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Posts Tagged ‘Divine Sovereignty

Does Unconditional Election Bother You?

Having just read Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher tells the story of his being asked by a non-Calvinist friend if the doctrine of unconditional election bothers him.  Dutcher was honest to his friend and said, “It does.”  Nonetheless, Dutcher feels that he must surrender to the authority of Scripture and affirm the doctrine despite his acknowledgement that the doctrine does bother him.  He writes that Calvinists should be honest about their feelings toward their doctrinal views without fear.  He said his friend believed that Calvinists had no feelings toward people and just viewed them as robots or pawns in a divine chess game.  Dutcher writes that his honesty was a good starting point to discuss Calvinism with his friend.

I appreciate that about Dutcher.  Like R.C. Sproul before him, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t like everything about Calvinism while accepting it as true.

I would add another approach to this though and that would be to just admit that the doctrine is wrong.  The doctrine of unconditional election is not based on the clear reading of the Bible but upon taking the TULIP and forcing it upon the text.  That is my approach to this issue.  I agree with Dutcher that it bothers me that God has not chosen to save many, many, many people and in fact He has chosen to damn them for eternity all while holding them responsible for a gospel that they could never have accepted in the first place.  That bothers me too.  It bothers me that someone could read the “all” passages such as John 3:16 or Romans 11:32 or 1 Timothy 2:3-6  or 1 Timothy 4:10 or Revelation 22:17 and says that the “all” there is simply the unconditional elect that God has chosen before time began.  It bothers me that God would grant Adam and Eve free will to fall into sin but then He, in His sovereignty, chooses to save only a few for His glory when He could save all for His glory and make the foundation of that election faith in His Son.  That does bother me.

So I choose, from my free will, to reject the teaching of unconditional election.  I don’t do so blindly.  I do so because I don’t see it in Scripture.  I see God choosing people for His own purposes such as Abraham or Moses or Jeremiah or Paul.  I see God choosing nations such as Israel or Egypt.  I see Jesus choosing His disciples (John 15:16).  But I don’t see these as guaranteeing salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Romans 9 is clear about this with regard to Israel.  Only those who place their faith in Jesus become His elect that He foreknew (Romans 9:30-33; 10:9-17; 11:2).  Through God’s foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2), God knows those who will freely believe the gospel and be saved.

I choose instead to affirm a conditional election.  I believe in the sovereignty of God.  I believe that God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to send His Son to be the elected one who will die for our sins.  Jesus shed His blood for all men but only those who appropriate His sacrifice are those accepted in the beloved (1 Timothy 4:10).  Romans 3:21-26 are powerful verses on this point.  It reads:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

We are justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.  At what point are we then saved?  In Calvinism, God’s election of the person means that Jesus shed His blood for that elected person.  When Jesus died on the cross (in Calvinism), He died to save the elect that God had ordained before the world began.  Thus Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation.  Now when were the elect justified?  Where they justified before time began when God ordained that Jesus would be the Lamb of God for the elect (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8)?  If this is the case, are the elect eternally justified?  Most Calvinists will answer no to these questions.  Calvinists, like Arminians, will acknowledge that the elect are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But if Jesus died to secure the elect’s salvation, are what point are they saved?  When Jesus died or when they place their faith in Him?  Further, are the elect born regenerated since regeneration must occur before faith because dead men cannot place their faith in the living Christ?

I believe that we are saved when we place our faith in Christ.  Most of my Calvinist brethren do too.  While some of them will say that we are regenerated before faith in Christ, they all acknowledge that they are saved by grace through faith.  I am thankful for that.  We agree on that.  But I wonder, are they, the elect, born without sin?  If Christ died for their sins on the cross (and none of His blood was spilled in vain according to this view), then the sins of the elect were atoned for when Jesus died.  Thus the elect are born sinless?  Correct?  So how can an elect person then need to be justified through faith if in fact Jesus already shed His blood for their sins even before time began?

