By Spencer D. Gear
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Let’s suppose that my wife and I have three children, Jane (12), Billy (10) and Carl (6). Since Jane was our first born, she has received lots of favours and preferences over the other two. I have given her special preference when it came to buying clothes she liked, theme parks she enjoyed attending, and food, food, and food – her kinds of food. She was graced with the privilege of receiving what she wanted, especially her favourite passionfruit ice cream from that special ice cream parlour.
But there’s more! She got lots more cuddles, sits on my knee, and extra help with school homework. In fact, I’ve had it said that she is my very favourite child – and she is.
Yes, I love Billy and Carl, but not as much as Jane. She is graced with lots of special privileges, including that special watch, extra special dresses and jeans. I make so bones about it. She is my very, very favourite. There is nobody in the world like my Janie. She’s a doll and the very best child I have.
I don’t forget about the other kids, but they come in a distant second and third in popularity with me. I’ve had some folks call me a bigoted, biased, unjust father. But why would they think like that? Isn’t it OK to have special favourites and especially in my family?
And that is what is happening in some theological circles with the promotion of a certain God who acts like my treatment of Janie. This God plays favourites; he only
- chooses some people for salvation (the elect), and he chose this limited number from before the foundation of the world. This means that if he chose some for salvation, he left the remainder for damnation. By inference, they were chosen by God to be condemned – and that for eternity. In other words, he rejected large numbers of human beings throughout history and only chose a smaller group to join him through salvation in heaven. He’s a God who shows favourites through his deterministic will.
- This means that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the whole world, but only for the sins of the elect. The majority of human beings will never ever be able to be saved because Jesus’ didn’t pay the price, the atoning sacrifice (or propitiation) for their sins, through his shed blood on the cross.
- The third factor is that that these saved believers have no say in salvation. They are irresistibly drawn and cannot say, ‘No’. Many people in the world are not in this category, so are not God’s favourites. He shows partiality towards a certain group of people. But there’s more….
- These people are so special and given such favouritism that they are regenerated before they even have faith in him. It is said by some of the promoters of this kind of God that people believe in Christ because they have already received regeneration from God.
Let’s check out what this God of favourites does – this God of injustice and partiality! This is the God whom Peter declared in the King James Version of the Bible, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons’ (Acts 10:34). How does this God who is impartial, ‘no respecter of persons’, line up with the Calvinistic evidence?
B. Certain Christians and favourites
(image courtesy Openclipart)
This illustration about the family has some strong overtones in the evangelical Christian community. I’m not talking about the liberals. They don’t accept the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone (according to Acts 4:12), they denigrate Jesus, deny his deity and substitutionary atonement, and do not treat the Scriptures as authoritatively from God. See some of what I mean in my articles on:
Also refer to:
Instead, I’m talking about what is happening in some evangelical Christian circles in the name of Calvinism.
Which is the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the USA? According to 2012 figures, it is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with 16.2 million members. The SBC is concerned with the inroads of Calvinism in the Convention. Christianity Today, 18 June 2012, reported that
a just-released survey conducted by LifeWay Research found that roughly equal numbers of SBC pastors identify their congregation as Calvinist/Reformed (30%) or Arminian/Wesleyan (30%). More than 60 percent are concerned about Calvinism’s influence on the denomination.
A 2006 Lifeway survey found that only 10 percent of SBC pastors identified themselves as “five-point Calvinists.” However, a similar 2007 study of young ministers by the SBC’s North American Mission Board discovered that almost 35 percent of SBC ministers that graduated from SBC seminaries in 2004 and 2005 self-identified as “five-point Calvinists.”
Those concerned with the influence of Calvinism in the SBC organised ‘The John 3:16 Conference’ on November 6-7, 2008, that was held at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia. The papers presented at the conference are published in Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism (Allen & Lemke 2010).
Here is another example from my personal experience of what happened when I tried to expose the nature of Calvinism and its view of God. When I made the following post to a certain Christian online forum, I had it removed by moderators as being inflammatory since I wrote that ‘the God who shows partiality by dying for some but not for all is the kind of Calvinistic God of injustice I’m talking about’. So, is it unfair to point out the nature of the unjust God of Calvinism? Was I being honest or unfair? Yes, it was a provocative kind of post, but that is the way that I see the issue as the following discussion will reveal.
The debate on this online forum emerged with a person (whose post has now been deleted) stating:
I believe that the Bible does teach that Christ died for everyone but I’ve never really studied the subject which is an omission on my part which I need to rectify I know, but what I don’t understand is how belief in a limited atonement is compatible with people being at fault for not believing in Christ. If Christ only died for the elect then how can the non-elect be found guilty of rejecting Christ when in actual fact He never died for them in the first place? “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18 ESV). Also Christ said, ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me (John 16:7-9 ESV). How can it be a sin not to believe in Christ if in fact Christ didn’t atone for that person’s sin?
My response (also now deleted) was:
You have stated it very well. That’s what I’ve been trying to say … when I stated that the God of Calvinism is unjust. He damned the whole of humanity through original sin, but only provided the opportunity of salvation to ‘some’ of humanity whom he saved through unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.
It makes God into an impartial, unjust being who doesn’t care for the whole of humanity, but only for the damnation of all of humanity through original sin.
Thank you for saying it so well. You have articulated the unjust God of Calvinism in a very reasonable way. Don’t be surprised if you get a response something like: ‘But those who are damned and do not have an opportunity to receive salvation, are getting what they deserved anyway – hell and judgment’. But that avoids the issue of the injustice of this God in demonstrating partiality.
I consider that this issue involves the contrast between two teachings at the core of Christianity that leads to Calvinism’s promotion of an unjust God:
(1) When did sin start and how much of humanity is infected with sin as a result of breaking God’s law and God’s infliction of punishment (death and sin) on all individuals of the human race? God was responsible for carrying through with this punishment. And….
