Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 8

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study has been to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3]. Why this study should matter to you: 1) It demonstrates God’s continuing protection of us (the denial of: [1] free-will with the result of no justice [or unjust justice], a theology similar to that espoused by atheist evolutionists [determinism] = God/universe is the cause of all things as all things [comprehensively/exhaustively] including our actions have been pre-determined by Him/it. Free-will/self-determinism is an illusion. Human beings are robot-victims that are/wb punished as though their actions were self-determined [how is this not unjust since we are now helpless victims? [4]] and the removal of God’s glory [robot worship versus real worship – which gives God glory? People praising him b/c they freely choose to or people doing it b/c they are forced/pre-determined/caused to?]; [2] the denial of apostasy w/the result being God as a manipulative liar and us as bold antinomians[5]), 2) It demonstrates growth in our understanding of God’s Word and therefore also His continual leading of us as His disciples (Christianity is Judaism 2.0 whereas Calvinism/Protestant Reformation is Roman Catholicism 2.0), 3) It demonstrates our trust/commitment to God’s Word as the only sacred cow.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY = Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8; Joh 9:41). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom – even Augustine, the coveted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers)[6].

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION = Before God created the universe, He chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation based/conditioned upon nothing He saw or knew about those individuals as to their moral value or potential or because He possessed some prior obligation to them, but instead based solely on His free choice and sovereign grace. As part of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation, He also determined to provide those individuals with the necessary repentance, faith and faithfulness thus eliminating the obstacle created by the prior doctrine of Total Depravity (inability to repent, believe and faithfully obey) and guaranteeing their future residence into heaven.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

SEEKER SALVATION = Though the Bible does teach election, it does NOT teach that God chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation before Creation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. Rather the Scriptures teach that God’s election/choice as to who is worthy to receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of people. Furthermore, God has obligated Himself to all who diligently and genuinely seek Him and His righteousness promising that they will not only find Him, but be elected/chosen to receive His offer of salvation thru covenant relationship w/His Son. Those who obey God’s gospel call will be identified as His elect/chosen and those inheriting the blessing of salvation. Such designation however requires that such individuals continue in faithful obedience for the rest of their life. Otherwise such prior election – or identity as the elect, will be forfeited. (Gen 6:5-9, 11-13 w/18a; Gen 6:22 w/7:1; Gen 6:18; 1Pe 3:20-21; Gen 15:1-21; Neh 9:8; Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/22:16-18 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 4:31, 7:6-8; Rom 11:28; Eph 1:1-11; Ezr 8:22; Isa 56:1-8; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:34-35, 13:47-48, 17:25-26; 1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; 1Co 7:14; Act 8:26-36; Act 16:6-10; Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; Isa 56:1-5; Act 10:34-35, 16:6; Joh 4:23; Rom 2:6-11; Jer 29:13; 2Pe 1:10-11; Mat 24:22, 24, 31; Luk 18:7; Rom 1:6-7, 33, 11:7; 1Co 1:24, 2:7; Col 3:12; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; 2Jo 1:1, 13; Jud 1:1; Rev 17:14; Isa 43:20-28; Joe 2:32; 1Th 1:4 w/3:5; Mat 22:1-14; Deu 7:9-12; 2Pe 1:8-11 w/3:20-22; Rom 11:20-24, 28-29). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of unconditional election (e.g. Justin Martyr, Clement, Ireneaus and Hermas).

LIMITED ATONEMENT = Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those who God has unconditionally guaranteed will end up in heaven (the Calvinist understanding of the elect). Christ’s redemptive work is therefore not only perfectly sufficient and effective for those to whom it is applied, but also perfectly efficient (none was wasted) on those to whom it is applied.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

REDEEMED CHURCH = Though the Bible teaches that Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those people are not determined based on whether they end up in heaven. Rather, Christ’s blood (or sacrifice) was for His church – or those people who are part of the redemptive covenant community. As such, it resides in the church. Hence the reason the blood sacraments of baptism and the LT were given exclusively to the church. (Eph 5:25; Act 20:28 w/Joh 10:11, 15 and Mat 1:21 w/Psa 95:7; Regarding the blood sacraments of baptism and the LT – Act 2:41 w/Rom 6:3 and Act 22:16 w/Eph 1:7 and 1Jo 1:7; Joh 13:1-10 w/Mat 26:28). However since people can become members of Christ’s church – only later to fall away (in apostasy), removing them both their former redemption or cleansing (as well as the possibility of its re-application in the future), what is also true, is that Christ’s blood (or sacrifice) does end up (in those circumstances) being wasted since it ultimately does not result in eternal salvation for those people (Heb 10:26-29).

IRRESISTABLE GRACE = God causes those He elects/chooses for salvation to be born again/regenerated as the means to providing them w/the necessary repentance/faith for conversion. This spiritual birth cannot be resisted nor the continuing grace that follows unto faithfulness/final salvation (in heaven).

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

SPIRITUAL EMPOWERMENT = Though the Bible teaches that those identified as the elect are born again/regenerated, it takes place as the result of a person’s ability and choice to repent, exercise faith and vow faithfulness to Christ. The new birth is therefore not the cause of a person’s conversion nor irresistible. Like all of God’s gracious offers and efforts, we can choose to reject it or the gift of spiritual empowerment given at the same time, the Holy Spirit. A correct understanding of this phenomenon would therefore be: We receive God’s gracious gifts of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit at salvation – i.e. when we repent and are baptized/exercising saving faith (Tit 3:5; Eph 2:1-8; Col 2:13-14; Joh 1:13; Act 2:38), as the spiritual empowerment for living faithful Christian lives (Tit 2:12). Such empowerment however does not guarantee faithfulness or continuance in the Christian Faith. As always, we must choose to cooperate w/God’s will (Eph 4:30). (4.2.1. – 4.2.4. DISCUSSED)

4.2.5. Historical support

The Reformers believed that Regeneration/New Birth followed after faith[7]:

4.2.5.1. Martin Luther

“Paul as a true apostle of faith always has the word ‘faith’ on the tip of his tongue. By faith, says he, we are the children of God. The best the Law can do for us is to prepare us for a new birth through faith in Christ Jesus. Faith in Christ regenerates us into the children of God.[8]

4.2.5.2. Philip Melanchthon

“This special faith, by which an individual believes that for Christ’s sake his sins are remitted him, regenerates us and brings the Holy Ghost.”[9]

4.2.5.3. John Calvin

Commenting on John 1:13, Calvin writes, “God regenerates us by faith…. It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later.”[10]

PRESERVATION/PERSEVERENCE OF THE SAINTS = The elect or saints – those genuinely saved, are secure (or will persevere) in their salvation, unable to fall away or become apostate, being preserved (or protected) by God from such loss or the forfeiture of their future in heaven. As such, the two axioms of this view are: “Once saved always saved” and “If you have it, you will never lose it, if you lose it, you never had it.”

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MAINTAIN (to) REMAIN = Though the Bible teaches that God protects His saints (i.e. His elect or saved), such security/preservation does not apply – or override, the wills of those who freely choose to practice sin/unrepentance against Him. These individuals will instead become apostate or permanently sealed in their sin and eternally lost as to their former salvation and future hopes of heaven. A Christian must therefore maintain the salvation they gained (through faithful obedience) if they are to remain saved and continue to receive God’s protection/preservation unto heaven.

5.2.1. God never promises to eternally secure/preserve the recipients of salvation without the condition of persevering and faithful obedience.

There are three main texts used by Calvinists to support this view. None teach what they presume:

5.2.2.1. (Phi 1:6) = The verses surrounding this stmt are all about Paul’s affection and appreciation for the Philippian believers (3-5, 7-8). Additionally, Paul mentions that he is convinced he will soon be re-united w/them for the purpose of their progress in the faith. As such, it sb obvious that who Paul is referring to as completing the “good work” is not God, but himself. Speaking about oneself in the third person is a literary device used several places in the NT – including by Paul in his other letters (Mat 8:20; 2Co 12:2-7; Col 1:28). Additionally it sb mentioned that verse 7 makes no sense unless it is himself that Paul is referring to in verse 6 (7 – “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart”) = Paul’s feelings for the Philippian believers are not a legitimate reason to establish God’s obligation to them – only his own.

5.2.2.2. (2Ti 2:10-13) = Paul’s conclusion from the previous verses (signaled by the word “Therefore”) is that one must “endure” to “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus”. This principle (or “saying”) – i.e. we must persevere/endure to be saved, “is trustworthy” (according to Paul) since it agrees with another saying – or set of couplets, that were most likely familiar/common to Christians in his day, those found in verses 11-13. The purpose (then) of these couplets is to reinforce this principle/truth that a Christian must persevere/endure to be saved. The first couplet does so positively (“if we die…if we endure” = “we live…we reign”), the second – negatively (or by way of antithesis) (“if we deny…if we are faithless = “He will deny…He remains faithful”). As such, what is meant by “He remains faithful” is that God will be faithful/true to His promise as to what will happen if we are unfaithful (“he will” – once more, “deny us”). This has been the case w/all of God’s saving covenants. They (or God’s promises to us) are conditioned upon our faithful obedience (Deu 28:15-68; Neh 1:8, 9:3; 2Chr 15:2; also Mat 24:36-51, 25:1-46; 1Ti 1:12-14).

5.2.2.3. (2Ti 1:12) = What Paul is confident God will “guard” is what has been “entrusted to” him – which is the gospel not his salvation (8-11).

5.2.2. God only promises to protect/preserve and save those who Christians who persevere/endure in faithful obedience until the end.

Consider (Jud 20-21 w/24) = Notice the commitment to faithfulness precedes (or is the prerequisite) to God’s help/protection in keeping us from “stumbling”; (1Pe 1:5) = Our protection from God happens “thru faithfulness”; (1Pe 5:6-10 w/Jam 4:5-7) = God opposes those who are disobedient (“the proud”)but helps (“gives grace”) to the obedient (“the humble”); (Mat 6:13) = His protection only comes after our commitment to obey – v10; (1Ti 6:20) = The “good deposit” to be guarded by Timothy (not God) is his salvation – which includes his calling, confession and vow of obedience to God’s command to righteousness (11-14)[11].

