Contrary to what Calvinists often charge, the scripture we agree with, so of course we will not try to "disprove" the scriptures they post. It is the philosophy of man that has been extrapolated from them that we have to spend most of our time dealing with.
Calvinism started as an idea: God must be "sovereign in salvation", else He is not really saving at all. That means, if He chose me without ANY part of my own in it, then others who are not saved equally must have been "sovereignly" passed over hy Him, yet still "held responsible" and punished for the sin they couldn't repent of. Scriptures had to be found to support this as well as answering any objections, and sure enough there were some that mentioned people being "hardened" and "blinded", "appointed to wrath" and "vessels of wrath"; complete with even, "who are you to reply back to God", "He hardeneth who He will" to silence those who say it's unfair, along with others mentioning people only coming when "called".
Perfect! So the whole span of existence from eternity to eternity with the logistics of salvation, could now be neatly laid out and explained A-B-C. Of course, we don't understand "why", and our "fallen understanding" thinks it's unfair, so here and only here do we admit that the full knowledge is above us. But we sure can understand how events in God's realm carry over ito ours! An excellent example of how the Calvinist is the one who ties to have it all figured out, is one person's statement on a board "Calvinism...just answered questions I had never seriously thought about. When I did think about those questions, it was free-willism that failed to fit with Scripture. It was the system that took great maneuvering to fit the pieces together.
But all of this ignored that commonly cited scriptures like Romans 9, Eph.2:8 and the rest have been clearly shown to have been misused as such, and other scriptures and scriptural principles are completely contradicted; so this "scripture" argument also does not ensure that one's views are the truth. Also remember that much of Calvinism is driven by emotion and human reason as well, as was shown earlier.
The Hunt-White Controversy, and other cries of "misreprsentation"
A lot of these issues come up in the controversy between James White and Dave Hunt, over Hunt's book What Love Is This (Sisters, OR, Loyal Publishing). Hunt is being accused of being "unqualified" and totally ignorant of the Reformed position, but this is way overblown. I found the book to be largely truthful, making a lot of great points, though I don't agree with everything he says. For instance, he does uses hyperbole such as "Calvinism is just warmed over Catholicism", "Calvin never once spoke of God's love", etc. But I think all of this is being overgeneralized into him not knowing anything he's talking about, and so "misrepresenting" the other side.
When a debate gets as heated as this, people tend to throw back at each other all sorts of cutting statements, such as "heresy", which as one Calvinist site correctly shows, would lead us to totally break fellowship if we were consistent with it. You can see this in Hunt's book (p.52) where he answers White's claim that he was teaching "Rome's gospel", and then proceeds to throw this claim back on Calvinists (one of the things they all are criticizing him for). Why condemn Hunt for this, and not White; and then how can White himself cry "misrepresentation" when he's playing the same game? Most of us in the heat of debate at times bend the truth or hastily make assumptions about people, so while you can criticize or correct that, I think ad-hominem remarks about his "honesty", etc. are sinking to the same level as Hunt is on in his statements against Calvinism!
As for being "unresearched" or "poor scholarship", White says on his site "do you not think [all the great historical Calvinist leaders to the present] have heard these objections?", but on the same token, Hunt and the rest of us have heard the Calvinist position over and over, often rubbed in our face, so this whole issue of being researched in Reformed doctrine is a smokescreen. He is responding to what its advocates are saying today, and he has read at least enough to be able to quote Calvin and many other leaders. (Problem is, many today have actually shied away from some of the harder aspects of their own position as historically posited! More on this below)
All of these "reputable" authorities who told him not to publish the book and then "refuted" it happen to be Calvinists, and they obviously don't like his straightforward approach to the ramifications of Reformed theology, true or not. All the "friends" and "supporters" who were against it were obviously also Calvinists, who liked his teaching on other subjects, but were shocked when he turned to the Calvinism debate. It's like if I, who loved James White's treatment of the KJVO controversy became a supporter of his, not knowing his position of Calvinism, and then was shown a manuscript of The Potter's Freedom and objected to it. It doesn't mean his scholarship is bad; just that I disgree with the position of the new book coming out, even if I do [wrongly] attack his scholarship because of my disagreement, or even some legitimate misrepresentations such as Arminians teaching Rome's gospel.
Unfortunately, the Calvinist side seems to have the most scholars, and the more Arminian contemporary evangelical church is, as White, Hanegraaf and others have rightly pointed out, suffering from a state of doctrinal apathy, ignorance and indifference. So even if they might be greater in number, as one writer on a whatloveisthis.com (a critical page) points out [i.e. Calvinists often claim to be a "persecuted minority"], a smaller but more zealous group can have a lot of influence.
Like I mentioned above, the proponents of some "offensive" doctrine ("limited atonement" Calvinists, just like the "traditional hymns only" CCM critics in that debate) often take advantage of this, and heap up all the "scriptures", arguments and "documentation"/research to back up their interpretations, (But remember, this does not guarantee truth, as as all the cults use this method too, and it can be misinterpreted) and the other side remains largely silent, or uses weak cliché arguments (i.e. "God limits His sovereignty", "election" is based on foreknowing who would believe, etc).
Then this is the ultimate proof that the "hard" position is "just right"; "this is just what the Bible teaches, and you people have no answers, but simply resist it because you don't like it". So many seem to have the attitude that non-Calvinism is totally bankrupt, and the Calvinists now are leading this "new Reformation", which as Hunt points out (p.20) means a revival of Calvinism as the dominant view of Christendom, and are expecting to just sweep the opposing view out of the way as totally false, worthless and discredited, without any substantial opposition. (After all, once again, we only made it up because we don't like God's sovereignty). You can see this attitude in many of their writings. Some in debates have even criticized the other side for not just "learning something" instead of arguing!
So when someone finally comes out with a strong answer, the other side (caught by surprise) is aghast, and lashes back defensively. The first thing they do is try to dismiss their "credibility"; after all, 'everyone knows' that all the scripture and historical/hermeneutical, etc. evidence always favors our side. If you come to a different conclusion, you have really misrepresented something. It just can't be! (What if Hunt had been more documented and researched? What about someone else who is? Oh, But such a person couldn't possibly become a non-Calvinist, right?) That is the attitude I am sensing here.
White and the others' responses focused more on these side issues than on the right interpretation of the various Scriptures involved! It's like that's all they can really "refute" him with.
Do they challenge Calvinists who have not researched the issue and say inaccurate things but agree with them? Would they tell them not to publish their writings? No, they would be assumed to be on the side of the "truth" and automatically "right", "qualified" and "informed".
And I don't know how White and others can even challenge his tone, or unfortunate statements Hunt made implying Calvinists have a different "God" for instance, or cry "misrepresentation" when all of that is precisely what Calvinists do to Arminianism all the time, usually to much worse extents; often calling it "another gospel" with a "weak god", "sovereign man", "works-salvation", "doesn't actually save anyone", etc. Plus things White himself has said to Hunt. (See Hunt's Response, which is included on the site).
They have certainly linked free-will to Catholicism more than we have linked Calvinism to it. —Since the Roman Catholic Church had since rejected that point of Augustine's theology in favor of the Pelagianism it once condemned. This is what the Reformers were forming their theology in reaction to. Hunt is probably just throwing back at them what they (including White, as was mentioned above) have been doing, especially given Calvin and Luther's positions on infant baptism, the validity of their baptism by Catholic priests, the state Church; on top of the direct link of Calvinistic doctrine to Augustine. I do agree that this "guilt by association" tactic was overdone, however.
It's amazing that people who can make the most cutting remarks about their opponents' position can become the most sensitive when the other side finally responds! Once again, the attitude seems to be that this position is infallible, and the other side so false, so how DARE anyone think they can truthfully answer us back, even in the same fashion we responded to them!
One of the people who critiqued Hunt's manuscript has a few pages on the site, (with one response from Hunt), and he finishes his last response with 18 logical questions (similar to the ones thrown my way as discussed earlier) construed to prove that God must have caused everything and therefore be responsible for the circumstances that led to or necessitated sin. But then he was criticizing Hunt for accusing them of making God the author of sin! Even if you think this is a legitimate "paradox", one should at least understand why one would insist this made God the author of sin. But they use this logic to try to prove their view, but when the other side tries to attack the given point head on, "you're misrepresenting our position", thus deflecting refutation. This is so ironic, especially when these same Calvinists then throw up "God does as He pleases", "it's right because He does it", Romans 9, "it's His secret counsel, your fallible mind can't understand it", etc.,as if to justify the fact that God really is damning helpless souls for some fundamental reason besides sin (even if they insist is was "because of sin"; because sin itself had to be created in order to fulfill that secret will as these arguments imply).
Which is it; is God the author of everything, and therefore sin and the foreordained damnation of all individuals who will be lost, or is it really their own choice, or is it just a script where God writes them into the story as guilty and responsible for their own condemnation just because He wrote it? (which is then the first choice) It's ironic how this writer started out on the defensive as another unfairly represented Calvinist, but then took the offensive to claim to disprove Hunt by logic. Then he added common reverse objection that God would be just as unfair if He foreknew who would be lost and still created them. He then uses philosophy to prove the "will" cannot be free, because it is "always determined by something else", comparing it to a steering wheel. I'll say that Hunt focused too much on the will being "forced" in conversion (If God did force the elect's will, and they are saved and avoid Hell, are they really to be pitied?), and reiterating the idea of God as the cause of sin in light of most Calvinists' denial of this.
But Hunt did address in His book the fact that these issues are ultimately above our full comprehension, quoting Scofield and others (p.125-6) to show that the true "tensions" or paradoxical polarities that must be accepted are "God's Sovereignty and man's free agency", not "...man's responsibility" with him being totally helpless to respond. (How can Calvinists chastize others for not accepting "quiet tensions" when they can't accept this one, and instead distort it into something that their own minds have deduced?)
And as I had earlier discussed, no doctrine is proven because of some "unanswerable questions". What that shows if anything else is that the promoters of the doctrine have overspeculated. Another page is called "A Non-Calvinist Replies to Dave Hunt" (actually a post from a message board on the site), but this person confessedly is a Lutheran, and thus a fellow monergist who agrees with the first two points of Calvinism; and his arguments are defending "Calvinism"! But these are the main points criticized by Hunt and others, so what good is it to insinuate, "see, even 'non-Calvinists' reject Hunt's book"?
