Monday, November 14, 2011

Calvinism: Is it Biblical?

Dear Reader,

This essay began as a personal response to friend concerning Calvinism and it's place within a Biblical worldview. It is long – perhaps longer than needed – and I admit that much of this discussion may only deeply interest those who are already somewhat acquainted with the Bible and Christian doctrine. Yet, I believe that for some, this attempt at a systematic and biblical presentation of these controversial views – commonly referred to as the Doctrines of Grace – might be of some help in lighting the way toward a more full and deep appreciation for what Jesus Christ accomplished on a little hill outside of Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. Towards that end, I pray that you, the reader, might consider carefully these texts and their meaning, humbly, submitting your understanding to the firm foundation that is God's Word (Psalm 119:105). Humble submission to and honest consideration of God's Word are the agenda behind this essay; the attitude is well summarized in the following statement by St. Augustine : “"I contend not in judgment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniquity lie unto itself" (Confessions).

I have included below some brief definitions of the doctrines and ideas I will be defending, so as to avoid any confusion.

Calvinism is a term broadly referring to a set of theological doctrines, that can be traced back through the history of the Christian church. Calvinism emphasizes God's sovereignty over the whole cosmos as well individual choice and salvation. These doctrines state that God has chosen some people for eternal life and others are condemned. Five specific doctrines sum up the basic position I will be defending and their acronym spells TULIP. T stands for Total Depravity: that is, that sin touches every part of one's being – body, mind, emotions, and soul. U is for Unconditional Election: God’s choosing people has nothing to do with them but owes all to the character of God, who for no other reason than because of His own grace and goodness, shows favor to undeserving sinners. L is Limited Atonement: this claims that Christ bore the sins of those He chose, and not of those of every human being – Christ's death was for the elect, whom He chose. I is for Irresistible Grace: the doctrine that once called and chosen (elected) by God, a person cannot resist the grace that God has chosen to show him. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints: the teaching that, once chosen, it is impossible to lose one's salvation. Election refers to God's sovereign choice of individuals to share in His earthly ministry, in his sufferings, and in eternal life – the reward of all believers who persevere in faith (Rom. 6:5, Rom. 9:11, Phil. 1:29, 2 Peter 1:10). These people are referred to in Scripture as the elect (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31, Luke 18:7, Rom. 8:33, Rom. 11:7, Titus 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, 2 John 1:1, 13, etc.). Since both terms (election and elect) are used explicitly by the Biblical authors, I see no need to spend any additional space arguing for their legitimate use.

Entire books have been written on each of the points of TULIP, but I will be focusing less, in this essay, on definitions and acronyms (though these are helpful) as on the evidence presented by Scripture itself. My intention is not that this be just another rant about my theological opinions but rather an honest exposition of God's most Holy Word – and I pray that it might be presented to you as such.

First of all, for every theological question, it is important to always start with God's Word. If we begin with any assumptions about God, human beings, or anything else before we look at Scripture, we run the risk of putting our own opinions or desires above the words of God; this applies to every theological or philosophical camp. We all start with assumptions about who God is and what He would need to be in order to be good, loving, etc. One of the hardest things to do, that we are nonetheless called to, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the witness of God's Written Word, is to surrender our opinions and ideas about what God needs to be before I will accept Him and to adopt a humble attitude, allowing God to be true and every human a liar (Rom 3 :4).

