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Posts Tagged ‘Free Will

Leighton Flowers Rebuttal to Tony Miano

Tony Miano, whom some of you might remember caused a stir back in the summer of 2015 when he basically said that Arminians are not saved if they hold to Arminianism and that Arminians worship a false god.  I called Miano’s hand on this as he had written in years prior to this while he was on staff with Living Waters (Ray Comfort) that Arminians were brothers and that we should not divide over this issue.  Miano had called Mark Cahill, an evangelist whom many in the open air preaching world know of, to repent for his statements that Calvinists worship a false god and that he would not associate with Calvinists.  I urged Miano to apologize to Cahill since he did just what he accused Cahill of. Instead, Miano went on to bash Arminians and even called for Dr. Michael Brown to come to repentance and true salvation (i.e. become a Calvinist).

After this, Miano took a “brief” hiatus from social media and blogging he said to get his thoughts together on this issue.  After a brief blackout, Miano is back on social media but not as aggressive this time it seems (for now).  Yet Miano did release the following podcast in which he attacks “the helpless god of free will religion.”  I have linked the podcast for you to listen to if you desire.  I listened to and sent it to my friend Leighton Flowers who did a podcast in which he offers a rebuttal to Miano and I believe Flowers does an excellent job.  I shared in Flowers assessment of Miano’s podcast, that it was not deep nor did he develop an excellent theological presentation to rebuke those of us who hold to free will.  Miano just builds his case against his own perceptions of what we believe and not does not interact with us nor our scholars.

My point here is not to stir the pot again toward Miano.  I think most Arminians simply ignore him.  I use to appreciate much of what Miano did.  I was an avid listener to his podcast, I supported him with money,  I prayed for him often, purchased his gospel tracts and though I disagreed with Tony here and there, I would have gladly preached the gospel with him in the open air.  That has all changed.  I still regard him as a brother though I don’t listen to him anymore, I don’t watch his videos, and I don’t support him.  I pray for Tony to repent of seeing us Arminians as enemies of the gospel.  We can disagree and still love each other.  I gladly would stand with any and every Calvinist in preaching the gospel to the lost.  I would gladly stand with my Calvinist friends against the enemies of the gospel of God’s grace.  While we can disagree let it be a debate “in house” where we regard the gospel as separate from our isms.  We can disagree how we are in Christ but let us praise the Lord that we are in Christ!

Tony Miano’s podcast.

Leighton Flower’s rebuttal.

Grey Areas of Theology

All of us come to the Bible with our systems.  It’s hard not to.  This happens when reading any book.  We bring our presuppositions to what we read, what we watch, what we hear.  This is part of being made in the image of God.  Animals don’t bring presuppositions.  Animals don’t get new ideas.  Animals can be trained but not reprogrammed to think differently.  People  can.  It often takes time and sometimes involves years of study, trials, etc.

This is true of theology as well.  I have never been a Calvinist.  I was raised in a Pentecostal home where Calvinism was avoided.  That said, I have known many friends of mine who “converted” to Calvinism.  None of them (that I know of) actually took time to study Arminianism or other non-Calvinist approaches to the Bible, they just enjoyed listening to John MacArthur or John Piper and dove into Calvinism.  Most of them were looking (as Austin Fischer points out in his book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformedfor something more in their faith.  They wanted to go deeper in the Lord and found Calvinism to be what they needed.  Of course, I would argue that Arminianism is actually deeper still.  Arminianism goes past Calvinism in my estimation.

What I want to point out here in this blogpost is that all of us have grey areas in our theology.  I don’t know of a perfect system. There are holes in all of our theology.  For honesty sake, I will post just a few holes I see in my own theology.  These are holes that I can’t fully explain but they don’t cause me to turn away from Christ.  I live with them and just seek to know Christ more and more.  My goal is to know God (John 17:3) but I know that I will never fully know Him and I believe that even in eternity, I will never truly grasp God.  He is infinite in His ways (Psalm 145:3).  So let me list a few holes.

1.  The Trinity.

Cults attack the doctrine of the Trinity because they say that it is illogical.  How can three persons be one God?  How can there be one God yet three persons?  I don’t grasp this myself.  I know the Bible teaches there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God but there is only one God.

Again, the infinite God is beyond my understanding.  I humble myself before His truth and simply worship Him who is true.

