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Christian Faith – Looking at a Picasso

March 4, 2018 3 comments

Picasso

Christian Doctrine – Who’s Right? How Can We Know?

As much as I like to write, I don’t think of myself as good reader. Lists are much more readily absorbed. To which I recently found and watched an 8min video on the top ten things that Calvinists overlook with respect to John 6:37. These include:

10. “All” is treaded inconsistently

9. Not referring to church-age salvation after Pentecost

8. The “given” are the 12 disciples

7. Negative Inference Fallacy

6. Judas was both “given” and “lost”

5. Calvinists cannot prove he’s one of the “given”

4. Timing: No Holy Ghost, no death, burial, resurrection, etc.

3. The verses in the chapter that do mention “eternal life”

2. The stated purpose of the Book

1. The second half of the verse.

I am not familiar with Kevin Thompson, but the video can be found here:

I found this video informative and straight to the point in countering many of the typical arguments Calvinists have directed my way as to why they believe in TULIP in general and unconditional election in particular.

Scrolling down through the comments, one person referenced a rebuttal by no other than James White. White’s critique of Thompson begins at about the 1:08:00 mark.

Say what you will about Dr. White – he is passionate and articulate in his defense of all things Calvinism. And, although I find Dr. White to be annoying, arrogant and even condescending, it is not lost on me his defense of the doctrines he holds near and dear. To which, Dr. White puts forth (in my estimation, at least) a compelling hour long critique of Kevin’s Thompson’s list – point by point.

Well, not to just sit there and ‘take it’, Kevin Thompson puts out a lengthy refutation of Dr. White’s rebuttal. And at least from my perspective, Mr. Thompson takes apart Dr. White’s arguments very well indeed.

Suffice it to say, then, that the point-counterpoint of Dr. White and Mr. Thompson is on the one hand fascinating while on the other hand deeply troubling. I am impressed with the knowledge and skill both men employ and the detail in which both men counter each other’s arguments. In the end, I’m left with confusion and perhaps even a little despair. How is one to rectify the discordant views of those who profess Calvinism and those who don’t given that both sides present articulate and compelling arguments? Over the years, my Christian faith seems to have devolved into little more than personal opinion. At this point, I accept the historical personage of Jesus Christ. But, so what. Am I elect? Am I saved? Can there be assurance of salvation? I’m not sure. In the end, I reject Calvinism if only because, in my opinion, the nature and character of a holy God are laid to waste by God selecting very few people to join him in eternity while at the same time determining that the vast majority have no hope or even the ability to choose of their own volition and are subsequently cast off into the pit of Hell. Nevertheless, my antipathy towards Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong. And, too, having been told that my rejection of the doctrines of grace equates to me rejecting the gospel, well, maybe the conclusion is that I am indeed lost.

So, occasionally I search out and find something interesting such as a ‘top-ten’ list for ways to overcome the nemesis of my faith – Calvinism only to quickly discover (again!) that for every argument there is also a counter argument. In the end, perhaps I’m realizing that there is no answer. Unfortunately, if there isn’t an answer to the rightness or wrongness as to fundamental doctrine(s) emanating from the Bible, then how can one have any confidence regarding matters of faith? Unless, of course, one “feels” right about it. Perhaps the conclusion here is that Christian faith does break down to personal affinities – much like someone seeing beauty in a Picasso while someone else sees nonsense. Does it really matter?

Blinded to Total Depravity (2 Cor 4:4)

January 8, 2018 1 comment

Blind GirlI’ve always understood that Calvinism’s doctrines (TULIP) are essentially in logical order. For instance, one must be totally depraved and unable to “see the light” in order to justify that it is God and God alone who chooses (i.e. unconditionally elects) those who’ll be given salvation. From there it follows that because there are only certain people saved, then the concept of limited atonement makes sense.