And that message board is just a place for Hunt's opponents to call him a fool and liar against "the truth" and constantly assasinate his whole character just because of the things he said about Calvinists that they didn't agree with. When someone opposes that, they tell that person he is not acting like a Christian! How can they question Hunt's credibility with such a vitriolic ranting board like that? It does not make their cause look good, for such an approach is often a sign of an unobjective view and a weak position, as they should know from the KJV-Only leaders they also oppose.
The Calvinists have gone out of their way to make Hunt's book appear universally bad or rejected by everyone (including those not even on their side) when it is really just disgruntled Calvinists who have been knocked for a loop that are reacting this way. Let's keep this on the issues and not get into ad-hominem arguments. Tell him to correct the inaccurate statements; not to withdraw the whole book! (as if the whole non-Calvinist position is worthless and automatically disproven by that, and not just the hyperbole).
Once again, as for the "misrepresentation", there is nothing Hunt said that does not accurately reflect at least SOME Calvinists' position. The problem is, there are so many variants of Calvinism, just as when I and others spoke on the Baptist Board of people being "elected to Hell", right away everyone jumped in disclaiming "Hypercalvinism" and accused us of "misrepresenting" them or "not knowing their position". (And BTW, White affirms that position in his comment on Rom.9, above). The prime example they focus on is some things Hunt cited Spurgeon as teaching (namely a denial of Limited Atonement). Spurgeon held the hybrid view, and some things are contradictory (even though they don't see it that way). So when Hunt quotes one thing he stated, White and others could go find something else he said, and say "see, he doesn't teach that; Hunt doesn't know what he is saying; he is lying through his teeth"! (Still, Hunt should not have made such a big emphasis of that claim, as it is another tangent and source of unnecessary conflict we are being diverted to, and Spurgeon clearly advocated the other points of Calvinism).
Also they complain that Hunt and others seem to omit the "all important matter that God indicts men as sinners", and then pins their invention on Calvinists, while Calvinists simply maintain the position that God owes no man anything and that those who perish do so because of sin.
But the reason why they do that is because they do not buy the idea that God is indicting them as sinners, because they see Calvinism as having God preordain people to Heaven or Hell, and then have them born as sinners and pass them over just to fulfill that pretdetermined decree. It's "the big picture" of the eternal decrees they are looking at, not what "plays out in time".
The non-Calvinists have heard White and others' explanation of it. Remember, nearly all Calvinists use Romans 9, and some other passages such as 1 Pet.2:8 to try to explain that big picture: that God's decision of who goes to Heaven or Hell ultimately comes from His eternal decree "before they were born and did good or evil". This REMOVES their condemnation from the context of "their sin" (which they committed in time, after they were born), into a decree that has nothing to do with, as they cite them "doing any good or evil". You can not have it both ways. Either it is from their sin, or it is not from their sin, but from God's sovereign decree, with the timely "sin" as something added later to seemingly justify this decree!
Ask them why, then it's "God's sovereignty"; He "does as He pleases", He, as the "Potter" has the "right" to make "vessels of wrath", etc. Accuse them of having God damn people apart from sin, then "that is not what we believe; God justly leaves people in the condemnation for their 'freely chosen sin'", but ask them further, the "sin" or "choice" is something charged to them through Adam; not something they actually did. Ask them why He would do this to people and "hold them responsible" and withold salvation from many, then once again, it is "God's sovereignty"; He "does as He pleases", He, as the "Potter" has the "right" to make "vessels of wrath"! And around and around it goes.
And even though people may disclaim that, still, that is what they feel Calvinism leads to, plus once again, they are answering Calvinists of all stripes, including hypers, supras, double predestinarians, etc. I too feel that Calvinism ultimately leads to those conclusions, but unfortunately, Hunt and others' tactic cuts to the chase of what the position ultimately leads to without making it more clear that "yes, I know you say you believe this, but I'm showing you it really leads to this". But once again, the Calvinists, including White, certainly argue the same way towards Free Will, and often to a worse extent.
But everyone claims their variation is the "true" Calvinism, and if you're going to deal with Calvinism, you must answer our exact representation of it, else the whole person's teaching is dismissed as "dishonest", "misrepresenting", "not knowing anything about our position" and "unqualified to say anything about it". (A quick way to "win" the argument by default!). The shapeshifting nature of their position sometimes makes responding to it like trying to grab ahold of smoke.
The site: http://www.geocities.com/cfpchurch/cloudcalvinism.html addresses this point and says "If these things be so -and they are - then the effort needs to be made to avoid generalisations. There seems to be a riding of two horses at one time here. On one hand, we are all lumped together and yet on the other, we are divided when it suits. This is not being consistent", and then likens this to the different types of dispensationalism. I don't know much about that debate, but in the Calvinism debate, these differences and their "generalizations" are being USED to their advantage; to brush off and discredit people's criticism of their doctrine. As all will agree, this issue is a bit more crucial than dispensationalism and others as it involves the very definition of the Gospel. The differences are so great in some areas that Calvinists practically call each other "Arminians" as we have seen. (I don't see non-Calvinists calling each other Calvinists, or dispensationalists calling each other non-dispensationalists).
So there is much "misrepresentation" going on even within their own ranks. It is very hard to address each and every little variations, so general agreements, such as the fate of the non-elect, the misinterpretation of "sovereignty", etc. are the focus. Hunt's book is addressing all of Calvinism, from Hyper on down, and didn't feel necessary to differentiate between them but so much. (Vance's book deals with the different variations a bit more, and still shows they ultimately lead back to the same thing).
Just remember, when Calvinists begin making their sweeping statements beating up on non-Calvinism and its "man centeredness", and how it has "eroded the truth", is "heretical", etc.; they don't then disclaim the lesser distinctions between the different branches of Calvinism, —which all agree on "sovereignty" (however they express it) and therefore are treated as being on the same side (the side of "truth") in the ultimate issue of "sovereignty versus human autonomy"; so they should not then get mad and cry "misrepresentation" when the other side responds and lumps their positions all together in one rebuttal.
If you all agree on "total depravity" and "unconditional election" in which God did not want to save a certain class of people, whether God actively reprobated them or passively preteritioned them ("according to" their will), and that this is one of the distinctives of "sovereignty", then that is what Hunt and the rest of us are refuting, and I think Hunt was basically on the mark in that objective, even if everything he said was not completely right.
We must also remember Peter's significant warning (2 Pet. 3:15,16) about Paul's writing, upon which most of these concepts have been drawn. Many of these scriptures are simply being twisted, and we are cautioned here that it is easy to misuse Paul's writings because of the deep, hard to understand topics he addresses.
The real author of this whole doctrine is Augustine, whom Calvin drew heavily on. Nobody in the church argued about this until him, despite the frequent correlations of "Calvin vs. Arminius"—"Reformers vs. Rome"—"Augustine vs. Pelagius"—"Paul vs. the Galatians" (some even add "Christ vs. the Pharisees"). The truth is, Paul and the rest of scripture is being read in light of Augustine.
I have seen a claim the earlier church's lean toward free will was just a reaction to gnostic fatalism, and that there was a great "ignorance" of Paul until Augustine. But that is totally unrealistic. There was great emphasis on Paul, in shaping the doctrine of the Church, defining "law vs. grace", etc., including his teachings that are in the center of this controversy.
It was Augustine who came behind and simply put his peculiar new interpretation on them. His doctrine was formulated purely in response to Pelagius, rather than being a continuance of established apostolic church teaching. While he is regarded as a great father by many, both Catholic and Protestant, his teachings were far from pure. (Just look at his teachings on sex and the influence it had on the dark ages church). The Reformers have been described as trading his doctrines of the church (the Roman system) for his doctrines of salvation. (and some of his doctrines of the Church they retained!) Even the other fathers saw him as too rationalistic, as I show on another page in regards to the Trinity. He and the Western Church after him would not leave these things as mysteries, but rather tried to rationalize them all. But this only caused more confusion. Notice how the West is what produced all of these doctrinal controversies, not the Eastern church, who had never accepted his theology in regards to salvation.
Augustine's main influences were among other things, Platonism and Origen, whose teachings, as was mentioned, fit in well with these ideas. He was certainly right in opposing the errors of Pelagius, but he went beyond the bounds of scriptural teaching in speculating on God's decrees. Those five disputes all centered around the all important issue of faith versus works as a means to salvation. The problem is, Augustine and Calvin and some of the other Reformers went beyond that issue into deduction about God leaving people hopelessly condemned. Romans 9, John 6 and other scriptures were readily taken to support this as "God's prerogative".
Yet the scriptures do not elaborate on a class of people defined as "all who will be in Hell" and how they could not escape it. It simply tells us how to steer clear of Hell, and to warn others. And then many Calvinists take an agressive almost gloating "rub-it-in-your-face" approach, that almost says "Ha, Ha, You don't like it, but that's too tough! This is the way it is!" They themselves may not be aware of this, but this is sure how it comes across. This is where the heart of the issue lies. If it weren't for all of this, then maybe we wouldn't have this debate today.
The root errors
Meanwhile, one can emphasize all of the "logical philosophical" problems of the Calvinist views. In short, it basically confounds God's eternal and permissive wills, as well as the confusion of the two realms, and the meanings of God's grace, mercy, sovereignty and justice. They insist they have the proper interpretation of scripture, yet many actually criticize people for claiming to be "biblicists" and even approaching the scriptures in ignorance of "the great historic creeds and confessions" (Which ones they are referring to happen to be Calvinistic). It seems these are really the final authority in interpreting the scriptures. (This follows the historic Catholic condemnation of "exploring the mysteries of the Bible" apart from Church authority! On the first board I mentioned in the beginning, whenever the Arminians would focus on the Bible in a discussion, someone would change the name of the thread to "Man on A Hill With a Bible". —And this was on a Reformed site that emphasized "the Solas", including "Sola Scriptura"! Shows what they really thought of that doctrine!)
The Calvinists, in another sly putdown of free-will as "immature", sometimes acknowledge that when a person comes to Christ, based on experience and their reading of the Bible, are led to believe they came of their own free will, but as they mature, then become Calvinists. This is revealing, and looking back over my own walk, it becomes more clear. Just reading the Bible on its own, you do get the impression that salvation is open to all, and "one chooses to believe...and is saved". Passages like Romans 9 also are understood according to their contexts (God's dealings with Israel compared to salvation today), as which other way will you understand them? Something like unconditional election or reprobation are unthought of. Other scriptures on predestination and foreknowledge appear to point to realities from God's perspective that we can't fully understand, and therefore do not change the method of salvation.