5.2.3. Christians who choose to continue in the practice of sin (i.e. remain unrepentant) will lose their salvation without the possibility of gaining it – or the promise of heaven, back again (i.e. loss of salvation and apostasy are real things happening to real Christians).

Consider (Heb 10:24-30 = Notice those God is condemning are “His people” [i.e. Christians] [12]; Understanding salvation as marriage to Christ helps us to see that loss of salvation and apostasy are real since to deny this wb like saying that those who get divorced were never married).

5.2.4. The Bible nowhere teaches that those who fall away or go apostate were never real Christians.

There are two main texts used by Calvinists to support this view. Neither teach what they presume:

5.2.4.1. (Mat 7:23) = Jesus’ words – “I never knew you” are marital in nature. They refer to the act of intimacy associated w/marriage that consummates the covenant initially established at betrothal (e.g. Gen 4:1 – “Adam knew his wife”). Because these individuals were not faithful during this testing period, Jesus refuses to eternally be associated w/such individuals or consummate the marriage/betrothal covenant established at the time of salvation. Jesus words are essentially His call for (eternal) divorce. Jesus’ words are therefore not a reference to them lacking prior salvation, but rather – b/c of their life of unfaithfulness (they were “workers of lawlessness”), their prior betrothal to Him (as saved individuals) was not – nor would be, consummated in the intimate and eternal bliss of heaven.

5.2.4.2. (1Jo 2:19) = The fact that John states “they went out from us” signals that they were (at one time) a part of the covenant community and therefore saved individuals. It is their going – or being put out of the covenant community, that reveals (makes “plain”) “they all are” or “were” “not of us” anymore (i.e. no longer – like the rest in the covenant community, willing to “continue” in faithfulness to Christ), but instead choosing to stand against – or in disobedience, to Christ. They had become “antichrists” (18). John’s words are therefore referring to the apostasy of real Christians not people falling away who never were (how do you got “out” of something or fall away from something you were never a part of?)

5.2.5. We must therefore maintain our salvation through persevering and faithful obedience if the salvation and hope of heaven we possess is to remain (Mat 10:22, 19:16-17, 24:36-51, 25:1-46; Luk 12:35-46, 13:6-9; Rom 11:22; 1Co 9:23-10:22; Phi 2:12-16, 3:10-14; Col 1:23; Heb 3:6, 14, 5:9, 6:4-12, 10:35-39; 2Jo 1:8).

CONCLUSION = Calvinism/Monergism is not the salvation of the Bible. Salvation is instead, synergistic (us cooperating w/God and choosing to follow God of our own ability and free-wills).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary). My growth in understanding the Scripture during this time has led me to now reject all five points. Theologians/pastors changing their theology as a result of such growth and understanding is not uncommon (e.g. Augustine’s Retractions) Commenting on Augustine’s published changes, John MacArthur writes, “Near the end of his life, Augustine of Hippo meticulously reviewed everything he had ever published. He wrote an entire catalogue of his own works, a painstakingly annotated bibliography with hundreds of revisions and amendments to correct flaws he saw in his own earlier material. The book, titled Retractationes, is powerful evidence of Augustine’s humility and zeal for truth. Not one of his earlier publications escaped the more mature theologian’s scrutiny. And Augustine was as bold in recanting the errors he perceived in his own work as he had been in refuting the heresies of his theological adversaries. Because he reviewed his works in chronological order, Retractationes is a wonderful memoir of Augustine’s relentless, lifelong pursuit of spiritual maturity and theological precision. His forthrightness in addressing his own shortcomings is a good example of why Augustine is esteemed as a rare model of both godliness and scholarship.” In other words, corrections sb expected where there is growth not only in understanding (the virtue in scholarship) but what it truly looks like to say that you care more about God being right – or looking good, than you do yourself (the essence of godliness).

[4] “The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede their conscious decisions [i.e. criminals], reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill); “By losing free-will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance…” Jerry Coyne (Why We Really Don’t Have Free-Will); “When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers…when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at (a man) when he beats his car.” – Richard Dawkins (Let’s All Stop Beating Basil’s Car).

[5] In his 1521 letter to Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther wrote, “Love God and sin boldly”. Luther did not believe apostasy to be a real threat to real Christians.

[6] “He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine

[7] The shift to regeneration preceding faith did not take place until sometime in the seventeenth century—after the original Reformers were dead. Possibly during the time of the Synod of Dort (1618-19) or the Formula of Helvetica (1675)—or through the writings of Stephen Charnock (1628-80) who made it clear that he believed regeneration was antecedent to faith.

[8] Luther’s Commentary on Galatians.

[9] Book of Concord, Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II): Of Justification.

[10] Calvin’s Commentary on John.

[11] Statements like the following are common in many evangelical churches, “the security of our salvation is dependent on God’s ability to keep the believer and not the believer’s ability to keep himself” (e.g. Keystone Church, Dayton, OH). Not only does it deny the passages discussed, but also any real need to obey.

[12] Some commentators believe that God is only attempting to scare us (into obedience). The danger is not real. If true, then telling your child there is a monster under the bed to keep them from getting up is an appropriate strategy. Put another way, lying and manipulation are appropriate tools for God and man in accomplishing “just” ends. The Bible however does not identify such a person as God, but the devil (Num 23:19; Joh 8:44).

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 7

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study has been to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3]. Why this study should matter to you: 1) It demonstrates God’s continuing protection of us (the denial of free-will and justice espoused by the determinism of the atheist evolutionists is the theology and resulting consequence of Calvinism also known as theistic determinism = God is the cause of all things as all things [comprehensively/exhaustively] including our actions have been pre-determined by Him. Free-will/self-determinism is an illusion. Human beings are robot-victims that wb punished as though their actions were self-determined [versus pre-determined/pre-programmed]. Theistic determinism [and its monergistic view of salvation] are said to give God the most glory [?][robot worship versus real worship; e.g. a king whose people praise him b/c they choose to versus a king whose people praise him b/c they are forced to])[4], 2) It demonstrates growth in our understanding of God’s Word and therefore also His continual leading of us as His disciples (Christianity is Judaism 2.0 whereas Calvinism/Protestant Reformation is Roman Catholicism 2.0), 3) It demonstrates our trust/commitment to God’s Word as the only sacred cow.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY = Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8; Joh 9:41). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom – even Augustine, the coveted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers)[5].

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION = Before God created the universe, He chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation based/conditioned upon nothing He saw or knew about those individuals as to their moral value or potential or because He possessed some prior obligation to them, but instead based solely on His free choice and sovereign grace. As part of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation, He also determined to provide those individuals with the necessary repentance, faith and faithfulness thus eliminating the obstacle created by the prior doctrine of Total Depravity (inability to repent, believe and faithfully obey) and guaranteeing their future residence into heaven.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

SEEKER SALVATION = Though the Bible does teach election, it does NOT teach that God chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation before Creation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. Rather the Scriptures teach that God’s election/choice as to who is worthy to receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of people. Furthermore, God has obligated Himself to all who diligently and genuinely seek Him and His righteousness promising that they will not only find Him, but be elected/chosen to receive His offer of salvation thru covenant relationship w/His Son. Those who obey God’s gospel call will be identified as His elect/chosen and those inheriting the blessing of salvation. Such designation however requires that such individuals continue in faithful obedience for the rest of their life. Otherwise such prior election – or identity as the elect, will be forfeited. (Gen 6:5-9, 11-13 w/18a; Gen 6:22 w/7:1; Gen 6:18; 1Pe 3:20-21; Gen 15:1-21; Neh 9:8; Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/22:16-18 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 4:31, 7:6-8; Rom 11:28; Eph 1:1-11; Ezr 8:22; Isa 56:1-8; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:34-35, 13:47-48, 17:25-26; 1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; 1Co 7:14; Act 8:26-36; Act 16:6-10; Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; Isa 56:1-5; Act 10:34-35, 16:6; Joh 4:23; Rom 2:6-11; Jer 29:13; 2Pe 1:10-11; Mat 24:22, 24, 31; Luk 18:7; Rom 1:6-7, 33, 11:7; 1Co 1:24, 2:7; Col 3:12; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; 2Jo 1:1, 13; Jud 1:1; Rev 17:14; Isa 43:20-28; Joe 2:32; 1Th 1:4 w/3:5; Mat 22:1-14; Deu 7:9-12; 2Pe 1:8-11 w/3:20-22; Rom 11:20-24, 28-29). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of unconditional election (e.g. Justin Martyr, Clement, Ireneaus and Hermas).

LIMITED ATONEMENT = Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those who God has unconditionally guaranteed will end up in heaven (the Calvinist understanding of the elect). Christ’s redemptive work is therefore not only perfectly sufficient and effective for those to whom it is applied, but also perfectly efficient (none was wasted) on those to whom it is applied.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

REDEEMED CHURCH = Though the Bible teaches that Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those people are not determined based on whether they end up in heaven. Rather, Christ’s blood (or sacrifice) was for His church – or those people who are part of the redemptive covenant community. As such, it resides in the church. Hence the reason the blood sacraments of baptism and the LT were given exclusively to the church. (Eph 5:25; Act 20:28 w/Joh 10:11, 15 and Mat 1:21 w/Psa 95:7; Regarding the blood sacraments of baptism and the LT – Act 2:41 w/Rom 6:3 and Act 22:16 w/Eph 1:7 and 1Jo 1:7; Joh 13:1-10 w/Mat 26:28). However since people can become members of Christ’s church – only later to fall away (in apostasy), removing them both their former redemption or cleansing (as well as the possibility of its re-application in the future), what is also true, is that Christ’s blood (or sacrifice) does end up (in those circumstances) being wasted since it ultimately does not result in eternal salvation for those people (Heb 10:26-29).