For reasons I don’t necessarily understand, unconditional election has been the stake driven through my heart which has caused the most angst within my spiritual walk. It’s been that way for years. Occasionally, though, a verse “pops up” and makes me go, “Whoa!” Such is the case for 2 Cor 4:4 which says,

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I can’t count the number of times Calvinists have explained that all of man is spiritually dead and therefore unable, on their own accord, come to faith. Yet, here is Paul stating that Satan has “blinded” unbelievers so they can’t see. Why? If we’re spiritually dead, then what’s the point? Maybe Satan wants to add insult to injury?

In my own mind, logic and Calvinism are incompatible. And I am admittedly bothered that there are two very determined sides (or perspectives) in which the pro and anti-Calvinists will use many of the save verses to justify their respective positions. In my own opinion, though, regardless of what I see as the “Calvinist twist” applied to many verses, there are simply too many verses which seem to contradict the fundamental premise that God loves everyone and wants none to perish. To which, I believe that God has offered his gift of salvation to all who would accept. There’s no implied limitation as to the number of “elect” persons. But, that’s my perspective.

However, regarding Paul’s statement in 2 Cor 4:4, there seems to be no “logical” reason which necessitates Satan wasting his time and attention on spiritually dead people. It only seems to follow that Satan, instead, could be more productive with his time and attention directed at other matters. It’s almost as though Satan is sitting back in his easy chair clicking through channels on the television. However, the television is not on!

Total depravity, as has been explained to me numerous times, is the “inability” of people to get past their own sin. Mankind, according to Calvinism, is spiritually dead – and has been since the original mom and dad (aka Adam & Eve). Per Calvinism, we are born completely unable to see, hear, understand or respond willingly to the word of God. We are dead in our own trespasses. A spiritual corpse, therefore, is unable to see, hear, understand or otherwise repent of their own sins. Am I missing something? Is there not a fundamental contradiction here? Wouldn’t Satan’s work to blind people and snatch away the word be completely unnecessary and redundant? So, why does Paul mention that Satan works (and is presumably able!) to prevent folks from seeing the way, the truth and the light? Is Calvinism doctrine of total depravity false. Are Paul’s comments the “proof” which derails total depravity?

The Beginning of Sin

January 7, 2018 2 comments

Beginning of SinA recent article I came across was entitled, The Beginning of Sin. The link has been posted below for convenience and reference. It begins, “In order to understand how sinful we are, we have to understand the beginning of sin.”

The author concludes by stating, “This, of course, did not catch God by surprise. He “knew” that Adam was going to sin; and in fact, He foreordained it without being the Author of Adam’s sin, so that it was “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11).”

For my clarification, I re-wrote the above sentence wherein:
[God] knew that Adam was going to sin.
– [God] foreordained [Adam’s sin] without being the author of Adam’s sin.
– [Adam’s sin] was according to the eternal purpose which [God] purposed in Christ Jesus   our Lord.

The author’s belief is that God fully intended and indeed implemented a way for man to sin (i.e. Eve being tempted by the serpent). I suppose this makes sense to a Calvinist. Maybe I can’t see the underlying principles here. Maybe I’m missing something. However, when I read Eph 3:11 in context, it’s clearly apparent that Paul is speaking to Gentiles and is explaining, that per God’s eternal purpose, the OT law is ‘kaput’ and now both Jew and Gentile alike can have salvation through faith in Christ. I see nothing, at least within this passage, as to the intentional initiation of sin into the world by God for the express purpose of setting up, as it were, man’s moral failure. But man did sin. And, rather quickly, too! But because of God’s desire for a continued relationship with his creation, God put into place a methodology for allowing man’s sin to be dealt with.

There’s no disagreement as to the sin nature that all of mankind has. I agree with the author, as was stated in the article, that Adam and Eve had free will. Therefore, it only seems reasonable that because of the free will ability which man has always had to turn away from God, it didn’t take long for sin came into the world. Consequently, I disagree with the author’s conclusion that the beginning of sin was because of God’s doing. Sin came about because of the free will that God gave man. Man is able to choose. And man chooses sin. In his grace and mercy, God still wanted a relationship with his creation and thereby worked out a way for man to be redeemed – through the law in the OT and by faith in Christ in the NT.