The Bible begins with the first verse of Genesis 1, which sets the climate for the rest of the Bible. It starts, « In the beginning God... ». The first subject introduced in God's Word is God Himself. It all starts with Him. He exists before everything and He brings everything else into being (see Gen. 1 and 2). The same idea is echoed in John 1:1: « In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God... ». God (Father and Son) was there in the beginning, before anything else was, and by Him everything else came to be. Why do I make a big deal about this? Because most Christians today start their theological discussions with the wrong word: « I ».« I think », « I feel like », « I can't accept a God that would/wouldn't... », they declare. This is exactly the sort of attitude that got our first parents kicked out of Eden. Eve (and Adam as well – he is just as guilty) did not just break a rule, but they willfully rebelled against the good way that God had set before them in order to be independent, autonomous, self-defining; trying to be like or even above God! In essence, the sin that Adam and Eve committed amounted to an attempt to de-God God, seeking to set themselves up as little gods in His place; and this is always the greatest temptation when it comes to our ideas about God's Truth. We do not want God to be who He is (“I am who I am” – Ex. 3:14), we want to define Him in terms of our own likes and dislikes – perhaps throwing in a verse or two to justify our interpretation. We all want independence from God and the freedom to confine Him to a place where we are comfortable with Him reigning. This in fact doesn't bring us closer to God but only makes an idol or graven image in the place of the True God (Ex. 20:4). Because the True God is not what we prefer, we substitute Him for a god that « I like better » - more of a trained poodle who I can control and command than the Eternal LORD and Creator of the Universe. I have to mention this because I believe it is at the heart of most if not all misunderstandings about God's will and human choice (as well as many other errors).

Now, if we take a 'God is right, so I'm going to assume I could be wrong' approach, we will be prepared to see several things about God, as they are revealed in His Word. First of all, God desires relationship with human beings. Genesis 3 shows that even when we humans deliberately disobey Him and seek independence, God continues to show grace, clothing our naked bodies and covering the shame we rightfully deserve (see Gen. 3). Second, God is constantly seeking us, but we fail to do the same. In Isaiah 65:2, God declares: « I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices » (ESV). Again, Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes: « See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. » (ch. 7:29, ESV). It's not a question of God condemning innocent people because He is bad-tempered and whimsical; He has extended the possibility to trust in Him and enjoy the freedom and joy of being united with Him. As God states in Deuteronomy 30:19: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live » (ESV, emphasis mine). God gives us the option: “just choose life and you will live!” The third point is that though God constantly extends His hand toward us in grace and mercy (which we find all over the Old Testament, especially Exodus, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea), we always, by our own choice decide to continue in our rebellion, ignoring the better way that God has set before us. This can be seen in Romans 3, where Paul echoes Psalm 14 and other passages, declaring:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known."
"There is
no fear of God before their eyes." (ESV, emphasis mine)

Later on in this chapter, Paul tells us that this accusation is not just directed at a few 'bad people' but it applies to every Jew and Gentile that has ever and will ever live! He says it this way:there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23, ESV, emphasis mine). This indicates that if you have ever sinned you fall short of God's glory, so you cannot stand in His holy presence or save yourself (we will get to the second half of this verse shortly).

My fourth point is that by our own choice, we are slaves to sin. On one occasion, Jesus tells a bunch of self-righteous Jews that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV). He said this because they were claiming that they were sons of Abraham and had “never been slaves to anyone” – “we have freewill”, they are essentially saying, “and we choose God and prove ourselves worthy by our works” (see John 6:28), and this is the attitude that many of us take. We truly believe that we have the freedom to choose or reject God, and fail to see that all of our decisions, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, are driven and entirely controlled by sin! When our first parents sinned by taking and eating the one fruit God had forbidden, they surrendered their freewill to Satan and sin and we testify to this slavery – if we are unbelievers – every time we sin, because we can never stop sinning on our own. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of not being able to serve two masters, because we will either hate the one and love the other or we will be devoted to the one and hate the other (Matt. 6:34).