But then you run across Calvinistic teaching (in my case, in a catechism book containing the Westminster Confession of Faith, in the back of the pews of a Reformed church, which ironically, had gone charismatic and didn't use the books anymore anyway). Now you see Romans 9 and the scriptures on predestination (to life or to destruction) interpreted to prove the Calvinisic concept of unconditional election to salvation and reprobation to damnation. These scriptures look like they fit this teaching, and as a new Christian, you are very gullible (Eph.4:14). Some just reject it, and plead ignorance, while others "swallow their pride" and accept it, becoming Calvinists. This to them is the ultimate proof that Calvinism is just God's "hard teaching" or "offense of the Gospel", which He has sovereignly opened their eyes to.
I fell into the first camp, but then when I saw how much of an issue this has become, I sat down, tried my hardest to put feelings aside, and reread Romans 9 in its context, and then the holes in the theory started to show. Right away, it became clear that this was about Israel; the entire context of the book of Romans is about Israel, and about their "hardness" in light of the Gospel. The other proof texts as well turned out to be misread, or at least had other viable options that fit in better with the rest of scriptural revelation.
What this really shows is that the doctrine is not extracted from scripture alone, but is a system of teaching that must be read into scripture, or scripture read in light of it (whether it is Calvin's teaching directly, or any of its points as laid out in confessions, creeds, or individual teachers), for it to seem true.
The contradiction of "perseverance", works and Lordship Salvation
Vance and Hunt even point out from the writings of Calvinist scholars that the fifth point of Calvinism, perseverance/preservation of the saints, ultimately contradicts election, as even though on the surface it speaks of God's securing (keeping) the elect, the way is described in practice, it is the individual who himself must "persevere" in order to prove himself being "elect" after all; regardless of whether he once "professed" Christ. And it is not so much even perseverance in faith, but rather in "holiness" (works)! (This is one reason many Calvinist groups could be just as legalistic and intolerant as any Arminian fundamentalist, and even moreso. The Arminian will condemn many things people, including Christians do, and "preach hellfire" at the unsaved, but at least they are less likely to assume a professing Christian is unsaved!)
Once again, the ball is placed in the individual's corner, so after all the insistance that we cannot even choose to be saved, let alone be elected by "works" we end up earning the final realization or "proof" of salvation by works! Calvinists would probably deny this, but this is how their leaders have expressed it, and Calvinists on one of the boards said that our belief that we are elect is "fallible"— any one of us may have "believed in vain", and fall away, proving we were not elect at all. Calvin himself went on to say that God strings such people along in the belief that they are saved. Is that what you call "eternal security"? This is connected with them warning people about Hell when it is supposedly already decided, as was mentioned earlier.
Another glaring hole in the theory, involving man's "inability" is that Calvinists say only someone regenerated first can be the "whosoever" that will "call on the Name of the Lord" to be saved, (because the unregenerate only "run away from God", "think nothing of Him", "don't care", etc). Yet, if they don't "persevere to the end", they were never elect at all, no matter whether they thought they "believed".
But then how was this "non-elect" person able to stop running, choose "contrary to his nature" and "call on the Name of the Lord" in the first place (how was he able to get 'so close'?); and now, notice, whoever does call on the Lord and is not necessarily saved. Something else was required (a decree of personal "election" and perseverance until the end —whichever one causes the other).
They will claim such a person didn't really call out to the "true" God but to a false one. But Calvin and others said that a person could really think they believed in the true Jesus and not be elect. God even helped them in this. And then would these Calvinists say the Jesus they themselves called on was false if they don't persevere? This is quite serious. Look at the following quotes from Calvin himself:
I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith...experience shows that the reprobates are sometimes affected in a way similar to the elect, that even in their judgement there is no difference between them....Not that they truly perceive the power of of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them and leave them without excuse, instill into their minds such a sense of goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption.Here it all is. Both those whom God gives a totally false faith from the start, plus those who were more genuine, but due to "sloth" didn't "persevere". You can argue that the people are rejected[i.e "reprobate"] because they were hypocrites. But it was all because God didn't elect them! But then they are still "responsible" because God said so! "Who are you O man" to ask "why does He yet find fault?" This is just His way of damning the non-elect due to "their own fault", and "the Potter" has every right to create these "vessels of wrath" for that end (destruction) "for His own sovereign pleasure"!
Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still, it is correctly said that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment...Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but...the reprobate never obtain to the full extent or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. [?!] In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.
I therefore deny that they either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but will in process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. In short, as by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished. There is nothing to prevent him from giving some a slight knowledge of his Gospel and imbuing others thoroughly. Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection.
The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us," (Rom. 5: 5;) namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. It hence appears that the faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretence. They are borne along by some sudden impulse of zeal, and erroneously impose upon themselves, sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care. Such probably was the case of those whom John describes as believing on Christ; but of whom he says, "Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man," (John 2: 24, 25.) Were it not true that many fall away from the common faith, (I call it common, because there is a great resemblance between temporary and living, everduring faith,) Christ would not have said to his disciples, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," (John 8: 31, 32.) He is addressing those who had embraced his doctrine, and urging them to progress in the faith, lest by their sluggishness they extinguish the light which they have received. Accordingly, Paul claims faith as the peculiar privilege of the elect, intimating that many, from not being properly rooted, fall away, (Tit. 1: 1.) In the same way, in Matthew, our Savior says, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up," (Matth. 16: 13.) (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian ReligionIII:ii, 11-12, Translation by Henry Beveridge)
This twisted, contorted reasoning is precisely why this teaching, with its proof-texting of Romans 9 (torn way out of its context) is so hideous and despicable! Just the words of some "offended fallible human emotion", right? Just look at it: Any semblance of any type of "assurance" is totally destroyed by this. Think about it. Who can really say for sure that they have the faith Calvin says is necessary for salvation? A person who doesn't have it thinks they do, but if they didn't experience it, how would they know? A person who does have it could still be mistaken. Is it simply "feeble" and "slender"? Or false, from not having enough "root". Ultimately, no one can really know, until they've lived their whole lives, "persevered" and died. Then, it's too late! Or they just have to presume that they have it.
We all have periods where our faith is shaken, if we are honest with ourselves. This can start a downward spiral, because just the very doubt seems to confirm that you are not the plant that is properly rooted. And since election is unconditional, there is nothing you can do. You can try to "persevere", but if it is not from God, it means nothing; just an attempt to save yourself by your own effort. You can pray and plead, but then that is just "mercenary affection" (Trying to get something from God— a pardon from Hell, rather than coming to Him out of love for Him).
Anyone who has ever received Christ after being warned of Hell or told the benefits of Heaven can fit into this category. Who then can be saved, really? How can any of this be called a gospel, let alone the Gospel? (The "good news" once again is a message of salvation, not damnation, or even some combination of both. Once you add "Christ saves, but..." it ceases to be the good news).
This theology has created a no-win situation, that has probably driven many mad, and instead of magnifying God's glory, instead served to watching persons to forever insure that Christianity would be seen as some sick mind control tool.
I often wonder whether the whole Enlightenment and the humanistic and atheistic revolutions that followed may have been because of this doctrine alone. The churches that became Unitarian Universalists as well as the liberals within the very Lutheran and Calvinist denominations themselves, may have reacted against the idea that "God would damn any of His children to Hell", but then if you take into consideration that it wasn't just the idea of people going to Hell, (for doing evil and refusing to repent) but rather people being preordained there, it makes much more sense why there would be such a revolt.
And then, a person "falling away" because they didn't "persevere" or "progress in the faith"! On one hand, God is the one who gives the ability to get and remain saved, yet, it was they, not God that allowed "sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care", and "sluggishness [by which] they extinguish the light which they have received".
Once again, Are we really saved by grace through faith, or through our own works (that we are only given an 'ability' to perform)? Does "depraved man" only run from God, the "elect" seek Him, and therefore the fact that one does seek him serve as assurance they are elect? Or do non-elect seek Him, but not in a valid way, or do not persevere, because God has only given them an incomplete faith?
"But God's eternal decrees (of whether you are saved or lost) 'play out in time'". But once again, we are only in time, so insisting on our own effort in the same breath as pronouncing God's eternal decrees can only confuse most people.
What is the difference between this and just saying "you will be saved by works, and you must keep on working to the end"?
So to look at Perseverance from the script world, God has four people, two elect, two non-elect. One elect person accepts Christ and perseveres till the end, and one non-elect never accepts Christ. Simple, so far. But then the other two accept Christ in a Calvinist church, and are welcomed as members of the "elect". Both later slack off and fall away. The church then suspects they may have been "tares" all along, but still warns them that they are not bearing the fruit, and could still face Hell. They have a choice to make. So one turns back around, and this time perseveres, and the other never does. They of course turn out to be the other "elect" and "non-elect" respectively.
Once again, you have a seemingly open time line where people have choice. But God only elected two of these people; one of whom He allowed to fall away, but then brought back; or perhaps he wasn't really called the first time [who knows?]; and other person was not elect, but He gave him a false faith that would not last, so it looked like he got saved, but never did. Even if all of this was truly "God's eternal decrees playing out in time", why must we focus on eternity so much and not just say it is one's choice that will determine their eternity? That is the way it is coming out in practice in time. .
"Tensions", "awesome asymmetry" "The unsearchable counsel of His will" "secret knowledge"; all of this is being used to cover up contorted, incoherent double-talk. I'm sorry to say it, but this has all the marks of Satan. Who else would want to get people too confused to accept the simple plan of salvation, and at the same time plague those who are already Christians with unnecessary, unnerving doubts? Who else would come whispering some untestable hypothesis that 'makes logical sense' in one respect; just enough to get people to buy into it, but otherwise is illogical, and read it into scripture rather than judging it by scripture. "Hey, He's 'sovereign' isn't He? Wouldn't it be the 'right' of a sovereign to pass people over?"
That's just like what he tempted Christ with, essentially, "you have the right to throw yourself down, and God would send His angels to catch you"; even quoting a scripture!
But the Gospel is not about God excersizing His full rights in condemnation; but rather the opposite! From this it can become "Has God said 'just believe'? He knows you can't believe unless He decreed it!" "Has God said He loves the world? He knows He only loves the elect".
