10 More Questions for Calvinists

10 More Questions for Calvinists

1. If it is true that before a person can respond to God, God must irresistibly cause that person’s regeneration, why is God long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9)?  What’s He waiting for?  Is God long-suffering with Himself, as He waits for Himself to irresistibly and unfailingly bend the human will to faith and conversion?  Isn’t it incoherent to believe that God would actively withhold the grace that man needs in order to respond the Gospel, while at the same time be long-suffering toward mankind, not willing that any should perish?  As an aside, the verse in question states that God is long-suffering “to us-ward”.  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

2. Is there any discernible difference between God “powerfully and unfailingly bend[ing] the human will to faith and conversion”, as the Canons of Dort teach, and God forcing someone to be saved?

3. Is Calvinism essential for salvation?  Does one need to believe Calvinism in order to be saved?  If not, was Spurgeon wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”?  Was Engelsma wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the Gospel.  Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel.  Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ”?

4. Is there anything that the reprobate can do to avoid eternal punishment?  If not, would it be accurate to say that the reprobate do not have a Saviour to save them from their sins?  Would it be accurate to say that Christ did nothing to save the reprobate?  Would it be accurate to say that the Gospel is for the elect alone, and that the reprobate therefore have no Gospel to believe, even if they could believe?  Further, would it be just to condemn them for rejecting the Saviour, when they had no Saviour to save them from their sins?

5. If Christ did nothing to save the reprobate, are the reprobate to be commended for their unbelief?  For example, if a reprobate flat-out denies that Christ died for him, isn’t he simply believing the truth that Christ’s death was not for him?  Suppose that the reprobate were to say, “I don’t believe that Christ did anything to save me.”  If Christ did not die for the reprobate who said this, then what he said is accurate, and should he not be commended for his unbelief, insofar as what he believes is the truth?

6. Regarding Jesus’ dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25)?  If Irresistible Grace is true, isn’t it just as true that man’s will would immediately and unfailingly be bent to faith and conversion upon hearing God’s effectual call?  Why would it be harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s unfailingly irresistible calling than what it would be for any other sinner?  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

7. God specifically states that “he himself tempts no one” (James. 1:13).  If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass to such a meticulous extent that “the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless insofar as he permits, no, unless insofar as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service”, as Calvin said, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed absolutely everything to that extent, yet somehow does not cause temptation? As an aside, does the fact that temptation occurs without God causing it mean that the temptation is not under God’s sovereign rule?

8. If regeneration precedes faith, is faith necessary for salvation?  Even Calvinist Charles Spurgeon argued that once a man is regenerate, he is saved, and that it is therefore “unnecessary”, “ridiculous”, and “absurd” to preach Christ to him and bid him to believe in order to be saved.  Assuming that a regenerate man is a saved man, and vice versa, doesn’t this “axiom of Reformed Theology”, as R.C. Sproul put it, undermine the necessity of faith?  Further, is there any discernible difference between saying ‘regeneration precedes faith’, and ‘salvation precedes faith’?

9. Is belief in the doctrine of Limited Atonement more of a deduction from the T, U, I, and P of the TULIP, rather than a clear truth of Scriptural revelation?  Is Limited Atonement embraced because of clear Scriptural reasons, or is it embraced because the logic of the Calvinistic worldview requires it and the thought that the Scriptures allow it?

10. If God wanted to convey in the Scriptures the idea that Christ died for the elect and no one else, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?  Conversely, if God wanted to convey the idea that Christ died provisionally for the whole world, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?

Related: 10 Questions for Calvinists

Pink: The Fall Did Not Affect the Elect

“In other words, in God’s eternal thoughts and foreviews, the elect were conceived and contemplated by Him in the Divine mind as real entities in a state of pure creaturehood, above and beyond any consideration of the Fall… Such were “sons” before God sent forth the Holy Spirit into their hearts (Gal. 4:6); they were “children” while “scattered abroad” before Christ died for them (John 11:51, 52); they were “children” before the Redeemer became incarnate (Heb. 2:14). The elect were “children” from all eternity and decreed to be so unto all eternity. They did not lose their sonship by the Fall, neither by any corruption derived from that Fall in their nature. “Children” they continued, though sinful children, and as such, justly exposed to wrath. Nevertheless, this relationship could not be revoked by any after-acts in time: united to Christ from all eternity, they were always one with Him.” (A.W. Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion, ‘Mystical Union’, Pt.2)

“Though, while all fell in Adam, yet all did not fall alike. The non-elect fell so as to be damned, they being left to perish in their sins, because they had no relation to Christ—He was not related to them as the Mediator of union with God.  The non-elect had their all in Adam, their natural head. But the elect had all spiritual blessing bestowed upon them in Christ, their gracious and glorious Head (Eph. 1:3). They could not lose these…” (A.W. Pink, The Doctrine of Election, ‘Its Nature’)

Feedback: Jeremiah 13:23 Revisited

This week’s feedback is in response to the post Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?, wherein I argued that Jeremiah 13:23 is not universally applicable as proof of mankind’s total depravity, despite it typically being used as a ‘golden bullet’ proof-text by most Calvinists.

