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Posts Tagged ‘Election

The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

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.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

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Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 5) Part One

In this post, I will be looking at chapter 5 of the book Grace For All edited by Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  You may find the first post of these reviews here and the previous review post here.

This chapter was written by Dr. Jack Cottrell.  I have always appreciated Dr. Cottrell.  His book on baptism is a must read as well as his commentary on Romans (one of the best Arminian commentaries on Romans in my estimation along with Dr. Vic Reasoner’s).  His book on the sovereignty of God is the best I have ever read on the subject from an Arminian view.

In this chapter Dr. Cottrell dives into the issue of conditional election.  If you are a Calvinist reading Grace For All, this will be the chapter that really gets you focused on the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism.  I know that many Calvinists love the doctrine of unconditional election and view it as the heart of the gospel.  They believe that the doctrine protects not just the sovereignty  of God but also destroys the pride of men by teaching that God alone saves for His own glory and purposes.  God, within the Calvinist system, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn based on His own choice and nothing in mankind (in other words, God doesn’t choose those who choose Him or foresee their faith but instead He chooses based on His own sovereign choice for His own glory).  Calvinists teach that God is just in choosing His elect from among the lump of sinful humanity because He could justly send us all to hell but instead He saves some for His glory and purposes that are known only to Himself (Romans 9:22-23).

Cottrell differs with such a view but he does believe the Bible teaches election.  This is important since some Arminians have tried to argue against Calvinism by saying that the Bible doesn’t even teach election.  Of course election is taught but the question becomes what does the Bible teach about election?  Does the Bible teach the Calvinist view of unconditional election to salvation or does the Bible teach something else?  Does the Bible teach that God elects the plan but not the man?  Does the Bible teach that God elects classes or does He elect individuals and how does He elect?

First, let us establish the biblical truth of election.  Cottrell shows us that the Bible teaches several elections.  We must not assume that since the Bible teaches election that it is always unto salvation or unto service.  In some cases it is both and in some cases it is just to service.  Cottrell points out that God has elected and He has elected:

  • Jesus (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18; Luke 9:35; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4, 6).
  • Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Acts 13:17; Romans 9:4-5) which led to Him choosing men to build up the line of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Nehemiah 9:7; Romans 9:7, 13), Moses (Psalm 106:23) and David (Psalm 78:70) to carry out His purpose for Israel.  He even used Gentiles such as Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) or Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1).
  • The Church (1 Peter 2:9; 2 John 1, 13).  Just as God used individuals in His building of Israel, so He used the Apostles whom Jesus chose to build His Church (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16) along with Paul the Apostle (Galatians 1:15-16) for His purposes.  Both Israel and the Church were corporate elections with certain individuals chosen for special roles in connection with each.

Up to this point, the Calvinist probably would not take exception with what Cottrell has written.  It is his next discussion, election of individuals unto salvation that begins to show the key differences between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view.

Cottrell first shows that while a person could be chosen by God to service in Israel, this did not mean that the person was saved.  Pharaoh is a case in point.  Yet this is not the case with God’s election in the Church.  To be in the Church and chosen by God to serve the Church, one had to be saved.  God chose Paul the Apostle to serve the Church but He also called Him to service through His salvation.  In Romans 11:7 Paul shows us that one could still be among Israel and not be in the Church.  Merely to identify with the Jews was not enough to be saved.  One had to repent to be in the Church (Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10).

Cottrell shows the Calvinist understanding of God’s election of people to His Church.  This election is unconditional and based on God’s divine choosing that is known only to Himself.  God has reasons why He chooses one person over the other but He has not made that known to men.  Calvinists often appeal to mystery when it comes to unconditional election and Deuteronomy 29:29.  God does not chose people based on any merit of their own nor is it based on foreseen faith or anything else mankind does.  God simply elects whom He elects and saves whom He saves by His own sovereign choice.  This choice is based on love but not because God sees something in the elect but because God, by nature, is loving and good.  Again, God could will to send all of us to hell and that would be just (Romans 5:12) but instead He chooses to save people out of sinful humanity for His glory.