IRRESISTABLE GRACE

4.1. What the doctrine teaches: God causes those He elects/chooses for salvation to be born again/regenerated as the means to providing them w/the necessary repentance and faith for conversion. This spiritual birth cannot be resisted nor the continuing grace that follows unto faithfulness and final salvation (in heaven).

4.2. The problems with this doctrine: Though the Bible teaches regeneration/the new (spiritual) birth, its place in the order of salvation (Ordo Salutis) – as well as what it does – are both very different from the view taught within Calvinism. Likewise, neither it nor God’s continuing grace are irresistible to those God elects.

4.2.1. The new birth/regeneration is the result (not the cause) of our free choice and ability to repent and exercise faith.

The order of salvation (Ordo Salutis) presented in Scripture is not regeneration/new birth then repentance/faith but rather repentance/faith, and then regeneration/new birth:

4.2.1.1. (Joh 1:13) = Why were the people in verse 11 not given the right to be adopted? Was it because they had not been regenerated? No, it was because they did not receive Christ. In verse 12 John gives God’s condition for adoption: receiving Christ and believing in His name. The obvious flow of the passage is (1) Receiving Christ and believing in His name. (2) God’s granting the right to become His children/to be born of God. According to John, the new birth is the result of faith/belief – not its cause.

4.2.1.2. (Eph 2:1-8; Col 2:13-14) = In regard to the phrases “having forgiven” and “by cancelling”, Dr. Paul Rainbow writes, “The past (aorist) participles (which make up these two phrases) indicate that forgiveness and cancellation precede [or come before] the making alive [regeneration/new birth]…”[6] And since, such forgiveness or cancellation of sin’s debt requires repentance and faith, what must then be concluded, is that these acts also precede (or again, come before) the new birth. Paul therefore also believed regeneration to be the result (not the cause) of repentance and faith.

4.2.1.3. (Act 2:38) = Like John and Paul, Peter also taught repentance and faith as coming before regeneration/new birth given: 1) his reference to baptism is a reference to faith (since baptism is the place where we exercise saving faith in God, 1Pe 3:21 = baptism saves b/c it is the God-ordained place to “appeal to God for a good conscience” – i.e. the place where God accepts our faith), 2) his reference to receiving the Holy Spirit is a reference to regeneration/new birth (since these two events happen at the time of baptism – Tit 3:5).

4.2.2. Many of those God calls by His grace – i.e. offers salvation to through the preaching of His gospel message (the biblical understanding of election), resist and continue in their unbelief and rebellion (thus rejecting also the opportunity to be born again/regenerated) .

Jesus teaches that this wb the case w/the majority of those that God graciously offers His saving benefits to (Mat 22:1-6) = This portion of the parable is directed at the Jews, who had received the gospel message and God’s gracious call/offer of salvation through the exhaustive and comprehensive preaching of Jesus and His disciples in the land of Israel during His earthly ministry. The majority however rejected it. They were “invited to the wedding…but they would not come…they paid no attention” (3, 5). “Many (were) called, but few (were) chosen” (14). Some even killed God’s messengers (6). Hence the reason for Jesus’ harsh (yet prophetic) words in (7).[7] Similar words are spoken by Stephen and Paul (Act 7:51-52; Rom 10:18-21). Important in this respect are Luke’s words in (Luk 7:28-30) “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” = God’s intention in sending John the Baptist and Jesus to the Jews was their election to salvation. However, His grace was strongly resisted. Though these examples are all in relation to the Jews, the point (nonetheless) is made. God’s grace (or gracious attempts to save people) can be resisted.

4.2.3. Our spiritual birth/regeneration is a great help, but it does not guarantee that we will live for God.

The purpose of the new birth/our regeneration/receiving of the Holy Spirit is to empower God’s people in living holy/obedient lives to Him. It is the fulfillment of (Eze 36:25-27). The flesh once weakened by sin, has now been given the aid of God’s presence in our hearts motivating us to do those things which are pleasing to Him, to say “no” to those things that don’t and to gain the glory of our Savior (Phi 2:12-13; Tit 3:5 w/2:12; 2Th 2:13-14; Rom 8:3-4). Such help however does not guarantee that we will live for God. We can resist the Holy Spirit by disobeying His leadership and suppressing His power (Eph 4:17-30 = The fact that Paul commands us “not to grieve the Holy Spirit” must mean it is something we can do. IOW: Christians can resist God’s continuing grace in their lives). Hence the reason Paul can warn Christians “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2Co 6:1; see also Heb 12:15).

4.2.4. Many of those who receive God’s grace or gospel call (by repentance and faith), are regenerated or born again and become identified as “the elect” or Christians, will later resist God’s continuing grace – even reject it and permanently fall away.

According to Jesus, many of those who become Christians (and are therefore identified as “the elect” or God’s people), will later resist – even reject God’s continuing grace and fall away in apostasy (Mat 13:18-23) = Three of the individuals represented in Jesus’ kingdom parable receive the gospel and become Christians/followers of God. However only one (the person identified as the “good soil”) produces lasting fruit – or continues to follow God for the rest of their life. Due to the various cares/problems/temptations of this world, the other two fall away or are choked out, meaning they apostasize or have permanently forfeited their birthright/righteous standing w/God and its salvation. From Jesus’ perspective then, the majority of those who become Christians (2/3 or 66% based on the parable) will not end up making it to heaven. God’s continuing grace to them wb resisted. That this indeed Jesus’ perspective is confirmed multiple times in His later teaching (Mat 21:42-43, 45 w/Act 4:11 – “the builders” = The Jews, God’s elect people, the builders/recipients of His kingdom, those who have rec’d His initial grace and come into covenant relationship w/Him – b/c of their “rejection” of Jesus or resistance to God’s grace thru Him wb [likewise] rejected and the kingdom given to others. This group represented the majority of the Jews in Jesus’ day; Matt 22:8-14 = Even though many others wb invited and received into the wedding w/Jesus only a few will remain [or possess the wedding garments – see Rev 19:8 = the wedding garment is our righteous deeds/faithfulness]; Mat 24:3, 9-13; Consider also Deu 31:16-17).

CLOSING CONTEMPLATION/CHALLENGE = God’s initial and continuing grace in salvation is RESISTABLE. The responsibility is therefore on us to make sure we are NOT living in such a way that this would happen (i.e. grieving the Holy Spirit). What things are you doing to make sure you are not blocking God’s grace from transforming your life and preparing you for heaven? (Heb 3:12-13; 12:1; 1Co 9:23-27; 2Co 10:5; Rom 12:2-3).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary). My growth in understanding the Scripture during this time has led me to now reject all five points. Theologians/pastors changing their theology as a result of such growth and understanding is not uncommon (e.g. Augustine’s Retractions) Commenting on Augustine’s published changes, John MacArthur writes, “Near the end of his life, Augustine of Hippo meticulously reviewed everything he had ever published. He wrote an entire catalogue of his own works, a painstakingly annotated bibliography with hundreds of revisions and amendments to correct flaws he saw in his own earlier material. The book, titled Retractationes, is powerful evidence of Augustine’s humility and zeal for truth. Not one of his earlier publications escaped the more mature theologian’s scrutiny. And Augustine was as bold in recanting the errors he perceived in his own work as he had been in refuting the heresies of his theological adversaries. Because he reviewed his works in chronological order, Retractationes is a wonderful memoir of Augustine’s relentless, lifelong pursuit of spiritual maturity and theological precision. His forthrightness in addressing his own shortcomings is a good example of why Augustine is esteemed as a rare model of both godliness and scholarship.” In other words, corrections sb expected where there is growth not only in understanding (the virtue in scholarship) but what it truly looks like to say that you care more about God being right – or looking good, than you do yourself (the essence of godliness).

[4] “The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede their conscious decisions [i.e. criminals], reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill); “By losing free-will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance…” Jerry Coyne (Why We Really Don’t Have Free-Will); “When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers…when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at (a man) when he beats his car.” – Richard Dawkins (Let’s All Stop Beating Basil’s Car).

[5] “He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine

[6] Paul Rainbow, The Way of Salvation, p.235

[7] A reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and many Jews in the Jewish-Roman war of 70 A.D. Jesus expands His teaching on this event – including the killing of God’s messengers in His continuing condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders (Mat 23:29 – 24:34).

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 6

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study has been to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3]. Why this study should matter to you: 1) It demonstrates God’s continuing protection of us (the denial of free-will and justice espoused by the determinism of the atheist evolutionists is the theology and resulting consequence of Calvinism also known as theistic determinism = God is the cause of all things as all things [comprehensively/exhaustively] including our actions have been pre-determined by Him. Free-will/self-determinism is not an mystery but an illusion. Human beings are robot-victims that wb punished as though their actions were self-determined [versus pre-determined/pre-programmed]. Theistic determinism [and its monergistic view of salvation] are said to give God the most glory [?][robot worship versus real worship; e.g. a king whose people praise him b/c they choose to versus a king whose people praise him b/c they are forced to])[4], 2) It demonstrates growth in our understanding of God’s Word and therefore also His continual leading of us as His disciples (Christianity is Judaism 2.0 whereas Calvinism/Protestant Reformation is Roman Catholicism 2.0), 3) It demonstrates our trust/commitment to God’s Word as the only sacred cow.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands. God must give repentance and faith to us and produce faithfulness for us (thru His work in us – i.e. regeneration/new birth)

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY = Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8; Joh 9:41). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom – even Augustine, the coveted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers)[5].

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION = God brings about conversion in those He chooses to save by changing their will – against their will, (causing them to repent, have faith and produce faithfulness). Since this choice was before Creation, (and human beings possess no ability to repent, have faith or produce faithfulness on their own), it is based on nothing they or anyone else did to afford such favor. Without this pre-creation election by God, you have no chance of ever coming to Christ and being saved. Those however who are chosen, are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven.