All of this stems from the Calvinist trying to explain completely God's eternal frame of reference and discern His decrees. Starting with the premise of unconditional election, the scriptures on "falling away" all had to be interpreted in light of eternal decrees, and since we can't have a person's faith be from free-will, it stands we would rather have God Himself give people a partial faith and then take it away. So now, in light of corollary that salvation is by works with God doing the works, you have God causing man to do all sorts of other things, and some have gone as far as to have called on the name of the Lord and thought they were saved. But now there is this OTHER thing they must have (prior "regeneration"), which God withholds.
We could then always fall back on Romans 9 to explain God's deception of such people ("for His ultimate glory") and silence all objectors. All the scriptures on God's wonderful bounty of lovingkindness, are superseded by "sovereignty". (In fact, all those scriptures probably refer to the "elect" alone anyway). As I said, premise had to be stacked on premise. Why couldn't Augustine, Calvin and Luther just preach the Gospel without trying to add all of this conjecture, that nobody this side of eternity can possibly discern? Why couldn't they leave eternity to God? (Like those who question this stuff are told by its adherants) Is any other doctrine this hard to grasp, even the much argued over Trinity? Clearly, there has been overspeculation and a crossing the line into the unknowable.
I know many of the Calvinists today sincerely believe in the doctrine because they see unconditional election as a necessity to prevent them from claiming any merit for their faith, and they have tried to clean lot of this up, and would once again shy away from some of it, insisting that one can truly have assurance. But then they already admitted that it could be "fallible", as was mentioned above. Plus some still question many people's salvation based on Calvin's line of reasoning, (as we shall see, below).
Still, "true assurance" is said to be based on the "fruits" of our lives, but here is the biggest problem in this thinking. It is true that fruits are evidence of salvation, but we still must be careful on judging by fruits, because precisely what every religious legalist and most nonreligious secular people do is look at the "goodness" in their lives and think this is evidence they will get to Heaven. Remember, the whole point is that none of us can ever keep the Law perfectly, so any works we do, even after regeneration, are incomplete and imperfect.
As with any other form of works salvation, where do you draw the line? How much "fruits" count as proof of salvation? Just like the world, each person thinks his fruits are good enough, and looks at another person with less fruits and questions his salvation. So OK, a person openly living in adultery doesn't appear to us to be producing fruit, but what about all the sins we commit, that nobody sees? What about "minor" [apparently] ones that people do see?
We are right back to the position the Pharisees, Galatians and Pelagians and others were in, and what the entire New Testament preaches against. —which Calvinists link Arminians to; but some of whom who are in complete agreement with! It's amazing that people who reject a simple "choice" to believe on the grounds that that is a "work" turn around and promote essentially a works salvation— produce fruits or you won't make it to heaven!
Folks, salvation is by trusting in Jesus. We do good works to show that we love Him (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3), not to try to "persevere until the end" to secure our salvation. (Ironic to have to tell Calvinists this! But they're the ones in this case tying to play both sides of the fence. Isn't it nice to really have your cake and eat it too, by getting to chastize the Pharisees, Galatians, Pelagians, Catholics and Arminians for their "works-righteousness", (because of their belief thast it's by man's choice), yet then be able to turn right around and preach the same "works" that they do?)
In practice, it has often come to the point of a person striving to "perform" in order to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). This in turn becomes no different than some [deeply Pelagian] extreme Holiness church or cult (who believe you can lose your salvation) urging their people to remain "saved" through their works, with the fear of hell still looming over everyone's head!
We are actually left in the same dilemma Calvinists pose for non-Calvinists. Salvation is up to us. Only worse, because in the end, it is really determined by the eternal decree of God, which nobody can know or control. So while a person is "actually saved" in the eternal decree, no one is "actually saved" in time! Since we live in time and have no access to eternity now, what good is this?
So it's actually the four-point Arminian who is more likely to have true assurance, resting in Christ's payment for his sins, rather than his performance.
"But this will lead to antinomianism!" (people sinning with impunity). But the Calvinist making this claim then makes the same mistake as the Pelagian churches which accuse Calvinism of the very same thing! We don't threaten people with Hell to scare them into obedience, and then call that keeping them saved! (One reason past society seemed so Christian, but everyone quickly "fell away" when the paradigm shifted). We warn people about faking a walk with God, discipline them in the Church (disfellowship, etc) if necessary, and then leave that person's walk with God.
And also speaking of salvation by works, let's not forget to add in Calvin's belief in salvation being secured by infant baptism. (Didn't a person I quoted earlier associate "free-will" faith with "Romanistic notions of a sacrament"?!!) "But to him who doesn't work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5) is overridden equally in both churches. So believing by free will is "works salvation", but working to ultimately procure a secure salvation is not! How twisted can a doctrine get?
Many Calvinists have even criticized "once saved, always saved" the way non-Calvinists understand it as "only making people [or even 'tares'/'goats'] comfortable on the road to Hell". When I read of some Calvinistic Southern Baptists declaring that up to half of the people sitting in their pews are probably unsaved (because they all simply "prayed a prayer", or "went down to an altar", but otherwise do not have enough "fruits" such as attendance, morality, etc.; see for example http://www.founders.org/FJ19/editorial.html), it becomes quite hypocritical for them to be berating non-Calvinists and Pelagians when they have fallen into the same trap of legalism!
Years ago, the Calvinist Baptist TV Bible study show "Word Pictures" (which includes series such as "A Workman Approved By God", produced by Mark Kielar of "Cross TV" ministries) also suggested most in churches today who believe they are saved aren't for the same reasons. (He also heavily emphasizes "works", even saying that people aren't saved "because they don't want to do the work"). It is true that people can go down to an altar and pray a sinner's prayer and still be unsaved (if they were only going through a motion and didn't even mean it), but it is highly wrong to go speculating that half or more of the people in a Bible-believing Church denomination fit into such a category. (And even if it happened to be somewhat true, only God would really know that. A lot of people are disobedient in many ways, but 1 John 2:19 and the other scriptures cited are talking about total apostasy, not necessarily inactivity. So we must warn, but not pronounce people into Hell). But this is perfectly logical given Calvin's statements.
A lot of Spurgeon's and Edwards' preaching (e.g. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", etc) also seemed to presume their audiences were full of unconverted pretenders. This is probably what most inspired the old practice of preaching hellfire at the congregation (which I discuss in Rightwing.html, and which the mostly Arminian revivalistic fundamentalists miss, and which drove people in revolt out of Christianity more than anything else. Of course the Calvinists can justify it "well, that was good; they drove all those 'tares' out of the Church", but if the world-as-script model is wrong, they really did the Gospel a disservice. Christ clearly tells us that it is His job to weed out the tares, not ours, "lest...ye gather up the wheat with them"(Matt.13:29)).
(See here for a short discussion on the issue of the altar call and its role in conversion.)
Calvinists are the first to criticize the belief that if we do certain things we will be saved (and to this they include faith without prior regeneration), but do not realize that saying "if you do certain works and persevere in it, it proves you have been elected by grace" is just a rehashed way of saying the same thing! With such an emphasis on performance based assurance, even if this is just "God's eternal decree of unconditional election by grace playing out in time", still, in time, it is "work", that has a "reward...reckoned according to...debt" (Romans 4:4, which Calvinists throw at free-will faith). Paul certainly spoke in terms of winning a race (1 Cor. 9:24-26), but what was "earned" there was crowns, not salvation itself. (Many Calvinists reject the idea of rewards and works being burned at a Judgment Seat of Christ, as continuing a form of punishment for sin and making people in Heaven unequal, but the New Testament clearly teaches it).
Verse 27: "lest...when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway [same word translated "reprobate"]", can be taken to prove this Calvinistic concept of assurance, but this still cannot be talking about a performance based faith, because it would contradict Paul's statement in Romans 9:16 "Not of him who wills or him who runs, but of God who shows mercy". Once again, it is truly unbelievable that Calvinists so frequently cite this to prove unconditional election and preterition, but then so blatantly violate it when it comes to "perseverance"!
This, as well as "falling away" also, one must be careful judging that a person has been "castaway" or "drawn back unto perdition" and was therefore never "elect". Here too, where do you draw the line when someone backslides a bit? The scriptures warn us about this, but still the churches Paul spoke to had a lot of different kinds of sin, but Paul doesn't readily conclude they are all "tares". (I find a lot of such scriptures are referring to converts from Judaism "falling back" into that system, which would be destroyed in a few decades).
This whole particular brand of Calvinism has come under the banner of "Lordship Salvation". It stems largely from a movement within the Southern Baptist Convention (criticized as softening by many people) in which, as was mentioned, the Calvinists are trying to take over. It may also involve some of what is known as "Calvinistic Methodism", which combines Calvinism with the strict "holiness" of the traditionally Arminian/Wesleyan denomination. Such combinations tend to be very "lethal" mixtures, as they combine the worst of both sides of the issue.
I have avoided criticizing "Lordship", because the term is misleading. The debate at first glance would sound like it is over whether a person needs to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, or just Savior. You wonder how anyone could accept Him as Savior without accept him as Lord.
But in actuality, it is really about this issue I have been discussing, where leaders pronounce large swaths of the church lost, because they're not producing enough "fruit". Works are what are are used to determine whether one has really "accepted Him as Lord".
It seems to be currently centered around well-known apologist John MacArthur.
Kielar's program at one point rotated in the same slot with MacArthur's on the Word Network. They seemed similar, but I was not sure if they were connected. Much later, former TV star Kirk Cameron and evangelist Ray Comfort ran a series, "Way of the Master", on the network where they were teaching on evangelism. It still seemed like this show was produced by the same people as the other two (all were formatted almost like infomercials), but they otherwise did not seem related, and it seemed good. They were just teaching you to be more bold in witnessing, and to use the Law rather than a sinner's prayer.
More recently, another evangelist, Paul Washer appears on the scene (with plenty of videos on YouTube), putting down the sinner's prayer, asking if a person wants to be saved, and altar call even harder than Cameron/Comfort criticized it, and boldly claiming that a convert must be showing signs of regeneration ("hatred of sin", "dynamic change of life", etc.) before the evangelist can receive him as genuinely saved. He even at one point says that "wherever two or three are gathered, there I am" is not enough. Christians have to have some sort of tangible life change experience for Christ to be present in them. So he's getting just like the worst of the charismatics, now. (And many of them won't even place salvation on the experiences).
