The Hope of Arminianism?

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?

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.


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?

Trying to Understand Calvinist Thought & Logic Related to the Will of God

This post came about from comments written by myself and two others elsewhere on this blog.  For the sake of clarity and to keep a post on a given topic, I’ve decided to bring those references and comments under a new post.

My previous post on “Calvinitus” was an attempt to show my struggle with Calvinist doctrines infusing themselves and otherwise coloring (maybe blinding?) my perception of God.  However, after recently watching an old movie about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees (1942), it occurred to me that perhaps Calvinists also struggle with the reality of their own doctrines – particularly unconditional election.

Most people probably associate Lou Gehrig with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.  ALS is an insidious progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord for which there’s currently no cure.  I have no idea as to what Lou Gehrig’s religious beliefs were.  If I may, however, let’s assume Lou Gehrig was an ardent Calvinist.  There’s a scene from the movie, where Lou Gehrig learns that he has ALS, which goes something like this:

Lou: Give it to me straight, doc.  Is it three strikes?

Doc: Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.

Lou: Well, I’ve learned something over my life.  You can’t change the call of the umpire.

Calvinists I know believe that God ordains all things.  That being true, then Lou Gehrig’s “Calvinist” example is one of humbling accepting God’s will when he’s diagnosed with ALS because of his realization that “you can’t change the call of [God]”.  Lou further exemplifies his submission to God’s will when he says during his retirement speech, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

It was interesting, then to find a story (here) where a Calvinist man goes to visit his grandfather in a hospital.  Also present at the hospital are his grandmother and a Eucharist minister.  The Calvinist man is upset that the Eucharist minister is offering his grandparents feel-good prayers, pseudo-repentance and communion.  The Calvinist man was struck by the wretchedness, hostility, false assurance and blasphemy of the Eucharist minister’s actions and his grandparents attitudes toward God.  The story continues that later, and without success, the Calvinist man tries to convey the gospel message to his grandfather.

It surprises me that Calvinists appear blinded by the logic inherent within their own doctrines.  According to the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election, God determines who will be saved and conversely who will be eternally lost.  Therefore, why is this Calvinist man dismayed at his grandparents or the Eucharist minister?  God hasn’t elected them.  They’re toast.  The Calvinist man understands that no witnessing, no praying, nothing the Calvinist man could do is going to change what God has sovereignty decreed.  As such, I submit that the Calvinist man’s frustrations towards his grandparents and the Eucharist minister are misdirected.  Consider:

  • The Calvinist man believes God has predetermined the decisions his grandparents have made.
  • God, however, has not chosen to save the Calvinist man’s grandparents.
  • The Calvinist man is dismayed that his grandparents are not elect.
  • And, the Calvinist man realizes that because God is in control, there’s nothing he can do.
  • As such aren’t those feelings of loss and separation related to his grandparent’s eternal destiny directly attributable to God’s sovereignty in the matter?
  • The grief the Calvinist man displays would seem (to me at least) to indicate a desire for God to change the inevitable outcome.
  • Therefore, the Calvinist man is in reality opposed to God’s will in this matter.  And if we’re not in favor of some act or condition, then by definition we’re opposed to that very same thing.

What I don’t see from the Calvinist man in this story is the humility exhibited by Lou Gehrig.  Wouldn’t the Calvinist man, if he truly believes in his doctrines, say something to the effect of, “I thank God for his sovereignty and for having blessed me with the greatest grandparents on the face of the earth.  I hope and pray that God may change my grandparent’s attitudes toward himself.  But I willingly accept God’s sovereign will and know that even my grandparent’s eternal separation will bring glory to God if only through his perfect wrath.”

That’s just a story some might argue.  Fair enough – but I think it ties in well to an MSNBC news story (here) of a young Calvinist pastor, Matt Chandler, currently undergoing treatments for brain cancer.  After reading the story, here are the comments I made to my good friend and ardent Calvinist, Mike:

Is there not something incongruous between Matt’s statements versus his actions as related to Calvinist thought and logic regarding the will of God?

“Lord, you gave [me cancer] for a reason.”

[Matt] is praying that God will heal him.

Whatever happens, [Matt] says, is God’s will, and God has his reasons.

As I understand Matt’s statements, he’s as much saying that God ordained him to contract brain cancer.  However, according to Matt, that doesn’t mean waiting for fate to occur.  Rather, it means fighting for his life, and to that end, Matt is undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  I hope this question doesn’t come across as belittling.  However, if Matt truly believes God gave him cancer, then why doesn’t Matt have the faith to accept the cancer along with the significant potential of him dying and leaving behind his wife and two young daughters?

