Is Calvinism Biblical? Two Christians in Conversation (Part Three)
If you’re reading this for the first time, you have entered into a long and heartfelt conversation between two Christians about Calvinism. My brother Ken strongly believes that the theology of Calvinism is a deceptive ploy by the Evil One, taking away every desire to trust God. Satan is whispering or whistling the TULIP tune and at one point in the discussion Ken refers to the doctrines of grace as DOG theology. Ouch! The gloves come off as we enter in part three of Is Calvinism Biblical?
Please allow me repeat back what I have learned so far and correct me if I miss anything based on the following scenario of Travis, my son.
It is very possible that Travis is not one of God’s saved, elect, chosen. In this case:
- Travis has not been chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be saved from God’s wrath.
- This is because Travis loves darkness, which causes him to sin, which leads to physical death.
- Travis deserves God’s just and eternal punishment for his sin.
- Travis has heard the Scripture based Gospel message and even tasted the goodness of God, but because God has not determined to save him, Travis will not respond to this good news.
- This is because Travis is already spiritually dead, so he has no desire for the eternal spiritual life which is freely offered by God through the salvific sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah.
- Travis’s spiritual death leaves him completely depraved and Travis can only act as a slave to sin, which is in a way that satisfies his own selfish desires and is in opposition to God.
- Saving Travis is completely up to God.
- God does not choose to save Travis from this spiritual condition, even though He wants to do so, because it is God’s sovereign right to decide for God’s own reasons.
- While God’s reasons for not choosing Travis are currently unknown, His reasons are valid and can be explained either with enough study here on Earth, or it is antinomy, which could only be clearly understood from God’s perspective.
- Either way, God will display His Justice, Power, and Authority by judging Travis for sin that Travis freely chooses.
- Through His death, Jesus is the Savior of the world and Travis, but in a different way than he died for His chosen children.
- Christ’s death on the cross was for the whole world including Travis, but is just not effective for Travis.
- This is because Travis is NOT one of God’s lost sheep that can hear His voice.
- God has shown Travis mercy, but in a different way than He shows His own children.
Travis is truly loved by God, but not in the same way as He loves His chosen people.How did I do?
I have spent a day reflecting on this and re-reading your articulation of my view. I think that you have understood me well and like you, this is not a mere academic exercise. Real lives hang in the balance. I suppose that two things have me uneasy about simply responding with “Yes, you have understood me.” First, although real lives hang in the balance, there is no way that any of us can tell if a person is unelect and so abandon hope. You wrote, “It is very possible that Travis is not one of God’s saved, elect, chosen…” I have not found any place in Scripture that encourages us to take such a view. Today is the day of salvation. We probably both know men and women who have shunned God for a good deal of their lives only to receive Christ in their last years. Secondly, it leaves God as something of a by-stander when He could have intervened to save. Here is where I must confess great mystery and simply embrace the tension, not because I understand it, but because Scripture teaches that God has met every condition and that people are responsible for rejecting Him. Interestingly, in the same section of Scripture where I believe that Paul argues for individual election (Romans 9), he also teaches that anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved and defends God against accusations that He has failed Israel. Yes, in the mystery of God’s move to save the Gentiles, Israel has failed to respond to the gospel, but God has met every condition, so they are without excuse. He has sent Gospel preachers so that they could hear the Good News (Romans10:14-17). See what I mean?
Since we have stepped out of Systematic Theology and into Heart Theology, allow me to open my heart a little wider. Like you, I am a father who has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ” for the sake of my daughter. I taught Ariana the gospel since she was a child and upon her profession of faith, baptized her with my own hands. The greatest blow of my life came when she told me that she was not a Christian. For nine long and grief-stricken years Renal and I have prayed the longest, unanswered prayer of our lives. As of today, she is still a prodigal and we are still waiting for her to come to her senses (or, in keeping with our discussion, waiting for God to grant her repentance). The Scriptures speak of it in both ways.
Renal and I have swung from deep despair and back to hope again. I have wrestled mightily with God. I did my best to raise her in the way that she should go and when I spent long hours away from my family to care for God’s flock, I entrusted their care to the Almighty. When Ana told me that she was not a Christian, I felt like God had betrayed my trust. Did I not leave them in His care while I tended His flock? Moreover, does Jesus not say that He will do whatever we ask in His name? Great sorrows have made a home in my heart.