2.  Prayer.

How does God answer prayer?  What role does faith play?  Why does God seem to delay?  What causes God to not hear our prayers nor answer us when we call?  Is God moved by our prayers?  All of these are unanswered questions I have about prayer.  No doubt God calls us to prayer (Matthew 6:5) and Paul the Apostle says that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) but I don’t begin to fully understand prayer.

3.  The Incarnation of God.

I truly believe that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) and that this is based on the prophetic promises (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7) but how this is, I don’t know.  How a virgin can be pregnant with the holy one of Israel (Luke 1:35).  When Mary asked how this could be (Luke 1:34), I love Gabriel’s reply (Luke 1:37) and Mary’s response (Luke 1:38).  It was as if Gabriel was saying, “I don’t know how this can be but with God all things are possible.”  God can do whatever He likes and in this case, He becomes a human while not ceasing to be God.  Jesus was not a man on earth while God was in heaven.  Jesus was fully God and fully man.  Jesus was not half man and half God.  While Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus humbled Himself and became a slave, it does not say that Jesus ceased to ever be God.  He can’t.  Jesus was fully God before the manger and He was God after He ascended to the right hand of God.  Jesus has always existed with the Father and the Spirit before time began (John 17:5).  Yet how God became a man is beyond me.

4.  Regeneration.

I accept the biblical truth of being born from above (John 3:3) but I don’t fully grasp this miracle.  Even the good doctor Nicodemus in John 3:4 tried to ask Jesus how can this be.  Let’s give Nicodemus credit here and know that he was not asking about being born physically again.  He is wondering about this miracle of being born from above.  How can this be?  Jesus points to the wind and the mystery of the wind (John 3:5-8).  Again Nicodemus replies, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9).  I agree Nicodemus.  I don’t know.  I preach salvation through Christ alone.  I preach repentance.  I preach being baptized into Christ.  Yet the mystery of the new birth is beyond me.  I know Titus 3:5-7 is true and I preach that salvation is the gracious work of God yet I can’t explain how the God who created all things comes and indwells us.  It is a mystery that I am willing to preach and accept.  I praise God that He saved me!

5.  Free Will.

As an Arminian, I hold to libertarian free will.  I believe all people have the power to choose to either do or refrain from a given action whether sinful or good.  Yet I can’t explain how God allows free will and yet His decreed will is always done.  The cross, for example, was predetermined by God (Acts 2:22-23) yet God did not make the Jews or the Romans kill Jesus.  He permitted them to kill His Son and it was part of His plan but no one believes (even Calvinists) that God made the people kill Jesus.  The people chose to kill Jesus by God’s definite foreknowledge.

The mystery is here is how God in His sovereignty still accomplishes His will while allowing people to make free decisions.  I have no doubt that God knows the free decisions of people but that He knows just means that He knows.  Knows and causes are not the same.  My mystery in free will is that God allows free will people to make free will decisions yet God’s decreed will is done.  However, not everything that happens in this world is the will of God.  Even God said about His people in Jeremiah 7:31 that they did that which He did not plan nor came to His mind.  How can that be?  If God knows all things and He plans all things (according to determinism), how can this be?  Right before Jeremiah 7:31, God says that He had sent prophets to warn His people but they stiffened their necks and became hardened.  This would be later on as well in John 12:40 where God says that He has allowed the Israelites to be hardened for the purpose of the cross.  How can these things be?

6.  The Cross.

Could there not be another way?  Did the cross have to be?  I understand the holiness of God demands a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 9:22) but could there have been salvation without the cross?  Could God have accomplished redemption of sinners by some other means?  Biblically I know that the cross is a must.  Sinful humanity sinned against a holy God with the fall of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12) and the cross demonstrates both the love of God for human beings and His holiness at the same time (Romans 3:22-27).  Amazing!  Jesus died for sinners since He never sinned Himself (1 Peter 2:21-24).  Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners to redeem sinners (Luke 19:10).  Simply amazing!

Yet did the cross have to be?  Could the Lord have saved us another way?  I don’t know.  I am thankful for the cross and I praise God that salvation comes through the cross but the mystery of the cross is beyond me.

7.  God Changing His Mind.

Genesis 6:6 is tough.  How could God truly be sorry for making mankind when (according to determinism), He knew what would become of them in the first place?  Is this not true emotions from God?  The typical answer is that such talk from the Lord is only given to show us humans so that we can relate to God who is beyond us.

