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Divergent Thought (Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism); It’s Everywhere – Happy New Year!

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

A Facebook friend recently posted this comment, “We may cast the die, but the Lord determines how it falls.” I couldn’t resist a little prodding for some details and asked the question – “So, even if we ‘think’ we’re ‘doing’ something, the outcome of that something is already predetermined by God?”

I liked Tom’s response and have pasted it here:

God always knows the outcome of any event. However, he normally doesn’t control the direct consequences of any action. He can and sometimes does [control events] when asked but He’s in no way obligated to do so. Why would God create the laws of nature and [call] them good along with all creation by continually circumventing them?

[God] makes everything work together towards whatever purpose He has in mind. [For] example, all of creation was created by God to glorify Himself. Because that’s His will, it’s what will happen. The fuzzy line comes when we’re affected by God’s will.

Do we have free will? Yes. God will judge us all on what we do, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, also pretty much anywhere in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel) To be just, a judge must punish the guilty party. If a robot were programmed to kill someone, who’d be punished – the robot or the programmer? The robot had no free will to choose either right or wrong, so [the robot would] be pardoned. The programmer did have the free will to choose and will be punished for his crime. In the same way, if we have no free will and God is truly just, he would [have to] condemn Himself for forcing us to do wrong. If that is the case, then God is not good. If God is not good, then we have no hope. For if the ultimate power in the universe takes pleasure in evil, nothing He says [could] be trusted. If He is [just], by his mercy we have hope through Jesus Christ. If He isn’t [just], we have no hope because the combined power of creation was created through Him and for Him, and He sustains it all. (Colossians 1:15-17)

Does God protect us from being affected by our choices in a bad way? No. If you steal something and are caught, you’ll be brought to justice. God delights in that. Because He saved you from eternal life in Hell by your faith in Jesus doesn’t mean He’s saved you from the worldly consequences of your actions. This doesn’t mean He can’t have mercy on you. [Rather], He has no obligation to [protect] you from the result of your own free will. He’s [given] you the Bible for the purpose of helping you avoid destroying yourself and to find true life.

However, [God] works all things to the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28) If you love God and do something stupid, you will reap the consequences of your actions. God will then use that stupid action to eventually work for good in your life, not because of your wisdom, your strength, your righteousness, but BECAUSE YOU LOVE GOD.

The question [becomes]: are we living and acting from a love of God or an apathy or hatred of God? The answer has no bearing on the outcome of His plans, but they have every effect on what becomes of us.

I responded to Tom on how I liked the analogy of people employing various free-will combinations – such as the mixing of an acid and a base with the end result being that God ensures how those kinds of molecules will interact. However, something had earlier crossed my mind relating to God knowing in advance how everything will turn out. I ‘think’ Isaiah 5:1-5 infers God planting and cultivating a crop of grapes with the end result being something not anticipated – bad fruit. As such, can God be surprised at any given end result? If God is surprised at this particular end result in Isaiah, can believers claim that God fully knows each and every outcome of each and every circumstance, situation or decision one might make?

On that point, Open Theists claim that the future is at least partly open (unknown) to God except in those areas where God has determined exactly what the future will be. In any event, I would certainly agree with Tom’s earlier statements that A) we have free will, B) God doesn’t necessarily protect us from our bad decisions (or necessarily reap blessings upon us for good decisions we may make for that matter), and C) God can use all circumstances for His glory.

Perhaps unknowingly, Tom stated Calvinist thinking wherein he had previously said, “All you gotta do is let [God] take your junk.” I responded to Tom that he  might not actually have that opportunity to give his ‘junk’ to God because, according to Calvinism, God chooses whose ‘junk’ He’ll take. More to the point, God determines who’ll be forgiven for their ‘junk’ therefore determining who will and who will not be saved. So, to repeating Tom’s last statement for the comfort of my Arminian friends, “All you gotta do is give your ‘junk’ to [God] and He will forgive you.”

How about that – Calvinism, Arminianim, and Open Theism considerations are all nicely placed side by side in one fell swoop of love and togetherness. Peace be upon all my believing brethren (including you, Tim) for the coming year. Happy New Year!

Calvinism or Arminianism: Of Which Flock Are Ewe? (John 10:26-27)

January 6, 2010 16 comments

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.


TULIP Logic versus a Calvinist’s Statement – Part 2

November 8, 2009 16 comments

Dear Timothy,

I wasn’t able to make the formatting work in a comment on a previous post and so I just started “part 2” of this discussion as a new post.  I’ve looked over and thought about some of the things you said in your first response related to  my TULIP Logic versus a Calvinist’s Statement post from 11/05/09.  Allow me to toss back my $0.02 worth and I’d welcome any response(s) you may have.  The brackets I placed in your statements were for my readability to better understand what you were saying.  I’ve tried to maintain the accuracy of your statements – it wasn’t my intention to alter or change anything you said.

