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Responding to Calvinist Arguments of Sam Storms (IV)

July 28, 2009 Leave a comment

This is my fourth post in response to an essay written by Sam storms of Enjoying God Ministries http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/faith-and-repentance/.  As noted before, this article was sent to me by my dear Calvinist friend Colleen who believes that God chooses certain individuals for salvation and also gives them the grace to accept salvation and the faith to believe.

Eph 2:8-9

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one should boast.

Mr. Storms puts forth an argument that because of word gender, the gift referred to in this passage can’t be faith or grace but is instead, “salvation in its totalality, a salvation that flows out of God’s grace and becomes ours through faith.”  I emphatically agree – By His grace, God’s free gift to us is salvation which we obtain through faith.  Amen, brother – sing it!

However, Mr. Storms derives the following statements from this passage:

  • Salvation is a gift of God to his elect
  • Faith is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation

Because I lack Greek knowledge and the structure of language, I feel at a disadvantage.  To that end, it is somewhat difficult and awkward to respond.  However, as I look at various translations (KJ, NASB, NIV, ESV, etc), it is apparent that none of them draw out these Calvinistic thoughts.  Why didn’t any of these Bible translators include the Calvinism?  Could it be that these Bible translators didn’t see the Calvinism inherent within the passage?

The NIV punctuation breaks Eph 2:8-9 into six segments.  I don’t know if that’s significant or not, but it’s an easy way to look at these verses.

  • For it is by grace you have been saved.  This is a demonstrative statement without ambiguity.  We are saved by grace.  The author doesn’t say we are saved by grace AND faith.
  • Through faith.  My trusty Webster’s Dictionary tells me that the word “through” is not only a preposition, it is also a “function word” used to indicate any number of things such as movement, time, means, completion, exhaustion, as well as to indicate acceptance or approval.  Could it be that God’s “approved way” of us receiving His grace (the free gift of salvation) is through faith?  There’s no indication here that God gives faith to some and withholds faith from others.  The best definition of the word ‘faith’ that I know of comes from Heb 11:1 which says, “ Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
  • And this not from yourselves. Notice that the author uses the singular word “this” and not the plural word “these”.  I believe that the author is referring only to grace here.
  • It is the gift of God.  Again, notice that the author uses the singular word “it” and not the plural word “they”.  This would again seem to indicate that only one thought – in this case, grace, is being referenced.
  • Not by works. Self-explanatory – good deeds won’t cut it.
  • So that no one can boast.  Self-explanatory so shut-up about how nifty you think you are.

In conclusion, Eph 2:8-9 does not appear to support Calvinist thought that God chooses (elects) some for salvation.  These verses don’t support the notion that faith is a gift of God given to some and not given to others.  Rather – what seems self-evident from a simple reading of the passage is:

We’re saved by grace.

We’re saved by grace through faith.

Put another way, we’re saved by grace through being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

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Does 2 Peter 1:1 Support Calvinism Afterall?

July 26, 2009 Leave a comment

This is my third response to a Sam Stones essay, Faith and Repentance (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/faith-and-repentance/). Mr Storms claims that the phrase “have received” is more accurately interpreted as “to obtain by lot”.  Lacking any Greek knowledge and seeking clarity on this subject, I asked Pete Parker, a pastor and friend at Woodcrest Church in Eagan MN, to apply some of his Greek knowledge and understanding.  With Pete’s permission, here’s an abridged email exchange:

Dear Pete,

I hope that you can help with a Greek question I have on 2 Pet 1:1 which reads: “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

My question pertains to whether the phrase “have received” is more accurately translated “to obtain by lot”.  Does the difficulty of translating Greek to English leave the English reader lacking the true meaning of what the author intended?  A Calvinist friend claims this verse actually helps to justify and strengthen Calvinist belief in election wherein salvation is because of Him who calls (Rom 9:11).  However, you being a Calvinist, I’m guessing you already know that!

Thanks,

Bob

Dear Bob,

I did a little study this morning and I would have to agree that most references I’ve checked would render the phrase, “have received a faith” to be best translated, “to receive by lot or divine will.” (Luke 1:9; John 19:24; Acts 1:17).  Lot casting was a way in which God could providentially control earthly circumstances to reveal His will.  To receive by lot or divine will seems to infer:

  • Something not attained by personal effort.
  • Something not attained by personal skill.
  • Something not attained by personal worthiness.
  • Something that came purely from God.

As you can imagine, Calvinists really like this verse!