(2) For whom did Christ die? How many people are potentially able to be saved? Is salvation available to all of humanity or only some human beings today and throughout history who are called the ‘elect’?
Let’s examine these core doctrines briefly:
C. God’s justice in damning all sinners
(image courtesy ChristArt)
This deals with the doctrine of original sin and its consequences. On a practical level, this is the issue that I raised with that brief quote that was censored from that Christian forum. I know it was a provocative quote but here I’ll try to demonstrate that it was an accurate assessment that shows the justice of God in damning all people and the injustice of God in the Calvinist’s view of salvation.
I believe in the doctrine of original sin or inherited sin as taught in Scripture. Original sin means that God counts all human beings as guilty of sin because they sinned when Adam, the federal head of the human race, sinned against God and, thus, all sinned in Adam. This is affirmed in Scriptures such as:
‘‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’ (Romans 5:12 English Standard Version).
Original sin entered the world because Adam disobeyed God’s command,
‘And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”’ (Genesis 2:16-17).
What did Adam do with this command?
‘So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths’ (Gen 3:6-7).
And the rest is history! We have these amazing two verses to tell us the consequences of this original, inherited sin:
‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:18-19).
So Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commands and they, as representatives of the whole human race, caused all of us to be infected with sin. And sin leads to death and condemnation by God.
Another way of stating inherited sin is the doctrine of total depravity. See the article, ‘total depravity’, meaning comprehensive depravity of all human beings from conception. This is a result of Adam’s sin.
This is sound biblical doctrine that all human beings are infected by sin and are suffering the consequences of that sin – condemnation, damnation. See the sermon, ‘The justice of God in the damnation of sinners’.
Wayne Grudem summarised the doctrine of inherited sin this way:
The conclusion to be drawn from these verses is that all members of the human race were represented by Adam in the time of testing in the Garden of Eden. As our representative, Adam sinned, and God counted us as guilty as well as Adam. (A technical term that is sometimes used in this connection is impute, meaning ‘to think of as belonging to someone, and therefore to cause it to belong to that person.’) God counted Adam’s guilt as belonging to us, and since God is the ultimate judge of all things in the universe, and since his thoughts are always true, Adam’s guilt does in fact belong to us. God rightly imputed Adam’s guilt to us (Grudem 1999:213).
So, it is a clear biblical doctrine that all are damned because of inherited sin from Adam. Theologian Wayne Grudem, as cited above, is Reformed in his doctrine of original sin. Eric Landstrom’s review of Grudem’s Bible doctrine (Grudem 1999) stated that ‘Grudem is a Calvinist’.
That is how the entire human race contracted the disease, but is there a cure and how does it happen?
D. God’s injustice did not make salvation available to ALL.
(image courtesy ChristArt)
But what is God’s solution according to the TULIP Calvinists? TULIP means:
- Total depravity,
- Unconditional election,
- Limited atonement,
- Irresistible grace, and
- Perseverance of the saints.
This will be a brief examination of the points of ULI only, along with the Calvinistic interpretation that regeneration precedes faith.
1. Unconditional election
Matt Slick of CARM, a Calvinist, stated his understanding of unconditional election was that ‘God elects a person based upon nothing in that person because there is nothing in him that would make him worthy of being chosen; rather, God’s election is based on what is in God. God chose us because he decided to bestow his love and grace upon us, not because we are worthy, in and of ourselves, of being saved’.
J I Packer explains election:
The verb elect means “to select, or choose out.” The biblical doctrine of election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10). This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects. God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect (Rom. 8:32) [Packer 1993:149].
Packer does what not all Calvinists do. He goes on to state his understanding of ‘election’ of the remainder of humanity – the reprobates:
Reprobation is the name given to God’s eternal decision regarding those sinners whom he has not chosen for life. His decision is in essence a decision not to change them, as the elect are destined to be changed, but to leave them to sin as in their hearts they already want to do, and finally to judge them as they deserve for what they have done. When in particular instances God gives them over to their sins (i.e., removes restraints on their doing the disobedient things they desire), this is itself the beginning of judgment. It is called “hardening” (Rom. 9:18; 11:25; cf. Ps. 81:12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28), and it inevitably leads to greater guilt (Packer 1993:150)
Thus, the God of Calvinism is a God of injustice and partiality who unconditionally elects some to eternal salvation and leaves the rest to eternal damnation.
2. Limited atonement
Again, Matt Slick stated his doctrine of limited atonement: ‘Christ bore the sin only of the elect, not everyone who ever lived’.
That is not the view of John Calvin, the father of Calvinism, who wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:
Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….
And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (emphasis added).
Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in atonement for the whole world.
R C Sproul:
I prefer the term definite atonement to the term limited atonement (though it turns tulip into tudip). The doctrine of definite atonement focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross….
Anyone who is not a universalist is willing to agree that the effect of Christ’s work on the cross is limited to those who believe. That is, Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers. Not everyone is saved through His death. Everyone also agrees that the merit of Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for the sins of all human beings. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some.
This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement. Those who deny definite atonement insist that Christ’s work of atonement was designed by God to atone for the sins of everyone in the world. It made possible the salvation of everyone, but made certain the salvation of no one. Its design is therefore both unlimited and indefinite.
The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect. The Atonement was an actual, not merely potential, work of redemption. In this view there is no possibility that God’s design and intent for the Atonement could be frustrated. God’s purpose in salvation is sure (Sproul 1992:175-176).
