So far as I can tell – all things Calvinist have to go through election and to that end, I’m hoping to bring a little more clarity (at least to my mind) regarding my struggles with Calvinistic thought in general and unconditional election in particular. In comments to a previous post, my good friend and ardent Calvinist Mike generalized Calvinist thoughts in asking, “Why do some believe and others reject Jesus?” He then offered the following thoughts as a basis for argument:
- Nobody wants to receive Jesus’ offer. There’s a greater love where God not only offers the gift to everyone, he also removes the rebellious heart of some and replaces it with a heart that loves him above all things.
- The reason why believers love Jesus is only because God, through the Holy Spirit, has graciously given believers a heart that wants him. If this hadn’t happened, then no one would believe because no one would want Jesus.
- But why do some not believe? John 10:26 answers it explicitly. The reason some do not believe is “because they are not part of the flock” (unconditional election).
- John 3:16 means that God loves everyone in the world and that he wants everyone to be saved and offers salvation to everyone. Why doesn’t God save everyone? Because they don’t believe?
- Why do some believe while others don’t? The Calvinist thanks God for giving them the faith to believe, while the Arminian (logically) must give thanks to themself for believing.
- Who ultimately gets credit for my salvation? The Calvinist says that God offers the gift to everyone, but that he also does more and grants belief to some. The Arminian says that God offers the gift to everyone – and that’s it. Belief is up to us.
- If God really wants everyone to be saved, then why did he make salvation conditional? Why did God make belief a criteria? Why doesn’t John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone will have eternal life regardless of what they believe”? What’s the Arminian answer to this? If God wants everyone to be saved, then why doesn’t he just save everyone? Is it really because of free will? He would rather give us free will than save us from hell? To me, this seems to be at least as big of a problem for the Arminian as it is for the Calvinist.
With all due respect to my good friend, I’m sympathetic to the arguments that apart from free will there can be no love. Perhaps I’ll expound on that later. But for now I’d like to toss out my $0.02 worth regarding Jesus’ words in John 10:26-27 that we either [are] or [are not] his sheep. As I understand Calvinist thought, one doesn’t believe because he isn’t [Jesus’] sheep. However, what is fascinating to me about this passage in John is what follows – the unbelieving Jews (vs 24) wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy (vs 31, 33). Jesus continues to “engage” with the unbelieving Jews (vs 34-38) and at one point says to them (vs 38) that the unbelieving Jews should believe the miracles Jesus has previously done (and no doubt the unbelieving Jews had witnessed) so they could know that Jesus is the son of God. What immediately comes to mind is that Jesus continued to reach out to the unbelieving Jews. Did Jesus understand that the unbelieving Jew’s eternal destiny was forever sealed at that moment? Perhaps not. Again, as I’ve stated before, this would have been a great opportunity for Jesus to explain TULIP and show the dichotomy of an elect person versus one ready to heave a stone at Jesus. But Jesus didn’t do that.
Most who know me know that I’m not one to spend much time in the Old Testament. Still, the story of God testing Abraham (Gen 22) comes to mind. In vs 12, as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, an angel interferes and says to Abraham, “Now I know that that you fear God.” Apparently old Abe had listened to (what I presume to be) the Holy Spirit and was rewarded (vs 17-18). Is it any different in New Testament times? Did not the Holy Spirit move within people or otherwise prepare hearts? Looking back at John chapter 10, Jesus vacated the premises (vs 40). And notice what happens, many people said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about [Jesus] was true.” And many then believed (vs 42). I sense that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst people in essence preparing their hearts for the messiah. Those who accepted by faith were rewarded with eternal life. Those that rejected faith or would otherwise continue to live by the law were eternally lost. That some hearts were receptive to Christ and other not leads me to conclude that we do have free will.
In conclusion and so far as I can tell, Jesus isn’t implying in John 10:26-27 that God had already determined who would be his sheep. At least there’s no indicating that one’s eternal fate was sealed before any one had been born. As I read it, when Jesus spoke those words, there were some who already believed and some non-believers within his immediate vicinity.