While the majority of the “language experts” agree that the Greek phrase is best rendered “to receive by lot or divine will”, I also tend to trust the various translators – who interestingly enough don’t use the phrase “receive by lot or divine will” in any translations.  Perhaps that phrase doesn’t convey the main point of the verse – Peter wanting his readers to know that their faith was as precious as his was.

I also wonder if the use of this Greek verb primarily emphasizes that this precious faith is a “free gift” from God that we cannot earn more than secondarily emphasizing that God gives it out by divine will.  Perhaps it’s best to interpret the whole “casting of lots” idea as a visual way to determine God’s will on a subject.  I sense God allowed the practice of casting lots to show the people His will on a subject in that it wasn’t the luck of the draw but God who controlled how the draw turned out.

Pete

Dear Pete,

I appreciate your time and effort.  Yes, no doubt Calvinists really like 2 Pet 1:1 and those I meet on the “battlefield” (actually, we write on each other’s blogs) occasionally bring up Greek or Hebrew words and interpretation.  Of course, I’m at a distinct disadvantage here.  Nevertheless, I maintain that one literally has to “have faith” in whatever translation they’re using (KJ, RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, etc) and believe that those translators had a solid understanding of vocabulary, nuance of the language and customs of the day to adequately translate our modern Bible versions.

Your finding that “have received a faith” is best translated “to receive by lot or divine will” is, well, troubling to one with open theistic tendencies.  Sam Storms uses the same references you noted.  Still, I find it difficult to believe that those references support the notion that 1 Pet 1:1 is best interpreted “to receive by lot or divine will”.  I guess I don’t see the connection between receiving by lot or divine will and:

  • High Priests use Tarot cards (I just made that up) to determine who sits in the “big chair” (Luke 1:9).
  • “Rolling dice” to determine whether Matthais or Barnabus would replace Judas as an apostle (Acts 1:17).
  • Guards “flip a coin” to determine who gets Jesus’ clothes after He was crucified (John 19:24).

I don’t doubt that those things happened – they’re recorded events in the Bible after all.  However, I don’t interpret those things as God actually applying His will in those events – well, except for Jesus’ clothing as that was the fulfillment of prophesy.  Anyway, I’ve always thought God wanted none to perish and all to come to repentance – if only I could actually find a verse to support that concept!  Well, must tarry forth.  Thanks, again, Pete.  I appreciate your time and efforts.

Sincerely,

Bob

Responding to Calvinist Arguments of Sam Storms (II)

July 26, 2009 1 comment

This is my second post in response to an essay entitled Faith and Repentance written by Sam storms of Enjoying God Ministries: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/faith-and-repentance/.  This article was sent to me by my dear friend and ardent Calvinist Colleen in support of her contention that God chooses certain individuals for salvation and also gives them the grace to accept salvation and the faith to believe.

Mr. Storms references 2 Pet 1:1 as another verse that speaks to the issue of faith as a gift of God.  The verse reads;

  • “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Storms states that the Greek word translated “have received” is related to a verb that means “to obtain by lot” and states, “Thus, faith is removed from the realm of human free will and placed in its proper perspective as having originated in the sovereign and altogether gracious will of God. For it is not by chance or the luck of the draw that some come to saving faith, but by virtue of the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

That got me to thinking – how do various versions of the Bible prior to the ESV and NIV translate 2 Peter 1:1?

  • KJ (1611) Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
  • ASV (1901) Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
  • RSV (1952) Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
  • NASB (1971) Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
  • NIV (1978) Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
  • ESV (2001) Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

That then begs the question, what is the definition of the word “obtain’?  For that, I look to my trusty Webster Dictionary which says:

  • To hold on to
  • To gain or attain usually by planned action or effort

And, what does my trusty Webster Dictionary say is the meaning of the word “received”?

  • To come into possession of
  • To acquire

One obtaining salvation by accepting Christ as their savior appears to be another way to say that as soon as you accept Christ as your savior, you have received salvation.  It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that the original Greek probably does support both “have received” and “have obtained” as there doesn’t appear to be a significant difference between the applications of these words.

Regrettably for Mr. Storms’ argument, there is no implication with this verse that it is God who is doing the “bidding” (pun intended because I was looking for something involving gambling) and determining who will be saved and who will be damned.  So, what then is the reason to believe that 2 Peter 1:1 means anything other than the Gentiles had received the same faith as the apostles?  What am I missing?  More importantly, what are Greek scholars and Bible translators missing for surely, if Mr. Storms is correct, the NIV he quoted from (or any other version for that matter) would have been written to include this Calvinist concept.

