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Posts Tagged ‘Calvinist’

Quantitative Analysis of Unconditional Election

May 24, 2012 1 comment

An interesting blog post asks whether conditional election or unconditional election has more Biblical basis. The author goes on to state,

One of the most persistent and often divisive issues within Christianity is the debate between the doctrine of unconditional election (often called the doctrine of predestination) and the doctrine of unconditional election (often represented as the doctrine of free will).

Provided within the post is a list of verses that each camp uses to justify their respective positions. I don’t know the origin of this list nor do I believe this list is in any way complete. Still, the author wonders whether a greater number of verses (that, at least for this list) in support of unconditional election lend credence that unconditional election is indeed what the Bible teaches? I’m a numbers guy and do some quantitative analysis on the day job so this thought got my attention. 

However, as I scrolled down the list, I noticed that some verses were listed as supporting both predestination and free will. I certainly don’t think it accurate to derive “truth” from just a verse and I don’t think that is necessarily intended here. Context is everything and as such, any given verse must be read within the context of the passage. That said, if something is “truth” in one passage, then doesn’t there have to be commonality of that “truth” throughout all of the Bible?

Jesus says the truth will set me free (John 8:32). Perhaps my struggle regarding unconditional election can only mean that I don’t know the truth. Of course, preceding vs 32 is vs 31 where Jesus says if I hold to his teachings then I am really his disciple. Perhaps therein lies the issue – I’m not his disciple. Therefore, I can’t know the truth. Hence, I struggle in my faith – and not just with unconditional election. Perhaps I’m beginning to overanalyze – time to chill-out.

Anyway, I’ve come across this before – Calvinists and Arminians using the same verses and passages to to defend (or argue against) unconditional election. Romans chapter nine is perhaps the best example I know of. That the likes of John Piper and Greg Boyd have diametrically opposed perspectives of this chapter is troubling to me. But I understand that not all Christians are bothered by, what I can only call, the “variance” of Christian thought at least with respect to unconditional election.

In any event – to the question: does a greater number of verses supporting one perspective help to sway or otherwise bring about resolution within the Calvinist-Arminian argument? Probably not. But, what do I know?

 

Would Esther Have Been Considered a Calvinist?

April 22, 2012 5 comments

Recently I pondered whether delving into the Old Testament Torah would help bring about some understanding to Calvinistic/sovereign grace issues within my own faith. Unbeknownst to me, my bride has been studying the book Esther in a women’s Bible study. She’s well aware of my consternation regarding Reformed theology in general and unconditional election in particular. She believes a sovereign God can, and does, direct the events in the lives of believers – and for that matter, non-believers as well. With her permission, I have copied her summary of the book of Esther and how this book has helped to bring about a new sense of purpose and understanding within her own life. 

Can everything that happens in the book of Esther be explained by naturally-occurring events?

    • The king can’t sleep one night and asks the archives of his kingdom to be read to him – which happened to be of the time Mordecai reported a coup against the king and was never rewarded for it.
    • The king is invited to a dinner by Esther.
    • Esther rose to be queen based on her beauty and personality. 
    • The king sees someone in the courtyard which happens to be Haman.  
    • A prideful Haman gives the king a grandiose idea of how to honor someone – the honor Haman actually wishes to have bestowed upon himself. 
    • Haman just happens to be “falling on the queen’s couch” when the king reenters the room. 
    • The king makes a decisive decision to have Haman executed. 
    • A newly built gallows had just been built by Haman which had been intended to hang Mordecai. 

Is it all just happenstance? It seems impossible that all of those events, taken together,  could randomly have lined up that way. It appears that everything was orchestrated and planned out. And none of the players could possibly have seen, understood or even imagined that each event had been specifically designed. 

Is there a lesson for us? Does God work this way in our lives? How do we know if God orchestrates circumstances in our lives today? The book of Esther teaches that God can use people to bring about events he desires – even through people who don’t acknowledge or worship him. The book of Esther also shows God’s heart and compassion for his people. God has good intentions toward us and the power to orchestrate human events in our favor. I believe God has the power to answer my prayers, the power to influence my mind and help me make wise decisions.

Did God orchestrate the approval process at Hamline so that I would enter their education program? Does God specifically want me to be a reading teacher? I still can’t answer these questions with 100% assurance. However, I think it’s much easier looking back over time at events to see a plan and that’s why it’s so evident in the book of Esther that there was a plan. We are looking back over time. No one in the story saw the plan as it was unfolding. The book of Esther teaches that God sees and cares and works on behalf of his people. May we trust in God’s good intentions and his providence over our lives. 

Romans 8:38-39 states, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’m not sure it really means anything, per se, but I find it interesting that I’ve never come across any Calvinistic reference pertaining to God exercising his sovereignty within the Book of Esther. Still, it’s hard to argue against the “lessons” of Esther that my better 7/8ths elaborated on in her journal. And, it’s hard to argue against those passages in scripture in which God takes an active role or against those individuals specifically called out by God – including Moses, Abraham, David, the disciples, Paul, et al. I don’t doubt that God, being God, can do as he pleases. That said, I’m not a “determinist” and as such am not convinced that God directs the actions and activities of each and every “free agent” (a philosophical term I seem to be coming across more often). Nevertheless, perhaps it is only through the long lens of time that we can understand the path on which we’ve walked and how all that we have encountered on that path has indeed, per Rom 8:28, worked together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose. 