In Exodus 32 we read of the Israelites and the golden calf.  God declares to Moses that He is going to wipe them out for this sin yet Moses intercedes for the Israelites and God relents (v. 14).  Some say that God did not really relent but He was using this to teach Moses how to be a leader or how to pray.  Yet the text is a mystery.

There are more.  I could go on.  There are texts that suggest that God relents and I don’t know how to answer them.  The open theist points to them as proof that God learns certain things (see for example Genesis 22:12).  I can’t ignore the language but I don’t have clear answers either.  Yet the same God can say of the unborn Cyrus that he will be his servant (Isaiah 45:1).  God could call forth even the city where the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2) and arrange entire nations for this purpose (Luke 2:1-2).

So on the one hand God is said to relent of things and learn things yet the overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is infinite in His wisdom and awesome in all His ways.  This is a mystery to me.

What To Do With Grey Areas?

My advice: keep studying.  Keep praying.  Keep hoping in God.  Grey areas don’t mean that God’s Word has failed nor do they mean that God is not trustworthy.  His promises are sure (2 Peter 1:4).  Grey areas mean that I don’t have God figured out and that He is God.  I am satisfied with that.  I will never grasp God.  His ways are beyond me.  His thoughts are beyond me (Isaiah 55:8-9).  I do know that He loves me (John 3:16) and He has demonstrated that love through the cross (Romans 5:8-9).  I rejoice that this is clear: Jesus died for sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  This is clear: Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 1:3) and salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10).  I rejoice that the gospel is simple and clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  My prayer is to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/30/2015 at 11:18 AM

The Mysterious Tensions in Theology

We live in a wicked world.  It seems we look around us and see wickedness each and every day.  Some look at wickedness and they simply ignore it and hope it will go away.  For the disciple, we pray Matthew 6:10, for the kingdom of God to come and the gospel can remove the wickedness that we see.  This nation, the United States, as with most of the “Christian” West, needs revival.  We need the gospel to break the chains of sin and to bring true salvation to the nations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Only the gospel can usher in the kingdom of Christ.

But my purpose here is not to write about the kingdom of God.  Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that the kingdom of Christ is what we long for.  Whether you identify with a certain end-times view it not the issue here.  We want the kingdom to come.  We want the Lord Jesus to be exalted and for His gospel to be preached so that God may be glorified through it all.  We stand in the face of evil and declare that there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  We know that our God is working to bring about this truth.  The gospel is going forth even as I type this.

What then are we to do with evil?  It is the tension that has caused much friction.  Liberals think the answer for evil is education, less poverty, more jobs, equal money.  Atheists point to evil as “proof” that God does not exist (yet there would be no concept of evil with a holy and good God as the standard).  Agnostics wonder if there is a God then why doesn’t He end all evil with just a wave of His all-powerful hand.  Even among us true Christians there is tension.  Calvinists believe that all that comes to pass happens because of the sovereign will of God and His decree.  A murder is the will of God.  A rape is the will of God.  An abortion is the will of God.  Anything and everything happens because God wills it so.

The Arminian cannot escape this tension either.  We too have our mysteries.  Calvinists wrestle with how God avoids being guilty of sin while He ordains whatsoever comes to pass.  In Calvinism, compatibilism (or “soft determinism”) is the idea that mankind does not possess free will but rather they act according to their nature.  In other words, a sinner sins because God does not give them to them the grace necessary to avoid that sin and in essence God knows the sinner is going to sin, wills the sinner to sin, the sinner makes a choice to sin based on their own sinful nature, and thus while God knew, planned, and ordained the sinner to sin, the sinner is still held responsible for their actions that they freely chose to do.  The mystery is how God is not guilty of the sin when the sinner really could not choose otherwise since there is no true free will in mankind in Calvinism.

Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

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.)

Notice the article is clear that mankind does not have free will.  A person, when confronted with a choice to murder another person, is not able to choose to do the sin or not.  They are simply doing what God has determined for them to do.  The mystery is that God is not guilty of causing the person to sin nor is He wrong to hold the person to be punished for their sins that they could not chose to do otherwise.

