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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.

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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.

If Predestination Is True . . .

January 27, 2017 Leave a comment

jerry-edmonI like the insight Jerry Edmon offers with regard to the Calvinist’s understanding of predestination wherein:

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.

Edmon goes on to discuss two passages addressing predestination and how Calvinists have taken predestination out of context. According to Edmon:

[Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:3-14] specifically refer to a people group, not to individual people. What we see here is that God determined that he was going to have a people for himself, a Body. It is preplanned and predestined to happen. But it is misguided to take from these passages to suggest that [God] had selected [certain] “individuals to be saved” and [certain] “individuals to be lost”. God determined beforehand that those who believe in Christ will be adopted into his family and conformed to his Son. I believe in predestination as a people group. We are all called, but not as an individual. Individual predestination is misguided. We must individually hear the gospel and believe its message. We must appreciate the true condition of the fallen state of man and the plan of redemption that God provided for us if we will receive His precious gift. While it is true that man cannot come to God except he be drawn, that man still has to exercise his own independent choice to receive God’s invitation.

 

Another $0.02 Comment Regarding Unconditional Election

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

two-centsFundamental to the reservations I have regarding Reformed doctrine is the concept of unconditional election. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but I think I can adequately refute the Calvinist’s notion of election. For instance, Eph 1:4 is a popular verse used by Calvinists.

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,”

The obvious question for me – what’s God’s purpose? Well, looking at the entire passage, several things “pop” out:

vs 4 (God determining that we would be holy and blameless in his sight)

vs 5 (God determining that we would be adopted as his sons through Christ)

vs 9 (the “mystery” of his will)

vs 10 (that will is to be pout into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment)

vs 11 (God accomplishing his plan and replaces the law with faith)

As I see it, then, Paul’s explanation of “the mystery” relates to God doing away with “the law” thereby enabling both Jews and Gentiles to be made holy through God’s own sacrifice of himself by faith. To which, I see nothing within this passage supporting Calvinistic fatalism as to God predestining or otherwise “choosing” (i.e. electing) a very select few for salvation.

On the contrary, I see God’s desire for everyone to come into fellowship with him. Through Christ. By faith. But, I suspect that other’s “mileage” may differ. Please feel free to comment.

 

 

So, This Is Where I’ve Landed

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

boat-landingIt’s been several months since leaving the church I had attended for ~12 years. Part of me thought that I would do more reading and studying during this absence. But I haven’t. In truth, I’m no closer to resolving questions I have regarding the nature and character of God. Whether it should be or not, the concept of unconditional election within Calvinistic doctrine is a huge stumbling block. That so many adhere to this doctrine just baffles me. If anything, what seems to make the most sense regarding Christian faith is contained within the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven.

He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Seems rather black and white. Which is, frankly, how I view my faith – rather matter of fact. And not much else. Perhaps it’s enough.

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.