Below is a table containing your statements and my response.  I don’t know if this is the best way to compare and contrast our respective thoughts, beliefs, and opinions – but it seems like a reasonable start.

Timothy’s Statement Bob’s Response
Why [does] everyone who opposes God as Word implicitly say that God and Lucifer have the same language? The term “will-neutral” is new to me.  God is God and He is sovereign and whatever He speaks happens.  I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “defending God’s word as something that is “will-neutral holy information”.  The Bible talks about the Word becoming flesh (John 1:1-2) – It is my understanding that John’s Gospel is showing that Jesus is both God and man in one person.  With regard to “will-neutral holy information,” I believe that the words in Bible are from God and contain everything we need to know and understand about the nature and character of God in addition to a plethora of (quite frankly) very practical things such as how we can be saved and how God wants us to live.  Still, I sense I’m missing your main point so please clarify.This may go back to my earlier thoughts where I guess I may need to better understand exactly what you mean by “God as Word”.  Doesn’t John 1, makes clear that the Word became flesh (Jesus)?

Even so, your statement intrigues me but, again, I’m not exactly sure just what you mean by “God and Lucifer have the same language”.

Why [do] all who oppose Calvinism portray themselves to be overtly siding with the damned? First of all, I don’t oppose Calvinism.  I admit to being confused by Calvinistic thoughts and my own study leads me to think that Calvinistic thought is in error with the desire of God that no one should perish (John 3:16 and 1 Pet 3:9).  I admit to not understanding the nature, character and love of God as portended by Calvinistic thought.  So far, my own study of verses used in support of Calvinism has led me to a different conclusion.I find it interesting that you believe my questioning of Calvinism is “siding with the damned”.  Perhaps from your perspective, that makes sense.  Phil 3:15 says – And if on some point [I] think differently, that too God will make clear to [me].  Well, to date, God hasn’t made it clear to me that the teachings of Calvinism are the truth.  That said, I am conflicted because, quite frankly, there do appear to be a number of scripture references in which I can draw no other conclusion than that Calvinism is the truth.  However, there are just as many, if not more, scripture references that (to me, anyway) poke a stick in the eye of Calvinism.

That begs a question; how is it, Timothy, that you can ever have complete assurance of salvation?  Perhaps you are not part of the elect.  Perhaps you came to a logical conclusion that Jesus is who he said he is.  Perhaps you desired eternal life and prayed a prayer of salvation and maybe even had “feelings” to support and justify your newfound faith.  But you have no proof of your salvation.  Where in scripture do you see your name written and confirmed that yes, Timothy, is saved?

Playing the dissembling part to supposedly heroically defend the damned and give them ‘a chance’ to be saved is not at all the same as loving a sinner who is elect and knows nothing about election or predestination and is still very much a sinner. Have you ever shared your faith with an unbeliever?  I mean, honestly, why would you?  As I see it, you have no way of offering someone the love and hope of Christ.  You can demonstrate through your life all that God has (and is) doing through your life and perhaps instill with that unbeliever a desire to learn more.  And yet, if (using my favorite phrase) that poor schlep isn’t elect then you’re just wasting your time.  And yet, aren’t we, as believers, to be the salt of the earth – the hope and light to a fallen world?
There is no actual and non-metaphorical new birth in Arminianism. So you have to fake it and claim behavioral changes as evidence of new creatureness. Your statement is confusing to me.  If I re-write it without the double negative, it says – there is a metaphorical new birth in Arminianism.  I take this to mean that if one isn’t a Calvinist, then they can’t be a Christian for it is only Calvinists that can be saved because God chooses his elect – the Calvinists, naturally.This is exactly the kind of logic and thought process that brought about a three-year period in which I had completely lost my assurance of salvation.
Free will denies that heaven and [hell] will be filled with two different creatures.[It is a free will lie to say] heaven will be filled with those who supposedly earned [their way into heaven]. To the first part, you’re saying that I believe there is no distinction between those in heaven and those in hell.Quite the contrary – I firmly believe that those in heaven will be there because they have accepted Christ’s substitution for their own sin.  Those in hell will not have been washed clean by the blood of Christ and therefore they will have to experience the consequences of their own sin.  So, by definition then, I believe heaven and hell will be populated by two different ‘creatures’; those who have new life in Christ (heaven) and the lost (hell).