Cottrell contrasts this view (unconditional election of individuals unto salvation) with a view held largely by many Arminians of class or corporate election.  This was the view of men such as Dr. H. Orton Wiley who held to corporate election.  Robert Shank holds to this view in his book Elect in the Son.  Dr. Cottrell points out the flaws of such a view by saying that the Bible speaks of people being chosen to salvation and not merely a plan.  For example, Cottrell points to Romans 8:29-30 as speaking of persons and not a plan.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 is speaking of people and not a plan.  Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 speaks of people and not a plan.  Romans 16:13 says that Rufus has been elected.  1 Peter 1:1-2 speaks of elected Christians.  Revelation 17:8 speaks of people who have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.  These are all persons and not merely a plan.

The key to understanding election, according to Cottrell, is that election is conditional and particular.  Those who meet the conditions are saved and thus become part of the elect of God.  This salvation is not unconditional (as Calvinists teach) but is conditional and particular.  God has indeed chosen the Lord Jesus to save lost humanity and Cottrell believes (as all Arminians do) that His atonement was unlimited but is applied only to those who meet the conditions of salvation.  God is sovereign and just to make conditions part of His saving.  Does this mean then that mankind saves themselves?  Of course not!  The humble sinner who repents is not saving themselves but is looking to Christ alone to save them by His grace.  Was the lost sinner in Acts 16:30 trying to earn his salvation when he asked what he must do to be saved?  Paul didn’t reply, “Nothing.  Salvation is unconditionally based on God’s sovereignty and choice.”  No.  He replied that he had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31).  Once the sinner met the condition, he was baptized (Acts 16:33-34) just as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20) and Peter preached (Acts 2:37-38).

In the next post on this chapter, we will dive into Dr. Cottrell’s understanding of how election can be individual while maintaining that it is conditional.  Cottrell rejects corporate election in favor of God’s divine foreknowledge (which is a strong Arminian view).  Others disagree of course such as many Southern Baptists who hold to corporate election.

Under the Wrath of God

The Scriptures teach that God is impartial in His judgments (Exodus 32:33; Deuteronomy 10:17; Romans 2:9; 2 Corinthians 10:6; Colossians 3:25; 2 Peter 1:17; 1 John 3:15; Revelation 21:8; 22:15).  God is opposed to the wicked (Isaiah 52:15; Hosea 13:2; 2 Peter 2:14).  God is just in His punishment of sin.  The person sins because they use their free will to rebel against God and against His will so that the sinner is convicted by God’s law of their sins (Romans 7:7).  The law of God shows them they are sinners and have rejected the law of God by living in rebellious sin.  Thus God does not make people sin but rather He allows people to choose to sin by misusing their wills against God and His law.

The act of the cross is an act of mercy where God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  A true loving relationship exists where the disciple of Jesus humbles himself and repents of his sins and turns to Christ alone for forgiveness and reconciliation to God.  This is not a force relationship but one in which God, who first loved us despite our sinning (1 John 4:10), and we in turn freely love Him (Ephesians 1:13).  The beauty of salvation is that God has provided atonement for those who repent of their sins (1 John 2:1-2).  God truly wants to have a relationship with sinful humans (Romans 3:23-24; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

The Calvinist understanding of the atonement is that the wrath of God is satisfied by the cross.  I would agree.  But Calvinists teach that the atonement was meant to save only the elect.  They believe this brings true glory to the work of Christ.  After all, they reason, the Arminian understanding of the atonement saves no one but only makes men savable.  In Calvinism, they assert, the atonement is not a failure but actually saves when Christ died to save the elect of God on the cross.

Of course, Calvinist evangelists often preach the atonement much as an Arminian would.  How often have I heard Calvinist preachers calling for sinners to repent, to embrace the Lord Jesus, to turn from their sins, to place their faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  I have no problem with this whatsoever.  I preach the same thing.  Some Calvinists will even plea with sinners saying that Christ died for them or that God loves them and has shown His love though the cross.  They will preach that men are under the just wrath of God for their sins.  They will preach that all sinners are in danger of the eternal judgment of God.  I agree with this all!

Yet I ask this question: when are the elect under the wrath of God?  If Christ truly died for the elect then the wrath of God cannot be against the elect since the elect were justified when Christ died on the cross.  Some hyper-Calvinists teach this.  They teach the doctrine of eternal justification.  They are consistent in their view though I completely disagree.  Their logic is that since God knew the elect before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), in the eternal decree of God, the elect were already justified in Christ who is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).  This view holds that God chose the elect and then He ordained the fall.

The logic of eternal justification makes sense if you hold to the divine determinism of Calvinism.

