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Calvinist Tag-Team Continues the Pummeling of a Poor Schlep

December 22, 2009 6 comments

To my Calvinist brethren Charles & Timothy,

My delay in responding to the comments each of you has posted (here) and (here) is regrettable.  I apologize for not having made the time to address your thoughtful arguments in a timelier manner.  In addition, I should have done better in helping readers identify who made particular arguments and referenced specific scriptures.  I didn’t – and frankly, that’s laziness on my part.  No offense intended.

Given the length of our posts, it seemed best to respond to specific scriptural references used in your arguments.  If nothing else, I’m sure we’ll all agree that our respective arguments are pointless if we can’t back them up with scripture.  However, I didn’t respond to everything that was tossed my way.  Except for those passages referring to God’s word (which again, Timothy, I regret that I am still struggling to understand), I found our greater disagreements contained herein.  Please feel free to respond on anything here or reiterate some point that I have not addressed in this post.  I welcome your input and appreciate the time and effort you’ve both expended in responding to my musings.

Scripture references from Charles & Timothy Bob’s $0.02 worth
1 Peter 1:23

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

This portion of 1st Peter appears related to redemption:

(vs 18-19) We’re redeemed with the blood of Christ

(vs 20-21) Christ was destined to be our Savior

(vs 22) What happens in the believer’s heart

(vs 23) You’ve been born again (i.e. given new life) through Jesus

Might the reference to not being born again by “perishable seed” relate to Adam while “the word of God” is a reference to Christ?  Still, I don’t see how this verse supports Calvinism.  If God does not show partiality (Rom 2:11, Acts 10:34-35) and has universal love for all (2 Pet 3:9), does it not then appear that God desires all to come to repentance?  The fact that not all come to repentance would, at least to me, seem to indicate that there just might be some self-determinism as to whether or not an individual accepts God’s free gift of salvation.

James 1:18

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

The first thing I notice is that the word ‘word’ isn’t capitalized as it is in John 1:1 and that the passage seems to be talking about trials, tribulations and temptations:

(vs 2) Consider it joy when you face trials

(vs 3) Testing your faith develops perseverance

(vs 5) If you lack wisdom, ask God for it

(vs 12) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial

(vs 13) God doesn’t tempt anyone

(vs 16) Don’t be deceived

(vs 17) Every good and perfect gift is from above

Verse 18 then, seems to be the rationale as to why we can persevere when tempted – because [God decided] to give us [new life] through [Christ] that we might [acknowledge all] he created.

1 Corinthians 4:15

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

Paul refers to himself as [the new believer’s father] through the gospel.  I’m not sure what Paul is saying here. Still, I don’t see that there’s an inclination for a Calvinist interpretation.

Jesus became our “heavenly father” (that is, we became a child of God).  A person doesn’t become a father (parent) until their child is born.  That implies at one time the person wasn’t a parent.  Is that the same with God – He doesn’t become “our parent” (and conversely we don’t become His child) until we believe by faith?  Then, for God to be our heavenly father, we have to decide.

1 Corinthians 2:14

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The verse says that spiritual matters are foolishness to the non-believer because those spiritual matters are spiritually discerned.  The verse does not say that one without spiritual discernment is not able to come to a point of understanding i.e. becoming a Christian and thereby acquire spiritual discernment (wisdom).  On that thought, don’t non-believers derive benefit from the book of Proverbs just as believers do?
Revelation 17:8

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

There’s no indication that names were written in the book at the beginning of time.  I suggest that names are continually being added whenever someone becomes a new believer.  It’s interesting that angels rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10) and in my mind, this seems to support the continual addition of new believers (whose names were not previously written in the book of life) over time.
Luke 10:20

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s no indication as to when these names were added to the book of life.  See above.
Romans 9:18-24

(vs 18) Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

(vs 21-21) Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

Romans 9 is a difficult passage for those disagreeing with unconditional election – unless they incorporate Paul’s summary (9:30-33.  Paraphrased, those last verses in Romans 9 state:

  • Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it – by faith.  However, Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained [righteousness] because they pursued [righteousness] not by faith but by works.

I would certainly agree that Romans 9 teaches God’s sovereignty and even the election of nations – as witnessed by Israel in the Old Testament.  In addition, if I read the references in my NIV Topical Bible (Ex 3:19-20, 4:21-23, 5:1-2 and 9:22-28) it seems to be that God may indeed harden an individual.  However, the hardening appears to occur only after an individual has shown repeated belligerence towards God and a rejection of His redemption.  Perhaps this is what constitutes the “sin against the Holy Spirit” – the unpardonable sin?

Finally, I’m sympathetic to arguments made that the “lump” of clay referenced in verse 21 refers to the nation of Israel wherein God has the right to split Israel into two vessels – unbelieving Israel (a vessel of wrath) and believing Israel (along with the believing Gentiles, is a vessel of mercy).