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

SEEKER SALVATION = Though the Bible does teach election, it does NOT teach that God chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation before Creation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. Rather the Scriptures teach that God’s election/choice as to who will receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of people. Furthermore, God has obligated Himself to all who diligently and genuinely seek Him and His righteousness promising that they will not only find Him, but be elected/chosen to receive His offer of salvation thru covenant relationship w/His Son. Those who obey God’s gospel call will be identified as His elect/chosen and those inheriting the blessing of salvation. Such designation however requires that such individuals continue in faithful obedience for the rest of their life. Otherwise such prior election – or identity as the elect, will be forfeited. (Gen 6:5-9, 11-13 w/18a; Gen 6:22 w/7:1; Gen 6:18; 1Pe 3:20-21; Gen 15:1-21; Neh 9:8; Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/22:16-18 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 4:31, 7:6-8; Rom 11:28; Eph 1:1-11; Ezr 8:22; Isa 56:1-8; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:34-35, 13:47-48, 17:25-26; 1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; 1Co 7:14; Act 8:26-36; Act 16:6-10; Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; Isa 56:1-5; Act 10:34-35, 16:6; Joh 4:23; Rom 2:6-11; Jer 29:13; 2Pe 1:10-11; Mat 24:22, 24, 31; Luk 18:7; Rom 1:6-7, 33, 11:7; 1Co 1:24, 2:7; Col 3:12; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; 2Jo 1:1, 13; Jud 1:1; Rev 17:14; Isa 43:20-28; Joe 2:32; 1Th 1:4 w/3:5; Mat 22:1-14; Deu 7:9-12; 2Pe 1:8-11 w/3:20-22; Rom 11:20-24, 28-29). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of unconditional election (e.g. Justin Martyr, Clement, Ireneaus and Hermas).

ADDENDUM:

Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 refer to Christ’s plan and an ancient book not names of people.

Two additional texts considered by Calvinists to support their view of election (as God’s unconditional choice of people before they existed) are found in (Rev 13:8 and 17:8). Each seem to say that before Creation, people were written (or not written) into God’s “book of life” – which according to (Rev 22:15), determines who ends up in heaven and who is “thrown into the lake of fire” (i.e. hell). Upon further analysis however, what comes to light is that the author’s (the apostle John’s) reference to time is actually in relation to Christ’s redemptive plan and the book itself – not people:

1) (Rev 13:8) οὐ γέγραπται (was not written) τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ (the name of them) ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τῆς ζωῆς (in the book of life) τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου (of the slain lamb) ἀπὸ (from; same as 17:8) καταβολῆς κόσμου (the foundation of the world)[6]. = Based on the original sentence structure, what is “from the foundation of the world” is Jesus (the “slain lamb”), not the names of people (those missing from God’s salvific ledger) (since what is closest is what is most likely being modified). As such, this text is not saying that God chose (or in this case, did not choose) certain people to be saved, before Creation – or irrespective of what they would do once they existed. It is instead communicating something very important about Jesus, that He existed (from the beginning), and that His death as the means to saving and placing people in God’s book of life was planned before anything had yet taken place (1Pe 1:17-20).

2) (Rev 17:8) ὧν (whose) οὐ γέγραπται (was not written) τὸ ὄνομα (the name) ἐπὶ (in) τὸ βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς (the book of life) ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (from the foundation of the world). = Again, what is being modified by the prepositional phrase, “from the foundation of the world” is not the names of people. It is instead “the book of life”. Notice again the sentence structure – what is closest is what is most likely being modified. This ancient book is where God has (from the beginning/”foundation of the world”) been writing down the names of those who were appropriately responding to His gospel call and commands as the record which (along w/our deeds) will be reviewed on Judgment Day (Rev 20:12). As further support, consider the fact that Scripture elsewhere speaks of names being added or blotted out (Exo 32:32-33; Deu 29:20; Rev 3:5 w/Act 5:14, 11:24 – “added to the Lord”= This phrase can mean nothing other than added to God’s book of life given the previous correlation between Jesus confessing His relationship w/a person and their place in this book – i.e. if He is confessing you it is b/c you were added or remain in the book versus being blotted out). These actions of adding and blotting out only make sense if God’s election is conditional and taking place in real-time (versus before time/Creation). In other words, God’s work of inserting them in – or taking people out of His book, is being determined by their actions at the time of their life.

LIMITED ATONEMENT

3.1. What the doctrine teaches: Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those who God has unconditionally guaranteed will end up in heaven (the Calvinist understanding of the elect). Christ’s redemptive work is therefore not only perfectly sufficient, effective for those to whom it is applied, but also perfectly efficient (none was wasted) on those to whom it is applied.

3.2. The problem with this doctrine: Though the Bible teaches that Christ’s atoning sacrifice or death was not for all people who have or will ever exist, but limited to specific people, those people are not determined based on whether they end up in heaven. Additionally, though Christ’s redemptive work is perfectly sufficient and effective for those to whom it is applied, it is not perfectly efficient. Much of His work is wasted on those to whom it is applied.

3.2.1. Christ’s atoning death was for the Church.

(Eph 5:25 – “gave Himself up for her”) = Jesus’ sacrificial death was for the one He loved, the church. Paul communicates the same thing to the Ephesian elders as the reason they were “pay careful attention to …all of the flock” and “care for the church” (Act 20:28 –“obtained with His own blood”) = The church was the object – or people redeemed through Christ’s cross-work. Who then are the church? Those who have become its members (or “flock”) through baptism (Act 2:41) = Baptism is how people are “added” to the church (or as discussed previously, to the Lord’s book of life)[7]. Baptism is also where Christ’s blood is initially applied to our lives (Rom 6:3) = To say that we “were baptized into His death” is the equivalent of saying that we have bathed in His blood (See Act 22:16 w/Eph 1:7 and 1Jo 1:7) That Jesus’ sacrifice (or blood) was for the Church is equally supported by the other sacrament given to the Church, the Lord’s Table. Through it we continue to apply Christ’s blood to our lives (Mat 26:28 – “for the forgiveness of sins” w/Jesus’ instruction before the Table, Joh 13:1-10 = The purpose of the Table is to continue the cleansing by His blood that we initially bathed in at our baptism). So then, those for whom Christ died (and where His blood is applied) are those (specific) people the Bible identifies as the Church.

3.2.2. Paul’s use of the term (“flock”) in reference to the church (in Act 20:28) means that we have also de-bunked those key texts used by the Calvinists to support this doctrine (Limited Atonement):

Those texts are: 1) (Joh 10:11 and 15 – “my sheep”, 2) (Mat 1:21 – “die for the sins of His people w/Psa 95:7…we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand”).

3.2.3. Though those in the Church are the elect, these individuals can – as previously discussed – fall away, not only forfeiting their membership (in the Church) and identity (as the elect), but also causing Christ’s blood to be wasted.

Hence the reason, the writer of Hebrews can speak of such individuals as deserving a “worse punishment” come Judgment Day and those who have “outraged the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:26-29) = The apostasy warned against has as its central offense, the damage done to the “blood of the covenant” (meaning the blood of Christ). That which (once) perfectly “sanctified” (i.e. cleansed of sin and justified) these individuals, has now – because of their willful or unrepentant rebellion, been “profaned”. IOW: it has been wasted. And according to Jesus, the number representing those individuals is more than those who remain faithful (Mat 22:14, 24:10).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

[4] “The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede their conscious decisions [i.e. criminals], reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill); “By losing free-will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance…” Jerry Coyne (Why We Really Don’t Have Free-Will); “When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers…when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at (a man) when he beats his car.” – Richard Dawkins (Let’s All Stop Beating Basil’s Car).

[5] “He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine

[6] This is the sentence structure in both the Majority Text and Textus Receptus compilations of NT Greek manuscripts. The phrase, “from the foundation of the world” is at the end versus in the middle of the sentence. The KJV and others keep it according to the original, whereas the NAS and ESV change the place of the prepositional phrase (I wonder why?). Giving some credit back to the NAS, they do (at least) provide a footnote indicating their change from the original.

[7] That this verse is indeed referring to the church as the place where people are being added is confirmed by the rest of the book where this same group is identified as “the church” (e.g. Act 5:11, 8:1, 3) or “the church in Jerusalem” (Act 11:22).

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 5

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study has been to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3].

Why this study should matter to you: 1) It demonstrates God’s continuing protection of us (the denial of free-will and justice espoused by the determinism of the atheist evolutionists is the theology and resulting consequence of Calvinism also known as theistic determinism)[4], 2) It demonstrates growth in our understanding of God’s Word and therefore also His continual leading of us as His disciples (Christianity is Judaism 2.0 whereas Calvinism is Roman Catholicism 2.0), 3) It demonstrates our trust in God’s Word as our firm foundation and only sacred cow – not our theology (Mat 7:24-27).

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands. God must give repentance and faith to us and produce faithfulness for us (thru His work in us – i.e. regeneration/new birth)

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY = Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8; Joh 9:41). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom – even Augustine, the coveted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers)[5].

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

2.1. What the doctrine teaches:

Before God created the universe, He chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation based/conditioned upon nothing He saw or knew about those individuals as to their moral value or potential or because He possessed some prior obligation to them, but instead based solely on His free choice and sovereign grace. As part of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation, He also determined to provide those individuals with the necessary repentance, faith and faithfulness thus eliminating the obstacle created by the prior doctrine of Total Depravity (inability to repent, believe and faithfully obey) and guaranteeing their future residence into heaven.

2.2. The problem with this doctrine:

Though the Bible does teach election, it does NOT teach that God chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation before Creation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. In stark contrast, the picture painted by God’ Word reveals the following to be the true doctrine of election:

2.2.1. God election is always based/condition upon the behavior He saw in someone. [DISCUSSED]

God’s election/choice as to who will receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of that individual or the actions of someone else God designates to be their federal head (i.e. personal representative). For example: Noah, Abe, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, the New Covenant church, our personal election or the election of children born to the saints (Gen 6:5 – 9, 11-13 w/18a; Gen 6:22 w/7:1; Gen 6:18; 1Pe 3:20-21; Gen 15:1-21; Neh 9:8; Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/22:16-18 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 4:31, 7:6-8; Rom 11:28; Eph 1:1-11; Ezr 8:22; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:34-35, 13:47-48; 1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; 1Co 7:14; e.g. Act 8:26-36; Act 16:6-10; See also Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; Isa 56:1-5).

