A Loving God?

March 21, 2008 at 12:45 am (Day to Day)

For reasons beyond my immediate —perhaps God’s providence?—I have been hit with more anti-Calvinistic criticisms both directly and indirectly. Fortunately it has not been done hostilely, which makes this a lot easier to write. Since my response is not hostile it would be nice for a few people who disagree with me to respond. I have developed thick skin over the years. Calvinism is only one of the less pervasive ideas I defend but the most volatile among all of the usual cohorts. This is easily explained because it is dealing with my view of God, a very volatile subject indeed. By the very act of dissenting from the common view of free will, it is assumed that I have insidious intentions. I’m not sure why. Because I am “B” and not “A” does not mean I am trying to destroy “A”. I disagree with “A”, I will debate that “B” is correct, but I do not think “A” is a bad person. This has caused and underlying enmity and even antipathy in the past. I could probably expect the same reaction if I was staunchly defending string theory among very hard line biologists.

Soteriology, and most theology in general, is a subject I have avoided for good reason among all the usual suspects. It doesn’t bother me to get people riled up over something as innocuous as politics because the consequences of differing opinions aren’t very evident; they are usually just words that accompany a wry, smug smile. My problem lately is that I am being very misunderstood in what I believe. Material assumptions are made about me due to non-material ideals. Being called cynical because I point out most marriages end in divorce doesn’t bother me; being called cynical because I believe God sovereignly declares salvation does, however. The reason is because it is complete misconception of what I believe. It is creating a straw man of my beliefs and then beating it to death. Calvinism, like any systematic theology (Arminianism definitely included), is a very complex system of thought, making it unrealistic to write exactly what I believe, with sufficient answers, in an acceptable timeframe; besides, most people are not bored enough to read it. So this will be very esoteric. I am not writing this with defense in mind; I am writing it with explanation in mind. I believe what I believe. I am a Christian with hard Calvinist tendencies. I think I am right, but I know I can be wrong. I am writing this short piece so people can understand that I am not a heartless monster that is too stubborn to read the Bible for what it is worth. Those who disagree with me will disagree with my presuppositions, which is expected, but this is being written for the sake of clarifying the consistency of the system of thought itself and consistency with the very basic tenets of Christianity.  I am addressing the issue in this way because the argument usually starts with “IF Calvinism is true…” So I will be arguing in the same manner.

Within the past two weeks there has been literally five people who have asked a very good question surrounding Calvinism, a question that makes a very good argument by focusing on the wrong “point” of Calvinism. The question is in some form, “how can a loving, just God predestine some for heaven while overlooking others?”  This is a question that is in response to Unconditional election, the second point of Calvinism. I don’t argue with the definition of unconditional election. God chose those human beings who are predestined to life before the foundation of the world, in accordance with his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will. God chose them in Christ for eternal glory, solely out of his free grace and love, without anything in the creature as a condition or cause moving him to choose them. I do believe that God predestines some for heaven, while overlooking others. The emphasis people place on unconditional election is that they believe it is God acting arbitrarily and unnecessarily. It is unreasonable, and unloving, that God determine salvation in this manner because our free will is sufficient enough to let us choose him. The error exists because people focus too much on the mere fact the predestination exists instead of asking the “why, Rob, oh believer and apologist of inferior and meany-face theology, does predestination exist?” I would first point out that the idea of predestination is very biblical (Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1), and that arguing over its existence makes me uneasy in the first place. We should be arguing on how we are predestined (according to God‘s foreknowledge of our acceptance [classical Arminianism] or unconditionally upon God’s sovereign will [Calvinism]. For the same of my own conscious, I’ll go ahead and falsely assume it is semantics, and we are arguing over the how. Unconditional election, under Calvinism, exists out of necessity over our depraved and sinful nature. This is what I believe regarding man‘s nature, summed up beautiful from the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith:

God created Adam upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law which secured life for him while he kept it, but threatened death if he broke it. Yet Adam did not live long in this position of honor. Satan used the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, she seduced Adam, and Adam (without any compulsion) willfully transgressed the law of their creation and the command given to them by eating the forbidden fruit. God was pleased to permit this act, according to his wise and holy counsel, as it was his purpose to direct it toward his own glory.