He I then hear is in the "Lordship Salvation" camp of MacArthur. Yet one video shows him as a guest on Cameron's show. So they're apparently all connected after all! It struck me as a bit of a stealth tactic how you could watch this string of shows for years, and not until recently really get their true underlying doctrinal agenda.
Like many other Calvinists, they feign the language of temporal cause and effect by talking about how all these people are going to Hell because of bad preaching and evangelism tactics that give them a false conversion or assurance. (Washer focuses a lot on Joel Olsteen). But if we go and preach from the Law, then we will have genuine conversion.
Yet in reality, everyone who is saved and lost is already preordained. Evangelism then is basically making the "sheep" aware of their calling. On some of those videos, Washer sounded just like Catholics and Church of Christ people I used to debate with. They use all the same scriptures on "works" and "perseverance" (and ultimately, "process sanctification") as those groups. One person on a board even said "Grace=obedience"!!! That goes even beyong the catholics and Campbellists' "Grace provides instructions", based on Titus 2:11. The only difference is claiming God enables you, rather than free will choice.
But "grace" means unmerited favor. It is not instructions to do something. As one person puts it, "Salvation is receiving; NOT giving!" Obedience is what we give (in love). The grace gives us the motivation to live holy, in love, (John 14:15, 1 John 4:19) not to gain heaven.
I liked Cameron and Comfort's method of using the Law, but at the same time, we must remember that we are not back in the Old Testament (which seems to be the model people use to pronounce judgment and charges of "idolatry" on the entire church). Grace has appeared since then, and it's not simply rehashing the same Old Covenant system, with only some "enabling" added.
They point out how in the Bible, people were always commanded to "repent", but they interpret that is "turning from" to the point that if you still struggle with sin, you haven't "repented" at all; and they also supposedly change the term "repent OF your sins to "repent FROM your sins". "REPENT" literally means "a change of mind". It's "turning from" in the mind. We all may have turned in our minds, but we still all give in to the flesh, and there is nobody who has completely "turned" in their behavior. Else, they wouldn't need Christ anymore.
Have the people preaching this stuff really repented of ALL their sins? Or are they just "trying harder" than others? Do you really think that anyone has "thrown off their sins completely". A lot of more "conservative" types say that, but nobody sees any literally "perfect" people anywhere. So again, the answer is not judging, it is showing each other the same mercy God has shown us (If the person judging has even received that mercy himself, that is!) You either keep the whole law perfectly (and with God's "enabling" empowerment, it's now hypothetically possible, so no reason to claim any "process"), and are saved by it, or by your own standard, you are just as lost and following something "too easy" as everybody else! This is what happens when you play around with works-justification.
It is easy to preach that when those you're preaching to cannot see your whole life. No one can know if they're keeping it, because we don't see them, their day to day living, and know their every thought. (which is ALSO included!) A person just has to assert that they do compared to everyone else. 2 Cor. 10:12 says "they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
In complaining about all the laxity in the Church, they often end up being just like the laborers in the vineyard (Matt.20) who were angry that the master (representing God) allowed other people "in" who didn't "do the work" like they did!
20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do you no wrong: did not you agree with me for a penny? Take that yours is, and go your way: I will give unto this last, even as unto you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is yours eye evil, because I am good?
This is like the flipside of using Romans 9 to answer someone who objects that God is being too hard. Don't make the same mistake and talk about "too easy" either, because if you're held up to His perfect standard, you fall harder than the other person.
So just like with the old-line fundies and all their issues; this reaction to the problems of the modern Church, and trying to go back to Spurgeon and Edwards or whoever is a bit hasty. On one of the videos, Washer so correctly points out that Baptists have often formed their doctrines in opposition to false doctrine, and end up just as false. But he and others are doing the same thing, with this reaction to what they call "easy believism". (The very use of the term "easy", implying it should be "harder" suggests works!)
The preachers of old may have scared the populace into submission, but as I had said, this created an eventual backlash. I grew up hearing many people tell horror stories of this, and then it would turn out the preacher was sinning himself, and the Church as a whole favored stuff like slavery and later racism, and still later, ruthless capitalistic greed (under the premise of the cold war). The Church had something to gain by using fear, as more people would come to church and give money (increasing finance and power), and people saw that this was what it was largely about. Yet in the last 30 years, all I hear is conservatives screaming that they want to go back to this "godly age", including the old preaching. But the infrastructure of subculture was stacked on top of lies and self deception all along (even when Puritanism and later movements dominated culture). If we just go back, we recreate all the same problems.
So just because we see some people not producing enough works and then appealing to a prayer does not give us the license to try to "up the ante" and make it harder to be saved. We are not to now decide "well, all this "easy believism" is causing all this laxity, so we must scare them into obedience by saying they aren't saved".
Much like in the Hunt-White debate, people defending Washer react that anybody would dare criticize back. Some will then give an emotional account from their own experiences where they struggled with doubts and sins and some evangelist or group leader told them they were saved, and that it was the devil making them doubt, and later, they find, supposedly, they they weren't really saved after all. So it is bad personal experience driving a lot of this, and it is better to just say such a person was not yet saved at that point, then to say he was saved. Of course, now that the person has "true assurance" (though his works and hatred of sin), he feels much better than he did before. Of course, he probably doesn't think he may ever fall into sin or doubt again (especially given Calvin's full teaching, as we saw!)
Washer said that when a person hears about "the God of SCRIPTURE; he will angrily state 'I could never love a God like that!'"
But that's not the issue. A god like that (not of scripture, but of scriptures twisted to support Calvinism and Lordship teaching) is not TRUSTWORTHY. A god like that leads people to think that they are His "elect", and then tricks them later on (this right out of Calvin's own mouth!) Who knows what He would do to those He does take into Heaven? A god like that says he does not desire the death of people when he does! A god like that says he did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save, when destruction is as much a part of his deliberate plan as the salvation of a relative few. A god like that proclaims "good news to all men", but really means "only a select few", who must be "regenerated" for it to even sound like good news. (i.e. it is basically an esoteric term. And even to a majority of those regenerated, it doesn't sound like good news).
We could go and preach that God commands child sacrifice (and even pull out a couple of scriptures that at first glance make it look like He did), and people would respond the same way. That doesn't mean it's right.
Again, when I hear these debates, it just bring to mind Luke 9:55,6 where the disciples thought that fires should be rained down on a town because of their rejection of Christ, and He told them they knew not what manner of spirit they were of, for Christ came not to destroy men's lives but to save. If Christ's entire mission were part of an election scheme depending just as much on damnation of individuals, then he would basically have come to "destroy".
|Calvinism (particularly the "Lordship" variation) explains "perseverance of the faith" in a way that actually becomes works-justification, where you "show yourself approved" through works, much like Pelagianism in order to explain the scriptures on "falling away". This completely contradicts eternal security, and causes much confusion and fear-based "faith" (which they say doesn't save!)|
To understand then what all of these scriptures speaking of "false faith", "making your election sure", "showing yourself approved" and "perseverance" to be saved were addressing, we must remember that many people in the New Testament, beginning with the ministry of Jesus Himself while still here, were hastily accepting Christ, but they did not understand what the purpose of His mission was. So they "believed" (John 8:31), but eventually their true fruits surfaced (v.37ff). Most others of this class, while not disputing Jesus to His face would show their true colors when persecution would come and they quickly abandoned Him. It's in this context that we have all the scriptures on perseverance until the end. Like the others, these people "believed" and followed for the wrong reasons.
Remember, Israel was looking for a Messiah for mostly political reasons, so many really did not understand His Gospel message—that they needed to be saved from sin; not the sin of the pagans, but their own sin. They still thought of themselves as the "good guys" waiting for God to put down the "bad guys", yet they were just as sinful as the ruthless pagans.
There is no thought of any Spirit bearing witness with their spirit, or them thinking they were saved. They had their agenda, and Jesus showed that they were not really following Him, though they professed. As soon as He began speaking of dying, it knocked their whole agenda for a loop, and even the disciples were ready to deny Him and run and hide. Why believe in Him if He's only going to die and not rise up and crush the Romans and restore the kingdom to Israel right now?
Many gentiles had also fallen into a similar misunderstanding or misuse as well. (Such as those described who would rise up and apostasize, drawing away their own following, thus using the Church for control). Yet if people "persevered" in faith, then it would have shown that they truly understood Christ's purpose (i.e. the true Gospel). Today we have many cults, liberals, etc. who "believe" in Christ, but knowingly twist or reject parts of the Bible; in effect creating a whole different concept of Christ (as different as the political Messiah of Israel), and most do not even speak of thinking they are "saved", or if they do, they make up their own idea of how to be saved (being good, keeping certain works, being baptized into their group, etc.). All of these are the people who "believed in vain", not someone who really believed they were saved, but fell into sin.
When I see someone who professes Christ but lives in open sin, I question and wonder if he's really saved, but I can't declare that he is not. This is where "do not judge" comes in. Of course, I try to admonish them to repent. If they don't, I leave it in God's hand, not pronounce him "unsaved". There are other evidences you can look for, such as the basis of their profession. One person I know seems to think he is Christian because he was raised in a Christian home. Of course, he'll say he "believes". He puts on an act around his family and church, but lives like a total heathen the rest of the time. When confronted, he says "yeah, yeah, I know", but just continues the way he's going like there is nothing wrong at all. So this person I can really question as not really understanding and accepting the true Gospel (but I still can't be completely sure). And the average Christian these Calvinist leaders are questioning I don't think, is even living that questionably. So fruits aren't solely holy living, because then salvation does become tied to works.
Calvinism and Arminian revivalism. Is Calvinism the least problematic?
Calvinists often speak of getting people to "bow" or "bend the knee" to "God's sovereignty". But only God can do that, and that IF the doctrine in question is really true. There are a core of essentials we must agree on, yet some of these other doctrines are just plain debatable, whether we think they are as clear and important (or even more) than the Trinity or not. (The person I debated with on the first Internet board made this claim! The revivalists, who are often rightly criticized by Calvinists, make similar claims about their positions, such as KJV, separation, etc.
So they also have to be careful about being just like them: intolerant, reading ones' own ideas into the scriptures, etc.)
