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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.