This brings me to my fifth point, that the only way for us to be free from our bondage to sin and – by extension – death, was for God to come on a rescue mission, to free us from our own corrupted wills (from ourselves, as it were). As we have already seen, the Bible tells us that it is God who seeks us but our response is always rebellion, because we have evil-loving wills and are slaves to sin. Since there is no part of us that is good, and no part that seeks God, it would be ridiculous for God to simply come and present himself to all of humanity as the 'savior', declaring that He will save us if we will just choose or turn to Him. God had been extending that offer since the beginning of the Old Testament (Lev. 18:5). The invitation has always been there, but sinful people always choose sin over God, because sin is their master. Therefore, it was necessary for Christ to come and save people and free them even from their own corrupted wills. If Paul is right in saying that we were, “dead in our trespasses” before Christ delivered us, then we really can't believe that Christ only 'gave us the choice to accept Him'. That's what He had been doing since the Fall, but the only way to get a dead person to make any choice at all is to first make him alive! It would be as if Christ walked into a morgue and said to a bunch of stiffs, “I'm the Savior of the world, just get up and follow me and I will bring you to life”. This would be a cruel joke, because obviously a dead body can't chose anything, but has to first be made alive! Paul makes all of this vividly clear in the first verses of Ephesians 2: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Vs. 1-3, ESV, emphasis mine). People like this need more than a spiritual Dr. Phil to tell them to 'try harder' or to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, they need a Savior: someone who will not give them a boost but will actually change them from the inside out. In fact, Jesus can't really be called a Savior at all if he only knocks at the door of our hearts. If this is true, then it all depends on us opening the door and Christ is powerless to do anything as long as we are slaves to sin and as long as we have no desire to seek Him or live for Him (which goes back to Paul's dead body analogy). Continuing in Ephesians 2 verses 4 through 10 we read:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV, emphasis mine).

We see here, Paul claims that Christ had to make us alive and that the fact that we were made alive has nothing to do with us (“not your own doing”) but that even our faith, through which we are saved (verse 8) is not from us, so that we can't at any point say to ourselves or others: 'I chose God' (even if you include the words 'with His help') – see John 6:44. So, even the faith that led to the choice is God's own doing – our choice for Christ is God's gift to us! That is why Paul goes on to call us “[Christ]'s workmanship”, literally, the result of Christ's work, not our work or that of our 'free' choice. This same idea comes up again in Hebrews, where the writer of this book calls Christ “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2, ESV) – so He is not only the one who gives us faith that allows belief in the first place (author), but also the one who “perfects” or continues to increase it (perfecter)! The emphasis in Scripture is on Christ and His work, because He is the hero and the only One who deserves credit for our faith, for we would never have chosen Him if He had not chosen us first (again, John 6:44). This is why we worship Him and praise Him, because as Christians we realize that we don't have what it takes to choose and please God, but that by His Grace He saved us and allowed us to live a new life, by the power of His Holy Spirit, and not by our own power. In fact, Calvinists have a much more consistent understanding of worship than Arminians, because according to Arminian theology, humans choose God with some help ('prevenient grace', Wesley called it – this teaching assumes that people need 'freewill' for their choice to be legitimate, even though there is nowhere in Scripture that this is stated!). Under this assumption of how we are saved (ie. “God does His part, and we do the rest”), we really should only praise God for the part that He has done and the rest of our praise songs and worship should glorify us and our work in the salvation process (see Rev. 7:12)! In this view, Christ's work appears smaller, He Himself becomes less worthy of praise, and we now have a ground for boasting in our own work – something that the Bible vehemently condemns (Eph. 2:8). I am following Arminian logic to where it naturally leads, since human philosophy is what Arminianism ultimately rests on.

My sixth point is that we are never truly free until we have become slaves to Christ and His righteous Will. I know that this notion goes against everything that postmodern/modern Western values teach, but that is exactly why we must first go to Scripture and not our biased cultural assumptions about freedom and the inherent 'rightness' of personal autonomy as our framework for judging. One of the great idols of our time is certainly freedom. Just look at the advertizement industry: everything is geared towards you choosing things that will make you happier. Lax divorce and abortion laws allow people to terminate marriages and pregnancies if they become a hindrance to “my happiness” or “my personal freedom”. In a cultural climate like this, Christians must be exceedingly cautious that they are not mixing any of these idols of pop culture into their theology and ideas about God. Appealing to common sense and current understandings of freedom and choice without first going to Scripture will, I believe, inevitably lead to error and perhaps even to the worship of a false 'god'. With this in mind, we will look at the Bible's take on freedom.