I can’t help but conclude that Mr. Storms is guilty of twisting the clear intent of this verse to better support Calvinism.  Mr Storms, there’s no reason to alter, add to, or otherwise interpose the meaning of this verse.  If you wish, I’d be happy to provide you with verses I find troublesome for Calvinistic interpretation.  2 Peter 1:1, however, does not appear to be a verse supporting Calvinistic arguments.

Who Are the Elect, Anyway?

July 25, 2009 3 comments

I’ve always found it fascinating to be using the same words, sharing common thoughts and themes, say, with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses only to realize, for instance, who they believe Jesus to be is radically different from who I believe Jesus to be.  It often comes down to word definitions.  This got me to thinking – there certainly are significant theological differences between Calvinists and Arminians.  However, could a part of that division come down to word definitions?  In this case, what does the term “elect” mean” and who constitutes the “elect”?

The issue of “definitional differences” (that sure sounds philosophical!) occurred to me when I was looking up verses with which to flog Colleen in a previous post.  I stumbled across the topic of “Nations” in my NIV Topical Bible.  It states:

  • After the flood, humanity divided into various nations; God is King over all of them.  He picked out one of them, the descendants of Abraham, as his chosen nation.  The inhabitants of this nation became known as Israelites and later as Jews.  God commanded them to remain separate from other nations, especially by avoiding mixed marriages.  From the perspective of the Bible, humanity came to be divided between the Jew and the Gentile or between Jew and Greek.
  • God’s intention was never to reserve his promised blessing only for one nation but to make it available for all nations.  Already to Abraham he promised that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  The prophets looked ahead to a time in which all nations would hear and respond to the salvation of God.  This was fulfilled when the gospel was preached to Jew and Gentile alike and the church was formed as the worldwide body of Jesus Christ.

So, the thought process of my feeble little mind goes like this:

  • In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve.  Were they the first people to be considered “the elect”?
  • After the flood, those on the arc dispersed and various nations were formed.  God chose the descendants of Abraham (the Israelites) to be “the elect”.
  • Through Israel (God’s elect), all nations would eventually hear and respond to the salvation of God and thereby become “the elect”.
  • Prophesy was fulfilled when Jesus came and preached to the Jews (the “old” elect) and the Gentiles (the “new” elect) alike.

So, what does this mean or prove?  In and of itself, I suppose, nothing.  Calvinists claim that one not yet saved can be an elected person – it’s just that God hasn’t yet brought that person to a point of salvation.  However, as I re-read verses Calvinists often quote to prove the concept of election, what I’m beginning to see is that it is the believers – those who have, by faith, trusted Christ for their salvation that are the elect.  Well, duh!  I can see my Calvinist friends thinking, “Well, what did you expect?  Who did you think the elect were – non-believers?”  THAT’S JUST IT!  THE ELECT ARE THE BELIEVERS.

Therefore, a person doesn’t become “elect” until he is a believer.  As such, being elect is not future oriented wherein a person will believe because God has elected him.  Rather, becoming elect occurs the moment a person believes.  Put another way, an elect person is a Christian.

As I read, for instance, Matt 24 where Jesus is talking about His second coming, it seems apparent that when Jesus uses the word ‘elect’ (verses 22, 24, 31) he is speaking about those who are already believers.

In conclusion, because God doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet 3:9), everyone is called.  But clearly, not everyone responds.  And because everyone is called, everyone has the capacity to become “elect”.  But no one is “elected” until they believe.  So, who are the elect, anyway?  The elect are those who already believe.

Well then – let’s put this definition to the test.  I maintain that if some theory is true, it works in all situations i.e. if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  So, does this new definition (of who are the elect) work on a couple of verses I find troublesome?  For instance:

  • Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
  • 2 Thess 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying word of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Hmmm.  Perhaps it’s back to the drawing board.  I don’t quite understand it, but I sense that I’m onto something when it comes to the definition of “the elect”.  To that end, any thoughts or comments from readers would be appreciated.

Responding to Calvinist Arguments of Sam Storms (I)

July 22, 2009 Leave a comment

An essay written by Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/faith-and-repentance/ was sent to me by my good friend and ardent Calvinist, Colleen, to support her contention that God not only chooses certain individuals for salvation, but that He also gives them the grace to accept salvation and the faith to believe.

For the sake of easier reading and allowing responses to more specific points, I’ve opted to write three or four posts in response.  This is the first.