We must also allow questioning. I do know that Calvin, Luther and others often blasted away questioners as though they were just some obstinate "mockers" or something, but they too were not perfect. Many of the most militant non-Christians were turned away from the truth, because the churches silenced them when they asked questions. If they are just mocking, let God judge that. Who are we to be so indignant? If we know that this doctrine is so "loathsome" to people, then why are we going to try and force it on them, almost proudly, and not allow questioning? Especially when it is not even universally agreed upon by orthodox Christianity? People have even given up on God figuring they must not be "elect" since they can't understand it. This is obviously another tool of the Devil. As I keep telling the revivalist types, we must remain aware of our own sinfulness and fallibility when dealing with others.
To their credit, the Calvinist emphasis on human helplessness has shaped the world view of some of them for the better, as the "Arminian revivalist" (Fundamentalist) emphasis on human free will has corrupted their world view of a lot of them to the legalistic hostility to society I criticize in Rightwing.html ("Traditional Correctness"). Some, such as respected preachers like Sam Jones and Charles Finney had gone way overboard in describing salvation in purely legalistic terms, (Jones said the sinner "saves himself", just like the Calvinists charge all free-will advocates of believing) and even denying man had a fallen nature—just like Pelagianism (to Finney, a fallen nature was seen as providing man an "excuse" for his sins). That is why I quote a lot from Michael Horton, of the Congress of Reformed Evangelicals and Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals on that page. He says so many things that need to be said to the revivalistic Christian Right and separatist fundamentalists, which expects fallen man and American society to be good and follow God, and gets angry at them for rebelling.
Some Reformed, realizing man was hopeless in sin unless regenerated by God, did not place such demands on people, and thus did not take such a world hating view, which has caused much of the alienation of the Church that the revivalists complain about. But this does not mean one side is all right, and the other all wrong. Many Calvinists have placed the blame for the ignorance, legalism and culture-hating of revivalistic fundamentalism largely on its Arminian background. Between the lines, Horton, for instance ultimately turns the culture war into a "Calvinism vs. Arminianism" issue, which I feel does weaken his message. At the same time, the Calvinists also try to blame the opposite trends— the liberalization of Christianity and pragmatic self-help type tendencies of modern evangelicalism on "the human elevating message" of many churches (e.g. that God "loves everybody" and man has "control" over his salvation, for instance).
While certain elements of Arminianism, and especially the philosophy of the leaders cited above may have helped shape these tendencies in the church, Calvinists need to beware doing to the "Arminians" the same thing they rightly criticize them for doing to the "humanists" and others— blaming a belief system one does not agree with on all of their problems.
For if this were the case, and a Calvinistic outlook was the answer, they would have to show that the Calvinist world— Calvin's Geneva, the Puritans, the Reformed Church in South Africa under apartheid, various Calvinistic Baptists and other "fundamental" Reformed groups; were free of legalism, hostility to people and culture, and other problems. Some may not have been quite as "separatist" as the revivalist types, while some were in fact the "worst of both worlds", holding the errors of both separatist fundamentalist and Reformed movements, especially given their view of assurance and "man's responsibility" as shown above. Biblical Discernment Ministries and many Calvinistic Baptist groups are good examples of the overboard separatism Horton criticizes, and popular Religious Right leader D. James Kennedy has also been described as "a revivalist in Reformed clothing". Worse yet, radical right-wing Reconstructionists North and Rushdoony; whose "liberation theology of the Right" Horton criticizes; are Calvinists! The infamous Fred Phelps ("God hates fags") is Calvinist!
In actuality, the worst of these elements in Protestant and evangelical history are more naturally tied to Calvinism, as I'll explain next.
Yet all were known for their harshness at times (yet Calvinists often try to excuse this, much like the fundamentalists try to excuse the errors of their past). Calvin himself and Luther, were also very harsh with the very "sinners" (or whoever they thought was wrong), whose wills were supposedly so "bound". Once again, since God still holds them "responsible", why not us be so hard on them as well. Spurgeon and Edwards' hellfire preaching had just as much if not more influence on fundamentalist revivalism as Jones and Finney. But it was from here that a lot of the enmity between evangelicalism and the general populace developed, because trying to scare people with hell (and the Law one is condemned to there for breaking) in the long run only breeds rebellion, (Romans 7), ESPECIALLY given a system of unconditional election and limited atonement where people are ultimately preordained to Hell! This gives more fear than hope, and only leads many people to give up the Christian life.
Tony Campolo The Success Fantasy, pp.143-144 points out the influence Calvinism had on the individualistic spirit of American conservativism including evangelicalism— which Horton blames on Arminianism. Speaking of Calvinists such as the Puritans in early America, “…certain Protestants, particularly those in the Calvinistic traditions, have twisted Reformed theology in order to make wealth the evidence of divine election…there were some Calvinists who wanted concrete evidence that God had chosen them to be saved. The doctrine of predestination declared that God had already decided who would be saved and who would be lost. However, these Calvinists still wondered what the evidence or signs of divine election might be…Many Christians answered that the saved would know of their election because they would economically prosper. Thus, prosperity became the evidence of a right relationship with God.”
It is obvious a whole host of problems that would erupt later on could be traced to such an ideology.
If wealth is a sign of God's election, then right there, the "barbarian" Africans and Indians then are not only divinely cursed (as evidenced also by their demonic religion), but also their enslavement or eradication is justified.
It was from here that a heavy reliance on the Old Testament came into play, with the account of the driving out or killing of the Canaanites ordered by God, and the preaching of prophets like Elijah becoming the models for the "Christian" mission, with Church and secular state going hand in hand. (Thus, unwittingly, the Pharisees and Galatians were essentially sided with over Christ and Paul!) If the people could not be enslaved for long, then oppression would continue. The elevation of the people to equal status in society would be like the Israelites mixing with the pagans, and here we see the roots of the nation's racism and segregation.
Sure enough many blamed the country's supposed moral "downfall" on allowing the cultures to mix, and it even spreads into the Church in the form of the "contemporary versus traditional" debates. (Supposed 'judgments' on the nation in the form of terrorism and natural disasters are also said to be a result of this). Racism then became replaced by class war, in which you still had one group on top, and others below. It was formerly drawn largely on race, but people could cross from one side to the other now. Those on the top side, were said to be "deserving" because of their "hard work", (while still appealing to "divine providence"); while the poor are considered to be lazy.
Citing a so-called "Protestant work ethic", the Christians often led this fight, to get the government to stop taxing the well-off so much, and supposedly giving it all to the "undeserving". Hence the basis of the "Christian Right" with it's "Christian America" concept Horton rightly criticizes. And Covenant Theology, which Horton advocates is where the notion of America as "the new Covenant nation even surpassing Israel of Old" he criticizes obviously comes from). Yet the Right's rhetoric ignored how the powerful at the top are often greedy and dirty dealing.
Hence, this doctrine of, as it were, earthly rewards for Christ's Elect is a hallmark of the Right-wing today. It also manifests itself in the popular Christian teaching today where leaders preach "contentment" to the masses, (with God sending all our pain for good to "build character"), while they themselves live very well off, believing God is rewarding them for their "service"; as well as the Health and Wealth teaching that extends the material blessings to the people as well (after they give to the preacher first, of course). All of these things have become associated with Arminian "revivalism", but we see the connection of them to Protestantism's Calvinistic origins.
Basically, through Augustinianism, largely, Christianity was turned from the Good News of God's mercy through Christ back into a purely negative message of condemnation under the Law (and many Calvinists, including Horton himself and especially the Lordship advocates, frequently mention we should be preaching "Law"). This was supposed to scare the "elect" into the fold, and harden the non-elect. It was God's sovereign right, so it could not be questioned. Yet it drove much of society from the Church, creating the modern secularized nations of the West today.
So the reason why so much of these problems today seem to be coming from the Arminian church, is because when you have a system of doctrines that is so deliberately "hard", people naturally scale it down. You can just blame this on "human sin and sentimentality", or "the way our limited understanding wants to make God", but anything called "the Good News" should not have had to be scaled down to remove so much bad news! To claim it is only "good news" to the elect is to turn the plain words of scripture into some esoteric code language. People can still not want good news, because they want to hold on to their sin, or they think they can get into Heaven their own way, but the concept of salvation being offered would still sound like "good news" to them. The Gospel is about what God has done, not what He could do, or has the "right" to do.
So what happens is that "hyper-Calvinism" becomes scaled down to Calvinism, and Calvinism becomes scaled down to infralapsarianism and "single-predestination", and then others come and scale it further down to allow for free-will, because that sounds like it is more consistent with "man's responsibility" and thus justify the harsh measures of hell and judgment, even though the Calvinists insist they believe in man's responsibility. Then, others scale it down even further to allow for people to somehow be saved without Christ. And so on.
Horton, White and others try to suggest that true Protestantism is at its root Calvinistic, and they do have a point, as what we are seeing in the Church today can as we see, be considered scaled-down Calvinism. However it's fruits are still not always good, and the definitive Protestant principle of salvation by faith/grace alone does not justify all of the other doctrines and practices done under its banner.
As was discussed before, perfectionism and Calvinism can go together well, since if people are not producing enough "fruits", and yet it is God who regenerates by unconditional election, (and regeneration produces "holiness", good works, etc) then you can reasonably demand perfection and if it is not produced, simply conclude that the person just wasn't elect!
So even "legalism" and "works salvation" cannot be blamed on Arminianism and Pelagianism, because Calvinism has crossed over into this as well. On the flipside, look at how many Calvinistic denominational institutions have also liberalized or watered down the Gospel. So every error and flaw that can be found in Arminian groups can be found in Calvinistic groups, thus Calvinists are wrong to blame Arminianism, when it is human sinfulness that causes apostasy, whatever group one may side with. We all must realize that our traditions are at most mixture of truth and error.
This is the way to avoid unnecessary conflicts with other believers, and remain a unified body of Christians preaching the one Gospel to the world. Since we are all limited beings trying to comprehend God's revelation, we can have differences of view on issues like this and still be true to the Gospel. One Calvinist told me "But the point is, reason alone suggests that the sinner should claim the promise of Revelation 22:17 and conclude that he is among the "whosoever" and claim the gospel promise for himself. If he refuses to come, he may conclude (on death) that he was justly left alone to perish in his chosen sins. The divine reasoning and pleading then to the sinner is: 'Turn ye, turn ye…why will ye die?' The sinner need only concern himself with the thought that there is mercy for sinners and he qualifies and should therefore seek the Lord. I usually end any gospel tracts which I write with the words: 'Why not you? Why not now?'". This is all I am arguing for. This we should focus on and not argue on how God accomplishes this from eternity. We all know that God shall work all things out in the end. (Col.1:20, Eph.1:10, Acts 3:20, 21)
An Excellent treatment of the issue: Revival Magazine: "Third Grid Theology".