Okay, how then would this thinking work for a particular verse that I struggle with regarding Calvinistic arguments? Acts 13:48 [And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.] The conclusion seems rather succinct – one’s eternal destiny is determined by God. For whatever reason, God chooses to save some and God allows others to perish. However, Paul and Barnabas had first approached the Jews. It was only after the Jews rejected faith did Paul et. al. reach out to the Gentiles. As Paul said (vs 47), “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Although I don’t see it written as such, I’m hard-pressed not to believe that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst those that Paul et. al. would preach to and [all who were going to believe] believed.
Perhaps my arguments are not as strong as I would like them to be. But frankly, and at least for now, I find it easier to accept that God does indeed allow us free will in choosing our eternal destiny.
16 thoughts on “Calvinism or Arminianism: Of Which Flock Are Ewe? (John 10:26-27)”
“With all due respect to my good friend, I’m sympathetic to the arguments that apart from free will there can be no love.”
This is a popular argument. A couple questions to help you formulate your future expounding:
1) Is the Son free to stop loving the Father? If their loving relationship is eternal and fixed, does that diminish the love of the Trinity for you?
2) When God has finished conforming us to the image of Christ – when we have finally put the old nature to death and are glorified in Heaven – will we be free to stop loving God and choose otherwise? Does that mean we will love God less or more in Heaven than we do now? Will we be “robots” in Heaven if we are not “free” to sin?
I just don’t think the bible puts the premium on “free will” that human philosophy does. Biblically, you are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. Those who are described as “free” are “free to serve God” and not to just “do anything.” (Rom6:19-22)
So why does one man choose good and another evil? IMO the bible suggests that we choose based on our nature:
Matt7:16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 33Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
Luke6:43No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
James3:10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Jer13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
How do you get the nature of a sheep if you’re a goat?
But definitely spend more time in the OT. It’s interesting that God is held ultimately responsible for pretty much everything: did an evil spirit afflict someone? God sent it. Did Satan kill Job’s family (and was later allowed to injure Job physically)? “God gives and God takes away” (and we are told that Job wasn’t sinning by saying that God was responsible). Why did Naomi’s sons die? God did it. (Ruth1:20-21) Joseph gets sold into slavery by his brothers why? “God intended it.” (Gen50:20) Why were the pagans coming to Israel to “trample them down like mud in the streets?” Yep. (Isa10:5-7; Hab1:5-6)
Ezek36 is pretty crazy – the one about God taking away stone hearts and giving them soft, new hearts – put His Spirit in them and move them to obey His laws – so that then they would look back on their former sin and repent – and all this is NOT for their sake but for the sake of His name. They want their land and identity as a nation back – but the price looks to be their “free will” to wander away from God. Interesting to ponder.
and all those weird verses in proverbs:
Prov21:1The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
Prov16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
Prov16:1 To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.
Believe what your conscience tells you is true. If that continues to be “free will”, then so be it. I continue to appreciate your patience with some friendly efforts to at least try to explain Calvinism… :)
My goodness you’ve been busy! Thank-you (again!) for the time and effort that you’ve poured into this crusty old (well, middle age) vessel. I appreciate not only the kind words that you’ve expressed but also the responses to the many points I had tossed your way. I, too, appreciate being able to discuss these matters without being combative.
Although, I’m a little surprised to see you write, “Believe what your conscience tells you is true. If that continues to be ‘free will’, then so be it.” I freely admit to having a hypothesis that believers have free will and certainly I am more sympathetic toward Arminian thought than Calvinism. But I do seek the truth and at least for me, it is well worth the time and effort to work through what for me are conflicting, if not troubling, aspects of the Christian faith. I’ve had some time off so it has been easier to put up the most recent posts. I’ll need some time to digest and think through what you’ve said. Even though you have responded to specific posts, a lot of our discussion is generic enough with regard to Calvinism that maybe it’ll be easier to compile your responses into a new post. I’m not sure.
I sense that you’ve had some formal biblical training. If you write on a blog and are so inclined, I’d welcome a link to your web site so that readers here can become more familiar with your writings.
