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A Discussion on the Term ‘Free Will’ vs ‘Choice’

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

free_willWhat follows is an as-best remembered rendering of a recent discussion with a Calvinist friend (CF) as to the use of the phrase ‘free will’ instead of ‘choice’.

Me: I prefer the term ‘free will’. To me, free will implies that I’m deciding as to present options and variables. On the other hand, choice is simply a selection of that which has been presented to me. For instance, when my mother asked me to choose between the red or blue shirt – I was going to wear a shirt. I didn’t exercise free will as to whether or I would wear a shirt.

CF: Interesting. Can you still have free will when the Father draws you to the son? Also, what is the will ‘free’ from?

Me: Yes, one has free will with regard to God drawing us to his son. I differentiate a ‘pull’ or a desire to move in a given direction. Feelings & emotions may be present and it may be difficult to overcome them i.e. I may be feeling hungry and the brats on the grill smell wonderful. However, I can still exercise free will and choose not to eat. Ultimately, if God wants a relationship with his creation, it only seems rational that he’s given us free will. Otherwise, the love we would have for him is then God’s own love for himself. That, it seems to me, is a fundamental flaw within Calvinism and makes God out to be rather conceited.

CF: You should know that your definition of ‘choice’ is correct, but it is only one of the definitions. [Note: at this point my Calvinist friend pulls out a piece of paper and begins to read the various definitions for the word ‘choice’. I’m starting to think this is a set-up.] You’re big on definitions so I looked up ‘choice’ in my dictionary. It says: 1) an act or instance of choosing; selection 2) the right, power, or opportunity to choose; option 3) the person or thing chosen or eligible to be chosen 4) an alternative 5) an abundance or variety from which to choose 6) something that is preferred or preferable to others; the best part of something 7) a carefully selected supply.

For this discussion, I’m using the second definition. Fair enough if you want to use ‘free will.’ But surely you understand that Calvinist interpret ‘free’ to mean free from God. This ignores the fact that God predestines and draws people long before they accept Christ.

Me: Well done! You’ve shown words can sometimes have different meanings as a function of use or context. Did you intend for your last comment to support unconditional election – you state God predestines and draws people long before they accept Christ? In this regard, so far as I understand the Calvinist’s use of election, there is no choice and there is no free will. God chooses or has otherwise ‘elected’ you. And therefore, at some appointed time, you (effectually) believe.

I reject that and believe that a) I can choose to accept/reject God’s offer of salvation and b) I have complete free will in the matter because God gives me the complete freedom, and the responsibility to choose, without overriding that which I chose to do.

CF: You’re misunderstanding. Scripture clearly shows that God predestines those who will repent and come to Christ. Choice or freedom isn’t a mysterious good pleasure of God’s will.

Me: God created us. He desires us. He wants none to perish. He loves the world and he sacrificed himself for the world. And the wording of Jn 3:16 is “whosoever believes” and not those whom God has chosen. Obviously, we differ,

I don’t accept that God elects only a very few individuals for salvation. The verses I’m sure you’ll point to are, in my opinion at least, more than offset or otherwise countered by multitudes of other verses. Hopefully we can both agree that scripture must be consistent throughout the Bible. There can’t be election in one part of the Bible and free will in another. Agree?

CF: Sure, But I’m confused by your statement, “I don’t accept that God elects only a very few individuals for salvation”. Are you a universalist? You must think everyone is saved?

Me: No, I’m not a universalist and I’m a little surprised that you would infer that from what I said. I stated that God wants everyone to be saved. Clearly, he wants none to perish i.e. 2 Pet 3:9. But I grant you that doesn’t mean everyone is saved. Rather, as to your initial original thought, I believe that individuals have free will in the matter of salvation.