Summary of Biblical points:
God "knows our frame; that we are dust"—he knows our limitations and judges us accordingly (Psalms 103:14)
God tempts no man, and with every temptation (including that which God allows for His plan) offers a "way of escape" (James 1:13-4, 1 Cor.10:13). Even though these passages are directed to the saved, they still show divine principles of His dealings, as are "common to man".
God/Jesus show sadness for man's stubbornness, and pleads with them to repent. God does not delight (gets no pleasure) in the death of the wicked, (Matt. 23:37, Luke 19:41-44, Ezekiel 18:30-32 and 33:11)
"Shall not the God of all the earth do right" (Genesis 18:25). This is spoken by Abraham, asking God not to destroy people, not God explaining why He is doing something man thinks is unjust. It shows man can know the standard that God holds Himself to, so we cannot attribute just any type of action to Him and claim it is "right" just because He does it, and brush off opposition as "flawed human reasoning".
"Today, IF you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts..."(Hebrews 4:7/Psalms 95:7,8)
Hell was made for willfully rebellious angels (not man, as in predetermined reprobation) (Matt.25:41)
To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48) . In the Calvinist scheme, to whom NOTHING is given, EVERYTHING is expected (i.e. "nothing" being in the sense that they are not even given the ability to repent.) This has God being harder on men than on angels who were created in a state of perfection and did consciously choose to sin.
God is not offering people a choice that most cannot make, but rather life itself. (Deut. 30:15, 19)
God is love, not hate, primarily. Wrath and hatred are only a reaction against sin. (1 John 4; cf. Deut.11:28,etc.)
"Unpardonable Sin" —would be moot if all "non-elect" were granted no possible pardon for their sins. (Matthew 12:31, 32; )
Connected with this, a certain sin renders it "better if one had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). This too would lose its meaning if all "non-elect" were so decreed, (and therefore better off not being born).
God is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34)
"The publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom before you" (Matthew 21:31). People with a lot of sin might actually be in more of a disposition to receive Christ than those who look righteous, because they in all of their sin will be more likely to see their need of a savior and have no pretense of righteousness to falsely trust in.
Ephesians 2:3 "we...in times past...were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." Rather than groups people are eternally, unconditionally decreed into, all (including those who are now "children of God") were once children of wrath, but it could be crossed out of.
1 John 3:8-10 "children of God" and "children of the devil" are defined by whether one "practices" sin. Nobody was born in the former state, so "children of the devil" is once again not an eternally decreed state of some, but all who are saved once crossed out of it.
John 6:70, 17:12 one of the "chosen" ended up lost, so the calling or not calling in this chapter does not equal election to salvation and preterition to damnation
Matt.22:14 "for many are called, few are chosen". This shows that "Calling" is not something that is only towards those who get saved, while the rest were not "called" to be saved at all (i.e. unconditionally rejected).
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw ALL men unto me. (John 12:32)
"—to bear witness of that Light, that ALL through him might believe." "That was the true Light, that lighteth EVERY man that cometh into the world." (John 1:7,9)
"For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17)
"God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth...the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. (1 Tim.2:3-6)
"tidings of joy to ALL men" (Luke 2:10, 11). The good news of Christ cannot be limited to only a select few, with all others passed by.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9). Can't refer to just "the [unconditionally] elect", whom there would be no chance or even question of them perishing.
Romans 11:4 "Did they not stumble that they fall? Let it not be!"; v19ff— We are not to be "high minded" in thinking those not saved were cut off in favor of us. Those cut off can be grafted back in, and "faith" versus "unbelief" are the only criteria for this.
"even so these also have now not believe, that through the mercy shown to you they may also obtain mercy. God concluded all in unbelief so he can have mercy on all"(Romans 11:31-2) [i.e. give all a chance] He does not conclude all in unbelief to have mercy only on some.
2 Cor. 3:14-16: "But their minds were hardened [blinded]; for until the present the same veil remains on the reading of the Old Testament, not taken away, because this veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless, whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away". Blinding is corporate, but individuals could get out of that blinded state.
"Law" contrasted with "faith" (Gal.3:19 Rom. 7:7 Rom.7; 8:2 cf. 1 Cor.15:56, Rom.4:15, 2.Cor.3:6-8). Precisely since it could not be kept, and therefore couldn't save, but only condemn, Paul calls it "the Law of sin and death". By making faith as unattainable as the Law, Calvinists are making the Gospel into a new "law of sin and death", which leaves many without hope.
"For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I do not find". (Rom.7:19) The "will", rather than being "bound" has the ability that we lack in actual "performance" (work). This is why salvation must be by faith.
"believing" and "faith" are diametric opposites of "work", so one cannot argue that free-will faith is "works-salvation" (Romans 4, Gal.2:15, 3:2, 5)
When "belief" is called a "work" it is credited to God, rather than the man doing a "work" in order to "save himself" or otherwise contradict grace alone. (John 6:28, 29)
This does not deny that we can ask at first, (the simple initial form of "faith" or "belief") and that is all one needs to do, and this is in no way a "work". God does give us more faith when we come to him and ask, thus it is His work, and only in that sense it is a "gift" (Mark 9:24, Luke 18:13)
Prodigal son pictured as deciding to come back to the father without any particular "election" by the father (Luke 15)
"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Pet.5:5/James 4:6). When we choose to be humble, what we then receive from God is still considered to be "unmerited favor" rather than a 'reward' that is 'deserved'
God can accomplish His will through weakness. (1 Cor. 1:25). (e.g. —Calvinists think God giving man a choice in salvation makes Him "weak")
Difference between "legal" charge of sin and "faith" and "knowledge" supports "age of accountability", meaning the stillborn, for instance, are not condemned, even though they are "sinners", by virtue of posessing the nature. (James 4:17, Rom. 4:20, 5:15, 14:23). It is the acts (commission of sins; i.e. works) we are condemned for, (Eph. 5:5-6, Col.3:5-6, Rev. 20:12,13), in conjunction with our "knowlege"; not being born with the condition by itself.
Luke 9:55,6: Christ came not to destroy men's lives but to save. If Christ's entire mission were part of an election scheme depending just as much on damnation of individuals, then he would basically have come to "destroy". He also told His disciples they "knew not what manner of spirit they were of" for wishing the destruction of others, rather than doing it to show them His "glory".
Summary of misinterpreted Scriptures
Romans chapter 9, Isaiah 6:9, 10 Romans 11:8, Deuteronomy 29:4 and others — context is describing Israel as a group, (Rom. 9:25-33, Isaiah 29:16 & 45:9 and Jer. 18:4-6ff & 25:34) hardened for God's purpose of spreading His grace to the Gentiles, not reprobating individuals to Hell (passages do not discuss a hypothetical category of "all who will be in hell"). Whole debate is "faith" versus "inheritance", NOT "election" versus "free will"!
Rom.9:10, John 1:13 — the plan of salvation and its carrying out is not of "blood" or "the will of the flesh" (inheritance), "the will of man" (human schemes and ideas of how to be saved), or of "him who runs" (strives to be good), but of God who shows mercy. Not saying a person can't choose to accept the mercy God is showing.
Malachi 1:1-4, 3:6, and Genesis 25:12 — Jacob and Esau are referring to the nations that would come from them, not God's personal hatred of the man Esau
Romans 5:12-19 Sin and death came through Adam, and justification and life came through Christ. This says nothing about any "choice" or "legal imputation" of sin, apart from people's actual sins. "Death spread to all men, because all sinned" says v.12. We received our sin nature from Adam, which causes us to sin, and the "free gift" the second Adam offers us is "NOT like the offense" (v.15). No one could help being affected by the offense, but anyone can choose to receive the gift (v.18, 19).
John 6:37, 44/65 and 15:16 (none can come unless called) — Only certain people were being called at this time before Christ's death, resurrection and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on "all flesh" (Is.54:13, Jer.31:34, Micah 4:2) referred to here. Israelites were hardened and not called. Doesn't say only a select group would ever be called. Verse 45 says "everyone who has heard AND learned from the Father comes to me", so this does not mean "everyone who is called will come"
Romans 8:30 Whoever is "called" will also be "justified" and "glorified". "Called" in this instance means "named" or "bid". It is not talking about selecting only some while passing over others.
Acts 13:48, "Those 'ordained to eternal life'" ordained means "disposed". Example of such a person in Mark 12:34, who was "not far from the Kingdom of God".
2:47, "such as should be saved" was "those who were being saved".
John 10 "sheep" that always hear His voice — "sheep" is a group (disposition) that one can become apart of who was formerly not apart of it (they didn't always hear His voice)
Proverbs 16:4: "The LORD hath made...the wicked for the day of evil"; 1 Pet.2:8 'appointed' unto disobedience' and 2 Pet. 2:12, 17 & Jude 4 — The opposite of "sheep"; a group that one can belong to and then cross out of. (All of us were once apart of it) The evil was long ago appointed and condemned, not particular individuals who committ it.
Acts 4:27-28 those guilty of crucifying the Son of God came together "to do whatsoever God's hand and counsel determined before to be done." The crucifixion was predetermined, but it doesn't say the particular individuals were.
"But our God is in Heaven, and does whatever He pleases" (Psalms 115:3, 135:6) But nobody believes this means He can lie or go back on His word, so whether doctrines such as reprobation are true or not, you cannot use this to support it. The second passage mentions the temporal destruction of certain people, but context of either of them does not address preordained unconditional condemnation of individuals with no chance of repentance because God does not want to save them.
Isaiah 45:7 God creates "evil". In this context, it means adversity or calamity. This is a punishment for sin, not creating sin itself. Sin is a falling short of God, (a negative), not some positive "thing" He creates.
Rom 3:11/Psalms 53:2,3— "None seek after God". Man does not of his own "crave" (Gk). God, but this does not mean he can't see his sin and ask for foregiveness
Isaiah 64:7 and Hosea 7:7 "No one calls on Your Name" are used to answer "Whosover calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21). But these are talking about the national hardening of Israel, not saying that no one can ever call on the name of the Lord without essentially being saved first.