2.2.2. God’s foreknowledge is also a reference to someone’s behavior as the condition of their election. [DISCUSSED]

2.2.3. John 1:13 teaches the condition of spiritual birth to be identified as the elect.[DISCUSSED]

2.2.4. Romans 9 and 11 teaches that the only time God’s election is unconditional is when it concerns those not seeking Him.

At the end of the previous chapter (chapter 8), Paul makes it clear that those who have received God’s love in Christ (or thru putting faith in Christ and coming into a saving, justified state w/God) cannot be separated from that covenant relationship by external means (8:38-39). This then prompts (in Paul’s mind) the question of Israel, whose majority – b/c of their rebellion, were further “hardened” – or pushed deeper into the depths of their self-inflicted blindness so as not to recognize or receive Jesus and instead become those separated (or excommunicated) from God’s love (or covenant of salvation) (Rom 11:7-10; 1Co 2:8 w/Mat 13:10-15 w/Isa 6:9-10). What about them? His answer: though God has obligated Himself to extend the offer of salvation to all who are diligently and genuinely seeking Him and His righteousness (Act 10:34-35, 16:6; Joh 4:23; Rom 2:6-11; Jer 29:13), the same is not true in relation to those not seeking – or who have rejected Him – including Israel, those who had received God’s salvific blessings in the past (Rom 9:1-5). In respect to these individuals, God had no obligation. Any mercy therefore that got extended to them (in terms of the offer of salvation) wb completely up to God’s free, optional (or unconditioned) choice. Just as it was in the case of choosing which brother would serve the other (Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau), so God (in relation to those who were in rebellion/rejecting Him), had the right to decide who would receive mercy and who wb hardened (Rom 9:7-18; see also Jer 18:1-10). In this Paul asserts no failure on the part of God’s past promises (regarding Abe’s descendants or Israel’s deliverance through the coming Messiah and New Covenant) since such promises were meant only for that Israel (or those descendants) who continued to receive God’s favor. Likewise, there was also no injustice on the part of God, since His choice to refuse mercy to the majority of Israel came after incredible patience (waiting for their repentance) and the decision to spare some so as to preserve Israel’s hopes in the future (Rom 9:6, 19-29, 11:1-29). God’s election as taught in Romans chapter 9 is therefore not attempting to deny the very conditional nature of God’s election (as demonstrated throughout redemptive history,) but rather what His obligation is toward those who do not meet those conditions, which (as Paul once more makes clear) is nothing. In such cases, He possesses no obligation, but rather can freely (or unconditionally) choose whether to have mercy on those individuals or harden them in their already rebellious state. Hence the reason Paul can call God’s choice to extend mercy to those who in the past who rebelled, “grace” that is “no longer on the basis of works” (Rom 11:5-6).

2.2.5. Election refers to the calling of God not our conversion to Christ.

Calvinists’ view God’s work in election as conversion (i.e. choosing to change the state of an individual from unsaved to saved, pagan to Christian) versus what the Bible actually teaches, which is (as) calling (i.e. choosing to extend the offer of salvation thru the preaching of God’s gospel – Rom 10:8-15). Hence the reason Peter can use the two terms (election and calling) synonymously and admonish Christians to pursue lives that will make “sure” their original offer does not prove in vain (2Pe 1:10-11; For similar instruction see Phi 2:16; Heb 12:15; For synonymous usage of calling and election see also Rom 9:11). It sb noted that the only time election is associated w/conversion is when referring to those who have responded appropriately to God’s electing call (by faith in Christ). They are identified as “the elect” or “the called” or “the chosen” (e.g. Mat 24:22, 24, 31; Luk 18:7; Rom 1:6-7, 33, 11:7; 1Co 1:24, 2:7; Col 3:12; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; 2Jo 1:1, 13; Jud 1:1; Rev 17:14; even Isa 43:20-28; for a combination of these two ideas see Joe 2:32).

2.2.6. Election does not guarantee (final) salvation since the elect or chosen (i.e. those who have responded appropriately to God’s electing call by faith in Christ) can (and many do) go apostate and to Hell.

Not maintaining what the elect/chosen have gained (by faith) thru faithful, enduring obedience will mean missing heaven (just like the pagan) -only w/worse consequences (1Th 1:4 w/3:5; Mat 22:1-14; Deu 7:9-12; 2Pe 1:8-11 w/3:20-22; Rom 11:20-24, 28-29).

2.3. Historical support:

2.3.1. Justin Martyr : Christian apologist (100-165 A.D.) “God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall certainly be punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably (wicked), but not because God created them so. But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made… We do not affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. and this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both (virtue and vice).”

2.3.2. Clement: bishop of Alexandria (150-200 A.D.) “Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn that from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn to him.”

2.3.3. Ireneaus: bishop of Lyon (130-200 A.D.) “If, therefore, in the present time also, God, knowing the number of those who will not believe—since he foreknows everything—has given them over to unbelief and turned his face away from men of this kind, leaving them in the darkness which they have themselves chosen for themselves, then why would it be amazing if he also, in that time, gave Pharaoh—who would never have believed—along with those who were with him, over to their unbelief? As the Word said to Moses from the bush, “I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go except by a mighty hand.”

2.3.4. Hermas: author of the Shepherd of Hermas (140-160 A.D.) “To those whose heart he saw would become pure and obedient to him, he gave power to repent with the whole heart. But to those whose deceit and wickedness he perceived, and saw that they intended to repent hypocritically, he did not grant repentance, lest they should again profane His name.”

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

[4] “The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede [the criminal’s] conscious decisions, reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill); “By losing free-will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance…” Jerry Coyne (Why We Really Don’t Have Free-Will); “When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers…when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at (a man) when he beats his car [when it breaks down].” – Richard Dawkins (Let’s All Stop Beating Basil’s Car).

[5] “He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 4

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study wb to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3].

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands. God must give repentance and faith to us and produce faithfulness for us (thru His work in us – i.e. regeneration/new birth)

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY

Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom – even Augustine, the coveted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers)[4].

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

2.1. What the doctrine teaches:

Before God created the universe, He chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation based/conditioned upon nothing He saw or knew about those individuals as to their moral value or potential or because He possessed some prior obligation to them, but instead based solely on His free choice and sovereign grace. As part of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation, He also determined to provide those individuals with the necessary repentance, faith and faithfulness thus eliminating the obstacle created by the prior doctrine of Total Depravity (inability to repent, believe and faithfully obey) and guaranteeing their future residence into heaven.

2.2. The problem with this doctrine:

The Bible does NOT teach that God – before creating the universe, chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. In stark contrast, the picture painted by God’ Word reveals the following to be the true doctrine of election:

2.2.1. God election is always based/condition upon the behavior He saw in someone.

God’s election/choice as to who will receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of that individual or the actions of someone else God designates to be their federal head (i.e. personal representative).

For example:

2.2.1.1. God’s election of Noah was conditioned upon the righteous behavior He witnessed in Noah

(Gen 6:5 – 9, 11-13 w/18a; Gen 6:22 w/7:1).

2.2.1.2. God’s election of Noah’s household was also conditioned upon the righteous behavior of Noah (Gen 6:18; 1Pe 3:20-21). 2.2.1.3. God’s election of Abe was conditioned upon the righteous behavior He witnessed in Abe (Gen 15:1-21; See also Neh 9:8).

2.2.1.4. Isaac/Jacob/Israel’s elections were also conditioned upon Abe (Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/22:16-18 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 4:31, 7:6-8; Rom 11:28).

2.2.1.5. The election to salvation of New Covenant saints or the Church – most especially Gentiles, is conditioned upon the righteous behavior of Christ (Eph 1:1-11).

2.2.1.6. God’s election (personally/individually) was conditioned upon either our parents’ or our own behavior (Ezr 8:22; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:34-35, 13:47-48; 1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; 1Co 7:14; e.g. Act 8:26-36; Act 16:6-10; See also Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; Isa 56:1-5).

2.2.2. God’s foreknowledge is also a reference to someone’s behavior as the condition of their election.

A popular argument w/in Calvinist circles is that the Greek word (προγινώσκω) translated as “foreknew” in (Rom 8:29) refers to God’s prior choice/election of individuals to salvation (meaning before their actions – or even existence, and therefore unconditional) rather than what that word would normally indicate (as demonstrated elsewhere in the New Testament), which is prior knowledge (Act 26:5; 1Pe 1:20; 2Pe 3:17). This however is its meaning in this text as well. It refers to God’s prior knowledge as to our behavior as the basis (or condition) of God’s choice/election. This interpretation not only fits nicely w/the immediate context or Paul’s conversation on God’s guidance and purpose for His elect, but is confirmed when the word is used again in the final chapter of this discussion in chapter 11 (See Rom 11:1-4) = Those God chooses/elects to be the remnant are those who demonstrate acts of faithfulness as it was in the time of Elijah (1Ki 19:10 w/18).

2.2.3. John 1:13 teaches the condition of spiritual birth to be identified as the elect.

Though often used to support unconditional election, the context surrounding these verses reveal them to be teaching the opposite. (Joh 1:11-13) = Those that God now chooses to become His children or elect, is no longer based (or conditioned) upon bloodline (i.e. you are a Jew – v11), nor the fact that such individuals had received the old covenant signs in their flesh (what he means by “the will of the flesh” – Gen 17:11-13). Such privilege has been removed due to the Jews rejection of Jesus (again v11). Becoming “the children of God” is instead the “right” given by God “to all who did receive Him” (i.e. Christ), to those “who believed in His name.” IOW: The new condition for becoming one of God’s elect sons or daughters is spiritual birth (being “born…of God”) through belief in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (Joh 3:1-16). This condition also eliminates the idea that people can be saved simply b/c they desire to be (what Paul means by “the will of man”).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

[4] “He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 3

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study wb to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3].

