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God’s Will – A Disconnect (Part III)

December 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Weaker VesselsI appreciate your comments about having been attracted to a woman not your wife as well as what you experienced regarding the artillery barrage landing ‘on’ troops in the field. My military service time was as a sailor in the Coast Guard. Pretty light duty compared to what you and others did and experienced during Vietnam and elsewhere. In ways, it’s difficult to counter one’s personal experience. And I won’t try to do so here. I respect what you’re saying even if I can’t entirely understand or relate to it. However, your earlier comments, though, reflect what is (I believe) something that is common to the overwhelming vast majority of men that I know – myself included. All of us guys are attracted to “the weaker vessels”. We are (I believe) designed by God to be visually keyed-in. To greater or lesser extents, all of us guys have had to deal with, well, the ‘wandering eye’ and must work (and choose!) to keep our focus on our brides. I wish gals were more attuned to their dress and mannerisms. But the problem isn’t with them. Rather, it’s with us.

I am hard pressed to believe, as I think you do, that God intentionally brings about temptation. I’m of the opinion that sexual temptation is something so prevalent that most of guys don’t even give it a second thought when an attractive woman passes in front of us. We rather like it. And our eyes linger. And our mind wanders. And our lustful feelings and desires build. I can imagine Satan, understanding what God had created in sex and knowing the potential pitfalls that would inevitably come about as much said, “Well, sure God, I think this is great and that your creation will thank you for it.”

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to volunteer as a mentor for Teen Challenge and to work in Stephen’s Ministry. I’ve seen first hand the lives damaged by drug addiction. I’ve held the hand of a guy dying from aids. In my own life, I’m having to deal with the ramifications of rheumatoid arthritis and the consequences of poor financial choices made 20-30 years ago. Not one of these things do I attribute to God’s sovereign will. What I’ve come to understand is that if I focus my ‘behaviors’ to that which is clearly spelled out in the Bible, then so much heartache and misery can be avoided. I don’t understand the biology or pathology of diseases such as aids. But clearly, if this homosexual guy had not engaged in gay sex, I suspect that he never would have had to deal with dying in his early 30s as he did. I’ve seen so much pent up anger within people which has been manifested in many ways. Jobs lost, relationships destroyed. In the mid-70s I read a book entitled “None of These Diseases”. Fascinating look at understanding the frailty of the human body by a Christian medical doctor. One chapter talks about Proverbs 16:24 – Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. The author uses a lot of similar verses to show that high levels of stress from whatever reason have the propensity to release enzymes and hormones within the body that literally eat away at the calcium in the bones. On the other hand, a certain amount of stress is good if only because it helps to get me up and to work each day so that I can be responsible for the bills at the end of the month. I look forward to the day when, like you, I’m retired. I’m thankful for the relatively simple and effective ways of dealing with RA. And, over time, with some sound financial planning, we’re starting to seem some goals and opportunities that several years ago seemed out of the question.

Anyway, before this tome gets excessively long, my point is that God created us as he did and when we live within what I can only refer to as the biblical-design, then in general we should experience a much more – what the Bible refers to – an abundant life. And I know that when I turn my eye from that pretty girl and keep my focus on my bride, then I experience a sense of freedom and intimacy that can never be enjoyed in a one-night stand. But, it’s admittedly difficult sometimes. Yet, I sense one of the qualities of those who’re spiritually disciplined is to make more God-honoring decisions. And when they do, they experience more of the fruits of the spirit – the love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Not wanting to be harsh, but I sense within you, Jim, what I believe to be myopic perspective that you’re literally strapped down on the microscope slide and God is dripping out different acids and bases or otherwise messing with you in all kinds of ways just to watch you squirm. Or, at least that is the perspective I would see if I saw everything as God-ordained. As I see it, God has given me complete freedom to enjoy all that there is within the petri dish and so long as I remain in the petri dish there is little that can “get” to me. But when I try to climb up and over the sidewall and escape the God ordained boundaries, then I’ve essentially lost his protective umbrella and am exposed to things for which I’m ill prepared to deal with. And just like the prodigal son, when we return, he is there to forgive us and welcome us back. We may, unfortunately, have to carry the scars of our own dealings. And I trust that you understand that God can’t use those scars for his benefit and glory. Perhaps we can discus that in further detail later.