From one father to another, were it left to feelings alone, I should be a universalist, clinging to that wider-hope that Jesus’ death is not only sufficient for all, but would be graciously applied to all, even to those who reject Him, so that love would win in the end. My heart says, “Let the only display of justice be the cross!”, but the Scriptures say something different. The feelings of a father must bend the knee to the teaching of Scripture and the heart of a father must cling to a small, child-like faith that God is all-good and all-wise in all that He does. I believe in a hell, not because I want to, but because the Bible teaches it. I also believe that people who go to hell choose it. C.S. Lewis was quite right when he said that “hell is the greatest monument to human-freedom.” Should my daughter persist in her rebellion, God will ratify her decision upon her last breath and it will be her eternal destiny. But who, Arminian or Calvinist, can live with such a thought? In truth, God has not revealed to us who the elect are. I take the timeless counsel of Moses who said that the “hidden things belong to God and the things revealed belong to us…that we may follow all the words of His law.” It keeps Renal and I on our knees, asking God to do what He has said that He longs to do.
As I said, we have swung from despair to hope. Here’s is what I believe and would commend to you:
- If God has graciously chosen to have mercy upon my Ana, she will not be able to out-run the hounds of heaven;
- God will say, “This far and no further!” to her rebellion;
- God will open her heart to respond to the gospel and she will be justified, sanctified and glorified;
Jesus will keep her until her last breath and not a head of her hair will perish; and
- Because I do not know if God has chosen her to display His mercy or decided to leave her to her own sin to display His justice, we keep praying and keep talking to her about Jesus (and will do so until we breathe our last).
I believe in what I have written in these emails, because it is what Scripture teaches, and I cling to it trusting that God is all-good and all-wise in all that He does, even if I can’t get my head around it. May God have mercy on our prodigals and keep us from despair!
Your Brother in Christ,
I am so sorry for the delay. Life has been busy. I am working on my next email, but just have not had time to finish. I did not want you to think I dropped the conversation.
Also, if what you taught is true, then the possibility of Travis not being chosen by God would simply be a fact. I am not saying we should give up hope or anything like that or that you implied such things!
Thanks for the reply. I have really enjoyed our conversations and I think that we share the same passion to see our loved one’s find eternal life in Christ. Regarding Travis and Ariana, yes, it is possible that God has not chosen them, but you got my point about not knowing and not giving up hope.
The Bible is like a mirror that is supposed to reflect the character of God. It is a valuable asset to understand our creator with better clarity. However, the Bible itself is not to be worshiped and is not the only way to know God.
1. All of creation can be observed as it reflects the nature of the One who created it.
2. Humans were built with the purpose of serving God and deep in our hearts our greatest desire is to serve Him.
3. The relationships people have with each other offer lessons on how we should relate with God (marriage, children, neighbors, government, etc.) and should call attention to our need for Him.
4. God’s Spirit prompts, teaches, and strengthens us.
The Bible is used by false religions, cults, those who justify slavery, etc. to validate their beliefs by pointing to particular passages. Even Satan quotes Scripture for his own purposes. While the Bible may be all true, only God holds all truth. In the end, we must discern whether an interpretation and use of the Biblical passage properly reflects God.
Calvinism’s interpretation of Scripture, in any form, is like walking into a fun house of mirrors and the mirror experts are saying that each distorted mirror is a true reflection of God. Even those who have never seen a mirror before, question the validity of the reflections. And those who have seen a truer mirror have 100% certainty that these reflections are false. There is nothing these experts could say to convince the experienced observers that these false reflections are the truth.
Nearly every part of the Bible screams out that the DOG view (Doctrine of Grace) is the opposite of GOD (emotionally, logically, AND Spiritually). It is confusing why Calvinists interpret certain passages with such clarity and dogmatically hold onto them and yet interpret other passages as mysterious that clearly contradict those. This view is like pounding a square peg into a round hole. One can see how you get it in there, but it is obvious it does not fit.
Have you considered this view is a deception by the adversary? Don’t you see how every assertion of Calvinism takes away our desire to trust God, which is the only thing God wants from us? Can’t you hear Satan whispering these views?
I challenge you to not be comfortable living in Mystery, Antinomy, Darkness. There are answers that are available, but you need to look at these passages from a different perspective. You need a complete paradigm shift. Take some time and consider the opposite view and truly consider the consequences of each Doctrine of Grace. Let the Spirit of God take over and argue like you did at ECC!
Remember, in God there is no deviation, there is no shadow, there is no mystery! You should hope, love, and trust Him because He is loving, compassionate, and faithful to ALL! He will do everything to reach out and save all of the lost, all of the sinners, all of the world! All means all and that’s all all means!