In conclusion, the author believes it is God who caused man to sin. And yet, in some way that is not clear to me, God is not therefore responsible for man’s sin. This is illogical. God did not create a robot. He created a free will creature who brought forth a lot of trouble and hassle. Further, the author’s argument is premised on an inaccurate reading and interpretation of scripture. Sadly, this is, to me, further evidence of the fallacy of Calvinistic beliefs and doctrines. With a bit of frustration, given the number of smart and gracious people that I personally know who adamantly espouse Reformed doctrines, I often wonder just what it is that I’m missing? However, when an argument is made regarding some aspect of TULIP and a simple reading of scripture coupled with a wee bit of logic explodes that argument, I’m left wondering – just what it is that compels Calvinists to hang onto their doctrines?

Original article

The Odds of Calvinism’s Unconditional Election

January 1, 2018 3 comments

Small NumberThere was recently a discussion in which common grace vs special (or saving) grace was bandied about. Curiosity got to me and I wondered, as a function of the number of elect persons there are, just how special is God’s saving grace. And so, I looked up some numbers to calculate a ballpark figure. I’ll assume, for argument’s sake, that it’s only the US population of Evangelical Christians who comprise God’s “elect”. There might be a few others throughout the world that are elect. But, it’s also likely that not all of the US elect who think they’re elect are actually elect. Nevertheless, ~25% of the US population of 323M people are Evangelical Christian. The world population is ~7.6B People. So, if my math is right, then; 0.25(323e6) / 7.6e9 = 0.0107. That is, God’s election is only extended to about one tenth of one percent of the world’s population.

Put another way, for every soul born throughout the world, there is a likelihood of ~99.9% that the child is NOT of the elect. Well, at least I now know my approximate odds of God having found favor with me before the foundation of the world.

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”?

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.

Team Elect vs Team Reprobate

October 17, 2016 Leave a comment

calvinEvery Calvinist I know is adamant they’re part of Team Elect. To which, Calvinists simply can’t understand those who struggle regarding their own eternal condition. Interestingly enough, John Calvin writes in his Institutes of Religion 3.2.11 that God not only reveals himself to his elect but that God also reveals himself to the reprobate. Really? Is Calvin correct in stating that 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, the reprobate is only enlightened with a present (not eternal) sense of grace and therefore, any conviction the reprobate experiences will never lead the reprobate to salvation. This sounds like manipulation of the highest order: God, for lack of a better word, manipulating or otherwise toying with those he sends to hell.

Could it be that some of those who think they’re part of Team Elect are actually on Team Reprobate? Perhaps God has given various “elect-me-nots” a sense of right and wrong, a sense of godliness. Perhaps these “elect-me-nots” 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 any of Calvin’s writings), how can anyone have any sense of eternal security? How does not confusion reign in making the distinction between knowing one is a member of Team Elect or that God has determined that you’re a member of Team Reprobate?

The below passage is pulled from Calvin’s Institutes of Religion 3.2.11:

I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

Systematic Theology Proves Unconditional Election?

October 2, 2016 Leave a comment

gearsI recently encountered a guy espousing the belief that Romans 9, as viewed from a perspective of “systematic theology”, proves the veracity of unconditional election. I immediately had my doubts and realized quickly enough that we differed on various word definitions. Suffice it to say, however, that never having undergone formal theological studies, the term “systematic theology” mystifies me. At a minimum, though, it stands to reason that Christians ought to be able to agree that if the Bible is to be believed, there must be doctrinal consistency throughout.

According to this individual, Rom 9 is foundational to Calvinist thought regarding election. Perhaps if Rom 9 ended at verse 29, it might be easier to imply individual election. However, Paul’s own summary is, well, interesting. Starting with verse 30, “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles [a group of people] who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, [a group of people] who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because [Israel] pursued [righteousness] not by faith but as if [righteousness] were by works.”