The tension in Arminianism is much more biblical and to me is a biblical tension.  The tension in Arminianism is the mystery of how God is sovereign and does His will despite giving His creatures made in His image the freedom to choose.  God does have the right (since He is the creator) to step into our world and do as He pleases.  He foreknows all things and is not limited in His knowledge.  He foreknew, for example, the fall of Man (Genesis 3) yet does this mean that He caused the fall?  No!  He is perfectly holy and the Bible is clear that He leads no one into sinning (James 1:12-15).  God foreknew that wicked sinners would crucify His Son (Acts 2:23).  Did God cause them to kill His Son?  No!  They did so by their own sinfulness and free will.  The mystery here is free will and how God allowed these creatures of His to do as they please yet His will was done.

The Calvinist replies to this are that God is sovereign and by definition in Calvinism, sovereignty must mean that God alone determines all things.  But I ask why?  Why must we settle for the Calvinist answer?  After all, in the Bible people did things that grieved God yet if Calvinism and compatibilism are true, then why was God grieved?

Glenn Shellrude points out from Ezekiel 24:13-14 that in a Calvinist reading, God simultaneously tried to cleanse Israel and prevented them from being cleansed because He wanted to judge them (Grace for All, p.35).  Does this make sense?  In Jeremiah 7:31 the Lord rebukes the sons of Judah for doing what He had not commanded nor came to His mind.  The Calvinist understanding is that this is merely God coming down on our level so that we can understand His ways.  Yet this does not fit the text.  Is God merely saying something not true about Himself because of our ignorance?  That doesn’t make sense.

Shellrude goes on to point out the many sins in the New Testament we are said to avoid and even the entire book of 1 Corinthians where Paul rebukes the Corinthians for sinning.  If Paul understood compatibilism (and remember that Calvinists will claim that Paul was a true Calvinist) then surely he would understand that the sins of the people were done by the will of God.  The sins could not be avoided if God willed them so.

I accept that there are mysteries in theology.  This is one of them.  I believe in limited free will (because only God has true free will to do whatever He wills) because I see this truth played out in Scripture and in humanity.  Yet I believe in the sovereignty of God but not in the compatibilism use of the word.  I believe that God knows all things and yet the mystery for me is that God is not guilty of sin, that He doesn’t cause people to sin and He would that they not sin yet He allows for free sinful decisions yet He still gets His will done.  That is a mystery I accept because I see it taught in Scripture.  The Bible does not answer all our questions about God and I believe it never could.  God is simply too exhaustive to know.

Despite Calvinism holding to soft determinism, most Calvinists are not consistent in this so that they preach, pray, and live their lives as if free will were true.  No doubt when backed into a corner they will hold to determinism but they don’t live that way.  I know of only one man in all my years who lived as if compatibilism were true.  He would indulge looking at porn and he never felt guilty for it because he reasoned that if God didn’t will for him to look at porn, God would supply the grace for him to not look at it.  He eventually moved on to prostitutes and then to leaving his wife for another woman. Why?  Because God never stopped him.  He reasoned that God could have but God willed for him to do all these sexual sins.

Now to be fair, nearly every Calvinist I know would rebuke this man for his sinning.  They would even call him an apostate and call him to repentance and they should.  Yet did this man not do what God willed him to do?  If compatibilism is true then he has no free will and acted by his nature that God had not changed by His sovereign grace.  As an Arminian, I would (and did) call this man to repent.  I warned him of his sinning but he ignored me because of my Arminianism.  I pointed him to Scripture but he ignored that.  Again, he reasoned that if God wanted him to stop his sinning, God would grant him the grace to do so but God never did and so he continued in his sinfulness.

Now I know that was a hard case.  That is not typical at all and I thank God for that.  Most Calvinists I know are truly godly men and women who love the Lord Jesus.  Yet they live their lives as if free will were true.  They might would deny free will if asked but they wake up each day and seemingly do what they like.  When faced with temptation, they, like myself, are faced with a choice to make and many of them avoid sinning.  I praise God for that.  Yet if I asked them if they could freely choose A or B when faced with temptation, they would say yes yet Calvinism denies such a view.

I am happy to hold to my mysteries.  I have not figured God out and never will.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door this morning have their god figured out.  That is why the JW’s god is not the true and living God.  God is a mystery.  He is beyond my understanding and His ways are a mystery to me.  I am comfortable with my mysteries in my theology.

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!

Determinism And False Doctrine

Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines.  While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology.  Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved.  However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.”  Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture.  When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a common view.

However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same.  All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission.  No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God).  Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

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.)

Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation.  They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.

So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so.  Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited.  When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so.  If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist.  They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).

Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice.  The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire.  Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism.  The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose.  Take the case of Adam and Eve.  Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?  The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice.  The compatabilist does not.  Calvinist John Frame is clear:

Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.

In other words, Adam could not freely choose.  Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so.  God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him.  That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions.  All Calvinists believe we are.  They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done.  An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23).  Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.

So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was.  The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do.  This is the nature even of soft determinism.

There are biblical problems with such a view.  For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds.  The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11).  Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15).  Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16).  God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts.  In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind.  God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15).  He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13).  God is completely holy (1 John 1:5).  All of this is held true even by soft determinists.  Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7.  Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature.  Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind.  How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world?  I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?

There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to.  The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty.  I have no true answer here.  I only admit that it is so.  The compatibilist cannot.  They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).

In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.

Arminians and Synergism

According to one Calvinist theologian, synergism is “the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives.”  Calvinists often boast of being the opposite of this and being monergists who teach that salvation is the entire work of God meaning that God regenerates the lost sinner so that they can respond in faith to the gospel.  In other words, in the words of R.C. Sproul, a person is born again to believe and does not believe to be born again.  This flows from the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and unconditional election.  In the TULIP acronym it is I for irresistible grace though Calvin used the term “effectual calling.”

However, are Arminians truly synergists?  There is no doubt that Roman Catholic theology embraces synergism and teaches that mankind must cooperate with the various means of grace to be saved.  There is no denying that Roman Catholicism embraces works righteousness and teaches that we are saved by grace and by our good works as well.  They combine for our justification.

Arminianism, on the other hand, embraces the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.  We agree that we are totally unable to secure our eternal salvation by our good works (Isaiah 64:6).  Because of the nature of sin, even the “good” that we do is often tainted by our own pride.  If good works could inherit eternal life, what was the point of the cross?  Was it not to demonstrate the glory of God and the fact that salvation comes through Jesus alone?

It can be said of reformation Arminianism that we teach that salvation is the work of God.  Through God’s prevenient grace, He prepares the souls of men to hear the gospel and to respond freely.  The Holy Spirit opens the hearts of lost sinners and He also enables the sinner to either believe or reject the gospel.  The sinner is not “working with God” when they embrace the gospel.  In fact, the sinner finds that when they embrace the gospel, they find that Jesus alone saved them by His grace.  They did not earn the salvation of God.  They freely accept it but even this is a gift from God by His prevenient grace.

In Romans 4:1-8 Paul contrasts works with faith.  The text reads:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Abraham believed God.  In contrast, in verse 4 Paul says that a works mentality is one that says I am owed this.  But, Paul adds in verse 5, the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

Now I believe, with my Calvinist brethren, that all of this is a gift of God.  While I reject the notion that God does it all for us (I find it hard to fit how God believes for us but I understand that Calvinists would say that He makes us willing to believe to quote Sproul again), I likewise accept the fact that even my believing could not be done apart from the work of the Spirit.  He enables me to believe though this is not irresistible.

The point here is not to protect free will.  The point is that God deals with us as people.  People can reason, can think, can use logic, can act.  People are not robots.  God deals with lost sinners as people.  We should not think that our inability limits the ability of God to save sinners.  He freely saves those who come to Him and the condition that He has placed is faith and repentance but the Spirit aids the sinner in this saving process.  This is not a solo work nor us working with God.  This is us surrendering to the Spirit to save us through Christ (Titus 3:5-7).

In conclusion, I believe that reformation Arminianism is based on the belief that God alone does save sinners.  Sinners do not “aid” God in saving them.  They do surrender to His conviction as part of their freed will but this is a gift from the Spirit (John 6:44).  None of us can earn salvation.  It is impossible.  Jesus alone is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Our salvation is found only in Him (John 8:51).  I hope this was a helpful post on showing that we Arminians stress, like our Calvinist brethren, that salvation is the work of the Lord (John 1:12-13).

Inconsistent Monergism

I appreciate much the work of my fellow Calvinist laborers for the kingdom of God.  I appreciate that many of them are taking the gospel to the lost and they are preaching repentance to all.  As Dr. Forlines is quoted as saying, “Calvinists are Arminians until they say something Calvinistic.”  My fellow Calvinist preachers will plead with the lost to be saved, will call all to repent, will preach the cross and the call of God to forsake their sins and come to Christ alone for salvation.  A few (and not all) will even preach that God loves the lost sinner and will point to the cross as proof of this love (Romans 5:8-9; cf John 3:16).  And for all this I am grateful.