TOTAL DEPRAVITY = We are completely unable to repent, believe in Christ and be faithful to God’s commands. God must give repentance and faith to us and produce faithfulness for us (thru His work in us – i.e. regeneration/new birth)

What the Bible actually teaches/reveals:

MORAL ABILITY

Though sin has severely affected us, it has not stripped us of our morality – or moral ability before God and others. We can – and therefore are expected to – repent of our sin, respond in faith to the gospel of Christ and live faithfully to God’s commands. Countless texts in the Scripture make clear that mankind’s will is still free enough to establish both his culpability and God’s right to judge him when he fails (we are “w/o excuse” – e.g. Rom 1:18-21 w/2:2, 3:1-8). Equally evident from the Bible, is God’s genuine displeasure when people continue in their rebellion and His desire to see them turn and follow Him (Eze 18:23, 33:11; Deu 30:19-20; Rom 2:4; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9). Both attributes equally imply our ability to repent, believe and be faithful to His commands. Finally, God confirms this ability by explicitly stating that we can obey His commands (Deu 30:11-14). As additional support, the early church rejected the thinking promoted by the doctrine of total depravity (e.g. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Melito, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom).

“Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.” – Clement of Alexandria

“He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine (adopted saint of the Calvinistic Reformers).

“Given Calvinism’s long and formative influence on the western world, it would be both irrational and irresponsible not to assume there is a strong causal connection between the doctrine of Total Depravity (or more accurately, “Total Inability”) and the victim mentality so prevalent today. The self-destruction created by these false inabilities are the direct opposite of (and therefore stand opposed to) God’s justice since through its practice (justice), mankind’s ability is acknowledged and empowered. ” – My (RSJ) opinion

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

2.1. What the doctrine teaches:

Before God created the universe, He chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation based/conditioned upon nothing He saw or knew about those individuals as to their moral value or potential or because He possessed some prior obligation to them, but instead based solely on His free choice and sovereign grace. As part of God’s unconditional election of some to salvation, He also determined to provide those individuals with the necessary repentance, faith and faithfulness thus eliminating the obstacle created by the prior doctrine of Total Depravity (inability to repent, believe and faithfully obey) and guaranteeing their future residence into heaven.

2.2. The problem with this doctrine:

The Bible does NOT teach that God – before creating the universe, chose/elected specific persons to be the recipients of His salvation. Nor do the Scriptures teach that such election is unconditional – or that once saved, they are guaranteed to one day reside in heaven. In stark contrast, the picture painted by God’ Word reveals the following to be the true doctrine of election:

2.2.1. God election is always based/condition upon the behavior He saw in someone.

God’s election/choice as to who will receive salvation is instead always based/conditioned on the past/present actions of that individual or the actions of someone else God designates to be their federal head (i.e. personal representative).

For example:

2.2.1.1. God’s election of Noah was conditioned upon the righteous behavior He witnessed in Noah.

(Gen 6:5 – 9, 11-13 w/18a) = God’s election/choice to extend “favor” or “establish covenant” – i.e. to save Noah from His coming judgment against sin was due to/conditioned upon the fact that Noah was a “righteous man, blameless in his generation”, a man who “walked with God” and “did all that God commanded him.” Should there be any doubt to the conditional nature of the previous statements, the last verse of chapter 6 and first of chapter seven make it abundantly clear (Gen 6:22 w/7:1 – “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.”)[4].

2.2.1.2. God’s election of Noah’s household was also conditioned upon the righteous behavior of Noah.

The fact that God chose to save (from the coming flood) not only Noah but his entire household implies that they (too) benefited from Noah’s righteous behavior. IOW: that they were included in the covenant God made w/Noah. It sb noted that the term “ark” used to refer to the boat built by Noah is the same word used when speaking of the ark of the covenant – the place where the Book of the Covenant resided and where the sacrifice for atonement was made. Additionally, the ark was carried into battle ensuring the Israelites’ success. It represented the place of God’s saving power. To be in the presence of one of God’s arks meant you were in the place of salvation – i.e. that you existed in a saving covenant relationship w/Him. Hence the reason God’s instruction to take Noah’s family into the ark (and through it save them from the flood) immediately follows His words regarding the covenant (see again Gen 6:18 = coming into covenant w/God is what gave them access to His ark of salvation). For further support in regard to viewing Noah’s ark as a soteriological sign – or symbol of saving covenant relationship see (1Pe 3:20-21) = Like Noah’s family who were saved thru the waters by the ark which rose above their deathly threat, we too are saved thru the waters by the archetype [literally, ark-type] of Jesus who also rose above/from death. That God makes His salvation available to others in the household when its head (or federal head – i.e. father/husband or parent – 1Co 7:14) is righteous is the consistent practice of Scripture. From a theological perspective, this is sometimes referred to as “household” or “corporate election.”(tbdf)

2.2.1.3. God’s election of Abraham was conditioned upon the righteous behavior He witnessed in Abraham.

(Gen 15:1-21) = Abram’s righteous behavior here – as well as in the previous chapters (e.g. Gen 12:1-4) become the basis (or condition) for God’s decision to enter into a saving (covenant) relationship w/him (See Neh 9:8)[5].

2.2.1.4. Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel’s elections to salvation were all conditioned upon the righteous behavior of Abraham.

(Gen 17:1-8 w/21 w/26:1-5 w/28:10-15 w/Deu 7:6-8) = God’s election to salvation of the patriarchs (Isaac and Jacob) along w/the twelve tribes (making up the one nation of Israel) were all conditioned upon God’s original promise to Abraham.

2.2.1.5. The election to salvation of New Covenant saints or the Church – most especially Gentiles, is conditioned upon the righteous behavior of Christ.

(Eph 1:1-11) = The “us” and “we” mentioned in these verses refers to the “saints who are in Ephesus” – or more broadly speaking, all those a part of the New Covenant community or the church – including Gentiles – those (as Paul says in 2:11-12, were once “far from the covenants and promises of God” and “without hope”). As such, they are also who Paul is referring to when speaking of God’s predestination (or choosing before “the foundation of the world”). Not specific persons, but a specific group of people or community. It is again, the saints or New Covenant Church, people whose election to salvation was not baseless but rather conditioned upon the righteous behavior and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Hence the reason all such references to predestination or “prior-to-Creation” choosing are qualified w/ the preposition, “in Him” or “through Jesus Christ”. Which means that what is said about predestination has more to do with what was pre-planned concerning Him – not us. IOW: our eventual existence as the people of God was only b/c of what could be made certain before it all began – that Jesus would one day come into the world and establish not only perfect redemption/true atonement for sin, but a covenant through which all peoples of the world could be saved.

2.2.1.6. God’s election (personally/individually) was conditioned upon either our parents’ or our own behavior.

(Ezr 8:22; Rom 2:6-8; Act 10:35, 13:47-48) = These passages do not teach that God’s decision to choose /elect us (specifically) for salvation was based on nothing in us, but rather that our actions – or those of our federal head (i.e. our parents) afforded us this gracious invitation. IOW: though rebels, God saw that we were desiring/seeking to change things in the direction of righteousness – or that our parents were already in covenant relationship w/Him. And as a result of those things, orchestrated the means necessary to hearing the gospel and coming into a saving relationship w/Him (1Ti 1:12-13; Act 2:39 w/Gen 17:7-13; again 1Co 7:14). No doubt this is the reason God told Philip to go south to Gaza to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch (Act 8:26-36) = The condition prompting God to send Philip to this man’s chariot sb obvious. He was seeking to “worship” God – even attempting to understand His Word! To see this account any other way (i.e. God’s choice of the Eunuch was not conditioned upon his behavior) requires deliberately (or very ignorantly) ignoring a substantial amount of evidence pointing in the opposite direction. In this light consider also (Act 18:5-10) = God told Paul to continue preaching in Corinth b/c there were “many people” there that were ready to turn from their sins/seeking righteous that God therefore had chosen to hear receive the gospel message and be saved. The fact that Paul ends up in Corinth (or Macedonia) is itself, testimony to God’s conditional nature regarding election (Act 16:6-10) = Paul was directed away from his original mission to Asia and told to go to Macedonia. Such change of plans begs a reason on the part of God. Something related to the people in both of those regions and the success Paul would have in attempting to preach the gospel to one versus the other. In this case, it was the Macedonians who would prove to be his best missionary bet. God saw the hearts of the people in Macedonia were ripe for turning from their sins (remember the vision of the man pleading that someone come?) whereas in Asia, they were not. This kind of decision-making as to where or w/whom to share the gospel was at the heart of Jesus’ missiology – including His teaching regarding the Father instruction to His disciples (Joh 4:23; Mat 9:37-38, 10:12-14; see also Isa 56:1-5).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ position and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

[4] That the kind of covenant God established w/Noah was salvific or referring to eternal salvation is attested to God’s preparation and appointment of him to the priestly act of making burnt offerings (Gen 7:2-3 w/8:20-21).

[5] Jewish tradition equally taught that Abraham was a man exhibiting righteous behavior prior to God’s extension of grace (or offer of salvation), “Abraham, endowed with great sagacity, with a higher knowledge of God and greater virtues than all the rest, was determined to change the erroneous opinions of men. He was the first who had the courage to proclaim God as the sole Creator of the universe, to whose will all the heavenly bodies are subject, for they by their motions show their dependence on Him. His opposition to astrology provoked the wrath of the Chaldeans, and he had to leave their country and go to Canaan. Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him when he says thus – ‘In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great and skillful in celestial science.” – Josephus (“Antiquities”). Abraham’s revolt against Chaldean idolatry is also spoken of in Philo (“On Abraham”).

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 2

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study wb to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3].