As to word definitions, I’ve said before, that I believe Calvinists are in serious error as to the meanings of certain words – such as a word you’ve already used twice – predestination. To me, predestination is not related to individual salvation. Rather, predestination is what God opted to do when essentially doing away with the law and enabling both Jew and Gentile to be saved through faith in Christ. This, to me, is made manifestly clear when I look through the book of Acts. I can dig up various passages later if you wish where Paul is talking to Jews and Gentiles at various times and explaining how we’re no longer under the law but grace. As such, when reading, say Eph 1:4-5, the meaning I derive is entirely different from what I understand Calvinist doctrine to be. As I see it, God [determined] that we would be holy and blameless [through Christ]. In love, God determined that we would be adopted as his sons [through Christ] because of his grace and mercy. Nevertheless, I still must make that choice. And I have free will to accept or reject God’s grace.

CF: Interesting. But as you know, I believe predestination is for salvation. But that does not negate the reality that the individual has a choice in whether to accept Christ or not.

Me: Your belief that an individual has a choice in whether to accept Christ or not is antithetical to traditional Calvinist doctrine. My understanding of Calvinist doctrine is that because of total depravity, no one can bring themselves to God. And, well, I also differ on that point with Calvinists. But I digress.

Also, I believe Calvinists confuse predestination with foreknowledge. Predestination, is God moving from the (OT) law unto (NT) grace by way of faith in Christ. And I would agree that God being outside of time knows in advance who’ll accept and who’ll reject his offer of salvation. In that regard, a will is not a will if it’s not free to be a will. I think that makes sense.

CF: I just prefer to use the word ‘choice’.

Me: Choice is what the will does. The will is free to move this way or that. It’s in the mind. A person is free to believe anything they want; right or wrong, good or bad, and to act or not act on that belief.

CF: Obviously, God isn’t sovereign if we can have control over him.

Me: Wait! Now we’re talking apples and oranges.

CF: No, we aren’t! God is sovereign over everything. Including the choices we make.

Well, that pretty much summed up the discussion. It seemed clear that we were, again, at an impasse. We weren’t going to find agreement. Rather, we agree to disagree. Yet, how can this be? How can good-willed folks in both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps have such diametrically opposed perspectives given we all work off the same ‘source material’ i.e. the Bible? To me, it’s a paradox and maybe even emblematic that what we respectively call faith is little more than opinion.

Tipping the Scales in Favor of Reformed Authors?

April 24, 2017 3 comments

photo-2We periodically receive a catalog from Christianbook.com. My bride occasionally purchases items from them. Kind of on a whim, I looked at the offerings listed under “Favorite Authors & Theology” (pg 42 of the May/June 2017 catalog) and began noticing at least from the authors I’m familiar with – a trend. For grins and giggles, I began entering into Google the author’s name followed by the word “Calvinist”. As best I can tell from briefly looking through the Google responses, it appears that perhaps 85% of the authors listed in the catalog write under the “Calvinist banner”. Those with the asterisk after their names are, in my opinion (and based upon my limited findings), Calvinists.

Warren Wiersbe (*)
Wayne Grudem (*)
Jeff Purswell (*)
Elliot Grudem (*)
R.C. Sproul (*)
Charles Hodge (*)
Lewis Sperry Chafer (*)
Arthur W. Pink (*)
Roy B. Zuck (*)
Charles C. Ryrie (*)
William W. Menzies
Stanley M. Horton
Norman Geisler (*)
Millard J. Erickson
D. A. Carson (*)
Jeff Robinson Sr (*)
J. I. Packer (*)
N. T. Wright (*)
Michael Reeves (*)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (*)
Paul E. Little (*)
Myer Pearlman
Paul Enns (*)
David Horton (*)
J. Edwin Hartill
Gregory Koukl (*)
Tim Challies (*)
Josh Byers (*)
Greg Gilbert (*)
Karl Barth (*)
Francis A. Schaeffer (*)
Geehardus Vos (*)

I don’t know that this means anything, per se, other than at least with this company, there appears to be a preference for books written by Reformed writers.

A Distinction Between Calvinistic “Truth” and the Savior?

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

090427-south-dakota-badlands-trip-042It finally ‘hit me’ during a discussion with a Calvinist regarding unconditional election. I sensed my Calvinist friend (CF) didn’t think I was one of God’s ‘elect’. So, I asked:

Me: Do you believe that it’s possible for someone rejecting the doctrines of grace, i.e. Calvinism, to be a Christian?