From reading the article, I sense Matt believes that God could cure him without all the standard fare of cancer treatments?  Yet, Matt appears to have decided that it’s best to undergo all of the treatments.  Isn’t Matt in essence saying, “Dear Lord, I know that if it’s your will to cure me, I’ll be healed.  No if’s, ands, or or’s about it.  Now, please don’t be angry at my lack of faith – but just in case, I’ll start all these different treatment options because maybe, just maybe, it’s your will that I’ll be healed through one of them.  Okay?”

Honestly, this seems to be more of the thought process Gideon used.  In this case, Matt seems to be hedging his “faith-bet” by putting down sheepskins of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in order to ensure that all the bases are covered – and all the options for God to use are available .  Is Matt showing his faith?  Or, is Matt showing his desire to live irrespective of what God may have ordained?

With regret, I say that this appears to be somewhat of a false-faith. All the Calvinists know I emphatically emphasize God’s sovereignty and his being in control of everything in our lives.  And yet, when confronting an obvious life-or-death situation such as cancer, I’ve NEVER known anyone who was willing to sit back, praise God for the cancer (or any other serious or life-altering disease) they contracted, and look forward to their death.  Granted, I’ve only known of a few people who’ve dealt with cancer and the like.  But irrespective of the situation or circumstance, no one I know (Calvinists or not) simply allows “God’s will” to occur.  Everyone employs some subtle theological argument that “maybe, just maybe I had better play it safe in case God might be leading in ‘this’ direction.”

By definition then (at least as I see it), this Calvinist pastor is fighting God’s will and in essence trying to wrest control of the end results from God (most likely his death from cancer) by undergoing treatments.  So, I’m curious as to what you think: is Matt is trying to take control away from and/or otherwise alter the sovereign will of God?

Is There Such a Thing As Calvinitis?

I think I have a condition.  I think it’s called Calvinitis.  Hopefully it’s not contagious.   Calvinitis is the inability to read something without becoming cynical of what is actually being said.  Below is a recent letter from our pastor inviting the congregation to participate in small group discussions related to “Extravagant with Love and Abundant in Grace”.  To help my Calvinists friends better understand this condition, I’ve taken the liberty of imparting “Calvinisticals” – a term I just now invented.  Calvinisticals infuse the inherent Calvinist logic and thought that may not be obvious to the majority of Calvinists and non-Calvinists unaffected by Calvinitis.

The word “prodigal” certainly describes the younger son [whom God hated from the beginning of time] who recklessly spent his entire inheritance [because he was unable to choose to follow God] in the blink of an eye [because God willed it to be in order that his perfect wrath might be exalted].  However, in another sense, the word “prodigal” also describes our God [who demonstrates the extent of his love by saving those (the elect) whom he chooses] who is extravagant with love [so long as he has elected you], who is abundant in grace [so long as he has elected you], and who spent everything to make us a part of his family [so long as he has elected you] again [well, provided that you’re part of those contained within the limited atonement of Christ’s blood for the remission of your sins].

We’ve all heard the story of the Prodigal Son before [unless God hasn’t until now ordained that you would even want to be in church].  However, as you join us on this five week sermon [because God’s irresistible grace will overcome all resistance for not wanting to join us on Sunday mornings] and small group series you will find this story come to life in ways that you have never seen before [because God called you into communion with himself and will continue with you in faith until the rapture – or whatever].  To get the most out of this series we [through the blessings of the holy spirit who allows truth to be seen] encourage you to participate in the small group experience [because God controls everything and there’s no free choice in the matter].  If you are not currently in a small group [perhaps as a result of God intentionally keeping you isolated], we have 11 different small groups [that God has specially put into place for us] that are just waiting for you to join them [unless, of course, you’re already doomed].  No matter where you are on your faith journey [it’s because God wants you right where you are to teach you something], this study will challenge and encourage [only so far as God gives you encouragement] you [so that God will be glorified].

Extravagant with Love and Abundant in Grace – [So Long as You’re Elected]

Seminaries in the Business of Election

Irrespective of my struggle with Calvinistic thought, I couldn’t help but enjoy a bit of levity when I came across a seminary with “elected faculty”.

Scroll down the list to find the “appointed faculty”. 

Who knows why, but my kids’ Dr. Seuss book on Sneetches comes to mind – something about those with stars on their bellies and those without stars on their bellies and tying all that in to the doctrine of election.  Whatever. 