Yet Calvinists are monergists.  They will often accuse Arminians as being synergists and will make statements like, “Arminians believe that man must do his part and God does His part” or “God will meet the Arminian half way down the isle to salvation.”  Because Arminians preach that all can be saved who place their faith in Christ alone, we are said to be teaching “works righteousness” and that we are telling people to do their part to be saved and God will do the rest.

I honestly have never heard a true monergist evangelist.  I would love to hear one.  The message would have to be all on God and not on man.  Further, the message of salvation would have to be, “You can do nothing.  You can’t even hear me unless you are regenerate for dead sinners cannot hear the voice of God.  You must just lay there like Lazarus and allow the Holy Spirit to raise you up when Jesus calls you but I can’t do that and you can’t do that.  Only Jesus can do that.”  That is true monergism.

Now let me be fair here.  Calvinists preach the gospel for the same reason that I preach the gospel: because God said to (Matthew 28:19; Romans 10:14-17).  Calvinists preach repentance like I do because God told us to (Luke 24:47).  Calvinists agree that the Lord uses the means of grace to draw sinners to salvation (the preaching of the gospel) and I agree (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).  Calvinists and I agree that the Holy Spirit must work on the sinner to bring them to salvation (John 6:44; 16:8-11).  Calvinists and I even agree that prayer for the lost is biblical and necessary (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Yet Calvinists believe that nothing and no one but God can save the sinner.  Yet they plead with sinners to be saved.  They pray for sinners to be saved.  Yet nothing and no one aids the sinner but the Spirit in bringing salvation to the lost sinner.  They exhort sinners to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) and to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 7:10) but none can do that but God alone.  And if they didn’t do any of this: the elect would still be saved somehow by God’s sovereign means.

So why preach?  Why pray?  Why plead?  Why reason?  Why call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus?  I agree that God calls us to do this but what role does this play in the saving of sinners?  If you say none then again, why do it at all?  If you say, “Because God has sovereignly chosen to use this to save sinners” (and I agree) then does God use our roles to bring sinners to salvation?  If so, is this monergistic salvation?

The Arminian answer is this: God does save sinners by His own power (John 1:12-13).  I don’t doubt one bit that the work of salvation is accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:30) and that His blood alone can save the lost sinner (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 26:28).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner who comes to Christ will find in Him true salvation from their sins (Matthew 1:21; John 6:37).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner must recognize their own sinfulness to be saved from their sins (Romans 3:23-24) and that Christ alone is able to cleanse them from their sins (Acts 13:38-39).  I don’t deny that the work of the Spirit is to draw the sinner to salvation and that without His aid, none could be saved for none seek after God (Romans 3:10-18).  I don’t doubt that human works play no role in our salvation (Romans 4:5).  Good works flow from our salvation (Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26).

Yet the Spirit does not make us believe apart from our own will.  The Spirit frees the bound will so that the sinner hears the gospel and out of their own free will look to Christ alone to save them.  The freed sinner doesn’t look to their own moral goodness (Romans 3:19-20) but to the cross alone to set them free from the wrath of God (Romans 1:16-17).  The Spirit enables the sinner to believe but He doesn’t believe for the sinner. When the sinner repents, they are born again (John 3:3-7; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 16:30-34).  When they repent, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).  We receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14) and become children of the living God (Galatians 3:26).  The Spirit works in all of this for the glory of God.

I believe the Lord Jesus has done everything for our salvation.  We add nothing to His work.  The sinner, however, must receive the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23) and this is accomplished by the means of grace: the preaching of the gospel, the prayers of the saints for the lost sinner, the call to repentance.  We don’t work with Christ to be saved but we trust only in His cross to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  And when a sinner does this they find (just as all true disciples do) that the Spirit of God heard the cries of the saints, opened their eyes, exposed them to the gospel, freed them to believe and receive, and He then seals them.  We find that the work of salvation is not our work but His work alone (Jonah 2:9).

So again, why pray for the lost?  Why preach to the lost?  Why plead with the lost?  Because God is faithful to save those who cry out to Him (Acts 2:21) but the sinner must hear to be saved (Romans 10:17).  God works through the Church to bring sinners to Himself.  This is His plan and His pattern.  We need not change that now.  We need only join in the battle for souls by preaching His gospel to the lost and allow Him to save those who believe.

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