I find these words intriguing to say the least: Gentiles have obtained righteousness through faith and the Israelites continued to strive for righteousness through the law. It seems obvious that Paul is talking about masses of people, not individuals (i.e. individual election).

Even from the beginning, there was corporate election wherein the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people aka caretakers of the law. Perhaps this is an argument as to election being to service and not salvation? But I digress. As was evident, however, no one could keep the law and so God, though His sovereign choice, allowed not only Jews, but also Gentiles to enter into His presence and kingdom through faith. In reality, I believe this to be foreknowledge. But again, I digress.

Paul says that Israel was “broken off” because of unbelief. Was this ALL of Israel? I don’t think so. Maybe, just maybe this is something akin to “hardening of heart”? To which, does not God show mercy on individuals in response to their belief or unbelief? Here, and quite frankly elsewhere (i.e. Eph 1:4) I see no indication of God choosing some over others. The choice is predicated on the individual’s decision of faith – to believe or to not believe. Ultimately, it doesn’t appear to me that Rom 9 is a passage Calvinists can (systematically or otherwise) use to support the concept of individual election.

John Kasich: Now Looking for a New Purpose in Life

May 5, 2016 Leave a comment

kasichA lot of politicians end speeches with ‘God bless America’ and other similar sentiments. However, when John Kasich, after suspending his presidential campaign stated that his faith is renewed and deeper (I presume from the experience of running for president) and that the Lord will show him “the way forward to fulfill the purpose of his life” – well, my eyes started rolling.

From this statement, I can only presume that Kasich got into the presidential race because he felt God leading him. To which, is Kasich is a godwillian – one who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be and brought it about?

As an example, John Piper is a godwillian because he’s quoted in Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying: “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.”

Okay, so let me see if I understand Kasich’s logic:

You felt led by God to run for president.

God has now led you to stop running for president.

I can only assume that you must have thought that it was God’s purpose for your life was to be president. But now, for whatever reason, things have changed.

And for the time being, you’ll wait until the Lord reveals his direction on how to fulfill the purpose of your life.

If I were to take Piper’s logic to it’s logical conclusion, it must be that God is about to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be this nations’ president. Ah, yeah. I’ll believe that when I see Piper praise God for legalizing abortion. Hey, “God governs them all for his wise and just and good purpose”.

And, I guess we’ll now see where God leads Mr. Kasich. 

Divine Sovereignty + Personal Responsibility = Calvinistic Salvation?

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

divine-sovereigntyA recent comment from a Calvinist friend caused me to pause:

“Our salvation is a combination of divine sovereignty and our responsibility.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like irresistible grace as advocated by ardent Calvinists i.e.:

http://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist (emphasis mine). God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted (emphasis mine).

So, when I asked my friend if he accepts Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace, he responded:

Yes, but [I’d refer to it as] initial sanctification based on 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Gal 1:11-17, Acts 16:14. Could Lydia have responded if God didn’t open her heart? The rub is that [God does this] only for the elect.

To me, all of Calvinism rises or falls on unconditional election. Irresistible grace, along with the other parts of TULIP raise secondary questions. But with my interest piqued as to something new relating to irresistible grace, I looked at the provided references. My $0.02 worth follows:

2 Thess 2:13

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose (emphasis mine) you to be saved through (emphasis mine) the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through (emphasis mine) belief in the truth.

Three key elements:

  • God chose you to be saved
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
  • And through belief

Chose is obviously the past tense of the word choose and per Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (c1983) means to select freely or to decide on. The way I understand this verse (and many similar verses i.e. Eph 1:4) is that God decided (past tense) that salvation would come through a two-fold process:

1) The sanctifying work of the spirit

2) Belief in the truth

As such, God decided the manner in which we would receive salvation and initiated a “two-part” plan wherein (1 – his part) God cleanses us of our sins and (2 – our part) is to simply believe. Therefore, election, simply put, is conditional on faith in Christ. That is, we’re “chosen” because we already have faith and believe. I don’t see this verse advocating God predetermining from the “foundations of the earth” who would be saved, and correspondingly, who would not be saved. To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

1 Pet 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God (emphasis mine) the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Lots of little “catch-phrases” and questions arise: Who are the elect? Who has been chosen? What is the foreknowledge of God? What is the sanctifying work of the Spirit?