“I sense that you’ve had some formal biblical training.”
Nah – I’m just sorta old and have been reading the bible (and commentators from all over the theological map) for a long time.
“If you write on a blog and are so inclined, I’d welcome a link to your web site so that readers here can become more familiar with your writings.”
I probably should start a blog eventually…but so far, it’s more interesting to respond to what others are writing.
“If two persons hear the gospel and one responds positively, the other negatively….just what makes the difference?
See a comment to this question here:
Danke schön, Helmut! I appreciate the link to your post and its logic. Hopefully I don’t come across as engaging in “spiritual warfare” with regard to my to my disagreement towards Calvinism. I do find the Calvinist/Arminian (I’ll even toss in open theism, too) debates troubling if for no other reason than each side portends characteristics and knowledge of God that appear (to me) antithetical to each other. Don’t beliefs we embrace have ramifications beyond what we ourselves understand? I’d like to believe that disagreements between Calvinism, Arminianism and the open view of God are exceedingly minor – but that is not my experience. For better or worse – or perhaps due to ignorance, my relationship to God seems tied to who I believe God to be. Given that we all work out of the same “source material”, I am – well, confused as to who God really is. On the one end of the spectrum he is sovereign and controls everything including who will spend eternity in heaven. On the other end we determine our own destiny by accepting or rejecting the gospel message and God (unless he has predetermined something) doesn’t know aspects of the future.
Things from this post that I will have to ponder for a while include:
If there were a more fundamental “because”, then the love of God would hinge on this reason and be dependent on it.
When we seek reasons for something, we actually ask for causes. Reasons are the more fundamental layers of the things we are inquiring.
Why do some people hear the gospel and still reject it? Their opposition is sin.
Regarding the question: Why do some believe and others reject Jesus? This begs the question. It assumes the answer (because God makes them believe – irresistible grace). It would be like an Arminian asking a Calvinist “Why did God damn people before he created them?”. Each person is a unique being who has the God given capability to make his own choices ex nihilio. One person believes and not another because one chose to believe, and the other did not.
Regarding John 10, check out Robert Hamilton’s article: The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel. He argues that Calvinists don’t take into account the historical context of John 10. He argues that the sheep were God fearing Jews who seeking after the Father prior to the arrival of Jesus. When Jesus came, all these God fearing Jews (and later Gentiles) were given by the Father to the son, and these are the sheep Jesus speaks of. On the other hand, the non-believing Jews were not following God prior to the coming of Jesus, and therefore were not given to him by the Father. So the passage is not about particular election before faith. It is simply Jesus explaining to the Pharisees that they were not following him because they were not following the Father in the first place.
I forgot to address Acts 13:48. Admittedly, this is a difficult verse for non-Calvinists. One possible answer is that tetagmenoi (the Greek word translated as “appointed”) is not the appropriate translation for English. An alternate translation proposed by a number of respected scholars is “disposed”, “arraigned”, “prepared”, or “set” ….
“as many as had become disposed toward eternal life believed”.
“as many as had arraigned themselves toward eternal life believed”.
“as many as had prepared themselves toward eternal life believed”.
“as many as had set themselves toward eternal life believed”.
This is the position that respected NT scholar Henry Alford takes: Acts 13:38
Most of the Reformers like Calvin were strong in Latin, but not Greek, The Latin Vulgate had a big impact on their thought, and the later translation of the KJV. And the KJV set the pattern for other English translations. The Latin Vulgate translates “tetagmenoi” as “praeordinati” (preordained). However, the Greek word does not necessarily carry this sense. “tetagmenoi” is in the middle-passive voice, and can can be done by one’s self.
Bob, I applaud you for your “…desire to understand Calvinist thought and “the will of God” as it pertains to my Christian faith.” This probably should go without saying (you seem like a bright guy), but prayerful contextual bible reading based on a good solid interpretive method (“hermeneutic”) is the primary means of achieving this goal. But in addition, might I suggest a blog site to you that presents a broad spectrum of historical Calvinist thought — http://calvinandcalvinism.com/ It is maintained by a seminary librarian, and therefore is a trustworthy source of quotes and references. I hope you find as much value in this on-line library as I have over the past year of reading it almost daily.
