Calvinist Tag-Team Continues the Pummeling of a Poor Schlep

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.

Author: Bob

I’m an upper Midwestern guy who has recently entered the "Buick stage" of life and decided to migrate to Florida. This blog is an attempt to rectify discordant aspects within my Christian faith ... or what often feels like my lack of Christian faith. Things which make life more enjoyable include strong black coffee, charcoal grilling anytime of the year, putz'ing at a table saw, playing chess, a good orthopedic surgeon and an occasional IPA. Please feel free to poke around and comment as you wish. I welcome discussion and the insights of others.

6 thoughts on “Calvinist Tag-Team Continues the Pummeling of a Poor Schlep”

  1. No problem, Charles. I’ll look forward to seeing your responses. I hope that this has been a blessed Christmas time for you and yours. Happy New Year!

  2. Re: 1 Corinthians 2:14

    “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?”

    In context, it looks like to me you need the Spirit first before you can understand the gospel:

    v12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

    Without the Spirit coming first to give you a new nature, the gospel is simply foolishness. Why would someone commit their life to something they believe to be foolishness? When the Spirit gives understanding, then the infinite value of the gospel is made clear and desirable. (v9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1John3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”)

    While non-believers can derive some practical lessons from the book of Proverbs, I think there’s more to Proverbs than tips on winning friends and influencing people…and yes, I think the spiritual aspects would generally be lost on nonbelievers.

    Re: Romans 9

    You said: “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.”

    But “election of nations” to what? Was Paul discussing God’s salvational promises to the Church at the end of Romans 8? Is Paul’s sorrow in Rom9:2 the result of jews losing some special “nonsalvational” status or jews cut off from salvation? If we were discussing anything but Calvinism, would the contrasts between “God loved one person and hated the other” or “objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction/objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” or “mercy/hardening” be interpreted as anything other than salvational? Isn’t Paul continuing the same discussion in Rom11 when he points out that he is an example of God keeping His salvational promises to Israel – that God has always saved “Israel” by preserving a remnant? “1I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin…5So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” Isn’t part of Paul’s conclusion in Rom11 that “26And so all Israel will be saved?”

    Certainly, you are correct to note that Pharoah’s inclusion must be as a historical individual (which ought to wreck the “nations” argument) and yes, salvation is through faith…but God is sovereign in salvation by choosing whom to mercy (as none deserve it) and whom to harden. You say that “hardening appears to occur only after an individual has shown repeated belligerence towards God and a rejection of His redemption” – but we could look at Paul before his conversion, persecuting the church and assisting in the murder of Stephen…yet God was not limited to reacting to Paul’s belligerence, rather God chose to (active verb) “mercy” Paul by miraculous intervention. Most, if not all, believers have shown repeated rebellion toward God – many being much more belligerent than some of those who die in their unbelief. It looks like is God’s foundational choice whether to mercy or to harden.

  3. Re: Proverbs 16:4

    You said: “Do Calvinist really believe that God intentionally creates wicked people just to damn them?”

    The bible teaches that God created all of time and space. He declares (or “makes known”) the end from the beginning. He does all that He pleases.

    If any wicked person will be damned, then God planned it before creation. God could have created differently – Hitler could have died as an infant – but even on non-calvinist terms, God chose to create some people while at least knowing for certain their final destination.

    Isa46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.
    I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

    Psa139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

    Psa33:10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
    11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

    Psa115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

    Psa135:6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

    Dan5:23 …You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.

    God doesn’t “make” people evil in the sense of compelling them to act against their nature…but their nature is pretty messed up from birth: no one seeks God and “every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood.” Gen8:21. Although it conflicts with human philosophy, the bible is clear that God still has the right to judge man for not obeying His Law perfectly – even though man lacks the natural ability to obey perfectly.

    Re: John 8:47

    You said: “In this situation, Jesus was speaking to non-believers.”
    Yes – they were non-believers. But they needed to hear (or “receive”) the words of Christ before they can believe. Yet they can’t hear because they don’t belong to God (i.e. they have not been “born again” or “born of God” – they do not have God as their Father). Therefore, the Spirit first has to act to give them a new nature – a new heart (ezek36:22-32) – before they can hear and believe.

  4. You said: “Nicodemus was confused between spiritual birth and physical birth.” (in John3)

    Nick didn’t understand that it was a metaphor – he thought he had to physically be born a second time. IMO you don’t understand that it is a metaphor either – which is why you can dismiss the similarities between spiritual birth and physical birth. Your old nature is doomed – you need new life and only the Spirit can give birth to spirit. Your old nature doesn’t want the new life – again, anything spiritual is just foolishness. Your old nature is actively hostile toward Jesus. (Rom8:6) Unless the Spirit brings new life and a new heart that understands the gospel and desires a relationship with Jesus, we would continue in unbelief. We are only “free” to do what we want, and our old nature/flesh just doesn’t want Jesus.

    We do need God as our Father…that does not imply that we choose for Him to give new birth to us. It suggests exactly the opposite.

    1 Tim 2 in short – IMO it’s a “pas” issue – does “pas” mean “every single individual” or “all kinds” (like in 1Tim6:10):

    “1requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving should be made for everyone” (every single person – how long would that take? Or for “all kinds of people” such as…) 2for kings and all those in authority.

    “4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 7And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

    Again, Paul’s big fight in the 1st century was with the judaizers (or circumcision group). God wants “all kinds of men” to be saved, including the gentiles, which is the very reason Paul was brought on board. John 17:9 reminds us that Jesus was not the “mediator” for every single person and He was also not the ransom for those who remain in slavery to sin and thus were not “ransomed.” “All kinds” just fits better than “every single person” which conflicts with many other teachings.

    But (FYI) some calvinists do believe that God wants things to different degrees – that He would like for all men to be saved but He wants to demonstrate His justice more (for an example, they would say that Jesus would sincerely have liked for the cup to pass, but wanted to obey the Father more.) I disagree but see the argument…but you still have to deal with whether God really does all that He pleases as the bible says…or are those verses just macho posturing.

  5. On to 2Peter3:

    3First of all, you (“dear friends”) must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

    8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

    10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

    11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

    14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

    2Pet3 is focused on the second coming – the local church is suffering and would like for Jesus to come again right then. I would encourage you to notice that the promise is that God is patient “with you” – there is a you/they dichotomy in the larger context that most people miss when they focus in on using v9 as a prooftext. “They” – the “ungodly/scoffers” – are promised only judgment and destruction. “You” are the ones God is being patient with – and v15 tells us that God’s patience means salvation – not “potential” salvation but actual salvation. Assuming the bible is true when it says that God accomplishes all that He pleases, the “you” would be the elect – not just to those believers at that moment but believers throughout time – that Jesus did not come while the church was suffering in the 1st century because there were some in the 1st century who God intended to come to belief and would not return before they were brought into the fold as that would leave them to perish. Instead, God will wait for the last of His chosen ones to come in the door by faith and repentance before closing the door on human history.

    God is not just putting things off and hoping for the best. The stopping point will not be random. “His plans stand firm forever.”

    To sum up, I respect your honesty on verses like Acts13:48, 2Thess2:13 and the parts of Romans9 about the hardening of Pharaoh. I know we look at things differently and some of these ideas seem strange. I might be looking at things wrong – it sure seems to fit but I could be missing something. I do appreciate your ability to discuss these matters without being combative.

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