The Hope of Arminianism?

April 18, 2012 5 comments

ArminianApparently, and for the 2nd time, a comment I’ve made in response to a blog post hasn’t been accepted. Sorry, I don’t mean to offend. And, I guess I can take a hint. Again, given that my response wasn’t accepted, I thought it permissible to share my $0.02 and ask my questions here. It is, after all, my blog. ☺

Overall theme from what was initially blogged:

Arminianism allows that Christ died for all men. Given that some are in hell for whom Christ died, there must be a deficiency within Arminian doctrine as to the certainty and assurance of the Arminian’s salvation because of a mutable God being outwitted by Satan.

My response:

Wow! Could it be possible that there are honest Scriptural differences, interpretations or even misunderstandings that Arminians have related to the nature and character of God and the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election?

Simply put, whether Calvinist, Arminian, Open Theist, Catholic, a retired Presbyterian minister or whatever – if one by faith accepts Christ’s sacrifice for their sins and proclaims Him as Savior, is that person saved?

Bluntly put, can one reject the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election and still be saved?

I’ve got a good sense what this particular Calvinist would say. But I’m curious as to other Calvinist’s opinions: is my salvation predicated on an acceptance of the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election?

Eph 1:4 – Does It Really Support Unconditional Election?

April 13, 2012 8 comments

For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Anyone delving into the doctrine of unconditional election has certainly come across Eph 1:4. I’ve had this verse tossed my way a number of times to “prove” that God really is the one choosing the elect. My Calvinist friends will chide me that I’m not be able to see the forest through the trees because, after all, there it is in plain “NIV” English – He chose us. What is there to not understand?

Fair enough. However, what if we were to read the verse without the prepositional phrases? After all, what is a preposition but a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. 

Some simple examples of prepositions: The book is ON the table. The book is BESIDE the table. He read the book BEFORE class.

In the above sentences, the highlighted prepositions locate the book in space or time and provide a logical relationship of the book to the rest of the sentence. Certainly, if prepositional phrases are removed, then the intent and meaning of a sentence can be lost – as can easily be understood in the above examples. Regarding Eph 1:4, however, it appears to me that the intent of the verse remains the same with the prepositional phrases removed:

(For) He chose us (in Him) (before the creation) (of the world) to be holy and blameless (in His sight).

Without the prepositions, then, Eph 1:4 says; He chose us to be holy and blameless. The long and short of it, then, is that Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine selection of individuals unto salvation. This is even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.  For reasons beyond my language skills, the authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English for a reason –  “chose” is the best translatable English word. I readily accept that. 

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

Hence, it seems to me that Eph 1:4 is not a verse that Calvinists can reasonably use to defend the doctrine of unconditional election.

 

Studying the Torah to Move Beyond my Calvinist Divide?

March 1, 2012 7 comments

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything much less done anything to move beyond my “Calvinist Divide”. To be honest, nothing has really changed. I’ve done precious little to resolve my faith conflicts. Perhaps I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. I wish I had something to share, something to show – but I don’t. Recently, however, a friend suggested I put some time and effort into the Torah. My first thought was, “Oh please! Why waste my time learning about Jewish doctrine et al? I’m under grace and not the law and as such, what’s the point of delving into the Old Testament?”

Nevertheless, perhaps there is something to be said at looking at the root of Christianity – which I do believe is founded in the Old Testament. Of course, I look at the Old Testament as “Latin” – and why do I need that when I’m fluent in English – and even have Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary when I come across a word I don’t know? In any event, I’m intrigued by the gentleness and confidence of my friend and think that just maybe there is indeed something to the study of The Torah for a Christian. So, we’ll see.

Below is an email I sent to the reference I was given. 

Dear _____,

A friend has referred me to you saying that “[you have] taught us through the Torah study to look at scripture through the lens of our God being good and for life. With that lens you read every thing from a new perspective. The Torah study also gave new depth to the new testament when you realized that [the] Torah was the root and base that the new was grafted into.”

I’m one who’s struggled for years trying to understand the nature and character of God and how he relates to us as his creation. The center of my struggle, at least so far as I can determine, is what I call the Calvinist divide. It wasn’t all that long ago that I ran headlong into Calvinist doctrine through my son-in-law. Shortly thereafter I lost all sense of an assurance of salvation. Suffice it to say that I believe Christ paid for my sin on the cross. However, I couldn’t determine whether or not I was one of the “elect” or whether I had come to this understanding of my own accord. And, this Calvinist divide not only affects my assurance of salvation, it also affects who I perceive God to be and how he interacts with his creation. 