In Galatians 5:1, Paul declares: “For freedom Christ set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (ESV). So we are free, right? Maybe Christ had to take off the “yoke of slavery” but aren't we at least free thinking, independent people now? Well, the passage states that we have clearly been “set … free” but before we insert our own biased culturally biased assumptions about what that means, let's try to see what this term is used to refer to in Scripture, particularly in regards to Paul's claim in Romans 6:18 that we have “become slaves of righteousness” (ESV, emphasis mine). One might ask: how can you say that we are free if Christ already “knows whom [He] ha[s] chosen” (John 13:18, ESV)? Aren't we just slaves to God's will then? Where is the freedom in that?! The answer lies in the Bible's definition of freedom. We commonly think of freedom as the ability to do something that we want without independently, free of any outside influence or persuasion. The Bible gives us a very different picture of Christian freedom in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God declares:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (ESV, emphasis mine)

Earlier in his book, Ezekiel puts it more concisely:

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ez. 11:19, NIV, emphasis mine)

Both of these passages communicate that God is the giver and that we receive from Him. Though this passage concerns the human heart, human beings are not the subject of these passages, but God is. All of the active verbs are attributed to Him – “give”, “put”, “remove”, “cause to walk”. Furthermore, there is not a hint from these texts or the book of Jeremiah as a whole that the recipients of this new spirit and a new heart have done anything to deserve to receive these gifts (quite the contrary). The illustration of taking out the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh conveys the idea of a change, initiated by God, at the very core of our being. The change is so great that it “cause[s] you to walk in [God's] statues”. A similar kind of imagery is used by Jesus to illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, as we see in His discussion with Nicodemus about “new birth” in John's Gospel. In this account, Jesus contrasts those who are “born of the flesh” with those who are “born of the Spirit” (John 3). In both the Ezekiel and Gospel text there is an idea of new beginning, new allegiance, and new desires. Later in the same chapter of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the New Birth is demonstrated by belief in the Son of God (John 3:18) as well as by “works” (vs. 21). Verse 27 proves that being able to believe in God is a gift “given [to a person] from heaven” and the end of verse 21 shows that the workshave been carried out in Godand thus are not one's own doing (emphasis mine). So our freedom is a kind of bondage to the will of God. “But how is that freedom”, one might ask, “isn't that just the opposite?” Let's look to Galatians 5 again for an answer.

If we were “called to freedom”, as Paul claims in Galatians 5: 13, then what does this freedom look like? First of all, freedom in Scripture includes responsibility. “Stand firm, therefore,” says Paul, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5: 1b). This implies that our faith is active and that obedience is evidence of true faith (see also John 5:29 and James 2:26). Therefore, we cannot take Christ's words: “You did not choose me, but I chose you...,” without taking into account the rest of the rest of the verse: “...and appointed you to go and bear fruit fruit that will last” (John 15:16, NIV, emphasis mine). If works are evidence of faith then we should expect to see change in believers after God saves them. So, belief is not the only thing that is guaranteed by the new heart given by the Holy Spirit; but works, “carried out in God” after conversion are evidence of it (John 3: 21). Let's also not forget that this same Jesus, who called us by name by His mercy and grace also commanded us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28: 19, 20, ESV). Therefore, election cannot and does not in any way contradict the Christian requirement for evangelism, for the same Christ teachers both! Arminians will often deny the peaceful coexistence of these two teachings (election and evangelism) by using their own human logic – arguing based on supposed rational implications rather than on Scripture. This means very little to Calvinists, because Calvinism is not in the practice of fighting Scripture with Scripture nor does it question God's Word on the basis of human wisdom, with which it is impossible both to know God and do His Will (see 1 Cor. 1:21 and 1 Cor. 2:14). Calvinists simply take God at His Word – all of it – and do not impose their own supposed knowledge and understanding over it.

