Quantitative Analysis of Unconditional Election

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?

 

Studying the Torah to Move Beyond my Calvinist Divide?

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

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

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?

Two-Point Calvinism – Is That an Acceptable Alternative?

Towards the end of a recent sermon, barriers to Bible study including “I don’t know how” and “I’m not motivated” were mentioned.  In my own journey, a struggle with Bible study is related to opposing perspectives where both sides of an argument reference and use the same scriptures in defending their arguments.  What is one, who admittedly struggles with the general concepts of Calvinism, to believe when PhD theologians (if that’s the correct term) such as John Piper and Greg Boyd can’t agree on the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9?  Focusing less on a theological “system” such as Calvinism or any theological model that attempts to organize biblical data may be the best approach.  However, it’s my observation that variability in scriptural interpretation comes about, in part, because believers have a “hypothesis” based upon their “belief system”.  That said, the debate regarding Calvinism is troubling because 1) there appear to be good arguments for and against Calvinism and 2) one’s perception of who God is can be significantly altered by an affinity (or lack thereof) to Calvinist thought.  Honestly, do believers get to choose (pun intended) who’s right – and conversely, who’s wrong?  It may seem like a silly thing and perhaps it is.  However, the impact of Calvinistic thought has been real in my relationship to God over the last three years.  Perhaps I’m ignorant of facts.  Perhaps all too often data is usurped by dogma.  Perhaps there is a sense of mystery in a spiritual relationship.  Perhaps mystery leads to a theological tension. 

Is there such a thing as a “two-point” Calvinist?  For instance, are there Calvinists who adhere only to (T) total depravity and (P) perseverance of the saints?  I’ve always thought that Calvinism rises or falls collectively on all five points (TULIP).  What if ditching the whole notion of election, and perhaps a couple of other Calvinist tenants as well, eliminates my sense of theological tension? 

Hey Colleen!  Guess what? 

I’m a Calvinist now!  Praise God! 

Albeit, I’ll just admit to being a two-point Calvinist.  Somehow, that expressed sentiment seems hollow because it lacks the totality of Calvinistic thought.  There are five points within the Calvinist “system” or “theological model”.  In addition, I suspect my dear friend is not rejoicing over any two-point Calvinist conversion I may proclaim. 

So, back to where I started – as an open theist.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, I am more comfortable with the general concepts of open theism than I am with Calvinism.  I just don’t know whether open theism is right.  Then, too, I don’t know if Calvinism is right either.  The theological tension continues.

Blessed to Death

This is a letter posted on a Caring Bridge web site for a young boy with acute myelogenous leukemia:

  • God has so many ways to teach patience – and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Keep remembering that you are all doing God’s work right now. What a blessed job you are called to do – what an awesome job you all are doing! Thank you for being faithful servants. What an example you are to the rest of us. Rose

Although I’m sure Rose is well intentioned, her comments (to me, at least) raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” – someone who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and we need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn.

I’m guessing that John Piper is a Godwillian. He’s quoted in Greg Boyd’s book, 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.”

Greg Boyd responds on pg 53:”Not once did Jesus suggest that a person’s afflictions were brought about or specifically allowed by God as part of a ‘secret plan’. Nor did He suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. He didn’t ask people what they might have done to get in the sad predicament they found themselves in – even when dealing with demonized people. Jesus never suggested that a person’s suffering was brought about to contribute to a ‘higher harmony’. To the contrary, Jesus consistently revealed God’s will for people by healing them of their infirmities”.

I’m told that my thoughts on will-of-God issues tend to put God in a box. We mere mortals simply can’t understand the nature of God and how He interacts with His creation. Fair enough. But I can’t help but think that people, such as Rose, who posted about God using leukemia to teach patience, often make God out to be something He isn’t.

Faith Matters

Over the next few days I hope to post some items related to the will of God in the life of the believer.  This has truly been an area within my faith in which I have struggled for some time.  I’m currently reading a couple of books (“Is God Really in Control?” by Jerry Bridges, and “Is God to Blame?” by Greg Boyd) that take different perspectives as to whether or not there is a divine reason for the things that happen and also that each event in one’s life happens because God willed not to prevent it.  Please stop back if this is an area of interest.  Also, I’d welcome comments and references to any good books that anyone has come across that relate to this topic.