Perhaps I am wondering here a bit but my point is that the unconditional election view leads to other issues.  I am not asking for them to be resolved here.  I don’t mind that we all appeal to a bit of uncertainty when it comes to some theological issues (the Trinity is a tough one to grasp and though I try,  I have not been able to but I don’t reject the doctrine because I do see it in Scripture).  But when it comes to unconditional election, I do reject it and not just because of where it logical leads (to reprobation of sinners by God’s sovereign choice and makes God guilty of sin and favoritism which He is not in any way) but also because I see the best alternative in Scripture, conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge.  This view, to me, not only is based on the sacrifice of the Messiah but also the doctrine of God Himself wherein He has revealed Himself as loving, good, and just.  The focus of election, in the works of Arminius, is based on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the focus of election.  He is the elected One and not only that but He is the foundation for our election.  I was just reading from Ephesians 1:3-14 and it is amazing to me how much “He” and “Him” appear in the text (I was reading it from the NASB).  “He” and not “me” is the focus of election.

I pray that I have not misunderstood Calvinism as this point.  I know many godly Calvinists who are active in evangelism despite their agreement with unconditional election and I am grateful for that.  I don’t mean to cast Calvinists as being ignorant of God’s Word in the least bit.  Many of them are far greater thinkers than I am but I do acknowledge that I am not comfortable, as Dutcher has above, with the doctrine of unconditional election and my rejection of it is, in my mind, based on both Scripture and logic.


The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

The Twin Towers of Sovereignty and Responsibility

I was listening to Dr. John MacArthur teaching through John 3:9-21 and he preached on the twin towers of divine sovereignty and personal responsibility.  It was a great sermon.  While I have a few issues with some of the wording, his sermon was one that an Arminian could agree with nearly the entire message.

One point he made was from Matthew 11:25-30 (NASB).  This passage reads:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Notice how Jesus teaches the sovereignty of God in verses 25-27 and then He turns around and exhorts people to come to Him in verse 28.  Both pillars are true.  Both the sovereignty of God in revealing the Son (v.25) and the call to come to the Son in verse 28 for rest.  God calls and God draws but mankind is responsible for their actions.

The key difference I can discern as an Arminian would be the issue of unconditionality.  Calvinism holds to God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace in regard to His sovereign election.  Arminianism contends that God’s call to salvation is conditional and those who meet those conditions are the elect of God.  God’s grace assists us to be saved and His grace enables us to be saved apart from our works (Romans 4:5) but we are responsible to believe just as Dr. MacArthur taught above.  These twin towers are not to be isolated.  We should not lift up the tower of responsibility above the tower of God’s sovereignty.  However, we equally should not lift up divine sovereignty above human responsibility.  When we lift up one above the other, we  find errors occurring.  Hyper-Calvinists lift up sovereignty above responsibility while Pelagianism lifts up responsibility above sovereignty.  Both are equally wrong.

Our duty is to preach salvation to all and God will draw sinners to Himself.  The work of salvation is a work of God.  The work of belief is man’s.  This is the command of Scripture.  Mark 16:16 (NASB) says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  Notice that the condemnation comes from a lack of belief.  To come to God, we must come in true faith (Hebrews 11:6).  Yet when we come, we find that it was He who was drawing us to Himself (John 6:44-45; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/13/2013 at 12:21 PM

The God Who Ordains Evil

Dr. Roger Olson does a good job in this post by showing the fallacies of some Calvinists when trying to explain evil and how this relates to the sovereignty of God.  Men such as John Piper simply acknowledge that evil comes from God and is ordained by Him for His glory (though we know not how at this time).  Olson points out that this view doesn’t glorify the character of God but rather makes Him appear as less than loving and good.  As Olson stated once before, “There is not much difference I see between the God who ordains evil and renders it certain and Satan.  Satan wants to destroy all but God wants to destroy most.”