Let us go back to the issue of God’s wrath.  Are the elect ever under the wrath of God?  Most Calvinists that I know would argue that the sinners they are preaching to and pleading with to come to Christ are indeed under the wrath of God.  Yet if election is true, the Calvinist is preaching the judgement of God to those who are not under His wrath.  After all, the atonement did not fail right?  The atonement accomplished redemption for the elect.  Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:14).  The Calvinist then pleading with sinners to repent as the means to salvation is wrong.  The sinner is not under the wrath of God.  The sinner is already part of the elect even before time (or at least when Christ died to save the elect) in the mind of God and so the Lord was not angry with the wicked since they are part of His elect that He saved in His Son.  This is logical.  This is not biblical.

The Bible teaches that sin brings the wrath of God.  Again, the Lord is not partial in His judgments.  The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).  All who sin are under the wrath of God because of His absolute holiness and righteousness.  Scripture is clear that anyone who sins, rebels, or fails to live up to God’s perfect standard is under His condemnation (John 3:19; Romans 1:18; 2:6-11; Hebrews 10:26-31; 1 John 3:8, 15, 20; 2 John 1:9).  God is opposed to the wicked (Psalm 5:5; 7:11).

One need only consider the preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts to see whether the Apostles preached whether people were under the wrath of God.  In each sermon the Apostles preached against the sin of the people.  For example, Acts 3.  Here Peter the Apostle preaches that the Jews killed the holy and righteous one (Acts 3:14) and he called their acts “wickedness” (Acts 3:26).  He called them all to repent (Acts 3:19) and said that all who refuse to listen to the prophet will be destroyed (Acts 3:23) who is Jesus (Hebrews 3:1).  Notice that he was not partial in his judgment of the people.  They had all sinned (Romans 3:23) and all were under the wrath of God.  All needed salvation.  The call was for all to repent.

Again, I ask, if the Calvinist view of the atonement were true, the elect would not be under God’s wrath nor would they be guilty of wickedness since the sins of the elect are placed on Christ.

The answer, of course, is that Calvinism teaches that the atonement is only effectual for the elect and thus while the elect are wicked sinners before Christ saves them, the atonement is only applied to the elect when the elect believe the gospel.  This is based on logic and not Scripture.

Scripture is clear when the atonement is applied to the wicked sinner and that is when the believer repents and believes the gospel.  Before this, the sinner is under the wrath of God but after the sinner repents, the wrath of God is turned aside through the propitiation of Christ.  The atonement is available for all but only affective for those who repent and place their faith in the work of Christ.  The cross saves no one apart from faith (Romans 3:22-27).  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what saves us (Romans 5:1).  Notice in Romans 5:1 that we are not justified unto faith (as in Calvinism) but through faith.  Plus our faith is in Jesus and not a theological construct about Jesus.  We are not saved by faith in faith or by faith in the faith but faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12).  So many think that their system saves when no system saves.  Faith in Jesus and His saving work is what saves us (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Calvinist evangelist is correct to call sinners to repent and turn from their sins.  He is correct to preach that Jesus will save all who come to God through Him.  He is correct to preach that the blood of Jesus will wash away all our sins (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14).  The Arminian would do the same.  The key difference lies in our theology.  The Arminian is preaching out of their theology while the Calvinist is preaching counter to their theology.

Does Calvinism Truly Glorify God?

A Calvinist writer wrote about predestination and concluded with these thoughts:

This doctrine is also the most God glorifying doctrine. It gives God all the glory. God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end. Man does absolutely nothing. Calvin’s doctrine of election magnifies the glory of God and reduces us to true humility, “neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God”(Inst. III, 21, 1).

His words got me to thinking, “Does Calvinism truly glorify God?”

A Calvinist will answer with a hearty yes!  After all, as the writer above points out, God receives all the glory in unconditional election because He does all the work.  Notice that God elects us, sends Christ to pay for our sin, sends the necessary faith and grace to save us, and sustains us until the end.  Of course, this leaves much out like whether a person believes using their “freed” will (or their will made willing) or whether God believes for us (which no Calvinist holds to)?  Must a person continue in the faith till the end to prove their election?  What evidences must a person show to show they are elect or is it possible to never show signs of election?  Could a person be, as Augustine taught, given a false assurance from God for His glory?

