Salvation: It’s Our Choice – Just Not Our Doing

I am often frustrated with the Calvinistic overview that people bring nothing to the table as to salvation because no one disagrees with this concept. I have long used the analogy that we have to get ourselves to the table, but it is God who has prepared and will serve the feast. People have to be willing to be saved … at least that is my contention. Calvinists, on the other hand, are adamant that people can’t ‘locate’ the table much less realize that everything we need is on that table due to total depravity and unconditional election. That is, Calvinists believe people are so depraved that they are unable to seek out God. And therefore, Calvinists believe that it is God who must decide who will sit at the table and subsequently steer people toward the table.

I saw the below post on a FB forum. It makes so much logical sense and, to me, ties the apparently discordant scriptural references together into a cohesive and persuasive argument.

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Sometimes, It’s All That Makes Sense

There are times when I’m more confused and troubled as to what I believe with respect to Christian faith. Variance of thought amongst Christians as to beliefs, statements of faith, doctrines, creeds, tenants and constructs can lead to frustration and alienation. If nothing else, I find the simplicity of faith as indicated through the Apostles’ Creed refreshing.

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The Fear of the Lord

I’ve never liked the phrase – fear of the Lord. And maybe that’s the best translatable word to use. Still, I’ve always felt that the use of that phrase connotates a negative inference as to the nature and character of God. If anything, love and fear appear to be completely opposite constructs.

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A Newborn Grandson Undercuts Total Depravity and Unconditional Election

I understand well the concept of Total Depravity. I reject it. Part of reason I reject Total Depravity – I look at the picture of this newborn little boy. He’s only a few minutes old. Has he had the time or even the inclination to sin … even if he was born with a sin nature? What is the worst thing that he could have done so far – cry because he experienced pain from passing through the birth canal or is experiencing light, sound and cold for the first time and obviously not understanding anything? Even more so, children who die in the womb – would they not stand before God’s judgement – sinless and therefore innocent? So logically, the Calvinist accepts that God condemns sinless people to hell? And God is glorified by this?

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Compatibilism – Sounds Nicer Than Determinism

Someone stated on a Facebook forum, “Anyone who believes that man’s will is entirely free, and that he can be saved by it, does not believe the fall.” He went on, “God is in control of our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, without making us robots or puppets! We are responsible for all of it!” Lots of verses were provided to justify his beliefs. However, if anything, I found his supply of verses justifying his pronouncements to be woefully lacking. And so, perhaps against better judgement. I responded:

I suspect our respective doctrines are altogether different – especially with respect to such things as Total Depravity, Unconditional election and Limited Atonement. Our doctrines are obviously based on our respective understandings from the Bible. To which, it would seem as though God has taught you things which are significantly different from what he’s taught me. Now, why would he do that? Unless maybe, just maybe, the tenants of determinism within Calvinism are fraught with error. And on that point, I can’t imagine you disagreeing with John Calvin who has written in his Institutes of Religion:

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Challenging the Calvinist Understanding

It’s been my experience that for Calvinists to comport with their doctrines, many verses can’t simply be read ‘as is’ but instead must ‘adjusted’ so that the meaning of a given verse can better fit their orthodoxy. A friend recently indicated that Calvinist soteriology requires a repeat of Genesis 3 in which the serpent says, “That’s not really what God said.” I found this thought fascinating if only because of the inference wherein Calvinism is a lie because, according to Calvinism, God does not love everyone. Further, according to Calvinism, Jesus didn’t die for everyone. And Jesus is neither the savior nor the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. So, in no particular order, below is a table of verses that seem to be saying one thing and in which the Calvinist puts forth a different interpretation than the simple reading.

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Blinded to Total Depravity (2 Cor 4:4)

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 same 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 Logic of TULIP Doesn’t Stand Up

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.