God’s Will – A Disconnect (Part II)

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Disconnect PlugIf anything, Jim, you are consistent in your absolute belief that EVERYTHING that has ever happened to ANYONE is not only directly attributable to God, but that GOD BROUGHT IT ABOUT. I intentionally used the “especially egregious sin” (your words) of abortion as an example if only to take something (for me, anyway) to the extreme. Truth is truth and will hold up no matter what the circumstance. In those times when I’ve used this same line of reasoning, almost inevitably the other person will recoil somewhat and try to explain away God’s sovereignty over “everything” and add in that, “his ways are not our ways”, “we’re limited in our understanding”, “we’re not God and are therefore bound by time and space – God isn’t.” Although I vehemently disagree and believe you to be in gross error, I appreciate that you are consistent. Dennis Prager, one of my favorite radio talk show hosts often says that he prefers clarity over agreement. As you clearly stated, “Everything that comes to pass is ordained by God.” If I had my doubts about your assessment of God’s will and God’s sovereignty, I certainly don’t now.

It is incredibly interesting, though to see such a huge commonality between your beliefs and how my four-year-old granddaughter plays with her doll house. She puts the furniture where she wants it. She places her dolls where she wants them. She initiates and maintains the conversations between the dolls. It’s fascinating to watch. This young girl is exercising her complete sovereign will over those dolls! And yet, now that I finally understand how completely you believe that EVERYTHING is ordained by God, I can’t help but sense that in your spiritual sphere (best phrase I can think of) we, as God’s creation, are nothing more than puppets to him. He moves us where he wants us. He dresses us with righteousness (i.e. being elect). Or, he stuffs us into a suitcase and tosses us off into the deepest part of the closet never to be loved or cared for until finally we’re thrown away (i.e. cast off into the pit of Hell because he determined that we were to be non-elect). A few are favored. Most are, well, worthless.

I clearly differentiate the sovereign will of God from his moral will. You don’t. Perhaps, however, a good example of differentiating God’s sovereignty vs his moral will vs our free will is within the institution of marriage:

God’s sovereignty: God created them male and female. God intended that man and woman would be, well, different. In lots of ways. God created sex worked out the details that through sexual intercourse, couples would “know each other” (yeah, no kidding!) and that children could be produced.

God’s moral will: One of the Ten Commandments is to not commit adultery. Pretty simple and straightforward with no ambiguity. If I am ever tempted to have an adulteress relationship, then there is no doubt that I would be violating one of God’s moral commands.

Our free will: In 2 Cor 6:14 is a principle that we shouldn’t be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, to me, is straightforward and simple – don’t marry an unbeliever (at least, this is what my NIV indicates the passage is about). To which, within this clearly defined boundary (single, female and Christian), God allows me to choose from among the multitude. Can you point me to any verses/passages in which God shows how we can identify the mate we should marry?

It seems simple enough to me; God lays out a framework (his sovereignty) and we freely live and make choices within that framework. I am free to make the choice of what girl to marry. I could provide lots of evidence that when people, whether believers or not, live within God’s defined boundaries then is a lot less, well, hassle to deal with. If this makes sense, great. Otherwise, I’ll expound.

God’s Will – A Disconnect?

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Writing LetterDear Jim,

Well, with your views on God’s will, I’d say that you’re in good company. I’ve read books from Jerry Bridges (Is God Really in Control, Trusting God), Ray Pritchard (Discovering God’s Will for Your Life), Josh McDowell (God’s Will, God’s Best), Charles Swindoll (The Mystery of God’s Will) along with some others, too. I’ve also listened to some podcasts from Piper, Sproul and MacArthur on God’s will. Just curious, are you familiar with Garry Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God?