But even more, does the God that Calvin wrote about really worth glorifying if He doesn’t love all?  If Jesus teaches us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:44-48), how can God also hate the reprobate with His perfect hatred and not only because of their sins but because God simply decreed that they be reprobate based purely on His arbitrary choice?  How can I worship the God who would send Jesus to heal the sick (Matthew 8:16-17), die for the wicked (Luke 19:10), pray for sinners (Luke 23:34), call His disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48), to be the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and yet God Himself sends people to hell because of His arbitrary choice?  How is He worth glorifying?

I know the answer is that we are sinners and I need to humble myself before the God of glory.  Who am I (Romans 9:19-21)?  I should just do as Paul does in Romans 11:33 and praise God for His infinite wisdom.  This is what I am told.

Yet how can I?  John Wesley said that the Calvinist teaching of predestination makes his blood boil.  I concur.  The picture of God from Calvin is not a God who loves humans but a God who is fixed on His decrees.  God’s glory is God’s highest desire.  I don’t see this in Jesus.  In Jesus, I see God humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).  I see a God who loves people so much that He would rather die for them than to see them in hell.  In the cross, I see a God who a wiling to lay aside His glory, His rights, His power to take my place for my sins.  Sure, I deserve hell along with all of humanity and God would be just to send us all to hell but the Calvinist goes too far by asserting then that the only solution is that God must elect from the lump of wicked humanity those for His honor and purposes (Romans 9:22-23).  This is not the answer to our sinful problem.  The answer God gives is the cross.  The cross satisfies the wrath of God for those who come to Jesus in saving faith (Romans 3:22-27).  In Jesus, our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).  In Jesus, we are part of His elected ones (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, His Father becomes our Father (Romans 8:16-17).  In Jesus, we are saved (1 Timothy 1:15).

The God of Calvinism is thus a God who not only does all that the writer said above but He also condemns merely based on birth and He reprobates because of His own arbitrary choice.  Even Calvinists admit that God does not elect based on any merit in man but He chooses because He chooses.  God does not take any notice of mankind in His election but He chooses because of His divine sovereignty.  And this is worthy?  And this is glorious?

I would rather worship the God I see in Jesus (John 14:9).  I love this God.  He is worthy.  He is glorious.  He does not fear.  He is mighty.  He is loving and good (Psalm 145:8-9).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/12/2015 at 10:51 PM

The Purpose of Signs and Wonders By the Apostles

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
– 2 Corinthians 12:12

While God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
– Hebrews 2:4

In the previous post, I pointed out that Jesus did signs to point to Him being the Messiah sent from God.  Certainly one could also agree that Jesus healed people because He was God and He loves people (Matthew 4:24).  This is true of God hearing our prayers and answering them even for healing.  If God heals, He heals because He loves us and desires to glorify His name through our healing.  I also pointed out that Jesus’ signs and wonders provoked people to faith (John 2:11, 23) and the Jews to anger (John 12:37-38).  My question was, if divine determinism is true, why would Jesus need signs and wonders at all?  If the elect are chosen by God before time, why does the elect need a sign?  Will the elect not believe simply because God has chosen them beforehand?  Signs and wonders point to the reality of free choice among humans.  God is giving people signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus to cause them to question and either come to Jesus for life or reject Him.  Whenever a person reads the Gospels now, the same is still true regarding signs and wonders.  They point to Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 10:38) but they cause people to either accept Jesus as the Messiah of God or reject Him but one cannot be neutral about Jesus.

In this post, I want to examine the purpose of signs and wonders done by the Apostles.  I am not debating whether signs and wonders continue today.  That is not my point here.  My point is simply to point to signs and wonders done by the Apostles and why God allowed them.

We must remember that the Apostles were chosen by Jesus Himself (John 15:16).  Matthew 10:1 tells us that Jesus gave His Apostles the authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  This power came from God and was given by the Lord to those whom He had chosen.  Even Judas (Matthew 10:4).  Signs and wonders then do not prove one is elected to salvation despite the choosing here by Jesus.  Signs and wonders do not prove one is a true disciple (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Apostles continued this display of unique power after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand.  The Book of Acts is filled with healings and signs and wonders.  Acts 14:3 tells us:

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

The Lord was bearing witness to His Word by allowing the Apostles to do signs and wonders.  Acts 19:11-12 reads:

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

The signs and wonders were true signs to point to two truths.  First, the Apostles were preaching without a New Testament.  The signs validated their gospel message as we read in Acts 14:3 or Hebrews 2:4.  The signs pointed to the Apostles being chosen by Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Secondly, the signs pointed to the risen Messiah.  Peter the Apostle is clear in Acts 3:12-16 after the healing of the lame beggar:

12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

The signs continued to point to Jesus.  The Apostles did not make money off the signs nor did they advertise their signs.  They simply obeyed the Lord, He granted them power to perform miracles, and the signs pointed to the greatest sign of all: Jesus Christ, the mighty Son of God.