The problem of evil and suffering is not easy.  I don’t think there are pat answers for this.  Even Scripture doesn’t give us all the insights we would like in regard to human suffering and evil.  Yet I would equally state that I don’t see in Scripture where God ordains evil and renders it certain.  He certainly knows beforehand what will happen but to control evil and to allow evil is not the same as causing evil which Piper does when he teaches that God is so sovereign that everything that happens does happen because He renders it certain and planned all things.  How is He not evil then?  How is He still rendered as good and loving if in fact He plans and renders certain horrible acts like rape, murder, shootings, etc.?  How can the God of John 3:16 or the God of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 be that God if in fact He causes (whether directly or indirectly) the suffering of people at the hands of vile sinners?

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/27/2012 at 1:01 PM

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God (Chapter Four)

I know I took a brief break from my review of J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, but now I want to spend time addressing chapter four.  Chapter four is the final chapter in the book.  For those who may have never read the book, it is not a long book (only 126 pages).  I want to emphasize again that I am grateful to God for the godly Calvinists who have read Packer’s book and found a purpose in evangelism.  Though I do disagree here and there with Packer, I do believe this is a good book and should be read even by Arminians.  Arminians agree with Packer’s main two premises and that is that God is sovereign in salvation (that the work of salvation is by God) and that man is responsible to believe the gospel (human responsibility).  We find nothing to argue with there.

My main problem with Packer’s book is that while I do agree with his arguments, Packer would better to come out and argue that he is arguing with Calvinists who would deny the necessity of evangelism or with giving a universal call to salvation.  The hyper-Calvinist view is that the Church should not preach for all to come and be saved.  We should leave that to God alone to save sinners and the elect will come to faith in God’s timing.  I call this “consistent Calvinism” as I see that as being consistent that if in fact God has chosen from eternity past whom He would save by His sovereign grace and will then it logically follows that the elect will be saved with our without the work of men.  None who hold to unconditional election can deny that God will save the elect by His power in His timing and is not based on the work of men including preaching.  If Jesus died to secure the salvation of the elect then it logically follows that the elect will be saved no matter what.  God will save them when He is ready and in fact He has already saved them in His Son.

In chapter four, Packer argues that belief in the sovereignty of God leads to effective evangelism.  He has two main points: God’s sovereignty does not negate the fact that the Church must evangelize and secondly, the grace of God in His sovereign choice gives us the only hope we can have in evangelism.

In the first portion of chapter four, Packer aims his pen at the hyper-Calvinists.  He argues almost from an Arminian perspective that evangelism is how people will hear the gospel and be saved.  How else can people hear and be saved if not for the Church preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14-17)?  Packer argues that the New Testament is clear that we are to make a general call to all men to repent and be saved (Acts 2:38).  The call of repentance and faith must go out to all (John 6:37).  Jesus’ commission to His Apostles was clear that all nations must hear the gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).  He argues that God’s Word is clear that He desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  Packer leaves no doubt that the call of God is for all to come and be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the second portion of chapter four, Packer seems to turn now toward us Arminians with his arguments for limited atonement and effectual calling.  Packer argues that the death of Christ on the cross for the elect guarantees that God will save those for whom Christ died.  Because of effectual calling, God will use the preaching of the gospel to draw in the elect.  Packer argues that to deny the doctrine of limited atonement or effectual calling would be to deny God’s sovereignty in salvation and to deny that God will draw all for whom Jesus died unto salvation that He accomplished on the cross.

The problem with Packer’s ending is that he is creating a circle here in his thinking.  Granted that 3/4 of the book has been written almost by an Arminian in describing the sovereignty of God, the necessity of faith, the necessity of preaching the gospel to the lost, etc. but now he turns around and says that Christ died only for the elect and that this leads to success in evangelism since God will draw in the elect by His own sovereign power (John 6:44).  So why witness?  Why evangelize?  Packer’s only solution: because God said so.  It is not because Christ died for all so that we might preach the gospel to all and all who repent can be saved.  We are to preach the gospel because this is simply the way God will draw in the elect.  And if we don’t preach?  God will still save the elect by His own power.