This week’s respondent asserts that Jeremiah 13:23 is universally applicable, and that by disagreeing with him, I am denying the Lord.

Question: “You said: “The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.”  How does it make it clear that ONLY israel is in view?What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?  On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.  Yet to combat “calvinism,” you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…  

But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to respond, but I can’t help but think that it is you who has failed to grasp the context and scope of Jeremiah 13.  You said:

“How does it make it clear that ONLY israel [sic] is in view?”

Like this:

“Thus says the LORD to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist.  And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.”  So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.  And after many days the LORD said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.”  Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it.  And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.  “You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’  And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’  Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the LORD.  I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” (Jeremiah 13:1-14, ESV; emphasis added)

As I said in the original post, Israel and Judah hadn’t simply “fallen” into sin.  They were reveling in sin, continuing in steadfast rebellion to God, continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words, and continuing in steadfast idolatry.  And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard.  What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God.  Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.  God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

The burden of proof is on you to show where, in the context of the threat in Jeremiah 13, anyone but Israel and Judah are included.

“What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?”

Where in the original post did I say, or even imply, that pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good”?

It does not follow that since Jeremiah 13 has specific reference to Israel and Judah, that pagan nations have more moral ability to do good.  That’s a massive leap of logic.

What you don’t seem to grasp is that I have no argument with the doctrine of ‘Total Depravity’, per se.  In fact, no informed Arminian has a problem with the doctrine.  See for instance, Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity? and A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

The essence of the original post was not about ‘Total Depravity’, per se, but about whether or not Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.  The question of whether pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good” is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

“On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.”

You won’t get any argument from Arminians on this point.  No Arminian denies that salvation is of the Lord, nor that the decisive factor in salvation is the grace of God.

“Yet to combat “calvinism,” [sic] you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…”

And yet to combat an Arminian, you flatly ignore the context of Scripture, you flatly ignore the context of my original post, and now you make a wild assertion without the slightest bit of evidence to back it up. Amazing…

“But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.””

Yes, but how exactly is this relevant to the context of Jeremiah 13?

“These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.””

Again, as an Arminian, I have no issue with the doctrine of Total Depravity, nor do these verses have any relevance to the question of whether Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.

Thanks again for the reply, but nothing you’ve said has caused me to reconsider the conclusion of my original post – Jeremiah 13:23 is specifically referring to Israel and Judah, and should not be used as a proof-text for Total Depravity.  Also, and I mentioned this in the original post, I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages that use universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.

Best regards,

Arminian

David Pawson: The ‘Omega’ Version of Once Saved, Always Saved

The ‘Omega’ Version

This is the subtle understanding of OSAS, more sophisticated and much less permissive.  Both sin and holiness in believers are taken more seriously.

There is an emphasis on the need for perseverance in the Christian life.  Holiness is as necessary as forgiveness, sanctification as essential as justification.  Believers must never become complacent or satisfied, but press on towards the prize of their high calling.  It is as vital to finish the ‘race’ as to start it – hence my ‘Omega’ label for this viewpoint.

It is implicit in the teaching of many pastors, especially those who would describe themselves as ‘Reformed’ in doctrine.  They urge their hearers on to maturity, with constant exhortations against standing still or, worse, slipping back.

The stress on perseverance distinguishes this from the simpler Alpha position.  Indeed, some actually dislike the slogan ‘once saved, always saved’ because it does not include or even imply the need to press on afterwards.  It is therefore shunned for inadequacy rather than inaccuracy.

It is not going too far to say that proponents of this view believe that only those who persevere will finally be saved – and that those who don’t persevere will be lost forever.  So how can they be classed as OSAS?  What they say about perseverance seems to be a direct contradiction of it! Actually, they manage to believe both and this is where the subtlety comes in.  The tension is resolved in one of two different ways.

Some resolve it by defining the penalty of backsliding.  They say that the most that can be lost is in the realm of reward or special blessing, either in this world or, more usually, the next.  That is, there is a ‘bonus’ for perseverance which can be forfeited, though participation in heavenly glory is still assured.

Others resolve it by denying the possibility of backsliding, at least in a persistent form.  This amounts to the belief that all those who are truly born again ‘must’ persevere – not meaning that they ought to, but that they inevitably will, that they cannot help but do so.