Feel free to comment on ‘theme’ verses.  Here are a couple that came to my mind:

  • John 15:16  I [president of SEBTS] have elected you to [teach] at SEBTS and produce [lectures] that will last
  • Heb 9:27  For you’ve been appointed once to [teach] and then to die [or maybe receive job offer]

God’s Desire for Everyone’s Salvation Makes Him Schizophrenic?

Now, there’s a question I’ve never have thought to ask.  However, in this video (here) Pastor Mark Kielar put the question as, “Does 2 Pet 3:9 make God schizophrenic?”  This verse in the NIV reads:

  • 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.

Mr. Kielar indicates a conflict using 2 Pet3:9 as a proof text that God desires everyone to be saved because:

  1. The verse seems to indicate that God doesn’t want anyone to perish and for all to come to repentance.
  2. However, it’s clear that God doesn’t save everyone.

According to Mr. Kielar, then, there’s disconnect with the above statements that is easily rectified with Isaiah 46:10 which says:

  • I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

Mr. Kielar explains that in order for everyone to accept salvation, we’d all have to become universalists (the belief that all will eventually be saved) or else scripture is contradicting itself.  Mr. Kielar provides an overview of the doctrine of election where  God choose to save some, but not everyone.  Unconditional election, then, removes the possible misinterpretation of 2 Pet 3:9. 

Those who follow this blog already know that I’m thinking, “Ah, not so fast, please.”  My first question – what is Isaiah 46 all about?  My NIV Topical Bible titles the 46th chapter of Isaiah as “God’s of Babylon”.  My $0.02 overview of the chapter is:

(1-2) Idols and idolaters are heading into captivity

(3-4) God has upheld and will rescue the Babylonians

(5-7) No one (and nothing) is equal to God.

(8-13) God’s purposes will stand.  His salvation is to Zion and his splendor to Israel

The bottom line, then, is that God is sovereign.  I understand, I believe, and accept that.  However, I’m not seeing any disconnect or contradictions between 2 Pet 3:9 and Isaiah 46:10 if for no other reason than neither of these verses appear to say anything about election.  2 Pet 3:9 states rather succinctly that God wishes for no one to perish.  If my high school English grammar is correct, that sounds like a declarative statement in which there’s not a lot of room for ambiguity.  If anyone does perish, then it’s apparent that one’s eternal separation from God was not God’s desire or intent – and that ties in with God’s sovereignty per Isaiah 46:10 in which God, being sovereign, will allow that person to be eternally separated.  Some may say that my interpretation doesn’t coincide with election.  Well, perhaps the doctrine of election doesn’t follow from these verses. 

Just out of curiosity, what would John Calvin say about Isaiah 46:10?  A quick Google search led me (here):

  • The people were not only slow to believe, but even obstinate; and therefore he reminds them that they had learned long ago, and not on one occasion only, how safe it is to place their confidence in God.  Nor is it only his foreknowledge that is here extolled by him, but he says that he has testified by his prophets what he had decreed.  Even the prophecies would have no certainty or solidity, if the same God who declares that this or that thing shall happen had not the events themselves in his power.”

Calvin’s main point – God is sovereign.  I (and certainly my Calvinist friends) would have found it fascinating if Calvin had made a reference back to 2 Pet 3:9 and commented about the doctrine of unconditional election.  If nothing else, Calvin doesn’t use these verses to support the doctrine of election – at least not here.

So, what am I to conclude?  Mr. Kielar’s point that 2 Pet 3:9 supports or otherwise construes universalist belief doesn’t make sense to me.  I see no basis for that argument.  God is sovereign.  But does God’s sovereignty automatically mean that he has elected only some individuals for salvation?  I personally don’t think so.  Perhaps I’m missing something – but I see no inconsistency in the belief that God is sovereign and will do as he pleases (Isaiah 46:10) and God wanting none to perish (2 Pet 3:9).  Put together, these verses seem to provide a basis for God giving individuals free-will if for no other reason than many (most?) people reject Christianity and God appears willing to allow that to happen.  Given that there’s no apparent contradiction within 2 Pet 3:9, will someone please inform Pastor Kielar that there’s no schizophrenia within God as pertaining to 2 Pet 3:9.

Calvinist Tag-Team Continues the Pummeling of a Poor Schlep

To my Calvinist brethren Charles & Timothy,

My delay in responding to the comments each of you has posted (here) and (here) is regrettable.  I apologize for not having made the time to address your thoughtful arguments in a timelier manner.  In addition, I should have done better in helping readers identify who made particular arguments and referenced specific scriptures.  I didn’t – and frankly, that’s laziness on my part.  No offense intended.