CF: Sure, it’s possible. God is using Calvinists to guide everyone else to the truth. In fact, it’s not even Calvinism. It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ! Twenty years ago I was an obstinate Arminian until I tasted the sweetness of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace! God lifted me from the error of my thinking that I can by my own free will choose Him when I realized just how impossible it is for a sinner to turn to God by his own will.

Me: What I so often see is that ardent Calvinists such as yourself appear to be more in love with their doctrines than with their Savior. The TULIP doctrines are preeminent. The relationship is secondary. Right or wrong, I’m sensing the same thing with you.

Interesting, too, that you and I have in essence journeyed in direct opposite directions with regards to matters of faith. I find it curious that God brought you into Calvinism while I believe, if anything, that God removed me from Calvinism. For years, I was clueless about Calvinism until a new pastor arrives at the church we were attending. He was a nice enough guy. But I sensed a significant difference in the overall emphasis of the service and sermons. Topics related to total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement were, well, uncomfortable. I soon found myself in significant disagreement with the new pastor – and many of the congregants, too. I left and started attending another church. So, I can’t help but wonder if God not only removed me from what I believe to be the error of Calvinism but he also gave me an abhorrence of Calvinistic doctrine? Or, maybe you think I’m a complete reprobate pretending to be a Christian and in abject ignorance running directly towards the gates of Hell?

CF: Calvinists are so in love with their savior. That’s why we always strive for his truth! We can’t separate truth and the savior. When one falls, the other falls too!

Me: Did you just make a distinction between the “truth” and the savior? The “truth” is Calvinism? So, you must therefore believe that Calvinism and faith in Christ are intrinsically intertwined?

CF: There’s no way around it. The Bible emphatically teaches this.

Me: So, by your understanding, if I hate the “truth” aka doctrines of grace, then by default, I also must hate the Savior?

CF: When the Bible says that salvation is a free gift, it means that it’s up to God to give it to whomever He wills. That’s unconditional election. We don’t deserve it. We can’t attain it.

Me: Really? Well, in no way, shape or form do I see the doctrines of Calvinism connected to Christian faith. So, in your estimation, I must therefore be a reprobate without any hope?

CF: It’s up to God who is elected. Man can’t choose. Man is spiritually dead. Man is a spiritual corpse. How, then, can salvation depend on man’s will?

At this point the conversation turned back to unconditional election and some discussion about Eph 1:4. Nothing was going to be resolved. We’d both “shot our wads”. There was, again, an impasse. In hindsight, however, I found it somewhat disappointing that my Calvinist friend didn’t ask me about a conversion experience or any aspect of my relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ. I should have drilled down on this, However, during “the heat of the discussion” that thought didn’t occur to me. If anything, however, this conversation confirms my general sense that Calvinists are more interested in their TULIP doctrines than they are with a faith-based relationship with Jesus.

To which, I can appreciate that it might be just a teeny little bit awkward for a Calvinist to tell someone, “Well, it’s too bad that God didn’t ‘elect’ you. You’re toast. And, come judgment day; well, sorry. What can I say other than God, in his infinite wisdom, decided before the foundation of the world not to include you. Well, good-bye and ‘God bless’!” That would at least be honest. But as is, Calvinists tend to dilly-dally and dance around the obvious implications of their doctrines when dealing face-to-face with someone.

So, how is the argument ever resolved other than for anyone to agree with a particular perspective – whether pro-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist? And, therein lies the problem; good-willed people in both camps having diametrically opposed perspectives are in essence deciding to agree with or disagree with doctrinal beliefs and matters of faith. Christian faith, then, subjectively distills down to a matter of one’s opinion.

The Oft Repeated but Unresolved Discussion

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment

DiscussionA recent discussion followed a somewhat a predictable path. I was (again) told that 2 Peter 3:9 was written to believers. As was explained, “God’s promises of salvation are intended only for ‘the elect’. If God wanted all people saved, then all people would be saved. But because of man’s fallen nature, man is spiritually dead. And spiritually dead people can’t respond to God. Only elect persons can respond to God because God pulls back the ‘sin-veil’ from them. And for reasons known only to God, not every person has had the ‘sin-veil’ pulled back and have thereby been given the gift of salvation. And, because God is sovereign and, for his own reasons, he has decided who are his “elect” and who is not.”