I have reached the view that a doctrine that claims that Christ did not die for the whole world but for only some of humanity, the elect, is a doctrine of an unjust God. He is the God of favourites, as I was of Janie. He is not the God revealed in Scripture. A God who condemns the whole of humanity to damnation because of the sin of the fountain head of the human race (Adam) is a just God as Adam was our representative. But a God who does not provide an opportunity through Christ’s death for all to be saved, is an unjust God. He promotes discrimination on a massive scale.
3. Irresistible grace
Matt Slick wrote of irresistible grace: ‘The term unfortunately suggests a mechanical and coercive force upon an unwilling subject. This is not the case. Instead, it is the act of God making the person willing to receive him. It does not mean that a person cannot resist God’s will. It means that when God moves to the save/regenerate a person, the sinner cannot thwart God’s movement and he will be regenerated’.
Wayne Grudem concurred when he stated that sometimes irresistible grace is used for regeneration. Irresistible grace
refers to the fact that God effectively calls people and also gives them regeneration, and both actions guarantee that we will respond in saving faith. The term irresistible grace is subject to misunderstanding, however, since it seems to imply that people do not make a voluntary choice in responding to the gospel – a wrong idea, and a wrong understanding of the term irresistible grace. The term does preserve something valuable, however, because it indicates that God’s work reaches into our hearts to bring about a response that is absolutely certain – even though we respond voluntarily (Grudem 1999:301).
This is surely a mixed bag of ideas from a leading contemporary theologian since he states that irresistible grace:
- Guarantees that a person will respond in saving faith.
- It is a wrong understanding to eliminate voluntary choice by human beings in salvation.
- God’s response in the heart is absolutely certain, even though
- Human beings respond voluntarily. This is an oxymoron.
This is a confusion of ideas that human beings respond voluntarily but God gives them irresistible grace that guarantees they will respond in faith. Talk about mixed up thinking – voluntary by people but irresistible by God!
This, nonetheless, means that God is unjust in providing irresistible grace only to the unconditionally elect for whom Jesus died and he did not die for the sins of the whole world.
4. Regeneration precedes faith
Wayne Grudem explained the Calvinistic perspective:
The idea that regeneration comes before saving faith is not always understood by evangelicals today. Sometimes people will even say something like, “If you believe in Christ as your Savior, then (after you believe) you will be born again.” But Scripture itself never says anything like that. This new birth is viewed by Scripture as something that God does within us in order to enable us to believe.
The reason that evangelicals often think that regeneration comes after saving faith is that they see the results (love for God and his Word, and turning from sin) after people come to faith, and they think that regeneration must therefore have come after saving faith. Yet here we must decide on the basis of what Scripture tells us, because regeneration itself is not something we see or know about directly: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8) [Grudem 1999:303].
R C Sproul, another Calvinist, wrote:
The key phrase in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is this: “…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have you been saved)” (Eph. 2:5). Here Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place ‘when we were dead.’ With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man are smashed. Again, dead men do not cooperate with grace. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith.
This says nothing different from what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God. If we believe that faith precedes regeneration, then we set our thinking and therefore ourselves in direct opposition not only to giants of Christian history but also to the teaching of Paul and of our Lord Himself (Sproul n d).
What about the master Calvinist himself – John Calvin? When did regeneration take place for him? In his commentary on John 1:13, he wrote:
Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.
It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption (Calvin n d; emphasis added).
Here, John Calvin clearly disagrees with contemporary Calvinists, Wayne Grudem and R C Sproul. Calvin believed that regeneration is an effect of faith and does not precede faith. In other words, regeneration takes place at the time a person believes in Christ for salvation.
Calvin’s theology on regeneration also is contrary to that espoused by Calvinist, A W Pink, who stated that ‘man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will choose or prefer that which is divine and spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he must be born again’ (Pink 2008:138).
God’s injustice is promoted again as God shows partiality by providing irresistible grace to only some of human beings throughout human history.
E. But He is the God of justice and impartiality
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Scripture reveals the Lord God Almighty as one who is just and impartial. A few verses will be enough to cement these attributes of God.
1. The God of justice revealed
‘By the righteousness and justice of God we mean that phase of the holiness of God which is seen in His treatment of the creature. Repeatedly these qualities are ascribed to God (e.g. 2 Chron. 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Neh. 9:33; Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; Dan. 9:14; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 16:5). In virtue of the former He has instituted a moral government in the world, imposed just laws upon the creatures, and attached sanctions thereto’ (Thiessen 1949:129-130).
A sample from these verses includes:
- Psalm 89:14, ‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you’.
- Daniel 9:14, ‘Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice’.
- 2 Timothy 4:8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing’.
- Revelation 16:5, ‘And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgements’
Since God’s righteousness and justice are synonymous, we know from both Old and New Testaments that God’s righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne and that God is righteous in all the works he performs. God is the righteous judge and he, the Holy One, is the God of justice. That’s his nature and how he acts.
Thiessen explains further that God demonstrates remunerative justice by giving rewards (see Deut. 7:9, 12, 13; 2 Chron. 6:15; Ps. 58:11; Matt. 25:21; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:26). By inflicting punishment, God is engaged in punitive justice as demonstrated by Gen. 2:17: Ex. 34:7; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 1:32; 2:8-9; 2 Thess. 1:8 (Thiessen 1949:130).
2. The God of impartiality revealed
- 2 Chronicles 19:7, ‘Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes’.
- Job 36:5, ‘Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding’.
- Acts 10:34, ‘So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality’.
- Romans 2:11, ‘For God shows no partiality’.
- 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God our Saviour ‘desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’.
- James 1:17, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change’.
- James 3:17, ‘But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere’.
- 1 Peter 1:17, ‘And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile’.
Could it be any clearer? The Lord God Almighty, revealed in Scripture, by nature is just (righteous) and impartial in his actions. This is quite different from the God who is a respecter of persons (the elect) and plays favourites according to Calvinism with unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.