Thanks for your comment, Scott. I appreciate the link and will check it out. Perhaps faith is an area in which one can’t apply logic or otherwise compare and contrast passages of scripture in order to seek the truth. And yet, biblical truth (as I see it), should hold up to scrutiny in the same way as – say – the law of gravity. That people of goodwill arrive at different conclusions regarding the same scriptures is, well, troubling. Prayer is an aspect of my faith that has fallen by the wayside over the last three or four years since I first encountered Calvinistic thought. It’s easy to study. It’s hard to pray. I think in part this is because I’m not sure who God is anymore. I used to know. Or at least I thought I did. When I started this blog a couple of years ago it was to figure out the nature and character of God – at least as far as my feeble mind will permit. I’m not sure that I’m succeeding.
Bob, I believe scripture supports that faith and logic are not incompatible, at least as far as I understand both. It is logical to place your faith in something that is true, trustworthy, and can be tested.
For example, it is logical to have “faith” in your computer chair that when you put your weight in it, that it will support you and it will not suddenly eject you through the ceiling or grow a mouth and consume you. It would not be logical to believe (have faith) that the next time you sit in your computer chair that you will be magically teleported to the North Pole.
Similarly, it is logical to have faith in a true, trustworthy, and testable God. Christian faith and logic do not nullify each other. The are compatible. Rom 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV) However, faith cannot necessarily be completely understood by logic. Nor can all doctrines of scripture be explained by logic. Why?
Because we still bear the vestiges of our sin nature. Although it has been and is being renewed, it isn’t completely sanctified yet. This is why people of goodwill arrive at different conclusions regarding the same scriptures. Ultimately on this side of heaven, we will not all understand scripture the same way. It is the human condition, even for regenerate humans. Sin remains, thus faulty thinking remains. And logic is not the key to understanding scripture; dependence on the Holy Spirit and knowing God through prayer, contextual bible reading, and fellowship with the saints is.
God is neither exclusively the God of “Calvinism” nor of “Arminianism.” No system can contain all the truth of God. Not here. So let me encourage you to step back from trying to reconcile “Calvinism” with the scripture, and resume with vigor your quest to understand the nature and character of God through prayer (which I agree is hard) and systematic bible study. It is eternally more important to your faith that you do understand the nature and character of God than that you subscribe to any particular man-made system of thought. The test to get into heaven won’t be “Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?” it will be “Are you Christ’s?” Pursue Him first. After you’ve fully grasped Him, then with whatever time you have left over maybe you can study up some more on “Calvinism” or “Arminianism” or Covenant Theology or New Covenant Theology or Dispensationalism or ….
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor. 2:1-5 (ESV)
Bob, I appreciate you struggling with this issue, but it seems to me that you have fallen into the same pit as our calvinistic brethren. You have given a theological/philosophical explanation (although your argument seems to be based more the the immediate context and the overall argument of John’s Gospel). So my question is, if the text says one thing that seems to not be in harmony with other parts how can it simply be disregarded?
Thanks for your comment, Dan. I’m not quite sure I follow that my giving a theological or philosophical explanation places me “into the same pit as our Calvinistic brethren”. Perhaps you could provide some additional thoughts or explanations. Maybe it does – and if so, I’ll accept the criticism. Of course, a Calvinist may toss heaps of adulation of me for saying the same thing.
That said, I don’t know that any scriptural text, per se, can be disregarded. It’s my sense that scripture should tie together to form cohesive arguments related to doctrine. Perhaps it’s wrong to give all scriptures equal weight when it comes to understanding something like unconditional election. At this point, however, I don’t know how to differentiate the important vs the non-important. That said, I don’t think I get to “choose” based on liking or disliking a particular word, verse or passage
As often as not, however, I find that I miss a lot of details due to a lack of understanding of language and culture. Just last week I heard a sermon on the Prodigal Son. As many times as I’ve read that passage in Luke 15 or heard a sermon, it has never occurred to met that the elder son represented the do-good, morally upright, keeper of the law Pharisees who were not able to see their need for a savior because of their pride. Hence, I keep plugging away hoping to come to some resolution as to the validity of Calvinistic thought. I do find a scripturally based logical basis for believing in it. But I also find a scripturally based logical basis for not believing in it.
