Monday, June 28, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 3)

All right Jamie, I’ve answered your objections to part one of my series on part two, now I will be using part three to answer part two of your blog post. Feel free to place any objections you have against my counter-arguments on the comments page.

(By the way, make sure you've read part two first, as some of the points I make here presuppose that you've already read it.)

Lets not pretend the doctrine of election is an easy, obvious and intuitive thing.

No divine truth is. That's why we need special revelation and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

I’d like to hypothesize that no new Christian in the history of Christianity has ever read their Bible and come away with the notion that God picks and chooses the individuals who get saved.

You can hypothesize, but that's different from actually proving something to be true. Now, there are several points I need to make on this one point alone:

1) Many scriptural truths are not intuitive. Having one God exist as three coequal and coeternal persons isn’t something that a single person just pulled out of the bible (it was the result of generations of Christians studying God’s Word to determine its true meaning), and yet you don’t reject the Trinity on those grounds, do you?

2) There actually are people who come away with a monergistic view of salvation, even if they don’t identify themselves as Calvinists. Augustine certainly went away with that impression. Ignatius of Antioch also implied it in his language. Luther came before Calvin yet came to the same conclusion regarding the bondage of the will. I also know other people who never heard of “Calvinism” before yet did not see anything wrong or unbiblical with my statements when I presented it to them. One of my relatives who is also Reformed believed in the doctrines of grace before he even knew what they were.

3) And even back when I was an Arminian, I didn’t quite know what to do with John 6 or Ephesians 1. Now that I’m Reformed, I have a better grasp of the thread that runs through all the texts of the bible. I don’t feel the need to explain them away, but I take them at face value.

That doctrine must be taught.

Same thing with Arminianism. Don't use double standards.

If there are any Calvinists reading this – think back to when you first got saved. Did you believe in Calvinism or was it taught to you after the fact? I’d be willing to bet that you either heard it or read it from someone else – you didn’t discover it on your own through scripture alone.

Yes and no. I was convinced of the Calvinistic position after the fact, but I do in fact base my position off of scripture alone. I didn’t become Reformed by reading Calvin, Edwards or Spurgeon. I certainly had some Reformed friends encourage me and point me in the right direction, but they didn’t “convert” me into their position. I became Reformed by reading through the bible and discovering many of the relevant texts on my own. In fact, I seldom quote Calvin. I will do so in this blog series, but only three or four times, and only when necessary to prove a point.

The TULIP acronym is not in the Bible – its a man-made system of interpreting the Bible.

1) So is the word “Trinity.” Are you going to deny Trinitarianism now?

2) The five points of Arminianism are not in the bible either – it is a man-made system of interpreting the bible. In fact, Arminianism devised its five points first; TULIP was formulated as a response.

3) In all seriousness though, I think the question is whether we can derive these doctrines from proper scriptural exegesis.

Listen folks, the gospel is not rocket science and it doesn’t require a system to explain it.

There are definitely aspects of the gospel that are simple to explain. I don’t need an M.Div to know that my Lord and Saviour died for my sins and that I will be saved if I repent of my sins and put my trust in Him alone for salvation. However, not everything is equally simple. There are difficult things that we need to study and work out. To paraphrase Dr. White, “If everything was meant to be simple, the New Testament would have been the size of a Chick Tract.”

Also, why does this argument apply to Calvinism alone? We can use this exact same argument against Arminianism, with its doctrines of conditional election, general atonement, prevenient grace, etc. It’s tit for tat if you want to play this card against us.

The most basic verses we teach our children in Sunday school about salvation fly in the face of Calvinism.

Oh boy, here we go again...

John 3:16,17 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Now, if verse 16 read “For God so loved [the elect] that He gave…that [those Whom He decided] should believe in Him should not perish…” I would adhere to divine election. If verse 17 said “…but that [the elect] through Him [must] be saved” then I’d adopt it as my theological view. But it doesn’t. So I don’t. It’s much easier than we make it.

Listen, God loves the whole world. Nobody denies that. He demonstrates this everyday by the fact that undeserving sinners get to live on His green earth and partake of the benefits of His created order (cf. Matthew 5:43-47). Neither do we deny that whoever believes in Him will not perish. However, “whoever” (πας ο πιστευων) does not mean “all can will.” That is eisegesis. The phrase literally means “everyone believing.” Obviously not everybody believes, so why on earth are you using John 3:16 as a prooftext when it militates against the very point you’re trying to make?