See Caleb Colley’s article, ‘God is no respecter of persons’.
F. Who got it wrong?
Calvinistic theologian, Charles Hodge, wrote:
In the sight of an infinitely good and merciful God, it is necessary that some of the rebellious race of man should suffer the penalty of the law which all have broken. It is God’s prerogative to determine who shall be vessels of mercy, and who shall be left to the just recompense of their sins. Such are the declarations of Scripture; and such are the facts of the case. We can alter neither. Our blessedness is to trust in the Lord, and to rejoice that the destiny of his creatures is not in their own hands, nor in the hands either of fate or of chance; but in those of Him who is infinite in wisdom, love, and power (Hodge 1979, vol 2:652, emphasis added).
Hodge’s view is that:
- God is infinitely good and merciful;
- Rebellious human beings should suffer the penalty for breaking God’s law;
- His language is ‘it is God’s prerogative’ to determine those to whom he extends mercy and those who are left without God’s mercy (to suffer recompense for their sins);
- These are the facts from Scripture;
- We are blessed to trust the Lord and rejoice in God’s partiality (he doesn’t use this word) in declaring the destiny of two different groups of people;
- This partiality is based on God’s infinite wisdom, love and power.
My, oh my! What a distorted understanding of God’s goodness, mercy, infinite wisdom, love and power!
What could be clearer than 2 Peter 3:9? This verse states, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (ESV).
One Calvinist wrote:
So God is patient toward you/beloved/Christians/God’s elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The whole point is, God is patient towards his elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all of his elect should reach repentance. God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ until all of his elect reach repentance.
What about these interpretations of 2 Peter 3:9 by two Calvinistic commentators, including John Calvin himself? They disagree with the view that this verse refers to the elect Christians.
John Calvin wrote of 2 Peter 3:9, ‘So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost’ (The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419, emphasis added).
In this passage Calvin does give his particular view of predestination,
But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.
So the father of Calvinism states that 2 Peter 3:9 means that God’s love for all human beings is such that ‘he would have them all to be saved’. That’s Calvin’s understanding of the context.
Another Calvinistic commentator, Simon J. Kistemaker, wrote of 2 Peter 3:9,
Not wanting anyone to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In his epistle, he clearly states that the false teachers and scoffers are condemned and face destruction (see 2:3; 3:7; Rom. 9:22). Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.
[God wants] everyone to come to repentance.” God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform (Kistemaker 1986:334).
For a more detailed discussion of 2 Peter 3:9 in support of God’s not being willing that any of the whole of humanity should perish, see my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9. See also, ‘Does 2 Peter 3:9 teach universalism?’
Who got it wrong according to the Scriptures? The Calvinists did and they got it wrong BIG TIME. They got it as wrong as I did when I played favourites with Jane, the eldest child. They get it wrong because they make God a respecter of persons when he is not (see Acts 10:34 NLT, ‘Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism’).
What is the solution to the unfair, discriminate, unjust version of God promoted by Calvinism?
G. The solution
The solution is found in providing biblical answers to these four questions:
- What is God’s basis for election to salvation?
- Did Jesus die for all people or only for the elect? Is the atonement limited?
- Does God extend his grace to all or only some people?
- Is regeneration prior to or coinciding with faith?
1. What is the basis for election to salvation?
In contrast with the Calvinistic definition of unconditional election, the biblical material points to a better understanding: ‘By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace whereby He chose in Christ Jesus for salvation all those whom he foreknew would accept Him. This is election in its redemptive aspect’ (Thiessen 1949:344). Here I’m using election and predestination as essentially synonymous terms.
Henry Thiessen was a leading Arminian theologian of the twentieth century. Roger Olson explained that ‘one of the most influential Arminian theologians of the twentieth century was Henry C. Thiessen…. Thiessen was apparently not aware that he was an Arminian! But his pattern of thought is clearly Arminian’ (Olson 2006:190).
Thiessen (1949:344) explained that election is a sovereign act by God Himself as God was under no obligation to elect anyone as all people had lost their standing before God. Even after Christ’s death on the cross, God was not required to make salvation apply to anyone. However, it was a sovereign act of grace ‘in that He chose those who were utterly unworthy of salvation’ Human beings deserved the opposite ‘but in His grace God chose to save some’. On what basis does he tell us this choosing took place? Scripture is clear that God chose people whom he knew would accept Christ’s salvation. The Scriptures are clear that God’s election is based on his foreknowledge. Here is some biblical support:
‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:29-30; emphasis added).
‘To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood’ (1 Peter 1:1-2; emphasis added).
Thiessen’s statements profoundly summarise the biblical material:
Although we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines His choice, the repeated teaching of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation necessitates our postulating that it is man’s reaction to the revelation God has made of Himself that is the basis of His election. Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation-bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. There is no merit in this transaction. (Thiessen 1949:344,345).
The salvation-bringing grace of God that appears to all people is affirmed in Titus 2:11, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (emphasis added). Notice the emphasis – for all people. It does not say, ‘For all who are in the elect of God’.
Thiessen rightly sees the connection between Calvinistic unconditional election and God’s injustice:
In the minds of some people, election is a choice that God makes for which we can see no reason and which we can hardly harmonize with His justice. We are asked to accept the theory of “unconditional election” as true but unexplainable in spite of the fact that the persistent demand of the heart is for a theory of election that does commend itself to our sense of justice and that harmonizes the teaching of Scripture concerning the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man (Thiessen 1949:345).
Thiessen outlines the biblical proof of election as:
- Based on God’s foreknowledge;
- Christ died for all human beings;
- The doctrine of God’s justice;
- It inspired missionary activity (Thiessen 1949:345-347).