Nor does it stop there.  This inevitable perseverance is not so much their action as a ‘gift’ from God which they cannot refuse.  He ensures that they finish as he ensured that they began.  This gift and belief in it are often referred to as ‘the perseverance of the saints’, which is something of a misnomer since it is a divine rather than a human action.  Recently, it is being more accurately described as ‘the preservation of the saints’.

The logical deduction drawn from all this is that all those who in practice fail to persevere were never truly born again.  They may have professed faith and even joined the Church on the strength of that, but they were only nominal ‘Christians’ and it is therefore not surprising that they did not persist in their pilgrimage.

- David Pawson, Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance (1996: Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 10-12

 

Feedback: If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?

This week’s feedback raises the old accusation that Arminianism pictures God as “weak and helpless”, and having died in vain for those who ultimately perish:

Question: “The problem with Arminianism is that it paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior, trying and yet failing to save everyone.  If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted.  If any of Christ’s blood was wasted, then He died in vain and is a failure as a Savior.  The theology of Arminians make Christ less than God.”

Answer: This is by no means a new criticism.  Personally, I’ve never found this claim to be particularly strong or convincing.  When dealing with issues such as these, I’ve found it helpful to refer to what I see as God’s intentions in the atonement.  These can be expressed in two inter-related questions:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

I believe a very simplified answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, to which I would reply that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). Does Christ’s blood accomplish the salvation of those who believe? If so (and I believe that it does), then the blood is not wasted, insofar as it accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve: the salvation of those who believe.

A look at three Old Testament foreshadows of Jesus Christ is helpful:

Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb was intended to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) was intended to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as the cities of refuge were intended to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).

Another point worth making is that it’s not as if part of Christ’s blood saves one person, and another part of the blood saves another person. Christ’s blood, in its entirety, saves every person who repents and believes the Gospel. The same blood that saved the Apostles is exactly the same blood that saves you and me. The same blood that saves one repentant sinner is exactly the same blood that is sufficient to save billions upon billions of repentant sinners, and then some more. This same blood is available to anybody who will turn to Christ. If anyone does not look in faith to Christ and in so doing be saved, it is that they have wasted the opportunity for salvation. It is not as if Christ’s blood was wasted, for if just one person was to be saved, the same amount of blood would have to have been shed as it would for the entire world to be saved.

The claims that Arminianism “paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior” and that Arminians “make Christ less than God” are unfounded, as they rest on the claim that “If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted” which is shown to be an unconvincing accusation against Arminian theology.

One final point I’d like to make is that the claim that Christ’s blood is wasted if all are not saved can actually be applied (though just as unconvincingly) to the Calvinistic scheme.  Most Calvinists that I’ve come into contact with will typically make reference to the ‘sufficiency/efficiency’ distinction, namely, the claim that Christ’s blood is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.  So in your Calvinist scheme, the blood of Christ is sufficient to save all, and yet it does not save all. This means that the original claim that Christ’s blood was wasted may just as easily be applied to your own Calvinistic worldview.  Now, the way you Calvinists get around the apparent problem is, admittedly, quite easy and persuasive.  That is, by showing that the intention of Christ’s death was to save only the elect (on the Calvinist view), the problem disappears (i.e., the blood accomplishes exactly what was intended).  As the problem is so easily resolved, it would be silly for an Arminian to charge Calvinism with entailing the conclusion that some of Christ’s blood was wasted.

And the fact that the claim is so easily resolved is precisely the reason that I brought it up in the first place, as this is the same type of reasoning that we Arminians use to resolve the apparent problem.  Just as a Calvinist appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as he sees it resolves the problem for his worldview, so we Arminians appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as we see it resolves the issue for our worldview.1  The fact that the same charge can be brought against Arminianism and Calvinism alike, and that it can be so easily resolved, is indicative of two things: 1) the charge that any of Christ’s blood was wasted is such a weak argument that it should not be used by either Calvinists or Arminians, and 2) Calvinists and Arminians alike should have no problems in principle with the other’s explanation, as both explanations (similar in principle, yet still different) are perfectly consistent with their respective worldviews.

Best regards,

Arminian

Note

1 From my perspective, Calvinists and Arminians alike limit the atonement in some way.  In my personal experience, Calvinists have typically claimed that they limit the scope of the atonement, while we Arminians limit the power or efficacy of the atonement.  Now, I don’t presume to speak for all Arminians, but I personally reject that distinction.  My view is that Calvinists and Arminians both limit the scope of the atonement.  The power of the atonement is a non-issue; the real issue is differing views on the scope of the atonement, Calvinism limiting the scope of the provision and intended benefit to only those whom God unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world, and the Arminian limiting the scope of the intended benefit to those who believe.