1st Peter clearly says, “Who have been chosen.” However, what follows is vitally important – “According to the foreknowledge of God.” I would argue that God, being omniscient, knows in advance who’ll accept his grace. It seems to me, therefore, that Calvinists confuse foreknowledge with predestination and subsequently believe that God decrees and otherwise determines whatever happens. To Calvinists, then, foreknowledge is God’s decree. I believe Romans 8:28-29 confirms my thoughts on this matter:

And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him and have been called, according to his purpose. For whom God foreknew, (emphasis mine) he also predestined (after they accepted by faith – my interpretation) to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God set up his plan. And for those individuals who would receive his grace by faith, God had already determined that they would be conformed to the likeness of his son. Simply put, God knows the future. Therefore, God knows who will believe in Jesus. Those folks (the believers) are the elected individuals. I would submit that God’s election is because of his foreknowledge of who would come to believe and not the cause of it. Again, I recognize and agree that we have a responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Gal 1:11-17

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation (emphasis mine) from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Many Calvinists have used these verses to justify their belief in a predetermined election. Part of the continuing struggle I have with Calvinism is that many people have many different interpretations. Unfortunately, to a degree, arguments can often get reduced to ‘opinions’. And for me, my opinion is that the phrase, “I received [the gospel] by revelations”, to me, underscores one’s free will as to spiritual things wherein Paul 1) was told about the gospel, 2) Believed the gospel and then 3) accepted the gospel. And again, I recognize our responsibility to believe. But again, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Acts 16:14

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Bob George, author of Classic Christianity has stated that the same sun which hardens clay also softens wax. Some people’s hearts become tender and turn towards God while those with hearts of stone turn away from God. I believe God’s Spirit is at work in all peoples’ hearts trying to soften them to acknowledge him and walk in his ways. Perhaps some would call this “prevenient grace”. In that light, Lydia was already a worshiper of God and, I would guess, a keeper of the law. Subsequently, as she came to a full understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ, the Lord was able to do an amazing work.

With the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of all people, trying to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel and inherit eternal life, it seems apparent that there’re times when God sees those hell-bent on their own abject defiance and rejection of him to the point that God withdraws his Spirit (in reaction to the individuals defiance) and hardens those hearts by giving them up to their own desires (Rom 1:26). Pharaoh is an example that immediately comes to mind.

Similarly, then, John 10:26-27 doesn’t infer that from the “foundation of the world” some were “his sheep” meaning that God had already determined who was to be saved. Rather, Jesus was saying that at that specific time, some were “his sheep” because they believed. Others, who didn’t believe, were therefore “not his sheep”.

As people submit, their hearts and minds are opened to the truth. (2 Cor 3:16) Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is taken away. Coming to Christ is a process. Some have more tender and receptive hearts. For others, difficult experiences and circumstances may help to soften a heart. Unfortunately, there are those who will never accept God’s grace. Much as our lives are transformed after we believe (2 Cor 3:18), “And we [with unveiled faces] are being transformed into his image.” To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe, but do not see Gal 1:11-17 as supporting irresistible grace.

So, to bring this to a close – although I find it sometimes difficult to effectively argue against Calvinist doctrines, I remain unconvinced in a predetermined election as well as the concept of irresistible grace. The verses listed above don’t convince me otherwise. Much of my fundamental disagreement to Calvinist doctrine relates to definitions and implied meanings of words. Or, put another way – opinions. And, too, I can’t fathom a holy God determining who will (and also who will not) be saved any more than I can intentionally ‘cast off’ one of my own kids. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind and I believe that we, as his creation, do have free will. And whenever we, of our own volition, turn to God, he rejoices.