Eph 2:8 "For by grace are you saved through faith...it is the gift of God" — Faith is not a gift in the sense that God gives some and withholds from others leaving them unable to repent. Grace ("by [what]...) is the subject and salvation (...are ye saved") is the predicate. How is salvation achieved? If through faith (as the means), then IT (the grace that leads to salvation) is a gift
"God leadeth thee to/perhaps will give repentance" (Romans 2:4, Timothy 2:25) It is God who leads to repentance, but He leads all, and if people consistently refuse, they become hardened, and then there is no guarantee they will receive another chance of repentance.
"God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:" (2 Thess 2:13), As in Matt.22:14, people who answer God's call and come to Christ were "chosen"; this does not specify all else being "passed over".
I Corinthians 1: 26-29— Not many "wise" are called, but God has chosen the "weak" things to confound the wise. People who are wise tend to think they are too smart for the things of God. Someone who does not have worldly wisdom may be more likely to see his need and come to God. That is the point of this passage. You may be "foolish", but then you are what God uses more, and He will use you to confound the wise. If taken as "unconditional election", it would not be unconditional, as it is based on "something in (or about) the man", which that side of the debate always denies.
Matthew 11:20-26 "But woe unto you Chorazin...Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes" But the qualification for them repenting is them seeing His mighty works, not electing them, because the people who were seeing those works were not repenting, and His point was that they were more hard hearted then those heathens, not "God could have elected them, but passed them over instead". Some may have repented of God had done more to reach out to them, but they had enough light that they could be judged, and plenty would "believe" if "they could only see", but God guarantees nobody any such special revelation.
On one of the boards, the question of "what causes one to differ from another" was held up as the "stumper" for Arminianism. It is true that that is a hard to answer question, without it being construed as still having something "good" innate in one who chooses right. However, "what causes you to differ from another" is not a biblical question in that repect. However, Calvinism is not without its holes as well.
•Assumes "called vs. blinded/sheep vs. goats/God's seed(wheat) vs. Satan's seed(tares)/good ground vs. shallow, stony or thorny ground" to be eternal states.
So these "called" were never "blind"; they never did not hear His voice (as the sheep); they never did not believe in Him (as the "children of God" rather than the Children of Satan—John 8:42,44, 1 John 3:8-10); they never did not yield fruit or previously turn away for not understanding, the cares if the world, or fear of persecution (and nobody who ever did those things could be saved)
Therefore, they were never in any real sense, lost sinners, but at the worst, could have been nothing more than backslidden saints (who simply didn't know they were saints). As the Primitive Baptists claim (in opposition to the other Calvinists who deny this point), the preaching of the Gospel is just feeding sheep rather than God's means of saving them. (Yet they are still wrong if it is true that all were once children of wrath who had to at some point get saved).
•consistently uses Romans 9:22,23 as describing Hell when it is discussing earthly show of power to people on earth. Nobody has ever seen "hardened" Pharaoh or "blinded" Israel[ites] go to Hell! Even in a framework of unconditional election, God could save ("unharden", "unblind") them after that purpose was fulfilled.
•Treat "dead in sin" as if it were actual physical death and insist that because of this "total inability", people cannot believe, but only choose the way of death, and God is only passively(single predestinarians) "allowing [the non-elect] to go the way they want", but keep emphasizing "God blinded them that they may not see". Either they could accept the way of life, and it is God who is preventing them ("for His sovereign purpose") or, once again, the blinding is not both unconditional, and eternal at the same time. When it is unconditional, it is a group wide blinding for a specific earthly purpose. If it is eternal, it is "giving a person over" who had rejected numerous opportunities to repent.
•Insists God really gives a "genuine" offer of life, to the non-elect (who thus can be "held responsible" for "freely rejecting it") when God never intended to save them (and intentionally blinded them) [single predestinationists]
•Infralapsarians and "single predestinarians" claim their position is the "true" Calvinism, and insist that Arminian portrayals of Calvinism in supralapsarian, double predestinarian, or "hyper" terms are "misrepresentation of Calvinism", but then turn right around and try to reason by casting foreknowledge in a way that suggests that God must be responsible for sin, condemnation to Hell, and other points that define the supra/double predestinarian position. This is clearly shown to be the heart of Calvinism, but it ignores the scriptural teaching that God "concluded all in unbelief [i.e. allowed sin to exist] in order to have mercy on all", (Romans 11:31-2—i.e. give all a chance to be restored from a fallen state), not for condemnation as an end in itself with mercy only offered to some.
•Bases its concept of human guilt on a "federal headship" of Adam, which assumes each individual person either made some sort of universal "choice" "in" Adam (almost as if they were conscious preexisting souls as Origen taught), or were imputed with the choice of their "head". Therefore God leaves many of them with no chance by specifically willing not to save them, and Romans 9 can be appealed to saying this is not unfair. This is based on Romans 5:12, but all that says is that we got our sin nature from Adam, and says nothing about a choice of any but Adam. And it continues that Christ is the new head for man, if they believe; justification being offered to the same "all" condemned by Adam's sin, and several chapters later, once again, ch. 11:31-2.
•Uses "sovereignty", as well as "glory" and "holy" to contrast and in effect override love as God's primary attribute and justify making God primarily (or at least equally) "hatred". But love is what is used in scripture as a definition of God, and so His sovereignty must also be seen in light of love.
•Interprets all instances of God's willing that "all" or "the world" be saved refer only to the elect. [e.g. "all kinds of people", "the world of the elect"] In some cases it possibly can, but not all. (1 Tim.2:3-6 and John 3:17, for example)
•Having regeneration precede faith either has a person being born again but not saved, or renders faith as a useless formality
•In practice, assurance is not really possible because it is based on the person's own performance and perseverance. Many will deny this, but that is what the doctrine, at its root, and by its formulators teaches. So while a person is "actually saved" in the eternal decree, no one is "actually saved" in time. Since we live in time and have no access to eternity now, what good is this? We are left in the same dilemma Calvinists pose for non-Calvinists. Salvation is up to us. Only worse, because in the end, it is determined by the eternal decree, which noboby can know or control.
•Position was not recognized by the Church for first four centuries until Augustine. It is true that there was much doctrinal shifting in that period, but still highly unlikely for such an all important truth to have been "lost" for so long.
Just like they have pointed out in the non-Calvinists when confronted with "why does one believe and not the other", the Calvinists fudge around the issue, arguing an "effectual call" when they do begin hearing His voice, bearing fruit, etc., regarding the first point. But that still doesn't answer the problem: were they ever blind or not? did they always hear His voice, or not? They may then say "God's eternal decrees play out in time" But then is it all just a script? Or is God's eternal realm just a backwards extension of our own world of time where "a follows b" and we can lay it all out as this causes that? Other points, they just reiterate their position. Eventually, you might get something like "you guys are just using reason". Most often, the conversation is shifted back to "why does one believe and not another" as the ultimate clincher for Calvinism.
I guess the whole issue, besides what election, predestination and foreknowledge really mean, boils down the assumption:
Romans 5: God charges each individual with legal guilt apart from their own acts of sin
Romans 9: God is "just" to leave men in this condition.
But when it is shown that both scriptures have been misinterpreted, the whole premise loses its basis. The only thing you have to fall on is "why do you believe and not another— do you have some merit within yourself?". Granted, this is the best argument, though according to the Scripture's definition of faith vs. works, it does not really follow either.
The conclusion: this argument really doesn't have a perfect solution. We should just realize that Augustine of Hippo opened up a can of worms by going beyond the simple Gospel of "man is lost, yet Christ saves" into trying to deeply hypothesize the timeless mechanics of election. It's just another distraction for us to be arguing with each other over, rather than just preaching the Gospel to the lost.
Note: Since writing this, I have adopted a position known as "Pantelism", or "Comprehensive Grace", or "The Fulfilled View" (see here. It holds that "the end of the age" was filfilled in the destruction of the Temple in AD70, and that with the Temple and the Law, the condemnation brought by the Law (Rom. 4:15, 7:7, 2 Cor. 3:9, was ended as well. This effectively makes the whole issue of "free-will vs election" moot; at least after AD70. Salvation has apread unconditionally to the world.
This actually maintains the "monergism" of Calvinism, which was their strongest, hardest to argue against point. Also, the Primitive Baptists' "faith OF Christ" vs "duty faith".
The whole while arguing this issue; I inside noted that it was all about some "act" we do, that supposedly saves us.
I had appealed to Rom.4 as making the distinction between "faith" and "works", but according to the Fulfilled view, the roughly 40 year period from Christ's death to the end of the Temple marked an OVERLAP of covenants, so that they had an "earnest" of the Promise (full redemption by grace), yet were still under the Law, thus, the ongoing necessity of works, as well as "believing", in order to to apply the "covering" of Christ, like in the original Passover, and "run the race" and "persevere" until "the end (which was in their lifetimes, not thousands of years later). This is the only way to explain all of these seemingly contradictory points, that fuel debates like this, plus many others, including "eternal security" in general.
In the "calling/drawing" part of the debate, Calvinists used to goad "the only alternative to Calvinism is universalism". Some may try to attribute my turnaround to that, but that is not what has happened at all, though again, it opened me up to the strong points of monergism (not the other way around).
It started with the fact that the "Second Coming" we are still waiting for, yet was said to be "soon". We plug in every world event as being "the beginning of the end", but so far, it never is. It seemed maybe whatever that was, had already passed, and we didn't recognize it.
So then, it was also when I saw how well the "overlap of covenants" concept harmonized faith and works. Also, that Christians of all stripes preach that in this ongoing "race", we are "made more like Christ" through behavioral "growth" that is supposedly an exclusive supernatural gift given to the "regenerate". But in practice, the "growth" they all describe is the same as what any non-believer can do (basically, apart of "common grace"). It perhaps will include some points of morality the nonChristian might not believe are important or necessary. But I don't see anyone with anything looking really "supernatural".
It all fell into place. (Ironically, most holding what's known as a "full Preterist" view, which is what this stems from, are Calvinists who believe default condemnation and unconditional election and reprobation does continue on. With no future "end of the age", this will continue on FOREVER, though they assure us, that as Christians build and expand "the Kingdom", less people will die lost).
The final arbiter is the fact that none of these views leave any real "good news". The Calvinists are basically right that leaving it up to "free-will" really is no better than election, as far as only "the few" finding salvation. Only a truly unconditional Grace is the true hope for man.
This essay is left up because it does still give a good biblical answer to many of the arguments of Calvinism, and aside from the defenses of synergism (free-will cooperation in salvation), most of the points still stand.
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