For whatever they’re worth, my own experiences (based on free will and what I believe to have been the naturally occurring consequences of choices made) would tend to favor an Arminian perspective. And maybe part of this comes about from being colorblind (reds/greens). The way I see things is “normative” to me. And it wasn’t until I was enlisting in the military at age 19 did I discover I was colorblind. In a similar way, the way I experience things in what I believe to be a free-will manner is normal – and even comfortable. But the last thing I want is my Christian faith to be based on my “comfort factor”.
Bob, perhaps one thing you’re struggling with in relation to free will is trying to reconcile an “either/or” relationship to God’s sovereignty and our free moral choices with what appears to be a “both/and” relationship. Many Calvinists & Arminian brothers strongly assert the “either/or” position: the C’s in favor of God’s sovereignty, the A’s in favor of man’s moral will. I believe this is a false dichotomy–easily demonstrated from scripture–and both camps wrongly stress 1 over the other. The biblical language everywhere is “both/and”: God is sovereignly controlling his universe and we make free moral choices. Perhaps the definitive statement on this is Acts 2:23, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (ESV)
Hope I didn’t presume too much on where you’re struggling.
Very well stated, Scott. Perhaps I am trying to reconcile God’s sovereignty and free-will as an either/or relationship. I appreciate the reference and will have to think about it. To me, an important aspect within the Christian’s life is wisdom. Being able to excercise (or observe within others) wisdom and the corresponding results in daily decision making leads me to a stronger sense of the validity free-will.
Bob, thanks for your quick response. The “same pit” or “rut” (“pit” might be viewed as too negative) I am referring to is reading your theological perspective into the text; e.g. this text must be speaking of unconditional election or this text cannot be speaking of unconditional election because of how I am viewing it theologically.
I agree with you that scripture must be cohesive. By cohesive I don’t mean that everything must fit into the packages that we want to put it in, but simply that scripture does not contradict itself.
Please don’t understand me to be criticizing you personally. I am glad when anyone comes to the text and is willing to submit to what it says and is not necessarily bound by a system.
It would seem to me that the verse in question hinges on the word “because”. The Greek word rendered “because” is often taken as causative or giving the reason for the previous statement. But this is not necessarily correct. The Greek word could be understood inferentially, which means that the second half of the verse is a deduction from the first half. It also happens to agree very well with the context; v. 25 Jesus focuses on unbelief and vv. 31-39 Jesus continues to challenge them to believe.
This is what I mean by arguing from what the text says and not a theological or philosophical position.
Thank-you for YOUR quick response. I appreciate your thoughts and clarification. Please don’t feel that any disagreements we (or others, too) may have over Calvinism is taken personally. It isn’t. I trust and value the insight and wisdom of good-willed believers. I may ultimately come to a different conclusion but hopefully that is done with grace and humility on part.
As to looking at a text with a preconceived notion, I certainly don’t intend to do that. It seems to me that in general, scriptural text speaks for itself. However, as I’ve said before, much as a chemist will have a hypothesis as to an experiment, I do have my hypothesis that Calvinistic doctrine in general and the concept of unconditional election in particular is in error. If nothing else, having a “baseline” helps me contrast any differences in my understanding of a passage as to someone else’s – or highlight things I may not have otherwise focused on. That said, as per your example of the word ‘because’ in John 10:26, I might indeed be entirely overlooking an important aspect. I’ll have to think about the 2nd half of the verse being a deduction from the 1st half. Stay tuned and perhaps I’ll have a $0.02 opinion later.
Please feel free to poke around and pose other thoughts or questions from anything in this blog.