By this sin our first parents fell from their original righteousness and communion with God. We fell in them, for by it death came upon all; all became dead in sin and totally defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

By God’s appointment, they were the root, standing in the place of the whole human race. The guilt of this sin was imputed to, and their corrupted nature passed on to all their posterity by ordinary birth. Their descendants are therefore conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death and all other miseries—spiritual, temporal, and eternal—unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.

All actual transgressions proceed from this original corruption. By it we are completely incapacitated and disabled, antagonistic to all good and entirely biased towards evil.

During this life, this corruption of nature remains in those who are regenerated. Although it is pardoned and put to death through Christ, yet both this corrupt nature and all its actions are truly and actually sin.

OR the three point Rob version:

1. By the default of being born the progeny of Adam, man is sinful.
2. This sin is universal and all-encompassing of our nature, our will.
3. It is so great that we cannot choose God on our own accord.

I do believe that man has a free will, but free does not mean it does not have limitations. I would love to be able to fly, but I cannot; I am limited in my ability. I do not have wings, for example, or a propeller. I also can’t think of enough happy thoughts to make me go Peter-Pan style. I am free  to do everything within my ability, but my ability does not allow me to fly. In the same way, I believe that sinful man is limited in his ability to choose God. His will is free, albeit corrupted. Due to this free will, the will tainted by sin, man will only choose sin. He does not choose God because he cannot choose God.

John 8:47  “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Romans 3:10-18: “…as it is written: “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.”

Rom 8:5-8: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

If we were left to our own free will, heaven would be a lonely place with humanity excluded. Our freewill would choose only sin, and only sin will not lead to God. I do not think anybody would consider choosing salvation a bad thing but is indeed a good thing. For us to choose this spiritually good thing, would be to act contrary to our nature (Rom. 8:8); therefore, it has to be of God. Somewhere, man has to choose good, choose Jesus Christ, choose salvation. Our totally depraved nature (the “T” in the TULIP acronym) will cause us to choose evil, reject salvation, accept separation from God. Man is unable to choose God. Therefore, in love, not sadism, God predestines salvation. Go into the issue of who God chooses, and why he does not choose everybody is not the point of this, but I am well acquainted with the argument. Who can come to God? John 6:44  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” “Can” implies ability, not permission. There is a contingency for man to come to Christ. That contingency is God drawing them. Those that God draws, Christ raises up on the last day.  The fact that not everybody is saved is enough to make that argument irrelevant, however, since all who are drawn are all raised up. My point is to show that the very fact that predestination exists is not evil, but in fact a very loving act.

What is the state of man? Christians remember Ephesians 2 mostly for verse 8—our salvation is not a work, but an act of grace. The beginning of Eph. 2 explains why the grace is necessary, why our works are unacceptable to God. Eph. 2:8 is the effect, the synthesis. We need to know why. Eph 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.” Man is not “struggling” in his sins, he is not “drowning” in his sins; he is dead. Salvation is Christ reviving us from our sinful nature. Dead people don’t choose Christ, unless they are no longer dead. In his grace, Christ chose us. Predestination, again, is necessary.

When God converts sinners and transfers them into the state of grace, he frees them from their natural bondage to sin, and by his grace alone he enables them freely to will and to do what is spiritually good. Nevertheless, because of their remaining corruption, they do not perfectly nor exclusively will what is good, but also will what is evil. John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Col 1:13  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

When looked at unconditional election in the context of the depraved nature of man’s will, it is NOT cynical, but in fact optimistic. The crux all of Calvinism relies on (apart from the Bible) is not unconditional election, for unconditional election is the how, not the why of salvation. The crux of Calvinism, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints is that man’s will is dead in sin, unable to be moved on his own accord, and forever separated from God. It is easy for people who have a problem with Calvinism to get stuck on the predestining part and not the total depravity part. A total libertarian free will is such an assumption in Western culture that in an entire system of theology, it is what will stick out the most. IF Calvinism is true, therefore, God is loving for predestining some for heaven. I may tackle the issue of why some are elected and others are not if it becomes necessary.

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