Sunday, July 04, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 5)

Because I was uber-busy lately, I didn’t finish answering part three of the blog post series critiquing Calvinism. Now that I have a bit of spare time, I will continue my response, but I will have to make it only as long as necessary.

Ok, to end this thing, I want to pose two questions to Calvinists that specifically concern the doctrine of election, and see if they can answer them. No one has answered them so far but please feel free to give it a shot.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever heard these questions posed before. I’ll try to give the best response I can give, but lack of time will prevent me from going too in-depth, so I hope you take this humble attempt...

1) What is the criteria by which God chooses to save (elect) one human and not save another? Don’t give me the “mysterious ways” or “because of who He is” stuff either. I can’t find how God chooses His people in the Bible yet I’m told this doctrine is “Biblical.” If He’s going to purposefully send millions of those He created to Hell, couldn’t He at least hint as to the mechanism by which He selects those whom He spares?

There can be no denying that election is based on God’s mercy and purposes, since it is clear that He “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (1 Timothy 1:9) and that it is “according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).

Now, that doesn’t quite tell us what the exact purposes are, now does it? Of course, there are some very specific instances where God does tell us what His purposes are for electing or reprobating a specific person. For example, in the case of the Pharaoh, He states.

As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen. (Exodus 3:17-18)

From these and other passages, it can be adduced that the ultimate end of it all is for God to make His glory and honour known. I try to stick to what the bible says, since that is the only safe option to take (doing otherwise would result in just sheer speculation). I am sorry if the bible doesn’t give any answer other than this, but we just have to accept the fact that God does not have to tell us everything. He only tells us as much as we need to know, and He obviously does not think we need to know why He does every single thing that He does. I mean, if you've ever read the book of Job, you can see that clearly in Job's questions and God's response to him. IJob could only say about God’s purposes that “these these things You have concealed in Your heart” (Job 10:13). After all, God is not accountable to man for every single action that He decrees. Otherwise, we would have traded places with God!

2) Why is it that God seems to “elect” Christians based on geography? Take a look at this map (click to enlarge):

I’m not posting the map on this blog (readers can see it in yours), but I would like to caution you against relying on maps such as these. The main reason for this is that there are millions of Christians around the world who are not officially registered or listed in censuses. China is an excellent example: I once heard it said that there may be up to 20,000 Chinese people converting to Christianity every day. Now, this statistic is probably a bit inflated, but it shows that there are millions more Christians in those places that are lightly-shaded than is commonly thought.

There are so few Asians, North Africans, and Middle Eastern Christians. If God is the one who decides who believes, not man’s faith in response to God’s corporate election, why isn’t there a more equitable distribution of the elect worldwide? See the glaring problem? Either God is not distributing His elections randomly (randomness would yield a more even distribution of Christians worldwide) or He is using some sort of election criteria which I asked about in question #1. Has God forgotten about that part of the world? By this map, God sure does like white people and Hispanics. Doesn’t seem very fair to me – possibly even racist.

Two problems with your question:

1) You are applying statistics from one particular point in time and forget that different parts of the world have been predominantly Christian at different time periods. Europe used to be the centre of what we refer to as “Christendom,” but we would know today that thanks to the rapid secularization and islamization (sp?) of Europe, this is no longer the case. Conversely, parts of the world such as Africa, South Asia, China, South Korea and South America that used to be darkened have seen an explosion of evangelism in recent decades. I suspect that in a few decades’ time, these regions shall replace Europe and North America as the centres of Christianity.

This being said, I suspect that by the time we get to heaven, we will end up seeing a pretty fair distribution of people of different ethnic backgrounds. They may not all have lived in the same time period, but He will certainly not fail to ensure that He will be able to ransom “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, ESV).

2) I would argue that this question is a double-edged sword, as it can easily be used as an argument against Arminianism as well. After all, if God is in the business of trying to bring every single individual into salvation, and that He needs us to make free-will decisions for Him before we are able to do so, then why hasn’t He made it so that everybody everywhere around the world has an equal opportunity to “make a decision for Jesus” and be saved? Is God not powerful enough to create opportunities for them?

I hope you can appreciate the problem that this question poses for your own view, since it basically implies that God is trying to save people but is not powerful enough to work around these geographical barriers that you are pointing towards. Of course, in the Reformed view, God is totally free, and is therefore not obligated to act as an equal-opportunity employer (otherwise, what would be the complaint of Pharaoh, Judas and the Assyrian King, among other people?).