But I remain unconvinced if only because it just seems, well, a bit awkward to have to tweak, what is to me, the plain meaning of any number of verses in the Bible to eliminate the obvious intent of human free-will within the overall scheme of Christian theology. In the NIV, 2 Peter 3:9 states, “The 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.”

Clearly – and obviously – God wants everyone to come to a point of salvation! Isn’t that the clear and simple reading of this verse? God is doesn’t want anyone to perish. So, it therefore seems obvious that the reason why some accept faith while others reject faith is because God has given each person the ability (aka free-will) to accept or reject his offer of salvation.

Well-meaning Calvinists tell me that to understand the essence of this verse, and other passages dealing with TULIP matters, studying the original Greek and incorporating a lexicon and concordance is required. Maybe there are details to be drawn out with the Greek. Using a good translation (I personally like the NIV – which, according to the preface, is a new translation put together from the best available manuscripts by many Bible scholars knowledgeable in the languages, cultures and history) ought to be sufficient to derive fundamental truths from the Bible without doing a word-for-word translation and correlation. I’ll concede that maybe there are details that could be missed. But what isn’t missed is the fundamental truth.

And for me, the fundament truth is that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Have to check, but I think there’s a verse to that effect.

I’m not sure how best to phrase it other than despite our sins (past, present AND future), God doesn’t just ‘zap’ us (believers and non-believers alike). Per God’s holy nature and being, an immediate death is just and deserved. However, we continue to live despite the sinful thoughts and actions we continue to engage in. I’ve understood that the delay of God’s judgement is his forbearance towards his creation. So, are we, believers and non-believers alike, essentially vessels of mercy because we’re receiving the unwarranted forbearance of God?

If that is true, then it only stands to reason that all those who’ve received the forbearance of God’s judgement, believers and non-believers alike, have received his grace. So, is the blood of Christ offered to all people or not? I would argue that God’s grace has been offered to all. And that it is up to individuals to accept or reject that grace.

To me, there’s a Calvinist’s “disconnect” which emphasis that God has limited his grace and atonement to a very few people aka ‘the elect’. Yet, I find it ironic to be around Calvinists – all of whom give God all the glory because OF HIS ABUNDANT GRACE (emphasis theirs!). And yet, the very words on which Calvinism is founded i.e. unconditional election and limited atonement indicate that the god of Calvinism is somewhat retentive with that grace.

A Non-Calvinist Rendering of Election

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve previously written election-tulipshow my understanding of Eph 1:4 is significantly different from what I hear and understand Calvinists to claim.  In this verse (and passage) I believe Paul is laying claim that despite whether one is a Jew or Gentile, individuals are now being made right with God through faith and no longer through the law.

The verse says; For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

My overriding $0.02 worth on this verse is God predetermining that because of the sacrifices of Christ, believers would be made holy and blameless in his sight. I simply do not see how this verse could be interpreted otherwise. Perhaps my error, ignorance and bias are on display more than I realize or would like to accept.

Still, if I consider Eph 1:4 from (what I believe is) the Calvinism perspective, I’m at a complete loss to understand how it is that God can be considered a God of love. My thought process in understanding the nature and character of God according to Calvinism goes like this:  

  • Before the “foundation of the world”, God differentiated those individuals who would become the elect and those who would become the non-elect.
  • No individual prior to their becoming elect or non-elect (before the foundation of the world) was worthy of salvation. In fact, both sets of people were equally depraved before God. There was nothing within any individual which caused God to choose them to become elect or non-elect. God’s selection of the elect is, therefore, completely random.
  • Those who God randomly chooses to be elect enter into fellowship and eternal life. Those who God randomly chooses to be non-elect are exiled into Hell.
  • God condemns the non-elect – those he intentionally damned for his own glory.