In fact, let us look at another text where "πας ο πιστευων" also appears:

Everyone who believes [πας ο πιστευων, translated as “whoever believes” in the NASB and NKJV] that Jesus is the Christ has been born [γεγεννηται] of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
(1 John 5:1, ESV)

I’m going to parse the verbs here: “Believes” (πιστευων) is a present participle, meaning that it is an action that takes place in the present. “Has been born” (γεγεννηται) is a perfect tense verb. Now, the significance of this verb tense is that it indicates an completed action in the past whose effects are seen in the present. Thus, we see here that in order for us to believe, God has to first make us born again (See here and here for a more in-depth treatment of this passage).

It is interesting to see how John uses this kind of language. When he uses πας ο πιστευων, he has in mind believers. That is not some amorphous group whose shape depends on who joins it, but one that God produces through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (remember the point I made in part two regarding Ezekiel 36-37).

I promise I’m not intentionally trying to stir anyone up here.

I think if you actually presented the other side fairly rather than set up the strawman and kick it down, we would make some progress in actually understanding each other.

But I firmly believe that if you follow the doctrine of election to is [sic] logical conclusion, you have a mean, hateful god who creates humans for the sole purpose of killing them.

To this I respond,

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory
(Romans 9:19-23)

When your argument is addressed and refuted by the apostle himself, that should be a sign that you probably need to rethink your position.

See, I don’t have a problem with the idea that God chooses us. It is a beautiful, scriptural picture of His mercy and grace towards us. I just think He corporately chose everyone through the cross, not just some.

Prove that from scripture.

The problem is, if God does in fact choose some individuals for salvation, then He - as a logical consequence of that action – is thereby also condemning everyone He doesn’t choose.

He passes over them. He gives them over to their natural, sinful will (cf. Romans 1:18ff), which was already their default state to begin with (cf. Psalm 51:5,58:3, Jeremiah 17:9).

You can’t select some of a whole without deselecting the rest of that whole. So if you believe God is choosing who gets saved then you must also believe God is choosing who does not get saved. And since God created us of His on volition (did any of you ask to be born?), then it follows that He purposefully created some (maybe even most) for the express purpose of taking pleasure in killing them. Sorry, but that’s repulsive. If a human does that we call them a psychopath and put them in prison – yet we esteem it as a characteristic of God? How dare we malign the character of God this way!

No, He doesn’t take “pleasure,” but scripture does teach creates everything for a purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil (cf. Proverbs 16:4). He also says that it is all to His glory (cf. Romans 9:23). Do you believe that even those who will never be saved have a part in God’s plan?

If you don’t like that, fine. But rip all those verses out of your passage if you want to keep your watered-down version of God.

To illustrate this point I want to use an analogy: A man owns an apartment building filled with tenants. The owner decides due to the failing structure of the building, he must demolish it. He knows that all of the people inside the building will die when it’s demolished so he sends his son to place a notice on each person’s door and tells them that in the very near future their apartment building will be destroyed. They must move out quickly because they won’t know when it will happen. Once destruction begins, they will die if they haven’t moved. About half of them heed the notice and move out immediately. The owner knew they wouldn’t all move out because some of them had already determined within their heart that the owner wasn’t real. Others didn’t believe that it was the owner’s son who was putting up the notices. Still others would intend to move out but put it off because they were distracted with their own lives and hoped to beat the clock. The time comes for demolition and the apartment building is blown up and the tenants who had not moved out are killed. The tenets who moved out and the owner are all very sad because it was a tragic and pointless loss – the tenets had been warned but didn’t listen. The tenets who heeded the voice of the owner are so grateful and thank him for letting them know about the demolition. He didn’t have to tell them – it’s his building and he could’ve done what he wanted with it. But he is a merciful and loving owner and warned them all because didn’t want any of them to perish.

That was the Arminian/free will view of salvation. Obviously the owner is God, the son is Jesus, the tenets are the human race and apartment building is the world.