Proverbs 16:4

The LORD works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Do Calvinist really believe that God intentionally creates wicked people just to damn them?  I’ve heard the question put this way; does God punish people for producing the very acts He created them to have?  Does God make people evil or wicked and then hold them responsible?

What about scriptures teaches that God doesn’t willingly afflict or damn anyone (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9)?  If that is true, there has to be some other interpretation for this verse and I submit that Prov 16:4 has to do with God bringing about those consequences the wicked have earned – that is, eventually the wicked reap what they sow and have to answer for their wickedness.

Job 23:13-15

But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.  That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him.

God is sovereign – that’s a given.  Wasn’t God’s gift of salvation intended to atone for all sins?  Please tell me, what sins, or whose sins haven’t been covered by Jesus’ death on the cross?  For me, the question lends validity to the thought that, (of one’s own volition) some believe and some don’t believe.  Because Jesus’ sacrifice covers all sins and because God intended salvation for all (John 3:16, 2 Pet 3:9), it stands to reason that the decision and the corresponding responsibility to accept or reject God’s free gift falls on individuals and not on God predetermining who will and conversely who will not be saved.
John 8:47

He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Whether sympathetic to or antithetical towards the unconditional election, the simple truth is that one isn’t saved (or otherwise become a child of God and therefore belong to God) until such time as by faith a person accepts Christ’s atonement for their sin.  In this situation, Jesus was speaking to non-believers.
John 15:16

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

This verse, frankly, makes me scratch my head regarding unconditional election.  Still, how is this verse rectified with John 3:16 and 1 Pet 3:9?  Could it be that Jesus is only talking to His disciples here?  And, as I have stated earlier, I don’t doubt that God has elected certain people during the formation of the early church i.e. Paul having his Damascus Road experience.  This verse follows the vine and the branches parable.  Jesus wants us to bear fruit.  As to this verse, I can only surmise that the author may have indeed been elected and wrote down exactly what Jesus said.  The question for me then becomes, is unconditional election “normative” for everyone or only for those very few listed above?
Matthew 22:14

For many are invited, but few are chosen.

Jesus is talking about his second coming in Matt 24.  When Jesus uses the word ‘elect’ (verses 22, 24, 31), it appears that Jesus is speaking about people who already believe.  Could it be, then, that a person doesn’t become “elect” until he is a believer?  That is, becoming elect occurs the moment a person believes.  Put another way, an elect person is a (here and now) Christian and not someone who is appointed to become a Christian.  The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet 3:9).  Clearly, however, not everyone responds to the gospel.  Doesn’t everyone then have the capacity to become “elect”?  To summarize, no one is “elected” until they believe because it is the believers who are the elect.

So then, does this definition of the elect being believers work on a couple of verses I find troublesome?  For instance:

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and all who were appointed (emphasis mine) honored the word of the Lord; and 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 (emphasis mine) through the sanctifying word of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Hmmm – my $0.02 worth of analytical thought doesn’t appear to hold water very well.  Then again, as I stated before, perhaps there were various individuals at the formation of the early Christian Church i.e. Paul, the disciples and the apostles who were predetermined by God to be Christians?  Nevertheless, the context of Matt 22 doesn’t appear (to me) to support the concept of unconditional election.

John 10: 26

But you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Jesus says that the reason they do not hear is because they do not belong to God…if they did belong to God (if He were their Father/if they were “born again/born from above”), then they would hear Him.

You don’t become one of Jesus’ sheep because you believe. You believe because you are a sheep.

Your metaphor of birth works well for those of us in the physical realm but I think the analogy breaks down quickly when we begin talking of a spiritual birth.  Nicodemus was confused between spiritual birth and physical birth.  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t say to ‘Nick’, “Dude, you’re elect so rejoice that you’re going to believe in me by faith for your salvation.”  Quite the contrary, Jesus had to make the distinction to ‘Nick” regarding physical and spiritual birth and there’s no apparent teaching about unconditional election here.
Your strange definition of grace requires that God is obligated to extend it to everyone – i.e. you are “justifying the wicked.” I don’t think that God is “obligated” to extend grace to everyone.  But so far as I can determine, the clear teaching of the Bible is that God so loved [everyone] that He sent Himself to atone for our sin.

My “strange” definition of grace comes from the NIV Topical Bible, which states, “Grace is God’s life-transforming gift of his favor to those who do not deserve it. The gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins is available for all who through faith accept his grace revealed in Jesus Christ, but so many miss the gift because they rely on themselves and try to earn grace by keeping the law.”

I’m sure we agree that:

  • Everyone is born with a sin nature.
  • No one can earn their way into heaven.
  • It is only because of God’s grace that the wicked can be justified when they repent of their sin.
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