Given the length of our posts, it seemed best to respond to specific scriptural references used in your arguments.  If nothing else, I’m sure we’ll all agree that our respective arguments are pointless if we can’t back them up with scripture.  However, I didn’t respond to everything that was tossed my way.  Except for those passages referring to God’s word (which again, Timothy, I regret that I am still struggling to understand), I found our greater disagreements contained herein.  Please feel free to respond on anything here or reiterate some point that I have not addressed in this post.  I welcome your input and appreciate the time and effort you’ve both expended in responding to my musings.

Scripture references from Charles & Timothy Bob’s $0.02 worth
1 Peter 1:23

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

This portion of 1st Peter appears related to redemption:

(vs 18-19) We’re redeemed with the blood of Christ

(vs 20-21) Christ was destined to be our Savior

(vs 22) What happens in the believer’s heart

(vs 23) You’ve been born again (i.e. given new life) through Jesus

Might the reference to not being born again by “perishable seed” relate to Adam while “the word of God” is a reference to Christ?  Still, I don’t see how this verse supports Calvinism.  If God does not show partiality (Rom 2:11, Acts 10:34-35) and has universal love for all (2 Pet 3:9), does it not then appear that God desires all to come to repentance?  The fact that not all come to repentance would, at least to me, seem to indicate that there just might be some self-determinism as to whether or not an individual accepts God’s free gift of salvation.

James 1:18

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

The first thing I notice is that the word ‘word’ isn’t capitalized as it is in John 1:1 and that the passage seems to be talking about trials, tribulations and temptations:

(vs 2) Consider it joy when you face trials

(vs 3) Testing your faith develops perseverance

(vs 5) If you lack wisdom, ask God for it

(vs 12) Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial

(vs 13) God doesn’t tempt anyone

(vs 16) Don’t be deceived

(vs 17) Every good and perfect gift is from above

Verse 18 then, seems to be the rationale as to why we can persevere when tempted – because [God decided] to give us [new life] through [Christ] that we might [acknowledge all] he created.

1 Corinthians 4:15

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

Paul refers to himself as [the new believer’s father] through the gospel.  I’m not sure what Paul is saying here. Still, I don’t see that there’s an inclination for a Calvinist interpretation.

Jesus became our “heavenly father” (that is, we became a child of God).  A person doesn’t become a father (parent) until their child is born.  That implies at one time the person wasn’t a parent.  Is that the same with God – He doesn’t become “our parent” (and conversely we don’t become His child) until we believe by faith?  Then, for God to be our heavenly father, we have to decide.

1 Corinthians 2:14

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The verse says that spiritual matters are foolishness to the non-believer because those spiritual matters are spiritually discerned.  The verse does not say that one without spiritual discernment is not able to come to a point of understanding i.e. becoming a Christian and thereby acquire spiritual discernment (wisdom).  On that thought, don’t non-believers derive benefit from the book of Proverbs just as believers do?
Revelation 17:8

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

There’s no indication that names were written in the book at the beginning of time.  I suggest that names are continually being added whenever someone becomes a new believer.  It’s interesting that angels rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10) and in my mind, this seems to support the continual addition of new believers (whose names were not previously written in the book of life) over time.
Luke 10:20

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s no indication as to when these names were added to the book of life.  See above.
Romans 9:18-24

(vs 18) Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

(vs 21-21) Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

Romans 9 is a difficult passage for those disagreeing with unconditional election – unless they incorporate Paul’s summary (9:30-33.  Paraphrased, those last verses in Romans 9 state:

  • Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it – by faith.  However, Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained [righteousness] because they pursued [righteousness] not by faith but by works.

I would certainly agree that Romans 9 teaches God’s sovereignty and even the election of nations – as witnessed by Israel in the Old Testament.  In addition, if I read the references in my NIV Topical Bible (Ex 3:19-20, 4:21-23, 5:1-2 and 9:22-28) it seems to be that God may indeed harden an individual.  However, the hardening appears to occur only after an individual has shown repeated belligerence towards God and a rejection of His redemption.  Perhaps this is what constitutes the “sin against the Holy Spirit” – the unpardonable sin?

Finally, I’m sympathetic to arguments made that the “lump” of clay referenced in verse 21 refers to the nation of Israel wherein God has the right to split Israel into two vessels – unbelieving Israel (a vessel of wrath) and believing Israel (along with the believing Gentiles, is a vessel of mercy).

Proverbs 16:4

The LORD works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Do Calvinist really believe that God intentionally creates wicked people just to damn them?  I’ve heard the question put this way; does God punish people for producing the very acts He created them to have?  Does God make people evil or wicked and then hold them responsible?