Believe it or not, Jamie, that’s also the Calvinist view of salvation. God has warned everybody of the impending doom that is coming over them for their sins and commands everybody to repent and believe the gospel. Nobody wants to do that, however, but I’ll get to that later on...

Here is the Calvinist view of salvation by election using the same analogy:

Or not.

A man owns an apartment building full with tenants. The owner decides due to the failing structure of the building, he must demolish it. He knows that all of the people inside the building will die when it’s demolished and although he could warn them all and give them a chance to leave, he knows many of them wouldn’t heed his warning anyway. Instead, he sends his son to randomly choose some tenants and force them to move out against their will.

God doesn’t force anyone to be saved against their will. Rather, God changes a person’s disposition so that they become willing to believe, when they were previously unwilling to do so. That’s the point of regeneration: God takes out that stony heart which hated Him and wanted nothing to do with Him and puts in a heart that genuinely desires to love and serve God. I think I made that abundantly clear in my previous points.

There is no rhyme or reason to who he chooses to tell about the demolition. Don’t question this process. The owner can do whatever he wants.

That sounds a lot more like the God of Islam than the God of Reformed Protestants. But seriously...

I guess you ignored the fact that all this time, I’ve been emphasizing God’s purposes. God has a purpose for everything that He ordains. It’s a purpose-driven universe, buddy. Now, God does not necessarily reveal what His purposes are, but that does not mean He does not have them.

Next, the owner’s son not only ignores the unlucky tenants who weren’t randomly selected to be moved out, but he locks them in their apartment buildings and boards the doors so they can’t escape death even if they wanted to. This ensures their demise.

Many of the reprobate don’t even know they’re going to hell for their sin and unbelief! And of those who do, they end up trying to appease God through works and man-made religious systems rather than trusting in Christ alone. Besides, this is the biggest myth perpetrated by Arminians. I have to repeat what Calvin wrote here:

Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel. But like as those which call upon the name of the Lord are sure of salvation, so we must think that, without the same, we are thrice miserable and undone. And when as our salvation is placed in calling upon God, there is nothing in the mean season taken from faith, forasmuch as this invocation is grounded on faith alone.

God prevents nobody from coming to Him. He sets the door wide open for everybody who is willing to come to Christ. The only thing that prevents people from believing is their own sinful nature. Left to our own devices, we will choose to reject God. Every time. More than that, the very strawman that you accuse Calvinists of believing in was condemned by Calvin as a construct invented by unbelieving heathens:

...this fault they [the heathens] add... that when they do think of God it is against their will; never approaching him without being dragged into his presence, and when there, instead of the voluntary fear flowing from reverence of the divine majesty, feeling only that forced and servile fear which divine Judgment extorts Judgment which, from the impossibility of escape, they are compelled to dread, but which, while they dread, they at the same time also hate.

Now, how on earth could anybody accuse Calvinism of teaching the very thing which Calvin said was the “fault” of unbelievers?

The time comes for demolition and the apartment building is blown up and the tenants that the owner had locked inside are all killed. No one is sad at the loss of life. On the contrary, it is to be commended as the owner has demonstrated his absolute power. The tenants who were chosen to live thank the owner for sparing them. He didn’t have to force them out – it’s his building and he could’ve done what he wanted. But he is a powerful owner and demonstrates this by choosing who lives and who dies.

Yeah its not a perfect analogy.

“Not perfect” is an understatement. You, sir, have just outright slandered the Reformed position. I think you should repent. That is what happens when you jump into the fray without first knowing what your opponent believes.

But I ask you, which building owner more closely mirrors the heart of God as revealed in the Bible? Which son in the analogy better describes the cross of Christ and Jesus’ provision and way of escape for you? To me, its obvious.

Yeah it’s the first one, which Arminians and Calvinists will both agree on. Congratulations on destroying your straw-man. Now, maybe you’ll starting tackling what Calvinists really believe.

Grace and Peace.



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  2. Maybe it’s the late night posting but I feel I got to see another side of my man Fisher here. Asking me to repent for "slandering" reformed theology? I’m going to assume that was a joke. But if there is any group that holds their beliefs in such high esteem as to thinking that questioning them is a sin, I’m sure it’d be the Calvinists. 