Hopefully we’re not already past the point where each of us should have been carefully defining our terms. I have, for instance, found it all too easy to essentially ‘talk past’ each other when speaking with LDS & JW folks on matters of faith. But given that you seem pretty emphatic that EVERYTHING is ordained and otherwise set into place by God to the minutest detail including hopes, dreams, thoughts, desires, attitudes, actions and responses, I think a fair question for me to ask is when have you ever praised God that abortion is the law of the land? For obviously, God WANTS abortion and has brought it about, right?

Perhaps we can’t, but if we can agree that abortion is the unwarranted killing (i.e. murder) of an innocent child, then, how can it be that God, who set out in the Ten Commandments that “thou shall not kill,” can violate his own sovereign decree on such a massive scale that there have been (what?) 40+ million murders of pre-born children in this country alone?

By sheer numbers alone, it would not be unreasonable to state that God is more of a moral monster than Adolf Hitler who only killed some 6 million Jews. But wait, by your assessment, Hitler did what he did because it was God who ordained it – and brought it about.

For me, the logic of what you’re intimating via a just and holy God sovereignly decreeing such evil simply doesn’t hold water. It may sound good to say, “God is in control,” and therefore whatever came about is God’s doing. But I don’t think that is in any way, shape or form accurate. I believe you are in error as to your understanding of God’s sovereignty.

With respect, and I do mean that sincerely, I believe you have just removed any and all need for God to have sacrificed his own son on the cross. For, if it is God who has brought about the sins of the world, then it is God and God alone who must atone (to himself, I suppose) for the actions God himself brought about through his creation for nothing that man has done can therefore be attributed to man. I’m chuckling at the absurdness of this thought – and I’m guessing you are, too. To which, I think there needs to be a different understanding as to what constitutes the sovereign will of God and how that differentiates from the moral will of God.

In order to keep my posts a bit shorter, let me stop here and let you respond if you like, before I provide my $0.02 worth as to how I understand God’s sovereign will vs God’s moral will vs God’s personal will.

Sincerely,

Bob

 

Your Problem Is with God, not Calvin

December 22, 2017 1 comment

Dried Tulips“I agree, just because I hate something doesn’t mean it’s false.”

That was my opening line responding to a Calvinist who stated that my anathema to the doctrines of Calvinism were because my “issue” is with God and not with Calvin. Seriously? Then, it ‘clicked’!

The difference in how Calvinists and non-Calvinists view the constructs and justification of Calvinism is that Calvinists start with Calvinism and try to make sense of Scripture. I start with Scripture and try to make sense of Calvinism. Calvinists have their “bullet-points” (TULIP) and go to great lengths to show that Scripture is indeed speaking “truth” to Calvinism. Scripture ought to be the foundation for all Christians. Further, the tension between Calvinism and what the Bible teaches is huge and I simply can’t understand how it is that Calvinists can hold to their tenants given the obvious tension of competing verses.

A Rachel Held Evans blog post several years ago got right to the core (for me) of what constitutes Calvinism.
– God creates disposable people, people without any hope.
– God sovereignly ordains, every war, abortion and rape.
– God does not love the world but instead hates it and delights himself and finds glory sending people to hell.

Calvinists believe that God predestined them to heaven. But I find it ironic that Calvinists will rarely admit the opposite truth as well that God predestines (i.e. determines from the foundation of the world, no less) to send the vast and overwhelming majority of people to hell? Call those who’re elect “the remnant”. I guess that sounds more spiritual. And yet, is there anything more clearly stated in the Bible (John 3:16) – for God so loved the world? And no, that doesn’t mean everyone automatically enters heaven. Rather, Jesus has paid the price and God allows the free-will choice of every individual. God wants none to perish (2 Pet 3:9). No one is intentionally excluded – as Calvinism would have you believe. In the end, it’s difficult for me to ascribe to Calvinist theology if only because my understanding of Calvinist theology makes God out to be arbitrary and capricious.