As I see it, then, per Calvinism, God becomes impersonal, distant and even discriminatory in his dealings with his creation. To which, I struggle to accept that the God of Calvinism is the loving GOD of the Bible – who loved the whole world, sacrificed himself for our sins and wants none to perish.

Another Thought Regarding Limited Atonement

February 13, 2017 Leave a comment

vesselI recently added a post to the effect that for many, limited atonement is the lynchpin of Calvinistic doctrine. That seems to make sense from a logical perspective. However, for me, the overriding issue is unconditional election if only because of how I perceive the character and nature of God through the lens of God choosing some while intentionally not choosing others. In any event, it seemed worthwhile to look up some limited atonement verses I often see used. Interesting because as often as not, there’s not a reference to the individual per se but for a group i.e. “but also for the sins of the whole world” – or something equivalent. To me, this is indicative of God’s desire for everyone without exception or exclusion.

Consider:

(1 John 2:2) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

My $0.02 worth: Jesus paid the price for the sins of the whole world without exception or exclusion.

(2 Cor 5:15) And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

My $0.02 worth: He died for all without exception or exclusion.

(1 Tim 1:15) This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am chief.

My $0.02 worth: Note that sinners is plural and there’s no indication of exception or exclusion.

(2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

My $0.02 worth: Is this not a clear indication that it is possible for “all” to come to repentance? Furthermore, is this not a clear indication that God want no one to perish? If Calvinism is correct, then how does one reconcile God’s desire for all to repent if only certain individuals are predestined to salvation? Furthermore, I’m not aware of one instance where God forces anyone to get saved. As is, I see no indication of exception or exclusion.

(Titus 2:11) For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

My $0.02 worth: God’s grace of salvation appears to all humanity without exception or exclusion.

(John 5:40) Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

My $0.02 worth: If a person does not come, then that, to me, signifies an ability that they had (have) the option to come. Jesus said, “You will not”. Jesus didn’t say, “You cannot”! Surely, then, God-is giving his creation the option to choose or not to choose. God entrusts us with free will. We have the opportunity to choose. And we are without excuse. I’m sure I can find a verse to that effect. Somewhere.

In conclusion, then, the simple reading of scripture is that God has opened the door of salvation to everyone. There’s no exception or exclusion with regard to “elect” vs “non-elect” persons”.

Soteriology Simplfied – a Review

February 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Soteriology Simplfied.jpg

I recently purchased the book, Soteriology Simplified, which states on the back cover that, “All men are both responsible and response-able to respond to God’s initiatives in redemption, revelation and reconciliation.” This intuitively makes sense to me. To which, I’m hoping to have more “bullets in my gun” with which to better counter the arguments put forth by Calvinists. Living in the “land of Piper” (Twin Cities MN), I’ve found Calvinism to be a thorn in my side for longer than I’ve even understood what it was that Calvinists believed and taught. I’ve stated before that within my own dealings with Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike, I’ve discovered multitudes of smart and good-willed people on both sides putting forth persuasive arguments. The conundrum, then, is that many of the same scriptures are used to argue both sides of the spectrum which has led me to wonder if Christianity isn’t little more than a faith based on personal-opinion. I readily admit that my opinion on Christian doctrine is largely based on my antipathy toward Calvinistic thought and how I view the nature and character of God through the Calvinist’s lens. Nevertheless, my having “bad feelings” toward Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong.

Although I haven’t gotten very far in the book, I’m impressed that author Bob Hadley has nearly 550 references. The book looks to be well thought-out, clearly written with lots of references and I look forward to reading it. It may be true that for most people, the issue of Calvinism’s limited atonement (ref pg 11) is the fundamental point of contention. However, for me, it’s unconditional election. It’s my sense that if my arguments can undermine the concept of unconditional election, then limited atonement is less problematic. Granted, I understand how unconditional election must logically follow limited atonement. But I find the notion that God withholds the ability of some from coming to faith abhorrent and revealing an undeniability that God (per Calvinist doctrine) has not only chosen some for grace, he’s also intentionally chosen some for destruction.

I’m delighted to have this book on my shelf and will plan to write a more substantial review after reading it.