His pointed statement regarding the justice of God and election sinks the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional election, as I understand it:
“But it is difficult to see how God can choose some from the mass of guilty and condemned men, provide salvation for them and efficiently secure their salvation, and do nothing about all the others, if, as we read, righteousness is the foundation of His throne. God would not be partial if he permitted all men to go to their deserved doom; but how can He be other than partial if He selects some from this multitude of men and does things for them and in them that He refuses to do for the others, if there is not something about the two classes that makes the difference? We hold that common grace is extended to all, and that every one has the ability restored to him to ‘will and to do His will.’ The salvation-bearing grace of God has appeared to all men; but some receive the grace of God in vain. It seems to us that only if God makes the same provisions for all and makes the same offers to all, is He truly just (Thiessen 1949: 346-47).
This view is incorporated in the Arminian view of election. It sees that God’s justice requires that God offers to all humanity – all sinners – the possibility of salvation. It doesn’t matter whether it is Judas Iscariot, terrorists, Hitler, Stalin, the apostle Paul, St Augustine, Martin Luther, Henry Thiessen or Wayne Grudem. God provides as much grace for salvation to all these sinners in his consistent view of election. The nature of God is such that he must always act in justice to all people. He does this in the moderate Arminian view of election as summarised by Henry Thiessen.
David Servant has shown how the totality of Scripture does not support unconditional election in his article, ‘Calvin’s unconditional election’. In fact, he takes a line similar to the emphasis of this brief article on the injustice of the Calvinistic God who promotes unconditional election and irresistible grace that provides salvation for some people when all the rest are damned by God. In this article, he wrote:
How will God judge the world in justice if unconditional election/damnation is true? When He says to the goats on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink” and so on, might they not rightly say, “But we could not help but sin, because You created us totally depraved, and because we were not among the elect, You never did bestow upon us Your irresistible grace! We never had a chance to be saved, because our damnation You predestined before we were born! How can you righteously condemn us?”
Will God condemn them for what it was impossible for them not to do? Will He punish them everlastingly for not escaping what they could not escape? He might as justly punish people because their hearts beat within them! So do Calvinists nullify God’s justice by elevating His sovereignty to unbiblical proportions.
I recommend Roger Olson’s article, ‘Election is for everyone’. See also, ‘Divine election and predestination in Ephesians 1’. This is the view that affirms God’s justice.
2. Did Jesus die for the sins of ALL people (unlimited atonement)?
(image courtesy Clker.com public domain)
Henry Thiessen helpfully summarised the biblical material:
Christ Died For The Elect. The Scriptures teach that Christ died primarily for the elect. ‘For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of them that believe’ (1 Tim. 4:10); ‘even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:28); ‘I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine’ (John 17:9); ‘who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace’ (2 Tim. 1:9); ‘even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25); ‘whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime’ (i. e. in saving those who believed in pre-Christian times, Rom. 3:25); cf. also Rev. 13:8. He died for the elect, not only in making salvation possible for them, but also in the sense of actually saving them when they believe on Christ.
Christ Died For The Whole World. The Scriptures also teach that Christ died for the whole world. See again 1 Tim. 4:10 (above); and, ‘behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29); ‘who gave himself a ransom for all’ (1 Tim. 2:6); ‘for the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (Titus 2:11); ‘who privily shall bring in destructive heresies denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction’ (2 Pet. 2:1); ‘but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9); ‘that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man’ (Heb. 2:9); ‘and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). There is a necessary order in a man’s salvation; he must first believe that Christ died for him, before he can appropriate the benefits of His death to himself. Although Christ died for all in the sense of reconciling God to the world, not all are saved because their actual salvation is conditioned on their being reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18 – 20). Hodge paraphrases these verses thus: ‘ Seeing that God in Christ is reconciled, and that He has commissioned us to make known this great truth, it follows that we, as preachers of the Gospel, are ambassadors of Christ.’ Chas. Hodge, Op. cit., p. 146 (Thiessen 1949:329-330)
These sound like contradictory positions and could have the potential for a cry of foul, ‘Your Bible is presenting conflicting positions. It can’t be believed’. Thiessen rightfully does not see the situation that way:
His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen 1949:330).
Conrad Hilario of Xenos Christian Fellowship provided this penetrating assessment of limited atonement and concluded that it is not a biblical doctrine: ‘For Whom Did Jesus Die? Evaluating Limited Atonement’.
We know that Christ died for the whole world of sinners as it is affirmed in these verses
- ‘behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world‘ (John 1:29 ESV);
- ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
- ‘who gave himself a ransom for all‘ (1 Tim. 2:6);
- ‘for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people‘ (Titus 2:11);
- ‘that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone‘ (Heb. 2:9);
- ‘but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance‘ (2 Pet. 3:9);
- ‘and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world‘ (1 John 2:2).
Therefore, we know from these verses that …
World = whoever = all = all people = everyone = the whole world.