Mr. Storm’s begins his essay with the “hypothetical case of the twin brothers, Jerry and Ed.”  Mr. Storms explains how Jerry eventually comes to faith but Ed remained obstinate and indignant in his unbelief and asks the question: “What made Jerry and Ed to differ [as to Jerry obtaining eternal life and Ed damned to Hell]?”  Mr. Storms states that because of the total moral depravity of both Jerry and Ed, neither brother could or would believe.  In addition, the only difference between Jerry and Ed was God’s unconditional and sovereign grace extended by Jerry but not to Ed.  Therefore, God is the ultimate cause of Jerry’s salvation (and correspondingly, Ed’s damnation).  Mr. Storms then references Rom 9:11 to state, “[Jerry was elected] in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls.”

Chapter nine of Romans appears to be foundational to Calvinist thought regarding election.  After all, the word ‘elect’ is in there, right?  Perhaps if Romans chapter nine ended at verse twenty-nine; it might be easier to understand individual election.  However, Paul seems to provide his own summary of what he’s just been writing about starting with Romans 9:30, “What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles [a group of people – emphasis mine] who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, [again, a group of people – emphasis mine] who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.”

I find these words at the end of this chapter intriguing to say the least.  Gentiles have obtained righteousness through faith and the Israelites continued to strive for righteousness through the law – and continued to fail.  It appears that Paul is talking about masses of people and not simply of individuals i.e. individual election.  From the beginning, there was corporate election wherein the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people – caretakers of the law.  As was evident, however, no one could keep the law and so God, though His sovereign choice, allowed not only Jews, but also Gentiles (gosh, isn’t that in essence everyone else!), to enter into His presence and kingdom through faith.

Looking a little farther on, (Rom 11:22), Paul says that Israel was “broken off” because of unbelief.  Perhaps that’s something akin to “hardening of heart”?  Does God show mercy on people in response to their belief (faith) or unbelief (the law)?  The answer is yes!  Look at Rom 11:23 where Paul writes that if Israel would only have faith, they would be “grafted in”.  Notice, too, that there’s no indication of God choosing some over others.

Re-reading verse 11, perhaps we ought to take into account who (or what) is represented by Jacob and who (or what) is represented by Esau.  Did God make sovereign choices and were individuals affected by those choices?  Absolutely.  However, it doesn’t appear, to me anyway, that Rom 9:11 is a verse Calvinists can use to support the notion of individual election.

Election Confusion

July 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Dear Colleen,

Thank-you for your clarification regarding my “taking on” the responsibility for my justification.  Reference your comment in https://martinsmercurialmusings.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/literal-vs-figurative-interpretation/ .  It’s taking me a couple of readings for this to sink in, so please correct me if I’m missing your point.  You think I am confusing the terms “free will” (having equal ability to accept or reject the gospel) with “free moral agent” (being free to do what I wish).

You make a distinction between free will and free moral agent that I don’t believe is taught in scripture.  There’s no ambiguity as the law tells me on which side of that demarcation line I’m standing.  I can know right from wrong (Romans 3:20b).  I think you and I would agree on this point.  However, I think where you and I diverge is you do not believe it is possible for people to voluntarily act contrary to their sin nature and are thus not able to choose (for ourselves and by our own efforts) to accept God’s God gift of salvation.  In other words, ultimately the reason that some are saved and others are not is because God (Himself) chose to save some and not others.

Some thoughts come to mind:

  1. Didn’t Jesus die as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2)?  His blood covers it all.  Maybe this is a stretch – however, Jesus dying for the whole world’s sin implies, although I would agree it certainly doesn’t prove, that there is at least the potential for people to reach out to God if for no other reason than doesn’t He want to be our savior?
  2. Does God want anyone to perish?  Please read John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4 if you answered ‘yes’.  Reading these verses, Colleen, I get the sense that there is every reason to believe God would choose everybody to be saved.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone will choose to believe.
  3. As I wrote in my post https://martinsmercurialmusings.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/struggling-with-calvinistic-arguments/ , I don’t think your reference to Romans 3:10 supports your contention that “no one seeks God”.

I believe your statements regarding divine election should be placed in the context of “corporate election” and not “individual election”.  Think of the “nation of Israel” or “the Gentiles”.  That said, I’ll certainly agree that John the Baptist, the twelve disciples, Paul, and other OT and NT people were individually chosen – heck, I’ll even use the word ‘elected’ if you’d prefer.  However, those are exceptions and not the rule and to that point, I disagree with your statement, “The Bible tells us (from Genesis to Revelation) that divine election is according to God’s sovereign good pleasure.  God is glad He chose some and not all.  It pleased Him to choose some for salvation out from among the mass of hell-deserving sinners.”