    I could go through each point you made with a counter-point but it’s not going to do any good. I'll just hear a steady chorus of "I guess you missed the part where" and "oh boy here we go again" followed by more audio links and e-books. Obviously defending this system is really important to you - I'll gladly leave it and go on about my merry way.

    But let’s back up and look at the big picture. Calvinism vs. Arminianism is not the point. People are the point. We were put on this earth, not to discuss systematic theology but to love God and love others. When we lose sight of this, being right can easily become more important than our ultimate goal of love. Now, I know I started this whole thing with my original posts on my perceived problems with Calvinism. But I hope the posts were done in such a way that I kept the aforementioned main purpose of love in focus. Each blog post began or ended with a paragraph stating my intentions to this point.

    To clarify, I am not seeking to disprove Calvinism. It and any other theological system by nature cannot be proven or disproven. I don’t view Calvinism or Arminianism as being right or wrong – I see them as either working or not working. Similarly, Socialism and Capitalism are two opposing governmental models. One is not wrong and the other right – they are adopted and employed based on how those in charge perceive each system’s usefulness. They each have their pros and cons yet we find ourselves leaning towards one or the other when choosing which system of government works best. In the same way, these theological models are not truth in and of themselves – they are vehicles to carry us to the truth of the Word. Personally, I don’t think Calvinism “works” or is useful in a practical setting. The con’s outweigh the pro’s and that’s why I reject it. I am not blind to that fact that Arminianism (or the Open view, which I tend towards) has its own set of problems. I’m not rejecting the Word, I’m rejecting the reformed framework of Biblical interpretation.


  3. I know that you feel I have treated Calvinism unfairly. You state “maybe you’ll start tackling what Calvinists really believe” as if I don’t fully understand the reformed position. The problem is, I fear that it is the reformers that don’t fully understand the ramifications of their own doctrine when it comes to everyday practical use. Like a well-intentioned scientific hypothesis, it may look great on paper but it fails in fields tests. Theology is only as good as it can be applied in real life situations and in my semi-humble opinion, Calvinism fails miserably in the real world.

    Take for instance my hypothetical example of Marsha’s child with a cleft palate. Calvinism’s best answer for her “why” question is “God did this so you’d draw near to Him” (and correct me if I’m wrong but you seemed to agree with this). I acknowledge that answer makes perfect sense to our theological minds. We can even dig up a scripture like John 9 to back it (although I’d argue using it for that purpose kills the author’s intent and only works when the subject is actually healed in the end!). But it doesn’t help the mother in her pain. Is that why Jesus came - so He could help us believe what’s right? I think He came to heal our hurt and restore our relation ship to Him and this system doesn’t do either. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the privilege of counseling a child whose parents beat them, a mother whose child died, or a father who lost his job and will now lose his house. I do it regularly and I’ve found the Calvinist system cheapens their pain. Sure, its gives them a quick and easy answer as to why but it doesn’t heal them. It ignores their questions, quotes “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts” and tends to create even more questions about God so that they approach Him in fear like He’s an angry step father instead of a loving Daddy. Furthermore, your everyday average Joe Christian doesn’t understand the nuances of secondary causes so when he applies the reformed view to practical life, he comes away thinking in platitudes like “cousin Joey died because God needed one more angel in heaven’s choir.” I know that’s not the intent of Calvinism but it seems to me to be its practical result.

    I’ve enjoyed our discussions and I hope there’s been no offense. You are a very intelligent guy and I know God has great plans in store for you – just not predestined for you! :)

  4. Since your last point in pt. 3 is about evangelism, I think it'd be good to take that opportunity to point out that there are important practical underpinnings of Reformed theology that give it significance in the field of missiology.

    Also, it's not a sin to question anyone's beliefs. It is, however, to deliberately misrepresent another group's beliefs. If I did the same thing with Roman Catholics, or Muslims, or any other group that I frequently discuss on my blog, their adherents would have good reason to be upset with me. It's the same standard.

    Calvinism vs. Arminianism is a secondary issue. I've devoted most of my posts on this blog to attacks against Christianity in general, especially from atheists, Muslims and members of various cult groups. In fact, if you ever want to discuss those other issues, feel free to drop by. :-)