3. Is there any kind of grace from God that is extended to all people?
(image courtesy ChristArt)
I already have addressed this topic in another article, ‘Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?’ Let’s check out the Scriptures. I find that prevenient grace is still amazing grace for these biblical reasons:
a. God must take the initiative if human beings are to be saved to enjoy eternal life. God’s common grace will not bring people to salvation. That God took the initiative in salvation is shown by what he did with Adam & Eve after the fall into sin (Gen. 3:8-9). Even after they became fallen human beings, they were still able to hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden and the Lord God called on the man and that man was able to hear God – even though ‘totally depraved’ (this terminology is much later language than the era of the original Fall).
b. We know this from the teachings of Isa. 59:15-16 and John 15:16. Paul told us in Rom. 2:4 that God’s kindness was designed to lead people to repentance.
c. In accepting prevenient grace, I understand that God, in his amazing grace, has made it possible for all people to be saved (e.g. 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; Titus 2:11). With Titus 2:11, this amazing grace of God has appeared ‘bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV) or ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (NIV).
d. The result is that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. This is what is implied in the OT and NT exhortations to turn to God (see Prov. 1:23; Isa. 31:6; Matt. 18:3; Acts 3:19), to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30), and to believe (2 Chron 20:20: Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 John 3:23).
e. We must remember what this means. It DOES NOT mean that prevenient grace makes it possible for a human being to change the permanent bent/nature of his will in favour of God. It does not mean that a person can stop sinning in the natural and make herself/himself acceptable to God. It does mean that a person can make an initial response to God (as with Adam & Eve) and God can give repentance and faith. God can say as he stated in Jeremiah 31:18, “Bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God”. Or, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us” (Ps. 85:4). God does it, but not without ‘restore us again” or “bring me back”. This truly is amazing grace. If we can say this, God has granted us a measure of freedom to respond to him – truly amazing grace. This means that in some way God has enabled us to act contrary to our fallen nature. If we will say this much, ‘bring me back’, God will grant a person repentance (“Acts 5:32; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) and faith (Rom. 12:3; 2 Peter 1:1).
f. God’s amazing prevenient grace has enabled human beings to have this opportunity to respond to God. It is a resistible grace, but God has enabled the will to respond to Him.
g. So prevenient grace is amazing, common, God-sent grace.
Henry Thiessen describes prevenient grace as common grace: ‘We hold that common grace is extended to all, and that every one has the ability restored to him to ‘will and to do His will.’ The salvation-bearing grace of God has appeared to all men; but some receive the grace of God in vain. It seems to us that only if God makes the same provisions for all and makes the same offers to all, is He truly just’ (Thiessen 1949:347; emphasis added).
This is what Norman Geisler wrote in 1986:
Irresistible force used by God on his free creatures would be a violation of both the charity of God and the dignity of humans. God is love. True love never forces itself on anyone. Forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist (Geisler 1986:69)
His language in 1999 when discussing hell was,
God’s Love Demands a Hell. The Bible asserts that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). But love cannot act coercively, only persuasively. A God of love cannot force people to love him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Forced loved (sic) is not love; it is rape. A loving being always gives “space” to others. He does not force himself upon them against their will. As C. S. Lewis observed, “the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to override human will … would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo” (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 38). Hence, those who do not choose to love God must be allowed not to love him. Those who do not wish to be with him must be allowed to be separated from him. Hell allows separation from God (Geisler 1999:311).
Now that kind of language will get some Calvinists to oppose Norm Geisler when he calls the God of ‘irresistible’ to be a ‘divine rapist’ because ‘forced love is rape’.
See also, ‘How does grace work in Arminian-Wesleyan theology?’
4. Regeneration coinciding with faith
(image courtesy ChristArt)
See my article, ‘Does regeneration precede faith in Christian salvation?’
H. There are some practical implications
1. It can zap motivation for evangelism
(image courtesy ChristArt)
One Orthodox Presbyterian Church pastor asked a good question, ‘Does Calvinism nullify evangelism?’ His response was:
But it is important to recognize that the God of the Bible ordains not only the end (salvation) but also the means to the end (the proclamation of the gospel)….
The ordinary means by which God gathers his people is through their hearing and believing the gospel message. In Romans 1:16, Paul declares that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. In Romans 10:13, he states that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Then he adds, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’ ” (Rom. 10:14-15 NASB)….
Why am I, a Calvinist, so passionate about evangelism? Several reasons immediately spring to mind. First, my Lord Jesus Christ commands me to do so (Mark 16:15). Second, given that my chief duty (and delight) is to glorify God, I am moved by the fact that the Father is honored whenever the Son is honored. The supreme means of honoring the Father is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 5:22-23)! Third, I know that when the nonelect reject the gospel, as they are wont to do, preaching leaves them all the more without excuse when they receive the condemnation they justly deserve. And last, I know that God brings his elect to himself through the preaching of the gospel.
It is important to remember that Calvinism does not need to quash evangelism as we know from James Kennedy, the originator of the evangelistic program, Evangelism Explosion. He was the pastor of a church in a denomination that is known for its Calvinism, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Nevertheless, one five-point Calvinist, Phil Johnson, was concerned about the impact of the rise of hyper-Calvinism on evangelism. He wrote:
Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the “gospel” they proclaim is a truncated soteriology [doctrine of salvation] with an undue emphasis on God’s decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, “The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not.” Thus the good news about Christ’s death and resurrection is supplanted by a message about election and reprobation—usually with an inordinate stress on reprobation. In practical terms, the hyper-Calvinist “gospel” often reduces to the message that God simply and single-mindedly hates those whom He has chosen to damn, and there is nothing whatsoever they can do about it.
Deliberately excluded from hyper-Calvinist “evangelism” is any pleading with the sinner to be reconciled with God. Sinners are not told that God offers them forgiveness or salvation. In fact, most hyper-Calvinists categorically deny that God makes any offer in the gospel whatsoever.
The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” The whole thrust of the gospel, properly presented, is to convey an offer (in the sense of a tender, a proffer, or a proposal) of divine peace and mercy to all who come under its hearing. The apostle’s language is even stronger, suggesting the true gospel preacher begs sinners to be reconciled to God—or rather he stands “in Christ’s stead,” pleading thus with the sinner. Hyper-Calvinism in essence denies the concept of human responsibility, and so it must eliminate any such pleading, resulting in a skewed presentation of the gospel.