The second aspect of freedom in election and bondage to Christ is the fact that the new heart does not resist but rather delights in doing the will of its Redeemer. This is the basic difference between Christianity and every other world religion. The Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist obeys because it is necessary to reach Heaven, Nirvana, or a right standing before God, the gods, or in the metaphysical realm. Humans are expected, in all such cases, to pay their own way and God is there only to punish or reward them for their work. The Christian obeys because he is a New Creation who loves to do the will of the one who has already paid the price and made him right before God, in spite of his strongest efforts to resist and remain a slave to sin (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ's declaration: “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV) demonstrates that obedience is not forced, but in true believers it is truly the desire of the heart issuing from deep affection for our Savior. To bring it back to Galatians chapter 5, the apostle Paul states: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love(vs.6, ESV). Paul draws a clear distinction between a person's external efforts to “commend himself” before God and the faith that is manifested through love (2 Cor. 10:18, ESV). Paul again summarizes the issue very well in the first part of Romans 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (v. 1-4, ESV)

Paul is pointing out the blatant contradiction and even impossibility that anyone who has died to sin could continue to live a life of sin. You can't die to something and still live in it! The old life was buried and the life you now have is new and altogether different, with different desires, motives, and goals than the one you lived before. Therefore, it is only natural for your new nature to desire to “walk in newness of life”. Therefore, we say, in Paul's words: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (ch. 2:20, ESV). And it is not as if we were being forced or coerced into doing what we do not want to do, even though our very faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8), “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  (Rom. 8: 15, ESV, emphasis mine). Adoption does not imply that the child chooses its parent but only that the parent chooses the child whom he will take as his own – yet, I imagine most reading this do not consider adoption to be coercive. Jesus similarly uses strikingly warm language to describe our union with Christ in His purpose: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, ESV, emphasis mine). It is not a matter of coercion but of liberation and adoption and freedom: freedom from “the trespasses and sins in which we once walked”; freedom from “following the course of this world” and from “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2, ESV). Being subjected to God's Will is not a burden, because once we have been saved we see the truth of the words: “in love He predestined us” (Eph. 1:5, ESV) because where there is love there is true freedom! I believe that most people, if you they were to be honest with themselves would admit that they would rather be loved and experience certain restrictions rather than to live their lives free of any commitment to others that might hinder their perceived independence. People who choose the latter path end up isolated, lonely, and perfectly miserable.
Now, to address some common questions. First, one might ask why the Bible talks of 'resisting the Holy Spirit' – in passages like Acts 7:51 – if God is ultimately in control of everything. How can we resist if grace is irresistible? In response, I don't believe that the fact that we resist the Holy Spirit contradicts the fact that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will ” (Eph. 1:11, ESV) – and it had better not, because both ideas are in Scripture and it they contradict each other than the Bible is not as true as it claims and how could we then trust any of it? Back to the point, the fact that we can resist the Holy Spirit does not imply that God cannot overcome our resistance. The apostle Paul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus illustrates this perfectly. Paul had hardened himself against Christ and was actively opposing the work of the Spirit both in others and in himself, because he refused to consider the Truth but fought against it with all his might, arresting anyone who worshiped Christ (Acts ch.9). Two things about this story show that God will, if He chooses, overcome the resistance of any who resist Him – and thank God because if it is true that none of us does good or seeks for God (Rom. 3, Psalm 14, Eph. 2) then we all resist the Holy Spirit and if He did not have the power to overcome our natural resistance, we would all still be dead in our sin! The two verses I have in mind are in Acts 9:15 and 26:14. In the account described, Paul has just been blinded after an encounter with the risen Christ and God speaks to a disciple named Ananias. He tells Ananias to go to Paul that he might return his sight to him, but Ananias has his doubts given Paul's reputation for persecuting the church. In reply, God says: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (ESV, emphasis mine). Did you ever wonder why Paul is the one who most clearly and emphatically defends predestination – though Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter, James, John, and others clearly do as well? It's because he is the most striking example of it! Paul recounts Christ's words during that encounter on the road to Damascus later on in Acts 26:14: “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads(ESV, emphasis mine). Kicking against the goads simply means resisting in a way that is ultimately pointless and unsuccessful; it was a colloquial expression Romans would have been familiar with. Goads were sharp sticks that plowman used to prod oxen forward as they would tread out a field. If the ox kicked back the plowman would prod the ox harder to get it back in line until it would obey (taken from notes in ESV Study Bible). The image is clear: God had a plan for Paul, Paul resisted that plan, but ultimately God overcame his rebellious will on the road to Damascus and Paul became a servant of Christ. And why would we be angry at God for this? Paul was saved and went on to lead many others to Christ! Well, why doesn't God just overcome everyone's will, you might ask? Well, dear reader, this is the mystery of election. We know that none of us are good and that we all deserve to go to Hell for eternity, but God has chosen to save some and not others, though none deserved it. The Bible does not give much more detail than that. Christ simply says “I know whom I have chosen,” and “all that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 13:18, John 6: 37, ESV, emphasis mine). Paul addresses this question, after a discourse on election in Romans 9:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then It depends not on human will of exertion, but on God, who has mercy.... (v. 18) So then, he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then “Why does he still find fault, for who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God...” (Rom. 9:14-20, ESV).