Please give me a few days to respond. I’ve got a few items that are pressing. Thanks!
I have appreciated our discussion, but this is probably where we part ways. I believe that you are sincere, but I think you are sincerely wrong and out of step with God’s Word in this area. I am not saying that you are not a Christian and therefore not a brother. I embrace you as a brother in Christ and say this with good will in my heart.
As I see it, you are making the mistake that most well-meaning Arminians make–smuggling philosophical assumptions into God’s Word. You seem to assume (if I am understanding you correctly) that God’s absolute sovereignty is incompatible with human responsibility. Despite the myriad Scriptures to the contrary. You add to that the assumption that ability limits obligation (i.e. since God obligates man to believe in the gospel, he must have the ability to do so on his own and it must be universal to all men). None of these assumptions are grounded in Scripture; they have to be smuggled in.
“Yes and amen!” to Scripture reflecting the character of God (and I quite agree that bibliolatry must be avoided). Yet, it is God’s Word, and not natural revelation that reveals His completed will for the salvation of people and is the final authority for all Christian faith, life and doctrine. The Bible is not the only way to know about what God is like, but it is the best way! Rather than observing people in their relationships, we must let God, through His always true/never wrong Word, tell us about the condition that we’re in. True, we were created to worship and enjoy God, but that desire has been subverted by sin. Apart from Christ, God see us as: defiled by sin (Mk. 7:20-23); lovers of darkness (Jn. 3:19); enemies (Rom. 5:10), dead in transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1), and by nature objects of His wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Bible does not paint a pretty picture about the state and abilities of people outside of Christ. The image of God in us, by which we have the impulse to worship, has been marred and must be restored (1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18).
Yes, the false religions and cults do distort God’s Word, but they do so, over and over again, by abandoning the guard-rails of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. You wrote, “In the end, we must discern whether an interpretation and use of the Biblical passage properly reflects God.” But how does one know what God is like apart from Scripture? You seem to start with a view of God and then send the Scriptures to fetch it. Is this not the exaltation of what a man finds reasonable over and above what Scripture teaches? Be careful here lest you fall into the same error as the cultists! For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses (following the heresy of Arian) start with the assumption that God cannot be One-Being-in-Three-Persons, and they reject and distort the Scriptures that prove them wrong (going so far as to produce a corrupted version called the New World Translation). Instead of starting with a theology of God, they should start with the Word and let it guide them into the right view of God.
You wrote, “Nearly every part of the Bible screams out that the DOG view (Doctrine of Grace) is the opposite of GOD (emotionally, logically, AND Spiritually). It is confusing why Calvinists interpret certain passages with such clarity and dogmatically hold onto them and yet interpret other passages as mysterious that clearly contradict those. This view is like pounding a square peg into a round hole. One can see how you get it in there, but it is obvious it does not fit.” Yet, you have not interacted with the exegesis (albeit brief) that I have provided. I stand by my exegesis and the Doctrines of Grace that emerge from it. Like Luther, and also based upon hours of prayer, study and reflection, I say:
If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.
Of course I have considered the Arminian view! I grew up with and it and, for a time, embraced it. But, instead of subjecting God’s Word to my views, I humbled myself to sit under what Scripture teaches. Ultimately, I left the Arminian view because it could not stand against the weight of Scripture. It is an unbiblical soteriology. Every Calvinist/ Compatibilist I know has humbled himself/herself to what God’s Word says, even if he/she could not understand it fully. What may not be known fully or exhaustively can be apprehended and known truly. But I meet many Arminians, who say, “This can’t be true, therefore I will not believe it.” Again I ask, is this not the exaltation of what a man finds reasonable over and above what Scripture teaches?
In the end, I believe your view results in a very man-centered interpretation of Scripture. I’m not mud-slinging here and I say this without teeth. Despite sound exegesis to the contrary:
- In this view, man is not so depraved and desperate that he cannot believe in his own;
- In this view, God’s foreknowledge is a response to man’s free choices (one again, man must take the initiative);
- In this view, Jesus’ death did not secure the salvation of anyone, but merely made it possible; and
In this view, believers must keep themselves in grace (man’s salvation ultimately depends on himself).
As you said, there are consequences to each Doctrine of Grace.
Grace to you, brother Ken! I had hoped to move you to charity, the kind we value in the E-Free church that demands unity in the essentials, but dialogue without division in the secondary, but substantial doctrines. To that end, I think I have failed you and I’m sorry for that.