So Phil Johnson can see how a certain form of Calvinism can have a detrimental effect on how the gospel is presented in evangelism by this hyper-Calvinistic group. His warning needs to be taken seriously that for this group, ‘the good news about Christ’s death and resurrection is supplanted by a message about election and reprobation – usually with an inordinate stress on reprobation’. When election and reprobation replace the gospel call of all to come to Christ, Calvinistic doctrine has detrimentally affected the nature of evangelism.
Vincent Cheung, a hyper-Calvinist, leaves no doubt about how his Calvinism affects evangelism:
It is wrong and sinful to preach the gospel as if there is a chance for even the non-elect to obtain faith and be saved, as if God is sincerely telling them that he desires their salvation and that they could be saved (Luke 10:21; John 6:65). We do not know the precise content of God’s decree in election (as in who are the elect and who are the non-elect), and so we must not act as if we know. However, it does not follow that we should speak as if election is false when we preach the gospel.
Instead, in our message, we must make it clear that God seriously commands every person, whether elect or non-elect, to believe the gospel, thus making it every person’s moral obligation to believe – those who do will be saved, and those who do not will be damned. But we must not present this as a “sincere offer” of salvation from God to even the non-elect.
Thus, there are Calvinists who state clearly how their theology affects evangelism and the gospel call.
I suggest that you read this article from SBC Today (25 September 2012), ‘Some Calvinists are not evangelistic just like some traditionalists are not evangelistic’. However, there was a Calvinism Committee within the Southern Baptists that was concerned about the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism and their impact on evangelism and the salvation of the sinner. Part of the report to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President, Frank Page, in June 2013 stated:
Both sides of the theological divide [Calvinism and Arminianism], the report says, have extremes that should be rejected.
“We must stand together in rejecting any form of hyper-Calvinism that denies the mandate to present the offer of the Gospel to all sinners or that denies the necessity of a human response to the Gospel that involves the human will. Similarly, we must reject any form of Arminianism that elevates the human will above the divine will or that denies that those who come to faith in Christ are kept by the power of God. How do we know that these positions are to be excluded from our midst? Each includes beliefs that directly deny what The Baptist Faith and Message expressly affirms.”
SBC leaders, entities, churches and even prospective ministers all have a role in ensuring that a debate over Calvinism does not divide the denomination, the report says (Foust 2013).
Why was this Report commissioned? ‘The advisory team — not an official committee of the convention — was assembled by Page in August 2012 to advise him on developing “a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism”. The committee was composed of Calvinists and non-Calvinists from different walks of life in the convention’ (Foust 2013).
One news report from Associated Press stated:
Is God’s saving grace free to anyone who accepts Jesus, or did God predestine certain people for heaven and hell before the beginning of the world? That’s a 500-year-old question, but it is creating real divisions in 2013 in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination….
The Lifeway poll also found that 61 percent of pastors were concerned about the impact of Calvinism on the SBC.
Evangelism is a huge focus of Southern Baptist life and some non-Calvinists worry that the belief in predestination is incompatible with spreading the gospel.
“People involved will always say, ‘If you believe in Calvinism, you don’t believe in evangelism. If you believe everything is predetermined, why even bother to preach the gospel?” Kidd [Thomas Kidd, professor of history, Baylor University) said. “But as it turns out, Calvinists have never acted that way in the Southern Baptist Convention” (Loller 2013).
2. ‘God will bring them in’
I was in personal conversation with a Calvinist, Presbyterian pastor, at one time and asked why there was no active, overt evangelism taking place in his church. His immediate response was, ‘God will bring em in’. Not one ounce of evangelism was promoted by that church, but still ‘God will bring em in’ – as that church continues to lose members and is diminishing in size. I find this to be an abominable excuse, but it is consistent with the view of Calvinism I have expounded above that has the potential to close people down in their evangelistic activities.
There is a further issue that was raised by a forum supervisor when I stated, ‘The God who shows partiality by dying for some but not for all is the kind of Calvinistic God of injustice I’m talking about’. My chastisement stated that by this kind of statement I was inferring that Calvinists were not Christian. Is that so?
I. Are these Calvinists Christians?
Let me be clear up front. I have never stated nor inferred that Calvinists are not Christian. That’s a false allegation. My position is that they are teaching a false view of the nature of God’s justice and impartiality. I consider it is false teaching about unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.
However, they are most certainly Christian because they believe in salvation by grace through Christ alone. Here are a few samples:
Wayne Grudem (1999:321),
‘Faith is an instrument to obtain justification, but it has no merit in itself…. Justification comes after saving faith. Paul makes this sequence clear when he says, “We have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified (Gal. 2:16). Here Paul indicates that faith comes first and it is for the purpose of being justified….Scripture never says that we are justified because of the inherent goodness of our faith, as if our faith has merit before God. It never allows us to think that our faith in itself earns favor with God. Rather, Scripture says that we are justified “by means of” our faith, understanding faith to be the instrument through which justification is given to us, but not at all an activity that earns us merit or favor with God. Rather, we are justified solely because of the merits of Christ’s work (Romans 5:17-19)’ [emphasis in original].
Justification is by faith. True faith is God’s work (John 6:28-29), granted by God (John 1:29), and is concurrent with regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), which God works in us by his will (John 1:13). This result of this justification and regeneration is that the sinner turns from his sin and towards doing good works. But it is not these works that earn our place with God nor sustain it. Jesus accomplished all that we need to be saved and stay saved on the cross. All that we need, we have in Jesus. All we need to do to be saved, to be justified, is to truly believe in what God has done for us in Jesus on the cross; this is why the Bible says we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). This true belief with justification before God and regeneration in the new believer, results in good works.