All of Romans 9 deals with this question of how God can choose one person and not another and remain just. What Paul says is that God has every right to chose whomever He will simply because of who He is and because of how unrighteous we all are! This, naturally, does not imply that we know who is chosen nor that we should just proclaim the Gospel to those who we judge to be chosen – as if we had access to this information in the first place! We must understand clearly that every soul God chooses to save is a soul He was not obligated to save. In fact, He has every right and more than a little incentive to wipe us all out, yet He “has mercy”, and this is far more than we should expect from a God who cannot even have a hint of sin in His presence, because it is so entirely opposed to His very nature as a perfect three times Holy God whose innocent Son we crucified! The question then is not ultimately “why would God not save everyone?” but “for heaven's sake, why would God save anyone?!” I think that for any Christian who truly grasps the extent and utter filthiness of his own sin will ask himself this question. It's the big question I struggle with day after day, because I read passages like Isaiah 64:6 and I see that I have “become like one who is unclean” and even all the actions I consider righteous before God (ie. I am honest, I tithe, I love my family, I give to the poor) are like a “polluted garment” next to God's flawlessness and surpassing Glory. There is just no comparison at all! If this is true of the good things I do, then how much worse is it when God sees my sin? It's not just that He is bugged by it and wants better for me, rather, it is a violation of His very nature and a declaration of war against Him! I have not simply done some not-so-nice things, I have declared war on my loving creator, choosing the only tree in the garden that he forbade because all the freedom we had was not enough, since I would rather be God than simply enjoy Him! I would like to conclude by erasing any notion that we are the victims and that God is just a mean judge. Turn to Psalm 51, a psalm written by David, likely after he had been called out by God, though a prophet, for sleeping with a woman named Bathsheba and murdering her husband to cover it up. David declares: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. You will be justified in what you say, and your judgment against me is just” (v. 4, ESV, emphasis mine). I hope that you grasp what David is saying. He claims that all of the sins that he committed (ie. adultery and murder) were ultimately not offenses against Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite (her husband) but against God Himself! It says elsewhere in Scripture that God is grieved by our sin and hardness of heart, and yet all we focus on is why He won't just forget all that and let us into heaven free of charge (Mark 3:5, Eph. 4:30, Ez. 33:11). It is the pinnacle of arrogance and pride to believe that there is anything we can give to God that He should repay us (Rom. 11:35, Job 35:7, Job 41:11) or that God owes us anything but punishment! We have stolen from Him, cheated on Him (see Hosea ch. 1-3), and killed His Son in the worst form or torturous death we could think up. And despite all this, many people now experience the wonderful and incomprehensible love, grace, and the promise of eternal life from the One who had every reason to pay the back for how they had wronged Him! Let us forget out self-righteous objections to God's method of salvation and resound rather with praise and adoration in the words, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12, ESV) This is the heart of the Gospel and must be the cry of all true believers.