Lastly, every Calvinist I know is adamant they’re part of “Team Elect”. However, Calvin writes (Institutes of Religion 3.2.11) that God not only reveals himself to his elect, but that God also reveals himself to the reprobate. Further, God instills within the reprobate a sense of God’s goodness and mercy to the point where the reprobate even believes God loves him and has mercy for him? According to Calvin, then, the reprobate is only enlightened with a present and not eternal sense of grace. Therefore, any conviction the reprobate experiences will never lead to salvation. God, per Calvin, is a manipulator and otherwise toys with those he plans to send to hell. How nice.

Consider then – it only stands to reason that some who think they’re part of “Team Elect” are actually on “Team Reprobate” Per Calvin, God has given various reprobates a sense of right and wrong, a sense of godliness. Perhaps these reprobates sense an inner spirit indwelling within. But unless those on Team Elect disagree with Calvin (and I’ve yet to find any Calvinist who’s in disagreement with Calvin), how can anyone have any sense of eternal security? How does confusion not reign supreme in making the distinction between knowing whether one is a member of “Team Elect” or that God has instead determined (before the foundation of the world, no less) that you’re a member of “Team Reprobate”?

Predestination – A Problem of Definition?

December 17, 2017 Leave a comment

 
Martyn-LloydI recently read this D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote which is certainly a tenant of unconditional election within Classical Calvinism. Any reader of this blog will know the Calvinist’s definition of election is a bit of a thorn in my side. To which, if the above statement by Lloyd-Jones is indeed true, then logically, the opposite of his statement is also true. Kind of like John 8:32 which states you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. So, if the truth sets us free, then its opposite is also true wherein error binds or otherwise does not make us free. So, because it’s clear that people go to Hell, then I think it safe to infer from Lloyd-Jones to the effect that God has marked a select few to salvation before the foundation of the world, then it is also clear that God has determined (selected?) that the [some/many/most/overwhelming majority] are not born again and that they won’t believe in Him. In short, God chooses who’ll be saved. And therefore, by default, God also chooses who’ll be damned to Hell.

For many, this is the heart of free will vs predetermination. I reject the Calvinist notion of election in part because the Bible is replete with verses commanding folks to repent of their sin and to believe – in salvation through faith. If indeed, as Calvinists claim, that salvation is ‘given’ to only a select few, they why so many verses exhorting people to believe?

I’ve been told by Calvinists that, “If we can add anything to our salvation, then we are saying that Jesus’ dying on the cross was an insufficient propitiation for our sins.” I don’t disagree that our finite minds can fully comprehend an infinite God. Perhaps it is true that the two lines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility can only intersect in the mind of God. But I don’t sense that there is so much difficulty in understanding that a) God has offered to everyone a way of salvation and b) it is man’s responsibility to accept that offer.

Edwin Lutzer from Moody College has stated that predestination is a difficult doctrine to understand and that there is a lot of mystery involved. Lutzer definition of predestination is, “God predetermining what happens on earth and that he predetermines you and your salvation”. He references Eph 1:4 as part of his justification for believing God determines specific individuals for salvation – which says – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

I remember being in a special reading where the teacher suggested I try omitting the prepositional phrases to better understand the “main point”. As is, a preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. We may lose details – but I don’t think that is the case here: (For) He chose us (in Him) (before the creation) (of the world) to be holy and blameless (in His sight).

Without the prepositions, then, Eph 1:4 says; He chose us to be holy and blameless.

The word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary has different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.

Therefore, using Webster’s common English understandings for the word “chose”, I believe a fair interpretation of this verse is that God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world.

In other words, God predestined that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world. As I understand it, how that comes about was with the law in the OT and faith in Christ in the NT. I see nothing here that God has already decided who’s “elect” and who’s “reprobate”. Given that the Bible is replete with commands to repent and to believe would seem to support a personal requirement of a free will decision to accept God’s offer of salvation.