Perhaps I’m too logical and pragmatic to live a life of faith. I’ve always thought of scripture as, if you’ll permit me, sort of a “periodic table”. That is, I can know various things i.e. the number of electrons in a valence band, the mass of an atom, etc. Yet, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to know the truth about God through scripture. Perhaps the books on my shelf testify to that: Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Four Views on Divine Providence, Debating Calvinism (Hunt & White), Across the Spectrum, and my two favorites for book (and author) bashing – Is God Really in Control? (Bridges) // Is God to Blame? (Boyd)

Honestly, what am I to believe when opposing perspectives are (at least to me) convincingly presented – using the same scripture references? To me, it shouldn’t be difficult for people of average intelligence through their own study of scripture to come to the same conclusions regarding matters of faith. We all work from the same text, don’t we? Or, so I think we all work from the same text. How is it if people with a PhD in theology (i.e. John Piper and Greg Boyd) can’t agree on matters of faith, how am I ever to know what is the truth – unless, of course, I simply “choose” what tenants or facets of faith I want to agree with and leave it at that? 

In any event, I have never spent any time in the Old Testament, in part, because I don’t really think it applies to us. We’re no longer under the law. Instead, we live under grace. Or so I’ve been taught and so I believe. Gee, I guess I’m guilty of “choosing” what I will believe. That said, perhaps there is something to the study of scripture through the lens of the Torah and any thoughts you have or references you could provide would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Bob

Wanted: My Definition of Calvinism

March 27, 2011 9 comments

I recently received an email which stated:

From time to time I lurk on your blog.  Interesting thoughts.  From what I read, however, I think there might be some weaknesses in your arguments.  It’s not that your logic is off, but I question some of your starting assumptions.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Define what you think Calvinism is.

Two ground rules:

  1. Make it short rather than long.  When you write things in your blog you’re using your stream-of-consciousness definition of Calvinism 90% of the time.  Not the nuanced points, just the primary points.  I realize something like this has plenty of nuance, but making it short forces you to stick to your fundamental ideas.
  2. Don’t look anything up or say what others think.  Once again, when you are writing for your blog you’ve got your definition in mind, not someone else’s.

Based on what I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of what you call Calvinism is not what most Calvinists would call Calvinism.  And thinking through that might help sort through some of the questions you raise.

Looking forward to your response.

Dear Lurker,

Thank-you for your interest in this blog. Your criticism is, I believe, a fair one. I do tend to write in a stream-of consciousness manner. I don’t know that I intend to, per se – and I don’t know that it’s bad, either. However, when I read or hear things, for better or worse the way I “process” through and come to some understanding of thoughts, ideas or concepts is doing what I do.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your suggestion to provide a definition. And so, here in a nutshell is my definition of Calvinism:

  • God predestines and controls everything for His glory

There’s a strong temptation to dig up a bunch of information that I believe would support that definition and also to provide examples of statements of other people. But following your suggestion – I won’t. However, I would like to simply state that there are numerous manifestations of Calvinism that (to me, at least) naturally come about from this definition including salvation only for “the elect” and an inability of God’s creation to exercise free will. In my own mind and experience, these manifestations have led to a perception that God intentionally limits His love to only a very select few and God ‘wills’ evil. Lastly, I’ve experienced terrible frustrations pertaining to assurance of salvation. Am I saved? Or, am I simply going through “Christian motions” on my own? Or worse, is God intentionally deceiving me?

I welcome your reply.

Bob

If God Can Be Surprised by His Creation, Can Calvinists Really Claim Unconditional Election?

January 7, 2011 15 comments

A friend recently indicated his doubt as to whether God is suprised by anything. I’d previously come across Gen 6:6 which says, “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.”  My only consideration of this verse and passage was that God knew what was going to happen and when sin fully engulfed man that created a separation between a holy God and a sin-filled man, God was grieved about this. 

Thinking back to my elementary school years, I knew my report cards were going to be full of failing grades and for what it’s worth, I ended up having to repeat 6th grade. Still, I hated the anticipation of those report cards. I would dread being handed the report card by my teacher. I was fearful of having to show that report card to my parents. Yet, when I was actually handed the report card and looked inside, the reality of those bad grades hit hard and I felt much worse than I had beforehand. 

The thought then occurred, how would I have felt if I wasn’t expecting those bad grades? Would I have been “surprised” even if I may have had some inklings that all was not well?

It seems to make sense that God would know everything because He’s omniscient and not constrained by time. How could God possibly be surprised at anything?  Well, seek and ye shall find – as I stumbled upon these verses while digging through a concordance for words such as “grieve” and “regret”:

1 Sam 15:10-11 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel; “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” 

Num 14:11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous sings I have performed among them?” 

Jer 19:5 (I’m pretty sure God is speaking here) They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 

Given that these verses don’t appear to be spoken/written in hyperbole, they do appear (at least to me) to indicate that God can sometimes be surprised as to the exact outcome of something.  Could this be true?  Can God be “surprised” – at least in regard to things He hasn’t predetermined? These verses alone certainly don’t constitute a full defense of Open Theism.  Nevertheless, the question that comes to my mind is: if God can be surprised, can Calvinists claim unconditional election with absolute certainty?