What about scriptures teaches that God doesn’t willingly afflict or damn anyone (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9)?  If that is true, there has to be some other interpretation for this verse and I submit that Prov 16:4 has to do with God bringing about those consequences the wicked have earned – that is, eventually the wicked reap what they sow and have to answer for their wickedness.

Job 23:13-15

But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.  That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him.

God is sovereign – that’s a given.  Wasn’t God’s gift of salvation intended to atone for all sins?  Please tell me, what sins, or whose sins haven’t been covered by Jesus’ death on the cross?  For me, the question lends validity to the thought that, (of one’s own volition) some believe and some don’t believe.  Because Jesus’ sacrifice covers all sins and because God intended salvation for all (John 3:16, 2 Pet 3:9), it stands to reason that the decision and the corresponding responsibility to accept or reject God’s free gift falls on individuals and not on God predetermining who will and conversely who will not be saved.
John 8:47

He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Whether sympathetic to or antithetical towards the unconditional election, the simple truth is that one isn’t saved (or otherwise become a child of God and therefore belong to God) until such time as by faith a person accepts Christ’s atonement for their sin.  In this situation, Jesus was speaking to non-believers.
John 15:16

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

This verse, frankly, makes me scratch my head regarding unconditional election.  Still, how is this verse rectified with John 3:16 and 1 Pet 3:9?  Could it be that Jesus is only talking to His disciples here?  And, as I have stated earlier, I don’t doubt that God has elected certain people during the formation of the early church i.e. Paul having his Damascus Road experience.  This verse follows the vine and the branches parable.  Jesus wants us to bear fruit.  As to this verse, I can only surmise that the author may have indeed been elected and wrote down exactly what Jesus said.  The question for me then becomes, is unconditional election “normative” for everyone or only for those very few listed above?
Matthew 22:14

For many are invited, but few are chosen.

Jesus is talking about his second coming in Matt 24.  When Jesus uses the word ‘elect’ (verses 22, 24, 31), it appears that Jesus is speaking about people who already believe.  Could it be, then, that a person doesn’t become “elect” until he is a believer?  That is, becoming elect occurs the moment a person believes.  Put another way, an elect person is a (here and now) Christian and not someone who is appointed to become a Christian.  The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet 3:9).  Clearly, however, not everyone responds to the gospel.  Doesn’t everyone then have the capacity to become “elect”?  To summarize, no one is “elected” until they believe because it is the believers who are the elect.

So then, does this definition of the elect being believers work on a couple of verses I find troublesome?  For instance:

Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and all who were appointed (emphasis mine) honored the word of the Lord; and for eternal life believed.

2 Thess 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved (emphasis mine) through the sanctifying word of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Hmmm – my $0.02 worth of analytical thought doesn’t appear to hold water very well.  Then again, as I stated before, perhaps there were various individuals at the formation of the early Christian Church i.e. Paul, the disciples and the apostles who were predetermined by God to be Christians?  Nevertheless, the context of Matt 22 doesn’t appear (to me) to support the concept of unconditional election.

John 10: 26

But you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Jesus says that the reason they do not hear is because they do not belong to God…if they did belong to God (if He were their Father/if they were “born again/born from above”), then they would hear Him.

You don’t become one of Jesus’ sheep because you believe. You believe because you are a sheep.

Your metaphor of birth works well for those of us in the physical realm but I think the analogy breaks down quickly when we begin talking of a spiritual birth.  Nicodemus was confused between spiritual birth and physical birth.  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t say to ‘Nick’, “Dude, you’re elect so rejoice that you’re going to believe in me by faith for your salvation.”  Quite the contrary, Jesus had to make the distinction to ‘Nick” regarding physical and spiritual birth and there’s no apparent teaching about unconditional election here.
Your strange definition of grace requires that God is obligated to extend it to everyone – i.e. you are “justifying the wicked.” I don’t think that God is “obligated” to extend grace to everyone.  But so far as I can determine, the clear teaching of the Bible is that God so loved [everyone] that He sent Himself to atone for our sin.

My “strange” definition of grace comes from the NIV Topical Bible, which states, “Grace is God’s life-transforming gift of his favor to those who do not deserve it. The gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins is available for all who through faith accept his grace revealed in Jesus Christ, but so many miss the gift because they rely on themselves and try to earn grace by keeping the law.”

I’m sure we agree that:

  • Everyone is born with a sin nature.
  • No one can earn their way into heaven.
  • It is only because of God’s grace that the wicked can be justified when they repent of their sin.