So, how then does all this fit together? Well, much like an algebraic statement must reconcile itself to be considered “true” (i.e. the right answer), so too must our theology add up, reconcile and resolve itself. I recently read, “Theological words have established meanings.” When we don’t agree on definitions then it only stands to reason that we’ll end up with variance of thought. That is, when explanations don’t add up and don’t reconcile, then there are potential contradictions which could be indications of error. As to who has the correct definitions – in this case regarding the word ‘predestination’, well, that seems to be the question of the day.

To which, I find these thoughts from Jerry Edmon regarding a Calvinist’s understanding of predestination to be interesting:

If predestination is true, one is either eternally saved or eternally damned before birth.

If predestination is true, then the concept of choice is a cruel deception.

If predestination is true, then the thought of being a free moral agent is simply a pretense.

If predestination is true, then reaching out to the non-elect is nothing more than an exercise in religious recital.

If predestination is true, then the sharing of the gospel by the elect can only stir up false hope within the reprobate.

If predestination is true, then why bother sharing God’s love unless it is just some misdirected sadistic tease to those who can never have eternal life?

If predestination is true, then preaching the gospel only dangles a mirage about the river of life to those dying of thirst who’re not able to partake of its stream.

If predestination is true, then the term “whosoever” from John 3:16 is a lie.

The Logic of TULIP Doesn’t Stand Up

December 8, 2017 Leave a comment

TevyeThere isn’t any doubt as to the human spirit. It is depraved. There are none righteous. All have sinned. All have fallen short of the glory of God. But are Calvinist’s correct in their belief that of no free will and that no one can accept God’s grace and offer of salvation of one’s own volition? Which makes me ask, if there’s no free will, then why is the Bible replete with so many verses exhorting people to “believe on the Lord Jesus”? I’m sensing an apparent disconnect. Something isn’t adding up. I chuckle when recalling a scene from Fiddler on the Roof:

Mordcha: Why should I break my head about the outside world. Let the outside world break its own head!

Tevye: He’s right. As the good book says, If you spit in the air it lands in your face.

Perchik: Nonsense! You can’t close your eyes wo what’s happ;ening in the world.

Tevye: He’s right.

Avram: He’s right? And he’s right? They can’t both be right.

Tevye: You know, you are also right.

Calvinists claim that good can only come from people who have been anointed with God’s grace and mercy. However, are there not a number of verses in which God honors or otherwise bestows his blessing and salvation unto the humble? God found favor in Mary, Noah, the rich young ruler and the Centurion – who was referred to as a righteous man. So far as I can tell, these folks were doing ‘good deeds’ on their own. And God took notice. It looks to me as though God used them ‘as they were.’ I see no indications that God infused people with his grace and mercy prior to their being used by God.

Paul explains the new covenant wherein Jews and Gentiles alike can receive salvation through faith in Christ. Rom 10:13 states that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. To me, it is self-evident; everyone means everyone. Period. There’s no indication that those who ‘call on the Lord’ had received any special ‘ability’ to receive salvation. Rather, decisions to accept God’s grace appear to have been freely made. Regarding Acts 17:30, this only seems the logical inference where God commands all people everywhere to repent. Again, all people means all people. And, a command infers a requirement for the recipient to follow through in order for the command to have been effected. If this is not Paul’s clear intention, then why doesn’t Paul single out and encourage (or command) only the “elect” to get their act together and repent. Did Paul understand TULIP? If so, then why are the elements of TULIP so mysteriously shrouded and only ‘visible’ through awkward and non-linear logic and exegesis?

I agree that we can’t fit God into our own ‘little box’. We aren’t able to see the ‘big picture’ and we are not omniscient. And because of that, I’ve always been told that theology isn’t formulaic, mathematical or logical. Or is it? Are there not “standard formulas” such as simple [if : then] conditional statements such as, [if you] believe on the Lord Jesus [then] you will be saved. Wasn’t this exactly what happened to the thief on the cross when he said, “Remember me, Jesus, when you enter into your kingdom.” It’s sad and unfortunately that there are so many “variations of thought” from those working from the same “source material”. And because of these ‘variations of thought’, it’s not unreasonable to question a given answer to a theological question. Living in the Twin Cities, the divergent opinions of John Piper and Greg Boyd immediately come to mind and it’s nothing short of ironic that both of these men use many of the same verses to argue their respective position. This, then, only reinforces a contention that many people of faith have beliefs which may be little more than opinion.