On another note, it will do Arminians no good to try to argue that Calvinism hinders ministry and the advancement of the Gospel. This very objection can be discredited immediately by a quick glance at the history of the church. Indeed, the pre-Reformation, the Reformation, the First Great Awakening, and the Modern Missionary Movement were all heralded by Calvinists. The term Calvinist leads to the assumption that these beliefs were somehow contrived by John Calvin and held by a few oddballs who followed him. However, bold teaching on the sovereignty of God over human choice can be clearly seen as early as the church father St. Augustine. Some would argue earlier, but I have not read enough to know if this is true. Additionally, these views were also boldly defended by John Wycliffe (Bible translator), John Hus, William Tyndale (the famous Bible translator and martyr) and others who predated the reformation. What we now call Calvinism was held and defended by virtually every protestant reformer of the period of the Reformation, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Ulrich Zwingli. Arminianism would claim John Wesley as evidence that only it's views encourage outreach and evangelism. However, they forget people like John Whitefield (undoubtedly the most renowned evangelist in the history of the church), John Owen, Johnathan Edwards, David Cowper (the famous hymn writer), and John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim's Progress) – all of whom were key players in the Great Awakening of the 18th C., which revived evangelical faith in the England and the American colonies from near extinction. These were staunch Calvinists and eager to declare it. Aside from the Methodists of that period, in fact, the majority of the people leading revival in that century were Calvinists! Lastly, the modern missionary movement, which began around the time of the Great Awakening and began the spread of the Gospel to all the counties where Christ is now worshiped, was spearheaded and mobilized by such men as Hudson Taylor (first missionary to China), Andrew Fuller (the guy they named the seminary after), Johnathan Edwards (missionary to American Indians), David Brainerd (whose biography is required reading in missions programs at many seminaries), Adoniram Judson (first missionary to Burma), John G. Patton, and many more. Again, these where Calvinists. Even today, a surprising amount of gospel-oriented churches, evangelistic pastors, and zealous missionaries would in fact call themselves Calvinists. Some examples of modern pastors and writers who are of this persuasion are John Piper (Desiring God), Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Good-bye), Timothy Keller (The Reason for God), Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur (The MacArthur Study Bible), Mark Dever, Francis Chan (Crazy Love), John Stott (Basic Christianity), and J.I. Packer (Knowing God). Most of these men receive wide appraisal even from Arminians, though they do not agree with their views on election/predestination. The teaching of the Bible on the sovereignty of God have proven over time to be a driving force behind ecclesiastical reform, a refocus on the centrality of God's Word and the Gospel (as in the Reformation), and the importance of evangelism and missions. Thus, the Arminian who tries to argue that belief in the absolute sovereignty of God over salvation hinders ministry will find himself shamed when faced with the great cloud of witnesses both from history past and today – missionaries and martyrs, pastors and teachers – ready to prove by their lives and ministries that this statement is absurd and once again merely an attempt to superimpose reductionist reasoning over the clear teachings of Scripture.

For more information on Calvinism and evangelism you may check out the book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer. To conclude, I think that arguing mainly based on so-called rational implication misses the point of Calvinism, which is to uphold the teachings of the Bible and not primarily a philosophical system of thought. If God tells us that He has chosen some and not others, we believe Him; if He tells us to reach out to others with the Gospel we have received, we obey Him; because ultimately it is all about Him and His glory – not ours. I would urge readers to beware of any theological speculations that does not go directly to Scripture for all of its answers, but targets emotions and the mind – attempting to justify what the speaker has already decided is the only acceptable answer. I fear that many teachings that are highly appealing to fleshly hearts and minds are false and only Scripture can guide us to discern what is true.

I hope that you have made it through this entire essay. I hope that though long it has been of some benefit to you. I urge you to weigh it carefully, in light Scripture. I have attempted to make the bulk of my argument from Scripture and I pray that I have been faithful in not misrepresenting anything or twisting it to my liking – if I am guilty of this, do inform me. Finally, if there are things you must wrestle with, please do, because beliefs that do not come out of struggle with our natural human inclinations will perhaps inevitably lead us to an easiest way out, that is, into error.

Soli Deo Gloria,


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