The following is a letter I wrote to a friend who recently lent me a CJ Mahaney DVD on sovereign grace:
I’ve listened to the CJ Mahaney you gave me re sovereign grace. I looked on CJM’s web site, www.sovereigngraceministries.org, but was not able to find this particular DVD on the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In any event, CJM makes a compelling case for believing in divine election. However, if anything, I am more convinced in the error of Calvinism in general and divine election in particular because:
- CJM ascribes a meaning to Eph 1:4 that I don’t think the author intended.
- CJM appears loose with his definitions of words.
- CJM’s use of emotion and personal experiences related to his conversion (at age five) are not a strong enough argument for divine election in light of the totality of scripture regarding salvation.
According to CJM, Eph 1:4 says that Christians were chosen personally and specifically by God to be saved because we were chosen:
- In Christ
- Before the foundation of the world
- To be holy and blameless
Without the prepositions, Eph 1:4 in the NIV version I have says; He chose us to be blameless. From my Webster’s dictionary, the word chose (choose) has different meanings including “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”. As such, rewording the verse slightly – God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before creating the world. In short, God created us without sin.
My simplistic understanding goes like this: God wanted fellowship with earthly creatures that were without sin. God created Adam and Eve – perfect, holy, and blameless and they enjoyed fellowship with God. God also gave A&E a free will and it wasn’t long before A&E sinned. God therefore booted A&E out of the Garden of Eden. Amazingly, God still desired A&E’s fellowship as well as the fellowship of everyone that would come from A&E. We go through the entire OT with all of its rules and regulations but God still couldn’t enjoy fellowship with us because we failed to uphold and obey His law. Amazingly again, God still desired our fellowship and set up a process whereby His own death would serve as a substitute punishment for our sin. To that end, I do not see that Eph 1:4 has anything to do with divine selection.
CJM’s perspective on how God enacts divine election was interesting – wherein God reaches out and stops some, but not all, of those who’re running straight to Hell. I thought about your example of choosing to pay off one brother’s mortgage but not the other. However, I’m not aware of scripture that paints the picture of God applying randomness or otherwise arbitrarily saving some but not others. As you know, I don’t accept your examples in Romans 9 because I believe the last couple of verses explain that chapter to be about those who have faith being saved i.e. the Gentiles against those who tried to keep the law and rejected faith i.e. the Israelites. As I understand it, Christ died once for all and every requirement for our salvation has been satisfied. All that God requires is for us to believe – which is something we must choose to do. I don’t see how God needed to do anything more i.e. choose some (the elect) and not others (the “deselect”).
CJM makes it sound as though the human condition is not able to seek out truth, justice, or righteousness. The Bible is clear – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. However, if we are created in His image, then doesn’t it make sense that we have been given the ability to know and understand right from wrong, good from evil – at least to varying degrees. Clearly, there are various levels of evilness throughout humanity. Any rational person would categorically state that Adolph Hitler was “more evil” than Mother Theresa. If we are able to make that distinction, then isn’t it possible that we can also see and indeed desire the holiness of God. We may not understand the ramifications or the costs of that holiness and our sin nature will forever prevent us from being truly holy. But that’s why Christ came. We are holy and blameless, in Christ, because of the free gift that we have chosen to accept.
CJM laid out the fruit of election as being:
- Humility before God
- Assurance from God
- Gratefulness to God
Fine and well – but show me the scriptural references. Is there such a thing as “the fruit of election”? On the other hand, is this something made up to sound spiritual and to help argue the merits of divine election? Without scriptural references, I can only surmise that “fruit of election” is a made-up concept. In contrast, I can point you to Gal 5:22 regarding the fruit of the Spirit.
Regarding word definitions, CJM stated, “Repentance is a way of admitting that we can not save ourselves.” My Topical NIV states that repentance involves a conscious sorrow for one’s past way of life – a heartfelt “I’m sorry” expressed to God – turning away from an old way of living. Of course, I don’t believe that I can save myself. Most Christians, at least within the evangelical circle I run in, understand that it was our accepting the free gift of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins that has saved us. To be honest, I’m not even sure that one has to “feel” sorrow or remorse to become a Christian. I don’t know of any reference for that. On the contrary, we repent because we understand that we have fallen short of the holiness that God desires in all of His children.
Well, this is probably a good place to stop. Take care and I look forward to your response.