God is glad that He chose some and not all?  Please reference point #2 above.  Don’t angels rejoice when people are saved (Luke 15:10)?  If that is true, it certainly stands to reason that angels mourn when a soul is lost.  And is it not reasonable, then, to assume that these emotions are of God who would also rejoice when one is saved and mourn when one is lost?

Perhaps, Colleen, it’s not I who is confused about free will.  Perhaps you are confused between a “condition” and a “cause”.  You earlier referenced a quote by Greg Boyd so please allow me to return the favor.  This comes from the book Divine Foreknowledge pg 193-194:

  • “If we in any sense caused God to save us by exercising faith, that would imply that we merit something from God and thus are not saved solely by grace.  But this is not what freewill theists generally affirm or what Scripture teaches.  Rather, we hold that salvation is graciously given on the condition that one places their trust in the one giving it.  This no more makes salvation a merited reward than does my freely accepting a birthday gift makes this gift a reward.
  • Not only this, but most freewill theists believe that we fallen human beings would not even meet the condition of faith were it not for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We agree with Calvinists that we cannot have faith on our own.  We simply reject the Calvinist view that the work of the Holy Spirit is irresistible.  People can and do resist the Holy Spirit and thereby thwart the will of God for their lives (Luke 7:30, Acts 7:51, Eph 4:30, Heb 3:8).  Hence, we affirm that if a person is saved, it is all to the glory of God, whereas if a person is damned, they have only themselves to blame.

I guess it comes down to free will.  I believe individuals have it and that scripture supports that belief.  You, on the other hand, do not believe individuals have free will and you believe scripture supports your belief.  Maybe we ought to flip a coin.  Heads I win, tails you lose.  That’s scriptural, isn’t it (Luke 1:9, Acts 1:17)?  You get a hold of John.  I’ll talk to Greg.  Your place or mine?  We’ll flip a coin, or if you prefer, roll a dice to see who’s right.  BTW, Colleen, did you pick-up on the “heads I win, tails you lose”?

The question does come to mind, how is it that you and I are supposed to understand all of this?  The book I referenced earlier, Divine Foreknowledge, is a fascinating look into four distinct views of God’s foreknowledge presented from the Open-Theism (Greg Boyd), Simple-Knowledge (David Hunt), Middle-Knowledge (William Craig) and the Augustinian-Calvinist (Paul Helm) perspectives.  Certainly I would be more comfortable if Christianity was akin to mathematics i.e. if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  Maybe that was what the law was all about.  However, the law and mathematics are not relationally oriented.  God is – and so too are people.  And even though you and I may diverge and disagree on matters of faith, I do appreciate your continued “relationship”, engaging me on these matters, and being a dear friend.

Most Sincerely,

Bob

Literal vs Figurative Interpretation

July 6, 2009 4 comments

Dear Colleen,

As I was putting together my last post, I thought of asking you these questions:

Do you hate your husband?

Do you hate your children?

Do you hate any brothers or sisters you may have?

Are you enjoying any aspect of this life?

Well, sorry to tell you this, but if you don’t hate everyone and everything including your own life – well then, I regret to inform you that according to Luke 14:26-27 you are not a disciple of Christ.

I can almost see the smirk on your face and the shaking of your head.  But I’ve just told you what the Bible states.  However, you and I both know that this isn’t what the Bible teaches.  We’re obviously not taking a literal reading of this passage.  We’re not going to make dogma with this verse and justify hating people.  Rather, we both understand that this passage is hyperbole and relates to the cost of salvation.  But in a similar way, Colleen, I sense that you’re taking literal readings of particular verses and drawing interpretations and conclusions that I’m not sure were intended by the author.

Perhaps I’m completely missing something – and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told that!  Nevertheless, I look forward to any additional thoughts you may have regarding Rom 3:10-11 and Jn 4:23.

The more I think about it the more I keep coming back to the simplicity of believing as per the Apostle’s Creed.  And nowhere within the Apostle’s Creed do I see anything remotely indicative of Calvinistic thought.

Also, I don’t understand your previous comment, “(I) will never have that assurance (of salvation) as long as (I) try to take on the responsibility for that justification.”  What is it that I have previously said that leads you to conclude that I am taking on the responsibility for my own justification?

Most Sincerely,

Bob