TOTAL DEPRAVITY (AS INABILITY)

1.1. What this doctrine teaches = Because the Bible teaches that we are not only born and enslaved to sin; but also that every aspect of our nature/person (spirit, mind, will and body) has been corrupted by sin, we are completely UNABLE to exercise faith in Christ or faithfully obey God. Our wills are not free to make such choices or commitments, but rather bound against them. For a person, therefore, to turn from their sin and be saved requires divine intervention. God must graciously grant them the necessary faith and faithfulness through regeneration – or causing them to be born again. Speaking of its importance to the Reformation, John Piper states, “The issue of man’s bondage to sin and his moral inability to believe or be holy was the root issue of the Reformation — and the lynchpin of Protestantism.”

1.2. The problem w/this doctrine: Though the Bible teaches that we are not only born and enslaved to sin; but also that every aspect of our nature/person (spirit, mind, will and body) has been corrupted by sin, it does NOT teach that such depravity has, therefore, made us completely unable to repent, believe or be faithful. Understanding God’s Word within it given context, reveals mankind to possess a disability (b/c of his sin) but not an inability. In other words, people – though disabled (hampered or hindered) by sin can still make the choice to turn and follow God – or exercise faith in Christ, and commit themselves in faithful (not perfect) obedience to His commands. SUPPORT:

1.2.1. Human culpability requires the ability to repent, believe and be faithful.

If mankind did not have the ability to follow God then neither can they be deemed culpable (blameworthy/responsible) for their actions. They are instead victims. Yet the Scripture never views anyone in this light. The terms used to describe the wicked as well as the righteous infer culpability for our moral choices that is based on our ability (e.g. Gen 6:5-7; Rom 1:18-21; Rom 10:17-21; Deu 30:11-14 w/Rom 10:6-12).

1.2.2. Justice assumes those being judged have the ability to repent, believe and be faithful.

The biblical basis of all justice – most especially, the punishing and identification of individuals as guilty, is the assumption that all human beings possess moral ability. Hence the reason no one is ever excluded/excused from the consequences of disobeying God’s Law (Num 15:15-16; Lev 24:22). God’s prescribed jurisprudence is also a reflection of His own (and it too assumes ability).

1.2.3. An inability to repent, believe and be faithful would mean that any praise given to the faithful is not genuine.

If God is the One doing all the work in those who have faith and are faithful, then any praise given to those persons is not only unwarranted but disingenuous (e.g. Gen 6:7, 22:12; Mat 25:21-23, 31-40; Rev 3:4).

1.2.4. An inability to repent, believe and be faithful makes final judgment a complete farce.

If – in both categories (good or bad), we possessed no ability, then what exactly is reflected by our deeds? Only that God did or didn’t do something on our behalf. Shouldn’t it then be a judgment based on His deeds? See (Mat 16:27 – “repay each person according to what he has done.”).

1.2.5. An inability to repent, believe and be faithful would mean that God’s people (even God!) are preaching to the wrong crowd.

The Bible is filled w/examples of God or His people calling people to turn from their sin and follow Him. If however the only way that can happen is through divine intervention, then shouldn’t the preaching (or pleading) be directed at God?

1.2.6. God hardening a person (pushing them further in the direction of their rebellion) implies that people have the ability to repent, believe and be faithful.

If not then what has been hardened? If people are already completely unable, what does furthering such inability accomplish? (e.g. Exo 7:13-14, 22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:7, 12, 34-35, 10:1; 1Sa 6:6; Mat 13:10-15).

1.2.7. God’s longsuffering or patience w/rebellious people also implies they have the ability to repent, believe and be faithful.

The writers of Scripture insist that God is slow to anger or patient w/the sinful or rebellious. Such longsuffering also implies that we have the ability to turn from such behavior (in repentance, belief and faithful obedience) since otherwise, what would be the point of God waiting? (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Joe 2:13; Jon 4:2; Nah 1:3; Psa 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Neh 9:17; Rom 2:4, 9:22; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9, 14-15).

1.2.8. An inability to repent, believe and be faithful would mean that God’s expressed desire to see people happy – as well as His displeasure in seeing the wicked perish, are both fake.

Without the ability to do those things that God instructs (to obediently follow the design of the universe’s Designer), then the (built -into-its-design) consequences/punishment we face/experience when we violate it (and Him) not only makes Him a twisted torturer (earth becomes the torture chamber we cannot escape), but also a cosmic faker – since God expresses great desire – even pleading that people choose the path of happiness, as well as great displeasure when they don’t and (instead) choose the path leading to death (Deu 30:11-14 w/19-20; Eze 18:23, 33:11; e.g. Gen 4:6-7).

1.2.9. Desperately wicked hearts and dead men can still repent, believe and be faithful.

(Jer 17:8-10; Eph 2:1-9) = Neither of these texts teach inability, but rather that: 1) (Jer 17) if we are going to follow God we can’t trust our heart, 2) (Eph 2) w/o God’s gracious extension of salvation [this is the “gift” in v8 not faith], we would be condemned – or “dead” in our sins – i.e. damned since regardless of what we can do, there is still the issue of God deciding to extend the offer – which is actually the main reason for Paul’s discussion in (1-9) – we as Gentiles were “without hope and without God” b/c the offer of salvation/forgiveness was not extended to us (11-14). Our deadness then was due to lack of offer NOT lack of ability. Before moving on – notice the order of salvation in (8) = we are “saved thru faith”. IOW: faith precedes salvation – or divine intervention in regeneration/new birth – see again v5 salv. = alive/regen/new birth; also Joh 3:3).

1.2.10. God’s help does not imply inability to repent, believe and be faithful.

Several texts of Scripture speak to God giving aid to people for the purpose of turning to Him in faith/faithfulness. However, in light of the prior evidence, this cannot mean that w/o such help – these individuals were helpless. To imply such things also demonstrates poor deductive skills (e.g. B/C my wife helped me shovel snow, that means I was helpless to do it w/o her.

The only way such a conclusions cb drawn is if prior evidence revealed my inability to do the job by myself. In respect to our current discussion, the evidence once more points in the other direction). The biblical picture reveals God helping people not only w/ability but oftentimes already moving in the direction of His help – whether bad (i.e. hardening) – or good (enlightening) (e.g. 1Ki 8:57-60; Hag 1:4-14 versus 1Ki 11:11-13, 29-39, 12:1ff w/2Chr 10:15, 11:4 or Psa 105:24-25; Act 16:11-14; Rom 7:18 = Lit. “I desire good, but [the OC] gave me no motivation to do it” w/8:3-4 = The NC gift of the HS helps us in our efforts/motivation to do God’s Word. Again however, we must choose to engage His help thru setting our mind on Him/His activity; 2Ti 2:24-26 = Notice, God’s granting of repentance does not guarantee salvation/restoration. Rather it only helps in “leading to a knowledge of the truth” w/the hopes that they “may” ([of their own volition] “come to their senses”; In sum – Ezr 8:22).

1.2.11. Coming to Jesus or being drawn by the Father is about discipleship not initial conversion.

(Joh 6:35-71) = Jesus discussion about what it takes to come to Him (i.e. being drawn by the Father) in John’s gospel is directed at people who are already disciples – i.e. people who have of their own ability, already exercised faith and come to Him (66). What else is made evident in this discussion, is that: 1) what Jesus means by “come” is remain or “abide” (see 56). IOW: it is about people maintaining what they gained thru enduring discipleship (not initial conversion). Hence the reason He can guarantee that such individuals will “never be cast out” but wb raised up on the last day – b/c they persevered until the end (40, 44). 2) Being drawn by the Father (the pre-requisite to discipleship w/Jesus) requires that we continue to be teachable or submissive to God’s teaching (44-45 = “drawn = taught by God”). Like the previous point then, this is not referring to initial conversion. 3) If this section of verses were referring to initial conversion than Judas is in heaven (70-71 w/37-40, 44 = All those chosen to “come” are granted “eternal life”). Jesus’ teaching in these verses squares nicely w/His parable of the soils in (Mat 13:18-23).

1.3. Historical support: the early church believed people had the ability to repent, believe and be faithful:

1.3.1. Justin Martyr: Christian apologist (100-165 A.D.)

“Let some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, then neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.”

1.3.2. Tatian: Christian theologian (120-180 A.D.)

“We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.”

1.3.3. Irenaeus: bishop of Lyon (130-200 A.D.)

“This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered my children together, and you would not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the precepts of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God…And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice…If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?…But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.”

1.3.4. Athenagoras: Christian apologist (150-190 A.D.)

“men…have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless)…”

1.3.5. Melito: bishop of Smyrna (100 -180 A.D.)

“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man.”

1.3.6. Clement: bishop of Alexandria (150-200 A.D.)

“Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.”

1.3.7. Tertullian: Christian apologist (155-225 A.D.)

“I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature. For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.”

1.3.8. Origin: Christian scholar (185-254 A.D.)

“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…There are, indeed, innumerable passages in the Scriptures which establish with exceeding clearness the existence of freedom of will.”

1.3.9. Methodius: Slavic missionary (260-315 A.D.)

“Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.”

1.3.10. Cyril of Jerusalem: Christian Theologian (312-386 A.D.)

“The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to us the thought of fornication, if you will, you can reject it. For if you were a fornicator by necessity then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.”

1.3.11. John Chrysostom: archbishop of Constantinople (347-407 A.D.)

“All is in God’s power, but so that our free-will is not lost…it depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose the good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our free-will may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help…It is ours to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.”

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ positon and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

Reconsidering Calvinism – Part 1

Though not existing until (almost) 100 years after the Protestant Reformation began, the theological system established at the Synod of Dort[1] – otherwise known as the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, the five points of Calvinism, or the acronym, T.U.L.I.P. (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints) serves as both an accurate summary of arguably the Reformation’s most guarded and novel belief: monergism (God is the only One working/acting in our salvation from its beginning until its end)[2]. The purpose of this study wb to re-consider the 5 Points of Calvinism and the monergistic view of salvation it presents through re-examining those biblical texts used to support it along w/the rest of the biblical witness to determine if this view is indeed the gospel of how God saves sinners[3].