Ligonier Ministries (the teaching fellowship of R C Sproul) and John Calvin,
John Calvin comments, “If it be the office of Christ to save what was lost, they who reject the salvation offered in him are justly suffered to remain in death.” Scripture teaches universalism when it comes to humanity’s fallenness, but it does not teach universalism regarding salvation. Redemption is limited to those who are in Christ — those who rest on Him alone for salvation and prove this faith by putting His words into practice (1 Cor. 15:22).
J I Packer
How are believers saved? Packer wrote that salvation is ‘through Christ, and in Christ…. Our salvation involves, first, Christ dying for us and, second, Christ living in us (John 15:4; 17:26; Col. 1:27) and we living in Christ, united with him in his death and risen life (Rom. 6:3-10; Col. 2:12, 20; 3:1)…. Rather, we should live in light of the certainty that anyone may be saved if he or she will but repent and put faith in Christ (Packer 1993:149, 151).
While I differ markedly in my understanding of God’s attributes of justice and impartiality with Calvinists, I regard them as fellow Christians. I have considerable difficulty with their doctrines regarding election, atonement, and grace leading to salvation, but I enthusiastically endorse them as brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they maintain salvation through Christ alone. I will continue to challenge their teachings that differ with Scripture in these areas. Never let it be said that I do not regard these people as Christians in the body of Christ with me. There is absolutely no statement or inference in what I write that states they are not Christian.
Much of this discussion would be unnecessary if there was a general consensus on the freedom of the will within evangelical Christians. Such agreement is not there. For affirmation of freedom of the will, see: Ransom Dunn, “A discourse on the freedom of the will’.
My conclusion, based on the above assessment, is that the God of Calvinism is one who plays favourites, is discriminatory towards a large section of humanity today and has been throughout history. The Calvinistic God promotes injustice and partiality, which are contrary to the nature of the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Christian Scriptures. He is not the God I choose to worship. The biblical revelation reveals the true nature of God as one who is righteous, just and loving towards ALL human beings.
This means that the biblical view of God is:
- God’s election of human beings to salvation is based on his foreknowledge of how they, using their free will, respond to the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone when it is preached or shared.
- Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Thus, his atonement is universal or unlimited.
- Prevenient or common grace is provided to all human beings to enable them to respond in faith to the Gospel.
- Christians are born again – regenerated – simultaneously when they, by faith, receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
This is my understanding of these teachings of biblical Christianity, which are in contrast to the views of Calvinism that promote an unjust God.
K. For your consideration
See my article,
Allen, D L & Lemke, S W (ed). Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.
Calvin, J n d. Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol 1. Tr from Latin by W Pringle. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/comment3/comm_vol34/htm/i.htm (Accessed 4 July 2013).
Foust, M 2013, Calvinism committee issues report, urges SBC to ‘stand together’ for Great Commission, May 31. Baptist Press, available at: http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=40419 (Accessed 7 July 2013).
Geisler, N 1986. God knows all things, in D Basinger & R Basinger (eds), Predestination & free will, 61-98. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Geisler, N 1999. Hell, in N Geisler, Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics, 310-315. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Grudem, W 1999. J Purswell (ed), Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
Hodge, C 1979 reprint. Systematic theology (in 3 vols). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament commentary: Exposition of James, epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
Loller, T 2013. 500 years later, theological debate over Calvinism still simmers among Southern Baptists. Associated Press, Daily Journal, 7 June. Available at: http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/9c64374dcfce4d88a756dc96e7750f37/US-REL–Southern-Baptists-Calvinism/http://www.dailyjournal.net/view/story/9c64374dcfce4d88a756dc96e7750f37/US-REL–Southern-Baptists-Calvinism/ (Accessed 7 July 2013).
Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.
Pink, A W 1961. The sovereignty of God, rev ed. Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Sproul, R C n d. Regeneration precedes faith. Available at Monergism, at: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul01.html(Accessed 4 July 2013).
Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Weston Gentry 2012. As Baptists prepare to meet, Calvinism debate shifts to heresy accusation, Christianity Today, 18 June. Available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/juneweb-only/baptists-calvinism-heresy.html (Accessed 6 July 2013).
 Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of Scripture.
 Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine Book Review by Eric Landstrom ©2001, Available at: http://www.ovrlnd.com/Book_Reviews/Grudem_doctrine.html (Accessed 3 July 2013).
 ‘What is CARM’s position on Calvinism?’ Available at: http://carm.org/carm-calvinism (Accessed 3 July 2013).
 ‘What is CARM’s position on Calvinism?’ Available at: http://carm.org/carm-calvinism (Accessed 3 July 2013).
 ‘What is CARM’s position on Calvinism?’ available at: http://carm.org/carm-calvinism (Accessed 3 July 2013).
 This is from Calvin’s commentary on John 1:6-13, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/comment3/comm_vol34/htm/vii.ii.htm (Accessed 4 July 2013).
 This Calvinist was participating in an online discussion at Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Good News, Really?’, griff #273, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7711171-28/#post62087962 (Accessed 1 January 2013; emphases in original).
 With considerable help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).
 Bill Welzien 2001, Calvinism and Evangelism, July. Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Available at: http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH01/07b.html (Accessed 5 July 2013).
 Phillip R Johnson 1998, A primer on hyper-Calvinism. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm (Accessed 5 July 2013).
 Vincent Cheung on Calvinism and evangelism, June 28, 2011. The ‘sincere offer’ of the Gospel, Countering the rise in Calvinism, available at: http://counteringcalvinism.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/vincent-cheung-on-calvinism-and-evangelism/ (Accessed 5 July 2013).
 Matt Slick, ‘Verses showing justification by faith’, CARM, available at: http://carm.org/verses-showing-justification-by-faith (Accessed 6 July 2013).
 Ligonier Ministries, Saved through Christ alone, available at: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/saved-through-christ-alone/ (Accessed 6 July 2013).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 April 2019.