Wouldn’t it make more sense that He doesn’t elect salvation but that cultural, religious, and political barriers to the Gospel in these geographies are making people unable to respond to His corporate election?

The problem with this view is that it means God is impotent and cannot work past such worldly restraints. Besides, it is never a good idea to interpret scripture according to how things look in the external world (which would lead once again down that slippery slope to liberalism). Rather, we need to resolve this question using scripture as our final authority, and then applying our understanding of scripture to how we interpret the world around us. Once again—and I have stressed this several times already—the biblical question is, “who makes you differ from another” (1 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV)? If it is because of human will or temporal restraints, then we have basically said that God has His hands tied behind His back and that He is not totally free (contra what John 6:37, Romans 9:15-18 and other similar passages state).

Ultimately, that is the question that we both have to answer: Who makes the difference? Is salvation dependent upon man’s ability to respond to God and cooperate with His grace, or is He powerful enough to overcome all worldly obstacles (including, and especially, man’s natural tendency to rebel against his Maker) and free enough to accomplish His work of salvation according to His own purposes and for His own glory. Think about it.

Grace and peace.


I will put one or two more posts in this series, but because of all the things that I have to get done on top of this, it will take a while. Thanks for bearing with me, though.

Oh, and check out this recent sermon by John MacArthur to see if you get anything out of it.

(Continue to Part 6)


  1. Thanks for response. I really enjoy seeing how you respond to my posts even if I don’t agree. “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

    Now on to the discussion! Just a reminder that I, too, agree that “There can be no denying that election is based on God’s mercy and purposes.” I just believe that the corporate election of all is God’s merciful purpose, not individual election of some. The point is that my model requires no additional information that scripture doesn’t provide. The Calvinist model does – it begs the question since all aren’t chosen, what is the criteria God uses when choosing – a question scripture cannot answer. An honest person (such as yourself) who subscribes to election has to say “I don’t know – God didn’t say.” And that’s cool, I don’t know is a perfectly good answer. Certainly God is not accountable to man, but before we prop this doctrine up as the only sound interpretation of the election that we read of in scripture, let’s at least admit that it’s a weak spot. You can point to Pharaoh and Job – it’s true that God did what He wanted in their lives for His purpose. But it’s very feeble evidence for election as both examples are events taking place before the cross of Christ and can’t speak to how individuals get saved in the NT.

    Regarding, the map of Christians by country – yes, it is a snapshot for a specific point in time. But I’m pretty sure that at any point in time, a worldwide map of Christians by region would have a disproportionate ratio of believers to unbelievers. Why does God do this? If God chooses salvation, then why the pattern? Again, it’s an unanswerable question meant to point out the inadequacies of the doctrine.

  2. Next you turn the argument against Arminianism stating “After all, if God is in the business of trying to bring every single individual into salvation… then why hasn’t He made it so that everybody everywhere around the world has an equal opportunity to ‘make a decision for Jesus’ and be saved?” I believe God does make it so everyone everywhere has an equal opportunity to be saved. You of all people know of the recent explosion of theophanies in the Muslim world. God is doing all sorts of amazing things in addition to the untold amount of money and time spent on evangelism worldwide by His people. I admit there is cause for concern in these areas (commonly called the 10-40 window) but at least they have a chance to get saved under Arminianism - we can do something about it by preaching the gospel. Under Calvinism, what hope do we have for doomed humanity?

    Next you say my view “implies that God is trying to save people but is not powerful enough to work around these geographical barriers” then you state “Is salvation dependent upon man’s ability to respond to God and cooperate with His grace, or is He powerful enough to overcome all worldly obstacles?” Appealing to the idea that God is not all-powerful in the Arminian construct is a common mischaracterization of it. Its not that God is not powerful enough – it’s that He, in His power, has chosen to limit Himself and partner with humanity when it comes to NT salvation. Just because God doesn’t do something doesn’t make Him less powerful. Is God powerful enough to destroy the world right now? Of course He is. Does the fact that we’re still here mean that He’s can't do it? Of course not. It means He has limited Himself. God is just as powerful for Arminians as He is for Calvinists. He is not bound by Calvinists' definitions of what His power does and doesn't do.