I’m paraphrasing a note sent to me by Greg Schumacher from a Facebook debate forum called Examining Calvinism. He says:

Truth isn’t some magical or mystical secret. Rather, truth is an equation of thought and reason. Truth adds up. Truth reconciles. Truth resolves itself. Theological words have established meanings and when people don’t use these meanings, and are instead creating variations of their own beliefs, ignorance or dishonesty.

People are confused about what reality is. Reality isn’t what you think and feel is real to you. That’s just wishful thinking. Rather, reality is the record of what has happened. Consider that a stock chart shows the record of what has happened and is not a prediction of what might happen. Reality is our present state of life. We see it because it has already happened. Our memory is a record of the preceding events. What has already happened is the reconciled reality of all the inputs that contributed to the state or condition.

Any theology which denies reality is little more than nonsense, imagination and fantasy. Reality is the most profound gift of God for us in life. It tells us everything. All factors of all truth are reconciled in the reality of the record. Truth is consistent. The principles of truth, the precepts, the rules are logical and even mathematical. 1+2=3 is the same across all platforms. Theological contradictions are therefore indications of error, lies and confusion. If there are theological contradictions then truth is not present.

The obvious inference – when explanations don’t add up and don’t reconcile then there are potential contradictions and indications of error. It’s unfortunate how many will create long dissertations in an attempt to justify incongruent beliefs only to end up with silly statements and no logical resolution. The Bible’s teaching, to me, is that reason leads to truth. And truth can be logically deduced. Reason provides the understanding of truth. To which, definitions matter. And definitions should hold up to the scrutiny of a given challenge.

In my opinion, then, Calvinism’s adherence to TULIP, and especially the element of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election, provide significantly more confusion than resolution. This confusion unfortunately leads to the impression (at least for me) that God is not the author of life, love and mercy but is instead a callous and heartless being incapable of being known.

A Child Not Believing ‘Rightly’ Will Perish

July 6, 2017 2 comments

Innocent ChildA Calvinist pastor from a church I used to attend put this comment up on Facebook:

“If a child doesn’t believe rightly in the true Jesus, he or she will perish eternally. In other words, right Christology is kind of important.”

The question that immediately popped into my mind was whether there’s an “age of accountability” before God sends a youngster to Hell? And, asking the next logical extension, would God send a ‘pre-born’ child which dies in the womb before physical birth to Hell because that child didn’t ‘believe rightly in the true Jesus’?
I commented and asked about a child’s age of accountability. Shortly thereafter, this pastor commented back saying,

“[Regarding] your question, it depends on each individual. [My wife] called on the Lord as an 8-year-old. I was 22. I know a man who was in his 60s. [My wife] and I labored to teach God’s word to our children beginning when they were toddlers.”

The question is about an age of accountability and a child’s inability to even know if they believe “in the true Jesus”. And the response is; “it depends on each individual.” Perhaps to a Calvinist, that makes sense. I understand that the Calvinist argument according to TULIP is that we’re all totally depraved and one’s ‘election’ unto salvation isn’t according to anything the individual has done – or has not done in the case of an aborted baby. As such, to the Calvinist, grace and mercy are meted out per God’s desire. Some get saved. But the reality is, most don’t. I simply cannot logically resolve the construct that Calvinists must therefore accept that God damns children who’re innocent of any sin? Seriously!? GOD KILLS KIDS FOR HIS GLORY!!?? Am I missing something? To my Calvinist friends who know I struggle with matters of faith – you want me to believe that God is holy, just and righteous. However, what is to be understood and what is implied in the nature and character of God that he, I presume from the foundation of the world, damns individuals who have not sinned and therefore aren’t needing Christ’s atonement?

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 1 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.