To your second point, God is the giver of the gift of salvation.  Is He any less God if I choose to accept or reject his free gift?  I don’t think so.  Does the Holy Spirit not move in the souls of people and otherwise convict them of their need for a savior?  I think it does.  I do not understand the Calvinist contention that it’s a ‘works-based’ faith to accept the leadings and promptings of God and come to a point of accepting his offer of forgiveness and salvation.

You tear the Bible in shreds before you ever begin to read it.  Then [you] read it to make fun of it with philosophical lies that don’t even make sense when examined even slightly. In my own mind, I find Calvinistic thought to be illogical based upon the nature of God as expressed in and through the life of Jesus.  Jesus is, after all, God.  Nowhere in scripture do I find Jesus identifying or otherwise making distinctions as to elect versus non-elect.  Jesus does make distinctions between believers versus non-believers Please, I truly would welcome feedback sprinkled with generous amounts of scripture to show the error in my thinking.
Keep [telling] the lies of [sinners] and defend the damned as if you really thought you were one of them [which is] a thing you have no actual say over at all. To me, this comes across as a rather judgmental statement on your part.  I’m not sure if you’re saying that I’m part of the elect or part of the damned because I’m not elect.  Maybe I am elect and I just don’t know it.  Maybe I am not now part of the elect but God will make me part of the elect later?What I do know is this: I believe that Jesus is who He says he is and that I have asked Him to come into my life and I accept, through faith, that His sacrifice on the cross will atone for my sins when I stand before God on judgment day.

Am I a Christian?

Free will [people] automatically side with the damned.  In Arminian theology, the righteous are the enemy. If you mean that I side with the damned because I come alongside a hurting soul and try to give him hope in Christ – yeah, guilty as charged.  I feel an obligation to reach out to the unsaved.  I never have understood what the great commission (Matt 28: 19-20) means to a Calvinist.  Why would a Calvinist waste time, talent and treasure to reach an unbeliever?  Calvinists have no way of knowing whether someone is elect or not.  Further, as I see it, any outreach a Calvinist does is pointless.  If that person is elect, God will save him.  If that person is not elect, then the Calvinist is wasting their time because there’s nothing that can be done to change that the poor schlep isn’t elect.  Is this Christian thinking?This is the thought process that drew me into Thomas Schriener’s comment, “God’s wrath and judgment are personally directed against sinners who have failed to praise, honor and thank him.”  Sorry to be repetitive and perhaps daft, but Calvinist thought simply makes no sense to me.
Proverbs 17:15 says; He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD. Are you saying that Calvinists are the just ones while non-Calvinists are the wicked ones.  Further, if my understanding and studying of Calvinism leads me to a non-Calvinist conclusion, then I am an abomination to the Lord?  Is that what you believe?

I didn’t intend for this post to get as long as it did.  However, as I look back on this, we seem to be dancing around a central disagreement with regard to the concept of election.  As I said in my post, the U in TULIP appears to be the bedrock of Calvinist belief.  Right now, I’ve reached a different conclusion based on my own understanding and study.

Here’s a simple overview of what I believe election to be and how it came about:

  • In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve.  Were they “elect”?
  • After the flood, those on the Noah’s arc dispersed and various nations formed.  For His own reasons, God chose the descendants of Abraham (the Israelites) to be “the elect”.  If nothing else, this is corporate election.
  • Through Israel (God’s elect), all nations would eventually hear and respond to the salvation of God and could thereby become “elect” by following the law.
  • Prophesy was fulfilled when Jesus came and preached to the Jews (the “old” elect) and the Gentiles (the “new” elect) alike about new life in Christ.

So, what does this mean or prove?  Well, Calvinists claim that one not yet saved can be an elect person – it’s just that God hasn’t brought that person to a point of salvation.  However, what I see is that it is the believers – those who have, by faith, trusted Christ for their salvation that are the elect.  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.  Clearly God wants none to perish.  But it’s obvious that not all are or will be saved and so there seems to be an element wherein individuals are able to accept or reject God’s free gift of salvation.  In conclusion, an elect person is a Christian.

Sincerely,

Bob

Why Be a Calvinist?

November 4, 2009 2 comments

A good and dear friend who writes on matters of faith and religion for the Louisville Examiner recently posted an article: Why Be a Calvinist?  I’ve known Mike for quite a while now we’ve had many really good and deep discussions related to faith-related issues that I struggle with including Calvinism, the will of God, open theism, etc.  Even though I may have profound disagreements with Mike, I have immense respect for him and I invite readers of this blog to visit his site at:

http://www.examiner.com/x-13763-Louisville-Evangelical-Examiner~y2009m11d4-Why-believe-in-Calvinism?#comments