Why this study should matter to you: 1) because many of those claiming to be Christians today – especially those claiming to be reformed, biblical or paedo in their view of baptism, will also be Calvinists. 2) because Calvinism/Monergism is not what the Bible teaches and (in my opinion) has done as much to promote a false gospel as the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. the false gospel of the Pharisees – “antinomianism”). 3) because being informed as to the beliefs of Calvinism and the teaching of the Bible on these points is what opens the door to conversations about what Luther and many of the Reformers missed in their creation of an alternate work-based salvation requiring such monergistic thinking (i.e. marriage covenant theology [of gain and maintain]). 4) because many of us are Calvinists and (if I am right in my assessment of the Scriptures), we need to change (to the glory of God).

TOTAL DEPRAVITY (AS INABILITY)

1.1.What this doctrine teaches = Because the Bible teaches that we are not only born and enslaved to sin; but also that every aspect of our nature/person (spirit, mind, will and body) has been corrupted by sin, we are completely UNABLE to exercise faith in Christ or faithfully obey God. Our wills are not free to make such choices or commitments, but rather bound against them. For a person therefore to turn from their sin and be saved requires divine intervention. God must graciously grant them the necessary faith and faithfulness through regeneration – or causing them to be born again.

Martin Luther, the 16th century German monk and progenitor of the Reformation, was also the forerunner to this later doctrine. It was a part of his debates with Roman Catholic theologian Erasmus and the subject of his self-attested proudest effort – his book On Un-Free-will (or On the Bondage of the Will)[4]. More importantly, it was the doctrine he (and the other Reformers) believed was necessary not to the Reformation’s validity, but also a person’s salvation. That because it is this doctrine which most establishes the soteriological position of monergism[5]. Speaking of its importance to Luther and his “reformed theology”, John Piper states,

“At the heart of Martin Luther’s theology was the conviction that human beings are totally dependent on God’s omnipotent grace to rescue us from the bondage of the will by creating and decisively fulfilling every inclination to believe and obey God. The debates of the sixteenth century about the freedom of the will versus the bondage of the will were not peripheral to the Reformation. They were at the heart of the issue [emphasis mine]. At least Luther believed they were…For Luther, the issue of man’s bondage to sin and his moral inability to believe or be holy was the root issue of the Reformation — and the lynchpin of Protestantism.”

1.2. The problem w/this doctrine: Though the Bible teaches that we are not only born and enslaved to sin; but also that every aspect of our nature/person (spirit, mind, will and body) has been corrupted by sin, it does NOT teach that such depravity has therefore made us completely unable to exercise faith or be faithful to God. Understanding God’s Word within it given context, reveals mankind to possess a disability (b/c of his sin) but not an inability. In other words, people – though disabled (hampered or hindered) by sin can still make the choice to follow God – or put faith in Christ, and commit themselves in faithful (not perfect) obedience to His commands.

1.2.1. Culpability requires ability

If mankind did not have the ability to follow God then neither can they be deemed culpable (blameworthy/responsible) for their actions. They are instead victims. Yet the Scripture never views anyone in this light. The terms used to describe the wicked as well as the righteous infer culpability for our moral choices that is based on our ability:

1.2.1.1. (Gen 6:5-7) = If our depravity makes us unable to follow God, then what about Noah? If his righteous living is due to divine intervention, then why is that not disclosed in the text? More importantly, why is God so mad w/everyone else (enough to destroy the entire earth over it) if they really can’t do anything about it? Doesn’t it seem a little silly to speak of Noah “finding favor” for being righteous if in reality, he was like everyone else and the only reason those things were true was due to what God (secretly) did to change him? (e.g. Recent college scam: the reason it is such a big deal is b/c of the inequity it creates – some get in b/c they did the work; others b/c they someone paid their way). If the doctrine of Total Depravity is true, then the same is true in re: to those who go to heaven. It’s not b/c anyone actually was (or could be responsible for their actions), but rather b/c God “got us in”. This btw does not bring more glory to God/Christ. Rather it strips it away (e.g. Which gives more glory to my wife? 1) I make the decision to marry her b/c I recognize her beauty and value 2) I don’t see any beauty and value in marrying her and so her dad casts a love spell on me to make me see those things.).

1.2.1.2. (Rom 1:18-21) = If our sin has totally taken away our ability, then we indeed possess an “excuse”. Paul however makes it clear that this is not the case. Jesus says the same about the Jews who rejected Him (Joh 15:22, 24). Excuses remove culpability. That is their purpose. Not possessing them therefore establishes the opposite (e.g. a child missing school b/c they are sick versus a child missing b/c they are playing hooky). Saying therefore that human beings are “without excuse” communicates they possess both ability and culpability for their actions.

1.2.1.3. (Rom 10:17-21= The reason the Jews rejected Jesus was not b/c they couldn’t understand spiritual things or possessed some spiritual inability. It is this very ability that causes Paul to call them “disobedient”. Do we call people disobedient who do not possess the ability to be obedient? (e.g. Baby Knox is “disobedient” b/c he never reads the Bible, confesses Jesus with his mouth or fellowships w/the saints).

1.2.1.4. (Deu 30:11-14 w/Rom 10:6-12) = Paul uses what is taught in Deuteronomy 30 to reinforce his message of “no excuse” – or that all people [v12 – “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek”] have the ability to respond to God’s gospel/commands and follow Him. Notice also, there is no mention of divine intervention – or the need for God to intervene. Instead, ability and therefore also – culpability, are placed squarely upon our shoulders (“Do not say in your heart” = Do not make an excuse; “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart –that is, the word of faith we proclaim” = You have the ability to respond in faith. Hence once more the reason Paul calls the Jews “disobedient” in vv17-21).

1.2.2. Justice assumes ability

The attribute most communicated and celebrated by the writers of scripture is God’s justice. Can we really say that God is just if people are eternally condemned who possessed no ability to do what was required of them? It is the combination of this argument (along w/the aforementioned implication) that psychologists and criminals today attempt to use to escape justice in our courtrooms (i.e. inability to discern right/wrong). The doctrine of total depravity is the “Christian” version of this justice-destroying kind of thinking. The biblical basis of all justice – most especially, the punishing and identification of individuals as guilty, is the assumption that all human beings possess moral ability. Hence the reason no one is ever excluded/excused from the consequences of disobeying God’s Law (Num 15:15-16; Lev 24:22). God’s prescribed jurisprudence is no doubt a reflection of His own.

1.2.3. An inability to believe and be faithful would mean that any praise given to the faithful is not genuine.

If God is the One doing all the work in those who have faith and are faithful, then any praise given to those persons is not only unwarranted but disingenuous. It is no different than those today who give out medals to kids who lose the race (e.g. Gen 6:7, 22:12; Mat 25:21-23, 31-40; Rev 3:4).

1.2.4. An inability to believe and be faithful makes final judgment a complete farce.

In the same vein as the previous point, the final judgment according to our deeds (Rev 20:11-15) becomes a complete farce. If – in both categories (good or bad), we possessed no ability, then what exactly is reflected by our deeds? Only that God did or didn’t do something on our behalf. Shouldn’t it then be a judgment based on His deeds?

1.2.5. An inability to repent or believe would mean that God’s people (even God!) are preaching to the wrong crowd.

The Bible is filled w/examples of God (Deu 30:15) or His people calling people to turn from their sin and follow Him. If however, the only way that can happen is through divine intervention, then shouldn’t the preaching (or pleading) be directed at God? Likewise, our prayers sb that God would save them. Never does Scripture prescribe such prayers (e.g. Rom 10:1 – “my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” = Notice Paul doesn’t pray that God intervene to save them, but rather that they “may be saved” – i.e. that their current rebellion would not cause God to harden them – or push them further in the direction of darkness, but rather continue extending His mercy/offer of salvation. Paul has good reason for speaking this way given what he says in the previous and proceeding verses (Rom 9:18 w/11:8-10 = Many of the Jews who rejected Jesus were “hardened”).

1.2.6. God hardening a person (pushing them further in the direction of their rebellion) implies prior ability.

Think about it. If I already don’t possess the ability for faith or faithfulness, then the idea of hardening a person makes no sense. How do I make a person less responsive to the gospel that they already have no ability to respond to? The same could be said in relation to those passages which speak of a person hardening themselves. How does a person make themselves less able to do something they (supposedly) already have no ability to do? (e.g. Exo 7:13-14, 22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:7, 12, 34-35, 10:1; 1Sa 6:6 = Notice Pharaoh is considered to be the one hardening his own heart before it is furthered by the hand of God. Yet in both cases, the only way this makes sense is if ability existed.). This idea of hardening – or God no longer revealing/extending Himself to those who continue in disobedience is what Jesus is getting at in (Mat 13:10-15).

[1] The Synod of Dort held in Dordrecht, Holland from 1618-1619, consisted of 154 meetings and lasted seven months. Theologians and secular authorities from Germany, Switzerland and England were brought together to examine 5 doctrines made popular by the late seminary professor, Jacobus Arminius. The synod – or council, ultimately disagreed with Arminius’ positon and in response, crafted 5 counter-points or doctrines that later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” in respect to late reformer, John Calvin.

[2] Monergism is in contrast to what was held in church history prior to that – i.e. synergism, man cooperating w/God (i.e. working/acting together w/God) in the process of his salvation.

[3] The reason I use the words “re-consider” and “re-examine” is b/c Calvinism has been – in whole or part, the conviction of myself and the teaching of our church for over 25 years. I have preached through the 5 points of Calvinism numerous times and received my theological training from Calvinist/Reformed seminaries (e.g. Reformed Theological Seminary).

[4] Among all Luther writings, it was only this (and one other) he believed were worth keeping. In 1537, he wrote to a friend, “Regarding [the plan] to collect my writings in volumes, I am quite cool and not at all eager about it… I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the one On the Bondage of the Will and the Catechism.

[5] “This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that a man’s free-will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have always maintained in my writings.” – Martin Luther