Clarifying The Problem – Biblical Interpretation

Who knew that a four-hour statistical process-control review meeting would help clarify my struggle with aspects of the Christian faith? Perhaps it is inherent working within a chemistry/manufacturing environment to understand all of the known variables. One aspect of understanding the variables is safety related, of course. Another aspect of understanding the variables relates to the cost of doing business and ensuring that a quality product is the end-result. To that end, when process variables are in control, the outcome (in this case how well the final products works) can be accurately predicted and there will be a minimum of variance.

So, what’s the correlation (pun intended) of the day job with my faith? Part of my struggle revolves around divergent views as Calvinist, Arminian, open theist, or any other view for that matter. I presume that God has provided all that we mere mortals would ever need to know about Him through the Bible. So, how are fundamental beliefs so varied from one Christian to another? Why is my interpretation and understanding of Eph 1:4 entirely different from that of CJ Mahaney? Note: please see my previous post regarding CJ Mahaney’s sermon on sovereign grace and divine election. Is it possible, for instance, that I’m looking at the “mean value” while CJ Mahaney is looking at the “median value” within the same “data sets”? Is there more than one interpretation for this verse – or for passages within Lamentations 3 and Romans 9? Can we make sense of apparently conflicting passages of Scripture?

I’m paraphrasing a little: but if I hold to Christ’s teachings, I’ll know the truth which will set me free. Seems simple enough – and according to Bob George in his book, Classic Christianity, if the truth sets me free, then the opposite is true; error binds me up. Feeling conflicted about my faith; I suppose it would seem reasonable that I am in error. But am I?


Defining the terms

While recently searching for information on Calvinism I stumbled across a web site quoting material from The Five Points of Calvinism – Defined, Defended, Documented by David Steele and Curtis Thomas. I thought it would be beneficial to post my understanding of these terms and highlight the specific differences (at least related to divine election) that I have with my Calvinist friends.

According to Arminianism:

  • Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) with man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role. Thus man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

According to Calvinism:

  • Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them; the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

The reason for my interest is that (I think) the Calvinist-Arminian debate goes to the nature and character of who we believe God to be. Feel free to post your thoughts and comments.

Sovereign Grace/Divine Election?

The following is a letter I wrote to a friend who recently lent me a CJ Mahaney DVD on sovereign grace:

I’ve listened to the CJ Mahaney you gave me re sovereign grace. I looked on CJM’s web site,, but was not able to find this particular DVD on the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In any event, CJM makes a compelling case for believing in divine election. However, if anything, I am more convinced in the error of Calvinism in general and divine election in particular because:

  1. CJM ascribes a meaning to Eph 1:4 that I don’t think the author intended.
  2. CJM appears loose with his definitions of words.
  3. CJM’s use of emotion and personal experiences related to his conversion (at age five) are not a strong enough argument for divine election in light of the totality of scripture regarding salvation.

According to CJM, Eph 1:4 says that Christians were chosen personally and specifically by God to be saved because we were chosen:

  • In Christ
  • Before the foundation of the world
  • To be holy and blameless

Without the prepositions, Eph 1:4 in the NIV version I have says; He chose us to be blameless. From my Webster’s dictionary, the word chose (choose) has different meanings including “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”. As such, rewording the verse slightly – God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before creating the world. In short, God created us without sin.

My simplistic understanding goes like this: God wanted fellowship with earthly creatures that were without sin. God created Adam and Eve – perfect, holy, and blameless and they enjoyed fellowship with God. God also gave A&E a free will and it wasn’t long before A&E sinned. God therefore booted A&E out of the Garden of Eden. Amazingly, God still desired A&E’s fellowship as well as the fellowship of everyone that would come from A&E. We go through the entire OT with all of its rules and regulations but God still couldn’t enjoy fellowship with us because we failed to uphold and obey His law. Amazingly again, God still desired our fellowship and set up a process whereby His own death would serve as a substitute punishment for our sin. To that end, I do not see that Eph 1:4 has anything to do with divine selection.

CJM’s perspective on how God enacts divine election was interesting – wherein God reaches out and stops some, but not all, of those who’re running straight to Hell. I thought about your example of choosing to pay off one brother’s mortgage but not the other. However, I’m not aware of scripture that paints the picture of God applying randomness or otherwise arbitrarily saving some but not others. As you know, I don’t accept your examples in Romans 9 because I believe the last couple of verses explain that chapter to be about those who have faith being saved i.e. the Gentiles against those who tried to keep the law and rejected faith i.e. the Israelites. As I understand it, Christ died once for all and every requirement for our salvation has been satisfied. All that God requires is for us to believe – which is something we must choose to do. I don’t see how God needed to do anything more i.e. choose some (the elect) and not others (the “deselect”).

CJM makes it sound as though the human condition is not able to seek out truth, justice, or righteousness. The Bible is clear – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. However, if we are created in His image, then doesn’t it make sense that we have been given the ability to know and understand right from wrong, good from evil – at least to varying degrees. Clearly, there are various levels of evilness throughout humanity. Any rational person would categorically state that Adolph Hitler was “more evil” than Mother Theresa. If we are able to make that distinction, then isn’t it possible that we can also see and indeed desire the holiness of God. We may not understand the ramifications or the costs of that holiness and our sin nature will forever prevent us from being truly holy. But that’s why Christ came. We are holy and blameless, in Christ, because of the free gift that we have chosen to accept.

CJM laid out the fruit of election as being:

  • Humility before God
  • Assurance from God
  • Gratefulness to God

Fine and well – but show me the scriptural references. Is there such a thing as “the fruit of election”? On the other hand, is this something made up to sound spiritual and to help argue the merits of divine election? Without scriptural references, I can only surmise that “fruit of election” is a made-up concept. In contrast, I can point you to Gal 5:22 regarding the fruit of the Spirit.

Regarding word definitions, CJM stated, “Repentance is a way of admitting that we can not save ourselves.” My Topical NIV states that repentance involves a conscious sorrow for one’s past way of life – a heartfelt “I’m sorry” expressed to God – turning away from an old way of living. Of course, I don’t believe that I can save myself. Most Christians, at least within the evangelical circle I run in, understand that it was our accepting the free gift of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins that has saved us. To be honest, I’m not even sure that one has to “feel” sorrow or remorse to become a Christian. I don’t know of any reference for that. On the contrary, we repent because we understand that we have fallen short of the holiness that God desires in all of His children.

Well, this is probably a good place to stop. Take care and I look forward to your response.