I have no doubt that God foreknows those who believe.  Scripture is clear that He does (Romans 8:29).  Yet God’s foreknowledge does not constitute necessity nor constraint.  God simply knows.  He is not forcing people to come to faith.  He is not dragging them to salvation.  He simply knows those who will be saved.  He allows people to make free will decisions, human responsibility, about His Son (John 3:36).  God does not force people into His kingdom (Acts 14:22-23).


Let me state again that I actually recommend Packer’s book.  It is good reading.  While I did disagree with Packer in the very last section, that is saying much right there.  That I would disagree with a Calvinist near the end of the book shows that Packer’s book is largely aimed at hyper-Calvinism than with Arminianism.  In fact, Packer never deals with Arminianism head on.  He possibly alludes to it several times without referencing it.

I praise God for the Calvinists who are out there daily preaching the gospel to the lost.  They understand that we must preach to the lost if the elect are to be saved.  We may disagree after someone repents about the nature of the atonement or election but we both see that mankind is lost and going to hell without Christ.  People need Jesus.  They don’t need Arminianism or Calvinism.  They need the gospel of God’s grace given freely to us in Christ Jesus.  May all of us be bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to all people.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/02/2012 at 10:00 AM

“Arminians Despise the Sovereignty of God”

I saw this posted on Twitter and have received this complaint before.  The reasoning is that in Calvinism God is allowed to be sovereign so that all that comes to pass happens because God wills it so (Ephesians 1:11 is the cited passage for this view).  Arminians then despise the sovereignty of God because we deny that God wills all that comes to pass.

Calvinism is not actually congruent on this issue.  Some Calvinists (hyper-Calvinists) hold that all that happens including sin and the Fall of Man are all planned and rendered certain by God.  Other Calvinists would say that God merely allows sin to take place even though He knows it is going to happen and wills it so.  How God escapes being the author of sin in either view is beyond me.  Most Calvinists simply say that since God is holy and good then even when He plans evil, it is good.  They point to events such as the crucifixion of the Son of God as proof of this view (Acts 2:22-23).

Arminianism holds to the sovereignty of God but we believe that God limits Himself so that true loving relationships may exist.  God created Adam and Eve as free will creatures but what or whom was responsible for their fall into sin?  I would argue that Adam and Eve fell because they disobeyed God out of their own free will.  The same would be true for you and I.  We sin because we want to sin.  We sin not because Satan makes us or God wills it so but because we have free will and can rebel against God.  The nation of Israel is proof of this.  God allowed Israel to have a covenant relationship with Him wherein He called them to obey Him and if they did, He would bless them (Deuteronomy 8).  No doubt God chose Israel for His glory (Deuteronomy 9:1-5) but He likewise warned them not to rebel as they had in the past (Deuteronomy 9:6-11) but the people, out of their own free will, rebelled against God anyway (Deuteronomy 9:12-21).  It took Moses’ intercession to turn away the wrath of God (Deuteronomy 9:25-29).

The reality is that Arminianism does not deny the sovereignty of God but we do not exalt God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of His grace, His mercy, or His love.  The cross demonstrates that God loves His creation and desires to have a covenant relationship with them through faith in His Son (John 1:11-13; 3:16; 5:24; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9).  All who call upon the name of the Lord can be saved (Romans 10:13).  The promise of salvation is given to all (Acts 2:38-39).  All can come and drink of the water of life (Revelation 22:17).  The cross shows the great love of God for His creatures (Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:10, 14).

So we don’t deny the sovereignty of God.  We simply acknowledge that God, in His sovereignty, has placed a condition upon salvation and that is faith.  When a sinner repents of their sins, they become part of the elect of God whom He foreknew (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2).  The elect are only those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).  We acknowledge that Scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of humanity to believe the gospel.  Both are true.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/28/2012 at 10:00 AM

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