But again, why?  If divine determinism is true then why did God allow for signs and wonders?  Could not God have merely granted faith and repentance to His elect without signs?  If men are born totally dead in their sins without any ability whatsoever to come to faith in Christ, why does God need signs and wonders?  Who are the signs for?  The elect need none.  The elect in Calvinism will come no matter what.  One need not even preach for the elect to come.  Calvinists, to be fair, are not consistent here and preach the gospel to all and even call all to repent while believing that only the elect will come and be saved.  They hold that God has sovereignly chosen both the elect and the means to their election.  However, in the end, God, in His arbitrary choice, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn (or pass over and leave in their sins).  The means, while sovereignly chosen by God, is not what saves the elect.  What saves the elect is the election of God before time.  I believe that consistent Calvinism should hold to eternal justification since God foreknows His elect and counted them as justified in Christ (the Lamb chosen by God’s sovereign choice even before time).

Yet why signs and wonders?  Would could argue that God has merely chosen in His sovereignty to allow for signs and wonders among the Apostles but this ignores the question of why.  It simply takes Deuteronomy 29:29 and applies it here too.  The elect will be saved.  This not debatable among Calvinists.  The elect will come to faith in Christ when God sovereignly decrees it so.  Whether the elect comes by hearing a gospel sermon or seeing a sign is not the point.  The point is that God chose the sinner for salvation by His own sovereign decree and placed the elect’s sins on Christ even from the foundation of the world.

The Arminian answer is easy and simple.  Signs and wonders are given by God to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of God sent to die for our sins.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17) and the gospel saves sinners who repent and believe (John 3:16).  Signs and wonders in Acts are pointing to the reality of the gospel and God is bearing witness to the message of His grace (Acts 14:3).  Signs then validate the Apostles as from God.

Greg Boyd On Romans 9 And Election

I am not an open theist but I do share the same concerns about divine determinism with Greg Boyd.  He has written a series of articles on Romans 9 and election.  I do recommend it.  You can find the first post here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/23/2015 at 2:01 PM

Determinism and Evangelism

In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism.  Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism.  I appreciated that.  Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost.  Agreed with all that he wrote.  Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing.  W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life.  We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8).  We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food.  Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed.  Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).

I agree here with MacArthur as well.  Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot.  Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21).  When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).

Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional.  God alone is the first and ultimate cause.  God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2).  God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30).  God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13).  Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15).  God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48).  While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election.  To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory.  If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition.  If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition.  This is not consistent.

I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue.  Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well.  I appreciate Spurgeon much.  Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect.  Spurgeon even stated,

Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth.  Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism.  Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill).  The means is not a condition to salvation.  Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation.  They cannot be.  That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism.  The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live.  The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.

Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect.  The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible.  The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice.  The internal call of God is unconditional.  The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).  The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3).  J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace.  The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory.  The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).

Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism?  If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play?  In reality, none.  If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition?  How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?

I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call.  I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people.  God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8).  The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22).  The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5).  When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14).  This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).

Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power.  He does not need man nor does He even use man.  God alone saves His elect.  Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate.  Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.”  I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate.  In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian?  By God’s sovereign decree and timing.  In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life.  One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment.  Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not.  This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so.  While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.

Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct.  If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God.  As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!”  In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.”  How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them?  Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed.  Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel.  Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise.  In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd.  The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect.  The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter.  They will believe because God wills it so.  It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner.  Go back and read Spurgeon at the top.  God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44).  God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon.  This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism.  It is not practiced much but it is consistent.

Conclusion

Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong.  I may have.  I am not a Calvinist and have never been so.  However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist.  I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant.  I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system.  Calvinism is not practical.  Calvinism is not congruent.  Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved.  Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith.  Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching.  From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.

My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God.  I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air.  I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel.  Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel.  I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists.  I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord.  I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.

In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong.  I pray that God would show me where I am wrong.  I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me.  I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it.  I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome.  I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God.  Yet I am okay with mystery.  The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39).  Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.

In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37.  Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel?  We shall see.

May God be glorified in His Church!

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